Jean Fritts prepared a special treat for her granddaughter’s arrival in Sun City last week.
Holly Pickett doesn’t have much opportunity to enjoy her grandmother’s cuisine when she’s on the front line of breaking news stories in the Middle East.
“We had Italian meatballs and spaghetti,” said Fritts. “With pumpkin pie for dessert — they don’t have a lot of canned pumpkin where she lives.”
For the past four years, Pickett has worked as a freelance photographer based out of Cairo.
She has covered a variety of stories, from the spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt to being the first journalist at the scene to document the death of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Her photographs have been featured in national publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker magazine, and she has been interviewed by CBS News as well as MSNBC.
Pickett returned to the United States in December, spending time at home in Butte, Mont., with a stopover last week in Sun City.
“In this line of work, you really do need to take breaks and get your rest,” said Pickett, 33, who is scheduled to return to Cairo on Monday.
Pickett, a Montana native, said she always had a desire to travel overseas and learn about different cultures.
She studied Islamic culture at the University of Montana and originally planned to join the Peace Corps.
She also developed a love of photography thanks to her grandfather, Don Fritts, who gave her a camera as a high school graduation gift.
“This has always been the artistic side of the family,” Pickett said in reference to her Sun City grandparents.
Numerous Don Fritts paintings and photographs adorn the couple’s Sun City home, and Jean Fritts has been involved for years with the Sun City Players, a local theatrical group.
Pickett’s photographic skills helped her land a staff position with the Spokane Spokesman-Review in Washington. She worked on her craft, but never abandoned her plans to move overseas.
“I saved my money and bought a lot of equipment,” Pickett said.
She made the move in 2008, leaving the United States with no job and an uncertain future.
“I wanted to go to the Middle East, but I wasn’t sure which city to move to,” Pickett recalled. “It seems ironic now, but I picked Cairo because it seemed like the most stable city over there.”
Pickett found an apartment and began taking Arabic language classes.
She also began venturing out with her camera.
Through her lens, she has captured the rising tide of revolution throughout the Middle East, from the streets of Tunisia to the view from her apartment in Cairo.
“Learning the language has helped quite a bit,” she said. “I would not describe myself as fluent, but I can get by.”
Her profession has also put her in danger’s crossfire, including an October exchange between Libyan rebels and forces loyal to Gadhafi.
“Bullets were whizzing past us — you could see the dust stirring on the ground from bullets zipping past our legs,” she was quoted during an interview on MSNBC.com.
While in Libya, Pickett traveled with a group of paramedics for a feature about rebel ambulance crews. That’s when she heard the news of Gadhafi’s death.
“A lot of journalists had left Libya, and I was embedded with the ambulance crew,” she recalled. “We came upon another ambulance that had Gadhafi’s body.”
The Frittses keep a folder filled with newspaper clippings and photographs detailing their granddaughter’s achievements. They also receive updates from her parents in Montana.
“We know enough to keep us scared,” Jean Fritts said with a smile.
Pickett also has established a devoted Sun City following on the blogosphere.
Several Sun City friends and neighbors visited with the photographer last week at a dinner party hosted by the Frittses.
“I always like to listen when people come over to visit with Holly,” Jean Fritts said. “I always learn something new about her life in the Middle East.”