In our "How Did I get Here?" series, I'm going to share with you how I realized that I wanted to become a photographer, and the steps along the way.  It's going to be good, it's going to be bad, and some of it may be ugly, so please be kind.  It's all about a learning process, right?  Right.  Don't worry though, we'll still have daily posts that are not based in the zany world that is my memory, ah memories. So how did I get here?  And where is here, in the middle of  a field in front of a waterfall?  That huge waterfall is Victoria Falls, on the Zimbabwe side, and I got there because I had a dream that I was sitting in that exact same spot...and that spot isn't in post cards.  That dream was so real that I knew I had to go to Zimbabwe, I didn't know why, I didn't know how, but I knew I was going to need some help.  So I coerced, bribed, prodded and sweetly asked these four amazing people:

And I couldn't have done it without them.  We got funding from the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, and were set to go.  While there we spent a lot of time talking to school groups about self image, peer pressure, and other things that all teenagers, all over the world need to talk about; but mostly we listened.

We were in Zimbabwe for little over a month.  Unfortunately, our trip was cut short due to the Zimbabwean Government beginning a project that, literally translated, is called "Project  Clean Out Filth."  The filth were our friends, the lower class of Zimbabwe.   What I've been able to find from reports shows that  200,000 people were relocated or without shelter in the city we were in.  700,000 were affected throughout the country, and still are 5 years later.  We were surrounded by thousands of homeless, starving people.

Even though their country was falling apart, we found so much hope in each person we met.  We had fantastic guides that kept us safe and up beat, not to mention the people and kids we met on every street corner.  But unfortunately, like in most crisis, everything became hard to obtain.  We stood in line, like everyone else, for milk, bread, sugar, food, and most importantly gas.  A couple times we, or someone in the group had to wait over night in a line to get gas:

The gas shortage kept getting worse, not to mention the political climate,  and our sponsors soon worried about being able to get us out of the country.  So we left early, and came back to the U.S.

So what does any of this have to do with Photography you might ask?  It was in Zimbabwe that I realized I had to be a photographer.  It wasn't that I should be, or that I took great pictures ( I had a tiny point and shoot), but the absolute need to capture these hopeful people in a world that was being destroyed around them, was overwhelming.  When I got back to the U.S. I was amazed that no one knew what was happening in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is undoubtedly a part of me.  What I learned there, and who I learned from changed me irreversibly.  From Marie, I learned to be quiet and observe the simple things in life, from Clara I learned how to relax and experience the joy around me, from Peter I learned how to not care what people think and to stick with things, even when they are hard, and from Matt I learned how to face my fears and do what is right.  But it was from the Zimbabwean people that I learned to find hope in all circumstances.So after the summer was over I started back at college with a new determination: to become a photographer.  The details were still fuzzy, but I knew that I had to make it happen.  I knew that I wanted to capture what happens to people whether it is injustice, sadness, loss, love, happiness, or hope.

There are still times, at night when I fall asleep and feel the heat of the African sun on my face, and the smell of hot earth that smells like a home I've forgotten.  I dream that I am sitting at Victoria Falls, with the thunder of the rapids and the mist rolling over me.  Sometimes it makes me smile, as I wrap my arms around my knees in the tall grass, and sometimes it makes me cry.

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