Adventures in War Zones and Disaster Areas for Journalists and Relief Workers

Guns Cameras and Fools

You really haven’t lived until you’ve heard that terrible double snick of an automatic weapon being cocked and pointed at your stomach.  It’s a real tonic for tired blood let me tell you.

Twice I had the wonderful pleasure of an idiot’s company which resulted in that double snicking.

Thomas, and of course that’s not his real name, was on a tour of relief operations in Somalia after the civil war had ended, well actually it is still going but “officially” it is said to be over twenty some odd years later. 

He had one of those wildly friendly exuberant personalities and he’d switch it on at full power any time he was around a Somali.

  Normally, with the rest of us world dominating white people, he was short and surly and just a nasty important person.  Put him in front of the light of Somali youth, usually one with the dirty Kalashnikov, and you’d think he’d found a brother separated from birth.

I was doing the Bank Crossing in Mogadishu, the long silent walk across no-man’s land and Thomas was with us. 

Photographs aren’t normally allowed during the walk but I’d managed a couple by just pulling the lens up out of my shoulder bag and shooting blind.  Thomas was going on and on with the suspicious guards at the crossing as we waited for our truck to arrive.

He had this theory that if you take a Polaroid picture of someone and give them the picture it will instantly make them friends.

  I’m sure he’d never seen those old adventure movies where the natives believe that a camera will capture their souls so they kill the idiot with the camera.  If he had he wouldn’t have been so dangerous.

In this crowd of armed guards from five Toyota technicals and bunch of bystanders, Thomas talked some kid into posing for a picture.  I’m not sure the kid understood the wild old American but some of the crowd did and there was a lot of angry shouting.

“Thomas. Back off. They don’t want you to do that.”

“No no, it’s okay, they’re my friends, they’ll love it.”

I stepped back two paces. Time was starting to slow and that’s always the way I know I’m in danger because the body will pick up the signals faster than the conscious mind and start speeding up the metabolism so that when you finally do understand that you’ve landed in a pile of stinking doo-doo, the body is ready to run like hell.

“Thomas!  These guys are getting angry.  Back off!”

He wasn’t paying any attention.  He was too busy grinning and laughing and generally acting like a gorilla on amphetamines as he practised his theory that you can get to be friends with anyone by acting stupid enough.

I should have taken a few more steps back but this terrible tendency of mine to walk up to bears and pat their heads took over and I moved forward.

I grabbed his shoulder, “Let’s go Thomas.”

He swung out from under my grip and raised the Polaroid to take the picture regardless.

“Snick snick.”

I swear that all four quarts, or however many there are, of blood in my body came to a shuddering freezing halt. 

Everything got one hell of a lot sharper. 

I got the impression that I could smell each individual person in the crowd, that I could hear each individual sound as though they were the only sounds in the universe.  My eyesight, already better than twenty-twenty went telescopic. 

I could actually and suddenly read the serial number of the grenade strapped on the gunman’s belt, the guy who’d just cocked his Kalashnikov and was now pointing it at us from a distance of ten feet.

I’d like to be able to say that Thomas got justifiably blown apart and I walked away with a song in my heart, but unfortunately, after a few tense moments and some very quiet words from the two of us, he allowed Thomas to live for another day so Thomas could try to get someone else killed.

Notes From a Trip to the North Pole (Part One)

This is part of a section of what will become “The Disaster Tourist – How Journalists and Relief Workers Seek Danger, Booze, and a Reason for Life” Part One Four hours north of Resolute and nine o’clock at night.  For the past two hours I’ve been aware that the sun has been getting higher inContinue

Mogadishu – A City in Hell

  I spent something like six months in Somalia in the run-up to the arrival of foreign troops in a failed attempt to restore order. Those six months in 1992 and 93 felt more like six years, or perhaps the entirety of my life. When every day is a fever dream of madness, time stretchesContinue

Living Conditions in War Zones–(I wouldn’t keep a dog that way)

In mapping out the chapter sections for my forthcoming book, The Disaster Tourist: How Journalists and Relief Workers Survive in War Zones and Disaster Areas, While Still Being Able to Find Beer, I see that these broad chapter outlines are useful as blog entries in their own right.   For anyone whoever wanted to growContinue

If the Bullets Don’t Get You, the Filthy Air of Kabul Will

There was an article in the paper this morning about air quality in Kabul, or more to the point, the lack of quality. According to scientific studies, government officials, and United Nations experts the air is so foul that more people die from respiratory illnesses than from the on-going war with Taliban and insurgents. AndContinue

Top Techniques for Writing – Part One

There are some pretty specific techniques and practices you can pick up from the world of serious journalism, in particular, newspaper, magazine, and broadcast journalism, that will elevate your analytic and writing skills far above the average. They will work for any kind of writing you do, be it Fiction, Journalism, Non-Fiction, Plays, Daily Journals,Continue

A Memo From Camp Warehouse Kabul About Security Clearances

  In the early days of the Afghan Occupation Today I sat on the banks of the many years dry Kabul River and wept sad tears, not because of what has been happening, but because I do not have the necessary talent of an Evelyn Waugh or a Joseph to tell this comic farce. EverContinue

Reporting in the High Arctic

Here’s a snippet of what I might slip into the book The Disaster Tourist  I outlined the book in the post right before this one.     “I should take some lead pencils with you.  Bloody cold where you’re going and pens freeze don’t you know.”  Parting advice from my Managing Editor in CBC Radio NewsContinue

The Disaster Tourist – A Soon To Be Published Book

While I continue to work on my Adventure Thrillers such as Cobra Flight, I am also developing some Non-Fiction projects. In active development now is a quirky, irreverent, and most likely scandalous look at how relief workers and journalists conduct themselves in war zones and humanitarian disaster areas. It also turns a jaundiced and witheringContinue

Tips and Tricks for Visiting Ireland

I know that it seems odd to see a post about visiting Ireland, a country far in time from any form of war or humanitarian disaster. But, for one reason or another I’ve been asked recently by what seems to be an unusual number of people for tips on visiting the Republic. So, in anContinue