Saturday, October 24, 2009

'Suicide House' slideshow

This is another slideshow produced after our trip to Navajo Nation. Arlene Jasper-Begay and her family have been through a lot. After dealing with several deaths, suicides and suicide attempts, Jasper-Begay and her two daughters feel hopeless. Their home no longer feels like home, and all they want is to get a fresh start.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Slideshow with music

First audio slideshow

This is my most recent, updated and hopefully final version of the audio slideshow I procuded as a result of my recent trip to Navajo Nation. I had only 15 minutes with this woman, Rolanda Tahani, and I had no idea it would wind up being the feature of my slideshow. But I felt her story was so compelling, it deserved a platform. Take a look, and feel free to let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aventures through Navajo Nation

Friday, 8:39 p.m. EST (7:39 p.m. somewhere over the Midwest)

We’re more than halfway through our first day of travel. We met at the J-school at noon to gather our equipment and meet our Super Shuttle that would take us to Newark Airport.

We arrived at EWR well before we needed to, and passed through security problem-free. Feeling well prepared and ready to get on with our travels, we arrived at the gate to find our flight had been delayed by almost an hour. And with little more than an hour layover in Chicago, we began to worry.

Darragh called the airline to try to make a fallback plan, only to be told that our flight to Albuquerque was the last of the night. After much panic and nail biting, we spoke to a customer service rep who assured us our plane was going to arrive in time to get us on our second flight of the day.

And it did.

(Good bye, New York.  Hello, Navajo Nation!)

We got off our plane at O’Hare and made our way to the gate. We got there with just enough time to grab a quick bite and board the plane. Now we’re flying somewhere over the Midwest en route to our great Navajo adventure.

And if so far our only real dilemma has been the fear of missing a layover flight, then I say we’re in pretty good shape for this exciting journey.

We’re all eager, anxious and impatient. We can’t wait to get there and hit the ground running. I think for most of us, we’re researched out. We’ve all been reading for weeks now about the issues affecting Navajo Nation. We’ve made phone call after phone call, planned out our days as best as we could and tried to prepare for what lies ahead. It will be so refreshing to put faces to these names and to actually see what we’ve been hearing about.

These issues are real, and these people are hurting. Housing, uranium, coal mining. So many factors affect the Navajo, but so few people are even aware. It appears their government looks the other way or claims these issues don’t exist. The federal government has gone decades and decades without reaching out to help the Navajo. And they’re at their wit’s end.

And that’s where we come in. We want to spend a few days with the Navajo people and hear them out. We want to look closely at these critical concerns and get to the bottom of it. Even if the Navajo Nation government doesn’t want us there (which is what we’ve heard), we’re coming and there’s nothing — at this point — that will stop us.

Next stop: Navajo Nation. Stay tuned.

Saturday, 2:00 a.m. MST (Navajoland Inn, St. Michaels, Ariz.)

We've just arrived at our hotel. Our two-hour drive turned into a four-hour drive, and for sleep-deprived grad students who have to wake up in three hours, this is not OK.

Saturday, 11:59 p.m. MST (Quality Inn, Tuba City, Ariz.)

We've had a long, but remarkable first day. Katy and I trekked through the state of Arizona, and we're now at our hotel in Tuba City. I promise to update you on the incredible details as soon as I can.

Sunday, 10:54 p.m. MST (Navajoland Inn, St. Michaels, Ariz.)

We've finished our last day reporting in Navajo Nation. My partner Katy and I traveled with a man named Earl Tulley.

(Earl "The Pearl" Tulley, our wonderful guide.)

We drove more than 450 miles around the state of Arizona and saw some truly remarkable things. I have taken thorough notes about the littlest details that I think speak the most volume. I also have taken more than 900 photos of our travels.

But right now, we've all been instructed to begin working on our individual pieces. For me, I will be producing two audio/photo slideshows: The first is about a woman named Rolanda who has been drinking — and still is drinking — water contaminated with uranium. The second is about a woman who has lost three family members in the last several years, two from suicide. Depression is a serious issue facing Navajo people, and the issues with housing only deepen their pain.

I'm just so awestruck by the beauty of both this place and these people. There is something majestic about the miles and miles ... and miles ... of rocks and canyons and mountains and dirt.

And there's something so profound and humbling about these people.

(Mr. and Mrs. Tso during a gathering of the Forgotten People in Box Spring, Ariz.)

I can't wait to share with you what I've seen on this incredible journey. Although, I must admit, editing 900+ photos isn't exactly the ideal way to spend the next several days.

At any rate, stay posted. And maybe I'll even post a few samples photos for you on Flickr ...

(Good bye, Navajo Nation. Hello, NYC, home sweet home!)


I have arrived home safe and sound. Our plane landed at LGA around 9 p.m. EST Monday. The jet lag was severe, and I felt more drained than I have in a long time. Darren, Katy and I split a cab to the West side, and although we were all exhausted, it was a nice way to end the trip. We reminisced about our favorite moments as if they happened weeks ago, which is really how it felt. We talked about the people we met and the struggles they face; the bond our small group now shared; and how grateful we are to have been chosen to partake in such a journey. It was truly life-changing. 

Day-by-day details: 


Katy and I met our guide, Earl, at 7 a.m. to hit the road. I didn't have any clue where we were going, and I don't think Katy did either. I knew we were going to meet people affected by uranium. That's about the jist of my knowledge.

We drove for a long time. A long, long time. And for the entire time we drove, only a few minutes were spent driving on paved roads. The other, oh, 85% of the time, we were driving on dirt "roads," if you can even call them that. It was bumpy, rocky, jerky — exhilarating. I know Katy had a hard time stomaching the shaky ride, but I kind of felt it was fitting. It summed up our journey from beginning to end.

During the drive, when I was not dozing off after only three hours of sleeping the night before, I was captivated by the surrounding beauty. You can see the images — on TV, movies, in magazines — over and over and over. You can think it will look just like what you've seen before and expect not to be impressed. That was the case with me. But as we wound through the desert, I was completely stunned by what I saw. The colors: the bright blue sky, the warm orange dirt and the brownish-green shrubs. Unbelievable.

So, naturally, I take my camera out to shoot some photos of the scenery during our lengthy drive. I know I probably won't use these shots for much of my work, but when you have 24 gigs of memory, why not?

It was then I realized I underestimated the rocky ride. As I held the camera to my face and viewed the beauty through my viewfinder, I repeatedly was smashed in the face by my own equipment. And if I was not smacked in the face by my camera, I smashed my camera into the the window, or my head into the window. But I did not falter: I continued to take a beating all in the name of art.

I'm glad I did.

What was really great that first day, though, was getting to know our guide, Earl. I had no idea what to expect of him. But quickly he proved to be one of the friendliest, warmest, most knowledgable men I've ever met. He shared with us stories of Navajo culture, facts about the language and even some traditional Indian food: Hopi bread. Hopi bread is blue corn charred over fire. It's this crispy, thin corn rolled into the shape of a burrito. Later in the trip he also had us try dried salted plums. Interesting.

He also knew his way around that land like I couldn't imagine. There were no signs, that I saw. And there weren't really even roads half the time. But he navigated the desert as I'm sure he has hundreds of time before.

Our first stop was in Black Falls, Ariz. near Box Spring, a uranium-contaminated well. There was a gathering at a home there of the Forgotten People, a group of Navajo people who feels no one cares about the issues they face. They were there to speak to Katy and me.

However, many of the them weren't there because they were at a funeral of a man who died from cancer, reportedly caused by uranium. But the ones who were present were unbelievably open to speaking with us and extremely gracious. I couldn't believe how many thanked us for being there. I was just appreciative of their welcoming us into their lives.

I quickly picked up bits of the Navajo culture, such as the way they greet one another. When they approach someone to say hello, they grasp hands, sort of like a handshake, for a few seconds. They say, "Ya'at'ééh," which means "welcome." (FUN FACT: Literally translated, it means "The sun / there is it is" or "The sun / it's still there." The language is very poetic.)

Katy and I sat inside the house for nearly four hours talking to the people about the uranium situation.

The most in attendance at one time was about 25 people packed into the small room, not including the two of us. The majority of the people spoke Navajo, so everything they said had to be translated. And if they spoke for about 10 minutes, the translation was only four or so because of the structure of the language. It was fascinating, but hard to stay focused at times.

At the end of our stay at the house, a woman named Rolanda Tahani came in.

Rolanda is the owner of the house but was just returning from the funeral. As she spoke briefly to us, I knew she was someone I wanted to talk to for my audio slideshow. I had gathered a number of other sound bites, but her story and the way she spoke were elements that made her stand out.

They took us back to Box Spring to see the well and collect a few gallons of water. Rolanda knows the well is poisionous but drinks the water any way because she has no other method of getting clean water. If she wanted clean water, she'd have to drive miles and miles to a big city to buy some, but she doesn't have a working vehicle that can get her there. So she collected her drinking water as I snapped as many photos as I could in just five minutes.

It was a shame that I had very limited time with her before we had to leave. We stayed at the house for longer than planned, and we had other things on our agenda. So my time with Rolanda was short, which made it difficult for me after the fact because I decided to devote one whole piece on just her story. The visuals of her house and her gathering water were great, but I needed more to beef up the incredible audio she provided.

From there, we traveled far and wide, and ended up in Gray Mountain. We looked at a number of houses affected by the Bennett Freeze, a law enacted in 1966 that prohibited people in certain areas from building new components or even making repairs. That meant that if a window got broken, a resident could not legally fix it. And if he did and officials found out, they could issue a fine or even come in with bulldozers and destroy any changes made. Only in May of this year was the ban lifted.

Stay tuned for more details.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Testing CoverItLive

Sunday, October 4, 2009

First video report

This is the first video report produced by me and my classmate Sarah Tung after we attended a protest outside the U.N. during the general assembly Sept. 24.