Tuesday, December 24, 2013


"A young cattle herder from the Dinka tribe carries his AK 47 rifle near Rumbek, capital of the Lakes State in central South Sudan." (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)
By Daniel Howden
The Guardian, December 23, 2013
"A week ago, Simon K, a 20-year-old student living in the capital of South Sudan, was arrested by men in military uniforms. He was asked a question that has taken on deadly importance in the world's newest country in the past seven days: incholdi -- 'What is your name?' in Dinka, the language of the country's president and its largest ethnic group. Those who, like Simon, were unable to answer, risked being identified as Nuer, the ethnic group of the former vice-president now leading the armed opposition and facing the brunt of what insiders are describing as the world's newest civil war. Simon K was taken to a police station in the Gudele market district of Juba, where he was marched past several dead bodies and locked in a room with other young men, all Nuer. 'We counted ourselves and found we were 252,' he told the Guardian. 'Then they put guns in through the windows and started to shoot us.' The massacre continued for two days with soldiers returning at intervals to shoot again if they saw any sign of life. Simon was one of 12 men to survive the assault by covering themselves in the bodies of the dead and dying. Simon spoke from inside the UN compound that has become an emergency sanctuary to the remaining Nuer in the capital. Sitting on a filthy mattress by the side of a dirt road, with bandages covering bullet wounds in his stomach and legs, he recalled: 'It was horrible, because to survive I had to cover myself with the bodies of dead people, and during the two days, the bodies started to smell really bad.' In the space of seven desperate days, the UN base has been transformed from a logistics hub for an aid operation into a squalid sanctuary for more than 10,000 people. Amid the confusion of bodies and belongings, a handmade sign hangs from the rolls of razor wire. 'The lord is our best defender,' it reads. But there is no sign here of the lord's defence, as the country that gained independence in 2011 with huge international fanfare and support has come apart in the space of a week.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


"Lebanese army soldiers on their armored vehicles patrol the streets of Bab al-Tabbaneh in Tripoli, Lebanon. The country decided last week to put the northern port city under the direct command of the Lebanese army in a bid to contain clashes linked to the war raging in Syria." (Adel Karroum/EPA)
Dragged off the Bus in Tripoli and Shot: The Latest Spillover from Syria's Brutal Civil War
By Loveday Morris
Washington Post, December 16, 2013
"One man was dragged from his taxi. Eight others were ordered off a bus on their way home from work. The victims were shot in the legs by masked gunmen, a brutal tactic that officials say has been used on dozens of members of Tripoli's minority Alawite community in recent months. The intimidation campaign is the latest spillover from neighboring Syria's long-running civil war, which has been recreated in microcosm in this impoverished port city, Lebanon's second-largest. Alawite residents of the Jabal Mohsen neighborhood who back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a fellow Alawite, have frequently clashed with Sunni residents of nearby Bab al-Tabbaneh, who support the Syrian rebels. In August, two Sunni mosques were bombed, killing more than 40 people; Alawite leader Ali Eid was charged with aiding one of the suspects. A few days after the bombings, taxi driver Ali Assi, another Alawite, became the first targeted shooting victim. Assi was driving in Bab al-Tabbaneh when his vehicle was stopped by gunmen. He wouldn't normally consider it safe to drive through the Sunni neighborhood, he said, but it was early in the morning, and he thought the risk was minimal. 'They started beating me and telling me the Alawites shouldn’t be in Lebanon,' Assi said. 'They put me in the back of the car.' He was driven to an open patch of land by a nearby traffic circle and released. When he started to run, the gunmen opened fire. Assi took 13 bullets in the legs and lower back.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


"Journalists watch pre-recorded testimony by Gu Kailai, the wife of former Chinese politician Bo Xilai, at a hotel in Jinan, China." (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)
Execution of Chinese Street Vendor Sparks Internet Outcry
By Barbara Demick
The Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2013
"Millions of Chinese took to the Internet to protest the execution of a 37-year-old vendor who had stabbed to death two municipal officials he said arrested and beat him for hawking meat skewers without a license. Xia Junfeng had argued that he was a poor, honest man who was only defending himself against the notoriously brutal urban management officers known in China as the chengguan -- and nearly 3 million Chinese agreed. As news of his execution by lethal injection was announced Wednesday, Chinese microblogs were flooded with outrage. On one popular site alone, Sina.com, Xia's name was the most searched of the day, and 2.8 million people posted messages, almost all supporting him. Many contrasted his case to that of ex-Politburo member Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai, a lawyer by profession, who was convicted last year of premeditated murder for poisoning a British businessman. She was given a suspended death sentence, the equivalent of life in prison. 'Gu Kailai was a member of the privileged class who knew what crime she was committing,' wrote one outraged critic in a comment later expunged by censors. 'Xia Junfeng was struggling at the bottom of society to survive. His death is an injustice. There is only tyranny.' 'Hero Xia, rest in peace. Your anti-repression spirit will continue to inspire the repressed. Your name will live in history,' wrote another. Xia's wife said she and her mother-in-law were given 30 minutes notice Wednesday morning that they would be allowed a brief visit with the condemned man before the execution. 'He was calm. He didn't cry. He just kept telling us that he was defending himself,' Zhang Jing said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

WORK (Qatar)

"Fans take their seats before 2009's Brazil v England friendly in Doha, Qatar." (Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/Press Association Images)
How Many More Must Die for Qatar's World Cup?
By Nick Cohen
The Observer, September 21, 2013
"With the European football association, Uefa, reaching the unavoidable conclusion that you cannot play competitive sport in the 50C heat of a Qatari summer, the way is clear for the international football association, Fifa, to break with precedent and make a decision that does not seem corrupt or senseless or both. All being well, the 2022 tournament will be held in the winter. Just one niggling question remains: how many lives will be lost so that the Fifa World Cup™ can live up to its boast that it is the most successful festival of sport on the planet. 'More workers will die building World Cup infrastructure than players will take to the field,' predicts Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation. Even if the teams in Qatar use all their substitutes, she is likely to be right. Qatar's absolute monarchy, run by the fabulously rich and extraordinarily secretive Al Thani clan, no more keeps health and safety statistics than it allows free elections. The Trade Union Confederation has had to count the corpses the hard way. It found that 83 Indians have died so far this year. The Gulf statelet was also the graveyard for 119 Nepalese construction workers. With 202 migrants from other countries dying over the same nine months, Ms Burrow is able to say with confidence there is at least one death for every day of the year. The body count can only rise now that Qatar has announced that it will take on 500,000 more migrants, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, to build the stadiums, hotels and roads for 2022. Not all the fatalities are on construction sites. The combination of back-breaking work, nonexistent legal protections, intense heat and labour camps without air conditioning allows death to come in many guises.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


As Syrian Rebels' Losses Mount, Teenagers Begin Filling Ranks
By Taylor Luck
The Washington Post, August 24, 2013
"Just 16 years old, Mohammed Hamad was heading to war. The lanky Syrian teenager was joining what United Nations officials warn might be the start of a flood of underage fighters enlisting in rebel ranks. About half of the 200 new recruits who board buses each week to Syria from Jordan's sprawling Zaatari refu­gee camp are under 18, UN officials at the camp estimate. Hamad said it was his duty to 'fight in the name of God to take back the country' from government forces. 'If my generation doesn't take up arms, the revolution will be lost,' he said, shortly before boarding a bus for the border on a three-day journey to join rebel forces on the outskirts of his home village in southern Syria. The flow of fresh troops has helped the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army replenish ranks rapidly diminished by a series of recent losses. But it also has prompted unease from UN officials, who in an internal report this month warned of growing 'recruitment by armed groups, including of under-aged refugees' in Zaatari and across the region, indicating that the rebels may no longer be honoring a pledge to bar fighters younger than 17. 'We are concerned by reports that some groups may be attempting to use Zaatari as a recruitment center, and we are doing everything in our power to make sure it stays a refugee camp and not a military camp,' Andrew Harper, the UN refugee agency's representative in Jordan, said in an interview. After more than two years of conflict that has already claimed more than 100,000 lives, some rebel commanders defend the use of teenage fighters as inevitable.

Friday, June 28, 2013


"Syrian youths walk amongst the rubble in the village of al-Hamidiyeh, north of Qusayr, in Homs province."
A Return to Homs
By Patrick Cockburn
The Independent, June 28, 2013
"Khalid is too frightened of travelling the 100 miles from Homs to Damascus to ask officials if they know what happened to his three sons, who disappeared 16 months ago as government troops over-ran the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr. He has not heard anything from them since and does not know if they are alive or dead, though he has repeatedly asked the authorities in Homs, Syria's third-largest city, about them. Khalid, a thick-set man of 60 with grizzled white hair -- who used to be a construction worker until he injured his back -- says he dare not make the journey to Damascus because 'as soon as the soldiers at the checkpoints on the road see I come from a place like Baba Amr, with a reputation for supporting the rebels, they are likely to arrest me'. He explains that he cannot risk being detained because he has a wife and four daughters who rely on him. He is the last man left in his family since his sons went missing. Syria is full of parents trying to keep their children alive or simply seeking to find out if they are already dead. It is as if both sides in the civil war are in a competition to see who can commit the worst atrocities. A few days before I spoke to Khalid I saw a picture on the internet of a fresh-faced 23-year-old soldier called Youssef Kais Abdin from near the port city of Latakia. He had been kidnapped a week earlier by the al Qa'ida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra while serving in the north-east of Syria, close to the Iraqi border. The next his parents heard of Youssef was a call from their son’s mobile at 4am from al-Nusra telling them to look for a picture of their son online. When they did so, they saw his decapitated body in a pool of blood with his severed head placed on top of it. The Syrian conflict is a civil war with all the horrors traditionally inflicted in such struggles wherever they are fought, be it Syria today or Russia, Spain, Greece, Lebanon or Iraq in the past. For the newly appointed American National Security Adviser Susan Rice, David Cameron or William Hague to pretend that this is a simple battle between a dictatorial government and an oppressed people is to misrepresent or misunderstand what is happening on the ground.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

WORK (Pakistan)

"Muhammad Isaac, a member of a mining team." (Anna Huix)
Hard Rock Calling: The Gemstone Hunters Who Risk It All in the Mountains of Pakistan
By Simon Elias
The Independent, June 23, 2013
"An explosion shatters the peace of the village of Dassu, on the banks of the river Braldo, deep in the mountains of the Pakistani Karakoram. A mile upstream, suspended 260ft above the ground, Mohammad Ashraf puts another explosive in place and lights the fuse before taking cover. The explosion shakes the valley and spews a hail of stones into the void. Ashraf and his partner Gulam Nassur, armed with mallets and chisels, set to work while poised over the abyss. They're searching for gems, turned into crystals at great depth by tectonic phenomena in what are known as 'pegmatite' seams. Here, on the doorstep of a national park, Ashraf and Gulam handle large amounts of illegal explosives, working on a sheer cliff face while loaded with heavy pneumatic drills. In these mountains, however, as in many other parts of Pakistan, survival comes first, and obedience to the law second. The story of Gulam and Ashraf is the story of a country always on the brink of tragedy which has learnt that often the best way to get by is through laughter. Should they find a nice aquamarine, ruby or emerald, they will be rich; if not, they will go on working from sunrise to sundown, struggling on in poverty. [...] The village of Hushe is located more than 10,000ft above sea level, in the heart of the Karakoram mountains, not too far from the Chinese border and the Siachen glacier, a disputed zone now occupied by the Indian army. This remote area is home to four of only 14 mountains in the world to top 26,247ft (8,000m). K2, the planet's second highest peak at 28,250ft and perhaps the most difficult and dangerous k of all to climb, is the best known. One in every nine people who reach the top of K2 dies during the descent. In 2008, 11 people were killed by an avalanche at 27,230ft. At that altitude, even breathing is an extreme exertion. Over the past 30 years, due to the increasing popularity of mountain tourism, the strongest men in Hushe have worked as high-altitude porters. These are the men who carry the equipment, set the ropes and take the lead; they are also those who carry the oxygen bottles, tidy up the camp when it's all over and, above all, those who die. During the short and risky season they may earn about £1,250 for a five-week expedition. The alternatives, for those who lack the strength or prefer to avoid disproportionate risk, are shepherding and mining. Gulam Nabi looks frail, but if you peer deep into his eyes you may catch of a glimpse of the cheerful and indifferent disposition of a man who has escaped death many times.

Monday, May 13, 2013


"The hospital morgue in Maiduguri, Nigeria, where large numbers of bodies have been brought." (Adam Nossiter/The New York Times)
Bodies Pour In as Nigeria Hunts for Islamists
By Adam Nossiter
The New York Times, May 7, 2013
"A fresh load of battered corpses arrived, 29 of them in a routine delivery by the Nigerian military to the hospital morgue here. Unexpectedly, three bodies started moving. 'They were not properly shot,' recalled a security official here. 'I had to call the JTF' -- the military's joint task force -- 'and they gunned them down.' It was a rare oversight. Large numbers of bodies, sometimes more than 60 in a day, are being brought by the Nigerian military to the state hospital, according to government, health and security officials, hospital workers and human rights groups -- the product of the military’s brutal war against radical Islamists rooted in this northern city. The corpses were those of young men arrested in neighborhood sweeps by the military and taken to a barracks nearby. Accused, often on flimsy or no evidence, of being members or supporters of Boko Haram -- the Islamist militant group waging a bloody insurgency against the Nigerian state -- the detainees are beaten, starved, shot and even suffocated to death, say the officials, employees and witnesses. Then, soldiers bring the bodies to the hospital and dump them at the morgue, officials and workers say. The flood is so consistent that the small morgue at the edge of the hospital grounds often has no room, with corpses flung by the military in the sand around it. Residents say they sometimes have to flee the neighborhood because of the fierce smell of rotting flesh. From the outset of the battle between Boko Haram and the military, a dirty war on both sides that has cost nearly 4,000 lives since erupting in this city in 2009, security forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings and broad, often indiscriminate roundups of suspects and sympathizers in residential areas. The military's harsh tactics, which it flatly denies, have reduced militant attacks in this insurgent stronghold, but at huge cost and with likely repercussions, officials and rights advocates contend.

Friday, March 22, 2013


"Indian women hold a protest in New Delhi after the fatal gang rape of a student there in December." (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images, January 2, 2013)
Critics Say India Rape Law Opens Way to More Abuse
By Mark Magnier
The Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2013
"Vijendera Kumar has been sentenced to work and live in a cow shed for six months, feeding and bathing the animals and shoveling their dung 10 hours a day, seven days a week, after eloping at 17 with his girlfriend. That is in addition to a year the laborer spent in jail. 'They didn't even investigate my case,' Kumar said, surrounded by 300 lumbering beasts. 'Punishing young people for having consensual sex is unfair and backwards.' Among the most controversial provisions of anti-rape legislation passed Thursday in India's Parliament -- in hurried response to public anger over the fatal mid-December gang rape of a 23-year old physiotherapy student -- was a provision setting the age of sexual consent at 18. But even before the law passed, Indian law was flexible enough, as Kumar learned, to make consensual sex among teenagers risky, a paradox in a society where rape has often gone unpunished and marriages are still arranged among the young. Reformist lawmakers argued in recent days that the age of consent should be 16 to prevent wrongful arrests in a changing society, but conservatives prevailed, fearful that a lower age would encourage premarital sex and undermine Indian morality. It was fixed at 16 from 1983 until February, when an ordinance moved it higher. Critics say the higher age opens the way for further abuses because parents frequently file rape and kidnapping charges against boys who have consensual sex with their daughters, consigning the boys to jail and the girls into quickly arranged marriages to 'protect their honor.'

Monday, March 11, 2013


"Bodies revealed by the Queiq river's receding waters." (Thomas Rassloff/EPA)
Syria: The Story behind One of the Most Shocking Images of the War
By Martin Chulov
The Guardian, March 11, 2013
"It is already one of the defining images of the Syrian civil war: a line of bodies at neatly spaced intervals lying on a river bed in the heart of Syria’s second city Aleppo. All 110 victims have been shot in the head, their hands bound with plastic ties behind their back. Their brutal execution only became apparent when the winter high waters of the Queiq river, which courses through the no man’s land between the opposition-held east of the city and the regime-held west, subsided in January. It's a picture that raises so many questions: who were these men? How did they die? Why? What does their story tell us about the wretched disintegration of Syria? A Guardian investigation has established a grisly narrative behind the worst -- and most visible -- massacre to have taken place here. All the men were from neighbourhoods in the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo. Most were men of working age. Many disappeared at regime checkpoints. They may not be the last to be found. Locals have since dropped a grate from a bridge, directly over an eddy in the river. Corpses were still arriving 10 days after the original discovery on January 29, washed downstream by currents flushed by winter rains. Just after dawn on 29 January, a car pulled up outside a school being used as a rebel base in the Aleppo suburb of Bustan al-Qasr with news of the massacre. Since then a painstaking task to identify the victims and establish how they died has been inching forwards. The victims, many without names, were mostly buried within three days -- 48 hours longer than social custom dictates, to allow for their families to claim them. Ever since, relatives have been arriving to identify the dead from photographs taken by the rescuers.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


"In this Friday, Feb. 1, 2013 file photo, Abdoulaye Cisse, who lives in the Timbuktu area, holds open a book at the Hamed Baba book repository, one of the world's most precious collections of ancient manuscripts, in Timbuktu, Mali. Islamists claimed they burned most of the holy books there, and for eight days the fire alarm blared inside the repository. But because of the ingenuity of the people of Timbuktu, who hid manuscripts in millet bags, the al-Qaida-linked extremists succeeded in destroying only 5 percent of the collection." (Harouna Traore/AP Photo)
People of Timbuktu Save Manuscripts from Invaders
By Rukmini Callimachi
Associated Press dispatch, February 4, 2013
"For eight days after the Islamists set fire to one of the world's most precious collections of ancient manuscripts, the alarm inside the building blared. It was an eerie, repetitive beeping, a cry from the innards of the injured library that echoed around the world. The al-Qaida-linked extremists who ransacked the institute wanted to deal a final blow to Mali, whose northern half they had held for 10 months before retreating in the face of a French-led military advance. They also wanted to deal a blow to the world, especially France, whose capital houses the headquarters of UNESCO, the organization which recognized and elevated Timbuktu's monuments to its list of World Heritage sites. So as they left, they torched the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research, aiming to destroy a heritage of 30,000 manuscripts that date back to the 13th century.'These manuscripts are our identity,' said Abdoulaye Cisse, the library's acting director. 'It's through these manuscripts that we have been able to reconstruct our own history, the history of Africa. People think that our history is only oral, not written. What proves that we had a written history are these documents.' The first people who spotted the column of black smoke on Jan. 23 were the residents whose homes surround the library, and they ran to tell the center's employees. The bookbinders, manuscript restorers and security guards who work for the institute broke down and cried. Just about the only person who didn't was Cisse, the acting director, who for months had harbored a secret. Starting last year, he and a handful of associates had conspired to save the documents so crucial to this 1,000-year-old town. In April, when the rebels preaching a radical version of Islam first rolled into this city swirling with sand, the institute was in the process of moving its collection into a new, state-of-the-art building. The fighters commandeered the new center, turning it into a dormitory for one of their units of foreign fighters, Cisse said. They didn't realize only about 2,000 manuscripts had been moved there, the bulk of the collection remaining at the old library, he said.

Monday, February 4, 2013

WORK (Egypt)

"A man leaves an exchange office in Cairo last month after changing foreign currency. At the heart of the discontent in Egypt is the public anger over the battered economy." (Nasser Nasser/Associated Press)
Under Egypt's Political Unrest Seethes the Rising Anger of the Poor
By Jeffrey Fleishman
The Los Angeles Times, Februarhy 2, 2013
"Hands caked in plaster, hammers scattered at his side, Yousry Abdelaziz toils away almost forgotten in a workshop at the edge of a shantytown that echoes with gunshots and the hollers of boys peddling cabbages in the middle of the night. The car mechanic next door is faring no better, even with his new marketing gimmick, a sculpture of mufflers and silver pipes twisting like fingers into the sky. A man has to try something to call attention to his business as the inflation rate rises, the Egyptian pound tumbles and sparse ingredients make subsidized bread as thin as paper. 'We open at 8 a.m., but by the time we close we still sell nothing,' said Abdelaziz, who chisels plaster cornices and ceiling decorations for houses that aren't being built. He looked to a clump of plaster not yet shaped. 'I had to fire three of my six workers. I couldn't pay them anymore.' Nationwide riots protesting President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-linked party have swept Egypt in recent days, killing more than 50 people, most of them in the coastal city of Port Said. Since its revolution two years ago, the country has been overwhelmed by ideological battles between liberals and Islamists, its ambitions obscured by clouds of tear gas and flashes of gasoline bombs. But at the heart of the discontent is public anger over the battered economy, specifically the president's failure to improve the lives of millions of people like Abdelaziz who voted for him last year. ... Desperation radiates through this neighborhood that borders a centuries-old cemetery, where mechanics, plumbers, vegetable vendors and fix-it men move in angry rhythms. Sometimes a man in a pressed suit hurries through the alleys like a preening bird, hops onto a falling-apart minibus and heads out looking for work he probably won't find. It's always been poor along these quarried cliffs, where Cairo stretches out all the way to the pyramids. Laborers, fishermen and farmers from the southern provinces and the northern delta began arriving decades ago, nailing up wood and corrugated tin, replacing it later with bricks and mortar.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


"Free Syrian Army fighters say they are still recovering bodies at the river, where several people were found dead." (EPA)
Aleppo Executions: 65 Bodies Pulled from Syria River
The Telegraph, January 29, 2013
"The bodies of at least 65 young men and boys, all executed with a single gunshot to the head or neck, were found on Tuesday in a river in the Syrian city of Aleppo, a watchdog and rebels said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 65 bodies were found in the Quweiq River, which separates the Bustan al-Qasr district from Ansari in the southwest of the city, but that the toll could rise significantly. A Free Syrian Army officer at the scene said at least 68 bodies had been recovered and that many more were still being dragged from the water, in a rebel-held area. 'Until now we have recovered 68 bodies, some of them just teens,' said Captain Abu Sada, adding that all of them had been 'executed by the regime.' 'But there must be more than 100. There are still many in the water, and we are trying to recover them.' A senior government security source said many of the victims were from Bustan al-Qasr and had been reported kidnapped earlier. He accused 'terrorists,' the standard regime term for people fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, of carrying out the executions and spreading propaganda to deflect responsibility. 'They were kidnapped by terrorist groups, who some are accusing of being pro-regime, and executed last night in a park in Bustan al-Qasr under their control,' the source told news agency Agence France-Presse by telephone. ... A volunteer said as he helped load one of the bodies on a truck: 'We don't know who they are because there was no ID on them.' At least 15 bodies could already be seen on the truck, an AFP correspondent said, with other continuing to arrive.

Monday, January 21, 2013

WORK (D.R. Congo)

"A man in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, transports a diesel generator on his chikudu, a primitive wooden bicycle capable of carrying heavy loads." (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)
Congo's Chairmen of the Boards
By Robyn Dixon
The Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2013
"It's an ungainly beast of a machine: a wooden bicycle with handlebars like great bull's horns, two runtish wooden wheels, a chunky frame like a squashed triangle and no pedals. There's no seat either, just a kneepad fixed to the frame, made from a spongy Chinese flip-flop. The Congolese chikudu looks like it rolled right off the pages of a child's drawing book and onto the rutted roads of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Uzima Bahati, 18, was a child himself when he became a chikudu operator. He left school when he was about 12, and has spent the last six years pushing astonishing loads on the surprisingly sturdy contraption, his whole body bent to the task. 'It really helped me in life because it's like a free job,' he says. 'When I get enough money each day, I can go home and buy food.' He's so proud of his chikudu that he spent $5 -- more than twice the average daily wage here -- for brown and white paint and brushes, to make it look smart. In careful but wobbly script, he painted his cellphone number on the vehicle along with maxims such as 'A job's a job' and 'Stop talking so much.' The latter, he says, shows he doesn't care what anyone thinks of him, even if they're laughing. Other chikudu riders (or rather pushers, since it's rare that the owners actually get to ride the lumbering machines) taunt Bahati for his painted version, which by Congolese standards is almost gaudy. Most of them are battered and stained grayish. 'My friends laugh at me, saying: "You have money to spend on nothing. You could use the money you spent on paint to buy something useful,"' says Bahati, a layer of thick grime coating his body. 'When they laugh, I don't feel bad.' His eyes dart about with curious amusement, a semi-smile fixed on his lips. When he's working, which is every day, he wears a shirt worn to a web of holes. But before meeting his sweetheart or hosting visitors, he dons a crisp white jacket and pristine trousers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


"Indian men in the village of Innamrediyarpatti, from left: pipe fitter Ponnusamy, 67; retiree Dhanushkoti, 63; farmer Kalimuthu, 60; and textile mill worker Michael, 62. Even as India debates the morality and legality of euthanasia, three districts in the southern state of Tamil Nadu have been quietly carrying out their own version of it." (Mark Magnier / Los Angeles Times)
In Southern India, Relatives Sometimes Quietly Kill Their Elders
By Mark Magnier
The Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2013
""[...] Even as India debates the morality and legality of euthanasia, three districts in the southern state of Tamil Nadu have been quietly carrying out a homegrown version for decades, or centuries, depending on whom you ask. The practice in one small corner of India has declined under the spotlight after a high-profile 2010 case and growing opposition from elderly rights groups, but dozens, even hundreds, of cases of thalaikoothal, or 'head pouring,' occur quietly each year, people say. 'Some call it euthanasia,' said Rajeshwar Devarakonda, social protection head at HelpAge India, a civic group focused on elderly care. 'Others call it homicide.' Although it can take various forms, a common approach is that once an elderly relative becomes seriously ill and the family can't afford to care for the person, a date is set. Often relatives are called to say goodbye or even participate. The victim is given an oil bath, a head massage perhaps involving cold water and an exceedingly large amount of green coconut milk, leading to death. Reducing a sick or frail person's body temperature can bring on heart failure, said Dr. Raja Natrajan, a geriatrician, while drinking excessive liquids can induce renal failure. In a variation, victims are force-fed cow's milk and their noses pinched shut -- an act called 'milk therapy' -- resulting in 'breathing problems,' said S. Gurusamy, a sociology professor at the Gandhigram Rural Institute. [...] Despite community claims that it's used only in terminal cases, social acceptability has resulted in abuses, care experts said, as impatient family members 'hurry things along' to gain control of the estate, sometimes with the help of compliant doctors or quacks who substitute poison-laced alcohol or pills for coconut milk. 'Nowadays, because of their assets, young people sometimes want thalaikoothal done even if it's just a cold or minor sickness,' said Elango Rajarathinam, Virudhunagar-based director of Elders for Elders Foundation. 'Old people are definitely scared of this practice. You can see the stress on their faces.' Occasionally, those targeted get wind of it and flee. Others just accept their fate, experts said, even requesting thalaikoothal, less because they're ready to die than because society makes them feel worthless. [...]  Although women's status in India is often low, men are more frequently the victims of thalaikoothal, experts said, in part because assets are generally in their names, providing an incentive. Also, daughters-in-law who provide most elder care are reluctant to assist men, given social taboos. In addition, some perceive men's housekeeping skills as limited in male-dominated India, leaving them seemingly dependent.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

RITUAL & BELIEF (South Africa)

Ndiyindoda: I Am a Man
People and Power - Al Jazeera.com, January 3, 2013
"A week before Christmas, amid increasing anxiety about the state of Nelson Mandela's health, the international media assembled in Pretoria, South Africa and began asking questions about the iconic former leader's future wellbeing. Would he ever leave hospital? Would he live to see another year? For domestic South African journalists, however, the story had another angle. In Mandela's Eastern Cape homeland, the breaking story was that his illness meant he would almost certainly miss his grandson's initiation ceremony back home in Qunu. Mandela, like many powerful political figures in South Africa, is a Xhosa. For Xhosa boys, their ceremonial transition to manhood -- a process known as Ukwaluka -- includes traditional circumcision. It is a time honoured ritual woven deep into the fabric of their society. Mandela recalled his own three months at initiation school in 1934 in his memoir A Long Walk To Freedom. 'An uncircumcised Xhosa man is a contradiction in terms,' he wrote, 'for he is not considered a man at all, but a boy. A boy will cry, but a man conceals his pain.' [n.b. Mandela's account is included in my Men of the Global South anthology.] Today's rites of passage ceremonials tend to last for three weeks rather than three months, but the core elements remain the same -- and so do the risks.