Monthly Archives: October 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

The changes in color of the horizon after sunset is one of my favorite subjects to photograph when I am traveling.  I find it amazing how the sky can yield post-sunset afterglows casting beautiful splashes of red, yellow and orange colors.  But why are some parts of the world more colorful than others?

This week’s photo challenge features the horizon, the space or line where the sky meets the earth.  There are many places where the sky meets the earth around the world.  So in today’s post, I am showcasing my favorite photos of horizons in different countries taken just before or after the sun sets.  Let me know which one do you like best.

The Colors of Africa

Africa

The Classic Colors of Western Europe

europe

When the sky meets the earth in Asia-Pacific

asia pacific

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Categories: Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , , , | 22 Comments

Being In Tune With Nature

On my previous post, In the Midst of Hardship, I described the difficulties I have encountered in the field while on deployment for a humanitarian mission in South Sudan.  Towards the end, I discussed some of my coping mechanisms.  One of these is being in tune with nature.  How do I do that?

Every morning, I am awakened by the sounds of my ‘little’ friends.  Their presence give me a reason to get up.  They actually push me to wake up every morning!    Why? Watch this and LISTEN!

Who would not want to wake up with their charming tweets and chirping sounds?  Their soothing and calming natural sounds help me connect to nature and the world outside.  And when Im out to greet them, they always make me smile with their colorful looks.  Guys, meet my very cute ‘little’ friends!

south sudan birds

Every morning, they come and visit me at the campsite.  I am not familiar with bird species but I have not seen such kind of small little birds in different colors in its natural habitat.  (I only see birds like these in pet shops or inside a cage kept as pets at homes).  They do look like the bee eaters but I am not sure.  Although they have their local names, I prefer calling my ‘little friends’ according to their colors.

Yellows (photos above) are often my morning companions.  They come in groups as early as 5:30 am.  They often stay on top of the trees or shrubs and sometimes join me while I drink my coffee outside my tent.

Blues (birds below) are my companion at work.  I always see them around when I am visiting the communities, usually distracting me when they start flapping their wings and create their unusual tweets.   One time, I was giving a Risk Education session and I saw one on top of a branch making funny posses as if catching my attention.  I couldn’t stop myself from admiring my ‘little’ friend that I had to excuse myself from my participants just so I am able to take a photo of Blue.

south sudan birds

Blacks are my afternoon companions.  I often see these little fellas when I go for walks in the village or to watch the African sunset.

South Sudan Birds

And finally, Reds, my favorite traveling companion.  I see them often in the bushes along the roads.  They distract me from the tough rough roads that I had to endure traveling in far flung villages.  Sadly though, I was not able to take loads of good photos of Reds because of road security issues, we can’t stop regularly just for picture taking.

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South Sudan birds

South Sudan offers a variety of Bird life because of the presence of wetlands.  It is one of the things that I love traveling in the field.  However, because of insecurities, cultural considerations and the kind of work that I do, I am not able to practice photography using my DLSR camera. Good thing I brought my compact digital camera with a very good Leica lens.  (There are a lot of places especially in the main towns and cities where taking photos are prohibited.  I was once caught by an undercover National Security personnel while taking photo of the River Nile. I had to delete the photo in front of him while explaining that I was taking photos only to show to my family because of its biblical relevance.  Since then, I am careful of taking photos particularly in the city/town proper!)

Instead, my photographic memories compensate to my lack of photographs.  Indeed, watching my ‘little’ friends in their natural habitat help me take my mind off my hardships. Their relaxing sounds help me fall asleep, unwind or wake up to.  They brighten my day and make my difficult situation a bit more pleasant to live with.

 

Categories: Africa, South Sudan, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | Tags: | 4 Comments

In the midst of hardship

I have been working as an international development worker since 2006 and have worked in several developing countries.  However, my humanitarian mission in South Sudan is by far the most challenging and most difficult, yet the most fulfilling job i’ve ever had. I would not trade this experience for anything….not even my past ‘Gasm’ Travels!

Here is a peek of my humanitarian lifestyle, in the midst of hardship.

My deployment entails travelling with my team (a group of 4 male national staff) in far flung places often on unpaved rough roads,….

South Sudan

in muddy, flooded highways…..

South Sudan

notwithstanding the imminent dangers of road accidents, robberies, car hijacking and ambushes….

South Sudan

as well as the Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) or unexploded ammunitions and anti-tank landmines and other remnants of war that are scattered in roads, in farms and gardens, in the bush, communities even within town centers.

This was taken during one of our clearance operations in one of the communities in Central Equatoria State. This is a main busy highway connecting a village to the main town. Unknowingly to many, there were a number of unexploded air bombs and mortars half buried on the ground which if detonated can cause a massive explosion.

UXO

When we reach our destination, we first look for a place to camp either within the village center or outskirt of town.

south sudan

Here are the various campsites we had so far….from Western Equatoria State to Central Equatoria State to Eastern Equatoria State….south sudan

Yes, I sleep in a small tent (which is often leaking when it is raining!)

…And this is my home…..welcome to my humble abode!

south sudan

….and this is my office….

South Sudan

Welcome to our kitchen! We hire a cook from the village.  We use charcoal in cooking.  If there is no borehole nearby, the river water serves as our water source. 

South Sudan

What we eat depends on how much budget we still have and what is available in the village market.  At the beginning of deployment, often there is meat but after a few weeks, my local teammates end up eating the same kind of food….the greens, a local leafy vegetable cooked in peanut butter.

South Sudan

A typical meal of South Sudanese is a combination of Greens and Ugali (made of cornmeal flour).  It is also the cheapest and most available food in every village.  Here is how Mary, one of our hired cooks, prepare the greens.

south sudan

There was one incident during our last week of deployment where we ran out of money in the field.    Luckily I always have my emergency canned goods stored.  However, the guys opted to hunt for food.  It has just rained that night.  I was inside my tent preparing for bed.  I saw them with a cup kneeling under a bulb light as if doing some rituals.  The next day, I asked them what they were doing outside my tent.  They showed me a cup full of flying ants.  These are the insects that come out after the rain.  They told me that it was for dinner.  They showed me how to prepare it, removing first the wings and drying the insects under the sun.  Then after a few hours, they fry it in oil then greens are added.  Voila! Sauté Flying Ants with Greens! (By the way, they also eat it raw!)  I did try it, it was not that bad…it was just like eating…um, well, insects…:)

south sudan

Well, that is not yet the most difficult ordeal I have to go through.  Bathing, pooing and peeing are what I call the worst in humanitarian hardship.    I have never cursed my being a woman because of these toilet issues!  I struggled a lot on this aspect especially as I am the only woman in the team.

Sometimes, we are lucky to find a public latrine nearby. Otherwise, we will do a makeshift latrine and bath area (my ass prefers this as it is more a ‘bit’ hygienic compared to the public latrine!) Or if not, tall bushes along the road or behind a big Mango tree will do. 🙂

south sudan

Top Photos: Public Latrine; Middle Photos: Makeshift Latrine; Lower Photos: Bathing Area

But in the midst of hardship, I had to find ways on how to divert my mind and not be affected by my difficult situation.  Here are some of my survival tactics:

When living in the tent is becoming unbearable, I would close my eyes and imagine I am camping in the wilderness of Australia.  When it is rainy and cold, I imagine camping in the highlands of Scotland.  It makes things more bearable just thinking of those beautiful places I have been to and reminisce those ‘gasm’ feelings I had during my travels.

I learned that in hardship situations, meditation and imaginations help a lot.  When I am fed up with eating canned foods or greens, I  would crave for something so I can focus on having it. So I will count the days till the end of the month when I can go back to the city  and treat myself with proper good food!

Lastly, being in tune with nature can have positive effects on mental and physical health creating balance in our inner ecology despite the ever changing environment.  The smell of wet earth after the rain, the amazing African sunset that brightly colors the horizon and the chirping of the birds in the morning are some of the reasons why I love working in the field.

Amidst these hardships, I have learned to relax, to accept and to go with the flow.  As what the saying goes, ” The more difficult it is to reach your destination, the more you will remember the journey. ”

Watch out for more on my survival tactics in my future posts…..

Categories: Africa, South Sudan, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | Tags: | 13 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Hue of You

Orange, is a stimulating vibrant blend of red and yellow which is often associated with change like the autumn leaves showing a change in season.  It is often used as a transitional color such as the color of sunrise which meant another day or sunset representing the coming darkness or a change in time.   Depending on the contrast of shades and tints, the hues of orange may mean different things from domination to passion, aggression to soothing, deceit to friendly among others. 

Despite the fact that orange is often recognized as a happy, flamboyant color, I prefer the combination of orange and black.  The contrast between these two colors as shown in my photos below represents the hue of me.    Orange portray the kind of life I have….always moving about….embracing change even if its unsettling or daunting at times (as represented by the shades of black), I still continue to shine and rise up to the challenge of another day. 

As what the famous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, said, ” Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.  It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”

All photos taken in Botswana.

All photos taken in Botswana.

All photos taken in Southern African countries: Walvis Bay, Namibia (Upper Left Photo); Maun, Botswana (Upper Right Photo); Zambezi River, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe (Lower Left Photo); Sowa Pan, Botswana (Lower Right Photo)

All photos taken in Southern African countries: Walvis Bay, Namibia (Upper Left Photo); Maun, Botswana (Upper Right Photo); Zambezi River, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe (Lower Left Photo); Sowa Pan, Botswana (Lower Right Photo)

Click the link for more details of the Weekly Photo Challenge.

Categories: Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Victoria Falls, Weekly Photo Challenge, Zimbabwe | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Infinite

Its been awhile since I entered a post for the Weekly Photo Challenge and I must admit I had a hard time interpreting this week’s challenge.  I am not sure how I understand the word infinity or whether my understanding is enough to interpret it visually.  According to Collins English Dictionary, Infinity is the state or quality of being infinite, an endless time, space and quantity.

I only know the word as associated with everlasting love as symbolized by the infinity necklace resembling a figure of eight.  But it is too cliché if I am going to interpret this one.

As always, I want to be different and so  I googled how other famous writers use the word infinity.  I found a number of quotes and put them together into a poetry (sort of!).  I looked at my collection of photos and found the ones that actually tell a story…almost related to the quotes I compiled.

All photos were taken by me at Cape Town in South Africa…truly my most memorable and happiest trip!!!

Here goes….enjoy!!

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INIFINITY

" I'm one of those people who think that infinity is big enough for us all--and eternity long enough."                                                                                    -  House Of Seven Gables by Hawthorne, Nathaniel

” I’m one of those people who think that infinity is big enough for us all–and eternity long enough.”
– House Of Seven Gables by Hawthorne, Nathaniel

And, like all fine arts, it must be based upon a broad, solid sincerity, which, like a law of Nature, rules an infinity of different phenomena. - The Mirror of the Sea by Conrad, Joseph

                         ” And, like all fine arts, it must be based upon a broad, solid sincerity, which, like a law of Nature,   rules an infinity of different phenomena.”

– The Mirror of the Sea by Conrad, Joseph

                     ” Through the glass of the little skylight you saw a square of blue infinity. “                                                                                                             – The Four Million by Henry, O.

” It gave you an awful sense of the infinity of space and of the endlessness of time. ” – Moon and Sixpence by Maugham, W. Somerset

 

” Then silence that passed into an infinity of suspense.” – The War Of The Worlds by Wells, H.G.

“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me. ” – Pascal Pensées

” Was it being borne in that profound darkness through the infinity of space?” – Round The Moon by Verne, Jules

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Click on the link for more information regarding the Weekly Photo Challenge

Categories: Africa, Cape Town, South Africa, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

An Arch Over a Passage

Last month, I took my holiday sort of ‘rest and recuperation’ leave after being deployed for 4 months for a humanitarian work in South Sudan.  I was contemplating whether to have a relaxing beach holiday in Mombasa in Kenya, have a safari/beach holiday in Tanzania or get lost in the craziness of Marrakesh in Morocco.  It was a tough decision but in the end I opted for the latter.

Why Marrakesh? Aside from it being in a different environment (though still part of Africa but more like being in an Arabic country than African), Marrakesh has always been a dream for most photography enthusiasts.  The chaotic, noisy and colorful souks are just one of the many reasons why Marrakesh is the place to go for a photographic journey.  Indeed, it was!

I found a hostel right in the old medina (old city) at the centre of the famous Place Djemaa el-Fna square.  Prior to my arrival, I planned to take loads of photos of the souks (market), crafts, food stalls, snake charmers, crowded square, vendors and local people…the way I expected to see at Marrakesh.  Indeed, on my first day, I found the old medina the way I expected it to be except for one thing…the Medina arches, the Arabic horseshoe arch design used in doorways and windows.

Ive seen different types of arches in Europe but mostly in historical old big buildings.  But I have never seen such kind of architectural design used in local households, street passageways, small businesses or shops and in market stalls.  It was so distinct that it is easy enough to be noticed everywhere you go in Marrakesh.  And so I made it a mission to take photos of different types of Arabic arches in and around the old medina.

Here are some of my collections:

arch

Aside from the doorways and windows, Arabic arch is also used to design the exterior walls of a building or as part of the structure itself.  I also found several unique and interesting wooden doors and windows which are either square or rectangular in shape and mostly painted with bright colors which are great subjects for photography too.

arch 2

As I went around taking snapshots of these Arabic arched windows and doorways, I noticed that even the passageway separating streets have also an archway built at the entrance.  Instead of taking a photo of the structure alone, I decided to add some elements on my composition.

First, I added the scenes from behind the archway to get a feeling of where it is located making the viewer to imagine what is going on beyond the image.

arch 3

Second, I added the element of movement by capturing people walking through the arched passageway.  People walking can make the viewer look at the direction of movement and into your main subject – the Archway.  It also gives a sense of busyness of the street or passageway.

arch 4

And lastly, adding images of the local people into your main subject gives a different context, making it more interesting than just the plain image of the arched doors or windows.  In this case, the colorful traditional dresses of Moroccans and their soulful photogenic faces add dramatic and or entertaining story to the composition making it a picture perfect photo.

Here are some of my best shots and my favorites among hundreds of snapshots of Morocco’s Medina Arch.

arch 5

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arch 7

arch 8

arch 9

arch 10

Categories: Africa, Morocco, World's Unusual Design of Ordinary Things | Tags: , | 9 Comments

A Glimpse of Hope for South Sudanese

hand

We were on deployment in one of the remotest villages in Central Equatoria State when I took this photo of my South Sudanese colleague’s hand reaching for the flag using trick photography. You can create trick photography using the following techniques: 1. making your subject seem abnormally large in comparison to the rest of the setting; 2. making your foreground and background look as if they have little or no distance between them. I did the latter.

Last July 9, 2013, I was privileged to have witnessed the celebration of the 2nd  independence day of the newest country in the world, South Sudan.

After   decades   of  civil  war,  the  Republic  of  South  Sudan  finally  gained  full  independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011. Development  progress  is  somehow  evident  already  in  the  capital,  Juba,  in  terms  of  infrastructure  and  real    estate development. However, the city is still far from being a modern capital city.

The whole country still lags  behind  in  terms  of  basic social services and other infrastructure facilities like paved roads as well as having an airport with no international civil  aviation standards and river channels not having been made navigable.

There is no electricity supply yet in most part of the  country  including the capital Juba.  Businesses and offices make much use  of  generators.  Water  supplies  are  mostly  from  boreholes  or  River  Nile  fetched  by  water  tank  trucks, and being delivered daily to every household.  Drinking water are mostly from imported plastic water bottles available at small shops.

Aside from the limited access to social services, widespread epidemic diseases has been plaguing the country, with Malaria and Typhoid cases rising in numbers.

Social unrest and tribal wars that causes widespread conflict displacement in certain states  have  also  escalated  since the country gained its Independence. Other crimes such as robberies, ambush, car  hijacking, and killings  have  intensified  the past few months particularly in the main roads leading to Juba.  Expatriates humanitarian NGO workers have now  become primary targets of crimes since the beginning of this year.

Only  after  two  years  of  independence, the  government’s  reputation has already been tarnished by rampant corruption and  political  instability.  Hence,  South Sudan  entered  the  international  community  as  one the poorest countries in the world with more than half of the population surviving below the poverty.

However,  despite  the  immense  challenges  facing  the  country,  its  people  are  still  hopeful  that  the country can move beyond these social problems and eventually enjoy its status as the newest sovereign nation in the world.

But for now, South Sudanese are celebrating their new found freedom, relishing the end of decades of war.

Peace and prosperity to South Sudan!

Categories: Africa, South Sudan, Wandering the Road Less Traveled: My Humanitarian Missions | 11 Comments

Morocco: Heritage and People

Moroccans remain as one of the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world.  While primarily it is dominated by Muslim Arabs and typically regarded as an Arab nation, Morocco is best described as a nation of both Arabs and its indigenous inhabitants, the Berbers.  The Berbers which means “those who are not Arab” have generally settled in the countryside and mountains.  However, in the past few decades, more Berbers moved into urban areas mixing peacefully among the Arab and small Jewish population.  Due to the many influxes of populations in Morocco, the country has experienced many cultural influences mostly from Europe, Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Classical Arabic is the country’s official language while Berber are generally used as a first language mostly in rural areas.  French, is Morocco’s unofficial third language widely used in education, commerce and government.  Spanish is being spoken by majority of Moroccans in the northern part while English is being taught in all public schools.

 

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Categories: Africa, Morocco | Tags: | 15 Comments

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