Category Archives: My Story

Waiting for Water: Excerpts

Since the end of the semester nears, I’ve decided it’s time to include some of the story. This is the intro and the conclusion. I wrote the beginning on a hammock in Guatemala and the end on the plane home, while looking at the clouds.

The beginning:

Cranking and whining, the machine delves deeper, looking for water.
Sitting on the highest hill in El Modelo, the contraption has drilled 60 feet so far.
But there’s no water yet.
And even when there is—it won’t be enough and it won’t be free.
With 300 families in El Modelo and the number constantly growing, the well may not be enough to sustain the whole town. The poor village in Guatemala builds on free land from the government. Now, the government-funded well project towers on the hill, reminding everyone that they need the help.

The end:

Majali Ramos Arias lives much farther from the well. Wearing a gray shirt with an American flag and the words “Freedom will stand,” Arias talked about spending eight days in August without water (except small pitchers from neighbors). On those sunny days, it didn’t rain, and she couldn’t afford the water from the truck.
She worries the well could make her life worse because she will have to pay a monthly rate of 25 quetzales whether she uses that much water.
But Arias wasn’t worried about having water that cloudy day in El Modelo.
She looks up at the sky and says, “Somehow, God gives us rain.”

Most of the photographers have put up images that they took in Guatemala: Jeremiah, Carlos and Jason.

Our exhibition will be December 9 at 7 p.m. in the Reitz Union gallery.

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Filed under Guatemalan Life, My Story

I wrote it. Now who will read it?

I’m in the process of writing a query letter to editors right now in the hopes that one will publish my article. (If anyone knows of a magazine or newspaper that would publish this sort of article, please let me know!)

While trying to pitch my story, I found myself writing that the topic of water is not covered very often in Central America. Then I wondered if that was even true. I started to search archives for other stories similar to mine in the last two years.

Two out of three solid articles that I discovered were from other countries–one from Guatemala and one from Iran. The other had been published in a water trade journal (pdf) and posted on an NGO’s Web site. The article in The Guatemala Times summed up a great deal of what I’ve been trying to say in a features way in its opening sentence:

“Guatemala is a country with a great wealth in water; however, only 10% of it is used because it can not be transported to where it is needed.”

I’m hoping that my article will be able to reach a wider American audience, but I wonder how much a young journalist can do to get the word out about what’s happening in Guatemala.

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The trick of global media ethics

I asked Jeremiah (the photographer who traveled with me) a few days ago to make sure that everything in my story was truthful to what we saw. Global ethics are a tricky subject for a first time international journalist.

Unlike most stories that I have written, the sources in the story will probably not ever see how I portrayed them. My memory, my notes and the few post-trip translation checks are all that I have to make sure that I’m telling the story as it is.

For example, I talk quite a bit about parasites in some of the small villages, but there was no doctor present and no way for me to 100 percent confirm that these children were afflicted. I had to make that judgment call with the evidence: A local social worker had given them parasite pills, there were big bellies and scrawny arms on many children.

This is the most impossible fact checking I’ve ever done.

Story Update: We turned in the “final” draft to be graded by our writing coaches yesterday. It took me about three hours just to get up the courage to hit the print button. It’s hard to let a story go. Luckily, I’m not yet submitting for publication, so I have plenty of time to continue making updates. I’ll post the excerpts in a week when they have been chosen.

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Filed under International Journalism, My Story

The trouble with translating culture

I’m now in the process of writing a rough draft and having trouble translating language and culture for American readers.

Not only does my story have a severe lack of quotes because I had to work through a translator, but I find myself needing to explain a lot more than I thought would be needed. Seeing things firsthand makes it easier to grasp a culture. Writing about them is a beast. I got stuck explaining pilafs today–a mere detail in my story.

As mentioned in my previous post, the global sphere of information means the need to translate ideas to other cultures. It seems that the translation problems are going both ways. I’m not the only one struggling.

Luckily, much of my information is on video tape, thanks to documentary maker Isaac Brown who worked alongside me in the field. Unfortunately, my rough draft deadline for class occurs before the tapes will arrive. Even then, I now realize that the translation of ideas is often more tricky than translation itself.

I’ve never wished more than now that I’d taken five years of Spanish instead of Latin. Then I might even have a good job lined up.

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Filed under International Journalism, My Story

On top of the world: international journalism

In this time of global communication, it’s important for journalists to be able to work abroad.

I think that notion really struck me when I interviewed for a position at the journalism college’s job fair last week. One employer basically told me that the summer INTERNSHIP position would be open to me based on how my story for the FlyIns turns out.

The newspaper isn’t in a very large city, so I started to wonder why he would be so concerned with this work. Many papers now have an international section. With the Internet being a main provider of news, location isn’t an issue to what news is available. Also, our world is becoming so globalized that news from the other side of the planet could actually affect what’s happening at my doorstep.

I saw that the Suffolk University paper decided recently to add an international section, especially highlighting the work of students abroad. Do the students care more about this news than what happens on the quad? Maybe not, but the availability of the information should make a more informed student body.

Though I’m a little shaken up after my blog blunder, I still believe that my work on this story will be important for people to read. There are some great articles about the Latin American water crisis, but none that take that next step into a news feature that tells a more intimate story.

Employers want this news, journalists want to get it and, I would hope, people want to know what’s going on in this smaller, globalized world. Thus, my job is contingent on my ability to get it right.

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Cash flow and flowing water

So the story is about water.

There’s so much that could be said. My job as a journalist is to take everything I know and narrow it down to about 2,000 concise words that describe what I’ve seen and what I’ve learned.

So the writing process begins.

I want to portray that access to clean water (or water at all) for Guatemalans is largely determined by class. And I don’t think this will change much. I found a 1998 case study that summed up a good portion of what I thought.

But this case study doesn’t move anybody. I want people to read my article and see the injustice that I saw.

This water jug in El Modelo hadn't been filled with purified water for months.

This water jug in El Modelo hadn't been filled with purified water in months.

People in El Modelo are stuck in a sort of “hybrid society” (phrase courtesy of filmmaker Isaac Brown, who is working on a similar story). Basically, they have adapted city life but revert to ancient ways when they can’t afford it. Most people buy water off the water truck, but some are forced to drink rain water.

The rural village of La Puerta relies solely on rain and creek water. The middle class city of Estanzuela drinks from the tap, but only between the hours of 5 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Drinking water is readily abundant to the public in America from fountains. Can you even imagine your wealth determining access to water?

I’ve never written an article of this length (or importance). I want it to be just right. We have about a month before the final version is due in class.

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Filed under Guatemalan Social Issue, My Story

The water (and story) cycle

I’m so glad we decided not to take the extra trip to Honduras and to work on our story instead.

We realized that the children with big bellies have parasites in their stomachs that are eating all their food. And where do the parasites come from? The water!

This makes our story fit in with the class theme of hunger and malnutrition even tighter.

Issac, Jeremiah and I got so much good stuff this morning. We watched a water truck come in and deliver fresh water door to door. Then, we went into a village where lots of the kids had parasites. One of the boys was 2 years old and still couldn’t walk because his legs were too weak!

Today, the community leader, Efraim, happened to be giving out a pill for the first time that is supposed to get rid of them.

The parasites come from the creek water. The water truck can’t get to their village sometimes because it’s rained too much and the roads are muddy. That’s when they drink water from holes they’ve dug in the ground near the creek. Often, the water comes from runoff on cliffs that have cow manure.

They drink this water sometimes too.

A woman washes her laundry on a wooden block by the creek.

They also use the water to take baths and wash clothes. Right now, though, it’s been staying dry enough that the truck can get through to bring them water.

We’re going to leave in an hour to talk to a nutritionist about parasites.

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Filed under Guatemalan Social Issue, My Story