Objects we ardently pursue bring little happiness when gained; most of our pleasures come from unexpected sources. – Herbert Spencer
Two or three months ago, I learned that I was going to be spending some time in the Sahara Desert of West Africa. I received a comprehensive list of items to take with me in preparation. I performed due diligence and carefully prepared for my journey. There was the obvious…sunscreen, insect repellent, hat, mosquito netting, etc. There was also the not so obvious…shower curtains, crocs, lanterns, etc. Clearly this was going to be an unconventional trip.
Therefore, I made the decision to depart on my trip partially naked…yes, you guessed it…without my camera. The way I figured it, I would be very limited in my ability to travel once in country so photographic opportunities would surely be limited and the impact of the sand and dust on my camera and lens could be quite damaging. As a result, the only photographic equipment in hand was my iPhone. I accepted that this may be the first trip in ten years that I would not file a blog posting.
And while I was prepared for the demands of the environment, the duration of the trip and the work, it was the unexpected that made the experience memorable. Herbert Spencer, in the quote above, had it right when he said, “…most of our pleasures come from unexpected sources. ” Many nights, I stared into the crystal clear, star-filled sky in pure amazement. The last time I remember a sky so filled with sparkling stars and planets was when Randy Bourne and I laid on our backs in his front yard in the early morning darkness and watched for falling stars streaking across the starry, starry night while we waited for the truck to deliver papers for his morning paper route. Come to think of it, the unexpected pleasure in those days was that fantastic hot cocoa Randy would make with his special recipe that I could never duplicate. Anyway, all of a sudden, the photographic opportunities were everywhere…to include multiple planets in a row, full moons, full eclipsed moons, the Milky Way and on and on. If I had any range of motion left, I would kick myself for leaving my camera at home. There was an African air of unexpectations.
One thing I unexpected was the haboob…a huge, overwhelming, billowy, wave of dust that turned day into night or at least into a Mars-like world of blinding redness. Looking up at the “Red Planet” on a clear night, it didn’t take much imagination to consider what it must look like on the Martian surface after experiencing a couple of Saharan haboobs. A white man in a tent during a red dust haboob, listening to the rhythmic popping of the tent walls reminded me of listening to a Blue Man Group CD in full 4D mode. Suddenly, I was feeling very patriotic. Vulnerability is the word that comes to mind as the walls around you are popping in and out in full surround sound. You just hoped the tune those walls were drumming was not, Wipe Out.
Critters created a whole new unexpected level of photographic opportunity. Looking back now, what was I thinking not bringing my camera. There were the camel spiders, the different types of scorpions, the sand vipers and the crazy lizards with yellow heads and yellow tails, all unexpected and practically waiting for that kodachrome moment. I think Paul Simon was on to something…
Kodachrome They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away
In this case, I took my Kodachrome away and left this boy so far from home.
There were so many unexpected photo ops…the hour long conversation with one of the country’s highest ranking individuals during an Independence Day feast…the handball game with local citizens…planting mango trees and other assorted trees during a service project…a bizarre local bizarre, visits from several VIPs, just to name a few. I guess the old Chaplain back in Texas was right when he told me, “If you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.”
The African air was filled with unexpectations. You might get a blistering hot day with a baby blue cloudless sky or you might get air filled with red dust or you might get a clear, star-filled sky with multiple planets visible or you might get one of the most beautiful sunsets you have ever seen or you might get a sky with no moon due to a lunar eclipse or you might get a bird’s eye view of the local city or you might get a sky filled with an electrical light show, or you might experience a sky crying its torrential tears followed by another blue sky.
One thing is for sure and for certain…my next trip will include my camera and an imagination filled with great unexpectations – a lesson learned in the African air.
Until next time…take care. It feels good talking with you again, it’s been a while.