Kitbag: Jane Kokan

Jane Kokan is an independent news and documentary director/ reporter/ camera woman specialising in the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan, Iran, SE Asia and Africa working for a variety of international broadcasters. Often her films were made in extremely difficult circumstances and Jane often worked alone in the field doing her own camera work and sound. Jane was the winner of the 2004 (British) Foreign Press Association’s journalist of the year award for her documentary film “Iran Undercover” which examined the student movement and human rights in Iran.

“As a Canadian, I am used to harsh, cruel winters that go on for months. However, I have the creature comforts of central heating, thermal undergarments, arctic boots and cheap flights to Cuba in the middle of January. Afghanistan, a country ravaged by war for decades, is one of the world’s poorest countries. Winter is a harsh time of year for most Afghans. It’s cold, damp and miserable. I have nothing but admiration, for the Afghan people. They are survivalists. Many of the Afghan children I encountered on the streets of Kabul were wearing plastic shoes or flip flops in the snow, often just wearing cotton shirts or old second hand jackets, while trying to flog anything and everything from chewing gum to phone cards. Yes, I felt like a bit of a wimp at times, even feeling somewhat decadent putting on a vast assortment of thermal layers each morning and wearing gloves with insulated linings and never facing the elements without my Gortex jacket.”

This is Jane’s kitbag for her fourth trip to Afghanistan in February 2007 and was written in the field.

Communications: Iridium Satellite phone 9505a

“This sat phone is lightweight, robust and easy to use. An added bonus is that in my capacity as a video journalist, iridium satellite phones work almost everywhere in the world including remote parts of Papua new Guinea and the Canadian Arctic. Just a word of caution, Afghan kids love to play with this phone!  I had a hard time prying this one from a group of curious five years olds in a rural village in Takhar province just this week.
The good news – incoming calls are free to the user of the Iridium phone. The bad news – placing a call to an Iridium phone is not always as easy as it should be, and can be ridiculously expensive to the person making the call.”

top tip

Instead of calling the sat phone directly, callers can phone a local number or 0800 number. When that number answers, the satellite phone number can be dialled in and the call forwards on to the satellite phone.

Clothing: Icebreaker thermal base layer

“An Icebreaker ‘skin’ range was given to me by a Canadian pal who works for NATO/ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Kabul who felt sorry for me when I complained about the cold – despite bringing a various assortment of thermals some of which did not live up to my expectations. I found this product to be an excellent base layer, and it’s made of 100% Merino wool, probably, the best natural fibre for temperature regulation there is. Merino has some distinct advantages over synthetic fabrics: it keeps its heat-retaining properties when wet, prevents body odour and lets your skin breathe. Best of all it’s not itchy and scratchy like some of the other polyester thermals I bought for the trip. It’s also a really good weight – thicker than a t-shirt but not as thick and bulky as a sweatshirt and it’s incredibly soft.”

Recording and capturing: Sony HVR – Z1U

“The camera has a solid build to it, it offers full manual control and is a pleasure to shoot with.  In addition, the Z1U delivers great quality pictures and performs pretty well in low light. The Z1U has two XLR inputs so no adaptor is needed for using professional microphones.  I bought an on-board microphone (not included in the price of the camera) and a Sennheiser radio microphone (the ew100 G2) so I am very happy with my audio. I also like the six assignable buttons.

The camera comes with a very clever lens hood and cap system. I can’t remember how many lens caps I lost with my Sony PD 150 and other cameras I have owned in the past.  It’s a total nightmare to lose a lens cap especially if you are shooting in the Sahara Desert or the Canadian Arctic. The camera’s compact size means I didn’t need carnets and filming permits for countries like Egypt, Sudan and Bosnia. It’s easy to be a “tourist” and get the filming done without too many police officers and border guards asking questions or becoming suspicious about the nature of my work.”

Health: Fleet Street Clinic Trauma First Aid kit

“It’s got everything in it, is compact and there is a 24 hour emergency number to ring 24 – 7.  The team here will sit down and will make you a custom- made trauma kit for any country whether it be Afghanistan or Ethiopia..”

Most unusual item: Algerian worry beads

“Why do I carry them with me?  A taxi driver in Algiers gave them to me in 1995 to keep me “safe” in my travels.”

What I can’t do without: Tabasco Sauce

“Transforms a plain bowl of rice or a piece of three day old afghan ‘naan’ bread into a culinary delight”


“It’s important to have a laugh out in the field. I highly recommend ‘The Best of Will Ferrell’s Saturday Night Live’ skits. Tacky, camp and hilarious. The three-minute “Blue Oyster Cult” skit featuring Christopher Walken is my personal favourite. The George W. Bush impersonation is a laugh and a half. Ferrell’s “Anchor Man” is always a mood relaxer when things start getting tense when negotiating safe passage via a shifty local war lord in Badakshan Province.”