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January 2010

01/27/2010

Life in Kabul

 

In the crowded and congested traffic circles here in Kabul, pre-teen boys approach the cars with burning incense on a shiny silver tray. For a small price, they'll let you breathe in the smoke from the incense, which, they say, wards off evil spirits. But it may not be all its cracked up to be. Evil spirits, it seems, lurk around every corner in Afghanistan, apparently unimpressed with the power of the incense.

 

Unemployment isn't a statistic here. What would be the point of keeping track? Those with jobs worry if they'll make it home alive at the end of the day. Women shop the markets shrouded in sky blue Burkhas, their children unable to play outside because the Taliban likes killing children. They like killing just about anyone. The economy in tatters, the prospect of terror haunting day and night, Afghanistan is a tough place to live.

 

But they do live. "Business is great," a man selling shoes at a local market says with a big smile. "What is the point of complaining? I have to come out and support my family. It doesn't do any good to stay home."

 

Many feel the Karzai government hasn't done enough to protect them, nor to improve the economy. The unemployed are enraged that the President wants to give jobs to Taliban members who agree to switch sides. It's inviting the enemy in and rewarding them for their terrorist activity at the same time, one man without a job told us today. How about rewarding the people who didn't blow up orphanages and girl's schools?

 

Kabul was a cultural and nightlife hotspot back in the 1960's and 70's, The Paris of South Asia. Before The Soviets got hold of it, before the Taliban got hold of it, before the U.S. got hold of it. The road back will be long and congested. A 25 year old man told us yesterday its already too late for him, his life is over. His hopes, he said, are with his two children. Maybe their lives can be better. Maybe. Up ahead is a boy with a silver tray. Breath deep.


Jim Dolan

 


 

The end of the Jets ride

I'm leaving Indianapolis today with thousands of long-suffering and still-suffering Jet fans.  The suffering, however, is a passing thing for Jet fans.  Sure, they're disappointed, but pessimism doesn't have much of a shelf-life with this group.  They loved the season they had, they loved the run and the burst of success at the end.  They love the plain-talking, game-smart coach who seems like he's one of them.  Any sadness over a missed shot at Super bowl glory faded fairly quickly and was replaced by happy reminiscing about a memorable post-season. That's Jet fans for you.  Never down for long.  They are a good-natured, fun-loving, high-spirited bunch who have learned how to cope with moments of "so close, but so far away."

 

Indianapolis is a lovely city. Neat and clean with some pretty turn-of-the-century architecture and friendly people who smile easily.  This past weekend, they played the perfect hosts and hostesses.

 

The Jet fans rolled in Friday night and set off fireworks of vibrancy.  All of a sudden, Indy had a soundtrack of loud accents and raucous cheers.  The streets filled with Kelly green and carousing buddies.  Plenty of beer guts and gut-busting laughter. 

 

The energy crescendoed on Sunday with Jet tailgates surrounding Lucas Oil Stadium.  The air smelled of grilled brats and hangovers.  The fans held their weary livers and partied on.  More green, more cheers, more hugs with total strangers.  J-E-T-S, they shouted!!!  Jets, Jets, Jets!!! Kenny from New Jersey wore massive green Incredible Hulk gloves; Dominick from Staten Island parked a big school bus painted green and white; Kevin fashioned an ersatz Colts jersey out of a t-shirt and printed "Clots" on the front.  My stomach muscles ached from the laughter.

 

Victory wouldn't be theirs, sadly.  The team's confidence and early lead faded and Peyton Manning did what Peyton Manning often does: assert football dominance and win.  When it was all over, I felt as crestfallen for the team as I did for the fans, but the sorrow didn't stick around long.  "Next year!" the Jet fans assured me, their green face paint fading. "What a season, right?!!" they toasted, over beers at a nearby pub. "We're resilient," one smiled. "To 2011," another cheered.  "There's time," a man gently promised his son, his arm slung around the boy's shoulder "We're Jet fans. There's time."  No fights, no riots, no meanness.  "Ah, it's okay," Scott from Queens told his pal Tommy.  "We did good."

 

People become fans when they fall in love with a team.  They learn the stats, remember the plays, and feel sincere admiration for the tough players, and the tremendous athleticism and grit it takes to play professional football.  The season becomes a story line of emotional up's and down's and perseverance.  A fan follows it all, invested to the end. Most of the Jet fans I met this past weekend have been following this team and its up and down story (often light on the "up's" and heavy on the "down's") for decades, and they've done so in their own inimitable winning way -- with optimism, reverence, acceptance, loyalty, and love.

 

I became a Jet fan this weekend, but not because I fell in love with the team.  I fell in love with the fans. 

 

Jamie Roth

 

Taliban Business

Eyewitness News reporter Jim Dolan is in Afghanistan. He's the only local reporter in the region getting a first hand look at what's happening there right now.  You can read Jim’s blogs here, and tune in to his reports beginning Wednesday on Eyewitness News.

By Jim Dolan

Dawn came in gray and smokey in Kabul today. Our plane, rickety and unsure, fit in nicely with the other helicopters and planes on the bumpy tarmac, none of which appeared operable. At that hour, and on the Muslim Sabath, there wasn't much activity, just one man trying to salvage parts from a Soviet era chopper, but it was cold and he seemed to give up shortly after the sun rose.

The airport is a metaphor for Kabul. There is little commerce, little movement, and fear around every corner. No one knows where the next bomb will explode, nor who will be its intended target. The Taliban fighters are getting more sophisticated now, hitting multiple targets at once and hitting deeper into what had been considered safe areas. The concept of safe areas is gone now. Nothing is safe. No one is safe.

That reality is not crippling. People go to work, students go to school.But they know that some of them won't come home. Nearly every day, some of them will leave for their jobs or to visit relatives or to attend prayer services, and they will be killed. It doesn't matter what they believe. It doesn't matter whom they support. Nothing personal. Just business. Taliban business.

Its not clear what the point of it all is. The Taliban wants to regain power, but how this tactic is supposed to achieve that goal is kind of a mystery. Where, exactly has it worked? Killing many more has worked, but the Taliban doesn't have nearly the kind of support needed for that level of destruction. They have enough to wreck families, to cause untold grief and to murder innocent men and women, nearly all of them Muslims, but not enough to defeat a U.S. backed government. If the idea is to wait us out, well, President Obama seems committed to hanging out a while.

The sun chased away the gray by afternoon. On Fridays not much gets done in Afghanistan. Its quiet. Until suddenly it isn't. Where will it happen today? Most Muslims rest on Friday here. But the Taliban doesn't believe much in that. They call themselves Jihadi, or Holy Warriors. But its not holy at all. Its just business.

01/26/2010

Heading back to Afghanistan

Eyewitness News reporter Jim Dolan is in Afghanistan. He's the only local reporter in the region getting a first hand look at what's happening there right now.  You can read Jim’s blogs here, and tune in to his reports beginning Wednesday on Eyewitness News.

By Jim Dolan

Things have changed.

Joe and I are headed back to Afghanistan. Its been a little while since we’ve been there, and the whole dynamic is different. “The whole dynamic is different” is how reporters say “The hotel we stayed at last time has been bombed twice since we were there and is no longer safe.”  Much of the country is no longer safe, not just for Americans, but for anyone.

The Taliban is making a vicious and bloodthirsty stand in Afghanistan. Like al Qaeda, they have perfected the business of killing…anyone, anytime, and anywhere in the country. They want the people of Afghanistan to know that they could be next, regardless of their political or religious beliefs, regardless of their sympathies. And it’s working. People are afraid, with good reason.

Killing is easy. Al Qaeda and the Taliban prove it every day. They couldn’t build roads or buildings or much of an economy when they had power, but they have this killing thing down pat. I’m no expert on Islam, but I’ve read the Koran and am pretty sure it takes some wicked twisting of the beautiful prose that make up Islam’s Holy Koran, to justify killing other Muslims. Yet they twist away, in their quest for power and a world that conforms to their harsh and unforgiving version of that glorious and rich faith.

So we will spend some time on the streets of Kabul and in the homes of the people who live there. We’ll see how their lives have changed and how their view of both America and the Taliban have changed in the years since 9/11. Joe and I always look forward to that part of the story. The Afghan people are gracious and inviting, and though they are poor to a degree that is hard to imagine, they have open homes and hearts.

And we will spend a week or so with the military. We’ll be embedded with the army in the southern part of the country, which a colleague refers to as “Taliban Central.”  Even in the harsh winter, the Taliban manage still to plant roadside bombs and send suicide bombers into the marketplaces and mosques. Again, they’re good at killing. We’ll talk to the men and women of the military, some barely older than my own son, about the danger they face, the conditions in which they face it, and about the isolation of being away from their own families for so long a stretch.

Things have changed. Conditions are worse, and a new President is addressing it with more troops and a firmer resolve. Is it working? Can it work? What would “working” even look like?

It’ll take us a few days to get in place, but we should be on the air from Kandahar in a week or so. And I’ll blog whenever Joe lets me borrow his computer (he can be very possessive of the laptop) and tell a few stories we can’t get on TV.

Hope you’ll stay tuned and come along for the ride.   

01/19/2010

Life in Haiti



So it's
day three in country... since traveling across the border, so many things have
happened.

Crossing the border in the early morning was chaos. Spanish, Creole
English...everyone yelling out different commands in the midst of slow moving
trucks. It was a choreographed dance with giant diesel engines but no one was
conducting the steel belted performance. All the trucks trying to squeeze
into a tiny gate guarded by machine guns.

The roads on the other side of the border were riddled with pot holes and
rocks...making an hours drive into a half day event with cars slowing down
every 20 yards to avoid tire damage. In contrast to the ugly roads, the
mountains soared on the horizon giving us one last glimpse of Haitian
beauty.  

When we reached a suburb on the outskirts of the earthquakes epicenter, the
convoy stopped to pick out a translator. The van doors opened for the locals to
see the first of the rich, American journalists coming into this poor, now
destroyed, city. Hundreds of Haitian faces crowded our vans hoping to make $50
dollars, U.S.,
a day to for their knowledge of English & Creole. Just the mere stopping of
the cars almost incited a riot. We all were tired & needed to stretch our
legs...instead we were in a crush of people calling to us in broken English.
Then the interviews began...do you speak english? Do you know your way around?
Can you take us to the worst hit areas? I don't think we heard one person say
'no'. We picked an older man named Moyses.

As Moyses rode with us, he told stories of how his home had been crushed.
Terrible stories of what 35 seconds of Mother Nature's wrath can do to a
capital city in the richest hemisphere in the world. He kept muttering in
broken English, 'man this is nothing, nothing', and man he was right. 

The roads were jammed with trucks & cars, trucks & cars that couldn't
pass even the most basic safety inspection with bald tires and make shift
fenders. As we slowed to a crawl, out of the drivers' side window, we could see
the cause of the traffic jam. Two bodies, a mother & daughter who's
family couldn't afford the slightest medical help & now basic burial expenses.
Their bodies wrapped in sheets, left respectfully on mattresses in the middle
of the road probably with the hope someone would give them a decent place to
rest. Little did we know, this was only the beginning of our journey.

Michael Thorne

Eyewitness News photographer

 

 

 

The first night



After a freezing cold shower in the dark...the best shower I ever felt.
After a warm Pepsi, the best damn Pepsi I ever tasted. After 2 pieces of stale
bread wrapped around some mysterious lunch meat...the best damn sandwich I ever
ate...it was time to curl up on my nice, comfy couch in a room about 103
degrees & infested with mosquitoes. Man I love this job!!! At least it
wasn't a van...plus it had running water... 50 feet outside the gate guarded by
armed men were thousands upon thousands of people who would have killed for my
accommodations.

The hotel is right outside the presidential palace. In the huge park
surrounding the palace is a 'tent city'. From the roof of the hotel, it's a sea
of colors peppering the ground with little streams of smoke drifting from
between the make shift homes. The crowds seem beaten down...face after face of
loss, hopelessness, & suffering. There is a low, steady noise of families
preparing dinner, relatives nursing their wounds, children fighting fatigue.
Late the first night, while asleep on my couch, there was a pretty big tremor.
The whole room shook violently while all the journalists in the hotel ran into
the courtyard. For that brief moment, I had forgotten the people sleeping right
outside the compound. The noise coming over the security wall was a reminder of
how these people had lived through one of the worst events ever. The screams
told the story not of the current tremor but of the collapse of city hours
earlier. The fear woven in that collective cry was more telling than the most
dramatic picture or the most descriptive sentence.
Daylight came...we prepped our gear, talked about what we expected to see,
& thought about how we would tell the story. The sun was harsh...not on our
skin but to our eyes.

My job is easy in this situation. Every picture is more powerful than the next.
The hardest part is deciding what NOT to shoot...realizing the limitations
television time sets, the scarce time on the satellites, the deadlines we need
to meet. I could spend hours with each street, each face, each element of the
story. The photographer in me wanted to show the devastation, in its entirety,
with each shot. The lack of power, satellite uplinks, & basic provisions
made all of the television stations on the ground be very selective about
showing the world the best shots, the most powerful pictures. We were all
rushing any available media uplink...begging them to give out 5, 10, & the
precious 15 minute window on the satellites to bring the stories to you. All
this without the things everyone takes for granted...things like cell phones,
gasoline, electricity. All the while, taking pictures of people without their
basic needs. Things we all take for granted...things like water, food, medical
care.

Neighborhood after neighborhood, street after street, house after house all
filled with exhausted hands & desperate faces digging through piles of
debris. The layers of cement calling out to loved ones' for help buried deep
within the rubble. Even after seeing it, I could never imagine the feeling of
futility hearing your aunt, father or friend's desperate voice rising from an
unmovable rock knowing your bare hands can't help them. It's amazing that such
quick event, something that lasted less than 5 minutes, can take so long to
claim its last victim. The entire time, forcing 'hope' into loved ones testing
their resolve. I've seen a lot of things in this world...much of it has
desensitized me to human misery.

Working to get the shot temporarily steals the emotion of the moment. Thinking
about how to get the right angle, figuring out the most effective sequence
(wide, medium, tight) physically not killing my clumsy self all take the
emotion away from the event in front of me.

People were bringing their dead to the cemeteries. Bodies in wooden carts,
bodies in pick up trucks, bodies in sheets...bodies taken to the one place a
distraught family with only the clothes on their backs can associate with
death, a grave yard.

 

Michael Thorne

Eyewitness News photographer

 

 

Our first day



The end
of the first day was a blur of destruction, shooting pictures, & trying to
figure out where we were going to stay....I gotta tell you, the thought of
camping out in this tiny van with NJ, our driver & NOW our translator was
so unappealing to me. These guys seem alright but that's a little too much
'togetherness'. The problem was & is...port au prince is destroyed.
Buildings are imploded...layers of floors pancaked on top of one another,
separated by rubble, furniture, anything or anyone who might have been in
between when the quake hit. Streets filled with debris making the already
narrow roads impassable. I remember, and will always remember, the one thing I
DIDN'T notice...my camera was so focused on the immensity of the damage,
& my feet were kicking through the loose rubble...I didn't notice the
bodies surrounding me. Dead men, women, & children loosely wrapped in what
ever blankets or towels family members could find & left on the
sidewalk....their final resting place a dusty sidewalk on the spot of a place
once thought of as 'home'.  

The quiet drive through the city stopped at the CNN compound based at a local
hotel. A very nice woman took pity on us & gave out 3 rooms for 6 people.

Michael Thorne

Eyewitness News photographer

 

01/18/2010

NY Doctors save boy

By Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett

This has been one of the most extraordinary assignments I've ever had. I was moved to tears seeing that the little Haitian boy we featured on Friday's 11PM newscast has finally been treated by doctors from New York. They not only saved his life, but they also saved his arm. I am so humbled by all of this. 


N.J. Burkett

 

The (clean) shirts on their backs

By Eyewitness News reporter Marcus Solis

The (clean) shirts on their backs

One of the things that has baffled, amazed and surprised me is the cleanliness of the Haitian people under these impossibly difficult conditions. The tent cities are teeming with garbage and there's concrete dust everywhere. Yet if you look closely, most people are wearing remarkably clean clothing. It's especially impressive because some were left with only what they had on at the time of the earthquake.

Finally I asked our translator Aldrin about it. He explained the tradition is rooted in the French influence: Haitians pride themselves on always looking good. Even under these conditions they won't wear the same clothes two days in a row without washing them. Even though water is scarce, he, like so many we've seen, saves a little water to bathe and wash his clothes. The sight of garments drying in the sun is everywhere.

It's encouraging to see that this catastrophe hasn't claimed the people's sense of dignity.

Marcus

01/16/2010

Update from Port-au-Prince

By Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett

Update from Port-au-Prince

I am absolutely awestruck at the devastation and suffering I am seeing. Although I have not been able to see the page, I have seen many of your messages and I appreciate your concern. I'm doing well, under the circumstances. Please give whatever you can offer to the Haitian relief effort. There is nothing they don't need right now. 
N.J. Burkett