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'White Guy Taking Notes' Carries Fact-Checking to the Extreme

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

'White Guy Taking Notes' Carries Fact-Checking to the Extreme

Article excerpt

An unusual mix of raw sewage and vegetable stew permeates the air in the small, one-room shanty that squats among the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, where Mark Schoofs finds himself hearing yet another tale of AIDS-induced hardship. Mary, an HIV-infected mother of two who turned to prostitution eight years ago, landed in the filthy ghetto after leaving her abusive husband, who burned her clothes and denied her children food. She told The Village Voice reporter that she's still beaten today - by her clients (many of whom pay as little as 75 cents for her services) when she asks them to use a condom.

"Her story was very moving because she had lived in a very fertile, nice place where she could grow coffee plants and stalks of maize," Schoofs says. "Now she was in one of the worst Third World slums."

But, in the case of Mary's story and many others like it, Schoofs did not let the horror keep him from double-checking facts. After talking with Mary, he found her mother, who independently verified everything she had said. "Checking these stories gave me an understanding of the complexity of the culture," he says. "They were usually very willing to let me check it out. …

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