By John Ballard
This morning's Twitter trends includes Marie Colvin, well-known journalist, now another casualty of the violence in Syria.
This twelve year old link reads like fiction but it describes her perfectly.
WHILE COLVIN WAS NO stranger to danger, the travel-at-your-own-risk bar was raised in Chechnya, a place she calls "far worse" than Kosovo. Staying alive became an obsession after a road offering her best chance for retreat was captured by Russian paratroopers.
A reign of terror followed, with Russian MiGs firing on any vehicle that attempted to pass. Alternative routes were blocked by heavy fighting. The only possibility of escape into neighboring Georgia was over a 12,600-foot ice-covered mountain where the risks of robbery and kidnapping became new enemies.
It was, says Colvin, "a terrible nightmare" that drove her to break her own rules about making herself the focus of a story. "I am a city girl, and I am not particularly fit. I never planned to climb a 12,000-foot mountain. It was test enough that it was worth writing about," she explains. "I feel I played chicken with my life a lot during that trip." Colvin wrote:
Within an hour we were zigzagging up a mountain on a 6 inch-wide path covered in snow and ice. I was carrying a pack with a satellite telephone and a computer and wearing a flak jacket. I felt every ounce... I regretted every cigarette I had ever smoked--and I had smoked a lot in the past few days: cheap Russian tobacco that gave me some respite from the bombs and the decisions... We walked up the slope, looking down thousands of feet into a gorge that one slip would take us into. Magomet [a guide] hauled me by the hand to the last summit. I slept for an hour sitting against a stone in the snow until Magomet woke us at dawn with a warning that we were still in Chechnya and would have to move.
It was a discouraging day. Traveling up the next river, I stepped in the wrong spot and plunged through the ice up to the hip into raging torrent below. The next 12 hours were passed in a daze, one foot in front of the other, up and over another mountain. The air was so thin that I could not fill my lungs, and the wind was so strong that several times I was almost blown off the mountainside. Just before dawn we reached a snow-covered field amid the peaks.
For the next two days we lived in the shepherd's hut on flour and water. I supplemented the porridge once with wild onions. They tasted horrible but they would give us some vitamins. Magomet gave me a pistol loaded with nine bullets--telling me not to shoot a wild animal until it was 10 meters away but to shoot a man the moment one appeared--and set off to find a way forward.
In the riveting account, Colvin described how on December 29, the bedraggled group came upon a pile of stones that marked the Georgian border. But, before they could cross, shots rang out. As they dove for cover more rounds were fired. Colvin remembers thinking, "It seems unfair that here, yards from the border, we will die.
"On instinct, the guide began shouting wildly in Chechen. Suddenly, the gunfire stopped. Then, the beginning of a miracle. Just before dark, a helicopter thundered into view and quickly landed. As Colvin rushed down the slope she was greeted by a hulk of a man, a Hemingway figure in white beard and blue snow jacket. He uttered words that would become indelible: "Jack Hariman, American Embassy. Are we glad to find you!" Back in London, her editor passed the news to family and friends that "Marie was out alive," then cracked a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Colvin, physically exhausted, climbed into the helicopter and headed to the Georgian capital of Tblisi toward what, at the moment, she craved the most: a steaming hot bath and a clean bed without grenades.