World Water Day – today!

Some more alert people than myself noted that today is World Water Day, and posted a picture in relation to it. Heck, I thought I can do that too, and so I found this one. It was taken at a trip to southern Mauritania where I was an election observer in spring 2007.

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Southern Mauritania is one large bit of very picturesque desert with the occasional oasis and palm grove thrown in. Every day, we drove for hours around the desert, indeed off the beaten track with nothing to guide us than the local knowledge of our driver and interpreter. We would inevitably end up at the right place, and on the way come across small settlements of mud houses and tents. The people living in these settlements definitely had to face a daily struggle to get water, food and education for their children. However, there was no indication of  crass poverty, just of very simple lives. The elections brought people out in droves, but the elected president and government were finally swept away in a coup a few years later.

One day, we drove past a palm grove. As we had been sitting in the jeep for more than four hours, we all opted to get out and walk about a bit, and I walked over to the grove. I had never been so close to an assembly of low-growing palms, and was quite surprised how hard and sharp their leaves are. After a short trot around the grove, I walked back to the car. In the meantime, a local Mauritanian had showed up, whose job was clearly to guard the well. I hadn’t even spotted it at first, but there it was – a car tire in the ground marked the spot. When hovering above the tire, one could faintly see the shimmering ground water. This picture shows our interpreter taking a big gulp of water in this otherwise fairly dry area. Desertification is obviously a huge problem worldwide, and with climate change advancing, it will be even more so in this region, which is adjacent to the Sahel area.

Thus: SAVE WATER WHERE YOU CAN AND WHEREVER YOU ARE!! In Southern California, thoughtful restaurants have little table-tents that remind their guests that saving water is in everyone’s interest and for everyone’s benefit. If it can be done in California, it can be done everywhere.

Support www.charitywater.org or some other charity or NGO that helps people get access to clean and sustainable water sources.

The infrequent blogger

When it rains, it pours. That’s sort of my approach to keeping a blog – two months nothing, then two entries back to back. But then, my approach to media – as a guy working in that field – is to only say something if you have something to say.

What did I want to say? Ah yes, about that blog-writing. I never kept a diary, not even as a child. Mainly because I didn’t find much worthy to preserve for future readers, but also because I was just doing too much to write it all down. Or perhaps I was just plain lazy. Yes, that’s what it was.

So if you, dear reader, are now finding these notes, keep in mind that they were scribbled down on a minute keyboard by someone who had only ever had the habit of writing down his thoughts in an illegible handwriting on the flimsy paper napkins that came with his beer. And to then throw them away.

Since I have found out that I will spend some time in Istanbul courtesy Turkish Airlines (I remember having had that pleasure not so long ago already; what IS it with their timekeeping?), I thought I might write something about Turkey. Right after Tajikistan, world-wise that I am.

Now, I have never seen anything else of Turkey than Istanbul and, a long time ago, some stretch of beach down at Antalya. Which I regret, very much. Not the beach, but not to have seen more. In any case, Istanbul is a wonderful city. I hardly ever go there anymore out of my own free will, because I don’t have to. For some odd reason I regularly end up there for business. Generally, I am passing through, and I don’t always leave the terminal, but when I do, I enjoy it. Sadly, it always seems to be in winter or early spring.

I remember several visits where I would stare into the waters of the Bosporus or across it, admiring the Eastern shore, when I had to pull up my socks and my jumper against the icy winds coming down from the Marmara. I am convinced that the Blue Mosque was built out of that specific marble to reflect the bluish quality of the Istanbul air in winter. They have a word in French for it: it’s bluâtre – blue like the early morning, like a winter dawn in the European North, like the veins of mould in young blue cheese. A blue transparency rather than a prime colour.

Writing this from the plane two hours before touch down, I have no chance yet to take a picture, but I will endeavour to capture this capital-lettered Blue. No doubt will I fail, but I will try.

What else did I want to say about Istanbul (for I cannot be so daring as to give an opinion on an entire country as large as this one)?

Well, it is a multitude. Like any metropolis, I’d say. It is hip for its bars and cafés and students, it is traditional for its architecture and its glorious past (which now, however, appears strangely vacuous, like a shell without its crab), and it is fresh and slightly dirty and gritty, like any decent harbour city. I really like it.

When I come home, I shall have to dig up my photographic memories of the city, and perhaps I shall find something Blue as well…

Post Scriptum
Arrival in the dark, leaving in the dark, decent photography impossible. Hence the only picture showing any measure of Blue had to be taken at the airport, which it was. Back home to Vienna, to a few more months of blogging silence. Or maybe not!

Dushanbe, waiting at the airport

5 March 2012, 12.23pm. After two weeks in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, where I worked and photographed – if that can be separated – I am waiting for my flight out. Already for 12 hours, since the initial flight out in the middle of last night was cancelled.

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Melancholia – this is the term that most easily springs to mind when I try to find a word that reflects the Tajik state of mind. Desperation could be another one, given the dire economic situation of so many here, the fact that one million males have to regularly migrate to surrounding countries – mostly Russia – because they cannot find work at home, or the general disrepair of most industry and infrastructure. And there is that, of course. But whilst pacing the capital city, I did also encounter happy people, with a smile on their faces and bantering with each other. No, aside from these happier moments, it is melancholia that describes it best.

There is a certain placid and unenergetic way of doing things in Tajikistan, it seems. Hurry or anger I have not encountered very often. And yet, the country has experienced a bloody civil war from which it emerged – without large-scale foreign intervention! – some ten years ago. There is much more to identify and to describe of this not so little country north of Afghanistan and west of China, all but forgotten by the world. But PhDs have already been written, the international media came and left, and aside from a handful of international organisations there are now only the Pamir tourists that come and explore the Tajik ways – and, more importantly, mountains. So they are largely left to their own devices, and whilst things could definitely be better in many ways they are coping, a little bit sad and quiet, but authentic.

This little bit boy was sitting next to me whilst I typed this article, waiting patiently with his father for I don’t know what. And now they are calling my flight.