Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hello Namibia

July 23, 2007. Windhoek, Namibia.

After two long flights and a layover in South Africa, we arrived in Windhoek, Namibia feeling a bit whacked from the air travel and looking down the barrel of a five-hour drive. For all of us, Windhoek was a bit of a surreal experience at first. Perhaps it was the contrast to the hot, muggy and lush landscape of Ghana that took us off guard. Windhoek was dry and clear. We were surrounded by a vast expanse of desert and comforted by a cool breeze. The hustle and crowds of Ghana were gone, now replaced by a profound sense of isolation. "Where are we?" Chad, our assistant cameraman, asked in disbelief.

I think we were all experiencing a sense of being lost and trying to come to terms with this new location, which quite frankly didn't match up to any of our expectations. Mark Knobil, our Director of Photography, and Chris Strollo, our Soundman, (who have both worked extensively in Africa before) seemed a bit confused. For me, I think it was sensory deprivation. There was a single black road, beige sand (like some sort of lunar landscape) and blue sky. The only vestige of our Ghana experience was the baboons. There they were, seemingly larger, sitting on the side of the road like sentinels. It was strange seeing baboons out in the open among desert scrub brush. The baboons looked like dusty old books, sitting in lines along the side of the road.

As we drove into the night, our new colleague and driver ,AJ, answered periodic questions about the land, the people and the wildlife. The baboons in Namibia aren't a big problem though their numbers are growing. The giraffes we were seeing were part of game parks, a burgeoning new business. Hunting parks too were big. If you wanted to shoot a lion that could be arranged for 10K US, an elephant 25K and so on.

Late in the evening we finished crossing the desert and arrived in Swakopmund, which sits on the desert's edge of the coast. The town was eerily quiet, and the extremely wide streets, which were first built to accommodate ox carts, were devoid of any life. A thick blanket of fog covered the entire town, and it was very cold thousands of miles from Ghana, and even further from home.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Farewell Ghana (& the Big Headed Greenback)

July 22, 2007. Accra, Ghana.

This evening we loaded our gear for the last time in Ghana and were whisked off to the airport, lead once again by Teddy Sabutey, our fixer. At the airport, Teddy worked his magic for a final time and we breezed through customs and all the long lines at the airport. It was nothing short of miraculous. We did however run into one small obstacle that at first even stunned Teddy. When we went to pay for our excess baggage (we checked 19 bags), we were a bit shocked to discover that the airport doesn't take credit cards. Not to be shaken easily, Brook, our Line Producer, reached into her own magic bag and retrieved more than five hundred dollars in cash to pay the bill. Not so fast . . . To our surprise, our money was no good. The reason: our US currency was of the older variety, the kind where the President's portrait is smaller than that of the new currency. "We only take the Big Heads," the woman at the counter informed us.

We'd run into this problem before in Ghana. It was never really clear to me if the preference for big headed Presidents was born out of a fear of counterfeiting or simply just a penchant for big headed Presidents. It was hit or miss whether somebody would take your money. None the less, at the airport we were in a bit of the bind. We all scrambled for our wallets in a search for Big Headed Greenbacks. Fifty dollars here, one fifty there, eighty dollars in my own wallet. We came up very shy of Big Heads. We decided to make a dash for a money machine to retrieve Ghanaian bills, however there's a limit to what can be withdrawn (about the equivalent of $150 US per day). To complicate matters there were no machines to be found in our terminal, and the clock was ticking. We headed back outside and to another terminal, where Teddy worked his magic and got us through security and into the airport through an Exit Only door. Brook and Teddy headed inside, found no machines, but lucked into an Exchange booth. With a fist full of crisp, new Big Headed bills, we were on our way.
Teddy is without a doubt one of the best fixers in the world, and probably the best I've ever had the pleasure to work with. Whether it was getting us permission to shoot in a difficult location with hours notice, or running interference when we got ourselves in trouble, Teddy performed with grace, dignity and style.

After drinks at the bar, we killed some time with this garbage can. It performed its role well in a dramatic and powerful story filled with excitement, love, loss and the inevitable tragedy that so often unfolds when individuals follow their hearts.

The excitement and possibilities implicit in new love.
A chance encounter leads to romance . . .
. . . and ultimately to love.
With the passage of time, love reveals itself to be fleeting, and a distance is created until . . .
The pain of a broken hearts.