It’s raining. Thick, heavy drops are shooting from the sky.
Once more the rainy season has caught up with us and there seems to be no escape. Several times every day the unbearable, tropical heat is broken by heavy rains.
We are just south of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. The Land Rover is parked under a palm tree on a beautiful white beach. It sounds like we are having a vacation, but we’re not.
Chiho and I are working hard on our computers and also on the Land Rover. We just returned from Amsterdam, where we traveled for one week in order to pick up my ‘Honorable Mention’ at the World Press Photo Award ceremony. We attended lectures and presentations by other photographers, and I was invited to present some of my own work. We also met with editors and other photography people, so the trip was half work and half pleasure. We stayed for a couple of days on an air mattress at our friend Vero’s place, where me made good use of her super fast wireless internet connection. After many months in Africa the experience of a DSL connection can be quite magical. We also met up with my parents who came over from Germany, partly in order to deliver some formal wear for the award ceremony. Even the Prince of The Netherlands was present at the event, so I was happy for not having to stumble on stage with washed out jeans and a faded old T-shirt.
This year’s World Press Photo Awards are somewhat of a departure from previous competitions, as there were less pure news pictures chosen, typically coming from one of the wire services, but more well composed, moody, and photographically sophisticated stories and images that showed a clear authorship by a single photographer. It seems that slowly the walls between what is still known as photojournalism, documentary photography, art photography and commercial photography are crumbling and I think that this is a good thing. Many of the prize winers this year are very young photographers, young both in age and also in their approach. I feel very proud to be part of this new generation of people who are not so much thinking in categories any longer.
Another group of photographers I am very honored to be part of is this one:
About 22 photographers collaborated in a group show and book project called “Battlespace: Unrealities of War” that became one of the most powerful visual statements about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that I have ever seen.
The Iraq book, both the English version and the German version keeps making a silent, but persistent noise in the publishing world and among readers and I am very happy that several publications wrote reviews about it. The latest could be found in the Tages-Anzeiger ZÃ¼rich, and it looks like this:
The book was also awarded at the Photo District News (PDN) photo annual as one of the best books of 2007.
Here the book again in English:
And in German:
Before I forget, and before you delete this message, because it became once more terribly long, please check out some new pictures and video on my blog:
Apart from shooting and editing video and still pictures, Chiho was also working hard on her own blog, which can be seen here:
In Japanese, the whole thing looks like this:
A map of our travels can be seen here:
My last dispatch came from Cape Town in South Africa.
We left the city early one morning and made our way down to the Cape of Good Hope, where we took some pictures with the Land Rover, proud to have reached this important point in our journey. The following day we alsoÂ visited Cape Agulhas, the largely unknown most southern tip of Africa, which is located several hundred kilometers east of the Cape of Good Hope.
At this point, where the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean meet, our journey to the South came to and end. From now on we would constantly drive in a northerly direction, all the way back to Europe.
We followed the South African coast to the northeast, visiting the well known Garden Route, the Wild Coast and the Transkei which is home to the Xhosa people. In Umtata we went to see the Nelson Mandela Museum and went on to Durban. We then turned northwest towards the Drakensberg Mountains and went on to Johannesburg.
In South Africa’s largest city which locals refer to as Jo’burg, we hired a guide to take us into the crime infested city center. Especially at night this is an empty, violent and lawless place, with one of the highest crime rates in the world.
We also spent some time in Soweto, South Africa’s most famous and historically important black township. Nelson Mandela used to live here as well as Bishop Tutu. Both the Hector Peterson Museum and the excellent Apartheid Museum were highlights of our journey to South Africa and helped us tremendously to understand the history and trauma of this African nation. And although South Africa is not our most favorite African country, it certainly is the historically and socially most interesting place we visited on this continent. In no other country is the gap between rich and poor so severe and so plain to see. Few places are struggling as much as South Africa with an exploding crime rate. The rich and middle class, both black and white are living their lives behind high walls and barb wire fences while a large portion of the population is struggling to survive in the many shanty towns outside the cities, just as they did during the Apartheid years.
If South Africa, with it’s huge shopping malls, American style supermarkets, fast food restaurants on the one hand and shanty towns and buildings occupied by squatters on the other hand, was thought provoking, our next destination surely was even more so.
We decided to travel to Zimbabwe, a country that is terribly suffering under an economic crisis which was caused by mismanagement and the forced eviction of white Zimbabwean farmers from their land by one of Africa’s last strongmen, the 84 year old Robert Mugabe.
Local, parliamentary and presidential elections were to be held in Zimbabwe on March 29. There were almost no foreign journalists permitted to cover the elections. Even in normal times permissions to work in Zimbabwe are rarely granted by the government, resulting in journalists posing as tourists and working under cover. Several foreign journalists working in this way were arrested in the past, just like their Zimbabwean colleagues, who are frequently facing imprisonment and mistreatment by government security forces.
Before Chiho and I entered Zimbabwe we went shopping. We bought everything we needed for the next two weeks, like loads of food, water, diesel, batteries, toothpaste and cherry flavored candy. I hid my press cards and extra passports deep inside the Land Rover and burned all my business cards that say “Christoph Bangert -photojournalist-”. On a deserted South African camp site not far from the border I seized to be a photojournalist and became an engineer.
I was very nervous when we crossed the border into Zimbabwe at Beitbridge. On the one hand I really wanted to be there during the elections and document this crucial time in the history of Zimbabwe. At the same time I had to work under cover, pose as a tourist, which in some way I was, but by doing so I risked arrest and imprisonment by the police or the secret service, possibly bringing our Land Rover journey to an abrupt end. I wasn’t too concerned about going to jail myself, but the thought of Chiho having to go through arrest and spending time in an African prison made my stomach turn.
For 11 days Chiho and I traveled through Zimbabwe, while strictly keeping to the touristic or formerly touristic sites that the country has to offer.
We were wearing funny hats, huge sunglasses, shorts and white sneakers in an effort to appear as tourists. We talked to Zimbabweans, both black and white as much as we could to try to understand the immense problemsÂ that the population is facing. Shops were empty, fuel was only available on the black market, long queues formed in front of banks, where people patiently waited for days to receive only worthless pieces of paper. The annual inflation rate has reached 100,000%. A teacher earns about $10 a month while prices on the black market, almost the only source from where food and other supplies are still available, are on a similar level as in North America or Europe.
I was lucky to be able to work for the New York Times again and some of my pictures where published here:
On April 3, the The New York Times writer Barry Bearak, who was working without official permission in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, was arrested by police forces. We hadn’t been working in the same places and didn’t meet, but my pictures were published alongside his texts both online and in print and both our names had been mentioned in the credits.
I learned about his arrest late at night from the picture desk in New York and it was decided that we should try to leave the country the following morning. Chiho and I were concerned that we might get arrested before or during the crossing of the border. An under cover human rights activist had been taken to prison while attempting to board a plane out of Zimbabwe.
After a sleepless night we woke early and drove the few kilometers to the border. We were lucky to be in Victoria Falls, a small town next to the famous water falls of the same name, where the huge Zambezi river spectacularly slams down into a deep gorge. Despite the morning chill we were sweating considerably when we handed over our German and Japanese passports to the Zimbabwean immigration official. We had been hiding all our photography gear and computers in the car and were wearing our tourist uniform again.
With great relief we watched the man un-ceremonially stamp our passports. The crossing of the old steel bridge over the Zambezi River into Zambia turned out to be one of the happiest moments of our journey. We felt as if we had committed the perfect crime and had just gotten away with it.
From Livingstone, a small Zambian town just across the border, I called my editors in New York, who had been very concerned and had provided us with great support and understanding.
We went into a supermarket to see a very different picture compared to the one only 10 kilometers away in Zimbabwe. Shelves were bending under South African and European products, there was bread, meat, sugar and cooking oil readily available, supplies that were almost impossible to come by in Zimbabwe.
As I am writing this today, more than a month after the elections, there are still no results for the presidential race announced, and the situation for Zimbabweans of all classes and races is still as desperate as before. Although Robert Mugabe has clearly lost the elections, he and his party, ZANU-PF, refuses to acknowledge defeat. Currently a run-off seems likely as none of the three presidential candidates appears to have won a clear majority of more than 50% of the vote. This is disputed by the opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC, who claims to have won 50,3% of all votes.
My colleague Barry Bearak was released on bail four days after his detention and was said to be OK.
After one night in a noisy and overcrowded backpacker’s lodge in Livingstone, another stark contrast to the almost deserted guesthouses and hotels across the river, we made our way northeast towards Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, and from there on towards the South Luangwa National Park. We decided to take a short cut not usually used during the rainy season, that was just about to come to an end in this part of the continent. We also took two hitchhikers along, Diana and Kate from the US, who were great company and of good help during our two day odyssey through the wild bush of Zambia.
The road was heavily overgrown and muddy and the friendly villagers we encountered on the way were happy to see us. We had been the first car since January.
Once I almost flipped the car onto its side while attempting to drive up a steep river bank. I failed to see a deep hole that was covered with vegetation and proceeded to slam the Land Rover into it. The vehicle was on the verge of tilting over and we had to climb out the side window. Very, very slowly. The left front wheel was dangling about one meter in the air and it took us a while to secure the car with straps that we attached to a nearby tree. The following rescue operation was unnerving because I first had to climb underneath the tilted vehicle in order to retrieve our winching gear.
Once more the electric winch that is attached to the front of the Land Rover saved us and after an hour the car was standing on all four feet again.
We saw hippos, elephants, zebras, giraffes, baboons, wildebeest, buffaloes, countless antelopes and even a sleepy lion during our visit of the South Luangwa National Park. A few days later we proceeded to Malawi and it’s capital Lilongwe. There we met Kate and Neil again, British travelers who are on the road with their four children and an old Land Rover Discovery. We had seen them last in South Africa.
We spent only a few days in Malawi, visiting Livingstonia, an impressively remote and beautiful mission, and Nkhata Bay, a village on the shore of the wonderful Lake Malawi.
We entered Tanzania on April 14th and made a our way to Dar Es Salaam, the largest and economically most important city in this East African nation. On a beach just 8 kilometers south of the center we set up camp and immediately started to work on the car, which badly needed some maintenance and also on our visa application for Sudan. The Sudanese visa is not easy to get and it can take up to three weeks to be granted. After visiting the Japanese as well as the German embassies in order to get recommendation letters we applied for a Sudanese tourist visa, which will hopefully be approved by the time we reach Nairobi or Addis Ababa, where it then actually will be issued. That’s at least how it works in theory. We will see.
The rain has stopped in the meantime and the sun came out between the clouds. Chiho and I are repacking the Land Rover. Tomorrow we will leave this wonderful spot on the beach and travel to the northwest to Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park. We will then visit Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya before we make our way up to Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. We unfortunately only have three months left for the last part of the journey, which is not much given the bad roads and long distances that are still ahead of us.