All posts by Gabby Hart

Have a Carrot: A Profile of Alison Prater

(Title inspired by: The Runaway Bunny)

As a Political Science major at Creighton, 22-year-old Alison Prater came into her trip to Uganda with general knowledge of the basic political and social structures of the country. Prior to her departure, Alison also began to read books describing the sociological and political structures in Uganda as well as personal accounts of living among the people. Her knowledge deepened and her perspective changed as she met the people and experienced the culture.

The two-week program in Backpack Journalism, immersed the students within the Ugandan culture while simultaneously creating a short documentary film about the role of music within the culture. Alison had never been to the developing world nor was she familiar with camera equipment, but she welcomed a new challenge and approached the trip with an eagerness to learn.

“The amount of sincerity from the people was overwhelming.” Most places give you some sort of greeting when you arrive, but she said she had never received this kind of welcome. Even thousands of miles away from her home, she felt at ease.

During her two weeks, she learned how to separate what truly matters in her life which she believes comes with any kind of travelling.

“You can live off the people around you. It doesn’t have to be about degrees, majors, or money.”

It was not easy to balance making sense out of the injustices around her while also keeping up with her personal thoughts. She did not let this affect her ability to actively participate in her role as an interviewer for the film project.

She said she struggled to remain focused sometimes, but she remained patient and asked for help when she needed it.

“It was difficult, but it brought me closer to the subject matter.”

Her greatest challenge during the trip was dealing with emotions in a foreign place. “Every single coping mechanism you usually have is ripped out from under you.” She struggled to process the immense desperation and suffering around her.

“You can’t cry. It’s not an option because you have to look at it.”

She realized there were times when she could pretend that whatever was happening around her was not real. However, she was quickly reminded of the reality of the situation when she saw children wearing Green Bay Packers or Jonas Brother shirts.

“It was connected to my world directly and that made me sad.”

In addition to being exposed to new and often heart breaking sights, Alison faced the challenge of sharing it all through the class blogs.

“For the first time in my life, I was speechless.” Her journal became more of a list of events than a descriptive narrative. She said it was hard to find the words when her mind was still trying to make sense out of everything that had happened.

“It was jarring.”

Although it was overwhelming at times, she said it was refreshing to be able to experience such a range of emotions. Her emotions in the United States typically focus upon stress or anxiety, yet in Uganda she experienced “pure solid emotions.”

“I never knew I could experience that many feelings in one day, one hour, one minute.”

Her time spent at the top of Murchison Falls inspired what she called “pure happiness.” As she and her fellow classmates ran around the slippery rocks with their expensive cameras, warm light spread across the sky and it began to rain. She suppressed her urge to jump in the water, but the impact of the power of her surroundings remained.

She said her time in Uganda is something to keep learning from and working from..

“Africa changes people. No one comes out entirely different, but no one comes out entirely the same.”

Be Free

I wish I had access to a video or sound clip of the song that most likely began to play in the heads of any member of the trip whose eyes glanced over this post. It was a song sung to us by young girls in Abia and what I understood/can currently remember of the lyrics are as follows:

Be free in the water, be free in the air, be free like a fish, oh yes, oh yes.

When you I heard this song for the first time, I thought it was a strange concept to be free like a fish. Typical symbols or images of freedom are a majestic bold eagle flying in front of the American flag (out of sheer curiosity has anyone actually witnessed an eagle casually soar by a flag?) or the United States Constitution. However, as we listened to the song I was forced to imagine a new vision of what it meant to “be free.”

I am a citizen of the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” but I have never been able to wrap my  mind around what that actually means. When I thought about what it could mean to be free like a fish, I actually began to understand why it could be the ideal way of living. To be free like a fish in water means to be free to explore, to swim in new directions, ride new waves, and go deeper. It means challenging yourself to face obstacles with courage, embrace the world around you, and carefully observe your surroundings.

It means allowing yourself to let go of worry, leave the past behind you, and enjoy the present moments that are creating your future. Oh yes, oh yes.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

Just keep swimming.” – Finding Nemo

 

Home Again, Home Again

It’s crazy to think that exactly a month ago, we were arriving in Kampala, dazed and exhausted from travelling across the globe. I’m getting on yet another plane tomorrow, except rather than going off to another daring adventure, I am returning home to Colorado. Not only will the less than two hour plane ride feel like fifteen minutes after spending such extensive amounts of time on planes, I will be coming home with a different mindset than I have ever had before.

Sure, I will still spend the flight glued to the window even though I’ve taken this flight on countless previous occasions; I will still notice all of the strange happenings that occur in airports; I will still be the girl who awkwardly smiles to herself when I witness two people reuniting; I am still living the same life I was before I left for Uganda. I hesitate to call these kinds of trips “life-changing” because what really in my life has changed?

I am lucky enough to remain a student at Creighton, my major has not changed (although Carol will be happy to know from now on any of my extra credits will be dedicated to Journalism courses), I work at the same job, eat the same food (except I’m still taking an indefinite break from bananas), and surround myself with the same people. My life did not change, but my perspectives and my attitudes did. I do not look at anything in quite the same way I did before, but I think that’s something that comes with experience, not necessarily from going to Africa.

I think it is important to remain level-headed in all of the future situations in which I will witness the ignorance of others when it comes to knowing how the rest of the world lives. Just because I went to Uganda does not make me a superior human being. I am a more knowledgeable person with a different set of priorities who, if anything, should be willing to share and talk about my experience with those people, to describe the culture, to enlighten them, and to bring them into my “home.”

If home truly is where your heart is, consider Uganda a new addition on my continuously increasing list of homes.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself. ” -Maya Angelou
Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

 

Broken Hallelujah

(From a journal entry on 6/15, with a note saying: don’t blog this one, you’ll worry mom)

Listening to “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley

I don’t think I can put together the words that will do any kind of justice to what I am feeling right now. It’s funny to look back at my six pages of notes from the plane ride here to the slow progression of well organized thoughts to random scattered paragraphs and unfinished sentences. I want to share the experience with our faithful readers, but there are some things that cannot be said; some things that cannot be captured on film or in a still photograph.

As much as I would like to be one of those people who can take the hard pictures and stay present in the tough moments; today it is impossible to be that person. But today, I am satisfied accepting that fact because there are far more important things than a nicely framed shot and ideal lighting (no offense to the photojournalists of the world).

I got the phrase “Life’s not fair” tossed out at me many times growing up as a response to petty complaints most likely involving not being able to go somewhere with my friends or watch a certain TV show, etc. I now whole-heartedly understand: Life is not fair. Life is beautiful, but life can also be ugly. There is beauty in pain, but there is no comfort in heartache.

If I do decide to post this blog, I apologize for being unable to describe what I actually witnessed today. Then again, I think journalism should about more than describing a picture or telling a story. Sometimes journalism should allow itself to feel a little deeper; seek farther into the mind of the writer and express a vivid image of emotion.

As always, keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

The first and final thing you have to do in this world is to last in it and not be smashed by it.” -Ernest Hemingway

 

 

Washed by the Water

Several of my fellow classmates have already written amazing blogs about water, so the concept might be hard to live up to, but I will give it a shot.

Going from watching women and children walking alongside busy roads with a jug of water on top of their head to standing in front of the roaring falls at Murchison was slightly hard to comprehend. How are these people spending almost their entire day walking to and from water sources which are most likely unsafe and dangerous to drink from, when something so grand and beautiful like Murchison falls exists?

The waters of the Nile River are infested with hundreds of different parasites which can be fatal to humans. But looking at these waters with my own eyes did not disgust me or have me worrying too much about the parasites. All I could see were miles and miles of gentle waves and a thin fog above the misty foam on the surface. The waters made me calm, collected, and just like the starry night sky, were a reminder of just how large and awe-inspiring the nature of the world can be.

On one of our bus rides, it began to rain. I now watched those same women and children walk through the rain water, with their jugs of water, through windows splattered with the water of raindrops. Water was everywhere, but yet it is still a precious commodity. I think it is important to recognize the vulnerability and fragility of water as well as realize its power and influence in both nature and humanity.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

 

Soccer Madness

A view of the soccer stadium on game day.

(From an dateless journal entry while in Lira)

It is hard to believe the United States does not celebrate the sport of soccer in the same way in which many other countries of the world do. It is also a shame. Even though I have minimal soccer skills (ask my classmates who watched me desperately attempt and fail to score one goal against a bunch of children less than half my size), being able to recognize the rules and setup of a sport brought me closer to the children we were with.

Soccer is so much more to them than a sport. The first night we played, we did not even play the game with a soccer ball; we played with a plastic water bottle. They barely noticed because for them soccer is not about who wears the best jerseys, which brand of shoes works best, or the quality of their ball. Soccer is a time to celebrate in a friendly and competitive spirit as well as distract themselves from their daily struggles. Soccer relieves their stress, anxiety, and possibly even pain. I know watching this random white girl prance around like a baby gazelle chasing after a ball gave them a good laugh.

Although it was a slight jab to my dignity, I laughed with them; I played their game with them and I related to them in some way for that hour or two out on that field. It did not matter that we were from another country, older, and twice their size. They immediately made us their teammates and welcomed us onto their field, a place that felt almost sacred. (End of entry)

In an anthropology course, I read a book by Janet Lever called Soccer Madness which discusses soccer’s role in society in Brazil. However, as I watched the motorbikes packed with people in their bright yellow jerseys headed to watch the soccer match last week, I could not help but notice a similar role in the community in Uganda. Lever states that sporting spectacles such as soccer “belong to the world of the sacred rather than the profane; fans who say sport provides an escape from ‘real life’ in effect sustain this religious distinction …. Like the effect of a religious celebration, sport fosters a sense of identification with the others who shared the experience.”

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

To those with nothing, soccer is everything.”- Celia W. Dugger

A Toast to the Team

Even though we have lost the majority of our readers because the blogs are no longer the only proof we are still alive, I still needed to write this final one. While in Uganda, we typically celebrated the accomplishments of the group with a quick toast and clink of glasses at dinner therefore I figured it was necessary to celebrate the trip with one too.

To Dr. O’Keefe: The truly wise (and now official) elder who ensured our safety and general well-being with intensity and poise.

To Tim: The creative and spontaneous artist who never failed to impress us with his incredible art as well as his playful sense of humor.

To Carol: The compassionate and relatable writer who challenged us to ask the tough questions and helped us make sense of the answers.

To Heidi: The dedicated and cheerful note-taker who gave 100% of herself to the project and offering a helping hand (or knife) wherever she could.

To Joe: The eager traveler who made the effort to speak with and get to know the local people and experience the culture. (“Myzunguuuuu!”)

To Jason: The quick-witted and thoughtful intellectual whose stories never failed to entertain and determination never failed to encourage the group.

To Sara: The kind-hearted and joyful spirit who helped her peers on countless occassions without expecting anything in return

To Teresa: The friendly and passionate girl whose smile is contagious and who I greatly admire for her immense strength.

To Alison: The down-to-earth walking encyclopedia who was always willing to share her random knowledge with us as well as offer her unique perspective on our experiences.

To Patrick: The curious wanderer who offered his powerful insights during reflections and his best faces during pictures.

To Chase: The genuine and warm-hearted jokester who was always prepared to take on whatever was thrown at him.

I am a better person for knowing you all and I wish you the best of luck in all you do. Cheers.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” –Anais Nin

Souvenirs

Everybody knows when you come home from any kind of travel excursion, you bring back souvenirs. Little trinkets, T-shirts, keychains, flags, mugs, postcards, and magnets with the name of your destination typically return home with you. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing home these material things, I have quickly discovered my most important souvenirs from Uganda are not tangible objects.

I’m bringing back the gift of appreciation, and not just the please and thank you kind, a deeper and more fully understood appreciation. I have the opportunity to study and pursue my future career goals when thousands of children simply desire to attend school and receive an education. I drink clean water, eat more than sufficient amounts of food, and live underneath a sturdy roof in a comfortable house. I possess more material objects than I need and do not express my gratitude nearly as often I should.

I’m bringing back a new sense of strength in myself that had been buried in me for a while now. I witnessed the pain and struggling of people who in some ways are not so different from me at all. If they are able to wake up every day and live their lives to the best of their ability, so can I. The human spirit, the will not just to be alive but to live, is a powerful force and feeling that spirit from others reminded me I also needed to find it in myself.

Lastly, I’m bringing back the gift of experience. It is my responsibility to make sure these two weeks of my life do not stay in Uganda forever. Even though it may be uncomfortable or awkward, sharing the hard parts of the trip is just as important as raving about the landscape or seeing a leopard ten feet away from our bus. Sharing my experience with others also allows me to process lingering emotions or questions.

Yes, I bought plenty of physical reminders of Africa and the flag of Uganda will hang in my room for a very long time, but those aren’t the type of gifts I will cherish most.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

 

Good Morning, Sunshine!

 
A morning view from one of our many bus rides.

One thing that I will never be able to explain is my temporary shift from night owl to early bird while in Uganda.

My mornings in Uganda typically included the eager crows of roosters as my own personal alarm clock, misty fog in the distance, and a nice piece of bread with honey and fresh fruit. Back in the United States, morning is usually a stressful whirl of figuring out what I need to accomplish in the day. In Uganda, my mornings were the least stressful time of day because for that small period of time, I was not worried.

It was a refreshingly calm period of time amidst our hectic and often unpredictable schedule of events

Marcus Aurelius said, “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” There are few moments in the United States that I have ever dedicated to appreciating the simple fact that I am alive. However, the thought crossed my mind each and every morning I spent in Uganda.

I found myself waking up even earlier than necessary just to spend more time sitting with my breakfast and taking a minute just to breathe. I didn’t worry about what we needed to film that day, how long we needed to be on the bus, or even which day of the week it was. For that short period of time, I let myself just be. I embraced the minimal number of bugs in the air and welcomed the warm sunshine on my face.

Morning begins every new day and every new day should be celebrated.

 

 

Notes From the Window Seat: Round Two

Wearing our Uganda pride on the journey home (Photo Credit: Sara Gentzler)

We successfully completed yet another 20+ hour travel day and in honor of that accomplishment, I figured I would create another list of observations for the journey home.

  • I always feel like I’ve done something wrong when going through customs and security even though I’m perfectly aware I am in no way dangerous or sneaking anything back into the country.
  • I miss the days when I was young enough for it to be socially acceptable to outwardly scream and cry during bad spots of turbulence on planes.
  • There is nothing more disorienting then falling asleep for two hours and barely being awake, or functioning for that matter, for the flight attendant to hand you the weird globes of water. Where. Am. I.
  • Bad news: my official airplane buddy from round one, also known as Jason, isn’t next to me on any of the flights. Good news: he sat directly behind me all the way to Minnesota. Go team.
  • Airplanes should invest and/or research the idea of a Snuggie rather than a blanket ( I can’t remember which classmate also suggested it, but I give whoever that was credit for the idea)
  • I still have yet to master the art of gracefully waltzing off moving walkways without tripping over myself.
  • Note to self: Never watch the flight tracker on 8 hour flights. It’s like checking the clock during your least favorite class every other minute. There’s a slightly possibility we’re actually getting farther away (not really, I just wanted to be dramatic).
  • I felt a little bad for the people sitting around us in the terminal in Minnesota. A group of delusional and slap happy college students attempting to make high school yearbook style superlatives (Most likely to…) must have been a real treat to listen to.

My internal clock is once again hopelessly confused, I hesitated to brush my teeth with my sink water, and I didn’t eat every meal with the same ten people. It sounds strange, but once you get used to a certain routine especially in a different country, even the comforts of home can feel odd. It is a struggle, but the only thing I can do right now is:

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

Never think you’ve seen the last of anything.” -Eudora Welty