Not Popular, But Necessary: Community Radio, Stones as Stories and #LandForLiving

March 22, 2018.

Cape Town, South Africa.

“We don’t want to be popular. We want to be necessary.”Adrian Louw, Bush Community Radio, 89.5 FM. 

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Wednesday, 8:50 am. At this hour normally, the Cissie Gool Hospital (CGH) would likely be empty, left only with a few preparing to leave for work, children in uniform walking one block up Mountain Road for school. But yesterday, the building was livened with movement in and out, and last minute dashes to put on t-shirts with red and black stenciled lettering. The shirts read, “Reclaim the City: Land For People, Not For Profit.” Children wear them, cartwheeling down the halls in color-coordinated sneakers, and adults gather slowly outside, leaning on the brick walls next to the barbed wire that fences in the hospital, waiting for the taxis to come. A series of white vans will carry us, all individuals currently occupying this abandoned hospital in Woodstock as part of a movement to, physically and symbolically, reclaim public land, to the #LandForLiving march.

What does this mean? Before I go further, a quick bit of background before I discuss other aspects of this experience. On March 19, I moved from the nearby neighborhood of Observatory to the CGH Hospital, where I’ll be staying for about one week alongside 50 to 60 occupants. This is both part of a transition in my project, as I’ve focused in on more land rights-focused issues since the end of my time in India, and an intention to immerse as much as possible in the issues and every day realities that people are experiencing. Staying there are people from a range of backgrounds and experiences, mostly from Woodstock, but who have come to the occupation as a symbolic effort to make use of a vacant, provincially owned space as well as a space to which their families had deep roots and ties and lives. They’re also there because, for many, there was no where else to go.

One year ago, several young people who passed without an over the shoulder as students, spent time intimately learning the layout of the hospital. Shut down almost twenty years before, CGH sits expansive, a base of brick with wide panels of white paint stretching to the roof, at 77 Mountain Road, close enough to see the rock bones of Devil’s Peak and with views of the harbor’s cranes and a sliver of ocean. The area covers a substantial, fenced off area of well-situated land in Woodstock, a southern suburb of the city which has become increasingly costly and gentrified but historically was occupied by a working class, mixed race population. Researchers, who entered the building while film crews were using the space to film horror movies (can honestly say that I was not overly surprised to learn this…), slowly reimagined and drew out a floor plan, intended for recent evictees and landless people to occupy.

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In April 2017, a group of five quietly moved in and occupied during a filming in the building, and over time, more and more people have moved in. Almost a year later, many of the original occupants are still there. Their photographs, taken in black and white, and testimonies hang in the upstairs hallway, reminders of pasts and memories that people have articulated for journalists, for outsiders, time and time again. Many people asked me when I first moved in if I had indeed read the stories. In print, they’re solid pieces of evidence, of commitment- no one has plans to move anywhere. They are pushing and waiting for what is next.

Each week, residents and others who are interested come to the Advice Assembly, organized by Reclaim the City and held in the CGH, to learn about different aspects of what to do when you are evicted. Different leaders of Reclaim the City and occupants of the house head discussions and workshop-like activities to help people learn about their rights in issues related to housing. When I attended this at 7 pm on Tuesday night, two days ago, the issue up for discussion was how to approach getting legal representation in an eviction case. Where do you go first? How do you know if your case warrants a lawyer? What sort of information is needed for forms at legal centers? These are the kind of questions that the discussion posed, and that the session sought to answer via an activity that got people moving between two sides that read “yes” and “no” on opposite sides of the room.

Residents of the house are also involved with attending meetings with local councillors; these duties are split up to ensure that at least a few members are present at community hall meetings. Tsukie, a house leader, and three other residents, went to a 7 pm meeting with three local councillors at Woodstock Community Hall (located in a yellow building just behind a park, where a number of houseless people live. Several people in the house said that prior to moving into CGH, they spent some time here, when they were unsure of where else to go) who were supposed to be speaking to the issue of housing for evictees.

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After one house member raised her hand and asked about the current status of the government’s next step in providing affordable housing development, the councillor, a white man in a tidy collared shirt and tie, stated that this discussion would have to be for another time. He had responded, he said, to an email the provincial office had received from a Reclaim the City organizer in January, and not received any email in return. Then, at 4 pm today, he had received another one- to this, he would immediately engage and “fully avail myself.” After that, the issues, raised by a number of residents gathered in the crowd of red plastic chairs, became specific to issues in the surrounding neighborhood, but not to the concerns that the CGH occupation rises around.

In the crowd, I met one journalist, working for the People’s Post, a community newspaper. She sat in the front row, taking notes and occasionally strode to capture the politicians as they spoke into a microphone that traveled between them. Later, I asked people in CGH about what they thought of The People’s Post. Published each Tuesday, copies of it showed up throughout the area: I saw it stacked in the Observatory train station, tucked into the guard rail of houses, and in the hands of CGH residents reading it, flipped open on a bed as we ate dinner together. Occasionally, one good story about land issues comes up, my neighbor told me, but usually, this is not a paper of “real” news. Though it does engage with issues and provide spaces for people in the local area to be recognized (there was a spotlight on a long time sports photographer and his rise to working for many years for the paper; a front page piece on a group of dancers traveling to the USA; a piece about a young playwright’s work).

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When we walk back to the house, Tsukie is annoyed, tells me in a flurry of words about the continued lack of answers which grows into an explanation of her own story- a forced departure from a shop that burned by the Shoprite grocery store. She points out the place to me, two blocks away, when we begin the ascent up the Mountain; tells me she’ll also take me to the tiny room where she temporarily lived afterwards. “They did not address us,” she said. “What is next? What is the next step forward? This meeting was not about that. They continue to brush us off.”

We bump into the other attendees, who come carrying Tsukie’s keys which she accidentally left on the floor next to her chair. Quickly, the intensity of our conversation fades as the three women begin joking about the politicians, the talking heads of which one woman cuts hair.

“JP winked at me,” Ursula, a woman who loaned me an extra blanket and says she is WhatsApp buddies with a minister’s wife  joked, laughing. At other meetings, she said in brief encounters with politicians they ask for her email address, as if to continue the conversations, to seem interested in, the issues that rise and fall in the community hall.

“I say, ‘oh sure, here’s my email.’ But you think I use email?!” She laughs. “I’ll email you so I can get your phone number. If I had their WhatsApp, we’d be chatting, I’d be messaging them all the time.”

March 21 is Human Right’s Day within South Africa- before 1994, it was known as Sharpeville Day, a commemoration of the massacre on the same day in 1960 that claimed the lives of 69 and wounded 120. Protesters had been demonstrating nonviolently against the Apartheid state and against the Dompas, an Apartheid era mandate that required Black men over the age of 16 to carry a passbook to allow them to enter into white areas, which included nearly all urban areas as well. Every year in the time leading up to the lifting of Apartheid, people marched in memory specifically of that day. After 1994, the government declared the date a public holiday and officially named it “Human Rights Day.”

“Now, that’s a thing you should ask people,” Bevil Lucas, a social historian and trade union activist who is currently occupying CGH, told me. He lives across the hall from my room number 17, and is a supporter of a number of movements, land and education focused, across the city- a passionate and deeply dedicated source overflowing with lived and spoken accounts of history. “What do people know about the history of Human Rights Day? Now that Sharpeville isn’t a part of the name any more, what do people remember? What do youth think?”

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I hadn’t known anything about the connection of Human Rights Day to this particular massacre, but as the day continued, links were explicitly made and people did know about the guise slipped over this bloody state atrocity. A seventeen year-old boy from the township of Khayelitsha told me that Human Rights Day came out of the shootings in Sharpeville; Richard of Woodstock, born in the same year, 1960, remembers protesting on this day and throughout the 1970s and the 1980s- “when we were youngsters, and they would shoot us down, shot at us. Now we have to reclaim the city again, to say that we are sick and tired of the things that are going on, every day.”

“For 58 years, I’ve paid rent. And now, all of a sudden, they want to kick us out? It’s not right,” Richard said. “We must stand up and see what we can get from the government today, every day. We are citizens of this country. They must look up to us, not tear us down.”

Along the march, a couple of other moments stood out to me; one, as a beautiful and thoughtful expression of intention about journalistic work, and the other, an important note of the fatigue of activists, of the sometimes draining nature of interviews upon those who are asked to tell and retell their stories.

At the opening circle, the back and forth marching along the road before the march began from Keizergracht, I met two South African journalists who are doing a long term documentary about Reclaim the City. Mickey, a filmmaker; and Ruth, a long time journalist. I asked Ruth about how she became involved in doing stories related to land struggles, and she spoke about how it came, naturally, once she began university at the age of 17. Apartheid was never a question for her, as it has seemed to be for some of the older South Africans I’ve spoken with – “it was so in your face, so blatant, so extreme, that it was never a doubt or question for me to support as an activist”- and she was on staff at a left wing Afrikaans newspaper when it was bombed in the 1990s. She has always positioned herself as a white, privileged, Afrikaans person amidst her work, telling stories at what she describes as the “fault lines of inequality”- but then, this has always shaped how and which stories she tells.

And then, soon before the protest began and, after touching arms in a goodbye, we lost each other in the crowd, she said this really beautiful thing:

“If given the choice to tell stories of the stones I’m throwing versus the stones that other people are throwing, I would always choose the stones of others.”

Stories are stones, and throwing is power, the boiling over energy of speaking. We stood together on the island between the two sides of the road, watching the protesters behind the banner and the police cars sitting in front of them, blocking off their path until written off permission was given.

This is not my story, she said. But I have never felt silenced in telling it.

It is not our stones that need to be thrown and hit ground. But we can aid in the reach, skip them further. This is most important.

Time and time again, this theme has shown up in my explorings of journalism reported from different levels of privilege; beautiful examples of extended limbs, telling the untold, going further and deeper to find things that don’t easily reach the surface.

1 pm. Walk at the right moment, and the wind will topple you onto neighboring feet, to the side. Protesters are gathered, sitting on the ledge and in the square in front of the Civic Centre, waiting for answers after the memorandum was presented. It’s the famous wind, the one that blows air up from Antarctica with a few changes of carrier. Kids are beginning to get hungry, and volunteers walk around selling chips for 2 rand.

I find WiFi, a kind of magical free network that appears to belong to public space, and begin sending Voice Memos to Bush Radio, a community radio station, which mentioned that they might like to use some voice recordings for a program on the march. And then, on my left shoulder, I feel a head; Jennifer, who lives down the hall and helps me coordinate getting keys to the house, is smiling behind me. All Reclaim the City folks are wearing black bands, wrapped around their wrists or arms, in memory of a comrade who was recently stabbed to death by a security guard. When they passed through the crowd this morning, Jennifer wrapped hers around her head, just below her hairline. Almost four hours later, it’s still there.

As she looks over my shoulder, I tell her what I’m doing, speaking with people and sending off the interviews in case Bush Radio would like to use them. Since there’s not too much going on at that particular moment, the waiting for answers, ask if she might like to do an interview about the march and its place within the collective demands presented. She sighs kindly and shakes her head, leaning back on her left heel, sneaker sole up. I regret my question immediately.

“I’ve done so many interviews,” she said, looking at me in the eyes,”And I just don’t want to do any more, telling my story again and again and again.”

Jennifer was one of the first occupiers of the house; her story is one of those on the wall, told in several long paragraphs. In April, in June, she met with journalist after journalist, telling her story to the point of exhaustion. “When some one comes to you and asks for your help, you often want to do it.” But there comes a certain point where it becomes too much. “You will not be the last journalist,” she says, and there will continue to be more speaking, more sharing of painful experiences.

We continue to speak, but not as an interview; rather about the fatigues and ups and downs of the struggle, of the inner dynamics of CGH, of her former job as a chef, her relationship with her partner. At one point, she holds up a black rounded bag in her hand and takes out a pink camera.

“Ruth gave it to me, to give me a break from doing interviews and take my own photos,” Jennifer says. Now, I remember seeing her, walking out ahead of the crowd during the march, up on the high balcony above, looking alert and surveying the space before her, the camera hardly present. She starts to show me the photographs she’s taken, pointing out one she likes in particular of the start of the march, the browns of Table Mountain and blue of the sky picking up the tones in a school girl’s uniform. She really enjoys doing this, and narrates, commenting on them under her breath; the photos, too, are beautiful.

“She told me to take as many photos as I’d like,” she added. Soon, Jennifer explains, she’ll begin helping out more formally with documentation for the project Ruth and Mickey are putting together. I asked her what she will do.

“I will go to my friend’s houses, talk with them, take photos of them, write down what they say,” Jennifer says. For some reason, her word choice of “write down” rather than “record” sticks with me. She does not need to record because she knows, needs only the details of the intimate specifics, pencil marks for the purpose only of a production.

We continue to talk; she tells me about what she will do in the event of different possible hardships, how she can’t imagine what will unfold if certain grounds are shaken from under her. And yet, she does not worry about these things for now.

“I am still me, I am still Jennifer, no matter what happens,” she says, shrugging. “You have to keep going. We have to keep going. Life goes on.”

Later, too, sitting on the steps, Bevil tells me that he saw a lot of hope, energy, good possibility in the march.

“People told me that they found this march to have more energy than any others in a long time,” Bevil says, sitting with his back towards the wind. “I think this could bring good things.”

“We will see.” And then, one by one, the white vans came and carried the occupiers back to their hospital, born forth and occupied again with life.

 

 

 

 

 

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Daily Dose: Operation Fiela 2, Heat Waves, Post-Election Investigative Journalism, Humanizing Aadhaar; back to Nepal.

January 27, 2018.

Harare, Zimbabwe.

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Today is Saturday, and the morning is off to a quiet and pleasantly warm start in Harare. This means that many organizations in Zimbabwe are closed for the day, and the roads, which are still shocking me with their width and quiet pace after the narrow, packed, and lively roads of India, are sleepy, filled with waiting gaps in traffic.

Still, it was a morning of reluctant early risings at It’s a Small World Hostel, where I’m staying along with a group of students (and new friends) from Africa University (located a four hour bus ride from Harare in Mutare) who are here for the duration of a leadership conference. Last night was a late one for the crew spent working on a next day presentation proposing a sustainable strategy for maintaining and improving infrastructure in Zimbabwe.

It was fun to hang out, listen to and discuss the issues the group was presenting on, as well as stay up in spirit of late night solidarity that is truly the essence of college (it also made me kind of, fleetingly, miss school…).

This morning, we were all tired- but, just past 6:30 a.m., a first tid bit of news came in while everyone was struggling to get out of bed to get ready for their early start. Some post wake up phone scrolling led one guy, Takudzwa, to speak out about news of the commencement of Operation Fiela 2, or policing of undocumented immigrants in Johannesburg, South Africa- many of whom are from Zimbabwe. The operation is focused specifically on removing criminals without documentation, but in its sweep will also seek to force out all undocumented or falsely documented foreigners and send them back to their countries of origin. The first Operation Fiela began in 2005, and this second phase launched by the Police Minister on Tuesday is creating a lot of fear among Zimbabweans living in South Africa without documentation, according to Zimbabwe news platform Bulawayo24.

In just the couple of days I’ve been here, I’ve heard a few people mention the large number of people who immigrated to South Africa after the huge economic downturn that escalated from around 2000 with its peak at 2008. Many have family members there or know folks who have relocated, so for many Zimbabweans, this crack down on documentation is a very important and worrisome issue. Here’s a link to the story, below:

“Zimbabweans unsettled as SA police launch ‘Operation Fiela 2’.” By Staff Reporter. Bulawayo 24. January 25, 2018.

Though immigration from Zimbabwe seemed to increase across the early 2000s, South Africa has cracked down by issuing visa limits in recent years. The Zimbabwean Special Permit (ZSP) was extended in 2014 to allow approximately 200,000 Zimbabweans to remain on in the country until December of 2017; however, an estimated 1.5 million- and likely many more- undocumented Zimbabweans are living in South Africa, according to an Organization of Migration report in 2012.

All of this is linked to decades of economic stagnancy- according to a Financial Times article, real per capita incomes are down 15% from 1980. Zimbabwe had to abandon its currency in 2009 and adopt the dollar as a means of exchange, which created an initial increase in income recovery but has since become flat- this means that cash shortages are a very present problem and makes the economy dependent on the flow of dollars in and out of the country. As such, the issue of the equivalent of a missing U.S. $15 billion in diamond mining revenue is a huge issue; where the money went is still a big question mark that went up for discussion among ministers and members of Parliament on January 23.

According to Farai Maguwu, Director of the Centre for Natural Resources Governance quoted in this piece: “the people who are investing in Zimbabwe through mining are overprotected and that leads to corruption and unfair treatment of the citizens.

‘When we talk of the mining operation in Mbada Diamonds, there are private unknown investors who have a 50-50 shareholding with our government. Those investors treat Zimbabweans as animals so I urge President Emmerson Mnangagwa to address such issues to ensure that citizens are treated with dignity.'”

“Let’s All Investigate the Missing US$15 Billion Issue: MLISWA.” By Joyce Mukucha. Spiked. January 24, 2018.

The site that this article is coming from, Spiked, seeks to highlight articles which received little attention in mainstream media and circulate important stories. According to the Spiked website, this is what they seek to do: “we call it SPIKED cause stories in the mainstream media (newspapers) which do not find their way to print for various reasons are called SPIKED stories. In a polarized media like ours stories get SPIKED because of the political reasons, advertorial and even the editorial policy of the paper.
Politics- the editor could be friends with the politician whose story is incriminating or the media house would be subscribing to different political views altogether or should I say pushing a political agenda in which the story will be contradicting the agenda, so it gets SPIKED.” 

That said, the stuff this site (which is the self-described baby of a reporter based out of Moto Republik) publishes appears to more regularly go beyond the typical coverage of politics, hard news, opinions, business, and entertainment beats here and into territory like press censorship and agriculture.

For example, one such story recently published tells of The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) launching an investigative journalism fund for reporters, with the goal of motivating journalists and providing mentorship and support for in-depth reporting. In the words of VMCZ Programmes office Faith Ndlovu: “After the elections, we are going to select best elections reporters, best gender-marginalised group reporters and best rural elections reporters. Online content creators are also going to be included since they are influential players in dissemination of credible information.”

The questions here become how the VMCZ will define “the best” journalists, and how political alignments of media houses and consequently reporters will play out in selection of funding recipients. What defines “the best” reporting? The article goes on to say, quoting VMCZ board members, that journalists should “not give general statements… and to report evidence-based facts,” as well as exhibit the “three E’s”- enthusiasm, enterprise, and energetic- and the “three C’s”-commitment, coordination and cooperation.” These adjectives lie more in line with professional development and general skill building rather than journalistic ethics, so I would be interested to see what the balance of mentoring/career growth and quality of pitch and investigation looks like in practice.

“VMCZ Introduces Investigative Journalism Fund.” By Joyce Mukucha. Spiked. January 26, 2018.

Similarly, Spiked also covered the recent heat wave that’s left Zimbabwe without rain for the past few weeks. It’s been a dry and long stretch of time, and this is already the hottest time of year, I’m told.

This piece also includes reported coverage on the issue from two rural areas, Chimbuwe village near Mt. Darwin, which has received less than 40 mm rainfall this season, and Domboshava, 30 kilometers from Harare and quotes from two different rural areas particularly impacted by the drought:
“Our maize crop is a complete write-off. Up to Christmas and the New Year our crops were blooming in some areas around this district. The rains have been good since the start of the farming season around October although we were unfortunate to receive very little rains here. However, our little hopes for a good harvesting are slowly dissipating,” Headman Chimbuwe said.

“Domboshava is an agricultural and horticultural hub but this dry spell leaves us with the possibility of a great famine if we don’t receive rains in a day or two. As traditional leaders, we thing it’s necessary to hold a national pray for the rains,” Headman Nyakudya, under Chief Chinhamhora in Domboshava, said.

“Heat Waves Spell Disaster for Zimbabwean Agriculture.”  By Byron Mutingwende. Spiked. January 24, 2018.

Finally, I listened to a couple of episodes of a podcast called Politics & Beyond.With episodes coming out approximately every other week, it’s a relatively new platform that zeroes in on recent policy decisions and politics of the moment through conversation between the show’s hosts, interview with politicians, activists or other figures, and general debate. I’m currently in the process of back tracking to listen to old episodes of this, as it provides good insight into developments over the last few months. Their website is currently down, but here’s a link to the Facebook page– I found about this podcast through an Al Jazeera Listening Post video, which featured the alt-media sites in Zimbabwe to follow.

India:

One of the publications in India I was very lucky to spend time learning about on-the-ground was the People’s Archive of Rural India. Started in 2014 by P. Sainath, a widely renowned journalist who’s spent the better part of a near 40 year career covering rural India immersed in living and reporting outside of urban areas, the People’s Archive seeks to serve as a “living archive” providing documentation of the present, as a means of preserving traditions, voices, and stories that have otherwise not been documented, and think it terms of reflections in the future on India at this very moment. I’ll explain more in another post about the processes, history of, and amazing current projects underway with PARI, but in brief: a visit to PARI’s site today led me to this article which puts human faces to the consequences of Aadhaar, a currently widely contested topic in the news. Aadhaar is the government-run, mandatory digital identification system that’s seen by many across India as both a significant infringement upon and threat to personal security, as it provides the government with access to information such as mobile numbers and bank accounts.

As explained in this article, Aadhaar details have also been linked to ration cards, granted to low income families and individuals, so that finger prints are required as identity proof whenever people go to receive rations each month. This piece reports that below the poverty line (BPL) ration cards have been connected with Aadhaar since June 2017, with an estimated impact on 8 million cardholders in Karnataka, a southern state in which the elderly couple featured in this story live. The issue of Aadhaar functioning and accessibility is multi-leveled, and this piece provides several perspectives of the differentiated and lived realities of people- the elderly couple whose finger prints do not read properly at the slot machine near their house, a shopkeeper, and a child forced to take on work delivering milk to make up for rising expenses and denied ration access- experiencing the consequences of a biometric and digital Aadhaar system.

The stories on PARI often present difficult realities- they’re stories that are not often not covered in depth in mainstream media, and intimate in the sense that they often detail the day to day lives and perspectives of individuals (“every day people” or non experts, as I’ve seen it, are rarely quoted in major media)- in a way that many other publications don’t. It seems that this story could be particularly powerful, perhaps in providing a thorough walk through, in changing the minds and hearts of people adamantly behind the policies of Aadhaar.

“When the man knows you, the machine doesn’t.” By Vishaka George. People’s Archive of Rural India. January 24, 2018.

I also read a blog post by M. Rajshekhar, who is an independent journalist whose generous help I’ve been fortunate to have in finding contacts, thinking through my project, and breaking down India media, and a very talented reporter. I first came across his work by way of a meeting with an editor at Scroll.in, who told me about a series he’d recently completed called Ear to the Ground. Shekhar was a long time reporter for the Financial Times, focusing on development and often times rural issues, but eventually came to a point where he felt like he didn’t understand his country anymore- and this, was in large part, because he felt there were many areas of the country which were rapidly undergoing change and many places which he knew only from a removed perspective. So, he conceived of a project in which he would spend 15 months living in 6 different states-Mizoram, Punjab, Bihar, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat. He’d spend thorough time and report in depth news features from across each state and report on a mix of topics, with the hopes of capturing the real stories and issues shaping each area. The stories themselves are brilliant and present a mix of both close reporting and in depth research (seriously, check it out). I also found his approach incredibly inspiring and thought provoking in the way of journalistically breaking down a country as large as India into reporting, and moving, state to state rather than being consistently stagnant in one area or even focusing in one theme across all those places. Instead, he produces portraits of each state as it is, and what he finds over the course of a few months.

To that end, he wrote a great blog post that links back into the thinking behind this project- it also includes many photos he took over the last three years.

Power. The ignorance it engenders. And some photographs.” By M. Rajshekhar. Fractured Earth (blog). January 25, 2018.

Nepal:

I’ll be honest- my attention to Nepali politics has been totally lacking and my mind and heart have been pretty completely trained on India for the last couple of months. So, this new reading log initiative is part of an effort to improve that and catch up, or figure at least how to sustainably keep up with the day-to-day news of multiple places. Since I don’t feel like I’ve kept up very thoroughly with the scene after parliamentary elections were held in November and December, I went back to re-read this piece (remember coming across it on Twitter a while ago) on The Record- a Nepali publication that publishes long form- to get my brain back into thinking about Nepal. It talks about how the left alliance won, and provides an interesting analysis of the reasons for the communist parties’ joint emergence on top.

How the Left Alliance Won.” By Supriya Manandhar. The Record.

I also came across this story in Al Jazeera and was interested in reading this since the issue at hand- stimgas surrounding menstruation and a Hindu practice called Chaaupadi where women must remain in isolation during their periods- was written about in different publications and angles while I was in Nepal. This time, it’s written by Zaheena Rasheed (a former Watson Fellow I met in Kathmandu) and another reporter about the first death report after chaaupadi became illegal.

Why menstrual stigma continues to claim lives in Nepal.” By Zaheena Rasheed and Roshan Sedhai. Al Jazeera. January 17, 2018.

Nepal, India, and Zimbabwe: the Beginning of a Daily Dose List

Scroll, read, click, and close, crumple, throw away – this is the normal, and intended, cycle of daily news consumption. Certain stories stand out in the moment and take over news feeds episodically, while others remain in our searches or in the public psyche for longer stretches of time. And then, we often forget about the pieces we’ve read, or don’t always keep track of them, even if they have prompted us to think differently or more deeply about something in the present.

This post is the beginning of a written tracker to keep up with these trends of news in the different countries visited as much as possible from January 26, 2018 onwards, and space to analyze and log the things I’m reading. I realized that I’m doing this all the time without more formalized documentation- all this kind of fitting into the “sponge” mode of my year so far- and want to start up a practice of reading and writing daily about the trends I’m noticing- and have noticed. Sometimes, I’ll back track and mix it up with some analysis and events from earlier in the year, and hope to also use this space to draw connections between the places discussed and, when relevant, bring in the U.S. (though I’ve purposefully been following media local to where I am more than back home).

My goal is to compose these “am reading” lists as much as possible, with at least one article from each of the places I’ve visited as of the date of posting- these articles will be a mix of what appears to be the most widely circulating stories and articles from publications outside of the mainstream, or stories that I found to be thought provoking or elevating of important or untold perspectives. I’ll give particular attention to stories about media censorship and media analysis as well- and occasionally just throw in random, fun stuff I loved. I’ll also briefly walk through a bit of my news searching process and talk about things I found interesting about articles popping up in each country’s media.

Enjoy, and as always, please feel free to share recommendations or ideas about this evolving list!

January 26, 2018.

Zimbabwe:

Today is my second full day in Harare, and I’m currently at the Moto Republik office reading the news amidst sending some emails and trying to plan out the next few weeks in Zimbabwe (which I’m very excited about!). First, a bit of a nod to where I’m at: Moto Republik is a creative hub for young people, the first of its kind in Zimbabwe according to its website, as well as a space for community events, collaboration, and discussion.

The building, with one multi floor arm and many rooms, is located down a quiet side street but is home to many vibrant creative ventures. It’s the base of Magamba TV, a political satire show, Bustop TV, a group which creates creative video material for a mix of platforms, and Open Parly ZW, a youth-focused initiative which seeks to engage people in providing close reportage on parliament and government, among many other very cool projects and people who work here. The environment is lively and open, and my time here has already included a number of interesting experiences: a lecture with documentary filmmaker Tariq Nasheed, watching a Bustop TV filming of its regular video footage “The Week,” blasting the finance minister, and attending a session of parliament with a reporter, Pretty Chavango, from Open Parly.

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The set up for a Magamba TV spoof of a finance minister.

Most days, a journalist from the network goes to live tweet and report upon proceedings- there’s a designated press section, situated on a balcony above the Parliament (which has 210 elected members with constituencies- on the day that I was there, there appeared to be many vacancies and green benches which were vacant) and a section for the public. Members of parliament were talking closely, looking over documents, and creating a quiet purr that made it hard to fully hear the people making testimonies- the walls behind them, slightly yellow, showed a single taxidermied leopard and two deer heads.

Since I don’t have press accreditation, I could not go into the press section with Pretty, so we sat together in the public section with a couple of officials in uniform and one other woman. According to a sign with a long list of specific to-nots, you may not: eat or drink, converse, take photos, take audio recordings, sleep, use your cell phone, etc. while in the section, so we went into observation mode (with yes, a little bit of conversation… But let it be known, too, that the guys in uniform next to us were sitting on their phones) as testimonies began just before 3 pm.

Across from us sat the press: five reporters, one of whom from Open Parly, and the others from a mix of digital outlets and print newspapers; “the usual faces,” Pretty says, unless the President is coming into parliament or an especially important bill is being discussed. In that case, reporters will often have to stand and crowd the small space, which she says is often difficult to hear and take photos from given the elevated positioning of the nook behind the Speaker.

The goal of Open Parly is to engage citizens in covering Parliament and engaging in local governance, while also publishing material that informs citizens about decisions and laws in process. Many people do not know about or actively seek out information about what’s going on in Parliament, Pretty says; she herself did not know much before she began to work for Open Parly about two years ago. Open Parly seeks to change that and report upon the day-to-day press conferences, legislations, and affiliated events, while also making the material engaging- because just tweeting about bills in discussion can become boring. Open Parly will tweet photos of, say, a politician asleep; or note the dynamics of an argument, quote people directly, take videos and use Facebook Live.

On the afternoon of January 26, 2018, the Parliament of Zimbabwe discussed a protocol set forth by the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare on the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Employment and Labour, in terms of a particular section which has not yet been enforced or made to align with the current labor laws. As an Open Parly tweet reads, quoting member of parliament Mashakada: “we must adopt this protocol because it important for Zimbabwe, there is need to harmonize the Labour Act… Linked to this protocol is Labour mobility, labour should be able to move freely in the SADC region.” In the morning, Parliament had been discussing the lack of funding for sports more broadly, but specifically in terms of football.

A testimony from Francis Nyamutsamba, a sports anchor and reporter, is quoted in part on Open Parly’s Twitter: “Football in Zimbabwe can not develop because no one is actually administering the football. This is how grave the situation is at ZIFA , Zimbabwean football has been destroyed totally, completely… We are putting funds in the senior team yapera (full of worn out) 30-32 year olds , and neglecting investing in youthful teams that means in the next 3-4 years Zimbabwe will have no national team… Footballers are upset that their game has been infiltrated by self serving people who have no interest in the sport, no country wants a Zimbabwean footballer anymore… The problem is in management, tauraya bhora tega ( we have killed football ourselves).”

I found these articles on Open Parly-“a portal for young Zimbabweans to engage in their future, the future of the nation and the decisions that will impact on what our Zimbabwe should look like… The aim of the project is to increase citizen engagement in our communities.” 

 News Day– “an independent media house free from political ties or outside influence.Our desire is create a conversation with Zimbabweans about the issues that matter in the country and enable maximum participation so that our newspapers and online offerings reflect as diverse a range of perspectives as possible. In so doing we hope to be part of the process of national healing, nation building, reconciliation and reconstruction.”

The Zimbabwean– an online portal and “voice for the voiceless… a torch-bearer in the face of overwhelming state propaganda and a news blackout on state-sponsored terrorism, corruption and human rights abuses. From February 2005 until October 2015 the hard copy was distributed free of charge to disadvantaged rural communities, comprising mainly women and youths, inside Zimbabwe, while all content was also available on line. In line with modern trends, the newspaper has become an online publication.” 

and 263 Chat– an online space created as a way of “participating in progressive and national dialogue in Zimbabwe. The use of the internet and the numerous social media tools available play an integral role in this entire process. Zimbabweans are already engaged in numerous conversations about their daily lives in Zimbabwe and beyond. 263Chat aims, in part, to amplify their voices.” 

to be particularly interesting in terms of getting a feel for the current political scene. Right now, the politics beat is the main priority of journalistic outlets- a couple of reporters here have told me that the environmental and health beats are very small, as there is no space for coverage of these issues on most Zimbabwean platforms. Among the biggest issues of discussions are the upcoming elections, set to happen in June or July 2018, the first with the new government in place under President Emmerson Mnangagwa after the infamous former President Robert Mugabe was removed from power after 37-years in office (according to Pretty, who was reporting in Parliament the day of the announcement of his official resignation, members of Parliament jumped out of their seats and onto benches; everybody was celebrating).

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Current President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“The Way Out of the Zimbabwe Crisis is Through Elections.” By Kofi Annan. November 23, 2017. This was published originally just after the coup in November, but I found it to be an interesting read and reflective of the sense of hope that some Zimbabweans I’ve talked to so far have said that they have with a new present in office and elections coming.

“Elections before July: Mnangagwa.” By Tatira Zwinoira/Everson Mushava. NewsDay. January 25, 2018. This short news piece is informative about the latest dialogue on elections coming out of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where Mugabe traveled to and participated in some extensive talks about the state of Zimbabwe and his policy plans. It  also offers up a voice from a scholar who speaks against Mnangagwa’s statement about holding elections before July, saying that this is actually unconstitutional unless Congress dissolves- this shows a great contrast to the piece linked below.

“ED Meets IMF, World Bank Chiefs.” By Happiness Zengeni. The Herald. January 26, 2018. Curious to see how The Herald, the daily state-run newspaper, covered this statement, I sought out this article, which was placed first on the page’s rotating carousel. This piece actually provides a thorough walk through of the different topics Mnangagwa discussed with foreign leaders, including infrastructure reform, road construction, tourism, agriculture policies, and foreign investment- but, interestingly, it did not include any information on upcoming elections or Mnangagwa’s statement about his hopes for a July date and willingness to concede if he loses.

“Anti-Corruption Body Overwhelmed by Cases, 150 Reported in January Alone.” By ZBC. The Zimbabwean. January 26, 2018. While The Herald coverage indicates an alignment or pro-state leaning in its reporting, this piece reflects The Zimbabwean’s more critical coverage of government. Here, a summary from the first two paragraphs:

“A floodgate of cases of corruption are being reported at the Zimbabwe Anti Corruption Commission (ZACC) since the coming in of the new political leadership. Commissioner Silukhuni said close to 150 cases have been reported this month alone compared to about 200 cases which were reported in 12 months for the past years. She attributed the development to public confidence in ZACC which came as a result of the political will shown by the President Emmerson Mnangagwa. ZACC said there is need for legislative reforms to ensure protection of witnesses and incentivise whistle blowers.”

“Mixed Feelings Over ED’s Davos Trip.” By Jeffrey Ncube. 263Chat. January 26, 2018. This piece discusses Mnangagwa’s time in Davos- but brings in voices from five people, collected in interviews and on Facebook comments. The article is brief but it highlights a different approach and captures peoples’ sentiments in an informal format. There seems to be a general sense that people closely listened to and followed Mnangagwa’s performance at the World Economic Forum, and some expressed hope. Linda Makuyana Ncube is quoted as saying, “l must say l am proud of my President a leader who is willing to face the tough questions and open to engage l can already see a better Zimbabwe let’s unite my people.” In slight contrast, Pardon Dzangare said that Mnangagwa, “is no saint as well, as he was part of the group but I would blame Mugabe more as he was the captain of the ship.”

Also: I loved this video feature on a female bus conductor, posted a few days ago on 263 Chat.

A Day in the Life of a Female Hwindi. By Joseph Munda. 263Chat. January 24, 2018.

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India:

Today, January 26, is Republic Day in India; the day that, originally, was celebrated as Independence Day, but later became Republic Day, when the Constitution of independent India was passed in 1950. This piece on Scroll, a digital media outlet that publishes news features with angles oft-not taken or with a deeper approach than hard news, does a really good job laying out the actual events on Republic Day in 1929. Thousands of people, alongside President Jawaharlal Nehru, gathered on the banks of the Ravi River in Lahore, all ready to take a purifying plunge of Purna Swaraj, which means complete self rule- but, in actuality, this moment had a unique significance to each of the groups present. Haroon Khalid writes a great piece on this.

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“Republic Day story: On Ravi’s banks, a pledge that shaped the course of modern India 88 years ago.” By Haroon Khalid. Scroll. January 26, 2018.

Although not as current, I just finished reading this piece in The Caravan, a monthly magazine, about the parallel rising of the alt-right in India and the U.S. Each month, The Caravan publishes at least one piece of extensive reportage for its print issue and this one came out on the cover of the January magazine, which sported a red background and swastika on its cover. This piece is very well written, thorough, and deeply reported.  the author, Carol Schaeffer, has been covering the alt-right movement around the globe for years.

“Alt-Reich: The unholy alliance between India and the new global wave of white supremacy.” By Carol Schaeffer. The Caravan. January 1, 2018.

Nepal:

Liz Hawley, a prominent journalist who covered mountain mountaineering and politics in Nepal since 1959, passed away today at the age of 95. I read the piece this morning and was very interested to read about her work as a journalist; she extensively covered mountaineering in Nepal and was essentially a “walking Wikipedia of climbing trivia.” She was a Reuter’s correspondent at a time when coverage of Nepal centered around trekking and mountaineering, and this grew into an extensive archive of details, notes, photographs, and interviews which is now digitized. She also kept close track of Nepali politics for Time Now and Reuters, and eventually these notes were transcribed and formed into a book called The Nepal Scene (want to read this!). Allegedly, she did not like trekking and never went mountaineering herself. Instead, as described by the writer Kunda Dixit, she drove to interviews in a blue beetle and grilled mountaineers post climb in hotel lobbies across Kathmandu: “I like mountain scenery, I think it’s great, I just don’t need to climb them.” Written by Kunda Dixit, the editor of Nepali Times and one of my own mentors and role models in journalism, this piece is a nostalgic transport to journalism of a different kind, an inspiring call to write and record obsessively- and also makes me miss Nepal.

“From Liz Hawley in Kathmandu.” By Kunda Dixit. Nepali Times. January 26, 2018.

Eklai and in Conversation: When it Comes to Other Spheres

Kathmandu, Janakpur, Birgunj, Charikot, Nepal.

New Delhi, Agra, Chitrakoot, Dharamshala, India.

December 2017.

“Media does not just hold up a mirror to society. It is the mirror.” –Kunda Dixit, journalist and editor of Nepali Times, in A People War: Images of the Nepali Conflict 1996-2006

There are [so many topics] covered in big newspapers. They are not doing the work of communication. They are reporting what is happening, wha is news. Small papers, in addition to reporting, are communicating. -Ashok Gupta, founder and editor of The Mayur Infomail, a fortnightly community newspaper in Delhi, India 

“Americans do not realize that the whole world is watching them.” –journalists at International Federation of Journalists, South Asia conference, in conversation

“The ones who write in the vernacular media [in India] are the ones who are often the most affected locally. And so they become a danger, they pose a real threat, to politicians in that region because they have that kind of grassroots support and connections… It’s the various regional channels that are the most influential locally.” –Indian journalist Sujata Madhok, in conversation

Local: adjective: relating or restricted to a particular area or one’s neighborhood; relating to a particular region or part, or to each of any number of these.

Grassrootsnoun: the most basic level of an activity or organization; ordinary people regarded as the main body of an organization’s membership.

View from Cafe Illiterati in Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh, India.

The following is a mix of things- part reflection, as my time in Nepal is now closed, (this is dreadfully late and has long been in the works amidst day to day work and interviews, as I’ve been piecing together research and interviews and anecdotes and my own thoughts). It is part ramble on Nepali media and questions about journalism in general, mixed with some of my favorite anecdotes,  moments, quotes and sights from the past three months.

Hey hey, hello everyone, and greetings from India, the second country stop on my Watson year! I’ve spent the majority of the last three weeks in New Delhi, where it’s hovering around the beginnings of a crispy winter and the city is emerging from a period of particularly intense smog levels- but am coming to you live from Dharamshala, a village in the mountains about twelve hours north of the capital by bus. I’ve come here to do some catch up on my blog and projects in the works, and to breathe (literally and figuratively) for a few days. Dharamshala is quiet, nestled beneath forested and then stony peaks of the Dhauladhar mountain range. It is also the residence of the Tibetan government, called the Central Tibetan Administration, in exile and a significant population of Tibetans. Of course, then, it is also the residence of his holiness the Dalai Lama, whom coincidentally drove by a coffee shop I was in, waving in the front seat of his car, in a grouping of four vehicles on his way back from talks about China. People stood in scattered groups on the road when the sirens began to sound, marking his arrival, watching the blind corners for his passage back home. Eyes up, searching for his face in the front seat, those of us gathered looked into the front seat and later, compared shots which mostly captured black glass; in a video clip, you can see the Lama’s hand, moving from side to side.

“It always feels different when he is here,” said one woman, who lives on-and-off in Dharamshala during the year. She wanted to hold a white scarf, forming an arc, out towards his passing car instead of her phone. “You can feel it when he comes back, the magic.”

You can strategize angles for making eye contact and, adjust lenses to zero in on a subject behind glass, but there are some moments that can’t dance with preparation. Documentation requires both consistency and quick attention to the present; but at times, it is a diversion from actually being present. I notice and sometimes resent this feeling when I am in a new place, somewhere or some moment where I might not ever return.

Telling a story or taking an image as a momentary visitor is fleeting. That doesn’t mean I don’t do it (I do it all the time, though I’ve been taking less photos than I did at the beginning) or that it is not valuable (seeing new things and new places is always valuable), or that I think it shouldn’t be done (it’s an essential and fun thing to do), but it comes back to the question of capturing a place as an incomer and the value of doing so; whether it is images or words or feelings that evoke recognition.

This leads me to an important moment of realization of my own interests and intended plan for this year: I believe spending significant time is important, and hope to tell and study the kind of stories that necessitate living and really being in a place, rather than being in many places. I came into Nepal thinking that I’d spend a month and a half; I left after three months. Of course, this can’t happen everywhere I planned to go so I am thinking accordingly and trying to keep the big picture in mind, easy as it is to fall in love with places and stay, comfortable in that feeling of still growing in the slightly less than unfamiliar.

Kathmandu was home base for three months and a place in which I spent time meeting with many different types of journalists, as a means of trying to figure out what interested me the most. Here, I’ve planned out time here with much more consistent movement and longer periods of time focused with organizations and journalists, as opposed to meeting with a wide range of storytellers.

That said, news analysis projects and pieces are underway here in India (but I’ll save that for another post) about a mix of different types of media- including a digital journalism training for Khabar Lahariya reporters, oral histories with journalists working at a community radio station, Alfaz-e-Mewat, in a village in Haryana, an exploration of how Tibet-oriented publications based out of Dharamshala are covering both news in Tibet and communities within India, and an analysis of the gender-byline breakdown of five major print newspapers in India over the course of two months. Otherwise, I’ve been meeting with grassroots storytellers, including folks with the Delhi community newspaper the Mayur Infomail, Youth Ki Awaaz, Dalit Camera, Voice of Tibet, Radio Free Asia, and the World Comics Network… The scope of media organizations are truly mind boggling and vast- an honest reflection of India, the world’s largest democracy, itself- making this a fascinating place to kick off the second leg of this year.

In short, this I hope: to continue to grow and seek to always do better by taking lots of time, with stories and in the countries I visit, and to do less rather than feeling pressured to cover a wide breadth. Personally and professionally, this is something I’m holding tight as an important goal for self-improvement.

In college, I chose to study history because I loved the flexibility of the discipline; I like to say yes to everything, but this year is also a lesson in hard truths and limits. In India, I’m refocusing my definition of “local journalism” to more closely align with what might be understood as “grassroots.” Reflecting on Nepal, I realize that the time I spent with community radio journalists and organizations, most of which were not published in English, were the moments at which I learned the most. My hope is to spend time close to the sources of stories that have faded from the front page after their shock value runs up, if they were ever acknowledged widely there at all. I’m seeking to stray away from TV news and more solely towards digital and radio-based mediums that center peoples’ voices directly. There are so many questions to bring into question when it comes to media, particularly now- and with all that in mind, these focuses continue to shift as the issues and places around me do, too.

In getting to know a place, journalists are a beautiful source of guidance to travel by, noses ears to the ground, brains full of names; with each meeting, I continue to be awed in talking to journalists about what they do and the decisions, and sometimes sacrifices, made to keep them on the path of this work. These journeys into the profession are individual, but I think that are also more parallels in journalistic conditions across the world than differences. The same problems, the same questions of integrity and censorship, of fake news and seeking stories within urban bubbles; they all arise, even when it’s not possible to gauge the similarities from afar.

From above, Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley has buildings that stretch to the feet of its hills. The distinction between hills and mountains is important because of the jump between those that exist within the country’s boundaries- hills are the ones that rise up like dark, shaded pencil lines around Kathmandu, while mountains tower and peak out with whitened heads in the North. Mountains are only considered such if snow is involved.

At its borders, Nepal’s land rises to over 8,500 meters and descends to 200 meters above sea level. Rivers older than the mountains flow between them with their beginnings in the North before flowing long and swiftly south. Two of the largest rivers, the Karnali and the Trisuli, begin in Tibet and extend through Nepal’s plain “Terai” region into India. Along the course of rivers, Nepal is packed with such a range of landscapes; a couple of times, I fell asleep on a bus heading out of the Kathmandu Valley, past the terraced farm lands on roads that would sometimes fling me fully out of my seat when we hit big potholes; then, waking up, we’d be rolling swiftly down a smooth road, where rickshaw bikes replaced tempo buses, where the land did not slope and long stretches of rice grew next to the road.

As of 2016, approximately 28.98 million people live in Nepal. Within that population, approximately 1.3 million live in Kathmandu. The city itself, built over a rich valley that once took King Narayan Shah five years to slowly conquer in the 1700s, is home to people from throughout the country (and, of course, the world… the expat and foreign worker population in Kathmandu is very large and seems to be growing). Nepal is rich with a mix of people and geographies, religions and debates that have grown tense and loosened their hold over time. That said, I’ve left with many more questions and curiosities than I came with and stories that I know I need much more time to understand and flesh out. In three months, you can learn a good amount about and briefly live in a place, but that tenure is limited. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to absorb how journalism functions in a place like Nepal over the course of a few months, and not participate so much as work peripherally.

Stepping back and watching reporting unfold from the perspective of someone observing as a “shadow”, and in many cases, listening to interviews in another language, is an experiment in and of itself. This project is a continual work in progress and product of learning-on-the-go from the journalists who have very generously helped me along the way and made all of this learning possible. Looking back on my time in Nepal, a lot of what I did was learning about a wide variety of perspectives in Nepali media. I focused less explicitly on the original plan articulated in my project statement to study grassroots media (which is very different from local journalism)- and instead did extensive interviews and spent lengths of time with folks who have done a wide range of things in media. I did accompany and work alongside journalists who work at the grassroots and a community radio organization which is adapting to a new type of listener, but I also learned about the big media, about TV, about weekly newspapers and long form writing in Nepal. This exposed me first hand to understanding the power dynamics at work in Nepali media, and about the kind of stories are being produced and fed to the largest concentration of decision makers in the country.

Palpasa Café is a novel about the People’s War, or the ten year-long Maoist insurgency that resulted in thousands of death across Nepal and horrific violence between the army and the rebels, and civilians across the country caught in between. Former Kantipur editor Narayan Wagle traveled extensively during the War and wrote Palpasa as a fictional reflection of it, to capture the things that couldn’t be put into words, the feeling of that time that journalistic reporting couldn’t always convey.

After reading his book, I had the chance to speak with Wagle about his work. This quote of his, about heading Nepal’s largest newspaper during the war, has continued to stick with me.

Kantipur’s approach [to covering the War] was a bit different. It was the largest newspaper and so with that duty we were lucky that we had good spirited journalists reporting who wanted to fight. Who wanted to fight both sides, both extreme sides. Other newsrooms were not that lucky. In most other places the publishers compromised with the king, the army, the police. We were marked as being the opposition. The king and his ministers called us the eighth political party because there were seven political parties in the demonstration, so we were blamed as the eighth party. Like your president says today, ‘fake news! Fake news!’ Exactly the same way. Eighth party. That was a different situation, a different time but when I read something about President Trump saying fake news, I resonate with it. ‘Eighth party, eighth party.’ There is an echo.”

Start simple and with the most fascinating details, Deepak Adikhari says. And our current setting is ripe with it, bright teddy bears and hand-carved portraits of Osama Bin Laden, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mahatma Ghandi, Albert Einstein lining the walls of a former Maoist child soldier’s office. He is sitting, dressed in a suit and snuggly wrapped tie, talking with Deepak about his growing art business and his experiences as a young teen alongside comrades. From Dolakha, he served as a spy for the Maoists as the ten year insurgency was coming to a close; he shows photos of his family’s house when Deepak asks him to describe it. The details and anecdotes are what Deepak is most interested, in writing a feature that looks at the young man’s venture into business, P & T Handicraft. It takes time and an additional meeting to capture a full timeline and get to the space of exchange where real details emerge. At one point, the boy and his brother were asked to carry bombs to a police station raid but said no because the instructions were vague, and they didn’t quite understand. It turned out to be a well-known raid that killed 7 police officers and 4 Maoists. Other details and locations, dates are harder to pin down, Deepak says, because the Maoists didn’t typically record or note down their path. This can make storytelling in a traditional feature format challenging- and as in any piece, finding the opening for interest is most important. Though he wrote for Nepali publications for most of his career, Deepak now writes for a German wire service; he takes notes in Nepali in clean bullet points and writes in English, then translated for a German audience.

“The battle is the lead,” he says. Leaving the interview, he is thinking about the faces and bears in the background.

Sometimes, it’s a coincidental falling into place at a newspaper. For a correspondent with Nepali daily Kantipur from the city of Janakpur in southern Nepal, it was a nudge from a cousin to pursue a job at a local publication. A journalist with digital, entirely women-run Indian publication Khabar Lahariya needed a consistent income in 2007, and stuck with it for far longer than expected because she got used to the rhythm of reporting and found it interesting.

Most recently, I attended a workshop with Khabar Lahariya in Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh. Nine women came to the publication’s office for a training in becoming part time reporters, which would involve recording video of their home districts on smartphones and writing scripts for the stories. Ages 15 to 35, they came for different reasons, but there was a common emphasis on needing to tell women’s stories in particular. These are women who might not have worked before and, in most instances, from low-caste backgrounds.

Since its founding in 2002, Khabar Lahariya has covered, at different moments, both Bihar and Uttar Pradesh- two of the biggest and simultaneously underreported states of India. It is produced entirely of women, and does not discriminate based on caste- “I’m from a low caste, too,” Meera, chief reporter, said in opening remarks to a group of women gathered on the floor. I came along to the workshop, to learn about how training works on the ground, but also to record and video the discussions as a future training tool for KL.

The first morning, the attendees scattered across the room to handwrite their reasons for wanting to work for KL. On the second morning, five of the new reporters sat in a circle with a sheet of folk song lyrics in the model. I didn’t know what it was that they were saying until days later; here and in Nepal, listening in foreign languages by nature involves absorbing information in other ways.

A Bundeli folk song, its lyrics translated go something like this:

She’ll break her silence
She’ll crush the shackles 
She’ll rise and go stronger
Me and my sisters, we’ll leave our fears behind
And bring in a new world. 

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My days in Nepal were spent in conversation with journalists who report for different platforms, including editors and correspondents at Nepali Times (an english-language weekly), República (a daily newspaper in both Nepali and English- its Nepali name, Nagarik, means ‘citizen’), Nepal TV (the oldest TV station in Nepal, though it is funded and partially run by the government), Kantipur (the Nepali newspaper with the largest distribution), The Record (a long form essay and feature publication; “less a source for breaking news than a place where writers and readers can reflect on the news of the day.”), and Radio Sagarmatha, South Asia’s oldest community radio station, in addition to a few freelancers and other radio journalists in Kathmandu, Janakpur, and Birgunj.

In Kathmandu, I spent time editing copy on Thursday afternoons at an English language weekly. During morning radio shows, I sat next to technicians while reporters read news, highlighted and hand picked, from national papers aloud on community station Radio Sagarmatha. I took two hours of Nepali with my tutor, most regularly for the first few weeks and periodically after that. A photo journalist returned to a story about a shelter that provides livelihood support for houseless women, and I sat alongside him as he spoke with a woman whom he had interviewed two years before. In early September, I covered local elections in Nepal, following the lead of local reporters, who shared their contacts and took me to different interviews, from house to house; and at the tail end of the three months, a radio journalist covering earthquake recovery in Charikot Dolakha allowed me the chance to accompany her as she reported.

This is all to say, I have been very lucky in meeting some amazing, incredibly generous people, and in watching stories unfold and come together over time. And that’s something I realize now- that this year is not so much about actually documenting journalistic processes (though interviewing journalists about this is very interesting and still a big part of what I’m doing), but about taking the time to understand topics and community dynamics that are completely unfamiliar. Earthquake rebuilding and recovery. The Madhesi Movement. Demonetization in India. Press censorship in the Maldives. The spread of Christianity in Nepal.

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City center in Birgunj, Nepal at sunset, in early September.

Eklai.

It’s a Nepali word that means alone, by oneself, a singular unit. I heard it first from my housemates when learning Nepali during the first few days of August, and confirmed its meaning with my teacher, Geeta, while getting used to talking about what I’m doing this year. Ma staaniya paatrakaarita sikdaichhu. This is a year of exploring independently in unfamiliar places and languages, and taking time to understand the dynamics of local journalism in a country; not to compare or think in terms of relativity to other places, but to be present in Nepal as distilled within its borders.

And then, as quickly as eklai became a part of my Nepali vocabulary, it disappeared. In part, this is because, at one point, I misappropriated the word for a phrase I imagined to mean “firstly…” (confusing this new “eklai” with the word for “one,” which is “ek”). I then quickly adopted it and used it accidentally in a series of interviews and was told later by my lovely friends and reporters at Nepali Times that this made absolutely no sense in the context I was using it… And so it remained an office joke and crack of comic relief, and a mark of eklai coming to mean different things.

Even as I’m becoming comfortable with the day-to-day parts of being without any formal ties in a new country, I’m finding more and more that this year is actually about people completely.  This year isn’t really about being alone, or being isolated from realities in other places (the U.S. included). So far, it’s been a project in asking questions and having long conversations, more than anything, while seeking to understand diverse places in all their complexities.

Nepali Times ended up functioning as my base, and a consistent quasi-internship in which I edited content, wrote articles as I saw appropriate and helpful for my project, and generally observed, shadowed, and assisted in the newsroom. In doing this, I had the chance to thoroughly read each week’s issue, and observe the balance of stories filling the pages. This also entailed long digs into the web archives of the paper to embed links with key words in articles, through which I consumed stories written during the height of the Maoist insurgency from 1996 to 2006, to coverage of the 2015 earthquake aftermath, to editorials shortly before I arrived.

The paper itself is a stand out among Nepali media, though as an English language weekly, it is a publication that reaches mostly educated, affluent readers within Kathmandu and often times abroad. And yet, the stories they are telling are more reflective and shaped by historical context than almost any other newspaper in Nepal. Just this morning, I finished writing what will be the first “reader’s editorial” of the newspaper, in which I, from the perspective of a regular reader and someone who has also spent extensive time at the publication, critique the coverage and approach of the paper.

Because Nepali Times leadership, and therefore its political stance, has not changed, there is a consistent echo and sameness of vouching for the political status quo in many of its editorials, but also in its other content. In publishing in English, too, the paper is restricting stories that could be powerful and impactful for a broader Nepali audience to an English one. The reason for writing in English is part of the editor, Kunda Dixit’s, vision for better journalism in Nepal. He said that foreign media often covered Nepal with so many gaps that he felt creating an English language platform that would thoroughly tell the real stories here would be important for education and for developing an archive of in-depth information.

These questions of English languages vs. localized tongues; print vs. digital; and the balance of local news with a broader perspective continue to fill my mind, especially now as I start over in a new place. The divide between the big and English-speaking media is striking, as is the coverage of media based in Kathmandu versus localized outlets. With exceptions, large publications, rushed by daily deadlines, often skim the surface and present the passage of new laws and events without digging in. They perhaps have more resources and receive more attention, but this is because of their perspective from Nepal’s capital.

   “Trekkers are like sheep,” the female manager of Thorung Phedi Base Camp Lodge said to us. She had brought over two mugs of black coffee and paused when we asked about the timing between this lodge and the high camp before Thorang La Pass, about 800 meters higher on the hillside in less than 2 kilometers. It was a quick but unarguably pretty steep climb—one that seemed doable in the word-on-the-street rough estimate of an hour but slightly daunting with the destination’s elevation of 4,900 meters.

            My friend Kim and I were on our sixth day of hiking an abbreviated version of the Annapurna Circuit- the next day, we would come over the final hump of our journey hidera ma and slide down 2,000 meters into the desert and dry hills rising around the city of Muktinath, in the Mustang region of Nepal.

            The manager explained to us the common approach of many eager Circuit trekkers. People catch wind of other going to certain villages (“oh, you’re going to Ledar? That seems like a good idea, me too.” “Same, yeah, that makes a lot of sense, etc. etc.). and walk, many footprints strong in the wake of others ahead of them on the trail. This sort of accountability is beautiful, in a sense. Trekkers rely on each other, change, and adjust their routes as they meet new people. It is not a mistake to go higher- but the manager, the eyes and ears watching trekkers come and go since she’d started working alongside her partner in their business a year and a half ago, seemed amused by the different flocks of trekkers always hungry to go higher. Humans like to follow another in herds. We like to know about others that have come before us; sometimes, people feel better in knowing that more will come after they have disappeared.

       We began, our first night in the city of Besishahar, sleeping around the typical hour of 11:30, midnight. In Chame, then Pisang, Manag, Tilicho Base Camp, SiriKarkha, our nights became shorter and shorter until we were almost sleeping at 8 pm and rising (almost) without alarms at 5 am; sometimes earlier as the feet before us recommended.

            A fellow hiker from the Netherlands we’d met before, sunglasses still on, hat backwards, stepped into the lodge and stood next to our table for a short rest before the climb. “The day is still young,” he said. “It’ll make tomorrow shorter.”

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In Kathmandu, newspapers are still the openers to the day for some people; sometimes, the containers for greasy pieces of food-  they are most everywhere in the capital while in other corners of Nepal, news travels more extensively through spoken mediums.

If you buy roti at a corner shop, it will be given to you wrapped in newspaper tiny print with a colorful rubber band tied around it. Walking by the two taxis that often sit on the corner near my house, a young man sat, one foot and a half-on sandal dangling out the window, Kantipur crumpled against his chest. A cluster of early risers drink coffee at the shop on the corner before I turn onto the main road, Pulchowk, front pages facing the street. They line walls like fans and hang fringed above counters on big streets. More commonly they are for sale just in Nepali language but English dailies make appearances, more often than not.

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I often ask people in Kathmandu (and elsewhere )what they read, and most will say they read Kantipur, the best known and widely circulated newspaper in Nepal, and perhaps name another publication or two. Some will say they don’t really read the newspapers at all.

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Outside Kathmandu, this changes drastically. In Janakpur, I walked multiple mornings by a group of people perched on benches by the city’s central lake, instead reading a paper with an appearance I hadn’t seen widely until coming outside of Kathmandu- a four or six page daily in smaller type, on whiter and thinner paper. Here, the national dailies have less of a presence but the news they publish still often makes its way in original form; One correspondent for a national paper based in Jankapur told me that in some cases, news in these papers comes from national publications- articles are sometimes copy and pasted or taken in large part from the big papers, and appear in local ones.

Usually, the front page of the big print newspapers is made up of political stories and many acronyms: “No plan to postpone polls, say NC [Nepali Congress party] leaders.” “MoE [Ministry of Education] agrees to amend HPE [Health Profession Education] Bill in line with Dr KC’s demand.” (From The Kathmandu Post) “RPP [Rastriya Pajantra Party] to support Deuba-led govt.” “Saud appointmented GM of NEPSE [Nepal Stock Exchange Limited].” (From Nepal Rising, a state-run newspaper).

Most of the people that I’ve talked to, and some of the reporters I work with, tire of the political stories and hearing the latest daily doings of Nepal’s politicians. They say they have lost belief in the current electorates as representatives of the people or proponents of development for the public. Though this is a widely-held sentiment, people’s actions despite this common feeling differ; some continue to vote for a certain party even though they say they don’t believe that change will come, while others tune out from politics entirely.

I have a friend in Nepal who does many interviews not as a journalist, but as someone who walks. On three separate occasions, he’s taken off on foot- once across the mountains, once across the Terai in the south- and he talks to people. He carries a thready backpack and the essential basics; he uses a phone and not a camera to capture the people he meets to avoid the dimension of speaking for the record that it adds to the interaction. Later, he looks at the photos he takes and thinks back on the conversation carefully, without notes. He remembers what stood out to him as interesting, important, thought provoking. And in a mode of work that is not quite journalism, he writes out a small portion of what that person said. The excerpts aren’t informed by any taken notes, but from memory. It is less the details of the moment of the conversation that are important, as are the things that continue to rattle around after it. Let’s call it the art of what sticks.

Manila racks stacked with video archives run backwards until they hit a wall, thirty-three years away. It’s September 18, 2017 the day of the final phase of local elections in the southern province of Nepal. The tapes are held in consistently sized charcoal binders, labeled with white paper and episode numbers. It is the oldest archive of journalistic video footage by Nepali media, starting with the work of Nepali TV starting in 1984. Thirty-years running now, the channel produces material across eight different broadcast stations with a combination of analog and digital technology.

Nepal TV began as a government-operated TV station, though today it also is dependent on a mix of independent advertisers in addition to some government support. At the same time, the channel does remain a described spokesperson for the latest updates. Live broadcasts begin with reports on the latest news in government.

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I had just returned from spending time with journalists in Janakpur in the lead up to the local election, and now, I was standing here in a TV newsroom. Though I’m not a broadcast journalist, I was curious to see what the insides of such a newsroom in Nepal look like, to watch too how an essentially state-run media discusses the elections.

For the 2 pm broadcast, a reporter in Janakpur was going to go on-air, live, from a polling center in the middle of the city. Earlier, technical glitches had prevented a live report from being broadcasted as planned. But now, instructions were being given to the reporter over the phone as he adjusted his microphone. And then, from the field, the broadcast began as voters moved forward in the voting line behind him.

In other news, the main topics up for broadcast were noted on pieces of paper next to the technicians (whom were all female except for one- in contrast to the news room of editors, where one woman was seated around the table). The Bangladesh Rohingya refugee crisis, Muslim refugees in Myranmar. A wind storm in Romania, 8 deaths. A koala in Australia that survived a 16 kilometer ride on a car axle. Updates on the Nepal U-19 cricket team. Climbing, for sport, in Germany.

And then, back to elections. At a computer, a technician was copy and pasting party symbols into the queue, to be broadcasted on screen as politicians from different affiliations spoke.

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Twelve staff, three reporters. Kalinchowk FM, 106 MHz, broadcasted from Charikot Dolakha, broadcasts from a hillside in a sand colored building, on the third floor. They broadcast 17 hours a day, typically, with a mix of programs that begins with a three hour series of news. There are two rooms for radio shows- one for live recordings, and one for taping programs-  with computers and two mics on tables.

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This year, and specifically this month, the radio is celebrating its eleventh anniversary. They are “returning to the grassroots,” by engaging listeners in dancing, singing, and community conversations.

Towards the end of my time in Nepal, I spent time shadowing radio journalist Nirashi Thami in the field, after meeting her at a conference in Kathmandu. As a reporter both for her local FM station and national service BBC Nepali, she has extensively covered 2015 earthquake (recovery and rebuilding. Her own family were victims of the earthquake; their house was destroyed, and they are still staying in another home as a new house is rebuilt).

I learned from both Nirashi and the Kalinchowk station manager about how reporters camped out in a tent for about a month after the earthquake, reporting and broadcasting from the field because their office had been destroyed. This kind of persistence was shared by many community radio broadcasters in Nepal- as Sonia Awale writes in an article for Nepali Times about radio coverage after the earthquake, there were a total of 61 community radio stations in the 14 districts damaged by the earthquake, 30 of which were housed in buildings in collapse. For about one month after, the Kalinchowk FM team reported from a tent in Charikot about food and relief distribution, safety and the most recent news from the government regarding the earthquake aftermath.

We walked from Nirashi’s house, up the road and down small trails past other cottages that had not been there before the earthquakes, and I came along as she interviewed fellow community members; people who were outside their houses and whom we encountered at random. As someone who doesn’t speak the language, this required a different kind of observation. I was at times worried that I wouldn’t absorb as much (I certainly didn’t, of course) because of the language barrier, but there were other things I could absorb that, in a way, taught me more about the bare bones of storytelling than I might learn from even someone with whom I share a language.

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I was able to watch how Nirashi, with her manner and body language, approached people in the community. Walking along a road, she approached people working outside their houses, leaning against motorbikes on the road, and struck up conversations. Within a minute, she took out her portable microphone and recorder and the exchange began; she proceeded with questions about the state of their land, their houses, their struggles as they were open to discussing them, I was able to watch her body language, the flow of language between them, gauge the experiences they were explaining about their own lack of access to building resources and water.

I could see how, later, when we ran into a couple carrying baskets that once carried chickens back to their farmhouse, she began asking questions and when it seemed appropriate, asked politely to go back to their house and interview them about their time and processes starting up a poultry farmer in the village.

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Though the language barrier meant that I could not translate or know the details of discussions word for word, I could see the process for how she put together reports and went about finding people to speak to- by foot, and by organic conversation, a seeking out of gathering conversations rather than pursuing a particular angle, at least in the initial stages of reporting. There are times when it has been frustrating and hard to not know quotes, word for word; there are details and intricacies in communication that I am missing, of course, all the time. But, I also feel that I’m almost relearning how to be a journalist and letting go of any pre-existing approaches I’ve held. In the places I’ve previously reported, primarily on Bainbridge Island and in Claremont, I’ve been a person of and immersed in those relatively slow-moving places. I am a student in learning about both the present dynamics of these places and processes of journalism.

In Batase village, three women- a mother and her two daughters- gather Sayapatri, or marigolds, for use as garlands and in prayers during the festival of Tihar. In tagging along with photojournalist Ashok Maharjan, we spent the morning in the fields as the trio picked and filled baskets with the flowers; then came along when they carried the baskets to their house and poured the orange bulbs onto mats, from which they will pack the flowers for transporting and sale tomorrow in Kathmandu.

“The beginning and ending of a video is the hardest part,” Ashok said, as we finished shooting. He stopped on the path to take stills of the flowers themselves. “You always have to think about the frames, the sequences, what you are showing.”

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At other moments on the way back, he paused to film the road winding up the hill across from us, showing the context of the festival garland-flower cultivation and distance from Kathmandu; and then the city itself from above. A flower will appear at the start and the end of the video, he says, to show its place and importance at the heart of the process.

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There is a distinct divide between Kathmandu-based and more localized media, but things are also changing rapidly alongside Nepal. People in Kathmandu do not depend on radio anymore, and most turn to Facebook or say they read Kantipur, Nepal’s newspaper with the largest circulation, for news. Radio Sagarmatha, based out of a multi-story house and recording studio on the edge of the Ring Road, used to be widely listened to and a major source for news. It still broadcasts about 18-20 hours a day, seven days a week, but the radio itself is currently going through some changes to revive its resonance with listeners which have decreased very significantly since the early 2000s. Their programs are often a mix of interviews with significant politicians or figures, updates and testimonies on the earthquake, historical perspectives from older members of society, or readings of hand-selected articles from the national daily newspapers.

The radio’s compilation of programs is broad and fascinating, involving a mix of both current news and more culturally focused ones, but the segments do not usually involve journalists stepping out into the field. Its affiliate, the Nepal Forum for Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ), similarly was turned to as the most expert collective of environmental news, but now its work is slowed by a presence not designed for the web.

A group of young interns gathered together to work out a social media and website campaign for Radio Sagarmatha and NEFEJ, thinking through how to revitalize and engage readers using the core strengths and niche of the platforms. Without it, they said, they think Radio Sagarmatha’s listenership will disappear completely. Currently, this group is working on developing a new social media and website plan for the organization. I had the chance to sit in on meetings and offer ideas for execution of social media and fleshing out a new vision for NEFEJ, which will soon be presented to the board of directors. The hope is that NEFEJ can slowly develop its web presence to reach more viewers and regain its place, by posting original content and linking radio programs to the web, by bringing more in the field work and photographs to audiences outside the radio. It will take time, but NEFEJ’s legacy and team is dedicated. The interns and staff members have hope and a strong commitment to making the programs more accessible.

At night, often at dark, I would come home to the guesthouse I stayed at from a meeting or conversation or conference or lecture, feeling full and dizzy with thoughts, thoughts which I wasn’t sure how to fit together or articulate at times. Instead, I found myself writing or putting things together most clearly while I was moving or in transit on a bus, passing from one point to another. I write every day in my journals, and have been documenting in long chunks my experience while also capturing the journalistic processes of reporters in photographs. I’m realizing that my writer self, my reflective self, is different from my journalist self. The journalist in me can awake at 5 a.m., ride helmet-less on the back of a motorbike, chat with politicians and march in the sun and come back, though exhausted, and write off an article with energized fingers. Deadlines are my driving force and provide an energy that completely fuels creativity.

In Nepal, I’ve written about my experience navigating public transportation as a foreigner (I wrote my senior thesis about buses as a critical space in social mobilization, and so have a strong love for buses that has most definitely grown while in Nepal… minor collision and bumpy rides aside) the enthusiasm youth have for local elections; the “bridging of hills and plains” exemplified by the candidate choices of different parties in local elections; how foreigners in Nepali celebrate Dashain, a family-centric holiday; a piece on a Senegalese jazz artist; and a profile of Zaheena Rasheed, a former Watson fellow whom I met at an International Federation for Journalists Conference and Maldivian journalist who was exhiled from the country for her investigative reporting. In each case, I’ve learned about entirely new topics and grown in the process of reporting them.

It instills in me a strong desire to keep telling stories this year, but I also want to be very attentive to my position and the intention of this project. Going forward, I hope to pursue my project not just by shadowing and observing, but also by reporting and participating when circumstances are appropriate. There were definitely moments in Kathmandu when I didn’t want to become too involved for fear of over stepping a boundary, or ask too many questions of journalists working hard on their stories. I’ve talked about this with different people , who have told me about the problems they’ve seen in foreign coverage of Nepal. And yet, at other times, they say that foreign journalists have covered certain narratives, such as the Madhesi movement, more accurately than Nepali outlets because they are not swayed by internal politics or tensions.

This idea of domestic coverage vs. external coverage is represented by two conferences I attended, both in early September in Kathmandu. One was a gathering of journalists put on by NEFEJ, in which journalists from 18 different earthquake-affected districts in Nepal came together to discuss a collaborative program on rebuilding that they hoped to put together. Over the course of a few days (of which I attended different portions), different speakers came to share about the science of earthquakes and geology in Nepal and offer up perspectives on how best to cover its aftermath. Each of the reporters went back to different districts to focus on a mix of sectors and ultimately build out a program that would air across Nepal. With the program, they hope to tell stories that go beyond the investigative or political approaches of news reporting, and instead lay out a full picture of all the factors at work in their communities post-earthquakes.  “Do not kill the stories yourself,” said Ramesh Bhushal, General Secretary of NEFEJ, encouraging reporters not to censor their own ideas or assume a particular angle is not a story from the surface.

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Watching local journalists from different places discuss a common devastation and think about how to address the big picture impacts while detailing the localized realities- it is powerful. This is an example of how local journalism can reach beyond communities and extend its stories with many arms to a greater context- linking localized realities. Though a title for the program was not formally decided on, a few ideas were discussed; they were, “common life,” and “new destination.”

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Another conference I attended was an International Federation of Journalists lecture in Kathmandu, an awe-inspiring gathering of another kind. It brought together a group of journalists from countries across South Asia-Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bhutan, India, Nepal- whom participated in a few days of workshopping. One night of the workshop was spent learning about the work of Zaheena Rasheed, an Al Jazeera producer and the former Editor of The Maldives Independent. 

On August 31, 2016, Zaheena reluctantly left the Maldives after working on an Al Jazeera investigative unit documentary that exposed corruption and money laundering at the highest levels of Maldivian government. Following years of threats and government harassment, her participation in the film was the tipping point that forced her to leave the country to eventually settle in Doha, Qatar, where she still lives today. In that room, and in her work, Zaheena spoke and continues to speak for greater regional solidarities between journalists, recognizing the mental health impacts of reporting, and fighting to tell truthful stories under governments that act to instill fear.

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“How do you tell a story objectively when that story is something that is happening to you and your loved ones? It was very hard to report and write updates on what was happening in that [colleague Ahmed Rilwan’s] investigation. As much as we talk about safety and security protocols, I think it’s really important to incorporate mental health into newsrooms.

There’s such a wealth of experience in South Asia, and there’s so much we have to learn from each other. We need a louder regional conversation on press freedom.”

The journalists gathered responded thoughtfully to Zaheena’s story, and discussed approaches to supporting one another in future incidents of oppression and violent censorship; what can solidarity, beyond that extended by an organization such as IFJ, look like between journalists themselves? More communication, seemed to be an answer.

I listened in and learned a lot about the dynamics between coverage of countries in the region. Largely, many journalists said, there is a lack of reporting on other countries and close attention to stories outside of national contexts. Thus, journalists talked about the importance of writing about one another’s experiences, particularly in censorship; throughout South Asia, many of the questions surrounding press freedom are very similar. And yet, most journalists said that their coverage is largely insular; this in itself, is contradictory, but in addition to localized coverage, stories from other places can play a very important role in perceptions and interactions with domestic issues.

This year, too, I am a different form of journalist than I’ve experienced before. I’m still figuring out how to balance the hats- of listener, journalist, empathetic human being, student, friend, colleague- I want to wear within my fellowship, but what I am also realizing is that my writer self reflects slowly, privately, and in long stretches. My writer self is one which holds the big ideas and questions that connect over time, and though I am still anxious about the pressure to constantly produce, I am learning how to be comfortable with this being part of a much longer journey.

In Birgunj, a city near the India-Nepal border, I went with a TV journalist to speak with Babita Paudel, a Birgunj citizen, and her family about their thoughts on the local elections. This woman did not support any particular party or candidate, but felt more broadly happy and hopeful that the local elections will bring about “development” in Birgunj- by development, she seemed to mean improvement of roads, increasing number of jobs for youth, and improving education and treatment of young girls.

“The public are feeling like it’s a festival,” her daughter, Neha Paudel told me. “They are happy it is happening after years and years, but each and every person knows that any development is not going to happen. Everyone [politicians] is taking agenda, they are spending time for locals. They know they are not getting anything back, they’re just spending time here [getting votes].”

“We do not have faith,” she said. “We have hope.”

Throughout it all, it is also impossible to not think about American media. It cannot be avoided, nor would it be true to the reality of media here to avoid it. Walking up a hill with Nirashi Thami, a BBC and Kalinchowk FM reporter, in Charikot a few mornings ago, she carried a phone that played BBC Nepali aloud. As I tried to listen in and catch snippets in Nepali about the upcoming elections, there it was; “Trump” and a flurry of words. Nirashi turned back and looked at me, to see if I’d noticed.

At an International Federation for Journalists conference in Kathmandu, a Pakistani journalist told me that there were watching parties, and long hours blocked out on Pakistani TV channels for broadcasting of the Presidential debates and election. Young children, she said, were just as knowledgable if not more about American politics than their own country’s.

One moment from that same conference continues to stick with me. An assortment of journalists from across South Asia-India, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan- sat around a table, chatting and talking politics and fondly reconnecting after dinner. And as we began discussing the American election, of media coverage and experiences watching the campaign unfold from afar, the Pakistani journalist looked me in the eye.

“Americans do not realize that the whole world is watching them,” she said.

American media, and American politics, is its own saturated bubble. There is an abundance of both big media and independent journalists, telling stories for polarized audiences. But our attention to other areas of the world is short lived, when breaking disasters and headlines briefly capture sympathy. American exceptionalism and what I think is self-perceived isolation in our fate of fighting against our current President, is so present. There is so much we can learn in thinking about the realities of other places and considering the angle of American election repercussions outside of the U.S. It’s not just us who are feeling plagued and disturbed by news updates about the latest action by the Trump administration. We are not alone, either, in living under an unfit president, or in a place where media is, relatively, under threat. There are especially strong parallels between the comments and action taken by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump (will talk about these in a later, more condensed post), as reflected in this piece by the Wire. 

News at the grassroots is vitally important, but as the perspectives of the journalists at the conference will tell you, closer reportage of countries across borders is also a necessity. Within the context of South Asia, many journalists say that there is a big lack in in-depth reporting on other countries, despite the parallels in politics and media censorship.

And so, the journey continues! I cannot believe it’s been about four months- so much to go but I also feel very lucky to have spent this time in India and Nepal. To close off and round back to Dharamshala. I’ll close out with a quote from a Rolling Stone interview with Susan Sontag that has stuck with me since then:

“I said earlier that the task of the writer is to pay attention to the world, but obviously I think that the task of the writer, as I conceive of it for myself, is also to be in an aggressive and adversarial relationship to falsehoods of all kinds… And once again, knowing perfectly well that this is an endless task, since you’re never going to end falsehood or false consciousness or systems of interpretation… I think there should always be freelance people who, however quixotic it may be, are trying to lop off a couple of more heads, trying to destroy hallucination and falsehood and demagogy- and making things more complicated, because there’s an inevitable drift towards making things more simple. But for me, the most awful thing would be to feel that I’d agree with the things I’ve already said and written- that is what would make me most uncomfortable because that would mean that I had stopped thinking.” -Susan Sontag.