Tumble Photo January 21, 2015 at 12:06PM

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via IFTTT Solar Creatures – Jinja —

This is a image grab from my helmet-mounted GoPro from our ATV ride on back-roads (paths? tracks? trails?) in the outskirts of Jinja. If you look closely at the roof of the center hut, just to the left of the door, there is a little cutout in the thatching. That’s a solar panel.

A cadre friend of mine once said as the sun was rising during a 24-hour event and the team was finding a new spring int heir steps, “we are solar-powered creatures.” Casting off the fuzziness of night we are able to draw strength, energy and comfort from seeing the whole picture in the light of day. But not without cost. Instead of our surroundings fading into a blurry haze, the light shines on the unexpected, calling our attention to our full surroundings. We can no longer simply focus on just the small patch illuminated before us, but have to take in a full picture.

If the landscape is known, then our animal brains are able to focus on the tasks at hand. We click along known paths of comfort, able to do all the usual things. If the landscape is unknown, our monkey-brains are constantly hopping from one new input to be sorted to another; eyes and ears in constant processing motion not willing or able to skip over or miss anything. For me, this was Uganda.

The processing and sorting is continuing as I ease back into city life — back to my daily life. I know still my perspective has shifted in small ways and I am changed. I am just having difficulty expressing what those changes are.

Our host kept saying: “you just have to come here to experience it for yourself, otherwise there is no way to get others to really understand what it is like, what the conditions truly are.” Indeed. Yet, I still try. First, I guess, I have to make some semblance of sense of it myself. Honestly, I’m having limited luck with that.

The transition back to NYC wasn’t as difficult as I imagined it would be. I might have needed more time away for reverse culture shock to happen, but I expected to be a little overwhelmed by the noise of the city. In fact the reverse is true. I find the city quieter than Jinja. Part of it is the absence of the bats. As lighthearted and somewhat sarcastic as that is, it is also very true. It just wasn’t only the bats. The sights and sounds of NYC are still the comfortable ones to me. They are known. Jinja, Uganda, Africa, is still a wild complex unknowable sensory overload of experiences.

Jinja and Uganda were full of organic, live, life sounds which my western ears are unaccustomed to hearing. A cacophony of newness.

Sure, I’ve spent time in rural Vermont and other remote places with a soundtrack of silence but for a few crickets and maybe a very far off car engine. The soundtrack in Uganda wasn’t silence. The place was teeming with life noises. My ears are used to filtering out the background sounds of the city — mechanical sounds of engines, horns, sirens, and hums of mechanics. Even crashes or suddenly loud voices might catch my ear for a second but the reverberation off of concrete and metal, the echoes inside a crowded bar, makes the sounds placeable and they slide off my eardrums and don’t catch my focus. All is well. Continue on.

Jinja was full of sounds that never made it into white noise. The birds, the bats, the bodas, the voices and laughter bounded off of packed earth and carried over unbroken distances. My survivalist animal self was constantly on alert because it was all so different and, therefore, potentially threatening. Let me be clear that I never consciously felt afraid (armed guards and all), it was more just constantly being on alert. What is that noise? Are those happy shrieks of children or angry shouts? What does it mean when the bird calls like that? What is happening over there? And over there? And over there?

Recalling the trip so far with friends I find I am all over the place. There is no cohesive tale because my monkey-brain hops from mental image to mental image. The trip is like one of those images that is made up of hundreds of pictures to make a whole and I haven’t had time to organize them yet to see what the larger image is. So it is still just a scattered jumble of puzzle pieces on the floor (or in my brian).

What does this have to do with a solar panel on a roof?

We notice the surprising. We notice that which we don’t expect.

I just don’t another picture to illustrate the sounds of the place and this concept As photographically focused as I am, the audio is what I keep pondering and returning to in my brain. The soundtrack provides the context for the pictures. It literally sets the tone. My voice (and typed words) telling stories is missing that essential audio bed which makes the surprise of a solar panel poignant.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, what is a soundtrack worth? There are thousands of individual layers and tracks which create the sense of the place. All that is happening in the background — your brain processing all that information and asking those questions — before you even open your eyes.

So what I am trying to convey is that constant on-alert feeling of a city gal in a very different place, without the length of time needed to finally get used to it. It is the overwhelming newness of a place so outside any previous experience.

The solar panel captures my expectations flummoxed. It is my surprise of getting just a little comfortable with a scene and landscape, helped I’m sure by the hum of the ATV droning out most other sounds, seeing the mud and thatch huts, red earth, dust, rural living, even the ubiquitous jerry cans… and all of a sudden there is a solar panel. It’s jarring. Incongruent. It asks questions.

Uganda was a blitzkrieg of sounds to unaccustomed ears. Of details to unaccustomed eyes.

Jinja was and is full of questions. Layer upon layer of questions because of the layers upon layers of details — these small groupings of pixels — which are surprising or novel to the nonnative viewer.

Each element, each scene, each snapshot, contains a full, complicated, deep story. I am a storyteller. I am an organizer of information. I want to gather and make sense of this “data with a soul.” Yet these depths I struggle to even begin to tell, to paint, and to express because I was and am still stuck processing the surface incongruences.

The journey is expectations destroyed, reformed and decimated again. Each time the picture changes slightly to accommodate the new data into some schema only to be thrown off again by some new jarring detail which doesn’t quite fit… like solar panel in a thatched roof.

The processing continues…

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