[PEOPLE IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD] The Brown-Fager Family

Arooj Zahra, left, and Saher Baloch, both from Pakistan, are two Daniel Pearl Fellows who stayed with the Brown-Fager family.

In recent months, the news has been rife with reports about the so-called “Muslim Ban,” an effort to keep immigrants from six predominately Muslim countries out of the United States. However, there’s a house in Windsor Square that has opened its doors to visitors from such countries for the past 11 years.

Since 2006, Corie Brown, Chris Fager and their two children have hosted Daniel Pearl Journalism Fellows.

“As a whole,” said Brown, “they are very serious people, people of substance.”

The Fellows are mid-career journalists from the Muslim-majority countries who come to the U.S. for about five months to work in major American newsrooms, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal.

All of them work for one week at the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and at the end of their fellowship participate in a public event hosted by the Los Angeles Press Club to share their experiences.

The program, in conjunction with the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships, is part of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization created by the family and friends of Daniel Pearl to promote mutual respect and understanding among diverse cultures.

Pearl was the Southeast Asia bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal who, in 2002, was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan and later brutally murdered by a senior al-Qaeda operative, which was captured on video.

Brown, an award-winning journalist, became involved with the program in 2006, when she was working for the Los Angeles Times.

“They put out a note system-wide across the L.A. Times asking if anybody had a spare room for a Daniel Pearl Fellow from Saudi Arabia,” said Brown. “I forwarded it to [my husband] Chris and we both said immediately, ‘Yeah, that’s great because we have the extra bedroom over the garage.’”

Brown’s son, Charlie, who was 12 at the time was not alarmed to hear a stranger would be staying with the family.

“These two have always been parents that have crazy ideas. They’re always doing something,” said Charlie, who is now 23. “So I thought, ‘okay.’ It was just the most recent extraordinary project that they had engaged in. And we liked [the Fellow] as soon as we met him, so that went a long way.”

Charlie’s sister, Hayley, who was 15 at the time also welcomed the idea.

“I think we were all pretty excited to learn and to talk about things that are happening in the world with people … from different countries who were journalists,” Hayley, now 26.

The family’s first Fellow was Shams Ahsan Saifi. Originally from India, Ahsan Saifi was working at a Saudi Arabian newspaper at the time.

As became their custom with all Fellows, the Brown-Fager family included Ahsan Saifi in their evening dinners, watched Colbert and Stewart with him, and took him to see the local tourist sites.

“We’re welcoming them into our home,” said Brown, “so it’s very personal. … They’re part of our family while they are here.”

Chris said there have been many memorable cultural exchanges and realizations along the way, but one of his favorites was when the kids were surprised to learn in a conversation that Ahsan Saifi had an arranged marriage.

“That led to Charlie [asking], ‘Dude, your mom picked your wife?” said Chris.

To which Ahsan Saifi replied, “You would marry a woman who wouldn’t get along with your mom?”

The topic of marriage, for love versus arranged, wound up being a reoccurring subject among Fellows and the Brown-Fagers.

Over the years, the family has hosted 17 fellows, both men and women, from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Tunisia and Malaysia.

Typically, guests are in their 20s or 30s and stay anywhere between one and six weeks before they find a place of their own or move on.

Emal Haidary, from Afghanistan, stayed with the family in 2011 when he was working at the Los Angeles Times.

“Living with the Brown-Fager family was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said Haidary in an email. “In Afghanistan, we often see American soldiers in the streets, who are afraid of people and Afghans who are afraid of them. [The family and I] often talked about our similarities and how lack of close communication has affected the U.S. policies in Afghanistan. … This is in addition to having tons of fun with them, from going to movies and concerts to eating Corie’s signature food. The experience completely changed my mind about Americans in a very good way.”

Brown said she developed a deep respect for the Pakistani journalists she met, but is inspired by all the Fellows.

“You realize how easy it is for [American journalists] to do our job. If I make somebody mad as a journalist, the repercussions are nothing,” said Brown.
“For each country and for each journalist it’s different, but they take a lot more risks just doing their job than we ever do.”

Hayley said her biggest shock came from learning that there can be violence against journalists.

“[I heard] stories of people who stayed with us and then disappeared in their own countries … and were tortured,” she said.

All the family members agree that the insight, friendship and knowledge they’ve gained over the years has been invaluable. This summer, they will continue their family tradition by hosting two Pakistani journalists.

“We get so much more out of it than we give,” said Brown. ”I can’t imagine not doing it.”

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