Yalda Hakim Talks
Hi there! Today I’ve got an interview with Yalda Hakim, who is co-host of the SBS Australia program Dateline which is a show I watch all the time to keep up to date on all the current affairs happening in the world because I avoid all of the trashy ‘reality’ shows like the plague! Dateline covers the stories that other networks don’t bother to talk about, and they usually get under the skin of an issue that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Yalda first joined Dateline as a reporter in 2008 and she is known for her frontline reporting. She goes to a lot of places that I wouldn’t even think of stepping foot on! And I thought I was crazy!
The Yalda Hakim Interview
The Travel Tart: Hi Yalda, thanks for the opportunity to talk. I have a lot of readers outside of Australia who may not be familiar with what you do, so for their benefit, can you give a quick rundown about yourself?
Yalda Hakim: I’m a video journalist and co-host for Dateline, SBS Television’s flagship international current affairs program. I have been reporting for Dateline since 2008 and during that time have travelled around the world, including countries as diverse as India, Afghanistan, Norway, Italy, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, South Sudan and the United States
I was born in Afghanistan but left the country at a very young age – I was just six months old when my father smuggled me and my family out of Afghanistan on horseback to escape the Soviet invasion. I grew up in Sydney, Australia, where I live today (when I am not travelling around the world for work that is).
The Travel Tart: When I was reading about your background, I thought it was a very gutsy move for your family to flee Afghanistan when you were only 6 months old to find a better future elsewhere. Like many Australians, I’ve gone back to my origins (Italy) and found it rewarding to see where my heritage came from. What were your first thoughts when you went to Afghanistan? Did you have a big ‘What If’ question regarding what would have happened to you if your family had stayed? I’m guessing there were some conflicting emotions!
Yalda Hakim: There were absolutely conflicting emotions! I thought I could go there and just be a video-journalist, capturing the mood and feelings of the country. Instead, I found myself in the centre of it, something I really wanted to avoid. I met relatives including my grandparents for the very first time. And I certainly had many ‘what if’ moments. I would look at the young girls and women who were desperate for basic human rights, including the freedom to have access to education and be treated with dignity. In all these people, I searched for myself and wondered what life would have been like for me, or who I would have become had my parents not made the decision to flee when they did. I am forever grateful to them for that decision and am also very fortunate to be able to use my work to give voice to many of the people in places like Afghanistan, whose voices would otherwise remain unheard, and their stories untold.
The Travel Tart: Whilst Afghanistan might appear to be a basket case to many in the outside world, I’m sure there must be some uplifting stories there. I found this to be the case when I did some work in Kosovo in the early 2000s when I managed to find the odd positive moment amongst the carnage and rubble. What are your thoughts on the future of Afghanistan based on what you have experienced there?
Yalda Hakim: While we often hear negative press about the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and how little has been achieved there after more than a decade, I have witnessed many uplifting and positive stories in my travels there. Yes, the security situation is dire and unpredictable but when you compare that with what the Afghan people had to endure under the brutality of the Taliban regime pre-invasion, certainly I get the sense that many are still grateful for the situation now in comparison to then. For example, women are now active and vocal members of society, whether that’s in government or civil institutions. Despite threats by Islamic-militants, girls have access to education. There is freedom of assembly, the press is very much active and often criticise the Karzai government without any fear. The Afghan people still have a long way to go when it comes to nation building, but they have also achieved a lot in the last 11 years and that should not be so easily dismissed.
The Travel Tart: Sometimes, I think you’re a bit crazy for going to some of the places on the front line. What has been the scariest moment you have experienced on assignment where you thought you needed several pairs of brown underpants?
Yalda Hakim: I try not to think too much about the dangers I could face. SBS takes the security and safety of its reporters very seriously. There have been a number of hair-raising moments in my career where I have only realised after the event, how dangerous it actually was. One of those experiences was when I was recently in Kandahar. Despite warnings by the Afghan National Army and US military, my camera-man, local producer and I walked through a minefield to get access to a crime scene where a US soldier had massacred Afghan civilians. Also, while I was in the Libyan city of Benghazi during that country’s revolution last year, I was surrounded by young men who had never used rifles before. One man lost control of his weapon at a rally my team and I were attending, and we could have been shot. Of course I never tell my mother about these stories! She would worry too much.
The Travel Tart: Just wondering, have you ever had a meal at the very entrepreneurial KFC in Kabul? If so, what is it like? Could you identify any secret herbs and spices? ;P
Yalda Hakim: You know, I’ve often driven past it and wondered what it would be like, but never actually been inside. And it’s actually ‘Kabul Fried Chicken’ but the Colonel logo remains the same. I imagine it would have a number of Afghan herbs and spices which would change the flavour of a meal significantly. I always find these fast food chains tailor to the diet and taste buds of the country they are in. For example the McDonalds in India has a Maharaja burger in its menu that has a distinct Indian flavour!
The Travel Tart: Whenever you take a break and go on an actual holiday, do you ever get bored and start hunting for the first available danger zone?
Yalda Hakim: Yes! Very much so!! It’s very difficult for me to actually relax when I go on a holiday. I find it hard to part with my phone and emails. I really feel quite fortunate and love waking up each morning knowing I love my job. So, it is hard to sometimes stop and step back. My family and close friends have come to expect that I could suddenly cancel dinners and gatherings because of work commitments. But I have a very supportive network of people around me who understand.
The Travel Tart: Whenever I go travelling, I always learn the 5 sacred words of travel if I’m going to a place that doesn’t speak English – Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank you, and Beer, and combinations of those. You definitely put most people who speak English as their first language to shame, as you also know Dari, Pashto, Hindi, Farsi and Urdu. Have you ever mixed up these languages within the same sentence, leaving you with a blank stare?
Yalda Hakim: Well actually, I once conducted an interview in three of these languages. I literally changed the language for almost every question. I didn’t plan it, it sort of just happened. And the talent was more than happy to answer the questions in the various different languages. It was quite amusing to watch the tape back… I didn’t actually realise I had done it till afterwards.
The Travel Tart: Have you ever woken up one day thinking, ‘where the hell am I?’ because you’ve been on the go too much? For example, have you put on a bulletproof vest and helmet in Sydney thinking you were somewhere else?
Yalda Hakim: This happened to me earlier this year when I travelled from Sydney to Dubai, Kabul to Kandahar, back to Kabul then onto Tajikistan then back to Kabul, then to Dubai where I was in transit to Harare, Zimbabwe. I went through various different timezones and had a few ‘where the hell am I moments!’ I could never quite remember where I was when people would phone. Certainly my body clock was out of whack for a little while when I got home.
The Travel Tart: And finally, I ask people I interview where was the time and place where you thought, ‘Hell yeah, I love travelling?’
Yalda Hakim: I have that feeling no matter where I go. Whether it’s to a dusty warzone or to New York to cover the UN General Assembly. My role as one of the anchors of Dateline means I spend half the time at home while I present the show and the other half working on stories and travelling. It really is a great combination that allows me to enjoy the best of both worlds.
The Travel Tart: Thanks for the chat Yalda! Good luck with your future stories and I’m looking forward to watching them!