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Check It!

May 23, 2012

The final step before publishing a story after rake-overs by an editor is the deep fact check. In America, checking spelling of the names of streets, landmarks, cities and towns is easy — Hello, Google Map. Including the dates when someone worked at a certain place is readily available as well; in America, we can’t have our resume in enough places. In most cases, particularly for someone who worked in the government, it wouldn’t be difficult to find the dates when they did so.

But this isn’t America. In Jordan, few pay attention to street names. Instead, they use landmarks such as shops, or people’s houses. It’s nearly impossible to find maps online with roads clearly marked in English. And to find dates online for when one of the people I quoted in my story worked for the government — they were simply not there.

After struggling by myself for an hour to check all of the spellings and locations of the people and places in my article, I jumped in a cab and headed to Starbucks to meet one of the student volunteers, Talal, from the organization that we work out of. Talal is my favorite and the helpful local I’ve met so far. He was my translator at the protest and also helped with my some of my interviews as well. We had particular problems when we started checking the spelling of towns from the rough translations we had made together after we left the demonstration – they didn’t exist on Google. We didn’t realize until after much time that because of the way that Arabic translates, the city we were actually looking for was Tafileh – not Altafeleh.

Nope, that’s not right either. Try, try again.

As an hour, then two, crept by, it felt like the Starbucks was turning into a sauna. Meanwhile, I was waiting for an email with dates for when one of my quotes worked at a certain government position (when I had left my colleague —who was writing a story about the man I quoted in my article and promised to get the dates for me — he was still desperately calling for an interview, with no answer). I was frustrated and melting under my layers of clothes. I wanted to throw my computer across the room of the overpriced coffee shop.

Talal and I proceeded to have this conversation about every 10 to 15 minutes:

“This place doesn’t even EXIST! I need to be sure that this is right and how can I do that without finding the spelling on a map?” said the exhausted, frustrated American.

“I will call [so-and-so]” said Talal.

“But I’m a journalist, I have to know it for sure, I need to have proof that that’s how it’s spelled.”

“Melissa, This is just how it works in Jordan,” said Talal.

Fingers pushing deep into temples. And on and on it went.


We finally finished, after a combination of translating, calling and extensive Googling. Lesson #4958405 that I have learned here in Jordan: Buy a map.

Also, I really hate Starbucks.

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