Onwards, eastwards

It's a new year, and there are new adventures ahead.

From February 2016, I'll be SBS Australia's newest senior correspondent, reporting for their World News bulletins across their various television and radio channels, and online, as well as producing long-form investigative features for their award-winning current affairs show Dateline.

I'll be based in Sydney, Australia, but expect to be roving around the region and beyond.

I am - and will be - still available for commissions, especially for long-form print features and news-meets-food writing, so do get in touch.

 

 

The end of the world as we know it

I went to Cancun, Durban, Doha.

I watched the hours of negotiations, the tears, the sleeping delegates, the frustration turn to desperation as hours became days and days became weeks. Weeks became years.

This year's UNFCCC talks in Paris are COP21: the twenty-first time the world has tried to reach agreement on our future. It is no longer about simply safeguarding a planet, but preventing uncontrollable, unpredictable catastrophe on a massive scale.

In 2009, leaders met in Copenhagen carrying enormous burdens of expectation. There, they ultimately failed to achieve what they'd hoped for.

In the lead up to this year's climate negotiations in Paris, I went to Denmark with State of Green to look at Scandinavia's solutions for a carbon-free future: 40 percent of a power grid from wind energy, waste water treatment plants that turn methane into electricity, solar-powered district heating for homes in winter. The country plans to be carbon neutral by 2025.

The way we live will undoubtedly have to change. In Paris, 195 countries will be trying to work out what that looks like. I'll be there, reporting on how - and if - that happens.

If you'd like to commission coverage from the Paris COP21 talks, or on Denmark's move towards carbon-neutrality, get in touch.

The secrets of eternal life

Fifty kilometres from the Turkish coast, a craggy rock rises out of the Aegean. Of the Greek islands, Icaria is the one spoken of with the sense of knowing a secret. It is one of five UNESCO-designated Blue Zones; a place where the elderly live to be 100.

Defiantly self sufficient, having won their independence from the Turks, Icaria is an island of exile and healing, with less than 10,000 residents, and community at its heart.

In the summer, I travelled there with photographer Ellie Tzortzi for South Africa's Taste Magazine, in search of the secrets of longevity hidden in the island's kitchens, rocks and waters. You can read about our travels and see the tearsheets from our journey here. And if you're passing through Athens, here's where you should eat.

Witnessing extinction

In July, I travelled to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, north of Nairobi, to spend some time with Sudan, the world's last Northern White male rhino. Penned up, lumbering and lonely, the survival of his sub-species rests on his libido. But although he gazes longingly at the neighbouring females through the fence of his enclosure, a poor sperm count and weak hind legs make mating near impossible. Now, he just waits for extinction.

I wrote about Sudan for the Sydney Morning Herald, and broadcast about him for South Africa's EyeWitness News.

The secret lives of an #Icelandic fishing town

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This week, I'm hosting the Instagram feed of Roads and Kingdoms, my favourite travel/food/everything journal, from Ólafsfjörður, the little northern Icelandic town I've been living in for nearly 2 months.

It's a glimpse of the secret lives of a fishing village; all the goings on behind snowy closed doors. Join me for this week's wanderings on @roadsandkingdoms.

And I'll be instagramming everything else, as usual, from my regular feed, @nastasyatay.

Observing short days

Since early December 2014, I've been living in Iceland, in Ólafsfjörður, one of the country's northernmost fishing towns, under the Northern Lights, the Arctic Circle, and the shadow of volcanic mountains.

Photographer Yiannis Hadjiaslanis and I are artists in residence at Listhús Artspace, after our art/documentary collaboration the extra-ordinary won a Listhús Skammdegi AIR Award to spend the midwinter documenting life here, amid the snow.

The result is our new project, the observance of short days, an exploration of the intersection between light and dark - in residents' lives, as well as skies - a wander through homes and hearts and icy streets, during the darkest time of year.

A preview of photographic prints is currently on show at the Listhús í Fjallabyggð gallery, and here, online. Accompanied by words and soundscapes, it will become a publication in coming months.

Sharptongue

After years of covering breaking news, but finding a way to write about food, I've finally given in.

The kind folk at Business Day have given me a column to write about all things gastronomical, in their monthly lifestyle supplement, Wanted (the African answer to the FT's How to Spend it).

If you can't get your hands on a glossy print copy, you can read my musings on the first Friday of every month right here.

From comfort food to table manners, fine dining and perfect ramen, I'll be covering anything that inspires, disgusts or just needs to be said,

When it comes to restaurant reviewing, I'll make this promise: I'll go more than once, I'll never accept a free meal, and I'll always be honest.

And I'm always keen for feedback, so do get in touch.

Searching for Samantha

Lewthwaite.jpg

Samantha Lewthwaite: Misunderstood widow or international terrorist? A young mother who worked in a pie factory and watched her weight, to a veiled alleged Islamist leader, involved in deadly terror attacks. The story of an intercontinental love-match brokered in a South African living room, to a woman on run from the law on Kenya's Swahili coast.

In 2013 and 2014, I worked with award-winning filmmaker Adam Wishart on "Searching for Samantha", a film documentary attempt to make sense of it all.

Shot across four countries on three continents with a team including my Nairobi-based colleague Zoe Flood, we may not have found her, but rather her path to radicalisation and notoriety.

Here's the official blurb:

"Samantha Lewthwaite is one of the world's most wanted terrorists. The widow of Germaine Lindsay, one of the July 7 bombers, she claimed ignorance of her husband's lethal intentions, saying she was a victim too. But for the past three years, international security services have been after the so-called `White Widow', who is now on the run in Africa, charged with conspiracy to cause explosions. How did this schoolgirl from a quiet Home Counties market town end up as a friend and confidante of some of the top echelons of al-Qaeda? Film-maker Adam Wishart has spent a year tracking down the real story of Samantha Lewthwaite, revealing her path to radicalisation and the hate preacher who inspired her."

Broadcast for the first time on July 2nd, on BBC1, it's now also been shown around the world, including in South Africa. It's also received quite a bit of press, including this rather hefty spread in The Guardian.

You can also watch a brief clip of the documentary here.

In the bleak midwinter

 

I'll be spending this winter's darkest days in Iceland, on a joint artists' residency at the Listhús í Fjallabyggð in the small northern fishing town of Ólafsfjörður with photographer Yiannis Hadjiaslanis.

As recipients of one of the Skammdegi Listhús AIR Awards, we'll be working on a range of projects, documenting midwinter life at a time when the sun rises for only a few hours a day, and exploring the meeting of myth and reality while searching for troll lairs and imagining the origins of flotsam. You can read a bit more about all that here.

It's the first award for our creative collaboration, the extra-ordinary, and we're rather chuffed.

Amid the ice, I'll also be doing some reporting, including planned features on harvest and hunting - going out with the men and women who provide the provenance of Icelandic Yuletide feasts - as well as, travel and design stories from around the country. If you're interested in commissioning something specific, or finding out more, get in touch.

 

 

Tweeting #OscarPistorius

Kim Ludbrook/Reuters

Kim Ludbrook/Reuters

I'm not sure whether to be flattered or horrified, to be described by the New York Times as one of the "tricoteuses of the digital revolution".

Although there's little room for knitting needles in my gear bag, as Alan Cowell of the NYT points out, "Sitting in the courtroom, their laptops and tablets propped before them, power cables snaking through convoluted adapters, the Twitterati have sight of witnesses at all times..."

It's an apt description. That's me, one in, on the front row of the media benches, next to the brilliant Gerald Imray of The AP.

I'm live-tweeting the trial, and if you want to follow it minute by minute, you can, here.

If you're a news website wanting to use that feed somewhere, just get in touch.

For those of you who follow @NastasyaTay for all things non-Pistorius, my apologies. My feed will start looking much more normal post-verdict. Just mute #OscarPistorius for now.

Trial of the Blade Runner

I'm covering the Oscar Pistorius murder trial at the moment, and am usually to be found camped, three from the left, on the front bench of Courtroom GD's public gallery. If you'd like to book crossings, commission print pieces or want lives from Pretoria, please do get in touch.

I'm also doing daily analytical dispatches for Yahoo Sports. You can read them all here.

Exploring the extra-ordinary

So, I'm now officially one half of a creative collaboration; official, because there's now a website.

Together with photographer Yiannis Hadjiaslanis, we are the extra-ordinary.

As our spanking new website explains:

"It's about the little things: documenting the parts of cities, homes and day-to-day existence that people take for granted, noticing the story in the details. It's an attempt to change the lens through which people see the spaces and lives around them, by profiling the seeming everyday; a celebration of just how extraordinary the ordinary is."

There are lots of exciting projects in the works, spanning a couple of continents, alongside some of the joint commissions we're doing for publishers and publications.

Have a look: theextra-ordinary.com

I like to spend some time in Mozambique

In February 1976, Bob Dylan wrote of Mozambique: sunny, aqua blue skies, couples dancing cheek to cheek.

In February 2014, the extra-ordinary - my creative collaboration with photographer Yiannis Hadjiaslanis - went to Mozambique: in search of Portuguese architect Pancho Guedes' greatest works, hidden amid the fading grandeur of a dusty capital; on foot, across Maputo, documenting the lives of its residents; on creaking trains with ululating musicians; and north, towards those sunny, aqua blue skies, and perfect beaches.

Have a look through our contact sheets and briefs here, and get in touch.

The road from Goma

Fresh from the volcanic dust of the eastern DRC and the International Women's Media Foundation's inaugural reporting fellowship to the region, recordings and scribbled notes are turning into words and pictures.

I'll be putting together a few stories.

The artistry of dignity
(print, photo & multimedia)

"They come to me because I make beautiful clothes, and under the colours, they can hide their pain."
A Goma tailor who remakes dresses again and again for the women who sold their dresses during the war, only to return in peacetime. The all-male beautician salon downtown, pampering women as long as they have petrol for the generator. The hairdresser who joined her clientele at an IDP camp hundreds of miles away. The township hair braider training young women to turn deft fingers into careers and dignity.
A multimedia feature with accompanying print and photos, looking at how women in an area with the highest incidence of sexual violence in the world regard themselves.

Frontline mushrooms
(print, photo & long-form radio)

From foraging for champignon sauvage with pygmy communities dwelling on forest frontiers, trying to cling onto their way of life through war and deforestation; to the women who are growing their own mushrooms in foodless camps for the displaced, in an effort to stem the violence they face in their own forests, while gathering firewood.
A look at the communities of Goma, through the evolution of an industry around the humble fungus.

The sausage man of Goma
(print & photo)

Meet Alphonse, who perfected the recipe for Congolese saucisson avec piment, in his charcuterie that has survived lava and war, now a take-home delicacy for visiting heads of state in Kinshasa.

Taming Virunga
(print & photo)

Before wildlife ranger Bright was taught to track gorillas, he learned to fire a rocket-propelled grenade.
A look through the eyes of a gentle young man, whose love for the wilderness led him to witness the death of a colleague, while defending the habitat of some of the world's last mountain gorillas.

Good Job Samy
(print, photo & short multimedia)

Since winning the UN mission's chukudu race in consecutive outings, Samy and his best friend Moise get their wooden cargo scooters washed at the local car wash. For a dollar, they'll carry me across town, but Samy draws the line at charcoal and cooking oil ("no, my chukudu is high-class"), although they might help the Congolese army with the occasional gun run.
A profile of a couple of the most ambitious men in town.

All of this is coming weeks. In the meantime, have a look through my iPhone lens on assignment, here.

If you're interested in any of this material, get in touch.

 

Liquid comfort

Benedicte Desrus

Benedicte Desrus

Busaa, a local Kenyan beer, is sold at hundreds of tiny bars throughout slums in the capital. At 80 cents, each large margarine tub of the murky brew - only recently legalised by the Kenyan government - is all the rage amid those looking for cheap comfort.

Rapid urbanisation in East Africa’s cultural and business capital has spurred a surge in makeshift watering holes for the demand of the most traditional of brews. 

Fermented in PVC vats - formerly homes to gallons of hydrochloric acid - the production of busaa - is something of an art. Sacks of maize meal raked over hot coals, combined with local yeast, cold water and patience: the process for this particular variety, proudly mastered by the Luya tribe, so they say. 

2.47pm, Sunday afternoon, Madiaba Busaa Club, Kawangware: 

Amid the sea of gyrating bodies, dark and slick with sweat, shoulders heaving to the river of bass flowing from a dusty speaker in the corner, on the uneven dirt floor, amongst the stamping feet and thrusting fists, there is a girl who calls herself Purity. 

Petite, with cropped, loose, frizzy curls and sweat dripping down her forehead, the knowing swing of her hips belies her 17-year-youth. Her buttocks, straining against faded denim, tracing an enthusiastic figure of eight in the small pocket of space between two men, both completely entranced. 

Shayla, a sex worker in her mid-thirties, is defiantly sizing up the competition. Tyson, a regular-turned-weekend-bouncer is reminiscing about the pre-election days in late February, when rounds of the local fermented moonshine were paid for by smiling local politicians, looking for handshakes and votes. And in the middle of the melee, old-time cigarette seller Mareba grins, gap-toothed, smoothing down an addition to his sticker-covered stand of goods: “God can bless you from nobody to somebody”.

Roving French photographer Benedicte Desrus and I got to know the Madiaba regulars, in order to tell the story of a city, through the microcosm of Sunday happy hour. 

If you're interested in hearing more about the feature, or having a look at the text and tear sheets, get in touch

The scrawl of a fallen city

Yiannis Hadjiaslanis

Yiannis Hadjiaslanis

Nowhere is Greece's ongoing struggle with its economic woes more evident than on the streets of its capital.

As Athenians continue to grapple with the Eurozone crisis, they have also had to find ways to express their frustration, anger and hope.

The city has gone to war with itself.

Now, amid the grandeur of ancient monuments and the bling of new money, a population is making its calculations for survival, demanding change with no idea how or when it will come.

Athena's marble bust outside the Registry office, smeared blind with a black mask. A torched midnight blue Porsche Roadster under an Exarcheia streetlight, the litter on its charred chassis a comment on the perceived excess of the rich. A serene beggar reading a childhood comic on the edge of Omonia Square, next to a scrawled declaration of civil war on a shop shutter.

Greek art photographer Yiannis Hadjiaslanis and I have set out to chronicle the city's conversation with itself, a portrait of a metropolis sketched in spraypaint and marker pen. 

We have been stalking the streets of Athens since November 2013, and expect to wrap up the series in January 2014.

Get in touch if you'd like to see our graffiti map of the city, tearsheets and text when they're ready.

Congolese beauticians and a fellowship

 

I'll be travelling to the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo in January 2014, as a fellow on the International Women's Media Foundation's inaugural reporting fellowship in that country.

Official UN figures show that recorded cases of sexual violence in North Kivu soared from 4,689 cases in 2011 to 7,075 in 2012. Rape has become synonymous with reporting from that region.

I’ll be embarking upon a feature in print and photo, as well as long-form radio and multimedia, on how the women of eastern Congo view themselves and their bodies - through the lens of the beauty industry.

I hope to explore their conception of beauty and self-worth through the ideas and voices of hairdressers, beauticians, manicurists and tailors: how their understanding of femininity may have changed over decades of war and fear, and what may lie ahead for their daughters and themselves.

If you're interested in finding more about the feature or commissioning a piece from the DRC, please do get in touch.