The John Alexander Project
Meet Our 2011 Fellow: Nina Porzucki
Brian Reed Nina Porzucki hails from Los Angeles, volunteered with the Peace Corps in Romania, reported from a roving mobile sound booth for StoryCorps, and landed a gig with PRI’s The World by writing a fan letter with a story idea so memorable that they said she should just go ahead and report it for them herself. She sold us on an unexpected pitch from a familiar place: China’s “Chocolate City,” a community of more than 20,000 African immigrants in Guangzhou. Nina departed for China to report on this cultural mash-up in fall 2011. Read more about Nina on

Her two-part series aired on Morning Edition Thursday-Friday, April 26-27, 2012. Listen: Part I | Part II

2017 Update: Nina is a producer for The World and host of The World in Words.

a long journey

By Nina Porzucki; April 22, 2012

There is an old Chinese proverb: “With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.” Let me just re-phrase that: with time and patience an idea becomes an application becomes a visa becomes a trip to Guangzhou, China, which becomes a story that you will listen to as you commute to work.

It’s been a long, slow bloat from receiving the fellowship in August 2011 to my pieces airing this April 2012 – an enjoyable ride to be sure, but long nonetheless. This fall I set my sights on going to China. No problem, I thought. I’ll just apply for a visa and bam, off I go! Wrong.

Obtaining a short-term journalist visa to China is tricky endeavor. It took three months of back and forth with consulate officials. At one point in the negotiating process I received a phone call from one official asking me to email a list of every person whom I might talk to during my time in China. “Everyone?” I asked. “Yes, everyone,” he replied. So I sent him a list of everyone whom I might talk with in China: African merchants, taxi drivers, business people, street vendors, factory workers, pedestrians – you get the idea. Finally, after no news and the idea dawning that I might not even get a visa, I received a casual email from the consulate. Beijing had approved. My visa was issued on a Friday; Saturday morning I was on a flight for Guangzhou. Little did I know that patience would become the theme of my adventure in China.

Making radio is an exercise in perseverance. There’s a general grumble that the best stuff usually happens just after you turn the microphone off. This has often been the case for me. I have spent hours with someone only to miss the most poignant statement the minute that I put down my recorder. In China I was determined to record everything from the moment I set foot in "Little Africa."

However, what I naively thought would be a matter of course – take out my recorder, interview people, let the tape run – was a much more complicated undertaking. My very first day in the marketplace, merchants eyed me suspiciously, a security guard even kicked me out of one of the trading malls, and no one wanted to talk. That is, nobody wanted to talk about what I wanted to talk about. People talked. They asked me what I was doing there; they asked me whether I believed in God; they asked if I was married. And I did something that I had sworn I wouldn’t – I put my microphone away.

The next day I walked back into that same market that I was escorted from my first afternoon, sat down on a little, red, plastic stool in the middle of the market and waited. I didn’t even take my microphone out of the bag; the next day was the same. What I realized was that I was not the only one waiting. Everyone in the market was sitting on those tiny, red, plastic stools waiting. The merchants were waiting for customers, the customers were waiting for goods, the porters were waiting for shipments to be delivered, I was waiting for a story and everyone was waiting to make it big.

While we waited we argued about politics. I was schooled in Nigerian hip-hop. I learned how fashion differs in East Africa and West Africa. I learned how to properly eat a Nigerian soup with fufu, a polenta-like dough that you use to scoop up the soup. Sure, I missed recording a lot of memorable moments but in lieu of those moments I gained something even more precious – access. Slowly, people started to agree to record their stories.

Patience is perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned throughout my journey as Above the Fray fellow. This week you will hear from Niceguy and Fortunato (yes, those are their nicknames) who opened up their home to me after weeks of hounding them at their shop. You will meet one of the most important men in the African community, Mr. Ojukwu, who led me on two-week goose chase before I could pin him down for an interview. But first you will hear from Kelvin, a trader I met at KFC with whom I experienced one of those rare radio moments of being in the right place at the right time with my microphone turned on.

I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. Thank you to everyone who has shepherded me along from applying for a visa to the final broadcast especially Ted Clark who has been a source of immense patience and guidance. Many thanks to the amazing folks at the John Alexander Project who have been my cheerleaders and my support. Most of all thank you to the many merchants who patiently bore my endless questions. And thank you for listening! —NP

welcome to chocolate city
Little Africa

By Nina Porzucki; February 8, 2012

My first day in Guangzhou, China, I stood on a footbridge for nearly an hour just watching the thoroughfare below. Traffic choked the road, music blared from the wholesale malls along the road, and trucks crowded the curb as men unloaded gunnysacks full goods and merchants loitered on the sidewalks to watch their wares, shaking hands with each passing potential customer – in short, total chaos.

This is China, I thought. Except the music pumping out of the storefronts was Nigerian hip hop, the billboards lining the road advertised cheap shipping to Lagos, and the merchants on the sidewalks called out to each another in a mixture of African languages. Welcome to Little Africa.

Guangzhou is home to the largest community of Africans in China. There are no official records of how many Africans live in the southern city; estimates range from 10,000 to 100,000.

The heart of Guangzhou’s Little Africa is Guangyuan Xilu [Gwahn-You-En She-Loo], a four block commercial strip in the center of the city. Just as Chinese residents in Africa and all over the world for that matter, have turned their adopted land into a microcosm of home, Guangyuan Xilu is a world unto itself from restaurants specializing in fufu and Nigerian soup to money transfer agents who deal in naira and dollars.

What are Africans doing in China? “I’m living the American dream in the land of the dragon,” one Nigerian merchant told me in a packed McDonald’s on the second floor of a wholesale mall. I couldn’t help but smile. The merchant, Spartan Arinze, has been living in China for nearly a decade. He has worked as a teacher, a trader, and now he calls himself a “media mogul.”

Two years ago he fulfilled his dream and started The site is half message board, half news aggregate; he likes to think of it as the Nigerian-Chinese Huffington Post or as he joked, Arinze Post. The world is flat indeed.

Arinze is just one of many people that I met during my time in Little Africa. I spent three weeks haunting the markets of Guangyuan Xilu. What I found were tales of success and heartbreak: African traders who lived in fear of deportation for overstaying their visas, a Nigerian merchant who had been scammed out of thousands of dollars on his second day in the country, a Chinese businesswoman who pined for her Nigerian fiancée who was deported two years ago.

A Chinese blogger, Tang Buxi wrote, “If the 20th century was defined by the American Dream, what can China bring to the world in the 21st Century?” The Chinese dream is being worked out right now on Guangyuan Xilu.

Stay tuned. —NP

Stephanie Joyce airs a piece on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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Stephanie Joyce is selected as our 2016 Above the Fray fellow. Read the release.

Pencils down! The 2016 application cycle is now closed.

NPR's "Embedded" podcast features our own Rebecca Hersher!
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The 2016 Above the Fray fellowship application is live! Apply here.

Rebecca Hersher airs part two of her series on NPR's "All Things Considered."
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Rebecca Hersher airs part one of her two-part series on NPR's "All Things Considered."
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Rebecca Hersher's special report is live on the web!
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Rebecca Hersher airs a piece on NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday."
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Rebecca Hersher airs a snapshot from Greenland on NPR's "All Things Considered."
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Rebecca Hersher is selected as our 2015 Above the Fray fellow.
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Emma Jacob's second piece airs on NPR's "All Things Considered." Listen here.

Emma Jacob's first piece airs on NPR's "Morning Edition." Listen here.

The 2015 Above the Fray fellowship application is live! Apply here.

Emma Jacobs airs a piece on NPR's "All Things Considered." Listen here.

Emma Jacobs is selected as the 2014 Above the Fray fellow.
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Pencils down! 2014 application cycle is now closed.

The 2014 Above the Fray fellowship application is live!

Andrés Caballero's second piece airs on NPR's "Weekend Edition." Listen here.

Andrés Caballero's first piece in a two-part series airs on NPR's "Weekend Edition." Listen here.

Andrés Caballero is back from Cameroon and reported a piece for NPR's "Weekend Edition." Listen here.

Andrés Caballero airs a piece on NPR's "Morning Edition." Listen here.

Andrés Caballero is selected as the 2013 Above the Fray fellow. Read the release.

Pencils down! 2013 application cycle is now closed.

Matt Kielty's second piece airs on NPR's "Weekend Edition."
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Matt Kielty's first piece in a two-part series airs on NPR's "Weekend Edition."
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2013 Above the Fray fellowship application released.

Brian Reed wins a Peabody!

Matt Kielty is selected as the 2012 Above the Fray fellow.

Pencils down! 2012 Above the Fray fellowship application closed.

2012 Above the Fray fellowship application released.

Nina Porzucki's second piece airs on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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Nina Porzucki's first piece in a two-part series airs on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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Nina Porzucki is selected as the 2011 Above the Fray fellow. Read the release.

Pencils down! 2011 application cycle is now closed.

We're on Twitter!

2011 Above the Fray fellowship application released.

Brian Reed's second piece airs on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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Brian Reed's first piece in a two-part series airs on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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The JA Project featured on
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Brian Reed lands in Kiribati.
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Brian Reed is selected as first Above the Fray fellow.
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Above the Fray
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NPR signs on as official media partner.
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$20,000 anonymous matching funds contribution.

Recipient of Edward R. Murrow grant, courtesy of Ted Koppel.


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