Linda Ozromano | Contributor
One of the first CVAP activities that I attended in Gulu was Baker’s Fort hiking trip. The fort was a historical stone structure located 30 km north of Gulu on the Ocecu Hill. This trip was part of the warm-up activities that we have participated in upon our arrival to Gulu. It was also a great opportunity for Canadian and Ugandan volunteers to get to know each other and build friendship bonds. For us, the Canadians, this was our first encounter with the Mother Nature, in Africa.
It literally blew my mind to see such beauty with my own eyes and I was filled with excitement and wonder. It is one thing to see such nature in the photos, and a completely different thing to experience “Africa” in person. Everything becomes three dimensional once the mind steps out of the limits of barely looking at a photograph. Things that only imagination can offer one to experience in an abstract way become a reality. I think this is how I can describe my experience of encountering with the nature in Africa as an individual who grew up in a big city and spent a lifetime surrounded by the technology, industries and tall buildings.
I was also deeply touched by another aspect of Africa: the warmness and sincerity of its people. As we were hiking up the mountain, we met some local families and children that were living around that area. We became friends with some of the children and they accompanied us during the hike. Some of the children that I met were two brothers named Alexander and Denis and three girls named Sandra, Nancy and Janet who I also photographed. They were my first young Ugandan friends and later on I became friends with many other children at different occasions. Eventually, I developed a strong bond with a number of children that I met in Gulu , whom I dearly miss. I received many letters from them while I was still in Gulu which also made the CVAP trip much more personal and memorable to me.
The children that I met at the Baker’s Fort were also the first friends of elephant Maisha. This was the very first occasion when I decided to take photographs of Maisha, the symbol of my trip and of my photography project. I liked the idea of carrying a personal object with me, and photographing it in different environments allowed me to observe my experiences from the outside as a third eye. It was also an alternative way for me to express my feelings and emotions in a more sensible way.
Maisha was an eye-catching elephant with a bright orange color which many people were attracted to, even my Canadian friends. I especially enjoyed the reaction of children when they wanted to hold the elephant and wanted their photo to be taken with it. As a result, it was something that also connected me to random people at the most unexpected moments. I tried to photograph a wide range of scenes with Maisha however it was not as easy as I thought it would be. It was not culturally common or even sometimes acceptable to randomly take pictures everywhere which would be considered normal to someone from North America. For this reason, I tried to pay special attention to people’s reactions towards the camera and respect their attitudes. This reminded me one more time that it was not okay to take every single cultural value that we have for granted and expect others to believe in the same things. Still, the photos I have taken of Maisha with the Ugandan children have a special place in my heart.
Editor’s Note: Share your thoughts about Project Maisha in the comment section below and also view the first two parts of the photo features.
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