Yida - Journal Entry 3

Our Story Continues...

A trusted local and friend got us tickets beforehand for the trip to Yida. Naturally we thought, "Great! We'll just show up and walk in." Nope, the airport as usual was in complete disarray. Finally, walking onto the airstrip, we see our plane. Like mentioned in the previous Journal Entry, none of us knew if this thing would fly or land safely. As I take the steps up into the plane, a sense of unease spreads through my body with what felt like fever chills. Those moments when your hair raises on the back of your neck and you feel that something just isn't quite right. Not that I could place what it is, but something didn't feel right with this situation.

I wasn't the first on the plane, there's already a good bit of people that have boarded. I don't have to walk too far to notice that almost all the seats are full. I think back to just sixty seconds before and remember there are at least eight to ten more people outside waiting to board. This isn't going to work. I grab a seat for myself and notice Jake doesn't have one, they've already run out. Great. The flight attendant (or someone, I didn't really see) brings him a stool so he can sit in the aisle. What?? Then I start hearing commotion and yelling up front. Clearly in arabic and I have no idea what they're saying. After minutes of yelling that seemed to stretch into hours while we sit in no air conditioning in the African heat, I ask Pastor Ismail what they're talking about. He then tells me that he snuck on the plane and didn't have a ticket.

How do you sneak onto a plane with no ticket?? If he could get on here who else could have?? Safe is a feeling I have forgotten how to feel. The man eventually gets kicked off the plane and his spot is filled with a ticket holder. Next, the props start spinning and we are taking off toward Yida, leaving behind half a dozen or more people who couldn't fit on the plane. Rather than think about how unsafe we are, I say a quick prayer and go straight to sleep.

I wake up only once to get some water. The plane has cooled down now that we are in the air. Then I doze off again. Next time I wake up, we're landing. I look out the window to take in the lay of the land. There are huts and tents spread as far as my eye can see. Dozens of people and kids gathered around the landing strip awaiting loved ones coming to see them and strangers to help with their luggage.

Welcome to Yida.

In Yida - Journal Entry 4, I will dive into the production of our feature documentary. I realize this is now the third Journal Entry and we just now have landed in Yida. I appreciate your continued reading and patience, this has all been a set up and will be worth it. I assure you. Be on the lookout next week for the continued story of our journey in Yida.



Yida - Journal Entry 2

First off, thanks to Katie Barber for all the incredible photos that will be featured in this blog series. You can check out more of her work by clicking her name. Also if you're about to read this but haven't read Yida - Journal Entry 1, please do so by clicking here. These will definitely only make sense in order.

Picking up where we left off in Yida - Journal Entry 1, we had just said goodbye to our loved ones and boarded the first flight of the trip. We stayed overnight in the states for a layover. This particular blog will get more detailed and a little bit nerdy at one point.

Here we go:

Last night we had a layover in DC, it was nice having a separation between all the flights. As I got up, a sense of excitement finally started to pour in. The first step of the many-step process to get to Yida has begun.

Our bags were mostly packed already, throwing in the few final things we had taken out the night before doesn't take long. The taxi pulls up, a few minutes later we're back at the airport and boarding a flight to Ethiopia.

It's an interesting feeling flying internationally. Trying to sleep when you know you need to, but losing the sense of when you need to because it's still light outside. It seems like a whole day has skipped passed us because we're traveling 8 hours in the forward. Think back to being a kid, looking out the window as the trees fly by, that's what the sun felt like on this flight. Traveling back, imagine the sun a distant skyline that no matter how fast you're going, it still seems to keep up with you. Daylight stretched an eternity.

A specific Lord of the Rings quote from Gandalf came to mind during all this, "Fly you fools." Don't you worry Gandalf, we did. 14 hours later Ethiopia is floating beneath us, a short layover welcomes us with open arms, then it's time to board a flight to Uganda and then finally, Juba.

The Juba airport is one of the more interesting places I have ever been. It is hectic, it is dirty, it is scary, yet it gives me a weird sensation of familiarity. I wish I could show you pictures or video, but cameras aren't allowed and we weren't about to risk using our phones. As I walk into the dilapidated building, the exterior dry heat turns into a rush of humidity and body odor. It rushes into me like sticking your face into oncoming waves. Again, familiar.

I walk up to the "Non-South Sudanese" window to show the officer my passport and visa. We exchange a few friendly words and he allows me to move on. I show my passport to one more individual that allows me to go to baggage claim (by baggage claim I mean the other side of the same room) where I start to collect the teams bags while they clear customs. Most of the team joins me in being surprised at how smooth things are going. I look around and wonder where is my brother, my fellow freelancer, my friend? Where's Aaron? Just then, Jacob walks up and tells us they aren't letting him through. 

Turns out, he didn't have proof of his vaccinations and the officer was pressing him by saying things like "What are you going to do about it?" "You're going to have to go back and get it." This fear started rising inside me, we JUST landed. Thank God, we are traveling with a highly respected Nuba Mountain Native. Pastor Ismail walked up simply to see if he needed to translate, and the officer allowed Aaron to move on without a second thought. Exhale. I was later informed he likely wanted a bribe. (If you want to read his own personal account of this situation, check it out here. It's crazy.)

After a short drive in the chaotic streets of Juba, we arrive at the compound. This is where we'll be staying until we fly to Yida two days from now. It's already mid-afternoon so we all gladly take the time to rest after what seemed like endless hours of flying. 

The next day, my favorite day before a shoot, Camera Prep. We go through all our gear and make sure we're as organized as we can possibly be. As Jacob and Katie prep their cameras, Aaron and I talk out how we're going to shoot and what filters we are going to use. Here's the nerdy part and what all we landed on.

Yida was shot on:

  • Cameras: A and B Cam Sony A7sii, C Cam Canon 5D Mark iii
  • Lenses: Canon Primes
  • Filters: 2 Sets of ND .9's and ND 1.2's (we ended up staying stacked a lot of the time at a 2.1, 7 stops total #AfricanSun)
  • Picture Profile: SLog2
  • ISO: 1600, 3200
  • FPS: 24p, 60p, 120p

The full Camera Prep, including shooting a mock interview, took the full day. What a great peace of mind though, now I feel much better about the rest of the shoot.

The next day, back to the airport to fly to Yida. Again, nothing but hectic. No lines, no real rules, the flight is overbooked and 3 hours late. Finally, we start walking towards the plane. I take a look at the plane and that similar fear rises again. Sitting in front of us is an old beaten down prop plane with russian words peeling off the side. I'm literally scanning this thing looking for the super glue sticking out of seam points, because I'm fairly sure that's what's holding it together. I look at the rest of the team and we're all thinking the same thing.

"Will this thing even get us off the ground, or worse, will it land?"

Yida - Journal Entry 1

Two years ago I had the opportunity to go to South Sudan to film a documentary, Lost Generation of Sudan, with my good friend at Operation Broken Silence. A lot happened on that trip and looking back, most of it is a blur. Recently taking a trip to South Sudan again, I told myself that I was going to journal the important events, that way I wouldn't forget any details.

I have decided to share my journal entries with you. This was a very trying experience that tested our physical and emotional limits, and I plan to include as many details as I can. 

Let's start at the beginning:

Today is the day, May 22, 2016. It's Sunday morning and I feel like all the anticipation and nerves have accumulated to this point. We're about to fly out of America to the world's newest, and one of the most fragile, countries. I've been through this once before. 2014 to be exact, but things are different now. I've gotten married since then, and when that happened priorities shifted. I can't willie-nillie throw caution to the wind as a young, single, dumb dude without worrying what will happen. All that being said, leaving this time was much more difficult.

Saying goodbye to Bekah, my wife for those who don't know, was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life. It was one of those moments where the last hug couldn't have lasted long enough. I know what you're thinking though, "Come on bro, it's only like two weeks apart." Well, you're right. But it isn't the time apart that was the hardest thing, it's where we're going and the extreme possibilities of what could happen while we're there. Having limited communication while we're there doesn't help either. Pretty much the only communication we'll be having is daily checkins with a GPS Pinger that says "We're safe." So yeah, maybe I acted like a pansy, but there were very real tears and it was a very hard moment in my life.

We have an overnight stop in the States and then tomorrow morning we fly out internationally.

Next stop, South Sudan.

Yida, South Sudan | Camera Department | Josh Boyd, Aaron Baggett, Jacob Geyer | Photo Courtesy of Katie Barber and Operation Broken Silence

Yida, South Sudan | Camera Department | Josh Boyd, Aaron Baggett, Jacob Geyer | Photo Courtesy of Katie Barber and Operation Broken Silence