Tag Archives: uganda

Have a Carrot: A Profile of Alison Prater

(Title inspired by: The Runaway Bunny)

As a Political Science major at Creighton, 22-year-old Alison Prater came into her trip to Uganda with general knowledge of the basic political and social structures of the country. Prior to her departure, Alison also began to read books describing the sociological and political structures in Uganda as well as personal accounts of living among the people. Her knowledge deepened and her perspective changed as she met the people and experienced the culture.

The two-week program in Backpack Journalism, immersed the students within the Ugandan culture while simultaneously creating a short documentary film about the role of music within the culture. Alison had never been to the developing world nor was she familiar with camera equipment, but she welcomed a new challenge and approached the trip with an eagerness to learn.

“The amount of sincerity from the people was overwhelming.” Most places give you some sort of greeting when you arrive, but she said she had never received this kind of welcome. Even thousands of miles away from her home, she felt at ease.

During her two weeks, she learned how to separate what truly matters in her life which she believes comes with any kind of travelling.

“You can live off the people around you. It doesn’t have to be about degrees, majors, or money.”

It was not easy to balance making sense out of the injustices around her while also keeping up with her personal thoughts. She did not let this affect her ability to actively participate in her role as an interviewer for the film project.

She said she struggled to remain focused sometimes, but she remained patient and asked for help when she needed it.

“It was difficult, but it brought me closer to the subject matter.”

Her greatest challenge during the trip was dealing with emotions in a foreign place. “Every single coping mechanism you usually have is ripped out from under you.” She struggled to process the immense desperation and suffering around her.

“You can’t cry. It’s not an option because you have to look at it.”

She realized there were times when she could pretend that whatever was happening around her was not real. However, she was quickly reminded of the reality of the situation when she saw children wearing Green Bay Packers or Jonas Brother shirts.

“It was connected to my world directly and that made me sad.”

In addition to being exposed to new and often heart breaking sights, Alison faced the challenge of sharing it all through the class blogs.

“For the first time in my life, I was speechless.” Her journal became more of a list of events than a descriptive narrative. She said it was hard to find the words when her mind was still trying to make sense out of everything that had happened.

“It was jarring.”

Although it was overwhelming at times, she said it was refreshing to be able to experience such a range of emotions. Her emotions in the United States typically focus upon stress or anxiety, yet in Uganda she experienced “pure solid emotions.”

“I never knew I could experience that many feelings in one day, one hour, one minute.”

Her time spent at the top of Murchison Falls inspired what she called “pure happiness.” As she and her fellow classmates ran around the slippery rocks with their expensive cameras, warm light spread across the sky and it began to rain. She suppressed her urge to jump in the water, but the impact of the power of her surroundings remained.

She said her time in Uganda is something to keep learning from and working from..

“Africa changes people. No one comes out entirely different, but no one comes out entirely the same.”

What I learned about journalism, theology, the world and me

The things I learned are too numerous to offer a complete list. My teachers in middle and high school always discouraged using the word “things,” it shows a lack of creativity and specificity. But I cannot anchor down what I learned with one description. Below is a highlight of those “things” in no particular order.

– The world is a small place and getting smaller. Distance is becoming a harder excuse to use for ignorance and indifference.

– Journalism should tell the stories that need to be told with an aim at the truth.

– The people who went on the trip are amazing individuals.

Part of the class with Murchison Falls in the distance

– Theology should be more evident in every day discussion. It also should be more apparent in worship.

– Answers are not always the most important part of the question.

– It was reinforced in my mind that the world, both nature and mankind, are worth fighting for and loving.

– Real truth comes in helping others.

– Communication is not just verbal language.

– You do not need to speak the same language to make friendships.

Local Lira children and Creighton students spending time together. Picture taken by Alison Prater.

– Journalism serves the world. The world does not serve journalism.

– Theology is not just and ideology for the spirit. It is an ideology that can manifest itself in all parts of life.

– You are never too old to be a child. You are never too young or wise to listen to someone older than you.

– Truth and reality come from experience.

– Journalism is not just for those who write the newspaper.

– The rich want to be more like the poor and the poor want to be more like the rich. Those who are busy with work want more time for themselves while those who have the time for themselves and no work want to be busy with a job.

– I learned again that we are never done learning. The day I stop learning is the day I stop living.

Thank you to the people of Uganda and my classmates who taught me so much.

Kindling

This blog starts a series of several blogs that have been in the making since my last days at Uganda. For some time, I was unsure how to finish each of them. This lack of finality was coincident with my inability to find answers to some of the questions that were raised during the transition from Uganda back to Omaha. While I personally believe I have not found the right answers to these questions, I think I am ok with the uncertainty.

While I will not chronicle each one of these issues, nor offer any conclusions of lasting permanence, I hope to illuminate some of the issues in the next couple of blogs.

I can add though with conviction that unlike the page in which I type up this post now, life is never just black and white. Going to Uganda may have started as a search for these black and white answers, but it ended as a search for the right questions. Limiting myself to black and white answers is like seeing a person for the color of their skin. It is a view that lacks truth and substance.

And so while I finally add the endings that these next several blogs have patiently waited for, I pray that I never find an ending for the search that Uganda helped reinforce. May this search for truth not seek closure but rather opportunities and more openings.

 

What is that contraption with two wheels? Oh, yeah, a bicycle.

Life in Uganda Post

Before this trip, I never knew how to ride a bike. Embarassing, yes, but since my uncle got hit by a car when he was learning as a child, my mom never bothered to teach me.

Yet, riding bicycles is a way of life in Uganda. Because transportation is so expensive for Ugandans because of fuel prices, people usually always walk or ride their bicycle to wherever they need to go.

It was a completely different change stepping into a culture that relies on walking and bicycles rather than using cars. Back home, if someone were to ride their bike along West Dodge Road they would be considered a crazy person.

But not in Uganda. Besides walking, people bike miles to get to the place they need to. Also, bicycles can be used as a great way to transport many things that would be rather difficult transporting by walking. Ugandans find ways that seem impossible to stack items on their bicycles that in the end are taller than the person riding the bike!

Many of those popular items mentioned above include bananas, wood, furniture, and clothing, and chickens.

Yes, chickens.

.For example , as we were driving along side of the road, there was a man that had strapped to his bike 8 chicken cages stuffed with the birds. Unfortunately, I was not able to grab a photo of it, but sights like that are truly a common way of the streets.

Coming from a person that just learned how to ride a bike, these people are pros, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that this is just one thing that Americans cannot execute as gracefully nor as efficiently as Ugandans.

A Memory Not Forgotten

Time is a funny thing. You can be in one place one moment, living a spectacular experience, and then you can be back into the same scenarios that you live every day.

Those unique experiences become memories, memories that are kept alive through   photos, sounds, and daydreams that occur throughout class.

It feels hard for me to believe that I did the things I did in Africa just less than a week ago. It feels hard for me to believe that I played soccer with kids from a village, worshipped the gift of new oxen and plows with a whole town, and that I stood on top of Murchison Falls in the middle of East Africa.

But besides the fact that I witnessed all those amazing things, there is one moment that happened that I can’t get out of my head since I’ve departed away from the country nicknamed “The Pearl of Africa.”

On one of the final days of our trip, a child came up to the opened window of the bus I was sitting in. She was wearing a tattered purple shirt and a skirt as brown as the dirt she was standing in. She came up to the bus and asked me for money.

And I didn’t give any to her.

It bothers me to think of my actions in that moment, and sometimes I try to validate why I did such a thing. But I can’t.

There are no words. It’s hard to put into words that to help her, I couldn’t give her any money. I think in order to understand, you would have to experience Africa yourself.

In fact, there are no words to so many things that I saw while I was in Uganda. Although there was so much beauty that the country holds, there is also so much poverty.So many things are given to these people from back home, and the references are everywhere. i

You want to help these people, you hate to see them suffer the way that they do, but in order to actually help them out of the struggles they live every day, you need to but in the time and talent to actually give them things that can be a lasting monetary value instead of a paper bill.

Giving money then not caring anymore isn’t always the right answer, but giving a damn at the end of the day is, even if you  don’t have anything to give.

I will never forget the girl outside of the bus. I will never forget her eyes. I will be sure never to forget the millions of other people like her. I promise that I will give a damn, for the sake of you living the life that you wish to live.

Cheers.

 

Jeepers, We’re on a Safari!

(Written June 19)  Today we are leaving Lira to take some needed relaxation within the boundaries of Murchison National Game Park, the largest national park in Uganda. From where we were in Lira, this massive landscape of a reserve is about a 4 hours drive.

So for four hours I sat on the bumpy thrill ride called the bus staring out into the window trying to take everything in, and I couldn’t help but notice how drastically the landscape changes from when we were still in Lira to where the Game park is located.

Lira is called home by some of the most poor, but yet most generous, people of Uganda.  Families live in huts made of mud and straw, children play with toys we consider trash, and the city landscape is made up of deteriorating metal. Although Lira is not textbook beautiful, it’s beauty lies within its people.

Seeing that the game park has no human inhabitants, however, it’s beauty lies within the bush. As we were driving, I could see lush plains filled with bright green trees and plants that are indigenous to only Africa itself.

Something else that is indigenous to the continent are the animals that we saw. Before we were able to actually enter the park itself, we were stopped at a security checkpoint. Most of us were half asleep, seeing that we had been stopped many times before by Ugandan police to have our bus checked for bombs ( fortunately for the police we left them all at home). Yet, this checkpoint was different. The bus started rolling again…

and BAM! There were at least 10 giraffes to the right of our bus. We had all expected to see animals but not that soon. A few kilometers went by and then we saw at least 4 giant elephants just hanging out about 40 yards away from the road. A few of them  had those Zazu-looking birds on them just like out of Lion King. It was so cool.

At the beginning of my Sophomore year, my Stats professor Dr. Ravi Nath showed us his pictures from when he brought his family and himself on a safari in the tip of Africa. He told us everyone should go. I never really thought that I would be folllowing his command so soon, to be honest.

But the funny thing is, I wasn’t even on the safari yet. That would officially happen 2 days from now.

Cheers.

Giraffes are even more amazing and even more taller than the ones at Henry Doorly Zoo.

Home Again, Home Again

It’s crazy to think that exactly a month ago, we were arriving in Kampala, dazed and exhausted from travelling across the globe. I’m getting on yet another plane tomorrow, except rather than going off to another daring adventure, I am returning home to Colorado. Not only will the less than two hour plane ride feel like fifteen minutes after spending such extensive amounts of time on planes, I will be coming home with a different mindset than I have ever had before.

Sure, I will still spend the flight glued to the window even though I’ve taken this flight on countless previous occasions; I will still notice all of the strange happenings that occur in airports; I will still be the girl who awkwardly smiles to herself when I witness two people reuniting; I am still living the same life I was before I left for Uganda. I hesitate to call these kinds of trips “life-changing” because what really in my life has changed?

I am lucky enough to remain a student at Creighton, my major has not changed (although Carol will be happy to know from now on any of my extra credits will be dedicated to Journalism courses), I work at the same job, eat the same food (except I’m still taking an indefinite break from bananas), and surround myself with the same people. My life did not change, but my perspectives and my attitudes did. I do not look at anything in quite the same way I did before, but I think that’s something that comes with experience, not necessarily from going to Africa.

I think it is important to remain level-headed in all of the future situations in which I will witness the ignorance of others when it comes to knowing how the rest of the world lives. Just because I went to Uganda does not make me a superior human being. I am a more knowledgeable person with a different set of priorities who, if anything, should be willing to share and talk about my experience with those people, to describe the culture, to enlighten them, and to bring them into my “home.”

If home truly is where your heart is, consider Uganda a new addition on my continuously increasing list of homes.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself. ” -Maya Angelou
Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

 

Trees

Whenever I think about myself in terms of what I know (or at least, what I assume I know), I always think of trees.

My Tree in Uganda

Trees are fascinating structures to me. Most trees have more than one branch, and from these branches there can sprout more branches, each as unique and complex as the last, and having its own ability to sprout mor branches. As these branches develop, they make the tree larger and more complex, continually growing upward with the sky as the limit.

One of my favorite topics in Computer Science had to deal with Binary Trees, and how we make use of systems in traversing trees. Since then, I have become fascinated with the conceptual understandings of trees, particularly in terms of knowledge.

When I think about knowledge, I imagine my mind as a series of branches each representing a topic or skill. Some are larger and more complex than others, some have other branches sprouting off from it, yet each branch and sub-tree contributes to the overall structure of my mind and how my mind processes all the complexities I view with my senses.

With the Backpack Journalism trip, I like to think I have grown a few branches while growing out branches I already had.

I learned about goodness.

Theology Branch: this was a branch that was already extremely well-developed having gone to Catholic school for most of my life, and from studying philosophical theologians such as Aquinas in various classes. This branch became stronger however, as I learned many things about good and evil while in Uganda. Throughout my time there, I was incredibly disturbed by the fact that there is so much evil in the world, that there is bloodshed, violence, starving children, torn families, and people struggling to survive. I was also incredibly excited by the good we saw there, by individuals like Father Franzelli, Mama Angelina, those involved with Radio Wa, and by the many stories of the people we met. Through our travels, I feel my theological branch is stronger because I understand things like God not in terms of armchair studying and boring discussion, but through the people at work in the world.

I learned about myself.

Journalism Branch: when I was in Uganda, I had a period where I seriously doubted myself as a journalist. I love journalism and the opportunity to hear and write the stories of extraordinary people. I doubted however, my ability as a journalist, and whether I was indeed a good writer, a good reporter, or even cut out for the cutthroat and relentless world of journalism. Through this self-doubt however, I found that it didn’t matter how good of a journalist I am at present, what matters is that I absolutely love the world of journalism. With that, I know that whatever gaps in knowledge I have at present can be filled because that love, that passion, fuels my desire to become a better journalist.

And I learned a couple other things too.

Technical Branch: this is a branch that actually sprouted a new branch, to push that tree metaphor as far as humanly possible. Specifically, I learned tons of new things about cameras, photography, video, and video production. These are skills that I enjoyed learning about, and I now think these will have to be a part of my future career in some way.

Mostly, I learned about life.

Life Branch: This is my fourth class where I’ve had to keep up a blog, and any of my teachers know that my last blog tends to be pretty flowery. So here goes: the life branch, which I imagine as the branch in one’s head that is an amalgam of one’s character, beliefs,  and personality characteristics, is the one that gives foundation to the entire tree. Without it, the branches cease to grow and the tree can not grow tall. The life branch is one that is the unshakeable will that is in every one of us, and the stronger the life branch is, the stronger one’s ability to grow tall. My own life branch grew in many ways during this course. I found myself challenged intellectually, personally, and in many other ways. There were moments where I saw things that were way outside of my understanding, things that I couldn’t even begin to describe now. These are things like personal strength, the ability to see past what is on the surface (like what I saw in Abia), the ability to recognize moments of pure goodness (like Radio Wa), the ability to understand the stories of others (like in Ave Maria).

In short, I have learned many things during these last five weeks. Some are things I did not want to learn, others are things I learned easily. Overall, I have gained an experience that I will never forget, never take for granted, an experience that has given my life shape and myself understanding. In my first blog I talked about how I see the world as one giant system made up of all the people, cultures, and ideas living within it. I think this experience has helped shaped my understanding of that colossal system, and how I plan to be a part of it.

Lessons from Uganda

I think I learned more about the world and theology than anything else on this trip. I’m already a journalism major so I had the whole blogging part down – ask Carol. To be honest, the theology part I was only really doing for credit, I didn’t expect that I would actually learn more by living through the experience while learning it.

When I envisioned this trip I thought I would learn more about shooting video by experiencing Uganda first-hand. Shooting video is kind of one of those things you have to learn by actually doing, not just reading a manual or a how-to book.

Theology is not my strong point by all means. Even in a normal class setting my attention span is limited. But in Uganda, learning theology made sense. And okay, maybe reading about the models of the church was a bit dull, but reading Katongole, discussing a new vision of the church in Africa and talking about the option for the poor and the “crucified people” definitely made more sense through experiencing Ugandan culture and lifestyle. I think I learned more in the sense that this is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life and not just something I get tested over and conveniently forget about.

Morning view from our hotel in Kampala

Souvenirs

Everybody knows when you come home from any kind of travel excursion, you bring back souvenirs. Little trinkets, T-shirts, keychains, flags, mugs, postcards, and magnets with the name of your destination typically return home with you. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing home these material things, I have quickly discovered my most important souvenirs from Uganda are not tangible objects.

I’m bringing back the gift of appreciation, and not just the please and thank you kind, a deeper and more fully understood appreciation. I have the opportunity to study and pursue my future career goals when thousands of children simply desire to attend school and receive an education. I drink clean water, eat more than sufficient amounts of food, and live underneath a sturdy roof in a comfortable house. I possess more material objects than I need and do not express my gratitude nearly as often I should.

I’m bringing back a new sense of strength in myself that had been buried in me for a while now. I witnessed the pain and struggling of people who in some ways are not so different from me at all. If they are able to wake up every day and live their lives to the best of their ability, so can I. The human spirit, the will not just to be alive but to live, is a powerful force and feeling that spirit from others reminded me I also needed to find it in myself.

Lastly, I’m bringing back the gift of experience. It is my responsibility to make sure these two weeks of my life do not stay in Uganda forever. Even though it may be uncomfortable or awkward, sharing the hard parts of the trip is just as important as raving about the landscape or seeing a leopard ten feet away from our bus. Sharing my experience with others also allows me to process lingering emotions or questions.

Yes, I bought plenty of physical reminders of Africa and the flag of Uganda will hang in my room for a very long time, but those aren’t the type of gifts I will cherish most.

Keep on keepin’ on,

Gabby

Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard