There is so much good material posted on CNN.com that sometimes the little gems get quickly replaced by big news. Such was the case last week when Nic Robertson's wife Margaret wrote a personal account of Nic's reporting from Alexandria and her battle on the home front. It's a wonderful read that was posted on Piers Morgan Tonight's webpage.
Nic is under no illusions about the dangers ahead. This is major league bad stuff. I am as worried about him this time as I have ever been, in all our years together.
It could have been written as Nic headed for Egypt last week – a lifetime ago now – but it’s a 2004 diary entry, written as he headed to some other conflict in some other, embattled land.
In fact, it could have written in almost any time during the last 20 years. Egypt is just his latest heart-stoppingly dangerous pinpoint on the map. His office may be in CNN’s shiny, impressive London production center. But Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Darfur, Bosnia – Egypt! - these are the places he usually works, on the ragged outer perimeters of man’s inhumanity to man.
Nic is home one minute, gone the next. These departures are unpredictable, disrespectful of calendars and boundaries, dictated by events unfolding in some faraway place our children quickly add to their geographic lexicon, one that includes many of the world’s flashpoints. In our household, it passes for normal; our lives are built on such extremes. Over time, we have developed our own comforting talismans and rituals. “Travel safe” is a constant mantra, invoked all the time, whether Nic’s heading for the airport or already hanging on the other end of a satellite telephone. I love you, I say, or text or email. Be safe. Travel safe. As if words can make it so. Younger daughter Nicky sometimes puts a small toy in his knapsack, to keep him company on these long trips away from home. Older daughter Lowrie is more pragmatic now. Their father has been in and out of dangerous places all their lives. Regular emails and phone calls help bridge the gaps of his absence. He often sends a photo or brief video clip shot on his cell phone, to give them a sense of where he is.
Our girls have had to find a way to incorporate all of this into the normal threads of their lives –both easier and yet more difficult as they get older and become more aware of what the dangers he faces really are. Bombarded by social media, it is impossible to insulate them once they are old enough to make their own informed interpretations of the news.
With Nic now in Egypt, our kitchen once again feels like a mini-News Central. I lived in Egypt myself for three years in the late 1980’s, working for CBS and before that, spent a year in Beirut during the civil war. I know “shoot the messenger” isn’t just an expression. But the sheer numbers of attacks on journalists in Cairo and in Alexandria, where Nic is, are shocking by any yardstick. The white noise of constant, low level stress in our homescape has been racheted up many decibels in recent days, as violence erupts from TV sets turned to maximum volume all over the house.
Nic and I both worked for CNN in the buildup to the first Gulf War when we met in Jordan in 1990 and we celebrate our 20th anniversary this spring. It is a marriage book-ended by two decades of conflicts: two Iraq wars, Afghanistan, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, genocide in Rwanda, Somalia, Darfur… a crazy quilt of conflicts, coups, and civil unrest.
Nic and I are still very much a team journalistically, though I swapped the front lines for the computer in the kitchen some years back. We are in constant contact throughout the day—emails, phone calls, text and Skype – even more so since the uprising in Cairo started last week. With communications down or sporadic in Egypt, I’ve been posting on Twitter for him – he calls or sends tweets by text/email or I listen to his live shots and tweet what he’s saying. I post his stories on Facebook, do research, make suggestions - old friends have been especially helpful providing useful contacts for him in Alexandria.
I stay on his schedule not just out of worry, but solidarity, to be available if he needs help. He calls at the end of each day; I go to bed when he does. So I can assure you that he and his team - Todd Baxter, Scott McWhinnie and Saad Abedine - aren’t getting enough sleep. Friends and family call, they email, they message on Facebook, worried for his safety and my sanity. Alexandria may not have experienced the level of violence seen in Tahrir Square, but he and his team have had some hairy moments, including a frightening incident today. But he’s okay for the moment.
And so am I. Because this is what he does. Years ago, when our younger daughter’s teacher asked pupils to say what their parents did for a living, Nicky, then five, proudly told the class, “My daddy fights the enemy.” She later explained what she really meant was that “he goes away to see what bad people have done and then he goes on TV to try to make them stop.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
All Things CNN did a mini profile piece on Nic and Margret a few years back. If you're interested just follow the link.