I will forever have trouble finding the right words to explain the love I have for the country of Belgium. The beer, the chocolate, the waffles, the frites, and especially the people. When I was planning my European tour, I never even thought to include Belgium. Not because I didn't like the country by any means, I just had no idea what was really here I guess? I was completely unaware of the active cleft community up until I received a message from the magicifent Nathalie Kalb. Then this unexpected series of events began to unravel. A Facebook group was made; funds began or pour in; and a schedule was formed. The amount of people becoming increasingly involved was astounding. Before I knew it there were over 20 people attempting to book a spot! I never would have guessed that Belgium would have been this proactive and determined to bring 1IN700 to their part of Europe; but the next thing I knew I was on my way to meet these people.
Having a local (Nathalie grew up in Brussels) to give me a look into the real history of Belgium, the city of Brussels, and give me a detailed explaination on the history of it all was unlike any walking tour you could have paid for. Not only did she have personal ties to all of these locations, but she knew so many random facts about the city itself. Things I wouldn't expect for just anyone to know. Nathalie strategically planned my days so I could also sightsee around the city. Doing the city center for three days, Waterloo another, and then the Atomium ( 102 meter tall construction of a carbon atom). I learned several things about each location while also getting to photograph some truly incredible individuals.
As I arrived in Miami and began my mini vacation with my big brother and his girlfriend, I started to talk about my experiences and (my) kids that I got to meet across the pond. Rattling off names and details about each and every experience, Tina (brothers girlfriend) pointed something out I hadn't even realized:
"You know all of their names off the top of your head?"
I have been asked thousands of things when it comes to this project. All of which I can answer 6 different ways to prove the same point. When Tina asked me this, I paused... She was right. I just knew them because they all have given me a piece of their heart by contributing to this project. I was blown away by their courage on a daily basis and felt blessed to have the opportunity to share my vision and perception of them with the world. How could I ever forget them?
It's great to be back in Los Angeles, but I am going to miss my Belgium buddies tremendously.
Almost all of the people involved in "1IN700" strike some sort of emotional cord with me right off the bat. Whether it's something I can relate to, or sharing their own experience in which I have empathy for, they are all equally impactful. Then I am messaged by a woman named Nathalie. This woman, time and time again, surprised me with her resilience and strength. Nathalie has two beautiful children, one of which (Oscar who you can find in a couple of my Instagram posts) who has the exact same cleft as I do. Little man was one of the best babies too, just so smiley and happy all of the time. It was also beautiful to watch Nathalie and her husband Ben with both of the kids; sooo incredibly obvious how much they adored these two munchkins.
Nathalie is pretty much THE reason I was able to make Belgium a stop on my tour at all. She asked me what they had to do to get me there and if there was anything she could help with. It all made sense when I met her and she told me what she did for work, she's a project manager, because my entire schedule was lined up and in writing. Oh, she also speaks so many languages that she was my translator through my entire stay! Did I mention she was also balancing two kids under the age of five through several LONG days with me? She is a literal superhero and I couldn't have had more fun with her. Nathalie made sure that after my shoots, or during lunch, that I was able to take in REAL Belgium. Brussels is where she grew up and knows that city like the back of her hand. A lot of those photos you see above was from our many adventures around the city center of Brussels.
I will soon go into more detail as to why my connection with Nathalie and these families struck so deep with me, but for now all of you readers can ooooo and ahhhhh at the adorable cuties in my photos above. I am going to do the same.