While planning my trip to Uganda, I was happy to have the opportunity to book my first night’s stay near the airport in an Airbnb hosted by the AidChild Leadership Institute. AidChild is an organization that I first connected with back in 2007 while working on a documentary project in Uganda. I’ve been impressed by their focused vision on the pursuit of an HIV-free generation and the innovative ways that they have cared for children along the way.
The AidChild Leadership Institute is a wellness and academic support program for the students who have been ARV-recipients and are nearing adulthood. The older students are referred to as interns and the younger ones are called novices. Their life together is orchestrated in a way that provides them with care, support, education and growth in character.
I’ve just embarked upon my fourth trip to East Africa and consider it a privilege to revisit one of my favorite regions on earth. I was invited to join a team from Bethel Seminary and to speak on leadership at two conferences in Northwestern Uganda.
Managing to book my flight over with an 8 hour layover in Addis Ababa I decided to look into my options for seeing the city. I learned that with a layover of less than 12 hours, one could purchase a hotel pass for $50 which would include a shuttle to the hotel, a meal, a place to rest and a shuttle back in time to catch my flight. All of this along with the opportunity to explore a city that I had never visited was too good to be true!
It was a simple enough question. Under ordinary circumstances this interaction between strangers might have produced a simple “no” and a polite but brief discussion.
These were not ordinary circumstances. I had arrived in Kenya only a few days earlier as part of a team attempting to do documentary work on good causes in East Africa. Learning that the World Social Forum was taking place in Nairobi, I stayed behind to network while most of my team went on to Uganda. With my camera draped over my shoulder, I wandered around the stadium looking for interesting people and causes to engage. This is when I received a life changing question.
“Excuse me, are you a journalist?” a man asked. “No” I answered. “I do some documentary work with photography and video but I am not a journalist.” Undaunted, he asked “Can I tell you about a project I am working on for my hometown village?” It is not uncommon to be approached by strangers in East Africa with requests for help. This question intrigued me, however, so I stopped to listen to the man’s story.
There are a few moments in life where you make profound discoveries that change your life forever. Although long in the making, these defining moments are what we remember when looking back. One of moments occurred to me six years ago at the 1000 Cups Coffee House in Kampala, Uganda. This discovery for me was not of deep spiritual importance but it did help to refine what became one of my most enduring interests, enjoying a good cup of coffee.
Attracted by a flyer offering a coffee safari, I figured that a place that could introduce you to the coffee process probably makes some pretty good coffee. My boda boda driver (motorcycle taxi) struggled to find the place from my vague description. Stepping through the door I liked the place instantly. It looked like what an artisan coffee shop in Africa should look like, complete with a rustic wooden setting and well arranged sacks of fresh roasted coffee beans.
On the way to my most recent trip to East Africa I found an article on safari in an issue of Conde Nast Traveler. The classic look of the images that they displayed inspired me to capture my own series of vintage safari pictures. Using our tented camp just outside of Maassai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, my sister and I captured a collection I have entitled Vintage Safari. Click here to see the rest of the images from this collection.
Rebekah and I on safari at Kenya’s Maassai Mara.
One of the great joys of my life has been sharing my love of travel with my younger sister, Rebekah
. Our shared adventures include a three week road trip through the American West visiting 13 states and 7 national parks. We once drove from Ohio to Homer, Alaska, spending a spontaneous summer together in the Last Frontier. We’ve traveled along Lake Superior’s scenic North Shore and camped at Southern California’s San Onofre State Beach. We learned to surf together in the Pacific Ocean and kayaked for the first time during one of our journeys to Colorado.
When I told her that I was heading back to East Africa she decided that she wanted to join me this time. I welcomed the idea of taking our initial trip together overseas, especially since this was our first chance to travel since she has given birth to two beautiful little boys.
On a bright Sunday afternoon in Nimule, South Sudan, a group decided to set out on a walking trip to the Nile River. Following Elizabeth, a volunteer at the Cornerstone Children’s Home from Colorado, visitors and children alike set made this trek. The next few hours yielded rich cultural and natural experiences.
I walked alongside Jimmy, a sixteen year old orphan who speaks great English and always carries a sheepish grin on his face as though he is planning some kind of mischief. Jimmy is a fun to joke around with and behind his jovial manner is a kind heart. Enjoying this opportunity to get to know him, we spent most of the way there and back in conversation.
You can learn much about a society by watching children play. The games and activities that they embrace can be instructive about the society in which they are raised. The children at Cornerstone Children’s Home in South Sudan played a that game that seemed impossible for us visitors to figure out. Aside from football (what we call soccer) it seemed to be their favorite game to play.
After trying in vain to figure out how the game worked I decided one evening to join in. Ohwilo, one of the boys from the children’s home, saw that I didn’t know what I was doing and grabbed my hand to try to walk me through it.
Children everywhere love to see photos. On my first day in Southern Sudan I met a little girl named Dorothy at the Cornerstone Children’s Home. Most of those who know her call her by her nickname, Nyonyo. I was carrying my camera at the time so she pleaded, “I want to see the photos.”
After showing her some of the pictures she approached me later on asking to see the photos on my phone. Every time I saw her for the first couple days I was there she repeated in the same begging voice, “I want to see the photos.”
One evening I saw her and jokingly said the same thing to her using her tone of voice. She promptly disappeared and then returned with a small photo album. I sat down on the concrete with her as she told me about the people in her photos.
There are a few moments in life where your experience collides with your interests, making you feel like it is a great time to be alive. Flying over Uganda this past week on our way to South Sudan provided one of these moments. Here’s what I wrote in my Field Notes shortly after we took off.
“I am so happy right now. I’m on an adventure and nothing makes me feel more alive than experiences like this. I am presently on an MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) flight from Entebbe, Uganda to Nimule, South Sudan. We are on a small 12 passenger plane. The seats are covered with a tough canvas and the controls look vintage but capable.