MASERU, Lesotho – The passport is stamped U.S., but I’m unabashedly a citizen of the world, with a toehold on four continents: from New York to Hong Kong, Prague to Lesotho. As a foreign correspondent, journalism educator, Health and Development communications consultant, and father of three, I’m based in Lesotho, high in the mountains of southern Africa. As the lone Western correspondent here, I’ve covered the tiny Mountain Kingdom‘s unique political crisis for Foreign Policy, AFP, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, and others. Meanwhile, I’m also teaching Health Journalism and storytelling in one of the world’s sickliest societies. And from next-door South Africa, I’m co-producing a documentary film – The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story – which explores racial healing and equal opportunity in The Rainbow Nation, twenty years later. At the same time, in Hong Kong, I’m a six-time Visiting Scholar teaching International Journalism, mostly to bright, young mainland Chinese; and in Prague, I’m Senior Trainer of a biannual course in storytelling from around the world. In fact, post-Communist Central Europe flows through my veins; that’s where I launched my own foreign-correspondent career two decades ago. Thank you for visiting my website – and for reading … Michael
Archive for the ‘Eastern Europe’ Category
Posted in "From East to East", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, China, Eastern Europe, European Union, Hong Kong, Journalism, Lesotho, Parenting, Teaching, Writing, tagged Basotho, Freelance Foreign Correspondent, Freelancer, Journalism Training, Lesotho, Maseru, Parenting, Sesotho on July 3, 2015| 4 Comments »
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", "Nieman Reports", "Transitions Online", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, China, Eastern Europe, HIV/AIDS, Hong Kong, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Media Missionary of Maseru, Photography, South Africa, Teaching, Writing, tagged African Health, Basotho, Breast Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Development Journalism, Diabetes, Faculty of Health Sciences, Gender-Based Violence, Global Health, Health Journalism, HKBU, Hong Kong Baptist University, Human Trafficking, International Development Assistance, Internews, Journalism students, Journalism Training, Kenya, Kick4Life, Knight International Journalism Fellowship, Lesotho Media, Malnutrition, MCC, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Multiple Concurrent Partners, National University of Lesotho, NUL, PEPFAR, Photos of Basotho, Photos of Lesotho, Population Services International, PSI, Pusha Love, Southern Africa, Student-Journalists, The Health Journalism Club, The Mountain Kingdom, Trailing Spouse, U.S. Embassy of Lesotho, UNICEF, USAID on May 31, 2013| 1 Comment »
[The following piece was published June 3, 2013, on The Mantle.]
MASERU, Lesotho – In November 2011, I was newly arrived in Africa, so full of hope, writing dreamily of Lesotho’s “veritable field of dreams” for journalism trainings.
Eighteen months later, rejection slaps me in the face so often, I’m ready to press charges. I’m a pauper on the streets, banging my tin-cup.
Hey buddy, can you spare a dime? Yes, it’s for a journalism training. But not only will it improve Basotho health, it just may save lives!
I came to Lesotho having taught journalism over the past ten years in New York, Central Europe and Hong Kong – and soon realized I was the only journalism-skills teacher in the entire “Mountain Kingdom.” I studied how to help a tiny nation of 1.8 million, clustered in hamlets among the tallest peaks of southern Africa. Not to teach any kind of journalism, but specifically, health journalism.
The list of what ails the Basotho of Lesotho is depressingly long. They suffer the world’s third-highest rate of HIV infection – an unfathomable 23 percent among the most sexually active, ages 15-49. Malnutrition has hit 40 percent, as two-fifths of the children under age 5 endure stunting of the brain and body. Then there’s TB. Diabetes. Breast cancer. Cervical cancer. And so on. Everywhere you look, bad news.
Meanwhile, it’s darn near impossible to find a decent example of explanatory journalism, to inform and educate society on simply how to cope with all this. Which is unsurprising, since Lesotho lacks any real journalism education or professional training. Among reporters and editors here, “The blind are leading the blind.” (Though, this is not their fault, as I’ve written in a related post.)
Though I’d landed in Africa with no contacts whatsoever – as a dutiful “trailing spouse” following my wife’s career in international development – so optimistic was I about my freelancing prospects that I boldly launched a new feature for my website, and immodestly named it The Media Missionary of Maseru.
Posted in "From East to East", "Postcard", Blogging, Central Europe, Democracy, Dictatorship, Eastern Europe, European Union, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Parenting, Writing, tagged Alcoholics, Alcoholism, Budapest Broadway, Cafe Culture, Cafes, Coffeehouse Culture, Eotvos Lorand, Extremism, Far-Right Parties, Graffiti, Habsburg Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, Habsburgian, Hungarian Broadway, Lake Balaton, Mitteleuropa, Nagymezo utca, Pew Global Attitudes Project, Politics, Romkocsma, Spray-Paint Vandalism, Vandalism on September 7, 2012| Leave a Comment »
BUDAPEST, Hungary – I’d fallen out of love. This summer, I wanted so badly for that passion to reignite. No, I’m not referring to my marriage, but to the grand old city of Budapest.
Eight weeks later, I’m delighted to report: the embers still smolder. The elegant architecture. The vibrant café culture. The festive night life. Feels like 1997 again!
Budapest is in my blood. I’m a Hungarian-American who launched a career here as a freelance foreign correspondent, back in 1994. I enjoyed the best years of my youth in the city, from age 24 to 30. My father was born here. My wife, too. My three kids spend large doses of time here – and speak the tricky language as well as natives.
Yet the politics of the place have often mortified me, during the two decades of transition from cruel Communist dictatorship to rapacious capitalist democracy. As the atmosphere descended into one of the most noxious in all of Europe, with hatred and depression sucking up oxygen, the capital, too, grew uglier: graffiti scarred the urban landscape; so many shops, boarded and abandoned; pee-stained alcoholics crashed out on benches along once-regal, Habsburgian boulevards.
We now live in Lesotho, in the hardscrabble mountains of southern Africa. In the tiny capital, Maseru, the three or four cafes, three or four restaurants, just don’t compare to Central Europe. As a frigid winter approached, I flew my kids – more an evacuation, really – up to the summer steaminess of Hungary. They’ve spent weeks reconnecting with their grandparents along the family-friendly, fried-fish-peddling shores of Lake Balaton.
Meanwhile, I’ve flown solo in Budapest much of the time, with the luxury – during hot days and breezy nights – to mill about the old stomping grounds of my free and footloose years of early adulthood.
My conclusion: both city authorities and denizens show signs of resilience.
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", Central Europe, China, Democracy, Eastern Europe, European Union, Gypsy, Hong Kong, Hungary, Lesotho, Minorities, Photography, Roma, Romani, Slovakia, tagged 1848 Revolutions, 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Arab Spring, Brussels, China's Ministry of Railways, Ethnic Hatred, European Commission, Fidesz, Gorilla Scandal, Habsburg Monarchy, High-Speed Train, Július Barczi, Jose Manuel Barroso, Klub Radio, Mitteleuropa, Orban Viktor, Red Sludge, Robert Fico, Scapegoating, Soviet Union, Toxic Spill, Vienna, Viktor Orban, Weibo, Wenzhou Train Crash on March 19, 2012| 2 Comments »
MASERU, Lesotho – Last week was one filled with nostalgia and melancholy.
From my new base in Lesotho, three other adopted homes – Hungary, Slovakia and China, all dear to my heart – each resurfaced in the news with depressingly familiar story-lines. From thousands of miles away, they reminded me of past reporting – and how little changes.
First up, Slovakia, where I recently lived for five years. One of its historic, hilltop castles burns to the ground – apparently caused by two kids, 11 and 12, messing with cigarettes on a windy day. From an adjacent village, they accidentally set fire to some dry grass, whose embers floated upward, igniting the castle’s timber roof.
Poof! In minutes, a gothic, seven-century-old memento, gone.
The Slovak and Czech reaction? Gypsies! It must’ve been those damned Gypsies! More than a rush to judgment, it was a virtual blood-libel against Europe’s largest and most marginalized minority, known more respectfully as Roma. Over the years, I’ve chronicled countless times [like here, here and here] how post-Communist Central Europe always finds something to blame on the Roma. (Even if there’s no love lost in Slovakia for castles that are essentially relics of Hungarian overlordship, while Slovaks toiled as serfs.)
This fire came on the heels of public outrage over a galling corruption scandal, followed by an election that ousted the ruling coalition. If a beaten child has no recourse toward his parents, he turns to kick the dog. Especially in a region saddled by congenital resistance to introspection, which much prefers to point the finger of blame elsewhere.
Though in this case, soul-searching is well warranted, as a Slovakian art historian asserted. The brushfire threat around the castle always existed, he charged, and state authorities were negligent to protect and preserve it.
“It is forbidden to burn grass and it is certainly wrong to do so, but it is just as sick to put the blame on ‘unidentified perpetrators’ who are allegedly members of a minority in the interest of distracting attention from one’s own responsibility,” said the art-historian, Július Barczi.
Next in the news, China.
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", Africa, Blogging, Democracy, Dictatorship, Eastern Europe, HIV/AIDS, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Slovakia, South Africa, Teaching, United Nations, Writing, tagged Ellen Hume, Journalism Teaching, Journalism Training, Lesotho Association of Journalists, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Media Missionaries, National University of Lesotho, Transformation Resource Center, Transformation Resource Centre, Watchdog Journalism, Western Training on February 16, 2012| 1 Comment »
MASERU, Lesotho – My Hungarian in-laws didn’t take the news well.
It was late summer when my wife informed her parents that we’d be moving far away, to the southern tip of Africa – and hauling three beloved grandchildren with us. I thought I was safe from blame: three years in Lesotho wouldn’t be due to my career, but for my wife’s job in international development.
How naive I was. They pointed an accusatory finger, regardless.
“You should have been the one to dissuade her,” bemoaned my mother-in-law.
Another counter-argument emerged: But what will Michael do? I excitedly explained all the journalism teaching and training needs that would surely exist in a country afflicted with so many calamities, like the world’s third-highest HIV infection rate, or that 40 percent of the population live below the international poverty line – yet no full-fledged program to teach watchdog journalism.
In Lesotho, I envisioned an opportunity to make a difference.
“You sound like a missionary!” my father-in-law sneered.
What’s so wrong about that, I wondered.
I’m not talking about the real Christian missionaries I count among my new friends in sub-Saharan Africa (see here and here), or the “media missionaries” who purvey God’s word via various media tools.
I plan to evangelize, alright, but preaching the sort of serious, responsible journalism detailed by American journalist and media analyst Ellen Hume in her 2004 monograph, The Media Missionaries: American Support for Journalism Excellence and Press Freedom Around the Globe.
Three months into our stint in Lesotho, here I am: The Media Missionary of Maseru. And the media landscape here is even bleaker than I imagined.