Archive for category photography

“Africa does not exist”

Over the last month and a half while I was at  home in Canada and talking to people about coming back for the year ahead, the word ‘Africa’ was often used as the geographic reference. Makes sense, it is the continent of my destination. However, I read the introduction to a book a few weeks back that made me stop and think a bit about this and I thought I would share it with you in this post.

The term ‘Africa’ is used so commonly for the sake of convenience and in a sense is correct – but it is also an extremely, extremely broad term and simplification. My experience coming to Tanzania will certainly be much different than another person also headed to ‘Africa’ but spending a year in Egypt, Mali, South Africa, or Somalia. Different worlds really. But then I guess I could also say the same on a more micro level – my experience living in a major city such as Dar es Salaam is a completely different world than a rural village pretty much anywhere else in TZ. Reality is that simplifications are useful and sometimes necessary…but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of it and making an effort to go deeper when possible.

Here is the quote from the author’s introduction to the book which got me thinking about this and probably does a much better job conveying the idea than I just did. Ryszard Kapuscinski is a Polish journalist who worked as a foreign correspondent in many parts of Africa since 1957 and the dawn of many independent nations and reported events and day-to-day life over the next forty years. The book is called “The Shadow of the Sun”.

“…this is therefore not a book about Africa, but rather about some people from there – about encounters with them, and time spent together. The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say “Africa”. In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to finish the book before leaving– so can’t add it to Dan’s Book Club reading list just yet. It is supposed to be one of the classic memoir/travel books in the Africa literature section. From what I got through, it had many interesting insights into countries and their citizens in the early days of independence and I look forward finishing it some day soon.

Tangent: The thing I find about travel books – they are cool to read when you are far away, or even just visiting a place – I highly recommend the strategy of reading fiction or non-fiction about or from a place where you are or will be travelling –even if its an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or something. But when it goes into rich descriptive detail for those who have not experienced it, describing riding the crowded (understatement) public buses or visiting the colourful market…it’s a lot less exciting to read about when its already your day-to-day life.

Anyways, when I read that quote it helped me realize that – despite having now lived and traveled on this continent for almost a year – I really have only experienced a small piece of it and can only really say that I now know some of Tanzania and flashes of Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa from the “epic” trip. It also underlined just how much of a simplification it is when we say – “yeah, I’ve been to Europe/Africa/South America…etc” as if we now have it checked off the ‘to-do list’ –  when in reality we have experienced only a small part of that world. I  hope to get to better understand Tanzania, this little piece of the continent, in the year ahead as I am sure I barely scratched the surface last time. I also hope to see and experience some new parts – Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Mozambique are all on the current to-do list for the year ahead. Ethiopia, Sudan, Morroco, Egypt, Tunisia, DRC, West Africa…hell, really the rest of the continent….on the hope-to-see -maybe-someday list.

Even then though, as Mr. Kapuscinski so eloquently put, I don’t think I could really check Africa off the ‘to-do list’  - because that destination just doesn’t exist.

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Never say you’ll never end up in Mwanza rock city

It’s not as though at the time, sitting in my 4th year Business Policy class at Wilfrid Laurier University, I actually had the exact thought cross my mind, but I certainly didn’t think the opposite either.

I don’t imagine I will ever end up there…

We are watching a clip from the Oscar nominated documentary, Darwin’s Nightmare, and the clip is being shown in this particular class as we have been discussing some of the issues and problems that result from international trade and globalization. Hell, we all know our business schools could use a little more of this well rounded perspective so kudos to the prof on that point. On the screen, although I don’t know much about it at the time, is the city of Mwanza on the shores of Lake Victoria in Tanzania.

The symbol of Mwanza...the rock city

The movie isn’t exactly showing a flattering portrait of Mwanza or Tanzania (in fact, the documentary caused quite a bit of outrage here in Tanzania and even caused personal rebuttals from the president of Tanzania). It’s an examination of the introduction of the Nile Perch species to Lake Victoria and theorizes that the local population has benefited little from the globalization and has largely experienced only some negative affects such as imported of conflict arms and the continued spread of HIV while the expensive fish fillets are flown off to Europe. I think in the end both sides of the controversy are a bit correct – the Lake Region is a beautiful area and in the end the film did not do justice to the people, the natural beauty and likely hurt it even more through lower fish sales and tourism. That said, I have no doubt that many of the points the Director makes about how the effects of the global fish and arms trade have also negatively affected the local population. All this said, I only watched a piece of the documentary that year and still haven’t seen the whole thing so I will leave it up to you dear reader to watch the documentary and make your own judgement.

Caught the culprit in question

Just about 4 years after this I found myself arriving in Mwanza. It was this past Janaury and I was coming to the rural areas just outside of Mwanza urban to run a pilot of MEDA Tanzania’s new program the Universal Coverage Campaign (UCC). Sometime this spring, the Government of Tanzania’s Ministry of Health will launch this Global Fund to Fight Malaria, AIDS, and Tuberculosis funded campaign which will aim to provide a free Long Lasting Insecticide Treated bed net to cover every sleeping space across Tanzania. It’s a daunting task, to accurately coordinate the logistics of registering every household in the country and then procuring and distributing the bed nets in every single one of Tanzania’s estimated 12,500+ villages. Something like running an entire national census combined with organizing a distribution network in every village, hamlet and metropolis back home. Phew.

A UCC village healthworker registers sleeping spaces during the Mwanza pilot

Anyways, I am getting off track. Zach, Jer, and I were tasked with planning, organizing, and executing a small scale  launch of this UCC program to test out a number of our proposed policies, procedures, materials, and technologies. Very cool stuff and so after a month or so of planning we find ourselves arriving in Mwanza to go live with the pilot.

Mock volunteer training exercise tests the variables

I won’t bore you with too many of the details, but I think everyone felt it was a success all around and we learned lots of things which are now going to be implemented when the full program launches in the months ahead. It may be stating the obvious but…don’t try and launch a project of this magnitude without taking all of your ideas (which seemed to make complete sense sitting in the office) and trying them out in practice in the real world.

Not sure why this is here....just liked the photo I guess

In the end, it was a work trip and although we got to see some of Mwanza, take a little dip in Lake Victoria, and even eat some of those controversially delicious Nile Perch – I didn’t really get the opportunity to see if the side of Mwanza portrayed in Darwin’s Nightmare is out there as well.  Another time perhaps…

Colourful boats tied up but waiting to go on the Lake Victoria shoreline

I guess it’s not really that outrageous of a connection finding myself on the same shores that film depicted 4 years later.  But all I am trying to say is…. never say you’ll never end up in Mwanza rock city because one day, if you’re lucky, you might just find yourself there.

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An inevitably failed attempt to do justice to the beauty of northern Tanzania’s National Parks

Hello hello,

As mentioned in my earlier post How BIG is your Africa, I had a visit from my parents and sister in January and one of the definite highlights was visiting the world famous National Parks in northern Tanzania on a 3 and a half day safari. As you might now from reading this blog before, I’ve taken up the hobby of amateur photography since buying a DSLR camera last Christmas. It’s been a lot of fun and with some mixed results thus far but one thing for sure is that this time in Tanzania has been amazing for the learning process. The technical aspects of photography are still very much a work in progress.. good lighting, proper aperture, white balance, etc. need a lot of work and I’ve realized I don’t have much patience for a lot of this, at least not yet.  I’ve also realized that I truly don’t enjoy photographing people, especially here in TZ… I just have trouble shaking this touristy, exploitive feeling when I bring out the camera. If anyone has some good hints on people photography and this whole situation do share. While this inability to take out the camera for these moments has led to plenty of missed opportunities for great photographs which I know that I would love to have looking back years from now, I guess sometimes you just need to enjoy the moment for what it is and soak it up not worrying about capturing everything with the camera. What I have really enjoyed is the “eye” for composing the pictures and capturing the moments and spaces. Luckily, nature and wildlife don’t care too much about me snapping away so that has been the focus of my photography experimentation thus far. We shall see where it all goes – trying to do a little reading and learning on the more technical aspects and learn a little from the pros in books and online but for the most part I think I like keeping things pretty amateur and relaxed.

Anyways, enough of that on to the real show. I’ve decided to present some of my favourite shots from the safari and do my best to try and capture how really amazingly beautiful this part of the country is. I tried to pick a selection of some favourites for some more artsy photo reasons and others just cause of the animals/natural beauty and what not. I give a little background and reasoning with each selection as well- I hope it doesn’t come across wrong and I certainly may have no idea what I am talking about in some cases – but – the beauty of having my own blog is I am allowed this rambling so just play along.  As mentioned in the title, it’s going to be an inevitable failure as the pictures never seem to do the experience justice, but enjoy the attempt regardless and let me know what you think!

Cheers,

Dan

Long days on long dusty roads

This picture is from Lake Manyara NP. No animals in sight but I think it captured a lot of the safari experience…riding along the dirt roads and just enjoying the  bright blue sky and scenery around us. I also like how the dirt road curves through the shot and gives you the feeling you are on that road and going somewhere.

Babar, King of the Elephants

We came across this elephant in Lake Manyara standing right beside the road eating and he didn’t mind us sitting a few metres away watching.  Nothing too special about this picture, but I liked the timing of how the elephant is curling the trunk into his mouth and you can still see the grass.

and you thought you could hide from the zoom lens

This picture is also from Lake Manyara NP and happened right at dusk as we were on our way out of the park and suddenly came across two lioness’ in the bush. It was a tricky shot requiring some serious steady hands as the low light and full telephoto zoom to get this close. Despite a bit of blur, I liked how it turned out in the end though as the bushes framing the shot give you the feeling you are peering through just as we were and the lioness stares right back.

Serengeti scratching post

I have to say that I think this was my favourite photo from the trip in the end. It features the young elephant at a fun moment as he used the yellow barked acacia tree as a scratching post for an itchy trunk as its focal point. The reason that I like it most is how it captures the feeling of the Serengeti. The wide open grass lands, the “yellow fever tree” acacia trees, the huge colourful sky. The small size of the elephant in the frame helps you to feel the size of the place. It looks better blown up to full size but this will have to do.

Mufasa looks up from an afternoon nap

This photo was taken shortly after we entered the Serengeti. We ended up seeing lots close to 30 something lions by the end of the trip but this one was a bit more special because we were the only ones to find him going off on a side path and managing to spot him lying in the grass while other vehicles drove on by. The downside of the national parks in northern Tanzania is their popularity leads to some pretty big crowds during tourist seasons so a more intimate encounter such as this made it all the better. Not too much special about the photo itself, but everyone likes to see the famous bushy lion mane so I figured I should post it.

Sunrise in over the Serengeti

I really enjoyed how this sunrise picture came out. The low level of exposure makes some nice outlines of the trees and woodlands as you really don’t need to see any detail here and it helps give the sunrise some perspective. The brightness and colour of the just -risen sun poking through the branches of the acacia tree is pretty powerful. A whole new day…..

Total gridlock..

An early morning game drive which started with the sunrise above brought us to this scene. What I like about this photo is how there are so many things competing for your attention. Maybe you first see the baboon family crossing the road, then your eyes fall to see the two male Impalas (I think?) locking horns in a rutting ritual for females attention, then, holy crap, there is a giraffe in there as well just grabbing some breakfast. Maybe that’s not traditionally good to have many things competing in a picture but I like the effect here to show the wildlife variety and density.

A family affair

This pride of tree climbing lioness’ and cubs was a fun group to watch as the older ones competed for the prime branch lounging spots and the young cubs scrambled around. Again, nothing super special about the photo but it was very cool to see so many of them all together and to sit and watch them interact. I recall it took a bit of waiting for them to all get within the same frame to grab this shot.

You'll never walk alone

This is in the Serengeti again and was taken just after we saw a herd of elephants numbering 50 something make their way across the plains. For some reason this one decided to strike out on their own in another direction away from the group. It was in stark contrast to the rest of the huge group and luckily for me it was walking away right into some beautiful evening lighting and colours in the sky.

Guess the animal, win a prize

Took lots of pictures of those crazy striped zebras on this trip but this one ended up being my favourite. I guess it just provides a different angle to see those unique stripes and you don’t need to see any more of the animal to know exactly what it is because of its famous feature. It’s cool to see the hide/hair so close up but I wish I could have gotten a bit closer or gotten a lower angle so that the entire frame would be filled with stripes instead of the little empty spot now there.

Pink Haze

This photo is taken from the floor of the world famous Ngorogoro Crater and shows the soda lake that covers a good portion of the crater floor in the backround. There was a big flock of flamingos on the lake and in a sudden moment they rose from the lake and took to the air in a haze of pink. Unfortunately, this photo isn’t able to capture the size of the flock flying as you need to be in this close to see the actual birds and I don’t think the pictures with the wider perspective capture that.

The green in the hills and valleys remind me Ireland a bit

This photo was take inside the Ngorogoro Conservation area but outside of the actual crater. There are Masaai villages still allowed to stay in the area and there were herds of cattle grazing in this valley. What really jumped out to me was how green everything was. The picture is framed with thatch tops of the Masaai huts on the bottom of the photo kind of as if to say…this is what someone sees everyday when they wake up in the morning.

park16

This photo is a part of a number of shots to make up a 360 degree view of the crater rim from the floor. I was trying to show how huge and blue the sky appears and the streaking wispy clouds make it seem even bigger. I think it does an alright job of capturing the feeling from the bottom of the crater.

Well, that’s it for now folks. I hope you enjoyed and got a sense of being there yourself. Stay tuned for another favourite photos tour in the weeks ahead. As they say on the beaches of Kigamboni, peace and love.

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Photo Tour – A white Christmas with the snows of Kilimanjaro

Krismasi Njema na Heri ya mwaka mpya! Wishing everyone a (very belated) Merry Christmas and a happy new year to everyone!

Work is piling up and time is short these days but I wanted to put up a real quick post so this is a photo tour of the Christmas week Mount Kilimanjaro climb.  At the last minute my good friend Pavan altered some travel plans to come join and we took down that mountain! It was very wet, very cold, and one of the tougher and definitely one of the coolest things I’ve done being at the top and watching the sunrise. Maybe I’ll write more about the experience when time permits but hopefully you can get an idea of the experience from a few of these shots. Don’t feel bad if it looks freezing cold – a day later we were lying on the beach in Zanzibar for New Years :)

Enjoy!

-Dan

A damp start to the trek in the rainforest at the bottom of Kilimanjaro

The "Kilimanjaro impatience" flower

The forest changes as we gain altitude...

Hiking through a foggy land of giant Cactus like trees on Day 3

I didn't sign up for hail, sleet, and snow in Tanzania...

At base camp with tomorrow morning's challenge in the background

A kilimanjaro sunset dips beneath the clouds below us

Glaciers on the top of the volcanoe rim

The view from Uhuru peak

Dan and Pavan successfully reaches Uhuru Peak at 6:30am!

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Red. Green. Blue.

Well this post is running about three weeks behind schedule and the actual events since I returned from my U5CC issuing trip on November 9th – but hey, better late than never I guess.

It was a real cool trip and definitely lived up to my expectations. It was also a bloody lot of driving. It was just over 1000 km each way from Dar es Salaam to the city of Songea where I was based. Including all of the driving we did on each day and the amount of the province of Ruvuma that I saw over my 9 days there I could easily add another 500-1000 km onto that. This puts me around a third of the way across the Trans-Canada Highway to put things into perspective and I can assure you that the roads were nowhere near as smooth.

The other main thing that stuck out to me has to be the colours in this part of the country and hence the title of this blog post. Honestly, it was like someone had taken the Colour and Highlights tuners on a television set and cranked them up way too high and I was looking at the world through this RGB colour-distorted viewfinder. At almost all times I can think of one or more of these three colours was dominating the landscape.

Somebody please turn down the RGB

Green. The rain seemed to fall a bit more regularly here in the Southern Highlands than elsewhere in the country that I had visited and this was most evident in the many bright shades of green foliage found everywhere as pictured above.

Red. The soil in Ruvuma was unbelievably bright red – everywhere I looked had some sign of the bright red dirt. The soil is also used to make the brick and mud for many of the buildings which results in the same neon reddish-brownish-orange tone in the majority of the buildings. It’s also fairly dusty the city of Songea (where I spent much of my time) and on the country roads. This results in pretty much everything else (including all my clothes and the aforementioned dusty feet) being covered by a coating of this colour.

You can see the red soil in the region from high above in google maps!

Blue: The colour blue also holds a dominant place in the memories from this trip. Maybe it was just being out of the city and (relatively) tall buildings, but the sky seemed enormous here. Blue is also the colour of the mosquito nets being distributed as you will see in some photos below so this played a pretty major role in my days.

Observations and a few things I learned:

  • This is U5CC Campaign MEDA is running is a huge operation. It really blew my mind to think that I was witnessing this mass distribution of free Long-Lasting Insecticide Nets (LLINs) in action in just a small handful of issuing points at the village level and imagine this happening across the country. To give you a better idea.. there were about 1-4 issuing points in each village. There are about 5-8 villages/streets in each Ward. There are about 10-20 Wards in each District. There are 133 districts across the 21 Regions of mainland Tanzania that the U5CC covers. To efficiently plan, organize, and distribute close to 7 million of these LLIN’s to a population so spread out across the country and hard to reach is just an amazing logistical achievement.

4 of the 7 million LLIN nets distributed through the U5CC program

  • This guy can be a scary thing too little kids in areas where mzungu’s don’t often tread. I had it mentioned to me by parents in a few situations where I made kids run away or cry that I was probably the first white person that their kid had seen. I was honoured.

Would you just look at the pure fear in those big brown eyes...

  • The real work is getting done in the field. These are the troops on the ground and the staff that really know what is happening with the program. Just from being in the field for a week and a half I was quick to realize a number of misconceptions that I had been operating under while working away at HQ and areas where communication can really be improved. It’s a pretty basic observation I guess – but one that should always be kept in mind in any job and any organization – if you want to know what’s really happening be sure to keep in open communication with the front lines.

Line-up for nets at a Issuing point in the city of Mbinga

  • I really don’t know much swahili yet. I had felt like I was making some steady but slow progress while in the safe confines of our swahili lessons, english speaking work, and the big city of Dar. Going out to Ruvuma where there is very, very little english spoken and not much of an effort made to accomodate the english speaker – you realize just how little you really do know.

A LLIN from the U5CC program in use

  • I would be much more effective if I did know the language. It was a great trip and I accomplished everything that I had hoped coming into it. I observed the program in action, took notes, asked questions, interviewed stakeholders, and snapped lots of good pictures for future promotional use – BUT I did really feel quite helpless and useless a good portion of the time as I sat there lost in a verbal sea of swahili… managing to pick out and understand only every 4th or 5th word. If nothing else it was very motivating to try and speed up my learning (Editors note: I’ve been back for 3 weeks and this has not yet happened).

And now for a small sample of the 500+ pictures that I took on the trip…

Tea fields at sunset on the road down south

Goofing around for the camera in Songea

Fish from Lake Nyasa drying in the sun with Tanzanian coast in the background

Looking down a fish drying rack to the world's 8th largest lake

Children on wooden canoe with Lake Nyasa/Malawi in the background

A recent mother laughs at my request for her to model her recently collected mosquito net

Waiting in line with registration card

The Tanzanian way of life is full of colour whether kangas, flip-flops, or dirt.

Learning to carry things on her head early

Hope you enjoyed the pictures!

I will aim to have Part II of my posts from this field trip up soon which will tell you a story about one particular afternoon of my time down in Ruvuma.  What happens when Dan meets the First Lady of Tanzania? A new episode in detail called “Mama Kikwete and Me”.  Stay tuned.

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