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  • Rebecca J. Hopp

It was the best of times..it was the worst of times...


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Its been a crazy few days of ups and downs. Friday, capped off our week. The students and reviewed our family discussions and began planning for self portraits. They were instructed to dress in their best and bring something precious or cultural with them to be photographed. We also practiced posing and how they wanted to stand/posture in the photo. On Monday, we photographed their portraits. We capped off the day by doing really fun shadow portraits. I enjoyed having some time to be silly and creative in the scorching sun with the students!

Though these things were fun, one of my brightest students wasn't having a great day. I couldn't ever really make out what she was sad about, the language barrier is challenging. I did hear that she was upset about her grandfather. I'm not sure if she was missing him or if he had gotten sick. Regardless, it broke my heart to see her cry and so upset. For being so young these students, have seen a lot, they and their family have had many many challenges in their home countries and here in Kakuma. It was very hard for me to not be able to do anything but give her a hug.

After class, Sam took us to town- a Turkana village. The people here are dressed in beautiful fabrics, the women with tall strands of beads climbing their necks and the men in fashionable fishing type hats and fabric around their waists. They do not like being photographed sadly, as they are so beautiful. We went to the market where we bought hats, fabrics- with sayings- one says "your momma will always be your momma" the other something to the fact that you can't eat because your neighbors cat is staring at you. AHH! I love it! We were also able to watch a camel being broke/tamed in the auction site of the town, try some new foods, and enjoy an walk with friends. It was a beautiful evening.

We walked back to the camp from the village, I enjoyed the view over the bridge of the dried up river bed and watching people stroll by. People watching maybe my new favorite thing here, as each person is either so interestingly dressed, has unique features, or seems to carry a story with them. That evening we enjoyed some fried and grilled goat and fries at the Bullseye bar with Film Aid Staff and other visiting workshop folks.

Bright and early the next morning we packed up and headed to Lake Turkana. We were told we were leaving at 6:15 and left at 9- so is everything here. In fact my class started at 9am and I am still waiting for a car to arrive to take me and it is almost ten. Schedules are not a thing here, I'm trying to adjust my American mentality-- its difficult! Back to the trip, a large group of us traveled north to the lake. The roads are basically non existent or are so washed out that there is no asphalt. It was the bumpiest ride I have ever been on, yet so beautiful- camels, huts, villagers along the road. We even stopped at a village to pick up dinner - a goat who we fondly named King Ralph our pet dinner. This stop was wonderful to see what the Turkana life was like living in their grass and misc made huts with goats to tend to, a lady even let me touch her beads which were all melded together and we posed for a photo. Meanwhile we loaded Ralph into the back of our truck. The 2 hour drive we were told took a mere 6 as our caravan jumbled down the road.

Our next stop was Lodwar, we stopped at the grocery store (one of my favorite things to do while traveling) and also the bank. Then we headed to a Turkana festival where people were all dressed up in their tribal attire, it was a brief stop but great to see all the unique looks.

Our drive there may have taken a long time, but the views were quite amazing and honestly the company was even better, our driver William had a good mix of music from Kenny Rodger to Ace of Base- yes! And there was no shortage of jokes about our dinner in the back of the truck. "The road is so bumpy we are tenderizing Ralph." "Do you think there are food trucks at the festival? No we are the food truck!" We encountered a cow at the grocery store and yelled "grab him by the legs and throw him in the back of the truck! more food!" and so on... I swear I haven't laughed that hard for that long. It was a blast.

We arrived at the beach around 5 or 6pm and it was beautiful there, breezy, it was exactly like being at the ocean except it was actually just a lake! Our rooms on the beach were open air grass huts. We swam and relaxed on the beach, photographed, and danced! The Film Aid folks brought big speakers and a dance party was had on the beach, even the local teenagers showed up in droves to dance! It was a fun night despite a marriage proposal, apparently I look too young to already be married, and I should just marry a Kenyan! Perpetual said I just need to tell these guys I am worth 500 cows and that will end the conversation! hah!

The service at this place was less than wonderful, but it made up for it in beauty and friendships. I was able to spend time talking with Evalyn who is a Film Aid Staff we had lots in common and she is a very sweet person. I hope to spend a bit more time with her before I go! I also made several little friends on the beach- I met a crew of 9 or so year olds who I photographed and then they spent a good 30 mins doing summer saults for me as I took images! Until a security guard chased them away. I also danced with some little girls on the beach. The kids here are very sweet and curious. Some are very sweet and others have been trained to simply think that if you are white you are rich so they need to ask you for money. Again, cultural differences.

After a few hours of baking in the sun (why did I only bring a small tube of sunscreen?), it was time to hit the road, but one of our vehicles broke down so it had to be towed by another one of our vehicles. It made our 2 hour drive to Lodwar much much longer- imagine driving on a bumpy beach for 2 plus hours! We finally made it back to Lodwar and another vehicle broke down- it was quite confusing because we weren't being told anything. We were stuck in Lodwar for several hours before the now 2 vehicles could be fixed we had to all go together so that security could tail our caravan. By security I mean two guys with machine guns- seriously. Apparently the road from Lodwar to Kakuma is known for bandits.

After several hours we were able to leave, it now being dark, we were again traveling on a very bad full of potholes road. Anyone remember that I get motion sickness quickly! Yep..worst of times. I had to basically do lamaze the entire way back- dramamine and my bracelet thingys did no good. At night it is much worse for me because the darkness limits my vision. Put on my sunglasses and tried to sleep, but just had to keep breathing. I made it a good distance but finally had to stop twice to throw up- I have good timing I guess as I found out the two times I needed to stop were in the most dangerous of places. Thank God for machine guns! Luckily nothing happened but my upset stomach. Once we arrived back I got sick again and just went straight to bed- the middle of the trip was amazing but not the bread of the sandwich!

Monday was another day of class, the students and shot their portraits! I was shocked to see how beautiful they turned out- I love that given little instruction such wonderful results can occur and such interesting compositions as well! They are all such beautiful people inside and out! Many dressed very well and wore special necklaces, traditional garland, or brought the flag of their country. They didn't have many objects to bring but they each created special portraits. I'm looking forward to working on the writing piece of the project when I return. I haven't had time to type out all they have written but I know it will add much depth to the images they have created.

The remainder of the day and most of today- I sat with each student and went over their photos- so interesting. The things they pointed out, are so easily overlooked. I just see people walking, but they informed me these people are going to get their rations, or they are gathering to play games or watch. To the types of food they are making and problems with trash and disease. I wish I had more words in their language to speak to them and encourage them in what they are seeing and doing. I only hope I am making a dent in their world!

I set them off this afternoon to begin thinking about their dreams, I'm learning now after a week how to reach them better and get them to speak up or to work together- if only I had all this knowledge when I started! But thats part of the process. When I had them work on the videos without me they were much more candid and even helped to translate for each other! Group work is the key so tomorrow they will be working with the adults. To talk about dreams, issues of the camp, and their lives. I hope that the adult photographers will have a great impact on them. I'm excited to learn that all of the adult photographers want to train to be LTP teachers! It will amazing to have 10+ LTP teachers on the ground to keep encouraging and finding new students to work alongside.

Moral of this story.. life is a rollercoaster sometimes the fun things also make you sick and the that are uncomfortable make you learn and grow. :) Still working toward my goal! Thanks for supporting me!

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​© 2014 Rebecca J. Hopp Photography & Design

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© 2015 Rebecca J. Hopp.  All images and video content are strictly copyright. All Rights Reserved.