The back story to my master’s project:
A long time ago back in 1998 I was an under graduate student at Bethel University. While there I had two very brief conversations with Jen Halverson about majors, life and what not. Other the years we each went our separate ways, her to medical school and me into photojournalism.
Fast forward to the fall of 2007 and I was a second year grad student at Ohio University. One day I was reading the blog of a former Bethel theology professor when he mentioned his friend Jen Halverson was off to Haiti to work as a pediatrician for nine months following the end of her emergency pediatricians internship, and would be blogging about her time in Haiti.
As an overtaxed grad school student I thought it would be great to read the blog of a former fellow Bethel student who was working in a country I couldn’t identify on a map! A few blog posts into her time in Haiti Jen wrote about having pizza one Sunday afternoon with Troy Livesay and his daughter Phoebe, shortly before they were set to fly to Minnesota for the birth of the next Livesay child. I thought, “Hey, other Minnesotan’s serving in Haiti, that’s neat.” (Neat, that’s a word we Minnesota Nice folks use.)
A few weeks later the stress of grad school and my Mother’s failing health had me longing for a break from my reality. I was reading Jen’s blog and wanted to know more about Haiti, Haitian people and others who might be working there. I remembered Jen had mention the Livesay family and had a link to their blog. I clicked over and really from there it’s all history.
I read Tara’s posts about giving birth to their seventh child, sending her first born off to college, fighting to keep her 3 month old alive during a Meningitis scare, moving into Port-Au-Prince from the country. And finally about deciding to run the Twin Cities marathon as a fund raiser for Medika Mamba.
Truth be told I had wanted to tell a story about Tara and her family in Haiti for awhile before May 2009, but there really wasn’t the right reason for it, beyond a family of seven living in Haiti and working to help one Haitian at a time toward a better life. When Tara said she was going to train for a marathon in Haiti I thought, “Aha, this is it, this is finally a story.” Then it got interesting.
Instead of meeting her fund raising goal of $5,200 Tara was blowing up her goal and moving toward $20,000. The before and after photos she was posting of kids receiving Medika Mamba were crazy, and then there was Renald.
At the time I was alone in Minnesota, nearly unemployed, totally un-credentialed, and every day thinking about how I wanted to tell Tara’s story and go to Haiti. I talked myself out of it for months. Why would a woman I have never met allow me to fly to Haiti, film her every move, be around her family and tell me her thoughts about starving children and running in Haiti? Why would a person who’s blog is read by thousands of people ever respond to my email, and what the hell would I ever do with the story once I had it shot?!? Who was going to publish it, or really ever see it? I talked myself out of emailing Tara for months. Months.
Then one day while I was running around Lake Harriet for the umpteenth time thinking about shots I would get and how I would tell the story I decided the worst that could happen is I could ask to come to Haiti and Tara would say, “Yeah, um no.” I spent a good hour making sure that email was perfect. That I mentioned I once “knew” Jen Halverson, that I used to attend Woodland Hills church, that I wasn’t an axe murderer. I figured it would be a couple days before I heard back from Tara, thought she’d want to think it over, talk to Troy, give it all a bit of thought. Well she must have talked and thought real quick because 45 minutes later I was looking up flights to Haiti. No joke. Forty-five minutes, is all she needed to say, “Yeah, sure, come on down.” I… was… shocked. She was talking about total access and asking what she and Troy could do to make sure I got everything I needed while I was here. Let me tell you, in the land of documentary film no subject starts off with telling you you have total access and asking you how they can help your shoot go smoothly and get everything you need. No one. Ever.
I called my Mom and asked for flight money, she said of course no problem my Dad would send a check. I was set to arrive in Haiti 5 weeks later, ready or not. I spent 5 world wind days in PAP, filming Tara running, recording interviews, filming the rescue center, plus eight kids running around the Livesay house. I’ve never been bitten by so many mosquitoes in my life, never. And I was covered in 40% deet bug spray the whole time.
When I got back to Minnesota I had great hopes of editing away and having a final cut by the end of October 2009. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead my Mother was told her last ditch chemo effort had failed and she was not going to live much longer. I went into a deep depression. A depression that lasted a long, long, long time. My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer 30 days after I started grad school. I never had the option of going through grad school absent of real life trials. My mother told me a few days after she was diagnosed, “Keep you butt in school so you can graduate and become rich and famous.” I stayed in school and thought about her everyday.
Well Mom, I am finally graduating. I am far from rich or famous, but I am graduating. I am graduating by telling a story about a great mom, who is rich and famous. Rich of love and famous for loving others.
Thank you Tara for taking a huge chance and letting a complete stranger arrive at your door (no joke, I had to send her a photo of myself so she knew which crazy white woman to pick up at the airport). Thank you for letting me tell your story, and being very patient about when I finished my edit.
And without further ado I present, “Marathoning for Mamba”.