When you’ve seen things

Blog, Video Production


I know this particular post will come off as a bit melancholic, perhaps even brash in places, despite my best efforts to edit and compose myself. I’m trying with great effort to simultaneously be as honest as possible but at the same time uphold a certain dignified image for my blogger-filmmaker-persona.

Since coming back from my film-making expedition for work, the Syrian border in Turkey, since being a bit more in tune with the unfolding of international crises, I’ve not quite been myself. Granted it’s only been a couple of weeks since I landed safely in Heathrow, and granted too that work has been absolutely hectic. Even so I notice a creeping sensation in my fingers and bones that the guy who stepped off that plane was not the same guy who stepped on.

Increasingly I feel cut off from people. The more I check death tolls on the news the more sickly and nauseated  I feel. Where possible in social situations I do my best to fade out of sight and disappear as quickly as possible. It’s Ramadan and in the evenings, no matter how devout, everyone gathers for tarawi prayers. As much as it is a spiritual occasion, it’s also a great time to catch up with people and exchange stories about how difficult or easy fasting has been going. Despite the lighthearted merriment of the time, I look forward to getting away lest I should bump into someone and have to explain uncomfortably about my time away for work.

The thing of it is is that I could quite easily just evade questions with polite if slightly curt answers, and yet it’s just the ‘Salaam, how you doing bro?’ that I dread.

I’m no soldier. Nor do I have aspirations of being one. And the things I actually saw with my own eyes when I was away for work, they were quite tame really. So I’m not traumatised. I haven’t come back with PTSD. At least I don’t think so. But the people I met, and their stories that I heard… those linger in my mind and when I fail to distract myself, the memories of their faces come back. It’s quite a fascinating phenomena actually. I’ve never felt like this before. Though I doubt many of them will really remember me (having your face stuck behind a camera does that to people) I still feel inextricably a component or a part of their suffering. Not their actual suffering, but the effort to share it, rather. Like a limb or at least a digit to a greater body.

In the same way, I’ve had a stirring in me, a feeling of fondness and admiration for the journalists who risk their lives, who sacrifice their time and mental health to make sure the oppressed are not forgotten. When such important and significant things are taking place in the world, they are there to document it honestly. If they don’t then the rest of us will be spoon fed lies by those who find it in their interests to hurt and harm people. So maybe it’s when I meet ‘civilians’ (and don’t get me wrong, I am as civilian as it gets) when I meet civilians I feel an urge to avoid idle chat, to make sure if I expend any of my breath it’s for the cause of kids like Mona, and Wiyam, and Mustafa, who had their parents ripped from them unjustly. No… I don’t think it’s anything so noble.

I think what it is, is I’m still trying to work through my mind the things I saw, and I don’t know what I’d want to say if someone asked me ‘so how was it?’. I’ve been in the situation a few times. One time I said ‘yeah it was good’. Once I said ‘it was an eye opener’. Each answer more frustrating to myself than the last because I know that the experience can’t be summarised into a few casual words, and I can’t make the person I’m speaking to feel exactly what I felt when I met those children.

But that’s what my film is for. I articulate myself in my main medium of expression, and that’s film making. I’m not under any pretenses that I’m a genius or masterful film-maker, I know everyday I learn and improve; but the films I made with my colleagues are really the only way I’ll really be able to share a taste of the experience.

And I think with that, I look forward to the next visit. To the next field trip; to collect the images and sounds, of those in need. So that when people ask me ‘how was it?’ I point them towards a link and tell them to watch that. And with it I might make some tangible difference in the world. I should hope my vocation be so magnanimous…

I think that this is part of the sacrifice, no matter how small, of being a journalist, or documentary or film maker, of these issues. That you do your best to deal with the aftermath of seeing and hearing things most people will never see or hear.

The film: http://vimeo.com/100161862

Follow me on Twitter 🙂 https://twitter.com/SafiyyahsDad


2 thoughts on “When you’ve seen things

  1. It is very frustrating and painful when words cannot summon up the experience or situation. Being a witness to others suffering has an unique aftertaste. This may be an awkward way to describe it, but no better explanation comes to my mind. Thanks for sharing


    1. Thanks Irma for reading and sharing your thoughts. Yes I still don’t think I’ve quite figured it out yet. Please do let me know if you have any ways of coping.

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