Main Line Today Photographer’s Life-Changing Trip to Kenya

Our editor recaps the incredible journey that became one of this month’s feature stories.

I’m sorry, but we have a problem. I can get you to London—I just can’t give you a ticket to Kenya. Your passport has to be valid beyond six months. Yours is at five months and 28 days.”

So began an insane 48 hours for MLT staff photographer Tessa Smucker. After a brief discussion with her travel companions, she decided that it would be best for them to go on to Africa while she remained in chilly Philadelphia to get a new passport. 

By the time she’d boarded her airplane on Feb. 5, Smucker’s friends had already made it to Kenya. She flew to London, then to Nairobi, Kenya. “I unloaded my stuff in my hotel room and ordered a pizza—the first thing I ate in Africa,” she says without apology. “It had been a stressful few days.”

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The next day, Smucker was up at 4 a.m. and anxious to get on her way. “I hopped in the taxi just as the sky was turning a lighter shade and arrived at the airport in plenty of time,” she says. 

After a quick wait in line, she received some more bad news: “Miss Smucker, you’re at the wrong airport.” 

She sprinted out of the terminal, grabbing a taxi just as it was dropping off another traveler. Her flight was scheduled to leave in 60 minutes. The airport was 25 minutes away, with no traffic. It was rush hour. “At one point, my driver swerved onto the dirt, trying to get past as many cars as quickly as possible,” Smucker recalls. “When the traffic got even worse, he suggested that I rent two motorbikes—one for me and one for my luggage. Thankfully, I was FaceTiming my father at the time, and he convinced me to stay in the cab.”

Smucker’s taxi pulled into the airport 15 minutes late for departure. And there, by some miracle, was her 15-seat plane on the runway, waiting to take her to the village of Kitale. She would spend five days with the faith-based Neema Project, which transforms the lives of Kenyan girls by teaching them to sew—an indispensable trade in the Third World. This month’s feature “Another Africa” (page 48) documents Smucker’s once-in-a-lifetime experience with a series of telling images. 

“I’m so grateful to have been entrusted by Neema to document my project, and I hope these images do justice to this experience—more than my words ever could,” says Smucker.

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For more photos from her trip, visit

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!