I worked at the TT twice… in the late 1970s and then again at the end of the 1980s.History was being made in the region with the Sandinista challenge to Somoza, their victory and the counter-revolution, plus turmoil in El Salvador and Guatemala.
On my first day at the TT, I worked until 4 a.m. cutting up minuscule letters to paste corrections onto the boards. I was then locked into a closet with strong chemicals to print headlines. I came out in shock… but the following Thursday was the same, and the Thursday after that. In fact, it’s nearly that late now as I write this. Thanks to Dery and RD, I became a night owl.
One day for a story on Operation Drake, I took a taxi at 5 a.m. to catch a bus to the airport, took a small plane to Golfito, was helicoptered to a landing on the coast for a motorboat ride to board a schooner for a half-hour interview. The return trip included a run-in with an ornery billy goat on the airstrip while sitting out a downpour.
As a journalist, I had hits and misses. An article of mine in which a top adviser to Oscar Arias denounced U.S. policy in Costa Rica resulted in his being hounded out of the country.As a team, we uncovered clandestine landing strips along the Nicaraguan border, the illegal kidnap of fugitives by U.S. marshals and the takeover of public beaches by commercial land developers.
We also covered the arts, adventure tourism and news of daily life, including water shortages and price surveys. As reporters, we had an unspoken rule that you could turn any fun personal activity or interest into a story as long as you did your share of news briefs and rewrites first.
What I most valued about my time at the TT was the way it created community. (When I moved to Chile in the mid-1980s, I hooked up with a gang of expats and bilingual Chileans to launch an English-language newspaper there. But with censorship and without tourists, it failed utterly.) I also picked up a bias against daily news in favor of weeklies, magazines and news sources that provide context and perspective.
On a more personal level, I learned how to be the kind of foreigner who makes a positive contribution to his/her host society.
So long live the TT …may it continue to launch young journalists, foster local community and present Costa Rica to the English-speaking world for years to come!
(Lezak Shallat is a freelance reporter and journalist, based in Santiago, Chile)