Tag Archives: Uganda

The Beautiful Diversity of Being. Perspectives and (Analog) Nostalgia.

It’s all about perspective. If you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It is yellowed and crispy. It does not move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Air is vibrating in the heat adding shifting patterns to the sky.  And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe.

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Traditional dancers in Zimbabwe early 1990s

If you sit up your perspective changes. You see a thick wall of dry grass. Covered in dust it is still standing, proudly reaching for the skies. More out of habit than anything else. Elephant herds have not yet passed by here, and the sun has not yet completely broken its back. But it knows from experience that not a drop of water will come down for a long time.

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An elephant family crossing the Luangwa river, Zambia,  late 1980s

If you stand up in the midst of the dry grass your perspective will change yet again. You will see the river flowing by. Its speed has slowed down since the rainy season and its banks are higher now. But it still transports the lifesaving elixir to all in need, people and wildlife alike. 

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Luangwa River, Zambia,  late 1980s

Beyond the river you can see an acacia tree silhouetted against the sky. And a lone giraffe seeking shelter from the burning sun. Still months to go before the heavens will open, making the rivers overflow their banks and bringing the savannah to life again. It will get worse before it gets better.

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Giraffe in Kenya early 1990s

These are but a few perspectives on Africa. As seen from a small patch of tall elephant grass.

Before experiencing Africa in the late 1980s to mid 1990s I had no idea how much this continent would adjust my perspectives on life. And of those sharing my journey.

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Fresh from the plane. Our first day in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) late 1980s

I embarked on this journey to widen my horizons, and to add to my perspectives on life. I hoped to gain a better understanding of the human experience through immersing in cultures and traditions so different from mine. I wanted to experience the wild. And hopefully to do some good along the way, however insignificant.

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Attending a traditional coffee ceremony in Ethiopia in 1990
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Performing Lingala songs in Kampala, Uganda mid 1990s

Those were my hopes and expectations, but I had no idea of how much the rest of my life would be influenced by Africa. That I would feel the passions and pains of its people in my bones. Develop a lifelong love of the wild creatures roaming its savannahs. And come to embrace, at least partially, the differences and similarities of lives lived under the same sun in various corners of our precious earth.

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A young dancer in Livingstone, Zambia, late 1980s

What I learned gave me a firm respect for life, and overlapping perspectives to observe it from.

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Life is about following your path. Sometimes it may mean leaving behind the safe and familiar to experience the pulse of something new and different. To leap into the unknown in order to contribute, to learn, to discover and respect other perspectives than those one was born with. To see the beautiful diversity of being. aulikki-and-dylan-birthday-2016

Last week I grew a year older. An excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been. Thinking back to this meaningful passage in my life, I feel nostalgia. And tremendous gratitude for having had the privilege to peek into life on this old continent over several years in several countries. Despite some hazards and heartaches, my eight years in Africa rise to the surface among the good things that have enriched  my life experience. I appreciate the hardships and the blessings. Africa captured my heart.

On my birthday I found nostalgia right there in my lap, together with Dylan. And went to try on my Ethiopian national dress. It still fits.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Half and Half (8 Images)

This week’s DP photo challenge is “Half and Half”. It leaves room for quite a bit of creativity in the interpretation. I like that. Many things in life are half and half. Even today is half rain, half shine. Different from the day last winter, when the view from my terrace was half fog, half sky.

About half of these images are newer, the other half older. Almost half of you may have seen about half of them before. But because my hard disk is only working half and half since Friday, I can’t process brand new ones right now. I’m expecting a whole new hard disk to arrive at half week. I wish everyone a great week ahead, may there be nothing half and half about it.

You can find other responses to this challenge here.

golder hour on the Gulf
The golden hour on the Gulf.  Half sky, half ocean.
juvenile backcrowned night heron half and half
A juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron. Half adult, half baby.
A crater lake in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Half crater, half lake.
A crater lake in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Half crater, half lake.
tri-colored heron portrait half and half
A Tri-colored Heron. Half in the picture, half outside the picture. Half sharp, half blurred.
two little boys on the beach
Two little boys on the beach. Half winter, half summer. One visitor, one local.
beach sunrise half and half
Sunrise on the beach. Half sand, half sky.
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Bumble. Half dog, half human. Or so he thinks.

My Muse is on the Loose. Weekly Photo Challenge (13 Images)

To tell you the truth, she’s actually wild. Or maybe I should say she always wants me to shoot in the wild. Take time off from everyday grind. And buy better equipment. Had she a full say, I’d spend months every year on the African savannah or an a secluded bird island in the middle of the ocean shooting pictures of life in the wild. Looking at the natural world through a high quality super telephoto lens.

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A Great Egret on Honeymoon Island, Florida

But like most everyone else, my Muse has to adapt to life’s circumstances. And to my mini-sized wallet. So now she reluctantly allows me to shoot whatever wildish crosses my path. Which is mostly birds. Like this year’s Osprey chicks getting their fish delivery from Papa Osprey. And learning to fly.

papa ospreys fish delivery Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Fish delivery by Papa Osprey.
osprey chick returns to nest Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
The middle chick learns to fly.

Or Mama Osprey defending the nest in a preemptive strike against one particular Great Blue Heron, who’d attempted to raid her home several times previously.

mama osprey prevents attack by blue heron Sand Key Park, Clearwater Florida
Mama Osprey prevents the Great Blue Heron from attacking the nest.

Or it could be Bottlenose Dolphins playing in the calm ocean waters early in the morning.

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Bottlenose Dolphins play in the water.

While my Muse still occasionally gets to shoot on wild islands, she’s not giving up on returning to the savannah.

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In the wilderness on Caladesi Island.

She constantly nags me about it. Opens old photo albums and makes me scan pictures. Reminds me of the giraffes and elephants I spotted on my first safari ever in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Gosh, she says, that was over 25 years ago.

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Giraffes on the savannah in Zambia.
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Elephant mom with teenagers in the bush, Zambia.

And pokes me about the hippo we encountered on one beautiful New Year’s Eve in Queen Elizabeth’s National Park in Uganda. Remember that pink hippo, who wanted to crash the party on the lodge verandah?

A hippo in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
The hippo who liked to party, Uganda.

Or the baboon, who taught you about food hygiene? She asks these detailed, leading questions to refresh my memory.

baboon mom with her child in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
Baboon mom with her kid, Uganda.

She remembers all the wild adventures of the past. From the hyena, who came to our camp in Awash desert in Ethiopia to the lions we encountered just before nightfall in Kenya.

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A hyena makes herself at home in our camp, Ethiopia
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Two female lions prepare for their hunt at nightfall, Kenya

My Muse is definitely on the loose. Who knows where she’ll take me in months and years to come. But she’d better have a good plan for taking care of all I need to take care of. And provide a generous budget. Cheers to that, my Muse ~

You can find other replies to this week’s photo challenge, Muse, here.

How to Clean Your Vitamins

No, this is not a pep talk on what we should and should not eat to stay healthy until we approach our 100th birthday. There is enough expert advice to go around. And it changes every other day. Those of us who still want more on that front just need to read today’s news. There’s surely going to be something new we should rush to buy or something in our pantry we now need to throw away. So I’m not going there.

My thoughts took me in a completely different direction this morning. I was in my kitchen making breakfast when I happened to drop my vitamin capsule. The orange-colored one. It rolled on the kitchen floor and finally stopped next to the pantry. I picked it up and that’s when I remembered the young baboon. I met him on one of our trips into the wild many years ago.

We were going to visit Queen Elizabeth National park in Uganda. When approaching the park, we saw a mother baboon with her offspring sitting close to the road. We stopped to greet them.

Our son was quick to open the window and throw out a small wheat biscuit. It landed on the ground next to the young baboon. He and his mother observed it suspiciously for a long time. Touch…or not to touch? After careful consideration the youngster decided to take it. For closer examination.

He rolled the biscuit in his fingers and looked at it from all angles. He smelled it. Then he started cleaning it. He blew on it. He scratched it with his fingers. He cleaned it against his hairy arm. And then blew on it again. Repeat. This cleaning ceremony took at least five minutes. Then he halved the little biscuit and gave one half to his mother. They ate their biscuit halves slowly enjoying the taste of whole wheat.

Then the mother stood up and came to thank us. Or maybe it was to get one more nutritious treat? But that was not going to happen. We shouldn’t have fed them in the first place.

After this charming demonstration in cleanliness, I couldn’t be angry at our son. I just told him not to do it again. But I can never forget this young baboon’s efforts to ensure his food was eatable and clean. And I’m sure he hadn’t read the latest advice on food hygiene.

So I followed his instructions and cleaned my vitamin. Repeat.

Why I Prefer an Elephant’s Butt to Her Belly

For weekend reading I thought I would tell you a short story, just a bit longer than my usual seventeen syllables. This is a true story about elephants and how they taught me a “tiny lesson”.

It was a nice December morning in Africa, more exactly in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. A good friend from Sweden had come to visit us and we decided to go on a safari over the weekend to show her the beauty of the wild. We used to drive ourselves in our sturdy SUV and usually I would be the “safari driver” – so also this morning.

little elephant near the lodge

After an early breakfast at the lodge, we set out into the wild to spot some animals. Our friend was particularly interested in seeing elephants. We knew they were plentiful in this particular park because big herds had moved in from neighboring Rwanda where a conflict was raging at the time.

We drove quite a while, from the south to the north of the park, first on a narrow gravel road and then followed a small trail hardly distinguishable in the tall grass. Suddenly we saw elephants crossing the trail in a distance. We got a bit closer, then stopped and idled. We watched in awe as a huge herd, probably 50-60 elephants crossed our path from a sparsely wooded meadow on the right to a grassy opening on the left. Everybody was there, from the huge elders to the small cuties. We watched and filmed the rare sight at a safe distance. Needless to say our friend was excited!

After about half an hour, we could see the heard had settled to eat at the far end of the grassy area. Only two adults were still on the right of our trail, busy eating from trees at the far end of the meadow. I quickly scanned the situation and decided it was time for us to continue our journey. I shifted to the first gear and slowly, quietly started moving towards the point where they had crossed the trail. Everyone continued to film and observe the herd. We were doing fine, none of the elephants had taken notice of us. Or so we thought.

Suddenly we heard a high-pitched alarm. I turned my head to the right and saw a huge elephant belly right next to our truck! A belly, not a butt or a head! The trunk making the noise was high above our vehicle, the front legs right above our heads! The matriarch had been managing the herd’s crossing from behind some tall and dense shrubbery next to the trail. And she had remained behind… waiting for the two latecomers to get their act together. That made sense. But for us my hasty decision resulted in a surprise that could easily have turned deadly.

As I am telling this story now, you already know the outcome. Metal to the pedal, everyone tumbled around in the truck, we all screamed, the video camera hit the roof…but we made it. We now have a reminder of this adventure – with the alarm sound, elephant belly, our screams and all – on DVD. But the truth to be told, I rather watch the latter part of this DVD filmed back at the lodge, where we met this charming young man.

I have thought about this small incident afterwards. I now know why I definitely prefer to see an elephant’s butt rather than her belly. I also learned a lesson, ever so tiny: I’ve got to get my facts right before leaping into a decision. Shooting from the hip might sometimes prove deadly.

Have a great weekend everyone – may your adventures be just a shade safer.

Chasing Queen Elizabeth’s Elephants

Many years ago when we lived in Uganda, we used to go on safaris or other adventures in the nature at least once month. Several of these Friday afternoon drives from Kampala brought us to Queen Elizabeth National Park (please also see my earlier post Elephants and Decisions). This park is located in the Albertine Rift and is the home of a rich variety of wildlife: mammals, reptiles and birds. Among its top attractions is the tree climbing lion, which we spotted once but did not manage to capture on film. It is also marked by several large craters and crater lakes formed after volcanic explosions. It is a wonderful place to visit if you want to be a guest in the wild kingdom. At the Equator in Uganda (2)   This particular Friday afternoon we were traveling with another family in two 4-wheel drive SUVs. On our way to the national park, we stopped at the equator for some pictures and arrived at the main gate just in time before it closed at dusk. Our first encounter with the wild on this trip came while driving from the park’s main gate to Mweya Lodge, where we always stayed. About half a mile before the lodge, we saw a huge lion walking on the gravel road right in front of my truck! She was walking calmly, in no particular hurry to get anywhere. She just walked and walked – and we remained at a respectable distance, until she decided to take a “side street” into the high grass. lion queen elizabeth_tonemapped Early morning the next day we decided to go for a drive we had not done before. We looked at the map and saw that a small trail, marked only by a dotted line, led to a dry crater where we might find elephants. We set off driving and soon found the hardly visible trail leading to the crater. But we had no idea about the adventure waiting for us. The trail went up and up on the side of the crater wall…and then suddenly there was no trail! Just smaller stones mixed with big boulders…how would we drive there and how would we come back down? We couldn’t turn as we were in between big rocks and going forward was clearly a hazard. We quickly realized that we could get stuck right there. With no one knowing where we were and (of course) we had no cell phones at that time. Crater in QE ed_tonemapped So we navigated on up the crater’s side by the help of our spouses who stepped out of the trucks and showed us, truly inch by inch, how and where to drive. We stopped briefly at the top take a few pictures, with no elephants visible in the carter. Needless to say that we were no longer chasing Queen Elizabeth’s elephants.  That would be for the next day. The whole effort was entirely focused on getting us out of there and safely back to the lodge. After a “drive” of about four hours, at less than walking speed, and moving carefully between the boulders, we came down  and found a small trail to follow. Lots of gratitude right there! Our reward came when we approached the lodge. We spotted a young elephant, probably a teen male who had already left his mother’s herd. He was calmly eating from bushes just a stone throw from the lodge entrance and didn’t mind us observing him for quite a while. The next morning when we woke up, we noticed that we’ve had an overnight visitor. All the rubber lining around the windows of our friends’ Nissan Patrol was missing. Eaten up. The lodge staff told us it must have been the young elephant who had been staying close to the lodge for some time. They also told us that the trail we had followed to the carter was not meant for driving…that’s why it was marked on the map by a dotted line. Always something new to learn. On Sunday, we went on a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel and saw many more interesting sights from rare birds to hippos, water buffaloes, birds and crocodiles. The channel is an amazing sanctuary for so many spices of wildlife. I hope you can visit this park some day. If that’s not possible, there are wonderful pictures from the park, including of the tree climbing lion, at the web-site of a National Geographics photographer, Joel Sartore (www.joelsartore.com). In any case, it has been wonderful to relive the memorable adventure we once had. If there is any tiny lesson I learned from this trip, it would be that we need to ensure things are what they seem to be. Because that’s not always the case.

Stuck on Dignity

Have you ever started writing about a specific topic just to discover that something completely different keeps popping up in your mind? Like a minor invasion. It doesn’t go away until you write about it. Or is it just me?

Today I wanted to share a simple lighthearted story that taught me a tiny lesson, but I can’t. The word dignity is completely stuck on my mind, in the way that I have to write about it. And to be completely honest “it” is not alone. Actually there are three somewhat related words on my mind: dignity, dignified and dignitary. And I’m thinking what is this all about, kind of need to analyze that.

I’ve been a bit annoyed by the sloppy use of the word dignitary in reporting, camera zooms and general speak during the Big Games. It hasn’t been used just to describe people who hold a high office in one country or another, but often to denote “somebody” as opposed to “nobody”. Like singers, actors and other luminaries. And I’ve been pondering whether or not all these so-called dignitaries have dignity and whether or not they all are truly dignified.

That’s an interesting question. And I guess the answer depends on what we mean by these words. I have a specific attachment to words and that’s why I like, or should I say love, writing. I used to research words, where they came from and what their meanings were in the few different languages I speak. It’s very interesting and I still do that sometimes. But I won’t need to do more research on dignity and dignified. I definitely know what they mean to me. In my book, to put it simply,  someone who has dignity usually is also dignified, has this calm presence and gravitas. Whoever and wherever they might be.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a few dignitaries, as in holding high offices, and they’ve all been quite dignified. But I’ve met many more people with shining inner dignity. Often in places far from where the dignitaries live and the spheres they influence.

The first person that comes to my mind is a retired teacher in Uganda, in what we would call a very poor neighborhood, or a shanty town. She had a small house in this township at the outskirts of Kampala city, and she had started a school in her tiny garden. There was nothing really left of the garden, no space for subsistence farming. The little space was occupied by wooden benches for her students, all aids orphans from the township, aged 6-13. These kids were not enrolled in the public school because there was nobody to pay for the small school fees and the uniforms. They had nobody to care for them. They slept on the floor in their distant relative’s or neighbor’s house. And for many of them, the only meal they got in a day was the simple meal provided by this retired teacher while “at school”. Somehow she managed to find funds, from one day to another, to buy mielie-meal so she could make a porridge for the over 100 neighborhood kids attending her school.

Her students were learning the basic skills in math, reading and writing and the school day was sprinkled with some fun too, like singing and drawing. Singing was an everyday ingredient, but drawing could only be on the program whenever the teacher had managed to get enough paper and pencils. Her effort was a demonstration in dignity and her dignified presence is etched on my mind forever. And when the kids sang for me when I came to see them, it was the most the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I was deeply touched by the fact that this teacher sacrificed everything she had to help these kids to grow up with some dignity.

So in my mind, these words are reserved for those who have truly earned them and that’s probably why they have been stuck on me lately. I needed to say this.