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Zakriia, the ambassador
As I strolled through Lee Park for this year’s Festival of Cultures, I spotted a tent where a number of beautiful fabrics were displayed. I stopped to take a closer look and met Zakriia, who hails from Afghanistan. Although he sometimes struggled with expressing himself in English, he told me that he has been in the U.S. for the past four years after spending some time in Russia. He’s originally from Paghman, a small town located in the hills near Kabul. He told me that Paghman is a beautiful place, known for its flowers – the Paghman Gardens are well known throughout the region – and before over 50% of the buildings in the town were destroyed due to wars, folks from Kabul often went there on weekends and holidays to get out of the city and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
Zakriia said that he likes Charlottesville, since the it’s a town surrounded by mountains, trees, and lots of green, green grass, but when he spoke of his hometown, it was obvious how much he misses Paghman. And from what he told me and what I’ve learned from the Internet, it sounds like it was a lovely place.
Lee Park in Charlottesville, VA
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Khenpo Ngawang Dorjee, the Buddhist monk
Every May, Charlottesville hosts a Festival of Cultures in a local park. Folks from all over the world who have made Charlottesville their home come out and share their various cultures through performances, demonstrations, food and drink, and sometime selling products native to their culture. This year’s Festival was threatened by bad weather, but after a couple hours of rain, the sky cleared, and I was able to stop by and meet some new people. Charlottesville has a sizable Tibetan community, and when I stopped by their tent for a chat, I met Khenpo Ngawang Dorjee, a Buddhist monk and the Abbot (Khenpo) of the Tashi Chöeling Buddhist Center in Charlottesville.
Khenpo told me that he has been a monk since the age of twelve, and he was the Khenpo at a monastery in India before coming to the U.S. in 2003. He taught in New York and Atlanta, and he came to Charlottesville to serve as an editor for the University of Virginia’s collection of Tibetan writings in 2006. In 2007, he founded the Tashi Chöeling Buddhist Center, where he now resides.
He is the first Buddhist monk I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I was curious to learn more about what that experience is like. He told me that the life of a monk is a simple one, and when I asked him what the most difficult part of being a monk is, he took some time to consider the question. He told me that in his homeland of Tibet, there is nothing about monastic life that he finds difficult. In the U.S., though, exiled from his country, he said that the difference in cultures presents some challenges, and he misses both his country and his family very much. Given the current political climate in Tibet, it doesn’t seem that he will be able to return any time soon, but I hope that some day he well be able to reunite with his family.
Lee Park in Charlottesville, VA
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flowisaconstruct said: Love the blog, and sorry I didn't find it sooner. I content myself that I'll have back stories of my fellow C'villians to read for a while. I'd love to see one of the tattoo artists from Ben Around on your pages. They wear their stories on their bodies, but have so much more to tell.
I just returned from a couple of weeks traveling around and saw this. Thanks for the kind words about the Cville People Project. I also appreciate the recommendation about the folks at Ben Around. I’ll have to stop by there one of these days and have a chat.
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Street portrait: Ashley, the Unitea Party activist
Now that the weather is nice, I’m once again out photographing people around Charlottesville as part of my Cville People Project. Walking through the Charlottesville City Market yesterday, I came across this young woman, and when I saw that she was wearing a tea cup on her head, I had to stop to talk to her.
Ashley is a Charlottesville native, and she graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in English. She was at the City Market to drum up some publicity for a bowl-a-thon taking place in Richmond next week sponsored by the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, which has as its mission to “support access to a range of reproductive choices.” As Ashley told me, the goal of the group and of the fundraiser is to “give women options,” ranging from contraceptives to access to abortions, because she believes that “every woman deserves the opportunity to shape her own life.”
If you’d like to learn more about the bowl-a-thon or contribute to her fundraising activities, you can check out her page here.
City Market in Charlottesville, VA
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Kay, the book lady
As a mental health and substance abuse clinician working in a community clinic, a certain percentage of my clients have been incarcerated at some point in their lives. A while back, one of my clients told me about Books Behind Bars, a non-profit organization that sends books to people in jails and prisons around the country for free. I had never heard of Books Behind Bars before, but I could see immediately what a wonderful gift it must be for those who are incarcerated in institutions that often have very little access to books, and I decided to contact Kay to learn more about the program.
Kay started the Quest Bookshop almost thirty-five years ago. It’s one of the few independent bookstores left in town, and it’s located on West Main St. About twenty years ago, she started sending books to inmates who requested them, and she’s been doing so ever since. Kay told me that she receives about twenty-five letters a day asking for everything from dictionaries and books on home repair to mystery novels and classic literary works. As a non-profit organization, they function on donations, and during the school year, a number of UVA students help fill the orders.
When I asked her why she does what she does, her answer was simple: “How would we feel,” she replied, “if we didn’t have any books to read?” From looking over some of the many thank-you letters she receives from book recipients, it’s clear just how important her work is. You can read excepts from some of the letters sent by grateful inmates here.
Many community members have donated books or money to keep Books Behind Bars in operation, including John Grisham and Coran Capshaw. I encourage you to consider going to the Books Behind Bars website and making a donation yourself.West Main Street in Charlottesville, VA
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Elaura, the public historian
While walking down to the Free Speech Wall the other day to see if any there was any new chalk art, I was stopped by Elaura, who asked if I had a couple of free minutes to answer a couple of questions about Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. Since I moved to Charlottesville almost twenty years ago, I’ve been to Monticello a few times, often accompanying out-of-town visitors. After completing her survey, I asked her if she would be willing to participate in my project, and she was kind enough to agree.
Elaura is an intern at Monticello, and three days a week she gives guided tours of Mr. Jefferson’s house; she spends the rest of her time participating in Monticello’s publicity efforts, focusing most recently on trying to improve its image as a family-friendly tourist destination. Elaura is half-way through a master’s degree in public history at Middle Tennessee State, and she’ll graduate next May. She told me that this internship is a “dream job” for her, as she has a true passion for history and for educating people about it. “History connects us to the past,” she said, “and it also connects us to ourselves.” She really enjoys leading tours of the house, and serving as a guide has taught her a lot about storytelling: history is, among other things, a collection stories that we tell about the past, and she works hard to find ways to tell stories that engage the visitors to Monticello on her tours.
As I was leaving, I asked about her name. After all, Elaura isn’t particularly common. She told me that her parents named her after the character Princess Elaura in the movie Willow, which I’ve never seen.
Elaura has only two weeks left in her internship, so she may not be there the next time you make the pilgrimage to Monticello. If you do happen to make it out there and have her as your tour guide, make sure to tell her that I said hi!
Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA
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Natalie, a woman of strength
I mentioned in a post recently that it is exceeding rare that I receive an email suggesting that I photograph someone for my project, so you can imagine my surprise when I found a message from Natalie in my inbox. She wrote to tell me that she was finishing treatment for breast cancer and wanted to commemorate it with a portrait, and I was both pleased and touched that she had reached out to me. We met up shortly thereafter and made this portrait.
Charlottesville is a small town, and Natalie is a photographer, so our paths have crossed before, but this was the first time that I’ve had a chance to have a real conversation with her. She’s a nurse by profession, and she’s the last person you might expect to come down with breast cancer. She leads a quite healthy lifestyle: she eats a well-balanced diet, she gets lots of exercise because she’s a runner, and she has no family history of breast cancer. Nonetheless, while performing a routine self-examination in January, she found a lump, and when she went to get it checked by a physician, they determined that it was cancerous. She immediately began her treatment, which included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, and her prognosis is good. She is currently cancer-free, but she’ll continue to take medication for years to come and undergo routine check-ups to make sure that it doesn’t come back.
Natalie told me that it was a strange experience being a patient after spending so many years as a health-care provider. She learned just how important it is for patients to be active and involved in their treatment decisions, asking lots of questions, making sure that they understand the benefits and drawbacks of various treatment options, and expressing their preferences.
Natalie usually participates in the annual Charlottesville Womens’ Four Miler, a charity race that benefits the UVa Breast Care Program. The proceeds from the race support cutting edge breast cancer research, patient education, support services, and community outreach in the Charlottesville area; in other words, the funds raised stay local. Natalie told me that she is looking forward to running this year, as the race will have a very personal meaning to her.
I encourage you to consider donating to this extremely worthy charity, and you can do so here. If you decide to make a donation, please consider sponsoring Natalie Krovetz, who was kind enough to participate in my project and share her story with us.
Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA
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David, the photographer
As someone interested in photography, one of the best times of the year to live in Charlottesville is in June, when the Look3 Festival of the Photograph comes to town. Every year, some of the best photographers in the world come to town, showing their work in numerous galleries and giving talks about their works to appreciative audiences. The local bars, restaurants, and cafes fill up with aspiring young photographers who participate in portfolio reviews and network, and photography fans who soak up the atmosphere and thank their lucky stars that such a wonderful event takes place in our town.
I had decided to try to include a well-known photographer in my project, since Look3 occupies such an important place on the arts calendar, but I was also a bit apprehensive, as the idea of approaching one of my photographic heroes to ask them to pose for a portrait was rather daunting. On the first day of the festival, though, I gathered my courage and went up to one of my favorite photographers, David Alan Harvey, and asked him to participate. After pausing for a moment to think about it, he agreed and walked with me across the Downtown Mall for a portrait.
Under normal circumstances, I spend some time with my subjects, asking them who they are, what they do, and so on, but in this case, I already had the answers to all of these questions, so I made a few frames and let him get back to enjoying the festival. If you like photography, I encourage you to check out his website and the website for burn magazine to learn more about him and to see some of his work.
For my part, I was grateful that David was kind enough to participate in my project. I have no doubt that I’m not the only one who asked for a few moments of his time during the festival, and it says a lot of good things about him that he was generous enough to indulge me.Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA
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Maureen, the networker
If you are active in the Charlottesville art scene, you will have heard something about the New City Arts Initiative, an organization that works through partnerships to create a creative network in the community. As the executive director, Maureen is a sort of networker-in-chief, bringing people together in a variety of initiatives, including educational events, artist residencies, performance opportunities, and fund-raising. She told me that her goal is to foster a creative community, with the expectation that through the strengthening of that community, the city itself can be transformed.
Maureen is an artist herself, having studied printmaking at the University of Virginia. After spending a year in New York after graduation, she moved back to Charlottesville in 2010. At that time, there was a loose coalition of folks working to establish a more permanent organization, and she made a bold proposal to them: if I can raise enough money to fund the organization, she told them, you will hire me to be the organization’s executive director. The rest, as they say, is history.
When I talk to people about their jobs, one of the things I often ask them is to share with me what they like and don’t like about their work. Maureen had a ready answer to the first half of that question: she told me that she loves connecting with the various community members with whom she works. As for the downside of her job, she was unable to cite even one. No wonder she’s so good at what she does!Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, VA
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Sam, the music man
One of the more curious cultural venues in Charlottesville is a place called The Garage, which is, as the name suggests, a garage. My first experience with the Garage happened last summer, as I was walking through tiny Lee Park. I saw a bunch of folks sitting on the hill and realized that they were watching a band play in a garage across the street. Since then, I’ve seen some bands and have been to a couple of art shows there, most recently Susan Meiselas’ 160 Actions to Make a Jacket during the Look3 photo festival.
Sam is the curator and is a co-founder of the Garage, which got its start back in 2008, when Christ Episcopal Church decided to make a gift to the community. The church provided the funding, and Sam and Kate Daughdrill, who was an artist-in-residence there, teamed up to turn the garage behind the church into a performance venue. Since that time, bands from all around the country have played there, and they have hosted art works by photographers, painters, graphic artists and others. And all of the shows are free to the public.
Although Sam is the church’s music minister, and funding for the Garage comes from the church, one of the church’s goals when they founded the Garage was that it be independent from the church, so the church plays no role in the day-to-day affairs of the venue. As Sam explained, the church’s attitude is that a true gift comes with no strings.
Sam isn’t just a curator, though. He’s also an accomplished musician in his own right, and he’s part of a band called The Hill and Wood.
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