Archive for the ‘New Mexico’ Category

Nakatindi School

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011
Nakatindi School

For each of the Anthony Robbins Platinum Partner events, the Platinum Partners engage in a “contribution” during the event.  Simply put, the contribution is a day-long community service project that has been thought out and carefully planned.  For the Africa event, the group chose the Nakatindi Community School of Livingstone, Zambia for its contribution effort. They could not have found a better focus for their efforts.

Education in Zambia is provided at two levels: primary education (years 1 to 9), and upper secondary (years 10 to 12). Some schools provide a “basic” education covering years 1 to 9, as year 9 is considered to be a decent level of education for the majority of children. However, tuition is only free up to year 7, and UNESCO estimates that 80% of children of primary school age in 2002 were enrolledMost children drop out after year 7 when fees must be paid.  In addition to tuition, students at the government schools must also pay for textbooks, supplies and uniforms.  Both government and private schools exist in Zambia. The private school system began largely as a result of Christian mission efforts during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

For the Nakatindi School, the government only provided an annual funding of $150 for the last two years for supplies, maintenance, and other needs.  The goal, then, of the Platinum Partners contribution effort was threefold: (1) raise a significant amount of money to provide much needed supplies, staffing, and facilities; (2) collect a significant amount of books to aid in the education of the students (who all learn to speak English); and (3) personally visit the school to perform a massive and coordinated maintenance effort in several needed areas: windows, desks, doors, walls (painting), floors (concrete patching), and gardening (the school endeavors to grow all of the food it feeds its students).  According to the Anthony Robbins organization, the group conducted an exhaustive search to find a school where the community, faculty and students would fully commit to the effort.  I can say they roundly succeeded.

Before arriving at the school, I learned that the school had dramatically increased its proficiency test scores in the last five years since its new headmaster arrived.  I also learned that of the approximately 800 students at the school, the majority of them are orphans, who attend primarily so they can get at least the one meal a day that is provided at school.  I did not know what to expect in what I would see or find at the school, but what I did find was beyond my imagination.

When we pulled into the school, all of the children – all of them – were out on the grounds, playing, running about in their white and blue uniforms.  In the middle of the yard stood a tent with stacks of thousands of books collected by the Platinum Partners as part of the contribution.  After a few minutes, I turned to Karl, who works for Robbins Research International, and asked, “What, is this their recess period or something?”  His response reflected the impact of three days of travel to get their on my mental faculties: “No, it’s Sunday.  There’s no school today.  All of these children came here just for this.”  I had completely lost track of what day it was.  I suspect the travel and my previous day’s sudden and violent illness probably had something to do with it.  “Wow,” I responded simply, dumbfoundedly.

Then, for the next half an hour, I was mobbed like a celebrity by dozens upon dozens of children who wanted me to take their picture.  I quickly learned that showing the kids the LCD with the capture of their photo was also a part of the ritual.  I also found it was impossible to take a photo of just one child; once I started to set up a shot, the nearest six to eight children would force their way into the shot.  I soon learned some deceptive techniques: I’d tell the child I wanted to photograph to stand off to the side, then I would pretend to set up a shot of a mob of children – then quickly turn over and photograph the child I originally wanted to.  Then, of course, I would have to turn back to the mob of kids so that they would be satisfied.  It was a bit overwhelming, this very outgoing, friendly and fearless group of children, taking pleasure out of such a simple act as having someone take their photo.

After a while, all of the students lined up on both sides of the driveway coming into the school to greet a caravan of jeeps carrying the Platinum Partners.  The greeting was much more orderly than I expected, given the energy level of the children and the significance of what the day would have in store for them.  As I waited for the jeeps to arrive, I noticed a small boy sitting on a stump with a patch sown into the left leg of his pants: “Barack.”  I asked him, “You like Barack Obama?”  Enthusiastically, he responded, “Yes.”  If only the POTUS’s own people felt the same way about him, I thought.  But as I saw throughout every aspect of what happened that day, having the right attitude is a vital foundation for any success.  Believe that you will succeed and, with a little help, you will.  Believe in failure or hope for failure, and it is bound to ensue.

After the Platinum Partners arrived, everyone gathered for a celebratory dance and drumming, followed by an announcement as to how the maintenance teams would be divided.  For the next few hours, I simply went around from station to station, trying to capture a glimpse of the spirit and heart of these children and the Platinum Partners, and to somehow document the significance of the work that was being done.  While being a photographer can be a privilege at times like this, being witness to significant events and recording them in detail and artistry, it can also be a barrier.  As much as you can get caught up in some of the energy of an event like this, as a photographer, you are somewhat removed emotionally and unable to fully participate in a way that is as meaningful as those you capture on pixels.

I photographed kids and adults hauling buckets of water to soak newly planted trees, working together to hammer nails into repaired desk legs and seats, and getting messy together to paint walls and cement-patch floors.  I gained a new understanding of the term “heat in the kitchen” by joining the local women and Platinum Partners (oddly, only the women were assigned to kitchen duty) in the open-air tent that served as the kitchen.  With kettles sitting on open, hot coals, it did not take long to get hot under the hot Zambian sun.  I thought of the occasional barbecue we have held in our backyard when I contemplated how much food these women had to prep and cook for the 800 children of the school. Given the small space available for those children, it took several hours to run them all through the cafeteria to eat the one meal they would be served that day.

After work, the students and Platinum Partners played soccer and football, danced, shared stories, and posed for more pictures.  On one of the newly-painted walls, they all put hand prints in various colors to reflect the bond and partnership of the day.  Then, there were many, many more pictures.

The impact of that day and the effort by the Anthony Robbins Platinum Partners simply cannot be grasped; only an examination of the numbers gives a glimpse of how much this contribution meant to the staff and students of the Nakatindi Community School.  As of the day of that event, there was only one teacher for every 75 students.  There was only one book per classroom.  Most of the desks and chairs in the school were broken or damaged in some way.  By the day of the contribution, the Platinum Partners had raised over $40,000 dollars to contribute to the school, as well as collect thousands of books.  That money would provide salaries for three more teachers for three more years, provide new facilities, and build a fence and pay for a security guard to keep the new, massive book collection from being stolen (a likelihood given the rarity of books in the country).  As if that was not enough, later that evening, at the closing social event for the Zambia part of the trip, the Platinum Partners collected $3,000 more to go the next day to purchase tools to donate to the school so that it could continue its maintenance efforts.


Last morning

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

After somewhat of a blitzkrieg trip it seems like, I have had my last morning shooting on the road trip leading up to the NANPA summit.  I am glad I arranged to have the gate opened an hour early at the park.  It allowed me to get into position and be selective in where I would be when the first golden light from the rising sun washed across the landscape.  There is a certain peace knowing that you are the only soul in a particular location, able to take your time and work in the still silence of the morning.  The only thing missing from the morning was having Michelle with me to enjoy it.  Sure, it’s great to be out there by yourself sometimes, but other times, I wish that she was here with me to share it.

Windy evening

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

I got into the park this afternoon well before I knew I would want to shoot, as the sun was too high, and the light too harsh.  But I wanted to scout out some locations for this evening and for possible spots for tomorrow.  I was concerned, though, as I approached the entrance to the park on Highway 70 and saw a thick cloud of sand filling the air in the vicinity of the dunes.  The wind had picked up a bit by the time I left in the morning, and had really kicked into high gear in my absence.  The radio said that sustained winds were 25 mph with gusts exceeding 40 mph.  The sand storm was so thick, the San Andres Mountains to the west were almost completely obscured.  Not deterred, I headed out into the wind and sand toward an area I hoped would provide some good opportunities.  I stuck around and shot for a while even well after the sun had gone down, not attempting sillhouettes, but rather capturing the dunes and ripples in the light of dusk.

The challenge of White Sands

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

In Alaska, it is pretty easy to find the landscape.  From a photographic standpoint, the photographable scene is pretty obvious.  All the spaces are open, whether in a coastal area or a glacial valley.  In White Sands, it is rather challening to find the scenic shot.  The sand dunes essentiall serve as mini mountain ridges, and you have to climb them and get over the next wave of sand dunes in order to see what’s out there.  In addition, you just cannot count on early light for great photos.  The angle of the light is the key to a great landscape photo in White Sands.  The ripples in the sand almost run parallel to the angle of the sun, pretty much after about 8:00, making impossible to capture the shadows in the individual ripples.  I am thinking that the afternoon will have a better angle of sun for those photo ops.  And even the big landscape photos, with the shadows casting from the dunes themselves, are generally not present much after sunrise.  Fortunately, I have made arrangements to be let into the park an hour before sunrise tomorrow, so I will be in better position to capture as much as possible.

Quick trip into White Sands

Monday, February 16th, 2009

So, I made it to White Sands National Monument.  I had to find a hotel to stay in, then set up and download the photos from earlier in the day.  Those things took a while.  Even though I got a late start in White Sands, making it to the main gate only an hour before sunset, I found out quickly how easy and how hard it is to capture  photo in White Sands.  The easy part is the dunes come right to the main road, almost jumping out at you.  The hard part is the tracks from all the visitors, all over the place, making it challening to find an unblemished dune.  And the sand dunes go everywhere.  It’s not like most places you go to photograph where the photo spots are obvious.  The dunes just keep going, rolling over one another, meaning you have to walk over each dune and keep going over the next to find what else may lie out there.

Tomorrow morning, I will be at the gates when they first open at seven, with the sole mission to scout the dunes, explore and see what else lies among the dunes.  And fortunately, I will have much more time in the afternoon to find the photos that await me.

Across 380

Monday, February 16th, 2009

So I made my way across Highway 380 from San Antonio, then south on Highway 54 to Alamogordo. Along the way, I captured some nice pastoral scenes as well as taking time to stop at the Valley of Fires, an old lava flow running north and south through the valley.  Due to time constraints – I had stopped too many times to take photos, go figure – I had to skip a visit to the Three Rivers Petroglyph site. 

Last lap

Monday, February 16th, 2009

It was an eventful last lap around the two main loops at Bosque.  Right off, I found a heron that was very cooperative, allowing me to get close to him while he preened and posed.  Around the next bend, I found a nice marshy scene that, with the clouds, lent itself to some really nice landscape photos.  Then there was a group of about six or seven buck mule deer, some little guys and some bigger ones, that kept me and later Roy and Mark, busy for a while.  Then there was a kestrel, a red tailed hawk, and all kinds of neat reflections and other activity.  Although I had to be back and checked out of my room by eleven, I still took my time for this last tour, savoring every bend and pond.

Last morning on the pond

Monday, February 16th, 2009

So, there I was, sitting at the Holiday Inn Express, mooching a free breakfast off of Roy and Mark, when in walked Art Wolfe.  He was starting a workshop on that day that would lead into the NANPA summit.  We chatted, I reminded him that I photographed with him in Katmai four years ago, and then we were all off, on the photographer caravan, to the refuge for a morning of shooting.  When I first stepped out in the morning, I was pleased to see stars in the skies.  The overcast had cleared.  There turned out to be some clouds on the horizon, but all they did was add some nice color and texture to the skies; they did not interfere with the light.

We parked at the main pond, and waited.  A little eariler than yesterday, the swarms of geese moved in, chatting in the cacophony of thousands of voices chatting over eachother.  I decided to try some different techiques this morning, working on using more slow shutter speeds to create more artistic images.  I spent a little time after sunrise over at the Flight Deck, watching and listening to the cranes.  I could easily have spent a couple of more mornings here, but it was time to move on to the next destination.  It’s always hard, leaving a place as productive as Bosque has been for me, but, White Sands awaits.  Of course, there would be time for one more circuit around the Marsh and Farm Loops.

NRAO-VLA

Sunday, February 15th, 2009
NRAO-VLA

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array is a mere 46 miles to the west of Socorro along U.S. Highway 60.  After two decent evenings in the refuge, I had planned to spend my third evening in the area at the VLA.  When I emerged from this room after editing and a shower, I was disappointed to see that the entire sky was covered in a blanket of high, thick overcast.  One lesson I have learned is to never alter my photo plans based on the weather at my current location.  I knew it was likely that the area of the VLA would likely have the same cloud cover, but I still wanted to see the array.  I had wanted to see it for decades, and being this close, I couldn’t pass it up.  Besides, the crappy light here would not lead to worthwhile wildlife photos. 

The drive up into the high desert scrub brush area was really quite lovely.  I repeatedly noted scenes I would love to have photographed, given that the sun was out.  And the angle of the sun would have been perfect for great shots.  I still managed to stop for a few scenes that demanded my attention. 

The VLA is an impressive feature on the landscape.  Twenty-seven massive satellite dishes, measuring 82 feet in diameter, forming a Y with nine dishes on each vector.  I could explain what the VLA does, how it works, but why not just quote from the VLA web site:  “The VLA is an interferometer; this means that it operates by multiplying the data from each pair of telescopes together to form interference patterns. The structure of those interference patterns, and how they change with time as the earth rotates, reflect the structure of radio sources on the sky: we can take these patterns and use a mathematical technique called the Fourier transform to make maps.”  As they note at the Visitor Center, when they filmed the pivotal scenes from “Contact” at the VLA, the movie makers took a little creative license to make the magic happen – the VLA is not for listening to space noise.  

One of the things I learned about the array that really surprised me is that the dishes not only rotate, but can be moved out along their axis from the control center along a railing.  Depending on the experiment being run, the dishes will need to be closer to each other or farther apart.  They can be as condensed as all within 0.4 miles on their axis from the compound, or spread out as far as 13 miles away.  It’s hard to judge distances, but it looked like they were about a quarter of a mile apart from each other when I was there. 

Guided tours are rarely given at the VLA, so when you go there, you are on your own with the limited walking tour, centered around the building compounds at the heart of the array.  On my way around, I happened upon several jackrabbits, doing jackrabbit things.  One, who noticed that I was about to take a picture of him just when I had him in focus, decided to leap into the air and bound off into the shrub brush for cover. 

All around the loop

Sunday, February 15th, 2009
All around the loop

Once the geese have moved on to the farm fields to the north to feed for the day, the only thing left to do for the next hour or two, before the light gets too harsh, is to drive around and look for opportunities.  Since I have previously only driven the Farm Loop, I thought to take the wider route going out on the Marsh Loop.  It’s quite a bit different than the look of the farm loop, much more like a wooded marshland than the captured ponds and canals of the Farm Loop.  It’s quite beautiful in several areas, and I made mental notes on where to return for first light tomorrow after the flight of the geese.

Along the way, I catch a flight of cranes, a little late in making their way north to join where most of the cranes have gathered.  A buck mule deer also suprises me.  I had begun to wonder if I was going to see any kind of wildlife other than birds in the refuge.  There was the coyote that ran across Highway 1 in front of me this morning, but hardly a photo op.  I pull over along a particularly picturesque marsh setting and set up my tripod to take the featured image, when I notice some sort of owl far away in a tree.  The coloring of the breast and shape of head tell me it’s an owl, but it is too far away, even with the 500mm, to get an idea of what it is. 

On the way north out of the refuge, I stop at the Visitor Center to spend some time with a rather large group of redwing blackbirds clustering in several of the trees in the area.  A pristine pond plays host to a gaggle of ducks further north on a pond to the west of the highway; another good morning scenic location.