This is me

“I am certain of nothing”

I’m Alex, a free spirit with a burning desire to roam and experience, with open arms, the unknown. What started as spontaneous trips with friends, became a catalyst to readily challenge the conventions tailored to keep us from embracing our beautiful existence. I invite you to subtly stalk the curious adventures of my life. I believe that as you create yourself, you will more readily challenge and navigate the world around you. I share with you the stories I cherish from embracing my gypsy heart, these are the moments that fuel my desire to be certain.

Among the Leaves

Along an unbeaten path, tucked far away from the rigors of life lies our adolescent headquarters. Nights spent under the stars of contemplation, days spent blissfully away from our troubles; nothing has changed from our youth. No longer in high school, yet compelled to return, the tree house contains some of my fondest memories. I may no longer recall the worries of adolescence, but will never forget the significance of hours spent among the leaves, nor the people with whom those days were never wasted. Friends turned into family as laughter, antics and music danced around the branches, taking our cares to distant places. We found solace on our island in the sky. The tree house would never judge, there are no rules, no dishes to clean, no homework due, no topic disallowed. Remnants of the memories we share leave their unique marks in the crevices, along the walls and tied in the branches of a child’s paradise. Alone we go back to our lives in college but together we always return, as the tree house is not meant to facilitate solitude, but always community. Gathered together after what feels like years apart, we climb up just to lose ourselves to the powers of our magic tree house.

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager

The Bay

An irreplaceable city has made a name for itself in ways incomparable to the whimsy of others. A safe haven for the eccentric, the lighthearted, the outspoken; those unabashed by the notions of convention. It was in a whirlwind of spontaneity that I decided to buy a bus ticket to experience the wonders of the Bay Area.

Friday was spent buried in books, entertained by my thoughts and facilitated by excitement. Seven hours spent in anticipation of what the weekend might bring was excruciating. That first glance of the bay made the hours fade and while the city lights welcomed me, I was too enthralled to notice.

Saturday was a fantastic day and one that will not soon be forgotten. We ate a wonderful breakfast near the window just to hear the patter of the rain. We visited the Museum of Modern Art, allowing our minds to wander and imagination play. The works of Warhol, sculptures capturing the intensity of normalcy, and cloud cities begged to be appreciated yet never quite understood. The high of insight crashed into the waves of hunger and we headed off to Fisherman’s Warf for samples of the local cuisine. Off we went along the beach to see the gem of the city from a vantage point only a local would know about.

The storm continued on to Sunday and lasted the whole day through. After a delicious brunch we retreated indoors to appreciate the sounds of the city among the downpour. Just in time for kick off we watched the game followed by whatever sounded good on Netflix for the rest of the day. I have never had a more wonderful lazy day. Chinese take out delivered to the door ensured we could remain in our sweat pants and keep the cares of the world to those experiencing it that day.

Sad to depart but drenched in the light of the waking city I boarded the bus and said my goodbyes. I whisper to the city that I won’t be gone for too long and to always remain the city of fantasy.

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager

In Reflection: DAPL

The camp resides in our rear view as our journey comes to a close. The farther we get away from the once-in-a-lifetime experience, the more apparent it becomes that it was real. The gravity of the situation, the symbolism of it all; it strikes us as we fall under the weight of our Dakota Access Pipeline experience.

As we left my roommate and I looked at each other and realized in that moment that we accomplished what we had set out to do. We stood with those that share a common cause. We provided what aid we could in support of the beautiful people protecting every day. We listened to those that would speak with us about their struggles, determination and opinion. We realized we had been and contributed to a cause larger than ourselves.

History seems to be repeating itself as of late with various population groups in America; the pipeline conflict is a stark reminder of the resilience passion carries and that belittled populations will fight for their beliefs. We need, now more than ever, to raise our voices on the issues we care about. We need now more than ever to advocate for the voiceless and stand with those struggling to make theirs heard.

I will never forget the things I experienced on that sacred ground. The recent victory for the Sioux is a great step forward but it is cautiously welcome. There is no telling what the future may hold for the Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline, the hope is that the victory is sustained. If it is not, I will not be the only one back on the grounds ready to advocate for the voiceless and stand with those struggling to make theirs heard.

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager

Morning with the Sioux

Cotton candied clouds hung lazily above us with a color so vibrant it must have been painted by the imagination of a child. Fluorescent pinks, purples and oranges of every shade danced across the clouds from the horizon.

We were back on the grounds Sunday morning bright and early. People were stirring, the sounds of construction and tribal song filled the area. The camp looked and felt much different than the night before. We took time to familiarize ourselves the the nuances of the camp only sunlight could expose. Compost piles, medical tents, clothing and food donation areas were spread out around the center of camp. A pile of wood to fuel the spirit fire was the one area from which campers could not help themselves, for it fueled a fire of sacred practice and symbolized the passion of the people here.

Among other things, we observed sacred tribal chant and song, the likes of which I tend to recall as I rest at night. It seemed as if nothing could keep strangers from volunteering with camp chores, conversing and smiling at other passerby. You could feel the respect everyone had for one another; we had all traveled so far to come together in peace and purity in order to support the cause and people of the land.

This was a gun, alcohol and drug free area. These protectors did not want to demonstrate in violence, they did not want the sanctity of the grounds to be ruined due to intoxicated decisions. In a way, the car check entrance was a foreshadow to the sobering reality that there have been people camped for months in peace yet brutalized by authority; there is a gorgeous life-giving water source that while unable to speak is being arduously spoken for.

A man named Isaac Murdoch of the Sioux tribe painted what has become a symbol of the effort and I believe it is him who wrote “man does not string the web of life, only one strand of it.”

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager

Sacred Rock Burial Grounds

At a gas station just outside of Sacred Rock, the burial grounds upon which this mass protest continues, I met Ivan Standing Horse. Seeking direction and explanation, we speak about the pipeline, his people, and the out pour of love the action has received. He seemed hopeful that they would prevail in their efforts despite the obvious challenges the Sioux people face. We ended our conversation with a hand shake and high hopes.

He told me we wouldn’t be able to miss the mass demonstration just to the right of the road; he wasn’t kidding. Large tepees weaved in between rows of cars and the occasional fire helped direct us through what seemed like chaos.  Freezing temperatures and fast winds might have cut our exposed skin but it could not penetrate our spirits or that of those around us. As we wandered through the unfamiliar area, we tried to talk to whoever was still out in the cold. Filled with adrenaline and in awe of what we were experiencing, the thought that we had been up since 5 a.m. driving countless miles vanished. We came upon the Red Warriors Camp and met a Sioux member who talked to us for what felt like hours. Filled with pride for his land, people and the protection those on the grounds were enacting, he filled us in about the camp.

We discussed at length the events that have occurred between officials and those in defiance of the pipeline in this area. When asked how long he had been protesting, he said “we have been here for more than 500 years that’s for sure… we have been on these grounds for the last two months” and quickly added “we are not protesting, we are protecting. We are protecting our water.”

Eve and others started the Red Warrior Camp division of the grounds where it seemed more than 50 campers had taken residence. Eve and fellow Red Warrior members acted as guards for their area, asking passerby into the camp to check in and seemed to take their protection seriously. It was clear he felt strongly about the intruding forces upon the land, noting “we need to sit together, eat together, share together, be together” Eve said about the division between protesters and government.

With this, it was late and we were exhausted. While we could have stayed on the grounds that night, we had to head out to Pierre, South Dakota for the night. On the drive down to Pierre, we decided not to visit Mount Rushmore but instead head back to the grounds. We traveled so far to experience this effort, to understand those fighting so vigorously and to feel as if we contributed more than cases of water to the effort. It was apparent our time on the grounds was not over and we would not let the effort and travel be in vain.

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager

North Dakota Bound

“Let us continue to love one another. We have not lost our voices, so lets advocate ever more passionately for the causes we believe in. Lets work together for the betterment of all who live in this nation.” -Alex

Awake and on the road by 6 a.m., my roommate and I were about to embark on our second road trip together, to support those in protest against the North Dakota Access Pipeline which intends to intrude upon the land of the Sioux tribe. Nine hours and countless miles of open road through Northern Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota couldn’t deter our will or passion for this cause. Having previously attended a peaceful gathering in  the historic district of Fort Collins, Colorado we decided it was imperative to take action. After so many hours of straight road through South Dakota, easily our longest stretch, one reflects on the brief winding road through Black Hills National Forest. Filled with life updates, laughter, and naps, the drive was half the battle and half the magic of road tripping with one of your best friends. As college students, we tend to believe our reach is short and efforts in vain. They certainly are not. Taking a weekend to enjoy each other’s company and inspire the activist efforts in one another was a great start to the adventure.

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager

“Incredible”

When I arrived to the school, Esther crawled into my lap; it’s the last story time I would spend with her. Connections made were not in vain as precious little hands embraced each other around me as we read. As hours passed, one by one, the children I had grown to love began to fall asleep. Sitting in my lap she rests her head against my chest as we gaze. Blissfully in each other’s presence, we take in this beautiful moment; our last night spent under a sky splattered with stars in a display of pure divinity. Woken by ringing bells, it was time to say goodnight. Tearful final hugs and an exchange of tokens facilitated the notion that it was real. The month we spent experiencing life together had come to an end. Hand in hand we embraced each other in love and positivity, we rejoiced in the memories and said our farewells.

What an incredible setting. Los Angeles is the supposed city of angels when all the real angels remain in a place far in distance yet so close to my heart.

I still look to the stars at night and whisper sweet nothings to the moon hoping my message will reach them.

 

Content by Alex Rager

 

Photograph by Andrew Johnson

Incredible Uganda: Day 23

This is the story of when I left a piece of my soul in Katanga.

The taxi lets us off atop an elevated heap of trash looking out over Katanga, a slum where 10,000 residents live in a single square mile outside the capital. In order to even begin to understand Katanga, one must experience Katanga. I cannot describe to you, except for in excruciating detail, the beauty I see here; I decided instead to share with you a single day spent walking alongside the people there. The day started making educational posters for the kids at Emnet, the local school. After several hours of poster making and playing with kids, we ate at MJ’s restaurant where I got a chance to really learn about the beauty that lies beneath the surface. MJ is a man from Katanga with a mission to improve the community and the lives of those who live there. He started the project Hope 4 Katanga Kids which provides English classes and tutoring for anyone with a desire to learn. His restaurant was started as a means of feeding the volunteers who work around the slum and provide a means of income for the project. The first experience teaching women of Katanga alongside their teacher and Thread of Life coordinator Florence was deeply impactful; I yearned to be in Katanga every day after. Today Florence needed help, so instead of attending to my half- finished posters I got to sit in class and teach English. I felt so empowered being around an intelligent group of women helping and encouraging each other through the terrain of the English language. The love, acceptance and positivity felt in that moment radiated throughout the room and through my veins. All too quickly it was time to leave and I set off into the maze of Katanga looking for fellow volunteers. I didn’t realize how far behind I was and quickly got lost among the ramshackle homes, tight passageways and food stands. Katanga is not for the faint of heart; it was a day with as much reward as hardship. Bloody, fatigued and elated all at the same time; I left a piece of my soul there that day. The reward of working in environments such as these is the smile on a child’s face when they recognize a dog on the poster, it’s in supporting the people who fight every day for the progress of others, and felt in the loving embrace 50 year-old woman gives you before she leaves the classroom.

 

Content by Alex Rager

Photograph by Dylan Johnson

Incredible Uganda: Day 17

Soapy water and a plastic cut-out make for a great ice breaker. Today was a day like no other as we were given a rare opportunity to experience Wakiso and the residents who make the area so amazing. It all started by meeting James, a grandfather who lives with his wife and grandchildren near the school. We were invited into his yard where we swapped stories of our lives and homes. James and his wife are the sweetest couple who pour love and energy into their family and community. We sat for hours in the yard learning about farming, meeting the family, coloring with his granddaughters and getting a grand tour of his home. From there, we ventured off along the back roads that beckoned us. Stopping to speak to every beautiful woman, man and child we encountered soon lead us to another school where children were hanging out.  We asked them to join us on our adventure to nowhere in particular. Soon we were all laughing, playing football, blowing bubbles and enjoying what was arguably the most perfect Saturday. Eventually we all wondered into their friends where the initial introductions were hesitant until we broke out the bubbles. Before we knew it we added another five kids to our football game and bubble lessons! It was such an incredible way to engage with the kids and greater Wakiso district through the sharing of cultural experiences. I had never really played football, so to learn from kids who love the sport was truly a special experience; so too was the opportunity to share with them the joy of bubbles from my youth. Once dusk was upon us we ventured back to the school where familiar faces and adorable giggles rang out as more volunteers arrived through the gates. Making connections and experiencing the joys of life in the most authentic way is what this beautiful existence is for. You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to spread good vibes. All it takes is a little love, understanding and arms open wide for the people you experience life with and among every day.

 

Content by Alexandrea Rager

Photograph by Meredith Steward

Incredible Uganda: Day 14

The very real struggles of life and of simply being human do not end when half a world away. The now familiar sound of roosters welcoming the day is followed by grudgingly releasing myself from bed and pouring endless cups of synthetic energy. Not all interactions are joyful like in the photos. Not all days are pleasantly spontaneous. Today however, pulled me out of my thoughts right into the loving embrace of a thankful child. I had been looking forward to the opportunity to volunteer with the kids on swim day and the timing could not have been more perfect. She pokes my arm in the waist deep water to grab my attention. I pick her up and she points at another volunteer helping a little boy learn to swim. On my hip, little hands clasped around me, I take her to the shallower end of the small pool. I ask her to show me how she swims; a few promising kicks and no arm movement was more than I had anticipated. I placed my palms around the edge of the pool and start to kick in an effort to show her how that movement helps keep my body afloat. She copies me followed by an adorable giggle. I take her hands in mine and drag her across the water so she can practice and get a sense of what swimming feels like. I show her the different ways her peers are swimming and place her torso in my arms so she can practice the stroke and kick simultaneously. She didn’t really learn to swim with my less-than-informative efforts but trying with her was too fun. This attempt at teaching was one in many that day, as the kids were so excited to learn a new skill and play with the volunteers in a setting outside of the school. Few days really captured the essence of humanity quite like today. The love and appreciation shared between volunteers and the kids became a catalyst for the sounds of joy that rang out from all sides. The connections made on days like these hide notions of difference too many keep within them. A beautiful reminder of what putting love out into the community can do, the reward of today were all the smiling faces and being a part of that joy. Not all days are difficult. The very real struggles of life and simply being human can end when experiencing life alongside others half a world away.

 

Content by Alex Rager

Photograph by Alyssa Durst