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For me, the year 2021 began with an insurrection and ended on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

Whereas 2020 was primarily spent covering the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide social unrest, 2021 was a year of myriad, diverse experiences. 

A deadly heatwave, two devastating wildfires, weeks spent in numerous countries, and a handful of (photographing) weddings provided a year that both challenged and rewarded me like few others have. 

Below is a look back on some of the professional and personal moments that defined 2021.

January 6, 2021
By now the facts of what happened on January 6, 2021 have been widely reported: early that afternoon between 2000 and 2500 people loyal to former President Donald Trump broke from a larger crowd of 10,000+ people gathered near the Washington Monument for a "MAGA Million" march. From there, at the urging of the former President, the crowd marched to the U.S. Capitol building. For the next four hours the mob squared off against Capitol police officers, crowded the concrete stairs and scaled the high outside walls; hundreds gained entrance to the building and hundreds more cheered for their peers and organized chants of praise for the former President. 

Most I spoke with that day readily professed a desire "stop the steal", a reference to the untrue assertion that Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 Presidential election, and sought to disrupt the joint session of Congress assembled inside to count the electoral votes that would make official Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States.

Less widely reported has been the verbal and physical assaults on members of the press that took place throughout the day and into the evening on January 6, 2021.

I captured this video as several Trump loyalists confront and verbally assault Kate Woodsome of the Washington Post before turning their attention on me. I hope it provides a glimpse into the dangers that members of the press faced on January 6, 2021 and regularly endure amidst a climate distrust and hostility. 

The riot on January 6, 2021 has since been described as an attack on American democracy and as a failed insurrection. To date, over 730 people have been arrested and charged with crimes and just last week, on January 13, 2022, a Federal jury indicted 11 members of the "Oath Keepers" for seditious conspiracy, the most serious charge yet levied against any January 6th participants. If convicted, those 11 defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.
Emily Molli and I paused for a quick photo late morning on January 6, 2021. 
A new hip
In early April I received a new left hip, a result result of injuries sustained in a 2012 car accident and a near decade of pushing my body in spite of a host of pins and screws. For months prior to a diagnosis it had becoming increasingly difficult to walk, but the surgery was successful, the recovery tough but brief and so in late May I traveled to Colombia to cover ongoing social and civil unrest --> 
Nationwide demonstrations erupted in Colombia on April 28, 2021; initially sparked by a proposed tax reform, citizens throughout Colombia spent late Spring and Summer 2021 protesting against a violent police force and a government accused of corruption and furthering social and economic inequalities.

ESMAD ("mobile anti-disturbance squadron") officers responded to protests with heavy teargas, "less-lethal" munitions and in some cases live ammunition.

My experience covering protests and unrest in Portland and other U.S. cities prepared me for some of what I saw, but in Colombia the violence and degree of impunity was heightened. Throughout the country protesters and journalists were regularly killed or disappeared; the exact number is unknown but hundreds are confirmed dead from police violence or remain missing.

The protests in Colombia, once a nightly occurrence in cities across the country, have since dissipated and hundreds of demonstrators have been apprehended in a government crackdown. According to Al Jazeera, many face a variety of criminal charges, including “terrorism” that could leave them behind bars for decades.
A deadly heatwave
For nearly four days in June 2021 a heatwave engulfed much of the Pacific Northwest. In Portland, a city known more for its temperate climate than triple digit heat, the outside temperature hovered well about 100 °F and ultimately peaked at 116 °F on Monday, June 28, 2021—the hottest day ever recorded in Portland's history. 

Initially, 118 people in Oregon reportedly died as a result of the heat while 78 more perished in Washington. But in August, the New York Times suggested that the number was far higher and explained that, "about 600 more people died than would have been typical" by analyzing what are known as “excess deaths”—the number of deaths above what would have been typical for a given period of time, based on mortality rates in previous years. According to the New York Times, " this data can help provide a more complete picture of the effects of extreme heat than official counts of heat-related deaths."

In the United States, approximately 91% of homes have air conditioning, but in Portland the number is far lower, at around 78%. The majority of those who died were alone in their homes (most without fans or air-conditioning) or were houseless and living on the street. 
Throughout the city people waded into public water fountains, stood in long lines at public swimming pools and flocked to the Willamette River in attempts to escape the heat. Businesses closed early and stores limited and then quickly sold out of ice, water, fans and air conditioning units.
“I am just grateful we can be here together. We have an apartment, but it’s 100 °F in there now and 90 °F at night. This heat … I have never seen anything like this in Portland.”

Families, couples, students, houseless individuals and people on their lunch break sought temporary relief from the oppressive, dangerous and debilitating heat at "cooling shelters" in three separate locations throughout Portland. 

Offering rest and respite the shelters provided food, water, cots, blankets and medical care. People could stay for as little or as long as they wanted—some stopped if for an hour or two while others staked out a spot until temperatures dissipated. 
The Oregon Bootleg Fire and the California Dixie Fire

Prior to moving to Portland Oregon in late 2020 I'd spent much of my life in the Northeast; we have our own severe weather, but I’d never been near anything like the raw intensity of a wildfire. 

Summer 2021 changed that. 

For over 6 weeks I worked out of (and oftentimes slept in) my car, invested in Nomex clothing and proper fire-resistant boots, learned how to read a wind map and navigated desolate highways and one-way logging roads. First it was the Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon which, for a time, was the largest wildfire burning in the Unities States; it consumed 413,765 acres before being fully contained on August 15, 2021.

Then came the Dixie Fire in California. Sparked by a faulty PG&E transmission line in the Feather River Canyon on July 13, 2021, the Dixie Fire burned 963,309 acres before it was fully contained on October 25, 2021. It was the largest wildfire in the United States in 2021. 

Wildfires demand respect and in exchange gift you a sight that is simultaneously beautiful, terrifying and humbling in scope. To photograph a wildfire well requires more than technical knowledge of a camera; I was fortunate to have a number of colleagues and editors provide initial guidance and intend to be back out there in Summer 2022. 

As of December 31, 2021 the National Interagency Fire Center's (NIFC) reported a total of 58,733 wildfires across the country that had burned more than 7.13 million acres. 

"We have nothing to go back to; the fire took everything."

The Dixie fire swept through Greenville, California on August 4, 2021. Merciless and absolute, it destroyed everything in its path. Former residents fled in haste, their vehicles full of anything they could grab. Many ended up in one of two evacuation centers in the town of Susanville, approximately 45 miles northeast of Greenville. Others stayed with family or friends or slept in their cars. Over 100 homes and historic structures burned and all 1100+ residents were displaced.

Once a town of known for its Gold Rush past and historic wooden buildings, this is what Greenville looked like several days after the fire.

“I’m dying, anxious to get back. It’s just hard, so, so hard to be out here. That’s what I want—just to get back and to know it’s there still. To know for sure my home isn’t gone. Just to know we made it through, you know. Like hey, we won. Mother Nature didn’t get us this time and hopefully it never will."

Regina Rutledge holds back tears as she describes fleeing the Dixie Fire while sitting in her truck at the Lassen Community College turned evacuation center on August 7, 2021. 

One week previous Regina and her extended family packed vehicles full with supplies and valuables and created a caravan out of the town of Chester, California, one of many areas under mandatory evacuation orders. 

The community college created space inside for people to sleep on cots, but many chose to stay in their vehicles, some have trailers and many opted for tents, creating mini alcoves of privacy spread out over the college campus. 

Regina said she and her two dogs would sleep in the truck until she was able to return to whatever remains of her home.

For VICE, I wrote and photographed What it's Like Surviving a Wildfire When You Live off the Grid and for The Guardian's We do what the Red Cross won't: a day in the life of a wildfire Relief Angel I provided photographs for a piece written by friend and colleague Deborah Bloom.

Two collaborations came from work at the Dixie Fire: 
- The band Trego made a music video for their song 'August', a track described as, "a powerful commentary on our changing world, choices made and unmade and the generations to come left to reckon with the consequences.”
- the organization Hope Rises used photos and videos in their effort to raise money and rebuild Greenville, California.

Hazards of the job

In August 2021 I was assaulted by far-left protesters wearing black bloc while covering a rally in Portland, Oregon. My phone was destroyed and camera was damaged; I was thrown to the ground, bear maced in the face and hit with paint-filled balloons. 

The assault was captured on video by Ford Fischer and quickly went semi-viral with people such as Matt Taibbi reporting on the attack. 

Press Freedom Tracker condemned the attack and I shared more about the experience with Tess Riski of Willamette Week. 

The toughest part was not the physicality of what occurred but rather the weeks of online abuse that followed. Some on the far-left were outraged by my audacity to photograph them while on a public sidewalk and some on the far-right either applauded the attack or maintained that I was "anitifa press" and had thus been attacked "by one of my own." It was a 24/7 barrage of hate on multiple social media platforms in addition to several phone calls and texts from people who obtained my personal information.

After a year of regular physical injury and psychological stress while covering social unrest I was surprised to find myself struggling to cope. In hindsight, I attribute this to an accumulation of trauma while on the job. As an industry we don't talk enough about the toll our work can and too often does take; my intention in this newsletter is provide reporting as well as an intimate account of what it's like to be a journalist today. 

As Kate Woodsome eloquently articulated in her January 5, 2022 Washington Post op-ed, "Trauma is a psychological injury that lulls you into thinking you’re safe after surviving without a scratch, only to wash away the ground you thought would hold firm. ... We need to understand that the toughness that makes journalists good at their jobs can also make them sick."

The relationship between the press and the general public is fractured, at best. To repair the distrust and contempt that has festered for so long is not a simple or easy undertaking, but it begins with a basic provision of safety and security for members of the press. This and similar behavior must not be normalized or accepted as "part of the job", as though it is like any other inherent risk journalists regularly navigate to report in our collective quest for truth. It is not.

A third return to Uganda 

In early December I traveled to Uganda to document VACAYA's ongoing efforts to improve access to clean water and special education as well as to support Carlow University in establishing a gap program with Ugandan partners. This was my third my third time in Uganda (last in 2014 and 2015) and a busy yet renewing several weeks in a country known affectionately as the “Pearl of Africa."

A young woman has her eyesight tested in a village outside of Entebbe, Uganda. She described difficulty in school and trouble learning because she was unable to see the chalkboard. 

More than 1 billion people worldwide need eyewear and are unable to access or afford it. “While not seen as urgent as other world health problems, untreated vision problems cost the global economy $200 billion annually to lost productivity.” (W.H.O.) 

In Uganda, a nation of more than 41 million people, there are fewer than 45 eye doctors. 

Over the course of two hours 80 pairs of glasses were provided to men and women in the village. Simple and relatively inexpensive, a proper pair of glasses can quite literally be life-changing.

In a field near the village of Oukut, Uganda men move clay bricks from under a bed of dry grass. Formed from raw materials, the bricks first dry in the sun and are then hardened in a kiln before ready for use. 

In Oukut villagers are working towards a goal of 40,000 bricks; the building blocks will eventually be used to construct a medical center in the village of more than 1,000 people. 

To date, approximately 12,000 of the needed 40,000 bricks are finished.

Women fill jerry cans at a water source several kilometers outside of the village of Ajesa, Uganda.

In Uganda, gathering water is the sole responsibility of women, oftentimes no more than young girls. (this responsibility, among others, is one reason why so many women do not complete schooling)

On average every woman will make 8-10 trips to the site each day, walking several kilometers in each direction while carrying a jerry can that, when full, weighs in excess of 35 pounds. The work is physically exhausting and regularly consumes over eight hours per day. Evening and trips after dark make women especially vulnerable to gender-based violence.

A clean water drilled in the town would increase accessibility for all and free innumerable hours in the lives of each woman. The total cost is less than $10,000 and with proper maintenance could last decades.

First morning light in Jinja, Uganda, where Lake Victoria meets the source of the Nile River.
New Year's Eve in Times Square

What a year. Thank you to all who’ve newly subscribed as a Patron and to those who have continued your support—you have helped make much of this work possible. My intention in 2022 is to publish more regularly via this newsletter and to surpass 100 Patreon subscribers (I'm over halfway there!). 

Wishing you a peaceful and healthy year ahead; here’s to 2022. 



Support this and future reporting by becoming a Patron today 📷

Copyright © *2022* *Maranie R. Staab*, All rights reserved.
Homebase(s):*Portland, Oregon and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania*

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