Today was my first visit to a refugee camp and boy did I jump right in. Antony and I went to the camp in Pretoria that is known to be a war-zone and as we pulled up I knew it was going to be life-changing. Antony and I had to go through the Disaster Management group in-order to get access to the camp and thanks to the help of Anton we were able to get in. The camp was very weary of letting us in (mainly me) because I am a female, white and oh yeah an American. Within the last 2 weeks 2 women had been kidnapped and held for ransom (1 an aid worker and the 2nd a journalist) and more than 3 other people had been killed. I heard this and at first was ready to hi-tail out of there. For some reason after almost 2 hours of talking (I don’t think the Disaster Management guy liked us) they gave us clearance to go in.
Then I realized…I am a journalist and I am the one who must tell the story of these people. I decided not to take the camera in but just go in as a human. I didn’t know what to expect.
Walking in, you get searched and you must check in with security and police…You pass through two gates and then you are in the bullpen. I was a spectacle as soon as I walked in and word got out that a white girl was in the fence…then I got mobbed. Men speaking multiple languages approached me from all sides, questioning where I was from and what I was doing there. No one was acting dangerously but they were there to protect their “community’s” name. The men eventually told me how bad other journalist (p.s. all media is banned from the camp now) had treated them and gotten the story mixed-up.
I gave up my notebook and let these men lead me to my next story. I met many great people and they gave me their “real” stories from the inside.
The day was crazy and before I went in I honestly have to admit I thought I might have been insane…but now I’m SO glad I went. It was quite the experience and I really did learn about myself. I was the first American inside the camp.
I had to let all of my guards down and there was no lying to these guys, they could see straight through you. It felt so exhilarating to be there and be completely myself and vulnerable, I felt like I was there on the same level as these people are everyday. No privacy, no rights and no security.
It was heartbreaking to see the conditions people are living in. Now I have really experienced the true meaning of the journalism job. I am here to help people through my stories. Finally, all of my hard work has paid off. I always thought the payout would be monetary, but today’s experience is worth way more money than there is in the world. (Even if Mugabe keeps printing Zimbabwean Dollars)