We were still in bed when we heard someone pounding at the door the morning of March 12th. The second we opened the door and saw the frowning face of one of our reporting trip leaders. We knew what that knock and that frown meant: it was time to go home.
Over the past few days things had escalated in El Salvador as the country tried to prevent the imminent arrival of COVID-19. President Nayib Bukele had already banned travelers coming from the most affected countries, and on March 11th he had declared the country to be in orange alert, stopping foreigners from coming in and making his own citizens engage in a 30 day quarantine (we were well caught up thanks to an IWMF colleague who wrote about it for the Post).
My reporting partner and I were devastated. We had been looking forward to this fellowship for months, and we were finally making headway in our reporting. We were working on a few stories about the criminalization of abortion, rampant femicides, and the effects of a little known American migration policy on El Salvadoran kids. We understood why we needed to leave of course, but we were sad about not finishing the job we had started.
It hasn’t even been a month since we had to cut our reporting trip short, but the world feels different.
When we were in El Salvador, the coronavirus felt like a distant problem that we didn’t need to worry about. Now that faraway problem is right at our door. Now, I am writing this blog post from my small Brooklyn apartment where I’ve been working from for the last few weeks. Now we know what social distancing is, what a stay at home order feels like, and we are too aware of what the sirens of ambulances we hear through the night mean.
As I write this, I am thinking about the importance of the IWMF in times like these. I hope that my fellow journalists aren’t finding themselves too close to the frontline of this virus. I worry that they don’t have the proper PPE to cover the story the way they need to, and I worry that they don’t have health insurance if the PPE fails. I worry that reporters will be the victims of the economic crisis we all know is coming, especially in a world where journalism was already hard to make a living with. Journalism needs organizations like the IWMF on a normal day, it needs them even more in the midst of a pandemic.
When things normalize, when it’s safe to get on a plane again, we will go back to El Salvador. We don’t just want to go back and finish what we started, we need to. We owe it to our sources. Until then, I’ll do my best to keep reporting from my living room.