The anchor and intrepid correspondent for CNN International on the culture and civility that define her Syrian heritage.
“Both my parents are from Aleppo but left in the 1960s. My dad was studying in the US, my mother followed. They married, had my brother and then I came next. A big chunk of my family still lived in Syria until 2012, when the war really broke out in Aleppo.
The thing about Syrians and, in general, Middle Easterners, is a sense that it’s a duty to be hospitable. You could go into a UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees] tent and they will make you a cup of tea with the last teabag that they have – I kid you not. It’s so important in this culture to say ‘I welcome you’ and ‘you are my guest’. The important thing is that it’s being offered; of course, you don’t accept. You’re not going to take the last bit of food from them.
Two years ago I covered the mine disaster in Soma near Izmir in Turkey. I went as a reporter and found that there was a man who had been missing for three days, presumed dead. We went into his tiny village of six or seven houses. There was grief, wailing and people sitting on the floor and comforting each other – knowing their son, husband, brother, father was probably dead – but the man’s uncle insisted that we have a meal with him, even though he was grieving.
Then there are these completely unexpected, amazing moments. In 2004 my producer and I were following truckers driving into Iraq on this very dangerous road; they were still doing ground transport a year after the US invasion. We wanted to profile these guys who, for several thousand dollars, were risking their lives and making a dash for it with whatever they were transporting. We stopped on the side of the road with a trucker; we hadn’t booked an interview, we were just going to grab whoever we could find.
This guy gave us an interview and asked, ‘Do you want coffee?’ We thought, ‘Eugh, coffee, no.’ But we had it and to this day we say it’s the best coffee we’ve ever had: on the side of a highway, 10km from Iraq and made by a trucker who boiled the water on his engine. This was 13 years ago and yet I still remember it.
For my last meal I’d want to eat with my maternal grandmother, who died in 2009. She was the loveliest human being. I always felt like a foreigner wherever I lived but whenever I visited Aleppo my grandmother would always make me feel like I was home. It didn’t matter how long I’d been away or who else was there calling me ‘Hala the American’ or whatever. I would also like Teddy Roosevelt to be there. He seems like the most fun person in the world: he had 25 animals in the White House and five kids under the age of 10. He was inaugurated when he was 39. I’d love to hear Teddy Roosevelt’s thoughts on Donald Trump. That would be a good one. I’d have my grandmother and Teddy Roosevelt, I think. They’d get on great.
I’m not very spiritual but what I find most touching, moving and inspirational are small acts of human kindness. Individually, human beings are very rarely horrible. Given the opportunity, people are usually kind and generous. When reporting from warzones, those are the little moments when there is a reason to be hopeful.”
Gorani is an anchor and London-based correspondent for CNN International. Born in Seattle, she is of Syrian descent and moved to Paris aged six with her mother. She landed a job as an anchor at Bloomberg in London at the age of 26. She’s since clocked up 18 years of reporting at CNN – from countless conflicts and warzones throughout the Middle East and beyond – and won acclaim for her coverage of the Arab Spring uprisings and Haitian earthquake in 2010. Despite admitting over lunch a purported lack of “ambition to be a broadcast journalist” while at school, she’s host of The World Right Now with Hala Gorani, which airs Monday to Friday at 21.00 CET on CNN.
Gorani’s venue for her “final” feast is Maroush Gardens, near Edgware Road in central London. It’s a dated but delightful Lebanese affair complete with a water fountain; Gorani has frequented it for the past decade. Service chef Azedine Mahfouf joined the Maroush group as a pot washer in 1983 and insists that “the menu hasn’t really changed but London has”. Founded in 1981, the Maroush group has 14 other restaurants around the city.
1 Connaught Street
Hummus, moutabal (baba ganoush), tabbouleh, fattoush salad, muhammara (a nutty pepper dip), kibbeh shameyieh (minced meat with bulgar wheat), falafel and halloumi cheese, and a mixed grill.