When You’re Paid to do What You’re Passionate about

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It’s no surprise to many of you that I enjoy taking photos and making videos. However some of you may be surprised to find out that taking photos and making videos is essentially 50% of my job description; the other 50% involves writing stories about these photos and videos. (No, of course these aren’t the exact figures from my job description). In other words my job involves doing what I would normally do just for fun and I don’t appreciate this fact anywhere near enough. In fact I sometimes take it for granted. But not today. Today I’m feeling very fortunate.

I work on a project funded by USAID as a chief storyteller (not my actual title lol). I document and share stories about the project’s activities. The project itself is actually really good as far as projects go. I’ve seen and worked on quite a few and I know first-hand that some are better than others. This project aims to improve the state of nutrition in Senegal. It works entirely through established local partners in the agriculture/health sector, i.e. NGOs, farmer’s cooperatives, e.t.c and provides training for them on nutrition-related best practices. In turn, these partners who work directly with community members, share these best practices with the community members in the course of their regular activities.

A few months ago I was working with my colleagues on a profile of one of the project’s beneficiaries. A woman named Khodia Tall. She volunteers in her community as a health worker and has done so for several years. She was one of the health workers that attended some of our project’s training on how to integrate nutrition messaging in community health work. I went to her village to interview her and took photos of her weighing babies, and speaking to women about nutrition. It took the whole day but it all went really well and I got some great photos.

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check out all the other photos in the article. Link below

I then drafted a story about all of this which I shared with my colleagues in DC. We worked together on a story that we submitted to USAID/Senegal, who in turn submitted it to USAID headquarters in DC. Our goal was for them to post it on their exposure page. “Exposure” is a really cool photo story sharing platform that a lot of people/ organizations use to share really engaging visual content.

And then we waited. And waited some more. After a few months we were waiting to perhaps hear that the story wouldn’t be used after all. And a few months after that we gave up hope of even receiving that message and sort of forgot about this story.

And then all of a sudden it was posted and I must say their team did an amazing job turning our drafts into a stunning final product.

Check it out!

https://usaidpubs.exposure.co/feeding-khodias-dream.

It is the only USAID exposure story from Senegal and congratulations are going all around. Its a small thing but I feel very proud to have contributed to this. More importantly though, I just feel very fortunate that my job entails creating stories and sharing them with the world.

Here’s to doing what we love.

 

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So I Bought a New Camera

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New Camera: Panasonic Lumix GX85

It was a summer day in 2012 when I decided I would get my first serious camera. I wanted to use it to start a YouTube channel which would feature video’s of myself playing guitar and singing. It was an easy choice deciding between a Nikon or Canon DSLR. I had a few friends with Canon camera’s, some of them even pursuing photography professionally, so I chose to buy a Canon DSLR knowing I would be able borrow and use their lenses on my own camera before eventually investing in my own. So I went out and bought a second-hand Canon 600D body.

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Old Camera: Canon 600D also known as Canon Rebel T3i

I found it for a steal at a second-hand store in Geneva. It was one of those serendipitous moments because after weeks of research, I walked into the store knowing exactly what camera I wanted but not really expecting the store which sold random second-hand products to have it. But they did! And it was in excellent condition, it looked practically brand new. Because I only bought the camera body and I bought it second-hand, I had to go hunting for all the accessories that typically come when buying a brand new camera. I ordered a battery and battery charger online. I then found a camera strap and camera bag from another store. Now all I needed was a lens. I borrowed one of my friends old lenses (I can’t remember which lens) until I eventually bought my first lens, a brand new 50mm F1.8 prime lens- a great first lens that sells for around $100 and delivers incredible results for the price.

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The first camera lens that I bought: 50mm F1.8

Though it was a great lens and it produced amazing portrait shots with impressive background blur because of that f1.8 aperture, it wasn’t ideal for my YouTube needs because of the fixed focal distance and the crop on my camera’s APS-C sensor. 50mm was simply not wide enough. It made everything really zoomed in, and to get the framing of the shot I wanted, I would have to keep the camera several feet away from me which was impossible when shooting in smaller rooms. So a couple of years later I was shopping for a new lens. I settled on the Tamron 17-50mm F2.8. It was quite a bit pricier, around 300 GBP-I bought it while on holiday in London, but after a few years, I was ready to make the investment in this all-around versatile, and sharp lens.

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Great all around Lens: Tamron 17-50 F2.8

And this is what I used for all of my videos and work photos…until now that is.

Back in 2012 it was common knowledge that if you wanted a serious camera you needed a DSLR. But technology has advanced so much that there are now different options. Even though in terms of sensor-size, mega-pixels and overall image quality, most DSLRs will reign supreme, today, mirrorless cameras and even tiny compact (point-and-shoot) cameras, in spite of their smaller sensors produce images and videos with enough quality to rival some DSLRs.

A few months ago I began to find my camera a bit bulky and unwieldy, I also felt I was due an upgrade after having owned it for five years. So I began the hunt for a new camera that took into account all of the technology that 2017 had to offer. What exactly was I looking for in the new camera? A nice compact, portable size, 4K video, In Body Image Stabilization for super smooth video without any shake, good low light capabilities and simply a gorgeous looking body. This time my research took months and I went back and forth before settling on a Panasonic Lumix GX85 with the 12-32mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens. I later bought a 25mm F1.7 lens. I found the camera on Amazon (also second-hand in great condition) for $500.

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It is simply such a beautiful camera and I couldn’t be happier. It ticked (almost) all of my boxes. The size was a real game changer. I could throw it in my backpack and it easily fit. It looked really stylish strapped around my neck. The videos were smooth and crispy, almost as though I was using a steady-cam. It opened my eyes to the world of 4K video, which is just a different ball game in terms of video quality (although the file sizes are just so large that my small laptop struggles when editing the footage). The only things it didn’t have that I would have liked, were a fully articulating touch screen (selfie screen) , so that I could see my self while recording myself to make sure that I was in frame and in focus for my YouTube videos, and a microphone port for an external microphone. But I really have no complaints. There is an app that allows me to use my phone to check whether I am in frame/focus so that hasn’t really been too much of a problem and I can live without an external microphone since I record my audio separately using a studio mic and my laptop.

The best thing about this camera is that it has made me passionate about photography in a way I haven’t been in years. I’m now inspired to step out of my house and rediscover my city through a new lens. I live in Dakar, a city surrounded by the ocean and I’m rediscovering just how gorgeous it is through my photography. I’ve also been using it for work and my colleagues are downright shocked that I’ve been able to get some of these results from such a tiny camera.

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You can expect a lot of photos and videos on this blog taken from this camera from here on out. I hope you will enjoy them!

“How is it that you don’t speak Yoruba?”- A Day’s Struggles with Long Queues, ID and Identity

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The line snaked all the way around the building. This eternal queue and the small talk I inevitably would have to endure were the main reasons why I dreaded this trip. It took a stolen wallet and the realization that my Consular ID Card was within it to initiate one of my rare trips to the embassy. In these days of heightened security, being caught without ID was not a particularly good idea. I needed to have it replaced immediately.

I stood in line with several chatty people. Short and stocky, tall and wiry, they all seemed to be business men though they never wished to get into any great detail about what sort of business they were in exactly. ‘If you’re not going to reveal anything about yourself, then why be so chatty?’ I wondered. I traded banter with those immediately in front and behind me while listening to others chat among themselves in Yoruba, Ibo, French and even in Wolof- the main tongue of our host nation Senegal.

It was an interesting experience taking all of that in. I wanted very much to feel at home, to feel as though I was among my people. I wanted to believe that we did in fact have something connecting us besides our common passport.

When I finally made it to the front of the line, I breathed a sigh of relief. I would be heading home soon, I hoped. A woman in her early fifties sat behind the counter with a pained look on her face. It had been a long morning and I had no doubt she had enjoyed this morning’s queue as little as I had.

“Good morning Ma,” I said, slowly nodding my head and slightly lowering myself to show respect as I learned to do growing up in Nigeria. I handed her the form that I had filled up and explained to her that I was there because I had lost my ID.

“Ogun State.” She said, reading out loud what I had listed as my state of origin. Though I was born in Lagos and had never actually stepped foot in neighboring Ogun State, in Nigeria when asked what state one is from, one usually answers by stating where their parents are from.

“Yes Ma, my parents are both from Ogun State,” I said sheepishly. I wasn’t expecting to be quizzed about my responses in the form. I immediately began to wonder if I had taken enough time to fill it up carefully. Perhaps this trip to the embassy might take a little longer that I thought. My brow furrowed worrying about this and I even considered asking her to return the form to me so that I could take a second look.

“Where in Ogun State is your father from?” she asked.  She seemed to brighten and if I wasn’t mistaken I could trace a light smile on her face as she asked me the question.

“Ijebu-Ode,” I replied. I felt nervous, still unsure where this line of questioning was going. That was about all I knew about my father’s city. He himself had moved to Lagos as early as when he was in secondary school. If she had any more questions about this I simply wouldn’t have any answers.

“I am also from Ijebu-Ode,” she said excitedly before switching to Yoruba. I could make out enough of what she was saying to know that she had just asked me a question. I saw in this woman immense excitement to meet someone from her corner of the world. I knew that my next words would deeply disappoint her.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Yoruba” I said.

Her face fell as she switched back to English. “I recognize your last name, you come from a well-known family in Ijebu-Ode” she said clearly peeved. “How is it that you do not speak Yoruba?”

The profoundness of the question hit me as soon as the words left her mouth. I was in line to replace my lost ID and in the process I was being interrogated about how I had managed to lose my identity.

This was by no means the first time that I had been chided for not being able to speak Yoruba. I had been criticized for it before with criticism that was at times subtle and other times not so much. Each time however, I understood that I wasn’t being judged simply for my failure to grasp the linguistic and grammatical intricacies of a particular language, but for something much deeper. Not knowing Yoruba was interpreted as confirmation of my lost roots, proof that I had lost hold of the intangible thread tying me to centuries of shared culture and knowledge.

I could tell from the disapproving gaze of this woman sitting across from me, fittingly garbed in traditional Yoruba attire, that any attempt at an explanation would ultimately not suffice. I had let her down on a deep level and explaining to her that I didn’t grow up in Nigeria was not going to let me off the hook. My failure to communicate with her in our local language was inexcusable. I had deprived her of a chance perhaps to reconnect with memories of her hometown. A chance to reaffirm her own identity.

I smiled apologetically. Others behind me were peeking their heads over my shoulder to figure out what was taking so long.

“My parents didn’t speak to me in Yoruba growing up,” I said, conveniently throwing my parents under the bus to cut short the awkward conversation. Of course the truth was more nuanced than that and the fault was ultimately mine and not theirs, but I didn’t feel comfortable holding the queue up any longer than I already had and I felt this answer would be enough to move things along.

“Ah… of course” she replied curtly. No more smiles, no more excitement. She shuffled some papers and asked me to pay the fee to replace the lost ID card. “You can pick up your new card anytime this afternoon,” she said.

From her new tone I ascertained condescension, which I didn’t mind and was even used to, but I could also sense something else- pity. I felt she pitied me for losing my identity and I suddenly felt defensive. I wanted her to know that though I may have failed to learn Yoruba, I never lost my identity. I wanted to tell her that although I may not know all the ins and outs of the proud culture of my ancestors, I am nevertheless fiercely proud of the particular nook of the world I was born in, the colorful traditions and the beautifully expressive language of my parents. I needed her to know though, that my identity was never hinged solely on these factors. My identity has always been more complex, influenced as much by my place of birth and ethnicity as by the fact that I have lived on three continents, have called five cities home and a thousand other factors.

All of this would have to go unsaid. I was happy to finally be on my way

“Thank you Ma,” I said respectfully as she handed me my receipt. I wasn’t going to wait around until the afternoon to pick up my new identity card. I would head home and come back the following day to pick it up.

My my new ID card being forged will be plastic and small. It will be easily breakable if put under enough pressure. It will be possible for it to get stolen or to simply get lost. Thankfully my identity is exactly the opposite. It is broad, malleable and impossible to lose nor misplace. And no matter how many languages I may or may not be able to speak, and no matter how many condescending comments and pitying looks I may receive in the future about this, I know my identity will be just fine.