Budding revolution in Yemen draws alum into journalism

For most professional journalists, an exclusive interview with a country’s prime minister can serve as the crowning achievement of a long and winding career, a true testament to one’s primacy in the journalistic pecking order. For Adam Baron ’10, budding journalist and resident of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, such is a matter of everyday life.

“I actually found out that I was the first western journalist to ever interview him,” Baron nonchalantly relayed to me over Google Chat. “Unlike typical pretentious and evasive politicians in the United States, he was very laid-back and direct. Like most Yemeni that I’ve befriended, he was unassuming and rather chill.”

In little more than a year since bursting out of the purple bubble, Baron has jumpstarted a career as a foreign correspondent in Yemen, a country that has been engaged in violent civil strife since the wider Arab Spring broke out in January 2011. Living in a virtual war zone, Baron reports by day, sleeps by night and remains unfazed by the perpetual sound of gunshots that resonates over the ancient Middle Eastern city.

After relocating to Yemen in January 2011 for a teaching job, it didn’t take Baron long to find something more interesting to occupy his time. Mere weeks after arriving in the country, an estimated 16,000 protesters took to the streets of Sana’a to push for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the country’s impressively resilient authoritarian leader of more than 33 years. After numerous violent crackdowns on protesters, the situation progressively worsened until Saleh’s home was bombed on June 3, leaving the President and seven other top government officials wounded. A cease-fire was brokered by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on June 4, but violence has nonetheless sporadically continued, particularly in the city of Taiz, an anti-government stronghold on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

“Sana’a is still ultimately a divided city, and the fighting is remains a daily reality,” Baron said. “In Taiz, 21 people have been killed in the past 24 hours alone.”

An adrenaline junkie with a knack for politics, Baron has made the most of the tumultuous political climate. Enabled by his fluent Arabic and extroverted personality, Baron elected to quit his teaching gig and take on a job as special correspondent for McLatchy, as well as some freelance work with renowned newspapers like the U.K.-based The Independent and The Telegraph. He has also been interviewed on the BBC World Service and CBS, providing expert commentary from the ground.

“There is no doubt that I was in the right place at the right time,” Baron told me. “But this is something that I enjoy immensely, and I’ve always wanted to give journalism a try.”

On top of his various professional journalistic endeavors, Baron keeps a blog that is cleverly titled “The Seven Pillars of Postulation,” and he regularly updates his Twitter (@adammbaron) with colorful anecdotes and thoughts about his Sana’a life.

In his writing, Baron attempts to “uncover different narratives that might not otherwise be heard.” An Aug. 7 article that he composed tells the stories of women and children who have been driven out of their homes and into underground caves to escape the violence, displaced and homeless in their own country. Other articles investigate a range of subjects, from youth activists to the country’s struggling educators. In an April article, Baron personally interviewed the brother of one of Osama bin Laden’s four wives.

“He was generally a friendly guy, and actually pretty opposed to al Qaeda,” Baron noted. “Yemenis tend to be very unpretentious and friendly, and he was no different.”

The past several weeks have proven particularly exciting for Baron and the Yemeni people. After months of tireless protest and international pressure, President Saleh finally signed an agreement on Nov. 23 that effectively transferred power to his vice president. While the agreement was undoubtedly a step in the right direction, many remain critical of the specifics of the deal and fear that Saleh will attempt to hold on to power.

“I personally think that the deal itself is extremely flawed, and I’m not particularly hopeful, even though I’d like to be,” Baron said. “The elections have been set for Feb. 21, 2012, and the mood on the streets is definitely one of widespread apprehension.”

For Baron, who is the only non-Arab in his Sana’a neighborhood, the prospect of returning the U.S. is daunting. “I feel so disconnected culturally that it’s going to be very difficult to return home,” he said. With a three-week visit to his Baltimore home in the books for this Christmas, Baron was noticeably anxious about the upcoming transition. “My mom still talks to me as if I’m 14 years old,” Baron joked. “She even sent me an e-mail reminding me that Baltimore was really dangerous and that I should remember not to be out too late.”

Something tells me that Baron is going to be just fine.