Celebrating Ingenuity

I don’t know why this tickled me so much, so I thought I would share it with you and see if together we can figure out why.

My son Nathan lives in Manila and works throughout the Philippines for USAID (Agency for International Development). It is the arm of our government that tries to do good in the world, funding roads, water, health and human services projects in countries that are struggling. He worked in Palestine before being transferred to Manila for four years after which he will probably be sent to a hardship post like Afghanistan. But I digress.

He sent me these photos recently and this is the story. He went to evaluate a project in the city of Legazpi in the Bicol region of the island of Luzon. He and the local folks working on the project visited a nearby volcano called Mayon. There were a couple of guys there, Nathan said, who were available to take staged photos of tourists. There wasn’t any advertising, no hustling, they just made it known that they could take a photo with your own iPhone that would amaze and amuse friends and family. Nathan’s local colleagues told him that they hoped for a tip and that was all. Intrigued, Nathan agreed and they choreographed and snapped these three photos.

Of course they are amusing, done with nothing but the clever use of perspective. But what delights me is the ingenuity and creativity of this bit of entrepreneurship in a poor remote corner of the world. With no capital, no equipment, nothing of their own but their wits, these guys are making money – maybe a living, says Nathan. There is no extraction of resources, no waste, no impact to the environment, no contribution to greenhouse gases, no exploitation of workers. And the product they are selling does nothing but make you wonder and then chuckle. You may even learn something new about how perspective works.

In this time of “fake news” it is easy to toss whatever we hear or read in one bin or the other – “fake” or “real.” But in musing over the photos it occurred to me that they are “fake” and “real” at the same time. Here we have a real, un-tampered with picture. There is nothing fake about it. Yet it leads us astray, makes us believe that Lucy’s son is a powerful giant, a kindly one it appears. So, is he “really” a giant among men? Of course not, although his mother would argue that he is a giant in her life and capable of great and wondrous things.

I leave it to you to continue pondering the nature of “fake” and “real.”  I want to stop here and just smile again at the photos and send out long distance kudos to those Filipinos, entrepreneurs extraordinaire. As Nathan said in his email, “…tourists do this kind of photo on their own, with their cheesy pictures of holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa and so forth. But these guys took it to another level.”

Mayon volcano — the real thing


14 thoughts on “Celebrating Ingenuity”

  1. Lucy, for me these photos embody a key dimension of your own work, i.e. being able to see situations from different perspectives. Humor is a too frequently overlooked point of human connection, especially THIS kind of humor, which doesn’t demean or attack anything at all but offers, well… perspective!

    1. I appreciate that insight, Jan. I hadn’t thought about perspective as it relates to mediation, but you’re right. It’s all about the different perspectives in the room, including my own, I must remember. Funny to think about “holding a group in the palm of your hand,” as Nathan did, or being strong enough to hold a boulder over head. The interactions of a group depend on these perspectives rather than on reality.

  2. Always inspiring. I have worked on USAID projects in Somalia and elsewhere and it is often that great ideas are born in those place where people must indeed use their ingenuity to survive. Too many Americans frequently view folks in these countries as not being very bright because they lack some of the educational opportunities we have here,

    1. Absolutely right. That is part of the delight for me — the illustration of what people with so little can create, with few resources and a lot of ingenuity. Good for us with all the resources to remember.

  3. Lucy–I always enjoy your posts, but particularly this one…it gave me a much needed moment of delight! Blessings to your son and those ingenious entrepreneurs.

    1. Glad you liked it. Nathan loves working abroad, and I think this is one of the reasons — running into ingenuity like this, and having some role in bringing a little more resources for folks to work with.

  4. Lucy, this is so good. As Larry writes, ingenious. It is also innocent, and guileless.
    Not an enterprise that we encounter very often these days – there often (and usually) being
    another agenda somewhere.

  5. enjoyed it. vicarious thrills for me as i spent most of my life in international public health

    but, Lucy, i can’ figure out how the big rock deception photo came to be. ??

    all best

    1. That rock photo mystified me, too. The photographer held a small rock, not much more than a pebble, in front of the lens, making sure that his fingers weren’t visible (note you do not see the top of the “boulder”), and then he positioned Nathan in the weight lifter position, and voila. My son is superman.

  6. Love this post! And the comments! And you!
    And thank you to Susan Nalder for her question which you answered, Lucy, confirming what I was guessing about that flying boulder!
    Bravo to your beautiful son!!!
    (Jeepers! Lots of exclamation points here! Must mean that I have plenty of Vitamin C energy due to having eaten a yummy, messy mango –– or maybe just indulging in incomplete sentences!)

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