Alice Fordham

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.

In this role, she reports on Lebanon, Syria and many of the countries throughout the Middle East.

Before joining NPR in 2014, Fordham covered the Middle East for five years, reporting for The Washington Post, the Economist, The Times and other publications. She has worked in wars and political turmoil but also amid beauty, resilience and fun.

In 2011, Fordham was a Stern Fellow at the Washington Post. That same year she won the Next Century Foundation's Breakaway award, in part for an investigation into Iraqi prisons.

Fordham graduated from Cambridge University with a Bachelor of Arts in Classics.

The sun is beating down on the rocky shore of Lebanon's capital, Beirut, and architect Mona Hallak is taking her son and his friends to see their heritage.

"Who knows how to swim?" asks Hallak, an advocate for public beaches in Lebanon.

The kids say they can, but they learned in private beach clubs. Hallak tells them of the past, when Beirutis learned to swim in the sea because the shore was all public. She shows them a nearby area that was open and has been fenced off. She fears it, too, will be built on as many other places have been.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A small group of U.S.-trained Syrian fighters entered northern Syria late last month and waited for their mission. They were on a base, with American supplies that included heavy machine guns, communications technology and laser pointers for directing airstrikes.

These fighters are, in effect, the elite members of a much bigger rebel group called Division 30. Their mission is to fight the self-declared Islamic State, though there are multiple factions involved in the Syrian civil war.

The sun has very nearly set on Beirut, and in a bar called Anise, they're mixing the first cocktail of the evening.

There's vodka, vermouth and iced glasses. And next to the bunches of mint for mojitos are sage, wild oregano, rosemary and the Lebanese favorite, za'atar, a kind of wild thyme.

Here in Lebanon, mixologists and brewmasters are taking a national cuisine and reimagining it in liquid form.

Editor's Note: An attacker opened fire on a beach in Tunisia and killed 38 people on June 26. NPR's Alice Fordham went to cover the story. She used to live in Tunisia and reflects on how the country's changed in recent years.

Two years ago, I first went to the town of Kairouan, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Tear gas drifted around the beautiful old stones of the Great Mosque and nervous police sheltered in small patches of shade. They were there preventing a rally by an Islamic extremist group who wanted to wave black flags and chant intolerant slogans.

The al-Nidaa mosque in northern Baghdad looks grand, with clean, modern lines swooping up to a blue mosaic dome. But inside it's squalid, with piled-up mattresses, cooking pots and almost 60 families. Most are Sunni Muslims who fled the western province of Anbar when the self-proclaimed Islamic State advanced against the Iraqi security forces two months ago.

"We suffered a lot in our journey," says Wafaa Ahmed, a widow who walked for days with three sick children. "But the worst suffering was here in Baghdad."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

When the Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to the self-declared Islamic State last month, it was a big defeat. Ramadi is a provincial capital just 60 miles west of Baghdad, and the setback played into the notion that the Iraqi army is weak and inept.

The U.S. Congress and Pentagon were scathing, saying the Iraqi army lacked the will to fight. There were plenty of other critics as well, though we haven't heard much from the Iraqi soldiers themselves.

The dirt roads on the border between Syria and Lebanon wind across a mountain range dotted with little wildflowers.

It's windswept and deserted except for a few hilltop outposts with clumps of gray tents, machine-gun nests and flags that fly the green and gold colors of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

These posts are new. In a three-week offensive, Hezbollah has worked with Syrian government forces and other allies to push rebel fighters out of a chunk of territory that the rebels held along this border for two years.

Like lots of young married couples, Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish love to show their wedding video. They go all misty-eyed remembering that day two years ago.

"Very beautiful," says Succariyeh. "Everything is nice."

Their wedding was special, not only as a personal milestone for the couple. It was a political milestone, as well.

Darwish says their union was a challenge to the state: It was Lebanon's first civil marriage.

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