Monday, June 27, 2011

Reporting on the Floods in Colombia

In a 15-year-old four-wheel drive, we pulled into a driveway outside of Fúquene, Colombia. Sheep grazed in the by the house and beyond the fence that marked the family's backyard lied acres of flooded farmland.

We knocked on the door and a man came out and introduced himself as Jorge. When we asked him for an interview about the worst floods in Colombia's history, his brow furrowed.

"Ok, but on one condition," he said.

I began to get nervous. My Spanish was coming back to me and I didn't think it was up to par to tell him that it would be no use to us to give him anonymity or explain some other hazard in the ethical minefield we journalists operate.

Jorge laughed. "I want you to try this yogurt we made this morning."

And with that I conducted my first interview down here. I had talked to people about stories in Spanish a little bit before, but mainly just for getting cutlines. I hadn't taken a Spanish class for more than a year, but it's amazing how much comes back to you after going a few days without speaking to anyone in English.

Jorge had lost more than three quarters of his milk cows and half of his sheep. He said he hadn't heard of any government assistance yet, even after months of an unusually strong rainy season that's overflowed lagoons, broken dikes and triggered mudslides elsewhere in the country, claiming almost 500 lives.

We traveled up the road farther to the city of Simijaca and saw signs lambasting the government on the side of the road. City officials in Simijaca reiterated the same idea, though they did acknowledge that the government had given some material support. Simijaca is situated in the Ubaté region, known as the Dairy Capital of Colombia, and the rains have threatened up to 60 percent of the city's economy.

That night and the next morning I drafted what would become the story. The day after, I attended a press conference at the presidential palace celebrating the government-run non-profit's fundraising efforts for flood victims. Thanks to the semester I spent interning for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire in Washington D.C., I felt much more at home there than the Colombian savannah.

We got some more quotes over the phone and last night my story went live online. Once I can get the photo freelance agreement signed and turned in, my pictures will accompany the story, too.

No comments: