I enjoy photography and time that I spent a couple of years ago in the Kibale Forest region of Western Uganda was perfect for taking pictures. It was a delight to wander along the forest road and wait patiently for a butterfly to light on a nearby leaf or flower. While waiting for them to stay still enough for me to focus and get the exposure correctly set, I ended up looking in the grass or bushes and discovered dragonflies and grasshoppers and dung beetles and iridescent flies. On two occasions, by the roadside, I also chanced upon a couple of bright green snakes about half a metre long. Snakes are not my favourites and they are generally feared and killed on sight by the locals. I suspect that these were just harmless grass snakes but it makes a better story if they were poisonous mambas. Some of the research assistants at the Makerere University Biological Field Station told me they hadn’t seen a snake in over a year. I saw two in one day. Luck? Or just the time to stand quietly and wait and watch?
A couple of big baboons would sneak around the corner of my cottage late in the afternoon as I sat on the porch reading. If I stayed very still, they didn’t notice me. One wandered over to a tree a few metres away from me and sat down in the shade, leaning up against the trunk. After a few moments, he looked my way and our eyes met. Well, his eyes and mine through the viewfinder of my camera. He thought for minute, then gave a brief baboon bark and got up to wander off, followed by his pink-rumped companion.
One afternoon, I stood for about 20 minutes waiting for a couple of Red Colobus monkeys to follow the rest of their troop in a rather precarious jump across the road. The jump involved climbing high in one tree, rocking the branch to get some spring, then virtually flying through the air spread-eagled to catch the lower branch of a tree across the road and scramble up to safety.
This pair was particularly cautious. They took turns heading to the takeoff spot, rocked a bit, peered over the road to their intended destination then hesitated and sat back down. Second thoughts. They looked at each then traded places, only to agree that this would be a perilous jump. They reminded me of two of my friends who carried out the same exchange while preparing to jump off a rock cliff into Georgian Bay one summer. I wondered if the monkeys sat around a campfire drinking Bailey’s at night. Not likely.
Eventually one of the monkeys braved the jump. Her success gave new courage to her friend. But the end of this adventure came so fast that I missed the shot. I had framed the photo, set the focus and waited so many times that when the final leap actually occurred, I had written it off as another false alarm. By the time I snapped the shutter, the deed was done. (I did catch my friends in mid air on their way into Georgian Bay, however.)
I also enjoyed taking pictures of the beautiful children in the nearby village of Kanyawara – children that I had met on other visits to the community – Fiona and Moses and the ragamuffin, Rose.
The kids are always happy to pose, and then squeal with excitement when I show them their photo on my digital camera screen.
One young fellow also decided to give me something good to photograph. I had motioned to some kids to get a bit closer to the cattle they were tending in a field near the village, They chased the animals around a bit then stopped for me to take a couple of pictures. Initially I didn’t notice that one of the boys was leaning up against a bull and massaging the bull’s scrotum. The bull didn’t seem to mind – at first. But suddenly the bull decided that this interaction had become altogether too personal and he determined that it was enough. He grunted and turned on the kid, head down like in a Spanish bullfight. He chased the boy around the field while the other children squealed in delight. Once again the action was too quick to catch and when it stopped, I was too embarrassed for the frustrated and aroused bull to take his photo.
Another group wanted to perform acrobatics for me. As one fellow stood on his head, the pinkish soles of his feet waving in the breeze, another group decided that they would jump over a rolling automobile tire like Russian dancers. I was never quite able to catch the jump as they didn’t understand my instructions to wait until I was ready before they started to roll the tire.
One little girl stood behind the older boys and raised her leg high into the air to kick it over the tire as it passed. She was wearing a vivid blue dress that set off her smooth brown skin and I caught, quite by accident, her jump behind the boys. I thought, as I reviewed the picture on my camera that this was actually the best moment and a little cropping would make it my picture of the day. But when I looked a little more closely, I realized that this wouldn’t do. The girl had no underwear on and my shot had caught her like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. No amount of Photoshop manipulation could fix this up.
Another opportunity lost, but what I lost in photos, I remember as great stories.