Saturday, 17 October 2009
Last weekend I was at my parents home in Point Lonsdale (small seaside town in Victoria, Australia) helping with a major spring clean of their home that has been ongoing for the last few months. It is an overwhelming task, mostly as the belongings of my parents have been accumulated over the course of many years and my father in particular is an incredible hoarder. This past weekend was set to be another negotiation of what was to be discarded and what to be saved as we tackled the linen press where things had been hidden away for years.
Amongst the bedding, beach towels and childhood games there was an extensive collection of National Geographic magazines, some from as long ago as 1967, the year that I was born. My father (true to form and totally expected) did not want to get rid of the magazines and so it was decided to dust them all off and return them to the shelves. As we flicked through them and placed them back, I collected a few of interest, including an edition that included an article about Dian Fossey and the mountain gorillas from 1970 and another with an article about Jane Goodall. As I continued to stack the magazines back onto the shelves, another one caught my eye as I glimpsed the words Zaire River on the spine.
I opened it up, flicked to the article and exclaimed to my mother that here was the river I had once travelled, and on this very barge that was pictured in the article. It was a part of my travels in Africa that I had never been able to describe accurately as words could not do justice to the experience and I did not have any pictures of this journey. We were advised before boarding that security was a problem and it would be best to avoid carrying anything of any value with us. As we would be sleeping on the roof of one of the barges, with no real protection, most of us decided it was good advice and so most cameras were left with friends who would not be making the trip.
And so, as you may imagine, to find the article was an absolute treat for me and I was quite thrilled with the images in particular, as they bought to life a journey I had taken nearly 21 years ago.
The crocodile under the stairs, the chimpanzee that was for sale in the bar and the barge-side sales were all as I had remembered, not to mention the incredible conditions and the number of people on board. No-one could really have imagined the reality of that barge without being there or without seeing these images. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, nor seen since.
The article was published in 1991, less than two years after I was there and it didn't occur to me at first that it could have been our trip... and yet, as I looked closer, I noticed there were a number of white people in a small group on the roof of one of the boats and in fact 3 of them looked remarkably like 3 of the people in my group. Their stance and their heights and their features were certainly familiar. Seriously. I was stunned.
Could this photo have been taken at the same time we were there and could they really be people I knew? It wasn't until the following day during closer examination that I noticed another 3 people sitting further along on the highest point of the 5 boats and I think one of them might be me!
Now, this may not be of particular interest to you, but to me, to have this article bring my memories to life and that it is POSSIBLE that it is actually me there in this amazing photo in National Geographic... well that to me is so so exciting. The photographer Robert Caputo has captured the essence of what that trip was to me.
I read the article with interest and according to the magazine there was a film made of the journey and I am of course, eager to watch it and will have try to contact National Geographic to find out if it is available.
In the meantime, through the magic of the internet and Google, I visited Robert Caputo's website and here is a link to the amazing photo. His photos are available for sale via Aurora Photos and I have emailed them in an attempt to contact him and find out the dates the photos were taken.
I travelled in Africa for the first 4 months of 1989 and according to my diary we boarded the barge on Feb 19th in Kisangani and disembarked at Lisala just 3 days (and a huge adventure) later. How incredible if these photos were taken on the very same journey. And how amazing that nearly 21 years later, I should happen upon the article in a pile of magazines that had not been touched for years.
I hope to hear from Robert sometime soon and will let you know what he says.