Day 8: I Am the Trolleyman

1:21 am 30 March 04 Islamabad, Pakistan

An FNC driver named "Happy" picked us up at the airport in Pakistan. I always felt it was a good omen when Happy picked me up, and a bad omen when Sad was my driver. Happy really was cheerful, and he perked up even more when addressed as "Happy." Being with Sad, and addressing him as "Sad" seemed to bring everyone down.

When a lot of staff are in a country for months at a time, most companies rent a house, since it is cheaper than hotel rooms. Pakistan was like that during the Afghan War — a high-ceilinged house in Islamabad with a rec room downstairs that had a pool table and a big TV with a VCD player. VCD's were bootleg dvd's that sold for a buck apiece in Pakistan. They came in plastic wrappers. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't. But even when they did work, the video and audio were inferior. The house had a cook (that would make "cheese grills" on request), a cleaning woman to wash your clothes, and a man with a musket who stood at the gate.

Islamabad was a show city. The baggage porters had pressed uniforms and lined up their carts along the wall like racers before the start. We took four, and pushed through the crowd out front where a hanger-on tried to grab a cart or a bag to share in the money. A small boy was on my left, dogging me for money. I told Adil, the Pakistani fixer, to get rid of him. He said a few words in Urdu and the boy left.

A small crowd gathered as we loaded the van. They all wanted money. One man took an empty cart and said in accented English, "I am the trolleyman. Pay me one dollar."

It was both a plea and an assertion. "Don't pay the trolleyman," I said to myself, thinking of a bad song about not paying the ferryman.

I shut the door of the van, silencing all the solicitations for funds. "I am the trolleyman," I repeated to myself.

One person can do a live shot for television. You can set up the camera on a tripod, connect it to a videophone, connect the videophone to a satellite phone, then stand in front of the camera. It is a few minutes of set-up where a lot can go wrong. Any one of the components can fail. It is more difficult in remote areas with no electricity - then you add a generator - another component that can fail or run out of gas. If anything goes wrong, even a gust of wind, you lose your shot and you look like an idiot. So having two people is safer.

The hotel wanted money to let us go up on the roof. During the war, they charged companies $300 a day to let them put satellite dishes up on the roof and tripled their room rates. Mal negotiated with the manager to give us a small spot between some pipes on the roof. To get up there we walked through a kitchen then up two flights of stairs.

On the way up for the first shot I tripped and fell. I thought maybe there was one stair higher than the others. The second time up I stumbled, but not as bad. The third time up I tripped but did not fall. I looked at the steps.

One was several inches higher than the rest. It is something you take for granted in America, that all the steps are the same height.

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