Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Kate Garraway's visit to Za'atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

Tuesday 4th June
Za'atari Refugee Camp
What horrors has he endured?
Yesterday had been a long yet largely stress free day simply flying Air France from Edinburgh to Amman via Paris.

I was picked up from Amman's new Queen Alia airport terminal by a burly driver provided by the UNHCR.

He drove me the forty minutes or so to the hotel. I wondered perhaps if he thought that he was a pilot and we were on a long taxiway because rather than drive in between the lane markings he used the dotted line like the centre line of a runway and straddled it for most of the journey.

This would be considered an unusual driving technique in the UK but, here in Jordan it was pretty much the norm where lane discipline was fairly loose in the extreme and cutting in compulsory.

At first I was disappointed not to have been travelling beside Kate because she was travelling on BA Business Class with all its flat out comfort.

When I met Chantal the producer at the hotel for a late dinner I was rather glad I'd been on my own in French economy.

The plane that Kate had flown in on with Chantal was a substitute for the one that should have flown the route. The original had "gone tech".

This one was did not have a proper Business Class section, just a premium section. No flat bed, just a slightly bigger seat.

More importantly though poor Kate had developed a bit of a tummy bug about an hour or so into the flight.

She then spent most of the rest of the five or so hours of the flight dancing doubled up from her seat to the little toilet and back.

She had gone straight to bed when she arrived at the hotel in the hope that her stomach would sort itself out by the morning.

After my hotel experiences in Sierra Leone the other week staying in the Intercontinental with all the comfort of home and a bit more was very welcome.

After breakfast I met a slightly fragile Kate and Chantal in the reception ready to head to the Za'atari refugee camp about an hour and a half drive.

Andrej, Aoife and Tala from the UNHCR came with Shadi the driver to host us on our visit.

We were going to be doing one, maybe two films that would be transmitted to coincide with World Refugee Day on Thursday the 20th of June.
Shadi, our driver
Producer Chantal and Kate as we arrive at the camp
Part of the camp
The road around the camp
First on the agenda when we arrived at the sprawling ever growing expanse of large tents and little prefabricated buildings was to go to the base camp area for a briefing from the "Mayor" of this temporary city, Kilian Kleinschmidt.

This tall charismatic German gave us the mind boggling facts and figures of the camp.

It was, in numbers, now Jordan's 5th biggest city with a population of over 120000 and growing by an average of 1000 every day.

To give each person 35 litres of water a day 350 tanker loads of water are brought in every day with 300 taking out the waste.

The waste is very important because the camp is situated exactly on top of Jordan's primary underground source of fresh water. So, any digging of sewage pits to dispose of the water waste could be a disaster if the sludge was to seep down into the country's already over stretched water supply.

A place like Za'atari needs a larger than life compassionate yet forceful and totally realistic character like Kilian.

His energy and good humour were evident from the moment we were introduced.

When he had finished our briefing he had to go and host a prearranged tour by the Korean ambassador, which was fine.

Then he found out that one of the Jordanian princes had decided to pay the camp a more last minute visit.

He took all this royalty and high level diplomacy in his large stride.

Kilian giving us the briefing which was full of passion
Each and every person that was in the camp had endured some kind of major trial in their life, most had seen close family members killed, tortured or gone missing. Many had travelled for many miles to get to the border avoiding capture or worse by hiding in holes in the ground and scavenging for food.

Our first location for filming was the reception area where the new arrivals are registered, given a small food parcel, some basic bedding and assigned either a tent or one of the small prefab buildings.

Tala explaining things to Kate and Chantal
It was here that we first experienced what would turn out to be the main difficulty in doing the story.

There was a combination of emotions bubbling away in the refugees, relief, fear, despair, frustration and anger.

Many of the people crossing into the safety of Jordan had left behind family members still facing the constant danger in Syria.

They were terrified that if they were seen and identified as relatives of others still in the country those people would have a huge cost exacted from them by being beaten, tortured or simply killed.

So, the vast majority were not in the least keen to be captured on camera. Who could blame them?

Added to that is the general culture in parts of the middle east where women should not be seen at all.

In the first part of the reception are there were a few families that looked ideal to record, sitting on boxes and bags containing their worldly possessions, forlorn faraway looks on their faces. The small children coated in dust from the journey playing with bits of cardboard or just running around as kids do anywhere. Others just sat like their mums and dads with silent tired expressions.

After a lot of asking we eventually got agreement from a few happy, well not really happy, but accepting to be filmed.

I did a few shots in the hot corrugate iron building that they were sitting in. Even then a lot shied away when the camera was pointed at them, held there hand up in front of their faces and the women pulled their veils over leaving nothing but empty eyes looking away from the camera.

Through Tala, our arabic speaker for the visit, Chantal and Kate asked what the people's stories were. They were keen to tell them about the hardships they had gone through and what they had lost both in human and material terms.

However, none of them were remotely interested in doing anything on camera.

Andrej beside Kate in the registration area
At the area where the official registration takes place we did manage to get a very lovely yet extremely nervous young woman to talk to us.

We had to convince her that it would only be the back of her head that would be seen and to do that I had to show her the shot with Chantal sitting in her position.

There was another problem, very minor but cultural rather than born of fear.

She was very quietly spoken and I needed to give her, a personal cabled microphone which would be clipped somewhere near the top of her clothing.

I was not allowed to do it. Talla had to put it on because, as a man I could not touch this woman anywhere at all.

A very different situation from some women who are quite happy to let sound recordists and cameramen rummage around in their underwear to try and clip microphones and hide the microphone packs.
Doing the interview with the nervous lady
When we had done that interview, which was pretty good, with the lady conveying all the fear and worry that she had gone through, we went to an area of the camp where some of the new tents were being put up.
People waiting for tents
I got busy shooting some of the residents of the camp rather expertly erect a couple of the big white tents with big blue letters UNHCR on it along with the logo.

This area of the camp was not inhabited by much more than a few. However, it did not take long for a little crowd to accumulate around us.

This crowd was in the main kids. They did what kids do all over the world when they see a camera and that is get in front of it.

A few, usually the smaller ones tugged at my trousers. Once they got my attention would motion for me to take pictures of them or say “one dinar” rubbing their thumb and first fingers together in the universal sign for money.

Much as we would all have liked to give them more than one dinar if we had it would have been a sure way to start a stampede and child driven riot.

A Japanese crew had induced such an almost uncontrollable bout of riotous hysteria when, very much against the sensible advice, thrown out a few footballs.

The kids went mad kicking each other to get their hands on one of the balls only to have another bigger, older or stronger kid kick it out of their hands. So it went on until calm was restored.

Rather larger and potentially much more dangerous riots are often just waiting to happen.

With all the frustrations and emotions not far from the surface it does not take much to kick something off.

As well as these boisterous youngsters there were a few much older boys and a few men in the crowd.

Some were quietly putting forward some cause for complaint about the conditions or speed that things were happening whilst others just went into a loud and slightly aggressive rant.

Being surrounded by twenty or thirty guys not in the best of moods is not good for obvious reasons. There is potential for that group to turn very nasty very quickly.

The problem is then that help might not be quick at coming if it comes at all.

The Jordanian police are certainly visible in riot gear and well equipped armoured cars outside the camp, but they rarely venture inside.

In effect this city of 120000 in 5 square miles is as lawless as the towns of the old American Wild West.

Although we certainly never felt under any direct threat of violence and none of the vitriol was aimed at us, as soon as a crowd started to grow and there were a few expressing their anger it was time to politely yet swiftly retreat to another area before anything kicked off.

Prevention is always better than any cure.

In the base camp area there is a real haven of peace and normality. It is a cafe called Umidad. That was where we had a break for lunch of shwaramas and kebabs.
The quality of the cafe was a bit of a surprise
When we got to the French Military Field hospital, which is where the camp’s maternity unit is housed, there was a familiar mantra.

Dr Rashid, the senior doctor, Andrej and Obstetrician Natalie Heun chorused, “you should have been here yesterday!”

In fact any day since the hospital had been in action would have been better than this morning.

There is a small eight bed, labour/post-birth unit housed in under tented complex.

Every day apart from today the place was full of mothers in the late stages of labour and giving birth.

However, much to everyone’s surprise and our frustration there was only one woman there who would be giving birth at any time.

She was not keen on being filmed. Again not much of a surprise really given any one if the set of circumstances she found herself in was not exactly enjoyable to put in mildly.

After a little gentle persuasion she did agree to being filmed undergoing an ultrasound scan if it was only her bump that I filmed.

Natalie conducted what she called a sonogram in a caring and kindly way, giving me all that I needed to use to introduce her in the report whilst constantly talking to her patient in a very and reassuring.

Kate did an interview with this incredible young woman in the room where most of the examinations and births happen.

In a Hollywood movie about life in a refugee camp Natalie would be the ideal star.

It would be fair to say that none of had ever met someone who was pretty much perfect in every way for us.

She spoke fluent English with an attractive accent. She was tall, stunningly beautiful with honest smiling eyes. She was obviously immensely caring, the way she spoke to, and treated the pregnant lady was moving in itself. Her youth belied her innate intelligence and complete understated self-assurance. On top of that she had an infectious sense of humour.

We were all totally captivated by her personality, intellect and beauty.
Posing for stills after the interview..
..Natalie and Kate
After we had finished the interview and various shots that I needed to do mothers started to arrive with their very young babies for check-ups.

One of these mothers was willing to allow me to film her baby being checked over by a midwife and be interviewed by Kate.
Very young baby with mum and Kate
Kilian had scheduled in a time for us to do an interview with him which we had to do back at the base camp.

Shadi drove us back there. The one thing that was going to be difficult to get without going to the expense of hiring either a helicopter or a big cherry picker was a shot to show the expanse of the camp.

All the ground for miles was flat. The nearest hills were about fifteen miles away in Syria.

I had spotted a ladder and suggested I used it to get on to the roof of one of the base camp portacabins to do not only some general shots but also the interview so that Kilian would have the city he tries hard to manage behind him.

I took my tripod up onto the roof. Another cameraman with a smaller camera spotted me and asked if he could join me.

Up he came. He started shooting general views. I had not yet taken my camera up.

Very quickly, out of nowhere a large group of very noisy young kids appeared behind the high fence below us.

This was where child like exuberance turned dangerous, not seriously but there was a real possibility for injury albeit relatively minor.

In a matter of a minute or so small stones started bouncing off the roof beside us.

There was no malice or actual intent to injure it was just the kids being kids in the context that they were in.

So, for Kilian's interview we moved a few roofs back from the fence, out of missile range.

A few of the kids took this as a bit of a challenge and during the interview continued to throw the odd stone in the hope of reaching us. Some did get close.

From my point of view it was not just these stones I had to deal with, it was quite windy up there to the extent that I could hear it on the mic even through the fluffy cover.

That combined with the movement on the roof meant that getting shots of he camp using a long focal length was really a waste of time. It was very wobbly.

After the interview we were given an example of Kilian's skills of diplomacy with a bit of an edge.

We were walking through an area that the people in the camp have no access to when a young boy of no more that twelve or thirteen managed to tag along with us.

Kilian said that he knew him as one of the kids that had been cutting away the wire fencing around the camp and selling it.

He chased him out of the area into the arms of one of the security guards.

I noticed, and I think Kilian noticed too that this boy had some sort of sharp knife like thing in his hand which he palmed into his pocket.

When he had been escorted out of the prohibited area I filmed Kilian giving him a bit of a talking to and then asking him to be his bodyguard.

The transformation was instant the cheeky little rascal's demeanour changed instantly. He now had a purpose. So for the next little while as I filmed Kilian interact with the refugees the boy was no bother at all sticking close to Kilian.
Kilian with the kids, his "bodyguard" looks on
As we passed a small block built building a group of women came out and invited us in to see their basic communal cooking area where they were in the middle of cooking a meal.

Three pots bubbled away on three gas burners. There was one lentils, one with chicken and one with a green vegetable that looked a bit like spinach but wasn't.

I filmed Kate interacting with the women and children in the kitchen and tasting some if the strange spinach like vegetable when it was put on a plate and offered to her.

It was lovely, natural happy stuff.

Another little bit of natural interaction with Kate was when I saw a kid flying a kite and we stopped so that I could get a shot of him.

Kate came over and had a go.

That pretty much brought our filming day to a close. With the exception of no new born babies it had been a fairly successful day's work.

We were not the only UK TV crew to have been in the camp. ITN's Middle East team with correspondent John Ray was also there on one of their many visits.

They were doing a piece for the day's ITN news programmes.

The story that they had was a good one and was the leading the evening news.

In the camp there were young malnourished twins that were at risk of losing their battle for life being cared for my another humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres.

As darkness fell we headed back to Amman.

There was one slight disappointing thing for me. I had lost my trusty hat somewhere in the camp. It had served me well for the last ten years. I got it when I covered the second gulf war as one of he official War Corespondents with Richard Gaisford.

Wednesday 5th June
Za'atari Refugee Camp

It was another fairly early start to the day, Shadi picked us up at 7:15 am to take us back to the camp.

On the way there was a quick stop to get some take away coffees and snacks. This was the main stopping point for many of the charity and NGO workers on their way to Za'atari.

When we got to the camp and after picking up a radio that would keep us in touch with what was going on in the camp we went straight to another Military Field Hospital this time a Moroccan one where a load of people were waiting to be diagnosed and treated for a variety of ailments.

Before we could start work a few formalities and negotiations had to be conducted. A soldier led us into the reception tent which was in tent terms quite a sumptuious affair with lots of nice carpets on the floor and rich patterned fabric on the inside of the tent sides.
Waiting inside the hospital's reception tent..
..whilst Andrej negotiated what we could do
Once Andrej had smoothed the way and we had given over our personal details we were given a free hand to do what we wanted.

Again there was a reluctance from some to be seen on camera but we did get some interviews with people sharing their stories with us.
Some of the people waiting in the hospital
A young girl with her sick niece 
A Moroccan cameraman at work
During our stay at the hospital we got a call on the radio to say that everyone not in a safe area should evacuate to base camp.

This was standard practice if anything untoward was brewing.

There were reports of a little discontent that was growing into a mini riot. My news head told me that we should be going out to witness what was going on so that we could report it.

In the end it was all over very quickly and things were back to normal.

What had happened was that for some reason a few men had tried to block one of the roads with a large boulder to protest about something.

A little disruption had been felt but not very much.

Aussie Andrew Harper is the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator. We did an interview with him up at what is called the high point of the camp.
Interviewing Andrew Harper
As was becoming the norm whilst we were doing the interview a crowd had gathered and were expressing their feelings.
Tala listening to the gripes and complaints as the crowd grows
A lot of this went on.
Again opting for discretion, this time on Andrew's advice, as soon as the interview was finished and he had gone over to allow some of the men to vent off for a few moments we got back into the car and left. 

We went for an early lunch at the cafe where we met Nasser, another of the UNHCR workers. He had found several people and families that were willing to go on camera to tell us their stories.
Nasser giving us the details of the people willing to go on camera
With the help of one of the camps street leaders we went to see Aisha in her tent. She has ten children, apart from two who are grown up, eight of them had made the journey to Jordan with her when her husband had been killed.

He had gone out of their house to run an errand. A gun battle started. He was caught in the crossfire.

We did an interview with her in a tent next door to the tent that they were living in because the family were busy trying to wash the dust out of it and it was soaking.

The interview could have been done in any tent. Aisha had nothing personal to make the tent hers. All that they had at that moment were a few of the thin grey mattresses that she had been given when they arrived.

After the interview I did a few shots of her and the kids continuing to clean their own tent.
Filming Aisha and her family
Thanks to it being a fairly quiet part of the camp and having enlisted the help of the street leader there was a much smaller gathering around us.

This gave us the time and space to do some short promotion spots.

Not far away in one of the tiny prefabs was a large family. The oldest was the granddad, he was blind, as was one of the older boys.

Kate got in the middle of the family group and I filmed her talking to them.

Even though they had gone through many hardships in Syria and were now safe their life in the camp was far from easy.

The camp had been in existence for ten months and in that time had grown into a city not just in numbers but in industry.
Kate with the family, granddad slumped on the right
The main street in the camp had been named the Champs Elysees.

It is a bustling main drag with stalls selling all kinds of things from fruit and vegetables to telephone cards and candy floss to wedding dresses.

Here I did some shots of Kate having a look around at the stalls and chatting to some of the people.

There were quite a few not happy and being filmed and instantly respected their wishes. Some were fine when they found out that we were from the UK and not Al Jezeera.

That was it. We had enough material for one possibly two reports.

Kate was leaving early tomorrow. I was due to leave in the early hours of Friday and Chantal had taken a day of holiday so that she could stay over the weekend and do a bit of sightseeing at the Dead Sea and Petra.

In the evening the Andrej and Aiofe took us to a very nice Lebanese restaurant where we had a farewell meal.

The food was excellent, the sweet smell of apple from the shisha pipes being smoked at many of the other tables whilst animated conversation was going on provided the atmosphere as we talked, exchanging stories of other disasters and conflicts that we had witnessed.

Thursday 6th June
Za'atari Refugee Camp

Mohamed another of the UNHCR drivers drove us back to Za'atari to do some final shots, hopefully of new mums at the French Military Hospital.

This morning it was not such an early start. We left the hotel around eight thirty making the usual stop on the way.
The coffee and snack stop
Mohamed obviously spent a lot of time in he gym. It would be true to describe him as a bear of a man. He was very well built and spoke with a deep gruff voice.
Mohamed in the driving seat
There had been a change of the medical staff at the hospital. Dr Rashid and Natalie had gone.

This time the place was much more like it had been described to us. There were a lot of women and babies around.

Once more there was a great reluctance to be seen on camera. Most of the women only agreed to be filmed if they could cover their faces with the veils.
The women in the hospital..
..not keen to show their faces
One of the new born babies 
Then the only filming left to do were a few more shots along the Champs Elysees. We were only able to film there for short stints at a time because we were not long in attracting a crowd.
The sign beside the French Military Hospital
The busy Champs Elysees
One of the stall holders
Men working
Space for the kids to play
We had only needed to be in the camp for a couple of hours. We said goodbye to Aoife.
Aoife and Andrej
Then all that had to be done was to record some voice over translation. Mohamed took us back into Amman where the UNHCR office is.

Thursday is the start of the weekend.. the traffic back in the city was dreadful
We got to the office a little bit after midday.

Not all the refugees go to the camp. A lot come straight into Amman. They register with the UNHCR at this office. So there were a few Syrians around the building waiting to go through this process.
The spectacular view from the UNHCR office in Amman
A family shelter in shade having gone through registration
Some of the people that go to the camp decide that they do not want to be there so take the tent that they a issued with and pitch it somewhere else.

On the road from Amman to the Za'atari there are refugee tents dotted about all over the place.
Quite a few miles away from the camp
Some are sold or exchanged.
This one has become part of a larger encampment 
On the first day it had been Kate coping with a bit of a tummy bug. Today, the last day Chantal was the victim. She blamed the pasty snack that she ate on this morning's stop on the way to the camp.
Translating the interviews 
By around 6 pm the translations had been checked and I had recorded the voice over in another improvised sound booth. This little construction aroused much interest and amusement in the staff that were still in the building.
Another improvised sound booth
Chantal went off to her own hotel for the weekend to have a lay down and sleep off the effects of the bug.

Back at the Intercontinental I got ready for my flights home, having time to spend fifteen minutes in the indoor pool and eat an overpriced dinner in one of he hotel's restaurants.

Fresh from a session in the gym Mohamed drove me to the airport for the 1:30 am departure to Paris.

The check-in and sorting out the excess baggage was relatively straight forward with just a little discussion about the battery on the camera and whether I would get it through security.

As is often the case my flight cases had to go to the outsize baggage area. One of the Air France staff escorted me there.

The slight, nervous looking young man operating the x-ray asked the Air France guy to ask me to open one of my flight cases.

The security man obviously had no idea what he was looking at or looking for as he inexpertly took things out of the case, looked at them, put them back in, looked at them again and then took them out again.

He went in search of someone, returning looking even more nervous than before.

A few moments later a much more self assured man appeared. He went straight over to my kit and picked up, of all things a bottle of sunscreen.

He asked me what it was and grilled me about what I had been doing in Jordan.

He was keen for me to produce a CD.

His English was none too good but I gleaned from his insistence on me having a CD was what he actually wanted to see was what I had shot.

I told him that I did not have any CDs, but I did have tapes and the ones with the material on them were with the producer.

Another tall thin serious faced in a suit came carrying a small black plastic box then arrived

At this point I thought that it might be an idea to produce some UN documentation. I might not have had a blue UN Laissez Passer but I did have UN travel authority and a couple of UNHCR letters.

I showed them to the first he dismissed them with a wave of his hand and just said, "don't worry".

The serious one then pulled out some paper strips from the box which I noticed also contained four aerosol spray cans.

The Air France guy. kept apologising about what was going on. It was clear that the security were paying no attention to what he was saying to them.

I reassured him that having my kit examined in great detail was not unusual.

The serious looking one then got on with the process of rubbing a series of strips of paper over all the kit and then turning his back to us to spray them from one of the aerosols.

I caught his eye a couple of times and gave him a smile. He looked blankly right back at me with no change in his expression.

Then another two characters turned up. They were younger than all the others but were clearly men to be feared judging by everyone's reaction.

The first of the two had on a very shiny black suit. His black hair was equally shiny and very well groomed, combed back, the hairs in thick straight groups separated in exact rows a bit like the raked sand in a zen garden.

He walked with a wide boy swagger reminding me very much of a teddy boy of the 1950s.

His mate was a diluted version, with similarly shiny black trousers but no jacket, just the white shirt and less exaggerated hair.

The teddy boy gave me a quick up and down look as he went over to my gear.

He lifted up the camera battery briefly and almost without looking at it dropped it back into the case.

"You brought this in to the country?"

I said, "Yes."

He looked at me again, said something to no one in particular and walked off with his mate in tow.

The atmosphere instantly changed. There were a few half smiles and my gear was put back in the flight case.

It had been about fifteen minutes since I had been escorted to the excess baggage area.

The flight was full and I was in the aisle seat right at the back beside the toilet with a woman next to me doing an Oscar winning performance of being unwell which made for one of the least enjoyable flights I've had.

When I got off the flight in Paris to change for the flight to Edinburgh I was stiff, sore and tired.

No comments:

Post a Comment