A Thousand Farewells


A Thousand Farewells is a book about Nahlah Ayed's experience reporting from the Middle East as well as the spaces in between the media's coverage. 

The book begins with her life in Winnipeg but then changes pace when her family decides to move to a refugee camp in Jordan. She is introduced to living amongst a cramped house of multiple family members,  and using a hole as a toilet. After a handful of years they move back to Canada and Ayed becomes a journalist after writing for Carelton University's school newspaper.

The Labneh and Hummus of the story come after the events of 9/11 which motivates Ayed to return to the Mideast but as a reporter for CBC.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the subtleties and the details Ayed throws in. For example she explains how in her taxi ride in Amman the driver talks to her about politics and how that is the go to subject for Arabs much like the weather is Canadians. Sort of a weird tidbit for my brain to remember but it was something that I didn't know about that culture and it stuck.

Something that didn't stick with me were the names, especially early on. The names of the Mideast to me are hard to remember. Ayed does do a fairly good job of reiterating how she knows the person but the names still get lost of whose who from time to time. An example would be instead of saying Huessein she will add uncle to the front of his name just in case you forgot. I wish I had a reference card for all the names in the book so I could keep going back to see who was who but that's asking a little much from a memoir like this.

Something that Ayed showed throughout the book is that as a reporter (and I know Joanne Kelly has said this) you shouldn't check your humane side at the door. You need to build those connections with people to have really personal, great stories. It's those decisions that Ayed makes of who to interview and when. Instead of interviewing the woman who was grief stricken at the sight of the mass grave in Iraq, she turns to a man who was surrounded by a small group of people. She is judged by the man for being Canadian and has this quote to say about it from the book.

"in the Mideast you are the sum total of the blood that runs in your veins."

She eventually reasons with the man saying that she has lived most of her life in Canada but she understand the circumstances and the goes on to tell his story. It's moments like this one, throughout the book that emphasize the connections to the people you interview or as a photographer the people that you photograph. You can't fake emotion, you can act sure but real true believable emotion that is real isn't acted it's felt.