All posts by Tim Guthrie

The group is over the Atlantic (and more pics)

Most of the group will be home relatively soon.  A couple are in Amsterdam.  I am back in Paris.  I miss them all, already.

For the smart-alecky friend that says the leopard cannot be proven to be a leopard without a sharper image of the spots, I give you the headless leopard:

Leopard's spots

For the peeps that miss Carol, here she is dancing with some kids:

Dancing Queen Apio

And another pic of the same kids as they relax between songs:

Carol's dancing partners

Oh, two more pics of animals:

We saw a leopard.  Unfortunately, I had my camera set to a slow shutter.  Fortunately, I was still able to aim the lens.  I think Jason got a good pic

Leopard just after the hunt

We see tons of baboons.  This guys stole the food out of an unattended van and the driver didn’t think to close the side door.

Sneaky baboon

 

Pics of animals and water and such

My last post might have been a bit grim.  I thought I’d lighten it up with some pics:

Murchison Falls

This is Murchison Falls.  It is a double exposure (one for the sky and one for the water), but honestly, it was even more beautiful than this picture.

Murchison Falls

Here are a few students (Heidi, Sara and Alison, l. to r.) hanging out at the falls.

Little bird

Here is a beautiful little bird I can’t recall the name of.  The detail in the wings is amazing in the original image.

A pair of birds

More amazing birds.

Crested Crane

The Crested Crane is the official bird of Uganda.

Elephants

Elephants, of course.

Hippos

So many hippos.  I can’t even estimate a number, but I’ll say hundreds, anyway.

Lizard

I just love these little guys

 

 

Lucky…

Last year, we had several conversations about how death is everywhere here.  This year, we’ve had similar discussions, but definitely under different circumstances.

Last year, we went to Barlonyo, a village of Internally Displaced Persons, or an IDP camp.  It was by far the poorest and most desperate place we travelled to.  No windows, no electricity, no running water, no clean water, for that matter, and dirt floors in simple earthen huts.  Often people literally had little beyond the clothes on their backs.  Worse, even if you can imagine a place in the States that is similar, a truly comparable level of poverty is hidden or hard to find in the US.

Here, it is ubiquitous.

I’m lucky enough that no one in my immediately family has died.  Everyone we talk to here seems to have lost family members.  Quilinous Otim, a Ugandan (with malaria, btw) who helps us contact people and get around here, lost his son just this last November, or so.  The proprietor of the hotel we are staying at lost his son in a car accident and is raising his granddaughter.

Abia was the place we raised money to buy the oxen and plows.  I’m not sure how much the poverty there hit the students since the community put on so many ceremonies and performances for us.  It was quite an ordeal, but it didn’t fully mask the poverty.

The classrooms at Abia were open cement rooms with no windows or doors where students pack the rooms on long benches.  The children obviously wore the same simple uniforms over and over again until they barely held themselves together.

Regarding death, the fact is, 1/3 of the children there are born HIV positive.  Many will die very young.  Many died in the 20+ years of LRA war.  More than 100 women die each week during child birth.  The annual “crude death rate” is around 12 per 1,000.  I’m not certain there is any kind of healthcare, whatsoever, even if there were a decent hospital nearby.  Not surprisingly, the death rate is high in these areas.  There are countries in Africa that are worse off – Angola for example – but In the States, if a disease is life threatening, it can often still be handled.  People rarely die from the flu or similar simple problems, anymore.   Ugandans aren’t so lucky.  They regularly get malaria several times a year.

Ugandans have mosquito nets (which I am under in my bed as I type this).  We have expensive drugs like Melarone (I just took my weekly dose before climbing into bed).

Two nights ago, John and I visited Fr. James Obot’s home.  He invited us there and offered John a live turkey to take back to the States.  I believe he makes around $450/year.  We declined, but thanked him profusely.  He invited the entire class to a meal last night and he served the turkey that I had patted on the back only the night before.

Fr. James with his mother

Fr. James’s brother died of AIDS a few years back and James is raising his brother’s children.  I was told his father had been shot and killed a while back.  His mother had suffered a stroke four years ago and was left an invalid.  She has essentially spent those last four years on a thin mattress on the floor of his home and he cares for her with his sister, who takes care of most of her needs.

When we drive through the markets, you see things you expect to see, although in shanty stands:  Overly ripe fruit, general market trinkets and cheap stuff that China dumps in Africa.

But you see one other thing being sold, as well:  Coffins.

I remember this from last year.  Crudely handmade coffins sold on the side of the road like any other simple item you’d see in a market.  Coffins for adults and coffins for children.

Coffins at the market

Death is everywhere here.

As you’ve probably already gathered, one of our students, Teresa, had to rush back to the States because her mother became very ill.  Tragically, as we pulled up to the car she was going to get into to be transported to the airport, she got the call that her mother died.  It crushed the entire class.  I can’t begin to imagine how tragic it was for Teresa, and she still had to travel 30 hours under extreme distress.

As terrible as this was, I started to wonder how many Ugandan deaths there were for every death in a first world country.  Death is a devastatingly universal experience, but the frequency of deaths in much of Africa is staggering, and considering how many people are completely off the grid here, I wonder if it is more than the government estimates?

We are each plainly lucky to have been born where we were.  On a silly side note, I remember a band called the Lucky Sperms.  I think of that every once in a while when I realize I could have just as easily been born in a place where food was scarce and the means to survive comfortably were rare.

I guess much of life is luck … I just don’t often realize how much.

One thing of which I am well aware:  I am extraordinarily lucky to travel with this amazing group to this amazingly beautiful country.

We finished filming yesterday.  We leave for the Nile today and will visit a game park tomorrow.

…I know.

I wouldn’t mind being so pound foolish if I were at least a bit penny wise.

The title of this post has nothing to do with the content.  It was just something I tweeted last week.

I don’t have much to say beyond this:

Every year I worry students will be selfish adolescents or fail to look past the surface of what they see on these trips.  Each year I am pleasantly proven wrong.  I guess what I often fail to remember is Creighton students so often demonstrate a level of humanity, perception and understanding and I didn’t often see at previous schools at which I taught.

They get humbled by Uganda.

I get humbled by them.

John the Elder

You’ve probably already heard that John was conferred the title of Elder by the community at Ave Maria.  I’ll let him describe it.  I just thought I’d share an image so you can at least get an idea of what the event looked like.

John the Elder abuses his power

Looking forward to joining the group

Last year in Uganda, I was racked with guilt each time I thought about how I craved a warm shower, potable water, internet access, or even any electricity at all.

I am not even in the country, yet, and I can tell it will be more difficult for me this time.

Why?

The students have already been there for about two days, while I have spent the better part of the week in Paris in complete comfort and seeing all the historical places you probably imagine.  Only, I mainly see them over my shoulder.  I see them when they crop up between buildings as I walk along the Seine or down side streets.  The Eiffel Tower and other monuments appear and disappear again and again.  Considering the next part of my journey, it feels wrong to visit and enjoy the famous sites, and with few exceptions, it doesn’t even feel right to acknowledge them, let alone photograph them.

Davis in front of the LouvreThe other day, a few of us stood in the courtyard of the Louvre, but not waiting to go in.  Rather, to photograph Davis, a writer, dancing around in his white, full-lycra suit so we could capture images for his next project.  The same goes for places like Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe near the Louvre, the Luxembourg Gardens just across from my hotel, and so many statues, structures and ridiculous architecture.  I seem to only glance and don’t bother to actually stop.

I keep thinking about where I am going next.

Don’t get me wrong.  Ugnada is an amazing country.

However, when I recall our trip last year, I remember some students romanticizing everything from children’s tattered clothes (which in the poorest communities, are often one of the few pieces of clothing they have), or some of the places and smells.  It smells like sweat and burning because people rarely get to bathe and they are literally burning things.  I don’t find anything romantic about it.

I remember John getting frustrated last year that some students weren’t really SEEING what was in front of them.  He feared we would leave without them really thoroughly understanding what they saw.  He desperately wanted a “teaching moment” (which, as it happened, we certainly got a few days later).

I remember during a reflection one night (and certainly a similar night the year before in the Dominican Republic), when student after student talked about how connected s/he felt to people s/he had only briefly met.  In the DR, some really felt as members of families.  Yes, families were very generous to us, but we were only visitors who would never return or stay in contact.  A couple students talked about “how happy all the children were” and I wasn’t sure if they honestly recognized or admitted to themselves that it was merely an event to see the students, but once we were gone, everything would go back to normal for them as if we had never even been there at all, or if it was a defense mechanism for the students to avoid that part of the reality.

In some of the communities we traveled to, death and disease are common.  Clean water and electricity are not.

I remember students saying they would change the way they lived after they returned home.  Each promised to “live simply so others may simply live.”

I don’t meant to be hard on anyone.  I am sure some did, or at the very least sincerely tried, to some small extent.  It seems odd to say, but it was almost good to see when they later wrote things like “I feel uncomfortable being so comfortable” after they returned home.

But while we were still there, I recall being somewhat negative.  After they said so many optimistic things about how they understood what they saw and how they would change, I remember thinking, “Do they really understand how truly challenging that will be?”

I admitted to them that, a couple decades earlier, I had been to Africa for the first time and thought the same thing, but when I got home, I returned to virtually the same habits and rituals I had before.  Maybe I changed more than I’m willing to admit, but ultimately, I gave up very little of what I had.  I didn’t truly sacrifice anything.  And, as a friend recently reminded me, it isn’t sacrifice if it doesn’t hurt, right?

Worse, though, I became and angry young man.  I don’t mean nasty, but certainly somewhat bitter.  I became more pessimistic.  I unquestionably got angry at our government.

I don’t want that for our students.  But then, what is my hope for the students this year?

Don’t become negative.  Don’t grow angry.  But, don’t give in to the helpless feeling that there is nothing you can do to change things, either.  Do what you can.  I don’t want to say no act is too small, because small acts change little.  However, you can start small and keep working to do more, day after day, year after year.  I hope that you each do at least one significant thing in your life to help others after of this trip.  I don’t mean you shouldn’t simply live every day of your life in a more conscious way.  You should.  But I do mean I hope you each do something noteworthy.  I do.  It might not happen this year, or next year, for that matter.  But, I hope you keep working toward a goal of helping others.

It isn’t enough to live with less.  You should want to give more.

Someone might call you a bleeding-heart liberal.  Shake it off.  Someone will call you naive.  Shake it off.  You know better and you have seen, and better understand, what most of those people will be criticizing.

Don’t get haughty, but don’t allow yourself to be unassertive or uninvolved.

I hope you don’t get tired of the quote, but you will hear it, again and again:  Be the change…

From what little I know of each of you, I am confident it will happen.  After all, you chose this trip, not a semester in Ireland or Italy, or wherever.  You’ve already made a significant choice.

Keep making those choices.

I am really looking forward to joining you very soon.  I can’t believe I’m not there with you.

Sleep well and stay safe.

In two places with 15+ hours of flights separating me from the group.

I’m in Paris as I write this because I was invited to present my work at a conference taking place at the Sorbonne.  It’s been surreal.  Almost as surreal as being hand delivered my copy of the Flaming Lips “blood vinyl” over the weekend during the Elevate event for the banners hanging on the silos along I-80.

Walking along a side street near Notre Dame Cathedral this morning, a friend asked me about the Uganda trip.  I told her, “Everyone should be on a plane to Kampala as we speak.”

She asked about the class and I explained how much I am missing in order to be here in Paris.

I ran through a crazy, hectic, “video bootcamp” with the students before I left.  We started on a Sunday in order to get in as much training as possible before I abandoned them.

Yes, I abandoned them.

I’m jealous of the time John and Carol will get to spend with the students during those last days in Omaha, during the flight, and during the first few days in southern Uganda.  A lot is happening and I’m not with them.  I didn’t get in as much bonding time.

I worry I won’t be as connected with the group when I meet up with them in Kampala.  I won’t know enough about their personalities, their lives, their expectations.  Hell, I am not even sure of their itinerary.  Have they already landed in Kampala?  Shouldn’t they be in Amsterdam right now?

I suck.  I will do my best to make it up to them once we start shooting.

I should explain that the students get class credit for theology from John.  They get class credit for writing with Carol.  They get nothing from me.  They get filmmaking lessons and plenty of direction from me, but they get no credit for it.  I worried about this dynamic the last couple of years, but since I have been gone nearly all week, I am even more concerned about it this year.  I am there to make sure the film happens and is done to the highest standards.

But how can I make sure it is the highest quality when I’ve abandoned them for nearly a week?  Will they listen as I try and direct the filming each day?  Will they resent me and instead turn to Carol and John for advice?  Will they follow directions after we return to Creighton for our two weeks of grueling video editing?

I shouldn’t admit these things here since they will likely all read this post, but maybe it is my way of apologizing and asking for forgiveness.  Traveling in Uganda, while certainly safe, is still something you’d prefer to do with people you know well.  And it is hard to take direction from the guy that hasn’t experienced everything with you.

On top of it all, we are supposed to be adapting to living in the developing world, yet here I sit in a nice hotel room in Paris, a stone’s throw between the Palais du Luxembourg and the Pantheon, across the river from Notre Dame Cathedral.  Once in Uganda, I fear I will keep bringing up that I’ve been to Africa multiple times and first experienced the developing world when I was fresh out of college.  I will tell them I had lived in Africa for nearly five months.  I fear I will over compensate.

I fear anything more which could compromise this year’s film.

Ultimately, it will all be fine, I suppose.  I am simply lucky to be a part of the group, and I will get to see all their wonderful faces very soon.  And even if they aren’t sure about me, my gut tells me they are going to do an outstanding job with the film.

…At least there is one thing I am certain of

Read the student blogs

Seriously.  Read their blogs.  I think it is all finally hitting them and their thoughtful comments and genuine feelings are bursting forth like the mighty Missouri from its banks.

Oh, and we screened a very rough cut of the mini-doc today.   More on that next week.

Now get to clicking on the student blog posts from this week.