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!

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