On The Ground

Casa loca

    You go inside the colonia at daylight with the car’s windows lowered and your hands in sight. Strangers are closely watched by lookouts on the hill and at the street corners. You slowly find the way among the breeze block huts to a wasteland of rubble and shabby deserted buildings: la linea, the invisible border dividing the strongholds of the two main gangs fighting a turf war to…

Fighting for the land

  I walk past the burned shacks, stepping on shattered glass, metel scraps, charred bed nets, smoking ashes. This informal settlement close to the Cato Crest township in Durban, South Africa, has been raided severeal times by policemen. “Yesterday they came with 9 mm guns and petrol jerrycans” says Sbongile, 34, Hiv positive, who lives alone here in Khenana. “The police razed all our houses. Set fire to our mattresses,…

Gas drugs and dogs of war

The latest massacre took place two days ago. Emerging silently from the forest, the attackers stormed the village of Chicuaia Velha killing 12 people, women and children included, and burned 40 houses. The men used machetes and knives on their victims. Then they disappeared, long before the security forces arrived. Over the past twelve months hundreds lost their lives and thousands are now displaced in Cabo Delgado, the remote northern…

Under the bridge

A frenzied ticking of lighters hail from behind the scarves, as ghost-like shapes crouch down to inhale the smoke. Bluish flames glitter in dark when the dope pipe makers trigger the gas burners. Poder, heroin, is cheap in Afghanistan: a dollar for a double dose. The opium harvest has hit a record mark of 9,000 tons in 2017. Heroin production is skyrocketing. And tens of thousands of junkies drag themselves…

Island in the storm

Pitch black. The whole town in the dark. A few laggards wander the cobbled streets of old San Juan with torches in hand. It’s Wednesday night, April 18, and the only bright lights for miles come from the Hiram Bithorn stadium, where the Minnesota Twins and the Cleveland Indians are playing a baseball match. A massive blackout is crippling the country after an excavator downed a trasmission line during some…

hell from the sky

On the edge of a barren sun-baked hill, Amina is hastily filling sand bags while her husband digs trenches in front of their bamboo and plastic shelter. She stops and looks up at the gathering clouds. She knows what’s going to happen when the rains come. Everybody knows. The monsoon season is approaching and will wreak a devastating blow to the world’s largest refugee camp, an hour drive south of…

Timbuctu

It’s an odd feeling being the lonely guest at the Hotel Colombe and the only toubab in town. I must stay indoor at night, move around face-covered with a scarf, low profile, watching my back: “white spotting” is the first step in the business of kidnapping foreigners. Five years after the French chased the jihadis out of Timbuktu, armed groups still roam the countryside, ambush humanitarian convoys, attack military bases…

Glimpses of Tehran

It’s hard to hit the streets of Tehran. You must endure traffic jams and big crowds, survive pollution, crazy drivers; but sailing through its bowels, alleys and highways makes for an eye-opening journey into the heart of Iranian society. Start at night in Baam e-Tehran, the roof of the city. Here you have the whole town at your feet: an endless, glittering ocean of lights where twelve millions are living….

that house in mogadiscio

One street-end is closed by a towering concrete wall, the other is barred by a tangle of road-blocks swiftly manned by guards in combat gear. I hear the familiar clicks of safety locks let loose on their weapons as they stare at me through the car front window. But as I walk past the reinforced metal gate and step into the courtyard, I suddenly feel at home. The mighty ficus…

The gates of hell

From above it looks like an ancient Roman encampment in the middle of nowhere: hoary plastic roofs in regular rows split in geometrical sectors with wider go-through lanes of mud; tiny swirls of smoke billowing in the muggy weather, swamps all around. Down on the ground you get closer cautiously. To enter you must show a proper ID, then you’re allowed to cross the gates, guarded by private security and…