Challenges of Shooting Documentary Work in the Middle East... and Joys

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You can never be prepared fully for what's to come in the Middle East.
What I've learned is to be fully ready for anything, and to be ready for anything you do to take 3-5 times longer than you expected.

If your drive is three hours? Double it.
If your trip is to the market, expect to stay an hour longer than you thought.
If you're meeting someone, they will be late.
Trust me, their lateness is not personal, it's just that the unexpected should be expected.

My expectations were to have lots of issues with security checkpoints...
but mostly, they were a) shocked to see an American woman and b) excited to speak English.
Multiple security officers laughed when they saw my US passport...
some had never seen one before because Americans just aren't often in that part of the world.

My expectation was also to struggle with taking photographs at all...
since making images is considered culturally haram and there are often security issues surrounding photography.
But to my delight, 90% of people I asked for a photo said yes...
and some people ran to me with great enthusiasm and begged me to take their photo.

Sometimes the struggles that we have are ones we could have never prepared to face.

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One of the greatest challenges was completely unexpected...
My body struggles to keep up with the dust and heat.
Due to Iraq's high rates of toxic dust, my lymph nodes will often swell during and after any trip.
Going into any trip, I take binder tablets with me, herbal teas and a healthy amount of magnesium.
Coming back, I make plans to do an herbal detox protocol, to take additional binders for heavy metals and to make extra trips to the sauna.

Another unexpected struggle is the constant battle with fear.
Because Iraq is such a place filled with uncertainty and large crowds, so even things as simple as driving or going to the market require extra care.
Most people are very kind, but it is difficult to discern who that is sometimes.

Finally, the reality is that Iraq is a harsh landscape.
It is a desert that has been ravaged by war and fighting.
The remains of the day often linger longer than you can imagine...

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Iraq is magical land, filled with kind people who will give you everything when they have nothing.
You will be fed with love, with kindness, and with copious amounts of dolma (sort of a meat/vegetable/rice hot pocket, for my American friends.)

There is a love for this land that has captured my heart and imagination.
I hope that it captures yours, too.


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Month 01, 2022

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