Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Every other summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals across the United States. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora.
The next project is scheduled for the summer of 2020 and will focus on deforestation in Eastern Africa.
A non-traditional student, father of nine and proud poppa of six, from the Mid-West. Brick is currently a senior at Creighton University and a recently published author of "Whats in a Word."
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Final thoughts as we come to the end of our journey together. Just like my experience of returning to school, I am not sure that I have had any great AH HA life changing moments from my time in Africa or with the process of creating the film, yet. A common phrase that began in the 1500’s says “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks,” I just haven’t gotten there. I am certain that at some point something will click and my life will be forever changed but until then I will continue to go on with my life similarly to before I left.
Some of the best moments, for me, were the boat ride on the Nile and conversing with Penny, being able to explore a new place and getting to know the others in the group. Early on I blogged about looking forward to good, bad and neutral and I am happy to report that the experience was overall good or neutral. If I had to change something about the trip, not feeling ill would be it. Also, finding a way to consume food other than rice, beans and chips (fries) would be idea and having hot water to shower would have been awesome but the reality is that is life there. So, my complaints are no more than being of a privileged class.
I went on this trip without expectations and a very narrow understanding of life outside of America. Even if I tried, having never been outside the USA before, I never would have expected Africa to be what it is. I spent time sketching because I was unable to form complete thoughts and even now that I have returned, although I can form complete thoughts, the information is still very jumbled and am unable to make sense of it. I know Creighton University has set requirements to keep students safe while traveling abroad but I still would love to climb on the structure that was being built across from the hotel we stayed at in Kampala or walk through the markets. Why? Because exploring helps me make sense of things.
I was surprised by several things. The way people live with the land. The number of things being sold on the streets, both because of the way they were being sold and because of the mass amount of items that were clearly imported. The lack of recognizable brands. The difference in advertising. The personalities of the people we encountered and the list goes on. I am uncertain that my brain shut off while we were there, constantly thinking and trying to make sense of where I was and what was going on around me.
I found myself at peace observing those around me, watching people interact with each other and the obvious love and compassion for others. There was something about Africa that speaks to me, even though I am not sure what it is telling me. I may not have my thoughts all together or a plan for the future of what to do with what I learned but I have a wonderful group of people that I can call on when I begin to figure it out. I found happiness in the moments spent with others and have combined their sketches as a way to close my adventures to Africa. The trip may be over but the friendships will always be there.
The time is coming to a close and I feel like I have neglected the end of the process, between not feeling well and home life consuming my attention. I am bummed out that I have been unable to spend time working on the film because the part I was looking forward to the most about this experience was the assembly of the film. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited about going to Africa and the experience there was absolutely amazing but I have been interested in editing a major film for almost the same amount of time that the other students on this project have been alive. For me, this was a big step towards that dream.
I am very thankful that I have been able to be a part of this experience. I know that those who study aboard is a small portion, only 10% of US graduates, and I am certain that the percentage of non-traditional age students studying abroad is much, much smaller. For me, the meaning of being on the home stretch is loaded and I greatly appreciate the understanding of John, Carol, and Tim.
Africa was an experience left better described in images because words are unable to describe the feelings that soar through you as you’re there. For me, images speak louder than words because it is left more open for the individual to interpret what is going on.
As you can see from just a handful of images, Africa is a beautiful place where in comparison people live a hard life. I traveled with a great group of people, even though I often felt that I had brought all my children with me, we had fun and learned a lot.
I would highly recommend the FLPA program to other non-traditional students. I understand that making the arrangements to attend can be a real struggle. Speaking from experience the return home and getting everything to fall back into place is just as challenging if not more challenging, but what is gained from the experience more than makes it worth it.
It feels like I never left, I need a vacation, sigh. The complexity of life has already hit full force and the memories of the trip seem like they are from a distant past. Short of feeling sick still from the trip, it feels like visiting Africa happened months ago. Summer break is coming…right?
Being back is bittersweet. On one side, I am thrilled to have a hot shower and a variety in my diet. I am most pleased to spend time with my lovely partner again, I missed her. On the other hand, I miss Africa. I miss the simplicity of it, the sounds and the smells.The experience was amazing. It opened my eyes and gave me a whole new understanding of the world in which I live. I encountered so many new things, especially the first couple of days that we were there, it left me unable to really form a complete thought to express it in words. Even now, trying to describe my experience, I am at a loss for words. I don’t know where to begin or end when telling others about my trip. The easiest way would be to start at the beginning and walk someone through day by day, but beyond the length of time that would take, there is no way to describe everything I took away from Africa.
The best way to describe my experience is wrapped up in my sketches. They are simple moments loaded with meanings. From the excitement of looking out the plane window, building new relationships, exploring the landscape, and simple pleasures in life, to the dark moments of life and death in the stories we heard during the interviews and the observation of a cat playing with a dead mouse.
Now that we are back, it is time to take those experiences and make a short documentary as a group to tell the stories of not just our experience in Africa but to share the stories of those who live there. It is time to get back to the grind of everyday life, but taking with us these amazing experiences to help shape our lives and others into a more positive environment.
One of the most frequent questions I have as I explore Africa is how does an outsider help without losing the African culture and way of life? I feel like the ways we try to help often does not work with the current culture but rather tries to implement our understandings and lifestyle into Africa. Desire for education, health care and proper nutrition are expressed by those we meet. The assistance we are able to offer through organizations like Jesuit Refugee Services are a wonderful thing for those who benefit from them. My concern is in the process to help we will eventually lose the fundamentals of Africa living much like we have lost America.
There is something to be said about the simplicity of living with nature. Africa is a beautiful place, not only in the landscape but in the people. People here understand the need to help each other and build each other up rather than tearing one another down. They look after each other. In my own life, I try to live this way and am often met with resistance. I have been told it is strange and seems weird. The few who stick around, working past the culture teachings and begin to incorporate it into their own lives have said they are blessed to be part of such a great group of people. It is hard to live in harmony with others in America to the degree Africans do. We often hear of the political struggles and negative agendas in Africa but the hearts of most here are pure.
Life in Africa is hard and I can easily see why many Americans would not be able to appreciate the way of life here. As a child, I was told that Life is what you make it. As I’ve grown older, I have came to appreciate this most hated childhood phrase. I grew up in a small community, a low income family and before internet. My needs were always met but I had to really work for my wants, while others around me seemed to have it all. I gained skills and my values from this are reflected in who I am today. It saddens me to see generations growing up without basic survival skills. I’ve always wanted more out of life, but I have found the things I want are much different than most. Even I look at Africa and am blown away by the very loaded Life is what you make of it phrase. I regularly have seen people sweeping dirt outside. It’s just a dirt patch to us but to them it may be their hallway, lounge area or other place we would expect to be nicely kept. These people who have so little from an American mindset, really have more than most Americans could comprehend.
I feel like some where between America and African culture lies a perfect balance but both are in need of help. America has the wealth to provide necessities to Africans but Africans could teach Americans the value of life. I remain conflicted by the question: how do outsiders help Africa without losing Africa? Why do we assume our way of life is better? Just because it is easier? When was the last time you took the time to really listen to someone in a lower social class or a minority? How well do you really understand their struggle? The reality is we need Africa to help us just as much if not more than Africa needs us to help them.
As a graphic design major who favors working with typography, it intrigues me and at the same time pains me to look at all the signs in Africa. Advertisements in Africa are a great example of all things students in the United States are taught not to do. Having inquired about the way signs are designed in Africa, I can tell you that there are no laws or rules people follow. There are no standards that are deemed more acceptable than others and each advertisement is subjected to the creator’s own judgment. My personal struggle is trying to process all or most of the information on any given sign while driving. Frequently signs are loaded with typography. Few have images and most are hand painted, which can add to the complications of reading them.
Penny, a freelance artist in Kampala, told me finding work in Africa as an artist is fairly easy, which contradicted KizAza, a refugee artist who raps. Whether the type of art they do makes a difference in their ability to find work, I do not know. Penny added a sketch in my notebook as we floated down the Nile River and talked about art; it was one of the best parts of the trip for me. We discussed the typography of signs in Africa, which she is accustomed to and found my views on them interesting.
Even in the ways we create our signs, it says a lot about our culture. The USA is much faster paced, people are more direct and there is less acceptance of others. Where in Africa, it took us two hours to drive two miles during rush hour traffic, people spoke in multiple sentences rather than answering in a few words and everyone greeted us and made us feel at home. The first thing on the agenda in Africa when you go to a new place, the host(s) make sure everyone has a chair. On multiple occasions, it took longer for the host(s) to locate a chair for everyone in the group than the time we spent sitting in them. From my experience in America, if you hang out long enough, someone might offer you a chair eventually.
I felt slightly flattered yet terrified when Stanley greeted us at the UNHCR office and caused several nervous laughs when he commented that I should be detained because I was a graphic design major and they needed me there. I honestly, do not know where I would even begin with designing in Africa, with a background in design with rules and guidelines firmly embedded into my thought process. I would have an open table to create how I chose but that can also open up a whole different set of issues. I have to say, I have given some serious thought to the idea of being an artist in Africa before Stanley made his comment…I just don’t believe that it would be the best choice for me.
Andrew confirmed my thoughts last night, when we were discussing what I should blog about next. He said I should blog about being the dad of the group and how I have to explain my jokes to these young Creighton students. Explaining what it meant when I said “a little birdy just flew over your head”…I guess now separates generations.
Perhaps I am just old-fashioned. I know there are those in my age group that also have no understanding of some basic skills. However, watching them try to open a pocket knife and figuring out how to hand wash clothes have brought me some amusement.
Listening to conversations, I often hear variations of the games we would play in the car to kill time. Lizzy and Matthew were trying to see who could get the most people to wave at them on the way back from the school, adding new rules as they went to accumulate higher point values. Of course, I encouraged it when I defended Matthew that a wave from a baby should count more because he was on the opposite side of the bus.
Lizzy seems to be in the center of many playtime activities. Making some great friends and getting smiles as she goes. She is great with children. I hope she does not lose her ability to find joy in the simple things of life.
I am all for climbing the tower at the radio station, that would make some excellent establishing shot footage, or any of the half built buildings, petting animals and exploring slightly off the beaten path. Sadly Carol is there to reel it all back in, spoiling the fun. “Don’t pet it,” Don’t lick it,” and “No, Don’t climb it!” Seem to come from Carol frequently. I understand her position but I will remain relentless. Giving her a hard time that she doesn’t allow us to do anything.
With all the fun we have had, we have worked hard. This morning John gave us the morning off after filming a grueling nine interviews yesterday and B-roll. Although I have to explain my jokes, I have to give credit to this group of students. They work hard, make the best of any situation, desire to learn and are open to new experiences. Even eating fish eyes.
A week in Africa, already!?!?! It has been almost a week in Africa but a week from leaving the United States. We have heard of two tragic incidents from the Omaha area since we left. It makes me question the way we see death versus the way Africans see death. Driving through Kampala, there are store stands where they are selling different size coffins. Death is so common place for them and so taboo for us.
Sketching and writing in my journal has provided me a way to process some very deep questions. I do not have answers for them but I have definitely considered things through a different lens. I’m uncertain if the question I opened this blog with is even appropriate to be discussing due to the strong connection some on the trip have with the incidents. Yet, everything I have personally journaled about provokes these deep questions that will likely offend someone. This is not my intention, but the way I am processing the immense amount of information that I have been receiving by watching the foreignarea around me.
I can see some of my thoughts through my sketches, although because of the sensitive nature of the thoughts, I will leave them here for you to perhaps form your own questions. The first is people from the plane ride. My thoughts were around a topic I have a love/hate relationship with, technology.
The second is a cat that was entertained by a mouse it had caught. My thoughts were based around life, death and how we relate to each other.
The last one is my view from the hotel room in Kampala. I could hear a rooster crowing, dogs barking, birds singing, and city noises of individuals beginning their day. It was very surreal standing on the balcony for me. If there was a thought about life and the way we live it out, I am certain I had considered it on some level.
I am enjoying Africa, a lot! It is abeautiful place with beautiful people. It has opened my eyes in a way that I do not know how to express to others and leaves me with questions I can not answer. The biggest questions I have are: How do we help others when our own lives need work? How do Americans make a difference without removing the beauty from other cultures? Are Americans correct in believing in a utopia where equality prevails or should life be more about appreciation of the time here regardless of the situation?
Africa. What can I say to summarize the feelings and thoughts I have had since arriving? Itis very different. I am thankful that I decided to bring a journal and sketch book with me to get things down as the days progress. It has been fun looking back at the sketches already, I am sure that it will become my most treasured sketchbook. Two of my favorite sketches thus far are of Andrew drinking a Nile Special as we waited for lunch in Gaba and the room we ate our breakfast in the first morning here in Entebbe.
There are so many differences. I appreciate the conversations Zach and I have had; he has helped meprocess the things in my head. The first day here, mentally things were running so quickly that I was unable to process a complete thought. It was simple words and fragments in my mind, let alone trying to be able to express them. Thanks Zach!
I am certain that this blog will appear to be all over in thought process as well. I apologize for that. I am still struggling to put thoughts together in a coherent manner. I have at least gotten past one or two word thoughts such as ‘so many’ and ‘earthly’ to form a complete sentence with them. To expand those thoughts, there are so many people on one boda boda (a motorcycle used the way we would use taxis), there are so many body bodas on the road, there are so many words on advertising signs, there are so many items in front of store fronts, and the list goes on. The thought ‘Earthly’ leads to thoughts from the colors of the buildings, the sounds, and how people are part of the environment and not controlling it.
Time seems to disappear quickly here. I am told it could be jet lag, but I honestly think it has more to do with the awe of the entire experience than the time zone difference. Even the two hour bus ride to travel two miles seems to fly by; why are others complaining? It is simple living here, peaceful and slow…I could get used to this. Although we live in America, the developed world, there is something to be said for Africa’s way of life. I have been told by many from the area, who have travelled to other countries, that the people of Africa are the happiest in the world. I would have to agree with that statement from what I have witnessed.
After a week of class, I am already exhausted and not feeling very well. Packing is slowly coming together and my brain is mush. I am super excited and a little nervous at the same time. Regardless, tomorrow will be here soon!
I look forward to the adventures of this trip. I believe that we have a great group going, with a combination of skills that will make it superb. Although most of the week has been serious business, there have been some definite highlights of fun. There have been a lot of information received this week from filming and shooting to theology and refugees in Uganda. I feel that I have a much better understanding of how the exposure triangle works on a camera and spent some time this past week shooting in manual mood. A first for me, even after the numerous photo and video courses I have taken.
I have a few concerns, most of them are not so much related to the trip, but more to my family while I am away. The biggest concern I have directly related to the trip is the process of getting there and back. I have only flown once and never out of the country. I am also in high hopes that I wake up feeling better tomorrow, feeling sick to my stomach is not the idea way to start this trip.
I am not sure that I have been inspired from any conversation that has taken place during this first week. Perhaps because for me, inspiration leads to doing something that I would not otherwise be doing.
I chose Backpack Journalism over traditional courses because I believe it offered experiences that are beyond the abilities of traditional learning and would enhance my life. I was attracted to backpack journalism because of the many things it had to offer. Some of the things that drew me into backpack journalism are gaining course credit while studying abroad, participating in the creation of a documentary from beginning to end with a group of individuals, experiencing another country, and adding to my current skill set. I learn best from hand on experience and cannot think of a better way to do that than through the participation of an actual project; the project location is an added bonus. I feel that graduating with ‘real world’ experience will help me in my future.
I am not entirely sure what I hope to gain from the experience. I assume that I will gain much more than I could possibly imagine at this point because I have never traveled outside of the United States. I am convinced that I will gain skills working with video, knowledge about the refugees in Uganda and a new perspective of the world. I have intentionally not considered what I want from the trip because I don’t know what to expect and I am more likely to embrace whatever happens by not having preconceived notions. I typically plan things out well in advance and this trip leaves me feeling like I am standing on the edge of a cliff. It is exciting and scary at times. I look forward to the experience: good, bad, and neutral.