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Mesoamerica: 2007

By 2007, I had become the head of the university’s film program. I had coordinated several film festivals, taught multiple film classes, and established filmmaking as an official school sponsored activity. Now, I was ready to take my passion to the next level.

My motivation for joining the Mesoamerica study abroad tour was to make a professional quality documentary. The tour lasted one month. I equipped myself with 3 video cameras, 13 batteries and 40 recordable tapes. Below is a trailer for my documentary.


Although I was the only one in the program who had moviemaking experience, I knew I could not make the documentary alone. Therefore, I asked others within the program for help. I tried to include everyone so no one felt left out. A few girls were uncomfortable being on camera, but they agreed to help film. Below are some of my favorite scenes from the documentary.

Exploring the pyramids of Central America

Hiking an active volcano and touching lava.

Mexican Culture

Before this experience, I had little interest in language, culture, or diversity. My belief was that humans should focus on the things that unify us, not the things that separate us. That said, my desire to go to Central America had nothing to do with culture. Rather, I was interested in Aztec pyramids and buried treasure. To me, Mexican sombreros and tacos were of no interest. 


But when I got there, it was as though I had stepped through a magic wardrobe. The food did not taste like Taco Bell, at all. The entertainment was unlike anything I had ever seen. It made me feel as though, my whole life, I had been missing out on something wonderful-- and important. It was as though Mexico, itself, was the hidden treasure I came to find. Then it made me wonder what other magical worlds I was blind to.

Exploring the food of Central America

We danced anyway

One night, my host family took us dancing at the town square. Watching the way the community interacted with each other, as though they were one tightly knit family made me wonder why Americans don’t share the same sense of community intimacy. 

At that moment, I changed my mind about culture. I loved the Mexican heritage. I wanted to do whatever I could to preserve the traditions and customs of different populations. I wanted to explore the world - not geographically, but ethnocentrically.

My host family in mexico.

The Orphans

Midway through the tour, we visited the village of Manabah where a mudslide had killed most of the adult residents. The village was full of orphaned children who begged for food and money.


The mood was that of visiting a cemetery. As the comic relief of the group, I did not know how to handle the situation or my feelings. I wanted to help the orphans. I wanted to solve their problems, but I couldn't. My heart was broken as I talked with children who had no mothers or fathers. At a loss of knowing how to behave, I stayed behind the camera for this segment of the documentary. Nonetheless, this experience inspired me to continue my work with nonprofit organizations.

The orphaned village of Manabah.

Where is Jonny?

On the last day of the tour, I separated from the group to be alone. In time, I came to a homeless community that offered me a tour of their property (as though they were guides to an amazing theme park).


During the tour, a bum locked me in a cage with a monkey for over an hour. He said he would not release me until I gave him two hundred dollars (which I did). Meanwhile, my fellow students thought that I had been kidnapped, and they organized a search party.


When I was finally free, I told my story, but no one believe me. 

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Upon completing the documentary, I felt I had succeeded in creating a product that was of professional quality (by the standards of 2007). Therefore, I felt that I was ready to become a professional filmmaker.


However, because of the advice Bishop Frank gave me, so many years ago, I knew that moviemaking was forbidden. Furthermore, I was of marrying age and my church leaders were pressuring me to settle down. Therefore, to continue my story for God, I took the advice of my religious authorities and got married.


To continue my story, click here.

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