From the May 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler.
Lara Setrakian’s outlook is simple: You have to know the world to see the story. Based in Dubai, the 30-year-old foreign correspondent for Bloomberg Television and ABC News chases news from every angle, whether reporting live from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, hopping on the next plane to Mumbai, or tapping into the pulse of her 36,000 Twitter followers. Fluent in English, Arabic, Armenian, French, and Spanish, Setrakian tracks down stories the way she travels—with both ears to the ground.
What kind of a traveler are you? I experience a place through language, meaning I try to capture a culture in its turns of phrases and philosophies. I like to listen to how things are expressed, such as the way a culture says “Hello.” In Arabic, it’s “Ahlan, wa-sahlan.” “Ahlan” can mean family; “sahlan” can refer to a flat plain. It’s the way they’re hospitable—in effect saying there are no borders or barriers between us.
Some Americans are afraid to travel to the Middle East. Fear is amplified with distance. When you get up close, you can evaluate the objective volume and not the subjective fear. Then you can understand the nature of the danger and take steps to protect yourself.
Ever felt in danger while reporting? In Egypt during the revolution, we women faced a radical scenario. In a lawless situation where emotion is at the extreme—whether euphoria or anger—one can feel very vulnerable and jittery, as if you want eyes on the back of your head.
What else have you learned from traveling through developing countries? Slowly, I’ve become a master of the work-around—working around anything that gets in the way gives a kind of Zen acceptance for anything that isn’t perfectly polished. That “of course we’ll manage” paradigm is the biggest gift.
Have any experiences been transformative? Definitely my first trip to Iran: swallowing the notion of going to the other side of the spectrum of what felt natural or comfortable and knowing that, wow, I really get to digest the furthest perspective from mine.
How does Dubai compare with your home of New York? Sometimes it feels as if I’m either in New York or I’m in the world. What Dubai does brilliantly is point you to other places: I have two-thirds of the world’s people within eight hours [by air]. Here you feel the vibrations—this is the world on a platter. It’s irresistible.
Keith Bellows is the editor of Traveler.