BERKELEY, Calif. – Jane Stillwater is an unlikely war correspondent. She’s 64, a self-described Berkeley “flower child, 40 years later” and broke.
So how did this mother of four grown children end up in Baghdad, churning out commentary ranging from shock at last week’s bombing of the Iraqi parliament cafeteria, to the weirdness of touring Saddam Hussein’s bathroom?
Inspired by a sense of outrage and determined to blog from inside the war zone, Stillwater ate peanut butter sandwiches for months to save up for a ticket to Kuwait. She got a small Texas newspaper to help her secure press accreditation and eventually boarded a troop transport to Baghdad.
“I’m really glad I came,” she said last week by phone from the Coalition Press Information Center in Baghdad’s Green Zone. “I don’t know whether I would ever come back.”
Some of her entries deal with everyday life during wartime. Others are strongly political, musing on issues like using violence to fight violence in what she sees as the “broken egg” of Iraq.
“It’s like being on an adventure with somebody,” said W. Leon Smith, editor of the Lone Star Iconoclast, the Texas newspaper that sponsored her request for press accreditation. “She’s like an ordinary person that’s over there … people can identify with it.”
To some, the idea of a grandmother with no formal journalistic training dropping everything to report from Baghdad seems far-fetched. But not to her friends.
“Having known her for many years and having seen her do things that nobody else would think of taking on … she’s a pretty irrepressible force of humor and passion mixed together,” said Kriss Worthington, a Berkeley city councilman.
Stillwater said Baghdad “is insane. The Green Zone, it’s like East Berlin in 1955. And outside, it’s like ‘Blade Runner.’ People are trying to lead normal lives, and there’s so much going on and there’s firefights.”
Many of Stillwater’s postings have dealt with her frustration at being relegated to the U.S.-protected, fortified Green Zone. She said she has twice been stood up by Iraqi Army officials who promised to take her on an excursion outside the area.
When she went to Iraq, Stillwater was for immediate troop pullout. Now, she’s not so sure what’s the best way forward.
“What I realized is it’s just very, very complex,” she said.
Reaction to the blog tends to be love it or hate it. “People will say, ‘Hey, you’re an idiot,’ or, ‘Hey this is wonderful and we’re so proud of you,’ ” she said.