Day job: national correspondent for Newsday
"I think everybody is born with a certain degree of chutzpah, and we choose whether to develop it." Reporter Tina Susman, 43, spent ten years in some of the world's most terrifying war zones: Rwanda, Zaire, Liberia, Pakistan, Sierra Leone. In 1994 while working in Mogadishu, Somalia, she was kidnapped and held captive for 20 days. She's now a national correspondent for Newsday in New York.
Where her nerve comes from: I think everybody is born with a certain degree of chutzpah, and we choose whether to develop it. When I was a girl, it wasn't considered admirable to have balls or to stand up to threatening people. But the public school I went to in Oakland wasn't an easy place to be—if you did well in class, you were teased or even harassed by gangs. At an early age, I learned how to navigate threats.
What she felt when she was kidnapped: I assumed I was going to die. Because Mogadishu was at war, my fear was that a stray bomb would come crashing through where I was being held. My kidnappers weren't abusive—in the mornings they gave me bread, and at 2 or 3 p.m., a plate of pasta. They realized that if they were going to get a ransom, they'd better produce a healthy-looking person.
How she handles fear: Anxiety is the word I'd use, not fear. For instance, before I got on the plane to Liberia, I secretly hoped the flight would be canceled. But the minute the plane took off, the anxiety evaporated and I got excited thinking about the things I could accomplish. Once you're there, you get an adrenaline rush. I want people to understand terrible things are happening and ignoring them does no good.
The secret to her joy: The great thing that came from traveling overseas is that I am content now. I don't have to worry about a sniper shooting me when I go to buy milk. I have clothes. I have a family. I have an apartment I can go home to. I've never had to watch my family being butchered. I am extremely satisfied.