Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: And Then All Hell Broke Loose

I think everyone has seen a news clip of a foreign correspondent in the midst of a dangerous war zone or riot in some faraway foreign country. I consider these guys and gals as the rock stars of the journalistic community with exciting stories that could make fiction seem boring. I’m also a child of the 90’s, so geopolitical happenings in the Middle East have been a dominant theme in news coverage through almost my entire life – from the Gulf War, to the September 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent invasion of Iraq, to the current rise of ISIL and turmoil in Syria and Libya. Richard Engel’s “And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East” covers both of these bases as a personal account of being a foreign correspondent covering the Middle East through a tumultuous period. 

The book starts with Mr. Engel as a young freelance journalist trying to make a name for himself in the midst of a failed democratic uprising in Egypt. He then moves on to cover the 2003 Iraq Invasion, the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring that eventually leads to the rise of the infamous ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Along the way, Mr. Engel provides sometimes very personal insights into his thoughts and feelings, and I gain a new admiration for the danger and sacrifices that come with being the rock stars of the journalistic community. Over his two decades in the Middle East, Mr. Engel has suffered a kidnapping, a failed marriage, and the death of friends, yet continued his work to bring the world information that would otherwise go unreported. He also offers excellent insight into the complex history and dynamics of the region and Islam, supported by his first-hand experiences. 

The Middle East is complex....
Given the complex relationships and changing dynamics of the Middle East, I have admittedly developed only a surface level understanding of the situation in the region. Although the book doesn’t cover any new ground that hasn’t already been covered in the numerous texts that are available on the region, Mr. Engel's explanations and history lessons are able to distill a complex subject into a manageable read.

I found Mr. Engel's book to be highly educational and informative, while also being very engaging and entertaining. The book isn’t a light or easy read, but I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest to better understanding a region that has shaped geopolitics of the past 20 years.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

(Knowing) What I Want

I just finished reading week and I am more pooped than when I started it. The first few days of the break had me doing absolutely nothing.

Not a damn thing
And it felt really good... for the first few hours when I got to sleep in... then my mind started turning, thinking about coming mid-terms and assignments/reports because the reality is that I have two this week, another next week and a major assignment and another smaller assignment all due within 14 days of returning. I've also started looking for summer positions to expand my experience because I won't be applying to the OVC until January 2018; my aim is to stand out, against other applicants who have higher grades.

Everybody panic!
The panic conveniently serves to keep me motivated to get my stuff done because I maintain an odd calm sense of control over a precarious set of tasks, where I'm a juggler with all the balls in the air and I've got most of them under control. Honestly, I surprised myself when I managed various social commitments as well as non-academic work, (minimal) house work and the actual academic work. This embodies a philosophy I had when I was in school, about keeping just busy enough not to let an idle mind take over. Mind you, I had no idea what I was actually doing at that point in my life...

My friend JR has been having her own struggles and asked me, how the heck I stay motivated over this period (~6mos) and not want to crawl into a hole and sleep a million years. I figured that it has to do with the fact that I finally grew up and found something I have a keen interest in. I spent almost a decade of my best years in early adulthood working to pay the bills, and it was logically the thing to be doing because it's socially expected.

Break out of the norm!

Last week at work, I met a client who struck me as sharp, on the ball and particularly observant; I found out she was a senior project manager for a large corporate chain but was let go due to restructuring and decided to return to teacher's college in her 40s. We chatted a bit and she said that at first, she was really pissed to be let go because she was good at her job, enjoyed it and was financially secure. But, that she's never been happier than for having been given the opportunity to do that soul searching and be brave enough to decide not to seek another PM job but to give OISE a try and become a teacher.

She and I are not the common denominator and in many ways, we are both the exception. As stressful and busy as things get, I continually feel with even more certainty that I am exactly where I should be.