Q&A Interruptor Series, No. 5: Alexis Okeowo

thankful for brave journalists like alexis okeowo. inspiring and informative piece by FP Interrupted

fp interrupted

Because FPI is all about amplifying female foreign policy voices, we’ve rolled out a regular brain-picking Q&A feature with awesome interruptors.

This week, we want to make sure rock-star journalistAlexis Okeowois on your radar. alexis-okeowo

Alexis is based in Lagos, Nigeria. She contributesto The New Yorker, Bloomberg Businessweek, and TIME. Previously based in New York, Mexico, and Uganda, Alexis reported on a Chinese mining scandal in Zambia in 2013 with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.  She was a 2012 fellow of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, reporting on gay rights in Africa. She was also a 2012 fellow of the International Reporting Project at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, writing about sectarian violence in central and northern Nigeria.

Also, fun-fact:  She once took a really slow motorboat for something like four or five hours to and from a tiny…

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ciao, italia: arrival + etc (scroll for photos!)

I arrived in Milan a mess- my eyes dull and stinging from lack of sleep, my jaw still clenched the way it had been on the connecting flight from Zurich as I had tried to nap. After 15 hours of travel that concluded with a wordless 40 minute taxi tour of the empty streets and shuttered store windows of Milan, I found myself facing the excruciating final obstacle in my odyssey: an apartment door that would not open. Behind this triple-locked wooden door was bliss: a shower and a bed and unlimited legroom, and I became more distraught with every useless turn of a key.  Should anyone have found me standing there in the dark hallway, dripping sweat and cursing in English, they might have thought I was some kind of idiot thief amidst a botched attempt to break and enter.

But, of course, no one did find me. In fact, for the next 3 days in Milan I had to make an active effort to find other people in streets and city squares. I had made the tourist’s mistake of arriving in Milan in the middle of Ferragosto (which is both an old Italian holiday and the nickname for August holidays), and although I had been fairly warned that I would be entering a ghost town, nothing could’ve prepared me for the total desolation I witnessed. It was both eerie and oddly comforting- like Milan was telling me to ease my way in (“come on, look around, there’s nothing to be afraid of!”)

I was not alone at home, though. Eva, my friend/ guiding angel/ northern star (where to begin!) took a train from Lerici to Milan and arrived just a couple hours after I finally made it inside her apartment. For the next three days, when I wasn’t sleeping off jet lag and she wasn’t studying we went out for little excursions. She took me to Bocconi, a short walking tour that proved immensely helpful, and to Colonne di San Lorenzo, which sparked my new love of city squares. It’s rare to befriend someone you meet online, rarer still to immediately welcome them into your home, your life, your family. It’s hard to express just the magnitude of my appreciation and gratefulness (gratefulness?) to have had someone so caring and selfless and helpful literally guiding me from San Francisco to Milan, with no single obligation to do so. (if you’re reading this…. ❤ ❤ <3)

Besides me and Eva, the apartment was also home to a particularly persistent and vicious bunch of mosquitos. After my first night I woke up with red swollen circles all along my legs and shoulders; by the end of the day they were throbbing and I couldn’t sit still. I decided to go the pharmacy and pick up the strongest anything that I could for mosquito bites. But, as I had not actually said anything in Italian besides “grazie”, “quanto costa”, and “si” I had to go prepared. “I need…. antihistamines. mosquito repellent. antibiotics? I don’t feel well. I have swelling. Mosquito.” It was either the heat or my nerves or both but I was sweating by the time I arrived at the pharmacy, clutching my handy dandy notebook (lots of perspiration is happening in this post, my apologies). The actual interaction was simple and pleasant, I needed only to say “zanzara” and shake my head a few times before “ciao, grazie” and I headed home.

My final night in Milan the jet lag finally caught up to me, I hardly slept before running out to catch my flight to Istanbul. Which brings this episode of my travels to an end… more from Istanbul to be posted soon!


a brief reflection on the last 4 months, and a look forward

this post was written on a piece of scrap paper in the dark on a 10-hr flight from SFO to Zurich, when I should’ve been sleeping or watching Goodfellas

There’s a lot of things I should’ve done these last few months, most of which involve either a) studying or b) keeping in touch with the people I care about. Updating this blog was not really ever a priority, I fell totally out of the habit of spending a little time in the day to reflect on what had happened because, often, there wasn’t much, and I didn’t want to have to admit that to myself. But then there’s all these brilliant little moments that I wish I had documented better: rum margaritas with Rachel during finals week, a 3-hour “Sex and the City” style brunch with Jess, Maithili and Caitlin; cuddle time with my cousins at my grandmas house, sunset at the cliffs, making it both to Regents and the ER on Sungod, swimming in the cove, the best meal of my life with my mom in Hillcrest, baking with my summer roommates, everything in Outside Lands- moments that I’m incredibly grateful for.

Some time in these past four months I determined that I will do my fall semester at Bocconi University in Milan. A normal person would announce this as soon as their application was approved, or when their visa arrived in the mail, or or when tickets were purchased, at the very least to give those who care a chance to say goodbye. I’m pretty sure I did none of this. This isn’t to say I’m not incredibly grateful for this experience and excited, but rather to haphazardly apologize to anyone who is surprised or disappointed or confused at my departure.

On that note, I’ll be using this space to document the beautiful little moments I experience while abroad, of which I’m sure there’ll be many.


On Boston

For all the gruesome shock and horror associated with the bombings yesterday, I can’t help but keep thinking about the young man, injured from the bombs, who was, for a while, the only “suspect” anyone in America knew about- the “young Saudi national”. The press was clearly under some pressure to release something amidst the chaos, lest they cause a panic or lose their credibility altogether (after all, everyone in the media wants to be the first and loudest). Otherwise I don’t think we would’ve heard about this “young Saudi national”, who went from being a “person of interest” to a “suspect” to a victim in something like 18 hours, or less maybe. And he’s a victim of the bombings like all the other victims who were rushed to the hospital to be treated, a marathon runner among the thousands that ran and the 123 injured, except for that he was called into questioning, or in custody, or something (we’ll probably never be sure). Because he’s also a victim of racial profiling.

Can you even begin to imagine? On top of the chaos of the race and the bomb and the shrapnel in your body and the hospital- to be insulted by a disgusting and ungrounded accusation by someone somewhere, and then pressed to answer questions about it. Meanwhile, your roommate is being interrogated at your home and the chorus of national news media is citing a new alias for you every minute – “unidentified Saudi national” “young Saudi male” “Saudi Arabian student”… “suspect”. All while you recover from wounds sustained from an explosion at an athletic competition.

It’s incredible to me.

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker does a better job than me at articulating any thought that goes through my head, her piece is magnificent:

It might be comforting to think of this as a blip, an aberration, something that will be forgotten tomorrow—if not by this young man. There are people at Guanátanmo who have also been cleared by our own government, and are still there… The F.B.I. said that they would “go to the ends of the earth” to get the Boston perpetrators. One wants them to be able to go with their heads held high.”


The worst decision in recent memory

This cannot be a good idea. Besides, when do I ever act on impulse? There is no track record of this working out in my favor.

In any case, world, I regret to inform you that meenaswim is taking up another small corner of the Internet. Perhaps this will be a quieter, more isolated place than the Twittersphere or Facebook, where people aren’t jockeying for attention quite as much. Maybe I’ll write things to an audience of strangers and not be totally ashamed.

Or, more likely, I’ll one day regret everything I have ever posted on this website (and any other).

… and now, I have spent 24 minutes writing an introduction to a blog that doesn’t really exist yet. So it begins. Ahhhh, I can taste the guilt already.


(for those who are still reading, here is an “Introduction” by Voxtrot that is truly beautiful and has nothing in common with mine)