Investments in Life

I have struggled with this blog post for the last few weeks, not because I couldn’t find the words. No, I’m actually struggling to find the photos that would be an encouragement and example to others. That struggle helps to solidify a need for the words.

You see, when I was in Africa a few weeks back I noticed something different that I couldn’t immediately put my finger on. I came home and found myself editing pictures and writing blog posts to explain those pictures. Words started coming to mind one at a time, words that caused me to think about my life now and in the past. They made me think about the trip more as I tried to put my finger on what it was I was feeling.

Invest. Intentional. Individual.

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Teaching each other for a better life.

 Those three words were the first words that I began to focus on. What do they mean? What do they mean to me? What do they mean to others? How do people invest in others? How can I capture these ideas in photos?

I mentioned some of this to a handful of friends. I got very mixed responses. Sometimes blank stares. Other times a few words. Usually the response was either questioning what I meant by the phrase “investing in others” or an admission that they didn’t know how to capture it in a photo. Usually it was the former response.

When thinking of investments we often think of financial investments so I started with that idea in an effort to process these words.  When you invest for retirement it is a long-term process. You don’t drop a penny in a piggy bank one time and assume that one coin will meet your needs later in life. When you make financial investments you also realize that there will be good times when the investment grows and bad times when it doesn’t. More words came to mind.

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A farming investment to help their neighbors is risky and a long-term commitment.

Risky. Long-term. Ongoing.

As I struggled to think of this in terms of relationships I wondered if I was crazy. Do people even invest in others? If so, why? If so, why is it so hard to see it when we look around? What is significant about investing in someone?

The more I pondered these questions the more frustrated I became. I have caught glimpses of these investments at church in the first few weeks I was home from Africa. These glimpses have driven me to continue to pursue this idea. During the third sermon after I came home each of the six words that I had been considering was used. I had a brief conversation with a man who invested in me years ago and was encouraged to continue pursuing this idea. At the same time others continued to question what I meant.

Here is where I am.

Investing in others is a long-term commitment. We don’t know the outcome of the time spent in this process. It is risky. Like financial investments, it may even get ugly. It may be hard work at times. We may even get hurt. It’s not something that happens casually, requiring us to be intentional and deliberate.

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Invest when their young.

As I’ve thought through this I’ve always had the word “individual” as an underlying thought. It’s not that individual is singular and this is about investing in one person, but rather that it is about investing in person rather than issue. An example would be comparing and contrasting feeding one homeless person meal after meal as opposed to dropping in at the homeless shelter to serve the soup others prepared for a large group. While the latter is important, I have to ask if we make a bigger difference, a more significant impact, by investing in one person regularly as opposed to many occasionally.

So let me ask, do you have someone you invest in? Do you have someone who invests in you? Do you have that person who will drop everything to help you walk though life when life gets to a point you don’t know what to do? Are you willing to do that for someone else? When the phone rings in the middle of the night because the dog has died, will you help carry it out of the house? That’s a relationship that shows an investment has occurred.

Maybe you’re thinking that you do that with your partner or your kids. Great. Keep it up, but realize those are the relationships where it is expected and required. Is there more you can do for others? “Well, I invest in my friends when we’re playing ball.” Is that really an investment though? Or is the time spent together the byproduct of an event? “But people are messy.” Yes we are, aren’t we? Go deep with others into their mess and the reward will amaze you.

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Go deep into their mess and be amazed with the reward.

Why is this important? I think this hit home because when I was in Africa I found people who invested in others. They didn’t focus on the social issues of the day, but instead focused on making certain that the individual people surrounding them were making it to the next day, to the best any of us can do that. They were trying to help others be better next week than they were yesterday. They didn’t tend to focus on how good someone was, how deserving they were of the help. Instead it was about the person in spite of who they were or what they had done. Lasting change doesn’t come about because of a change in policies. It comes about through the individual relationships we have with others and our ability to help and encourage individuals to be better humans tomorrow than they were today. It’s an important part of community.

So I ask again, do you invest in someone other than those you are expected to? I would love to continue the dialogue as you explore the question. I’d love to capture that investment through photos to encourage others to do the same.

Yes, No, Maybe

What is the response to “Would you go to Uganda again?”

The yes is the overarching answer. I would jump at an opportunity to go back to Uganda and Africa in general. I didn’t realize how quickly I could fall in love with a place and a people. There are many significant needs there, too many to name.

Gospel Mission Africa is doing its part to meet some of the needs, including working with pastoral leadership, supporting women and children in an effort to make generational changes, and looking at self-sufficiency through agriculture and small business endeavors to improve the lives of those they reach. If you are inclined to support mission work in this part of the world, I would encourage you to reach out to them and learn more about what they are doing in Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The no is a very small piece. Surprisingly, I would not go to do a safari again in the way that we did it if I’m expecting to photograph it. As a photographer I would do a safari, but I want it to be the focus of the trip where I can plan accordingly. I would take different gear. I would also research how guides work and find one that matches the expectations of photographers.

The maybe is also related to the safari piece and really isn’t a maybe, just a different way of looking at things. When doing a safari with those who are not photographers, it’s ok to set the camera aside and enjoy what you see. Sometimes we think we have to capture everything and that simply is not the case. When I put my camera down I was able to connect more with those I was with and enjoy their own wonderment at what we saw. That alone made it much more enjoyable.

In the end, though, this trip was about helping a mission document what they do. It was to capture their meetings, show what the women were working on, and just help them be able to explain their work. Doing that helped me to gain an appreciation for Africa and those living there that I might not otherwise have.

The Logistics

Now that I’m beginning to settle back into life I thought I’d share a little about the logistics of the trip. There were things I learned along the way that might be useful in the future.

My kit was pretty basic, too basic in fact. At the time I was packing rumors were flying around the news that TSA was about to expand an existing policy that excludes all electronics larger than a smartphone from airplane cabins. The rule currently applies to about a dozen airports in the Middle East and the expansion, if implemented, would cover all of Europe.

While the plan was still being developed, it was said that it would be implemented within 24 to 48 hours of the official announcement. That meant I needed to plan accordingly. I normally carry my gear with me when I fly so I can carry more and feel relatively safe. Checking it, though, was not something I wanted to do. So I chose to go as light as possible.

One body. While I got by with one body I certainly wouldn’t recommend it on a trip like this for a couple of reasons. First is the simple fact that equipment can fail. If it does fail then your trip is done.

There is also the issue that sometimes you want to shoot with different lenses without changing back and forth. I ran into this a couple of times. I was shooting with the 24-70mm and would want my 50mm for the wider aperture. The problem is that shooting more of a live documentary style of photo you can lose the image you want during the few seconds​you are changing lenses.

So what did I take?

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The body was my 6d. A crop body would have been useful at times but I felt like I needed the ability to shoot in low light. The 6d did the job admirably.

As for lenses I knew that I would want them all but I also knew not to take them all. The 24-70mm was on most of the trip. I did shoot with the 50mm and the 70-200mm as well, but the 24-70mm was my go to lens. During the last day of shooting I coupled the 70-200mm with a 2x teleconference giving me the range of 140-400mm. I’ll talk more about that below.

Flash. I was told to take a flash. In reality it wasn’t useful. If you are going to use flash you generally want to bounce it off neutral walls or ceilings. Go back and look at the photos taken indoors. They are dark and the ceiling is the tin roof above.

I did use flash a few times the first day. Once was with a group shot as dusk was setting in. The others I didn’t even post. I’m glad I had it in case I needed it, but it was dead weight on this trip.

Batteries, the funny thing about batteries is they are easy to set aside and misplace. I took 4, or so I thought. When I went to change a battery a few days in since I forgot to charge the one in my camera the night before I became panicked because I couldn’t find any of the other three. I was able to charge the one I had during lunch for the afternoon, but I was concerned about the day at Murchison Falls. That evening I went through my suitcase and nothing. I emptied my backpack twice. I finally found all the spares in a side pocket I don’t use.

I also took six 32gb and one 64gb flashcards. Each one was in a separate case with tape sealing it closed. The tape was my indicator as to whether it was empty or used. Coming home the cards went into a card wallet that I carried in my pocket attached to me with a clip.

Finally, you need to know about electricity. Do your chargers need a converter to change voltage or simply an adapter? If your power supplies say 100-240 volt you can get by with an adapter which is less expensive than a converter.

Think twice about which you want. What do you want to charge or use? You’ll probably have at least one charger for the camera. Then add to that as you’ll want to keep your phone and tablet or computer charged. So that is three things plugged in overnight.

Do NOT think that you can get an adapter and plug a power strip to it. Consumer strips bought in the U.S. are rated for our 110v electricity. An adapter only changes the prongs on your plug. It does NOT change the voltage. A converter changes the voltage down to 110-120v. Plugging a power strip into an adapter will cause a fire. No, I did not do that. I did take an adapter so I ended up switching out chargers all the time to keep things ready for use. Next time I’ll do a converter and strip.

Filters. Yes I took filters. They stayed in my bag most of the trip. Why? Again, I was shooting in dark spaces or on the go as a photo presented itself. I didn’t feel I could take the time to adjust or screw on a filter. Others might feel differently, but given what I was working with I couldn’t see it working. If I were taking time to arrange people or compose for a sunset, yes the filters would have helped.

As I packed I took pictures of every serial number on my equipment. I felt it was important to have a date stamped photo showing that I had the equipment when I left the country.

When I came back through U.S. customs a CBP officer stopped me and asked to see what I had. No problems. He knew each piece of gear in my bag and it’s value. He also suggested that travelers can take their equipment to a CBP officer when they are leaving the country and register their equipment on a form 4457 that the officer fills out. This records all the serial numbers and a description. He said that if the gear is stolen they then have the ability to look for it later.

That said, he didn’t look at my gear to see if I had any that was stolen. Maybe because I told him up front the total value and it was close to his calculations so he assumed I was legit.

So was the gear sufficient? Yes and no. Given the circumstances it worked. I was not satisfied with the 70-200mm and 2x teleconference during the safari. I did get some ok pictures but I wish I had my longer lens. However I wasn’t going for the safari, I was going to help out a ministry through my photography. The safari was icing on the proverbial cake. It wasn’t my focus. Otherwise I was satisfied.

Rahab & Home

No pictures today. It isn’t appropriate.

We left Murchison Falls this morning, stopping first at Masindi and at some point not found on a map to say good bye to our South Sudan friends. It’s hard to think about the contrast between our homes, each one of us going to something different. After letting them go we continued on to Kampala where we dropped our safari guide off.

Philip arranged for us to visit a home for victims of human trafficking. The shelter seemed to be in a ghetto area of Kampala. We found Ellen or Allen, I couldn’t understand Philip’s pronunciation of the letters as he spelled her name. She was the assistant director of the program. Ellen (or Allen) and I seemed to hit it off. After sharing a bit of our backgrounds she suggested that I move to Kampala and help pass laws that would make it easier to prosecute those buying the girls.

As we talked I asked Ellen (still uncertain, it may be Allen) about the ages of the girls that they have helped. She said that right now they have an 11 year old in their program as the youngest. However, they have helped a 9 year old as well. I’m not certain of the number of girls that they can shelter. In addition to the shelter program, they walk the streets to do outreach.

She mentioned that she had just come back from the U.S. She had been here to attend a conference on trafficking and prostitution. For some reason I happened to mention the name of a friend of mine in the federal government who trains on these issues. She said he was one of the presenters at the conference she attended, driving home the idea that it is really a small world.

After saying good bye to the staff at Rahab House we started toward Entebbe where Philip would drop us off for our flight to Amsterdam. Before going to the airport, though, we have one stop to make. We must find dinner. Philip chose the place for our last meal together…Pizza Hut.

Philip…seluganda. So long for now, my friend. Thank you for the hard work you put into making the last two weeks happen and for the work you are doing in Africa.

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls is a wildlife reserve in west central Uganda. Lake Albert separates parts of the reserve from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lake Albert incorporates both the Victoria Nile and the Albert Nile rivers, the Victoria Nile originating in Jinja and the Albert Nile flowing out of Lake Albert. My understanding is that the two combined are referred to as the White Nile.

As we waited to cross the Nile River into the park on the ferry at first light this morning, a pod of hippos and a baboon or two greeted us in the early morning light.

From that point forward we saw primarily giraffes, water buffalo, warthogs, hippos, and kob…lots of kob. Occasionally you would find a pair of oribi, however they aren’t as easy to find as they run in pairs as opposed to herds. Unfortunately we didn’t see many elephants and those we did see were usually turned away from us.

Then we spotted a lion. First there was a lioness walking among some antelope. They must have known that it had already eaten or that the day was heating up. They kept their eye on the lion, but never ran. As we followed her we found her join a small pride that included a male. Our guide told us that there are about 300 to 350 lions in the park and it can be hard to find them given the size of the park.

After watching the lions for a few minutes we ventured on toward the Nile River and Lake Albert where we would turn around and head back to our campsite. We continued to see many of the same animals as before and I am amazed that you see multiple types of animals in the same line of sight. The above image of the lioness walking among the antelope is just one example.

After lunch and a bit of time to rest we took a ride up the Victoria Nile toward Murchison Falls.

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Along the way were the usual suspects. This included hippos and crocodiles. There were numerous birds of various types, including this African Fish Eagle.

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As the tour was ending it became more and more of a reality that tonight is our last night in Africa. I am not ready to go home. I would stay longer if I could, maybe permanently.

 

New Faces, New Names

Today we traveled to Murchison Falls park. We are staying the last two nights in the park at Red Chili campsite. We met up with Philip and our guide at the Paradise Hotel in Jinja before starting a drive that took most of the day.

Along the way Mary Jo decided we should stop at a roadside stand and buy some mangos. Philip introduced himself to the young woman, probably in her teens, selling the fruit. When he got back in the van he said that based on her name she belongs to a royal family in Uganda.

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Along the way we saw scenes that could’ve come out of a prior time in American history. At the same time the scenes are nestled in settings that are much more distinctly associated with Africa.

Along the way we stopped in Masindi to meet up with two men that Philip has been working with. One is a pastor in South Sudan and the other works with refugees from South Sudan who have fled to the camps along the border with Uganda.

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One couldn’t help listening to the two share their stories of life in South Sudan, of the wars going on and ultimately of the work being done to bring the country back together.  After lunch, the two men joined us to finish the trip to Murchison Falls.

As we approached the entry into Murchison Falls we began to see glimpses of what I hope we see more of tomorrow. A group of baboons greeted us at the entry checkpoint of the park.

 

Boscoe’s Village

Meet Boscoe. IMG_2965-EditHe should have a village named after him. He runs a children’s home, but he is the only director that we visited who acknowledged the problem of runaway youth in Jinja and beyond.

While Boscoe isn’t picky about the backgrounds of the kids he works with, his program seems to attract children from the Karamajong (Karimajong) tribe. The Karamajong are a nomadic people within Uganda and neighboring countries.

These children have been abused and run away from their families, longing for a better life. It isn’t easy for the Karamajong. They stand out from other kids and are often bullied. Boscoe has found that the best thing he can do is use the older children to mentor the younger ones with the hope that they will learn more about their culture than they might otherwise experience.

IMG_2966-EditBoscoe’s program provides shelter, food and an education for about 250 kids, mostly from the Karamajong tribe.  The children are scattered throughout the community in 11 different houses.

Facilities are very rudimentary. An outdoor cooking area at this one provides the meals. Nearby is a latrine. Boscoe showed us the facility and explained the leach field that helps to disburse the liquids from the solids. He explained how a truck can come in and clean out the solid materials. It kind of reminded me of growing up in a one-room country school with outhouses.

Boscoe took us to a second location. There was a park in the center of several houses. One of the houses belonged to his program. As we pulled up children of all ages came running up to greet us. Boscoe informed us that the kids wanted to do an impromptu dance for us. He said that we would have to travel several hundred kilometers to see a performance like this by the tribe represented in these youth.

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The first dance was a welcome dance, inviting us into their world. It was followed by several other dances including a wedding dance of sorts. Philip explained that the Karamajong perform this dance and during the dance the male forcefully takes his bride without her affirmation. He grabs her wrist and pulls her to his tent and has sex with her regardless of her wishes in order to claim her as his wife.

The teen girls performing this example of the dance would likely be married and with at least one child if they were in their traditional tribal setting. Boscoe has been working to educate the kids on the importance of heritage while acknowledging the rights of women.

After the dancing ended the kids gathered around for their photos. While this group of kids are among the lowest class of people in Uganda, those we encountered seemed to be among the most well-adjusted to their circumstances. They were utilizing the schools to better themselves, they were learning their culture, and they were taking steps to better their community. All of them presented themselves with a smile, greeting us, welcoming us into their courtyard and their lives.