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    Entries in - Reporting (19)


    Amazed and Confused: My Night at the Movies


    For part of my 20s, I worked as a journalist in New York, writing and editing news, and shepherding various forms of what I thought were important stories from pitch to completion. Then, in 2008, my wife set out to work full-time as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and I tagged along. Over the next five years, I watched her covering difficult stories: the growth of al-Qaeda in Yemen, the supposed wind-down of our war in Iraq, the failed revolutions in Bahrain and Syria. Faced with stories more urgent, perhaps, than the ones I’d known in New York, I became convinced that what I thought I knew about how cities functioned and how people ought to act with each other was untrue or at least incomplete and probably down-right naïve. In my new life, while my wife roamed the globe, I was meanwhile often a single parent, and with a great deal of effort I was attempting to find meaning in this new role. So I wrote personal essays. Some of them were uncertain, others emotional, and most of them raw and strange and inconclusive.

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    The Hipster Brewmeister of ... Beirut


    LAST spring, at a public square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, about 1,000 revelers attended a rock festival sponsored by 961 Beer, a very rare Middle East microbrewery. Acts included the Wanton Bishops, a band that would have been at home in Austin, Tex. In the front row were stylish women in sundresses beside men who showed a strong preference for black T-shirts and trendy eyewear.

    Forget the idea that religion or the effects of war might preclude the success of a Lebanese brewery. It’s true that many Muslims abstain from alcohol. But plenty of people in the Middle East love to drink, and this is especially true in Lebanon, where the religious plurality includes a thriving Christian population — and besides, people seek alcohol during hard times, said Mazen Hajjar, a former investment banker and airline executive who started 961 Beer.

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    Expat lives: from Canberra to Phnom Penh


    On occasion, Australian interior designer Bronwyn Blue likes to get up early and watch the sun rise over the Mekong river. On these mornings, she leaves her apartment in Phnom Penh before the streets become a sea of slow-moving scooters, cars and SUVs, and takes an early morning stroll, perhaps buying coffee or fruit on the way back, or stopping to watch old men and women practise tai chi under a tree.

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    Expat lives: Los Angeles to Ramallah


    Thomas Hill, a native of Sacramento, California, lived in Russia on and off for nearly a decade, spending his final years in the beleaguered republic of Chechnya, where he was a country director for the International Rescue Committee. The opportunity to return to the US was hard to pass up. So when the IRC offered him a job as executive director in Los Angeles, he jumped.

    “On the surface it would seem to be a big smog-laden, gun-fighting, traffic kind of place,” says Hill of LA, who bounced between neighbourhoods before settling down in West Hollywood. “You get [the neighbourhood] right, it’s awesome.” It was there that he met actor and writer Genevieve Parker, whom he married in 2012.

    But last spring, just a month after their wedding, Hill and Parker moved to the Middle East, settling in the Palestinian territories via Israel. “We decided to become very minimalist . . . we got here with two bags and my camera gear,” he says. “If we get something new, we have to throw something out.”

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    Expat lives: from New Jersey to Jordan


    Preparations for the football World Cup in South Africa brought US engineer Trevor Liddle, then 55, out of an early retirement. Liddle’s wife, Laurie Balbo, wasn’t at all surprised: “I knew he had another airport in him.”

    It was January 2008, and Liddle was being asked to move from Little Falls, New Jersey, to Johannesburg to help engineer a new airport terminal. Balbo wasn’t sure about the move, and the more she read, the more South Africa didn’t seem like the right place to go – especially with a 10-year-old daughter in tow.

    “There was no way in hell I was taking this free-spirited kid over there, to a walled community where you’re afraid of everyone that doesn’t look like you,” she says. “It was tough, because it was my husband’s dream.”

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    Life near the center


    Last summer, my wife became NPR’s correspondent in Baghdad. I couldn’t join her there, so we decided I’d move to Istanbul, with its cobblestoned streets, abundant fresh food, humming nightlife, and gleaming airport.

    We weren’t the first journalists to discover its charms. At a rooftop party a few weeks after arriving, I encountered some of the other media people based here. A pile of sausage was tended by New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks, who gestured with tongs at Ivan Watson, the CNN correspondent. They both covered conflict, same as Dexter Filkins, author of an award-winning book on Iraq and Afghanistan, who lounged on a carpet and cushions. The lights sparkled on the Bosphorus and I watched as Imma Vitelli, an international writer for Italian Vanity Fair whose travels take her from Mogadishu to Milan, embraced Peter Kenyon, another Middle East correspondent for NPR. Tipping back a cold beer, I basked in the presence of so much achievement.

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    Beirut, After Osama

    THE AWL - 12 MAY 2011

    The other day I ventured out into the sun-drenched city of Beirut, where I saw cafes and restaurants packed with young people spending money. At a stainless steel table, buff men ate olives. Nearby, two young women in gold shirts talked over a stack of books. One title: Elite Management Training. Down the block, a gleaming red Ferrari rolled by and a transvestite teetered on heels. Osama bin Laden had just been killed.

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    Leaving Egypt, with regrets: The evacuated students of Cairo

    THE AWL - 7 FEBRUARY 2011

    The other day, 19-year-old Dylan Sodaro was in line to register for classes at American University in Cairo. The Egyptian woman processing forms asked Dylan if he was Jewish. All week, people had been taking to the streets to criticize Hosni Mubarak, widely considered a friend to America and Israel. "Won't this hurt your people?" the Egyptian woman said. Dylan shrugged—at this point, he wasn't sure what the protests meant.

    On Thursday night, the eve of the largest gatherings calling for Mubarak's resignation yet, a friend of Dylan's named Will was having a party. Dylan retreated to a bedroom with his best mates, Matthew Scarvie, also 19 and from New Mexico, and Gunnar Dancer, a 20-year old from Minnesota. It was very early on Friday morning when they made it back to a shared apartment they rented—a block from Tahrir Square, ground zero for the protests. The friends called the apartment "The Aviary," because of the birds they kept on the balcony. "They're probably dead now," Gunnar said.

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    Blood in the water


    On New Year's Eve in Istanbul, I make my way from the seaside enclave of Beyoglu across the Galata Bridge. The gauntlet of fish restaurants lining the bridge’s lower level are gaily festooned for the holidays; white tablecloths are starched and a big flounder is laid out on ice. A foursome of fleece-laden Germans take their seats, while a mustachioed Turk frowns and smokes in a too-slim, hastily stitched Santa outfit.

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    Christmas in Exile


    ERBIL, Iraq – It's Christmas morning in northern Iraq, and the parishioners of St. Joseph's Church are emerging from their homes into the bright desert sunlight. With two Iraqi friends, I drive along narrow avenues decorated with twinkling lights and the occasional inflatable Santa. We pass a clutch of men wearing bright sweaters, pressed slacks, and loafers. A trio of women breaks into tight smiles; one is wearing a red skirt with a band of white snowflakes.

    We round the corner, and we’re surprised to see that a shimmering tanker truck is blocking the road to the church. Frowning men in uniform wave their arms.

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    A tale of two Arabian cities

    THE REVIEW - 9 APRIL 2010

    The clang of metal rings out down a dusty street in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Soldiers in blue camouflage hold oiled assault rifles, standing among a gathering crowd. One of the city’s dispensaries for cooking gas has just received a shipment. There’s a shortage of fuel all around the city, which is groaning under the twin strains of governmental dysfunction and an influx of refugees from the north. A jet streaks high above us, presumably en route to the border with Saudi Arabia, where the Yemeni military is targeting anti-government Houthi rebels and alleged cells of al Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Some in the West have begun to call Yemen a failed state, but at least they’re calling it something.

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    Down in the floods, something in Saudi Arabia may have changed

    THE REVIEW - 22 JANUARY 2010

    On the first day of Hajj, rain blanketed Saudi Arabia’s vast western coast. As my wife assembled her radio gear in preparation for the next day’s news brief about the storm’s effect on the pilgrimage, I quickly scanned the news online: it was already the heaviest rain Jeddah had seen in a quarter-century, and the city of four million was flooding; four were already reported dead. By the time we woke up the next morning, the death toll had risen to 77.

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    Checkpoint Qatif: Shoulder-to-shoulder with Saudi's Shiite minority


    My blood went cold at the sight of the checkpoint to enter Qatif, the coastal municipality that is home to almost all of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite minority. Qatif -- my wife quickly explained, seeing my discomfort as we approached the two officers in brown uniform -- erupted in violent protests in 1980, just a year after Shiites launched a revolution in Iran and, closer to home, Islamists opposed to the Saudi royal family seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

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    Home tweet home

    THE REVIEW - 17 JULY 2009

    It was a little after 8pm when I entered the Second Cup cafe on Thalia Street, Riyadh's main shopping district. It was a Wednesday night - the end of the work week here - so Riyadh's cruisers were out. Alongside big Suburbans manned by teenaged Saudi boys just old enough to grow wispy moustaches were Maseratis piloted by cool, princely men in immaculate thobes. Also crawling through the traffic were Mercedes and BMWs with blacked-out windows. Inside were girls.

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    A paradise's costs

    THE REVIEW - 12 JUNE 2009

    On a clear weekday morning in March 2004, the 60-year-old New Zealander writer Graeme Lay glimpsed a front-page newspaper photo of a car accident on the treacherous State Highway 2 near Maramura, a small town a little more than an hour's drive from Lay's home. "Oh s***, he thought. "Another accident on that bloody road." Lay put the paper aside. Later that morning, the phone rang in the study of his Victorian home, a room lined with tall, single-pane windows and shelves of books - a few of

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    Saudi Arabia's got talent

    THE REVIEW - 5 JUNE 2009

    "You ready to rock?" asks Todd Albert Nims, his electric, American grin parting a week's worth of fashionable beard. We're arrayed in a rented-out conference room. Looking nervous but resigned, the sad-eyed Somali cameraman nods, the wiry Filipino tech fires up the klieg lights, and I sit back and hold my breath. For the first time in its modern history, Saudi Arabia is the site of an open casting call. Standard in Los Angeles, Berlin, London, Mumbai and other cultural capitals, the auditions were being held at a Holiday Inn Hotel converted from a compound that once held the staff of British Airways, which suspended operations in Saudi during the troubles from 2003 to 2006, when dozens of expatriates were killed in bombings and gunshot executions.

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    Up in the old hotel

    THE REVIEW - 8 MAY 2009

    From the beginning, in 1978, Al Khozama Hotel was a product of Riyadh’s frontier spirit. The city had a Wild West lack of infrastructure, and with it the opportunity – fed by oil’s disorganised gush – to strike it rich overnight. Fortunes were being made and lost; big thinkers and big dreamers were parachuting in to conjure up opulent masterpieces in the barren desert.

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    Unquiet Americans

    THE REVIEW - 17 APRIL 2009

    Assembled in a plush anteroom at Qunicy House, the US Ambassador's formal residence here in Riyadh, the Pine Leaf Boys were a crew of guileless, fresh-faced Louisianans in their mid-20s. The bassist, a handsome bearded man named Thomas David, had never left the US before. The drummer, Drew Simon, compact and slouching, said he postponed his wedding to attend. The wispy-thin fiddler, Courtney Granger, said he was so nervous about coming to the Middle East that he'd spent the previous two days vomiting.

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    The American way of beef


    These days, the thought of ingesting hamburger gives many people pause. Massive beef recalls and books like Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation have impressed upon readers' minds the image of the modern beef cow, packed tightly in an enormous feedlot, standing in a cesspool of its brethren's manure as it gorges itself on an excessively medicated mix of corn and rendered animal protein. Although livestock diseases have devastated farms in Europe, American factory farming has earned an especially bad name for its carelessness and inhumanity. As B. R. Myers wrote in his May 2005 Atlantic piece "If Pigs Could Swim," "Livestock are treated better in Europe because Europeans want them treated better. They are treated worse here because we hardly think of them at all. It's as simple as that."

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