Monday, December 20, 2010

Mumbai: A City of Extremes

By Rachel Ferchak, SUSI web manager

Immediately after I stepped off Lufthansa Flight 934 at midnight, the murky humidity hit me like a stone wall. That same humidity was incessant the entire week I was in Mumbai, India.
My first impressions of the city were those seen through the dusty windows of a 1970s bus, which took our group of Ohio University students an hour away to our clean, air-conditioned hostel in Mumbai Central.On the rickety bus ride through the city, we passed homes with tin roofs and walls made of billboard signs. There were families sleeping on concrete sidewalks with their only extra clothes hanging on thin lines of rope.
The faint smells transitioned from diesel fumes to dust, from manure to burning tires. But, as we neared the hostel, the city began to smell like smog and traffic. In fact, the weather for Mumbai often reads “smoke” or “haze” on
After nearly 24 hours of travel, we had finally arrived.
Culture Shock
Mumbai is a city with two different worlds: extreme wealth and abject poverty. On one hand, it is home to the glitz and glamour of Bollywood. But on the other, Mumbai has nearly 1.2 million people living on 20 rupees per day, or less than 50 cents, according to The Times of India.
Many Americans don’t see the side of poverty that I witnessed in Mumbai. Everyday, I watched children playing in the chaotic streets, children who were dressed in outgrown, filthy T-shirts and shorts. Dirt and dust were the only things covering their delicate feet. Young children carried their infant siblings.
Everywhere I went, children held out their hands asking for money. The only English words they knew were “food” and “money.” Although we were told not to give the children money, we were told to treat them like children. We crouched to their level and asked them, “Aapka naam kya hai?” or “What is your name?” in Hindi.

The children would immediately respond by putting their hands down. Their faces lit up as they gave their names. Then, I would open a bag of Chickadees cheddar snack crackers and give it to them. And, usually, they smiled and walked away.

Nearly half of Mumbai’s estimated 20 million people live in slums or shantytowns. Entire families live in 9-by-9 spaces, which function as the kitchen, bedroom and living room. In terms of material possessions, these people have virtually northing. But, they do have community. They depend solely on each other for love and support, and they can relate to one another.

One evening, I walked through an alley by our hostel. Shanties aligned either side of the street. As I wandered down the street, families gathered for their evening meals, and children ran around playing with the other neighbor children. On a single mattress without shelter, one young woman read to her sleepy infant. A grandmother, mother and two children slept outdoors on a cot. It’s almost as if the people in the shantytown are tucked away in a completely different world. Upon exiting the street, sure enough, there stood the main road with an illuminated McDonald’s and three-story shopping mall.

The Taste of Mumbai
In India, it seems as though everything has a zip to it: omelets, plain rice, McDonald’s sandwiches, you name it. But one thing I found particularly odd was the masala soda and masala spice chai. Masala is generally a mix of cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper. So, I’m pretty sure you can imagine what masala soda would taste like. Many of us tasted the beverage, and we all had similar facial reactions. Our faces puckered up, and we struggled to swallow. The drink resembled carbonated salt water. One sip was enough for me.

Although many of the others on my trip were craving pizza by the end of our week, the food was one of the things I enjoyed most about India. But I tend to like strong flavors and spices. I’ve heard that most international food served in America is completely different from the native cuisine, but I did not sense much of a difference between American-Indian food and authentic Indian cuisine.

Because of religious restrictions, India is a vegetarian’s paradise. Restaurants are labeled either “veg” or “non-veg.” Even if the restaurant is “non-veg,” rest assured that there is always a vegetarian option. For example, I sampled the mildly spicy, lightly fried
McVeggie at McDonald’s. Or at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the menu includes options such as the Veg Zinger, Veggie Snacker and Veg Rice and Strips.

A Change of Heart
Nervously, I followed a group of four women through narrow, damp alleys. Where am I? Fear and confusion started to set in. Those feelings increased with every step. The men who passed me stared, and I felt uneasy.
I was told prior to this walk, that I was going into one of the darkest areas of the city. And I sensed the weight of that darkness.
Ten minutes later, I, along with three other women from OU and four Indian women from the Mumbai Aruna Project, arrived at a run-down, four-story building. We walked through the doorway and could see nothing. My heart pounded. Our eyes struggled to adjust as we staggered up the filth-covered staircase. Then, finally, sunlight appeared from a room at the top of the steps.

The Indian women instructed us to take off our shoes, enter the illuminated room and sit on the large couch. We obeyed.
As we entered, ten Indian women — all of whom were between 14 and 25 years old — sat on the couches laughing, putting on makeup and styling their beautiful black hair. They are my age. My age.

With the help of the women with the Aruna Project, we were able to converse and interact with the girls. Their eyes sparkled as they laughed. But we knew that behind those young faces, there was something different about their lives. Something we, as American women, could not understand.

After saying our goodbyes, we entered another room. And that is where my heart sank. The girls in this room told us they were 15 years old, but they were obviously closer to 10. I can still see the face of one child with round glasses and pigtails. She could not have been older than nine.
How could anyone do this to his or her child? I thought. Each of these girls sees an average of seven men every night. Prostitution is the only life they know.
The majority of the women were sold into the slave trade by family members when they were between the ages of 7 and 11. These 40,000 women are forced to attend to the more than 300,000 men who go to the brothels every night.

The sexual slave trade is like a cell, the women at the Aruna Project told us. (Many of the women who work at the Aruna Project were once prostitutes, and they can speak from experience.) When these little girls first enter the brothels, they are kept in chains and not allowed to see the sunlight for a few years. During those years, the girls are psychologically and physically abused. They are beaten down so that when they are finally released from the chains, they will not want to leave. As the girls get older, they are given more “freedom,” but if they go outside the brothel, they are accompanied by a pimp. Eventually, they are allowed to travel by themselves; however, they must pay.

We often wonder,
Why don’t they just run away? As a part of the psychological abuse, the women begin to believe that the life of prostitution and sexual abuse is better than life on the streets. To those women, life on the street means having no food, shelter or money, all while still being sexually abused.
But there is hope: the Aruna Project.
The Aruna Project is a Christian organization dedicated to the rescuing of women and children from the sexual slave trade. Because of the years of abuse these women endure, the Aruna Project must build relationships and trust with them. The Project offers counseling, health care and skills training so the women will be able to function independently in society. Since the organization started nearly ten years ago, it has rescued more than 150 women.

The Project not only rescues women, but it also reaches out to their children. Aruna has a partnership with the Salvation Army, which provides a home and schooling for the children of prostitutes. I had the chance to visit the Salvation Army and play with the children, ages five through 14, who study the core subjects, as well as English and the Bible. It warms my heart to know that these children are the future. Let’s just say that that was the best way to spend my last day in India, with hope.

Friday, December 10, 2010

President McDavis congratulates graduates at OU sister school in Ghana

By Rachel Ferchak, SUSI web manager

Ohio University President Roderick McDavis delivered the keynote address for the 7th graduation ceremony of the African University College of Communications (AUCC) in Accra, Ghana. During the commencement ceremony on Nov. 10, McDavis spoke on the theme, “Broadening Educational Opportunities through International Communication.”

Throughout the keynote address, McDavis also spoke on the importance of communication in preserving democracy, particularly in Ghana. He also stressed the significance of higher education to developing ideas and values within a nation.

“You must continue to encourage your nation to support, foster and advance communications. It is through the valuation of communications that your country can continue to prosper and maintain its democratic tradition,” McDavis said. “You are the next generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators in Ghana. It is up to you to take what you have learned and apply it in a productive way that will continue to elevate Ghana and the rest of Africa.”

To view additional photos of the AUCC graduation ceremony, please click here.

Not only did McDavis speak at the commencement ceremony, but he also visited other OU sister institutions and met with
students from OU and OU alumni who are from Ghana. At the University of Education in Winneba, McDavis met with the Chancellor and top administration. The meeting in Winneba culminated in plans to formulate a memorandum of understanding between both universities to collaborate in pedagogy and research projects. There is an already established relationship the two universities, since OU has provided a graduate education to some of the faculty at this OU sister institution.

A team of four OU faculty members accompanied McDavis to Ghana, including Dan Weiner, professor and executive director for the Center of International Studies; Stephen Howard, professor and director of African studies; Yusuf Kalyango, assistant professor and director of the Institute for International Journalism; and Paschal Younge, associate professor of multicultural music education.

The IIJ will set up a journalism summer study abroad program in Ghana administered by both OU and the AUCC in Accra, Ghana. Kalyango will visit Accra, Ghana again in late June 2011 to finalize the study abroad program with the faculty at the AUCC. McDavis and his team from OU expressed their appreciation and gratitude for the great hospitality exhibited by the people of Ghana. McDavis’ team was particularly inundated by the generosity from the main host, Kojo Yankah.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Traffic Tweets in Mérida

By Craig Reck
In Mexico

IIJ Foreign Correspondence Intern
E. W. Scripps School of Journalism

It's the holiday season in the United States. The Black Friday deals are gone, presents are being wrapped and people are making plans for New Year's Eve. As everyone prepares for their end of the year celebrations, law enforcement officials are likely preparing for the parties as well.

Traffic checkpoints are not uncommon in the United States. Local police officers can be seen waiting for bar patrons to leave their favorite watering hole. Highway patrolmen set up the orange cones along the roadsides. These efforts have a clear purpose of reducing the number of accidents caused by revelers who couldn't resist the alcohol-infused Egg Nog.

But what if there were check points every day? Is there a need for daily traffic stops? How would the general populous react to the constant police presence?

That is exactly what citizens of Mérida, Mexico have to deal with. Some check points stop drivers, while others let them pass through without a second glance. Some people say the retenes (Mexican check points) are used to catch drunk drivers, which is a believable reason. So why are there retenes in the middle of the day that let cars pass through anyways?

I can't say. Both the Mérida municipal and Yucatán state police departments refused to give me an interview. I was told the retenes are a sensitive matter of security. In fact, I was warned not to take pictures of the check points because it is disrespectful to the officers and I might lose my camera.

So I turned to the Internet for answers, and I was amazed at what I found. The Twitter user "retenesmerida" is adding some transparency to the clouded work of Mérida's police check points. One of the co-founders agreed to an interview, but only through email. Anonymity is a priority for retenesmerida.

Since September of 2009, retenesmerida has informed its followers of the numerous locations of check points around the city. But retenesmerida isn't exactly doing all of the work. All sorts of Twitter users report checkpoint locations to retenesmerida by adding an "@" before the user name. An example would be:

JoeSmith @retenesmerida Check point on Main St. between Oak and Elm. They're stopping everyone.

JoeSmith's notification is then retweeted by retenesmerida to its more than 6,000 followers. But now there's more to this online informant. The co-founder said, "It has converted into a type of megaphone that users send reports about other happenings in Mérida, like general news or transit or accident reports."

Even though they are doing nothing illegal, the retenesmerida co-founders remain anonymous for fear of intimidation and harassment. There are currently no Mexican laws against the sharing of retenes' whereabouts via the Internet, nor has one been proposed.

Until it's legally or physically stopped, this Twitter user, and its more than 6,000 followers, will continue to provide transparency to the roadways of Mérida, Mexico.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The people of Ecuador

By Gail Burkhardt
In Ecuador

IIJ Foreign Correspondence Intern

E. W. Scripps School of Journalism

If you ask tourists who have visited Ecuador what some of their favorite things are about the country, it is likely that among the volcanoes, Galapagos, culture and history, they will also list the citizens. Despite the fact that many people here do not agree with the United States’ politics, evidenced by anti-Hillary Clinton graffiti that remains after activists protested her June visit to President Rafael Correa, I have not met any Ecuadorians who have treated me badly because of my country of origin. Sure some people in open markets raise their prices when they see my blond hair and some men have the wrong idea about the promiscuity of foreign women, but almost everyone I have met has been extremely kind to me and even some complete strangers, have gone out of their way to improve my experience here. As my time here is sadly coming to a close in less than a month, I would like to use this post to thank all of those people who have showed me kindness as well as give an idea of how great the people are here.

Everyone here greets one another with “good morning,” “hello,” etc. This is one I slip up on. For example, when asking for directions I am usually in a hurry and blurt out my question interrupting the friendly person who almost always greets me and asks how I am. Also when shopping in a market, I sometimes forget to be polite and greet the vendor before asking for the price. People often tell me they think people in the United States are always in a hurry and work too hard. It is nice to slow down the pace here and be able to ask someone how they are and be willing to wait for an answer.

Journalists and Sources
My coworkers, despite being incredibly busy are incredibly patient. My editor and fellow reporter in the community section of the paper have taught me so much and are always willing to answer my sometimes incessant questions. When I go out on a story with a photographer, he or she always helps me out if I get confused. What has really suprised me is how well journalists from rival institutions get along. Whenever there is a press conference everyone is kissing everyone else on the cheek and chatting. When you don’t quite catch something you can ask another journalist and he or she will help you out. This is not to say that we aren’t competitive, we don’t give away scoop if we have it, but I know that I can always clarify something I didn’t quite understand with another journalist. That also goes for sources, who, even though they have a busy schedule, are willing to explain things for me with a smile and answer my sometimes awkwardly worded questions.

Your mother's advice “Don’t talk to strangers” doesn’t apply when you are traveling in a foreign country. You have to talk to strangers to ask for directions, get recommendations of where to visit, meet people etc. Although I don’t go out of my way to give away my personal information to people who strike up a conversation with me, sometimes lying about my real name or other details, talking to strangers has helped me get around Quito and meet some of the most interesting people. One man in the main plaza start talking with me to practice his English. He asked me what the word “jade” meant, even spelling it for me, which was puzzling as it is spelled the same in Spanish. I told him it was a green stone and he told me that he was talking about the Aerosmith song. I almost cracked up when I realized he had been trying to figure out for years what “Jaded” meant. Other strangers have helped me out, like the countless bus drivers and workers who have told me where to get off the bus and where to go from there to get to my destination.

Last weekend while traveling, three men were incredibly nice to me and made my trip so much better. I went to Mindo, a beautiful place with hiking trails, a waterfall, rivers, butterflies and more, about two hours from Quito, for the day. About 10 minutes before we arrived, a man about my age thought we were there, and turned to me and said “Don’t you need to get off the bus, this is Mindo.” Granted, he was wrong, but he was genuinely concerned about my getting to my destination. After we arrived in Mindo, I went to “The Canopy Adventure,” which consists of 13 zip lines that go from hillside to hillside. It was an amazing experience, but unfortunately I left my favorite T-shirt at the top of the mountain and didn’t realize this until I was riding the bus down to see the butterfly exhibit. When I got off the bus, I asked the driver when he was returning to the top, so I could retrieve my shirt. He told me not to worry that he would pick it up for me and then call me so I could get it from him. Sure enough two hours later, I got a call from him and he had my shirt. I tried to give him some money for his trouble, especially because it can be expensive to make cell phone calls here, but he wouldn’t accept it. Also on the trip I stopped in a restaurant inside a campground. As I was eating, I lamented the fact that I had not had time to see the beautiful waterfalls Mindo has because you have to walk pretty far to get to them and I would not have made it to the bus in time. One of the campground workers offered to take me to some waterfalls on their property that they show to guests. Not only did he walk with me, he helped me climb up some of the treacherous rocks and gave me an explanation of a lot of the plants and wildlife of the area, all for the cost of the piece of pie I ate in the restaurant.

So when I leave in a month, I will definitely miss the natural beauty and the wonderful culture of this place, but I think most of all I will miss the people. I hope I can make time to keep up some of their habits of politeness even while moving a mile-a-minute, and be able to pay forward all of the kindness I have received here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Los Muertos de Pomuch

By Craig Reck
In Mexico

IIJ Foreign Correspondence Intern
E. W. Scripps School of Journalism

Thanks to popular culture and the Internet, most people know about the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos. More than just a south-of-the-border Halloween, Dia de los Muertos is a time to remember dead family members and honor them with small offerings of food, drink and candles. But in some parts of the country, there is more to this holiday than a small household offering.

The cemetery in the small town of Pomuch, Campeche is closed for most of the year, but it's open from mid-October to early in November. In that time, the Pomucheños, residents of Pomuch, maintain a tradition that outsiders might expect to see in a horror film. They remove the bones of their loved ones from their resting place, clean them and change their cloths.

Some of the grave markers are simple, concrete squares with chipped paint. Others are elaborarely adorned with statues and bright colors. Some of the dates on the grave markers go as far back as 1939 and others are as recent as 2005.

Maria Guadalupe Pech Euan died on Christmas Eve in 2005. The one-year-old was sitting in the roofless part of her family's house the night before, when an unseasonal rain storm pummeled the girl with cold water, soaking her sweater. She died the next day of pneumonia.

"She's dead, but she's still a part of our life," says Maria Guadalupe's aunt, Luisa Adriana Euan Pool.

Euan Pool and her husband Aurelio Cohuo Ca'amal still take care of their niece in the cemetery. On November 1, Dia de los Niños, they reverently cleaned her bones, wrapped them in a new cloth and surrouned her resting place with flowers and candles.

Those at rest in the cemetery without family to care for them are not ignored. Cemetery workers make sure that most of the bones are cleaned, but about 10 percent of them are never cleaned. Those are the ones whose families chose to lay their beloved to rest and keep them there.

If a family chooses to clean their deceased, they have to wait three years. According to cemetery worker Don Bernacio Tus Chi, that time is needed for the bones to dry out.

Tus Chi has worked in the cemetery for 15 years, and he says that he's learned which unattended bones he looks after. Tus Chi has seen travelers from every part of the globe in this little cemetery.

"Yesterday there were some Chinese here. They spoke great Spanish," says Tus Chi. "I've seen Germans, French, Africans, last year some guys from Spain came to shoot a movie here."

Even Mexicans that celebrate Dia de los Muertos themselves are amazed at the extraordinary connection the Pomucheños have with their dead.

Whatever the reason might be for the visit, this Dia de los Muertos tradition will likely have an affect on anyone that walks through the cemetery in Pomuch. But now that it's November 3, the gate is locked, and you'll have to wait until next year.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fortitude to Preserve International Journalism

By Amber Skorpenske
IIJ Ambassador

The Executive Director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Jon Sawyer’s visit was well received by Ohio University students. Sawyer interacted with students and faculty from October 21 to 22, 2010. Although this was a short visit, Sawyer managed to speak to about 300 students. He shared his resilience to make known untold international news.

Sawyer gave a resounding lecture to the freshman journalism class and graduate students in Walter Hall. Students who attended this lecture were thrilled to be the first audience to hear his projects and experience in international reporting. He talked about the importance of reporting on a variety of global issues. Students asked questions and were given the opportunity to interact with Mr. Sawyer. Some students asked for his contact information with a hope of pursuing internships with the Pulitzer Center later on in their academic career.

He had lunch with journalism faculty and later that afternoon spoke to Broadcast journalism seniors. He discussed the changing landscape of global media and its challenges to journalists. Students got a more intimate presentation, which facilitated a lot of discussion.

Sawyer was the keynote speaker at the Students for Global Media and Diversity (SGMD) weekly meeting at 6pm. SGMD opened up the forum as a public lecture for all students in the Scripps College of Communication. International students were well represented as well as many professors from across the college.

The Institute for International Journalism and SGMD hosted Sawyer to a farewell dinner at Salaam restaurant with a group of students who are pursuing future careers in international journalism. SGMD officers, journalism students and Graduate students of Scripps had a laid back atmosphere at a personal level with Mr. Sawyer during this Q & A dinner. He was also extensively interviewed by our students taking Dr. Bob Stewart’s Journalism 101 class.

Sawyer participated in many discussions with students, networking with faculty, and even gave interviews to several student-run publications. The IIJ would like to thank everyone who came out to participate in this event and hopes to bring another captivating speaker in the next quarter.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

IIJ to Host International Journalist Jon Sawyer

Amber Skorpenske

IIJ Ambassador

The Institute for International Journalism will host Jon Sawyer at Ohio University to give a series of lectures and presentations on Thursday October 21 and Friday October 22, 2010. He will give students an in depth look at the current state of international journalism and international issues of global interest. The main event is on Thursday, Oct 21, in Scripps Hall, Rm 111 (Anderson Auditorium).

Jon Sawyer is Executive Director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Sawyer became the center's founding director after a 31-year career with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The center is a non-profit organization that funds independent reporting to raise the standard of media coverage of global affairs.

His journalism assignments have taken him to five dozen countries. He has focused much of reporting on the Middle East and predominantly Muslim countries. Sawyer is a recipient of many coveted Journalism and Investigative reporting awards. This summer he reported on water and sanitation issues in Bangladesh.

Jon Sawyer will come to Ohio University to speak to faculty, students and members of the Students for Global Media Diversity (SGMD). He will discuss the challenges and opportunities of foreign reporting in today's media market. Other issues he will discuss include the role media should play in covering and illuminating international crises and what the Pulitzer Center's model means for under-covered issues.

Sawyer will highlight the role of the Pulitzer Center and other similar non-profit initiatives in meeting journalism's new challenges and the collaborative approaches to covering the news. This includes news collaborations forged by the Center with PBS Newshour, National Geographic, the Washington Post and others.

Ohio University is a charter member of the Campus Consortium, the Pulitzer Center's program that brings international journalists on campus twice a year. It gives students the opportunity to compete for a $2,000 international reporting fellowship each year. Ohio's support has helped persuade other universities to follow suit, in an effort considered vital to giving journalists income and exposure.

Sawyer says, "I'm very much looking forward to visiting Ohio University and to meeting with students and faculty there. Campus outreach is a very important part of the Pulitzer Center model and mission."

The Pulitzer Center's campus outreach aims to increase the quality and quantity of U.S media coverage of global issues - and then using that journalism as a basis for engaging the broadest possible public in issues that affect us all.

The IIJ encourages students to attend Sawyer's public lecture on Thursday October 21 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Scripps 111 (The Anderson Auditorium).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Mexico

By Craig Reck,
In Mexico

IIJ Foreign Correspondence Intern
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism

I'd like to introduce my first entry to the IIJ blog. The International Press institute recently named Mexico named the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Ten journalists have been murdered this year alone.

Anyone that checks international headlines once in a while knows that Mexico's drug cartels are the cause of these problems. Northern Mexico is so chaotic that journalists are changing their methods to save their lives. El Diario de Juarez used the editorial section to write an open letter to the cartels, appealing to the true authorities of the area. Jorge Luis Aguirre was the first Mexican journalist to receive asylum in the U.S., and he certainly won't be the last.

But that's not the Mexico I know. I am living in Mérida, Mexico, the biggest city in the Yucatan Peninsula. I chose Mérida because the southern part of the country is practically the Dr. Jekyll to the northern Mr. Hyde. The Yucatan has always had a bit of distance from the rest of the country - a deep ocean to the north and thick forests to the south.

While the north is a media frenzy of drugs and violence, the south is only mentioned when an American is reported missing from a vacation trip in Cancun or Cozumel.

But what about the positives? Last week, I attended two events where the local government provided new ambulances and free medical service to small towns. The week before that, Mérida became the newest partner of UNICEF.

Among so much positivity in such a negatively portrayed country, I realized that smiling is a second language. (Cue original post).

Living in a non-English speaking country can be overwhelming at times. Even with a strong understanding of the native lexicon, I still have moments of miscommunication - mostly caused by colloquialisms and slang. So what is a journalist to do when he's drowning in a sea of phrases that Sol y Viento left out?


I haven't stopped smiling since I stepped off the plane a month ago - and it's not because this place is paradise. I believe that a smile can do more than basic phrases like "Dónde está el baño?" for a person visiting a foreign country. Smiles are universal!

Smiling, in a sense, is one of the most basic forms of acknowledging comprehension. More personal than a nod of the head, smiling shows comfort and acceptance of a situation. Standing around with journalists before a press conference, I smiled at someone's joke about his colleague's big head. Pow! Just like that, I was no longer considered an outsider unable to connect with my Spanish-speaking counterparts. Well, not completely, but my smile was the conversational ice-breaker.

As my comfort increases, so does my speaking. But don't think I've reduced my smiling habits. A significant amount of people speak a little English in Mérida, but the farther you venture from the downtown area of hotels and tourists, the less English is known. And the deeper you travel into the countryside, the more prevalent the Mayan language becomes.

When I'm in a rural area, I make sure to smile at all of the people intently staring at me. I assume that I am one of a few white people they've seen in their entire lives, so a smile always comes first. Soon enough, I open my mouth and gradually turn a few heads. This goofy-looking gringo speaks Spanish!

No matter how versed I might be in a language, I can always rely on my smile. When a language barrier is present, I always aspire to at least make a good first impression - and it doesn't get much better than a smile. =)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Police riots in Ecuador

By Gail Burkhardt,

IIJ Foreign Correspondence Intern

E. W. Scripps School of Journalism

This week, Ecuador shook, and it was not from an eruption from one of its many volcanoes. Thursday morning, National Police across the country began protesting a new law that they said would cut their benefits. The protests began peacefully, but quickly escalated. Police burnt tires to block roads and threw tear gas at the president sending him to the hospital. Then National Police blocked the hospital, keeping the president there for 10 hours until he was rescued by aids and soldiers. The rescue and ensuing violence left three dead in Quito and more than 200 people injured.

Photos taken by Gail Burkhardt at the General Command Center.

As an IIJ intern for the Ecuadorian national paper, Hoy, through the Bob Considine Memorial Scholarship, I saw of the events first hand and even covered part of the protest by chance. Thursday morning as I was walking to meet a reporter and photographer to cover something else, I came across a group of police officers and civilians protesting in front of the National Police General Command Center. I called my editor and she asked me to cover it. The protest was peaceful for the most part. People held up signs that read, “Respect the Police,” “We risk our lives” etc. The officers were willing to answer my questions, but not willing to give me their names. Later someone lit a tire on fire, but it was extinguished quickly. I called my editor again and she told me to head to the newsroom immediately. While in the taxi on my way to the newsroom, I heard how serious the situation was on the radio and throughout the rest of the day watched, listened and read about the events with a feeling of panic.

The Two Sides

The National Police said they were protesting the new Public Service Law that the General Assembly had just voted on because it would cut their benefits and bonuses. The president claims police officers have not even read the law and it will not cut their benefits. General Assembly members also say the law will still provide bonuses and benefits for police officers.

Correa called the protest an attempted coup on his presidency backed by ex-president Lucio Gutierrez , which Gutierrez denies. Most Ecuadorians that I have talked to lament the violence of the National Police, but have varying opinions of Correa. The president has brought some stability to the small country where past presidents were removed or left office before their full term. Correa is known for his tough and brash leadership style. He defaulted on millions of dollars of national debt and has put more restrictions on foreign countries that buy and farm petroleum here. His tough and sometimes stubborn attitude came out Thursday when he told the police to kill him if they dared.

Press Restrictions

On Thursday, I could not get Hoy’s website to load. I thought it was an unfortunate coincidence with so much breaking news going on, but it turns out that our website was blocked by the government. Reporters posted the happenings on Twitter, but the actual website would not load until Thursday night. Also because Ecuador is in a State of Siege, the government is allowed to force broadcast stations to link to the official government channel, which they did Thursday night only allowing viewers to see one side of the story. The Sociedad Interamericana de la Prensa (Interamerican Press Society) condemned the government’s restrictions asking it to allow Ecuador to have a free press. Correa has been vocal in the past about his feelings toward media organizations calling them his “Greatest enemy,” and attacking them on his weekly shows on government channels, according to a BBC profile of Correa, that I recommend reading. It is strange that I work for a large daily in the capital, and I am having a hard time finding information on the strikes. I have had to go to U.S. and British news sources to get the whole story.

Calm Returns

It seems that the situation calmed down almost as quickly as it escalated. After his rescue, President Rafael Correa returned to the presidential palace and fervently spoke to a crowd of supporters and reporters about how he was standing firm against the uprising. He declared a state of siege, putting the military in control of security. The next day the buses ran, and although I was warned about robberies, I faced no problems. Freddy Martinez, the former commander of the National Police, resigned Friday because he could not control the protest. Reuters reported that National Police began to work again on Friday. Today I visited the colonial center where the presidential palace is located and not too far from where the violence occurred. Besides the unnerving view of armed soldiers everywhere guarding the palace and some new graffiti calling the police vulgar names, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

This riots opened my eyes, not only to press laws in other countries, but also how quickly a protest can escalate. While the experience was scary, it taught me how important it is to report honestly and to look at both sides of the issue.

Friday, October 1, 2010

SGMD Kicks Off Exciting Activities this Fall Qtr

By Amber Skorpenske
IIJ Ambassador

Students for Global Media and Diversity (SGMD) has had a great start this year. SGMD executives are planning to host several speakers to give some practical information and advice to the members as well as engage in activities as a group outside of formal meetings.

In last week's meeting (9/30/10), students from the Global Leadership Center gave a presentation entitled "Media in Vietnam and the Vietnam War" They discussed differences in media coverage in the U.S versus media in Vietnam, the struggles journalists faced during the war and the ongoing development in trying to make Vietnam a more "media friendly" outlet.

Afterwards, Molly Micheels, Program Coordinator at the Office of Education Abroad, discussed communications/journalism internships as well as volunteer opportunities overseas. She covered every aspect from internship costs, location, and living accommodations to academic credit, scholarship funding and general benefits.

A study abroad experience is an integral part a resume for all aspiring international journalists. SGMD members who turned up for the meeting were impressed and interested. Micheels also reminded students to attend the Study Abroad Fair October 11 from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. in the Baker Ballroom for more in depth information on specific programs.

SGMD members plan to attend the International Dinner on October 9 as a group to sample food from many different countries as well as to bond as an organization. SGMD meetings are every Thursday from 6-7 in the Sing Tao Center, Room 101.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Archaeologists find theater box at Herod's palace

Frescos discovered in the Herodium complex, in the West Bank, south of Jerusalem, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010. Israeli archaeologists have excavated a lavAP – Frescos discovered in the Herodium complex, in the West Bank, south of Jerusalem, Tuesday, Sept. 21, …

JERUSALEM – Israeli archaeologists have excavated a lavish, private theater box in a 400-seat facility at King Herod's winter palace in the Judean desert, the team's head said Tuesday.

Ehud Netzer of Jerusalem's Hebrew University said the room provides further evidence of King Herod's famed taste for extravagance.

Herod commissioned Roman artists to decorate the theater walls with elaborate paintings and plaster moldings around 15 B.C., Netzer said. Its upper portions feature paintings of windows overlooking a river and a seascape with a large sailboat.

This is the first time this painting style has been found in Israel, Netzer said.

Herod was the Jewish proxy ruler of the Holy Land under Roman occupation from 37 to 4 B.C. He is known for his extensive building throughout the area.

The team first excavated the site — sitting atop a man-made hill 2,230 feet high — in 2007. Netzer described the site as a kind of "country club," with a pool, baths and gardens fed by pools and aqueducts.

But archaeological evidence shows the theater's life was short-lived, Netzer said. Builders deliberately destroyed it to preserve the conic shape of the man-made hill.

After Herod's death in the 1st century B.C., the complex became a stronghold for Jewish rebels fighting Roman occupation, and the palace site suffered significant battle damage before it was destroyed by Roman soldiers in A.D. 71, a year after they razed the Second Temple in Jerusalem.