Friday, November 02, 2007

We can always return home

One of the international correspondents I most admire is National Public Radio’s Ann Garrels. Here is a brief excerpt from her biography, posted on the NPR website.

“Anne Garrels is a senior foreign correspondent for NPR's foreign desk. She has spent the past four years in Iraq, covering the country under Saddam Hussein's regime and through the U.S. invasion and its aftermath. She earned international recognition in 2003 by being one of 16 U.S. journalists to remain in Baghdad during the initial phase of the war. Her vivid, around-the-clock reports from the city under siege gave listeners remarkable insight into the impact of the war and the violence to come.

As U.S.-led forces advanced on the city, Garrels remained at her post, describing the scene on the streets and reactions from those she encountered. Her experiences in Baghdad are chronicled in Naked in Baghdad (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, September 2003)."

Yesterday morning, on NPR’s Morning Edition, Anne Garrels’ latest report from Iraq was prefaced by the remark that the had “returned home” from her latest of many trips to Iraq.

This brought to mind a bitter-sweet experience that most Americans who work in difficult parts of the world must have had as we prepare to ‘return home’ after another visit. Returning Peace Corps volunteers and American University students, returning from their first extended study abroad, trip must often share the same experience and feelings.

We may have visited and worked in a foreign setting, as I have in Sri Lanka for many years. We may be deeply immersed in the culture. We may have many close friends of long standing. We may be respected in the communities we visit, as Ann Garrels most certainly must be.

But we don’t experience what international development scholar Dennis Goulet has termed the “postulate of vulnerability.” Our American passports set us apart. We know that the circumstances of a ‘foreign’ setting in which we live are not necessarily part of our future.

We can always “return home.”


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