tagged w/ drug production
As we head into the season of indulging on favorite foods surrounded by family and friends, I’ve begun reflecting on meals I’ve shared with our team in Vanguard. As I’ve gotten to know my colleagues over the years, I’ve fondly begun to associate certain flavors and foods with certain people. I know correspondent Laura Ling digs spicy food and packs beef jerky for every shoot. Producer Lauren Cerre fantasizes about the ultimate savory granola bar. Correspondent Mariana Van Zeller makes a mean omelet and Editor Yasu Tsuji comes to every meeting well armed with Pocky.
Of course, no blog posting about food would be complete without mentioning correspondent Adam Yamaguchi, famous for his intrepid appetite. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Adam on several stories including the infamous Penis Restaurant pod. Adam’s poise under pressure is made even more remarkable if you know the backstory. He wasn’t actually supposed to be the only diner at the table sampling the house specialty. Our field producer had arranged for other men to join Adam so they could discuss the supposed Viagra-esque properties as they sampled the meal. But, at the last minute, those eating companions failed to materialize. As they say, the show must go on and, boy, did it. Adam bravely feasted alone and ended up giving a culinary critique that would have given Anthony Bourdain a run for his money.
There usually isn’t a lot of time to for proper meals when we’re out in the field. Lunch is often a handful of gorp and a sad, melted Cliff Bar. Dinner is whatever bland offerings you scrounge up back at the hotel when you roll in exhausted after a long day of shooting. But, a wonderful exception to the typical shoot fare happened this summer when I went to Italy to produce the upcoming “Cocaine Mafia” with Christof Putzel. I hate to stereotype but it’s absolutely true that Italians take their food very seriously. I remember being in the car when a heated discussion broke out between members of our Italian production crew. Christof and I looked at each other, wondering if something had gone wrong. Did an interview fall through? Were we being threatened? No, it was a matter far more urgent. There was a big controversy over where to get the best pizza in town.
It was a real treat working with Christof, not least of all because he’s a gourmand who loves to share his discoveries of all things good to eat. The afternoon before we left Italy, we tracked down some fresh burrata, a mozzarella cheese with cream inside. I never had it before but I took his recommendation and decided this was one souvenir I’d take back with me. The shopowner warned us, “It must be eaten within 24 hours or else.” Or else, what? I wasn’t quite sure but I took his words seriously. I secured the cheese in a cold-insulated bag and asked stewardesses to stow it in the fridge. Delays upon reaching Dulles made me nervous—it was like traveling with a time-sensitive organ waiting to be transplanted. A close call: a beagle at customs came towards me but then found something more interesting to investigate. I made it to San Francisco but truthfully it took a little bit more than 24 hours. My husband and I decided to risk it and devoured the round of cheese with a nice bottle of red at 2AM. It was an absolutely wonderful way to cap off a successful summer of Vanguard production.As we head into the season of indulging on favorite foods surrounded by family and... more
Tonight, Vanguard premieres The Forest of Ecstasy at 10pm ET/ 10pm PT on Current. Not too long before our trip, I’d bought myself a new digital SLR camera to satisfy my then-newfound passion for still photography. (Some photos below) As I go through the hundreds of photos I took during our trip, I’m reminded of all the moments and experiences my colleague Joanne and I experienced during our trip to Cambodia.
While the ecstasy trade, and its impact on Cambodia’s rainforest was one of the main focuses of our trip, this was just one of many many stories that caught our attention. In her blog entry, Joanne touches upon how the drug trade has overrun the heretofore vulnerable nation – today, mostly in the form of meth.
In the mid-late 70s, Cambodia was run by a genocidal regime, known as the Khmer Rouge. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took over the country, and declared the beginning of Year Zero – and all cultural institutions and traditions were to be wiped. Essentially, the nation would hit the restart button, and only new revolutionary ideas would hold.
These guys were responsible for killing nearly 1/5 of the nation’s population, wiping out entire classes of intellectuals and professionals, and instituting an entirely socialized, agrarian society.
During the campaign of terror, the country was essentially hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world. This isolation would outlast the regime itself, which was driven from power in 1979. Ongoing violence and instability kept much of the rest of the world from wanting to engage, or do any business in this dangerous country.
Drugs, like many other legal products, are part of international business. Cambodia’s instability proved to be too risky for the drug traffickers, who steered clear. So even though the country sat in a region known for massive flows of drugs, Cambodia was entirely drug free.
In the years since the Khmer Rouge have lost power and melted away, Cambodia has begun to rejoin and re-engage with the world. This has meant increased trade with its neighbors. And now, the drugs are flowing in, in massive amounts.
Drug pushers are finding Cambodia to be rich, fertile ground for the proliferation and sale of drugs. Meth has proven to be particularly viral for this broken population. At the same time, those who are resource-hungry are also finding Cambodia ripe for exploitation. Like the forests full of the ecstasy precursors and the exotic animals deep inside.
Unfortunately for Cambodia, this is what democracy, the ideals of freedom, and trade have brought. Development has been extremely positive for Cambodia, and the nation is far better off than it was under the Khmer Rouge. But did liberty and freedom have to be so costly?
Recently on the Vanguard Blog:
- A Geologist’s Analysis of the War in Afghanistan - Kaj Larsen
- Everything is connected: ecstasy, rainforests, and beyond - Adam Yamaguchi
- Street Hustlers, Militants, and Vanguard’s Mission - Mitch Koss
- Cambodia’s Coming Drug Crisis - Joanne Shen
- Preparing for armageddon in the year 2012 - Adrian BaschukTonight, Vanguard premieres The Forest of Ecstasy at 10pm ET/ 10pm PT on Current. Not... more
Over the years, I’ve worked on a number of environmental stories that have taken me from one part of the globe to another -- from Madagascar to China and all the way to Greenland.
For me, this entire journey has been a bit accidental. I’d never really considered myself to be truly “green” in any one way, but when I came to Current, I committed myself to doing stories of large global import. As I began mapping out the big stories that I felt needed to be told, many of them have happened to point back to the health of our planet.
This led me to the realization that everything is somehow tied to the environment. By simply paying attention, we can see and understand how most every action we take, nearly every product we consume, has an effect somewhere else in the world. That reaction may not be within sight – conveniently, it often isn’t – but somewhere, you can bet there’s a cost.
I began tossing around ideas about how best to illustrate that idea. Examples abound – like plastics accumulating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, electronic trash burning in an e-waste wasteland in China, or sushi’s acceptance as a global cuisine leading to an emptying of our oceans. My colleague found an unexpected, nearly grotesque example.
A few months ago, Joanne Shen and I traveled to Cambodia to see how the global demand for ecstasy was helping drive the destruction of what was amongst the most pristine, intact rainforests in Southeast Asia. It’s a great example of how the demand for various goods can, and often has, massive, reverberating effects halfway around the world. These ‘ecstasy hunters’ are burrowing deep into the forest to obtain safrole oil, the precursor to MDMA, or ecstasy. This is the crucial ingredient for the drug.
In “The Forest of Ecstasy” you’ll see me trudge through the rainforest in search of a rare tree that’s being cut down for its high quantities of the essential oil. And we came across safrole oil ‘factories’ in the middle of the forest, extracting and refining the oil before it’s sent out to become the ecstasy pill. The damage doesn’t end there. As the guys create roads into the forest, they’re paving the roads open for poachers looking for the wildlife bounty inside. It’s a chain reaction caused by club kids looking for a good time.
I’m not suggesting we stop doing all the things we do in any given day, or stop consuming the things that have become ‘necessities’ in our lives. But a greater level of awareness just might make you think a bit more about the choices you have to make.
The world is far more connected than you might imagine.
The "Forest of Ecstasy" airs tonight Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 10/9c on Current TV. For more information, visit Vanguard on Current.com.Over the years, I’ve worked on a number of environmental stories that have taken... more
Those of us who have grown up in the U.S. have an ingrained understanding of what a drug is. We know that sometimes drugs can make you feel really good and sometimes they can make you feel really bad. We know that drugs alter your body chemistry, and affect your body and brain functions - for a short time or perhaps forever. Assailed from an early age with public service announcements, school drug education programs, and the diatribes of political candidates, we know about the dangers of addiction to the point at which "This is your brain on drugs" campaigns and "Just Say No" slogans have become the easy butt of jokes.
But Cambodia is starting from scratch. After decades of civil war, genocide and mass starvation, there is still too little understanding of what a drug is, in comparison to the amount of drugs that are quickly becoming available. This summer Adam Yamaguchi and I traveled to Cambodia to produce "Forest of Ecstasy" which will be airing this Wednesday at 10P/9C. In the program, we examine how the global demand for the club drug ecstasy is fueling the destruction of Cambodian rainforest as criminals try to get their hands on locally produced safrole oil, a key ingredient in the drug.
Ecstasy belongs to a category of drugs called Amphetamine Type Stimulants (ATS), and according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, global demand for ATS drugs is on the rise and Asia is becoming a hotspot for global production. Cambodia's porous borders and inadequate law enforcement and border controls have made it an easy destination for drug traffickers and producers who manufacture ATS drugs, like ecstasy and meth, to feed the lucrative international trade. Consequently, there's a spillover effect when these illicit drugs pass through the country and locals get their first contact with them.
It's easy to see how local demand for these synthetic drugs could grow furiously. As a country like Cambodia, which was closed off from the rest of the world for decades, enters the fast paced 21st century, its population is increasingly curious about these meds that supposedly make you happier, stronger and more productive. While ecstasy is still too expensive for the average Cambodian, abuse of meth, is quickly becoming prevalent among working-class Cambodians. People like fishermen, truck drivers and agricultural workers, who have to work long, strenuous hours take meth-laced pills known in local slang either as yaba or yama. (It depends who is talking about it. We were told that "yaba" literally means "the pill that makes you crazy" but drug dealers call it "yama" which means "strong like a horse"). These little pills look like colorful, harmless candy and they're pushed onto unsuspecting, uneducated Cambodians as vitamins. In this clip of raw footage, Adam Yamaguchi looks at a handful of this popular form of meth:
Meth in the form of yaba/yama is the gateway drug for many Cambodians. From yaba or yama, they move onto highly addictive crystal meth, which is already the drug of choice amongst Cambodian street kids. Natural curiosity about drugs, the growing available supply of drugs and a population in which more than a third of the population is under the age of 15, are all factors that collectively could lead to a national drug crisis. Time to bust out some catchy anti-drug slogans in Khmer, 'cause we've got a perfect storm brewing.
Recently on the Vanguard Blog:
- Preparing for armageddon in the year 2012 - by Adrian Baschuk
- There's no app for that - San Francisco's tough new trash law - by Tracey Chang
- Sustainable Sushi: Cooking with Vanguard's Christof Putzel - by Christof Putzel
- Mexico's narco war isn't ours - by Mitch Koss
- Celeb Oxy Watch: Sam Jones III of Smallville - by Mariana van ZellerThose of us who have grown up in the U.S. have an ingrained understanding of what a... more
Next week, Forest of Ecstasy airs (here's the sneak peek). It goes down in my memory as one of the most physically taxing shoots I’ve ever been on and one that I proudly emerged intact from (except for a couple of toenails) with a tale of an exciting real life adventure to share.
As a producer, we do everything we can to prepare for our time out in the field. From dozens of midnight phone calls made to the opposite end of the world to set up interviews and sort out logistics to the task of mentally and emotionally preparing ourselves to be apart and out of communication from family and friends for days, even weeks at a time…. that’s all part of pre-production.
For Forest of Ecstasy, there was an added component of being physically up for the challenge. I knew we’d be heading out into the hot muggy rainforest, carrying all our gear on our backs. I’m reasonably fit but, let’s face it, I don’t train for triathalons for fun like Adam Yamaguchi. To prepare, I went on weekly long hikes in the hills of Northern California where I live. My husband acted as my personal trainer, encouraging me to keep those feet moving when I’d start to tire. We couldn’t replicate the humidity of Cambodia but we did load up my backpack up with bottles of water and handweights. My husband said that other hikers we’d pass would give him dirty looks for letting me do all the heavy lifting!
In the end, this is what we carried on our backs :
- Satellite phone (for emergencies only at $8 a minute!)
- Videocamera and 4 big batteries
- Water purification tablets
- First aid kit, replete with quick clot
- Hammock with mosquito net cover
- Silk sleeping sheet
- Extra shirt
- Cans of tuna fish
- Plastic bags to protect the gear from the rain
Here’s what I really wished I had packed
- A pair of flipflops
- Extra socks
- Deet-laced mosquito repellent (to make the leeches drop off)
Of course, you can never be prepared for everything. And during the river crossing, Adam Yamaguchi couldn’t resist turning the camera on me at a particularly vulnerable moment. Earlier in the day, I had overcome my repulsion of leeches—just pick ‘em off your neck with the left hand while filming with the right hand!—but making my way across the slippery riverbed was an unexpected twist in the journey. I knew about the possibility of landmines but this water component was almost too much. I fearfully pictured a Siamese crocodile making a rare appearance just for us. But forge ahead I did….
Joanne crosses the river (Video)
BTW, I wasn’t waving a white flag high over my head. That’s a double plastic bag with all the shot tapes that I’m trying to keep as safe as possible. And I can answer my joking question on why we at Vanguard do these things...to bring the story back to you.
Recently from the Vanguard blog:
An overview of Cuba: Past, Present and Future - by Adrian Baschuk
Don’t turn off the TV, yet - by Adam Yamaguchi
We warned you about the dollar…sort of - by Mitch KossNext week, Forest of Ecstasy airs (here's the sneak peek). It goes down in my... more
This was a busy summer for me. I produced two stories, “Forest of Ecstasy” airing October 28 and "Cocaine Mafia" airing December 9. I traveled to Cambodia with Adam Yamaguchi where we traipsed around a leech infested forest in search of secret factories where rare trees are harvested to make “ecstasy oil”.
Here's a sneak peek from the show:
Sneak Peek Vanguard Season 3: Leeches
I barely had time to unpack and repack when I was off to Italy where I met up with Christof Putzel to investigate one of Europe’s largest hubs for cocaine trafficking, a town just outside of Naples, Italy, called Castel Volturno. I spend most of my time on shoots looking through the viewfinder and filming. I love making images and hate being the center of attention so this is the perfect gig for me. But recently, I looked for some photos of myself in professional action—perhaps a shot of me hacking my way through the rainforest with some armed Cambodian forest rangers and realized I never got them. I’m usually so busy trying to make sure I capture the story unfolding in front of me, that I rarely stop to ask someone to take a keepsake photo of me. So going through my digital camera, I didn’t have much luck in finding the quintessential “badass” producer shot. Instead what I found was this classic snapshot of me, hanging out in a sun-drenched piazza with some old Italian gents. It was one of our last days of filming in Italy and we were trying to get some visuals that encapsulate the picture perfect Italian small town life. Except we knew the town was a mafia stronghold and journalists were probably not super-welcome. I felt like a lot of suspicious eyes were on us outsiders. So I played up, pretending to be a tourist and even asked someone to take my picture with some of the locals. And there you have it, visual proof of me on the job, as a Vanguard producer.
Also from the Vanguard blog:
- Mitch Koss on Vanguard’s Documentary Origins
- Laura Ling on Vanguard’s Mission
- Vanguard goes to Dr. Phil by Darren Foster
This was a busy summer for me. I produced two stories, “Forest of Ecstasy”... more
Tonight is the premiere of the final episode of the Vanguard season: Cocaine Mafia. Christof Putzel travels to Europe to see how they're feeding their growing appetite for the drug.
This Week on Vanguard: Cocaine Mafia (Video)
This season of Vanguard has been a really great one - so we'll be featuring a lot of the previous shows today and the rest of the week on the Current News page. You can watch them all online, you know - so if you missed one - get caught up! Watch Adam Yamaguchi tromping through the Cambodian rainforest in Forest of Ecstasy or Mariana van Zeller following the pain pill pipeline in The Oxycontin Express.
Recently on the Current News Blog:
- Who will pay for climate change? - Copenhagen
- Obama lays out plan for jobs; Meeting lawmakers tomorrow
- Photography in conflict: Jeff Antebi covers the Afghanistan election
- Iran students' day of protest
- Copenhagen backgrounder - A roundup of pre-conference readingTonight is the premiere of the final episode of the Vanguard season: Cocaine Mafia.... more
An exciting couple of days in Afghan election news. After a nail-biting few weeks of recounts, this weekend the challenger Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of the race. Meaning that President Karzai would keep his job for another term.
So, good news right? Now Afghanistan has an uncontested President? Well unfortunately the whole point of the recount was to ensure validity for whomever ended up the victor. And with Abdullah dropping out because “transparent election is not possible” it doesn't seem to lend a lot of credibility to Karzai's win. But don't tell the US, which was already very quick to congratulate Karzai on his win.
The challenges facing stabilizing efforts in Afghanistan unfortunately seem to keep growing with time. I finally had the chance to watch "Obama's War" from Frontline this weekend, and I highly recommend it. It gives you a real sense of the challenges on the ground in Afghanistan's provinces and in Kabul working with Karzai's government. All of the warlords and possible drug smugglers he's surrounded himself with still seem to be around - will the US need to boost legitimacy in spite of Afghanistan's elected President?
Recently on the Current News Blog:
- Obama's stimulus numbers look promising
- Iran on nukes: No deal
- Honduras deal reached - Zelaya to return to power?
- The economy grows again - Champagne time yet?
- The Tamil Tigers and innovations in IEDsAn exciting couple of days in Afghan election news. After a nail-biting few weeks of... more
The US refusal to destroy opium poppy crops in Afghanistan guarantees that raw drug sources there will be inviolable, leading to heavy drug use in Russia, the head of the Russian federal drug control agency said.
The amount of narcotics brought into Russia has increased two-fold since the beginning of the anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan, Viktor Ivanov, Russian Federal Drug Control Service chief, said on Saturday. “Afghan heroin amounts to 90% of all drugs sold in Russia. Annual supplies stand at 35 tonnes or 5 billion shots,” Ivanov said, as quoted by Interfax news agency.
At the same time, the Taliban’s share in Afghan drug production is minimal, Ivanov pointed out. “Nevertheless, the NATO command has focused entirely on this minority producer and generously lets local Afghan authorities combat the remaining 99% of drug production,” he said.
It is high time to formally declare the phenomenal narcotics production in Afghanistan to be a threat to international peace and security, Ivanov said. Viktor Ivanov warned that drugs production in Afghanistan is “a global factor destabilizing the situation in Russia as the target market and in Central Asia which has become a transit territory.”The US refusal to destroy opium poppy crops in Afghanistan guarantees that raw drug... more