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Field Notes
Photograph by Maria R. Mendes Bittencourt
Nicolas Reynard

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

When I started this assignment, I told the anthropologist I was traveling with that I wanted to photograph as much of the Moken's traditional life as I could. I particularly wanted to see a special annual ceremony where they summoned their ancestors and asked for favors, but he told me that would be difficult to find. Soon after, we stopped on an island and found a group of Moken preparing for that very ceremony. And they even let me go with them on a turtle hunt. The turtle is a key part of the ceremony because, like the Moken, it lives between the land and the water. This kind of serendipity doesn't often happen on a story, but it did on this one. I didn't force anything, and it all came together perfectly. It was really wonderful.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

I went fishing with a group of Moken the first day of my assignment. They started jumping off their boats into the water, so I decided to follow. The only problem was that they paid attention to where they were going, and I didn't. While they swam down into the ocean, I came down on a coral reef covered with sea urchins and got seven long spines stuck inside my foot. I thought about trying to extract them, but I didn't want to cut open my foot and risk getting an infection. So I waited it out. After two very sore weeks, my foot expelled the spines naturally.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

I wanted to take aerial pictures showing Moken boats in their environment, so I borrowed a camera blimp from the Photo Engineering Department at National Geographic. But I decided to wait until the last week of the expedition to use it because I was traveling in what was almost a military zone. If I had been caught with the blimp, I could have been accused of spying and kicked out of the country.

During the last week I saw a flotilla of seven boats pull into a beautiful lagoon off an island. So I blew up my blimp, sent it up, and took a photo. But almost immediately a gust of wind came through and broke a sprocket in my camera. After that I couldn't take any more pictures. But, luckily, the one I took worked perfectly, and it made it into the magazine (see pages 38-39).