As a journalist you have to find a balance between caring too much and becoming numb. My biggest fear is to become cynical.
‘Dog food!’ he shouted over the mostly empty terrace of the restaurant I do not remember the name of, just that it was something Italian. Pushing the porcelain plate with saffron coloured rice away from him, the Italian photographer I was having dinner with barked for a waiter. I felt sorry for the Ugandan man in black and white who came running to our table. My table companion pointed at the yellow gruel on his plate.
‘This is not risotto! I would not even feed this to my dog!’
He was serious about his food, my colleague. I worked with him several times in Central Africa and whether he was in Kigali, in a Congolese restaurant overlooking Lake Kivu or in a dusty food joint in Burundi, he always demanded the best. When I inquired why he hadn’t stayed in Rome when all he was looking for was his mum’s pasta, he lashed out at me.
‘Why should I expect anything less? Because this is Africa? That would be racist!’ My Italian colleague did not mind using the big words.
When the fuel subsidy report from the Ad-Hoc Committee of the House of Representatives came out in April, I read it cover to cover. It’s over 200 pages spoke of 6.8 billion US dollars down the drain between 2009 and 2011 and called this ‘a record that can hardly be rivalled in the history of a warped budget management of any nation anywhere in the world’. I was appalled, but I cannot say I was deeply shocked or surprised.
When the chairman of the Committee, quickly anointed the ‘anti-corruption warrior of the year’, was accused of accepting a bribe of over half a million US dollars, I commented on Twitter stating this merely showed that talking about ‘Mr Integrity’ in Nigeria is wishful thinking, and that within the system, ‘the least corrupt’ already is a big deal.
The other day the biggest populist newspaper in The Netherlands revealed that during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Dutch secret service hired journalists to spy for it. Allegedly, seven of my colleagues and countrymen accepted money in exchange for information to a third party that was not the general public. I was, and still am, dumbfounded that any self-respecting journalist in my country would actually take part in such a scheme. I actually lost sleep over it.
My reaction to this disclosure – a minor incident if you will – was much more intense than my response to the Nigerian revelations. I told myself it was only natural that my expectations of Nigeria, ranked 143th of 183 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2011, were lower than my expectations of The Netherlands (ranked 7th). But then the philosophy of my culinary Italian colleague came to mind: whatever your expectations of the kitchen, no people deserve dog food.
It is Sunday morning when I write this blog. Then the news about the explosions in Kaduna State comes in, with one blow declaring the deadline for this piece futile and insignificant.
As a journalist you have to find a balance between caring too much and becoming numb. My biggest fear is to become cynical. Ever since I started travelling I have asked my friends to warn me if I stop feeling for the people I report on or be moved by what happens to them. As my stomach wants to turn itself inside out while I frantically surf the net for up to date information about the Kaduna blasts, I realise I have not reached that point. Not by a long shot. And I hope I never will.
Talk to Femke on Twitter @femkevanzeijl
Previous entries of Femke Becomes Funke:
‘Idiot oyinbo woman’
As good as your gadget
My moin moin madness
White sexual commodity
‘I became angry the Lagosian way: skin deep’
Beer in the morning? I would not dream of refusing
A terrifying dream