Tag Archives: Uganda2018

Reflections on Uganda

Being back in Omaha, after almost three weeks in Uganda, is a very surreal experience. I’m not sure whether it’s the jet-lag from over 40 hours of travel or something else, but I’m having having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I’m no longer in Uganda. This morning I woke up half expecting to have to untangle myself from a mosquito net and take a freezing cold shower before stumbling over to a breakfast of Chipati and African tea in Adjumani. Instead, I woke up at about 6:00 am and stumbled over out of the extra dorm room that Andrew had lent me for the backpack journalism trip and took a warm shower before heading to the on campus Starbucks for breakfast.

Some might argue that I’m just having Chipati and African tea withdrawal, but I actually think that something deeper is going on. I think that my body and mind are in denial of the fact that my time in Africa has come to a close. Everything has felt out of wack since arriving back to the United States and more specifically Omaha. Time has felt slower, I’ve been in a mental fog, and all I can think about is my experience in Uganda. Specifically, the image of Betty, the woman we interviewed at the Palorinya Settlement, defiantly screaming at U.N. World Food Program officials about the quality of the rations being given to the refugees  in the middle of our interview. The fact that this woman who had lost seemingly everything was willing to stand up and fight for both her own and her fellow refugees dignity showed the strength and courage of the South Sudanese refugee community in Uganda.

This image of strength and defiance showed by Betty has really stuck with me and been one of the most impactful moments of the entire filmmaking trip. I just cannot stop replaying the whole scene in my head. I dreamt about it the first night back from Uganda. I then proceeded to dream about it again when I fell asleep watching some YouTube videos to try and help me relax during our day off yesterday. There was just something so powerful about a woman who had lost everything and recently had a surgery that left her body scarred and slightly disfigured standing up for herself and her community in the face of injustice. She could have so easily just accepted the meager rations and moved on with her life of sorrow inside of the refugee settlement; but instead she took no prisoners as she fought for a better standard of living in her makeshift community in Uganda.

The rest of my experiences inside of the Ugandan refugee settlements were less inspiring and positive than my impromptu interview with Betty. Everywhere we went people spoke about the great deal of need that existed in their communities. At the Maaji Refugee Settlment, we interviewed a grandmother who was caring for her three young grandchildren that hadn’t yet been registered as persons living in the settlement. The woman only spoke Ma’Di and was exasperated with her whole situation. Her daughter was missing and presumed dead, her son-in-law was killed during the civil war in South Sudan, and she was in very poor health trying to care for her three grandchildren on rations only meant for one person.

Following up the interview with the Ma’Di speaking grandmother we interviewed a very active member of the St. Vincent Chapel community who was a single mother caring for her there biological children as well as three foster children who she had taken into her meager home after discovering that they were orphans a few years ago. She spoke about how her immense faith in God and Christ were the only things that were keeping her going. In order to share and maintain her faith she started the women’s prayer group and faith learning communities for St. Vincent’s Chapel. Along with her inspiring story of faith immense generosity, she spoke about he need for both academic and economic opportunities for people within the settlement. Maaji, one of Uganda’s largest refugee settlements, houses over 150,000 refugees and has a pathetic lack of academic and economic opportunities for its residents. Those with skills are unable to get jobs and in turn sit idle all day long leading to increased restlessness and crime. Children who would otherwise be in school are left to run amuck since there are far too few schools and even fewer families that can afford the fees necessary to enroll their children in said schools.

These interviews left a feeling of helplessness that starkly contrasted the pure joy and elation that we witnessed from the St. Vincent Chapel community as they welcomed us to the Ma’Di ceremony a mere three hours after we were originally supposed to be there for Sunday mass. The love of God that these people had was unlike anything that I had witnessed in a long time. Despite their hardships, these people had absolute love and faith in God. This Love was shown through dance, song, and the opening of their community to us who were complete strangers.

In the end, these experiences with the South Sudanese refugees in their settlements in Northern Uganda are the lasting memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. These are the experiences that have and will continue to shape the reality in which I live out the rest of my life. To tell you the truth, I don’t think that I will feel as though I have ever truly returned from Uganda. A part of my very being will always carry with it the experiences of this backpack journalism trip in Uganda. You could say that this is both a blessing and a curse. The wonderful strength, beauty, and resilience of Uganda will stay with me as something I was blessed the experience will stay with me for the rest of my life. At the same time the vast sorrow and suffering of Uganda are my curse and a cross that I must now bear and must work to change.

In a strange way, I feel honored to have received this “curse” from my experience in Uganda. It will serve as a constant reminder of how blessed I am and an ever present motivator that drives me to end injustices that I see in the world. I just pray that I can make the most of this wonderful opportunity that I have been given through CU Backpack Journalism.

Finding Happieness in the Little Things

It has been difficult to find moments of positivity amongst all of the negative things surrounding us in northern Uganda. Poor roads, very obvious poverty, malnourished children, refugee settlements, and less than reliable electricity are constant reminders of the harsh realities that exist for those living in this part of Africa. It would be incredibly easy to allow these negative things to consume my thoughts and plunge me into a deep and dark depression.  In stark contrast to the incredibly negative things that surround us in Uganda, there have been small moments of pure joy and happieness that have helped me to maintain my peace of mind here in Uganda. To some, the following few moments might seem trivial and unimportant. However, these little moments of joy have meant the world to me.

The most recent of these little joyful moments took place just before we were set to take a ferry ride across the Nile on our way from Adjumani to Moyo. As I sat in the bus we had been traveling in, I decided to take a picture of the sign that had the name of the ferry on it. When I looked down at my phone to check the quality of the photo, I noticed something rather humerous about it. Isaac, our guide from JRS Adjumani, has accidentally photobombed the picture. I could help, but just bust out laughing at the image. Without even meaning to, Isaac has brightened my day in a way that nothing else had really been able to.

Isaac photobombing my picture of the Laropi Ferry sign. 

Later that same day, after arriving at the compound where we would be staying for the night Tim decided that it would be a good idea to gather all of the students together to photograph the Milky Way Galaxy that was becoming visable in the dark night sky. What seemed like an ordinary photo session of the cosmos turned into one of the most fun events of the entire trip. All kinds of images of the cosmos and students doing goofy things were taken. There were pictures of funny poses with the epic night sky in the background, blurred images of running students, images of us all jumping and much much more. However, one picture in particular just made my day and really helped to cheer me up. There really isn’t any way to describe this picture coherently, so, I guess that I’ll just show it to the world.

According to Brick, this is the “coolest photo ever!” – Tim Guthrie 

Moments like those captured in these two photos have really helped me to maintain my peace of mind during this very difficult trip. It has been both eye opening as well as inspiring to see everything that Uganda has to offer. I’m just glad that I have gotten to spend this time in Uganda with such an awesome group of slightly insane goofballs. Yes, even Johnny Intensity has been a goofball on this trip. These little moments of joy have made me realize just how lucky I am to be in Uganda with these people.


A Penny’s Worth

Some people think that the penny should be taken out of circulation because of its low economic value.
In backpack journalism, we carry them around to tighten the screw that attaches the tripod’s plate to the camera (well, those of us who can handle pocket knives use them; however, I am definitely not one of those people).

Three young kids watched from a distance as we unloaded the bus at JRS Kampala. Unloading the camera equipment does not take all nine students, so I wandered over to where the kids were standing and crouched down so that I was at eye level with them. After handshakes and names, I wasn’t quite sure what else to do. Thinking about the materials I had that could provide any sort of entertainment I called Andrew over and asked if he had a penny. He did.

My initial idea was to flip the coin, but I didn’t get much of a reaction. And, metaphorically, that makes sense. Whether a flipped coin lands on heads or tails is simply a matter of chance. And these kids, having been born refugees, know all too well what the losing side of chance looks like.

So, I called an audible and switched the game. I put both my hands behind my back, placed the penny in one of my fisted hands, and put my fists in front of me. The kids guessed by pointing to the fist they thought held the penny. And not after long, the kids were hooked – excited when right, disappointed when wrong, and, regardless, eager for another chance to guess. Soon enough, the game caught the attention of a small gathering of kids all pointing to the fist of their choice.

The game didn’t last too much longer. I had to catch up with the group because we only had a limited amount of time at JRS to get B-roll before leaving for another site. But, for the five or so minutes that it lasted, the game provided the means for interaction that resulted in laughter (as, in my opinion, more interactions should).

So, for those of you who think that the penny if worthless, you might be right when it comes to economics but are wrong when it come to its utility beyond the market.

A Greeting

A message to my family: I am sorry for not updating you on my whereabouts; I made it safely to Uganda.

I carry a laminated Ignatian daily examen card – made by Creighton’s Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality – in my backpack. Saint Ignatius of Loyola designed these examens to be a daily reflection that recognizes God in our busy day. Its second section reads, “I walk through my day to notice the gifts I was offered.”

I don’t think there is such a thing as a tiny gift because even a seemingly tiny gift matters to the receiver, and the way Herbert has greeted me is a gift. Herbert is our local expert and guide; this trip would be impossible without him. Because he has lived here all his life, Herbert knows Ugandan culture and its practices. It is customary for Ugandans to greet each other with a handshake; however, this handshake differs from the one we are use in the United States. Herbert taught me this handshake on the first night when we landed in Entebbe.

These handshakes start the same way – with handshakers entering the shake at 180 degrees with the vertex as the point where your wrist and hand connect. While the American handshake ends after first contact (and some shaking that varies in intensity depending on the enthusiasm of the handshakers), the Ugandan handshake continues with a slight lift of the hand and a change in the angle of the wrist to roughlty 135 degrees so that the hands are in more of a “hugging” position. These two step are repeated to finish the handshake. I hope this makes some sense. If not, I’ll just show you when I get back.

The physical act of doing the hanshake correctly, albeit, looks cool but does not qualify Herbert’s greeting as a gift. It’s seeing Herbert with a big grin on the verge of a chuckle as we simultaneously reach out to begin the handhake (even with the low likelihood of it being executed perfectly) that is the actual gift because knowing that someone else is glad to see me brings about a sense of belonging. And, in being surrounded by the unfamiliarity of a new place and people, this sense of belonging feels all the more sacred.

May we all start to treat greetings as not a formality but a way to show each other that we are glad to be with one another.

I Feel Like Chicken Tonight

As my second day in Kampala draws to a close, I find myself having difficulty processing everything that I have experienced in such a short period of time. I have driven from one end of town to the other and seen extreme wealth and destitute poverty a mere few kilometers apart from one another. I have seen a seemingly never ending stream of people out and about along the Ugandan capitol’s jam-packed roads traveling in a mismatched assortment of taxis, motorcycles, and by foot. I attended mass at the sight where Uganda’s famed martyrs were condemned to death. I even ate fish eyes along the banks of Africa’s largest lake. Yet, the thing that has stood out to me the most about Kampala is something so insignificantly small that many people might not pay it any mind at all.

Since arriving in Kampala, I couldn’t help but notice the wide assortment of signs and advertisements that cover almost every free inch of the capitol city’s buildings. As a person from the western world, these signs and painted advertisements are absolutely ridiculous. Daycare centers with pictures of Mickey Mouse and other recognizable characters seem to dot just about every street corner. The names of these daycares alone would ward off potential customers in the United States. Here in Uganda, however, people don’t seem to bat an eye. Bars and restaurants with signs featuring the logos of prominent beverage companies can be seen on just about every street corner not occupied by some sketchy looking early childhood education or daycare center. Each one seeming to rotate between having a sign featuring the logo of Pepsi, Coca-Cola, or Bell beer. These types of signs are just the strangest thing for me. There is no way that any restaurant in the United States would prominently display the logo of a beverage company on their storefront signage. Yet again, Ugandans don’t seem to bat an eye about something I find strange.

Perhaps the best sign that I have seen since coming to Kampala two short days ago can be found on a restaurant about a 3 minute drive from the hotel where we are staying. The sign reads, “I Feel Like Chicken Tonight.” When I first saw the sign, I busted out laughing. What kind of restaurant calls itself something as ridiculous sounding as this? After I had gotten over the initial laughing fit caused by the name of the restaurant, I realized that a restaurant name such as this is really fitting in a place like Uganda.

When organized chaos reigns supreme in a place like Kampala, ordinary citizens and businesses alike must do something to stand out or risk being swept away by the sea of never ending chaotic activity in Uganda’s capital city. In this sense, a restaurant with a name like, “I feel like Chicken Tonight” symbolizes the very spirit of a Ugandan’s daily struggle to stand out amongst the organized chaos that otherwise dominates society in the pearl of Africa.

I Am

Like any procrastinator, I weighed the brainpower necessary for (1) packing and (2) blogging, figured that packing would require less brainpower, and, therefore, packed while watching a film instead of writing my blog.

While tempted to watch all of season 3 of What’s New, Scooby Doo?, I instead watched a documentary film that my dad gave me called I Am.

In I Am, director Tom Shadyac asks each interviewee the following questions: What’s wrong with our world? What can we do about it?

G.K. Chesterton responded to the former in a letter that read, “Dear Sirs, I am,” and Shadyac uses this for not only the film’s title but also its ending narration:

“So now I ask one more question, what’s right with the world? Here’s to the hope that one day we can all answer the same way, ‘I am.’”

I leave the United States saying, “I am,” as meant by Chesterton in his letter with the hope of returning saying, “I am,” as meant by Shadyac in his ending narration.

In his interview with Shadyac, Desmond Tutu says, “the truth of who we are is that we are because we belong.” Mother Theresa made a similar diagnosis of society’s problems when she said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I am wrong when I see myself as separate from others and treat others as separate from me. I am wrong when I treat my neighbors (literally the house next door) as strangers. I am wrong when I limit my definition of neighbor merely to close geographic proximity.  I contribute to what is wrong with the world.

Anyone can recite phrases like those of Tutu and Mother Theresa. But, to allow the fundamental human interconnectedness that they celebrate seep into our everyday actions and show that we do, in fact, belong to each other proves to be much more difficult.

So, may the people I encounter in Uganda serve as a sort of fuel that lasts a lifetime – a fuel to be what is right for the world.

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