On the Ground: Field Reporting

“There’s no way that car will be able to get in to the village of Conacaste,” they said, gesturing towards the mountains veiled by shimmering heat in the distance.

Field reporting – especially on issues affecting isolated, rural communities – is almost like playing Russian roulette.   There’s more than a fair share of uncertainty involved, whether it’s related to meeting up with total strangers in an unfamiliar area, calculating travel time to a place you’ve only ever seen on a map, or wondering if the sources you’ve somehow managed to scrounge up will provide you with the insight and perspectives you need to understand, and help others understand, a broader issue.

In order to report on how a changing, erratic climate is causing catastrophic crop failures and sending rates of food insecurity skyrocketing across Guatemala, we’d driven almost six hours, thinking our final destination might be a quick trip outside of our destination, the small town of Jocotán, Chiquimula.

When we arrived, we learned that it would be another hour (at least) along some of the worst mountain roads you can imagine, and that our 4×4 vehicle – which we had specifically selected for the task – would be useless.

“You need a pickup,” said an older gentlemen leaning against a doorway nearby. “Wait here, I’ll see if I can pull some strings and arrange for someone to take you there.”

Field reporting can feel like Russian roulette, but it can also feel like winning the lottery. Within a few minutes, Nery, the older gentlemen – who ended up being the Mayor’s father – pulled up in a shiny new truck. “Hop in,” he gestured.

No matter how much you prepare for a story, you never know what might happen. I set out for Chiquimula with the support of a fantastic team and an unprecedented network of resources, assistance, and backup facilitated by the IWMF.

In the end, however, it was the generosity and good will of a total stranger that allowed me to spend the day speaking with subsistence farmers like Eduardo Mendez López, pictured here, whose crops and livelihoods have been destroyed by drought.


Gena Steffens, Fall 2018 Guatemala Reporting Fellow