Vicky Collins Online

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War and Remembrance 5

A couple of years ago I read a book called “The Faith Club” where three women got together regularly to talk about faith. They were a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew. The experience and friendship was transformative as they worked through their differences and came to realize their similarities. I am having a dialogue with a man named Ben Coker, Jr. in South Carolina who responded to a blog I wrote on Veterans Day. We are politically miles apart but we are finding common ground and having an inspired conversation. It continues here.

Vicky, please call me by my first name. I am also enjoying this dialogue with you. I fully agree with your assessment about our not being able to run to every segment of the world. I vividly remember Mogadishu. That was an absolute fiasco. We went over there for humanitarian reasons. There was no functioning government to control the population. Reagan sent the military as a part of the contingency to provide this assistance. The radicals have taken over that area. Of course we exited that area in disarray. We should have never been there.

How do we differentiate between the areas we should try to help and those we should not. I agree with you about our being able to win the friendship through creating conditions that enrich the lives of the people and promoting quality of life. Do you remember the Marshall Plan that was utilized to rebuild Europe in an effort to develop and cultivate friendship and to improve the lives of the people as well as international commerce? This was a very successful operation. However, it was successful because the Allied Armies and the Nazis destroyed all the infrastructure throughout Europe. The Allied Armies had beaten the adversaries into submission. They had nothing left. The military leaders were allowed to conduct a very aggressive battle plan that left them helpless. The adversaries could not resist the USA’s and other’s plan to resuscitate the economy of the world. The enabled the nations to develop a resurgent economy conducive for ALL citizens.

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War and Remembrance 4

Part 4 in the dialogue between me and Ben Coker, Jr. of South Carolina following my Veterans Day post.

Hi Mr. Coker,

I’m enjoying our dialogue.  I am not the student of history that you are but as a television news producer and international traveler I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on current events.  I would like to address your question on whether we should turn our heads from those who are being oppressed, maimed and killed throughout the world.  Absolutely not!  I personally know the cost of the Holocaust.  My family died in it.  But should we send in armies every time we perceive a threat or injustice?  I don’t think so.  Clearly after 9-11 we had to get tough and go after those who violated us and killed so many of our citizens.  I remember watching NBC’s Today Show on the morning of the attack and telling my then 7 year old son (the subject of the Veterans Day post) that we were going to war.  It was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.  We had to strike back.  But have we really done anything to beat down radical Islam?  We may have disorganized the extremists and driven them into caves, but they’re not going away and in the process we have alienated many moderate, peace loving Muslims throughout the world.

I’m thinking Greg Mortenson who is building schools in the remote reaches of Pakistan and Afghanistan is doing as much if not more good than our armies. Instead of battling with guns, Mortenson is fighting so children will grow up educated and be able to look the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the eye and say this is not for me.  So many of the people in the world who become radicalized do so because they have no opportunities or hope for a future.  Our armies may be holding the line but I think we need systemic changes in those countries to beat down oppression.  That is when women and children will be better off.  Our armies, and George Bush, may have kept another attack from American soil, but we shouldn’t forget the work of Laura Bush who went to Afghanistan to champion women’s rights and education there.  This may be very Pollyanna of me and I’m not saying we don’t need war, but I think we need diplomacy and peace more.  Eagerly awaiting your thoughts.  Best, Vicky

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

 


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War and Remembrance 2

Following my Veterans Day post, the conversation continues with Ben Coker, Jr. of South Carolina about war, service and our commitment as Americans.  Hope others will join the dialogue.  Will keep posting as our back and forth continues.

Dear Mr. Coker,

Thank you so much for reading my blog and for your incredibly thoughtful comments.  Part of the reason I write is to leaving something for my children to discover someday and to dialogue with people like you, at least virtually.  It is always a great pleasure when someone shares their thoughts and stories with me.  Would it be OK with you if I posted your letter on my blog?  To tell you a bit of the backstory that led to my blog post, I was born in 1958 in Hawaii and was a child during the Vietnam War.  Although soldiers were coming and going through Hawaii, the war and the protests were really on the periphery of my life.  It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco in my 20’s that I realized how oblivious I had been and had a sense of the toll and outcry.  I learned about the service of my father (he was a Polish Jew who lost his parents in the holocaust and fought the Nazis in the Polish underground and Army) in a short memoir he wrote and by reading Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation.”  I finally understood why my dad jumped if you woke him suddenly or why he didn’t want to talk about those years.  He never shared his experiences until shortly before his death.  Like other veterans of his era, he stoically moved forward and kept the pain inside.  Mostly I grew up in a world at peace and was honestly surprised when I learned my son has to register with Selective Service when he turns 18.  I had no idea.

What has me conflicted, Mr. Coker, is that we seem to wage war for the wrong reasons these days.  Everyone stood together in WWII.  It was a righteous response to tyranny.  These days I’m not so sure.  You have a son in Afghanistan so maybe you can help me with this.  We fight to bring democracy to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan so moderate Muslims around the world can know of freedom, even as we oppress and distrust our Muslim citizens here at home.  We respond to 9-11 by going into Iraq to fend off a rogue leader and search for weapons of mass destruction that don’t exist.  We don’t consider how this will effect the people there and how painful the transition will be.  We boost Pakistan and Afghanistan while the leadership harbors our enemies and Osama Bin Laden thumbs his nose at us.  And we fight for nations with incredible records of human rights abuses and expect our participation will change the culture. If my son goes to war I want to believe in the cause with every fiber of my soul and I want him to believe in it too.  I guess I don’t feel confident that our leaders are taking us down the right road these days.  That’s why a call to duty scares me.  The other thing is that I don’t see a safer world for our troubles.  It seems we have fewer freedoms at home and a more unstable world.

If you would like to continue sharing more thoughts with me I would really appreciate your point of view.  I don’t feel castigated at all and with your permission I’ll put our back and forth on my blog.  This world needs a lot more people who are willing to dialogue through these kinds of things and I feel privileged to have a chance to do so with you.  Warmest regards to you and Polly and your brave son.  Best, Vicky Collins

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


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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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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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Juliette’s Acid Attack

Juliette dreams of someday marrying a nice man.  One unlike the monster who poured acid on her in a jealous rage in July 2007.  We are sitting with this young woman, just 19 years old, on a porch near a church in Kampala, Uganda.  Juliette is beautiful on the side of her face that she shows to the world.  Her eyes are bright and she has a radiant smile.  The other side of her face she covers with long braids.  It prevents the fearful looks from those who pass her by.  It covers the half of her face that was destroyed in the brutal acid attack that sent her to the hospital for five months and disfigured her for life.   “I open?” she asks.  She lifts her hair to show what remains and tells her story. 

 

Juliette shows her damaged face from an acid attack.

Juliette shows her damaged face from an acid attack.

 

Juliette speaks about the hard life that made her run away from her village and head to Kampala.  Her dad died when she was a baby and her mom passed away when she was 9.  She was left with an aunt who thought she was a burden.  Juliette was beaten and tormented so at 13 she took off.  In Kampala she made some friends and they would go clubbing.  She met a guy, got pregnant at 14 and had a daughter the next year.  The guy was into drugs.  She didn’t love him.  At 18, she wanted a new life.  When Juliette finally decided to leave him he attacked her.  Juliette speaks about that night in a strong voice.  She doesn’t want you to turn away.  She wants you to hear the story about how he came to her door with battery acid and changed her life forever.

“Before I was looking good I was having my two eyes two ears two nose but now I’m like this.  I didn’t know the time would come like this you know when he poured acid.  It was like a dream.  When he poured me he bring it in a cup then he poured and said let me finish you you fool.  After pouring me he went he run.  I was alone in my room it was really hot.   More pain more pain.” 

Juliette endured excruciating skin grafts.  She lost her eye, her ear, and has burns on her neck and leg.  Her faith in God got her through the ordeal and, despite the agony she endured, she forgave her attacker.  “When I was in the hospital that boy came who poured acid.  He said do you love me yes or not but in my heart it was good I was saying my God no matter what I forgive him.  Even though he poured me acid I forgive him.  I said God you create him and you create me before so if you decide me to look like this I’ll continue life.  I can’t kill myself.  I said God let me forgive that guy.” 

Juliette says there are hundreds of women in Kampala who have suffered a similar fate to hers.  In the ward where she recovered there were 30.  As is often the case, the man who attacked Juliette was never prosecuted, but because of the courageous testimonies of women like Juliette, this most brutal of human rights abuses is being exposed.  In Tehran, Iran, a spurned suitor who threw acid and blinded a woman will literally give an eye for an eye.  Islamic law is allowing Ameneh Bahrami to see her attacker blinded.  If the sentence is carried out he will have the same acid placed in each of his eyes and she will see justice.  In Kandahar, Afghanistan, 10 Taliban militants have been arrested for throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls simply because they chose to get an education.  The men each got paid the equivalent of $2000 US for the November attack.  Students are afraid to return to the Mirwais Meena girls school.  Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, has been reporting about acid attacks in neighboring Pakistan where 7800 have been documented in Islamabad alone.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/opinion/30kristof.html  

Juliette walks in the world and hopes people will look past her damaged face and see the beauty inside her.  She sings songs that honor God and Africa.  She finds comfort in Jesus and her church, in an acid survivors support group and in BeadforLife (www.beadforlife.org) which has taught her to make bead jewelry so she can earn a living and take care of herself and her daughter.  Juliette hopes a doctor will help repair the damage from the attack and even dreams she will be married someday.  She begs people not to reject victims of acid attacks.  And Juliette plans to give back to others too.  “In my future, I’d like to help orphanage, lame people, widow.  I want to help some of them when I’m somebody, I’m somewhere.  I’d like to help to show them they’re still someone.  They can do more.  They can go somewhere.”

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