The High and Low Life

My eyelids flutter as the sparrows sing a goodmorning symphony in the light creeping through my window, and I linger weightlessly in that sweet moment between sleeping and waking.

I bathe in the silky sheets cooled by the champagne colored bedroom’s air condition and I slowly rise to await my breakfast in the elegant dining room before being driven off to a meeting in a nearby cafe.

Only two days earlier, I was eating street fritanga (rice and beans, fried plantain, chicken), staying in a rustic hostel, and relying on biking, running, and hitching a ride in the back of fruit trucks for transportation. Three days before, I was staying in a treehouse in the middle of the jungle listening to monkeys howl in the trees around me and watching the stars from my hammock.

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Such are the extremes of developing country living. One minute, you are reporting in slums and the next sipping pineapple daiquiris with embassy officials on a sailboat overlooking a tropical beach (true story).

I’m either fearless or crazy or curious or a mix of the 3, but I try to do things in Nicaragua as most Nicaraguans do. I ride the chicken buses, I go into their factories, their schools, eat the same food (except the fried things). My college anthropology professor called journalism ‘fast anthropology’, and I think she was right. Like actors do well when they immerse themselves in their roles, journalists are most accurate when they immerse themselves in what they’re reporting. You learn as much as you can about a culture and topic and write and move on.

When I am reporting in Managua, seek friendship and/or the comforts of home, I head to my friend Leslie’s house. Leslie is a girl my age from Nicaragua, and we went to the same college, and were actually in the same Spanish class. She and her family are so incredibly hospitable and kind, and it’s nice to have a friend here.

A couple of days ago, I went to the beach with Leslie’s friends. From our leather-seated, air conditioned car, we saw zona francas (free trade zone factories) on the side of the highway pop up on the side of the road though the crowded, sweaty school buses Nicaragua uses for its inter-city transportation. The girls sitting in the front seat next to her driver said her uncle owns a textile factory,  and my nice little day trip was dampened with the thought of slave-like conditions in zona francas I had just written about (http://bit.ly/13r81mN) and my stomach turns.

At the beach, we visit a resort nestled in the mountains overlooking the ocean, and swim in the peerless pool. We indulge in the freshest guacamole and cevice (mahi mahi, citrus and spices) on Earth and chat with the owner, a guy named Gabriel who I’d met clubbing one night when I was living by the beach. Gabriel’s American parents headed down to Nica in the ’80s to help out with the Sandinista Revolution and he was raised on Ometepe- the mystical island and my favorite place in Nicaragua that boasts two volcanoes, towering waterfalls, sparkling pools made of volcanic mineral water, coffee plants, organic farms, rocks with hieroglyphics and horses roaming wild amid the mango trees. Ometepe is a  magical and charming place where life is simple and pure; everyone walks, bikes, swims and runs around the organic farms and beaches below the towering volcanoes and absorbs the indigenous vibe of the place. Gabriel’s dad tells me he teaches at GW University in DC, where I’ll be in the fall, and says he is asked back for his curious viewpoint since he things international development is bogus.

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It’s nice to have a good group of people to hang with. When I lived beachside, I lived by myself, and despite making friends with local beach bums, my guard and restaurateurs, I was sometimes fearful of being the journalist living alone in the small town, especially since I was reporting on a major crime in the area (http://bit.ly/19CVLOG).

Later that night, our group dines on fish and vegetables and dark chocolate and red wine-my favorite palate- on a patio amid lush greens, canopy and candlelight, and I enjoy feeling clean and womanly wearing a dress I bought in Granada laughing and postulating over the wine.

It was a nice break from the fried food dominating the Nicaraguan food supply. Though this country produces many organic, nutritious foods, most are exported and Nicas pretty much stick to fritanga. Many of the problems Nicaraguans have could be solved by such simple procedures we have in the West- reduced diabetes and heart disease with less fried food, better teeth with the ability to have a cavity filled, blindness with the ability to have seen a doctor for an eye check up.

While I’ve been here, I’ve tried to treat myself well. I’ve indulged in a couple of wonderful massages and acupuncture, gotten a hair trim, run, swim, bike, eat fresh (favorite: hibiscus tea) and shop a bit- AMAZING deals on clothing and shoes here. Let me tell you, the clothes you give to good will actually do end up in much needed places, though entrepreneurial people have learnt to buy the incoming clothing shipments and sell them for a fee. It’s simultaneously hilarious and sad to see Nicaraguans wearing Prom ’05 or Birmingham YMCA shirts, sporting Miley Cyrus bags and t-shirts with cuss words on them without realizing what they’re wearing.

In terms of reporting, I’m happy with where my writing is and proud of what I’m doing but don’t take much time to reflect on it because I want to keep the articles coming. Getting information is much more difficult here than it was in Cambodia, where our newsroom shared contact information for sources. Here, there’s none of that, so I find people the hard way- a little of showing up in places they might be, looking up numbers and emails online and trying to get a hold of people, and a lot of asking people for sources through word of mouth. I’ve thought of all the ideas for my articles except one, and once I get the green light I chase it down. I’ve learned some stories are almost impenetrable to write on at their core- sex trafficking and wood poaching, for example. I tried a hand at both, and after a few interviews realized the issues here are just too deep for me to be willing to risk my safety to chip away at, and found it better to write on the issues at the fringe (example: http://bit.ly/1d89vB0)

The Dispatch ended sooner than I expected because my editor received a Nieman Fellowship and had to head to the US. I am understanding because the Nieman is pretty much the highest accolade in journalism, with 6 fellows from around the globe each year accepted to study at Harvard. This is my second editor who was a Nieman fellow, the first being my head editor in Cambodia.

With the Dispatch over with, I was about to make my way onto Guatemala and Mexico when The Tico Times English newspaper in Costa Rica contacted asking me to be their Nicaragua stringer since there are really no other bilingual journalists here. I decided to stay longer and try it out, and I am trying to freelance some pieces. I don’t mind sticking around a bit more because I like that I am feeling comfortable in Nicaragua. While I was on Ometepe in a little organic cafe, I struck up a conversation with the guy who sells the only coconut oil products all over the country. It was so nice to know he recognized me: “Oh, you’re the new journalist here! I’ve been reading your stuff and wanted to meet you!”…that’s a nice feeling and I like building a feeling of familiarity.

Tomorrow I am going to the Sandinista celebration in Managua for their 1979 revolutionary triumph…probably going to be a shitshow and hopefully Ortega speaks. Most people have told me not to go and avoid Managua like the plague on the 19 de julio, but since journalists usually go where people tell you not to to get the story, I’m going. I’ve reported once already on a hectic event here- the dias patronales (http://bit.ly/11Rr7iX)- where townsmen honor their patron saints by whipping each other with wooden sticks and petrified bull penises to slap away evil spirits. People have lost eyes and ears and it was a bit scary to be in the bunch.Image

Today I went to hotsprings outside Granada where water from the ground travels up into a sauna and natural swimming pool. Once I got back, I did some writing and joined a group of Nicaraguans and my housemates- all American girls here working for NGOs- for a late night swim at a nearby country club. Very relaxed but tired at the same time!

Signing off. Goodnight.

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