wtorek, 14 grudnia 2010

Lot do Afryki

Alpy koloru ciemnego piernika zalane puchem jak przypieczony na wierzchu lukier. Zbocza zakrapiane ciemnozielonym tuszem wilgotnych o tej porze roku iglaków.
Cały region spowity cienką woalką szarych chmur, jak welon panny młodej.

Lecimy nad Adriatykiem, pod nami z jednej strony półwysep Apeniński a z drugiej Bałkański. Szarobłękitny. Na nim jak oka w rosole podłużne wyspy otoczone białą obwódką biało piaszczystej plaży. Gdy wylatujemy coraz głębiej w morze, chmury się rozwarstwiają i zawieszone są na dwóch poziomach. Pierwsza warstwa jest wciąż woalką, druga to małe kłęby, owieczki zupełnie nieregularnie rozłożone. Turbulencje świadczą o wyraźnych ruchach powietrza przenikniętego promieniami słońca. Białe fale poprószyły morze jak cukier puder.

A ponad tymi chmurami ten sam zawsze księżyc, jak pół plastra cytryny, który w miarę przemierzonych mil odsłania coraz to nowe oblicze z uśmiechniętej buzi północy do południowego królika. W grudniu wskazuje kierunek południowo-wschodni i wcale się nie dziwię, że odbił swoje oblicze na flagach Turcji czy Chin.

Z czasem warstwa chmur staje się coraz grubsza. Zasuwam białe plastikowe okienko samolotu.

wtorek, 20 lipca 2010

Mad Developing World

The year was known as 2010. It was the moment in time when the human species utterly dominated the landmass of a planet they called Earth and the Big Bang was held as the best prevailing scientific model for the beginning of the Universe. They believed that there were more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe, and named their own the Milky Way. They reckoned their genus, homo, was about 2.3 to 2.4 million years old (though some doubted it).

They had many pending questions but also many convictions. Believers in Gods were divided among 2 billion Christians, 1.2 billion Muslims, 800 million Hindus and 700 million followers of other religions. Some suggested there had never been any God, some had sought to prove that the concept of God originated in their minds. Others, though, didn’t even think about it.

It was that time in the history soon after the discovery of the wheel. The people from the northern part of the planet came to the conclusion that it would be good to create a ‘vehicle’ to move faster along the planet’s surface or just above it, sending a rocket to a nearby moon. They loved to laugh at their ancestors’ mistaken beliefs, like the Sun orbiting the Earth, or hardly a century before, of the mounting problem of New York swimming in horse manure. People from the 2010 however rarely questioned their own discoveries and mindsets.

Many would wear shoes so as not to get their feet dirty or to appear higher than they in fact were. People actually quite liked to interact with nature; they would mow the lawn, paint their faces or wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun.

Two hundred years was but a flash in their long history, a blink of the eye, yet it defined their present in so many ways. Some of the pale northern human nations ‘developed’ more or less 200 years beyond the others and subsequently tended to believe in their superiority. They were thusly convinced of their right to impose their mindset on the rest of the planet. Even instances of violence between the inhabitants of the same geographical region were reported with some groups feeling dominant over the others.

The ones who traveled to destinations that they considered ‘less developed’ did so for money, bad intentions or power (their own or the power of their ideology) – all in all, to take advantage of the other human beings. Consequently, some ate a lot and some died of hunger. Others sought in the ‘less developed areas’ mere entertainment or relaxation – as they reckoned – you could still find unspoilt and natural spots that used to cover the planet beforehand. The vast majority couldn’t afford travel or were completely uninterested.

Finally, there were those who believed it was paramount to develop the undeveloped ones. Their intentions were various too – from a need to provide a helping hand to pity or mere pretense.

Amongst the inhabitants the wisest used to gathered at summits which aimed at either the uniting of nations or particular interests of their countries. Many argued which was the right approach.

It was 2010. It was a moment in time.

A man from Ireland sipping a coffee from a paper cup turning a page of a magazine reads about hundreds of millions of gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. A girl driving her SUV vehicle to work, and thinking of the topic of her new post in a blogging competition. Another summit about the MDG campaign at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

An Ethiopian kid crying and shivering from hunger. A lonely mother from Djibouti gazing out of her window dreaming of sending her son to school. A smiling girl from Niger reading a leaflet on the work of the national parliament. A mother and a child dying during birth in Angola. A South African coughing up blood during the World Cup finale. 2010. China overtaking Germany to become the largest exporter but also the largest carbon dioxide emitter. Americans thriving in their global economy with just 0.16 of their GNI for the ‘developing countries’.

The promise. In 2010 some believed that a promise ‘would help’. That a campaign ‘would make it’. Every time more articles were being written, every time less was being done.

2010. A moment in time.

If you have any ideas how the planet in 2010 could be helped please send me an email or call to +353 876 18 33 21.

*According to the MDG Monitor the countries mentioned here are making the least progress in achieving selected MDG goals.

środa, 14 lipca 2010

A quarter-century after

It was 13 July 1985, midday. Thousands of people gathered at the Wembley and JFK Stadiums. Queen started off with the “Bohemian Rapsody” and the crowds went wild. The clapping sequence of “Radio Gaga” left a mark on the history of live music. And so did the multi-venue concert.

Two stadiums –Wembley in London and JFK in Philadelphia were full. An estimated 2 billion viewers from over 60 countries witnessed what was later to be described as the greatest rock concert in history.

It appeared completely innocent and the cause seemed so right. The 1984-1985 famine in Ethiopia decimated its inhabitants. Moreover, the success of the Band Aid’s charity single “Do they know it’s Christmas” (it became a number one and sold more than 3.5 million copies in the UK) indicated that such initiatives could gain a lot of attention.

You couldn’t stay indifferent confronted with those images. A video shot by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation showing starving and diseased Ethiopian children was broadcast to audiences around the world as well as to the crowds gathered in London and Philadelphia, after which the number of calls to the 300 phone lines manned by the BBC skyrocketed.

Amongst many, on the same stage of London Wembley Stadium performed U2, Dire Straits, Queen, Elthon John, David Bowie, The Who, George Michael, Sade, and Paul Young. On the other Black Sabbath, Santana and Pat Metheny, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Madonna, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan, to name just a few.

The clarity of intentions of the superstars involved might be questioned. Many admitted that although an event of this magnitude had sounded improbable, they were eager to take part in it for the sake of the buzz it generated. The image of combining the culture of pop with the philanthropy appeared positive. The era of commercialisation of aid initiatives was on its way. The artistic expression was to serve as means of the protest against the policies of the governments and the consequences of the globalisation.

The initiative has not been without controversy. Although the words of Bono and the lack of transparency in the money allocation initially generated waves of criticism, the aftermaths of the concert were a time bomb. It wasn’t until June 2005 that Fox News television host Bill O’Reilly claimed that large amounts of the funds were siphoned off by Mengisty Haile Mariam and his army.

That critique was followed by another in March this year when Martin Plaut of the BBC reported that vast sums of the fundraised money was spent on weapons by rebels from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front who allegedly posed as merchants (one of the rebel leaders estimated the amount of money diverted for $95 million).

Although Bob Geldof, the founder of Band Aid initially dismissed the claims, documents released by the CIA confirmed aid was “almost certainly being diverted for military purposes”.

Many critics have also underlined that similar events divert the attention of the global north from the trade reforms and put emphasis on uncritical boosting aid.

You can’t question however the undeniable role Live Aid played in the sensitisation of the global community, which ever since has been more critical and cautious than ever.

A quarter-century after Live Aid I invite you to enlist with me in the comments section the lessons that we have learnt during the course of the years.


‘May I come in?’ – ‘You are welcome, muzungu’ – I heard a low and dry voice.
‘So this is what a witch doctor’s ‘office’ looks like’ – I thought and sat in the chair opposite.

Dr. Picho was on a phone explaining the dosage to one of his patients…


If I am being honest, I used to label all the practitioners as witch doctors and believed witchcraft was practiced by primitive people. I had also an impression that both Western doctors and the missionaries didn’t acknowledge the traditional beliefs and considered that by helping the locals wipe them out they would help Africa to take a seat among the civilized nations in the world. I wasn’t sure whose view was right and assumed the truth was somewhere in the middle.

So I treated it more like an experiment. From my fellow Ugandan journalists I got a telephone number to Mama Fiina – the Uganda’s most recognised witch. She didn’t seem to be willing to meet me – her secretary kept on calling off our appointment and I was a little scared by her creaky voice so… I just took a newspaper and looked through the ads.

Most of them showed one direction, Makindye so without further ado I jumped on a boda boda and we rushed through the jam up one of the Kampala hills…


‘So you are a journalist!’ – said doctor Picho, a grandson of two Ugandan kings – ‘I am surprised! You, bazungu, usually come with health issues – there are many Americans visiting us – high blood pressure, diabetes, overweight - all sorts of problems. How did you know how to get here?’

‘I just opened a newspaper.’

‘OK, no problem. If you want, I can also show you the Owino market , cause I need to buy some herbs. Would you like to get some help yourself?’

‘No, thanks’ – I smiled.

This is the result of that first interview (if you use Firefox and can't see the sound click here) :


It was all very confusing – dr. Picho would denominate himself as a herbalist yet what he had in his offer seemed very far from healing popular illnesses. With his help I got to meet mr. Haji Sentamu, the president of the Uganda Medical Practitioners' Association. I was surprised to discover, the practice was legal and there were 250 thousand herbalists registered in 33 million Uganda population, with illegal workers outnumbering the registered ones. As six million Ugandans believe in witchcraft, a well-known healer can earn as much as 3 million Ugandan shillings (over $1300).
I was soon to discover priests and doctors were far from disregarding the achievements of the local healers. In Malawi I talked to some medical students from Ireland working for World Medical Fund, who convinced me about the healing properties of some of the African herbs and acknowledged traditional medicine as equally important as the Western one.


In Zambia I talked to one of the many priests that believe in supernatural powers – Salesian Father Eustace Siame, who considers himself an exorcist.


It also turned out that rich and educated people, among them political leaders make up a large number of the witch doctors customers.


Behind the closed eye

For the next appointment with a healer I didn’t bring any recorder or camera. In fact, I didn’t go to a herbalist. I believed I needed something that would feel like real magic. A witchdoctor, not a herbalist.

I didn’t share it with anybody but a girl who introduced to the ‘sangoma’. In a remote location, in the outskirts of Kampala she showed me the way to the shrine. We sat on plastic chairs and waited, I then paid and we could enter the room. We needed to take our shoes off and kneel down in front of him as soon as we entered.

‘I would like to enchant a man so that he falls in loves with me’ – I uttered. He first inhaled something, then he put his hands above my head and started whispering words. I blacked out. When I woke up I was lying on the carpet. He was seated in his armchair and said he had seen my future and that if I had a man in mind, I should better get him out of my head. He predicted I was soon going back to Poland (at that time I thought I was to stay 2 more years) and that I would have problems with sinusitis.

I left that room convinced witch doctors manipulate reality. I was sure there was no difference between him and doctor Picho. The next day I was at home and while preparing a lunch I opened a drawer. Inside there was a small snake standing and hissing at me. I ran outside and called a boy from the local market, who came with a stick and killed the snake.

‘How on earth could the snake enter the wardrobe?’ – I was pretty emotional – ‘It was in the drawer inside a locked room and I was the only person who would have the keys to either, the drawer had no hole’ – I wondered.

‘Somebody from the neighbourhood has been doing magic’ - the housekeeper shrugged her arms – ‘Such things happen when the witchcraft is involved’.


Sections of The Uganda Witchcraft Act of 1957 state: “Any person who directly or indirectly threatens another with death by witchcraft or by any other supernatural means shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction shall be liable to imprisonment for life”. It adds, “Any person who practices witchcraft or who holds himself out as a witch, whether on one or more occasions, shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction shall be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.”

Recently, traditional healers petitioned in the Ugandan parliament to amend the act. They felt the vague definition of witchcraft undermined their work.

In fact, I am among many who, quite understandably, tend to confuse healers, because:

a) their scopes of work vary and some, in order to be able to work legally, call themselves herbalists, although they do practice bad magic;

b) witchcraft experience is not necessarily the first thing your Africans friends would share with you, if they know anything about it at all.

One thing we can’t deny is the absolutely vital presence of witchcraft in the society and the role it has played in the African history and the growing number of child sacrifice – something that has to be dealt with immediately.

You can read this post at:

poniedziałek, 10 maja 2010

Blue-eye perspective of Uganda

Hotel Kakanyero, Northern Uganda.

This is definitely not the way I imagined my life as a correspondent.

Blue mosquito net, dirty bed sheets, an old blanket and a broken TV set on a wooden shelf. One of my friends working as a doctor in the Kampala Hospital, Mulago explains to me on phone that although he would give Kakanyero 14 stars he wouldn’t quite recommend using their towels. I had already lost 10 kg and the esteem that comes from producing a documentary for Save the Children in Uganda seems to fade against my constant thoughts about the food I am going to eat for free during this 5 day stay in Gulu and the planned journeys to Rwanda and then, through Kenya to Zanzibar I will be able to afford for the little fee I would get.

Why do I need to resort to working as a documentary producer? Well, for the previous three months the editors from the radio station I worked for had requested ONE report (I am being paid per sound). “Too much of Africa” – they explain.

Polish media can't afford to sponsor many permanent correspondents but I am also too stubborn a journalist to comply with the editors’ idea of what Africa is and what it’s not. I refuse to provide fascinating adventures of a reporter-Indiana Jones in the centre of attention - straight from the jungle or a desert who – for the mere fact of stepping in here is already a hero per se. I have also denied to cultivate Afro-enthusiasm or Afro-pessimism - I feel there is no point in going to Uganda to look for inauthentic situations, chosen participants, always cheerful or always desperate Africans, just brilliant or just stupid chiefs of tribes, breathtaking sunsets a la “Out of Africa” or “night of terror” a la National Geographic sort of images – a lion throwing itself on an antelope in a wild scenery. No. I would love to capture situations in their complexity and as objectively as possible and there seems to be no demand at all.

Subsequently, I find it extremely hard to find a sponsor – the last thing any brand would look for is associating itself with lack of basic resources, without manipulation and sensationalism. At the end of the day, I will be accounted for the audience ratings.

So I am living an alternative – I plunged into the culture to go beyond the common perception and consciousness of a simple tourist in Africa – to gain it’s peoples trust, live their life and experience their problems. I therefore pass five malarias, amoeba, a motorcycle accident, I myself attend to a witchdoctor to check out his services, I see people from the village dying and visit them in the hospices.

It’s all a bit tricky – by living in a village and spending some 20 dollars per month you may yourself lose common sense. Secondly, you need to realize you will never really live their life – the difference is you can always quit, you can always just leave the place – they cannot.

But there is one big advantage. The at first whispered conversations become louder. You start understanding what the locals think about you – white, visitor, stranger. That’s how you can also become more humble – at first I am being criticized for my individualistic ways, for my tendency to consider everything from the Euro-centric point of view. “Why would you, whites, live if you were lonely islands – an effort from the whole village is necessary in order to bring up one kid, this has been in our history for centuries” – I hear. “Why do you compare our system to democracy? Nobody said this is what we aspire to? Why aren’t we allowed to create a system that would suit us, taking into account our love for having one king – the father of nation?” – another question follows. I am to discover how relative everything is and how biased I had been. I decide therefore to be a carte blanche.

I also choose to have just one question in mind: How to help Africa and to always have clear intentions. I never ceased to look for this one answer.

In my posts I will try to reveal to you what I discovered and explain what led me to my way of thinking. I will mainly talk about one country – Uganda: as was correctly pointed out by director Marina Ponti – all countries are different and single stories create stereotypes.

Join me on my journey, moments that have become part of my life.

Maybe I am wrong somewhere. If so, please, correct me.

MY POST FROM THINK ABOUT IT: for the original article click here

poniedziałek, 22 lutego 2010

Short a quarter of soap

In spite of the government’s initiative, the refugee camps in Northern Uganda are still bursting at the seams.

by Helena Goldon

Shanty towns, made up of innumerable clay huts, each numbered with chalk, engulf the landscape. Proud mothers, grandmothers and clan elders pose for photos, each in front of the makeshift housing they’ve called home for over 20 years. When they find out that a white journalist is coming to visit they arrange the hut especially by bringing chairs from the neighboring camp. I sleep on a rented bed with the clan all around me on the floor. At night a noise wakes us up – rats. Young girls carefully light up kerosene lamps – each match has here a value. I invite them to join me on the bed but they refuse. In the morning the members of the clan will have nibbled fingers, rats will have mercilessly tortured their hands.

The influx of aid workers to Acholiland is gargantuan - during a short interview with one of the UN officials I learn that in Gulu – the epicenter of the 22 year old war – the number of registered NGO’s (4,000) already outnumbers the official figure for street children in the entire town.

Nonetheless, initiatives on the ground are scattered and many are out of place. The distribution of 15,000 free treatment cards for health centers by one NGO seems ridiculous when contrasted against the fact that people are still living beside waste dumps and filthy latrines – the very sources of the bacteria and diseases that are decimating the camp. The promotion of mosquito net use, distributing condoms or the promotion of healthy lifestyles seems to fade in comparison when the everyday battle is for something more important, more fundamental. Food.

When 4 years ago the World Food Programme systematically supported refugee camps in Northern Uganda, each of the families would get around 50 kg of maize monthly. For 8-10 people. Today there is no maize and I can’t really figure out what the habitants of the camp eat. They themselves find it hard to answer the question ‘How are you able to survive with no job, no income generating activity and insufficient support from the NGO’s working on the ground?

When I ask about our supper they answer with a toothless, genuine smile. I soon find out that our meal will consist mainly of white ants, a realization for which my stomach is going to pay a high price. The meal, made up of roots, ants and some maize mixed with sand, grinds down teeth. The sound of masticated gruel is accompanied by an orchestra of clicking cicadas, and the noise of bonfire parties where one beer is mixed with water so that it suffices for ten.

Before talking to the self-appointed chief of the camp, activists of the local NGO’s advise me to buy a box of blue soap for the camp inhabitants. We cut it in quarters. This will meet the needs of a few dozen families - one quarter for one family for one month.


According to local NGO officials, there are around 146 people dying daily in the IDP camps in Northern Uganda, mainly from disease and hunger – resulting in death toll higher than that have suffered in the Iraq War.

It’s quite intriguing how the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony, a semi-illiterate man who hardly went beyond Primary Seven and is not a known military strategist, could sustain a rebellion for over 23 years and remained elusive. Thus far, not only didn’t he lay his arms after the 2006 agreement between Uganda’s government and LRA but he also evaded signing the final peace agreement in Juba by not turning up on the prepared meetings. After all, the Ugandan government has been agreeing to meet the demands of the rebel, who is hiding in the Democratic Republic of Congo, promising to protect him from his arrest warrant released by the International Criminal Court in 2005.

As explained by the president’s opponents such as Dr Kizza Besigye, one of the main factors which have kept the war in Northern Uganda going on for two decades was its political functionality for President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement. It would also explain the allegations of the presence of so called ‘ghost soldiers’ in the UPDF army, a fact strongly denied by the Uganda government. One way or another, a rebellion group accounting for 500-1000 soldiers sneering at the rest of the world in the XXI century seems impossible.

Long sleeve

In the evenings I try to listen to as many stories as possible from the little refugees from Lord’s Resistance Army. The most moving is the story of a 25 year old, Monica Odong. Kidnapped as a 7-year-old she had no concept of the situation she was in. ‘They told us to kill our brothers and sisters because we were too numerous to enter Sudan as an entire group– they said that that was how we were going to gain strength. While marching through the bush, I would stumble over other children’s bodies.’

Children have borne the biggest brunt of the conflict – an estimated 30,000 children have been abducted and forced to join the rebel’s ranks to serve as child soldiers. Abducted children became Kony’s soldiers and servants, the leader himself is a husband to over 70 of the kidnapped girls and a father to over a hundred of their children.

In the Joseph Kony’s army you are not supposed to oppose his will. If you spoke when not requested to, they would cut off your lips. If you objected in any other manner, you would be faced with a question: “do you want a short or a long sleeve?” the answer of which results in your arm being cut off at the elbow or the wrist.
In the camp I met many refugees without limbs, ears or noses. They tell me their stories.

When the animosity reaches irreconcilable levels

After a dozen interviews with the former abductees, I realise that the Eurocentric perspective is not compatible with the mentality of the Acholi tribe. When asked in the event of Kony’s return would the local community forgive him, I kept on hearing a positive response. The fact that he is guilty of the genocide of the sons and daughters of the tribe fails to convince my interviewees. ‘If he comes back, I will forgive him’ – the answer resounds like an echo.

I start to question myself and try to figure out whether this response is a result of the fear of being recorded or the colour of my skin, or maybe just lack of trust despite my assurance I wouldn’t release their names to the public.
- It’s Mato Oput – they explain. – Acholi’s tradition to forgive anybody who committed an offence. “Our tradition lasts for ages and we won’t disgrace ourselves with the thirst for revenge”. I can’t believe it – I explain to young Monica Odong – “don’t you hold it against Kony for killing your mother and father, for depriving you of your childhood and your virginity, for depriving you of joy of life?”
- “I don’t know” – seems the first honest answer I heard – “What I am sure of is that if I hold it against him, the conflict will never end. Or maybe if I meet him, I would kill him” – she adds after a while.


In March 2009, the Ugandan government began closing the camps for Internally Displaced People and together with many aid agencies begun to encourage the tens of thousands of people to go back to their ancestral villages. The widespread rumour is that the conditions in the “resettlement camps” are worse than in the IDP camps. The refugees are returning to a place with no food, no wells, no clean water, remote from humanitarian aid. In the mean time hunger and starvation are widespread. People are dying of starvation and water borne diseases, such as MAD (Malaria, Anemia or Diarrhea.) The new camps have just slightly more space between each home and the tragedies are more hidden now and out of sight.

The names have been changed to protect the innocent

A BBC gram which illustrates the cost of the war in the Northern Uganda:

LRA - the Lord’s Resistance Army is a sectarian militant group based in Northern Uganda, which originated in 1987 from the original Holy Spirit Movement (HSM).
The group is engaged in an armed rebellion in what is now one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts. It is accused of widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, sexual enslavement of women and children, and forcing children to participate in hostilities.
On December 28, 2008 LRA rebels hacked to death 189 people in Faradje, Doruma and Gurba in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (an estimate by The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Efforts in early 2009 by the Ugandan army in a military action called 'Operation Lightning Thunder' didn’t result in the capture or killing of Kony. Rather, it lead to a brutal revenge attacks by the LRA, with over 1,000 people killed in Congo and Sudan.