Reporters on the Job

Oleg Popov
Fluttering by : A Painted Lady butterfly rested on the finger of a visitor Thursday during the opening of a butterfly pavilion at Sofia’s University Botanical Garden s in Bulgaria. The pavilion is the first of its kind in a Balkan country.

Sensitive Topic: The focus for Part 2 of staff writer Scott Baldauf's occasional series on South Africa's AIDS orphans – teen sexuality – is a sensitive one, but it came from a long conversation Scott had with foster parent Olga Thimbela (see story).

"Olga had mentioned that her teenage foster son, Thabang, was doing poorly in school, and she thought part of the problem was that he had been distracted by a girlfriend," says Scott. "Olga worried that Thabang might make the same mistakes as his mother, who died of AIDS in 2006, and she also worried that [14-year-old foster daughter] Bulelwa might be facing similar pressures, too.

"Now, a journalist is generally not supposed to become entangled in the lives of the people he or she reports on. This is not because we are cold-hearted snakes, generally speaking. We see ourselves as observers, like scientists peering down a microscope. Put your finger on the slide too many times, and pretty soon you end up writing more about yourself than about your subject. But this seemed like an opportunity to put some hard questions to Thabang and Bulelwa, to see what teenage life is like in a township school, and to look at the peer pressures and the efforts to guide young South African teens to safer behavior.

"The question was whether Thabang and Bulelwa would feel comfortable talking with me," says Scott. "How many teenagers would talk with a relative stranger about ... you know ... sex? I also worried about whether Thabang, a man of few words in any language, would be able to express himself in English. To my relief, he opened up quickly, and introduced [staff photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman] and me to his girlfriend, and showed us a part of his life that he still keeps hidden from his parents."

– Matthew Clark

Africa/Americas editor

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