Getting ready for Ethiopia: time to get serious

    If all goes according to plan, I will be leaving for Ethiopia in 10 days. I’ve got two weekends to get my act together. Thankfully, one is a three-day holiday weekend. The business week affords little time or energy for preparation.

    It’s time to get organized. Time to make lists. Time to start packing and fill the prescriptions that will protect me from malaria and dysentery. Time to think about clothing and footwear for the height of the rainy season. Time to make sure I have enough batteries and SD cards, the right chargers and the appropriate electrical converter.

    This will be my first foray into the world as a multimedia journalist. The prospect is both exciting and daunting. I’ve never traveled with so much technological equipment. So it’s time to figure out how I will carry (and efficiently juggle) my Nikon digital camera, my Sony flipcam and the handheld recorder and headphones I just ordered this morning. Not to mention my laptop, a dozen reporter’s notepads and a reasonable number of decent pens.

    I’m someone who flusters easily when I feel rushed. So I’m worried about the hundreds of decisions that face me as I struggle to record the journey ahead — this privilege I have of witnessing two Ethiopian babies join the Paradise Valley family that has adopted them. I worry about missing great moments as I figure out whether to pull out the camera, the video camera or the audio recorder. I ponder the boundaries I must navigate between invasiveness and respectful intimacy as I try to bring this story to life. I have been invited to share a miraculous moment; I hope my instincts will serve me well.

    So it’s time to get serious. I need to practice with my equipment and make sure I’m comfortable enough with it that I don’t waste precious moments trying to figure out how to use it. In that realm, I have a lot of support.

    Photographer/Writer Daniel Friedman has been coaching me on the use of my digital camera and is creating a “cheat sheet” for me listing various lighting scenarios and how I might choose to deal with them. He plans to spend a couple of hours with me before I leave, watching me shoot pictures and critiquing the results so I can learn from my mistakes. A few days ago, he emailed to say he’d bought a new battery for my camera: “I was at Tempe camera picking up rental stuff for the cover shoot and I just had this gut feeling that having an extra, new battery would be helpful in Ethiopia.”

    The reason I have a flipcam at all is because staff Multimedia Journalist Vicki Louk Balint gave me hers. She has coached me in how to use it and made time on Thursday, just before she left for vacation, to create an instruction sheet showing me how to upload video clips to a site where she can retrieve and edit them. Even though she’s in the Outer Banks of North Carolina visiting family through the 4th of July, she has encouraged me to practice with the the FTP site. She has her laptop with her and will let me know if I am doing it correctly.

    I’ve also tapped the expertise of Rob Turchick of YipDog Studios. Rob is an audio and video wizard with a 21-year history in the entertainment and media industries. He responded within minutes when I emailed to ask his advice about the kind of audio recorder and headphones I should buy.

    These guys have my back. Which helps a lot when it’s “try not to panic” time.