All posts by Elizabeth Rudigier

Elizabeth Rudigier

About Elizabeth Rudigier

My name is Liz(zy) – your choice. My mom cannot stand the name Liz (which is odd since she named me), so I give the option as a courtesy for those of you who also have a particular dislike for the name. I am from Stilwell, Kansas, and majoring in Medical Anthropology with minors in Spanish, Theology, and Journalism. Despite not lending itself to a tidy pre-professional track, I study such a hodge-podge hoping to better understand our shared human condition.

Friends

There are nine Creighton students in this trip’s program – enough for a baseball team. I think we’ve ended up somewhat like the bunch from “The Sandlot.” I can’t assign a character from the film to each program participant. But, we’ve spent our summer (at least part of it) in the dirt (of Uganda) spending each day out in the field (but not baseball field). We’ve formed a team (but not a baseball team) out of a ragtag bunch of individuals who would otherwise pass each other on the mall without any clue of our compatibility. And, just as a guy in the Sandlot was never replaced when he moved away, each member of this group is irreplaceable. 

 

My blogs have largely focused on my encounter with native Ugandans and South Sudanese refugees. But, this program and my experience would be incomplete without the Creighton students with whom I traveled across the world (and Nile). In the process, I’d say we’ve become pretty close. They are each wonderfully and beautifully quirky. And I want to share some of that quirk, so what follows is just a glimpse into their awesomeness: 

 

Ben plays Just Dance with his two younger brothers; their favorite song to dance to is some German song (I forgot the name). He is also prone to wandering in airports, especially if tempted with an ice cream shop (such as Coldstone) or a store with touristy apparel. 

 

Andrew prefers gummy bears to gummy worms. When he was younger, he put gummy bears in his ice cream so that they would harden and played with them as one would play with toys. He also loves crepes and can quote PBS Kid’s “Arthur.”

 

Jacob bottle feeds lambs and knows all the words to Childish Gambino’s “Sweatpants” (and a lot of other songs). He imitates the flight of a butterfly with surprising grace and fluidity. 

 

Zach carries around a Mexican flag in his backpack no matter where he goes. He is more observant of signs and billboards than any other person I have ever met. 

 

Matthew ruined a field trip to the zoo for his classmates when he told them that the elephant was circling with its head tilted due to mental instability caused by its captivity. He also plays Call of Duty with Denver Nuggets players. 

 

Izzy is a FANTASTIC writer and, as a kid, checked out 10 books (the maximum number you can check out) each week from her local library. She has a dark sense of humor revealed in her rizzles. 

 

Nat might be growing a parasitic worm in her stomach right now but loves that worm with all her heart (as with all things) despite the intestinal issues it causes. She can fall asleep ANYWHERE. 

 

Brick can make a tastier apple pie than me and is great at Go Fish and two-person solitaire. And although not great at soccer, the fact that he even tried makes him braver than I will ever be. 

 

Here’s to my new friends! 

 

Friends, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU and know that “I’ll be there for you (When the rain starts to pour)” (the Friends’ theme song) even if it pours as hard as it did in the middle of Sharon’s first interview. 

My Comfy Couch

To say and feel that we really belong to each other is much easier when living, playing, and working alongside those who are often excluded from that realm of belonging. The people we got to know in Uganda have lives beyond our temporary time together. And as I slouch on my so-comfy-that-it-works-as-well-as-AdvilPM couch to write this post, I’m distracted in just imagining how the people we met in Uganda spent the day.

I know none of them were on a couch as comfortable as mine, and I feel guilty about that. But I feel even more undeserving of how comfortable I feel in my townhouse. It is my home: a shelter from the storm or a shade-giving tree from the equatorial sun or even just a deep, overdue exhale after having been stuck on the inhale all day. Imagining their day without a home and its release to return to is just really sad. And, when I was there, I did my best to create a make-shift, albeit unstable, home within a conversation – a space for that exhale – because I think that a lot of people (myself included) are in a desperate search to find someone that makes them feel heard and listened to.

You see, sometimes I think the best we can do is meet the people in front of us as if they are ourselves. And I think that would work if everyone did that, but not all people do. I, for one, know I could do better.

And what do we do about those that are not cared for and met by the people around them? Well, we can put ourselves in front of them so that we can care for and meet them, and they can likewise care for and meet us. And some might say to let them care for themselves so as not to create a culture of dependence. But we, all of us, desperately and deeply need each other. So, these acts of meeting and caring are not one-way exchanges from giver to receiver but instead a mutual sharing in which we become more human in our recognized need to be with one another.

The problem is that the people I met in Uganda are no longer the people in front of me in Omaha. But, I am grateful for all that I learned and what was shared with me by them and can use that to better meet the people in front of me here.

All this is to say, I’m thinking about and miss the people we met in Uganda. And want nothing more than to be sharing in a life-giving conversation with them as we sip (that’s for you John) on drinks (Herbert’s Well 2.0) on my so-comfy-that-it-works-as-well-as-AdvilPM couch.

I think I’m going to nap on my couch now.

An Elephant’s Poop

Here’s the biggest takeaway from the driving tour at the safari park in Murichson Falls National Park:

Elephants eat the seeds in the orange fruits produced by palm trees. The elephants’ digestive tracks do not break down the seeds, so the seeds, fully intact, exit the elephants in their poop. The seeds in their poop grow to form more palm trees. In short, palm trees grow from elephant poop.

Our visit to Murchison Falls is a well-earned break after physically and mentally hard days of filming. A break like this gives time to both recharge and reflect.

Among many other things, we have talked to South Sudanese girls who are refugees studying at an all-girls boarding school in Uganda, interviewed a family fleeing from South Sudan at one of Uganda’s immigration centers that receives refugees as they cross the border, and filmed a large crowd of refugees at a food distribution center in a refugee settlement.

The bus (driven by Sam who should have his own Fast and Furious film because that’s just how great of a driver he is) takes us to all these places: the school, immigration center, and refugee settlements.

Without a working aux chord, the bus rides back to our living facilities give time to think – mixed in with good conversations and card games.

However, my thinking has largely just been the repetition of Father Frans van der Lugt’s 5-word response to suffering:

“Still, the world is good.”

I toss the quote over and over until I think I’ve convinced myself of its truth. At the places we’ve been, it’s really easy to find evidence that points to the contrary. Of which the most heartbreaking is expressionless eyes that have seen far too much of the bad.

But, we have to be willing to consider the possibility that within these landscapes of suffering there is hope for change that leads to something better.

And, as with the elephant’s poop that sprouts a palm tree, something that seems pretty shitty can give rise to something remarkable.

I say this not to romanticize hope at the dismissal of the atrocious conditions in which refugees are made to live. Even an ounce of hope in the face of such widespread hardship is radical.

But, if the world still is good, its goodness has to be reflected in its people. In an interview with Tom Shadyac, Desmond Tutu says what follows about such change that leads to something better:

“God says, ‘you know what, I don’t have anybody else except you.'”

So, it’s up to us.

And, here, I’ve found a sort of fuel in some of the most extraordinary people committed to this goodness in spite of a seemingly hopeless situation. They are exemplars of what it means to be selfless and compassionate.

So, we find ourselves in a safari park, and piles of elephant poop are everywhere.

Hope is knowing that from some of these piles comes palm trees. And that these palm trees will provide shade and respite to what passes underneath so that those that pass feel (even just temporarily) cared for.

A Princess in the Most Unlikely of Places

I grew up watching princess movies: Cinderella, Mulan, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, etc.

There is debate surrounding these films’ depictions of women as weak and dependent on the “heroics” of men. While a worthy debate, I am not here to argue about that.

Instead, I’m here to tell you about a princess I met today who differs from films’ portrayals.

As with most princesses, her dress distinguishes her from others. It was made with a white, fluffy material that had pink accents along its seams. But, the reddish dirt here has been kicked up and now cloaks this white material. And the fit isn’t quite right – a few sizes too big so that the straps repeatedly fall off her shoulders. And, because of overuse, there are rips on its skirt.

There is no doubt that she inadvertently knows (or is learning) how to walk like a princess. Movies depict princesses perfecting their walks by carrying a stack of balanced books on their heads. It is commonplace for women here to carry items (far more heavy and misshapen than a stack of books) on their heads over long distances.

And, despite being no older than six years old, she can already capture people’s attention with a certain energy about her that makes people want to follow. I first saw her across a circle of people playing frisbee. She joined in opposite the side where I was standing. I smiled at her, and she noticed so placed her hands over her giggling mouth. Not knowing what to do, I did the same. In response, she moved her hands to the side of her head, and I did the same. It became a game of copy cat in which I followed her lead.

After the frisbee circled around a few more times, she moved so that she was standing right next to me. And, it was my honor and privilege to toss her the frisbee, which was followed by a celebration (jazz hands) regardless of her catching the frisbee or not.

With the makings to be a princess, she lacks a crucial prerequisite: a country. A princess has to have a country to call home.

The devastating fact I have failed to mention is the setting of our meeting. We travelled to a border town that splits northern Uganda and southern South Sudan and visited an immigration center that receives fleeing South Sudanese refugees.

Our princess is a South Sudanese refugee girl seeking security and stability in Uganda.

Cinderella had Jacques and Gus. Mulan had Mushu and a lucky cricket. Snow White had seven dwarves. Ariel had Flounder and Skuttle.

Our princess deserves the same support that these Disney princesses had in the form of health services, food supplies, and education.

May we all be the sidekicks that refugees both need and deserve.

A (Not too) High Five Left Hanging

I interviewed five girls attending St. Mary’s Secondary School. St. Mary’s is an all-girls boarding school, and its student body includes both Ugandan and South Sudanese girls. Four of the five girls that I interviewed are South Sudanese refugees.

One of these interviewed was Sarah; she is a South Sudanese refugee, and her family lives in a refugee settlement. She returns to the settlement during three-weeks-long school breaks. When asked about her family, Sarah said something to this effect (we haven’t yet transcribed the interview, so I’m going off memory here):

When I clap, I cannot clap with only one hand. I am one hand. My family is my other hand. I need them to clap.

South Sudanese girls are at risk for early marriages as young as 13 years old. These girls are often seen as commodities to be traded for marriage dowries. Sharon, a journalist for Radio Salama who we also interviewed, described some parents as being excited when their daughter has her first menstrual period. This indicates that she is ready to marry, and her parents will soon receive more wealth in the form of a marriage dowry. I would imagine that this excitement and need for a dowry is only heightened by constrained resources amidst a conflict crisis.

So, what is a girl to do? She needs her family to clap, but her family sees her as a commodity.

Think of our American practice of a high-five as a sort of clap in which two hands hit to produce a clapping noise. The girl reaches out to her family with her hand held somewhere in the middle – not too high as she is well aware of her potential commodification but daring enough to reach out at all.

And, what usually happens?
She is, what we call, “left hanging” and unable to clap.

Her commodification prevails, and she is married at an age, that is for most of us, unthinkably young.

We clap at sporting events to cheer for our team. We clap to the beat of music to celebrate. We clap at the end of a performance to praise. We clap to get the attention of someone else.

Her inability to clap also means she is unable to cheer, celebrate, praise (and be praised), and, most of the time, even be heard.

Fortunately, Sarah was not left hanging. Her family supports her through their support of her education. With her education, she hopes to become a human rights lawyer who stands up for women’s rights.

“When you educate a girl, you educate a nation,” said a few interviewees. So that everyone clap together.

The Onlooker

Kampala is the most populated city in Uganda and, therefore, very crowded. This is painfully obvious during rush-hour traffic. And, to get to JRS Kampala from the hotel and back, we had to cross the city in this traffic, so we spent a lot of time on the bus.

These bus rides have been challenging for me. Last summer, I was a participant in Creighton’s Peru FLPA in which students live and study in the urban poverty of Lima. It is a service learning program, so we served at various service sites in the community. To get back from service sites and overnights with our host families, we took the public bus (M1). And, despite some surprised looks from other bus riders, it was a way to delve into the reality in which these Peruvians were made to live and an act of solidarity.

In Uganda, riding public transportation is not an option for us. We are hauling around large, expensive camera equipment and working under a time crunch to get all the footage we need to assemble a documentary film when we get back to Omaha. So, I get it. However, we still see public transportation on our route in addition to many other vehicles, motorcycles, bikes, people walking, and children selling stuff on the streets.

The ease and comfort of our commute compared to most residents of Kampala is unsettling for me. This is magnified by broken, wordless interactions across windowpanes as I make eye contact with riders on the vans used for public transport. These vans are usually packed as full as possible (and then some) and sit lower to the ground than the bus I ride. This creates a physical hierarchy in which I am situated higher than the bus riders using public transport and, therefore, looking down on them.

And the eye contact is pretty unbearable, but I will not let myself look away. Under the circumstances, looking – and gently smiling – is the only way (that I can think of) to recognize the fellow human being in the vehicle beside me and dignify their life as of equal worth and value to my own. And, as our respective vehicles chug along, I feel like an onlooker in a landscape of hardship and suffering from which I am undeservedly spared.

But, on a positive note, today I had my best interaction from the bus so far. We visited the home of a South Sudanese refugee named Lewi that we interviewed yesterday. After getting some establishing shots outside his home, I played soccer with his sons. We started with passing but quickly transitioned to headers. The goal was to get as many consecutive headers. Our highest was an impressive three headers! Before you judge our soccer skills, you should know that we played on a very slanted ground next to a brick wall with a toddler at our feet.

We left after getting B-roll, and, as we drove away, the family stood outside their home and waved goodbye. When Lewi’s son spotted me through the windowpane past Tim (sitting between me and the window), he stuck his chin out farther and grinned harder so that the rest of the skin on his face tightened. To see each other better, I had to duck under Tim’s waving arm, and he had to duck under his dad’s waving arm. I made a silly face at him, and he made a silly face back. And, in that moment, the glass of the windowpane seemingly dissolved so that it no longer was a barrier. And I was grateful for its opacity that allowed me to connect to my new friend a moment longer.

It’s no coincidence that my best interaction from the bus only happened after I left the bus and met (and played soccer with) the person on the other side of the windowpane.

A Penny’s Worth

Some people think that the penny should be taken out of circulation because of its low economic value.
In backpack journalism, we carry them around to tighten the screw that attaches the tripod’s plate to the camera (well, those of us who can handle pocket knives use them; however, I am definitely not one of those people).

Three young kids watched from a distance as we unloaded the bus at JRS Kampala. Unloading the camera equipment does not take all nine students, so I wandered over to where the kids were standing and crouched down so that I was at eye level with them. After handshakes and names, I wasn’t quite sure what else to do. Thinking about the materials I had that could provide any sort of entertainment I called Andrew over and asked if he had a penny. He did.

My initial idea was to flip the coin, but I didn’t get much of a reaction. And, metaphorically, that makes sense. Whether a flipped coin lands on heads or tails is simply a matter of chance. And these kids, having been born refugees, know all too well what the losing side of chance looks like.

So, I called an audible and switched the game. I put both my hands behind my back, placed the penny in one of my fisted hands, and put my fists in front of me. The kids guessed by pointing to the fist they thought held the penny. And not after long, the kids were hooked – excited when right, disappointed when wrong, and, regardless, eager for another chance to guess. Soon enough, the game caught the attention of a small gathering of kids all pointing to the fist of their choice.

The game didn’t last too much longer. I had to catch up with the group because we only had a limited amount of time at JRS to get B-roll before leaving for another site. But, for the five or so minutes that it lasted, the game provided the means for interaction that resulted in laughter (as, in my opinion, more interactions should).

So, for those of you who think that the penny if worthless, you might be right when it comes to economics but are wrong when it come to its utility beyond the market.

A Greeting

A message to my family: I am sorry for not updating you on my whereabouts; I made it safely to Uganda.

I carry a laminated Ignatian daily examen card – made by Creighton’s Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality – in my backpack. Saint Ignatius of Loyola designed these examens to be a daily reflection that recognizes God in our busy day. Its second section reads, “I walk through my day to notice the gifts I was offered.”

I don’t think there is such a thing as a tiny gift because even a seemingly tiny gift matters to the receiver, and the way Herbert has greeted me is a gift. Herbert is our local expert and guide; this trip would be impossible without him. Because he has lived here all his life, Herbert knows Ugandan culture and its practices. It is customary for Ugandans to greet each other with a handshake; however, this handshake differs from the one we are use in the United States. Herbert taught me this handshake on the first night when we landed in Entebbe.

These handshakes start the same way – with handshakers entering the shake at 180 degrees with the vertex as the point where your wrist and hand connect. While the American handshake ends after first contact (and some shaking that varies in intensity depending on the enthusiasm of the handshakers), the Ugandan handshake continues with a slight lift of the hand and a change in the angle of the wrist to roughlty 135 degrees so that the hands are in more of a “hugging” position. These two step are repeated to finish the handshake. I hope this makes some sense. If not, I’ll just show you when I get back.

The physical act of doing the hanshake correctly, albeit, looks cool but does not qualify Herbert’s greeting as a gift. It’s seeing Herbert with a big grin on the verge of a chuckle as we simultaneously reach out to begin the handhake (even with the low likelihood of it being executed perfectly) that is the actual gift because knowing that someone else is glad to see me brings about a sense of belonging. And, in being surrounded by the unfamiliarity of a new place and people, this sense of belonging feels all the more sacred.

May we all start to treat greetings as not a formality but a way to show each other that we are glad to be with one another.

I Am

Like any procrastinator, I weighed the brainpower necessary for (1) packing and (2) blogging, figured that packing would require less brainpower, and, therefore, packed while watching a film instead of writing my blog.

While tempted to watch all of season 3 of What’s New, Scooby Doo?, I instead watched a documentary film that my dad gave me called I Am.

In I Am, director Tom Shadyac asks each interviewee the following questions: What’s wrong with our world? What can we do about it?

G.K. Chesterton responded to the former in a letter that read, “Dear Sirs, I am,” and Shadyac uses this for not only the film’s title but also its ending narration:

“So now I ask one more question, what’s right with the world? Here’s to the hope that one day we can all answer the same way, ‘I am.’”

I leave the United States saying, “I am,” as meant by Chesterton in his letter with the hope of returning saying, “I am,” as meant by Shadyac in his ending narration.

In his interview with Shadyac, Desmond Tutu says, “the truth of who we are is that we are because we belong.” Mother Theresa made a similar diagnosis of society’s problems when she said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I am wrong when I see myself as separate from others and treat others as separate from me. I am wrong when I treat my neighbors (literally the house next door) as strangers. I am wrong when I limit my definition of neighbor merely to close geographic proximity.  I contribute to what is wrong with the world.

Anyone can recite phrases like those of Tutu and Mother Theresa. But, to allow the fundamental human interconnectedness that they celebrate seep into our everyday actions and show that we do, in fact, belong to each other proves to be much more difficult.

So, may the people I encounter in Uganda serve as a sort of fuel that lasts a lifetime – a fuel to be what is right for the world.

Your CU Backpack 2018 adventurers: [bottom row, left to right] Lizzy, Carol, Izzy, Natalie, Ben, [top row, left to right] Brick, Matthew, John, Andrew, Tim, Zach and Jacob.

Enough with the Sneering

My name is Liz(zy) – your choice. My mom cannot stand the name Liz (which is odd since she named me), so I give the option as a courtesy for those of you who also have a particular dislike for the name. I am from Stilwell, Kansas. I attend Creighton University and am majoring in Medical Anthropology with minors in Spanish, Theology, and Journalism. Despite not lending itself to a tidy pre-professional track, I study such a hodge-podge hoping to better understand our shared human condition.

It seems that our mutual acquaintance is backpack photojournalism. I can only guess what has brought you here:

  1. Concern: you are a loved one of a fellow participant trying to gauge the character of the people with whom he/she will be traveling
  2. Curiosity: you are a prospective participant deciding if this program is for you
  3. Obligation: you are a member of my immediate family, and reading this blog feels like a requirement (and perhaps burden) after my persistent badgering

With more certainty than a guess, I can tell you what brought me here. Between finishing final exams and starting boot camp, I read Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen and A Nun on the Bus by Sister Simone Campbell. I draw from both to explain.

“When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to people, or just real animals, there’s a very real danger that you might end up loving some of them. And who knows what might happen to you then?” (Franzen 2012, 14)

After reading this, I said to myself, “that’s it – enough with the sneering, Liz.” This response was reassurance that my intuition in enrolling in this program was not just a spontaneous oversight. Franzen suggests we personalize the world’s problems by putting ourselves in real relation to people. “A bottomless empathy” and “the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real are you are” (Franzen 2012, 9) mark such a relation. This kind of relation and its resulting love might not be entirely possible given our time constraints in Uganda but, nevertheless, will be pursued. I live for these real conversations with people in these real relations as sacred, shared spaces of creation. A creation that can, and hopefully will, “open our hearts to our better selves” (Campbell 2014).