Introducing WATCHED POT: a new travel docu-series

Hello everyone! If you don’t know me yet, I’m Amelia.

I’m a former newspaper journalist (Boston Globe, Detroit News, Minneapolis Star Tribune), who left my home, my job, my belongings and my safety net in the spring of 2018 to travel full-time and tell the kinds of stories that motivate me to keep studying, reporting and exploring.

I’m a SLOW traveler who has spent the last year and a half in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and now El Salvador, where I have been living and working for the last five months.

Here, I’m launching a new independent docu-series called WATCHED POT that will explore food, culture and U.S. imperialism around the world.

Those first two themes are obvious — food and culture are two of the main reasons most of us love to travel and adventure, to eat new things and learn new traditions.

But for me, especially as a U.S. native, travel comes with a deeper motivation as well — the opportunity to examine the current and historical influence and intervention of my own country in all of these places, and the sometimes disastrous results.

Visiting El Mozote: behind the scenes of my reporting

I had read a lot about El Mozote, about this horrible chapter of Salvadoran history and U.S. complicity. Then, I went — and felt the bullet holes, smelled the earth, saw the tears. Here’s what it felt like.

I glared the at the Google map as we got closer.

I stretched and shrunk my screen, checking the estimated arrival time again. I tapped my notebook and looked out the window. The surrounding pueblos faded to pastures and morro groves. The mountains of Morazán looked gray in the distance.

I was anxious.

I was high up in the hills of El Salvador, but I was heading toward a piece of my history. Well, both of our histories. My companion Luis and I were nearing the site of the greatest civilian massacre in modern Latin American history — a three-day horror in which his people were killed … and my government helped.

Why El Salvador

After three months in the U.S., I’m continuing my travels in Central America. The next long-term destination? El Salvador. Here’s why I wanted to go.

On April 12, somewhere in between my cold brew and lunch, I found myself in an odd position: crying in a bathroom at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. 

A year earlier, I would have never been able to imagine myself here because, well, I didn’t even have the groundwork for the tears. And yet here I was, wedged between a couple of industrial-sized toilet paper rolls and a hand dryer, slobbering into my clay-caked jacket sleeve.

I had just participated in an exhibit meant to challenge the collective U.S. consciousness about our history in El Salvador, as part of a performing arts festival I had stumbled into. 

First, there was a short film on El Mozote, a sleepy village near the Honduras border and the site of the horrific 1981 massacre by U.S.-trained-and-funded Salvadoran troops during the country’s civil war. When the film was over, I was instructed to walk into an adjacent room. 

There, strewn across the floor, were tubs of red clay and ripe orange-and-yellow mangoes, culminating in a tumbling mass in the middle of the room, where a young woman sat on an upside-down crate armed with a tall stack of paper. 

Each sheet bore a single name.

Taking my hand, she sliced a knife through a bit of the mango she held and gave it to me to eat. She pressed red clay into my wrist. Then she handed me a piece of paper from the stack. 

Maria Santos Claros Marquez, it read.

While we get outraged about Russian interference, we should consider our own history too

Last week, the redacted version of the Robert Mueller investigation into possible Trump collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential elections was released, and seemingly all of the U.S. — particularly its media — took the opportunity to find new ways to be aghast, disgusted, horrified by the idea that a foreign government could be involved in dictating our leadership, our way of life.

It’s disturbing, certainly. I’ve been among those enamored with fury, too.

But lately, I’ve instead been thinking back to a conversation I had a few months ago in a bar in Belize.

My Belize City friend, Ian, chuckled then as we shared a glass of wine, talking politics in a small bar in Placencia. At some point the Mueller investigation came up.

“Americans are outraged that Russia helped choose your president,” he mused, “even though it’s what your country has done with leaders of countries all over Central America for decades.”

Despite knowing the history, foggily, the statement hit like a 2×4 block of concrete to the face.

Because, well, let’s face it: as U.S. natives, we don’t like to think of ourselves that way.

How are Hondurans reacting to Trump’s aid cuts? A perspective from San Pedro Sula

Thanks to a long, complicated and overwhelming negative history of U.S. influence in Honduras, the reactions on the ground aren’t as straight-forward as one might expect.

At the top of Rotulo Coca Cola, where the heat of the city weakens with altitude and the pavement edges up against the jungle, a plateau rises from the mass of banana trees.

From here, all of San Pedro Sula, Honduras looks small — a city of almost a million stretched beneath the humid haze, its raucous soundtrack replaced by the drone of crickets.

“It looks so peaceful from here,” Eduardo Hermida said, overlooking his home town. “That’s why I like it.

“From here, it looks like everything down there is going well.”