Together at Yale

By virtue of being at Yale, two Kenyan siblings who have seen each other only infrequently over the past decade can now enjoy sharing some time together.

Their reunion, of sorts, happens to be a sheer coincidence. George Amulele, a lab manager in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, and Beatrice Mategwa, a broadcast journalist and Yale World Fellow, had each applied for their respective posts within a few months of each other — unbeknownst to each other. After years of living in separate countries and only seeing each other about once a year, they have been getting reacquainted over the past two-and-a-half months.

“Who would have thought that we’d be here at Yale together?” says Mategwa of her seemingly providential reunion with her brother.

Raised in Nairobi — two of the seven children of an engineer father and a schoolteacher mother — the siblings have spent little of their adult lives together since Amulele, who is four years older than his sister, first embarked on a career in science, studying for his undergraduate degree in Kenya before moving to South Africa to pursue his master’s and doctoral degrees in physics. He had only short stays in Kenya in between, and eventually came to the United States in 2002 for postdoctoral work at the University of Hawaii. Before coming to Yale in March of this year, he was a postdoctoral researcher for one-and-a-half years at Stanford University’s School of Earth Sciences.

In the meantime, Mategwa also left her home country after earning her journalism studies diploma there and working for three years as a print journalist for a weekly publication and later as a junior reporter for a flagship television station, Kenya Television Network, in Nairobi. She enrolled at the University of Wales for her master’s degree in television production. While a graduate student in the United Kingdom, she was offered a position as a reporter and producer for Reuters Television’s East Africa bureau. During her seven-year career with Reuters, she covered the news mainly in 14 East African countries, and from Sierra Leone in the west to South Africa, and thus was on the move most of the time. Since 2005, she has been producer and head of television for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan.

Amulele had already been offered his job at Yale when Mategwa informed him via an Internet conversation that she had been chosen as one of the final World Fellow candidates. The two agreed to talk again soon, so that Amulele could offer his youngest sister some interviewing tips.

As has often been the case, their busy lives prevented them from ever having that conversation. “Over the years, because we’ve been so far apart, we would only talk to each other if there was something important to say,” says Amulele. “I think we were both busy, so I never got to give her any tips. Beatrice became a World Fellow without any help from me.”

The siblings were able to convince their now-retired parents to make their first trip to the United States with Mategwa when she came to New Haven, allowing the four family members to spend time with each other.

“Our parents are not travelers, and my father almost changed his mind about coming,” says Mategwa. During their two-week-long visit to New Haven, her parents explored Yale and New Haven, and took a trip to New York City with their children.

“It was the first time for all of us to be together in a few years,” says Amulele.

“Our being together for two weeks might look simplistic to other people,” adds Mate­gwa, “but for the four of us it meant a lot.”

While they were close growing up, Amulele, Mategwa and the rest of their siblings have all been very independent people who supported each other’s decisions as they chose their different paths in life, note the siblings.

“I remember George always working solidly in his own world, in science and physics, and we left him to do his own thing,” explains Mategwa, who also has a twin brother. “I would sometimes ask him what he was up to, but it’s always been difficult for me to comprehend his research, so we never spoke about it very much.”

Amulele works in the science laboratories of Yale professors Shun-ichiro Karato and Kanani Lee, where, in addition to ensuring that researchers and their teams have the proper resources for their experiments, he takes part in high-pressure temperature studies and their application to understanding the geophysical makeup of the Earth’s interior.

He says that his sister was equally self-reliant as she traveled throughout Africa and beyond in her work as a journalist. Her reporting from countries in conflict sometimes put her in dangerous situations. In Sierra Leone, for example, two of her colleagues were killed at a roadblock by advancing rebels. To keep her family, especially her parents, from worrying about her, Mategwa chooses not to share too many stories about her work with other family members.

“For one thing, it’s difficult to tell someone who is not there with me the whole story of whatever it is I am covering,” explains Mategwa. “But I have also tried to protect them by sparing them the details.”

“I wish I knew more about some of her experiences,” remarks Amulele, who recalls his 37-year-old sister being courageous and daring from the time she was in her early 20s.

As a member of the U.N. peacekeeping unit in Sudan, Mategwa has covered issues and events in the country since the 2005 peace agreement between the government and rebel forces, which ended more than two decades of war. She researches, reports, films, edits and produces stories on topics that have ranged from the deployment of U.N. troops, the return of displaced people to their homes and the country’s efforts to rebuild. Her pieces have been picked up by news agencies and broadcasts around the world.

In 2007 she was named by Marie Claire magazine as one of three “Women Who Rock the World” for their special report to commemorate International Women’s Day that year. The magazine lauded her for being a “one-woman show” who sometimes puts herself in extreme situations to produce television stories about the conflict in Sudan.

“I see a lot of situations where people are suffering,” says Mategwa, recalling her visits to an understaffed hospital overcrowded with meningitis patients in the southern Sudanese city of Juba and to a Tanzanian camp where 300,000 Rwandan refugees were living. The latter, she said, was an observance of “humanity in desperation.”

Her firsthand witness of the suffering caused by war fuels her determination to share what she sees with the world.

“What else can I do for them but film and tell their stories?” she comments. “Just being able to do that, at least, is something.”

Amulele says he is proud of his sister for bringing the news from war-torn African countries to the world’s attention. His sister, in turn, takes equal pride in his accomplishments.

“He’s quietly very clever and calculated,” Mategwa says. “He was a top student and always had good grades in school. I was very envious and impressed by his end-of-term report cards.”

While both continue to lead busy lives, Amulele and Mategwa — who each have their own apartments in the area — try to get together on weekends. They say they are relishing the opportunity to do everyday activities together: share a meal, listen to music or go grocery shopping. They both enjoy watching documentaries and reading biographies.

“I do have to steal some of George’s music before I go,” says Mategwa.

Their time together, both agree, is far too short, as Mategwa’s term as a World Fellow ends in December. She says she has particularly enjoyed meeting the other “incredibly passionate” World Fellows and auditing Yale classes that examine the reasons for conflict and war in some of the places she has been.

“They say for you to be able to see a situation, you have to step out from it and look into it,” says Mategwa. “Being at Yale has allowed me to do that.”

Amulele says he will miss his sister when she returns to the Sudan, where she will resume her journalism career, first covering election campaigns and then the presidential and parliamentary election scheduled for April — the country’s first in 20 years. Eventually, she would like to create and produce her own documentaries, mainly about African countries.

“I would have liked more time together,” comments Amulele, adding, however, that he and his sister are also used to living thousands of miles apart.

Mategwa says that covering the brutalities of war has made her even more appreciative of the time she and her brother spend together.

“I’ve seen displaced people yearning to see their homes,” says the World Fellow. “I’m able to go home all the time, but not everybody has it that easy. It makes me appreciate family and home, and to not take my life for granted. It humbles me. Family has become more important, more special to me.”

— By Susan Gonzalez

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