I'm a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago. In January 2007, I began a fellowship with the International Reporting Project (formerly the Pew Fellowship) out of Johns Hopkins-SAIS. The program, which is fantastic (and I'm not just saying that because they're paying for my trip), sends seven U.S. journalists on reporting trips around the world. My fellow Fellows (oh, the hilarity) are bound for Lebanon, Afghanistan, Liberia, China, Mexico and South Africa, armed with great story ideas, unbridled enthusiasm, and, if they're like me, increasingly nervous stomachs. On February 24th, I'm flying to Dakar for a five-week reporting trip through Senegal, Africa's western-most country and one of the continent's few success stories in the fight against HIV/AIDS. (To put this in perspective: Recent studies indicate Senegal and the U.S. have similar infection rates).
During my time abroad, the plan is to profile the people (some of them, at least) responsible for keeping Senegal’s AIDS/HIV infection rate at such remarkably low levels. The goal is to bring human faces to the fight against AIDS in Africa, and to shed light on some best prevention practices. The Western media — and American media is particular — don’t do justice to the positive, instructive stories emerging every day from Africa.
These lofty goals are, of course, predicated on the (purely theoretical) theory that I will a) understand enough and speak enough French (and to a much lesser extent, Wolof, the local language) to figure out what anyone is saying, and b) that I won’t go totally bonkers listening to five weeks of my deeply annoying internal monologue.