Thursday, September 10, 2015
A Journey In and Out of International Journalism - Chapter 7 - Getting the Dream Job
Time to Take A Break from the Tropics
After Indonesia's corrupt dictator Suharto was toppled, my fixer pay dwindled as things got calmer, my regular salary remained cut by ten, and my own lingering fatigue issues, caused perhaps by too much street food, I decided to return to my parents' place in Washington, D.C., and resume my journalism career from there.
Many people who fully taste the tropics and love it as I did, never leave their first love, or stay for years on end, building on their know how of the intense jungle environment, urban or otherwise, they've learned to thrive in. Those who leave often bore others to tears with tales of their heartache. While looking for a job, I wrote travel and adventure freelance articles based on some of my experiences for different websites, some paid, some not, to alleviate some of the pain. I bought kretek cigarettes in Virginia, set myself drinks, read books by Hunter Thompson during recovery naps, and typed away.
From Tropics to Local
I quickly got a job with a left-leaning group of Northern Virginia weeklies called the Connection newspapers. I liked reporting on local issues, especially crafting my writing, and also taking pictures for each story and being proud to see my byline, however trivial my story was. I loved writing about local artists, historians, activists and politicians. I always liked a certain degree of freedom in my writing and reporting choices, and to my delight, I was granted plenty in this job. I learned freedom of expression was always more important to me than money.
I was also lucky in that one of my editors was an internationalist, as I was, a survivor of the Yugoslav breakup, having been a courageous journalist from Sarajevo, but then injured by sniper fire, and forced to flee to give his family a better life. The only problem was the long, harrowing commute by car, as the offices weren't metro-accessible and the low salary, which didn't allow me to move out of my parents' place.
When Penniless, Always Network
After extensively networking again as I did in Paris, when I landed my initial Radio France Internationale job, an older woman, whom I was once in a theater troupe with, pointed me to the Voice of America, another government-paid international broadcaster, with layers of bureaucracy but also with many passionate international journalists.
After tests, security forms, and a long wait, I was finally hired to write overnight broadcast news scripts about Asia. At the time, militants in East Timor were fighting to separate from Indonesia, which gave me plenty of interesting material to work with. I wrote about everything though, to keep myself busy on the 10 pm to 8 am shift, including lighter fare, such as the above "closer" script from 1999.
Quickly though, I noticed, that even as I improved my broadcast writing skills, I would forever stay on the overnight shift, if I didn't rock the boat. My dream then was to become a foreign correspondent in French-speaking Africa, a dream I would not deviate from. Much like I had set out to be a journalist, whatever the challenges, I would remain on course, even if I was told my radio voice wasn't good enough, or that I was too young. A jealous, competitive colleague, aiming for the same position, even accused me of having never worked at Radio France Internationale.
Trials in Rio
At first, my bosses sent me on trial assignments to Rio de Janeiro, where I wasn't given any opportunity to travel outside the city, but still worked feverishly to produce features from Rio, as well as dryer, analytical reports concerning major news from across South America.
Taking a Vacation as A Test Reporting Trip
When my attempts to get the correspondent's job in West Africa were initially denied, I took a long vacation and went on my own, freelancing for several outlets from Mali. One of my pieces about growing Muslim rage in the wake of 9/11 was picked up by the Christian Science Monitor. I was somewhat dismayed though at the toned down headline editors chose and their insistence that half my piece be quotes from American, U.S.-based experts, rather than from my own on the ground reporting.
Sent At Last
Finally, in 2003, as civil wars raged across West and Central Africa, I was given the opportunity to become a bureau chief, a foreign correspondent, a roving reporter from the tropics, based out of simmering Abidjan.
If you enjoyed this posting, other chapters of this series on my journey in and out of international reporting are the following:
Chapter 1 -- Wanting to Become an International Journalist
Chapter 2 -- Studies, Soccer and Internships
Chapter 3 -- Getting a First Job (with RFI in Paris)
Chapter 4 -- Getting to Indonesia
Chapter 5 -- Surviving a Revolution
Chapter 6 -- Fixers and Fixing
Chapter 7 -- Getting the Dream Job
Chapter 8 -- African Stories