In 2002, The West Plains Daily Quill received a $5,000 grant from the U.S. chapter of the International Press Institute. A representative from the newsroom was charged with the assignment to go somewhere outside the U.S., preferably somewhere where they didn’t speak the language, and attempt to investigate and deliver a story on a subject chosen in the grant application. “We want a reporter to be dropped into a place where they are lost and mute, and discover the story as well as how people outside the U.S. view us.”
Publisher Frank Martin III gave me the assignment: to compare the treatment of natural resources in Central America (Costa Rica and Panama) with how they are treated in the Ozarks. That was the official assignment. But when the news got around about what I was about to do, virtually everyone responded with the same words, or variants thereof: “I wish I could go with you.”
I decided to see if I could do that. First, I acquired a donated GPS unit. Then I made an agreement with Sharon Lewis Orlikowski wherein I would e-mail her Willow Springs social studies class regularly with details on my whereabouts, and answer e-mails if they had questions. A sample:
Harry: Have you seen any bromeliads?
I spent six weeks there, using public transportation and leaning heavily on the kindness of the expat Quaker community, particularly Jo Reinmill, a librarian at the San Jose Country Day School, who lent me a room in her house, gave me a key and offered some essential survival info.
The result, a 20-part newspaper series with numerous photos that read like a travelogue, while answering the natural resource questions. It has morphed since then into a book that I’m calling The Costa Rica Journals. Excerpts can be found here.
Excerpts From Costa Rica Journals; Chapter 2
Excerpts From Costa Rica Journals; Chapter 7
Excerpts From Costa Rica Journals; Chapter 13
Excerpts From Costa Rica Journals; Chapter 17
Excerpts From Costa Rica Journals; Chapter 18