First Flight

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I have another blog post up on my new website. Click HERE to read it, and please switch permanently to the new site. In the blog sidebar of the new site, you can subscribe to receive an email notice when I post blogs. Hope to see all of you there!

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Check Out My New Website!

I’ve had this blog and a separate portfolio website for the last few years, and now I’ve decided to combine them into one. I’ve transferred all my blog posts over to the new website and will not be using this one anymore.

So…if you would like to continue to follow me by RSS feed, please click HERE to go to my new website. Click on the blog tab in the menu bar, and use the RSS  icon in the right sidebar to get the new blog posts in your feed. I have not yet found a good way to allow subscription by email.

I will try to write more often, especially now that my job at Virunga National Park has ended.

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Top 11 Facts of My Life from 2011

Since I pretty much abandoned this blog the last year, I’ve decided to do a quick summary of some facts from 2011. I’ll probably think of many more down the road, like the minute I hit “publish”, so might add to this later.

(Drum roll, please…)

1.  I took a job at a national park in Africa. Virunga National Park and Congo, to be specific. I’ve always wanted to work in the bush, see wild animals everyday, commune with nature…that sort of thing. I can’t say this is exactly what I imagined, but it may be the closest I ever get. I see monkeys every day. I could see gorillas every day if I made the effort. I don’t exactly commune with nature unless peeing outdoors counts.

This is the view from my office at Virunga National Park in Congo.

2.  I lived in a tent for a year (minus the month of June and part of December). Yes, dear brother Steve…a TENT. OK, OK, I also had housekeepers who made my bed, cleaned the tent, and did my laundry, but we don’t have to talk about that.

Home Sweet Home: my tent for the last year.

3.   I have peed outdoors and in a bucket more than in a toilet this year. Yes, this is scary but true. (Sorry, no photo of this my friends)

4.  I had my photos published in numerous newspapers and hundreds of websites, including the Guardian, National Geographic, MSNBC, The Times London, and NPR. I thoroughly enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame.

The full two-page spread in The Guardian on the baby gorilla rescued from poachers by Virunga National Park rangers.

5.  I slept on the rim of a volcano, and stood less than 500 meters from another erupting volcano. It was totally cool.

Nyamulagira Volcano erupts just 500 meters away.

6.  Saw critically endangered mountain gorillas in the wild for the first time. One stole and ate my scarf. I have this picture to prove it.

A gorilla eats my scarf.

7.  Raised money for the widows of rangers killed at Virunga National Park. Over 130 killed since 1996, and 11 this year.

Two rangers were killed and 7 others wounded in a serious attack on the Rumangabo-Goma road on July 29. Michel's widow, Valeri, grieves for her husband at the funeral. This was the 11th ranger killed in 2011.

8.  Finally got the chance to do some design work and love it. LOVE it. I learned a lot, and think I improved some.

9.  Stayed in Congo during their elections…one of the few expats who braved it. And Congo did well with very little violence.

10.  I passed the two year mark of the death of my sister Yvonne and although I miss her more than words can describe, it has become easier and I don’t cry much anymore.

Yvonne

11.  I met and worked with some amazing people (gorilla doctors, rangers, widows, humanitarian workers, some very tall Dutch men, my one-and-only female co-worker, our warden, and many more). I did not meet the man of my dreams, but am still hopeful.

Best wishes to all of you for 2012!

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Google Weirdos Adorned with Yellow Battery Acid

The view from my office at Virunga National Park at Rumangabo.

I looked at my blog today for the first time in ages. It was in a sad state, with no posts for nearly two months. No stories about my new life working for Virunga National Park in Congo. I figured that my family, friends, and strangers had probably abandoned my poor blog, put it to rest, figuring it was dead and buried.

So I clicked on the “stats” page, just to confirm that not a single person had read my blog in the last two months, but was shocked to see numbers there. Random numbers. February 13th apparently was quite a busy day on my blog for God-knows-what-reason. Did something happen on the 13th that I should know about?

But here’s the good part. I decided to check the section that tells what people googled to land on my blog. The following are actual google searches. I did not make any of these up.

First, the most popular search topic in the last month was variations on:
Land with bum in the butter (who would have thought that post would be useful to so many people) Click HERE to read post

The longest search line:

  • edentify the ecological uniqueness of the plant and animal life in garamba forest

The shortest search:

  • a

And now for just a small sample of the good ones (and the post that some were led to):

  • taking off her clothes (twice this was searched for! And I promise, whoever googled this and landed on my blog was sorely disappointed)
  • bum worms (I have never had bum worms)
  • buy football bombs (I have never bought football bombs – but I know what post this came from)  Click HERE to see post
  • african culuture adorned with yellow battery acid (???  And I swear I have never used the words “yellow battery acid” on my blog)  OK, I lie. I just remembered THIS
  • monkey fur coats Nairobi (I do not endorse such a thing)  HERE is the post
  • country music feetshots (what is a “feetshot”?)
  • monkeys warthog socks (This I would like to see)
  • pink microphone sock (I know exactly how they landed on my site, but why would anyone be searching for this?)  See post HERE
  • do volcanoes throw up anything else apart from lava ? for kids
  • rubberband clothes
  • scurvy Kenya (have I ever used the word “scurvy” on my blog? I need to check this)
  • hedgehog hairstyle
  • scottish phrases for bums and lowlifes (I promise I am not using disparaging phrases about lowlifes.)
  • i am looking for kenya boys and girls email address  (pervert perhaps?)

I have to say that I have found this so entertaining that I will probably check back regularly for a laugh.

And so…(drum roll)…this is my re-introduction to writing again on this blog. I’m hoping to have committed, interested readers, not just weirdos googling bizarre things and ending up here, disappointed to find that I do not have information on “african culuture adorned with yellow battery acid.”

(And I’m going to work on this blog partly, well mostly, because my boss wants me to. He thinks people will read it. He thinks I can say things here that I probably shouldn’t on the official www.gorilla.cd blog. Doesn’t that sound enticing? He has no idea what he’s in for. Someone should warn him.)

Is anyone out there reading this?

(I will be posting simultaneously here and on my other blog:  http://luanne.gorillacd.org/)

Another view of volcano Mt Mikeno from the office at Rumangabo Headquarters in the park.

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Doggie Crush

I have a crush on Mkuki.

Mkuki has a crush on the new goldfish.

Or maybe she’s just hungry, but I think that’s a kiss I’m seeing.

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A Honky Tonk Christmas

I know I may alienate some people here, but I’m going to say it anyway…

I hate country music.

No, I’m not a music snob. I don’t like opera either, and the only excuse for listening to Abba music is to mock it. I think I’m well-balanced.

So you can imagine the pain I’ve suffered this Christmas being forced to listen to Christmas country music. Yes, forced. When you’re riding in a car in Nairobi, other ride options are poor, so I listen.

Here’s a sample:  It’s called “Honky Tonk Christmas.”  The first line of the chorus is, “It’s going to be a honky tonk Christmas…”  Now, I have to confess, I have no idea what “honky tonk” means, but somehow I just know that the phrase “honky tonk” and “Christmas” do not belong together in the same line.

All this aside, it’s been a lovely Christmas in Nairobi with brother Jon and wife Cher, and their son Josh and family – Audra, Raeleigh and Gabe. Josh works for Wycliffe and has lived in Nairobi for 5 years. The weather has been a perfect sunny 75-80 degrees F, with occasional rain in the evenings. It’s good to be with family. My other options involved the grim prospect of spending it alone or with acquaintances.

I need to be with family on Christmas, so I tolerate the “honky tonk” music.

And we probably had a “honky tonk” Christmas.

And I’m thinking I should look up “honky tonk” because I may just have the definition completely wrong. Perhaps some country-music fan out there can enlighten me…if you’re still speaking to me.

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And now… a quickie photo collage from our Kenya holiday:

Christmas in Nairobi with Jon, Cher, Josh, Audra, Raeleigh, Gabe, and a baby hedgehog named Squeaky (sleeping on Jon).

Fraser was the pilot for Garamba National Park in Congo for 22 years but is now living in Nairobi in a beautiful house that is next to a conservatory of some sort. Wild warthogs come over to his property looking for food, and a few have become so tame that they eat out of his hands, let him rub their tummy, and one has learned to “sit.” We spent the afternoon at his house, getting up-close-and–personal with the warthogs.

One warthog decided I had some food and came up twice while I shot photos, planting his nose right on my lens. Thank God he didn’t find it tasty.On another lunch visit with some friends outside Nairobi, Colobus Monkeys came down low in the trees. These stunning monkeys look like they are wearing exotic fur coats and feather boas.Jon and Josh were obsessed with finding chameleons on the property, and rounded up about five of a variety they don’t usually see.We spent some time at a horse race, getting our faces painted, riding camels. Good fun.

We spent an afternoon at a small water park in Nairobi. This was my very first water park, and it was a blast. I didn’t get good photos, so decided to do mostly the feet shots here, and one of Jon, Gabe, and Josh trying to get warm after being wet for so long.

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The End and the Beginning: 2010 to 2011

I’m sorry there’s been a big dry-spell here on my blog. I spent the month of November and beginning of December working many days and long hours on a research/photography job for MAF UK (Mission Aviation Fellowship) covering stories on various NGOs/Missions in Northern Uganda, and Southern Sudan. It was a wonderful and humbling experience to see the life-changing work of selfless individuals. The last two weeks I’ve been in Nairobi, Kenya to spend the holidays with my family (brother Jon and Cher, nephew Josh and his family).

I’d like to post photos and tell stories about all this soon, but mostly I’m writing to catch you up on my plans.

On January 3rd, I will be flying back to Congo to start a 4-6 month job at Virunga National Park in eastern DRC. This park is the oldest national park in all of Africa, and probably one of the most spectacular, or at least it used to be. Within its boundaries lie the nearly 17,000 foot Rwenzori Mountains, active volcanoes, and mountain gorillas. It used to be full of wild animals, but the seemingly endless conflicts in Congo and neighboring Rwanda have nearly destroyed the park and its animals. Emmanuel, the Belgian warden of the park for the last 3 years, has been fighting a desperate and difficult battle to save this park and the animals. He deals regularly with poaching, militia attacks, army problems, illegal destruction of the forests and many other issues, including that Congolese government has little money to contribute to the protection of the park, and so the survival of the park is dependent on donations from small and large sources. This is where I come in. The park already has a good website on line that includes a blog and ways to donate, but they need help to increase the readership and donations on the blog. I will be involved somehow in this effort, although I’m not sure exactly to what extent yet. I’m going into this job in a fog and hope it clears up by the time I start. (http://gorillacd.org/blog/)

It sounds like an adventure, and I will most likely have numerous opportunities to see the gorillas, which I’ve heard is a never-to-forget experience. I will hopefully also be able to climb the active volcano, which is nearly 12,000 feet high, and stand on the edge looking down into a red boiling caldron of lava. That also, I’ve heard, is spectacular. What I’m not thrilled about is the insecurity of the place. A militia group known as Mai Mai have attacked ranger stations as recently as last month.

I will be living in a safari-type tent at the Rumangabo main headquarters, about an hour drive north of Goma (only about 20 miles). The tent apparently is tall enough to stand up in, has a bed, desk, shelf, and electricity, and is a short walk to the bathroom. I imagined that I would have a locked door and walls between me and any possible shooting that might happen, so a tent doesn’t give me much peace of mind. Feel free to send up prayers for peace and security there. I think the last time this ranger station was seriously attacked was in 2008. In the last 15 or so years, they’ve lost over 120 rangers (and I’ve heard up to 140) related to the conflicts. This is probably a record for any national park anywhere in the world. As recently as April, a baby gorilla was rescued from poachers who probably killed its mother and other gorillas. (http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/great-apes/2010/04/gorilla-doctors-rescue-captive.html) It never seems to end, and yet (believe it or not), things have improved so much that tourists are coming to see the gorillas and climb the volcano.

I hope that you will all follow what I’m up to there, but I’ll try to keep this blog up as well, or repost those blogs here with a more personal touch.

Lots of love and grace to all of you this coming year. Thank you for reading and for all the comments. It is so very appreciated!

LuAnne

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