Up close with CNN’s co-anchor Zain Verjee.
THE truth about CNN broadcaster Zain Verjee’s life sounds stranger than fiction. At 21, she published a children’s book Live & On The Air, about a fictional Kenyan girl called Nekesa who moves out of her rural hometown to work as a broadcaster.
Never did Zain imagine living a life similar to Nekesa’s – becoming CNN’s World Report anchor based in London.
“I wrote the book while pursuing an English Literature degree at McGill University in Montreal (Canada). It’s really funny that I’m now a journalist – just like the character in my book,” said Zain during an interview in Kuala Lumpur last week.
Zain, a Kenyan-born Muslim, was in town to host CNN’s special monthly programme i-List. The programme focuses on a different country each month, highlighting its political, financial and cultural aspects.
While in Kuala Lumpur, Zain gave a comprehensive report on the country’s political, economic and social situations. She also highlighted interesting places in the Klang Valley such as Batu Caves, Petronas Twin Towers and Putrajaya’s Putra Mosque, plus some local delicacies.
“Malaysia is a diverse country. You have Malays, Chinese and Indians and the food really reflects the culture of the people. I’m surprised at the level of development, with outstanding landmarks like KLIA and Petronas Twin Towers,” said Zain, adding that this was her first visit here.
Towering at 1.7m, the lady looked slimmer in person than on TV. Dressed in a white ruffled blouse and black suit, Zain’s pleasant off-screen personality is very much like her on-screen image.
The presenter, who had interviewed former US President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, she came across as truly down-to-earth.
“My first job was as co-anchor for CNN’s The Situation Room alongside lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer.
“While based in Washington, I had to cover US foreign policies and government issues – which were unfamiliar to me. I had never been a correspondent and didn’t have any resources. It was a high-profile job.
“I used to get nervous and would call my parents in Nairobi for support. My mother would reassure me that I would improve by learning on the job,” recalled Zain, 36, who has a younger brother.
Zain worked as a deejay with Nairobi’s Capital FM and newscaster with Kenya Television Network before joining CNN. Blitzer helped hone her anchoring and journalistic skills.
“It’s a good thing I was surrounded by helpful people like Wolf. Much of my success can be attributed to his support,” said Zain, who speaks her mother tongue Gujerati, Kenya’s official language Swahili, English and a smattering of French.
Zain’s significant assignments include her reporting on the Korean demilitarised zone, the trial of Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic, the Haj pilgrimage, the Iraq war and the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
While in Washington, she also hosted The New Diplomat, which looks at the dangers and challenges faced by US diplomats.
“As time went by, I began to enjoy political issues, especially how countries evolve. What’s interesting is you get to look at their historical context,” said Zain, who also co-anchored Your World Today with Jim Clancy.
In 2008, she returned to Kenya to cover the post-election violence. While taping a report on an antigovernment protest in Nairobi, she was hit in the back by a tear gas canister fired by the police. The attack was aired on CNN.
“Although I wasn’t seriously injured, it had been exciting and meaningful for me.”
Now based in London, Zain is the anchor of CNN’s World Report.
She enjoys life in London. “When I was in Washington, I woke up at 4.30am and worked long hours. Now my hours are from 7am till 3pm and I get to leave on time on a light day. With my new schedule, I have more time to myself and I have started exercising and attending writing classes and theatre shows,” said Zain, who is still single.
When asked who she’d wish to interview in the future, Zain admitted having a long wishlist.
“My top three are North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and American dance pop princess Lady Gaga.” n Catch Zain Verjee on World Report daily at 7am (with repeats at 1pm, 2pm and 7pm) on CNN (Astro Channel 511).
‘As time went by, I began to enjoy political issues,’ says CNN’s