Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What Next?

My biggest fear in coming here was that I would do my six months, go back to Canada, and return to my old life - reporting about Larry O'Brien (Ottawa's mayor) or garbage collection (no joke, I have done several stories on this) or some woman who lost her parrot (again, not joking). These are, indeed, important stories that someone has to tell and that many are interested to read - but it's just not what interests me.

On top of that, my time at IRIN has been incredible in terms of orienting myself to the humanitarian issues in West Africa, but for the most part, I have been reporting from my desk in my air conditioned office, next to a Frenchie, a Brit, an American and an Australian. (p.s. What's the noun for a French person?)

So... I've been thinking of what to do next. And I've come up with two options, and I'd like your votes! I'm still planning on going to Egypt in the month of January to study Arabic, but I have about 10 days between finishing at IRIN and starting my Arabic classes, in which I would like to visit another country in the region and set the framework for returning as a freelance journalist. Then the plan is to come back to Canada for a while - enough time to see my wonderful friends and family! - and then eventually head back here (I use "here" very broadly - meaning, Africa, Middle East, wherever I see fit!)

Option 1 - Niger. (not to be confused with Nigeria)

Rated the world's poorest country by the UN. Mostly desert, lots of nomads - and a whole lot of complications!

You guys are always asking for my articles, so here are a couple that give you an idea of what's going on there:

A quick summary of Niger is basically this: It is a mix of complete poverty, foreign companies exploiting uranium, a semi-rebellion by Touareg people who say they are being discriminated against and that the government is not redistributing the revenue from the uranium extraction, and a government that refuses to negotiate with the rebels, and is instead arresting people and journalists who it believes are sympathetic to the rebel cause. Voila.

There is a state of emergency in the north of the country, where the sporadic rebellion is taking place; foreign journalists have been barred from entering; and movement is quite difficult because of landmines.

So if I went, I would probably be stuck in the capital (far from danger mother, don't worry), and I'm not sure how much I would be able to accomplish, other than to orient myself a little to the country, make some contacts, etc.

Option 2 - Chad.

I'm sure you've all heard the story of the French NGO accused of child trafficking for trying to "save" Darfur orphans by taking them to host families in France. Yup, that's Chad. (Here's another taste of my journalistic adventures: But apart from that, there is lots going on there and apparently a complete lack of reporters (other than the ones who have flown in to cover this scandal and will leave as soon as it's old news). In the east of Chad, about 450,000 people are in camps - they are either refugees from Darfur (in neighbouring Sudan) and the Central African Republic, or they are internally displaced people, because Chad itself has been home to fighting between government and rebel groups, cross-border raids by Sudanese militia, and interethnic fighting. A European Union force is going to be deployed there in a couple weeks to stabilize the eastern region.

Nick, from the office, says that while Chad is a "very unpleasant" place to be, it is far easier to operate in than Niger, and apparently Associated Press is looking for a stringer there.

Either way, I'm kind of intimidated by the idea of being a freelance journalist in an area I don't know (how to make contacts, be in the loop for press conferences, understand the complicated politics, and avoid dangerous situations), especially when I don't have the backing of an organisation. Having a media outlet behind you not only gives you a name when you approach interviewees, but also connects you to a whole structure set up to help you (contacts, resources, people with experience, etc) ... I imagine even something as simple as a cell phone or connection to internet can be difficult in these countries when you're on your own.

Still, no media outlets have the money to permanently station people in some of these countries, so a stringer can be very successful by writing stories for all sorts of different outlets. And I guess once you make friends with the local journalists, you can connect yourself to the media scene. I've already got a good starting point (all the phone numbers I've gathered over my time here of president's spokespeople, etc) and I can almost definately string (journalistic term for "freelance or write") for IRIN, at the very least.

Really I think the only way to ever get to where I want to be is to just plunge right in! You never know what you're capable of until you're tested, right?

And Mom, at least Darfur is not on the list! Wish me luck!


Still.Searching said...

I did nto finish reading .. did not need to but my vote is NO (Niger), NO (Chad), Thank God (Darfour)..

YTou want misery, go to misery where I know people who can help me start looking for you .. Lots of misery in Gaza and west bank.. even in Egypt.. (just ask Aziza to atke you home to her village.. 13 hours into the desert)

At least tehre, you have a chance in hell of blending in a crowd.. I vote egypt, then West bank then lebanon then Gaza and I have VETO power.. This is NOT fair.. I was supposed to open up my private company with you.. you promised ! I need my partner

Emily said...

Hey Heba,

I think I understand about the sense of confusion following a stint overseas. I still don't think I'm over mine, which is a pretty long time considering I went away when I was 20. I say go to the place that sounds like there's more action, though there are probably crazy things happening in both places. Egypt and the Middle East are also good choices - we could certainly use better coverage of their issues back home.

When you come back, you should swing by California for a bit. Talk to you later!

Erin/Kristina said...

Hey Heeba,
I would vote for Niger, since it's closer to you and you would save money as well as be in a slightly more stable area, from what I understand of the region. However, I'm kind of confused about your reasons for choosing either of these places when you only have ten days to go there -- from being in Senegal you know it's really not a lot of time to establish anything when travelling 200km takes five hours, or more of the car breaks down or you get a flat tire! After being in Benin six weeks, I'm realizing how much time it takes to make connections, understand hierarchies, and get over language barries. Is it really worth it to go to either place when you only have 10 days to play with? If I was you I would use the time to go to a country that interests you but more with the idea of taking a break before heading to Egypt, not racing around trying to make contacts or work. It just doesn't seem like a realistic amount of time to get anything efficient done.

Kamal Shaath said...

Well, I have no choice but to add to the comments... simply because being quite would not help. Heba you have been under immense pressure over the last few month, you have experienced more than you realize and over the next few month you will find out how much more you have learnt & discovered. Things are not as easy as they may seem, your comments on the blog have started to take a different tone...
I agree with you have 10 days, you need a change... the last thing you want to do is add more pressure too yourself.... take a break go somewhere you always wanted to see.... go see a place because you want to discover it... not just searching for more events to report on, or trying to get work in 10 days....
You are pretty close to Europe... go take a break in Spain or Greece , or in Africa you have Tunisia not too far from you... and if you really want to see a city built on money.... then Dubai is an option.
Take a break, relax and enjoy your time.... you will always have time to find work... you are good at finding work.... Good Luck

Ghadeer said...

Salam ya Heba,

I vote for option 3 = )

There is nothing wrong with option 1 or 2. I just feel that it will take you to a different path and twist at the end of your trip especially that you have only 10 days. Even if you have some contacts, still it will be tough on you and you may not get what you are looking for.

Simply, it will be another challenge and extra pressure on you.

I won't say go to the extreme and relax or enjoy your time because even if you wanted, it won't be easy after all the serious issues that your brain has dealt with recently .. it's your brain, it won't accept it until sometime ..

I would still say, you need to do something in the middle since learning Arabic in egypt will be relaxing for you. So I will suggest another 2 options:

1- If you can stay the 10 days in Senegal, get to visit more places, interview more people, or work on short documentary about Senegal and the challenges are there and the culture. It will be a good memory from there and you can also share them with local TV or Radio stations..

2- If you are going any way to Egypt, then staying extra 10 days will help you to visit more places or work on a report on a serious cause over there.

I was talking to a friend the other day about the Islamic Architecture Art. I was really ignorant until she told me how amazing the buildings and the cities used to be built..and some of wonderful places are in Cairo.. So, maybe learning about something different and new, ir will add to your knowledge and will refresh your spirit by being in old places with history and lots of stories for example...

So ya, I vote for still searching, Erin/kristina and Kamal = )
But for sure, you don't need to go to Gaza .. I can tell you more than you need to know! LoL
Good luck my dear and May God guide you to the best InshAllah.

Sorry for not voting to your options = P