Columns, Opinion

MAHDI: The stories of others

When I was young, I had a strong obsession with ancient Egypt. I loved the stories I learned about in school, I loved the hieroglyphics and I loved the legend of Tutankhamun. When Howard Carter, the man responsible for the excavations, and Lord Carnarvon, his financier had thought all was lost, Carter discovered a hidden staircase that led to a mysterious corridor. The site showed signs of theft, so the explorers were sure that the site had already been looted for all of its wealth. Carter famously reported, “At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold — everywhere the glint of gold.” I still remember presenting my papyrus leaves to my teacher, which had my report written delicately on the sheets tied together by ribbon. There was a certain romance in the idea of Egyptology — the idea that stories untold were still buried under the earth, waiting to be discovered and pieced together.

I believe that is when my passion for writing first began. I wanted to tell stories, but I wanted to tell other people’s stories. I always envisioned myself traveling the world and feeling inspired by communities and human experiences so different to my own. Perhaps it’s all a huge cliché, but being the instrument for someone to share his or her life seemed like the most exhilarating job in the world. For travelling journalists and international correspondents, this exhilaration is the job. Unfortunately, while the media has evolved significantly since coverage of Tutankhamun was headline news, journalists who work in areas of conflict, or countries where communication to the outside world about state of affairs is crucial, are still putting themselves firmly in harm’s way. On Saturday, two Spanish journalists landed in Madrid after being held hostage in Syria for six months.

According to BBC, Javier Espinosa, a correspondent for El Mundo and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, a freelance photographer, were recently set free and handed over to the Turkish military after being held hostage by militants linked to Al-Qaeda, captured near the Turkish border in September. Since many areas dominated by rebels are too dangerous for journalists to work in, these are the areas where information is scarce. Reporters Without Borders has already named Syria the most dangerous country for journalists in the world today. Even though two journalists have been rescued, 17 others are still believed to be hostages, with 20 or more domestic Syrian reporters also in danger. More than 110 news providers have died doing work in Syria since March 2011. Now, excavating the ancient tombs of Egypt and risking falling victim to the rumoured ‘mummy’s curse’ seems significantly less dangerous.

Marie Colvin, an award-winning American journalist who worked for The Sunday Times in Britain, once said, “The next war I cover, I’ll be more awed than ever by the quiet bravery of civilians who endure far more than I ever will.” She lost sight in one eye covering unrest in Sri Lanka in 2001. She later died covering the siege of Homs, a city in Syria. Why could she not give up war reporting? In a piece by the Lowell Sun, she explained, “We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians.”

Colvin’s spirit has not left with her, and is one that I believe we can assume many correspondents around the world hold close to their hearts while on assignments. There are people who may say, so what? All they do is jot down notes on pieces of paper, or film the environment around them and submit it to an editor at a desk. Some may say media coverage in conflict zones verges on sensationalist, inaccurate and irresponsible material. Yes, there are many instances where someone gets it wrong, it would be naïve to believe the news does not have its faults along with its merits.

Nevertheless, today, I take a minute to think of the correspondents who report helplessly as the civilians suffer. I take a minute to think of the 76 journalists who died while on assignments in 2013. I think of how, perhaps like me, those men and women who go to these conflict zones probably sat in their homes as young children, dreaming about telling the stories of the world around them.

Amidst all the noise, all of the politics involved with news coverage, in there are brave people doing amazing work. Despite the danger associated with the tasks at hand, one powerful truth remains: the storytellers I look up to still exist, and they’re still willing to go down untapped corridors in search of that glint of gold.

Sofiya Mahdi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a former managing editor at The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at [email protected].

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