JOE PAGLIUCA: Finally, about 45 minutes past the time when he should have been there, we heard a buzz in the crowd.
People were cheering, people were yelling.
The pope was coming.
RINAZ MALA MOHAMED: The officer at the airport told me, "Are these your kids?"
So I told him, "Do you think I would fly for 14 hours with two kids that aren't mine?"
SHANNON DOOLING: And here I am now having this, like, existential crisis in the soap aisle, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.
WES HAZARD: Tonight's theme is "Off the Press."
HAZARD: Tonight, our theme is "Off the Press."
Today, more than ever before, The news is fast-paced and endless, and so often we do not have the opportunity to dig in and get the story behind the story.
Tonight, our storytellers will help us do just that by pulling back the curtain and giving us a deeper and richer understanding of both what did and didn't make the news.
♪ DOOLING: My name is Shannon Dooling.
I'm a journalist, I live here in Boston.
I have been covering immigration for the last five years or so, and have just recently moved on to a broader beat of investigative reporting.
Tonight you're telling a story, you know, on stage, in person.
What's that experience like for you?
I mean, it's totally different, right?
Using the word "I" and "me" in-- (laughing): in a story, and sharing, you know, some intimate things that, um, that don't fall into a, you know, thousand-word story.
I think as I've gotten older and I've sort of just asked more questions of myself and turned inward, I've realized that I am an information sharer, that is my job.
And I have some things that I've experienced as an individual that I can share with people that might be of use.
Do you think that personal storytelling in this mode is something that you want to continue to pursue?
Maybe; I mean, maybe not upon a stage, but maybe on a stage, I don't know.
But as I've grown in my career as a journalist, my voice has grown, my sort of, my style, my authenticity has grown in a journalistic sense, and I'm trying to foster that as an individual as well.
And so I don't know, it's something that feels like it's bubbling up in me, so I'm just gonna roll with it, I guess.
♪ I was 22 when I went to Haiti just a couple weeks after I graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
I went as a mission trip.
It was sponsored by a church on campus.
There were a couple of other students who went.
Most of them were studying things like nursing, engineering, architecture.
I, on the other hand, had a brand-new degree in political science, which at the time did not feel very useful.
I remember envying their skills, you know, this path that they had laid out before them.
I just sort of felt kind of like I was drifting, but still I was drawn to this trip to Haiti.
I wasn't quite sure why just yet.
One night toward the end of our stay, we gathered as a group to talk about our experiences and to pray.
Believe it or not, I was a college student who actually semi-regularly went to church.
It was a place where I could just kind of be.
I didn't have to have all the answers.
So that night in Haiti, we're sitting in this beautiful courtyard and I remember sharing all of this with, with my fellow volunteers, just kind of talking about my frustration and how I wish I had chosen a different major, a different path.
I remember one of the guys in the group, he said to me, "You know, Shannon, "you're not a doctor, you're not an engineer, "but you're the type of person "who just jumps in the deep end of the pool, "you don't dip your toe in to test the water, "you just jump in.
So just jump in."
I was thinking, you know, I guess he's right.
I mean that's probably why I'm in Haiti in the first place instead of studying for the LSAT and going to law school like every other poli-sci graduate.
It's probably why I was always the sort of leader of a school project, right?
Probably why I would go to a party where I didn't know anybody.
But still, I couldn't shake this, you know, this restlessness.
It had been with me forever, this anxiety.
It was a companion, and it traveled back with me to the U.S. from Haiti.
I remember a few days after I got back, I was standing in a grocery store in the soap aisle, just sort of stunned by the number of options, like dozens of choices of soap.
And two days before that, I had been standing in a shower in Haiti, in a plastic bucket catching all the runoff water so that we could then use that runoff water to flush the toilets.
And here I am now having this, like, existential crisis in the soap aisle, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.
So I decided, you know what, I'm going to pack up my things into my red Jeep Grand Cherokee and I'm going to go west.
I went to California, where I had some friends.
I had a waitressing job waiting for me.
I graduated summa cum laude and I went west to waitress, because that's where I was being drawn.
So I went there.
Fast forward a few years, and I can no longer hide the fact that waitressing and bartending are not my life's calling.
And, you know, over time, my restlessness and anxiety started manifesting itself in a new way.
I began binging food and then throwing it up.
It felt like the only way I could take control.
I remember one time in San Diego, I was rolling around on the floor of my carpet.
You know, it was white carpet.
I remember that for some reason.
I was ugly crying, just, like, asking the universe to please send me some sign, some signal of what I'm supposed to be doing.
I ended up packing my things and moving back east, thinking a relocation might help.
I got into therapy to help address my eating disorder.
I started running, training for marathons, and I started looking for purpose in my work.
I worked in the nonprofit field for years with, you know, health care groups, conservation groups, fundraising.
By all accounts, I was doing really well until that little internal voice pops up and says, "Nope, this isn't it.
You're not quite there."
But this time, instead of getting weepy on the floor of my apartment, I answered a quiz in a magazine.
One of those quizzes, you know, that says like, "Answer these five questions to find your life's purpose."
I thought, literally, "What the hell do I have to lose?"
So I jumped in.
What are your favorite things, you know, your, your biggest talents?
What do people compliment you about?
What are you not so good at?
Those types of things.
I started ticking through these and I-I, you know, began to see a through line of sorts.
Okay, well, I love writing.
I love traveling.
My friends would probably say I'm good at striking up conversations with random people.
Not so good with numbers, though.
Like I usually have to google how to figure out a percentage.
I started, you know, thinking about all of this.
And just as casually as I picked up that magazine and started flipping through the pages, I wrote down one word with a question mark.
Most of my friends, I mean, I'm pushing 30 at this point, right?
So most of my friends by then are married, they're starting families, they're buying homes.
I was still searching.
Some of them thought I was kind of crazy for quitting my full-time job with benefits at the time, packing my stuff up, and moving across the continent again to start grad school in a career that, you know, some people thought this field was dying, and here I am giving it a go.
And, you know, there was a part of me that wondered, is this a little too far into the deep end?
You know, I'm guaranteed to have debt when I finish this, but I'm not guaranteed to have a job.
But it turns out I was heading in the right direction the whole time, because I did land that job in journalism.
And, you know, don't get me wrong, I still question myself, I still wonder, you know, what's next.
But I don't get paralyzed by that.
I don't get paralyzed by those questions.
I have now come to realize that asking those questions of myself and searching, that made me a stronger version of myself and it has made me a better reporter.
Now when I'm searching for answers from government officials or asking questions of a father from Honduras whose daughter was taken from him at the U.S.-Mexico border, now I feel comfortable in that deep end.
I think to myself, this is it.
So just jump in.
♪ MOHAMED: My name is Rinaz Mala Mohamed, I am a Kurdish woman from Syria.
I was born in Aleppo and moved to the United States with my two children.
I work as a life insurance underwriter in Needham, Massachusetts.
Do you remember the first time that you ever shared a story on stage?
And if so, what made you want to keep doing it?
Of course I do.
Because it was a life-changing experience.
As a Muslim Kurdish woman, my first storytelling was in Needham in the temple, and I was scared.
It was mixed emotions, because I've never done it before.
I've never been in a temple before, and the outcome was amazing.
I got tons of support after that.
I had a family in Needham now; this place is home because of that experience.
I met over 300 people, and it really changed my life.
What do you wish that people knew more about Syria and heard more about in the news about Syria?
I wish people would not have a single story.
Like, Syria is not only one religion, it's not only one ethnicity.
You know, there are Kurds, Armenians, Arabs.
There are Muslims, Sunni, Shia, there's Christians, Catholic, Protestants.
There is Aramis, and like the Kurds, they have equality between men and women.
And it's something I don't think the Western world know a lot about.
♪ It's Christmas Eve, 1987. my six-year-old self is too excited to sleep.
Yes, we're Muslims, but we do celebrate Christmas.
Like many other Muslim Syrian families, it's more associated with the new year.
We like the tree, Santa, and the gifts.
It's Christmas morning, and I got a large Barbie doll house with pool and towels for Barbie and Ken, which was an expensive gift at the time, but my father was able to afford it.
He owned a textile factory.
Although I was born in Aleppo, I'm not Arab like most of the people in Syria.
I am a Kurd from my father's side and my mother's side, too.
The percentage of the Kurdish people is ten to 12 percent.
Due to my father's profitable business, we lived very well in Syria.
We owned a large house in a rich neighborhood where Kurds couldn't afford to live.
I went to a private school and learned English there.
I have a Kurdish name-- Rinaz, which means "the one who knows the way."
So people would ask me because of my Kurdish name, "Rinaz, are you a Kurd?"
When I say yes, they say, "Oh, you don't look like one," as a compliment I guess, but I didn't take it as one.
What they really meant is "You don't look poor like the rest."
To be a Kurd in Syria means you cannot speak your language.
The government, for a long time, put a strategic plan to erase and destroy our Kurdish identity.
We were not allowed to speak the language.
They prohibited the use and publications of books and other materials in Kurdish.
They also changed the names of the Kurdish towns into Arabic, while other minorities like Armenians were able to speak their language, have their own schools, and congregate in their own clubs.
Growing up, I was taken by Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, to name but a few.
So I studied English literature.
One day, my father was driving me to college.
I had an exam.
It's called politics exam, where you go and praise the government and its achievements.
My father told me if you get any question about the Kurds, just skip that question.
Here I am in my exam room, I got the paper, and it was one essay question: "What's your opinion about the latest protest conducted by the Kurds at the northern borders?"
I put the pen down, handed my paper, left college, walking and talking to myself.
We are 35 million Kurds, scattered around the world with no home.
We're Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Yazidi Kurds.
It's not a religion, it's a nationality.
The government took every right from us, even the right to speak.
Kurds had faced many atrocities and genocides, and it's still happening.
But, of course, if I put this down, I would have been imprisoned, tortured, and even killed, like many other Kurdish activists who dared to speak.
The government didn't bring us in the media, not in the news or newspaper or any media outlet, but they managed to say every bad thing about the Jews.
I remember one time, going back home, telling my mom these Jewish people are terrible.
Both my mom and dad corrected me and said this is not true, Jewish people lived in Aleppo, it had a large community, they were our friends and neighbors.
They had to leave their houses and businesses and their memories behind.
The war started, my father lost his factory.
So the family wealth that used to bring us protection does not exist anymore.
Eventually I had to leave.
It's Christmas Eve again.
My 32-year-old self is too excited to sleep.
It's Christmas morning, and I am at JFK, too tired and exhausted.
The officer at the airport told me, "Ma'am, are these your kids?"
When we get married in the Middle East, we don't change our last names.
so my kids have different last name.
So I told him, "Do you think I will fly for 14 hours with two kids that aren't mine?"
He smiled, but he still required an answer, so I said yes.
He stamps entry on my passport, and that was the best Christmas gift this Kurdish Muslim woman could ever get.
But here I am again, as if the minority thing has to follow me like a curse.
"What a beautiful accent you have.
"Where are you from?
Oh, you don't look like one."
What I always wanted to say, "You don't look like Julia Roberts or Tom Cruise either."
But I never said that.
Only once or twice.
Aleppo was home.
It was a beautiful city with the ancient citadel, the old market, the walk in the old market with the smell of the spices and the soap, like a cleansing ritual.
But it was safe because wherever you go, you meet people you know.
So I wanted to create the same feeling in Connecticut.
I joined the moms club, where I got tons of support and I learned a lot of things, from the difference between public and charter school, to know where to get the best strawberries to make the best jam.
I also learned that moms here talk about their mothers-in-law.
The past eight years were wonderful in the U.S.
I only met kind and nice people.
But unfortunately, my kids face terrible insults in school.
Like "Do you belong to ISIS?"
"How was life in a refugee camp?"
A life they never experienced.
(exhales sharply) I have to remind myself, although these comments are really hurtful, that these kids are being misinformed by what they see on some news channels or social media or family members.
But I faced the same thing in Syria.
When I told my mom that the media is covering wrong information about the Kurds, but my mom always used to tell me wear your insecurities as a crown.
So can you see my crown?
It says Muslim Kurdish single mom from Syria.
I keep reminding my kids that being called a refugee is not an insult.
It's a badge of courage, honor, and victory.
♪ PAGLIUCA: My name is Joe Pagliuca.
I grew up in the North End of Boston.
I was a kindergarten and preschool teacher for a long time and then slowly but surely, I morphed into a professional storyteller and that's what I currently do.
I tell stories to kids and adults all around.
Do you remember anything about your first gig?
What was the crowd like, what did you tell?
It was a birthday party for a friend of mine, had set it up, she had a next door neighbor whose friend was having a birthday party and it was a four-year-old girl.
And I told "The Three Pigs."
That was my very first sort of professional story, and it was weird because I had done it a million times, being a preschool teacher, but now it's like, I was so nervous because suddenly it was a different kind of role now, as like an actual storyteller, and I had to, you know, do that job.
But they were laughing, I was having fun, and so it was a nice little, you know, sort of dip into the pool for, of storytelling, I guess.
What would you want the viewers in the audience tonight to take away from your story after hearing it?
The sort of thrill of getting there, you know what I'm saying?
The journey through the story.
You know, it's, I want them to feel the same sort of emotions that I had, that sort of excitement, elation, and then the sort of, you know, let down at the end.
I always look at experiences of my life as a good story.
As bad as some things are, or good as some things are, you know, it'll always make a good story, which is, to me, the best thing ever.
♪ I grew up in the North End of Boston.
At the time, it was pretty much all Italian and all Catholic.
Everyone I knew was Catholic.
I was Catholic, my family was Catholic, my neighbors were Catholic.
My grandmother was amazingly Catholic; she was the most Catholic Catholic that ever Catholiced.
she went to mass so many times, she had God on speed dial.
Being Catholic meant living the lifestyle.
Mass on Sunday, no meat on Friday, endless guilt trips, going to Catholic school, which meant we got beat like piñatas, that was fun.
And, of course, the devotion to God and his right-hand man, the pope-- John Paul II at the time.
The pope was like a rock star in my neighborhood.
Everybody had pictures of him on their wall, people talked about him constantly.
In school, we learned more about him than we did about math.
So in 1979, when I was eight, it was announced the pope will be visiting Boston, and coming to our neighborhood.
And as you can imagine, people went crazy.
This was going to be the most exciting thing that ever happened in our neighborhood.
Everybody in the North End was really, really jazzed.
It was amazing.
And it got even more exciting and more amazing a few days later, when it was announced that one kid from each school was going to be picked to meet the pope himself.
Now to the kids, it wasn't really a big deal.
We were curious, but it wasn't really that big of a deal.
But the adults were very interested.
And then about a week later, I was in class and our teacher, Sister Barnabas-- a nun so mean and nasty she took a guy's name, told me that I had to report to the principal's office.
I thought it was because I was failing English.
But when I got there, they told me that me would be meeting the pope-- or I would be meeting the pope.
See, this is why I was failing English.
I was shocked.
Couldn't understand why they picked me.
Could have been my humility, could have been my kindness, my charity.
But as it turns out it was my grandma's unceasing, unrelenting badgering of our parish priest that got the job done.
When news broke, I became sort of famous in my neighborhood.
In the North End, it was incredible.
To the kids, it was really not that big of a deal, but the adults, it was amazing.
This is especially true for everybody in my grandmother's age.
In fact everybody over the age of 65 in the North End thought I was the golden child.
They fawned all over me, they treated me nice, they gave me more hard candies than I knew what to do with.
In school, the nuns even treated me better.
Yes, I still got hit, but at least now I got an apology.
My grandmother, she was the proudest of all.
Of her six grandchildren, I was now number one, and no longer just in the top six.
She wanted the world to know how wonderful I was.
As it turns out, she was going to get her wish.
Channel Five in Boston got wind of my selection, and contacted my family about doing a story on me.
Now this time, my friends were really excited.
It was TV, after all.
My family was happy and I had dreams of stardom.
I was going to be a star.
Well, finally the day arrived, and the camera crew came to set up.
I got to meet the reporter who was doing the story on me.
I'd seen him on the news before, and this was really cool, because now I was going to meet two celebrities in one day.
My grandmother was there, because, you know, where else would she be?
And the cameras started to roll, they start to put things into production.
My mother brought out breakfast, and for breakfast she brought out our finest china and served us a gourmet breakfast as if we ate that way all the time instead of our normal breakfast, which is a cereal so sugary it would give the box diabetes.
During breakfast, my great-aunts who lived on the other side of the state came by.
Just happened to be in the neighborhood, and they were shocked, simply shocked, that there was a news crew there, "Oh, are we going to get on TV?"
And we had to hustle them along and continue our journey.
We made it to the church on Hanover Street, which is the main street in the North End.
I was dressed in the robes of a monk.
Trust me, it wasn't my choice, it was the church's choice.
I went into the greeting area in front of the church that they had set up.
The camera crew and my family were set up to my left and I was ready.
This was going to be great.
Well, the plan was that the pope was going through Boston and our neighborhood was the last stop on his journey, and then he was going to do a mass in the Boston Common that was going to be nationally televised.
He was going to get out, greet us, give us a blessing, and then go off to the mass.
We were very, very excited.
Well, this was all supposed to happen 11:00, but 11:00 came and went, and we sat there waiting and waiting and waiting.
Finally, about 45 minutes past the time when he should have been there, we heard a buzz in the crowd, people were cheering, people were yelling-- the pope was coming.
Now I usually don't get giddy, I'm not one to get that giddy, but at that moment I was at a high level of giddiness.
We heard sirens as the pope's escort approached.
The sirens got louder and louder as they came down the street and right by us came police cars and then police officers on motorcycles and then off in the distance we could see the limousine carrying the pope.
It was coming down.
I was very excited, and I noticed that the limousine was coming a little fast, and I thought to myself, surely he was going to slow down when he got to the church, to stop, but he wasn't slowing down.
In fact, he kind of sped up and went right by us.
The window was down and the pope waved to everybody, and we waved back, but by the time we did, he was gone.
The news crew got some video of him, and people took some still pictures, but he was going so fast, the pictures are so blurry it could have been the pope, it could have been Bigfoot.
We stood there kind of shocked.
As it turns out, the pope was delayed getting through Boston, and they had to hurry to get to the mass on time.
We stood around for a while and then people started to go home.
The news crew had to cancel the story, because no pope, no story.
I did get to be on TV for a few seconds in a sound bite of what it was like to see the pope, but never actually got to meet him.
After that day, my fame kind of disappeared.
My grandmother still loved me.
She kind of had to, biologically, but the old people stopped fawning all over me, I stopped getting hard candies, and the nuns went back to hitting me.
And not only did I not get an apology, they put a little more stank on it.
I never got to meet the pope.
Never got to be on TV for meeting the pope, but now I'm on TV for telling a story about almost meeting the pope, so I guess it all worked out.
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