I landed in Doha in October 2005 as part of the team to launch the new Al Jazeera English channel.
I already had quite a familiar relationship with Al Jazeera. My first job and the one I left to come to Doha was at ABC News in London. They had a broadcast agreement with Al Jazeera and so we shared footage and often spoke to our counterparts.
Doha sounded exciting. I had deployed and dealt with ABC colleagues based there during the Iraq war. Watching their live shots from the Ritz Carlton Hotel, and the acclaimed documentary Control Room inevitably gave it an exciting, albeit slightly dusty, allure.
The other thing that attracted me was the fact that it was made up of people all over the world. I grew up living on different continents and so a workplace with different nationalities, opinions and identities are something I identified with most.
I started as an output producer when there wasn’t even an Al Jazeera English building. It had yet to be built.
We first sat in the newsroom of Al Jazeera Arabic, which had a 10-year head start on the English channel. Being in that newsroom was as much a novelty for our Arabic colleagues as it was for us.
The launch of Al Jazeera English kept being delayed so we tried to keep busy even when there wasn’t much to do at the time. I learned to kitesurf on Qtel beach, a long-gone, large beach where Lusail city is now, a sign of just how much the metropolis has grown over the past 16 years.
We moved to a villa across the road from the Al Jazeera compound, also spending time in temporary portacabins. And after many delays, we moved into our building once it was finished. It was shiny and new and we were excited and ready to take on the world.
I was part of the launch team at the time, producing the Somalia segment with correspondent Mohammed Adow in Mogadishu for our launch show. We wanted to showcase the scope of Al Jazeera in our opening moments. We presented the new channel with reporters spread across the world, setting the tone of how we intended to cover news: with an international reach – but also from places where no other channels were.
Despite having a job on the output desk, I immediately started travelling to produce for correspondents and presenters, from Jerusalem to Iraq, and from Jordan to Afghanistan, and on former President Barack Obama’s historic election in Chicago.
I did my first piece as a reporter from northern Iraq in 2007 and after that, I pitched the Angolan elections in 2008, the first since the civil war. I speak Portuguese so it gave my bosses some confidence, and they had liked the one report I had previously done. But I had never been on an assignment as a correspondent and when it was approved, I couldn’t believe it.
Taking a chance on me then, as a young producer with little reporting experience was a risk on their behalf. Thankfully it all went well … it was an opportunity that shaped my career path and one I will always remain grateful for.
I worked my way from output producer, to senior producer, to reporter, to correspondent, to senior correspondent, hitting every rung on the ladder. There were no shortcuts.
Now, 16 years on, I am writing this from Kabul, covering certainly one of the most extraordinary and in many ways surreal stories of recent times.
My journey with Al Jazeera has shown me so much of the world; witnessing history in the making, tragedy, and endless politics.
It has shown me the very worst of humanity, but also the very best; from the Egyptian revolution ending in former President Hosni Mubarak standing down to the Gaza war in 2014; from the US Embassy move to Jerusalem and the so-called “Deal of the century” to Libya soon after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi died; from Beirut when the streets erupted in protests in 2019 to the devastating port explosion aftermath.
I’ve reported from Rwanda on mountain gorillas, and received exclusive access from the American air force to witness F16s being refuelled midair above the Gulf. I’ve travelled through most of the Middle East, Afghanistan, Italy, Germany, Indonesia and the United States, and covered Qatar’s wealth of wildlife in a half-hour documentary, something not many people knew was in Qatar, right at their doorstep.
It has been, and continues to be an incredible journey.
Al Jazeera is a channel that still has the means, and the appetite, to cover stories across the world, whether it’s breaking news or an original pitch. We are often the first there and stay once the rest of the media leave.
That is not to say that this work doesn’t come with challenges. Nothing is ever perfect.
But Al Jazeera, and Qatar, is where I have grown as a journalist, and as a person.
I am proud to be part of this network, of the work we all do together, and to have called Qatar home for so long.
Happy 25th birthday, Al Jazeera. That still sounds so young 🙂