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It feels surprisingly great to be back in Nepal - the key part of that phrase being “back.” This may not be a surprising twist for the logical among you, however, in the hectic buildup to my departure I had not thoroughly thought this through.
Last year I wrestled through eager taxi drivers on my way out of the airport, spent the first days trying to get my bearings, and visited tourist sights. Instead, this year I was met at the airport by my best Nepali friend, settled into the home of some ex-pats I know, and have spend my days reconnecting with folks from the various organizations I worked with last year, trying to help the other AP Fellows get situated, and working to re-activate the Nepali-language part of my brain.
BACK IN KATHMNANDU
I have also had the privilege of returning to “Naya Nepal” (the New Nepal) as everyone is fond of stating. Since I was last here there has been a lot going on:
* The Constitutional Assembly elections were finally held in April and received international praise for their fair and peaceful processes.
* The election results surprised everyone as the former rebel Maoists took a sweeping victory.
* Sarita Giri, the woman I worked closely with last fall, was elected to Parliament, along with roughly 10 other women who were involved in our projects on increasing political participation of Madeshi women.
* Nepal was officially declared a Republic in the first meeting of the new Assembly and the former king was transformed into an ordinary citizen.
* And finally, since I’ve been here, amid much celebration the King vacated his palace in Kathmandu (although he was granted temporary residence in one of the smaller palaces just outside of the Valley as, despite his billionaire status, he complained of having nowhere to go…)
It has been incredible treat to return to Nepal at a time of so much celebration and to be able to share in it with those who have played such an important role in making it come about.
And of course, there is still an enormous amount of work to do in this beautiful and complicated country to realize the vision of “Naya Nepal.”
A WWRP-CAED WORKSHOP ON UTERINE PROLAPSE
For my part, this summer I will be focusing my energy on the women’s health problem of Uterine Prolapse. I will be working the Uterine Prolapse Alliance (a group of Nepali NGOs, or non-governmental organizations) who are engaged in this issue as well as WWRP-CAED (the Women’s Reproductive Right’s Program of the Center for Agro-Ecological Development) which is a cutting-edge organization on this issue. We have already had several planning sessions, and throughout the summer we will be engage in a range of efforts intended to lay the groundwork for an international awareness campaign about UP that will be launched next year.
So…. Please cross your fingers for a productive 10 weeks that don’t fly by too fast… and… Welcome to “Naya Nepal!”
Sladoled, hvala and dobro…these were my first few words in Bosanske! I should survive considering they mean ice-cream, thank you and good. They should change the name of Bosnia and Herzegovina to 'Sladoledland' – there’s ice-cream after every 20 steps here…which is fantastic! I was able to go with another one of AP’s peace fellows, Antigona, to Sarajevo last weekend. There were enough signs of the war and of much construction to make up for the lost infrastructure. I have never seen so many buildings riddled with bullets – yet, people continue their usual business in those very buildings. Some tried to cover up the holes making the buildings look like they were going through puberty. In Tuzla on the other hand, much of the building collapses are because salt has been extracted from the ground and has left spaces in the ground which tend to weaken the foundations of buildings.
It’s interesting how societies try to overcome their past – “that’s life” as Beba, the Bosfam founder says often. Here, people are jolly, hospitable, giving and always make time for coffee (“kafa”) breaks. Apparently, you learn to move on and because you’ve seen so much during the war, it becomes normal…even the remnants of buildings and the reminders of lost relatives. In my time of being in Bosnia, I have met people who ran after being buried under bricks when a missile was shot at a building they were hiding behind, and others whose children survived solely because they were shot and thought to be dead. More than 10 years after the war, many more still don’t know where their family members are. Some, possibly considered fortunate, have received closure by being able to give their loved ones a respectable burial in the many graveyards that pepper the landscape here.
For 1,400 days, bullets pierced walls and lives as Serbian forces surrounded Sarajevo and took aim. Being in Sarajevo and being able to understand the geography made the vulnerability of the city much easier to understand. The forces left with the blood of more than 11,000 people on their hands. The UN kept watching and is now despised by many for not providing any sort of protection. The airport was under UN control and this area was the only path to free Bosnian territory. VIPs were given importance and allowed to use this path, but for the thousands of people living in Sarajevo, there was no such luck. Because there was no other way that ammunition, food or the wounded could be transported, a tunnel (pronounced toon-el in Bosnian), 800 meters long, was created under the Sarajevo runway to connect the city to free Bosnian territory. It began from the garage of a house which still stands. Today, they allow tourists to walk through a small section of the tunnel, starting from a different building, which I’m certain is an entirely different experience than what thousands of people went through 15 years ago. As one of the guides told us, the tunnel took 2 years to dig. It was started at the same time on both sides of the airport and they met in the middle. Apparently, 400,000 people went through it at some point of the 3.5 years. Some said that the Serbs knew about this but did not do anything to stop the people passing, but I personally find this difficult to believe.
I am already into my second week here…and time is flying. The stories I hear of the war are so intriguing and the similarities between Bosnian, Indian and African cultures are fascinating. Not only do elders force you to eat more and more as soon as a morsel of food is taken away from your plate, but families ensure that their hosts eat first and then they help themselves, and all three societies (at least once) insist that they pay the bill if you eat out. These similarities, so far all to do with food and hospitality, seemed more evident since we were discussing these mannerisms with a German lady who currently lives in France…where things are fairly different.
Much more to come…hope you keep reading and enjoying the pictures…
240 Orphans are about to loose their shelter and care, 1700 children are about to loose their education, and an additional 4000 students and 5000 needy families are about to loose their support base. They all rely on the facilities and care provided by The Islamic Charitable Society (ICS) in Hebron which runs 2 orphanages, 3 schools, 2 bakeries (to provide food for the orphanages), a dairy, a sewing workshop, a big mall and a 30 apartment building.
These facilities are not likely serve the community much longer as the Israeli Military has issued closure and confiscation orders on all property of the Islamic Charitable Society. Why? Because the Israeli Military accuses the ICS of being connected to Hamas, despite the fact that they have provided all requested certifications. The books of the ICS are open to inspection by the authorities and are audited by the Palestinian Authority, the schools fall under full supervision of the Palestinian Ministry of Education and the curriculum is identical to that taught in Palestinian Authority Schools.
The case has been brought before the Israeli High Court which still has to decide on the matter. Normally this would mean that one cannot act until the verdict is made. In this case however, the military did not have the patience to wait for this and acted under a so-called ‘emergency regulation’.
The Israeli Military raids have started on March 6th when the central warehouse in the Al-Harayeq area was targeted and everything needed to supply for the children and families was confiscated. The gates of the nearly completed girls’ school were welded shut and one of the two bakeries which provided bread for the children was ransacked; all equipment was destroyed.
Members of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) and other internationals started to spend the night at the orphanages to ensure that their would be an international presence to document the violations. In the mean time the orphans have been evacuated and are staying with relatives, it is unknown if and when they will be able to return to their homes.
As expected the raids did not stop and so far the Israeli Military has returned three more times. First, on April 15 to destroy the second bakery and to set the oven on fire with its own fuel. Second, on April 30 to destroy the sewing workshop of the girls school; confiscating and ruining all equipment and even cutting up the sewing tables. The destroyed materials were later found in the city dump. Third, on June 5 to raid the ICS branches in Beit Ula and Shuyuk (close to Hebron) in order to confiscate and ransack schools, kitchens, kindergartens and administrative offices. Materials were not only destroyed, some were confiscated, amongst them orphan’s files, examinations and even birth certificates from the school.
Nobody knows when the next raid will be and what type of destruction this will bring. However, many people are standing up to save the orphanages from destruction and the AIC supports these initiatives. Next week it is my turn to spend the night.
If you would like to know more or find out how you can support the Hebron orphans, please visit their website at http://hebronorphans.blogspot.com .
This week I am working on a video project for the DWRC to be presented at the 8th Annual Civicus Assembly in Glasgow on June 21st. The theme of this year's assembly is People, Participation, and Power. Dr. Hamdi Khawaja, who will be representing DWRC at Civicus, asked me to help him prepare a presentation highlighting social movements in Palestine resisting poverty and unemployment.
We decided on a brief documentary video about Ni'lin, which is a topic near and dear to Dr. Hamdi's heart, since Ni'lin is his family village. As I have told you before, Ni'lin is also Hindi's (Eliza's old roommate) village. I have become quite attached to Ni'lin, not only because it is the place Hindi and Dr. Hamdi call home, not only because it has adopted one of the most innovative and momentous struggles against the effects of occupation, but also because Ni'lin has the cutest kids in the world. I have seriously never encountered this many adorable, funny, melt-your-heart kind of kids in one place. They all speak English better than I speak Arabic, they all want to talk to you, and will do almost anything to get your attention. Once they have your attention, they will attempt to impress you with their ability to read and write in English, ask you all about your life, where you live, why you are here, how long you are staying, and when you will come back to visit them. The whole time they never stop smiling and laughing. I could spend my whole summer just hanging out with the kids in Ni'lin.
Ni'lin organizes at least 2 weekly demonstrations against the building of the wall, which has already started despite legal appeals. Yesterday, the demonstration was set to start at 6:30, so Hindi and I planned to get there around 3:00 to interview people for the video project before heading to the demonstration. Dr. Hamdi had arranged 2 interviews for me, and Hindi had arranged 3 more, but we only had time to complete 2. Between playing with the kids and the endless cups of coffee and tea that their parents thrust on you, it is hard to stick to a strict schedule when in Ni'lin.
But we did manage to get an interview with Ayman Nafi, The Municpality President of Ni'lin. When the interview was over and the camera was turned off he turned to Hindi and spoke quickly in Arabic. When he was finished Hindi turned to me and said "He wants you to know that the people of Ni'lin count on people like you coming here to tell their story. He said we count on you because our own media is very weak and the international media that does come often depicts a bias towards Israel, it does not get our message heard. He said he wants you to know that we do not hate Americans, we do not hate anyone, we are only against the Israeli policies that have oppressed us and have threatened our standard of living. He says we are happy you are here and we need your support, we count on you, we need you to go home and help bring attention to our struggle."
It is indeed hard to imagine this struggle and understand what is at stake if you have never seen it with your own eyes. But really, the problem here is not so different from historical problems at home. I have been thinking a lot about the creation of cities and suburbs in the U.S., and how federal programs segregated public spaces, thus controlling how different populations of Americans lived. Inequalities are never accidental. It is no accident that in the 1950s American suburbs were lily-white, while African Americans were segregated and confined in inner cities separated by the construction of federal highways. It is no accident that white Americans became the primary recipients of modern wealth, through access to federally backed credit markets and home loans that black Americans were systematically denied access to. 60 years later, Americans are still challenging the ramifications of federal policies that separated how Americans live, the policies that have created vast inequalities in American life. The difference is the realization of rights. Today, 60 years later, Palestinians are still struggling for equal rights.
So visualize this, you walk up a dirt road lined with stones and cactuses. There are goats grazing, kids playing. As you walk further you can see the olive trees, they are exceptionally important to the economics of the village. Then you see a valley full of fertile land, a stream of water runs through the middle of the valley. The first time I was in Ni'lin I thought, oh what a nice little stream, until I was told it was raw sewage that runs from the settlement.
Straight across the valley you see the settlement. You know it is a settlement because it has McMansions with satellite dishes and paved roads. It is protected by a military post and you can see the tanks parked in the road. Through the zoom of my video camera, or if you have binoculars, you can see the settler kids playing on their lush green lawns. They have jungle gyms. The kids in Ni'lin are their neighbors, but they couldn't be further apart. Not unlike America in the 1950s, the settlements are a suburban oasis of privilege, and not unlike the white Americans who fought to keep the suburbs white, who believed that the suburbs belonged solely to them, Israeli federal policies of segregation have created a sense of settler entitlement.
But Ni'lin is determined to challenge this space. Lately, the demonstrations have been all about making noise for Ni'lin. Yesterday, in addition to flying Palestinian flags/kites over the settlement, people beat drums, blew kazoos, and used loudspeakers to make the settlers aware of the fact that wall or no wall, the people in Ni'lin are still their neighbors. Despite the presence of the Israeli military, it was mostly peaceful. The last time I was in Ni'lin, this wasn't the case. Although the villagers held another noise demo and remained non-violent, the Israeli Army fired at least twenty rounds of teargas. However, no one really left, and so the soldiers crossed the sewage, came up the hill, and eventually dispersed everyone by firing rubber bullets and bombarding non-violent noisemakers with twenty more rounds of teargas at close range. That night, while the people of Ni'lin slept, the Israeli Army drove through the village with an industrial noise machine from 2:00 AM to 4:30 AM. The next day, the Ni'lin Non-Violent Coordinating Committee got a letter from the settlers that if the villagers of Ni'lin did not stop bothering them with their noise demonstrations they could expect regular military incursions into the village of Ni'lin.
This is life under occupation. Ni'lin has drums, kites, and kazoos. The settlers have the Israeli army. If there is a more disproportionate situation, I cannot think of what it might be.
On Wednesday I visited Tulkarim (طُولكَرِم), a governate in the north of the West Bank on the border with Israel. Part of Tulkarim was annexed in the 1948 war and so now the Arab residents in that area are Israeli citizens, while the rest live on land occupied since 1967. The land in Tulkarim is highly sought after as it is known for its rich water resources, and so the negotiations around land ownership in this area have been some of the most difficult of all. Under the Oslo Accords, this land was supposed to be returned to the Palestinians a decade ago, but this agreement was never fulfilled. Today, those living in Tulkarim, as in the rest of the territories occupied since 1967, are officially classed as “residents” by the Israeli government but not owners of the land, despite the fact that they have owned their homes for generations.
Now the infamous 'separation wall' has been erected since 2000, even more Palestinian land in Tulkarim is inaccessible, such that no one is able to visit their family, friends or places of work on the other side. The wall does not run along the border established in 1949, but right through the middle of the villages of Tulkarim. Local women told me that two hundred shops were destroyed in order to build the wall, as well as many homes, and farmers have been separated from their land, leaving the economy in tatters. I was told the story of a bride whose new marital home was demolished on her wedding day. She insisted on going into her home to see the rooms before they were destroyed, and the women of the village had to drag her away so that she wasn’t hurt. Many people in Tulkarim have luxurious homes, but since the wall was erected have had extreme difficult finding the money to feed themselves. Other homes which are close the wall were forcibly overtaken by the Israeli Defence Forces for use as watch towers to monitor activity around the wall, and as we visited these places my Palestinian companions were acutely aware of being watched. Another young woman explained that she had been in high school before the wall was erected, but was forced to quit because she could no longer get there every day. Instead of completing her education she married early; a widespread problem among Palestinian girls whose life chances are severely limited by the immobility imposed by the occupation. She told us how she was afraid to make any improvements to her home because it was continually threatened with demolition. Many of the women in Tulkarim have husbands who work on the other side of the green line, who fear coming back home in case they are not allowed back across the line and cannot return to work, making them unable to provide for their families. For this reason many women live and raise their children alone.
As I listened to these women’s stories, I could see them searching my face for a reaction: surprise, shock, dismay. I have to say, as terrible as these stories are, I am no longer shocked by them. I feel anguish, yes, but not shock. If you are looking for a ‘news’ story here, you will not find one; thousands of stories like these from Palestinians under occupation have been filtering out to the rest of the world for years. No one who pays attention to the news media in Britain can be unaware of what is happening here. Why, then, is so little being done? We often talk about ‘war fatigue’, the idea that the more we hear about the suffering of others the less we can bring ourselves to care. I have often heard people say “I don’t watch the news, it’s too depressing,” which suggests that they have not ceased to be emotionally affected by it, but that empathy is uncomfortable for us – our response is avoidance rather than action. What would it take, I wonder, to change that?
I lived for Sunday mornings.
Photo credit: Getty Images, The New York Observer
It wasn't for the satisfaction of sleeping in after staying out late on Saturday nights. It wasn't to revel in the last free morning of all-too-short weekends.
On any given Sunday for the last 12 years, my alarm clock was set for 10 minutes before 10. I raced to brush my teeth, grab some breakfast, and turn on the TV. Upon hearing a chorus of brass and string instruments, and the words, "Our issues this Sunday," I knew I had made it. I didn't want to miss a second. It was time for Meet The Press.
The news of Tim Russert's death this afternoon left me vulnerably nostalgic. Tim Russert was the reason I got into journalism. When I applied to the University of Texas at Austin in 1998, I framed my passion for journalism in my personal statement by alluding to my regard for what I naively termed his weekly "modern-day Spanish Inquisitions." His fairness, his preparation, his tenacity - these were the virtues I wanted to embody as a journalist, I wrote. He was my standard bearer.
What I respect most about Russert was his unwavering committment to his craft. He fought his way through smokescreens and half-truths by openly challenging the honesty of public officials purportedly committed to faithfully serving the American people. He shunned lip-service, and he demanded clarity. He even took time on certain Sundays to set Washington aside and examine in-depth some of the most pressing issues of our time - religion, race, and the family.
Those of Russert's caliber are few and far between. During my experience in Peru, I've realized how easily the truth can be hidden behind a cluster of stars or a handful of medals. After having enjoyed hours upon hours of Russert's Sunday intrigue, I can say that I've learned three important lessons that will hopefully serve me well while I am in Peru.
Work hard, be fair, and dig deep.
This week an english newspaper, the Kosov@ Press, made its debut in Prishtina. This is the first english newspaper of Kosova and it even has its own website. Top headlines this week included the attempted robbery of Prime Minister Hashim Thaci's house and the impending implementation of Kosova's Constitution, which will occur on 15 June.
The unsuccessful robbery of Prime Minister Thaci's home occurred late on 6 June and initially caused great anxiety, as it was believed to be an assination attempt. The perpetrator is a 19 year old male who was shot on the premises of Thaci's home. The man was arrested the next day after being turned in by his father.
In other local news, the Germia swimming pool--the largest pool in Europe--will open tomorrow at 10 am.
Freddy and Pascal work on computers generously provided by the Amnesty International office in Kampala, but they are not guaranteed access every day. Because there are only 2 desk-top computers in the resource center here at Amnesty, Pascal and Freddy must share with those people who come to Amnesty, seeking refuge or assistance, on a daily basis.
Right now, as I begin to help these two men build their ICT (Information and Communications Technology) skills, I realize just how much of a foundation we must build in order to be effective advocates for the indigenous peoples of central and eastern Africa. We have to find computers, preferably donated ones, that will exclusively belong to Freddy and Pascal. Accordingly, Dana Burns, in the AP office in D.C., has found us a few listings of insurance companies and banks here in Kampala who recycle their computers every 2 to 3 years. We are currently working on a proposal to request free computers from them. In the meantime, we are making do with the limited access Freddy and Pascal have. Of course, I have full-time access to the internet, because I brought my own computer with me, but because, as a Fellow for The Advocacy Project, I must work all day, every day, I cannot easily hand over my computer to the boys. And, quite simply, it would be merely a band-aid solution to the problem if I did. They certainly won't have my computer when I leave, so we must find a more suitable, long-term solution.
For the next 2.5 months, we must find formulas and answers that will help Freddy and Pascal disseminate information that can be effectively created within the parameters of their current working conditions. For us to truly implement a plan that will help educate all the people they advocate for, we must start from the ground up. After that, I will guide these two men (who are already extremely tech-savvy dudes) down a road that will be dotted with press releases, video blogs, documentaries, newsletters and a fresh, brand-spanking-new website.
And when I leave this place on August 24th (sigh, I miss them already), they will, once again, fly solo. But, this time, with a bigger plane ;)
If anyone has any amazing suggestions or knows of someone who wants to get 2 wonderfully functioning computers off their hands, let us know!
For more information on the causes of WPIO (and to see how we are presently disseminating information), go here.
I have been struggling with the lack of Internet connection in Baglung, and how difficult that makes it to be an advocate, or even secure resources for grassroots projects. In preparation for my 2 days in Kathmandu, I told my mother that around 6 pm, I would finally be online to talk to her. This is the conversation she later emailed me, informing me she was worried someone had kidnapped me. Let this be a lesson on the importance of logging out of msn from a cybercafe!
log on to skype
I am madhav
who is madhav?
where is Shubha?
I don't know i am from baglung nepal
you are logged into my daughter's msn
where is she now?
no automatically apper my email id
it shows to me as shubby !!!
she is in baglung
oh mum where are you
i tried to meet him give her name---
hope you are OK. Please reply as soon as you see this
I arrived in Bogotá last week and have gotten a speedy introduction to Survivor Corps. The office in Bogotá is less than a year old, with one staff member, Paola Barragán, and, actually, no physical office. For nearly a year, Paola has been getting to know other Colombian organizations concerned with disability rights and has begun planning projects that will begin over the next few months.
Since I've arrived, we've been working on a campaign to convince the Colombian government to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The convention is an international agreement that asserts the following rights for people with disabilities:
• Right to life, liberty, and security of the person
• Equality before the law
• Freedom from torture, exploitation, violence, and abuse
• Respect for physical and mental integrity
• Freedom of movement and nationality
• Right to live independently and be included in the community
• Freedom of expression and opinion
• Respect for privacy, home, and family
• Right to education, health, work, and an adequate standard of living
• Right to participate in political and cultural life
The convention went into force on May 3, 2008 after five years of negotiations that involved governments and civil society organizations, as well as the direct participation of people with disabilities. But the convention doesn't actually bind in any country until that country's government ratifies it. Today, twenty governments have done so, and roughly thirty Colombian organizations and government agencies are working to win ratification here during 2009.
On Monday, Survivor Corps organized a meeting of these groups to start creating a unified plan of action. The rough idea at this point is to organize public forums, lobby legislators, and create an internal weekly e-mail digest to track the activities of each group.
A man and a boy scavenge for recyclable trash at the Bhopura wastepicker colony where they live and work. Whole families typically work together in the wastepicking business, and most wastepicking children are not able to attend school. Read Paul's blog.
Kosovo (or Kosova as the Albanians pronounce it) has been a historical struggle for longer than we know. Although it was the location for the most recent war in Europe, the fight for Kosovo has far deeper roots and can be traced to the earliest settlement of the land. This, after all, is what defines the struggle for Kosovo. It is not merely an ethnic conflict (which was stoked in the 80s and 90s), but an issue of who settled on the land first and therefore, who has the rightful claim to the territory.
Kosovar Albanians state that they are descendents of the Illyrians, tribes that first settled in the Balkan region around 1000 B.C. It is believed that the Slavic tribes called Rascians (from which the modern Serbian race descended) invaded from the north in the sixth or seventh century. However, as the author Tim Judah notes in War and Revenge, history is unclear until the middle ages--when Serbian nobility develops under the dynasty of Nemanjic (Judah, 2000, 2). Around the 14th century the sun began to set on the kingdom of Serbia, as the famous battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389 signaled the beginning of its descent. The capture of Serbia by the Ottomans was complete by 1459. After the Ottoman conquest of Serbia, it was believed that two large migrations occurred. The first was around 1689 when Serbs began to migrate northwards to areas such as Bosnia and Vojvodina. The second shift occurred during the Serb-Turkish wars of 1876-78 when about two million people (Muslim and Christian) fled their homes (Judah, 2000, 12).
In 1878 Serbia was recognized as an independent state and Albanians, fearing that their land would be swallowed by the surrounding Christian states, created the League of Prizren. In 1912, the League of Prizren met again, as they attempted to keep Albanian inhabited land together. However, in 1913 the Treaty of London delineated the territory that was to be Albania and made Kosovo a part of Serbia. During the period of Tito’s rule over communist Yugoslavia, he formed a multi-ethnic army and clamped down on nationalist movements among the different ethnicities that comprised Yugoslavia. However, in 1974 Tito altered the Constitution so that Kosovo was given autonomy and therefore had a vote for the presidency (there were eight votes total—-Kosovo, Vojvodina, Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro).
During the 1970s and 1980s, some Serbs emigrated to central Serbia or Vojvodina due to the pull from industrialization, while Serb intellectuals were pulled toward Belgrade. Meanwhile, in Kosovo, Albanians began to hold many important government positions and the high Albanian birth rate led the Serbian population (as a proportion of the whole population) to decline from 27.5 percent in 1948 to 14.9 percent in 1981 to 10.9 percent in 1991(Judah, 2000, 44). In March 1989, Slododan Milosevic gained the votes in order to amend the Constitution so that Vojvodina and Kosovo were no longer autonomous. This meant that Milosevic would have 4 out of the 8 votes required for the federal presidency because he controlled the votes of Vojvodina, Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro. Therefore, Milosevic became the president of Serbia in May 1989.
Following this period Milosevic sacked many Albanians holding important government positions and dismantled the Albanian school curriculum, while spots at Prishtina University largely went to Serb students. In 1990, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was created as a parallel government with Ibrahim Rugova as its first president. The aim of the party was passive resistance, and while it did not make any large decisions (as the Serbian government was largely in control), it did bring in remittances from the Albanian diaspora abroad.
Around 1996, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed, and served as the more radical voice in Albanian society that wanted to counter Serb oppression against the Albanian people. The first clashes occurred between the KLA and Serb forces between 1997 and 1998. However, when the KLA began full-scale war against Serbia in 1998, Serb forces responded by entering villages and massacring people suspected of being KLA or KLA sympathizers. It was one of these massacres—Drenica—that led the international community to act. In March 1999, NATO went to war against Serbia and Milosevic and war ended in June, with Milosevic’s capitulation.
Ibrahim Rugova's Grave
Pascal and Freddy. Where do I begin? These 2 men defy description, at least in the sense that I don't think I can conjure the superlatives it would take to truly portray them. In fact, I don't think that they really can be described. These 2 men must be experienced. From my first moments in Entebbe at the airport, when they stood in a long line of folks holding signs, I saw my name and I saw their smiles and I literally fell into their arms, with strong, committed hugs. We were friends already.
They drove me to my new home at their compound in the Kyebando (pronounced "Chai-a-bondo") district of Kampala. There, they showed me Freddy's, Pascal's and then my own apartment. Because mine was unfurnished (and still is!), Freddy had made up his home just for me, and had already transferred his own personal effects to Pascal's. I had a bed, a couch, a bathroom--even a television!--waiting for me as the necessary creature comforts for a cranky, jet-lagged, under-the-weather American girl. But, before I toddled off to bed, Freddy gave me one of his cell phones (remind me to talk about cell phones later) and a new sim card. I was able to call both of my parents back in the states, as well as a very dear friend, and let them know I was safe and sound! After that, they treated me to a soothing, tasty tea, replete with crumpets, bananas, fresh avocados and tiny, tasty g-nuts (very similar to peanuts, but local flora).
Since that first night here, Pascal and Freddy have been unflinchingly gentle. I have resurrected my long-forgotten French with Pascal; his 2nd language is French, his 3rd is English. Together, we help each other master the others' tongue. Since my incident on the motor bike (see my earlier blog for details), Pascal has been tenderly attentive to my wound--ensuring that it does not get infected; taking me, twice, to the Kololo Hospital by our offices at Amnesty; paternally scolding me when I walk too much. He, himself, has been trained as a doctor, and insisted on overseeing the first few cleanings of the wound so that I would know the proper method to keep it infection-free.
Freddy and I laugh a lot together. We have a truly unexpected and glorious sympatico. He is wise beyond his years and we have a very open and honest relationship. Our communication is not sugar-coated, nor is it merely raw, but a pleasant meandering of truth, wisdom, and total hilarity.
What does all of this mean to us as we three embark on our summer together? What am I going to do for them--with them--to help make their organization the large, human rights entity it deserves to be? I am going to make a documentary; guide them in creating a website; help them get donated computers. And, with the foundation of friendship that the three of us are building, I sense that what we will achieve, as it comes into focus, is greater than that which we originally imagined. Being on the ground with these two men has brought into strong relief the reality of what they are--and now I am--doing. With their kind hearts (but they never, ever forget how to joke or be sarcastic!), I will go with them to meet an incredible indigenous woman from the Congo (the DRC) who, with her 7 children, has sought refuge here in Kampala, away from the unbearable, unbelievable violence that she and her family experienced in their home. Her story is here, halfway down the page, titled: "
The Sad Story of an Indigenous Family in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo"
As the days tumble into weeks and I get more and more acclimated to my surroundings, I am reminded why I am here: Pascal and Freddy will not rest until indigenous people everywhere know their civic rights and demand them, just as these 2 honourable, kind men do, themselves
It is amazing how much you can learn about an organization in such a short time. These past two and a half weeks have been filled with meeting the what seems to be 100 USK employees, attending meetings and being taken out on field visits. How USK works is finally making sense, and I have to say, my experiences so far have left me utterly impressed.
Last week I was taken out to the field to meet some of USK’s Street Children and Youth Associations, groups of children and youth living and/or working on the streets. USK field officers work outside the office, identifying children and youth on the streets in order to help them form these associations. The goal is to help members help each other kick drugs, stop engaging in criminal activities and get their lives on the right track. Once a group is identified, USK helps them form group rules, choose a leader and register formally with the government. An innovative part of this process is the use of youth who used to be on the streets as youth facilitators to help gain the trust of others and bring them into this process of transformation and empowerment.
David, a volunteer and Bernard, a youth facilitator.
Once associations are formed, USK field officers and facilitators visit the groups on a weekly basis to make sure the groups are sustained and to deal with issues they face. For instance, in the first association I visited, there was a member complaining about his recent arrest and detainment by the police. Later, a police officer interrupted our meeting and did not care that the association showed their government issued certificate denoting that they are an official group. So at the monthly meeting of USK Children and Youth Progamme staff and volunteers, police harassment was discussed as a major issue facing street association members. Ideas were discussed to solve the problem, including talking to influential members in the police department in order to curb such harassment.
John, a street association member.
Later that day, we visited another association, this one being brand new. One of its members was a 16 year old boy who had only been on the streets for two weeks. He told the youth facilitator that he wanted to go back home so the field officer documented the boy’s information and will try to reintegrate him with his family. If it weren’t for the visits by USK field officers, facilitators, volunteers and interns, this boy may not have found help to get back home.
In addition to the street associations, I have also visited some of the non-formal schools USK runs as part of its Basic Education Program. I visited two of these schools, one in Mathare and one in Pumwani, two informal settlements in Nairobi. These schools are for children that have had no or very little formal education, therefore they teach children from a variety of difficult situations. The headmaster of the Mathare school even told me that some of the students were staying at the nearby camp for internally displaced people as a result of the post election violence.
Internally Displaced People camp.
Once students graduate from the basic education program, they choose a trade they want to pursue. USK gives students knowledge on how to choose an appropriate trade and find a trainer in the profession they choose such as hairdressing, mechanics, driving, dressmaking, etc. I visited youth at their apprenticeships in hairdressing and saw how the program works. Once a youth finds a trainer, they work alongside them to learn skills necessary to gain employment or start a business of their own. USK monitors their progress by visiting them and signing their daily reports of skills they have practiced. Also, once a week, trainees attend a theory class in their trade facilitated by experienced instructors from the informal sector. What’s more is that it is not just students from the basic education program, but members of street associations that can receive skills training as well.
So in the past few weeks I have seen how USK provides a hopeful future to Kenya’s poor and marginalized children and youth. This time has shown me that USK is amazing and even though I may have made you realize this in these few paragraphs, seeing what they do first hand has given me such an appreciation that I feel I have not been able to describe their greatness adequately in words.
What do we do with plastic bags? We use them to carry our groceries home, to gather up our household trash, and eventually we throw away and create more trash. In many states in the U.S., grocery chains and other corporations are encouraging the reduction of plastic bag use by providing reusable totes-- some free, some for purchase. In India, the production and discarding of plastic bags is now supposed to be heavily regulated, thanks to The Delhi Degradable Plastic Bag (Manufacture, Sale and Usage) and Garbage (Control) Act, 2000. Yet, despite this legislation, I still see thousands of plastic bags in the garbage piles lining the streets of the city.
Before I get further into this subject, let me back track.
So far I've been in Delhi for five days, three of which have been spent orientating myself to the tasks I'll be working on here in the office at Chintan. During these first few sessions, I have been trying to wrap my head around the structure of the recycling sector as it exists in Delhi and in other various municipalities across India. The picture that is beginning to appear in my mind is, as Chintan's director Bharti Chaturvedi puts it, of the waste picker as "one of the poorest persons in urban India subsidizing the life-styles and consumption of the richest."
The waste pickers operate within and depend upon an extremely unstable and hazardous industry, the informal waste management sector. While their services to the municipality saves Delhi estimates of greater than six hundred thousand rupees per day, the workers and their children suffer from high job insecurity, harassment from police, social invisibility, health-threatening conditions, and for many, a life-long lack of socioeconomic mobility. The waste pickers are not legally recognized by the government, and thus they are without protection from unsanitary conditions, from abuse by city policemen, and from job loss due to the privatization efforts of the Delhi municipal government.
So far, I'm only into my second day of work here with Chintan. I have so much more to learn. As I attend meetings with staff members, visit hotels and malls which Chintan has partnered with to provide contracts for waste pickers, and eventually visit the waste picker enclaves to meet them in person, my understanding of how each person and position interconnects will become clearer. Yet it will take some time before I have a clear understanding of the overarching social system in which Chintan and the waste pickers are working, and of the obstacles that they face in trying to achieve their goals on both small and large-scale levels.
On that note, I digress back to musing over plastic bags.
On Monday afternoon, I was able to visit the site of "Metamorphosis," a small project that is in the beginning stages of coordination between Chintan and some of the women waste pickers they have joined with. In the dimly lit basement garage of a nearby ITC Maurya Sheraton Hotel, a small area is portioned off by chain-link fence segments and curtains. In this space we met two women sitting behind a large weaving loom, finishing up their work for the day. A small girl, a daughter belonging to one of them, alternated between playing on the chairs and hiding shyly behind her mother's sari as Kiran explained the project to us. The women are specially trained waste pickers who, through Chintan's arrangement with the Sheraton and the Center for Environmental Education (CEE), are allowed to come here and turn discarded plastic bags into a new source of livelihood-- designer handbags. After thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the plastic, the bags are cut into strips and separated into large sacks of various colors.
The loom, like one you might see used to create tapestries, shawls and other traditional handicrafts, is then used to weave the strips into flat sections of different sizes that eventually become a range of stylish purses, shoulder bags, and clutches that the women sell. Placemats and door hangers with pockets for keys, mail, or other items are also available for purchase.
The Metamorphosis project is still fairly new, and only five women are involved in the process at one time- three of whom, in this particular group, are now on leave. Kiran explained that she tries to rotate different women from the waste picker group into the project so that all of them eventually will receive training to participate in the venture. Before coming here, I had learned of a similar project run by Conserve India that has actually been able to market their bags in designer boutiques in cities like New York. Checking back to their website yesterday, I found that Conserve has even expanded their product line to now include a wider range of bags, sandals, and other accessories like make-up bags.
This is essentially where Kiran and Chintan are trying to go with this operation-- however there are still many obstacles to overcome before they can reach the level of success which Conserve has realized.
When we visited on Monday, the site was not currently in full operation. The cleaning station was not in use, and some of the curtains that designate the space for the women were taken down from the fence sections. Kiran explained that there had been some "issues" with the hotel administration which needed to be cleared up before full operation could be resumed. Even after asking a couple of times, I'm still a bit unclear as to what this entailed.
Marketing the products is another aspect that needs major help. As of yet, the bags have only been sold to CEE and to the government's Department of Environment. Kiran is hoping to eventually attain greater funding, scholarships for the women, and a presence on the Internet where the Loom products can be seen and purchased by a wider audience. Chintan will be looking at using tools like YouTube and Ebay, as well as micro loan organizations like Kiva, to aid in this expansion.
To view all the photographs from our visit to Metamorphosis, visit my Flickr account here.
Today is Day 3 of work, so I'm quite behind Paul in getting oriented to my goals here for the summer and establishing a more frequent blog, but fear not dear readers.. much more to come soon!
Please listen to my third podcast on the women's constituent assembly meeting that I attended here.
Please listen to my republic day podcast here.
May 29th was the 30th anniversary of a massacre that occurred in Panzós, Alta Verapaz. The murder of 53 protesters that occurred there in 1979 is widely regarded as the first act of mass violence against a Mayan community in modern Guatemalan history, ushering in the ethnic genocide of the early 1980s.
On the 30th anniversary of the massacre, the Cultural Center of the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City held the opening of an exhibit on Panzós curated by the Q’iche artist, Marlón García. In 1997, Marlon worked as the forensic photographer for the exhumation of the mass graves in Panzós. From that point of departure, he dedicated ten years to researching the massacres, detailing the intricate socioeconomic and political links that led to the events of May 29,1979.
As my work here in Guatemala will involve developing an exhibit on the massacres in the Río Negro region, I was interested to see how local curators are approaching the subject of violence. For Marlón, the history of Panzós was so multidimensional that he chose to engage every aspect. The exhibit began with Q’eqchi origin stories and customs, and a depiction of 16th century military attacks by Spanish troops on Teculután. The later history of multinational land grabs, the arrival of the railway in Panzós and nickel mining underscore the problems local Q’eqchi communities have faced when fighting for agrarian reform and workers´ rights in the face of government corruption.
At the heart of the Panzós story is a protest involving eight hundred workers who entered the plaza in Panzós on the morning of May 29, 1979, led by a local Q’eqchi leader named Mama Maquín, her daughter and grandchildren. The Canadian company, Inco, Ltd., had expropriated their lands and crops to open a new nickel mine with the help of the Guatemalan army. As the mayor of Panzós addressed the crowd, army troops surrounded the square and opened fire on queue. Thirty-five people died in the plaza and eighteen more in the nearby Polochic River as they tried to escape. Mama Maquín was killed with her daughter and grandson. Her grand daughter survived, and is depicted in the painting by Marlon Garcia used as the central image of the show.
As the exhibit continues, some of the victims are commemorated with a wall of identification photographs, a now standard museum practice for documenting mass violence in Latin America. Marlón´s vibrant paintings of life in the Panzós region are spotted throughout the show.
The Panzós material is followed by images of Chixoy Dam and testimonials of the Río Negro massacres as well as images of the first memorials to the Panzós victims organized by the indigenous women´s organization FAMDEGUA, highlighting the strength of the women of this community.
The exhibit ends with a series of poignant photographs by James Rodríguez of the January 2007 eviction of subsistence farmers from their lands in the region of El Estor, somewhat near present-day Panzós.
Local police, military personnel and employees of the local nickel mine run by the Canadian firm, Skye Resources, worked hand in hand to evict the farmers from their land for the purpose of the expansion of the mine. Images of houses set on fire, armed police and a man crying over the end of the only life and the only land he has ever known offer an anatomy of greed.
Photographer James Rodríguez’s work captures the anguish and the historical replay inherent in this present-day tragedy. He could have been photographing Panzós in 1979, Río Negro, or any previous land grab and it would have looked identical, which is clearly the point. The entire catalog of El Estor photographs is available through his website, and discussed on his blog.
At the opening, Marlón spoke at length about his experiences and the people who worked with him. What was most memorable for me was his comment, “Va venir la justicia y le va agarrar.” “Justice will come and it will take hold.” The Río Negro sentence had been handed down the day before, making his words timely for some, but still only a distant hope for others.
More than 4,500 people died in the Rabinal region alone between 1981 and 1983, and 99.8 percent of them were Maya Achí. Read Heidi's Blog.
"Even today, some younger people in these villages do not believe that the civil war occurred. It is not part of their experience, and I shudder to think how so much can be lost in one generation."
We arrived early in Salamá thanks to Tomás. The sentencing was to begin at 3 PM, and we had twenty minutes to spare, which would normally have been a plus. However, I was with the prosecution team from ADIVIMA, and we were at the local tribunal for the reading of the final sentence against five Achí men from the village of Xococ who were found guilty of killing at least twenty-six people from Río Negro on March 13, 1982. One hundred seventy-seven died that day, but only two have officially been identified from their remains. During the trial, seventeen survivors identified the victims of twenty-four murders they witnessed.
Nearly sixty people were waiting outside the compound, all Achí families from Xococ, relatives of the accused. We were three women facing a ground swell of animosity from the moment we arrived. The previous week, over two hundred Río Negro survivors attended the last day of the trial when the verdict was read. That day these families stayed home. Unbeknownst to us, this was their day to bear witness and support their relatives.
P. was nervous when she realized who we were facing. She was one of the survivors who brought the case forward and plainly told me that she feared some of the younger men in the crowd might want to harm or kidnap her. They made menacing comments under their breath as we walked the gauntlet and entered the compound. It was safer there. As we waited inside, F., the ADIVIMA prosecutor, looked calm, but the bounce of her knee spoke loudly. She wanted this case to be over. ADIVIMA has a larger criminal case against the Guatemalan government that has been accepted to the court of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights and she needed to focus on that.
As we waited in a corner of the compound, several of the accused men were escorted past us in handcuffs, neatly dressed. Most were old men with white hair. My reaction did not surprise me. These men committed horrible crimes out of a mixture of free will, revenge and obligation. The details of their atrocities I will not discuss here. Given their 30-year sentences, they will all most likely die in jail.
There is no disputing that some amount of justice is served by such a sentence. Even considering the heinous nature of their actions, they were pawns in a much larger campaign of displacement and intentional genocide that they themselves did not design. Watching each man shuffle past, we all probably thought about those men and women who were missing from the line up, the real architects of the Río Negro massacres who ran the Guatemalan government and army, and who worked for the international banks and the hydroelectric companies that built the Chixoy Dam. They may never hear their sentences read aloud in a courtroom at 9 PM on a Wednesday night in Salamá with their grandchildren watching. But this verdict was for each of them just as much as it was for the five men in the courtroom last week.
It is one thing to read about a criminal and objectively know that justice would be served if they were punished. I was in Chile the week before Pinochet died and in Indonesia the week before the death of Suharto. I saw and heard so much justified and palpable anger and frustration in both countries. To see someone literally get away with murder, to escape justice, is unsettling, maddening. But when you are seated a few feet away from a murderer who is over seventy, speaks no Spanish and has trouble even walking, it can make one pause and wonder whose definition of justice is being served by such a sentence. Who is more culpable, the man who pulled the trigger or the man who bought him the gun and told him who he should kill if he wanted to stay alive and keep his family safe?
The sentencing was delayed for five hours that afternoon. P., F., and I safely escaped the eye of the storm and spent several hours sitting in our car near the central plaza exchanging stories about life, love, family. It was meant to be a diversion. Although we did not make mention of our actions out loud, whenever a car passed, we paid close attention. Whomever walked by was scrutinized thoroughly. We were on alert for hours, until it was finally time to return to the tribunal and enter the courtroom.
We arrived first, followed by two armed police and the accused men from Xococ. Each one handcuffed, saying, “Buenas noches” or “Utzulaj xokaq´ ab´” to the prosecution in turn. We sat there together in silence and reflection for some time before the families and judges arrived. The police were exchanging gossip behind me. I took notes. F. reviewed her agenda as her knee bounced. P. sat with her head in her hands. Maybe she was praying; maybe she was thinking of the first night she slept in the mountains after escaping the killings in Río Negro. A snake brushed against her side while she slept and she awoke, taking it as a signal to keep moving up the mountain. Hours later she could hear the PAC patrol passing the spot where she and her son had slept.
When the families entered the courtroom, no one sat near me for obvious reasons. I will never be a welcome face in Xococ. Seats lined the wall outside the window to my immediate left near a chalk board with a grid. Down the left side were the names of the accused and across the top those of the witnesses. Some squares said things like, “la violó” or “lo ví en Río Negro.” “He raped her.” “I saw him in Río Negro.” Many of the youth present did not believe that this event ever occurred. Just as I heard in Xesiguan, there is a whole generation of children who may not believe that there was ever a war in this country, or that so many of their relatives died in it.
After the judges entered, the proceedings moved very quickly. We were expecting the sentence to be read, a process that was estimated to take four hours. Within twenty minutes, both sides received copies of the final sentence in Spanish or Achí, whether they could read it or not. Some of us were free to leave.
Aside from thoughts on the bittersweet nature of justice, what I witnessed was a historic event in Guatemala. For the second time, a tribunal acknowledged the massacres that took place in the hills above Río Negro at a now sacred site called Pacoxom. It was a victory for every survivor and will help support ADIVIMA´s case against the Guatemalan government before the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights.
A few days ago, my Achí professor and I were talking about the case. He is a survivor as well, and was for some reason surprised to hear me express what he had been thinking for some time. This case was an important step to take, but there are others far more culpable who may always remain free. We can only hope they have their day in Salamá as well.
Things are finally starting to pick up. I’ve been here for 2 weeks now, and I just got my work plan signed today. The LSN-JO office has been having a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) training since my second day at work, which has tied up my main point of contact in the office, who is both the Executive Assistant and the M&E Officer. For the purpose of confidentiality, I will simply refer to her as D. Last week, D was able to take a short break from the training and we sat down with the Executive Director (ED) to discuss my work plan. It turned out really great as they were both really excited about the services that AP provides and what I would be able to help them with. It was very uplifting to know that they are excited that I am here to work with them. Unfortunately, it took another week to get the work plan signed, but as soon as that happened this morning, we began moving forward.
In other news, I had a great weekend. There are two staff members from LSN headquarters in DC here conducting the M&E training, and the three of us decided to do a little sightseeing over the weekend. On Friday we went to Jerash, which is about a 30 minute drive north of Amman. It’s described as one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the Middle East, being formed much as it stands today during the first century AD. The picture below is from Jerash, but to see more go to my Flickr account at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ksirman/.
On Saturday we were joined by an employee of LSN-JO, who took us all over the place. First we went to the Dead Sea. Although we went to the public beach, we got there early enough that it wasn’t crowded and there weren’t many onlookers to stare at us girls in our Western-style swimsuits (even though they were one-piece and we wore shorts over them). This was quite an amazing experience. It is simply fascinating how you can be standing in hip-deep water and you are struggling to keep your feet on the ground!
Unfortunately, being in the water isn’t as relaxing as it might seem because of how hard you have to concentrate and hold your head up to avoid getting the salty water in your eyes. If this happens, you’re basically done for and have to get out and rinse off. Nonetheless, having this experience is definitely worth five minutes of burning, salt-splashed eyes.
After showering all the salt off of us, we went to a sitting volleyball tournament hosted by the Jordan Paralympic Committee. It’s called “sitting” volleyball because all the players have either leg amputations or disabilities and are thus sitting on the floor to play. To accommodate them, the net is lowered and the playing area is decreased.
I was in absolute amazement at how quickly these men were able to maneuver around on the floor with only their hands, chasing after the ball and giving each other high-fives and slaps on the back. And the best part about it was that they were all having a great time. It was definitely inspiring to observe how much fun they were having and how normal they felt, especially knowing that they were there that day because they crossed paths with a landmine or were in a terrible car accident or lost their limb(s) to cancer or diabetes or were simply born that way.
Fortunately, the Jordanian government has disability laws in place and has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. There are also several government-supported entities that work on the rights of people with disabilities (PWD). These include the National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation, the Higher Council for the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities, and the National Centre for Human Rights. With the recent entry into force of the UN Convention on May 3, 2008, these and other organizations, governmental and non-profit, throughout Jordan have begun working on strategies for supporting the implementation of the Convention and developing action plans for incorporating it into their current services. I feel very lucky to be working on disability rights issues in Jordan at this moment in time as this topic is at the forefront of the national agenda.
Kathmandu is frenetic. It is a labyrinthine tangle of roads and alleys brimming with cuisine tailored to every palate, oddly situated temples, and a vast array of modes of transport - everything from long processions of pedestrians, dogs, and cows to unpredictable, kaledioscopic arrangements of motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, trucks, and taxis - all moving in a continuous stream with no discernible vehicular order. The city is a mash-up of what Nepal remembers itself to be - shy, modest, spiritually imbued - and changing values brought upon by the decades old influx of tourists hoping to experience something entirely new without sacrificing the comforts of home. For a traveler experiencing it for the first time, this mash-up quality adorns Kathmandu with ironies that add a hectic quirkiness to its charm while at the same time creating an exhausting and draining kind of sensory overload. Around Kathmandu, irony hangs inertly in the air - a thick concoction of incense, black smog, and Himalayan mist - where it begs the question: What are the stakes of selling bronze castes of Siddhartha’s head? Such questions hide in the shadows like specters around the frenzied backpacker district of Thamel where shops selling prayer rugs and books about Tibetan Buddhism run parallel with dance clubs that have billboards depicting scantily clad western women advertising “dance showers”.
I have spent two days at the Jagaran Media Center in Kathmandu and will be here for the next two weeks before heading to Butwal. The staff are very concerned about where I should be during my time at the office and I am often shuffled from one place to another. I think they have settled on a corner of the radio news room, a very small office that I share with eight members of the radio team. So far, the staff in this room are slightly unsure of me and they smile and nod when we make eye contact and, like unsure animals testing the ground for divots, we are wary of approaching one another. The production studio is basic but well-suited to the type of radio Jagaran endeavours to produce. Currently the recording studio is empty; from what I can understand, the equipment is not working and has been sent somewhere for repairs.
My interaction with the staff at the Jagaran Media Center has been overwhelmingly positive. The center’s assistant manager, Prakash Mohara, is everything he was made out to be by AP’s interns last year who speak of him with great admiration. He is talented, energetic, and giving. The other managers and directors are similarly so and stress that they see us less as interns and more as part of a worldwide family dedicated to combatting human rights injustices. They view media as a fundamental tool of this vision, as a way of not only being heard and disseminating information but also as a force that can articulate a new way of understanding between those who are oppressed and those who oppress.
The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (thankfully shortened to the Mine Ban Treaty).
To me these UN agreements were just so many words, and since I wasn't living in the world of landmines, it was hard to be passionate about international conventions far removed from day-to-day life. But this is where NGOs and advocacy groups come in, when they negotiate on behalf of individuals to ensure that governments keep their end of the deal to do everything they should to protect and uphold the essential freedoms of their citizens, according to the conventions those governments have signed and ratified.
So Vietnam signed the Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007--a major step. Since then, Landmine Survivors Network-Vietnam (LSN-V), along with other advocacy groups in the country, has worked in a disability working group to try to get the Convention ratified. LSN-V also advocates for equal rights for landmine survivors and individuals living with disabilities in a positive way that doesn't label them as charity cases or as superheroes, but as normal people trying to live their lives to the fullest. I like the wording of LSN-V's mission, which says something to the effect of "we work to promote a society where people with disability, particularly landmine survivors and amputees, can fulfill their potential, help their families, and contribute to their community."
That's why I'm going to Vietnam this summer; that's why I'll work with and learn from the dedicated folks at LSN-V: to incorporate the vocabulary of rights into my everyday speech, to become familiar with these two UN conventions so that I can use them to further the work of LSN-V on the grassroots level. And as an AP Peace Fellow, I'll help LSN-V distribute that information so that it can reach a broad, web-based audience.
It's a dynamic time, as Vietnam moves towards middle-income nation status and international NGOs need to make way for local NGOs. It'll be an adventure, and as soon as I get my bearings or a steady internet connection (whichever comes first), I'll tell you about the 23-hour nonstop train ride from Saigon to Dong Hoi.
The painter stood
Before her work
She looked around everywhere
She saw the pictures and she painted them
She picked the colours from the air
(The Painter - Neil Young)
My first week had barely taken off when I found myself standing at a former military base staring at the work we had done. An overwhelmingly hot afternoon, a number of motivated Palestinians and internationals, a lot of paint, water and sweat were the necessary ingredients to shape a stance against a possible new illegal settlement in the Westbank. A non-violent stance that is, made up out of painting and playing bingo at a place called Oush Grab.
A short history lesson teaches that Oush Grab, meaning Crow’s nest in Arabic, served as an Israeli military base from 1967 up until 2006. In this period the originally Jordan base grew at the expense of surrounding Palestinian landowners. Today, in 2008, the private confiscated land has been returned to its owners and the rest of Oush Grab has become public land under the authority and jurisdiction of the Beit Sahour municipality. However, at the top of the hill of Oush Grab, some deserted military structures remain in place and a military order still covers their presence. This means that even though it is public land, the municipality is not allowed to build or develop there. So far, some facts and figures.
Due to the lack of open spaces and safe playgrounds for children the municipality has decided to turn Oush Grab into a recreational area and picnic place. The construction is almost finished and families slowly make more and more use of the facilities offered. This process would move a lot quicker if they had no reason to fear the place, but unfortunately such a reason presented itself on May 15, known to Palestinians as Nakba day.
A group of about 40 settlers, some armed, appeared to take over the site at the top of the hill and declared that they wanted to build a new settlement outpost there. Thereupon the settlers spray painted slogans such as ‘Israel belongs to the Jews’, on the walls. The presence of the settlers at Oush Grab and the possibility of a new settlement outpost there threatens the security of the Beit Sahour community and the existence and use of the newly built safe recreational area. In order to defend the rights of this land local ngo’s have come together to promote the further integration of the site within the local community in order to show the importance it holds to Palestinians and the fact that a new settlement will not be accepted. They have decided to do this in a unique way; an organization named Decolonizing Architecture has created a plan to develop the hill top space for community usage without breaking the military order. In reality this translates into transforming the meaning of the place without any actual restructuring.
Armed with nothing but these motivations and buckets of paint volunteers have set to work to cover the racist graffiti with non political signs to turn the area into ‘Oush Grab Plaza’. A next step was taken on the friday that followed: a bingo. Even though the soldiers did not find it particularly amusing this is a unique way of peacefully refusing the place to turn into an illegal settlement, integrating it into the community and avoiding violent confrontation.
Oush Grab is one of those examples where it is necessary to distance yourself from the issue of Palestinians versus Israelis for a minute and realize that that is not even the case here. Factually the territory is acknowledged by both sides as public Palestinian land with a military order in place that currently prevents the development of the space. That’s all. The attempt by anyone to built anything is thus illegal and when the military order is lifted it remains illegal for Israeli settlers to occupy the space because it is Palestinian land. This is also why the Israeli military has removed settlers from the site.
Unfortunately, Oush Grab is only one of too many places in the Westbank where it is an urgent necessity to stand up for justice based on the rule of law and the actual facts on the ground.
On June 6th, 2008 the wastepickers of Seemapuri, a suburb of Delhi, won a major victory by convincing their local government officials to install a portable toilet in their community. This victory may seem insignificant, but in the terrible sanitary conditions of the Seemapuri wastepicker colony, where raw sewage flows in narrow gutters in front of houses and children play in piles of wet garbage, a working toilet represents a major step up.
I visited the community that Friday afternoon with Zeeshan Khan, the Chintan representative in charge of maintaining relations with the Seemapuri colony and helping the residents advocate for their rights. Zeeshan is a Muslim, which made him a good Chintan ambassador for this community of almost entirely Bengali Muslims. Immigrating to Delhi from the Indian state of West Bengal, the residents of Seemapuri faced constant discrimination, especially by the Delhi Police, because of the misconception that they were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. “In fact,” complained one wastepicker to me, “we are not from Bangladesh… although their may be some illegal immigrants in Delhi, we are not them.” The Delhi police took advantage of this misidentification to constantly illicit bribes on threat of exportation, I was told. Zeeshan explained that one of the ways Chintan tried to alleviate this problem was by providing official Wastepicker ID cards which wastepickers could show to the Police. Not wanting to have to deal with a legitimate NGO, Police were likely to leave the wastepickers with IDs alone, Zeeshan said. The children of Bengali wastepickers also faced discrimination in school, where teachers were known to not allow them in classes on the assumption that they were illegal immigrants. Zeeshan said he had made calls to local schools in the past to clarify the students’ identities. Moreover, if residents wanted to apply of citizenship ID cards from the government (which few Indian people have), Chintan would also help them do that, he added.
The issue to be addressed today, however, was more concrete: the need for a working toilet in the community. In recent years the Delhi government had begun to recognize its responsibility to provide basic services to the numerous squatter slums throughout the city or face a humanitarian crisis of unsanitary and unbearable conditions. Consequently, it had begun to install roads, electricity and even plumbing in some slums. Seeking to take advantage of this policy, the women of Seemapuri were applying for a toilet to be installed in their neighborhood.
In the angled sunlight of a Friday afternoon, while their husbands and sons were at the local Mosque, about 30 women of the Seemapuri colony began marching to the offices of their local government representative, their colorful saris fluttering in the warm breeze. One of their leaders held in her hand a Chintan-prepared application for a toilet to be installed in their community. Reaching the government office they were directed down a long, dark hallway to a medium-sized room where the local MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) named Veer Singh Dhigan greeted them with a smile. Plastic chairs appeared and the room was soon filled with sitting women and children looking attentively to their leaders (who sat in the front row) and to the MLA, who sat on an elevated table in front of them. I stood in one corner of the room filming the event with my digital camera; when the MLA noticed me he asked in English “Are you filming video?” to which I answered yes. This made him nervous but he made no effort to stop me. He may not have liked the idea that everything he said would be on record, but he could do nothing about it. The conversation which followed lasted about thirty minutes, with the MLA speaking and gesturing grandly and responding to occasional interjections from older women in the crowd and side discussions with Zeeshan, all in Hindi. The women were excited; many of them were smiling. The time had finally come to claim their rights as citizens. In the end, the MLA agreed to their request and promised to install a portable toilet (like the ones at construction or picnic sites in the USA) in the community, and to have it emptied once a week. This concession in hand, the women left in a spirit of triumph and accomplishment which made their faces beam as brightly as their saris. They walked leisurely back to the colony in an air of victory. Someone had listened to them.
Within 10 minutes of leaving Putis, one car in our six-car brigade broke down, delaying us an hour and a half. Before arriving to Huanta three hours later, the wheel of one of our trailers burst, leaving another group briefly stranded along a treacherous, rocky road. The normal five-hour trip to Ayacucho soon became nine hours. One person on our team ventured that the essence of what EPAF had uncovered over the previous two weeks was doing everything it could to keep us there.
My stay in Putis was a fascinating experience of vivid contrasts. The bitter cold of clear, star-filled nights and the heat of sunny afternoons. The serenity of my surroundings yet the brutality of the area´s history. Over two weeks, EPAF was physically protected from harm by the Peruvian military - the very actor responsible for the actual 1984 Putis massacre.
Have things changed? The Putis case was a breakthrough for EPAF in Peru - and the world took notice. Fox News, CNN, Reuters, MSNBC, BBC, La Republica, take your pick. But any notion of swift justice remains doubtful. Look no further than Sunday´s edition of La Republica, one of Peru´s leading newspapers. The General Commander of the Peruvian military, Edwin Donayre, in response to questions about the Putis exhumation: "Any excesses and human rights violations should be addressed in the moment and situation during which they took place. How easy it is to talk now after 20 years!"
Things have sadly not changed. Gerardo Fernandez Mendoza, the president of an association of 250 Putis relatives, claims that 360 victims remain buried in 13 separate mass graves in the Putis area. In two weeks, EPAF returns to Putis to exhume four more graves. Though the aliases of those responsible for the Putis massacre are known, the Peruvian military has consistently refused to identify the individuals stationed at the Putis military base in 1984. Without names, a legal case cannot be filed. Some within the military claim the salient files were burned and no longer exist. Though the military now articulates its refusal to release names with precision and exactitude, the entire Putis area in 1984 was indiscriminately marked by the military as "red," asserted to be irrevocably broken by the ideological poison of the Shining Path. Everyone - men, women, and children - paid the price. That may be the starkest contrast yet.
What would you do if you lost your leg due to a landmine explosion?
Your arm? Your sight or your hearing?
How would you not only 'get by', but thrive like you used to?
These are tough questions that LSN addresses every day in its work. Although declared mine-free in 1994, other de-mining organizations have found unidentified mine fields in various regions around the country.
LSN works in three main sectors: Health, Economic Reintegration, and Social Empowerment (Human Rights). As I begin Week Two with the Network, I have started digging deeper to understand the nuances of the work LSN is doing with survivors. Today’s topic? The health sector: hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and the politics that underlie it all.
A visit to the ISSS (Salvadoran Institute from the Social Security), a hospital in San Salvador, last Wednesday prompted me to begin thinking more about the process of attracting survivors to its health sector programming: How does LSN do it? What is the process, and what kind of support does the government offer to people with disabilities?
While driving around the city for the last week, it struck me that there are different hospitals for different illnesses. There is a specialty hospital for individuals suffering from tuberculosis; another for people suffering from lung problems; military hospitals that address the needs of the military; and another hospital(s) that services children. But what about hospitals that directly serve the needs of survivors of the war and other accidents?
As it turns out, these individuals are steered towards government-sponsored rehabilitation centers. The hospital is the first stop for those suffering from both war and non-war injuries. Those that need care from war-related disability go directly to the rehabilitations centers. You see, the general hospitals don’t have social, economic, or specialty amputation services for amputees. The LSN Health Sector objective is to improve survivors’ health related to quality of life in the different health services facilities. Part of LSN’s work in the Health sector is to increase the referrals of amputee patients in the hospitals to these rehabilitation centers and to help support the implementation and maintenance of “Survivor Clubs” in the hospitals by building a support network of physical therapists, social workers, and psychiatrists.
The main problem is that these rehabilitation centers, though funded (poorly) by the government, are only located in the center of the country. Therefore, survivors of conflict and other disabilities that reside in the countryside are not able to access the services. Hence, the LSN Network works to support the accessibility of individuals, not just through the construction of infrastructure (accessible walkways and buildings), but general accessibility of services outside city center.
A blurb on the politics underlying disability rights follows this blog entry.
This upcoming week I will be attending sessions on the other two major sectors of LSN’s work: Economic Opportunity and Social Empowerment. Stay tuned.
In my own recent experience in the country, a few common themes have arisen through my daily reading of the El Salvadoran daily newspapers (La Prensa Grafica and El Diario De Hoy): 2009 El Salvador Election updates; rising gas prices (regular gasoline costs upwards of $4.50, while diesel is creeping past $5.00); murders, like yesterday’s discovery of a 12-year old girl strangled to death 50 meters from her home; coverage of the United States elections (predominantly the Obama and Hillary show); constant accidents from bridges built poorly; agriculture market fluctuation; and the ubiquitous poverty that halts the development of people who live in the country-side.
In lieu of the upcoming presidential elections in 2009, much of the street discourse revolves around the elections and the two major party candidates in the running: Mauricio Funes, FMLN candidate, and Rodrigo Avila, ARENA candidate and former head of the National Police Force in El Salvador, (Nationalist Republican Alliance—the leading political party). The polls suggest, however, that the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN-a former revolutionary guerilla organization), which has outgrown ARENA in size, is the prime contender to win the 2009 elections. The political tension surrounding the elections is palpable and visceral. Wearing red signifies an allegiance to the FMLN and trees/garages/fences/buildings are painted the respective party colors of each municipality’s leaning.
One of my questions left unanswered is the following: Where do disability rights fit into the political platforms? The new El Salvador Disability Rights Law decrees that one of every 25 employees hired by private businesses be a person with disabilities. Will this be upheld and honored? Will more attention be paid to disabled individuals through public services, such as accessibility to prostheses and infrastructure accessibility outside of the capital?
It appears that much focus of the media and candidates is on the prescience of violence in and without the capital. Both parties—FMLN and ARENA—vow to combat drug trafficking and gang violence, if elected to the presidency, and both vow that secession of violence will have a positive impact on other aspects of daily life, such as affordable food, housing, and accessibility. However, in reading Tim's El Salvador blog (regarding political and otherworldy
goings-on in El Salvador, http://luterano.blogspot.com, the following excerpt from an attached article (The Australian newspaper “Green Left”) provides an interesting description of the politicization of gang violence in El Salvador. It suggests that violence, reminiscent of the recent civil war, is still being wielded for political gains:
“Authorities routinely attribute political murders to the gang crime prevalent in El Salvador, when in fact there is evidence that gangs are actually being used for political assassinations. It appears the right-wing forces, which were forced into a negotiated peace to end the civil war in 1992, are now reverting to their old tricks of intimidation and violence in a bid to hold onto power. It is imperative that the democratic gains associated with the peace accords are upheld. For the Salvadoran people, these gains came at the expense of many lives. This is an important time to build solidarity with El Salvador.”
It suffices to say that the gains in disability rights, through the UN Convention on Disability, which El Salvador ratified in 2007, and the new Disability Rights Law, are progressive steps forward for El Salvador. However, it remains to be seen what affect the 2009 elections will have on maintaining a forward approach.
An additional news piece that arose last week was the incendiary “Path to Peace Award” that was given to El Salvadoran President Tony Saca of ARENA: http://www.thepathtopeacefoundation.org/awards_pathtopeace.html. Many believe that El Salvador’s problems will not improve until Tony Saca is removed from his own power path and politicization of the country. Some view the presentation of the award as de-legitimizing El Salvador’s own ‘path to peace’. As one blog commentator wrote, “Maybe peace in this sense means backing away from restarting the civil war."
LSN’s work with conflict survivors reflects the ongoing effects of the twelve-year civil war, as well as the politics surrounding the struggle for disability rights in El Salvador. I will keep you updated as I learn more about the effects the elections will have for the survivors.
Here is the article covering the documentary film, "Women, the Forgotten Face of War" that will be published in the KWN's newsletter:
On 4 June at the Oda Theatre, filmmakers Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir presented their documentary, “Women, the Forgotten Face of War”, with the support of the Kosova Women’s Network (KWN). The documentary narrates the stories of Sevdie Ahmeti, Ardiana, Brita, Ema, Aferdita, Nafie, Tatiana, Kada and Kosovare Kelmendi. It opens with footage from RTV21 during the war in 1999. A group of women, including Sevdie Ahmeti, are attempting to bring bread to members of a refugee camp when they are stopped by the police. Their path is blocked by the policemen who tell the women that what they are doing is illegal and they have fifteen minutes to return to their starting position. With great poise and barely concealed contempt, Sevdie states, “They are afraid even of women with bread.”
The documentary focuses on rape, but also explores the effects that the war and the loss of family members had on women. For example, Kada lost her husband, son and daughter in law. She became head of the household and experienced immense difficulty raising and supporting her family. Nafie struggled to gain her family’s recognition as she sought to attend the university. After their acceptance of her academic endeavors, she then worried about failing in school and disappointing her father. Ema and Brita were separated from their families while in the refugee camp and Brita had seen her father taken away by the Serb police. Thereafter, Brita supported her family until her father returned home. Ardiana was torn as to whether she should return home to Kosovo or begin her life anew elsewhere. Kosovare Kelmendi lost her father (a famous human rights lawyer assassinated by the Serb secret police) and two brothers on the first night that NATO began bombing. She therefore entered her father’s profession to continue protecting the human rights of others.
The documentary also explores the issue of rape as a weapon that was used against women during the war. Sevdie explains that in this instance, women were the targets and rape was the methodology for conducting war. The Serbs aimed to “destroy the substance of society,” and therefore targeted women and children—a gross violation of the Geneva Convention due to their non-combatant status. The manner in which the Serbs raped women and the atrocities they committed against pregnant women have left deep psychological and physical scars. Aferdita admits that she still has not healed—that it is a myth that one will ever be healed because the scenes from that day will live with one forever. However, each of these women conveys a message of strength and they have lived to tell their story and empower other women. This resilience comes from the fact that women and children truly are “the substance of society”. Had these women relinquished hope then the Serb war criminals would have achieved their goal. While many war criminals (such as Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic) have not been brought to justice, these women fought on and sought to help others because they refused to let their society be destroyed.
On Wednesday night, the KWN held a screening of the documentary "Women, the Forgotten Face of War," at the Oda Theatre in Prishtina. The documentary producers, Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir were in Prishtina to present the film and make comments after its screening. The film begins during the 1999 war in Kosovo and follows the stories of several Kosovar women. The documentary gives these women a voice in order to share what occurred during the war and meets with them again to continue their story several years after the war. In addition to the presence of Susan and Greta, two of the women from the film--Sevdie Ahmeti (a human rights activist who opened a shelter for women in Prishtina) and Nafie (a girl who pursued her dreams of attending the university after the war)--were also present at the screening. I will be writing an article about the film for the KWN newsletter that will be published at the end of June. I also filmed and present here Susan and Greta's comments after the film regarding their motivation for making the documentary. Susan and Greta are speaking, while the executive director of the Kosova Women's Network (Igo Rogova) is translating into Albanian.
Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir Speaking on their Motivation for the Film, "Women, the Forgotten Face of War"
I bought my rubber boots the day after arriving in Rabinal. It is the only way to manage the mud. From the looks I get, I am clearly the only woman wearing rubber boots and a skirt around town. Maybe this is how people will remember me: the woman with tall black boots and a red skirt. That wouldn’t be so bad.
Thursday, I wore my boots to an exhumation in Xesiguan, a hamlet in the mountains thirty minutes from town. It was not an easy drive. When I arrived with Marvin and Maria from the ADIVIMA exhumation team, the first person I met was Heidy, an anthropologist from the Foundation for Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology. She had long, dark hair and black rubber boots. We were both holding shovels. I will remember that. We all have markers with which we recall certain events and people in our lives. I will always remember Heidy for her boots. Her presence made me feel at home.
The Osorio family was waiting when we arrived and they showed us to the two burial sites, one in a milpa behind the house, another further up the hill next to a rather grand mango tree overshadowing a rather diminutive brick house. Pine branches, flowers, and a pillar candle had been placed over the graves the previous day when the families held their private ceremonies.
The team consisted of four anthropologists from FAFG, the ADIVIMA team, two local police, and representatives from the magistrate’s office in Rabinal. All day long, we were surrounded by the families and friends of the deceased who passed back and forth across the field to watch the dig. Nothing so eventful had happened in Xesiguan for some time.
After the official documents were read at the first grave site, the FAFG team took GPS readings and photos, taped off the area and carefully moved the offerings to the edge of the field. Then a friend of the family began to dig.
Paulino Osorio Cahuec was found dead fifty meters down the hill from his house on August 14, 1983. By 3 PM on June 5, 2008, his remains were beginning to take form deep in the honey-colored earth behind his cousin’s house in Xesiguan. What appeared first were his boots. They were navy with a white stripe on the rim, and they were short. Everyone commented. “I thought he wore tall boots?” “Mira sus botes.” “Ay, los botes.” This went on for some time as Sergio and Luis from FAFG worked tirelessly and the rest of his remains emerged from the soil.
The comments were perfectly natural. In order to process something so senseless, you have to find a point of entry into the story that humanizes the event and allows you to identify with what you are seeing and experiencing. And there it was. Paulino wore short rubber boots in the rainy season. Most of the men, and Heidy and I, were wearing the exact same boots this summer. It really is the only way to manage the mud.
According to testimony, Paulino had been shot in the back of the head. He was 30 when he died, a Maya Achí farmer from Xesiguan. His mandible was mostly in tact, but his cranium and upper jaw were found in fragments. After his death, his family carried him home and buried him near the house, which is a common cultural practice. The civil patrols, or PACs, made it hard for anyone to leave their home without fear for their safetly, much less to go to a cemetery or have a ceremony at home to bury a murder victim.
Over 4,500 people died in the Rabinal region alone between 1981 and 1983, and 99.8 % of them were Maya Achí. (Oj K’aslik: Somos Vivos. Litografía Namal Wuj. Guatemala: 2003, p. 79.) If the PACs did not bury the bodies themselves, then most of the deceased were buried near their homes by family, most likely very quickly and quietly. That is where the body would remain until a family member found the courage to speak out and denounce the murder before the local police. ADIVIMA manages at least one exhumation case a month, but nearly every day somewhere in Guatemala, people are still coming forward with their stories. Countless families are still not able to speak. Thousands of bodies remain unaccounted for.
A local elder prayed over the remains and reminded the children present not to forget what they were seeing, that a murder had happened.
Even today, some younger people in these villages do not believe that the civil war occurred. It is not part of their experience, and I shudder to think how so much can be lost in one generation.
After the prayers, Luis and Sergio then handed each bone to Heidy, who carefully placed them in individual brown paper bags labeled with the necessary internal codes and notations of FAFG. She and her lab partner, Luis, would clean and analyze the remains over the next four to eight weeks to officially identify Paulino’s body and determine his cause of death, if possible.
When I bought my rubber boots last week, I thought I would leave them behind when I return home. Too much baggage. Now I think they will travel with me, a reminder of the day I came to know Paulino Osorio Cahuec.
Last weekend was the second annual Dani Sarajeva (Days of Sarajevo) marking the start of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992. The Women in Black Network from Serbia joined the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in commemorating the siege, which is known as the longest in modern warfare.
Opening night was a photo exhibit and reception at the Center for Cultural Decontamination.
On Saturday evening, Women in Black from all over Serbia joined Fondacija CURE in a street action in the old Bohemian Quarter of Belgrade, Skadarlija. The interactive installment included tables displaying the types of food available during the nearly 4-year-long siege, marked with the extremely inflated prices those trapped in the city were forced to pay for staples such as cooking oil and flour.
The performance also included serving those in attendance the type of food citizens of Sarajevo were able to cook with the limited supplies available to them during the siege. Members of the Women in Black Serbia held signs and silently expressed their solidarity.
Afterwards we attended a play entitled Trg Ratnika ("Warrior Square") by Nick Wood. It is the story of a Bosnian family during the war and then their new life later, after they have immigrated to Manchester, England. All the characters are portrayed by only by two actors, a man and a woman. Even though I barely understood a word, I was completely entranced by the actors’ facial expressions, movements, and the setting of the stage.
The set was one of the most creative uses of minimal space and props I have ever seen: Images were projected onto a large screen behind the stage, and the actors’ shadows were cast across various scenes. There was a photo backdrop of a dilapidated apartment building, a schoolyard, the seashore. It was just enough to create a place, a mood, without the disruption of shuffling around any physical sets. I was amazed by the actors' ability to rapidly transition from role to role: from the joyful exuberance of children who have just found their long-lost toys, to the terror and despair of those trapped inside their home during a bombing.
When you don't know the plot beforehand or very much context and can't follow the lines, then everything becomes character-driven! It was a chance to pay extra attention to the visual elements of the play in front of me.
All of this reminded me that for these actors, these audiences in the Balkans, this is not the same as a modern-day production of a Greek tragedy or even "The Diary of Anne Frank." This has happened in such recent memory that the pain and the possible catharsis must be so much more real and present.
It is fitting that my next post will be about the day I spent observing Serbia's Special Court for War Crimes, and one of Women in Black-Serbia's core missions: transitional justice.
For all pictures visit:
Before I take my first breath of thick and polluted Bangladeshi air, before I stutter my first Bangla word to the rickshaw driver hoping that he speaks English, and before my perspective starts to transform due to real life experiences, I feel the necessity to start this blog in a way that we, westerners, analyze country's development and the quality of life. Although I am aware of its limitations, I choose to begin with this approach to allow myself, and others, to see how incomplete of an evaluation this is, especially when compared to later stages of my blog which will be written after having some first-hand experience.
Another reason for starting with countries' overview is to present disability issues as a part of Bangladesh's overall development and to note that there are several problems facing this country. Most of these problems require immediate assistance therefore creating a situation where they are competing with each other for financial aid and support.
Bangladesh is a poor and overpopulated country with 8 to 9 percent of total population disabled and most of them lack access to medical facilities, education or job market (BERDO). Many people would think that the recipe for success would be to provide and improve education and health care, but this is where things get complicated in a small country of 55,584 square miles with a population of 153 million where 45 percent of people live bellow poverty line (CIA World Factbook).
Furthermore, 56.9 percent of the population is illiterate and less than 40 percent have access to modern and affordable health care (UNDP). According to Millennium Development Goals report, Bangladesh is on the right track to halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015, however 39.7 percent of children under five years of age are underweight and 19.5 percent of total population sustains livelihood below minimum level of dietary energy consumption.
As one can see, poverty rates for this country are overwhelming, including disabled and non-disabled persons. However, having a disability adds another level of difficulty. "If poverty lines are adjusted to reflect the fact that disability absorbs substantial amounts of both time and money, poverty rates for disabled will be much higher" (Amartya Sen). This is why it is vital to provide health services and assistance to the groups that are vulnerable because of this vicious cycle of poverty and disability where one feeds the other. Poor people are more at risk of acquiring a disability due to lack of access to good nutrition, health care, sanitation and safe living and working conditions. The barriers to education, employment, and public services prevent their escape from poverty.
Government of Bangladesh is showing interest in tackling these problems and it enacted legislation in 2001 to protect the rights of the persons with disabilities, the Disability Welfare Act - 2001. The progress is slow and there is a general feeling that disability is not a priority. I argue that disability needs to receive more attention from government and donors because it is so much easier to prevent an illness than it is to treat it. Most of people who are disabled have preventable impairments caused by malnutrition and poor sanitation. These people are lacking basic human rights. Healthy people have a passion for work and fulfillment therefore they will be able to take care of themselves and at the same time, alleviate some of the burden on the government.
To give a complete picture of Bangladesh, here are some fact facts:
273-232 B.C. The Mauryan Empire ruled the area.
750 A.D. Buddhism brought by the Pala dynasty.
1150 Senas bring Hinduism to the region.
1206 Muslims take control of Bengal.
1650 The British begin arriving in Bengal.
1858 British Raj begins.
1947 India and Pakistan gain independence from Britain.
1971 Bangladesh declares independence from Pakistan.
(credit:"Bangladesh: Enchantment of the World", by Tamara Orr)
In 1972 Mujibur Rahman became prime minister and few years later he was assassinated and a new government took control in a coup. After that, Bangladesh has had two female prime ministers (Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajed). Momentarily, a military-backed caretaker regime suspended planned parliamentary elections in January 2007 in an effort to reform the political system and root out corruption. Elections are due by the end of 2008.
Bangladesh is situated between India and Burma, and it is slightly smaller than Iowa. About a third of this country floods annually during the monsoon rainy season, hampering economic development.
Natural resources: Natural gas, arable land, timber, coal.
Population: 153,546,901 (2008).
Religion: Muslim 83%, Hindu 16%, other 1%
Literacy: 43.1% (definition: age 15 and over who can read and write)
Economy has grown 5 to 6 percent over the past few years. Problems are associated with delays in exploiting natural gas resources, insufficient power supplies, and slow implementation of economic reforms.
GDP composition by sector: agriculture 19%, industry 28.7%, services 52.3%.
Population below poverty line: 45% (2004)
(credit: CIA World Factbook)
I arrived in Tel Aviv in the early hours of Monday morning, tired and nervous about the prospect of getting through airport security at Ben Gurion, which is notoriously tough on people travelling to the Occupied Territories. I considered blogging about my two hour interrogation, but after careful consideration decided that there are more important things to put in my first blog post from Palestine. After all, Palestinians face much longer waits and worse treatment when passing through checkpoints simply to get from one area to another within the West Bank and Gaza. One thing I will say is that this security ritual often serves more as a means of intimidation for the purposes of deterrence than as an effective way to keep foreigners from supporting the Palestinians. While many visitors, activists and workers are turned away – deported or just prevented from entering the Occupied Territories – hundreds get in by hiding the real reasons for their visits. One quotation has stuck with me, as an Israeli security officer explained, “You must understand, it is difficult for us to see why anyone would come here just for the Palestinians.” In fact, the only way to get into Palestine is through Israeli-controlled borders, so in effect what he meant was, it was difficult to understand why anyone would be interested in meeting Palestinians at all. It is deeply worrying that anyone should take this attitude, as without dialogue and attempts at mutual understanding the prospects for peace are non-existent.
First of all, I must agree with Willow that Palestinians are surely some of the most friendly and generous people in the world, and I was immediately made to feel welcome. My first impression of Ramallah was of how different it is to Gaza, which I visited six years ago. I had expected it to be different – Gaza is known for being more socially conservative, whereas Ramallah is the centre of international activity in Palestine and therefore much more ‘Westernised’. In Gaza, women would approach me on the street and put a scarf over my hair to cover it, whereas Ramallah is a Christian town where many women wear short sleeves and no hijab. It is not all about the hijab, however; although Western commentators tend to focus on traditional dress as the symbol of women’s oppression in the Arab world, I fear this may reproduce the same patriarchal preoccupation with women’s appearance which feminists oppose. For some women, no doubt, this is of great concern, but the Palestinian women’s movement has given relatively little attention to the issue as there are more concrete and prescient issues at hand. Another noticeable difference was that in Gaza, the first thing most people asked when they met me was “What does your father do?” – a surprise to me at the time as I never saw my father’s occupation as being among the most important parts of my identity. In Ramallah, people are more interested in what I study and why, what do I want to do with my life, and what do I think of Ramallah. Despite the number of international agencies operating in Ramallah, many people are still intrigued to see a foreigner around town - testimony to the absence of freedom of movement in and out of the West Bank.
Here in the WATC office, my first task is to conduct a needs assessment to establish what obstacles stand in the way of WATC using ICT and advocacy to achieve their strategic aims, and what I can do to help. I will use video conferencing to speak with WATC's Gaza office, as gaining physical access is impossible. Even electronic communication is very difficult, because although WATC has been able to obtain its own electricity generator, fuel is very difficult to buy, and so communications are limited to a short time slot each day. Palestinians never cease to be angered and frustrated by the way in which economic sanctions are wielded as a weapon of war against their population, such a blunt instrument to deal with so complex a political situation. This week one WATC worker wanted to send a digital camera to a friend in Gaza (as one can’t buy such things there) but was unable to because of the embargo. Such are the problems WATC faces in today’s divided Palestine. One has to ask, is preventing organisations such as WATC from carrying out their work in support of women’s rights really going to help create the kind of society which the Israeli government feels it can negotiate with?
5 full days have passed since I landed in Kampala. After reading through my fellow fellows' blogs, I must concur: I feel like a baby girl, able, at least, to walk and gesture, but totally unfamiliar with my surroundings--their dangers, their prosperities, their loves, and their losses. I am a Muzungu or a Buzungu (white person, pronounced "Muh-zoong-goo"), depending on whom you ask, and every child, from 0 to 18 hollers out "Bye, Muzungu! Bye!" Somehow they lost the "Hi" part, and simply dismiss me, with glee, whenever they see me! Of course, when I reply with a "Hello!" they continue on with the conversation, asking me in a lilting, Ugandan accent, "How ah-re yew?" The babies always snatch my attention the most quickly, with their squat little bodies topped by adorable, squishy, round faces. In less than one week, I have re-discovered my strength, as I battled a urinary tract infection on my first night (I thank my foresight for getting a prescription of ciprofloxacin), road a "boda boda," or motor bike taxi, for the first time and, while dismounting, got a first degree burn on my right calf, and got a cold that won't quit! However, this has only reminded me that people, everywhere, are amazingly kind. My wound has brought more people to my office door, just to check up on me, than I could have ever expected. As I adjust to my very new, very different surroundings, I am reminded how very similar we all are. I know that I will fall in love with this place.
LSN has kept me extremely busy this week by taking me to sit in on organizing meetings, trainings, and visits to the homes of survivors. Although it's only been a week, I feel as if I have been there for years already. The events that I have viewed this week have opened my eyes to the extraordinary work that LSN is doing to protect and advance the rights of people with disabilities.
The Week's Recap: On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday I accompanied 3/8 Outreach Workders (OWs) to their respective regions. This involves our driver, Oscar, ferrying us from meeting to meeting outside of San Salvador. To give you a better idea of the layout of EL Salvador, see the following map:
http://www.4elsalvador.com/images/mapa%20de%20el%20salvador%20.jpg. The map shows the departmental and zonal distinctions that divide the country.
This week, I have visited Ilobasco (in the Department of Cabanas, in the North), San Pablo Tacachico (in the Department of La Libertad-South), and a hospital in San Salvador. At the meetings, or 'reunions', as they are called, the OWs invite people with disabilities to come to the meeting to discuss their disability, how LSN might help them, and how they are able to help themselves. The type of disability-related injuries I viewed were numerous: motor accidents; amputations due to the civil war; diabetes; and malpractice, among others. The survivors are encouraged to invite other people with disabilities to the meetings as well. LSN, however, addresses the needs of individuals with physical disabilities, not mental disabilities.
The video here is a visit to the home of a survivor just outside Ilobasco:
I attended an all-day small business training on Friday in Tacachico, in the Department of La Libertad in the South. The training gave survivors the basics to either begin planning how to run a small business or to strengthen their current business; most attendees belonged in the second camp. I was amazed at just how attentive and interested the attendees were, leaning forward in their chairs in earnest to better understand how to produce a product; how to sell better produce; how to navigate the business of selling and marketing chickens for the holidays; and learning more sustainable ways to manage their farms (the majority of the attendees had businesses in agriculture or fishing, especially of Tilapia). The mantra repeated throughout the training was "anyone can run a successful business-you just need confidence, a positive attitude, and the right tools to do so." At the beginning of the training, the survivors were split into 3 groups of 3, and chose their own names: "The Survivors", "The Veterans" and "The Honest Ones."
I joined the team "Survivors" for the day and received my own diploma from LSN for completing the training. It was a momentous occasion. Now I have the tools to start planning my own agricola (agriculture) business...
Jet-lagged and entirely out of my wits, I arrived at the office of the Kosova Women's Network to meet Nicole and the other girls who work there. Nicole and I walked around for a bit, enjoyed a Machiatto and then had dinner at a restaurant called Tiffany--where they cook authentic Kosovar cuisine and use only ingredients from Kosovo. I then got settled in my apartment and met my roommates. They are interesting women--Rema is a doctor and her cousin, Ganijmet, is a television reporter for RTV21 (a news station in Kosovo that was started by two Albanian women). I asked Ganijmet about her position at RTV21 and told her that I am also interested in journalism--she told me that she would take me there and give me a tour. After heading to bed with crazy, earth-shattering thunderstorms and no power, I woke up to the imam calling followers to morning prayer--at 4 am. Unfortunately I am still very jet-lagged. This fact was further upheld when I woke up once again--this time at 4pm.
The View of Prishtina from My Bedroom Window
I have only been at work for a week and I already feel like I have done more than I do all semester (Arabic homework excluded). The DWRC is working on so many projects right now that there is very little time to bring me up to speed on everything. Rather, I have been thrust right in the middle of the Palestinian policy debate regarding occupation, economics, organizing, and labor rights.
My first day started out with assisting in the finalization of an open letter to be submitted to the UN High Level Conference on World Food Security. Dr. Hamdi, Coordinator of Legal Research at DWRC, is also the Director of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) in Palestine. In Palestine, food relief is not enough. Eradicating the food insecurity problem will only come through the change in the policies that have created it. Poverty and food insecurity in Palestine is not due to production. Palestinians are more than capable of taking care of themselves but are limited in their ability to achieve this because of the effects of living under occupation. Agricultural production and access to markets in Palestine is dependent on Israeli policies, and food insecurity stems from this systematic separation of Palestinians from their fertile land.
This past week, I attended two meetings the DWRC held with US based groups visiting Palestine to assess the situation on the ground and learn more about the contributions DWRC has made to eliminate unemployment, organize, and train the Palestinian work force. In both meetings, the groups were really shocked to hear how the standard of living, if you can even call it that, in Gaza has deteriorated. In the US, all our news about Gaza is politically motivated and doesn't properly explain the humanitarian crisis there.
The DWRC has an office in Gaza, but everyone in my office in Ramallah keeps telling me how our colleagues there have their hands tied. Many of our colleagues in Gaza are unable to get to work. Due to the Israeli closure of Gaza's borders, and the complete shut down of exports and imports, Gaza hasn't received a fuel shipment since April 2, 2008. My supervisor, Carine, told me that people are running their cars on cooking oil, which has serious environmental ramifications, and as a result you need to wear a mask or cover your mouth when you walk down a crowded road. In the past, DWRC has run emergency unemployment projects in Gaza, but because of the Israeli siege, the DWRC cannot properly plan or implement any projects in Gaza to organize unemployed workers or alleviate the suffering there. This past year, 95% of the private sector closed down due to the inability to import raw materials for manufacturing, and then export a finished good. In Gaza, 700,000 people have lost their jobs. Over 1 million are dependent on UN food relief.
Here in Ramallah, which can sometimes feel like a bubble, it is hard to imagine this. Ramallah is a bustling society with markets everywhere you turn. There are tons of construction sites and beautiful buildings and views and tons of people who are just as busy as me. When I get home from work, there are always elaborate dinner plans that include all of my roommates, their friends, and tons of conversation and laughter. There is also an abundance of laptops, digital cameras, and other electrical devices in our living room, and everyone is always confused about which electrical cord belongs to who.
Yesterday my roommate Anan bought me a baby bunny. On the corner by our house they sell rabbits for consumption, which shouldn't bother me at all, except for the fact that I had a pet bunny as a child, and ahibtu arnaaby ktheeran (I loved my bunny a lot). So now, in addition to several roommates and friends, and tons of electrical appliances for communication and information facilitation, our house contains Mish Mish Ahmadinejad, my black and white baby bunny.
With Mish Mish in my lap, we discussed the potential sustainability of a rabbit farming project in Gaza. They are definitely easy to grow, multiply quickly, and provide adequate nourishment. But we identified two problems: there is not enough produce to feed people, much less the bunnies, and then there is the problem of getting the bunnies in. Even bunnies as cute and harmless as Mish Mish are turned away at the border into Gaza.
"Ha llorado." ("You cried.")
Finally, I thought. I woke up my last day in Putis covered with every conceivable piece of clothing/blanket/sleeping bag I could find. As I lifted it all to look out on the new day, I was suddenly, unexpectedly greeted by the face of Ester, an EPAF employee that had slept next to me in our makeshift tent. Still not entirely awake, I was surprised to see her face staring back at me so closely. She looked at me and said, "Ha llorado."
I reached up to feel my eyes. I hadn´t taken out my contacts in three days, and I figured my eyes were doing everything they could to tell me that the Putis way of life was far from ideal. I was shaken by the comment. For some time I had been waiting to know, when is all of this going to hit me? For the past two days I had seen bones, skulls of children with gunshot wounds, pieces of torn clothing, family members grieving over the grave - and I felt nothing. Yes, I felt sad, but I didn´t feel it in any visceral, cathartic way. I talked about my struggle with Ellen, a Canadian student working with EPAF completing a PhD in forensic anthropology from the University of Indiana. We both knew that what we were seeing was so removed from our own experiences, it seemed surreal. But I still wanted to feel something.
And so Ellen told me something then that I only now fully understand. She mentioned how some time ago she had talked to Melissa, an EPAF employee in charge of analyzing the recovered bones of the disappeared, asking her what it was like for her to confront death on a daily basis. Melissa responded that it was difficult, and that she tried to not think about the families she had met over the years while working. It was only when she returned home when she allowed herself to think back upon what it was like to hold the bones of children.
While putting together the photo montage at the end of this final clip in my house back in Lima two nights ago, I finally faced the swirl of images and experiences I had managed to internalize over my three days in Putis. Looking at the pictures, I cried over such loss of life, and the lives that were shattered on the 13th day of December, 1984. But my experience in Putis was not just about grief and sadness. It was also about a new beginning for the handful of families that were visibly heartened by EPAF´s work to recover their loved ones. Some said they had thought everyone had forgotten about their plight. The photos show otherwise.
So what happened in Putis?
In a civil war that saw both sides of the conflict engage in horrific acts, Putis is one of the most tragic events to befall Quechua-speaking indigenous peoples during the war. To enlist the support of the poor, the Shining Path often engaged in forced displacement of people in rural areas across Ayacucho. Called "comites populares" ("popular committees"), groups of predominantly indigenous peoples were forced to leave their homes and obligated by the Shining Path to serve them - cooking, cleaning, etc. The objective was to evade the Peruvian military and collect a "mass" of people that the Shining Path would make lead their contingent when traveling to protect the Shining Path leaders that followed behind.
In the case of Putis, the Shining Path went to a handful of surrounding communities near Putis and displaced hundreds of Quechua-speaking peoples by pushing them up higher into the mountains. When the Peruvian military set up a base near Putis in September 1984, they started searching for "senderistas," or followers of the Shining Path. When the Shining Path learned of the army's activities, they abandoned the people they had displaced. The army arrived, promising to provide safe refuge to the people if they returned to Putis. Dividing the group into two groups, the military brought one group of 123 people back to Putis. When everyone arrived, the military asked some to dig what they were told would be a community pond. Once the pit was dug, the military had approximately 60-70 people enter the pit, and all were killed by gunfire for being suspected senderistas - men, women, and a staggering number of children, some as young as one year old. The rest were killed in nearby locations - some infront of a church altar, others within two classrooms in a community school.
Watch EPAF´s discovery of shell casings near the grave and the arrival of families to the grave site ...
I came to Kenya thinking that talk of the recent post-election violence would be everywhere and I was right. However, what I have been surprised to discover is that ethnicity, key to the violence, has been a non-issue amongst the Kenyans I have met. I was quite confused about this until I met Alex (below, right) and James (below, left), two shopkeepers who make and sell handicrafts.
According to them, the violence that occurred was not a result of strong ethnic divides between ordinary Kenyans, but rather emanated from the tribalist ways of current leaders from the old generation. For instance, James told me that during the violence, politicians would bribe poor and desperate youth with beer and money to instigate violence. They would be hired to burn property and go after people and would do so due to their poverty, not necessarily their desire to go after their neighbors.
Talking to many Kenyans of the new generation has confirmed that ethnicity is essentially a non-issue. One night I was out to a restaurant/bar called Carnivore, which was having a Kikuyu night. (The Kikuyu are a large ethnic group in Kenya and were targeted during the violence). To be honest, I was shocked by the apparent insensitivity of such a theme in a post-conflict country such as Kenya. However, this was incorrect of me to think.
Everyone explained to me that such nights are not meant to elevate or promote any one ethnic group but rather learn more about different cultures. In fact, there are Luo (another large ethnic group) nights as well. Just like Alex and James said, the common Kenyan does not seem as ethnically focused as the news reports would have you think. They tell me that tribalism is dying out in the new generation of Kenyans due to mixing and intermarriage. It is rather the politicians of the old generation who think this way and who perpetuated the post election violence.
The result of the politician’s past call to violence was not only the death of at least 1,000 and displacement of over 300,000, but also the economic hardship faced by nearly everyone in the country.
For instance, when I met Alex and James, they told me how their business has slowed dramatically ever since the violence, an issue they say has been felt by all shopkeepers.
The hardship faced by these two men is illustrative of the larger economic slowdown in Kenya. Of course, it is too simplistic to blame all this suffering on the violence, however it does deserve to carry the majority of the blame.
For instance, the largest problem Alex and James noted was the fact that nearly all tourists have been scared away from visiting the country. When the tourists go, so does a lot of Alex and James’ business.
The post election violence not only removed income from the tourists, but also removed income from Kenyans. Farms were burned and farmers were evicted during the violence, which happened to coincide with a harvesting season. Obviously, this had an effect on food prices, resulting in less disposable income for ordinary Kenyans.
On top of all this is the worldwide food crisis and increasing oil prices. So it is no surprise that the Kenyan shopkeepers are hurting. What’s more is that they are not only shopkeepers, but Kenyans too. Their customers don’t want to spend money on “extras,” and neither do they.
You may be wondering how this all relates to USK and poor children and youth. First of all, due to the state of the economy, these children and youth are hurting just like everyone else is. Additionally, what I haven’t yet mentioned is that Alex and James teach children on the streets how to make wall hangings made of wax drawings. Many other shopkeepers that I met do the same. However, when the teacher hurts, so do the students. Therefore, the violence instigated by politicians has perpetuated poverty, serving as a roadblock for youth wanting to get off the streets and have a better future.
The good news is that the violence has ended and everyone seems hopeful. There are many organizations like USK working to empower children and youth of this new generation. The Kenyan economy also seems to be rebounding. For instance, while I was in the market interviewing Alex and James, about 10 to 15 Canadian tourists came in and gave the shopkeepers business. So perhaps in the future, the new generation will no longer have to be proxies for the old generation, but rather be able to resist in order to move Kenya beyond ethnic conflict and the hardship that results from it. There are reasons to be doubtful, however, I will follow the old adage “When in Rome do as the Romans do” and be optimistic like the Kenyans.
They literally live in a huge pile of garbage. In a place called Bhopura, a heavily-polluted industrial suburb of Delhi, about a thousand people live in shacks made of bamboo and scrap materials amid what appears to be a sprawling landfill. In fact, these people have brought the trash here themselves so they can spend all day sorting it into recyclible and non-recyclible materials. They will then sell the recyclible bits to junk dealers, earning an average income of about one dollar a day. They are the Bhopura wastepickers.
Wastepickers, also known as Kabari, represent almost 1% of Delhi's total population and handle about 20% of the city's enormous daily waste, providing an efficient mechanism for recycling in a society where the most common means of disposing of trash is dumping it on the sidewalk. Despite this invaluable service they are largely shunned by society and constantly harassed by the Delhi Police, who demand bribes from almost all wastepickers. In a caste-based society, most wastepickers fall naturally at the bottom, being either untouchables or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. All of them are incredibly poor; otherwise they wouldn't be doing the job they do.
Yet despite their poverty and the very unappealing nature of their work, I was astonished by the dignity of the wastepickers I met on a Sunday afternoon at Bhopura: the way the men looked me in the eye and shook my hand with a smile, while the women, dressed in saris as beautiful as those of any other Indian women, smiled and held their young children in their arms. They were clearly not the kind of people who can be kept down even by the discouraging circumstances in their lives.
After arriving in Ayacucho, I stood incredulously in the heart of the region that had served as the central front of the war between the Shining Path and the Peruvian state.
When you're in an overnight bus and then a car for 14 hours in total, you have ALOT of time to reflect and talk. I shared a small truck to Putis with Jose Pablo Baraybar, EPAF director; Iain Guest, director of The Advocacy Project; and Dan Collyns, a reporter with the BBC. Making stops in Huanta and Santillana along the way, the Peruvian landscape was something to behold. I was surrounded by tranquility, but I couldn't help but look out the window and try to visualize the terror that had ensued within these seemingly pristine mountainous communities.
The Peruvian Truth Commission reported that there was considerable fragmentation within Peruvian society during the conflict, as the rural poor that suffered within the far removed regions of Peru described their communities as "pueblos ajenos dentro del Peru" ("foreign countries inside Peru"). Although the six most affected rural regions of Peru accounted for only 9 percent of the country's population, 85 percent of those killed and disappeared came from these areas. Imagine - the Putis massacre occurred what is only now 14 hours from the centers of power in Lima given the recently constructed road connecting Huanta and Putis. The violent war in the mountains tragically unfolded with little resonance in distant urban centers.
Watch our trip to Putis and our first moments at the grave site ...
Sunday, June 1
I have been in Amman for 4 full days now, and I’m still feeling quite overwhelmed. Normally it does not take me this long to acclimatize to a new place, but for some reason Amman makes me apprehensive. I think it’s mostly the language barrier. While I do not speak any Arabic, many Jordanians do speak English. But, the taxi drivers not so much. And that’s the source of my angst, as you must drive everywhere in this city and I have no idea where anything is yet. Prime example: I finally found an apartment, which I’ll be sharing with a woman about my age. Our search yesterday consisted of driving around town and anytime we’d spot a “for rent” sign, we’d stop and call the number. We did this for about 2 hours. In the end, the place we found is awesome, but I have absolutely no idea where it’s located!
Tuesday, June 3
Well, I have settled in to my new home. I went grocery shopping yesterday and spent way too much money (things are pretty expensive here). When I got home and unloaded everything I thought, “Where’s all the food?!” While I did buy some non-food necessities like toilet paper and shaving cream, with all the money I spent, the amount of food I got was a bit disappointing.
Speaking of disappointing...the scenery in Amman. At least in West Amman, which is what the more modern section of the city is called. I haven’t made it downtown yet, where there are more interesting things to see such as the Citadel, a Roman amphitheatre, and other archaeological ruins. But in West Amman, where I work and live, my surroundings are so disappointingly uninspiring that I haven’t even had the urge to take a single photograph. Now that I’m finally settled here, I can’t wait for the weekend so that I can go explore downtown and other interesting areas of my new home, and share all of my experiences and photos with all of you!
It's Day 1, and I am refreshed after a ten-hour layover in the Panama Airport the evening before last. Today, at 8 am sharp an LSN employee arrives at the hotel to whisk me away to my new home and family (my new network) for the summer--LSN. I am quickly roused out of my breakfast slumber, seeing as it's already 8am, yet still digesting my breakfast 'tipico' (eggs, beans, cheese, and fresh cream) and pondering the (weather) report of the day: rain, politics of President Alberto Saco's 4th year in power (it began in 2004), rain, the TACA flight that crashed in Honduras and killed 3 (or so the papers say), rain, Sunday's 2008 El Salvador Football Champions, Team Firpo, and you guessed it-rain. For me, the rain seems refreshing. In my conversations with El Salvadorans, I frequently remark on the rain, both in polite conversation and honest opinion. It seems like a safe and healthy topic. I later find out that the rain in El Salvador symbolizes more than just a simple conversation...
Upon arrival at the office one minute later, I meet "The LSN Team". The Team consists of eight outreach workers (OWs) and a total of eighteen employees. Two minutes later I have met the outreach team and am staring at a map, trying to memorize the various regions around San Salvador where each outreach worker is employed. Three minutes later (slight exaggeration on the timeliness of everything) I am in a meeting, learning the ins and outs of LSN-ES: the new mission to address the needs of all survivors of conflict; the complexities of taking transport to reach all the survivors in far-away regions; the politics of the Disability Law in El Salvador; and the daily reporting that is necessary to document survivor visits, among many other topics. I understand the majority of what is being said, but probably every 20th word escapes my Spanish brain. Nonetheless, I am absolutely content to soak in both the magic and the mundane of the work that the organization does to help survivors.
After the meeting I am led to my own large office, the windows tinted black and reminiscent of a police investigation room. Before settling in, I walk to the kitchen, where Maria is making coffee. We indulge in simple conversation-back to the rain again-and I ask her if she likes it. Assuming she will say yes, I relax and revel in the cool mist that the shower brings. And then I see a dark cloud cross her face.
"No," she says. "So much rain is not good."
Surprised, I ask her to explain. "It is not good for the poor, and the people who have disabilities. It makes it very difficult for them to be healthy and move about." The shadow on her face lingered as I digested this novel concept. The lightning bolt of understanding shot across my brain as I realized that she was talking about the very people that LSN works to empower--the survivors--those people most affected by rain and misfortunes.
This led me to start thinking about the quickness with which we forget about the simple pleasures in life, like enjoying the pounding rain and being able to lift a box with two arms. It reminded me that we cannot forget the wars of the past and those in the present. For those who have lived through a civil war that has ended, it seems that the clouds may lift, but even a slight wind can bring them back.
I wanted to give you all some insight into the situation on the ground in El Salvador. The country is rife with direct and indirect consequences of the war. Armed security guards guard the entrances to most major buildings in the capital because of the explosive crime rate (El Salvador is ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world). The President is a conservative member of ARENA, or the Nationalist Republican Alliance of El Salvador, who sent Salvadoran troops to aid the United States in the Iraq War. It is believed that ARENA aided in the death squads during the civil war.
I am quite tired...so much to digest. More to come.
Today is market day in Rabinal and the air is heavy with the promise of rain. A tropical storm marked my arrival yesterday afternoon and has decided to linger. I expect to outlast it by a few months.
While I wait for the relentless bands of rain to pass so that I might get acquainted with my new home, I cannot help but think about time and memory. I am amazed by how differently each of us perceives time, moves through it at our own speed, and how much our sense of time shifts from culture to culture. I am hopeful that my own relationship with time recasts itself to some degree over the summer. Perception and insight are far more dependable travel companions when you live within the sense of time and the pace of life wherever you happen to be.
This summer, I will be depending heavily on their company as I try to understand how the Maya Achí community in Rabinal is recovering from the relentless loss of life and land that they suffered in the 1980s. How does a community heal itself after a prolonged period of trauma and institutionalized violence? For some, the traumas will likely never heal no matter how much time may pass or how many memories they wish would fade. For others, it is the act of remembering itself that offers solace and healing, that heralds resistance and helps to gather strength.
I was reminded of this reading a recent article about Jesús Tecú Osorio, a survivor of the Río Negro massacres. In April 2008, Jesús was the first person to testify before a tribunal in Madrid regarding human rights abuses that occurred during the civil war in Guatemala. He recounted the day in March 1982 when 177 women and children from his the town of Río Negro were shot, stoned and dismembered with machetes because they refused to abandon their lands to make way for the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. He was ten years old when he witnessed these events.
As Jesús spoke, it was clear to the reporter that time had offered little shelter from his life experience, the pain was so immediate and evident. However, his expression of vulnerability and intense bravery signaled to me a critical moment. Memory is a powerful tool, and by recounting his story that day Jesús momentarily brought to light the silent anguish of an entire community of survivors. There is relief in such an act, as if his words offered a break in the clouds from a decades-long storm that had settled over these mountains and rivers. This was not the first time he had told his story, but it was the first time since the civil war that an international tribunal was able to listen.
The tribunal ended a few weeks ago in Madrid after 29 testimonials from survivors of more than twenty massacres. Following that historic event came yet another this past Wednesday, May 28, 2008, when five former members of a local army patrol were sentenced to 780 years in prison in Salamá, Guatemala for killings they committed in Río Negro on March 13, 1982 when Jesús lost his family. Twenty-six years later, some amount of justice has finally been served. The director of ADIVIMA, Juan de Dios García, stated in the national paper, Prensa Libre, that although this sentence would not bring back their relatives, “at last, after so much time, we can see some resolution.” As I sit hear reviewing the news reports and waiting for the rain to stop, all I can think is, “How many others here are waiting for this storm to clear?”
I spent the few hours preceding our 10:15 p.m. overnight bus to Ayacucho on May 26th busily helping the EPAF staff collect supplies for our three-day excursion to Putis. The EPAF team had begun working at the Putis site on May 17th. Ringing phones, last minute errands, making sure I hadn't lost my bus ticket - we all were checking our things twice over. We were promised much during the trip: 14 hours in transit, brutally cold nights, little sleep, no showering, very long work days, and possible security issues. By the end of only my fourth full day in Peru, the prospect of seeing a mass grave for the first time in my life the next day coupled with the sudden reported revelation of drug traffickers at the Putis site the night before made me think that more than just the high altitude of the Peruvian highlands would have me catching my breath. Fuerza! ("Strength"!)
Two weeks ago I was anxious about living for 2 ½ months in a rural area with no internet access and a slow life pace. But then I arrived in Thammel, Kathmandu. Mostly Kathmandu reminds me of Madras but with friendlier people. Thammel is almost like Jaco, Costa Rica. It’s unlike any tourist strip I’ve ever been to in South Asia. If you’re lost in Kathmandu and wander around enough, eventually you will see a “Tattoos, Piercings, and Dreadlocks” sign and know you’re on the right track. After the week spent there, I now look forward to the peace and serenity of Baglung where I am headed next Monday. Until then, I’ve happily resigned myself to eating pizza in Nepal, recognizing how much I will soon miss it.
My second reason for being excited about Baglung is that, as someone who still can’t get her bearings in the New York grid system, the unnamed, windy streets of Kathmandu are a nightmare. And when every other store is a convenient type store, landmarks are impossible to come by. I bet even I can’t get lost down the one road in Baglung, although perhaps I overestimate myself.
Many things have surprised me here based on my expectations I formed with India as a baseline:
1. There is a dearth of cockroaches. I’ve only seen two so far and one was already dead
2. I have only used one non-Western toilet in the whole week I’ve been here, although I have mostly been in Thammel
3. Nepali food is sort of like North Indian food but with a few things forgotten. For example, they sell roasted corn on the street, but omit the chili powder. They make lassis with curd not buttermilk, so even the salt lassi is basically sweet
4. Kathmandu is much more expensive than I thought it would be. I’ve decided to push most of my shopping out to Baglung
However, on the predictable side, the Canadian-Indian issue has already come up many times. I receive looks of disbelief when I claim to be Canadian. Last night, out of pure exhaustion, I stopped explaining when people told me I was Indian and stumbled across a great secret: if I define myself as South Indian then it apparently explains away my funny accent, clothes, and lack of ability to speak Hindi. I dread the day when I get outed by a Tamil speaker, a mother tongue which sadly I don’t speak either.
Our Peace Fellow in Uganda Juliet takes a detour to Hogwarts via Platform 9 3/4 on her way to the airport.
I am back in DC for a few days before I leave for Kosovo. I recently returned from a visit to California, where I closed a significant chapter of my life. Since my earliest memories California has been my life, my blood, my home. UCLA was where I made my college memories and the surrounding areas of Santa Monica and Malibu offered respite from stress. Visiting California and driving these familiar roads--the infamously trafficky 405, Malibu Canyon and Kanan--made me nostalgic, for I was filled with the knowledge that this was no longer my home. These sentiments sprung from the fact that I was saying goodbye to a place that I have loved for the better part of 20 years.
While finishing this chapter of my life was difficult, it is appropriate to let go before I embark for Kosovo this summer. Releasing the past and beginning a new and exciting chapter of my life will allow me to gain and give the most during my internship this summer. Recognizing that while multiple memories are behind me, there are still many yet to be created. My summer internship with the Kosova Women's Network (KWN) will be the opening of a new chapter--one with themes of greater self-discovery, deeper understanding of others and pursuit of social justice.
The Kosova Women's Network was founded by Igo Rugova in 2000 and is a network of 85 women's groups. KWN works on behalf of women, regardless of age, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion. KWN has worked to improve women's literacy, reveal the effects of domestic violence on women, has formed "Get out the Vote" campaigns, promoted a movie called "Lilja Forever" (regarding human trafficking) and worked to develop political platforms for women.
This summer I will serve as KWN's media and advocacy intern and work in different capacities. I will compose public relations materials profiling the women's groups associated with the KWN, further develop the the Women's Peace Coalition (a partnership between KWN and the Women in Black in Serbia), as well as covering the events led by the Peace Caravan as it makes its way through Kosovo.
The purpose of this blog will be to chronicle this summer and the work of the KWN, as well as profiling the stories of the women who work within the KWN. This blog is my way of using multimedia (video, photography and the internet) to tell a story--a story that will hopefully become a long-term journey.
From California to Kosovo
This blogging portal was set up to give our partners, staff and fellows a voice to express their views, introduce their work and share their stories.
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