Bearing witness, at close range and often at great risk, is the essence of a dispatch, and in 2023, our correspondents filed 80 of them from 37 countries, capturing the human experience from almost every angle: the good, the bad and the wrenching.
In a year marked by conflicts, dozens of dispatches came directly from war zones: from a rare trip inside Gaza, where we saw a city utterly disfigured; from a ravaged Israel kibbutz, where more than 60 people were murdered on Oct. 7; and from the West Bank, where “there’s no such thing as sleeping at night.”
And we got multiple, moving reports from Ukraine, where stoic faces started to crack under the war’s emotional toll. The effects of that war are being felt globally, from Bali, where Russians and Ukrainian expatriates try to get along, to towns in Poland and the Czech Republic upended by the fighting.
In six dispatches from Afghanistan, we explored the aftermath of another war, only recently ended; we also rushed to the remote site of a devastating earthquake that added to the misery of an already battered country.
But there were also bright spots, with dispatches reminding us of the joy found in food and drink: from fava beans to Chinese barbecue; from truffles to crabs; from tuna in Tunisia to maqluba eaten at Al Aqsa Mosque. People still found reasons to party, too, from a city in Colombia that celebrates Christmas in February, to Black professionals from Cape Town drawn to nearby townships for nightlife they believe better suits their tastes.
It wasn’t all about humanity, either; animals played starring roles as well, from unemployed elephants in Thailand to sun bears in an Indonesian rain forest; from the scent of foxes in England to the welcome distraction of a monk seal on an Israeli beach.
And if it all becomes too much, remember, there’s always the circus in Mongolia to run away to.
Here are 13 favorite dispatches from 2023.
As Taliban Settle In, Kabul’s Green Zone Comes Back to Life
Not that long ago, the Kabul neighborhood known as the Green Zone was buzzing with the soundtrack of a multibillion-dollar war effort in Afghanistan. Armored vehicles rumbled down the streets, while the thud-thud-thud of American helicopters echoed across the sky.
But these days, there’s another kind of buzzing in the neighborhood: the Taliban moving in and making it their own.
— By Christina Goldbaum
‘We Are a Romantic Country’: On the Set of a Steamy Hit in Italy
Italy has fallen hard for “Mare Fuori,” a television melodrama about the inmates of a juvenile detention center who pass the time making out — when not occasionally stabbing one another.
The show’s costume designer, Rossella Aprea, said that since there was no uniform in a real Italian juvenile prison, she could use her imagination. “A lot of black, super tight, crop tops,” she said. “Skin, skin, skin.”
— By Jason Horowitz; photographs by Gianni Cipriano
The Yankees Cap Goes Viral in Brazil
Baseball caps with the logo of the New York Yankees are everywhere in Brazil. But many Brazilians have no idea what that logo represents.
“It’s American football?” asked Carlos Henrique, 20, who was selling the caps on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro. But the answer didn’t matter nearly as much as the cap’s popularity, his best seller. “I just know it calls attention,” he said. “And it looks good on everyone.”
— By Jack Nicas; photographs by Dado Galdieri
For South Korea’s Senior Subway Riders, the Joy Is in the Journey
Subways rides in Seoul are free for those older than 65, and so some retired people spend their days riding the trains to the end of the line.
“You read, and doze off,” said Jeon Jong-duek, 85, a retired math professor. “There isn’t a corner of Seoul I don’t go to.”
— By Victoria Kim; photographs by Chang W. Lee
To Experience Paris Up Close and Personal, Plunge Into a Public Pool
Swimming in Paris is a full-on cultural experience, offering intimate views into the French psyche, which is on near-naked display in the swimming lanes, locker rooms and (mostly coed) showers.
Take the Piscine des Amiraux, built in 1930.It’s a long, thin pool, with walls covered in white subway tiles. Look up, and you see a skylight roof, above two rings of balconies lined with the green doors of individual changing rooms. You hang your stuff on anchor-shaped hooks, and when you are done swimming, a cabin boy comes and opens the door for you.
It all feels like swimming back through time.
— By Catherine Porter; photographs by Dmitry Kostyukov
To Escape the Heat in Dubai, Head to the Beach at Midnight
Toddlers squealed, the sea roared and a portable speaker played a love song. Perched on a giant inflatable hot dog, a child paddled through the shallows. This could have been any beach anywhere on a summer weekend, if you closed your eyes tight enough to shut out the light of the moon. But it was midnight in Dubai.
“Dubai in the nighttime is very beautiful,” said Mamadoto Momo, a Senegalese lifeguard who works on the beach from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
— By Vivian Nereim; photographs by Andrea DiCenzo
Ukraine, a Sniper Mission and the Myth of the ‘Good Kill’
What you need to understand about a sniper mission is that from the minute it begins to the minute it ends, everything you do is in service of killing another human being.
But almost no one says that. So it was a little startling when one soldier decided to explain his moral calculations when killing Russian troops: He was saying the quiet part out loud.
— By Thomas Gibbons-Neff; photographs by David Guttenfelder
Nuns practicing Kung Fu in Nepal.CreditCredit…Saumya Khandelwal
Kung Fu Nuns of Nepal Smash Convention
In Himalayan Buddhism, the religious roles of nuns have long been restricted by rules and customs. But one sect is changing that, mixing meditation with martial arts and environmental activism.
“Kung Fu helps us to break gender barriers and develop inner confidence,” said Jigme Rabsal Lhamo, a Buddhist nun. “It also helps to take care of others during crises.”
— By Sameer Yasir; photographs and video by Saumya Khandelwal
In Shetland, the Hottest Event of the Year Stars Sheep and Knitters
The sheep came spilling over the hillside, emerging through the low mist where the green earth touched the gray sky, running down into the fields below.
They were ready for their big moment: Shetland Wool Week had arrived at last.
— By Megan Specia; photographs by Andrew Testa
Where Did All the Hong Kong Neon Go?
While the government’s crackdown on neon signs stems from safety and environmental concerns, the campaign evokes the fading of Hong Kong itself: the mournful allegory for an electric city’s decline, the literal extinguishing of its brash flash.
“Neon is a kind of city emblem, an embodiment of Hong Kong stories,” said Cardin Chan who runs a group dedicated to conserving condemned signs. “But it’s not only neon that’s undergoing a transformation. It’s the whole city, right?”
— By Hannah Beech; photographs by Anthony Kwan
What’s the Correct Color of Bees? In Austria, It’s a Toxic Topic.
In the Austrian state of Carinthia, where the law favors light-colored local bees, those honey producers judged “too dark” risk eradication.
“It’s racial fanaticism,” said Sandro Huter, a beekeeper who had been told to replace his dark queens with light-gray ones.
— By Denise Hruby; photographs by Ciril Jazbec
‘More Than Just Rugby’: Championship Generates Harmony in South Africa
South Africans are savoring a second consecutive World Cup victory, producing a racial unity that even Hollywood couldn’t make up and an escape from the country’s troubles.
“It’s about more than just rugby,” said Francois Pienaar, captain of the team that won South Africa’s first Rugby World Cup in 1995. “It’s about a nation. It’s about hope. It’s about building a future for everyone in our country.”
— By John Eligon; photographs by Joao Silva
In Bleak Russian Cemetery, Sea of Crosses Signals War’s True Toll
A dismal, snowy plot near the Black Sea is the final resting place for more and more soldiers from the Wagner mercenary forces, a testament to the huge casualties Russia is suffering in its invasion.
“Lord have mercy,” a priest chanted as he blessed the bodies of fallen Russian soldiers with incense, his cassock buffeted by a freezing wind.
— By Valerie Hopkins; photographs by Nanna Heitmann