Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Croc Photo Delimma

This is one of my favorite croccodile photos. I got a nice close up, the scales are sharp, the eye came out clear and sharp without post processing. So . . . did he just HAVE to be underneath that blade of grass? Hence the delimma . . . For true photojournalism-you present the croc in his environment, the way you saw him. For contest photography, that grass stem is a big distraction - enough to keep you from winning your photo of the day.

And, of course, there is no guarantee that you can remove that much from a photo without leaving tell-tale signs. Since it was one of my favorite shots, I had to give it a try. Doing that much reconstruction requires a lot of patience as well as a lot of trial and error (lots of back tracking when something did not work or look right.)

Here is my finished image. Can you tell that it has been altered?

I'll post this pair of shots at Digital Image Cafe tomorrow and at Photosig tonight and see what the other online photographers think.

But if I submit this to editors, I must surely tell them what I've done. Ernie Mastroianni will be giving a break out session on "Digital Alteration and the Line of Credibility at the NANPA Summit in Florida. I will be going to that session. I have also scheduled a portfolio review with him. Each magazine market has different guidelines and standards, but from what I've learned, most important is to let the photo editor KNOW what you've done to the photo.

Now the big question for my readers . . . which one do YOU like best?

The Croc

One of the nice things about cruising along the Chobe River between Botswana and Namibia is that you regularly see croccodiles.
This is the first of a couple of posts. This photo is actually a stitch of three photos so I could make large prints of the entire croccodile with great detail. To see the larger version, check it out on my website: The Croc.

And, yes, prints are available: 8"X34" 10'X42 1/2' 12"X50

If you're interested, just send me an email.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chobe's Elephants

Chobe National Park in Botswana has one of the largest populations of wild elephants in the world. They are also some of the largest elephants in body size as well.

You regularly see them crossing the river. Sometimes in family units and somtimes alone.

When you are cruising the Chobe River, the boat guides get you up close and personal to these incredible elephants.

After this elephant crossed the river, he began to give himself a thorough mud bath.

After getting mud all over his body, he then began his dust bath.

Elephants eat many things - tree leaves, grasses, tree branches etc. They are actually pretty rough on their environment. But one of the most amazing things I saw were these elephants eating these branches with these big thorns on them. The thorns were not slowing these elephants at all.

There were baby elephants everywhere. Elephants take several years to mature, so there were many different sized young elephants. It was fun to watch them nurse.

At the end of the day it was fun to see the beautiful African sunset with the elephants silhouetted against the beautiful glowing sky.

Friday, November 16, 2007

In the Villages -African Cooking

In Africa, where you live makes a big difference in how you live. In the larger towns and cities, there is electricity and running water. In the villages, life is much simpler and more basic. This blog combines life in the Namibian fishing village and a Zambian agricultural village.

In the villages, cooking is done outside over an open fire. During the dry season it is outside under the sky. In the rainy season there are special huts with a large opening and perhaps an open area between the thatch and the brick. This is at the fishing village. Note the water bucket:

Notice the drying rack at the Zambian agricultural village:

Homemade charcoal is also a fuel source.

There is a big business of taking wood, partially burning it and then selling it as charcoal.

I saw these "portable" stoves several places. Linda's neighbor's daughter carried one over to the school one morning to get coals for their morning breakfast fire. At the women's shelter at the hospital in Kolomo these were the cook fires for the women camped there to care for their loved ones in the hospital.

In the fishing village, the water table was near the surface. This hand dug well provided the water for the village.

When I think of this woman drawing water, I appreciate the new water tower going up near my house. I can see it from my front porch. It is not pretty, but . . . it is a symbol that I can turn on the tap and get my water.

On one level, this water looks unappealling. But notice how clear it is . . . And it is probably cleaner and safer than the river water nearby.

Some in Zambia have bore holes that go down to deeper water sources. Some have large hand pumps (think long pipe as lever for pumping). I've even heard of one that has a merry-go-round. The children play and pump water at the same time. The water still has to be hauled by the people back to their homes. Most do not have oxen, so they carry the water sometimes what would be a long distance for us.

However, one village has to take oxcarts several miles to the river, fill their jugs, and haul the water back to the village. I understand they are next in line for a borehole.

In Zambia, the food staple is nshima. Nshima is made from white corn (maize) ground and cooked until it has a consistency that you can make a ball and eat it with your fingers. There is a ceremony to pour water over your hands to clean them before eating. They eat it morning, noon, and night. It can be served with their staple vegetable (rape greens) and sometimes with chicken. Rape looks and tastes a lot like mustard greens, but in David's garden it is easy to see that it is in the broccoli-cabbage family.

They also cook dried Tanganyika sardines, called kapenta. They are very small and you buy them by the bag. They're a little crunchy even after they've been cooked. And, of course, served with nshima.

Bon Appetite!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Magi Boxes Update

I checked yesterday - we sent out 193 Magi Boxes. They are headed to Mexico. Makes me feel good to have been a part of that effort.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Art of Sending Cards

I will confess I'm not good at sending cards. Well - not totally true, I am VERY good at sending Christmas cards. I've only missed one year out of 36 years of marriage. And I have a long list. But Christmas is just once a year. It is one big effort and then it's over.

But this post is about cards that you send to people year round. Sympathy cards, get well cards, encouragement cards . . . And yes, I send out a few. But my style is more email and phone calls. And those are important - no doubt. And a phone call allows two way communication. I am good at phone calls.

Recently I was asked to display the cards that my friend, Debbie received while she was ill. My daughter helped set up a display at her funeral. I filled a box with them - a conservation, acid free box. These cards are a testimony to how many lives my friend touched. And she kept them to encourage her as the illness ate away at her life.

Cards - the kind you mail - can be a lasting encouragement. A long time ago in a Bible class, probably one for women, someone said to keep the cards that have special words of encouragement or appreciation . . . the ones that tell you that you are special and why. Then when you are down in the dumps or have had something discouraging happen, you can pull them out and remember that you are loved and appreciated.

A card or short note is something that someone can touch and reread, it is something tangible, something that can be enjoyed and appreciated over and over.

Not long ago, I read these thoughts in Alexandra Stoddard's Grace Notes:

A letter always seemed to me like Immortality (Emily Dickinson)

The advantage of the telephone is that it lets us hear someone's voice, but it leaves nothing for history or posterity. Pick up your pen, not the telephone, and write your son at college.

A note on a postcard can be savored and remain on someone's desk for months. Stack a collection of postcards on your desk and start using them to send grace notes to friends - a joke or a thought for the day.

Email is also a good way to encourage people. I'm a person who saves things rather than throws things away as a rule. So I save cards and emails. But for those of you that are the people that throw things away . . . keep a few of those encouraging cards and emails - to read later when you need an emotional pick me up.

I need to send more cards and short notes letting people know I'm thinking about them when I know they are going through difficult times or to let them know how special they are to me, or to thank them for things they do.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Magi Boxes

As the Christmas season approaches, our congregation has been participating in the Magi Project each year. It is a fairly simple concept - you pack a shoe box with items for children. There are four age groups (Baby-2, 3-6, 7-10, or 11-14) and you chose to pack for a boy or a girl.

Some years I have packed a complete box myself. This year and last year my Care Group got together to pack boxes. It is a whole lot more fun to do it as a group. We planned for 20 boxes this year - 10 for boys, 10 for girls.

We each brought a different kind of item - shampoo, bath gel, tooth brushes, tooth paste, hair clips, flashlights, wooden puzzles, pencils, pens, t-shirt, Spanish Bibles, etc.

This year we used clear plastic boxes with garland decorating the bottom. The box will also be useful after the fact. Plus it was one less step - last year we wrapped the boxes - but you have to wrap the lid separately -so that takes time.

Doing any task as a group makes it fun - and the variety of things brought this year was so heart warming. Our whole congregation participates - not just one Care Group. I'll be interested to see how many boxes we send this year.

Our boxes will go to children in Mexico this year. We have to have the boxes ready early in November. What a great way to get into the Christmas spirit!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Annie Get Your Gun

I've had the opportunity recently to do some photography for Brentwood Christian School's Webpage. Tonight I went to the dress rehearsal of the yearly musical. This year it is "Annie Get Your Gun."

All I can say is "WOW!" The lead actors are great - especially the young actress who is playing Annie. If you live in the Austin area, this is well worth your time. It will be showing tomorrow and Saturday. Call 835-5983 to check on availability of tickets.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Africa in the News - Education

While on one level, I think that we pay our celebrities an enormous amount of money - valuing them in excess of their "true" worth. Why is a football player worth more than a farmer, etc? I don't know the answer . . . But one of the things that many celebrities do with the incredible money they make is to find worthwhile things to fund. While the gist of the article describes a problem at Oprah's school in South Africa, I have to be proud that she is doing something important to make a difference in African lives.

From Reuter's news article:

"The abuse charges have assumed a high profile in South Africa, where activists accuse the government of neglecting often overcrowded and inadequately funded public schools lacking such basic items as textbooks. High levels of classroom violence, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse exacerbate the poor standard of education, which still suffers from inequalities left by apartheid."

Getting the children in Africa educated would make a big difference in their standard of living. One of our fellow guests while at Luangwa was visiting a school under construction that one of their organizations was funding. Many church organizations are funding the building and equiping of new schools.

While I am very sorry that someone criminally irresponsible was hired to care and supervise these children, that can happen anywhere. The more important thing is for Oprah's school and others to continue to provide the best education possible for African children.

Friday, November 02, 2007


To put this post in perspective - we started our African adventure in Cape Town, flew to Namibia, and then flew to Lusaka, and then to Mfuwe (pronounced m-foo-e you prounounce the "m" ever so slightly with the accent on foo) which is near the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. It took me a while to learn how to pronounce it properly. The flight from Lusaka to Mfuwe was on a smaller commercial plane holding maybe 30 people. As we made our descent into Mfuwe, my first thought was "I'm flying into National Geographic" as I saw the round thatched roof houses.

As we walked out of the airport, we saw the other safari vehicles from the other lodges waiting and boarding their passengers. We found our driver and climbed into the Land Cruiser. It was late in the afternoon, almost evening. As we drove through the village, there were people out walking everywhere. Some were on bicycles. We seemed to attract attention. While most people waved to us, some seemed astonished. We think it was Henry's beard. Beards are not common here, and Henry's is long. The small children got so excited as we drove by - they waved enthusiastically and we waved back. The older teenage boys were above such things as waving. Most of the adults waved as we went back. We waved back. I began to feel like the queen in "The Princess Diaries" or as if we were a single car parade. But I also began to wonder, what do the village people think of the tourists. Are they glad we are here bringing money into their economy? Does it bother them that we are going to lodges that may seem filled with luxury next to their simple huts? What do they think as we are chauffered past them in our big safari vehicles as they walk or ride their bicycles? I am glad to say that most of them smiled at us as we rode past and most of them gave us big friendly waves!

Mfuwe seems to be a long, thin village lining the road. We past numerous stores, business and homes. Some of the stores were made simply with what I now know is elephant grass. Others were brick and plastered small buildings.

I did not have my camera out the evening we arrived, but I suspect the light level was so low that photos would not have been great. But when we left the Luangwa River Lodge and drove through Mfue again, I was ready with my camera.

The morning we left Mfuwe the roads were not as crowded with people as the evening when we came in, but this will give you an idea of what you see as you drive through the Mfuwe area: people walking along the side of the road and riding their bicycles. Bicycles are a major form of transportation here and it is common to see people riding on the back or in front of the one peddling the bicycle.

This worker is taking these vegetables to market. Strangely enough these vegetable greens are called "rape" and seem to be part of the broccoli family. They are cooked and served as one of the side dishes.

The women still carry things on the top of their heads. I don't think I could ever learn to balance something like this and still walk. They have to have strong neck muscles as well to carry things on their heads.

There are many kinds of homes in Mfuwe. Some are simple huts made from elephant grass. I suspect if we entered a time machine and travelled back hundreds of years, these houses would look very similar. Note the fresh thatching materials on the right. The thatch must be replaced regularly to stay water tight.

This home is built of brick (probably from those termite mounds). I believe that the new looking thatch structure is their outdoor kitchen. Zambians do their cooking outside over open fires. The rainy season is coming and this will shelter the cooks from the rain as they prepare their meals.

This was one of the nicer homes in Mfuwe - notice the metal roof and the potted plants on the porch.

There were several areas of "market places" along the way. We did not have a lot of time and I was not planning to bring back a lot of souvenirs. Plus I did not have any experience at the time with the bargaining. I wish now I had taken time at some of the vendors along the way. While some had touristy merchandise, most were the stores where people bought what they needed. Notice the use of the natural construction materials.

The local equivalent of our department stores -

There were booths for vegetables and fruits. And I even saw a furniture maker.

But all of the merchandise probably has to be put away at night and taken home to be redisplayed the next morning.

This was one of the larger stores - a grocery store. There were quite a few - some that I suspect were banks. I wish I'd had Linda with me to explore the shopping at Mfuwe. She knew her way around Kolomo. I know that there are lodges around Luangwa where you can do your own cooking. I'd be more comfortable now going to market and shopping after shopping in Kolomo with Linda. On the other hand, it was very nice to be able to enjoy the wildlife watching and photography without having to cook each meal. Plus, the food at our lodge was excellent.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Story worth reading

I read the blog of David and Linda Gregersen regularly. Since we have been there I can visualize their blogs much better.

Today they had a news story from MNBC, "Hope, Loss, and Bicycles in Zambia," that is worth passing on. In their work in Zambia, this story is repeated over and over. Namwianga also gives out bicycles to young evangelists that go from village to village.

While the little help we can send may seem just like very small drops in a very big bucket . . . if you put enough drops in a bucket, it does eventually fill up.

Somalia in the News

I have a routine in the mornings - I get up, check my email, check a couple of photo competition sites, and read the news on My Yahoo. One of the top headlines today was:"Mogadishu violence displaces 88,000 people". To put that in perspective, the city of Round Rock Texas has roughly 61,000 people. So imagine the entire city of Round Rock displaced and homeless. Natural disasters like floods, tornadoes and even hurricanes only displace a few people in comparison.

When we went to Africa, we realized how out of date and ignorant we are about African geography, news and politics. We live in a very big world and it is hard to know and understand what goes on in places so very far away. It is unlikely that I will ever be an "expert" on Africa. And sometimes, the news is tragic with seemingly unresolvable problems. But now, I have more incentive to read and understand the news about African countries.

One of the people we met at one of our safari camps was a lady who had just travelled through Zimbabwe on a special train (perhaps the Shongololo tour. ) She asked why people were not sending more aid to help the desperate people there. I don't have a great answer to that question, but the story of our attempts to help Somalia back in the 1990's is certainly part of that answer.

As I read the news story above and followed links about Somalia from Google, I was amazed that Somalia has been in turmoil since 1991 - that is 16 years! It sounds as though the northern part of Somalia (the former British colony area) is trying to form its own country and is relatively stable. It also sounds like it would be safe to visit there. But the area around the capitol in the southern part of Somalia is filled with violence. Since the early 1990's a large number of Somalis left their homeland creating one of the largest diasporas in Africa. While some fled to neighboring countries, most are now living in Northern Europe, the Middle East and North America. But what makes this a major problem is that the ones that left were the most educated and had more resources to be able to leave. Poverty and ignorance leave people with feelings of hopelessness. The climate in Somalia has periodic droughts that lead to starvation that has to be made worse by the political instablities.

The saddest thing about the news article I read this morning was that the situation in Mogadishu is so unstable and unsafe that the world's major relief organizations are unable to provide aid for the suffering people there.

Living in the United States, it is hard to understand or comprehend the situation in Somalia. We live in a country that while we have differences in ethnicity and political opinion, we are also united by being Americans. We have learned to live in a diverse society where tolerance is a necessary skill. (Yes, sometimes we are too tolerant, but that's another blog.) In many African countries, there are many tribes or clans. Loyalty is more to the tribe or clan than to the country. Ancient rivalries are still very real. Religious differences divide people. While at one time, Somalia had a Christian presence, the Christian schools were closed and the missionaries sent home in the early 1970's.

Back to the question why don't we do more to help these people, it is very hard for the average American to visualize the magnitude of the problems in countries so far away. Under the Clinton Administration we sent the Army to provide food and supplies and to help the people of Somalia. (US Army's humanitarian efforts 1992-1994 ) Americans don't understand why people would hurt and humiliate people who are trying to help them. Many Christian organizations would be willing to help, but because Somalia is primarily Muslim, they are not welcome. My reply to that lady was that even when we are trying to be helpful, people hate Americans. Our motives are always considered suspect. We are often seen as "busy bodies" even when we are trying to help. Most Americans do not want us to be the world's policemen. We do not have the resources to do that.

How can the peoples of the world bring peace to the suffering people in Somalia? What will it take to bring a stable government to this struggling country? I certainly don't have any answers. But when people are suffering to that extent somewhere in the world, it diminishes all of us. I believe it will take a lot of people doing "little things" to eventually make a difference in this war torn place.

For today, all I can do is to create this blog in hopes of bringing this situation into people's hearts and minds. But more importantly, I can pray that God will bring about the change in heart so these people can learn to live in peace with one another.

For more background information about Somalia:

The BBC Somalia page

The CIA Somalia Information Page