All posts by Bridget McQuillan

Kuwe

We’re officially done.

Well, kind of. 

The video isn’t finished, but our class is. We had a reflection today before heading to Cali Taco for a last hurrah, and then we all went our separate ways. 

And, honestly, it was really sad. I’m going to miss everyone a lot, but it’s good that we can have normal lives again. Things were getting pretty funny yesterday because our brains have basically been fried after staring at computer screens for two weeks straight, so time spent at the pool and with friends is much welcomed.

Segue.

We’ve been told to write about what peace means to us (hence why I’ve titled this post “Kuwe,” which means peace in Luo. I’ve put this off for a while because I can’t seem to come up with the right words… and I’m usually pretty good at that. But the truth is, I really don’t know what it means. And, honestly, I don’t think very many people do. I just know moments when I feel it.

Like when I’m with my friends or when I come home after being away for a long time or when I’m laying in the sun or listening to a good song.

When putting these moments together, I can conclude that peace is when there is nothing upsetting happening. No anxiety, no frustrations, and no worries. It’s when you are able to just be present and content with the situation. But that’s only how I see it.

And it’s weird because since going to Uganda, I haven’t really felt at peace… I don’t think any of us have… probably because of how it affected us all. It’s definitely no fun not being at peace, but I’m still glad I experienced what I did because now I can do something (or at least try to do something) about it.

The End is Near

We have two days left of class.

Feelings?

A mixture between relief and sadness. Relief because we will finally be (pretty much) done with our video. Of course, Tim and Peter will continue editing after we all go home, but for the most part, the video will be done. Best. Feeling. Ever.

Still, sadness will come because we will all be going our separate ways for the rest of the summer. Most of us will stay in Omaha, but some will leave. Megan will go all the way back to Hawaii and then to Burma. It’s going to be weird not seeing everyone anymore. We’ve been together for extensive amounts of time for five weeks straight and now, all of the sudden; we’re not going to see each other anymore. And I’m going to be sad about it. But it’ll be fine.

Right now, we’re just focusing on finishing the video. And finishing our take-home test. And our 8-page paper. Which I have yet to start. Yikes. Maybe I should get to work_

It’s marvelous what you can see…

…when you open your eyes.

The day before we left for Uganda, we talked as a class about how weird it was going to be when we returned. We listened to students who went last year tell us that the return to the US was certainly not fun, that we would find comfort in spending time with the classmates who we traveled with, and would come to enjoy our time in class because it would give us a chance to reminisce and look at all of the things we experienced on film.

When I returned home that day, I found an e-mail in my inbox from the Matador Network, a travel website that I subscribed to a while back. The e-mail showcased and article titled, “The struggle to return home,” which, ironically, was written by a photojournalist who had just returned from Gulu named Richard Stupart.

I e-mailed the article to everyone on our trip and then forgot about it until today when I came across it on my bookmarks list.

It’s almost funny how much all of our blog posts are echoing what Richard writes in his article.

We’ve all mentioned the difficulty in answering the question, “How was the trip?” We don’t know what to say. A long, drawn out answer would be almost annoying, but a short, one sentence answer would never do it justice.

He writes, “‘How was it?’ is a question so easily asked, but the weight of the explanation that it compelled me to give was just too large. Too inappropriate. Ten minute appraisals in the middle of everyone else’s weekly story seemed too disrespectful. A full emotional explanation would be impossible. An attempt to give one would be poor conversational etiquette.”

He goes on to say that talking about that kind of trip isn’t all fun and games because going to Africa is almost too real—it’s death and poverty and sadness.

He concludes that people don’t want to know about all of that sadness.

“Maybe that is why nobody asks how it was. It’s easier not to know. And it’s easier for me to believe that than to think that nobody really cares about these characters from another world.”

It’s a sad conclusion, but I think he might be right. Ignorance is pure bliss, and turning a blind eye to what happens on the other side of the world, in a place that seems light years away, is easier than pouring over depressing newspaper articles about how Sudan is falling apart or how Uganda’s president is practically throwing aid money away while people are starving.

We’re just so wrapped up in our own problems. If we worried and cared about each other more, instead of just ourselves, maybe the world would be a nicer place.

It Doesn’t Get Better Than Home, Now, Does It?

The headline of this post is a reference to the She & Him song, “Home“. So, as my title conveniently hints, we’re home. And it’s a little weird… but wonderful at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated America more than I did when I stepped onto Minnesotan soil on Thursday.

 

Still, it was hard to leave. I found myself feeling very sad on our drive to the airport in Entebbe. It’s how I felt when I left Kenya, too, so it’s not surprising; but this year I felt even less ready to leave. I could have stayed for a while longer. I could go back right now, actually.

 

But don’t get me wrong. It’s still great to be home. I missed my family and my friends, and it’s nice to be able to catch up on everything I’ve missed. I’m also sincerely enjoying air conditioning, my own bed, unlimited accessto Internet, and a blow dryer. It’s just that everything isweird now. And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m probably still jet-lagged, my malaria medicine makes me feel crazy, and I really, really miss everything about Africa; but that will (hopefully) go away with time.

 

Everyone, of course, has been asking how the trip was, and every time I answer with something along the lines of, “it was wonderful [that’s my adjective of choice, if you haven’t caught on], I had a great time.” I could say more, but I feel like there’s no short answer to a question like that. Most people leave it at the “how was the trip?” question, while others ask what I did and what it was like. That’s when I find myself thinking, “Where do I even begin?” Usually, it’s easy for me to tell people about my trips by showing them the pictures I took, but even that doesn’t fully explain everything because there were so many layers behind every single thing we did and every story we heard.

 

I feel a little bad about it all because people are kind of left in the dark about what my trip was really like because I have no idea how to explain it, but I don’t really know what else to do.

 

Now, all I want to do is go back. I hinted to my mom that the next time I go to Africa, it will probably be for a long period of time. She doesn’t really like that, but she’s known for a long time that my wanderlust is kind of a priority, and Africa is just so interesting to me. And even though it’s hard to be there and the bugs kind of suck and the sun is intense and there isn’t Internet or washing machines, it’s a great place to be; and I’m literally counting the days until I can return.

Things to Remember…

We have finally emerged from the jungle.

Literally.

Example: We got attacked by a million flies today on our way out of Murchison Falls. They all got inside of the bus and started biting us and wreaking all kinds of havoc. Fred even drove off the side of the road at one point because he was trying to combat the intruders. Seriously, people, it was war. Matt was our main combatant and killed most of them with a pamphlet. Bug blood and guts were flying everywhere. It was a massacre. And even though we were getting bit, it was pretty funny.

In the end, we killed most of them and finally made it out of the fly infested jungle to begin our four-hour trek to Kampala. 

We made it here this evening and went to a wonderful pizza place for dinner (where we finished 12 out of the 14 pizzas we ordered), and now we’re in a nice hotel with Internet and multiple computers. It’s quite a difference from how our last few days have been. 

Murchison Falls was wonderful and beautiful, but we were literally in the wilderness…in huts…but they were nice huts. But they were still huts, and there were lots of bugs and lizards. One lizard managed to get tucked in to Hannah’s bed.

We saw the falls, we sailed down the Nile, we saw lots of elephants and hippos and giraffes and lions and warthogs and deer-like animals. It was a great way to end all of our days of hard work, although it was a stark contrast to how our last few weeks have been. The game park area is like a weird little bubble where real Africans don’t live… only animals and mzungus and wealthier Africans who work at the hotels are allowed in.

We talked about that difference and about how it was a little weird that we had been with the poorest of the poor in Uganda and now we were tourists and were falling back almost too easily into our American ways again. It’s going to be hard not to do that, especially once we actually get back to the US. That’s always the worst part for me. Right now, I feel like going back to my house and purging my room of everything I don’t need, but know that once I get back I won’t do it. And I’ll probably buy even more things that I don’t need shortly after we return. I wish it wasn’t so easy to fall back into being so “American.”

I want to at least try to be better about it this time, though. One thing that I realized over these past couple of days that I certainly want to keep in mind when I return is that I’m not poor. Well… that sounds stupid when I type it. I mean, of course I’m not poor, but I feel like I say it a lot. College kids in general say it a lot. “I can’t spend money on (insert chosen item or activity here), I’m too poor.” I hear it and say it all the time. And yes, when I compare the amount of money in my bank account now to how much I had my senior year of high school, it has dwindled a significant amount, and there are a lot of things I can’t afford… but all of the things I can’t afford are things I don’t need. Like concert tickets. And cute clothes. And sushi. And movies. And trips.

If I was actually poor, I wouldn’t be able to afford real things. 

Like food.
Or shoes.
Or a house that’s not a hut.
Or a car… or even a bike.
Or clothes that aren’t ripped.
Or medicine.

Those are things that a person who is actually poor can’t afford. And I need to get that through my head. And I need to stop saying that I’m poor. Because, really, I should be counting my blessings that I have the things I have. I need to remember that when I get back. And I know I will at first, but the connection I have to this place and to how I view the world at this moment are going to fade. I just have to find ways to remind myself of what I’ve seen.

The end.

PS: An interesting tidbit: we saw Omaha people today on our way out to do our game drive. One went to Creighton Prep and one went to Marian… contrary to what I said in my previous post: it’s a small world.

The Wall Between Us

If we were staying here for another two weeks, I would have killed the rooster outside of my room days ago. I swear he has a timer inside of him and it’s set for 5 a.m. It’s kind of remarkable, actually, but I don’t really care how remarkable it is because he wakes me up every time and doesn’t shut up. Lucky for him, we only have one day left here, so his life will be spared.

But enough about roosters. We’ve had a great past couple of days, but they’ve been busy. Lots of interviews and dancing and music and shaking people’s hands and visiting schools and lots of riding in the bus. The drive to wherever we go every day is always much longer than we anticipate. Our time spent in the bus is entertaining, though. One thing I’ve realized: the Atlantic ocean is a very thick line between the US and Africa.

Examples: 

1. Men (who are straight) hold hands here when they walk together. It’s not that common, but I’ve seen it quite a few times.

2. Women openly breastfeed all the time. 

3. Girls bow when they meet someone new.

4. Signing guestbooks is a regular occurrence. 

5. Schedules don’t exist… this may seem small, but schedules (obviously) run everything in the states, and when there isn’t a schedule, it’s just… hanging out, I guess you could call it. Every time we’re riding in the bus, I find myself thinking, “Why could they possibly be doing that? Where could they possibly going with that?” There’s so many things I don’t understand. 

6. Things stop very quickly. It takes something big to stop traffic in the US, but all in takes in Africa is a couple of white-skinned college kids.

7. Africa is more communal. Strangers talk to each other more here, and children are parented by everyone. It’s refreshing. 

Most of the time, the differences are all I notice because things that are different are always more interesting, anyway. And we’ve learned that sometimes the cultural differences create a very tall wall between us and the Africans that I still don’t know how to break. We can agree on things and chat like normal people, but the fact that we live on opposite ends of the world just makes a disconnect.

I remember that we’re all human, though, when I see the few things that are the same. Today I saw these two little boys in a big, open field. One was probably 5 or 6 and the other was about 3 or 4. They were giggling and playing and the older one suddenly sprinted to the middle of the field and just collapsed, laughing all the while. He had made up some kind of funny little game and the younger boy followed him, giggling the whole way. It seems stupid, but it’s something I feel like we’ve all done as kids–running around aimlessly and finding happiness in stupid little things. It’s a rare thing to see kids acting like kids because they grow up so fast here. Most of the time we see them carrying large jugs of water on their heads or newborn babies on their backs. Their lives are so different from how ours were… and are.

On a lighter note, we’re finally pretty much done with filming. As much as I liked it, it’s been a lot of work, and I think we’re all ready to relax. Tomorrow we go to Murchison Falls and we’ve heard all sorts of things about how beautiful it is, so that will be great. It’s a long drive (surprise, surprise) so I’m sure will all be making awesome playlists to blast along the way. Sometimes it’s nice to have American music like Kanye West and Journey and Taylor Swift (I can’t believe I just typed that). 

So, that’s all from Gulu. The end.

OH, also. For all you haters out there who think I’m a picky eater (you know who you are, Dewy roomies), I ate two grasshoppers yesterday. And I liked it. BOOM. That’s what’s up. 

Kopango

We’re finally in Gulu after a long, bumpy ride from Lira this morning. I seriously questioned whether or not we were actually in a river a few times because there was so much flowing water on the roads. We spent the entire drive making bracelets for each other and for Herbert and our trusty driver, Fred (who fearlessly battled the bumpy “roads”). Today was light and full of laughs and good music, which was quite a difference from how our day went yesterday, which was filled with confusion and frustration. 

We visited two refugee camps that were for formerly internally displaced people (IDP). Each person there has been through more trauma than everyone I know combined. They told us stores about the nights they were attacked by the LRA and how much their lives have changed. They have absolutely nothing. Their lives consist of sitting around amid a ton of red dust and a few huts. There are too many children to even comprehend, which only makes me wonder how much stress the mothers have and how many men father each of their children. They’re all beautiful, of course, and for the most party they seem happy, but that’s only because they can’t comprehend what their lives are like and what their futures hold… which isn’t much. 

At both camps, we collected money and gave away gifts that we had collected prior to leaving Omaha. The first refugee camp was a bit of a fiasco. We had intended to leave the things at the camp so they could be distributed later, but somehow we ended up surrounded by everyone in the camp screaming, crying, pushing, and shoving, trying to get a hold of what they could. It was so frustrating and heartbreaking. Humans can turn so horrible when faced with so much desperation. We left the first camp in silence and prepared to go to the second IDP camp, which wasn’t quite as intense. At the end of the day, we drove a good hour–maybe it was two, I’ve lost track of how long it takes to get places–and we finally returned home. The entire bus literally cheered when we pulled into our hotel. 

Today was significantly better because we didn’t really do much, which was needed. The hotel we’re at in Gulu is beautiful, and I think we all feel a little guilty being pent up inside of a big, important gate while there are huts right outside of our doors. It’s so interesting how that all works. 

I feel like I have so much more to say, but my mind is fried, so here are the thoughts I’ve generated over the last couple of days in a nutshell:

1. The government in Africa sucks. 

2. We are so lucky that we were born in the US. I literally feel like I won the lottery of all lotteries. 

3. Kopango (spelling questionable) is the typical greeting here. 

4. It’s frustrating to me that the LRA has done so many horrible things to these people, are still doing horrible things to people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and still have not been caught. Why isn’t anyone doing something about this? 

5. Women here do everything. I don’t think I’ve seen one man carrying a baby. They’re always sitting around while the women are caring for the children or cooking dinner or carrying giant loads of wood on their backs. It’s annoying. 

6. Fred likes country. Hilarious, right?

7. No matter how much sunscreen I put on, I still get sunburned here (don’t freak out, mom, it’s really not that bad).

It’s Not a Small World, After All

We’re finally here. And it smells like a bonfire everywhere… just how I remember it. 

Sometimes I forget that we’re in Africa, especially when I sleep. But the mosquito net hanging over me always reminds me that, yes, I’m on the other side of the world. Mosquito nets are such a funny thing because I always feel strangely comfortable under them, like I’m in a little cave or under a canopy, which is so contradictory to what I can imagine Africans think of it as. They view it as something that they are lucky to have–something that protects them from the possible death that is malaria. Our worlds are so different. 

We got to talk to so many people today, which was wonderful. There is nothing I like more than talking to them. Forget the incredible animals, forget the beautiful scenery, forget the awesome food, all of which are still wonderful, but the people are the most interesting part, I think. We took lots of beautiful pictures of the kids. They always look so serious at first, when they stare at us. Sometimes, when I smile at them, the seriousness will stay, but I’ve found that if I hold a smile long enough, then they’ll slowly reciprocate the action. I love when they smile. It’s so much better than seeing a white person smile because their entire faces light up with happiness. 

We filmed today when we attended Mass. That was scary. I felt like a big intruder. Sometimes I worry that they view us as annoying westerners who come to their country on big, white horses thinking we’re going to save the day, when in reality, there is so little we can do. I think they view our group differently, though, because they know that we’re going to share their stories.  

That’s the other thing we’ve realized: what we’re doing is the best we can really do. It seems like we’re just intruding and exploiting everyone we film and photograph, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s more important for us to tell their stories than it is for us to just hand them money or clothes or toys. And that’s good, considering the fact that telling their stories is exactly what we’re doing. 

But at the same time, it’s a little disheartening to realize that no matter how hard we try, we can’t fix anything. We can bring awareness and maybe make one person’s day better, but that’s it. We can’t stop the government from pocketing the people’s money, we can’t put every child who is uneducated in school, and we can’t wipe out malaria or AIDs because those problems are so much bigger than we can even comprehend. 

Maybe I’m wrong. And maybe this whole post is me trying to justify everything that we’re doing, but it’s what I think at the moment. It’s a big, complicated world, I’m realizing. I’m young and naïve and am slowly realizing that the more I see of the world, the bigger and more complicated it seems. I think that’s what we’re going to continue to learn this week. Everything is so much bigger than any of us think.  


As Time Begins to Slow

Well, we’re one flight down, so I guess there’s no turning back, now. 

I’m strangely excited for this flight so that I can actually relax… and by “relax,” I mean cram myself between two strangers for eight hours and become best friends with all of the artists on my iPod. But really, my new playlists are bomb, so the flight should be tolerable. I feel like the last few weeks have been such a whirlwind, and life is about to get even more crazy, so the flight will be nice.

Yesterday we had a little reflection before parting ways to finish stuffing our suitcases full of T-shirts and tripods and weird medications. We talked about how important it is to be present while we are in Uganda and how strange it’s going to be when we return to the US of A. 

I’ve been on enough trips like this to know how important it is to be present in the here and now. The wonderful thing is that, as hard as is to be present at home and at school, it’s strangely easy for me in developing countries. Probably because everyone there is also in the here and now. There isn’t the obsessive hustle and bustle that there is in the US. Kids don’t have to be driven from soccer practice to tennis practice to dance class and parents don’t have to attend six million meetings a day running on a few cups of crappy coffee. Everything is a big event in Africa. You can’t merely drop something or someone off at a house, you have to go inside, sit for a while, have some tea, etc. Everything is so… much… slower.

And sometimes that can be a hindrance. It’s hard to get anything done when running on “African time,” and it’s difficult to know what time things will actually take place. When I was in Kenya, my friend Molly and I went out in the city one night with our African friend, Edu. We were told to be back by 10 that night. Of course, right when we got in the car Edu said, “So… 10… meaning midnight African time.” Needless to say, Jan, our group leader, was not very pleased when we showed up two hours late, but she also wasn’t surprised.  

Regardless of the issues with going slow, the wonderful thing about it is that it’s so much easier to appreciate the things and people around you. I can’t wait for that. I think that’s why I’m weirdly looking forward to this plane ride… because I get to be slow for the first time since Christmas break, really. And as “fast” as these two weeks will go, things will still be a little slower and life will be a little more interesting because I know we’re all going to take a closer look at the things around us.

The countdown begins…

It’s day one of our backpack journalism class. My nervousness began last night… which is weird because I don’t usually get very nervous before I travel. It might be because I’m realizing how much work this is actually going to be… but it’s fun work, so I’m really ok with that. 

My excitement set in last week when I started to pack and make Africa playlists for my iPod. Now I can’t stop listening to Africa music. The thing is that it’s not really Africa music, it’s music that just reminds me of Africa. Like this one song by Animal Collective, which isn’t an African band at all… and I only really like it because it’s so awesome in this Charity Water video. And there’s another song, called Haiti, by Arcade Fire (they’re a great band if you’ve never checked them out, by the way).

Anyway. Back to Africa. I guess I should discuss why I’m actually doing this. There are a lot of reasons; but my main motive is that I’m just really, really interested in Africa. I always have been, and I’m pretty sure I always will be. 

After going to the Dominican Republic with ILAC in high school, I realized that traveling to the developing world is something that I want to do throughout my life. Africa and India were on my list of top places I wanted to visit, and after going to Kenya last summer, I’ve pretty much decided that I’m probably going to volunteer/live in Africa for at least a few years after college.  

The other thing that drew me to this trip is the journalism component. Obviously, being a journalism major, I like journalism. Shocking, right? My non-journalism friends constantly make fun of me for it (every time I’m on the Internet they tell me to stop blogging… now I guess I can’t say, “I’m not blogging!” because I actually have a blog now.) Anyway, the journalism component is why I chose to go to Uganda rather than to go to Kenya with my group from last year, and I’m glad I chose this route because I know it’s going to be a learning experience unlike any other.