Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In which I get a little sappy

I'm a little homesick. It's taken me by surprise. I knew I loved my New York friends, but I wasn't really aware of myself falling hard for the city itself. There were definitely some moments when I realized that I loved it, like late nights on the subway when everyone's a little drunk and their hard New York edges have gone soft and people smile at each other and each musician playing on the platform seems put there specially to make your heart go all warm and fuzzy. But I didn't realize it felt like home until I left it.

Being away from New York has also, interestingly, made me homesick for Durango in a really intense way. I've lived in a lot of places by now and I've put down some roots in all of them, but the only places that have really felt like home are Mattapoisett (as complicated as my relationship with that town has been at times, and as strange as it feels to go back sometimes, as long as my family is there, it's home), Durango, and now New York. And maybe Tanzania - it's funny, I was there for less than four months and never had a consistent address - and yet somehow I spent parts of the last four years missing it as fiercely as I've ever missed a place. But then time doesn't mean much. I lived at Bucknell second longest of anywhere, and I've barely looked back at it since I left; only once or twice have I even had an urge to visit.

I suppose that being sort of a nomad means that I'll spend my life missing someone or some place constantly. That's a little sad. But it's okay. Smile, the Chinese girl staying in my dorm at the hostel, has a little trouble with English but a wonderful ability to capture a lot of complicated things in very few words. The other day, when she talked about how traveling a lot makes her "noleny" (lonely) sometimes, she said she thinks of her friends back home who settled down young and started accumulating cars and homes.

"I'd rather be noleny," she said, "than boring."

So anyway, I'm alternating between "Empire State of Mind" and "Wagon Wheel" on my iTunes playlist. You know what, let's throw in a little "African Queen," too.

The songs that will always be my anthems for the places I'm missing:

Edited to add two things.

1) "African Queen" just came on the radio, just two minutes after I posted this - the first time I've heard it played since I got here!

2) I was telling my friend and coworker Wanjiru that I hadn't realized how much I would miss New York, and she said, "Like yesterday, when you were gone." (I was out at museums all day trying to get some interviews for my current project.) "You're one of us now - people kept coming in and saying, 'Where is she?'"

Looks like there's one more place I'll be missing after this summer. Awww.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Where was I?

Continuing where I left off:

I went back to the hostel, where I was met by my Swedish friends to go watch the later game downtown. I only stayed a little while, though, because I was waiting on a call from my new lawyer friend, who texted me with the time and location of the press conference: 2:00 Sunday at the Serena Hotel. I went home to the hostel rooftop before midnight and fired off a round of emails to NPR, BBC, and a few other publications to see if they’d be interested in the story.

I got there an hour early – never really necessary here, of course, because start times are generally more like guidelines than actual rules – but hey, I’m a baby journalist and I was covering East Africa’s biggest story of the day (for American audiences at least) so I was an eager little beaver. The hotel was super swanky and full of Western tourists in spotless new safari gear. I ended up waiting around for an hour and a half, befriending the AP photographer Azim and eventually the bureau chief, Jason Straziuso, with whom I had exchanged emails in the spring (I almost interned there; he said they’d be happy to have me if my schedule didn’t overlap with that of the intern they already had; unfortunately, it did). He was full of good suggestions for me – pitch the Minneapolis Star Tribune, for one, because Erlinder is a professor at a school in St. Paul.

It felt really nice to be out in the field reporting after two weeks sitting in the Camerapix archive. When it started, I was busily snapping photos and checking my sound levels, wondering how much of an amateur I looked to the seasoned journalists around me with their bigger, more professional cameras and microphones. Whatever; it was fun.

Rwanda’s in an interesting and somewhat scary place right now, leading up to the election in August. On the surface it’s progressed amazingly; the economy is growing fast and relations between people are remarkably civil considering it’s only been 16 years since the genocide. But that’s also because Kagame brooks no opposition and the official position is to sweep any and all ethnic distinctions under the rug.  I get the sense that the current stability is a spring being smushed flat by two strong hands that are starting to tire.

Erlinder – who was representing the would-be opposition leader and has talked at length about how the Tutsis were hardly blameless in the conflict – was detained for three weeks for denying the genocide and was released on bail for health reasons. He was very well-spoken; he credited his lawyers with saving his life and teared up when he said they had risked arrest themselves by coming to his aid.

Anyway, it being Sunday, no one at any of the organizations I was contacting could be reached. I wasn’t able to sell the story, but it was still well worth going. In addition to meeting some hotshot journalists, I cold-called the New York Times to see if they would be interested in the story because I hadn’t seen their man, Jeffrey Gettleman, at the presser. The woman I spoke with at the foreign desk said they don’t accept stories from people they haven’t thoroughly vetted… BUT.

“But I like the fact that you picked up the phone and called,” she said. “Let me get your contact information and I’ll give it to our guy in Nairobi.”


So that was last weekend. This past week, this went up on the A24 site, edited by yours truly:

Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful week. Ghana vs. USA tonight!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Zen and the art of giraffe kisses

Hey everyone! I've been bad about posting, but I actually had a pretty eventful weekend. Saturday, I went to the open-air Maasai market in downtown Nairobi. These craft markets, I remembered from Arusha, are always fun if you go into them in the right frame of mind: game for a laugh, patient, and ready to bargain like crazy. Otherwise, the slick salespeople ready to descend on all the wazungu who pass through might drive you a little nuts.

Luckily, I always manage to have fun. It was a blast talking and laughing with the vendors, many of whom enjoyed mugging for the camera - and I got my first Kenyan marriage proposal.

This was my suitor. We're thinking a spring wedding.

The jewelry here is SO my style... it's all I can do not to buy every pair of earrings I see.

Next, I headed out to the suburb of Karen, so named because of Danish adventurer and writer Karen Blixen (aka Meryl Streep in Out of Africa), whose beautiful colonial farm is now a museum. I checked it out. It was pretty cool, though overpriced.

I also visited this sweet giraffe breeding center not too far from the museum. There are at least three full-grown adults there and the staff gives visitors pellets of food to feed them. It was shamelessly touristy, and I loved every second of it.

From the giraffe center, I needed to get back to the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden to watch Cameroon vs. Denmark, so I hopped on the back of one of the many motorbikes that seem to be the preferred means of getting around in the suburbs. Less than two bucks for a 20-minute ride, and man! I was so utterly happy, speeding through the shady back roads. I'm in Africa! I was thinking, and I'm on a motorcycle! This is AWESOME!

The Coffee Garden was a sweet place to watch the game. Karen is kind of this bizarro land, though; it's where all the white people are hiding. There were a ton of them at the bar. It was a little weird. I struck up a conversation with some folks at the bar, one old guy who used to live in the Bronx and was very mysterious about why he came back to Kenya, and another, younger man who turned out to be a lawyer for none other than Peter Erlinder, the American attorney who was jailed for three weeks in Rwanda, and who, it turned out, was flying into Nairobi as we spoke.

And that's how East Africa's biggest story of the day dropped into my lap. This post is already too long, so I'll just say, to be continued...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Celtics love, no matter what

I had my fingers crossed all the way into work on the matatu this morning, thinking, "People in Boston are either really really happy right now, or really really not." As soon as I got in, I opened my computer and saw Kobe's smug little mug on ESPN's home page and said, aloud, "Ah, NO!"

I got some sympathy from the small group of people who work in or next to the archive room who I'm becoming pretty friendly with. Once they discovered that I speak a little Swahili, they were pretty stoked, and they've been speaking it with me more and more. It's good to practice - I was really, really rusty.

There's David, who's obsessed with rugby and constantly Twittering about sports from his BlackBerry; there's Wanjiru (her first name is Becky, but everyone calls her Wanjiru), a photo editor who's really talkative and hilarious; there's Abdul, who was Mohamed Amin's sound man back in the day and who is unexpectedly funny under his grave demeanor; there's Zaidi, a quiet, older man who spends most of his time sorting through slides of old pictures; and there's Moses, a goofy guy who is constantly telling me Wanjiru is his girlfriend, eliciting only eye rolls from the would-be object of his affections.

Beautiful Wanjiru!

Photo evidence for the eventual lawsuit.

Moses being Moses. Abdul is not sure what is going on here. Neither am I.

Coming to work has gotten better and better as I've started joking around with these guys. Yay friends!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Welcome and unwelcome visitors

I made a new friend yesterday, an Australian journalist who was passing through Nairobi on her way back to Uganda, where she lives. We went to this sweet pub called Sippers that is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places in Nairobi - it has an outdoor patio with a flat screen TV. I went there Monday night to watch Italy vs. Paraguay with fellow New York grad student Sam (who, as a big fan of Italy, was furious at the 1-1 draw), and last night, we watched Uruguay absolutely destroy poor, sad little South Africa.

Life's been pretty quiet, which I think I needed after the insanity of the semester, but it felt great to be out and about with an awesome new friend. And Laurie and I didn't have to pay for a single drink! I'm planning on visiting her in August when I travel through Uganda, and she's going to hook me up with some interesting people in Nairobi who can help me find stories and freelance.

In the wake of my suspicion-leaning-towards-certainty that there are bedbugs in my bunk, chance encounters like this are a good reason to suck it up, buy some new blankets, and stick it out at the hostel.

Side note: I am not alone in experiencing disbelief from Africans that I don't iron my clothes. According to Laurie, not only has she gotten blank stares in the past because of that very thing, but some of the people she works with are so fastidious that they'll miss work or school to go home and change their pants if they get mud on the hem. Often, they just won't leave the house at all until it dries.

Home sweet hostel

Nice, right? Too bad about the bed bugs...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fun facts

The first time I took a matatu, it got in an accident. Just a minor bump, not even any damage. But still.

I don't carry a purse. I keep my money in my bra. It can be a little awkward when I go digging for it.

I met another western journalist staying at the hostel. She lives in Uganda. We're getting together tonight to pick each other's brains.

A co-founder of Kenya Breweries was killed by an elephant in 1923. The lager he helped create was named "Tusker" in his memory. And I believe I said something to this effect already, but Tusker is the best beer ever. Also, the other night  I had some Amarula for old time's sake. Delicious.

Last but not least... BEAT L.A.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wildlife Alert

Just saw some monkeys on the A24 roof - vervets, to be specific. A mother, her baby (looked like a newborn), and another juvenile. A very welcome dose of East African wildlife!

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera into work today, but I'll try and get a shot of them if they come back another day. For now, though, they look like this:


Gah! I woke up with a gnarly rash all over my arms, legs, stomach, and hands. Did the allergies strike again? Or do I have bedbugs? We don't know.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Most Kenyans seem to take a lot of pride in their clothing and their appearance. On the bus in the morning, the businessmen and businesswomen in their suits wear the crispest, most starched shirts I've ever seen. The women who live in the dorm with me iron their outfits every day.

Cut to me rummaging through my backpack yesterday and throwing on a white sun shirt whose wrinkles had wrinkles. When one of my dormmates, Cecilia, got a load of my ensemble, she looked horrified.

"Emily, do you want to use the iron?" she asked.

I looked down at my shirt. Ironing is not something that really ever enters into my consciousness, and I figured in an hour or so the worst of the wrinkles would start to sort themselves out anyway. I briefly considered launching into an explanation of the word "crunchy," but she seemed so distressed that I decided to try ironing, just this once.

I gave it my best shot, really I did. But there was some weird melty black stuff on the iron that started to get on the bright white shirt, and I was having issues with the settings and may have slightly singed one of the sleeves. I didn't want to do any more damage, so I decided that half done would have to be good enough. The back was more or less wrinkle-free, but the sleeves still looked like the skin of a Shar-Pei puppy. I told Cecilia, somewhat guiltily, of my difficulties, and she gave me a disappointed look. When I ran into her again later in the day, though, she smiled.

"Ah!" she said. "It has ironed itself!" (It didn't look perfectly pressed or anything, but the wrinkles had relaxed into the crumpled-casual look I go for most of the time anyway.)

I feel like I should extrapolate some deep meaning from this story. Take your pick: Some people just shouldn't iron! Embrace your wrinkles! Have faith that things will work themselves out! But only if you're wearing synthetic fabrics!

Saturday, June 12, 2010


People here are sooo pumped for the World Cup. It's not like I really follow soccer, so I am admittedly the most bandwagony of bandwagon fans - but man! It's so infectious! I watched the beginning of the S.A./Mexico game with some of the A24 team last night and even though I was on my way home when that first goal was scored, I had a feeling because I could hear the vuvuzelas going nuts from my seat on the bus. Their loud fart-wails were echoing out through the Nairobi evening breeze till all hours last night.

And of course, it's not as much about the soccer as it is about the excitement of being on this continent for a moment that is so epic for Africans. The Kenyans I've spoken with have such a huge amount of pride that the Cup is happening here for the first time. I'd root for Ivory Coast over the U.S., to be honest. In a heartbeat. Who would it mean more to? The U.S. only cares about soccer once every four years. (Though I'll be pulling hard for us to destroy England tonight.)

Speaking of our lack of interest in soccer - why is that? Why do we only care about domestic sports? Every time I go abroad, there's always soccer, cricket, or rugby on TV with matchups like Romania vs. Cameroon or Australia vs. Brazil. It's like this giant worldwide party that we're not invited to. I want in!

In other news, I thought my allergies were slowly getting better, but they worsened with a vengeance day before yesterday. I've come to the conclusion that I'm mostly allergic to my bed, because I'm fine when I'm out and about during the day, and the seeming improvement happened when I had adjusted to the jet lag and was spending less time sleeping. The only thing I can think of is that the nights have been a little cooler so I've started sleeping with two blankets. Double the allergens, double the fun? Anyway, I went to a "chemist" today and bought some drops (for about 85 cents) that I sprinkled liberally into my eyes and nose, and my life just got a little bit better. When you can barely see for sneezing, it's hard to focus on anything else. Phew.

Friday, June 11, 2010

My week in pictures

Wretched excess... leave it to Dubai.

The A24 Media offices and grounds:

Downtown Nairobi:

Grolled corn I bought from a woman on the side of the road. She rubbed it with red "pilipili" - pepper - it was good, but my jaw ached from chewing it.

My nemesis, the matatu. Hello, Newman.

Kenya's purdy.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

By the way...'s official, I live at the Nairobi International Youth Hostel. I dropped 7,000 Ksh this morning for a month's rent - a whopping eighty-six dollars and twenty-six cents!


Made it to work six minutes early. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, matatus!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


The weather was all doom and gloom for the first few days I was here, but yesterday the sun came out and man, it makes such a difference! Nairobi can appear a bit sinister when it's all fog and drizzle, but today is pretty glorious. It seems I picked a good time of year to come; just as it's starting to get sweltering and gross in New York, it's Kenya's "winter" - if winter means warm and lovely during the day and cool at night. Everyone at the A24 office has been bundled up in their jackets, talking about how cold it is. Ah, life. One man's toxic sludge is another man's potpourri.

I've started to fall into a little routine. I try to shower in the evenings because there's only one shower with hot water for an entire dorm full of women (capacity: 16 over the weekend, currently only 4 or 5). Because I don't have a kitchen or a fridge, I can't really pack a lunch, so each morning I swing by the hostel restaurant and get either an andazi (essentially a piece of hollow fried dough) or a samosa with beef and peppers for breakfast (about 30 or 40 cents, respectively) and then run around the corner for fruit salad to pack for lunch (a dollar). Work from 9 to 5:30.

In the evening, I might grab some rice and beans from the restaurant or run across the street to the Nairobi Java House for my daily dose of fresh veggies (salad with grilled chicken is about 4 bucks) It's expensive, but in East Africa it's easy to find yourself with a diet that's like 90% carbs so it's worth it every other day or so. They play really good music there and have free wireless internet, too, so I can unwind and get caught up on Glee.

When I get back to the hostel, I try and do some yoga on the roof if no one else is up there, read a little, and study a few new Swahili words each day. The relaxed pace is really, really nice for a change. I feel healthier already. Thanks to my matatu escapades, I've been walking pretty regularly, and sleeping more plus eating very simple foods means I've already started to drop some of my J-school-induced stress weight.

I've been bad about taking pictures because I don't want to carry my camera around any more than I need to. Sorry, I'll try and get on that!

Latest Standings

Matatus: 6 Emily: 2

"But," you're thinking, "Emily, you've only gone to and from work once since the score was 2 to 1. How is this possible?"

In a nutshell: a missed opportunity, an inadvertent trip to the slums, an evil door guy deliberately overshooting my stop (meaning a mile walk home at dusk), and I was 4 minutes late to work this morning. Gah! One point to me because I've been a little less late every day, and at least the first branch of my commute today went smoothly.

Matatus, you are my Everest.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Quote of the Day

Guy at the bar: "I'm looking for a white chick."

Me (laughing, sputtering, trying not to choke on my beer) "Ah... well... I have... a boyfriend?"

Guy at the bar: "No, not you. When I move to Pennsylvania. Do you know any?"

Friends in Philly, sign up here!

A few notes

I live by the rule "Try anything once." Mexican food in Kenya? Maybe I coulda just skipped that one.

When "Show Me The Meaning of Being Lonely" played on the matatu this morning, I couldn't still identify each of the Backstreet Boys' voices. Not at all. I swear.

Speak of the devil, things currently stand thus: Matatus: 2, Emily: 1. But it's actually not as close as it sounds. I WILL conquer you, matatus.

Finally - hello, Tusker, darlin'. Did you miss me?

Day 1

First days are always a little weird, but I have reason to believe it's going to be a good eight weeks. Okay, for starters - generally speaking, aren't interns supposed to get coffee? Isn't that usually part of the deal? We, the lowly noobs, are expected to do all sorts of humdrum and slightly demeaning things in the name of paying our dues.

Well, get this - someone actually brings me coffee. Twice a day. Without being asked. And there was cake! It was the boss's birthday, so it's not like this will be an everyday thing, but still. An auspicious start.

The A24 Media/Camerapix office is actually stunningly beautiful. It's in a lush, affluent part of Nairobi and it's connected to the boss's home. Salim Amin is the son of famed photojournalist Mohamed Amin, a total rockstar badass who lost his arm in an explosion in Ethiopia and compiled a massive archive of millions of photographs and hours of video footage - an archive that surrounds me as I work.

I met Salim on Sunday when I stopped by the office in a bit of Nairobi matatu reconnaissance (matatus are the local public transportation - tiny vans/buses with a baffling number of routes and shortcuts that, as yet, don't appear to follow much rhyme or reason - despite my scouting trip, the score is currently Matatus: 1, Emily: 0). The best way I can think to describe him is that he's a very cool cat. Smooth, stylish, assured. A powerful guy, but not above making fun of himself. The cake his wife had made him had a roll of film made of sugar wrapped around it, filled with funny pictures of Salim throughout his life. "We already ate the one where I'm naked on the toilet," he said.

I met with Asif, the other boss, who briefed me on what I'll be doing. They want me to do multimedia projects - slideshows, mostly, that showcase photos from the archive. I pushed for something that involves more actual reporting, and I think I'll be able to make all of us happy by pegging the projects to current events and collecting audio to go under the slideshows. He also said I could tag along with some of the Camerapix guys on some shoots. I'm hoping to go see our very own Joe Biden tomorrow. He'll be in Nairobi for a couple of days. Stay tuned for my exclusive!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Settling in

I’m starting to feel a bit more like myself after sleeping an insane amount the first few days – partly because of jet lag and partly because I was all Benadryl-ed out with my nutso allergies. Red eyes, constant sneezing, the works. I’m adjusting little by little. Two naps on Friday, one on Saturday, none yesterday. And this morning, I was finally able to put in my contacts without yelping. Onward!

It looks like finding a place to live is going to be harder than I imagined, and I’m actually okay with that. My backup plan of staying at the hostel for the duration is looking better and better. It’s cheap – just a little over a hundred bucks for a month. It has hot showers, lockers for my valuables, wi-fi if I sit on one corner of the roof with my fingers crossed, a restaurant where I can get chapatti and beans for roughly $1.25, a coffee shop and a bank across the street, and delicious fruit salad for less than a dollar right around the corner. It’s a five-minute bus ride into the center of town and about a 30-minute bus/matatu commute to the A24 office.

View Nairobi in a larger map

And best of all, there are interesting people! Since I came here by myself, I don’t want to be holed up in a one-bedroom in a leafy but remote part of Nairobi, crying into my Konyagi that I have no one to talk to. The beauty of the hostel is that it has a good mix of local people and fellow travelers, and there are a good number who are staying for a month or more. Yesterday, I went to watch a rugby tournament with a Tanzanian guy and a Korean guy, teamed up with several Kenyan women in the dorm to help our Chinese roommate (an adorable little dynamo who, fittingly, goes by the name "Smile") distinguish the letter "n" and the letter "l," and had a long chat with another grad student from New York who's here studying nutrition at three local hospitals.

The instant bond two people can make when they're both thousands of miles from home is one of the best parts of traveling, and at the same time, I didn't come all the way to Kenya to hang out with other wazungu. This place has a good balance.

Internship starts today. Here goes!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Are you married, or are you a spinster?" - Rwandese guy at the hostel

Friday, June 4, 2010

And I thought Massachusetts was bad.

Given my history with regions of high humidity, I probably should have seen this coming, but seriously, Kenya! You are my Perfect Storm of allergies!

Overlooking Nairobi from the hostel rooftop:

Flight, etc.

Copied from email home:

The flight was sensational. I got a random upgrade to business class on the 12-hour leg to Dubai. It was amazing. Complimentary champagne! Dividers so I didn't have some guy drooling on my shoulder! A seat with a mattress that reclined ALL THE WAY, with a built-in massage! All the movies I could ever want to watch! Hot towel for your face, miss? Don't mind if I do!

Got a glimpse of Dubai before we touched down. What an intense-looking city. Even the airport is a trip. I wish I could have explored it a little. Oh, well - next time.

The 5-hour flight to Nairobi was back to business as usual. I was able to sleep a little, but I was still swaying with jet lag as I disembarked, filled out my visa form, withdrew shillings from the ATM and busted out my first few Swahili words (positively flaky with rust) in 4 years while arranging for a "teksi" to the hostel. I had a stupid grin on my face the whole drive into town. The flat-topped trees! The people selling bananas in stop-and-go traffic! The SMELL! I was back!

The hostel is seven or eight bucks a night and the staff is super-friendly and helpful. There's a restaurant attached where I had a celebratory meal of chapati and beans before passing out early. This morning I met a couple of Swedish college students who are here researching their economics theses. They showed me where to get delicious fruit salad for breakfast, pointed me toward a coffee shop with free wireless internet, and tipped me off to a place where I might be able to rent a room for a reasonable price that's not far from the A24 office. As soon as I have a phone and an address, I'll send my new contact info.

I love you all madly. I'M SO HAPPY! :)



Later, from my sister: "I read your email aloud to Ryan this morning and he said, 'Your sister is always so happy when she's homeless!'"

Hello friends, family...

...and maybe the one or two other random people who have ever stumbled upon this blog. Welcome to Tangy Little Mango! Crunchy Big Apple will be taking a break for the next couple of months as I am no longer IN the Big Apple (not that being there did much for my posting habits the last few months. Whoops. Anyway...)

This is where I'll be posting stories of my adventures in Nairobi and around East Africa. I arrived yesterday and am getting my bearings at the moment, but you can expect to hear some juicier updates soon.

Lots of love!