I am Congo

Get to know the Congo before you walk through the streets yourself. In this immersive experience, you'll see the vast forest of the congo, the countries colorful style, and break taking shots of life in the city. As part of the "I am" series, videographers spent time in the Congo meeting local artisans, traders and musicians. Their experience, laid out for you here.

Mexico

The videographer is Face du Monde and these are his comments on the video:

“Since I was a kid, it always has been a dream of mine to see "El dia de los Muertos" in Mexico. So last October my friend Max and I decided to travel there. It was my second time in this country I really fell in love with. We spent 3 weeks travelling around Quintana Roo, Yucatán and Campeche states. I made this video to show how this country has his own culture, his own history that you will find nowhere else in the world. "El dia de los Muertos" is an event everybody should see once in his life, it really represents the Mexican soul. I would like to thank all amazing people I met there who made this journey unforgettable.”

YEMEN: A Call for Action: The Worst Humanitarian Crisis in the World

People crowded in Rock Palace, Yemen. stepnout. CC by 2.0

People crowded in Rock Palace, Yemen. stepnout. CC by 2.0

War has torn Yemen apart. According to the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen, “The humanitarian crisis in Yemen remains the worst in the world”. It states that “An estimated 80 per cent of the population – 24 million people – require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 14.3 million who are in acute need. Severity of needs is deepening, with the number of people in acute need a staggering 27 per cent higher than last year”. This devastating famine is a consequence of the Yemen civil war that started in 2015 and has been ongoing since. 

The civil war broke out in 2015 between two factions of Yemen: the armed movement of the Houthi and the Yemeni geovernemnt led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The fighting started over legitimization of who actually runs Yemen and who gains mass support. Their feud, though, has resulted in their country becoming one of the worst humanitarian crises currently in the world. It has left thousands of adults and children “food insecure”, an official term to identify the starving people in the country. According to an article by the UN, “During the past four years of intense conflict between Government forces and Houthi rebels have left tens of thousands dead or injured including at least 17,700 civilians as verified by the UN”. These people have lost their lives because of a war that took their resources. 

In a video by CNN reporter, Sam Kiley, Kiley asked local businessman, Hussein Al-Jerbi, if he thought it was surprising that Yemen is having a problem with hunger. Al-Jerbi responded with, “Not [a] problem - it is a disaster, it is a disaster”. The famine in Yemen is a direct example of what war can bring to a country. The economy has become so poor that the people of Yemen have resulted to selling Khat - an oral drug. In the same video, Sam Kiley interviewed farmer Mounir Al-Ruba’i about why he grows he grows Khat, Al-Ruba’i states, “We only make a profit from Khat - other crops do not cover our home expenses. This is the only crop that would cover our daily and annual expenses.” 

The UN and UNICEF have on going sites and systems that allow you to donate to the crisis. While the UN focuses donations on multiple issues, UNICEF provides direct support to the children that are growing up or being born into this humanitarian crisis. On the UNICEF page where you can donate, their call to action states, “An estimated 360,000 children under age 5 are acutely malnourished and fighting for their lives”. An instagram account, @wearthepeace, made a post explaining that if reposted on their story or account, the people running the account would donate meals to Yemen. They not only have a link in their bio for anyone who wants to donate can, but their campaign, which is a post explaining that for every 10 times the post is reposted, they will donate $1 to the Yemen crisis. Their intention behind the post was to not only raise money, but also raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis so people are talking and doing something about it. With their 107K following, they have done just that. Their donations also include food baskets (the contents of those food baskets are listed in the post). On June 14th, the post was removed over controversy that the campaign was a hoax, but after contacting Instagram and providing proof of their legitimacy, their post was reinstated on June 23rd. To this day, they are still spreading awareness and raising funds for the Yemen crisis.

This is considered one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world because of the amount of innocent lives it is affecting. But we can help. With a donation, no matter how big or small, to the organizations listed above, we can make sure the funds are going to the right place. If donation is out of the question, please share and repost articles and stories about Yemen, specifically the account that donates once you repost. Ensuring that this crisis is not forgotten or swept under the rug will aid the people of Yemen. 

The livelihood of the Yemeni people are at stake. With consistent awareness and donations, we can help aid the Yemeni people and ensure the war does not destroy them. 





OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 




Modern Shamans: Financial Managers, Political Pundits and Others Who Help Tame Life’s Uncertainty

Examining chicken intestines, reading the tea leaves, watching the markets – people turn to experts for insight into the mysteries that surround them. Manvir Singh,  CC BY-ND

Examining chicken intestines, reading the tea leaves, watching the markets – people turn to experts for insight into the mysteries that surround them. Manvir Singh, CC BY-ND

Aka Manai explains that there are two kinds of people in the world: simata and sikerei.

I am a simata. He is a sikerei. Sikerei have undergone transformative experiences and emerged with new abilities: They alone can see spirits.

I’ve experienced a lot since that night in Indonesia when Aka Manai told me this. I was there when an initiate first saw spirits, when he and the other sikerei wept as they saw their dead fathers swirling around them. I’ve attended seven healing ceremonies, witnessing the slaughter of dozens of pigs to accompany nights of dancing. But that chat with kind-faced Aka Manai, more than any other experience, grounded my understanding of sikerei in particular and shamanism more generally.

A sikerei treats an initiate’s eyes so he, too, can see spirits. Manvir Singh,  CC BY-ND

A sikerei treats an initiate’s eyes so he, too, can see spirits. Manvir Singh, CC BY-ND

I’m a cognitive anthropologist who studies why societies everywhere develop complex yet strikingly similar traditions, ranging from dance songs to justice to shamanism. And though trancing witch doctors may sound exotic to a Western reader, I argue that the same social and psychological pressures that give rise to healers like Aka Manai produce shaman-analogues in the contemporary, industrialized West.

What is a shaman?

Shamans, including the sikerei I’ve known in Indonesia, are service providers. They specialize in healing and divination, and their services can range from ending a drought to growing a business. Like all magical specialists, they rely on spells and occult gizmos, but what makes shamans special is that they use trance.

Trance is any foreign psychological state in which a practitioner is said to engage with the supernaturalSome trances involve complete immobilization; others appear as tongue-lolling convulsions. In some South American groups, shamans enter trance by snorting a hallucinogenic powder, transforming themselves into crawling, unintelligible spirit-beings.

Being a shaman often carries benefits, both because they get paid and because their special position grants them prestige and influence.

But these advantages are offset by the ordeals involved. In many societies, a wannabe initiate lacks credibility until he (and it’s usually a he) undergoes a near-death experience or a long bout of asceticism.

One aboriginal Australian shaman told ethnographers that, as a novice, he was killed by an older shaman who then replaced his organs with a new, magical set. When he woke up from the surgery and asked the old shaman if he was lost, the old man replied, “No, you are not lost; I killed you a long time ago.”

A long time ago, a short time ago, here, there – wherever you look, there are shamans. Manifesting as mediums, channelers, witch doctors and the prophets of religious movements, shamans have appeared in most human societies, including nearly all documented hunter-gatherers. They characterized the religious lives of ancestral humans and are often said to be the “first profession.”

Why are there shamans?

Why is it that when we lanky primates get together for long enough, our societies reliably give rise to trance-dancing healers?

According to anthropologist Michael Winkelman, the answer is wisdom. Drugs and drumming, he’s argued, link up brain regions that don’t normally communicate. This connection yields new insights, allowing shamans to do things like heal sickness and locate animals. By specializing in trance, shamans uncover solutions inaccessible to normal brains.

Based on my fieldwork, I’ve argued against Winkelman’s account. Rather than all integrating people’s psychologies, trance states are wildly diverse. Chanting, sipping psychoactive brews such as ayahuasca, dancing to the point of exhaustion, even smoking extreme quantities of tobacco – these methods produce profoundly different states. Some are arousing, others calming; some expand awareness, others induce repetitive thinking. In fact, the only element shared among these states is their exoticness – that once altered, the shaman’s experience stands apart from those of his onlookers.

As part of his anthropological fieldwork, author Manvir Singh speaks with an Indonesian shaman. Luke Glowacki,  CC BY-ND

As part of his anthropological fieldwork, author Manvir Singh speaks with an Indonesian shaman. Luke Glowacki, CC BY-ND

Not only are shamans’ experiences exotic, their very beings are, too. As Aka Manai emphasized to me, people understand shamans to be different kinds of entities, made “other” by their ordeals. The Mentawai word for a non-shaman, simata, also describes uncooked food or unripe fruit; it implies immaturity. The word for shaman, in contrast, means a person who has undergone a process: one who has been kerei’d and come out the other side a sikerei.

This otherness is crucial. Convinced that shamans diverge from normal people, communities accept that they have superhuman abilities. Like Superman’s alien origins and the X-Men’s genetic mutations, shamans’ transformations assure people that they deviate from normal humanness, making their claims of supernatural engagement more believable.

And once people trust that a specialist engages with gods and spirits, they go to them when they need to influence uncertainty. A sick child’s parent or a farmer desperate for rain prefers to nudge the forces responsible for their hardship – and a shaman provides a compelling conduit for doing so.

This, I suggest, is why shamans recur around the world and across time. As specialists compete in markets for magic, they fuel the evolution of practices that hack people’s intuitions about magic and special abilities, convincing the rest of us that they can control uncertainty. Shamans are the culmination of this evolution. They use trance and initiations to transcend humanness, assuring their clients that they can commune with the invisible beings who oversee uncertain events.

Who are the shamans of the industrialized West?

Most people assume that shamanism has disappeared in the industrialized West – that it’s an ancient tradition of long-lost tribes, at most resurrected and corrupted by New Age xenophiles and overeager mystics.

To some extent, these people are right. Far fewer Westerners visit trance-practitioners to heal illness or call rain than people have elsewhere in the world or throughout history. But they’re also wrong. Like people everywhere, contemporary Westerners look to experts to achieve the impossible – to heal incurable illnesses, to forecast unknowable futures – and the experts, in turn, compete among themselves, performing to convince people of their special abilities.

So who are these modern shamans?

A specialist you can turn to for help divining the mysterious forces at work in financial markets.  Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com

A specialist you can turn to for help divining the mysterious forces at work in financial markets. Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com

According to the cognitive scientist Samuel Johnson, financial money managers are likely candidates. Money managers fail to outperform the market – in fact, they even fail to systematically outperform each other – yet customers continue to pay them to divine future stock prices.

This faith might come from a belief of their fundamental otherness. Johnson points out that money managers emphasize their differences from clients, exhibiting extreme charisma and enduring superhuman work schedules. Managers also adorn themselves with advanced mathematical degrees and use complicated statistical models to predict the market. Although money managers don’t enter trance, their degrees and models assure clients that the specialists can peer into otherwise opaque forces.

Of course, money managers aren’t the only experts to specialize in the impossible. Psychics, sports analysts, political pundits, economic forecasters, esoteric healers and even an octopus similarly sate people’s desires to tame the uncertain. Like shamans and money managers, they decorate themselves with badges of credibility – an association with the White House, for example, or a familiarity with ancient Tibetan medicine – that persuade customers of their special abilities.

As long as hidden forces shape our fates, people will try to control them. And as long as it’s profitable, pseudo-experts will compete for desperate clients, dressing in the most credible and compelling costumes. Shamanism is not some arcane tradition restricted to an ancient past or New Age circles. It’s a near-inevitable consequence of our human intuitions about special abilities and our desire to control the uncertain, and elements of it appear everywhere.

MANVIR SINGH is a PhD Candidate in Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Why Abiy Won’t Succeed Unless He Listens to Ethiopia’s Majority – its Rural People

An Ethiopian farmer in the Amhara highlands outside the historic village of Lalibela. EPA/Stephen Morrison

An Ethiopian farmer in the Amhara highlands outside the historic village of Lalibela. EPA/Stephen Morrison

Abiy Ahmed has made a raft of radical steps since taking over as Ethiopia’s prime minister in April 2018. He has redressed some of the wrongs committed by his own party, brokered peace with Eritrea and released political prisoners. Abiy has also invited opposition political groups back into the country and overseen the reunification of a splintered Orthodox church.

Abiy’s approach is summed up by his philosophy of medemer, or inclusivity and unity. His reforms have led millions to believe that positive revolutionary change is on its way. But there’s one significant group he has yet to address: the rural majority.

More than 80% of Ethiopians live in rural villages beyond the reach of mass media. So far, they have not been included in the ongoing national conversation. Yet, they contribute significantly to the economy by providing 85% of all employment and 95% of agriculture outputs.

Past governments exacted revenue from rural people but ignored their voices in policy making. During Haile Sellasie’s rule, rural people had to pay a share of their produce to their chiefs in order to keep their land. Mengistu Haile Mariam’s marxist regime  introduced land reform based on its communist ideology but required rural people to fund and fight its wars.

The current government came to power with the promise of ensuring food security but it politicised ethnic identity and is currently focusing on rapid economic growth through the commercialisation of agriculture.

Consistently, Ethiopian governments created their own policies without listening to rural people first. But there can never truly be any hope for the country’s future if the forgotten majority continue to be ignored.

The reality for rural people

Since the 2000s, Ethiopia has been praised for fast economic growth. The government celebrates small holding farmers as the drivers of its success. But, so far, economic growth has not translated into a better life for the rural poor.

In 2015, some 18 million (20% of the total population) were affected by drought, the worst in 50 years. This year alone, 7.4 million, mostly children and women, are in need of help.

In addition to natural disasters, rural people are victims of an ill-conceived land policy. Land is controlled by the government. Farmers don’t own their land. They’re simply granted the right to use it. Land scarcity is a major problem. More than 60% of rural households survive on less than one hectare of land. A lack of access has led to young people being uprooted from rural areas.

Yet, the government leases large tracts of land to private investors to spur economic growth. From late 1990s to 2008, almost 3.5 million hectares of land was rented to investors at very low prices for a period of up to 99 years. The government advertises that 11.5 million hectares of land is currently prepared for private investment. Investors mainly focus on producing flowers, biofuel, and other export products. These in turn cause water shortages and environmental problems.

In a country of 103 million, where the survival of 80% of the people depend on subsistence agriculture, the priority given to private investors raises significant concerns.

Urban Ethiopians view foreign investors as a sign of progress. They see this land-grabbing as a sign of development. Yet the commercialisation of agriculture is being used to concentrate wealth in the hands of a small ruling class. It has increased food prices for the poor.

In Gambella, 70,000 people have been moved to new areas. Many more are believed to have been moved off their ancestral lands to make way for the country’s vision of becoming the world’s leading sugar producer.

Abiy has yet to address any of these issues. So far, he has shown no signs that he intends to change the government’s land policy.

Colonial mindset

One of the major hurdles facing the forgotten rural majority is the colonial mindset of many urbanites and people in power. The exclusion of rural people from the affairs of the state is not new. But it has intensified since 1974.

Traditionally, rural Ethiopians had institutions that influenced the power of their leaders. Leaders needed to fulfil and be accountable to tradition. They were respected more than feared.

But since the beginning of 20th Century, Ethiopian leaders sought to gain global legitimacy by bringing western institutions and knowledge to the country, excluding traditional knowledge and Ethiopian languages from higher education. Students learnt western history, culture and philosophy in English, and started to internalise the western gaze that saw Ethiopian traditional knowledge and institutions as primitive.

This colonial mindset, that has internalised western knowledge as progressive and Ethiopian knowledge as backward, is one of the major factors excluding rural people from reform and political debate. Rural people are seen as antithetical to progress, or simply ignorant of how things can be done better. For example, ten years ago the World Bank blamed Ethiopia’s “backward farming system” for acute food shortages.

Across the country, rural people understand land not as a natural resource that can be converted into cash, but as a source of life, spirituality, culture, and identity. Any cursory study of land-grabbing in Ethiopia shows that government policy has resulted in ongoing violence against the livelihood and culture of rural people. Rural people still feed the majority of the population; protecting them protects the rest.

Everything Ethiopians are proud of today, from their ancient culture to their independence from colonialism, came from the culture of rural life. It is this rich cultural knowledge that should be drawn upon, rather than continually looking out to the west.

Despite all of Abiy’s inspirational reforms, there can be no true progress for Ethiopia without listening to the rural majority.

YIRGA GELAW WOLDEYES is a lecturer of Human Rights at Curtin University.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

Two Years in Cambodia

cambodia 1.jpg

It all started on a tuk tuk ride…

I had just landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after covering the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in Tacloban, Philippines.

Although I had never been there before, Cambodia was already the place I had decided to call home for the next year, or more. It was May 2014. The sky was still painted in black when I got off the plane and was engulfed by the warm and humid weather that, as I would learn over the following months, so much characterizes the country, especially at that time of the year.

As I exited the airport, all I could see was a chaotic frenzy of hands waiving and pointing to their tuktuks. They were all wearing similar clothes – sandals, a pair of pants and a shirt – and they all had big, unequivocally authentic smiles on their faces.

I don’t know if by instinct or pure luck, I ended up going with a driver who would later become a great friend of mine. Bunchai. His tuktuk was painted in red and it was so carefully and effusively decorated that it reminded me of the carnival parades we have in my home country Brazil.

As we cruised the quiet streets towards Tuol Tom Poung, a central neighborhood where a fellow photographer would host me until I found my own place, I just couldn’t believe in what I was experiencing. What was once just a dream was now a reality. I was indeed beginning a new life in Southeast Asia.

The Sun was just rising above the Tonle Sap and people were already doing choreographic exercises along the river promenade. Buddhist monks were walking around with their orange and red robes – some of them holding iPads -, and entire families were impressively balancing on the top of tiny and seemingly fragile motorbikes.

I fell in love immediately. I felt at home.

During the two years I was fortunate to spend in the country I obviously saw extreme poverty and shocking social-economic inequality. I witnessed – and documented – several and horrifying human rights violations. I learned about the atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge, which took the lives of over 2 million people.

But I also saw remarkable resilience and an inspiring ability to find joy even in the most challenging circumstances. I saw generosity and kindness. Faith and Gratitude. Compassion and Happiness. I saw a younger generation trying to leave the past behind and embrace the future.


I explored remote and impressive temples from the 12th century; I spent relaxing days at paradisiac islands and sleepy river towns; I zigzagged through the chaotic traffic in Phnom Penh with my 1989 Vespa; and I had way too many beers with my local neighbors (most of them tuktuk drivers), who would always invite for a beer every time they saw me getting to or leaving my house. They never accepted a No for an answer.

I worked for magazines and I cooperated with many local and international NGOs. I photographed every single day during the time I was there and through this daily wanders I learned to see the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary.

Cambodia has taught me lessons that I will forever carry on my heart and I hope I will have the chance go back in the near future. The recent news that the only opposition party has been dismantled is certainly worrying and it makes me think of all the friends I left there.

If up until recently Hun Sen – who has been in power since 1985! – at least tried to keep a democratic appearance to his government, it seems that now he is no longer concerned about exposing the true face of his (totalitarian) regime. Cambodians, who have gone through the horror of Khmer Rouge just a few decades ago, certainly deserve better and brighter days.

Bunchai, the first friend I made in the country, is still working at his day job and driving his tuktuk in the evenings and early mornings. The day we took that same way to the airport, but on the opposite direction, two years after our first encounter, was unusually cloudy and gray. I don’t remember seeing much during our ride. Perhaps I had too many thoughts and memories going through my mind…

When we finally reach the airport, after a trip that seemed to have last for an eternity, I give Bunchai a big hug and just can’t hold my tears. I ask him to take care of himself and his family, and I tell him that if he ever needs any help he must call me immediately.

He gives me that very same smile he had greeted me with two years earlier, and says, with both determination and confidence:

“No worry, my friend. I will be fine! See you soon!”

 

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON ROAM MAGAZINE.

 

BERNARDO SALCE

Bernardo Salce is a a Brazilian photographer whose work seeks to celebrate cultural diversity and raise social-environmental awareness. Having previously lived in Cambodia and Colombia, he is now based in San Diego, California. You can follow his work @bernardosalce.

http://www.bernardosalce.com/