The wind whips my hair around my face as the orange and purple sky beckons ahead of me. As I cross the border from Costa Rica to the land I will explore for the next few months, I keep my head out the bus window to take it all in. I smile as the smell of fried plantains creeps over the hills and the inviting energy of the strange lands pull me forward.
I titled this blog Dura Vida because its meaning of ‘tough life’ is quite reflective of Nicaragua. In Costa Rica, one phrase is omniscent: ‘Pura Vida’, which means ‘pure life’, a way of saying all is good. Ticos use it for everything from greeting and leaving each other, describing personalities, describing their day, describing a mood, agreeing with someone and complimenting clothing or food.
But cross the border to the north and you will find no pura vida; what you will find is a dura vida, or ‘tough life’. Unlike Costa Rica, which has enjoyed stability and massive economic investment- particularly in tourism- since 1869 after it repelled the same foreign forces that Nicaragua did not, Nicaragua has been marred by post-colonial enslavement, civil war, violence and widespread corruption that has left its people struggling to meet basic needs.
But all is not doomed; development can be an optimistic beast. Dura also means resistant. Though people here surely have it harder than most, hope exists, particularly now that the country has stabilized enough to invite more foreign investment that has garnered more jobs for the country’s overwhelming youth population.
The country is in dire need of good journalism. The two Spanish language newspapers here, La Prensa and Diario Nuevo, are either blatantly pro- or anti- Sandinista (the ruling party), and there is only one English newspaper- The Nicaragua Dispatch- for whom I am reporting. Important events such as crime more often than not go unreported, political happenings are reported with a slant, and journalists here have not exactly received the best training in the trade to pass down to the next generation of aspiring reporters. Since I do believe that good journalism keeps a government in check, I hope that solid reporting increases here as the country is undergoing a very formative period of development (including the latest announcement of construction of a new inter-oceanic canal to be built by China).
Part of why I love journalism is its interdisciplinary nature- one week I could be writing about sex trafficking and the next, diplomacy or microfinance. So far, I have found that here. I have been hunting stories related to anything including labor rights in factories (ie sweatshops), domestic violence, renovations to public transit, crime, microfinance projects, call centers, women’s rights. The beauty of developing countries- especially those with few English speaking journalists- is that there are countless fascinating trends to uncover. The stories don’t have to be Earth-shattering; some of the most interesting have been about local cultural events such as religious celebrations where men hit each other with bull penises (http://www.nicaraguadispatch.com/news/2013/06/cheap-booze-punitive-penises-pueblos-blancos-honor-their-patron-saints/8033). Yeahh…. But in any case, there is an infinite amount to write about and the freedom and adventure in doing so is thrilling.
A very cool aspect about reporting here is I can actually communicate with the local people. It’s nice to not have to rely on someone to translate like I did in Cambodia and can interview whoever whenever. People here have been through a lot, and when they feel my genuine interest in hearing their stories, open up to share quite fascinating ones I hope to include in my writing.