2011 January : focus to infinity

News Round up: Egypt, Egypt, Egypt

January 31, 2011 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Leave a Comment 


The nature of covering an event that is unfolding in a country halfway around the world is that we simplify and boil down a complex issue that has multiple causes and effects. As Americans, we come to it from our own reality, which is hard to apply to situations in countries such as Egypt, which has a long history that differs from ours in so many ways. One of the most obvious examples of this, I think, is that the word ‘President’ does not mean the same thing when talking about Egypt as it does when talking about the US. President Mubarak has been in power for three decades. If I were an Egyptian, I would have had the same ‘president’ my entire life.


I don’t know much about Egypt, but my knee-jerk reaction to some of the reports I’ve seen (AH! Now the Islamists will take over!… AH! What’s going to happen to oil prices!), have gotten me frustrated. While other reports have really helped me to understand a bit more. Here are those:


5 Things the US Mass Media Get Wrong on Egypt


This particular post by a blogger backed by Africa Is A Country (whom I trust) addresses a lot of the questions that came to my mind when watching or reading coverage, including questions about the looting (Who is doing it? Protestors or Mubarak’s ‘security’ groups) as well as questions about Mubarak’s regime.


Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak: following missteps of ousted Tunisian leader?


I usually like CS Monitor’s international coverage, because they’ve always been an outlet willing to publish stories about Africa that don’t need to have rebels or famine in the headlines. The above is their story about some Tunisia-Egypt similarities


A bunch of Al-Jazeera coverage

Al-Jazeera has a lot of reporters on the ground who know the region and the context, and who aren’t necessarily jumping brand-new into the story. Plus they’re covering it from like a dozen angles:


Voice of America

Quick updates from people in the area who also probably have a lot of background knowledge. Gotta give VOA some love.


NYTimes background


And last but not least, this is a great resource to understand the play-by-play as well as the historical background. They even have a Background subhead.



But the REAL thing I want to know is, why do you think Egypt and Tunisia have gotten so much play, while the crisis in Ivory Coast, where Human Rights Watch says security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo and militias that support him have, since late November 2010, committed extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and rape, remains completely out of the news?  

Multimedia Mama 4 : On Rejection

January 28, 2011 | Filed Under Multimedia Mama | 3 Comments 


Last Thursday was my 28th birthday. It was going great – time with the baby and hubs and friends—until I got an email around 5 pm. It was a message that started with “We regret to inform you…” It then went on to explain that I did NOT get a Fulbright Fellowship that I had applied for in October.


Now, I’m used to rejection. It’s part of a freelancer’s daily life. In fact, we often say rejection, that is a response, is often a victory. After all, it’s better than no response at all. But this fellowship wasn’t a normal pitch. I had worked for months on the application, carefully researching my topic—the Visibility of Islam Among African Immigrants in Southern France. I had written draft after draft after draft AFTER draft of my personal statement and proposal. I really wanted to do this project. And I knew I had both the background knowledge and training and the desire to produce something really worthwhile that would document the experience of African immigrants in France. I was confident.


And so then I began picturing what would happen if – no, when! – I got the fellowship. This is where positive thinking turns into setting yourself up for disappointment. Because I had such a lovely picture of this great time and this great project I was going to do, that when I was told I didn’t get the fellowhip, it wasn’t just as if I had been told I couldn’t do it. It was as if something I already had was being taken away from me.


My first reaction, I hate to admit, was anger. I was going to PRODUCE materials that could be used, watched, catalogued. I think the topic is important. The worst feeling is when you know you CAN do something, and you don’t get the chance. I imagined spending 10 months making a photo essay, a documentary; oh it was going to be glorious!


Then anger turned into sadness and disappointment and a sense of fear and failure. This had been my plan. As much as I don’t believe in plans, this was what I had wanted and hoped for and told people that this was probably the next step. Now what was I going to do?


Now that I’m a mother, rejection has taken on a whole different tone. Somehow it makes it easier and more difficult at the same time. Easier, because life really is simple and beautiful when just hanging out with Amelia and Mbaye. To know I have these two lovely people in my life means I can bear a lot, because at the end of the day, my moments with them are wonderful and make me happy. I have more than just my career to bring me joy, so there’s not as much pressure on my career. But at the same time, being a mother (and a wife for that matter), means there is more pressure. I have more fiscal pulls—more people depending on me. It’s not just me who gets hurt if I’m broke. Now that I’m not going to get paid to do this project, what am I going to do? 


After the first 24 hours of kind of feeling a mix of anger, bummi-ness, sadness and self-pity, I decided to try and reclaim a positive outlook. My mom said, “You know Ricci, when one door closes, a window opens.” I am a big believer in this, but when six doors close in a row and there’s still no window in sight, you start to panic a bit (In all honesty, I thought this Fellowship WAS my window that was opening as other doors closed).


Of course all these doors and windows aren’t closed, and I’ve spent the past week applying for jobs and making lists of new fellowships. I’ve applied to five jobs this week, which to be honest, is about an average rate for me. A couple of them are full-time, a couple of them are consultancies. Of course I want to stay freelance, and that’s still the plan, but I need to also apply for the ‘just in case’ scenarios. Also, I made a list of awesome fellowships for which I will apply throughout the year. To be honest, it’s hard not to feel like I will never get anything. But I know that really accomplishes absolutely nothing.


But I do know that I spent WAY too much time on this proposal about a project on the Visibility of African Immigrants in Southern France not to at least see if I can get someone else to fund it.  And I’ll keep on keepin’ on, because as Mbaye says, the motto of La Famille Ndaw is ‘Abandon Jamais!”


Oh, and besides Amelia and Mbaye, I have amazing freelancing friends who will listen to me cry and whine and bitch and moan only to encourage me and tell me it will get better and ‘its their loss’ for not hiring me/giving me a fellowship/etc. I have to say that being surrounded, whether virtually or geographically, be supportive friends who are or have been in the same boat is an essential tool to surviving ‘la vie de freelance.’ So merci to those who put up with my crises of confidence over the past week – you know who you are!!


And so as not to be a COMPLETE bummer this Friday, I leave you with this happy photo I took at the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture in Dakar last month.dsc_1601.jpg



Please watch this – Midweek News update

January 25, 2011 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments 

Because I spent three years as a journalist in W. Africa, I therefore think that means I know just about EVERYTHING, and I tend to be ridiculously critical of a lot of pieces of journalism that come out of the region. For instance, if you want to get me started, please bring up the Vice Guide to Liberia. I fully acknowledge this is a bad habit, and I’m trying to be more open, but sometimes there are just things you watch or read and think… “Wow. That’s just… wow. They got that wrong.”THIS video piece that aired on al-Jazeera is not one of them. In my humble opinion, this mini-doc is the opposite.  It provides context, doesn’t condescend or vilify and doesn’t preach an opinion. It tells a story – an important story that illuminates the story of legal immigration to the US. Bravo… now if only I can figure out who this journalist is? I don’t see his name anywhere on this?

Midweek News Break

January 20, 2011 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Leave a Comment 


Midweek News…

I had an interesting discussion with both my cousin and a good friend over the Christmas holiday. Both of them are in the medical field, and they both said they wanted to know more about international news, but they just didn’t have time to cull through the inundation of various outlets and headlines. So I asked them if they would be interested in a summary I put together of different international events for them every once and a while. They said yes, so I’m going to do MY BEST to quickly highlight some of the issues I follow at least once a week. The goal is for it to take no more than five minutes to run down a few things that are happening. I can’t offer an in-depth analysis, nor original reporting for most of this, but instead of continuting to complain about a lack of good international news options in the US, I figured I would do at least some small thing to make the situation better. Admittedly, most of this will focus on Africa and Europe more than say South America or Asia. But I’ll work on that. So, here’s the first midweek round-up of some international news stories that I’m currently following.


1.    Turnover in Tunisia


For 23 years, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali ruled as president of this North African country. But this month protests and uprisings caused the president to resign his post and flee to Saudi Arabia. Tunisia is now in the midst of restructuring and is expected to hold its first cabinet meeting Thursday.



2. 50th anniversary of Patrice Lumumba assassination


I enjoyed reading this critical piece on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba —an essential figure in the Congo’s struggle for independence.




3.    Ivory Coast : Two Presidents, Zero Solutions


Of course I’m following the continued crisis in Ivory Coast—the country in West Africa that has been in turmoil since elections in November ended with the popular vote electing one man, but the ruling president said the elections weren’t fair, and he has continued to stay in office.



Rooftop to Desktop

January 18, 2011 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

 From my rooftop in Dakar, to your desktop- wherever you are.


Photo taken in Dakar, Senegal. December 2010.

Multimedia Mama #3 – Why my daughter’s first word might be “Kanye.” (and why I blame this on photo editing).

January 17, 2011 | Filed Under Multimedia Mama | 2 Comments 

 On this, the three-month birthday of my fant-abulous daughter, I have sworn to stop swearing. Amelia is starting to be extremely vocal, and though I know it will be many months until her first real word, I had a dream the other night that she began speaking, and her first word was the F-bomb. It was a CUTE F-bomb, but an F-bomb none the less. So, I took this dream as a sign that Multimedia Mama should watch her language. Just in case Amelia starts chatting and quoting some of my less eloquent explicatives.


But what if it’s not ME that’s the problem. You see, one of the best aspects of my job is when I get to sit down with all the photos I’ve just taken, blast music and edit through them. I’m pretty bad at choosing my favorite photos out of each batch, but the music always seems to push me along and let me bounce along as I adjust white balance and delete the doozies.


Recently one of my favorite albums to listen to is Kanye West’s new one – ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.’ It’s just the right mix of fast and slow and allows me to flow in between rhythms of editing. Problem is, Kanye has a potty mouth on many of the tracks. So while Amelia often chills next to me in one of her baby chair-thingies, I can’t help but wonder if I should be playing Bach or something instead?


This thought process lead me to try out different music genres with her and see how she reacted. So far, she is a big fan of opera (Les Miserables), Shakira (Waka Waka) and Ben Harper (all of his songs – she IS her mother’s daughter after all). She also really likes the song ‘Amelia’ by Cassino, but that’s probably because we sing it to her all the time. Oh, and today she started laughing and giggling when I played ‘I Put a Spell on You,’by Jeff Beck and Joss Stone.


So I’m wondering if I should G-rate my editing music and cut out Kanye—at least when she’s in the room. Maybe Taylor Swift has a new album coming out?


And tonight, because I have no photos of Kanye or Taylor, I leave with a Bebe Bisou from Amelia.dsc_3856.png

Walkin’ After Midnight

January 12, 2011 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

When I was little my grandmother used to put on Patsy Cline records and make me listen to them as we bounced around the living room together. She would sing along to “She’s Got You,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” and all those lovely songs.So when we were in St. Pete this week, and I found out there was a ‘pay what you want at the door’ Patsy Cline cabaret at a local theater, I asked my gracious hostess if we could attend. She said yes, so off we went. Samantha Brown did a wonderful job singing about 10 songs, while also incorporating facts about Patsy’s life. dsc_3872.jpg

Multimedia Mama : entry 2

January 7, 2011 | Filed Under Multimedia Mama | 3 Comments 

SCENE: The car is parked in a gas station parking lot somewhere in the middle of Georgia. As I walk from the car to the station’s shop, my husband calls out my name from where he stands at the car. I turn to face him and find he has thrown me a dirty diaper, and it is now hurtling through the air at my head. I catch it, do a spin move and throw it into the nearby trash can. As I walk to the station, I think, ok… this is what it’s like to travel with a baby.


My third trimester of pregnancy was difficult, but not for the usual reasons. One of the most challenging obstacles for me (besides the heat and power cuts) was that I was unable to travel much, because they don’t want you on an airplane, and traveling via land through West Africa just would not have been a wise idea (hundreds of kilometers from a hospital, higher risk of getting sick, etc). I had to turn down two or three freelance jobs because of this, which I did not take well. So when Amelia finally made it to the outside world I was pumped to be free to travel again, but a little apprehensive about what it would be like.


On our recent flight from Dakar to the States, she was a rock. star. She didn’t cry unless she was hungry or dirty diaper, and those two circumstances are easily remedied. (iPhone photo)



And our recent drive from Illinois to Florida, which lasted 18 hours and two days, went smoothly as well.


BUT everything takes longer when you have a baby. Packing takes longer. Walking to the flight takes longer. Driving takes longer, because you have to stop if you need to change her diaper (she can take a bottle while in the car seat, which is nice).


When flying, I think the main reason it went well was because we organized before we took off for the voyage. Did we have everything she would need? Who would carry what? (I took my photo equipment, Mbaye took the baby). We took turns feeding her, so it was never overwhelming for either of us. (Here is where I give BIG UPS to single mothers). We also made sure to give ourselves enough time before each flight so that we didn’t need to rush through security. With a precious baby and valuable camera equipment, rushing through places can result in breaking, losing, forgetting or worse.  Traveling with the baby means no more ’10-minute mad dashes,’ to flights. Ah, those stressed me out anyway.


Driving was helped by the fact that my sister came with us. Three-on-one. Mbaye doesn’t have his US driver license, so he sat in back with Amelia most of the time, and Roxi and I took turns driving. Besides a baby blanket that was left at the hotel, we were BASICALLY organized (though less so than when we were flying. The temptation to throw something in the trunk instead of packing it neatly is just too strong sometimes).  We also had my mother’s GPS, which is an obvious life-saver.


We’re traveling for some work opportunities for my hubs, so I’m doing writing/editing from afar as well as pitching.  In Florida getting to see old friends as well as work. Double win.


I’ll update with some photo work either this weekend or Monday, but in the meantime, Happy Travels !



(second photo by Roxi Shryock)

Singers, Poets and Presidents, OH MY!

January 5, 2011 | Filed Under Uncategorized | Leave a Comment 

My last story of 2010 in Senegal was on the World Festival of Black Arts. I got to attend five days of the 15-day event. They were jam-packed days full of me going to concerts, interviewing authors and poets, and bouncing on the slidelines while hundreds of dancers shimmied at a huge stadium in Dakar. Here’s two photos from the opening ceremony. One’s of a kora player in the middle of the stadium, and the second one is a security protocol officer sprinting after me, because I was getting to close to the presidents who were there. Thought that one was funny, so I just wanted to share.



One of the best moments of the whole thing was when me and a few other journos went over to a little village of temporary houses that had been set up to house the hundreds of artists that arrived from 80 different countries. First I interviewed a singer/guitar player from Equatorial Guinea, then a couple of poets from Cameroon and Haiti. At the end of the interview, one of the poets looked over at the guitar player and asked if he wanted to freestyle with them, and they preceeded to serenade us with a song about Panafricanism (which is also the angle of my story).


I was glad my last story in Senegal for a while was a positive article displaying one of the cool things that happen on the continent. While being serenaded I had one of those glorious moments where I felt the lightweight happiness that, for me, is especially unique to West Africa. It’s good to get to do stories that show the fun side, because it’s one of the most important things journalists can do for the region is to show it’s a complex place with its problems, but also its beauty—just like every other region of the world.


So here’s the link to my VOA story, for which I produced video, radio, text and photos – puttin’ the ‘multi’ in Multimedia, baby.

A New Year, A (slightly) New Blog – Multimedia Mama

January 2, 2011 | Filed Under Multimedia Mama | 2 Comments 

Happy New Year! Or as my mother, the mathematician would say, happy 1-1-11!!


The past year has been a crazy awesome one for me. As well as getting some good work done, my husband and I also added an addition to La Famille Ndaw: Amelia Aminata Ndaw!



She was born on October 16, 2010, and I will be honest with you, I had my fears about raising a little bebe. But I also had my fears about becoming a freelancer in West Africa, and that turned out quite well, so…….


I mention the combo of working and raising a family, because I am a lucky-enough gal to get to do both—and I adore both with all my heart. But when I first found out I was pregnant, I was deeply worried that my career was dead in its tracks. I can’t say whether this fear was well-founded or just a result of my overactive imagination and anxiety, but it was a very real feeling.


I think much of it came from what I felt I had heard constantly before I got pregnant– how difficult it is to have a freelance career (or any career for that matter) AND raise a baby. Some people would even tell me it was impossible. I do not have a normal 9-5 job. Being a freelance multimedia journalist means I have a job that often requires travel, and I never know how much I will make one month to the next. But it’s a job that I love doing, and I am passionate about (nearly) every project that I am blessed to do. I still often pinch myself, even when I’m up at 4 am editing a video, that people pay me to tell stories with photos and video and words.


So, part of me, as excited as I was to have a baby with my amazing husband, was scared to lose that passion and work, especially because for years it has always been a large part of who I am as a person. I know I could probably give up freelancing and find some type of full-time job if I kept on looking, but after applying for dozens over the past few years and getting none of them, I began to doubt why I was applying for them in the first place. I am lucky enough to have found something I truly love to do on a day-to-day basis, so I would hope to keep on freelancing. Plus, my career just seemed to be getting started after two years of barely breaking even. And I also feared that if I gave up being a freelancer for Amelia, then would I resent her for it one day? Don’t get me wrong, raising Amelia is my most important job, but I think if I have my own happiness as well, that can only make my daughter stronger, rather than hurt her.


So after initial panic, I contacted a few of the mothers I know (and whom I work for) who also run their own freelance communications businesses. They were all extremely encouraging, as well as excited for me that I was about to feel how much love you can experience for your child. At the time I couldn’t possibly have comprehended that amount of love, but I did find their encouragement reassuring.


I share all of this because while in the midst of my anxiety, I would have loved to read a story about a woman in my position – A freelancer who was raising a baby. So I’ve decided to dedicate at least one blog post a week this year to my experiences as a freelance journalist/mother. In the interest of full disclosure, because I am hoping that these entries eventually might give support to someone who stumbles along it who is in my position, I vow to be completely honest with all my postings, starting with my situation. My freelance work is the sole income for our family of three (right now – my husband is currently looking for a job). I have no outside money coming in (no inheritance, family trust or investments that are making me dividends), but my parents are emotionally supportive and give me small amounts of money (usually for gifts) once or twice a year (hundreds, not thousands). And if I were in DIRE need, I know that I could go to my mother or father and they would help me to the best of their capacity. Plus, since my daughter was born we’ve either had someone from my husband’s family living with us in Dakar, or we’ve been with my mother at her house for the holidays. This means we’ve had constant help with Amelia, and someone has been there to watch her while I work. I am amazed at women who do this all by themselves. Props to you.


I only divulge all of this because I don’t want to make it seem easy, and then a reader realize it’s only easy for me because I have another income from somewhere, or I make it seem really hard, without disclosing that I am lucky enough to so far have great (FREE) childcare from family. And financially, I honestly don’t know if I could take the instability of being a freelancer if I didn’t have the knowledge that my mother and father are there to offer us shelter if we fall hard. Truth.


And I’m not going to endorse any delusions of grandeur – being a freelancer means (for now) giving up some things that other families enjoy. For instance, we in NO way would be able to afford buying a house right now, nor do we even own a TV at the moment. But we have food, shelter and hopefully soon we will have a health insurance. These are the three things we have decided are most important for our family at the moment (besides each other, of course).


This rambling post is all to say that at least once I week, I hope to use this blog to comment on what it’s like to raise a beautiful baby and be a freelance multimedia journalist. I promise I’ll take my rose-colored glasses off and be as honest as I can be, but I can’t promise not to get mushy sometimes. Because when it comes down to it, if I had to describe the past year in one word, the word wouldn’t be ‘anxiety,’ or ‘worry’ about the fears I will face as a freelancer and mother. The word would be ‘love’ – for my career, but most of all for my family.


So this year, this blog is dedicated to multimedia journalism, as well as to the working moms, because one day during my third trimester I looked up from my photos on the computer, down at my belly bulge and over at my husband and I realized, “I might not have much, but I just might have it all.”