Going to sleep on Sunday evening before we started recording the podcasts was just like going to sleep on Christmas Eve. Or the night before the SATs. I was nervous and excited.
I left my apartment at 7:15 a.m. with my jetlagged sister in tow. It was still pretty dark outside and the metro was empty. When I got to UNESCO, Ida was already here making final edits to our production sheets.
We printed out four copies of everything: one for George, one for each of us, and one for Manu, the funny French sound tech. It was well over 100 pages.
After checking in with a sleep-deprived George, we made our way to UNESCO’s main hall and I nervously texted with the assistant of His Excellency Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama of the United Arab Emirates about our meeting location.
His Excellency told George that he could simply refer to him as Omar, but his assistant called him His Excellency every time, so I felt like I should too. He is 29 years old and extremely tall. And accomplished. And well spoken. He is the Minister of State on Artificial Intelligence for the United Arab Emirates and he developed the country’s first ever governance strategy on AI. And he is 6 years older than me… This made me feel slightly panicked about my future, seeing as my main accomplishment at 23 is that last year the vet told me that my cat “shows the benefits of good parenting.”
But the podcast went well. The introduction I wrote for George seemed to roll off the tongue (note that he is a seasoned radio journalist and it is probably totally inappropriate to take credit for this), and the questions prompted fascinating answers from His Excellency.
My heart was pounding the entire time and I wasn’t even the one asking the questions!
George’s confidence and skill in the studio was awesome to see. I learned so much just from watching and listening. And it was really exciting to hear him announce the name of the podcast (which I came up with!) and for it to finally seem real. I loved it.
We interviewed several other experts and it was an exhilarating day of work, but my favorite by far was Nanjira Sambuli.
I knew Nanjira would be awesome from the minute I started researching her, and I was praying that she would accept our invitation to be interviewed because I really wanted to meet her and hear more about her work.
I also immediately added her to my mental list of QUEENS, or badass women that I want to be just like. She now sits among the likes of Frida Kahlo, Roxane Gay, Michelle Obama, Amelia Earhart, Munroe Bergdorf, Mindy Kaling and Prisca Dorcas in the royal court of my brain.
I was so excited when she accepted our invitation and made it my mission to learn everything about her. This was also what I had been assigned to do, but it hardly felt like work. George, although respectful of the fact that she was officially one of my Queens, said I had to cut down my carefully crafted introduction for her because it was too long. I did so reluctantly.
At 3:30 p.m. on Monday when I was supposed to meet her I felt like I was waiting in line for a meet and greet with a favorite celebrity.
But she was kind and funny and very stylish.
And George read my bio and she cracked up! She did the “I’ve got my eyes on you” thing to me.
Nanjira Sambuli is hard to define. She often struggles to answer when asked what she does because she has widespread interests and has worked in many different sectors. To quote her Twitter bio: She is a Student at the School of Life. An Itinerant African, claiming spaces and narratives not imagined for her. She is a tech and policy wonk. And she says that Africa is not poor, just hella mismanaged. She is a digital activist who is using her expertise to connect the unconnected and promote digital equality on the web. Nanjira is Kenyan, and is based in Nairobi, but the scope of her work goes far beyond even the continent of Africa.
She was awesome and agreed to take a picture with me afterwards. Honestly, I’ll probably frame it. (Special thanks to Ida and her Android photography skills.)
I was at UNESCO for more than 11 hours and it was undoubtedly my favorite day of work so far.
I spent basically every other hour of the past 11 days within 1 foot of my sister Stella.
We ate our way through this incredible city and took a million pictures. I took her to an English-language comedy show on a boat, and to a three-course Greek restaurant, and to my favorite museum. I introduced her to my friends from dance class at a dance battle and I took her to see my favorite band (LANY). We ate more baguettes than I can count and I’m pretty sure she tried on every single article of clothing that I have in this country. I showed her my favorite grocery store and introduced her to the nice guy at the self-checkout named Mamadou who always helps me when I inevitably mess up the machine. I fed her the veggie chicken nuggets that I buy at least once a week and took her on walking tours of all my favorite parks.
It was wonderful and exhausting.
She also brought me some American germs and I got sick for the third time in the past two months. This part was much less wonderful but she was patient with me and I took my remaining supply of Dayquil and we carried on.
As her time in Paris came to a close, the reality that mine is too began to sink in.
I can’t believe I am leaving two weeks from tomorrow.
My fellowship at The UNESCO Courier was arranged through the University of Oregon Crossings Institute for Intercultural Dialogue and Conflict Sensitive Reporting. My weekly blog posts are also published on the Institute’s website.