All posts by Joe Garnett

The Church Lady

A picture of the Lira Cathedral Choir doing work.

Okay. I’ve been threatened to keep this short, so here it goes. No promises, Carol.

(Written Sunday) Yesterday we went to Lira’s Catholic cathedral to shoot some film of their choir. The mixed 25-people strong Ugandan choir really put out the welcome for us. They were singing and had children dancing when we rolled to the joint in our light blue tourist trap of a bus. It was a very nice gesture, seeing like we were all exhausted from the day already.

And it hadn’t even reached 3:00 P.M. yet.

We couldn’t have been any more tired than the choir members that gave us such a warm welcome, however. They waited for us for an hour and a half before we actually arrived (oops). I guess this is kind of an example if how lax Ugandans are with their time.

In the choir there was this woman named Victoria. She was a tall lady, with striking eyes and her hair was fashioned in a short bob. I captured a few pictures of her when she was jamming out with the choir, but I guess I really didn’t need to with all things that happened (get to that soon).

After their performance, the whole choir wanted to get pictures of us with them, but for some reason Victoria especially wanted a  picture of just me and her. It was very unexpected, but very courteous of her. I ran into her again that night when a few of us went to a open air concert that night in downtown Lira.

She’s a very quiet lady but a very outspoken one at that. It turned out that she is quite the little chatterbox when she is not in the cathedral singing and praising Jesus.

The next day, the group and I were required to shoot some film during one of the masses that Sunday morning. As soon as a set up the camera for shooting, I noticed Victoria in the front row, sitting with the other members of the white-shirted choir. She waved hello and took her place for the duration of the mass

After mass had ended, she handed me a manila envelope with a letter and a picture of herself in it. It read:

Dear Joseph,

How are you dear? Hope you are fine. Back to me I am very fine and happy. It was so nice to meet such a nice man like you in my life.

Oh, Joseph! I pray that God should protect you in whatever you are doing and have a nice stay in Uganda. Let me hope we will still meet in the future.

I wish you a safe journey back to Creighton University. I hope to hear more from you, dear. May God bless you. Amen.

Yours Faithfully,

Akello Victoria.

Once I read the letter, I was very taken aback, to be honest. I had only meet this girl three times and she wrote me a letter and gave me a picture of her, so I wouldn’t forget her.

Heidi said to me that if this was The Bachelorette I would have been given the first impression rose.

All I can say is unexpected kindness isn’t that so unexpected after all while in Uganda.



A child I saw right before getting on the boat to go to the middle of the Nile. I forgot to snag a picture of Nicole before we left Lira, and I will be forever mad at myself because of that.

Since we’ve been in Lira, we’ve been staying in a hotel called the Farm View Country Resort. Nicknamed “The Haven Away From Home,” the grounds have many traditional straw and wood huts placed around the grounds, a huge western brick-built building (where we’re all staying) that caters to some of the western privileges we take advantage of back in the states (for example, warm water that comes out of a nozzle), and chickens and other animals galore that roam the premises on their own time.

Lately, the gang and I have been noticing giant lizards scurrying around the maroon cobblestone pavement (think of the bright yellow and orange lizards from Holes.)

Overall, I was pretty skeptical about the place at first. For some reason, it reminded me of one of the home fortresses that Hitler would have done his strategic planning in during WWII. From experience, however, I can say that the Farm View Country Resort has stayed true to its name: a home away from home.

The FVCR has been our club house for the past few days. No one else in staying in the hotel currently (something tells me not a lot of international guests come to the FVCR, let alone northern Uganda.) Besides us, however, there is a little girl named Nicole who calls this place home.


The Ugandan children are the most courteous children I’ve ever met: they wave to you with no promise that they are going to get a wave back, they hold your hand and walk with you to where you are going because they just want to be around you, and they even give you the food that they are eating (see Sara’s blog).

But not Nicole.

In many respects, this two year old girl reminds me of an American child. Compared to what all other children are wearing, she is always dressed in bright colored out fits and bold printed dresses, her hair is professionally braided with pink and white beads designed into it,  she constantly has a bottle filled with formula (or milk, both are equally expensive) in her hand (her family calls her chubby, not fat), and she loves to watch the Disney Channel with her grandmother.

When I first met her days ago, I asked her what her name was and how she was… and her response?

“WAAAAA!!!” (Running in the opposite direction.) And I thought I was good with kids.

In many ways, she could be considered a spoiled brat. But I don’t consider her that way.

She’s already been through so much that she can’t (and shouldn’t) understand.

Nicole’s father died in a tragic car accident years ago. Her mother has never really been in her life since she was born, and currently lives in Kampala 6 hours away. From what I understand, she doesn’t talk to Nicole. Unfortunately, stories like this aren’t that uncommon.

Regardless of her heartbreaking story, she’s still a hyper toddler that we all love (and sometimes hate).

It makes me think where Nicole would have ended up after her parents absences if it weren’t for Florence and John. They are Nicole’s grandparents (on her father’s side) and the owners of the hotel we are staying in. After her father died, Florence and John took Nicole in as their own: clothing her, feeding her, washing her, and most importantly,  loving her.

I look into Florence’s eyes at night. She looks tired, worn out from all the challenges and joys of raising yet another child. Florence has to be over 50, maybe 60. For Ugandan terms, she has lived a lifetime. Maybe two. I bet she’s seen many scenes in which she wishes she hadn’t. This should her time to relax…

But instead, she’s taking care of Nicole, because she loves her.

So far, we’ve visited two schools: Ave Maria Vocational School in Lira, and Abia Primary School in Abia, a poor rural region an hour outside of Lira. In both schools, the children have welcomed us with open arms. They have sang and danced and played music for us. In some instances, they have even given us the clothes off their backs.

Also, many of these children are orphaned, sick, or starving. Herbert says that maybe a third of the children at both schools are sick with either malaria or HIV. Maybe even both.

It’s hard for me to imagine where Nicole would be if it wasn’t for her loving grandparents. Would she have landed in a school like Ave Maria? Or a slum like Abia? Or, worst yet, on the streets alone?

Thank God Nicole is at our haven away from home with us.


Warning: Horcruxe Ahead

The isle on the Nile.

(Written 24 hours ago) Today we’re leaving Kampala to make the 90+ minute drive to Jinja, a village right off the shores of Lake Victoria and where the source of the Nile is supposed to be located.

I, fortunately enough, slept through the majority of the ride there, so I didn’t mind the drive.

In a way, however, I did miss one thing that Kampala had that was becoming less and less noticeable as we got further away from the city: the smell.

I wanted to talk about this sooner (because it lended to be such a huge first impression when we arrived here days ago.) Immediately since we landed, the main thing that all of us noticed was the smell of Africa. Truthfully, I didn’t like it all that much at first, but since we have left the city for more rural towns, it’s something that I miss. It has really grown on me…

What is that smell, you ask? I was trying to figure out that question since we arrived, but considering that I have been immersed in a chamber pot of the odor, I think I have figured it out. Think of the best bonfire you have ever been to. A bonfire that has tons of wood and flames that are as high in the sky. The air has a rich smoky smell so strong that you can almost taste it in your mouth. In general, that is the smell that I have been falling asleep and waking up to for the past few days. From what Herbert has told us, it makes sense, though. Most of the people here use wood and charcoal as their main sources of fuel.

Anyways, once we arrived to Jinja, I immediately knew that this village was fashioned for people that wanted to experience some of the luxuries of Uganda. Firstly, I knew this because that smell that bathed me day in and day out in Kampala was undetectable to my sniffer. At first, I was a little disappointed, but after walking into the resort and seeing an extravagant looking pool, I figured that it wouldn’t be bad to get a break from the city for a while.

We all walked through the ground to see a thick forest of green covering the grounds (one misconception of East Africa is that it looks as dry and barren as North Africa, which is the total opposite from the truth.  After eating a delicious meal of fried fish, curried vegetables with rice, and chicken, we all grabbed a photo of all of us in front of the lake and climbed into a wooden boat to take us out to source of the Nile. It was one of those boats that if you place one foot too left or too right from the center while standing, you could quite possibly be swimming with the fishes (or snakes. Allegedly there were a lot in the water where we were).

But I guess that didn’t bother the natives that were performing a mass baptism in the lake. I got a few shots of it so when we have better internet connection I’ll post them for you.

The boat ride to the source of the Nile was an experience. The best way to put it is by giving you yet an another example from Harry Potter. In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Harry accompanies Dumbledore to destroy one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, and in doing that, they take this boat out from the edge of an enchanted lake to the island in the center.

In a Bertie Bott’s bag, that’s basically what we did. The source of the Nile is about 5-10 minutes from the shore where we were, and it was accompanied with a quaint little island filled with a  gift shop (how authentic, right?) Our captain, Joseph, told us the history of how the point in the Nile where we were standing used to be a great waterfall. But after the natives built a dam there, it disappeared.

The gift shop had the same things as many of the other craft shops we visited earlier in the trip. I tried looking for Tom Riddles locket there, but couldn’t find it. The V-man must have hit it really well.

Despite our driver’s ability to speed down a congested street on the way back from the resort, I managed to get some pictures of what I saw. Fred may be a crazy good driver (emphasis on crazy), but I am crazier.


Irises and Barbed Wire

I’m sitting out on one of the decks of our hotel. There are lights in the skyline that leave a silhouette of the building in which they are supposed to illuminate. Beyonce’s “Halo” can be heard from the building neighboring us. Dogs are barking every few minutes in the yards nearby. Everything sounds so American from where I am currently….

Except it’s not. It’s Ugandan.

Just from the driving on the streets of Kampala foreigners can experience so much that the city has to offer. Life is completely different here compared to back home: foot traffic loosens the dirt sidewalks as vendors do their daily business from wood constructed shacks, babies carrying other younger family members on their back ( 50% of the Ugandan population is under 16 years), and hundreds of ladies can be seen throughout the day carrying a variety of woods, fruits, and other supplies on their heads. In some respects, some things that I have seen are straight out of a National Geographic special, or if not out of a Sarah McGlocklin commercials about dogs, substituting babies instead. If I were to write this yesterday I would have dedicated this whole post to everything I have seen so far that would have been  not far from the expected before entering the country.

But I’m going to try not to do that.

Instead, I want to talk about two specific things that I’ve noticed so far: barbed wire and eyes.

I know. Those are two completely different topics, and no, I’m not planning on tying them together in a big red, yellow, and black bow of extravagant thought. These are just observations so far. Work with me.

Buildings here come in all shapes and sizes: from the slum shacks I mentioned earlier, to the newly constructed shopping malls that can give Westroads a run for their money. Yet, something that buildings definitely don’t have at home are 10 feet walls with a plethora of sharp objects placed on top of them.

Barbed wire, broken beer bottles, metal spears. Take your pick.

Whatever the physical enchantment may be, each item placed there was meant to keep people out, which is funny, because the American definition of walls with sharp objects placed upon them are meant to keep people in.

I understand this is a developing nation. I understand that there is crime. I understand that there is heartache. I also understand that in some respects, these people are living to die, and in turn, dying to Iive. But, although I could read and write 1001 ways that tell me that these people aren’t happy or supposed to be happy with their lives, I have just as many smiles, laughter, and a sense of community that has brought people together.

Although there are more trying things in the Ugandan people’s lives than not, they do in fact have one things figured out that the American people and many other first world countries do not:  people’s happiness and community are important, not the bullshit that the media and our culture tells us we need to be happy.

Yet, I find something else interesting. When I look at the Ugandans people’s faces that say that they are blessed with what God has given them, their eyes say a completely different story. As we’ve been driving by the people on the streets in Kampala, I’ve been noticing more and more that there are more to the smiles and grins that I’ve seen on the exterior. There are more to the people of Uganda than what we initially see at first.

I’m interested to start talking to them and learning their stories, and finding out what exactly that “more” is…


Dutch Wizards in the Middle of the Sahara

Something that is starting to be a returning judgement in these first few hours here is the lack of space that people have here in Uganda. I mean, maybe it’s me   (because I’m 6’4 and I’m an easy 250 pounds) but I need my space. For the duration of our group’s traveling time, I was uncomfortable because of the lack of space on the flights ( do they seriously need to put another person in my lap to make that much more of a profit off me? Seriously?) Regardless of the negatives that occurred, (and the one and only negative of a crying baby, the trump cards of international flights, but multiplied by 4 on the annoyance factor) our first flight attendant, Wendy, made me crack up. She was this middle aged woman (around 30s-40s) with shaved golden brown hair and personality to last for days. Whenever she would come by I would forget how unlucky I was ( My seat’s personal DVD thing didn’t work but everyone else’s did)  just to give her a good banter back and forth.

That banter, however, was all too inexistent when we boarded our next flight on the Netherland’s KLM Airlines. The only way that I could possibly describe that experience is by using an example from Harry Potter. In the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, you that French girl’s school that comes to participate in the Tri-Wizard Cup? Beauxbatons? They were the sassy girls that walked through the Great Hall with the bright blue skirt suits and started blowing magical butterflies from their hands (If you don’t know what I’m talking about by now you need to watch the movie and read the book… at the same time.) These flight attendants were those women, except DUTCH. So, for the duration of the flight, I was imagining what kind of magic they use on their spare time and if they were allowed to use any magic spells to help them with their jobs on the plane. For example, whenever they would say, ” Floogen bloeugen bjork,” all babies that were crying would be silenced and the meals from the dinner service would magically float to each passenger, saving the blonde haired, blue eyed magicians some work. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur from what I could see, but maybe my muggle eyes were deceiving me.

Something that wasn’t deceiving my vision was the stunning and scenic views that our flight included on our way to Africa. Because we were leaving from Amsterdam to go to Africa, we got to see the best that the middle earth had to offer, including views of the alps, Cologne (the clouds weren’t bad then), Some parts of Italy and Sicily and the Sahara dessert. I snagged a picture of the Sahara from my seat so when I have more time I’ll post it.

Cheers for now, someone’s about to kick me off the computer. Let’s just say, however, that I’ve been in Uganda for less than a day and I’ve already experienced more than I could have imagined. More to come soon.

P.S. If any of you were wondering, my skeleton is itchy due to all the mosquitos. Thanks for asking, Anna O. 🙂

Hi… my name’s Joe… I go on adventures… to Epcot?

My ordinary pre-chaotic packing rituals have begun. As I’m staring into my room just now, I see a sea (haha pun?) of random clothing, supplies, and necessities for an experience that not many can say with such certainty.

I am going to be shooting a documentary in Africa.

It doesn’t even feel real, to be honest. Yet, that reality is only less than 36 hours away from the truth. I would be going to Africa. I would be seeing the sights that would be on TV and the internet. I would be actually talking to people that I could only dream of talking to. I would be visiting another country in….Epcot!

Okay. You may be wondering, “Why the hell does Epcot, a super fantastical journey of adventure (otherwise known as a theme park) have absolutely anything to do with this trip?” Well, let me tell you. When I was a kid, my mom would always pop a video of Disney’s Epcot into the VCR to get my butt to sit down and behave. It was one of those movies that was certainly shot in the 1990s. Basically, a whole bunch of unaccompanied 9 and 10 year olds running around the park to each different country with a whole bunch of Disney cartoon characters running around with them. Seems dumb, right?

WRONG. I WAS ADDICTED. I would get so excited when the group of overall-dressed and oddly dyed t-shirted band of misfits would go to a different country and talk to the “locals” about there cultures and stuff (at that age I was more obsessed with the different rides in each country. I was most obsessed with the big splash ride In Norway.) Regardless of who had the best rides or coolest buildings, ever since then, my mom would always tell me that I was dedicated on traveling the real world and seeing the real countries, rather than the pseudo Disney counterparts. My mom would would always tell me I was going to travel the world one day.

She was right. I have traveled the world. I have been to 3 continents already (North America, Europe, and Asia), and I will be adding a 4th to that list in the near future. Instead of experiencing the rides that were in each country in Epcot, I have experienced the rides in emotion when experiencing a new location for what its worth. However, I don’t believe I’ve experienced the “Spash Mountain” of rides in the real world just yet.

But I will in a matter of hours.

I wouldn’t lie to you and say that I’m not nervous about this trip, because I certainly am. I am nervous of what my eyes will tell me. I am nervous that I will see or hear something that I know I should, but don’t want to. I have this feeling in my stomach that scares the living daylights out me for some reason.

But I also have this excitement that has inhibited me from sleeping more than 3 hours a night for the past week.

I can’t quite explain to you why I’m nervous yet, because I really don’t know why I am in the first place. But despite the nerves, I couldn’t be happier at the moment. As I am sitting in my bed typing this blog to all you readers out there, I am staring at backpack ( I am literally bringing a 60 liter traveling backpack with me. Honest to the cause, much?) comprised of a few TheNorthFace shirts, a pair of chinos or two, and a bunch of other random items.

Generally, one friend in particular would always give me crap about wearing TheNorthFace apparel around Omaha for something of a daily regime. She would always mock me, saying, “Why, do you go on crazy adventures or something?”

To think of it, yes. Yes, I do go on crazy adventures. And I have a premonition that the craziest one is right around the corner….

Time to get my 3 hours of sleep.


Meet the Team: Joe Garnett

Hello all! My name is Joe Garnett, studying accounting and BIA at Creighton. Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s been a dream for me to see the world, and I’m slowly making that dream come through one dream at a time. So far, I’ve been to the following countries: Canada, Italy, France, Spain, Monaco, Vatican City, China, and in two days from now…. UGANDA.