All posts by Carol Zuegner

Carol Zuegner

About Carol Zuegner

I am a journalism professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. I teach writing, social media, media entrepreneurship, international mass communication and I am lucky enough to be a part of Backpack Journalism. I focus on interviewing, writing and being Mama Zoogs.

Packing lots into one week

We start the Backpack Journalism 2014 on Monday. Officially start, that is. Preparations have been going on for just about a year. It’s always amazing how quickly that first day of class or boot camp as we affectionately and accurately call it arrives.

My faculty colleagues — John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie — and I will be doing more packing than layering T-shirts and jeans into a suitcase. Tim will be doing the near impossible for anyone but Tim as he teaches them how to shoot and edit video, how to get good audio and how to tell good stories in five short days. Layered in there will be theology and feature writing as we get this great group of students ready for Bethel, Alaska.

It all adds up to new ways of looking at the world and learning the necessity of bearing witness, being present and telling people’s stories the best way we can.

Now, if I could only close that suitcase …

Become part of Creighton Backpack Alaska 2014

Find out more about the Creighton Backpack plans for Alaska 2014 and how you can be a part of  those plans at a meeting, 4 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 7 in Creighton’s Hitchcock Building, Room 305.

photo of sign in Bethel Alaska
Bethel, Alaska is a cool place. And the destination for Creighton Backpack 2014. Photo by John O’Keefe.

We’ll talk about details of the trip and how you can start the application process. The five-week, six-credit course  will take a team of students and faculty to shoot and edit a short documentary as well as write and produce other multimedia content. The collaboration between the Theology and Journalism, Media and Computing departments  also includes a theology component on the role of the church in Alaska. The  course will begin in late May. It starts with a video/writing bootcamp and includes about two weeks in Bethel, Alaska. We return to put together a rough cut of the film and wrap up the course.

Creighton students receive six hours of credit, one a 300-level theology class and a certified writing feature writing class.

For more details, come to the meeting. If you can’t make it, please or if you’re interested in the experience.


Blessed to be a witness

We’ve come to the end of the formal Backpack Journalism class — the five weeks of class, travel in Uganda and working on the film, blogs and other writing is nearly over. We had a last toast at the now-traditional Cali Taco wrap-up lunch. (thanks, Sara, for suggesting we do that again.)

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I am so lucky to have this experience with these colleagues and students. John, Tim and I realize what a terrific teaching/learning experience it is for us.

I’m adding a prayer that seems meant for journalists and especially backpack journalists. I first came upon it in my Jesuit seminar this year and it’s adapted by John Veltri, S.J.

Jason, Heidi, Teresa and Joe get a thumbs-up from a group of children. (Photo by Alison Prater)

Teach me to listen, O God, to those nearest me, my family, my friends, my co-workers. Help me to be aware that no matter what words I hear, the message is: “Accept the person I am. Listen to me.”

Teach me to listen, my caring God, to those far from me — the whisper of the hopeless, the plea of the forgotten, the cry of the anguished.

Teach me to listen, O God my Mother, to myself. Help me to be less afraid to trust the voice inside in the deepest part of me.

Teach me to listen, Holy Spirit, for your voice — in busyness and in boredom, in certainty and in doubt, in noise and in silence.

Teach me, Lord, to listen. Amen.


Monkey business

For some opportunistic baboons in Uganda, there is such a thing as a free lunch.

Or a lunch snatched from the window of a van while its passengers waited for a ferry to cross the Nile in the Murchison Falls Game Park.

Baboons typically live near water and near a forested and savannah-like area. They are crafty, as evidenced by the thief that reached inside a white van to get a bag full of biscuits and snacks. The baboons wait, sometimes near

A baboon races away with the lunch he grabbed out of a van waiting for the Nile ferry. (Photo by Tim Guthrie)

humans, as cars, trucks and buses line up for a ferry across the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park.

In Uganda, baboons also inhabit an area near a bridge over the Nile. Here, they wait at road’s edge for passers-by to offer some food. A bunch of bananas and the banana peels proved popular with adult and baby baboons

The baboon is very adaptable, according to the Primate Info Net of the University of Wisconsin. Baboons live in troops made up of several males and females. The female mother will carry the infant baboon underneath her for several months, then the infant will ride jockey-style on her back for up to 10 to 12 months.

Carol Zuegner, right, waits for the Nile ferry with a baboon nearby. The baboons look for open car windows to grab food. (Photo by Sara Gentzler)

Celebrating a life

It was a journey I wished we didn’t have to make. I accompanied Teresa Dorsey on the first leg of her long journey home on her way to face the unthinkable. Her beloved mother, Cynthia Early Dorsey, had died. Teresa was on the other side of the world.

The first leg of the trip was the eight-hour drive to the Entebbe airport from Lira, a small town in northern Uganda. Even finding a car to rent there involved much behind-the-scenes maneuvering by our wonderful guide Herbert.

While Herbert weaved his way through the traffic of Uganda — roads in disrepair, drivers not really following any rules involving lanes or passing or speeding — Teresa and I talked. Mostly we talked about her mother. It was a lovely, sometimes tear-drenched, sometimes laughter-laden conversation over the miles.

It made me wish I had known Cynthia Early Dorsey. Cynthia was a wonderful mother, encouraging her children to follow their dreams. She loved to travel the world herself  with far-flung adventures from a stint in the Peace Corps in Côte d’Ivoire, time spent working in Japan and an around-the-world honeymoon.

Cynthia loved to cook savory foods, but she didn’t like the precision of baking as much. Her Italian roots showed in the pasta made for holidays.

She was a woman who valued family over everything.

I loved hearing the stories of moments in Teresa’s life. We laughed and we cried.

I talked a little about losing my mom and offered what advice I could: It sucks. It will suck for a long time. It’s a big black hole that will never be completely filled. It hurts more than anything you can imagine. I wish I could have made it hurt less.

After our drive, Herbert and I sent Teresa off on the Brussels-bound plane on the next leg of her long, sad journey home. We tried to send her wrapped in love and prayers and good thoughts.

We have kept Teresa in our thoughts and prayers.  We especially thought of her as we made the journey home.

The gift of a baby chick

I was called by an African name last year: Mama Apio. Fitting because it means elder twin, which I am. And an honor to be recognized in that way.

My African name has been repeated often this year and the connection the name makes with people in Uganda is extraordinary. In many of the times we’ve been introduced at the extravagant welcomes we receive, nods and smiles greet the announcement of the name.

An elder of the tribe embraced me as his daughter has the same name, a string that also connects the elder and an American from far away.

We watched the Lira Cathedral choice rehearse on Saturday — the lovely smiling women and men and the young girl dancers, singing and dancing out under a tree in front of the cathedral. One older woman in the choir smiled even wider when she heard my African name: “My daughter has that name,” she said as we gripped hands.

Milling about ensued after the rehearsal as we packed up cameras and talked to our new friends.  We gravitated to the church steps for a group picture. My new friend and one of our Uganda coordinators found me in the melee.

“Can you take a baby chick home? Will they let you?” the coordinator asked as my new friend looked on anxiously. She cupped her hands and held them up to show me the size of the baby chick she wanted to give me.

I explained it would be impossible to bring the chick back to the USA. I was overcome. What a lovely gesture. I hope I was able to convey my regret at not being able to accept such a gift.

Now I have a responsibility – to keep giving that baby chick, to give of myself unselfishly and warmly. I need to pass along that baby chick.


A tree grows at Ave Maria

I have been on this journey with the 2012 Backpack Journalism team, I feel the presence of many — last year’s wonderful group and our first team that went on this experiment to the Dominican Republic. But none so strongly as Ruth and Tim Leacock. Their 10 years of work in Africa with Computers for Africa still spreads as the leaves of the tree that Ruth planted about five years ago at the Ave Maria Vocational School in Lira.

Mr. Otim, the founder and director of the school, wanted me to take a picture of the tree that Ruth had planted. She planted more than a seedling. I can see the work of Tim and Ruth flowering at Ave Maria and know the same in true in many schools throughout Uganda and Kenya. We wouldn’t be here without that work and without the incomparable Herbert Buisku, who has been the Computers for Africa director here in Uganda and our guide. That word doesn’t seem quite enough as he guides, solves problems, always listens attentively and laughs at our often bad jokes. (Wellll, as we like to say, maybe my bad jokes.)

Ruth and Tim are such an example of the power of people to do something good in the world. It’s not easy and I don’t mean to imply that. Their tireless joy and enthusiasm and taking care of things big and small while making all around them feel the happiness and possibilities were the elements that made Computers for Africa the incredible organization it is.

I can never thank them enough for all they have done for me and the inspiration they are.

Now, I’ve planted a tree at Ave Maria. I hope and pray that I grow in hope and peace as the tree grows.


Carol and tree she planted
Carol and the tree she planted at Ave Maria Vocational School in Lira.


Enjoying my morning coffee

It’s a lovely morning in Lira.

I’m sitting on the little porch of the hotel. A mother chicken just weaved her way by, followed somewhat erratically by six or seven chicks. (Not sure, they move pretty fast to count.)

I just finished a chapati with honey and a fresh banana — a whole different experience from eating a banana in the United States. It’s a fresh banana, ripened on the tree.

I’m staying back today with a student who is feeling a bit under the weather. She’s feeling a little bit better today, which makes me very happy.

I’ve been able to catch up with many of the student blogs, which are a joy to read. And to repeat myself: They love comments.

Coming back to Uganda has been wonderful.  I find myself falling back into Africa time, smiling a lot, going with the flow. I’ve danced, planted a tree, tried my hand at shaker (an instrument made from recycled U.SAid oil tins and tiny rocks. It’s harder to play than it looks, but it’s very fun.)

I love seeing the students experience it all for the first time and seeing our veterans from last year enjoy it all all over again. Some students are overwhelmed as they all will be at some point. We’ve had a couple of reflections where students have talked about what they’re experiencing.

We have been working them hard with filming and interviews. They are feeling a little lost about the story, but it will come together. We talked about the story last night and the three strands we’re following so now they are working at making connections and pulling the strands together. I know this film will be terrific.

I just took my last sip of coffee, so it’s time to leave my cozy perch.




About Carol Zuegner

I am a journalist/professor and lucky enough to be one of the leaders of the Backpack Journalism team. I have been an associate professor of journalism at Creighton since 1997. Before that I worked as a reporter/editor for The Associated Press. I still work one night a week as a copy editor at the Omaha World-Herald. I believe in the power of journalism and story-telling no matter the platform. My journalism interests range from editing to social media to entrepreneurship.