TRAVERSE

erikalsnicks

TRAVERSE

REVEALING THE CULTURE BEHIND THE NEWS | FALL 2014 | No. 1

STATELESS


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THE CORRESPONDANT

QUIET MOMENTS AMID THE

CONFLICT IN UKRAINE

Kiev Through The Instagram Lens

12

CONTENTS

FALL 2014 | No. 1

STATELESS

The untold stories of three stateless groups—the Kurds,

who face their own struggles from the war in the

Middle East, the Hmong who are America’s neglected

allies since the Vietnam War, and the Roma who are

perceived of as the unwanted citizens of Europe.

THE KURDS

No Friends But the Mountains

20

THE HMONG

Our Forgotten Allies

38

THE ROMA

A People Uncounted

48

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE

SYRIAN CONFLICT

A Sneak Peek Into Dr. Haydar Alwash’s

Life From Doctors Without Borders

14

THE INSIDER

NEW YEARS IN AKRE

The Struggle For Liberty That Is

Embedded In Kurdish Celebration Of

Newroz

16

HMONG CULTURE

PERMEATES FASHION

The Roots Of Bohemian Fashion

47

A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED

The Release Of A New Documentary

About The Romas

62

THE WRITER

BEYOND THE FENCE

Short Story From A Hmong’s Perspective

TT Vang

66

MY GIPSY CHILDHOOD

Autobiography From Romanian Writer

Roxy Freeman

72

FOUNTAIN

Short Story From Kurdish Writer Ava

Homa’s Book Echos From The Other Land

79

THE ANALYST

HOME IS EVERY PLACE

Pico Iyer’s View On Living

Without Boundaries

90

WHERE CHILDREN SLEEP

James Mollisons’ Photography On The

Diversity Of Children’s Lives From

Around The World

94

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EDITOR’S NOTE

ATTAINING WANDERLUST can be a frightful thing.

Once you step out of your comfort zone into another

part of the world, the longing and desire to go else-w here

leaves a sense of incompleteness as you go back home to

your daily routines. The day doesn’t feel the same as it

does when you wake up to a place with different people,

a different taste, and a different smell.

Even if you return home the world doesn’t stop.

Those people you’ve seen are also going about their

routines wherever they are until an event arises. We get a

glimpse of those events in the news, but it doesn’t reveal

the people as people, as much as in numbers.

TRAVERSE was created to treat my own symptoms

of wanderlust and to create something that people the

ability to traverse to other continents while still going

about their daily routines. It’s to explore the human side

of people that we hear and read about in the news, but

still don’t know enough about. Here, the world comes

to you as it is—sometimes dark, sometimes inspiring,

sometimes uplifting or sad—and yet just as beautiful.

We start this issue with tales of the stateless as it

focuses on the idea of home. Homes and having a sense

of belonging in a community are well taken for granted.

There are the discomforts of not having a place to call

one’s home. For some, there is the comfort of having

many homes.

By law, stateless people are are often an unrecognized

group of people who are struggle to avail themselves of

the nation in which they live. A majority of these groups

are marginalized and dehumanized and face harsher

living conditions due to discrimination, redrawing of

borders, and gaps in nationality laws.

I hope that this issue, and many issues to follow, will

encourage readers to view the world not as something

dehumanized or distant, but as something tangible and

waiting to be tread. —EN

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Erika Nicks

erika@traverse.com

EDITOR

Jill Vartenigian

jill@traverse.com

DESIGNER

Emily Chamberlain

emily@traverse.com

BUSINESS DEV DIRECTOR

Simone Rosenbauer

simone@traverse.com

PROJECT MANAGER

Sara Hingle

sara@traverse.com

PUBLISHING DIRECTOR

Ed Harrington

ed@traverse.com

FINANCIAL DIRECTOR

Marc Salverda

marc@traverse.com

ACCOUNTANT

Rachel Grove

rachel@traverse.com

MARKETING MANAGER

Jones Matthew

jones@traverse.com

PROOFREADER

Amy Youn

amy@traverse.com

WRITERS

Amar Toor

Dan Stone

Jacqueline Brinn

Brodie Lancaster

Ramin Vakili

Natasha Pradan

Xay Yang

Sheyma Buali

Pico Iyer

Marie McCann

PHOTOGRAPHERS

Saskia Wilson

Ray Grover

Sophie Chamas

John Deloitte

Tommaso Protti

Phil Riitt

Roy Bradbury

COVER PHOTO: “The PKK ceasefire Announcement” by Tommaso Protti

Traverse Magazine was published at Seattle Central Creative Academy for the purpose of a school project. All content in this

publication, including but not limited to all text, visual displays, images, and data will not be used for sales or distribution. Views

expressed by authors are not necessarily those of the publisher. Email addresses are published for professional communications only.

traversemagazine.com

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THE CORRESPONDANT

UKRAINIAN ACTIVISTS LOOK

BACK ON THE MONTHS THAT

CHANGED THEIR LIVES

WRITTEN BY AMAR TOOR

KIEV, AUGUST 10, 2014—As attention shifts toward Crimea’s referendum,

Ukranian activists look back on the months that changed their lives.

IN APRIL1977, Ukrainian activist Myroslav Marynovych

was arrested by Soviet police. He was 28 at the time, and had

become an outspoken advocate for human rights, working

to raise awareness about ongoing violations in what is now

Ukraine. In the eyes of the Soviets, though, his work threatened

to undermine state order and it carried a stiff sentence:

seven years in a gulag labor camp, followed by

five years in exile.

Today, Marynovych works as the vice rector of the Ukrainian

Catholic University in Lviv, a cosmopolitan city in western

Ukraine. It’s a far cry from the hardships he endured in the

Perm-36 gulag, but his political passions still burn strong. And

when protests broke out in Kiev’s Maidan square late last year,

he felt he had no choice but to join.

“When we all saw on TV how the special police troops tried to

destroy Maidan, beating students mercilessly and heavily, I

decided I had to go and stand there,” Marynovych, 65, said

during a phone call last week.

His stay in Kiev was short — “It got cold. I am not so young

anymore.” — but the demonstrations were not. Thousands of

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THE CORRESPONDANT

Ukrainians descended on the capital in November to protest

against President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject a

trade deal with the European Union and to forge closer

economic ties with Russia. After deadly clashes between

protesters and police, Yanukovych is now in hiding, Crimea is

holding a disputed referendum today to decide whether to

join the Russian Federation, and a new government is slowly

taking form as Ukraine’s future hangs in the balance.

“The atmosphere has changed fundamentally,” says Bishop

Borys Gudziak, 53, president of the Ukraine Catholic

University and a friend of Marynovych’s, who spent two

weeks praying with protesters behind barricades at the

Maidan. “The country and its people are in a time machine:

an hour is like a week, a week... like a decade.”

For Gudziak and other protesters, the last few months

have been a political and emotional whirlwind as the elation

felt after Yanukovych was ousted in February has since given

way to a deeper sense of unease. Despite strong warnings

from the US and its allies, Russia continues to tighten its grip

over Crimea — home to a majority ethnic Russian population

— and the regional parliament has moved to declare

independence from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation,

pending today’s vote. The US and Kiev have both said that

they will not recognize the results of the referendum,

describing it as illegal.

There’s no denying that Ukraine remains divided. The

country’s eastern region has stronger cultural and historical

ties to Russia, while its western region leans more toward

Europe. Although a sizable number of representatives from

the eastern region did vote to oust Yanukovych, they remain

fairly underrepresented in the government taking form in Kiev.

“It’s a coalition government, but it’s not a coalition of the

entire country,” Gorenburg says. “It’s a coalition that’s

dominated by the pro-western part of the country.”

Kiev resident Maria Oleksevich says there’s a palpable

sense of concern today in the capital, where many activists

fear that further Russian encroachment could reverse the

gains they made following Yanukovych’s departure. “My

friends say: we have kicked Yanukovych out of the country,

so we can expel Russian invaders,” says Oleksevich, 22, who

leads the media department at furniture design firm

ODESD2. “But subconsciously, there is a fear that everything

can happen again. It is very exhausting to live in a constant

state of conflict.”

Oleksevich and her friends played an active role in last

month’s protests, bringing clothes and medicine to the

Maidan and suspending their design projects to follow the

developments (“Who can be interested in a new designer

commode when people die?”). She says things are a lot

calmer in Kiev now, though they’re still not quite normal.

“I have not really left the Maiden. It remains in my heart,

in my thoughts, and in my dreams and nightmares.”

Moscow has gone to great lengths to discredit the

revolution in Ukraine, describing the movement as a coup

staged by fascists and ultranationalists, while insisting that

the Kremlin must protect the ethnic Russians who live

primarily in the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine.

Marynovych acknowledges that there are some ultranationalists

involved in Ukraine’s revolution, but he says their role and

perceived threat have been vastly overblown by state-controlled

Russian media, dismissing Putin’s basis for invading

Crimea to protect Russian interests. His fear is that Russia is

using the same strategy it deployed in 2008, when it

effectively annexed two Georgian territories after invading.

“It’s craziness,” Marynovych says of Putin’s rhetoric. “It’s the

language of Hitler — the language of the middle of the 20th

century, not the 21st century.”

Economic difficulties continue to plague local businesses. The

value of Ukraine’s currency plummeted after unrest broke

out, making it more expensive for Oleksevich’s firm to

purchase materials, though she says they’ve taken a new

sense of pride in making their products in Ukraine, and she

hopes others will follow.

His memories from the Maidan won’t fade away, either,

regardless of what happens after today’s referendum. In

February, Gudziak was in a nearby chapel tent when special

forces opened fire on protesters. He rushed out to the stage

to implore the officers to stop, reading a statement from the

archbishop of his church. When he turned around, he saw

that the chapel was in flames. “I have not really left the

Maidan,” Gudziak says. “It remains in my heart, in my

thoughts, and in my dreams and nightmares.”

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THE CORRESPONDANT

QUIET

MOMENTS AMID

THE CONFLICT

IN UKRAINE

WRITTEN BY DAN STONE

Photographer Ed Ou describes

the challenges of documenting

the unfolding crisis and the patience

that’s required. Two weeks

into the crisis in Ukraine, tension

between Russian and Ukrainian

soldiers continues to build. While

TV screens around the world show

images of marching troops and

military hardware, Ou has tried to

capture what’s unfolding as people

talk, soldiers argue, and opinions

are expressed. The photos he has

posted on Instagram (@edouphoto)

reveal an international conflict

playing out in tones that are sometimes

more subtle, far from the

politicians and their harsh words.

How is the situation unfolding on the

ground? Can you describe the tension?

It’s weird saying this as a journalist.

From the outside world, it probably

seems like what’s happening in Crimea

is absolutely insane. But the truth is that

life is still going on. People are adapting

and doing their thing. The story most

of the world is hearing is a political one.

Here’s it’s easy to see life as normal. A

lot of the tension is in people’s minds.

Do you feel threatened photographing

Russian troops?

It’s an interesting dynamic. Every experience

for a photographer is painted by

his or her past experience. As someone

who has worked in the Middle East, my

experience is attuned to conflict. There

are periods when it seems that things

are clearly created for the media. A

few days ago, several soldiers near the

airport wanted to be photographed.

That felt orchestrated, allowing Russia

to project its dominance. Sometimes

it feels like everything is just political

theater, and we’re being used for that.

How do people react to your cameras?

People here are very supportive of the

media. They’ve been open to telling

us what their thoughts and opinions

are. But people on the Russian side

have their biases against Westerners.

I’ve had people come up to me and

accuse me of being a provocateur

or a spy. In any kind of time like this,

tensions can sometimes run high.

With isolated pockets of activity

and tension, how do

you know where to go?

Well, Crimea is huge. Keep in mind

that there are a lot of photographers

and journalists who have come to tell

this very intangible story. Every day

you have to call other reporters and

journalists to see what’s happening.

There’s this demand for pictures and

video. We’re always kind of tense, on

call, to find the flash points. Every day

there’s a rumor that a military installation

is being taken over. We just

have to gauge where we need to be.

You’ve chosen to share your

photos on Facebook and

Instagram for free. Why?

With Instagram, sometimes it’s a

personal space just to show life as it is.

A photograph doesn’t have to be frontpage

news. I’m working on assignment

now shooting video. That footage will

be published in the mainstream media.

I purposely post photos on Instagram

that probably won’t be published

anywhere else. What’s cool about

Instagram is that you can show things

that you know won’t be used otherwise

and might never be seen. With

Instagram I get to have my own way in

publishing. I get to be my own editor.

How long do you plan to stay?

I think it’d be nice to stay for a bit.

I’m finding great feature stories left,

right, and center every day. Every

time I want to photograph a culture

story, I get a call that there’s escalating

tension somewhere else.

What kinds of things have soldiers

told you?

Soldiers from both sides feel very

resigned to what the politicians are

doing. Many say they’re just trying

to follow orders. They recognize that

they’re pawns in the game that the

politicians are playing. They recognize

that if they have to fight each other, it

will be brothers fighting brother

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THE CORRESPONDANT

1. 4. 7.

2. 5. 8.

3. 6. 9.

1. Riot police load onto a bus behind

independence square in #kiev #ukraine

2. Mourners carry the coffin of a man

who was killed in the recent violence at a

procession in independence square

3. Ukrainian soldiers wave farewell to their

loves ones at a Ukrainian air force base

in Lubimovka

4. Pro-Ukraine Crimean activists discuss

politics in their “headquarters” after a

demonstration in #kiev #ukraine

5. Dogs lay in the sun on a warm day in

Kamenka near #simferopol

6. Anti-government protestors weep as

former Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia

Tymoshenko speaks in independence

square after being released from prison

7. A sea of anti-government protestors hold

up their cell phones for light during a prayer

service in independence square

8. Protestors nail spikes into the ground to

erect a tent in independence square

9. People queue in a long line to withdraw

money from a ATM machines at Simferopol

TRAVERSE 15


THE CORRESPONDANT

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE

SYRIAN CONFLICT

WRITTEN BY JACQUELIN BRINN

NEW YORK, AUGUST 13, 2014—The international medical humanitarian

organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières

(MSF) today launched “The Reach of War,” a multimedia documentary

feature exploring a single day in the life of the ongoing conflict in Syria,

through the perspective of medical workers, patients, and refugees.

Watch the documentary at:

reachofwar.msf.org

The war is never far away in Ramtha, a city in northeastern

Jordan just three miles from the Syrian border and only a little

further from the Syrian town of Daraa. Explosions echoing in

the distance are one indication of the conflict’s proximity. The

steady stream of wounded arriving at MSF’s trauma surgery

program at Ramtha Hospital is another.

Dr. Haydar Alwash, an MSF surgeon, hardly needed a

reminder, but he got one anyway when he tried to use an

unexpected afternoon lull to conduct a training session for

hospital staff. Drawing on past experience in MSF surgery

programs in Liberia and Libya—not to mention the work he

and MSF had been doing since opening this program in

September 2013—Dr. Alwash was talking about putting casts

on fractured arms and legs, injuries the teams were seeing

frequently. Before he could finish, however, a call came in

saying that three badly wounded patients were on their way

from the border and that there were children among them.

Dr. Alwash had already performed a surgery that morning

and had others scheduled for the next day. He and his team

had performed dozens in the weeks prior as well. “All our

patients are newly injured in this conflict,” he says, usually by

bombs or gunshots. “Our work mainly concentrates first on

saving lives—surgical procedures that can save lives or limbs.”

In Ramtha, MSF runs two operating theaters with 33 beds

and two wards at a Ministry of Health hospital. MSF gets

patients through a network of medical professionals inside

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THE CORRESPONDANT

Syria who run field hospitals but cannot provide all of the

surgical and post-operative intensive care that severely injured

people need. Instead, they steer them across the border to

waiting ambulances that transport patients on to Ramtha.

When the ambulance arrives on this day, the team learns

that there are two patients rather than three, but that one, a

child, has already died. Another, a man with shrapnel in his

leg, has a ruptured artery and has lost a great deal of blood.

He is rushed into surgery.

Dr. Alwash hurries into the operating theater as well.

Originally from Babylon, Iraq, he was himself a refugee after

the first Gulf war in the early 1990s. While living in a squalid,

overcrowded camp, he got support from MSF to open a clinic

for his fellow refugees. He was thrilled that he could offer

assistance and he later determined that he’d find a way to

work with MSF in the future, “to repay the favor.”

On this morning, Dr. Alwash started his rounds around 8:30.

Among the first patients he saw was Sami, 22, who had

again one day. Other patients also show uncommon fortitude

given their circumstances. Malik, for instance, is usually up for

a game of chess with anyone willing to play, patients and MSF

staffers alike. Others say they hope to return home as soon as

they can walk again.

Their resilience helps mitigate, to some small extent, the

difficulty of seeing the injured and maimed arrive one after

another. On one particularly hard night, Dr. Alwash says, three

children—a six-month-old baby boy, a two-year-old girl, and

an eight-year-old girl—arrived in the same ambulance, “all of

them with severe injuries,” none of them with any relatives.

The baby boy had severe head wounds. “He passed away a

few minutes after he arrived,” Dr. Alwash recalls. The team

stabilized the two-year-old and managed to resuscitate the

older girl, who was almost completely white due to blood loss.

Still, her legs were mangled and one had to be amputated.

Later, they worked with contacts in Syria to bring her

grandmother to Ramtha to be with her.

“Originally from Babylon, Iraq, he was himself a refugee

after the first Gulf war in the early 1990s.”

undergone four surgeries since he was admitted a month

earlier after being shot in the leg. Then there was Malik, a

14-year-old boy who lost one leg and suffered serious injuries

to an arm and his other leg when his house was bombed

during a wedding party. “I didn’t feel anything,” Malik says.

There was also a 23-year-old man with injuries to his eye,

leg, hand, and chest who is expecting to be here at least five

more weeks, and a young girl, an infant, who lost a leg when

her house was hit by a tank shell that killed most of her family,

including a baby sister. “What has this child done to deserve

this, that she has to have her leg amputated?” asked her aunt,

who was staying with her while she was in the hospital, and

who lost her own 16-year-old son to the war.

Dr. Alwash later reached the bedside of a girl named Rukaya,

14, who was out walking with her mother and a neighbor in

their hometown when a shell hit nearby. She woke up in

Ramtha, where she learned that she’d lost both legs and her

mother was dead. Seven surgeries followed, and Dr. Alwash

will perform another tomorrow as part of the process of

preparing her for the prosthetics she will have to use.

Rukaya smiles when she talks to the doctor, and she smiles

once more when asserting her determination to be happy

Though that patient has a long road of rehabilitation ahead

of her, she is now in good condition, Dr. Alwash reports, and

though he is visibly rattled when he recounts that night, the

story also reminds him why he and MSF are there. “You are

doing an activity that the patient needs now, not tomorrow,

not [in] another week,” he says. The work is grueling, but

“these projects, the surgical projects for war wounded, they

stand alone, because you see exactly the importance, the

vital importance, of the services you are doing.”

On this day, he finishes with surgery in the late evening and

heads home around 8, hoping to get some rest before

another busy day. At midnight, however, he gets a call

updating him on the status of this afternoon’s surgery patient.

And at 2am, he gets another call telling him that two teenage

boys are on their way from Syria with serious blast injuries.

As of June 1, 2014, MSF teams in Ramtha had carried out

1,315 surgeries on 430 patients arriving from Syria in the nine

months since the project opened. MSF is also assisting Syrian

refugees in Jordan at the Al Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq,

at a maternity project in Irbid, and through a reconstructive

surgical project in Amman.

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THE CORRESPONDANT

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THE CORRESPONDANT

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STATELESS

THE KURDS

No Friends but the Mountains

WRITTEN BY BRODIE LANCASTER

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SASKIA WILSON

KURDISTAN WAS ERASED from the world’s maps after World War

I when the Allied Powers carved up the Middle East and denied the

Kurds a nation-state. More than twenty million Kurds live in parts of

Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Throughout the 20th century their struggles

for political and cultural autonomy were opposed by the region’s

countries and the Kurds were often used as pawns in regional politics.

The Kurd is a member of an ethnic and linguistic group living in

the Taurus Mountains of eastern Anatolia, the Zagros Mountainsof

western Iran, portions of northern Iraq, Syria, and Armenia, and other

adjacent areas. Most of the Kurds live in contiguous areas of Iran, Iraq,

and Turkey—a somewhat loosely defined geographic region generally

referred to as Kurdistan (“Land of the Kurds”). The name has different

connotations in Iran and Iraq, which officially recognize internal entities

by this name: Iran’s northwestern province of Kordestān and Iraq’s

Kurdish autonomous region. A sizable noncontiguous Kurdish population

also exists in the Khorāsān region, situated in Iran’s northeast.

Their is a West Iranian language related to Persian and Pashto. The

Kurds are thought to number from 25 million to 30 million, including

communities in Armenia, Georgia,Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Syria, and

Europe, but sources for this information differ widely because of

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THE KURDS

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STATELESS

differing criteria of ethnicity, religion,

and language; statistics may also be manipulated

for political purposes.

The traditional Kurdish way of life was

nomadic, revolving around sheep and goat

herding throughout the Mesopotamian plains

and the highlands of Turkey and Iran. Most

Kurds practiced only marginal agriculture. The

enforcement of national boundaries beginning

after World War I (1914–18) impeded

the seasonal migrations of the flocks, forcing

most of the Kurds to abandon their traditional

ways for village life and settled farming;

others entered nontraditional employment.

Initially, the Kurdish Ottoman diplomat

Mohammed Serif Pasha managed to insert

language into the Treaty of Sèvres—the negotiated

surrender of the Ottomans to the

allied powers—that would allow for an autonomous

Kurdistan in the new regional order.

But the envisioned state never materialized.

Kemal Atatürk’s Turkish nationalist

movement rejected the treaty, which would

have conceded chunks of eastern Turkey to

the Kurdish state. Atatürk renegotiated with

the Allies, and the new peace—known as the

Treaty of Lausanne—divided the Kurds between

Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia.

“The reputation for military prowess has made them

much in demand as mercenaries in many armies.”

SCATTERED BETWEEN NATIONS

The prehistory of the Kurds is poorly known,

but their ancestors seem to have inhabited the

same upland region for millennia. The records

of the early empires of Mesopotamia contain

frequent references to mountain tribes with

names resembling “Kurd.” The Kardouchoi

whom the Greek historian Xenophon speaks of

in Anabasis (they attacked the “Ten Thousand”

near modern Zākhū, Iraq, in 401 bce) may

have been Kurds, but some scholars dispute

this claim. The name Kurd can be dated with

certainty to the time of the tribes’ conversion

tto Islam in the 7th century ce. Most Kurds

are Sunni Muslims, and among them are many

who practice Sufism and other mystical sects.

Despite their long-standing occupation of

a particular region of the world, the Kurds

never achieved nation-state status. Their reputation

for military prowess has made them

much in demand as mercenaries in many

armies. The sultan Saladin, best known to the

Western world for exploits in the Crusades,

epitomizes the Kurdish military reputation.

Scattered throughout five newly birthed

nations, the Kurds still shared a cultural affinity,

says Djene Bajalan, an expert on Kurdish history

who lectures at the American University of

Iraq. “But as the region got divided into ethnic

nation-states, the Kurdish community was excluded,”

he adds. For the next 90 years, Kurdish

minorities largely retained a connection to their

unique language and culture, yet they remained

strapped to the political fate of their host nations,

in limbo between autonomy and dependence.

Consequently, the nearly four million Kurds

of northern Iraq never truly became Iraqis, and

their political leaders did not accept the authority

of Baghdad. Unlike Kurds in Syria and Iran,

who live dispersed throughout their respective

countries, Iraqi Kurds (like Turkish Kurds)

are heavily concentrated in the north, where

they enjoy demographic majorities in three

provinces: Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Dahuk.

There are only a few Kurdish towns that

exist in the area: Diyarbakir (a sort of capital

for Kurds) and Van in Turkey; Erbil and

Kirkuk in Iraq; and Mahabad in Iran.

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STATELESS

Top: Female Kurdish fighters prep their ammuniation

Bottom: A female Kurdish fighter sleeps, but ready

for ny instances of ISIS coming

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STATELESS

Left: A family in their humble

abode in one of the biggest cities

in Southeastern Anatolia

Right: A woman looks out the

window of a coffee shop in Bakur

SEEKING A HOME IN TURKEY

The Kurds of Turkey received unsympathetic treatment at

the hands of the government, which tried to deprive them

of their Kurdish identity by designating them “Mountain

Turks,” by outlawing the Kurdish language (or representing

it as a dialect of Turkish), and by forbidding them to wear

distinctive Kurdish dress in or near the important administrative

cities. The Turkish government suppressed Kurdish

political agitation in the eastern provinces and encouraged

the migration of Kurds to the urbanized western portion of

Turkey, thus diluting the concentration of Kurdish population

in the uplands. Periodic rebellions occurred, and in

1978 Abdullah Öcalan formed theKurdistan Workers’ Party

(known by its Kurdish acronym, PKK), a Marxist organization

dedicated to creating an independent Kurdistan.

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Operating mainly from eastern Anatolia, PKK fighters

engaged in guerrilla operations against government

installations and perpetrated frequent acts of terrorism.

PKK attacks and government reprisals led to a state

of virtual war in eastern Turkey during the 1980s and

’90s. Following Öcalan’s capture in 1999, PKK activities

were sharply curtailed for several years before the party

resumed guerilla activities in 2004. In 2002, under pressure

from the European Union (in which Turkey sought

membership), the government legalized broad-casts and

education in the Kurdish language. Turkey continued

to mount military operations against the PKK, including

incursions into northern Iraq. The Turkish government

had then suppressed Kurdish political agitation

in the eastern provinces and encouraged migration.

IN THE HANDS OF IRAN AND IRAQ

Kurds have felt strong assimilationist pressure from the

national government in Iran and endured religious persecution

by that country’s Shī’ite Muslim majority. Shortly

after World War II (1939–45), the Soviet Union backed

the establishment of an independent country around

the largely Kurdish city of Mahābād, in northwestern

Iran. The so-called Republic of Mahābād collapsed after

Soviet withdrawal in 1946, but about that same time the

Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) was established.

Thereafter, the KDPI engaged in low-level hostilities

with the Iranian government into the 21st century.

Although the pressure for Kurds to assimilate was less

intense in Iraq (where the Kurdish language and culture

have been freely practiced), government repression

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STATELESS

“The idea of a

Kurdish nation has

now become an

undeniable reality

for millions.”

has been the most brutal. Short-lived armed rebellions

occurred in Iraq in 1931–32 and 1944–45, and a lowlevel

armed insurgency took place throughout the 1960s

under the command of Mustafā al-Barzānī, leader of

the Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party (IKDP), who had

been an officer of the Republic of Mahābād. A failed

peace accord with the Iraqi government led to another

outbreak of fighting in 1975, but an agreement between

Iraq and Iran—which had been supporting Kurdish

efforts—later that year led to a collapse of Kurdish

resistance. Thousands of Kurds fled to Iran and Turkey.

Low-intensity fighting followed. In the late 1970s, Iraq’s

Ba’ath Party instituted a policy of settling Iraqi Arabs

in areas with Kurdish majorities—particularly around

the oil-rich city of Kirkūk—and uprooting Kurds

from those same regions. This policy accelerated in the

1980s as large numbers of Kurds were forcibly relocated,

particularly from areas along the Iranian border where

Iraqi authorities suspected Kurds were aiding Iranian

forces during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88). What

followed was one of the most brutal episodes in Kurdish

history. In a series of operations between March and

August 1988, code-named Anfal (Arabic: “Spoils”), Iraqi

forces sought to quell Kurdish resistance; the Iraqis

used large quantities of chemical weapons on Kurdish

civilians. Although technically it was not part of Anfal,

one of the largest chemical attacks during that period

took place on March 16 in and around the village of

Halabjah, when Iraqi troops killed as many as 5,000

Kurds with mustard gas and nerve agent. Despite these

attacks, Kurds again rebelled following Iraq’s defeat in

the Persian Gulf War(1990–91) but were again brutally

26 TRAVERSE


STATELESS

suppressed—sparking another mass exodus. Kurds were

particularly successful in that country’s 2005 elections.

With the help of the United States, however, the

Kurds were able to establish a “safe haven” that included

most areas of Kurdish settlement in northern Iraq, where

the IKDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan created an

autonomous civil authority that was, for the most part,

free from interference by the Iraqi government. The

Kurds were particularly successful in that country’s 2005

elections, held following the fall of Saddām Hussein

and the Baath Party in 2003, and in mid-2005 the first

session of the Kurdish parliament was convened in Irbīl.

Left: Kurdish people are seen in the

village of Akus that was destroyed in

1993 by the Kurdish army

Right: A view of the ancient Harran

in the Southeastern Antolia region

near Syria

A NEW REALITY

But there are still major hurdles, many of them geographic

and demographic, ahead. Iraqi Kurdistan is landlocked

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STATELESS

Left: Two young Kurds seen during

a moment of intimacy in Baglar

Right: Two young Kurds express

joy for the beginning of the peace

process between the PKK and the

Turkish government

Bottom: Residential District recently

built in the “unofficial capital”

Diyarbakir

28 TRAVERSE


STATELESS

and reliant on its neighbors for access to the sea. An

independent Kurdistan would have to transport its

oil by land with the cooperation of its neighbors.

And while ISIS’s advance has allowed the Kurds to

expand their territory, Kurdistan now shares a 600-

mile border with the Sunni militants—a dangerous

and permeable frontier that threatens Kurdish stability.

As a result, Iraqi Kurdistan has also become a safe

haven for Kurds fleeing ISIS and the Syrian civil war.

The hundreds of thousands of refugees are

putting a strain on Kurdish resources, and gas

shortages are now commonplace. If Iraq breaks

into pieces, the security and stability of Kurdistan

are not assured, and so far Kurdish leaders have refrained

from declaring outright independence.

While the new reality brings challenges, the disintegration

of the Iraqi state is without a doubt a

game changer for the Kurds. “The idea of a Kurdish

nation has now become an undeniable reality for

millions,” Exeter University’s Allison says. “In the

future, Kurdistan will be very difficult, if not impossible,

to eliminate from any political picture.”

TRAVERSE 29


THE KURDS INSIDER

NEW YEARS IN AKRE

WRITTEN BY RAMIN VAKILI

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RAY GROVER

ACCORDING TO KURDISH MYTH, Kawa the

blacksmith lived with his people under the

tyrannical rule of Zuhak. Zuhak’s evil reign

caused spring to no longer come to Kurdistan.

March 20 is traditionally marked as the day

that Kawa defeated Zuhak after which he is

then said to have set fire to the hillsides to

celebrate the victory leading to spring returning

to Kurdistan the next day. For thousands

of years since that legend, Newroz has been

a symbol of resilience, highlighting the fact

that nations cannot be annihilated by tyrannical

regimes.

30 TRAVERSE


THE INSIDER

An elderly man in traditional Kurdish

clothes dances during the festival

before the sun sets

TRAVERSE 31


THE INSIDER

I

n Kurdish, New Year’s day is called Newroz, the contemporary struggle. This region also recogwhich

means a new day. Newroz has been nizes Mazlum Dogan, who also burned himself,

celebrated as a national holiday since 612 as a contemporary “Kavah” against colonial

B.C. It is important to the Kurds not only domination. Since then, many young men and

because it is the beginning of their new year, but women burn themselves to salute and celebrate the

also because it marks the day that their national struggle for independence on Newroz in north

existence was first recognized. It was on this day in western Kurdistan.

612 B.C. that the ancestors of the Kurds united to In many Newroz celebrations the main message

resist and rebel against the leading great power at has been the unity of the people. In 1988, four

the time, the Assyrian empire and constitute days before Newroz, in southern Kurdistan, over

confederation of Median principle.

eight thousand Kurdish people were massacred by

The victory against this empire resulted in liberation chemical weapons. Today many thousands of the

for the people of this region. This is the reason why victims still suffer from this inhumane act by the

the people of Kurdistan, Iran and Afghanistan all government of Iraq.

celebrate Newroz, but in their own different ways. Newroz of 1992 had a certain significance for

There is another side to Newroz. Newroz falls north-western Kurdistan, since this is a day of

on the first day of spring. Spring is a time of “betrayal”. For the first time in seventy years, the

transformation on Earth. After a cold and dark Turkish security force, police and army, agreed to

winter in the mountains of Kurdistan, spring allow for a peaceful Newroz celebration. However,

brings warmth and new life to the land and the going against their word, they attacked the

people whose beliefs are bound with nature. For defenseless Kurdish civilians. Newroz of 1995 was

those who have never seen the spring of Kurdistan no different than the last few years since Iranian,

it is hard to imagine. The beauty is indescribable. Iraqi, and Turkish governments still continue to

Newroz has become an important event in the terrorize Kurdish people. Kurdish people have

life of the Kurdish nation. After World War I, been recording intimidating military build-up that

Kurdish borders were determined by regional and has been occurring in the middle of Kurdistan

international political powers, therefore disuniting from the aggressive powers. More and more

the Kurdish people. Today, Kurdistan is divided Kurdish people believe that in order to destroy

into five regions which have been occupied by Iran, the un-united Kurdistan the boarders need to be

Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and the Soviet Union. Because changed to one boundary not five borders.

of this, Newroz is celebrated in five separate A Chinese proverb claims that a thousand mile

regions in the middle east.

journey starts with a single step. This is true for

The festival is not legal in every part of Newroz which began as a single day in a year.

Kurdistan. This Kurdish national day was prohibited

by the Turkish government since 1923 and is people and country. In the 2607 years that have

Newroz is a single step towards liberating our

one of the reasons why Kurdish people of

passed, our beliefs concerning Newroz remains

north-western Kurdistan demonstrate extraordinary

resistance against aggressive rules. In Newroz celebrate it as the New Year and as the day of

the same. When we celebrate Newroz, we still

1982, one of the original founders of the “Kurdish national unity and revolution that lead to liberty

Worker Party and Liberation Struggle” burned for the Kurds in the past and will lead to liberty

himself to death to celebrate Newroz and salute once again in the future.

32 TRAVERSE


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THE INSIDER

34 TRAVERSE


THE INSIDER

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THE INSIDER

“It is not just a dream that one day we will be

able to stop all the killing in Kurdistan.

It is not just a dream to be able to live in our

homeland like any other nation on the earth.

This century or the next, we will salute the Country

with United Independent and democratic Kurdistan.

Long live the Country

Long live the revolutionary struggle

in every part of Kurdistan.”

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THE INSIDER

Kurdish men march with torches as

part of the Newroz festival

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THE HMONG

Our Forgotten Allies

WRITTEN BY NATASHA PRADAN

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SOPHIE CHAMAS

THE HMONG ARE AN ASIAN ETHNIC GROUP from the mountainous

regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Hmong are also one of the

sub-groups of the Miao ethnicity in southern China. Hmong groups began a

gradual southward migration in the 18th century due to political unrest and

to find more arable land. They still remain in SouthEast Asia.

During the first and second Indochina Wars, France and the United States

governments recruited thousands of Hmong people in Laos to fight against

invading military forces from North Vietnam and communist Pathet La

oinsurgents, known as the Secret War, during the Vietnam War and theLaotian

Civil War. Hundreds of thousands of Hmong refugees fled to Thailand seeking

political asylum. Thousands of these refugees have resettled in Western countries

since the late 1970s, mostly the United States, but also in Australia, France,

French Guiana, Canada, and South America. Others have returned to Laos

under United Nations-sponsored repatriation programs.

Hmong people have their own terms for their subcultural divisions with

Hmong Der (meaning “White Hmong”) and Hmong Leng (meaning “Green

Hmong”) being the terms for two of the largest groups in America and East

Asia. White Hmong and Mong Leng people speak mutually intelligible dialects

of the Hmong language with some differences in pronunciation and vocabulary.

The Hmong groups in Laos, from the 18th century to the present day, are also

known as Black Hmong, Striped Hmong, White Hmong, and Green Hmong.

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STATELESS

Left: A Hmong woman falls to the ground, praying and

begging for help from the outside world

Bottom: They call themselves America’s abandoned

soldiers who are still in threat of being killed

40 TRAVERSE


STATELESS

been enemies of the lowland Vietnamese. They

entered the conflict against Vietnamese first as

scouts for the French and later as guerrillas for

the Americans.

Under the guidance of the CIA and American

special forces the Hmong rescued American

pilots, identified targets for American bombs,

fought Lao and Vietnamese communist forces,

manned strategic mountain and jungle areas

“The war had been overtaken by a conventional war

and the Hmong had outlived their usefulness.”

Others include the Flower Hmong or the

Variegated Hmong , so named because of the

bright colorful embroidery (called pa ndau,

literally “flower cloth”). Vietnamese Hmong

women continuing to wear ‘traditional’ clothing

tend to source much of their clothing as ‘ready to

wear’ cotton (as against traditional hemp) from

markets, though some add embroidery as a

personal touch. In SaPa, now with a ‘standardised’

clothing look, Black Hmong subgroups

have differentiated themselves by adopting

different headwear; those with a large comb

embedded in their long hair (but without a hat)

call themselves Tao, those with a pillbox hat

name themselves Giay, and those with a checked

headscarf are Yao.

FATE CHANGED BY WAR

A dark history is tied to the story of the Hmong

beginning with the Vietnam War. Stories of

Hmong refugees being deported back and forth

between Laos and Thailand still exist today as a

result of the hatred and disapproval that has

grown from the Hmong’s alliance with the U.S.

during the Vietnam War.

From 1959 to 1973, the CIA trained Hmong

tribesmen to fight against Communist insurgencies

in Laos. Many of the first recruits were

Hmong guerillas who fought under the charismatic

leader Vang Pao and had worked earlier

with the French. The Hmong have traditionally

occupied the strategic highlands in Laos overlooking

North Vietnam and have traditionally

used by U.S. forces, disrupted and sabotaged

supply lines, gathered critical intelligence and

defended navigational sites in Laos that allowed

precise, all-weather U.S. air strikes against enemy

targets in northern Laos and North Vietnam.” .

About 35,000 Hmong were recruited for the

war effort. About 30,000 of them were They

were key in thwarting attempts by the

Vietnamese army to make major inroads into

northern Laos and slowing the movement of

supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Hmong

had problems with helicopters though. American

pilots usually kept the motor running when they

landed and Hmong who had never seen them

before walked right into them. More than twenty

Hmong died this way in a twelve year period.

Hmong were called “damned good fighters”

by the CIA. They fought bravely against some of

the toughest North Vietnamese and Lao troops

for 13 years and suffered from casualty rate five

times higher than the rate experienced by U.S.

soldiers. Over time so many Hmong were killed

that by the end of the campaign many of the

fighters were Thai troops recruited to take their

TRAVERSE 41


STATELESS

“Being in South America has allowed him to be

more free to be Hmong.”

place. But that time the war had been overtaken

by a conventional war and the Hmong had

outlived their usefulness.

As many as 20,000 Hmong soldiers died

during the Vietnam War. Hmong civilians, who

numbered about 300,000 before the war,

perished by the tens of thousands.

POSTWAR STRUGGLE

During the war the Hmong in Laos had been

sharply divided, with some factions supporting

the royalists, some supporting the opposition and

some remaining neutral. About the only thing

that unified them was their opposition to the

Communists. In Thailand, ironically, many

Hmong supported the Communist Party of

Thailand in their struggle with the Thai government

in the 1960s and 70s. In both Laos and

Thailand the Hmong ended up on the losing side

and suffered as a result.

After the Americans left Laos in 1975 and the

Communist Pathet Lao gained control of the

country, the Hmong were quickly overrun by

Communist forces, who later launched a

campaign to eliminate minorities—-particularly

the Hmong—-who had assisted the Americans

during the war. Hmong villages were burned and

by some estimates thousands were massacred.

The new pro-Vietnam Communist government

in Laos used Soviet artillery, napalm and

chemical weapons against the Hmong. An

estimated10 to 25 percent of all Hmong in Laos

were killed during and after the Vietnam war. By

one count there were 400,000 Hmong in Laos at

the beginning of the Vietnam war and only

300,000 when it was over.

FINDING A SAFE HAVEN

Many Hmong are now dispersed across several

continents; some whose lives have greatly

improved. Many have found new peace and a

home in the country of French Guiana. Long

viewed as outcasts in Laos and other parts of

Southeast Asia, the Hmong here are known for

their success, on display in their large homes

with new Peugeot and Toyota pickup trucks

parked outside. Their nearly homogenous

enclaves in Cacao and two other villages,

Javouhey and Régina, are unlike anywhere else

on this continent.

Walking Cacao’s dirt roads one hears mostly

Hmong, interspersed with a bit of French. Some

women wear sarongs. Merchants sell tapestries

depicting the saga that led them to this jungle,

after treks in the mid-1970s to Thai refugee

camps from their mountain homeland in Laos,

a former French colony.

France gambled that the Hmong refugees,

some of whom were living in French cities, could

successfully develop a hinterland that repelled

earlier colonization efforts. “The gamble worked

because after all the years of war we were ready

to do something else,” said Mr. Ly, the agronomist.

“We were even ready to work the soil.”

The first Hmong arrived from France in 1977

and were greeted with protests from the Creoles,

an ethnic group descended from African slaves,

who chafed at what was viewed as preferential

treatment for a new ethnic group in an impoverished

area. French authorities initially gave each

Hmong a few dozen francs a day to survive. The

settlers pooled those payments to buy fertilizer and

tractors. Slowly, after years of labor, the Hmong

42 TRAVERSE


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Top: A Hmong woman lowers her shirt to reveal a scar,

where she says she was shot by the Lao People’s Army

during a raid

Bottom: A young Hmong mother holds her distraught

children inside their secret camp

TRAVERSE 43


STATELESS

Above: Hmong communities in the US continuing to

commemorate their culture through festivals and events

became self-sufficient. They now grow large quantities of

previously scarce vegetables, like lettuce, and tropical

varieties of fruit like cupuaçu, which is oblong, has a white

pulp and is found in the Amazon basin.

And academic studies have shown the Hmong here

to have more robust physical health and less pessimism

about their circumstances than their brethren in the

United States, where some Hmong communities have

had difficulty adapting to cities or suburbs and have

been plagued by suicides and health problems.

The rhythms of existence here seem far removed from

the cities where many Hmong have settled in the United

States or France. On the weekends, young Hmong play

pétanque, a game that, like bocce, consists of pitching

metal balls at a target. Older men, sipping bottles of

Heineken, boast of jungle hunts for peccaries and tapirs.

As in any small village, some younger Hmong complain

of boredom and isolation. Hmong Lee, 40, who

moved to mainland France for 10 years before returning,

decided to settle for something between the farm founded

by his parents and the bustle of a European city. He

now works at a furniture store in the capital, Cayenne,

with a family and two kids.

Hmong Lee says that it isn’t like Paris, but being in

South America has allowed him to be more free to be

Hmong. He is comfortable to be away from the discriminations

that Hmong in the countries like the France,

Australia and U.S. might be facing.

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TRAVERSE 45


STATELESS

THE HMONG

HMONG CULTURE

PERMEATES FASHION

WRITTEN BY XAY YANG

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN DELOITTE

EUROPEAN AND AMERICAN luxury designers

have created entire fashion collections based

on Hmong fashion, meanwhile numerous

magazine editors, stylists, and bloggers have

featured beautiful Hmong clothes or Hmong

inspired clothes in their fashion spreads.

From the fashionable Tokyo street kids to

the most esteemed fashion designers in the

world, the fashion world has collectively

embraced and taken centuries old classic

Hmong fashion full throttle into the mainstream

consciousness.

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The origins of Bohemian fashion roots

back to the ancient Bohoemians

in Europe who were the first group

of people to really stand out in

European society with a culture and way of life

completely different from the norm. “Bohemian”

became a term for almost anything colorful,

unique, and different. Turkish rugs, Indian tapestries,

Tibetan jewelry, and many more culture

artifacts were referred to as “bohemian” when

they first entered Europe and the United States.

Amongst the many influences that exist

in Bohemian fashion is traditional Hmong

clothing and jewelry. Search results for Modern

Hmong Fashion leads to similar results found

when searching Boho Fashion. Similar styles

involve bright and geometric patterns that create

intricate and visually exotic patterns, as well

as intricately carved and multi-pieced trinkets,

necklaces, bracelets, and head pieces.

The influence of Hmong tradition is not

widely talked about in high fashion magazines,

but the influence is very much there.

The growth of this fashion proliferated during

the hippie movement the 1960’s and 70’s, when

people drew inspiration from Indian, Chinese,

Native American, Gypsy and many other

cultural styles. Since the 1960’s and 1970’s,

Bohemian culture has spread beyond the seeds

planted by the hippie movement. Today, ethnic,

tribal, colorful, gypsy fasion refers to the jewely

clothes and accessories which make a statement

of standing beyond the norms of mainstream

society and declaring something new and free.

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THE ROMA

A People Uncounted

WRITTEN BY SHEYMA BUALI

PHOTOGRAPHY BY PHIL RIITT

THE ROMA ARE A HISTORICALLY NOMADIC, widely dispersed

people of South Asian origin. They live primarily in Europe, where they

constitute one of the largest ethnic minorities, and have done so for more

than 1,000 years. Despite a millennium of shared history with Europeans,

Roma remain one of the Continent’s most marginalized groups.

A 2012 report jointly compiled by the United Nations Development

Program and the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency found

that only 15 percent of Roma adults surveyed “have completed upper-secondary

general education, versus more than 70 percent of the majority

population living nearby.” Similarly, less than 30 percent of Roma

surveyed were employed in an official capacity at the time of questioning,

and roughly 45 percent “live in households lacking at least one of the

following: an indoor kitchen, toilet, shower or bath, or electricity.”

Discrimination against Roma goes back hundreds of years, culminating

in the Nazi Holocaust that saw up to 25 percent of their population

killed in concentration camps, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Aside from wide-scale poverty, European Roma are regularly victims of

“racism, discrimination and social exclusion.” The report found that “a

significant portion of Roma respondents said that they have experienced

discriminatory treatment because of their ethnic origin in the 12 months

preceding the survey. The proportions range from more than 25 percent

TRAVERSE 49


STATELESS

in Romania to around 60 percent in the Czech

Republic, Greece, Italy and Poland.”

Also commonly referred to as Gypsies,

Bohemians, Manush, Romany, and Sinti, the

Romanis have no written traces of their origin,

and can only be based on linguistic theories.

These linguistic theories have shown conclusively

that the roots of the Roma language is India:

Their language has grammatical features of

Indian languages ​and sharing with them a large

part of his vocabulary, such as body parts or

common words. Specifically, the Roma language

has the same basic vocabulary that Punjabi and

Hindi. From a phonetic point of view, it has

many similarities with the Marwari, while its

the parties have the legal age in their country of

residence. Conversely, a Roma patriarch Florin

Cioabă, went against the Romanian laws in late

2003, when he married his youngest daughter,

Ana-Maria twelve years old, well below the

age legal marriage, which does not seem to be

an isolated case.

Abduction of girls for marriage are considered

a common practice among Roma. Girls of twelve

years shall be removed to be married with

teenage boys. This practice has been reported in

Ireland, England, the Czech Republic, the

Netherlands, Bulgaria and Slovakia. It is

assumed that the kidnapping is a way to avoid

paying a dowry or a way to avoid a girl to marry

“Also referred to as Gypsies, Bohemians, Manush, Romany,

the Romanis have no written traces of their origin.”

grammar is close to the Bengali. In addition,

genetic discoveries from 2012 confirm these

linguistic theories: Roma are from the

north-western India.

They began to migrate between the 6th and

11th century. In the 14th century, the Roma

migrated to the Middle East, before spreading to

the Atlantic coasts of Europe. Since the 19th

century, some Roma have also migrated to the

Americas. There are an estimated one million in

the United States and 800,000 in Brazil. Some

came voluntarily from Eastern Europe, others

were deported by Portugal during the Inquisition,

to the colonial era. At the end of the 19th

century, other Roma have also emigrated to

Canada and other countries in South America.

Roma place a high value on the extended

family. Traditionally, it is a patriarchal society

and virginity is considered essential to unmarried

women. Men and Roma women often

marry young. Roma practice of child marriage

has been controversial in many countries. Some

Roma want the marriage to be banned before

a boy she likes of whom her parents did not

approve. The normalization of the tradition of

kidnapping puts young women at a higher risk of

being victims of human trafficking risk. This

removal of the bride and child marriage practices

are not universally accepted by all Roma. It is

sought after by Roma women and men that

these customs are abolished.

The worst punishment for Roma is the

expulsion of the community. A deportee is

considered “contaminated” and is ignored by

other Roma. Because of their nomadic way of

life and often differences in language and culture,

the Roma and their sedentary neighbors have

always been suspicious of each other. The

popular image of Roma as thieves and vagabonds

unemployable contributed to their

widespread persecution. Terms are still being

thrown around with negative connocations. This

belief is often cited as the etymological source of

the word Gyp (hence gypsy: Gypsy), meaning

“cheat”, as in “I got gypped by a con man.” (I got

screwed by a scammer).

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A Roma community in Marseille with

makeshift stoves made of large oil cans

TRAVERSE 51


STATELESS

Left: A little boy around 3 years old had

been found by his grandfather

Right: Armando watches his infant sister

teething; Armando is theoretically the only

child from the camp who attends school

During the Enlightenment, Spain briefly and unsuccessfully

tried to assimilate the Roma to ordinary people

by forcing them to abandon their language and way of

life. Even the word gitano was declared illegal. The

persecution of Roma reached a peak during World War II

in Porajmos, genocide perpetrated by Hitler, who claimed

between 220,000 and 1.5 million deaths (The West

Germany formally recognized the genocide in 1982).

There are still tensions between the Roma and the

majority population around them. The most common

complaints are: The Roma fly and live on welfare.

Generally, people do not see a very good eye installing a

Roma camp near their homes. Roma are probably the

most hated minority in Europe. In Denmark, there has

52 TRAVERSE


STATELESS

been a huge controversy when the city of Helsingor

decided to put all Roma children in special classes in

public schools students. This provision was dropped

after he admitted it was discriminatory and Roma

were reintegrated into regular classes.

ROMA IN EASTERN EUROPE

In Eastern Europe, the Roma often live in squatter

communities with very high unemployment. Only a

few are fully integrated into society, including the clan

Kalderash in Romania, working as boilermakers and

prospered. Although some Roma still have a nomadic

lifestyle, their migration is generally imposed, because

most people do not accept their installation anywhere.

Many countries that were once part of the Soviet Union

have large Roma populations. The level of integration of

Roma into society remains limited. In these countries,

they usually remain in the margins of society, living in

colonies, similar to isolated ghettos.

Only a small fraction of Roma children are high

school graduates, although many efforts have been made

official, past and present, to force them to go to school.

Roma often feel rejected by the state and the population,

which creates a barrier to integration. In the Czech

Republic, 75% of Roma children attend schools for those

with learning difficulties and 70% of adults are unemployed,

against a national rate of 9%. In Hungary, 44%

of Roma children attend special schools, while 74% of

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“Romas usually

remain in the

margins of

society, living in

colonies, similar to

isolated ghettos.”

men and 83% of women are unemployed. In Slovakia,

Roma children are 28 times more likely to be sent as a

special non-Roma school. .

In some countries, the fact that Roma rely on welfare

systems is part of the problem. For some Roma families,

it is often better to live on welfare than having a low paid

job. In 2004, Livia Járóka and Viktória Mohácsi,

Hungary, Roma have become Members of the European

Parliament. Finally, seven former communist countries of

Central and Southeastern Europe are the source of the

“Decade of the Initiative of Roma Inclusion” in 2005 to

improve socio-economic conditions and the situation of

the minority Rom.

In countries outside the European Union, such as

Albania—which, according to the World Bank, has the

fourth-lowest gross domestic product per capita on the

continent (ahead of Ukraine, Kosovo and Moldova) and a

national G.D.P. ranked between that of Chad and

Zimbabwe—the plight of the Roma is especially dire.

Albanian Roma are especially long-suffering. Many were

forcibly expelled from the country during the Albanian

rebellion of 1997, also known as the Pyramid Crisis.

Out of fear for their lives, many Roma fled to neighboring

Greece, where they would live as refugees for more

than a decade. A large number of Albanian Roma are

now returning to their home country. The economy is

growing, unemployment is shrinking, and national

politics are generally calmer. But life for the resident

Roma community is still quite dismal.

ROMA IN FRANCE

Gennevilliers, France—The camps weren’t much to begin

with: They had no electricity or running water. Grocery

carts served as makeshift grills. Rats ran rampant and

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fleas gnawed on young and old alike. But they were home

- and they were better than the new reality for thousands

of Gypsies who have been forced into hiding after France

launched its latest campaign this month to drive them

from their camps.

The last big sweep came in 2010, when France expelled

Gypsies to Romania and Bulgaria. Then the European

Commission imposed sanctions and thousands of French

came out to protest in sympathy for the Gypsies, also

known as the Roma.

This time, the Gypsies left quietly, gathering their

belongings and heading into the woods with plans to

re-emerge when the coast is clear.

“Why did God even create us, if Gypsies are to live like

this?” cried 35-year-old Babica, as bulldozers moved in to

tear down the camp in Gennevilliers, on the outskirts of

Paris. This was her second home demolished in three years.

Left: Nadia passes the broom

Right: Wide corridors and no running

water or electricity

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Like other Roma quoted in this story, he did not give

his last name out of fear of arrest or deportation. Most of

the Gypsies have no plans to return to Romania, where

their citizenship would at least allow them to educate

their children and treat their illnesses. Amid a dismal

economic environment across Europe, they say, begging

in France is still more lucrative than trying to find work

where there is none.

France has cast the most recent demolitions as

necessary for public health and safety. It’s hard to

pinpoint how many camps were taken down. At least five

around Paris were demolished and several hundred of

their residents were ordered out; others came down in

Lille and Lyon but still remain.

Photojournalist Phil Ritt tells a story with his image

of a Roma in Fontaineu—the northern suburbs of

Marseille, France. Starting his story in April 2013, he

returned several times to try to monitor the changes in

the lives of Roma in the longest period possible. On

Wednesday, August 20, 2014, the buildings occupied by

the Roma community were permanently closed on

prefectural decision. He has not heard from them since,

but the accounts of his time spent are recognized in his

collection of photos.

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MESSAGE FROM THE

PHOTOGRAPHER

These collection of images come from a moment that I wanted to do a photo essay

on the Roma, who have such a bad reputation in Marseille, France as well as other

parts of Europe. I started this story in April 2013 and returned several times to

monitor changes in the lives of Roma in France over the longest period possible.

On Wednesday, August 20, 2014, the buildings occupied by

the Roma community were permanently closed on prefectural

decision. I have not heard from those families since then.

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In this community where Roma live together, quite a number of families

all have a relationship. It is not inbreeding, but family ties. This way of

living has not been adopted in France, but it still exists in Romania.

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Between the sitting Roma woman and the crouching boy,

we see hanging on the wall an Orthodox icon. Roma usually

adopt the religion of the country in which they live.

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FIN.

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THE HMONG

A PEOPLE UNCOUNTED:

DOCUMENTARY

WRITTEN BY CHRIS KNIGHT

A RECENT DOCUMENTARY has been released

in August 2011 by director Aaron Yeger who

was awarded best documentary producer of

the year by Producers Guild of America.

Visiting 11 countries and interviewing

dozens of Roma artists, historians, musicians

and Holocaust survivors, this revealing film

documents their culturally rich but often

difficult lives, taking us back to ancient times

and forward to the little-known story of

Roma genocide of nearly 500,000 at the

hands of Nazis during World War II.


THE INSIDER

Several documentaryies have been released

about the tragic tales of the Roma, but the

numbers are still small. Some span the

stories of those who have migrated to

America or Canada. A People Uncounted adds a

refreshing outlook on the Roma who have been

affected by Hitler’s attempt to wipe out the gypsies

at the same time he attempted with the Jews. It’s

common knowledge (at least I hope it is) that the

Nazi death machine affected more than just the

Jewish population of Europe. Also caught in the

steamroller were homosexuals, the disabled,

Communists, Poles, Soviets, political dissenters

and the Romani.

Aaron Yeger’s 2011 documentary focuses on the

Romani’s fate under the Nazi regime. As a call for

remembrance, this is a powerful document. Yeger

tracks down numberous Romani survivors of the

camps, uncovering horrible stories of abuse. One

woman breaks down as she recalls eating human

flesh to survive. Another man tells of a nightmarish

encounter with the infamous Angel of Death,

Josef Mengele.

The film is not trying to shoulder aside memories

of the Jewish Holocaust; merely to add another

chapter to the Nazi’s list of crimes against humanity.

Modern Romani have even suggested Parrajmos

as an equivalent to the Hebrew word Shoah, and a

label for the half million or more of their people

slaughted in the camps. That is one reason why the

eyewitness accounts collected in this film cry out

to be heard.

“Sobering”—Now Magazine

“Deeply moving”—Toronto Film Scene

“Never loses the fine balance between portraying harrowing experiences while

maintaining its optimistic tone. It is very stirring and helps carve a niche for the

Roma community in history. A must-watch.”—Box Office India

NOW AVAILABLE FOR COMMUNITY SCREENINGS IN THE US

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STORIES TOLD FROM THE EYES OF

THE STATELESS

“Beyond the Fence”

by TT Vang

66

“My Gipsy Childhood”

by Roxy Freeman

72

“Fountain”

from Echoes of the Other Land

by Ava Homa

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BEYOND THE FENCE

R

azor-wire fence rounded and rounded Phanat Nikhom Refugee

Processing Camp where the days were filled with a bustling market

and freshly-made ice cream, Cantonese love songs blasting off from

old cassette players, and the young and old learning about American

culture and language; and where the nights were taken by children

gathering around a story-teller, young men courting the lovely cheekburnt

girls, and adult males joking and drinking beer to kill time as they

took turns guarding the camp against a possible reprisal from their war

enemy. This was the place that we were trapped inside and watched

closely like law-violating prisoners. We couldn’t go past the barbed-wire

fence. Thai security guards patrolled the camp’s borders like vicious dogs

that bite if one went near. They wore gun-packed dark-lilac color uniforms

with black helmets, and in pairs—they rumbled around the camp

in their black motorcycles eying for offenders.

I heard that if a boy was caught going outside of the fence, no matter

how old he was, he would be beaten and sold as a slave. If a girl was

caught, she would be sold as a prostitute. And then there were the others,

who would be locked up for life unless their parents bailed them out with

a large sum of money. These stories sent shivers down my spine and

goose bumps across my skin more than the ghost stories I heard at night.

I hoped I never get caught or sold as a prostitute, or worried my parents—

especially worrying my parents. They would undeniably hit me if they

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heard I was captured. But still, my curiosity about what was beyond the

fence often overcame me and drove me to sneak past the fence many times.

There weren’t many things to do inside the camp. I didn’t like school

much either. I went when I felt like it and skipped when I felt like it too.

No one forced me to go and no one forced me to stay. I showed up on

movie days only, which we often watched a movie about an almost naked

man who lost his son and daughter while trying to get rid of a glass bottle

that fell from the sky. It was something different for me and I liked to see

the strange fruits that the two kids gorged on so deliciously.

While not at school, I followed my mother. Sometimes, her teacher

taught the class to make American food like sandwiches but when I was

offered one to eat, the abundant flavors tasted funny to my tongue. I

didn’t like it. So I skipped off and peeped into other classrooms. Once,

I sneaked into a class and watched a movie about a boy in a green outfit

wearing a pointed hat with a feather. He could fly and played with some

mermaids in a waterfall. Other times, I squeezed in with a crowd of

women and children to watch Nkauj Ntsum and Tub Tuam. I never got

tired of that movie and was disappointed if the movie about a big guy in a

red suit riding a sleigh or the one about seven men in seven different color

shirts flirting with seven women was shown instead.

I learned to like watching movies. Whether a motion clip was a movie

or a television show, there was no distinction in our mind. We all knew it

as “movies” only. It became a window out of the bland life of Phanat

Nikhom. Aside from getting to watch shows at school, we have the option

of paying two-baht to watch a movie inside a theatre—operated by Thai

businessmen and consisted of a large room filled with rows of plastic

chairs and a twenty inch television, positioned roughly three feet from the

ceiling. I went in once, after ditching a friend because I hated people who

clung onto me like superglue. That morning, an episode of Japanese

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power rangers dubbed in Thai was shown. Once the half-hour children’s

show was over, a Thai boran lakorn about a princess who lived in a

bamboo grove and had a magical golden hair band came on. Depending

on the time of day, there were different shows. Chinese dramas and

Indian movies dubbed in Thai tended to be screened during the evening

time. But me, I enjoyed the power rangers and Thai ancient dramas more.

When I didn’t have money, I sneaked out of the fence with a bunch of

other children to watch Thai dramas at a little Thai snack shop right on

the outskirts of the fence. Sometimes, I bought a snack with the one baht

allowance my father gave me and sat down on the dirt ground to munch

on the sweet candy while waiting for the Thai boran episode to come on.

Other times, I just sat there in front of the shop for hours, watching some

younger kids running in and out of the fence, naked, under the scorching

sun. But just sitting there was risky and dangerous. The kids and I knew

about the Thai security guards, so we were always watchful. When we

heard the slightest sound of their motorcycles’ guttural, yet thunderous

retort and crackling at times noise—we all rushed back inside the fence.

Even when none of us were caught, the Thai security guards knew that

we were outside of the fence. So to fulfill our television needs and discourage

us from stepping out of the fence, they set up a free black and white

television at their station by the camp’s entrance. But me, I didn’t like

watching people in black and white. I wanted to see them in color because

the presence of color was much more appealing and interesting. So, I was

pulled to the Thai snack shop over the fence almost every day despite the

fact that I was violating camp rules.

One day while outside of the fence and waiting for my show to come on,

I began picking flowers next to the shop. I thought I had heard the rumble

that we were all terrified of but it sounded so far away. I looked at the

other children and they were still there. If they haven’t left yet, it was okay

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for me to stay as well. So I continued to pick flowers. Then, in the blink of

an eye, I saw them. There in front of me, they sat on their motorcycles

looking like giant, angry elephants about to stomp over me. The other

children had vanished and I was left alone there.

A million thoughts ran through my mind. What was I going to do?

Would my parents kill me if they found out? Would I end up being a

prostitute? I was scared.

I was not sure if it was the fright in my eyes or that I was young and

innocent or that it was my luck, but one of the guards nodded to me to get

back inside the fence. Without hesitating, I took the chance to rush back

inside. It was better to be a prisoner with my family than to be an abused

prisoner alone.

As I walked away from the fence, a myriad of women and children

stared at me like I had committed a capital offence. I felt embarrassed

and was afraid that one of those people would definitely tell my parents

about what I have done. If they found out, I would absolutely be whipped

by my mother. The trip home that afternoon through rows and rows of

shingle-roofed bungalows took longer than I remembered. But the strenuous

walk to our cramped living quarter had made me decide to keep my

mouth shut of the experience for as long as I could. It was not until many

years later when I gained enough confidence that I finally revealed the

incident to them. My mother laughed about it. However, I knew that it

was definitely not something laughable then.

Since that day, I never dared step past the fence again. Although my

body could not physically travel past the fence, my mind often wondered

beyond it. Sometimes, I leaned on the fence facing the Thai snack shop

and thought about what America was like. Did it lie just beyond the

rusting, brown shingle-roofed barn in the distance where the sun shone

like it never set or was it over the lush hills afar the barn?

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America seemed so close, yet so far away. I wished it was just beyond

the fence. But I knew that I would get there someday. I would.

When I was bored staring past the Thai snack shop, I walked toward

the camp’s entrance and stared past that fence. There was a nice, smooth

cement-lamented road ahead that stretched from nowhere and went to

somewhere. Now and then, a car—a brown pickup truck, a white van, or

a red convertible came on the road and raced past the camp. I often

wondered where the cars were heading to. Would a car stop and ask me to

see if I wanted to go on a ride? Were there a lot of people inside the car?

Perhaps there was a little boy, who out of curiosity, would stare at me—a

strange, dirtied-face little girl who was confined behind the fence and

staring peculiarly at him too? If there was such a boy, how does he look

like? Where is he going? To the city of angels? Does he have a better life

than I do? Did he come to participate in the social gatherings I often saw

happening near the camp. There were two white towers, nicely decorated,

and often filled with short-hair ladies in nice gowns and dresses—wearing

big belts like the one my mother bought for me for Hmong New Year.

They drank fluids in nice clear v-shaped cups, and danced and laughed

with gentlemen in black suits. Why were they permitted to be free to

enjoy so much fun and laughter while we were trapped inside the camp?

It was not until my college years that I found out that Phanat Nikhom

was less than a mile from a beach and the wide, crystal-clear blue ocean.

Like the Thai dramas, the cars racing by and the people in nice clothing

probably came there for a vacation by the ocean. They spent their days

splashing in the cool water and their nights enjoying music and dance.

Something that we were so close to, neither my fellow camp members nor

I ever got to experience until after migrating to America.

So if I was not thinking about America, I was by the fence counting

the cars speeding by. Who was inside the car? How did they look like?

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Where were they heading to? The sound of rushing cars gave me hope

and a chance to kill my boredom. I often ran toward the fence to stare at

them whenever I could. The cars looked so free, like a flock of birds

soaring through the sky without limitations. I yearned for that ability

very much. I yearned for freedom.

Many years after leaving the camp, I however, am very tired of noisy

traffic sounds that even in the depth of the night—disrupted and woke

me up from my sleep. In my years of college, I met many people.

Sometimes, I wonder if any of my Thai classmates was inside a car that

sped by or participated in those parties during that time I spent staring at

them from inside Phanat Nikhom. If so, who would imagine that we

would finally end up at the same place? A place that offered us the same

chance toward enlightenment. But I never asked. At least for the moment,

I won’t have to wonder about what was beyond the fence again.

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MY GIPSY CHILDHOOD

The receptionist looked at me with disdain when I walked into

Suffolk College asking to enrol. Their access course for mature

students didn’t have any entry requirements as such, but the receptionist

warned me it was an advanced, intensive course, and there seemed to be a

blank space under “educational history” on my application form. When I

explained that I wasn’t a dropout, I just hadn’t gone to school, she looked

even more scornful.

I was 22 and had never spent a day in a classroom in my life; an alien

concept for many people but common in Gypsy and Traveller families.

There are more than 100,000 nomadic Travellers and Gypsies in the UK,

and 200,000 who live in permanent housing. Many, like me, never attend

school, while others are illiterate because formal education is not a priority

in our culture.

My upbringing was unusual, but not unique. Until I was eight my

family lived on the road, travelling around Ireland by horsedrawn wagon.

I was one of six children, with three more half-sisters, and our family was

considered small. Having 12 or 13 children was common among

Travellers in Ireland.

Marrying first cousins is also common among Gypsies (and a potential

genetic timebomb), my parents come from very different backgrounds.

My mother was born into an upper-class American family. On her gap

year she literally ran away with a Gypsy—my father, who bred horses.

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Both are extremely intelligent and open-minded people who wanted to

bring us up in a stimulating, free and fulfilling environment.

Instead of going to school, my siblings and I, like many children from

travelling families, were taught about the arts, music and dance. Our

education was learning about wildlife and nature, how to cook and how

to survive. I didn’t know my times tables but I could milk a goat and ride

a horse. I could identify ink caps, puff balls and field mushrooms and

knew where to find wild watercress and sorrel. By the age of eight or nine

I could light a fire, cook dinner for a family of 10 and knew how to bake

bread on an open fire.

Not that it was always idyllic: life on the road could be harsh. As a

child with younger siblings I had to work hard: my daily routine included

fetching water, cooking and changing nappies. We also struggled financially;

my dad’s passion has always been breeding Gypsy cobs.

Sometimes he would get a good sale, but a lot of the time we were penniless.

Then we worked as a family, fruit picking. One summer, I remember

practically living off mushrooms as we worked on a mushroom farm. We

also picked daffodils; after about five seasons I developed an allergy to

the liquid in the stems and my skin would blister on contact with it. Any

money we earned went straight to my mother and father.

Our life was always lived outside; working, playing and socialising was

all done around the fire or in the woods and fields. Wet weather was a

curse and we would huddle up around a wood burner in one of the caravans.

For many years we had no electricity, no television, no radio; nothing

electrical. We had china dolls but no other toys. And we played

cards—thank God for playing cards! If it wasn’t for them, I would have

no mathematical ability whatsoever.

Unlike some of my siblings, I learned to read when I was quite young.

My mother and grandparents bought me books and, with mum’s help, I

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could read by the time I was about nine. By the age of 12 or 13 I had

devoured all of F Scott Fitzgerald, EM Forster, Louisa May Alcott and

Emily Brontë. I bought them in charity shops or asked for them as birthday

presents; together, books and cards gave me an understanding of

words and numbers in the absence of any formal education.

I was, though, completely unaware of the outrageous way the media

portrays the Gypsy population. As children, we had very little contact

with people living in houses and because we didn’t go to school or watch

television, I was oblivious. My mother didn’t take us shopping, as there

were so many of us. I remember once when we were camped on a lane

close to a council housing estate, children would walk across the field

towards where we were playing in the trees to hurl abuse and throw

stones at us. But when I asked my brother why they were angry, he didn’t

seem particularly bothered, saying perhaps it was “because they didn’t

understand and thought we were dangerous”.

If it hadn’t been for literature, maybe I would have remained unaware

of the way we were described. But a love of books evolved into an interest

in magazines and newspapers, and that exposed a world of prejudice and

ignorance to me. In my early teens, I realised for the first time that there’s

a widely held view that everyone who lives in a caravan or on the road is a

dirty, thieving Gypsy, never contributing to society while living for free

on land that doesn’t belong to them.

Gypsies and Travellers are the only social group that it is still

acceptable to insult. In part, I think this stems from our levels of

illiteracy and lack of social involvement; if people are unaware of what

is being written about them, they’re not going to dispute it. And if

they don’t dispute it, it will carry on.

In England, Gypsies were ruled as a distinct ethnic group under the

1976 Race Relations Act. Irish travelers were granted this status in 2000.

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But it has made very little difference to popular opinion or attitude, and

even less difference to the lives of the Travellers themselves. Gypsy and

Traveller people still have the lowest life expectancy, the highest child

mortality rate and are the most “at risk” health group in the UK, as well

as being excluded from many of the basic social and legal structures.

Although I didn’t go to school, some of my siblings did. And like so

many other Gypsy children, they faced bullying. Often I would turn up

at the high-school gates to find them in floods of tears because children

had been picking on them.

It can be hard to reach your full potential without schooling, but

compared with traditional illiterate Gypsy or Traveller families, we had

good opportunities and were not expected to marry young, have lots of

children and follow in our parents’ footsteps. As a child, my passion had

been flamenco (the music of the Gypsy community in Spain). My mother

took me to a dance class after we settled in Norfolk when I was about

nine, and I was hooked.

We had rented a piece of land for our wagons and been granted special

residency rights by the council. We moved into mobile homes and eventually

built a wooden structure to house a bathroom, kitchen and communal

area. This meant I could have regular lessons and I became a

professional flamenco dancer. By the age of 17, I was filled with a desire to

leave the chaotic comfort of the camp behind. After saving money doing

care work I travelled around the world for years, dancing in flamenco bars

in Australia, flamenco schools in Spain and on beaches in India.

But even when I was travelling, I never really told people about my

upbringing or family, for fear of negative or ignorant responses. Without

school it is hard to make lifelong friends, and I know that only my family

understand my fears, emotions and background. My family was so large

and close that I never felt I needed friends. But while I was away, a sense

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of discontentment grew inside me that I knew wasn’t going to go away.

This suddeen lifestyle of stillness scared me.

I had toyed with the idea of going to college in the past, but it had

seemed unnecessary, difficult and somehow unobtainable. Now, aged 22,

I was ready—but it wasn’t going to be easy. Before I was accepted, I had

to write 3,000 words on why I wanted to enter the education system so

late—quite a challenge for someone who had never written more than a

letter before. But I got my place and, for the next nine months of the

course, spent my nights in our caravan home reading GCSE-level text

books, desperately trying to gain the basic knowledge I was expected to

have. I didn’t know about the atrocious crimes Hitler was guilty of, nor

when the Battle of Hastings took place. I had no idea what the respiratory

system did and I couldn’t punctuate a sentence. But I had a good vocabulary,

a lot of determination and a hugely supportive family. Trying to

study among them was another matter.

Finding peace and quiet had always been impossible. When I was a

little girl I dreamed of living in a terraced house on a cobbled street,

because in wagons and caravans you never get any peace. You live on top

of each other, privacy is non-existent and the only place you find solitude

is by hiding under a tree or walking across a field. As a child I would

wander off alone whenever I got the chance, to find a patch of moss to sit

on and spend the afternoon watching ladybirds and picking flowers to

press.

Moving from one culture to another is incredibly difficult, and

knocking down the barriers and misconceptions is even harder. Perhaps

I shouldn’t have been surprised—there has been a long history of

persecuting Gypsies in Europe: the Egyptians Act of 1530 banned

them from England, while later acts forced them to give up their nomadic

existence or face death. The Nazis considered them

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“nonpersons”, and some experts believe around 600,000 European

Gypsies were eradicated, most gassed in Auschwitz.

There are several different groups within the travelling community.

Roma Gypsies, who originated from the Indian subcontinent around

1,000 years ago and have now spread across Europe; Irish Travellers, who

have a common language (Shelta) and are believed to have became nomadic

in the 16th or 17th century; plus new age travellers, hippies and

crusties. Some choose a nomadic life because they want to be more in

touch with nature; others to live on the edge of society without a national

insurance number or fixed address.

Yet when Gypsies and Travellers do want to settle down, there are

extra complications. More than 90% of planning applications submitted

by Gypsy families are refused, compared with 20% of non-traveller

applications. Also, Gypsies may be buying pieces of land on green belts

and have little or no knowledge of the administration system. A planning

application by a Gypsy family is always met with an extreme number of

objections by the local residents (I know this from experience). And it’s a

fact that having Gypsies in a neighbourhood lowers the price of property.

My siblings and I were born into this lifestyle, but we weren’t taught

to carve clothes pegs and sell lucky heather. We were brought up with

strict morals, values and guidelines. We don’t look or act particularly

different to anybody else. We just had a different path, and weren’t

brought up living in a house.

After completing my access course (thanks to a wonderful tutor, I got

distinctions in all the units), I did a degree with the Open University, and

that meant completely changing my way of life. Last November, at the

age of 30, I moved to Brighton to study at Brighton Journalist Works. I

live here with my boyfriend in a flat, which is bizarre and alien to me.

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My family are, admittedly, no longer truly nomadic, and my parents

support my decision to transform my life, but I have never lived within

bricks and mortar before, and I feel completely out of touch with nature

now.

I can’t see or feel the change from one season to the next, I crave

greenery, and I constantly wrestle with the emotion of feeling trapped. I

spend half my life opening doors and windows, trying to get rid of the

airless, claustrophobic feeling that comes with being inside. I get woken

up by bin lorries, the rush-hour traffic and my neighbours shouting,

instead of birdsong and the wind in the trees. I can’t sense when it’s

going to rain because I can no longer smell it in the air, and when it does

rain I can’t hear it landing on the roof.

I live near the sea because it gives me some sense of openness and

freedom, but I don’t think I will ever feel truly settled here—or anywhere

else. My instinct is to travel, and when you have grown up waking to

different scenery every day, it’s easy to feel trapped. But to reach my

dream, I have to put down roots.

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THE FOUNTAIN

Anis leaned against the kitchen table. She squeezed and opened her

left fist. The small pink pill had stained her palm. She put the tip of

her right forefinger on the pill, swivelling it. Alie entered the living room,

which adjoined the kitchen.

“Where’ve you put the bank passbook?” he called out.

Anis clenched her left hand.

“Where?” he asked again.

“I don’t have it.”

“Find it,” Ali said and walked back to the bedroom.

Anis threw the pill in the trash basket and washed her hands. She

walked out of the kitchen to the living room, picked up the headscarf

from the hook next to the outside door, an dput it around her forehead,

tying it tightly at the back. The headscarf was there for her to cover her

head whenever she opened the door; this is how Ali made sure no man

would see his wife’s hair. Lately, Anis has been using the scar to squeeze

her head whenever it ached. She paused, went back to the kitchen, and

picked up the watering can near the fridge. She went to the balcony from

the kitchen and watered the flower pots.

Ali entered the living room wearing a suit. “Where are you?” he called.

Scanning the room, he noticed a small object among the lilacs. Ali went to

the coffee table and picked up the falcone-shaped plastic toy which landed

on the plant. “Falcons everywhere in this apartment!” he murmured. The

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balcony door opened and Anis emerged. “Headache again?” he asked. He

threw the toy on the sofa and frowned.

She dropped the empty watering can down near the table and sat down

at the computer in the living room.

Ali came closer and looked at the screen. Anis was writing a computer

program in C++. He went to the kitchen, lifted the glass from the kitchen

table, and drank the water. From the corner of his eye he watched Anis

typing rapidly.

“Dirty dishes! Dirty dishes everywhere,” he said, slamming down the

glass in the sink.

Anis remained hunched at the monitor.

“Didn’t I tell you to find it?”

She did not answer.

“I am talking to you,” he yelled, going towards her.

“I said I didn’t know,” she replied.

“What do you know then? Huh?” He took the mouse and smacked it on

the desk. “Who knows where anything is in this place?”

Her eyes were fixed on the keyboard, hand on her mouth. “You are

the one who always has that bank pass thing, Agha,” Anis said under

her breath.

Ali hurried to the bedroom and took his Samsonite bag out of the

closet. The booklet was inside. He went to the mirror and combined his

hair. Examining himself, he raised a thick black eyebrow, inclined his

body to the right and lifted his chin. He was patting his beard when he

noticed a drawing above the mirror, seeing a lion in its reflection. Ali

removed it, tore it into pieces and put them in his coat pocket.

There was a knock outside. He perfumed himself, glanced again in the

mirror, and walked out of the room. His friend Esi was at the door.

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Anis had untied the scarf to have it cover her hair and was greeting the

man. She had almost closed the door after them when Ali looked back.

“Hey!” He put the pieces of the drawing in her palm and said, “Gimme

your cell. Mine’s dead.”

Anis was staring down at her palm. “I’m expecting a phone call,” she

said, raising her head.

Ali pushed through the door, went to the small tea table next to the

sofa, and picked up her cell. Anis stared at his dirty footprints that now

stained the floor.

* * *

After they had left the bank, Esi and Ali stopped in front of a juice

shop. Ali ordered two glasses of cantaloupe juice and looked out at the

street. Men and women formed two separate lines at the bus stop. An old

man was buying his tickets from the small booth next to the stop. His

hair was white and there was a newspaper tucked under his left arm. A

tall, young woman with a swarthy face, in a dark blue manteau and

headscarf stood behind the old man. She bought a ticket and walked over

to a tree across from the juice shop. She looked around, and then leaned

against a tree, pushing back the sole of one foot and the back of her head

against the trunk. Her book bag was clutched to her chest under her

folded arms. She closed her eyes.

“Here you are.” Esi gave Ali the glass of juice and followed his gaze

towards the girl. “No eye candy.”

Ali took the glass, continued looking at the girl.

“Want me to invite her here?” Esi asked.

“Nah.” Ali took a sip.

“Let’s have some fun.”

“I don’t feel like it.”

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“You sure?” Esi asked.

Ali nodded. “She’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Nothing....” Ali took another sip.

“Doesn’t she look like Anis?” Esi asked, looking back at the girl.

“Yeah…” Ali nodded. “And she looks exhausted…”

“Anis looked tired, too,” Esi said, watching the girl carefully.

Ali was silent. Esi finished off the rest of his juice.

“Hey, don’t choke.” Ali laughed. He tried to chug his drink too, but a

piece of ice got caught in his throat. He started coughing. Esi laughed.

“What did you say?” Ali asked, his face red from the coughing.

“What did you say about Anis?”

Esi put his glass on the counter. “I said she looked tired.” He shrugged.

Ali gave the vendor a blue banknote and muttered, “She enjoys working

her ass off.”

They walked down Valiasr street. Traffic was at a standstill as usual.

Noise and fumes filled the air.

“Hey, have you still got Yalda Night?” Asked Alia, as they walked by

the cinema, looking at the poster of Cease Fire. Two good-looking actors,

a man and a woman, were leaning back against a tree trunk, frowning.

“Yalda Night?” Esi asked. “Sounds familiar.”

“Where the woman goes abroad...then divorces.”

“Oh, yeah. Didn’t we watch it?”

“Yeah. Wanna watch it again?”

“I’ll look for it,” Esi said, observing Ali through the corners of his eyes.

They entered a park and walked down the stairs leading to a pond and

fountain. They strolled around it. People had already filled the benches

around the pond.

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“How many times do you want to walk around this pond?”

Esi asked.

“I want to sit somewhere and watch the fountain.”

“The fountain? What’s so interesting about the fountain?”

“I need to know what it has.”

“What it has?” Repeated Esi.

Ali nodded. “She loves it.”

“Let me buy two sandwiches. What would you like?”

“No difference.”

“Drink?”

“Beer.”

“Islamic beer.” Esi winked and left.

Two middle-aged women got up from a bench. One was on crutches

and wore a loose milky manteau matching her hair. The other was fatter

and helping her friend walk. Ali went and sat down on their bench and

stared at the streams of water that rose, fell, and rose again.

A young couple stood near the fountain. The girl lowered her head and

put both hands in her pockets. She appeared to be in deep thought. The

boy put a hand on her shoulder and talked rapidly. Ali sighed, placed his

elbow on the back of the bench, and stared at the couple.

Esi returned with a bag. He stood in front of Ali and looked down at

him. “You look like death.”

“Shut up.”

Esi gave Ali his sandwich and drink and sat. “What’s wrong?”

After a long pause, Ali pointed to a grey shirt on a short man. “I

bought a shirt just like that for my pigheaded boss.”

“Mazaheri?”

“Yes.”

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“What did you do, finally, with him?”

“Nothing! I haven’t been working lately.”

“Really, I didn’t know that.”

“Yes...I’ve been spending savings so far.”

“You’re lucky Anis has a job.”

Ali turned to Esi without warning and said sharply, “I use my own

savings, man!”

“Really? What endless savings! Heh, have you been winning lotteries?”

“A few million dollars each time,” Ali scoffed.

A young woman with a pink headscarf and a white manteau passed

them, pushing a baby stroller with colourful animal dolls dangling from

its stop. Ali stared at her pink lipstick and matching scarf. She had

bleached highlights in her black hair, strands of which showed from the

front and back of her narrow headscarf.

“She’ll be arrested for sure, as soon as she steps out of the park,”

Esi said.

“She deserves it, Esi. That’s non-Islamic dress code!” affirmed Ali.

“Oh yeah, everyone has to be a Muslim in this country, even tourists,”

Esi said.

“When you are in a country you have to obey its rules.”

“Screw a country where you’re not free to choose even your look. Police

now tell random boys in the streets to raise their hands: if the front of the

shirt is not long enough to cover their stomachs, the boys get arrested.

This county has no other issues except young people’s hair and dress.”

“Shhhhhh,” Ali said. “Are you looking for trouble?”

The young couple passed them again. Ali slouched forward and gazed

directly at them, one elbow resting on a leg, his chin in his hand.

“You remember the first time I showed you Anis?” Ali asked.

“Yes. I was behind that tree.” Esi pointed to a big old tree.

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“How old can that tree be?” Ali asked.

Esi looked at Ali over his beer can and said after a pause, “You said she

was your girlfriend.”

“I was sure she would be. I knew something no boy knew. I knew her

too well.”

“What about her?”

“Well, she’s a strange girl, the only girl from her island to have gone to

university in Tehran.”

“She played really hard.” Esi crossed his legs.

“And she left her fiancé when she was in high school, a fiancé her father

had pitched,” Ali continued.

“How did you do it? Really.” Esi turned to him.

“It’s a secret.”

“Come on. Not that you had any luck with other girls. And you don’t

want me to die a bachelor, do you?”

“Well.” Ali shrugged. “You must look noble and kind—a true gentleman.

She must think there is no one else like you.” Ali winked. “She

knew I was different from other men and I was the only one who knew

how afraid she was of men and of marriage.”

“So that’s it. There no one else like me.” Esi smirked and drank his beer.

“When her father issued his ultimatum…”

“Which one?” Ali jeered.

“The last one, you know…” Esi hesitated. “He’d never let her step on

Qeshm Island again, if she married you...She’s just incredible. I never

thought she’d dare go against his will.”

“He didn’t hate me personally...just didn’t want her to marry

anyone not from the island—which is something she’d never accept.”

Esi ate his sandwich and watched the fountain. The couple had approached

the fountain again. A young boy in poor, dirty attire was now

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selling chewing gum there. Ali went back to his thoughts. Esi watched

the shabby boy.

“The number of beggars increases hour by hour,” Esi said. Ali was

quiet. “Eat, man,” Esi continued.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Eat. Don’t think about it.”

“Whatever it is that you’re obsessed with, lately.”

“I’m not obsessed.”

Esi drank his zero-percent alcohol beer. They were both quiet. Ali’s

gaze was fixed on the couple near the fountain. The girl had raised her

face and opened her palms to catch the spraying water.

“Why are girls so in love with the fountain?”

“Not all of them are,” mumbled Esi, looking at Ali who seemed

agitated. “Ali!”

Ali turned to him.

“No woman can go abroad without her husband’s permission. You

know that,” Esi said suddenly.

“What?” Ali turned to him. “What did you say?”

“You heard what I said.”

There was a long silence.

Ali touched his beard. “How can you be that sure?”

“My friend, in the Islamic Republic of Iran a wife is like a personal tool,

like a toothbrush.” He laughed and drew nearer to Ali. “Seriously!

Legally speaking, women have no right to step out of the house without

their husband’s permission, let alone go abroad.”

“Absolutely! It’s the fault of nice men like you and I that women can

make themselves up and go out.”

“I know. We’re being too nice.” Esi laughed.

“You think there would be no way to escape the law?” Ali asked.

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“Canonically, commonly, and legally, no way.”

Ali didn’t say anything but kept looking at the couple and pulling

at his beard.

“But….seriously! Let me tell you something. I’d let her go. I would, if I

were you...trust me. I’d go myself. One is not always lucky like that, you

know, to have a wife like that. You don’t need to worry about English.

You’ll pick it up.”

“Sure, I’ll give her formal permission to go,” Ali said sarcastically.

“PhD scholarship! Thirty thousand pounds! That’s alot of money, man.

She’s a genius!”

“How do you know all that?”

“I know, everyone knows. That’s not something anyone would hide.”

“I shouldn’t have let her do a masters. My first mistake,” Ali thought.

“Uhmm anyways, my father’s ill. You know I can’t go,” h e said.

“Say!” Esi exclaimed, swallowing a morsel. “Did I tell you I saw your

father in Mellet Park yesterday? He had your athletic clothes on running.”

“Yes. He’s a real sportsman.”

“He’s healthier than you, man.” Esi took another bite and continued.

“You were wrong to bring your parents to Tehran though. People are

escaping this crowded, polluted, and expensive city nowadays.”

“I’d love to leave this city. Anis refused to go.”

(Continued in Echoes from the Other Land)

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

TT VANG

TT Vang is the author of To Live Here, winner of the 2014 Imaginary Friend

Press Poetry Prize, and co-editor of How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American

Literary Anthology (Heyday, 2011). Soul is a poet and a teacher. She holds

an MFA in poetry from California State University, Fresno and is an editorial

board member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle (HAWC).

ROXY FREEMAN

Roxy Freeman is a freelance journalist and lifestyle writer based in Brighton.

Her articles have appeared in the Guardian, Daily Mail and YOU Magazine

among other publications. Born in 1979 and self-educated for most of her

life, Roxy graduated from The Open University in 2008 and completed her

NCTJ certificate in February 2009. Her most well known novel is Little

Gypsy, published in 2011.

AVA HOMA

Ava Homa is a writer, teacher and editor. Her collection of short stories,

Echoes from the Other Land (TSARbook, Toronto, 2010), was nominated for

the 2011 Frank O’Conner Short Story Prize and secured a place among the

ten winners of the 2011 CBC Reader’s Choice Contest. Homa is well-known

in the Kurdish diaspora and at home. Her writing on Kurdish women’s

issues has served as a basis for discussion at various schools and universities.

FURTHER READS

ECHOES FROM THE OTHER LAND

by Ava Homa (left)

These haunting stories beautifully evoke the

oppressive lives of modern women in the Islamic

Republic of Iran. The weight of traditional attitudes,

the harrassment of the religious establishment,

and the attitudes of men make for a

frustrating, confining, and sometimes unlivable

existence.

GYPSY BOY by Mikey Walsh (right)

Mikey was born into a Romany Gypsy family.

They live in a closeted community, and little is

known about their way of life. After centuries of

persecution Gypsies are wary of outsiders and

if you choose to leave you can never come back.

This is something Mikey knows only too well.

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new bottle

FROM THE FRENCH ALPS

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HOME IS EVERY PLACE

WRITTEN BY PICO IYER

PICO IYER WRITES ABOUT THE INFLUENCE JAPANESE AMERICAN

ARCHITECT, ISAMU NOGUCHI, HAS ON HIS PERCEPTION OF HOME

BEING IN EVERY PLACE. THIS IS A PERSPECTIVE OF LIVING WITH-

OUT BOUNDARIES BY CHOICE. FOR IYER, “HOME IS NOT JUST THE

PLACE WHERE YOU ARE BORN—IT’S THE PLACE WHERE YOU BE-

COME YOURSELF.”

When I walk out of the little apartment where I live, for much

of the year, in Japan, I have to shake myself and tell myself

I’m not in southern California. The little lanes are straight,

and run between two-storey Western houses with two-car

garages and name-plates on their front walls to commemorate

their owners. Many of the cars parked outside of them

are Jaguars, BMWs, even Cadillacs, clearly never meant for

streets as narrow as these. There’s no hint of tatami in the

area; there are no temples or shrines or neighborhood sushi

bars or jagged lanes in the entire neighborhood. We are

living in a sanitised, synthetic world here, in the shadow of

the ancient capital of Nara, Stephen Spielberg’s suburbia

polished to a high, strange sheen. And then I notice that the

maples, in our small park, are turning

with a five-pointed brilliance in the

warm October days. There’s an almost

indefinable sense of elegy, of gathering

chill in the blazing aftrernoon, a suggestion

of what the Japanese call “monoganashii,”

or an exquisite sadness.

The little children are playing neatly

in their school uniforms, their grandparents

seated on benches taking in

the stately sorrow of the scene. But

the mix of elegy and celebration in the

air, the sense of coming darkness and

even death, under skies more exalted

and cloudless than any I have seen in California, remind me

that I’m on the far side of the earth, and caught up in a frame

that sings a faintly Buddhist tune of impermanence and loss.

And then–since I am an Asian at heart, Indian by blood,

if not by residence–I go back to Santa Barbara to visit my

mother (who lives alone there) following the ancient logic that

parents are more to be listened to than pleasure. And when

I get there, I find myself surrounded by Japanese gardens,

the small pieces of stillness and meditation that friends have

built in their back yards, stepping stones to tiny ponds of koi,

or stone lanterns set next to hermits’ sheds, and I see how

the people in the New World try to escape their immediate

surroundings through these little splashes of the East, like a

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single foreign term thrown into a sentence (wabi, sabi, Zen).

There are many more sushi bars in Santa Barbara than I ever

see in Kyoto, and my friends are all talking there of giving

things up, going back to the country, finding a self that my

Japanese neighbors have never had a chance to lose. It’s a

song of homesickness they’re singing silently, perhaps, and

sometimes it seems to rhyme with the songs of longing, or

restlessness that surround me on the far side of the globe.

The person yearning to put a frame around his freedom, the

woman wishing she could find more room for her destiny

than the tight grid around her allows: sometimes they meet

and find that their impulses are reflections of one another’s.

I think of all this whenever I see the work of Isamu Noguchi,

and especially when I lose myself in the roaming, fascinated

works he made between 1949 and 1956 on a series of trips

across the globe funded by the Bollingen Foundation (named,

appropriately, after the little village in Switzerland where

Carl Gustav Jung made his personal retreat). Each side of the

world longs for the other, and occasionally the longings meet

in mid-air, in the place where transformation happens. Japan

is Japanese enough to take in large swatches of America

without losing its soul or its sense of continuity. America is

American enough to call judo and origami and green tea its

own now. The son of a Japanese poet (who wrote in English,

in San Francisco), the husband of one Yoshiko Yamiguchi,

depicted in many of his photographs (sometimes known as

Shirley, sometimes as Li Xanglan), Noguchi could afford to

move ceaselessly around the globe because everywhere was

equally foreign to him, and unforeign. “My longing for affiliation,”

as he wrote, “has been the source of my creativity.”

It’s a commonplace now, but it wasn’t when Noguchi

was born, that East is West to some, and the frustrations

of one culture the possibilities of another. In the age of

frequent fliers and multinationals, we take it for granted

that our identities will be assemblages, makeshift things

drawn from this world and that one and the children of

them both. You can’t place nationalities on art any more

than you can on fire or water or grass; the passports they

carry are as irrelevant, finally, as their patent numbers.

Noguchi intuited all this, I always feel, and lived it by

always remaining on the move, not allowing his art to settle

down, and playing games with our expectations of it (and

of his name), long before we had heard of Issey Miyake or

Kazuo Ishiguro or Arata Isozaki. He took on his father’s name

when he went to Europe in 1923, knowing that it would

open some doors and close others. He kept the company of

artists from Mexico and India and Europe, knowing that his

own work “had to be universal or nothing at all.” Later he

would move from the Pyamids to Sri Lanka to Stonehenge

to Burma, always on the lookout, one senses, for whatever

could link cultures and steady them beneath the presence of

borders. Movement, the converging of traditions, became

the slab of granite out of which he would shape a life.

At the time he took off with his first thirty-six month

fellowship from the Bollingen (on what is now known as

“The Bollingen Journey”). A sense of trust, perhaps, of connections

across boundaries. At 45, he was half way through

his life; and as the world stumbled into what would be called

the atomic age, it was obviously searching for new certainties

to protect it from new fears. The dropping of nuclear

bombs by America on Japan could only have reverberated

strangely inside a shifting soul who was born in Los Angeles

and raised in Tokyo, never entirely a part of either place.

Noguchi arrived in 1949 in his adopted home of Paris–

home to his adopted father, Brancusi, who had told him

to forswear decoration–and from there looked in on Italy

and Spain and Greece, before hurling himself into Egypt

and then India, Bali, Angkor. Looking at the many drawings

and photographs he brought back from the trip, one can

see something of what he was after. Buildings that seem

to be hewn out of the earth, and statues that sit next to

children as if each is a part of the same unchanging story.

It wasn’t exactly serenity he sought, or the pristine, but,

rather, something aboriginal, uncontaminated, that stands

in our midst as opaque and irreducible as the monuments of

Stonehenge in the Wiltshire countryside. The eyes he caught

in his images are often unquiet, and at the edge of what look

like ruins; many of the people look to be marginals, tribals,

like himself, peering out at the modern world with a stare

of defiant bewilderment. But most of all, these spirits are

dancers, sculptors, craftsmen, players with masks, as seen

by someone with a familiarity with all those arts; compare

his photographs with those Henri Cartier-Bresson brought

back from India and Bali at around the same time and you

see focus, intensity, fear where the French master delighted

in something human. Noguchi’s faces are often half-veiled.

In some ways, it is a touching image, the one we imagine

behind the camera or with his sketchpad: a universal Other

who, in every work, seems not entirely inside the culture

he describes, and yet never entirely removed. The restless

soul who will never be tourist or resident. When Noguchi

had volunteered his services to America in the wake of the

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shocking attack on Pearl Harbor, he had been dismissed as

a “half-breed,” and yet when he had taken himself to an

internment camp for Japanese in Arizona, to teach, he had

felt himself “completely alone” even there, neither captor

nor captive. In the West he would be called a “wily…semi-oriental”

by critics, while in Japan, with his blue eyes, he would

always be a “gaijin,” or outsider person. Returning to Japan

on the Bollingen Journey, for the first time in 19 years, the

man who had previously been looked on with suspicion as an

“irregular verb,” in his own nice formulation, was now hailed

as an emissary from the conquering West (he is commemorated

these days on Japanese postage stamps). The traveller

who listened to such praise no doubt acknowledged that it

was not he who had changed, but the world around him.

What makes Noguchi’s work lasting, and original, and

what lies behind his Bollingen works is, to me, what he made

of his permanent outsiderness. He looked, at every turn,

for those moments in art and worship and expression–in

ocean and tree and stone–that make a mockery of the

divisions we impose on things. He mixed up East and West

so thoroughly that it became impossible to tell one from

the other, as it was inside himself. He kept out every trace

of national division, or imposed distinction, from the art he

brought back from his travels; it celebrates, in fact, that part

of humanity that will always be larger than its institutions

or labels. Out of his predicament he conjured possibility.

Perhaps this begins to account for the unique mix of

solidity and transparency you see in his art, as if the lightness

of rooted Japan danced around the gravitas of mobile

America. Perhaps this explains, too, how he was as indifferent

to borders between genres–seeing landscape as a

form of sculpture, painting as a kind of dance–as between

cultures. He worked for the most part in silent forms, like a

man who brings different worlds together not to speak in a

common language that neither of them knows well, but to

touch one another, glance at each other, mingle in silence

and pause and gesture. In Zen, the world that exists ouside

and beyond names and black-and-white distinctions, he

found (as he said of Kyoto) an art of life “which was beyond

art objects.” If the map celebrates lines and divisions,

he would hover above it, in the air that belongs to all.

In this way, his work was “global” before the world existed,

and anticipated, you could say, the convergences of Salman

Rushdie, the curiosities of American Buddhism, the harmonies

of World Music, which sense that the tabla and the digeridoo

can say things to one another that they could not say to members

of their own traditions. It seizes on the space between

fixities as the place of potential, unclaimed, hostage to no

past, subject to the enmities of neither side. And it speaks

to people like me who shuffle between Indian and American

and British passports while realising that we belong somewhere

deeper than such categories, in a mock-Californian

suburb in Japan, perhaps. Noguchi lived, one feels, in a nation

of his own, whose flag and national anthem and constitution

were nothing other than the work that he produced.

At times, therefore, the world he outlined on his journey

reminds me of Michael Ondaatje’s novel (and Anthony

Minghella’s film), The English Patient. In the wake of World

War II, in the rubble of exploding nationalisms (where people

die for being English–or not English), four wounded characters

assemble in a battered nunnery to interact with no

thought of race or passport, and to try to find the human

core that plays havoc with such distinctions. They woo,

they tell stories, they remember and they read, and try to

stake out a domain that provincialisms can’t touch. One,

fittingly, is a nurse; another is a defuser of bombs. A third is

a map-maker, and the fourth, no less importantly, is a thief

(since, in this vision, as in Noguchi’s pictures, the notion of

universalism is not smoothed down into a child’s jingle or

something universally benign; it is unsettled and outlaw and

draws blood). The order they root themselves in, in place

of ideology, is art–”We are communal histories, communal

books,” the novel says–and those who read the book carefully

see that there is a fifth being in the house with them,

not coincidentlly, an “old mongrel, older than the war.”

Noguchi’s life story is itself an art form of sorts that he

constructed to show how he would try to do something that

would correct the recent collisions of Japan and America. He

got married in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and would work

on the U.S. pavilion at the Osaka World Fair. He designed the

garden for the Reader’s Digest building in Tokyo, and worked

on a playground for the newly formed United Nations. When

the mayor of Gifu, in western Japan, pointed out to him that

the city’s paper lantern industry was suffering, he came up

with Akari Light Sculptures, which suddenly gave Japanese

lights a new and universal identity. It is often mentioned

that his design for a bell tower in Hiroshima–what might

have been his crowning work in this collaborative vein–was

rejected at the last minute, perhaps because his mother

was American. Nationalism does not die quickly, even after

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it has been responsible for millions of deaths. But if you visit

the new, revived city that bustles along around its Peace

Museum, you will find that the railings he designed for two

bridges there are still guiding you from the busy streets into

the place of peace, on both the east side and the west.

The more I looked at the images contained in this book,

“It’s a commonplace now, but it wasn’t

when Noguchi was born, that East is

West to some, and the frustrations of

one culture the possibilities of another.”

therefore–thinking back to an elderly Zen master I know in

Kyoto, who has made it his life’s work to go every year to

America to teach his discipline (“I am attached to only one

thing,” he told me once, “the image of a bridge”)–the more

I began thinking back to the days that led me to the place

where I live now. I remembered how, penned up in a New

York City skyscraper in 1983, I took off for the East–India,

Bali, Burma–and then ended up, as expectation decrees, in a

Zen temple in Kyoto. I had grown up, in Santa Barbara, on the

novels of Yasunari Kawabata, the clear-water haiku of Basho,

the Prussian-blue landscapes of Hiroshige, which pierced

me with a sense of familiarity, of homesickness even, that

I could not explain away. They were telling the real story of

my life, I felt, which somehow I had forgotten in my sleep.

I arrived on the back streets of the eastern hills on a bright

day in early autumn–cloudless blue and only the faintest

tracings of color on the trees–and stepped into a temple.

A life of simplicity is what I wanted, free of categories and

bare as a classic Kyoto tea-house. Stillness, silence and the

moon. Modern Kyoto is not very hospitable to such precious

notions, however–perhaps Noguchi found the same

in his restored samurai house in Kamakura, Japan’s second

great Buddhist town. I wandered out through the temple

gate, and found myself more at home with the Japanese

replicas of America I discovered in the clangorous (but

always decorous) modern arcades of the old capital.

I drifted for a year around this dreamland and then

returned to Santa Barbara to write up the story of my

pilgrimage (interested, as Noguchi would put it in the

context of his Bollingen Fellowship, in leisure both contemplative

as well as active, in play as a form of leisure,

but also prayer, or doing nothing at all). As I was about to

complete my account, I walked upstairs to our living room

and saw 70-foot flames cresting above the picture windows,

the heat pricking at my neck.

A couple of years later, my family built a

new house on the same property, thanks

to our insurance company, and fired,

perhaps, by that born-again innocence

that lingers in the Californian air, and that

drew us from our old worlds of England

and India to its clement light. It was a solid

building this time, sturdy as a Tibetan

fortress, sitting on its ridge overlooking

the town and the Pacific Ocean, blue in the

distance, and matching the adobe and white stucco homes

that were coming up around us in the hills, rebuking the

past and the elements with their air of defiant rootedness.

When the house was complete, we were in a whole new

construction of our lives with two wings and a forecourt,

and planar roofs that made a pattern as of birds above

a ship. But the place was entirely empty. I decorated my

bedroom all in white, with hand-made bamboo screens

on the windows, and nothing–nothing, nothing–on the

walls or floors. In California I would make the empty Zen

room I had once travelled all the way to Kyoto to find.

As I was about to settle into my empty space, a

friend said, “There’s only one thing you need.”

“What’s that ?”

“A single Noguchi. To offset the emptiness.”

I sit in my all-white room in California now, back from

my mock-Californian suburb in Japan to visit my mother,

and feel the emancipation of no possessions, no

history, no nationality. The luxury of simplicity that is

one of Japan’s most elegant bequests to the world.

In one corner, though, there’s a single lamp, as light

as an autumn leaf, and yet as quietly refulgent as a

Japanese sky in early autumn. An Akari Light Sculpture,

making old Japan universal, and available to all of us. I

turn it on, I turn it off, it doesn’t matter. It lights up my

life the way these images, I hope, will light up yours.

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WHERE CHILDREN SLEEP

WRITTEN BY MARIA MCCANN

SOME CHILDREN GROW UP IN POVERTY, LACKING FOOD AND

SANITATION, WHILE OTHERS ARE BORN IN COUNTRIES WHERE

BASIC NECESSITIES ARE TAKEN FOR GRANTED.

You can learn a lot about children by studying their facial

expressions, or hair, or clothes, or body language. But if you

really want to understand what matters most to a child, you

must enter that distinctive sanctuary: their bedroom.

After all, as documentary photographer James Mollison

notes, a bedroom represents a “personal kingdom” for many

children. “When I was a child, my bedroom was my one space

that I was allowed to personalize and make my own,” Mollison

said in a telephone interview from his home in Venice, Italy.

“If you saw my bedroom, you would have known more about

me than if you just saw a photograph of me.”

Mollison started thinking along these

lines back in 2004, when he was approached

about doing a photography

project tied to children’s rights. He knew

he wanted to do something that stood

apart from the familiar, haunting images

used by many charities.

“A lot of charities use photos from a

war-torn place or a disaster area, and in

the photos the children are always smiling

or kind of pleading with you with their eyes,” said Mollison,

37. “They work on a very emotive level, but you’re left

knowing very little about the kid.”

The result is “Where Children Sleep,” a Mollison photo

book published by Chris Boot that is arresting both for the

astonishing differences it exposes, and the astonishing

similarities. No matter how unalike the kids in the book may

seem, it quickly becomes clear that they would almost

certainly be friends if they could just spend a little bit of

time together. Mollison’s hope was that the book would

resonate with both children and adults.

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Tristan, 7, New York, USA

“I thought it would be interesting to include children from

both richer situations and poorer situations, and show that we

all live together on the same world,” said Mollison, who was

born in Kenya, grew up in England and moved to Italy in his 20s.

Many of the children photographed for the book are desperately

poor, and a significant percentage don’t have bedrooms

of their own — or rooms that they share with siblings. Alex, a

homeless 9-year-old from Rio de Janeiro, sleeps outside on an

empty bench or discarded sofa if he’s able to find one;

otherwise, his bed is the pavement. Another 9-year-old boy, an

orphaned refugee from Liberia, sleeps in a concrete shack

alongside other pupils at a school for ex-child soldiers in Ivory

Coast. But even the book’s darkest accounts carry a measure of

hope. Prena, a 14-year-old domestic worker who works

13-hour days in Kathmandu, Nepal, earns about $6.50 a month

for her efforts and sleeps in a tiny, cell-like space. Despite that,

she does manage to go to school three days a week, and she

dreams of being a doctor when she grows up.

All the photos in “Where Children Sleep” are accompanied

by substantial captions that are written simply and clearly.

Mollison said he’s not trying to push an agenda or advance a

campaign with the book; instead, he’s simply sharing images

and stories that moved him. While working on the project,

though, he found it provided a compelling way to examine

complex social issues.

“Of course, a child isn’t to blame for his surroundings,”

Mollison said. “Children are just born into certain situations.

But this becomes a way in, to look at something and really

think about it. This was most pronounced when I spent a

week with Israeli kids and a week with Palestinian kids. You

see how both groups are being brought up completely

blinkered from each other’s experiences.”

In his introduction to “Where Children Sleep,” Mollison

writes about how his encounters with so many different

children and families affected him: “I came to appreciate just

how privileged I am to have had a personal kingdom to sleep

in and grow. “I hope this book will help children think about

inequality, within and between societies around the world,

and perhaps start to figure out how, in their own lives, they

may respond.”

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Anonymous, 4, Rome, Italy

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Douha, 10, Hebron, West Bank

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Lay Lay, 4, Mae Sot, Thailand

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Jaime, 9, New York, USA

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Bilal, 6, Wadi Abu Hindi, The West Bank

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Where Children Sleep

jamesmollison.com

Nantio, 15, Lisamis, Northern Kenya

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