Tag Archives: travel

He Prepares A Table For Me…

I’ve had a number of things on my mind lately that I’d like to write about, but I decided tonight to go back to the basics and tell a story of my travels. Specifically I’m going back four years to my last journey to South Sudan. At the time, South Sudan was the second most dangerous country in the world, and was quickly devolving to number one, which is where it currently stands. I’d like to be able to give reasons for why this is the case, but that would take volumes to describe. This being a blog, I fully expect to lose almost everyone if I go over 1000 words. If you’d like to know more about the how and why of the situation in South Sudan, feel free to look back through the archives where I write about it at length.

Staying put in South Sudan is not so bad. And if you have the opportunity to take a small plane where you need to go, you can avoid most of the danger, minus that of actually flying in poorly maintained small Russian planes.

The problem is when you have to travel the roads, and this is what we had to do. There was a village we had neglected to visit the last time we were there, and it was necessary to go and visit this time, despite the fact that the situation had gotten worse in the last six months since we’d been in country. The problem was two-fold. The first issue was what are known as “black snakes”. These are not literal snakes, though those exist as well, but rather armed bandits that wait along the road with Kalashnikovs for an easy looking target or a vehicle that has gotten separated. They then stop the vehicle and in the best case they only rob you. This is an ever present danger of road travel in South Sudan.

The other, more pressing problem was that of the White Army. An army of mostly children and teenagers from the Nuer tribe, they rub ashes on their faces as an insect repellent, hence the “white” moniker. They had been emboldened by the renegade vice-president and occasional war-lord of South Sudan, Riek Machar, to attack and raid villages of their cattle. The village we were visiting was directly in their path, and the only road back was in their territory. So to say the least, we were concerned about our road travel, especially since it would be nearing darkness as we were returning.

Many seemingly daunting or hopeless situations are punctuated by the simple phrase, “but God.” This one was no different. Normally I avoid soldiers in developing nations as much as possible, especially in South Sudan, where loyalties change at the drop of a hat. As Sung Tzu so famously wrote in “The Art of War”, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

As we turned out of the village along the Nile onto the rutted dirt road, a cattle truck full of SPLA soldiers was passing. We hung back a bit, but drove within sight of the truck the entire way back. Their presence offered a deterrent to any would-be attackers for the whole journey. As I thought about it later, a couple of things came to mind. Part of Psalm 23 was one of them.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;”

The table prepared came in the form of a cattle truck full of soldiers, and I was thankful for it. I managed to snap this clandestine picture as we drove.

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A Time For Renewal.

I’ve been back from Ethiopia now for a month and a half. It seems like a very long time ago. Normally by now, I’ve thought of all kinds of things to write about. Honestly though, my passion to write about the subjects I normally write about is at a nadir for the year. This is not because I’m losing interest or passion, but because sometimes you just need some downtime. This year I traveled to Ethiopia three times and spent about a month there in total. When I wasn’t actually traveling, I was either fundraising for those trips, helping other people fundraise for their trips and ministries, and working my photography job. I also helped start a 501 (3)c non-profit organization. I also have a wife and three kids. So to say the least, I’ve been busy this year. My passion for missions is because of gratitude to the God who saved me, and not out of a sense of obligation to look busy. As such, I don’t have a problem taking a vacation once in a while for some renewal.

That renewal came last week, when I traveled by ship to the Caribbean for eight days. I took the whole family with me, traveling to four different islands. We went to the islands of Grand Turk, St. Kitts, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. I had no phone and no internet for a full week, so there was no checking in with work. There was no Facebook (thank God), no email, and I couldn’t check phone messages. It was wonderful.

I of course took pictures and videos, but it was on my own terms. There were no shot lists, and no one was paying me. I could shoot whatever I wanted to. I could take pictures of beautiful things just because I wanted to. I also took my drone along and was able to get some great aerial shots of each place. I might write a blog on that sometime, but for now, please enjoy my trip of renewal through my eyes. And of course, please feel free to subscribe if you’d like to get emails when there’s an update to my blog.

Gazebo on the sea cliffs in the Dominican Republic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pristine beach on Grand Turk with our ship in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man painting his roof with a brush in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial shot of El Morro fortress in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panorama of Basseterre, St Kitts at dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea on St Kitts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial view of a ship at the edge of a drop-off to deep water in Grand Turk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial panorama of the old section of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brown booby looks at me as I take its picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beautiful volcanic sea cliffs of St Kitts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children play cricket on the island of St Kitts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An iguana stares at me from the fortress walls of El Morro in San Juan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The wreck of the Mega One Triton on the beach in Grand Turk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A cannon points out over the ocean at Brimstone Fortress on St Kitts island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An old church stands over the sea on the North end of St Kitts.

The November 2017 Show And Tell.

Though I’m not quite home from Ethiopia, I am nevertheless sitting in a Canadian airport where there is good wifi. I had intended to blog while I was in Ethiopia, but I’ve been up in the mountains with very limited internet access, at least on my IPad. This trip has been many things; exhausting, thought-provoking, fullfilling, and hard. It put me way out of my comfort zone at times, which I would have previously said was a hard thing to do. I will be writing about these things in the future, but as is my tradition, my first blog when coming back into the country is one I don’t have to think about very hard. So you get pictures this time, which is what a lot of you are looking for anyway. Many of these I will write about in the future, but for now, you’ll just have to wonder and use your imagination.

Back In Addis Ababa.

After a week up in the mountains of Ethiopia, I am back in Addis Ababa. Once again, I have seen new things and will have new stories to tell, but only after some thought. My team worked wonderfully together, and I’d take this group anywhere. There were a few minor illnesses, but with some prayer, everyone recovered quickly. I had the honor of bringing my son on his first missions trip this time, so I finally got to share in person what I’ve only been able to tell in stories and pictures. I wish all of you could see what we have seen, but as he has now experienced, no matter how good the pictures and stories, there is no substitute for the real thing.

Having said that, my function this time was not to collect media, but rather to lead a team. Nevertheless, my camera never stays put away for long, so here are the first of my pictures to escape from Ethiopia. Enjoy, and I’ll write more soon. 

Packing Efficiently For Shooting Photos in Developing Nations.

In six days I leave for Ethiopia. Each time I go to Africa, I have to reassess what I’m carrying with me. Did I use it last time? How much use was it to me? Is there something better I could be using next time?

This is my tenth trip to Africa in less than seven years. I’m a missionary, and on most trips (though not this one) my primary purpose is documentation. You may have other reasons for shooting, but the basic equipment list will be the same, except for the choice of lenses. Over the years, my equipment list has changed and I believe it has become more efficient. Efficiency is key, because most, if not all of my photographic and video equipment is carried on my person when I travel. Whether my gear is insured or not, there are certain airports I travel through where the baggage handlers seem to have particularly sticky fingers. The best prevention for theft is to never let your gear out of your sight. The bag I carry is small enough to fit in either the overhead compartment or under the seat on any plane I’ve ever boarded. With that, I’m going to go through my equipment list. Keep in mind, the type of shooting I’m doing is fairly unusual. I shoot mainly with prime lenses, so I tend to be heavier on lenses than most people will be. Nevertheless, everything going into my carry-on bag comes in at about 11 kilos, not including the tripod, which I carry as a personal item. By the way, I’m not endorsed or sponsored by any of the products I use, so if I mention it, it’s because it works well for me, and not because I’ve been bought.

My carry-on gear for traveling to Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. My backpack is a Clik Elite Escape. I’ve had it for a few years now, and it’s held up far better than any bag I’ve used before. The previous one I used was a brand I won’t mention, and if fell apart on the first trip.
  2. Yellow Fever Card. This is required to enter a number of developing nations.
  3. Passport.
  4. Memory cards and holder. Your memory needs will vary. I shoot a lot of 4k video, so I need large, fast cards.
  5. Canon G1X. This is my backup camera for when I’m trying to be discreet. It has roughly an APS-C size sensor, so I get far sharper pictures than most small cameras.
  6. Canon 5D Mk IV. Shoots 30 megapixel images as well as 4K video (or 5.5K video if you have the upgrade.) The quality is excellent, though it is a memory hog. Attached is a 70-200 mm f4 Canon L image stabilized lens. I choose the f4 lens because it weighs about half of what the 2.8 version does.
  7. Canon 135 mm f2 L lens. I shoot a lot of portraits and expressions, and this is the one for that.
  8. Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens. This is possibly my favorite lens.
  9. Sigma 20 mm f1.4 Art lens. Truly an astounding lens.
  10. 10 stop neutral density filter.
  11. velcro zip strips, for fastening things together on the go. Zip ties are useful also.
  12. Extra batteries for both cameras, as well as an extra set of AA batteries.
  13. Disposable lens cleaning cloths.
  14. Remote trigger for the 5D Mk IV.
  15. Oben carbon fiber tripod with Giottos fluid video head. It’s very light weight, and I’ve developed a technique for using it as a steadicam with the larger camera. With the video head, you can’t shoot vertical, but when’s the last time you shot a vertical on a tripod?
  16. Head lamp
  17. Shotgun microphone. (Don’t rely on your camera’s built in mic.)
  18. Rode wireless mic setup, for doing interviews or if I need to voiceover a video while I shoot.
  19. Zipper bag to hold most of the stuff on the right. Toiletries, bug spray, stomach medication, antibiotics, superglue (for stitching injuries, not other stuff), ace bandage, antibiotic ointment (incredibly hard to find overseas), wet wipes (a God send when you’re traveling), band-aids (plasters to you Brits), hand sanitizer, and a contact lens case to keep small quantities of loose medication (space saver).
  20. International electrical power inverter with adapters for different plugs.
  21. An extra set of clothes for either traveling or if they lose your luggage. You don’t want to get where you’re going in the tropics and have only the clothes on your back. They will eventually evolve a rudimentary intelligence and walk off on their own.
  22. (Not shown) iPad Air 2. This is lighter than a computer, and allows me to wirelessly sync photos from my camera. The hard drive is not large enough for backing up photos, but allows me to transfer the ones I need for my writing. I recommend loading up communication apps such as Facebook Messenger, Viber, or Skype for communication back home. You should also load up a virtual private network (VPN) both for security issues on public wi-fi, but also because it helps bypass censorship issues in certain nations.
  23. Headphones, both for listening to music but also for monitoring video.
  24. (Not shown) iPad Air 2. Lighter than a laptop. I use this for writing, blogging, and communication back home. Load up communication apps such as Facebook Messenger, Skype, or Viber. Also, it’s good to load up a Virtual Private Network (VPN), both for security on public wi-fi, but also to get around censorship issues in some countries. I can also sync the iPad with my camera. It doesn’t have a large enough hard drive to back up files, but I can move over the pictures I’d like to edit for blogging.
  25. (Not shown) iPhone 5. This has a removable sim-card, so you can buy a local one for communication in whatever country you are in.

So that’s all of it. There are of course variations you’ll have. For instance, many people will get away carrying a couple of zoom lenses rather than all the lenses I’m carrying, but again, that’s just my style. Also, sometimes I need to carry a second SLR camera body. This has served me well though. Hopefully this was helpful.

Comparative size of the bag next to my eight year old.

The April 2017 Show And Tell

It is virtually impossible to not be greatly affected by your surroundings and culture in your worldview. It’s also virtually impossible to understand other cultures without a frame of reference. It’s hard to obtain a frame of reference without actually going, but the next best thing is pictures and video. So consider this blog to be my best attempt to provide a frame of reference. I’ve been back from Ethiopia for about three weeks now. Frequently after a trip, I pause my pontificating for a bit and just post pictures. There are unfortunately a lot of pictures I can’t show. However, here are a number of pictures from places we went and the people we met on the street. More later. Enjoy.

Our frequent server of coffee and good food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A camel train going down the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aerial shot of farms and villages East of Addis Ababa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Communion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Woman in the butcher shop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A man in thought on the street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A night scene in Dire Dawa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An immense tree in the ancient city of Harar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegetable sellers in Harar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kids outside the hotel in Dire Dawa. Most, I believe, were professional beggars sent out by their parents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mountains of eastern Ethiopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the goats chew Qat here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The desert between Harar and Dire Dawa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Continents In 24 Hours

I am now back from Ethiopia. My plan was to write at least a post or two from in the field. Unfortunately, a few days before I left, electronic devices in carry-on bags were restricted on flights from a number of middle-east airports including one I would be traveling through. This meant that I was going to have to check my iPad in my luggage. Due to experiences some of my fellow travelers have had with airport workers with sticky fingers, I opted not to bring any more expensive gear than was absolutely necessary.

Though I would have liked to have been able to write from the field, by best thoughts on the things I’ve seen and experienced when I travel often come not during, but weeks or even months afterward. I need time to process and ruminate on things. I took a couple thousand pictures and hours of video on this trip, and looking at those will also help me to put things together.

If my writing seems a bit off, it’s because I’m still jet lagged. I was up for almost 48 hours straight this time coming home, due to the schedule and some very uncomfortable flights. (I truly hate middle seats). I traveled a different airline this time than I have before, Turkish Air to be specific. I had some initial trepidation about flying this airline, but after the experience I can honestly say I would do it again. The food, by airline food standards, was actually pretty good. Furthermore, I had an eight hour layover in Istanbul on the way home. Turkish Air, though they don’t seem to advertise it, will give you a free tour of the city with a guide on a nice bus if you have a long layover. We opted to do this, and I’ve got to say that Istanbul is a fantastic city to visit. At least the parts that I visited were modern and clean, but full of ancient historic sights everywhere.

So the long and the short of it is this. I had lunch in Eastern Ethiopia, dinner in Addis Ababa, Turkish coffee in Istanbul, then I flew to New York where I had pizza in Brooklyn with a very old friend. In Istanbul I was able to see Asia across the water as I drank my coffee. All told it took about thirty six hours, but from leaving Africa to landing in New York was about 24 hours. It was not the most relaxing way to travel, but it was an adventure, and I was able to add Turkey to the list of countries I’ve been to.

Soon I will start writing about Ethiopia, but I need to get some rest first so I can put two words together and have them make sense.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning in Istanbul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza in New York

Leaving Home.

In four days I leave for Ethiopia. This will be my third trip to Ethiopia. I’ve also been to South Sudan four times, and I’m not even sure how many times I’ve been to Kenya. Every country I’ve been to, and every city, and every village has been different in some way or another. Cultures are different. Tribes are different. Nations that border each other have vastly different characters and cultures. I’m only talking about East Africa. I haven’t even been to central or West Africa, and only passed through South Africa.

I sincerely wish everyone could do what I do, at least once. I wish everyone could uproot and leave home, truly leave home and go somewhere so far out of their comfort zone that you couldn’t stand on a stool and see where your comfort zone is.

I hear so many people say, “We are so blessed here. We have so much we take for granted.” ¬†Having traveled to the places I’ve been, I know how true that statement is. I also realize how little the people saying it realize what they’re saying. If you take something for granted, then by definition you do not understand what it is that you either have or do not have. It’s easy to say, “We have so much,” because that’s the more obvious observation one can make, but it doesn’t mean you understand poverty. There is so much depth to what we don’t understand that I can’t describe it without taking someone with me and letting them experience it for themselves. There is so much more than, “We have so much.” There are cultural things we have so engrained within us that we have no understanding of how other cultures think. Each time I go, I understand a little more, and I realize more how much I don’t understand.

The observation of “We have so much” also belies our idea that our culture is somehow superior to other cultures, because we see them as having so little, while having little understanding of what we lack within our own culture. What are the divorce rates within American culture? How much of this “We have so much” is actually things we don’t need that get in the way of family relationships and friendships? How many families have been broken up because we had a choice of either building a legacy with our spouse or children, but we chose instead that a career was important and having a nicer car than our neighbor? How many of us have heart disease, cancer, gout, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity because we are “rich”? While most Africans would be considered poor in our eyes, it’s not always because they lack basic necessities. Rather it’s because our idea of “richness” is so monetarily based that we fail to see our own poverty. I know many Africans that have a legacy that I can only dream of.

There are so many other things we take for granted that I could get into, but I fear that it would only evoke a deer-in-the-headlights look in many readers. I say this not to be demeaning or to look down on people. It’s because I’ve been there. ¬†It’s fairly easy to describe some ways of doing things that are different, but it’s virtually impossible to describe the different ways people think. Which brings me back to the beginning. If you ever have the chance to do missions, by all means go. Get to know the people one on one. Build relationships. You’ll find you learn just as much what you didn’t know about yourself as you do about them.

People walking along an open sewer in a slum in Africa

The Gorilla Is Helping Me Test My Blog

In a week I leave for Ethiopia. I often write my thoughts and post pictures as I’m in the field, and it’s best to work any bugs out of the system before I’m there. There are no gorillas in Ethiopia, but this one I took a picture of last week is helping me today as I test software to help with my internet connection when I’m overseas. In the next week or so, you should be seeing pictures from my trip.

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Ersatz Misir Wot

Tonight I’m writing this blog because in less than 60 days, I leave for Ethiopia. It doesn’t seem like it, but it will be two years since my last trip to Ethiopia. I was supposed to be going in November, but the security situation on the ground wouldn’t allow it. Last year I had work to do in Kenya and couldn’t go. Now the time is coming. 

One of my favorite foods in Ethiopia, and a taste that I miss is misir wot, a dish made from red lentils, garlic, onions, and the ubiquitous berbere spice, which is in nearly all Ethiopian food. This week I was excited to have found some locally; excited until I made misir wot with it, and found out that it was nothing like the authentic spice I knew so well. Nevertheless it was better than nothing, and I was able to give my friends an ersatz taste of Ethiopia.

I’m also writing this blog today to get any kinks out of the system I’ll be writing from. I normally write on a computer, but I will only have an iPad with me, so I’m writing from that. I’m also testing out transferring files over wifi from my camera to the iPad, then editing a picture with Snapseed. So far, so good, though with the snags I’ve run into, I’m glad I’m practicing at home first. 

I will be writing my normal blog as I get thoughts worth writing, but I’ll also be writing more about the preparation for the upcoming trip as it gets closer. Until next time…