PITCH TO NICK AHLMARK OF ‘STORYTIME FILMS’ FOR AL JAZEERA FILM DOC
Okay, so region by region:
LAO : I’ve been once before and there is PLENTY still to do. Lao is quite a bit more backward than Cambodia and possibly even more traumatized. Lao is also, as you likely know, a totally different tragedy. No land mines in Lao because the chicken-ass Americans never sent ground forces in and Lao was anyhow a covert aggression. They never sided with the N Vietnamese or Viet Cong yet a portion of the so-called ‘Ho Chi Minh Trail’ ran through Lao and for our American friends that was enough to bomb them into the stone-age. It’s one of the dirtiest stories of modern war.
They principally dropped ‘cluster bombs’ which are truly random and truly evil. There are millions of live ones still in the ground and people find them the hard way all the time. There is lots of big UXO too. I’ll send you a video link of cluster bombs in action over Lao; if you haven’t seen this sort of thing before, it will blow your mind. Pardon the word choice.
Relief-wise the big name in Lao is ‘COPE’ (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise). It’s a well-funded multi-national NGO in Vientiane, the capital. They have 5 or so ‘Provincial Rehab Clinics’ around the country too. Many hundreds of amps go through their doors every year. They are really good and were super pro-active with me. A good documentary would include their compound in the capital and footage of the PRCs and, of course, lots of stuff with the villages/villagers. COPE would gladly facilitate all that. They have a ‘visitor’s center’ that sees 17,000 visitors – tourists – a year and they have given me a little display in the corner.
In Central Lao there is an area called the ‘Plain of Jars’ that is both intensely beautiful and very mysterious. The ‘jars’ are huge neolithic man-made stone urns whose purpose is still not fully understood; it has all the mystique of Stonehenge. It also happens to be the most bombed area of the most bombed country on earth. Great filming opportunities both there and in the surrounding villages, which are full of amps. Google ‘field of jars’
And check out the link below. I gotta go to work now, so more on the other countries later today.
I’ve been re-thinking my stance on both Cambodia and Lao. There’s plenty of work left in both places and if Al Jazeera 101 East is really set on shooting there, I would be game. I think it would be best for your camera to visit both places … you could Really show viewers a panoply of both misery and hope… I’ll tell you that. It would also describe two entirely different tragedies inflicted on the same region during roughly the same period.
Tomorrow nite I will meet with some people from The Cambodia Children’s Fund and there are a few other groups that I would like to work with – groups that would get me to lots of amps I haven’t seen. The other one, and one that’s most filmically interesting, would be ‘The Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang’. They’re Catholics, of course, and I’m a hard-core atheist, but we get along real good and they have built sort of Utopian amputee villages that dot the country North of Battambang. 8 to 35 huts per village and at least one amputee living in every hut.
OK, I gotta hop:
Legacies of War – Secret War in Laos
Mother Jones – U.S. Bombing of Vietnam & Laos
Don’t know a whole lot about the area. But India still has, by far, the highest incidence of leprosy in the world. A lot of it is concentrated in rural areas, a lot of it in the South, and Kerala has a particularly high concentration. It’s kind of a mecca for them as there is a fair amount of support there for them. Lots of research labs and clinics and hospitals and a lot of expertise with leprosy and, for that matter, amputation.
There is a historical precedent: Kerala was the site of the 1st large-scale leper colony in the world, the Dutch built it in the early 1700s.
I’m not particularly into lepers – they kind of freak me out, as they do most people – but they get a bad shake, that’s for sure. I would be the first person in history to go and treat them for phantom limb pain, that’s also for sure. I successfully treated a couple of lepers in central Cambodia and it just kinda got me thinking.
25 years ago I was on holiday riding through southern India and noticed that many of the lepers that throng the entrances to the tourist sites were rapidly twitching their stumps as they lay in their filth and misery. I thought it was a way of catching people’s attention and then their rupees. But then 15 years later, as a newborn amp, I found myself twitching my own nub – uncontrollably sometimes – during severe bouts of phantom pain. I now understand that it is universally common among amps and is a baseline attempt (consciously or not) at both physically and mentally warding off the pain demon.
I know that PLP is less frequent among lepers (and congenitals and diabetics too) than it is among amps who lose limbs in more immediate (ie: explosive) trauma. But it’s very much still there. I’ve now encountered and successfully treated peeps from all those groups. And they get sort of overlooked in the care world cuz their story is not as ‘sexy’ as that of a nice fucked-up landmine victim. I’ve always liked underdogs.
So the Kerala idea is almost more experimental, tho I know for sure that, particularly among certain groups of them, I would have at least a 50% cure-rate.
India has a very high rate of amputee-ism anyhow, due to its general poverty (so bad care and sepsis and chronic ulcers and bad water and necrotizing fasciitis = amputation). They also host a horrifying percentage of agricultural and industrial accidents. The Punjab, as a good example, is the richest state in India, but has the highest rate of amputation. It is also the bread-basket of India; lots of scythes and threshers. Pretty easy math.
I could spend a lifetime working in India alone.
Among the many clinics and hospitals that would certainly offer up their assistance. There is also ‘Jaipur Foot’, in Rajasthan and ‘Mukti’. Check the links below. Mukti is particularly cool. Really easy to find English-speakers too.
Mukti – Artificial Limb Camps in Kerala
Gotta hop again, more soon, chrs,s
Hey Nick, two more little squibs on possible destinations for Me and My Mirror :
Sichuan Earthquakes: There were two of them in quite recent years. The big one was in May of 2008, and it was really, really big. Often known as ‘The Great Earthquake’. The epicenter was a handful of kilometers West of Chengdu, the biggest city in Sichuan Province (SW China). 5 million peeps left homeless, 70,000 dead and, importantly, over 375,000 wounded. Big, big numbers. It’s population-dense there, even outside of the city. Very agricultural, so lots of shitty structures.
Number 2 was just in 2013, springtime again and again up over 7 on the Richter scale (with over 2000 murderous aftershocks). Almost the exact same epicenter. This time ONLY 3000 people seriously injured.
I would love to work here for a few reasons: I’m thinking that earthquake damage must spawn an awful lot of amputations; a whole lot of crushing going on. Some will have lost limbs due to the catastrophic emergency situation with compromised and overloaded medical assistance and protracted timelines and infectious hygiene/water. It would also be very satisfying to help relieve those afflicted by PLP relatively soon after their tragedy. I often find myself treating soldiers, for example, who have been suffering from PLP for 40 years, and while it’s wonderful to show them some relief, it kills me to think they have been living with this agony for all that time. It would be nice to save some people 38 years of brain-bending agony.
Burma is another story:
Most of the bad action is along the Thai border and is the Burmese national armed forces, I think you can still call it a ‘junta’, clashing with ‘Karen’ minority insurgent groups. But in the last handful of years the Karen themselves have splintered (as usual) into at least 20 different armed groups and many (as usual) are now fighting amongst themselves. At first it was basically Buddhists vs Christians, and now it’s gotten a whole lot more ethnic. Given that there is a lot of shelling and an awful lot of territorial pushing and shoving, there is a lot of ordnance in the ground and lots of people getting limbs blown off. Brutally random land-mining too. It’s also easy to step on a land mine while you are changing horses in mid-stream.
I don’t claim to know too much about this one – I think there is quite a bit more to it, in recent years. But there are well over 10,000 Burmese hiding along the border and in refugee camps within Thailand, and Thai/Burmese relations have never been too cuddly. There have been hostilities there. Hostilities over on the Burma-Bangladesh border too. Hostilities everywhere, it seems.
I first became interested in working in Burma cuz I was already in the region (in Lao and Cambodia), and this was a whole other people, a whole other conflict and a whole lot of need. An acquaintance of mine who at the time was a war reporter for Canada’s national paper ‘The Globe and Mail’ was up there reporting on the conflict last year and he just said to me, ‘Damn, plenty of people for you to treat up here.’
This kind of thing happens a lot to me: people dig on what I do, and then say something like, ‘Whoa, you think this is bad, you should see Sichuan, Burma, ex-Yugoslavia’, etc.
That’s it for now, Nick, but, hell, there is tragically no end of places where both conflict and phantom limb pain are flourishing: I have a contact in Mogadishu (director of a clinic/orphanage) who has 30 child soldier amps living with him right now, never mind the ones drifting around. There’s your Sudans, there’s Chad, then go right across the N African coast, well, you know the story. Mini wars like pop-up stores and Maxi-wars too.
That’s all the good news you get for today!