Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Alone at last..

I am sitting here by the fire pit, trying to warm up after a freezing shower. It's quiet as can be except for the bird calls and the wind rustling the trees and it just occurred to me that this is the first time I've been alone in 5 weeks. Sylvia and all the staff have gone home for the evening, there are no other volunteers here tonight. It's just me out here in the forest in the middle of nowhere. I have to admit, I'm kinda loving it!
Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I will be taking some of the orphaned baby chimps for a "bush walk" to get their little muscles moving and growing. Can't wait!

Traveling to Zambia

8.18.09 @ 11:30pm

The plane that carried myself and 11 other Zambians from Johannesburg touched down at the teensy Ndola airport around 6pm yesterday evening. After going through immigration and grabbing my bags (which all happened in the same little cement block), I began pushing my way through the men crowded around the backdoor, eagerly searching for a piece of paper with my name on it. I received an email a few days back stating that my transport for the 4 hour journey to Chimfunshi Sanctuary could no longer come because they do not like to drive at night. I hadn't really come up with an alternate plan, maybe I would just hitch a ride to the closest hostel.. but that idea wasn't very appealing with all my cumbersome luggage. But fortunately, as I was pushing my way through the crowd, a Zambian man with a wide, sweet smiling face appeared out of nowhere and said "ah yoo Jehsikahh?" Christopher had come after all and like an angel, was a comfort and relief to travel the last 4 hours of my tiring 18 hour journey with. He told me all about growing up in Zambia and some of the issues that they are dealing with here. As we drove through the rural northern part of the country we passed mine after mine, where they are extracting cobalt, malachite and copper from the earth. I asked him how it was possible that northern Zambia had remained largely conflict free when just a few km north of us, in the DRC, violence and turmoil is raging over raw minerals (tungsten, tin etc) that fuel the western world's hunger for technological advancement. His reply: "we are not ready to give up our peace" followed by that sweet African musical laugh that you hear so frequently.
About an hour outside of Ndola we began to see bush fires, which seemed to increase in size, intensity and frequency as we drove further. Once the sun had set we drove directly through large fields which had been set ablaze, filling his old truck with dark smoke. I began to drift off around 7pm but was woken by the truck aggressively swerving sharply left and right. Christopher started laughing and said "in Zambia, it is the opposite.. you are drunk if you drive straight". As my vision focused, I could see large sections of the road missing, the remaining asphalt was punctuated by enormous pot holes. All this didn't seem to slow Christopher down though. He maintained his bat-out-of-hell speed even down the last 15 km off road through the bush to the sanctuary. The cacophony created by the rocky trail and his rattling truck was silenced only for a few seconds at a time when the wheels left the ground and we went flying through the air before slamming back down to the ground. At this point I couldn't help but laugh deliriously and we laughed the whole rest of the way to Chimfunshi.

Home in Uganda

8.18.09 @ 10:45am

I got to Entebbe airport this morning safely and quickly. As I made my way through UWEC, stumbling inthe darkness at 4:30am, loaded down with my pack, my Camelbak, my camera equipment case and an enormous African drum, I was nervous as a cat that my transport to the airport wouldn't show. Well that's not exactly true. I knew he would be there; Ugandans are entirely too hospitable and polite to not show up. It's just that I was half expecting African time to kick in and he would come rolling up in his truck at 8am with a big ol' grin on his face.. at which point I would have missed my 7:15 flight. While I waited, a uniformed guard with an AK-47 materialized out of the darkness and asked what I was doing. He wanted to wait with me to ensure my safety and we soon saw James' headlights coming down the hill in the distance. The men helped me load everything in the back of the truck and we were on our way. We passed through various military checkpoints (more armed soldiers, more explanations) and finally arrived at the little Entebbe airport. I managed to save my last 40,000 shillings to pay for my room and transport and was also able to check the drum (hallelujah!) that I insist on hauling all over Africa to bring home to Oteil. I caught up on some zzzz's on the four hour flight to Johannesburg. I stayed out a bit too late last night, having dinner and drinks in town with friends before a very tearful goodbye and catching a ride on a motorcycle back to UWEC. I have to admit that I'm really sad to be leaving Uganda. Of all the places I've traveled, Uganda really holds a special place in my heart.. because of the beautiful, lush land and amazing wildlife, but mostly because of the incredible people that I have met here. Our friend Peace said to us yesterday afternoon "you are lucky because you now have two homes. You will always have a home here with us."

Last day in the rainforest


Today is our last day up in Kibale Rainforest.. and our last day to finish all the work that we have been doing for JGI (Jane GOodall Institute), CSWCT (Chimpanzee Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Trust), UWEC (Uganda WIldlife Education Center) and UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority). Tomorrow we will head back to Entebbe to do a showcase of our work for the directors of these organizations and the team will split to go our separate ways around Africa from there.
We crawled out of our tents extra early this morning and ate what some of us believe to be our very last bowl of porridge in our lives. (I still quite like it although most everyone else can't stand the sight of it by now.) We've been working hard all day.. I've got most of my galleries completed.. now I'm just dealing with the painfully slow internet connection.. makes uploading 90+ images a nightmare! Since we won't have time to get it done today, Conor and I plan on finishing our print ads for CSWCT on the truck during the 12 hour ride back to Entebbe.
Lucy, Katie and I cooked way too much veggie stew for dinner last night so the team had it again for lunch. We also made some really great homemade bread over the fire to go with it which was extremely yummers. After lunch, we had all settled back down behind our laptops and a full on African thunderstorm blew in with a quickness. Everyone was scrambling to get the equipment and wires covered when the rain started pelting down sideways.. Jonathan ran for the generator to get it switched off. The flies on some of our tents came loose in the wind and Leslie and I got soaked as we tried to quickly fix ours.. but we were too late, looks like I'll be sleeping in a wet sleeping bag tonight!
Off to wrestle with the PH gallery..
I love and miss you guys!
Oh yeah.. There's a job opening in the Congo working with gorillas for a digital media person who can speak french. My french conversational skills are seriously lacking after years of being away.. and I don't think Teily would be too keen on me running off to the Congo for a year. But wouldn't that be amazing??

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chimpanzee Trekking


Today was one of the most amazing days, not only of this expedition, but of my life. Looking back on it, I still can't believe how fantastic it was. I wish I had the time to thoroughly describe my experiences today.. but work is calling and I must be brief!
5 members of our team crawled out of our tents before the sun rose this morning and hiked out through the tea plantations to the UWA headquarters to begin trekking through the rainforest in search of the chimpanzees. We had all prepared ourselves for the hours of hiking ahead and for the possibility of not encountering any of these elusive creatures. Yesterday, the ranger told us that they hiked for 8 hours straight and saw them around 150 yards away at the end of the day. But I didn't care.. I was happy to be heading back into the rainforest. Amazingly enough though, around 7:30am, we had been hiking for 10 minutes or so and all of sudden the quiet of the rainforest morning was shattered by the sound of chimpanzees screaming all around us. We all froze on the trail, absolutely shocked by the powerful chorus of the community (and at our amazing luck!). When the vocalizations died down, we quietly ventured a little ways down the trail and rounded the corner to see a large adult male walking about 15 feet ahead of us. His huge black and silver muscular body was a sight to see so close, and he seemed to not even notice our presence, despite our awkward muzungu feet stumbling across branches and vines. We tried to be as silent as possible as we followed him and he led us directly into the center of the group. As chimps are feeding, they are fairly quiet, so it came as a surprise to all of us when we looked up and saw chimps of every age and sex all around us, staggered throughout the trees. One subadult male was about 10 feet from me, casually feeding on the palm tree seeds that they adore so much. Little infants were scampering through the tree tops just above him, their mothers feeding and lounging nearby. WIthin this particular community, there are 120 members, 20 of which are large adult males. Quite a few of those males were within the vicinity, and several times they broke into their display behavior, crashing through the trees and beating on anything nearby as we ran to get out of the line of fire. It was remarkable how swiftly an entire community can move through the forest.. after a relatively quiet feeding session, one by one they began to disappear and before we knew it we were running through the dense rainforest, leaping over fallen trees and crawling through the undergrowth, tripping over vines and scraping through sharp foliage, in a desperate attempt to keep up. The government limits the amount of time that humans are allowed to be with the chimps in the wild. We definitely overstayed our welcome, and after a couple hours, turned to hike back to headquarters. On our way back, one young female was lounging in a patch of sunlight right in the middle of the trail. We all stopped and studied her beautiful face before she nonchalantly and fluidly stood up and disappeared back into the forest. I feel so fortunate to have been able to be inside their world today. Its something that I will never ever forget.

After chimp trekking we spent our afternoon doing something almost equally as amazing... we met back up with our team, loaded up on Nox and drove to a primatologist named Julia Lloyd's "compound", nestled deep in the forest. Julia is a British woman who has been living in Uganda since the early 90s, researching ecotourism, chimpanzee habituation and conservation. It was fascinating to be able to see a primatologist working in the field who has so successfully melded her lifestyle to meet that of the locals. Her living/work space consists of 3 huts, one is her office, one is her home, and one is a guest house. Keeping her company are 4 rescue dogs, all just as quirky as you can imagine an African rescue dog to be. Julia is such a breath of fresh air in her objective perspective of conservation issues in Uganda.. After traveling around for the last 4 weeks, meeting various conservation organizations, all possessing unique and somewhat political agendas, it was great to meet an individual who is such a "heavy hitter" in the conservation world who has managed to have her research work successfully impact conservation without forming alliances. She's the real deal. What an inspiration..
More to come! Once I finish my web work! Love you all bunches!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

UWA Community Projects


In an effort to protect the rainforest and all of it's inhabitants, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority has invented various methods of providing alternate means of income and energy, while simultaneously increasing national pride, for the local villages surrounding Kibale. As a source of income, locals are resorting to the bushmeat trade, laying snares and mantraps for catching duikers and bushpigs. Chimpanzees, gorillas, and other primates inadvertently get trapped and unless rescued, die of sepsis, gangrene, loss of blood or as prey to other animals in their weakened state. To help provide different sources of revenue, UWA has worked with women of the local villages to sell their (sustainable) crafts (baskets, jewelry, wood carvings etc) in tourist hotspots, establishing beehives in local villages to produce beeswax, shoe polish, furniture polish, candles etc, digging ponds for fish farming, planting pineapple fields and so on.. Also, the local farmers have been having problems with elephants destroying their crops, so the UWA has worked with the farmers to dig trenches lining the perimeter of the rainforest to prevent the elephants from passing over. After our team had a morning meeting with the Conservation Officer of UWA, a few of us were fortunate enough to be able to travel out to some of the villages to witness firsthand the projects that have been set up.
Half of our film team, our 2 anthropologists, our project coordinator and myself packed into the back of a UWA ranger's green pick up truck for the considerable rides through the rainforest and between villages. To say the ride was bumpy would be an enormous understatement.. I think a lot of us are going to have bruises as our bodies took the hits while we tried to protect our camera equipment! As more UWA officials piled on at each stop, we packed in more tightly in the bed of the truck. At one point, I counted 12 people around me. I lucked out for most of the day and was able to stand up right behind the cab and hang on to the roll cage as we sped down the dusty roads in the hot African sun. I honestly felt like I was in a movie.. while we were traveling to the rural villages on the outskirts of the forest, we drove through some absolutely unreal scenery, huge mountain ranges on either side, bright green tropical forest against the red roads and bright blue skies.. At one point, David, who was standing next to me, hanging on for dear life, hollered over the wind "Jess I bet you never get to do this in America!" There have been many times during this expedition that I have felt so empowered. This day was definitely one of them.

Going on Safari

8/8 - 8/9/09: Queen Elizabeth National Park

Our team has been working extremely hard these last couple of weeks, and the work is no where near finished.. but we all decided to head to Queen Elizabeth National Park this past weekend to go on safari and have a wee holiday (I've been hanging out with British folks too much huh?) I'll have to keep this brief because the amount of work I have to finish in the next 4 days has got me all sorts of wound up.. I have to build a section of the website for PH and retouch tons of images for the anthro and edu teams to use on their sections of the website.. not to mention the PH daily blog and features...
Ok so- Safari: saw elephants, buffalo, warthog, gazelles, kudu, a lioness, a leopard, hyenas etc etc.. There is a "loft" type deal behind the cab of Nox, which opens up on top so you can hang out the roof and take photos from about 25 feet up. I hung out there all day photographing and got a great tan.. But that's about all I got. I really have a renewed respect for wildlife photography in Africa. It's so difficult to get a great image! One day, when I can afford it, I would like to hire a driver/truck/with a tripod mounted in the bed, rent the appropriate equipment (I need a lens that is about 3 times the one I use now) and take a few weeks of doing nothing but safari photography. I haven't actually made it through the images yet, so maybe I've got something.. we'll see. I'll be sure to post some when I do!
We ran out of gas to cook with, so we've been cooking all three meals a day on an open fire (which takes about 3 hours or more), so when my turn to cook for the team comes around I can pretty much kiss my work day goodbye.
Camping in Queen Elizabeth was amazing.. the climate was different from the damp, cool weather in the rainforest that we've been in this last week.. we were back in a more arrid spot (and personally, I was loving it).. we pitched our tents beside Lake Edward and as soon as we arrived, saw hippos in the water. Hippos are the 2nd biggest (animal) killer in Africa (behind the mosquito of course).. and everyone was wary of wandering off from the campfire that night.. we could hear the hippos all around us. One of my fellow web teammates, Conor, got out of his tent in the middle of the night to tink and came back to find a hippo standing directly in front of the opening of his tent (which was about 10 feet from mine). He quickly got back to Nox and was clinging on to the side before he was able to break into the back of the truck and get out of danger. Unfortunately he had to sleep in the back of Nox because the hippo wasn't moving. In the morning, everyone said they could hear the enormous creatures munching around their tents all night long.. I was so exhausted I didn't wake up once though.
We also had another creature to be wary of in Queen Elizabeth. There were large, netted traps set up throughout our campsite.. it's victims: the tsetse fly. The tsetse fly causes "sleeping sickness".. that's all I can remember from my African Issues course from my Zoology program.. When I have some time I want to look into it more.. All I know is that I managed to not get bit by one during the course of the weekend, but when we were all loaded up in the back of the truck and headed back to Kibale on Sunday, I felt a sharp bite on my ankle and looked down to see a nice plump Tsetse fly make his escape. Luckily, I haven't fallen into a coma yet, so I think we're good. :)
To and from Queen Elizabeth, we crossed the equator. On the way back, we hopped out to take a snap...

Catching up.....


So it's been a few days (ok almost a week) since I've had a chance to sit down for longer than five minutes and write in.. my apologies family! It's been a really amazing week though, filled with rainforest treks, working with local school children, visiting remote villages, sleeping in a treehouse deep in the rainforest, going on safari, camping at 3 different amazing campsites and sleeping in a tent surrounded by hippos!

On Wednesday, Leslie (primatologist), Gemma and Katie (video crew) and myself decided to book the treehouse at Chimp's Nest for the night. Although it was pretty rustic, it was absolutely glorious having a warm bed with clean sheets, blankets and a pillow. The treehouse was deeper into the rainforest than our team's campsite was, so we hiked in about 20 minutes before we rounded the corner of the trail and the circular treehouse, about 75 feet up in the canopy came into view. We climbed the near vertical staircase up and threw down our packs to explore the tiny living space up in the canopy. The staff had lit a fire to warm 50 liters of water for our showers (yay for hot showers!) and the water smelled strongly of wood smoke. There was a window looking out into the treetops in the shower and as I washed 3 days of dirt off, a monkey (I believe it was a L'hoest) scampered across the limb a few feet from the window! To my delight (and my teammates horror) there was a fluorescent orange snake on the front porch too. After our showers, we hiked back up to Nox to have dinner with the rest of our team, had a beer at the thatched hut bar at Chimp's Nest and hiked back (accompanied by a guide for "protection") to our treehouse. We all fell asleep under our mosquito nets on our soft comfortable, clean beds, listening to the sounds of the rainforest.

The Primate Handshake is working with OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), an organization that is supplying laptops to schools in underdeveloped countries. An American guy named Ian Wrangham who is working at Kassisi Primary School, a couple hours from our campsite, won a grant for 100 of OLPC's "XO" laptops. We've had 2 of the little green laptops on our expedition for our team to fiddle around with.. so we went to Kassisi to work with the school children and receive feedback about their operating system and software for OLPC.. and our web team is working on developing some new software and games for the OLPC. Every time we've visited a school, interacting with the children has been such an amazing experience for all of us, but Thursday was particularly magical. Walking into a dark, cement school house room, packed with 90 students all huddled around their little glowing screens, grinning ear to ear, you can't help but be a bit taken aback. There isn't any electricity, they work by the little sunlight coming in from a few small windows, the 1400 children at the school are fed porridge for lunch every day.. the cards are certainly stacked against them, but their education is being enhanced so much by these little machines. The children were so excited to "show off" what they could do on their laptops. It was fascinating watching what they had already learned in the 3 weeks that they had had access to their computers.. A lot of the children at Kasiisi are orphans, but with the XOs, children in developing countries worldwide have been able to go home and teach their parents, grandparents or aunts & uncles how to read and write. How amazing is that?

To check out Ian Wrangham's blog and the Kasiisi children's progress go to:

Rainforest Trek

The handshakers dressed in the chilly darkness of the early morning, eager to make our way into the misty rainforest of Kibale National Park. As we ate our breakfast of porridge, assembled in a circle under the hut, everyone glanced up as the sounds of chimpanzee hoots rose up from the forest. Somewhere below us, a community of chimps were crawling groggily out of their night nests ready to begin foraging for fruits. It was exciting knowing that chimpanzee groups were so close.. and the prospect of seeing them in the wild today in Kibale! After a short hang up (Nox's battery died), we were on our way, passing through the tea plantations as the sun rose higher in the morning sky. We pulled into the rainforest and were again greeted by a troop of baboons lingering on the outskirts of the road. Nox pulled up under a few large avocado trees and we all filed out to begin our trek.

Our team was split up into groups of five and assigned a particular guide through the forest. Our guide, Harriet, was one of the few female rangers at Kibale and has been trekking the forest for 10 years. She was extremely knowledgeable about all the medicinal plants and trees (especially the aphrodisiacs!), the wide spectrum of wildlife and all the signs of their existence (animal tracks, dung, signs of feeding, traveling through etc....) within the rainforest.

As we followed the (surprisingly narrow) path that the elephants had taken, we discovered that the elephants found in Kibale are actually savannah elephants (as opposed to forest elephants). Prior to the 1970's, the elephants traveled freely through Kibale up to Sudan. However, due to human encroachment, around 600 elephants have become trapped within the forest. Savannah elephants are larger in size than forest elephants, but they clearly have adapted to the more dense surroundings of the rainforest. Farmers who have cultivated the land surrounding the rainforest, along with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, have dug huge trenches to deter the elephants from wandering onto their property and destroying their crops. Elephants began to push the earth back to form bridges out of the forest, so now the farmers have turned to using guns to protect their livelihood.

We hiked alongside their enormous footprints embedded in the soggy earth and spotted an array of primates including black and white colobus, grey cheeked mangabey and red tailed and l'houest monkeys. (No chimpanzee sightings, but we did see a lot of their seed-filled dung!) All around us were trees with enormous buttresses that the chimps beat on to communicate with one another. A rainbow of butterflies fluttered through the shafts of light that slanted through the canopy. Dung beetles sat perched on their prizes and colorful birds called their distinct vocalizations as they streaked through the trees. Lying on the side of the trail were two large African snails in the process of mating. At first glance, their beautiful oblong twisting shells seemed oddly out of place in the middle of the rainforest, better suited for a beach somewhere. But all around us were other-worldly creatures, their lives intricately intertwined in this complex ecosystem.

A few days before I left for the Primate Handshake expedition, Oteil asked me if I knew what made a rainforest a rainforest (besides the obvious answer). I stumbled through my answer, vaguely recalling my Zoology courses in college and immediately went inside to look it up. Today, I was able to see firsthand that damp, verdant, magical place that so many exotic species call home. I am certain that no definitions or descriptions can do the Ugandan rainforest justice. I felt so privileged to have a peek inside such a mystical place on this planet.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lara Croft

Some of my fellow teammates have taken to calling me Lara Croft. They say that I look like her with my crisscrossed camera straps, big lens balanced on my shoulder, my Lara Croft-esque clothes and my braids and bandanas. Here's a shot that Kirsty took of me photographing on Myende Island the other day...

Slaughtering Chickens

I'm sitting here at the Chimp's Bar waiting for my lunch that I ordered over 2 hours ago. You really have to get over that impatient American "let's do this RIGHT now" thing in Africa. Everything is in "Africa time".. you just have to smile, find somewhere comfortable to sit and be patient. I saw that they had some form of fried chicken on the menu, and after day after day of mounds of vegetables and rice/pasta/beans, the southerner in me wasn't going to pass that up. But when I actually ordered it, the owner said that he would have to go out back and slaughter the chicken and that it would take 3-4 hours until it was ready. It's funny, I can easily gobble down some good ol' fried chicken.. but when someone actually says they have to go out back and slaughter that chicken to make it, I'm not so keen on taking that chickens life just for my lunch. I hoped that after eating vegetarian for weeks I would be able to stick to it this time, we'll see how it goes!

12 hours to Kibale

August 1st

Yesterday was our first official travel day and we rolled out of camp at 5:45 am, before the sun had risen to warm and brighten the day. Everyone was excited about our 12 hour journey across southern Uganda to Kibale National Park. We passed the hours chatting with one another, taking turns sampling each other's music on Nox's sound system, reading our various primate books and sprawling out on top of each other for a good snooze. At noon, we stopped for lunch on the side of the road and everyone worked quickly to chop up avocado, tomato, onion and cucumber for our sandwiches and some fresh pineapple for dessert. Conor plugged his Ipod up and we grooved to some Thievery Corporation and munched on our veggie sandwiches in the shade of our huge truck.Soon we were back on the road and thanks to Steve, making great time. We pulled into Kibale National Park around 6pm, the windy drive having passed quickly. As Nox navigated down the little dirt roads curving and cutting through the rainforest, the local children came running towards the truck waving and smiling, eager to catch a glimpse of the mazungus inside. On the outskirts of the forest, we passed large expanses of land that had been cultivated for tea plantations. We all turned in our seats, balancing on our knees to check out the amazing view across the rolling hills of row after row of tea leaves, the misty rainforest in the distance.
Nox rolled deeper and deeper into Kibale and the damp, earthy scent of the rainforest enveloped our truck, a striking contrast to the arrid climate at UWEC... we had made it to chimpanzee stomping grounds, a place many of us had only read about in books. Kibale National Park is the primate hotpot in Africa. There are 13 different primate species that call Kibale home, as well as forest elephants, lion, leopard, buffalo, hippo, warthog, sitatunga, bushbuck and over 335 bird species.We spotted baboon troops immediately, they sat huddled in pairs at the edge of the red dirt road, studying our enormous yellow truck with their dark beady eyes. The sun rays were slanting through the canopy and our eyes were scanning the tree tops for any trace of chimpanzees. We drove past a sign for "Chimps Nest", where we would be camping, and Leslie and I looked at each other and grinned, we couldn't help ourselves. For many of us, we have been reading and studying about the African rainforest for years. It is a dream coming true.

Our campsite is fantastic.We pitched our tents in a clearing surrounded by 8 ft. + grasses. After getting camp set up and cooking dinner, we broke out the box wine and split up into teams for a little trivia party, hosted by Kirsty and Fiona. Everyone seemed to have had a good nights sleep, soothed by the sound of the rain pattering on our tents. When we woke this morning, the sun was emerging from behind the storm clouds, warming the day quickly.There is a trail cut through the grasses up to a thatched roof bar and restaurant that looks out over the rainforest. This is where we will be set up working in the coming days. More to come soon!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Evil Ants

Yesterday I wasn't feeling so hot.. pretty sick to my stomach during the night (which sucked because it was pouring rain and flooding my tent) and weak and dizzy during the day. Around noon, I grabbed my roll mat out of my tent and walked down to a nice shady spot under a tree to lay down and chill out. I took some rehydration salts and began to feel a bit better.. thank God. I was mildly panicking because I knew that it was a 12 hour, very bumpy trip back to Kampala to a doctor.. I think that it may have been the spicy dinner and wine I had the night before, combined with the extreme heat, being dehydrated and the big altitude change. I've been drinking tons of water since I got to Uganda, but I didn't drink much on our travel day because I didn't want to make the team have to stop every hour because of my teeny bladder. I didn't realize how quickly you could get dehydrated here though!
Anyways, so the whole point of all of that was that I was hanging up some laundry down under the tree that I was relaxing under yesterday and I made it all the way back up to the campsite before I realized that there were ants biting and crawling all over me! They managed to get down into my boots, up my pant legs and all over my stomach and arms. The ants here are pretty big and they have really big claw like mouths that bite onto you like a tick and won't let go. I've never been attacked by an army of ants before... ahhhh new experiences..


Hey guys!! Sorry I haven't been able to write in a few days. After taking over the writing for the expedition, I've been busy with updating the PH website & such.. Here is a feature I wrote about Myende Primary School, where we spent the day last Friday.....

Our team woke just before the sun peeked her face out from behind the horizon to the sound of chimpanzee vocalizations this morning. There was excitement in the air as our team savored the pancakes that David and Bethan had prepared. Today, we would be traveling to an island on Lake Victoria to see the local school's environmental drama competitions to be held at Myende Primary School.

Our team, as well as the judges selected for the competition, made the 1.5 hour journey to the island on a long wooden "slow boat". As the boat moved further out into Lake Victoria, storm clouds began to gather in the south. In the distance, we could see the pelting rain that caused the waters to grow increasingly rough. Soon our narrow boat was pitching back and forth and the faces of a few team members were growing a pale shade of green. Fortunately, after a short while, the storm broke as quickly as it came. Brilliant rays of light shot through the dark clouds illuminating our first destination, Ngamba Island. There, in typical warm and hospitable Ugandan fashion, we were treated to coffee, tea and cookies which revived us significantly and we were back on the boat for the short trip to Myende.

When we approached the island, faces of some of the local villagers who had come down to the shore to greet us came into focus. Men with their brightly colored fishing boats were scattered down the beach, pulling neon green nets out of the hulls. After descending a precarious wooden ladder, we were lead up the small path that cut through the humble little fishing village to the highest point on the island. Our team was seated like royalty under a breezy tent, a prime position to enjoy the days festivities. We sat waiting patiently for the performances to commence and were joined by an elderly lady dressed in traditional Ugandan clothes. Everyone's gaze was drawn to this enigmatic woman. It turns out that lady, Nekimbugwe Christin, donated the land on which Myende Primary School was built. The land was passed down from her father to her brothers, all of whom died of AIDS, leaving Nekimbugwe with the responsibility of raising all of their children. The local government-aided school was 15 miles away and the children of the island were unable to travel that distance every day by boat. Our anthropology team spoke with Alonsio Omerikit, the director of the Myende school. His collaboration with Nekimbugwe Christin drastically changed the lives of the children on that island when the Myende Primary School was born. Neighboring Ngamba Island, where the CSWCT Chimpanzee Sanctuary is located, has contributed significantly to aid in the growth and development of the school through donations of textbooks, desks, blackboards and uniforms. As a result, the children are very invested in their environmental studies and are learning about local conservation issues. This interest spawned the first annual Environmental Drama Competitions, bringing in 6 schools from 4 neighboring islands to participate.

Our team was extremely impressed with the caliber of acting from these little children. There were dramatic interpretations of everyday issues that their families deal with, such as hygiene and sanitation, and the relationship problems that they cause. Their plays covered wildlife conservation issues such as poaching, overfishing and the bushmeat trade. There were beautifully choreographed musical performances too. Their little feet kicked up the red dust as they danced and sang in a single file line in the sunlit patch of grass designated as the stage. The various primary schools, easily discernible and grouped together in their brightly colored red, green, white and blue school uniforms were assembled in a wide circle in the shade of several large trees. The Primate Handshake even had a little performance of our own!

Midway through the performances, we were treated to a delightful lunch of rice, veggies, mutake and for the non-veggies amongst us, spicy chicken and beef dishes. We ate our lunches in their red school house while gazing at the walls around us, studying the children's chalk drawings.

When the day's festivities came to a close, the children still showed an astounding amount of energy. They spontaneously broke into song and dance as they made their way back to their respective boats. We walked back down through the village, our surroundings bathed in golden light as the sun dipped low in the sky. The little children clasped their hands with ours and peered up at us curiously when we attempted to hurtle the communication barrier. Our team waited on the beach to board the boat home and everyone from the village, including the chickens, goats, cows and pigs seemed to wander down to see us off. At this point, the school children had worked themselves into a frenzy and were competing in volume and intensity as they sang and danced aboard their boats.

Today was truly a magical day for us all. We were so honored to be included in such a special event for the island children and I am certain that when we lay our heads on our pillows tonight, sweet moments from today will be dancing through our heads.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bandas, Amputee Chimp, Illness and Peace's lunch

July 29th: 9;08am

Our relocation was successful and by yesterday evening the team was happily cooking off the truck and assembled in a circle, seated atop camping stools chowing down on beans and vegetables. I wanted a Margarita so bad I could taste it, but the warm beer was still a welcome refreshment after a hot day of work. We are quite spoiled with the bandas that UWEC so graciously provided for the next 3 nights. Whoever the lucky person is that gets to the shower (our own private one!) first gets hot water to wash off.. however the other 3 roommates don't fair quite as well as the water quickly turns ice cold again. Complete with beds, hot water, private bathrooms and a beautiful view of Lake Victoria, our little secluded spot will be a lovely place to live and work in the coming days.. this weekend we will be off to the rainforest to camp for the next 2 weeks.

Today is definitely going to be a scorcher.. I woke up at 6:00am, along with Lucy and Katie to cook breakfast for the team, and in the last 3 hours the temp has changed from a little bit chilly to positively hot. It is still quite cool inside our bandas though, and most of us will be spending the morning toiling away, hunched over our laptops out of the heat. Yesterday, I was allowed to be escorted by the JGI director to see the amputee Chimp. She was highly agitated, clinging with three limbs to the top corner of her enclosure screaming wildly. Because the bars of her enclosure criss-crossed to form small 1.5" square openings, I was unable to stick my lens through. Instead, we opened the small door to her enclosure and I photographed quickly, while being perched to run as the caretaker slammed the door should she decide to attack. I noticed that she repeatedly positioned her body so that her amputated leg was hidden from view. The keeper confirmed that this wasn't just a coincidence, but a behavior she had been exhibiting for weeks now. I suspect that it developed as a defense mechanism, in order to not display any weakness in the wild. We're still waiting to hear whether or not I will be able to travel to the release site to document with the team.. I really hope that it works out.. I'll keep you posted!

Unfortunately our resident writer Kate Smith has become ill and was whisked off to the doctor in Entebbe a few hours ago, her loyal boyfriend Ben in tow. We are all hoping that the doctor will be able to accurately diagnose her illness so that she will have a speedy recovery. However until that point, our photography team (me) will be assuming the duties of expedition writer. I will be writing the blog for the Primate Handshake website, so I may just spruce up my personal blog entries and make it a bit more objective to represent the entire team..

Allright then, we just heard from Gaynor who went to the hospital with Kate and Ben and it seems that Kate has appendicitis! She has been admitted into the hospital.. they set her up with a drip but said that her appendix is too inflamed and infected to operate. They are hoping that the meds they give her will be enough so that she can finish the trip and get her appendix removed when she gets back to the UK. I guess if she needs to have it removed now, they will fly her home to have the surgery. I'm pretty bummed because I've really enjoyed hanging with Kate... it seems like everyone is dropping like flies! Simon is recovering from his malaria, but unfortunately, the drugs they give you to treat it make you really sick.. so needless to say he hasn't been feeling like doing much work. He is a fellow "one man team" handshaker as well.. he does the music for our videos, animations etc. Simon has been feeling well enough though to have a little jam session in the evenings with his guitar, and the rest of us drumming on anything that we can find.

Peace and some of the other local ladies are making lunch for us today so Lucy, Katie and I got out of cooking! We're all about to head over to Peace's family's home where her and her sisters have been working to prepare enough food to feed 23 of her "special guests".. This evening for dinner, Lucy, Katie and I are going to try to tackle a very complicated meal of veggie burgers (from scratch) and pasta salad. I'll let you know how it turns out. :)

July 29th: 2:45pm:

Oh man! I almost forgot! Yesterday, I went with the Anthro team to interview one of the Chimp keepers named Mukasa and we spoke with him about his work, his beliefs, his opinions about conservation. Afterwards, he walked us around to a restricted area behind the Chimp's island to a little area that connects the island to their indoor/nighttime enclosure. The Chimps all came up to the gate, putting their arms under and through the bars to hold our hands... they even were able to maneuver their mouths between the bars to suck on our fingers. It was amazing being that close to them and looking in their eyes. Even though I knew how strong they are, I was still shocked at how powerful their hands were. We had to be very careful that they didn't completely wrap their hands around ours. If they had decided to quickly yank our arms back through the bars, there would have been absolutely nothing we could have done to stop it. But for the most part, they were very gentle and would put their back to the bars to get a little scratch. Even though the staff really shouldn't have allowed it, it was still absolutely amazing! We were all buzzing off it as we walked back to camp. My first direct interaction with a Chimp! Very cool!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Relocating, Work & holding Chimp's hands

July 28th: 9:11am

Because of a large group of volunteers coming out today to the UWEC, our team has been relocated to a collection of bandas on the outskirts of the grounds. We're all really excited about that, as it means that after dinner we will be able to take a hot shower for the first time since most of us left home!
The meeting that Alasdair (PH director), Connor (Graphic Designer) and I had with CSWCT (Chimpanzee Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Trust) and the JGI (Jane Goodall Institute) director went really well. They had some different ideas for the posters/banners and we were able to develop a game plan for the next month to finish them. Although they were receptive to photographing the amputee chimp for the first poster, they preferred that we photographed a specific chimp on Ngamba Island. We are entertaining the idea of using "before" shots of a chimp when it is admitted to the Island (often times they are diseased, emaciated, lethargic) and a large photograph of an "after" shot, once it is healthy and happy either in the foliage or interacting with a staff member. Al and I were a bit worried that their "before" shots wouldn't have a high enough resolution or sharpness to blow up on a banner, so I will be photographing the amputee chimp today when I accompany the JGI director to her quarantine site. This weekend, they will be releasing her back into the wild, and they expressed interest in me accompanying them to the release site to photograph. The problem is, we will be loading up and moving out to Kibale Forest on Friday.. they will then need to arrange transport for me for the +4 hour journey to the release site. But what an amazing event that will be to photograph! I hope it all works out!
I'm getting really excited about heading out to Kibale. It will take us a day or two in the truck before we get there. But I'm looking forward to being in the rainforest with loads of wildlife around. They have a very large native Chimp population there and where we will be camping, an area called "Chimps Nest", they say that they have Chimps that come through the camp site fairly regularly. That is exciting, but a little scary also. Although I was aware of the danger of working around non-human primates, I didn't realize how nervous it would actually make me. The Vervet monkeys are plentiful around our quarters at UWEC. Yesterday, I headed out to photograph the Chimpanzees during sweet light and was walking down a little trail that leads around their island. Out of nowhere, Vervet monkeys started popping up all around me. Because quite a few of the females have infants clinging to their stomachs, the males become very territorial and protective. One of them tried to yank my camera out of my hands a few days ago while I was photographing. Apparently, they are not afraid of female (humans) at all, and I had to get David to stand in between me and the monkey to get him to back down. Most of the time, they go about their business and ignore you completely, but when I was alone on the trail yesterday and suddenly surrounded, I surprised myself by how nervous I felt!
Yesterday, a few members of the Anthro team were interviewing a Chimp care taker here at UWEC and were lucky enough to be able to go "behind the scenes" and hold the Chimp's hands. They really shouldn't allow that.. not just because it's dangerous, but because of disease transmission. But a couple other Anthro members are headed back over there today to finish the interview and I will be tagging along to photograph. If the opportunity presents itself, I can't say that I would turn it down!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Poster Series for CSWCT

July 26th: 9:42am

It's been a mellow, rainy sunday morning. We got to sleep in until 9am this morning which was f.a.n.t.a.s.t.i.c. I'm sitting on my sleeping-area-turned-workspace, listening to a little Django Reinhardt and I thought I would take a minute to say hi to the fam and friends.
I just had a breakfast meeting with Alasdair about our game plan for a series of posters we're doing for CSWCT (Chimpanzee Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Trust ) and I'm really excited about starting work on them. The three posters will be about Animal Welfare, Community Outreach and CSWCT. There is a Chimpanzee here in quarantine that has had her leg amputated because of a man trap. She dragged this enormous and extremely heavy steel mantrap clamped on her broken leg for 3 days before she was found and rescued. Although UWEC staff has said that she can't be seen or photographed, Al and I are going to go tomorrow to talk to a JGI (Jane Goodall Institute) official who rescued her to see if I can go alone to photograph her. For the first poster, we're going to have a large image of her as the focal point and a smaller image of a mantrap. For the second poster, we're thinking that I will take a speedboat to one of the neighboring islands to photograph the children, the third will be a series of images about biodiversity, slash and burn agriculture/sugar cane fields and loss of habitat. But we'll be meeting with the staff tomorrow to pitch the ideas and hopefully I will begin shooting in the next few days! Everyone has been working really hard to get as much work done as possible while we're here for these organizations. So after a good week of work, we decided to head into town last night.
We all piled onto Nox and drove into Kampala to get the essentials (wine and chocolate) and eat a very American dinner of hot pizza and cold beer. It was thoroughly enjoyable and everyone was in good spirits for our drive back to UWEC. We made it back much more quickly than our trip there, as we were stopped on a back road into town and were not allowed to pass because the President's car was approaching. While we were forced to wait, I was really regretting my decision to not tinkle before we left and curious locals began accumulating around our truck. We were all hanging out the side of the truck waving to the throngs of little children huddled together, giggling and staring at us. I can imagine our enormous, bright yellow truck full of mazungus coming down the little dusty red road through their tiny village was a sight to see. But after 20 minutes or so, we were given permission to pass and drove on into Kampala.
The team is about to head into a neighboring village because we have a soccer match planned with some of the local children this afternoon. That should be interesting in the rain...

July 27th: 7:34am

The rain moved on yesterday afternoon and we had a beautiful sunny day for the soccer match. The school we were visiting had 1020 children, 800 of which lived there full time. I traveled over early with the Anthropology and Education teams to speak with the teachers and some of the students about their views on conservation. Around 3pm the rest of our team showed up, decked out in their Primate Handshake t-shirts, ready for the soccer match. By the amount of people standing on the sidelines, it looked like everyone in town had came out to watch the Mazungas make utter fool of themselves. There were tons and tons of little kids running around in their barefeet, gathering curiously around me to check out my camera. Whenever I would raise my camera up to photograph ANYTHING, they would all run to be in front of the lens, squishing their little faces side by side to make sure that they were in the image. It made photographing anything else a bit difficult, but it was great to watch them get so excited as I showed them their photo on the LCD. At one point, I made the mistake of crouching down to show them the photographs, and in an instant, I was engulfed in a sea of puddin pops, all clamoring to see the tiny screen.
We lost the soccer game (big shock there) but weren't totally pounded.. I'd say that they went easy on us. We did have a blast though and afterwards, we took a group photo of the teams together under one of the goalposts. When we got back to camp, we got dinner together (yummy stir fry), drank wine and had a little jam session.
I'm about to head out with Alasdair and Connor in 30 minutes to have our meeting with CSWCT staff to pitch our ideas.. Hopefully this afternoon I'll be snapping away!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Visitors at Camp

July 24th: 4:00pm

Around our camp, there are all kinds of exotic wild animals that wander up at all hours of the day. Today, while we were cooking lunch, a 5ft stork-looking bird came walking up behind our "kitchen". We were also visited by a De Brazza monkey, who boldy snatched a banana from Lawrence and lingered for a while longer in the hope of getting his little hands on some more.

July 24th: 8:30pm

Today, Katie, Lucy and I were the cook group, so we had the responsibility of cooking for our team of 23 people. We just got finished cooking a 3 course dinner for everyone, consisting of a spiced pumpkin soup for the appetizer, tomatoes, onions, cabbage, beans and pasta for the main course, and a wee little dessert of cookies, nutella and banana slices, It was a big hit! Most everybody is walking into town to go to the pub, but I had roughly 3 hours of sleep last night because it felt like a sauna in my mosquito net, and that sleeping bag has been calling my name all day.


Chimps on Ngamba Island

Chimps, The Elders Tree & Malaria

The Elders Tree
July 23rd: 10:00pm

After spending the morning hunched over my laptop retouching photographs for various team projects, I set out to try to capture some of our fellow residents at the Ugandan Wildlife Education Center. As I tromped up and down the dusty red roads that lead through the property, camera equipment in tow, I was met by multitudes of puddin pops, all matching in their bright red, yellow, purple or blue school uniforms singing songs and chattering happily. As I passed, they invariably would all turn their little faces up to stare at me. I would then smile and wave and they would all light up with big grins and throw their hands in the air to wave back at the mazunga lugging all the cameras. On my way to see the chimpanzees, I stopped to photograph the other various inhabitants found at UWEC. I was focusing on a particular warthog who had poked his head out of the den when a staff member came driving up with everything for their afternoon feeding. Upon hearing the approach of the truck, the warthog came trotting out of the den, followed by a train of several more, ending in a tiny infant caboose! I spent the rest of the afternoon watching and photographing the Chimpanzee juveniles swing through the trees and practice their nest building.
After dinner, Peace took a group of us on a nighttime walk through the center and back up the beach. We visited the Elders Tree, which is an enormous tree living in the center that they have estimated to be over 100 years old. The Elders tree is believed to be a goddess and is worshipped by the local people. It is really a magnificent and mysterious old tree.

July 24th: 11:30am

So we have 1 team member that has already come down with Malaria, and a second one who is feeling sick and is in question. As this all happened in the first few days, this does not bode well for the rest of the team! I've only been bitten a few times and have been staying on top of my Doxycycline, but apparently, most of the Malaria meds prescribed do not actually prevent Malaria, they just give you about 24 hours extra before you absolutely have to get to a doctor. Let's cross our fingers that I don't wind up with it!
On another note, I've finally resigned to being filthy. My feet are stained a reddish brown from the dirt here, but everyone's are. We're all filthy and smelly and sweaty together so it's really not that bad actually. :)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chimp Sanctuary

July 23rd: 8:10am

Yesterday was our first "work" day on the expedition and I think everyone really enjoyed putting their talents to work and collaborating as a team. We woke early and packed up all of the equipment to head over to Uganda's only Chimp Sanctuary located on Ngamba Island. The boat ride across Lake Victoria to the island took a couple of hours, during which I had a great conversation with Steve, our Australian driver. Steve has spent the majority of his life traveling to very remote areas of the world and is driving the overland vehicle through Kenya, Uganda and down through South Africa for all 3 Primate Handshake expeditions this year. Needless to say, he had some very crazy stories to tell of his excursions through South America, Papua New Guinea, Africa etc etc. He is also a pilot and when he is home, he takes his plane out for evening rides, much like Oteil and I do on the motorcycles. :) On a side note, while I'm thinking about it... Oteil! There are tons of motorcycles and scooters all over Uganda. They are all older motorcycles, I haven't been able to figure out what the make of many of them are, but they are definitely very old. A lot of them look similar to the build of Triumphs, but I can't be sure what they are. Many times you'll see three men piled on top of one flying down the bumpy road!

But back to Ngamba... When we pulled up to the shore of Ngamba Island we saw several huts that were staggered up the slope of the island. The island itself is about 1 square kilometer. There is a small section fenced off for humans which contains the huts, safari tents looking out over the water, med center and quarantine area for the animals. The rest of the island is dense forest and belongs to the 40 resident Chimpanzees, all orphans from the pet or bushmeat trade. I toured the island with the video team and while they captured footage of the daily running of the Sanctuary, I photographed the facilities, the staff, the resident Chimps. After a fantastic lunch of local fish, vegetables and rice provided by the staff, we were lucky enough to be able to follow the staff for the afternoon feeding for the Chimps. As we walked up to the platform, we could already see a sea of black bodies emerging from the forest, making a loud raucous. As the staff tossed in carrots, tomatoes, and chunks of watermelon and jackfruit, more and more Chimps began to appear from the foliage. The volume of vocalizations rose to a roar as the social heirarchy fell into play in competition for the food. The Alpha Chimp made his dominance clear when all of his silver and black hair stood on end, his muscles buldged out and he moved in a stiff, bulky, intense and powerful run towards anyone who came near his female or his food. Little skirmishes broke out all through the group and the pant hoots were interspersed with loud screams and other strange vocalizations as they chased each other around. Many of the younger orphans ran quickly to retrieve their treasure and escaped to the outskirts of the group, to the edge of the forest, where they swiftly devoured their snack before running back for more. I have never seen so many Chimpanzees interacting together at once and for the first time in my life I was able to see their complex social systems at work.. something I have only read about in books. It made the contrast of the behavior of animals in a zoo even more strikingly clear. Although the chimpanzees at the sanctuary on Ngamba Island are technically in captivity, they still possess that raw, natural behavior that is nonexistent in western zoos. Sadly enough, when you look into the eyes of an Ape in a typical zoo, your gaze is usually met with an empty stare, an extension of their broken spirit.
After a full day of photographing, I was also able to talk to some of the staff about what running a sanctuary entails, where they get their funding, what makes it work, etc etc. I am on a mission to gather as much knowledge as I can to work towards opening a sanctuary in the US. I realize that what it takes to run a sanctuary here in Africa is a much different thing altogether, but the ideas behind it can certainly be useful. Everyone here is aware of my goal to open a sanctuary for ex-biomedical research subjects and have kindly come and found me to tell of any piece of knowledge or info they have discovered which could prove to be of use.
After arriving back at the UWEC, everyone set up their laptops to begin working on the days footage/educational materials/research/photographs. I worked with Kate to get our first official Primate Handshake blog posted last night and then we all crawled in our sleeping bags for the night.

July 23rd: 9:30am

There was a beautiful sunrise this morning out over the lake.. After another delightful breakfast of porridge (what the English folks call it) and instant Coffee, we had a little stretching/yoga/massage session down on the grassy area below our work area led by David (a chef in London who also does yoga and body work). We are all now bent over our laptops, hard at work. There is a group of African women sitting in a circle next to us, surrounded by mounds of corn and vegetables and large cooking pots. It's a bit hard to focus because one of the women is carrying a chicken around by then neck in one hand, and in the other a large cooking pot. The chicken is not going quietly and she just took the future meal around the back of the building, out of view of all the curious and shocked Mazungas.

Off to work. Love and miss you all!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


July 21st: 6:30am

Nothing like an ice cold shower to wake you up in the morning! I'm grateful to even have a shower though that's for sure. It seems that it is taking me a little bit longer than I expected to become re-accustomed to the outdoors lifestyle. :) But I'm working on it. We had our breakfast (oatmeal) this morning out on the deck with Vervet monkeys running all around waiting for us to finish so they could devour the scraps. One of the females had an infant clinging to her stomach.. it's face was so remarkably tiny and human-like.

July 22nd: 6:30am

Ki kati! Oli otya?
Yesterday was so packed full of stuff I literally had no time to write a thing! We started at 7:30am and didn't finish up until 10pm. I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.. and I slept solidly through the night! The combination of those two never happen! Yay!
So we had our breakfast yesterday morning and then we all piled onto the Primate Handshake truck (her name is Nox) and drove to Kampala to get a few essentials. The overland truck has enormous tires and the roads are really rough so as you can imagine it was a rocky ride. All of the seats in Nox line the outside walls, so because I was seated facing the side and turned backward talking to my friend Jonathan, I started to feel a bit sick.. I ate my Dramamine about halfway through the ride and it knocked me out on the ride back. Forgot to get the nondrowsy kind. Oops. Jonathan is a fascinating person though. He's lived in Borneo for 2 years working with Orangutans, and lived in the Congo I think this past year working with Richard Leakey's Wildlife Direct. He told me that while he was in the Congo, that his team would have to be very mobile, because if they saw the local people starting to pack up and move, it meant the Rwanda army was just a 1/2 day away.. He was working on their website as a Graphic Designer.. He had some stories to tell of both Indonesia and the Congo and we found out that we share similar views on Conservation. Everyone here has a different story and background with Apes.. it's great to pick everyone's brain about their opinions and experiences.
After we got back from Kampala, loaded down with fresh fruits and veggies, an African woman named Peace had a discussion with us about Ugandan culture and customs. We learned the appropriate way to greet someone, how to say Hello, Goodbye, How are you, Please and Thank you in Luganda. Peace is a strikingly beautiful, very vibrant woman. She had us all captivated with her animated, eccentric personality. She confirmed what I had gathered in my few days traveling through Africa: that Africans, Ugandans in particular, are very big on hospitality. Everywhere you go, the local people are smiling at you, their eyes twinkling. Everyone is more than helpful and welcoming. It certainly makes traveling alone in a foreign country a bit more comfortable. Peace also brought along a few friends who played their Ugandan and West African drums for us.. which was fantastic! A few of us are going to find out if we can get an African drumming lesson while we're here. I would love to get a traditional Ugandan drum to bring home.. they are just so big!
Today we've got a very busy day planned. We're headed over in a boat to Ngamba Island, where there is a Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The Film team leader has asked me to document what they are shooting so that they can have stills to put in their shorts. The Web team has asked me to document the film team working to use for promotional pieces for the Handshake. In addition, Alasdair (one of the co-directors) wants to teach me the website software so that I can create a photo gallery on the website.. he also wants to teach me Lola Ya Bonobo's (the sanctuary in the DRC that I wanted to work at) website so that I can help and work on it in the US. Kate, a journalist, is writing the blog for the Primate Handshake website, so I told her that I would help with the daily photographs if I can. I'm going to be so busy! Looks like we have another 15 hour day ahead of us...

Off to Ngamba! Mweraba!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nite Nite

July 20th: 10:30pm

Tomorrow our expedition begins. I realized that I haven't really written anything about my teammates yet, so I thought I would give you guys the run down. Most everyone is British (of course), but there's a small group of us that are American, Scottish and Australian. The staff has been working hard on these few days "off" to try to get the material that was created in Kenya last month finalized and posted to web so we haven't seen a lot of them. But tomorrow we begin our work for the UWEC & everyone will form their teams (video/film, web/journalism, education and anthropology). Since I am the only professional photographer, I will be floating and working with all 4 teams to provide images for whatever they need. My friend Nicola, who is working with the education team, suggested that I accompany them into the villages to schools and document.. that should be really cool. Well we've got to get up at 6:30am and start working, so it's time to hit the hay. Hopefully I won't inhale too many bugs tonight!

1st Day at the UWEC

July 20th: 1:20pm (Entebbe time)

Hey guys - please forgive the boring blog.. strictly documentary.. very brain dead from lack of sleep..

Made it to Entebbe last night after the sun had set. A tall African man grinning ear to ear holding a piece of paper with my name on it greeted me as I walked out of the airport & drove me to the Ugandan Wildlife Education Center. We drove through the gated entrance, past armed guards, down a dark dirt road for at least a couple miles before we got to the bandas, which I had reserved. The bandas were very secluded from the rest of the park, it was totally dark and silent out there.. I walked into my hut, with a tiny lightbulb on for light and immediately asked if there were beds available in the dorm. Luckily there were, so we rode back to the dorms, and I was able to set up camp there in a bunk with everyone else. Once I got my stuff settled, I took an ice cold shower and then drank a warm beer with Lawrence (one of the co-directors). Wish the temps could have been reversed, but it was still nice after a long day of travel!

Although I barely slept at all last night (I think I'm still not adjusted to the time change), I've had a great day.. wandering around and exploring with my new buds. The UWEC is right on Lake Victoria, so even though it is pretty hot, we are getting a nice breeze coming in off the water. We ate breakfast this morning at a little cafe with a open deck over looking the water.

You guys wouldn't even begin to believe the amount of insects here. Especially at night, when they crowd around lightbulbs, you can't even see the bulb itself because of the millions of insects around it. I guess I was somewhat expecting that, but even so, when I got out of the truck last night my eyes got about as big as saucers when I saw all of them. Although I slept with a mosquito net, those little flies still found a way in and when I woke up this morning, there were dead flies all over my sleeping bag and clothes. Yum! Apparently their life span is just one day. There are also some spiders that have spun enormous webs right outside of our dorm.. their webs are filled with insects as you can imagine.. but the disturbing part is the SIZE of the spiders! They are by far the largest spiders I have ever seen.. about the size of tarantulas I guess, just that their legs are a bit skinnier. Their bodies are as large as a man's thumb though! You have to be extra careful every time you leave the dorm not to walk right into them.

Well enough of my uber-exciting blog entry.. I gotta go try to take a nap before dinner (It's one of the staff members birthdays today so we're all going into town to celebrate).. Love you guys! Will post photos soon!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Made it to the UWEC!

July 19th: 9:00am (Joburg time)

It is a clear, almost chilly morning in Joburg. After a peculiar breakfast of stewed fish, sausage and tomatoes (eek) at the hotel, I packed up everything and high tailed it to the airport to catch my flight to Entebbe, Uganda. The hotel shuttle driver had some fantastic classical guitar infused with African chanting blaring out of the speakers and he danced the whole way to the airport. It was awesome. The Joburg airport is absolutely enormous and quite confusing. Thankfully, it is also filled with friendly, patient people who didn't mind taking the time to point the stupid American woman in the right direction. The airport shops are filled with carvings of animals, tribal print tunics and safari gear. And I'm just the sucker that has to fight the urge to blow a bunch of money on souvenirs at the beginning of the trip. But the thought of hauling a 3 1/2 foot carving of a giraffe all over Uganda helped me to keep my money in my pocket. Besides - I want to meet the person whose hands created that work of art!

July 19th: 8:00pm (Entebbe time)

I've made it to Entebbe! I'm totally beat and I will write more tomorrow.. but I made it!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day 1: Adventure in Africa!

July 17th: 4:30pm

Ok folks - here we go.. I'm going to do my best at keeping this blog updated everyday - so that you guys can know that I'm still alive & well.. and more than likely, experiencing one EPIC adventure!

I'm on the plane to Atlanta right now (its being held on the runway for 50 minutes because the airlines are "backed up") praying feverishly that I don't miss my connection to Johannesburg and that this hang up is not indicative of what's to come in my next +36 hours of travel!

I have to admit, I'm quite proud of myself today. Last night as I lay in bed tossing and turning while my mind ran amok, I envisioned myself clinging like an octopus to Oteil's leg as he turned to leave the airport. I certainly never thought when this day came that I would turn into a 5 year old on the first day of kindergarten. What happened to all my bravado? To my confidence in my ability as a world traveler? I knew that I was extremely prepared.. I've been working on this trip for months. I had everything I needed. Tons of camera equipment? Check! Camping gear? Check! Malaria prophylactics and enough Imodium to stop up a hippopotamus? Check! My Jane Goodall-esque adventuring spirit? Hmm.. Where the hell did I put that?

But alas, I awoke today with a renewed sense of wonder that this is really going to happen for me. I felt like I was ready to savor this huge chunk of life that I just bit off. And I took Mary and Ted's advice: "Jess, just breathe" and "Jess, just get on that plane".. and here I am, mildly freaking out about my camera bag that I was forced to gate check (will they heed the Fragile tags?)

I'll try to keep my blog entries short and sweet. I just wanted to say one more thing.. I'm so grateful for all of your support and confidence in me.. I'm really floating on all of your words of encouragement and positive vibes. You guys know that I've been waiting for this day for a long time.. dreams DO come true:

In 72 hours, I will be in the heart of Africa, surrounded by fellow Ape fanatics, photographing Great Apes in their native habitat, helping to raise awareness for their plight... and maybe if I'm lucky, I'll get to snuggle with some too!

July 17th: 8:45pm (Atlanta time)

I am now settled comfortably in my emergency exit row seat (sweet! lots of leg room!) on this enormous plane to Johannesburg. Sitting in this plane on the runway, I already feel like I'm in a foreign country.. There are so many different languages being spoken. It seems like everyone traveling to Joburg has some great adventure that they're headed to.. The young couple sitting next to me are on their way to Mozambique to work at an orphanage, the couple across the aisle are headed over to help build a school. Some people I talked to at the gate are going on a safari vacation. Behind me is a team of doctors headed to Pretoria to set up a Clinic.

The plane has just taken off amidst a brilliant sunset and I'm looking out over the city of Atlanta, where O and I will be moving soon and I will be able to start working on my masters in Bio Anth. Life is so good!

July 18th: 10:30am (Atlanta time)

We are now on hour 14 of the flight... I managed to sleep off and on for the last 5 or 6 hours. When I woke up, we were leaving the miles and miles of water below us and passing over the African coastline. (Namibia I believe). In 3 hours or so we will be landing in Joburg.. I just have to get through customs, get my backpack from baggage claim, and find my way to my hotel..

July 18th: 8:00pm (Joburg time)

Allrighty! I made it to my hotel, and because of the "inconvenience" it caused when they double booked my room, they have upgraded me from a closet to this fantastic suite - complete with a big ol' bath tub! I think this will be a great place to enjoy my last shower & bed for a while! I've ordered some room service, got the Internet working, took a long hot shower, washed my clothes.. I think I'll go take a bubble bath & eat some of the complimentary chocolate just for good measure. :)

Tomorrow....... Off to Uganda!!!!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Michael Andrews

Last month in North Carolina, I had the pleasure of photographing an outstandingly talented pianist named Michael Andrews. I have to admit it was probably my most enjoyable photoshoot to date, as I was serenaded with jaw-dropping, beautiful and moving pieces that he composed on the spot. What an incredible talent this man is.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bass Musician Magazine

I'm really excited about this photograph I took recently in my studio at home.. And now it's published in Bass Musician Magazine!  Check it out at:

Allman Brothers Band 40th Anniversary

Ok, so I realize that I'm not doing so hot at keeping my blog updated. But it's certainly not due to a lack of photos to post! I just recently got back from spending the month in NYC for the Allman Brothers Band's annual run at the Beacon Theater. It was the band's 40th anniversary and they dedicated their 15 show run to "the man who started it all: Duane Allman". Throughout the month they had so many special guests sit in, many of which played & recorded with Duane while he was still alive. Some of the guests were Taj Mahal, Levon Helm, Boz Scaggs, Eric Clapton, Bonnie & Bekka Bramlett, Page McConnell & Trey Anastasio , Billy Gibbons, Sheryl Crow, Buddy Guy, Chuck Leavell, Bruce Hornsby, Robert Randolph, Bruce Willis, Jerry Jemmott, Bernard Purdie, Jimmy Herring, John Popper, Phil Lesh & Bob Weir... the list goes on.. It was a really magical time for the band and for their fans.. I was so grateful to be there to witness it.. (and photograph of course!) :) 

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