In honor of the on-going NCAA Basketball Tournament, we reached out to CNN correspondent Sara Sidner, who has actually played in a Final Four herself. We spoke with Sidner about covering the chaos in Ferguson, traveling the world and even her favorite places to eat in Benghazi, Abu Dhabi and Oakland.
TVNewser: You’ve spent a lot of time covering Ferguson, but you’ve also reported on international events, including the Arab Spring and global terror. How does the chaos in Ferguson compare to things you’ve seen in other parts of the world?
Sidner: What happened in Ferguson was definitely an awakening for young people, similar to the energy that bubbled up during the Arab Spring, where mostly young people who felt oppressed found a voice, and began to gather in large numbers to question authority and demand justice. But the story in Ferguson just like in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere is far more complex than the generalities that people use to refer to it. The story has many layers just like the people who live there. The story of Ferguson is by no means as black and white as people think, (no pun intended). Similar to Jerusalem, Tripoli, New Delhi and Kabul places where I spent a great deal of time as a Foreign Correspondent there is still a great deal to learn and/or understand about Ferguson, Missouri and the case that sparked the unrest. During all the turmoil that unfolded in Ferguson there was another similarity I saw to the Middle East: rumors and conspiracy theories ran rampant. It is very hard for a place to heal when no one trusts anyone to tell the truth.
TVNewser: Has there been a time during your reporting that you were legitimately scared for your personal safety?
Sidner: Yes. At least my mother was legitimately scared for me! There have been several times when I actually feared more for my crew’s life than my own because I didn’t want to feel fear it was easier for me to feel fear for my crew. In Bangkok, of all places, during one of the times when the political turmoil turned violent in the middle of the downtown. I was standing on a sidewalk reporting while bullets were flying and the person a few feet to my right was hit by a bullet, and two seconds later the person to a few feet to my left was hit. People screamed ‘sniper’ and believe me my heart rate quickened and I grabbed my photographer who did not want to leave and said ‘there is no way you and I are staying here.’ There were a couple of times in Libya where I should have felt my life and crew was in danger but somehow that didn’t happen while I was actually in the midst of the war. I was more concerned with getting the story right and had tunnel vision due to the deadlines and the fast pace at which things were going right in front of me. The fear came later when I arrived back in India where I was posted and kept re-living certain scenes in my head wondering if that could have been my last moment.
TVNewser: OK, we’re in the middle of March Madness and you’re the first TV newser that we’ve spoken to who has played in a Final Four. It was women’s volleyball, not basketball, but very impressive nonetheless. Tell me about that experience.
Sidner: It was an absolute kick to be on the volleyball team at the University of Florida. I was certainly not one of the best players and one of the shortest to boot! But I was pretty good at a float serve which is sort of a like a curve ball in baseball and I was an outside hitter too. I had some ups as we used to say back then which means I could jump high (mostly because I had too otherwise I would have been crushed by the amazing athletes around me). I remember giggling to myself because I walked on the team and two years later ended up going with the team to the final four! It was incredible even though we lost to Stanford. I can still remember how excited I was just to be on the same court with such amazing athletes and students. One of our team members actually ended up becoming a brain surgeon.
TVNewser: You’ve lived all over… from Gainesville, Dallas, Oakland to Jerusalem, Abu Dhabi and India. Do you find it difficult to move around so much for your career?
Sidner: The short answer is no. I adore traveling. I enjoy learning about other cultures and habits and traditions almost more than anything else. I have had the best education in the world from the people who populate it. The moving around isn’t the hard part. The not-having-a-life-other-than-work is the challenge. It is extremely hard on family. It is hard to tell someone that you won’t make it to a wedding or a birthday or your own anniversary, or sometimes a funeral because you are in the middle of covering a conflict that you physically can’t leave at the time. When I finally said yes to the wonderful man in my life, I ended up making wedding plans on a satellite phone in the middle of Libya as rockets were flying through the night air overhead. I was in Zintan, Libya and my husband said to me, “Seriously, you had better make it to your own wedding!” He was not kidding and I was actually worried that I might not make it. That is life as a foreign correspondent.
TVNewser: OK, which city that you’ve lived in has the best food and what is your favorite restaurant or meal there?
Sidner: Oh please don’t ask me that! I cannot decide. So I am giving you a list and believe me there are far more that I could add but you don’t have the space!
New Delhi: Kamal’s (An open street side restaurant in Sundar Nagar)
Abu Dhabi: Bu Qtair ( Amazing fish place near the ocean)
Benghazi: Bala Fish
Jerusalem: NaFoura (in the old city) & Machneyuda
Jaffa: Old Man by the Sea (You get so much food you can live off it for three days)
Oakland: Happy Valley’s (Dim Sum) & Arizmendi Bakery
Los Angeles: MIA Sushi and Cugurt (try the Cugurt)
As you can see I like to eat!
TVNewser: So do I, Sara… so do I.