The Roller Coaster

Posted May 27, 2013 by 0 Comments

Jeff Hartman and his wife Brooke are World Next Door fellows whose first assignment took them to Rwanda.
This is one of many unique adventures they had there.
You can read all about their trip in the upcoming
June issue of World Next Door Magazine.


I am still trying to get used to life as a photojournalist for World Next Door. While I expected adventure and excitement, I didn’t expect the wide range of emotions that comes along with the job. Yes, excitement, amazement, and awe are all part of it, but fear? Chaos? Sadness? I didn’t expect that.

Brooke engulfed by kids.

Brooke engulfed by kids.

I should have expected these emotions. We are embedding with social justice organizations, after all. But I guess I underestimated the intensity of the issues and the joy of the people we are covering.

One experience in particular took me on a ride that I will never forget. It took me from excitement to fear to laughter to sadness… all in a span of about 20 minutes. Let me explain.

A group of us were taking a tour of the Cyimbili coffee plantation in Western Rwanda, walking the fields and hills with the founder of ALARM, Celestin Musekura. It was getting to the end of the school day and we heard the laughter and screams of the school kids who had just been let out for the day. Celestin asked if we wanted to go see them and we all unanimously said, “yes!” Who doesn’t want to see school kids?

As we walked closer to the school, everyone was excited to meet the children and maybe take a few pictures to document their lives in Cyimbili. As we walked onto the school grounds, we suddenly made eye contact with literally hundreds of kids. Our excitement turned to trepidation because we all knew the sight of “muzungus” (foreigners) often turns kids into a curious mob that likes to touch and grab and climb.

Not sure exactly what look he was going for.

Not sure exactly what look he was going for.

As we walked closer with cameras in hand, over 200 kids engulfed us, trying to touch our skin, hair, and cameras. A few in our group put their cameras away and others, including myself, straightened up and stood firm. Celestin fortunately noticed the potential disaster and wisely commanded the children to gather around him. Fortunately, kids in Rwanda still respect elders and did as they were told.

Celestin talked, introduced our team, and told them they’d be able to ask us questions and maybe even touch our skin or hair if, and only if, they did so in an orderly manner. At this point, we all were thinking OK, this is cool, we can handle this. Our excitement returned and some took their cameras back out in preparation for an organized photo shoot.

As Celestin finished talking, the kids started to get a little antsy, so he gave them permission to calmly approach the “muzungus” and ask a few questions. What occurred after that can only be described as mass chaos. The kids erupted with more energy and curiosity than we could have ever expected.

We were again engulfed by a sea of curious kids reaching out to pet us, pinch us, and touch our skin and hair. The look on our faces was priceless and I can remember looking at my wife, pulling out my camera and asking her to attempt a smile for the camera. She managed!

Once the kids saw me take a picture, they wanted their picture taken too, so I started snapping like crazy. I’d take a picture, show the kids and they’d laugh. That process repeated endlessly for the next few minutes. We may have only done this for 5 minutes or so but I got caught up in the moment and the exhilaration seemed to last for 15-20 minutes. It was a blast and I got some of the most candid, funny pictures of the kids as a result.

What a great smile!

What a great smile!

We were all caught up in the moment, on a high of sorts, and didn’t want it to end. Celestin had to call us several times to get us to leave and we were admittedly a little sad as a result.  As we started to walk home, we all started laughing at the thought of what had just happened.  We started to laugh even more when we looked at the pictures of the kids. Some smiled, some laughed, and some even made funny faces. It was truly kids being kids and, you could argue, adults being kids as well!

It was a roller coaster ride of emotions involving excitement, fear, sadness and joy all in a span of minutes. Looking back, I realize that the experience was a microcosm of working with World Next Door.

On any given trip, we work with the world’s greatest injustices, meet some of the most fearless Christ-followers, witness the desolation of slums and see the beauty of the natural world. It really is a roller coaster!

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About the Author: Jeff Hartman is a year-long fellow with WND. Jeff has degrees in physical therapy and public health and has worked in numerous countries around the world. Jeff has an eye for photography and is willing to do almost anything to get “the shot.”

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