Journeys to the Edge photography exhibit in Haida Gwaii

Haida-Gwaii.totem.PolesThis spring, Journeys to the Edge co-founder Tallulah travelled to Haida Gwaii in northern British Columbia to mount a photography exhibit. The event showcased photos from around the world that Tallulah has captured in her reporting travels with Roberta Staley to places like Haiti, Colombia, Soweto and Afghanistan.

The trip to Haida Gwaii was undertaken in large part to connect people living in areas like Haida Gwaii — where isolation can preclude access to artistic endeavours, shows and exhibits — with those from areas few have access to, such as Haiti or Afghanistan. As well, the trip was the chance for Tallulah to discover new individuals to photograph to include in her remarkable World People Project photography initiative.

The Haida Gwaii Observer did a write-up on Tallulah, Journeys to the Edge and the World People Project in early March, and we have included it here: Haida Gwaii Observer interviews Tallulah.






Glasgow Has An Art Attack


An environmental sculpture in Glasgow.

I spent this past summer in my birthplace of Scotland, photographing the people and places of that spectacular country — a nation that has blessed the rest of the world with whisky, tartan, the philosophy of Adam Smith and David Hume and the literary works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.K. Rowling.
I spent much of my time in Glasgow, which is home to a vibrant art scene,  capturing images of this historical city, which is undergoing a cultural renaissance. I took photographs not only for my personal website, the World People Project, but captured images for a special photo essay for Montecristo, one of Canada’s must beautiful cultural magazines. Check it out: Glasgow’s Art Scene – Creation Centre.


The Glasgow School of Art’s new building.

Coming up in a month, Journeys to the Edge co-founder Roberta Staley will also have a feature in Montecristo, about the dangers facing the iconic resident orca whales due to increasing shipping tankers in our Pacific coastal waters.


Glasgow City Centre.


Amazon Healer in Colombia


Baribú Geraga ‘Gustavo’ Mejia Makuna


This story ran recently in the travel writing blog Day Trips Travel Guide. It has a slightly unusual opening (me being incredibly ill), which nonetheless was the perfect jumping off point for a remarkable experience: being healed by shaman Baribu Geraga ‘Gustavo’ Mejia Makuna, pictured above. Gustavo and his family live in the Amazon, and we reached him after a long hike through the jungle outside Leticia, a border town at the southernmost tip of Colombia….

After years spent travelling to some of the more grim areas of the world without getting sick, the Patron Saint of Safe Travel, Saint Christopher, seemingly abandoned me. Here I was in a little hotel in Bogotá in Colombia, puking my guts out for the fourth day in a row.

In between throwing up, I stuffed my worn backpack with notepads, pens and camera for a trip into the Amazon to visit several indigenous groups. Was it possible to survive a trek through a steamy jungle while so ill? I was almost too weak to care.

The flight from Bogotá to Leticia on Colombia’s southernmost tip, booking into a hotel and meeting my guide and translator were all conducted in a haze of wretchedness. The guide, Elias Cuao, shook his head at my condition. The next morning I threw up again (for good luck?), squeezed into a dented yellow taxi and set out for the jungle, taking the two-lane highway out of Leticia to its end. Literally. The cab fled, leaving us staring at an oppressive wall of Amazon green.

I managed to keep up with Cuao, following him over a dozen bridges of felled narrow tree boughs, cut by the indigenous inhabitants of the forest, that provide a pathway through the Amazon’s circulatory system of streams and torpid rivers. Birds shrieked and squawked. Pendulous oropendola nests hung from tree boughs. Fluorescent blue butterflies the size of my hand flitted about within arm’s reach. About 45 minutes later, Cuao hooted: “Makuna! Makuuunnnaaa!” laughing as the words echoed through the canopy of branches. We had reached our first destination — an enormous one-room cabaña with a wall of vertical wooden planks and a steep roof made of grey-weathered interlacing palm fronds. Cuao was alerting Baribú Geraga ‘Gustavo’ Mejia Makuna, the group’s political leader (payé) and medicine man (kuraca), of our arrival. Gustavo, a 59-year-old man with a naked expanse of brown belly and genial expression, gave Cuao a bear hug then beckoned us into the “Big House.” We were directed to several rough-hewn log benches that were grouped around a tree-stump table. Cuao and Gustavo, as he liked to be called, shared a sacred ritual: stuffing enormous wads of pale green, finely ground coca leaves — the basis of cocaine — into their cheeks.

I flipped open my notepad and Gustavo began a singsong recitation, describing the spiritual and symbolic importance of plants like coca and tobacco and the gods associated with these plants. Then, for some reason — was I swooning? — Cuao stopped Gustavo and explained how sick I was, using the universal hand gesture for retching, much to my embarrassment. Gustavo spoke to Cuao who turned to me and said, “He will make you better.” Continue reading

Protestors demand international community ramp up efforts to rescue Nigerian schoolgirls


“Please—rise up and take action now!” cried Comfort Ero, utilizing a megaphone at a May 10 rally in Vancouver to demand that Nigeria and the international community bolster their efforts to rescue hundreds of kidnapped schoolgirls.

“Bring back our traumatized girls and ease the pain and shock of their parents!” continued Eros, president of the Nigeria-Canada Development Association of British Columbia, whose members turned out en masse at a Bring Back Our Girls rally to sing protest songs and pound traditional African drums at Robson Square in the city’s downtown. Another rally is planned for tomorrow morning (May 13) on Vancouver’s Burrard Street Bridge.

On April 14, 276 students were abducted in a midnight raid of a girls’ school in Chibok in Nigeria’s northern state of Borno. Many of the pupils had travelled there to take final exams. The abductors were members of Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin.” Initially, the group said it would sell the girls in the marketplace. However, a new video released May 12 showed about 130 of the students, seemingly unharmed, while Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau demanded the release of imprisoned insurgents in exchange for the girls’ freedom. The Nigerian government has been criticized for its ineffectual response to the schoolgirls’ kidnapping.

The 14-year-old terrorist group, bent on creating an Islamic state under Sharia law, began insurgent attacks in 2009. It has terrorized the Sahel region, killing 1,500 people, including school kids and police, and targeted UN headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. Nigerian-Canadian education consultant Joshua Afuye, who was at the May 10 rally, is worried about Boko Haram’s militarism and believes that the group is linked to terrorist organizations, reportedly al-Qaeda. “It’s an international network,” Afuye said. “They are getting international support.”

Such malicious terrorism requires a coordinated pushback. To this end, a strategy to find and rescue the girls is being undertaken by Cameroon, Niger Republic, the United States, Chad, France, Canada and the United Kingdom. (Canada has offered surveillance equipment to help in the search.) Ero said that, unless the terrorists are stopped, parents will cease sending their girls to school. This would a tragedy for the country, she said. “Nigerians have a saying, ‘If you educate a woman, you are educating the whole nation.’ ”

Burnaby’s Bryne Creek Secondary student Merve, a Turkish immigrant, called the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls “a horrendous act. These girls belong in school and they aren’t for sale.” Her schoolmate Yasmine, a Jordanian-Canadian, added that the kidnapping is a “major blow for the progress of women.”
Nigerian-born Priye Iworima, who came to Canada in 2004 when she was 16, is fearful for the schoolgirls’ safety but refuses to give up hope. “At least there is action now.” But there must be no more delays, Iworima said. “Their lives are at stake. The action needs to be immediate.”

Return to Afghanistan inspires hope — and warning

Mellissa Fung

How does one pass the time while a chained captive in a dusty hole in Afghanistan? Journalist Mellissa Fung, who was on assignment in 2008 with CBC News when she was kidnapped while exiting a refugee camp, prayed—a lot. She also smoked—12 cigarettes a day, carefully meted out over a 24-hour period: half a cigarette at the top of the hour, the other half at the bottom of the hour. Fung also contemplated the lives of the many refugees and orphans she had met—children like Eid with the pink headscarf, who wailed with grief when she was forcibly separated from Fung. Even held captive, with her life hanging in the balance, Fung realized she was better off than many of the refugees she had encountered.

Fung’s captivity ended 28 days later when Afghan intelligence secured a prisoner swap. Afghanistan and its people, however, haunted Fung upon her return to Canada, and her book, Under an Afghan Sky: A Memoir of Captivity, was written in part to try to reconcile with the ordeal.

Fung spoke about her harrowing odyssey to a crowd of more than 200 on April 29 at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver. The event—organized by Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan—showcased Fung’s 15-minute documentary, “Return to Afghanistan,” which aired on CBC’s The National this past December. “A lot of people thought I was crazy to go back,” says Fung. However, dismayed at the negative coverage about Afghanistan dominating the Western media, Fung wanted to return to tell “good stories” about the country. Fung pointed to the remarkable statistics: more than 10 million children in school, with more than 40 percent of these girls, in comparison to rampant illiteracy under Taliban rule.

Fung related other stories about the people of Afghanistan, remarking upon one orphan Afghan boy whose face was severely disfigured by burns. At one time, such a boy would have been an ideal target for Taliban recruiters, but he was determined to focus upon getting an education. If educational opportunities had been available to her captors, Fung said, perhaps they “wouldn’t have been doing what they were doing.”

Education has become a powerful tool to improve the standard of living for Afghan families. NGOs like Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan have implemented literacy and teacher-training programs that have significantly helped the Central Asia nation recover from a protracted civil war. However, said Fung, Afghanistan still needs support from Western nations to ensure that the tremendous gains that have been made aren’t lost, due to a still-precarious economy and security concerns about Taliban insurgency.



Afghan-Canadians Condemn the Taliban and Celebrate their Nation’s Election

7571Leila, a Langara College student, attended the anti-Taliban rally in Vancouver.

More than 75 Afghan-Canadians gathered in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery on April 6 to condemn Taliban terrorists who—despite threats of violence—were unable to derail Afghanistan’s historic national election, held April 5. “I felt like a kid on Christmas day,” said 22-year-old Hamid, one of Afghanistan’s diaspora who watched the elections on television with his mother. “It’s very, very cool.”
Small children sat on the grey, stone steps of the Vancouver gallery, holding signs directed at the Taliban such as, “Enough! Stop Killing!” while their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers listened to members of Vancouver’s Afghan community condemn Taliban insurgencies.
In the run-up to the election, the Taliban stepped up its attacks in Afghanistan, targeting such landmarks as La Taverna du Liban, a famous Lebanese restaurant in the capital of Kabul. Two Canadians died in the attack that killed more than 20 people. Days before the April 5 election, another attack wounded Canadian AP journalist Kathy Gannon and left Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus dead. North Vancouver optometrist Roshan Thomas, who created the Sparks Academy in Afghanistan for girls and boys, was also killed, along with Calgary nurse Zeenab Kassam, in an earlier Taliban attack at Kubul’s luxury Serena Hotel.
“The recent killings were a shock to the world,” Afghan-Canadian Mustafa Delsoz told the Vancouver crowd. “We show solidarity with those who have passed away.”
Lauryn Oates, the projects director for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, which has established schools, teacher-training and gender equality programs in the Central Asian nation, also spoke at the rally. The Taliban’s sole “goal is the surplus of violence. They are against modernity, civilization and human rights,” Oates said.
Oates declared the April 5 election “a triumph that is unparalleled.” Twelve million Afghans were eligible to vote, and the turn out was estimated at about 60 percent—double the number who voted in the last national election. Many millions of women cast their ballot, a momentous step forward in a nation where fundamentalist Islamic edicts set forth by the Taliban during their 1996-2001 reign stripped women of any rights. Mr. Parwani, who organized the anti-Taliban protest, added that the increase in women voters communicated a definitive “ ‘no’ to terrorism.”
Leila, a 26-year-old Afghan-Canadian nursing student, was thrilled by the elections. “It’s so exciting, I wish I was there to be a part of it.”
Pundits are saying that a clear winner will be unlikely to emerge from the April 5 elections, thus requiring a runoff election in the near future.
DSC_7584Children in Afghanistan are often the victims of Taliban violence, a tragic legacy that Afghan-Canadian youngsters are acutely aware of.
27634Lauryn Oates, projects director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, says that, for the Taliban, violence is an end in itself.
7619The Taliban are especially brutal towards Afghan women.
DSC_7563Afghan-Canadian children participated in the April 6 rally to protest widespread Taliban violence.
7603Sabit Mirzad (left) and Wali Sarwari are Afghan-Candadian students who have high hopes for Afghanistan’s future following the success of the democratic national elections April 5.