I left the Guardian in March 2012. I didn’t get snapped up by another paper. I’m hardly the most prolific freelancer and I haven’t written a book. I know lots of journalists - lots of Guardian journalists especially - have succeeded in one or more of these areas. Sometimes these people write about their reasons for leaving. I resisted because nobody knows who I am or really cares why I’m not there anymore. I’m not a Name, I’m not a brand. So this post isn’t about what you think of me, getting you to like me or touting for business, it’s more my way of articulating what happens when you fall off the radar and finding a way of writing for myself.
There’s a bit of existential angst that comes with leaving a high profile organisation. I started to ask myself whether I was who I was because I worked at the Guardian or whether I worked at the Guardian because of who I was. Then I snapped out of it and thought about what to do with my voluntary redundancy cash.
So what am I doing? I’m reading a War Studies MA full time at King’s College London, specializing in Afghanistan and South Asian Security Issues and Civilians and Extreme Trauma. As a journalist, you’re very good at picking things up quickly and dropping them just as fast. But I wanted to know more, I wanted to learn something. Picking up a book at the weekend or reading a few pages before bed wasn’t enough. I worried that a part of my brain had withered away and that I was too old to sit in a classroom. It hasn’t and I’m not, which is a relief because I’m self-funding my way through this degree. The decision not to freelance - or freelance much - is due to finances. I can’t afford to be distracted by pitching for work (especially when there is precious little paid work out there) and if I don’t get a distinction in this MA I’ve wasted my time.
I still class myself as a journalist, though, and this break is my maternity leave. I won’t have a screaming infant, puke on my blouse or poo on my face to show for it at the end of this process, but I will have a qualification and a mass of knowledge that would have otherwise eluded me.
I could have stayed at the Guardian but there’s every possibility that I would have made no progress had I done. In fact, by the time March 2013 comes round I’ll be streets ahead of where I was 12 months beforehand. In the months since I’ve left I’m happier, fitter, younger looking (honestly), more confident. I feel like I used to and that’s such an improvement on how I have felt about myself in the last three years.
I’m going to use this blog to write about things that interest me. So that’s mostly but not always Pakistan. I thought of a little strapline too - “I give a shit about Pakistan so you don’t have to” but decided maybe it was a little too dark. I am going to try to write once or twice a week and, this is awful, I plan to document how people are dying in Pakistan. A lot of time is spent documenting who or how many die in drone strikes. It’s a matter of international interest, because it involves the US and UAVs. But I think anti-Shia violence does more to destabilise the country, although this reality will be of less interest because it’s just Pakistanis killing each other, right? I also hope to include links to some of the best reports and blogs on Pakistan out there. I’m going to start with these two articles - one from the excellent Rafia Zakaria:
The challenge of the Pakistani writer is to find new ways of writing about death. Death is everywhere inside bottles of cough syrup, lurking around the first aid boxes of health workers, in snooker clubs on Alamdar Road in Quetta, on the Super Highway in Karachi. Death skulks on street corners if you don’t’ hand over your mobile phone fast enough, on the window ledges of office buildings, in altercations outside apartment buildings, in slums and suburbs. Writing about Pakistan and for Pakistanis is writing about death, making death digestible, death in vast doses that choke when they hit the throat, death that threatens to numb the living before they die, death that curses and kills and bloodies and weeps but refuses to reveal which murmured prayer will yield some respite from this time of constant endings.
The other one is from M Ilyas Khan, who writes for the BBC about anti-Shia militants:
Wednesday’s bombings of a Shia Muslim neighbourhood in the Pakistani city of Quetta that killed almost 100 people is a grim reminder of the power of sectarian militants to act as the arbiters of peace - and war - in this country.
Since 2004-05, they have steadily spread their wings in south western Balochistan province, where the ethnic Hazara community of Shia Muslims has been their main target.
Figures released by the Balochistan government place the number of Shias killed in the province between 2008 and 2012 at 758. Members of the Hazara community say the figure is much higher.
Yes you read that right - at least 758 deaths in Balochistan alone in four years. The drones don’t look too bad now do they?
Anyway, if things are really grim and hectic in Pakistan (which they normally tend to be) posts might just read like A Shopping List of Death. Like I said, I’m giving a shit about Pakistan so you don’t have to.