It was the question that stopped me dead.
“Now I’ve got something that I want to ask you,” said the doctor I was interviewing in Aleppo. “Is this all a big adventure for you?”
Listening back to the recording of that conversation on my dictaphone I can hear myself getting defensive, telling him that I am here because I believe that what is happening in Syria needs to be reported, and that if I didn’t believe that then I wouldn’t be here, risking my life to do it.
“But do you believe in human rights?” asked the doctor.
“That’s a ridiculous question,” I replied.
I was annoyed at him, but not for long. I understand where his frustration came from: every day he treats civilians who are blameless but suffering appallingly, and from inside Syria it really is easy to feel that no-one in the outside world cares about it. And what good are the journalists actually doing here? Because no matter how many times we intrude on that suffering, it seems that nothing ever changes.
His questions unsettled me for days and made me think deeply about what I am doing in Syria. I do love adventure, it’s true, and I love this job for that. I know I am privileged to be able to spend my days travelling to new places and meeting new people in a part of the world that most people can only read about in the newspapers.
But if it was adventure alone that I was after I would travel around South America or ride the Trans-Siberian Express.
There are a lot of reasons why I decided to come to Syria, and most of them stem from that fact that I do care about what is happening there, deeply.
Initially I cared because I’d visited the country before, fallen in love with Damascus and got to know Syrians that I now count among my friends. When the uprising started in Dera’a I was so hopeful – I believed that maybe this was the moment that Syria would start to change for the better.
It didn’t take long for my illusions to disintegrate.
Now I care because I believe that this is the most important story in the world today. What is happening in Syria will reverberate around the world for years to come. It is shaping relations between Sunni and Shia, and between the Muslim world and the West, and that is why it needs to be reported.
But I also care because I have spent six months making friends who have been forced out of their homes, lost friends and relatives, and watched their country shatter into so many pieces that it feels like it can never be mended. I care about those people, and what will happen to them. The headlines talk about the 100,000 dead and the millions displaced. To me these are not statistics – they are people I eat, drink and laugh with.
A journalist friend of mine put it best: “It’s like I’ve fallen out of love with the revolution and in love with Syrians.”