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Posts Tagged ‘Work’

Bush-Better

‘W’ made a trip down to Haiti recently and NBC was lucky enough to have exclusive access to his trip because his daughter, Jenna, was conducting the interview for the Today Show.  We could practically walk up to him whenever we wanted, and if secret service told us to step back, all we had to do was say “I’m with NBC,” and they would let us go wherever we pleased.  It was pretty freaking amazing considering I’ve never seen that kind of access to a President before.

Anyways, I just happened to be standing next to him when he was briefly left alone, which resulted in it just being the two of us for about 30 seconds.  Our eyes met, he approached me, my heart rate rose to about 1,000 beats per second, and we shook hands.  The conversation went something like this:

Bush: Hey there.
Me: Mr. President, how are you?
Bush: Doing well, what do you think? (we were touring a textile factory that his foundation was supporting)
Me: It’s good, a little hot in here, but good.
Bush: It is good.  Who do you work for?
Me: NBC, I’ve been working with your daughter for the past couple days.
Bush: That’s great, she’s great, isn’t she?
Me: She is, it’s been a pleasure working with her. She’s a real professional.
Bush: Well, thanks for all your hard work. (I’m guessing this is how he ends all of his small talk conversations)
Me: Thank you, Mr. President.

And that was it.  Afterwards I kicked myself thinking there were so many more profound things I could have said to him considering I would probably never get that chance again.  I could have talked about how his “bottom-up” approach is not actually bottom-up when you are giving the money to the rich textile-factory owners and not to the people.  I could talk to him about how he was the one that signed off on my father making Admiral in the Navy.  I could have had some balls and said, “Mission Accomplished, huh?”  I didn’t do any of these things, which is probably a good thing.  But at the same time I’m pissed that I now have this relatively unmemorable conversation with one of our former Presidents as a life story.  My kids will ask, “Have you ever met a President before?” and I will answer, “Yes, but don’t even bother to ask what we talked about, it was completely insignificant.”

So I’m taking this conversation as a lesson for the future, hoping that I will be better prepared in an effort to avoiding inane conversations.  But other than feeling a little let down by my lack of presidential small talk abilities, the rest of the visit was great, and was an experience that I will not soon forget.  Especially because we got yet another group shot with the man himself.

Group-Shot

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Richard-Dumel-Makes-Announcement

As you probably already know, Wyclef Jean was deemed not eligible to run for President of Haiti yesterday by the country’s electoral council (the CEP), a decision that everyone pretty much already saw coming.  In an effort to stop violent protests from starting after the announcement, and also to make the members of the council feel like they were celebrities for as long as possible, they held the list of candidates until 9pm Friday night, a move that totally ruined Ben and my’s dinner plans.

Waiting-in-the-Lobby

Ben and I decided to head over to the CEP earlier that day to see if anything was going on, and in the lobby was practically every journalist that works in Haiti, all anxiously waiting in the lobby of what used to be a Gold’s Gym.  The gym was confiscated from a drug dealer last year after police determined the building was actually just a front for peddling drugs, and was converted into the CEP just after the earthquake.  Now it houses some of the slowest election officials in the world.

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Ben and I figured that waiting all day in that lobby was a complete waste of time, so we went out and grabbed some lunch, drove out to a tent city an hour outside PAP, picked up Ben’s wife from work, arranged Kreyol lessons for me, and grabbed a beer, all before returning.  When we got back, all the same people were exactly where we left them, and then we waited for another 4 hours.

So the officials came out and told us to arrange around a table. “It was here,” they told us, “that we would be given the list of candidates!”  About 3 dozen journalists, most of them Haitians, flocked around the table, trying to get the best vantage point for the impending announcement.  And then there was a gun shot…

No joke, out of nowhere, someone ran beside the building, shot a gun into the air, and then ran away.  Many of the journalists, including me, ran to see what was happening.  I mean, in America, this would mean the building is shut down, helicopters are looking for a suspect, and the list of candidates would have to be released at another time.  But here in Haiti, the office workers looked at each other and laughed, the police shrugged their shoulders, and most of the Haitian journalists didn’t even leave their positions next to the table.

Waiting-for-the-Announcement

But after the gun shot, the whole idea of holding the results until late at night kinda made sense.  Wyclef’s supporters are extremely passionate, and have been known to get violent.  Unfortunately for them, the harsh reality was that their candidate was just not eligible.  Wyclef has not lived in Haiti for the past 5 years straight, a clear prerequisite in the constitution of Haiti for presidential candidates.  There are no if, ands, or buts about it, so protesting against it seemed futile.

But this debate is what everyone has been talking about in PAP for the past couple weeks.  A celebrity candidate who actually had a chance to become the president of a country!  It was scary and exciting at the same time.  You can liken it to the idea of Bruce Springsteen running for president in the States.  Almost everybody loves the Boss, and crazily enough a bunch of people would actually vote for him, but in reality would he be a good president? Probably not.  (I can just see the campaign ads against him…”Do you really want a “tramp” in the White House?”)

And whether Wyclef’s exclusion from the race was done as a political move because the opposition thought he could actually win, or because the elite just didn’t want a president who wanted real “change”, the bottom line was that he didn’t qualify.  On one side it’s a pity, considering no matter how inexperienced he is politically, there’s really no way for him to do any worse than any of the presidents prior to now.  He would have come in, already a wealthy man, and shook up a system that needs it SOOOOO badly.  It would also keep the international community interested in what is now a pretty lack-luster election, which is now full of a bunch of usual suspects running to have the chance to steal billions of dollars from people who really need it.

Richard-Dumel-Making-Annoucement-Different-Angle

So after they moved us to yet another room with another blue table, Richard Dumel from the electoral board sat himself behind about two dozen microphones, and just as many cameras, and announced what we had all been waiting for.  Of the 34 candidates that had applied, 15 of the were deemed ineligible, and Wyclef Jean was one of them.  That was it.  The entire thing lasted about 3 minutes, tops.

Once the press conference was over there was an incredibly anti-climactic feeling.  It was almost as if you had been on a 10 hour flight, knowing that there was a 99.9% chance that you are going to land safely, but there’s always that chance that something else could happen.  This plane landed, just like everyone knew it would, and then everyone went home.

Ben and I left the CEP and headed back to his house, where we were supposed to eat dinner with Jillian and his wife, Alexis, earlier that evening.  We grabbed a quick veggie burrito and then drove through the streets looking for some semblance of protests, which everyone had been expecting once the decision was made.  But there were none, the streets were bare except for the usual prostitutes that perch themselves on the street corners, chatting with the local police forces.  We headed home, disappointed that the day had ended with such a fizzle.

As a journalist, I can say that this whole election story is not off to a good start.  For me, a Wyclef ticket on the presidential ballot would have made this election so much more interesting, and garnered a bunch more attention from the States.  Now expectations are lowered for yet another sketchy election in “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”  Whose going to win?! Could it be Aristide’s old Prime Minister?!  Preval’s old Prime Minister?! Any of the other 17 candidates?!?!  Either way it’s kind of a snoozer, and means another five years of the same old politics in Haiti, which makes the decision to leave Wyclef out of it that much more depressing.

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We were walking through the tent city in Champs de Mars last week when this woman popped out of this makeshift window they created for their shanty-home.  She smiled for a picture, and then started to ask us what we were here to give her.  This has been a major issue for journalists covering stories, as our interest in them, in their eyes, means that we are there to give them help.

Asking questions such as, “Do you wish the conditions in the camps changed?” or “Do you have enough food to live?” translate to, “How can we help the conditions in the camps?” and “I can give you food.”  It’s tough, because you want to help, but that would make us part of the story, and not just documenters of it.  At least that’s what we tell ourselves to make us feel better about what we do…

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An NBC team just left PAP after a quick, 5-day jaunt covering the World Cup craziness here in Haiti, and it was a great time.  We watched the World Cup on a huge 30 foot screen at the national soccer stadium, checked out some tent cities that are still really struggling, and were spectators for a good old Haitian soccer game played by teenagers on an old tennis court.  But the coolest thing we did, by far, was something that we hadn’t planned to do at all.

The picture above is the eternal flame built in 2003 by then-President Aristide to celebrate Haiti’s bicentennial, which was in 2004.  The tower is located only a stones throw from the Presidential Palace, and has exactly 200 steps to represent each year the country had been independent from France.

But the thing is, the torch has never been lit.  In fact, the tower has been unfinished ever since Aristide was ousted in 2004.  Aristide left the country, construction halted, and now downtown PAP is left with this enormous, ugly, monolith which makes you think they had the Olympics here, until you think about it again and realize how that would never (EVER) happen.

So we were driving around Champs de Mars looking for interesting things to shoot when I asked our fixer, Handy, if he thought we could get to the top.  It would make for some amazing shots, and I had my camera with me which means I could get an updated picture of the Presidential Palace to put on here.  We drove through the gates, Handy talked to the guard, I flashed my press credentials, and we started the climb up the 200 rickety, dilapidated metal stairs.

Once on top the view was breathtaking.  You could see the Palace, the tent cities surrounding it, the port, the mountains, it was incredible.  I started feverishly taking pictures, worried I would never get this chance again.  I snapped the Palace, the people in the tent cities, people getting water from a water truck (OMG, more people getting water from a water truck! *SNAP*)  I went around and around about half-a-dozen times before I realized what I could potentially do.

I turned to the cameraman shooting video of the city from above and asked him, “How hard is it to make a panoramic picture out of a bunch of shots you took?” “Easy,” he responded, “if you have Photoshop it’s really simple.”  Well, I have Photoshop (YES!), so I took one more trip around the tower’s top level taking as many level shots as possible, and making sure to avoid the rail-less edges of the platform.  I brought the photos home, ingested them into my computer, and 10 minutes later this popped out:


(Click on the photo for a larger view)

The panoramic photo is a 360˚ view of Port-au-Prince from Champs de Mars, and it turned out pretty awesome.  The 360˚ part of it kinda throws off your sense of direction, so as a point of reference the large mountain in the middle is south, and the left and right edges connect to make north.  If you look closely at the horizon there are some places where it just doesn’t connect, but it’s still a pretty awesome view of the city in a way that I’ve never seen it before.  As you can see, there aren’t really any buildings taller than the tower, so this panoramic pretty much encapsulates the entire place.

To end this on a slight side note, I apologize for the lack of posts recently.  Obviously with work, and other issues (Olie), taking over it’s been a little hectic so posts have been sparse.  They’ll be back soon, as there’s a ton of stuff going on around here.  Cheers!

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The NBC team I was working with earlier this week took a trip to Corail on Wednesday, which is where they are relocating people from overpopulated tent cities in PAP.  To put it lightly, the location sucks.  It’s in the middle of absolutely nowhere, about an hour’s drive from the city, and there is NOTHING to do.  There’s no shops, no buildings, and no jobs.

But we went to follow-up on a family that we had interviewed two days earlier who had moved there from the Petionville Club tent city.  We walked down the gravel-lined alleyway and arrived at their tent where we found a mother and daughter, but no father.  “He hates this place, there’s nothing to do, he went to the city to find work,” she told us. I don’t blame him.  The whole tent city seems like a lesson in how to make Haitians completely dependent on aid organizations, which seems pretty stupid to me.

But the problem for us as television journalists was showing the vastness of this new tent city, which is located in the middle of a desolate field.  There are mountains close by, so the idea was to drive to them and get a wide shot from above.  Well, we started driving towards the mountain closest to us and we started to realize it was MUCH farther than we thought.  It was almost as if we were trying to get to the nonexistent puddle of water sitting on the road on a hot day which looks like it’s right there, but you never actually drive over it.

We realized that the shot might be impossible so we decided to turn around and head back when an interesting idea popped into my head.  A soldier with the Army Corp of Engineers was steamrolling a road right in front of us, and the roof of his steamroller might give us the elevation we needed for the shot.  I told our driver to stop the car, asked everyone to hold on a second, and in true Tiananmen Square fashion ran towards the elephant-sized steamroller with my arms frantically waving in the air.

He killed the engine and calmly asked, “What’s up?”

“Can we use your steamroller?” I responded while trying to catch my breath, “We’re trying to get a shot of the tent camp down there and your roof would be perfect.” I thought for sure there was no way he was going to say yes, but clearly the Army Corp of Engineers are a lot cooler than the tank drivers in China, as he responded, “Sure, where do you want it?”

I pointed to the top of the hill, about 100 yards away, and he started the engine and drove.  I ran back to the cars and the team looked at me in disbelief, “What are we going to do with that?” they asked incredulously.  “We’re going to get on the roof of the steamroller and get the shot,” I said, thinking that it seemed pretty obvious to me.  The cameraman, Ned, is a pretty chill guy, so he looked at me and said, “it’s worth a try…”

While it was no mountain, Ned made it work and we got the shot we needed.  He jumped off the steamroller, we thanked the soldier with an ice-cold Coke, and we parted ways, now having the unique ability to say that we have used a steamroller as a riser for a tripod (in Haiti).  Beat that!

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Presidents Bush (43) and Clinton visit Haiti on Monday, and I was one of 10,000 journalists there to cover it.  The two went with Haitian President Preval on a tour of a tent city across the street from the presidential palace and chaos ensued.  But we did get the interview!

After about 15 minutes Bush went back to his car as Clinton continued to be swarmed by press and locals.  We tracked him down and got what we were really there for…a picture with him for our facebook pages!

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