I’m in the middle of a two-day northern communications conference, and today’s key note speaker was the well-known reporter Ann Medina. I watched and listened to her closely during her years with CBC; she is probably the female journalist I respect the most (she and Barbara Frum are in large part responsible for my interest in becoming a journalist 30 years ago).
The first thing that struck me when I saw her this morning is how very much she looks and sounds like my Aunt Marjorie. Secondly I was reminded of just how powerful a storyteller she is. She spoke of many things, but what follows is a rough re-telling of the story that stuck most in my head. It’s all about not being afraid to ask ‘the dumb question’.
Ann has a thing for birds. Where she travels (and her job has taken her all over the world) she buys small birds, keeps them in her hotel room, and gives them away when she’s ready to head home to Canada.
On this particular occasion she was in the African country of Mali, and asked if there was a chance she might purchase a bird. Her TV crew thought she was nuts, and there were many rolled eyes. But one of the locals took her on a long ride to the outskirts of the city, where a man had a large cage full of birds.
She chose two of them, but when it came time to put them in a cage to take back to Ann’s hotel, the only cage that was available had wire mesh that wasn’t fine enough – the birds could just fly through it.
The man with the birds got to thinking. Soon he and a friend were digging around in the dirt. First they found a few rusty nails. Then one of them came up with a small bit of chicken wire. They dug and dug until they had a small pile of ‘junk’ which they proceeded to incorporate into the bird cage. An hour later, they had fashioned a cage that would work for Ann’s newly purchased birds.
Ann said she had learned more in that one hour about Mali in terms of a country that survives and makes do with nothing than she would have learned from reading a whole library of books. And all because she wasn’t afraid to ask the ‘dumb’ question.