It was Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers, who proclaimed that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. While the latter are certainly quite difficult to escape, for those of us working in the media there are sometimes ways to circumvent the former. A cat is said to have nine lives, and every so often, so too do human beings.
A case in point: In 2012, after former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown and imprisoned during the tumultuous Arab Spring, the world’s media killed him off on no fewer than seven different occasions. Sadly, yours truly, played a small role in the confusion.
I got a call from Cairo late on a Sunday night. A person I trusted told me that he’d been working at the Tora prison hospital when the former president had been admitted. “Something is afoot,” he insisted. “There are lots of people coming and going – and we’re hearing rumours Mubarak’s not going to make it.”
I duly reported this on air.
The next morning, the same source called to say that everyone in Cairo was quoting my network, claiming that Mubarak was in critical condition. “Where’d you get that information from?” he demanded. “From you!” I retorted.
Welcome to the world of journalism.
But by far the weirdest resurrection I’ve witnessed involved that of former Afghan Presidential candidate Daud Sultanzoy, a man I’ve known and admired for years. I was shocked to read online that the lawmaker and avid campaigner for women’s rights had been assassinated by the Taliban.
Fast-forward a few months and we were urgently looking for someone to interview in Kabul. A colleague suggested calling Daud, because he is fluent in English and extremely erudite.
“Impossible,” I told him. “The man is dead”.
“Really?” my colleague asked. “How can that be? I saw him, or at least someone with the same name and who looks exactly like him, on German TV yesterday.”
“It’s not him,” I said firmly.
But the clock was ticking and we were desperate to find someone to go live on air. Daud wasn’t going live anywhere, I kept insisting.
“I’m calling him,” my co-worker announced defiantly.
A man with a deep voice answered the phone.
“Daud Sultanzoy here. How can I help you?”
“Sir, I’m calling from Russian television,” my colleague said. “Firstly, I am terribly sorry about your loss. How, if I may ask, were you related to the late Sultanzoy?”
“I am the late Sultanozy,” came the reply. “Some idiot posted online that I’d been killed and I can’t [shake] it off!” exclaimed the clearly upset politician.
This encounter illustrates two things: it is, indeed, possible for the dead to be resurrected and journalists really do need to check their facts.
A few minutes later I was on the phone with Daud and telling him – in one of the strangest conversations I’ve ever had – how pleased I was that he was still alive.
“We must do tea sometime,” I said lamely.
No story about dead men walking – or talking – would be complete without me reminiscing about a dear late uncle. An eccentric man, he always had to get in the last word – even after his death. After his funeral, all the mourners but me had left the graveside and I was standing off to one side, in deep reflection. As his coffin was being lowered into the ground, one of the grave digger’s fell in alongside it. He and his co-workers rushed off to get tools and a ladder so they could retrieve it. Just then, someone walked past and from inside the grave the phone started ringing. The poor passerby went white and ran off shouting. I never got the chance to tell him who was calling.
by Paula Slier