A Life Changing Question

Causes, Travel

It was a simple enough question. Under ordinary circumstances this interaction between strangers might have produced a simple “no” and a polite but brief discussion.

These were not ordinary circumstances. I had arrived in Kenya only a few days earlier as part of a team attempting to do documentary work on good causes in East Africa. Learning that the World Social Forum was taking place in Nairobi, I stayed behind to network while most of my team went on to Uganda. With my camera draped over my shoulder, I wandered around the stadium looking for interesting people and causes to engage. This is when I received a life changing question.

“Excuse me, are you a journalist?” a man asked. “No” I answered. “I do some documentary work with photography and video but I am not a journalist.” Undaunted, he asked “Can I tell you about a project I am working on for my hometown village?” It is not uncommon to be approached by strangers in East Africa with requests for help. This question intrigued me, however, so I stopped to listen to the man’s story.

1000 Cups Coffee House

Travel

1000-cups-coffee 1
There are a few moments in life where you make profound discoveries that change your life forever. Although long in the making, these defining moments are what we remember when looking back. One of moments occurred to me six years ago at the 1000 Cups Coffee House in Kampala, Uganda. This discovery for me was not of deep spiritual importance but it did help to refine what became one of my most enduring interests, enjoying a good cup of coffee.

Attracted by a flyer offering a coffee safari, I figured that a place that could introduce you to the coffee process probably makes some pretty good coffee. My boda boda driver (motorcycle taxi) struggled to find the place from my vague description. Stepping through the door I liked the place instantly. It looked like what an artisan coffee shop in Africa should look like, complete with a rustic wooden setting and well arranged sacks of fresh roasted coffee beans.

Traveling With My Sister

Causes, Travel

Rebekah and I on safari at Kenya's Maassai Mara.

Rebekah and I on safari at Kenya’s Maassai Mara.


One of the great joys of my life has been sharing my love of travel with my younger sister, Rebekah. Our shared adventures include a three week road trip through the American West visiting 13 states and 7 national parks. We once drove from Ohio to Homer, Alaska, spending a spontaneous summer together in the Last Frontier. We’ve traveled along Lake Superior’s scenic North Shore and camped at Southern California’s San Onofre State Beach. We learned to surf together in the Pacific Ocean and kayaked for the first time during one of our journeys to Colorado.

When I told her that I was heading back to East Africa she decided that she wanted to join me this time. I welcomed the idea of taking our initial trip together overseas, especially since this was our first chance to travel since she has given birth to two beautiful little boys.

The Nile is Not Just a River in Egypt

Causes, Travel

nile river 1
On a bright Sunday afternoon in Nimule, South Sudan, a group decided to set out on a walking trip to the Nile River. Following Elizabeth, a volunteer at the Cornerstone Children’s Home from Colorado, visitors and children alike set made this trek. The next few hours yielded rich cultural and natural experiences.

I walked alongside Jimmy, a sixteen year old orphan who speaks great English and always carries a sheepish grin on his face as though he is planning some kind of mischief. Jimmy is a fun to joke around with and behind his jovial manner is a kind heart. Enjoying this opportunity to get to know him, we spent most of the way there and back in conversation.

I Want to See the Photos

Africa, Causes, Travel

Children everywhere love to see photos. On my first day in Southern Sudan I met a little girl named Dorothy at the Cornerstone Children’s Home. Most of those who know her call her by her nickname, Nyonyo. I was carrying my camera at the time so she pleaded, “I want to see the photos.”

After showing her some of the pictures she approached me later on asking to see the photos on my phone. Every time I saw her for the first couple days I was there she repeated in the same begging voice, “I want to see the photos.”

One evening I saw her and jokingly said the same thing to her using her tone of voice. She promptly disappeared and then returned with a small photo album. I sat down on the concrete with her as she told me about the people in her photos.

This was a moving moment for me. Here’s a girl who has lost her parents but because there are people loving on her, she has pictures of a past that she can look back on with joy. I understood better than ever why she wanted to see my pictures.

Looking through Dorothy’s pictures helped me to appreciate the power of photos to connect people with their past. I have captured many images over the past few years but few of them are printed or in a format that can help others remember their experiences unless they are in front of my computer. I think I need to do something about this.

A Flight to Remember

Africa, Travel

There are a few moments in life where your experience collides with your interests, making you feel like it is a great time to be alive. Flying over Uganda this past week on our way to South Sudan provided one of these moments. Here’s what I wrote in my Field Notes shortly after we took off.

“I am so happy right now. I’m on an adventure and nothing makes me feel more alive than experiences like this. I am presently on an MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) flight from Entebbe, Uganda to Nimule, South Sudan.

We are on a small 12 passenger plane. The seats are covered with a tough canvas and the controls look vintage but capable.

Taking off over Lake Victoria was a treat. It is such a beautiful lake! The Ugandan countryside is so green. The only brown you see anywhere is from the dirt roads carved out between the villages.

There were a lot of nerves among some of the women as we were preparing to take off. Everyone seems fine now and this been a very pleasant flight. I’m loving this adventure!”

Flying over the Nile River in Uganda


Later as we flew over the Nile I was inspired to write down, “We just crossed over the Nile and it was glorious from the air. It winds and turns under the partial shade of the clouds from that vantage point. Converging with Lake Kwania it then winds around as it empties back into the long stretch of river that doesn’t stop until it meets the Mediterranean.”

Landing on a dirt runway in Nimule commenced our adventures in South Sudan. Next stop, the Cornerstone Children’s Home.

Feels Like Home

Africa, Travel

Stepping off the plane in Entebbe, Uganda, my immediate feeling was that I had arrived at my second home. I love being in East Africa and it feels great to be back. We spent our first day acclimating around Lake Victoria and preparing for our flight into Sudan the following day. One highlight of the day was enjoying a delightful dinner at Olubugo, a new restaurant in Entebbe built to support the admirable work of Aid Child in Uganda. Check out the great work that they are doing to care for vulnerable children at http://www.AidChild.org Here are a few of the pictures of our first day in East Africa

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My East Africa Journey

Africa, Causes, Travel

I have embarked upon my third journey to East Africa. Stepping off the plane this morning in Uganda I looked out over Lake Victoria and it felt wonderful to be back in this region. I feel more at home in East Africa than anywhere else outside of my home country in the United States.

The story of why I am here starts about six years ago when I co-founded a project called Mission Focus. Our intent was to provide creative communication services, such as web, video, photography and writing, for those engaged with critical causes around the globe. We have since changed the name to Bridge Cause because we build a bridge between causes and the creatives who can help them reach supporters.

The other co-founder, Brian Denton, runs Incendia Creative, a creative agency in Monterey, California. A local group approached him over the summer to help them build a web-presence for their project to support the Cornerstone Orphanage in Nimule, Southern Sudan.

Realizing that they would need to some quality photography and video footage, they asked who they could take on their upcoming trip and Brian volunteered me. This provided a wonderful opportunity to help support this vital cause and also to return to East Africa where I also have other projects in progress.

I will spend the first week and a half at the Cornerstone Orphanage in Nimule, documenting the work that takes place there. The aim is to not only connect with the children but also to tell the story of They Are One, the group from Monterey that is supporting them.

When the rest of the group flies back to California, my sister Rebekah will join me and we will spend an additional two weeks in Kenya. Meeting with the people of a village called Rakwaro we will be working with them on how to build a well for their community. The goal is to figure out a way that they can be empowered to change their future by participating in their own development.

I also look forward to revisiting the El-Shaddai Hope Centre for Orphans in the Nairobi area. The final item on our agenda is a safari since it is Rebekah’s first trip to Africa. This is why I have returned to East Africa and there will be much more to write about in the weeks to come.

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Counting Down: An Experiment in Productivity

Productivity, Travel

Life seems to creep up on me most of the time. Just a moment ago that deadline was a long way off and then suddenly it is here. This is especially true when a trip is coming up. How does this happen?

One of my favorite quotes is “Life is what happens while you are waiting for life to happen.” When I just went to research the source I realized that this isn’t actually a quote. John Lennon penned the lyrics, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” I’m not sure how I came up with my own mangled version of this quote but it still expresses the point. The big things that are coming up in our lives are closer than they appear.

I am less than three weeks from departing for a month long trip to East Africa. (I will be writing more details about the trip soon). Trying to learn my lesson from the frantic last-second preparations I’ve made for previous trips, I decided to try a new experiment this time around. First I broke my trip preparations down into five major parts. I then laid them out in a timeline until the day I leave. This creates a countdown that lets me know exactly when I must have each part of my preparation done to be ready for the trip.

This kind of preparation may be more natural to others but it has been helpful and calming for me so far. Knowing how much time I have left to accomplish each preparatory objective has helped me to prioritize and to look forward to a trip that I will be ready for this time around. How do you prepare for big trips or events?

With new friends at the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico.

Travel as a Social Experiment in Puerto Rico

Travel

One of the most brilliant aspects of jetBlue’s All You Can Jet Pass is their effort to connect travelers through social media as they use the pass. Announcing on a Facebook group that I would be visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico the following week, I received several responses from other travelers. I had no idea that this social connection would prove to make my time in Puerto Rico one of my best travel experiences yet.

With new friends at the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico.

Just prior to boarding the plane for San Juan I texted Chum, who had mentioned that he and a few other guys would be staying at the El San Juan Resort, to ask if he and his friends had extra space in their hotel room. I figured it couldn’t hurt and had not yet found a place that I really wanted to stay. He responded immediately that he had just written to invite me to do so. Finding that my accommodations in a 4 start resort would cost little more than a hostel sine we were sharing the room and that the guys I would be staying with shared my faith, I agreed to join them. This was one of the best decisions of the trip.

Randomly gathered All You Can Jet travelers from all over the US.

Chum, Steve and Matt soon became both traveling buddies and friends. Joining a few others we had found on Facebook who were also traveling on the All You Can Jet Pass, we rented a Jeep Wrangler the next morning and set off for the rainforest. El Yunque National Forest is a sub-tropical mountainous rainforest and lies about one hour’s drive outside of San Juan. Spotting the highest overlook on the map we set out to find it. We passed a waterfall along the way and all stepped out to admire it and take our pictures together.

Among our randomly gathered group of travelers were three guys from the Los Angeles area, one from San Diego, another from Salt Lake City, a girl from Virginia and yet another from the Seattle area. Despite having met less than 24 hours earlier, it felt natural to be hiking into this exotic landscape together.

The relatively easy hike up the Mt. Britton Trail led to a castle tower-like overlook. Climbing up the circular stairs, we stepped out into the clouds and waited for them to clear so that we could see. As the clouds lifted and then returned we saw an ever-changing view of the rainforest that was well worth the journey.

The mountains of El Yunque submerged in cloud forests.

Our next stop was Luquillo where the waves crashed down hard on the beach and brave locals surfed. Noticing the way the waves swirled around the rocks, I knelt in the sand to take pictures until the water came up high enough to soak me and move me from my perch. Enjoying the sunset, taking pictures, and conversing together about the beauty of this place made the social part of this experience so much more enjoyable.

We spent the evening swimming in the Atlantic Ocean back at the El San Juan. It was one of the moments that make you feel alive. I could not believe how comfortable the ocean water could be even at night. We stayed up until the early hours of the morning enjoying the 24 hour pools and hot tubs around the resort. This was a day I’ll never forget where travel became a social experiment in Puerto Rico.

The waves crashed and washed around this rock in a circular motion at the beach in Luquillo.