Sunsets and Penguins

I left my home and my family in South Carolina exactly one week ago to fly to Africa. The ultimate destination: Uganda. It would be my second visit to this beautiful country as part of a mission team with Call to Africa. I did not know exactly what would be involved in this specific trip, only that my camera and I were needed to once again share some incredible stories of despair, hope, need, unconditional love, darkness, and a light that shines so bright the darkness cannot survive in the midst of it.

Ready for whatever was needed, I packed my camera gear and my passport and some of the Ugandan attire I had picked up in Jinja two years ago and set my sights on the continent of Africa. I flew first to Johannesburg in South Africa and then caught a short flight over to Cape Town to visit a city whose streets I had dreamed of walking since I was 14 or 15 years old. Truly my visit to Cape Town was a bucket list item.

As I was booking flights around Africa and places to stay, I reminded myself I wasn’t getting any younger. Now was the time. If I was going to see Cape Town I might as well make the most of the incredibly long journey across the Atlantic to Uganda and some soon-to-expire Delta global upgrades for a bit of Cape Town adventure. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous as well as excited – both because what lay ahead was completely unknown in a land faraway. But, hey, you only live once, right?

At 49 years of age, I stood atop the plateau of Table Mountain, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, and let the South African wind blow through my hair and into my lungs. I stood on a rock at the ocean’s edge and watched the sun set over a land that has always been somewhat mystical in my mind. And I waded through crystal clear water very near the place that the Indian and Atlanta oceans exchange tides and watched an African penguin paddle by not more than two feet away. I am certain the penguins knew I was a professional photographer for they were actually posing for the camera!

If you’d like to check out some of my Cape Town photos, you can see those here. It truly is a magical, beautiful place, better than I ever dreamed. #noregrets

The next stop: Entebbe, Uganda. And this is where the romance of the trip comes to an end.

Oh my word, at about this point in the adventure I’m so over the flying! It’s only May, and I’ve already been to Taiwan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Uganda….not counting 2 trips to Portland, OR wedged in between.

It’s during that last hour from Cape Town to Addis Ababa when I’m watching the clock and that super short 35-minute layover dwindle down to nothing that my neck starts to really, really hurt, and I’m a bundle of tension. I start imagining the long night in Addis Ababa, stranded, maybe with no ability to communicate with anyone back home. Maybe I will be lost forever, or at least my luggage will. I start having flashbacks to the lost luggage of 2016 where I learned to live with two Ugandan dresses, deodorant, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, a cheap plastic comb that tore out too much of my hair, and a bar of soap for shampoo when my luggage was lost for 5 (seemingly endless) days as we hightailed it across Uganda from east to west. I remind myself that I survived just fine and really some of the Ugandans that I met on that trip survive with less most of the time . No complaints. It is life. I need to get over myself. And besides, God’s got this. Whom or what shall I fear?

As it turned out, Ethiopian Air took good care of me and the other two mzungus (white people) that were connecting to Entebbe, holding the flight and shuttling us straight to the plane. Even the luggage made it, miraculously (which I was skeptical of until I saw it for myself. My type A be-in-control personality not trusting the airline personel.)

I was picked up at Entebbe airport at nearly 2:00 am by my dear friends Emmanuel and Josephine, whom I had met two years prior. I was so grateful to see familiar faces and get a hug from Mama Josephine! (Thank you, both, for staying up in the middle of the night to collect me and get me safely to Kampala!)

The next morning (which was really just about 4 hours later, in a zombie-like state) I met up with half of the Call to Africa team. Everyone was new to me – a bunch of Alabamans (this could be interesting…..). We got to know one another over a breakfast of eggs and croissants and lots and lots of coffee. I could already tell I was going to enjoy spending the next week and a half working with this group as we piled into our awaiting bus to make the journey to Jinja, another 2 hours north (or 4 hours, or whatever, depending upon traffic or anything else that might happen along the road ahead). Welcome to Uganda!

(If you want to read about my earlier trip across Uganda and the boda boda thing, the cow project, the encounter with a hippo, and more, check that out here. Otherwise stay tuned for my next post coming soon!)

It’s the Little Things in Life

It really is the little things in life. I tend to forget this and need a reminder from time to time.

On Sunday, my daughter Halla and I flew from Greenville, SC to Entebbe, Uganda in East Africa. We arrived safe and sound but my luggage did not. It got lost for several days, probably in Europe somewhere. I spent the first 4 days of the trip with some camera gear, a phone, a laptop, some charging cords, chewing gum, chapstick, and not much else.

I came to Africa to work as a photojournalist for the mission organization Call to Africa, based in Alabama. I first heard about Call to Africa from a former student of mine at the National Cat Groomers Institute. Brittany Clark, a young lady from AL, went on her first mission trip to Uganda back in January. As I saw photos and posts on social media from Brittany from her time spent in Uganda, my lifelong dream of going to Africa worked its way to the forefront of my mind. After a bit of conversation with Brittany, I was soon speaking to the head of Call to Africa, Ken Galyean. Shortly thereafter, I bought a ticket to Entebbe and signed up both Halla and myself to go along on this current trip to serve as part of the team here to meet some very specific needs. I look forward to sharing more about those needs and the work here through my blog over the next couple of weeks.

My trip here in Uganda started off at a hotel in Kampala that did not provide any of the usual travel size toiletry amenities. I had to borrow what I could from Brittany and Halla, spending that first day in borrowed clothing and without the benefit of any of my usual hair, skin, and face products. Bad hair day!

The first day involved a quick trip to a local store where a Ugandan friend of Ken’s made sure I had some basic necessities to get me by for a few days while the airline searched for my luggage. I bought a colorful Ugandan bag and stuffed it with colorful African dresses, a pack of underwear, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, and lotion. I had a disposable toothbrush and bit of toothpaste courtesy of Delta and KLM. All of the sudden life became very simple for me. I will say that getting ready in the morning was a breeze!

My first job as a photojournalist on this trip took place in a small village in western Uganda, not far from the Rwandan and Congolese borders. The village was set amongst several rolling hills that, I am told, provide a good picture of the terrain that leads into Rwanda, the Land of a Thousand Hills. On the way to the village we passed miles and miles of banana farms, tea farms, a cotton mill, and acres upon acres of lush green landscape. I have been told that Uganda has extremely fertile soil and most areas have 3 growing seasons per year. What a vast resource!

Yet…..Uganda is plagued by poverty. Amidst the lush, fertile land were small dusty villages dotted along a severely potholed main road, giving us a glimpse of a people that have very little. They would probably think that my new colorful bag with its few measley items was a motherland of goodness. I felt a tinge of guilt for every single thought or complaint I might have had because my luggage was lost and I was having to make due with so little. In comparison I truly had plenty.

Upon arrival at our destination, I set to work shooting photos at a leadership conference for Call to Africa. Children gathered outside throughout the day, everyone staring at the mzungus (white people). Some of the children came up to touch my skin or hair, staring at me wide-eyed. They were especially fascinated with the cameras and a small group of children caught a glimpse of my camera display screen. Soon everyone wanted to be a model!  I put Halla in charge of one of my cameras with the zoom lens while I shot portrait and wide angle primes. We kept busy all day between the conference shots and the children gathered around to have their photos taken.

Late in the afternoon, as I was thinking how great it would be to take a shower and wash all the dust and sweat away, an older Ugandan woman wearing colorful traditional dress came up and grabbed me into a tight hug. She was chattering in Lugandan and smiling widely, speaking the universal language of thankfulness. This woman that had so little her whole life long was so thankful that we had come to visit and teach. I offered to take her picture. At first, she had no idea what I was offering nor what my camera was going to produce. I will never forget the way her face lit up with excitement when she saw the image of her that I had captured!! Soon she had her friends all staged in front of me, one at at time, to get their photos taken. The ladies giggled and chattered as they saw their photos for the first time, thanking me profusely for taking a photo of them that they will never hold in their hands. A fleeting moment for them. A memory without an actual photo. They will not find their images on their Facebook pages or Instagram accounts because they do not have electronics. I realize this is hard for the western world to imagine. But can you imagine?

I would have paid good money to have a printer on hand yesterday so I could print out photos for these women right there on the spot. If I come back again to Uganda, I’m going to figure out a way to have a printer on site for that very purpose. It is a wonderful thing to see genuine joy, to experience a truly thankful heart from someone that really has very little in the way of earthly possessions. It is quite a contrast with the pettiness and grumbling I see on social media everyday. Makes me wonder who is truly poor.

Here are the ladies. You can’t tell it from the photos, but they were so excited! It was funny to watch them go from acting like school girls when I showed them photos I had taken to the stiff, straight-faced models you see here in these images.

 

Note: the cover photo is of a little girl that caught my attention because she spent most of the day staring at me. She is sitting here eating sugar cane which is grown nearby. Earlier, for breakfast that morning, she ate a banana that came off a tree next to where she is sitting. For dinner, she will have matoke. I saw the women peeling and slicing the green bananas in the field next door, as they prepared them to be steamed and mashed to make matoke. 

To view my top picks from the Uganda trip, check out the album here. Photos can be downloaded and shared by using PIN code 4618. Please feel free to share individual photos or the entire album. The more people learn about Call to Africa and the country of Uganda, the greater the reach!