Vicky Collins Online

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The Camel and the Cell Phone

Andres from Switzerland, his girlfriend, Paola from Brazil and I were riding on camels in the Thar Desert outside of the western Indian town of Jaisalmer. We were in a spot as remote as I’ve ever been, 21 hours by train from Delhi, just 60 kilometers from the border with Pakistan. It’s a flat, arid locale, punctuated by sand dunes and populated by only villagers, camel wallas and shepherds with their flocks of sheep and goats. To me it was a place that time forgot, more like the Middle East than India. It probably hasn’t changed much at all in a thousand years. I felt like a silk or spice trader heading west into the desert. I was deep into my reverie on a camel named Michael when suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the Nokia ringtone. Dadadadadadadadadadadadada. It seemed our guide, Ali, was a very popular man. For the entire camel safari his cell phone rang. It rang on the sand dunes, it rang under the tree where we stopped to have our vegetables and chapati lunch, it rang at sundown while we were drinking our beer. It rang after we went to bed under the stars and it was the first sound I heard at sunrise. The Nokia ringtone, piercing the tranquility of the desert.

 

Ali and his cell phone

 

The Lonely Planet guide book said the power generating wind turbines that have sprouted around Jaisalmer were altering the historic and mystical qualities of the area, that they made it harder to transport yourself to another time and place. But I barely noticed them. I found it was Ali’s cell phone that kept me coming back to now. I had a similar experience while working at the Olympics in Beijing. Dean, Jim and I took a day trip to hike the Great Wall of China. We climbed in Hebei Province, in Inner Mongolia, about two and a half hours outside of Beijing. We took a 10 kilometer trek from Jinshanling to Sumatai. Up and down stairsteps in a place far out of the way. Yet there was cell service. No place this remote would be served by AT&T in the U.S.A. My colleague, Jim, who probably shouldn’t have been on the adventure because he was so busy with his Olympic assignment as the head technical supervisor of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, spent the entire trip talking on his cell phone. I have no idea how he managed to catch his breath as he scrambled up and down the mountainside. It was truly the most difficult physical challenge of my life, yet he yakked the whole way on his mobile.

We have gotten to a place where we are so interconnected that you can no longer escape, even in some of the most remote spots on earth. While in India I have stayed in touch with friends by Skype, email and Facebook. I tuned in to an computer chat on http://msnbc.msn.com that my friend, Kerry Sanders, a correspondent for NBC News, was holding as he covered the rescue of the miners from Chile. There was really no update from family, friends and colleagues that was inaccessible to me from a half a world away. And even though I am grateful for all the technology and connectedness at my fingertips, and understand the need of the camel walla to stay in touch with his people when he travels through the desert too, I still wish the only sounds that day were my thoughts, the wind and the camels, and not Ali’s incessant Nokia ringtone.

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

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Slum Tourism

My story on slum tourism or “poorism” has been chosen by Ode Magazine as one of its top 10 positive stories of 2009.  It ran in the April travel issue.  This is my first magazine article and it came as a result of stories I introduced on my blog. 

http://www.odemagazine.com/doc/62/slum-tours/

http://www.odemagazine.com/exchange/13599/ode_s_top_10_positive_stories_from_2009

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


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Blair and the Balloon Boy

Balloon Boy Media Circus

Balloon Boy Media Circus

My 11 year old son, Blair, wanted to go to Cirque du Soleil this year, but because our schedules were so busy, we missed it.  Instead he went to the Balloon Boy media circus.  Because my husband was traveling and I was a single mom over the weekend I didn’t want to leave him at home while I was working 24/7 for NBC News.  Instead I took him with me and put him to work.  We have not seen a story like this in Colorado since John Mark Carr claimed he killed Jonbenet Ramsey.  News media came from all over the world.  There were London newpapers, two Brazilian networks, Japanese TV and tabloid shows.  Booking for guests was knock down drag out competitive.  At one point there were 20 cameras and nine live trucks outside the Heene house.  There was even a fistfight when an irate neighbor got into it with Fox News.  It was a total zoo.

To review, Richard and Mayumi Heene from Fort Collins, Colorado launched a flying saucer and alerted the media and authorities that their six year old son, Falcon, was aboard.  The whole world watched and prayed for the little boy tumbling in the sky as the drama unfolded on television.  Across the globe people celebrated the joyous news when Falcon was found alive, hiding in the attic all along.  Then whoops!  Falcon blurts out on CNN’s Larry King Live that he was hiding “because you said it was for the show.”  He threw up the next morning on NBC’s Today Show.  Sheriff Jim Alderden now says it was all a hoax so that the family could get a reality show of their own.  Unlikely that will happen any more but they could get jail time for felony charges.  Attorney David Lane is on the case.  The Heene’s certainly are infamous now.   

Initially, my son Blair hoped to meet young Falcon.  That didn’t happen and in the end he was an extra set of eyes on the Heene’s back yard and the Larimer County Sheriff’s back door.  He helped get the crews lunch, hung out with onlookers and media and even videotaped on his camera.  At one point he told a neighbor friend of the Heene’s “he was digging up dirt for his mom.”  Ouch!  Out of the mouths of babes.  We had to have the talk about discretion after the same neighbor told me it was tacky.  Blair went home from “take your kid to work day” with a better view of the intensity and insanity that comes with a huge story.  He even got interviewed for Entertainment Tonight!

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


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How People Live

During April I’ve had a photo exhibit running in Studio 13 Gallery in Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District.  It’s called “How People Live” and is a collection of photographs from the streets and slums around the world that illuminate the diversity of people and the condition of the poor.  Photos were taken in Uganda, China, Thailand, India, Brazil, Mexico, and various places in America.  Most of the photos were gathered while I was on television production assignments.  “How People Live” was a fundraiser for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and I want to thank all the people who supported this effort.  I’ve posted the photos to Facebook and Flickr and wanted to share them with a broader audience.  Hope you find them compelling and enlightening. 

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1106444740&ref=profile

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vickycollins

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


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Slum Tourism

Check out Ode Magazine for my story on slum tourism or “poorism” as it is sometimes called.  This is my first magazine article and it came as a result of stories I introduced on my blog.  Thanks to all for reading. 

http://www.odemagazine.com/doc/62/slum-tours/

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


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Favela Tour in Rio de Janeiro

Rogean Rodriguez builds castles in the sand. For eleven years he has squatted on a little piece of shoreline across from the fancy hotels on Rio’s famed Copacabana Beach. On this patch of real estate he creates fantasies by hand with sand and water. His exquisite palaces catch the light and eyes of tourists who walk along the boulevard. Sometimes they contribute a few coins and photograph his masterpieces. At night a watchman guards the kingdom while Rodriguez returns to the hillside “favela” where he lives. On the mountain above Copacabana beach is Pavao. The shanty town that Rodriguez calls home is a short distance yet a world away from his fairy tale castles. “Favelas” are the slums. Created by squatters they are home to many of Rio’s six million residents. It is the Rio that locals steer clear of and tourists are warned to avoid. But these cities within a city are hidden and unique cultures worthy of exploration. With the advent of specially guided tours http://www.favelatour.com.br/ visitors can travel safely into the “favelas” for an eye-opening look at the other Rio de Janeiro.

Sandcastle on Copacabana Beach

 

Andres LeJerraga picks me up at the Copacabana Palace, one of the most splendid hotels along its namesake beach. I join a vanload of curious tourists for the ride up to Rocinha, Rio’s most infamous favela. When laying out the itinerary for my visit to Brazil I decided I wanted to personally witness the poverty I had heard so much about. The point of the visit was not to gawk or exploit, but rather to get an authentic view of how people live. I learn that there actually is a name for this kind of tourism. It is called “poorism” and it is a fast growing market taking off in cities like Rio, Bombay, Nairobi and Johannesburg. Part of my interest, I must confess, sprung from a bit of defiance. I grew weary of people telling me how dangerous Rio was. Don’t walk off the main streets, leave any valuables at the hotel, watch out for drug dealers, be careful who you talk to, beware, beware, beware.

Favela of Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

The huge sprawling Rocinha can be seen on a hillside on the urban outskirts of Rio long before we arrive. Andres tells us as many as 200,000 people live in the slum. A Formula One racetrack went through here before Rocinha started developing in the 1940’s. Today the main drag through Rocinha is Cowboy Lane, a busy commercial center with 1300 shops and three bus lines. Stone and brick houses with tin roofs are precariously packed and stacked one on top of the other on the hillside. They were built by construction workers on solid rock. Many have stunning views. From a rooftop one can see the line of demarkation between the poor and the rich who live in high rise buildings on the other side of the road in an area called Sao Conrado. Because these settlements were created by squatters, refugees and displaced people, infrastructure was an afterthought. Many gather water in big blue tanks on their rooftops. There is a chaotic tangle of cables and wires crisscrossing the roads for electricity. Samba music plays in the streets. From eye level it looks similar to urban business districts in densely populated graffiti covered cities but there is a lot more going on in the “favelas” than what meets the eye.

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