East Africa | Travel Portraits
“It is more important to click with people, than to click the shutter.” - Alfred Eisenstaedt
Travelling through East Africa provides a wonderful opportunity to experience the amalgamation of Africa's traditional cultures, with modern lifestyles influenced by the influx of technology and development within the region.
East Africa is where you'll find Silicon Valley-like tech hubs spread across Rwanda's capital city Kigali, and rapid solar power sector growth in Kenya; yet it's also a region where tribal cultures continue living their traditional ways of life, shaped by qualities like strong religious beliefs and traditional gender roles.
While touring East Africa I sought a contrast of experiences. My days were filled with dancing until dawn in Kampala - considered by some to be the "New York" of East Africa - and hiking to the top of remote mountains or driving to rural villages to visit and learn from people living the traditional way of life.
My only disappointment with East Africa, is that I didn't get to spend enough time there! I can't wait to return and go scuba diving with whale sharks in Djibouti, and visit the tribal cultures of Ethiopia's Omo Valley.
And of course, photographing the wonderful people of East Africa will call me to return for many years to come. The portraits on this page act as a brief introduction to the charm that is East Africa, so check back often for updates from my return trips to the region.
UGANDA: Anita moved to England with her Mom and brother at the age of 3, then after finishing university with a degree in Forensics she returned to Kampala. She's loving life as a “repat” in Africa. “In Uganda if I’m in a bad mood, I can’t stay angry because the sun in shining. In Africa, with a bit of money and connections, you can do anything. I can’t do half the things I do here when I’m in London. It’s also nice to turn on the TV and see a black person. Here, the standard of beauty is me.”
UGANDA: “I can market anything. In marketing you must be ready for any opportunity so that when a door opens, you will know how to enter it.” Daphne is a determined mid-20s woman living in Kampala, the East African city that doesn’t sleep. She shared with me her decision to choose a career path that focuses more on the quality of work, building connections and doing what she loves, over prioritizing money. Daphne is just one of the many young, successful professionals I met in Kampala.
UGANDA: Shafikee is 23 and cares for 7 street children. Growing up on the streets of Kampala, he was blessed to find a supporter to pay his school fees. Today he's educated and employed, and makes it his duty to help others. He works at a craft brewery and spends all of his extra time and money caring for his kids. “I can’t eat expensive food, wear brand clothing, or live in my own apartment, but I can make my life really happy because I have others to take care of."
UGANDA: Linda is a poet & performer who created the all-female theatre company Afromans Spice. The group performs in Europe & Africa, working to empower women and educate men on women’s rights. “I’ve come to realize, to succeed you actually have to do what you want to do, even if you fear it won’t put food on the table. If you’re passionate about it, it will feed you." I photographed Linda at her office in the Kampala National Theatre, proudly holding the afro wig she wears in performances.
TANZANIA: Hilda is the chef in charge of preparing the delicious breakfast served every morning at a busy hostel in Dar es Salaam. Every day I looked forward to chats with Hilda, where she’d help me translate English phrases into Swahili, and we’d chat about her involvement with the church, and son’s schooling. Hilda’s son lives with her mother in their village six hours away. She misses him, but is happy her work at the hostel enables her to pay his school fees to help give him a bright future.
TANZANIA: There is a beautiful cultural collision happening on the stunningly beautiful island of Zanzibar. It is a common sight to see tourists mingling with the traditionally dressed Maasai who travel from inland Tanzania to work in the Zanzibar tourism industry. At popular beach spots like Nungwi, all different cultures can be seen together at sunset playing volleyball or lounging on the beach with drinks, which spreads a positive vibe among everyone.
TANZANIA: While chatting with the Maasai who travel from inland Tanzania to work in the Zanzibar tourism industry, I learned about the three steps to becoming a warrior in their culture. Traditionally, their ceremony started with removing two of your own teeth with a knife, followed by a circumcision where you must not show you feel pain, concluded by killing a lion and wearing its tooth on a necklace. The fascinating things you learn while hanging out on the beaches of Zanzibar!
TANZANIA: Baraka is a proud resident of Zanzibar, an island famous for its culture, cuisine and beautiful beaches. When visitors arrive at his hostel in the beach town of Nungwi, Baraka ensures people receive a warm welcome, a cold drink, and get immediate directions to the beach. Baraka describes his life in Nungwi as a sort of paradise – hence the t-shirt.
RWANDA: Nicolas is a 21-year old university student studying IT in Kigali. He’s photographed at KLab, a tech hub funded by the government to help youth develop tech skills. He wants to make software that will help society in Rwanda. “The more I do the more I know” he says. “The world must know that Rwanda is developing and that the government is doing good things, and encouraging us to become educated and work hard to succeed. We don’t have many natural resources, so we have to innovate."
RWANDA: She's been making her living as a hair stylist since leaving high school, and when asked, she doesn't know what else she'd want to be doing, since hair styling is her passion. I met her while on a city tour with the Nyamirambo Women's Centre in Kigali. Her shop was part of the tour, where she took visitors in and weaved a braid into their hair. It was a wonderful cross-cultural experience meeting her and learning more about this important art of hair styling.
RWANDA: Millions suffered during the Rwandan genocide, making a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial painful for anyone who empathizes with those who experienced such devastating trauma. While there is pain, there is also education, growth and reconciliation, thanks to people like Serge and his fantastic Engagement Officer colleagues. Serge is a survivor, having lost his father and brother. He is proud of Rwanda’s reconciliation efforts, which include 232 memorials and 3 peace education centres
RWANDA: Marie-Aimee has been President of the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre since 2011. She’s helped it grow from a group of under 18 women with four sewing machines, to a collective of over a hundred women and 80 machines. Originally the group received foreign funding, but are now fully self-sufficient. They run English, math, sewing and hair styling classes, and teach women how to open their own small businesses. They also generate revenue through tourism by offering a variety of tours in Kigali.
KENYA: On the day I photographed Mirry she was glowing with pride at her university graduation. Mirry originally wanted to study finance, but with high grades gifting her a government scholarship, she was led into the field of Nutrition & Dietetics, an industry the government is trying to grow. Her passion rests in the communities, where she believes she can make a big difference. During her new career she’ll work to lower the child mortality rate by educating women on breastfeeding and hygiene.
KENYA: Sharon is a proud mother of 3 girls and a niece. After discovering she was HIV positive, she sought help at a free HIV clinic in Nairobi, an uplifting place that turned her life around. She’s been a volunteer at the center for 8 years now, and dreams of travelling outside of Kenya to share her story. “I love my work at the centre. I help people realize they can live long and well, even if they are positive.” HIV medication is free in Kenya, where the infection rate has dropped to 5-6 %.
KENYA: Christine smiles and says "I'm the only child of a single Mom, so you know how that is. She is ATTACHED!” She made her Mom proud by studying TV/radio production, and landing a good job right away. “I love my job, which has its issues, but if you do something for passion and not money, it outweighs all the negative. I love life and live as authentically as I can. I’ve had my fair share of struggle, but I see life as a journey and I trust in my process even when things aren’t going my way."
KENYA:"Nairobi is a hard working city" says Kenneth, who is a retired civil servant turned Uber driver. His wife is retired from government as well, but is now enjoying her role as a full-time grandma. Kenneth’s 3 daughters all work as professionals, in journalism, banking and social work. He’s proud of Nairobi, and tells me of the latest street light initiative, which has made the city a safer place to work and live. "It's harder to mug someone if others can see what you're up to," he exclaims.