Erg Chebbi, a massive sand dune in Morocco’s western desert, near the Algerian border.
The inside of a jaima, the traditional Sahrawi tent. For centuries the people of Western Sahara have used tents like this while moving across the desert. By the 9th Century, the region may have been a notable trade route for caravans between Marrakesh and Tombouctou, making tents like the jaima a logical choice of shelter for people on the move. Sahrawi I met living under Moroccan occupation said that authorities have banned the erecting of jaima anywhere in the desert. In the Polisario camps, however, along with mudbrick huts these tents are the only shelter for many families.
Prayers before a horse racing festival in Tagong, in Sichuan’s Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Indigenous Venezuelan descendant. When the Spanish arrived in Venezuela in the late 15th Century, there could have been as many as one million indigenous inhabitants. The conquistadores faced stubborn resistance from Venezuela’s tribes. Most fought until they were completely wiped out, or driven deep into the Amazon. Today, less than 2% of the population identify as indigenous, and only a small number of tribes still exist centuries after the genocidal invasion. Over the last decade, efforts have been made to bring indigenous cultures back from the brink, but there is still a long way to go, and violence from land holders against indigenous land rights activists continues.
Sahrawi journalists interviewing a young activist who said he’d been beaten by Moroccan police. Moving under the cover of dark through the Sahrawi slums of Moroccan occupied Laayoune in Western Sahara, I followed the journalists for a night as they collected testimonies from dozens of indigenous protesters who held a rally the previous day.
A Sahrawi man who told me he had been brutalised by Moroccan authorities during a protest in Laayoune. He was being cared for by his family, as Sahrawi say they often face discrimination in Moroccan run hospitals. The caftan he was wearing the previous day was covered in blood, and he couldn’t speak well. He was just one of many Sahrawi I met that day who said they had been beaten by police during a peaceful protest.
A cluster bomb in the Polisario Front’s makeshift war museum on the Algerian border with Western Sahara. Refugees told me cluster bombs were used by Moroccan forces against Polisario guerrillas and Sahrawi civilians alike during the Western Sahara War. According to refugees I spoke with in the Polisario camps on the border, the desert is now riddled with unexploded bomblets. Along with the thousands of landmines deployed by Morocco, the bomblets have been dispersed throughout the desert by shifting sands. All too often, they are picked up by children, who mistake them for toys.
Inside a Mongolian ger. Around 30% of Mongolia’s population are nomadic or semi-nomadic; most live in gers just like this. Well insulated, gers are comfortable and durable, and can be dismantled and reassembled within hours. However, after spending a month with this family of herders in the west of Mongolia, I found that these people live in tough conditions. Breakfast, lunch and dinner always consisted of a bowl of blood and bone marrow soup, and occasionally a chunk of rock hard goat cheese. Offal and died strips of meat (check out the roof) made for rare treats. Whatever the meal though, in Mongolia it’s always washed down with some salty butter tea. Beyond Ulaanbaatar, most of Mongolia is untamed wilderness sprinkled with nomad camps. The isolation and simplicity of life on the steppe can at times border on the medieval, down to the occasional outbreak of bubonic plague.
Chavez supporters rallying in Caracas in the lead up to the October 2012 presidential elections.
Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez outside a voting booth on 7 October, 2012. Minutes later he cast his vote as incumbent in the last election he would win. He won the 2012 presidential election by a landslide, but two months later he was hospitalised in Cuba, where he underwent cancer surgery. The following March, then vice president Nicolas Maduro delivered a televised address, announcing Chavez had died. During Chavez’s 12 years in power, poverty was cut by almost half, and the government implemented a slew of social programmes providing free healthcare, housing, tertiary education, subsidised food and more. As Maduro delivered the announcement, people around me broke down in tears. My working class neighbourhood in Merida came to a grinding halt; some people were just standing in the street, looking utterly bewildered. That night I went down to Merida’s main square, where there was a collective outpouring of grief until early the next morning.
Messages to Chavez plastering the walls of council chambers in Merida, Venezuela. These letters were affixed to the walls by supporters in the days after his death. Many Chavistas continued to linger in the square in front of the chambers for hours after farewelling their former president.
Refugees collecting gas rations from the UN, Smara camp. The Polisario claim their settlements are the most well organised refugee camps in the world; something which isn’t all that difficult to believe. Supplies are distributed equally among the refugees, and the camps appeared to see very little crime. However, according to the World Food Programme, 31.4% of the refugees suffer chronic malnutrition, and a there is a “critical level” of acute malnutrition, at 18.2%. Polisario officials in Smara camp blamed insufficient donations from international organisations, along with recent difficulties with the water supply.
Crumbling French colonial architecture in downtown Algiers. This beautiful city feels like it’s trying to move on from the strife it witnessed during the civil war of the 1990’s, but old wounds run deep. As late as 1998, a series of massacres took place in many of the villages surrounding the capital. Guerrillas hacked people to pieces in the streets, dismembering children, gutting pregnant women and raping others. When I visited Algiers in 2012, I was constantly being warned that anywhere I went was somehow “dangerous”. Most people were surprised to see a foreigner, but I soon found myself quite welcome in the city’s grimy coffee shops.
Soldiers guarding a the Merida offices of Venezuela’s electoral commission following the 14 April elections. Most of these troops were only armed with riot shields, while opposition supporters protesting the election results rallied outside the offices. Many of the protesters brought Molotov cocktails, knives, baseball bats and other weapons. Minutes after this photograph was taken, opposition protesters clashed with Chavistas, who had gathered to hold a rally of their own a few hundred metres down the road. Some of the Chavistas were similarly armed, but poorly equipped police broke up the violence without appearing to harm anyone themselves. Protesters soon moved to side streets, where they repeatedly clashed out of sight from authorities. In the international media, these opposition protests were generally depicted as peaceful rallies being crushed by government forces. The reality on the ground was a little more complicated.
Amazigh nomad in southern Morocco baking bread in an underground oven. The dough is put in a round container submerged in the sand, then a lid is placed on top. This man used an old oil drum. Imazighen pile tinder on the lid, and burn it to bake the bread below. This process is usually the domain of women in Amazigh society. However, none of the women of this family wanted to be photographed, so this man volunteered himself for the shot. Apparently, his bread wasn’t quite as good as his daughter’s.
Sunrise over the Touflite Plains, south of the Anti-Atlas Mountains in Morocco. For most of the year these plains are desolate and empty, except for the handful of Imazighen eking a living out of herding goats across the desert. For a few weeks every year though, the rains come, and the plains are brought to life. According to locals, the heat split earth is carpeted in grass, and the dusty crevasses that cut through the landscape are turned into clear, running streams.
Four hours from Merida, the tiny Venezuelan farming village of Los Nevados is one of those blissful hamlets that every traveller relishes stumbling across. No crowds, no traffic lights. Just chilled out, welcoming country folk in the village, and lazy clouds drifting below.
Reflections in a hotspring.
Stilt-walker in Merida, Venezuela.
Chefchaouen’s colourful medina. This quaint town in Morocco’s Rif region is the de facto hash capital of the world. Despite government efforts to curb cannabis cultivation, the green stuff is everywhere. Needless to say, it’s probably North Africa’s most chilled out hamlet.
Photographer in Merida.
Rome’s famed Colosseum. Italy’s capital is a work of art, and as a short stop over between Morocco and Algeria, it’s almost a different planet.
The weekend souq at Guelmim. Dubbed “la porte du desert” (gateway to the desert), rusty, sand beaten Guelmim sits on the edge of the disputed Western Sahara territory. When I first arrived in town, I was detained by police who were (rightly) suspicious of me. Foreign journalists are generally barred from Western Sahara to the south. Luckily, my (apolitical) employer bailed me out.
Ear cleaner on the streets of Chengdu, China.
Hiker in the Andes.
Khampa woman in Sichuan’s far west. Historically, the tribes of Kham were often the source of Tibet’s most renowned warriors. Today, there is still a strong warrior culture here. For Khampa men, the pinnacle of fashion seems to be faded jeans, cowboy boots, a Metallica/Iron Maiden/Slayer/ Black Sabbath t-shirt and a chupa (Tibetan coat, vaguely similar to a kimono) sashed at the waist and slung over one shoulder. The outfit is finished off with a sword dangling from the hip. This mass of awesome can usually be seen atop a multicoloured motorbike, or munching tsampa (a gooey mass of wheat flour) in the town square.
An Amazigh family celebrating Eid al-Adha. The festival commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael. Before Abraham could kill his son, God replaced Ishmael with a lamb. This family of goat herders slaughtered one of their best animals for the festival. Dressed in their best clothes, in a mudbrick hut deep in the desert they had a feast on the fresh meat, cooked over charcoal.
A Sahrawi refugee outside a hospital in Western Sahara’s “February 27” camp. Hospital staff told me that they rarely have enough medical supplies to satisfy demand; everything from painkillers to bandages are apparently in short supply. Summer is particularly bad; when temperatures soar beyond 50°C, the medical staff are all too often overwhelmed. However, the worst shortage is of doctors. Refugees are increasingly able to study in countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Algeria and Spain, but for now there simply aren’t enough doctors to go around. February 27 is one of six of the Polisario’s refugee camps on the Algerian border. Algerian authorities estimate there are around 165,000 refugees. This figure is supported by the Polisario movement, but disputed by Morocco. Most estimates of the population range between 100,000 to 150,000.
Cistern in Portugal’s former North African colony, El Jadida.
Xishuangbanna is China’s little slice of south-east Asia on the Mekong, and is the centre of the Dai world. As a collection of ethnic groups, the Dai are known for their annual water splashing festival. The festival is a kind of cleansing ritual, involving pouring water on everyone in splashing range for good luck. During the festival, it’s open season on pretty much everyone, including the masses of tourists that flock to the area. Imagine a melee of bucket fulls of water soaking anything that moves, and you get the picture.
Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, is ringed with barrios- shanty towns that sprung up in the last century as Dutch Disease strangled the agricultural sector. Venezuelans who moved from the countryside to the city often found nothing but these slums awaiting them. The world over, rural migrants are funnelled into our industrial cities looking for work. Instead, many end up as surplus labour, relegated to a periphery role in society. From Casablanca’s muddy slums to the grimy rims of China’s factory cities, this is a reality for millions of people worldwide. If the Chavez era achieved anything, it was including the people of the barrios into society. Venezuelans from poor areas like this make up the support base of Chavismo. People from places like this came down from the hillsides to demand Chavez’s return when he was temporarily ousted from power by a US backed coup in 2002. Today, barrios across the country are being rehabilitated under Barrio Tricolor, a national project aimed at refurbishing the barrios; maintaining their cultural significance, but improving conditions and safety.
Street art in Bogota, Colombia’s enigmatic capital. A city of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, when I visited Bogota one of the first things I came across was a protest being eyed down by riot police. Colombians have plenty of reasons to be frustrated with their government. In 2010, the World Bank put the country’s gini coefficient at 0.559, making it one of the most unequal countries in the region, despite being one of the biggest receivers of US aid in Latin America. However, relatively little US aid finds its way to Colombia’s poor. Instead, the country is the largest recipient of US military aid in the Western Hemisphere. Amnesty International has called for a “complete cut” of US aid to the Colombia military, citing “continued collaboration between the Colombian Armed Forces and their paramilitary allies as well the failure of the Colombian government to improve human rights conditions”.
“You know, fuck Morocco. Fuck Europe. Fuck America and fuck the UN,” this man responded after I pressed him about how he felt about his child growing up in a refugee camp. Hamdi and his family showed me nothing but kindness while I stayed with him in the camps. He was always polite and softly spoken, until I jabbed him with this question.
Sunrise over Kunming. Often known in China as the “City of Eternal Spring”, Kunming has some of the best weather of any major city in China. It’s also pretty laid back by Chinese standards.
Overlooking the Sacred Valley at 2,430 metres above sea level, Machu Picchu is an awe inspiring site- before mid morning, that is. If you can beat the tour buses by racing up the mountain before dawn, you’ll be rewarded with a solid hour of peace with the ruins before the ancient streets are choked with tourists. Constructed in the mid 15th Century for the Incan emperor Pachacuti, it was abandoned as the Conquistadors dismembered the empire. It makes for a satisfying end to days of hiking through the Peruvian Andes.
Old city walls surrounding Morocco’s third largest city, Fes. Even though the medina is thought to be one of the world’s largest car free zones, the winding medieval streets are nothing short of chaos. Leather workers, gnarled old water vendors, backpackers, self proclaimed prophets and the omnipresent pickpocket jostle their way through the maze of wonky streets. Despite luring an endless stream of tourists, between the souvenir stalls and discount hostels Fes has somehow retained some sense of feudal authenticity. Watch out for the faeces in the cemetery.
Rice terraces in Yuanyang County, Yunnan, China. These terraces were constructed over generations by the people of this far flung pocket of China’s wild south-west. The main ethnic group of Yuanyang is the Hani, who are the main architects of the unique terraces. However, for centuries they have shared the hills with Yao, Dai, Zhuang, Miao, the omnipresent Han and the varied, colourful Yi.
Hundreds of thousands of supporters of then presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro in Merida, April 2013.
Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor, won the elections by less than 2%; a tiny margin by Venezuelan standards. In Merida’s PSUV offices, joy turned to shock as the results were announced late on 14 April. It wasn’t the victory many had expected.
Japanese taiko drummer, Australia. Taiko have been used in Japan for centuries, though their exact origin is unclear. Often the taiko is said to have been conceived by the Shinto goddess of dawn, Ame no Uzume, while she tried to lure the sun goddess Amaterasu from a cave. In feudal Japan, the taiko was commonly used to motivate troops and transmit commands on the battlefield, though they have since found their way into a wide variety of traditional events like theatre, dance and religious festivals. They also make for an impressive stage performance.
Balancing the wheels.
Rabat’s new(ish) monorail zipping by the old town. The shiny monorail looks impressive, but is far more expensive than the buses most working class denizens of Morocco’s capital use. When I took a ride at peak hour, I was alone except for two well heeled businessmen. Where the monorail passes the medina, there are no barriers between the rails and the footpath. According to some friends, shortly after the monorail made its debut, it quickly developed a habit of crushing old people.
South-west China’s stunning landscape.
The view from Santo Cristo Pass, near the village of Gavidia, Merida state, Venezuela.