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.

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