Oprah Talks to Christiane Amanpour
Oprah: Right. I once read an article in which you said that of all the tragedies you've witnessed, Rwanda was the worst.
Christiane: That's true. Yet Bosnia was difficult because we lived with the civilian population through years of being besieged and bombarded.
Oprah: How long were you there?
Christiane: From start to end—1992 to 1996. I quickly recognized that it was an important story, and I stuck with it. We went out with the women who were trying to get water at the pump. Then a mortar would fall and all the women and children would be killed. We saw people trying to run across the airport in a desperate attempt to get a couple of apples for their children.
Oprah: Where were you living in the midst of it?
Christiane: In a hotel in the center of town. I was right on the front line. No shelter, no protection, no water or heat in our hotel.
Oprah: Weren't you frightened?
Christiane: At moments, yes. One morning I woke up to the incoming whistle of artillery. I was desperate to get out of my room, but I couldn't find the key to unlock the door. I thought, "Whatever happens, happens." Then it went silent. I thought maybe I'd dreamed it. A few hours later, my colleagues and friends came banging on my door, saying, "Have you seen?" Just two doors down from me, this 105 millimeter howitzer shell came through an empty room. It could have taken off the whole floor and all of us with it, but it was faulty, so it didn't explode. Touch wood. [Knocks on the wooden end table.]
Oprah: Didn't that shake you up? If there's a Mack truck and I swerve so it doesn't hit me, I have to pull over to the side of the road to gather myself. After an artillery shell hits, do you just go have a croissant?
Christiane: There were no croissants, but I might have done that. When you're much younger and less experienced, that's part of the whole survival drama: "Wow, we made it."
Oprah: You did at least acknowledge that you could have died?
Christiane: Of course. During my first trip to Sarajevo in June of 1992, the city was under siege. Even the zookeepers had been scared away, and the animals were starving. My camerawoman, my producer, and I went to check it out. When we got there, we did the story, and the animals did look scrawny. But we stayed just a little too long. The gunners on the hills figured out that we were there, and it started raining mortars. I remember kicking down the door of a building and sitting in the doorjamb. If you should sit under a doorjamb during an earthquake, I reasoned, maybe that would work in a mortar attack. All I could keep saying to my crew was, "If you die, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." The minute the shooting stopped, we ran out of there.
Oprah: Did your life flash before you?
Christiane: No. I was too busy apologizing. Maybe it was my mechanism not to think about it. [Knocks wood again.]
Oprah: Do you sleep well at night when you're in a war-torn area?
Christiane: Yes. But that's getting more difficult now because I'm often up round-the-clock. There's so much demand for live coverage. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but one of the great things about Bosnia is that we didn't have a live dish for a long time. When we got it, it increased the demand on reporters. What's prime time in the United States is bedtime for us abroad. So I spend a lot of time awake.