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producers' dispatches from the front

D I S P A T C H E S

+ "Frustrations"


from Marcela Gaviria

click here for a larger map Our nerves are frayed. We're tired, sick, grumpy. We snap at each other for no reason at all. After 29 days on the road, we're hitting too many bumps. It's to be expected. We have all worked in Third World dictatorships, fledgling democracies, and failed nation states, but familiarity does not make this less frustrating.

Martin is exasperated by the lack of straight answers and the inability to communicate with people. Our fixers speak rudimentary English and questions like "Did you reach him?" sometimes get answers like "Make a left." Yesterday at lunch our conversation seemed right out of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland. But worse. At one point we asked where we were going to meet the next interviewee and if it had been set up. The fixer answers that his mother died in 1992. How did that happen?

Busy Faisalabad street.
Scott is exasperated by the crowds that encircle him every time he gets out of the car to film. He can get five seconds of footage before dozens of onlookers gather round to see what he is framing. The other night he tried to shoot a sequence in one of the bazaars leading up the central clock tower of Faisalabad, but a crowd of more than 50 ruined his shots. If he moved to the right, the crowd would follow like a school of fish. If he crossed the street, they swarmed behind him.

We are all tired of having to sip tea at every house and office we visit. Our social graces are evaporating. It's not that we want to be rude, but it's hard to stomach another sweet cup of tea from a dubious water source after you just had one minutes ago in another office. Nobody will take "no" for an answer. "It's a tradition."

And we are tired of the Elite Punjab Police trailing in front of us and behind us with ominous submachine guns. We come up with all sorts of plans to shake them, but they always find us in the end. There are so many of them. They escort us to the bank and to the airline agency. Everyone in Faisalabad can track our whereabouts just by following these goons. I'd feel safer attracting less attention.

I think I am the most frustrated of the team. The hindrance of being a woman is grating on me daily. What bothers me most is how men treat me ... if I am not being undressed by steely eyes, I am treated as if I am invisible.

Buses on Faisalabad street.
I am unwelcome in so many places, and most of the time I am asked to stay in the car. I've turned into a car reporter. Yesterday, we sat in a modest living room with a father and son who were arrested and subsequently released during the Abu Zubaydah raids of March. Our fixer told us that the son was trained in an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. Fascinating stuff. But I am not supposed to ask questions. I busy myself taking notes, but I am resentful of my new role as team secretary. At one point during the interview, I stand up to hand the father some information about the films we've produced. Apparently this was a major faux pas. It was inappropriate. It made the men in the room feel uncomfortable.

I feel so rebellious. I want to get rid of this shalwar and bloody scarf, and walk about in jeans and a tight t-shirt. I want to be able to sit where I want and shake hands with whomever I want and ask questions when I want. I'm also losing my drive. I might as well be sitting in my hotel room writing dispatches.

I realize that I'm being culturally insensitive. I suppose I am simply frustrated. I haven't found a way to do my Western job in a place that has different expectations for women.


< previous dispatch  +  next dispatch >

London
(Aug. 13-14)

Zubaydah Is Dead
13 August, London

Armchair Jihadists
14 August, London

Gulf of Oman
(Aug. 15-21)

Faces at a Dubai Mall
15 August, Dubai, U.A.E.

HMCS Algonquin
16 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

On Board the Algonquin
17-18 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

Like an Elephant Chasing a Mouse
17-18 August, Gulf of Oman

Dubai to Karachi
20 August

A Firehose of Information
20-21 August, Dubai - Muscat - Chennai

Pakistan
(Aug. 22-29)

Old Hash
22 August, Islamabad

Nuclear Neighbors
22-23 August, Islamabad

We Believe in God
24 August, Islamabad

Paranoid in Peshawar
27 August, Peshawar

Bombs or Dust Devils
27-28 August, Peshawar

Rumors and Half Truths
28 August, Peshawar

Pakistan Border Lands
(Aug. 30-Sept. 4)

On the Road to Chitral
30 August, Dir Khas

Prisoners' Dilemma
31 August, Dir

In the Northwest Frontier
30-31 August, Dir

Border Town
2 September, Chitral to Arandu

Don't Go to Timargarha
1-2 September, Drosh to Timargarha

An American Informer
3-4 September, Peshawar

Pakistan
(Sept. 5-23)

Road to Nowhere
7 September, Islamabad to Faisalabad

Faisal Town
7 September, Faisalabad

+ Frustrations
9 September, Faisalabad

The Plight of Women
10 September, Faisalabad

A Little Noticed Gun Battle
10-13 September, Lahore-Karachi

The Madrassa
14 September, Akora Khattak

The Next Big Get
20 September, Karachi - Islamabad

A Circle of Trust
21 September, Islamabad

Indomitable
23 September, Islamabad

Saudi Arabia
(Sept. 24-Oct. 2)

Inside the Kingdom
24-25 September, Riyadh

My Baffling Question
27 September, Unizah-Buraydah

An Obedient Dissident
27 September, Buraydah

An Audience with the Crown Prince
2 October, Riyadh

Yemen
(Sept. 25-Oct. 10)

Arriving in Yemen
25-26 September, Sana'a

The Wedding Party
27 September, Sana'a

A Talking Drug
28 September, Sana'a

The World's Most Ancient Skyscrapers
3 October, Sana'a

Americans Are Vampires
7 October, Sana'a

Waiting for Rahma
9 October, Sana'a

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