Wednesday, August 5

The Expat News Reporter

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Words by Frances Woodhams, illustration by Harriet Stanes.

Jeremy stands in a down-at-heel part of an African capital with local camera man Isaiah. He clears his throat, smoothing down his hair in order to be camera ready, weighing up whether to don the bullet proof flak jacket and riot helmet that lie at his feet. Looking around at a scene of relative peace and calm, he decides against it.

“If you could just nudge that burning tyre a little to the right Isaiah? With your foot? Perfect.”

Jeremy heard reports of the street riot this morning but has arrived too late. Isaiah got hopelessly stuck in traffic (heavy camera equipment had prohibited the use of a motorbike taxi) and Jeremy arrived just as Ian from CNN was zooming away from the scene in a cab looking smug with a cappucino takeaway cup in hand (Ian’s runner, Cathy, is always a diamond for finding a world-class cup of coffee whilst in extremis).

“What’s this place called again?” Jeremy asks Isaiah, “Madeira, no Mandera is it? What?”

Isaiah raises his eyes to heaven before exchanging a polite greeting with a former school master who happened to be walking past. Isaiah knows Mandera well, since he used to live there.

Sadly it’s beyond Jeremy’s skills of persuasion to get the locals to take up arms once again, so this one burning tyre will have to do. Jeremy does, however, manage to incorporate two women arguing over a stand pipe into the back of one shot, which is a lucky fluke. As Jeremy and Isaiah go about their business, a knot of men, women and children have gathered to stand and watch with disarming curiosity. One man picks his nose contemplatively and a Maasai leans on his stick as Jeremy instructs Isaiah to lie on the ground and take footage skyward, through dwindling flames, to be cut into the news feature later.

Nothing has ever been the same since the political unrest of 2017 which was Jeremy’s moment to shine. Those were the days; dashing from election tallying centre to protest rally in quick succession. As news broke, Jeremy was fronting international broadcasts before being outflanked and outranked by ‘big gun’ reporters arriving business class from London when the story went global. International news teams set up camp at the Serena Hotel for a full three weeks, existing on whisky on the rocks and speculating over whether this was going to be ‘another Rwanda’. Once holy of holies, Orla Guerlin, arrived, Jeremy was demoted from news reporter to general dogs body. There was also the embarrassing debacle of Jeremy leading the UK news team to the wrong venue for the President’s first official press statement. Following that, the entire BBC team had to watch helplessly as events were streamed live on CNN.

Back to Mandera and a tousled boy in a poor state of dress emerges, whistling, from a tin roofed shack to take a leisurely pee al fresco. The clatter of cooking pans, scolding voice and the smell of cooking oil, implies that a midday meal is on the go. Jeremy takes up his microphone, issuing instructions to his cameraman; “Isaiah, pan over to me, making sure you get that child in the background.”

Isaiah’s camera starts rolling and Jeremy broadcasts in low tones; “It’s midday in Mandera slum and a sense of utter hopelessness pervades…”

The boy goes back inside his house but not before spiritedly kicking about a homemade football in the doorway. Isaiah packs away his camera. The crowd, now losing interest in the strange interlopers, melts happily away into a maze of alleyways leading to homesteads, bars, roadside shops and salons. The pervading sound of music from vernacular radio stations signifying that life continues as normal.

As part of a series of expat stereotypes this story was first printed in the UK Telegraph.

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