Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Bedouins of Negev

Linda Paganelli is a visual anthropologist and a film maker from the seaside town of Rimini (Italy). Since 2011, together with photographer Silvia Boarini and lately SMK video factory, Linda has been involved in the making of a documentary film about a group of Bedouins in the Negev desert in Israel. This post presents an interview with Linda about this film.

Linda Paganelli

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Sunil: Linda, tell me about this film you are making.

Linda: It's title is "Unrecognized in the Negev" and it is about a group of Bedouins from the village of Al Araqib. There are 38 Bedouin villages in the Negev desert in south of Israel, that are not recognized by the Israeli government. Thus, they are facing demolitions and do not have access to basic services like drinking water, electricity, and health care. The government calls them "invaders" though their villages go back to before the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Sunil: Your film is about one village. How many persons live there?

Linda: The first big demolition of that village was in 2010 when 35 families, about 250-300 persons, lived there. Since then there have been 67 more demolitions and now there are only 4 families left (20 people), though their homes have been bulldozed. So now they have been authorized to live only in the graveyard.

They had become sedentary by the turn of the 20th century, while before they were semi-nomads. This meant that for certain periods of the year, they went away to find pastures for their animals but for the rest of the year, they lived in their ancestral villages. They have roots in those villages and they do not change them.

Sunil: That sounds like some of the semi-nomad groups that I had known in Mongolia. Are the Bedouins culturally different from the Palestinians?

Linda: The Bedouins are a Palestinian-Muslim minority in Israel, half of them are completely urbanized and the other half are living in unrecognized villages trying to keep their lifestyle and fighting against the state coercion. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are under occupation, while Bedouins in the unrecognized villages are under demolition orders, as they do not fit in the State's ideal model of life and their villages are being designed for other purposes - in the case of Al Araqib, for making a forest.

Sunil: I knew about the Israel and Palestine issues but I did not know that there were problems between Israel and the Bedouins. How are Bedouin issues different from the Palestine issues?

Linda: In the war of 1948 when Israel annexed this area, most Bedouins escaped to other Arab countries or to West Bank or Gaza. Only about 11,000 Bedouins were left here and they became Israeli citizens. They have I.D. cards that recognize them as Israeli, however, they are not considered equal to other Israeli citizens.

Sunil: How did you decide to make a film on this issue?

Linda: In summer 2011, I met a photographer, Silvia Boarini, in Ramallah (West Bank, Palestine), who had been visiting the Bedouin villages since 2008. We did some work together and she asked me to accompany her to Negev to visit this village.

Bedouin village Negev

We went back there many times and gradually we could build the trust between us and the villagers, by staying with them and listening to their problems. This film came from this experience. It has been very rich and humane experience.

They wish to share their story with the rest of the world and make people aware about what is happening in the Negev right now. That’s why this is a story that really matters, we hope to enrich and inform many people through this documentary.

Now the filming is done and the post-production work is being carried out by SMK Video-Factory in Bologna.

Sunil: Thanks Linda for sharing about your film, best of luck for its success.

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Note: You can watch a small clip from the Bedouin village in the Negev on Vimeo. Linda and Silvia are also looking for support to complete the film - you can also contribute through Indiegogo.

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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

International Festival of Trans Films (2)


Here are some more reviews of the films shown in the International Festival of Films on Transsexual themes "Divergenti 2014" that concluded in Bologna (Italy) on Sunday 25 May.

The jury awards went to: Do alegria do mar e de outras cosas, Brazil (best short film), Fuoristrada, Italy (best documentary) and 52 Tuesdays, Australia (best feature film). In addition, Jotain Silta Valilta (Something in between), a documentary film from Finland received a special mention.

SOMETHING IN BETWEEN (FINLAND, 2013)

The original title of this documentary (45 minutes) by director Riikka Kaihovaara is "Jotain silta Valilta". It tells the story of 27 year old Nino, who is transitioning from a woman to a man. The film is a video-diary of 2-3 year period of this transitioning.

Nino has mothered a child but he shrugs off the "motherly feelings" that he is supposed to have towards his child. Nino is also not sure if he wishes to be a man and how much of his female part, he is willing to cancel. His ideas are uncertain and change many times during this period.

He starts with hormone injections and binds his chest. As his male persona becomes more secure, he decides to get the breast operation, but has some complication during the operation and needs to be re-operated. Even after the second operation, part of his chest looks strange and his desire to stand in the park with his chest open, does not give him the pleasure he was hoping for. In the end, he gets operated once again to improve the appearance of his nipples and this time, the operation goes well.

Stills from Divergenti film festival 2014

He finally goes through a formal change of gender and there is a party to celebrate it. However, even then he is not sure that he really wants to be a man. He would prefer to be somewhere in between, not to be forced in to a specific gender.

Often films on transgender themes have good looking persons who have clear ideas and desires. However, the good thing about this film is that Nino comes across as a normal guy with normal confusions - he does not have clear ideas about his gender identity or the path he wishes to follow, and sometimes he changes his mind.

During the film, Nino changes his looks different times, trying different variations of punk with a lot of pins in his nose, ears, cheek, gums, etc. and with shaved head or with a colourful braid. It is an appearance that draws attention. Perhaps, it is a symbolic way of underlining his inability to be "normal".

I also thought that all those pins were a kind of self-punishment for not being "normal" (however, my wife disagreed with this idea).

I am happy that the film got special mention from the festival jury since it is a honest and difficult look at what does it mean to go through the change in gender identities.

OPEN UP TO ME (FINLAND, 2013)

The original title of this feature film (95 min.) by director Simo Halinen is "Kerron Sinulle Kaiken". The film is about two persons - a transgender woman Mauri/Maarit (Leea Klemola) and a school football coach Sami (Peter Franzén).

Maarit has recently completed her transition from male to female, left her old town, family and the job to start a new life in a bigger town, where she is forced to work as a cleaning woman because of lack of opportunities. Her ex-wife is angry with her and does not want her to have any contacts with their teenage daughter Pinja (Emmi Nivala).

Maarit's therapist advises her to be more proactive and to fight for her rights. "Talk to your daughter, get into a relationship", she tells Maarit. A coincidence brings Maarit in contact with Sami and then with his wife Julia (Ria Kataja). Sami and Julia are having problems in their marriage. Maarit is attracted towards sami who reciprocates her feelings. An affair starts. The film follows the consequences of this affair.
Stills Divergenti 2014 film festival

Around the story of Maarit, Sami and Julia, are other parallel and intersecting stories - suspicions of the police about the role of Maarit in the suicide of a school friend of Pinja, the sexual confusion of Sami's student Teo (Alex Anton), Maarit's attempts to find a job and her encounters with prostitution.

Usually films about alternate sexuality from Scandinavia present a perfect society where people are respectful of individuals' right to privacy and self-determination of their life choices, and where the institutions are supportive and non-discriminatory. However, "Open up to me" shows that in some areas of life, prejudices and discrimination continue to be strong even in the Scandinavian society. For example, the police automatically treats Maarit as a criminal and a pedophile because she is a transgender person and questions her role as a school counsellor. In another scene, classmates of Pinja make snide remarks about her father's decision to be a woman.

It is a film with a happy ending, though not in the way you may expect when it starts. It has a wonderful lead actress in the form of Leea Klemola, who is very expressive. Among the other actors, I also liked Ria Kataja as Julia. On the other hand, Peter Franzén as Sami is not always convincing. The film is also photographed very well.

You can watch a trailer of this film on Youtube.

About Happiness, About the Sea & About Other Things (Brazil, 2012)

The original title of this Brazilian short film (13 minutes) directed by Ceci Alves is "Do alegria, do mar e de outras coisas".

The film is about a real-life incident that occurred in Salvador (Bahia, Brazil) in 1998 when guys from the military police kidnapped two transgender women Joice and Luana, beat them and then forced them into the sea. Luana died in that incident. Joice testified against the culprits and was put under the witness protection programme.

The film revolves around the song "Mudança" (Change) and talks about Nem Glamour and Joy (instead of Joice and Luana). The film shows Nem (Rodolfo Lima) preparing for her last show in an empty hall, before leaving for the witness protection programme. As she comes out, she remembers that night and her last memories of her friend.

Stills from Divergenti film festival 2014

The brief but brutal scenes of violence in the film and evocative words of the song, become a symbol of the violence and human rights violations that often accompany the lives of transgender persons in different parts of the world. The film received the award for best short film in the festival.

The song "Mudanças" by Brazilian singer Vanusa is very beautiful - it talks of a woman's decision to change, to empty the drawers of her memories, to clear the cobwebs of her life, to overcome fear, and to become an adult woman. The words of the song (in Portuguese) are available and you can hear this song on Youtube.

While watching the film, I could feel an immediate connect with the film remembering my long walks on the beach in Salvador de Bahia, where the episode shown in the film had taken place.

She is my husband (Italy, 2013)

The 50 min. long documentary film by Anna Maria Gallone and Gloria Aura Bortolini is about a lawyer, Alessandro Gracis, from a small town in north Italy and his journey for becoming a woman. The original title of the film is "Lei è mio marito".

Alessandro was 12 years old when he first dressed in female clothes. He grew up to be a reputed lawyer, keeping his cross-dressing hidden. He had different relationships with women, but was never married. Then in 2005, when he was 50 years old, he dressed as a woman in the carnival. The compliments he received for being such a good looking woman, reinforced his desire for cross-dressing. At that time he was in relationship with Roberta.

A break-up with Roberta, who went for another relationship, coincided with slow and gradual affirmation of Alessandro's identity as a cross-dresser. Few years later, Roberta came back to his life. Together with Roberta he began a gradual journey from being a cross-dresser to be a transgender woman - through hormone treatment, a breast implant and finally a vaginoplasty (by a surgeon who is herself a transgender person).

In 2009, Alessandra came out as a transgender person in a national conference of the lawyers' association and to her clients, slowly overcoming the prejudices of her family and colleagues. However, legally she did not ask to recognized as a woman and thus in 2012, she was able to marry her companion, Roberta.

The film provides another glimpse into the diversity of transgender issues. Like Nino in "Something in between", Alessandra was also not very sure that she wanted to be a woman and her journey to the genital operation came after a lot of self-doubts and questions. She did not feel attracted towards men but was in love with Roberta (though her relationship shown in the film seems more about non-sexual love and companionship).


Stills from Divergenti film festival 2014

Many of the persons in the film remark that Alessandra is very masculine in her likes, attitudes and behaviour - for example, the way she is careless about clothes and accessories of other woman, and her enthusiasm for football. This again goes against the stereotype images prevalent about MtF women.

Galloni, one of the film-directors, explained that Alessandra has to deal with a lot of prejudice but they decided to not to show it in the film. For example, her three sisters have not accepted this change. In the film, one of her sisters' says, "I can't understand it. If he had been gay it would have been easier to understand."

You can watch a trailer of this film on Youtube.

Bruno and Earlene Go To Vegas (USA, 2013)

This 96 min. feature is the first film of British director Simon Savory. It is a road movie full of quirky characters, most of whom also have some kind of sexual issues.

The main characters of the film are Earlene (Ashleigh Sumner) and Bruno (Miles Szanto) who meet one evening in Venice Beach and get drunk and sleep together, without having sex with each other. Together, they start on a journey towards Los Angels in a stolen car. On the way, to escape the police, they meet up with a blond-nice-but-stupid hunk called Billy (Barrett Crake).

In the desert, they reach an isolated ghost town with some strange characters including a couple of ex-stripper guys and an ageing black drag queen who is also a tap dancer. The travellers face a crisis and they must deal with secrets from their past.

Stills from Divergenti film festival 2014

It is a beautifully shot film with good editing and music. The quirky characters make it an enjoyable watch.

The film could have been much better with a tighter script. The film is enjoyable, but the script is full of holes.

For example, the relationship between Earlene and Bruno is never clarified and you can't understand what binds them together. Just because an older woman has slept for a night in the same bed with a young guy with unclear sexuality (Bruno is shown as an inter-sexual person), she would follow him next day in a car and then force her way in the office of some secret research organisation to save him from sexual exploitation, seems kind of juvenile and unbelievable.

Another example of not too well thought out script is the issue of money - in some scenes they are shown without any money, but in the next scene, they don't seem to have any problem in buying gas for the car and sleeping in the motels on the way.

The casting of the film is good and most of the performances, starting from that of Sumner, are great. So if you are not too picky about things like the logic of the story and you like quirky characters, you will enjoy this film.

Conclusions

On the whole, the 2014 festival of films on transsexual themes was a great experience - I enjoyed almost all the films. When you are watching one film after another, it is easy to get bored or end up with a headache. However, in none of the films I felt bored.

Compared to 2013, when the different transsexual issues were a novelty for me, this year, I knew the kind of things I could have expected from the festival. Still there were new things to understand and learn.

Human beings are incredibly diverse. We use words like hetreo, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersexual, to talk about sexuality but these are just words - these do not define the incredible variety of life paths and life choices of individuals. It is important not to pigeon-hole people just on the basis of categories but rather we should celebrate the richness of human diversity.

You can also read my two other posts related to the Divergenti 2014 film festival - (1) Divergenti symposium and (2) first part of reviews of films from the festival.

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Sunday, 25 May 2014

International Festival of Trans Films (1)

The annual festival of films on transsexual themes is back in Bologna (Italy) for its 7th edition. I had discovered this festival only last year (2013) and found it to be a wonderful opportunity to challenge some of my prejudices and deeply held ideas about sexuality. This post presents some of the short and long films that I have seen so far in the festival.

Divergenti 2014 Film Festival

The festival of films on transsexual themes is organized by the Italian Movement of Transsexual (MIT) persons based in Bologna (Italy).

I missed the films on the first day of the festival, as that day I was travelling back from Geneva and was too tired to go out. I also missed some films on the second day of the festival, as I had preferred to attend a symposium organized by the festival. Finally, yesterday, the third day of the festival, I could dedicate it to watching films.

Here are some comments on the films I have seen in the festival.

52 Tuesdays (Australia, 2014)

"52 Tuesdays" is a feature film by director Sophie Hyde, and is almost 2 hours long. The film is about a teenage girl called Billie (Tilda Cobham Hervey), who is making a video diary to share her feelings and parts of her life. Billie's parents are separated but are still friendly.

Billie, who was very close to her mother Jane (Del Herbert Jane), is shattered when her mother asks her to leave home and to stay with her father Tom (Beau Travis Williams) for one year. Jane has decided to transit and become a man, and during this process, prefers not to have Billie around in the house.

Billie refuses to accept this forced separation and finally her mother relents - they will meet every Tuesday for a few hours. The film tells the story of the changes in Billie and Jane's lives, through brief glimpses of those 52 Tuesdays spread along the year. It follows Billie's discovery of her own sexuality and friendship with her school mates Josh (Sam Althuizen) and Jasmin (Imogen Archer), and Jane's journey to become James.

Stills, International festival of Trans-films, Bologna, Italy Divergenti 2014

Jane's brother Harry (Mario Spate), who is also separated and lives with his sister, and Billie's father Tom, are the other two key figures in the film.

It is a coming of age story about Billie and her final acceptance of the choices made by her mother. At the end it is Tom who makes Billie understand her mother, "You are the person he loved most. He did not want to break the close bond that both of you had. Because of you, he waited so long to become the person he felt himself to be. Inside, he is still the same person, your mother, who loves you more than anyone else. Would you have preferred that he continued to hide and not be what he felt inside?"

The film focuses on relationship issues between Jane/James and Billie, and does not go into prejudices and social discrimination around the issue of changing gender identities in Australia. Tom is almost too good to be true, very understanding and supportive about his ex-wife. Harry, on the other hand, is a more complex character.

I think that if transgender parents decide to initiate transition when their children are adolescent (and entering a problematic life phase), the parent-child relationships are likely to become even more complicated. It would be easier if the transition occurs when the child is younger and can better accept the changes. Or, it may be slightly less complicated, if the child is grown up and mature. The film explains Jane/Jame's reason (the strong bond with his daughter), for not transitioning earlier and thus becomes an opportunity to explore the impact of such a decision on an adolescent.

The film stimulated some questions in my mind - Would it be more difficult for a child to accept a FtM mother or a MtF father? How will the gender of the child influence this acceptance? For example, would it have been easier if Billie had been a guy? I am not sure how all these variables would influence the parents-children relationships and if any general conclusions can be drawn about them.

The most difficult parts of this film for me were those related to Billie's exploration of her sexuality with Jasmin and Josh. These scenes created a strong feeling of unease in me, and were probably determined by my Asian/Indian upbringing in the 1960s-1970s where adolescents, especially girls, experimenting with their sexuality, would have been culturally unacceptable. Thus, the easy acceptance of Billie's sexual explorations by her parents in the film, made me feel as some kind of old fashioned and retrograde person.

Filmed actually on 52 Tuesdays with non-professional actors, film does seem a real-life video diary, and not a make-believe world. Both Tilda and Del Herbert give authentic performances as Billie and Jane/James. You can watch the film's trailer on the film website.

Kiss from the top floor (Mexico, 2013)

This is a short film (12 minutes) and its original title is "Bajo el ultimo techo". The film is about Beto, who lives with his grandparents while his mother has gone off to live in India. One day a new person, Stephania, comes to live in the apartment next door and Beto discovers a fascinating world of art and play in her house. Quickly they become friends.

Stills, International festival of Trans-films, Bologna, Italy Divergenti 2014

One day, Stephania tells Beto that when she was young, she was a boy like him and inside her two persons lived - the boy Esteban and the girl Stephania.

The social prejudices against the transgender persons force Stephania to leave the apartment. To say goodbye to his friend, Beto escapes from his apartment and climbs to the top terrace of the building.

It is a simple and uncomplicated film that focuses on children's easy acceptance of those who are different. You can watch the trailor of this film on Vimeo.

The New Dress (Spain, 2007)

The original title of this short film (14 minutes) by director Sergi Perez is "Vestido Nuevo" and is a very moving film about the relationship between a father and his son who wants to dress up as a girl.

Stills, International festival of Trans-films, Bologna, Italy Divergenti 2014

The film tells the story of a carnival day in a school. Children are supposed to dress up as the Dalmata dogs but Mario comes dressed up in his sister's pink frock. The principle calls Mario's father to the school.

The film with its surprise ending brought a node to my throat. I think that the film is very manipulative with an absolutely adorable boy - like his father, you can't but love him and yet pity him for his desires because you know that the world will be ruthless with him. The film makes you feel hopeful - even if the world will be cruel to your child, you can make sure that he/she can always count on your love and acceptance.

Therefore, in spite of its manipulativeness, I think that the film is very effective and should be obligatory for all parents, especially for the fathers.

You can watch the full film on Youtube with subtitles in English (Thanks to Rohini for the link) - it is a film that will not fail to touch you!

You're Dead To Me (USA, 2013)

This short film (10 minutes) based in a Latino family is by American-Chinese director Wu Tsang. The film is about a Maxican woman Andrea (Laura Patalano) and her preparations for the "Dia de los muertos" (the day for remembering dead persons), and the visit of her estranged daughter (Harmony Santana) who has chosen to become a man (Gabriel).

Stills, International festival of Trans-films, Bologna, Italy Divergenti 2014

Gabriel no longer lives with his mother, because of her fear of social backlash. They can only meet secretly."Where is my lucky cap?" Gabriel asks.

"How much did I love you as my daughter", Andrea tells Gabriel, asking him to wear the white long dress and become a daughter for a short while, "You do that and I promise to give you, your lucky cap."

Stills, International festival of Trans-films, Bologna, Italy Divergenti 2014

Hidden and forced into a gender role that he does not want, Gabriel is the ghost that has come to visit his mother on the day of the dead.

The film mixes reality and imagination in a clever way to drive home its point about accepting your children as they are and not to give in to social pressures. It is my "number one" film from this festival so far and I strongly recommend it.

Both the actors, Laura and Harmony are wonderful. Their way of speaking in mixed Spanish and English reminded me of our own mixing of Hindi and English in India. You can watch a trailer of this film on Vimeo.

Conclusions

The international festival of Trans films is a great opportunity to see the films that are normally ignored on TV and cinema halls. From the first group of films, my favourites were "You're dead to me" and "Vestido Nuevo".

I also hope that my comments will encourage you watch these films, at least some of them! Even if you can't watch the full films on Youtube or Vimeo now (except for Vestitdo Nuevo), sooner or later they will become accessible on internet.

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Saturday, 24 May 2014

Transitions and sexual identities

In a meeting, I always count how many men and women are there in the room. As a researcher, it is something that I do without conscious thinking. Categorising persons and placing them in separate boxes is instinctive for me.

But for once I was a little confused - how many of them were men born as women, men born as men, women born as men, women born as women, men dressed as women, women dressed as men, those who felt some times as men and some times as women - it was impossible to say.

Divergenti symposium Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

For example, I had been sure that the young woman sitting next to me was trans-gender, but it turned out that she was not. On the other hand, a bearded young man with twinkling eyes, colourful tattoos on muscular arms and an open infectious laughter, had started his life as a girl.

That confusion made me reflect about how diverse and multiple can be our sexual identities, once we scratch below the surface of "Male or female". And, how little the external appearances tell us about the persons. Yet, in spite of that, how much we worry about others' opinions about us!

I was at the first day of a symposium on "Transitions - beyond the surgeons' knives". The symposium was part of Divergenti 2014 - the international festival of trans films of Bologna (Italy). This festival is organised by Italian Transsexual Movement (M.I.T.).

Transitions - Sexual identities and surgeons' knives

Porpora Marcasciano, the president of MIT, explained the logic behind the symposium. MIT in Bologna runs a government clinic where persons can get advice and follow the process for transitioning (changing the gender with which they were born).

Porpora said, "Transition is about hormone therapies and surgeries, but it does not end there. It can be a process where not everyone chooses the path of hormones or surgery, but for some of us, making our bodies in line with our mental images of ourselves is fundamental. Whatever path we choose, the process of becoming the person we wish to be, goes on. The theme of the symposium and the festival is 'Crossing over' - including the surgeons' knives, but also going beyond it."

Divergenti symposium Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The symposium had different speakers. Here are some of the points that struck me and made me reflect.

Transia - the trans-anxiety

All of us sometimes worry about how we come across to others - worrying about our expanding waist lines or wrinkles or white hair. However, in the symposium many speakers talked of "Transia" or Trans-anxiety ('ansia' is Italian for anxiety), that went much beyond our usual every-day worries.

Transia is a never-ending feeling of anxiety of your perceptions about yourself - looking at what is missing in you to be a 'real' man or woman, about how others are going to judge you or find you out that you are false. This anxiety is fueled by real or perceived negative attitudes of others but most of it is about the high criteria that persons with dynamic/alternate gender identities use to judge themselves.

Giorgio felt that FtM (female to Male) men feel less anxiety - they are often not worried about having proper male genitals or other details such as not having Adam's apple. He said, "To be a guy is much simpler compared to being a woman - MtF women (Male to Female) worry about everything and worry so much more." It seemed to me that he was underlining the male carelessness about external appearance compared to the women, as some kind of stereotypical personality trait.

However, I think that FtM men may be less concerned with their body appearance partly because surgical solutions to the desire of having a functioning male genital are complicated and not always satisfactory. Perhaps, if you believe that in any case you are not going to end up with a functioning dick, you can go beyond it and accept yourself more easily?

Divergenti symposium Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

On the other hand, for MtF women, I think that issues are more complicated because they can have perfect vaginas through surgery so that sometimes their partners may not even guess that their bodies were constructed - this raises moral dilemmas of "should I tell" as well as, brings closer the mirage of being a 'complete' woman?

One of the examples about transia was the anxiety related to urinating - FtM men worrying about urinating standing up and MtF women worrying about urinating sitting down.

"Men can sit down and urinate without feeling that their masculinity is being questioned but FtM are very anxious about it", Giorgio had said, "This questioning and insecurity never passes. We worry about the models of masculinity and femininity all the time, and confirmations about our masculinity or femininity are never enough, we continuously crave them. The world watching us is something we carry inside us, all the time."

Childhood cultural conditioning

Giorgio gave another example of the way our childhood experiences condition us.

At the end of a dinner with friends, he noticed that all the men rose up and started taking away the plates and glasses to the kitchen while all the women remained sitting, talking. "At first I thought it was good that there was more gender equality", he explained, "then I realised that it was our childhood conditioning. MtF women continued to behave like men do at dinners while FtM men behaved like they had learned as little girls."

This example made me understand a bit about life-long struggle and process of transitioning. Persons do not become men or women just because they change their genitals through operations - changing their feelings, way of thinking and behaviour, probably continues for all their lives.

"Transition is a moment - at least in the beginning, when you start hormone therapy, experience your new puberty, discover new sensations, new name, a new you, the joy of coming out", Giorgio said, "they call it 'gender euphoria'. Then you discover that transition did not end there, that your past history does not get cancelled, so you start a lifelong process of transition."

The technological chimera

Different persons touched on technological advances and what it can mean for the the trans-gender persons in future. For example, some persons talked about the possibilities of creating perfect vaginas, ovaries, dicks and testicles from the advances in stem cell technology that can be implanted to have 'perfect' bodies.

At the same time, different persons talked about the difficult psychological processes and lifelong search for relationships, that will not be resolved by the technical advances.

Another area of discussion was related to internet - some persons complained about the confusion, unrealistic expectations and wrong advice from discussion forums and chats.

Others defended the importance of internet in reaching out to persons living in areas where there are no information or support services  and in finding information materials and guidelines from other countries.

Divergenti symposium Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Personally I think that complaints about 'dangers' or 'uselessness' of internet are like complaining about your families or friends - it is easy to bitch about them because they are there. A world without internet would be a huge set back for marginalised groups like trans-gender persons, even more so in certain parts of the world, pushing them back into lives of complete isolation.

Defining "trans"

Who can call themselves trans? Regina raised this question.

When does a MtF person become a woman or a FtM become a man? The desire is a spectrum that can vary from occasional feelings to an all consuming need that wants to cancel the unwanted parts of the body and make a new body in line with one's feelings. On this spectrum, who and when can someone define her/himself as a transgender person?

One of the women had very strong feelings about it - "To call oneself a trans has become a fashion. These men and women, they live ordinary lives, have sex without angst, but in the parties they like to show off and say that they are trans. Where is their trans experience? We need to fight them and throw them out."

This discussion reminded me of similar discussions among the persons with disabilities where they sometimes fight about who is really disabled and who has the right to be the community's spokes-person.

In my opinion, only we ourselves can choose how to define ourselves - we decide if what we feel or think is trans or non-trans, we decide where we see ourselves in the spectrums of gender identities. Only when this self-definition is linked to practical gains in daily lives - for example, to get a job or to get benefits - we need some objective criteria to define who can get those benefits.

Conclusions

This is not a summary of everything that came out in the symposium - rather some notes about things that struck me.

There were some things that I wish I could have learned more about. For example, in the meeting there was Lucy, a ninety years old trans woman. In 1944-45, she was sent to the concentration camp in Dachau because of her being a trans-gender person. I think that it will be wonderful to talk to her to know more about her life.

Divergenti symposium Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Divergenti symposium Bologna Italy - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

In a poetic intervention, Marco had said, "Our fault is that we threaten the male-female dichotomy. People continuously ask us - who are you? what do you have between your legs? And, we have this huge desire for 'normality'. How can we live in another way of imagination? Our paths are so variable - some of us wish to go from X to Y, others do not wish to go anywhere and prefer to live on the borders. Who transitions and where? May be the society needs to transition?"

I think that Marco's words sum up wonderfully many of the ideas of the meeting.

This is my first post about "Divergenti 2014" - I am planning to see some of the films in this festival - I will write about them in the coming days.

***

Friday, 23 May 2014

Religions and human rights

My question was: can the countries that place their highest value on sharing of common religious beliefs, create "just societies"? My conclusion is that countries that choose specific religious beliefs to guide their national laws are inherently unjust. Injustice is part of their DNA. Let me explain why.

Geneva lakeside exhibitions, Switzerland - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Some years ago I had read an interview of American singer Maxwell, around the time when he had won a Grammy award for his album "Black Summers night". The interviewer had asked Maxwell about the influence of his heritage on his music. Maxwell, son of a Haitian mother and a Puerto Rican father, who had grown up singing in a church choir in New York, had answered, "Your heritage is your heritage, but your soul is truly what you are."

People, not just those who do not know us, but sometimes even our friends, tend to slot us into spaces on the basis of where we come from - our religion, our country of origin, our family, our education. Sometimes we also slot ourselves in those spaces, probably because it is convenient or just a habit. Sometimes we draw walls around our spaces, finding comfort in that which is familiar, and excluding the unfamiliar.

May be similar beliefs lead to creating countries only for those who share similar religions. They choose a specific religion in their constitutions. I reflected on this issue during my recent visit to Israel and Palestine.

The contradictions of Israeli state

The foundations of a Jewish state in Palestine were laid in the 19th century to escape persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia. Israel was created as a country in 1948 from what was the British colony of the "Mandatory Palestine". The holocaust under the Nazi Germany, during which millions of persons were killed, had created some international support for Jews to create their homeland. The creation of Israel had pushed communities of Palestinians living in that part of land, to the south.

Over the decades since its creation, Israel has gone through different wars, and has continued to push Palestinians in ever-decreasing pieces of lands, occupying them and controlling them.

Travelling in Israel-Palestine, it is not always easy to understand the boundaries of where one finishes and the other starts. I encountered different groups of Palestinians, each dealing with different levels of inequalities, barriers and difficulties under the Israeli occupation/control - the Arab-Israelis with Israeli passports, the Arab residents of Jerusalem, the Palestinians of West Bank and the worse affected, the Palestinians of Gaza Strip. I also talked to some persons working with Bedouins in Israel-Palestine.

I experienced some of these difficulties and humiliations that Palestinians experience when I crossed the Israeli check-points leading into Palestinian areas.

In many ways, Israel is a liberal society - groups that often face discrimination and exclusion in neighbouring countries including the women and the sexual minorities, seem to enjoy more liberties in Israel. Yet, at the same time, it is an unjust society in the way it treats Palestinians.

In the end, my conclusion was that one reason why Israel violates the dignity of every day lives of Palestinians is because it is a religious state. As long as Israel is a Jewish country, it will be unjust towards Palestinians and Bedouins, because injustice (giving preference to the Jewish people compared to persons of other religions) is part of its constitution that is guided by its fundamental idea of being a homeland for the Jews.

Example of Pakistan

I found an echo to my thoughts from an article by Kunwar K. Shahid in The Friday Times about the situation of minorities in Pakistan, another country created on the basis of religion:
It is very important for Pakistani Muslims (97 percent of the population) to differentiate themselves from Hindus. After all it’s precisely this difference that became our state’s raison d’etre in 1947. And differentiating is the first step en route to the development of hatred that eventually inflates into bigotry...
However, what needs to be understood and underscored here is that an Indian Hindu manifesting communal bigotry contradicts the ‘idea’ of India, while a Pakistani Muslim by doing so conforms to the ‘idea’ of Pakistan. Opposition to Hindus, and antagonism between Hindus and Muslims, form the founding principle of Pakistan...
Religions in the constitutions

Israel or Pakistan are not alone in having constitutions that justify and legalize discriminations - it is true for all countries that choose a specific religion to guide their laws. This is true for countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where constitutions are based on Islam. It is true for countries like Russia, Uganda, South Sudan, and some countries of Latin America, where some laws such as those related to sexuality, marriage and abortion, are strongly influenced by Christian conservatives. In Myanmar and Sri Lanka, officially there is no state religion but the state shows preference for Buddhism and discriminates against persons of other religions.

In European countries like Italy and Ireland, though they are officially secular, in practice, many laws influencing daily lives continue to be influenced by Christian religious ideas. For example, the laws regarding abortion in Ireland. However, most European countries have lot of debates and more open discussions about the role of religions in societies and thus, laws that favour one religion, can be and are increasingly questioned. Thus, Spain, which also had laws strongly influenced by Christianity, has changed many of them.

It is true that culture, religion and traditions are all interlinked. Thus, it is not easy to separate them. For example, there have been discussions in UK about the Christmas lights and celebrations, as being signs of cultural domination of Christian ideas. Similarly there have been discussions in Italy about the presence of Christian crosses and the mandatory one hour for catholic religious classes in the government schools. Recently, during a visit in Cambridge, I was struck by the close links between the different university institutions and the Christian church.

However, such open discussions and acceptance of criticisms are exceptions because usually religions do not accept debate or dissent about what they consider as their fundamental principles.

Religions in the Indian constitution

In India, on the other hand, persons can choose between civil and religious laws. Paradoxically, any calls to end the discriminations and human rights violations inherent in the religious "personal" laws in India are considered as "communal" or against the rights of the religious minorities. Recently, the electoral victory of conservatives has provoked some debates about personal versus a common civil law.

For example, in a recent article, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, asked the new prime minister to ignore "the old and hackneyed demand for a Uniform Civil Code". He justified it by the argument that has been used often in India, that having one common law for all citizens will threaten the minorities.

However, the personal laws of different religions including Hindus, Muslims and Christians, do discriminate - for example, against women or sexual minorities. In another recent article, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, looking at the concepts of "federation of communities" and "zones of individual freedoms" feels that India by focusing on "federation of communities" where group identities are given more importance (through personal laws as well as many other practices), has moved away from the founding ideas of Indian constitution.

It is true that in India, people can choose the civil law but I think that such decisions are easier for educated and better off persons while, the socially disadvantaged groups find themselves mired in "personal" laws. Apart from "not hurting the feelings of the minorities", I have yet to read convincing arguments about how different religious-based laws for different groups of persons are more respectful of the human rights and equality of people.

Changing the world

When countries decide that their first criteria of belonging is going to be their religion, they do not see the diversities in their own religions. I do not know of any religion that is not divided into sects and where persons of different sects do not think that only they are the true followers of their religion. Invariably, some sects assume power and slowly over a period of time, start persecuting their coreligionists from other sects.

When we are part of a majority or powerful group, it is difficult for us to understand what does it mean to belong to a minority group. People from the minorities, especially the conservatives, also create their own power-bases in this system. Thus, changing the constitutions of countries based on religions is never easy.

In my opinion, the U.N. declaration of human rights sums up the best ideas of different religions. I feel that in today's world, the human rights declaration should be the guiding principle of all national constitutions. This is even more important in multi-religious countries like India, where periodically, conservatives of different religions take centre-stage and dictate conditions that go against the principles of human rights and equality of the citizens.

Conclusions

I consider myself as a deeply spiritual person. Growing up and living in an increasingly multi-religious family, it is easy for me to know and respect different religions. However, I feel that our religions belong to our personal spaces. I believe that imposing the ideas of any one religion on the societies through constitutions based on sacred books like Talmud, Koran, Granth sahib, Bible, Ramayan or Manu Smriti, leads to violations of our human rights and conflicts.

Going back to Maxwell's words I also believe that our heritage is just a heritage, but our souls are truly who we are. And, we can't let our souls be fenced in by religions dogmas - at least not in our constitutions. Let religions remain personal choices.

***

The lakeside in Geneva (Switzerland) is a popular site for exhibitions on issues related to human rights. Here are some images from those exhibitions.

Geneva lakeside exhibitions, Switzerland - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Geneva lakeside exhibitions, Switzerland - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Geneva lakeside exhibitions, Switzerland - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Geneva lakeside exhibitions, Switzerland - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Geneva lakeside exhibitions, Switzerland - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Geneva lakeside exhibitions, Switzerland - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Geneva lakeside exhibitions, Switzerland - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014
***

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Buddham sharnam gachchami - A Buddhist Journey

Recently, during a journey in Israel and Palestine, I was reading John Power's book "A bull of a man: images of masculinity, sex and the body in Indian Buddhism". It made me reflect about Buddhism and other Eastern religions. The idea of writing this photo-essay with images from different countries linked to Buddhism, came while I was reading it.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The title of this post, "Buddham sharnam gachchami" refers to a Buddhist prayer and it means, "We refuge in Buddha".

The above image of a monk is from Ulangom in Uvs province of Mongolia. I love the strong red background of this image.

In this photo-essay, I have organised the images according to countries and let me start with India, where I had my first contacts with Buddhism when I was a child.

India

My first memories of Buddhism are linked to Boddh Vihaar on the banks of Yamuna river in Delhi. My aunt used to live on Ram Kishore road next to I.P. college in the early 1960s. During holidays at her house, we sometimes walked to the river across the Grand Trunk road. In my memories, at that time it was a small road with little traffic. Across the road was a sandy expanse leading to the river.

Boddh Vihar (literally "house of Buddhists") was a small unpretentious building at that time.

During late 1970s, when I was doing internship at Safdarjung hospital, with my friends, we often took the Mudrika bus to go to the Tibetan shacks that had come up next to the Boddh Vihaar, to eat steaming bowls of noodles.

I went back to that place a couple of years ago. It has changed completely with big roads, busy traffic, new inter-state bus terminal and buildings. The river seems far away and hidden behind the buildings. The next image of Buddha is from the Boddh Vihaar, that also has a new and bigger building now.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The next image is of Garuda, the giant bird from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The spread of Hinduism and Buddhism in east Asia had taken Garuda to other countries. It is also the name of Indonesia's national airlines. It is usually depicted with blue horns and a humanoid body. The most famous Garuda in mythology is called Jatayu in Ramayana, who tries to stop Ravan, the demon king, from kidnapping of Sita.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Another childhood memory linked to Buddhism is from Birla temple in Delhi. My school was next door to the temple and during lunch break, often we took our lunch to the temple. One of my favourite places there for eating lunch was under the elephant statue near the Buddha shrine.

Foreign tourists often stopped to take our pictures while we ate. Sometimes, women sat near us under the elephant to get their pictures taken. I wonder if our pictures were used as examples of "those poor malnourished Indian kids"!

Often I wandered inside the Buddhist shrine to look at Buddha's life story painted on its wall. The elephant in the dream of queen Maya and prince Siddharth's encounter with the sickness, old age and death, had deep impact on me.

Recently, I was back in Birla temple to revisit those childhood memories and was shocked by the locked gate that separated the rest of the temple from the Buddha shrine. To visit the shrine, you have to come out of the temple. The wall paintings were dark and worn while the tiny golden Buddha of the shrine was closed behind a grimy glass wall. I came back saddened by this visit and so I am not presenting any image from that shrine.

Instead the next two images of Buddha are from the Cottage Industries emporium and the new airport in Delhi.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Mongolia

I had some of my more profound encounters with Buddhism in Mongolia. During one of my first visits in Mongolia in early 1990s, I remember the Gandan monastery in Ulaan Baatar as a forgotten place reduced to ruins. Mongolia had just come out of the communist rule and India had sent a Buddhist monk as its ambassador to Mongolia.

During a more recent visit, I found the place completely changed with a restored giant Buddha statue with striking blue eyes, and the courtyard full of Buddhist monks and colourful stupas. The next two images are from that visit to Gandan.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

However, my most beautiful encounter with Buddhism in Mongolia was in Ulangom in the north-western aimag (province) of Uvs. A delegate of Dalai Lama had arrived and a meeting with Buddhist monks and general public was organised. The next two images are from Ulangom.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Thailand

Between 2007 to 2009 I visited Thailand a few times. These were opportunities to visit the numerous Buddhist temples and shrines in Bangkok. The next three images are from those visits.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

The next image is from a shop selling Buddhist and Hindu statues in Bangkok. In Thailand, icons from these two religions are sometimes found side-by-side. I love this image because it seems to be telling a tale about the increasing pollution of our cities, so that even Buddha is forced to cover himself to avoid breathing those noxious fumes.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

I also visited the ancient city of Ayutthaya once and loved its ancient temples with their evocative ruins. The next image is from this visit.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Vietnam

Like Mongolia, in the 1990s Vietnam had also come out of communist rule that had discouraged the role of religions in the society. Thus, there are not many ancient Buddhist places to visit, though some of them have been restored over the past 2 decades. Stupas in Vietnam, like the one from the ancient city of Hue in the image below, seem very different from the Mongolian stupas. Buddhism in Vietnam also has frequent references to to the phoenix, which I have not seen else where.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

One of the ancient Buddhist temples in Vietnam, Ninh Phuc pagoda near Hanoi, has also been restored and peopled with monks. The next four images are from this pagoda.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

I had also visited Buddhist temples in India, Nepal and China, but these visits were before I had found my passion for photography. So they are not represented in this photo-essay.

Italy

The last and the only non-Asian country in this photo-essay is Italy, with a Thangka exhibition in Bologna, showing Boddhisattva tales.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

A Bull of a Man

John Power's book "A bull of a man: images of masculinity, sex and the body in Indian Buddhism", is about male gender role in Indian Buddhist writings and art.

"Gender" is about defining and building of male and female roles and norms by the society and the culture. Usually gender studies have focused on female roles and norms, and there is hardly any works on male roles and norms in Asia. Thus, Power's book is unusual in that sense. Here is a glimpse of the kind of issues the book touches on:
"In contemporary Western popular culture, the Buddha is commonly portrayed as an androgynous, asexual character, often in a seated meditation posture and wearing a beatific smile... Buddhist monks, such as the Dalai Lama, have also become images of normative Buddhism, which is assumed to valorize celibacy and is often portrayed as rejecting gender categories... In Indian Buddhist literature, however, a very different version of the Buddha and his monastic followers appears: the Buddha is described as the paragon of masculinity, the “ultimate man” (purusottama), and is referred to by a range of epithets that extol his manly qualities, his extraordinarily beautiful body, his superhuman virility and physical strength, his skill in martial arts, and the effect he has on women who see him..."
Reading the book made me think about my own attitudes to spirituality and sexuality. Even if I do accept the role played by sexuality in ancient India, as demonstrated by books like Kamasutra or temples of Khujraho and Konark, I think that my feelings about spirituality are dominated by ideas of celibacy and renunciation of worldly pleasures. Thus, reading about sexuality and Buddha made me feel vaguely uneasy.

Power touches on the reasons of this unease in his book:
"Why has the supremely masculine Buddha depicted in the Pali canon and other Indic literature been eclipsed by the androgynous figure of modern imagination and the ascetic meditation master and philosopher of scholars? Part of the reason probably lies in the backgrounds of contemporary interpreters of Buddhism and the blind spots that every culture bequeaths to its inhabitants...
... most modern scholars of Buddhism were born and raised in societies in which Judeo-Christian traditions predominate, and even those who are not overtly religious have been influenced by them. The great founders of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions — Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad — are not, as far as I am aware, portrayed as paragons of masculinity, as exceptionally beautiful, as endowed with superhuman strength, or as masters of martial arts..
If one compares the way the Buddha is portrayed in Indian literature with descriptions of Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad, a number of striking differences appear. Abraham and Muhammad were chosen as prophets by God, but their exalted status was not a recognition of their spiritual attainments over many lifetimes, as with the Buddha; rather, Abraham and Muhammad were chosen because they were chosen. God designates some as his messengers and then provides them with missions, but a buddha becomes a buddha by consciously pursuing a path leading to liberation and cultivating a multitude of good qualities over countless incarnations in a personal discovery of truth..."
The question in my mind is, have we in India (and other countries) become estranged from our own traditional ways of thinking, which accepted human sexuality as part of life and of spirituality? Are we influenced by dominating Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions of the Western academics? Is that why recently there was so much rage against the sexual imagery in Wendy Donninger's The Hindus?

The figures of Buddha, Boddhisattvas and Jataka stories touch unabashedly and lustfully on sexuality in Power's analysis. I found the book very refreshing and thought provoking.

Let me conclude this photo-essay with another of my favourite pictures. I found this statue of meditating Buddha draped in yellow silk in Ayutthaya (Thailand) absolutely amazing for its colours and feelings of serenity.

A Buddhist journey - images by Sunil Deepak, 2014

Usually my photo-essays are about images. This one is a little unusual because the written part is as important as the images. I hope that it will make you think!

***

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The mountain of God - Ramallah

Palestine is divided in two parts - "West Bank" bordering Jordan and the Dead sea and "Gaza Strip" facing the Mediterranean sea. In the West Bank, Ramallah is probably the most important Palestinian city. Recently I had an opportunity to spend a couple of days in Ramallah. This is a photo-essay about Ramallah, literally the "Mountain of God".

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Introduction

Before going to Ramallah, I had only heard about the city when they talked on the TV about some event in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, the images of Ramallah in my mind were of boys waving flags or people shouting slogans behind the funerals of persons killed by Israeli shootings.

Therefore, I was not prepared to see Ramallah as a beautiful city with beautiful houses as you can see in the picture below with an overview of the city.


Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

I did not visit the old city. However, even in the new part of Ramallah, the central part is relatively old, and is like any other Arab city with lively streets, people buying and selling things, persons selling and eating snacks and people sitting with friends and gossiping.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Over the past few years, Ramallah has expanded for many kilometres beyond the city centre with new buildings, new residential areas and new commercial spaces gleaming with steel and glass like the Ramallah towers and the Ramallah Trade Centre in the images below.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

In the city centre, there are two main squares - Manara square and the clock square. Manara (lion) square has a central round-about with statues of 4 lions and a central pillar.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

The clock square was called so because it had a clock in the centre. This was replaced some time ago by a new monument which has a man climbing towards the Palestinian flag and symbolizes the Palestinian struggle for nationhood. This square is now called Yasser Arafat square.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

The image below presents the Palestinian Parliament building. In 2006, after Hamas had won the elections, there were disagreements between Hamas and Fateh. Since then, West Bank is under Palestinian authority (Fateh) while Gaza is under Hamas. Thus, at present, Parliament building is not being used. Recently, Hamas and Fateh had a meeting in Gaza during which they have signed an agreement for holding the elections within 6 months. Hopefully, the Parliament building in Ramallah will become active once again.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

The Palestinian love for colours is seen in the wall paintings.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

However, the modern buildings can also present wonderful views through reflections in the glass walls.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

I saw some political graffiti on the high walls built by Israel near the Qalandiya check-point that controls the passage between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Yasser Arafat continues to be remembered as the national icon by the Palestinians. The mausoleum with his tomb is situated just behind the presidential palace.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Ramallah is full of roads going up and down the hills. Sometimes, there are stairs connecting roads at different levels.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

To conclude this photo-essay, here is an image of the mosque at the Arafat mausoleum.

Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine

Conclusions

Before going there, I had only seen images of Ramallah with conservative Muslims and angry youth. Due to those images, I was a little afraid of going there. Thus visiting Ramallah was a surprise.

Recently, I had read an article by an Indian journalist called Zahir Janmohamed where he had talked about how journalists can perpetuate the stereotypes about persons and places, and justify it by saying that public wishes to read only that kind of information. While visiting Ramallah, I could understand the point made by Zahir.

Ramallah is a vibrant, living place with real persons who have complex lives. Presenting them exclusively in terms of Israel-Palestinian conflict or in terms of conservative Islam, reduces them to uni-dimensional stereotypes. I hope that this photo-essay gives you another view about life in Ramallah.

One of my most beautiful memory of the stay in Ramallah is about listening to the early morning azaan by the muezzin, who had a wonderful voice. I wish I could have recorded that call, but it was not loud enough for recording. As I lay in the bed, I could feel the waves of that sound surround me and touch my heart!

***
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