Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
I’m not sure where the two weeks went that we spent in Nogales. It’s a blur of work, of intense experiences, of laughter, of tears, of learning about migration, our country, ourselves. I have said it before and I’ll say it many times again: John O’Keefe, Nico Sandi, Nichole Jelinek and I are blessed to work with such a terrific group of students.
Their dedication to the project, to the learning and to the community we built is something to be treasured. John, Tim Guthrie (one of our team who couldn’t make this trip) and I often say we want to make a good movie, but our main goal is to make good people. We have much work to do in the next one and one-half weeks. What we experienced will sink in with reflection and time away. I am confident this year we will have a good film. We already have good people.
Being home is lo
vely. My dog. My bed. My house. But as I try to tell family and friends about my experiences over the past two weeks, I am a little at a loss for words. How can I adequately explain that moment in the Kino Border Initiative comedor when Sister Alicia — playing a simple game of gestures — brings smiles to the faces of men who have been and still are lost and struggling? How can I describe the stark desert landscape scarred by the metal, rusting wall that seems to symbolize inhumanity?
I am confident the words of those we interviewed and the compelling footage we shot will help bring those stories to life. Our task is a heavy burden, but one we welcome. As Pope Francis said when he went to the America-Mexico border earlier this year: Instead of measuring migration with statistics, “we want instead to measure with names, stories, families.”
We are home. After two weeks of being in the most northerly state in America, the CU backpack journalism team is back in Nebraska.
It feels strange to be back. I know that’s probably weird to say, given that I was only gone for two weeks, but everything is just so normal now. My laundry is done, I went to class for a few hours today, the sun is already setting. All of these things are what normally happens on any given day of the year. Still though, it feels strange. Isn’t there any more B-roll to get? Shouldn’t I be filleting a salmon? Aren’t we going to take a walk on the tundra?
Maybe what has happened is that I’ve realized normal is relative. For the people of Bethel, it is normal to drive on the frozen river during the winter. It’s normal for their water to be trucked in. It’s normal to live a subsistence lifestyle. Some things even became normal for me. For example, I didn’t think twice when I looked in the bed of our truck to see two giant salmon staring back at me.
Here in Omaha, I think it will take me a little while to straighten out my own version of normal. It’s as if the two types of normal that I’ve grown used to have blended together. I did my laundry today (normal) and in the back of my mind I thought, “I shouldn’t do this because the water tank might be low,” (also normal). I wore shorts today (normal), and at first I was surprised that I wasn’t cold or attacked by monster mosquitoes (also normal).
Where you are and where you’ve been dictates what is normal. We’ll see if my sense of normality ever shifts back to the way it was before I experienced Alaska. I’m willing to bet that it doesn’t. I hope it doesn’t.
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,
“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
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,
“Never think you’ve seen the last of anything.” -Eudora Welty