Monthly Archives: April 2015

Show And Tell

So I’m back in the land of the Internet now, Addis Ababa to be specific. I had intended to post something thoughtful about something that happened in this trip, but unfortunately it didn’t save, for some reason or another. Consequently I’ve shown up unprepared. The alternative then is a sort of show and tell about a few of my favorite unedited photos from this trip to Ethiopia. I’m sure I will do some cropping and editing later, but I have some shots that I’m very happy with even as they are.











Harar, Ethiopia

I am making this entry short today. I spent the day in Harar, Islam’s fourth holiest city. I’m keeping it short because I really need to sort through my thoughts about today. I’m just going to tell my surface observations until I can really ponder it more. I’ve been in some dark places in my life, but this was different. This place was dark without feeling dangerous at the same time, though I know that was there as well. The first thing I noticed, and the most obvious, is the huge amount of drug use there. The people are addicted to qat, which is a stimulant and hallucinogen, and it’s such a cultural norm that the amount of people I saw either actively chewing it or under its influence is just mind blowing. The second thing I noticed is the demeanor of people. This one is quite hard for me to describe, and I may come up with a better description later. It’s the look of a person who has been desperately been waiting for relief for something, and that relief continually eludes them. Its the look of someone who knows they need something, but they don’t know what it is. I’m going to leave the description of the people to that for now, until I can think further about it.
The city itself is an ancient walled city. Off the main streets are a maze of passages between homes that are painted in pastel colors. There are 85 mosques within the walls of the small city, so they are literally every couple hundred yards apart. The area around is steep terraced arid land, much of which is used for qat production. One of the striking things about this city is that there is a hole in the city wall where hyenas enter at night and are fed by hand. That’s all I’m going to write for now. I’m sure I will have further thoughts later.


A Very Small World

I’m currently on a jetliner flying over the Atlantic, on a direct flight to Addis Ababa. I got up at 2 o’clock this morning to catch my first flight, so my schedule is way off. Leaving was pretty tough this time for a number of reasons I’m not going to get into, but I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and that’s better than staying comfortable doing what you’re not supposed to be doing.
In the airport in Washington, I spotted a couple South Sudanese men from across the room, (yes, they’re that easy to spot) and talked with them for a while about places, politics, and all things South Sudan. It was really nice to be able to converse with people who are wholly familiar with these things, including specifics of people and far flung places we’ve all been. Furthermore, God works in amazing ways, because one of the men is trying to get a charity started bringing water wells into South Sudan, and incredibly I had a contact for him in Juba. My contact has the equipment to drill, which is what he was having a hard time finding. So God is already working, and I haven’t even reached my destination yet.
For now, I’m on the plane trying to teach myself to count to ten in Amharic, which is no easy task since its a completely unfamiliar language and I’ve got no hook to hang my hat on. More when I get to Addis.

A Picture That Is Not From Ethiopia


This is a picture I took that is not from Ethiopia. It’s from South Sudan. So why am I posting it? Because I leave for Ethiopia on Monday night and I needed to post something to my blog from my iPad so I could make sure that WordPress mobile is free of bugs. If you’ve read this, that means it worked, and you’ll be able to follow my new adventures. Here’s to new adventures and new followers.

How To Pack For A Photo Trip To Africa

Every once in a while I like to give some practical advice to people who might be taking a trip to Africa, particularly those who are going primarily to take pictures. Well, 108 blogs later, I’ve finally decided to do a comprehensive breakdown of how I pack my carry-on bag. I start with the attitude that if the airline loses my check-in bag, I could still continue on with my trip without much inconvenience. As such, I only pack in my check-in bag extra clothing, toiletries, and medication that I can live without should the airline lose them. In fact, I’ve traveled to Africa on a few occasions without actually checking a bag. Traveling light is the key, because the more you have to carry, the more difficulty you will have getting around, and the more you will miss. I travel with a minimal amount of clothing, but mostly stick with synthetic materials and bring a small bottle of detergent so that I can wash clothing by hand every two or three days. Synthetics also dry much faster. The following image shows the contents of my photo backpack laid out. The bag is a Clik Elite. I’ve used other bags in the past and found that for the hard use I give them, they tended to break down to the point that my heavy lenses were all sitting in the bottom of the bag after a long day of walking. (I am not endorsed by Clik Elite.) The Clik Elite bag gets dirty, but it holds up to a beating.

The contents of my photo bag when traveling to Ethiopia.
The contents of my photo bag when traveling to Ethiopia.












1. Canon 5D Mk2 SLR camera. 21 megapixels which is plenty should I need to crop the picture later. It’s been beaten up, gotten wet, been in the dust, and still takes great pictures.

2. 4 lenses. My two primary lenses are a Canon 135 mm f2 for taking tight portraits, and a Sigma 35 mm f 1.4 for taking wider portraits and landscapes. These are my go-to lenses for taking those winning shots. The shallow depth of field I get and the low light capabilities make carrying these totally worth the extra weight of redundant focal length lenses.  My two other lenses for more general use are a Canon 24-70 f2.8 and a Canon 70-200 f4 image stabilized lens.

3. Canon G1X Point and shoot camera. It’s small and discreet for when I have to be less conspicuous, but has an APS-C sized sensor inside for much better quality pictures than a typical point and shoot camera. It also shoots 1080p video. The camera does have its limitations though, just due to what it is.

4. Extra batteries for both cameras, as well as chargers.

5. 300 gigabytes of memory cards. At least some need to be fast enough to shoot video.

6. Oben carbon fiber tripod with ball head. This is a must if you’re going to shoot video or time exposures.

7. Camelbak All Clear bottle. This has an ultra-violet lamp built in so I can purify water should I need to. It purifies unsafe water in one minute. I drank water out of the Nile for five days without getting sick using this. I also stuff the bottle with an extra pair of clean socks and undies for traveling. (Use your space to the fullest).

8. Extra pair of pants and a fleece shirt. (It can be quite cold in the parts of Ethiopia I go to.) I also pack extra clothing into any empty spaces in the bag.

9. Ipad 64 gig (not shown). This has reading material, allows my to load pictures and write my blog while away, and has VOIP software for making phone calls when I have wi-fi overseas.

10. Adapters for linking my camera to the iPad.

11. Unlocked GSM world phone. This is a multi-band phone that I can buy a sim-card for when I get to Africa so I can make local calls. I can also call home with it when there’s no internet available but cell phone service is.

12. Passport and yellow fever card. Many countries in Africa require proof you’ve had your yellow fever immunization.

13. Power converter and adapters. Lets you plug in your US based electronics into foreign outlets.

14. Case of photo filters with polarizing filters and Neutral Density filters.

15. Disposable eyeglass wipes for cleaning lenses. Travel is too dirty to reuse a normal lens cleaning cloth.

16. Hand sanitizer.

17. Wet wipes for cleanup when there is no water available or for on the plane. (These are your best friend in Africa.)

18. Remote trigger for camera. Needed for taking long time-exposures or for discreetly triggering your camera.

19. Pain reliever. (I have plantar fasciitis which can hurt after standing all day.)

20. Bug spray. This is a necessity if you are going to areas where malaria is common.

21. Head lamp. Africa is frequently very dark.

22. Cash and credit cards. (Not shown)

What I didn’t bring but could have

1. Anti-malarial drugs. You have to weigh your risks. I’ll only be in an area with malaria for a couple days, so is it worth being on drugs with potential side effects for two days of protection? I decided not to. That’s why I have bug spray. Also, use the mosquito nets at night if you’re in an area with malaria and don’t be outside in the evening.

2. A flash. I’ve brought a flash before, but found that for my style of shooting, out of a couple thousand pictures taken, I used the flash for about 10.

So you might have a hard time believing that all that goes into the bag. I can assure you that it does. It does fit under a the seat in front of you even on a small plane, though I usually have to take the tripod off and place it beside. Weight is almost certainly over the limit, but fortunately most airlines don’t weight your carry-on bag. So here is the bag as it’s packed and ready to go. As a side note, my check-in bag is also a backpack, so that if I have to travel over distances cross country I can put one over each shoulder. Total weight for both bags is somewhere between 50 and 60 pounds.

My packed carry-on bag for traveling to Ethiopia.
My packed carry-on bag for traveling to Ethiopia.

















Old Friends And New Friends

In just two weeks I leave for Ethiopia. I remember the first time I traveled to Africa; the excitement, but also the sense of fear. The feeling of “oh dear God, what am I doing?” Things are different now. This is my seventh trip to Africa since 2010, and my third in the last eight months. There is no longer any fear involved. It’s only my second trip to Ethiopia, but I feel as if I’m going to visit an old friend. That old friend is Africa. I love the people. I love the places. I love the friends I’ve made along the road. There are people in South Sudan and Kenya in particular that I talk to on almost a daily basis, and they’ve become good friends to me.

My first trip to a country is normally where I get the lay of the land. My second and subsequent trips are when I make friends. I don’t know why that is, but that seems to be the way it plays out. Perhaps I am only able to understand the people after I’ve been there once already. Each culture is different, and it’s often hard to understand the way people think until you understand at least to a point the environment they’re coming from. Friendship only comes after understanding.  So even though I made friends on my last trip to Ethiopia, it is this time that I feel I will cement those bonds. So this blog is written for my old friend Africa, for the old friends I’ve made in South Sudan and Kenya, and to the new ones I’ll make in Ethiopia.

I will be posting update blogs as I travel whenever I can, and as a photographer I will have photographs whenever bandwidth will permit. Feel free to follow this blog for email updates. I’ll be traveling into new territory, so I’ll try to be as honest with first impressions as possible. I’m not saying where I’m going yet, but will post once I’m there. Here’s a few of my friends from over the years.

James in Nairobi
James in Nairobi











Peter and Joseph in South Sudan.
Peter and Joseph in South Sudan.












Dejene and Ketsela in Ethiopia, among others.











My new friend Bekela in Ethiopia, who was gracious enough to let me stay in his home and give me two cups of espresso and a pepsi every night before bed.
My new friend Bekela in Ethiopia, who was gracious enough to let me stay in his home and give me two cups of espresso and a pepsi every night before bed.











Jimmy and Njenga in Kenya. Great guys.