how the world sees america

Backpack Fit for a Street Fight

backpack.jpg
Photo of the bag from back in DC, as I was packing to leave.
“Put that thing away or you’ll get bashed on the head,” a Colombian man selling pasties warns me in Gipsy Hill. I slip my small Sony HDV camera off my neck and tuck it into one of my shooting backpack’s many slots. The other slots house a MacBook laptop with Final Cut Pro, a Nikon D100 still camera, two Schriber microphones, HDV tapes and lots of extra batteries. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside I have everything I need to write and post daily on washingtonpost.com.

The small scale is what makes my project possible. I spent Monday afternoon with Tom Dolan and then explored an old gymnasium where muscular kids inject themselves with horse steroids. Lugging anything more with me like lighting equipment, a crew, even a tripod at times would make me stick out sorely. The work would be more challenging, potentially dangerous or even impossible.

I love being able to roll up anywhere, start talking casually with strangers looking for an interesting story, and then if the situation seems right, pull out the camera and begin shooting. I’m pretty young, often scruffy-looking, and the camera I use is small -- all this is essential for building trust and getting honesty; clearly I won’t get anyone on Leno, as DJ Pepe oddly remarked, so we can relax a bit.

I also have been spending far too much time with another American invention: Starbucks. I use these omnipresent internet coffee spots to upload video files and the text posts I’ve usually written on scraps of paper during meals. Nights I’ve been staying with friends, with strangers, in cheap hotels. It’s definitely work on the go.

At least that’s been the UK experience. Up next is India and then Pakistan -- depending on whether Pakistan finally gives me a press visa. The visas and the plane tickets can’t quite be bought on a whim, but just about everything else is up in the air, my course ready to shift direction whenever I meet someone new or catch the scent of something I think you’ll want to hear. Later I'll post some more detail on my methodology, and then respond to some of the comments you've been bringing up over the course of the project.

For now, what stories are you most interested in? Here's what I've got planned, or am thinking about:
- Thursday: meeting former editor of The Economist and PG panelist Bill Emmott
- Friday: Looking into London's experimental theater scene
- Saturday: Soho or Soho
- Sunday: Going to an 'American Football' game in town
- Early next week I want to get a feel for London's Muslim youth, many inspired by America's "thug culture" I'm told. What does that mean? Experts at Oxford were telling me that terrorists are often recruited from hooligans. I'm curious.

What do you suggest? My comment threads (or email: amar.bakshi[at]washingtonpost.com) await.

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Anonymous:

Horse steroids! Where do I get those....

JRLR:

Free like the wind. The best life has to offer.

If I were you, that is how I would like to do the "job".

Love this piece. You're all there, in a few words.

"Small is Beautiful"...


j:

your life sounds so exciting and you do embody the refreshing openness of American youth. One does hope that ambassadors like you will improve the dialoge between differnt nations

Anonymous:

thats pretty sweet

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