Kenya Dig It? February 21- March 1, 2003

Kenya-Dig-It_webprev_1.gifHappy 4th Anniversary of the time I went to Kenya for a week and shot a documentary film with 6 of my classmates from the University of St. Thomas, along with the greatest camera man of all time, Brad Jacobson, and my arch nemesis of a professor, Mr. Old Skooley (intentionally misspelled).

As you can see, I decided to start this post with specifics in order to let my speed reading friends get the gyst of this post without wasting too much of their precious time actually reading the entire story. For those of you who are more inclined to read my verbose ramblings, I encourage you to enjoy the rest of this post.

28g.jpg4 years ago this week, I embarked on a trip to Kenya. As mentioned above, myself and 6 students from St. Thomas went to Kenya and filmed a documentary. The topic of our documentary was following a team of American doctors performing and demonstrating heart surgery and catheterization techniques alongside Kenyan doctors. The doctors went to Kenya as part of a team from a Minneapolis based charity called the Children’s Heartlink Foundation. The result of my trip was a 23 minute documentary that was nominated for a regional Emmy award. We lost to a story about Methamphetamines produced by Jason Davis from KSTP channel 5. We got hosed.

Well, actually, we didn’t get hosed at all. It was naive on my part to think that a team of 6 amateur photojournalists could ever compete with professionals and actually win an award. We were outmatched, and I am honored that we were ever nominated.

Actually, I don’t believe that at all. I think that the documentary we produced kicked major ass and I am proud that I was involved with such a great crew. In fact, while researching this article, I came across an IMDB page for the documentary!!! There is even an entry for Jeff Sauer.

I uploaded the video to Google Video months ago, and I’d love for you to watch!


What did you think? I’d appreciate if you leave your thoughts in a comment after this blog entry.

Watching the documentary now is a pretty interesting experience for me. Making the video was so involving that I was never sure that I would be able to watch the video without bias. So much effort, sweat and tears went into producing this 23 minute documentary that I find it almost surreal that this was such a big part of my life when I was 21. Now that I’m a little older, and my career path has strayed from the field of video production, I am starting to lose my perspective of, and attachment to, this project.

I decided to write about the documentary for two reasons. 1) To make my new friends (friends who I didn’t know in college) aware of the documentary – mostly for bragging reasons. 2) To write the experience down for myself so that I can remember this experience 14, 34 and 54 years from now (although given the massive volume of pictures I took on the trip, that shouldn’t be a problem).

A lot has changed in my life over the past 4 years, and if I don’t write about the Kenya Experience now, I may never have the opportunity. Here is a synopsis of how the trip came to fruition:

Fall 2002

I had a double major in college. Major 1 was Computer Information Systems. I took this because I have always planned on being a millionaire computer tycoon. There were no other options. However, in order to graduate, I needed to take other credits. While diligently perusing my degree audit, I realized that I could actually have two majors and still graduate on time, without paying a single extra $ to UST (I think we can all agree that college is heavily overpriced when it comes out of your own pocket, and I didn’t want to pay another dime more to UST than necessary).

VideoTeam.jpgSo I chose Communication Studies as a second major (9 total classes for the major), because I had an interest in Audio and Video production as a hobby, and I wanted to have a second major that was fun, and hopefully easy at the same time.

I took my Communication Studies classes seriously due to the fact that I had amazing professors, but I always knew deep down that Computer Information Systems was going to pay the bills. I think that this this mental detachment from the rigors of actually *caring* if I succeeded in my Communication major allowed me to attack the curriculum with a sort of refreshing vigor and cynicism that made my professors appreciate my contributions, because they rewarded me with a medley of grades in the A range. Through my first 3 and a half years of college, I managed to get through the majority of communication studies with a 3.8 GPA.

Winter 2002-2003

Yes, I had a good thing going with my Comm Studies major, and it got even better when my videography professor, Mr. Old Skooley, presented his advanced video production class with an opportunity of a lifetime; the opportunity to shoot a documentary in Kenya!

As soon as I learned that there would be an opportunity for video production students to go to Kenya, I immediately signed up to be considered. I was among 20 hopefuls who applied to go “get their documentary on” in Kenya. Unfortunately, only 6 could be chosen. Based on some sort of combination of my own personal merits and a liberal selection process, I was chosen as part of a 12 person group to interview for a spot in the documentary crew/class.

Now this is where things got a little sticky. As I mentioned before, I always knew that I would be a computer scientist. That was my plan before college, and that was my plan for well after graduation. I had only chosen Communication as a buffer major, and I really didn’t think that I had a future waiting for me in the realm of Audio/Video production. However, I was going up against 11 others who were VERY into video production, so I needed to level the playing field as best as I could.

Kenya10.jpgDuring the interview, I mentioned how this documentary would help me springboard into a career in video production. This was essentially a lie. In reality, at that point in time, I just wanted to go along for the experience; not to accelerate my career in video production.

Rather than tell outright lies, I merely emphasized my strengths that I would bring to the group. 1) I am “strong like bull” (I carried a LOT of tripods and boom Microphones. More than I ever care to talk about again). 2) I can pretty much do any aspect of production and I’m a good utility man. 3) I am awesome as hell, and everyone would have fun hanging out with my on the trip and drinking Tusker beer.

The interview must have gone well, because I was selected to be one of 6 members of the Kenya Documentary team!!

February 2003

We originally wanted to film the documentary over spring break, but Children’s Heartlink had their Kenya mission planned for February. This forced our team to go to Kenya with very little preparation, and a lot of loose ends heading into our trip. Since this trip involved sending 6 students, a professor, and a real life videographer (my hero Brad Jacobson) to Kenya, we needed to raise funding. This proved difficult at first, as the 6 students solicited donations from family and friends. We didn’t raise enough funds, and the trip was nearly canceled before a Vice President at UST, Judith Dwyer, saved the day by agreeing to pay for our entire trip!

In addition, we had several pieces of equipment donated to our cause by local companies. Video tapes, batteries, and all other production equipment was donated by local supporters and the ST. Thomas video production department. In fact, we raised so many donations that we even had a per diem on the trip!

Once funding was in place, we readied ourselves for the trip of our lifetimes. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an easy trip to make. Believe it or not, there are no direct flights from Minneapolis to Nairobi!!! So, in order to get to Nairobi in the least number of steps possible, we needed to go from Minneapolis to Amsterdam (an 8 hour flight), suffer an 8 hour layover, and then fly to Nairobi (another 8 hour flight). 24 hours after leaving Minneapolis, I was half way across the world on the “dark continent” and I was so wound up from being in a confined space for an entire day that I had to explore my surroundings.

Kenya19.jpgI spent the next 7 days exploring Kenya and having one of the best experiences of my life. I got to “scrub in” to open heart surgery and film an entire procedure. I got to visit some of the touristy areas in Nairobi and I had dinner at the home of Nairobi elite (a pharmaceutical company exec), complete with amazing Indian influenced dishes and a wait staff of 20 people! Best yet, I had the opportunity to travel deep into Kenya and visit the inhabitants of a Masai villlage.

However, not everything about the trip was good. There were a few sacrifices that I had to make along the way. One thing I had to do was swallow my pride in the presence of Mr. Old Skooley. For some reason he had a vendetta against me, and treated me like a second class citizen throughout the trip. Rather than commend me for being reliable and being one of two members who were able to work ALL 7 DAYS (for 16 hours a day), he treated me as if I did not belong on the trip.  This was unfortunate, because before this time I had a good relationship with Mr. Old Skooley; he was my advisor he taught me several times before this class. However, the way he treated me was unacceptable and I dislike him to this very day.

Jeff__s_Graduation_022.jpgAnother strain was on my relationship with my college girlfriend. She was a farm girl with a very limited world view. Her family was quite racist and couldn’t understand why I would want to go to Africa. She couldn’t understand either, and when we debuted the documentary to the St. Thomas student body, she didn’t want to attend. This caused a rift between us culminating in a graduation week breakup. (We actually got back together shortly before graduation, and stayed together for a miserable year after that… and I’m not bitter about it at all).

Overall, the trip was a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m ecstatic that I had the opportunity. It is something that I will take with me for the rest of my life, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity. I’ve even learned to forgive Mr. Old Skooley and the Ex College Girlfriend!

February 2007

I have taken away a lot from the experience, and I have lived a lot of life since I went to Kenya.  After I graduated college, I applied for jobs in both Computer fields and video production. I had a hard time getting interviews in both fields, and I started to think that I was doomed. I was about to lower my expectations entirely when I got my first call back in several months for a job utilizing my computer skills. Had it not been for this job, there’s a good chance I would have had a completely different career. I may have even entered a career in video production.

Since my first job, I have been successful in the computer business, and I’m glad that I was able to choose this path. Had I chosen the field of video production, I would be very poor right now, and I probably wouldn’t be able to afford the computer that I am using right now to type this post. However, when I said that I lied above when I said that I was interested in video production as a career, I wasn’t telling the truth.  There was a point in time during the summer of 2003 where it’s quite possible that I would have needed to take a job in video production. If this were the case, my Kenya experience would have proved invaluable.

In addition to the great experience, this trip also awoke in me a passion for travel. Since this trip, I have been to two more continents (Europe and Asia), and I now aspire to stay in every continent before I am 30! I also learned a lot about how to adapt to foreign cultures, and learn how to relate on an international level.

About Jeff Sauer

I started blogging in the year 2000, and go in spurts of inspiration followed by long dormancy. I love writing, and your comments keep me going, so comment!

Check out my Google Profile.


  1. I have always loved that documentary…you all did an amazing job! The entire experience was once-in-a-lifetime, so glad you were part of it 🙂


  1. […] time, I would have probably been able to produce some decent photographs. The problem at the time; I hated my professor, I was dead broke, and I really wanted to concentrate on a career that I could actually make money […]