Rolling around with gorillas* at Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s naming ceremony for baby gorillas

Today is Kwita Izina, the annual Rwandan ceremony for naming new baby mountain gorillas. Last year my husband and I got one of the many free invitations to the event and I recorded our experiences. This was my first time producing an audio story where I was part of the story, a la This American Life. I learned a lot in making this piece and hope to create more in the future. What do you think?

(*Not real gorillas. Listen to the story or see the pictures for details.)

[sc_embed_player fileurl=”http://www.laurapohl.com/KwitaIzina.mp3″]

01-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

02-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

03-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

05-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

06-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

07-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

08-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

10-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

11-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

12-Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming celebration in Kiniga, Rwanda, on Saturday, June 22, 2013. By Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa, Table Mountain by Laura Elizabeth PohlMr. P. at the top of Table Mountain. We were wrapped in clouds the whole time and had to leave the mountain sooner than expected because park officials said the cloud cover made it dangerous for visitors.

Cape Town topped this year’s New York Times list of 52 Places to Go in 2014 and for good reason: it’s beautiful, it’s history-filled and it’s got a lot going on. There are restaurants, museums, plays, restaurants, shops, parks, live music, restaurants. Maybe Mr. P. and I had been feeling particularly deprived of those things after one year of living in Rwanda, but we loved Cape Town when we visited at Christmas.

I tend not to take as many pictures when I’m vacation as when I’m working. This means my archive is filled with way more pictures of strangers than of friends and family. But look — on this trip I made an effort. If you were to see at all the photos from Cape Town, it would appear that Mr. P. hired a professional photographer to document his South Africa vacation. Which isn’t so far from the truth, actually.

Cape Town, South Africa, Table Mountain by Laura Elizabeth PohlThe clouds broke for about five seconds and I got this stunning view of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain.

Cape Town, South Africa, Table Mountain by Laura Elizabeth PohlTypical view of cloud-shrouded Table Mountain as seen from the Castle of Good Hope.

Fish Hoek, near Cape Town, South Africa, by Laura Elizabeth PohlNear the beach at Fish Hoek. The sign tied between the palm trees says, “Merry Christmas.”

Fish Hoek, near Cape Town, South Africa, by Laura Elizabeth PohlPlaying on the beach at Fish Hoek. There’s Mr. P walking to the immediate right of the jump-roping girl.

Simon's Town beach, near Cape Town, South Africa, by Laura Elizabeth PohlSimon’s Town beach on Dec. 26. We didn’t find this out until later, but visiting the beach the day after Christmas is a Capetonian tradition. No wonder it was packed and we couldn’t find parking for a while (we ended up parking on a sidewalk).

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, by Laura Elizabeth PohlMr. P. stepping on a giant piece of thick seaweed at the Cape of Good Hope. Many people believe this is the southernmost tip of Africa – I did until this trip – but it isn’t. That distinction belongs to Cape Alguhas, about 90 miles southeast.

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, by Laura Elizabeth PohlMr. P. and a panorama of part of the Cape of Good Hope. See the black things floating in the water? That’s the seaweed Mr. P. was stepping on before. The seaweed roots itself in the bottom of the ocean and grows up like a long, thick piece of hair.

Cape Point, South Africa, by Laura Elizabeth PohlRough seas at Cape Point.

Cape Point, South Africa, by Laura Elizabeth PohlAlso very windy at Cape Point.

Looking at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, by Laura Elizabeth PohlThe Cape of Good Hope as seen from Cape Point.

Cape Point, South Africa, by Laura Elizabeth PohlA girl looking out from Cape Point.

Flying over Ethiopia

Ethiopia countryside aerial view | Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl

I love sitting in the window seat of an airplane, which lets me appreciate (and photograph) views like this one somewhere over Ethiopia. I have so many beautiful aerials over so many African countries. I may have to edit through them and create an essay, something like George Steinmetz’s series of aerials over Africa. I definitely have a long way to go before I have images like his, though. Just gorgeous.

Exploring Musanze Cave in northwestern Rwanda

Musanze Cave entrance © Laura Elizabeth Pohl
All photographs © Laura Elizabeth Pohl. No use without permission.

When you’re just outside Musanze town, the signs to Musanze Cave seem clear: “xx KM MUSANZE CAVE” and an arrow pointing to the right. Don’t turn right. Keep driving. Don’t let the descending distances on multiple, consecutive signs lure you into turning, not until you get to a sign that simply says “MUSANZE CAVE” and an arrow pointing to the right. Those previous signs? The arrows should point straight ahead. Yes, it’s a little confusing, but worth it.

Not that the road leading to Musanze Cave inspires confidence you’re heading to one of Rwanda’s newest tourism sites. There’s a dirt and rock path, and then a soccer pitch with concrete school buildings and a light forest around the perimeter. The day Mr. P and I visited with our friends J and J, we couldn’t see an obvious path to drive on, or a cave entrance. Kids were playing soccer, so Mr. P maneuvered to the far side of the pitch. That’s where we saw the entrance: about 3m of white ticker tape strung between two wooden posts amongst scraggly bushes and uneven ground. A sign laid out caving rules, including “Any caving activity must be guided.” We wondered where we’d find a guide. We needn’t have worried, not when there might be money involved.

After we parked between some trees, a man in a blue jump suit appeared. He didn’t speak English well and he didn’t look like a guide to me. He certainly didn’t have any official identification. But he safely led us through the caves for an hour and made a handsome profit – 5,000 francs for each of us, a total of about $30. Was this a fair price? Should we have been charged at all? And was this man a guide or an entrepreneurial local who knew his way around the cave? No idea.

There are actually two caves, and both were pitch black and completely dry. We all used flashlights and iPhone apps to see around us. The Rwandan government has done a pretty good job clearing walking paths, but I still felt around with my feet to ensure I wasn’t about to tumble over a wall. We saw some breathless sights, including a portion of collapsed roof overgrown with vines reaching toward the sky (see picture below). We also saw one little bat. And some kind of animal teeth. At least we hope it was animal teeth; apparently there was a massacre here during the 1994 genocide, though I could find only one source that said this.

Overall, the lack of artificial lighting made it hard to discern the shape and depth of the caves and their wonders. And since we didn’t speak the same language as our guide, we couldn’t learn much about what little we could see. Still, I enjoyed exploring in the dark and having the caves to ourselves for one hour.

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Lake Malawi vacation

Mr. P and I have been working like crazy recently. He’s always up late or analyzing Excel sheets on the weekends. I’ve been filming and photographing all over Africa and barely been home since March. We needed a vacation — a totally relaxing, unplug-from-the-world getaway.

So between two stories I shot in Malawi, Mr. P met me for an escape on the southern shore of Lake Malawi. We splurged and stayed at Norman Carr Cottage, a cozy guesthouse run by a South African couple: Taffy, a talkative and opinionated man who will have you laughing at most everything he says, and Jenny, an equally opinionated, funny and warm woman. We slept in a huge room with a huge mosquito net (the small nets, like we have at our house, make me feel like I’m sleeping in a delicate jail cell), ate delicious breakfasts every morning (our other meals were tasty, too) and snorkeled, swam and read. And slept. A lot.

Also, we barely used the Internet because the connection was terribly slow. Bonus.

Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Lake Malawi vacation by Laura Elizabeth Pohl