Monday, 24 November 2008

Never give up

No matter what is going on
never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
is spent developing the mind
instead of the heart
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends
but to everyone
Be compassionate
Work for peace
in your heart and in the world
Work for peace
and I say again
Never give up
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up.

His Holiness The XIV Dalai Lama

something to think about...

The mind is the world,
One should purify it strenuously.
One assumes the form of that which is one's mind.
This is the eternal secret.

Monday, 10 November 2008

next door

Ceasefire Broken in Democratic Republic of Congo; International Medical Corps Warns of Looming Humanitarian Catastrophe and Wider Regional Impact

November 10, 2008, Los Angeles, Calif. – As fighting resumed Friday in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and rebels appeared poised to seize Goma, International Medical Corps is deeply concerned that a humanitarian catastrophe could unfold and quickly spread across the region.

In addition to ongoing efforts in DRC, International Medical Corps is also preparing a regional response to the situation and currently has teams mobilized in Uganda and Burundi to deliver assistance to the potential influx of new refugees.

“The delivery of life-saving medical and nutrition services has already been severely curtailed,” said Pierre Willems, International Medical Corps’ Country Director in DRC. “With the resumption of fighting, even more people will be displaced and in need of care, and yet we fear the humanitarian corridor for delivering assistance is narrowing drastically by the hour.”

An estimated 200,000 civilians have fled fighting between government and rebel troops in North Kivu Province – adding to the estimated one million people displaced by an escalation of hostilities in the region a year ago.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda declared a unilateral ceasefire over the weekend, and so far it has held. However, a rebel spokesman has said the groundwork is being laid for a generalized war in the region.

International Medical Corps has been operating in the most volatile regions of DRC since the mid-90’s. In North Kivu province, where much of the recent fighting has taken place, IMC runs primary health care clinics and nutrition programs that serve more than 300,000 people.

11 November 2008

Next door, nearby, the Congo – it’s ALL our world isn’t it?

No matter how well or poorly our day is going, we are fortunate when we compare any aspect of our lives to that of the refugees attempting escape from the horrors that have occurred in the past, continued, and now again permeate the Congo with death and despair.

Last week, widespread attacks by rebel groups displaced enormous numbers of people. More than 200,000 fled the fighting and sought refuge in communities and displacement camps near the besieged city of Goma, swelling the ranks of the displaced in and around that city to about one million people. The situation is becoming critical. There are over 200,000 newly displaced persons, in addition to the 850,000 that were already displaced in the areas around Goma. The water and sanitation needs are enormous – this reported by the BBC.

Other reports state that “Nkunda (the rebel leader) declared a cease-fire on October 29 as his forces reached the edge of Goma, but there have been sporadic clashes since then.
Some 50,000 refugees have crowded around Kibati, some taken into log cabins by villagers, others living in tents or hastily built beehive-shaped huts. Thousands are sleeping out in the open, and they huddled under plastic sheeting Sunday as heavy rain pounded down.
Dozens of people have died of cholera in recent weeks elsewhere in eastern Congo. Doctors also fear an epidemic north of Goma behind rebel lines, where access has been limited by fighting and rebels have driven tens of thousands of people from camps where outbreaks had been contained.
At a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers Monday, Germany and Britain opposed sending EU troops to Congo, despite France's urging that a battlegroup be sent.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the EU's role should be to encourage the African Union to do more militarily while promoting a political solution.
He welcomed a declaration made at a summit of southern African leaders on Sunday that said African countries could send peacekeepers if needed to help the U.N. force.

"It will be for every country of the world really to consider its own position," Miliband said. "What's significant about the talks on the weekend is the clear determination from African leaders to make sure their countries are in the lead politically and militarily."

As more and more people are displaced and the dead bodies pile up from the fighting and it becomes impossible to return home, to find food or clean water – disease will not just rear its head in multiple incarnations and manifestations, but will ravage the refugee population without quarter. Cholera has already made an appearance and the numbers are rising daily, more than fifty cases since Friday. There has been scattered fighting over the weekend that gives concern that patients could scatter and launch an epidemic.
The fighting has ceased for the moment but apparently only for the opposing sides to regroup. And what is the fighting about? Is it for freedom from oppression? Is it to redress a wrong? Is it to bring justice to a people? NO. It’s about mineral rights! It’s about money and power.
Demand for minerals has fueled Congo's conflicts for years. Nkunda has complained about a $9 billion agreement in which China gets access to Congo's minerals in return for building a highway and railroad that would open up the remote mining interior to southern neighbors.
The fighting in eastern Congo is fueled by ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of at least 500,000 Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda.
Gen. Laurent Nkunda, whose rebels launched an offensive Aug. 28, has said he is fighting to protect minority Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu militants who participated in the genocide before fleeing to Congo. I have some trouble buying that explanation myself but that’s just me.
Nkunda's rebellion has threatened to re-ignite the back-to-back wars that afflicted Congo from 1996 to 2002, drawing in a half dozen African nations. Kabila, elected in 2006 in Congo's first election in 40 years, has struggled to contain the violence in the east.

Nkunda began a low-level insurgency in 2004, claiming Congo's transition to democracy had excluded the Tutsi ethnic group. Despite agreeing in January to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, he resumed fighting in August.

Congo has charged Nkunda with involvement in war crimes, and Human Rights Watch says it has documented summary executions, torture and rape committed by soldiers under Nkunda's command in 2002 and 2004.

All sides also are believed to fund fighters by illegally mining Congo's vast mineral riches, giving them no financial interest in stopping the fighting.
The European Union decided Friday against sending troops into Congo, saying the 27-member bloc will instead focus on a diplomatic solution to end the conflict.

Here is my concern – the civilians who are dying, the mothers and children and fathers and brothers who can’t go home, who can’t feed their families or even give them clean water.

"We've had nothing to eat for three days," said Rhema Harerimana, traveling with one baby nursing at her breast, another on her back and a toddler clinging to her skirt.

Harerimana said she had been on the run for five days but was heading home to Kibumba, about 17 miles from the eastern provincial capital of Goma, where rebels halted their advance Wednesday and called for a cease-fire.”

I don’t care to whom you contribute – the International Medical Corp seems to be doing good work and my personal chaps Doctors Without Borders are there. Let us all be so very grateful for all that we have and share a bit eh? It is not a zero sum game – giving to their dire situation will not affect in any sever manner our surplus. Think of the benefits, the benevolent selfishness – you will be helping to save part of the world, nothing less, and you get to feel bloody fantastic about doing SOMETHING! If you do nothing else, please remember these desperate people in your prayers to whatever deity works for you. I thank you, and thank you for coming by.

More data:
From NYTimes:

• From AP:

• From Reuters:

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The World View the Day After

November 5, 2008
For Many Abroad, an Ideal Renewed

GAZA — From far away, this is how it looks: There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, select as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth — call it America — where such a thing happens.

Even where the United States is held in special contempt, like here in this benighted Palestinian coastal strip, the “glorious epic of Barack Obama,” as the leftist French editor Jean Daniel calls it, makes America — the idea as much as the actual place — stand again, perhaps only fleetingly, for limitless possibility.

“It allows us all to dream a little,” said Oswaldo Calvo, 58, a Venezuelan political activist in Caracas, in a comment echoed to correspondents of The New York Times on four continents in the days leading up to the election.

Tristram Hunt, a British historian, put it this way: Mr. Obama “brings the narrative that everyone wants to return to — that America is the land of extraordinary opportunity and possibility, where miracles happen.”

But wonder is almost overwhelmed by relief. Mr. Obama’s election offers most non-Americans a sense that the imperial power capable of doing such good and such harm — a country that, they complain, preached justice but tortured its captives, launched a disastrous war in Iraq, turned its back on the environment and greedily dragged the world into economic chaos — saw the errors of its ways over the past eight years and shifted course.

They say the country that weakened democratic forces abroad through a tireless but often ineffective campaign for democracy — dismissing results it found unsavory, cutting deals with dictators it needed as allies in its other battles — was now shining a transformative beacon with its own democratic exercise.

It would be hard to overstate how fervently vast stretches of the globe wanted the election to turn out as it did to repudiate the Bush administration and its policies. Poll after poll in country after country showed only a few — Israel, Georgia, the Philippines — favoring a victory for Senator John McCain.

“Since Bush came to power it’s all bam, bam, bam on the Arabs,” asserted Fathi Abdel Hamid, 40, as he sat in a Cairo coffee house.

The world’s view of an Obama presidency presents a paradox. His election embodies what many consider unique about the United States — yet America’s sense of its own specialness, of its destiny and mission, has driven it astray, they say. They want Mr. Obama, the beneficiary and exemplar of American exceptionalism, to act like everyone else, only better, to shift American policy and somehow to project both humility and leadership.

And there are others who fear that Mr. Obama will be soft in a hard-edged world where what is required is a clear line in the sand to fanatics, aggressors and bullies. Israelis worry that he will talk to Iran rather than stop it from developing nuclear weapons; Georgians worry that he will not grasp how to handle Russia.

An Obama presidency, they say, risks appeasement. It will “reassure Europeans of their defects,” lamented Giuliano Ferrara, editor of the Italian right-wing daily Il Foglio.

Such contradictory demands and expectations may reflect, in part, the unusual makeup of a man of mixed race and origin whose life and upbringing have touched several continents.

“People feel he is a part of them because he has this multiracial, multiethnic and multinational dimension,” said Philippe Sands, a British international lawyer and author who travels frequently, adding that people find some thread of their own hopes and ideals in Mr. Obama. “He represents, for people in so many different communities and cultures, a personal connection. There is an immigrant component and a minority component.”

Francis Nyamnjoh, a Cameroonian novelist and social scientist, said he saw Mr. Obama less as a black man than “as a successful negotiator of identity margins.”

His ability to inhabit so many categories mirrors the African experience. Mr. Nyamnjoh said that for America to choose as its citizen in chief such a skillful straddler of global identities could not help but transform the nation’s image, making it once again the screen upon which the hopes and ambitions of the world are projected.

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at the People’s University of China, said Mr. Obama’s background, particularly his upbringing in Indonesia, made him suited to understanding the problems facing the world’s poorer nations.

He and others say they hope the next American president will see their place more firmly within the community of nations, engaging in what Jairam Ramesh, junior commerce minister in the Indian government, called “genuine multilateralism and not in muscular unilateralism.”

Assuming Mr. Obama does play by international rules more fully, as he has promised, can his government live up to all the expectations?

“We have so many hopes and wishes that he will never be able to fulfill them,” said Susanne Grieshaber, 40, an art adviser in Berlin who was one of 200,000 Germans to attend a speech by Mr. Obama there in July. She cited action to protect the environment, reducing the use of force and helping the less fortunate. In essence, she wants Mr. Obama to make his country more like hers. But she is sober. “I’m preparing myself for the fact that peace and happiness are not going to suddenly break out,” she said.

Many in less developed countries — especially in the Arab world — agree that Mr. Obama will not carry out their wishes regarding American policy toward Israel and much else, and so they shrug off the results as ultimately making little difference.

“We will be optimistic for two months but that’s it,” predicted Huda Naim, 38, a member of the Hamas parliament here who said her 15-year-old son had watched Mr. Obama’s rise with rapt attention.

But some remain darkly suspicious of the election itself. They doubted that Mr. Obama could be nominated or elected. Now they doubt that he will govern. The skeptics say they believe that American policy is deeply institutionalized and that if Mr. Obama tries to shift it, “they” — the media, the corporate robber barons, the hidden powers — will box him in or even kill him.

“I am afraid for him,” said Alberto Müller Rojas, a retired Venezuelan Army general and the vice president of President Hugo Chávez’s Unified Socialist Party. “The pressures he will face from certain sectors of society, especially from white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, will be enormous.”

Part of that fear stems from genuine if distant affection.

“He has charisma, he’s good-looking, he’s very smart, he’s young and he knows how to make people like him, to the point that when he went to bow down to the Israelis, people here still made excuses for him,” said Nawara Negm, an Egyptian writer and blogger.

There is another paradox about the world’s view of the election of Mr. Obama: many who are quick to condemn the United States for its racist past and now congratulate it for a milestone fail to acknowledge the same problem in their own societies, and so do not see how this election could offer them any lessons about themselves.

In Russia, for example, where Soviet leaders used to respond to any American criticism of human rights violation with “But you hang Negroes,” analysts note that the election of Mr. Obama removes a stain. But they speak of it without reference to their own treatment of ethnic minorities.

“Definitely, this will improve America’s image in Russia,” said Sergey M. Rogov, director of the Institute for U.S.A. and Canada Studies in Moscow. “There was this perception before of widespread racism in America, deeply rooted racism.”

In Nigeria, a vast, populous and diverse collection of states, Reuben Abati, an influential columnist, has written, “Nigerians love good things in other lands, even if they are not making any effort to reproduce the same at home,” adding, “If Obama had been a Nigerian, his race, color and age would have been an intractable problem.”

So foreigners are watching closely, hoping that despite what they consider the hypocrisies and inconsistencies, the nation they once imagined would stand as a model for the future will, with greater sensitivity and less force, help solve the world’s problems.

There is a risk, however, to all the extraordinary international attention paid to this most international of American politicians: Mr. Obama’s focus will almost certainly be on the reeling domestic economy, housing and health care. Will he be able even to lift his head and gaze abroad to all those with such high expectations?

Reporting was contributed by Rachel Donadio from Rome; Steven Erlanger from Paris; Nazila Fathi from Tehran; Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem; Nicholas Kulish from Berlin; Clifford J. Levy from Moscow; Sarah Lyall from Reykjavik, Iceland; Lydia Polgreen from Dakar, Senegal; Simon Romero from Caracas, Venezuela; Somini Sengupta from New Delhi; Michael Slackman from Cairo; Sabrina Tavernise from Istanbul and Kiev, Ukraine; Edward Wong from Beijing; and Robert F. Worth from Sana, Yemen.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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Saturday, 1 November 2008

It's important that's it's real to us...

November 1, 2008
A Warning, a Blast, a Fight to Save an Afghan Life

COMBAT OUTPOST LOWELL, Afghanistan — Jamaludin, an aging Afghan cook, twisted and writhed on the green stretcher. Blood ran from his mouth and nose. Medics had cut away his clothes, revealing puncture holes where shrapnel from a Taliban mortar round had struck him minutes before.

Capt. Norberto A. Rodriguez, an American Army doctor, listened through a stethoscope as two Army medics and a Navy corpsman inventoried Jamaludin’s wounds. There were holes on his back, neck, buttocks, left leg and beside his right eye.

Jamaludin, who like many Afghans has only one name, had been made wild by fear and pain. But for some reason he could not speak. He shook his head, sputtered and vomited blood. “Oh no, no, no,” Captain Rodriguez said, and quickly rolled him to his side.

The patient had heavy internal bleeding and was choking on his own seepage. The captain needed information. Was it shrapnel, a shock wave or both that had ruptured him inside? Jamaludin was near death. They were racing against time.

“Hey, can you ask these guys if he got blown, if he got thrown?” the captain asked an interpreter, to relay the question to the knot of Afghan men gathering outside by the body of another man, who had been killed and was now covered with a sheet.

The captain pushed his hand into Jamaludin’s mouth. He would keep this man alive. “Don’t bite my thumb,” he said, as much to himself as to a patient who spoke no English.

Jamaludin’s jaws clamped shut. “Ahhh,” the captain said, fighting to keep his hand there until suction and a breathing tube could be snaked down.

Combat Outpost Lowell is a company-size American and Afghan position in Nuristan Province, near the border with Pakistan. Far from view and named for Jacob Lowell, an Army specialist killed in the province in 2007, it is meant to play a remote role in the counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, disrupting the Taliban and foreign fighters on a route to Pakistani tribal areas, and tying up Taliban forces far from more populated areas. It is one of the United States’ most forward positions in a war now in its eighth year.

Isolated, ringed by forested ridges and under such regular fire that helicopter pilots prefer to avoid flying here, especially by day, the outpost imposed an unforgiving condition: anyone injured would have to wait for an evacuation. It was up to Captain Rodriguez and a team of trauma medics to keep Jamaludin alive.

On this October day, the Taliban began firing mortars about 10:30 a.m. An American Army sergeant’s voice had crackled over a loudspeaker. “Incoming! Incoming!” it said.

Somewhere high overhead, an explosive 82-millimeter mortar round was in a free fall.

The soldiers of Apache Troop, the cavalry unit in the First Infantry Division that is assigned here, had scrambled to slip into flak jackets and helmets and waited for the round to come down. It exploded near an ammunition bunker with an earth-shaking roar.

Marine Capt. Markus Trouerbach, 40, the officer assigned to train the post’s Afghan soldiers, uttered an unprintable word. “That one was real close,” he added.

In the mountains ringing the outpost, he knew, the Taliban mortar crew had found the range.

The loudspeaker repeated the warning call. Another round was inbound. It was a teardrop-shaped steel canister packed with explosive putty, weighing perhaps seven pounds.

It screamed in and detonated beside a bunker used by the post’s local guards, blasting shrapnel deep into two Afghan men.

The guards’ second in command, Nezamudin, was killed outright, smacked by shrapnel in the neck and face. Jamaludin, the cook, a man with a nearly atrophied leg and a thick red beard, fell stunned to the ground. Blood rushed from his wounds.

If there is any universal and binding compact among military men under fire, it is this: If you are hit, we will come to get you. Among units that endure, it is a pledge more inviolable than law. And it comes with a corollary. You will do the same for me.

As soon as the word came over the two-way radio that the Afghans had been hit, Petty Officer Third Class Ramon G. Gavan, 23, Captain Trouerbach and Gunnery Sgt. Daniel P. McKernan, 36, grabbed their weapons and nodded knowingly to one other. They checked their helmets. They were on tight.

Within seconds, they were sprinting in the open across the outpost, where they met Army Sgt. Michael S. Ayres, 24, a scout, and a group of Afghans, who had slid the broken men onto litters and began to make their way to the doctor, who was in an aid station inside a tiny stone building.

“Incoming! Incoming!” the loudspeaker said.

The Afghans and Americans all dived to the ground and waited for the next shots to end. Then they were up and running again, carrying Jamaludin, who was semi-fetal on the litter, moaning.

It would be more than an hour before a helicopter could get here, if it could run the gantlet of fire. Could the trauma team keep the grievously wounded Afghan alive?

As Captain Rodriguez assessed him, Sgt. Zackary Filip called for help. “They need to call a medevac,” he said. “They need to call it now. Urgent.”

Sergeant Filip’s hands were covered in blood. He said he had always worn rubber gloves; on this day, there had been no time. He had been applying pressure to Jamaludin’s wounds and bandaging him. Now he began taking the patient’s pulse.

Petty Officer Gavan inserted an intravenous line in each of Jamaludin’s arms and cleaned the clotting blood on his face and beard, and leaned in to examine his ruined right eye. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

He prepared an oxygen line, and turned to an Afghan interpreter. “Tell him this will help with his breathing,” he said.

Jamaludin started to fight, tearing at his intravenous lines and oxygen mask. The captain and the corpsman tried to pry his hands free. They handed a syringe to a reporter, and asked him to inject its contents into an intravenous bag; it contained morphine.

Then they injected Jamaludin with ketamine and versed, two sedatives, to calm him down.

When he stopped swinging his arms, they inserted a breathing tube, and soon were helping him breathe again with the oxygen mask.

A change came over Jamaludin swiftly. Bleeding from the eye, nose and mouth, naked and sprawled across the messy litter, he was relaxing. He began to look restful. His oxygen level climbed to 94 from 80. One hundred is the maximum score.

Captain Rodriguez, 32, started to seem confident. A few minutes before, Jamaludin was near death. Maybe he might make it.

First Sgt. Douglas K. Terrell, 36, the senior enlisted man in Apache Troop, stepped into the room. He looked at Jamaludin. He was curled in a pool of blood. But he was stable.

“Can we get an E.T.A. on the bird?” the first sergeant asked into his radio, trying to determine when the helicopter could arrive. The answer came back: 45 minutes.

Captain Rodriguez looked up. “How many,” he asked. “Four-five?”

The first sergeant did not want to leave the helicopter exposed on the landing zone. He wanted everyone ready to rush the patient outside early.

“Go with about 40,” the first sergeant said. “At max.”

“He’s going to roll in here,” he said. “But I would tell you all right now,” he nodded, “be prepared.” The implication was clear: When the helicopter arrived, the Taliban would be firing.

He turned to the Afghan interpreter, Rahatullah. First things first. He wanted Jamaludin to hear encouragement in Pashto, his native language. “Tell him we’ve got him,” he said. “We’ve got him.”

Petty Officer Gavan, his face glistening with sweat, was on his knees, trying to reach the injured man in other ways. He clutched Jamaludin’s left hand with both bloody gloves, kneading his fingers, coaxing him to fight.

Sergeant Filip had a moment free, and he scrubbed Jamaludin’s blood from his fingers. “I hope he doesn’t have anything,” he said. Sweat dripped from his forehead and rolled off his nose. “I didn’t have time to put gloves on,” he said. “You have to stop the bleeding however you can.”

Forty-five minutes passed. No helicopter. Jamaludin was kept alive by another medic, Specialist Jeremy W. Wright, 20, who kept him breathing by pumping an oxygen bag. Jamaludin’s stomach rose and fell.

At about minute 65, the rotors could be heard in the valley. By then the medics and Captain Rodrigiuez were running with Jamaludin, now bandaged and strapped onto a litter, back across open ground.

The first sergeant had been right. The Taliban were waiting. As the medics loaded Jamaludin onto the helicopter, the mortars started again. The first round landed wide.

The loudspeaker was barely audible over the roar of the Blackhawk’s rotors. “Incoming! Incoming!” it said.

As Captain Rodriguez and the medics ran clear of the rotor blades, the helicopter shuddered, rose and lurched forward to gather speed for the run past the hills.

“Get down!” Captain Trouerbach shouted. “Get down!”

Everyone bounded from bunker to bunker back to the aid station, where for a few minutes the medical team, now with nothing to do, circled and paced. Jamaludin’s soaked clothes and bandages were knotted into ugly clumps on the soiled floor.

Sergeant Filip stepped behind a screen and prayed.

The silence had come suddenly. The helicopter was gone. The mortars had stopped again. Captain Rodriguez leaned onto his desk. There have been dozens of mortar attacks here since Apache Troop arrived four months ago.

His voice was almost a whisper. “I don’t know what to think,” he said, unprompted, looking up toward the sky that they fell from. “I’m happy to wake up every morning.”

An hour or so later the call came in. The helicopter had reached the next base. Jamaludin was in surgery. He was alive.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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