Back in the bush…

Posted: June 10, 2011 in International

It took me awhile to post some of my favorite wildlife photos from the Umfolozi and Hluhluwe Game Reserve (So. Africa), but here they are. It was my first time seeing an elephant in the wild and getting a glimpse of a lion. The lion’s image is burned in my mind, simply because he left the scene before we had a chance to snap photos. Amazing!!! As far as the elephant — I am obsessed with elephants and apparently have been since I was a child… I had a stuffed elephant that I rubbed the tusks off when I was young. Mom, of course, sewed them back on for me…thanks Mom. Do we still have that stuffed elephant? :)

I can’t wait to go back to South Africa — the bush is easily one of my favorite places in the world. It’s where I truly want nothing to do with technology, where I put all of my worries aside, and sit back and enjoy God’s beauty.

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Salt Rock, South Africa

Posted: May 9, 2011 in International

One of my favorite people in the world got married last month. Kim, also known as “Keeks” was a student at Brooks Institute of Photography with me back in 2006. She is South African, and her beautiful wedding was held in March 2011 in Salt Rock, a gorgeous beach town off the Indian Ocean.

Keeks is one of my favorite people in the world… and her family is right up there! Her new husband is wonderful, and I know she’s ecstatic to be married to him.  Gina (my cousin) and I stayed with Keeks’ uncle, at a place overlooking the sea. The accommodations were wonderful! We couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay! Thanks for the hospitality, the warmth, the memories, and congratulations Keeks and Adi! (who, by the way, went to Sri Lanka for their honeymoon!!!)

Here are a few images taken by Gina’s little camera. The photos don’t do the place justice – Salt Rock is an incredible beach community! We saved the big camera for the game drive… (read more about it next post!)

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My last trip to Africa was yet another amazing experience!

I had a long layover in Ghana, Accra over the Thanksgiving holiday, so I decided to get in touch with Ben Markham from Empower Playgrounds to see if I could come see his playgrounds in action. He suggested a day trip to Pediatorkope Island with Alan Riser, an inventor and engineer who also works with him. It sounded right up my alley -  an adventurous day trip away from the city of Accra, hanging with a local and immersing myself in the African culture.

(Last year I blogged about meeting this incredibly passionate man on a plane to Ghana, and his incredible playground/science project/light generating invention – see the website http://www.empowerplaygrounds.org for some fascinating information on how his non-profit organization is making a difference for kids in Africa. Or see my blog posting dated Jan 10, 2010.)

Ecstatic to bring my parents to Africa for the first time, we realized last minute that they did not have all the shots they needed to enter Africa. I was so bummed. Instead, the day started with Alan picking me and crew member, Laurence. We left at 7am on Saturday morning, early to get out of the city to beat traffic. (Yes, there is so much traffic in Accra!)

We drove for about 2+ hours towards the Lower Volta River in wonder over how truly civilized this part of Africa is. I was yearning to be out in the bush again – for me, real Africa.  As we drove, Alan explained how he had also taken part in inventing something for the kids – a swing that generates electricity. He’d been contacted by Ben to help out in Accra, and so had left his family in Utah, and his part time house (he paid $80 for) in Zambia for a couple of months to help build playgrounds and swings.

Needless to say, the trip wouldn’t have been right without a great deal of story telling and few mini adventures. The first to set the tone of the trip,  Alan managed to bribe his way out of getting a speeding ticket, and having to go to “court” on the spot. I think it dipped into his wallet about 20 cedi – or 10 bucks. We found out later that if Alan have been a local, he could have gotten off for 2 cedi. Or a dollar. I was taking a photo to document the moment, with Laurence whispering in my ear -”don’t get caught!”

Laurence and I had pulled any extra perishable food off the airplane to treat the first village to lunch. After touring the village, we held babies and watched the kids play on their playground. It is a mini miracle for these villages have been given something so wonderful. Play. Light. Learn. is the concept behind the playgrounds. Each hour of play generates 100 hours of light for the children to study to. The children were all so absolutely stunning, I couldn’t get enough of their happy faces.

We were taken to a guest cottage on the Volta River which was absolutely breathtaking. We then we met up with a local politician, John, who was going to take us in his boat to a couple of islands where Alan would scout the school property to see if it was a feasible spot to build another playground. We handed out clothing to the girls and toys to the boys, and Laurence was the greatest in determining who got what as it got a little hectic at times!

To sum up most of our day, we sat in a boat going from one island to the next, watching as local fishermen dived for oysters (a staple food in this part of Africa) using a long hose and air pump to stay underwater for up to 30 minutes. We visited remote villages, hiked through the jungle, played with children who knew Alan as Mungo, Mungo (a nickname he’s carried through the villages that means Mango, the fruit). We  explored the villages and the mud huts to see how the village people lived, hung out with the locals who didn’t even speak English, and enjoyed the hospitality of everyone in the village. One man  climbed a tree for coconuts, using his machete to crack open and let us experience coconut water and then coconut flesh, all fresh from the source. Amazing.

We were shown how the girls got their hair cut by holding a straight edge razor to a comb to keep it short. One woman was making nut soup. There were huge termite mounds everywhere you looked, and we learned that termites collected the best clay, therefore, the Africans would use it to build huts. I remember at one point it was so hot and muggy my eyeballs were sweating. Laurence was gung-ho to go swimming in the river. Instead, Alan jumped in and floated down current, all to the delight of the children. I must say, I was impressed with Mungo Mungo’s way with the children. They loved him!

One of my greatest joys of the day was spending time with the kids on the last island, Alorkpem, near where the Volta River meets the ocean. The children held on to my hands and were 5 deep on my left and right holding each finger. I played “Simon Says “games with them while the adults were talking business, and have photos and video of all of the kids mimicking my moves, whispering what I said in their pip-squeak voices (even though they spoke no English) and shaking their “booty.” Classic. I could have hung out with them all day!  They all lined up on the river’s edge and waved as we left. It was hard to say goodbye.

Back in Big Ada, where we had boarded the boat, I wanted to try the food that was most interesting to me, fufu.  Fufu is a staple food in this part of Africa – a thick paste  made by boiling starchy root vegetable in water and pounding it with a mortar and pestle until the desired consistency is right. I’m not sure it had much taste, but I suppose I could have gotten used to its thick, salty texture. I was so hungry after a full day of exploring, taste didn’t matter at that point and it took the growling in my stomach away.

I certainly appreciate Ben and Chris taking the time to set me up on a wonderful day trip, the hospitality of Alan to host Laurence and I and spend all day with us, and the acceptance of all the village people as we visited their humble villages. When I first met Ben, he had 10 playgrounds all set up. That number is now up to 20 plus a couple of swing sets. It’s amazing! I sincerely hope that someday I will have the chance to visit again and see further progress. And next time, I hope my parents can join me.

Until then, it was yet another real perfect day for me in Africa.

Photos courtesy of Sherry Martin and Alan Riser.

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I had a personal trip planned to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic in February 2010 – just after the earthquake hit Haiti. Being they are the same island, I was determined to find a way to help someone out, to make even a little bit of a difference.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I like to visit orphanages in my travels. So, I contacted the resort where I was staying to find out if they could donate some towels. The staff told me that every hotel in the area had donated everything they could to Haiti for their relief effort. That certainly made me very happy to hear.

Still determined, I did a little internet research and “googled” information on how I could get myself to an orphanage that was about 1 1/2 hours away from my resort. It seemed that I would have to hop a local bus on a very bad dirt road, but I was willing to spend a full day doing so… why not?  It sure sounded adventurous to me; the definite “feel out side your comfort zone” type of adventurous that I have been known to crave.

I then managed to stumble upon a blog about the orphanage, and made contact with Yumi, a woman who said she visited the orphanage a couple of times a month. She strongly suggested that I should not take the bus for security reasons and… just in case the bus broke down. And then she offered to take me to the orphanage, personally. I was ecstatic!

The morning she was to pick me up at the resort, she called me to state that her car had broken down. I was pretty bummed, needless to say.  So in a last-ditch effort, she said she would meet me at the airport the next day to pick up a bag of rubik’s cubes and playing cards that I’d brought for the children at the orphanage. She said she would deliver them for me.

It’s been about 9 months, and just this week, she sent me these pictures of the kids playing with the cards and rubik’s cubes. And here’s what she said about it:

“Finally here are some shots of the boys enjoying your gift of rubik’s cubes & playing cards. They went down a storm. Those who gave up trying to solve it used the cubes as playing dice instead… lol”

What I’ve learned from all this is that helping people isn’t about instant gratification. All that matters is that I did my best to make a difference, and it eventually paid off. And if putting a smile on a kids’ face is the most I can do, that’s good enough for me.

If you’re ever in the Dominican Republic, and need a heads up on what to do while you’re there, contact Yumi! I wish I’d have met her earlier and had a chance to go  paddle boarding with her! Her blog is: http://www.puntacanatv.com

Yumi is yet another selfless inspirational person I’ve met in my travels. Thank you, Yumi!

I just thought I’d share a few snapshots with you.

Traveling back from Copenhagen to New York City this week, we passed over Greenland. It was such a clear day and the views were absolutely breathtaking! I clamored for my camera while all the first class passengers ewe’d and awe’d and kindly let me climb over them to take some photos. Of course, I emailed them all to my passengers.

Look closely. The small dots of white in the water are icebergs. And the frozen “rivers”… amazing!

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In less than 24 hours of my layover, I am thoroughly convinced that Prague is one of the greatest cities in the world. A great walking city, it’s mysterious and bursting with gothic vibes, rich in history and architecture.

We toured the city in a classic car in awe of the spires that speckled the cityscape, walked the ancient cobblestone streets, and tooled around the castle grounds – the largest castle area in the world. We stopped in our tracks to hear of the atrocities of the Old Jewish Cemetery, where more than 100,000 Jews are buried in this small plot of land, the graves being layered 12 deep in some places.

We walked the Charles Bridge among Czech artists, musicians and souvenir vendors who line both sides of the stone Gothic bridge next to the Baroque statues (30 in total).  Dinner was eaten on a rooftop overlooking the castle at sunset, and was about the only thing that didn’t meet our expectations. Known for their beer, not food, we passed it off and gathered with soccer fans in the square to watch the World Cup on a big screen TV in the Old Town Center. To top off the night, we walked back to the Charles Bridge to photograph and enjoy the breathtaking view of the lit Prague Castle against the evening sky.

These images hardly do it justice. This layover, I decided to put down the camera often and revel in the city’s magical ambiance. There’s always next time… I will definitely be back!

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My awesome crew!

Posted: June 29, 2010 in International, Photography
Tags: ,

I had a blast getting to know Prague with my crew, but I also thought they were extremely photogenic, so I took advantage of putting them up against a beautiful Prague background. Meet Seth, Mona and Rebecca.

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