This morning Jock received a call from a very distraught Suzanne. It was early, her sobs were audible through the phone line. Our photographer, David Pluth, passed away last night. It was completely avoidable, it was completely useless, it was completely because we live here, in Rwanda, not in the USA, but in Rwanda. He dodged bullets in Uganda from the LRA, he filmed in Congo, he died trying to hike up to the source of the Nile in Rwanda. He could have been saved....
I had only met David last week. Suzanne, a friend of Jock's, had met David and they were looking for a couple of "tourist" looking aka Muzungus to film for the Rwandan Tourism DVD. We were Muzungu tourist enough for the video. I met David last week Monday, by Wednesday Jock and I were headed to Gisenyi to work with David and his partner Lawrence. The first time I met David at the Gorilla Hotel in Musanze I was "wowwed"....his life was a page out of National Geographic. He was a photographer and he was the first person willing to come in to Rwanda after the Genocide. He filmed all over the world. He was American, living in Switzerland, traveling the world. He was everything I always dreamed of being...the consumate world traveler.
We spent three days in Gisenyi, "frolicking" on the beaches of Lake Kivu. The entire time we were being filmed...cheesey, touristy...but those were some of his last pictures. I have honestly not laughed that much in years. Rebecca, Suzanne, Jock and I like teenagers, laughing and joking, playing MTV Spring Break. It truly was a fun three days.
David, Suzanne and Lawrence headed out last Friday to Nyungwe National Forest to film. ORTPN the tourist group that had contracted for the film had provided the group with less then stellar accomodations. There was no breakfast or lunches available and the group was given limited water. They were supposed to receive a 4 wheel drive vehicle to take them most of the way in. In Rwanda, vehicles and relability are NOT synonomous. The vehicle lacked four wheel drive and they set out on foot carrying all their camera gear without any packers. According to Suzanne the "guide" recommended a short cut and they followed it. David missed the short cut and later collapsed on the trail, alone. When Lawrence, Suzanne and the guide found him he was already in peril. There was no one to call, no vehicle, no aid, no 911, no Life Flight. It was Lawrence and Suzanne carrying him out of that forest. He died last night.
He was only 64.
One of the last stories David left us with last Friday was from an adventure of his in Uganda years ago during the LRA uprising. He told us he wasn't very religious but this story made him believe in the power of prayer. He was filming on assignment when the LRA stormed a village and killed everyone in the village. Their driver was one of the people. He had been carrying a 50# bag of sugar that had saved him from the bullets to the back. He avoided death again when some local tribesman came upon him and wanted to kill him. He looked at his watch as he raised his hand. The tribesmen recognized him as the "Muzungu" driver and spared him. At the exact same time that he looked at his watch and mentally recorded the time, the village with David and Lawrence were offering up prayers for his safe return. From that point, David had considered that there might have been a higher power guiding their lives. I like to believe that David was comfortable with us and especially with the sprituality that Suzanne and Jock evoke that he felt safe sharing this with us.
David Pluth's last post on his Facebook page was.....
David Pluth spent a couple of days filming some amazing people frolic on the beach in Gisenyi, Rwanda. Doesn't get much better than this.
We were those people. I thank God that we made one of his last days one of his best days. His death not only reminded me the power of living my life passionately, but to ALWAYS remember to make others lives better because they crossed your path. You just never know.....
To see David's amazing work....www.fotografx.biz