BUILDING BRIDGES: Newspapers are a gateway into a community

Columnist Taslim Jaffer says travel for her involves diving deeper than tourist attractions

On my last morning in stunning Diani Beach, just south of Mombasa, Kenya, I shoved my few belongings into my backpack and made my way down the tiled, stone stairs of my aunt’s and uncle’s home.

On the first floor, my eyes travelled beyond the living room where the large glass doors revealed a swimming pool in the foreground and the Indian Ocean just beyond.

I heard some low talking in the kitchen to my right but what caught my eye next prompted me to forego the chitchat and settle at the dining table instead: that day’s The Standard, the oldest Kenyan newspaper and one of the largest in the country. It is one of my simple pleasures to open a newspaper on my travels (and at home) and immerse myself in the happenings of those around me.

While munching on pili pili mogo chips, I read about the health benefits of edible insects (I decided I prefer the crunch of deep-fried cassava to that of termites) and a columnist’s take on the joys and frustrations of eavesdropping. The latter had me laughing out loud; as a chronic eavesdropper, I could completely relate. Flipping a couple pages, I read about some unspeakable tragedies that tore at my heart. Murder. Suicide. Child victims. It was difficult to reconcile those stories with the beauty I had seen on my travels. But those stories are there, no matter where you visit or live.

When you hold a newspaper in your hand, you hold the dark and the light of a community. You hold its sadness and joy, its triumphs and struggles. Do you truly want to understand your environment? Read the stories, opinions, obituaries and announcements.

So, why do I do this when I travel? I guess for me to feel like I have truly been somewhere, I need to dive a little deeper than tourist attractions. One of the benefits of travel is the opportunity it offers to build bridges. When I was reading The Standard there were a few things I couldn’t initially relate to, like the insects. However, I have enjoyed escargot; while snails are not insects, they are a non-traditional food for me, and one I’ve ordered off a menu many times since braving my first bite. Then how do I know beetles aren’t tasty? More importantly, who am I to judge someone who gets their protein from bugs?

In the Kenyan newspaper, I read about a little girl who had survived an attack by a hyena. “Whoa, I’ve never read a headline like that before!” I told my dad, who had joined me at the table. But, a week-and-a-half later, while in Victoria, I read in the Times Colonist about a four-year-old boy mauled by a cougar. And I recalled other headlines in my region about human encounters with wildlife and realized, while details might be different, other threads are the same. Of significance was that it didn’t matter to me whether the story was about a girl in the Rift Valley or a boy in Lake Cowichan, what mattered most was that both children were OK.

I once had a serviceman come to my door for an appointment and hand me the newspaper that I hadn’t yet collected off my porch. “Here’s your recycling!” he quipped.

“Oh, I’ll read every page first,” I replied. I should have told him I usually start with my favourite section, the obituaries.

While at home or abroad, newspapers are a gateway into the community around you. Thank you for taking the time to read this one, and I encourage you to do the same on your travels!

Columnist Taslim Jaffer writes monthly on multicultural connections.

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