My dad bought this camera in Washington D.C. one time he and my mom decided they couldn’t live anymore without visiting the Smithsonian. They packed their bags and came back with this little beauty: a Canon AE-1 program. This camera was meant to travel the world. It was my dad’s travel companion, until I “stole” it 10 years ago to learn photography. It’s a sturdy little things that has seen its fair share of rain, dust and even blood. A week after flying back to London, I’ve finally had time to clean all the crimson East Africa dust out of every little crease and take the film rolls to Boots for developing. My local Boots guy knows me by name, probably because I’m the only lunatic who still brings in film rolls for developing.
“Scanned to a CD then, right?”, he asks without me saying anything. “Come get them in a couple of days”.
I love looking through film rolls. My poor camera has been in a couple of little accidents so the lens doesn’t focus sometimes and the colours are a bit unpredictable. It produces lovely, blurry, grainy images: none of this Instagram filters bullshit. The camera has its own (strong) opinions about what makes a good shot and I rediscover our trip with each frame. Let me talk you through a couple of my favourite shots.
This first shot of Charlotte was taken within 4 hours of us starting our adventure. Charlotte had been to Uganda and Rwanda before so she was more used to the fact that people find Mzungus (foreigners) incredibly entertaining. I’ve never been to a place where my skin colour and complexion is so undeniably different to everybody elses. When I travelled through India, my brown skin and dark hair helped me blend. In the US I am just another chicana. I enjoy the fact that I can blend in so being pointed out by little kids screaming “Mzungu!” wherever we went was a bit of a shock to me. Anyway, this little girl was the daughter of the lady who ran the first hostel we stayed in Kampala. She and Charlotte shared a good game of “Peekaboo” and I eventually came to terms with being Mzungu.
The third day of our trip we drove ten hours to the south west border of Uganda to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. As we got further and further away from Kampala the remnants of urban life started to fade. Pavements, road signs, electricity, cement houses…all gone. Soon it was nothing but tea plantations, banana trees and small adobe houses with no windows. The forest reigns supreme amongst the rolling hills of Bwindi, and this photo makes me miss it terribly. Life moves at a slower pace there: time bends at the will of men. There’s nothing but green as far as the eye can see and the sounds of the countless of birds and bugs that call it home echoes through the forest.
Many miles later, we were offered the opportunity to spend the night at a settlement in Kisoro District called Nteko. We packed our bags and trekked for two hours through the forest only to find we had to climb an impossible hill to get to this community. As in all other settlements, the community were incredibly friendly and overjoyed to see us. At one moment an elderly women started ushering all the children to sit on a bench and pose for a picture. I managed to grab them before they were settled. The children were more interested in inspecting us, our hair, my camera, Charlotte’s bag but the adult clearly wanted them to “perform” for us. Pose for the Mzungu, sit up straight, don’t move. I tried my best to explain that we wanted the complete opposite, we wanted to get to know their story without any “photoshopping”. Thank god the kids didn’t really care and would always act out of script. The little boy third from the left is particularly unimpressed with the whole “sit and smile for the photo”.
In the same spirit, the children at “Diane Stanton School” were incredibly intrigued. Caught mid-lunch, they tested my technical skills by constantly getting close to the camera, looking into the lens, watching their reflection in the glass. They have absolutely no fear, no shyness, no limits. I felt welcome to join their lunch break and to bring my camera with me.
This last shot sums my hope for Uganda and Rwanda. This young man was standing by the side of the road in Kabale, a town on the border between Uganda and Rwanda. He like many other young men and women, are the future of their countries. They go to school, they believe in education as a path to progress, they work incredibly hard and have big hopes and dreams. We got “rescued” by English speaking locals all over the country who helped us find our way, who translated and negotiated prices for us. Some of them at the end asked if we had novels or books in English we could give them or asked us to be Facebook friends so they could practice their English. We got home safe thanks to the wonderful people of these countries, and we can only hope to tell their story properly.