Thursday, June 4, 2009

if i ever leave this world alive

earlier this year i spent three weeks in uganda. i volunteered with 'water for people' in an effort to bring safe drinking water and effective sanitation practices to all people of the world.

i was not there to take photographs... but of course i did. many people have been asking where are the images that i took while i was in uganda... well, they are all right here on my computer. it was such an amazing experience that i have had no idea where to start... and i'm not convinced that i will be able to do my experience justice.

i decided to start with one of the moments that i come back to often...

after finishing my field work for the day, i was waiting for some other teams. i was watching these kids across the street watch us. i'd had a chance to interact with many children during the previous days and they always seemed to find my camera a bit frightening at first until i smiled and showed them the screen where the image of them appeared- they always responded with a huge smile and a look that reminded even me of how insane technology is.

as i crossed the street, the kids initially stepped back, but i gestured for them to come look at the screen and they did. all of a sudden i had a bunch of new friends. they all sat on the bench for me and smiled while i took their photos and continued to show them the results...

they kept smiling and lining up to have their photo taken to see the results. they didn't understand english, but we were able to communicate beautifully...

the villages that i spent my time in were very poor. they did not have power, most did not have clean water to drink and they certainly did not have many physical possessions. you can imagine how ridiculous something like my camera would appear to these children.

i decided to let them take some pictures. i could sense that they were scared, as if they respected my camera so much and didn't trust themselves to hold it, but i encouraged them... it was so fulfilling to see how excited and careful they were while trying out my camera. i wanted to capture that excitement so i asked my friend to let them use his camera so i could capture their curiosity.

here are two of my favorite pictures that they captured.

i thought it was time to leave so i said goodbye and headed back across the street until i realized we were still waiting for other teams to return. 

i left my camera behind and i headed back across the street...

they were singing a song and as they realized i was coming back over they stopped singing. i motioned for them to keep singing. with huge smiles, they finished their song for me. i then shared a song that i knew. i sat down indian style and motioned for them to come sit by me. i had one of the little girls sit facing me and i taught the group 'miss mary mack'... the old hand clapping game from growing up. they could not get enough of it. after trying over and over, one of the girls was able to make it all the way to the end. i must have sang it at least 30 times...

i've been blessed with many poetic moments in my life and i could write a book based solely on this one. im not convinced that my words have effectively conveyed what i felt sitting there with my new friends as they hung all over me, waiting for their opportunity to play the new game i was teaching them... and i'm not convinced that it is for the world to know. but i am convinced that you could have left me there, singing that song over and over... and i'd still be smiling.

sometimes as a photographer, you have to put down your camera so you can be in the moment... and trust your heart take its own pictures.


  1. What an amazing story, and a great cause.. Lovely images, too! Thanks for sharing!

  2. You are such a gifted young woman..You touched so many lives and they also touch yours...priceless....

  3. that is a beautiful beautiful story.

  4. What a great story! I have butterflies. I love how children are alway children no matter what culture. I love that you communicated without words.

  5. beautiful imagery, was this a personal project? I'm about to graduate from Hallmark and I've always wanted to document Uganda. Were you able to fund the trip yourself?

  6. Wow Michelle. These are really beautiful... thanks for sharing them on your blog! What an amazing experience!