I think it takes a certain kind of person to become a journalist and be able to sustain working in the industry without needing a therapist (or maybe every now and then).
As much as I loved my experiences as a rough and tumble journo, I really do cherish where I am now. I can’t do that same job anymore. I’d be a wreck, physically and emotionally and I really don’t want to put myself into those kinds of situations.
My past sounds exciting and tough, and it was. That’s why I don’t have any qualms saying I am a real journalist because I know what I went through. When I came to Australia and got rejected by companies over and over again (because I didn’t have local experience), it barely dampened my confidence because I knew that I went through more than most of the journos here at my age. They just rejected me because of a technicality.
Still, I don’t want to go back to that job. I had so many emotionally draining moments, life threatening moments, morally reprehensible moments – ones that I don’t want my daughter to emulate.
On my first year on the job, I was first on the site when they found the body of a teenage boy no more than 14 years old. There was a wire around his neck, barely hanging from the roof of the school’s gymnasium. I was witness to the product of what seemed like bullying/gang hazing gone terribly awry. I’ve never seen anyone dead before that — and that was a sight I’d rather forget. We reported it. It was our job.
Another unsavoury coverage was of a sailor who died in international waters as their boat sank after a storm. I watched as his child and wife wailed in pain at the wooden box being carried off the plane. It was the sailor’s first trip in an international ship – a decision they had to make even if they would be apart for long periods of time. He wanted to provide for his family and international ships pay more than local ones. They never expected that his first trip would be his last. I stood in the corner clutching my microphone, dreading the interview that I needed to do. I whispered to Paps, my cameraman, that I couldn’t do the interview and he pushed me.
“I know it’s hard, but it’s your job. Don’t think about it. Just breathe and suck it up. When it’s done, you can cry in the car.”
And that’s just what I did. I asked the proverbial stupid question of “how do you feel?” because it was required of me. But in my head I was begging for her to scream at me “how do I feel? What do you think you stupid journalist?! My husband is in this box, bloated with sea water!”
But she was kind and accommodating and she answered all my stupid questions in between sobs.
I’ve never seen a drowned body before. He was bloated almost beyond recognition. I left the scene and sat quietly in the car.
Yet another horrible coverage was one of my fire stories. Several houses were burned down after some electrical malfunction (almost a normal occurrence given the poor electrical infrastructure in the Philippines), and one of the parents threw his son out of a two-storey window to save him. The kid was no more than five years old and half of his body was badly burnt. Have you smelt burnt human flesh? It smells like pork barbecue. I watched as they carried the boy away, crying in pain, looking for his parents who didn’t make it. All the time I was thinking I wanted pork for lunch.
Next stop, my realisation that I was transitioning into a heartless wench.