Preparing for my first war zone

Editor's note: On Oct. 10, 2001 Cheryl Diaz Meyer, staff photographer for The Dallas Morning News, left Dallas for Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to join News reporter Tracey Eaton. The pair have journeyed to Dushanbe (D-YOU-SHAHM-BEH), Tajikistan, where they ventured across the Afghan border to Khoja Bahauddin (HO-juh BO-DEEN). After nearly two weeks in Khoja Bahauddin, they have moved on to Taloqan (TAHL-oh-KAHN), where they were awaiting the fall of Kunduz (koon-DOOZ).

 

A couple of oblique references need to be clarified: "John" is John Davidson, visuals editor. "Massood" is Ahmed Shah Massood, former leader of the Northern Alliance who was assassinated in September.

Cheryl and Tracey are more than our co-workers, they are our friends, part of our newspaper family. Through Cheryl's e-mail journals, we've been able to feel and be part of their incredible journey.

 

Ken Geiger

Director of Photography

 

Ken and John,

More people came in last night from Khoja Bahauddin, Massood's town, which is some 1 1/2 hours from the Tajik border where many journalists are staying and where the aid organizations are also located. It's not on the map because it was created four years ago when Massood was pushed north by the Taliban. 

This town is where we anticipate to work out of. News is that the Monday convoy, which we were supposed to be on, was held up at the border overnight by Russian guards. They left at 10 a.m. and arrived in Khoja at 10 a.m. the following day. They slept on the ground or whatever.

In Khoja Bahauddin, we should be 1 or 3 hours away from the front lines – there are varied reports. It's a drive plus an hour on a horse through a river. Supposedly the Northern Alliance cannot make a move because they have inferior weaponry so they are simply waiting for the U.S. to bomb the Taliban there. There is some firing back and forth, but it's just a show. They are too far from each other.

The Northern Alliance got hold of a bunch of rations dropped by the U.S. and have kept most of it and pawned the rest at the market where journalists can find American peanut butter and other items the Afghans have no clue what to do with. They eat rice and beans most of the time.

The foreign ministry in Khoja Bahauddin was Massood's place before he was killed. NBC is camped on his property. Many others have simply pitched tents in the so-called "garden." Word is that they are serving free rice three times a day for the journalists. I will pick up some hard cheese and salami for the first week or so, and then we'll go to canned meats and fish after that. I have decided to hire a second car for the ride to the border because we simply have too much baggage; we are loaded down with water and other supplies.

I am thrilled to think I have convinced a fellow from Bloomberg to part with his sleeping bag after he leaves in some four days. It's fancy, small and very, very light. The ones at the local sport shop weigh a ton.

Apparently we must buy a generator. There is little electricity there, and with all our equipment needing recharging, we won't be able to rely on kindness. Apparently journalists are feeling frustrated by the amount of equipment breaking down due to the sand and are getting quite ornery about whatever is working. I tried to scam a beautiful red small generator off an Austrian fellow who's returning to Moscow soon, but he was too fearful of the repercussions with Russian customs. It was quite a lovely one, however.

 For your comfort, some 1,300 or more journalists have gotten accredited in Dushanbe on their way to Afghanistan, and no one has gotten hurt. So things are rough but not terribly dangerous, it seems. There's more danger to our equipment and personal health than anything.

Cheryl