Tag Archives: #jmcawesome

What I Took for Granted

Photo by United Nations Girls Education Initative.

Sometimes when I’m working on a creative project or experiencing a new environment for the first time, I like to jot down random observations or thoughts that have struck me throughout the day, usually in bullet points. This little written exercise serves as my way of reflecting back on what I’ve noticed in the surrounding world and how I’ve felt about it. In addition, the practice helps me collect material for potential poems, short stories or blog entries that I may write in the future.

While we were in Uganda, one of the observations that cropped up regularly in my nightly note taking was the realization that most of the basic needs refugees and nationals struggle to address are things that I’ve taken for granted. As we gathered stories and interviews for our Backpack Journalism project, I found myself shocked time and again by the challenges facing East Africans, particularly in terms of their security and education. I started compiling a list of these difficulties, keeping track of what surprised me most so that I could develop a newfound appreciation for what I have.

Things I’ve Taken for Granted:

  • Sleeping without a mosquito net.
  • Food on the table.
  • Having the choice to eat or leave food based on its taste (Growing up, our family had this rule that if you tried the food on your plate without complaining, but didn’t like its taste after a few bites, then you wouldn’t have to finish it. The only exception to this parental policy was broccoli; you were required to eat ALL of those).
  • Drinkable tap water or easy access to clean water.
  • Soap.
  • Paved roads.
  • Owning pets.
  • Effortless communication with friends and relatives through texting, email, calls, or social media apps.
  • Close proximity to hospitals or health care centers.
  • No tuition bill for attending public elementary, middle, and high schools.
  • Quality education.
  • The encouragement I received from family and teachers to perform well in school.
  • Having parents who supported my desire to pursue higher education, both financially and emotionally.
  • Feeling on par (and sometimes superior) intellectually with the boys in my classes.
  • Getting good grades as my number one responsibility before college.
  • Books for my own reading pleasure.
  • Easy access to feminine hygiene products.
  • Not missing school because of my menstrual cycle.
  • Sex education.
  • Experiencing a full childhood and adolescence before I turned 18.
  • Receiving gifts on birthdays and holidays.
  • Being valued as a human being, NOT a future bride. 
  • Having empowered women to look up to in my life.
  • Extended relatives who would never traffic or exploit me should something happen to my immediate family members.
  • Knowing my rights.
  • Sleeping under a roof.
  • Sleeping in a bed.
  • Living in a small room with only one other person (Shoutout to my freshman roommate, Rachel, and all our rowdy times in Kiewit 728), not my whole family.
  • My privilege to travel outside of my home country.
  • No bribes with local law enforcement.
  • Never experiencing a violent conflict firsthand.
  • Never fleeing my country due to a violent conflict.
  • Living with the future in mind rather than being worried about the day-to-day.

A Test of Patience and Pride

From left to right: Lizzy, Izzy (moi), and Natalie in front of Murchison Falls.

Backpack Journalism has effectively ruined me for life.

Don’t get me wrong – this is the good kind of ruination. The kind born from an experience that challenges you, breaks you, then puts you back together in a new and profound way. The kind developed under intense pressure and onslaughts of discomfort, in addition to the goodness you discover in unexpected places. A ruination that shatters your former self, thrusting you into a reality once hidden from you; an entire world that forever captures your heart and refuses to let go.

In this case, Backpack Journalism ruined me by opening my eyes to the harsh reality of suffering on the margins. I have witnessed desperation as starving refugee families flocked to food distribution stations, clinging to their monthly rations even though the food they received was barely edible and gave their children horrible stomachaches. I have witnessed mounting frustration as non-governmental organizations struggle to provide basic services on decreased budgets, a result of outside donors losing confidence in the operation or choosing to funnel their money elsewhere to other conflict areas. I have witnessed abject poverty as South Sudanese crossed the border with absolutely nothing save the clothes on their backs; as single mothers lamented their inability to pay school fees or even purchase soap for their children; as youths who were unable to continue their education sat idle around the settlements, their boredom a strong temptress for returning to South Sudan as a soldier or a wife.

Witnessing this suffering has drastically changed my perception. I no longer feel like the outsider who tries to stay informed and advocate for the social issues that affect marginalized individuals, all the while exercising my privilege to observe and comment on matters I have not personally experienced within an open intellectual space. Instead, witnessing has made this suffering real, tangible. These injustices are no longer just appalling statistics. These people are no longer nameless victims of an overarching narrative. Feeling powerless is no longer a foreign emotion. For better or worse, I am no longer oblivious. I am ruined.

Ruination is jarring, to say the least. Certain things start coming into focus – your values, your weaknesses, maybe even your lifelong purpose – while others become harder to see. For instance, I’m having a difficult time seeing how I can reconcile the reality of poverty with the blatant materialism and blissful ignorance that pervades Western culture. I’m also finding it challenging to regard fellow privileged humans with compassion – a side effect I didn’t anticipate when I committed to Backpack Journalism.

Let me explain. On our last few days in Eastern Africa, our Backpack Journalism crew enjoyed some relaxation time at Murchison Falls National Park, the largest national park in Uganda and a tourist hotspot for authentic safaris and Nile cruises. While it was nice to take a break from filming, and certainly enchanting to see the wildlife, something felt a little off to me.

I recognized that this feeling was caused partially by my shock at seeing white people again. After nearly two weeks of being identified by nationals and refugees as “mzungu” and having few encounters with other white individuals, I was jolted by the abundance of my race at the safari lodge. I couldn’t help finding their presence off-putting as they took multiple pictures of themselves in the same setting (gotta get the right #InstaPic) and loaded their arms with expensive souvenirs. As I observed these tourists, I found myself thinking bitterly: Do you realize that there are people starving a few miles outside of this reserve? Do you know how desperate the living conditions are in the refugee settlements just hours away from here? Do you understand how privileged you truly are?

I also found myself feeling extremely guilty. Sometime on our first afternoon safari, I realized that the vast majority of Ugandans and refugees would never get the chance to experience this beautiful game park for themselves, despite the fact that Murchison Falls was practically in their backyards. The sad truth nagged at the back of my mind for the duration of our mini-vacation. Here I was, enjoying the experience of a lifetime while nearby people were engaged in the experience of an unfathomable financial insecurity that would probably outlast their lifetime. It was utterly unfair and profoundly disturbing to me.

Luckily, I wasn’t alone in experiencing these emotions. Several other Backpack students had similar feelings, and so we looked to one another to make sense of our reverse culture shock. These conversations at Murchison with my fellow Backpackers (especially with my incredibly insightful and kind-hearted roommate, Lizzy) were invaluable because they helped me realize two important aspects of life-ruining experiences:

First, ruination doesn’t resolve inner turmoil. Instead, it puts you in a perpetual tension with your mind, heart, and soul, challenging you to grow in new ways.

I will never be able to wrap my head around the world’s suffering, just as I will never be able to stop the surge of guilt that consumes me once I begin asking deeper questions. There is no way to make sense of these things. The important thing, however, is to never stop acknowledging these issues – to never stop caring about these inequalities because otherwise, I am consciously perpetuating systems of injustice.

Second, don’t let ruination become a new source of pride.

It was so easy for me to slip into condemnation against the other European and American tourists because I felt more conscious of life on the margins. Their ignorance both frustrated and  enabled me to feel superior, a mindset which startled me once I recognized it. I had to remind myself that I couldn’t expect these people to have the same new perspective I did when they hadn’t experienced the same ruination as I had. I also needed my friends to remind me that not too long ago, my understanding of the world was very different, and perhaps closer to the average white American’s perspective than I realized.

I had let myself become prideful over my encounter with marginalized individuals when the experience should have humbled me. Condemnation became a method for me to inflate my own ego, and so, I needed to put that weapon down. After all, pride causes more damage than ignorance.

Going forward, I’m praying that God will help me respond with love and compassion when my ruined self causes friction between friends and family. I’m praying that He’ll give me the discernment to hold my tongue on inconsequential moments, and to use my voice when it’s needed.

It’s a difficult road ahead, but I will never stop walking it.

Happy to be in Uganda

These blogs are really for the students. Occasionally, a faculty member will chime in and contribute a post. Some years I’ll post more than others (you can click on my name as a contributor and see my past posts). This year, I haven’t been posting at all. The students have been writing nice blog entries, though. It’s always a joy to watch them grow on these trips, and I’m thankful to be included, as a filmmaker, an artist, and as a traveler/explorer, but mostly as a professor. 

Reflecting on past backpack trips, I’ve become closer to most of those students. I think John is often a father figure for them, and Carol another mother, but I’ve always felt like students felt less connected with me. I probably joke around too much, but this year it might potentially be worse because I had so little to do with the front end of this project, and I was even forced to leave for Uganda two days later because of my responsibilities with the Museum of Alternative History. 

The backpack project is John’s brainchild and he’s ultimately the driving force, and Carol is always involved early on. I don’t get in gear until the cameras first get pulled. I’m already creating the film in my head as I reconstruct interviews in my mind, wondering what b-roll we will need and how the puzzle pieces will fit together. That’s my real job: teaching students to be filmmakers, but later I become the main editor once we are back. Long after the students are gone for the summer, I’ll still be tweaking the film, so I suppose that’s always been my main contribution — after the project ends. 

Still, I wish I got closer to the students. 

I have a history with Africa. I used to live here, back when my wife and I first started dating. We’d been dating only a year, or so, when I got the job offer to move to Bophuthatswana. We were apart for nearly half a year. 

I could write about that. I could write about past backpack trips. I could write about the students. To be honest, most likely I won’t post often on this trip. I feel like I’m on autopilot, this time, learning my new place. It’s been a while since I’ve been on one of these, though not by my choice. It’s good to be back. 

If I post anything after this, it’ll likely be about something more personal than I’d normally write. Again, you can read my old posts about the trips, themselves, if you’re looking for posts about experiences. 

I’ll just leave it at this: I’m happy to be here with my colleagues and these students. 

Discovering a Generous Heart

It’s impossible to predict the new experiences you’ll gain when you enter a foreign space for the first time. For instance, I never imagined that I would feel adventurous enough to suck on a tilapia’s eye (I wish I could say that I managed to swallow it like the other brave students who attempted stomaching the Ugandan delicacy, but I couldn’t stick it out once I tasted its salty cornea). I also didn’t expect to let go of my inhibitions and dance like no one was watching at a cultural performance, crazily swaying my hips to the African drums and laughing uproariously with other uncoordinated visitors from all over the world. And I most certainly did not anticipate the incredible generosity and welcome I have received from the Ugandan people.

Uganda is not a comfortable place to live by any means. 84 percent of Ugandan youth are unemployed, and only 46 percent of college-educated people have jobs. There is a significant economic divide between the poor and the wealthy few; the majority live on less than $1 USD a day and struggle to meet basic needs such as food security or healthcare, while the rich minority reap the benefits from the financial disparity. Malaria, a tropical disease transmitted through mosquito bites, is a real threat, but the simple antibiotics that may help reduce risk for parasitic infection, such as Doxycycline, is not affordable for individuals  living below the national poverty line.

However, despite having very little and struggling greatly, the Ugandans are some of the most generous people I have ever encountered. They are generous in their compassion for other people, quick to sympathize and offer aid if possible; they are generous in their love for Christ, demonstrating their devout faith by connecting God back to all things; they are generous in their time, patient in listening to another’s story and ensuring that individual feels heard; and they are generous in their laughter, taking great joy in the simple pleasures of life.

One moment of generosity that particularly stood out to me  involved a seven-year-old boy we met during our first afternoon in Kampala. While we were enjoying a late lunch at Caffe Java, the restaurant staff brought out a large chocolate cake to the boy, who was celebrating his birthday with his family. After blowing out his candles, the boy cut the cake into multiple bite size pieces and began moving from table to table, offering peripheral restaurant patrons a bit of his dessert.

When the boy reached our group, it took us a few minutes to realize that he wanted to share his cake with us. In the United States, we don’t give food off our table to strangers; such a gesture probably wouldn’t even occur to us. But here was this child, who did not have much, unselfishly giving up his cake for people he did not know, making sure that every one of us was fed. I couldn’t believe that a seven-year-old was capable of such love for his fellow human beings. It was a profoundly touching and humbling experience.

A storm rolling over Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in East Africa. This is also the site of the legendary eyeball-eating incident, which was not as delicious as the boy’s cake.

For the rest of our time here and beyond Backpack Journalism, I want to practice the same generosity that flows through the Africans’ hearts. I will work to offer more of myself to others, to give attention more than I receive it. And maybe one day, I will be able to emulate the same generous spirit as the boy who felt compelled to share food from his table.

It’s funny — I imagined that Uganda would change my heart, but I never expected to be moved so quickly.

Companions, Not Champions

Our Backpack Journalism team has learned a lot about “letting go and letting God” over the last 48 hours.

This Monday we experienced our first unexpected complication when the airline cancelled our flight to Amsterdam – the one we had specifically booked together as a class months ago – merely days before our scheduled departure. We were suddenly thrust into an uncontrollable situation, forced to quickly change our original travel plans so that we could still guarantee an on-time arrival in Entebbe by the end of this week. Fortunately, thanks to John’s persistence with the travel agency and Delta Air Lines, we’ve all managed to procure seats on different flights. Unfortunately, we’re separated into smaller groups for our first international flight, meaning that we’ll need to be extra vigilant with our camera equipment (Although, John’s scared us enough about losing our gear and ruining the documentary that we’ll probably hold onto the devices like our lives depend on it…which, is not an implausible outcome should we – God forbid – leave behind a camera charger or tripod…).

Also, fun fact: Our class will reconvene next month in Amsterdam. I mean, sure, we’re only apart for one travel day, but it’ll be June 1 when we reunite so that technically counts! Funny how random coincidences like that happen, but I digress.

Your CU Backpack 2018 adventurers: [bottom row, left to right] Lizzy, Carol, Izzy (peekaboo!), Natalie, Ben, [top row, left to right] Brick, Matthew, John, Andrew, Tim, Zach and Jacob.

As you can probably imagine, the days leading up to our Uganda trip have been nothing short of hectic. We’ve withstood crash courses in videography and interviewing techniques; we’ve crammed in lessons on approaching trauma through a journalistic lens and critiquing postcolonial narratives in Africa; we’ve sustained an abbreviated seminar in ecclesiology and how the Church has redefined its mission and identity after the monumental Vatican II. On top of riding out an information tidal wave, we’ve scrambled to pack, take care of last minute obstacles, and fine tune the smaller details. It’s exhausting and overwhelming at times, but it’s also been a great bonding experience. I already feel significantly closer with individuals from this year’s Backpack group than I did at the beginning of Boot Camp, and I’m excited to continue fostering those deeper friendships as we brave the unknown together.

The chaos of Boot Camp has also helped influence me toward a more reflective mindset. As our preparations move from vision to reality, I find myself contemplating my motivation behind journeying into the developing world to witness suffering. What can I offer to a people who have endured hardships beyond my comprehension? Why am I going out to capture human devastation and another’s trauma when I know that our project will not make the impact necessary to improve that individual’s quality of life? What do I personally gain from exposing myself to the epicenter of a social justice issue?

These are difficult questions, but necessary ones. Too often we who come from privileged places fail to examine our own motives before entering vulnerable spaces. We’re quick to presume that any minor charitable action compensates our shallower intentions. We readily perpetuate dominant, egocentric narratives to dismiss the uncomfortable truths that make up realities on the margins. We assume that our willingness to engage with impoverished individuals points to our inherently good, altruistic nature. We don’t like discomfort; we’re more content to pretend we’re the solution rather than to acknowledge when we are the problem.

Undisputed acceptance of myths born from entitlement is a dangerous practice and can be particularly harmful to the community you interact with. Sans critical self-examination, one unwittingly falls prey to the trappings of volunteerism, a form of dehumanizing people who are suffering by capitalizing on their image to boost your own social status. Furthermore, you can become tone deaf to oppression – especially when you stand to benefit from injustices.

I won’t pretend that I haven’t subscribed to some of these injurious attitudes in the past, nor will I claim that I am capable of perceiving my own cultural blindspots. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out whether my inclination to pursue social justice stories is entirely pure.

Although I don’t have the answers to all my questions yet, I do know one thing for certain: that Backpack Journalism is an opportunity for accompaniment, not achievement.

In “Unfinished Houses: Building the kingdom on God’s time,” John J. McLaughlin argues that the most important component to service work is developing meaningful relationships with the individuals you serve. It’s not about completing work that will make a discernible impact or fixing the issue, although those efforts are not without their value. Rather, it’s about surrendering yourself “totally to God and God’s poor,” listening to those who are suffering, doing your own small part, and leaving the rest to God – a practical application of let go and let God, if you will.

And that is fundamentally what Backpack Journalism is about. We are not called to be champions for the refugee crisis, but we have been given a chance to form companionships with each other and the people we’ll encounter. We probably won’t affect as much change in these individuals as they will in us, but that is the beauty of accompaniment: the human relationships you experience have the power to follow your heart and mind even after you’re gone.

As for me, I’m working to keep my heart and mind open.

A Call to Bear Witness

Four years ago, I listened to a small panel of journalism students and faculty professors describe the unique networking and writing opportunities offered by the Department of Journalism, Media & Computing (JMC) at Creighton University. Like every other prospective student sitting in on that early morning session, I perched stiffly in my banquet chair and concentrated intently on the panelists’ expressions, attempting to gauge their sincerity as they exalted the JMC Department, while also pretending that I wasn’t embarrassed by my mother’s frantic note taking beside me. Every now and then, Mom’s pen paused dramatically mid-scribble, prompting my glance her way so that she could flash me her signature “Did-you-hear-that?” raised eyebrows, followed by the “If-you-don’t-ask-a-question-I’m-going-to-ask-one-for-you” smirk.

Quite a lot of pressure hung over this particular journalism panel (although I’m sure none of the department’s representatives realized it). At the time, I was an indecisive high school senior who was in the final leg of my college tour, anxious to find the right collegiate environment where I could thrive. I’d never heard of Creighton until a month prior to my visit; I didn’t know what a Jesuit was, much less what being a part of a Jesuit institution meant; and as a Californian spoiled by warm weather and our swanky In-N-Out Burgers, I wasn’t too inclined to migrate to Nebraska any time soon. Needless to say, Creighton was at a slight disadvantage in terms of convincing me to apply.

As the panel discussion continued, the conversation turned to a study abroad program called Backpack Journalism. My interest was immediately piqued. The concept of shooting a mini documentary to shed light on an injustice as it is experienced in a different part of the world seemed right up my alley. Backpack Journalism blended two of my strongest passions: versatile storytelling and social justice – interests which I had previously considered mutually exclusive. I fell in love with the idea of utilizing journalism to provide a voice to the voiceless, to share stories that matter.

In that moment, as I watched clips from previous Backpack Journalism adventures and heard about the meaningful relationships that students had built with their global subjects, I realized that I had found what I was looking for. This program catapulted Creighton to the top of my universities list; I knew that if I was committing to Creighton, I was also committing to Backpack Journalism.

Rachel, my roommate of four years (right), and I (left) adventuring in my home state. It’s crazy to think that if I hadn’t heard of Backpack Journalism several years ago, I may not have met one of my best friends.

Cut to four years later. I am now about to embark on a two week pilgrimage to Uganda as a participant in the very program that helped me find my home away from home.

This year the Backpack Journalism team will bear witness to Sudanese refugees who are staying in settlements throughout Northern Uganda. We are going to investigate the lived realities of involuntary displacement, the modern impact of historical trauma and sociopolitical conditions in Africa, and the Church of Uganda’s spiritual and practical impact on the refugee crisis. In the process, we’ll (hopefully) gain a broader perspective on real world issues, in addition to discovering a beautiful humanity that is often distorted by Western society.

I’ll admit, I’m finding myself in a bit of emotional flux as our trip looms closer. I couldn’t be more excited to develop narratives with the individuals I’ll encounter and to learn new storytelling techniques through videography. And of course, it feels almost unreal to finally be participating in the study abroad program that influenced my decision to come to Creighton.

At the same time, I feel slightly anxious about stepping so far out of my comfort zone and entering these vulnerable places (If I felt a public spotlight while sitting next to an overenthusiastic parent taking copious notes, how am I going to feel filming b-roll with strangers out in the field?). In these moments, I have to remind myself that the stories worth telling aren’t the ones that we observe from the sidelines – they’re in the midst of the action.

To my dear friends and family members reading this blog, please keep our small group in your thoughts and prayers over these next few weeks! Pray that we remain conscious and intentional throughout our journey; that we grow spiritually as well as intellectually; and that we can survive the few grueling days of Backpack Journalism boot camp.

I’ll end my first blog post with a verse that has been on my mind lately. In my opinion, this verse perfectly captures the call to bear witness that we young journalists and theologians feel compelled to follow:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” : Isaiah 6:8

Backwards Fear

The biggest fear people have when it comes to immigration from Mexico is that we are letting criminals and drugs stream over the border. To a fairly large extent, this is true. The problem comes with our government’s inability to separate the drug trade from people who are crossing to escape violence and reunite with their families. Because this distinction is not made, all Mexican migrants are essentially treated the same. People often ask why migrants can’t simply cross the border legally. There is a 20 year waiting list for Mexicans to get a visa, even though immigration into the U.S. is actually the lowest it’s been in 50 years. Waiting 20 years is probably not a viable option for immigrants fleeing from violence, or trying to get to the family they’ve been separated from. So, all migrants are forced to cross illegally. Many of these illegal immigrants carry drugs across the border. Border security has been increasingly heightened and militarized, making it harder than ever for migrants to safely make their way into the United States. So, these migrants have very few options. This is where the cartel comes in. They know the border and the surrounding areas extremely well. They are able to successfully go back and forth across the border with no problem. In this way, they become many migrant’s only hope. Migrants pay thousands of dollars to cross the border under the cartel’s protection. This means more revenue for the cartel and more backs to load their supplies of drugs onto. Essentially, by making the border inaccessible to anyone, we are causing migrants to aid in the very practice that we fear most about immigration: criminality and drug smuggling.

This knowledge and this frustration that I have developed over the course of this trip is what makes this trip different from any experience I’ve ever had. It was such an intense few weeks of learning and growth that led to so much understanding about the complications and misconceptions of the issues at hand and I don’t think I could have found that anywhere else.

The wall between Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona.
The wall between Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona.

Freedom of Aid

On Saturday, our group went on an interesting adventure. We followed a soft-spoken Quaker man, whose white hair was longer than mine, into the desert in order to gain a better perspective on what migrants go through on their journey north. Our fearless leader, “Lil John” as we called him, took us under barbed wire fences, over walls of rock, and through uneven rocky brush lined with heavily thorned desert plants under the early morning desert sun. I went through 4 bottles of water.

As we moved from the cattle path to the migrant trails, the reality of where I was didn’t really hit until crawling under the second barbed wire fence of the day. While brushing myself off on the other side, someone pointed out a discarded sweater. It looked like it used to be white, but was torn, weathered, and caked with dirt, turning it a stained dark brown. It appeared a migrant had discarded it right before crawling under the barbed wire we’d just come through.
As the trail continued, I noticed the occasional rusty can littering the sides of the trail. After a while, we reached an opening in the valley trail. A small shrine had been erected out of a natural opening in the side of a small cliff. A tree branch to the right of the shrine had gallons of water hanging from strings with messages of prayer and good will written across them in Spanish. On the ground lay several more gallons of water, as well as cans of beans. The shrine itself was decorated with candles, crosses, and images of St. Mary.
It was an incredibly surreal place to see in the middle of a trail that meant death and pain for so many. In the midst of illness, death, injury, and pain that lines this journey for so many, there is a small ray of hope and comfort. Ironically, that aid is provided by a group of activists from the very same nation that at once draws and rejects people. The same country that hunts these migrants down on this journey, also produces people who aid them on the way.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t know what to think about this juxtaposition. I guess it reminded me the more positive aspects of The United States’ system after two weeks of feeling frustrated by my country’s continuous blunders. Out of all the backwards policy, the ability and the choice to help people in need still remains.

Lil John showing us the migrant trail.
Lil John showing us the migrant trail.

The Dividing Line

Due to our very long and rigorous schedule, I find myself behind on posting my blogs. As soon as something happens during the day I write it down  in my notebook, but as soon as I think about writing the post for the blog, something even more amazing occurs. So please bear with me as I try and explain the current hectic and crazy happenings that are occurring in my brain.

 Tuesday was a really hard and difficult day. We got up at 4:00 a.m. in order to get some broll of the sunset in Nogales. It was a beautiful event to witness. I’ve never gotten up early to watch the sunrise and watching the sun peak up over the corner of the mountains and on the wall was a beautiful experience to witness.
It was interesting to see the actual physical presence of the wall that divides these two countries. But, when I look out at the sunset, all I see is the warmth and joy that is the sun and for those moments, it seems as thought there is no current crisis involving a country that deserves the same basic and natural rights as any human being.
The rest of the day consisted of going to the women shelter, lunch in Nogales, interviews and a walk through Nogales.
I have never felt like a minority in my life. That was the first time I’ve felt out of place in the world and that I didn’t belong. I felt ashamed, embarrassed and scared of who I am and where I came from. That moment of walking through Nogales was one of the first times I’ve felt ashamed and mad at myself for having the life I have.
After we left the commodore, we went to have lunch. In order to get there we took the bus. We all stumbled onto the bus and filled it with our equipment. People from Nogales stared at us just as much as we stared at them. I struggled to make eye contact with those on the bus. I didn’t want to encroach on their environment anymore that I already felt I had. The next individual who boarded the bus was a disheveled looking man. He was caring some of his few belongings in a plastic baggy. He began to ask the occupants of the bus for money.
I watched as many of my fellow students avoided eye contact with the man.  I struggled with what I should do. There was this internal struggle to help the man but to also pretend like I was invisible and I couldn’t see the man and that he couldn’t see me. Later during our evening reflection, we talked about the bus ride. The man went up and talked to Nico. He asked him to translate into English that he needed money. Nico replied that we had no pesos. The man was persistent and continued to ask Nico to ask us for money.
During our reflection, Nico told us his thoughts and feelings he was left with after the bus encounter. He asked us why we acted as thought the man did not seem to exist to us. Why do we treat some individuals who we’ve never met with care and compassion and others with little to no love or care? Where do we make the distinction? I know Nico’s asking of the question wasn’t to make us feel bad or ashamed of what happened, but I did. I felt pretty ashamed of being American.
I know that I will have more experiences with this kind of feeling or interactions. I am wondering what the solution is . I know that there is no easy solution or easy answer to any of this.
I like to think of myself as a very compassionate and giving person, but for what reason did I treat this man as though he should be ignored? I am thinking that maybe it was because he made me uncomfortable, because he was asking for money or because he was dirty. All of these could be reasons for me wanting to not look at him. But If him and I are both on this bus, both trying to do our best in life, then why didn’t I allow him to feel as though he was important.
We are taught in our life that avoiding eye contact with an individual is a sign of disrespect. It is important to show eye contact so that people know that they are being heard. It allows you to make a deeper connection with a person.
Wednesday: blog post to come
Today we got to kind of relax. This was one of the first days that we actually got to do some touristy stuff. We went to the Old Jesuit Mission. It was very pretty and we got some of that b-roll. We also were able to take some photos of each other which was nice. Afterwards we went to this great place for lunch. It was muy delicioso. Our next adventure was a park where we just walked around. And then we took some more broll.
Tonight will be a night to relax and reflect. The trip thus far has been extremely difficult but also very rewarding. It has been great getting to know this wonderful group of people. I am absolutely dreading going back to Omaha. I find myself even now as I am lying on my inflatable mattress that I was at the commodore. I wish I could be there helping in any way I can. But for now, I will take in the relaxing day and get ready for another eventful day in Nogales.

 

 

 

My one and only, Alyson Schreck and I running down the stairs trying to get the b-roll
My one and only, Alyson Schreck and I running down the stairs trying to get the b-roll

Storytelling with a purpose

As the two white Creighton vans pulled out of the McGloin parking lot this morning, it was and still is difficult for me to fully comprehend what’s ahead. Nothing is ever what you expect it to be. This past week has been amazing and surprising and I’ve learned so much but we’ve only scratched the surface.

A big part of me still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to be doing this. It’s an interesting juxtaposition: I have an amazing opportunity to capture people’s lack of opportunity. In my first ever college journalism class, the first thing my teacher emphasized to us was the centrality of storytelling in journalism. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with this idea of long-form, narrative journalism. In my first ever Creighton class, my theology teacher emphasized to the class the importance of using your degree for social justice. That is also something that has stuck with me. That’s why I find it so incredibly humbling to use the power of storytelling to hopefully do some good in the world.

It’s scary to be actually moving forward with this work because it’s something that I care so much about doing in the long-term. It’s also incredibly exciting. I feel confident in what I’ve learned so far, but I’m definitely nervous about applying this knowledge in a real and meaningful way.

The amazing group I get to work with!
The amazing group I get to work with!