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.

Learning from students

This is my fourth Backpack Journalism trip and I’ve found I learn more perhaps than the students do. I learn things about myself, about the world and about them.  We have a great mix of students this year. All are eager to learn. Some are stepping gingerly out of their comfort zones and some are leaping. But everyone is so open to new experiences. It’s so wonderful to watch and so wonderful to talk to them about what they are feeling and thinking and absorbing.

We have been so fortunate to have a day of learning about historical trauma from Rose Dominic, a wonderful morning with Cecilia Martz, an afternoon with Pat Tam and an evening with Brian McCaffery. We are so lucky to have the opportunity, as short as it is, to learn as much as we can about Yup’ik culture and life in this environment.

Getting ready to fix the salmon for dinner.

We’ve had tasty reminders of how generous everyone is: parishioners have delivered delicious fish and vegetables. Cecilia made us her terrific salmon spread. Father Mark gave us salmon for a wonderful dinner (and learning experience as students learned how to gut and fillet a fish.)

Time seems to be going so fast as we learn and soak up everything.

We’ve arrived

After one incredibly long day and night of travel, we are in Bethel. The long journey is a good reminder that we are far from home and of the incredible vastness of Alaska.

The students are settled into various sleeping places. The women have called their Sunday-school-rooms converted into sleeping space the cabin.

We went for a walk around the community of Bethel, then had pizza with CU grad Michelle DeWitt, Bethel teacher Alisha Coplin and Father Mark.

Today we start our interviews. The journey really begins.


The journey starts here

Where did this week go? We have indeed packed it full of video, theology, writing, blogging  interviewing and taking our traditional group photo.   Today was a test-drive on setting up the cameras, doing an interview (Thanks, Tony), finding B-roll. It was a learning experience, but I loved the enthusiasm and focus of all.

We don’t get on the plane until Sunday, but the journey has begun. I think their enthusiasm and willingness for all aspects of our experience signal good things ahead. I mean, they were excited to hear we would have oatmeal and ramen for them to eat. And rice. Because food is so expensive in Bethel, we are taking some staples and easily portable food with us. Suitcases will be brimming with clothes, sleeping bags and instant oatmeal.

I love getting to know the students, watching them grow and stretch. The boot camp means long days and so much info that all of our heads spin. The students coalesce into a group. Friday is one last day of class, then our first reflection.

The backpack crew practice setting up interview cameras while interviewee Tony takes a ohoto.
The backpack crew practice setting up
interview cameras while interviewee
Tony takes a photo.





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.