Finding the Story

The Backpack Journalism team enjoying some well-earned pizza after several long days in the editing room. (From front left to end: Lizzy, Izzy, John, and Matt. From front right to end: Andrew, Jacob, Nat, and Zack.)

One of the Backpack Journalism program’s greatest perks: the journey doesn’t end once your plane lands back in the United States. Unlike other Creighton FLPAs (Faculty-Led Program Abroad) which conclude in their destination country, Backpack Journalism continues in Omaha for approximately one and a half weeks, allowing us students to process our eye-opening experiences overseas with the people who have taken the physical (and spiritual) odyssey with us. It’s also a time for us to come down slowly from the daily heightened emotions we endured in Uganda, as well as a final period of cherishing each other’s companionship before breaking for the rest of summer.

But the last phase of Backpack Journalism isn’t just reflections, relationships and rainbows; we don’t let up on the gas pedal either. Rather, our team works harder than ever to find the story we want to tell.

If you aren’t familiar with editing videos or have never tried to string together pieces of a documentary before (don’t worry, I was naïve going into the editing room, too), you might expect the composition process to be one of the easier parts of filmmaking. After all, when you strip editing down to its basic components, it’s just combing through the footage you’ve already taken, scripting a story from the interviews or lines you have, and testing different sequences to find whatever arrangement delivers the most compelling storytelling.

Of course, developing anything that remotely resembles a rough cut is much more complicated than you’d initially think. First of all, even if you go into the editing process with a general idea of the story arc you’d like your film to take, executing that narrative depends entirely on the clarity of your interviewees’ answers and whether your shots visually reinforce those statements. In our case, we realized that some of the points we wanted to hit originally – radio and its peace-building role in the settlements, inaccessibility of soap for the refugees, and the different challenges posed against urban refugees versus rural refugees – were not strong enough segments to include simply because we didn’t have enough footage or direct quotes to translate the complexity of these ideas. We also had to rearrange chapters in the story or spend more time focusing on particular elements so that the documentary would be less erratic and more tonally consistent.

Another challenge with editing is finding the balance between talking heads and b-roll. You need your interviewees to provide context for the content onscreen, but you also can’t economize on your b-roll by allowing dialogue to operate as a primary storytelling device (that would be a violation of the age-old “show, don’t tell” rule). At the same time, your b-roll can be used to elevate the story or manifest an emotion visually; but again, without context from your interviewees, the message may get lost in translation. Even when you decide what interviews you’re going to include or what footage you can incorporate, it’s still hard on you as a filmmaker because you inevitably have to give up great shots or poignant quotes for the sake of telling a focused story.

Did I mention that editing involves transcribing all your interviews and organizing every piece of information you’ve gathered on your interviewees? Because that is also a huge part of working in the editing room. It took us over two full days to transcribe 24 interviews (29 if you count our group interview of teachers as one transcription per interviewee), so as you can imagine, quite a bit of patience and meticulous listening is required during the early stages of editing.

So yes, finding the story is not a straightforward process. I think John sums up the challenges of effective storytelling best: “It’s all a puzzle. We only have the pieces right now, and we’ve got to figure out how they fit together before we can start looking at the bigger picture.”

In a way, I feel the same about my reintegration back into the United States. I feel like a lone puzzle piece that no longer fits in the space I occupied before. I’ve got new tears and scars on my edges. The image on my surface is not as clear as it once was. Perhaps I belong  in a new picture.

Luckily, I’m not trying to solve this puzzle on my own. I feel incredibly blessed by the presence of my Backpack Journalism family, who not only empathize with my struggles, but also understand them. I don’t know how I would be able to make sense of my new, ruined self without  the genuine friendship and honest conversations I’ve received from these compassionate, insightful, and fiercely loving students.

We’re finding the story together. And along the way, we’re also finding ourselves.

Editing Endeavor

Much like I was skeptical for how the story would seemingly self-form when we first got to Uganda, I was just as worried about how difficult it would be to sift through our b-roll footage and interviews to find a real structure to what we were chasing.

Yet, in a similar fashion, it didn’t take long for one to arise, and everyone felt good about what we were trying to target.

Transcribing was a pretty big pain. It was fun for about ten minutes, and then that feeling went right out the window. The constant pausing to write everything I could remember to realize I only advanced three seconds in the video honestly became disheartening after a while. Regardless, we eventually sludged through that process after about a day and a half of work, and I was able to move onto b-roll footage, which was much more enjoyable.

There was so much good footage that was available, and after cutting out only the unusable stuff, I ended up with a pretty extensive timeline. However, Tim told us we should have all sections down to 2.5 minutes or less, which is where things got a lot more difficult.

I really enjoyed just being able to go through my own shots as well, as we got no chance to while we were in Uganda. This trip was a great opportunity to be able to use a camera, and it’s hard for me to overstate how much I really enjoyed it. Being able to look back on how my work really turned out on a big screen was a great feeling.

People make experiences

6/18/18

These blog posts have been a really amazing way for all of us to reflect on our experiences. And even though this blog is against one of Carol’s “blog rules”, I feel as though it is a giant part of my Backpack Journalism experience. So here it is. My perspective on the 11 other people I have gotten to know the past 4 weeks.

Our family from left to right.
Top: Brick, Matthew, John, Andrew, Tim, Zach, Jacob
Bottom: Liz, Carol, Izzy, Me, Ben

This is our group. Although not my favorite picture, I think it shows the anxiousness and awkwardness of our mini-family (before we became one).

Brick has taught me a lot about very useful life hacks, like how to use a pocket knife and about the textures of just about every food. He is also the most compassionate father and partner and every parent should talk about their kids the way he does.

Matthew is the most determined, focused and reliable person I think I’ve met at Creighton. During the first week of learning the cameras, he made it his mission to master the technique for the project (but unfortunately he has not mastered the game of “Mafia” yet). You will see some beautifully shot B-Roll from him in the final cut of the film.

John and I have found out that we are more similar than our demographics would predict. John’s intelligence and consistency has kept us focused and motivated during our travels. We would not be here without John (and his bandana), and his care for this program shows through everything (especially every meditation he leads us through).

Andrew is going to be everyone’s favorite doctor. I have enjoyed hearing Andrew’s chuckle throughout the program and his compassion for people has inspired me during our travels.

Tim is the coolest person for any inspiring artist to look up to. Tim has shown a vulnerability and bravery to us that I will take with me forever. He is the life of the party and some of my favorite memories of the trip include nights when he was the narrator for the game “Mafia”.

Zach could possibly be stuck in the body of an opinionated 50-year old, but he also has the most attentive and absorbent brain I have ever witnessed. Think of the most random fact that you know, and I would bet money that Zach already knew it.

Jacob’s quick wit and dry humor has been very appreciated. He is very thoughtful, reflective and pensive and is able to take any of the jokes anyone throws at him about being from Northern Iowa. I also noticed him reading “The Myth of Sisyphus”, for fun. So, enough said.

Liz is Creighton’s absolute gem. I am not the only one who thinks this. Everyone that knows Liz, knows how compassionate, enthusiastic and down-to-Earth she is. I have really appreciated her making me play hacky sack, watching the smile she puts on little kid’s faces and the random questions she asks (that she genuinely wants to know the answer to).

Carol, by default, has turned into the “mom” on the trip. But she is the coolest “mom” I have ever met. Carol makes everyone she talks to feel like the most important person in the world and she has the most admirable way with people. I’m grateful for our bus chats and for her bubbly “Good morning!” every day.

Izzy is an absolute rock star. She makes me proud to be an empowered woman. She is a story-teller, a writer, an advocate, a horrible riddle teller, a wise soul, and above all, an amazing friend. She is going to be doing huge things for the women walking this planet, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Ben is the most present and focused person I have met. We had a few close calls with losing him in Kampala but he connected with every single person we met. He is relatable, open with everyone, has the most contagious laugh and I’m so happy that he is my friend.

Well, if you haven’t eaten any cheese today, there’s your fix. I am a firm believer that people make experiences. I am grateful that this experience included these people.

Hope reverses trauma

6/16/18

“Hope reverses trauma”

This is a quote I heard in an interview with a man named Stanley, the Head of the UNHCR Sub Office Arua in Uganda. UNHCR is the UN Refugee Agency “dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people”. It was an honor and a valuable experience to visit the Arua Sub Office and meet the officials there. To learn more about the UNHCR in Uganda, click here.

While interviewing Stanley, I had mixed emotions about the refugee crisis that we were able to see first-hand. It was a roller coaster of emotions hearing him talk about everything the UNHCR is doing, but then also seeing, first-hand, the devastation and hunger that lives in the refugee settlements. We were informed that Uganda has the most progressive refugee program globally, which is hopeful to hear. While I was reflecting on all of this, I found myself thinking about the juxtaposition of hope and trauma. When one is traumatized, the hope in the perpetrator is lost. I can’t imagine the loss of hope that the refugees feel towards their homes in South Sudan. I always feel frustrated with government officials and policies in my home nation of the United States. But to live in a nation where you are being removed from your home, that is a whole new level of trauma. The needs of the refugees that are seen as the most pertinent and vital are shelter, food, water and medical assistance. These are basic necessities, and very important, but there is not enough of a conversation on the mental support needed for these men, women and children.

Stanley saying wise words in his interview

Then Stanley hit us with the titular quote and I started to feel my heart wake up from its aching. He talked to us about how hope, and often times, faith are the best bets for reversing the trauma for the refugees. No one knows what the future holds, especially for South Sudan, but that hope needs to be instilled in these men, women and children. All of the South Sudanese refugees that we have talked to have big and rich dreams. I hope for each and every one of them that these dreams are reached. I have never seen the amount of ambition and courage as I have in these people. They deserve to be angry. There is no explanation for why this happens to people, or why they were put in the position. They also deserve to be hopeful. Hope will bring them home. They deserve the world.

Carol, our project’s journalism connoisseur, gave us some trauma journalism reading material before we left. There is one quote from one of the readings that has stuck with me through our travels.

“Unlike traditional journalism, your story will never satisfactorily answer the question, “Why did this happen?”. For individuals or communities who have survived something horrible, you can never explain why it happened to them. This is an existential question they will be asking for the rest of their lives”

I cannot stop thinking about this. Why does anything happen to any of us? Some people may answer God, luck or fate. I’m not sure about my answer yet. I think it will take me a lifelong to feel right in my answer. But for now, seeing these faces and communities in Uganda, I can say that there is no reason that they are experiencing these traumas. And there is no reason that they cannot find happiness and security like everyone else. And that is one of the main perspectives I wish I could yell in a bullhorn to most Americans.

Africa is Still with Me

To be honest, returning home to the States after several weeks of intense filming and story hunting in Uganda still feels unreal for me. Funnily enough, slipping back into American life after such a challenging, yet enriching journalistic experience has been harder than adapting to East African culture was.

It took awhile for my body to readjust from our Africa routine (waking up just after sunrise every morning; taking stock of our camera equipment and team members every time we hopped on or off the bus; running in circles on location, capturing b-roll footage or setting up for multiple interviews; and topping the day off with cold Nile Specials, good conversation, and lighthearted card games back at the hotel or retreat center) to the typical college student groove, although that lifestyle is now tinted with newfound guilt or pressing pensiveness. Even now, I find myself struggling to enjoy the frivolous things I used to like before traveling through Uganda. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, Netflix, YouTube – it all feels fake and distracting to me.

In addition, my time in Uganda amplified my perception of privilege to such a degree that I cannot stop thinking about how undeservingly lucky I’ve been to partake in the simple conveniences of Western society. This bad conscience hounds me in the most mundane of places: the grocery store, where browsing through the aisles of seemingly endless products reminds me sorely of the disproportionate number of refugees starving in the settlements; the classroom, where the opportunity to use expensive technology and acquire knowledge from quality professors elicits remorse for the bright, talented students in Ugandan secondary schools who cannot afford to pay their school fees or buy scholastic materials; the bathroom, where I am haunted by the memory of impoverished women lamenting their lack of soap and feminine products. At the same time, however, I feel remarkably grateful to have such luxuries at my fingertips; I’ve never felt so blessed by the food on my table or the roof over my head.

Conflicting emotions have become a near-constant in my life since arriving back from Uganda, but articulating them to friends and family feels impossible at times. How can they understand me when I barely understand myself? How can they help me navigate this new perspective when I cannot fully impart the extent of my emotional revelation and transformation in Africa? I swing from shallow descriptors of my experience (“It was great” “Africa was amazing“) to incoherent, hysterical babbling about the more significant moments. My inability to communicate how much this project has affected me is both frustrating and isolating, but I won’t fault anyone for asking me to stop spinning out over Africa.

Of course, the most meaningful change has been the precious fondness I feel for my memories of a country I never imagined visiting in my lifetime. Weeks later, my heart still twinges with loving nostalgia for the beautifully human moments in Africa:

Learning new words and phrases in Acholi, Ma’di, Swahili, and Bugandan with Herbert, our beloved guide, producer, and now friend.

Dancing with complete freedom and disregard for who might be watching me at the cultural center.

Joking around with the incredibly talented and indomitable Kizaza, a rapper and Congolese refugee whose story is as powerful as his impeccable lyrics (I still owe him an essay review on Straight Outta Compton and Easy-E‘s music).

Listening to the heartbreaking and courageous experience of Lewi, a South Sudanese refugee and God-fearing father; and later, gushing over his ridiculously cute grandson whose contagious laughter will forever resonate in my memories.

Discussing peace radio and women’s empowerment with Sharon Chandi, a wickedly smart journalist in Adjumani whose lustrous soul shines through her every word.

Feeling inspired by the fiercely intelligent and resilient students at St. Mary Assumpta’s School for Girls, who dream of becoming doctors, lawyers, and ministers someday in spite of cultural pressures to abandon education and marry young.

Hearing refugees sing jubilant praises to God and shaking their hips as though the Spirit were among them at a settlement mass. 

Cheering whenever Sam, our bus driver, managed to steer us through a particularly treacherous stretch in the road (Sam miraculously never got our vehicle stuck, earning him the nickname “Samwheel Drive”).

Catching brief glimpses of northern red bishops as they flitted through the tall grasses of the African savannah.

Seeing the Southern Cross constellation for the first time at the retreat center in Adjumani, then, days later, witnessing the Milky Way galaxy in all its glory at another retreat center in Moyo (I’ll never forget the magic of swinging under that canopy of stars, my eyes refusing to leave that brilliant dusting in the night sky).

Watching thousands of bats emerge like a cloud over the horizon, and humming the Batman theme song as the colony flew above us.

Playing follow-the-leader with Andrew and a group of adorable kids outside of a gas station on our way to Arua.

Devouring homemade ice cream behind the Radio Pacis station and being pleasantly surprised by how cold the treat was, after weeks of room temperature or minimally chilled drinks.

Spending our downtime playing Mafia together, and joking that someone was “exhibiting very Mafia behavior” for saying anything mildly dark.

Experiencing an accidental baptism from the Nile with Lizzy as we unpacked the spiritual growth we noticed within ourselves.

Being invited to participate in honoring Tim’s wife, Beth, and sharing that special moment of grief and solidarity at Murchison Falls.

All of these memories are permanently etched within my heart. No matter how much negativity creeps inside me, nothing overshadows the inexplicable awe and happiness I experienced in Africa. Backpack Journalism is, definitively, the best experience of my young life so far.

Photo Credit: Tim Guthrie

Did Empathy Grow?

My New Friend, Who I Will Never See Again

At the beginning of this process, I expressed my hope to expand my empathy to refugees in Uganda. The  question that hangs in the air now is: did I succeed? In order to extend my empathy, I needed to make personal connections to people, to relate to their story, and share in their experience in some way. Upon reflecting, I become afraid that I spent too much time worrying about the film; worrying about getting the best shot, from the best angle possible. The camera, while small in size, is a formidable wall to put up between yourself and the people you are observing. I remember when we went on family trips in my childhood, Avery would chide me for spending too much time behind the camera, and not soaking up the experience itself. I now see the danger that he was talking about.

Fortunately though, I can pull on distinct strands of memory that are rich with personal connection, emotion, and empathy. Specifically, there was a man named Lewi, who we met in the first few days in Uganda. He was a refugee from South Sudan, now living in Kampala, Uganda. Before the civil war broke out, Lewi lived by the vice president of South Sudan, and even worked on some projects with Forest Whitaker. I’m kicking myself right now, I can’t remember the scope of his work with the Hollywood actor. I just remember that he knew Forest in some capacity. *Mind blown*. He had nine children, and a wife, all whom escaped the violence in South Sudan. But violent it was. Lewi saw people being pulled to the side of the road and murdered. He had to hide in the African bush to escape detection and slaughter himself. His house got bombed. All of his livelihood was wiped off the face of the Earth. Even now in Kampala, he faces hardships from poverty, limited space, and unsafe drinking water. Indeed, on our last day in Uganda, as we were driving south through Kampala, I asked our guide (Herbert) if Lewi could meet us at a market we planned to stop in. Lewi agreed to meet us there. He and I walked around the market, dodging the shop keepers’ aggressive sales techniques: “Hello sir, why don’t you come into my store. Come over here. I have a great deal just for you”. “Sir, I see you went into that store. What are you going to buy from ME?” While walking, Lewi told me that his wife had fallen ill with an infection, and he himself had contracted typhoid fever the day prior. Of course, this meant that he could not work – he became a carpenter in Uganda, after taking a year’s worth of classes at JRS-Kampala. Thus, his kids had missed the first two weeks of school. Lewi could not afford their school fees.

When I interviewed Lewi for the film, we could all see the sadness in his face – hear it in his voice – when he talked about the life that he lost in South Sudan.

Despite this, Lewi’s spirit was unquenchable. We went to his house in order to get some b-roll for the documentary. Here, he proudly showed us all of the cupboards that he had constructed, introduced us to all of his kids, and his wife. He showed us how to foot-juggle a soccer ball the right way; not all clumsily like us Americans do. One of my favorite parts: as we were preparing to leave, he gathered us all into a circle and prayed over us. My memory does not serve me well enough to know exactly what he prayed. I do remember that feeling of unity though. American and refugee, together. No, that’s not what it felt like. It truly felt like good friends praying in solidarity.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Oh Wait, No. Keeping Up with the Lewi-ans…

And friends we were. Fast friends in fact. The first day I met Lewi, we were already talking about Harry Potter; shooting the breeze on the ole’ J. K. Rowling. I got Lewi’s email and intend to keep, if not occasional, contact with him. At some point I want to send him a digital copy of the entire Harry Potter series, as he hasn’t actually read the books yet.

Every time I need to access my empathy for Africa, I am going to think of Lewi. My simple goal moving forward is to stand on the side of the refugee, both here in Omaha, and on an international scale. Since the topic of refugees has been politicized, standing up for them can sometimes bring the fury of friends and family upon you. However, I am determined to stand my ground with these people. When it gets hard, I will remember my friend, Lewi.

Wrap it Up Bodlak

Comparing the beginning of this experience with the present moment, there are some discrepancies. I am now more confident in my ability to adapt to other cultures. In other words, I am confident in my ability to overcome culture shock. I actually found being immersed in African culture to be more enjoyable than challenging, which was a nice surprise. Highlight of the trip: meeting Lewi, and praying with him and his family outside of his house. Low-light: Doxycycline. All-in-all, I believe I accomplished all that I set out to do on this trip.

As Lewi and I walked around the market, I couldn’t help but feel kind of cool. I had on my UN hat, and was all buddy-buddy with this man who had experienced more than enough of his share of the world. I could only imagine what the shop keepers thought of us. Perhaps Lewi was the governor of some important state, and I was his ambassador/guide to Kampala. Or maybe we both worked together in the UN, doing top secret UN things that could only be discussed with the likes of Merkel and Trudeau. My point is, no matter what grandeur was running through my head, the shop keepers still charged us like we were clueless Americans. Lewi noticed that I was drawn to a specific mug on the shelf. “Come in sirs, I see you’re interested in an item I have”, the young woman called. She proceeded to point to everything on the shelf except the mug. *Face palm*.

I could not afford the mug myself, as we had reached the end of our trip. So, Lewi pulled out his wallet, and AGAINST MY URGING – please note that I was strongly against this – payed for the mug. His spirit, let me tell you, was more golden than the sunset over the Rockies.

To read more about UNHCR, the branch of the UN that we worked with (thanks to Isaac and JRS) on this trip, click here.

To see more about Creighton Backpack Journalism, click here.

To read more about Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), click here.

Over, but Not Complete

Final thoughts as we come to the end of our journey together. Just like my experience of returning to school, I am not sure that I have had any great AH HA life changing moments from my time in Africa or with the process of creating the film, yet.  A common phrase that began in the 1500’s says “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks,” I just haven’t gotten there. I am certain that at some point something will click and my life will be forever changed but until then I will continue to go on with my life similarly to before I left.

Some of the best moments, for me, were the boat ride on the Nile and conversing with Penny, being able to explore a new place and getting to know the others in the group. Early on I blogged about looking forward to good, bad and neutral and I am happy to report that the experience was overall good or neutral. If I had to change something about the trip, not feeling ill would be it. Also, finding a way to consume food other than rice, beans and chips (fries) would be idea and having hot water to shower would have been awesome but the reality is that is life there. So, my complaints are no more than being of a privileged class.

Building being constructed

I went on this trip without expectations and a very narrow understanding of life outside of America. Even if I tried, having never been outside the USA before, I never would have expected Africa to be what it is. I spent time sketching because I was unable to form complete thoughts and even now that I have returned, although I can form complete thoughts, the information is still very jumbled and am unable to make sense of it. I know Creighton University has set requirements to keep students safe while traveling abroad but I still would love to climb on the structure that was being built across from the hotel we stayed at in Kampala or walk through the markets. Why? Because exploring helps me make sense of things.

I was surprised by several things. The way people live with the land. The number of things being sold on the streets, both because of the way they were being sold and because of the mass amount of items that were clearly imported. The lack of recognizable brands. The difference in advertising. The personalities of the people we encountered and the list goes on. I am uncertain that my brain shut off while we were there, constantly thinking and trying to make sense of where I was and what was going on around me.

(front row) Nat, Tim, Andrew, Zach, Matthew (middle row) Carol, Herbert, Ben, Izzy, Lizzy (back row) Brick, Jacob, John Drawn By: (front row) Brick, Matthew, Brick, Jacob, Izzy (middle row) Herbert, Lizzy, Andrew, Brick, Brick (back row) Ben, Brick, Zach

I found myself at peace observing those around me, watching people interact with each other and the obvious love and compassion for others. There was something about Africa that speaks to me, even though I am not sure what it is telling me. I may not have my thoughts all together or a plan for the future of what to do with what I learned but I have a wonderful group of people that I can call on when I begin to figure it out. I found happiness in the moments spent with others and have combined their sketches as a way to close my adventures to Africa. The trip may be over but the friendships will always be there.

Webale nyo, Uganda

6/17/18

In honor of Father’s Day, and that we are starting our journey home, I thought this blog would be fitting.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has instilled in me something that I will never forget. He has always told me to give thanks to those in my life, three different times. “You always thank someone in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end”. He really drove this home. Whether it was a friend who brought me to the movies, or a mentor who impacted me throughout high school, you always thank them a minimum of three times and you always spread it out. This is one of the things I admire most about my dad, although there are many, is his ability to give thanks. He is gracious in the delivery, and genuine in the thanks that he gives. I will always take this from him and strive to do the same.

My dad, Joe, and I circa 2001

If I am going to follow through with it, it would only be appropriate to thank Uganda, the right way.

Dear Uganda,

In the beginning, thank you for being a foreign and seemingly out-of-reach project. Thank you for taking me out of my comfort zone and pushing me to join a journalism project, having never been exposed to journalism. Thank you for introducing me to humans at Creighton that I would not have crossed paths with otherwise (especially since they are some of the best walking planet Earth). Thank you for pushing me out of the summer status-quo and saving me from having to get a boring desk job for the entirety of the summer. Thank you for making me feel anxious before our departure. It reminded me of the rawness of life I would have the opportunity to experience.

In the middle, thank you for the beautiful people of your country for touching my heart. Thank you for welcoming us with open arms. Thank you for not being too mad when we’ve shoved cameras in your face. Thank you for creating some of the most beautiful landscapes and animals I have ever seen in my life. Thank you for supporting these refugees. Thank you for making me feel empathetic in any way I can. Thank you for instilling gratitude, hunger for change and compassion in me. Thank you for bringing us Herbert (our amazing Ugandan guide). Thank you for making me feel safe.

As we come to a close, thank you for making me cry in the Entebbe airport. Thank you for ruining me for life. Thank you for making me want to go back to Uganda, already. Thank you for sharing your richness with us. Thank you for letting us tell a fraction of your people’s stories. Thank you for making me feel closest to a human being as I ever have.

Webale nyo*, Uganda.

And happy Father’s Day, dad. Thank YOU for always encouraging me to walk as many parts of the world as I can. I miss you.

Some of the beautiful giraffes we can thank Uganda for at Murchison Falls National Park

*“Thank you very much” in Luganda

What You Already Know

As we were coming back to Omaha (what felt like very slowly, I might add), I was filled with mixed emotions. I mean, it was impossible to get past the basic desire of wanting to be back in my bed, both for the longer length and lack of mosquito net. In the same vein, I had to come to miss some of the food I regularly eat that wasn’t available in Uganda. I even came to miss water being contained in the space where I’m taking a shower.

However, it was just as hard to ignore the nagging feeling I had of how I was going to really miss what I had come to know over the past two and a half weeks. While what we saw and heard most days was sad, the experiences I had and things I learned most days as a result of going wherever we were was something I had already learned to highly value. I think some of it came out of a fear of how I go back to the same sheltered experiences at home. After learning so much about these people and how they live, it was time to trek to the airport to completely detach myself from what had happened. I didn’t necessarily feel guilty- I clearly needed to go home- it just seemed odd. I think it’s great that we’re making a documentary about what we’ve seen, directly using their words to relay their situation to others. It’s really helped ease that feeling, perhaps more so than if we just would’ve shown up, done some service, and gone home.

Plus… I am gonna sort of miss the food we got.

Home Stretch

The time is coming to a close and I feel like I have neglected the end of the process, between not feeling well and home life consuming my attention. I am bummed out that I have been unable to spend time working on the film because the part I was looking forward to the most about this experience was the assembly of the film. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited about going to Africa and the experience there was absolutely amazing but I have been interested in editing a major film for almost the same amount of time that the other students on this project have been alive. For me, this was a big step towards that dream.

I am very thankful that I have been able to be a part of this experience. I know that those who study aboard is a small portion, only 10% of US graduates, and I am certain that the percentage of non-traditional age students studying abroad is much, much smaller. For me, the meaning of being on the home stretch is loaded and I greatly appreciate the understanding of John, Carol,  and Tim.

Africa was an experience left better described in images because words are unable to describe the feelings that soar through you as you’re there. For me, images speak louder than words because it is left more open for the individual to interpret what is going on.

As you can see from just a handful of images, Africa is a beautiful place where in comparison people live a hard life. I traveled with a great group of people, even though I often felt that I had brought all my children with me, we had fun and learned a lot.

I would highly recommend the FLPA program to other non-traditional students. I understand that making the arrangements to attend can be a real struggle. Speaking from experience the return home and getting everything to fall back into place is just as challenging if not more challenging, but what is gained from the experience more than makes it worth it.