Batteries and Goodbyes to Baby Girls
I always forget how many little details are involved in getting ready for a trip like this -- tape stock, winter boots, wireless microphones, long underwear, all the proper cables. If you leave one cable or wide-angle adaptor behind, you can be really screwed. The frenzied last-minute stuffing of camera bags, coupled with saying goodbye to my amazing wife, Sarah, and our daughter, Ginger, whom I engage in an embarrassing amount of what I believe to be advanced daddy-toddler communication, already has me teetering.
As I am trying to say goodbye, I realize that there is just no way to explain to a 7-month-old that you won’t be home that evening as usual, that you are off for a month or so to join the hunt for a pair of maddeningly elusive war criminals, men who committed genocide and did inexplicably horrible things that tore apart families like ours. War criminals like Arkan (a.k.a. Zeljko Raznatovic), who was a craven self-publicist, partial to holding a live tiger while the soccer hooligans he transformed into ethnic cleansers rampaged. In the incredible Frontline documentary The World’s Most Wanted Men, which aired back in 1998, there is a haunting scene of Radovan Karadzic standing in the hills overlooking Sarajevo with a Russian nationalist poet. The poet standing beside Karadzic, and gleefully looking down, fires sniper shots into the helpless city below. The viewer doesn’t learn where those bullets landed. Maybe one shattered the morning of a mother playing in the park with her young son and perhaps another, like a million other shards of twisted lead, lodged itself in one of Sarajevo’s pockmarked buildings.
Thankfully, all of that is way beyond high fives and peek-a-boo. But now it’s time. I leave our apartment building, which is high enough in the hills of San Francisco to be shrouded in clouds, and hop into a yellow cab.
Twelve hours later, I’m in a hotel room in Amsterdam. I have a layover here that is just long enough to grab a hotel room and soak in a sensory-deprivation saltwater tub. I immerse myself in a cocoon reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Sleeper and float in water so salty it stings my eyes the second it makes contact. It’s supposed to cure jet lag, and I have to say, I highly recommend it. It feels good to be suspended in a pool of saltwater and let go of all the thoughts and imagined scenes I have attached to this story.
“Bosnia: The Men Who Got Away” is Joe Rubin’s third broadcast story for FRONTLINE/World. He has produced and reported for ABC’s Nightline, including his 2000 documentary on an emerging resistance movement against Slobodan Milosevic, which got him hooked on the Balkans. He also produced the Rough Cut “Dark Shadows,” which covers the rise of nationalism in Serbia. An unbridled enthusiast for the possibilities of video journalism, Rubin spent time in Latin America as a Knight Fellow, where he taught digital journalism in Panama, El Salvador and Ecuador. Recently, Rubin’s been working on the Pitch Room, a program in development with HBO. He lives in San Francisco.