It didn’t become real until I walked outside the Dubai International Airport for the first time. I was hit with an oppressive combination of heat and humidity, the first tangible sensation I’d yet felt that told me that I was far from home. For the first time, I was in the middle east, and one day from flying into Entebbe, Uganda.
So, how the hell did I go from living in paradise in southwestern Costa Rica to the suffocating summer heat of Dubai, and eventually to the bustling, dusty streets of Iganga, Uganda? It began before I moved to Costa Rica earlier this year, while I was back in Tennessee with family, feeling pretty stuck. I’d been back in the U.S. for nearly five months after leaving Costa Rica by this point, which to me felt like an enormous chasm of time and space. And not just in my surroundings, but in myself as well. The eight months I had spent working in the Costa Rican jungle had been a watershed moment for me. I tapped into a part of myself that had long been laying dormant, the part of myself that was resilient and adaptive, and deeply interested in the world around me. But at this point, five months later, I could still remember who I was while living and working on the Osa Peninsula, but the person I was now was someone else entirely. I was plagued by self-doubt and indecision. And to complicate matters, my girlfriend and I, whom I had met while living in Costa Rica the year before, had decided to call it quits after months of trying to sustain a long-distance relationship. This was actually quite a relief for me, but the months prior, in which I was operating under the assumption that I would be moving to Washington D.C. to be near her, had dominated my plans entirely, obfuscating my vision for what Iwanted to do. Now, I was starting from scratch. That’s how I would eventually end up back in Costa Rica. But, before that happened, I was in Tennessee feeling frustrated, scouring the internet for opportunities to escape.
That’s how I first discovered the organization Photographers Without Borders (PWB). I don’t remember exactly what I typed into Google, but it was probably something like, photographer work abroad, as inventive as that sounds. Never the less, I stumbled across their website. PWB’s site described themselves as working with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) from around the globe, matching these organizations with talented photographers and videographers. The selected photographer would then be flown out to spend two or three weeks living with and shadowing the organization’s personnel, documenting photographically the work they were doing. The photographs would be used by the partner NGO for publicity and Photographers Without Borders would publish the photos in a number of print and online outlets as well.
Though unpaid, this seemed right up my alley. I was desperate for any opportunity to get out of Tennessee, but more so, it seemed like a great way to further establish myself as a photojournalist working abroad. Looking through their list of partner NGO’s, I saw locations like Thailand, Guatemala, and Uganda, amongst others. Without needing to know much more than that, I submitted my portfolio for their review.
It wasn’t more than a week later that I received a reply. I was told they loved my work and wanted to speak with me about pairing me with a project. As the next few weeks played out, I had several discussions with the staff at PWB, and multiple projects were proposed for me to choose from. Amongst the projects they proposed was the one in Uganda, working with a NGO called The Uganda Village Project. This organization works with rural Ugandan villages by providing healthcare options, clean drinking water, malaria prevention, HIV prevention and education, and treating women suffering from obstetric fistula, a debilitating injury caused by complications during child birth. The organization is sanctioned by the Ugandan government, and its staffing consists of public health and medical interns from Uganda and the U.S.
Maybe the idea wasn’t entirely my own, but never the less, I already had it in my head at the time that I needed to get to Africa somehow. And so I chose Uganda.
Now, seven months later, I am sitting aboard an airplane en route from Dubai to Entebbe. Already, I feel excited and happy to be here, despite the enormity of the distance needed to be covered to make it there. This is my third flight. Yesterday, I flew from Nashville to Ft. Lauderdale, a normal jump off for making it to Costa Rica. But, this time, instead of heading south to Central America, I was going 8,000 miles east.
Today, in comparison with I where was at the end of last year, I feel confident and more like myself again, and I know I have Costa Rica to thank for that… again. Having spent the majority of this year living on the Osa Peninsula, I feel refueled and spiritually recharged. I cannot specify or quantify what it is about living in Costa Rica that does this to me, I can only explain how it makes me feel. And that is, living in Costa Rica makes me feel more like myself, or maybe even closer to the best version of myself. I thrive in environments that require me to be adaptive and resourceful, and that is what Costa Rica is to me. Anything can happen living where the jungle meets the sea, and it often does. From enduring torrential downpours to rescuing wrecked motorcyclists to connecting with the amazing people and culture, Costa Rica leaves me feeling ready to take on anything. Which is a damn good thing, because so far, this trip is like nothing I have experienced before.
Do stay tuned for more updates from Uganda. And, if you are interested in making a donation to help pay for the airfare and other expenses I have accrued by volunteering for this project, here is a link to the fundraiser pagebeing run by Photographers Without Borders.