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

Category Archives: Tips & Techniques

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 grow up to be a refugee but instead had to settle for being an aid worker or foreign correspondent this section is about living conditions.

“Water is Life”  It’s a trite saying heard world wide when people are forced to live on the edge of survival.  The obsession with finding safe water to drink consumes everyone in a disaster area, refugee or not.  Relief workers and reporters die violently in disaster areas but a far greater number fall deathly ill because of the water.

Relief workers and reporters risk Dengue fever, cholera, and foul internal parasitic diseases that ruin the body for life.  Half the foreign population in any disaster area at any given time is wrestling with grotesque illnesses or searching for a toilet.

After water comes food and in the search of food people will do anything for it, including murder.

In Sarajevo, many people worked for hours every day hauling water up ten and twenty floors of bombed out high rises to their homes, making countless trips for firewood which sold for nearly the price of gold.   They ate any food possible including pet dogs and cats.  They and the aid workers would think little of running through sniper alleys if it meant they could find a source of food.

In Ethiopia, refugee camps the size of Cleveland or Fargo sprawled across the Ogaden Desert far from water, food or fuel.  Getting enough of all three takes all day without break and it has to be done for years on end.

The aid business is about transporting food and sometimes the best way to get it to the starving is to let the looters help themselves.

Handy Living Tips

Here’s how everyone except the starving makes a fortune out of the generosity of foreigners.  How looters go about their craft, the techniques of the inspired thief, the futility of aid workers in trying to prevent theft, and the extreme danger they run in trying to do so.

Other handy living tips for reporters and relief workers include the use of beer as toothpaste, mouthwash, hand lotion, and general pick-me-up after a long day of being shelled.

How to properly enjoy slivovitz, the hell liquor of Bosnia that spawns rapers, looters, pillagers, and thrill murderers, how to chew the narcotic Khat, (the drug of choice for crazed Somali gunmen), with elan and aplomb, and which aid agencies serve the best meals no matter how great the apocalypse around them.

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

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

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

The 20 Most Needed Foreign Words in a War Zone

What Words Do You Need in a War Zone or Humanitarian Disaster Area? One thing you should have done on the plane ride into your latest hell-hole of a disaster area or war zone is learn the handful of words in the local language that may save your life. You only need a handful. YouContinue

Your First Day in a War Zone or Disaster Area

What to Do When You Step Off the Plane You would think that getting into a war zone or disaster area is the hardest part of your assignment, but really it is quite easy compared to what you face during the first day on the ground. Just getting from the airport can be a cocktailContinue

How to Get Out of a Minefield

I’m often asked if I worry about getting shot when working in some of the places I go to. Not really.  I mean, it is something I am always aware of and something I try to be prepared for, but the possibility of getting shot is not nearly the nightmare that people assume it is.Continue

Travel Photography Tips

I’ve been asked more than once lately for a list of tips and techniques for taking good photographs while traveling. I’ve resisted adding my thoughts because there is a tremendous amount of excellent material already available on the web. Just do a search for “travel photography tips” and there you go. But, if by addingContinue