There are usually a couple good shortcuts to understanding a country. Traditional festivals are one, seeing how a populace unwinds, what it is grateful for, and what it pokes fun at. Elections of its leadership, of how it governs itself, are another. The second was my introduction to Kazakhstan, observing a national parliamentary election in the Fall of 2004. Or, at least an introduction to a small swath of the country. It is the ninth largest in the world, a million, fifty-three thousand square miles, larger than Western Europe, drinking from the Caspian sea and stretched wide between Russia, China and several ‘stans.
The frozen Zanskar river, part of the Indus watershed, has been used by the people of Zanskar—Tibetans who settled in the Zanskar valley over 1000 years ago, around Zangla and Padum—to go back and forth to communicate and trade with the outside world when all access is shut.
Should your birthplace determine your future? At the Diplomatic Courier and Ubuntu Education Fund, we know it should not, but we see that too often it does. The poor tend to stay poor. In the townships of South Africa where Ubuntu works, as well as in many places around the world, too many eager, intelligent children have no opportunity to go to school, to dream great dreams, and to work towards them. We all need roots to grow, but human beings are not trees: our roots should strengthen us, not hold us down. The children of the townships of South Africa play under the same sun as the children in the penthouses of Park Avenue. Children everywhere deserve the same chances, and opportunities to learn and grow. And if they get those chances, they are likely to succeed.
All too often, I find myself in the middle of a war or conflict photographing events as they unfold before me. I am certainly not thinking of the bigger political picture or the human consequences of that particular war or conflict. My immediate thoughts in those moments are survival, the man to the left of me, and the man to the right—nothing else matters.
This month the Diplomatic Courier takes on a distinctly Latin flavor. Latin America has long been the global economic sleeping giant. With deep reservoirs of culture, history, and natural resources, all of the pieces have long been in place. Countries like Argentina, Venezuela, and Brazil all appear to have the ingredients of juggernauts.
For myriad reasons, much of Latin America has instead lagged behind their potential. As the 21st century steps deeper into its second decade, the trend lines are pointing in new directions.
Latin America appears pointed full steam ahead. As multiple countries in Europe struggle and the U.S. continues to plod toward recovery, Latin America has been a steady source of growth. Is this the "Latin America decade"?
On December 16, 2012, a 23-year old female student was gang raped and brutally assaulted with an iron rod in a moving bus in Delhi, the capital city of India. Nearly two weeks later, she succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Singapore. A male friend, who was accompanying the woman that evening, was also assaulted and injured by the assailants. The incident sparked protests and outrage all over the country, with thousands of protestors, young and old, male and female, gathering in various spaces, including the centre of the city of Delhi. Demanding various changes, from death penalty and castration of the guilty to a change in a ‘societal’ mindset and ‘cultural’ value system, protestors withstood the government’s efforts to silence and disperse them. While this might have been one of the largest mainstream populist mobilizations against gender-based violence in recent times, violence against women is an ‘everyday’ reality, pervasive in its several manifestations across all spectrums of society. Therefore, mobilizations and protests must continue in various forms, addressing and engaging with the layered discourses and practices that define women’s lives, actions, and roles in the country.
Since ancient times, new beginnings–that’s carnival. It’s our craving to shuck memories of the slings and arrows that paralyze us. New Year’s resolutions disappear in the first head wind, but carnival has been serious about new beginnings since the Greeks partied to praise Dionysus and the Romans thanked Bacchus for wine and flora, fertility heavy on their minds.
Murdered by Titans, Dionysus/Bacchus was reborn. His worship generated irrational exuberance, frenzied revels by women, and much early theater and standup comedy. When condemned by Rome as a sinister source of vice and revolutionary unrest, the frolic was periodically rejuvenated by slaves and poor free men.
These traditions—celebrating man as a free being without hierarchy—blended easily with the various pagan rites of spring practiced by Germanic and other tribes. The Church tried to suppress carnival but ultimately decided if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, layering on compatible beliefs as they co-opted the locals. Carnival, or carne vale, comes from Latin, and means “flesh, farewell,” as Carnival heralds in the Lenten fast that leads to Easter. The mix with local and aboriginal beliefs creates an amazing array of traditions, extending to the New World and locales as far flung as India.
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