Photography to Fiction
The small, rickety train chugs slowly through the jungle toward La Ceiba, Honduras. Still early morning, it's already hot and humid, and the mosquitoes are rapacious. As we decelerate into a curve, I catch sight of a Garifuna woman ten meters from the track. She lifts a wooden rod above her head and plunges it hard into a long white stocking. I look at Eli, my "fixer," that is to say, my guide-driver-interpreter, raise my eyebrow in question, and point back toward the woman we passed. He saw her, too. We don't weigh the pros and cons of what to do. I shoulder my backpack of camera gear, Eli signals our farewell to the engineer, and we jump off the train.
And land safely.
We watch the train disappear into the distance. "When's the next train?" I ask, taking aim at a mosquito.
"Two days?" He shrugs. "Maybe we walk out. First, let's go find that woman."
That woman is Suyapa. She's stuffing cassava root into a cotton "snake" to drain the liquid. From the resulting meal, she sieves flour. Her sister then cooks tortillas over an open flame. They invite us into their kitchen-saplings lashed together with hemp. Giggling children stand outside peeking in, their eyes filled with wonder at the sight of a tall, red-haired American photographing women doing what ordinary women the world over do every day.
Ordinary for them, but another extraordinary adventure for me.
My images and my life as a photographer are the inspiration for the fiction I write, infusing it with authenticity and atmosphere. Fleeing the fire that destroyed my lodge in Namibia. Being medevacked from the Kalahari Desert. Galloping a horse up a mountain to visit kids who finally have a chance to go to school. Canoeing the Zambezi. Having a Shona n'anga read my energy in tossed bones. Summiting Kilimanjaro. Trekking in rain forests to find elusive Indri Indri lemurs in Madagascar. Exploring markets in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala and Ranomafana Town, Madagascar. Encountering a jaguar in the jungles of Honduras and Kodiak bears on Kamchatka. Spending hours tossed around in a jeep on a deeply rutted Africa "highway." Flying through a tropical storm in a Soviet-built DC3 prop with the pilot looking out the window to see where he's going. Climbing around the bowels of a US Navy assault ship. Buffeting Beaufort eleven seas in the Southern Atlantic. Tweaked and polished, many of my adventures as a photographer find their way into my fiction. They also make for an exciting life.