Life of a foreign journalist in East Africa

Friday August 11 2017

New York Times correspondent, Jeffrey Gettleman

New York Times correspondent, Jeffrey Gettleman tells the story of his two greatest loves — Africa and his wife, Courtney — in his book Love, Africa. 

By KARI MUTU
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New York Times correspondent, Jeffrey Gettleman tells the story of his two greatest loves — Africa and his wife, Courtney — in his book Love, Africa.

Gettleman, 46, first came to East Africa in 1990 as a 19-year-old on a mission trip to Mozambique and that is when he decided he wanted to live in Africa. The same year, he fell in love with his wife Courtney, then a fellow student at Cornell University.

When he finally landed a newspaper job in a small town in Florida, one of Gettleman’s earliest assignments was the murder in 1998 of a seven-year-old American girl by a serial child molester. He has followed murder stories ever since, eventually realising his dream job of East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times based in Nairobi.

Just like his path into journalism, Gettleman’s marriage is realised in a convoluted manner, not least because he was obsessed with wanting to live in East Africa. He speaks frankly about his selfish decision to cheat on his wife Courtney more than once during their long-distance relationship, and discloses his fear that infidelity will always cloud her view of him.

The book’s chapters are vignettes of Gettleman’s excursions to war zones in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Congo and Djibouti. It is a regular memoir of a journalist following wars in Africa and the Middle East over the past 20 years.

He gives a snapshot of conflicts — be it the genesis of the Al Shabaab uprising in Somalia in 2006, the factors leading to the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya, or the Westgate Mall terrorist attack of 2013.

I found the behind-the-scenes look into war zones the most insightful, whether it was walking for days with Somali rebels in the Ogaden Desert or conversing with Afghani warlords while snacking on raisins. In meeting with sexually molested youth in Congo or walking over bits of flesh after a bombing incident, he brings out the harrowing toll of war on humans.

This is partly a coming-of-age story and partly the chronicles of an international journalist who has had a rollercoaster life and a great fascination for Africa. The book’s writing style is conversational and therefore easy to follow. But it is littered with expletives and slang that jar with the gravity of the topics.

After 11 years in Kenya, Gettleman and his family relocated to India in June 2017.