G-AHS grad finds adventure in politics of the Middle East

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot
Laura Kasinof has gone far from Greencastle for her career.

A 2003 graduate of Greencastle-Antrim High School now has spoken privately to the father of a wanted Al Qaeda terrorist and has the cell phone number of the Yemen foreign minister.

Laura Kasinof, 25, left Greencastle at the age of 17 to study in New York City. Her ambitions sent her overseas during and after college, and her lifestyle since then finds her alternating between Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt.

Taking advantage of being a stranger in a country that appreciates Americans, and networking with people she encounters professionally and socially, Kasinoff is now a freelance correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor. She has also been published in The San Francisco Chronicle, Al Jazeera International, The Huffington Post, GlobalPost, and Foreign Policy.

The journalism journey

Since she was 15, Kasinof wanted to study Arabic, knowing it would help her obtain a job.

“It’s a language the United States government needs,” she said in December while home for Christmas. “It’s a difficult language, almost impossible for a foreigner to learn fluently.”

Though she studied Arabic in college, took additional lessons abroad, and is immersed in it currently, she still considers her skills only conversational. However, in Yemen, the upper class relies on English and many Western press agencies have a presence, so Kasinof utilizes her bi-lingual abilities as needed.

At New York University she majored in Middle Eastern studies and in politics. The transistion for the small town girl was tough, even though the Big Apple was the city of her dreams.

“It was harder than I anticipated,” she said. “I was out of my comfort zone for two years. After that experience, anything is easy.”

Kasinof studied abroad one semester, accomplishing another goal. She chose Cairo. After graduation in 2007, a contact made during a college internship opened the door to teaching kindergarten briefly at an international school in Cairo. She didn’t think she liked journalism and didn’t want to be a real reporter, but an opportunity appeared to become a copy editor for a local English-based magazine. A few months later she began writing business and technology profiles of people.

Her connections expanded, and she became a stringer for The New York Times bureau in Cairo. She freelanced for the other publications after following the advice of an acquaintance, to just have a good idea.

“He taught me how to pitch an article,” she recounted. One that ended up in The San Francisco Chronicle was about Iraqi refugees in Cairo.

“It’s so funny,” said Kasinof. “It took me two months to research that one. Now I do a story in three hours. I had no idea what I was doing.”

Back in New York for a short time, she worked as a research assistant for an author. Because of the financial crisis she couldn’t find another media job in the states. Back to the middle east she went, this time to Yemen at the urging of a Washington D.C. friend who told her that particular country had no American journalists and lots of news would be forthcoming.

“OK, why not?” Kasinoff remembered thinking. “I might as well try this.”

Finding her footing in the new country was not difficult. She explained why.

“Overseas, it’s a small community of foreigners. It’s easy to get in with them and everyone takes care of everyone.”

She focused on the operation of the Yemeni government. In hindsight, she laughs.

“It cracks me up how little I knew about Yemeni politics.”

The predictions came true, and Kasinof has had plenty to write about. The underwear bomber in a plane over Detroit on Christmas day 2009 and the FedEx and UPS cargo plane bomb plots in October 2010 were perpetrated by Al Qaeda followers based in Yemen.

What next?

Kasinof is in Greencastle to see her parents, Steven and Amelia Kasinof. Her computer is always on as she keeps tabs on the situation in her adopted country.

“I never know when something is going to blow up in Yemen,” she smiled. “I’m very attached.”

She admits that while the country has historically been a safe place, the level of security is declining in Sanaa and Al Qaeda is gaining strength. Nevertheless, she called Yemen a “lovely place to live, untouched by Western civilization.” She cited the warmth and hospitality of the people; an unadulterated culture, where men still wear robes; an inexpensive cost of living; beautiful geography in the land that was supposedly home to the three wise men in the Biblical Christmas account; but also a place that was a little boring, without the dining options available in New York City or even Greencastle.

Kasinof has more goals. She plans to remain a journalist for a while, then to work from Washington D.C. as a staff member, concentrating on terrorism and foreign policy.

“You get addicted to the adventure,” she concluded. “I could never have done all this without going overseas.”