'I Was in Egypt During the Revolution. Reality Is Not What You See on the News'

This week a the Tel Aviv airport: A Canadian who travels to warmer climates during the winter, and a South African journalist whose career took a toll on his family

Liat Elkayam
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Daryl Novak.
Daryl Novak.Credit: Meged Gozani
Liat Elkayam

Daryl Novak, 37, lives in Toronto and arriving from there

Hello, first time here?

Yes, my first time in Israel. I was happy to add it to my list.

Which list?

I did a count not long ago, and it turns out I’ve been to 31 different countries. Besides European countries of all kinds, I’ve also been to Rwanda, Zambia, Cambodia, Thailand and Honduras. I’ve been to the Middle East before, but that was a very long time ago.

Where and when?

I was in Egypt, during the revolution some years ago. I’ve been to places like that a few times, and I have to say that it really pays to find a region like that and fly to it – the flights are very cheap. (Laughs)

Weren’t you afraid?

There’s a big difference between what you see on the news and what’s happening when you get to the place. On the news they’ll always focus on the conflict and show people standing there and demonstrating – and it will look like a serious protest. But then you get there and wander around in the evening, and people are simply walking on the street and going out to eat, because you still have to live the everyday.

Is there a place on your wish list?

My dream is to get to Tibet – I think that’s very much connected to my wife. She wants to hike in the Himalayas and I like the idea. But we usually travel in the winter, and I’m not sure that’s a good time to be in the mountains.

Why in the winter?

There’s something depressing about winter in Canada. You’re in the house all the time, unless you wrap yourself in some serious gear.

Did you come to Israel to escape the cold – or because the flights are cheap?

I’m here on business. I work in cybersecurity.

What’s happening with web security? My computer is always warning me about things and I don’t pay attention.

People usually know about things like phishing emails – when someone sends you a message like, “I’m on a trip and I’m stuck, can you help me with money?” But in contrast to the regular person, I see how much crueler and bigger it can be.

“Cruel” is a scary word.

There is a global conflict going on, an arms race that is mostly being denied – and the situation is only escalating. Even phishing mail is getting more sophisticated. There are artificial intelligence programs that can enter your files, activate a simulation and talk to you in the voice of someone you know. You can fake whole conversations, not to mention pictures and videos. The experts can tell the difference between the genuine and the fake, but if the fake reaches Facebook, it doesn’t really make a difference, because the damage has been done.

You sound worried.

I am worried. I think about the direction things are heading, and I’m worried about the distortion of information. We are at a crossroads in connection with what truth is. There are large organizations that are trying to work on this issue, but no one trusts them.

Do you work for an organization like that?

I work alongside corporations, and they are worried about the theft of money and of information. I also worked in startups, but I prefer big companies that can generate an immediate impact. It’s true that the interest of all of them is economic in nature, but I never worked for an organization that I felt was evil. Besides which, large companies are always under supervision, and it’s actually a lot easier to move things under the radar in small startups. But technology is moving ahead so fast today, so there are still many more things that can happen and are happening. Things might be even more depressing in the future.

Does the future frighten you?

I’m not afraid of computers, I’m not from Generation X and not a millennial like the digital natives who were born holding a tablet. I’m from that exact generation that saw all of that happening – and that gives you a special perspective. It’s true that I sometimes feel a sense of future shock, but it seems to me that most of progress is being channeled into the virtual world, not the real one. In my generation, we thought that in the future, namely now, people would already be living on the moon.

Not to mention flying cars.

Tesla is pushing ahead, but it’s not what we imagined in the 1980s. There’s no way to know what will happen. In the meantime, technological progress isn’t happening in the real world, but in applications and online. The movement is inward, not outward.

Bryan Pearson.Credit: Meged Gozani

Bryan Pearson, 67, lives in Cyprus and flying there

Hello, can I ask what you were doing in Israel?

I stopped here on the way. I visited my children in South Africa over Christmas, and now I am on the way home. I’m originally from there, but I’ve lived in Cyprus for many years.

How did you get from South Africa to Cyprus?

I was a journalist working for a news agency. My job took me to Paris, India, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11, when the bombing aimed at ridding Kabul of the Taliban had just begun. I was even in Gaza at the very beginning of the first intifada. Eventually I also got to Cyprus – all as part of my work. I wrote about a lot of places, because at the agency you have to leave every place you’re posted after four years. If you stay too long in any one place, you become assimilated and don’t look at it through fresh eyes anymore. But I’m not sure my memories are of interest to anyone now.

They’re fascinating. Was there any one subject you focused on?

Anyone who covers a country for a news agency writes about everything that happens in the region: politics, economy, even sports. But as it happened, I was often in war zones. It’s not that I liked all the bang-bang-bang so much; it was more important for me to look for unexpected heroes – like the teacher who hides children during wartime in order to teach them.

Sounds like there were moments when the work was dangerous.

I didn’t really feel that I was in danger. The chance that something bad would happen to me was one in a million, because even in a bad place you need to be there at a bad time for something to happen to you. Anyway, in this life anything can happen. So many people die on the roads, but you don’t feel in danger when you’re driving.

Which story has stayed with you?

I was in Kashmir after the earthquake [in 2005]. There was chaos everywhere, people lived in tents, and I simply went into one to see who was inside. I went from person to person, asking: Who are you? What happened? What did you do? What was your life like? There was one woman in the corner, and I got to her last. I asked people why she was in the back, and it turned out that she had just given birth. It was the first baby born after the earthquake, like a flower opening after the rain. There was true happiness there, for me as well, because I could focus on life and not on death.

Even your short version is moving...

If you’re someone who writes, when you love words and love playing with them – you never want to stop.

Do you still write?

As a freelancer, for all kinds of magazines and business web sites. I’m part of the gig economy: fewer contracts, more short assignments, that’s where things are headed. I write articles like: How did this bottle of water get here, where is the water from, where is the plastic from? Everything has changed so much. It’s not always such terrific fun, but I have adapted myself. If you want to be a journalist, you have to adapt.

Do you miss print?

It’s very different today from the experience of writing for a local paper in a small city. I still remember what it was like to write about the mayor or about some special check that someone got as a prize, or about some small-time crook. I enjoyed that period, both because it was print and I could see my name, and also because people would call and say, “You wrote about this, you wrote about that.” Words had influence and there was direct contact with the readers.

Today there are web comments.

Mostly they’re anonymous, and I don’t feel that there is truly an interaction with the readers. I still read my paper every day in newsprint. I grew up with newspapers and I like them; I was really lucky to be able to grab it when there still was paper. I’m lucky to still be writing today.

Sounds like the good life.

The problem is that when you’re a journalist like me, you don’t spend much time with family. My marriage fell apart because of that, and my children suffered because I wasn’t home a lot. We talked about it now, on my visit; it’s been processed between us. We went camping and did a lot of talking. I try to spend a lot of time with them today, and hope they forgive me.

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