Location: At the edge of the rising Missouri River
Seriously. Read their blogs. I think it is all finally hitting them and their thoughtful comments and genuine feelings are bursting forth like the mighty Missouri from its banks.
Oh, and we screened a very rough cut of the mini-doc today. More on that next week.
Now get to clicking on the student blog posts from this week.
In 1989, I got rid of many of my possessions (car, stereo, etc) before spending nearly nine months of traveling around Europe, including my temporary move to London. I shed myself of possessions mainly because I wanted to be free and mobile.
In 1992, I experienced the developing world for the first time when I worked in Bophuthatswana, Africa for nearly four months. Most of our African crew lived in a nearby “shanty town” (dirt floors, used corrugated steel walls, little else) and earned only 25 or 50¢/hour compared to the $35-$70/hour the Americans were earning. It made me sick to my stomach. Before I left, I gave away to my crew most of the clothes and other things I had taken with me to Africa. When I returned to the States I got rid of a few more possessions and tried better to “live simply so others may simply live.”
Since then, I’ve tried to live with less, but it rarely seemed to help me grapple with the disparity I witnessed. I concluded that it wasn’t enough to live with less and that I needed to also give more. So, I gave.
I gave in any way I could, from donating literally 3 gallons of blood (not at one time, of course) to giving things away to friends, the Salvation Army or any other place to which I could donate. It helped me cope better for a while, but not much. I still felt like a speck in the universe. I started to feel like I was only doing it for myself and not for others. My cynicism grew.
Eventually, I became more politically aware and active, but that led to frustration and anger and uncontrolled outbursts at public events. It also led to appalling private conversations with friends that were disastrous enough to break the weaker relationships. My cynicism with the world and political system grew.
I became more environmentally aware and active and started buying things that left me with a smaller carbon footprint. I’m still driving my 2000 Honda Insight that gets 60+ mpg on the highway. I use an electric lawn mower. I feel like I used to do more, though, and I don’t even bike as much as I used to. It felt like few around me cared much about the environment. One friend told me the economy is more important than the environment. My cynicism with humanity grew.
Ultimately, my attempts at being a better person, a better steward to the environment, or more empathetic to others in the world, often feels like nothing more than shooting rubber bands at the moon.
During my most optimistic moments, I think I can help the world, even if only in the most infinitesimal way, but most of the time I feel the way I did driving around Uganda.
Powerless. Helpless. Sad. Angry. At times, paralyzingly so.
Our mini-doc project in the poor communities of the Dominican Republic in 2010 brought many of those feelings back. I returned to the States with a new commitment to reduce my carbon footprint and live more simply, but feel I failed to make any significant changes in my life.
I wondered if I was starting to give up.
I tend to grow armor to protect myself against these feelings of pessimism, cynicism and hopelessness. The impact of my time spent in developing countries wanes over time and I feel more and more numb to its impact and significance.
Still, I am determined to try and keep my cynicism in check and find new ways I can do something productive.
I don’t think my system can take more cynicism.
Location: Uganda (written) Omaha (posted)
In my first post, I mentioned I purchased the diamond for Beth’s engagement ring in Africa. I brought the diamond home where I sculpted Beth’s ring from scratch out of warmed red wax.
Years later, however, I lost my own wedding ring. I didn’t make mine. It was just a store bought thing, but still... Although we talked about replacing mine, we just never got around to it. While on this return trip to Africa, I decided I would try and find a new ring for myself so that both our rings had connections to Africa.
Few knew what I was up to, but I forced the entire bus of students and colleagues to stop and wait for me while I ran in to buy a ring at a jewelry store Herbert had located. After I jumped back on the bus, wearing the new ring, everyone cooed approvingly after they asked me to show it off.
Beth doesn’t know I’ve done this. She only knows everyone on the bus shouted in unison “Hi, Beth!” when I called her earlier with John’s cell phone, then “Bye, Beth!” when I was about to hang up.
I can’t wait to show it to her.
Location: River Nile, etc, Uganda
Randoms: I chased a bat out of the building (naturally I shot video of it). We helped some people that had been in a car crash (well, Matt did). We saw more wild animals (elephants, hippos, crocodiles, etc) than I can count. Several people are sick. At least one has a serious phobia of bugs. The poverty here is mind-boggling. Our driver, Fred, is capable of driving in ways I have problems believing.
Our guide, Herbert (the director of Computers for Africa) can speak seven different languages.
I have also heard Waka Waka by Shakira more times in the past two weeks than I have heard since the World Cup in Africa. It is a very catchy song. But, now I can't get it out of my head.
I think waka has something to do with light (light it up?) in Swahili, but I am not positive. I always associated waka waka with Fozzie Bear from the Muppets. He'd say it after every joke.
This, and the fact that so many here seem to speak several languages, also reminds me of a joke that Fozzie would like. I was told the joke while in Europe many years ago.
It goes like this:
What do you call a person that speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call a person that speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call a person that speaks one language? American.
Location: Nile River, Uganda (and game park)
I feel bad that all I do is post images, but here are some more. This time it is mostly animals we saw
Yeah, I know. Everyone is doing that. Still, since I'm not really writing much, I might as well post something random.
Location: Gulu, Uganda
Looking at John's phone last night, I realized three planets were very close together in the morning sky and that if we got up around 5 AM, we should be able to locate Mercury (tough with the naked eye unless you are absolutely positive where it is). In the wide shot, the top large dot is the Moon. As you move down and to the left, the first bright dot is Jupiter. Toward the bottom, three points line up. Those three planets from top to bottom are Mars, then Venus (in the middle, the brightest) and then finally Mercury (faint and at the bottom).
Location: Gulu, Uganda
So did John. Then we convinced the students to eat them. I'm sorry, parents. I hope you forgive us.
You may have already read some of the student blog posts that mention the suitcase incident while trying to give out toys to some desperately poor children. These are a few of the images I took as everything broke down.