Sunday, February 6, 2011


I’ve become friends with my neighbor, an Italian journalist. In addition to enjoying meals he’s prepared with Italian competence, I’ve been able to follow him on stories he’s investigating in Sana’a. A few weeks ago, I trailed him to the site of a collapsed building.

The first two levels of the building had been made of mud and the next three of concrete. A text message from a trapped survivor injected rescue crews and audiences with excitement and a sense of urgency. By the time we arrived at the scene, hundreds of Yemeni police hedged the site, standing shoulder-to-shoulder and keeping observers at bay. As spectators continued to amass, we strained to reach the police barrier. My Italian friend told a policeman that he was a reporter, but, under orders, the policeman stiffly refused him entry. I assumed entry simply wasn’t plausible, and began scoping out the scene immediately around me. Nearby, two kids were were trying to get a look at rubble and simultaneously inflicting light abuse on each other. One would stand on the bumper of a small semi-truck and peep around the edge of the truck over Yemeni heads. After seconds of viewing the ruined building, his friend would rip his safely planted legs from under him and send him crashing to the ground, millimeters from smashing his face on the metal bumper. They laughed it off and gaily switch roles.

Suddenly, I realized I had no idea where my friend was. Being a foot taller than everyone, I was able to quickly confirm he was nowhere near. I was retreating to a less dense area when I heard shouting past the human police fence. There was my friend, next to the crumpled building, yelling at someone, screaming that I was his assistant and demanding my entry. A ranked policeman waved me in.

Despite my burning excitement, I reigned in my smile. I furrowed my brow and assumed a professional air. I had a pen and moleskine in my back pocket and I figured pulling out these props would convince the bystanders I really was a journalist. To complete the role, I asked some important looking people a few questions, then wrote complete nonsense down in my notebook. I wrote:

“Big Crane”

“3 a.m.”

“9 people”

Meanwhile my friend snapped the pictures he actually needed. I realized that despite my efforts, I couldn’t hide my smile and was actually chuckling at the absurdity of the situation and the "journalist's assistant" guise. I wondered what an onlooker might have thought, seeing a foreigner smiling and chuckling while a citizen struggled for survival under four floors of concrete. We left a few minutes later.

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