January 26, 2011 16:20 Age: 3 yrs

Erica Eding 13L Admission Essay

I had never eaten guinea pig before, I explained to Emilia in a mix of Spanish and Quechua, the language spoken in rural areas of Peru. She was taken aback, and seemed to pity me.

“Don’t worry, it’s delicious. Guinea pig is a special food, and I prepare it very well.”

For the past few weeks, I had been thinking about the story I would write when I returned to my college in Florida. I needed to capture my experience without turning the article into a hum-drum travel story. The angle was the key. It would unlock the inherent nature of this country to my readers, many of whom had never ventured farther south than Miami. My story had to somehow encompass the opposing forces of Peru: the natural beauty of the geography and the overwhelming poverty, the rich indigenous culture and its dilution by foreign influence. My readers would not be able to see this until I found my story’s angle.

I followed Emilia as she walked toward her one-room house. A small flock of semi-feathered chickens scattered around our ankles. I rubbed my hands together in an attempt to warm them against the frigid, thin air of the Andes Mountains. As I stumbled into the mud-brick house, my eyes stung from the smoke in the room. Her bamboo ceiling was stained black from it.

“Couldn’t we build a fire outside and just boil a few potatoes?” I asked. The new stove I was building wasn’t ready yet. I had to cut a hole through her roof to install a chimney. Emilia shook her head. “No, my husband comes home today, and he needs a good meal.”

I grabbed a handful of the mixture of mud, manure, and cow hair that my host had created that morning and tried to level out the stove’s platform. It would be hours before the project was complete. Emilia saw my disheartened look and folded her arms.

“We must finish now,” she said. Then she added dispassionately, “If I do not feed guinea pig to my husband, he will beat me.” I realized I had found my story’s angle, and my heart sank.

Journalists often set out to write one story and end up with a finished version that is entirely different. I once told my editor that I would be writing about a local woman who ran a program which taught adults how to read. The article I turned in was actually about one of her students, a woman in her mid-forties who had never seen electricity until she sailed to New Orleans from Haiti about 10 years ago. She now works three jobs, but in her spare time attends classes so that she can learn to read.

A good journalist is a storyteller who can convey not just the essentials, but the rich details, the “why” and “how.” These traits are also essential for a lawyer. Like a reporter, an attorney must investigate, compile enormous amounts of data, and then organize the information coherently. Most importantly, they need to find an angle and wrap their argument around this. This will allow those who the lawyer wishes to influence to see how each piece of data fits into the case they have constructed.

The roles of lawyers and journalists in society are similar. They seek to inform, check overreaching power, and protect basic human rights. However, there is a categorical difference. Lawyers can be advocates in ways that the objectivity of journalism will not allow.

That cold and exhausting morning in Chinchero, Peru, I discovered more than just my story’s angle. I realized that the next time someone admits that their rights are being violated, I want to do more than simply tell their story. I want to defend them.

I asked Emilia whether she ever thought about speaking up to her husband. She told me that the village would shun her if she did not obey him. The next time I return to Peru, I plan to be more knowledgeable about choices that women have when their rights are violated.

I also plan to not worry so much about eating guinea pig. Emilia was right, it is delicious.

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