Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Racial Justice | Election 2020

Visit the Midday Edition homepage

Memoir Of A Young Camerawoman’s Adventures In Afghanistan

April 19, 2016 2:32 p.m.

Memoir Of A Young Camerawoman’s Adventures In Afghanistan

GUEST:

Melissa Burch, author, “My Journey Through War and Peace”

Related Story: Memoir Of A Young Camerawoman’s Adventures In Afghanistan

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Writer Melissa Burch is on a heroine's journey. And she is bringing it to a public reading in La Jolla this afternoon. Melissa Burch knows a lot about her road pursued she was shooting footage for the aft again for CBS in the 1980s were no other camera was there. She has written a memoir of her experience as a freelance videographer called "My Journey Through War and Peace". Melissa Burch spoke yesterday with Allison St. John . Cures that interview.
The lessee were very young when you first went to Afghanistan you were just 21. What motivated you to volunteer for such a dangerous assignment. I was in the money I'm guessing.
It was a way to break into the field at that time. They didn't send mature journalists to be embedded with Mujahedeen. My husband and converse. It was very interesting and I was the place I was a second-generation Phantom Menace trees set I can do with the guys can do. I put myself in a war zone.
When you look back at that do you marvel at your courage or your?
I think both when I wrote the memoir I touched in the part where I had a lot of anxiety. In a way it was intuitive to go to war zone. I did have courage but I was somebody who had a lot of angst. I grew up with an alcoholic mother and that counterpoint of both of that having courage and feeling very anxious.
And addicted to the adrenaline of dangerous situations you put yourself in. Your footage was for CBS. What kind of footage we able to get on the first trip tells about that.
Again I was very naïve and I thought what film of facts. I was with a guerrilla type group of Mujahedeen. There is mission was to attack a Soviet convoy. That's what I did. In retrospect I would want my 18-year-old son to do something like that. There were so many places where animals died. I had a windup roadworks which say my love because when I had to change the film I turned around I have my hands in the drop bag it was a old-fashioned camera to the building block. There are moments where I am very lucky to be here.
Imagined during that trip that there were some of the footage that they staged so that you couldn't actually have something to show. The Mujahedeen staged it. To have any questions about the question
That was part of revisiting those issues as a 50 year olds looking at that time. I think I sort of put together what probably did happen. I think I wasn't probably really conscious when I was going through at how much of that was set up for me until I could reflect on it. Of course, we are supposed to be observers, and not really actively making anything happen there. But I think there are these very grade boundaries when you're in a situation like that.
You describe how your intuition became very finely honed and in fact at one point you were able to save your whole party by an intuition you had tells that story.
Yes that was very intense beat because I felt like I got the footage of the attack on the convoy. I was heading home. I just got this message that was making no sense. Set I have to give this footage over Christmas. Of course the Mujahedeen had no idea what is the talking about. They were stopping for their regular prayers. I shoved one of those Mujahedeen. Because I heard them along so much, we ended up back on the road much sooner than we would've been. Some of their comments were -- the told us to stop. If we had been a minute later, we would been blown up by the mines that were placed on the highway. So it was a place where I learned how my intuition fills in my body and sometimes feels absurd and out of context.
Do you think living through intense experiences changes your awareness management
I do. Like you said the adrenaline of being put in a war zone did hide my senses. I think it also gave me the connection to how to understand what I needed to do to be in the flow in much calmer situations in the future.
Your second assignment was to find the Mujahedeen Ahmed Shah Massoud who had negotiated cease-fire. What was your goal on that trip pic did you accomplish it?
I did. I was more mature. Still naïve. Going into a war zone. My idea was if I can actually film the cease file would fire I got in the Panjshir Valley where he was in command. I thought I could get that story it could change history. Unfortunately, CBS did not broadcast that. BBC did broadcast it. In retrospect he was the commander who was killed just before 9/11 and knew how to fight the Taliban right at the source. Being they are at a point in time will wear something could've changed but obviously it did not.
Your description of the crime of the 13,000 foot mountain tip to find it was grueling. Did you have any idea how hard that would be before he started with your gear for short
I knew it would be hard and people Asking me how are you going to do this. I thought I'm going to it. When you are faced with actually going up that kind of a mountain range. I collapsed. I saw myself. I could lie here die. I could not go forward. Again, it was a reaction I did not know I had in me that I could just go. I mean the Mujahedeen did take care of me and hoisted me and forced to me forward.
Is only camera woman in Afghanistan at that time, how do they relate to you? You are with a party of entirely men.
The Muslim women are kept behind the scenes and cut off from that kind of activity. I think for me it was -- I was not a woman or a man die was a middle sex in that situation. They had tribal rules and ways of just taking care of visitors out siders once you're in. I felt very safe with them.
You had a really wonderful experience with one of their communities of wives
Yes. I think it was a interesting thing to being a woman I was invited into a very limited situation. One of the things that happened was that the women bathed me. In this culture in the United States, it also feels very uncomfortable but they made me feel safe and Internet. That I could feel really touched by that experience with them.
When you got back there was a difference in reaction from the British consulate than the American consulate. Tells about that.
I traveled with a British journalist and he had over us stages these as I had done mine. He had no problem. But unfortunately the United States consulate was like you can get arrested. Fortunately the mayor of Peshawar got me a driver and gave me a ride.
At the same time, the American consulate seem don't know where of Ahmed Shah Massoud and seemed uninterested in what you have discovered about him . The irony.
I think the Americans or the United States consulate did not see the impact of what would be happening down the road. Of course they had to catch up on the history and the terrain.
Your writing is 30 years later. But you have a lot of very clear details. Even just the physical experience of being there. How did you find that the writing about the memories?
I never intended to write a memoir I I had always been known journalist. When I -- what I found was wet -- when I started to remember this I was really interested in reflecting on my life. I found a space where I could drop into the actual sensations, the sounds, the touch, the visuals and the stories came back at a level that I'd really didn't know I have that inside of me.
You think the story is different because he wrote a 30 years later?
I think the themes I was able to see. I've think the process slot -- I think the process of memoir writing is a way to connect to these things in your life. I think there is a tremendous value in them.
Has the writing of your memoirs change your attitude to yourself and your life?
One of the things that we decided to do around this book is take the heroine's journey. I saw the heroine in me when I was writing the memoir in reflecting back to my son is very different from the hero's journey. I think most of us are very familiar of Joseph Campbell and the ID set a goal you have conflicts and obstacles. It tends to be very linear. What I saw when I wrote the memoir was the heroine's journey was a reflection within. And really looking at those deeper connections of intimacy in our relationship sour relate to our environment. Where we are kind of conscious of our journey. And so I am taking this on the road. We are doing 16 cities. Where an RV. My husband and my son. We are re-creating another heroine's journey with the strip.
Your riding that you are riding around in bus with the heroine's journey inside.
I think the heroine is really a balance. I don't think it's a gender thing big I think Amir Kabir heroine in your journey. It is just being conscious of the feminine male principles and how they cross over and almost a DNA fashion. I am very proud to tell the story of what it is like to be a heroine on this journey of life really.
Do you have any advice for people who are writing memoirs about their lives? About how to approach a question mark
I think just do it. That's what I did. I just started writing Writing. I had a friend who helped me. Anybody would be good. I think all of us want to reflect back on her stories and people want to hurt them -- people want to hear them too.
I fascinating story. It is called "My Journey Through War and Peace". You will be reading at 6:00 Tuesday in a low higher library on Draper Street. Thank you very much about telling us about your adventures pick
It is such a pleasure to be her.
I am Maureen Cavanaugh and thank you for listening .