Leaving Kiev

Going home from the afflicted areas of the world is always a shock.  I go from a world where people are fighting for their lives or livelihoods, or to have their voice heard, to another where people take little interest in how their country is run, brand all politics boring, and think we’re going to have a revolution by not voting.  Many rely on a social platform like facebook to get their news, and even still object to anything political being posted because life is easier without it.  And yet viewing through the prism of world affairs we, unjustly,are the ones with a system that gives us a level of untroubled living – one that anesthetises our senses to our catastrophic policies in other parts of the world.  We are now a rich suburbia of the world- the battles we fight are thousands of miles away, and the houses and cars we have make us collectively the world’s ‘elite’.  We, collectively, are the bankers that we talk of.

Ukraine has shown me how things can change though, and how trouble can arrive at your doorstep.  And I wonder how long it will be, with our hands off the steering wheel, that the car veers off the road and crashes.  We need to vote, we need new political parties, we need young people in politics, and we need to get our hands back on the steering wheel.

Euromaidan Faces -retake

This is another take on the Euromaidan faces below.  From photo to photo these pictures were taken in such different lighting conditions it’s difficult to get these to hang together –  perhaps I’m just not good enough at tweaking colour balances!   I think most would agree that sets of photos should hang together.  Some just automatically do that and others don’t.  And then there’s a point a which is simply becomes, what is termed in the music industry as, ‘over produced’.  What is clear is there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  Here’s an interview with Don McCullin where he talks about how long he used to spend in the dark room, and then how Cartier-Bresson just used to rock up to the local shop with his negs and collect the prints!

euromaidan faces-2-10

Stronger than Yolanda -script v2

Thinking out loud here but here’s a second draft of the script (with my notes/amendments for voiceover recording!)

Two months after the Philippines experienced the worst Typhoon to hit land, the people are only just emerging from a state of shell-shock. In Tacloban, one of the worst hit cities, the damage in some neighbourhoods is incomprehensible. Rebuilding has not even begun and survival itself remains all consuming for the people here.

Typhoon Haiyan (or Typhoon Yolanda as it’s known locally) was one problem, but the storm surge that followed, while not completely unexpected, was bigger than anyone had imagined. Many reported three big waves, with the sea level rising in their wake and reaching the first floor of many buildings. Of course in the poorer parts of these provinces in the Philippines, most of the buildings only have a ground floor, ///and the wooden walled, tin roofed houses offer little resistance to a storm like this///. The storm surge proved too much for many concrete buildings also, with most constructions next to the coast being obliterated.

In a community in Tacloban I met a man, who standing next to a concrete pillar that was once his house, told me how his home had been destroyed. With the Sea swelling up – a thick sludge laden with rubble, wood, metal, cookers, toys, cars and everything of a city – he had tried to escape to a safer building with his wife. But moving any distance at all in such conditions must be next to impossible, and not more than a few dozen yards from their home his wife was killed while he clung desperately to her. He said, he couldn’t bare to let go of her, even knowing she was dead.

In a graveyard in nearby Palo I found a young boy sitting next to the grave of his mother and father, both claimed by typhoon Yolanda. The local priest told me the boy had been there every day since his parents were buried.

The rubble may have settled, but now, two months on, the remains of bodies are still being found as the clean up operation only starts to gain momentum.  Rebuilding is painfully slow.  Despite teams of engineers being out round the clock to restore electricity, most of Tacloban, just one city in the affected region, still doesn’t have power.  And this mad scramble to restore basic infrastructure, does seem to be at the expense of having a broad plan for rebuilding the province in a more robust manner.  While there are more localised projects and organisations working with the bigger picture in mind, they are definitely in a minority.

The world’s media left only days after Typhoon Yolanda before the outcome was clear, but many Aid organisations are still here. While some communities felt neglected, the Filippinos have been extremely grateful for Aid that has arrived. Two months after the disaster itself there was considerable evidence to suggest that a combination of the hard work of the locals, and the generally well-organised aid operations, had averted any mass scale secondary disaster from hunger or disease.

While the Filippinos have been grateful for the aid they have received, /// there is also mass scale distrust of the Government of the Philippines ///. The Mayor of Tacloban, the capital of this worst hit district, is politically opposed to the current President of the Philippines, and so typhoon victims had received little sympathy or support from their  Government.   A local business owner told me that some food aid which had been donated for the Typhoon was being sold for profit in the markets of Manila – the capital of the Philippines which lies outwith the area affected by the Typhoon.  Natural disasters can be a profitable business for some.

The spirit of the Filipinos is unshakable though. Everywhere in Tacloban slogans resound like Tandog Tacloban! – Standup Tacloban! and ‘Bangon Tacloban’. Children shout ‘Your mother is Yolanda’ on the streets – the insult of the moment. And at the markets, which are gradually returning with fresh fish, vegetables and meat, there’s a stall selling T-shirts with the words printed – ‘I am stronger than Yolanda’.

I wondered what would become of the survivors of this the fiercest storm. Would these children grow up traumatised by waking up one day to armageddon, or would it strengthen their resolve, putting fire in the belly of a whole generation. In any case it’ll be the ultimate story for their grandchildren.

Stronger than #Yolanda _script [#haiyan]

Two months after the Philippines experienced the worst Typhoon to hit land, the people are only just emerging from a state of shell-shock. In Tacloban, one of the worst hit cities, the damage in some neighbourhoods is incomprehensible. Rebuilding has not even begun and survival itself remains all consuming for the people here.

The typhoon (the strongest ever recorded on land) was one problem, but the storm surge that followed, while not completely unexpected, was bigger than anyone had imagined. Many reported three big waves with the sea level rising up above the ground floor in their wake. Of course in the poorer parts of these provinces in the Philippines, most of the builings only have a ground floor, and the wooden walled, tin roofed houses offer little resistance to a storm like this. The storm surge proved too much for many concrete buildings also, with buildings next to the coast being obliterated.

Two months on and most of Tacloban still doesn’t have electricity- this despite the fact that teams of engineers have been out 24 four hours a day since the disaster. After two months of working round the clock, the engineers were granted one day a week off as they themselves had had no time to repair or rebuild their own homes.

In a community in Tacloban I met a man, who standing next to a concrete pillar that was once his house, told me how his home had been destroyed. With the Sea swelling up – a thick sludge laden with rubble, wood, metal, cookers, toys, cars and everything of a city – he had tried to escape to a safer building with his wife. But moving any distance at all in such conditions must be next to impossible, and not more than a few dozen yards from their home his wife was killed while he clung desparately to her. He said, he couldnt’ bare to let go of her, even knowing she was dead.

In a graveyard in nearby Palo I found a young boy sitting next to the grave of his mother and father, both claimed by typhoon Haiyan (or typhoon Yolanda as it’s known in the Philippines). The local priest told me he had been there every day since Yolanda.

The rubble may have settled, but now, two months on, the remains of bodies are still being found as the clean up operation only starts to gain momentum.

The world’s media left only days after Typhoon Yolanda before the outcome was clear, but many Aid organisations are still here. While some communities felt neglected, the Filippinos have been extremely grateful for Aid that has arrived. Two months after the disaster itself there was considerable evidence to suggest that a combination of the hard work of the locals, and the generally well-organised aid operations, had averted any mass scale secondary disaster from hunger or disease.

While the filippinos have been grateful for the aid they have recieved, there is also mass scale distrust of the corrupt political system. The mayor of Tacloban, the capital of this worst hit district, is politcally opposed to the current President of the Philippines. With rumours abounding about some imported food aid being sold for profit on the Markets in Manila, it is difficult to find anyone here who speaks positively of the central Government of the Philippines. There is also little evidence of a broad plan for rebuilding the province in a more robust manor, though there are definitely localised projects and organisations working with the bigger picture in mind.

The spirit of the Flipinos is unshakable though. Everywhere in Tacloban slogans resound like Tindog Tacloban! – Standup Tacloban! and ‘Bangon Tacloban’. Children shout ‘Your mother is Yolanda’ on the streets – the insult of the moment. And at the markets, which are gradually returning with fresh fish, vegetables and meat, there’s a stall selling T-shirts with the words printed – ‘I am stronger than Yolanda’.

I wondered what would become of the survivors of this the fiercest storm. Would these children grow up tramatised by waking up one day to armagedon, or would it strengthen their resolve, putting fire in the belly of a whole generation. In any case it’ll be the ultimate story for their grandchildren.

Excerpt From Interview with Magdi Yacoub

I was lucky enough to have the chance to interview the world’s leading Heart Surgeon Magdi Yacoub in 2012.  He pioneered several medical procedures – most notably ‘the Ross Procedure’ – which he pursued through a period in medical history when it looked like artificial heart valves would  surpass procedures like the Ross procedure, which used natural tissue/grafts to make repairs to the heart.  It wasn’t until decades later (once the patients have lived with the repairs for years/decades) that it became obvious that Yacoub’s intuition and served him well and results showed the Ross Procedure was in fact more successful than the use of artificial values.  Both still maintain their place and continue to be used and developed.

This question I asked in reference to his development of the Ross Procedure:

Misha Somerville:  Ehhh, I mean this field is obviously lead by science, but looking back at seminal figures in history it almost seems like the great scientists are explorers, the great exporers are athletes and the great athletes are mathematicians.  This might be science, how often do you work with your instinct waiting for the science to catch up?

Magdy Yacoub: I think that is an excellent question  ..ehhh… in science you have to be guided by instinct as well, because the progress in science, which is defined as the search for the truth, starts as a leap of imagination  …and these leaps of imagination, called theories or conjectures, and that’s, that’s where things start – it’s like a leap – and then the reasoning starts to either prove it or refute it, and if you can’t refute it then you are are nearer to the truth and science advances   … what does science do?  it is in service of humanity, and the difference between science and humanity is ill defined if you like – science and humanity are intermingled.

 

To those who wait…

It was just touching 4am when I finished up last night, but I think* I got a clean take.  Slowing it down a touch made a huge difference to the number of mistakes.  Still, it makes me appreciate the skill in being able to do this kind of thing on the spot, in difficult conditions and under pressure, not in a comfy room with all the time in the world.  I look forward to doing more of this though.

earth wind fire 03_

People of the Earth, Wind & Fire*

In some places in the world you get the impression there is an extra force at work,  something you can’t quite put your finger on, a special magic in the air.

South Sudan might be economically one of the poorest countries on earth, but what it lacks in money, it makes up for in Cultural treasures.  This is a colourful land indeed.

For decades people have marvelled at how a place could be home to peoples with such ingrained and distinct characters – studies of which have produced some of the most ground breaking revelations in anthropology and human studies.   There is a rare beauty in how these people have evolved, but like with so many things that display extreme tendancies there are also inherent flaws.

This is a country with hardly any tarmac roads or infrastructure at large.  It is a bare land, within which life itself stands in such stark contrast to it’s surroundings, that it somehow seems more impressive here.

Dirt tracks criss cross over tribal lands – a maze joining village to village.  On visiting the cattle camps in Bor district, you can see nomadic humans co-existence with cattle has synergised into a way of life which has evolved through the centuries.  People and cattle.  They eat, drink, live and breath with their cattle – their co-existence and co-dependence goes right down to their fiery orange hair – which gets it’s colour from being dyed with cow urine.  Their existence is almost completely communal, their day, from start to end is based around communal activities- wrestling, herding, eating, singing, dancing.  Sharing any of it with them, you feel closer to the earth, the wind and fire.

Their lives might be admirable and incredible, but they are far from idyllic.   Without sanitation, healthcare and education the cattle camps are centres of disease and malnourishment.  It’s an assault that means it’s survival of the fittest – from before they are born babies must have or develop immunity, or not make it through infancy.  Some though, do make it through, and for them our arrival offers some hope – hope that we’ll bring medicines and treatments for their family and their cattle.     But even without medicines, education derived from modern science would say the first step would be to limit the spread of disease by separating them from their cattle.  And so the process immediately starts to erode the character that makes these people so remarkable.

It reminded me of a story relating to the expedition that first conquered Everest in 1967.  After the expedition , Urkien Sherpa, who had lived next to the mountain all his life, was asked by a member of the team ‘If there was one thing we could do for your village. what would it be’.  He paused for a moment and replied ‘With all respect, Sahib, you have little to teach us in strength and toughness. And we don’t envy you your restless spirits. But knowledge for our children!   that we would like to see’.  He had highlighted a fundamental difference that separated peoples around the world.  As some sought the illusive idea of ‘progress’ – pushing science, developing medicines, building structures that reached into the sky and launching rockets that went into space – others simply believed in being and being together.

There can be no right way or wrong, but here in the cattle camp, I stood in awe looking at the people, and they stood in awe looking at me.

*notes: this is a second draft of a script for a sound slide that has been lying dormant a while.  The original is here. I started reworking it last night after a showing a horse Vetinarian I met in Egypt the photos.  I sweated over it a little last night and had a spurt of creativity today listening to this music.      

Goran Tomasevic

http://blogs.reuters.com/fullfocus/2011/02/24/photographer-notebook-goran-tomasevic#a=1  ‘I never take sides’ — Goran.  through all that?  now that’s commitment to professionalism.  Opposite approach to Tim Hetherington?  It isn’t good enough anymore just to be a witness.” — Tim

Developing a Script for a South Sudan Soundslide…

Developing script which may be used for a soundslide about South Sudan.  Still some research to do checking accuracy and no idea how the length will work out with image length. It feels like that last sentence is floating in space also. Comments welcome.

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There are parts of the world where politics is locked up, immobilised by power too centralised and bureaucratic sludge, and there are others where it’s very much active and relevant.  African politics in particular is ever turbulent.   For decades things can go along in a kind of stalemate, before one day it erupts, a window of opportunity appears – a real chance for progress – and people can either take it or let the opportunity slip away with the resulting misery.

South Sudan’s Indepenence in July of 2011 has offered one such opportunity.  Locked in Africa’s longest civil war for four decades, Sudan’s recent history is perhaps as turbulent as any.  Sudan’s borders, like many of Africa’s boudaries, were drawn up on European soil, and left disparate peoples trying to operate under one government.  South Sudan’s separation to form the world’s 193rd nation voted for by 98% of South Sudan’s population, is the first time that African borders have been redrawn from within Africa.

But even in a continent where you think every political scenario might’ve been played out before, the split of Sudan can be seen in a Black and white rarely seen in African politics.   South Sudan remains one of the most undeveloped countries in the world.  South Sudan’s reserves of oil and Uranium are relatively undeveloped, offering a very faint glimmer of hope that extraction might not neccesarily destroy the fabric of the country on a politic and social economic level.    Or it may be the poisoned chalice that leads back to war.

From a few weeks in South Sudan, while I saw one of the poorest countries in the world economically, I also saw one of the richest places on earth culturally.  The dirt tracks that criss cross the vast expanse can lead you to colourful peoples you will could not have imagined.  Their elemental lifestyle somehow gives you the feeling that being with them, you are that much closer to fire, water, courage, fear, life and death.  They touched me on a profound level I haven’t found elsewhere.

On visiting the cattle camps in Bor district, you can see humans co-existence with cattle has synenergised into a way of life which evolved through the centuries.  People and cattle.  Their nomadic lives might be admirable and incredible, but they are far from idealistic.  Lack of sanitation, healthcare and education make the cattle camps centres of disease and malnurishment.    Many are literally covered in cow shit from head to toe – even their orange and green hair dye is made from cow urine and shit.  It’s an assault that means it’s survival of the fittest – from before they are born babies must have or develop immunity, or not make it through.  But some do make it through, and for them our arrival offered some hope that we would click our fingers and white power and money would bring medicines and treatments for them and their cattle.  But even without medicines, education derived from modern science would say the first step would be to limit the spread of disease by putting some distance between them and their cattle.  And the process of ‘development’ immediately starts to errodethe character that makes these people so remarkable.

It reminded me of a story relating to the expedition that successfully conquered Everest in 1967.  With the party returning through the foothills of the Himalaya, Urkien Sherpa, who had lived there all his life, was asked what he thought of the successful conquering of the mountain they had lived next to for generations.  He paused for a moment and replied ‘I do not envy your restless spirit’.  He had highlighted a fundamental difference that separated peoples around the world.  As some believed in ‘progress’ – pushing science, developing medicines, and structures that reached into the sky – others simply believed in being.

There can be no right or wrong, but I stood in awe looking at people at the camp, and they stood in awe looking at me.