By Jacqueline Combs Nelson
Back in 1988, the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship sent me a gift—the gift of international friendship. An enriching and enlightening gift that has kept on giving over the last 28 years and will continue through my life; of this I am confident.
The gift began with Margie T. Logarta of the Philippines, who came to the Chicago Tribune in 1988 as an Alfred Friendly Fellow. We became colleagues and roommates. We shared work anxieties and cultures clashes, enjoyed sailing and travel adventures, and she became an “aunt” to my son Christopher, then 13, and a dear confidant to me. Margie was the first of many who lived with me a month or more during their Alfred Friendly fellowship postings at the Tribune, where I was their mentor in the newsroom. Siew Ying Leu, of Malaysia, roomed and traveled with me throughout her fellowship in 1991.
In 1990, my future husband, Lowell Nelson, entered the Friendly Fellow Family when we began dating. Yevgenia M. Albats, (a 1990 Fellow from Russia) and Siew Ying Leu (Class of ’91, Singapore) participated in the courtship with double dates and dinner parties. The only one of my fellows he has missed is Sumeeta Rai, (’89, Nepal), a pre-courtship roomie.
After we married in 1992, fellows would often share our suburban home for a few weeks until their downtown apartments were available. We included them on long holiday weekends: canoeing and camping trips; sailing adventures on our sailboat; Halloween parties with the Tribune folks; and ethnic dinner parties with an expanding circle of friends and Tribune colleagues whom we met through the fellows.
Some of our fellows have continued as part of our extended family. We are “sisters-in-journalism.” For example, Albats is our daughter Petra Nelson’s godmother (even through she is of the Jewish tradition). Our daughters both graduated from Brandeis University and are friends today as adults, both living and working in New York City.
In February, 2001, Leu cared for me and helped my family as I recovered from a hip replacement. In 2005, she joined our family vacation in France, helping out as a translator. She hosted me in Boston during her Neiman fellowship. After her Nieman, we spent three weeks intensively studying Spanish and traveling in Guatemala.
With many of the women fellows, my bond was more intimate: sharing “girl talk” beyond our professional lives, talking about our hopes, dreams and family issues, and advice-swapping. Again, becoming “sisters-in-journalism.”
When it came time to say farewell at the end of each fellowship, my husband and I would promise to visit the fellow’s country—or wherever they lived. Now that we are both retired, we’re making good on our promises. We have the time, the health and enough money to travel around the world. We combine Airbnb with staying with friends, family and fellows. The internet and Facebook make it possible to reconnect with our cherished friends while booking rooms and flights on the fly.
We kicked off our Eastern Europe Friendly tour with a Lithuanian visit to Sarah and James Talalay, sister to Susan Talalay, former Alfred Friendly executive director and board member. The Talalays hosted us and made sure we experienced the important sights of Lithuania, especially the great food!
Fellows who are expecting us so far?
* Siew Ying Leu is taking us on her August vacation, touring the Malay Peninsula and more of Southeast Asia. She is already working on our daily itinerary of “must-sees.”
* Margie Logarta, ’88, is now back in Manila after many years in Hong Kong. She promises beautiful beaches and great snorkeling.
* Riyadi Supamo, ’99, will show us the terraced farming of Indonesia that he spoke of fondly while enjoying a camp fire in Wisconsin.
* Thom Khanje, ’02, is now a proud father of four in Malawi. He promises “I will compile a list of activities that you can enjoy. Of course, bouncing baby Killian on your knee is at the top of the list.”
* Wangui Maina, ’13, of Kenya, says “Please, put Kenya on your tour. I will be proud to host you.”
* Lulama Luti, ’95, of South Africa, “Wow! Wow! Wow! I can’t believe it. Come in January or February when it is summer. … I will arrange a big Alfred Friendly dinner and you will meet all my family.”
* Agustina Guerrero, ’01, of Argentina, now in Tampa, Fla. We hope to visit Cuba together, and she will set us up with her cousins in Argentina. First, we have to meet her husband and stepson in Tampa.
* Sita Bridgemohan ’94, of Trinidad & Tobago, is now based in Tobago.” So, for sure you will visit a beach and eat fish—maybe for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Susan Albrecht, former AFPF director, suggests a dinner of former fellows in India, I would need some help organizing that event once we schedule India into the world tour. Any volunteers? Please, invitations to visit non-Tribune fellows around the world are always welcome. One can’t have too many Friendly Fellows.
And what makes Friendly Fellows so special? Each class of Friendly Fellows is a tight-knit group. They endure American culture clash along with varied newsroom cultures, being treated like an “intern” instead of the talented professionals they are, and being away from home and family and familiar food. But they sacrifice to expose themselves to American journalism and uncensored press. They push themselves to grow and write and write some more. They bond together and rely on each other to give context to each others experience. They become, as I like to say, “brothers-and-sisters in journalism.”
Lowell retired Feb. 1, and we are now free. Free to travel the world in retirement—continent by continent, fellow by fellow, brother by sister—taking our time, celebrating the friendships that the Alfred Friendly family has given us.