Thursday, December 17, 2009

Alberta's Red Neck Hydrocarbon Junkie Fundamentalists

This is the time of Copenhagen, an opportunity to begin, at least, the challenge to curb global warming.  But this is no time for baby steps. What I see are our so called "leaders" concerned about making themselves feel good without considering the bigger picture, the long-term marriage with our life support system, and the fact that there is no us and them here, only us.  The appalling and ignorant antics of Canada's Prime Minister, Steven Harper, who defends Alberta’s redneck hydrocarbon junkie fundamentalists, makes him worse than the Taliban, because his toxic narrow  perspective will kill far far more people. Even a simple anteater  knows enough not do destroy the whole ant hill so it can return to feed another time. Mr. Harper, to trade long term security for short-term greed is just plain irresponsible.  The simple fact is that we can no longer cater to thoughtless growth on a finite planet. Has anyone considered, for example, leaving the "tar sands" in the ground for about 300 years or until they could be extracted and used wisely?  I’m embarrassed to be Canadian.  You shame us all. The people are way ahead of the politicians.

It is not about Global Warming
It is about Living Mindfully

"...the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power.  To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed."

Harold Pinter, 1930-2008, from his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Where I Live

Tunstall Beach with Luna, Dec. 5, 2009

Tunstall Bay, November, 2009

Tunstall Bay, October, 2009

Killarney Lake, October, 2009

Killarney Lake Trail, July, 2009

Tunstall Bay, July, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

From the Archives

Calgary, 1979

 Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Andrew, Alberta,1979

Shagatze, Tibet, 1987

Afghan Refugees, Peshawar, 1987

Dr. Chris Giannou, War Surgeon, Somalia, 1992

S. Mogadishu, May, 1992

War, now Street, Children, Maputo, Mozambique, 1994

Painting Martyrs, Gaza, 1995

Inside Shatila, Beirut, Lebanon, 2002

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fieldnotes: Landmines Persist

Orthopaedic Centre, Wazir Hospital, 
Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995

Wazir Hammond, age nine, requires prosthesis refittings every six months. He rests against a wall of sandbags that protect the hospital against rockets, shelling, and bombs. An estimated 10 million landmines pollute nearly 500 sq. km of land in Afghanistan.  

There are too many buried landmines in Afghanistan to find them all. Demining is slow and expensive. The United Nations has estimated that removing the world’s active mines will cost between $33 and $85 billion. If no more mines were laid, and at the present rate of mine-clearance it would take about 1100 years to clear all the landmines.

The victims are mostly non-combatants and mostly women and children collecting firewood and tending animals. People without choices. The ICRC estimates that landmines strike someone, somewhere, every 22 minutes. Each year these indiscriminate weapons kill or maim some 26,000 people in 50 countries where at least 115 million lie hidden. They cost about $1 each to plant and between $300 and $1000 to remove.

154 countries have signed the 1997 Ottawa Treaty that “banned” landmines. Landmine producing states that did not sign the treaty are: Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, theUnited States, and Vietnam.

Minefield near Kandahar, Afghanistan

"The detector sounds different over a landmine compared to a (scrap metal) fragment...but there are many PMNs (Russian made landmines) here and sometimes the metal ring on them is so rusted away that they don't sound like mines... I have been surprised... I was sure it was another fragment but it was a real landmine... I always feel anxious about this" says Deminer Gul Ahmad. 

He has four children and is paid about $150.month as a deminer – about ten times the average wage in Afghanistan. Gul is one of 24 deminers working to clear this 42,000 square metre area. The team has worked here for twenty-six days, and expect to finish in twenty more days. Eight landmines are found today, making a total so far of 103, plus 25 unexploded mortar and artillery shells, and 47,825 metal fragments.

Orthopaedic Centre, Maputo Central Hospital, Mozambique, 1996
 When Zaida Ernesto Bahule was 4, the ground exploded
Zaida, is a soft spoken twelve year old girl with a remarkable memory of eight years ago, - when she was riding on her mother's back, going to fetch water, when her mother stepped on what was likely a Russian-made PMN landmine. Life was shattered when about 26.4 kg. of foot pressure detonated 200 grams of TNT. The blast that erupted from the earth hurled them into the air, instantly shredding Zaida's right leg, - by macerating tissue and muscle, and firing pieces of bone, clothing, shoe, and debris, deep up into that leg, and the rest of the her tiny body. On the ground, Zaida asked her mother what happened.  "She told me we were hurt from a landmine and that if, in a little while, she did not answer when I called to her, it meant she was dead, and that I must get home," Zaida says, almost in a whisper. She tells me that both of her mother's legs and one of her arms were gone, and that she soon died.  Zaida lay beside her dead mother for three days before help arrived. 
                     PMN Russian-made landmine

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Security, Cowboys, Irrational Fear Mongers, and Fanatics

What people do with their power, or not, creates winners and losers, health and wealth, and the imperative to feel safe. Where I live we mostly march along our merry ways driving our proverbial SUV’s, eating our Viagra, sipping lattes, flitting from flower petal to flower petal, watching our investments, and thinking everything is just fine.
9/11 shattered our illusion of security but we rebuilt it, making a stronger illusion than before. Most airport security is a joke, - smoke, mirrors, and detectors in service of business and optics more than safety. The spin is that it must be working because there have been no further attacks, so we continue to do what we do - installing more fences and checks, in our frenzy for “national security”. The fear on one side is matched by the fanaticism on the other. Both fuel uncompromising positions where means justify ends and violence remains profitable for the powerful. The result is not greater security but an increase of inhuman behavior. One recalls the four armed and armoured cowboys who killed an unarmed, unarmoured innocent man at the Vancouver airport, then tried to blame him for their brutal behavior. Last week the Guardian published a story about an American guard at Guantanamo Bay who converted to Islam after six months on the job. Why? Because he found the “terrorists” to be more humane than their guards, who he describes as “ridiculous Budweiser-drinking, cornbread-fed, tobacco-chewing drunks, racists, and bigots."
But where does such judgment and polarization get us? Security for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics will cost about $900,000,000. The annual cost of anti-terrorism in the U.S. is around $30 billion. How many good peacemaking ideas, resources, schools, hospitals, etc., could we generate with that money? Instead we feed the frenzy, - embracing illogical public policy and paying dearly to make our fears look rational, most mainstream media follows along, seemingly unaware that there are better, cheaper ways to eliminate terrorism than parading around under all the pervasive disguise of aggressive national security. We are going to have to talk with “the terrorists” sooner of later. Sooner is better than later. Instead of asking ‘How can we protect ourselves?’ our curiosity should concern itself with the bigger and most important question: why this is happening? Fundamentalism is only part of the answer. The Taliban grew out of the religious schools, madrassas, in the refugee camps on the Afghan/Pakistan border during the war with the Russians. Fanaticism was the fuel thrown on an underlying hatred that, in the Taliban’s case, grew honestly out of isolation, ignorance, poverty, disentitlement, and hard-core religious propaganda. With hordes of young boys sitting on dirt floors hypnotically droning, reciting and memorizing an ultra conservative form of Islam, the Mullahs who embedded their puritanical rantings with a cane, asked ‘How can we protect ourselves?’. Violence, it turns out, is not much of a solution.
"Students" outside Madrass
Afghan refugee camp
Injustice is a global phenomenon, but it can trigger compassion, as well as anger. It takes only a few fanatics waving the torch of righteousness and glory to misguide jihadists. Like smoke in the eyes, fundamental ideology hides our neighbours humanity even as it brings forth bitter tears. People and objects are turned into symbols and metaphors, so it will be meaningful to destroy them, and so, even in Canada, people make plans to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange, or a military base. But if we were to ask them: what is it that you find so offensive about the stock market, or the military? The reasons they give will not be so foreign to many. For though the gulf between us may seem large, I believe we differ only by degrees, and if I believe there’s hope for me, I have to believe there’s hope for everyone else. In the end it will not be bombs, but books and ideas, especially for women that secure Afghanistan. Educated women will not allow their sons to be Taliban. If the Taliban has to compete as a democratic political party, it's power will quickly diminish, because in Afghanistan there is far more thirst for education than suppression, as there is everywhere. It’s part of what it means to be human and our shared humanity is our basis for hope as we try to imagine and work out alternate security strategies.
In the winter of 1996, I was documenting deminers (those who disarm landmines) in Afghanistan and arrived in Kandahar, a cold dusty place of broken roads and abandoned buildings, aboard a Red Cross airplane. I was told to “report” to the Taliban’s Minister of Security. A dark-turbaned bearded man, he sat on a colorful carpet in the corner of stark room in a dilapidated building in the centre Kandahar, apparently the Taliban's equivalent of a foreign affairs attaché. After a short conversation between him and my 19-year-old interpreter, Abdul Wali, he turned to me and said, in barely audible English, "If you take pictures of anyone but deminers working in minefields, I shoot this boy." He pointed to Abdul. Then I was told that I could only photograph people from the waist down. I took a deep breath and began to explain how I was here to help rid his country of landmines, by helping to educate people in my country about this terrible weapon mostly sown by the Russians. I explained that I needed to show that it was real people with real faces, who were working in the minefields, and that they were all different. He insisted that landmines damage only the legs, and forbade me to photograph whole people. I took out a photograph of my one-year-old daughter and handed it to him, and pled my case again. He looked at my infant daughter and finally nodded his head. I was allowed to photograph “all the person” in the minefields. I could begin my work there, but the work of seeing ‘all the person’ is never really finished.
Wasiristan girl
Bakery, Herat
family photos in Kandahar

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fieldnotes: Trachoma in Ethiopia

There are an estimated 38 million blind people in the world, and 28 million of them unnecessarily. Trachoma is the world’s leading cause of preventable and treatable blindness. Spread by flies, this ancient disease of poverty and poor sanitation is pandemic in the Soddo and Gurage districts of Ethiopia. As trachoma progresses, often for decades, the eyelids turn inward, and scratch the eyeball causing unbearable itching, infection, and scarring that inevitably leads to blindness if not treated, early, with what amounts to a dollar’s worth of antibiotics, or, later, with surgery.

Melesech Achiso’s is 15 years old and her eyes have been infected many times. Her eyelashes have turned in and scarred the corneas. Her early symptoms were not treated, the follicles swelled into gray pimples, and small blood vessels grew inside her corneas. The only possibility for restoring her sight is a cornea transplant. She is here to see the ophthalmologist who annually comes to Soddo, from Addis Ababa, for one month. "This list is just too long for one surgeon," says Dr. Getenet. She has no chance of receiving the surgery.

Sister Genet Bogala is a nurse and has performed over 30 trichiasis operations this week at her one-room tin-roofed health post located in the middle of a cow pasture 150 km from Soddo. Two years ago she was trained at a one month-long course to perform the surgery that arrests trachomatous trichiasis. She operates for 20 minutes to fix one eye on Sherefa Ali, 30, while Keddr Mengi, 45 waits outside for his turn. Nearly 2600 such surgeries were performed in Gurage district in the last 10 months.
Amaredtt Turq, 41, undergoes the procedure which involves making a one-half inch incision through the upper eyelid, and then suturing it together in a way that "flips" the eyelashes away from the cornea. Sister Bogala performs the surgery when she sees more than five eyelashes scratching the cornea. Up to that point she suggests antibiotics and epilation until more severe trachomatous trichiasis develops. Her patients return in one week to have the sutures removed.
At a school near Alaba, children regularly have their eyes tested by teachers or a visiting district nurse to detect and determine if any diminished eyesight is due to a refractory problem or an infection. Homemade “pinhole glasses,” an eye chart, and eyelid examinations, are the tools. The children are told about the importance of washing their hands and faces.

Asra Tsakik, a Field Health Coordinator checks the eyes of Workete Gujama. He is looking for the presence of follicles, inflammation, or scarring. For the early stages of trachoma, a six-week course of antibiotics (with tetracycline, erythromycin, or sulfonamides) is prescribed, or a single dose of azithromycin. Children are infected the most and women more than men, because they spend more time with children. Surveys show that 34% of the children in these villages suffer from active trachoma. Water shortages, poor hygiene, and crowded living conditions are at the root of trachoma.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Crisis of Wisdom.

When it comes to health, the real paradox is that some 800 million people die of malnutrition in the developing world, while about a billion are dying of a surfeit of food, obesity, and all the related dis-eases. The rising rate of diabetes, for example, is like the canary in the mineshaft for measuring the toxicity of unleashed globalization. We know that people who are not in charge of their own food supplies are more vulnerable to diseases. It is not surprising that Aboriginal people are especially vulnerable, because many live in similar conditions found in poor countries.

The overshadowing crisis in the world is a crisis in wisdom and caring for the unfortunate and for the future. The old business model is not working. Ethics and morality that includes human and environmental rights have to be the drivers of a new sustainable greener economy. The business as usual proponents are rift with the same narrow and shortsighted perspective that slave traders used to defend slavery for its profitability and convenience. The frontier ethic and the age of “limitlessness” are over. We can either be proactive, or we can be forced to make our choices through more and more disturbing and destabilizing disasters including exotic, more resistant, and widespread infectious diseases.

We can start by calling things by their right names. The real name of climate change is greed, waste, and theft, just as the real name of the tobacco industry is drug dealer. And the real name of the world health crisis is the worst manifestation of failed capitalism imaginable for no other reason that it excludes some 800 million people from having enough to eat everyday. And the real name of the Tar Sands is the worst man made disaster in the world.

Unfortunately most of the rest of the world sees us they way we see them, - through projections of extremes and stereotypes. Television doesn’t help because everything is a passive click away, until advertisements, news, sports, and pictures of starving children all pick up the same tenor and look the same. The effect is analgesic, not motivational.

I work very hard at respecting my subjects, and avoiding producing photographs which tend to reinforce existing stereotypes rather than give insight into difficult situations. I do this by putting in time. More pictures of starving African children with flies on their faces tell us nothing new about their lives and their problems. People get activated when the issues get personal. We are a lot closer together than we think, and when we see ourselves in the images, we recognize that. That there is no us and them.

I think journalists not only have a responsibility to inform people about what they want to know about, but also to inform them about the things that they ot to know about…And if we walk by some injustice…then we are complicit. Journalists need to look more deeply into stories on the periphery of conflicts, the humanitarian stories, rather than the sexy one night stand war stories. We should be talking more about all the civilians that are killed and damaged, rather than twisting and powering public opinion and legitimizing inhuman wars. If there is any hope of stopping wars, then we have to start by showing them as they really are.

This photograph came from a story about Dr. Chris Giannou, a war surgeon with the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), who was in charge of establishing front line hospitals in Somalia in 1991/92, when the ICRC was the only foreign aid in the country. This boy’s friends, who brought him here to Kasani Hospital, say he was shot while trying to protect his family's food. It is more likely he is one of the young militiamen who roam the streets of Mogadishu looking for anything they can steal, and was caught in a firefight with opposing clans. The city of Mogadishu is split in two. The ICRC operates hospitals on both sides.

Triage, Kasani Hospital South Mogadishu, May 1992.