31 October 2012

Cayman Islands: Artists for Human Rights (Special Report)

While the Cayman Islands are still a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, the ministerial governing country will finally establish a Bill of Rights Freedoms and Responsibilities act stemming from the Cayman Islands Constitution come November 6th...just 3 years after its conception.

Deborah Bodden, the government’s Human Rights Commission Secretariat stated several months ago that, “One of the things that we’ve said to them is that written policies and procedures should be available...There is no reason," she continued, "that the general public cannot understand what they need to do.”

The Human Rights Commission set a number of artists to work on depicting the various sections of the Bill of Rights to promote an artistic representation of the people.  The Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities containing sections of the Constitution and each one will have an artistic display.But one artist stands out among the rest. Cayman native, artist and musician, Natasha Kozaily is depicting Section 16, Non Discrimination for her piece.

Section 16: Non-Discrimination of the Bill of Rights, expresses the essence of just what the country’s Human Right’s Commission hopes to advocate at the November 6th commemoration.

“Government shall not treat any person in a discriminatory manner in respect of the rights under this Part of the Constitution. “Discriminatory” means affording different and unjustifiable treatment to different persons on any ground such as sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, age, mental or physical disability, property, birth or other status.”

Kozaily’s work shows the face of a woman, a “mother-earth type figure who embodies an ambiguous ethnic background,” she says, constructing “her face of hundreds of small photographs of people’s faces from all ages, sex, race, background, nationality.”

The face of the woman comes up out of the ocean – representative of the Islands.  Kozaily used paint and paper photographs for her medium.

Ironically, enough, Kozaily herself, personifies the multi-ethnic background identified in the Non-Discrimination act. While Kozaily’s mother is of Caiman decent, her father is from Lebanon.  Kozaily says she has spent time in Beirut and has adapted as much of her father’s culture as her mother’s.  Even her music carries international rhythm, with both Latin and Middle Eastern under-tones.  

The Cayman Islands have a long history of welcoming foreigners, as it was largely un-inhabited until the 17th century.  Most Caymanians came from namely English and African Decent.  

When the Bill of Rights was presented in 2009, controversy surrounded the document because it did not include specific reference toward non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Human Rights Watch appealed to Governor Stuart Jack, stating that it was “unacceptable” that such discrimination “be allowed to persist.”  

But Gillian Merron, a Member of Parliament in the UK, stated in a letter she did “not accept the assertion made by some members” that the Constitution “did not provide comprehensive human rights protections for certain groups,” noting that Section 16 of the Bill of Rights aligned with the European Convention for Human Rights article that provided protection under “or other status” groups. Merron said the 2009 Bill of Rights was an improvement on the existing Constitution, which said provided “no human rights protections at all.”

Nevertheless, the ceremony will move forward in just a few days.

The British Territory’s Human Rights Commission was established in 2009 to help educate the public about the Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities in the Constitution for the country and currently helps to investigate violations and breaches of those rights for citizens.

The commemoration of the artistic work holds a standing significance for the artists and of course, for the people of the Cayman Islands and certainly for Miss Kozaily, it's her contribution to a community that raised her.

27 September 2012

from Pioneer Consulting Group

Seven freelance journalists were taken through a Hostile Environment Training Course through Pioneer Consulting Group with Tim Crockett- here is a look at the training. The course included extensive education and application in matters of security and medical training. More information can be found at http://www.pioneerconsultinggroup.com/consulting/

25 August 2012

Moon-Walk: a Tribute to Neil Armstrong

He showed us how to reach for the Moon...and actually arrive.*

Ohio born astronaut, Neil Armstrong, gave the world the one thing we all came to use as an analogy to inspire others. Ironically, he was one of the few, and the first one who could ever say, "hey, I did it." 

He died today at the age of 82. 

As we debate the roll of heroes in our line of vision: the ones who stop trying to fight those that would discredit their sportsmanship and cancer come-backs, those who might fail to reach the Florida keys after 60 hours in the water with Jellyfish stings, those that bring home medals from the Summer games, the ones who almost did...there is one man - who truly stood above it all, on Moon rock and sand and gave us everything we dreamed: The chance to reach the Moon, the stars, the chance to see Earth as a marble blue ball. 

He was kid from Ohio who had dreams of being suspended in the air and holding his breath. He learned how to fly before he learned how to drive. And even before he became an astronaut, he flew 78 dangerous missions over Korea during the war. He was the heart of America. He was the hope of a nation to not just beat the bad guys in combat, but in a race "to infinity and beyond." 

Neil Armstrong was one of a kind. And because of him, we'll always be able to say that reaching the Moon is possible. Thank you, sir. 
*Photo: NASA

09 August 2012

Hazard Training P2 - Tennessee Simulation

It's a chilling thing to commit to training that will prepare and educate one for dangerous places in the world -- but ever necessary when journalists are telling the stories of those who are torn by war and conflict. While one can never be fully prepared, thankfully, there is a way to go in with as much knowledge as possible. So that's where Pioneer Consulting steps in - and for four days, 6 other freelance journalists from around Eastern U.S. and myself took on the grueling task of absorbing security information, travel guidance and became basic field medics in case of emergencies.

Our host, photo-journalist, Robert King was gracious enough to open his home for training and course work. Close living quarters, as if on assignment, provided the best source for us to get to know one another and interact through the week. 

For the first two days, the course was largely academic - it began with stressing the importance of planning and assessing the risks when preparing to travel to foreign places, personal security, working with resources and transportation safety and awareness, intertwined with medical training - CPR, first aid and how to handle situations in conflict. While Tim Crockett, Pioneer's founder, largely focused on security, Chuck Chiodini, a retired Military Medic, worked with us on the medical training. Ironically, sitting in a classroom-style setting for a bunch of moving journalists can create restlessness, but, the lectures provided adequate information and basis for foundational discussions on the role of our profession and the most effective ways to accomplish assignments.

As the Medical treatments were introduced, we were able to experience hands on learning with dummies and each other. Of course, it was always interesting to play the dummy - acting as the vulnerable victim in a mock situation. In any case, the "meatball" treatment for a field situation proved itself helpful and always included assessing the Danger first and ended with talk of morale and who or what was the priority in various scenarios.

Talks even included a lesson in weapons and protection. With seven journalists, it's not hard to understand why we're interested in items that can essentially blow things up...it's how we find stories. The course introduced a number of small arms, their capability and  how to manage the dangers of conflict where they are used -- whether fighting opposition, guarding a post or even celebratory fire. Following was a discussion on the best methods for protection and how handle varying situations.

The second two days involved much more practical application. Day three included navigating through trees and an extension of the property - learning how to find our steps and be aware of open and critical spaces, navigating around them. During one point in the exercise, a shot went off and one of our instructors had created a situation that required medical assistance. We teamed together and worked out the best treatment for the symptoms the patient/victim displayed. And in the end - created a tarp stretcher for all of us to carry the victim from the scene....which by the way, is not an easy task.

On the final day, after a heavy class session on the realities of kidnapping, we ventured out to complete our final test- taking what we had learned into a simulated situation in a "hostile environment." Certainly, we all knew that it was not real and that mindset can be difficult to switch from -- however, it did give us small window to work through a living photograph for some of the obstacles that could occur when faced with a such a task of covering a like story.

While it remains that you can never be fully prepared for anything unless you experience it and each experience builds on the last, it is still important to gain as much knowledge and wisdom as possible in order to mitigate dire circumstances. Participating in Pioneer Consulting Group's Hazard Training was an important experience - even for those journalists who had already been in war zones.

 *bottom photo taken by Chris Asadian

08 August 2012

Hazard Training P1 - Just Getting There

It was just after 1-a-m and my phone was beeping at me, who in the world was sending me text messages? Oh wait...

With one eye open groggy and dry, I fumbled with my phone to open up the message, he wanted to know When are you anticipating to arrive or be in the Memphis area? What, already? I didn't think I needed to be there until 10 or so,....does they need me there earlier? I smirked slyly and sleepily, realizing we had never fully discussed my arrival to the farm - ah well, I was awake now and committed, apparently. 

I fumbled with my free hand for the lamp next to my bed, and sent him a text back, Well I wasn't going to get up and go for another hour, but now that I'm awake... 

A text back and forth about whether or not I could help pick someone up and I was out of bed, threw on the clothes I had laid out and went for the sink to wash my face. The cold water would help me wake up, I decided. It was time to hit the road, it would be a long week, but I had to make it, so off I went. 

Driving in the dark, to a place called Middleton, TN - a farm, ranch-style home, outside of Memphis definitely would involve the off road. In an attempt to help guide me, I received a few more text messages with short-cut directions - which at first sight didn't seem horribly out of the way and could save some time, then again it was 4 in the morning, raining- oh, and dark. Epic adventure already before the crack of dawn, fabulous. I stopped at the said "Flying J" and after a couple more texts with the rain getting harder, I called my guide to clarify. He did, sort of, in low tones tried to explain the roads I should be going down. It made sense, maybe, then again, I really couldn't see a thing.

The rain got harder and more blinding. Semi-trucks were pulling over and cars were freaking out. I was more of afraid of the country drivers than of the pounding rain, so I thought it best to find a little spot to sit, besides, the lightening was so intensifying, I thought my car might be electrocuted by a glove of light (and of course then there would be this cartoon moment when I'd be shocked to a skeleton - wait, that's not funny). I found a little church parking lot and drove up and parked by the building waiting for things to calm down. That lasted 20 minutes and I figured it safe to keep going. 

By dawn the rain had stopped and I was closer to the farm. I passed the street I needed to turn down 3-times due to the fact there was no street sign for the second to last street - I was almost there.
The host of the week was standing at the garage when I pulled up, he looked at me quizzically and I offered a hand-shake to introduce myself. He asked if I needed help unloading, I told him it could wait a few and I should meet the others. I walked in and took my shoes off - immediately the ranch style country home was welcoming and overwhelmed with other mates who had arrived earlier than myself. Only one was missing and on his way back from Memphis with our lead instructor. I drummed up a second wind of energy and made my way around the room with introductions and happy hellos. There was Andrew, Craig and Allison from New York, Chris, Robert and then our Medical Instructor, Chuck. They offered me a cup of coffee, which of course, I just couldn't turn down after driving through the night and we opened up small talk.

After the last class mate arrived, the morning was kicked off and a little grocery shopping ensued followed by an introduction to our next four intensifying days.

27 June 2012

from the rockies to the smokies

you're going, i told him, it will be fun. but it's so early, he contorted. it's good for the body, we needed physical exertion outside the city, one with nature, you're going. off the grid is the way to go.

so off we went, two by two (uh, that would be four), loaded up in my jeep by 7.30 in the morning, hitting the road, feelin' the breeze. we threw on some tunes, talked about apps on a phone (thanks to brian, the expert) and crossed our way into tennessee. the elevation increased, pigeon forge had more "ripley's believe it or not" owned fractions than any i had seen and the cheeky town had a thing for putt putt golf. of course, albie said, he was a champion at the game. we entered the little mountain town of gatlinburg and navigated our way to the opening of smokey mountain national park. tired of the car, ready to get out an stretch, we eagerly looked for the trail-head we had planned on hiking. after a failed attempt and driving a bit too far up, we retreated and decided on another trail. 

after we put on our back-packs and pulled out the cameras, because heaven knows, four photographers who go hiking must keep records of their every move, we decided to get a "before" shot which inevitably resulted in asking a fellow hiker to snap the shot and me, licking my lips and trying to "smile on command" while the click of the camera snapped. the first picture was done and we headed for the map to evaluate which trail would be the best one to climb. 

crossing the bridge into the woods, we began our assent, pointing at the beautiful trees, taking every waterfall-creek pit stop possible. we had come to align ourselves with the beauty of the earth - focus on what existed outside of our every day and that overwhelming state of mind we wrestle against. it was the perfect location, we were putting our bodies in a place where we were forced to reconcile with strength and swift movement. on top of it all, our easy going, awkward and crazy group spent much of the climb laughing over the silliest comparisons and oddities. the poor attempts to sound like david attenborough, the slugs scaling slowly to the high of mushrooms on a tree and rain drops sprinkling from the overhead rock only scratched the surface of our frequent amusement. 

 we headed for "the arch" - which ended up being a steep stairwell underneath the covering of a large rock formation. taking it in, snapping thought-out photos and basically standing in the way of other hikers, we paused and made our way up the steps of the rock, attempting to clear it without falling for which we all joked prior that surely one of us would be the first, sadly indicating we all have bad habits of klutz-ing. after we reached the top of the stairs, the trail started to feel a bit heavier and we could feel the strain of  exercise. but then, of course, the view we had, gaining ground was nothing but a beautiful, breath-taking sight, stimulating our silence. 

at one moment, i couldn't help but pause over my shoulder and take in the massive landscape of mountains - there was no tree line and everything in front of my eyes...just worked, it was so green and incredible. faith asked me if i was doing alright, not realizing how pensive i truly was; all i could do was breathe, "i love it." 

we reached the cove - a large crevice of a rock that seemed to have rain coming off of its top. determined to get just the shots, faith took a few steps up the hill in the slipping sand and shot straight up. brian and i worked on shooting the drops at an angle and albie provided support for potential falling. after awe and admiration, we took a feast rest and pulled out our trail mix, granola, hummus and fruit. we re-energized and re-hydrated. a strange character in the corner was waving his cigarette in the air and sprinkling tobacco in the dirt. reportedly, he had knives, while i never saw them, myself, he seemed out of place and suspicious. we talked to him and listened to him tell tales of native american holy ground. after he left, we left to and made our way back down. the trail might have taken us a big further, but for this run, we were on a day trip and needed to head back. the laughs and giggles and silence followed us down the mountain. 4.6 miles later - we had come to the end and it was time to pack up and head back to the city. 

faith graciously drove back half way and albie picked up the rest - we stopped for starbucks refreshments and overpriced vending machine m&m's - we came up with ideas for cheeky t-shirts and talked up plans for a putt putt tourney. the trip was success, we were exhausted, all ready to hit the pillow, never to wake again and of course, we all had to get up early for work and responsibilities the following morning. at least our dreams would be somewhere far away from the city lights and insanity of a newsroom. i was glad they had gone and shared in my little adventure. i couldn't have asked for a more sacred sunday. from the rockies to the smokies, that's how i roll. 

18 June 2012

Off the Grid...

 Off the grid, I said, I've lost my marbles, I told them. I had worked night side, day-side, back-side, flip-side. I'd had enough and I was going nuts, even my friend Claudia said so only a day before. Couldn't sleep, had to go, I agreed. 

So in the wee hours the morning light, I packed a bag, jumped in the jeep and drove away to a place I'd never been because, well, frankly, I have a habit of doing that. 

Talk radio, CD's and 4 hours of crisp night air, I was on my way and wide awake. The crescent moon shown bright on a cloudless night and a single star hung over it, incredible, I thought. The clear  skies made way for my eyes to adjust and I could make out the shadow of the full moon.The artistry was magnificent. As I neared my destination and sunrise began to peak - strips of clouds dripped blood red below the crescent moon and its star. It was a strange sight, and yet an affirmation of sorts, a moment. The harsh beauty of it made it the most quiet moment of the drive.  

Closer to my off ramp, the sky's painting faded to blue, white and hints of pink just beyond the horizon. It was morning, I was hungry and I could already smell the sea salt in the air. 

I spotted a place, only a block from the sand. The sign said, "World's Famous Breakfast Club," and it was packed. Maybe it was because it was the only place open or maybe, as I found out, they had great food with fresh ingredients. I sat at the diner's counter next to two ladies - middle aged women, friends who said they visited there (the Island) once a year - which was odd considering one of them lived on the other side of the bridge and the other closer than my four hour drive. We swapped stories about where we were from and what we did. The ladies even explained that the reason the diner was so famous, was because the owner catered John F. Kennedy Junior's wedding. Immediately I thought, Jr? Not JFK himself? That's famous? It felt like an over-dramatized stake-out...like Elaine using Jerry's apartment hoping to catch Jr for a limo ride after working out behind him in her aerobics class. But the ladies were impressed, so politely, I offered the "smile and nod." 

After I stuffed myself with eggs and veggies, I sauntered off down the road to the beach, dug my toes in the warm sand at 8.30 in the morning and looked for a place to sit and soak up the morning sun. The surf rental shop wouldn't be open for another hour and half or so and I was ok with a little time to kill. 

I found a wooden swing on the back end of the beach near the pier. I used my towel to pad my back, put my hands behind my head and closed my eyes behind my shades. No one was around, just yet, and the sound of the waves were soft. The sea held the perfect sounds for a morning nap after a fine breakfast a long drive. 

By the time I was ready to hit the shops and look for a board to rent, the beach was getting busier and families were coming out. I popped down the street and visited a few stores until I found a Waves that rented inexpensively and loaded up a board into the jeep. Back to the beach, but of course by then the parking was a atrocious and I ended up parking 4 blocks away. No matter, I hooked a key to my bathing suit and left the wetsuit behind, because this is the east coast and the waves are like bathwater. While the waves were a bit too mushy, making the sufing a bit more difficult, and on top of the fact that I'm just not that good at it yet, it still didn't take away my experience of being swallowed up by this massive beautiful thing - a powerful form of nature to remind me of my humble position in the universe, and yet still Created to be a limitless contribution. The emotion was peaceful, the forward motion was steady, even if it wasn't entirely confident. For this, I was grateful. 

Two hours or so went by, I headed back to the car and ate my strawberries while I rested. After I wrapped up the surf pile hanging out of my car, I threw on a tank top and shorts and went hunting for a place to have a little lunch. I found a deck-top bar at the end of the shops along the beach strip and was seated in the corner on the top deck - looking perfectly over the ocean through the palm trees. A little blues guitar, a few spring rolls, a beer and the hipster next to me smoking "Naturals," - I couldn't help but smirk and think how perfect the day had turned out. I need more of these, I thought. Maintain sanity, that's the only way to see all it through. 

I headed back in perfect harmony with the world. I had made sense of just what to do next. And my tan was getting darker. Ah yes, good day. Hadn't answered a single phone call and well, found my mind. Off the grid...yeh, it worked. 

08 June 2012

Nigeria: Grieving for Answers

A man in Nigeria, whose wife was killed in the Dana Air crash earlier this week, is filing a suit against Boeing and the estate of the American pilot for defective engines and putting his wife in “unreasonable” danger.

The Boeing 727 crashed into a residential area, in Lagos, resulting 163 dead and others injured. Masses of locals rushed to the site and it was hours before rescue workers could get in and start pulling bodies out of the rubble. The fire took time to burn out and even media crews had a difficulty maneuvering through the wreckage and the crowds.

A day later, the Nigerian crash took a unique turn. A dear friend posted on his Facebook that he had lost his sister in the crash, and that she had been on the plane, and among the declared dead.The pain of his loss certainly made the reality of the incident powerful. Watching his grief gives perspective to the emotions many of the victim’s families may be experiencing.

The other man who sued Boeing isn’t looking for money or attention, rather a sense of Justice – because for such a circumstance, it is only natural in the human mind to want someone or something to blame, a responsibility upheld. There must be explanation; there must be a reason his loved one died, even if it was preventable. And perhaps it was not preventable; the crash itself is under investigation with the Nigerian Aviation Authority and other officials, however, if something can be explained, if anything can be given a reason, there is retribution. The human condition is prone to the need for understanding, for reason, for a detailed answer to the question, “why.”

In the end – the families who are speaking out, the ones who are frustrated with the government’s lack of answers and the ones who are vying to obtain their loved one’s body for burial – are simply in need of peace, security and resolution. A pastor in Lagos stated that everyone in his congregation knew someone or was connected to someone in that crash. The grieving nature of the community will take time to heal and while the news moves on, they will stay persistent in their search for answers and strength.

Note: Breaking news is always a rush – when an event happens that changes people’s lives in a significant way, a learning curve always follows. As a journalist, one has to know how to handle being sensitive to the suffering and yet using every resource necessary to cover the elements and facts of a story. The pkg above was filed by Vladimir Duthiers for CNN

05 May 2012

surf and sand

my friend, jett, picked me up and helped me tie my borrowed surf board to the top of his car. the day was warm but fairly overcast. even so, it was a perfect day to go out and try my hand at surfing again. still only learning, i hadn't been able to pop up on my feet yet, but any excuse to work at it and well, be engulfed in the high seas- i would take it.

once we attached the board to the car, he opened his trunk and showed me an enormous crab. the fishy smell wasn't pleasant, but the crab, though dead, had an amazing amount of life attached to it - barnacles and green sea-life that was fascinating. jett explained that he just wanted to show it off to people, but planned to put it back in the ocean.

after a quick pit stop for water bottles and energy bars, we cruised around the neighborhood overlooking the water to see where other surfers were catching waves, we settled near the pier and unloaded. jett's wet-suit was still wet, so he put a bag on each of his feet and slipped through the tight foot-holes while i fumbled for the long zipper on my back. the morning was cloudy. it didn't matter, the breeze was cool and the sky showed signs of sun.

we grabbed our boards and headed down toward the pier. i waded out, hopped on and efforted swimming over the waves coming right at me. an immediate chill went down my spine, the taste of salt, and i was in heaven. for the next two hours, i ducked through waves, body surfed, knee surfed and tried to find my footing on the 7 foot long board. i even forgot to duck quick enough to avoid another surfer's board knocking me in the head...an epic fail, but in the end, i was in the pacific, and i just didn't care. 

jett and i pulled our boards from the water and laid them on the sand, started peeling off our wet-suits and he skipped a few rocks against the waves. the morning was over and the sun dried us off. we headed back to car but not until we grabbed the crab that sat on the post above the stairs.

he dropped me off, i changed into work-out clothes and headed off for a good hour of hot yoga. my friends had been right, the cold/hot and physically exhausting combination was sensational and jett's suggestion to take haley's class was fantastic. 

when the dripping sweat hour was done, i walked back for a shower ready to take on the world...or at least the ocean beach farmer's market.