Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Friday, March 06, 2015

Afghanistan’s first female taxi driver

Afghanistan’s first female taxi driver a disgust to male passengers 

Sara Bahai, 40, grew up in a world where women were not allowed the freedom to go to school, work, have a career or dream. But since the fall of the Taliban, she’s been working as a taxi driver in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Sara Bahai, 40, says the idea that a woman driving a cab is sacrilege is 'ludicrous.'Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
Afghanistan's first female taxi driver is a hero to other women in her city, while men who jump into her cab are disgusted.
Sara Bahai, 40, has been a taxi driver on the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif, the fourth largest city in Afghanistan, for 10 years since the fall of the Taliban.
She grew up in a world where women were not allowed the freedom to go to school, work, have a career or dream.
But Sara always believed there was an independent life for her to live.
As soon as the opportunity came for her to do a professional driving course she signed up, passed and bought herself a car. Now, she is earning £5 a day driving members of the public around her bustling city.
And in a country where the first democratic presidential elections are currently being counted, Sara is excited about a new positive future for herself and other Afghan women.
Amazingly, Sara Bahai is the first female cabbie in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
Sara said: 'When women get into my car and see a woman driver they start smiling and giggling, they say they're very proud of me. I think they're glad at least one woman is living an independent life. In my taxi, they talk freely. They feel comfortable and talk about families, husbands and crack jokes.'
But not all Sara's customers are as accepting.
'My male customers are never happy with me. They believe it's very un-Islamic for a woman to drive - they still have very primitive thinking. They accuse me of setting a bad example for women and nasty things come out of their mouths. But I do not get depressed; I tell them exactly what I think. A woman driving a car is not nonreligious and their opinions are ludicrous.'
Sara has very dark memories of her childhood. She recalls many tears and heartache from the years of war and persecution and her father was killed in action 36 years ago.
Growing up, it was easier for Sara to live as a boy and act as a tomboy because it was so difficult being a female in a Taliban run country.
The cabbie doesn't get angry with her disgusted male customers; she just tells them what she thinks.Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
'As a kid I was a real tomboy. I used to wear boy's clothes. No one could tell I was a girl. But my parents were very supportive of my personality and gave me the freedom to live my life as I wanted. And in a very conservative Afghanistan I was very lucky to have parents like that.'
Sara never had any interest in dolls growing up and always played with her brother's toy cars instead.
'I used to make cars with match boxes because my father could not afford many toys,' Sara remembers, who has never worn the all-blue Burka the Taliban had made compulsory for women on the rare occasions they left their home.
And when Sara finally got behind a wheel and drove a car for the first time she felt as if she was flying.
She said: 'The first time I drove a car I felt as if someone had given me wings. I cannot express the feeling; it was a beautiful. It was my neighbor's car and I drove for just a few miles around our neighborhood but it was enough - I was hooked. After that I was determined to learn to drive and buy my own car.'
While the majority of the country celebrated the fall of the Taliban in 2002, Sara quickly signed up for a two-week professional driving course with the Chief Officer of the Traffic Police and applied for a license to legally start driving her red Toyota Corolla DX.
Then, Sara decided to make money for her family and become a full time taxi driver.
Sara said: 'When people first saw me as a taxi driver they laughed at me. But it did not deter me. I was confident about my decision. I wanted to show the world that Afghanistan women are not born to just get married and have children. We can work, look after ourselves and be independent too.'
During the Taliban rule, between 1996 and 2001, they had imposed a strict version of Islamic law banning all Afghan women from work and education and had made the Burqa compulsory for women to wear outside their home.
While most women in Afghanistan are married by the age of 22, Sara decided not to and instead dedicated her life to caring for her mother Bibi, 60, and help her sister care for her seven children, after the death of her husband in 2000 during the war against the Taliban regime.
Sara Bahai has dedicated her life to caring for her mother Bibi, 60, to helping her sister care for her seven children, after the death of her husband in 2000 during the war against the Taliban.Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
'I've had many men ask me to marry them but I've never agreed. I have no regrets. I broke the marriage rule in my family because there was no one to feed us or make money so I had to step in as the strong one.'
Amongst Sara's six sisters and seven brothers, Sara is the only one not to marry. But Sara has watched her sisters in very unhappy marriages. So much so Sara adopted her sisters two sons, now 12 and 18 years old and studying in school, because her husband was a drug addict and couldn't provide for them. The boys were better off with Sara who was earning enough to feed and clothe them and get them an education.
'Marriage is not always the answer,' she said. 'All my sisters got married but look at them. Some are very unhappy. I have looked after myself and now I have my sisters children to care for.'
Sara is now famous in Maza-i-Sharif and she has become the favourite taxi driver of women passengers.
She doesn't even pay a mechanic to check her car; she does all the repairs herself. And makes even more money by buying and selling second hand cars.
Female passengers giggle when they see a woman behind the wheel, and tell Sara Bahai they are proud of her.Mustafa Najafi/Cover Asia Press
Sara admits she has been very lucky to have never faced any threats from the Taliban, but she knows many women who are too scared to take one step outside their home.
'Women have seen harsh years under the Taliban rule but now it's time we had freedom. Step by step it's improving. Even though Afghan women can now freely go to schools and work and open businesses, there are still a huge percentage of women who are unaware of their rights. There is still a lot to be done to improve the lives of Afghan women and I want to do all I can to help change that.'
With the general elections currently coming to a close Sara is expecting a huge change under the new President.
'The government should be paying huge attention to the peace and security of women. Women should be given bigger roles to play in our country. We should have the same rights as women across the world. I hope the government will come up with positive policies for change.'
Sara is now determined to contribute as much as she can to the prosperity of Afghan women - and she is doing that my starting her own driving school. She already has three female students learning to drive and she is getting more requests every day. She dreams of having a bustling driving school generating thousands of Afghan female taxi drivers of the future.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Delhi rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back

Delhi rapist says victim shouldn't have fought back


In 2012 an Indian student was violently raped on a moving bus in Delhi and died of horrific internal injuries. Leslee Udwin spoke to one of the rapists on death row while spending two years making a film about the case. She came away shocked by India's treatment of women - but inspired by those seeking change.

The horrifying details of the rape had led me to expect deranged monsters. Psychopaths. The truth was far more chilling. These were ordinary, apparently normal and certainly unremarkable men.

On 16 December 2012, the 23-year-old woman had been to see a film, the Life of Pi, with a male friend. At 8.30pm they boarded an off-duty bus, with six men on board, five adults and a juvenile. The men beat the friend and each raped the woman in turn, before assaulting her viciously with an iron instrument.

Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus, described to me every detail of what happened during and after the incident. While prosecutors say the men took turns to drive the bus, and all took part in the rape, Singh says he stayed at the wheel throughout.

Along with three of the other attackers, Singh is now appealing against his death sentence. In 16 hours of interviews, Singh showed no remorse and kept expressing bewilderment that such a fuss was being made about this rape, when everyone was at it.

"A decent girl won't roam around at nine o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy," he said.

Mukesh Singh Mukesh Singh is one of five convicted of the crime - his brother Ram died in prison before the trial

"Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good."

People "had a right to teach them a lesson" he suggested - and he said the woman should have put up with it.

"When being raped, she shouldn't fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they'd have dropped her off after 'doing her', and only hit the boy," he said.

Chillingly, he went on: "The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won't leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, 'Leave her, she won't tell anyone.' Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death."

I had the long and shocking list of injuries the young woman had sustained, read out to him. I tried, really hard, to search for a glimmer of regret. There was none.

It would be easier to process this heinous crime if the perpetrators were monsters, and just the rotten apples in the barrel, aberrant in nature. Perhaps then, those of us who believe that capital punishment serves a purpose, and I am not among them, could wring their hands in relief when they hang.

For me the truth couldn't be further from this - and perhaps their hanging will even mask the real problem, which is that these men are not the disease, they are the symptoms.

My encounter with Singh and four other rapists left me feeling like my soul had been dipped in tar, and there were no cleaning agents in the world that could remove the indelible stain.

One of the men I interviewed, Gaurav, had raped a five-year-old girl. I spent three hours filming his interview as he recounted in explicit detail how he had muffled her screams with his big hand.

He was sitting throughout the interview and had a half-smile playing on his lips throughout - his nervousness in the presence of a camera, perhaps. At one point I asked him to tell me how tall she was. He stood up, and with his eerie half-smile indicated a height around his knees.

When I asked him how he could cross the line from imagining what he wanted to do, to actually doing it - given her height, her eyes, her screams - he looked at me as though I was crazy for even asking the question and said: "She was beggar girl. Her life was of no value."

A sign reading "Enough is enough, no more violence"

These offences against women and girls are a part of the story, but the full story starts with a girl not being as welcome as a boy, from birth. When sweets are distributed at the birth of a boy, not of a girl. When the boy child is nourished more than the girl, when a girl's movements are restricted and her freedoms and choices are curtailed, when she is sent as a domestic slave to her husband's home… If a girl is accorded no value, if a girl is worth less than a boy, then it stands to reason there will be men who believe they can do what they like with them.

I spoke to two lawyers who had defended the murderers of the 23-year-old student at their trial, and what they said was extremely revealing.

"In our society, we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening with any unknown person," said one of the lawyers, ML Sharma.

"You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that doesn't have any place in our society. We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman."

The other lawyer, AP Singh, had said in a previous televised interview: "If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight."

He did not disown that comment when I put it to him. "This is my stand," he said. "I still today stand on that reply."

Gender-inequality is the primary tumour and rape, trafficking, child marriage, female foeticide, honour killings and so on, are the metastases. And in India the problem is not lack of laws - after all, India is a democracy and a civilised, rapidly developing country. The problem is implementation of them.

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution confers absolute equal rights on women. The giving of dowry is a legal offence, but many families maintain the custom nonetheless. Until and unless the mindset changes, the cancer will thrive and continue to spread.

But what compelled me to leave my family and go to Delhi to make this film was not the rape itself, nor the horror of it. It was what followed.

Starting on the day after the rape, and for over a month, ordinary men and women came out on to the streets of India's cities in unprecedented numbers to protest. They braved a freezing December and a ferocious government crackdown of water cannons, baton charges, and teargas shells. Their courage and determination to be heard was extraordinarily inspiring.

Sign saying "This is not Hindustan this is Rapistan"

There was something momentous about their presence and perseverance - reminiscent to me of the crowds that had thronged Tahrir Square in Cairo - a gathering of civil society that demanded a conversation that was long overdue.

It occurred to me that, for all its appalling record of violence against women and relentless rapes, here was India leading the world by example. I couldn't recall another country, in my lifetime, standing up with such tenacity for women, for me. And I knew at once that I simply had to use whatever talents and skills I had, to amplify their cries of "enough is enough!" which were reverberating across the whole world.

As is often the case with extremely challenging endeavours where the human stakes are high, the main struggle for me was the emotional and psychological toll the work imposed.

When you look into the blackest recesses of the human heart, you cannot but be depressed and deeply disappointed. I woke one morning on the shoot, wet from head to toe, bathed in sweat and fear and my heart knocking against my ribcage. This was a panic attack. I phoned home thinking my husband would answer, but my 13-year-old daughter, Maya, did.

She immediately sensed I was in trouble. And when I told her, in tears, that I was coming home because this was too big for me, the mountain was just too high to scale, she said: "Mummy, you can't come home because I and my generation of girls is relying on you."

What carried me through, apart from Maya, was what had inspired me in the first place: the new-thinkers, especially among the youth, in India who want change and are clamouring for it. And I am absolutely optimistic that we are now on the cusp of change.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Photos of Afghanistan in the past few years

Афганистан. Кабул. 19 декабря 2010 года. Афганская художница убирает мусор перед своим граффити в промышленном парке, на котором изображена группа женщин в парандже, поднимающаяся от моря, что должно символизировать чистоту. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
Afghanistan. Kabul. December 19, 2010. Afghan artist stands in front of her graffiti in the industrial park, which depicts a group of women in a burqa, rising from the sea, which symbolizes purity.
Афганистан. Кабул. 23 сентября 2010 года. Одна из 29 выпускниц военной академии, которые стали первыми женщинами на службе Афганской национальной армии. (REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)
September 23, 2010. One of the 29 graduates of the military academy, who became the first woman in the service of the Afghan National Army.
Афганистан. Кабул. 1 мая 2013 года. Афганская исполнительница хип-хопа во время выступления на единственном арт-фестивале страны в школе Эстегляль. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)
May 1, 2013. Afghan singer hip-hop during a speech at the only art festival in the country school
Афганистан. Кандагар. 17 декабря 2011 года. Сержант Армии США, уроженка Багдада Лидия Адмунабдфани записывает сведения о местной жительнице в Женском центре близ Зари. (U.S. Army/Spc. Kristina Truluck)
Afghanistan. Kandahar. December 17, 2011. US Army sergeant, a native of Baghdad Lydia Admunabdfani writes information about the local woman, who came to the Women's Center near dawn
Афганистан. Герат. 18 августа 2011 года. Афганка Биби Хур плачет над своей раненой дочерью. Женщина потеряла троих детей и ещё двое были серьезно ранены во время теракта, унесшего жизни 20 человек. (AP Photo/Hoshang Hashimi)
Afghanistan. Herat. August 18, 2011. Afghan Bibi Hur cries over her injured daughter. The woman lost three of her children and two others were seriously injured in the attack, which killed 20 people
Афганистан. Кабул. 6 марта 2006 года. Афганская вдова, принимающая участие в демонстрации у центра гуманитарной организации CARE. Сотни вдов вышли протестовать из-за прекращения распределения продовольствия. (REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)
Afghanistan. Kabul. March 6, 2006. Afghan widow, taking part in a demonstration in the center of the humanitarian organization CARE. Hundreds of widows to protest due to the cessation of food distribution
Афганистан. Кабул. 24 ноября 2011 года. Афганские женщины и девушки наслаждаются концертом певца и посла доброй воли ООН Фархада Дарьи — «афганского Элвиса». (MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Afghanistan. Kabul. November 24, 2011. Afghan women and girls enjoying a concert singer and Goodwill Ambassador Farhad Darya UN - "Afghan Elvis."
Афганистан. Кабул. 11 июля 2012 года. 16-летняя Момтаз — жертва кислотной атаки — участвуют в протесте против недавней публичной экзекуции молодой женщины в провинции Парван. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
Afghanistan. Kabul. July 11, 2012. 16-year-old Momtaz - the victim of an acid attack - involved in the protest against the recent public execution of a young woman in Parwan province.
Афганистан. Кабул. 11 апреля 2013 года. Афганка в парандже держит на руках своего новорожденного ребёнка. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
Afghanistan. Kabul. April 11, 2013. Afghan in a burqa is holding her newborn child.

Photos of Afghanistan in 1962

I believe these photos were taken by Russians, and that some of the photos have Russians in them.  It seems that they are mostly photos of Afghans.

Русские женщины на автобусной остановке в Кабуле


Панорама Кабула

Институт общественного здравоохранения в Кабуле

Базар в Кундузе

Базар в Кундузе

Базар в Кундузе

Старая часть базара Кабула

Деревня Доаб, построенная вдоль дороги, проложенной по всему западному склону Гиндукуша

Маленькая деревня в горах Гиндукуша, в низовьях долины реки Саланг

Женщины в Кабуле, ставшие более независимыми от шариатского принуждения, что является признаком модернизации страны в течение последних 5 или 6 лет

Река Амударья, отделяющая страну от Советского Союза

Советские автокраны осуществляют погрузочно-разгрузочные работы в афганском речном порту Кисиль Кала

Советские автокраны осуществляют погрузочно-разгрузочные работы в афганском речном порту Кисиль Кала

Советские грузовики с товарами из Советского Союза

Советские автокраны осуществляют погрузочно-разгрузочные работы в афганском речном порту Кисиль Кала

Русские женщины в очереди за покупками в Кабуле

Базар в Кундузе

Afghanistan on my Mind Facebook page (no connection to this blog)

Here's the link to another great Facebook page called 'Afghanistan on my Mind' that shows photos of daily life in Afghanistan. 

Afghanistan on my Mind Facebook Page

(There is no connection between this Facebook page which was started in 2012, and my blog with the same name which was started in 2010.)

Afghanistan in Photos Facebook page

Here's a great Facebook page that shows photos of daily life in Afghanistan

Saving Mothers in Afghanistan: Progress, Challenges and the Road Ahead


Saving Mothers in Afghanistan: Progress, Challenges and the Road Ahead

Posted: Updated:
Afghanistan has once again been labelled one of the worst places in the world to be a mother. According to UNICEF, a woman dies every two hours due to complications during pregnancy in Afghanistan. The main causes of maternal deaths are hemorrhaging, eclampsia and prolonged or obstructed labor, which are all preventable with effective and efficient treatment. Progress has been made, but, with Afghanistan at the bottom of global health rankings, the sustainable improvement of maternal well-being remains a serious and complex challenge in Afghanistan.
The provision and delivery of basic health services has been essential to ensure the general health and well-being of pregnant women and mothers. The Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) created the Basic Package of Health Services to promote equity in primary care services, especially in rural areas. The package promotes good health practices through immunization and the supply of prenatal supplements like folic acid and iron.
The MOPH has additionally set up the Rural Expansion of Afghanistan's Community-Based Healthcare (REACH) program to rectify the shortage of skilled care workers and insufficient health facilities. Together these programs resulted in an impressive rise in the population's access to basic health services (measured as a maximum two hours walk to a facility) from nine percent in 2001 to almost 85 percent today. However, Stewart Britten of Healthprom notes that community health workers are not sufficiently trained to serve as birth attendants or deliver maternal health care.
The success story here is one that has been supported and financially backed by USAID, the European Union and the World Bank. They are contracted by the MOPH to implement its policies and partner with organizations including Jhpiego, Save the Children and Futures Group International to fulfill its goals. These policies are now being implemented by Afghan NGOs.
Three core programs have been created. The Health Services Support Project has helped train thousands of midwives each year. The Community Midwife Education Program trains community midwives for deployment in rural areas to ensure the delivery of clinic-based reproductive healthcare. Maternity Waiting Homes admit pregnant women within four weeks of their expected due dates. In this program, expectant mothers are counseled on warning signs during pregnancy as well as the importance of breastfeeding, hygiene, immunization and family planning. Being staffed by female community midwives has helped build greater reception and utilization of this service.
There has also been a push to train girls in rural areas to become Skilled Birth Attendants. This helps with the continuation of care and referrals to health centers when midwives are not present in particular localities. So far, results have indicated gains in preventing postpartum hemorrhaging and the delivery of postpartum family planning services.
Despite such progress, uptake of care remains significantly low, especially in rural areas, given that a majority of births take place at home without a trained caretaker or birth attendant. While the MOPH has made progress in setting up institutions, programs and services, much more progress is needed. Priorities remain, including promoting greater usage of maternal services, the presence of community midwives in rural areas and improving the quality of care in provincial hospitals. New technology should be sufficiently taught to midwives and birth attendants to help administer timely and effective treatment.
The challenges faced in Afghanistan's maternal health discourse are tied irrevocably to the principle of gender equality in health care. Seeing women's health care as a human rights issue ensures that governments are accountable for their legal commitments to provide and ensure access to reproductive health services without discrimination or prejudice. The Afghan government has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan and is legally committed to protecting and promoting women's rights.
The Afghan Midwives Association is a platform for community midwives to lobby for policy change towards health care needs tailored towards the best interests of women. Integrating gender equity into health services also requires addressing violence against women. CBM's have encouraged male heads of families to take a more active role in the health of their families. Additionally, collaboration between religious leaders, politicians and health officials is essential for disseminating accurate health information while simultaneously addressing the cultural and religious misconceptions around healthcare. Men of all sections of society will continue to be vital in creating safer environments for mothers in Afghanistan.
Despite these improvements in maternal health care, Christopher Stokes, Medecin Sans Frontier's general director, argues for a "reality check" from the international community on Afghanistan's health system, particularly as investment in the last decade has been towards political and security objectives as opposed to the daily needs of Afghans. Women residing in the rural and remote areas of Afghanistan continue to suffer preventable complications and high death rates as a result of inaccessible facilities, unskilled staff and limited provision of services.
So far, progress has been dependent on extensive foreign investment. As such, the withdrawal of foreign forces within the year and cuts to international investment in Afghanistan threaten the sustainability of improvements made in the past decade. In addition, high corruption in Afghanistan and pressure to meet targets on reducing maternal deaths has raised questions about the credibility of the latest statistics published by the Afghan Mortality Survey 2010. The survey reported that there were 327 deaths per 100,000 live births per year. These statistics would mean a dramatic drop from 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2001, and it would fulfill the obligations of the Millennium Goal five years early. This has been argued as simply too unrealistic. If these statistics are inflated, there is a concern that focus and incentive to prioritize issues on maternal mortality will be reduced, doing little to help Afghan women and girls.
The fact that more women are surviving childbirth is a testament to the headway made by community midwives. Afghanistan has proposed to increase their numbers and ensure that at least 80 percent of women have access to emergency obstetric care by 2020. The coming year for Afghanistan will be crucial to realizing such ambitious goals. The international community must remain committed to providing financial investment for integrated and sustainable maternal care development. While gains remain fragile, women and men have demonstrated a clear voice for change during the elections this month. All women have the basic human right to survive childbirth and experience a future as a mother. There is no greater time to make good on these promises in Afghanistan.

Cubans trace roots to remote Sierra Leone village

Cubans trace roots to remote Sierra Leone village


For decades the Ganga-Longoba of Perico have been singing the same chants, a tradition passed down the generations.

But until recently this Afro-Cuban community knew little of the origin of the songs, or of their own ancestors.

Now, thanks to the work of an Australian academic, Cuba's Ganga believe their roots lie in a remote village in Sierra Leone from where it is thought their relatives were sold into slavery more than 170 years ago.

"When I first filmed the Ganga-Longoba, I believed their ceremonies were a mixture of many different ethnic groups," says historian Emma Christopher, of Sydney University.

"I had no idea that a large number of Ganga songs would come from just one village. I think that's extremely unusual," she says.

The initial breakthrough came when a group in Liberia saw her footage of a Cuban ceremony and recognised part of a local ritual.

Spurred on to seek the songs' exact origins, the academic spent two years showing the film across the region until she confirmed that the Cubans were singing in the almost extinct language of an ethnic group decimated by the slave trade.

Lone woman photographed through window in Perico Almost a million Africans were forcibly shipped to Cuba during more than three centuries of the transatlantic slave trade
Young drummer with older man behind The Cuban Ganga still perform the songs their predecessors brought with them, almost unchanged
Preparing the drums Now an Australian academic believes she has traced the roots of those songs to one remote village in Sierra Leone where they once formed the initiation rites to a secret society
San Lazaro ceremony – woman with hands on head These days the main Ganga ceremony in Cuba is in December to worship Yebbe, their name for St Lazarus (San Lazaro), with dancing, drumming and singing into the early hours
Three men in field near a monument Once the Cuban Ganga discovered their roots in Sierra Leone they were impatient to visit - many in Perico wonder about their own origins.

Her enquiries finally led her to Mokpangumba, where villagers not only identified the Banta language but recognised songs and dances from the initiation ceremony for their own secret society, devoted to healing.

"That's the moment when they said: 'They are we'," Dr Christopher recalls, describing how the incredulous Africans began singing and dancing along with the Cubans on screen.

They identified nine of the songs in total, despite lyrics twisted over the decades and distance. For the villagers it was compelling proof that the people of Perico were family.
Safeguarding tradition
During more than three centuries of transatlantic trade, just short of a million slaves were shipped to Cuba. The vast majority were trafficked in the 19th Century as forced labour for the island's vast sugar plantations.

Traditional dance in straw costume in  in Mokpangumba
The songs the Cubans have kept alive are in the Banta language, which is almost extinct in Africa now

Man holds a mobile phone trying to get reception
The village of Mokpangumba in Sierra Leone has remained extremely isolated

Dr Christopher has singled out a woman known by her slave-name "Josefa" as the likely link between Perico and Sierra Leone. It's thought she arrived in the 1830s when the Gallinas slaving port was most active.

The local plantation owner includes a Josefa Ganga amongst the property in his will: below his real estate, and just above livestock.

Remarkably, Josefa survived to see the 1886 abolition of slavery in Cuba - far exceeding the average seven-year life expectancy for slaves here, where conditions were brutal - and she managed to safeguard the songs and traditions of home.
Divided 'family'
"Someone once said we originated from the Congo, but I always had doubts," says Alfredo Duquesne, an artist whose work has long been inspired by African themes but who has never known where his own roots lay.

"It bothered me. I wanted to know where I came from," he explains in his single-storey home crowded with woodcarvings, near where his ancestors would once have laboured in the cane fields.

The Santa Elena plantation has long gone. But many descendants of its former slaves still remain in the small town of Perico, including the group labelled "Ganga" by those who trafficked them.

Every December they meet to pray to Yebbe, as the Ganga call San Lazaro (St Lazarus), in a night-long ceremony of dance, drumming and song that has remained intact through the decades.

San Lazaro is a saint known for curing the sick, and is revered by Roman Catholic and syncretic faiths in Cuba.

It was Florinda Diago, thought to be Josefa's great-granddaughter, who preserved their heritage in Cuba; she then entrusted that task to the current "grande dame" of the Ganga community, a frail but feisty woman in her 80s known as Piyuya.

The healing secrets have been lost, but Piyuya can still sing every chant: songs of lament and joy for the dead and in celebration. In the 1980s she wrote out their lyrics for the first time, alongside hand-drawn flowers in a now yellowed and tattered notebook.

Organising a reunion for the divided "family" wasn't easy given restrictions on travelling from Cuba at the time, and limited resources. But eventually, four Cubans did make their ancestors' voyage in reverse - to Sierra Leone.

Alfredo Duquesne and Sierra Leone villager embrace in Mokpangumba The villagers of Mokpangumba see the Cuban Ganga as long lost relatives and gave them the warmest welcome

Elvira Fumero dances with villagers in Mokpangumba Elvira Fumero recalls the "explosion" when she first started singing, and the villagers joined in with her

The incredible safeguarding of traditions has allowed Afro-Cuban descendants to discover their roots at last

"When I opened my mouth to sing, they just stood there staring," Elvira Fumero recalls of her arrival in Mokpangumba.

"Then it was like an explosion. They started to sing the responses, and dance with me. And I knew then that this was where the Ganga came from," she says, smiling.

The Cubans' journey - to Africa, and uncovering their own roots - is captured in a documentary by the Australian academic that shows the two groups singing and celebrating together as well as sharing more modern traditions like baseball.

It's still a rare experience for most Afro-Cubans.

"Cuba was cut off at a time when other nations in the Americas were going through black pride and fighting for some justice for what happened to their ancestors," says Dr Christopher, who points out that the island's 1959 revolution declared racism "solved".

"That left a lot of Afro-Cubans adrift, not knowing how to celebrate where they came from and be proud of it," she says.

Whilst many Cubans of Spanish descent have rushed to seek out their ancestry - and passports - Afro-Cubans have been far less anxious to do the same.

But for Alfredo Duquesne, visiting Sierra Leone changed everything.

"It was as if I'd just left the previous weekend. I touched the soil and thought: 'This is it. I've come back,'" he says, describing himself now as "at peace".

"At last I know where I come from," Alfredo says. "I'm not a stranger any more."

Life along the Afghan ring road

Life along the Afghan ring road

Watch the video here:

Afghanistan's ring road is a symbol of the country's efforts to build a prosperous, unified country. Completing the highway has been a priority for the international coalition, hoping to connect people and places.

As foreign troops prepare to leave by the end of 2014, reporters from the BBC Afghan Service travelled along the 3,360km (2,100-mile) road to see whether these ambitions have been fulfilled.

BBC Afghan Service reporters travelling the Afghan ring road were:

Mohammad Qazizadah, Hafiz Maroof, Mamoon Durani, Assadullah Jalalzai, Syed Anwar, Ahmad Ilham, Suhrab Sirat, Amir Baryal and Shafi Bighoghli

Project Editor and Narration: Meena Baktash, Slideshow Production: Johannes Dell

Music donated by the National Institute of Music of Afghanistan

Watch the video here: 

Girls skating in Kabul

Horrors of India's brothels documented

Horrors of India's brothels documented

A sex worker in Mumbai Guddi, 22, says she is 'trapped' in Mumbai's red light district

British photojournalist Hazel Thompson has spent the last decade documenting the lives of girls trafficked into India's thriving sex industry. She spoke to Atish Patel about her experiences.

Guddi was only 11 years old when her family was persuaded by a neighbour to send her to the city of Mumbai hundreds of miles away from her poverty-stricken village in the eastern state of West Bengal.

They promised her a well-paid job as a housemaid to help feed her family.

Instead, she ended up at one of Asia's largest red light districts to become a sex worker.

Trafficked by her neighbour, she arrived at a brothel. She was raped by a customer and spent the next three months in hospital.
Guddi's sad and harrowing story is similar to many of the estimated 20,000 sex workers in Kamathipura, established over 150 years ago during colonial rule as one of Mumbai's "comfort zones" for British soldiers.

"They raped her to break her," said Ms Thompson.

Hazel Thompson
  • Hazel Thompson is an award winning British photojournalist
  • She has worked in over 40 countries
  • She has made a short film called Riva & Albert, a story of friendship and love beyond generations

Ms Thompson's journey into Kamathipura started in 2002 when she travelled there to photograph children born into the sex trade. The result is her new, interactive ebook, Taken.

Mumbai's oldest and largest red light district is a maze of around 14 dingy, cramped lanes overlooked by gleaming, new skyscrapers - symbols of India's recent economic prosperity that has lifted millions out of poverty.

But in Kamathipura, time seems to have stood still.

Throughout the 1800s, the British military established and maintained brothels for its troops to use across India.

The girls, many in their early teens from poor, rural Indian families, were recruited and paid directly by the military, which also set their prices.

By 1864, there were eight neighbourhoods in Mumbai which were home to more than 500 prostitutes. Almost 60 years later, there were only two, with Kamathipura being the largest.

"The system is continuing to be fed to this day," Ms Thompson said.

To protect the women from violent customers, police introduced bars to the windows and doors of brothels in the 1890s.

These "cages" still exist today and some women continue to work and live in the same brothels constructed by the British.

"Nothing has changed for 120 years. Nothing," Ms Thompson claimed.

Today the women charge up to 500 rupees ($8; £5) for sex and girls aged between 12 and 16 can earn up to 2,000 rupees($32; £20), she added.

Virgins in Kamathipura are auctioned to the highest bidder.
'Modern day slavery'
The 35-year-old photographer was able to gain access to this secret world after reaching out to Bombay Teen Challenge, a charity consisting of former sex workers and pimps who for more than 20 years have been rescuing and rehabilitating women working in Kamathipura.

Entering the brothels initially under the guise of an aid worker, she shot images discreetly from the back of vehicles, the roofs of buildings and under her scarf.

Book cover Ms Thompson's ebook uses texts, images and videos on life in brothels

"The way I worked was I would go in and come out. I would spend a few days and attention would build up so I would leave," she said.

She felt constantly on edge every time she went into the district, reaching a tipping point in 2010 when she was manhandled by a gangster while she interacted with a prostitute.

"Along the journey there were many times I wanted to give up," she added.

Ms Thompson's ebook, which uses texts, images and videos to get a sense of what life is like in Kamathipura, also includes stories from women who managed to escape from a situation she describes as "modern-day slavery".

Lata, for example, was tricked and trafficked by her boyfriend at the age of 16, when she was drugged and taken to Mumbai from the southern state of Karnataka.

But years later, with the help of Bombay Teen Challenge, she was reunited with her family and now lives in a rehabilitation home run by the charity.

"In the 11 years I've been there, I've never met one woman who has chosen to be there. Every woman I've met has been trafficked or born there," Ms Thompson said.

"These girls who have been trafficked can't return to their families because of the stigma and [yet it is] often [they who] are responsible for them being in Kamathipura," she added.

The British photojournalist is also launching a campaign with the UK-based Jubilee Charity calling for India and other countries to criminalise the purchase of sex.

In April, the Indian government amended the law to broaden the types of crimes considered to be a trafficking offence and established harsher sentences for traffickers.

But enforcement of anti-trafficking laws remains a problem, as does official complicity, according to the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report 2013.

"Countries like Sweden and Norway have made the purchase of sexual services illegal and it has had a profound impact on demand, causing trafficking to also decrease significantly," Ms Thompson said.

"This change is desperately needed for Mumbai and all of India."