Live from Aleppo

by mediachinwag

CNN has an important series on the devastation in Syria, reported by correspondent Clarissa Ward.

ward

Ward has won numerous awards for her foreign reporting, including from the Middle East—a Peabody, a Murrow, a duPont-Columbia, and four Emmys. The CNN series is called “The truth about Syria: Undercover behind rebel lines.”

Few foreign journalists dare enter the Syrian war zone anymore, after the beheadings of reporter James Foley and others at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Scores of foreign and Syrian journalists have died in the five-year-old conflict.

But Ward, along with producer Salma Abdelaziz and filmmaker Bilal Abdul Kareem, braved sniper fire, aerial bombardments, and the risk of kidnapping to report in rebel-held territory for a week recently. They even made the journey into Aleppo, a major city in northern Syria where 320,000 people may be trapped between the rebels and government forces.

Refinery29, a style website, posted a good interview with Ward about her reporting from Syria. It includes this discussion about the advantages of being a woman correspondent:

People often assume, Oh, you’re a woman working in the Middle East. Yikes! And I’m like, “Actually, there are a lot of advantages to being a woman.” I truly believe, as talented as my male counterparts are, I don’t think that a male Western journalist could have done this, because the whole cloak-of-invisibility thing is pretty important. So, just on the superficial level, that makes a huge difference.

I can wear a niqab and people don’t even look at me, because I’m wearing a niqab. It’s like a gesture of respect. You don’t look into the eyes of a woman who’s dressed like that, because she’s making a statement by wearing that outfit that she doesn’t encourage that kind of eye contact with men. So, that was crucial.

…I spent two days posing as a tourist. Then, I sort of slipped off into an alleyway in the old city, put a headscarf on, and went and lived with some activists for a week.

But beyond that, I think there are several things. First of all, you get to participate and engage with 50% of the population that your male counterparts just do not. I get to sit with women in the kitchen—and women know everything. You want to get the lowdown on what’s going on in that village? Sit in the kitchen for a few hours. They are going to make you eat a lot of food, that’s a given, but that’s okay, because you’re in Syria and the food’s delicious. And then, they’re going to tell you everything that’s going on.

Because they are a fountain of information and knowledge and beyond that, they are—not to resort to stereotypes—but they are a little more willing to engage with you emotionally. I’ll give you an example: When I was in Aleppo a few years ago, there was heavy shelling going on. And as a Western woman, I can sit with the men or the women, which is another bonus. So, when I was sitting with the men and the bombardment started, I noticed that the men obviously got nervous, but no one articulated it. They just started smoking a lot of cigarettes and arguing with each other, because everyone was tense.

Whereas when I went and sat with the women, one woman was rocking back and forth, holding a pillow, one woman was crying hysterically, and one woman was praying. I just thought: This actually gives you a better sense of what people are really feeling when they hear the sounds of bombs. The men may sit there, argue, and smoke cigarettes, because they don’t want to start crying or rocking back and forth in the fetal position, but that is how they feel inside, as well. It’s just that the women are maybe a little more open about expressing it.

—Scott MacLeod