Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Into The Heart of Darkness (Pt 2 of 3)
Landing deep into the tribal regions of Pakistan, producer Ed and I are greeted by a team of locals that will take us to our final destination--a remote village to cover a story that will forever linger in my mind, kept alive in my prayers, and cherished in the chambers of my heart. It's a mission that remains classified online, but if you were to one day look me in the eye, I'd spill to you the very essence of why I accepted the job, why I believed my camera would make a difference, and why I ventured Into The Heart of Darkness.
There was a time in my life when I'd sprint along the shores of Lake Erie, step by step, carefully making sure that the weight of my body would keep me from sinking. I always knew that if I ran fast enough, I'd keep afloat--find an equilibrium between man and nature, and some how, I'd always come out on top. I never forgot that feeling.
Looking at my watch, the date had just changed. But mentally, my mind was a day behind, lingering in an time zone that was yesterday. It's tomorrow now, and life just got complicated. Ed and I are crammed into a Toyota LandCruiser, riding with people whom we knew nothing about, not even their real names. Listening to the sound of horns coming from all directions, I saw flashes of light, high beams and low beams, yellow and white, throbbing its way through the retina of my eyes. I looked for signs of danger, but in the dark, danger lurks where you least expect it. It's difficult to see.
The engine revved high, went up hill and down hill, never finding neutrality. At stop lights, I noted how much distance the driver is keeping from the vehicle in front of us, and how just close to us is the vehicle behind us. I looked for ambushes, people walking by, motorcycles that seemed too loud. It's amazing just how much detail you see when you're in fear, afraid and at the mercy of your new found friends.
We were on our way to a safe house, deep in an urban area where no one knows we're coming. The air was heavy, hot and humid--full of hostility from the rising barometer that signified a change in pace. There's no where to turn but to keep going, keep moving, and hopefully, we're always one step ahead from sinking.
At 2200, we arrived at house tucked in the midst of an urban sprawl. A man opens a gate and we drive through. The gate closes. Our car doors unlock. We're told to get out. And just like that, under the cover of complete darkness, we were ushered into a house that would become our base for this mission. "Home sweet home," said Mr. Nickel.
After a short briefing, we're warned to never leave the house,keep all windows closed and carefully watch our steps--warnings that seemed more like threats. I never slept that night. In my mind, I envisioned a team of terrorists bursting through my bedroom door, slamming me to the ground, and covering my head with a black bag. I heard lyrical voices that I could not tune, screams that echoed to the symphony of fear.
The Eyes of an Enemy:
Waking up in the morning, I felt my stomach rumble, my mind dazed and ears popped. I've been in and out of consciousness, asleep and awake, hovering the fine line between exhaustion and adrenaline.
Strapping on my bullet proof vest, we headed out. Donkey carts and men with long beards roamed the streets while women covered from head to toe carefully moved about. Sand and dust flew through the air, leaving behind a cloud of haze and desert debris. Buildings that looked more like ancient civilizations stood tall, reminding me of how the hands of time had stood still. Walking with my camera, I looked like a soldier. People stared, wondered what I was doing. They never said hi nor waved. Children gawked from a afar, poking their heads through walls to capture a glimpse of the man with the lens. I couldn't shoot at first, too afraid to put my guard down. I looked left and right, up and down, making sure danger wasn't lurking.
But like a fool with a cause, I had to start shooting. I rolled camera, zoomed in and out on a group of people mingling in the distance. I turned the camera left, then right, pulled focus and decided to look into the eyes of a stranger. It was a close up--which meant I couldn't see his full face. A great shot--locked and loaded on a set of eyes looking at me through my lens.
Zooming out, I saw his face, his beard, the white clothing he wore and the signature head ware he adorned on his head. Looking at Mr. Nickel, he said to me a word that sent shock waves to my heart: Al Queda.
Slowly, he started to walk towards me.
Please standby for Part 3.