It was following my second trip to Africa that I decided I had to do something. I could no longer just write and photograph people in communities far away from my own and then slip back into my comfortable life as if nothing ever happened. There had to be a way to show the world what I had seen, and that is when I made the decision to pursue a career in journalism.
But as with any story mine doesn’t begin there. And although everyone likes to believe the journey is linear, mine was a tapestry of experiences that when sewn together create a whole. I believe the seeds of journalism were planted when I joined AmeriCorps after graduating with my B.A. in psychology from Boston University. My AmeriCorps assignment placed me at Suffolk Downs Racetrack in East Boston, where I taught English as a Second Language to illegal immigrants from South America and Mexico. While I was a teacher, I found myself moved by the men’s lives washing, grooming, and walking the horses, and I spent most of my days photographing them.
At the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston I took a range of photography classes and received a grant to work for three months in Johannesburg, South Africa. But once I was there, Africa was in my blood and three months wasn’t enough time. I returned home to save some money and six months later was back, traveling throughout Southern and East Africa. I met friends along the way, but mostly I was alone: just my camera, my notebook, and me.
A few months into my second trip, I landed in Cape Maclear, Malawi – a village of 12,000 on the shores of Lake Malawi – and my life changed irrevocably. I met an Israeli woman who began an HIV clinic in the village and I volunteered my time. I met women whose children were dying of diseases I couldn’t name let alone cure and girls whose grandmothers mutilated them in the name of a tradition and culture I didn’t understand. The only way I could relate was by throwing myself into this community – helping to build a garden to grow food, starting a women’s sewing circle to sell clothes to tourists in the hopes of raising money, and photographing, filming and writing about the women I encountered.
After one year in Cape Maclear and countless stories of adventures and hardships traveling in the region, I applied to New York University’s Master’s program in journalism and received a full scholarship. But before I left I promised myself that I would return to Cape Maclear someday to write stories that mattered about the women and people I encountered.
At New York University I was a graduate student and freelance reporter covering everything from the Borough Park “riots” in the spring of 2006 to the sentencing of cop killer Marlon Legere. The first half of the summer was spent in Connecticut at The Hartford Courant covering deadline news ranging from bank robberies to million dollar scandals involving town government. Then it was off to Rostov-on-Don in the South of Russia where I worked on a photographic essay about the Russian modeling industry.
The fall of 2006 found me in Garden City, Long Island as an intern at the New York Times writing about everything from the 2006 Senate race, to Mayor Strassberg’s “discovery” of a one-acre parcel of land in Roslyn Harbor, to County Executive Tom Suozzi’s ongoing battle with the police union.
In December 2006 it all came full circle. In the same week, I graduated from NYU and traveled to Liberia to interview the first democratically-elected female head of state in Africa – President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
In all my travels – from Miami to Malawi – and everywhere in between, the one thing I learned is that no matter where I am the same skill set comes into play: a profound curiosity about my subject. Whether I am interviewing a president of a war-torn country or a mother whose son has a rare debilitating disease, these are real stories about real people and that excites me.