There are a handful of podcasts I listen to, though one of my very favorites isn’t even a podcast per se. Rather, NPR allows you to subscribe to Latin America news stories — three to five minutes each, more or less — and then listen to them without interruption. Because I don’t listen to them every day or even every week, they tend to add up, so sometimes while cleaning up the kitchen or doing something else around the apartment I’ll just listen to a string of them. Last year in Pennsylvania, when Katie and I lived 45 minutes apart, I’d often listen to these snippets on the drive back and forth between Reading and Lancaster.
And invariably I’d wonder what the life of an NPR Latin America correspondent must be like.
Then I came across Gerry Hadden’s Never The Hope Itself: Love and Ghosts in Latin America and Haiti (Harper), and I got my answer. Though he’s since moved to Europe and has switched over to PRI, Hadden was based in Mexico City from 2000 to 2004, covering stories for NPR in Mexico, Haiti and Central America.
First off, Hadden’s a great writer, so even if you’re not up on all the ins and outs of Latin American politics, economics and social issues, it’s lively and fast-paced and reads like a novel. Except, of course, unlike a novel it’s true. Well, most of it is anyway.
The “love” and “ghosts” in the subtitle refer to his personal life during that chapter of his life. There’s a love story woven throughout, and the house where Hadden lives — which doubles as NPR’s Mexico City bureau — is also apparently haunted by ghosts. These storylines add personal, humorous and at times downright odd aspects to the book, but that’s part of what keeps it so interesting and enjoyable.
The story begins when Hadden, who had been all set to go off and become a Buddhist monk, received a call from NPR and accepted this dream job. He arrived in Latin America the year before 9/11, and the story of how that fateful September day changed the course of events south of the border is fascinating in its own right, as it’s a story that has too seldom been told.
From covering Haiti’s tumultuous presidential elections, to interviewing some of the few coffee farmers who remain in El Salvador, to following others north, into Guatemala, through Mexico and on up across the Rio Grande, we learn that the life of an NPR correspondent is at times precarious, and certainly not nearly as glamorous as one might think while listening to the radio in the kitchen or on the freeway. But for Hadden, for a time at least, it was a dream job. And with this book, we’re given some great stories, as well as some difficult, frustrating, saddening ones. And, of course, we have the ghosts.
[Photo credit: Allianz.com]