So you know Tintin, Reporter? Skinny kid with orange hair travelling around the world, getting the inside scoop, solving mysteries and making random friends, all with trusty companion Snowy at his side?
I always wanted to do that.
I don't have a Snowy, I have a cat who goes on his own private expeditions while I'm away. I haven't been around too many criminal organizations (unless you count the ex-neighbours who grew pot) and I definitely don't have orange hair. But last month, I got a tiny taste of what it was like to be.... da da da... a journalist!
It all started on instagram, following a family member in the UK who was starting a magazine about tea. Something went 'bing' in my head and I mentioned in a comment: "we grow guayusa in Ecuador! Do you want an article?" to which he replied "Yes! Get it to me by the end of Feb."
The ball was rolling. Rather quickly. I wrote an email to Runa, one of the big organizations that supports guayusa farming, explaining that I was a contributor to a new magazine etc. looking to write a story about the lives of the farmers in Ecuador. No reply. I tried a local organization, which basically referred me (begrudgingly) back to Runa. So I tried again, this time getting in touch with a program manager who said, "Yes, absolutely, come on up and we'll give you a tour!" (with a contribution of course to support the cause.)
That ended up being easy. The hard part was finding time in my packed schedule to actually go and do it. Which days could I sacrifice? Question was answered when a friend invited me to travel up with her to Quito for a couple days. Perfect. I could take the route through Tena to come home, stopping at the facilities and farm on the way. Story on the run. A little bit Tintin-esque. I already my had my introduction written out, just had to fill in the rest!
So, I enjoyed visiting with friends, getting a little acupuncture done, and had a lovely day in service. Then it was time. I tracked down a shared taxi that could get me to the site near Archidona by 9:30 the next morning. Which involved painfully waking up at 4:30am, packing, then waiting on the street corner in the cold with a friend until a cop drove by and suggested maybe we should wait inside. Oh right, it's Quito. A mugging could be right around the corner. So we went back inside the gate and peeked out, for a good hour. Turns out I was the last one to be picked up, not the first as I had been told on the phone. However, I stuffed myself gratefully into the taxi, full of professional Ecuadorians and American tourists. Nobody said a word, just grunted and went back to sleep. Exactly what I wanted to do. However I had a billion things running through my head.... which questions to ask... which direction to take the article in. I decided to write down a few ideas and snap some pictures as we whipped by. I even managed to write a little bit of nice prose about the landscape as we descended back into the Orient, in case I could use it later.
Finally we arrived, I crawled out of the taxi with my things, and rung the intercom at the front gate. "I'm here to do an interview?" I said, trying to sound more professional and alert than I felt. They buzzed me in, my contact Lindsay came out and walked me to the office. It was just her and a Quichua guy named Carlos. We sorted out plans for the day (I was time-slotted in between a bunch of meetings) then dashed through the rain to the truck, debating whether to bring extra boots or not. We decided in favor of, and took off. I tried to snag a few notes on the road as I asked Lindsay about the inner workings of the company. That wasn't so bad, being in english. Carlos was
quiet in the back, turned out it was his parents farm we were going to see. Thankfully it stopped raining by the time we got there.
It looked like a lot of other communities I'd passed through already. Wooden houses, a few concrete buildings, centering out from the river. Green hills all around.
We walked up and met Carlos's parents, Carlos Sr (that made one less name to remember!) and Rosita. I pulled out my camera automatically, and Lindsay quickly asked "Is it OK to take a few pictures?" Oops, I forgot
that's not something you can take for granted. They said yes, to my relief (I was imagining half my story down the tubes already). I got a quick family portrait, then we went to sit beside the house and chat. I'd forgotten half the questions I'd wanted to ask by this time, but that worked itself out. Carlos Sr was only too happy to talk, so for the most part I just sat back and tried to keep up. My tiny notebook quickly became filled with unreadable scribbles. And as I juggled note-taking with trying to capture a few moments on camera, I realized why most reporters go around with an assistant. They only have two hands.
We kept talking for a while, finding out more about their lives, and how they are just scraping by, even with the help of a stable industry. Their land is losing value and the market prices of the products they sell are ridiculously low. Rosita started to cry at one point, and I wanted to hug her and tell her that all of their stresses and problems would be gone soon, but it wasn't a good time. She didn't speak spanish, and I hadn't brought quichua literature with me. (Fair enough, I wouldn't have know which kind to bring, there's at least 9 varieties of quichua spoken in Ecuador, and they rarely understand each other!)
Things calmed down, and we decided to pull on our boots and head into the forest.
This part felt like home, talking about trees and plants. Spotting almost invisible animal traps and learning which plants were medicinal and which were hallucinogenic. (Sound familiar anyone?)
I stopped to take lots of pictures. Despite not having used the camera for a while, and coming near to swearing at it a few times, I enjoyed myself thoroughly.
We somehow managed to come back out into the village (apparently the path looped back without us town-folk noticing) and investigated a small artisan shop. It was full of lovely handmade things, including some simple traditional outfits brought out for special occasions.
It was time to leave, so we said our goodbye's and drove back into town, picked up a few staff members and had lunch at the local market. It was strange to be surrounded by Americans again, speaking english, making references to western movies and food. Carlos Jr sat across from me still quiet, and I asked if he understood. He said no. I felt bad, having been in his shoes many times. Everyone happily chattering away, unaware. We rushed through lunch (as quickly as you can with fried tilapia) and jumped back in the truck for the last leg of the tour.
The rain started bucketing down again so we spent most of our time in the office talking about the for-profit and non-profit sides of the business. It was fascinating to learn about all the different things they were involved in, reforestation, education of the farmers. It was a rush of information. Then Lindsay took me out to quickly see the property.
And then it was over. I was dropped off at a bus stop to head to Macas. I looked at my notes and hoped they would make some kind of sense when I got home. So many details, what to include!
And I felt that there was so much left untold. It was like peeling back one layer to see thousands more underneath.
So, that was my whirlwind journalistic experience. It felt great to finally do something that I'd wanted to since I was a child. Travel, make random friends, get the inside scoop AND get to report on it. And gain ever more perspective on the country I'm learning to call home.
Signing off (cross-eyed from editing, and hoping it makes
it through the presses)...