The most common question I've gotten recently is...
"What're you doing in Africa?"
My response is typically, "Well...what're you doing in America?"
In December I went down to Africa with a group of missionaries who are starting a non-profit to be the hands and feet of God in Rwanda. A country recently torn by genocide and poverty.
HERE'S THE STORY...
It all started in June of 2016 when I was introduced to the Stephen's family in Idaho. They explained to me that they had goals of starting a no profit called Saving Light Ministries.
They wanted to go on a mission trip to Rwanda... of all places on the massive continent of Africa. Rwanda. I had a good friend who escaped the cruel genocide that happened there in recent history. These are real exhumed bodies preserved with lyme, I had to take the shot.
If you've seen the commercialized movie(s) Hotel Rwanda or Sometimes in April you might of gotten a little bit of an idea as to the kind of atrocities took place in the country. These weren't mass killings done with guns, often times it entailed use of machetes, knives, bully clubs, hammers and baseball bats. These were gruesome and intimate murders.
This situation had way too much relevance in my life for me to ignore. I was in the process of moving cross country when this thought was brought up so I wasn't sure if this idea we had was even realistic. BUT I did know that my heart had longed to go to Africa since childhood.
I decided to put it up to God. In a sense, my thoughts on it were, "let your will be done."
...Fast forward two months...
(I'm working on contract as a Director of Photography for a travel and tourism company out of Juneau.)
After hiking up a mountain on an overnight adventure with three of my closest friends outside of Juneau, we arrived back to our apartment and took our time freshening up to eat the mountain grouse we had just hunted.
Above is Ryan Kaboly and below is Morgan Keenan. It took us all day to find the birds and make the kill, but it was worth it!
We had been on the mountain for two days and were ready to be home.
First things first, I took a very necessary shower before turning my phone back on.
I recall drying off and my phone was booting up when I received a text from Sandy Stephens letting me know that my flight to Rwanda was booked and I was onboard for the Africa expedition in 50 days. What a crazy feeling that was.
Anxious to return to North Carolina, I boarded a flight home the next day to begin preparations. I knew I was going to need to get my vaccinations covered...which actually ended up being a pretty sizable expense I was not expecting to incur. I had to get creative on fundraising because I wanted to actually help rather than just be the camera guy!
My goal was to bring down a suitcase full of clothes, toys and toiletries as Christmas Gifts for the children down there. So I created a "GoFundMe" campaign. Than I brought the idea to Facebook...
I let some of you know what I was up to and many of you were excited to get onboard. Which was awesome. Donations started coming in at an unexpected rate.
It wasn't that I thought I wouldn't get donations from my audience, but rather that nobody was listening to what I was putting up online. So I went into it not quite sure who was going to help out.
Together we raised my goal of $500 in just one week. The suitcase filled up to the brim and it was huge. I bought toys from Ross, Amazon, Walmart and even took to Craigslist! In my opinion, the more I could give away...the better.
Ashley and I had a blast shopping for the kids. We bought things like soccer balls, clothes, trucks, marbles, bouncy balls, action figures, toy animals, dinosaurs, hot wheels and more!
I was ready for my trip and excited beyond belief.
When Ashley dropped me off at the airport I was SO STOKED beyond measure. I flew from Charlotte, North Carolina to GA and then out of Atlanta by myself, set towards Amsterdam on a plane full of strangers. Luckily I met the person who was sitting next to me on the 8 hour flight and we had some good conversation between movies, meals and chapters in our books.
When I arrived in Amsterdam, I was amazed right off the bat how modern the infrastructure was. Everything was clean and looked as if it were brand new, what I remember thinking was that if Ikea were to make an airport, this is what it would look like. The Schiphol Airport of Amsterdam.
The most modern technology was integrated into toilets, chairs and floors!
I kept looking around for my group of 13 people, this was where we were set to meet...at the gate. In Amsterdam. But...nobody was to be found. So the unrest quickly hit me.
After I spent an hour searching for them with no luck I went to ask an attendant, besides the obvious language barrier, she was speaking in Dutch...me explaining that I was meeting a group of people who were taking me to Africa with them was a strange situation. She finally tracked them down and informed me that they had been delayed quite a bit and I wouldn't be able to make their delayed flight. It was full. They didn't tell me what time they were going to make it to Africa, but I had to board, immediately. So now I'm on a bus to the airplane.. I boarded the airplane not knowing what I was going to do, on top of all this I could not get in touch with them because they were stateside and my phone wasn't working even on the spotty wifi. I didn't know who was supposed to pick me up from the airport or what to do. I was under the impression that right after our flight we had a three hour drive to our hotel...
I finally land in Rwanda and instantly notice the relieving heat.
I guess I should also mention that I am now going on 36+ hours without any sleep.
I couldn't sleep on any of my flights, I took three melatonin but it just didn't happen for me.
I exited the airport knowing that there was no turning back. There was a good amount of Rwandans waiting to greet family/friends exiting the airport. To my surprise our host John Mulisa had recognized me from Facebook and ran to me greeting me with a hug, turns out that the airport was actually only ten minutes from our hotel..I was very relieved.
Since we had no idea what time the rest of the group was actually going to arrive, we decided to eat some dinner, drop off my luggage and get an overall trip briefing. This gave me a chance to get to know our host, John Mulisa as well as tell/ask him if it would be okay for me to go on a photo expedition separate from our group for two days. We'd be traveling to another part of the country to get some footage. I promised that I would behave and be back in time for us to go venture to a different part of the country (as a group). Eventually he gave me permission and planned for me to embark on a 8 hour road trip through the jungle out to the western province leaving at 6am. (I put this together with a contact of mine from Rwanda.)
We continued conversations at the hotel now joined by John's wife, a friend Johanna and one of John's associate pastor's Fabrice. I got the chance to share my 350 page photo book with them and introduce myself over a meal. They were so encouraging, kind and loving towards me which helped me feel at home. I was instantly accepted as family in a sense and we had a good time laughing and talking about culture shock and differences between our country.
We went to the airport expecting that they would arrive at midnight but they were nowhere to be found. Still not in contact with them as they were in a different country than we were, we tried connecting to wifi and messaging them on Facebook and Whatsapp but that's much more difficult a process than it sounds.
Finally after waiting for hours, it was now 3am. I asked John to take me back to the hotel because I was now at 40+ hours without sleep and leaving at 6am. He agreed then went and paid for our parking and pulled the car up for me...I then told him that we should wait 15 more minutes. I still don't know why I said that, but I told him to give me a little bit more time, I'm sure he was confused by this...immediately I turned around and attempted sneaking back into the airport past these guards with machine guns claiming that I forgot my vaccination record in customs (which I did) but this caught me a peek around the corner and saw someone from our group! YES!
My heart was happy, in fact I screamed their names so they could come out and see us! It turns out they faced an entire ordeal getting stuck in another country and loosing 14 bags which were full of toys to give away...We arranged to get them delivered to us and I helped them load what luggage they still had into the bus, I told them about my plans for the next day as we all returned to the hotel.
We finally return to the hotel and got everyone else checked in. By the time I got to our room it was 5:30 am. Since I was leaving at 6am I rendered it useless for me to try sleeping so I just decided to stay awake. I had the hotel tenants prepare me some breakfast, so I ate while everyone else slept and by the time I finished my first cup of coffee it was time for me to go!
I've made photo books of our trip which are available here; austinmarvel.com/buy-a-book