Sunday, February 28, 2010

No Straight Lines Before June

It's time to get back on the bike again, as I haven't been in the saddle since I dismounted my Cervelo back in August during Ironman.  At that time I handed my bike off to a race volunteer and quietly bid it good riddance after spending so many long months it it. 

My yearly bike training always starts with the same routine; working through Troy Jacobson's Spinerval training DVDs.  I've found that there is nothing better to get you to come out crazy-strong in the Springtime than the Competition Spinerval series coupled with some work in the weight room. Of course the issue is that once I finally do get on the road my bike handling skills are rubbish.  I'm able to maintain some very high wattage but can't ride in a straight line until June.  Let the adventure begin.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Editing For The Future

A little girl in the hospital in Cange, Haiti.   An average shot that I spent some time editing, and  now think is fairly presentable. 

I've been photo-editing for the past 24 hours or so, playing with an Apples Aperture upgrade from 1.5 to 3.0.  It's a nifty piece of software that lets me do things within my editing capabilities, and while I have Adobe's Photoshop, it's just bigger and more robust that I really need. It's been exciting to walk through so many photographs, to venture backwards in time and remember people and places through some of the shots that I'm revisiting. 

Photography is doing exactly what I hoped it would do, documenting the things that I've seen and people that I've met along my path of travel.  In my past life I never took a single photograph or came home with any memorabilia; twenty years of traveling the globe and I had little to show for it other than memories and some good bar stories.  Now that I'm shooting my children and grandchildren will be able to look at some of my shots and see the same things that I did, stand where I stood, and feel the same emotions of the moment. This makes me happy.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Finding My Feet

I saw this shot and of a girl on the streets of Port-au-Prince and it absolutely floored me

Today was the first time that I've ever come directly home from a deployment to a third-world country, as the normal practice is to spend a day or so someplace decompressing before you introduce yourself back home to your family.  I landed in Miami airport today, directly from Port-au-Prince, and the first thing that I noticed is that it smelled of perfume, a foreign smell to most parts of Haiti these days. 

Even after arriving in Atlanta I had an overwhelming sense of un-balance, a feeling of being overwhelmed and even foreign.  I know that after I get a full-night's sleep that I'll be better in the morning, but in the meantime I'm continuing to try to get my feet firmly underneath me.

Happy Birthday to my 6-year old son today!!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The cathedral in Port-au-Prince; the destruction is immense.  Worshipers are camped out around the building throughout the day and night, although I'm uncertain what they pray for.

We've been having a lot of aftershocks lately. I'm not a seismologist, so I can't say for certain that's what they are, but they seem to come at night and violently rip you from your sleep.  Night after night they've been getting stronger and stronger making me consider things before I go to sleep at night, like do I have a clear path to the door?  How many steps is it to the exit, and what if anything should I bring with me?  What are the alternate ways to outside and how do I get to them? I've seen too many flattened buildings, to include hotels, not to have these weigh heavily on my mind.

I leave on Thursday morning.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fist-Bumps and Missing Teeth

A long day today, I spent most of it in a hospital west of the city looking at a variety of post-earthquake patients who had lost limbs.  One little boy in particular captured my attention.  He had recently lost his right leg above the knee and was learning to use his new crutches.  From what I could gather he had lost all of his family; he was 9-years old and alone in the world. I saw him and we immediately bonded, he awkwardly shuffled his crutches around so he could return my fist-bump.  He got it done; his name was Sebastian. 

As we stood there side-by-side in the sticky Haitian heat; he looked up at me and smiled, he was missing his two front teeth. I took comfort in the fact that they fell out naturally and finally there was something that was not a result of the earthquake.  I remember thinking, if there were any kid that I would adopt and take away from this place it would be my resilient little hero balancing on a set of crutches next to me.  My thoughts went back to the starfish parable; I can save this one.

In the end, we exchanged fist-bumps and toothless smiles.  I silently said a little blessing wishing Sabastian well and walked away.  I want to go home.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Not Soon To Forget

I spent the morning in a 77,000-man tent city that was occupying what used to be a country club golf course.  The irony of the once manicured lawns now housing Haiti's most desperate was not lost on me.

To describe what a tent city is like is next to impossible, at least for me and my limited literary skills.  The heat was unbearable as we struggled up hill after hill making our way down tiny alleys between the makeshift dwellings constructed of plastic tarps, dirty sheets, and sticks. Children played in the filth and dust as parents sold packs of gum or candy in front of their "tents".  Inside, behind the plastic, were the family's entire possessions; a mud-covered mattress, a handful of dented pots, and some soiled blankets. 

The smell of rotting garbage, urine, and human and animal feces all combined in the baking Haitian sun to form an oder like nothing I've ever experienced in my lifetime.  Flies picked at my face and body until I couldn't take it anymore, and I certainly didn't want to think about were the flies had just come from. The children smiled but the adults mumbled the same pleas for help over and over, reaching out to you with dirty, emaciated fingers trying to touch your arm to get your attention.  This is a degree of misery that I've never seen before, and have vowed to not soon forget.  No words that I can craft are capable of describing the human suffering witnessed today. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Photogs Up Close

 One of the really good things that has come out of my experience in Haiti is that I've had the opportunity to mingle with and observe dozens of professional photojournalists.  These guys and gals go out every day and document the thousands of stories, and then come back to the hotel and sit around the bar selecting, editing, and sending their work around the world.  It's been an unbelievable opportunity and privilege to watch this process up close.

As I sit here there are several photogs looking over their day's shots on small MacBooks, and editing in Photoshop.  They're serious and pensive within the process, and once the work is fed they grab a beer and relax for the remainder of the evening.  The ever-present question is how long they should stay, when does the story run out?

Here is what I've noticed from the photog community:
  • Most use Cannon cameras, normally two, one slung on each shoulder
  • Photo vests are for PSDs.  Security ruined the vests for photogs.  Now its backpacks.
  • They all seem to edit in Photoshop
  • There is not a lot of sharing or viewing other's shots, but they will show you if asked
  • Way too much smoking going on during the editing process
  • NGOs pay better than magazines
  • There's a difference between shooting art and news
  • During the moment, hold the hammers down, try to stay in composition and focus
  • All have agents they send their photos through
  • Macs are the laptops of choice
  • Skype gets them back home at bedtime
  • The average salary is extremely hard-earned.  This life comes at a price.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reality Break

 Incongruent scenes in Haiti

There is a film crew set up at the pool that has been filming a local television commercial all day. The scene depicts a sort of goofy man in pool attire with iPod, sun glasses and drink sitting on a toweled lounge chair next to the pool. Given the degree of suffering in Haiti I find the image almost obscene, completely incongruent with reality.  It then struck me that this is how most of us live our everyday lives, divorced from the reality that surrounds us.   We are so wrapped up in our dreams or desires of pool-side scenes, or memories of our last vacation that we miss what is going on right here and now. What a great commercial it turned out to be!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Little Bit Of Planning Goes A Long Way

A man waits in the Haitian sun to be seen General Hospital 

Yesterday was a lot of waiting around, the bane of the security world.  Most of the my productive day was spent at the airport with a client waiting for their Gulfstream G300 to come in from Florida to take them back to Miami.  When it finally landed it was full of nine medical people and about a thousand pounds of supplies.  What people fail to realize is that Port-au-Prince is a barely functioning airport; there are no ground or baggage services. As a result the nine newly arrived medical guys and their pile-o-stuff just sat on the tarmac waiting to get blown away by the next jet that came by.  I had to laugh as it was evident that the group had failed to plan for even this most basic of contingency. I would have helped by my job was to get my client on that aircraft so they could leave... and that I did. When I left the crew was trying to man-handle a luggage cart across the active ramp to load up their 1,000 lbs of bags, boxes, and water as a Canadian C-17 was baring down on them. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Rock Star

Children hanging out on a rubble pile over-looking the street below

I spent much of the day riding around looking at neighborhoods that I hadn't seen before.  I bought a case of Coca-Cola in cool, old-style bottles for $14, and a couple of bottles of Argentine wine for $8 apiece, all of which I thought was reasonable.  Weeks ago a case of bottled water ran me $32! 

Again, some homes are rubble piles while others are untouched.  The locals say that it's because people wanted to have the largest and most ostentatious house at the lowest price, and as a result they skimped on construction materials.  I'd like to say that it's karma, but I believe that stupidity, greed, and ego would be a better explanation.

Another common occurrence was that someone would build a two-story dwelling and open a small store on the ground floor while living on the second floor.  As the store became more prosperous the family began to add floors to the building, many more than the structure was designed for. It was not uncommon for these buildings to rise seven or even eight floors and house generations of the family.

 This shot was just naturally perfect.  I loved it the second I took it.

In my travels yesterday I visited a children's mission where I was witness to hundreds of pre-school and school-aged Haitian children sitting in wooden classrooms doing their assignments with stubby pencils.  I walked in and was greeted by a thunderous roar from the kids.  I asked if I could take a few pictures and broke out my flash.  As I snapped the first shot and the flash fired the kids erupted in a thunderclap of glee. It was not long before I felt like a rock star with all of the cheering and shouting on my behalf.  So this is what its like to be Sting.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Difference A Wall Makes

I'm sitting in the hotel restaurant having just woken up, taken a hot shower, eaten a full breakfast and now seated down in the cafe with a wireless connection and my third cup of warm coffee. Barely 100 yards away, on the other side of the hotel's wall is a massive tent city where there are thousands of inhabitants, living like insects, constructing homes with whatever they can find, washing once a week out of a bucket of muddy water along side the road. At night there are no lights, only dimly flickering candles that cast shadows of sleeping children within the "tents", most laying on torn-up cardboard boxes, covered with a sheet to keep the mosquitoes away.

I stood at the media live-shot position last night that uses the tent city as a back-drop, and could help but be struck at the vast differences in existence; in essence, the difference a wall makes.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

One Little Boy and a Starfish

One little boy sits amid a tent city of thousands

With the immensity of Haiti's destruction, I often wonder if my efforts are futile. A close friend offered the following...

One morning an elderly man was walking on a nearly deserted beach. He came upon a boy surrounded by thousands and thousands of starfish. As eagerly as he could, the youngster was picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean.

Puzzled, the older man looked at the young boy and asked, "Little boy, what are you doing?"

The youth responded without looking up, "I'm trying to save these starfish, sir."

The old man chuckled aloud, and queried, "Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?"

Holding a starfish in his hand, the boy turned to the man and, gently tossing the starfish into the water, said, "It will make a difference to that one!"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Compasionate Moment

A husband sleeps next to his wife's bed as she slowly recovers from her wounds. It's the family members that are providing the vast majoring of the care here in post-earthquake Haiti.

Late at night I walk through the hospital checking on patients as they sleep on stained cots, their family members are laying on the ground next to them. I'm constantly approached by panicked family members begging me in very broken English to come and look at their loved ones. They grab at my hand and plead, "Doctor, doctor...please come. Come please". I fight to be compassionate, but the urge to dismiss their concerns is strong. I follow a "real physician" into the shadows of a darkened tent, a single candle burns on a rickety table covered with medical refuse from the day before. I watch the physician deal with the panicked father/son/brother as it's evident that the cause of his angst was an IV bag that has run it's course. The physician smiles and pats the man's shoulder telling him as best that he can through a smile and a gesture that it's OK. The man relaxes and I'm standing there in awe. Certainly the physician is medically talented, but to be able to muster that sort of focused compassion amidst all of the suffering was truly inspiring for me. Simply awesome.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Making Do

I've been spending the last couple of days working in a Haitian hospital, needless to say the conditions are pretty desperate. There is an army of healthcare professionals that has descended on this country, bringing with them countless tons of medical supplies. Still the conditions remain austere and physicians, paramedics and nurses must often scrounge around to find the appropriate equipment to do their jobs. It's forcing us to think harder, to make due without, and to improvise with what we have on-hand. More often than not the availability of supplies and equipment dictate what procedures we can and cannot do for the patient. We don't run a lot of labs, only those that are absolutely essential. We may not have the appropriate sized catheter or even the next one up or down: we'll make the one that we have work. No laryngoscope blades? Time to refresh ourselves on digital intubation. This is austere medicine at its finest, and it's challenging our knowledge and inventiveness, and in the end making us all better physicians and medics.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Shared Existence

A boyfriend or husband helps a girl place a basket on her head so that she can walk the streets and sell their fruit.

There's a current rush by organizations and companies to get into Haiti and plant their flag, to show that they were here as part of the international relief effort. Some of these organizations treat this as a windfall public relations opportunity, swooping in to grab some video footage for their website or fund raising campaign, and then retreating back to where they came from. Certainly this is not true of every organization working in Haiti, but it is still very prevalent among security companies, recovery organizations, and even some church-based relief. I find this sad in a way, and it angers me a bit, but I suppose it's their karma that they will have to deal with. On some other level it is all of our karma, we reap what we sow, and in the end we are all responsible together.

The Other Side Of The Line

Two young girls living in a tent shanty-town

I've traveled back to Haiti, this time with my camera and MacBook Pro. I just need to get out and shoot a bit. From what I've seen, this city can occupy a photographer for a lifetime. The street scenes are rich with humanity and color, and there seems no end to interesting subjects.

Everyone asks me what I think of the Haitian people and I always tell the same story, that of every Haitian smiles and waves back at you. Maybe I'm simple, but I really like this aspect of the country; it's something that is becoming rare in the United States. The more jaded of the population claim that Haitians only smile if you have something in your hand. Maybe that's so, but my hands are rarely empty so I can't prove the theory.

I can't describe the destruction, part of me actually refuses to even try. The story here is life; the fact that people, everyone, have lost loved ones and still continue to endure. I have to admit that before coming to Haiti I was pretty down on the country and it's people. How can a single island be divided by an arbitrary line, and one half prosper while the other remains mired in desperation and suffering? Over time I've come to admire the people who live and struggle on this side of the line, they endure, rebuild, and move on.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Right Intention

I tell people that my three week trip to Haiti was good for the soul, but I'm now having issues with that statement. It sounds as if I am recommending that people should go to Haiti for their own personal fulfillment or enlightenment, placing the needs of the earthquake victims a distant second to one's own ego. This is clearly not desirable and seems to contradict the Buddhist Eight-Fold Path, Right Intention.

I spoke with a freelance photographer while I was there and she claimed that her goal was to return to the civilized world all but naked, both physically and emotionally. In other words, she planned to give away all of her clothes, luggage, money, and other possessions that she brought with her save for her camera and the most basic attire that would allow her to travel back to the United States. Emotionally she wanted to give completely and wholly of herself until she had nothing left to give, at which point she would board a plane heading home. I stood there amazed at the dedication of this one person, her commitment to help the people of Haiti If you asked the question, What would Jesus or Buddha do...? Yea, that would be it.