Why did you decide to participate in AKFC's International Development Management fellowship?
I chose to join the fellowship for the opportunity it presented to work as a journalist in a foreign country. The Nation Media Group is very well connected, and working for them means gaining instant access to people and institutions that would otherwise be difficult to crack.
Although my work wasn't directly tied to international development, I've long been interested in social issues and international affairs, and there is no lack of such material in Kenya's capital. Nairobi makes a great base of operations for African journalism, because it is so centrally located on this continent both geographically and politically. The United Nations have an office here, as does virtually every major NGO, corporation, and international media house in Africa.
Have you had any previous experience living and working overseas?
I'd never been to Africa before, but I have lived and worked in several other countries. I taught English for almost two years in Spain, worked for a newspaper in Mexico, interned with Harper's magazine in New York, and have done freelance reporting from Iceland, Peru and several other countries. Oh, and Canada too.
What skills or lessons did you learn overseas?
There are countless small lessons to be learned in any foreign culture, from negotiating in the market to learning the words in the local language that will help show and garner respect among your hosts.
For me, a big learning curve was building harmonious relationships with people who were far poorer than I. Finding common ground, avoiding pitfalls like dependence on their part or shame on mine, and learning to feel at ease amidst suffering without being callous or indifferent â€“ these were all a big part of my time in Kenya.
Why should young Canadians passionate about journalism participate in the YPM program?
With globalization, news stories big and small almost always have an international angle. The YPM program gives aspiring journalists a chance to escape the perspective they grew up in, and see current affairs from a drastically different angle â€“ that of the developing world, which is the angle three quarters of humanity looks out of. The fact that the stories they research and write are actually being edited and published makes this a real-life exercise in foreign correspondence that is increasingly difficult to find in our time of shrinking media budgets
What are you doing now?
I stayed in Kenya after my fellowship ended to help produce a literary anthology dedicated to Kenyaâ€™s historic election crisis. That anthology, Kwani 5, included over 50 contributors, tracking the election and its fallout through works of fiction, photography, creative nonfiction, personal testimony, and traditional journalism.
I have continued to travel and write for publications like The Walrus, Foreign Policy,The Globe and Mail and Macleanâ€™s. Iâ€™ve had the opportunity to report from as far afield as Zimbabwe, Burma, and Bolivia.
Iâ€™m currently writing a book about Canada's free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia, to be published by Douglas & McIntyre in the fall of 2012.