A freelancer’s perspective on Backstory: Afeef Nessouli

As a freelancer, Afeef Nessouli knows how difficult it is to ensure he is constantly busy and has a steady stream of projects instead of just having them crop up. As he says, “It is an endless hustle!”

Recently, we introduced Backstory and Afeef added it to his about.me page in order to find projects and collaborators on the platform. With such a fascinating array of jobs and experiences outlined on his page and Backstory, we decided to take the opportunity to interview him in depth about who he is and how he takes advantage of about.me.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia (though he now lives in New York City) Afeef grew up spending two months in Lebanon every year so he could visit family there. Since then, he has earned degrees in International Relations and Law and has taken a keen interest in the Middle East. He even founded his own media company for news on the Middle East, and participated in Jimmy Carter’s Syria team to consult Syrian politicians, lawyers and judges on which concepts should be in Syria’s transitional constitution, if they ever get to have one.

Q: First off, let’s talk about your company, Ramel Media? How did you get the idea for it?  How do you think Ramel is taking back the media surrounding the Middle East?
A: Ramel is basically a passion project. My co-founder and I decided that there needed to be a space on the internet where people could be given a new perspective on the region. I think the first way we are taking back the media is by producing our own content from those in the region. We are starting to go into interviewing both Americans and experts as well. I think the point of Ramel is to create a brand that gives us all an opportunity to take responsibility for the region in an authentic way.

Afeef taking an interview

Afeef performing an interview

Q: Can you talk about going to law school? When you studied law were you planning to to pursue a career in law? What happened to change your mind?
A: I graduated from Emory Law School in 2013 from New York, while working for Fareed Zakaria’s GPS at CNN. I think understanding international legal premises and maybe even just how laws can generally be created gave me a window into understanding how nation-states work, particularly ours. I focused a lot on the law of war, human rights law and counter-terrorism. Ultimately, I didn’t become a lawyer because it didn’t fulfill me as much in a practical way as producing news on the Middle East has. I think also that producing media is quite powerful and I believe I am better suited as a producer than lawyer. However, I got the opportunity with Jimmy Carter’s Conflict Resolution program because of my understanding of a transitioning state from war to peace and from peace to governance. I think I will always produce stories through a legal scope, but my interest in international law is best applied in journalism.

Q: Wow, you’ve been to Norway, Lebanon, Egypt, Switzerland and probably many more countries not mentioned in your bio. Can you talk about your travels?
A: I think traveling is really important for any westerner–anyone really, because it layers your assumptions and injects in you a sort of new way of thinking about how different and similar people around the world are.

Kathmandu, Nepal

Afeef in Kathmandu, Nepal

Q: What projects or media outlets are you currently working with? Can you talk about your work with VICE and Fareed Zakaria? What role did you play in each of those projects?
I was Fareed’s intern. I helped produced Farea al-Muslimi’s interview for a special on drones, I edited most of the articles on the blog at the time I was there and even got a couple pitches on television. Fareed actually introduced me to the VICE guys and together we created a pilot about the Middle East. I am actually talking to Ben Anderson of VICE HBO now because he is really interested in doing an episode on Lebanon and ISIS. My role is usually consultative or having contacts in the region. It is extremely fun, but not so easy to make buck from.

On set of the VICE Series Pilot

On set of the VICE Series Pilot

Q: How do you use your about.me page and Backstory for your work as a freelancer? 
A: I am 100% always looking for jobs and looking for producers of content for Ramel Media. I am trying to show my experience so I can gain more of it. I am trying to get people to pay attention to the region because it is actually fascinating. I genuinely think that my Ramel Media team and I have a unique perspective on the region and that there are hundreds of people around the world producing content perfect for Ramel.

In terms of other projects, I am ideally looking to be a part of projects that tell the stories people need to hear. Whether it is legally consulting Syrians on their future constitution or producing a news segment on drones in Yemen, the point is 1/2 to feel fulfilled and the other 1/2 to affect change in the region. I am ideally trying to find a way to present the right stories in the right way with the right people so that everyone cares to listen. I believe the cure to the chaos is education. Media is changing and it is more social than it has been before. I am ideally looking to create and live in a space where I can relay the most important and interesting stories on the region so that Americans and westerners know more so we can act more humanely.

Q: How have you used about.me to connect with others personally on the platform?
A: I have found singers from North Africa and I have even found and connected to my partner on about.me. Getting content for Ramel Media is about finding people doing things in the Middle East that communicate the richness of its cultures, the implications of its wars and the complications of its legal systems.