A Resourceful Writer with Limited Resources


When on his way to the OAU my father received the suggestion to do a story about the breaking down of the East African community. This meant going to Tanzania and Kenya. Uganda was chaotic at the time and not accessible. My father left Gabon for Kenya to begin the research on this project.

 When I got finished with the Organization for African Union (OAU) conference in Gabon, I was going to go on my original quest. I had to take a plane to Kinshasa and from there to Nairobi. I arrive in Nairobi at three o’clock in the morning with $50.00 in my pocket. You’re supposed to have $300.00, I told them I had $500.00. I lied.

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Kenyan Flag

Newspaper people had given me the name of a hotel, the Norman Hotel. I went to the Norman Hotel. It was three o’clock in the morning, I was whipped, I was beat. A guy offered a room. It sounded to me like the room was $65 a night. Right on, I don’t give a damn. I go up to the room and it’s very small, an all-white cell. There’s a narrow bed and a sink. I fall out.

I wake up in the morning. I don’t have any money. Money was coming, but I was low. I’m lying in this narrow bed and I’m feeling really badly as I look at this white cell, and then I hear singing. So I get up and I realize there are French-doors in the room. I open the French-doors and there is a balcony with wicker furniture on it. I look out and I see across the street what turned out to be the University of Nairobi.

dancing-masai-men-7413480The singing I heard was a batch of Masai coming from the bus station. It was nice. Then my quarters looked pretty good. I got on the phone and found out it wasn’t $65.00 but it was $25.00. To take a bath you paid a dollar. It was about a nine-foot tub; it was wonderful.

I would spend all day at the Kenyan newspaper office. My plan was to go through the history of the East African community from the point of view of first the Kenyans and then the Tanzanians. Everything that they agreed upon was, of course, fact. Then I’d have to balance out what else happened. (My father had an interesting way of sorting fact from fiction when there were multiple stories and sources. Everything agreed upon was fact. Then those things that could have happened, that did not violate previous agreed upon facts, even though only one or two sources might have said it, was probably true. Those things that could not be true if they violated any of the facts that were agreed upon, he treated as false.  That was what he meant by “balancing.”)

One night I couldn’t work anymore so I left the newspaper office and I walked. Nairobi is immense. I wandered around for a while. I got to a place and I heard some blues. I thought, “This sounds good.” I walk in and it’s a chicken shack. Again, this is for Africans. That means you can get a pitcher of beer and a plate of chicken for a couple of bucks. I sat down at a table and this brother comes up to me and says, “What are you doing here.” I’m way off the reservation. I say, “What do you mean?”  It turned out that he was one of the clerks at the newspaper office.This brother was so pleased. We sat and talked about what my program was and what I was trying to do and so forth and so on. From then on he went through stuff in the archives for me and said: “You might want to look at this, you might want to look at that.”

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Tanzania flag over map

I got finished in Nairobi and I then took off to Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania).  I get to Dar and get into a cheap hotel, a good hotel. No sweat. At this hotel they serve you breakfast, and they didn’t play. You have to get up early, but if you get up early you see sausage, eggs, the whole thing. After breakfast, I went over to the Tanzanian newspaper office. Here I had the editor himself to help me and he introduced me to a dude who had just left the newspaper to become the press secretary for Nyerere. That man is now the president. At that stage I get to work, and then again I have guidance from these two guys. Everything is cool. The last two days in Tanzania I hung with the editor and the press secretary. My last day we went to a wedding and we just partied. We partied back.

I get back to Paris and sit down and I sweat it for three days to write the article. Somehow, I got in touch with this woman who is also a writer and she suggested that I call Le Monde Diplomatique.  I call them and they ask me what I wanted. I tell them about the story. They bought the story. They translated it. They paid for it. They gave me enough cash to fly back to the States.

The story ended up featured in the Sunday edition of the newspaper.  This was not my father’s last trip to Africa. He returned again for another OAU conference and to make a film, that was never completed, on Southern Africa nations and their liberation struggles.

 

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