HEFAT training in Mexico

Oh boy! Last week was pretty intense. I took a couple of days off from the Times and flew to Mexico City to join the Adelante Reporting Initiative fellows and participate in a HEFAT (hostile environment and first aid) training specially set up by the IWMF for women journalists.

I always thought I was tough and could handle basic physical altercations, but I was definitely surprised by the intensity and the expectations of this training.

We spent most of the first day going through the technical information required for journalists traveling to hostile or risky environments. On day two (and then the rest of our time there), the security director at the IWMF basically had punching mats strapped onto himself and people assisting him in the training and taught us how to kick assailants in the groin or punch them in the face. I was pretty bad at the knee kicks but my punches seemed to be pretty intense — I attribute that to playing tennis over many years and having more control over my shoulder movements.

I definitely recommend everyone take this training, but be prepared to be psychologically as well as physically challenged. On the first day, I had a mini breakdown and had to deal with the fact that in my career as a journalist so far I was used to being intellectually challenged — or using my intellect to get out of difficult situations — and that I felt incredibly vulnerable when having my physical weaknesses pointed out.

For the first time in my career so far, I was forced to consider the possibility — one that is far more common for journalists who constantly work risky environments — that one day I might have someone try to beat me up, suffocate me or sexually assault me, and that it’s a lot wiser for me to have some tricks up my sleeve in case that happens. Much better than being unprepared.