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  Field Notes From
Valley of Death

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Valley of Death On AssignmentArrows

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From Photographer

Steve Winter

Valley of Death On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Author

Alan Rabinowitz

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Steve Winter


Valley of Death

Field Notes From Photographer
Steve Winter

Best Worst Quirkiest
    I wanted to cover the indigenous people in the area, and luckily I met two women who were carrying out research on them for the Myanmar Forest Department. They told me about a Naga man they worked with, and I became very interested. The Naga are famous for having been headhunters in the past, and apparently this man still held animistic beliefs. The women from the Forest Department said that no Westerners had ever been to this Naga village before, so one day I asked them to take me there, high in the mountains near the Indian border.  
      When I met the shaman, I immediately felt as though he were an old friend. He came out with a huge smile, wearing a tiger skin hat and a necklace of "mountain coral"—the name for a local stone—and tiger teeth. The next day was my birthday, and he blessed me with the appropriate Naga song. I had a Polaroid camera, and since the people didn't have mirrors, I could show them a decent depiction of what they looked like for the first time. It was one of the most unique and wonderful experiences of my life.  

    During the three months I was in the Hukawng Valley, we went into the jungle to track animals every single day, and invariably we got covered in leeches. After slogging ten miles (16 kilometers) through the jungle, river, and mud, the last thing we wanted to do when we got back to camp was find leeches all over our bodies.  
      Once I counted 15 on one leg and 13 on the other.  Eventually we bought leech socks, nylon socks that come up over the knee. They helped quite a bit, but they didn't do anything for the leeches on my back. For some reason, I always got them down the back of my shirt, which didn't happen to anyone else. I never felt them because plants were hitting me all the time. The first time I had no idea they were there until I took my shirt off, and it was soaked in blood. My clothes were always bloody.  
      I was always so incredibly tired at night, but we all had to go through the process of removing the leeches and then cleaning and disinfecting ourselves. It was a routine that I never got used to.

    One day we came across some tiger tracks that went into the jungle. As we followed them, I noticed some of the guys kind of tiptoeing across a certain area. I didn't think anything of it until I stepped there and discovered it was quicksand. I was weighed down with photo gear, and I started sinking pretty quickly. No one had warned me about quicksand. In fact, I'm not sure they knew what it was. I attempted to get out, but as we all know, the more you try to get out of quicksand, the faster you sink.  
      Everyone stood back watching me and laughing. Finally, they decided to help me, so one of them came over. He started sinking, fell backwards, and someone else tried to pull him out. Another guy threw me a branch. I was in all the way to my waist before I got out. I pretty much had to do it on my own. I think the guys thought it was funny because they knew there were enough of them to rescue me. But when I was slowly sinking and unable to move, I couldn't see the humor in the situation.


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