I was tooling along Princess Margaret Drive in Belize City recently when I heard a repeated scraping sound as my little Nissan surmounted speed bump after speed bump.
Following the policy of “ignore it and it will stop,” I kept driving. Just as I passed the entrance to Marion Jones Stadium I heard a clanging, and glimpsed my muffler rolling to a stop on the road side.
Allow me to explain how you can handle this situation if it happens to you:
1. Get out of your car and retrieve said muffler when there is a break in traffic. Stow it in the trunk.
2. Drive to your mechanic George who, with a good-natured chuckle says, “You need a new muffler.”
3. Get referred by George to a “bally ‘pon Cran Street,” who does mufflers.
Belize is a democracy. Elections happen with regularity and voters have strong feelings about both leading major political parties.
A friend of mine recently observed Belizean politics in action and found himself dismayed by one particular aspect: paying for votes.
The practice, by which a person connected to a candidate offers money to secure a vote, is tolerated. In some cases, a would-be voter asks for the money before the handler can even get his or her campaign spiel off the ground.
For voters in a poor country, a proffered “blue note” (hundred-dollar bill) can mean food, a paid bill or school fees. My theory is that people take the money and vote for whomever they feel like on Election Day.
In the United States, the money flows the other way: Millions of dollars donated to campaigns. (This happens in Belize, in smaller amounts).
There are the modest donations that individual voters send, in the hope their contributions will help pay for TV ads, bumper stickers, or campaign volunteers’ coffee.
Then, there are there big checks written to candidates, PACs and causes. The donors are banking on the fact that winners will not be able to forget all those zeros when the time comes for favors and special consideration.
You’d think that knowing money plays such a huge role in the democratic process would turn us off–and many people are, in fact, turned off.
And, yet. And, yet. The ability to vote in an election has an addictive quality; we are hooked on the idea that each of us can make a difference.
Despite rationing–or because of?–the friends I spent time with found ways to get their hands on a variety of foods. Bottomline: if one had money, one could buy just about anything. Los clandestinos thrived when I was traveling to Cuba in 2002-04, and I imagine the black market economy is still more relevant to daily life than the state. Many families receive foreign remittances, so not everyone must rely on their ration books.
1. The first thing I ate in Cuba was lobster. Arriving in Havana late at night, we found our hotel restaurant was closed, so my mother and I followed a man from the neighborhood to a Centro Habana paladar, a private home licensed by the government to cook and serve meals. We sat at the family’s dining table as love songs played on a boom box.
2. For breakfast, I often ate tortillas. The Cuban version is actually a frittata, in all it’s delicious glory. Served with bread and Cuban coffee at the casa particular (private home licensed to host tourists) where I stayed on subsequent trips.
3. Paella. Cooked in a tiny kitchen on the roof of the home of friends in the beach town of Varadero. Exquisite, especially because we ate at a table on the roof, under the sky, shaded by a tree.
4. Garbanzo soup with white rice. Rich and filling. Cooked with pride by the man of the house at my casa particular .
5. A giant sheet cake ordered by the casa particular chatelaine for a party on Dec. 17, dedicated to St. Lazarus. San Lazaro is a big deal for Cubans, who pray to him for health.
I went with my friends to pick up the cake, which was created behind nondescript doors at a clandestine bakery, where employees were busy mixing, baking and decorating a variety of treats in a series of rooms that opened onto a courtyard.
A lookout gave the all-clear when we were ready to leave with the cake. No police or snoops in sight, we carefully placed the cake into the trunk of the ancient Lada.
2012 is the thirtieth year of continuous publication for my mother Zee Edgell‘s first bookBeka Lamb. So, I’ve been helping update her site and spreading the word via social media. There have been a great number of heartfelt comments and reactions to this, as the book has become beloved in Belize and the Caribbean. Students at her alma mater in Belize are staging their own stage adaptation of the book in May. I don’t think they knew about the book’s thirtieth anniversary; it’s a happy coincidence!
I’ve also started to get more involved with the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists. My first official activity was creating a flyer to announce our April 26 membership mixer and helping get the word out via social media and my personal contacts. Come on down!
Can it really be true? My last blog post was in in April. Woe is I. Well, my only excuse is that it’s been quite a year. Plenty of travel, lots of hard work, and a new house.
So, in the time-honored tradition of journalists and writers everywhere, here is my year in review. I am not sure if it will be of much interest to anyone but me, but here goes!
January saw the first full month of having all Patch sites under my purview fully launched and fully live. My calendar shows a full slate of meetings, administrative tasks and other signs of getting into a new routine.
Late in the month, I took my first trip to Memphis at the invitation of the journalism faculty at University of Memphis. I visited classes to talk about Patch, social media and community coverage. In addition, I spoke to the campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, always a cause dear to me. I even got to do a few interviews with students interested in the PatchU internship, which bore fruit later in the year with a student heading to the Atlanta area for the summer.
As always, I got in some sightseeing!
February was the month of our first Patch employee reviews, quite a challenge when you don’t have a private office! Luckily, a local Starbucks has a semi-private space with a nice big table. I arrived early and commandeered the table for a number of hours. The reviews themselves were a new exercise for me as a manager; very different from assigning a letter grade as I had done as a professor. It was a cathartic moment for some of my editors, a time to breathe after a fast run up to launching their sites and full immersion in a job that was–and continues to–evolve.
In March I took a vacation to Belize! My mother, Zee Edgell, had been invited by the US Embassy in Belize to be keynote speaker at an Women’s Month event honoring outstanding women.
My mother and I took and overnight trip to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. Mom gave readings to students at San Pedro High School and we made new friends among the teachers and students there! At the end of the week my mother, an aunt, a cousin and I got to take a gals’-only trip to Placencia, where we met up with another aunt and her husband. I took some time to meander through the village, one of my favorite places in the world.
In April, my grandmother Veronica Tucker died. She was ninety years old and had been in declining health for several years. So, it was back to Belize for the funeral. The ceremony itself was elegant and loving, just like Grandma. Even though the occasion was solemn and sad, it served as a rare moment for the extended family to gather and spend time together. I know Grandma would have been pleased. We even took formal family pictures, not knowing when we’d all be in the same place again.
The weekend after I returned from Belize, it was time to head to Overland Park, KS for the Society of Professional Journalists Region 7 Spring Conference. It was great to see colleagues and friends, as well as a contingent of former students from the University of Missouri.
Good Friday (April 23, 2011) saw severe weather rip through metro St. Louis. Many of my team members fanned out to capture to images and report the stories of the day. I spent Saturday at my dining table in my pajamas: copy editing, assigning, coordinating, and watching the outstanding coverage come together.
In May, my mother and I headed to Branson, Missouri and nearby College of the Ozarks for a wedding. It was our first time in the region, and the drive was beautiful!
Little did we know that as we headed back to metro St. Louis, a horrendous storm system was setting its sights on Joplin, Missouri–not far from the area where we’d attended the wedding.
The Joplin devastation made the Good Friday storm damage look minor. Not having Patch sites in the Joplin area, we at St. Louis Patch concentrated our coverage efforts on local folks lending a helping hand.
There was no slowing down for me as June arrived! I took a quick trip to San Francisco for a few days of training for Patch Regional Editors at the outstanding Knight Digital Media Center at UC Berkeley. It was great to meet colleagues I’d only known via e-mail and conference calls! The training focused on engagement, new story-telling tools and techniques and other important facets of covering communities.
On the last night, I squeezed in a trip to downtown San Francisco to have dinner with my high school friend Christine Fordstrom. It was wonderful to see her!
In July, I took my first trip to China. Amazing! Dr. Ernest Zhang of the University of Missouri School of Journalism invited me to join him and Adam Sympson, an E.W. Scripps Vice President, to travel to Chengdu, a city of 14 million people in the Sichuan Province. We lectured about doing journalism and delivering content in the digital space at the Chengdu Economic Daily. The trip including opportunities for sightseeing and exploring the area!
August found me continuing to travel! First, it was to Philadelphia for the National Association of Black Journalists conference. I was part of a panel geared to new college grads and early career journalists, which focused on maximizing your education and experience for the evolving journalism job market. I got meet new people and see many old friends from various stops on my journeywoman jouralism career!
Hard on the heels of the Philly trip came a quick jaunt to Chicago for a Patch Regional Editors meeting at the AOL office. Another great moment for hanging with fellow Patch managers and meeting new ones. Midwest Zone Editorial Director Sherry Skalko led the proceedings and we also heard from Patch EIC Brian Farnham who flew in for a day to rally the troops. I was glad to get a chance to chat with Brian as we munched on sandwiches. Another memorable moment: An after-dinner stroll with a few of my fellow LEs along Michigan Avenue!
I had a short break from traveling to prepare for Youth Media Belize, a week of teaching young people (ages 13-19) in Orange Walk, Belize later in August. This effort is part of a partnership between UNICEF and the University of the West Indies, Open Campus, Belize to enable children and youths to raise their voices and let their opinions be known.
I coordinated the coursework and recruited great US-based journalists to help me teach. Our team was rounded out by a Belizean radio journalist and UNICEF social media guru. To say this experience was rewarding is just the beginning. Check out the photos and you’ll really get the picture.
The frequent flyer miles continued to accrue in September! My mother and I traveled to Washington, DC at the invitation of the Belize Embassy. Ambassador Nestor Mendez arranged an evening at the Inter-American Development Bank, where my mother gave a talk and reflected on the thirty years of Belizean Independence.
We fit in some sightseeing and then joined a fun group of Belizeans and members of the diplomatic corps at a Belizean-style picnic at the Embassy.
My main order of business to taking the chair of the SPJ national membership committee at the invitation of incoming SPJ President John Ensslin. We held a productive brainstorming session and laid the groundwork for several membership retention and recruitment drives.
Of course, I took full advantage of my first visit to the Crescent City to enjoy the sights and sounds of Bourbon Street and its environs! Two Patch editors from St. Louis attended the conference as well, which gave us a chance to hang out and get to know each other better. They even caught me in the act of performing karoake. Yes. The song was “Ladies Night,” by Kool and the Gang.
Conference attendees got a chance to take a bus tour to view the work happening along the levee system in New Orleans and we even made a stop in the Ninth Ward.
After using the first weekend after my New Orleans trip to rest and recuperate, the following Saturday found me teaching journalism and social media techniques to local aspiring journalists as part of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists workshop for high school students. It was my second year taking part in the program, hosted by KETC-TV (The 9 Network) downtown.
The very next day I hit the road, for a drive north to Iowa City. My friend and mentor, Pam Creedon, is on the faculty at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication and invited me to spend a day talking to students and faculty about Patch and doing journalism in the digital, hyperlocal realm.
I was really impressed with the students and faculty members, who were so welcoming! Pam showed me around the School’s very new building, for which she took the lead in fundraising and oversaw its completion.
Other fun times in October:
Visit with students at Lindenwood University, St. Charles
The St. Louis SPJ Trivia Night in Maryland Heights
The St. Louis Cardinals winning the World Series at home
OWL Women of Worth dinner at the Missouri Athletic Club
The Ladue Foundation breakfast at Danforth Science Center
Viewing the original film Phantom of the Opera with the accompaniment of the St. Louis Symphony
Trick or treating with my niece and nephews on Halloween
Manning the Patch booth at the Walk for Diabetes, Creve Coeur Park
November found me preparing for another trip to Belize, to lead three days of training for professional journalists. As with Youth Media Belize in August, this was a component of the partnership between UNICEF in Belize and the University of the West Indies, Open Campus, Belize. This time, we focused on the theme “Putting Children in the Right,” providing insights about coverage of children and youth; statistics and information to help journalists in their reporting; and skills and techniques for covering children and youth.
Helping me lead the sessions and discussions was the outstanding Belizean journalist, Janelle Chanona. We had about thirty participants from around Belize, representing radio, television, newspapers, non-profits, and other allied industries.
It looks like my collaboration with UNICEF Belize and University of the West Indies, Open Campus, Belize will continue into 2012, so stay tuned!
A huge event capped my visit to Belize; to wit, the completion of Casa Edgell, the house my brother and I commissioned on the Placencia Peninsula in the Stann Creek District. My parents purchased the land facing the Placencia Lagoon nearly ten years ago, so this was a true labor of love–with my sister-in-law Emily Edgell overseeing the design and decor details, from tiles to curtain rods.
I spent three blissful days in the house after getting the keys from the contractor, so I can attest to its charms!
The day after I got back from Belize, St. Louis Patchers convened at Pujols 5 for our grand all-team holiday bash. It was a great chance to celebrate our team and enjoy each other’s company.
Another November highlight was watching my brother on stage at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis! No, he was not performing; good doctor was speaking the group gathered for a Kirk Franklin concert about stroke prevention. My parents and I were so proud!
December came all too quickly as it always seems to do! And, of course it ain’t over yet.
So far, there have been a number of year-end administrative tasks for Patch, a few meetings, and the hustle and bustle of getting ready for Christmas.
I took an overnight trip to Columbia, MO to watch my friend Christopher Saunders (who was part of the Youth Media Belize teaching team) receive his master’s degree from the journalism school. While in town, of course I had to stop by KOMU-TV, where I worked for more than four years.
On the Wednesday before Christmas, I joined many of my Patch team members for an ice skating outing followed by a festive lunch in Creve Coeur. I made it around the rink three times and was able to be steady on my feet for the lunch afterward!
So, all in all a very busy year. Along the way, I was very happy to get news that my short story Heaven or the Deep Blue Sea, was accepted for publication in not one, but two, literary journals: Pisgah Review (Brevard College, Florida) and Dialogo (DePaul University, Chicago).
I won’t make any resolutions for 2012 at this point.
Let’s call these lessons learned:
I remain fond of travel, to say the least.
I still enjoy teaching, and hope to have more opportunities to guest lecture and conduct training in 2012
I need to do more non-work, non-journalism stuff; to wit, have more of a social life.
I feel so gratified to live in the same city as my parents and my brother and his family.
I need to get cracking on my fiction writing: First order of business is to finish the first installment of my detective series set in Belize.
As a regional editor for Patch, a national network of community news websites, I do a lot work that is managerial and administrative: From approving freelancer and contributor payments to managing my budget and conducting evaluations and reviews of my team members.
In between those tasks, I copy edit and regularly review the 12 Patch sites in my purview, checking for content and quality. I like to recognize great work by my editors and our contributors by sharing articles, photos and video on Twitter and Facebook. I also spend a good deal of time working to implement and track editorial initiatives. I meet regularly with my team members in one on one sessions as well as team gatherings.
So, in the midst of all of these activities (and many others), you may well ask (ask I did) where’s MY journalism? I realized, that unlike many other news managers, I actually have the luxury of creating content that speaks directly to my experiences and provides what I hope are real tips, tools and information to Patch users around Greater St. Louis.
Each time I sit down to write my column (after research, some field work, and interviews), I am reminded how much I love to write. And, picture how tickled I was when Clayton-Richmond Heights Patch Editor Nate Birt pointed out my latest column was among the most viewed on his site!
Note to other news managers: If you can, make time to do some journalism. It reminds you why you got into this industry in the first place.