After Rwanda, I spent two weeks in Morocco. I started in Casablanca, traveled north to Fez, onward to Chefchauen, then onto Marrakech, and finally to the dunes of Merzuga. It was truly a fascinating place to be, and I loved every moment.
Pictures say 1,000 words I hear. Thank goodness…
First up, the dunes of Erg Chebbi and Merzuga.
In February I spent a week in Rwanda. I’ve been interested in that country since I read a book about their genocide. Gorilla tracking was an added, and remarkable, benefit.
Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to friends while I was there. This will hopefully provide some context for the photography.
As a ten second history: almost 1 million people were
killed here in the
Spring of 1994. It was the Hutu majority against the Tutsi minority.
The distinction between Hutu and Tutsi was given by a Belgian scientist
in the 1930s. He declared those with a thin nose and high cheek bones,
who were tall and
mostly cattle herders in the north, the ‘Tutsi’. He then declared those
squat in stature with wider noses, and primarily farmers in the South
of Rwanda, the ‘Hutu’. The pygmy people he called ‘Twa’. He was
with their differences and so created a divide between the “two sets”
people which never before existed. Sporadic murders of the Tutsi
people began in 1990 and when the Hutu (awful, racist, murderous)
president of Rwanda’s plane was shot down while landing at Kigali
airport on April 6th, 1994, a major (and well planned) genocide began.
Within hours of the president’s plane being shot down road blocks were
set up by government troops and systematic genocide began. Again,
between April and July of 1994 almost 1 million Tutsi (and Hutus who
refused to kill their Tutsi friends) were savagely murdered. I was just
finishing up my first year at University of Alabama. Where were you in
April, May, and June of 1994?
***********disclaimer: there are details about the murders of women
and children in the italicized paragraphs. If you don’t want to read
what Rwandans have had to endure then skip to the regular font
Besides the genocide museum, I visited two
that were both sites of major massacres. As incredibly religious
people, the Rwandans figured they’d be safe if they hid in their
churches. Tens of thousands of people took refuge in
each of the two churches I visited. Imagine: literally 10,000
people shoved in a single-room church for up to two weeks, terrorized.
Many people actually died from
suffocation, others died in some of the most gruesome ways imaginable.
Most of the victim’s clothes are still
piled on pews and hanging from rafters of the churches as a memorial.
There are countless bullet
holes in the ceiling
from soldiers shooting indiscriminately from the roof into the chaos
inside. Bullet holes still create pock marks in the doors and entryways
as soldiers forced their way inside. Splattered blood still stains the
church ceiling from machete attacks once the soldiers got inside. And
most unbelievable are the huge, dark blood stains where the
soldiers swung babies’ heads.
There is a crypt below one
of the churches where all
the sculls, leg and arm bones lie on shelves. To
be underground surrounded by skulls with bullet holes and machete
gashes is a feeling I won’t soon forget.
They have a single
symbolic coffin in the crypt to represent all women killed in the
genocide. The woman buried in that particular coffin died in a
*classic* female way during this horrific three months. She was raped
by approximately 200
men before they speared her through the vagina with a stick. Then,
after that, as
she held her 9 month old baby on her chest, they speared through the
baby’s back and then through her chest. Apparently that was what
It’s hard not to cry. It’s hard not to faint actually.
It’s an intensely sad and moving experience, one that left me speechless
and staring into space for hours wondering how humanity gets to this point.
genocide museum presented information and details on other, more
infamous genocides, that our world has seen. The Khmer Rouge in
Cambodia and the Holocaust were among the horrors mentioned. They
didn’t mention the Darfur region in Sudan. Maybe that’s because it’s
still happening as I write this?
****************************** ****************************** ******
Today, Rwanda is hell-bent on recovery. It’s immaculate, ultra safe
and quiet, there are nice wide
sidewalks, no plastic bags in the whole country (they’re actually not
allowed. Every other country I’ve visited in Africa is literally ruined
with plastic bags hanging from every visible tree limb), lots of
industry, a nice middle
class, a HUGE tourism sector thanks to the gorillas. And better yet,
the words Hutu and Tutsi don’t exist
anymore. Rwandans, like every other species on the planet, love their
children. There are LOTS of them riding their mama’s backs. People are
happy, they’re recovering. It’s surely a new day for the Rwandan
The gorillas. Rwanda’s gift. The gorillas were spectacular. I was lucky enough to
actually spend two back-to-back days with them so I got to observe two
very different families. The first day I was with seven fabulous people
from Australia, Canada, and England. We trekked for four hours in the
most dense jungle bush I’ve ever imagined. There was a full hour of
trekking just through a bamboo forest which felt like climbing through Avatar (sans
blue people). It was pouring rain and hailing, we were all falling all
over the place because we were walking on top of three feet of
flattened bushes and weeds (thanks to the gorilla’s movement through the bush. They flatten it as they move).
All of a sudden, after hours of soaking wet trekking, there sat a huge teddy bear
with his back to me. (!!!!!!!) He heard our approach
and casually turned around to look at us with his mouth full of bamboo.
He toppled over backward, gave his armpits a good scratch, had a nice
yawn, and stretched out. He got up and started walking toward me. HOLY
SHIT!!!!!!!!! I just kept shooting and shooting and shooting. I think I
got one clear shot because of my own trembling. Visitors are only allowed to spend
only one hour with the gorillas per day so the next 55 minutes were spent
watching all 15 or so of this family eat, chill out, play a little, and
hide from the rain. One juvenile got on his hind legs and started
beating his chest right in front of us and then ran at us. Talk about
FREAKING OUT!!!! Apparently he was just being funny. Hilarious. (?)
next day I requested to be with a gorilla family
with lots of babies. Obviously, right? My new group and I were
trekking along and absolutely out of nowhere two
juvenile siblings came tumbling down the mountain after each other.
They were beating their chests at
each other, wrestling, head locking and chasing each other!! How cute
is that!?!? This family was super active and fearless of us. The big
STINKS like really bad human body odor, but basically just sits there,
old, and watches his kids act like…well…gorillas. This family had
a pregnant female, many sweet young gorillas, and a mom and
her 9-month old baby!! We watched the baby as he learned how to walk,
no bigger than my cat was (photo attached) I was sobbing. It was so
amazing to see this
baby gorilla, all wobbly and unsure, try to walk away from his mama.
The mom grabbed him, laid on her back, and fed her baby as he sat on her
chest. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
There is (amazingly) a set of 6-day old twins that we BARELY saw….the
very, very protective of them since they can’t walk or do anything on
their own. She holds them in her arms for months, apparently.
Amazing. Again, we’re only allowed an hour with the family so we had
to head back down way too soon.
I just spent three weeks in Chile by myself. Well, I went by myself, but I don’t remember ever being alone. It was the trip of a lifetime. If someone told me it was going to be this good, I’d never have believed them. New friends around every corner, hysterical laughing for three weeks, love, adventure… everything I could have hoped for.
Here are just a few of my favorite shots from the trip.
People always ask me what my ‘favorite place I’ve visited’ is. Without a second of hesitation I tell everyone who asks that east Africa is my favorite. Here are some photographs from my December trip to Uganda. I was lucky enough to go to Kampala with Maine Media Workshops to shoot for an amazing international organization called Right To Play. RTP organizes positive, metaphorical games for children in refugee and IDP (internally displaced people) camps all over the world. Check ’em out. Donate. obv.