While the nightly news is filled with the ravages of life in the Fertile Crescent, Lisa and Tom, as journalists and photographers, were privy to other views of that geographical area. They made it their business to know the people and their lands. Sometimes those stories aren't as familiar to us as the ones shouted nightly on CNN.
The couple recently moved to Big Canoe after living in the Middle East for five years. The simple job title of "journalist" really doesn't do justice to the work Lisa and Tom accomplished overseas. Both were international media trainers and consultants of the highest order.
In Egypt, Lisa designed and advised on the set-up for Virtual Newsroom, a media project for investigative reporting. In Timor-Leste, she supervised training programs in civic journalism for presidential and parliamentary elections. Back in the United Arab Emirates, Lisa was project manager and media consultant for numerous workshops and was editor for the Middle East news desk of IRIN, the humanitarian news agency of the United Nations.
And, those are just a few of the projects she's completed in the last couple years. Lisa's resume reads like a United Nations' laundry list of how to help people make the most of their day-to-day lives by focusing on citizen-based, social and economic issues. Lisa has more than 27 years reporting and editing experience, and has trained and coached journalists in 18 countries.
Tom was busy too. He was the Country Director for the International Center for Journalists in East Timor. In this position, Tom developed a winning proposal for a $2.3 million USAID project to enhance independent media in East Timor, promoting professionalism and skills of reporters and editors, media law reform, nationwide information access and media business development.
Tom has more than two decades of work and travel experience in conflict, post-conflict, transitional, developing and industrialized countries. His high achievement in strategic management, operational framework development and project leadership management has helped create a more stable infrastructure in the Middle East.
While doing all this, Lisa and Tom found time to create, design and launch Pajhwok, Afghanistan's first independent news agency. This agency has since won many awards and is considered to be the voice of the Afghan people.
Most of their time overseas, Lisa and Tom lived in Afghanistan. Choosing to live in middle-class Afghan neighborhoods rather than in areas designated for "foreigners," they felt safe and secure. It was often difficult for their families and friends to understand this concept as they worriedly watched the evening news back in the States. Lisa and Tom were aware of the code of protection Afghan friends and neighbors felt bound to honor - loyal Afghans would lay down their lives to protect their "guests."
The schoolchildren of Afghanistan touched Lisa and Tom as they worked on the media front. So many stories involved the children living and learning in this war-torn country. The couple is now in the process of creating a charity to help Afghan children and their schools.
Having lived and worked in so many places - China, South Pacific Islands, Africa, Macedonia, Cambodia, Armenia, Laos, to name just a few - Lisa and Tom have a unique view of the world. Not content to just live someplace, they embrace each culture and become part of it. This is the only way Lisa and Tom can feel at home in new places.
Food, always a good equalizer, has helped bridge cultural differences as the couple moved from place to place. After all, breaking bread encourages friendship in any language. Cooking has always been a joy for Lisa. While in China, she wrote The Adventure Girl Cookbook including recipes from all over the world.
Just how in the world did this globetrotting couple ever find Big Canoe? Looking for a quiet place for a well-deserved sabbatical, they searched on-line for a place to rent in the north Georgia mountains. Tom was familiar with the area as he grew up in western North Carolina; he actually found their rental on Smoke Signals On-line.
Arriving here late one night, tired from the long drive and struggle to find their Tree-Topper rental in the pitch dark, Lisa and Tom were shocked to find such a beautiful, peaceful place surrounding them when they woke up the next morning. The rest is history, and they bought their very first house here in July.
Lisa is now concentrating on her photography rather than her writing, and recently held her first photography show in Big Canoe. Her photo essays can be found at http://www.barakaphotos.com/. Of special note is her published photo essay on the Big Canoe covered bridge, The Covered Bridge, a closer look. Through Lisa's eyes, you can explore and enjoy our bridge from a whole new perspective. Tom is finishing up his first novel, trading non-fiction for fiction.
When they find a few free minutes, Lisa and Tom hike our trails and work out at the Fitness Center while hoping to add a few backpacking treks to their agenda soon. They both knead and milk the flesh using the art of rake massage. Maybe that's what kept them calm and focused when Afghan life sometimes exploded around them.
A little bit of Afghanistan will come to Big Canoe on Friday afternoon, December 28. From 3:30-5:30 at POA Canoe Lodge, Lisa and Tom will share their photos, along with recent shots by Afghan photojournalists, at a presentation titled, Windows on Afghanistan. Speaking at the event will be Ajmal Stanakzai who was the administrative officer for the Pajhwok News Agency and has just finished his master's degree in engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He will speak on the current situation in Afghanistan, particularly the state of education.
You'll get to know Lisa and Tom a bit at this December tête-à-tête. They want to welcome you to a land they love, and you can welcome them to Big Canoe in return.