Depending on the day here in Wainwright, you could be caught in an intense firefight, fleeing for your life, or you could end up sitting around, eating all day as you fiddle with a newspaper layout.
I definitely prefer the exciting days.
Yesterday, I woke up early and went out to a village with a colleague as my alter-ego Roya Herawi, an Afghan reporter. We wore headscarves and travelled to the scenario with a group of Afghan actors.
I was assigned to a print story/photo layout about village life in Deh-E-Baugh (which we foolishly pronounced as dee-bag the entire day).
Long story short, Task Force Steel – the American soldiers – dropped down from several Chinook helicopters just outside of the village, and approached the village looking for insurgents.
Villagers were caught in the firefight, and the Americans suffered 18 casualties because they didn’t land in the right spot.
And because they made a mistake, us journalists had to dodge Taliban grenades as we ran for shelter.
The event was very real: While the guns used could only kill you digitally, they shot blanks and made awfully loud sounds when shots were directed at the giant metal Seacans posing as houses and buildings.
With our headscarves flapping in the wind, we managed to take cover behind a wall.
As I was furiously snapping photographs, my flash went off and from far away, the camera must have looked like a gun.
Friendly fire nearly killed me. Once we stopped screaming, we realized I had only suffered a “near miss,” according to my electronic vest.
It was scary, it was thrilling. We were later detained, then we broke free, then got detained again and eventually left the village.
There are lots of rules to learn as an embedded journalist, and lots of rules you need to forget when you aren’t embedded. When you go outside the wire with the troops, you have to work within certain lines. But as an Afghan journalist, or freelancer or international journo, those rules don’t apply.
It’s confusing at times, especially since we’re constantly switching media hats, so-to-speak. But things are best learned by doing.
In other news, I’ve tried my hand at anchoring and have read the weather report twice. I’ve done the layout for two of our papers, and written a print story for one of them.
Today, I’m playing a Canadian journalist, and am currently under a media embargo, meaning I can’t communicate any information about what I’m doing until I’m given the go-ahead. In the meantime, I’m just sitting and waiting all alone in the media tent at Kandahar Airfield.
One of the commonly used phrases around here: “Hurry up and wait.”
At least the tent has heat.