By Jennifer Rigby @jriggers
Kiplinger Class, 2015
There are two or three power cuts most days. For six months of the year it is blisteringly hot, and for the other six, it never stops raining. And don’t even talk to me about the internet (trying to send a video report of a few minutes can take hours, and that’s via the best connection in town, at the most expensive hotel).
I’ve been followed by secret police, I have to leave the country every 28 days to renew my visa, and just getting to some parts of the country requires weeks of preparation and pleading with the authorities.
But moving to Yangon, Myanmar in 2015 to work as a freelance journalist is still the best decision I ever made. I love the place, I love the stories, and I even love the challenges (apart from the internet – that’s pretty hard to love).
It’s a fascinating country. In November last year, the first democratic election for decades delivered power to Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi. After nearly half a
century of brutal military oppression, the Burmese people made their voices heard, and it was a roar of freedom, democracy and hope. It was an amazing moment: thousands dancing and singing on the streets, tears in their eyes, wearing the red of Suu Kyi’s party and holding hands.
There is some way to go yet. Ethnic conflict and religious division still wreck thousands of lives in various parts of Myanmar (also known as Burma); corruption is rife; and many people are still crushingly poor, and often live at the mercy of natural disasters.
As such, covering this country can be both uplifting and heartbreaking. But it is always interesting, and that makes being a journalist here easy despite the challenges (which, it’s worth pointing out, are often more acute for local journalists).
Of course, there are downsides. Losing the security of a monthly salary, the support network of a huge news organisation, insurance and colleagues are all part of it. From a personal point of view, being quite so far from my friends and family at home in the UK can be hard, although I moved here with my boyfriend – also a freelance journalist – which has helped.
Constant pitching has been hard to adjust to, and the strange whims of news organisations (“An exclusive about forced child recruitment into an ethnic army? Nah…but that story about a cat island, yes please.” The cat story was fun though).
I’ve adapted to report from more places, all over Southeast Asia, for more people, including The Telegraph (my old paper in the UK), Newsweek, AP and Refinery29. I’m also writing a book about badass Burmese women that should come out next year.
I’ve trekked through the jungle following elephants at dawn; met brave LGBT activists in their homes; visited refugee camps where people live without hope; and stood at Aung San Suu Kyi’s headquarters on election night, watching as history happened.
Journalism nowadays often involves too much sitting in an office, staring at a screen, particularly for young people who break in via what’s seen as the digital “back door” (a nonsensical concept in itself – if ever there was a front door for journalism and proving yourself as a journalist, it’s the internet).
Obviously, you have to sit inside and stare at a screen sometimes – I’m doing it right now – but journalism for me is about getting out there, talking to people, and telling their stories via whatever medium works. Journalism isn’t about sitting sedately at a desk, and, to be frank, neither is life – or at least, not the life I want to lead.