Journalist discusses role in war zones

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Last spring, freelance journalist Anna Badkhen stayed with a family of 27 in Afghanistan. In their 17-bedroom home, she lived in a room next to the kitchen, where the women often made mantu, a large dumpling filled with lamb and onions.

One Friday, she asked if she could help make the dish, and the women allowed her with hesitation to do the tedious job of shaping the clover-looking dumpling. On her first attempt, the women said Badkhen’s mantu had floppy edges and did not use enough oil. Her second mantu won the women’s approval.

“I thought, I have just been accepted into the tribe,” Badkhen said.

Foreign correspondents are not going to stop war or injustice, but they can write stories with compassion to show the human cost of war, Badkhen told a group of journalism students Tuesday. In her book “Peace Meals,” she gives multiple accounts of routine life in war-torn countries, focusing on food and other traditions instead of war coverage.

“Just make it a human interaction,” Badkhen said. “Be interested in what people have to tell you.”

She said journalists are like therapists to people living in these areas because foreign correspondents listen to traumatic stories that people within the community do not share with each other. Everyone is hungry and poor and nobody wants to hear the neighbors complain, she said.

“I’m an outsider and I’m prepared to listen,” Badkhen said. “People want to talk. We want to share our grief and sorrow. People will open up to you because they have to.”

Journalism professor Rosental Alves remarked that people outside the journalism field think journalists get rich writing about war or peoples’ misery.

“It’s interesting how people think we are benefitting from a good story,” he said.
Badkhen is one of several foreign correspondents that spoke to Alves’ international reporting class.

Of all the guest lectures in Alves’ class, journalism junior Lynda Gonzalez found Badkhen the most interesting because she found a unique way to tell common war stories.

“Most of our speakers have reported on war, but she found a way to humanize war using food,” Gonzalez said. “I hadn’t gotten that from this class yet — you can [find] something that interests you [even in war].”