The rise and rise of Kenya’s queen of silver screen at CNN

Zain Verjee rarely dresses to impress, but she manages to impress anyway. Not even her simple light blue T-shirt, navy blue jeans and black sports shoes worn without socks dim the glamour she exudes on the small screen.

Standing 5ft9 and with a slender frame, she turned heads as she strode through the lobby of Le Rustique, a restaurant in Nairobi’s Westlands last Thursday. In person, Zain is much slimmer than the image beamed into living rooms across the world from CNN’s London bureau where she is currently based.

She hits the gym three days a week, which she says helps her stay mentally alert and healthy. Which is what her job demands. “A girl also has to look good too, doesn’t she?” she says with a wide smile. The infectious smile and pleasant personality that comes off the silver screen are just natural.

Most respected

It is now 10 years since she left the KTN and joined CNN, one of the world’s most respected media houses. She was 26 years old then, and even though anchoring was not new to her, having presented the prime-time news on KTN for sometime, she could not fight the apprehension that assailed her when she sat on the hot seat thousands of miles away from home for the first time.

It was not lost on her that this time round she would be addressing a much wider audience. “It was a really scary experience which took sometime to get used to. I cannot count the number of times I called home crying because I felt lost and did not know what I was doing,” she recalls.

But each time she hung up, she would do so with raised spirits, thanks to her parents’ encouragement. Today, she cuts a very different persona from the apprehensive woman that would reach for the phone and dial home each time something went wrong at work. She is confident, self-assured and, as she passionately talks about her job, it is clear that she is very much in control.

“My managers at CNN placed me where I was bound to succeed and they supported me every step of the way until I was confident and knowledgeable enough to get the job done,” she says. She is getting the job done. Her current assignment is at CNN’s London bureau where she anchors World News.

Situation Room

A typical working day for her begins at 3 a.m. and by 11 a.m. “when you’re having your morning tea” she is wrapping up. Prior to this assignment, she was based in Washington DC, where she presented the news for The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer. She also covered the US State Department for CNN for two years and travelled with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to more than a dozen countries, including Israel, Turkey, Libya, Russia and South Korea. This assignment, she says, gave her a chance to see how diplomacy works.

“Then she was Secretary Rice, now she’s Condi,” she says of her relationship with the former US Secretary of State. This aside, Zain has interviewed international world leaders such as Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on her return from exile. She also travelled back to Pakistan in December 2007 to cover the ramifications of Bhutto’s assassination.

The previous year, she reported from the Demilitarised Zone in Korea, and in September of the same year had an exclusive interview with former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami. Her coverage of the post-election violence that rocked Kenya in 2008 remains one of her most memorable assignments. “This wasn’t just any other story for me – this was my country and I couldn’t believe what was happening around me,” she says with a tinge of sadness.

Seasoned journalist

Being hit by a tear gas canister at Uhuru Park, of all places, given the significance of the name, also shook her up, but like the seasoned journalist she is, she recovered and took up from where she had left. When working, comfort comes first, so you’re likely to find her wearing jeans and sports shoes. For a night out, though, out comes the dress and stilettos.

Source: Daily Nation

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About Ahmad Ladhani

Teacher, an Accountant and a student :)
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