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Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller | Shining light on the darkest corners of the criminal underworld

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Mariana van Zeller in an episode of Trafficked. (Photo: National Geographic/Muck Media)
Mariana van Zeller in an episode of Trafficked. (Photo: National Geographic/Muck Media)

With unprecedented access to the most dangerous places and people in the world, Mariana van Zeller goes where nobody else dares to set foot. Joined by her camera crew, this award-winning journalist goes behind the curtain of the most rarely seen underground economies and meets with everyone, including tiger traffickers, international scammers, counterfeiters, gunrunners, and fentanyl suppliers. In a one-on-one interview with News24 Lifestyle Editor Herman Eloff, Mariana reveals how she wins the trust of those she works with, from ex-cons to law enforcement officers in her National Geographic docuseries, Trafficked.

I bought my first packet of cigarettes a short few months into my first ever job as a journalist. I'd successfully traversed adolescence without giving in to temptation, but one afternoon as a fresh-faced crime reporter I was returning home from a gruesome scene and knew what I had to do. I asked the teller for a packet of Peter Stuyvesant and a red lighter. I chose Peter Stuyvesant because a guy I knew smoked them and he always looked so damn cool, laidback and in control. I desperately needed some of that.

The cigarettes, at the time, was a helpful coping mechanism for debriefing afterwards and surprisingly, even more useful in building relationships with police officers, paramedics, and firefighters. When you’ve just shared a traumatic experience and huddle together afterwards to have a smoke, you create a bond that I can't really explain to anyone else.

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