Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’ Category

Getting Traction

In Documentary work, Ethiopia, Fistula, Giving Back, Hamlin Fistula Hospital, Natalie Imbruglia, Travel, Virgin Unite on March 23, 2011 at 12:03 am

It’s been an amazing week or so. Last week Julie Grahame of aCurator.com was kind enough to host my “Going Home” story from Ethiopia on her amazing online magazine. Julie is one of the good ones. always believing in the power of photography and it’s ability to inspire encourage and do good. Julie is a rock n roll woman who’s opinion on photography I trust implicitly. Julie was of tremendous help editing down a body of work that was almost too big to look at. So if you are drawn to great photography check out her site.

Following the great feedback I received from aCurator I started looking into other places to show the story and I found http://www.socialdocumentary.net/ they describe themselves as “Using the power of photography to promote global awareness”.  Seemed like a good fit to me so after contacting them I received an email saying they would be happy to host my images and then the next day they  had it on the front page of their site. Two great sites reaching different audiences but most importantly spreading the word about this story and Obstetric Fistula.

Just when I thought it could not get any better I get an email from my friends at Virgin Unite telling me that they had added some of my images to the post that Natalie Imbruglia had made when she hijacked Sir Richard Branson’s blog. Together they founded the End Fistula campaign to help raise money and awareness to end this preventable and tragic affliction. Natalie took some time during International Woman’s day to talk about her experience with some amazing woman who are helping to fight and cure those suffering with fistula. So all in all a great week. Now I’m looking for a space to hold a show of these images and many more from Ethiopia. With a few more irons in the fire April is looking to be a good month as well.  Big thank you to Julie (aCurator), Glenn (Social Documentary), Christie and Jodie (Virgin Unite) Also to Margot and Gray for helping with the editing of the story and Jessica who is working away on a video edit and Ponzi who provided some amazing new footage. YOU ALL ROCK!!

Getting Home: Day 3 Home at last.

In Documentary work, Ethiopia, Giving Back, Travel, Uncategorized on January 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm

“I grew up too fast and was made small and helpless and now I have become an adult again”

I can’t remember exactly where I read that quote but I know it had something to do with a young woman after she had gone through the tortures of an obstetric fistula. The words really spoke to me. I guess it can be the words of many people who have gone through so many different things, we can all relate. Perhaps that’s the point and what resonated with me. Often times we as people are faced with things that can break us and sometimes they do break us. What counts is getting yourself back together again. Maybe you lose someone close to you or maybe it’s a job lost, it could be an accident or a mental breakdown. It could be one of a zillion things that does it to YOU.

I have been so lucky in my life to see and experience so many amazing things and people both as a photographer and just as an everyday guy.

I’ve had about a month to think about how my trip to Ethiopia has affected me. I’m not the type of person who has the “aha moment” it’s more the slow revelation. I was talking with the founder of SalaamGarage today and we were discussing how the trip had affected me. She wants to make a difference, I think we all want to make a difference. I told her that She had made a difference to me by simply starting SG. Had I not heard about it, obviously I would of never gone on this trip and met the girls to take home. Of course there would of been no photos to show anyone. It would of ended right there. It did not though and even though as of right now the photos have just been seen by those who look at this blog or my Facebook page it has already made a difference. I can tell when people respond to them. I’ve heard someone say they had goose bumps from nose to toes. That was pretty cool. Making a difference and encouraging a change. That’s all I can hope to do. I’m so grateful for the experiences I had in Ethiopia. I learned about the hospital and the people that run it. To me what is more important is the human connections I made. We may live thousands of miles apart but in more ways then you can count we are all as one.


Getting Home: Day 3 Home at last.

In Documentary work, Ethiopia, Giving Back, Portraits, Travel on December 11, 2010 at 4:32 am

I’m not even sure how many km we have driven in the last four days, it must be close to 1000 for sure. Most of it on the dirt and broken roads that lead away from the “modern” city of Addis Ababa to the remote villages of Bale. The transformation of the girls as we have begun to actually understand each other even though we speak foreign languages is really amazing. They started off shy and reserved but now are talking and chirping away like little birds. Kemeru is always trying to take my camera off my shoulders to photograph me Ponzi or Kedira although she seems to have a bit of a problem holding the camera straight. I think given the opportunity she might be a good photographer but opportunities like that are simply never going to happen.

The last couple of hours were very slow going as our driver eased the truck into 4×4 to crawl over the steep rocky and sandy non-roads that lead to the villages. We are always passing donkeys carrying the ubiquitous yellow jerry cans that hold water. If they are lucky it’s a donkey doing the lifting but more often then not it’s a woman (never a man) with a full jug on their backs

We finally pull in to the first town. I’m not really sure what’s going on as we stop in the center of town. In a matter of seconds the truck is surrounded by tons of kids and adults. They first just stare at us but then I start to hand out pencils and they are a great ice breaker and a huge hit with the kids, I quickly realize I need to break them in half to make sure more kids get one.

Both of the girls get out and Kedira is the first girl to make contact with a relative. I find out it’s her nephew as she gives him a gentle touch on the face and kiss. He leads her into a hut and then what turns out to be her sister comes out. They greet each other with multiple kisses on each cheek then they each kiss the others hand three or four times. It was a really sweet thing to see. After a few minutes of this we realize that in fact we are not even in Kedira’s village  and that we were actually there to pick up a local guy who could guide us to the village that is another hour into the hills.

Unfortunately by now it’s getting dark and I can no longer shoot with much luck. I manage to get a few portraits of Kedira’s family but that’s about it. However what happened in the dark was absolutely amazing. After a tour of the village and meeting the elders including her at least 70-year-old husband (she is 20) we were getting ready to leave when she asked us to stay in the village and in the morning take Kemeru back to her village. This way we could have coffee and spend just a bit more time together. I was all into it but I guess our driver had other ideas feeling that we should get back to the mid village point and sleep there. Then all hell broke loose, Kedira began to cry and act like a spoiled child because she jumped in the truck and was refusing to leave. Meanwhile I was told they were bringing a goat with a gift. Turns out the goat was the gift!. One of the older men comes from behind the truck holding a fat brown goat by its ear and then passes on to me.  I had no idea what to do with this goat but I knew it was a great honor to be given it. So they hog tied the thing and hoisted up on to the truck and then tied it down. All I could hear was the baa baa of the poor little fella, he was scared. We finally headed out with some very sad goodbyes. I was really moved by this and was not expecting to be so affected by it. I was happy to know that these girls would be friends for life but wondered what the story would be for Kedira and her old man husband.

We turned around and headed back to the midpoint village to sleep with the crying goat on the roof. We arrived in town to find the only hotel (if you can call it that) was all sold out. Our guide invited us to stay in his hut. I gave him the goat since I was not sure how much Delta charges for extra luggage and did not want to be stuck at the airport with a goat. The guys killed and ate the goat and I watched to whole thing. It was not nearly as gross as I thought it would be but I can tell you that they could sure use a sharpening stone as this goat did not go easy. I woke up early to the sound of roosters as usual but as I was getting my boots on to go outside and pee I almost fell over. I was dizzy like I had been drinking all day but of course I had not had a drink in a few days. As I lay back in the bed I could not shake the sense of dizziness and was wondering what the hell was going on. I started to count in my head by 4’s to see if I could do it. I could and then it occurred to me that I had been exposed to carbon monoxide since they were cooking the goat in the hut all night. As soon as I figured that out I threw my boots back on and got the hell out of that hut. I was feeling better when we headed off to take Kemeru back to her village.

When we showed up at Kemeru village it was like the golden child had come home. There were so many people that came out of the huts to greet her. We were later told that they never thought they would ever see her again and that she was sure to die. She could not even get out of the truck before person after person came up to her and kissed and hugged her. Of course she grabbed my camera again to show off how good she was with it.

We got the tour and then Ponzi sat Kemeru down to do an interview. She asked about her experience with fistula and how she was treated as well as how the conditions in her village are for handling that kind of thing. One of the main things Ponzi is focusing on is the need for clean water for childbirth. It seemed like there were around 65 people gathered around us for the interview. Once that was done it was time for Coffee. Kemeru was going to show us the famous coffee ceremony. She basically had a huge mortar and pestle.  She would raise the huge mortar or is that the pestle? Anyway up it went and then crashing down to pulverize the coffee beans. Every now and again she would stop and smell the grounds making sure it was the right aroma. When it was finally right they poured us the most amazing coffee I had ever had and since there was no sugar they used honey. The honey was not the kind you find in a little plastic bear. It was totally raw and was full of sediment. I had to use my teeth as a strainer to catch it all then I would just spit it out. It left my throat burning but it was good.

Finally it was time to leave as we had a very long ride back to Addis and then a flight to Bahir Dar to catch up with the rest of the SalaamGarage folks. There were big hugs and kisses and then we were off. I was sad again and I could not help wondering what would become of these two young women who have changed my life forever. I realize I will probably never see them again in this life. Theirs is not an easy one. I did not see a lot of old woman in Ethiopia in fact I did not see a lot of old people in general.

This story is about survival and the journey home and yet I wonder can you ever really go home? After seeing what they saw in Addis with modern technology and healthy food. I feel like they have been transported back in time by about 150 years.

I do know that they are much more prepared to have a child now and to make sure they do not run into the same problems with fistula as the last time. They will spread the word so that other woman do not lose their babies and go through what they went through. Surgery is only a band-aid to the fistula problem. The way to prevent it is with midwives and proper medical attention before it’s too late.

With the help of the Hamlin Fistula hospital and all the people that are reading this blog and passing it hopefully like in the developed nations Fistula can be eradicated from the face of the earth for good.

So that is the end of the journey or maybe it’s just the beginning?

Thanks for reading my words (bad grammar and all) and for those that made a donation to help me help these young woman I am forever grateful and although they don’t know it Kedira and Kemeru would be so very thankful as well.

If you would still like to make a donation to help with this trip you can do it with this PayPal link or via the SocialWish page.


Getting Home: Day 2

In Documentary work, Ethiopia, Giving Back, Portraits, Travel on December 4, 2010 at 3:15 am

This idea of journey seems to be the way things are here in Ethiopia. Everyone seems to be going some place. It’s not even obvious where they are going. People on bikes, walking with and without shoes, donkeys, horses, cows, goats, trucks, busses and the list goes on and on. Here I am with my two girls on our journey as well. We travel our way across the long dusty roads that make up the arteries of this country. We left the paved roads just as we started this second day. The Toyota bounces and sways like a boat in the middle of the ocean. I try to keep my eyes forward looking for on coming trucks so I can roll up the window before we get showered in dust. “roll em up”  then “roll em down” is how it’ goes.

The girls are really starting to open up today. Smiling and generally in a happy mood. They now know they are headed home. For the first few hours they were not really sure where we were going and if they would be heading back to the hospital. Breakfast was the usual continental style with coffee. They make the best coffee here. I have not been a big coffee drinker since college but I have jumped back in. Comparing the coffee here to the coffee in North America is like comparing Coke to milk. The flavor is amazing. Making coffee is not just turning on a machine in the morning while you read the paper. No, this is a ceremony in all its glory. They roast the beans by hand, then crush them in a mortar and pestle always stopping to smell the beans to make sure they are giving off the right amount of aroma. The coffee is then put into the boiling water and poured in to these cool little clay cups. Absolutely no milk to be found here though. You may find honey or salt though.

Lunch is at this little hole in the wall place or maybe I should say it’s a place with many holes in the wall!. In fact there are not much in the way of walls at all.  It’s just another building that is basically half built. It seems like concrete is in short supply here. As a result buildings seem to start and then stop without being completed. The landscape is littered with these half made structures. Also lacking is scaffolding but in place of it you will see a birdcage worth of wood. It seems to working so who am I to judge.

With some time to kill after eating I take a walk across the street to find a bunch of guys stuffing green leafs down their mouths and in their gums it is called Khat but pronounced chat and seems to have the same effect as smoking pot.

It’s looking like we will make it to the village tomorrow to get the girls home. Long drives and dusty roads. Who knows what else is in store for us.

I’ve had some very generous gifts to help with the cause and I’m very appreciative of it. I feel like a PBS promo but I could still use a bit more help in raising money to offset the cost of getting these girls home. So please pass this blog on to anyone who might be interested.

Here is the link for donating to PayPal

Here is the link for the SocialWish donating page


Getting Home Day 1

In Documentary work, Ethiopia, Giving Back, Portraits, Travel on November 30, 2010 at 10:00 am

I woke up early today to start this trip. The driver and interpreter arrived at the hotel around 7 am for what we were told was going to be a 400km drive to BELTO  but it’s so small that it does not even show up on the map and since I never checked the map in the first place I just assumed that was the distance. A woman from the SalaamGarage trip will also be joining me, her name is Ponzi Black she is a multi media consultant who will be posting her point of view with photos, blogging and video.  We take the short drive over to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital to pick up Kedira and Kemeru. They are waiting for us in the driveway with just the few possessions they showed up with over a month ago. Of course they are wearing their traditional clothing.

Kedira on the left was the one that first thought I was one of the missionaries who was going to bring her home. Well not quite but I guess not too far off either. Kemeru on the right often has a stoic look on her face, or at least that is all I have seen so far. We all pile into the Toyota with the Yousef our interpreter and our driver whose name I never really got. The ride out of Addis was slow even at that early time of day. The roads are always congested and it seems we are constantly stopping and starting but not because of the normal traffic issues. No we are stopped because goats, or horses are busy crossing the street. The air is thick with pollution as environmental concerns are just not on the radar yet. Black smoke pours out of the trucks as I hold my breath. Coughing has been a big problem for me for the better part of a month since I started getting my shots and is not made any easier with the air in this city. There are no traffic lights here so the cars move at a slow steady dance getting close but not quite colliding. We ease out of town and hit the highway. As I look to either side of the car I see people, so many people just walking one place or the other.

It seems like we are on the road for only a few hours when Yousef says we will stop for lunch. No problem I say but honestly it seems kind of soon. Maybe this guy is union and he has his scheduled coffee breaks. Coffee, that is something that is going to play a MAJOR part it turns out. Our lunch stop is at this beautiful place called Dreamland and it has a great view of a lake view out back. To my surprise they actually have the Wifi’s so I sign on and check my email.

Back on the road after lunch. The girls did not feel comfortable sitting in the restaurant so they went back to the truck. It was an uneventful day with tons of driving. I seemed to have to pee a thousand times and nobody else does. Am I that old? We finally arrived at the Awash National Park to sleep in a hotel. Yousef says that Ponzi and I could stay there but the girls and the driver as well as him would stay at a less expensive place.  I didn’t care where they stayed but as far as I was concerned the girls would be staying at the hotel. After all it amounted to all of about $18.00 for the night. They may never sleep in a bed like that again I told myself.

Getting Home

In Documentary work, Ethiopia, Giving Back on November 25, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Today is Thanksgiving; in the last 2 days I have seen a lifetime’s worth of suffering and physical tragedy at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A fistula is an avoidable but terrible injury that happens when a baby becomes stuck in the birth canal during a long labor, a tear forms between the birth canal and the bladder and/or the rectum as fragile cells are destroyed by the pressure from the still-born baby’s body.   As a result, a hole is formed causing incontinence for the woman.

I met, interviewed and photographed two very young women who arrived at the hospital over a month ago from a village more then 3 days drive away.  Even though they did not know each prior, their shared experience has brought them very close as has their successful recovery from surgery. Both lost their babies after multiple days in obstructed labor that resulted in obstetric fistula injuries.  The missionaries that delivered them to the hospital have not been able to raise enough money to take them home so they have been stuck…. waiting.

This is where my real purpose became clear today.  I am taking them home.  But the expense of a private car to travel to their village is an extreme expense for any Ethiopian and for me as well.  I need your help to get them home.

I am going to make sure they get back to their village safe and sound. They need my help and I need yours.

If you would like to donate to this cause please click on this paypal link

Or you can go to our SocialWish page and donate that way.

Any extra funds raised will go to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa.


Needles, pills, more needles and some more pills

In Documentary work, Ethiopia, Giving Back on October 29, 2010 at 9:53 am

This has been the week of immunization to end all weeks of immunization. It started last Wednesday with five shots from my doctor with hepatitis A and B. Meningococcus, Measles, mumps and rubella, Tetanus. Yesterday I was lucky enough to get the Yellow Fever and Polio shots. This morning I started taking the Typhoid pills (1 every other day for a week). Of course I have some antibiotics on hand in case I get sick out there. I also have the malaria pills. I guess I got the cheap ones that can give you some crazy dreams and do your head in a bit. However yesterday at the travel clinic the doctor suggested I get the better quality ones  as they don’t make you crazy so even though they are $300.00 for a months dose it might be the way to go. I think that brings me up to date minus the last Hep A and B shot before I leave. I will not even begin to talk about the possible side effect from all of this stuff. Lets just say my brain could swell and I could die. All that even before I get to Ethiopia. Anyway I’m feeling a bit under the weather today so I will take  it easy and just wait for my new computer to be delivered from FedEx.