Letter from Afghanistan I

Salaam everyone,

I am back in Afghanistan, a totally different Afghanistan than I have ever seen before: the dry and dusty land I remembered is surprisingly green. There has been enough rain this year so the hills are carpeted with grass and grain, farmers plow their lands, goats and sheep happily jig around. It looks idyllic.

Farmer plows his land.

Burkhas are still used. The rural areas have no electricity yet and security has worsened.There are more clinics, but few medicaments available for the sick or injured. Serious cases must be treated in the cities. And renting a car is expensive.

Burkhas are still used.

Clinic in the village of Marghzar, Balkh province

I am staying with the Czech NGO People in Need; their main office is in Mazar-e-Sharif but their projects take place in rural areas. They have funds for work and livelihood projects, agriculture workshops, and the construction of new schools and granaries in these rural areas.

Men are building a road. This is a short-term intervention used by People in Need the Czech NGO to provide temporary employment in public projects, such as repairing roads, clearing debris or rebuilding infrastructure.

The funds for work projects, for example helps farmers with cash until a new crop will be harvested. Livelihood projects provide workshops for men as well as for women in different skills.

An agriculture workshop for women

I also continue with my own work. I continue with the portraits series, but I am not using my “portable studio”: the background is so pictorial it would be a shame not to use it.

A husband and wife stand together in a glade of trees

A boy proudly displays his digital wristwatch

Two Afghan National policemen

A farmer uses a scythe to harvest wheat

I am off in couple minutes to the field so I will continue when I am back in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Iva

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Letter from Ukraine 2009

Hello everybody,

I came to Ukraine to document and witness the 2010 presidential elections. To feel the atmosphere I came a month before the elections, and as grim year was ending, voters were getting to pick their president.

My last visit to Ukraine was at the end of the year 2004 – when the Orange Revolution was in full spin, where Victor Yushchenko was vaulted to power, when national self-esteem enhanced and hope was raised.  But the democratic coalition fell apart and paved the way for revolution villain Victor Yanukovich to possibly win the 2010 presidency.

I kicked the New Year with thousands of Ukrainians on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), sipping Ukrainian beer and freezing my feet and hands. The party was organized by the Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the 18 presiden-tial candidates.

Celebrating the new year on Maidan Nezalezhnosti.

People were cheerful and I think they didn’t worry for one night who will be their next president. Anyways, everybody knows there will be second round. Why to worry about the first one. There were 18 presidential candidates, 13 of them minors. A rumor says they are on the payrolls of front-runners and that their candidacies exist to steal votes from top rivals of a leading candidate.

People were cheerful.

Assessments by political analysts show that each presidential candidate will have to spend at least US $150–200mn to promote himself; this includes buying story lines in the media, visual advertising, canvassing, printing political material and, work with electoral commissions.

A billboard with a picture of Victor Yanukovich (Party of Regions), one of the candidates running in the 2010 Presidential elections.

A picture in a metro station of Yulia Tymoshenko (All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland”), one of the candidates running in the 2010 Presidential elections.

A billboard with a picture of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko (Our Ukraine party), in the build-up to the 2010 presidential elections.

One wonders why Ukrainians have their presidential elections in winter. Weather is cold, it snows a lot, and streets are not clean from snow or ice. Maybe this is a tactic; maybe top guys think not many people will go to vote in this kind of weather.

Commuters on their way to work walk past St. Sophia Cathedral, as snow falls over the city.

Well, some people love this freezing weather; they even take a pleasure of swimming in Dnipro River.

Well, some people love this freezing weather; they even take a pleasure of swimming in Dnipro River.

The first round of the 2010 Presidential elections took place on January 17. I can not guarantee that I will continue in my letters. When the presidential elections will start, there will be a very little time for writing.

Selam from Ethiopia

Selam from Addis Ababa,
I’m already three weeks in Ethiopia and I witnessed an election campaign, rallies and democratic polls. All went very peacefully. However, today May 21st, it’s going to be announced the result of the election (Addis Ababa region) and already the army of the ruling party is patrolling with heavy guns the streets. Two days ago all foreign Embassies had a meeting and made an evacuation plan. If anything happen we are in the zone two and we should evacuate to the French Embassy.

A man explains to voters how to fill in their ballots for the election.

Supporters of the opposition party CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy) wait for their leader to give a speech at the rally in Addis Ababa during the election campaign. There was a power failure and no speech was delivered.

I live at the Czech NGO house in Addis, and I do lots of photos in the streets. People are generally very nice, but you have unbelievable number of beggars here, they are from small children to old folks. It looks like the most popular job in Addis and whole of Ethiopia is begging. There are also many crazy people on the loose here, it happened to me twice that a lunatic picked up a large rock and was ready to throw it at me. I wasn’t hit thanks to nice people around me who protected me.

Ethiopian veterans remember the liberation of Addis Ababa from the Italian occupation (1936-1941). They entered Addis Ababa on 5 May 1941 and, joined by the Allied forces, forced the Italians out.

It seems to me that nothing is working properly in this country. Faucet when turn on and off comes away in your hand, lockers stopped working after few days, doors cannot be close properly, the sink is leaking, not mention our phone doesn’t work already for three weeks and nothing, nothing is happening. It looks like that it will not work for another year. That means for us no mail at home and we have to go to the public internet – pain in the ass.

On the other hand I love their juices, just for two Birr, it’s so thick that spoon could stay straight like soldier in it. The best one is from avocado, but mango, banana and another tropical fruits are not bad either.

Everybody told me that the worst of everything is to get some permission, an accreditation or any kind of papers from any ministry. I must say it took me two days to get an accreditation for the election period. And it took me also two days (one day I had applied for and second day I had picked it up) to get another one so I can shoot in their provinces (regions). Not bad, eh? I think that the Canadian passport helps a lot.

Children returning home from their classes. Many of them live quite far from their school and have to walk an hour or two, some even more.

I have decided to buy a mobile phone so I can be reached if there will be some jobs. My father always says you have to invest to make money. And as usual he’s right. The problem is you just cannot go and buy it. It takes time as everything else here. So it makes me frustrated, finally I have made my decision and want it immediately. Impossible task, ah.

There is a plenitude of fleas, dog fleas, cat fleas, human fleas. You killed three and ten you will get. Any closer approach to a farmer, a beggar or a homeless, there is a guarantee that at least one will jumps on you. I am bitten all over my body and will be until I will leave Ethiopia. I guess I have just to learn to live with it/them.

A boy feeds marabou storks with peaces of fish at the fish market.

I have to make a confession, today, when I left the Ministry of Information, I bought a ceramic bowl with my last money (it was so cheap I couldn’t resisted, just 6 Birr) and didn’t have one birr on me (have lots of at home) for minibus to get back home. So I begged on the street. One guy gave me one Birr, but he was so confused and couldn’t believe that a white man is begging. He said that he has never seen in his life “ferenie” who begged. Not nice from me, yah, but I didn’t want to walk about six kilometres.

So, I will try to send this letter today, or Monday if we will not have to be evacuated.

Iva