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The New Normal: Moose in Newfoundland

When I’ve produced stories in the past I’ve always been on location with my crew.  But times in television, well sometimes, they are a changing.  This story about the serious problem being caused by an overpopulation of Moose in Newfoundland was a collaboration between cameraman Greg Locke of Straylight Media in Newfoundland and me in Colorado.  We met via Google. I set up the story and found the characters, he was the field producer, cameraman and sound man, and I wrote the story, did the rough cut and even recorded my first voice over ever.  It’s the new normal. I’m proud we managed to tell an important story about how moose in Newfoundland are so abundant that they are causing deadly collisions on the highways prompting a class action lawsuit against the provincial government.  I wish I had been able to go to Newfoundland to produce this story for HDNet’s World Report but I guess we showed it can be done.  A Canada/USA co-proproduction, with two people who never met and still managed to make a difference.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

 

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A Son Returns to the Agony of Somalia By K’NAAN

K’NAAN is one of my favorite musicians.  He inspired people around the globe with his rousing “Wavin’ Flag” during the World Cup in South Africa and now he has written a powerful op-ed piece for the New York Times about a journey he took home to his native Somalia.  It’s an urgent call to action in case we are forgetting the famine already.

A Son Returns to the Agony of Somalia

By K’NAAN
K’Naan is a musician and poet.

MOGADISHU, Somalia

ONE has to be careful about stories. Especially true ones. When a story is told the first time, it can find a place in the listener’s heart. If the same story is told over and over, it becomes less like a presence in that chest and more like an X-ray of it.

The beating heart of my story is this: I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. I had a brief but beautiful childhood filled with poetry from renowned relatives. Then came a bloody end to it, a lesson in life as a Somali: death approaching from the distance, walking into our lives in an experienced stroll.

At 12 years old, I lost three of the boys I grew up with in one burst of machine-gun fire — one pull from the misinformed finger of a boy probably not much older than we were.

But I was also unusually lucky. The bullets hit everyone but me.

Luck follows me through this story; so does my luckless homeland. A few harrowing months later, I found myself on the last commercial flight to leave Somalia before war closed in on the airport. And over the years, fortune turned me into Somalia’s loudest musical voice in the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, my country festered, declining more and more. When I went on a tour of 86 countries last year, I could not perform in the one that mattered most to me. And when my song “Wavin’ Flag” became the theme song for the World Cup that year, the kids back home were not allowed to listen to it on the airwaves. Whatever melodious beauty I found, living in the spotlight, my country produced an opposing harmony in shadows, and the world hardly noticed. But I could still hear it.

And now this terrible year: The worst famine in decades pillages the flesh of the already wounded in Somalia. And the world’s collective humanitarian response has been a defeated shrug. If ever there was a best and worst time to return home, it was now.

So, 20 summers after I left as a child, I found myself on my way back to Somalia with some concerned friends and colleagues. I hoped that my presence would let me shine a light into this darkness. Maybe spare even one life, a life equal to mine, from indifferently wasting away. But I am no statesman, nor a soldier. Just a man made fortunate by the power of the spotlight. And to save someone’s life I am willing to spend some of that capricious currency called celebrity.

We had been told that Mogadishu was still among the most dangerous cities on the planet. So it was quiet on the 15-seat plane from Nairobi. We told nervous jokes at first, then looked to defuse the tension. The one book I had brought was Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.” I reached a chapter titled “Hunger Was Good Discipline” and stopped. That idea needed some contemplation. The very thing driving so many from their homes in Somalia was drawing me back there. I read on. Hemingway felt that paintings were more beautiful when he was “belly-empty, hollow-hungry.” But he was not speaking of the brutal and criminally organized hunger of East Africa. His hunger was beautiful. It made something of you. The one I was heading into only made ashes of you.

By now, the ride was bumpy. We were flying low, so I could see Baraawe and Merca, beauties of coastal towns that I had always dreamed of visiting. The pilot joked that he would try to fly low enough for my sightseeing, but high enough to avoid the rocket-propelled grenades.

FOR miles along that coast, all you see are paint-like blue water, beautiful sand dunes eroding, and an abandoned effort to cap them with concrete. Everything about Somalia feels like abandonment. The buildings, the peace initiatives, the hopes and dreams of greatness for a nation.

With the ocean to our backs, our wheels touch down in Mogadishu, at the airport I left 20 years before to the surround-sound of heavy artillery pounding the devil’s rhythm. Now there is an eerie calm. We clear immigration, passing citizens with AK-47’s slung over their shoulders.

It’s not a small task to be safe in Mogadishu. So we keep our arrival a secret until after we ride from the airport to the city, a ride on which they say life expectancy is about 17 minutes if you don’t have the kind of security that has been arranged for me.

Over breakfast at a “safe house,” I update my sense of taste with kidney and anjera (a bread), and a perfectly cooled grapefruit drink. Then we journey onto the city streets. It’s the most aesthetically contradictory place on earth — a paradise of paradox. The old Italian and locally inspired architecture is colored by American and Russian artillery paint. Everything stands proudly lopsided.

And then come the makeshift camps set up for the many hungering displaced Somalis. They are the reason I am here. If my voice was an instrument, then I needed it to be an amplifier this time. If my light was true, then I needed it to show its face here, where it counts. Nothing I have ever sung will matter much if I can’t be the mouth of the silenced. But will the world have ears for them, too?

I find the homeless Somalis’ arms open, waiting for the outside world and hoping for a second chance into its fenced heart. I meet a young woman watching over her dying mother, who has been struck by the bullet of famine. The daughter tells me about the journey to Mogadishu — a 200-mile trek across arid, parched land, with adults huddling around children to protect them first. This mother refused to eat her own food in order to feed abandoned children they had picked up along the way. And now she was dying because of that.

The final and most devastating stop for me was Banadir Hospital, where I was born. The doctors are like hostages of hopelessness, surrounded and outnumbered. Mothers hum lullabies holding the skeletal heads of their children. It seems eyes are the only ornament left of their beautiful faces; eyes like lanterns holding out a glimmer of faint hope. Volunteers are doing jobs they aren’t qualified for. The wards are over-crowded, mixing gun wound, malnutrition and cholera patients.

Death is in every corner of this place. It’s lying on the mattresses holding the tiny wrists of half-sleeping children. It’s near the exposed breasts of girls turned mothers too soon. It folds in the cots, all-knowing and silent; its mournful wind swells the black sheets. Here, each life ends sadly, too suddenly and casually to be memorialized.

In this somber and embittered forgotten place, at least they were happy to see I had come.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see Vicky’s photographs from Africa visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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New BeadforLife Party Video

We have just completed BeadforLife’s new party video. If you are not familiar with BeadforLife and the wonderful work this NGO does for women in Uganda go to http://beadforlife.org. BeadforLife is an income generating project which creates a circle of connection and compassion between women around the globe and women in Uganda who are trying to lift their families out of extreme poverty. Women in the slums of Kampala roll beads out of recycled paper and women in North America and Europe sell them. The money is returned to Uganda to help women care for their families, provide food, shelter, health care and education. BeadforLife has also launched an initiative in war torn Northern Uganda where women gather shea nuts for shea butter which is used in cosmetics. BeadforLife also offers a curriculum for middle and high school students to raise awareness and get them engaged in the fight to end extreme poverty.


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K’Naan: Waving Flag’s Backstory

I love backstories. I love looking behind the scenes at inspirations and motivations that lead to great creativity. Here’s musician and artist K’Naan’s story in his own words on BBC Radio about what led to his epic song “Waving Flag,” which became a rallying cry for earthquake stricken Haiti, and then a joyous anthem for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2010/08/100811_knaan_nh_sl.shtml?s

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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We are the World (Cup)

Sad to see the United States go down to Ghana in the 2010 FIFA World Cup but also glad to see Africa still in the game. The energy in the streets of Kampala was amazing while we were there. People would crowd outside of bars and stare through the windows of stores to watch the tiny televisions tuned in to the games. I’m sure they’re proud to have a team still in the hunt. This song was playing during every commercial break in Uganda’s World Cup coverage. It featured a little animated African boy drinking Coca-Cola. I like the full length celebration mix. A rousing anthem to keep me in the spirit even if the trophy is not for America (this year.) Love how the world can put aside its differences and come together for soccer. Thanks K’Naan for the rousing anthem.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Favorite Friends I’ve Never Met

Several of my friends and even my family think social networking is a waste of time.  They won’t Facebook, Twitter or read blogs and can’t really understand what I get from it.  I’ve found the most vehement opposition from my tango dancing mother and my friends who are cyclists.  These are not ladies who exercise casually, but rather women who compete on the dance floor, do 100 mile bike rides in the Rockies and think it’s fun to race up Mt. Diablo in Northern California.  Their buff bodies speak to their passion.  My flying fingers speak to mine.  They are my bricks and mortar relationships.  But because of social networking I have a new circle of virtual friends who I enjoy and respect, even though we have never met or for that matter, may never meet. 

First there is Susan MacCaulay.  She is a Canadian living in Dubai.  I stumbled across her website Amazing Women Rock (http://amazingwomenrock.com) when it was quite new.  What seems to have started out as a place to go for moderate Muslim women has morphed into something much larger and universal.  She is a champion of women around the world and has a large following now.  The first thing you notice about her is her passion for pink, her platinum blonde hair and her trendy get ups.  On one occasion she turned the camera on herself in a Riyadh hotel room and talked about how strange it was being a woman on a road trip to Saudi Arabia.  Then she posted it on YouTube and endured the threats from those who felt they were disrespected.  She has an elderly and opinionated mother who she adores somewhere back in Canada who reminds me of David Lettermen’s mom.  I am such a fan of hers I even contemplated a trip to Africa through Dubai just so I could meet her.  She hollers about injustice towards women and celebrates their achievements.  Susan rocks! 

Second is Dr. Qanta Ahmed.  She is a striking British national whose family came from Pakistan.  What’s interesting about virtual friendships is you often forget what brought you into someone’s universe.  I think I crossed her path doing research on a story for HDNet’s World Report but I’m not sure.  She had written an article about her transformative relationship with a rabbi who made her fall in love with Judaism while she lived in Charleston, South Carolina.  The irony came at the end when you found out she was a Muslim.  She is one of the most articulate voices for connection between people of all faiths.  She told me about her book “In The Land of Invisible Women.”  I ran out to buy it.  She wrote about the time when she couldn’t renew her visa in the United States and had to leave the country even though she was a doctor practicing medicine.  She moved for two years to Saudi Arabia and tells the story of the culture shock for a professional woman under the kingdom’s repressive laws.  Even so, she had a remarkable journey, had great stories about Riyadh and the Hajj, and got in touch with her Muslim faith.  I was stunned by her writing ability.  She has an amazing eye for detail and there was an extraordinary richness in her voice.  I still don’t know how she finds time to practice medicine with so much social networking.       

Third is my filmmaking friend, Zippy (is that the greatest name or what?) Nyaruri.  I met her via email when I needed a fixer for a story on the monetization of food aid in Kenya.  A fixer is a producer on the ground in a foreign country who helps set up a story and takes care of arrangements.  Without a fixer it is next to impossible to handle all the logistics and relationships.  Our story fell through but we have kept in touch through Facebook.  Through Zippy I see Africa.  When I first was introduced to her she was bouncing back and forth between Kampala and Nairobi.  Now she lives in Capetown, South Africa and recently she posted pictures of herself in Namibia.  She is developing a documentary about one of the few women truck drivers in Africa.  She introduced us to a fellow filmmaker named Godwin Opuly who runs sound and second camera for us when we are doing video production for BeadforLife (http://beadforlife.org.)  Even though I have never met Zippy, when I considered visiting Capetown for the FIFA World Cup, she invited me to stay in her home.

Fourth is Caroline Jones.  She actually found me when she saw a story I produced about an acid attack victim called Juliette.  She was so moved she asked if she could use a photograph of her as the foundation for a painting.  Caroline’s ambition is to help others through art.  Her inspirations are women facing obstacles and the book “Half the Sky” by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn.  Caroline has created a body of work she calls Nguvu http://nguvu.artworkfolio.com.  Nguvu means strength in Swahili and her exhibit is this August in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  She will donate 50% of the sale from each work to the organization selected by the photographer.  She also builds boats, has a daughter and is a vegan who blogs about tasty recipes for other vegans.  That’s all I know about her.

Finally there is Karen Daniel.  She is a freelance television producer just like me who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.  She’s loves NASCAR and drives a truck.  She idolizes Dolly Parton and Linda Ellerbee.  She is the kind of person that you recommend even if you don’t know them because you know she gets it.  She’s been described as fearless and like me she wished she moved to New York City right out of college.  She has grey hair and the last time we chatted I told her that models dye their hair grey now.  It’s the new hip thing.  We also have a mutual acquaintance.  I met Ashton Ramsey trying to book Neil Wanless for the Today Show.  He’s the impoverished young cowboy who won a 200+ million dollar lottery in Winner, South Dakota.  Talk about a small world.  Both Ashton and I know Karen Daniel.  Once again, I can’t recall how it came up but imagine my surprise when I’m sitting in a small town bar and we both know my virtual friend.

Of course my virtual friendships aren’t anything like the ones I have with those who I grew up with, break bread with, go to book club with, and take Sunday walks with.  Those are the lasting friendships of my life.  But my virtual friendships are enriching my life and broadening my circle and I’m learning and pondering things that I never would have considered if I weren’t running across these amazing women around the world.  My college friend, Margaret Hoeveler’s mother, Griff, used to say at the end of the day you can count your true friends on one hand.  I think that’s wise but I also have a circle of special social networking friends I can count on one hand and they assure me the energy I spend doing this is not a waste of time.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Some Thoughts on Home

This month’s “More” magazine has a series of essays, by influential women authors, about the meaning of home.  “A Wanderer’s Retreat” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni really speaks to me.  Her writing is flavorful and evocative as chai.  Her story about first loving her grandfather’s home, connecting with landscapes after his loss, then finally finding home in her own heart resonates with the wanderer in me and perhaps would even have meaning for my parents who shared her immigrant experience.  When I was getting ready to leave Vancouver and the Olympics people would ask if I was excited to go home.  It’s a complicated question.  Of course I was more than ready to see my family and be a part of my community again, but I have never considered Denver, Colorado to be home.  There are memories in every house, but I’m not attached to any of the abodes I’ve lived in as an adult.  On the other hand, each time I think of Waa Street and see the skyline of Honolulu, and the lush landscape of Hawaii that’s what fills my soul.  Folks say “home is where the heart is” but maybe as Chitra found out “heart is where the home is.”  For all of my footloose friends and readers who, like me, have moved to chase dreams around the world, perhaps this is what home really looks like.   

A WANDERER’S RETREAT by Chitra Vanerjee Divakaruni

     My father was a footloose man, so as a child I was shunted from town to town in India, a different one almost every year. Our houses blur in my mind. What I remember most is the smell of new paint and the nervousness in my stomach as I got ready to attend yet another school where I knew no one.  Home to me was my grandfather’s house in our ancestral village of Gurap, in the eastern part of India.  To my child’s eye, it was the biggest house in the world and the best (though on returning as a young woman, I realized that it was, in fact, quite ordinary.)

     The two story brick house had a long veranda that looked out on jasmine trees and gardenia bushes.  My grandfather, a retired doctor, was an avid gardener and whenever I visited him, I helped enthusiastically.  Behind the house was a mango orchard that was exciting and scary.  Rumor was, people had seen cobras there– and ghosts.  My days at grandfather’s were filled with freedom and wonder.  I went with him for long walks in the fields of mustard flowers and listened at night, in his cool, tiled bedroom lit by a kerosene lamp, to stories of gods, heroes and demons with the snarling heads of animals. 

     My family left for the United States when I was 19.  My entire first year in my new country, I wept for that house, knowing instinctively that by the time I went back to visit, it would not be the same.  And it wasn’t.  When I was 22, my grandfather died, and with him much of the house’s magic passed out of this world. 

     I must have inherited my father’s footloose nature, because I too have moved around, sometimes for my husband’s career, sometimes for my own, to Illinois, Ohio and a succession of cities in California.  Now we live in Texas.  Perhaps my willingness to relocate comes from being an immigrant: Once you give up your first home, once you suffer through that initial heartache, giving up one more house doesn’t seem to matter so much.  I lost faith in man-made structures and became attached to landscapes: the windy expanse of Lake Michigan, the wide flowering of buckwheat trees, the ancient redwoods and the curve of the Pacific, the water oaks bordering shady bayous that harbored egrets.  Yet I couldn’t hold on to them either. 

     As I grew older, I began to yearn for a permanent home.  Even after we’d been in Texas for seven years, I still wondered if permanence could exist in this sublunary world. 

     One day, by fortunate blessing I discovered meditation.  Through it, I began to feel the quiet center within, filled with light and the deep comfort of belonging and being loved.  This is what I’d always been searching for in all those houses and gardens and all the illuminated beauties of nature.  And all this time it had been in my heart, waiting patiently for me to turn to it: the home of all homes.    

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Tim Horton’s Coffee Commercial

Just another couple of days and I’ll be heading home from Vancouver.  Didn’t want to leave the Olympic city without sharing this commercial with you.  Over the course of the games, out of the corner of my eye, I kept joining this television ad in progress.  I never quite grasped what it was about because I didn’t see it in its entirety until tonight.  It comes from Canadian coffee chain, Tim Horton’s, and like it’s brew it will warm your soul.  What a wonderful spot and way to promote the brand.     

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Olympic Moments

It’s hard to believe that the Olympics are almost at an end.  It is already Day 15.  Soon the closing ceremony will be here and the torch will be extinguished and it’s all over.  Vancouver will be back to its old self with perhaps a wicked Olympic hangover.  It happens every time a city returns to normal after being the center of the sporting universe.  The life cycle of this event is extraordinary.  It’s like a rare moth cocooning for an extended period then it is born as an spectacular creature and within 17 days it dies.  But during those 17 days the entire world is touched by the things they see and experience and others are touched by the things they missed.  Of course we all shared in the triumph and tragedy of Joannie Rochette, who skated through her pain to a bronze medal after her mother died upon arrival in Vancouver.   Joannie will always be remembered for her courage and the legacy of inspiration she leaves behind.  We had a bit of a life altering experience on our team too.  One of our editors, John, came in yesterday morning all shaken up.  His wife had gone into labor the night before and gave birth to his first child, a son.  I suspect they rolled the dice thinking the baby would wait until he got home but he lost that bet.  Instead he gained an extended family who hugged him through his tears, offered him parenting advice and supported him while he worked through what must have been an incomprehensible roller coaster of emotions.  Just seeing him in the morning and hearing how he received the call on the train to work and sobbed all the way in got me all choked up.  I had to take a walk just to ponder the sacrifices that people make so they can be here.  Today I passed John in the hall.  “How’re you doing today?  Top of the world.  I’m a dad.  I’m happy.”  Soon John will meet little Aiden and I trust that someday he’ll have the first of many Olympic moments to share with his boy. 

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com


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Hockey Night in Canada

I was in a beer garden in Vancouver’s Yaletown when a guy draped in an American flag strutted in.  He was carrying on like Superman, all layered up in red, white and blue and making lots of noise.  Boy, did he rile up the Canadians.  After all today is the Canada versus USA men’s hockey match and as friendly as we are with our neighbors to the north, this is war.  The crowd started hooting and hollering and singing “Oh Canada.”  I was talking to my new friend, Scott, and he explained it to me.  Every little kid in Canada, no matter what their circumstances, believes that they can grow up to be a hockey icon like Wayne Gretzky.  If you think there is pressure on Canadians to win gold at these Olympics, consider the hockey team.  Hockey is right up there with mom and Canadians are getting revved up already for the big showdown.  Anything short of a gold medal will be a crushing defeat in this country.

On Thursday night when I was coming back to my hotel I noticed it was particularly celebratory.  I assumed Canada had won some coveted gold medal.  But no!  What really happened was the Canadian hockey team barely escaped the incredible humiliation of being beaten by Switzerland at home.  They could not have recovered from such a disgrace and even if they won the gold medal, Scott told me, they would be reminded that they lost to the Swiss.  Canadians still have not forgiven their hockey team for coming in 7th at the 2006 Olympics in Torino.  It is hard for me to imagine what a scene it will be here in Vancouver tonight when one of the most anticipated matches of the games is played.  The 2010 Olymic winter games is being hailed as the greatest hockey tournament ever and already rowdy fans are banging a drum outside my hotel in anticipation of the battle that looms.  It’s hockey night in Canada.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.