On Human Rights Day

Dedicating a day to those with disabilities, the hungry, the grandparents, lovers, teachers, children, human rights, healthy cooking, left handers, penguins, migrants  remains – as of 2016 – a farce.
The day of speeches and ribbon cutting ceremonies, a toast and a lunch in full fanfare show a reality fully disconnected from the ground, from our lives.

On a day like today, Human Rights Day, I received a message from Bob Oorts, founder of World Peace Embassy (obnoxiously we still believe in peace) which reflects all my thoughts:

For 7 years I wrote for WORLD PEACE and made over 6000 posters for the same. I thought that over 1 billion Facebook users were the answer to end all this unimaginable suffering – unimaginable to those who don’t live in war zones, refugee camps, forced slavery, or false imprisonment – apparently.

For every day on the net, now, after 7 years, I feel myself slipping into a deep resentment of living in what I can only describe as nothing short of hell – not for me, but for all those, especially children and animals, who are suffering the consequences of a barbaric society that is unwilling to find the way to Peace.
15326618_1281058975270975_2840669105674997001_n

The new generation is left with what the old generations have provided, false doctrines and lies that are established as normality while truth does not enter the conscience.

The legacy all those adults, preachers, politicians, “world Leaders”, social “experts”, parents and partners have provided for children from the day they are born is near to impossible to erase – “near to impossible” because somewhere there still flickers a glimmer of hope that people begin to see how insane and barbaric this society really is and that without change there will never be an end to wars, destruction, and intolerable suffering.

Seven years ago I started out writing for World Peace while still believing that most people live with a common but silent wish to see this world become a better place. But 7 years have shown me the reality about most people. They may want Peace, but everything else comes first – religion, politics, materialism, ego and the illusion of millenniums old conditioning that there are justified reasons for killing either human or animal.

There are no justified reasons for killing either human or animal, nor to put either through the living hell of torture and sadistic exploitation and abuse – nothing, no religion, no belief, no political propaganda, can justify any of this atrocious behavior and be seen as more important than World Peace.

It’s ironic beyond the joke that one who writes for World Peace due to a love of Life, people, animals, and environment, finds him/herself caught up in a web of insensitive words resulting in resenting the only species that can turn things around and in the process lose friends and make enemies. Shall I keep on writing? – words are slipping from my memory, it has become a mental mission impossible game of wits with apathetic ignorance.

While reading Bob’s words, the news came from Aden, Yemen, of an ISIS suicide attack at Al-Sawlaban military camp claiming the lives of soldiers who were just queuing to get their salary.
15327317_1604460612901018_811792794985258206_n
Nisma Mansoor, a university student who blogs and thinks sharply never forgetting her heart, soon after wrote:

It’s scary to live like this every single day,
Not knowing where the next bomb will be,
Not knowing if the car next to you will explode,
Not knowing if your love one will make it home safe,
Not knowing if you yourself will die as one peace or will turn to million pieces.Rest in Peace all poor soldiers who were in line for their salaries to feed their families

I do not know if the ‘die as one peace’ was meant as ‘piece’. Freudian.

In the meantime, the US has approved a 7.9 billion dollar arms deal to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates despite the evident war crimes committed in Yemen.
Much of a human rights day.
We are victims of our own madness.
What a relief: it’s tomorrow already. Just hope Bob continues to write.

War is boring

Some days back I was told:  War is always war. This is the world and we can’t change it. You people waste your time. Sorry, you are boring me.
℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘

‘I have a feeling we are working for nothing’.
‘Exposing the aggression against Yemen, you mean?’
‘Everything.’
‘I know: I have the same feeling all the time. With everything I do.’
‘But why?’
‘Because we cannot change the world and we cannot stop anything happening around us.’
‘Do you think we can’t?’
‘I also think the opposite: I am a human being and have no alternative than continue fighting in my own way. With what I can.’
‘Yes, I know.’
‘I usually do not cry in my life. Yet, have never cried so much like in this last year. This is why I say we have no alternative: just continue doing what we are doing.’
‘Yes, I know. So true.’

Then you kept quiet for a while just to add: ‘But I haven’t cried.’ And you laughed. Loud.
‘Because you are strong.’
‘Am not strong. Fact is that all this around us has become a habit.’
‘Any person who goes to the battlefield is strong.’
‘True.’

These are our conversations, at times.
You lost over 30 family members during the aggression against Yemen. You are strong, yet, this we will never be able to change: thirty people of your family will never come back.
War is boring.

℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘℘

‘I just came back last night from a private trip to Hodeidah. Most of the people are living a miserable life.’
‘I think it’s something like hell on earth, like the last stage prior to hell.’
‘Something like that. Poverty is overwhelming people there. Beggars are everywhere: people literally run after the cars in the streets to get some money. It was not an easy trip because to get from Sanaa to Hodeidah, many parts of the road are destroyed, whether by airstrike or lack of maintenance, but mainly it’s airstrikes which have destroyed the bridges.’
‘What did you see in Hodeidah?’
‘People are just suffering.  Airstrikes, poverty, hot climate, lack of electricity, food, water and medicine. Hodeidah has become a dark city in most of its parts. Whole families gather on the road between Sanaa and Hodeidah, begging those who travel. You know ” Khamis bani Saad”? The agony starts from there and covers most parts of Hudaida Governorate.’
‘You mean it stretches for almost 80 kms?’
‘Exactly. You will start finding poor people as you are approach  step by step the ports city. Yesterday (26 November, A/N)  16 were killed in Hudaida by Saudi Airstrikes. Most of them were children and women.’
‘Yes, they targeted homes…Mohammed, what about Hodeidah?
‘What about Hodeidah?’
‘What upset you the most?’
‘It was gloomy. Like a dead body. The city used to never go to sleep, all night. Now there is not any life aspect after 11:00 PM.’
‘Yes, it used to be very live and loud somehow. People freshing up by the sea..’
‘Life is gone. Long time ago.’

Mohammed Al-Hindi is Head of Foreign Press section in both Yemen Tourism Magazine and Yemen Tourism Journal.
He has been campaigning against the destruction of his country since the beginning of the aggression. His call was reported in a long chat for Living in Yemen On The Edge’s page inSave our Yemen .’

The afternoon we exchanged these words I, by chance, had just re-read these words on Hodeidah by the Yemen Tourism Promotion Board:
‘Al-Hodeidah is the Cinderella of the Red Sea and its captivating bride. It is one of the most beautiful cities of Yemen (…) the most diverse and most beautiful one (…). Its nature exhibits a wonderful dress of greenness and beauty round the year. 
Its exhibited dress is perfumed with the fragrance of Jasmine, the redolence of pine and the scent of musk. (…)
Al-Hodeidah is the Yemen’s fourth city in population terms and it developed as the leading port of the Ottomans when the coffee trade at Mukha dwindled and still retains its old Turkish quarter. At night the markets light up, with men selling fruit under lamps, and in the early morning the fish market is a hive of activity. 
Wealthy merchant families have opulent houses constructed in the Old Turkish area of Al-Hodeidah. These buildings have lavishly decorated plaster work interiors and superbly carved balconies. Upstairs, decorative stucco work and niches in walls pressed with colored glass and mirrors scintillate with painted peacock designs – a recurring theme throughout the Tihama and indication of the Indian influences seen in the region as a consequence of sea-trade.’’

While writing and remembering the mellow atmosphere of the no longer existing  coastal city of our memories, Twitter is filled with posts on Saudis’ new move on Hodeidah:

q

It has been so for over a year: fishermen have been targeted over and over again. Many bodies have never returnt. Families starve, the port of Hodeidah has been crumbled to pieces and the air-land-sea siege is blocking aid from entering Yemen.
People will continue to beg for 80 km on the side of bombed roads, rushing to cars and emaciated families will be consumed by famine. But  war is boring.

For further information on War on the Fishermen of Hodeida and Tihama: here

 

The impossible task of being the parent of a sick child in war-torn Yemen

A telephone chat with a friend, in Sanaa, turnt into this: a cry for help.
I asked my friend to ink down our conversation which I share hoping the world will not look away. Not another time, not this time; because we know we cannot stop wars, we understood too well we cannot lift embargoes, go and feed the starving or individually block inconsiderate arms sales to choleric nations. But we can help.
Here is what my friend had to say:

‘My name is Qasim Alshawea. I am a Yemeni citizen living in our Capital, Sanaa. Our city has faced – along with Saada on the border with Saudi Arabia – most of the aerial attacks of the Saudi-led campaign.
I am a volunteer with Your Ability Organization, one of many local NGOs founded and based in the Capital.
Our NGO receives limited support both locally and internationally, yet, Your Ability NGO has carried out several relief operations in different areas of Yemen and organized a number of training seminars and workshops relating to health.

On Thursday Feb 2 2016 I met Mohamed Ahmed, father of two kids affected by cancer. He was looking for help. Mohamed briefed out his story: “I have come from my village in Taiz after people donated  me the transportation fee to  Sana’a´´.

The entire story of Mohamed Ahmed rotates around his children, Gaza and Mohamed:
“My six year old daughter Gaza  has cancer in her tongue. It has been so since she was one. I visited many hospitals and doctors hoping to find a real medicine that would treat my daughter’s – most of the times -fatal condition but till now nothing has happened. Or changed . According to the National Oncology Center’s medical reports by Dr. Nabil Alhakeme in Sanaa “Gaza Mohamed’s soft tissue mass of the tongue shows xerodema pigmentosum with the first signs showing four years ago.’’ 

66
One of the last pictures of Gaza – photo via Nabil Al-Wadai

 

The Doctor confirmed the only solution would be an urgent surgical intervention, possibly with tongue transplant, but due to the war and the most complicated situation the country is facing, the doctors could not proceed.

I, hence,  contacted Dr. Karim of Mona Relief Organisation and we worked on the travel’s preparations to bring Gaza out of Yemen. Passport, document, everything was ready. But not Sanaa airport: it was closed due to the Saudis’ blockade on Yemen. No flights allowed out of Yemen.

Gaza remained bedridden suffering the pains of hell until death took her from her parents. Her parents’ pain, though, did not end:  it continues through their second child Mohamed, two years old , with the same cancer of his sister Gaza.

The siege forces Mohamed to wait for his turn after his sister.

5
Mohamed has never lost his smile – photo via Nabil Al-Wadai

 

People in Yemen face the worst humanitarian circumstances due to the Saudi-led coalition strangling embargo on Yemen.
It is more than a tragedy  watching thousands families barely having a meal per day (if lucky) and 3.1 milions internally displaced, forced to live in makeshift tents and camps with no water, food, medical aid. Or worse: parents literally picking up the body parts of their kids fallen under airstrikes. Homes, schools, hospitals: nowhere is safe in Yemen as bombs are being dropped everywhere.

My friend proceeds:
Jamal Abdullah is a displaced from Taiz, the city which has been witnessing engulfing fights between the militants supported by KSA and UAE against  the Houthi/Saleh forces.
Jamal told me: “I fled to Sana’a hoping to find a safe place for me and my family. As you can see  here I live with my kids in this tent which someone  from Saada  has given me, opening his land to us,  but my daughter  Al-anood has broken my heart. Al-anood  has leukemia. She is only seven years old , and she needs blood transfusions every two days in Al-Kuwait hospital in Sana’a.”

rr
Al-anood, the ever smiling girl – photo via Qasim Alshawea

 

Jamal concluded: “I live difficult circumstances due to the Saudi war and siege, and sometimes I and my children remain two days without food in order to earn a little bit of money to buy medicines for Al-anood, to give her courage and fight the cancer”.

My friend ends his message with:
It is a hard task to be a parent in Yemen: you know you are going to lose your child, either because of illness or under the bombs. The country remains closed, abandoned to its destiny.
We are trying to help at least the other two kids and save their lives. If  anyone would like to help please contact us through the NGO’s social media websites:

Your Ability Organization for Development
uzvbnnht
Twitter https://twitter.com/YourAbility_org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/your.abilities.or

 

cover photo: Mohamed Ahmed with Gaza and Mohamed – photo via Nabil Al-Wadai

 

Ongoing War on Yemen: What I have Learnt and What Stays

I have learnt that out of all the wars this is one of the most unjust.
I have learnt that there is no such thing as collateral damage the very moment you decide to drop a bomb as the aim is simply to harm, kill, destroy and bring inconceivable pain.
I have learnt that bombs come in all shapes and sizes, with a light during the trajectory and a travelling sound which gives you the shivers.
I have learnt there are sound bombs which can break your ears, enter your bones and make you think the earth is breaking to engulf you, that there are no banned/illegal bombs as they are still produced, used and sold. That the shock wave of each explosion leaves your soul scarred and your heart bumping.
Of this war, I have learnt all the numbers by heart: the dead, the injured, the maimed, the starving, the displaced, the children out of school, the infrastructure pulverized, the hospitals attacked, the missing in action, the dates of each massacre, the number of NGOs operating inside/outside/for Yemen/only for some parts of Yemen, the orphaned, the widowed, the flights cancelled by the imposed blockade (land, air, sea).

Yet, this is neither what will personally be defining my narrative of war, nor what will remain.
It cannot be the legacy of the past 19 months as each devastating moment of the aggression has been outnumbered by events, acts and deeds transcending war.
I have witnessed courage, resilience, virtually every day. The best reply to each act of violence, bomb dropped, has been fought back with a life lived as close to normality as possible.
Every problem presented, such as lack of water, gas, electricity, has been solved with an in-house solution and endless solidarity. No, in Yemen you are never alone. Neighbours help. Friends call, relatives sustain. It’s the fabric of the nation, notwithstanding the big divide each war brings.
There have always been open doors to those in need. Communal life, sharing, weddings planned and celebrated (which better way to prevent war: love).
Generosity and life conjugate throughout the day in Yemen.

It is true, something is lost forever. Nothing will replace the historical sites bombed, the shrines and mosques destroyed, the ancient houses collapsed. Thousands of innocents have lost their lives or are slowly dying in a gripping famine in what is now considered to be the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the planet.
Yet, something is keeping us together: the love for the country. Whether stuck inside Yemen or abroad, we all convene we can only fight back by working hard and loving, even more, our land.

(photo taken from home in Sanaa: we are all neighbours)

‘I have a dream for Ethiopia and beyond’

Things are not going well in Ethiopia.
The country is witnessing a malcontent and Ethiopians are pessimistic: things can only get worse before they get any better.

Graham Peebles, Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need, in his article ‘Ethiopians are crying out for Freedom and Justice’ writes that the movement for democratic change – composed of people from all walks of life – is constantly being crashed by violent means.
Peaceful protestors are being shot at, confined in stadiums, arrested, intimidated.
”Human Rights Watch (HRW) says they receive “daily accounts of killings and arbitrary arrests”, and estimate that up to 500 protestors have been killed since November 2015, although many inside the country put the figure higher.
Thousands have been arrested and falsely imprisoned; young people – who are leading the charge for democracy – are being specifically targeted. Torture is widespread in Ethiopian prisons, and for those detainees who have expressed political dissent, it is virtually guaranteed. Witnesses have told ESAT News (an independent broadcaster based in Europe and America) that some detained protestors have died as the result of torture, and are buried in the prison grounds.
The ruling EPRDF party (in power since 1991) was not democratically elected, and has remained in power by stealing one election after another. They demonstrate no concern for democratic principles or human rights, and like all dictatorships, will do anything to remain in power. They seem unable to grasp the severity of the current situation, or understand the feeling among the population, the vast majority of whom despise the regime and are desperate for fundamental change. Protestors are calling on the government to step down, and for real and honest democratic elections to be held.”

Demelew is a young man from Bahar Dar. A young and strong man who sells fruits and vegetables at the main market of the city. Although at first glance he may seem one of the many farmers coming from the countryside, as soon as he starts talking, Demelew shows a deep knowledge of the history of the Ethiopian people and seems quite precise on the subject, so much into it that we begin a conversation with very folkloric tones (a mixture of English-Italian-Amharic -Italian Genovese dialect).
We talk about anything, but we always end up there: what is happening these days around Ethiopia.

“A few months ago skirmishes and tensions broke out in the area south of Addis Ababa, where the Oromo ethnic group felt cheated by the new development plan of the Ethiopian government”.
The look of Demelew starts to become severe  A grimace crosses his face and the lines of the skin tracing his face seem to be getting  deeper. He is transforming.

13782036_647666808719842_1300182417150756259_n

“They have taken away large swaths of land from the Oromo in favour of the Shoah (the region of the capital), literally invading areas sitting on a vastitude of natural resources … But the game was obvious even before: we started having a clearer picture when in Addis itself an area as large area as the whole Bahar Dar was razed by Chinese bulldozers. Thousands of people lost their souks (local survival store), tucul, mud and corrugated iron shacks: abodes of men and women who found shelter there!!!”.
I am interested in what he has to say and I see that Demelew lives his words with anger and passion.  His sincere empathy emerges in connection to the thick, unbreakable fog which is engulfing Ethiopia these days.
I realise he still wants to talk.

“Explosions of revolts and protests were drowned in the blood of hundreds, both civilian and military … But it was not enough. Five months ago the government decided to expand the ‘area of Tigray’  (northern Ethiopia) annexing a wide area of Gojam border up to a few kilometers from Gonder. To do so, however, it was necessary to neutralize organised social dissent which all converted in a Committee.”
”The Committee, for the rights of the Amhara people was headed by officers of the local army . One night, last June, teams of government federal police came to Gonder to arrest some members of the committee and its leader, who had sensed the danger and barricaded himself home. It simply took  word of mouth to have Gonder people take to the streets to claim its pride and dignity … “

While talking, Demelew  waves his clenched fists firmly, as if to give an additional punch to his speech.  Then, outside the white blanket enveloping his body, his hands open and close rhythmically with his words.

“Inevitably there were more deaths and a wound difficult to heal. The confrontational path now will continue to expand and will not be solved in a short time. Because, you see, it seemed to end there, with a trace of a heavy silence enveloped by fatalism typical of my people, relying, at the end on God’s judgment and the good intentions of  the Almighty .”

At this stage I I have a start ! For the first time in nearly two and a half years I hear a local uttering these words . I understand the depth and intellectual greatness of my interlocutor, a man who can see with clarity and foresight what is happening in this corner of the world. I light a cigarette, ask  for a break, in order to scribble down some notes.  “Cigher iellem …”, no problem, he utters quietly.

With a look of mutual understanding, we continue.

“But this time the Almighty God decided to show solidarity with the people of Gonder, having awakened the spirit of pride of Amahra people who felt cheated … and Sunday, August 7, a huge demonstration was announced. In solidarity with Gonder. On Friday 5 Gojam was disconnected from the internet … Bahar Dar, roughly at 9 am was invaded by thousands of people who travelled from South to North, until they all reached the bridge over the Nile, the only connection between the two parts of the city.”
He clears his voice.
”The procession headed towards the government building and people started throwing stones. The reply came from automatic weapons … then weapons appeared from all sides and the carnage started. Yet if you asked anyone about the situation, the candid answer would be ‘No, no problem. Everything is quiet.‘ Some would say they fired into the air to “disperse” the people ”
”The next day, one of those  who had gone “missing” was delivered to my home. In a wooden box made of remainders of few pallets and nails. He was a young friend, 25, who was caught up in the middle of the unrest – a series of gunshots – while trying to escape.  The city was deserted: offices closed, shops, banks … no means of transportation operating. Just a display of special security forces through the city .”
”Now Bahar Dar is besieged. You cannot cross the bridge over the Nile ; in the suburbs there have been episodes of citizens daring to express verbal protest against the police and in return they just receive beatings. “

Demelew stops talking . He wipes his swollen eyes regurgitating tears and continues: “They killed over a hundred people Sunday, August 7th … but do not believe for a second that this will stop us from claiming our pride and our dignity … “

Without contradiction there is no life.
Just a few months ago Ethiopia signed its adherence to the International Committee for the protection and recognition of human rights.
The Ethiopia of the majestic Blue Nile , of the grand mountain range of Rash Dashen. the Ethiopia of its mysterious monasteries on lake Tana, the sacred beholder of the ‘ark of the holy alliance’, the birthplace of Lucy, the eldest known daughter of humanity.

I invite Demelew to a beer, just to loosen a little  the tension. He welcomes the idea and after a cool sip of lager starts talking again: “Maybe you have never realised, but I have a dream … I’m carrying a big dream for all peoples of the earth .. . that all may be custodians of their own destiny, the destiny of self-development and the peaceful pursuit of their dignity … “

By now the sun is about to fall, now is the time to return home. In the night only patrolling military vehicles are in action.
Getting up from the chair, Demelew accidentally stumbles upon the coffee table and many bottles of beer crash to the floor
He looks at me with a wink and cheerful eye, we embrace tight and he whispers in my ear: “Ayzoh Daniye … Ciger iellem …”, Do not worry Dear..No Problem

————————————————————————

(The Government has, in the meantime, declared the State of Emergency and immediate arrest with 6 months detention for anyone crossing the arms in sign of protest)

Photos and reporting: Demelew

 

Tannery in Fez & the Leather Makers

Amusing Planet website describes the work under the sun and in the stone vessels of the tanneries in Fez, Morocco, as follows:

”(…) a vast range of dyes and various liquids spread out like a tray of watercolors. Dozens of men, many standing waist deep in dyes, work under the hot sun tending to the hides that remain soaked in the vessels. The tanneries processes the hides of cows, sheep, goats and camels, turning them into high quality leather products such as bags, coats, shoes, and slippers. This is all achieved manually, without the need for modern machinery, and the process has barely changed since medieval times”
l1020769

The article proceeds with the naming of the soaking agents:
”..a mixture of cow urine, quicklime, water, and salt. This caustic mixture helps to break down the tough leather, loosen excess fat, flesh, and hair that remain on them. The hides are soaked for two to three days after which tanners scrap away excess hair fibers and fat in order to prepare the hides for dyeing. The hides are then soaked in another set of vats containing a mixture of water and pigeon poop. Pigeon poop contains ammonia that acts as softening agents that allows the hides to become malleable so they can absorb the dye. The tanner uses his bare feet to knead the hides for up to three hours to achieve the desired softness.”

l1020774

The odour is unbearable.
 Houses and buildings where people live, have their windows opened on the vapours of soaking agents and leather goods shop assistants just smell this, day after day. Yet, adorably kind.Workers breathe the unthinkable under the scorching sun, work barehand-barefeet in what becomes an ammonia solution and corrosive, skin bending, smoothing agents.
Unbearable is seeing kids on the stone vessels trying to learn the job.

The tanneries are abodes where life span can only shrink with consequent dreams undreamt.
One of the hardest and saddest places to cope with.

photos: Beatrice De Filippis

Just another message from Yemen

‘Good morning.
We did not sleep last night from the noise of warplanes and rocket explosions..
Sanaa’s sky has become a hotbed for the alliance of evil aircraft and our land is the final destination of missiles.
This is a war of extermination. It is a really a disaster sent from heaven to all of us.
The ambulance cars have become like taxis, driving around in the streets of Sanaa, moving the wounded and dead bodies, from one site to the other. Hospitals and graves.
And digging graves has become a profitable industry and business.

You know, my Dear, the Alliance of evil these last days has been using,  in their air raids, a new kind of missile. Never used before. Never seen before.
We, somehow, know quite a bit about weapons (you know our history).
We never used it in our wars. It is different in the magnitude of the explosion and ability to destroy.
 
 
People in Yemen are being killed and destroyed with weapons, with hunger, disease and our poor country’s infrastructure is destroyed under the supervision of the United Nations, who are immoral international entrepreneurs at the end. Ours continues to be a forgotten war.
 The world’s richest countries forming the richest Coalition fighting and annihilating the poorest country in the world.

Before writing to you I went to the cemetery to pray on my Father’s tomb.
Can you see the hill on the background of the image? This hill is part of the Presidential Palace (residence of Ali Abdullah Saleh ). The squadrons of aircrafts bombarded it as there is a  mountain camp of the Presidential Guards and weapons storage.
It all happened after I left the grave, my Dear. A few minutes later

Take care, Dear. See you soon.
MN’

We all know the numbers of this war: for the wounded, the maimed, the hungry, the internally displaced, how many people have died in action. We have a pretty accurate idea of the number of civilians (far from the figures reported by the UN) killed. We have a very controversial databank comprising cases of new-born babies born with birth-defects caused by the war (horrifying).
We are even so smart we estimate how many will perish under the bites of famine.
What I do not know is if later, tomorrow, I will receive another message from my friend.
This war is not sparing anyone.

(picture sent by MN has been blurred and altered for security reasons)