Be­ing Zain

Up close with CNN’s co-an­chor Zain Ver­jee.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TV - By SHEELA CHAN­DRAN

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).

Nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion:

‘As time went by, I be­gan to en­joy po­lit­i­cal is­sues,’ says CNN’s

Zain Ver­jee.

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