Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Barack the Monkey

Just a brief humourous observation today:

Yesterday, I visited the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, which is a kind of zoo for sick and orphaned animals from the national game park just next to it. In one of the enclosures was a Black Monkey, whose name, according to the placard posted outside his cage, was Barack. I chuckled heartily at the thought of a North American or European zoo doing the same thing; if that didn't make CNN headlines, I don't know what would.

My flight back to Toronto leaves tonight at half an hour to midnight. I am really looking forward to experiencing New Year's on a plane... assuming it isn't delayed, they should have just enough time to break out the champagne before the clock strikes twelve.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

AP Article

Very interesting article in the AP recently: Year after warships come, piracy up.
Stellar analysis--but of course, a journalist is only as good as his sources.

Check it out.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Scourge of the Seas

Back when I was in Puntland in June, I met and was interviewed by some telejournalists from KTN (Kenyan Television Network), who were putting together a documentary on piracy,
Scourge of the Seas . I didn't think to check up on it until yesterday, after a Somali I met in Eastleigh told me he had seen me on TV. So I watched it, and it turns out that chunks of my interview appear 4-5 times in the course of the production. You can check it out on YouTube (hyperlink above).

The head journalist (and narrator), John-Allan Namu, went on to win CNN's award for best African journalist of the year. I'd like to think the credit is mostly mine.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nairobi & Mombasa

My days here in Nairobi have so far has been incredibly promising-- I've gotten many useful leads from my AP and BBC contacts, and things are starting to line up for me. Yesterday I spent most of the day in Eastleigh, Nairobi's Somali ghetto, where I was looking into (trumped up) links between piracy money and the ongoing construction boom in the neighbourhood. I felt like I was back in Somalia-- the people, the language, even the roads were so similar. I talked to a few businessmen and then hit the street, taking advantage of the crowd gathered by a KTN (Kenyan Television Network) film crew to siphon off my own focus group of about 20-30 people.

Nairobi itself is terrific. Bustling, cosmopolitan, friendly people, and outstandingly sunny weather (December-January are the hottest months, and it's not getting much beyond 25c during the day). I could see myself living here for a while. It's a great journalist town.

I'm heading to Mombasa early Tuesday morning, and it looks like I may be there for Christmas (not the worst place to be--I hear great things about the beaches). Through a contact at KTN, I've gotten in touch with the prison warden of Shimo la Tewa, the prison where hundreds of suspected pirates are being held, and she's agreed to give me an interview. I also hope to speak with a number of "pirate lawyers" about the way the Kenyan justice system is coping with the influx. It's an unprecedented legal situation, and the international and domestic legal instruments to cover it are being invented, twisted, and reinterpreted as they go along.

More to follow.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bucharest Success and Dubai Memories

I'm sitting in Dubai airport right now, contemplating the eleven hour wait before my connecting flight to Nairobi. I thought about stopping in at my favourite Dubai haunt--the Somali-owned Jubba Hotel--and bargaining with them for a $40 room. But it's too much effort for the middle of the night.

The smells of Dubai (as well as the crowds of Somalis sleeping in the corridors waiting for the bi-weekly flights) have triggered a surprisingly poignant nostalgia for my own trips. I almost wish I was going again.

Bucharest was a big success. With my Romanian friend Teddy as my guide and translator, I managed to track down two former hostages from the MV Victoria, one of the ships I encountered at Eyl during my last trip. The second of these interviews, with the ship's first mate (he called himself "Chief") was unbelievable; he was an amazingly jovial, expressive man who told the funniest stories (though at times I wasn't quite sure if I should laugh or not).

I didn't get to do much sightseeing (and the weather was brutal anyway), but I did get a little local flavour-- I spent my first night on the floor of Teddy's friend's flat, in the heart of Ferentari, the "gypsy ghetto" of Bucharest. Then I spent two of the next four nights at the Hilton, in the nicest hotel rooms I have ever had, thanks to Teddy's mother's client reward program.

Nairobi should be interesting. I have contacts at the AP and BBC, but nothing concrete set up.
More to follow.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pirate Stock Exchange

There is no doubt in my mind that this is the product of hyped-up trash reporting (I can just envision the byliner salivating at the thought of a "pirate stock exchange"). Most likely this so-called "stock exchange" is a slightly more formalized method of investing in pirate operations--which has been going on from the beginning. Even if there is only a little truth to it, however, it demonstrates the growing importance of Xaradheere as the centre of pirate operations.

Xaradheere, which is south of Puntland, has really come into its own as the #1 pirate base since the renewed opening of "pirate season" in September. Eyl is not what it once was-- to my knowledge, not one hijacked ship has been taken there in months. My guess would be that this is a result of a) the strengthening of the Puntland government's security apparatus since President Farole came to power in January; and b) the growing distaste for piracy among the local population.

In Geneva now, heading to Bucharest on Monday.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Paradise on Earth

Had a short-but-sweet stay in Berlin with Jon, scarfing down Turkish Koeftes and enjoying the semi-gay ex-pat sub-culture of the city. I'm inclined to agree with Jon that Berlin shares many characterisitcs with Montreal--poor, super-liberal, and a great night-life.

I'm off tomorrow for a short stop-over in Geneva, the closest thing to paradise on Earth. I've tried to justify my detour by finding some UN cadres to interview (i.e. in the WFP or UNEP), but Geneva isn't even the main offices for those agencies. So I'm just planning to enjoy the weekend and re-live old times with my friend Asger, who I haven't seen since I left three years ago.