I am one… Letter from Zimbabwe

This is from the newsletter of Manon of Tractor Tractor. If you have never heard of Tractor Tractor then visit the site and read something of the concept of her long journey from Amsterdam to the South Pole on her little green tractor… It’s wonderful and wonderfully crazy – in sad contrast to the letter below. Please read it.

I am one..

I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something… And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God.

Letter from Zimbabwe sent in by John Winter

I reckon that these are the last days of TKM and ZPF. The darkest hour is always before dawn.

We are all terrified at what they are going to destroy next……..I mean they are actually ploughing down brick and mortar houses and one family with twin boys of 10 had no chance of salvaging anything when 100 riot police came in with AK47’s and bulldozers and demolished their beautiful house, 5 bedrooms and pine ceilings, because it was ‘too close to the airport’, so we are feeling extremely insecure right now.

You know, I am aware that this does not help you sleep at night, but if you do not know, how can you help? Even if you put us in your own mental ring of light and send your guardian angels to be with us, that is a help, but I feel so cut off from you all knowing I cannot tell you what’s going on here simply because you will feel uncomfortable. There is no ways we can leave here so that is not an option.

I ask that you all pray for us in the way that you know how, and let me know that you are thinking of us and sending out positive vibes… that’s all. You can’t just be in denial and pretend,believe it’s not going on.

To be frank with you, it’s genocide in the making and if you do not believe me, read the Genocide Report by Amnesty International which says we are IN level 7 (level 8 is after it’s happened and everyone is in denial).

If you don’t want me to tell you these things, how bad it is, then it means you have not dealt with your own fear, but it does not help me to think you are turning your back on our situation. We need you, please, to get the news OUT that we are all in a fearfully dangerous situation here. Too many people turn their backs and say: ‘oh well, that’s what happens in Africa.’

This Government has GONE MAD and you need to help us publicize our plight, or how can we be rescued? It’s a reality! The petrol queues are a reality, the pall of smoke all around our city is a reality, the thousands of homeless people sleeping outside in 0 Celsius with no food, water, shelter and bedding are a reality. Today a family approached me, brother of the gardener’s wife with two small children. Their home was trashed and they will have to sleep outside. We already support 8 adult people and a child on this property, and electricity is going up next month by 250% as is water.

How can I take on another family of 4 and yet how can I turn them away to sleep out in the open?

I am not asking you for money or a ticket out of here, I am asking you to FACE the fact that we are in deep and terrible danger and want you please to pass on our news and pictures. So PLEASE don’t just press the delete button! Help best in the way that you know how.

Do face the reality of what is going on here and help us SEND OUT THE WORD.. The more people who know about it, the more chance we have of the United Nations coming to our aid. Please don’t ignore or deny what’s happening.
Some would like to be protected from the truth BUT then, if we are eliminated, how would you feel? ‘If only we knew how bad it really was we could have helped in some way’.

(I know we chose to stay here and that some feel we deserve what’s coming to us)

For now, we ourselves have food, shelter, a little fuel and a bit of money for the next meal, but what is going to happen next? Will they start on our houses? All property is going to belong to the State now. I want to send out my Title Deeds to one of you because if they get a hold of those, I can’t fight for my rights.

Censorship! We no longer have SW radio (which told us everything that was happening) because the Government jammed it out of existence, we don’t have any reporters, and no one is allowed to photograph. If we had reporters here, they would have an absolute field day. Even the pro-Government Herald has written that people are shocked, stunned, bewildered and blown mindless by the wanton destruction of many folks homes, which are supposed to be ‘illegal’ but for which a huge percentage actually do have licenses.

Please! do have some compassion and HELP by sending out the articles and personal reports so that something can or may be done.

‘I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God,
I will do.’

Edward Everett Hale

Down in the dump: a visit to Kathmandu’s rubbish hole

Yesterday I visited Sisdole where Katmandu’s rapidly filling rubbish dump is located. It is what you might expecte of a rubbish dump: a lot of rubbish, a sickly smell, pipes ventilating gases from putrefaction, trucks delivering more booty at regular intervals, bulldozers flattening it out across the dump. The setting was a bit incongruous: all this among green wooded hillsides and terraced fields. What certainly was not be expected was the 25 or so men, women and children walking around on top of it trying to supplement their income from the recyclable waste they could recover.
It was quite depressing. I walked around for some 20 minutes, feeling a little uncomfortable, taking some pictures and talking to people. They seemed resigned to the disgusting work at hand, slightly cheery in a ke garne (what-to-do) kind of way. But not happy.

Apparently 350 tones of waste is produced by Kathmandu daily. That results in around 50 trucks travelling the uphill then downhill 28km from the city to this rural area. 65% of the waste is organic meaning it could be either composted or used to produce biogas. That is, if it were separated at source.

As new trucks came and reversed down to the site, people waited to attack the new load before it was flattened out. Out of one truck came two fluorescent lighting tubes which a boy picked out, waved around and then promptly smashed, releasing their mercury containing powder into the air.

So what to do? What is the problem. If the problem is my being disgusted at people having to do this to earn or supplement an income, then perhaps I should be banned from going there. If it is because this work is hazardous – god knows what awful stuff finds itself among this waste – then perhaps these people should be banned from approaching the site.

Longer term, it makes sense to separate waste. Actually no, in the short term it makes sense, now. Here are the reasons:

  • Of the 65% organic fraction of the 350 tonnes per day, if it could be used in biogas digesters, then ____ Rp of gas could be produced. (figure to come)
  • If all of that could be sold as compost (unlikely), then its sales value could be up to 3,60,000 Rp (3,600 Eur)
  • Reducing the truck journeys from 50 to 18 would save around 1,50,000 per day (1,500 Eur).
  • Removing the organic fraction from the waste makes obtaining the recyclable elements much easier and slightly less unpleasant (if no less dangerous).
  • Once some separation is started, it makes it easier to begin to separate the non-organic fraction into useful and non-useful elements.

I returned home from Sisdole to a cup of coffee and organic breakfast. I stank. Even my camera when I held it to my face to take a picture stank of the waste. Later in the afternoon I became ill. Either from the breakfast from the cafe I have visited numerous times, or something else. I retired to bed. Later, the familiar bloated feeling that lasts several hours before eventually vomiting came. I lay in bed reading and then decided to look at the days photos. Just seeing a picture of the steaming waste was enough of a psychological catalyst to make me reach for the bucket.

Uneven load shedding

This appeared today in the letters ot the editor section of the Kathmandu Post.

No load shedding

We understand that the demand for electricity exceeds the supply and that the NEA has to resort to load shedding [the enforced shutting down of sections of the power grid to share out limited electricity supply]. The hours of darkness are getting longer. However, one wonders why some places never have load shedding even when the whole city is without electricity. A huge area near our house in Lazimpat never has load shedding. This is not fair! If it were a public facility like a hospital, we would understand. But it’s just another private house. Why this discrimination?

Rajendra Khadga

Well, I am embarrassed to admit that I am one of those living in an area with 24/7 power supply. I am no wiser than Rajendra as to the reason, although there was talk of one of the houses nearby once being inhabited by a VIP. Of course it is as unfair as it is wonderful for me. Load shedding is a great hinderance to the citizens of the city. Moving along unlit streets is plain dangerous. Trying to study or read by candle light is no easy task. The prominant industrialist Binod Chaudary noted this as one of the concerns of the business community while this government is apparently aiming for double digit economic growth.

While I could turn the power off at the appointed times, I don’t think I will. I will promise however to limit myself to one light at a time and power to the internet connection and laptop until this area joins the rest of suffering citizens.

Saying this, there is a lot of work to be done here in terms of energy efficiency. More about this another time – when I have done something about it.

A small act of censorship at a Human Rights photography exhibition

The piece of card was about just 8cm by 6cm crudely stuck down with tape but big enough to make quite a mess of the UDHR60 photographic exhibition being hosted by the Russian Cultural Centre (RCC) in Kathmandu, Nepal.

On December 10th the world will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. As this declaration was signed in Paris in 1948, the Alliance Française took the lead in developing a week long program of film and documentary screenings. The screenings were supported by a photographic exhibition created by the renowned VII Network, a photographic agency which comprises some of the worlds best contemporary photo journalists.

To quote the VII website:

“A total of 30 photos were chosen that best represent the 30 articles, or principles, contained in the Declaration of Human Rights. The images come from the VII and VII Network photographers – photographers who risk their lives on an almost daily basis to bear witness to the world’s injustices and to document human rights abuses. That fight will continue.”

And the photographs are as tragic as they are excellent. Disappointingly, in complete contradiction to the spirit of the event and the content of declaration itself, the RCC, using this small piece of card and tape, carried out an act censorship.

The photo in question was taken in 2000 by Eric Bouvet to represent Article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” The picture was captioned (in French) with: “A young Chechen female is imprisoned in the Russian Chernokozovo detention centre in the suburbs of Grozny, Chechnya in 2000.” Presumably feeling that this might show Russia in a bad light, the caption was censored by covering it up.

Article 19 says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Hopefully this too should apply to Eric Bouvet?

According to a source at the Alliance Française, it was indeed felt by the Russian Cultural Centre that this picture might single out Russia negatively and that “there are no pictures of Guantanamo bay” for instance. Alliance Française offered to remove the picture completely from the exhibition but this was rejected in favour of covering up the caption.

On Friday at 2pm the picture was removed completely. At 4pm, as the exhibition was being packed away, it had been returned with caption intact.

Dr Vladimir Novikov the Russian Cultural Centre’s amiable director said it was “a question of balance.” He would have been happier if only one picture had been used per country and in the exhibition, Chechnya was featured twice. According to him it was the Alliance Française who covered the caption. According to Alliance Française, it was the RCS that requested that to be done (though this is not about appointing blame).

Many countries are depicted in the exhibition and a few are shown in a bad light, namely: Burma, Brazil, China, USA on tour in Iraq (3 pictures) and also this country, Nepal (a picture of a 15 year old crying as her wedding procession leads her to her new husband’s home in Kagati Village).

The argument that the picture singles out Russia is a poor one. But still it is completely missing the point.

There are few countries in the world with a clean human rights record. The object of the exhibition is not about specific finger pointing. It is to remind us that we, the ‘human family’ as the French government aniversary website describes us, have a long way to go, that we need to re-read and keep these declarations in mind at all times and, most importantly, that we need to challenge contraventions, however small, wherever we find them.

The irony is that the presence of this captioned photograph in the exhibition didn’t reflect any more badly on Russia than the many other countries depicted or we the ‘human family’ in general. The fact that the RCC engaged in this small act of censorship, at such an exhibition, really does.