My Interview with a Syrian Refugee Family in Amman, Jordan

Syrian refugees in the stairwell of their temporary home in downtown Amman.An audio story I filed for KFAI, a community radio station based in St. Paul, MN, aired on April 1st! Next time you have six minutes to spare, please listen.

I invested in a trip to Jordan and an exhaustive series of evening interviews to get this family’s story. My co-producer, Afnan Al Wahsh, helped me navigate the language and the culture. It was a pleasure, and an honor, to collaborate with such a talented female reporter.

Above all else, this family of Syrian refugees invested their energy and trust in welcoming us into their home to share their story of survival, as well as their growing anxiety over living in a state of uncertainty.

I’ve cross-posted KFAI’s introduction below. To access the full audio report click here.

In Jordan, Syrian Refugees Wait

IMG_3126
At a recent meeting of the Arab League, the emir of Kuwait said the United Nations Security Council must do more to solve the conflict in Syria, arguing that it now “threatens the security and stability of the world.”
Last month, top U.N. officials said that as Syria’s grinding conflict enters its fourth year, Syrians are set to replace Afghans as the world’s largest refugee population.
Millions have fled the fighting.  At least one million refugees are in camps in neighboring Lebanon.  Many others are in Jordan, but not all live in official settlements.
Some manage to find housing in Amman, where they wait for a peace that seems quite distant.  With assistance from Afnan Al Wahsh, KFAI’s Erin Luhmann filed this report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Encounter with a Fortune Reader in a Refugee Camp

The first winter rains hit Za’atari refugee camp a few weeks ago. Heading in for my second day of field reporting, I anticipated encountering tensions over winter aid distirbution– namely caravans, the boxcar-like structures that are supposed to replace all tents by the end of the year.

As I walked around with Jared Kohler, an Amman-based freelance photojournalist from Michigan, I spotted only a few pools of standing water. But nearly every tent we passed bore evidence of flooding. Residents had placed their mattresses on top of their tents and strung up blankets and clothes to dry.

IMG_3303Waiting for her bedding to dry out, one old woman beckoned us over to her tent. I went in for my series of stilted “nice to meet you” kisses. Her daughter boiled some coffee and everyone gathered around. We had intended to interview this old woman about her living conditions, but our storytelling roles reversed the moment I asked if she knew how to tell fortunes from coffee grounds.

Upon arrival to Jordan, I had shared an airport taxi with an Iraqi man who had planted the idea of coffee ground fortunes in my head. He had insisted that we stop for an industrial-strength cup of Arabic coffee at a roadside stall at 3AM and peaked my curiosity with the story of his own encounter with this vanishing tradition. So when I sensed the potential before me at Za’atari, I decided to trade in journalism for a bit of magical realism.

IMG_3258The coffee was thick and bitter. In my haste to get to the bottom, I accidentally drank some of the sludgy grounds that slosh along with that last drop of liquid. I flashed Kohler a quick smile to make sure my teeth weren’t peppered with grounds before handing over my cup to the old woman sitting in front of me. She stuck her finger into my cup to spread the grounds up around the sides of the cup. She did the same with Kohler’s cup, than set them aside to drip-dry on their saucers.

After a few minutes, she picked up my cup, now ringed with residue, and began peering into my future. Her first question for me: Why are you so angry?

IMG_3266Her candor caught me off guard. Considering the fact that I had found the means to self-finance a month-long reporting trip to Jordan, I didn’t really feel that I had cause to be angry. I was well aware of the fact that, at the end of the day, I would climb back into Kohler’s car and we’d drive back to Amman, where I’d have the freedom to choose what I’d want to eat for dinner, take a warm shower and sleep in a bed.

In contrast, this old woman told us she had been living at Za’atari with her mute daughter since May. Her son and his family lived in a tent five steps away. Sitting in a wheelchair that afforded her limited mobility in a gravel-strewn camp, she told us she had slept outside last night to avoid the dampness that had sunk in to her tent during last night’s rains.

Her situation highlights just a few of the hardships that roughly 113,000 refugees living at Za’atari endure. On top of the physical and material losses, nearly everyone I spoke with also mentioned human loss – friends, family and neighbors who had been claimed as casualties of the conflict.

IMG_3289Concentrating on my coffee grounds, the old woman told me she saw a bed and suspected someone in my life was sick. Put on the spot, I had become the vulnerable subject, trusting a stranger with my story.

“Yes,” I confirmed, “My dad has cancer.”

I still get rattled, at times, when I acknowledge my dad’s condition aloud. We weren’t forced to leave our home and all our possessions to live in a tent in a desert. We haven’t lost loved ones to indiscriminate bombs and shells. But we do feel a shared sense of helplessness against circumstances that are beyond our control and a heightened awareness of the fragility of life.

My war-weary fortuneteller told me to “be a warrior” and assured me that my dad’s health would be restored, if he followed her treatment regimen. For 15 consecutive days, he is to read a verse from the Koran over a plate of seven dates and then eat them.

IMG_3278Both dates and the number seven hold special meaning in Muslim tradition, and are thought to hold healing qualities. Even though I wouldn’t admit it, I had also bought a magic lamp souvenir a few days ago, looking on my own for a bit of fantastical healing power to bring back home.

I’d call on anyone to help cure my dad, from Allah, to a magic genie, to oncologists back in the States. Sitting across from my fortuneteller inside Za’atri, I realized there are many facets of life as a refugee that I may never fully understand. Furthermore, not even the best-written article can make amends for the loss many of these refuges have sustained. But we are alike in more ways than I’d originally anticipated; and simple interactions, like getting my fortune read from coffee grounds, can serve as a gateway into our shared human experiences.

Through story and fortune, we shared a moment of escape from the hardships of reality in an unlikely setting. For that, I am grateful.

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Human Rights, Middle East & Northern Africa, Travel Essays | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Introduction to Zaatari Refugee Camp

“Remember, you’re not going to a zoo.” This is the advice a friend of mine bestowed upon me the day before I headed to Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan. With more than 122,000 Syrian refugees, Zaatari is currently the second largest refugee camp in the world.

Screen shot of the Syria Regional Refugee Response map. For more information, visit http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=107.

Screen Shot of the Syria Regional Refugee Response map. For more information, visit http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=107.

I planned on leading with questions, pen and paper, not my camera lens. I wanted to engage in a few meaningful interviews my first day inside Zaatari to get a better sense of the types of stories I should be pursuing during future visits. I left thankfully aware of issues I had originally overlooked and humbled by the candor and hospitality of those who welcomed me into their homes.

Driving up to the main gate, my first impression largely aligned with media images of restless young males prone to mischief. As we passed a dozen or so school-aged boys walking alongside the road, clutching large stones in each hand, my Jordanian escort joked that I’d have to pay for any dents in his car.

In some cases, these baseball-sized stones that cover the camp’s grounds do end up being used in juvenile acts of aggression. For Taher, 32, these stones pose a much less threatening, yet more persistent issue: they impair his ability to move around the camp on his injured foot.

Taher injured his foot in 1996, on an Israeli landmine. But here in the camp, he’s frustrated with the lack of access granted by his disability ID that aided him back in the Golan Heights.

“I’m educated. I’m peaceful,” he said, stating his plea for asylum in another country like Switzerland, where he once worked in what now seems like a very distant life.

For now, it seems Taher’s life is tied to the camp and mobility issues. At 10 months old, his son was injured in Syria when their house was caught in crossfire between members of the Assad regime and the Free Syrian Army in September 2011.

His wife, Kalud, had placed cotton in their son’s ears, to block out the sound of nearby bombs. When the attack began, she ushered their three daughters from room to room, trying to avoid open gunfire near windows. But there was nowhere to hide.

One explosion sent glass shattering onto the backs of her daughters. In her rush to attend to them, she didn’t notice the piece of shrapnel that had lodged itself into her son’s hip.

“I didn’t give attention to him because I thought he was crying from the sound,” she recalled, holding her now restless son close to her chest.

Taher shouted out to the Free Syrian Army, asking them to help their son. They came to the shattered window, grabbed their son, and whisked him away to an operating room they had assembled in a nearby mosque.

Taher and Kalud were reunited with their son the next day, but knew it wasn’t safe to stay in the Golan Heights. They moved from village to village while they waited on the Free Syrian Army to remove the full body cast they had set to heal their son’s shattered hip. But even after fleeing to Zaatari camp last March, Kalud smuggled her son back to Syria for follow up treatment that she couldn’t access in the camp and couldn’t afford outside of the camp in Jordan.

IMG_2817

Taher’s daughters dropped out of school in the camp because their peers were making fun of their outfits. He can’t afford to buy them new clothes.

Now they are living in a caravan with a kitchen area assembled outside, underneath a white tarp with the blue UNHCR logo printed along the side. They came empty handed because their house had been looted before they could make it back to collect personal items for their journey to Zaatari.

Just a few yards away, in a neighboring caravan that housed two families, for a total of 12 people, I noticed a stark contrast in material status.

The family I interviewed had fled from Dara’a – the city where the violence in Syrian began back in 2011 – to Zaatari in January, after three of their neighbors were killed in the fighting.

Ali, 60, and Rabea’a, 55, were frustrated over the fact that their older daughters were stuck in Syria with their husbands because Jordan had closed its border to new refugees. Rabea’a also told me she had paid smugglers 700 JD to bring one son and his family to Zaatari. He left to go back and fight in Syria and she paid another 700 JD to smuggle him back once he got injured.

IMG_2829

Rabea’a demonstrated how to eat Mansaf by hand. Then, for everyone’s amusement, she asked me to give it a try.

Caught up in the details of their story, I lost track of time and suddenly realized I had become a dinner guest.

The young women of the household had been preparing Mansaf, a regional dish this time prepared with cuscus, yogurt, chicken and loads of butter. After fervently denying my request to politely take a taste and excuse myself, Rabea’a scooped a hearty portion from the communal platter onto my plate.

Clearly, they had extended themselves beyond the food rations they were receiving inside the camp. They had cooked two whole chickens for the meal.

While they were able to afford a feast that remained beyond Taher’s means, the emotional strain of unemployment inside the camp seemed to weigh equally on their 19-year-old son, Abdalgader.

“I want to go home every day,” he said, telling me that he spends most of his time sleeping. He is a skilled construction worker, but can’t leave the camp without permission so he’s stuck in a depressing state of limbo.

“Everything is boring,” he lamented. “Everything is boring.”

I get the sense that Abdalgader’s dilemma is symptomatic of some issues that are more difficult to capture than individual incidents of physical violence or vandalism within the camp. How do you begin to convey a sense of isolation that young men like Abdalgader feel, living inside Zaatari camp?

Note: At the request of those I interviewed, I’ve omitted last names for security reasons. 

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Middle East & Northern Africa, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Photo Essay on Tourism in Petra

My first week in Jordan was marked by Eid al-Adha, or “Festival of Sacrifice.” Businesses closed and traffic thinned as people gathered with family to commemorate Ibrahim’s devotion to Allah – which was so strong he was willing to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, upon Allah’s request – by praying, slaughtering sheep, and giving to the poor.

After resigning to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to get much reporting done in Amman, I headed to Petra with Meghan to expend some pent-up energy by hiking through the sandstone ruins of the Nabataeans. For nearly eight hours, we funneled through ravines that dwarfed us, dodged pokey tourist, and negotiated staircase ledges with donkeys.

When it came to deterring a young girl selling postcards, however, my negotiation skills failed me completely. Standing in front of the Treasury (Al-Khazneh), she approached us knowing she had identified two new customers. Holding a pack of postcard out for me to see, she thrust it into my hand and told me it was a gift after I insisted on giving it back. We both knew I’d cave and open my purse once I accepted the fact that the only way we could both save face at this point was for me to insist on paying.

This little sales lady had certainly outsmarted me. But I wondered if she would stash away her postcard inventory after the holiday break and go back to school. With a collection of stock photos from Petra now in hand, I gave myself a homework assignment – to assemble another set of photos that capture the tourism culture of this popular destination.

IMG_2549A young boy observing a potential sale in front of the Treasury.

IMG_2584This tourist assumed the position I had just left, reminding me that there’s no way I looked as discreet as I felt from behind my camera.

IMG_2577A Bedouin man playing the rebab, a traditional one-stringed instrument.

IMG_2606I was nearly side-swipped by this donkey convoy, which would have gladly taken me up the winding staircase to see the Monastery (Ad-Deir), for a fee.

IMG_2628Malaysian tourists, visiting on holiday for Eid, and European tourists both enjoyed refreshments at a cafe near the Monastery.

IMG_2649I tried on a handmade dress, embroidered by the Bedouin woman on the left, and a Jordanian headscarf. Photo credit: Meghan Garrity

IMG_2685She filed down a sharp chip on a bracelet that I bought after sharing a hot cup of sweet Bedouin tea, a cooling tactic to beat the desert heat.

IMG_2692The thought of riding a donkey along a ledge didn’t appeal to me one bit. But I certainly enjoyed the expressions of those being carted along.

IMG_2798A camel catching a moment of reprieve in front of the Treasury, which would soon be illuminated for the Petra By Night tours.

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Middle East & Northern Africa, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Taking the Plunge: Freelancing in Jordan

I’m writing this post thousands of feet above the East Coast and I plan to be dead asleep, in the upright position, once we hit the Atlantic. Groggy from the flight to Frankfurt, I’ll cradle my cumbersome “personal item” to my transfer flight – a.k.a the tote bag that weighs twice as much as my carry-on, because there’s no 17 pound limit on a purse.

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to establish myself as a savvy travel writer.  I am, however, setting out to write. From Frankfurt, I’ll be heading to Amman, Jordan, to see if I have what it takes to pursue a career in international freelance reporting. With the number of Syrian refugees topping 2 million, I anticipate finding plenty of untold stories in this neighboring host country.

My decision to spend a month in Jordan seemed impulsive to many friends. So I want to take the time to share my rationale, along with my professional aims for this adventure.

Luggage for four weeks, plus a bag of goldfish crumbles for my host, Meghan.

Luggage for four weeks, plus a bag of goldfish crumbles for my host, Meghan.

Strategically speaking, I completed a masters in journalism last May and spent 10 days shadowing Nicholas Kristof, a humanitarian columnist for the New York Times, in West Africa shortly after graduation. Mid-July, I found myself back home in Minnesota, applying for daily reporting jobs, where having reported on malnutrition and child marriage in Mali didn’t really give me a competitive edge.

I would certainly appreciate the opportunity to build discipline by reporting under daily deadlines. But if I’m being honest with myself, there’s a larger part of me that’s restless to travel and report on humanitarian issues. I want to take advantage of the fact that I’m not married, don’t own a house, and don’t have kids, to connect with people who need a platform to voice their concerns far more than I need a sense of stability at this stage of my life. A little part of me may even want to take advantage of what youthful courage I have left, before I grow too cautious.

My desire to take a risk doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to cover violent protests and cities under siege. For now, I’m more concerned with covering the aftermath of conflict – refugee situations, rebuilding efforts, reconciliation initiatives and other stories that highlight the human costs of war.

Even if I don’t go looking for danger, I realize that it may find me, which is why I’ve taken certain measures to help ensure my safety. I attended a journalist safety-training workshop in D.C. last spring and am packing, dressing and preparing accordingly. For instance, I keep a rubber doorstop in my backpack to add another level of security to my bedroom door, I am wearing a leather belt to help thwart acts of sexual aggression, and I spent an extra $60 on emergency travel insurance. None of this can guarantee my safety; but then again, I could just as well be mugged or broadsided in my car back home where I’m likely to be less vigilant.

In any event, I’m already on my way to Amman, so you’ll just have to trust that I’ll use the buddy system at night and call home from time to time.

Safety aside, you may be wondering how I can afford to just take off for a month. Well, the skepticism you’re feeling is fully warranted. I really did just decide to invest a fraction of my savings in a freelance attempt that I may not even break even on. I was a skeptic, myself, until Amy Costello, producer of the podcast series Tiny Spark and former Africa correspondent for The World, challenged me to put my financial concerns into perspective.

I was searching for some professional female guidance, when I sent Amy a request to talk via the blank email form on her website. To my surprise, I heard back from Amy, who was on her way home from Dakar. During our conversation, she sensed my hesitation over money and prescribed a simple homework task: do the math.

She offered to review my budget next time we talked, to help make sure I hadn’t overlooked anything, and instilled confidence in my ability to make overseas reporting a sustainable venture.

The fact that many news agencies are cutting funding for foreign correspondents, said explained, means there are more opportunities to sell freelance content from far-flung corners of the world. Even if I’m the rookie playing journalist next to seasoned correspondents, there’s no reason I can’t still sell a story a two to recoup my expenses, or even profit like any other professional who gets paid for their work.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to upgrade to a fancy hotel and eat out every night. I plan to be as thrifty as possible, without compromising my ability to report well. It certainly helps that I’ve got friends living near Amman who are willing to host me and I figure I won’t spend more on taxi fares and street food than I would on gas and grocery bills back home.

IMG_1777

I could hum and haw over the logistics of going overseas to freelance forever, but at a certain point the only significant thing left to do is buy that ticket. I have to admit, I was worried that I’d get cold feet before I followed through on this trip – mainly because there’s the added pressure of professional expectations that hadn’t influenced any of my prior self-funded trips abroad. But I’d already solicited more than my fair share of pep talks and I realized that I all I had left to do was commit.

If I had to boil down my conversations with Nicholas Kristof, Amy Costello, and Peter Greenberg their shared nugget of advice would be: “Just go and do it!”

There’s still the possibility that I may not access the sources I have my sights set on, or walk away with a first-rate story that any publication would offer to purchase. This is the uncertainty that I’ve come to terms with – the uncertainty that I’m sure every journalist I admire had to confront at some point or another as well.

This doesn’t mean I can afford to be passive. I’ve been curating sources, talking with mentors, and touching base with potential editors for the past three weeks. The larger my network, the greater my odds are of accessing fresh, compelling stories. I’m also pretty optimistic about tapping into the local freelance community. It’s a competitive field, but my sense is that the freelance community is largely supportive. I’ll learn soon enough, I suppose.

In the end, if I can sell three to five stories, placing one in a national-caliber publication, I’ll consider this trip a success. It’s about learning from my rookie mistakes in a safe environment and proving to myself that I can reasonably scale up my goals next time and the time after that.

I know there are lots of opportunities to apply for foreign reporting grants and fellowships, but until I establish myself as a capable writer, I’m stuck in a holding pattern. I need an editor of a major publication to vouch for my work in order to get funding, but I need a major clip before I can get an editor to vouch for me. Time to break into the cycle on my own dime.

If things don’t go as expected, at the very least, I expect that I’ll come home with enough material to try stand up comedy on the nights I have off from my pending serving job. After a few month of serving diners oversized portions of red meat and fries, I’ll have bottled up enough change and motivation to pack up my bags for round two.

How else does one reasonably become an international freelance reporter?

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Middle East & Northern Africa | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Saideh Jamshidi: The Story of an Iranian-American Journalist

Saideh Jamshidi wasn’t among the group of 11 so-called prisoners of conscience released from Iran’s notorious Evin prison last month, but as a social justice journalist, this event was personal. Had she not moved to America 13 years ago to escape a conservative government crackdown, Jamshidi may very well have served time in Evin prison alongside some of her old colleagues.

Back in Iran, she threw herself at the front of the pack of female journalists covering women’s rights. Now Jamshidi is busy reinventing her journalism career. While she still focuses on Middle Eastern affairs, she has expanded her audience, refined her digital media toolkit, and become her own boss.

I first met Jamshidi in a journalism course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011. We learned how to navigate the new media landscape together – integrating Twitter into our reporting and building our own websites. But when I wanted to deepen my understanding of what it’s like to practice journalism in a hostile media environment, I turned to Jamshidi for a first-hand account.

In 1993, Jamshidi started out reporting for a metropolitan newspaper called Hamshahri, which was well know for its page dedicated to social issues. After the 1979 Revolution, a number of grassroots women’s movements had begun to take hold. As a sophomore in college, she recognized the opportunity to pay an important role as a journalist.

“I really wanted to focus on women’s issues,” she said. “Everybody was really concerned because many of their rights had been taken away.”

She soon transitioned to a reporting position at Salam Newspaper, a prestigious publication read by professors, senior reporters and those in parliament, she explained. Jamshidi was one of only three women working at the paper, but she wasn’t intimidated. Even when her colleagues began receiving threats for the paper’s critical coverage of political leadership, she stuck it out because it was the only local reformist publication with a weekly women’s page.

When the first reformist president, Mohammad Khatami won the favor of women and young voters in 1997, he promised to support freedom of expression. But little changed in terms of the political pressures newsroom were under.

Over the course of six years, Jamshidi learned to stay one step ahead of the government in its campaign to snuff out independent, reformist publications. She wrote for Salam, Hamshahri, and Jamaah newspapers until the government started to close in on each.

This game of “cat and mouse” defined Jamshidi’s reporting career in Iran. But this wasn’t a pursuit that she took lightly – the dangers of pursuing journalism were real. During this time, she witnessed police raids in different newsrooms that left her feeing rattled. Law enforcement officials handcuffed the chief editors in different publications and locked them away from their livelihoods and families.

Around the same time, Jamshidi sensed that her own journalism career in Iran was drawing to a close. She had moved on to Zan, an internationally acclaimed feminist metro publication, but realized professional stability, in her profession, was still not a possibility in Iran’s political environment. She watched the government target colleagues like Jila Baniyaghoob to assert its grip on press freedom once again.

“I never thought they would dare to close this newspaper,” said Jamshidi, referring to Zan. “But they did.”

When she went to cover public demonstration against Zan, at it dissolution, a state reporter ratted her out and she ended up narrowly escaping three security personnel who chased after her.

Jamshidi recounted, “I decided ‘I have to do something about this. They are either going to kill me or kidnap me. I’m not famous, and they’ll kill me inside prison. It’s the end of the story. I don’t want to get killed.’”

She had endured a series of threatening emails, kidnapping attempts, and phone tapings over the years, but she had finally reached a tipping point. In 1999, she came to America with her boyfriend, without any English skills, and started scraping together a new career in journalism.

Initially, she turned down offers to contribute to Persian language programs for the BBC and Voice of America, out of fear that her extended family members would be targeted in retaliation for her reporting.

Instead, she learned English and worked her way into the journalism program at the University of Washington after apply nine times.  Upon graduation in 2005, she picked up a job with Free Speech Radio News and went back to Iran on assignment to cover the presidential elections.

Assessing lingering gaps in her reporting skills once more, Jamshidi moved with her husband to Madison, Wisconsin, to study online journalism. Here, she started taking full advantage of the new media resources at UW-Madison and had her first child, a little girl.

By 2013, she had built her website (Yazirum), began contributing to a new media journal focused on the Middle East (Al Monitor), published her first ebook (Rumi and I), and launched her own online news site (Fashionable Muslim Women Project).

With the Fashionable Muslim Women Project (FMWP), Jamshidi aims to facilitate a counter-narrative to the politicized coverage of Islamic culture that dominates mainstream media. Using high-quality design, writing and photography, she wants to engage English readers in a meaningful conversation about Islamic art, music, dance, literature and fashion.

“With FMWP, I want to celebrate our differences, and show that at the end, we are all the same. We are all human,” said Jamshidi.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fashionable-Muslim-Women/195528270607460

Saideh Jamshidi (fourth from right) with members of the FMWP team. FMWP Facebook Page here.

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Middle East & Northern Africa, North America | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Interview with Mohamed Keita: Media Landscape from Mali to Chad

Screen shot 2013-06-04 at 11.53.54 AMIn preparation for Win-A-Trip with Nicholas Kristof this July, I wanted to familiarize myself with the state of the media in the countries that we’ll be reporting from: Mali, Niger and Chad. There are a number of organizations that monitor press freedom and journalist safety around the world. As a starting point I contacted Mohamed Keita, the Africa advocacy coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).  Keita specializes in campaigning for press freedom and journalists across Africa who, as he says, “Take the greatest risks to do their job.”

Continue reading

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Africa, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Inside Look at Safety Training with Global Journalist Security

In 2011, foreign correspondent Lara Logan survived a violent mob attack in Tahrir Square.  As a female aspiring to report on humanitarian issues abroad, myself, Logan’s story didn’t scare me into switching career paths.  Instead, it gave me some much-needed perspective on the training I needed to do my job both effectively and safely.

My grandma suggested that I take “one of those karate or tae kwon do classes” just to be safe.  This didn’t sound like such a bad idea, but when I read Logan’s memoir in a book published by the International News Safety Institute, something other than self defense tactics caught my attention.  In the heat of the moment, Logan channeled all of her energy into staying on her feet to avoid being crushed to death.

Questioning whether I would have sense enough to do the same under traumatic pressure, I decided to take a holistic approach to worst-case scenarios.  I wanted to train my mind, as well as my body.  A tip from the Committee to Protect Journalists led me to Frank Smyth with Global Journalist Security and his two-day training in D.C. titled Safely Navigating Threatening Environments.

Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 6.27.59 PMI packed my carry on in Madison, Wisconsin, where temperamental weather seems to be the greatest travel threat, and flew out to train with eight others.  I went into the experience stressing over which pair of shoes to pack and walked away with a new level of awareness that may very well save my life someday.

Continue reading

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Africa, Asia & Pacific, Eastern Europe & Central Asia, Human Rights, Latin America, Media Development, Middle East & Northern Africa, North America, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Building a New Reporting Foundation on World Health Day

Last week my travel clinic physician advised me on three antimalarial options.  One can exacerbate anxiety and induce night terrors.  Another leaves your mind at ease, but makes your skin hypersensitive to the sun.  And I can’t afford the convenience of the third one.  I’ll go with the pills that require one good application of SPF 80.

I’ll be in Western Africa less than two weeks this summer, but I’ll also need a Yellow Fever vaccination, a Typhoid shot, and a digestive track goodie bag.  I blindly went

Dawn Maker (second from left) was the health volunteer in my Peace Corps village. She worked on health and nutrition education projects with the local health cooperative.

Dawn Maker (second from left) was the health volunteer in my Peace Corps village. She worked on health and nutrition education projects with the local health cooperative.

through the vaccination process as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan, but this time around I’m preparing to report on issues of global health and poverty with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.  Not only do I want to understand why I need to take these vaccinations, but I also want to understand issues of access to these medications, cultural barriers associated with these health risks, and how humanitarians are addressing things like Malaria in innovative ways.  In celebration of World Health Day, I’m kicking off an independent study in global health.  I can’t do it alone.

I’ve started to compile a list of recommended readings on global health and poverty, which I’ll share below.  If you have any additional suggestions, please post a comment.  I process new information best through writing, so if you’d be interested in talking with me about some issue in more depth our mini tutorial could very well become the topic of my next blog post.

The Unofficial 2013 Win-A-Trip Reading List:

Continue reading

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Africa | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Journalism in 2012: A Hazardous Profession

Article originally published on Best Thinking.

A Western journalist who criticizes local authorizes may burn a bridge or two with government sources. A journalist who criticizes local authorities in a nation plagued by corruption may face censorship, prison, emotional threats, physical attacks, or murder.

For journalists working in countries that don’t support free media, the risk involved in simply doing their job—clear, accurate reporting—continues to increase. Last year wrapped up as one of the deadliest for journalists around the world, reports the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), an advocacy organization that has been tracking journalist safety since 1992. Syria topped the chart with 28 journalist fatalities related to local conflict. Somalia (12 deaths), Pakistan (7), and Brazil (4) fell next in line, investing little to nothing in investigations of suspected murder cases.

This culture of impunity, as CPJ denounces it in advocacy campaigns, gives governments little incentive to protect local journalists who challenge their authority. Rather, it empowers dictators to silence critical voices through whichever means they see fit. In this environment, propaganda masquerades as free press and those who attempt to maintain journalistic independence understand that they are placing more than their career on the line. If they nail an investigative story, they may soon find themselves on CPJ’s missing or unsolved murders list.

Continue reading

Social Share Toolbar
Posted in Africa, Asia & Pacific, Eastern Europe & Central Asia, Human Rights, Latin America, Media Development, Middle East & Northern Africa, North America, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment