Africa: Beneath the Baobab Trees

Whoa. What a whirlwind of a week. 

Ok… so, I’ve never been a great writer. Since returning from Africa last month, I’ve sat down multiple times trying to reflect on this trip and my mind just doesn’t know where to start. But at least when words fail me (which is more often than I’d admit), photography has always felt like a more natural way to communicate. 

Here’s a little back story to how this trip came about. Last summer, my aunt asked me if I wanted to join a team traveling to Kenya in February. My aunt, uncle, and cousins lived in Kenya for a year back in 2012, working with organizations and churches in the area during their time there. Since leaving, they have visited at least once a year - keeping close ties with a family of boys there and friends made while living there. Since seeing my family experience life on the other side of the world, Africa has been on top of my travel bucket list. So shockingly.. you didn’t have to ask me twice. 

Fast forward 6 months later, and I’m waking up looking out the window into the lush rain forest in Nairobi, Kenya. I’ll never forget how surreal that first morning spent felt after traveling for almost 2 days, literally to the other side of the globe. While sipping on a little coffee that morning, I had not a clue how the next week of my life would change so much for me. 

The people I met in Kenya were some of the most friendly, kind, and full of faith I’ve met in my life.   

This is one of the main reasons why I can’t wait to return. In my life, I’ve never experienced a span of time filled with the most indescribable beauty and love, clashed with incredibly challenging and eye-opening moments. I’ve never felt the stark difference of a culture so beyond my own. And yet, I  somehow felt so at home and surrounded by love from the warmth of the people. I felt God in the small in-between moments in this trip - while looking up at the umbrella of African trees, watching an African sunset, admiring a giraffe gallop near our vehicle during a safari. All moments that felt beyond peaceful and incredibly beautiful. 

Before I share these images, I wanted to touch base on the current state of our world. What a wild time. Like many of you, I’ve felt a whole string of different emotions over the last few weeks, processing what our lives used looked like and what shape they will take in the future. During this quarantine, Kenya is not set up for crisis relief. They do not have unemployment or food banks during this time, leaving many children hungry without the meals they got in school (sometimes their only meals they get). In efforts to help in any way I can, I’ll be selling prints from this trip here (with other traveling images). I’ll be donating all proceeds from this trip to the remarkable school we visited while in Kenya, the All Nations Academy Nairobi. 

Starting off this post with some of my favorite B&W images from our first day spent at an orphanage in rural Kenya. 

On that Saturday, our team hopped into a 14 passenger bus and cruised down windy backroads until we had arrived at a smaller school out of town. We spent a breezy warm afternoon tucked away in a little hut underneath magical African trees. Our art teacher, Sonja, began teaching a large group of teenagers how to paint famous Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. While waiting for the paint to dry, I’ll never forget watching the trees sway with a warm breeze and having that surreal realization I was actually there. That still didn’t sink in for a few days. 

The day at the school was my favorite day of the trip, and a favorite day in general. These kids were so fun, polite, and well-behaved. They were hugging our team, fascinated with physical appearance differences - trying to touch and braid our hair and pointing out our freckles. We taught art classes and spent all day with these kids. One of the best parts of the trip for me was watching the kid’s fascination with photography. Because most of these kids haven’t seen a photo of themselves before, they loved looking at photos after they were taken. Some of the kids were emersed in shooting photos of their friends. And I was left with the question… how do you explain to 5 years how a film camera works? Ha! I still don’t know. They would take a photo, look at the back of the camera, and be so puzzled. A couple of fuzzy rolls of film was totally worth it haha. 

Biggest regret from this trip - not bringing a zoom lens. What was I thinking? No classic up close-up shots of lions - sorry guys. 😬

The African safari. One of the days was most anticipating. It’s hard to sum in words how magical this experience it is; it’s completely surreal to see exotic animals in the wild and up close. I tried to shoot photos on multiple formats… yeah, like 5 haha. Unsuccessful. I really didn’t capture many images that compared to being out in the African terrain in a wide-open Land Rover. But I’ll never forget one moment we were driving up close to giraffes - it was incredibly peaceful, and felt out of this world. Our team gasped and then fell silent in awe. Getting up at 5am has never been more worth it.  

Elephants were my favorite animal as a kid, and are still one of my favorites now. So seeing them right in front of you.. yeah, surreal. On this day we visited an elephant orphanage, and I just swooned. That afternoon, we rode cruised down a bumpy backroad in a tuk-tuk, a 3 wheeled vehicle used as a taxi, to have dinner with friends. That evening included dinner, throwing African spears in the lawn (it’s exactly how it sounds, and it was very safe haha), and watching the African sunset from the rooftop. Below are a few portraits shot that evening, and a group shot of our amazing crew. 

Lastly…FILM. 😍 These photos are almost more special to me than the digital because it’s those in-between candids of our team, our driver turned new best friend, and quiet moments spent in the jungle. Most of these images are taken on my Canon AE-1, a 35mm camera, which has been my favorite camera to bring traveling over the last year. I love the colors of film; these cameras feel like they capture more life-like colors in comparison to digital. I also brought two disposable cameras. I’m always shocked how well colors develop on those cheap $7 drug store cameras. Most of the horizontal shots were on the disposables. One of my favorite film images from the trip was the one from the elephant orphanage… those colors are so vibrant! 

And finally… the newest member of the camera family - the Hassleblad 500 C/M. This camera isn’t exactly built for traveling. It’s a little bulky, but as someone who is new to shooting on medium format, I knew I couldn’t NOT bring it on an international trip. This camera has a square format, which is so unique and obviously forces you to frame images differently. It also forces you to shoot waaaay slowed down. You need to use a light meter for every different lighting situation, which is new for me. This was actually my second roll of film I’ve ever shot, so clearly I’m still figuring out what I’m doing haha. Even though most of these shots are blurry, I actually like how they turned out and how I remember so distinctly the moments they were taken. The last few images were shot on this camera. 

This trip really opened my eyes to how big the world is around us, and that it’s a lot more diverse than we can comprehend. It stirred in me in a different kind of wonder than anywhere else I’ve been before, and a new desire to document and experience people and places far beyond what I call home. Don’t worry - I’ll hopefully be back so soon for you, Africa. 

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