Washington Post Afghanistan and Pakistan Bureau Chief Pamela Constable was presented the Arthur Ross Media Award in recognition of her career as a foreign correspondent. The full text of her acceptance speech, delivered on November 20, 2018, is below:
I am delighted to be here, and very grateful to receive such a distinctive honor, which puts me in the company of many journalists I have admired over the years for their dedicated and insightful reporting on foreign affairs, including Tom Ricks, Eugene Robinson and Dana Priest from the Post, as well as Robin Wright. I am pleased that The Post’s foreign editor Doug Jehl, who has encouraged and guided me and many of these honorees, could be here today as my guest.
I suppose this occasion also puts me in the company of Meryl Streep or Robert Redford, since it allows me to utter those immortal words, “I want to thank the academy.” Unlike that other academy, though, this one includes a number of individuals I have actually known and respected over the years, including Dennis Kux and Sally Shelton Colby, Alex Watson and Karl Eikenberry, Bill Milam and Ron Neumann.
I want to mention one more career diplomat who is no longer with us, but whom I came to know when we were both posted in Santiago during the Pinochet years, and with whom I remained friends until his death in 2012. To watch Amb. Harry Barnes, Jr, deal with a tough dictatorship that the Reagan administration was trying to nudge toward democracy, was to watch a consummate gentleman play an understated but relentless game of chess. Harry was unfailingly gracious and polite, but he made his mandate clear, pointedly attending human rights ceremonies and inviting dissidents to the embassy. His role helped to move events steadily toward the night of October 21, 1988, when Pinochet lost a national referendum and after 17 years, was left with no real option but to leave power peacefully.
Being a foreign correspondent is not for everyone. A friend once described it as a job where you are always arriving at places with no one to greet you and always leaving places with no one to say goodbye. It is often lonely, uncomfortable, tense and dangerous. One has to decide within minutes whether to trust a stranger or not, whether to take this road or that. One has to drop into alien territory, sometimes with violence erupting, and try to figure out what is happening by deadline that evening, explain what is at stake and who is on which side, and try to spell their names right.
But when I look back on my experiences overseas, there is nothing I would change -- not the long hot road trips with no showers, the giant spiders on the ceilings, not the bruises from falling out of Humvees, or the eager hosts offering me roast armadillo or yak butter tea. Just the chance to be there, to witness history unfolding, in Haiti or Colombia or Ukraine or Sri Lanka or Afghanistan, has been a privilege. How many people get to travel by truck across India with a team of parade elephants, or to cross the Khyber Pass next to a camel caravan?
How many people got to spend the millennium eve on a frigid airport runway in Kandahar, covering a Taliban hijacking, dictating with my fingers frozen to the satphone when my editor interrupted to say, Happy New Year. Between that and a champagne toast in a ballroom, it was no contest.
Doug, my current editor, has often been understandably frustrated with my stubborn technical illiteracy, but he also knows how much I love this work, especially the chance to make the struggles of people in distant lands come alive for American readers as well as policy makers. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I still can’t believe I get paid to do it.
There is one aspect, however, that has taken a terrible toll on me, and on many of my friends and colleagues in the field. Some people suggest that foreign correspondents are drawn to danger, attracted by the thrill of taking risks, addicted to war. There is some truth to that, but the thrill goes only so far and the price can be very high. I want to speak briefly about two close friends – among the dozens of journalists who have lost their lives abroad in the past several years – both of whom died covering the same conflicts as me.
One was Elizabeth Neuffer, a childhood friend in Connecticut and longtime colleague at the Boston Globe, who wrote movingly about the plight of people during conflicts in Bosnia and Rwanda. Then, at age 46, she was tragically killed in a highway accident in Iraq soon after the US invasion in 2003. The last time I saw Elizabeth, she told me that her greatest regret was being overseas when her father died. I never forgot that conversation, and it was the main reason I made sure I was home in Connecticut during those final months before my Dad passed away five years ago, at age 97.
The second close friend died much more recently, and I am still trying to come to terms with his death. His name was Samim Faramarz, and he was a television reporter in Afghanistan, whom I got to know working and travelling on military assignments. But he was much more than a glib and dashing TV journalist. He was a thoughtful, independent-minded young man with great moral courage, who quietly challenged the cultural constraints and rigid traditions that have held back his society.
Samim was hungry for knowledge and eager to help modernize Afghanistan in more meaningful ways than its growing smartphone addiction. In time, I have no doubt that he would have done so. But just a few weeks ago, on the night of Sep. 5, Samim was sent out to cover a suicide bombing in Kabul, and while he was speaking live from the scene, a second bomb exploded, killing him instantly. He was 28 years old, and this award is dedicated to him. Thank you.