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Expat Life

Isabella

I was eating a hot empanada filled with queso and mashed green plantanos while she interrogated Pablo with her incessant questions. I looked on, entertained, munching and smiling. The line of questioning centered around why?!, Why?!, WHy?!, WHY??!! was it that Pablo’s huge lens was silver in lieu of black like everyone else’s. The way she went at him, he might as well have had a bare lightbulb swinging over his head.

Eying the two, I used the back of my cotton jersey glove to brush granulated sugar away from my lips and mustache. My other hand explored a greasy paper bag searching out another hot treat. Alberto and Fernando were also enjoying the exchange that had erupted, beginning with Isabella’s lilting chatter. That girl’s hands moved like a flash for Pablo’s shiny camera. Some of my other friends called to her, trying to freeze her in their frames for posterity’s sake. Suddenly shy, Isabella flew toward her abuelo’s open arms, seemingly propelled by the brisk winds of the high Sierra.

It was cold that morning, high in the Andes of south central Ecuador at the Incan ruins of Ingapirca. The sky was sapphire in the early light, scarcely marred by a single white cloud. I turned up the collar of my Kuhl to the demands of a strong northeastern wind. Isabella was a cute girl, well worth my efforts to photograph her. Ruddy, wind-nipped cheeks and chin accented her small face. But, she was somewhat of a terror and moved with the speed and agility of a mongoose. I had been purposefully ignoring her behind my RayBans. That was my first technique for bridging our age and culture gap. While all others cooed and called, I offered a cold shoulder of indifference. Even to the point of poking around in my small camera bag as if to see if I could find something of interest there; I chose to ignore Isabella.

As you can see, my tactics worked. Very quickly, Isabella circled me up. You know how it is for a girl almost five years old. Being ignored simply won’t do. And certainly NOT by a man whose hair, skin, size and shape aren’t the norm from your perspective. She wanted to investigate me and my gear, but she wasn’t too sure how that might go…I had made it that way on purpose. I was mining her expressions, not sure what my actions might turn up as I panned her changing face for something unique.

Well, she had to have a look inside that camera bag of mine just to see what was so interesting. She wanted to find out what had me so engaged. I dipped my head and showed her my eyes over the top of my shades, studying her intently. My camera was out of its bag and was in my hands, resting in my lap. She returned my intense view with one of her own. I think she was used to being the boss around those parts. Then, the moment changed to follow the same course as my moment with Gloria had, a few weeks earlier. We connected. The faintest smile began to form on her rosebud lips as the camera came up, firing even before my eye was in the viewfinder. Time seemed to slow as six digital files dropped into the memory card but in reality, it happened an instant.

And after another moment passed, Isabella was studying those six photographs from the LCD screen on the back of my camera. I slipped her some sweet treats from my camera bag. Unusual for a child, she seemed to be allowing the chocolate bon-bon to melt in her mouth instead of chewing her gifted morsel. A little chocolate drool escaping her mouth, the back of her glove came into play just as mine had. I had a brief thought that she was mimicking me as her smile opened into a big grin. Her other hand was resting on two more bon-bon’s in her coat pocket. Small fingers explored the bright red and gold wrappers. As I happened to look around, everyone had focused their attention on she and I and our exchanges. In that moment, I was very glad to be alive in the world I’d been given to walk up and down on. I rose and stood to walk and join my friends. As I took a couple of steps and looked down, a small shadow hand next to me reached through the air to join my shadow hand. I could tell that a fine day lay in store for all of us.