Old Sana’a at Dusk - Yemen (by M. Khatib)
Militias in the Central African Republic are slitting children’s throats, razing villages and throwing young men to the crocodiles. What needs to happen before the world intervenes?
Will we look back at this similarly to the way we look back at Rwanda sometime soon?
Atta Sabbah, 13, is paralyzed after an Israeli soldier shot him in the spine after buying a soda..
On 21 May this year, Atta wasn’t throwing stones. He wasn’t involved in clashes or provocations with soldiers. Atta committed no known crime.
He completed his final exam and went to retrieve a school bag that had been taken from him by a soldier the day before. On his way to the Jalazone Boys School, he stopped by a small corner shop to buy a soda. He opened the can, saw two soldiers hiding behind a wall, and turned around to run away.
One of the soldiers aimed a machine gun and fired a single bullet, changing his life forever. One “dum-dum” or exploding bullet severed Atta’s spinal cord and he fell to the ground. The bullet ravaged tissues and caused irreparable damage to his spleen, pancreas and liver, and left him with multiple fractured ribs.
Atta is a harmless child who used to spend his free time tending to his pigeons. Every day now — as he tries to maneuver his way through the narrow, uneven streets of the refugee camp — Atta is reminded of his new reality.
New York City: Hundreds of protesters demanding “Hands Off Syria!” march and block traffic throughout Times Square, August 29, 2013.
I think these photos capture the dynamic (and somewhat chaotic) character of this great demonstration.
The pedestrian island next to the Armed Forces Recruiting Station where we usually rally was torn up for construction. It turned out to our benefit — most of the several hundred protesters marched throughout the Times Square area, frequently blocking traffic and spreading our message very widely.
Photos by redguard
This is the real story of today’s bloodbath. Who can be surprised that some Muslim Brotherhood supporters were wielding Kalashnikovs on the streets of Cairo? Or that supporters of the army and its “interim government” – in middle-class areas of the capital, no less – have seized their weapons or produced their own and started shooting back. This is not Brotherhood vs army, though that is how our Western statesmen will mendaciously try to portray this tragedy. Today’s violence has created a cruel division within Egyptian society that will take years to heal; between leftists and secularists and Christian Copts and Sunni Muslim villagers, between people and police, between Brotherhood and army. That is why Mohamed el-Baradei resigned tonight. The burning of churches was an inevitable corollary of this terrible business.
In Algeria in 1992, in Cairo in 2013 – and who knows what happens in Tunisia in the coming weeks and months? – Muslims who won power, fairly and democratically through the common vote, have been hurled from power. And who can forget our vicious siege of Gaza when Palestinians voted – again democratically – for Hamas? No matter how many mistakes the Brotherhood made in Egypt – no matter how promiscuous or fatuous their rule – the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the army. It was a coup, and John McCain was right to use that word.
The Brotherhood, of course, should long ago have curbed its amour propre and tried to keep within the shell of the pseudo-democracy that the army permitted in Egypt – not because it was fair or acceptable or just, but because the alternative was bound to be a return to clandestinity, to midnight arrests and torture and martyrdom. This has been the historical role of the Brotherhood – with periods of shameful collaboration with British occupiers and Egyptian military dictators – and a return to the darkness suggests only two outcomes: that the Brotherhood will be extinguished in violence, or will succeed at some far distant date – heaven spare Egypt such a fate – in creating an Islamist autocracy.
The pundits went about their poisonous work today before the first corpse was in its grave. Can Egypt avoid a civil war? Will the “terrorist” Brotherhood be wiped out by the loyal army? What about those who demonstrated before Morsi’s overthrow? Tony Blair was only one of those who talked of impending “chaos” in bestowing their support on General Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi. Every violent incident in Sinai, every gun in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood will now be used to persuade the world that the organisation – far from being a poorly armed but well-organised Islamist movement – was the right arm of al-Qa’ida.
History may take a different view. It will certainly be hard to explain how many thousands – yes, perhaps millions – of educated, liberal Egyptians continued to give their wholehearted support to the general who spent much time after the overthrow of Mubarak justifying the army’s virginity tests of female protesters in Tahrir Square. Al-Sisi will come under much scrutiny in the coming days; he was always reputedly sympathetic to the Brotherhood, although this idea may have been provoked by his wife’s wearing of the niqab. And many of the middle-class intellectuals who have thrown their support behind the army will have to squeeze their consciences into a bottle to accommodate future events.
Could Nobel Prize-holder and nuclear expert Mohamed el-Baradei, the most famous personality – in Western eyes, but not in Egyptian - in the ‘interim government’, whose social outlook and integrity looked frighteningly at odds with ‘his’ government’s actions today, have stayed in power? Of course not. He had to go, for he never intended such an outcome to his political power gamble when he agreed to prop up the army’s choice of ministers after last month’s coup. But the coterie of writers and artists who insisted on regarding the coup as just another stage in the revolution of 2011 will - after the blood and el-Baradei’s resignation – have to use some pretty anguished linguistics to escape moral blame for these events.
Stand by, of course, for the usual jargon questions. Does this mean the end of political Islam? For the moment, certainly; the Brotherhood is in no mood to try any more experiments in democracy – a refusal which is the immediate danger in Egypt. For without freedom, there is violence. Will Egypt turn into another Syria? Unlikely. Egypt is neither a sectarian state – it never has been, even with 10 per cent of its people Christian – nor an inherently violent one. It never experienced the savagery of Algerian uprisings against the French, or Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian insurgencies against both the British and the French. But ghosts aplenty will hang their heads in shame today; that great revolutionary lawyer of the 1919 rising, for example, Saad Zaghloul. And General Muhammad Neguib whose 1952 revolutionary tracts read so much like the demands of the people of Tahrir in 2011.
But yes, something died in Egypt today. Not the revolution, for across the Arab world the integrity of ownership – of people demanding that they, not their leaders, own their own country – remains, however bloodstained. Innocence died, of course, as it does after every revolution. No, what expired today was the idea that Egypt was the everlasting mother of the Arab nation, the nationalist ideal, the purity of history in which Egypt regarded all her people as her children. For the Brotherhood victims today – along with the police and pro-government supporters – were also children of Egypt. And no one said so. They had become the “terrorists”, the enemy of the people. That is Egypt’s new heritage.
Oh look. US imperialism strikes again
There comes a time when it is appropriate to ask questions like “what got me here.” Not here in life. I’m 24. I am decidedly not having a midlife crisis. But here, physicially, where I am.
It would seem that my current existance in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, hanging out before catching a prop plane to Somalia is absolutely the perfect time to ask that question. Why do I travel the way that I do? How do I, or, if I want to project myself on an entire community (always appropriate) we as travellers, relate to the places I/we drift through. What do we hope to gain? What purpose do these places serve in our own narratives?
An amazing travel companion of mine, Pablo, once asked such a question. We were passing through Popayan, Colombia, and discussing other parts of the country that we had been to separately. Which places were “worth going to,” and which were simply… “not.”
“Isn’t it weird how we just fucking… consume places?” Pablo asked.
“Huh?!” was my response as I alternated between a beer and some sort of delicious pastry I had recently come across. Consuming places wasn’t really what was on my mind at the time. Consuming alcohol and food took priority.
“I don’t know. We just… fly or bus or hitch-hike or whatever to these countries or cities and smile at how different things are like we’re in… fucking Epcot Center or something?”
I half shrugged off the question at the time. It was interfering with my consumption of Popayan. This conversation came at the tail end of 11 months of travel, my longest stretch of unadulterated backpacking to date. I had spent a few months in Scandinavia and on the Iberian Peninsula, worked my way through the Mediterranean Middle East from Istanbul to Siwa, in Egypt’s West, and was somewhere in the middle of my five months travelling the vast majority of Spanish speaking South America. It was one of the best years of my life, and I certainly didn’t feel a strong inclination to unpack my situation. My identity at that time was as a traveller (it still might be, I’m not sure), and, like most people when they feel any sort of threat to their identities, I shut down and defended it.
And, here I am, years later. Spending my 11 day Spring Break from my teaching job in the Bronx laying around in Ethiopia. It’s my first time back to Sub-Saharan Africa since I spent 4 months between the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania in the summer of 2009. I’ve travelled a lot in between then and now, but, more-so than I have felt this way in the last year or so, I really feel like I’ve stepped back into my old life, minus a few critical bits, my skin is no longer conditioned to the desert sun, despite my attempts to compensate with sunscreen.
I’ve spent my days talking to exceptionally friendly locals, negotiating Somaliland visas at the only existing Somaliland Consul (hence my presence in Addis) vacillating between expat hangouts (the German Beer Garden has been a favorite) and bumming around with the locals in share taxis. Tomorrow I have another day of the same. I’m not sightseeing at high speed. I’m not visiting friends. I don’t know a single fucking person. I cannot believe I have only been here for two days. Time, at least the way we measure it with our 11 day vacations or 5 day work weeks, becomes less and less relivant.
Why do we do it?
I remember an article in Lonely Planet Magazine about the benefits of travel. It mentions travel making you younger, because it makes time slow down, like when you were a kid and a week seems like an eternity. I think I buy that. But let’s be honest. We don’t travel to make time slow down.
I personally don’t buy into travelling as an escape, either. A lot of the non-travellers in my life are only able to understand my love for the… hobby? Lifestyle? What the fuck is it? By asking me what I am running from. What I’m afraid of. And while, like just about everyone, there’s a lot in the world and in my future that makes me a bit nervous, I’ve never felt like I was running away from myself. I have felt like I was trying to escape the constraints of my situation. That I’ve done.
Some old candy bar advert was centered around guys getting asked tough questions by their girlfriends, and buying a moment to think their response over by shoving a… twix? Snickers?… Into their mouths. Real, long haul travel is kind of the twix moment for our life decisions. It is literally time off of a pre-determined path to re-invent ourselves, not really in the present but in the future. It’s a chance for us to meet people who are of radicially different backgrounds than ourselves, whether we mean the people we are travelling with or the people we encounter while we pass through their communities.
But that isn’t all of it.
For many travellers, myself included, travel transitions from a string of international experiences to an international lifestyle. There are elements of this in almost every backpacker I know. I cannot count how many times I have had the following conversation:
XXX: “What’s you’re favorite country?”
Me: “That’s a really hard question to answer, I like different places for different reasons.”
XXX: “OK. Where could you see yourself living?”
And there it is. The liberation that goes beyond the temporary. I guess it makes sense. As travel becomes more and more of a lifestyle, and the countries that issue our passports become less and less relevant to our day to day lives, with international bank accounts set up to get paid from jobs overseas and without an apartment at home full of furniture, we start to think about where we could see ourselves settling down.
I have this list, a lot of us do. For me, though, I think it is far less about escapism than it is about control.
Come on. The Westerners of our generation have grown up to national economies imploding, unemployment looming at the end of university, international warfare we didn’t necessarily sign onto, and a digital revolution that makes it more and more possible to keep in touch and handle our affairs from anywhere in the world. There is less that makes life at “home” desireable, and far more equipment available to make our transitions to expat life as smooth and flawless as possible.
Even this short trip would be impossible without these technologies. I have graded student work on the stopovers. There’s wifi on my intercontinental flights so that when I get back to Manhattan I can rush straight to a dentists appointment, my work already uploaded and available to my team. My sister gets married in California three days after I get back. The shirt I need for my suit will be waiting for me in an Amazon locker a five minute walk from my apartment when I get back into the country. How’s that for portability. How’s that for control? I can be on a beach in Somalia, choreographing a bunch of tasks to make my personal and professional life run efficiently.
Beyond our collective experience, my childhood was a combination of interstate moves every few years, a rotating door of people living in our home, with the odd terminal illness or abuse case rocking the house from time to time. I never really thought of it before, but more than anything, I think this is what’s shaped me. It’s why I’ve always made sure to have access to enough cash to get away and at least make the first moves in the direction of starting over. It’s why I have backup plans around the world… places I’d go if my job fell through or became unacceptably unworkable. I’ve seen way too many people fall into the seemingly inevitable trajectories of their lives, and that isn’t what I want for myself. So I’ve made sure there was always an escape option.
There’s different degrees of this, of course. Somalia, it may surprise you to know, is not a place that I’d rush to move to. It’s a break from life. From the hustle and bustle. A twix moment. But it’s more than that. A reaffermation of freedom. Of the fact that there are doors open. A chance to challenge myself. And yeah. To lay on a beach, 8,000 miles from home, and read a book.
So I’ve been meaning to write this for a while.. to write something about how absolutely fucking exceptional it feels to be back in Africa. Unfortunately, I put it off until my day at the airport in between Ethiopia and Somaliland, and for anyone who knows much about flying in sub-Saharan Africa, it isn’t always the most low stress of times…. my flight “didn’t exist” for a while in all of the computers, and then turned up, scheduled for 10:40, instead of the 8:30 listed on my ticket. Yeah it could be worse, but it sure makes me resent waking up at 5:45 to catch this “early morning” flight.
I suppose the first indications hould have been that it’s an international flight leaving from the domestic terminal. I’ve taken a few of these and they never seem to end that well.
Anyway, Ethiopia has been amazing. I don’t know if it s a difference in the culture here or the fact that I”m a different kind of traveller than I was when I first came to the continent four years ago, but things are going really, really, easily. Public transport has been fine, although I did make the mistake of getting trapped in the rain my first day here (I’ll upload pictures of this somewhat hilarious incident when internet is good enough to make that worthwhile), and getting a pretty nasty sunburn that I am still trying to shake, unfortunate being that I am headed to the Gulf of Aden to soak up the warmth for a few days. But what I think matters the most is this:
Addis is pretty much the friendliest, and certainly safest, African capital city I have ever been in. Perhaps its size helps, it’s only 3 million people, so a city like Nairobi sort of pales in comparison, even more so if we count the north African cities like Cairo. But I didn’t take a single bus or share-taxi ride here without someone being genuinelly interested in talking, hearing about my trip, and hearing my impressions of their City, something that certainly wasn’t always the case when I was in Kenya or Uganda.
I really want to come back here and do a bit more exploring…. I’ve even been thinking about it for this summer, although I have Myanmar and Thailand planned and am pretty excited about the prospects of that trip as well. Perhaps the following summer?
Anyway, Addis is awesome. Now to eat a shady omelitte from a street vendor in front of the airport and wait for my alleged flight.
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