Language. English is one of Kenya’s two official languages, but the other is Swahili, which I didn’t speak. I knew English was primarily the language of politics and business, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate well with ordinary people. This turned out to be partly true, in that the further one got from Nairobi the less prevalent was English; but there was always someone who spoke enough English to act as a translator. And, Swahili is a fairly easy language to pick up the basics.
Kenyans love their goat meat, and although I found it on the tough and chewy side at first, I came to appreciate it over time. One experience that helped was when I spent Christmas Day at a small orphanage on the outskirts of Nairobi, where I had a few friends. Two live goats had been delivered for the holiday, and when I arrived the kids swarmed me in greeting and immediately handed me a large knife. They led me around the back to a lawn where a pliant goat lay pinned to the ground by four of their fellows, and insisted I deliver the coup de grace. I’d never killed anything larger than a salmon before and felt squeamish at first, but they showed me how to cut its throat and the whole thing was over in moments; after, I watched them skin it, butcher it, clean out the intestines and fill them with organ bits for sausage, and we had ourselves a fine Christmas barbeque.
I was a reporter for the Daily Nation newspaper. At first this meant going where I was told, for the most part press conferences and the like. As time went on and I established myself, I was given more freedom to pursue stories that interested me and develop whatever features I wanted. I was quite interested in issues of poverty, in how people got by in the huge slums that housed half of Nairobi’s population, and so that ended up becoming my “beat”.
Poverty, injustice, displacement – these things have a damaging impact on people and cultures, and damaged people can be hard to work with or befriend, particularly if you were raised in affluence.
I am scratching out a living as an environmental journalist, with two books published and articles in most major Canadian publications.