November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Category — Travel

Chuck Haupt / Eye on London

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©2014chuckhauptphoto


A British soldier on sentry duty within the precincts of Windsor Castle, an official residence of The Queen.

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London & Beyond

 

Spending a few months across the pond, being based in London, I am rediscovering this wonderful city and the countryside.  One can never get tired of London. As the English writer, Samuel Johnson said in 1777, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of Life.” This holds true today, as London is ever growing and changing.

– Chuck Haupt

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Photography / London & Beyond

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Reminders are everywhere to look right, look left, look right again and again.
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Raindrops cover the window on one of London's double-decker buses.
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A former lumber merchant’s building along Hoxton Street in the East End of London. An art critic for The Guardian calls the working-class neighborhood “the insane mixture of grooviness and urban blight.”
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Camden Town
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<br />Over 1/2 million bicycles are used daily and can be found parked anywhere.
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Golden Jubilee Bridge
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Graffiti along Clipstone St., Westminster, London.
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National Portrait Gallery
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There is a protest about every day somewhere in London.
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<br />A jet flies over London where on a good day 44 flights arrives each hour at Heathrow.
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Regent Canal
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Sculling on the Thames
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Trafalgar Square
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Tourists
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Tree shadow
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The Tulip Sraircase in the Queen's House, Greenwich, built in the 1600's.
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London Underground, also known as The Tube.
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Westminster
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Exmouth Market
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Stonehenge

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london_walkerlondon

London is full of graphic elements with all the signage vying for one’s attention.

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Chuck is Photo Editor for Ragazine.  To see other photos from London visit here.

 


April 28, 2014   Comments Off on Chuck Haupt / Eye on London

High Plains/Russell Streur

Lincoln Highway Memorial

 

High Plains Postcard

Story and Photographs, Russell Streur

Give the landscape in High Plains Drifter its due, but Clint Eastwood filmed that movie in the California Sierras, hundreds of miles from the real place.

With its sorghum roots threatened by the failing Ogallala Aquifer, the High Plains today rise perilously up from Lubbock north through the short grass prairie and rolling hills past Cheyenne till meeting the Black Hills and the holy country of the Sioux above the Platte.

It’s a considerable country, enough to separate the long, flat horizons of the corn and wheat fields of the American heartland from the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the cool, blue rivers and the forest pines of the Big Sky.

Old and famous trails cross through here, the Bozeman and the Mormon.  In Guernsey, Wyoming, passers-by can still see the ruts of the Oregon Trail, carved four feet deep in sandstone by the iron wheels of the thousands and thousands of wagons that carried the great migration west.

Newer trails cross here, too, the Lincoln Highway and the Union Pacific. There’s a tall and muscular pedestal with Lincoln’s bust on top just this side of Laramie off Interstate 80 marking a waypoint on the nation’s first coast to coast highway. The 16th President looms over a smaller memorial to Henry Bourne Joy, whose brainchild it was to pave a ribbon of concrete across the continent from New York City to San Francisco.

HIGH PLAINS

Russell Streur, proprietor of The Camel Saloon, an online literary pub, takes to the High Plains of Wyoming.

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High Plains, Bison, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 1, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 2, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 3, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 4, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 5, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 6, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 7, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains 8, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains, Lincoln, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming
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High Plains, Windmill, Russell Streur, 2014, Wyoming

Not far away is a 60-foot granite pyramid celebrating the life of the brothers Oakes and Oliver Ames, Jr. Once known as The Shovel King, Oakes financed the completion of the Union Pacific in the late 1860s on a shaky house of sweetheart deals and flimsy banknotes common to the era.  Fingered as the central villain in the web of fraud and deceit of the ensuing Credit Mobilier scandal, Oakes died after a stroke, censured by Congress and disgraced, in the spring of 1873.   Ousted as president of the Union Pacific by a rival company faction, Oliver somehow escaped most of the heat from the fallout and passed on a few years later.  In the early 1880s, the railroad commissioned the monument to the two men, placing it at the highest elevation reached by the tracks.

Sometime later, the railroad moved its roadbed, and the Ames Monument now stands in a general nowhere, odd and unattended on a windy hill.

Most people along the trails kept on moving. Not six people per square mile live in Wyoming these days, in attendance to the sheep and hay and cottonwood.  The growing season is a short and dry five months in a generous year.

With all the elbow room, it’s a good place to go looking for God.  He’s everywhere out here.  So is She.

And the buffalo.

Remember this – when you meet your destiny pete1, and your teeth go flying one way, and your ass the other, the buffalo wins.

Then, make the word for medicine with the sign language of the tribes:  hold right hand close to forehead, palm out, index and middle finger separated and pointing to sky, thumb and other fingers closed.  Spiral hand upward, in right to left circles, as in the unknown mystery of it all.

The Great Spirit.  Call that, The Stranger.

 

 About the author:

Born in Chicago and currently a resident of Johns Creek, Georgia, Russell Streur’s poetry has been published widely in print, on line and in anthologies in the United States and Europe.  He operates the world’s original on-line poetry bar, The Camel Saloon (http://thecamelsaloon.blogspot.com/), is the author of The Muse of Many Names (Poets Democracy, 2011) and Table of Discontents (Ten Pages Press, 2012).  His photography has been featured in Written River and on line at The Blue Hour, Pacific Poetry and other publications.  His works are regularly seen at Atlanta area galleries.  He is a member of the Atlanta Artists Center, the Georgia Poetry Society, and wilderness and conservation organizations.

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 1. pte … variation of a Lakota word for buffalo, “pte”.


April 28, 2014   Comments Off on High Plains/Russell Streur

On The Run/CNF

beginning

Benjamin Burgholzer photo.

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On the Run

by Benjamin Burgholzer

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I watched the way the railroad tracks and the power lines seemed to move and flow in perfect unison beside the road. The way each progressed, advanced, and continued without pause.  The way they laid perpendicular to the rolling waves of an incoming twenty-eight foot tide. The way they lay parallel to the untouched snow-capped volcanoes on the far bank of the Inlet. I wondered if anyone was on that opposing bank, watching the cars pass.

We drove south on the narrowing road between Anchorage and Cooper’s Landing, the two towns connected by roads only 60 years prior to build a gas pipeline that lay between the mountains. We drove until we saw the bright blue glacial waters of the Kenai River for the first time, full of things we could not see but thought we could find there.

Cooper’s Landing: named after the miner who found gold there in 1848, had a population of 21 at the turn of the century. 20 miners and 1 of their wives. Now the population has grown to 368, many of whom are guides, fishermen, and outdoorsmen that are guaranteed a gold rush every year between June and September when the salmon return home to spawn.

We pulled into the first fly shop we saw. Crowded and busy. Banners of every major fly fishing company that covered a large portion of front of the log cabin styled building, the first of eight with this same look in a two-mile stretch of road. The parking lot was almost full. We pulled into the last two spots and walked inside, discouraged from the days without a fish up north, hopeful for the trip south.

An employee was there to greet us as we swung open the door. He was young with a lengthy beard that smelled like wet cigarettes. Every piece of outdoor clothing he wore was expensive and unused.

“How you all doin’ today?” He smiled and nodded as he spoke.

“Ehh just came from up north. No Kings anywhere, so we headed down here. Where are the fish?” Sean asked.

“Yea bummer about the Kings. 30-year low. But the fish are everywhere man, this is the Kenai.”

“What’s the best place to go for salmon?” I asked.

“Sockeye? Oh they’re gone man. You just missed the first run. Where were you last week?”
“New York. What do you mean they’re gone?” I asked.
“Oh shit man New York? That’s craaazy far,” he leaned back when he said crazy. “I could never live in the city. But yea the Russian was averaging about 200k a week all last week.  The late run won’t start up for about another week or two. How long are you here for?”

“We’re not from the city,” I said

“About another week or two,” Larry said.

“Oh. Bad timing bros. You can catch ’em in a boat pretty easy if you hit the lake. I think we have one more drift boat still open for this afternoon, if …”

“Wait, some should still be around then I would think, no?” Sean interjected.

“Well yea. But no, not really. The fish counter is up by the top of the river, so by time those numbers come through it’s already too late to catch any of them. They’re all in the Upper Russian. You can check it out but there’s a fuckload of bears up there. There’s trout everywhere if …”

“How many bears is a fuckload?” Sean asked.

“A fuckload.” The guide laughed. None of us were laughing. “Well I mean, there are four of you so you’d probably be okay if you wanted to go check it out. You got bear spray?”

“Probably? Yeah we do, but…” Danny said.

“Yea, just don’t get in their way. You dudes will probably be fine.”

“…don’t get in their way?” I repeated.
“Yeah man,” He nodded for too long. “You boys know there’s plenty of places to trout fish if-“

“Yea. We know. We can trout fish back home.” I said.

“There’s trout in New York City?”

“We aren’t from New York City,” I said again.

“Oh. Well we’re having a big sale on trout rigs, guides, gear, flies, whatever you need we …“

We walked out of the shop with the employee still speaking.

“What do you all want to do?” Larry asked.

“We might as well go check it out. There’s gotta be some fish around,” Sean responded.

“Check what out?” I asked.

“The Upper Russian,” Sean said.

“And what about the bears?” Larry asked.

“Fuck the bears,” Danny smiled.

I thought of a grizzly story told to me by a stranger on a cold river bank in February while we waited for the sun to come up.

            “Yea them grizzly’s ain’t no joke. You’re supposed to shoot them in the shoulder blades, cripple ‘em, cuz a 1200 lb, 8 foot, wounded sum bitch won’t stop looking for who hurt them ‘til they find it, destroy it. My first time we got dropped in way north, buddy a mine flies, no roads up there, no towns, nothin’. First day we dropped in we go out and see a little male ‘bout 7 ft, 800 pounds, a little guy, in this tall grass ‘bout 200 yards out. Kept poppin’ his head up, goin’ back down. Musta been eatin’ somethin. Poppin’ his head up, goin’ back down. My buddy kept sayin’, “Wait for him to get out of that grass and turn sideways or you ain’t doin’ shit.” After ‘bout two fuckin hours watchin’ that sum bitch pop up and go back down I said fuck it, took a shot when he was popped up with the .450 and baboom!”

He was holding his hands like a rifle pointing it at me, faking the recoil with every shot.

“Watched a chunk of ‘em fly out his back the size of a softball and he didn’t even flinch. Just stood up a little taller and started sniffin’ round with that nose a his. I put another shot in em. Baboom! Right in the lung this time. He gets back down, I take him for dead but stay there waitin til he comes sprintin’ out that tall grass and goes back up on his back legs, sniffin’ ‘round. Baboom! Other lung this time. Sum bitch saw that shot, took off runnin full speed towards us tryn real hard to figure out right where we was at. Baboom! Fourth shot, gut shot, didn’t even slow that sum bitch down. Baboom! Fifth shot, finally got that sum bitch in the shoulder and he rolled out. Paced it out later, that sum bitch only had ‘bout 50 yards to go fore we was lunch. We found some slugs in his skull too, all healed over and whatnot from god knows when. Hope that sum bitch was lucky as us. Had meat for years off that sum bitch.”

“You know how many grizzly bears is too many grizzly bears? One fucking grizzly bear is too many grizzly bears, I don’t …” Larry said.

“Let’s just walk up from the Lower Russian and see where we end up and take it from there. We can’t fish the Kenai here without a boat anyway, the water’s too big, and I’m not paying for a fucking boat,” Danny said.

We all agreed and got back in the vans.

We drove a few more miles in search of a place to park and hike down to the river. ‘No Parking Any Time’ signs dictated that we pull into an access point of the Russian River. We waited in the line of cars until we got to the information booth.

“How ya’ll doin? That’ll be ten dollars per vehicle per 12 hours.”

“Ten dollars just to park? So we gotta come back here in 12 hours and pay again? Is there anything for cheaper if we decided to stay longer?” I asked.
“We can charge you all at once if you want, but you can’t sleep overnight though unless you got a campsite, but that’s extra too. No sleeping in vehicles here.”

I grumbled and handed over the money. We drove through the labyrinth of campers, 5th wheels, and RV’s. Families, children, retired couples, tourists. The spectacle of it.  We drove through another packed parking lot until we saw two spots.

People were everywhere. Some in waders, some with strollers, some with cameras. All there for the salmon, but for different reasons. We suited up. Waders, boots, rods, reels, vests, packs, polarized, pliers, knives, bear spray, cameras, zippers, snaps, and clicks.

“It’s fucking insane how many people are here,” I said, but nobody responded.

We followed the small mass of people to the trailhead. We were welcomed by signs warning of bear sightings. Signs with maps. Signs of warning about littering. To ease our adventure down to the river was a platform of aluminum stairs with aluminum railings. We followed the stairs down until the trail split and lead to a boardwalk made of composite wood that lay parallel to the river in both directions. We paused there, all confused and looking for a way into the river. The banks were closed, blocked off with mesh netting and signs every few feet in each direction stating “Closed for Revegetation. $500 fine.” The sign detailed a description of the ecosystem and the importance of the river bank for the insects, the smolts, the fish, the bears – something the Haida people had been telling their children for millennia, something we ignored.

Down the boardwalk were people standing, smiling, cameras ready wearing designer clothes watching the people lined up shoulder to shoulder fishing.

“This is fucking bizarre,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Danny asked.

“All the fucking people.”

“Yea but we’re in fucking Alaska. This ain’t the Ontario Tribs anymore…”

I thought of my father’s bedtime stories of Alaska.

“We got flown in on float planes from Anchorage. Thing was a tin can. Nobody was there with our group except the guides, the bears and the fish. I had a King take my whole fly line! Everything! Easily in the 50+ lb range. A few times these natives came flying down river in their boats shooting guns off in the air”

“I swear to god you don’t listen to fucking anything anybody says.”

“Hmm?” I said, half serious, half joking.

Danny shook his head. “I asked you if –”

“Fish on!”

Our four heads snapped up river to a girl in hip boots fighting a fish, with a 9mm strapped to her chest and bear spray on her hip.

Dozens of people started snapping pictures of her as her boyfriend netted it for her.

“See, there are fucking fish here. I bet we could squeeze in. Just like upstate back home with all these fucking people, huh?” Sean said and smiled.

“Much fucking worse. Let’s keep headin’ up river. These spots are locked up and the water sucks anyway. I don’t want people watching me all day either,” I said

Much fucking worse. We’re in fucking Alaska,” Danny said, shaking his head.

We walked upriver on the boardwalk, paused from time to time to peer into the river, occasionally seeing someone with a fish or two on a stringer.

“The Upper Russian’s looking better and better,” Danny said over the sound of a young couple’s designer stroller rolling on the boardwalk.

I shook my head as they passed.

“What’s the problem now?” Danny asked.

“Let’s just head upriver.”

 

danny's picture

 Danny’s picture

We walked upriver until the boardwalk turned from composite wood, to hard rubber, to dirt. Thick enough for all of us to walk beside one another, then thin enough that it required single file alongside the river. The trail held tight on the side of a steep embankment encased in small pine trees and shrubs. We all stopped to fish at different spots we thought would hold fish, each with different preferences. Sean and I had just fished a spot and seen nothing.

“Thirsty?” he asked.

“Yea.”

We filled our Nalgenes and stepped out of the water to Steripen it and drink. Every river has its own taste, and the two of us always drank from every river we fished in.

“Pretty good, sweet almost,” he said.

I nodded. “Cold as hell, too. Reminds me of the West Branch back home,”

He nodded.

We drank in silence and watched Larry and Danny, who were looking into the water and pointing from the bank a little bit upriver. I felt some pebbles hit my feet and looked down. A few more landed there between us. We looked up and saw more, larger stones roll down the embankment and stop at our feet.

“Where are they coming from?”

Sean shrugged. “Can’t really tell with all the brush and the small trees up there.”

We watched another group fall from a cluster of bushes.

“I don’t see …”

A full-grown female grizzly peered around a group of small trees right above us at less than ten yards.

We backed up slowly, fumbling over our feet, each other, and bear spray.

The bear paused. Looked at Sean. Looked at me. Then started coming down towards us.

We turned and started walking quickly, making sure not to run and yelled, “BEAR BEAR”

“Do we spray the thing?”

“Not if we don’t need to,” I said.

Danny was still facing the other way. “Don’t fuck aroun … oh fuck.”

Larry took off upriver.

Danny took out his camera and started taking pictures as we passed him, the bear following us on the path, slow and calm but persistent.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Sean asked as we passed them.

“Once in a lifetime, dude,” Danny was laughing.

“Get the fuck in front of us you moron. We have the bear spray,” Sean said.

“Don’t see any cubs,” I said between footsteps.

I could hear my pulse beating in my ears.

We headed up river and tried to walk slow enough to not be prey, but fast enough to gain some distance. Up and down small hills, valleys, and corners, hopping, tripping, stumbling over rocks and ruts and breathing heavy until we couldn’t see the bear anymore. We stopped to catch our breath.

“Anyone still see the fucking thing? She just seems curious I think,” I asked.

“You know how many curious fucking grizzly bears is too many curious fucking grizzly bears for me?” Larry asked.

As soon as he spoke, the bear rounded the corner, her pace quickened from a slow walk to an almost run.

We kept moving but she was moving faster.

40 yards.

35 yards.

30 yards.

“We gotta cross the river,” I was out of breath. “She’s just going to keep coming, she has nowhere else to go except this trail.”

Everyone agreed, and we all jumped in. The water was too fast, too strong, but there we were ankle deep, knee deep, waist deep, chest deep. Slowed steps. Anchored steps. Your feet are your eyes in a river.

I shuffled beneath the current. Searched for rocks, stumps, holes, snags. I looked around. All of us held our backpacks and rods above our heads. I felt some water creep in the back of my waders, cold as it fell from the middle of my back to my feet.

“You’ll never win a fight against a river,” Dad cupped his hand and shouted as he watched me at twelve years old struggle to get to the opposing bank of the Pennsylvania stream.

I heard the splash of someone falling and turned sideways to see Sean half submerged, tripping, stumbling, drifting downstream. He corrected himself just in time, spitting water. The bear kept coming.

You always gotta go to the other bank huh? Can’t ever just stay put anywhere,” he said, shaking his head as I made it to the shore.

“There’s too many people over there,” I shouted back.

20 yards.

15 yards.

10 yards.

We were all at mid-river or better when I heard a girl scream. We looked upriver to see a girl in hip boots had fallen in and was drifting downriver towards the rapids on her back. Her boyfriend just stood there, too shocked to do anything. She still had her rod in her hand.

In one smooth movement as she was about to pass by, Danny threw his stuff on the shore, grabbed her rod and held her there as she dangled in the current.

“Don’t let go,” he told her.

“I need some fucking help here,” he yelled, teeth gritted. Larry was already on the other bank.

Sean and I forced ourselves upriver, and grabbed her too. The bear was even with us now, watching from the bank with her feet in the water as we dragged the girl to shore.

“Thanks for the fucking help, Larry,” Sean said.

“I told you mother fuckers I wasn’t fucking with any bears. I want as much river as possible between me and that fucking thing,” he pointed, “Besides, you three had it under control anyway.” He smiled.

We all stood on the bank, most of us wet and dripping. The bear paused to look at the human spectacle across the water. She sniffed, her nose undulating in the air. She took two more steps into the water. We all started yelling, clapping our hands, throwing rocks. She stood there and studied the splashes that each rock made beside her. One splash hit her nose startling her, and she wandered her way up to the next big pool, walked onto a rock and jumped in belly first. She submerged for several seconds, and then popped her head back up, shaking her head free of all the excess water. She dove back under again and again, above and below, and swam back and forth from bank to bank. She splashed her front paws into the water whenever she pleased as she stood on her hind legs in the deep pool. We all watched and smiled and snickered until she walked out of the water with a fish, shook off, and headed back upriver on the path, the fish still in her mouth.

“All that and the bear just wanted to go for a swim,” the girl’s boyfriend had worked his way down river.

We all laughed, but the girl didn’t.

“You think the locals have a name for her?” I asked.

“What? Why?” Danny said.

We parted ways and the four of us continued up river and fished that same slow deep pool the bear had swam in, and we all caught our first Alaskan salmon there after all the fishless days up north. We made the trip back to the vans and cooked salmon on a fire and ate and talked and laughed beneath the midnight sun until we were too tired to stay awake.

The next morning when we went back there was a new sign on the trailhead alongside the others. A female grizzly was shot and killed ¼ mile up river from where we were. The bear had gotten too close to tourist and his kids on the trail, and he killed her with a .45.

 

***

 

A few twelve hour passes later, the fishing at the Russian had come to a standstill. But we were still there walking the boardwalks and dodging tourists.

“I really can’t stand in this one fucking place anymore. Who else wants to leave?” I said.

“Ehh, I kind of like it here, honestly,” Sean said.

“Yeah, me too. Feels like home with all these fucking people around don’t it?” Larry said.

“Yeah. I know it feels like home. C’mon, the fishing’s dead anyway. We need to get low by the ocean and wait for ’em to come in,”

“Yea you’re probably right I guess, but I do like it here. It’s like Pulaski on Columbus Day weekend with better scenery,” Danny said.

The three of them laughed, but I didn’t.

It took some more convincing, but we finally got back to the vans and headed further south to Soldotna towards the mouth of the Kenai to wait for the second run to hit. Any day the run would go from 2,000 or 3,000 a day, to well over 300,000 per day for four days straight, and trickle down to 2,000 again after another two weeks. At 2,000 a day, you’d be lucky to witness a few get caught on a chunk of river as far as you can see in either direction. By day three of 300,000 a day, you can catch them with your hands. A month later, you would never know they were even here.

We stopped at a fly shop when we got to Soldotna. I ran in to ask for info about local spots.

“How you doin’ today?”

“Well, and yourself? There any free access points on the Kenai?”

“Sure are, but I hope you don’t mind crowds and tourists,”

“We just came from the Russian, so we should be alright,”

He smiled. “This river makes the Russian look like a desert island. Where you from anyways?” He handed me a small map with the free access points circled.

“New York.”

“Damn, you’re far from home. I could never live in a city like that myself.”

“Same here. Thanks for the map.”

“Welcome. Good luck against the tourists, and the fishing, too.”

I walked out.

The spot that was closest was by an old airport runway. Rows of massive RVs lined up the entire runway. We found a spot at the end by a beat up RV and a pickup truck and walked down to the river on a paved sidewalk that lead to another aluminum boardwalk with stairs descending to the river. I stood there atop the stairs. Here the crowds were thicker, the boardwalks short with platforms full of people with no interest in anything except the spectacle of it all. The banks on either side of the river were blocked off with neon orange meshing four feet high with the same signs of warning about stepping on the banks. People in the water and out of the water yelled because they caught a fish, because they lost a fish.

Sean and Larry ran down the steps, the aluminum clanging beneath them, to fight their way into a spot. I stood there leaning against the railing and watched the circle of birds falling from the air and diving into the water to feed. Tucking their wings and diving nose first, then emerging again and flapping, dripping water. Danny was last to the river and stood next to me.

“What the fuck are you staring at?”

“Just watching this fucking mess.”

He shook his head and headed down the steps.  I stood there watching the birds. Hiding behind polarized lenses from the way this place made me feel that same choked decay I feel in cities, shopping malls, in crowds. Hiding with my hat low from how I thought I shared this feeling with three friends, but learned that I didn’t.

“How’s the fishing been,” I asked a man coming back up the stairs.

“You should have been here a few days ago. Couldn’t stop hookin’ ’em,” he said, as he passed.

I said nothing and went back to watching the birds each take turns to circle, dive into the water, some returning with fish, some with nothing.

An older gentlemen with a fly rod slung on his shoulder nearby must have overheard his statement.

“Nah, you should have been here 30 years ago. Alaskan fisheries are in a state of complete collapse, don’t let anybody fool ya. Where you been fishin?”

I told him about the Kings up north, the list of all the closed rivers, the boardwalks, the pavement, the tourists.

He looked me in the eye while I spoke, nodding with a smile of recognition.

“You know you used to be able to walk into most of those rivers all summer and catch any species. Those days been gone for awhile now. Only us old guys know about that. You notice how every third day seems to get real slow?”

I hadn’t.

“That’s cuz they let the three mile nets out in the ocean every third day. You look close and the ones you do catch here will have net marks and cuts all over em. The only ones that make it through are cuz somebody on the boats fucked up one way or another. ”

“Is there anywhere to go with less people?”

“Not that I know about nowdays. I’m too old to be hikin’ into spots anymore. I come down here from time to time to watch the show. Think about things. Usually just makes me wish I hadn’t come. Won’t be long ’til the real push comes through though. It’ll be easier to deal with. Just keep watching them birds until then. Sure are something aren’t they? Fish better than almost all these stupid tourists. Best of luck.”

I smiled, “Thanks.”

I walked down the steps to take a few casts. The three of them were fishing shoulder to shoulder, in carefully synched up casts. I walked above Danny.

“We’ve hooked a few fish here,” he said.

I said nothing.

I stood staring at the five foot wide plot of river I had to cast in. The orange mesh that covered the river bank. The “No Trespassing” signs that marked the river upstream. The people everywhere with brand new gear who were there for the novelty. I took a few casts. Every other cast someone from above snagged my line. Snagged on someone’s hooked fish from up river. The mesh behind me. One of my friends. We stayed here for four more days, my friends fishing while I fished long enough to be reminded why I was spending more time not fishing.

On the fifth morning, I asked Danny for the keys.

“You have your cell on?” I asked Danny.

“Yeah, why?”

“Because I’m getting the fuck out of here,”

“Where exactly are you fucking going? You haven’t even fished in fucking days. That’s why you’re miserable. You’re in your goddamn head too much, ruining it for yourself,” Danny said.

“This place is already fucking ruined. Just shut the fuck up and give me the keys. I didn’t come here to hang out with fucking tourists in a salmon theme park. Call me if it finally pops.”

“Whatever dude.” He threw the keys at me. I got in the van and starting driving.

I looked on a map of every major road that could possibly lead to the river. Every side road. Every street. Every dirt road. Always the same. Public accesses overflowed with people. Private property signs. No river access signs. No trespassing signs. Private plots of land owned by lodges. Different parking rates for every chunk of river. Different rates per person, per rod, per boat. Always with people fishing shoulder to shoulder, always at a price. Eventually I was at the mouth of the Kenai at the Cook Inlet, walking the beach, picking up rocks. Watching the veins of water flow from tidal pools out into the river, out into the sea. An eagle flew overhead and dipped into the water to grab the remnants of a salmon fillet that had drifted downriver. I rounded the corner of the sand dune and saw the dip-netters for the first time. During sockeye season Alaskan natives are allowed to stand in the river with large nets often five feet wide on handles well over ten feet long that they keep submerged until the sockeye which consistently run up the shallow banks of rivers, swim into it –  a practice shown to the first settlers by the Haida and the Karuk people.

 

dipnetters

Dip-netters. Benjamin Burgholzer photo.

 * * *

The dip-netters were lined up on either side of the river stood in perfect silence. Many families sat on the beach beside each other, passing off the net from time to time with a dedication at 2 pm on a Wednesday with the salmon run at a low that spoke of a need for sustenance rather than experience. I sat there in the sand and watched them, my head the quietest it had been the whole trip.

Hours and a half tank of gas later, I went back to the runway and parked the van next to the same beat up RV. I took off my waders and sat on the tailgate of the van staring at the dirt.

“Where your friends?” A shirtless man and his dog emerged from the RV.

“Down there,” I pointed towards the river.

“Makes you feel crazy don’t it? Fishin’ by all them people all day not movin’ or nothin’.”

“Yeah, couldn’t take it anymore,”

“Jim Norton, Arkansas,” he said with an outstretched hand.

I told him my name and where I was from.

“You from the city?”

“Nah,”

“Good. But hell, I live 100 yards from that god damn shit show, and I don’t go down there ‘til the numbers get crazy. Fuckin’ tourists. Hell man, you best off tryin’ to meet people til it pops. Make connections for next time. Everybody up here knows somebody who flies. Plenty of rivers off the road system only a few people have even seen, I reckon. You hike deep enough up north you can probably name a peak after yourself, too. Ain’t nothin’ like it. I tell you, first time I came up here I did all that touristy shit, too, with my brother man, but I met some people that stuck in my head man. Told me stories. Most of it was probably damn bullshit, but it stuck anyway.”

I laughed.

“Few years after that same brother dropped dead at 43. Heart attack. I was workin’ at some shit steel mill. I got to thinkin’ and said, what the fuck am I doin here? I ain’t dyin’ of no heart attack in goddamn heart attack in Arkansas from workin’ like a goddamn dog to make somebody else rich. Sold everything I owned, got on a plane, been here since. Bought this RV cheap, bought this truck cheap. Piece by piece you make this place your own. Started up a mining business up north past Fairbanks that I run most of the year, right now’s the off season. Fish and hunt when I’m hungry. Got the dog here keepin’ me compny. Fix up some houses when I need some extra loot. Anyway, cheer up mother fucker that river’s about to pop off any day now and you’ll be catching so many fish you won’t give a goddamn ’bout any of those tourist fuckers anyway.”

I laughed again. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” He walked back inside the RV and shut the door.

Later a pod of 93,151 sockeye entered the river. Followed by 247,084 the next morning. Another 215,636 that night and 117,785 the following morning.

“Are you done complaining now?” they all asked when I got back.

“Yeah,” I said, lying behind a pair of polarized glasses with my hat low.

We haven’t fished together since.

***

Everyone was sleeping by the time the plane took off. I sat looking out the window as we ascended above Anchorage in the half-lit night of the Arctic, looking at the perfect rows of city lights from the air. On the other side of the inlet were the volcanoes, their snow capped peaks now hidden by the clouds. I wondered if anyone was on that opposing bank, watching the lights of the plane overhead and what Jim and the dip-netters were doing. And I wondered how many places are left unframed and untouched and how long they could stay that way.

* * *

About the author:

Benjamin Burgholzer is a creative writing graduate student at Binghamton University interested in writing, fly fishing, and anything involving the outdoors.

 

 

 

 

January 5, 2014   Comments Off on On The Run/CNF

Kyrgyzstan/Marsha Levine

Festival goers getting ready to go home

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Kyrgyzstan in Transition

Photographs and Essay ©
by Marsha Levine  

Kyrgyzstan, one of the post-Soviet, Central Asian states, is located in the heart of Asia. Landlocked, almost entirely mountainous, surrounded by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China, Kyrgyzstan is not a place found on most Westerners’ mental maps. More’s the pity, not only because it is staggeringly beautiful and culturally rich but also because, as a state finding its way through the post-Soviet labyrinth, it is deeply thought provoking. But to do it justice we need to do more than to redraw the boundaries of our mental maps. In this short photo-essay I am attempting to challenge how we think about such faraway places.

 

BARSKOON DISCONNECTED

During autumn 2007, I visited Barskoon, a village on Lake Issyk-Kul, sitting astride the Silk Route in northern Kyrgyzstan. This particular trip was occasioned by an opportunity to see ‘traditional’ horse games – at the “At Chabysh” festival. Kyrgyz horse festivals, are similar to those held throughout Central and Inner Asia –  for example, the Mongolian Naadam. These events mainly comprise traditional sports, including horse games, wrestling, archery, as well as eagle hunting demonstrations along with traditional music performances, poetry recitations, and sales of craft goods and food.

During my week in Barskoon, I stayed at two guesthouses. My very basic Russian and occasional access to an interpreter allowed me to learn a little about my hosts who belonged to one extended family. Although the people of the Issyk-Kul region are mostly dependent upon agricultural activities, especially livestock husbandry, the adults in my host families had a rather wide range of jobs. One worked in a microcredit office. Another was a mine worker at the nearby Kumtor gold mine. His wife, formerly a school teacher, besides taking care of their children, now managed one of the guesthouses. With other local families they were very actively involved in the restoration and re-opening of the village kindergarten which had closed following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although the village does have electricity, indoor plumbing in Barskoon, as in the rest of rural Kyrgyzstan, is rare. Our hosts kept poultry and horses in their yards, rather than flowers. The village streets were tidy but unpaved. The houses were clean and well cared for. The children I saw seemed to be bright and healthy. For all our cultural ignorance, our hosts treated us with kind hospitality. However, there was another side to all this and, ever since that visit, I have been trying to reconcile what I saw with what I heard.

My fellow guests, all Europeans, were also in Barskoon for the horse festival. Most seemed to have been involved in development work in Kyrgyzstan for a number of years. Some worked for international NGOs or were University academics.

From the discussion at dinner, it quickly became clear that, remote as Barskoon seemed to be, it is locked into the world economy – and into the new ‘Great Game’, with East and West jockeying for power and resources. Moreover, surrounded by the breathtaking majesty of the Tien Shan mountains, life here in Barskoon is very harsh for its rural population – and much harsher in villages off the tourist track. I discovered in 2007 that Kyrgyzstan, besides being one of the world’s poorest countries, is on a major route for narcotics trafficked from Afghanistan to China, Russia and Europe, and that both government corruption and ‘clan’ politics ensured that international aid didn’t always reach its intended destination. The picture my fellow guests presented was wholly negative and I had the sense that, as far as they were concerned, the Kyrgyzstani people were subjects rather than individuals.

The western media exploit and exaggerate the distance between the contradictory pictures of Kyrgyzstan. On the one hand, a quick search on the internet throws up a faltering education system, high unemployment, high adult and infant mortality rates, child poverty and failure to thrive, bride abduction, organised crime, ethnic disputes, human rights and press freedom issues, electoral corruption, ethnic tension, environmental degradation, fears of religious fundamentalism and so on.

On the other hand, aside from a very few tourists, most Westerners’ only experience of Central Asia is through the medium of television programmes presented by attractive young Westerners, usually celebrities, who know little about the cultures on display, but who can show off their riding skills. The rural people – with their felt tents and livestock – dress up and, against the vastness of the steppe and mountains, perform for the cameras. It’s all very picturesque and the locals could, for the most part, be living in the Middle Ages. The pictures presented are not entirely false but they are so exceedingly superficial as to be grossly misleading, portraying a passive, static society, disconnected from history and living in the past.

ORIENTALISM

Although neither of these perspectives is entirely false, both are powerfully biased by the media: television, newspapers, and, increasingly, the internet. Taken together, the pictures they paint are so contradictory that it is sometimes hard to believe that they could be referring to the same place. There is little or no attempt to be even-handed or objective. So, why should this be the case? Why should it be such hard work to find information about Kyrgyzstan that does not portray its people either as villains, hapless victims, or quaintly lost in the Middle Ages? I take the view that, consciously or unconsciously, these pictures are designed to serve various economic and political agendas.

In 1980 Edward Said wrote:

“From at least the end of the eighteenth century until our own day, modern Occidental reactions to Islam have been dominated by a type of thinking that may still be called Orientalist. The general basis of Orientalist thought is an imaginative geography dividing the world into two unequal parts, the larger and “different” one called the Orient, the other, also known as our world, called the Occident or the West…. Insofar as Islam has always been seen as belonging to the Orient, its particular fate within the general structure of Orientalism has been to be looked at with a very special hostility and fear.” [http://www.thenation.com/article/islam-through-western-eyes#]

Although Said’s main focus was on western Asia, his words are relevant to Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia in general – including the West’s misjudgement of the nature of Central Asian Islam in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The fact is, it suits the economic, political and military interests of the western great powers to see the people in this part of the world as backward, incompetent and corrupt. History is brushed aside, no need to understand the situation on the ground or even to talk to the people. All you need to do is to apply the standard template –  dating from the early 19th century –  to 21st century Kyrgyzstan, for example, and that is enough. Well, of course, it is not enough. That old Orientalist model was never meant to reflect the reality of the East. Its purpose was to justify the domination and exploitation of the East by the great powers of the time.

When you read this, you might well say: well, that’s a bit over the top. But I don’t think so. My evidence is the disconnection between what I saw and experienced during my short visit to Barskoon in 2007 and what I heard from the local people, as opposed to what I have read and seen in the media – particularly on the internet (in newspapers, internet articles and features, books, papers in academic journals and so on) since then. The world I experienced – as portrayed in my photographs – was quite different from the world I have observed in the media and also, apparently, from that experienced by some of the other Western visitors in Barskoon – even when we were sitting in the same room.

It is not easy to get accurate, up-to-date information about Kyrgyzstan: what with language difficulties, our flawed education systems, and problems obtaining access to information during the transition from the Soviet era to the present –  not to mention judgement calls on the reliability of available sources. Moreover, although some useful work has been produced by western scholars, much of the most interesting research has been published by young Central Asian academics, who have benefited from their first-hand knowledge of their country, its people and its past, coupled with the more open education systems they have been exposed to since independence – both in Central Asia and abroad.

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Kyrgyzstan

[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071101-2866_tobarskoonissykkul.jpg]40A view of lake Issyk-Kul
An autumnal view of lake Issyk-Kul with the snow-capped Tien Shan mountains in the background.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071101-2871_tobarskoonissykkul.jpg]30Horses and cattle grazing along the road to Barskoon (Kyrgyzstan)
Horses and cattle grazing along the road from Bishkek to Barskoon (Kyrgyzstan). The Tien Shan mountains are in the background.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071101-2878_tobarskoonissykkul.jpg]30The road from Bishkek to Barskoon (Kyrgyzstan)
A beautiful autumn day on the road from Bishkek to Barskoon (Kyrgyzstan). Following one branch of the ancient Silk Route, this road is in the Issyk-Kul lake basin. The Tien Shan mountains are in the background.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071102-2927_barskoonissykkul.jpg]20An elderly Kyrgyz gentleman at the Barskoon horse festival
This elderly Krygyz gentleman is a spectator at the horse festival in Barskoon (near Lake Issyk-Kul). Most of the spectators are locals - men, women and children. However, there are a few visitors, mostly NGO workers.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071101-2860_tobarskoonissykkul.jpg]30Lady tending her roadside shop (Kyrgyzstan)
This Kyrgyzstani lady is minding her small shop. It is located next to lake Issyk-Kul, alongside the road that runs from Bishkek to Barskoon.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071102-2930_barskoonissykkul-ed2.jpg]30Kyrgyz boys and donkeys at the Barskoon horse festival
These Kyrgyz boys and their donkeys are spectators at a horse festival in Barskoon village next to Lake Issyk Kul. Besides horse races and games, the festival has eagle hunting displays, traditional music, epic poetry, crafts and food.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071102-2942_barskoonissykkul.jpg]20Kyrgyz horsemen at the Barskoon horse festival
Horsemen at the Barskoon horse festival. Lake Issyk-Kul is behind them and in the background the Terskoy Alatau (Tien Shan) mountains, capped with glaciers and clouds.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071104-3003_barskoonissykkul.jpg]20Riders at the Barskoon Horse Festival (Kyrgyzstan)
These riders are getting ready for the next horse race of the day in Barskoon next to Lake Issyk-Kul. The snow-capped Tien Shan mountains provide a majestic backdrop for the race.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071104-3088_barskoonissykkul.jpg]10Kyrgyz rider picking up coins from the ground
This Kyrgyz rider has just snatched a weight wrapped in red cloth from the ground and then threw it into the air. This traditional sport is called Tyin Enmei.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071105-3231_barskoonissykkul.jpg]10Owner making sure his horse gets home safely from Barskoon
This horse is being taken home on a trailor, pulled by a 4-wheel drive vehicle, after the Barskoon horse games. He is carefully wrapped in felt for protection against potholed roads.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071105-3238_barskoonissykkul.jpg]20A view of the Tien Shan mountains from Barskoon village, on the shore of lake Issyk-Kul (Kyrgyzstan)
Barskoon village is located on the south shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, just north of the snow-capped Terskoy Alatau mountains, a branch of the Tien Shan range. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, but the widespread poverty is a huge challenge.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071105-3259_barskoonissykkul.jpg]20Autumn in Barskoon (Issyk-Kul Oblast, Kyrgyzstan)
Two girls are sitting in a Barskoon village lane having a chat. It's a sunny autumn day - almost Idyllic. But, poverty is a real issue in Kyrgyzstan. How much can natural beauty be a consolation?
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071105-3293_barskoonissykkul.jpg]20Kyrgyz boy with male turkey (in Barskoon)
This young Kyrgyz boy is posing the family turkey to help me get a good photo. We are in the yard of his family guesthouse in Barskoon, on the south shore of lake Issyk-Kul.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/kyrgyzstan/thumbs/thumbs_071105-3305_barskoonissykkul.jpg]40The Barskoon family whose house I stayed in.
This Barskoon family lets rooms in their house to visitors. The wife was a teacher and is now helping other local families to refurbish the local elementary school. Her husband works for a local mining company.

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HISTORY

Sitting, as it does, on the Silk Route, the region we now call Kyrgyzstan has always been subject to change – social, political, economic and religious. The most reliable historical (that is, written) records for this region, dating at least as far back as the as the 2nd century BC, depict a world in flux. Between the 6th century and the 20th century AD, the various peoples living in what is now Kyrgyzstan were subject, on occasion, to Turkic, Uighur, Mongol, Kazakh, Kalmyk, Manchu, Uzbek, Russian, Soviet and finally Kyrgyzstani rule. This is all very complicated, partly because of the highly mobile populations inhabiting this region over the past couple of millennia – at least.

Kyrgyzstan, as a geographical entity with fixed borders, did not exist until the 1920s, but the Kyrgyz people, as an ethnic and political entity did exist – in some sense. That is, people whose first language was Kyrgyz, whose customs are identified as Kyrgyz and who regarded themselves and their community as Kyrgyz, have lived within these borders for a considerable period of time. It is often said that the Kyrgyz people originally came from the Yenisei river region of south Siberia. This could be true, but what of the earlier inhabitants of this region, not to mention travellers and settlers following the ancient Silk Route. The history of Kyrgyzstan is both rich and complex; however, during the era of Russian and Soviet hegemony, it was impossible to carry out uncensored historical and archaeological research there. Since independence, a new generation of historians (including young Kyrgyzstani scholars) is finally able to explore the historical and archaeological sources (see Tchoroev 2002). Exciting new work is already coming out of this region.

It is important to acknowledge that Kyrgyzstan is still a multi-ethnic country. About 52% of the population is Kyrgyz and 20% Uzbek, with other minority groups including: Tatars, Dungans, Kazakhs, Uighurs, and Tajiks, as well as Russians, Ukrainians and Germans. Each of these groups has its own story, but all of these stories are somehow connected. Many are connected with the Soviet era, but not all. Such diversity, as well we all know, is a huge challenge whether we are talking about New York, Northern Ireland or Central Asia. In this essay I am focusing primarily on the mostly Kyrgyz Issyk-Kul region.

RELIGION

Even a brief glance at the religious history of Kyrgyzstan reveals a similarly complex picture. The earliest religious practices were animist or shamanist. There is plentiful archaeological and historical evidence that other religions – such as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity and Islam – later travelled the Silk Route across Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan, and into China. And Soviet atheism followed. Islam was adopted in stages. The Sunni tradition of the Hanafi school, a relatively moderate, tolerant form of Islam, was taken up earliest and with most conviction, by the settled people of south-western Kyrgyzstan (circa 8th to 15th centuries). During the 12th to the 19th centuries the nomadic pastoralists in the mountainous regions of northern Kyrgyzstan were gradually converted to Sufism, a relatively moderate and mystical form of Islam. Sufism appealed to the nomads because of its generally non-dogmatic, tolerant and syncretic approach, permitting incorporation of non-Islamic religious practices – from animism, shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Christianity. As for some of the more remote parts of northern Kyrgyzstan, Islam was scarcely adopted when it was banned by the Bolsheviks in the early 20th century. Since declaring its independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has been undergoing an Islamic revival under its own terms, reviving Sufi – and other Islamic – traditions that it protected underground throughout the Soviet period.

Sufism is incompatible with the Wahhabi fundamentalism so feared by the West. The expectation that Kyrgyz Muslims would be vulnerable to fundamentalist Islam is something akin to ‘reds under the beds’ paranoia – mostly referable to the Western penchant for backing the wrong – and worst possible – political horse and then being caught off-guard – and terribly surprised – when it all goes wrong. Afghanistan being, of course, the perfect case in point (Williams 2003).

As Botoiarova points out: “Radicalization of Islam, if it ever takes place, will not be because of outside influence, but will be the result of discontent with economic hardships and inability of authorities to build a just society with democratic principles” (Botoiarova 2005, p 102). In spite of all the very real social, economic and political challenges faced by Kyrgyzstan, conditions there are not conducive to fundamentalist Islam.

HERDING DURING THE SOVIET ERA

So, why has Kyrgyzstan’s transition from ‘communism’ to ‘democracy’ been such hard work? As usual, history holds most of the answers. During the 19th century, Tsarist Russia brutally conquered and colonised Central Asia, including Kyrgyzstan. The nomadic and semi-nomadic herders were forced off their lands, which were expropriated for settlement by Russian peasants. The herders’ attempts to regain access to their pasturelands were put down with great brutality. These conflicts continued into the Communist era when they were met with forced settlement, expropriation of herds, exile, cultural and religious repression, imprisonment, famine, starvation and so on – a familiar scenario accompanying the policies of collectivisation and de-kulakisation throughout the Soviet empire, especially during the 1930s.

The Soviet economic model was never sustainable for Kyrgyzstan, where extensive livestock husbandry (horses, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, yaks) has been the most important subsistence activity for hundreds or even thousands of years. Kyrgyzstan covers 191,800 sq km, most of which is mountainous; over 94% is higher than 1000 m above sea level; the average altitude is about 2630 metres. About 56% of the total area is agricultural land, of which about 87% is pastureland (Kerven et al, 2011). About 49% of the total area of Kyrgyzstan is used for grazing. In order to maximise the productivity of both herds and pasturage, herders must move their livestock seasonally –  in steps, from the lowlands in winter to the high mountain meadows in summer. This kind of extensive livestock husbandry is incompatible with a permanently settled way of life.

Although the Soviet state, in the name of ideology, had been willing to kill millions of its own people; eventually it had to face the fact that, if it were to meet any economic targets at all, the Kyrgyz (and other Central Asian) herders forced onto collectivised farms would have to be allowed to return to some kind of semi-nomadic lifestyle. That is, while maintaining their permanent winter quarters in the lowlands, throughout the rest of the year they would move their herds in search of fresh grazing. It was not a return to their pre-Tsarist lifestyle, but they did succeed in rescuing the dysfunctional Soviet system from itself – demonstrating the herders resilience and adaptability once again (Kerven et al, 2012).

THE TRANSITION

Finally in 1991, dragged down by its failed economic model, the Soviet state collapsed economically and politically. The resulting economic chaos and hardship extended throughout the Empire, except of course for the gangsters and ‘oligarchs’, whose wealth is, even now, hidden in tax shelters throughout the world. I bring this up because we – in the West – do not have entirely clean hands in this further economic disaster. The mass privatization of the USSR’s resources was supported by influential economists from Harvard, MIT, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other internationally important economic institutions (Hamm et al, 2012). It has led to hardship for many and untoward wealth for a few. It has resulted in a new Russian state, mostly known for its corruption, inequality, intolerance and poor human rights record.

Botoiarova (2005, 167-8) describes how the privatization process operated in Kyrgyzstan:

“After budgetary subsidies from Moscow were cut, Kyrgyzstan, which was heavily dependent on center [sic], was severely affected by economic crisis, with inflation reaching 1,200 percent in 1993…. Mass and rapid privatization and ‘shock therapy’ were perceived as the pillars for alleviating the country’s economic crisis. In 1991 the government announced a comprehensive privatization program…. Although, Kyrgyzstan’s privatization program is generally regarded as the most progressive in Central Asia, the implementation of the privatization process was complicated by the weak normative and legal bases and by difficulties in pricing since most of the privatized entities were sold well below value, often at symbolic prices.”

Little wonder then that Kyrgyzstan is one of the poorest countries in the world.

THE NEW ORIENTALISM

My purpose in visiting Kyrgyzstan was to photograph local herders, horses and their way of life. Nothing more. However, in the week I was there I was struck by the disconnection between what I saw and what I heard. True to Orientalist form, Kyrgyzstan was portrayed as a threat, as quaint and exotic, or as a resource to exploit. In Barskoon itself, I stumbled across two examples of the new Orientalism in relation to the Kumtor Gold mine and the “At Chabysh” horse festival itself.

Kumtor Gold Mine

During my short visit in Barskoon I heard nothing about the Kumtor open-pit mine, in spite of its being the world’s second largest gold mine and its situation near the village. However innumerable references popped up as soon as I started researching this essay. Although I only have space here for the briefest outline of a long-running story, I think that even a short discussion of Kumtor is relevant to the basic premise of this piece.

Because the mine, owned and run by a Kyrgyz (Kyrgyzaltyn)-Canadian (Cameco Corporation) syndicate, generates up to 10% of Kyrgyzstan’s GNP, it is seen by some as vital to the country’s economy. However, even a brief look at its history begs innumerable questions about its Canadian management and international backers – including, for example, the World Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and the Canadian Export Development Corporation (EDC).  More generally, it focuses attention on the role and ethics of international corporations in the development (and exploitation) of the world’s poorest countries.

The Kumtor gold mine is located on the permafrost and in an area of active glaciers, about 4000-4400 m above sea level in the seismically active Tien Shan mountains, a region believed to be especially sensitive to global climate change. It is also close to the sources of the Naryn – Syr-Darya river system which provides fresh drinking and irrigation water to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The mine is located within the area of the UNESCO Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve and adjacent to the Sarychat-Ertash State Nature Reserve. The location of Kumtor is so inaccessible and so ecologically sensitive that it’s a wonder that anyone could have ever thought it reasonable to dig an enormous open-pit mine there. However, in such a poor country the temptation to engage in risky behaviour can be very difficult to resist.

The people of Barskoon have personal experience of those risks. In 1998 a truck driving up the valley to the mine overturned, spilling approximately 1.7 tonnes of sodium cyanide into the Barskoon River which empties into Lake Issyk-Kul. The villagers downstream were only notified about the accident 5 hours after it took place and only then because the Russian border guards ordered the company to do so. All the details and statistics connected with the accident are a matter of dispute (Moran 2011, Norlan 2000, Prizma 2012). The most reliable sources suggest that at least four people died in the short term and more later. Over 2500 people were poisoned, of which 850 were hospitalised. Additionally, more than 5500 Barskoon villagers were relocated; crops and tourism revenues were lost.

There have been other accidents connected with Kumtor, but uncovering any details is very difficult. Leaving that aside, the day to day running of the mine results in the release of many dangerous pollutants into the environment and has had a negative impact upon the immediate area, including local glaciers, rivers and lakes. Although Kumtor has had some positive impacts on the local communities – especially as regards employment – in Kyrgyzstan hostility towards the mine is widespread, many people feeling strongly that the Canada based company profits too much from it and cares too little about the health, welfare and environment of the local people (Dzyubenko 2013). Under pressure from the Kyrgyzstani people, with support from various NGOs, in recent years Kumtor has made an effort to behave in a more transparent, socially responsible way. Nevertheless, insufficient funds have been put aside for decommissioning the mine once it is no longer economic to work. Given the geological history of the region and the consequences of climate change, the mine will continue to pose serious risks to the environment into the unforeseeable future.

“At Chabysh” Horse Festival

My second experience of the Orientalist mindset in Barskoon was in connection with the “At Chabysh” horse festival itself. It wasn’t until I had arrived in Bishkek that I realised that the festival was not being organised by the Kyrgyz community where it was being held. Nor was it taking place in the context of Kyrgyz traditions. Horse games are one way in which the Kyrgyz culture celebrates its identity. They are closely connected with life cycle events such as marriage, anniversaries and death. But not at Barskoon in 2007, or in various other locations since then.

The Barskoon festival was organised by the ‘Kyrgyz Ate Foundation’, founded and directed by a well connected French horsewoman-journalist, Jacqueline Ripart, with funding from, for example, the French Embassy, the Aga Khan Foundation, the Christensen Fund (USA), and the Kyrgyz government. Interestingly her name is the only one mentioned on the ‘Kyrgyz Ate’ Foundation website: http://www.atchabysh.org/index.php/lang-en/archivesmenu.html. It credits her with the rehabilitation of traditional horse games, the identification of the true Kyrgyz horse and the revival of Kyrgyz horse breeding. The stated objectives of the ‘Kyrgyz Ate Foundation’ are: “a comprehensive program aimed at preserving and rehabilitating the Kyrgyz horse breed and promoting enhancement of sports and tourism (in particular ecotourism) sectors, and handicraft industry” [http://www.asia-plus.tj/en/news/murgab-district-gorno-badakhshan-host-international-horse-festival].

I was informed that local men felt shamed and insulted that, Ripart, a foreign woman, had taken control of their traditional celebrations. She reinvented the rules to fit her Western conception of the way the horse games should be held. She even decided which of the horses were sufficiently ‘Kyrgyz’ to be allowed to participate in the games. Her lack of sensitivity to the feelings of the local people was simply breathtaking.

The Kyrgyz people have been, of course, holding horse games for hundreds if not thousands of years and, in spite of misguided Soviet attempts to improve local breeds, the Kyrgyz horses are not in any danger of extinction. Though some of their traditional tasks have been taken over by motorised vehicles, horses are still used in everyday life for transport as well as for their milk, meat, hides and hair. Some herding tasks can only be carried out on horseback. Every rural Kyrgyz child rides as if they were born on a horse’s back. Maybe they were. These horses, or rather ponies, are intelligent, sure footed and famous for their endurance. They do not need to be rescued by Ripart.

Young boy riding a Kyrgyz pony
Young boy riding a Kyrgyz pony

Reducing the games to an entertainment meant to attract tourists, alienates them from their cultural significance. Such an important change in cultural meaning should not be in the power of foreigners. We are back in the realm of Orientalism here. What Ripart’s actions, if not her intentions, say is that she knows what is right for the Kyrgyz better than they do themselves. That is, of course, nonsense. Her financial backing and social/political connections are what have qualified her to take the central position in the organisation of a quintessentially Kyrgyz event.

CONCLUSION

Both the corporate values of the Kumtor mine operators and the misappropriation of  the Kyrgyz cultural heritage by the “At Chabysh” horse festival organisers are examples of modern Orientalism. The environmental damage resulting from gold mining is quite bad enough, but the misappropriation of cultural resources is no less destructive and raises serious questions about how people with little knowledge of, or respect for, Central Asian cultures can end up in positions of power within these cultures – as in the case of the horse festival and even more strangely the Kyrgyz horse itself.

I have concluded from my research for this essay that Orientalism, as described by Edward Said, still holds sway over most Westerners’ thinking. Said’s work focused on the Near East and Islam, but is much more widely applicable – for example, to Asia and Africa.

Finally, I would like to quote a passage from Said’s Orientalism, in which he reflects upon a comment from the Didascalicon by Hugo of St. Victor:

“The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is a foreign land.” The more one is able to leave one’s cultural home, the more easily is one able to judge it, and the whole world as well, with the spiritual detachment and generosity necessary for true vision. The more easily, too, does one assess oneself and alien cultures with the same combination of intimacy and distance (Said, 1978, p 259).

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Of course, I take full responsibility for all the views I have expressed in this essay. But, I would like to acknowledge help and advice given to me most particularly by: Guljan Kudabaeva, Wendy Lawson and Jarkyn Samanchina. I am very grateful to the Aigine Cultural Research Center for its help with the logistics of my visit to Kyrgyzstan, and to my hosts in Barskoon for their kind hospitality.

 

About the author:

 

Marsha Levine with a  Kyrgyzstani journalist at Barskoon.
Marsha Levine with a Kyrgyzstani journalist at the horse festival. 

Marsha Levine’s formal training was in Archaeology (Cambridge, UK) and Anthropology (Barnard/Columbia, NY). However, her research has always been intensely interdisciplinary and has drawn upon zoology, ethology, ecology, history, geography, biochemistry, palaeopathology, etc. With the lifting of the Iron Curtain, her geographic focus shifted to central Eurasia, Siberia and China. Throughout most of her working life she was a researcher at Cambridge University, studying the impact of the horse on human culture and history in the past. However, the contemporary picture has become more and more central to her interests. And, while photography used to play an important role supporting her research, now the tables are turned and the research supports her photography.  For more photos and links, see http://www.mlevinephotos.co.uk.

 

SELECTED READINGS

Ludmila Akmatova & Jumamedel Imankulov, 2010 “Conservation and Management of Cultural Heritage Sites on the Silk Road in Kyrgyzstan”. Agnew, N., ed. Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road: Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites, Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, People’s Republic of China, June 28-July 3, 2004. Getty Publications. Pages 133-178. http://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/pdf_publications/pdf/2nd_silkroad4.pdf]

Ashymov, D., 2003. The Religious Faith of the Kyrgyz. Religion, State & Society, 31(2), 133-8. [http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09637490308277]

Botoiarova, Nuska. “Islamic Fundamentalism In Post-Soviet Uzbekistan And Kyrgyzstan: Real Or Imagined Threat.” PhD diss., Middle EastTechnicalUniversity, 2005. [http://etd.lib.metu.edu.tr/upload/12606058/index.pdf\]

Cassidy, R., 2009. The horse, the Kyrgyz horse and the ‘Kyrgyz horse’. Anthropology Today, 25(1), 12 – 5. [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8322.2009.00641.x/pdf]

Dadabaev, T., 2009. Trauma and Public Memory in Central Asia: Public responses to political violence of the state policies in Stalinist Era in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Kyoto Bulletin of Islamic Area Studies, 3(1), 108-38. [http://www.asafas.kyoto-u.ac.jp/kias/1st_period/contents/pdf/kb3_1/08dadabaev.pdf]

Fitzherbert, A., (2005). Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles: Kyrgyzstan,  Crop and Grassland Service, Plant Production and Protection Division, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, Rome. [http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/AGPC/doc/Counprof/Kyrgystan/kyrgi.htm]

Hamm, P., L. P. King & D. Stuckler, 2012. Mass Privatization, State Capacity, and Economic Growth in Post-Communist Countries. American Sociological Review, 77(2), 295-324. [http://asr.sagepub.com/content/77/2/295]

Jacquesson, S., 2010. Reforming pastoral land use in Kyrgyzstan: from clan and custom to self-government and tradition. Central Asian Survey, 29(1), 103-18. [http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02634931003765571]

Kerven, C., B. Steimann, C. Dear & L. Ashley, 2012. Researching the Future of Pastoralism in Central Asia’s Mountains: Examining Development Orthodoxies. Mountain Research and Development, 32(3), 368-77. [http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-12-00035.1]

For photos of the Kumtor gold mine: http://www.rferl.org/media/photogallery/24922315.html

Norlen, D. “The Kumtor Gold Mine: Spewing Toxics From On High”, Pacific Environment and ResourcesCenter, September 2000. [http://www.nodirtygold.org/pubs/200009%20PERC%20-%20Kumtor%20Gold%20Mine-Spilling%20toxics%20from%20on%20high.PDF]

Moran, R. E. “Kumtor Gold Facilities, Kyrgyzstan: Comments on Water, Environmental and Related Issues: September 2011”, [http://bankwatch.org/sites/default/files/Kumtor-MoranReport-31Jan2012.pdf]

Prizma, “Independent Assessment of the Parliamentary Commission Report, Final Report – 23 September 2012”. [http://www.kumtor.kg/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Prizma-Independent-Assessment-of-Parliamentary-Commission-Report_eng.pdf]

Dzyubenko, O. “Kyrgyzstan sets state of emergency to protect Centerra mine”, Reuters (May 31, 2013). [http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/31/us-kyrgyzstan-centerra-protests-idUSBRE94U0TQ20130531].

Said, E., 1978. Orientalism, London: Penguin.

Said, E. (1980) “Islam Through Western Eyes” from The Nation, Apr 26, 1980. [http://www.thenation.com/article/islam-through-western-eyes#]

Said, E. (2004) “In Memoriam: Edward W. Said (1935–2003): Orientalism Once More”, Development and Change 35(5): 869–879. Blackwell Publishing. [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-7660.2004.00383.x/pdf]

Tchoroev, T., 2002. Historiography of Post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 34(2), 351-74. [http://www.jstor.org/stable/3879832?origin=JSTOR-pdf]

Schmidt, M., (2011). Central Asia’s Blue Pearl: The Issyk-Kul Biosphere Reserve in Kyrgyzstan, in Biosphere Reserves in the Mountains of the World, ed. Austrian MAB Committee (UNESCO). Vienna: AustrianAcademy of Sciences Press, 73-6. http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/SC/pdf/sc_mab_Mountains_Excellence_in_the_Clouds_EN.pdf]

Wani, M. Y. (2011) “Religious Customs, Tradition, and Shamanism in Pre-Soviet Kyrgyz Society”. January-March 2011, Journal Of Eurasian Studies, Vol III (1), 88-94. [http://www.federatio.org/joes.html]

Williams, B. G., 2003. Jihad and ethnicity in post-communist Eurasia. on the trail of transnational islamic holy warriors in Kashmir, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Chechnya and Kosovo. Global Review of Ethnopolitics, 2(3-4), 3-24.  [http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14718800308405141]

04 October 2013

December 31, 2013   Comments Off on Kyrgyzstan/Marsha Levine

Zaira Rahman/Tour de Pakistan

Indus River, Sindh

Sindh, Indus River. Photo: Zaira Rahman

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Tour of Pakistan

by Zaira Rahman

Now that 2013 has come to an end, I sit down to write the memories of an exhilarating trip across Pakistan. The ten-day journey that started in October was essentially a road trip. During these vacations we covered the provinces of Sindh, Punjab, Kyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) as well as parts of Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Before we stepped out, we had our doubts if our car would survive such a hectic schedule, with a daily average of 9 hours on the road, but surprisingly it did not fail us. Pre-travel arrangements were quite stressful; we had to safely transfer our pets to the boarding home and spell out the instructions regarding each pet specifically to the staff.

Once these settlements were made, we left before sunrise on the morning of October 17th. We chose a good day when the country was celebrating the second day of Eid-ul-Azha (Festival of Sacrifice also known as Bakra Eid). As we left Karachi to drive through Sindh, we came across very little traffic on the main motorway.

Sindh

The key areas that we covered in Sindh were Indus River, Hyderabad, Hala, Nawabshah, Moro, Sukkur and Khairpur. It was perhaps the most difficult day of the journey. Sindh is terribly hot for the most part of the year; sunlight was a killer; even the shades did not help much. This was the first time that I traveled by road beyond Hyderabad so extensively. Road kill was quite the norm; we must have seen over a dozen dead dogs on the way, which only tells one of how inconsiderate passersby are. Beyond the tirelessly fast life of Karachi, I was not so excited by all that we witnessed in Sindh.

There was so much of barrenness and sadness all along. Once we moved further into the interiors of Sindh, we saw plenty of poverty and hopelessness. People in general were poor and uneducated with desolate lands and fading hopes. Roads were broken in totality and there were hardly any gas stations or tuc shops as we moved ahead. It was evident that our governments over the years have done nothing for this province. The people of Sindh fail to realize that the regional leaders they choose for so many decades are their real enemies. Simply put, Sindh was not at all inspiring. We reached Punjab before 5 p.m. that evening and our first stop was Rahim Yar Khan.

 

Lahore Fort, PunjabLahore Fort, Punjab. Photo: Zaira Rahman

Punjab

Rahim Yar Khan was just the city we needed to stay in after our exhausting journey. I was visiting this city for the first time and I was more than happy to see how developed and clean it was. We stayed at a local club with big lush green lawns, a tennis court and many swings that took us back to our childhood days.

We were so tired that we didn’t really check the city out as such, but we did pass by offices of some of the biggest MNCs, a number of schools and a university or two, as well, as we moved out of the city. People in Rahim Yar Khan were just sweet and hospitable. They spoke different dialects such as Punjabi, Saraiki, Riyasti, but had no issues conversing in Urdu with us. The food at the club was just perfect – large quantities and reasonably priced. A special mention should be given to the chicken corn soup, kebabs and chicken karhai that we had for dinner at the club.

A visit to Punjab is incomplete without visiting the heart of the province – the city of Lahore. Lahore is the second largest metropolitan city of the country. It is referred to as the “Mughal City of Gardens” due to the historic presence of gardens in and around the city dating back to the Mughal period. Although Lahore has always been considered a green and beautiful city, this time round I felt a positive vibe about it too, which I didn’t feel in my previous visits. Lahoris are full of life; Punjabi is the most commonly spoken language, although there is a great variety of dialects spoken by people who have moved here from different districts. I felt so secure shopping around quite late in the evening in the midst of Liberty market. This is something we don’t experience in Karachi – where we are always afraid of getting mugged. My sister and I bought a pair of colorful khussas (shoes) each – a must buy when one is in Lahore.

Before heading out of the city, we did a quick city tour and visited some historic places such as the Lahore Fort, Hazuri Bagh (Hazuri Garden), Badshahi mosque and Sheesh Mahal.  The structures were humongous and quite exquisite. However, I do feel the authorities can certainly do more to revamp and preserve these culturally rich monuments. Most of these places have been renovated only from the front, but not in their entirety. As lovely as the front side of the mosque is, the backside has been appallingly neglected. 

As per our family tradition, we had to visit the city’s zoo as well, and I am so glad that we did. Lahore Zoo is massive, clean and has some lovely animals that are well cared for. Some of the key attractions were the giraffes (Sunny and Twinkle), Suzi the elephant, a few pair of lions and their cubs. One can clearly see how Lahoris are so passionately proud of their culturally rich city. Lahore is certainly a treasure for Pakistan and a prominent tourist attraction.

We also spent a few days in the capital city of Pakistan – Islamabad. It is one of the most urbanized cities of the country. It is common for both locals as well as visitors to dine at Pir Sohawa, a tourist resort located some 17 km from Islamabad on top of Margalla Hills and I remember mentioning it in my travel post some years ago (Yet Another Visit to Islamabad…). It was fairly chilly when we reached Monal Restaurant. Sadly, this time we felt the food quality was not as amazing as it used to be, so we were left with the city view to admire.

During the city tour of Islamabad we visited Pakistan Museum of Natural History, Rawal Lake, Bani Gala, Centaurus Mall, Jinnah Super Market and Pakistan Monument. One of my favorites was the Bird Aviary Lake View Park, Pakistan’s biggest bird aviary. It was massive and well maintained. However, the Wild Life Safari was quite a disappointment. It was poorly constructed amidst the jungle; all we ended up seeing were wild bushes, tall trees and the “Be Ware of Lions’” signboard on every corner. I am sure there must be a lion or two somewhere in that jungle, but it was quite a failed project from the looks of it.

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ZAIRA RAHMAN - PAKISTAN V10N1

Zaira Rahman shares her love of homeland, Pakistan, with photos and impressions gathered from a recent trip through the provinces.

[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_badshahi-mosque-1-lahore.jpg]90Badshahi Mosque, Lahore
Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, October 2013. Zaira Rahman.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_badshahi-mosque-lahore.jpg]70Badshahi Mosque, Lahore
Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, October 2013. Zaira Rahman.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_lahori-khussas.jpg]160Lahore, Khussas
Lahore Khussas (Typical Shoes). October 2013. Zaira Rahman.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_bani-gala-islamabad.jpg]150Bani Gala, Islamabad
Bani Gala, Islamabad. October 2013. Zaira Rahman.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_pakistan-museum-of-natural-history-islamabad.jpg]180Pakistan Museum of Natural History
Pakistan Museum of Natural History, Islamabad. October 2013. Zaira Rahman.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_neelum-river-muzaffarabad.jpg]140Neelum River
Neelum River. October 2013. Zaira Rahman.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_shrine-of-sayeen-sakhi-muzaffarabad.jpg]80Shrine of sayeen Sakhi Muzaffarabad
Shrine of sayeen Sakhi Muzaffarabad. October 2013. Zaira Rahman.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_sharda.jpg]80Sharda
Sharda. October 2013. Zaira Rahman.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_girls-coming-back-from-school-in-sharda-village.jpg]180Girls coming back from school in Sharda village
Girls coming back from school in Sharda village. October 2013. Zaira Rahman.
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/zaira-rahman-pakistan-v10n1/thumbs/thumbs_sharda-fort.jpg]40Sharda Fort
Sharda Fort. October 2013. Zaira Rahman.

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Occupied Kashmir

Our next stop was Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. It is located on the banks of Jhelum and Neelum rivers with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) on the west. Though we have visited other parts of KPK in previous years, Muzaffarabad still was a treat for the soul. Our stay at PC Muzaffarabad was an absolute haven. We got the chance to visit the shrine of Hazrat Sayeen Sakhi in Muzaffarabad, which is by far one of the cleanest shrines that I have visited all of my life.

We went up to a tourist spot known as Pir Chinasi, 30 km east of Muzaffarabad on top of the hills at an altitude of 9500 feet. It was freezing cold up at the mountain but we got the rare opportunity to visit yet another shrine in one day – the shrine of the famous saint Hazrat Pir Shah Hussain Bukhari. Pir Chinasi got its name owing to Hazrat Pir who used to live at the mountain peak. It is said that he chose this unique spot because of its tranquil surroundings to form a deep, uninterrupted contact with God. This shrine has a remarkable significance to the people of the region as well as the visitors who believe their prayers are answered if they pray at this shrine. 

Pir Chinasi is famous for its scenic beauty and velvet, lush green plateaus. Standing at the edge of the mountain, one can sense a certain kind of spirituality. It is certainly a place any photographer and nature lover should see with their own eyes. Pir Chinasi is ideal for hiking, trekking and camping activities. The sight and its surrounding areas are covered with pine and oak trees. The best time to visit would be an off season, somewhere around September and October, but once the snow hits the ground, it becomes impossible to visit this lovely spot on any mode of transport. I could barely stop shivering till we got some hot tea and spicy pakoras from the small restaurant at the mountain peak. The locals were welcoming and easy going.

Neelum Valley was the best part of the whole trip. Saying that it is beautiful and breathtaking would be an understatement. Deep down I feel proud that such a place exists in Pakistan, but it is sad that due to our government’s negligence the world does not know of such attractions. Throughout our journey in Azad Kashmir, we saw several groups of children and teenagers going to schools. It was overwhelming to see how these kids walk so long on these curvy, rocky mountainous routes to reach their schools daily in the cold. I don’t see that kind of enthusiasm and struggle on the faces of children in the urban cities where life is so easy. It is a wrong perception about Pakistan that there is lack of education and a dearth of institutions, though I do feel what we require is a structured, unified system of education free for all across the country.

Our final stop in Azad Kashmir was Sharda village, the de facto border of India and Pakistan. It took us a long time to reach with countless check points, however we did make it. Due to its location, the security was super tight; we were surrounded by the Pakistan army everywhere. The natives of Sharda village were extremely uncomplicated and poor but they were also the most genuinely happy group I have come across in a long, long time. One can only dream of such carefree lives although these people live in a strategically dangerous place (situated right next to the Indian border) where things can get quite unpredictable any moment. Here too, we got to see more than a few children, even little girls on the way back from their schools. We also walked on foot to see the ruins of Sharda Fort inside the village, which was quite a unique site, unknown even to most Pakistanis.

Shrine of Pir Shah Hussain Bukhari, Pir Chinasi.

Shrine of Pir Shah Hussain Bukhari, Pir Chinasi. 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa  (KPK)

Just before heading back, we spent one night at Changla Gali, a tourist mountain resort town of Galyat, in the province of KPK. By the time we arrived, I was just too tired to do anything but crash for a few hours. I distinctly recall the blissful sleep which is so rare in Karachi. I remember that I experienced a similar kind of quiet and peace when I visited Nathia Gali seven years ago. There is something in the air about these unusual places that takes us away from all the worries of our regular, money-driven, mundane selfish lives.

Changla Gali was our final holiday spot after which we returned home following the same route back. By the time we got home, I had become quite the expert at navigating the paths. The motorways were brilliantly made till we stepped back into Sindh. It was a torturous and dangerous ride. Clearly, there is no monitoring here, unlike Punjab and other areas where people have no option but to follow the rules while driving on the motorway. We witnessed a gigantic blockade of trawlers but thanks to some Sindhi locals who guided us out via a shortcut, we reached to Karachi safely during day light.

These ten days were tiring, to say the least, but they definitely enlightened me. I surely learned a little something about the people, culture, places and good things of our country, of which I was so blindly unaware. However, I was also relieved to be home and to see our pets after a long break. I know I am no travel guide or travel writer, for that matter, but I felt all these lovely places that the world is unaware of should be talked about. Pakistan and its perception globally is so negative (for real and perceived reasons) that everyone misses out on the essence of this country: the richness of its culture, the hospitality of its people, a deep aura of spirituality and of course the abundance of scenic beauty, which I believe any citizen of the world, irrespective of their religion, color or nationality should visit or at least read about with an open mind and heart. I may not reach many, but even if a single person is moved by what they read here, that would leave me slightly less burdened. But for now, no more road trips.

 

About the author:

Zaira R. Sheikh has an MBA in Marketing from SZABIST, Karachi.  She was a Media Planner at Mindshare (GroupM Pakistan) and Account Manager at Interflow Communications Pvt. Ltd.  You can read more about her in About Us.

 

 

December 31, 2013   Comments Off on Zaira Rahman/Tour de Pakistan

Jonathan Evans/Culture

Haiti Batik Class 2012, Jonathan, Beth & friends

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Batik VooDoo

Saving Haiti, one kitten at a time

By  Jonathan Evans

   They say that Haiti is 90% Catholic and 100% Voodoo. But it was the 10%, the Episcopalian Church, which sponsored my wife Beth McCoy Evans’ and my trip to Haiti this spring. Our mission: teach batik workshops to women in Haiti’s third largest city, Gonaives. Our goal was to set up a small cottage industry in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, to teach the ancient art of batik in an area where the ancient craft of textile decoration is not indigenous.

Haiti has one of the most unique and unfortunate histories of all small Caribbean countries. Colonized by the French who brought in African slaves to work sugar and coffee plantations, it contained the first slave culture to rise up and seize independence. The declaration of independence was announced in Gonaives, earning the city its reputation for independence and radicalism. The whole island has paid for its freedom ever since, brutalized by dictators and manipulated by outside nations and forces. Gonaives has also suffered cataclysmic natural disasters, floods, hurricanes and most recently a terrible earthquake.  In spite of huge amounts of aid sent, there are signs everywhere of awful destruction. As we passed Port au Prince on the way to Gonaives, we saw the ruined Presidential palace. Everywhere we looked we saw trash, bad roads, homeless people and a lack of infrastructure. We had the overwhelming sense that Haiti could use whatever help we could bring.

We stayed in the slightly claustrophobic Rectory, a cemented compound on a dusty backstreet in Gonaives. The other inhabitants included Jan, the project co-ordinater, Father Max, several young men, two skinny dogs, two one-legged chickens and a mother hen with six chicks in tow.  We had come to teach batik to a group of some twenty women, the poorest and neediest of St. Basil’s congregation.  We created classes, two groups of ten and started teaching on Monday, after spending two days running to buy materials in the market.

The first day’s class was total chaos, leaving us both exhausted. The problem: our art was completely alien to our group of ladies. Many had never gone beyond fourth grade and some could neither read nor write. Their French was rudimentary and my Creole non-existent. Some of them were just not used to sitting down and learning. As a result, the first day was a blur of tjantings, dyes, wax and cloth.  In the end, we just left them to play with the materials.

Day two was a bit more focused– Beth did drawings on cloth for our students and we managed to push several projects through to an uneasy and messy conclusion.  On day three, we decided to cut down the numbers and to get serious. It was easy to see which ladies were serious about wanting to learn the process and which ladies had patience and aptitude. Interestingly, there was a correlation between poverty, patience and a need to learn. We ended up with five women from this group, all older ladies without jobs, who would continue our course. They were a delightful bunch. We had very little time to impart our accumulated seventy years of batik experience. We had to push fast every day. This was truly going to be a “Become a Batik Master in Five Days” workshop!

 By the end of Day 2, the class had settled and begun to focus on process. With a core group of only five ladies, we went into real production on Day 3. We taught dye mixing where they made their own dyes. Those proficient with the tjanting tools began to understand batik. We boiled the wax from their finished pieces and most importantly, started to have some real fun with the art. We hung strips of cloth on the line and showed them how to paint different colored dyes and then use cut sponges to paint patterns of wax on the cloth. Results came quickly. The ladies loved what they were achieving. The first results were surprisingly Haitian in character– bright reds, yellows and greens with vibrant patterns. We were finally getting somewhere.

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Evans & McCoy-Evans-Batik in Haiti

July-August V8N4

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That night in bed, battling droning mosquitoes and drenched in sweat, I heard sounds like young children shouting and playing.  The sounds came from the direction of a club that had been playing hot soukous music until the early hours every night. This night was different. Women wailed so that, at first, I thought I was listening to domestic violence. But then the staccato drums started, punctuated by handclaps and shouting. This continued for what seemed like hours. When the music stopped suddenly, a high woman’s voice shouted “Hallelujah!”over and over before I finally dropped back to sleep. Was this the “old” religion, the much vaunted Hoodoo Voodoo of this island?  I was beginning to feel that I had no idea what was really going on here.

Day 4 dawned hot, bright and dusty. It turned out to be our most productive yet. Our core group of ladies went into scarf production in a big way. Working mostly with sponges, immersion and painted dyes, they managed to complete four new series of batik scarves. Huge progress.

On Day 5, our original group of five ladies came back and continued with scarf production while an additional six would-be-batikers showed up for class. We quickly descended into chaos when the power went out and we were forced to improvise with drawing lessons, pep talks, tie dye and desperate Evans antics to keep the spirit alive. By the time a generator was found to heat the wax pots up again, the schizophrenic nature of the class was apparent– we were trying to deal with beginners and more advanced students at the same time. Beth and I were stretched in every direction and run ragged that afternoon.

Luck was with us, however; two of the new batikers showed an instant affinity for the tjanting. One lady, Mamoune, came up with a fantastic hieroglyphic design with great potential. We quickly had her working on a scarf using the same design. Another, Caircilia, immediately started to skillfully emulate Beth’s spiral designs, so we directed her to create them on a scarf.

The core team came up with two more brilliantly colored series of abstracts and had a lot of fun. By six, we were all fried; we pulled all eleven women together and explained that due to our limited time in Haiti, we had to concentrate on a basic group of seven women but that all could get involved once the project got underway. We would need more batikers to do scarf production, sewers, washers and ironers and some ladies to focus on marketing the Batik products.  Hopefully, with financing, there would be work for many more.

That evening with the power still out, a young man, Remy, invited Beth and I to come and look at his garden with him. There was a sudden welcome shower of rain as we left the house. We walked quickly past tiny cement block houses, goats, Haitians and curious stares until we hit the garden’s vast acres of irrigated palm forest with cultivated patches of eggplants, okra, corn and fruit trees. We met our guide’s father and brother grazing the family cow. This was a large area of very fertile soil, owned and worked by many families who ate what they grew and sold the rest. It was a veritable Garden of Eden; a totally different side to Gonaives.

As darkness descended, we made our way back. The long fast walk had done us both good. Had our young guide not hit me up for a laptop on the way home, it would have been an idyllic experience. Often, in such a poor society, it can be hard to tell who is friend and who is looking for personal gain.  But, by another miracle– was the intense religiosity of Haiti starting to get to me?– the power came back as we reached the Rectory and Beth and I washed off the day’s dust and dyes to crawl back under our mosquito nets.

We had a breakthrough on Day 6. We came up with our first “products”– ten beautiful finished scarves, wax boiled off, ironed and pristine in cellophane packets. We were happy to have finished saleable batik work in under a week from start to finish. We got several new scarf series underway—one, a design with ripe mangoes.

Sunday dawned like Groundhog Day (the movie version where the same day repeats) — the dust and the heat and same old dreadfully monotonous food was getting to us finally. Every new day began to feel horribly like yesterday. Beth and I thought of home for the first time, of our pets who we were starting to miss, of being anywhere but inside the hot cement compound of the Rectory with starving dogs, one-legged chickens and the new tiny kitten tied up in the storeroom who cried nonstop.  When would we begin to get it all right and be able to move onto another day?

We went from church to a meeting with the women of our group to talk about their progress and what was still to be achieved.  Manufacturing the batik was only the first step– Beth and I would not be around much longer. It was up to the Haitian women to keep this project alive and to get the business going. There was still the financing of the batik business to consider, the packaging of their products, and marketing. We badly needed an organizer and a spokesperson yet none of the ladies seemed up for it.  If our whole trip to Haiti was not to be a futile gesture, the women would have to show some initiative. This had to be a Haitian project, run by Haitian women– we were doing all that we could to get them started but that was as far as we could go.

We retired to the Rectory to rest, hide from the growing heat, and continue our indeterminable Groundhog Day. Jan found herself ill that night. Heavy storm clouds were gathering– we had been lucky with the weather so far- but the first summer rains were due. Perhaps some cracks were beginning to show and it was time to wind up the project and head for home. We still had three days of workshops to go.

Day 7 was finally different. It rained hard all afternoon. We worked under increasingly bad conditions. The tent leaked, water ran off the roof and collected at first in puddles then streams at our feet while the electrical connections to the hotplates were dangerously wet. We kept moving and working where we safely could but conditions were appalling for this kind of work. We did final black dyes on mango design scarves and boiled a lot of wax out of finished scarves. In spite of the weather, we managed to keep scarf production up. A lot of credit must go to the ladies who were clearly into their work.  It was amazing that these ladies, mostly unschooled and having no artwork experience, produced such attractive scarves in such a short period of time and really enjoyed themselves doing it. We had succeeded in inspiring them to go far beyond anything they had ever done before. They had confounded all our expectations– and it had all been done in a foreign language! It was debatable who had learned the most in the process– the ladies of Gonaives or Beth and I.

It was incredibly intense week. At the end of Day 8, I felt ten years older.  In addition, the tiny, four week old kitten that had been brought to the house days before had been locked into a storage shed for protection from the dogs. The shed had no windows, no light and the poor thing cried continuously. She had no water and was far too young to have been separated from her Mama in the first place. In most poor countries, animals are neglected or abused.  Regardless, I could stand it no longer. I found the key to the shed, took the kitten to our room, fed her, gave her water and some much needed affection. She quieted down and was great fun to play with.

We finished that day’s class having completed a bunch more scarves and a monster wax boil-out. We had twenty-five finished and packaged scarves. We were all tired, saturated with wax. It was time to bring the workshops to a close.

Kitty slept with me under the mosquito net that night– I was doing all I could to keep her out of the shed.  I knew Jan and the Haitians at the Rectory thought my attention to the kitten was unnecessary. I also knew that this kitten would probably be neglected again as soon as we left. Perhaps we were only setting her up for a greater fall. I felt that with the kitten I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t but I had no other option but to care.

That night, around midnight, the voodoo drums started up again. The women started to wail and we heard the incessant Hallelujah chorus.  The little kitten slept happily in my arms. But Beth woke in the middle of the night and started to cry, saying over and over, “This is the only love the kitten will ever get. She will never be loved again.” It was heartbreaking.

On the final day, all the women involved in the batik project gathered at the Rectory for a final meeting– we praised them for their dedication and hard work. We discussed batik production, finances and the importance of training more women. There would be work for everyone– from cloth washing, sewing, batiking, boiling out wax, and final marketing. The women asked various questions. We answered as honestly and realistically as we could.  Beth and I bought ten scarves from them to sell in the U.S. Any profits we received would be sent back to them in the form of new dyes. When they thanked us, we said the only thanks we needed was for them to continue after we were gone. If they did, we promised to come back and help again. We said fond goodbyes and they were gone.

Before we left, I begged the boys at the Rectory to feed and cherish the kitten. They assured me they would.  Father Max told me that he liked cats and would take good care of this kitten. But whether the Haiti Batik Project will continue and flourish and whether the kitten will survive and have a happy life is anybody’s guess. We did everything we could with the time that we had to ensure the survival of both. In the end, everything lies in the hands of our Gods, the hands of the Episcopalian Jesus Christ and the far older, much darker, African Voodoo priests.

 

 

June 29, 2012   Comments Off on Jonathan Evans/Culture

Adeel Halim / Street Photographer

©2011 Adeel Halim

A dhobhi bathes inside a wash pen filled with soap water.

©2011 Adeel Halim

Shadow of a dhobhi falls on a clothing as he washes clothes along with other dhobhis. Around 200 dhobi families work together here.

©2011 Adeel Halim

A man washes clothes.

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Dhobhi Ghat

Life at the World’s Largest Laundromat

A unique feature of Mumbai, the dhobhi is a traditional laundryman, the “laundries” are called “ghats”. The word Dhobhi Ghat is used all over India to refer to any place where many washers are present. The most famous of these Dhobhi Ghats is at Saat Rasta (seven roads) near Mahalaxmi Station in Mumbai, which is also termed as the world largest outdoor laundry.

If you send your clothes for a wash in Mumbai, India, chances are good that they’ll end up here at the Dhobhi Ghat. But you won’t find any machines here. Close to two hundred dhobhis and their families wash clothes by hand in row upon row of concrete wash pens, each fitted with its own flogging stone. The clothes are soaked in sudsy water, thrashed on the flogging stones, then tossed into huge vats of boiling starch and hung out to dry. Next they are ironed and piled into neat bundles.

Dhobhi Ghat is a popular tourist destination amongst foreign and Indian tourists visiting Mumbai.

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Adeel Halim / Street Photographer

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Men wash clothes during morning time.
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A man heats water for washing clothes.
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Men wash clothes.
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A boy splashes water on a boy having bath.
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A man washes clothes.
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Portrait of a laundry man.
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Men iron clothes.
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A man stands on a tumbler filled with clothes for washing.
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A man washes clothes.
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A man takes a bath.
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Men wash clothes.
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A man prepares food.
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A man washes clothes.
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Shadow of a laundry man falls on a clothing as men wash clothes.
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Men wash clothes
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A man shows his brush and soap that he uses to wash clothes.
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Men sleep on clothes.
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A laundry man takes a bath in soap water.

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Photographing at the laundries

I had been to the Dhobhi Ghat several times and always wanted to do a photo story, but I kept postponing or did not feel it was important to photograph. This time, I felt I must do it before the place is renovated or broken down.

I always liked photographing people at work, and any kind of activity that involves many people doing the same things attracts my attention. There are hundreds of dhobis [laundrymen] washing clothes all day long. I realized that there was nowhere else in the world where people would be washing clothes the way they wash at Dhobhi Ghat and as a photographer and a resident of Mumbai, I felt I must document it.

It is very vibrant and active place with different jobs being done at different times of the day. Laundry men begin work at about 4 a.m. and finish late at night. There are also a lot of interesting things around the Dhobhi Ghat: One can easily notice the contrast of slums and high-rise apartments, there are small restaurants, a fish market and in the evenings the street gets very crowded and noisy with local shoppers and traffic.

I went there four or five times at different times of the day to get the different moods of the place. I think the best time to visit is early morning, when the laundry men are beating clothes against concrete washing pens.

People were more than happy to be photographed and I don’t remember anybody showing any reluctance. I move around with my camera that is visible, and in India people notice cameras very easily. Also, in India people are fine to be photographed as long as they think you are not cheating them or demeaning them.

-Adeel Hailm

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Adeel Halim

Before Adeel Halim started to take photography seriously, he got a law degree from the Government Law College in Mumbai, India. He didn’t follow up on becoming a lawyer, though. Instead, Halim started working as a photojournalist for Reuters. But after a few years, Halim got itchy feet. He left the news wire to pursue street photography — the art of candid photos of everyday people. Although Halim travels extensively and works for Bloomberg News and The New York Times, his home base is still in India, where he finds no end of exciting subjects for his work. Halim’s latest project, documenting Mumbai’s Dhobhi Ghat, or open laundry, combines his love of street photography with his background in photojournalism to illustrate a cultural custom that may well be threatened by advancing technology.

For more on Adeel Halim’s work, visit www.adeelhalim.com

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Want to visit Mumbai? Information here: wikitravel.org/en/Mumbai#b

Wkimedia Commons

 

 

February 27, 2012   Comments Off on Adeel Halim / Street Photographer

Road Trip Diaries/NARAN, Pakistan

©Zaira Sheikh

Green fields and pastures on the way to Abbottabad.

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Naran: To Forget Or Not To Forget

By Zaira R. Sheikh

Off To Naran

We took a long day’s drive from Islamabad to Naran. This valley is in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was formerly known as Northwest Frontier Province (N.W.F.P). Naran is one of Pakistan’s best tourist attractions. It has such amazing scenic beauty that I suggest you witness it with your own eyes. If you do, you’re bound to encounter Kunhar River wherever you go, because it runs all along the valley. I recommend visiting anytime between June and September. When winter arrives, all paths are covered with snow and communications are near impossible.

Huts and guest houses on the mountains in Naran Valley.

We saw some interesting places on our road trip from Islamabad to Naran. The farms, green pastures and animals only add to the picturesque landscape. I couldn’t stop clicking the shutter.

Leaving Islamabad to enter Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, we passed by Hasan Abdal: a small town in northern Punjab named after a saint. Hasan Abdal holds a lot of significance for Sikhs. Around 1520, the founder of Sikh religion Guru Nanak resided there. This is why Gurdwara Sri Panja (one of the most sacred Sikh sites) was built in Hasan Abdal. It’s visited by Sikhs from all over the world.

Like I mentioned earlier the routes in Islamabad and in the northern areas are quite well developed and it absolutely fascinates me how the workers are seen building the paths for a larger part of the year. Unlike many other countries of the world, in Pakistan such labor is quite cheap despite the dangers associated with the kind of work these poor people do.

View of a hut in Naran.

We also passed by Abbotabad District. Does the name Abbotabad ring a bell? It’s the infamous place where Osama Bin Laden was discovered and then killed with the world knowing little more of what happened. I find the entire Bin Laden murder episode quite strange and unbelievable. A man with such a terrifying persona, as portrayed by the western world, hiding in a compound right under the nose of Pakistani military headquarters for so long and yet no body in Pakistan knew. Next, you hear is that the US forces entered a foreign territory as if a grand party was going on there and Mr. Obama announced they have killed Osama on TV (the way Obama announced, it seemed as if he himself killed the man). And then the cherry on the top was the rather quick sea burial of Osama. All of this just looks like a fairy tale to me at least.

No, we never visited the sacred compound where Osama Bin Laden was killed. In fact, just for information purposes that area is sealed and is not really a tourist spot as yet. Anyway, coming back to Abbotabad, it is also the transit point to all major tourist regions in north Pakistan such as Naran, Shogran, Nathiagali and other awesome destinations.

We crossed the small town of Balakot, known as the gateway to the beautiful Kaghan Valley. Balakot was completely destroyed by an earthquake in October 2005 during Pervez Musharraf’s era. Although the town has redeveloped, none of the new constructions have cement roofs as per government order.

I recalled the devastation caused by the quake and the sadness that overshadowed the nation. It was a strange sight to see the nation becoming so united to help the earth quake victims. My question only remains, why do we have to wait for some catastrophe to take place to unite as nation.

As blunt as it may sound, Pakistanis should get used to natural calamities by now. A rare earthquake in 2005 is followed by heavy floods every year now. Most of these disasters are man-made (deforestation, industrialization etc) and no precautionary measures are ever taken. Pakistani authorities don’t consider planning way ahead of time. And once the disaster has hit the country, all the so called saints wake up and start asking for donations and charities to help the poor. The mis-management and lack of interest on all levels is only leading to more devastation in the country. The common people and poor in general are the ones who suffer.

If one would just look back and see how the locals themselves contributed to the deforestation in the northern areas, it speaks volumes of ignorant behavior as these basic acts are the root cause of natural calamities.

Arriving in Naran by 5 PM, we were still looking for a hotel by late night. The one we’d booked was sickeningly dirty. No hygienic person would stay there. We drove through a market flooded with motels, hotels and inns. They all sucked in all honesty. The locals seemed greedy and knew nothing about courtesy. Since it was peak tourism time, they doubled the rates without negotiation, no matter how shitty their accommodation. Furthermore, it’s not difficult or expensive to get to Naran, so it was choked with crowds especially on weekends. Thus, our first Naran impressions were simply BAD!

There are decent hotels, but they’re expensive, and one must book rooms a month in advance to be safe. However, we were in the middle of shit with no turning back. We had to find a room somewhere before our bladders exploded. We found The Trout Land Hotel. It was big with a nice view. Yet, their loo was gross to the core. They didn’t believe in changing bed sheets or pillow covers. Plus, how could I forget this one key detail: the toilet flusher was perpetually out of order. I don’t know how we spent two days there, but we did. There was no other choice.

A beautiful view of the clouds and mountains from Lalazar, top, and tourists trekking.

Incredible Lalazar

The next day, we took a 4×4 safari jeep with an expert local driver. That’s the best way to travel the bumpy regional mountains and see the major attractions. Our chauffeur was a young boy who knew the routes well. He had excellent control and was one of the finest drivers I’ve come across in my life.

Our first stop was a hill station called Lalazar, 20 kilometers from Naran at 10,200 feet above sea level. It’s breathtaking with flowers, green steppes and mountains everywhere. The best thing about Lalazar is that it’s still unknown to most tourists and is therefore quite clean. Trekking is an absolute must here. Photographers will especially love this divine work of nature.

River Rafting In Kunhar River

Rafting in Kunhar River is yet another adventure to try your hands at. Foreigners usually opt for the roughest sections, while most Pakistanis prefer smoother stretches of water. We chose a mid tier section for rafting and the charge was Rs. 500 per person. We were lucky to meet an expert guide who made us feel extremely comfortable and told us about the area in detail through his travel stories. I loved every bit of our river rafting experience. One more thing you should go for in the area is a manual trolley ride over Kunhar River. If you’re scared of heights, choose one at lower altitude. The ride costs only Rs. 25 (which is peanuts), and this is serious Pakistan fun.

Views of Lake Saif-ul-Muluk.

Breathtaking Saif-ul-Muluk Lake

Probably the most famous Pakistani tourist attraction is Saif-ul-Malook lake, 10,500 feet above sea level. The sad part is that visitors in general are trashing the place. There are garbage cans everywhere. Yet, people don’t use them. They throw empty wrappers and bottles into the lake, which is ignorant and absurd. However, observing both the literate/illiterate and the rich/poor in Pakistan it is not so difficult to realize that Pakistanis are a lost nation in more than one ways. More sadly, they don’t even know that something is wrong somewhere.

Apart from the weird crowd, I saw a lot of animal abuse going there. Ponies carry heavy tourists on their backs and as I looked at them closely the poor animals looked so sad. They were suffering for sure and yes since we have no animal right laws here in Pakistan, not much can be done about such animals. One more disappointment was the fact that the locals have polluted the natural beauty of the lake by having unimpressive wooden boat rides just to make some money, which is dangerous, stupid and ugly.

Lake Saif-ul-Muluk

For now, the glacier adds enough clean water from above to flush the filth out naturally. However, unless measures are taken, crowds will succeed in polluting this wonder within a few years. In addition, men at the site surreptitiously make videos and snap pictures of women, which is a total turn-off for me.

So, this is how I spent two very hectic but exciting days in Naran. My take on Naran is simple. It has some amazing tourist attractions (but it is a bit over rated since I’ve seen similar places that were far too peaceful and relaxing with brilliant accommodation) – Lalazar was my personal favorite but the people are as greedy and selfish as the size of Godzilla. Pollution is part of the aura and deforestation is obvious, which is a dangerous sign. Having said all that, I still recommend all foreigners to take out some time and visit these places. Every year, people from all over the world come down to these amazing places. The smart way to go about it is to plan things well before time to avoid any glitches once you’re there.

Zaira R. Sheikh is the author of “Pakistani Media: The Way Things Are”, available through Amazon.com, and “If Mortals Had Been Immortals & Other Short Stories.” Sheikh is a writer, blogger, human & animal rights activist based in Karachi, Pakistan.

 

 

 

October 27, 2011   Comments Off on Road Trip Diaries/NARAN, Pakistan

Islamabad/Travel

Road Trip Diaries

Yet Another Visit To Islamabad

By Zaira R. Sheikh

My recent trip to northern Pakistan begs to be shared, but I’ve been terribly stung by writer’s block. Today, I’m gonna give it a shot, no matter what. I am from Karachi, the business hub of Pakistan – an extremely busy city, where life is so damn fast it becomes impossible to escape from it. However, breaks are definitely important and I cherished my week of peace and bliss in the northern areas. It turned out to be a bumpy road trip, but I ended up seeing some awesome places I had never experienced in all these years living in Pakistan.
We were to reach the capital city Islamabad on Day 1. Yet, due to a contingency, we had to alter our route and caught a plane to Lahore. From there, our road trip would begin. We landed in Lahore at midnight and reached Islamabad by 5:30 am. Karachi is called the city of fly-overs and bridges, but I love the motorways in Lahore and Islamabad immensely. The roads are so huge. The traffic system and toll booths are so systematic. It’s absolutely impressive. There are amazing food outlets and recreational stops every few kilometers for travelers to relax before moving along.
Because of the alternate route, we drove into Islamabad by road a little earlier than expected. So, we couldn’t check in to our booked hotel room. We were dead tired and ended up staying at a terrible inn, if we should even call it that. “Terrible” is an understatement here, people. Those few hours after a long night’s travel were dreadful – definitely not the best way to start a trip. If it’d been up to me and we hadn’t been traveling with our mother who needed to relax, I would have preferred sleeping in the car for a few hours. Anyway, as all good and bad things pass, this did too. We did get to our reserved room by 10 a.m., then rested for a few hours in peace before striking out for the capital city.
Most of our trip was by road with a rented car and a chauffeur who knew the route well. Locals are pretty good at driving the hills and mountains, but this isn’t easy for outsiders. By evening, we were fresh and ready to get out. I have a thing for animals. I’ve made a pact with myself to visit zoos and take safaris any place I visit. I feel that the way the animals are treated says a lot about a culture. Also, I love photographing animals. So, our first stop was Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad.

Marghazar Zoo – Islamabad

Marghazar Zoo is smaller than the Karachi Zoo, but has a nicer crowd. Everybody minds their own business, and that’s how I like it. The zoo is right below the Margalla mountains and is a fun place to relax and enjoy. There weren’t too many wild species, but the zoo was clean. There were a lot of bucks, deer, zebras and nilgae. The monkey house was spacious and the vervet
monkeys were agile and funny. I didn’t see any big cats, which was a turn-off for me, since I’m a serious fan of the cat family. There was one Asian elephant who posed with my sister like a real sweety. However, the Asian jackal seemed a bit lost.
The brown bears looked the saddest, as there was no water to keep them cool in extremely hot weather. (By the way, Islamabad was extremely hot, which I didn’t expect at all. The only difference is that Karachi’s hot climate has a perpetual date with humidity, which is not the case in Islamabad.) The bird collection was decent, though it was painful to see a huge raptor and family in a cage too small for its size. It seems tragic to keep such a soaring bird in captivity at all. My favorite in the zoo was the owl – all wise with a cool attitude.

Shah Faisal Mosque

On departing, we went to Shah Faisal Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in the world. It’s named after the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia who was a great friend of Pakistan. I visited the mosque nineteen years ago. It’s no exaggeration to say it absolutely sparkled back then. It’s still a magnificent structure with a tent design and pencil-like minarets, but it’s definitely lost panache. The walls, floors and nearly everything look dull now. It has a huge capacity for worshippers, yet I saw nobody praying there. That’s the only thing that hadn’t change in nineteen years. I think Shah Faisal Mosque is more or less a recreational stop for locals and tourists. Few people pray there. It is a huge piece of architecture that is fading away, which was rather shocking because I expected people in the capital to really take care of such cultural monuments.

Dining in Pir Sohawa

For dinner, we went through the mountains to Monal Restaurant in Pir Sohawa. Driving these mountains is scary, but locals do it with ease. Pir Sohawa is basically a beautiful place some 1173 meters above sea level and close to Monal village. The great thing about Pir Sohawa and Monal Restaurant is the amazing view of Islamabad from there. It’s quite a sight. Monal Restaurant is one of the best tourist spots for anyone visiting Islamabad. The huge place has a gigantic seating capacity and a delicious mix of Pakistani and Asian cuisine. You can enjoy the food while listening to live music. You can choose to sit in the open air gallery or the covered galleries, whatever suits you best. All in all, you’ll have a fun time, especially if you are there with good company.

People say a lot of negative stuff about Pakistan, but I have lived here all my life and know different. Sometimes, the media blows things up and the other harm is done by locals themselves in the way they project their image. Needless to say, most things in Pakistan are amazing, but a lot of crap needs to be removed, too. We certainly don’t live in medieval times. We do have internet access and many people learn to speak English well in school. Some change I’ve noticed over the years is that population is rising and the socio-economic gap has increased immensely on the whole. Every city I visit seems crowded. Islamabad is a quieter place to visit and is relatively secure. That’s the beginning of my road trip, but I’ll soon be sharing more incredible places I’ve seen in Pakistan and beyond.

About the author:

Ragazine’s Pakistani correspondent Zaira Rahman Sheikh is the author of “Pakistani Media: The Way Things Are”, available through Amazon.com, and “If Mortals Had Been Immortals & Other Short Stories.” Sheikh is a writer, blogger, human & animal rights activist in Karachi, Pakistan.

August 31, 2011   Comments Off on Islamabad/Travel

Ghana/Travel

 


_________________________________________________

Everything I Knew

A visit to Ghana turns the imagined world

 into something unimaginable, and real


Photos and Article by Roscoe Betsill and Steven Keith

Roscoe: Even though I read everything I could get my hands on prior to our trip to Ghana, it was clear, shortly after landing in Accra and approaching customs, that somehow everything I knew was different. There was one line for Ghanaians, another for residents of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and a third much slower moving queue for the All Others – a designation that we as Americans are not accustomed to. Right out of the gate, we were greeted by hawkers offering a wide assortment of wares and services. We were traveling with our host, a very self-possessed Ghanaian woman, who now lives in the states. Pearlene assured all of those vying for our attention that we did not need any of what they had to offer.

It was actually because of Pearlene, that my husband, Steven, and I decided to spend our Christmas holiday in Ghana. She was my late mother’s (extremely over-qualified) home care professional and became a true friend to her and to me. Mom, who passed away a few months ago, had traveled extensively. One of her most memorable and life changing trips was to Ghana, nearly 20 years ago. Traveling to Ghana seemed a good way to spend the holidays and to honor her.

Before heading to Pearlene’s house on the outskirts of Accra in the village of Gbawe, we stopped to check out two hotels that we were considering for later in the week. Even though it was a fairly short distance, because of heavy traffic, it took an hour and a half to get to the other side of town, where we were to spend our first several days. This was by no means a boring voyage. We ended up taking it many times and each time we were thoroughly entertained by the constant parade of vendors, who took full advantage of the slow moving traffic. There were folks selling drinking water, handkerchiefs, homemade plantain chips, peanut butter brittle, pastries, hair care and beauty products, soccer balls, hammers and hatchets, telephones, flashlights, batteries, shoes and shoe brushes almost always piled on trays or on platforms or in small cases – sometimes with doors and glass windows – and these perched and balanced ever so perfectly on the vendor’s heads. I would love to have the posture, not to mention the stamina, to perform such a feat. The street vendors work long hours in the equatorial heat of the day. Because we were there during the holidays, we also saw folks dressed in elaborate costumes and intricately detailed wire mesh masks collecting donations for either charity or next year’s costumes, depending on whom you asked.

Steven: Pearlene’s family compound measures about 40 by 60 meters. When you enter the compound, after enduring the dusty and bumpy ride of the “rough road”, all becomes clean and calm again. The 3-meter high wall on the right is nicely decorated on the inside with small trees set in well-swept red earth. The first of these is half white and half green, the result Pearlene said, of two trees that just happened to collide and soon were inseparable. The ground underneath the car is paved in a smooth mix of rocks and concrete, also swept clean.

Directly ahead was the house boy’s house but we were transfixed by the main house on our left, which was also stucco and featured a wide and deep front porch of cream and tan terrazzo flooring, wide curved steps, and two neo-classical columns. An orange dog had been lying on the cool terrazzo but jumped up as soon as we entered and made her way back toward the house boy’s house. I remembered hearing, on some cable TV dog program, that if all dogs in the world were left to breed on their own, then soon all dogs would be the sort of medium-sized brown dog commonly found in Africa. And here she was! We soon realized that almost all the dogs in Accra looked just like this one. All week we tried to sweet-talk this beautiful bitch into letting us touch her and, while she was intrigued, she never accepted our offer.

Roscoe: Ghanaians are very religious, whether Christian, Moslem or Animist. In the capital, Accra, they tend to be Christian and every manner of business is a means of expressing this. Taxis, hair salons, hardware stores and markets were likely to have names like By His Grace or The Lord’s Venture. Several people we met had names with religious or poetic significance – The pious Delali (there will be a savior), the sweet Sedena (word of God) and the radiantly smiling Sunrise.

When, by the grace of God we finally reached the house, which turned out to be a compound actually, we were seated in the main room and offered glasses of cool water, which is a standard and much appreciated welcoming gesture (it was about 95 degrees, inside and out). We met a number of members of the immediate and extended family, including relatives we  met previously in Ohio and the twin brother, Atsu, we had heard so much about. It was a large house and filled with lovely and generous folks. We had taken Pearlene at her word when she said that there was plenty of room and that we would not be an imposition, but I started to wonder. We were then shown to our quarters, which turned out to be a separate house behind the main house with it’s own kitchen, bath, sitting room and a large porch.

 

 

Steven: The space between the blazing blue sky above and the orange red-clay ground below was teeming with color, colors of all sorts, but often red, gold, yellow, and green, bright blue, blinding white, and orange, brown, and purple (sometimes all in one jazzy patterned shirt). There was little black or gray to be found, except for the proudly displayed Black Star, found on Ghanaian flags, soccer shirts, and beer bottles. The national colors – gold red, and green – were well represented, such is the real pride the citizens of Ghana take in their 50-year old nation. Large and small adverts for cell phone services, soul-saving churches, promising politicians, and thirst-quenching drinks were all around, hiding the trees and demanding a future. The streets were lined with wooden open-front shops that were filled with everything that one might need or want, including handkerchiefs, snacks, sandals, hand tools, head wraps, light bulbs, disco balls, toilet paper, and small plastic bags that each contained one shot of gin or rum. “Cold Stores” sold water, fruit juices, soda, and beer.

Roscoe: We were fortunate enough to be able to get tickets for the 25th Anniversary concert of the famous High-Life musician Abrantie Amakye Dede. High-Life music fuses traditional African sounds with jazz and soul influences. All of Accra seemed to be there, dressed in its very fine finery, including the former President, John Kufuor. It would have been well worth the price of admission to see this even had there not been performances by several of the nation’s top entertainers.

Steven: We decided to do the most obvious site-seeing first: a visit to the mausoleum of the founding father of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. In fact there were five more of these founders, who with Nkrumah were called the Big Six; all of them appear on the paper money (cedi notes) in Ghana.

The mausoleum museum was in rather bad shape, having had its maintenance funds slashed by the current free-market-oriented government. This was told to us by the young adults working there as guides; they encouraged us to make donations for the upkeep of this final resting place of their Marxist hero. History is very much alive in Ghana and is being made every day. Perhaps most notable at the Nkrumah Museum, besides the carefully preserved (plastic draped) dormitory furniture used by the great man at Lincoln University, is a bronze statue outside of Nkrumah, which is missing its head and one arm, vandalized during a military coup that ousted him in 1966. While we were there, it was announced that Konadu Rawlings, the wife of the murderous Jerry Rawlings (President from 1981 to 2002) planned to run in the next Presidential election. Upon hearing this, one friend of ours said, “over my dead body”, and this expression seemed more real to us than ever before.

Roscoe: I woke up very early on Christmas morning. There were on-going services at two nearby open-air churches, which I heard clearly from my room. The singing at one was harmonious and a pleasure to listen to (the other service was a bit rough but nonetheless sincere). Roosters crowed and other birds, some singing harmoniously (others less so) always started their songs well before dawn. I walked out into the courtyard where I met Achu, who asked me if I’d ever seen a goat killed.

What a way to start the day. The throat slitting and blood letting was every bit as graphic as you might imagine. I helped with the scraping off of the coat, once it had been sufficiently scorched by the open fire. A lot of the cooking that day was done in the courtyard, where there were a number of braziers set up for a variety of preparations. There was a hearty goat stew that consisted of innards cooked in blood and there was the more appealing -to my taste – goat light soup, tender goat meat simmered in a flavorful broth that was the perfect accompaniment to fufu- cassava and plantain pounded into a paste. I had never managed to taste this staple of West African cuisine. The first mouthful felt very odd, but once I gave in to the texture and coated it with pepper sauce, I was able to enjoy it.

Steven: After the coup, Nkrumah went to live in exile in Guinea, where he was revered not only for his nation-building but also and especially for promoting Pan-Africanism as the only successful way forward for the people of sub-Saharan Africa and of the African Diaspora. Similarly, the great American scholar WEB Du Bois spent his last years in Ghana, a guest of the government. So, off we went to the Du Bois Memorial Centre. A much more modest version of the Nkrumah Mausoleum, this one included an Ashante-style wood pavilion for the tomb and the preservation of Du Bois’ last home. The library there was particularly compelling, with wood louvered shutters on the window and wood shelves filled with books by African writers from all over the world, including Du Bois’ extraordinary Encyclopedia Africana, which he was working on when he died. The young man working there, a scholar himself, earnestly recited one of Du Bois’ most famous speeches at the gravesite and it was hard to imagine a similar heartfelt performance by an American college student.

 

Roscoe: We considered taking a long and potentially uncomfortable bus ride to the coastal towns of Cape Coast and Elmina, each featuring a fort at which many thousands of people, who were captured and enslaved, were held captive awaiting their journey to the new world. At Pearlene’s suggestion we hired a car and driver and with the charming company of her daughter Ama and friend Sara, we were able to make much better use of our time. On the way, we visited the splendid tropical rainforest Kakum National Park.  It was breathtaking to take the canopy walk, a network of wood and rope bridges suspended between trees at a height of 40 meters above the forest floor. Being able to drink the juice of a freshly macheted coconut was a fitting recompense for having completed the journey. We went on to Cape Coast and had a delicious lunch of freshly grilled tilapia, snapper and lobster with banku, a fermented cassava and corn meal mixture steamed in a banana leaf that I found irresistible, at the Mighty Victory Hotel. By now we were accustomed to the fact that in Ghanaian restaurants everything is prepared to order.  We were well rewarded for our patience.

On to the coast of this fishing village there were fisherman untangling nets, vendors and a bustle of activity that one might have seen a century or 2 or 3 ago. The Cape Coast Fort above was a foreboding structure with canons perched along its perimeter. It was not until we arrived there that I realized that one of my Mom’s favorite photos from her trip to Ghana, of her with her arms around 2 young boys, was taken there. I shuddered a bit, but shuddered more as I experienced being in the dungeon with only the slightest glimmer of light coming in, and again as I passed through the ‘door of no return’. I had a moment of prayerful meditation for ancestors who passed through these gates. I am extremely grateful to have had this experience, painful though it was.

We spent our last few days at The Golden Tulip, in a fancy hotel in the center of town.  I enjoyed the swimming pool each morning, up to the point that I found it occupied by carpenters who constructed an impromptu fashion runway and dance floor over the pool for what was to be a spectacular New Years Eve bash. At the splashy bash, we wore shirts that Pearlene’s sister-in-law’s tailor had made for us, after surreptitiously sizing us up when we had gone to her house for a visit.

The people we shared our time with in Ghana were extremely generous with us – giving of their time, their knowledge, their kindness and their good humor.  I have rarely felt more welcome – anywhere. Weeks later, I am still feeling the glow.

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Better to drink gin …

Yes, one needs to be very careful with the water. We only drank bottled water and we were careful about eating salads or any uncooked food, likely to be washed in water unsafe for foreigners. Our hostess made her ice cubes from bottled water. And the hotel had potable water throughout. But out at a bar or restaurant, one is advised to just avoid ice. Most places serve juices, soda, and mixers from bottles straight out of the fridge, so ice is not needed anyway.

The locals drink ‘purified’ water that is sold in sealed plastic bags (see photo). Our Ghanaians friends advised us against drinking it, as some of these bags were likely to have been filled up from the tap at home. As it is hot most days, some people enjoy a nice cold beer in the afternoon, bought from a Cold Store. There were also these nifty little one shot plastic bags of booze – gin or rum – that sold for about 25 cents!

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About the travelers:

Roscoe Betsill (left) is a New York-based  food stylist, recipe developer and writer.  His clients include The New York Times, Bon Appetit, O (the Oprah Magazine), and Field and Stream. His web site is: www.roscoebetsill.com

Steven Keith is an architect and political activist. He’s been married to Roscoe for one-and-a-half years, but has known him for over 19 years.

They have a red dog named Ruby, and divide their time between New York City and the Hudson Valley.

 

-30-

 

March 31, 2011   Comments Off on Ghana/Travel

Dreaming the Old West/Travel

Neon Cowboys

or How the West Imagines Itself

An essay with cell phone pictures

By Elizabeth Cohen

There are places that hold out imagined versions of themselves; romantic versions, like long-divorced people who still hold onto feelings from a bygone marriage.  You can go to these places and have a dual  experience – you are in the actual place and yet you are bombarded with images of the way the place imagines itself. The idealized, iconic version that looks down at you from signs, glances at you from murals, peers out windows at you, begs for your money in little touristy shops, really has nothing to do with the place that actually is. It is easy to participate in the fantasy identity; it is usually more engaging, more palatable, far more romantic for sure, than the actual place. Hence you may walk through the grand Coliseum in Rome and ignore the impoverished surrounding neighborhoods, or to go to the Acropolis in Athens and feel like you are closer to God when the roads to get there are crumbling, the air practically unbreathable. Still you want that sensation of the other place, the emblematic one. We are willing to ignore so much to focus in on what we desire to experience in place.

Places can have alter-selves, like alter egos, that want you to believe in them. It almost is like you are being begged to participate in the fantasy version, and ignore the reality.

New York City is certainly one such place, wherever you go, the alleys of Chinatown, overflowing with odd vegetables, eels swimming in buckets; neat little streets in Little Italy that really could be in Italy, or a version of it; Harlem, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side’s diamond row, and you are surrounded by concrete, and people and buildings but see  images of the Statue of Liberty, the New York City skyline, Broadway, the Brooklyn Bridge. These are real parts of New York and also the emblems the city wants you to experience. They are embossed on tee shirts, sweatshirts, on signs, murals in restaurants, everywhere. For a time there was a restaurant on West Broadway south of Canal that had a miniature version of Lady Liberty’s head and crown, hovering over the street.  She is the patron saint of Manhattan and it sometimes seems she is worn on every possible surface.

Another such place is New Mexico, and the place I want to focus on here is Gallup, New Mexico. It is a small city in the north west corner of the state, not far from the Navajo reservation and maybe the last piece of unswept shrapnel of the wild west.  I will surely make enemies with its proud citizens when I say so here, but it is a sad burgh, downtrodden, speckled with trailer camps with circa 1970 trailers, foreclosed houses, little neighborhoods that look like they are trying so hard to hold onto what they’ve got but just can’t do it. It has a strip to end all strips, the former Route 66, that runs through town with all the standards, KFC, McDonalds, and every other possible fast food and chain joint in America.

Despite this, the city clings to this other version, a cinematic  version of the west, a cliché of lasso-wielding cowpokes and tee pees (native people of the region NEVER lived in tee pees); with neon roadrunners and every manner of western kitsch.

To drive through the town today is to see these now antique neon signs and murals, sculptures of giant Indian pots and rugs, and everywhere some antiquated visual narrative of a place that certainly isn’t the actual experience of the place today – and maybe never was. It is a surreal fantasy version. If Walt Disney were alive, it is the version he might cobble.

Yet while it is a neon lie, the images present an oddly enchanting and even at times breathtaking vision from an anthropological and a purely aesthetic perspective .

For those who live there, it probably  hardly registers, but to drive through fresh, from the high plains of I-40, red cliffs jutting like massive steam engines out of the east, the “old west” and “wild west” iconography seems quaint, even museum worthy. Like the highly referred-to Statue of Liberty in New York City or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, they are perfect examples of the way we tell ourselves a story about where we are in space and time, and even try hard to believe it, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Gallup , a town which straddles a mini range of mountains called the hogbacks, is a town that is most definitely down on its luck, a place where the population swells on the paydays and days the checks come in for dependent families. Those days the bars fill up and night finds the streets filled with stumblers. But there is a spirit of wannabe that holds out; the city is full of citizens who believe it will be, could be, might be, someday, the place it imagines it is.

Driving through fast, with nothing but a cell phone, seems somehow perfect, the technology somehow suiting the experience. Fast, cheap, haphazard, a little tipsy on the experience itself, I snapped my way through Gallup this winter. I tried to find images that captured the version the west wants us to take away. I tried to find the places that quote old western movies, the Hollywood west, the cowboy and Indians west. The generic native west. The roadrunner and coyote west. Where the landscape is so stark it aches in every direction toward the horizon. And you half think an anvil, at any moment, is about to drop upon your head.

………………………………………………….

Images taken with a BlackBerry Curve 8530 Smartphone

February 19, 2011   Comments Off on Dreaming the Old West/Travel

Kitchen Caravan


 

Excerpts below are reproduced in cooperation
with Kitchen Caravan. For more delightful
and exotic recipes and cultural insights, visit
http://www.kitchencaravan.com

_____________________________

Summer 2010

By Emma Piper Burket

THE IRAQI SEED PROJECT                                           VOLUME 3, SUMMER 2010

In the days of yore a farmer gave (these) instructions to his son… Your implements should be ready. The parts of your yoke should be assembled. Your new whip should hang from a nail — the bindings of the handle of your old whip should be repaired by artisans. The adze, drill and saw, your tools and your strength, should be in good order. Let braided thongs, straps, leather wrappings and whips be attached securely. Let your sowing basket be checked, and its sides made strong. What you need for the field should be at hand. Inspect your work carefully.         – from “the first farmer’s almanac,” an ancient tablet from 1500 BCE found in Nippur, Iraq in 1949

Your gardens and local farmer’s markets are likely in full bloom as we enjoy the last weeks of summer; look around at some of the bounty: cucumbers, melons, apricots, grapes, peas, onions, okra… these crops have been growing in Iraq for thousands of years.  Maybe when you take your next bite you will think of the farmers in Iraq who are enjoying similar tastes and textures so far away.

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

• Editing begins: Since returning from our June filming trip, we have been editing and organizing footage, photographs and audio files. We hope to share some of the material with you soon… To do this we need to build our website’s library: You can help!

Seeds of Kurdistan: We are happy to announce the launching of our latest initiative. This website celebrates the agricultural traditions of Iraqi Kurdistan and will also provide training materials for the region’s farmers.

• Facebook- you can now keep track of the latest news of agricultural activities in Iraq as well as what’s happening at The Iraqi Seed Project by following us on facebook.

NEWS, LINKS & THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

The Tiziano Project just wrapped up a summer workshop in Erbil, training local journalists in new media skills. Watch the video Zana Mamundy, one of their students, produced about grain growers in Mahkmour.

Wheat Fleet: August 19-21st we are floating a portion of the Willamette River to promote local grain growing in Oregon. 

• In June we visited the Farmer Kamal outside of Erbil, after a tour of his farm he invited us for a delicious home-grown lunch. Here is a very simple recipe for bulgur, or cracked wheat, prepared the way farmer Kamal makes it:

-2 cups bulgur

-1 onion

-olive oil or ghee

-4 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth

-salt, and seasonings to taste

Chop the onions and sauté them in oil with a heavy bottomed pot, add the bulgur and seasonings, pour over the broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until broth is nearly absorbed. Turn off heat and allow to steam for 5 minutes.

ON THE ROAD

This Fall The Iraqi Seed Project is going on tour, collecting messages for Iraqi farmers and offering a sneak peak of our film; contact us about scheduling a farm visit, rough cut screening or fundraising event at a community center or school in your area. Check the website for upcoming dates in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington DC.

DONATE

As you know, we are in the process of editing and building The Iraqi Seed Project‘s library on our website. We are currently operating with zero funding. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation through Arts Engine, our fiscal sponsor, so that we may continue our work!

SHARE

And of course… we are still collecting images, articles, essays, videos and links for the library— remember you don’t have to be an expert to participate. Be part of our knowledge exchange and share what you know about Iraq, sustainable agriculture, seed saving, biodiversity, or home gardening.

 

 

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May-June


On the road to BAGHDAD

THE IRAQI SEED PROJECT: (LATE) SPRING 2010

Website is up and running for The Iraqi Seed Project — Visit www.iraqiseedproject.com to learn more about what Emma & friends are up to and ways you can get involved.

• Ready to go: The team left the first week of June for a filming trip to Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Internet reports will be a bit spotty, but whenever possible, they will post notes and photos on the Field Journal section of the website — so check there for updates. We will be spending our time in Northern Iraq with the Kurdish Ministry of Agriculture, on small farms in the area, and visiting some USDA project sites around Baghdad.


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Mint Julep en Rose

Adapted from The Gentleman’s Companion: An Exotic Drinking Book

6 sprigs of mint
1 teaspoon sugar + 1 teaspoon rose syrup

OR

2 teaspoons sugar + 1 tablespoon rose water

1 ounce bourbon

Juice of ½ lime

Garnish: Marachino cherry and/or edible flowers

Muddle 2 sprigs of the mint, the sugar, and rose syrup or rose water in a martini shaker. Make sure you muddle well to get the essence of the mint extracted. Add in a good amount of ice. Pour over the bourbon and add 2 more sprigs of mint (unbruised) and the lime juice. Shake it up really well and pour into a glass filled with ice and top with the remaining 2 sprigs of mint and a colorful edible flower.

Serves 1.

 

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March April

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Freekeh and Garbanzo Pilaf

This is a very healthy vegetarian dish that is high in fiber and full of Mediterranean flavor.  Freekeh is wheat that has been harvested while still very young, and thus is very high in protein, vitamins, and minerals.  It has a slightly smoky flavor due to the way the wheat is processed after harvest, so it pairs well with mellow flavors, such as beans and chicken.  This recipe calls for cooking the beans from scratch, but feel free to use canned garbanzos for a faster version.  The “Short” sauce is a light pesto that adds a zing of herbs and lemon to sharpen the taste of the dish at the end.

For the Garbanzos:

½ cup dried garbanzo beans, soaked at least 4 hours
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
1 sprig thyme
a few black peppercorns

For the Pilaf:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup yellow onion, small dice
¼ cup carrot, peeled, small dice
¼ cup fennel, small dice
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Pinch of cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup freekeh, rinsed and soaked for 30 minutes
cups vegetable broth

Short Sauce:

1 ½ cups fresh cilantro, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 cup parsley, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 sprig mint, leaves roughly chopped
½ cup pinenuts, lightly toasted
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste (about ¼ teaspoon)

For the Garbanzos:

Drain the garbanzos of their soaking liquid.

Place in a medium sized pot and cover with about 3 cups fresh water.  Add the rest of the ingredients (you can place them in a bouquet garni bag if you want) and bring the water up to a boil.  Simmer until the garbanzos are cooked through.  Drain, remove the aromatics, and set aside.

To Prepare the Pilaf:

Heat up the olive oil in a medium sized pot.  Sweat the onion, carrot, fennel, and garlic until the onion and fennel appear translucent.  Add the spices and a pinch of salt, and stir for another minute or two.  Drain the freekeh of its soaking liquid and add it to the pot.  Stir everything together so that the freekeh is well integrated, and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring gently.  Pour over the broth and bring to a simmer.  Cover the pot and let cook for 30 minutes.  Add the garbanzos and continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed and the wheat is cooked through.  Keep in mind that these are wheat berries, so they will have a slightly chewy texture and will not be completely soft.

Make the short sauce by blending all of the ingredients together until coarsely chopped, you do not want a smooth puree.  Spoon a bit of the sauce into the pot and stir to combine.  Serve while warm.

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For more recipes from around the world, visit
Kitchen Caravan on-line.

Kitchen Caravan was started by Sophia Brittan and Emma Piper-Burket  in January of 2007 to provide an online resource for healthy eating and cultural education with quality content and a valuable learning experience.
Check it out. Archives explore foods from around the world.

June 20, 2010   Comments Off on Kitchen Caravan

Myra Sherman

Leaving Lamu

I wake up at 4 a.m. It’s December 29th, the day I leave East Africa. I’m at the end of a disappointing exhausting writers’ conference. I expected white sand beaches and superb seafood. I hoped for a tranquil transforming experience.
After five days on Lamu Island I can’t wait to leave. At 2 p.m. I’ll be on a dhow headed for the airport. Ten hours is too long to wait. I want to go now.
I’m exhausted, soaked with sweat and irritable. My $50.00 tomb-like room is unbearable. I feel trapped in its dark close dinginess. Dead insects are stuck in the grayish mosquito-netting enclosing the bed. There’s no closet. The bathroom is narrow and minuscule.
The shower worked when I first arrived, a trickle of cool water against the stone walls. There’s been no water in my room for three days. There’s been no power in my room for three nights. Without electricity the fan doesn’t work. One small window opens in the room.
There is another window in the bathroom but I leave it closed. A local family lives on the roof just outside the window. They cook, do chores and sleep there. They talk excitedly and laugh a lot.
The two adult men look like father and son. They wear white kanzu robes and kofia caps. The three women are swathed in black bui-buis. Only their eyes are visible. The barefoot children wear western shorts and tees. Several donkeys share the living space. They wake up before dawn, braying. Everyone seems happy.
Lamu is a Muslim city. People are religious. One of the many mosques is across the alley from my hotel. The mosque is shabby with crumbling walls. The call to prayer is haunting and beautiful.
My hotel was arranged by the conference. I’m in Old Town, miles away from the air-conditioned expensive resort hotels, surrounded by looming coral-block buildings with peeling paint and narrow muddy alleys. This was a mecca for the slave trade. Now tourism supports the island.
Before we arrived the conference staff told us the island was like going back in time. That during the ’60s and ’70s, it was a hippie refuge. There are still some long-haired weathered men hanging around, especially at Petley’s bar, drinking beer and negotiating with the teenage prostitutes.
Lamu’s streets are winding dirt paths. The intricate and old sewage system drains into them. Donkeys with carts are everywhere. On the shorefront donkeys walk alone and at night sleep unattended in the dirt. There is no escaping the donkeys. Donkey shit is everywhere. So are hovering glistening flies. The smell is nauseating.
My first night at the hotel the donkeys scared me. I had no idea what the sinister, distressing, discordant sounds were. The donkeys’ braying is why I’m awake so early. That and stomach problems. The cramps and diarrhea started after last night’s lobster dinner. It was supposed to be a celebration.
I ate with Ellaraine, a poet from Sunnyvale, who traveled with me from San Francisco.
“To my sister survivor,” she toasted.
“To surviving,” I said.
Then we parted and I left for my inland hotel, carrying a flashlight in the dark, heart pounding as I fearfully navigated narrow alleys, rushing by shadowy robed men hovering in entryways, until I arrived at Janat House, my hotel with the attentive staff and picturesque roof terraces, proudly promoted pool and bar, but horrible room.
I check the time again, 4:30 a.m. I’m facing thirty-six hours of traveling.  My stomach’s messed up. I rip aside the mosquito netting and rush to the bathroom. I need Imodium. The toilet doesn’t flush. When I try the sink there’s no water.
I’m having breakfast in the hotel dining room. It’s a lovely open space overlooking a garden. But with no electricity the fans don’t work. At 8 a.m. the air is already oppressively hot and humid.
The staff person assigned to me is inordinately cheery. Habib cleans my room, cooks and serves my breakfast. He’s young and constantly smiles. I tell him I just want tea and toast today.
“No omelet, fruit?” he asks. He reminds me there is gas to cook the eggs with. “Doesn’t matter the power is out,” he says.
“My stomach,” I tell him, shaking my head.
I’m already packed and ready to go. To lighten my luggage I’ve decided to leave things I don’t need behind, to let Habib have them. My gym shoes encrusted with mud and donkey shit, bags of peppered cashews from Nairobi, sunscreen, body lotion and insect spray. I leave my loose Kenyan change on the table.
After breakfast I go to the hotel desk.  “I’ll be checking out this morning,” I say.
“But you must wait for the porters,” the receptionist tells me. She wears slinky silky western dresses and has long braided hair.  Like all the hotel staff she works twelve hour days. “They’ll be here for you at 2:00pm.” She smiles a lot too.
“I can carry my own bags. Besides, I want to leave earlier. The dhow leaves at 2:30 p.m. I don’t want to miss it.”
“No, it’s been arranged by the people you came with.”
Arguing seems pointless. I leave my bags and tell her I’ll be gone a couple of hours. I head for the shorefront. I’m sweating. My clothes are already wet.
I stop at Bush Gardens Restaurant and take a table by the street. I’m the only customer. There are several men behind the counter but they ignore me. After what seems like too long a wait I go to the counter and ask for service.
I don’t know why I’m being ignored. Does my tension show? Do they think I’m strange, an aging wrinkly woman with a gold nose ring and burgundy hair, wearing a black camisole and yoga pants?
Twenty minutes later I order a banana shake, hoping it will settle my stomach. It takes almost an hour to prepare. I tell myself I have nothing else to do. I’m better off killing time here than at the hotel.
I stare at the Indian Ocean. Now that I’m leaving I can admire the brightly painted red dhows, small children playing in indigo water, the sound of an unseen woman giggling, the pungent smell of cumin and sewage. I try to take it all in, figuring I’ll never come back.
I want to be positive but a lot of this trip has been hard for me. I feel old and tired. I’m not as flexible as I used to be.
When I traveled to Israel in my twenties everything was an adventure. I met a brown-skinned sabra whose family came from Yemen. I didn’t care that he gambled away my money. We slept on the beach in Eilat. We had exciting Dexedrine-fueled sex and guzzled Maccabee beer. Sometimes we smoked hashish or opium. I lived on falafel sandwiches and Turkish coffee. I lost weight and loved being skinny.
When he left I should’ve been devastated but wasn’t. Thirty years ago, with my life ahead of me, it was easy to be flexible. Now I’m more rigid and need control. I don’t have time for misery or mishap.
I don’t notice the waterfront hustler until he’s standing by my side. Uninvited he sits across from me.
“I have a special for you, special for ladies staying at the Lamu Palace,” he announces with a suggestive smile.
The Lamu Palace is one of the fancier waterfront hotels in Old Town. It’s where several people from the conference stayed and for the extra $15.00 per night I was sorry I hadn’t.
“I’m not at the Palace,” I say.
“No problem. You want massage?”
“No.”
“But this is special massage. You understand, just for the ladies?”
“I’m not interested,” I tell him. “And I don’t want company.”
“No problem. Don’t worry,” he says, and saunters off.
He’s young enough to be my grandson. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry but I’m glad this is my final day in Lamu.
When I pay the bill it seems like the waiter is leering at me. I feel myself flush with embarrassment. Then my stomach cramps and I don’t care.
“Where’s the toilet?” I ask. He directs me to the rear of the restaurant, across an open storage room. The toilet is clogged and the floor is wet. I have terrible diarrhea.
I leave the restaurant and head one block inland to the main street, hoping to find a drugstore. After walking up and down the crowded alley, jostled by donkeys and strolling three-abreast men, I find a pharmacy. The clerk takes me to a side room and reaching into a large bin shows me a handful of capsules.
“For your stomach,” she says.
When I ask what they are she shrugs.
“Do you have anything in a sealed package?” I ask.
She takes me to the main part of the store and brings out a local equivalent of Imodium. “This is more expensive,” she says.
I buy the medication but don’t take it. I don’t know what it is. I’m afraid of the side effects. I’m afraid, period.
By the time I return to my hotel it’s noon. Habib is waiting for me with the receptionist. They both seem upset.
“You left your belongings,” the receptionist says. “We need the room.”
I look at Habib.  “What’s left is for you. Take what you want and throw out the rest,” I tell him.
He doesn’t thank me. He doesn’t smile. His face is a mask.
“I didn’t mean to offend you,” I say.
I’m embarrassed by my thoughtlessness. The cliché Ugly American, assuming he’d be grateful for my garbage.
“I’ll get the things from my room,” I tell the receptionist.
“Habib will do it,” she says. Her voice is cold.
“I’m sorry,” I say. My voice is shaky.
Their eyebrows lift with mistrust. Their smiles are gone. They disappear behind the receptionist’s counter.
With the conference over, the hotel has emptied out. I wish I’d left the day before, with everyone else. But a few of us had flights scheduled a day later.
With no place to go I head for the pool. A man and woman who arrived last night are the only ones there. They’re in their thirties and wearing full safari gear. Her large silver hoop earrings have turned her skin black. I wonder if she knows. They both look hot and uncomfortable. The pool-waiter brings them a menu and they decide on spaghetti.
I call the waiter over and order a glass of white wine. It takes a while. When I drink it my stomach feels better. I order another. I feel light-headed. I can’t wait to leave.
At 2 p.m. I go to the hotel desk. There’s no one to take my bags. I decide to carry them myself.
“No, the porters are coming for you,” the receptionist says. “No reason for worry.”
I’m too tired to argue.
Ten minutes later two porters arrive. They’re streaming sweat. They take my bags but say we have to wait. The couple by the pool is coming too. They pay for their spaghetti. They go to their room. I’m afraid of missing the boat and. pace anxiously around the courtyard. Finally at 2:20 p.m. they’re ready.
The porters put our bags in a wheelbarrow and we leave. The porters are jogging, telling us to rush. By the time we get to the shorefront and the dock we’re all dripping and breathless.
A crowded dhow is at the floating dock. We rush down a rope ladder to the boat. The porters come too. “For your luggage,” they say.
There is one person from the conference on the boat. I don’t see Ellaraine who’s also leaving today. We speed along the water getting sprayed as the boat tilts from side to side. Finally we arrive at the Lamu airport.
The porters insist on carrying my bags. The dirt road is hot and dusty. When we get to the outside waiting area one porter asks for 500 shillings. When I give it to him he wants another 500 for his friend. I don’t see the couple from my hotel paying but hand over another 500 shillings. It’s only fourteen dollars. I don’t want to argue. I just want to leave.
I finally see Ellaraine arriving. Her fancier hotel had a private boat. I’m the only one from the conference flying Air Kenya. The others are on Safari Link and go to a different area, leaving me alone.
Chattering vacationers surround me. One middle-aged woman is covered with mosquito bites. Others look tanned and relaxed, dressed in expensive resort clothes.
My stomach cramps. I go to the outside toilet. I’m dehydrated but afraid to drink. I have a headache. Probably the wine wasn’t a good idea.
The waiting area has narrow wooden benches and an open thatched roof. I hear people talking about the weather, saying the heat is unusual.
“Thank god for the hotel air-conditioning,” one man says. He has a British accent.
“That’s so,” his friend answers. “Old Town was hard hit. No power to most places, rolling blackouts at best.”
“Why we never stay there,” the first man says.
I didn’t know the weather was abnormally hot. Would I have felt better, knowing? The staff at the hotel, the waiters at the restaurants, the shopkeepers…were they all suffering too? While the resorts used up their power. Didn’t the locals care?
What do the Muslim families think of the tourists who vacation in their city? Do they resent our money and privilege? Flaunting our wealth, buying clothing and trinkets we don’t need. In and out of the main street stores, bargaining over pennies, buying, buying.
Before giving up on shopping I went to Ali’s, the most popular store for clothing. A musty cubicle of bright fabric crowded with western women waiting for the handsome young proprietor. He had curly hair and wore a black Rolling Stones t-shirt with gauzy white pants. He smelled of cigarettes and sweat.
“I make you Swahili dress. Sexy, beautiful,” he told a well-preserved American blond.
She ordered four dresses in sheer gold-threaded fabrics—turquoise and scarlet stripes, purple, emerald and lime. She took a handful of his cards.
“I’ll give them to my friends,” she said.
He shook her hand and smiled. The two older men sitting in the shop nodded. Were they his relatives? Or maybe the real owners, watching the charismatic Ali work his magic.
I bought two shawls I didn’t need. I felt nauseous from the heat. The big toe on my right foot was blistered. As I left I heard Ali and the old men laughing.
My whole time in Lamu I felt sorry for the locals. I pitied their poverty. But maybe I was wrong. Their families are intact, they have religion and tradition. They seem content, even happy. Maybe they felt sorry for me.
Perhaps with time I’ll think about this trip differently. Without the blinders of culture shock, be able to appreciate the place and the people. Maybe return someday, with the confidence of a returning visitor.
But I’m not there yet. I won’t be for awhile. I can’t wait to leave Lamu.
When the plane arrives I want to scream with joy. Instead I get my bags and cross the dirt field to the plane. I can’t wait to be home. I’ve had enough adventure.

About the author:
Myra Sherman was a finalist in the 2006 SLS-Kenya Fiction Contest and the 2006 Moment-Karma Short Fiction Award. An excerpt from her novel in progress, “Mother Mary”, was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Best Start 50 List for June 2009. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies, and her non-fiction in Ars Medica and JMWW.

April 22, 2010   Comments Off on Myra Sherman

Chuck Haupt

iceland001
Mountains and clouds frame Eyjafjallajökull, one of the smaller glaciers
in Iceland, mostly hidden in the mist.

Iceland: Land of Contrast

‘Other-worldly” — those are the words that come to mind as you travel Iceland’’s “Ring Road” and try to describe what you’’re seeing. From glaciers to fjords, from black sand beaches to steam-spewing geysers, from desolate “moonscapes” to starkly beautiful mountains and waterfalls, no two places are quite the same. And they’’re all unforgettable.

With its ever-changing weather, Iceland is a photographer’s dream. No two days, no two hours, are ever alike. Wait two minutes and the light will change. The clouds  are among the most dramatic I’’ve ever seen. This island nation, which borders the Arctic Circle, sparks creativity at every turn and is one of the most visually exciting locations I’ve ever visited.

iceland002
The mountain range, Víkurfjall, with its reflection in a pond,
dominates along the east coast.

iceland003
A steampot at the geothermal area of Hveravellir. Iceland
is one of the most active volcanic regions in the world.

iceland004
Barren landscape surrounds  Mount Lomagnupur along
Iceland’s Ring Road in  Suðurland, the south.

iceland005
The turquoise-colored water at the Blue Lagoon, situated
in a lava field and created by geothermal water.

iceland006
Clouds hang over the highland desert.

iceland007
Mountains covered with moss by the coast near Iceland’s Ring Road
in Suðurland, the south.

iceland008
Four-wheel-drive vehicles drive the Kjolur Route through the
highland desert.

iceland009
Icebergs in the lagoon at the bottom of Vatnajökull,
the largest glacier in Iceland.

Chuck Haupt is based in upstate New York. His award-winning work during a 30-year career at the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin is recognized throughout the region for its impact and excellence. Chuck is known for his captivating images of residents of New York’s Southern Tier, images that reveal character and evoke a powerful response.

His work as a photojournalist has taken him to a wide variety of places, from hospital operating rooms to professional golf tournaments, to lower Manhattan in the hours after the 9/11 attacks, and into the homes of ordinary people with extraordinary stories to tell.

Ragazine INTERVIEW:

When did you get into photography?

I always had an eye for details and started with a Kodak Instamatic that I got free from saving box tops way back when. In 1965 I got a Polaroid “Swinger” and soon after my first 35 mm. I haven’t stopped shooting since.

How does your approach to photography differ between what you shoot as a news photog and what you shoot ‘for fun’?

When shooting a news assignment you are shooting something specific, usually to accompany a story and reach a specific publication’s audience. When shooting for fun, you are seeing things in a different light.

Have you done much with digital photography?

I have been shooting in digital since the first the first Nikon D1 came out in 1999. I have made the change back to “full frame,” now that models of the “FX” digital camera with 12.1 megapixel sensor has been released. At first you really had size limitations with the 2.7 megapixel sensor of the early digital cameras. Today, if you want to spend the money, you can shoot 35mm with up to a 24.4 megapixel sensor. Shooting RAW format gives you all the control you need in preparing your images for publications or prints, the same, I feel, as when shooting film.

What do you think the future is for young people who want to enter the profession of photography?

If you have the passion for making photographs, nothing will stop you. You’re going to have to work hard at it to get yourself established, creating a niche. Whether you shoot for publications, stock photography, events, or fine art, there will be a market for quality images. While technology has improved the ‘point & shoot’ camera the past couple of years, you still need an eye for composition and for capturing the moment.

Do you worry about what happens with your work when it reaches cyberspace, such as publishing in ragazine?

Yes, it is so easy for people to download photos off of a web page. Most don’t understand photography is copyrighted for use. That’s why it is important to copyright a body of images to protect your work when infringement occurs.

What’s your favorite photo? Why?

Legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith’s “The Walk to Paradise Garden,” a photo of his two children walking hand in hand toward a clearing in woods. It was the first image he made after he was seriously injured and hadn’t been shooting for a long time. The photograph hangs in my home to remind me of the power an image can have on you.

Would you rather photograph people, places or things?

All three — it depends on my mood. I started shooting “rocks and trees” when I first discovered photography. Being exposed to photojournalism during high school got me interested in being able to tell people’s stories visually, which I went on to do professionally for 36 years. Now that I’m retired from the newspaper profession, I’m getting back into those rocks and trees. Still, I’ll never tire of wanting to shoot that interesting face and tell the story behind it.

More images from Iceland, and many other subjects, can be viewed on Haupt’s web site: http://www.chuckhaupt.com. He can be contacted by e-mail at chaupt@chuckhaupt.com.

© 2009 Chuck Haupt

December 20, 2009   8 Comments