Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Beautiful Baja

It would be good to live in a perpetual state of leave-taking, never to go nor to stay, but to remain suspended in that golden emotion of love and longing; to be loved without satiety.

---John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Beyond Sister Act

Maryknoll sister Dr. Mary Annel

Here is the first in a series of three profiles I am writing about Catholic nuns who operate in rough terrains. Enjoy, and be inspired!
Click here: In El Salvador: Maryknoll, physician, and HIV/AIDS activist

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Coming upon the Massacred Jesuits

On a morning 25 years ago, just after curfew lifted, I and three other reporters jumped into a jeep pocked with balas perdidas -- stray bullets -- to follow a tip, and became the first journalists to arrive at the massacre site of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in San Salvador.  
Here is what I saw:

photo: Luis Galdamez

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sainthood is Not Enough for El Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero

My Los Angeles Times Opinion Page commentary--Click Here: Archbishop Romero"Romero's brother bishops...have dragged their feet or blocked progress toward legal redress for Romero's killing and the rest of El Salvador's wartime crimes."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

No Environmental Refugees in Napa


Here is a link to my commentary on the Napa earthquake that struck this weekend:
No Refugees in Wine Country

"In the minutes after we jumped from our bed I felt the gap between earthquake experiences in countries far apart in distance, but also in wealth.  There would be no severely displaced, no massive numbers of environmental refugees in Wine Country.  Local radio spurted call-ins from the affected around Napa, the epicenter.

"'The house was such a mess we had to drive over to our other house,' said a woman.
A man said he was calling from his car: "There's no power so we're stuck here in our car because the gate won't open."

This photo from CNN is what viewers saw.This is what visitors to Antigua would have seen after an historical earthquake

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Genocide Trial Coverage Receives 2014 Press Association Gold

Wonderful news – my coverage of the 2013 Rios Montt genocide trial has received the top award in International News Writing from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, a 103-year old organization of more than 250 member newspapers and magazines.
BEST NEWS WRITING International Event 

 “Coverage of Guatemala genocide trial” 
by Mary Jo McConahay 
National Catholic Reporter

If you missed them, here are the articles.

Genocide on trial in Guatemala, setting model for region

Guatemala genocide survivors take stand at Rios Montt trial

Guatemala genocide trial back on track after suspension

Rios Montt found guilty of Guatemalan genocide

After wrenching accounts and guilty decision, verdict annulled

 For additional blogposts about the trial, including links to my related articles written for the Los Angeles Times, New America Media and California Lawyer, see this GlobeWatch blog, Feb-Aug 2013

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Shebooks Interview

They asked questions such as, "How does your religious identity influence your writing?"  Who would have expected that one?
     I told them about my first published story, about a raindrop (me, I was about age 9) who fell to the earth and provided the material from which Louis Pasteur worked out germ theory. 

 It was fun to give the interview, and lovely to be one of the authors (we had to wear tiaras onstage) at the reading for the celebration of Shebooks, the new e-publisher of long form journalism, memoir, fiction and my new book, Ricochet. 

Read about Ricochet here on Amazon

What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?
"Write every day.  Not every other day, not when the spirit hits. Every day."
I think you'll enjoy the rest of the Shebooks interview Just click right here

Monday, May 19, 2014

Advance Praise for Ricochet

 “Extraordinary writing, evocative, riveting and wise.” – Jake Bernstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter

“A book for anyone who cares about the impact of war and the power of human relationships.” – Lindsey Hilsum, award-winning television reporter, author of Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution

“Lush…captures the bloody violence swirling in the midst of beauty--an extraordinary piece of historical reportage.” -- June Carolyn Erlick, author of Disappeared, A Journalist Silenced, and editor-in-chief of ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America.

 From Shebooks
General launch May 21.  Buy now on Kindle

Here are complete versions of early comments on Ricochet.

“An extraordinary piece of writing. McConahay's spot-on prose is evocative, riveting and wise. Her story beautifully captures the tension that exists within the best war correspondents. How does one stay tough and also empathetic? How do you balance a capacity for outrage with a need for self-care? I've had the privilege of watching these two extraordinary women work. Now you can too. They didn't parachute into their war zone, they immersed themselves in it. The journalism that resulted shined. This unflinching account follows the same path and we are better for the journey.”
       ---Jake Bernstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter

"Mary Jo McConahay's poignant memoir tells not only of the brutality that tore El Salvador apart in 1989, but of what it was like to cover the war as a reporter. The horror of that time is redeemed by friendship forged on the road, under fire, that endures when all other certainties fade away. A book for anyone who cares about the impact of war and the power of human relationships."
       ---Lindsey Hilsum, award-winning television journalist, author of Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution

"This understated but lush narrative evokes a very special time for many foreign correspondents, the wars in Central America in the 1980s. Through the lens of her friendship with a fellow American photojournalist, Mary Jo McConahay captures the bloody violence swirling in the midst of exquisite beauty. This nuanced portrait is not just an extraordinary piece of historical reportage; it is a window on the decisions that journalists caught in war must make about their daily lives even today." – June Carolyn Erlick, author of Disappeared, A Journalist Silenced, and editor-in-chief of ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Skipping Lisbon, Hitting Nazaré

            Any traveler who has tried to book a hotel online with sketchy Internet for the next destination on short notice knows the feeling: EEEKK.
When it happened to us seeking a room in Lisbon only 48 hours in advance on a national holiday, Robert finally put his finger on a map of Portugal, where neither of us had ever been (but for which we carried air unrefundable tickets) and said, “Forget Lisbon.  We’re going here.”
“Nazaré” read the nearest dot.   That is how we flew in to its airport but skipped one of Europe’s loveliest capitals, at least for the time being, and took a bus immediately to one of its
loveliest fishing towns, where a room we liked was available. We’re here now and an hour ago told the hotel’s front desk we’re extending our stay.

Mornings are for walking, up in the “Sitio” part of town, on a towering cliff with its spectacular view of the bay below. Or in the “Praia” part of town below, which – after the weekend tourists, mostly Portuguese, have disappeared – has the feeling of a Greek village with small cafes and white-painted buildings.  On the high side of town a cathedral housing a black Madonna, believed miraculous, glows inside under a gold coffered ceiling, nearby walls covered with mesmerizing blue tile depictions of saints and secular legends. Twin funicular cable cars climb and descend the cliff separating the two parts of town every half hour or so during daylight, passing each other in the middle of the 1000-foot railway built in 1893, on a 42 per cent grade, a heart-in-your-throat experience (we’ve done it twice now) that locals appear to take in stride.
A few months ago Nazaré became famous world-wide when big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara, who lives in Hawaii, set a world record riding a foamy 100-foot breaker here. 
Photos of the astounding ride are posted around town, and a scientific explanation of the underwater canyon that creates the big ones is available in hotel lobbies.  These spring days the waves are calmer, but surfers paddle out anyway to enjoy the ride.
Nazaré is no longer remote, with Lisbon only about two hours away by bus on fine roads, and no longer very small – population is some 10,000.  A proper tourism desk sits inside a cultural center showing photos and artifacts of the fishing village as it was in the last century, oxen hauling the laden boats up onto the sands as late as the 1970s. Nazaré’s new ibrary (one of my measuring sticks for developed civilization) is clean and well-lighted; we happened in and saw an outstanding two-room exhibit of modern art from Mozambique, once a Portuguese colony.
But the feeling remains here of a town unafraid of its past, with a truly distinct local character, unhomogenized by the wider world. Some women still use the traditional seven-skirt costume of old with its sash in the back, and widows wear black head to toe.  

Old and young participate in the town’s traditional spiritual life, such as we saw yesterday: the annual commemoration – on the same day – of the life of the sea, those lost at sea, and mothers young and old.

A widow watches procession, which also commemorates those lost at sea

Surfers line up for a blessing

Oh, and did I say the food is great?
Pick your fish, it's weighed in front of you and thrown on the grill 
We hope to see Lisbon someday, indeed we must. For this trip, however, serendipity has brought us to this sunny fishing town. I can’t imagine a better first door into Portugal.