Melilla, the untold city (and what journalism is to me)

A few months before I moved to the UK, almost three years ago, I was visiting my sister in Melilla, the Mediterranean (and Spanish) city where she has been living for more than a decade. Melilla –along with Ceuta-, an African enclave, is located in the North of the African continent and shares borders with Morocco. That was the second time I’ve been there, although the first one I had only spent the brevity of a weekend. I admit that before having a family link to the city I knew nothing about it and most likely had the same idea in my mind as most Spaniards do. And I count on most Brits not having heard of it.

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View of Old Melilla (‘Melilla La Vieja‘). / Z.L.C.

By the time of my visit, that “knowing nothing” or knowing on the basis of prejudice and ignorance, was being even more encouraged by the mainstream media of (dis)information. I think it’s something obvious but I will never get tired of saying it over and over. Getting out, even for a few days, of that cultural “cage” in which each one of us live, is the better and most effective way to eradicate prejudices, at our disposal. Every time, I’m more shocked by how ignorance and the influence of mainstream media can distort how people perceive who or what they don’t really know. The majority of citizens (I’m referring specifically to Spain) are not at all aware of the shameless way in which they are manipulated day after day. Not aware in the slightest of how printed or digital newspapers, radio or TV programs can twist their vision of the world and others. In this case, of an obscure part of their country.

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One of the coves by the Old City. / Z.L.C.

By the time I wrote about this experience in Spanish, I was about to finish my degree in journalism, only a couple of months away of delivering my final project. Every day, those same media outlets used to challenge my patience and my outrage. Every day, they bored me more and more. As a journalist, I kept questioning more intensely and frequently what is the purpose of this thrilling and rewarding profession if I can’t practice it in the way that I believe is right. What’s the point of working as a ‘journalist’ if you can’t really ‘be it’? If you can’t do your job they way you should, using the very essence of the profession. I became a journalist out of a vocation, or that I thought. Perhaps I had the wrong idea and because I’ve always loved writing and hoped to educate people, make them think and be more critical and open-minded, I followed the influence of my teachers: ‘You’re so good at writing, you should study journalism’. Perhaps it wasn’t the right vocation. I certainly don’t have that drive you see in films where journalists are compelled to unravelled scandals, conspiracies. I’m far from being like those who get on the streets and ask random people about a specific matter. I’m not a particularly driven person and a tinge of social anxiety would make me struggle if I had to randomly ask strangers in public places. Despite that, I love talking to and about people and society. I enjoy interviews and they’re unsurprisingly my favourite journalistic genre, coming from a person who’s better at an intimate one-to-one level than interacting in a group.

 

 

Despite all the mentioned, I don’t regret those five years of studying. I was learning to do something I believed in and, even after disappointment, I still do. To me, being a journalist is being a teller of stories about people, their lives, society and the world we live in and its differences. It’s assuming the social responsibility the job entails. For all that, I believe that if I can’t do my job properly, if I can’t practice journalism to unite instead of dividing; to bring people closer instead of distancing them and perpetuating clichés that, as the twenty-first moves forward, are becoming more absurd. Then I’d rather do something else. In such case, I’ll always be able to practice my profession at a more personal level (thanks to the Internet, exactly what I’m doing now), with complete freedom, honesty and ethics. A journalist is always a journalist, even when you don’t work for others or don’t get published for a greater audience. However, I doubt journalism (in its purest sense) could provide me with my livelihood.

I hope I’m wrong and that life surprises me by finding ‘my place’. One that doesn’t pose a moral or ethical conflict. A place that doesn’t make me feel ashamed of sharing a profession with those who –by the time I originally wrote about this and those who still do nowadays- publish certain pieces (with emphasis on headlines and language) in my country. As well as in any. It’s a universal problem.

A place that would make that young girl who liked writing stories and pretending to be a radio presenter, happy to have achieved her dream of being a journalist.

A place that makes me thank myself for having invested five years of my life studying that particular degree first, and not the one I am studying now.

A place that paints a smile in all my favourite professors’ and lectures’ faces. Those who stimulated my critical sense the most, my ability for analysis and reflection. Those who made me reaffirm myself in my world view, my cosmopolitanism and my open-mindedness. Those who showed me that I’m not the only one who believes in all this, that I’m not a simple idealist.

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The unexpected singular buildings of the city. Influenced by the Spanish Modernist architecture.

By the time I was in Melilla, I contemplated a city that for most Spaniards is likely to be a synonym of ‘fence’, ‘wall’, ‘border’ and many other things that day after day Spanish media published and that I back then decided not to repeat, out of decency. To be able to judge and form an opinion, you need to experience first-hand.  Many people in Spain who’ve never been there, think Melilla is dangerous and that is inadvisable going there. I was there and still don’t know the reason.  In the meantime, they’re missing on a city full of life, extremes and contrasts. A constant witness of the struggle of human beings in search of a better life.  I’ll have to find the chance to visit Melilla again. And if you’re as curious as I am and would like to discover an interesting side of Spain beyond the stereotype, you should too.

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