Multimedia reporter

From Baghdad via Bronx

DAILY NEWS, published 22 March, 2009

Alaa Majeed begins her day before dawn, going online in her Bronx apartment to read Sunni, Shiite and Kurd newspapers.

In the dark, quiet hours, as the journalist sips Iraqi coffee from a Yankees mug, her thoughts drift back to Baghdad.

“I miss the smell of the streets of Baghdad, the honking of the cars,” Majeed said. “Iraq is in my veins.”

But as the sun rises over the Grand Concourse, Majeed’s new world comes to life, a new world far different from the world she left – actually fled – behind.

She slips into the subway without checking to see if someone is following her. She sits on the train and opens her laptop, knowing she is safe and can work on her story.

Majeed wonders: Will the editor be interested in an explosion that killed 50 people in a Baghdad market? Will he say that the story is weak because more than 100 people died yesterday?

Her doubts are only a piece of the daily puzzle that she must solve as a freelance reporter for United Press International, Public Broadcasting Service and The Washington Times newspaper.

Majeed, 35, arrived in the United States in December 2006, and quickly realized that many of her American neighbors were more concerned with football than sectarian violence in Iraq.

Some American editors were not particularly enthusiastic, either.

“In May 2007 I pitched a story about a family of Iraqi refugees in Jordan,” said Majeed. “The editor said that they had run a story already the year before.”

Majeed is also frustrated because she would like to report inside her own country, rather than from 6,000 miles away.

“Sitting in my comfortable room here in the Bronx and writing about Iraq doesn’t feel like reporting to me,” she said. “I want to talk to people, see their faces.”

But in Iraq, Majeed and her family were in danger. Iraqi journalists who worked for Western news organizations were targeted by the militia – and female journalists like Majeed were in particular danger.

“In summer 2005, after interviewing people outside Abu Ghraib prison, a stranger followed me,” she said, recalling just one of many close calls. “I was thinking ‘Oh my God, he wants to kidnap me.’ Luckily my driver picked me up just in time.”

Majeed made it to New York, where she also serves as International Reporter in Residence at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

But Majeed knows she is one of the lucky ones. Other Iraqi journalists who risked their lives for Western media outlets have seen visa applications fails due to bureaucratic glitches. And if they do get here, reality is often disillusioning. In Iraq, they were indispensable reporters. In America they are just freelancers willing to share sad stories.

In the afternoon, she picks up her two children, Yousef, 1o, and Mohammed, 8, at school. Their father sent them from Baghdad in January, reuniting them with their mother after three years apart.

“They saw blood and dead teachers in the street, neighbors kidnapped,” Majeed said sadly.

She still want to return to Iraq “when the situation like stabilizes.”

“I wold love to report what it’s happening behind the scenes. What is the real situation for women and children? Is there water? Is there electricity? What is going to happen to all these widows and orphans?”

“It is a story that needs to be told.”