31 October 2012

Cayman Islands: Artists for Human Rights (Special Report)

While the Cayman Islands are still a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, the ministerial governing country will finally establish a Bill of Rights Freedoms and Responsibilities act stemming from the Cayman Islands Constitution come November 6th...just 3 years after its conception.

Deborah Bodden, the government’s Human Rights Commission Secretariat stated several months ago that, “One of the things that we’ve said to them is that written policies and procedures should be available...There is no reason," she continued, "that the general public cannot understand what they need to do.”

The Human Rights Commission set a number of artists to work on depicting the various sections of the Bill of Rights to promote an artistic representation of the people.  The Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities containing sections of the Constitution and each one will have an artistic display.But one artist stands out among the rest. Cayman native, artist and musician, Natasha Kozaily is depicting Section 16, Non Discrimination for her piece.

Section 16: Non-Discrimination of the Bill of Rights, expresses the essence of just what the country’s Human Right’s Commission hopes to advocate at the November 6th commemoration.

“Government shall not treat any person in a discriminatory manner in respect of the rights under this Part of the Constitution. “Discriminatory” means affording different and unjustifiable treatment to different persons on any ground such as sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, age, mental or physical disability, property, birth or other status.”

Kozaily’s work shows the face of a woman, a “mother-earth type figure who embodies an ambiguous ethnic background,” she says, constructing “her face of hundreds of small photographs of people’s faces from all ages, sex, race, background, nationality.”

The face of the woman comes up out of the ocean – representative of the Islands.  Kozaily used paint and paper photographs for her medium.

Ironically, enough, Kozaily herself, personifies the multi-ethnic background identified in the Non-Discrimination act. While Kozaily’s mother is of Caiman decent, her father is from Lebanon.  Kozaily says she has spent time in Beirut and has adapted as much of her father’s culture as her mother’s.  Even her music carries international rhythm, with both Latin and Middle Eastern under-tones.  

The Cayman Islands have a long history of welcoming foreigners, as it was largely un-inhabited until the 17th century.  Most Caymanians came from namely English and African Decent.  

When the Bill of Rights was presented in 2009, controversy surrounded the document because it did not include specific reference toward non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Human Rights Watch appealed to Governor Stuart Jack, stating that it was “unacceptable” that such discrimination “be allowed to persist.”  

But Gillian Merron, a Member of Parliament in the UK, stated in a letter she did “not accept the assertion made by some members” that the Constitution “did not provide comprehensive human rights protections for certain groups,” noting that Section 16 of the Bill of Rights aligned with the European Convention for Human Rights article that provided protection under “or other status” groups. Merron said the 2009 Bill of Rights was an improvement on the existing Constitution, which said provided “no human rights protections at all.”

Nevertheless, the ceremony will move forward in just a few days.

The British Territory’s Human Rights Commission was established in 2009 to help educate the public about the Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities in the Constitution for the country and currently helps to investigate violations and breaches of those rights for citizens.

The commemoration of the artistic work holds a standing significance for the artists and of course, for the people of the Cayman Islands and certainly for Miss Kozaily, it's her contribution to a community that raised her.

27 September 2012

from Pioneer Consulting Group

Seven freelance journalists were taken through a Hostile Environment Training Course through Pioneer Consulting Group with Tim Crockett- here is a look at the training. The course included extensive education and application in matters of security and medical training. More information can be found at http://www.pioneerconsultinggroup.com/consulting/

25 August 2012

Moon-Walk: a Tribute to Neil Armstrong

He showed us how to reach for the Moon...and actually arrive.*

Ohio born astronaut, Neil Armstrong, gave the world the one thing we all came to use as an analogy to inspire others. Ironically, he was one of the few, and the first one who could ever say, "hey, I did it." 

He died today at the age of 82. 

As we debate the roll of heroes in our line of vision: the ones who stop trying to fight those that would discredit their sportsmanship and cancer come-backs, those who might fail to reach the Florida keys after 60 hours in the water with Jellyfish stings, those that bring home medals from the Summer games, the ones who almost did...there is one man - who truly stood above it all, on Moon rock and sand and gave us everything we dreamed: The chance to reach the Moon, the stars, the chance to see Earth as a marble blue ball. 

He was kid from Ohio who had dreams of being suspended in the air and holding his breath. He learned how to fly before he learned how to drive. And even before he became an astronaut, he flew 78 dangerous missions over Korea during the war. He was the heart of America. He was the hope of a nation to not just beat the bad guys in combat, but in a race "to infinity and beyond." 

Neil Armstrong was one of a kind. And because of him, we'll always be able to say that reaching the Moon is possible. Thank you, sir. 
*Photo: NASA

09 August 2012

Hazard Training P2 - Tennessee Simulation

It's a chilling thing to commit to training that will prepare and educate one for dangerous places in the world -- but ever necessary when journalists are telling the stories of those who are torn by war and conflict. While one can never be fully prepared, thankfully, there is a way to go in with as much knowledge as possible. So that's where Pioneer Consulting steps in - and for four days, 6 other freelance journalists from around Eastern U.S. and myself took on the grueling task of absorbing security information, travel guidance and became basic field medics in case of emergencies.

Our host, photo-journalist, Robert King was gracious enough to open his home for training and course work. Close living quarters, as if on assignment, provided the best source for us to get to know one another and interact through the week. 

For the first two days, the course was largely academic - it began with stressing the importance of planning and assessing the risks when preparing to travel to foreign places, personal security, working with resources and transportation safety and awareness, intertwined with medical training - CPR, first aid and how to handle situations in conflict. While Tim Crockett, Pioneer's founder, largely focused on security, Chuck Chiodini, a retired Military Medic, worked with us on the medical training. Ironically, sitting in a classroom-style setting for a bunch of moving journalists can create restlessness, but, the lectures provided adequate information and basis for foundational discussions on the role of our profession and the most effective ways to accomplish assignments.

As the Medical treatments were introduced, we were able to experience hands on learning with dummies and each other. Of course, it was always interesting to play the dummy - acting as the vulnerable victim in a mock situation. In any case, the "meatball" treatment for a field situation proved itself helpful and always included assessing the Danger first and ended with talk of morale and who or what was the priority in various scenarios.

Talks even included a lesson in weapons and protection. With seven journalists, it's not hard to understand why we're interested in items that can essentially blow things up...it's how we find stories. The course introduced a number of small arms, their capability and  how to manage the dangers of conflict where they are used -- whether fighting opposition, guarding a post or even celebratory fire. Following was a discussion on the best methods for protection and how handle varying situations.

The second two days involved much more practical application. Day three included navigating through trees and an extension of the property - learning how to find our steps and be aware of open and critical spaces, navigating around them. During one point in the exercise, a shot went off and one of our instructors had created a situation that required medical assistance. We teamed together and worked out the best treatment for the symptoms the patient/victim displayed. And in the end - created a tarp stretcher for all of us to carry the victim from the scene....which by the way, is not an easy task.

On the final day, after a heavy class session on the realities of kidnapping, we ventured out to complete our final test- taking what we had learned into a simulated situation in a "hostile environment." Certainly, we all knew that it was not real and that mindset can be difficult to switch from -- however, it did give us small window to work through a living photograph for some of the obstacles that could occur when faced with a such a task of covering a like story.

While it remains that you can never be fully prepared for anything unless you experience it and each experience builds on the last, it is still important to gain as much knowledge and wisdom as possible in order to mitigate dire circumstances. Participating in Pioneer Consulting Group's Hazard Training was an important experience - even for those journalists who had already been in war zones.

 *bottom photo taken by Chris Asadian

08 August 2012

Hazard Training P1 - Just Getting There

It was just after 1-a-m and my phone was beeping at me, who in the world was sending me text messages? Oh wait...

With one eye open groggy and dry, I fumbled with my phone to open up the message, he wanted to know When are you anticipating to arrive or be in the Memphis area? What, already? I didn't think I needed to be there until 10 or so,....does they need me there earlier? I smirked slyly and sleepily, realizing we had never fully discussed my arrival to the farm - ah well, I was awake now and committed, apparently. 

I fumbled with my free hand for the lamp next to my bed, and sent him a text back, Well I wasn't going to get up and go for another hour, but now that I'm awake... 

A text back and forth about whether or not I could help pick someone up and I was out of bed, threw on the clothes I had laid out and went for the sink to wash my face. The cold water would help me wake up, I decided. It was time to hit the road, it would be a long week, but I had to make it, so off I went. 

Driving in the dark, to a place called Middleton, TN - a farm, ranch-style home, outside of Memphis definitely would involve the off road. In an attempt to help guide me, I received a few more text messages with short-cut directions - which at first sight didn't seem horribly out of the way and could save some time, then again it was 4 in the morning, raining- oh, and dark. Epic adventure already before the crack of dawn, fabulous. I stopped at the said "Flying J" and after a couple more texts with the rain getting harder, I called my guide to clarify. He did, sort of, in low tones tried to explain the roads I should be going down. It made sense, maybe, then again, I really couldn't see a thing.

The rain got harder and more blinding. Semi-trucks were pulling over and cars were freaking out. I was more of afraid of the country drivers than of the pounding rain, so I thought it best to find a little spot to sit, besides, the lightening was so intensifying, I thought my car might be electrocuted by a glove of light (and of course then there would be this cartoon moment when I'd be shocked to a skeleton - wait, that's not funny). I found a little church parking lot and drove up and parked by the building waiting for things to calm down. That lasted 20 minutes and I figured it safe to keep going. 

By dawn the rain had stopped and I was closer to the farm. I passed the street I needed to turn down 3-times due to the fact there was no street sign for the second to last street - I was almost there.
The host of the week was standing at the garage when I pulled up, he looked at me quizzically and I offered a hand-shake to introduce myself. He asked if I needed help unloading, I told him it could wait a few and I should meet the others. I walked in and took my shoes off - immediately the ranch style country home was welcoming and overwhelmed with other mates who had arrived earlier than myself. Only one was missing and on his way back from Memphis with our lead instructor. I drummed up a second wind of energy and made my way around the room with introductions and happy hellos. There was Andrew, Craig and Allison from New York, Chris, Robert and then our Medical Instructor, Chuck. They offered me a cup of coffee, which of course, I just couldn't turn down after driving through the night and we opened up small talk.

After the last class mate arrived, the morning was kicked off and a little grocery shopping ensued followed by an introduction to our next four intensifying days.

08 June 2012

Nigeria: Grieving for Answers

A man in Nigeria, whose wife was killed in the Dana Air crash earlier this week, is filing a suit against Boeing and the estate of the American pilot for defective engines and putting his wife in “unreasonable” danger.

The Boeing 727 crashed into a residential area, in Lagos, resulting 163 dead and others injured. Masses of locals rushed to the site and it was hours before rescue workers could get in and start pulling bodies out of the rubble. The fire took time to burn out and even media crews had a difficulty maneuvering through the wreckage and the crowds.

A day later, the Nigerian crash took a unique turn. A dear friend posted on his Facebook that he had lost his sister in the crash, and that she had been on the plane, and among the declared dead.The pain of his loss certainly made the reality of the incident powerful. Watching his grief gives perspective to the emotions many of the victim’s families may be experiencing.

The other man who sued Boeing isn’t looking for money or attention, rather a sense of Justice – because for such a circumstance, it is only natural in the human mind to want someone or something to blame, a responsibility upheld. There must be explanation; there must be a reason his loved one died, even if it was preventable. And perhaps it was not preventable; the crash itself is under investigation with the Nigerian Aviation Authority and other officials, however, if something can be explained, if anything can be given a reason, there is retribution. The human condition is prone to the need for understanding, for reason, for a detailed answer to the question, “why.”

In the end – the families who are speaking out, the ones who are frustrated with the government’s lack of answers and the ones who are vying to obtain their loved one’s body for burial – are simply in need of peace, security and resolution. A pastor in Lagos stated that everyone in his congregation knew someone or was connected to someone in that crash. The grieving nature of the community will take time to heal and while the news moves on, they will stay persistent in their search for answers and strength.

Note: Breaking news is always a rush – when an event happens that changes people’s lives in a significant way, a learning curve always follows. As a journalist, one has to know how to handle being sensitive to the suffering and yet using every resource necessary to cover the elements and facts of a story. The pkg above was filed by Vladimir Duthiers for CNN

05 May 2012

surf and sand

my friend, jett, picked me up and helped me tie my borrowed surf board to the top of his car. the day was warm but fairly overcast. even so, it was a perfect day to go out and try my hand at surfing again. still only learning, i hadn't been able to pop up on my feet yet, but any excuse to work at it and well, be engulfed in the high seas- i would take it.

once we attached the board to the car, he opened his trunk and showed me an enormous crab. the fishy smell wasn't pleasant, but the crab, though dead, had an amazing amount of life attached to it - barnacles and green sea-life that was fascinating. jett explained that he just wanted to show it off to people, but planned to put it back in the ocean.

after a quick pit stop for water bottles and energy bars, we cruised around the neighborhood overlooking the water to see where other surfers were catching waves, we settled near the pier and unloaded. jett's wet-suit was still wet, so he put a bag on each of his feet and slipped through the tight foot-holes while i fumbled for the long zipper on my back. the morning was cloudy. it didn't matter, the breeze was cool and the sky showed signs of sun.

we grabbed our boards and headed down toward the pier. i waded out, hopped on and efforted swimming over the waves coming right at me. an immediate chill went down my spine, the taste of salt, and i was in heaven. for the next two hours, i ducked through waves, body surfed, knee surfed and tried to find my footing on the 7 foot long board. i even forgot to duck quick enough to avoid another surfer's board knocking me in the head...an epic fail, but in the end, i was in the pacific, and i just didn't care. 

jett and i pulled our boards from the water and laid them on the sand, started peeling off our wet-suits and he skipped a few rocks against the waves. the morning was over and the sun dried us off. we headed back to car but not until we grabbed the crab that sat on the post above the stairs.

he dropped me off, i changed into work-out clothes and headed off for a good hour of hot yoga. my friends had been right, the cold/hot and physically exhausting combination was sensational and jett's suggestion to take haley's class was fantastic. 

when the dripping sweat hour was done, i walked back for a shower ready to take on the world...or at least the ocean beach farmer's market.

29 April 2012

West Bound Road: A Series of Absurd Essays About A Journey to the Coast (#OutOfOrder2)

The Way Out

I knew I head to get a head start. I'm a night owl and knowing that I wanted to try to and get to the Texas border by dawn, I had to go - despite protests from my aunt, I had slept all day and couldn't sit still. I was ready to get back to work, but not before I stopped to see my grandfather. 

I saw a smile cross his lips when I walked through his door. He sat comfortably on the couch without his prosthetic. I saw the stump that was his right thigh. He rubbed it on occasion, no doubt because it was still uncomfortable and he admitted his prosthetic wasn't as tightly fitted as he needed - of course he would ask for an adjustment. But he did say he was trying to get away from using the walker and just use the cane, another step in the recovery process.* 

The black and white movie became white noise and our conversation went on as it always did - certainly with my grandfather, never a dull moment being together- from his daily activities to spirituality to the latest in the news and my job. But the night was getting late and I knew I had to get on the road. Papa insisted on giving me a little gas money, he used his upper body strength and his good leg to maneuver into the wheel chair, rolled to his room and grabbed his wallet. He pressed 20 bucks into my hand.  

Seeing him in the wheel chair made me realize his frailty. It was the first time I had seen him during his surgery. I was aware of the pain he went through. And as I walked out the door, slipped into my Jeep and slowly pulled away, I watched him. He lingered in the door way and his face...just seemed so sad. 

I bit my lip and rode away. 

The night was before me, the dark desert with me, I had hours to drive and the next overnight stop  seemed as far as the stars. But I was determined because one cannot start a mission and not finish... 

28 April 2012

Open Mic Night: Lazy Hummingbird

I walked into the strange cafe that had a Fedex attached to it. I smiled to myself and thought, "this place is hokie." I was amused at the rag-tag Ocean Beach crowd that swarmed in and out of the narrow door at a place so fittingly called "Lazy" Hummingbird. 

When I walked in, the young crowd was friendly and shared a few hellos. Most were there staring straight ahead at the open mic of musicians, paying close attention, not saying a word and dedicated to the music. It seemed they were all a little less than hippie, a little more than hobo - dreads, multi-colored clothes, tattoos and an interest to save the world through music and community. They were a group of artist-idealists. 

A little blond toddler walked into the cafe, looked at me curiously and gently put her little finger to her lips instructing me to "shh" - she bent down next to the jewelry maker on the floor and pointed to the game shelf wanting to retain the Twister box. After she got her hands on it, she darted out the door to play with her mom, a woman about my age with long beautifully wavy hair who later told me she was from Colorado.

I looked up and my friend had just walked in with her Ukalale. I made my way through the crowd and we decided to head outside. While there were no chairs available, so we found a table with a lone artist and made ourselves comfortable on the cement next to him. Through the course of conversation, he asked my friend to play during his spoken word session, for which she happily agreed. The young man told my friend that he was going to call it the Penguins of Paradise because he appreciated how penguins stuck together in the harshest conditions and well, he liked paradise, so it worked. 

Conversation continued for a while until we thought it best to check out a couple of the other artists. As we stood up to go inside, the emo-Brad Pitt and his motley crew behind us asked if they were bothering us - and we assured them we just wanted to hear some of the music. Although, I'm quite sure the other guy who was shaky and wouldn't sit still was looking to escape for a drug hit. 

We walked inside and watched various musicians take turns sitting in the hot seat. At one point, a gentleman, with long grey hair sticking out of his green hat and a nervous demeanor sat down. My friend leaned over and said, that's Dave. He was abducted by aliens and this is his song, she smiled. I stopped and shifted my eyes into a dead stare at her, thinking...um really? I shrugged and turned back to the man on the stool. But instead of singing a song this time, he made an announcement about how he identified with the Occupy group in San Diego and believed in equality. He passed out orange fliers and walked away. 

Back to the music and it was finally time for a little spoken word. The young artist my friend and I spoke with was up and she joined him. He allowed her to start with her song about a tree and he followed with his poetry, while she continued to play. Several drummers picked up the beat, but before long there were a few too many and the drum circle wasn't really listening to each other. Even so, my friend found a way to conduct them back into the same basic rhythmic pattern and the Penguins of Paradise carried on through the 10 minute open mic. 

When it finally dissolved, my friend and I exchanged smiles and left the little hokie coffee house. All in all, it had been a sweet and entertaining evening on Santa Monica street. 

01 April 2012

A Word On Syria-

 "So in the interest of innocent victims everywhere, 
we as journalists need to work harder to find out who they were, to paint a picture of the lives they had and the people who grieve for them. 
May they all rest in peace -- and be counted." 
*the quote above was take from an article discussing the recent 17 victims in Afghanistan, however it applies to this platform

In Syria, an estimated 9000+ people have been declared dead. And as numbers continue to increase, so does the discourse about what will come next and if the Syrian regime doesn't accept a plan presented by Kofi Annan to end the conflict peacefully, which thus far has not been done. Of course, the debate also rages on as to whether or not Annan's "cease-fire" and negotiation "plan" will even be effective as the Opposition groups struggle to come to terms in Istanbul. 

The Western educated Syrian leaders, with their iTunes lists, flirty emails and general dismissal of the pain they inflict on their own people has certainly been nothing but disturbing. In recent days, President Bashar Al-Assad visited the city of Homs where much of the shelling occurred and from where residents fled...those that did not die on the way out, for the past year. But it seems his visit was only that of a political ploy. According to activists, shelling continued after he left and others say security forces gathered a "pro-Assad" crowd to make his visit seem welcome. Even humanitarian groups have had difficulty getting in and out of the country to rescue those with dire medical needs. The situation, frankly, is a mess.

Ironically, the "Friends of Syria," seem to be looking less like friends and more like the political leaders debating how to handle the ravaged country, that is, idly sitting by and "talking." There are those among the Arab nations who might readily arm the opposition and but Western powers hesitate when there is a wide variety of opposition groups that have yet to come together. At the end of the day, the International Community is frustrating the people who are suffering the most. Even Annan's 6-point plan seems like steps right out of a self-help book in the dusty corner at Barnes & Noble bookstore. 

While the world's leaders have encouraged the opposition to create a clear vision of what they hope for the future of Syria, most are just trying to survive. Women, Children, Old Men - are lost, are dead, are barely hanging on. At the end of the day, the politics are meaningless and the talk is just that -- babble achieving nothing, at least not until the last gun shot is fired, not until the last explosive reduces to ashes. If the international community doesn't, there are those with ill intentions, and theirs will be the help Syria receives because they have no one else.  Even then, the repair will take years and the mourning will have only just begun. 

The tears, anger and suffering press on, and ironically, the journalists seem to be the only hope for the Syrian people. Perhaps, just maybe, if we keep showing their stories, chasing the aftermath, showing the blood and sweat and screams -- the world will finally wake up.