Category Archives: Photos

Welcome Home, Chuol

Friends greet Choul at the Udier airstrip in South Sudan.

Friends greet Chuol at the Udier airstrip in South Sudan.

Everyone has a story to tell, but it’s easy to forget, even for someone whose job it is to find and tell those stories. Often it becomes a blur of humanity, just another face in the crowd, another passenger on a flight. You never know what life has handed the stranger next to you.

Chuol Kang Wuol arrived an hour late for check-in at the Juba airport. The scheduled MAF flight, heading to Renk in the northern-most corner of South Sudan, needed to leave on time for the long journey. When Chuol finally walked into the MAF airport office, he had left his luggage in the car. After retrieving the bag for weighing and tagging, we walked toward the terminal as a friend showed up with yet another bag which now needed to be weighed and tagged back at the office. We were late and irritated. We knew only that this tall Nuer man would be dropped off in Udier, a village on the way to Renk. It was a Medair flight, and for some reason, Medair felt that this man was priority.

We soon found out why. Chuol, whose contract work with Medair had ended, was returning to his home to see his wife and four children for the first time in four years. Chuol had never met his youngest child, now three, who was born after he left home. If he was excited and scatterbrained, it now seemed clear why.

Those years away from home included several times of extreme danger that forced Chuol to hide or run for his life. In the most recent incident in August 2014, while working in logistics for Medair in a large northern refugee camp, fighting broke out with armed gangs targeting Nuer people. Caught at the market when the violence erupted, Chuol hid for two days with no water while the militia searched for Nuer to kill. Six Nuer staff working for various international humanitarian organizations were executed, including some dragged from their well-marked vehicles and shot. Chuol witnessed two men near him die but he was able to escape and later evacuated to Juba, although not without residual mental trauma. One Medair staff recalls waking night after night to the panicked cries of Chuol’s nightmares months later.

“I know that life is changing, that life in the world is not permanent,” Chuol said, reflecting on how he had coped with such harrowing experiences. “When you see too much, you become a bit mad. But you can just be reminded to take it very easy because I know the time has come to get my family, and to get my people.”

Through the violent South Sudan crisis, with no communication, for a time Chuol and his wife didn’t know if the other was dead or alive. Finally he was returning to his home, his friends, his family.

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Chuol stared intently out the window as the MAF plane landed at Udier, a small dirt strip in a remote and inaccessible region that had only been rehabilitated seven months earlier. He wasn’t sure if anyone knew he was coming, but as the tall lanky man climbed down the aircraft steps, shouts rang out as people recognized and gathered around Chuol, holding him, touching him, with tangible love and joy.

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I imagined the healing this kind of love could bring. I was reminded as well of the simple truth, that in this land of turmoil, statistics, and massive impersonal numbers of displaced and dead, everyone has a story, and every life matters.

The Bible Man

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I have rarely met anyone so passionate about the Bible. Meet Jean-Claude, an African from the Ivory Coast, whose enthusiasm seems unquenchable. Whose entire speech is punctuated with italics, bold, and exclamation marks. Who laughs and shouts and preaches with arms lifted or fingers pointing, always with a Bible in his hands. He’s larger than life and it’s all real.

Jean Claude’s dream is to see every Malagasy own a Bible. MAF is trying to help.

In Madagascar, they have offered Jean Claude and other local missionaries & churches highly subsidized flights in their small green Cessna 182, charging only 10¢ a kilometer. Last week, this allowed Jean Claude and his colleague Rado to fly to Morombe and Manja, both towns that would otherwise be inaccessible during the rainy season, or a three-day trip in the dry. Or…a two hour and 45 minute plane ride.

Jean Claude was thrilled that he could go this far this fast and constantly, unprompted, praised MAF for making it possible. “Because of you, I have this BIG opportunity to come here to preach the gospel! It was TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE because there’s no road to come here!  There’s no bridge, so no road. Because of MAF, I have this opportunity!”

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A megaphone is key to what they do. It announces why they are here. As we drove from the airstrip into town, Rado shouted into the megaphone the entire drive as we passed small clusters of huts or people gathered by the side of the road.  “We have Bibles! We have just arrived! Please come to the market and you will have a Bible for only 5000 ($2).”

The actual cost of the Bibles is $5 each, but one of the MAF pilots, Josh Plett, got his church in Canada to raise money in order to drop the price to $2, something a Malagasy is more likely able to afford.

The crowds surrounded Jean Claude and Rado once they reached the main street of town, and the Bibles rapidly sold out. Rado even sold his personal, heavily marked up Bible when a woman begged him for one and there were none left. The two preached a bit and handed out free Biblical literature, nearly causing a fist-fight on the street as people tried to claim a piece.

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“With MAF, just two hours and I’m here with my megaphone,” Jean Claude exclaimed.  “I can preach the gospel, and you see? We came with the New Testament and Bibles. In 30 minutes…FINISH the Bible! FINISH all the New Testament, and people are crying because there are no more Bibles! Thank you to MAF for giving us this opportunity!”

Put on Your Red Shoes and Dance

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Recently I wanted to test out some new camera equipment and lighting indoors, so I attended a swing dance in Portland at a large hall that fills every Sunday night with hundreds of people who simply want to dance. No alcohol, no food, nothing racy or sexual. Old, young, fat, thin, preppy, punked out with bleach/purple hair and tattoos. All there for the pure joy of dance.

The following night I went to a smaller venue where dancers came to practice. It was a much easier place to shoot with flash than the larger venue. Here are some photos from both nights. If you live in the Portland area, you can find info on lessons and dances at Stumptown Dance.

Jon the Magician

One of my favorite things is watching Jon entertain both children and adults with his magic tricks. When he lands at one of his regular airstrips, the children or men flock around him begging for a trick. It doesn’t matter how many times they’ve seen him do the same thing, it always ends in screams of laughter and surprise.

At Nebobongo, a crowd of about 30 kids followed his every move as he closed up the plane, and finally one brave kid tapped Jon on his elbow and held out a small stone while the other children waited expectantly for the magic to begin. Jon also loves to chase the children while they scream and laugh. It’s brilliant.

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Doggie Crush

I have a crush on Mkuki.

Mkuki has a crush on the new goldfish.

Or maybe she’s just hungry, but I think that’s a kiss I’m seeing.