On The Ground

  • ON THE GROUND

The gates of hell

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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…

Besieged in Yemen’s Sarajevo

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Step One is crossing the pirates-infested Arabian sea on a boat from Djibouti. Step Two is sweating for days in the war-ravaged port of Aden in search of a travel permit, which includes endless khat chewing sessions with local officials in ruined hotel rooms and getting used to militiamen, nightly rounds of bullets, power blackouts, poor food, beggars, displaced people and piles of garbage. Step Three is negotiate a car…

In Rimbaud’s footsteps

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Nearly nothing is left. The little house in Faras Magala square where he spent his last days is gone. The Arthur Rimbaud museum, hosted in a grand Indian merchant’s mansion, just shows a couple of his grainy photos among other century-old images. And young folks take the poet for Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo”. Yet the ancient fortified city of Harar, one of the oldest Islamic centers in East Africa, hasn’t changed…

Hasta siempre?

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A somber mood shrouds Habana while Fidel’s ashes are buried under a stone in Santiago de Cuba. Most bars are closed, streets are unusually quiet and people gather to watch the tv: old black and white footage of the Comandante en jefe resting after a battle at a Sierra Maestra hideout, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos entering Habana on January 8th 1959, their jeep surrounded by cheering crowds, Fidel blasting…

Boxe in the slum

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I spent a week trying to find a bright spot in Caracas, but beside the warm cordiality of the people I only ran across the crumbling landscapes of a failing state: kids eating garbage from the streets, empty stores, rising prices, queques for everything outside the shops, hospitals desperately short of drugs, corruption, black market’ sharks, water rationing, armed thugs, angry demonstrations, rampant crime. Until I went to Petare. The…

No more fun in Acapulco

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When my phone rang last night at 10 p.m. I knew why Paco was calling. “It’s downtown in Urdaneta. Make it fast!” I grabbed my camera, ran through the empty alleys to the avenida Costera and jumped into a taxi. It took barely fifteen minutes to get there. I couldn’t miss it: the marines and the forensic staff were already there, flashing red and blue lights on the concrete walls….

I was looking for ivory
but stumbled on cholera

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What a place is Zanzibar! I came here following an ivory trail. Chinese traffickers are known to use this city’s crumbling harbour to smuggle elephants’ tusks to the Far East, taking advantage from loose controls and corrupt officers. I was wandering through the narrow streets of ancient Stonetown under a thundering storm, looking for Freddy Mercury’s birthplace and the Sultan’s palace, when I stood in front of the decrepit house…

A syrian truce. Sort off…

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Second day of “temporary ceasefire” here in Damascus. Most front lines appear to be silent, although the truce has been already breached both by pro-Assad forces and rebel groups. Some scattered shelling was heard in the past 24 hours south of the capital and a number of “incidents” are reported in several places all over the country, mainly around Alep. Welcomed as a turning point in the five-year civil war,…

shifting sands

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Stuck in the muddy banks of the Euphrates river, ducking in long trenches with guns and mortars at hand, and with just a few wind-swept tents to rest between the battles, the Shia fighters of the Ansar al-Marjia Brigade are holding ground. Only the red and green banners portraying imam Hussein’s grim face distinguish them from the warriors with the black flags of the Caliphate, some two miles away. You…

Letras o numeros?

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San Salvador is a place where even a shoe brand has a gloomy meaning: a pair of worn out Nike sneakers hanging from a lamp post hints you’re crossing into Mara Salvatrucha’s turf; a line of shabby Adidas swinging from a suspended electric wire warns you are entering a Pandilla 18 stronghold. Other sinister signs, painted or carved on the walls, mark the the local clica’s hunting grounds: a cross,…

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