Peter Bregg's Notes From the Field
May 2, 2006 — A somber trip to Murambi
I have just completed my second week at the National University of Rwanda in Butare working in the photojournalism class with third year journalism students.
I am amazed at how anxious they are to get as much from me as they can. We only spend three hours together each day but we never seem to have enough time even though they skip their half-time break. We haven't taken a break during class yet. Of course I do ramble on at times and maybe they don't notice the time.
We managed to squeeze in three classes on Adobe Photoshop. There is so much to learn in Photoshop. We only dealt with areas that would be useful to a photojournalist. In journalism one should only adjust a photo as much as you would in the conventional darkroom such as burning, dodging and cropping. Photoshop allows you to do that much faster and efficiently. I touched on a few other tricks in photoshop so that they would have some fun with it. They were able to move people's faces and add text to make editorial statements. This kind of exercise allows the students to let their creativity take over. Just as working with cameras, I always suggest they think outside the box when shooting. Some of the photos have been marvelous. One student wondered if these photos would be published in many newspapers. I said most likely not but again, I wanted them to let their creativity take over. I suggested that they shoot as they like but also make photos that they suspect their editors will want. If we are lucky the editors will select the best.
Last week my class was joined by CBC's Lucy van Oldenbarneveld's class of communications students. We took a bus trip to Murambi where a national memorial has been created to the thousands who died in the genocide of 1994. This was an excellent outing.
The students took hundreds of photos. The problem afterwards was in figuring out who took what photos. There are only five working Nikon D1 cameras for 11 students. They were in good spirits and all managed to take part in the exercise and got the shots they wanted.
I was here in Rwanda two years ago for the tenth anniversary of the genocide. I found the site eerie. This site is a former school where victims had gathered for safety only to make the killings easier for the attackers. Now thousands are buried in mass graves covered in concrete while hundreds of bodies have been left in classrooms covered in lime to preserve them for generations. The statement "never again' is evident in many areas. The students making this visit are quiet and somber. It reminded me of a visit I made five years ago to Auschwitz in Poland where a Nazi concentration camp has been kept as a memorial to the millions of Jews who died in WWII. On the day of my visit there were hundreds of Jewish students from Israel walking around with Israeli flags and flowers to leave in memory of their ancestors. It was chilling as this visit has been.
The bus ride was entertaining as they sang along with the piped in music but also had chants of their own in Kinyrandan. I knew they were having fun with each other as different students names were injected into the chants with much laughter. On our way back to Butare we stopped for lunch at a restaurant which had prepared a buffet. Students are pretty much anywhere. Their plates were heaping to overflowing and all plates were cleaned before we left. It was a good deal at about two dollars each.
We got back to Butare at sundown that comes early near the equator. We have daylight from around 6am to 6pm. This week we are planning to shoot portraits and getting a little more photoshop work.
April 21, 2006 —
To Kigali and back
Friday morning I meet early with
Emmanuel to get all the equipment sorted out and make sure
everyone has extra batteries for the cameras. The
students are happy top get a chance to cover an event. We'll
see Monday how they make out.
Lucy, Andrew and I leave later for Kigali
on the Volcano Express bus. We bought our tickets the day
before, as seats must be reserved. The bus is always full
for the two-hour ride to Kigali. Many university students
are on board as the driver cranks up the music. Some students
join in singing along with the piped in music. Some of it
is CD and some is radio broadcast. This is a mini-bus that
holds about 30 passengers including the jumps seat that fill
the aisle. I am lucky to have a window seat but have to carry
my knapsack on my lap.
We make it to Kigali on time to meet with
Alice who was scouting a house for journalism students from
Carleton University due to arrive next week. We visited the
house and found it more than adequate and close enough to
the New Times for the students who will be doing an internship.
We decided to a visit to Akegara National
park Saturday where we saw animals, as Andy put it, from A
to Z…… Antelopes to Zebras. The Hippos and Giraffes
were the most impressive. Sunday we went to the Gisozi National
Genocide Memorial. It took 1 ½ hours to see the exhibits.
I was there two years ago when it opened on the occasion of
the tenth anniversary of the genocide. Photography is now
forbidden inside the memorial. Media coverage has to be arranged
with the Cultural Affairs department and a $200.00 US fee
The days ends with the bus ride back to
Butare. The music on the bus is loud with fare from rap to
Bolton's rendition of the 60's tune , "When a Man Loves
a Woman" by Percy Sledge. We left at 4:30pm so the last
half hour of the trip is in darkness. The country is known
for its many hills. The driver has a lot of faith. He drives
fast going down hills to get a good run at the next uphill
leg. The hairpin curves don't seem to worry him. I find it
is better not to look as pedestrians line the route though
most of the trip. Rwanda is the most densely populated country
in Africa. It seems everybody is out along the highway.
I worry about children or cyclists falling
into the lane of traffic. I wonder how the goats that run
freely along the grassy areas know not to try and cross the
road where the grass maybe greener.
April 20, 2006 —
Getting the hang of it...
Third day of class and we have
10 out of 12 students present. I am thrilled.
They are on time and anxious to start.
I show a short slide show of selected photos that I took last
year that I have it timed to music "Time is on my Side"
by the Rolling Stones.
We distribute cameras after pairing them
up. Due to equipment shortage they will be sharing one camera
per team of two. They are fine with this procedure. We have
one more short briefing on operation of the camera. I started
them off with simple automatic settings so they can concentrate
on what they see and photograph rather than shutter speeds
They were asked to come back after two
hours and we would then upload them to the computer for a
viewing. They return on time. They have taken a total 467
photos. I upload to my laptop and start a slide show of all
their work. The idea is to show them everything and then I
would do an edit to show them what was good, the bad and the
I start the slide show and am interrupted.
"What about the music", one student calls out. I
launched ITUNES and get the Platters' "You've Got the
Magic Touch" starts up. In future I'll have to prepare
something that is more contemporary.
By 5:15 pm we have run over the class time
and end it. Friday they are to attend a morning thanksgiving
ceremony and the afternoon the installation of their student's
council. I have arranged with Lucy that our students would
split up in morning and afternoon groups and cover the day's
events. Alternating the writing and photo duties to each other
throughout the day.
April 19, 2006 —
I had a good day today after yesterday's
poor attendance in class. Today 10 of 11 showed up,
plus one who is attending her second class even though she
is not registered in the course. The absentee was in for the
first day, I don't know why he missed today's class. The students
refused to go for the 15-minute break and I had to shut down
at 5:05 because my ride was waiting for me. It was 3 hours
of class with good discussions. I hope I can sustain their
April 18, 2006 —
A good first class
My first class went very well,
even though only seven of eleven students registered for the
course showed up. And one of those left within the
first hour. The six who remained were so enthusiastic they
didn't ask for a break. Finally, I had to call one after two
hours. I gave the students the cameras so they spent the break
taking photos. I had to shut down the class at five and most
of them were disappointed that we could not review their photos
until tomorrow. I hope word gets out to the other students
about what a good time the class was.
We are working from scratch here. Only
one student, Emmanuel, has been exposed to photography -
no pun intended. He has used the camera but without any real
knowledge about what to do with it. Frankly, my students don't
know an F-stop from a bus stop but they are eager to get as
much from this as possible.
By the way, four digital disks showed up,
along with another camera and two lenses. One of the students
had been using them. So I had loan out only two of my disks
for the class. I think I will ask the director of the school
to take charge of all this gear so it doesn't go missing or
get damaged. We would be in a pickle without the gear as it
would be senseless to try and teach anything with only projected
We have twice as many lenses as cameras
so we should see about trying to get more Nikon cameras donated
for the next year. I'll put the word out to the photographers
have attached some photos, Andrew and his class. I'll
also get some of Lucy. There is also a cool shot taken by
Emannuel of me and my group.
April 17, 2006 —
Back to Rwanda
My trip from Toronto to Kigali
by way of London and Addis Ababa was uneventful. Screaming
kids across the aisle kept me awake which was good because
I arrived late evening in London. The overnight flight to
Addis allowed me to sleep well so I got in feeling quite rested.
Went to bed at 10:30pm and slept to 6:00 am.- my usual wakeup
time. I think I am over any jet lag I might have been in line
So I am back in Rwanda. I have been so
busy with photo assignments for Maclean's leading up to this
trip that I had not given much thought to my previous visit
to Rwanda. Two years and a week ago I visited Rwanda when
General, now Senator, Romeo Dallaire returned for the first
time since the genocide. He was attending the 10th anniversary
memorial of that ugly episode in Rwanda that saw close to
a million murdered.
Walking on the tarmac at Kigali airport
on arrival this time I was brought back to that day in early
April 2004 when Dallaire arrived to a hero's welcome. He was
met by army officers he had worked with during those traumatic
months in 1994. They were all a little older and the officers
had more brass on their shoulders than the last time he saw
them. Walking through the terminal it felt like had been there
I covered Dallaire's visit for the two
weeks he was here in 2004. It was during that trip that I
met Allan Thompson of Carleton University, who was also writing
for the Toronto Star. During a visit to the National University
of Rwanda, in Butare he told me about the Rwanda Initiative
and wondered out loud if I might be interested in taking part.
I said yes right away. So here I am on my first day, looking
forward to a challenge different from getting that special
photo. Having been a photojournalist for almost 40 years with
travels to over 65 countries, this is an adventure like no
other for me.
Lucy van Oldenbarneveld and Andrew Clarke
met me at the airport with driver Jovin, a wonderful fellow
who is studying law and driving for the school in his spare
time. We had a nice drive along the highway from Kigali lined
in many areas with an Easter
parade of churchgoers in their finest clothes under brightly
coloured umbrellas as shade from the afternoon sun. We arrived
in Butare in time for an early dinner prepared by a local
caterer. Beef, rice, green beans and sweet potatoes (maybe
In the evening I showed my slide show to
a captive audience, Lucy and Andrew. I think it went too long
and had to stop with only 90 per cent done so they could go
to bed. It was cruel of me I guess but it was good test to
judge how long I can keep an audience tuned in.
Then, my first day at school. I spent the
morning getting the cameras and lenses together. There were
supposed to be 10 cameras, donated last year by Associated
Press. I found only seven of the 10 and three of them were
not functioning. I was able to get one of the three working
but the others have major problems. There are plenty of decent
quality lenses, twice as many as there are cameras. We have
room to expand the camera pool if we can find some Nikon SLR
digital cameras. There were no disks so I will have to lend
some of mine to the students, even though the disks have more
capacity than these cameras need. They cost a lot so I hope
not to lose any. I have asked my wife Diane to buy some in
Toronto so I'll be able to leave those here.
We will have to pair up students for shooting
projects so that everyone gets to produce some photos.
Lucy and Andrew taught this morning. I
was supposed to teach this afternoon but only three students
showed up. They and 10 others from various departments were
watching tennis on the TV in the journalism classroom. Apparently
the posted class schedule showed this afternoon as free time.
So I don't start until tomorrow afternoon with Lucy and Andrew
taking the lead in the morning . The director of the program,
Jean-Pierre Gatsinzi, just scatched somebody else from the
afternoon sked and put my name in for the afternoon classes
for rest of the week. He thought I would not start teaching
until next week and spend this week preparing. I am ready
to start now and would rather have time off near end of my