After finishing up our last interview of the backpack journalism trip at Radio Pacis in Arua, the absolutely exhausted film team of students and professors headed out to Murchison Falls National Park for two much needed days of rest and relaxation. After a long morning drive, we finally arrived at the gates of Uganda’s largest national park. The natural beauty and biodiversity of the park was mind boggling. On the drive to our lodge we had the pleasure of seeing giraffes, Cape buffalo, several species of gazelle, and a seemingly unending supply of colorful birds. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen that many different types of animals in such a short time period in my life.
A few hours later, after crossing the Nile River on a ferry, we finally made it to the lodge where we would be staying for the next two days and nights. The lodge was amazing. It was set up to look like a collection of the thatch-roofed huts that dot the Ugandan country side. However, unlike the real huts, the ones at the lodge were nothing short of luxury. Despite all of the luxury around me, something just felt off. It was as though an uneasy feeling was beginning to settle down upon me. This is the opposite of how I expected myself to react to being at a luxurious hotel/lodge inside of a national park.
I wasn’t really able to make sense of the uneasy feeling that had settled upon me until I noticed the various other tourists who were staying at the luxurious lodge with us. This was the first time in close to three weeks that I had the opportunity to see non-African people who weren’t priests or missionaries. The experience was incredibly surreal. These tourists were from all over Europe and the United States and looked incredibly out of place. They were dressed in a mixture of expensive outdoor gear and long flowing dresses with colorful patterns. This was quite the contrast to what I had seen for the past three weeks interacting with ordinary Ugandans and South Sudanese refugees – many of whom could barely afford the clothes on their backs. This was a bit of a harsh reality check that showed the true levels of inequality that can exist within just one single country.
We proceeded to go on an afternoon Safari shortly after settling into the lodge. Obviously, I was excited to see more of the breathtaking wildlife that Murchison Falls had to offer However, this excitement was somewhat toned down by the uneasy feeling I was experiencing. As we rode along the safari trails and saw everything from lions to elephants I could not help but feel a sense of minor depression settling into my mind. All I could think of was the incredibly inequality and lack of justice that I had witnessed in Uganda. How on earth is it fair and just that I am able to enjoy the breathtaking beauty and luxury of Murchison Falls while only a few kilometers away people lived in poverty. Something just wasn’t right with that picture.
Today, we had the opportunity to hike up Murchison Falls and witness the true natural beauty and power of the Nile River in Uganda. The experience was absolutely incredible. While hiking up the falls, I thought about everything that had happened since arriving in Uganda almost three weeks ago. I thought about the strange bathroom situations, mosquito nets, interviews, and most importantly my human interaction with refugees. The realization that my time in this country was drawing to a close hit me like a truck midway through the hike. I was flooded with emotion. What if the film isn’t as good as we were hoping? What if the film doesn’t make any impact on the lives of the refugees? After a deep breath and a short off topic conversation with our guide Herbert, I realized that all of these thoughts were about something out of my control. All I can do is hope and pray that my hard work makes a positive and lasting impact on the lives of the refugees in Uganda. Yet, this feels incredibly insufficient. Something just doesn’t seem right…