Thursday, December 15, 2011

Respect



Congratulations, people. 
تهانينا، والشعب.
Felicidades, gente.
恭喜你,人民
Συγχαρητήρια, άνθρωποι.
מזל טוב, אנשים.
Поздравляю вас, люди.  
تبریک می گویم ، مردم است.
बधाई हो, लोग.
Félicitations, People.
ขอแสดงความยินดีผู้คน,
અભિનંદન, લોકો.
 

 
 
    






Monday, October 31, 2011

Reflections



This is the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in my life. 

You’ve probably noticed I’m now in New York.  

Jaron from the future will soon be announcing his next step.

But first, Jaron from the present feels the need to properly bid farewell to Jaron of the past, and to thank him for getting me to the place I’m at right now.

At the tender age of 31, I feel so fortunate to have had such an abundance of experience, and to still be alive to tell my tales.  Over the past decade, I’ve travelled to more than 60 countries and every world continent. I have witnessed four Middle East wars, one Intifadah, three revolutions, five elections, two unilateral withdrawals, countless skirmishes, protests, violent incidents, and one Arab Spring. I have snuck across two borders, been detained by secret police and regular police, survived close brushes with gun fire, Qassam rockets, Katyusha rockets, bombs, tear gas, smoke grenades, rocks, stones, bricks, and angry mobs. I survived one kidnapping attempt, a bad case of Delhi belly, and a sinking boat in Lesotho.  

I kissed the ground three times.  

First, the grimy black and white checkerboard tile in a Beijing KFC after a semi-legal reporting trip to North Korea.  
Then, a jagged asphalt road outside Kirkuk after a horrific car accident in Kurdistan. 
 Finally, I smooched the soft sands on a Jaffa beach after a close encounter with a Katyusha rocket in Northern Israel.

People often ask me why I go to such places, and I can honestly say that I don't really know. But if I had to guess, I'd say that I'm on a constant search for the standard deviation from the norm. I am inspired by people who think differently, break cycles, and act with kindness towards strange Western journalists who show up in their war zones.

I will never forget the old Kurdish man who bought me a piping hot chicken spinach stew when I was hungry, wounded and broke.  Or the young Egyptian teenager who screamed and defended me until he was hoarse when the police tried to detain me.  Or the gentle, sweet natured Nepali lady who had never seen a Westerner before,  but still let me sleep on her porch when I knocked in the middle of a starry Himalayan night.

None of these people owed me a thing, or stood to benefit, yet they extended a hand.

This happened over and over again in Israel and Palestine, which was my home for much of the past decade. The amazing thing for a nomad like me, is that it actually felt like home. It was a difficult choice to leave, but I felt that I had unturned all the stones that I needed to uncover there. The conflict continues, unfortunately, but I hope my stories there helped people see the conflict with greater depth and understanding.  

I will really miss wiping warm, freshly baked pita into a bowl of hummus, extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, all sprinkled with zaatar.

I will also miss the pioneering spirit, the complete lack of social space, and the phenomenal array of colorful curse words.


But it is the wonderful people I met that I will miss the most.


Yes, there is no shortage of bigots and extremists in that tiny area of the world. But there are also some of the most amazing, intelligent, and cool people I've ever met.  I always thought to myself what a shame it was that my Israeli and Palestinian friends would probably never get a chance to meet each other.  Besides the loss of life, it is the loss of human potential for synergy that is the greatest tragedy of the conflict.  


Despite it all, I have not lost hope that one day Israelis and Palestinians will rise up and change the course of their tumultuous histories.


To my friends and loved ones in the Middle East and all over the world, I will miss you all ! 


Please give me a shout when you’re in the Big Apple !


As for my new chapter, I promise to fill you in real soon.  

What I can tell you is that I will be reconnecting to my original mission when I got into this business: 

To find and tell previously untold stories that will provoke change.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Voices from Occupy Wall Street II

Here are the next 6, and the Official Occupy Wall Street Bluegrass Band.




























Voices from Occupy Wall Street

I thought it would be interesting to hear the voices of the Occupy Wall Street Protesters, without any editorializing.  So I went to Zuccotti Park without any story in mind, and basically recorded my first 12 random interactions, interviews, and scenes.  For the most part, I left the interviews as they were, raw and unedited. Here are the first 6:


































Thursday, October 27, 2011

5 Steps to Revolution

My Aug.18th blog post seems pretty prescient in light of what's happening now. Read what I wrote one month before the Wall Street was occupied. While I'm certainly no Nostradamus, I have been wondering "where the outrage is" for a long, long time. Actually, it's been almost exactly 11 years. My political conscience woke up in the year 2000 when a presidential election was likely stolen in my hometown. The funny thing is that I actually voted for Bush that year. Now, a decade into two horrific wars, I'm glad to see people on Wall Street, and on Main Street, America, fighting to eradicate our political system of corporate cronies.

 Having witnessed a semi-successful revolution in Egypt, there are 5 things that must happen here for any real change to happen.

 1. We need to define a singular, simple, and common cause. In Egypt, it was getting rid of a corrupt Mubarak regime. What is that common cause here?

 2. We need to reach critical mass.  The message must be broad enough to appeal to a larger section of society. This can't just be a hippy thing.

 3. We need to risk life, limb, and freedom for the cause. Self explanatory. We must believe wholeheartedly in the cause. The police must eventually switch sides and join the people.

 4. We need the military to support the cause. Soldiers are simultaneously our greatest heroes and the greatest victims of the last decade's flawed policies. They need to get behind the protests.

 5. We need to figure out concrete positive steps for how to implement that change on the day after. (This was not done in Egypt, and is the final, necessary step of successful Revolution)



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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Virtual Peace?

I just read about the latest new Israeli startup, Shaker, which won top honors at TechCrunch Disrupt.

Ever wanted to go to a bar where you can control the music levels, you don't have to pay a cover charge, and there's no need to worry about getting into a brawl with steroid pumping bouncers?

Well then this is for you.

Check out their demo video below:



The premise of Shaker is to make social networking more like real life socializing.

And of course, since it's an Israeli startup, I could not help but think of the moribund peace process.

I began to wonder, what if they can create a virtual room for Middle East peacemakers?

Perhaps this would be a cool way to get Netanyahu and Abbas to flirt with each other virtually before committing to meeting in real life.

Bibi: So you come here often?

Abu Mazen: Yeah, once in a while.

Baddabing. Baddabang.

Maybe it's technology that will save us after all.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Climate Reality

There are just a few hours left to check out Al Gore's Climate Reality Project, an amazing interactive website about Climate Change. The site brings viewers to 24 places in the world in a 24 hour period, and has already surpassed 4 million viewers.





Here's the blurb:

24 Presenters. 24 Time Zones. 13 Languages. 1 Message. 24 Hours of Reality is a worldwide event to broadcast the reality of the climate crisis. It will consist of a new multimedia presentation created by Al Gore and delivered once per hour for 24 hours, representing every time zone around the globe. Each hour people living with the reality of climate change will connect the dots between recent extreme weather events — including floods, droughts and storms — and the manmade pollution that is changing our climate. We will offer a round-the-clock, round-the-globe snapshot of the climate crisis in real time. The deniers may have millions of dollars to spend, but we have a powerful advantage. We have reality.

The promotional videos were made by the uber-talented team at Brooklyn-based Missing Pieces.

Check them out here:









Video streaming by Ustream





I really love this one below. Shit hitting the fan might just be a perfect metaphor for what will happen to our planet if we don't address the serious problem of climate change.



Thursday, August 18, 2011

American Revolution Part Deux


Americans have every reason to be pissed off.

The economy, to put it frankly, has gone to shit.

The political system is completely broken.

In light of recent developments in the Middle East, I'm wondering why and how Americans have become so docile?

Are car and shampoo commercials really that mind numbing?

At the risk of this blog getting the FBI's attention, I want to know what would it take for people to start protesting here.

And once we're on the streets, what central idea can all Americans realistically get behind?




Friday, August 12, 2011

Top 5 Reasons to Join Protest in Israel

1. Save money on air conditioning
2. Sleeping in tent is the only way I can afford to live in Tel Aviv!
3. Subconscious national effort to prove belonging in rebellious Middle East
4. Misplaced Frustrations about the Peace Process
5. Lots of attractive people and cheaper than admission to nightclub


Did i miss anything?






Here's my take on the protests












This, on the other hand, is something worth protesting.










How is it possible that in this day and age we can allow 600,000 people (mostly children) to die of hunger in Somalia?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tel Aviv Housing Protest Satirical?

This video seem to capture the vibe from the Tel Aviv July 14th Housing Protests.




I know it's summer and it's nice to be outside in tents, but does anyone else get a sense of satire with all this?

I mean, nobody forced anyone to pay high rent in Tel Aviv.

What are your views?




Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Pura Vida Model for the Middle East

















On my first trip to Costa Rica, while looking down on the verdant, hilly terrain from the airplane, I couldn’t help but give it the nickname, “Broccoli Land.” It is simply the greenest place I have ever seen.

I have been to this magical places 5 times now, and with good reason. Upon arrival, an ethereal spirit takes over my being and instead of answering questions in the affirmative or negative, I simply answer, Pura Vida.

“Pura Vida” is a phrase unique to Costa Rica. It literally translates from Spanish to mean “Pure Life,” in Costa Rica, but can be used as a general greeting, or to say “your welcome.” Saying it instantly relaxes you. Go on. Try it.

My plan in Costa Rica generally doesn’t vary much. I leave the built-up capital San Jose as quickly as possible, making my way to an unspoiled beach on the Pacific where I explore tide pools, eat fresh ceviche and surf until it’s time to go home.

This trip was a bit different because I came straight from Israel and Palestine, where I have been living for the past 8 years. To sojourn from a land cramped with soldiers, checkpoints, and restrictions to a tropical paradise with no army, few rules, and plenty of open space, is a surreal juxtaposition.

One day, while waiting for the tides to come in and deliver another session of perfect head high surf, an armed man approached me. He brandished a two-foot long, razor sharp machete that could easily lop off a human head. My entire body stiffened, but the man walked right by me, making a beeline for a palm tree.

“I look for the big, green ones, with a little brown on the edges. Those are the sweet ones,” he said after offering me my very own coconut with a perfectly sliced, round hole on top for drinking.

Clearly, I had some adjusting to do.




Costa Rica's One Man Army (Or Coconut Hunter)














Despite having WiFi access in my beachside house, I decided to cut myself off from all forms of social media and especially Middle East news, reading only the Tico Times, Central America’s leading English language daily paper. This week’s headline: “New Large Crab Species Found in Costa Rica. What a refreshing change.

It’s no wonder that, if you buy into all the studies conducted to measure that abstract notion we call “happiness,” Costa Ricans are generally ranked the happiest people on earth.

While close, Costa Rica is no Garden of Eden. There are drug lords, shantytowns, human traffickers, pesticide-laden produce, and gringos run amok in unsustainable development.

But these are minor problems compared to those faced by the Middle Eastern countries, where fascism, terrorism, nuclear war, lack of human rights, and inter-tribal conflicts pose much more sinister threats. Middle Easterners tend to live each day as if it may be their last. Costa Ricans, on the other hand, seem to live as if they will never die. I believe the latter approach is better, and more sustainable.

I’m not sure what will come out of the Arab Spring. Hopefully, the protesters who sparked the Revolutions will shape their societies into democratic, pluralistic societies.

My fear is that while the revolutionaries know exactly what they're up against, they don't exactly what they're fighting for. They need a model, a vision, a dream. So why not the “Pura Vida Model”?

Costa Rica has Blacks, Whites, Indians and everything in between, but little racial strife. The literacy rate hovers above 95%. There is freedom of religion. Journalists can write freely. There are no serious international disputes with its neighbors.

Costa Rica disproves all the central tenets of international relations, the ones taught to Western politicians in their formative years, grounded in the most cynical interpretations of human nature.
The concepts of "realpolitik" and the "tragedy of the commons" don't hold water in Costa Rica like they do in the Middle East.

So here’s my brief, idealistic, coconut-milk inspired vision for the Middle East of the future: First the people will democratically elect responsible leaders. Then, these leaders will build robust, diverse economies, leveraged by the greatest resource of all; the Generation X'ers who powered the revolutions in the first place.

I'm talking about the 60% of the Middle East below the age of 30. Instead of arming them, we will educate them!

They will invent things, create internet companies, and shape industries that have nothing to to with defense.

They clearly understand the the inner workings of Twitter and Facebook better than M-16's and scud missiles.

We all know natural resources are more scarce in the Middle East, but there is an abundance of great historical sites and unique natural treasures in the region, like the Dead Sea and Nile River. There is world-class surfing in Morocco, snow skiing in Iran, kite-surfing in the Gulf, and the most amazing scuba diving I’ve ever done in my life in the Red Sea in Egypt. Let's re-brand the Middle East as the eco-tourism capital of the world!

Ok, I'm getting carried away. But in order to get from point a to point b, one must have a vision of what point b will look like, so why not dream big?

Getting there will be complicated, time consuming, and dangerous.

Godspeed, revolutionaries.

You will know victory is yours when your tweets resemble those from the Tico Times.

Here's the latest: Destructive beetle intercepted in pineapple shipment from Costa Rica to U.S. http://ow.ly/5TtJv

Pura Vida!



-Jaron Gilinsky, July, 2011


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Testing the Go Pro in Costa Rica


















I went on a trip with some good friends to one of my favorite countries in the world, Costa Rica.

And of course we brought the Go Pro everywhere.

I bought the Go Pro headstrap accessory so I could be hands free.

I also connected it to my wrist using a boogie board leash, which ensured that we didn't lose it during activities, which includes the high risk activity of photographing ourselves looking at Go Pro pics.





















I used it at the supermarket, buying fresh fish, and when the German bakery truck rolled by Playa Grande. Yummy!



































We used it for white water rafting in the Tenorio river and got some videos from the calm beginning of the trip.


Here's our guide Colon help us get unstuck from a giant boulder.




Unfortunately I used it too much and the battery died right before the huge 10 foot drop. Damn!


In case you don't believe me, here are the stills taken by a local photographer who somehow emerged out of the jungle to sell us these photos.




Me showing no fear










































We used the Go Pro for ATVing in and around Brasilito. We went through jungles, muddy paths, beaches, and small towns. Here's a little clip.




And then of course we used it for surfing in Playa Grande.


Unfortunately by the time we figured out how to get the camera on the board properly, the swell had subsided a bit.

On the day I went out with the camera, Playa Grande wasn't too Grande. Here’s me on a small wave.





I thought duck diving looked pretty cool.





For the surfing, we used their special kit which allows you to fasten the Go Pro to the board. Then you can aim it either at the surfer or at the wave in front of the board.

Here’s a nice video of Monkey on a wave.





And for the shot of the trip, here's Vinny out in front of a perfect chest high glassy face. No photoshop necessary.




















It turns out this pic was taken just hours before a surfer in that same beach was killed by a shark in Playa Grande for the first time ever.


In life, as in surfing, timing is everything.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Go Pro Trials

This summer, I will be testing out a new toy.

It's a video and stills camera known as the Go Pro.

I have always wanted a durable, compact, inexpensive underwater action camera and am so happy to finally have one.

As you can see in the photo below, the point and shoot can often deliver a great close up but produces a fish eyed wide angle effect on the background.


















This is from my first test at home in South Florida. I took out our chocolate lab, Nala, and the object of her affection, a tennis ball, into the lake.

Check out the video below.

I love the quality of the underwater shots too and the watery sound you hear.

But of course when you have the underwater housing on, the audio is muffled.

This is also supposed to be full HD, but I uploaded it into Youtube as SD, which compressed it.





Here are a few more shots with her and our shepherd/golden supermodel mutt, Rudy.

I really like the stop-motion photography option with the Go Pro. You can set it to snap a photo every 2, 5, 10, or 30 seconds. I bought a huge memory card (32gb) so I don't mind taking 500 terrible photos to get 3 or 4 good ones.







Rudy and Nala posing

















Another problem is that water drops often get stuck on the housing in front of the lens and distort the pics, sometimes artfully















Nala about to get airborne















Underwater Kick Cam

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Leaving Middle East

I feel so terrible for neglecting my loving blog for so long. The excuse is a good one. I'm leaving the Middle East in a few weeks and am sorting out my personal life. I will be living in the US, most likely NYC, working on a very exciting (Middle East related, of course) new media project that I will be announcing really soon. Stay tuned !

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Mohamed Radwan Interview

I was watching CNN the other day and saw a familiar face. It was Mohamed Radwan, a young Egyptian-American I had the good fortune of meeting in Tahrir Square. He was one of the smartest, nicest people I got to speak to during my reporting trip in Egypt. I was shocked and angry to see that he was being held by the Syrian government against his will under false allegations of espionage. Thankfully, the Syrians came to their senses and he was released a week later. This is an exclusive, uncut interview I did with Mohamed in Cairo on February 7th, 2011.



Friday, February 25, 2011

Israeli and Palestinian Reactions to Uprisings

I just produced this video for the NYT. The video features Yuval Ben Ami in Tel Aviv, and Fadi Quran in Ramallah. They are both extremely impressive individuals who I enjoyed hanging out with. Besides both being eloquent and smart, I got a sense that their values are also quite similar. I think that is something the media here often tries to cover up because it doesn't fit their tidy narrative. I'm glad the NYT gave me the opportunity to depict two real characters from both sides; separated by politics but with similar aspirations.

Monday, February 21, 2011

One Journalist's Survival Guide to the Egyptian Revolution














CAIRO- During the uprising that eventually ended the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak, I became convinced that the most important journalistic work being done today is in those countries where journalists are not wanted. Mubarak and his agents were determined to silence the protesters and their message.

But, thanks to the valiant efforts of journalists and the resilience of the protesters they were there to cover, the revolution was not only televised, it was also streamed, blogged, and tweeted. During 18 days of sustained resistance by the Egyptian people, the world was able to see what real bravery is -- in real time. This is one reporter's eyewitness recollection of the revolution and the coverage of it.
Dangerous Driving

I flew into Cairo on the night of February 1st. I counted 35 checkpoints from the airport to my hotel on the island of Zamalek, where many journalists and diplomats reside and work.

The drive, which normally takes 30 minutes, took nearly three hours. After dark there was a curfew in Cairo, and every block in the city seemingly had its own distinct checkpoint. Most of them were manned by civilians armed with all manner of improvised weapons: sticks, poles, machetes, and even a samurai sword. These men primarily wanted to prevent looting in their neighborhoods.

The Mukhabarat, Egypt's secret police, had also set up their own checkpoints. These were the most frightening, especially for a foreign journalist. Last year, I was detained by the Mukhabarat. I was in Rafah doing a story on the tunnels into the Gaza Strip. While shooting street scenes in broad daylight, they snatched me off the street. I was held captive for 12 hours and it was not pleasant.

I was luckier this time and made it to the hotel without incident. After checking into my hotel, I tried to check Twitter for the latest information from Tahrir Square, but the Internet was still shut down across the country. Fortunately, cell phones were working so I was still able to communicate with my editors and colleagues.

I watched Mubarak's second speech since the "Day of Rage" from my hotel room. It was broadcast on virtually every channel. CNN and BBC both offered a live English translation. He was defiant, stating that he would stay in power for another six months to oversee Egypt's transition.
A Wave of Thugs

Twenty minutes later I was on the streets of Cairo, producing a video for the New York Times with Nicholas Kristof. We didn't know yet that someone close to the regime was orchestrating a concerted, systematic effort to harass, arrest, and assault journalists.

As Kristof and I crossed the October 6th bridge on our way to Tahrir, we saw a mob of about 150 Mubarak supporters rushing towards us. It was nighttime and they were some 100 feet away, so initially I couldn't tell if they were friendly or not. They had already seen me filming and probably suspected I was a journalist, so I just kept the camera rolling.

Generally in these situations, I like to keep the camera out for two reasons: Evidence and self-defense. If I get beat up (or worse), I want it to be documented. I am also a trained martial artist and know how to use my Canon XHA1 to ward off attacks. (Don't bother looking in the manual for this.) My camera isn't one of those flimsy Flip cameras that are popular these days. It is hard and heavy and fully insured. It can be used for blocking punches, keeping a distance between me and a threat, or as my own kind of improvised weapon.

I stood my ground filming the mob as they swarmed me. They were chanting "Mu-bar-ak! Mu-ba-rak! Mu-bar-ak!" (I must say, the anti-Mubarak protesters had much more creative chants.) I breathed a huge sigh of relief when they went past me.

We filmed some interviews at the square, then left when an Egyptian colleague warned us that some dangerous elements had moved in.
Targeting the Media

I went home, slept, and woke up early the next morning to edit the material. I had to get to the New York Times bureau in order to upload it, since the Internet was still down. The Times and other news organizations used a satellite BGAN communications system to get around the web shutdown. After filing, I met up with Kristof and headed back to the square.

Reports of journalists being targeted by pro-Mubarak thugs had begun coming in. Our driver dropped us off as close as possible to Tahrir Square, but the area on its periphery was where journalists were the most vulnerable. I felt a bit like a seal swimming in Mosselbai, South Africa, a favored feeding ground for great white sharks.

With my camera in a student-like backpack, we walked up to an army checkpoint outside of Tahrir. They didn't let us in. We went to another and were again denied entry. At a third, the soldiers finally allowed us in. Past the army checkpoints, civilians were also stopping people in an effort to prevent armed thugs from entering the square.

The protesters' checkpoint was security with a smile. A man in Levis jeans took my passport, frisked me, opened up my camera bag, and said with the utmost sincerity, "I am so sorry. Welcome to Egypt."
In Tahrir Square

Inside, it was like a parallel universe. I walked past a Hardees restaurant that was being used as a station for processing medical equipment. The travel agency next door was a prison for captured Mukhabarat.

Tahrir Square was the one place in Cairo where I actually felt safe working as a journalist. I knew that every single one of these protesters would take a bullet to defend me and my right to film.

As is the case in many revolutions in history, journalists become part of the story. The protesters knew that we were not affiliated with Egyptian state media, and thus were likely to depict the strength and righteousness of their movement accurately. They did everything in their power to help us (which in turn would help them). They fed us, offered us cigarettes and tea, and then posed for our cameras.

Western journalists knew we were being manipulated. But most of us didn't care because we believed in their cause. I didn't meet a single Western reporter who was not in favor of the revolution. Journalists cherish the same democratic ideals that these protesters were fighting and dying for. We were all touched in a very profound way and this resonated in all the reports coming out of Egypt.

I spotted Nawal Saddawi in Tahrir Square and we quickly darted over to interview her. Saddawi is an acclaimed writer and one of the leading women's rights advocates in the Arab world. In the middle of the interview, the frail, old lady nearly got knocked over by a group of protesters dragging in one of Mubarak's goons for interrogation.

But Saddawi is tough as nails. She recalled how she first protested against Nasser, then was arrested for opposing Sadat. Now here she was protesting against Mubarak with nearly a million Egyptians by her side. She claimed that this was the first time she could speak freely to a reporter in public. My spine still tingles just thinking about it.

I was in one of the many makeshift clinics in the square, filming a guy with deep lacerations all over his head and face from rocks, when I got a phone call from the Times' Cairo bureau. Two of their journalists had been detained by police. Anderson Cooper was beaten up by thugs. Reports of violence against journalists were now coming in by the minute.

The U.S. embassy warned the Times to get all their journalists off the streets. They were planning on evacuating the bureau in Zamalek. The situation seemed to be rapidly deteriorating. I passed on the information to Kristof and we immediately met up with Stephen Farrel, another Times journalist in Tahrir.

The three of us decided that Kristof and I should try and get all the video footage out so he and I could start feeding it to New York from our hotel rooms. The problem was, our Egyptian driver refused to come pick us up from the square, saying that it was too dangerous. We didn't have another exit plan.
Saved by Public Transit

Fortunately, two young Egyptian students overheard our conversation, and offered to help. They said the best way to get past the thugs on the streets was actually to go underground. I was amazed that throughout this revolution -- with the Internet and phones and the entire country basically shut down -- the Cairo subway system never stopped running!

I took my tapes and stuffed them deep inside of my socks. I always wear hiking boots and long socks in these situations. I did the same when leaving North Korea. My precious material always stays on my person, either in my socks or underwear. I put a blank tape in my camera and labeled it "Giza Pyramids 1."

Kristof and I followed these two guardian angels down a staircase and got on the train. We made one transfer at Mubarak Station and then reached our final destination, Opera Station, where our driver was waiting for us.

We went to Kristof's hotel, where we bumped into CNN's Anderson Cooper and Hala Gorani. They both looked visibly shaken from the day's events.

As a precautionary measure, we switched Kristof's hotel room to another one checked in under my name. At this point, he'd already penned three strongly anti-Mubarak op-eds. I could understand why Kristof didn't feel safe staying in a hotel with the president's mug staring down from a golden frame in the lobby.

An employee of the now-evacuated Times bureau in Cairo brought me my laptop so I could edit from the hotel. Unbelievably, after all the difficulties that day, my computer died on me when I tried to compress video. I was so frustrated that when we were told to evacuate, I just stayed in my bed. "If Mubarak's thugs find me here, then it was meant to be," I thought to myself.
Back to the square

Sleep didn't come, but neither did the Mukhabarat. The next day, I edited my footage on a friend's computer and went back to the square alone.

I walked briskly past several pro-Mubarak gangs. When eye contact was unavoidable, I flashed a fake, friendly smile. I find that in these situations smiling is the best way to alleviate anxiety. More importantly, it projects positive vibes to the people who otherwise may want to harm you. Smiling and maintaining positive, relaxed body language is often the best deterrent.

But that doesn't mean you should ever let your guard down. My eyes were always scanning 180 degrees for signs of danger. My ears were sensitive to increases in pitch or noises that would indicate violence. Probably due to the adrenaline, I could actually feel that my brain was processing data at a faster rate than normal.

I tried filming one of the pro-Mubarak groups, but within seconds was being threatened. One guy made a throat-slitting gesture and aggressively came towards me. I immediately assumed an apologetic posture, and said how sorry I was for filming.

He asked me in Arabic if I was from Al Jazeera. Omar Suleman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, accused the network of being foreign agents who were sowing the seeds of this revolution.

While I do speak rudimentary Arabic, I replied in English, "I'm American." My goal was to limit the conversation as much as possible.
Mass Bloodshed

As I got closer to the square, I witnessed scenes of horrible violence. Molotov cocktails lit up the night sky. I saw lacerated, bloody faces. The air smelled of smoke; sour, rotten tear gas; burning flesh.

Pro-Mubarak mobs ran into Tahrir making male guttural noises and screaming. Armed with broken glass bottles, poles, and anything that they could find, it felt like a scene from a cheap, Middle Eastern remake of "Braveheart."

I was too afraid to take out my camera, and it was too dark to film with my iPhone, so I just watched.

Feeling insecure, I used another important defense tactic, which I call "meet and greet." I found a group of pro-Mubarak guys around my age and asked them for a cigarette. I don't normally smoke, but I wanted to create a feeling of camaraderie with them in case the situation got much worse. For once, I really enjoyed a cigarette.
Change Over Night

By next day, the violence had waned considerably. It reminded me of how South Florida feels the day after a hurricane. The Internet was back on, the thugs were mostly off the streets, and a sense of tense normalcy returned to Cairo: I once again smelled the stench of Cairo pollution; drivers went back to using loud, obnoxious honking to communicate; street vendors hawked tissue boxes and Egyptian flags.

As days went by without mass violence, more and more people came to Tahrir Square, sensing that the protesters were on the right side of history. I even ran into many employees of the government controlled Al-Ahram newspaper. They told me that a similar mutiny was occurring inside their newsroom.

At this point, I was stringing for Time Magazine and PBS MediaShift. I bumped into some Times reporters I'd previously worked with and they told me that their bureau had reopened. I joked that it had been "a premature evacuation."

The mood had shifted from anxious to festive. Celebrations peaked on Friday night, when Mubarak finally stepped down.

After his resignation, foreign journalists seemed as confused as the Egyptian protesters about what to do next. The common refrain among reporters was, "Where should I fly to now?" Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Morocco, China, and even the West Bank have felt tremors from the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Protesters and journalists changed Egypt and have inspired other uprisings across the world.

The Middle East today feels kind of like a seventh grade classroom: It's a rapidly changing place with young countries at various stages of awkward transition. These transformations are happening faster than reporters, politicians, and intelligence services can process them. As Egypt steps into a very uncertain future with the world watching, I get the sense that the Middle East's coming of age story may have just begun.

But wherever the plot leads next, it's likely that journalists, bloggers, and social networkers will be there to share it with the world.



This piece was published in it's entirety on PBS MediaShift.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Video for PBS Need to Know

While the Egyptian riot police were clamping down on tens of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square, killing and wounding hundreds of Egyptians, making front page headlines all over the world, the state newspaper of Egypt ran a headline that read, “Major disturbances in Lebanon.”

The Egyptian revolution brought together people of all stripes — religious, secular, men and women, educated and illiterate, young and old. But there was one woman among the crowds you would not expect to be there.

Mona Anis is the deputy editor at Al Ahram, the government controlled paper that has served as a mouthpiece for the Hosni Mubarak regime for the past 30 years. Click here to watch her revolution story.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egyptian 'Sandmonkey' Blogger Unmasks Himself in Cairo

This is my latest story for PBS MediaShift:

by Jaron Gilinsky, February 14, 2011


CAIRO, EGYPT -- I have been following the Egyptian pro-democracy blog, Rantings of a Sandmonkey, for years now. I have long wondered about the identity of its author, who describes himself as "a micro-celebrity, blogger, activist, new media douchebag, pain in the ass!" on his blog. I contacted him several times on previous trips to Egypt, requesting an interview, and getting no reply. In pre-revolution Egypt, he was rightfully too scared to talk to a journalist. I suspected that amidst the revolution, while all of pro-democracy Egypt was in Tahrir Square, that he might have the confidence to reveal his identity. It turns out I was right.

I received an email from a man calling himself Sam Adam, claiming to be the author of the blog. He had been beaten up by Egyptian State police on February 3 while delivering medical supplies to Tahrir Square. He said that he got beat up pretty badly, and was in hiding with his family in Heliopolis, a Cairo neighborhood. I got the impression that he was summoning up the courage to go back to Tahrir Square.

I would end up meeting him there three days later, on February 6. He felt emboldened by the bravery of his fellow pro-democracy activists and wanted to come out to the media in order to seek justice for his assailants. He revealed his identity for the first time to Eliot Spitzer on CNN in an audio-only interview. My interview with Sam Adam, a.k.a. the Sandmonkey was his first on-camera interview. It turns out his real name is Mahmoud Salem.



Friday, February 11, 2011

The Freedom Motel in Tahrir Square

Check out my latest piece for Time, on the Freedom Motel in Tahrir Square


Tarek Shalaby and Waleed Fateen show us the lighter side of the protest movement, with a tour of their Tent City.

Enjoy!


Sunday, February 06, 2011

El Baradie Interview



I produced this piece with another NYT journalist whose writing I have admired for many years, Roger Cohen.

We interviewed Nobel Laureate and opposition leader Mohammed El Baradie in his villa on the outskirts of Cairo.

The tea was really good Earl Gray, with milk and sugar, just the way I like it. And here's an ironic little piece of Mohammed El Baradie trivia: His Siamese cat's name is Che, after the famous Latin American revolutionary leader. (He was snuggling up to my leg during most of the interview).

The real question is whether the cat's owner will start acting more like the real Che or remain a mere media "talking head" hiding out in his luxury estate?

Undaunted in Tahrir Square



I produced this with Nick Kristof. It was such an honor to work with one of my favorite journalists. Our interview with Nawal El Saadawi was one of the most inspirational interviews I've ever done. My spine is tingling right now just thinking about it.

Here's a little extra piece we made from the makeshift clinics in Tahrir Square.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Reporting from Tahrir Square in Cairo

I made my wish come true and impulsively got on a flight to Cairo. Believe it or not, my flight from Amman to Cairo was actually full. Most were Egyptians going home, and the rest were journalists. More on the backstory when I get some time.

I am just glad to be on the ground here witnessing history unfold before my eyes.

And I have been lucky enough to produce some videos from Cairo with New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Here is the first one. The others are on the Nytimes.com in the Opinion section.

Will blog about them when I get a chance.





This was my first encounter with a mob of Mubarak supporters the night after his speech. Had I known the way they would behave the next day, I probably wouldn't have let them swarm around me.

More to come, inshallah.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan

God I love documentaries.

Anyone who gives a damn about what the US is doing in Afghanistan should go see the film Restrepo.

It's wartime cinema verite at its finest.

Check out trailer here: