Yesterday, I got a call from Washington, DC.
He – the voice on the other end of the phone – offered me some advice, a little guidance on how I might go about pursuing a career in foreign correspondence and conflict zone reporting.
We’ve never met. In fact, the circumstances leading to the call were a series of happy coincidences, married with a little persistence.
Several weeks ago I went to my weekly Monday-night meeting, where timing and location meant I happened to meet one of my colleague and mentors’ longtime friends. I shared my experiences living on a military base in Wainwright, and my ambitions of coupling travel with journalism on issues that I find matter. He himself had studied journalism in Paris, but ended up furthering his education in international politics and economics.
One of his best friends, however, continued on with journalism, traveled to conflict zones, war zones, and areas of devastation. He now works for the IMF.
After a virtual introduction, a couples of emails, and a emailed resume spell-checked half a dozen times, he agreed to speak with me. And by agreeing to speak with me, I mean he just decided to call. Which takes me to yesterday morning, half-way through a rushed breakfast before heading off to work, staring at my phone trying to figure out whether this call from DC, USA was an automated credit card spam call.
I answered. And about 10 minutes later, I went back to getting ready for work, having possibly made the contact of a lifetime: A professional, talented, and experienced potential sounding board who has lived the career I hope to pursue.
The capitol called yesterday, and along with it, a glimpse of what my future could be.
When asked what I want to be when I grow up, I instinctually reply with an impressive-sounding mouthful: When I grow up, I’d like to be a foreign correspondent, working in television, focusing on conflict zone journalism and war reporting.
The dream is a relatively new one, and how I plan on achieving it – and whether or not I follow through – are hazy details. But they are, nonetheless, details: Details compared with how I feel when I read and see and hear about what’s going on in the world, about human rights abuses and people getting shot to the ground over their right to stand and speak up.
It’s an anger that starts in the pit of my stomach, empties out my mind and mobilizes my feet so that in a matter of minutes, I’m storming around my house in an anxious rage. As time passes, the feeling eventually wears off. But I never forget, and to this day, am able to cite three queasy memories as my reasons for wanting to do what I want to do.
The first was back when I was in high school: I was at home and saw, for the first time, the photos of the 9/11 attacks. Specifically the ones where innocent American civilians were jumping from the second tower.
The second instance was a video of a woman, covered completely head-to-toe, getting stoned to death.
And most recently, I clicked a photo on Twitter before reading the caption. Turns out, to my horror, it had been captioned something like “what a suicide bomber looks like after detonation.”
More detail would be unnecessary. I also think it’s pretty clear how much impact these images can have on someone, psychologically, emotionally, even physically, for those with a weaker stomach than I.
There are dozens of reasons why I’m drawn to conflict zone reporting, and there are hundreds of reasons why I shouldn’t pursue it in any way other than occasionally clicking on the odd photo. But the truth is, I only need three: Three reasons that can’t be unseen, unthought, or unfelt. And once you’ve felt a certain way, it’s practically impossible to try to lead a life feeling any differently.