Although I returned from Africa several months ago, I have had THE hardest time figuring out how to update you all, and what to possibly say - the first, most logical problem being the sheer number of images to sort through. It's rare for me to have my camera attached to my hand for almost a month straight. After shooting a wedding, I usually end up with a few thousand images - and that's just from one day of shooting. Yikes. The second and larger problem is that Kenya, and all of the lovely people I met while I was there, have come to mean so much to me, and it's something that I'm having a hard time expressing. I'm sure you expect to hear that this trip was life-changing, and, well, it was - but that's so cliche and doesn't come anywhere near expressing what I felt and experienced while I was there. If you haven't yet checked out the video I put together, click here.I was talking with Jannah, the director of Friends Vision, as we were driving through Naivasha, where Friends Vision is based. Naivasha's in the heart of the Rift Valley, also called the "Cradle of Life"; it's where "Lucy", one of the earliest human ancestors, was found. Traffic regularly slows down for herds of zebras, and giraffes awkwardly, casually, munch on the acacia trees by the power lines on the side of the highway.
"There are so many people who come here for the first time, and say that they have a strange sense of finally coming home." Jannah said. And it was true - Naivasha is so beautiful, and teeming with life and color, and although I had no direct history with the place, I felt oddly familiar and comfortable as we drove down Longonot Pass and dropped into the valley. I felt a strange sense of belonging, like Africa was already a part of me. I wondered if there was any way this could be an ancient, ancestral, hardwired part of my DNA. Being there feels like being present for the beginning of time, in the best possible way.
The Great Rift Valley:
The view of Lake Naivasha from our "home":
Naivasha was our "home base" and where we spent much of our time. It's a small, bustling, rainbow-colored town, and I adore it. We spent a lot of time with the sweet kiddos at a safe house - a center for kids who are dealing with custody issues, or who are removed from their homes for their safety, or who simply get lost and have trouble finding their way home. The kids stay there for anywhere from a few days to a few months until their issues are dealt with in one way or another, and most of them are on the younger side. For their privacy, we won't be posting any images of their faces online - but trust me, they are all absolutely precious, wonderful, beautiful kids. We brought a few of our donated digital cameras, and taught the kids some basic photography lessons. They paid such close attention, and the detailed questions they asked about cameras and photography made me realize they were really getting it as the weeks went on. It made my heart swell to watch photography "click" for some of them (no pun intended) - at first, they would all just stand in a line, grab the camera when it was their turn, stand in the same spot at the front of the line, snap a photo of anything in front of them, then hand the camera to the next kid in line. Towards the end of the week, we worked out a system where each kid would get the camera for a few minutes, and would run around the grounds, carefully taking photos of their favorite things, posing for each other, setting up scenes with stuffed animals, and noticing details around them. Yay!
Waiting patiently in line to use the cameras:
The team sorting some of the donations we brought with us - clothes, accessories, and toys galore!
Many of the clothes and toys that were donated went to the kids at the Safe House. As portrait photographers, we thought it would be fun to play dress-up with a few of the girls and take some portraits. We ran this by the director of the Safe House, and she and the kids took it a step further and came up with an even better idea. Everyone - the boys and the girls - got dressed up in new outfits, and the girls all had their nails and makeup done by the staff at the Safe House. We dragged the school chairs out into the courtyard, and put on a fashion show! The boys walked down the runway one by one as the girls giggled and screamed and clapped. Then the girls went one by one, strutting down the runway and striking poses for us, the "paparazzi". Then we shot quick portraits of each child, all dressed up for the camera, then we all had a giant jumprope and dance party. Literally one of the best, happiest days of my life. A few days later, we were able to have the pictures printed at a shop in town, and we brought prints back to the Safe House so each kid could have a copy of their portrait! We were able to leave the Safe House with several donated cameras and a laptop, stocked with office software and educational programs like Rosetta Stone in several languages.
Judy, the wonderful director, checking out the prints:
To those of you who donated clothes, toys, or cameras - THANK YOU. More to come soon!