All posts by Nico Sandi

Nico Sandi

About Nico Sandi

I am a Sociology/Anthropology and Journalism major because I am passionate about people, learning about cultures and being able to give a voice to those who need it. I love shooting and editing video, but more than anything, I love meeting new people, learning about their lives and sharing with them.

Develop, stop, fix

I love working with film photography. It is a very methodic process that involves developing the film, drying it, creating a proof sheet, choosing the best pictures and enlarge them by exposing developing paper to the film and then developing that paper. Once I’m in the darkroom, I can stay there for up to 4 to 5 hours and time just flies.

And that is exactly what I did this week.

I took to rolls of film with me to Alaska and went through them until the end of the trip. Working with film is a completely different experience because it involves patience, something I struggle to work on. Unlike digital photos, I can’t just take the picture and see what I got, edit it and share it immediately. There is a process, and it takes time.

The last part of the process, the enlargement, is by far the most satisfying. After choosing a good picture to enlarge, light goes through the film, hitting the developer paper, which is then soaked in developer. This is the chemical that reveals the picture on the paper. Then, I transfer the paper to the stop bath, which basically stops the effect from the developer so that the paper stops getting darker. The last chemical is the fixer, which allows the print to stay on the paper. It literally “fixes” the image on the paper.

Here are some of the pictures that I developed these past couple of days.

Our team setting up the interview in the library for Cecilia. We ended up moving it to the church.
Our team setting up the interview in the library for Cecilia. We ended up moving it to the church.
A river that runs next to the road on our way back from Seward.
A river that runs next to the road on our way back from Seward.
Alasks 2014 on our way to the Kenai Peninsula.
Alasks 2014 on our way to the Kenai Peninsula.

I’m am thankful for my experience in Alaska and I hope that I am patient enough to let it develop in my inner darkroom. Going to Alaska was like dipping the developer paper in the first chemical and slowly start to see the picture come up. Thing started to make sense slowly as we talked to more people and experience the tundra daily.

But after the developer comes the stop bath. I need a break to reflect and meditate on my experience in Bethel. My time back home in Bolivia will let me take some time off to be still and reflect.

Finally, I hope that I can find a proper fixer, a way in which I can make this experience stay with me forever. And I think that that will have to be manifested through a conscious life style. Just like Scott talked about on his blog, change comes one person at the time.

By having a lifestyle that commemorates my experience in Bethel. I will fix the memories and learning in the developer paper of my heart.






Driving through, flying over

Our very last morning in Bethel was magical. We all woke up really early, packed our bags and headed to the airport in three different cars that two two trip each.

I got to ride with Kevin Murphy, Susan’s husband. It was a misty morning in Bethel and one could only see 50 yards away. Kevin’s car was really old and clunky and Willie Nelson was quietly playing in the background as we all silently looked for the Bethel we got to love in the depths of the mist.

Our flight was delayed by an hour. But when we departed, we could not see Bethel at all. Even if we tried, none of us wave goodbye to Bethel from windows on the plane because we just couldn’t see it.

The night before we left Bethel, Catherine, Scott and Tony walk through the misty tundra.
The night before we left Bethel, Catherine, Scott and Tony walk through the misty tundra.

Landing on the lower 48 was a different story. After spending a couple of days in lovely Seward, we were dropped off at the Anchorage airport and took our flight out to Minneapolis. Flying over Minneapolis was a moment of realization for me.

On our way to Alaska, I didn’t really give much thought to be flying over such a big city as Minneapolis, I just thought to myself that this was just another city in the US, with its crossing streets, suburban houses, golf courses, shopping malls and tall buildings. But on our way back, I saw the city with different eyes.

After hearing from Brian and Nelson about climate change, from Cecilia about Yu’pik spirituality and from Ray and Rose about historical trauma, my eyes were changed and now all I could see was a city that had been growing at the expense of the earth. Unnecessarily big buildings, pretzel looking highway intersections, endless numbers of golf courses, two airports, suburban houses that could hold up to 20 people, but may only be occupied by four or five.

What was the need for all of this? I met some of the happiest people in Bethel, and their city was not nearly as big as Minneapolis. How did we get here? I wondered about Bethel’s future and had the short thought that it may one day be that big, because in the end, that is the face of progress for many. Where does it stop? As we flew over the city, the endless suburbs asphyxiated my imagination.

And just like our driving through misty Bethel was veiled by the tundra’s mist, so is our vision of this world. We don’t want to see the alternative and we refuse to see the truth. It hard for so many of us to recognize other’s lifestyle as valid and beautiful.

And at the same time we are fast to affirm our own beliefs as the absolute truth. Just like the clearness sky over Minneapolis, we have no problem seeing our own reality, but hesitate to question it.

Thank you Bethel for opening my eyes to new realities.

Is Ray Right?

Yesterday we had our last lecture from John. He had asked us what topics we wanted to talk about and a couple of people suggested them. But the first one, and the one that we ended up talking about for the lecture was cultural relativism.

During one of our reflections in Bethel, some of us started to talk about the topic and Joh  promised us that we would have a discussion about it at some point. One of the people talking about it was me.

I was puzzled. I had just seen Ray, a native Navajo from New Mexico gave us a presentation on historical trauma. He told us about the ways in which the people in the YK Delta had been oppressed and forced to practice a “Eurocentric” lifestyle. They were stripped from their families, put into boarding schools and forced to cut their hairs, stop wearing traditions clothes and never again say a Yu’pik word.

Today, with no more boarding schools in Alaska, the wounds are still healing, but the people were forever affected. The western way of life didn’t set well with the people in the region. They had lost their values and their identities. Devastating.

After his talk, we had a short activity in which we tried to imitate the Yu’pik family structure and then turn it into the western family structure. In his eyes, the Yu’pik family structure was sacred, something that had some kind of an undeniable rightness to it . On the other hand, the western structure was flawed and valueless.

And then he said: “We need to show people in the lower 48 that this, the Yu’pik way, is how things work. The western way of living is not right.”

I was shocked. He had just spent three hours talking about the way in which the western lifestyle had penetrated his, but he was now proposing the opposite. Didn’t he realize that his words are the type of words that begin what he called historical trauma?

Yesterday at out lecture, some things were made a little clearer, but there is still a lot of questions in my mind. We talked about relativism, exclusivism and inclusivism.  And we were mostly referring to religious differences. What culture is right? Who decides what is “good” for everyone? What about the culture that we belong to? Has it all been a big lie?

They slowly became ethical questions.

I have no conclusions or answers for those questions, but all I can hope for is for a clear mind in times of despair and an openness to the truth that exists in every culture that I encounter.

Chasing After Every Opportunity. A profile of Catherine Adams

“I just wanted to do something exciting. I didn’t want to miss out. When will I have another opportunity like this,” says Catherine, referring to her decision to be part of the Backpack Journalism program as she rocks back and forth on her rocking chair.

Sitting on the porch of her new house, a 26-step hike up from peaceful Bemis Park, Catherine says that she has always been looking for something big, something fun and exciting.

Originally from Lake Mills, Iowa, a town of 2,500 people in northern Iowa, Catherine saw her opportunity to go to Creighton as a time to do something big. She is majoring in journalism, doing the Public Relations track, but hopes that this major can take her to do bigger things that she doesn’t know about yet. She is ready for surprises.

Although shy and quiet at first, Catherine is driven by exciting opportunities and fun experiences, and this definitely shows through her taste in music.

“I love when a song can make me laugh. You can’t help but smile when you listen to it.”

If you were to go to the Waiting Room Lounge in Benson, a concert venue for small bands, you would very likely find Catherine dancing to the music, singing to the lyrics, and likely be by herself. “If I have to do it by myself I’ll do it. I don’t want to miss out. I don’t want to be scared of what people think. I also like to go see bands that I don’t know”

Catherine is motivated by living a joyful life, and that’s why she has spent her last two summers doing things where she finds excitement. Before her freshman year in college, she took a group of 11 girls backpacking in eastern Iowa and last summer she spent two months of her summer living in Brooklyn.

“I had never been there before. I wanted to go somewhere different, somewhere new. New York is so exciting. I wanted to experience that in first person and do it by myself.”

And that’s exactly what happened when she got to see her favorite band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros live by the East River in Manhattan. “There were only 300 tickets being sold and I was lucky enough to get one of them. I went by myself, it was their album release show, the sun was setting down, we were right next to the East River, I was on second row. I also knew all the songs that they played. I got to meet a lot of really cool people and had an amazing time.”

“It will be really hard to beat that” she says about her experience in Brooklyn. “It was the first time that I was totally independent.”

Looking back on her experience in Alaska, there were also times that brought her great joy and peace. “My favorite part of the trip was going out to see the sunset twice. It is one of those moments that you know you are going to miss. And you just kept telling yourself: ‘I will remember this as one of the best moments of the trip’. Being at a place like that, you just want to be in the moment. You want remember everything. You just know that it will be an amazing memory.”

Group of people that went to see the sunset one of the last nights in Bethel.
Group of people that went to see the sunset one of the last nights in Bethel.

However, she says that it is hard to compare it to her summer in Brooklyn because they were just totally different experiences. “I think that Brooklyn helped me understand who I am, while Alaska helped me figure out what I want to do.”

From going to see concerts of unknown bands by herself, to spending a summer in Brooklyn, to joining the Backpack Journalism Program, Catherine likes to be surprised by experiences. “I didn’t  know what I was getting myself into coming to Creighton, going to Brooklyn, going to Alaska, but I knew it would be something good.” And she says it’s been great so far

First Week Back: An Update

Friday, 3:30pm. Hitchcock  205 (our new home). Half of us are trying to figure out what b-roll that we already reviewed will work best by pairing them with quotes pulled out from the interviews. The other half is in the room next to ours building the storyline, by putting quotes together in a way that they make sense. Tim is extra-focused trimming the interviews to easily place them in the timeline, John is walking back and forth between the rooms, his eyes looking more and more tired every time he steps in the room, while Carol is at home recovering from a cold.

But wait. How did we get here?! Already reviewed b-roll? Quotes from interviews? Tim is “extra-focused”? John is getting tired? Carol is not here?

What happened?

Yes. It has been a crazy four days. So I am writing this short blog as a short update on what is going down in Hitchcock 205.

Tuesday – We came in at 1pm and started to go through all the footage and label it so that it is easy to find and work with on Final Cut.
Example – Video: Broll shot by Tim of Stan cutting up onion to cook with the salmon at his fish camp.
Name of file:
And we did that with the 6o hours of footage that we had. It took us until 5 and a little bit more on Wednesday.

Wednesday – We came in at 8:30 and continued labeling the files that we hadn’t finished. By this time we found out that the server was working properly and that we were going to be able to share files and Final Cut libraries through the server. Much easier than using the hard drives that John had to buy. Tony took a couple of people to the Jesuit diner with most of us stayed and had a more humble lunch. After labeling was done, a lot of people began transcribing the interviews, while others worked on sorting the files into more organized folders and yet other began putting sequences together as we reviewed the broll.

Thursday – More reviewing of broll and transcribing of interviews in the morning. A small group was selected to focus solely on story writing. Carol, John and this group went to the room next door to review the transcriptions of the interview and began to pull quotes from them and sketch a script. We still don’t have one, but they are working on it. The other half of the group stayed working on more brill reviewing and putting sequences together. Another group of people began marking the interviews to identify the places where the quotes were said.

Friday – By this day we had basically divided into three main groups. Broll reviewers, interview listeners and markers, and story writing people. We spent all morning working on our tasks. Tony took another group of people to the Jesuit diner, and in the afternoon the broll and interview group sat together with a list of quotes from the interviews to see what brill works best with the interviews. The writing group had a tough day without Carol, but were almost done before John hit what his calls “cognitive failure” and called everything off at 3:30.

Our new best friend.
Our new best friend.

Its a lot, but we are making a lot of progress. I am amazed to see how coordinated we are at making this happen. I am also in awe at Tim’s ability to make this whole thing happen so smoothly and at our whole group for their willingness and patience to work on what I think will be a phenomenal documentary.

Dreams Are Weird

During our las couple of days in Bethel, I had a very interesting dream. In the dream I had just come back from a two week backpacking trip to Europe, but when asked to tell my family how it went, I had no recollection of what had happened. It didn’t matter how hard I tried to remember the places I had been to, my memory was blank. So my dad pulled out some receipts from his pocket and told me that they were receipts that he had collected from my spendings in Europe (I have no idea how he got these. Dreams are weird). Handing me the receipts he told me to try to figure out where I had been and done based on the things I had consumed.

I woke up frightened.

Will my memory fail me after I leave Alaska? Will I need some kind of proof that I was here? How can I be more mindful of what is happening around me so that I can better remember it once I’m gone?

I immediately went to the Church, sat on one of the back pews and meditated for 20 minutes. I went back in time, trying to remember the events of our days here, and as expected, I could not remember all of them.

Today I write this blog in a spirit of renewed memory, a payer of contemplation and remembrance.

I pray to remember,

Luther’s smile as we play cards at the elder’s home.
The cool breeze on my face while riding a boat down the Kuskokwim.
Jordan’s excitement when we pulled over and she yelled out: “They’re here! They’re here!”
Cecilia’s hospitality and patience.
Arvin’s sense of humor and Connie’s hospitality.
Our walk on the tundra with Chris and Erin.
Late night walks around the city with the whole group.
Rose’s story.
Two nights of sitting on the tundra and watching the sunset.
Stan’s fish camp.
Endless games of BS and Bananagrams.
My experience at the Orthodox Church.
JJ’s smile and cool stories.

A resident of Napaskiak who kindly showed us how he makes nets.
A resident of Napaskiak who kindly showed us how he makes nets.

And so many other memories that need to be dusted off at some point.
But I do have receipts, just like in my dream. We’ve been going through a lot of footage this week, trying to put sequences together, trimming interviews, writing a script and so on. Watching these clip aid my memory and they will also be our testimony for other people to understand what we experienced in Bethel.

Jesus in Alaska

My last blog was about the wild. We spent two days getting on boats and going down the Kuskokwim and being amazed by the vastness of the landscape and how connected it is to the people.

Sunday was a different story. Well, not that different. It was just a different kind of landscape that we explored.

As a non-Christian at a Jesuit university I’ve been always open to Christianity, Catholic social teaching, jesuit values and so on. As a freshmen I went to weekly mass and a bible study. This past semester I started to attend candle light mass on Sunday nights. But I am not Catholic, I just really like to be part of a spiritual practice that involves people I know gathering to worship the divine. I also like a lot of the things that the Catholic stand for socially, specially in the spirit of Pope Francis and his approach for the those on the margins of society, the marginalized, those in the periphery.

Being here in Bethel, the actual physical periphery of this continent, and being on a trip that involves a theology class, there is no way to avoid thinking about Jesus, his ministry and the Church in a place like this.

And this Sunday was a day filled with Jesus. Literally. I went to 8:30 mass at the Catholic Church and then attended the Divine Liturgy at the Russian Orthodox Church, my first exposure to the Christian orthodoxy.

While at both of these services, I couldn’t help but turn around and and see who where the people around me. Who are the people that go to church on Sundays?What is their motivation for going? But more importantly, why would people in this remote place of the world attend a religious service that emerged centuries ago somewhere far far from Bethel?

I have no answers for these question, but I think its something to think about. Like I said in my first blog, Bethel and its people are in a constant struggle trying to find their place between two worlds, their native traditions and the imposed western structures. Does having a handful of Christian churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Moravian, Covenant, Lutheran, Evangelical) in this small town liberating or is it part of the western imposed structures that the natives have to grapple with?

On Monday, we went back to the Orthodox Church and were given a great explanation of the place by Fr. Elijah. He told us all about the Orthodox tradition, told us stories about saints and gave explained a lot of the icons in the church.


Listening to his explanation of his faith and the church was very enlightening at a cultural level, but it sparked even more questions that I’m still thinking about. While we were there he was constantly referring to stories and facts from european history, telling us facts about Hagia Sophia in Istanbul an talking very highly of orthodox priests from Russia.

All the while I was thinking: How does such a rich cultural tradition that flourished hundreds of years ago in Europe manage to still touch the lives of people of another culturally dense community, the Yu’pik? How can people from such a a different culture accept and believe in something that is so foreign to them?

I still have a lot of thinking to do on my own, but from conversations with John and Fr. Elijah, there are two things that are keeping me sane:
1. We have all at some point accepted something alien to ourselves. All religious practices come from somewhere that can be completely different than our own culture, but we still accept them as our own.
2. According to Fr. Elijah, Christianity has a lot of parallels with Yu’pik spirituality. Ellamyo, or the Yu’pik word for God comes from a similar theology as the Christian understanding of God.

Christian values have shaped western life and thought for centuries and as the YK Delta gets increasingly exposed to western civilization it is inevitable to have Jesus in the picture. For now I am assured that Jesus’ message means no harm to the culture of the people here. The opposite is true. In an attempt to bring “good news” to such a desolate place, Christian traditions, theoretically, are bringing life and truth while gracefully navigating cultural differences to achieve higher meaning.

Deep Wild, Deep Experience

We’ve been really focused, rightly, on our documentary during most of the past week. But the last two days were an immersion into the Alaskan wilderness.

We’ve had amazing interviews and conversations about Yu’pik culture and spirituality, environmental conservation, subsistence living, and many other topics, and now I realize that they were all a preparation for the our experiences in the last two days.

First of all, our interview with Brian McCaffery was enlightening because of his expertise on the area and the problems that the environment and the people in the region are experiencing. He not only told us of the urgency for conservation of the region, but he said it in such a way that it was inexorably connected to the people and their culture. As the director of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge Brian is a major advocate for the conservation of the area, which makes him somewhat responsible for the fishing restrictions. But his job also includes cultural conservation, which can be sometimes at odds with his job, as we’ve heard from so many other people.

We also interviewed Cecilia, an elder and teacher of Yu’pik spirituality in Bethel. She was not nearly as technical as Brian, but she told us about the deep meaning that the environment plays in the lives of the people here. Just like we had talked about with Rose and Pat, Cecilia brought up the concept of Ella, the word that describes nature, weather, God, everything.

But I was only when we went out to the river on Friday and Saturday that I understood why the Yu`pik have a word that describes the inconceivable beauty of nature around the Kuskokwim. It wasn’t until our boat rides and time spent on the shores of the Kuskokwim, the real wilderness, the corner of this world that I understood what Brian meant when he says that this is one of the last untouched places in the world.


There is really no way to describe the beauty of the place here other than by looking up to the sky and saying “Ella” (which is exactly what Scott, Hannah and I did when we met after our separate expeditions on the river). The endless horizon, the rolling clouds, vegetation, the calm waters of the river, fish camps on the shore, but more than just, a feeling of freedom and completeness from just being part of nature. Its really indescribable. The only thing that comes to mind is “Ella”, a word that is now part of my daily vocabulary, because everywhere I see, is all “Ella”.

On Filters

We arrived at Bethel on Monday morning after a long flight and a night spent at the Anchorage Airport. Anytime I arrive at a new place I like to walk around and get a sense of the rhythm and mood of the place.

So Tony and I took a short walk around Bethel while everyone else caught up on some sleep from the long flight. It was a very interesting experience. Before getting here Carol, Tim and John told us a lot of things about the extreme poverty that this city experienced, and that was one more reason to go out on a walk to see if that was true.

Now, a little background on Tony and I. We are both foreign, we have experienced life in developing country. On his end, Tony has visited a lot of towns in Eastern Egypt where people barely have something to eat and most of them are homeless. I grew up in a middle-class Bolivian family, but traveling around Bolivia and South America quite extensively I have seen poverty unlike anywhere else. People that live in places so removed from society that they can’t even find food, shelter and what to speak of jobs.

We were both surprised at what we saw in Bethel. This did not seem like the poverty that we saw in our native countries, it didn’t seem like poverty at all.

We went to the grocery store and were amazed at all the products available for people to get. Things from cereals, snacks, fruits, a well stocked hardware store, clothing, basically anything for basic living. Of course a lot of it was very expensive, but nothing like the towns we’ve been to where there just isn’t anything.

But before we dismissed Bethel as a “well-off” town, we talked about what we consider as poverty and compared it to what people in the US consider to be poverty. We came to the realization that we were looking at Bethel with international eyes, comparing this reality to what we experienced abroad. Poverty is a very relative term. For people in the US, it looks like, it means not having enough commodities to live comfortably. For people in developing countries it is related to survival.

But that was only the beginning on my reflections on poverty and the current conditions on Bethel and the Yu’pik people in he Yukon-Kuskokwim peninsula. Thanks to the great interview hat we had with Pat Tam, which deserves an entire blog for itself, I realized that just like I was trying to understand he conditions here from my point of view, in the same way, the people here have lived years trying to emulate a certain standard of life imposed to them by religion, boarding schools, institutions, culture and many others.


And I think that that will become one of the motifs of our time here. Trying to uncover some of the filters that we have in front of our eyes to try to understand the people here and realize that these people cannot be understood by our “western” standards, just like they can’t really abide by what is expected by our Eurocentric culture. I hope that keep trying to understand there people just as they are, with none of our filters.

Through the Eye of the Needle, or Camera

There is a traditional Yup’ik tale that tells the story of a young man that goes to hunt for the first time. On an attempt to find big animals for his family, he ends up eating all the animals he finds trying to gather energy for get yet bigger animals. He is never satisfied. He ends up eating a seal, a walrus and a whale (I know, it looks like the Yup’ik like their magical realism).

He becomes a giant and feels ashamed for what he has done as he can’t even get through the door of his house. However, his grandmother tells him to climb on the roof and jump in through the smoke hole.  Obeying, he jumps up and falls right though the smoke hole into his house. In the process, his size is restored.

This young man went through the eye of a needle.

This story is used as a coming of age story, when the men are old enough to go out and hunt. It tells them what it really means to become human. It is also used to illustrate the pitfalls of over-consumption and avarice. Yet, it is also used to illustrate that becoming human requires focus and the ability to fit in our house, our society, our people. A coming of age means that we go to difficulty, something as difficult as going through the eye of a needle.

Why am I thinking of this story now, a day before we take off for Alaska? Well for a couple of reasons.

First, I think that this “coming of age” story is appropriate for our group, specially after a long week of video/theology/writing bootcamp. I think that we are ready to go to Alaska!

Second, I need to fit all of my stuff through the eye of a needle that is my backpack.


Third, having discussions about the documentary, I feel like we could be compressing the lives of the people in Bethel into a 20 minute documentary, which is just like the eye of a needle.

And finally, we run the danger of looking at and meeting these people only through the eye of our lenses, which makes them go through the eye of a needle.

Therefore it is my hope that we can all have the strength to go through the eye of the needle that is our trip, packing, experiencing a new culture, and so on. But at the same time, I hope that we are conscious of meeting people where they are, creating strong friendships and not looking at them only through the hole of a needle, or camera.