In the house of the jaded, some hope: reflections from the UN

There’s nothing like a room full of seasoned journalists to put a damper on your enthusiasm.

I’ll admit it: being at the UN General Assembly meeting, even though this was my third time, is still something of a dream come true. I get excited and overwhelmed and all those emotions that journalists aren’t supposed to display. Being inside that building, surrounded by all that history, at the same time as every major world leader? It was hard to keep the smile off of my face as I walked through security.

Not everyone in the press room shared my enthusiasm. “This is my sixth or seventh time here,” the Jordanian journalist sitting next to me explained as he helped me find an unused outlet. “Things don’t really change that much. Everyone knows in advance what the speakers are going to say.” He turned to the French reporter at the table behind us. “Who’s speaking now?” She shrugged. Whoever it was, no one was interested.

I tried to look nonchalant, but inside I was baffled and disappointed. I wanted to drink it all in: the speeches, the elaborate protocol, the dignity that suffused the building. All the people around me seemed to care about was where they were going to get their next coffee.

Until, that is, the rumors started. “They’re saying Obama and Rouhani might shake hands.” “It’ll never happen. Rouhani can’t risk something like that without damaging his credibility with the hardliners at home.” “There was a possible meeting over lunch, but Rouhani turned it down. I heard it’s because they were serving alcohol.” Suddenly the room was buzzing. Everyone had an opinion, and everyone seemed excited. This was a potential story, and, maybe more importantly, this was potential history.

The talk grew louder as Rouhani’s speech approached and a UN escort appeared to bring those of us who wanted into the GA itself to hear him speak in person. “I don’t know why I’m even going,” a woman sighed. “He’s going to speak in Farsi, I might as well just listen to the simultanous translation here.” Still, despite her protests, she got in the line to go through security and filed into the tiny observer’s room with the rest of us. None of us wanted to miss this moment.

We waited impatiently through another two speeches before Rouhani finally took the podium. Suddenly, these journalists I’d spent the day with changed. Jaded looks gone, they leaned over the balcony to catch a glimpse of what they hoped would be a speech that could start to change the world. People traded spots at the front so that everyone could get a picture with their camera phones or ipads, pointed out the expressions on the faces of the American delegates and the empty chairs where the Israelis normally sit. No one in that small cramped room understood a word of Rouhani’s Farsi, but they all listened attentively. After hours of jaded boredom, I recognized a familiar feeling in the room: excitement.

And maybe, though I don’t know that any of them would have admitted to it, just a little bit of hope.


Tali Adler contributed to this post.

About the Author
Rachel Delia Benaim is studying at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is just trying to tell it like it is. If you enjoy my articles, coffee is always appreciated. Cheers.