The Worst I've Seen

July 29, 2004 
New York

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Warning: disturbing content.

I dreamed I had an artificial limb from stepping on a landmine in Chechnya. In the dream I showed the limb, my left leg, to a former boss who had just been injured herself, to make her feel better. I pulled the left cuff of my pants up and tapped on the hard pink material. "Most of the time I completely forget it's synthetic," I said in the dream.

Then I remembered how I got it, crossing through a field of landmines downhill in the snow, the explosion, the blood, how I walked with it, holding onto the leg with both hands. When I told the boss the story in the dream I shook my upper body from one side to the other due to the pain of the memory.

I wrote down the war zones I had been to on a yellow post-it note: Chechnya 1, Chechnya 2, Congo, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Gaza and West Bank, Georgia Civil War, Abkhazia, Ossetia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pankisi Gorge, Kashmir, Philippines.

It used to be the worst spot I ever saw was Rwanda. I was a sound tech then and back then a sound tech was connected to the cameraman by an audio cable, so you had to follow him wherever he went or else the cable would get yanked out. My cameraman was following a reporter through a field of bodies. We were trying to get to a bulldozer that was scooping up bodies and putting them into a big ditch. Not a bulldozer but a backhoe, a giant yellow construction vehicle that ordinarily scooped up huge piles of dirt. This time it was scooping up bodies. It did not scoop them up perfectly. Arms or legs dangled over the side of the backhoe scoop and swayed as it moved. Most of the bodies were dressed in brightly colored clothing.

The worst part of it was, because of all the killing there were people everywhere on the run with nowhere to live. So on this giant field there were two things — there were dead, black bloated bodies in colorful shirts and pants and there were piles of feces where people had defecated. And I was hooked to a cable to a cameraman who was moving fast through the field trying to get to the backhoe while it was still picking up bodies. He was a cameraman trying to get his shot. I was a sound tech trying to figure out where to step. And every step across that field I had two choices: step on a body, or step on a pile of human shit. I picked the shit, because the shit smelled better than the bodies did. So each step to the backhoe I stepped in shit, avoiding the bloated bodies.

That used to be the worst thing I saw, or felt. In Iraq something replaced it. More on that tomorrow, inshahallah.

Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.