Friday 21 October 2011


A barefooted beggar in a mismatched suit drops a piece of paper and it floats away on a stream of rainwater. I watch as it sails freely under the customs gate between Uganda and Rwanda avoiding all paperwork oblivious of the one-hour time shift or having to change sides of the road. The rain is quite gentle but the clouds are heavy, obscuring the tea bush carpeted hills and horizon around Kalone the Rwandan border town 2 hours north of Kigali.

I am waiting for Kirenga to sort out the paperwork for his car before continuing with our journey to Buhoma on the edge of the Bwindi impenetrable forest in SW Uganda This border is very relaxed and it is a pleasant moment stood under the dripping eve of a custom post watching the world go by. The barefoot suited guy is iconic it looks amazing - a banker post crash, an urban guru or a liberated wage slave. Sadly though he is none of these and is just impoverished and inhabiting the borderline of life and land. Two guys emerge hand in hand from an office deep in conversation and walk across the border still clasping hands neither leading the other just linked in friendship. Coming the other way tiptoeing through the puddles and streams is a pair of pointed patent leather shoes that in turn passes some worn out green flip flops followed by the paws of a dog, double timing against some backless stilettos that jump effortlessly over the red brown rivulets. Borders like airports and cross channel ferries put everyone in the same boat we are all reduced to paperwork and documents Twenty four hours earlier I had been in a hot and dry Johannesburg filming with AREP a theatre group that through performance and discussion seeks to enable young people to take control of their lives and understand that they can make a change. It is a brilliant model opening young peoples minds to the idea that things can be different and they can do it by thinking of solutions for themselves and through talking. Aspirational poverty and defeatist dogma can be combated through action and a refining of mind-set not by waiting around for the world and luck to sort it out. After the heat and ardour of Dhaka city, South Africa offered relief, no gridlocked roads, noise and in your face pollution, here was an order and road system that paralleled Europe, tap water you could drink, fine wines and cuisine, a language that I could understand. I stayed in bohemian Melville with its bookshops and bars, cosmopolitan vibe and art Deco architecture It all seemed very progressive and also very expensive 
But South Africa is a complex society and under its sugar dusted coating it is still a very troubled and difficult place. You are never far from somewhere described as "dangerous" and throughout the city are townships I can't begin to offer a commentary on South African society but I do know that there is fear amongst a lot of white people, an inability to let go amongst others whilst many are working towards a common goal of a new fair and equal country. But things can never be put right instantly by a pen's decree, historically sudden change is disastrous and it will take several generations and a lot of money before South Africa can move on. I filmed some performances in Soweto primary schools. Two storey block buildings with glassless windows looking in on unlit rooms, blackboards and shabby desks, teachers and children doing their best with the resources they have. Like many schools in developing countries.

But this is South Africa-World cup, paved roads, fine wines and well-developed infrastructure. The children were so well behaved and entranced by the first performance that many had ever seen and the plays were about dealing with bullying, being an orphan and living with HIV none of the stories had a resolution they just prompted discussion. The amazing thing is that most of these children identify with these issues, they will all have lost a relative through AIDS, many are orphans and they all are aware of discrimination. Soweto is surprisingly suburban, neat little houses with neatly tended gardens with fences shops and evens couple of malls. In places it reminds me of a seaside retirement estate with pastel colours and clapboard bungalows. Many of the new middle classes prefer to stay where they come from and have gentrified their area but sadly the schools are still the same. The amount of hand painted street signs for funeral directors is a telling indicator of just how many people are dying from AIDS in this country. We drove by Mandela's house from pre incarceration with its tourist coach park, gift shop, admission gate and restaurant. But in the city on every corner and at every junction there will be a black south African, waiting for an opportunity, or sweeping or handing out leaflets an underclass that at present are unable to become truly part of the rainbow nation despite the best efforts of many. It is as if South Africa had two children one went to public school the other grew up on the streets. Then Rwanda, associated with human horror and a country where divisions between people went as far as they should never go. The first time I worked in Rwanda I left with a complete intolerance for any form of tribalism, be it football teams or Welsh and English nationalism. At what point will you start using a machete to get your way? I have seen the results. But driving through Kigali early evening this time, I marvelled at the quality roads and traffic lights, the cleanliness and order of the city, things had really come on. Next morning driving with Karanga the beauty of Rwanda unfolds around us – Tea Plantations and wooded slopes dotted with houses and villages, People on the roadside carrying large sacks of freshly picked tea and urns of milk. I am impressed with Keranga's good news stories about the country. Get a cow has been implemented ensuring every family living below the poverty line is provided with a cow to provide milk and ultimately a small income. Corruption is not tolerated and citizen's rights are paramount. It does seem everyone we passed was doing something and busy and there was an air of happiness and levity on the road. Both South Africa and Rwanda have suffered from gross discrimination but they are so different to one another, South Africa experienced a much-needed change in government and constitution but is a divided country. Rwanda suffered appalling genocide and but now as is written into its constitution. Is a country of one people; Rwandans, But who knows what is going on in peoples minds? On the surface Rwandans after enduring terror, hate and fear seem to be actually savouring and appreciating the peace. It's understandable, the calm after the storm. No one making trouble everybody just getting on with getting on. A lesson for all of us, why should we want anything else but peace? President Kigami is accused of a running his country like a soft police state of being like a schoolmaster -but it seems to be working. Superficially everything is running fine. "We are good boys here now,” says Kirenga " I just thank god we don't have oil like Uganda. I laugh, “Yeah but the income would be good surely?” “We have a saying” he replies " When prosperity comes through the front door peace slips out the back.” How true that is. 
Sent on the move

Monday 17 October 2011

Hajj flight

The 10.30 Emirates flight from Dhaka to Dubai is mainly full of Bangladeshis making their Hajj. My heart fell as we arrived at the airport seeing the general disorder of the city had found its way into the airport which is normally the start of a return to international standard along with coolant levels, brake fluids and port and starboard emergency exits. There are no queues just a throng of White robed men and women milling and waiting to be directed to where they need to be. Most have clearly not been this far from their village and this air conditioned departures hall is the largest and coolest room they have ever been in. They are confused and totally out of their element which in itself is a new thing. These people inhabit a lifestyle that doesn't include fast change they are poor folk from all over the country that have saved a lifetime to make this journey as according to the five pillars of Islam. The hajj or a pilgrimage is a great thing especially in a historical context when it forced people to broaden their horizons and go beyond where they knew. An education in itself and it is plain to see why it would be included in holy writings. Nowadays it is quite different though it’s all tour buses and large groups not so much the personal journey. It is quite sweet however seeing all of these mainly elderly people wandering round hand in hand with their wives or friends with travel document packs supplied by the tour organisers hanging around their necks like students on a school trip somewhere. Most have new footwear on, flip flops and sandals and some most bizarrely with basketball trainers. So incongruous on a thin and wrinkly frail ankle that sticks out from the bottom of a white haji robe, they are led like pensioners and slowly make their way from check in to immigration to the gate and at each station there is mass confusion and human blockage. It is a bit like the rest of the country but here they don't know what they are doing. Another group out their element are young and middle aged men that are flying to the Middle East. They move around in new western style clothing preparing for a new future It is scandalous they sign up for $2000 to an agency to go and work for $1500 a year as cleaners, servants and labourers 6 days a week. So after two years away they may pay back their debt and save a$1000 if they work 6 days a week and don't spend too much. I cut my way through the mayhem and madness and after far too long a time board the flight. Thoughtfully Emirates put non haji travellers together to try and offer some separation from imminent chaos of boarding. I can only liken the experience of some of these people as being similar to being abducted by aliens and being left to find their way around their craft. It is wrong and they should be told what to expect because what ensues is undignified slow, frustrating but hilarious. Most of them understood idea of a fixed seat but had no idea where it was. Bus mentality rules, the first class and business class seating is the most fiercely contested whilst the cabin crew try to keep them moving through trying to communicate that they can't sit there. Back in economy one Bengali business man makes the fatal mistake of going to the loo and returns to find a full burkha wearing woman in his seat who refuses to move or be moved. He eventually sits somewhere else until after take-off. The idea of sitting down is a hard concept to handle and another woman decided to get some water from the overhead locker mid take off amid screams and shouts from the crew. To people that don't deal with locking sealable doors the toilet doors causes many problems, throughout the flight there was a performance going on involving a thousand ways not to get into a toilet on a plane. I had never thought it would be a problem. First thing I noticed was a guy pressing some lights and engaged signs around the door; he tried sliding it and pushing it. I mime a handle action and pointed to the handle he pulls that, lifts it then pushes down and enters. Of course he doesn't lock it and of course somebody else walks in on him it just went on and on the door isn't shut and sings open to reveal a guy squatting inside. At one point a handle comes flying off and rolls down the aisle. Somebody for quite a while gets inside a loo with a concertina door a completely new concept and four people are trying to work it out there are muffled calls for help from within , a steward shows them how it works and the victim emerges happy and laughing. The whole mood of these people is happy and positive and there is no sense of embarrassment of loss of cool. It’s all a big adventure – the biggest one of their lives, That’s Hajj for you. But this is different, this is big business and a lot of money is made by tour organisers and hotel owners out of these poorest of poor people who are only doing what their holy book dictates. They could improve their family’s lives if they spent this money on something else other than a return trip to Mecca. They will come back and be as poor as they were 40 Years ago. If it's about the journey they would get more from a ten day hike round the country and still come back richer in mind and pocket. Sent on the move Sent on the move

Sunday 9 October 2011

No rhyme nor reason

Dhaka is a hard city to be in, heat alone I can deal with,but with the  combined effect of humidity, noise, fumes , congestion, crowds,  filth,traffic and no sense of space or horizon, life becomes hard. , There have been times when I could give myself up to panic as there is  simply no succour nor solace from the claustrophobic condition I  find myself in . I am captive, even lying naked on a bed in a hotel  room after eating and showering there is no relief, my situation will  not change until I am on a plane flying somewhere else. I simply could not live here, the people can be lovely , the food  exquisite but I am captive. My head aches my stomach has cramps and I  have a chest infection . But its pathetic really, I am staying in a $50 a night hotel with air  conditioning and shower a big clean bed and breakfast waits but I guess  I Am soft, by these people's standards anyway. It is estimated that 35% of Dhaka is slum and the rest of it  certainly isn't luxurious but it isn't slum Unplanned, unserviced, unhygienic and unxious, slums are the pile on  the anus of the city forced out of the body of mainstream society  where life and its by products do battle. Mankind is show cased for  all it's tenacity and poverty holds generations in its strangling  any future and restricting change. Tin, wood, plastic and concrete are all used to make shelters from  the appalling outside world but none is ideal the rain and the heat  still penetrate and inside the dark airless rooms where people eat  sleep and die, Children are born into a life that they can't escape  and the rest of the world the grace of something none of us  really understands. it is someone else not you. Humans are incredible though and can adapt and proliferate in the most  abject conditions. Every one of the hundreds of thousands of shacks  and huts squeezed in amongst rivers of shit and waste, under flyovers,  by tips and railways is a home. People start and end their days there,  they go out and come back home there, they have pride in their space  and keep it clean just like any other home owner. Always a bed and a scattering of objects that tell of a family  environment, some baby powder, a bit of a toy, some clothes nothing of  worth in fact what I stand in and the equipment I carry is worth more  than these people will ever know. But what they have they value and  maintain, it counts. I am reminded of the Californian trend to try and live with only a  hundred objects, what would these people do to have a hundred  objects ? It is a totally western concept less is more and indulgence  an a privilege. Be thankful for what you have got you are lucky if you are reading this. The only ones able to make light of the situation are children Until  a certain age they are unaware of their deprivation. They will play  with anything whether it is an expensive unit made in a Korean factory  or a piece of paper floating in dirty water they are the best  improvisers and endowed with a heightened sense of play. But the  hazards are everywhere , the groundwater is lethal, the traffic  heartless and the trains oblivious The world is only a playground  until you have to pay your way. To be born into this trap is a nightmare but to be born disabled or  become disabled here is a curse and on the scale of the unfortunate it  is the very bottom. Just above that is the parent of the child who has  a disability. Outside of the slums there are people that care, Their own lives  aren't easy but they spend their time on this earth making changes to  other people's lives CSID are an organisation that have an incredible impact on lives. With  CSID I see polio victims become victors giving advice and support to  cerebral palsy sufferers, disabled children performing theatre in  slums, kids with learning difficulties being offered schooling  limbless children being given job training, pathetic hard and unfair  lives having the balance being redressed. Down by the railway a slum exists that is a town in itself, by the  side of the tracks traders are busy, fish are gutted . Fruit and veg  sold and children run playing on the open space that the lines cut  through the city. I meet Salim with an uneven brutal stump left where  a train wheel ran over his little leg. He is maybe four years old and  is now just the right height to run up and down the tracks with his  stump on the track and his full leg on the sleepers. He is incredibly  fast and giggles as he enjoys his mobility. Others are less able and  need to be carried everywhere until their arms develop enough strength  to drag their torsos around. Elsewhere I make my way through stinking  waterlogged paths between dwellings to be ushered into a tiny low  roofed, hot and airless home to meet a little lad with encephalitis  his mother and sister sit on the bed by him manipulating his limbs  lovingly, a technique learnt in physiotherapy classes. Later we take him  out into the light and a crowd gathers and watch him take a few  unsteady steps. The fear on his face turns to joy as he forgets my  camera and plays to the crowd. He becomes a star in the neighbourhood,  fuck x factor I meet a wheelchair bound boy fixing cell phones in a tiny roadside stall a skill he's be taught by CSID. A young woman of great beauty and almost beatific smile who is dragging her legless self through the ever present traffic jams begging, she is at exhaust pipe level and in  extreme danger as stretches her callused grubby hand up towards  indifferent drivers. She is just a child, some mother's daughter. The  organisation is trying to get her into school and to liberate her from  this humiliation but her parents are against it because she provides  a much needed income . At one time I am almost overwhelmed with emotion when I film a group  physiotherapy session, limp bodies are tended to and gently massaged  by mothers the tenderness is beautiful and the love tangible. In this  room there is a respite from the pressures of life outside and the  mother child bond can grow, a normal relationship can begin to  develop. It is an intimate and deeply moving moment watching what is  every mother and child's right. Outside the practicalities of  constantly caring for a totally dependent being is a constant  additional pressure. It is both the tragedy and the salvation of  mankind that we have to care for our progeny no matter what and that  parents can only but love and care for their newborn child. Life is harsh and the developed world spends a lot of money softening  the blows it can deal us. It is true that everyone of us thinks our  burden is the heaviest but in the bigger picture we are skipping  through this life without a care in the world with wings in our  ankles. Poets and Philosopher hush up for a moment and understand there  is no rhyme nor reason. Sent on the move

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Three times blessed

    Three times blessed '
The stubble on my chin is longer than  the hair on any of the heads of the young girls sat praying in the room around me. They are uniformly shaved and the difference in their head shapes is astounding, they are as different as hairstyles can be.  In their Tibetan monks robes they are uniformly androgynous It is only in their voices and movements that the female in them is revealed. They are chanting a mantra “Oum ah oum bazra guru padma siginghi om”. Not together but each in their own rhythm, cyclic and weaving in and out of sync with each other, occasionally in unison like windscreen wipers moving in time with music in a car. Its effect is hypnotic and as I sit cross;legged at the back of the hall I begin to forget my physical ailments and just exist in the now The now is perfect. Drum Amitabha mountain nunnery which crowns one on the many peaks that surround Kathmandu is the vision of the Twelth reincarnation  of the Anmitaba guru Gyalwang Drukpa and I have walked up here with Ravindra the CEO of Restless development and a group of his friends. The walk itself was an awakening we made our way up through the outskirts of the city into the pure morning air it was like coming out from under the covers when you are kid and being able to breathe again. Just twenty minutes hike up a gently sloping road and we were in rural Nepal, past wooden houses , cattle, paddy fields and temples we emerged into a gilded timeless world  that looked down on Kathmandu and its smog. We stopped for a breakfast of doughnuts, sweet miky tea, eggs and spicy chick peas. Sat on the concrete roof of the Chai house, I felt blessed, such a fine moment spent with relative strangers transformed  us into good friends. Beautiful as it looks Kathmandou has made me ill, the pollution from hundreds of thousands of untuned engines has given me a cough and sickness that is hard to shake,I feel sullied and abused and as if I am inhabiting and older frailer version of my own body. The rain that has been flooding the city for days has meant that it is marinading in its own juices and now it gently simmers as the the sun has come out. I am constantly assaulted by my pity for those thousands of poor soils who inhabit temporary housing on the dumps on the banks of the rivers and wastelands where no one else can live. With no door to close to remove themselves from the foul outside. The only refuge is up any small incline way from running water's destiny, the air is marginally clearer and there is a distance between me and the real world. This is where my hotel is and of course it is no accident that this is where most the foreign NGOs are based and the people that work them. There are purportedly 33,000 NGOs registered in Nepal so there are a lot of people doing some fantastic work there and about as many not I guess. It's a whole industry and and a career choice for many Nepalis. The Summit hotel is aptly named and is popular for eating meetings and rendezvous pre field trip. Confident Westerners greet local partners in an over friendly faux jocular manner, patting their backs and dropping the odd word of Nepali in their conversations. Others bury their heads in their lap tops looking up as I pass but rarely returning my smile. I have been here a week and have not had a conversation  with anyone. There is a pool that expats come to.  Distracted dads neglect their kids as they work in the shade, whist their trailing spouses try and find something in common with each other. Their children meanwhile run riot splashing guest with their  poolside war games. "Leon took a head shot" Boys can take time to ratify their fathers' policies. Even on the streets around the hotel whilst dodging the NGO vehicles as they splash through potholes my eyes are avoided, I smile or nod but no reaction. I go into busy bars but am excluded , in restaurants I eat alone and am unnoticed. I spend alot of time travelling alone but in this ex-pat enclave I feel like a dog at a gate wagging it's tail expectantly. I just get the feeling that most these people have created their own  reality in a foreign environment and that they  don't want to relate to the world outside of that. It is very similar in the BBC a kind of pious smugness but a fear of anything out the ordinary or not a la carte. Scared deep down but aren't we all ? But in this prayer room, temple I don't know what to call it. I feel completely detached from everything earthly. We walk clockwise around the praying nuns, I am amused to see sweet wrappers, bowls of food and empty crisp packets scattered around their discarded socks a. Little patterns and lacy tops on some. So normal and prosaic. It feels cool and echoes like a church but is so much more colourful and less formal. There are 1008 buddahs in small glass cases surrounding the walls. The ceiling and pillars supporting it are moulded with symbols and figures all painted in bright colours. We pass between groups of praying monks too who look up and over their shoulders at us are ushered towards the highest part of the hall and behind what can only be described as a throne and there in front of the mantra chanting room stood in my sweaty shorts and no longer clean shirt I am faced with the Twelth reincarnation  of the Anmitaba guru Gyalwang Drukpa..He is youngish for a Guru (I'm sure they're meant to be old) with dyed black hair and black rimmed glasses, he looks more like a music promoter than spiritual leader, though they are not without their similarities. Ravindra says we are lucky as he only leads prayers once or twice ayear and we can be blessed. Fair enough I felt blessed at breakfast so twice before lunch is a bonus.  I watch him and his friends approach in turn with hands together fingers touching chin, Namaste style  and the the Twelth reincarnation  of the Anmitaba guru Gyalwang Drukpa gently places a bell on the back of their heads and inaudibly makes a blessing .I don't think I was expecting a tingly sensation or a rush to the head but the banality of my blessing experience can be summed up by my memory of looking at an old AA battery and a couple of biros as I bow my head before him. We file off and sit down at the back of the temple. A young girl brings us some cushions and we all retreat into ourselves for a while. There on top of that mountain from that one space it is a beautiful thing that happens. 200 or so people meditating on love and peace for no other reason than to generate it and so it goes on everyday in similar monasteries worldwide. Who can say if it makes any difference but I know I wouldn't like it  if I knew there were groups of people sitting somewhere meditating on hate and pain. We leave the room wordlessly and when we exit all are excited and thanking me for being the reason that they came. None have been blessed in this way and though atheist with a few dashes of Hindu they can't but be really happy. We exit via the giftshop and I am touched to see at this point of interface with the outside word there is a radio playing and some young nuns are slouching over the counter reading a magazine, chewing gum and giggling they give Bringing it down to the practical, one of Ravindras friend says of the Nunery "It's all about contraception really, there is another Nunery like this on that hill over there and over there. Think about it that's about 600 girls that will not be having babies   Its a way of keeping the population down " We set off down the hill in the glorious mid morning sun with our peace and blessings. Then auspiciously I feel my stomach lurch and rumble and I have that unmistakable effervescent first belch of my having been blessed a third time that morning, by smallest of creations a bacterium.It must have been that blessed breakfast

Thursday 29 September 2011

Here is a link to some secret filming I did with Goodweave Inspectors

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Over the hill...

It occurred to me as we stuttered our way out of central Kathmandu that maybe it is the constant presence of the mountains around that its the source of humility and belief for so many of the people in this area. This mix of Buddhist and Hindu fatalism and resignation to a destiny. Something so much bigger and older than them is always there and that the human concerns, frailties and needs that blight our lives are nothing in comparison to them. In effect we are are nothing. I am tiny, insignificant. It had rained consistently since I arrived and I had not really seen the hills surrounding the city but I caught glimpses of them between the buildings and clouds as we climbed up out of the smog and disorder of the city. Small patches of green and trees appeared and the housing became less oppressive Beyond the hills are even bigger mountains and I know beyond them are even bigger mountains still. Similarly, beyond my self is something bigger, and beyond that, bigger things still and beyond that things we will never know on this earth. A four hour journey leads us to Dhading the eponymous district capital . We pull up to a school on a hill with a view over the terraced valleys around. Of course it is absurdly green everywhere with a rich red earth below the flora and plenty of water running down the steep hillsides, and all the way to the top of the neck achingly highest summit there are buildings - people live up there - how they get there I can't even imagine. I am travelling with Restless Development who have received the Health award from STARS Foundation. They work with peer to peer education enrolling and training young volunteers to educate and pass on essential knowledge to young people. It has obvious advantages as young people are more willing to learn from their peers and the volunteers themselves often go on to become highly trained and employable. A quiz has been organised - a fun way of learning about essential issues without forcing it. At the entrance of the school yard I am faced with a hundred yard double row of young applauding students of all ages. The first one places a beautiful garland of purple flowers around my neck, they look like clover flowers, but itch a little. I make my way through the snaking queue of eager faces having more and more fresh flower garlands laid over my neck, dozens of them all hand made. Bouquets are thrust into my hand and all the while I am trying to film. It becomes absurd as first my chin, mouth,nose and then finally eyes become covered by blooms. I can no longer see. From within I have to shout enough and Kajal the project manager comes to my aid although she is in a similar state. By now I realised that the purple blooms (especially for Divali I am informed) are extremely irritating and I feel like I have been covered in stinging nettles. We make it to a table under a tree where the quiz is going to be held and it takes about five minutes to extract myself from the floral horror whilst trying to maintain respect for the work and thought behind the gift . Thankfully a man with his head stuck in a flower arrangement is universally funny and I can hear the muted laughter of kids as I disengage myself. However even when down to just one garland of innocuous marigolds I feel like I have been attacked by ants and my neck is raw. Hot, sweaty and itchy I proceed to film and interview the students of Durali school and two hours later we drive off down the hill to find our hotel in Dharding, I can't wait to get in a shower and wash my neck. I am relieved to find that Kageel feels the same but shocked when she decides we neet to eat first - I just wasn't hungry. I still hadn't had a decent night's sleep since flying from UK but that night I was in bed by 8:30 and slept until 6 the next morning. The need to film is a hunger that needs to be fed when you are in a new surroundings it gnaws at you and you are unable to relax until that desire to capture some moments and images is sated. By the time I was walking the streets at 7, life was in full swing and the town was as busy as a midday market .I have found that the people from some countries are much easier with being filmed than others and just as people in Nepal don't really acknowledge you if you let them pass or hold a door they don't care if you film them either - normally I ask if it's OK to film someone at a stall or in a doorway but here people seemed confused that I should ask and were virtually lining up to be filmed. Even the Police post were wanting to pose for me. I went up onto the third floor terrace of the Guest house where we were staying that had a magnificent view of the area.It was a cloudy day but the atmosphere was clear - we were in the bottom of a deep valley surrounded by densely wooded slopes I gazed up at the houses and small communities scattered around .Even at the top there were houses of considerable size and I wondered about the people's lives up there- how they got them and their essentials up and down such an unreasonably high hill. I could not see a road so it must have been on foot. What a slog, and to think this country is full of foreigners paying a lot of money to walk these hills and these people do this every day and they're broke. No North Face, Berghaus, Saloman gear for them, it's flip flops and ragged jumpers. Iit has been a belief of mine that if you lived at the top of a hill you would live a longer healthier life,the enforced walk every day would keep a level of fitness higher than those who lived at the bottom of the hill - but at that moment I realised that there may be a limit to my hypothesis but how would that day come when you could no longer make it up and down ? Do just stay at the top until you die or move down the hill? I filmed from that viewpoint for a good while constantly finding details in the landscape that looked lovely through my lense. Women walking through thigh high Paddy fields carrying piles of cut grass on their backs. A purple temple concealed in the woods,children playing in the river, in the distance women breaking rocks down in to rubble by hand the sound making its way to me moments after saw the hammer hit ,life playing out in every direction a deity like overview on mankind's endeavours. An hour later I am with Rob (a doctor) and Emma (an actress/english teacher) recently married and working with Restless as volunteers. Fantastic folks, young and wanting to do something worthwhile before settling down and having kids. We are walking with Kajal to a drama being played out at a local school, all part of Restless' work. We are crossing a river on a chain bridge the water churning below us furiously, the same river that through the years has made this deep valley we are in. Emma points almost vertically up and says "that's the school up there". I chuckle at her joke - I love a girl with a sense of humour."No serious" she says it will only take half an hour it's not as hard as it looks. No it was harder, the heat, the weight of my bag that I had to carry Sherpa style with the strap over my forehead, and the slippery slope made it an intense climb. I get to the top and what do I see? Another row of eager gorgeous children with hand fulls of garlands to drape round mysweat soaked neck, I just made a dash for it smiling and indicating they should give them to the people behind me. The drama was genuinely funny even though I couldn't understand a word, a couple of the young actors were outstanding. In every group there is always a “natural” and slapstick is universally funny and crosses all cultural boundaries. Adults gathered to watch the play about the dangers of listening to Witch Doctors' advice and were laughing as much as the children. All gathered in a narrow school yard on the ridge of a hill with views either side of more hill tops and deep valleys. Next morning we are due to go up a what the locals call a big hill (that in my mind must be a mountain) to see a Chepang community that have been given a water supply. Chepang are marginalised, they end up in the hardest place to live in Nepal because they own no land. Before they had to walk 3 hours to get water and then three more hours to bring it back, mostly the women and young girls of course, unthinkable in our culture where we don't do anything for three hours apart from,drink dance gurn. Luckily we don't have time to walk and have hired a four wheel drive to get us as far up the mountain as we can. We arrive at the point where we are to meet the vehicle and above us is just hill I see no sign of the top just clouds, birds and neck ache. An ancient Landcruiser arrives in a cloud of black smoke and ten of us squeeze into it We set off up what appears to be a river bed, Cecile from STARS said it was a frightening drive this and true to her word it was not the kind of journey that you sat back and looked at the view because you were actually looking at your potential killer. The standard stuff three point turns on hairpin bends with vertical drops behind and a complete lack of traction under the wheel and a track in front that doesn't look passable. The young woman sat next to who works with Restless and is pale and gripping my thigh for security or stability I 'm not sure which but she's not happy. I fee quite buoyant and resolved to a tumble dryer death but certain that I am going to reach the top of this hill and that my death will be a lot less exciting at another time. We pass houses so beautiful and idyllic it makes me gasp, almost Alpine in their wooden appearance with animals living below wooden balconies and hay and wood stacked up the sides. Families gather to stare at our passing, children point and dogs bark. We pass adults and children picking their way up the track. Many times we lurched to such an angle that surely no car was designed to be at incredible that the vehicle can make it. The driver remains calm whenever we run aground in a rut and occasionally has to get out and pour water on the windscreen and manually work the one wiper over it so he can see. On his dashboard he has a small Buddha that he vaguely resembles with his beatific smile and pot belly hanging over the steering wheel,I have to keep checking to see if he is sitting lotus on his seat. Smells drift into my conscientiousness, green growth,foliage,dung, moist warm air reminiscent of summer meadows ,shit and earth, blossoms and ganja. Ganja - growing free and wild there for the picking, the taking, bushes the size of a dealer,mad , Why are we not buying fair trade weed from these people? A sustainable income at a fair price that it can be regulated, taxed,Get rid of the dangerous psychosis inducing manufactured weed that is consumed by our youth who will never know the meaning of old school irie. After an hour we reach as far as is possible in a vehicle and start walking. A fifteen minute walk takes me to a hut and a woman waiting to greet us, she is the health worker in the village and I set to and shoot an interview with her, the most stunning backdrop to an interview that I have ever filmed. I walk up to the water supply at the summit of the hill, there is a 360 degree drop all around me I have never been so high, everything is below me, but in the distance are mountains still higher and again I get the feeling of being nothing in the face of it all. That these people survived up here without a regular water supply is unthinkable, it is stunningly beautiful but in my terms uninhabitable a three hour treck just to get what we take for granted. They are so strong, so fit, so adapted I may as well be underwater or encased in cement in terms of being in my element, they make the trip to the valley floor regularly and the kids have to come half way down the mountain just to go to school When does a child become old enough to make that journey down and back ? Maybe they do it in stages? Such a strange existence marooned by altitude, but such a rarefied one, to be away from the mechanised world completely, to be back in time where the elements prevail and gravity is king. This is the place to come on a retreat although there are maybe a hundred people living here the houses are separated by terraces and trees each house completely isolated, they are two story ,with a wide eve providing shelter on the ground floor. Goats ,chickens and ducks share the same space as humans.I film, I interview, I marvel and I understand that although I connect with this beauty ,(who wouldn't ?) I am just passing through here, a privileged visitor transient and meaningless. Up here you can see for miles but you can also see that you are only where you stand and to get anywhere else takes immense effort, the hills and the mountains signify a greater power than ourselves, obstacles that need to be overcome but ultimately they remain while we perish. Moksha manifest ? Hills – in the west we pay a premium to live on them, here you are at a disadvantage when you live up one, but we from the more comfortable countries come and compete against ourselves climbing up them – the challenge, because it's there,man against adversity, what must these people make of it ? Back down on the valley floor Four men carry a body on a makeshift stretcher An old woman, I don't know if she is dead, her mouth is open and her body is motionless but her eyes are wide open, focused on infinity as if she knows where she is going, has seen beyond the furthest mountain, and knows her destination that none of us will see, until our time comes.

Sunday 25 September 2011

on the way to work is a link to a short film updating on Restless development film

Saturday 24 September 2011

So here is a link to a little update from the hill...

Tuesday 20 September 2011

here over there

So nothing much changes - sat alone in a bar of expats and tidy Nepalese folk drinking after work . Goan chill out tunes on the sound system, I'm tired and waiting for it  to be late enough to go to bed. I've ordered a fresh fruit juice and Momo (tibetan dumplings) and my mouth is watering and ringing from the chilli. Talk all around me is of the 6.5 earthquake that hit the area two nights ago – the aftershock is still rumbling on everybody's lips.I feel like a disaster tourist,But people are worried about further quakes.I'm thinking they should rename this restaurant Plate Tectonics Kathmandu is like a scene from Blade runner, rain beating down most the time at the moment, permanent, make shift shelters appear to be awkward appendages on already chaotic structures. Vegetables, fruit and meat are displayed under them  side by side on the edge of the road along with batteries and other domestic products.Its a drive by supermarket. Cars, bikes, dogs and people vie for space on the pothole flooded throughfare and  the lingua franca of Asia the car horn is louder than the thoughts in my head.The roads were built pre cars so there is no room to pass easily and progress  is  slow but there is so much to look at most the buildings are bare brick but nestled amongst them are truly antique wooden structures still lived in and ornately carved. Always an old brown deeply lined face somwhere catching my eyes as we both watch the world go by, separate orbits around the same world. There's no hope in the sky, clouds flow down from the mountains that surround Kathmandu, woollen glaciers following the rock contours guaranteeing further downpours. My flight was uneventful – fortunate in fact,no delays and even empty seats next to me from London to Delhi,so I slept stretched out for a couple of hours.The flight to Kathmandu from Delhi is always chaotic, dozens of workers returning home from working for up to 2 years in the Saudi t, Nepal has a literacy rate of about 50%, less in rural areas, so many of these men cannot read their boarding passes and sit anywhere completely fouling up any sense of order for other passengers.I got to my seat to find it occupied by a grinning Nepalese bloke, I managed to find his boarding pass on the floor and went to sit in his seat, but there was someone there as well – I gave up and sat in an empty row until even the air stewards gave up trying to do their jobs and we took of twenty minutes late. The flight out of Kathmandu is much the same but with the added quirk of the cabin smelling overwhelmingly of woodsmoke as the workers have come straight from their huts in the village – I Iove that. Tomorrow I meet with Restless Deveopment the education award recipients for Asia from STARS we head for some villages in the hills, they work with peer to peer education on health issues.With 51 in 1000 children dying there is big work being done and they no doubt deserve the award they have been given.

Monday 19 September 2011

So I leave today, funny pre departure blues/excitement.A bit like diving into cold water - you know what's coming. Here's a link to a video pre leaving

Monday 21 March 2011

It's only 170 miles from Mbale in the east of Uganda to Entebbe
airport but you have to allow six hours to make the journey. The road
you take runs from Kenya right through to Congo and so it is slow with
overladen lorries being driven by sleepy blokes and impatient taxi
buses or Matatas that drive as though exempt from the law and death.
Sadly they do have fatal accidents at an alarming rate, we passed four
on our journey to the airport. I shouldn't but I do get annoyed by
their reckless and selfish driving. (Certainly not wreckless)
When all the other traffic stops they simply keep going either side of any queues
scattering pedestrians hitting animals without a care . It is as if their
attitude is indicative of the selfishness inherent in so many African
politicians they just do for themselves and think no further than their noses.
Fortunately Ishmael who is driving us in his new(ish) car is a slow
and careful driver, we feel safe and enjoy the drive through cane
fields ,forests and tea plantations, a green and bountiful land so unlike much of the brown dusty Afriaca I see . We even stop for an Indian meal
at the source of the Nile. It wasn't a beautiful spot, no trickle of
clear water rising out of the parched earth that then flows away
providing life along its length, just a dammed off outlet from
Lake Victoria with a busy road running over it via a bridge that
finally manages to filter the anarchic drivers Into two lanes. We sit
looking out over the water and listen to a young Ugandan girl called
Alan tell of her woes working for her Indian employers. She is only
ever paid a fraction of her wages and never has enough to invest in
another business or improve her life. She is virtually held captive
by her employers who she seemingly loathes. They are very mean with
their money she says and stick together with other Asians and treat
Africans as second class citizens.Sitting in the last of the sunshine I
will see for sometime it is strange to hear this young and pretty girl
talk so vehemently against Indians. Amin's expulsion of Asians was
not so long ago but it seems to have been forgotten or ignored by everyone.

The last 80 miles towards Kampala and Entebbe are slow it is Sunday
afternoon and there is a lot of traffic heading towards the capital.
Only the packed taxi buses are unaffected they just keep moving
forward, however they can, like water flowing down hill. They are beginning to really
annoy me. Jon receives an email saying there is a 4 hour delay on our
flight which means we arrive 4 hours early at the airport.

Over the course of a flight your fellow travellers become like the a cast
of a film. They are introduced into your story at different stages: as
you bump into one unloading bags from a taxi or you observe another in
the long queue going through airport security or hear some saying
their goodbyes to their friends at the gate. I join the dots and draw
my conclusions about the lives and characters of this assembly of
players that are thrown together for this one off performance.
Jon and I are so early we can't even get in the airport to check in. We
mingle, unwilling to commit to joining the queue. The sense of
finality would become claustrophobic, better to stay feral keeping our
options open.

For once in my life I have a business class ticket in my hand it holds
promises of exclusivity , free drinks and a reason not to wait in
line. It feels a little embarrassing I can't walk without feeling
like I am strutting and it seems as if I can hear people in the queue
thinking "if he thinks he's jumping in front ...
The other business class passengers are easier with their status in
fact they can be identified by their nonchalent assuredness of
ultimately being taken care of. They strike up conversations with each
other and stand together in groups united by their exclusivity, well
fitted clothes and stylish baggage .Supporting each other in their
mutual discomfort and temporary immersion into cattle class.
We are due to fly at 3.30 and 8.30 finds everyone let through
security and queuing to check in. Any sense of order has lost its
grip and though we are chanelled into different lines it is a free for
all when you get to the other end and make the dash across noman’s land
to one of the check in desks.Business class status is meaning less and
Once through immigration and recovered from the shock of how expensive
duty free can be, Jon and I settle into the the Shangrila that is
the business class lounge. A land of silk and money where the snacks
and drinks are free, there is a massage seat,, you can have a shower and
there is free wifi. All for only £1000 extra.
More characters make an entrance; the American evangalist who had
been staying in the same hotel as us in Mbale, the mother carrying a
baby who had declined my offer of help. The oil prospector.the
professor , and more intruiguinley the elderly lady who worked for the
Guinean government and her attractive daughter. Slowiy characters were getting introduced to the show each playing their bit part but all oblivious to their roles.
The five hour wait was certainly made bearable by the comforts of the lounge and I did my best to drink an honest money's worth and I did have the 20 minute squirm in the somewhat soiled but functional massage chair, but time did drag though and I kept reminding myself of my luck by making forays out of the lounge's air conditioning into the main airport concourse.Hot sticky and boredom exuding from everything and everyone.I had a plan : to consume just the right amount of alcohol and take some pills so the the combined effect would coincide with our departure and hopefully I would manage to sleep all the way to Holland.It all went smoothly our flight was called and leaving it until just the last moment Jon and I made our way to departures and were called onto board the flight.All the characters were assembled and the stage was set for a long ten hour play about going home trying to maintain your identity in the air and how to eat and drink as much as you can without appearing sad and desperate
The Cabin crew fastened doors for take off seatbelt were secured and I busied myself choosing between Granola or grapefruit for breakfast. It was about time to take my Piriton with a Co-Codamol chaser but I thought I would wait for us to actually take off just to be sure.I was wondering why I was so particular about these things when an annoncement came through from the captain saying that they had a red light flashing for one of the brakes apparently it was too hot so were going wait for it to cool or they would have toabandon the flight.Annoyance on a grand scale the last thing anyone wanted was to have get off this flight after having spent so long getting on it.
I sat back closed my eyes and waited, just hoping for that forward motion.Finaaly and wordlessly it came, we stared forward and then came that thrilling thrust as we raced down the runway hurtling forwards until the moment of lift and like diving into a pool we achieve an airborn state. However as we left the constraints of gravity the port engine started making a grinding noise and the whole plane lurched to the left. It was not the sound I associated with safe civil aviation.In all the flights I havetaken it was not a sound I had heard before.If I was driving a car I would have stopped.
Jon and I looked at each other and agreed this was not a good flying sound.
The onscreen information which tells you how high and how fast you are going is normally an enjoyable distraction as I flit through mathematical calculations of how long it will take to travel the distance displayed at the speed we are travelling but it offered only concern as both our speed and height was decreasing and if it continued our journey time would be
minutes Next an anounouncement was made on theintercom that indeed we were not having much luck tonight and that the number 1 engine had a fault.The number one engine I remembered was one of only two, so we were in trouble . A ripple of real fear swept around the cabin something tangible, it grew as each of us internalised and re-projected what it meant.Silence followed and the cast of players focused on infinity and withdrew into their own heads.
It was as though we were being carried by an injured giant, a weary Pegasus or had just hitched a lift with Icarus and collectively we willed the aircraft to keep going,I remarked to Jon that if I screamed now the whole plane would start - he just mouthed “No” silently at me.
Ten long minutes past and the pilot completed a circuit and attempted to land.

From the start it didn’t seem like it would be a viable landing, I’m no pilot but our descent seemed too steep, and fast.The lights osf fishing vessels on the lake passed through my field of vision and then the lights of the airport and runway.It was less of a touch down more of a slam dunk, we bounced on the tarmac several times without slowing and then as though at the bidding of a greater force we accelerated up and away from the landing strip again
I felt a surge of excitement with a straight fear chaser, as I understood that we were really in trouble and beyond any safety procedures or autopilot messiah mode being switched on..Still grinding like a mincer we pulled upinto the sky again. Astoundingly there was no intercom contact from the crew , complete radiio silence, ridiculously we were left to simmer in our own fears forged from countless disaster films and headlines.
Where there had once been silence there was now the sound of crying from further back in the cabin, a few devout types started praying out loud, funny I am not sure if they were praying for themselves or all of us,I figured that we would be saved on their ticket because it was hardly likely that if we crashed only those who prayed would be saved - I‘m sure they were praying for a scientific result rather than a full on miracle, So now my play had a real story to it, characters were playing their parts without direction and method acting became second sense. Jeopardy the buzz word of unimaginative TV commissioners all over the world I would really would like them to feel a bit of that jeopardy sometime.
One of the first things I do on a long flight is to take my shoes of I now found myself in a dilemma as I was not sure if I should keep my shoes of in case we crashed into water or put them on for trudging for days through the desert, one on one off was not an option, I slipped my shoes back on but didn’t do the laces up. For another ten minutes the plane flew on, I said to Jon that this is how life long bonds were made and if we survived we should do lunch - quite frequently, I think we shook hands.
Sitting back I did a flash examination of my life totalled my heinous crimes and sins against my lifestyle and figured that I had not been a bad person and that I should not fear death.It was amazing sitting there in a perfect cabin surrounded by dozens of people all scared and knowing that imminent death was a reality. That possibly nothing would remain in its present state.
My main emotion was that of sadness for not seeing my family again and beyond that understanding that I can never go back to the memories that were pushing their way round my head even if I lived and they were so , so lovely.
The second landing attempt was thrilling in the way that free jumpers get their kicks and extreme sportsmen do things that mere mortals shouldn‘t.We however had seatbelts on and no free will between us and our destiny.We came down fast but less steeply, and the wheels hit the runway and bounced and skidded and the aircraft skewed and and we lurched forward and the actors from the play acted on impulse as lips were licked ,knuckles whitened, breaths were held ,wishes uttered,pupils dilated.We were slowing down but the previously overheated brakes were hardly coping, finally the aircraft did what appeared to be a handbrake turn and we broadsided down the runway coming to a halt with the lights marking the end winking knowingly just outside my window.
The release of the pressure was imminent death was followed by a strong desire to escape from the scene of danger,The whole plane was up on its feet desperate to get off ,for the first time in twenty minutes we heard a faint voice through the intercom informing us we could disembark and that Business class passengers would get priority. It felt like a walk of shame as we made our privileged way out of the plane in front of the rest of the passengers, it felt as if they loathed us.For the thirty minutes it took to almost die Business Class had completely lost its appeal.

Next morning I find myself walking along the disappointingly dirty shores of Lake Victoria, It is filthy with rubbish and shit and the water does not look appealing,The Players from the previous night’s dramas are wandering around the grounds of a Hotel,we have been housed in - The transit from airport to hotel was quick and efficient and I had slept a few hours before waking up feeling as if I had been reborn.
I was not alone Strangers greeted each other like friends enquiring after each others feelings, people sat down to talk and eat together and exchange experiences - I moved through them like a vampire feeding on the lifeblood of their stories- Some of the older passengers had slept right through the whole event. I met one old lady who woke up thinking we were in Holland and that she had slept though dinner. Shockingly one woman who had been last off the plane had rounded the galley to find a stewardess in tears in the arms of a steward, obviously well aware of the seriousness of the situation we had just been through.I approached two smartly dressed African youths in shiny suits and pointed toed shoes,, incongruous on the beach.I asked how it had been for them, one replied that he thought he must be very unlucky when it came to travelling, I asked why and he explained that he had taked two days to make the journey from his village to the airport it should have taken only one. I asked what happened and when he explained what had happened it made my own near death experience semm like mere folly.
The Matata he had been in had stopped at one point in a village and the driver refused to go on, the boy had got out to walk and had be forcibly restrained. The driver shouted at him “I will not let you go off and be killed like a chicken” - He had heard that the previous vehicle had passed through an area where a land dispute was occurring, everybody in it had been macheted to death.

An hour later finds Jon and I in the hotel manager’s office looking for our passports.As they arrived in the early hours of the morning everyone from the flight had handed their passports in at reception.It’s chaos, 350 passports all thrown into one box,and we are looking for our two amongst them . Jon being the naturally orderly type decided to sort the passports into countries. It was as if we were reading the credits of the film we had all starred in. There on the table spread out like a pack of cards were the names and nationalities of all who had been involved in our near death drama workshop performance, The credits rolled…
The Guinean Minister’s Diplomatic passport, French diplomats and even amazingly two American passports with Homeland Security written on them ,Stupid that we were left alone in that room with the opportunity to take any one of them or maybe become any one of them,We both opted to remain ourselves and retrieved our two shabby red passports from the now ordered pile.Both of us content to be who we are for the rest of our lives.

Sent on the move