Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
We went to Abia again today to get more interviews but ended up watching at least a dozen more performances before we finally got to do them. Both of the people we interviewed were teachers and talked about why they sing and dance. They also talked about the war.
The woman we interviewed today told us, in quite a good amount of detail, about how 17 members of her family were killed by the LRA. Hearing that she witnessed that event and narrowly escaped very different from reading about a victim’s recollection. You can see it in their eyes, you can see them remembering it as they tell you. It becomes so real.
But that’s why these people sing and dance and listen to music on the radio. It’s the best way they know how to deal with such traumatizing events.
It was more apparent today after the interviews how differently these people experience and deal with death. Americans see it as a loss, but Ugandans see it as God’s plan; and that being sad about it is like saying you don’t agree with God’s plan. They recognize that it happens and that death is just a part of life, so they sing, dance, celebrate and remember a life well-lived even though it is still painful for them.
Every February they have memory services for the people who were killed in the war or abducted and never seen again. I think it makes it easier for them to accept death since they experience it more often and have found a way to channel their grief in a more positive way.
The last two days have been jam packed with activities ranging from watching Dr. O’Keefe become an elder (it’s always great to see an authority figure dressed in leopard print holding a bull tail), getting a grass skirt wrapped around me and dancing with the students at Ave Maria, learning just how challenging filming can be, and visiting a fully functioning and thriving radio station in Lira, Uganda.
Today, especially the stress about every part of our video project started taking a toll. Shooting useable footage, taking valuable notes and figuring out where our story is even headed became stressful tasks in this setting. However, as I walked back from playing soccer with the children from the village nearby and the sun began to set, I directed my attention to the sky (strange that I was focused on a sunset, right?) It hit me that the magnitude of the sky is always for certain. I could be anywhere in the world, look up, and the sky will still be there. Sunset gave way to the night sky which is massive in Africa. You can’t help but awkwardly stand gawking at the stars down here. It’s definitely a reminder that the world is much larger than me, and this video project, and it’s impossible to figure it all out.
So even though I may not know the questions I’m supposed to be asking, what our schedule for the day entails, but here are something things I am certain of:
I planted my very own tree in Africa! It’s one thing to leave a place and feel an emotional attachment, but I have a living tree keeping part of me alive in Uganda.
Ugandans appreciate their beer just as much as Americans. Who knew? Not me, cheers.
I’m on this trip with amazing people and I mean that. If you haven’t read their blogs for any reason, stop reading this one and go check them out. I don’t think this trip would be quite the same without their different insights, quirks, and jokes.
I had a great moment today where we visited Radio Wa and got to watch a live broadcast. As someone who always throws “Radio Host” on my list of dream jobs, I was loving it. Even if that’s the closest I get to sitting behind a microphone, I’m content knowing I got this opportunity.
Tomorrow is a new day.
Keep on keepin’ on,
“You’re not supposed to understand everything.” –Rob Sterger
“If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.” –Bill Watterson