Exposures


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Top Experiences List

Text and Images by Dick Simon

Most of the writings about our experiences have been from Patty, who has been GREAT at being prolific and sharing.  I have been busily photographing, and those images are used in conjunction with her writings throughout the blog.

I love to reflect back on a trip or experience by thinking about the Top Experiences.

For me the overall best was spending the special times with Alex, Ben and Patty in Africa, and Patty throughout this journey (and sharing all of this with her, including helping with her collecting discarded bottle cap project).

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In terms of specifics, my highlights would include:

JP sharing his deeply personal genocide experiences, and helping us imagine the unimaginable.  In Kibuye, Rwanda we walked through the market in his village, realizing that many of the ‘nice’ merchants has been directly involved in slaughtering their friends and family; and seeing his home and the houses of the neighbors still living there, who had murdered his family. This surrealistic scene also hit me at a soccer game the first night in Kigali – ‘normal’ people cheering their teams – how did they become mass murderers?

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Gorillas – Being face to face with these massive ‘cousins’ in the wild in Rwanda is definitely a top life experience.

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Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India– Being in the midst of millions of Pilgrims coming from all over India, and thousands of Sadhus, or wise men, the first night photographing everybody walking around in a cloud of DDT, the 2am bathing day wanderings with the Sagers and being swarmed by hundreds of naked, ash covered Nagas racing in a stoned frenzy to the river.

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Ulagalla Resort – The ultimate Peace Dividend in Sri Lanka –developed immediately after the war, the only Sri Lankan hotel included in a TripAdvisor Top Ten list, and for us coming at the perfect time when we needed a break. We took walks, did bicycle explorations, watched fisherman at sunset and took a morning kayak to see and photograph birds, and spent 3 days of eating our Anniversary cake, which we first got at a magical anniversary dinner on their Observation Deck.

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Spending time with the Maharana of Udaipur, India in his amazing palace to brainstorm ways of working together to improve lives in that region of Rajasthan, which his family has been Custodian of the region through over 70 generations and 1400 years.

Really joining celebrations – There is something about being a foreigner with a camera which I experience as license to be in the middle of everything going on, rather than a well behaved bystander – being the only white face in the Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year) parade and celebration in Cape Town, and being invited to climb onto the parade floats with the most esteemed Hindu Sadhus at the Kumbh Mela procession (our guide said people did good deeds for a lifetime to achieve that honor – ignorance is bliss!)

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In greater Kruger National Park, South Africa – coming upon a pride of resting lions at night, who gave blood curdling roars.  (I know that for some inexplicable reason we were ‘safe’ from these apex predators in our open sided jeep, but really…)

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The slow pace of traveling by houseboat in the Backwaters of Kerala.

Mumbai-with its overall intensity and contrasts, from arriving to Suki’s Protocol Officer and a sumptuous dinner in his amazing home and another with YPOers leading many of India’s major companies, to touring the slums and largest open laundry in the world, and the magnificent Hotel Oberoi as our oasis from the frenzy.

In Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, heart of Tamil Tigers during the war, befriending the officer sent to check out and potentially punish us for taking photos.  Once he became convinced we were not with an NGO there to embarrass the government, we became buddies and I took our picture together!

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Watching groups of monkeys diving from the trees into the lake at Cinnamon Lodge – I never knew they could swim!

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YPO SEN Summit in Chennai and the synchronicity of the timing working out perfectly to participate with this fantastic group of business leaders and social entrepreneurs.

In a more general sense,

I love the serendipitous encounters made possible by creating space and time in travels – fisherman, watching crocodile in the ocean, happening upon the Tsunami photographic museum in Sri Lanka.

I love how photography gives me purpose and connection to what is going on around me, and really helps me ‘see’.  While I am not fond of long days in the car getting from point A to Point B, Patty has helped me see that as a movie unfolding outside our vehicle, and I have been working on a Through the Windshield photo project.

I love the fascinating people we randomly met, including Japanese photographer Dan Honda who taught me the good thing about Leica’s ‘unusefulness’ and reminded me to take long walks and shoot closer.

I love the continual learning about the world and about complexities – Does post-conflict really exist? Is the conflict over with ongoing random killings of Tutsis (Rwanda), racial strife (South Africa) and soldiers (Sri Lanka)? What was and is India’s involvement in the Sri Lanka conflict?

I love the flow of travel – multiple experiences constantly juxtaposed on each other, with a pace, intensity and stimulation on all dimensions which I rarely experience in other environments.

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Leaving Rwanda – well, almost

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
Rwanda

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I woke up this morning sad to leave Rwanda. Sad for many reasons. I have been reading Philip Gourevitch’s book about the genocide. In it was yet another horrific description of barbaric behavior – using machetes the “genocedaires” would chop off each foot, each arm just to watch the suffering of the Tutsi. Think about Dian Fossey’s favorite gorilla named “Digit”. He suffered the exact same fate from the poachers. I put that fact together as I was laying in bed. I believe the gorillas have fared well with its $18 million revenue brought in by 25,000 visitors each year. I wonder if the Tutsi’s have done as well. I believe they have because of Kagame’s leadership and pragmatism. I read that Kagame was a Rwandan refugee in Uganda since the age of four so his wish was a sense of belonging for every person in Rwanda.

So my sadness around the genocide will always be a part of me. Today we visited JP’s family where I learned that his wife went back to her hometown to be with her parents only to have them murdered. She ran and hid in the forest for months. These families all carry so much loss… too much sadness hangs in the air like the mists hanging around the volcanoes.

I am sad to leave this landscape and its people. Ah, the countryside. Everyone is outside. Everyone is going somewhere. Everyone is carrying something – a baby on their back, a load of firewood on a child’s head, a mattress, a sack of potatoes, a plastic bowl of pineapples, a yellow water jug, and a hoe balanced just so. Most walk for hours long distances and others who have a source of income bicycle, take a motorcycle taxi or public buses. The men shake hands and the women shyly smile. The country is spotless because two years ago they banned plastic bags. Now they just need to work on car pollution. The politeness is impeccable. The “muzungu” (white person) curiosity everywhere. There is a mix of blue jeans and kanga cloth.

Rwanda is a tiny jewel of Africa with great leadership. If the hate can disappear then it will have a bright future.

I must end with another quote by JP, “My generation has to die of old age before we can be rid of the memories of murder.”

Oh, “the almost”? We made a huge mistake not confirming our flights. As punishment, we get to airport only to find out the flight doesn’t exist. The next flight is tonight at 1 am! Ugh! But we had a great day!

 


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Learning About The Genocide

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon
Rwanda

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“How can I ever Forgive? Really, it is absurd and anyone who says they can forgive is not being truthful to himself!” said by our guide and now friend, JP, after spending many days with him visiting the place he was shot, hid for almost 3 months, where his father was murdered, where they found his bones, the house the rest of his family died in, the church in town where 11,000 were killed with the blessing of the priest and the group grave where we paid our respects.

I just finished reading “Running the Rift” by Naomi Benaron – a novel that depicts this period of history. We had dinner with the director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Center and I was able to fact check what I was reading and found it was true down to every detail. I am now reading “We wish to inform you that Tomorrow we will be Killed with our Families” by Philip Gourevitch.

As I drive through the countryside or go to a market, I wonder “who did what?” I imagine myself driving at night and being pulled over by my neighbors and friends – the very people I knew all my life and suddenly feeling the machete. Death! Instant… Wiping out my ‘belonging’ to this very country I thought I was a part of. I became a “cockroach” – a hated creature to be slaughtered.

I view myself as someone who can relate to suffering and offer understanding and support. In this country I have met my match! I have asked a thousand whys??? I keep reading about the history, the reasons written, and just like the Holocaust, I cannot relate to the horrific, senseless, violent, overwhelming action of genocide… a systematic plan to kill a “group” of men, women, and children. I told JP it is just too BIG- unthinkable. A human being is not made to process that much death, that much trauma, that much loss, so quickly.

And, so, as optimistic as a I am, as much as I believe in my own Project – “You are Loved – Pass It On”, how can I look JP in his eyes and not agree with him. This kind of murder with intent and ignorance seems unforgivable.

Life does go on! JP says, “I cannot put this aside, I must carry the loss and sorrow always with me… If I see my father’s murderer in the street and he greets me, I simply tell him to go away. I am not your friend or forgiver. Stay away from me as I might hurt you. I do not want to be a killer like you. I have my future and my wife and children.”

All of this talk of the genocide is the unspoken underbelly of the country. President Kagame has outlawed the distinguishing of Hutu and Tutsi and people do not speak of 1994. That is why it was so wonderful to have the opportunity to learn from JP. Rwandans are moving on with “living” – building, educating, and developing. Kigali is clean and modern and bustling!