Bakarani will move to Rwanda next year to open the country's first children's library. She has grand plans to bring literacy to a country being rebuilt, and it all started when she picked up her first camera.
How did you get into photography?
I actually needed it as a way to communicate ... I realized that I see things differently, and so I used the camera to be able to show how I would see things, and it was hugely successful very quickly. My great-grandfather was actually a very famous photographer, and so I don't know if I got the genetics to go along with that or not.
Do you have any training?
Actually, I was getting my degree in botany, and the world through the microscope is so amazing. And I just was frustrated that I couldn't draw what I was seeing. It was so beautiful. So one of my professors hooked me up with a camera through the lens, and I started taking photos.
Why do you like film more than digital?
When I was a real little girl, my grandfather was a photographer too, and he would disappear behind this curtain, with this big smile on his face and come out later. It was like, "Where's he going?" So one day he took me back there into his darkroom, and he showed me how to make photographs, and that moment was just magical ... It's really the other half of the equation, it's the other half of the art form, because you can do so many things to a print when you're printing it that if you just give it to the lab and let the machines print it, it's like you're only making half of the image.
What are your favorite things to shoot?
That's a whole spectrum. I love nature, whether it's the reflection in the eye of a horse or dust on the eyelash of an elephant just out in nature. I just know it when I see it. Something will just catch my attention ... That's why I've been so fortunate to travel. I've traveled throughout Europe and China and Africa, and the colors and the textures are just exquisite.
When did you first travel to Africa?
1994 was my first trip. I went there as a photographer, and went with some other photographers, and we lived out on the Serengeti for a month during migration, and it was quite spectacular to say the least. I have a relative that crossed the continent of Africa in 1903, and I have his journal. He was traveling with a writer—he was hired as a secretary—and so I have their book that was published in 1905 in London. So I'm looking to retrace their journey and do a 100-year documentary. And so, I went down the first time with the photographers so I could get my feet wet, and then I started going back by myself, to each of the different countries along the way to do my research and try to find where they had gone, and ended up adopting two AIDS orphans, and met my husband and had an African wedding and everything. It's just been wild.
What about Africa took hold of you?
I grew up with images of it in my mind. I joke, it's almost like a family joke that I'm my relative reincarnated.
Your husband is from Africa?
He is Rwandese. It was his tribe that was massacred in the genocide in '94. He was on a business trip in Uganda at the same time I was in Uganda researching for my expedition, and we happened to meet at a restaurant, and he thought he knew me from Germany, and when he saw me, he just jumped up, so happy, and ran over to me and started [speaking] fluent German ... He had lived in Germany. That's why he is alive. He actually was in Germany doing business when the genocide happened.
You're planning to move to Africa next year, why?
We just really admire what President Kagame is doing for Rwanda right now. He's just been amazing at rebuilding his country after the genocide ... and we really want to work there and help as many children as possible, so I'm going to be building the first children's library.
There are no other resources?
There's nothing. You can go to school if you have the money. There's no public schools. I want to build something for the parents as well. It was a French colony ... everything is switching over to an English program now, so I want to build the library as sort of an outreach program so the parents can, with their children, in a very nurturing environment, they can learn English while their children are learning English, so it will bridge the gap ... I want it to be a tutoring center, where children can come in after school and work on their homework and parents can do their studying. And my favorite part of the program is to have a Jeep loaded with books and video and go to a different village every day and have story time with the children who can't get into the city because they live too far out.
Are you establishing it through the Rwandan government?
I'm establishing it on my own, so I'm getting my 501(c)(3) status so that I can have a nonprofit status in the United States, and it will follow me there. So I can get corporate funding. Bill and Melinda Gates have been to Rwanda a couple of times very recently and are working with President Kagame to set up industry there. They love the region. The Rockefellers have bought a tremendous amount of land for the mountain gorillas. That's the caliber of people that are going in and working toward the future of that country.
Are you getting help already?
I have, but what's really amazing is all the children doing book drives. I mean, my garage is filling up with books. It's so sweet ... When you get outside [the United States], you meet the most amazing American people, and you can do the most amazing things in a day.
For more information or to help with Bakarani's work, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org