Tag Archives: tourist

Whisked Back Home

Written as I work at the front desk of my apartment complex. The local time is 4:18 a.m. That’s 12:18 p.m. in Uganda. Just as I start to awaken from the muddled reality of jet-lag, I take on this shift. Deal with it body.

Suddenly a Tourist

Our last few days in Uganda were spent in a game park, at a very nice lodge. The food was amazing, there was a pool, and it was the only place we encountered that had a shower curtain. We went on a few safaris; saw elephants, hippos, Ugandan Kob, and (fortunately), a few lions. Tim got an amazing photo where you can see the reflection of our bus in the lion’s eyes, we were that close. The incidences of encounters with Caucasian tourists also increased 2000-fold in the park. There were people from Germany, America, France, Spain. All there to see the treasures of Africa, I’m sure. And the place was beautiful; I’m glad we went. However, it was definitely weird to be there. Obviously, this experience felt oddly removed from what I had come to understand to be the treasures of Uganda; the classic family hut in the middle of nowhere. The refugee church-songs that echoed through the empty Savannah. Brokenly conversing in the local languages, which would change with each place we visited. The change in the tone of our experience – between filming for our documentary, and staying at the game park – was all very abrupt.

Before I knew it, we were on the plane back home, as if the State Department had said “Time to come home kids” and sucked us up with a big vacuum before any of us could take one last breath of African air. All very abrupt.

I knew, even before I left, that this trip was going to end up serving as an introductory trip. A lot of my time was spent getting used to the culture, the weather, the food, and working the documentary. As such, I don’t have one “Theme of the Trip” statement that I can distill from my time there. I do know that I’ll want to go back; someday, somehow. I was aching for home by the end of our trip, but once I recover, I know Africa will be calling.

Some of the most salient things that I did learn from the trip are also the most obvious. These are things that we all know: refugees don’t have a lot, and go through substantial suffering; in general, a lot of Africans do too. Deep happiness, and deep faith can be found in places of deep suffering. I heard from people there, and personally choose to believe, that these fruits come from these people constantly being reminded of their hunger. The lack of food, security, trust; it all spurs on a hunger for the presence of God. And after drawing closer to God, something inside these people is fulfilled. This is the spring form which the deep happiness flows.

Father Kevin put it nicely when he said in our of our interviews: “There is more joy in this chapel than I’ve experienced in the church in America. I’m convinced it’s because these people know their hunger, they know that they have little other than one another
and God in their lives. And both come through, and both will satisfy, and both will
provide, and it’s that paradox that St. Paul talks about; when I’m weak, I’m strong. If
we know our insufficiencies, if we know how much we need to depend on each
other. Those needs are often met and that is a cause for joy.”

Blueprint to Reality

Again, we all know this. Personally though, I often trick myself into believing I need more things, better grades, or more experiences to reach that elusive happiness. At least now I have tenable experience which can fly in the face of that logic. The memory of the experience is strong enough (and fortunately will be preserved in the form of film) to provide a conviction in my heart capable of steering the direction of my future life – a constant reminder that deep joy requires little less than to link hands with God, and one another. While this might seem obvious / inconsequential, I hold this in extremely high value.

To end, here is a short video I took of my friends while at Murchison Falls in the game park. It is one of my favorites, as it exemplifies the joy and radiance found within the character of these wonderful people. May this serve as an extremely brief teaser as to what our documentary might look like; for some reason it’s really blurry. Our documentary won’t look like that :)p.

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Tourist, chef, professional lip singer

For the first time I felt like a tourist today. We did one interview with the director of the Kino Border Initiative and then we were on the road again. We had to drop Nico off at an airport back to Omaha for a wedding and then we went to Saint Xavier missionary.

Saint Xavier Mission Tucson, Arizona
Saint Xavier Mission Tucson, Arizona

It was absolutely beautiful both inside and out. The church was so busy yet so beautiful. The detail and purpose of the art work was unreal. Matthew and I climbed up this really rockey hill to the top where there was this white cross that you could see from miles away.

Cross over the land Tucson, Arizona
Cross over the land Tucson, Arizona

After that we went out to eat and then to another missionary that the Jesuit Kino started. It was really cool being there and seeing how they collaborated, not dominated, the indigenous culture.

To end the night, I was the grill master again. I grilled 17 pieces of chicken. Carol wanted to make Greek salads so three people helped her with that while I was outside. The chicken turned out great! Everyone really enjoyed it and it went great with the salad. While we were cooking we had a blast dancing and singing to songs. Some of my classmates thought I did musicals and plays growing up but I said no. It was so much fun though bonding with Carol and my other classmates.

Check out our snapchat @cubackpack to see some of my interpretive dancing to a Tarzan song and others exceptional dancing/lip singing skills.

(Sea) Lions and Bears?! OH MY!

Seeing the wildlife was my favorite touristy thing to do.
Seeing the wildlife was my favorite touristy thing to do.
Our trip in Seward was certainly one to remember. Just I was starting to get used to the wide open spaces in the tundra while we were in Bethel, we flew into Anchorage (cell phone service?!) and were immediately on our way to be a tourist for the weekend in Seward, Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula. It certainly was a change of scenery going from tundra to being surrounded by tall trees, massive snow-capped mountains, and the sea. I couldn’t help but get progressively more excited as we traveled deeper into the mountains and Kenai Peninsula. Our tour guides were the best, and certainly knew all of the places to stop to get the perfect Alaskan pictures. Some of the places we stopped at included the largest Alaskan water plane “airport lake”, a lookout point towards Denali, and a stop by the “Welcome to the Kenai Peninsula” sign.
That Saturday we saw tons of sea life. For the first time in my entire life I saw killer whales, whales (sadly no dramatic jumping out of the water pictures), sea otters, sea lions, and of course LOTS and LOTS of tufted puffins. When we got to the glaciers, it was like seeing a giant monster slowly steeping into the sea. It was amazing and really cool to see the ice breaking off into the ocean. However, at the same time it was hard to grasp the fact that these glaciers are calving, and very rapidly. It wasn’t until the next day when we hiked right up next to the glacier that it really struck me that the climate is changing up here. In the car about 6 miles away form the glacier we started seeing signs that marked years dating back to about 1800. As we got closer and closer to the glacier and saw a sign that read about 1960, we were only 2 miles away from the actual ice. When you think about it, thats 2 miles. Melted away in about 40-50 years. Thats when it hit me that this is climate change thing we hear about in the lower 48 is real up there in Alaska.
We then started the trek back to Anchorage. We ate dinner and enjoyed the summer solstice festival (longest day in Alaska!) in Moose Town. We stopped at the Alaskan National Wildlife Refugee where we saw caribou, moose, reindeer, LOTS of bald eagles, foxes, owls, and (my favorite) the BEARS! I was only about 6 feet away from one of the bears at one point (of course doubled up and electrically charged fence in between us). This trip for sure made a lot of firsts for me that I will never forget!

As our trip is finally winding down, I keep reflecting back on my experiences in Seward and in Bethel. The people we’ve met and the sights I had the privilege to see have touched us all in different ways. Some stories touch others more than others. Some stories teach us to reflect on our own lives and way of living more. Seeing really made me believe. And in some stories we find connections and friendships with the people we’ve talked to. No matter what, I realized that each person and everything has a story waiting to be told. 

 

River flowing through the mountains on the Kenai Peninsula.
River flowing through the mountains on the Kenai Peninsula.

Touring while self-reflecting

Omaha, I’m home.

I’m still incredibly exhausted, but delighted that I’m slowly re-entering into my normal routine (like sleeping in my own bed and showering every day).

As usual after every trip, photos start to appear on Facebook. My friend Morgan has  an album on Facebook with the caption, “When in Alaska, you take selfies.”

That’s so true, especially with our group, who was surrounded by gorgeous scenery over the weekend.

Starting Friday morning, we became tourists. The trip shifted focus from learning about others to learning about the nature and landscape of Alaska while snapping a few selfies here and there.  We ended our vacation with a “real” vacation.

We traveled to Seward, which meant we flew to Anchorage and were picked up by our tour guides. We then drove for four hours in two big vans to Seward. It’s usually a two to three- hour drive, but we made several stops along the way.

We stopped at an airfield, watching planes take off and land in the water. We stopped at several places with great views of the mountains. We stopped at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where we got to see seals and sea lions swim and interact with each other.

I liked seeing all of that, but it was a joy to get back in the van to move on. I loved sitting by the window and watching mountain after mountain and river after river pass us by. I still can’t get over how magnificent those mountains are.

Yet another view of those mountains.
Yet another view of those mountains.

Saturday by far was one of my favorite moments of the trip. We spent all day on a boat, touring the Kenai Fjords Natural Park. The boat had a seating area to warm up but both standing and sitting room towards the back, outside. Saturday was one of the rainiest days of our trip, but it was worth it to stand out in the rain.

We saw sea lions, sea otters, porpoise (which are like dolphins), humpback whales, orca whales, tufted puffins, horned puffins, as well as a bald eagle during our six hour tour.

We then floated past the Aialik Glacier and watched parts of it crumble and fall into the water. If you need proof that global warming really does exist, you don’t need much more proof than that.

Standing in front of the Aialik Glacier, holding a chunk of it that has melted off.
Standing in front of the Aialik Glacier, holding a chunk of it that has melted off.

The next day, we climbed to the edge of Exit Glacier, also in Seward, before visiting a little town called Moose Pass, the Wildlife Conservation Center and returning to the airport.

It’s incredible to see the Exit Glacier up close, but it’s even more remarkable to think about how much of it has melted. Along the trail up to the edge of the glacier, there were signs marking where the edge of the glacier was in past years, for example in 1964 and even in the 1800s. It’s nothing now compared to it was back then.

Exit Glacier today
Exit Glacier today

In the past, I have had my doubts about global warming. The issue surrounds politics and so many politicians are involved; it’s hard to know who to listen to. I guess it took a trip to Alaska and to this glacier to truly confirm that global warming is real.

We took selfies by this glacier and now that I look at it, it was almost too appropriate for me to do so. It helped me take a look at myself and what I believe, while letting that glacier appear in the back of my mind, like it did in the back of our pictures, forming my opinion to match what I see.

Leah, Hayley and I near Exit Glacier.
Leah, Hayley and I near Exit Glacier.