Megan Stack hadn't planned on becoming a war correspondent. Then Sept. 11 happened, and instead of returning from a Paris vacation to her job as Houston-based national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, she was on her way to the Middle East.
Stack went on to spend the next seven years reporting from 22 different countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Her new book, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar, chronicles her experiences as a war correspondent and takes a look at U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
Stack tells NPR's Renee Montagne that of all the countries she visited while reporting from abroad, her time in Yemen was particularly difficult.
"I was always swept into the care of a Yemeni government adviser, and he would sort of fill my days and call me a lot and promise to arrange interviews that wouldn't come through," she says. "At the end of it, you would look and realize that you hadn't managed to get anything."
At the time, Stack was trying to get more information about an ongoing rebellion on Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia. Rebels had been waging war there for years, and the Yemeni government had prevented coverage of the conflict by effectively shutting down access to that part of the country. Even Stack's Yemeni contact, a man named Faris, dissuaded her from going to the border.
"You can't go," Stack remembers him saying. "You'll never get there. Nobody can go."
Stack says Faris had an endless stream of ideas for feature stories she could cover — honey production in Yemen, a woman who had become an entrepreneur. But she believes Faris was keeping her busy with what he wanted her to cover in an effort to steer her away from more controversial topics.
But even that proved to be a difficult task.
On one of her last evenings in Yemen, Stack traveled to a remote village to meet a poet who was known for his anti-terrorism poems and had been hired by the government to travel around the countryside, reciting his poetry and encouraging people to write their own anti-terrorist verses.
But what Stack heard the villagers recite that night was quite a bit different:
The more we try to be Muslim, the more American they try to make us.
Our literary teaching and great heritage have been invaded by the West.
They drove us crazy talking about the freedom of women.
They want to drive her to evil.
They ask the woman to remove the hijab and replace it with trousers, to show their bodies.
Now people who do their village rituals are accused of being extremists.
Even the music is now brought in instead of listening to good, traditional music.
Now people are kissing each other on television.
Stack says that after Sept. 11 — when the U.S. channeled its energy into trying to get Muslim countries to like America again and to change attitudes in places like Yemen — they may not have realized the scope of what they were getting themselves into.
"People are just not coming from the same place," she says. "They have different ideas of things, [and] that is something that's going to remain, and the U.S. is going to have to work around or accept or find a way to make peace with [that]."