BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Paradox of Our Age

I saw this while walking the streets of Frankfurt one sunny morning of June. This, indeed, is the paradox of our age.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Essential Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux

1. Leave home

2. Go alone

3. Travel light

4. Bring a map

5. Go by land

6. Walk across a national frontier

7. Keep a journal

8. Read a novel that has no relation to the place you're in

9. If you must bring a cell phone, avoid using it

10. Make a friend

Photos by me and Jes Aznar taken in Germany, Portugal, Palawan, Quezon City

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Life in this Shack

            At home in my universe. Photo by Jes Aznar

Inspired by the series in this fascinating blog, Reading My Tea Leaves, I'd like to share with my invisible readers the wonders of living in this tiny shack I call home. It's a small single-detached place that has been my abode for three years now.

It's so small, it could probably be a treehouse. Ideally, it's just for one person but there's a whole bunch of us who live here. It's noisy, messy and motley. There's lots of toys, songs and music. The clothes, the leather bags, the high-heeled shoes, I've managed to fit in but the love does not. Yeah, with love, we all spill over. We break at the seams.

Welcome to this tiny space, a kingdom I can call my own. It's far from perfect but here, there are countless perfect mornings and evenings.  Lunch and dinners. And everything in between.

This rented shack is lease to me so dirt cheap (which isn't really surprising). Upon entry, there's the kitchen. No, let me correct that -- a cooking area is more apt. And the smallest space to dine in. I managed to squeeze in a fridge, the smallest I've found years ago when I was shopping for home appliances. And a table for two.

Let's get to the bedroom. There's only one room and depending on your tolerance, the room can fit a dozen but that would be tantamount to being in a gas chamber. I did away with the bed. Just comfortable mattresses and clean sheets.

There's no phone and because I believe in no-TV parenting, there's no cable for the television as well.

There's a loft and -- surprise, surprise -- a small balcony upstairs where I take my morning coffee, and when the mood allows it, paint on a canvas.

Sounds good? Perhaps. But it really is tiny. How do we survive? These tips and lots of love and laughter.


This not to say our house is clutter-free. It's not. Upstairs, there are toys all over. On the staircase, there's everything from photographs to glitters to worn-out socks. But I try to make it a point to always remove the excess baggage whenever there's a chance. Everything goes away. I rarely keep stuff.


The famed Madurodam in Netherlands is a miniature city. That's how our pieces of furniture are. Okay,  that's a bit of an exaggeration but just to drive the point home. I settle only for small, space-saving appliances and furniture.


The coffee-maker, next to the airconditioning unit and the fridge, is the most expensive item in the house. But hey isn't sanity priceless?

    Royal Coffee from Sulu about to brew. Photo by Jes Aznar.


Seriously. A cellar doesn't need a huge space. It can be mounted on one small wall. It's worth the additional effort. If you're a wine drinker, that is.

    This is the cellar. Yes it is. The wooden shelf is handmade by Des Ferriols. Photo by me.


Being in a small space doesn't mean one has to live miserably. As the cliche goes, home is really where the heart is. Cheesy but true. My daughter has never complained of our tiny apartment. I have always impressed upon her that it's not the physical space that's important but our togetherness.

                                     This is the dining and cooking area. Photo by me.

                                     The stairs that lead to the loft. Photo by me.

    This is the bathroom, which is also the laundry area. This is me washing clothes. (I don't believe in washing machines)        
     Photo by Jes Aznar.

     Sometimes, I cook. Photo by me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Slavery Still Widespread in Mauritania

My latest blog on The New Internationalist:

In the small dessert country of Mauritania in Africa, under the scorching sun, slavery still exists. But so does Brahim Bilal Ebeid, a social activist who is vice-president of the anti-slavery group, Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement.

At a seminar on human rights and education in June, Ebeid talked about the reality that still grips parts of Africa.

‘This is not the modern blue-collar slavery. It’s real slavery as we know it,’ he says at the talk held on the sidelines of the 2012 Global Media Forum held in Bonn, Germany.

He talks about his country where a significant portion of the population still live as secret slaves, of people being owned by ‘masters.’ Some people are born slaves, having been born to mothers who are slaves, he says.

As his words echo around the room, so do the gasps of the audience who are unable to conceal their disbelief.

The reality is indeed stark. Some masters rape their slaves and brutally beat them but for lack of gainful opportunities elsewhere, or because they do not know any other life, some slaves end up going back to their masters.

Ebeid and his group have been consistently fighting for the abolition of slavery in Mauritania. Himself a descendant of slaves, he has been jailed in the past because of his struggle to abolish slavery in his country.

The small African country is a conservative society where the Moors ruled and enslaved the black African ethnic group known as the Haratine. Officially, Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981, making it punishable with six years imprisonment. But the practice still exists.

Ebeid tells the forum of international participants that Mauritania needs all the help it can get and that there are times when even the media is no safe recourse for Mauritania's slaves.

What is published, he says, is only what the authorities say. And this sometimes is far from the reality.

‘The authorities deny it but search and you will find the truth,’ he urges the media.

As Ebeid ends his jaw-dropping story, the audience is silent, trying to process it all.

I approach him and wish him good luck. He smiles and says he needs all the luck he can get. He doesn’t know what the authorities will do to him when he gets home.

‘Will you be arrested?’ I ask.

‘For telling the truth, maybe,’ he says.

But Ebeid’s courage does not waver. He says he will keep on talking about slavery in Mauritania until the whole world knows about it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Notes from Documenta (13)

KASSEL, Germany – The scorching sun is relentless while a gentle, icy breeze blows in this quiet city in Central Germany one Thursday afternoon of June. The weather offers a possible metaphor -- albeit incomplete -- for Documenta 13’s jab on the senses.

The latest version of this international exhibition of mostly contemporary art held every four or five years, is spread throughout the city of Kassel – from public parks, theaters and museums, chaotic train stations to places long forgotten – lending significance to each of the spaces and at the same time offering an exploration to other dimensions and perspectives that exist somewhere between time and these platforms. 

The exhibition’s Artistic Director Carolyn Christove-Bakargiev says in her statement that Documenta 13 is dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment and active living in connection with, yet not subordinated to, theory. 

“Documenta 13 is driven by a holistic and non-logocentric vision that is skeptical of the persisting belief in economic growth. This vision is shared with, and recognizes, the shapes and practices of knowing of all the animate and inanimate makers of the world, including people,” she says. 

The exhibition does not disappoint. It is complicated to say the least but how could it not be? Any real attempt to make sense of what is and what is not is bound to extend beyond what can be defined. 

And the impact is anatomical as it is physical. Metaphysical, too. The exhibition is serious and overwhelming, free from artistic pretentions and ignorance. 

Yet, the journey throughout the exhibition is uniquely one’s own. 

I paused for a while on the short stretch of photographs by Lee Miller. The self-portrait of her taking a bath in Hitler’s tub in his apartment in Munich – supposedly taken just hours apart Hitler’s death in Berlin -- gave me a lesson in history and left an imprint in my inner mind’s eye of life over death. 

Jes searched the exhibition map for 117, Man Ray’s photographs. 

At the elegant, ivory-colored Fridericianum Museum, the most vivid expressions (and celebrations) of the strongest human emotions possible are captured in the different rooms and dimly lit hallways. 

I heard screams from possibly a child sexual abuse victim reverberating in a room not far from another one filled with scientific masterpieces of quantum physicist Anton Zeilinger. The juxtaposition is perhaps a fitting allegory to the long established notion that science, however fascinating it may be, cannot possibly explain everything. 

There is a wall with paintings of apples and another with draperies that tell stories.

In a dark room at the Kassel central train station, a man tells the story of that fleeting moment of eternity – from one’s life to one’s own death. 

The artist is Rabih Mrou√© and in his recorded lecture, The Pixelated Revolution, he shows acts of violence recorded by civilians in the Syrian Revolution. 

In Double Shoot, he tells the story of a civilian who captures with his mobile phone camera the exact moment when a gun is fired at him. 

“We cannot grasp the moment of death with our naked eye, even if we manage to steady our gaze and keep our eyes peeled at all times, without blinking,” he says. 

Documenta 13 – from the glimpse I had of it – to me, is all about making sense of things nonsense and otherwise; sensual and enigmatic; of the mysterious and the miserable; of the shadows and the blinding lights. It is at times funny, too. And cathartic. 

It poses questions and offers answers and as it should be, leaves more questions unanswered. 

But most of all, it is disturbing, as disturbing perhaps as the artists intended it to be. 

I am tempted to think that the curator has one foot out there, somewhere between the planes. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

To Berlin and Back

One of the greatest rewards of travel is the return home to the reassurance of family and old friends, familiar sights and homely comforts and your own bed - Paul Theroux

The Laughing Lizard -- one glass to put me to sleep amid my jet lagged state -- tells me I'm home. And so does the familiar smell of the faded sheets that cover my bed, more comfortable than any duvet in a foreign land or the luxury I enjoyed in Business Class. I am home on a moon-lit night, to a quiet evening of sweet silence. There is nothing but the rhythmic sound of rain tapping the rusty roof of the rented shack I live in.

I am home after a week-long journey with Jes. The ride started in Frankfurt and ended in Berlin. And in between the two cities, there were lots of photographs and words, fights and laughter, warmth and cold. Good food, too. Steaks, salads, bread, chocolates, the finest brie and blue-cheese and a variety of ice-cold German beer which we drank up to the very last drop, represented by the very last euro we had in our possession.

There was a lot to take in, starting from the wildness of Frankfurt, a portrait of 'the morning after'; the intellectual possibilities offered by the conference in Bonn; the breathtaking view of the sunset cruise on the scenic Rhine River; the terrains of art and imagination in Documenta 13 in Kassel; Salvador Dali's surrealism to the historic barbed wired past of Berlin's Brandenburger Tor which Jes and I searched for hours just walking the city's cobbled stone streets.

In the end, the reward is bringing home the best of times, the most memorable of the many journeys. It is, at best, yet another stop in between the heart of an enigmatic young boy and a paradise of a beach called Puka.

Photos by me. Photos of me, by Jes. 

Can you teach people peace?

My latest blog on The New Internationalist:

BONN, Germany - Can you teach people peace? Is peace education indispensable or merely an illusion?

These are two questions posed by conflict zone workers and peacemakers in one of the many workshops conducted as part of the 2012 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, an international congress of journalists, bloggers and media educators here in Bonn, Germany, from 25-27 June.

I was eager to hear their answers, given the importance of peace in a world where nations are fighting each other, where children are caught in the cross-fire and where, according to the latest figures released by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), there are 27.5 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as of 2010.

During the panel discussion, experts were united in saying that teaching peace is not only possible, but essential.  I was particularly moved by the words of Lucy Nusseibeh, a peacemaker in Palestine. 

‘It is possible and it is of utmost importance – and far more important during conflict because of the element of dehumanization,’ she said.  She shared the story of how in Palestine, children as young as three years old already feel negatively toward Israeli children. 

As such, Nusseibeh said things have to begin at home. ‘People have to start with themselves. There must be shifts in mindset,’ she explained.  Parents, she said, can help create a more peaceful future by teaching their children peace while they are still young. 

The Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), a global civil society-led network that seeks to prevent violent conflict, organized the forum, hoping to raise awareness on the importance of peace education. 

Toward this goal, another peace expert said that the media plays an important role. 

Conflict resolution expert Vasu Gounden, Founder and Executive Director of the African Centre for the Construction Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) said the media could help contribute significantly to peace education: ‘Media is so powerful.’ 

He cautioned media practitioners to be careful with the images they create or portray.  He noted, for instance, that if the media labels a person or a group of people ‘hijackers’ or ‘suicide bombers’, this is very difficult to get away from this label. 

‘We create these images and they cannot be undone,’ he said.

But while teaching peace is possible, Palestine peacemaker Nusseibeh recognized that in wounded societies, it is easier said than done.  She said one possible solution was to recognize the problem, to recognize the wounds and the source of hate, and to teach tolerance and peace to the people, no matter how difficult this may be. 

‘It’s very easy to hate people. Everyone is both good and bad… people have to be more tolerant,’ she said. 

It is not easy to teach peace. Yet it is possible. It is always possible. One can start at home. Enough hate, perhaps. Enough resentment. And hopefully, there will no more injustice too. 

I emerged from the forum hopeful that someday, world peace won’t simply be a clich√© dished out by beauty queen hopefuls in the yearly Miss Universe pageants.

Illustration: Olga Lednichenko under a CC Licence  (as published by The New Internationalist)