Last Friday I returned from a great trip to Pakistan.
Here are some notes from a journal I took during my trip.
February 22, 2006—Seattle Airport-- Getting ready to fly to Pakistan to film humanitarian aid being given to earthquake victims. Just got $300 cash from ATM. I don’t know if I will need it, but it makes me feel safer to have it with me. I am all packed up. Checked in two bags (one is my suitcase and the other my tripod). I am carrying a camera bag with a HDV digital video camera, a DV video camera, and a digital still camera. Plus wide angle lens, tons of batteries, rain cover for the camera, shotgun microphone, lots of cables, and a journal. First stop is Vancouver, BC. Then to London, then to Dubai, then to Islamabad. There has been a lot of news stories lately about the dangers of traveling to Pakistan and about how there are terrorists everywhere wanting to hurt Americans. This has me a bit edgy. Should be a trip of a lifetime.
February 22, 2006—On the plane, getting ready to leave Vancouver for London. The plane from Seattle to Vancouver was totally full. This plane is about half full. Big plane. Room to spread out. Still on my journey to Pakistan. This flight will be nine hours long. Then a two hour layover and then another eight hour flight to Dubai, then another flight to Islamabad after that. We are sure lucky we can fly. It would be a long walk. I brought 75 hours of videotape. You never know if I will use that much. Last year I only took seven tapes on my trip to Korea over a week. I probably took too many tapes this time. I am going to write in this journal all the time. Like when Werner Herzog wrote in his small, tiny notebook while making “Fitzcarraldo.” I need to see that film again. Or at least Les Blank’s film “Burden of Dreams.” Marc Castillo drove me to the airport. He is a nice guy. He talked about the spirituality of this new business, Inventive Productions. How we are helping people, giving them comfort. I think this is a noble quest. To help people tell their story. My cousin Dana emailed me yesterday. She said that my films are allowing people to say goodbye to their loved ones. I tend to agree with her. Some of the people on this trip brought their laptops and cell phones. I feel naked without mine, but it is allowing me peace and quiet and it is forcing me to take in all the colors and the sounds of this experience. It is allowing me to listen and learn. To feel the experience. To be.
February 23, 2006—It is 2:30am Pacific time, but it is 11:30 local time in London. We are about 45 minutes from London. They just gave us a nice breakfast on the plane. Fruit yogurt, muffin, coffee, and oatmeal bar. It feels exciting to be in Europe for the first time even if only for a few hours. I can’t wait until Victoria and I can come back for a real vacation with the kids. Even though I have only been gone a few hours, I really do miss Victoria and the kids a lot. I wish I was a better father and husband. We need to get the family reunited. I need to find a home. And get everyone moved to Seattle. ASAP. I hope I can grab some post cards in London.
February 23, 2006—Here I am waiting at Gate 7 in Heathrow Airport in London for my flight to Dubai. I bought ten postcards with London pictures on them. I will write notes on the plane. Next stop Dubai. London is all foggy. Like a giant white cloud. I was hoping to be able to see the London skyline. No such luck today. Maybe when the airplane gets up in the air. Or on the way back.
February 23, 2006—Just had a giant, exotic meal on the flight from London to Dubai. Marinated shrimp, chicken, bread, cheesecake, crackers & cheese, and salad.
February 23, 2006—Finally we are on our flight to Islamabad. We had to wait a long time for seven missing people to arrive on the plane. Each seat on the airplane has its own TV with 500 movie channels, including a camera view from the front and a camera view from below the plane. Plus email and lots of video games. I was playing hangman on the last flight. I am watching “The Longest Yard” with Adam Sandler and Burt Reynolds. Plus also reading a book by the director John Huston. I can’t wait until we get to Islamabad. Long day.
Friday, February 24th—Night—Pakistan. It’s been a long day. 30 hours in flights and layovers. I was a little scared when we got off the plane. The airport was full, I mean full of men, women, and children dressed in very strange clothes. Strange to me, but normal for them. Over the past two weeks all I ever heard on the news and on the internet was stories about the terrorists and the dangerous climate for Americans over here in Pakistan. I was hoping that we would get into our Toyota Land Cruisers fast and get on the road. Our group was made up of 24 people, including security. We loaded up into the SUV’s with two or three in each rig. The weather seemed warm and nice. A little bit muggy. Once everyone was in place, we started a convoy of SUV’s, headed north. We took a four hour drive to the base camp. We were greeted by incredible townspeople and children. It was awesome. I videotaped lots of people who are going through extreme hardship. The funny thing was that they all had kindness and smiles and gratitude. They are really nice family people. We took a caravan of Land Cruisers from Islamabad. There was a lot of climbing, so I got a lot of exercise today. I am real sweaty and tired. I miss my wife and kids. I will try to email them. I will send postcards. I really enjoy taking trips, but this was a real long day. I am bushed.
Saturday, February 25, 2006—9:30pm—Pakistan. It was a very rainy day today in Pakistan. Got up at 6:30 and called Victoria and the kids. Packed up the gear. Had a quick breakfast then drove in SUV convoy. The townspeople from the village greeted everyone with hugs and clapping. Started following Richard, the leader of the humanitarian group around with the camera. I got some great footage of the townspeople. Our goal was to show how well the local people interacted with the Americans. Richard wanted to create a video he could show to other CEOs in America, to see if they might want to sponsor another village like this one. He said that America needs to see this. I agree. Then Richard led a group straight up the mountain. Then another mountain and another. I really started getting out of breath. Never that much out of breath before. It really showed me how much out of shape I am. The entire group had to wait for me while I tried to get up the mountain. I had to stop several times to try to get my breath. But I still kept gasping for air. Finally I made it to the top. It was very embarrassing. Then we went back to the little village. Got lots of shots of the villagers thanking Richard and the group. Then they all started up another straight up hill. I decided to stay at the bottom with another guy who was just like me, out of shape. The group was gone a long time. The rain never stopped for a moment. I could tell they were disappointed in me. I guess I let them down. We then went to the hospital area that they had set up with temporary shelters. I got some great shots of the medical doctors and patients. Then we came back to the hotel. I am real tired tonight. I sent a couple of emails. Now I’m gonna give Victoria and the kids a call. And go to bed. I hope I can climb the mountains tomorrow.
Sunday, February 26, 2006—3:30 am—Pakistan. I woke up, couldn’t sleep. I am very frustrated about the work here in Pakistan so far. It’s just been convoys. A giant crowd following Richard who seems a lot like “Fitzcarraldo” to me. He runs from mountain to mountain then doesn’t stop. No one here has given me much communication. He told me at the beginning that it wasn’t about him. It was about the people. So far all we are shooting is the people thanking him for his work. He has told me that he doesn’t want interviews. It’s only about the people. Maybe I am just frustrated with myself. For not standing up for my ideas. But mostly for not being in better shape. I have thought that I should quit. But I am not a quitter. I know that I will not overdo it to the point I will die. I don’t want to be that out of breath again. I can sense and tell that they are disappointed that I am not keeping up with them. They should probably fire me and just have their team take the footage with their cameras. One of their people brought a nice HDV camera. That person should do all of the shots. We will see how it goes. Only three to four more days. I will just make the best of it. Try to get some awesome footage. Try to help these people tell their story. I better try to get some more sleep now.
Sunday Evening, February 26, 2006—Pakistan. Today was a very productive day. I stuffed my pockets with water bottles to keep me from getting dehydrated. It really helped. Plus there were some fantastic Pakistani kids who helped me through the rough times. I got two hours of incredible footage. I think this team likes me now because I never gave up. I just kept on going. Had one time when I really lost my breath but the water helped me. I fell one time in the mud but luckily the camera did not get too muddy. I am very impressed with the performance of the HDV camera. It has been doing a good job in the pouring down rain. Luckily I got a rain cover for the camera before I left. It has been a life saver. Tonight I ordered room service and am going to bed early. I am going to do postcards to the family. The hotel did my laundry. Thank goodness. It’s been a real mud ball. We saw numerous, and I mean numerous ruined homes. I don’t think a single home was not destroyed by the earthquake. Very sad. A lot of new graves everywhere. I am so surprised and moved by the friendliness and gentle kindness of the Pakistani people. Today one family had us over for tea. The children are so smiley and kind. They have the best attitude I have ever seen. So cute. No homes left anymore. But they smile and shake your hand respectfully and they wave at the camera just like American kids do. Cameron is one of the leaders of the humanitarian group from Seattle. He is a real cool guy. Moved from Pakistan to the US after high school. Went to Oregon State. He was one of the founders of a Pakistani-American group from Seattle who spread the word about the devastation from this earthquake. Real nice guy.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006—5am—Bhurban, Pakistan. Yesterday we had a great day. We met a convoy of trucks loaded with 283 shelters and supplies. It was a warm day with blue skies. This was very exciting to see because of the lousy weather we had experienced the whole trip. One thing I did not realize was how sun burnt I was getting. I was getting toasted and roasted. I took some great shots of the convoys and the scenery. When we got to the site, my SUV was the first one in and there was a giant crowd of people lined up the streets. As we entered the village, the crowd started cheering and applauding. I was fortunate to capture this moment on tape. Then I captured them shaking hands with Richard and the entire team. Then I shot a speech given by Richard to the locals. He said he was doing all this because of God. Then I captured the unloading of the materials from the trucks. It was awesome to see the villagers working together with the Americans to unload the trucks full of shelters. Everyone was smiling. I then captured a scene where a group of people from another nearby village approached Richard, and asked him if he would be kind enough to bring them shelters, too. Then we jumped into the SUVs and drove them about an hour up to another mountain village. We met lots of kids. Saw tremendous devastation. Every home destroyed by the earthquake. Then we took some panorama shots. Then back in the convoy, headed back on the road to Bhurban. At one time I felt overheated. Didn’t realize that I was so sun burnt until I got to the hotel. I wrote some postcards and checked my email. I did room service again while recharging the camera batteries. I called the kids, took a shower, and went to bed early. I was bushed and very tired. Today we are headed back up the mountain to watch the shelters being erected. I am supposed to stick by Richard at all times. I will do my best to keep up and do a good job. I think my footage has been fantastic. Hopefully Richard and his team will like it too. They are real nice people. Trying to make a difference in the world. It’s hard to believe these Americans have come all this way to help people they never knew.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006—9:30pm—Bhurban, Pakistan. It was a very busy and life-changing day. We drove up to Bugna Village to see how the shelters were coming. The crowds of workers were there and everyone was happy. Kids were taking school classes in the shelters. We then drove down the mountain and headed North to the city of Muzzafarabad. It’s a big city with lots of people on the streets and lots of cars, bikes, motorcycles, and animals. The city looked like Saigon during the Vietnam War. All the buildings were rubble from the earthquake. It looked like a war zone. The city is surrounded by tent villages. Full of refugees living since October in cities of tents. We drove North to the center of the earthquake. It was unbelievable. Thousands of people in tents. As far as the eyes could see. We saw giant hills that once were villages, now they are swept clear except for rocks and glass and rubble. Then we went to a tent city. We stopped and visited with the children. It smelled awful and there were bugs everywhere. The children were still smiley and trying to have fun. I felt heart broken. Watching children playing marbles in the dirt. It was great to see the kids get excited when one of the Americans pulled out a Frisbee. I videotaped the entire day. I captured some incredible images that I hope I never forget. Then on the way back to the hotel we came upon a bus that almost went over a cliff. Finally a big crowd pushed the bus back onto the road. I got it all on tape. Everyone cheered, Americans and Pakistanis together. It almost seemed like a miracle. What a strange, wonderful, sad, emotional, exciting experience. I am going to bed early so I can feel fresh tomorrow. It will be our final day in Pakistan. Should be a thriller. Might be some hiking again. I have been getting sun burnt a lot. A trip of a lifetime. One I will never forget. It really makes me appreciate life more. I wish I could do something for those children.
Thursday Morning—Dubai Airport—Getting ready for our flight to London. On Wednesday, we had a great day. We drove to a tent city and interacted with the people. I got a lot of cool shots. Then we followed a truck with a live Pakistan villager band up the hill. Everyone was in a grand mood. I jumped up on the roof of a SUV to get the shot. At the top of the hill was hundreds and hundreds of children and villagers who applauded and cheered. They had placards and signs everywhere, saying THANK YOU to the Americans who had brought them shelters. They gave each American a form of a lei similar to what I’ve seen in Hawaii. They had a long, powerful presentation of thanks to the Americans. Then the little girls began to sing. The men formed a giant circle and they began to dance. The Americans gave out some books to the teachers. It was a fantastic, moving experience to see these people from different cultures singing and dancing in joy together. Laughter and smiles were everywhere. Some of the children were coughing, but they looked fine in the school uniforms that were donated by the Americans. The children looked proud. Then we all jumped back into the SUVs and drove straight up the mountain to another village. Then we all started hiking. Once again I did okay for the first mountain and the second mountain and the third mountain, but finally I got out of breath on the fourth. Three other guys and myself were all in a similar out of breath situation, so we headed back down the mountains to the SUVs. It was fortunate for us, because down at the SUVs gathered a nice group of Pakistani kids. I was fortunate to get some terrific footage of a Hispanic-American showing the kids how to dance, rap, and to shake hands. This Hispanic-American had the kids in stitches with laughter and joy. It was a fantastic experience. After about an hour, the rest of the group came down the mountain. The kids started playing tag and running around with the Americans. Several of the Pakistani girls clinged to the American women. They had a unique, almost surreal bond with each other. The Americans did not want to leave and the Pakistanis did not want them to leave. It was a sad departure. We drove the convoy back to the hotel. Then we packed up our stuff and headed to the airport. We made it in time for a 3am departure. The airport had tight security because President George W. Bush was scheduled to arrive at the Islamabad airport the very next day.
Friday, March 3, 2006—11am—London—Our flight came in two hours late from Dubai, so we have to spend the night in London. They put us up at the Radisson Hotel near Heathrow Airport. It is a nice place. I had dinner and went to an English pub. It was very cool. I bought a crystal momento for Victoria, a couple Cuban cigars for a friend, and a couple London T-shirts for the kids. I went to bed early. I had not slept for almost 40 hours straight. I went out like a light. Now I am at the airport, waiting for the plane. I am looking forward to getting back to America. Its been a long week for me. But I can’t wait to show everyone my footage.
Overall, this was a very exciting and moving trip for me. I learned a lot about another part of the world and about myself. It made me appreciate life in a new way. I learned that people are people wherever they may live. They still are families who are looking for food on the table, a roof over their head, and a safe home for their loved ones. I learned that people are strong under adversity, and that children love to smile and play and have fun, no matter what the situation.
Thanks for reading my journal. Let me know if you have any questions about this trip.
Note: The above was taken from my journal in 2006 when I took a trip to Pakistan. Unfortunately since I was doing a work for hire project, I can not ever show any of the great footage I shot to anyone. No one.