Nairobi Kenya KevJumba School Photo©Suzi Altman
Africa a photographer’s journey from typhoid poisoning to a Big learning experience and life changing one too.. and my first blog… I have never blogged before ..so be patient with me and gentle….I learn as i go and feel free to give feedback. Grateful to be here and able to share. I did not know if i should share all this or not..many people have no idea how sick i was or what i went thru…and the few that do I am grateful to them and owe my life to. words can not express the gratitude I have for a few kind souls that helped me while in Africa. one was Elijah , my driver, recommended by Ami Vitale, priceless . The other, Joseph, a son in law to a friend of a friend in Mississippi, I never meet before I needed his help when I had to go to the Nairobi Hospital….Joseph meet me there, and made sure they did not keep me! and Stephen from the Nairobi NGO, THE SUPPLY. and i would not be here to blog this without my partner Nancy Anne’s endless support. How it started..a seed was planted…while in NYC late in October 2013 at the photo expo to hear some of my heroes speak. One in particular is Ami Vitale a world renowned National Geographic Photographer and a Nikon Ambassador. And I am honored to call her a friend, we worked together many years ago in NYC at The Associated Press early in our careers. I have been following her amazing journey for over decade, and often find inspiration in her work, ok to be honest i am sometime sooo jealous of her also and all the amazing places she has visited and captured with her amazing eye and camera. ( I can learn a lot from her) I dreamt of going to Africa since I was a child. I should have been more specific…Well be careful what you ask for I got to go but I also almost died from what my DOCTOR gave me….the oral (live virus) typhoid vaccine BAD reaction with methotrexate my RA (rheumatoid arthritis ) medication i have been on for two years. BUT I HAD NO IDEA THIS WAS THE CAUSE OF MY ILLNESS UNTIL I RETURNED TO THE USA AND WAS ADMITTED TO THE HOSPITAL..after visiting the hospital in Nairobi a few days earlier. This is a work in progress. You are wondering how did all this happen..its kinda hard to tell and follow…but i am gonna try and hope i get better at this the more i do it. It all started October 27th 2013 NYC Photo Expo..After watching and listening to Ami Vitale’s presentation at the Nikon stage, I finally got to talk with her we had not seen each other in 10 years,(been keeping up online) ….and then after speaking with Ami i meet someone new (red flag)…who would invite me to be guest photographer at a workshop in Nairobi Kenya Jan. 2014… I said yes before i had all the details…(RED FLAG number two) the premise was a good one, unfortunately the NGO that asked me to be a guest photographer to teach teens self identity and community identity with the aide of a camera was very “new”. (red flag) I liked the idea…The concept is if you teach someone to have pride in themselves and their community then they are more likely to stay in school, and continue their education, and have a ripple effect on the community they live in and then the world. Unfortunately the non profit that asked me to be the guest photog as i said is “new”…Fortunately they partnered with an already existing , established NGO in Kenya that built this school right outside a slum about 10 mile from downtown Nairobi. how it all unfolded…..so after the expo in nyc i was asked early november 2013 to go to kenya to teach jan 16-27, 2014.. How i got there…Mississippi to NYC , to meet the folks i was gonna work with in Kenya. dinner before departure was weird,(red flag number 4?) Then I flew out to Kenya alone Jan. 16th, 2014. arriving in the afternoon of jan 17th 2014 in Nairobi. I planned additional things to photograph after the workshop while in Kenya, including.. a visit to the Maasai Association which included a women’s cultural heritage center and hand made goods market and a school, and then meetings with the CNN hero who opened an all girls school to help prevent female gentile mutilation and other meetings with the Kenya Market Trust. and then on to the Lewa Nature Conservancy. it took weeks of all nighters and dozens of emails to set all this up, a lot of hard work on short notice. spent many hours researching I was asked to be a guest in November and went in January. planned to stay jan 16 thru feb 7th. 2014. i did not get to do any of this………. what really happened. You have to get vaccinated before you can go to Africa..so I went to see an Infectious Disease Specialist Doctor…got all my shots and one vaccine in pill form-typhoid..instructed to take one week before travel..and so i did. I was immediately sick…yet next day took pill number two out of 4 and called my doctor. He said STOP taking pills and come in immediately you are having a BAD reaction so I trotted off to his office and he gave me the typhoid shot and some antibiotics and sent me on my way. NO further instructions or warnings….off i went to NYC then to dubai to change planes then on to africa.Alone. to meet the other 4 there. well again what real happened once I arrived in Africa was not what was planned. I was alone and supposed to meet the group the day after i arrived across town( out of the way) at a different hotel. when i arrived at scheduled time, they were not there and not only that there were no instructions or note left for me….the journey begins..communications were a BIG issue, the folks I were to meet, the director of the NGO , had no working cell phone.(RED FLAG) and NO real plan of action for the workshop and guest photographer (me). I waited over 3 hours for their return and they did not…this is the day before the workshop was to begin…and still i have not heard from the “group” i am to work with….. So I return to my other hotel and plan on staying there the entire time, better accommodations…BIG Time. (cost more, need to have my own driver now to get to and from school , all out of pocket expenses (mine!) So i arrange to keep Elijah my driver for the next ten days and we go looking for the school….another adventure….BY this time I am already not feeling well and getting frustrated with the folks I am to work with….Yet I carry on with the best attitude and all the confidence i can muster.. I returned to the USA , Texas Jan 28 ..after having left nairobi on the 27th, throwing up all the way to dubai. the flight attendants were so nice and worried about me, that an ambulance was called to meet me on the tarmac in Dubai , it was the middle of the night, just landed from 6 hour flight, ..and needed to make next connection from dubai to texas another 16hour flight . BUT before i could board the long flight to the States where my girlfriend nancy anne was frantically working her magic to get me home, to mississippi.. i needed to get out of the ambulance and cleared by a Dubian doctor to fly I had a five hour lay over and spent the entire time in the Dubai Airport hospital …. I was instructed i needed a piece of paper stamped by the “doctor” stating I am ok to continue my journey..very interesting process..ohh did i mention i am alone, with a huge backpack of photo gear and another carry on, Very sick, and do not speak the language….and puking. can’t hold down solid food in 3 days and only on liquids….Flying Emirates Airlines…after hanging out in the dubai airport hospital i got wheeled in a wheel chair up to the front door of my plane minutes before it was to leave and placed in a first class “box”…i was stunned. upgraded to first class felt like quarantine …so sick i could not enjoy the experience could only manage to steal all the freebies for nancy anne….the entire 16hr. flight pilots, flight staff were so worried the would have to “divert the plane” cause i was so sick….We made it to Dallas.. Having gone thru the most traumatic health scare of my life and thinking i was gonna die in Nairobi, alone, it makes ya think once you have some time to recover and process. Photography and my camera have always been my savior. A tool to express myself and the world around me. I have been drawn to cultural heritage, documentary and people, real stories and making a difference with my images and my work, and now I am changing again growing in other directions. I am stronger than i thought , smarter than i knew and followed my intuition. it’s built in for a reason and it guided me thru the worst experience of my life back to HOME. where i knew i could get the help i needed.
this was the short version more details to follow of time in Africa and how i got home…and working on gaining my strength back and health so I can go Back to Africa!
what ‘s coming n next installments: my actual time in africa A day in Nairobi Hospital
A few days at the photo workshop, with a trip to the Lenana slum and
an hour with the elephants
The changes in me and the Future