Monday, April 24, 2017

BEYOND THE BAY

Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration at the White House is set to take place today. He will take the Oath of Office, and make his first speech as the POTUS.

Before America wakes up to prepare to be great again, we’ve come up with a unique drinking game that everyone – immigrants, Mexicans, and Muslims (beat that) can play. Here’s how it goes:

We’ve picked out a few of Trump’s favourite words. When he uses them in his speech, you take a shot (or gobble a kebab).

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Artwork by Deswick Correa

‘Goat Yoga Class Has a Waiting List of 900 People’ is something I came across on Reddit’s ‘nottheonion’ subreddit, a place which aggregates satirical and hard-to-believe news from around the world. Naturally, I clicked on the link expecting to see yet another silly yoga fad, but I was pleasantly surprised. On the surface, it appears to be a yoga class for those who are not too serious about yoga and who love playing with cute animals (such as myself). You dig deeper and realise it is actually almost therapeutic.

Lainey 1
Lainey Morse

Earlier in 2016, Morse— Lainey Morse, the founder of Goat Yoga had let out her farm for a kid’s birthday party. A yoga instructor asked if she could host a yoga class there. A few goats joined the class and the concept was born. After working 10 years in marketing and freelance photography, Morse quit her job to work full time on ‘Goat Yoga’ and ‘Your Daily Goat’ at her No Regrets Farm in Willamette Valley, Oregon.

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What does a goat yoga class look like? “It’s a normal yoga class with a yoga instructor teaching it. The only difference is that I include my mini goats. They just wander around and sit on people’s mats, only to show their desire to be a pet and attract people’s attention. Most people don’t just get that interaction with goats or that country life, they are all so busy and stressed out. So they love that interaction with the goats,” Morse tells Bayside Journal.

It’s quite safe to assume that the concept has been a roaring success and has gone viral not once, but twice, with Morse being approached by a publisher to write a book. The official launch will be in spring, probably on the first of March, says Morse. The classes started in the summer of 2016 and in December there were a few special holiday goat yoga classes in her barn. “It was like 25 degrees (Fahrenheit) out with icy roads and yet people were driving hundreds of miles to come to the classes,  so it was a real success,” says Morse about the massive popularity of the classes. For those who don’t want to wait and are fortunate enough to be in that area, there is a special Valentine’s Day couple’s yoga class in February.

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The class attracts all kinds of people—from animal lovers and yoga practitioners to the curious. “I’ve had a lot of people who show up, who have never tried yoga before, and they say, oh, finally, a reason to try yoga! I have yoga lovers who love goats. All the people that have come are kind, wonderful people,” says Morse.

With a bunch of animals roaming around while you try your best to do a Dhanurasana, a little bit of interference is bound to happen. But you won’t really call that a hindrance. “People love it. When you have a little mini goat that comes up to you and nuzzles his head into you while you are trying to do a pose, you are probably going to stop that pose and pet that goat,” says Morse with a laugh. You’re damn right, I will!

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Goat Yoga sounds like a fuzzy, adorable activity but like anything else, it has its critics. “It’s not a real, serious yoga class and I know some people are thinking that I am destroying the legacy of yoga, but that’s not what I am doing. It’s just making people happy and getting them out amid nature and combining cute, adorable animals— now that can’t be a bad thing?” It’s quite the contrary.

Most city-folks such as me wonder—what are goats like? They are a little skittish, a bit afraid of things. My goats are very social, loving animals because I spend two-three hours with them every day since they have been babies. They are very used to humans. They probably think humans are put on this earth to pet them or feed  them. Some goats, people think, will head butt them or chew on something and some goats are probably like that because they haven’t been made to socialise like a dog or a cat. But, when people spend a lot of time with animals, they tend to be friendly and loving. I have trained mine to only play with people and not head butt them.

Are they like dogs, I ask, imagining myself petting a baby goat. “They are more like cats because they don’t know their names and they won’t come to you if you call them. They just will come up to you if they want attention,” says Morse with a chuckle. That sounds exactly like cats.

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Since goats are usually livestock and not domesticated pets, does Morse believe her classes will further the cause of veganism and vegetarians? “Most of my clients are vegans and vegetarians. I think people should live how they want and should not be judgmental of how other people live. I actually have some animal activists contact me and say I am exploiting my goats, which is ridiculous because they are probably the most spoilt goats in the world,” says Morse.

Morse’s end goal is not to start a quirky, new yoga fad. She plans to start animal-assisted therapy sessions with the help of a local therapist.

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“What I am calling it is ‘Goat Happy Hour’. It has nothing to do with alcohol but that’s how people feel when they leave. I have had people who are stressed out and depressed and sick. And when you get around goats, it is really hard to be sad and depressed when you have baby goats jumping around. I went through my own time diagnosed with a disease. I was in pain and in bad shape. I spent every day with those goats. It is very therapeutic. You forget that you are in pain. I know that it helped me and I know that it is going to help other people too.”

“I think a lot of people are just stressed out and sick of politics, war and the negative press. My hope is that I can be a trailblazing pioneer with the goat therapy. I have seen how many people (those who have come to her farm) it has helped,” says Morse.

When independent filmmaker Ruben Lagattolla decided to go to Syria, it was for a photo exhibition. However, 10 days later, he returned with material for his documentary, which is now going places. Titled Young Syrian Lenses, the documentary premiered in January 2015 and is about a group of young adults who became ‘media activists’ due to the war. With the regime taking over Aleppo in November 2015, Lagattolla released the documentary on the Internet. Speaking to Bayside Journal from his hometown in Italy, Ruben Lagattolla shares what propelled him to document these media activists, how he managed to enter Syria and the highlights of his 10-day stay in the country.

Back in 2012, when matters in Syria became worse, Ruben was working with refugees in Iraq’s Kurdish territories that had witnessed several Syrian refugees desperate for shelter. “It was my first experience with Syrian refugees. I was a cameraman then with a director and we were documenting the refugees and other minorities in Iraq,” he says, “I interviewed hundreds of Syrian refugees to get a sense of what was happening in the country they had escaped.”

A still from the film
A still from the film

Meanwhile, Ruben had met a photographer-friend in Italy, who was about to conduct an exhibition on media activists from Aleppo. “I found this idea crazy enough and thought of accompanying him,” he says. However, the venue was bombed and reduced to rubble days before their arrival. It was then that the idea of making a documentary on the activists struck Lagatolla. “The rate of bombardment had increased between September 2013 and March 2014, yet these activists were diligently covering the happenings. We decided to make a documentary by following them on their job,” he shares

A still from the film
A still from the film

Entering Syria

Ruben, along with his photographer-friend Enea Discepoli, entered Syria “illegally” on April 30, 2014, from Turkey, through the southern border of Hatay. “We took a flight to Turkey from Italy and paid for an agricultural truck to help us to reach the border. We were not alone. There were around 10 to 15 people, and yet there was complete silence in the truck. Once at the border, we dispersed quickly,” he says.

Ruben says they had to trim their hair and grow their beards to look like locals. Besides that, they also had to brush up their knowledge of basic Arabic to stay away from suspicion.

After crossing over to Syria, things weren’t as challenging. “We had an agreement with our friends in Syria, who had come to pick us up at the border,” he says. This was the time when the ambush had intensified and there were reports of ISIS kidnapping other nationals in Syria. “While we drove to Aleppo, we had to be constantly vigilant to avoid ISIS and the regime,” he says.

A still from the film
A still from the film

Welcoming Day and Life in Aleppo

No sooner had they arrived in Aleppo than the radio crackled with news of bombings in the vicinity. “Two blasts had led to a massive fire and we followed these activists immediately as they set out on their job,” he says and adds, “It was our welcoming day in Aleppo.”

The following days, says Ruben, were pretty much the same. Calling the situation “scary and gory”, Ruben recalls that they couldn’t sleep a single night. “After 11 p.m., there were curfews and electricity would be cut off. The generators don’t work for too long leaving the city in dark and silence after a while. You can hear petrifying sounds of explosions, firings, and helicopters hovering over the area in the dead of the night,” he says.

A still from the film
A still from the film

But Syrians are resilient, underlines Ruben. “It’s a hard life in Syria. Despite that the people were positive and hoping for the situation to improve. It was hard for us to adapt to the conditions, but they had accepted their fate,” he says.

Media Activists: A Phenomenon in Syria

Young Syrian Lenses is based on a group of 50 media activists from Aleppo’s Halab News. Halab News was initially a television network only; however, later they also got a website Halabnews.com. According to Ruben, these activists have been reporting from the affected and rural areas since 2011, with a focus on casualties. “While people were talking about the situation, I felt it was important to document these youngsters who went unnoticed,” he says.

Schermata 5
A still from the film

Interestingly, says Ruben, none of them were journalists before the war. “One was driving an ambulance, another was making perfumes and so on. Everything changed for them with the war,” he says and adds, “It was fascinating to me that unlike many, these boys did not take up weapons but cameras and pens for the cause.”

Ruben says their commitment for information, despite hardships, was significant. Besides that, they were not paid for the work, unless they received funds from the local council. “Coming from Western countries, remuneration is given importance. But these youngsters mostly worked without payments,” he says, “They were rebels dedicated for their country and cause.”

Even when the situation was tense, these guys started a satirical program mocking dictator Bashar Al-Assad. However, Ruben says, the protagonist of the program was killed by the Assad regime. The circumstances, he says, are extremely difficult and dangerous for journalists in Syria. “The Press Rights are not being respected by the regime,” he says and adds that he has now been put on the country’s blacklist.

Ruben Lagattolla
Ruben Lagattolla

Learning to Take Risks

Ruben says that risks have taught him a lot in life. “I think twice before going to a risky place every time. After all, I am attached to my life and don’t wish to be killed. But, at the same time, these places teach many life lessons that you would cherish forever,” he says, “My visit to Syria was worth it. I realised the significance of living each second,” he says.

Ruben says he won’t ever forget the humanity he was showered with in Aleppo. “We were welcomed by anybody and everybody we came across. Though they were helpless and restless, they spoke to us wholeheartedly,” he says.

By Laertes (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonhurd/2343445788/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the thaw in Indo-Pak relations following the Uri attacks in September last year for which India blamed Pakistan’s Jaish-e-Mohammed, Pakistan has released 218 fishermen who had allegedly strayed into Pakistani waters, reports Hindustan Times.

On December 25 last year, Pakistan had released 220 Indian fishermen who were imprisoned for more than year, as a goodwill response to PM Narendra Modi’s wishing Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday.

These fishermen were asked to be set free from Malir Jail by the Interior Ministry, said superintendent Hasan Sehto. He also said that about 110 more Indian fishermen remain imprisoned in Karachi in its Landhi Jail.

Both Pakistan and India are known to frequently capture each others’ fishermen for violating boundaries. Since there is no clear mark or a boundary that separates the Arabian Sea, poor fishermen are often arrested for illegal fishing. Just last Friday, 66 Indian fishermen were arrested for illegal fishing by Pakistan Maritime Security Agency. The only hope for the captured fishermen to be set free is through these goodwill gestures.

The phrase “Go to Pakistan” has become a fashionable insult of late. This insult is catapulted at anyone who says anything against the government or in criticism of India. The implication of it is, “Hey, you dared to insult our motherland. Why don’t you move to the country that is our arch-enemy?” We don’t say “Go to hell” anymore, because Pakistan is much worse in our eyes.

In the context of the times we live in, I find it interesting that many Pakistani Hindus are comfortable with and attached to their Pakistani identities. Recently, the Indian government declared that the fee for Indian citizenship for Hindus living in Pakistan has been reduced from Rs 15,000 to Rs 100. But it will not be surprising if a large chunk of them decide to continue living in the place of their birth.

Inherently Pakistani

The families of most Hindus residing in Pakistan have lived in this country for generations. These were the people who made the choice to not move to India after Partition. Some families migrated from rural areas to the more urban parts of the country. Today, a large number of Hindus live in the Sindh area.

Cosmopolitanism and Acceptance

Most people belonging to this community do not live in Hindu-only localities or ghettos. Digital marketer Priyanka Pahuja and member of the Agha Khan University Exam Board Ajay Pinjani live in Karachi, which is predominantly a Muslim city with a share of families who follow other religions. Jagdeesh Ahuja, a political analyst and columnist, resides in Sindh, and his neighbourhood is home to a mix of Muslims, Hindus, and Catholics.

Even when it comes to education, there are no Hindu-only institutes. Here too, Ajay and Priyanka found that a majority of their classmates were Muslims. In fact, Ajay was the only Hindu in his class. Priyanka’s friend circle has never been dominated by Hindus. “The rare cases of Hindu friends I have today are from the local Hindu community prayers or friends of friends. The number of Muslims definitely exceeds all other faiths in my friend circle,” she says.

Ajay and Jagdeesh find that a majority of their friends, too, are Muslims. Just like Priyanka, Ajay’s Hindu friends are his cousins and people he has met at family gatherings. Growing up, neither of them was told that they should make friends only in their community. Ajay credits this openness towards other communities to his parents’ warm and cordial relationships with people of other faiths.

Religion and Everyday Life

How often does religion come up in everyday conversation? Priyanka argues that it does not predominantly feature in her personal life. “My co-worker prays five times a day and I go to prayers every Sunday. I think we’ve all accepted everyone with their own set of rituals they follow,” she says. But she points out that religion is widely discussed if any communally charged incident occurs or if some religion-based news goes viral. Ajay has the same observation.

“Some political events in Pakistan have tremendously used faith as a weapon to shape a rigid mindset among common citizenry and provided free space to hate-speech against specific minorities,” says Ajay. Jagdeesh finds that religion is discussed quite widely in Sindh. “Since religion and sectarianism are being used in politics, it is a much talked about and very controversial topic,” he says.

The Minority Status 

Discrimination against Hindus seems to exist at different levels in Pakistan. “Everyone thinks that since you are a minority in the state, you must be discriminated. Personally for me, it hasn’t affected me enough to make me think about it,” says Priyanka. In fact, she finds that people pay more attention to her safety and protect her because she does not belong to the majority community.

Ajay says that even though he has not faced discrimination, his Hindu identity has led to some interesting experiences. Once, while volunteering for a summer camp in the Swat Valley, Ajay interacted with several internally displaced children. At the end of this camp, one child asked for his name and refused to believe that he is a Hindu. “You are so nice; you certainly can’t be a Hindu!” the child said. The child made Ajay repeat a verse and rejoiced that he had now converted to Islam.

Jagdeesh recites an incident of discrimination that has stayed with him for years. Once during his college years, he got into a discussion about Mohammed Bin Qasim, a man who is portrayed as a hero in textbooks and official narratives but was responsible for invading Sindh. When he tried to challenge Qasim’s positive portrayal, he was hounded for his views rather than listened to. “What kind of Muslims are you? A Hindu kafir is talking against our Islamic hero and you’re listening to him?” are the accusations that his friends had to hear. This incident taught Jagdeesh to remain conscious of his views during all discussions about religion.

Ground Realities

“Hindu families that are economically affluent and reside in the urban cities of Pakistan receive equal opportunities like any other Pakistani. However, those residing in rural areas, especially Sindh, become the victim of discrimination,” says Ajay. Minority rights activist Kapil Dev supports what Ajay says. There is adequate representation for the Hindu community in the country, but elected members mainly belong to the higher classes. In the northern part of Sindh, people face several issues such as forced conversions, kidnapping for ransom, and accusations of blasphemy, Kapil says.

He further adds, “Every time, there is an instance of religious extremism against Muslims in India, the reciprocal effect is felt here, on the Hindu community.” Kapil has experienced discrimination firsthand. He has been incorrectly called an Indian on national television. In fact, people often ask him, “Aren’t you Indian?”

Another issue is sheer indifference. “Most Hindus reside in Sindh, while only a few Hindu families live in other parts of Pakistan. As a result, the majority never really interacts with a Hindu; hence, may be indifferent to their existence as well,” says Ajay. Kapil finds it surprising that the majority is still largely ignorant about Hindus and their culture, considering that five million of them live in Pakistan.

The Protection Offered by Privilege

Priyanka acknowledges that the liberal attitude she has adopted may be a result of her socioeconomic background. “Probably because I was born and brought up in an educated environment and the city life surrounding included people with similar mindsets,” she explains.

Ajay says that he has not experienced the consequences of a negative, discriminatory mindset because of his socioeconomic status. “Since my family and I are economically privileged, live in relatively secured urban centers, and do not depend on the State for basic necessities of life, we have not directly experienced the consequences of such mindset. However, because of easy access to information, there is an indelible psychological impact on our lives,” he says.

A Sense of Home and Belonging

“Not just the Hindu community, anyone from any community in Pakistan would immediately pack their bags if given the chance and resources to move out,” says Priyanka. She says that the state of the economy and law and order in the country are a constant hurdle when it comes to building a career and earning a livelihood. Almost half of her paternal relatives have moved to India.

Despite this, she says that people wish to continue living in the country for reasons such as a sense of home and belonging, as well as loved ones. Apart from this attachment to the land, Ajay says he did not consider moving to India because its culture seemed foreign to him. His decision is also guided by the belief that if he is to shift to India, he will still be considered a migrant Sindhi rather than an Indian. Kapil says that it is this fear of not being accepted in India that will prevent Hindus from opting for the subsidised Indian citizenship, along with the inordinate amount of time that it takes for the citizenship to materialise.

Another reason why several Pakistani Hindus do not wish to leave their home is because they have been faring better over the last few years. From the celebration of Hindu festivals by Muslim leaders, to increased welfare programs and legislation, and a change in perception, their lives have improved massively since Partition.

“Magical realism is defined as what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe. There’s a reason magical realism was born in Colombia.”

The first episode of the Netflix series Narcos starts with these lines. Considering how surreal the story of Pablo Escobar is, it would not be surprising if there was some magical realism involved. This is the man who, at the height of his career, supplied 80% of the cocaine that was consumed in the United States. He is also the man who built his own prison. In addition to being surreal, his story has also made him seem powerful and awe-inspiring, especially after Narcos gained popularity. Fans of the show are proudly wearing t-shirts with his words “Plato or Plomo” written on them.

So really, who was Pablo Escobar? A charismatic drug lord with an army of sicarios who earned the love of the people? Or a criminal who ruined the country’s economy and the lives of thousands of civilians? While most people think of him as a gun-wielding powerhouse of awesomeness, Colombians detest him. And a lot of them think that Narcos is portraying him as a hero of sorts.

“The year I was born, two terrible events occurred. The first was a natural disaster where a volcano had erupted close to my hometown, and the second was the siege on the Palace of Justice, which is the Supreme Court,” says Valentina Macías Isaza, who was born and raised in Medellin, the city that Pablo Escobar operated out of. She explains that 15 days before and after her birthday, there was chaos, and Pablo was responsible for it.

“To this date, nobody knows exactly what happened that day when the Court was attacked; nobody can account for the missing people. The violence went on for three days. You can never get over that kind of violence. They dumped parts of people’s bodies into the rivers. Years later, people’s bodies are still being found,” she laments. Valentina lived through the years when Pablo was at the height of his power. Even though she and her family members were not involved in drug trafficking, their lives were still deeply impacted by it.

Why then did people perceive him positively? “At the beginning, nobody thought he was that bad. When he started making a lot of money, people started calling him Robin Hood. They thought he would take from the rich and give to the poor,” Valentina explains. He helped rebuild one of the slums in Medellin. The people from this slum which was renamed the Pablo Escobar neighbourhood praised him and saw him in a different light. But not many knew that he was undertaking this social work with an ulterior motive. After all, he needed to get rid of the information that the government had on him and bring down the stringent extradition laws.

“When you live in a community, what one person does affects the lives of everybody else. Just like genes get passed on from one generation to another, the consequences of actions too last beyond one generation,” says Valentina. One of the lasting memories she has of her childhood is the image and sound of windows rattling when bombs exploded a neighbourhood away. She distinctly remembers listening to the news about bombings and seeing posters of wanted criminals and of rewards offered for their capture.

What Pablo has left behind is more a train wreck rather than a legacy. The export of cocaine by his cartel has led to the rise of the “narco-culture” in Colombia. Along with narco-culture, there was the growth of the sicarioto, or an army of hitmen and a deep-seated fear of them, which exists even today. “In Medellin, there are these invisible frontier lines between neighbourhoods. If you are new to a particular area, you could get killed just because you entered it,” says Valentina.

But the impact of his decisions and actions does not end there. It also changed the way prostitution functioned in Colombia. When drug trafficking reached its zenith in the eighties and nineties, there were big parties to celebrate the export of cocaine to Miami, and prostitutes were invited to them. The parties got grander, and the types of prostitutes one could hire increased in number. “Prepaid prostitution existed then. Pamphlets and brochures would be passed around, and even university students were on offer,” Valentina recalls.

People began second-guessing the source of their neighbours’ and acquaintances’ money. “When we learn that someone has made a lot of money overnight, we directly assume that they are involved in trafficking drugs,” Valentina explains. Narco-culture also seeped into religion; the Virgin Mary gained a negative connotation during the eighties and nineties. Hitmen would have her figurine incorporated onto their guns and pray to her.

Reminders of Pablo’s life still exist. His tomb gets a large number of visitors every week, and his largest property, which has been turned into a park, is considered an exotic tourist destination. Colombians, however, don’t care much for it. “But Narcos is definitely the biggest reminder,” Valentina says with a chuckle.

Did life change after Pablo died? Even though the fear in the minds of the people reduced, circumstances did not change radically. Indiscriminate bombing reduced and life had become more peaceful. But drug trafficking is still a rampant issue. In fact, Valentina is of the opinion that it has only gotten worse, because it is now controlled by a group of militants. As she puts it, “With this type of business, whenever they cut the head, another one rises.”

Valentina has experienced the consequence of Pablo’s actions first-hand. But children who were born a generation after her know about him only from reference. “They don’t have the same kind of memories that my generation does. In a sense, even they are foreigners to history. For them, the story of Pablo is just an urban legend,” says Valentina. They probably know only a little more than the viewers of the TV series.

Narcos has impacted the way people all over the world perceive Colombians and the city of Medellin. Most people are impressed by the fact that Valentina hails from the same country as the famed drug lord. But she has also been discriminated against because of her nationality. “When I lived in the United States 15 years ago, it was terrible. I remember this one guy who would bully me in the corridors by saying, ‘Hey, Colombian! Where’s the coke? How much did you bring?’ For a 16-year-old, that can be traumatising,” she recalls.

But even the friends she made in the US weren’t always sensitive. “I love Pablo! I can’t believe I met a person from Medellin. You’re actually from his country!” they’d say. This seems to be the case for most people she meets; they are amazed that the story of Pablo is not fictional. They also ‘exoticise’ it. And this is where the problem lies: For non-Colombians, he is an anti-hero. For the marketing department of Narcos, he is a great symbol to use for branding. But for Colombians, he is a monster; an unfortunate reality. This is why many Colombians think that the creators of the TV series could have handled the subject in a more delicate and respectful manner. “For me, it’s as bad as selling products with Hitler’s mottos on it. They’re abusing a piece of history. But as a show in itself, I think it has been made well,” Valentina says.

Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office - Flickr. More details Displaced Rohingya people in Rakhine State (8280610831)

The Rohingya Muslims have been called “the most persecuted minority in the world” by several human rights organisations and academicians. According to Amnesty International, they have been at the receiving end of human rights violations for 38 years now. This group has been denied Burmese citizenship, and as of November 19, 125 of them who wished to leave Myanmar have been denied entry into Bangladesh.

1. Who are the Rohingya Muslims?

They are a Muslim minority ethnic group belonging to the Indo-Aryan race. They speak a dialect of Bengali. While some of them live in India, Pakistan, and other countries in Southeast Asia, a majority of them reside in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

They are neither considered to be citizens of this country, nor do they feature in the list of Burmese ethnic groups. They are thought of as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by the Buddhist population of Myanmar, and are called Rohingya Bengalis.

2. What conditions do they live in?

Interfaith relations are far from harmonious in Myanmar, and the majority Buddhist community has been called Islamophobic because of the way that Rohingyas have been treated in this country.

They are not allowed to vote and they have limited opportunities when it comes to education and employment. They have a very low socioeconomic status and a significant number of them live in ghetto-like camps.

3. Why are they being persecuted in Myanmar?

Since October 9, the Rakhine area has been under lockdown because nine police officers were killed in an attack on three border posts. The police suspected that it was the Rohingyas who were behind this attack.

However, this is not the first instance where this community has been targeted; in a series of riots in 2012 and the refugee crisis of 2015, several lives were lost.

4. Why do they want to leave their country?

In the month that has passed since the lockdown, hundreds of Rohingyas have been killed, hundred others have been detained by the military, and 1.5 lakh people have been deprived of basic necessities like food and medical aid. Accusations of rape have been made by Rohingya women against Burmese officials. The extent of the destruction is so large that satellites have captured images of razed villages. This treatment of the community has been called the beginning of orgnanised genocide and ethnic cleansing.

In an attempt to escape the violence spewing in Rakhine, Rohingya Muslims are fleeing the country. Of the 125 people who wanted to flee 61 are women and 36 are children. They got into seven boats and travelled across the Naf River to Bangladesh, where they were stopped at the border by the Bangladeshi Border Guards.

5. What action have the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments taken?

The staff of one of the Border Guards of Bangladesh provided food and medicines to 82 people. However, these people were turned back and two boats with 86 people were pushed back.

The Bangladesh government has increased security measures along the border and hundreds of troops have been deployed for patrolling. Nobel Peace Prize winner and the State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised because the government has denied the Rohingya claim of persecution at the hands of the army. On November 19, the Myanmar media also denied the claims of the Bangladeshi army about the presence of Rohingya refugees at the Bangladesh border.

Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons/Voice of America News: Scott Bobb reports from Aleppo, Syria

On November 18, several babies who were placed in incubators had to be evacuated because an air raid hit a hospital in Aleppo. According to a report on Aljazeera.com, nurses had to struggle through the darkness in the hospital’s wards to move patients to safety. One of the evacuated babies still had hospital tubes attached to their body. After countless children and adults, premature babies have now become collateral damage in 2016’s biggest refugee crisis.

This facility was the only children’s hospital in the affected area, and now, it is out of action. Three of its floors were destroyed and the staff was forced to move patients to the basement.

This Syrian city witnessed 30 airstrikes that have critically paralysed all hospitals and makeshift medical facilities says a Doctors Without Borders report. This has never happened in the history of the eastern part of the city. In the past, hospitals have been rebuilt and have gone back to functioning normally, but this does not seem possible now. On November 18, the last standing hospital in East Aleppo was attacked.

Reports from other sources say that even though there are some functional facilities, people are reluctant to visit them, and this is hardly surprising. This tragedy occurs at a time when 2,50,000 people are living under siege and there is an acute shortage of basic necessities, such as food and medical supplies.

Rescuer group White Helmets say that their equipment and vehicles have been damaged. This, combined with the systematic attacks on hospitals and medical warehouses, has left the civilians with no options. “What is not clear is how much longer the health system, already on its knees, can carry on functioning unless the bombing stops and medical supplies are allowed in,” a source from Doctors Without Borders says.

Earlier this year in April and May, the al-Quds and al-Dabit hospitals were bombed. In June, the al-Bayan and al-Hakeem hospitals, as well as the Abdulhadi Fares clinic, were attacked by airstrikes. In September, the M2 and M10 hospitals were bombed. In October, M10 was attacked again.

Aleppo has had a divided existence since 2012, with the eastern half of the city being controlled by rebels and the western half by the government. It has been claimed that these attacks on Aleppo have been carried out based on orders given by the Syrian and Russian governments. However, both governments deny this claim.

Those week-old babies, who were evacuated, will grow up in a world that is very different from the one their parents grew up in. The only good news that has emerged out of this is that all of them are safe. But will these children ever be able to live without fear?

Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland

In 1989, when a 17-year-old Rami Adham left his Syrian homeland to move to Finland for further studies, Syria was very peaceful. Today, Syria is no more the place he used to know. “The Syria I knew back then was the most beautiful place on Earth. Syria as a country is very rich in history and multicultural. It is a great spot in the world situated between three continents. It is the place I acquired valuable social habits that will stay with me for a lifetime. Now, sadly, it is a war-torn land where the common man is bombarded every day with barrel bombs or Russian air jets,” says Rami, with grief in his voice.

Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland
Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland

Twenty-three years down the line, it pains him deeply to watch his motherland face the on-going turmoil that broke out during the Arab Spring of 2011. A journey that he embarked upon five years ago to provide relief to his country has come a long way. In 2012, he made his first trip to Syria and delivered food and medicines, along with toys, a noble thought brought to him by his daughter Yasmeen. “Kids love toys, it makes them happy,” says Rami, who is fondly known as ‘toy uncle’. His journey is now a movement that has received global support. It inspired Rami to start ‘SUOMI SYYRIA YTHEISO’ (SSY), an organization that provides relief to Syrians who are trapped in their own homeland. “There is nothing more or less I can do for them; I have to help my people with whatever is in my power.”

Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland
Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland

To date, Rami has made 28 trips to Syria, and delivered over 20,000 toys to children there. “In the past, I have legally entered Syria with 70 kgs of toys with me, but after Turkey closed its borders in 2015, I had to find illegal routes to enter.” It is the locals who help him navigate from Aleppo to Amteh and other parts of Syria, and even rescue him when need be. Early this year, there was a rocket attack during which he sustained serious injuries to his head, back and shoulders. Yet, he never let that deter his spirit. But that wasn’t enough for him. Aside from toys, he carries around 25 to 40 thousand Euros with him, with which he buys food and medicines for the refugees. He has even built three schools near the borders of Turkey. “Toys can bring smiles to their faces, but they cannot feed the children. Children need food. 66% of kids in Syria do not attend school since the start of the war and if this continues, we will lose Syria’s future. So in a way, providing them with food, medicines, and education is investing in their future.”

At his home in Finland, Rami lives with his wife and six children; two boys, and four girls, all of whom support him whole-heartedly in his endeavours. “My wife looks after my daughters and sons, and as far as I am concerned, that’s the greatest help for me,” says Rami. In fact, his family helps him to pack the toys and to prepare for his journeys every time. Such a journey requires at least six weeks of advance planning, and he makes these trips every two months. He says his home, office, and warehouse are filled with toys sent to him by children and well-wishers all over Finland.

Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland
Image Credit: Facebook/SSY Finland

Through his Iftar Project, he was able to feed 3000 families every day during the holy month of Ramadan, and even employed 21 locals to help him out. If that wasn’t enough, over 2000 children have been educated in the schools built by him, of which he has sponsored studies for 350 of them to date. Rami is currently looking for assistance from Go Fund Me, to build a high school in Syria.

Every time Rami returns from Syria, he starts planning for his next journey, not knowing what lies ahead of him. He hopes and prays everyday for Syria, his motherland, to be freed from her turmoil.

Ninety nine percent of us aspire to quit our jobs and travel but hardly any of us has the balls to do it. Meet Sai Kumar, part of the ‘hardly any’, who quit his boring desk job, packed the saddle bags on his Royal Enfield Thunderbird and set off from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu where he lives.

“My work was just numbers and sales. Somedays it was sitting on a desk and staring in the screen. I worked there (Qatar) for three years. It got monotonous and I started to hate every minute of it and I wanted to quit for the longest time,” he says.

Was it an out of the blue f*ck-it-I-am-quitting-this-job or was it a planned trip? “Quitting the job was the plan, travelling just followed.” He laughs. “The first two months I was doing nothing, I was just roaming here and there but then I started looking for a bike because you need a vehicle to roam about and once I got that bike, I started reading about how people have travelled all the way up to the north and so it happened that it was the season as well, so I thought to myself, why not?’’

img_0400
Sai Kumar

In spite of turning 30 this year, there was no escaping from parent’s over protection. Kumar tells us when he first pitched in this idea to his parents, they might or might not have questioned their son’s mental health. Kumar’s parents reside in Abu Dhabi but distance had nothing on Papa’s scolding, “So when I told my parents, they thought I lost it. They thought I completely lost it and everybody kept on saying ‘Sai is gone mad now’.”  Eventually he came up with a convincing lie that involved a group of imaginary bikers travelling along with him and then his parents were half-convinced.

When D-Day was near, Kumar finally told him that he’s going alone and this is just something he has to do and in that very moment his Dad’s blood pressure shot up and it remained high for two days.

We’ve all come across the quote ‘When you travel alone, you’re not really alone.’  I asked Kumar if he met people throughout his journey, he tells us “Oh, of course! I met tons of people that I’ve lost count. There was this foreigner who was walking all the way to Leh Ladakh and it was crazy. He had a backpack and a camera and he was just walking. So what happened was when I was entering the Jammu Kashmir post I had to stop put the entry on the check post, where the police checks your vehicle number and everything. So when the cop asked him where is your vehicle and he just goes like ‘No, I’m just walking all the way.’ and both me and the cop just looked at him and wondered if he was okay.”

What about finding places to stay? That must have been expensive. “Finding a place to stay wasn’t hard at all! There were pretty decent rooms for 500 rupees per night and there was absolutely no tension.”

Rajasthan
Rajasthan

When asked if it got boring for a while to just ride the bike, Kumar denies with a stern no. “It never got boring. When you’re travelling like this, every single day is different. For instance, when I arrived to Amritsar, I initially thought I’d stay here for a day and then leave but I ended up staying for five days.”

A flooded Rann of Kutch

From seeing magnificent Leh skies to the legendary Taj Mahal, Kumar also visited Rann of Kutch. But it didn’t go as planned.

“Funny thing that happened was, when I left Rann of Kutch, 10-15 kilometers in I realized that I had forgotten my camera. So I went all the way back to get it, and it was still there because nobody other than me visited that place. It was insane,” he says.  Well, it may have been crazy but Kumar now has a brilliant story to tell his grandkids.

Saach Pass

Kumar also had the privilege to ride up to Saach pass and as outstanding as it looks, it is really frightening to walk there, let alone ride a bike.

“So what happened was, I could not go to Srinagar from Amritsar because of the curfew and the other route was to go through Manali, and there was also this other British guy Peter who has been travelling the whole world on a motorbike and now he’s in India so he had also made it up from Tamil Nadu and he asked me to join him. When he told me we’ll go through the Saach pass, I agreed and I didn’t even know what it was. But then when we were riding I realized this is some horrendous trail, it’s not even a road. Like there are waterfalls and the road is quite quirky, so one slip and you fall. There’s no going back after that. So you have to be very careful.”

Leh

He is 30. Does getting older make it harder to travel? He answers, “I know people say age is a number and all but I think travelling should be done in your 20s. I turned 30 just recently and I found it a little difficult to push myself to wake up every morning. I know I am growing older now. So when you’ve got the chance, you have got to grab it. When you keep on saying ‘nahi baad mein karlenge, purri life hai’ you forget that as you grow older, your responsibilities increase. There is job, there is marriage, and there is kids. So when you’re 20, you have time in your hand, enough time to travel.”

Zanskar valley. The confluence of two rivers. Indus and Zanskar. (Jammu & Kashmir)
Zanskar valley. The confluence of two rivers. Indus and Zanskar. (Jammu & Kashmir)

What about the myth that the whole world changes after you travel? “See, nothing will change after you’re back. Reality will hit you in the face. But when you’re out there, it’s great. I remember when I was on the road and coming back, I asked myself, ‘Do I really have to go home now?’”

Rohtang Pass! I could touch the clouds here! (Himachal Pradesh)
Rohtang Pass (Himachal Pradesh)

I asked him if he achieved his end goal, that was, finding himself, he says, “I did. I don’t know exactly but I can definitely say that I’ve become way calmer than I used to be. I’ve realized that nothing really matters in the end. The realization that there is so much more outside of all the chaos that we surround ourselves with, that there is a whole different world outside waiting to be explored only came to me when I was on that bike and it was one of the best moments ever.”

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