There's a lesson to be learned in this business, a rule that I have violated once again and once again have paid the price: Get your sleep when you can, for it may be your last.
After staying up till 1 a.m. writing (I was looking forward to a late call in the morning), I was jolted awake by a phone call from John Towriss. It was 4 a.m. and we had to leave in 15 minutes. A planeload of Kuwaiti prisoners of war had just been released from Iraq and were due to arrive in a couple of hours. I dutifully threw on my clothes without even washing my face and dashed downstairs. Dick Blystone was already sipping his instant coffee, and my new cameraman Styke Dimas was gathering his gear. And Towriss, the man who never sleeps, was there looking as fresh and groomed and clean-cut as ever, supervising the proceedings. That man is amazing, especially in contrast to the harried producer I saw in Dhahran. I guess it's John's Midwest upbringing, but the man always looks like he just spent the day in an Indiana barbershop.
|John Towriss at the helm of CNN Kuwait|
It also wouldn't have been so bad had I not known it was just another case of "hurry up and Ku-wait." We got to the airstrip by 6:30--and then we sat. Styke and I had not even had time for coffee. I fished through my pockets and found a pack of gum, so we each had two sticks for breakfast. As we were chomping away, a local fellow who was part of the welcoming committee (for the POWs, not for us) sauntered up and asked if he could snap our picture. We're used to this, lots of people want photos of CNN crews. After the flash, he grinned and said, "Now I have proof that Americans violate Ramadan!" We both gulped, since it hadn't occurred to either of us that gum, too, was forbidden. We discreetly spat out our meals.
|Styke Dimas at an oil well fire|
After two false alarms which we spent chasing the wrong plane, the prisoners finally landed. There were no smiles, no jubilation, no yellow ribbons for these. Just grim-faced men leaving months of hardship and uncertainty, finally getting home--to more hardship and uncertainty.
|Cameraman Sean Maroney with a BetaCam|
We had no break till late in the afternoon; we were sent straight from the prisoners' return to a protest rally demanding the return of the other 5,000 or more still held in Iraq. This was a cakewalk compared to our morning session. Finally, I got an hour nap between 5 p.m. and 6, waking up for dinner before attending a press conference by the oil minister. He was briefing the media on the status of the oil well fires and the efforts to put them out. I could have slept through the first hour of this, since it was all in Arabic. But we had to wait for the English Q and A session that followed. By 10:30 p.m. he got tired of questions and wrapped it up. I went straight to bed, not wasting time for any other extraneous activities, like writing in my journal, washing my face or brushing my teeth.
1Editor's note, 2011: The Sony BetaCam was the industry standard at the time. With the tape deck incorporated into the camera body and a large battery called a "brick" attached to the back, it weighed about 25 pounds. But it felt like a ton when it sat on your shoulder for a while, or suddenly hit you in the face.