In fact I have no qualification at all except one: I am citizen, just as all of you arecitizens, of this country or another. And my job is to work for my fellow citizensand share information.But if you want to attract an audience, and gain your fellow citizens’ respect, andbe helpful in the world, you have to know what you’re talking about. You have todo what’s necessary to learn.And let me tell you about a time that I stretched a little too far to do that.In 1999, I accepted a journalism fellowship, a chance to do some reporting inColombia, which is a dangerous country today and was then one of the mostdangerous countries in the world.I decided to do this, and decided to work without an interpreter, even though Ididn’t speak Spanish.I had a few months in advance to learn all the Spanish I could, and then I went;but my Spanish was still uneven. Once, to do an interview, I had to catch a flightfrom Bogota to Medellin. I got in a taxi, but the driver and I didn’t communicatevery well. He thought that since I was a foreigner I must be going to theinternational airport, not the domestic airport. So he took me to the wrongairport, and by the time I got to the proper place, my flight was leaving in tenminutes.I got to the airline counter, and said I was there for the flight, and the woman saidI was too late. I said the flight time hadn’t come yet, and asked the woman to letme proceed.She answered,
“Siempre, siempre, siempre cerramos la puerta quince minutosantes volar”
– “Always, always, always we close the door fifteen minutes beforeflying.” I had missed the flight.Now, here’s another lesson that I learned. If you are in a dangerous country, andyou are struggling to speak the language, and you put yourself in an airport andmiss your flight, you will pick up the words you need very quickly.I did find the words, and while I didn’t get on that flight I made the next one.Then we landed in Medellin and I got in another taxi. The airport was in themountains outside the city, and we rode down into the valley of Medellin, brilliantgreen mountainsides with white skyscrapers down at the bottom. And the taxidriver started talking – and that’s when I realized that the Medellin accent wasdifferent than in Bogota, and the Spanish I had just finally begun to master wasnot going to be very useful.