Sunday, March 21, 2004

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been asked by BBC News Online to write a piece reflecting on my experiences one year after the beginning of the war.

The article should be going live in the next day or two, but here's a sneak preview:

On the afternoon of April 2nd 2003 I smelled explosives and burnt meat and I knew my life would never be the same again.

I had been in Iraq for two months, waiting for the war to begin and then reporting on the unfolding conflict from the north of the country.

As the front line between the Kurdish-controlled north and the central and southern territories held by Saddam Hussein began to crumble, my team travelled to Kifri, a town on the road heading towards the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Accompanied by a local Kurdish soldier, we drove towards an abandoned Iraqi trench. As I stepped out of our vehicle I triggered an unmarked anti-personnel landmine, which blew my right heel wide open.

Thinking we were coming under attack my cameraman, Kaveh Golestan, tried to run for safety. In doing so he set off another two landmines. He was killed instantly.

Doctors tried their best to save my limb but five days after being flown back to the UK my right leg was amputated below the knee.

Since the war began thousands of people, military and civilian, have been robbed of their limbs. Soft flesh is no match for mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenade fragments and shrapnel thrown out in all directions by roadside bombs.

12 months ago, as I lay in a hospital bed recovering from my amputation, the future looked bleak. But the overwhelming support of family, friends and my employers, have got me through.

I returned to work as a World Affairs Producer last autumn. Once again I’m covering news stories around the globe. Most people have no idea I wear a prosthetic limb – except when fatigue gets the better of me and I need to take the leg off in public.

I’ve also found a worthwhile cause into which to channel much of my energy. I’ve become a patron of the Mines Advisory Group, a charity which clears landmines around the world and which made safe the area around Kifri where I was injured.

In November, I travelled with MAG to Cambodia – one of the most heavily mined countries in the world – to see the organisation’s work at first hand.

To roll up my trouser leg and compare prostheses with a Cambodian street beggar maimed by a landmine was a moving experience – and to walk along a “safe lane” just centimetres from an uncleared minefield was terrifying.

I was inspired by the difference MAG is making to the lives of some of the poorest people on the planet and saddened by the lack of opportunities available to Cambodian landmine victims.

The thought which hurtled through my mind in the seconds following my accident has proved to be correct – my life will never be the same again.

But it’s certainly not over.

I would give anything to turn back the clock – but my life has been enriched beyond measure by experiences I never would have had if I had not trodden on that landmine one year ago.

Most noticeably I’ve lost some of that brittle veneer of detachment most journalists cultivate in order to do their job.

A year ago, the personal tragedies and life-changing events I reported on did not seem to bother me.

Now, though, every tragic news story, every journalist colleague killed or injured in the course of their work, every limb lost affects me deeply and personally.



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