Alice Fordham

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.

In this role, she reports on Lebanon, Syria and many of the countries throughout the Middle East.

Before joining NPR in 2014, Fordham covered the Middle East for five years, reporting for The Washington Post, the Economist, The Times and other publications. She has worked in wars and political turmoil but also amid beauty, resilience and fun.

In 2011, Fordham was a Stern Fellow at the Washington Post. That same year she won the Next Century Foundation's Breakaway award, in part for an investigation into Iraqi prisons.

Fordham graduated from Cambridge University with a Bachelor of Arts in Classics.

Beirut is usually one of the pleasanter places in the Middle East — a bright, cosmopolitan city squeezed between the Mediterranean Sea and a green ridge of mountains. But for the past two weeks or so, the stench from mounds of festering garbage has filled its gaudy streets.

"The trash is climbing up, the mountain is getting higher and higher," says one immaculately dressed, middle-aged woman with a perfect bouffant, wrinkling her nose. She wouldn't give her name because she criticizes powerful people — Lebanon's politicians, whom she holds responsible for the garbage crisis.

The sun has very nearly set on Beirut, and in a bar called Anise, they're mixing the first cocktail of the evening.

There's vodka, vermouth and iced glasses. And next to the bunches of mint for mojitos are sage, wild oregano, rosemary and the Lebanese favorite, za'atar, a kind of wild thyme.

Here in Lebanon, mixologists and brewmasters are taking a national cuisine and reimagining it in liquid form.

Editor's Note: An attacker opened fire on a beach in Tunisia and killed 38 people on June 26. NPR's Alice Fordham went to cover the story. She used to live in Tunisia and reflects on how the country's changed in recent years.

Two years ago, I first went to the town of Kairouan, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Tear gas drifted around the beautiful old stones of the Great Mosque and nervous police sheltered in small patches of shade. They were there preventing a rally by an Islamic extremist group who wanted to wave black flags and chant intolerant slogans.

The al-Nidaa mosque in northern Baghdad looks grand, with clean, modern lines swooping up to a blue mosaic dome. But inside it's squalid, with piled-up mattresses, cooking pots and almost 60 families. Most are Sunni Muslims who fled the western province of Anbar when the self-proclaimed Islamic State advanced against the Iraqi security forces two months ago.

"We suffered a lot in our journey," says Wafaa Ahmed, a widow who walked for days with three sick children. "But the worst suffering was here in Baghdad."

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Tunisia was in shock after at least 38 foreign tourists were killed Friday at a beachside hotel, apparently by one man: Saifeddine Rezgui, who was in turn killed by police.

Amid the horror, there was defiance in the air in the seaside town of Sousse. Hundreds of foreign tourists decided to stay, and were out on the beaches. And local residents held a patriotic demonstration, waving the red national flag and chanting about unity in a palm-fringed square.

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When the Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to the self-declared Islamic State last month, it was a big defeat. Ramadi is a provincial capital just 60 miles west of Baghdad, and the setback played into the notion that the Iraqi army is weak and inept.

The U.S. Congress and Pentagon were scathing, saying the Iraqi army lacked the will to fight. There were plenty of other critics as well, though we haven't heard much from the Iraqi soldiers themselves.

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The dirt roads on the border between Syria and Lebanon wind across a mountain range dotted with little wildflowers.

It's windswept and deserted except for a few hilltop outposts with clumps of gray tents, machine-gun nests and flags that fly the green and gold colors of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

These posts are new. In a three-week offensive, Hezbollah has worked with Syrian government forces and other allies to push rebel fighters out of a chunk of territory that the rebels held along this border for two years.

Like lots of young married couples, Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish love to show their wedding video. They go all misty-eyed remembering that day two years ago.

"Very beautiful," says Succariyeh. "Everything is nice."

Their wedding was special, not only as a personal milestone for the couple. It was a political milestone, as well.

Darwish says their union was a challenge to the state: It was Lebanon's first civil marriage.

The black flag of the self-proclaimed Islamic State is flying over the Iraqi city of Ramadi after government forces collapsed and the extremists seized control over the weekend.

Thousands of civilians have fled Ramadi and those left behind face a chaotic situation.

"No food, no fuel, no electricity. It's very difficult there," says Sheikh Hekmat Suleiman, an adviser to the governor of Anbar Province. Ramadi is the provincial capital, and the local government has now fled the city, just 70 miles west of Baghdad.

The past few weeks have brought almost daily news of rebel victories in their 4-year-old battle against Syria's President Bashar Assad.

There was the capture of the crucial Nassib border crossing with Jordan — a key trade route and source of government taxes. And some of the biggest rebel victories have come in the northern province of Idlib, where the opposition recently captured the provincial capital, Idlib City, as well as military bases and other key towns.

Driving from Baghdad north to Tikrit, we speed up a main road Wednesday through small towns that have been won back from the self-declared Islamic State, or ISIS. Some still have smoking buildings.

On the outskirts we pass through places that have obviously seen heavy fighting. Half-built houses are pocked with bullet holes, their windows shattered.

As we move into Tikrit proper, the excited fighters begin celebrating, Iraqi style, with gunshots into the air. They have reason to celebrate. A hard-fought battle appears to be nearing a conclusion.

The Abdelaziz sisters live in a world of pretty artifice. Alice, Nadine and Farah answer the door in a flurry of hellos while their fluffball dog Stella barks and tinkles the bells on her tiny collar.

They usually live in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, in a family home, but for the purposes of their new reality show, The Sisters, they reside in this apartment where green hillsides spill down from picture windows to the Mediterranean below.

"The view is amazing here," says Nadine, the middle sister. "And you see the weather today is sunny."

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