Archive for: ‘September 2019’

Notes from Afghanistan: Saying goodbye

21/09/2019 Posted by admin

by Francis Silvaggio

We said goodbye to our fixer, Noor Khan, today. He’s the local Afghan journalist who has been helping us get the Afghan perspective throughout much of our time in this country. He risks his life every day gathering information for us, and diligently provides us protection and guidance every time he takes us into the city and various districts.

Over the years, he has been directly threatened, received cryptic night letters from the Taliban, mistakenly attacked by coalition soldiers and almost blown up twice.

His family no longer lives in Afghanistan. He could have left with them but instead chose to stay. I’m not sure I would have made the same decision.

Noor Khan, though, has always said he has a duty to his country. By helping shed light on the Afghan story, he believes more people will understand why his homeland still needs help.

Francis, Noor Khan, and Global National photojournalist Mike Gill. 

There are a handful of men, just like Noor Khan, who have risked their lives with the hope their sacrifices will someday help make Afghanistan a better place. The photos of two of them hang on the wall at the Kandahar Press Club. I recognized one of the men. Javed Yazamy used to be our fixer before we met Noor Khan. We called him Jojo. He was gunned down, execution style, in 2009. He was just 23 years old.

The men at the Press Club say they’ve accepted these risks because they don’t want to leave their country’s future entirely in the hands of the international community. They say Afghans must participate in order to ensure real change.

As Canadian journalists leave with the conclusion of the Combat mission, Afghan journalists will need to play an even bigger role. The American media interest peaked during last year’s surge, but has since fallen sharply. Those journalists who do come are confined to a restrictive two-week embed program that gives them access to the fight in the field but very little of the plight of the people.

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It’s a scenario that worries the Afghans who have risked so much to help Canadian journalists in the past. Some will continue to help tell the Afghan story to the world, others aren’t yet sure. Noor Khan has made his decision. He’ll leave when we leave and rejoin his family. He’s been named tribal leader of his village and will use the same passion he had to help his country to now help his immediate community.

Kandahar will remain in his heart and in his prayers just as Noor Khan will remain in ours. The reality is that we said goodbye to more than just Global’s fixer today…we said goodbye to a friend.

We wish him well, and hope his dream of a better Afghanistan finally comes true.

Thanks Noor Khan.

Francis is Global National’s Alberta correspondent based in Calgary. He is currently at Kandahar Airfield, reporting on Canada’s withdrawl from Afghanistan. Follow him on Twitter: @FJSilvaggio. 

Vancouver riots: Two sides of the Incredible Hulk

21/09/2019 Posted by admin

by Rosa Hwang

He is a towering physical specimen, yet mentally, he is fragile. Prone to bouts of blind and destructive rage — he literally transforms into a green-eyed monster. But at the core of all that anger, there is a compassionate superhero, with an altruism that can’t be denied.

On the night the Vancouver Canucks lost game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, I was explaining the concept of the Incredible Hulk to the young son of my colleague Dawna Friesen, our anchor and executive editor. Since we were stuck at the station working — on what we thought was the very “remote” possibility there would be a riot after the game — a few of us at Global National set up a Stanley Cup viewing party in the station lounge. Dawna’s son had never heard of The Hulk. With apologies to Stan Lee, I simplified the Marvel Comics superhero, explaining him as a tragedy of sorts — a man so incapable of controlling his anger, he manifests it in an extreme and physical way.

By the time it became clear the Canucks were going to lose, the six-year-old in the room had the most insightful and prophetic comment of the night: “Those Canucks fans are going to be really mad.”

From the mouth of babes.

And of course, we know now the rioters on the streets weren’t really true fans at all.

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Just as the third period was winding down, we got word from the newsroom. Street fights breaking out. Cars flipped over. Cars on fire. Looting. We all had joked about the possibility of a repeat of 1994, but nobody, not even us cynical news folks, predicted how hooliganism would quickly descend into sociopathy-run-amok. Hundreds, if not thousands, blinded by rage — kind of like a certain green-eyed monster.

When it became clear the rampage was not dying down, we broke into regular programming — knowing full well the impact that would have on the city we all lived in and loved. Vancouver can — and will — recover quickly from the physical scars of a riot. Bouncing back from a scarred reputation will take much longer.

A police car burns during the riot in downtown Vancouver on June 15 following the Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Photo by Geoff Howe, The Canadian Press.

By the time we were off the air — and our friends at Global BC took over with provincial coverage only — I decided to try to make my way home. “Home” is downtown Vancouver, not far from the epicentre of the riots.

As I drove into the city, the bridges accessing downtown were closed off, but I convinced one officer to let me through. I worked in the media and I’m a downtown resident, I told him. I just wanted to get home, not cause trouble.

As I drove toward my neighbourhood, I could see and hear the rioters a few blocks away, but a small group of them had made its way onto my road, blocking my access. They appeared to be drunk on their own stupidity — so I thought it’d be best if I remained in my car. Eventually, several hours later, with the help of a couple of brave officers, I made it home.

It wasn’t until the morning after — when hundreds rallied to renounce the rioters and clean up the city’s downtown — that I felt like Vancouver was back to being its true self.

The night that shocked and appalled so many, the green-eyed monster emerged — unable to control his emotions or destructive urges. But as I told Dawna’s son, there are two sides to The Incredible Hulk. The other has a desire to do good, to help justice prevail.

Inspired by a rage that was neither blind nor destructive, Vancouver’s compassionate superhero reclaimed the city.

Rosa is a senior producer at Global National, based in Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @RosaHwangTV.

Anthony Weiner: Liar, liar, pants on fire

21/09/2019 Posted by admin

by Rosa Hwang

Before you read this, prepare to despair for humanity.

In just one week, the online exploits of a U.S. congressman and his schlong got more press than Syria’s violent civil uprising, now entering its fifth month. Google News estimates about every 0.09 second — in the time it takes you to say “Weinergate” — the web already generated 14,000 results on the subject.

Congressman Anthony Weiner — a seemingly smart man, a seven-term Congressman — taking pictures of himself in various states of undress, then texting the images to women he met online.

The indiscretions are embarrassing, but a politician getting caught in a sex scandal is hardly new. Although in Weiner’s case — unless there are more sordid revelations — his may be the first sex scandal in U.S. political history that doesn’t technically involve actual sex. Nevertheless, good leaders have been doing bad things since the Bible was written. So what makes this story — and others like it — so irresistible?

For the answer, I’d like to take you a back to a politician, once touted as the “next big thing.”

Before he ever ran for president, or for the title of “Worst Husband in the World,” John Edwards was as close to a rock star as you can get on Capitol Hill. I attended an event in 2003 in Washington when the young senator from North Carolina came in with his thousand-watt smile and perpetually sunny disposition.

I watched Edwards work the room and it was a sight to behold. The ladies swooned. The men sucked in their stomachs. In one fell swoop, he had them hooked. I was reminded of a quote from my favourite book, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice: “He is as fine a fellow as ever I saw. He simpers; he smirks and makes love to us all.”

Former presidential candidate John Edwards makes a statement to the media following a federal court appearance in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on June 3. Photo by Gerry Broome, The Associated Press.

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Today, of course, Edwards is just another cheating politician. He’s been labelled a creep who fathered a child with his mistress, while his ailing wife was dying of cancer. He’s been accused of being a crook, who allegedly misused campaign funds to try and cover up the affair. He was recently indicted by a grand jury on six felony charges. If convicted, Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison.

But all those dizzying events aside, I was struck by an interview I saw with legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, right after Edwards publicly confessed to the affair. He aptly pointed out Edwards was guilty of the one crime that was truly unforgiveable by the media and the electorate: hypocrisy.

Portraying himself as the son of a poor mill worker, who stood up for the little guy, Edwards’s story couldn’t have been scripted better. He fell in love with his law school sweetheart, stood by her through the death of their son, through her successful fight against infertility, and her bouts with breast cancer.

The truth hurts.

Rep. Anthony Weiner is questioned by the media near his home in New York on June 11. Photo by David Karp, The Associated Press.

When a public figure is exposed as a liar, there is an unspoken agreement between the news disseminators (us) and the news consumers (you). The real story is not about sex — it’s about the lies we tell ourselves. Licentiousness breeds corruption, so it’s our responsibility to give you all the sordid details and your responsibility to take it all in, right? We all hop on that bandwagon faster than a fairweather hockey fan during the Stanley Cup Finals. The titillation is merely a side dish, served alongside the main course — kind of like vegetables, bathed in an oily, greasy coating.

As unsavoury as that meal sounds, it will likely remain on the menu. Why? Because “Anthony Weiner” is the most popular search term on Google right now by a country mile — and “Weinergate” is the top trend on Twitter too. Oh — and probably because you read this blog, with the subject matter, “Anthony Weiner.” Admit it. You were interested.

I’m getting indigestion.

Rosa is a senior producer at Global National, based in Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @RosaHwangTV.

It’s TGIF everywhere

21/09/2019 Posted by admin

by Melanie de Klerk

Some people collect spoons, or T-shirts and various other mementos of travelling abroad. I, on the other hand, appear to be collecting memories of all things fried eaten at TGIF. This American restaurant franchise, like Starbucks, appears to have infiltrated some of the most unlikely of places.

I have never once set foot in a TGIF restaurant in its birthplace in the U.S., and yet I always seem to find one in a moment of hunger in the most unlikely of places. I’ve dined on burgers and fries in Vienna, Austria in the basement of a 17th-century building. I’ve eaten chicken burgers and fries at TGIF in The Hague in a historic hotel overlooking the North Sea. I’ve even chowed down on beer-battered shrimp, and, yes, fries at Moscow International Airport.

In all of these locales, the music playing was distinctly American. The décor was distinctly American with album covers adorning the walls and the tell-tale candy striped logo on the menus and placemats. The cuisine is also distinctly American.

So it wasn’t a huge surprise to walk into yet another TGIF and see the same wall art, the same menus and the same food. Only this time I would say it was probably in the most unusual of places — the middle of southern Afghanistan on a military base.

The TGIF at Kandahar Airfield looks like any other. Only here, weapons are not just allowed — they are required.

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Here, the food is the same, only you have to start the ordering process by asking the waiter or waitress, “What don’t you have available on the menu?”

This is because of difficulties in re-supplying as convoys heading into Afghanistan are often being hit by insurgents in Pakistan bent on disrupting NATO supply lines into the country.

Although the menu and décor don’t change from one place to another, the ambience does.

In Austria, despite the Beach Boys album covers on the walls and the burgers and fries, I knew I was in Vienna as I looked up through the half-windows onto one of Vienna’s main streets.

In Amsterdam, the waves crashing onto shore in typical winter storm fashion reminded me that I was definitely at the beach in the Netherlands in winter.

In Moscow, it was the server with the thick Russian accent asking if I wanted “soup, salad or ‘freeze’ (fries).”

In Kandahar, it was definitely the sheer number of men and women with weapons slung over their shoulders or holstered at their side while dining on American-style foods that I will remember as the most distinctly unique TGIF dining experience.

Melanie is Global National’s research supervisor, based in Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @emmyjd2.

Notes from Afghanistan: Final embed

21/09/2019 Posted by admin

by Francis Silvaggio

I arrived in Kandahar on Sunday for my sixth and final embed. The Canadian fighting mission ends here next month and will transition to a training role based in Kabul.

We landed on what’s become the world’s busiest runway in a commercial charter. Six years ago I hitched a ride, with the same company, in a galley seat on their old Russian Antinov Cargo plane. Today, the company runs a 737 charter twice a week. This is just one small example of how much life has changed here since the coalition first arrived.

The rocky roads that wove through the rustic base have been replaced with asphalt; hard concrete structures now sit where tents were once staked; and the small army that built this base has swollen to a number in the tens of thousands.

Without a doubt, Kandahar Airfield has changed significantly since my first visit in 2006 and so has this country.

There are now more schools, better roads, improved health care, governance, military resources and access to water and irrigation. Change has been slow, and security issues present daily challenges, but make no mistake — change is happening. Like a good guest, Canada will leave this place better than it found it.

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Does that mean this mission has been a success? That’s not an easy question to answer. If we measure progress by a North American bar it would be easy to dismiss many of these changes as small and incomplete. This, though, is not North America.

Throughout much of its recent history, Afghanistan has known little more than chaos and conflict. The result was a country divided and a population without guidance. The events that followed 9/11 rocked the country but also presented an opportunity to a people that had the will, but knew no way.

At the end of the day, this mission turned out to be less about creating peace than creating opportunity. Yes, Canada and the international community fought to beat down the enemy but the intent was ultimately to beat down the barriers that prevent this country from standing up for itself.

It’s still a work in progress but as Canada transitions into its new role, Afghanistan does have more tools to build a better future than it did before the mission began. On paper, that seems like a success, but with so much work left to do and 156 Canadian soldiers’ names now written on a memorial here in Kandahar, many people say it doesn’t necessarily feel like it.

Francis is Global National’s Alberta correspondent based in Calgary. He is currently at Kandahar Airfield, reporting on Canada’s withdrawl from Afghanistan. Follow him on Twitter: @FJSilvaggio.