Tumble Photo February 24, 2015 at 08:55AM

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via IFTTT Yelling at the cold – NYC —

Yelling at the coldI awoke to -6 degrees this morning. Yet I was snuggled in my bed-for-now with a warm puppy and blanket. The wind was bitter in the early hours on the trek to work, chilling hands in -6 seconds. Yet cavetching at it — yelling at the wind and cold — would do nothing to change it. There is a difference in the mindset of “this is happening to me” and “this is happening in spite of me.” Not out of spite, in spite.

Sometimes — oftentimes — there is nothing we can do but find acceptance in what is. I struggle not to read that as defeatist but rather realist and maybe even hopeful. We can do small acts to change our situation yet the greatest act is to change our way of thinking.

It is cold. Walk faster. Put hands in pockets. Laugh with two gents on a streetcorner as we turn our backs to the wind waiting for the light. Looking for the light…

I can choose focus on my discomfort (the lack of gloves and other bits of life I might wish were in my grasp at this moment) or I can realize the cold isn’t out to get me. It exists. So too does the promise of a warm office and a cup of coffee which my cold hands better appreciate for the difference. It is all training — a practice.

Breathe and waste not your breath on yelling, focus on the light.

Tumble Photo January 22, 2015 at 04:26PM

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via IFTTT Hotel – Outskirts of Jinja —

How does this image fit in your schema of what a “hotel” is?

Captured on one of our drives on the outskirts of Jinja, it is but one instance of the category-busting sights that was a constant during our time in Uganda. No, surprisingly, I have not attempted to look them up on TripAdvisor.

I wrote at length yesterday about sound. I was trying to convey how and why Uganda was so sensory overwhelming for me. Where even to begin? I was reminded last eve of the David Foster Wallace antidote: Old fish swims by a young fish one day and asks, “how’s the water today?” Young fish replies, “what is water?” When you are so used to your environment you aren’t even aware that it exists. It isn’t until you are taken out of it — a fish out of water — you can appreciate your own perceived reality and the thousands of nuances that give your life context.

Re-reading that post today, my thoughts are evidently and I think justifiably quite scattered. I can see the disconnectedness and searching writ large in my words and jumble of impressions. I hear the same as I talk to family and friends. I essentially said (and am saying repeatedly), “I’m still processing,” but a week after leaving, I’m still trying to make sense of the images and impressions.

This little fish, well traveled as she may be, feels like she is trying to process the Caribbean ocean after all she has ever known is an Icelandic lake.

How do you even begin to compare and isolate differences when everything feels so very different? “Small steps, Sparks.” So today we have a hotel. Covered in the russet dust characteristic of its locale and with a curtain for a front door, I’m sure they can find you space if you want to be a fish very much out of water in Uganda.

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…

Tumble Photo January 15, 2015 at 03:30PM

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via IFTTT This was supposed to post on Wed the 15th, but we lost internet in the afternoon into the evening…

The simplest post to make today is: I don’t want to leave. Tomorrow is our last day in country and will mostly be spent in transit.

We woke up this morning to no power. Apparently a transformer or something blew about 1:20am. This was entirely manageable (I didn’t even really notice) until we got to The Keep for coffee. The Keep is HFC’s cafe/restaurant where we’ve had most of our meals which typically makes excellent brew and has great food including a solid bagel and outstanding tomato soup.

Those of you who know me well know that morning coffee is a deal-breaker. There was some emergency lighting on and the kitchen (gas) was operational but the Keep’s super-duper espresso machine and grinder were out of commission with the fluxy power.

I was running through my emergency backup procedure options (Via packets, caffeine pills, worth going back to the house for my spare grounds) when our hostess said “oh, but we can still do iced.” It seemed rather comical that with power out we could have iced coffee but not hot, but so it goes here. I’m typically not a cold-coffee drinker but I’d found on a hot afternoon it can indeed hit the spot here and I was not in a position to be choosy so we ordered iced and a few minutes later any brewing mischief on my end was managed.

As I sipped my iced-coffee — complete with coffee-ice cubes — and snapped the pic of my companion’s iced mocha, I reflected on something Johnny said on Monday about their intentions for The Keep: “It is supposed to be an oasis. You can see after this morning [when we visited a dire neighborhood and school] why it is so needed here. A place for aide workers and others to come and have a good meal and relax and recharge.”

Yes, I very much see why it is desirable and even needed here. A place that can be counted on to be clean, with competent and friendly staff, who will find a way to take care of you while you relax and get ready to face the day. It is indeed a refuge and oasis and it will be missed.

On this, on our last full day in Jinja, after coffee and solid breakfast we drove a few miles to rent ATVs (another first for me) and got thoroughly dusty as we were guided along the back roads of surrounding areas. It was a blast and I was happy to see a little more rural areas. That trip (with GoPro screen grabs) will be more posts in the future.

Then we returned again to The Keep for a hearty lunch and (thankfully) power before we came back to base camp for showers and misc computer stuff. We were interrupted by the security guard announcing that the batman from Mbale was here. So we all traipsed out to the backyard to watch a shirtless dude use a slingshot to take out bats. Yep, read that again. It happened.

The deal is he gets access to the property in exchange for keeping his kills (to be eaten or sold to be eaten). He uses a handmade slingshot of some sort of stub and bright red medical tubing, along with hand rolled balls of termite-mound mud and watching him in action was pretty incredible. In about a half hour he took easily 20. He was out there for much longer than our interest lasted — actually he is apparently still going. Expect a post (with footage) on that too.

So here I sit as we gear up for a dinner cooked over a bonfire — I don’t believe bat is on the menu — and I know I don’t wish to leave tomorrow. I believe I will be back, I have every intention of making it so, but I just don’t want to leave the Keep and Jinja House and all the stories and sights remaining here to be discovered. I am concentrating on enjoying the remaining time and being thankful for it all.

Tumble Photo January 15, 2015 at 08:11AM

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via IFTTT Farewell – Jinja —

No internet last evening when I completed my post and we’ve been shooting and knocking off the last remaining items on our punch list today. I have thought seriously over the last day about not leaving, but I know I will return. We said hard goodb— “see you later”s to our hosts and are off to the airport. I’m rocking a super rad, hand tooled belt from Johnson of The Forge that will look incredible with my docs and have a new journal to start on the plane (while wrangling the last of our footage). Mostly, I’m guessing, the journal will be full of notes about my visit here and how I plan to get back. See ya later Jinja. Waybalay nyo.