Tag Archives: uganda

Anticipating the Adventure

It’s been a wild week. It’s included lots of late nights and early mornings, trying to listen and absorb seven hours of information a day, leaving the classroom with my head spinning and wondering how I ever survived high school without drinking a single cup of coffee.

I left the classroom this afternoon after a week of bootcamp with both a feeling of excitement and nervousness. One moment I’m ready to get on the flight, get to Alaska and start meeting the people; the next, I’m anxious about packing and embarking on a trip which will force me to step out of my comfort zone.

I touched on this in my last blog post, but I’m most excited about the chance to meet the Yup’ik people and learn about their culture and way of life. We’ve talked a lot this week about what we know about the Yup’ik. We know they treat nature and especially animals with a lot more respect than we often do. We have also talked about the people’s experience of cultural trauma, caused by an age of modernization and a desire to respect tradition. These conversations and topics have been interesting, and I’m excited to hear about them first hand.

I’m also thrilled to have the chance to be a part of a documentary film team and know at least a little about each aspect that goes into making a documentary. I’m so excited to work with our group. Each member has so much talent to bring to our project, and throughout this week we’ve become a little family.

Meet the team. We're all anticipating the journey ahead and ready to reflect on our experiences!
Meet the team. We’re all anticipating the journey ahead and preparing to reflect on our experiences!

With all the excitement comes a little fear. I’m nervous I have yet to pack, I’m nervous about squeezing everything into one big suitcase, and I’m nervous about living in a place for two weeks that I’ve seen once or twice on a map.

In terms of documentary film making, the video equipment terrifies me, even more so now that I’ve learned the basics of video in a matter of five days. I’m imagining a moment during this trip when we’ll have an interview to do and we’ll have to set up cameras and I’m going to forget how to focus the camera or set the shutter speed or f-stop. Luckily I’ve got a dozen other people who have my back.

During one of our practice interviews, we each had a chance to step behind the camera. Don't worry, Tim's right behind me helping me make the interviewee look good!
During one of our practice interviews, we each had a chance to step behind the camera. Don’t worry, Tim’s right behind me helping me make the interviewee look good! Photo courtesy of Kari Welniak.

Despite all my worries and fears, during our reflection today I heard some really good thoughts. Two graduates who had gone on previous Backpack Journalism trips came to sit in on our reflection. Matthew Dorwart went to Uganda on one of the Backpack trips, and his advice was to be present in the moment. We shouldn’t worry about what we’re doing tomorrow, or the 10 page paper we’ll have to write when we get back. Be present or we’ll miss out on the big and little moments, on the setbacks and breakthroughs.

Something that also struck me was Nico Sandi‘s reflection. He mentioned that it’s important for us to be respectful and keep in mind the community into which we are about to enter. We’re 20 (sometimes obnoxious and loud) students entering a community about which we know little, and they don’t know much more about us. Learning about the community and helping them tell their story is what is most important, the ultimate goal of this trip.

My goal is to keep an open heart, let the experience touch me, and pack as lightly as possible.

Alaska, here we come!

 

It’s an ‘Education Vacation’

I’m often shocked by how quickly word travels among my family and my community.

After the semester was over and I had finished my exams, I went back to Milwaukee to spend two weeks at home. I saw family members, friends from high school and my co-workers. I was usually greeted with “Hi Madeline! I hear you’re going to Alaska this summer.”

Yes, I am. Let me guess, my mother and/or father told you?

Ever since I discovered Creighton’s Journalism department had a Backpack Journalism program, I wanted to be a part of one of the experiences. I had heard countless good things, basically that it was beyond cool.

I was also amazed by the results of the the trip. In the summer of 2012, the Backpack group traveled to Uganda and produced a documentary entitled Wer Uganda, which highlights the role of music in the Ugandan culture. I went to the campus screening of it and was absolutely amazed. To think that a group of college students, with the help of a few professors, could produce a short film that was screened at the Omaha Film Festival was, again, beyond cool.

These trips, up to this point, were a way to travel outside of the States, something which I’ve never done. I had never arranged a semester or summer to study abroad, so this was a perfect opportunity to do so. Of course, the year I commit to going, the group is going to Alaska. Although it is one of the States, I have heard we won’t feel like we’re in America, so I guess I can justify it.

I am reminded every day as we prepare to go on this trip that this is not a vacation. We’re going to Alaska to work, to interview and shoot video for 12-14 hours on a daily basis. If I’m traveling to any place outside of the Midwest, I do like to think of it as a vacation. But I am completely prepared to do more than relax and sit on the beach.

Although the sun will always be out (it never gets dark in Alaska this time of year), sitting on the beach like this one on Captiva Island, FL is not part of the plan.
Although the sun will always be out (it never gets dark in Alaska this time of year), sitting on the beach like this one on Captiva Island, FL is not part of the plan.

I’d like to think of this trip as more than a vacation.   It’s an experience beyond what a common tourist would come across. On this trip, I have the opportunity to get to know the Yup’ik people. I get to listen to them and I get to share their story.  Establishing those relationships is something about which I’m totally excited.

I’m also excited to experience real journalism. Sure, I write stories weekly for our student newspaper the Creightonian, but this is the real deal. This is what I hope to do one day, every day: go out, find a story, interview people, get a couple photos/shoot some video, and come back with a worthy story. I’m excited to strengthen my writing and interviewing skills as well as learn as much as I can about a professional camera and shooting video, neither of which I have experienced.

All in all, I hope to use much of my brain on this “vacation,” which is a hope I probably don’t share with many people thinking “vacation.”

“Experience is the Master” From Tuesday July 3rd. What I learned in Africa.

Motorbike that I got this quote from. It was outside the Radio WA tower.

Our final blog post is supposed to be what we learned about journalism, theology, the world and ourselves. Because this is so broad, I am going to try to use a list with a comment for each day I spent in Africa. I put them in order with the most important at the end. This is what I learned:

  1. I need to return to Africa to learn more about world, the religion, journalism and myself. “We learn who we are in the process of discovering who we are not.” Thanks to the past month I have a better understanding of who I am not, who I want to be and who I can be. It is a refreshing and welcomed clarity that has been a long time coming.
  2. Time is relative. Sometimes it will feel like I have a lot and sometimes it will feel like I have a little. But the moments that matter will be the ones when I am not keeping track.
  3. No matter what happens to me, I am okay.
  4. “The world is not like west Omaha. 90% of the world is just as poor, helpless and isolated as the people in Abia. Abia is what the world really looks like.” –John O’keefe.
  5. “When you sing, it is as if you pray twice.” –Choir member at Uganda Martyrs’ Church, Lira.
  6. There are certain concepts—self-confidence, self-pity, self-loathing, self-deceit, self-denial and self-indulgence—that seem only to exist in America. I have learned: they do not belong elsewhere.
  7. As I told Jason a couple of nights ago: “Yes. I am a Christian. No, I am not sure that I was before Africa. I guess I thought I was, but not like I am now. No, I don’t know who or what God is. But I know that I need him. I know that my friends and family need him. And I know that he is my teacher, my leader and someone I should always emulate to be like in my life.”
  8. Journalism is all around us. Wonderful things exist in extreme pollution, poverty, disease and warfare. There is always beauty among the rubble. A story exists that someone doesn’t have the words for and a story exists that someone else doesn’t have the ears for. There is always knowledge among the ignorant. There is always beauty and knowledge to be shared.
  9. The church and religion have the power to change—to fix—the world. Not because of what they preach, the power they bestow or the salvation they provide, but because of how they bring us together in a world were we see only light not darkness, only the calm not the storm, only strength not weakness and only peace not violence.
  10. I don’t know what it was about Africa, the people I went with, or the people I met there, but those two weeks in June were the happiest, the saddest and the most alive I have ever been. Africa shocked me. Silenced me.  And then gave me words and a voice I didn’t know I could find.
  11. I have a voice. I have a strong voice. And I have a strong head. And I have a strong heart. I am so lucky that I have the ability to observe, to report and to share with those that lack these things.
  12. I will have hard and easy times in my life. During the easy times there will be two sets of footprints in the sand: God’s and mine. During the hard times there will only be one set. Those are the times that he carries me.
  13. The most important things in this world—trust, empathy, happiness, celebration, hospitality, gratitude, assistance, faith, admiration and friendship—do not need a common language.
  14. Regardless if you have known someone two years or two weeks, there are certain people’s souls that your heart will call home and others that will kick you out. Never let go of those that welcome you after two weeks.
  15. No matter what, I always have more to give. Even when I am tired, sick, sweaty, sad, lonely, underappreciated, poor, homeless, disappointed, lost, hopeless and unconfident in my actions, my achievements and myself… I can still lift others up to a place I can only one day hope to be.

I read the above probably 20 times before I published them. I mean every word. And now I only have two left to say to the people of Uganda, those that we interviewed, the people of Abia, the students of Ave Maria, the people who paint the signs, the soccer kids from the village, Herbert, Fred, Nicole, the boy in the green shirt, O’Keefe, Carol, and the students that went with me (especially Teresa and Chase), all of whom have changed me for the better and for good in a way I could never have done on my own: Apwoyo Matek.

Thank you for the experience

 

“Better. Simple. Life” From Sunday June 17th & Wednesday June 27th

I know that everyone has talked a lot about the fact that the people in Africa have nothing, but are willing to give everything. My favorite example of this was when we were leaving Lira for Murchison Falls. As our bus pulled out of the Farm View Hotel the children from the village nearby (that we had played soccer with) had collected on the road to watch us drive off. We stuck our hands out the window in an attempt to say goodbye I think. In our heads we thought that they would give us high-fives or touch our hands like we were movie stars at a rock concert. Or at least, I think that was the general idea. Maybe it was more about making contact with them for the last time. Maybe we were trying desperately to touch them in the same way that they had touched us, or at least give some of the impact back. What I do know is that they completely misunderstood even the general ballpark of our intentions. The little children tried to give us their fruit. If I remember right they had mangoes in their hands. Maybe, just as we didn’t know what else to give, they were trying to give what little they had.

Some of my favorite kids from the village near our hotel. These are the ones that tried to give us their fruit.

I think it is easy to say that I would like to come back to the United States and live in a cheaper apartment, drive a smart car and not spend as much as I do on looking nice or going out in the Old Market. I think that even now that I am back it is still easy to say that the simple life, from the perspective of someone who has everything they need, is better. When I came back to the United States I must say that for a few days I was completely tempted to trash everything that I own (the furnishings of a normal bedroom) except for a suitcase full of clothes, my car and my work uniform. Perhaps it was because of Africa, because I just wanted to start over or more likely, because of the appeal of simplicity. But when I thought about the village kids with the mangoes I remember: having something means that I have something to give. And having everything I need means that I have everything to give.

So the sign I saw in Africa had it right. It isn’t that the simple life is better. Rather it’s that better simply is life. And life, for me now, is about simply giving. Ironically, I think that step begins with fighting for others and not myself. My stuff is safely in a storage unit on 72nd street and I have been more emotionally and mentally available to give to those around me than I could have ever been without it.

Photo of my storage unit on 72nd after I finished moving everything.

“Spare Parts” From Friday June 22nd.

Ever since my coca-cola obsession began when I was about 8-years-old I have loved and collected signs. These are all of the signs that I saw that I thought were funny, beautiful, intriguing or inspiring while in Africa that I didn’t get to blog about. I saw them in front of stores, on billboards, as bumper stickers, and on little wood slabs that were held up by posts, which stuck in the ground, etc. I miss them deeply and have been quite bored with my recent drives on Dodge Street and I-80, which seem completely lackluster compared my flowing bus-view of hand painted signs above 4’ by 4’ wood stands, stone buildings and tin-roofed shacks which continually decorated the middle third of my camera frame between blue sky and the foot-pounded red dirt road.

Hopefully someday I will turn these signs into something more than just a list (maybe write or make something). I also hope that the dates and times (my record of which declined the longer that I was in Africa) will help others to visualize the sheer volume and virtual eternity of these quotes and that they themselves will give others a piece of Africa and its spirit. There are some days below that have more quotes than others. This may be because it was one of the days that we were driving further, or it may be because it was our first time in a new area. There were a lot of signs that we saw multiple times, but I never stopped writing them down throughout the trip. In fact, by the end, other students were helping me when they saw a good one. I elected to put them here with out explanation. But I did (for the most part) record locations and descriptions.

Entebbe to Kampala (too dark to see signs)

Kampala to Jinja (6-10, afternoon)

  • “Nile Special. You’ve earned it” 12:40pm.
  • “Make thirst beg for mercy. Be uncontainable” 12:50pm.
  • “Beauty garage. Experience the beauty in you” 12:50pm.
  • “The more you talk to him, the less you consume” 12:52pm.
  • “Shine your continent” 12:52pm.
  • “No smoking. Switch-off engine. Switch off phone” 12:53pm.
  • “Everyone deserves a fortune”
  • “Extra is more”
  • “OH MY GOD”
  • “Tastefully different”
  • “Trust”
  • “Its all about you”

Jinja to Kampala (6-10, evening)

  • “Water is life” 4:30pm.
  • “Give way” 5:15pm.
  • “Your growth is our pride” 5:15pm.
  • “Prosperity is waiting for you” 5:20pm.

Kampala to Entebbe (6-11, morning)

  • “BRAC”
  • “Promises”
  • “Dark and lovely”
  • “Is this a fair fight?”
  • “Consistent. Trusted. Admired”
  • “Don’t say goodbye. We have the world connected”
  • “Together we can”
  • “We care”

Entebbe to Lira (6-11, afternoon)

  • “Equity bank”
  • “In God we trust electronics”
  • “Smart choice for life”
  • “Wishes you a safe journey”
  • “Agape girls”
  • “Good friends photo studio”
  • “Haven away from home”

Farm View Hotel, Lira to Ave Maria Vocational School, Lira (6-12, morning)

Signs like this one where all over the schools that we passed and vistited It became almost immediatly aparent that Africa does have a voice and something to say. The problem, is what gets painted over it? And who is listening?
  • “But fortune. Build Uganda”
  • “Good lifts me up. God is good all the time. All the time God is good”
  • Ave MariaàFarm View Hotel (6-12, evening)
  • “PRIDE”
  • “G-one planet”
  • “Ebeneezer Dairy”
  • “Cha’s. Your body and soul”
  • “Barbie’s Restaurant”
This is the God is good sign. It seems to me that most Africans would do anything to get their message across where others could see it.

Farm View Hotel to Radio WA, Lira (6-13, morning)

  • “Condition permanent”
  • “Comet grocery”
  • “You are welcome”
  • “Drug shop”

Radio WA to Radio WA Tower, Lira (6-13, afternoon)

  • “Say no to gifts for sex”
  • “Greenland executive saloon”
  • “Be innovative to achieve”
  • “Together we go further”
  • “A smart newspaper for smart people”
  • “One family”
  • “Faith project”

Farm View Hotel to Abia (6-14, morning)

  • “J & M goad roasting joint”
  • “God is able”
  • “Diving mercy supermarket”

Farm View Hotel to Get a car for Teresa and Abia (6-15, morning)

  • “Water is life”

Nob View Hotel, Kampala to The Observer Office, Kampala (6-21, afternoon)

  • “Classic pork joint”
  • “I always try new things and nothing holds me down. That’s my break out swag”

The Observer Office to Craft Shop, Kampala (6-21, later afternoon)

  • “Take a closer look. Well beyond ordinary”

“Condition Permanent” From Thursday June 21st.

This is what I will miss about Africa:

  • The smells. Both good and bad.
  • The life and movement of the people and the cities.
  • Street shops and street signs.
  • The wonderful tasting fruit.
  • Palm trees in cornfields.
  • All of the people who wave and smile at our bus.
  • The spirit here.
  • Genuine hospitality from strangers.
  • Indifference to appearance or body odor.
  • Stoney ginger sodas.
  • Warm humidity.
  • Long night and morning talks with Sara and Teresa.
  • The Southern Cross.
  • Faith.
  • Being connected to, dependent on and always together with these 11 people.
  • Bus rides and looking out the window.
  • Time. Both feeling like it is unlimited and having it all planned out for me.
  • The calmness I feel here.
  • Music.
  • The animals. Especially the birds.
  • The red dirt against green vegetation.
  • Chapatti.
  • Endurance. Patience. Willingness.

I have thought about Africa everyday since I returned to the United States. Some days I think about it more than others. But whenever I hear traditional music, see a child smiling or playing in the dirt, see someone walking on the side of the road, smell a fire, or get up early in the morning I am transported back to Africa. And I feel safe, content and free.

This is one of my favorite pictures from Africa. It reminds me of how calm and happy I was there.

“Your identity” From Thursday June 21st & Sunday June 24th

We ate our last meal in Africa at a hotel near the airport in Entebbe where we interviewed Herbert. This was the only time the whole trip that we got to order individually. I found it interesting that although there were more “American” foods on the menu than we were usually used to (like sandwiches for example), most of us ordered rice and chicken or fish and chapatti. It was at this point (while watching a terribly dubbed television show with poor acting that seemed to be about Native Americans’ fight for North America, but included caucasian cowboys, Africans and Hispanics as well) that I noticed: I have no culture.

I have beautiful traditions, inside jokes and things that will always remind me of home in Minnesota with my family, but I don’t have “a people.” I don’t have an elite language, a name that binds me to a group outside my immediate family (+ 2 uncles) and I don’t have a tribe. I have no tie to a certain place or specific ancestral origin. And interestingly enough, I am glad. Because I don’t have a culture, I get to live in awe.  I feel like what I miss out on by not having a one, I gain through amazement and experiences.

After arriving in Amsterdam the next morning with Joe, to visit my mom’s cousin, I had a bit of culture shock. Probably the only similarly between Africa and Amsterdam is that people ride bikes everywhere. But Amsterdam was windy and freezing, full of sweet pastries and dairy and bursting with brand names and recent fashion trends; three things that I didn’t experience even slightly in Africa. I knew that it was advised that we not go there and that the transition on the way back from the developing world is harder than the transition on the way there. But I am so glad that I went. While in Amsterdam,  I realized that even though culture is relative and changing constantly (evolving and developing as Sybil said), I am excited to shape my own. I am excited to live through other people’s cultures, classify myself as a mover and I am excited to continue to learn about the world with a minimal (if existent) cultural filter, anchor or mind block.

My identity? Is Prater. Is Alison. Is Christian. Is caucasian. Is daughter of Scott and Cheryl. Is tall. Is all of my personal attributes. But it isn’t innately American. And doesn’t have to be. And I like that.

This is a picture of all the bikes in Amsterdam. The strongest tie that I had to Africa on my weekend pit-stop mid-transition back to the U.S.Here is a bike in Africa. They were always on the streets here too, but more often in Africa, you would see them parked alone.

“Every Meal is a Story” From Wednesday June 20th.

I got really sick this morning. I tossed and turned all night and kept waking up freezing cold, which admittedly was strange because it was about 80 some degrees and there was no air conditioning. I remember touching my forehead and feeling that my skin was hot, but there was nothing that I wanted more than a sweatshirt or even an electric blanket.  This was the one morning that I lay awake waiting for Sara’s alarm (usually she would have to convince me to get out of bed and I would end up scrambling to make it to breakfast or the bus on time). When her iphone apple ring alarm went off I whined, “Sara, I think I have a fever.” She inhaled really quickly and shot over to where our beds met in the center of the hut. After pulling up both our mosquito nets she felt my forehead and said, “yeah you’re burning up.” Luckily Sara had brought tons of individually wrapped different medications and knew to give me ibuprofen. She then threw on some clothes and went to Carol’s hut.

Carole came in about 15 minutes later with her hair wet. She told me that she was sorry she didn’t come sooner and felt my forehead too. It started to set in that I was going to miss the safari, which was early that morning. Carole explained that I really shouldn’t take my antibiotic unless I had actually gotten sick, which I hadn’t. But at this point, my body ached so badly I could barely move and I had thoroughly convinced myself that I had malaria. About two hours later, after lots of cold washcloths and water bottles, I did in fact get sick. The trick now was to keep the antibiotic down. The Safari Resort was about one hour away from any other building and about a six-hour drive from Kampala. Fever. Dehydration. Malaria. Whatever this was, I needed it to get better.

Two hours after I took the anti-biotic I woke up sweating and knew that my fever had broken. Now I just had to pick myself up and endure the six-hour bus ride to Kampala, about half of which was going to be on a dirt path that made the bus rock back and forth like the Indiana Jones ride. Sara gave me her pillow for the bus ride. It was sitting in my seat when I clambered on. I immediately thought of Teresa. She had taken my pillow home with her to Colorado and I wondered where it was now. Needless to say, I felt much better by the end of the day and was even able to eat some toasted breadstick crackers at our favorite pizza place in Kampala. Carol had spent at least half of her time in Africa taking care of students. I wish that I knew how to return the favor, because I am so glad that I was not missing the safari while sick and alone with the water buffalo and baboons.

The rest of the students and I deduced that I got sick from the drink that I had the night before. We invented a drink called a Waka Waka. It was my favorite Stoney ginger soda mixed with whiskey and ended up tasting quite a bit like a Dark and Stormy (Rum and non-alcoholic ginger beer with a lime). Because one of my favorite drinks is a Moscow Mule (Vodka and non-alcoholic ginger beer with a lime) I thought that I would try some Smirnoff with my Stoney at the bar. We came to the conclusion that the vodka must have been watered down with bad water. I had a rocks glass with a double shot and couldn’t even taste the vodka, not to mention that the drink had a strange stale flavor that seemed a bit odd. After two of the drinks I was sure that it was watered down because I wasn’t feeling anything. Sara and Gabby both tried my drink and were both not feeling well at all on the bus ride to Kampala the next afternoon. After all, why would the resort use expensive bottle water to cheapen a drink? Lesson I learned? Only drink colored liquor when in a developing country.

Stoney ginger soda. Produced by Coca-Cola. I really want to try to find this in the United States.

“Part of You. From the Start.” From Friday June 15th.

I hope that it doesn’t sound naive to say that the moment I landed in Africa, I started planning how I would move there. I have complete intentions of spending at least two (but maybe more) of my remaining years in Africa. I think I started planning this initially because of the life, the smells and the fire that I experienced in my first hour their on night bus ride from Entebbe to Kampala. In TriDelta (I am now an alumni member but was once a founding mother of the Epsilon Mu chapter at Creighton) we talk about why we joined and more importantly, why we stayed. I think that the same conversation should apply to Africa. Yes, it is important to talk about why we went there. But I think it is more important to talk about why we will go back and my reasoning certainly goes deeper than what I saw out of a bus window at 11pm.

On our second day in Abia I was really torn up about everything that had happened with Teresa and her mom. After being surrounded by death on a second degree or even third degree level for the week beforehand (knowing that 1/3 of the kids at Ave Maria had HIV, seeing emaciated stomachs and bare feet and looking at the children who wore down coats in 90 degree weather because they had malaria) it was utterly and completely jarring to actually hear it on the telephone and hold it in my lap. For some reason I felt the need to stay strong and completely repressed everything until later that night. But there was a moment in Abia, when a little boy in a green shirt held my hand that I caved a bit and let some emotions through. Patrick and I had volunteered to do some b-roll while everyone else was interviewing. We were attempting to get images of the huts that the people of Abia lived in when this little boy (about seven I would say) came up and shook my hand, but didn’t let go. With his other hand, he grabbed Patrick’s and still didn’t let go. So the three of us stood holding hands for a couple of minutes. I can’t imagine that this boy knew the emotions I was feeling, but the toothy smirk he gave me made me feel like he knew mine and I knew his. When I remembered that I needed my hand to film I took my arm and put it around his shoulder. He lifted his arm around me. A few tears escaped my stronghold and after a large breath I managed to exhale out “apwoyo,” which means “thank you.”

Photo Credit: Sara Gentzler. Apparently this boy went around holding everyone's hand. Not just mine and Patrick's. I borrowed Sara's photo because it captured his grin better than any of the one's that I took.

The next day I decided to get a tattoo when I got home. It says “apwoyo matek” which means, “thank you very much.” My hope is that the boy in the green shirt, the life, the fire and the desire I have to return because of those things will be with me until I do go back. Maybe then I will be able to say something more profound than “thank you,” but I certainly can’t think of anything more fitting.

"Apwoyo Matek" or "thank you very much"

“Moonlight Butchery” From Monday June 18th.

Africa was scary and enthralling at night. It was my favorite time to ride the bus and I secretly hoped that our day would last long enough that we would have to be out at night. One of our days in Lira, I went with Jason, Joe, Patrick and Sara to an outdoor concert downtown with Sybil, Tim, Herbert and Moses. I think that Tim was going with the hopes of getting some b-roll of some younger, modern musical performances, but the rest of us just wanted to get out and experience African night life. As we drove down the 5 minute long dirt path from the Farm View Hotel to the main road that lead into Lira, us 5 students talked about the LRA and how terrifying it must have been to have, as Patrick and Jason put it, “a boogey-man that was real.” We talked about the stark fear that must have dwelled in the children’s minds who were surrounded by nothing but a grass hut as they lay awake knowing that if someone with a gun came to take them, they would have to kill someone in their village and would be dragged out into the wilderness to kill more people. The conversation quickly transitioned to a lighter note when Jason told me to turn around and I literally jumped two feet at the sight of a man with a hand hoe about one foot from my window. But I think that the thoughts, and the concept stayed with us throughout the trip though. We compared it to the fear of the inevitable that you experience on a hayride or in a haunted house. It’s just simple fact that someone is going to jump out of the dark. The question is: when, where and in front of who?

Another more light-hearted example African darkness and its impact occurred at Murchison Falls. In the Safari Resort at the game park, the electricity always turned off at 10:00pm. There was no fence between our Resort and the game park that surrounded it, so there were warnings on our huts about the dangers of water buffalo and baboons. In short, the signs said that they did not wish to scare the guests, but rather to inform them. They continued to talk about the dangers of water buffalo (to quote our guide Herbert “they kill you because that is what they do. They smell you and charge to kill you”) and emphasized the preference to have resort staff escort you around after dark. Our last night in Murchison Falls, Chase and I were outside of Sara’s and my hut talking when all of a sudden the power shut off. Although our bedroom hut light was powered by a solar panel and would stay on for about another 45 minutes, outside was the darkest black I have ever seen other than the time I toured Crystal Caves in Southern Minnesota. We quite literally could not see our hand in front of our faces. I instantly felt bad for Chase and Jason remembering that they had a five minute walk back to their hut with nothing but a mini flashlight that allowed them to see about three feet in front of them. About ten minutes after they left our hut, Sara and I heard noises outside. I am used to hearing coyotes in Minnesota. But this was more of a low-pitched throat sound accompanied by heavy feet and grunting. The next morning the boys told me that they made it back to their place about five minutes before a pack of baboons and water buffalo strolled past their hut.

I love the phrase “moonlight butchery” because once past the layer of comedy that arises from the juxtaposition of such strange words, I think it perfectly grasps the combination of terrifying intrigue that African darkness superimposes on those that stay up past dusk. Despite fear, there is an undeniable wonder about what happens in the dark areas around the fires, in the houses that don’t overlook the road our bus travels along and in the wilderness that creeps right up to our huts.