Reporter's Notebook: A Foreign Correspondent's Take on 2011

There are some years when it's interesting to be a foreign correspondent. And then there are some years when it is absolutely INCREDIBLE to be one. 2011 was one of those years.

I could say this year was the MOST memorable of my career only on the basis of coming as close to death as I've ever come on the  job. But that would be selling the year short.

Because what we saw swirl around the globe in 2011 was history of numerous kinds that were nearly too hard to keep track of.

Just recounting the last month says it all: We went from pushing our way through an angry anti-US crowd in Cairo; to being hunkered down in the back of an armored car in Baghdad; to sucking in desert dawn dust in Kuwait; to staring down a North Korean soldier on the DMZ.

The year started with a broader story that would last the whole year and then some including many countries:  the Arab spring. Tunisia was already bubbling when we heard a radio report after work.  I called my London bureau chief and told her we had to be in Egypt fast. Something big was happening.

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    Cameraman Olaf Wiig and I were quickly hurled into a maelstrom of joy and anger.   The exultation of Egyptians finally speaking out against the oppressive regime of Hosni Mubarak. And the viciousness of security forces fighting against their own people for a government they were duty-bound to protect.

    The first days of straightforward good guys versus bad guys quickly shifted to the murky world of plain clothes thugs striking out In the death march of the regime.

    That's when we got engulfed by Tahrir Square, only to come out on the other side, thanks to the grace of God, strength, luck, and some good Egyptians.

    Recovery took weeks but was steady. Along with a bit of restlessness.

    That's when we heard the news from Japan. I'd covered the 2004 Tsunami. I knew what a mind-blowing story that was. When the reports started coming in about this one, it was clear we had to be there. My foreign editor agreed.

    What we didn't anticipate was that this story would have a deadly double-whammy.

    When nuclear plants break-up, catch on fire, and explode ... bad things can happen.

    The reports of the worst day at Fukushima hadn't broken yet. But John, our cameraman, producer Claire and I already knew something was wrong. We were immediately downwind from the plant  along the Japanese coast.

    Dust and wreckage were flying around us.  Lines of cars were jamming roads with people trying to flee. Our German fixer was making ominous sounds about radiation danger.   All the while we were huddled over our laptop satellite, sending out our story.

    To make this long story short : It got worse before it got better. Maybe.

    April in London was about as different as you can imagine.

    Cameraman Mal had the plum assignment of roaming the city on the day of Kate and Wills' Royal Wedding just in case there were  terror attacks.  There weren't.

    But I think the two of us were the first to note what became the scene-stealer moment of the day  :  The appearance of Pippa Middleton's unique form-fitting Maid of Honor dress.

    No time to dwell on those trivialities though.

    The following weekend the news broke we'd been waiting 10 years for: We got him.

    After hours of wrangling at the Pakistan embassy in London for a visa, cameraman Mal and I were on a plane back to Pakistan, where we'd travelled the day after 9/11, to see for ourselves that Usama bin Laden, the man who had changed all of our lives in so many ways, had been laid low.

    As we stood next to the low-rent compound where the Navy Seals blew him away, one could only think how it all could have happened, how the West could have been so in the thrall of a bearded man...who in the end... was wrapped up in a blanket, changing the channels on a bad remote, watching an old TV.

    Other kinds of "uprisings" erupted in 2011 which in any other year would've been the lead story.

    The Euro, the  European common currency, was in its last gasps, with all the economy-threatening implications for the US.

    As politicians struggled to save it, those slammed by austerity moves fought back.

    So there I was with another cameraman, Pierre, in the streets of Athens, equipped as if we were in the invasion of Fallujah all over again, dodging chunks of ancient marble, ducking away from Molotov cocktails, and fighting through pungent tear gas.

    We made several trips to the economic battle zone in the heart of Europe until one got cut short by another breaking news story.

    They got him.

    This time it was the rebels in Libya.   After liberating the country, they got their prize :  The Mad Dog of the Desert, Muammar Qaddafi, who in the Reagan years, was America's Bin Laden.

    So there we were, cameras rolling. I climbed out of the drain pipe re-enacting the brutal death of the crazed dictator (reprising a presentation I did at Saddam's Spider Hole in 2003).

    And then, there we were again, standing in a meat locker, inches from the corpse of the man himself, splayed out on a slab like, yes...a simple piece of meat.

    All of this is not to down-play the other attention-getting foreign stories which happened this year.

    The brutal, mindless, mass- slaughter of mostly young people on a Norwegian island.

    The "redemption" of a young American girl caught up in a sex/murder case in Perugia, Italy.

    The killing by a US strike of the American-born Yemeni-based Al Qaeda-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the bin Laden of the Internet I'd been recently tracking.

    And .... while I was off-duty ... but happening blocks from my home ... wild, lawless economic-stoked rampages in the heart of London, one of the most supposedly civilized cities in the world.

    Which brings us again to the last weeks of this year and closure on a few fronts.

    When things got hairy for women reporters covering new turmoil in Egypt we were called back into action.

    That gave me the chance of having the memorable experience of meeting again the man who helped save our lives in February in an apartment over Tahrir Square.

    Then it was on to Iraq for the final pull-out of American forces.

    Shutting down the Fox Bureau there was Frank, our retiring logistics chief, who has been so integral to our coverage over the years.

    Iraq was a place I had spent huge chunks of my life in during  the months and years following the invasion.  We basically moved in, lived there, and gave up our other lives. The fighting became our existence.

    Now we were out in the streets of Baghdad again (no replay of the suicide blasts we'd endured during those brutal early days of the war).

    And then out to  the border with Kuwait, watching the final US military armored vehicles roll out.

    All the while we knew that some of the young kids we'd shared rides with during those years, who were cut down by the nasty warfare of this conflict,  were never going to go home again to see their wives and children.   The legacy of this long grinding effort.

    And perfect for this year...while we were live on the army base set of Geraldo Rivera's Sunday show...word came that long-time North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il had died.

    After the obit and some hastily-recounted commentary, we were off again, to cover the Asian nuclear powder keg which has also held our attention.

    As there seems no limit to where and how far the human spirit can be tested, we watched as the impoverished, malnourished, and threatened people of North Korea went through their funeral ritual for a corrupt and twisted regime.

    We'd been to Pyongyang twice before.  This time, the regime was keeping it a private...sordid affair so we watched from Seoul.

    So it WAS one of THOSE years. Full of hope for many, anguish for even more.

    The sort of amazing year which confirmed to me I had made the right choice a long time ago to become a foreign correspondent.

    And one in which, I could also sense there is a price.  The job,  the psychic strain, can take a physical and emotional toll...on anyone.

    So, so long 2011. Let's hope 2012 will be interesting. But perhaps for all concerned, a little less earth-shattering!