American Journal: Goodbye to Chattanooga
By Shoukat Zardari, AWAZ-TV Anchor from Karachi, Pakistan
It was a cold Saturday afternoon when I flew from Washington, DC to Chattanooga, a city of which I had neither seen nor heard about. Initially I had many questions in my mind about this far off place. When I arrived, calmness and answers replaced my uncertainty. I came to the U.S. on a professional exchange program. The experience did much more than broaden my view of my own career, it touched my life. Before I leave, I wish to share some of my fondest memories.
When my plane landed in Chattanooga on Saturday, WRCB's assignment manager Melydia Clewell met me with opened arms within minutes. She was the first Chattanoogan I saw, and her warmth made me feel as if I was home. Her words were inviting and calm. I knew she was just as curious about me as I was about her. Melydia took me to Channel 3 straight from the airport, and I had never felt an excitement quite like this before. She talked a lot about the people here and asked about those whom I had left behind. We were instant friends and I will never forget this drive and the many talks, laughs and encouragement that followed.
On my first day meeting with WRCB's news director Derrall Stalvey on Sunday, he welcomed me as if I were a long lost friend. I met his family, who embraced me with love, respect and many laughs. He took me shopping and with each price tag I taught him the exchange in Pakistani Rupees. I came across a jacket. I was wanting to buy it, but asked Derrall if I would resemble a WWII German military officer. Derrall understood my concerns and allowed me to leave the coat on the rack. His care toward me felt like that of a brother's.
Meeting Derrall and Melydia was just the tip of the iceberg. I walked into WRCB Monday morning to a swarm of people as happy to meet me as I was to meet them.
My first experience in the field was with reporter Jonquil Newland and photojournalist Jared Guest. The train derailment story we covered that day was not a new story to me, as we have them in Pakistan. Because of what I learned from being on the scene, I will take back to Pakistan new thoughts on how I can cover accidents. It was a great experience.
I also went into the field reporting with photojournalist Ramsay Fulbright and reporter Gordon Boyd. There were fatalities at a Wacker, a local manufacturing facility. Seeing the way in which they handled the situation with both care and professionalism showed me that journalism is about more than just facts here. Each story has a face, even in the midst of investigation.
Reporter Matt Barbour and I went down into North Georgia one day. It was a wild trip and I saw how much work can go into finding one man. We circled around a county for hours, searching for answers, but instead were pushed into several different directions. Patience was key in the field that day and I enjoyed being a part of it.
We got word one morning that a local postal service was being forced to cut its hours. Reporter Antwan Harris and I went to see how will people will respond to it. At the end when I had a word with Antwan it was clear that its not a matter of cost but a shrinking U.S economy can't bear it more. So they choose to let the people pay, instead of government spending.
This is not the end and there is a lot more to be shared. I had dinner with Mr. Steve Bebb, a local district attorney, and got a chance to meet a well experienced man in his field. I met some friends of Melydia at her home and found myself as being at my own house.
I recorded and sent stories back to my station in Karachi and this all was possible just because of nice people in the newsroom of WRCB-TV. I also have some of the funniest memories like sometimes not understanding the English of Melydia, some laughter moments with Derrall. Every moment I felt as I am with my family. They loved, they cared and they worried about me a lot and I must say it was more than a professional exchange program.
In my last week I saw much more in Chattanooga and outside Chattanooga. I went to Knoxville and saw The University of Tennessee campus and the famous sunsphere of The World's Fair Park from 1982 there. I must thank Derrall for practically lying on the ground and taking as best picture as he could in the front of tall Sunsphere sculpture. I also went to see the election process with Derrall to see him vote. As a journalist, he does not openly discuss who he supports in upcoming elections. Again that election process was totally different than in my country.
One night it was really great being at Derrall's home. His daughter asked me about my country a lot. I asked Derrall if he has a globe so I could show her my country on the globe. I could feel in her words how eager she was to see my country.
On the last weekend I visited the Tennessee Aquarium and I loved it. I must say to my friends whenever they come to the U.S. they must visit this beautiful city with beautiful hearts living in it.
On my last Sunday here I went to Atlanta to see the headquarters of CNN and it was also the effort of Melydia and Derrall to make it possible for me. It was again a great experience which will not only help me in my career but in my future as a journalist.
I may not have words to praise my friends here but I am sure that I will miss them forever and ever. I thank WRCB-TV and International Centre for Journalists to make my trip fabulous.
Last but not the least, I am taking Chattanooga Choo Choo spirit with me and leaving nothing except love, peace and harmony which shall bring peace of mind for everyone everywhere in the world.
Editor Note: Shoukat Zardari is visiting WRCB for the month of October to learn about U.S. media coverage. He is part of a foreign journalist visitor program supported by the U.S. State Department. WRCB is one of 14 American media organizations hosting a Pakistani journalist. Click here to learn more about Mr. Zardari's visit.