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TCU Magazine "Cover Story"

Other paths traveled...
Pulling out all the stops |Size wise | Now and zen

Facing Lithuania -- Kathryn Kuzmich '93

By Nancy Bartosek



The beauty of the cool, misty afternoon, remembers Fort Worth freelance photographer Kathryn Kuzmich '93, was that she had no idea what might present itself. It was just another day in a three-month excursion to her ancestral homeland -- a 1995 trip to reconnect family ties broken by war and her grandmother's 1927 defection.

She noticed the old couple primarily because they were a couple. An unusual sight, she noted, in a land that seemed segregated by gender. She followed them a short distance, reloading her empty camera, until they turned left at a crossing. Raising the lens, her shutter clicked once.

As Kuzmich lowered her arms, she turned slightly right. Up the lane trotted two children, a babushka-clad girl, clearly in control of the bike, a barefoot boy struggling to keep up.

"It wasn't planned," she said. "It was just one of those things that happened." That night, Kuzmich noted in her journal:

You never know what's going to come around the corner. Everything happens for a reason. It's up to us to open our eyes and see.

Kuzmich also discovered that sponge baths can get the job done -- in Lithuania, even in the cities, hot water is a hot commodity -- though she opted for weekly showers with stove-warmed water. It was one of many growing experiences -- like helping with daily chores on a primitive farm, complete with outhouse and communal drinking ladle at the well.

There's more than one way to do things.

"I was really needy over there," she said, explaining that at first she didn't speak their language, nor they hers. So she relied heavily on the kindness of others, which was readily available once people discovered she wasn't KGB.

"There was this one old lady in Alytus and I wanted to take her picture," she said. "At first she was very cold, but once I told her I was an American and wanted to photograph her people, she was so warm. She just kept pinching and pinching my cheeks."

The woman's initial stony disposition was among many walls that Kuzmich learned weren't really obstacles once she approached them with confidence. Everyone that enters your life has a message for you. You just have to be ready to hear it. I learned to let strangers into my life, to be nice, kind and not quick to judge. We are all on this earth for a reason.

"We take so much for granted here in America," she said. "We have everything in the world and the opportunity to choose what we want. But sometimes we get caught up in material things. That isn't important to me now."

But getting back to Lithuania is. This spring she'll return to chronicle the lives of disposable children in eight orphanages, two group homes and some health clinics. There she'll combine her penchant to plan with newly discovered spontaneity.

Go in and see what is thrown at you.

"Basically I learned to just float around and try to see everything as a photograph, open my eyes to it and see everything around it," Kuzmich said, laughing at her ditzy-sounding self-description. But flexibility will be particularly important as her camera is focused on the despair she might find in places no photographer has been allowed to visit.

Admittance is courtesy of the Lithuanian Orphan Foundation, an American group dedicated to providing assistance and placing children with families. Kuzmich knows she's only partially prepared for the loneliness she might see.

"I know I'll be helping them and I want to try to capture any beauty, laughter and friendships that I might find," she said.

It will certainly be different from the day she spent pitching hay and skimming milk, the times she wandered country roads in search of Lithuanian life. Weeks that ended too soon.

It's still hard to believe that something I've worked so hard for is almost over. It's like when you read a good book and it's finished, it's always sad to close it. You wish the author would have written more.

That's what I thought about leaving Lithuania. So I am going back over there to write some more.


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