Tag Archives: africa

Africa is Still with Me

To be honest, returning home to the States after several weeks of intense filming and story hunting in Uganda still feels unreal for me. Funnily enough, slipping back into American life after such a challenging, yet enriching journalistic experience has been harder than adapting to East African culture was.

It took awhile for my body to readjust from our Africa routine (waking up just after sunrise every morning; taking stock of our camera equipment and team members every time we hopped on or off the bus; running in circles on location, capturing b-roll footage or setting up for multiple interviews; and topping the day off with cold Nile Specials, good conversation, and lighthearted card games back at the hotel or retreat center) to the typical college student groove, although that lifestyle is now tinted with newfound guilt or pressing pensiveness. Even now, I find myself struggling to enjoy the frivolous things I used to like before traveling through Uganda. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, Netflix, YouTube – it all feels fake and distracting to me.

In addition, my time in Uganda amplified my perception of privilege to such a degree that I cannot stop thinking about how undeservingly lucky I’ve been to partake in the simple conveniences of Western society. This bad conscience hounds me in the most mundane of places: the grocery store, where browsing through the aisles of seemingly endless products reminds me sorely of the disproportionate number of refugees starving in the settlements; the classroom, where the opportunity to use expensive technology and acquire knowledge from quality professors elicits remorse for the bright, talented students in Ugandan secondary schools who cannot afford to pay their school fees or buy scholastic materials; the bathroom, where I am haunted by the memory of impoverished women lamenting their lack of soap and feminine products. At the same time, however, I feel remarkably grateful to have such luxuries at my fingertips; I’ve never felt so blessed by the food on my table or the roof over my head.

Conflicting emotions have become a near-constant in my life since arriving back from Uganda, but articulating them to friends and family feels impossible at times. How can they understand me when I barely understand myself? How can they help me navigate this new perspective when I cannot fully impart the extent of my emotional revelation and transformation in Africa? I swing from shallow descriptors of my experience (“It was great” “Africa was amazing“) to incoherent, hysterical babbling about the more significant moments. My inability to communicate how much this project has affected me is both frustrating and isolating, but I won’t fault anyone for asking me to stop spinning out over Africa.

Of course, the most meaningful change has been the precious fondness I feel for my memories of a country I never imagined visiting in my lifetime. Weeks later, my heart still twinges with loving nostalgia for the beautifully human moments in Africa:

Learning new words and phrases in Acholi, Ma’di, Swahili, and Bugandan with Herbert, our beloved guide, producer, and now friend.

Dancing with complete freedom and disregard for who might be watching me at the cultural center.

Joking around with the incredibly talented and indomitable Kizaza, a rapper and Congolese refugee whose story is as powerful as his impeccable lyrics (I still owe him an essay review on Straight Outta Compton and Easy-E‘s music).

Listening to the heartbreaking and courageous experience of Lewi, a South Sudanese refugee and God-fearing father; and later, gushing over his ridiculously cute grandson whose contagious laughter will forever resonate in my memories.

Discussing peace radio and women’s empowerment with Sharon Chandi, a wickedly smart journalist in Adjumani whose lustrous soul shines through her every word.

Feeling inspired by the fiercely intelligent and resilient students at St. Mary Assumpta’s School for Girls, who dream of becoming doctors, lawyers, and ministers someday in spite of cultural pressures to abandon education and marry young.

Hearing refugees sing jubilant praises to God and shaking their hips as though the Spirit were among them at a settlement mass. 

Cheering whenever Sam, our bus driver, managed to steer us through a particularly treacherous stretch in the road (Sam miraculously never got our vehicle stuck, earning him the nickname “Samwheel Drive”).

Catching brief glimpses of northern red bishops as they flitted through the tall grasses of the African savannah.

Seeing the Southern Cross constellation for the first time at the retreat center in Adjumani, then, days later, witnessing the Milky Way galaxy in all its glory at another retreat center in Moyo (I’ll never forget the magic of swinging under that canopy of stars, my eyes refusing to leave that brilliant dusting in the night sky).

Watching thousands of bats emerge like a cloud over the horizon, and humming the Batman theme song as the colony flew above us.

Playing follow-the-leader with Andrew and a group of adorable kids outside of a gas station on our way to Arua.

Devouring homemade ice cream behind the Radio Pacis station and being pleasantly surprised by how cold the treat was, after weeks of room temperature or minimally chilled drinks.

Spending our downtime playing Mafia together, and joking that someone was “exhibiting very Mafia behavior” for saying anything mildly dark.

Experiencing an accidental baptism from the Nile with Lizzy as we unpacked the spiritual growth we noticed within ourselves.

Being invited to participate in honoring Tim’s wife, Beth, and sharing that special moment of grief and solidarity at Murchison Falls.

All of these memories are permanently etched within my heart. No matter how much negativity creeps inside me, nothing overshadows the inexplicable awe and happiness I experienced in Africa. Backpack Journalism is, definitively, the best experience of my young life so far.

Photo Credit: Tim Guthrie

An Ode To Crows

Crows are not exactly something that comes to mind when a person things of a place like Uganda. Nevertheless, these iconic birds are in fact everwhere on the African subcontinent. With their glistening black feathers and dirty white chests, these birds are unmistakably present across the whole of Uganda – from Kampala to Adjumani and everywhere in between. You might be wondering why I would be writing a blog post about crows. Well, let me tell you a short story that should clear things up for you.

Yesterday, after recording a backpack journalism record eight interviews and endless hours of B-roll footage at St. Mary’s Assumption Girls Secondary School the exhausted group of nine students and three professors set off for one more interview with a local journalist named Sharon. The intrepid group had tried to interview Sharon the day before, but a rain storm stopped the interview short of completion. As a result, the group decided to try and finish up Sharon’s interview the next day if there was a bit of time after visiting the girl’s secondary school. Luckily, there was a bit of time and the group was able to interview Sharon.

Sharon works for a local radio station on the grounds of the Adjumani District Office of the Prime Minister. Apart from being a government office compound, this particular location was actually a popular gathering place for a large murder of crows. However, Carol informed us that this was in fact not a murder of crows, but rather a large plethora of them. Then, for some odd reason, she went off on a tangent about her love for the word plethora and how she felt as though this word simply wasn’t being used often enough. Irregardless, Tim felt as though this word was overused and asked Carol why she loved it so much. Undeterred by Tim’s pessimism, Carol declared that henceforth the word plethora should thus be used with greater frequency.

Anyhow, back to the crows. As the group set up for the interview the only sound that could be heard was the shrill cry of the crow. The crows droned on and on with a sound so repulsive that  each and every member of the group cringed in unison. In order to get rid of the pesky crows, the group of students and professors decided to send their humble guide Herbert to deal with them. Herbert decided that it would be a good idea to try and fling large stones at the crows perched high upon a radio tower in the Office of the Prime Minister’s compound. Instead of scaring away any of the crows, Herbert instead made the entire group laugh with his unconventional throwing style. After a while, Tim decided that he would try and help Herbert to scare away the crows. He had about as much success scaring away the crows as Herbert did.

With no choice but to record the interview with Sharon, the group was forced to proceed in spite of the horrific shrill cry of the crows.  Each cry of the crows caused more and more pain to the intrepid group trying so desperately to interview Sharon. Without much luck, the group proceeded to interview Sharon and hopefully recorded some footage that was salvageable amongst the shrill  crys of the African crows.

To the Crows I have the following to say, “shut up!” Nobody wants to hear your shrill cry echoing across the Ugandan landscape. Seriously, try being quiet for a change. It might actually make you a more likable species of bird.

This blog post goes out to Ben who thought it impossible that I could write one about our group’s favorite species of bird. I would also like to dedicate this post to Carol. I think she’ll find that all of her favorite words were used in it.


Companions, Not Champions

Our Backpack Journalism team has learned a lot about “letting go and letting God” over the last 48 hours.

This Monday we experienced our first unexpected complication when the airline cancelled our flight to Amsterdam – the one we had specifically booked together as a class months ago – merely days before our scheduled departure. We were suddenly thrust into an uncontrollable situation, forced to quickly change our original travel plans so that we could still guarantee an on-time arrival in Entebbe by the end of this week. Fortunately, thanks to John’s persistence with the travel agency and Delta Air Lines, we’ve all managed to procure seats on different flights. Unfortunately, we’re separated into smaller groups for our first international flight, meaning that we’ll need to be extra vigilant with our camera equipment (Although, John’s scared us enough about losing our gear and ruining the documentary that we’ll probably hold onto the devices like our lives depend on it…which, is not an implausible outcome should we – God forbid – leave behind a camera charger or tripod…).

Also, fun fact: Our class will reconvene next month in Amsterdam. I mean, sure, we’re only apart for one travel day, but it’ll be June 1 when we reunite so that technically counts! Funny how random coincidences like that happen, but I digress.

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

As you can probably imagine, the days leading up to our Uganda trip have been nothing short of hectic. We’ve withstood crash courses in videography and interviewing techniques; we’ve crammed in lessons on approaching trauma through a journalistic lens and critiquing postcolonial narratives in Africa; we’ve sustained an abbreviated seminar in ecclesiology and how the Church has redefined its mission and identity after the monumental Vatican II. On top of riding out an information tidal wave, we’ve scrambled to pack, take care of last minute obstacles, and fine tune the smaller details. It’s exhausting and overwhelming at times, but it’s also been a great bonding experience. I already feel significantly closer with individuals from this year’s Backpack group than I did at the beginning of Boot Camp, and I’m excited to continue fostering those deeper friendships as we brave the unknown together.

The chaos of Boot Camp has also helped influence me toward a more reflective mindset. As our preparations move from vision to reality, I find myself contemplating my motivation behind journeying into the developing world to witness suffering. What can I offer to a people who have endured hardships beyond my comprehension? Why am I going out to capture human devastation and another’s trauma when I know that our project will not make the impact necessary to improve that individual’s quality of life? What do I personally gain from exposing myself to the epicenter of a social justice issue?

These are difficult questions, but necessary ones. Too often we who come from privileged places fail to examine our own motives before entering vulnerable spaces. We’re quick to presume that any minor charitable action compensates our shallower intentions. We readily perpetuate dominant, egocentric narratives to dismiss the uncomfortable truths that make up realities on the margins. We assume that our willingness to engage with impoverished individuals points to our inherently good, altruistic nature. We don’t like discomfort; we’re more content to pretend we’re the solution rather than to acknowledge when we are the problem.

Undisputed acceptance of myths born from entitlement is a dangerous practice and can be particularly harmful to the community you interact with. Sans critical self-examination, one unwittingly falls prey to the trappings of volunteerism, a form of dehumanizing people who are suffering by capitalizing on their image to boost your own social status. Furthermore, you can become tone deaf to oppression – especially when you stand to benefit from injustices.

I won’t pretend that I haven’t subscribed to some of these injurious attitudes in the past, nor will I claim that I am capable of perceiving my own cultural blindspots. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out whether my inclination to pursue social justice stories is entirely pure.

Although I don’t have the answers to all my questions yet, I do know one thing for certain: that Backpack Journalism is an opportunity for accompaniment, not achievement.

In “Unfinished Houses: Building the kingdom on God’s time,” John J. McLaughlin argues that the most important component to service work is developing meaningful relationships with the individuals you serve. It’s not about completing work that will make a discernible impact or fixing the issue, although those efforts are not without their value. Rather, it’s about surrendering yourself “totally to God and God’s poor,” listening to those who are suffering, doing your own small part, and leaving the rest to God – a practical application of let go and let God, if you will.

And that is fundamentally what Backpack Journalism is about. We are not called to be champions for the refugee crisis, but we have been given a chance to form companionships with each other and the people we’ll encounter. We probably won’t affect as much change in these individuals as they will in us, but that is the beauty of accompaniment: the human relationships you experience have the power to follow your heart and mind even after you’re gone.

As for me, I’m working to keep my heart and mind open.

We all might just be slightly insane

Sitting here a little over a day before taking off for Uganda, I am struck by how quickly the past week of preparation has flown by. It feels like just yesterday that I showed up to the first day of class with a room full of strangers and was completely and totally lost as Tim spewed off facts about anything and everything that anyone could ever possibly want to know about cameras and videography. If I’m being honest with you, it felt as though Tim was blasting me with a water cannon of information. All kinds of terms like: pull focus, f-stop, white balance, and aperture went in one ear and straight out the other as I sat shell shocked in my seat.  A mere week after that first shell shcocking day, thanks  to endless hours of painstaking practice doing everything from taking still shots to running a mock interview, I feel like I could set up and run an interview like a professional videographer. Well, that might be a little bit of a stretch – but you get the point.

Perhaps even more amazing than my exceptionally rapid growth in the realm of videography has been the way that a group of eight strangers that I bararely knew from Adam have come together to form a tight-knit community ready to travel across the globe to film a documentary. It’s really crazy to think about how far that this group of people from all different walks of academic life have come in such a short period of time. I honestly think that we must all  be a little insane to be putting ourselves through something as incredibly stressful, exciting, and all together nerve-wrecking as backpack journalism. There’s really no other way to describe someone who would be willing to learn videography in the span of a week, fly across the world, and film a documentary about refugees in Uganda than slightly insane

The brave and slightly insane 2018 Backpack Journalsim crew in the only slightly decent looking group photo that we took out of about 15 attempts.

At this point in the backpack journalism experience, my excitement about traveling across the world to film a documentary about refugees has morphed into some sort of nervous restlessness similar to what you’d experience right before the big drop on a rollercoaster. Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly excited to be able to be a part of Backpack Journalism and to have the opportunity to travel to Uganda. Out of everything that there is to look forward to in the coming days, the opportunity to interview refugees and get their firsthand take on of the the world’s worst conflicts and the trauma that it has caused stands out to me the most. How many people can honestly say that they have visited a refugee camp and had the opportunity to learn about something most people will only read about in a newspaper firsthand? The answer to that slightly rhetorical question is not many. I feel truly blessed to have this unique opportunity and really want to make the most out of it through the documentary film that I am apart of.  I guess this sensation of being at the top of a big drop on a rollercoaster is merely a byproduct of my slight insanity that motivated me to be apart of something like Backpack Journalism in the first place.


Why Backpack Journalism?

There are few things that bring back memories of my childhood quite like sitting down at the kitchen table in the early morning hours to read the local newspaper. From the time that I learned how to read, I was infatuated with the newspaper and would excitedly spring out of bed at 6:00 am on the dot in order to ensure that I had as much time as humanly possible to read about everything going on in the world around me before school. There were two sections of the newspaper that really stuck out to me – the sports and world news sections. By reading these two sections, I was able to experience all of the “important things” going on in the world without ever having to leave the comfort of my hometown situated snugly along the U.S. – Mexico border. In particular, stories about far off places with seemingly unpronounceable names in Asia and Africa captivated my imagination and filled me with curiosity. One day, when I was about eight or nine years old, I remember telling my mother that I would go and visit these far off places and write stories about them as a journalist. I remember her just sort of chuckling about my constant comments about this dream. Nevertheless, I insisted that one day I would really visit these far off places and write about them as a journalist. 

Fast forward a few years and suddenly my home snuggly situated along the U.S. – Mexico border and its sister city just across the Rio Grande were the center of the news stories that I loved to read. Witnessing these stories firsthand was completely different than reading about them. Corruption, poverty, rampant crime, and bloodshed became harrowing realities instead of far off issues that others had to deal with. With these horrors, my childhood innocence and almost everything that I had loved about my home disappeared.

Almost as quickly as these horrors descended upon my home along the U.S. – Mexico border, they disappeared without a trace. Even though they have disappeared from the the front pages of newspapers across the globe, the horrors of what took place never truly left my mind. Instead, they have left a lasting impact that has inspired me to truly be the change that I want to see in the world. These horrors have inspired me to strive for justice and to seek out ways in which I can bring justice about.

For me, the Backpack Journalism program represents a truly amazing way to bring about justice and awareness in the world that I live in. It allows me to tell the story of people living on the margins of society suffering from a violence much like that which struck my U.S. – Mexico border home. I truly feel that the way to end the world’s suffering is to highlight the issues faced by marginalized members of the human population. If more people are aware of the things plaguing human society, there are sure to be more people willing to go out and fight for justice and bring forth positive change. As a future journalist, Backpack Journalism offers me the opportunity to make a difference in the world around me by utilizing the skills of my future profession – while at the same time fulfilling my childhood dreams. That’s why I am participating in the Backpack Journalsim program.

“Experience is the Master” From Tuesday July 3rd. What I learned in Africa.

Motorbike that I got this quote from. It was outside the Radio WA tower.

Our final blog post is supposed to be what we learned about journalism, theology, the world and ourselves. Because this is so broad, I am going to try to use a list with a comment for each day I spent in Africa. I put them in order with the most important at the end. This is what I learned:

  1. I need to return to Africa to learn more about world, the religion, journalism and myself. “We learn who we are in the process of discovering who we are not.” Thanks to the past month I have a better understanding of who I am not, who I want to be and who I can be. It is a refreshing and welcomed clarity that has been a long time coming.
  2. Time is relative. Sometimes it will feel like I have a lot and sometimes it will feel like I have a little. But the moments that matter will be the ones when I am not keeping track.
  3. No matter what happens to me, I am okay.
  4. “The world is not like west Omaha. 90% of the world is just as poor, helpless and isolated as the people in Abia. Abia is what the world really looks like.” –John O’keefe.
  5. “When you sing, it is as if you pray twice.” –Choir member at Uganda Martyrs’ Church, Lira.
  6. There are certain concepts—self-confidence, self-pity, self-loathing, self-deceit, self-denial and self-indulgence—that seem only to exist in America. I have learned: they do not belong elsewhere.
  7. As I told Jason a couple of nights ago: “Yes. I am a Christian. No, I am not sure that I was before Africa. I guess I thought I was, but not like I am now. No, I don’t know who or what God is. But I know that I need him. I know that my friends and family need him. And I know that he is my teacher, my leader and someone I should always emulate to be like in my life.”
  8. Journalism is all around us. Wonderful things exist in extreme pollution, poverty, disease and warfare. There is always beauty among the rubble. A story exists that someone doesn’t have the words for and a story exists that someone else doesn’t have the ears for. There is always knowledge among the ignorant. There is always beauty and knowledge to be shared.
  9. The church and religion have the power to change—to fix—the world. Not because of what they preach, the power they bestow or the salvation they provide, but because of how they bring us together in a world were we see only light not darkness, only the calm not the storm, only strength not weakness and only peace not violence.
  10. I don’t know what it was about Africa, the people I went with, or the people I met there, but those two weeks in June were the happiest, the saddest and the most alive I have ever been. Africa shocked me. Silenced me.  And then gave me words and a voice I didn’t know I could find.
  11. I have a voice. I have a strong voice. And I have a strong head. And I have a strong heart. I am so lucky that I have the ability to observe, to report and to share with those that lack these things.
  12. I will have hard and easy times in my life. During the easy times there will be two sets of footprints in the sand: God’s and mine. During the hard times there will only be one set. Those are the times that he carries me.
  13. The most important things in this world—trust, empathy, happiness, celebration, hospitality, gratitude, assistance, faith, admiration and friendship—do not need a common language.
  14. Regardless if you have known someone two years or two weeks, there are certain people’s souls that your heart will call home and others that will kick you out. Never let go of those that welcome you after two weeks.
  15. No matter what, I always have more to give. Even when I am tired, sick, sweaty, sad, lonely, underappreciated, poor, homeless, disappointed, lost, hopeless and unconfident in my actions, my achievements and myself… I can still lift others up to a place I can only one day hope to be.

I read the above probably 20 times before I published them. I mean every word. And now I only have two left to say to the people of Uganda, those that we interviewed, the people of Abia, the students of Ave Maria, the people who paint the signs, the soccer kids from the village, Herbert, Fred, Nicole, the boy in the green shirt, O’Keefe, Carol, and the students that went with me (especially Teresa and Chase), all of whom have changed me for the better and for good in a way I could never have done on my own: Apwoyo Matek.

Thank you for the experience


“Better. Simple. Life” From Sunday June 17th & Wednesday June 27th

I know that everyone has talked a lot about the fact that the people in Africa have nothing, but are willing to give everything. My favorite example of this was when we were leaving Lira for Murchison Falls. As our bus pulled out of the Farm View Hotel the children from the village nearby (that we had played soccer with) had collected on the road to watch us drive off. We stuck our hands out the window in an attempt to say goodbye I think. In our heads we thought that they would give us high-fives or touch our hands like we were movie stars at a rock concert. Or at least, I think that was the general idea. Maybe it was more about making contact with them for the last time. Maybe we were trying desperately to touch them in the same way that they had touched us, or at least give some of the impact back. What I do know is that they completely misunderstood even the general ballpark of our intentions. The little children tried to give us their fruit. If I remember right they had mangoes in their hands. Maybe, just as we didn’t know what else to give, they were trying to give what little they had.

Some of my favorite kids from the village near our hotel. These are the ones that tried to give us their fruit.

I think it is easy to say that I would like to come back to the United States and live in a cheaper apartment, drive a smart car and not spend as much as I do on looking nice or going out in the Old Market. I think that even now that I am back it is still easy to say that the simple life, from the perspective of someone who has everything they need, is better. When I came back to the United States I must say that for a few days I was completely tempted to trash everything that I own (the furnishings of a normal bedroom) except for a suitcase full of clothes, my car and my work uniform. Perhaps it was because of Africa, because I just wanted to start over or more likely, because of the appeal of simplicity. But when I thought about the village kids with the mangoes I remember: having something means that I have something to give. And having everything I need means that I have everything to give.

So the sign I saw in Africa had it right. It isn’t that the simple life is better. Rather it’s that better simply is life. And life, for me now, is about simply giving. Ironically, I think that step begins with fighting for others and not myself. My stuff is safely in a storage unit on 72nd street and I have been more emotionally and mentally available to give to those around me than I could have ever been without it.

Photo of my storage unit on 72nd after I finished moving everything.

“Spare Parts” From Friday June 22nd.

Ever since my coca-cola obsession began when I was about 8-years-old I have loved and collected signs. These are all of the signs that I saw that I thought were funny, beautiful, intriguing or inspiring while in Africa that I didn’t get to blog about. I saw them in front of stores, on billboards, as bumper stickers, and on little wood slabs that were held up by posts, which stuck in the ground, etc. I miss them deeply and have been quite bored with my recent drives on Dodge Street and I-80, which seem completely lackluster compared my flowing bus-view of hand painted signs above 4’ by 4’ wood stands, stone buildings and tin-roofed shacks which continually decorated the middle third of my camera frame between blue sky and the foot-pounded red dirt road.

Hopefully someday I will turn these signs into something more than just a list (maybe write or make something). I also hope that the dates and times (my record of which declined the longer that I was in Africa) will help others to visualize the sheer volume and virtual eternity of these quotes and that they themselves will give others a piece of Africa and its spirit. There are some days below that have more quotes than others. This may be because it was one of the days that we were driving further, or it may be because it was our first time in a new area. There were a lot of signs that we saw multiple times, but I never stopped writing them down throughout the trip. In fact, by the end, other students were helping me when they saw a good one. I elected to put them here with out explanation. But I did (for the most part) record locations and descriptions.

Entebbe to Kampala (too dark to see signs)

Kampala to Jinja (6-10, afternoon)

  • “Nile Special. You’ve earned it” 12:40pm.
  • “Make thirst beg for mercy. Be uncontainable” 12:50pm.
  • “Beauty garage. Experience the beauty in you” 12:50pm.
  • “The more you talk to him, the less you consume” 12:52pm.
  • “Shine your continent” 12:52pm.
  • “No smoking. Switch-off engine. Switch off phone” 12:53pm.
  • “Everyone deserves a fortune”
  • “Extra is more”
  • “OH MY GOD”
  • “Tastefully different”
  • “Trust”
  • “Its all about you”

Jinja to Kampala (6-10, evening)

  • “Water is life” 4:30pm.
  • “Give way” 5:15pm.
  • “Your growth is our pride” 5:15pm.
  • “Prosperity is waiting for you” 5:20pm.

Kampala to Entebbe (6-11, morning)

  • “BRAC”
  • “Promises”
  • “Dark and lovely”
  • “Is this a fair fight?”
  • “Consistent. Trusted. Admired”
  • “Don’t say goodbye. We have the world connected”
  • “Together we can”
  • “We care”

Entebbe to Lira (6-11, afternoon)

  • “Equity bank”
  • “In God we trust electronics”
  • “Smart choice for life”
  • “Wishes you a safe journey”
  • “Agape girls”
  • “Good friends photo studio”
  • “Haven away from home”

Farm View Hotel, Lira to Ave Maria Vocational School, Lira (6-12, morning)

Signs like this one where all over the schools that we passed and vistited It became almost immediatly aparent that Africa does have a voice and something to say. The problem, is what gets painted over it? And who is listening?
  • “But fortune. Build Uganda”
  • “Good lifts me up. God is good all the time. All the time God is good”
  • Ave MariaàFarm View Hotel (6-12, evening)
  • “PRIDE”
  • “G-one planet”
  • “Ebeneezer Dairy”
  • “Cha’s. Your body and soul”
  • “Barbie’s Restaurant”
This is the God is good sign. It seems to me that most Africans would do anything to get their message across where others could see it.

Farm View Hotel to Radio WA, Lira (6-13, morning)

  • “Condition permanent”
  • “Comet grocery”
  • “You are welcome”
  • “Drug shop”

Radio WA to Radio WA Tower, Lira (6-13, afternoon)

  • “Say no to gifts for sex”
  • “Greenland executive saloon”
  • “Be innovative to achieve”
  • “Together we go further”
  • “A smart newspaper for smart people”
  • “One family”
  • “Faith project”

Farm View Hotel to Abia (6-14, morning)

  • “J & M goad roasting joint”
  • “God is able”
  • “Diving mercy supermarket”

Farm View Hotel to Get a car for Teresa and Abia (6-15, morning)

  • “Water is life”

Nob View Hotel, Kampala to The Observer Office, Kampala (6-21, afternoon)

  • “Classic pork joint”
  • “I always try new things and nothing holds me down. That’s my break out swag”

The Observer Office to Craft Shop, Kampala (6-21, later afternoon)

  • “Take a closer look. Well beyond ordinary”

“Condition Permanent” From Thursday June 21st.

This is what I will miss about Africa:

  • The smells. Both good and bad.
  • The life and movement of the people and the cities.
  • Street shops and street signs.
  • The wonderful tasting fruit.
  • Palm trees in cornfields.
  • All of the people who wave and smile at our bus.
  • The spirit here.
  • Genuine hospitality from strangers.
  • Indifference to appearance or body odor.
  • Stoney ginger sodas.
  • Warm humidity.
  • Long night and morning talks with Sara and Teresa.
  • The Southern Cross.
  • Faith.
  • Being connected to, dependent on and always together with these 11 people.
  • Bus rides and looking out the window.
  • Time. Both feeling like it is unlimited and having it all planned out for me.
  • The calmness I feel here.
  • Music.
  • The animals. Especially the birds.
  • The red dirt against green vegetation.
  • Chapatti.
  • Endurance. Patience. Willingness.

I have thought about Africa everyday since I returned to the United States. Some days I think about it more than others. But whenever I hear traditional music, see a child smiling or playing in the dirt, see someone walking on the side of the road, smell a fire, or get up early in the morning I am transported back to Africa. And I feel safe, content and free.

This is one of my favorite pictures from Africa. It reminds me of how calm and happy I was there.

“Your identity” From Thursday June 21st & Sunday June 24th

We ate our last meal in Africa at a hotel near the airport in Entebbe where we interviewed Herbert. This was the only time the whole trip that we got to order individually. I found it interesting that although there were more “American” foods on the menu than we were usually used to (like sandwiches for example), most of us ordered rice and chicken or fish and chapatti. It was at this point (while watching a terribly dubbed television show with poor acting that seemed to be about Native Americans’ fight for North America, but included caucasian cowboys, Africans and Hispanics as well) that I noticed: I have no culture.

I have beautiful traditions, inside jokes and things that will always remind me of home in Minnesota with my family, but I don’t have “a people.” I don’t have an elite language, a name that binds me to a group outside my immediate family (+ 2 uncles) and I don’t have a tribe. I have no tie to a certain place or specific ancestral origin. And interestingly enough, I am glad. Because I don’t have a culture, I get to live in awe.  I feel like what I miss out on by not having a one, I gain through amazement and experiences.

After arriving in Amsterdam the next morning with Joe, to visit my mom’s cousin, I had a bit of culture shock. Probably the only similarly between Africa and Amsterdam is that people ride bikes everywhere. But Amsterdam was windy and freezing, full of sweet pastries and dairy and bursting with brand names and recent fashion trends; three things that I didn’t experience even slightly in Africa. I knew that it was advised that we not go there and that the transition on the way back from the developing world is harder than the transition on the way there. But I am so glad that I went. While in Amsterdam,  I realized that even though culture is relative and changing constantly (evolving and developing as Sybil said), I am excited to shape my own. I am excited to live through other people’s cultures, classify myself as a mover and I am excited to continue to learn about the world with a minimal (if existent) cultural filter, anchor or mind block.

My identity? Is Prater. Is Alison. Is Christian. Is caucasian. Is daughter of Scott and Cheryl. Is tall. Is all of my personal attributes. But it isn’t innately American. And doesn’t have to be. And I like that.

This is a picture of all the bikes in Amsterdam. The strongest tie that I had to Africa on my weekend pit-stop mid-transition back to the U.S.Here is a bike in Africa. They were always on the streets here too, but more often in Africa, you would see them parked alone.