A Rare Bird

Anything of true value, something that is artistic or cultural- it’s not important that it’s perfectly understood. You have to fully engage yourself in this- where you can meet someone, pick the details of their life, get local and specific.

This is why I love journalism and why I love traveling. I’m not searching for any permanent ties to any one place or even person. The more I travel and live, the more places I feel at home. I think this is really healthy for anyone. It’s a great way to avoid misunderstandings, wars, suffering, hunger. The world’s woes could be solved in part if we embraced the things that seem different, even hostile. It’s simply a matter of not having a preconceived idea of what something or someone is, but rather going to see what something is, how people are and what they’re missing. Or what I’m missing.

When I travel, I gain the ultimate kind of knowledge. This type of secular miracle, this phenomenon of being half way across the world alone, where things goes unnoticed normally, where I can inhabitant someone’s mind, grow and gestate until by the end of every day I am someone new and different. There is this reordering of reality, knowledge, and art in a way that has never been seen before. The value of this may or may not recognized immediently.

This knowledge, is a rare bird- one that flies in the face of rules and conventions.

Traveling as a journalist makes me firmly believe that intelligence isn’t defined by knowledge or wisdom but rather by an overall perception of reality based mainly on intuition, which allows me to “see” significant aspects of things that go unnoticed by others. Sure this can make me seem extravagant at times. When I will be walking to the bus and have a sudden vision that will shape my own functional language and give an understanding to other powerful moments of intuition.

Of course, those who experience something like this simply can’t go on as though nothing ever happened, perhaps that is why I have over a dozen notebooks filled with these epiphanies and observations- and why historically many “geniuses” live their lives consumed with their vastly misinterpreted work.

What I’m describing, isn’t easy to measure.

There are no lineages of these “rare birds” nor are there formulas for producing them.

In fact, in many ways, formal education can prove to be difficult for many bright children, even creating serious obstacles instead of paving the way for their success.

Education is an enterprise designed for the masses, not for the exceptions, for the average, not the extraordinary.

I grew up as a solitary child in school, who was scolded for day dreaming, for writing with my left hand and not playing with other children. In fact, a widely reported 2008 study of children with high IQ scores found that 68% of gifted children failed or dropped out of high school. Likewise the young Albert Einstein suffered from boredom at school, uninterested in the challenges presented by class work.

The bottom line of what I’m getting at is, this stupor of growing up in a culture, living in that culture- is to me like being a prison with invisible walls.

As Orson Welles said, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”

Traveling reminds me of the facade that is our every day life- how we believe we can control what will happen every day. When in the end, we are all just looking for something that is already inside of us. Perhaps the only way to recognize this is to escape from your tangible reality, into one that you never knew existed.

Blue footed booby in Isabela Island

Blue footed booby in Isabela Island

Chicago Pizza

Sunday’s in Rogers Park means trips to the Glenwood Sunday Market followed by salsa lessons at Glenwood Dance Studio and lazy beach days.  By late afternoon we are ready to dive into some of the yummy fresh ingredients we snatched up earlier that morning.

This is a peak at we concocted this time.

Chicago Style Pizza

(Just a warning I wouldn’t call this a recipe, we don’t measure anything or write anything down usually. It’s all about what is available to buy locally and test and trial runs.)

Step 1. Make homemade dough. After many trials we have found that the fluffiest dough comes from Bob’s Red Mill yeast and King Arthur white flour.  We let it rise 2-4 hours in the fridge, it was SUPER PUFFY AND ALIVE!

Step 1.5 Meanwhile some kale, onions, mushrooms and garlic were sizzling in our cast iron. When they were perfectly cooked, we slide them into a bowl and then cooled off the pan for a few minutes.

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Step 2. We then rolled out the dough and carefully plopped it into our cast iron which was deliciously seasoned already from the veggies and olive oil , then folded over the edges for a nice thick crust.

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Step 3. Combine it all together, shred some Parmesan cheese, sprinkle Mozzarella and Asiago. About 10-12 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees and Bon Apetito. Sprinkle fresh basil from our back porch and oregano. It tasted like pure Chicago pizza heaven- minus all the icky stuff that usually gives me a stomach ache if we go out to eat at Chicago style pizza restaurants.

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Discovering the Island’s end.

It has become habitual to end my days with long walks along the stretch of beach, past the surfers beach where I spent this past Saturday trying (semi-successfully) to re-learn how to surf (with deep-red rashes along the sides of my body as proof of my endurance) and even further past the Iguana crossing and turtles nesting area.

Sunset along the beach

Photo from a few days ago, while walking along the beach.

I must admit that this isn’t as easy or relaxing (emotionally) as it sounds. It’s almost a mental test for me.  As the sunsets are always stunning and at this time and the only other people walking along the beach are the handful of honeymooners who are definitely on their honeymoon. In fact in my few weeks I’ve been here, I’ve been the only person at sunset on the beach walking solo, and I have had to train myself to think positively and ignore the looks of sympathy from the couples seeing me walking alone holding my own hands. 

Ahh, how to describe the truly indescribable? On this certain pensive walk I didn’t bring my camera, after a long day of lugging my heavy Nikon and tripod around the dusty town to interview people it was the last thing on my mind, so here goes nothing…

The Island ends in sand dunes covered  by salt shrub and trees with sagging limbs heavy with ripe fruit. The beach is smothered by the belly tracks of mama sea turtles. A small green padded hill is topped by a lone branching umbrella pine. Shadows on the rock face turn out to be caves. Closer, the soft parabola of a low arched portal reveals that its been carved by the waves and leads into another hidden space. At this windblown lands end I find its inhabited with lumbering black marine iguanas. Their dwelling is impressive, with jutting jet-black rocks reaching out like seafarers venturing beyond the horizon, out of sight from shore.

The cave is surprisingly warm and shallow, perhaps 20 feet deep; with charcoal smudged walls and sedimentary melting off the arching doorway. I’ve stumbled upon one of earth’s many megafauna art galleries; heavy with artifacts such as turquoise sparking water transcending the pearly white sand and rich red soil oscillating from all sides. 

The notion that our earth can create such an exotic mosaic makes me half-believe in miracles and half-dizzy from a lack of available senses to take in the scenery. 

Sea lion posing for me at sunset

Sea lion posing for me at sunset

Sharks, Boobies and Penguins oh my!

Life on the island is like a dream… the culture on the island here is so laid back and everyone is super affectionate and happy. It’s all part of the equatorial lifestyle. Year around, it is 70-80 degrees and sunny- always the same. When things never change, there is no need to plan for the future or long term. You don’t have to store food for the winter, or any of the other silly things that people do back in Chicago or even Chile.
In fact, the culture that I was used to in Chile is very different than here. It’s as if the Latin lifestyle, plus Island lifestyle is saturated and enhanced a million times into one tiny fishing village where about 1,500 men live, who surf and fish all day and then 500 women live, who live in the home and cook and clean.
Being here though, I feel like I am REALLY living . I am always covered in sand and having salty skin from the ocean.. and wake up with 15 new mosquito bites every day on my tanned skin.
Yet at the same time it doesn’t feel like I’m actually living too… work means talking to locals, interviewing them for different articles, researching different aspects of the Island culture and editing various videos and photos for the web page. Or as I’m doing right now, laying in a hammock with my laptop and my newly adopted kitty, Ginger.  (Sorry if I come back home with fleas mom he is just too cute)
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This morning, I woke up around 7 am to hear the waves crashing on the beach outside of my window (I live less than a block from the sandy beach!) I decided to go on a run, so I ran out to the beach and just kept going and going. I lost track of time because every time I realized my legs were so tired, I kept seeing something new that I wanted to investigate. After about an hour of running, I came to a surfers beach where there were HUGE waves! Then I ran into an Italian couple who were running on a trail in the National Park, so I followed them, staying at least a few hundred meters behind them. We went up this big hill, and then they disappeared into the bush towards the beach…a few minutes later they came sprinting towards me frantically yelling in Italian, “There are dragons up ahead!” ( Supposedly I understand Italian?)
The first thing that popped into my head was Game of Thrones, so my eyes grew wide and I responded, “COOL!”
Then I ran ahead as they gave me puzzled looks. I almost tripped over myself as I had to come to a halt, as there were two barreling Iguanas laying on the path sunbathing. I knelt beside one and said, “Hola, como esta la familia?” You know, trying to be polite (and rational) by speaking in Spanish. But my actual logic kicked in a few seconds later and I turned around and sprinted back towards safety.
With adrenaline pumping, I ended up sprinting the whole way home along the beach, where I saw lots of  bright red crabs skuttling along the black lava rocks and a few sea lions laying on the beach.
I came home, showered as I was soaked in salt water from the ocean spray and covered in sand. Then I made myself some eggs and layed in a hammock on the porch and did some “lobeando” or in English it literally means sea-lioning. What the locals here calling relaxing.
My front porch

My front porch

 Then my roomie Sarah, woke me up asking if I’d like to go kayaking and snorkeling. I had three hours until work..perfect.  So off we went across the path 100 feet to the ocean where Jackie, an American women who has lived here for 20 years with her Ecuadorian husband, Romero, live. I took the picture below with my good camera yesterday..keep in mind this view is less than a block from my house.
La playa
We ate some fresh papaya, slathered on the sunscreen, strapped on life vests and pulled the kayaks out to the water. I had never ocean kayaked before. Each wave that plundered us was like a roller coaster ride. After a few good laughs and almost tipping into the water, we made it out into the bay where we saw some penguins, blue-footed boobies, sea lions, sharks, and storks. I would have pictures, but in the kayak I didn’t bring my camera- however Sarah did bring her waterproof camera so pictures will come eventually.
We kayaked around, racing the sea lions around the fishing boats. One of the fishermen, was Romero’s friend and he was just pulling up a net overflowing with fish. “Quieres ir a pescar?” Romero asked me. Do you want to go fishing. I turned to him and smiled. So we paddled up along side the fishing boat and the fishermen, shirtless, with tanned backs and cigarettes dangling out of the corners of their mouths threw in at least 20-30 fish into the middle of our kayak. It was a glorious day indeed.
We spent the next 2o minutes talking about all the delicious ways we were going to cook it and serve it with some fresh yuka (Ecuadorian potatos) when we got back.
From there, Romero asked me if I wanted to go snorkeling with some sharks. I assumed he was joking, so I laughed and said ,” of course, and we can serve these fish as the appetizers before they eat me.”
He wasn’t joking.
We paddled to a different bay, about 30 minutes away and by this time my arms were super tired. So I was actually looking forward to getting in the water to help stretch them out a bit. He reassured me that the sharks in this bay were tranquil and not the type to attack. He said the only problem would be that I didn’t wear a wet suite, and in these months the water is cold. With only my bikini on, I decided to do it.
The water was crystal clear, with schools of colorful fish swimming below me. So I jumped right in and Romero followed. All of the 5 am swimming practices in the pool prepared me for that moment.
I saw lots of fish and even a few sharks that didn’t look at me twice.
We snorkeled for a while, then decided it was time to head back. So as I was climbing into the kayak- Romero lost his balance and we both tipped it over. With all of the snorkeling gear and the 30 or so dead fish falling into the water on top of us. Within a blink of an eye- the sky was dark with HUGE jurassic-like storks dive bombing us from all directions trying to eat our fish! Romero and I both started freaking out, trying to flip the kayak back over and save our lunch!
While Jackie, who owned all of the gear was yelling at us, ” YOU ASSHOLES! GET THE SNORKELING GEAR IT IS SINKING TO THE BOTTOM! I HAVE A BUSINESS TO RUN! FORGET ABOUT THE DUMB FISH!”
Romero and I both completely ignored her, our minds only on the precious fish that were being gobbled up by the giant birds.
A few minutes later (or was it an hour, who knows) we had both dove down to the bottom, where we collected the lost fins and masks- and saved a total of three fish from being devoured.
Exhausted, disheartened and in residual shock, we paddled home- using the surf to ride us back into the beach where I had 5 minutes to spare before running into work.
I just typed out a novel, so if you made it this far… I promise it will be shorter next time.

First night in Ecuador

Where to begin.. 

My journey started in Atlanta. Where I met a man from Oregon. We were sitting next to each other at the gate to Ecuador, and we started chatting. It turned out he works for the dept. of defense, and is going to the jungles of Ecuador to work with large oil companies as a helicopter and aircraft mechanic. Before Ecuador he was working in the southern Philippines, Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Peaking my interest we ended up talking for a while because right when we were about to board, the airline official announced that there was volcanic activity and an earthquake around the Quito airport so they had evacuated the airport and were inspecting the runway for damage. They started handing out free snacks and told us to sit tight..things looked ominous.

After talking with the DOD man (name purposely left out) about things such as American imperialism, third world countries and the Iraq (ongoing) war, I ended with an inquiry.. Who do you really work for? I asked.

He paused for a moment, and said that is complicated to answer because in places where he has been sent, everyone has their fingers in the local economy. The American government, oil companies, large automobile and aircraft corporations and the local bureaucrats.

 

Luckily we were only about two hours delayed and all was well as we headed out over the Gulf of Mexico to South America. My flight was filled with conversations with evolutionary biologists who were headed to the Galapagos to follow in the footsteps of Darwin.I also sat next to an elderly Ecuadorian couple, who instantly took interest me in when they saw me sitting by myself reading a Chilean novel. They first asked me where I was from in Ecuador, and when I responded I wasn’t Ecuadorian their eyes grew wide, and the husband looked me in the eyes and asked if I was Korean. The wife, Maricela slapped her husband on his shoulder when he asked. I laughed and said I was from Los Estados Unidos and they ooed and awed and instantly took me under their wings.

 When we landed outside of Quito, around midnight I let out a gasp as the plane ducked below the thick clouds to reveal the looming Andes mountains snaked with the orange glow of winding roads. After going through customs, it was almost 1 in the morning. Me..being me.I had not taken the recommendations of the hotel to book a taxi beforehand. I was planning on taking a bus then walking! However at 1 am, to my dismay I discovered the buses were no longer running. Maricela and her husband, Francisco offered me a ride to my hotel. The hotel, turns out to be a beautiful, white barn renovated with tile floors and large sunny windows. The owner, is an American from Cleveland! He just moved here because he fell in love with it, and he is currently trying to convince me to do the same… it may be working.

I will try to paint a picture with my words, photos will be uploaded once I get to the islands tomorrow! I am an hour outside of Quito. Nestled in the Andes mountains. Surrounded by strawberry fields and coconut trees. In fact, I just bought a huge bag of fresh picked strawberries for one dollar. This small pueblo consists of a park, where I sat and read for about 3 hours today in the warm equatorial sun. I went on an hour long walk, was greeted by some stray dogs, and mooed away by some large dairy cows who were not happy with me taking close ups. 

I had lunch with the manager of the hotel, the American who now lives here. We ate tamales and talked about South Korea and what a great place it is to teach English and Spanish! (Teresa you will be so excited when I tell you everything he had to say about it!) He told me that most people who are committed enough to live abroad for more than a few months, like me end up living here.. and I must say gardening, playing soccer and managing a small bed and breakfast where I get to meet travelers from all over the world, sounds more conducive to my personality than working in the USA at any job. 

For the rest of my peaceful afternoon, I plan on buying more strawberries.. and writing more in my journal. There are also raspberry bushes lining the cobble streets, along with strange orange fruits that I cut open with a rock and just ended up with smelly sticky fingers. (Dan you would love the feeling of living off the land here and it is also the perfect spot for a garden!)

I have a ride to the airport tomorrow at 5 45 am! Off to the islands where I am told I have to find a captain of a boat on a large dock where I should take lots of motion sickness pills and expect a funny ride. I will send updates from the island in the days to come!

Missing you all! Besos y abrazos 

 

 

  

Covering What Works, Without the Fluff

Yesterday I participated in a webinar supported by Poynter News University that covered Solutions Journalism. The host, Stephen Buckley led Co-writer of the New York Times Fixes Column Tina Rosenberg through a series of a Q&A style presentation. So what is solutions journalism? To answer that question it’s easier to first establish what it ISN’T.

Solutions journalism isn’t advocacy, picking winners, making suggestions to readers, it isn’t a movement or civic journalism, and it’s not necessarily “positive or good news”.  Solutions journalism is  critical and clear-eyed reporting that investigates and explains credible responses to social problems. It’s about ideas, how people are trying to make them work, and the observable or measurable effects they are producing.

What makes solutions journalism compelling is the discovery- the journey that brings the reader to an insight about how the world works, and perhaps how it could be made even better. To quote Rosenberg yesterday, “The purpose of Journalism is to hold a mirror up to society, so society can learn how to change itself and make it better.”

One example of this is the reporting that The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting does. I worked as journalist for The Pulitzer Center covering the student protests leading up to the presidential election in Chile last summer.

At the time I had never heard the term solutions journalism. Yesterday during the webinar I discovered this is exactly what I was doing. I was asking myself the tough questions while working on each piece. Such as, what is the cause of the social problem? What is the response to this problem? How are individuals working as problem solvers, on the ground level? I covered the limitations of the political movement and provided a narrative of various student leaders.

This is what solutions journalism is about. Advancing public discourse and introducing models for change. Of course there are limitations to solutions journalism as there are in all aspects of storytelling. I realized while I was there that while striving for objectivity in my reporting, I couldn’t remove myself from history. My voice was one of the many students there, after studying abroad for six months at Universidad Alberto Hurtado and meeting many of the university students who were affected by this movement. My job wasn’t to remove myself from history, but to shine a light on my own experience without inserting my opinion, giving my readers a chance to think critically on their own, to decide for themselves what was a viable solution in Chile at the time.

In the end, I discovered what I have been striving for at Loyola as Political Section Editor of the LUChameleon and in my many reporting classes. I was covering responses to problems without advocacy, PR, or fluff. This is what makes journalism stronger and has the potential to make society stronger.

 

 

Reducing Stigma

This Spring I’m enrolled in a mental health reporting class. We have a class blog post here! We update it weekly with interview of mental health experts, new studies and our own reporting on mental health illnesses. The mantra for our class is reducing stigma. We are learning just how important the media is when it comes to understanding what mental health is and how it’s treated in our society. As a mental health reporter I’m able to promote awareness about mental health issues, foster education about mental health and reduce stigma and discrimination against people with mental illnesses.

This class is relatable to all aspects of journalism- in every single story whether it’s about crime, physical health, social justice or war- there is an underlying mental health connection. Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the world yet factual, contextual and palpable mental illness articles are rare. It’s evident that this is one of the most under reported themes in the US and in the world. In this class I’m looking forward to developing a cadre of better informed tools for print, online multimedia, photography and radio to more accurately report information on mental health.

Earthly news

For a technology for journalism class I am starting up an environmental news blog! I will be writing weekly articles about anything and everything going on, mainly in the Chicago area. Why an environmental news blog you ask?

Climate change affects nearly every beat in a news organization today. No longer a mere novelty, climate change and environmental news are pertinent to all journalists and all well informed citizens.

Policymakers ranging from mayors to prime ministers are trying to formulate policies to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases implicated in global warming.

For example in my home state- the city of Boulder, Colo. has enacted a carbon tax.

Climate change is moving beyond a science issue- it’s in our own backyards, it’s a local, political, international affairs (climate treaties) technology, (solar panels), business (green industries) and even political science related (battles for water rights?) not to mention the every day assignment story from deaths from heat waves, forest fires, draughts.

To face reality is to realize that everyone, from a non-expert journalist (me) to a citizen- we are living together on this warming planet- and we need to have a firm grounding in the science and societal aspects of climate change.

That’s why I’m starting this blog (click here to read it! ), and I hope you all enjoy my scientific and literary ride!

Chilean Winter

I spent the summer abroad in Chile reporting with the International Journalism Fellowship for students at the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. Here is my personal blog I kept up to keep me sane, and also please check out my published work here.