Tag Archives: uganda

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

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

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.

Reflections on Uganda

Being back in Omaha, after almost three weeks in Uganda, is a very surreal experience. I’m not sure whether it’s the jet-lag from over 40 hours of travel or something else, but I’m having having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I’m no longer in Uganda. This morning I woke up half expecting to have to untangle myself from a mosquito net and take a freezing cold shower before stumbling over to a breakfast of Chipati and African tea in Adjumani. Instead, I woke up at about 6:00 am and stumbled over out of the extra dorm room that Andrew had lent me for the backpack journalism trip and took a warm shower before heading to the on campus Starbucks for breakfast.

Some might argue that I’m just having Chipati and African tea withdrawal, but I actually think that something deeper is going on. I think that my body and mind are in denial of the fact that my time in Africa has come to a close. Everything has felt out of wack since arriving back to the United States and more specifically Omaha. Time has felt slower, I’ve been in a mental fog, and all I can think about is my experience in Uganda. Specifically, the image of Betty, the woman we interviewed at the Palorinya Settlement, defiantly screaming at U.N. World Food Program officials about the quality of the rations being given to the refugees  in the middle of our interview. The fact that this woman who had lost seemingly everything was willing to stand up and fight for both her own and her fellow refugees dignity showed the strength and courage of the South Sudanese refugee community in Uganda.

This image of strength and defiance showed by Betty has really stuck with me and been one of the most impactful moments of the entire filmmaking trip. I just cannot stop replaying the whole scene in my head. I dreamt about it the first night back from Uganda. I then proceeded to dream about it again when I fell asleep watching some YouTube videos to try and help me relax during our day off yesterday. There was just something so powerful about a woman who had lost everything and recently had a surgery that left her body scarred and slightly disfigured standing up for herself and her community in the face of injustice. She could have so easily just accepted the meager rations and moved on with her life of sorrow inside of the refugee settlement; but instead she took no prisoners as she fought for a better standard of living in her makeshift community in Uganda.

The rest of my experiences inside of the Ugandan refugee settlements were less inspiring and positive than my impromptu interview with Betty. Everywhere we went people spoke about the great deal of need that existed in their communities. At the Maaji Refugee Settlment, we interviewed a grandmother who was caring for her three young grandchildren that hadn’t yet been registered as persons living in the settlement. The woman only spoke Ma’Di and was exasperated with her whole situation. Her daughter was missing and presumed dead, her son-in-law was killed during the civil war in South Sudan, and she was in very poor health trying to care for her three grandchildren on rations only meant for one person.

Following up the interview with the Ma’Di speaking grandmother we interviewed a very active member of the St. Vincent Chapel community who was a single mother caring for her there biological children as well as three foster children who she had taken into her meager home after discovering that they were orphans a few years ago. She spoke about how her immense faith in God and Christ were the only things that were keeping her going. In order to share and maintain her faith she started the women’s prayer group and faith learning communities for St. Vincent’s Chapel. Along with her inspiring story of faith immense generosity, she spoke about he need for both academic and economic opportunities for people within the settlement. Maaji, one of Uganda’s largest refugee settlements, houses over 150,000 refugees and has a pathetic lack of academic and economic opportunities for its residents. Those with skills are unable to get jobs and in turn sit idle all day long leading to increased restlessness and crime. Children who would otherwise be in school are left to run amuck since there are far too few schools and even fewer families that can afford the fees necessary to enroll their children in said schools.

These interviews left a feeling of helplessness that starkly contrasted the pure joy and elation that we witnessed from the St. Vincent Chapel community as they welcomed us to the Ma’Di ceremony a mere three hours after we were originally supposed to be there for Sunday mass. The love of God that these people had was unlike anything that I had witnessed in a long time. Despite their hardships, these people had absolute love and faith in God. This Love was shown through dance, song, and the opening of their community to us who were complete strangers.

In the end, these experiences with the South Sudanese refugees in their settlements in Northern Uganda are the lasting memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. These are the experiences that have and will continue to shape the reality in which I live out the rest of my life. To tell you the truth, I don’t think that I will feel as though I have ever truly returned from Uganda. A part of my very being will always carry with it the experiences of this backpack journalism trip in Uganda. You could say that this is both a blessing and a curse. The wonderful strength, beauty, and resilience of Uganda will stay with me as something I was blessed the experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. At the same time the vast sorrow and suffering of Uganda are my curse and a cross that I must now bear and must work to change.

In a strange way, I feel honored to have received this “curse” from my experience in Uganda. It will serve as a constant reminder of how blessed I am and an ever present motivator that drives me to end injustices that I see in the world. I just pray that I can make the most of this wonderful opportunity that I have been given through CU Backpack Journalism.

Beth and Uganda

[With apologies for an overwhelming number of links, there are many for those interested in digging deeper into this story]

A tiny sphere containing Beth's ashes
A tiny sphere containing Beth’s ashes (Moyo, Uganda)

Most of Beth’s cremated remains are in Nebraska, near her headstone, or around North Platte.

Friends know I’ve taken small amounts of her ashes, contained in little spheres bearing her image, to as many countries and continents as I can. It began as an intense and personal grieving process — an act of love and devotion — but also became something I shared very publicly on social media. It’s now more of a promise, than anything. It’s also something of an obligation, I suppose, in the way wedding vows are, but it’s much more than a mere obligation.

I saved a little of her ashes in case I made it to more continents than I had originally planned. So, as I travel with Creighton University colleagues and students, I have found myself with the opportunity to bless the African continent with a touch of Beth — a whisper of her soul. A tiny, symbolic, yet meaningful amount of ashes will be left in the country of Uganda.

There are a couple stories I’ll share about our connection to Uganda and to Africa.

Many years ago, I had lost my wedding ring. I was always removing it when getting dirty from construction work or messy in my studio. I never wore jewelry, and I was always taking it off and misplacing it. Somewhere in our wedding photos, there is an image of us holding hands, wearing our rings. I purchased the diamond I used when I made her wedding ring when I lived in Bophuthatswana, Africa. I only lived there for four or five months, but we used to write each other letters and look forward to our once-a-week phone call. She didn’t know I’d bought her a diamond until the day I proposed to her.

Years later, one day the ring was gone. I’d lost it.

I talked about replacing it, but Beth said she didn’t care. She still had her ring.

Fast-forward to a day not long after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Dystonia, she seemed worried I wouldn’t stay by her side. I wanted to show her I was committed to her — to us — like my friend Wayne was devoted to his wife, my lifelong friend, Pam.

That time in our lives coincided with a previous backpack journalism trip to Uganda.  Near the end of that trip, I asked everyone if they wouldn’t mind if I shopped for a new wedding band before we left. I decided to buy a simple, silver ring, which I still have to this day. You can see it on my finger on the blog I kept, as well as in the movie I made for Beth — my love letter to her, which was shown at a bunch of festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival.

Then one day, I woke up and Beth was gone. I’d lost her, as well.

Specific days or anniversaries are hard (birthdays – both mine and hers, our wedding anniversary, etc), but so are times like returning to Africa. Today, as I find myself back in Uganda, recalling our life together, it seems appropriate to return with the same colleagues, and with a bit of her cremains. I thought about wearing my ring one last time, but decided I didn’t want to risk losing it.

Beth loved waterfalls. I’ll leave some of her at Murchison Falls. I’ll likely also throw one into the falls, which will break apart as it journeys up the Nile toward Alexandria and the Mediterranean Sea. The final resting place will be nowhere near the falls. I’d like to leave one in a nature reserve, if I’m able. She loved traveling and loved nature documentaries.

I normally leave her ashes in private, but there have been times where I’ve left her remains while accompanied by friends. It’s been a powerful experience for me those rare times I’ve included friends or allowed a witness to those private moments. It becomes more ceremonial, somehow. It’ll be a challenge to find time alone on this trip for such moments, but there’s a small part of me that believes I should share the experience with this group, even if only once. We’ll see.

Either way, I’ll bless each sphere containing her ashes with the metta I say for her when I bury “BBs” at special locations. It’s a different form of the metta she used to say for friends and family that I say only for her. It’s been a long time since I’ve done it. I always hope she’d feel blessed and honored. I’ll never know.

For Beth:

May you dwell in safety.
May you rest in peace.
May you be free from suffering.
May you know my gratitude and love.

For the rest of you:

May you be happy.
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful.
May you be healthy.
May you know my gratitude and love.

Finding Happieness in the Little Things

It has been difficult to find moments of positivity amongst all of the negative things surrounding us in northern Uganda. Poor roads, very obvious poverty, malnourished children, refugee settlements, and less than reliable electricity are constant reminders of the harsh realities that exist for those living in this part of Africa. It would be incredibly easy to allow these negative things to consume my thoughts and plunge me into a deep and dark depression.  In stark contrast to the incredibly negative things that surround us in Uganda, there have been small moments of pure joy and happieness that have helped me to maintain my peace of mind here in Uganda. To some, the following few moments might seem trivial and unimportant. However, these little moments of joy have meant the world to me.

The most recent of these little joyful moments took place just before we were set to take a ferry ride across the Nile on our way from Adjumani to Moyo. As I sat in the bus we had been traveling in, I decided to take a picture of the sign that had the name of the ferry on it. When I looked down at my phone to check the quality of the photo, I noticed something rather humerous about it. Isaac, our guide from JRS Adjumani, has accidentally photobombed the picture. I could help, but just bust out laughing at the image. Without even meaning to, Isaac has brightened my day in a way that nothing else had really been able to.

Isaac photobombing my picture of the Laropi Ferry sign. 

Later that same day, after arriving at the compound where we would be staying for the night Tim decided that it would be a good idea to gather all of the students together to photograph the Milky Way Galaxy that was becoming visable in the dark night sky. What seemed like an ordinary photo session of the cosmos turned into one of the most fun events of the entire trip. All kinds of images of the cosmos and students doing goofy things were taken. There were pictures of funny poses with the epic night sky in the background, blurred images of running students, images of us all jumping and much much more. However, one picture in particular just made my day and really helped to cheer me up. There really isn’t any way to describe this picture coherently, so, I guess that I’ll just show it to the world.

According to Brick, this is the “coolest photo ever!” – Tim Guthrie 

Moments like those captured in these two photos have really helped me to maintain my peace of mind during this very difficult trip. It has been both eye opening as well as inspiring to see everything that Uganda has to offer. I’m just glad that I have gotten to spend this time in Uganda with such an awesome group of slightly insane goofballs. Yes, even Johnny Intensity has been a goofball on this trip. These little moments of joy have made me realize just how lucky I am to be in Uganda with these people.

 

Shock-Factor Significance

To write this blog, I restricted myself to the quiet setting of my room, and turned on my Spotify playlist holding my favorites. I’m not sure I’ve done a great job giving myself enough reflection time on this trip, partially because some days have gone from sunrise to sunset.

The last 11 days have certainly held some of the most unique experiences of my life. Despite not all those experiences spawning from good reasons or positive moments, they’re all obviously important. They’ve helped highlight key differences between culture here and what I’m used to.

I was never expecting to meet a man like Rogers O’Can. One of thousands of roadside plots of land, the place where Rogers and his family resides looks no different than any of the others we’ve passed all over the country. Yet, this man was personally displaced from his own home for a few days some years back by Kony. Kony was a menacing and terrorizing figure eventually recognized over much of the world, and I was here standing where he was before. Rogers mentioned it only in passing, as Kony was less of a news figurehead like he was for us, and much more real for the people actually dealing with it in the area.

There was also the killing one of Museveni’s most well-known supporters and war kernel. The news broke late at night as about half of us remained in the main cafe area of the center we were staying at. Ugandans gathered around the TV as the live coverage showed the crime scene and reviewed what details were known. The next morning, nothing more was heard about it. I reviewed newspapers a couple days later at one of our stops, and could hardly find anything on the matter. As Herbert said, “the people will quickly move on as if nothing happened.” It’s business as usual.

I started to consider what these two events would have been like had they happened on US soil. There would be an obvious frantic response to the killing of any political head, news coverage and debate raging on for weeks as the public continued to follow the slow-coming details. Someone like Kony’s trail would’ve likely been well-documented and shared, perhaps with people coming to visit where he had been.

Ultimately, my point is that there’s a large gap between how our society, compared to ones like Uganda, handle events that we would consider shocking. I suppose that’s what happens when the people are forced to deal with them much more often.

Bullets

(I am posting two blogs at once because I have been a bit behind on blogging. Sorry mom, dad and Kaeli … there is A LOT to take in here!)

(6/13/18)

John discouraged me from posting a blog post with bullet points because “it makes you seem illiterate”. I do not know whether or not that is true, but, here I go anyways. It’s Africa, man.

Things I have done in Uganda that I have not done before:

  • Eaten a fish eye
  • Traveled to a developing country
  • Enjoyed (many) Nile Specials (Uganda’s best beer)
  • Met UNHCR officials
  • Slept under a mosquito net
  • Seen the Milky Way and Southern Cross in the night sky, perfectly
  • Ride a ferry on the Nile
  • Eaten A LOT of chapati
  • Driven on dirt roads that should have destroyed our 20-passenger bus (thanks to Sam-Wheel-Drive)
  • Felt accustomed to “Africa time”
  • Brushed my teeth with water solely from water bottles

Things I have done in Uganda that I have done before:

  • Reflected on long, beautiful, bus rides
  • Immersed myself in a new culture
  • Felt uncomfortable and questioned my motivations
  • Cried
  • Felt hopeless
  • Felt hopeful
  • Felt guilty about my privilege
  • Missed my family
  • Traveled with people I, initially, did not know very well (and haven’t regretted it once)

Things I hope to do during my remaining time in Uganda:

  • Shake more hands
  • Make more eye contact
  • Play the game “Mafia”
  • Listen to more stories
  • Tell more stories
  • Cry
  • Feel hopeful
Our beautiful, kind of scary, ferry ride on the Nile!

Peace n’ blessings!

An Ode To Crows

Crows are not exactly something that comes to mind when a person things of a place like Uganda. Nevertheless, these iconic birds are in fact everwhere on the African subcontinent. With their glistening black feathers and dirty white chests, these birds are unmistakably present across the whole of Uganda – from Kampala to Adjumani and everywhere in between. You might be wondering why I would be writing a blog post about crows. Well, let me tell you a short story that should clear things up for you.

Yesterday, after recording a backpack journalism record eight interviews and endless hours of B-roll footage at St. Mary’s Assumption Girls Secondary School the exhausted group of nine students and three professors set off for one more interview with a local journalist named Sharon. The intrepid group had tried to interview Sharon the day before, but a rain storm stopped the interview short of completion. As a result, the group decided to try and finish up Sharon’s interview the next day if there was a bit of time after visiting the girl’s secondary school. Luckily, there was a bit of time and the group was able to interview Sharon.

Sharon works for a local radio station on the grounds of the Adjumani District Office of the Prime Minister. Apart from being a government office compound, this particular location was actually a popular gathering place for a large murder of crows. However, Carol informed us that this was in fact not a murder of crows, but rather a large plethora of them. Then, for some odd reason, she went off on a tangent about her love for the word plethora and how she felt as though this word simply wasn’t being used often enough. Irregardless, Tim felt as though this word was overused and asked Carol why she loved it so much. Undeterred by Tim’s pessimism, Carol declared that henceforth the word plethora should thus be used with greater frequency.

Anyhow, back to the crows. As the group set up for the interview the only sound that could be heard was the shrill cry of the crow. The crows droned on and on with a sound so repulsive that  each and every member of the group cringed in unison. In order to get rid of the pesky crows, the group of students and professors decided to send their humble guide Herbert to deal with them. Herbert decided that it would be a good idea to try and fling large stones at the crows perched high upon a radio tower in the Office of the Prime Minister’s compound. Instead of scaring away any of the crows, Herbert instead made the entire group laugh with his unconventional throwing style. After a while, Tim decided that he would try and help Herbert to scare away the crows. He had about as much success scaring away the crows as Herbert did.

With no choice but to record the interview with Sharon, the group was forced to proceed in spite of the horrific shrill cry of the crows.  Each cry of the crows caused more and more pain to the intrepid group trying so desperately to interview Sharon. Without much luck, the group proceeded to interview Sharon and hopefully recorded some footage that was salvageable amongst the shrill  crys of the African crows.

To the Crows I have the following to say, “shut up!” Nobody wants to hear your shrill cry echoing across the Ugandan landscape. Seriously, try being quiet for a change. It might actually make you a more likable species of bird.

This blog post goes out to Ben who thought it impossible that I could write one about our group’s favorite species of bird. I would also like to dedicate this post to Carol. I think she’ll find that all of her favorite words were used in it.

m

Thatch Roofed Houses

The smallest things can sometimes have the biggest impact on a person. I feel as though this is especially true here in Uganda. For me, there is no more poignant example of this than the thatch-roofed houses that cover every free inch of space not taken up by farmland in rural Uganda.

The thatch-roofed houses of rural Uganda are little more than mud huts covered by thick roofs of dried elephant grass. There is very little to these homes and almost nothing that differentiates one of them from the many others that dot the countryside. The floors of these homes are dirt and there are hardly any pieces of furniture or other interior decorations inside. To me, as a person used to the comforts of the new world it is absolutely insane that anyone person would be able live inside of those huts

After visiting a Jesuit school in Ocer County, Gulu, I had the opportunity to visit a family who was living inside a settlement of these thatched-roof opinions. Contrary to popular opinion amonst our group, the family of Roger Ocan who were living inside of this thatched-roofed hoisin complex was incredibly joyful and more than happy to share our home with us. They spoke of the traditional and emotional impact of the thatched-roof houses in their Achlor culture. This experience completely changed my negative viewpoint of the thatched-roof houses. Instead of being just meager abodes, these houses have a cultural significance that adds to the rich beauty of Uganda. Now, when I see a thatched-roof house, I cannot help but smile and think of the beautiful cultural connection that they have to the Achlor