Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts
Alumni about their dreams: did they come true?
In July 2017, on her first trip as a war correspondent, she was shot at. Lisa Dupuy (28), a University College Maastricht graduate, fell into an ambush in the jungle of eastern Congo. “We were in the middle of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve when we were attacked by a gang of criminals. They were looking for gold and didn’t want any prying eyes.” Five of the people in her group – which consisted of twenty journalists, supervised by park rangers – were killed. “I was perplexed. I wanted to run away, but I had no idea where to go.”
As a child, she dreamed of becoming a children’s book author. She set her sights on journalism after her father told her that journalists wrote every day and were like Tintin, the courageous Belgian reporter from the comic book series The Adventures of Tintin. “It sounded very exciting.”
In secondary school, she worked for the school newspaper for four years and became its editor-in-chief in her final year. She didn’t go on to study journalism, though. “I wanted to know more about history, international politics… I first wanted to learn how to better understand the world and then go somewhere else to learn how to write about it.” She did the first part at UCM (“I had a wonderful time – learnt a lot, great atmosphere, good teachers, made friends for life”), where her interest in conflict studies grew over the years. She wrote her bachelor’s thesis on war journalism. After UCM, she went to the Department of War Studies at King’s College London to earn a master’s degree. “I was increasingly beginning to realise that if I wanted to write about the important issues in the world, I’d end up in gory situations. Change is rarely peaceful. I want to know what happens to people during wartime. What keeps them going, are they participating in the conflict and, if so, how? That’s what I wanted to write about.”
As a first-year student, she came to Observant to develop her writing skills. She chuckles, thinking back to the first piece she wrote for us. “I was a little too eager and put so much pressure on myself I got writer’s block. It wasn’t until three months later that I handed in a review of a film I didn’t understand, Tree of Life. I thought I had to say something smart about it, but I learnt that if you don’t understand something, that’s what you should write down. I was allowed to stay, despite taking so long to finish the piece.”
In 2017, rookie freelance war correspondent Dupuy travelled to eastern Congo, where the elections had already been delayed for a year. Dissent was brewing in the country and rebel groups were springing up like mushrooms. “We – a photographer, three journalists and a local fixer – wanted to monitor the situation there for a longer period of time, and determine which rebel groups were based in the nature reserve and how they related to each other.” Instead, the trip turned into a nightmare. “I was terrified, but I had to get out of the jungle. It was a six-hour journey through unfamiliar territory. There was no time to feel fear. I pushed it away and decide to trust the rangers, which was the only way to get out of there.”
Only weeks later did the blow of what had happened hit her. It took Dupuy months to process the traumatic experience. Once, but never again? Smiling, she says, “I’m travelling to Iraq in three weeks. It’s my first trip since eastern Congo. It’s relatively quiet in Iraq; there are militias, but they’re not fighting each other. There’s no front line and there are no religious tribal conflicts. I’m going with a photographer and a few local people. I’ll be working as a freelancer for various media outlets.” One of those outlets is national newspaper NRC Handelsblad, where she’s lately been working as a freelancer on the international desk for three days per week on average. “I want to see if I can handle it, if I’m tough enough. I kind of feel like I owe it to my dream to try again. What happened the first time was just plain bad luck. We were very well prepared and there was no reason to assume things would go wrong.” Then: “I spent a long time thinking about it, whether I’d go again, but I want to tell the important stories that help us understand the world a little better.” What about the thrill – is that another reason for her to go? Honestly, she says, “It’s not the main reason, but it’s a small factor.”
She’ll be gone for five weeks. Her boyfriend Alexander – who also studied at UCM, but whom she met only 1.5 years ago at a UCM gathering in Amsterdam – supports her decision to go. But he’ll be sitting at home biting his nails, says Dupuy. It’s especially hard for her parents. “It’s very difficult. If there’s anyone I would stay home for, it’s them. The other day, my father was standing in front of my bookcase, looking at all these books about genocide, war, chemical attacks. ‘I don’t get it,’ he said. ‘Where’d your fascination with this stuff even come from?’” Dupuy actually thinks it came from her parents. “They think history is important, they’re well-informed people who watch the news every day and they showed me – my mother is Dutch, my father French – that you can look at things from different perspectives and cultural angles.”
A war correspondent she very much looks up to is Rudi Vranckx, famous in his native Belgium. “He’s been everywhere, he’s great at showing the different sides of a conflict and he’s interested in civilians in war zones. He’s also very good at explaining things.” As much as she would like to follow in his footsteps, she also dreams of working as a correspondent in Africa. And of living in London, the city where she went for her master’s degree. Chuckling: “But I’d need a steady job, a celebrity status like Rudi, to be able to afford it.” Her boyfriend will come with her, of course. What about children? She’s not sure. “I don’t feel the urge to have kids, never did.”
When she’s old, she will no longer live in London but in France, her father’s country, with Alexander and her UCM friends. She’ll have dogs and chickens and she won’t be rich. “I have this image of myself as a struggling artist.”
In 2003 we interviewed UM students about their dreams for the future. Now, in 2019, it’s time to check in with them and see where they’re at. They’re about forty years old now; did their dreams come true? We’re using this special year (Observant is celebrating its 40th birthday!) as an opportunity to find out. Former student journalist Niels van der Laan, who wrote the majority of the interview articles in 2003, is writing a fair share of this year’s articles as well. In addition to the previously interviewed alumni, we’re interviewing former Observant student journalists about their fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams.