designing a 16-page newspaper. solo.

Sunday morning phone call:

“Hey Darrell,” I say, to the editor of the Nicaraguan Post. “How’s it going? When do you want me to come by and copy edit the paper today?”

“Everything is hell,” he says.

“Oh,” I respond. Long pause. “Um. Why?”

“Christian [very unmotivated and slightly crazy Nicaraguan designer of the Post] quit. We have no one to design the paper,” he says, and continues to rant in mad British, in a total panic induced by desperation. I can hear him chain smoking in the background.

“Oh. Shoot.”

“Yeah. We’re not going to be able to put out the paper this week,” he says. “Unless you know how to use InDesign,” he continues, joking.

“Oh. Well, actually, I do.”

He hangs up and calls me back in three minutes. “The job’s yours.”

So, here I am, the designer of the Nicaraguan Post. The responsibility of laying out an entire 16-page newspaper falls on me, and me alone. Given that Christian (Mr. Quitter) didn’t speak English nor understand layout (all of the articles have to be left-justified, not just some), I complained several weeks ago that the paper was a mess. And now, ironically, I have the opportunity—the responsibility—to clean it up, page by page, line by line. By Sunday evening, I was reliving my days editing the student newspaper at DU and muddling my way through InDesign, its components flooding back to me as I clicked aimlessly around.

I worked non-stop Sunday through Wednesday. By non-stop, I mean Monday I was in front of Darrell’s laptop for a solid ten hours. For those of you not familiar with what it takes to layout a newspaper page (and why would you be), it’s quite a process to arrive from a blank page. There are various articles and pictures you must arrange on that page so that they look pretty and organized, they follow certain ‘layout rules’ and most importantly, there is no blank space and also, of course, the entirety of each article appears in print. It’s alternatively complicated, an interesting puzzle that requires creativity and spatial thinking, and also mind numbing in its simplicity, as hours are spent changing font sizes and types and justifying paragraphs.

Wednesday morning Darrell drove us to Managua to personally hand in the pdf document to the printer, wanting to be present should any problems arise.

The Post is printed by La Prensa, the biggest newspaper in Nicaragua. La Prensa is an institution in Nicaragua as much as the N.Y. Times is in the States. It was a centerpiece in the 80’s for dissent against the revolution. Chamorro, the editor and founder of the paper, was murdered for his vocal opposition to the Somoza dictatorship; with the rise of the Sandanistas, the paper became strident in its criticism of them and their policy during the contra war, so much that it was shut down by the government three times. When it was allowed to operate, it was subjected to incredible censorship (every issue had to be approved by the government censor, and articles were often removed). Daniel Ortega, the current president, and La Prensa still butt heads quite a bit—they aren’t exactly objective in their (negative) appraisal of Señor presidente.  Anyway, I walked into their offices on Wednesday with Darrell; he says, Nicaraguan Post, and up we go to the room where they design the paper every day, and I meet with one of the designers to talk about the (my) paper design. We converted it to pdf, and there it was, all 16 pages that I put together, on the screen in a computer in La Prensa office. Downstairs are the printing presses, where not only are thousands of copies of the newspaper printed, but so are the paper needs of many other enterprises, including political propaganda pamphlets for the same Sr. Ortega the paper rails against in each issue (a very Nicaraguan irony).

It’s nice when you can realize, as I did, standing in the warehouse, surrounded by the smell of paper and glue, the noise of papers printing, journalistic excitement abound, that you’re doing what you should be doing. 

With this new position, my wallet hidden in my sock drawer will find itself with an extra $200 every other week, which is exciting to say the least. It’s actually unbelievable…  I’m making more than enough money to support myself here… enough that I actually may find myself with, wait for it, extra money. 

So, yeah, I’m love my job. Last week, I wrote my first article for Between the Waves after I interviewed three Nicaraguan artists who work in a studio in Granada. My first Spanish interview! Note taking, under the best of circumstances a rapid, messy task, becomes all the more messy when the interviewee is not speaking in your native language. My notes ended up looking like a Spanish-English dictionary had vomited in my notebook. The interview and translating the quotes to English was a welcome challenge, and I’m quite pleased with how my article turned out. Having one under my belt, as well as the layout job, makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. 

Time is just tooling along. I’m quite busy. Where does the day, night, week go, I wonder? I volunteer three days a week; it’s rather pointless as the high schoolers I’m supposed to be tutoring rarely come. I spend more time in transit to and from school than actually working with kids. The volunteer community is just fantastic, though, and I’ve made some friends among the thirty or so of them in Granada. A little less than half of us are from the States, the rest from Europe and Australia; it’s quite an international group. Saturday I climbed Mombacho, the closest volcano to Granada, with six other volunteers. I go to my gym mostly every day, and have gotten into the yoga classes offered by the owner. I’ve gotten up twice at 5:30 a.m. to go running along the lake, the only time that the intense heat, sun, cat-calling men permits. Although it doesn’t compare to my Gigante runs, it’s a pleasant time of day, peaceful and quite, as the sun gains strength over the lake.

Wednesday night was allegedly Canadian Thanksgiving, so the whole group came together for a potluck dinner in one of the volunteer houses. (Seeing as I have no real kitchen at my disposal, I put myself in charge of beverages.) We Americans huddled around the TV to watch the debate, eating a wonderful array of food, and then said what we were thankful for. My favorite: I’m thankful that I make my own choices, and Dad this is for you: that I’m healthy. 

There is a tropical depression hovering over Central America, so it’s been raining literally non-stop since Wednesday, and is slated to continue until tomorrow. If it’s been intense in Granada, I can only wonder how Gigante is doing. La Prensa runs an almost daily story with the numbers of people evacuated from their homes; fifteen people have been killed, trying to cross rivers or in other flood-related incidents. 

Last night, I braved the rain and went to have a drink with Jesse, the editor of Waves, and his ex-pat friends. There is a pretty thriving ex-pat community here, from the States, Europe, Canada, pretty much anywhere. The bar I went to is run by Heidi, a Dutch woman who moved here nine years ago. The ex-pats are an interesting bunch. On the one hand, you have to wonder what makes a person move to Nicaragua for five, seven, nine years, and build a life? But, I guess, what makes any person leave their birth country? Anyway, sitting in this bar, discussing feminism in the United States with men who have lived in a machista culture for the better part of a decade, and who I disagree with on almost every point… it was bizarre.

The night wore on, rain thundering outside, and I paused in a self-reflexive moment, in one of many moments I’ve had recently when I feel just how far from home, from my family and friends I am. I video chat with my parents, talk to my friends online anytime I want, write emails and facebook messages. I am utterly connected. At the same time, there is so much of my daily life I can’t communicate, that is so foreign and different. I hadn’t written a blog in almost two weeks and I’m overwhelmed by the amount I have to write about, about all that has happened, about the sounds and images and smells and yells on a street, walking out of the city and to my volunteer school and hitching a ride back. There are things I do: go to a modern dance recital, climb Volcan Mombacho, wander in cloud forest, and I feel the need to list them, to write about each one, say what I did and how it was. But as soon as I finish my chat online, I wander back into my home and am greeted by the blast of a telenovela and a plate of fried cheese, rice and beans, and that is as much what I’m ‘doing’ as climbing a volcano.

I don’t even know where to begin, what to say, to choose to communicate. Ultimately, I guess it’s me here, doing these things, and I have to give into the notion that I should be writing about everything, that I can share everything, that it’s even possible. And I continue to go about making my own decisions, and for that I’m thankful. 

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