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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 18 October 2014
war correspondent as a kid, of spending a lot of my youth in listening to the stories of my arents about the Greek Civil War World War II. As a young journalist llowed the wars in Yugoslavia and ent to Bosnia right after the war nished as a 22-year-old. 14 SATURDAY 18 OCTOBER 2014 Iwantedtobeaw largely because o Greece and l grandpa and W I fol we fin A conflicted A journalist for The Boston Globe, and contributor to various publications from his base in the Lebanese capital Beirut, Greek American Thanassis Cambanis has worked as a US correspondent in the Middle East for over 10 years. Born and bred in North Carolina, Cambanis calls New York home despite his current residence in the Mediterranean country. When he completed university, he worked as a journalist in Athens, at Athens News, Odyssey Magazine and the Associated Press. Having palmed off the idea of making his life in Greece, he undertook graduate school in the United States with the aim of becoming a foreign correspondent. Now living with his wife and children, Cambanis explains it was a book that he published in 2010 about Shi'ite group Hezbollah, A Privilege to Die, that first brought him to Lebanon. He had fallen in love with the country his wife was appointed to as the bureau chief for the New York Times. For the most part, his time in the Middle East has been dedicated to covering conflict - which has been in his makeup from a young age. Despite the heightened danger of spells in Baghdad - at the peak of the Iraqi conflict - and across borders throughout the 'Jasmine Revolution', it was always his dream to cover such events. "I wanted to be a war correspondent as a kid, largely because of spending a lot of my youth in Greece and listening to the stories of my grandparents about the Greek Civil War and World War II. As a young journalist I followed the wars in Yugoslavia and went to Bosnia right after the war finished as a 22-year-old," Thanassis Cambanis tells Neos Kosmos. "As bad luck would have it, America started its wars after 9-11, right around the time I started my career as a reporter for The Boston Globe, and I ended up being sent to cover the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and I never looked back. "Eleven years later I'm still here and I don't actually cover conflict anymore per se, but I'm fascinated by the region, its politics, its culture and its history." He says covering war is in many respects what he expected. "Nothing can capture quite what it's like until you experience it, in terms of how it actually feels. You see human nature at its extremes under great pressure, you see great evil but you also see great good. You see horrible things that you can't believe people would do, but you also see people engage in remarkable acts of empathy and generosity and bravery. When you live in a place where murder, car bombs and sectarian polarisation are the norm, it really does distort life and ultimately it is bad for the psyche. When I stopped being in war zones in 2008, I found myself unsurprisingly happier and took a long time to return to 'normal'." Being subjected to conflict-ridden environments can have long-term effects on a person's character, but Cambanis has learned to deal with them. "Being hyper-vigilant and constantly assessing danger are natural survival rates that people deploy in unstable conflict zones. When you get back to a place where you don't need them it's like you're in a constant state of fight or flight readiness, and you're always ready to pack up and go. You're always ready to jump, and it's not a calm way to live." In January 2015, Cambanis will unveil his book - Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story - which follows his account of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, where he found himself in the midst of the events in Cairo's Tahrir Square. "Suddenly this sort of fantastical thing was happening, where people were taking their fate into their own hands and pushing for change, that I find incredibly appealing. These were non-violent open-minded citizen crowds who were demanding the fall of dictators and the creation of a society of justice and rights and it was really a once-in-a-lifetime thing. "At the time we were living in New York, but I got on a plane and went to Cairo because I knew that I had to. I didn't know what I was going to write about it, but I knew I had to witness it, because it was such a rare and historical event," he says. And the unique opportunity is something Cambanis has learned to appreciate, having witnessed it first hand. He admits covering the Arab uprisings has been the most exciting and inspiring thing he has done as a journalist. "I happened to be at a point in my career where I was free to set my own agenda. When the uprising started I was working as a freelancer and I got to choose what I wanted to do. I got to go to Tahrir Square, look for the people who I thought were doing the most interesting things for society and then I followed them for almost four years. Journalistically that's not something I could have done with a normal newspaper job, you just ... you have other stuff you have to do." Thanassis Cambanis' book Once Upon A Revolution: An Egyptian Story is now available for pre-order on www.amazon.com Middle East correspondent Thanassis Cambanis talks to Neos Kosmos about his life in war and conflict JOHN PYRROS Cambanis in Cairo 2012.
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