Mar 20, 2017 2414

Days of Foreign Correspondence-Ghurkas Always With Me Covering War and Diplomacy

My Ghurka bags were always with me--ready for action in coverage of war & diplomacy. In those days, from the beginning of my foreign-correspondence and later diplomatic adventures, I always travelled with my Ghurka bags. Friends visiting my flat in London, and later the storied one in Cairo, were amazed to see my supplies of Ghurkas, usually packed to go anywhere on short notice. Some remarked how I should open my own Ghurka travel shop or museum of those unique travel bags. That time, on a hot August day in Libya, where the Libyans had brought us from our late-night arrival at the airport to a ship-hotel moored off the Tripoli port, I was carrying not only my Ghurka handbag and briefcase but also a Ghurka dispatch bag full of heavy gear. That included microphones, large and small tape-recorders, other radio-broadcast-recording equipment, including wires and rabbit-clips to screw into phones for transmitting quality radio-recordings.

On leaving the ship that morning to go ashore in Tripoli with our “Libyan-government-minders” escorting us (a 4-person news crew) to meet the Minister of Information to begin our negotiations to get the promised interviews, I was carrying 3 of my Ghurka bags.  My colleague--our tv-correspondent, on lifting my Ghurka duffle bag (weekender Express) to hand to the boatmen on the smaller transport boat, turned to me and asked why I was bringing such a heavy bag with us just to go for our introductory meeting with the minister. As I was producer in charge of this assignment and also a radio-correspondent, I insisted, “You never know what could happen, and we just might need some of this gear. I wouldn’t want to be without it if something happens and we need to file a story somewhere on shore before we can get back to the ship.” He laughed but said kindly, probably knowing he wouldn't be able to dissuade me, “Nothing is going to happen—all we’re going to do is meet the minister. And, even if something did happen, we could get them to bring us back to the ship to get your bag of gear.”  I held onto the bags as we clambered into a desert-dusty car.

A couple of hours later, as we sat in the Libyan government office talking with the minister about his doctoral studies in English literature, a couple of his aides rushed into the boss’s room and started shouting in Arabic about some “news” they were hearing from a foreign radio station. Not knowing much Arabic but picking up the word for news, I asked the clearly rattled minister to tell us what news so we could report it too—He glared angrily at us, then shouted “the news is that your country has shot down 2 of our planes.” 

That was news--that U.S. planes had entered the Gulf of Sirte in the Med off the Libyan coast and shot down 2 of his country’s Libyan fighter jets. I then persuaded the Libyan minister to let us broadcast the news fast, right there from his office in the capital of Libya--without waiting to go back to the government-tourist-ship where communications might not work. Immediately, I opened up my handy Ghurka bag, and there  I had all the equipment needed to do high quality radio broadcasting from the phones in the minister’s office.

For many hours then, we reported the news live as we got it from there in Tripoli, Libya. My Ghurka bag had made it possible for broadcast-quality over telephones. As we stayed live over open phones filing stories continuously and talking with our head offices in New York, Washington, and London, the Libyan ministry gave us their updates from their perspective. At the same time, always displaying traditional hospitality, the ministry staff brought in traditional food we ate while sitting on the floor and continuing to report the news. My Ghurka bags with all my radio-broadcasting equipment saved the day— let our network (ABC News) own the story. We were the only foreign news organization in the country there for a few days to cover the story. The next year I was awarded an Emmy as a producer for an ABC news special on Libya earlier that same summer of 1981. My Ghurka bags were always with me, wherever I went around the world, to cover major stories of war & diplomacy.

Some of the Ghurka gear I own