All posts by Hannah O'Keefe

peace

When we were interviewing people on the trip we asked
similar questions to almost everyone: 

“What is forgiveness?”

 “What is
peace?”

“What is reconciliation?”

            Everyone’s
answers really inspired me.  I
think that they were saying everything about war, peace, and forgiveness except
a lot more elegantly and more coherently then I ever could be able to express
it.  They spoke of mainly a desire
to move on from this war and try and find peace within the country so that they
can make some progress economically for the future.  In order to do this sooner rather than later forgiving is the
first most important thing that has to be done.  The idea that forgiveness will bring peace and from that
peace they will be able to rebuild their country is an idea that was very
refreshing to me.  I think the
mindset in the United States generally is that if someone does a wrong to us
forgiveness is not really something that is an option.  I think that a lot of times unfortunately people have
an eye for an eye mentality. I think this mentality really could be the downfall of society because where does it end?  One person or group does a wrong and they are attacked for it then in turn they want to protect their pride and do the same thing.  When does it end? I dont think that it does.  Either this deadly circle continues or some act is so massive and deadly that it cripples one side enough that it can not retaliate.

All of us could learn something from the Ugandan people who have been through hell and back but are still able to try and forgive for the sake of peace and for the sake of a future for their country.  

The people we met in Uganda are some of the strongest that I have ever met.  They willing to pick up and move on with their lives after seeing some of the most horrific experiences that a human can experience.  Just a few of the things that these people experience would have made many of us throw in the towel and not want to continue on with life let alone forgive the crimes committed against us.  

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace.  If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.” 

Makin’ Movie Magic

 Since we returned from Uganda a week and a half ago, it has been go-go-go, non stop editing. The journalism media lab has become our second home- I even took a power nap on the couch in the girls bathroom yesterday. 

 This is my first real exposure to film editing, and three things that I can say for certain is that making a movie is…

-very complicated

-very time consuming

but

-very, very fun and rewarding. 

The process is basically one giant puzzle. You need to look at all the pieces of film and figure out how they are going to fit together. Since we had 14 people all running around Uganda with cameras, we ended up with a lot of film (we’re talking close to 130 hours of it…) Our final version of the documentary will most likely be around half an hour long, so it is quite the challenge to pick out the most important and compelling clips and pieces that will help us tell the story. 

 Although it is an incredibly technical process, and it’s true that mere fractions of a second can make all the difference, I have been surprised to discover how much of the editing process is intuitive. Sometimes, you just know what clips you need and how to arrange them, and the sequences seem to almost create themselves.

Ever since Tim first showed us the principles of editing, I have not been able to look at any video the same way. Movies, commercials, T.V. shows, Youtube videos- it is now impossible for me to watch these without noticing the editing behind it. I have become convinced that the editors of movies are the true movie stars. And what’s the best mark of a good editor? That their hours of cutting, arranging, and re-arranging fit together so seamlessly that the viewer doesn’t even notice the changes. 

For instance, in this trailer for the next Harry Potter movie, there are close to 100 different clips of video (I counted 89, but some of them were too fast for me to even notice.) In addition to that, they are compiled in a way to go in time with the music and create drama, suspense, and most of all, anticipation. Now that is magical.

 I’m also starting to realize that there are few things as satisfying as watching the final video project come together- the fruits of our labor. Although we have only seen rough cuts of the film, and Tim and Peter havn’t come in and fixed all the super technical aspects yet, it really feels like a movie! This footage of the sights and sounds of Africa are no longer trapped inside a camera or computer; they are part of a documentary, ready to be shared with the world.  

Hot and sticky and tired and itchy…so what?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be comfortable. In America, we are always very focused on being as comfortable as possible. When I was little I even watched a TV show called The Big Comfy Couch! We have air conditioning for our houses and cars, memory foam for our beds, ice cubes for our drinks, arch support for our shoes, and the list goes on and on. 

 I almost always take these things for granted. I don’t even notice them…until they are no longer there. 

 When I was in Uganda, I was almost always uncomfortable. We were always crammed into a small bus, I was constantly sweaty, the jet-lag and questionable mattresses made me tired all the time, and there were constellations of itchy bug bites covering my legs and arms. And at the time, it sucks. It really does. 

 But when I think back to my experience in Uganda, being uncomfortable isn’t what comes to mind. In fact, I barely even remember how bad it actually was. Instead, I think of the faces of the children, the fun times we had as a group, the food, the colors, the clothing, the schools we visited, the poverty we witnessed, and so many other things. 

This post is going to be short, and I want to end with a ‘note to self:’

 Dear Hannah, 

Do not let feelings of discomfort stop you from doing anything. Comfort is overrated and there are so, so many more important things. 

 Best wishes, 

Hannah.  

A World Apart

 We all made it back to the United States, safe and sound. 

Everything in Omaha is exactly the way I left it two and a half weeks ago: the showers are hot, the beds are comfortable, the T.V. is on, and the air conditioning is blasting. The only problem is, I’m not the same person I was before and ay, there’s the rub.

It is as if Omaha, with all it’s comfort and consistency, is urging me to forget what I saw in Africa and default back to my old ways. However, it seems that additional steps have been added to my thought process, making it impossible to neglect the memories. Images from Uganda play on repeat in my head and insert themselves into everything I think and do. When I put on my shoes before heading out the door, I see the bare feet of a group of African children playing in the street. When I walk into our computer lab classroom at Creighton, I see a dark school room with dirt floors, a few broken desks and a single chalkboard. 

My mind is constantly trying to compare my experience in Africa with my life in Nebraska in an attempt to bridge the gap between these two places. However, the truth is that Uganda and Omaha are truly a world apart. Essentially every single aspect of my day-to-day American life is different than that of a Ugandan. I drive a car everywhere; they ride bikes or walk. I am constantly on facebook, twitter, and email; many of them have never seen the internet. I worry about eating too much, they worry about getting enough food to survive. 

 It is hard for me to come to terms with these extreme inequalities and differences, but what I have come to realize is that we all have one, essential thing in common: we are all people, we are all part of the same human family. We all deserve the same basic rights, and as someone who was blessed to be born into a position of privilege, I feel incredibly responsible to defend the humanity of my African brothers and sisters and work for a more just world. 

However, it is also important to remember that not all the differences we encountered were bad. The world would be a terribly boring place if we were all the same, sharing one language, culture, and history. I loved and embraced encountering new things, like eating grasshoppers and learning traditional African dances. I think sometimes Americans believe the world would be better off if everyone was American; we want to spread our culture as far and wide as we can and impose our values on anyone we encounter. While I acknowledge the luxuries and privileges that accompany my U.S. passport, I also know that the American way is not always the best way.  

I want to help Ugandans have the best Ugandan life they can have, and I want to live my life in a way that does not negatively affect the people of the developing world just because their lives are so different from my own. 

Lizards, Lions, and Learning Lessons

 

In my last post, I asked for adventure. Well, I got it, and I think the old saying is true: when it rains, it pours.

Last night, I returned to the hotel room/bungalow that I shared with my dad and started to get ready to go to sleep. Before lowering my mosquito net, I decided to take the heavy comforter off the bed since I had been a sweaty mess the night before thanks to the African humidity.

When I pulled the blanket back, a six inch lizard stared up at me from between the sheets, then quickly sprinted off the bed and into the dark corners of the room. Whenever creepy-crawlies are involved, I usually try to keep my cool, but a lizard in my bed was a whole new story. As I freaked out, my dad told me to suck it up and go to sleep. However, I was still very unnerved and used my flashlight to scan the floor of the room, trying to spot the little guy. Finally, in a dark crevice under my nightstand, I spied a thin, curved tail. I told my dad that I wouldn’t be able to sleep knowing that the intruder was hiding mere feet from my face, so he agreed to catch it. After some difficulty, we managed to double team the lizard and catch him under the wicker trashcan. Unfortunately for the lizard (and for us) his tail got caught under the basket’s edge and was cut off. After dumping the body outside, we were horrified to see the tail still twitching and curling on our floor, disconnected from its former body and mildly bleeding. It was truly disgusting. At this point, I was standing on my bed, yelling and cursing, while giving Matt and Chase a play-by-play of the incident through the thin walls separating our rooms. Needless to say, I will never look at a lizard the same way.

Early this morning, we were able to go on a bus ride through the Merchison Falls game park. We saw a herd of giraffes, more water buffalo and warthogs than we could count, a few elephants, and many other animals; we even did a little off-roading and were able to spot a few crouching lions hiding in a bush! It was really incredible- a real life version of the Lion King!

 However, towards the end of our three hour ride, our bus got stuck on an uphill sand road. After we all got off, the boys all tried to push it free but the bus remained completely stuck. There we were, stranded in the middle of a National Park filled with dangerous, wild animals. However, the gods must have been looking out for us because another bus pulled up behind us and helped pull us out of the sandy pit. We had to drive all the way back through the park and retrace the path we came in on, but that seemed a small price to pay for our freedom and safety.

 On the way back from the hospital, we saw a small van by the side of the road that looked like it had just crashed. We found out that the van had lost control on the road and ended up rolling over. Matt, who is pre-med, got out and helped one of the men, who had some pretty deep cuts. The passengers turned out to be some of the men who had been on the bus that helped us out of the sand ditch earlier that morning! Talk about paying it forward! It was really cool to be able to repay the favor.

After all of today’s crazy events, I realized how important the African support system is. In a place devoid of easy fixes for everyday problems- like getting stuck in a road or crashing a car- the people rely on each other for help and support. With no 24/7 AAA service, tow trucks, reliable cell phone service, or even reliable electricity, the people of Uganda don’t even think twice before lending a helping hand to someone in need.

Additionally, this willing attitude reaches beyond just car trouble. The people who we encountered in the villages had incredibly hard lives. They had no money and little access to education, health care, or mobility. Their families and livelihoods had been destroyed by war and they were constantly confronted with disease and death. The only way that these people are able to stay strong is through the support of their families and communities, and they all look out for each other as best as they can.

I think that Americans could learn a lot from the people of Uganda. Since in the USA, ambition and competition are often so heavily stressed, many people are so focused on themselves and ‘getting ahead’ that they forget the Golden Rule: do unto to others as you would have them do unto you.

On the agenda for tomorrow is a trip to the source of the Nile. It should be another great day, and then its back to the U.S. of A!

The Cool Kids

Since coming to this country, I have met so many wonderful people and I find myself inspired by someone new every day. 

As a young American woman traveling in Africa, I am finding myself especially impressed by a few of the other Muzungus that we have encountered who are living and working in Africa. 

On Wednesday, we were able to stop by the office of Invisible Children for Gulu, an organization that is doing so much for education, development, and progress in Northern Uganda.  We met one young woman there who just graduated from University of California at Santa Barba. She is spending six months working with Invisible Children as an intern, and when we met her, she seemed very smart, knowledgable, and excited to be there.  I walked away from this meeting feeling so excited, not only because of the wonderful work of IC, but also because of how cool this American was and how much I would love to be in her shoes. 

Later in the week, we met up with one of my sister Erin’s friends from JVC in Bethel, Alaska, Kayla. She is working for a fair trade company called One Mango Tree and will spend a total of six months here in Gulu.  We we able to stop by the One Mango Tree’s compound and see the whole operation: we saw the woman cutting the fabric, making the purses, and we raided there small store, leaving them happily depleted.  Like the young woman at invisible children, Kayla and her job struck a cord in me. She could easily have been working an entry level job in the USA, oblivious to the needs of those across the globe; instead, she intentionally placed herself in a position to witness and contribute to progress in the developing world. 

Finally, on Friday, we spent the day at a Jesuit School called Ocer (O-chay). While we were there, we encountered two students from the Jesuit College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. They had just arrived at Ocer and would be spending 10 weeks teaching and helping out at the school. 

In my mind, these are the ‘cool kids’ among young Americans.  It is people like this from whom I draw inspiration.

Earlier in the week, Sara and I were talking about how, for our careers, what we really want is to be cool; we want to do and see amazing things and have as many adventures as we can fit in. 

I have no idea what life has in store, but I really hope that one day, I can join the ranks of the ‘cool kids.’ 

Aboard the Bus

Aboard the bus

If our group was exploring Uganda the African way, we would be traveling around the country in a fleet of rusty, old bicycles.  Instead, our primary method of transportation is a tour bus, complete with No Smoking signs written in Chinese and a small chandelier hanging from the ceiling, who’s purpose and origin remain unknown. 

As we drive through the country side, I am continually struck by how stereotypically ‘African’ everything looks. When someone thinks of Africa, they often picture small, shirtless children with bloated stomaches, women carrying items on their heads, and animals roaming free.  However, each of these African stereotypes is very much based in truth. All of these scenes, plus so many more, are constantly occurring along the side of the road. However, when I am able to see things for myself, they transform from images I’ve seen on the pages of National Geographic to reality that is occurring before my eyes.. When I look out the window and see a woman with a baby strapped to her back, a bushel of firewood on her head, and two jugs of water in her hands, her struggles become real to me. When I see I group of children playing in a pile of trash, I feel connected to them and the risks to their health. It is hard to think that while we quickly drive by, these people remain behind. 

Being aboard a large bus full of muzungus (white people), driving through the African countryside is comparable to being aboard a limousine driving through a small town in rural Nebraska: everyone stops what they are doing and stares at you. The children run up to the side of the road and wave, laugh, and point. The woman look up from their work to take in the scene, usually with strong and stoic faces. The men, who are often just sitting around in groups, watch us as we drive by, sometimes cracking a smile or nudging their neighbor. 

In order to get to the locations that we are visiting and filming, we have to spend hours on the bus. One way that we have found to pass the time is making friendship bracelets. Bridget was wonderful enough to bring two large packs of thread, and since she first showed it to us yesterday, we have become bracelet-making machines. I alone have made seven: two on my left wrist, three on my right wrist, one on my ankle, and one that I gave away to a boy named Denis who was a student at the school we visited today. Bracelet making has been a really fun way for our group to bond as we have shared methods and techniques with one another. We even made bracelets in the colors of the Ugandan flag- black, red, and yellow- for Herbert, our guide, and Frank, our fearless bus driver. 

It is impossible to talk about life on the bus in Africa without mentioning the roads. All the roads here are made of red dirt and are covered in bumps, rivets, holes, and ditches.  Even with the very impressive, skillful driving of Fred, the drive to our destinations is almost always incredibly bumpy. It is not uncommon for the bus to be driving along at a 30 degree angle or make a quick and sudden swerve to simultaneously avoid an unseen hole and an oncoming bike. We take turns sitting toward the back of the bus, where every jostle of the bus is exaggerated and you occasionally find yourself airborne. However, every ride is an adventure which keeps the trip fun and interesting. 

Cows and Chickens and Baboons, Oh my!

Greetings from northern Uganda! We are finally settling in after two long days of travel, and it feels great to be able to finally relax and settle in. 

 By the time we landed in Antebbe yesterday night, it was already dark outside, so my first impressions of the country were limited.  We drove back to our hotel, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a comfortable bed and a hot shower waiting for me.  

After waking up bright and early today, we began our seven hour bus ride to the north. We made a quick pit stop at a Ugandan supermarket/mall in order to change money and buy some snacks. Carol, Kira, and I were very excited to find Uganda’s version of Diet Coke, called Coke Light.  It was a deliciously refreshing way to start the day, and served as a pleasant reminder of home. 

 Along the road, there were so many things to look at, it is hard to pinpoint any exact first impressions.  Everything here, from the clothing to the road side shops, is extremely colorful and vibrant. The roads were lined with people walking, children playing, and cows and chickens wandering around.  There seems to be one main traffic rule that dominates the streets: don’t get hit.

When we arrived at our current hotel, we had a chance to walk out into the village and spend time with a few of the local children.  One boy, Frederick,  ended up showing Bridget, Chase, and I around the village. He carried a radio, which played a combination of African music and rap and popular American songs. He showed us the hut that his grandfather and he live in, and led us to the soccer field in which all the children like to play. 

 The kids were so cute. They all gathered around all of our camera, and died of laughter after seeing their funny faces reflected on our tiny camera screens. It was hard to communicate with many of the kids though, became the primarily spoke their local language, which Frederick told us is called Lua. 

So far, I am loving Uganda. Although I am very appreciative of our comfortable accommodations, I am aware of the position of privilege that we have here in comparison to the local people. For this reason, I am really looking forward to going out into the village, speaking with the people, and seeing the world from their perspective. 

 Tomorrow we begin filming. I am both nervous and excited for this, and am anxious to see how it all goes. 

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go….

I hope it’s not bad luck to quote John Devner for this blogpost’s title considering that he ended up dying in a plane crash…

 But his lyrics ring true. I really am ready to go.  I’m sitting in my living room, drinking coffee, taking one final moment to relax before leaving. I’m already a little tired, which is both a good and a bad thing: it’s probably not the best idea to begin a two-day long journey already sleep deprived, but then again, I’m going to have about twenty hours of flight time, not including layovers, in which to sleep. 

I’ve decided to leave my iPhone at home for this trip.  I was debating bringing it to use in the airports, but I decided that I like the idea of being unplugged from the world- at least the world of cell phones- for two weeks.  I don’t want anything distracting me from really focusing on the experience. 

My dad is letting me know that it’s time to leave, so HERE WE GO

Busy Anticipation

In the past three days, I have taken my last final at SLU, moved out of my dorm room, driven eight hours home, met my fellow travelers for the first time in person, and now I am in the middle of class, learning as much theology, journalism, and filming technique as can be crammed into one day. 

These next few days will be extremely busy, but now that the date of deparature is right around the corner, I am finally able to let my excitement sink it.  As tempted as I am to let the stress of preparations preoccupy me, I am trying to make a conscious effort to avoid reducing these next few days to thoughts of shopping checklists and packing concerns. Instead, I want to be present in class, focus on soaking up the information we learn, and get to know the other students who I will be spending the next month with. 

 Before I know it, I am going to be sitting (and sitting, and sitting…) on a plane, on route to other side of the world. Right now, my dominating emotion is excitement.  Africa will be so foreign from anything I have ever experienced. I have watched as my mom, sister, dad, and brother all travelled to Uganda, and I have seen their pictures. Now I will see everything for myself. 

 I am ready to go. I’m ready to be amazed and exhilarated. I’m ready to be tired, and dirty, and drained. And most of all, I’m ready to let Africa change me.