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.

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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.

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.

Kiyindi Revisited

After bidding Joshua farewell, Phillip, Mary Jo, David, Moses and I went back to Kiyindi for our final visit to one of the leadership training centers. These meetings have always had some connection to all three goals of Gospel Mission Africa and this one was no different.

After David and Mary Jo finished their talks, the women of the village had to show them the crafts that they have been working on with the materials provided to them by GMA. What isn’t evident from this photo is that everyone is standing around the school that these children attend.IMG_2947-Edit

These women may have made the best use of the beads provided. As you can see from the picture below they have made a number of purses, focusing on the empowerment of women that these materials provide.

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As you’ve browsed these pages related to Uganda you may be asking why there is such a strong emphasis on empowering women. Traditionally Ugandan women do all the work. They go to the fields and raise the food. They care for the children. Men on the other hand make use of the privileges given to them in their culture, the privilege to not work and the privilege to drink the locally distilled, cheap and poisonous alcohol. GMA hopes that they can provide women with opportunities to earn more income with less hard labor and encourage men to share the responsibility of earning the food.

The children in Kiyindi are just like all the others I have come across. Shy at first but once they realize that the camera will show them what they look like, they swarm around any one person that they think I’m about to photograph. It is difficult to capture an image of just one or two children.

As with most any child in any culture you will find attitude. I came across this girl standing in the doorway to her home. A knife with no handle in her hand, chipping away at a piece of sugarcane. I motion to her that I’d like to take her picture and she seems indignant at first. Moving toward her I motion again and her body language shows that she is agreeable. After taking the shot she drops her hands to her side and marches toward me and in unbroken English says “I have GOT to see what I look like.”IMG_2961-Edit

Not surprisingly, there are things that could be done to help this church and school. The church has a tin roof with holes in it. The walls of the school are incomplete and falling apart. Yet, the alphabet is written on the outside walls for the children to see whenever they are in the area.

Kiyindi, the gateway to the island of Buvuma. Kiyindi, a village with its own issues. This is the last of these gatherings that we will take in this trip. It is hard to imagine it quickly coming to an end.

A Hugger, Not a Mugger

Today we say good bye to Joshua, seluganda. The good thing about a good bye is that they don’t have to be the end of the story. Joshua lives in Seattle and I can get up there from time to time because my sister lives in the area. Plus we have email and telephones. Right?

It is funny how someone can be involved with things you are involved with for a brief moment of time and yet it feels like you’ve known them for years. As I said when I first introduced you to Joshua, he has a big heart. I’ve watched him with members of our team. I’ve watched him with the kids he has interacted with. It is clear he understands the meaning of his name.

So the façade of the intimidating, “don’t mess with me” guy found in that very first picture of him was shattered this week. He is a hugger, not a mugger. I look forward to the time our paths cross again. IMG_2881-Edit-2