jump to navigation

Bookends: Ayed provides an incisive look at the Middle East February 18, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bookends: Ayed provides an incisive look at the Middle EastA thousand farewells

By Dan Davidson

November 12, 2014

– 872 words –


A Thousand Farewells: A Reporter’s Journey from Refugee Camp to the Arab Spring

By Nahlah Ayed

Penguin Canada

376 pages



Nahlah Ayed didn’t start out in a refugee camp. Her parents had escaped the grinding conditions of Palestine and made a solid life in Canada. She was born and spent her early years in Winnipeg, growing up Canadian.

This proved to be an issue for her parents, who, having decided that the whole family needed an immersion course in Palestinian culture, left everything, and moved back there. They experienced the poverty and squalor of a refugee camp for some years, though they did eventually work their way out of that and into better circumstances. Her father actually had to go back to Winnipeg in order to make enough money to support the cultural experience of being “refugees by design”, and they gave up on it altogether after seven years, returning to Winnipeg and starting over.

While she didn’t see it as a good thing at the time, the immersion experience gave her two things that most reporters on the Middle Eastern situation never get: an understanding of what it is like to actually live there, and the ability to speak Arabic, as well as recognize some of its variations.

With degrees in both the Arts and Sciences, Ayed didn’t set out to be a journalist, but fell into the career while working on the university’s student paper. This led her to a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University and eventually to a position with the Canadian Press as a Parliamentary Reporter.

She was recruited to the CBC in 2002 and was stationed in Beirut until 2009, covering the entire region from there, including major conflicts in Gaza and Lebanon.

Her writing about transitions is interesting. She lost more than a few steps in her command of English during her time as a child in Palestine, and when she returned there as a reporter, she faced the same situation in the other direction. She is a determined individual, who strives to overcome whatever challenges she is faced with and this included staying in dangerous places far longer than she should have.

After more than one encounter with individuals who didn’t like reporters, or Westerners, or women; after having a nearby bomb shatter the windows in her apartment; she began to suffer symptoms that could only have been a type of PTSD, and ignored them until they stole her sleep and sometimes caused fainting spells.

“I knew from the start,” she writes, “that working in the Middle East meant total commitment. I had no choice but to immerse myself in every aspect, read every word, jump into every conflict. It is true that I overstayed, to the point of exhaustion, but choices always existed, and I could have left at any moment, with out without the CBC.

“I chose to stay, and while the unpredictability of life in the region partly determined how my life unfolded, I, too, was culpable, a willing participant whose only goal, always, was to deepen my understanding.”

As a culturally embedded reporter she saw the beginnings of what would eventually become the Arab Spring long before most observers, and warned her superiors to watch for events in Egypt as early as 2010, while she was stationed in London as a respite posting. The chapter titled “Revolution” chronicles the events of 2011 that the Western world placed such hope in, and yet were the gestation of the barbarous movement that would call itself ISIS/ISIL just a few years later.

Ayed writes that her book merely provides snapshots of a story that is far more complex than can ever be made clear in three minute segments in a newscast.

“It is not so much a political examination as a glimpse into the Arab condition, focused on how people became the product of their challenging environment – and on the civilians of the region who have long been mischaracterized and misunderstood.”

One of the richest things about this book is that it provides glimpses of ordinary life amid the context of the chaos that has infected the region for decades.

Ayed has won several broadcast awards for her reportage from the Middle East, and she is one of those reporters who always provides a solid story when one of her reports appears on the National. This book was short-listed for a number of prestigious awards.

What seems to be missing from Ayed’s story is much of a personal life. From what we read here, she is the job, and very focused on her interpretation of how that should work.

The book stops just short of things beginning to fall apart again, and readers might be best advised to pick up the second edition, which has some updated material in it. The same thing has happened to Graeme Smith’s The Dogs are Eating Them Now, which I reviewed here about a year ago. Such books are always being overtaken by the march of events, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable as roadmaps to understanding the world a little better.













No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: