What Can a Pregnant Photojournalist Cover? Everything
You have two options when you approach a hostile checkpoint in a war zone, and each is a gamble. The first is to stop and identify yourself as a journalist and hope that you are respected as a neutral observer. The second is to blow past the checkpoint and hope the soldiers guarding it don’t open fire on you.
In 2011, three weeks into the Libyan uprising, I was in a car with three of my colleagues from The New York Times when we approached a checkpoint near Ajdabiya, a small city near Libya’s northern coast, more than 500 miles east of Tripoli. By then, as a photojournalist documenting conflict zones in the post-9/11 wars, I had been in dozens of risky situations. I was kidnapped by Sunni insurgents near Fallujah, in Iraq, ambushed by the Taliban in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan and injured in a car accident that killed my driver while covering the Taliban occupation of the Swat Valley in Pakistan.
As we approached the checkpoint, I sensed that something wasn’t right. My colleagues — Tyler Hicks, Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell — and I had been covering the revolt by ordinary Libyan men against the brutal regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi, who saw journalists as the enemy. We were about to run directly into a military checkpoint maintained by his troops.
“Don’t stop!” Tyler was yelling. “Don’t stop!”
But our driver, Mohammed, a quiet, 22-year-old engineering student, was slowing down, sticking his head out the window.
“Sahafi!” he yelled to the soldiers. “Media!” He opened the car door to get out, and Qaddafi’s soldiers swarmed him. “Sahafi!”
The doors flew open, and Tyler, Steve and Anthony were ripped from the car. I immediately locked my door and buried my head in my lap. Gunshots shattered the air. When I looked up, I was alone. I spoke to myself out loud, a tactic I use when my inner voice isn’t convincing enough: “Get out of the car. Get out. Run.” I crawled across the back seat with my head down and out the open car door, scrambled to my feet and immediately felt the hands of a soldier yanking at my arms and tugging at my two cameras. The harder he pulled, the harder I pulled back.
They ordered us facedown into the dirt. … We all assumed this would be the moment of our execution.