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I just had an incredible encounter. Our doorbell rang, so I opened the window to look below to the front stoop. When I saw a man delivering food, I called out to him, letting him know it must be for our neighbors downstairs. This, so far, is normal.
“OK,” he nodded, turned to head down the steps, but stopped, and looked back up at me on the second floor. “Nadja?” he asked. I had no idea who he was.
Here’s the crazy part: he had recognized me from the @newshour @pulitzercenter series @BrunoFederico9 and I reported on migrants making the treacherous journey through the Darien Gap in order to reach the US.
I came downstairs to meet him on the stoop. He excitedly brought the first tv report of the series (w/ @sarajust, @mtill50, @Villaloncarlos ) up on his phone where he had saved it: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/what-migrants-face-as-they-journey-through-the-deadly-darien-gap?fbclid=IwAR3vITH5mSXPHbPMS42GmbAv_92fHRUU3mXUxgN90Oa7GspioFIY229X3ko
He had made this journey, too – mere weeks after we went through the Darien from Colombia to Panama in Sept. 2019. He related to the group of Bangladeshis in our report whom we came across in the middle of the jungle, with only their wet clothes clinging to their skin –
- armed bandits had robbed them of their food, money, tents. They hadn’t eaten in days. My new friend Ripol is also from Bangladesh, and he told me that he, too, had been robbed. “Everything!” he exclaimed, throwing his mitten-covered hands into the air.
It is -1 C/ 30 F here today. Ripol bikes across New York, making food deliveries. It will be another long winter, as he waits for his asylum application to inch its way through the system, a process stymied by the pandemic and made restrictive and excruciating by Trump.
Ripol has no family in New York. Just the friendships that forged as he and fellow Bangladeshis walked a lucid nightmare through the Darien Gap. Migrants wish they could slough it off as a bad memory, like a snake sheds its skin. But the experience sticks.
Ripol has shared the video with friends and family; it helped them understand what he went through to get here. Now that I’ve reconnected with many who made it to the US, some of these asylum-seekers have told me how much it meant to them to see their journey reported.
It makes them feel seen. I think there is something about having your hardship and suffering known by others – the sheer recognition of it – that alleviates, ever so slightly, the burden of carrying it alone.
I find it easy to get frustrated when I think of all the reporting that, time and time again, exposes injustice and wrong-doing and that should enrage sufficiently to propel change – but doesn’t. Why bother? I sometimes wonder. Hearing from people like Ripol reminds me:
even if journalism doesn’t change the reason he had to traverse a treacherous jungle to get here, or how he is treated here within a dehumanizing asylum system, it can still mean something to the people who live a story: the simple act of telling it, and speaking someone’s truth.

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