BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My notes on a 15-hour coverage

It was still dark when I left the apartment. The fresh smell of dew wafted in the early morning air. The world must still be in deep slumber except for the neighbor's roosters crowing loudly, I thought. And except for the crowd gathering at the Manila Cathedral.

I didn't want to leave so early. I wanted to stay snuggled in my bed, still tired from the previous day's work. But I told myself I'd cover former president Corazon Aquino's burial. I wanted to write and to shoot the story. Or maybe, I just wanted to be there simply because of the kibitzer that I am.

I thought I was all set for the day's event. I tucked inside my green backpack everything I thought I would need – press I.D., camera, lenses, batteries, notebook, jacket, umbrella, crackers, drinking water and an extra set of clothes.

The veteran lensman I would tag along with had been waiting for me. He just had a small camera bag and a belt bag. “You're late. Let's hurry,” he said. We still have time for breakfast. He said I should eat a heavy one.

“There'll be absolutely no time to eat later,” said the lensman who had been covering the wake since day one.

The events that unfolded throughout that day surprised me and tested my patience. Because I thought I prepared for the coverage well enough, I had no idea I would be soaked in rain not once but many times over. I had no idea that I would wait for eight grueling hours for just one or two minutes of history. I had no idea that all the photojournalists that covered the event were prepared for rain, mud and what have you. (Despite carrying small bags). Not only did they have water proof clothes but more importantly, they came with protective gears for their cameras.

What a bunch of professionals I was with. They waited patiently. Photojournalism, they said, is 90 percent waiting and only 10 percent shooting. I'd say, it's also 90 percent going hungry and 10 percent shooting. I was counting the hours. I could hear the grumbling in my tummy with each passing minute. I barely finished the story I sent through my mobile phone.

(In contrast to the professional photojournalists that covered the day's events were three hobbyists waiting with us under a makeshift stage put up by one of the television networks. They are of a terribly different breed. They went there apparently to show off their expensive cameras and obviously slightly used camera bags. They blabbered about their thousand peso cameras and boasted of their technical know-hows. They used press cards to be on the frontline but arrogantly disregarded unwritten rules about “sapaw.” And while every journalist on standby was fighting off hunger and thirst, the three conos bought hamburgers all for themselves. And devoured this in front of all five of us waiting under that stage.

The thing that pissed me off most was that when a stampede occurred at the Manila Memorial Park, they went ecstatic, so eager to shoot while the other photojournalists dropped their cameras and helped those injured.)

More than fifteen hours later, I joined colleagues for some ice cold drinks. I was hungry and exhausted but fulfilled. I was happy that I woke up to cover the day's events. I learned a lot by shooting and writing about the events that unfolded. I learned a lot by just being there.

By the time I got home, my daughter was already sound asleep. It doesn't happen all the time but it happens. She's probably getting used to it. I'm sure she knows by now that journalism, although it comes only second to motherhood, makes me truly happy. (The day my waterbag broke, I whispered to her, "Not now please. I have a 5 p.m. deadline." She heeded my request and came out into the world 36 hours later.)