I close my eyes, pretend to sleep. Maybe I'm dreaming. Maybe I'll awake soon. But as I lay here, reality kicks in and I'm no longer asleep--instead, I'm laying flat on my stomach, head buried into the ground, arms and legs are spread apart in a most awkward position. My head is completely hooded with a black cloth--and I'm gasping for air as it envelopes my entire face. Darkness never felt so real.
When you're held hostage, there are too many thoughts running through your mind. Too many scenarios unfolding in a theatre of unforgiving plots. It's almost like dying a slow death, wondering when that moment will come.
Loud explosions erupt around me, but I cannot see a thing. I can hear it. I can smell it. But I cannot tell if my fellow photographers are dead or alive. And for a brief moment, under complete darkness, I had to remind myself that I've yet to die--so I continue breathing, gasping for air, looking for light.
As a photographer on foreign assignment, one of the scariest and most deadly scenarios we face is that of which I've described above. Time and time again, foreign journalists and photographers are held hostage for ransom, political gain, or other terrorist related ordeal. It's a nightmare that I hope will never come alive--but lately, it's horror that I've had to face in reality.
Thankfully, it was only a training exercise.
I'm currently in Strasburg, Virginia--deep in the mountains of a remote training ground that caters to photographers and journalists who cover stories in the developing world, conflict zones, and in hostile environments. I've been here since Monday, and so far, I've been killed many times, set off booby traps that desolated my entire team, and even managed to accidentally enter a field littered with landmines.
The training that I'm currently taking is put together by an elite team of seasoned military professionals. My group consisted of 16 people, most of which are photographers and journalists from the BBC, Associated Press, CNN, and Non Governmental Organizations that operate in foreign countries.
So far, as I'm going thru this training, I'm amazed at the amount of information that is flooding my knowledge bank. Things like choosing the safest hotel room, back tracking your way out of a field of landmines, treating shock and trauma victims, finding bullet wounds and shrapnel, dealing with check points and security details--most of which I've faced before, but never with such strategic precision as this. It's knowledge that can one day save a life--or my own. Hopefully, I'll never have to use it.
I'll be here until Friday. Tomorrow, I'll be trained how to dodge incoming bullets, evasive body maneuvering, stop arterial bleeding, and how to bandage shrapnel wounds.
I'll be writing more descriptive in a future post. Stay tuned.