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nobody chooses to be born into poverty, or with a disability, and who chooses both?

Added on by iain statham.

nobody chooses to be born into poverty, or with a disability, and who chooses both?

yet, it happens daily, all around the globe. whilst many agencies, NGOs and organisations do what they can, along with governments to alleviate the suffering, clearly there is much to do.  governments and NGOs are often corrupt, mismanaged and fail to honour their claims and promises.

what the solution is, i’m not qualified to say, but given the money that is raised to assist, it seems much more should be achieved.  recent recession and economic crisis have fuelled nationalist sentiments throughout europe and america, where immigrants are portrayed as economic migrants, simply looking to benefit from established welfare states and social security systems.

would anyone born into these situations not to wonder why they have nothing when so many have so much more. birth, where you are born and with what conditions, is a lottery.

the irony of current sentiment towards immigration is the relatively short-term memory of nations who are failing immigrants and refugees. most of the parent countries are former european colonies, wealthy countries invaded, raped natural resources and used the countries for their own gain.

providing independence was a just and right thing to do. turning your back on impoverished people living under corrupt government with little hope of a better life without risking all to travel to a developed nation is not.

poor communities often still have access to television, with the popularity of football internationally and the kardashians piped into even remote african villages. capital cities, where governments and NGOs are headquartered provide to the wealthy expatriate drinking holes and hotels situated down the road from slums where the boda-boda taxi drivers live whilst witnessing the excess of the western world playing out on their own streets.

kampala, uganda, where this guy was begging on the streets of the capital city is home to huge numbers of evangelical organisations and NGOs, why are they under achieving? the museveni government and parliament are palaced in the city. government jobs are provided on the basis of nepotism. women from poorer families who have managed to get themselves and education in the hope of being able to improve their lives and that of their families are often subject to abuse, rape and intimidation in order to win even the most basic of jobs.

the churches are a sanctuary for millions in africa, supported by NGOs and international ministries, yet for all the poor, hungry and infirm who attend, i have yet to meet a cold or hungry pastor in even the most remote locations.  villagers live in mud huts without electricity, the only solid structure in the area will be the church and clerical accommodation, that the poor have provided all they can to build and support upon the promise of god intervening in their lives if only they pray enough, have enough faith and provide enough for the church.

yet this guy still spends his days on busy shopping streets, too weak even to hold out his hand, just sitting and crawling through the streets in the hope that someone passes and offers food or money.

no one claims life is fair, but it should be fairer than this.

is theft always a crime?

Added on by iain statham.

walking through bujumbura, burundi, it's no real surprise to see someone being arrested or pursued for stealing some food. in a country with 80% living in poverty, 60% of kids suffering chronic malnutrition and the inequality gap between those who have everything they need and those who have nothing at all being such a steep drop, it's no surprise at all.

i was walking up to cafe gourmand in the centre of bujumbura when this commotion and subsequent arrest by private security guards working nearby took place.  the cafe is busy, vibrant and offers food and coffee exactly like that which i would order from a cafe back home in france. once inside you feel a million miles closer to european life and culture than you do to the reality of the world immediately outside the window.

i hope the guy is okay, i'm told he would likely have been held by the security company for a few hours and let go. ironically he would not be taken to the police and arrested by them because they would not be able to afford to feed him if he were kept in custody.

stealing food when you're literally starving. how much of a crime is it?


there but for the grace of god go i, or am i the one missing out?

Added on by iain statham.

i’ve been working in the middle east on and of for a number of years now, in countries that, when i’m home in france or visiting family in the uk, people will usually look at me for a second and then shake their heads and then pronounce me crazy, or brave or just stupid or all of those things.

the current stint is coming to an end, i’ll be heading home to france and family in the next few weeks. i’m not sure when or if i’ll be returning anytime soon. perhaps this has caused me to reflect on what, if anything, i’ve learnt over the years. the one thought that springs to my mind is the difference in my outlook from when i started doing this stuff compared to my thoughts and feelings now. i distinctly remember sitting on a bus years ago in scotland heading to the airport for my first trip to the middle east, knowing that the country i was headed to was exploding into an almighty war. my naievity at the time, the feeling that i was traveling far away and lack of assuredness over whether i would return.

i recall the feeling with no small amount of self ridicule. my usual thought now when on the train, subway or car heading to the airport is simply that of calculating my tally of airmiles by the time i return home - and whether the trip i’m undertaking warrants surrendering some of those miles to upgrade my seat. gone are the feelings of bewilderment and nervousness. gone is the feeling of awe and worry. i don't think this is not simply a case of familiarity breeding contempt. it’s a case of familiarity and repetition being the catalyst for education, enlightenment and the stripping away of my personal, unwittingly held western arrogance - bred into me through private education, officer training for the british army, an easy upbringing in the uk where intolerable cruelties included such minor things as the batteries running out on my walkman or being short of cash as a  university student.

i remember my first trip to a war-torn country and being shocked by the scenes. i wallow in it and relished it. i was unable to understand how people could accept to live in such circumstances. frequently i looked on and thought, ‘there but for the grace of god go i’. the lottery of birth, that i was born in a country where my passport afforded me luxuries, from the freedom to travel to having clean water come out of taps in my home: i had avoided the hardships in my life that i was witnessing daily. these thoughts too, i now recall with a not insignificant amount of foolishness and idiocy.

i've learnt how fortunate i am. my nationality affords me a visa to travel more or less anywhere i need to go for work. that the welfare state and nationalised health services in europe are excellent and under appreciated. that i can work hard, be rewarded for my efforts and provide for my family. however, i have learnt that people the world over are essentially the same. they work hard to provide for their families. they are affected by war, genocide and famine in the same ways as previous generations were the world over. yet life goes on. laughter, celebration, worship and friendship continue. as does pride in their nationality. not in a nationalistic, fascist manner, just simple pride to be born in the same place as their ancestors, families and friends. there is no defeatism. i've met many people offered western passports or visas to travel away after they worked for coalition forces during conflicts, who are proud to say that they refused the offer in order to stay and help rebuild their country.

additionally, i’ve met many who have seized the opportunity to move west - legally or illegally - as they believe this is the safest and best decision for their families.  i believe it takes as much courage for those people to move to a foreign land and begin a new life as it does for those wanting to stay put and help create a new nation, usually dealing with the side effects of new found democracy. corruption, protest, uprising and capitalism.

even in it’s most depressed economic state, double or tripple dip depression, it is beholden on developed, democratic societies to meet the challenges of adhering to the UN’s universal declaration of human rights. for all.  whatever the complaints of those calling for tighter immigration control and tighter regulation of asylum seekers, they are insignificant compared to the motives of someone willing to uproot themselves and their families from the land of their forebears because they are genuinely scared for their lives and fear for the safety of their children.

people are the same the world over, regardless of race, creed, religion and culture. there is no reason to tolerate ignorance and assumption. put yourself in the other person's shoes and ask yourself what you would do.

slum outside of kabul, afganistan

slum outside of kabul, afganistan

who benefits?

Added on by iain statham.

that infrastructure and reconstruction projects are big business in iraq is not news.  the country is in need of rebuilding after years and generations of conflict.  conflict following independence, civil war, regional wars, dictatorship, genocide and western intervention - whatever the true motivation for that may have been.

what cannot be denied is the identity of those who have truly suffered. largely the same group of people who continue to suffer and struggle.  whether those individuals or families realise the scale of their suffering is unclear. the only effective infrastructure left in iraq is that of the rumour mill, the numerous and diverse political parties espousing their rhetoric to rally their supporters - for and against the government, for and against different tribal groups, for an against regulation, persecution and perceived suffering.

in iraq the general populous are the sacrificial pawns of the decades old game of strategic alliance building and breaking in highly corrupt political and bureaucratic ruling parties.  this has been exacerbated over the course of the last 4 years as the federal and provincial system that was eagerly snatched up by the likes of maliki and allawi from the provisional authority of the US under their occupation was used as a rallying cry for democratising iraq, whilst at the same time has done little else other than provide unstable coalition government. unstable coalition government capable of exacerbating loophole and iron fist to maximise corruption both for themselves and at the provincial level.

iraq is an incredibly wealthy country, full of mineral resources and fertile agricultural land. should the rhetoric between federal iraq and the kurdish administered regions in the north (those areas gassed under saddam's anfal genocide campaign) be allowed to subside following local elections; oil exports could soon reach the 3 million barrels per day mark - out doing the level prior to the baathist dictatorship of saddam hussein.  discounting all other contributors to iraq's GDP, this still leaves iraq a wealthy nation.

yet it is a nation torn by infighting and political maneuvering. it is too simple to suggest that this is strictly across tribal lines, that it is the inability of kurds, sunnis and shia to cooperate.  given arbitrary boundary lines drawn by the allies in the wake of the first world war to prevent the old ottoman empire of having too much oil resources at its disposal, it is a remarkable feat that modern day iraq has lasted nearly 100 years intact at all.

intact it remains, but at some point in the last 100 years all parties and ethnicities who identify themselves commonly by being of the ancient land of babylon and the land of the ancient rivers of the euphrates and tigris, have come under oppression and hardship during that time.  all are untrusting of the allegiances they have formed and all have long memories that can be relied upon by politicians to rally supporters to the call of the day, for or against a specific cause or case.  100 years united by the same flag (save the amendments after the fall of saddam) is nothing less than a miracle.

iraq is again preparing for regional elections.  months of protest in the sunni heartlands of the west and counter protests in the south have attempted to provoke early federal elections, not currently scheduled of 2014, but this has so far been unsuccessful.

these elections are the first to benefit from widespread use of social media and telecoms in iraq. the general populous, the majority living in poverty only surviving through government subsistence food programs, are becoming more and more aware of the massive wealth being accrued by those in power.  they will know the money is their to improve their situation, but will see politicians incapable of following though on hollow promisses.  the sites of promised hospitals, schools, roads, railways, power plants and oil pipelines remain boarded up sites awaiting construction, lit at night only when the sporadic electricity supply happens to be running.  hollow promises, but deals done and money and contracts exchanged to move cash out of the country and out of federal and provincial reserves and into the pockets of turkish, chinese, indian and american firms - all of whom have been awarded contracts solely on the kickbacks promised to the department head responsible for the awarding of that tender.  there is no fair playing field.  the populous is at the mercy of the ruling class again, not through the reign of terror or violence, but through this shambolic bureaucracy's inability to manage anything more than lining their own pockets with gold.

many on the streets who did not personally suffer at the hands of saddam, or whose families avoided the terror he wielded over the country, would admit to preferring his rule over that of the sham democracy of a puppet government from iran.  many believe iraq is incapable of managing its own affairs and that some form of altruistic dictatorship would be the only effective means of rebuilding and regenerating a country with such wealth that remains daily on the brink of civil war.

and so the infrastructure projects continue.  the electricity projects continue to be awarded to tender, hospitals and schools are promised. but where are they? where is the end result nearly 10 years after the official end of war in iraq?

looking around the cities and highways and oilfields there is plenty of work underway. but it has the feel of some kind of 'hoover-esque damn project'. work for works' sake just to keep people busy and reduce the number of beggars on the streets.

that there is money is undeniable.  that there is such drastic poverty only sees to exacerbate the imbalance of power away from the populous and towards a new type of nepotistic coalition dictatorship where the civil service grows daily to allow supporters to feed off the state.  such a small group of players determining the fate of so many poor souls. a group controlled as a puppet, with iran, turkey, syria, jordan, saudi arabia and the UAE all pulling strings to control their stakes - or to protect the interests of companies with which they have aligned themselves in order to take their chunk of the iraq people's GDP out of the country.

iraqis are not benefiting from the rebuilding of iraq.  they are suffering at the hands of their leadership once again, stoically awaiting the next elections but soon to learn that whomsoever they vote for, the diluting process of forming a stable coalition will serve only to maintain the status quo. oppression maintained.


pride in your work, whatever it may be...

Added on by iain statham.

people are mostly the same wherever you go, regardless of race, religion, culture or for whichever side of whatever conflict they may currently fight on, all are essentially the same. whatever else their beliefs, they want to work, provide for their families and provide a better life for their children than the one that was offered to them.

this desire seems more prevalent and evident in the countries i've worked in across the middle east and in south asia, than when i'm back home in the relative comfort of western society - or maybe it's just more striking. the desire to work hard and achieve something, even if that is simply to provide bread and water each day.

walking around the streets and alleyways of hawler, or erbil - depending on your allegiance, kurdish or iraqi - was a great opportunity to see this. markets, bizarres, souks, traders, street sellers of all kinds from kids recycling cans and bottles to carpenters offering their services for hire or the gold merchants with their sparkling displays, or even the old blind guy stumbling through the street hand out stretched for any change that might come his way; all are trying their best to get by.

the guy in the photograph below, i had walked past a few times in the weeks i was there, he runs a commercial laundry service from his home a stones throw from the foot of the mighty citadel (the oldest continually inhabited place on the planet, yet is still being denied unesco world heritage status). i'd said hello a few times over the weeks as i searched the streets for the shots i wanted, but had never wanted to interrupt his work.

on this day he summoned me over, my kurdish limited to allowing me to get a taxi to wherever i needed to go, his english non existent, yet he made it clear that he wondered why i had never taken his picture.  i tried to explain that i was trying to be respectful and not to interfere in his day. whether this was understood i am not sure, but smiles and handshakes seemed to appease him and i grabbed my polaroid, took a couple of shots of him in the alleyway and handed them over to him, offered my thanks for his time and went walk away.

as i did so, he caught my arm and pointed to my nikon, gesturing that he wanted me to take some proper pictures with the proper camera, i hadn't done this initially because i knew i would not be able to send him a copy of the pictures.  i thought nothing of it at the time and went to raise the camera when he stopped me and hurriedly set about rinsing off the sheet he had been laundering and hung it on the line next to his shop front before taking up a position to the side of his handiwork.

i was a little bemused, but nonetheless fired off a couple of quick shots as he wished, shook hands again and went on my way through the alleyways in search of other shots.

later that evening when i was pouring through that day's images deciding which to work on, i came across the picture below. the exposure and focus was a bit iffy, clearly i was concentrating more or trying not to offend the guy than i was on my camera, but the image struck me immediately as one i would keep for myself if nothing else.  at the time of shooting the image, i had not noticed his genuine pride, his poise and assured look. he clearly wanted me to take an image of him at his work to take away with me, not just hand over a couple of polaroids for him to keep. he was proud of his work.

it struck me then that pride in your work may not come from the activity, the level of education or skill required, but simply from what that work enables. achievements of doctors, professors, and politicians may be more widely celebrated, but if the pride you get from your work is simply that it enables you to provide food and water for your family, that achievement is surely the equal of any and one of which you should be truly proud.

laundrette, hawler, kurdistan

laundrette, hawler, kurdistan

nature is a canvas

Added on by iain statham.

driving through basrah city along the canal i noticed this carving in the side of a tree - speaking to the locals the carving has survived occupations of basrah city by numerous armies. nature provides its own canvas, it's good to see it's respected by everyone who comes through regardless of the conflict at hand.


the power of polaroid

Added on by iain statham.

boy in hawler, capital of kurdistan asked me to take his picture, wasn't impressed with the digital image to so i pulled out the instax, he was transfixed watching it develop, i got through 2 rolls of film once he ran off and showed his friends who came and found me wondering the streets shooting some stills and asked for their own...great kids, very welcoming, proud and helpful people.