Casey Parks wins trip with Kristof

Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist at the NYT, had announced a “with a trip with Kristof” in March. The winner would get a chance to travel with Kristof in some of the rougher parts of the world.

In March I opened a “win a trip” contest, offering to take a university student with me on a rough reporting trip to a neglected area in Africa.

Some 3,800 applications poured in, accompanied by boxes of supplementary materials, ranging from senior theses to nude photos. After weeks of sifting through the applications, I finally have a winner.

She is Casey Parks of Jackson, Miss. …quot; an aspiring journalist who has never traveled abroad. We’ll get her a passport and a bunch of vaccinations “ah, the glamour of overseas travel” and start planning our trip.

Casey Parks of Jackson, Missouri is the winner of this award. Her essay and Kristof’s editorial follow.

Growing up poor, I saw my mother skip meals. I saw my father pawn everything he loved. I saw our cars repossessed. I never saw France or London. I didn’t even see an airplane up close until I was a senior in high school and won an Al Neuharth-sponsored trip.

The older I get, though, the more I appreciate not having money. Working as a journalist in Mississippi for a handful of years, I found my past connected me to so many people. Crafting racially charged stories, I saw myself in the eyes of interviewed after interviewed. No, I didn’t know what it was like to be perceived as scary because my melanin shaded me darker. But I knew what it was like to wear out-of-style clothes and want the shoes and cooler lunches that others had. As a lesbian, I knew what it was like to feel out of place.

Both articles are provided below, as they are not available on the NYT site.

May 22, 2006 : Win a Trip With Nick Kristof

The Winning Essay

By CASEY PARKS

Growing up poor, I saw my mother skip meals. I saw my father pawn everything he loved. I saw our cars repossessed. I never saw France or London. I didn’t even see an airplane up close until I was a senior in high school and won an Al Neuharth-sponsored trip.

The older I get, though, the more I appreciate not having money. Working as a journalist in Mississippi for a handful of years, I found my past connected me to so many people. Crafting racially charged stories, I saw myself in the eyes of interviewed after interviewed. No, I didn’t know what it was like to be perceived as scary because my melanin shaded me darker. But I knew what it was like to wear out-of-style clothes and want the shoes and cooler lunches that others had. As a lesbian, I knew what it was like to feel out of place.

Moving to Columbia, MO, to earn my master’s, I’ve lost some of my soul. The city is a predominately white, mostly middle-class generally quaint town. The fury of Mississippi almost like a dream now, I’ve been reading voraciously articles about the poverty Palestinians sink into daily. I find, years later, Kevin Carter’s Pulitzer-winning photo of a starving Sudanese girl and the vulture who stalks her, and I long to be a part of it. I consider the allegations against Carter–was he helping, just photographing her?–and I want to know those journalistic decisions for myself.

What moves me to be a journalist? It’s been a career goal so obvious to me for such a long time that the question had ceased to be asked. This semester, almost muted by theory studies, I have returned to it often. I keep a binder of stories that remind me, though: Anne Hull’s portrait of gay America, Andrea Elliott’s story about an imam in Brooklyn saddling two worlds, Rick Bragg’s Pulitzer-winning tale of Alabama inmates plagued by old age who still find beauty in flowers, Jacqui Banaszynski’s Pulitzer-winning delve into the lives of two gay men, farmers who fell in love and physically fell apart because of it. I have a distinct want (it’s a thirst and a flame, all at once) to create these stories myself–not for the Pulitzers, but for the reaching outside of myself, to break people’s hearts so adeptly that they move into action.

The electricity that comes from crafting seeing the way journalists do–cataloguing every movement, sound, feeling, inference–is what continues to spark me. And by no means have I exhausted the stories that are to be done in America (or even Columbia, MO, in all its quaintness). But I so desperately want to leave this country and know more. I’ve never thought of myself as provincial, but this year, reading on the tension between the two Koreas, swallowing Rushdie’s Pakistan and India, inhaling the French riots, I realize how insular my life has been. My tour of the Southern states has left me unable to fully discern what lies beyond.

But I want to.

I want to learn by seeing. I feel deeply, and I know journalism. I’m strong, and have no need for 5-star hotels or other luxuries. In person, I’m charming and sweet and considerate, but still bold and fearless. The trip you’re offering is an experience that should merge experience and inexperience, skill and desire for more. I have these qualities.

May 23, 2006

Op-Ed Columnist: The Drumroll, Please

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

In March I opened a “win a trip” contest, offering to take a university student with me on a rough reporting trip to a neglected area in Africa.

Some 3,800 applications poured in, accompanied by boxes of supplementary materials, ranging from senior theses to nude photos. After weeks of sifting through the applications, I finally have a winner.

She is Casey Parks of Jackson, Miss. …quot; an aspiring journalist who has never traveled abroad. We’ll get her a passport and a bunch of vaccinations …quot; ah, the glamour of overseas travel …quot; and start planning our trip.

Casey, who turned 23 on Friday, attended Millsaps College in Jackson and is now a graduate student in journalism at the University of Missouri. She has won a string of awards for her essays and other writing.

In her essay, Casey wrote about growing up poor: “I saw my mother skip meals. I saw my father pawn everything he loved. I saw our cars repossessed. I never saw France or London.” (The essays by Casey and a dozen finalists are posted at nytimes.com/winatrip.)

“I so desperately want to leave this country and know more,” she wrote. Now she’ll have the chance.

We’ll most likely start in Equatorial Guinea, bounce over to Cameroon and travel through a jungle with Pygmy villages to end up in the Central African Republic …quot; one of the most neglected countries in the world. We’ll visit schools, clinics and aid programs, probably traveling in September for 10 days. Casey will write a blog about it for nytimes.com and will also do a video blog for MTV-U.

But the point of this contest wasn’t to give one lucky student the chance to get malaria and hookworms. It’s to try to stir up a broader interest in the developing world among young people.

One of our country’s basic strategic weaknesses is that Americans don’t understand the rest of the world. We got in trouble in Vietnam and again in Iraq partly because we couldn’t put ourselves in other people’s shoes and appreciate their nationalism.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, 92 percent of U.S. college students don’t take a foreign language class. Goucher College in Baltimore bills itself as the first American college to require all students to study abroad, and the rest should follow that example.

So for all the rest of you who applied for my contest, see if you can’t work out your own trips. Or take a year off before heading to college or into a job. You’ll have to pay for your travel, but you can often find “hotels” for $5 a night per person in countries like India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Morocco, Bolivia and Peru …quot; and in rural areas, people may invite you to stay free in their huts. To get around, you can jump on local buses.

Is it safe? Not entirely, for the developing world has more than its share of pickpockets, drunken soldiers, scorpions, thugs, diseases, parasites and other risks.

Twenty-two years ago, as a backpacking student, I traveled with a vivacious young American woman who, like me, was living in Cairo. She got off my train in northern Sudan; that evening, the truck she had hitched a ride in hit another truck. Maybe if there had been an ambulance or a doctor nearby, she could have been saved. Instead, she bled to death.

So, yes, be aware of the risks, travel with a buddy or two, and carry an international cellphone. But remember that young Aussies, Kiwis and Europeans take such a year of travel all the time …quot; women included …quot; and usually come through not only intact, but also with a much richer understanding of how most of humanity lives.

There are also terrific service options. Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani anti-rape activist I’ve often written about, told me she would welcome American volunteers to teach English in the schools she has started. You would have to commit to staying six weeks or more, but would get free housing in her village. You can apply by contacting www.4anaa.org.

Then there’s New Light, a terrific anti-trafficking organization in Calcutta. Urmi Basu, who runs it, said she would welcome American volunteers to teach English classes to the children of prostitutes. You would have to stay at least six weeks and budget $15 a day for food and lodging; for more information go to www.uddami.org/newlight.

In the 21st century, you can’t call yourself educated if you don’t understand how the other half lives …quot; and you don’t get that understanding in a classroom. So do something about your educational shortcomings: fly to Bangkok.

0 Comments

  1. Melvin May 24, 2006

    Kristof neglected to answer the question every reader was thinking: Was Casey Parks one of those who sent in a nude photo?

  2. Olga May 24, 2006

    Grow up, Melvin.

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