5 attitudes to carry in your next field assignment

One of the great perks of being a development journalist is the travel; the new people and cultures you encounter, breath-taking landscapes, gorgeous hotel rooms that make you wish you are on vacation and off-road drives that remind you to appreciate any pothole-ridden tarmac road.

This is not about the negative side of travelling for work but the attitudes to carry and that can assist you work as well as have fun.

Cultural sensitivity – Research or talk to a native about behaviours that would offend the “hosts”. It is important to know their preferred language – is it English or Swahili?; do they like to shake hands?;  during meals, do they eat with their hands or use cutlery? When you find yourself in unfamiliar situation, ask politely what is expected of you.

A smile – Wear it whenever and wherever you can. A smile softens your appearance and this will help when getting information or taking a photo or video. Wear the smile when introducing yourself, shaking hands and during the interview even when behind the camera.

Unwavering will to work – be focused on the job at hand. Forget the night life. Forget the late night chit-chat. The following morning you have to work to do. Unless, you can manage working sleep deprived or with hangover. However, there will be always be that nagging rhetoric question; “If I had slept my usual hours, would I have done a better story than this?”

Openness – Be ready to step out of your comfort zone, while still wearing a smile. You might discover something new about yourself, write or shoot. Be open to explore new foods and different way of doing things.

Understand, don’t judge – you are in a new place and chances of encountering situations that make you want to shout “STOP IT!” are expected. You will be judging people’s behaviours according to your moral standards and worldview. Take a breath, calm down and excuse yourself to leave, if you cannot stomach it.

Don’t not be afraid to travel. You might just rediscover and reinvent yourself. And who does like working in a new environment.

(Painting by Self Portrait as Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) – Artemisia Gentileschi 1638-39) 


3 tips to break the language barrier and get the story

The real, true and authentic development stories are not in the urban centres. If you want to know the true joy of a mother whose life have been changed because a new borehole has saved her a 20-kilometre trek to the river then you have to go to her. Get her story on location. Pack your equipment to go interview her and if you do not share a common language then you will have an interpreter for the one-on-one interview.

However, what happens in a public baraza (meeting)? Where you are not in control like in one-on-one interview? Yes, you might have an interpreter and even someone to take notes for you but to identify where the story is and all you know are the greetings, please and thank you.

Then you need to “break” the language barrier, “understand” the locals and get the story then do the following;

  1. Get a back-up interpreter: They will clarify your notes from your first interpreter later as you write your story. This is to avoid things getting lost in translation
  2. Read the mood of the crowd: Look at the reaction and response of the crowd as the different speakers stand to talk. Although, it is good knowledge of the culture body language. In some, expressive hand gestures and shouting might not mean the speaker is angry they might be emphasising a point.
  3. Record the guest of honour’s speech: Record their speech for later, because more often than not they are reason you are there to cover the meeting.

(Painting by Peter Bruegel The Elder – The Tower of Babel 1563)

Going to tell the story in Napak

The journey to the north started from south-west; heading to cover for the county – a mass vaccination exercise. We, a communication team of three, were tasked to document it in written, photography and audio-visual forms. These three forms had to tell one story – how the exercise improved their livelihood.

As a journalist, I know three different people/teams assigned to cover the one story will mean three different angles to the same story. To limit this, we did the following

  1. Identity the primary question to answer. How will this mass vaccination exercise improve your livelihood as a pastoralist?
  2. In the field, work independently. Be involved in each other’s work, however hold the feedback until the final draft is shared back in the office.
  3. Share for feedback to improve the drafts before submission

(Painting by Bernardo Strozzi – Vanitas or The old Coquette – 1637)



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