2 weeks ago
Monday, 3 January 2011
(just down the street a few days before)
On Dec 1, I woke up with serious back pain - a regular visitor to my life, caused this time by a twisting fall clearing the ball off my keeper's goal line. I forced myself to work, which on this day, meant interviewing and taking photos in a rough, working class neighbourhood. I was thinking (mistakenly) that the next day was the two year anniversary of my blog. Feeling pretty good about work that day - and life in general - I thought about funny shit I would never write, and ambled through the waves of back pain.
My interview with a group of teenage thugs was going pretty well. They kept cracking hilarious jokes. The sun in the cool air made for the perfect temperature.
Someone grabbed me from behind - though not very hard - and another guy appeared right in front of me. I shrugged off guy one, and pushed guy two away. At this point, the gun appeared. I got that weird feeling of clarity that always comes to me when intense things go down: whatever is happening all just stops, and I feel really alert and focused. I weighed my options. I thought about running into the crowd. I thought about charging the guy - I really sincerely doubt a trigger would have been pulled, and I have no doubt I would win in a fight. But, he lifted the gun up, yelled some shit that I wasn't listening to (focused on my potential options), and cocked the trigger.
The mini-gangsters I had been photographing took a scared step back out my periphery. Now left standing alone against two with a gun, I had another moment of clarity. And in those brief segundos, lost roughly 3 grand of camera and recording equipment and a day's worth of photo and audio.1
People I knew chased after them. Then I spent 20 mins in Mexi surrealism; me in the back of a cop car, cops talking on their cell phones, and me meant to inform them if we happened to drive past the ratones. We ended up stopping, sitting on the back of the cop car, and just talking about regular shit. Predictably, this chapter ended with them saying it was not worth my time to report it. I called a friend, got on the metro, and went home to lie down.
(Violent) theft is a scenario I have played through several times - though it never results how you thunk it. Ever since the first two times I took pictures in Liberia resulted in threats of violence from crowds, its been pretty constant. Much of the past few years have been spent working in areas with some degree of poverty and/or tensions, and my security tends to involve not much more than contacts I make in these neighbourhoods, and "common sense." I'm always doing 360 degree checks, watching who's watching me. I keep exit routes mentally mapped, and never face one direction for long. I rarely pull out my camera when I don't know (and trust) at least one person in short radius.
Talking about this with a journalist I had just met at the Cancún conference, she scorned me for not rolling with an armed detail. I think this is, um, dumb, and the "discussion" that ensued on this topic quickly ended our very brief professional relationship.
Beyond the fact that I literally can't afford it, guns change everything. Surely I would not arrive in Mogadishu and just be like "who wants to be in a pretty picture?!", but having a hired gun with you has its affects. Sure, you can extract information, but its different. You become a potential threat to your subjects. You hold a superiority that changes the dynamic of an interview; how you see interviewee as much as how interviee sees you. And, you wield the threat of death over people who want to steal a material object from you. This, to me, does not work, though I recognize certain circumstances call for it.
Without launching into a diatribe about how much security expats tend to demand in situations they decry as unsafe, I do really still think that reporting is best done with a limited amount of official protection units (ie building localized contacts and confidence, not showing up for a day with gun-toters), and I don't plan to change that approach.
Had this happened January 1st, I believe "bad omens" would have been the standard issue comment when referring to my annual prospects. A whole year to try and recover. But, it happened at the end of a year, allowing me to pack it away with what by all measures, was a fairly frustrating 12 months.
Now, after hiding from the internets for a few weeks, 2011 starts off with a challenge: "make money-money make money-money, make." I need to hustle my way outta debt. Despite its obvious downsides, I like this challenge - I got tons of ideas that I need to find homes for.
I just learned that 2011 is prime number.2 So bring it on, bitches.
FN1 If you are looking for a deal, somewhere on the streets of Mexico City a Canon 5D with a 24 - 105 L series lens likely sells for well below market value.
FN2 I learned this from Chris Blattman's Twitter feed when I checked back in to the interconnected webbing last evening.
Posted by Esteyonage at 18:39