Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Great Moments in Journalism

Still in Quillabamba. I expected to spend just a few days here, since I'd been told in Cusco that it was rainy season here and impossible to travel by boat to the interior.

But what do they know in Cusco? Apparantly not enough, because everyone here tells me the river, and the famous Pongo de Manique waterfall, is still passable. So I'll be going there tomorrow, and visiting some Machiguenga communities.

So what have I been doing, in this high jungle town of heat and flowers?

Lots of nothing. Some interviews. Ex presidential candidate Ollanta Humala came to town and people swarmed around him with beaming faces, mostly campesinos. He was much more likeable in person than in his newspaper photos. I guess that says something about how he was portrayed in the media. So I took a few pictures on my own, and he made a point of reaching over and giving me some large pats on the back and a big smile. I'm not sure if he was doing this because I seemed to be the only media person welcoming him, or because I am the only gringa in town.

Being the only gringa in town is actually somewhat refreshing, after the Cusco deluge of tourists and the constant flow of vendors and other folks trying to wheedle nonexistent money out of me. This town is large enough so that people pretty much leave me alone, don't necessarily want to know what I'm doing here, though the little kids and even some of the adolescents stare at me like I was an extraterrestrial.

Until Sunday, the town was blooming with political banners, chants and speeches by loudspeaker, truckloads of youngmen yelling political slogans as they drove through town. Now the regional and municipal elections have ended..it seems more than anything that Peruvians voted for change. Hardly any incumbents were re-elected.

I've had to wait for various things to happen here in Quillabamba in order to continue with the articles I'm writing, and most of them didn't happen. People I was supposed to talk to never showed up, etcetera etcetera. Working freelance in South America, at least the kind of stories I do, is very different than working in an office in the States, where you can get so much information by just picking up the phone. Here, even local phone calls are relatively expensive, and in some places, there are no phones. So you go there.

But some of the best stuff that has happened to me--and the most amusing--has been stuff that never got into any of the articles. Like the time, just a few weeks ago, when I was introduced to a leader of an indigenous organization in Puerto Maldonado who I was going to interview and as I went to shake his hand my pen went flying out of my hand right into his eye. Ouch.

If I had been able to say something in English, I could have attempted something cute like "Heh, Heh, let's have a stab at this interview now, shall we?"

But in Spanish all I was able to muster was a dumb apologetic laugh and "Wow, great first impression, huh?"

At any rate, of all the people I spoke to in that particular organization, he is the one who is still sends me emails and wants to know how I'm doing. I guess he was impressed with my aim.

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