sadness in a forest

For the last week, I was in the Central African Republic where I bounced and slid through an old and grand forest for several days. The trees were magnificent and large, the underbrush thick and impenetrable. It was grand in a way that is only possible in nature that is old, that combines ancient wisdom with new growth. It made me want to sit and stay for a while, to soak in the grandeur and the wisdom, and to learn from the people who have made their homes in the forest, but this was only to be a taste.


Sadly, this taste was not as perfect as it should have been. As we drove out of Bangui, everywhere I looked, there was wood – it had been cut and dried, and was waiting for, or being transported into the city. It was in piles and was being pushed for tens of kilometers by men with carts. More sad than all of that were the semi-trucks that drove by from time to time with truck beds filled with large, dead trees. My jaw dropped in awe when one truck bed was filled with only one tree – and only part of that tree. Not yet cut into planks or broken down, this was a piece of the largest tree I have seen to date. The rumor is that these trees are headed to China, a country hungry to grow and in need of wood, wood beautiful enough to transport across land and sea.


As we drove through the forest, it was dark, cool, and damp. Then we suddenly come across a small clearing where the sun beamed through: it was bright, dry, and hot. And that is how the drive went: dark and cool, then bright and hot, dark and cool, then bright and hot. Every place the large trees were gone stood naked and unprotected from the sun. I stood in awe and cried inside, I stood in awe and I cried inside. I wanted to shout to the truckers that they were destroying virgin forest – some of the last of it left on earth. That there are plants and medicines and insects to be discovered, that mankind is dependent on filtered air, and that people live in those forests. I wanted to shout that when a treasure like this is gone, it can never be rebuilt. And for the family cutting, selling, and pushing wood along the roadside, I wanted to give them an option that did not demand the destruction of their natural resource. It is not a simple story, but its complexity does not make it any less disheartening.

I hope to be back in this forest and others in the next years. I dream of being far enough in that it is all dark, cool, and humid. I want to soak in the grandness and wisdom that fills the place before it is gone forever. Maybe I will be able to hold onto a piece of it, and maybe you can hold onto that piece too.

homemade toy trucks

At one of the many roadblocks I went through in the last week in the Central African Republic, I saw these two young boys making some of the most incredible lorries, or trucks, out of scrap wood. I jumped out of the car and was blessed when they agreed to let me take their photo. If you have a moment, take the time to admire the detail they have put into these lorries from the awning on the back (on the finished lorry rolling down the road) to the moving wheels to the lights and decoration on their front. These children were made to create beautiful things.

a found coke ad

Can I say: Coke ad? Not posed, just captured. Always fun when life presents something that other people work to create.

mud brick and lace windows

I love the textures found in daily life in Africa. The homes are a never-ending source of these textures for me – and, yes, you will continue to see more mud brick homes throughout future travels! This home was on the outskirts of Bangui, CAR.

central african republic: a first taste

This week I had my first taste of the Central African Republic (CAR). This was a quicker trip than anticipated (I arrived Wednesday at 9am and was on a plane Saturday at 9am) and I did not make it further than the outskirts of Bangui, the capital of CAR. While admittedly a brief first visit, it did provide a taste-test of CAR that has left me hoping for more. Here are a few thoughts and images:

  • French and Sango mixed with French. Sango is the main local language, a language of trading, and in the capital is heavily mixed with French. And so every time a conversation started up, my ears and mind would come alive with the thought,”I can understand.” But, I could not, and I desperately wished I could simply switch my brain off.
  • Dirt roads and incomprehensible traffic. Every African country has a lot of dirt roads, but their prevalence where paved roads often are in the capital is a reminder why CAR is one of the lowest on the development scale. The traffic was not heavy (that would require more cars), but HELLO – it was every man for himself as far as side of the road and traffic laws. Maybe I lie… people tended to stay on their side of the road – it is just that “their” side typically amounted to about three quarters of the road, as did ours.
  • Ranch style homes. The tall buildings in the small downtown were two or maybe three stories tall. Everything else is one story, and outside of the nicer homes, they are mud brick. We can argue the durability of mud brick, but I love the texture and shape it gives a land.

  • Life outside. Like many warm places, houses are not used for much besides sleeping (there is typically a separate kitchen or cooking house). This includes a choir practice that we happened upon one day.
  • African fabrics. They were everywhere I turned. I simply love seeing people dressed in these vibrant, sometimes wild fabrics. The traditional dress for women seemed similar to Benin – a loose fitting shirt and wrap-around skirt.
  • Warmth and humidity. Reminded me of my summers spent in Benin where a shower before bed was a necessity.
  • Remembering Benin. Benin was on my mind as there seemed to be reminders left and right including the French, the pronunciation of my name (three syllables: Pam – E – la), the clothes, and the heart of the people I met.
  • Bread. Baguettes in baskets on street corners and in markets and in stores.

  • Open people with big smiles. Sometimes we say this is classic Africa. I think each time I come across this, my heart is warmed because it does exist and not every place is so inviting. This picture was taken after an interview with Marceline (on my right) and her junior sister… I am sure you will hear about them more later in the year.
  • People who love the work they do. I was visiting Blood:Water partner ICDI and was so impressed with everyone I met. They were people who loved what they did, loved how they could help make a difference. And they had visions to do more, reach more people.
  • So much more. There is so much more to see. There are rainforests and rural village and pygmies and wild animals. And most of all, there are more people to meet who all have stories to share. I hope to be back next year.