And we're off! This time to the Middle East. I was happy to hear about the plan for a 72-hour cease-fire and hoped that it would hold. We got that news from the NBC "HOT" file less than an hour before we boarded our US Airways flight in Philadelphia. (HOT file gives NBC journalists a nano-second heads up on breaking stories and also background info on big, evolving stories.)
The same crew that brought you coverage of the Pope's intended visit in Philly next year for the World Meeting of Families is now headed to the Middle East. Our mission is to cover the stories of local people (and people with local connections) who are living and working amid the conflict.
This is a return trip for Jim Rosenfield. I will let him explain all that to you. It's a first for me and photojournalist Jason Ryan and because we just found out yesterday that we were going, we did not have much time to prepare for this assignment. That scenario, I found, can put you and the people you love in an interesting place, mentally.
My family is wary. My daughter was very much on the fence about me going. She's 21 and her best friend canceled a birthright trip this summer because of the unrest in the region. My son, who is 17, asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. I said yes. He said, "Stay safe." My mother, who turned 80 today is a devout Catholic and an eternal optimist. She was not worried. Her insurance has always been faith-based and so by the time we took off, I'm pretty darn sure that she had her entire family (big Catholic family of 7) praying for us as well as all the Dominican Sisters in Texas.
My work team all gave me tight hugs. "I'm really glad I got to see you before you left," one said. "I was jealous when you went to Rome, but I can't really say I'm jealous now." "Don't be a hero." "Seriously, seriously! The only thing you need to know is to get the Laffa when you order falafel." Thanks for staying grounded Dan Stamm.
I believe it's natural to fear the unknown. What's routine or expected -- even hurtful stuff -- can be oddly comforting just because it's a known feeling or reaction. My boss told me NOT to worry -- that everything is virtually normal for people who live in Israel and Gaza. NBC's people on the ground in Tel Aviv said basically the same thing. And they cautioned that we have to know the risks if we venture outside of Tel Aviv. I think we have to venture outside of Tel Aviv in order to tell more than one side of the story. And that's important, isn't it? Especially when conflict is at the core. We have flak jackets. We have helmets. And we have already made contact with locals living in the region.