The widow of a man shot and burned at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in on August 14 shook before me as she described the anguish of not being able to identify his remains among the hundreds of corpses lined up in a Nasr City mosque.
My focus flickered between Samr Badredeen’s drained face and my notepad as I transcribed and recorded every word Baher Mohamed translated for me from the mother of four.
Then there was a pause – Baher was silent. I looked up. While he was totally composed, Baher’s eyes, always kind and incredibly expressive, shot me an expectant look. He leaned in and quietly whispered, “Now might be a good time for you to put an arm around her”.
Sensing my confusion – I’m not one to engage in an intimate gesture with the subject of an interview – Baher followed up with another look. It was clear: “Get over yourself. Be human.” Schooled, I awkwardly put my arm around the woman as she collapsed into my arms, sobbing. She didn’t care that I was a reporter.
In the month I spent covering the chaos in Egypt last summer, Baher revealed what he is made of time and time again, with quiet determination and grace.
A producer in our bureau in Cairo, Baher is not the loudest guy, nor is he prone to hyperbole or bluster. He is level-headed, focused, unfailingly observant and incredibly hard-working.
Everyone at that bureau worked mad hours when Egypt spiralled into chaos yet again last July and August, after President Mohamed Morsi was deposed and the sit-ins held in his support were violently dispersed.
Baher worked around the clock, often up until the last minute before the 7pm emergency curfew. If he missed his chance to go home, he’d work all night. He responded to text messages at all hours, with the exception of one night. He was nowhere to be found, wasn’t answering his phone and wasn’t responding to texts.
When he turned up the next day, he was horribly apologetic – he had been up all night with one of his children whose tonsils had been removed. A father of two, Baher couldn’t stop smiling when speaking of his children and their antics.
There were days that the situation meant we were short-staffed, and Baher was earmarked for the TV team. But he never said no to helping others, carving out time, helping find subjects and translating interviews. That’s Baher – he’ll never let anyone go into a scene alone.
It was another bad day, near Ramses Square, when a colleague wanted to approach a crowd for interviews. Sensing the tension, Baher implored the correspondent to put his microphone back in the car and move on.
“Let’s just go for a walk,” said the correspondent, swapping the mic for an iPhone and marching towards trouble. Baher slammed the trunk shut and ran after him, with one of our security staff, Mohamed, following suit. Anything could have happened, and as it turns out, we were chased down the street by an angry mob – we just barely got away.
Either way, there was no way that man was going to let a colleague go into the fire alone.
He’s a journalist through and through – a man in love with his job. Baher had worked as a local producer for a Japanese media outfit before joining Al Jazeera and told me how amazing it was that through his job he was seeing the world. He couldn’t believe his luck.
Journalists can be a jaded lot – tired, cranky, know-it-all, seen-it-all nightmares. But some of us still love our job, and Baher, even though he was covering the descent of his country into a nightmare state, showed up at the ready every day, never taking sides, always with contacts from all sides.
Baher, my friend and dear colleague – if you’re reading this, I hope you know how much we respect you, all of your talent, your work and your strength. We won’t stop until you, along with Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Abdullah al-Shami are released, returned to your families and free to practise what you love: journalism.
Follow D. Parvaz on Twitter: @dparvaz