“My grandmother in Algeria has these tattoos on her face,” Wake Forest University junior Yasmin Bendaas said. “I noticed a year or so ago during my last visit that only elderly women had them and I was seeing fewer women with the tattoos than when I visited as a child. None of my aunts have it, none of my cousins. I’m curious why it’s a tradition and why it seems to be going away. I want to tell the story before they disappear entirely.”
A student fellowship from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting will allow Bendaas to do just that. She’s leaving Wake Forest in mid-May for the Aures Mountains of northern Algeria to research the vanishing cultural tradition of women’s facial tattoos.
Bendaas is the first student from Wake Forest to win this fellowship from the Pulitzer Center. The University joined the Campus Consortium group, which aids and promotes foreign correspondents and overseas reporting, just this year.
“These kinds of stories aren’t being done today the way they were even five years ago,” Justin Catanoso, director of the journalism program. “We’re really excited that Yasmin Bendaas is our first Pulitzer fellow. She’s smart and curious and has a world view from her own background and her own ethnic heritage that makes her an ideal foreign correspondent.”
Bendaas, whose father is Algerian and her mother is Iranian, holds dual U.S. and Algerian citizenship, but has lived her life in Winston-Salem. She will spend about two months videotaping women with tattoos and interviewing them with an interpreter in a town about two hours away from the Mediterranean. She is an anthropology major with double minors in journalism and Middle East and South Asia studies. This is her first big research project.
“Through anthropology, I have learned not to interpret someone’s culture or identity through my own background, but rather to view their lives as unique to their own experiences,” Bendaas said. “Seeing people interact this way also helps with my focus on journalism and telling great stories without filters.”