The Journalism of Trauma

So, I didn’t write for many months after I created this blog. I went off to Iraq and when I returned, I could not navigate through some technical difficulties, and I abandoned this.
But I just returned from an invigorating week in Chicago — yes, the windy city is still celebrating the historical electoral victory of one of its own, but that’s not what I mean.
I just attended a week-long fellowship sponsored by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. I sat with eight other journalists chosen as 2008 Ochberg fellows and learned that I was hardly alone. I had felt somewhat isolated from society after my returns from Iraq and I discovered that THAT was perfectly normal.
We heard from specialists in the field working with depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other problems that plague victims of violence.
Not many Americans realize how traumatic events can affect the journalists who cover them. Everyone is always getting down on the media, but how else would everyone get news if the media decided to skip the awful fires, shootouts, murders, terrorist attacks and wars?
Think about it.
Would you be willing, if you had a choice, to leave the comforts of your home to throw yourself in harm’s way? Very few of us do that for a living. Firefighters, paramedics, police officers and members of the military are a special breed. I think journalists are too.

Sons and daughters

In the past few days, I have spoken with fathers and the mothers destroyed by this war. 

Their children came home in flag-draped coffins that photographers are not allowed to shoot.
I had breakfast with one of them this morning. Jeff Brunson copes as best he can but you can see the sorrow in his eyes. Gus is always in his heart. 
Gus died with three other 48th Infantry Brigade soldiers the day before I landed in Baghdad in 2005. Jeff and I have known each other for a while. I’ve written a couple of stories about him. He invited me to go with him and his wife to see a fallen soldiers portraits exhibition in September. It was difficult enough for me to watch him as he came upon his son’s likeness. I can’t imagine how he felt that day.
We talked about that this morning at an IHop in Lawrenceville. Jeff bit into his country omelette and aired a truth that cannot be disputed: I can never know the loss of losing a child. I don’t have any children. But if there is such a thing as coming close, I am in that uncomfortable space. 
I am sure I will see the faces of the dead tonight as I fall asleep. Next week, my feet will touch that bloody sand again.

Why Evil Reporter Chick?

A platoon sergeant wrote that on my helmet band when I was with his unit in Baghdad in 2006.
It stuck.
He wrote it most affectionately, of course, but it correctly represents the underlying tension between the media and the military. Soldiers laugh when they see it. And it has even helped me get a story or two.
This photo of me in Tal Afar that you see next to this post — well, a young lieutenant in the Florida National Guard saw my helmet band and asked if I wanted to go see the nine city blocks razed in a horrific bombing last year.  He would have never thought to ask had he not seen the helmet band.
I am sitting at my kitchen table waiting for my chicken biryani to finish cooking. The smells remind me of the Mughlai take-out place near my house in Calcutta. I used to walk down the street just to get a whiff of the intense smells of cardomom and cumin mingling with onions fried in pans of ghee. 
I had a craving for all that was my childhood tonight, mostly because I know I will be far removed from every inkling of comfort soon. Next week, I head back to Iraq on assignment for my newspaper: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 
I have been travelling to Iraq since 2002. On my first trip, I knew war was imminent. 
I was scared of being under Saddam Hussein’s grip. I felt I was being watched the entire time I was there. I was tired when I hit the bed at the al-Rasheed hotel, and yet could never get to sleep.
Subsequent trips opened my eyes, unceremoniously, to war.
In a few days, I will get on a plane that will carry me back to the Land Between the Rivers. 
I have lost friends in that land. And met so many people whose lives are timelines of sorrow. 
This time,  I will be an embedded reporter again. It’s impossible these days to move about freely as a journalist in Iraq. Since 2005, I have been going there as an embed and writing stories about the soldiers. My focus for the paper has been on Georgians who have left families and homes to fight in a land that remains strange to them.