Saturday, January 27, 2007

Note to mom: just kidding!

So. Lessons learned today:

1) Tear gas? Not so bad. But when packing a bag to go to a banned political protest, not a bad idea to throw in a scarf (for face protection purposes).

2) The boom of exploding tear gas cannisters? Really fucking scary.

3) Being a person who is supposed to run TOWARDS the clouds of tear gas and exploding sounds? Not necessarily my cup of tea.

4) Dumb luck and following around other people can take you far.

This morning was my first "on call" day at VOA. News, you may be shocked to learn, happens EVEN ON THE WEEKEND. Which is when normal people (by which I mean me) are going to the beach.

But somebody has to cover the weekend news, and today it was finally my turn.

I figured I'd go to the office, make a couple phone calls to update the situation in Guinea, and maybe follow-up on my Very Important Story: Guerillas Eat Gorillas, with the even More Important: Guerrillas promise not to do it anymore.

And then maybe sit by the pool for a while.

Then my boss called. Turned out there was going to be a political opposition protest in Dakar this morning. He thought it could be interesting to report some actual news first hand, since most of what we do is reported by phone.

Why not, I said. Could be interesting.

But when I called a Senegalese contact and he told me the protest was banned, I figured I was off the hook.

Cut to this morning, as I lazily woke up and contemplated going running before heading to the office.

Then I got a text message from Rick, a friend and photojournalist. "What time are you going to the protest?"

Crap. Called the contact: yup, protest is happening. And be prepared. The police plan to enforce the ban.

Then I got a call from the Congo. Our stringer was sending sound for a story, but didn't have time to write it.

Meanwhile, who was going to update Guinea? And what about the gorilas?

Turns out my version of "on call" means calling someone else and making them do the work. (Thanks Kari!) I was going to the protest.

* * * *

Y'all, I don't do this kind of reporting. I sit at a desk and make phone calls. I wander around the trash dump talking to people recycling cans.

Rick was with me though. He'd never done this kind of reporting either, but, unlike me, he has the right kind of instincts for this kind of thing.


Naomi, interviewing a random protester, ignoring what's going on around her.
Rick, surveying the scene.

Suddenly, Rick taps Naomi's shoulder. "Tear gas." And he jets towards it.

Naomi: Oh my god. I should follow him. Fuck, do I have to go TO the tear gas? [Starts running after Rick.] Wait, I'm in the middle of an interview. [Runs back to interviewee.] No, wait, I have to go where the action is. [Runs back after Rick.] Seriously, I'm going TOWARDS the tear gas?

On the scene, there's a major fracas between riot police and protesters. And there about a million journalists pushing up into the fray, taking pictures and asking questions.

I'm... A good ten feet away, holding out my microphone to get some of the ambient sound.

Finally, a few minutes later, the crowd is dispersed. I get a couple interviews with protesters. Rick wants to go back to the office to file his photos. I want to talk to an opposition leader or a protest organizer.

Which.... How the hell am I going to find one of those? Seriously, like I know who the leaders are.

And as I'm standing on the corner, a man in a flowing blue boubou walks up to me.

"I'm a leader with [one of the main opposition parties], and I want to talk about what's going on."

Well, all right then.

So I got my story. It's like I'm a real journalist.

Except for the part where I have any clue how to do any of this. Like I said:

4) Dumb luck and following people around can take you far.