On The Ground

A doctor’s tale

Eight-month-old Wazir was a desperate case. Born with a severe congenital heart disease, he had no chance to survive. But his stubborn Yazidi parents, who last year fled their mountain village, barely escaping the Islamic State bloody slaughter in Sinjar, managed reach the Children’s Hospital in Duhok. Wazir was in very poor conditions and the doctors thought he was going to die in a matter of days. Luckily a young…

Yazidis’ holy land

Past the small peshmerga check point the road winds up a narrow valley tucked away in the sparsely forested hills of northern Kurdistan. Rocks engraved with symbols representing the sun pave the way leading to Lalish, the sacred mountain hamlet that is to the Yazidis what Mecca is to Muslims, or what Jerusalem is for Jews and Christians: the holiest site of one of the oldest religions on Earth. Their…

Under the bridge

Narcos-related violence has somehow gone down here in Ciudad Juárez: the “murder capital of the world” now records a monthly average of 30 killings, ten times less than two-three years ago when the war for the control of drug routes into the US was at its peak. The Juárez and Sinaloa cartels have apparently realized that too much bloodshed was harming the business. And money is what they are looking…

Homeless in Seattle

“Those homeless! I don’t understand them…” Manhal was my Iraqi driver during the 2003 war in Baghdad. Then he was forced to leave with his family and after years of hardship in Jordan ended up as a refugee in Seattle. He has worked 16 hours a day-7 days a week driving buses for Microsoft, shuttles to the airport and huge trucks across the States. Now he rents a nice house…

Balkan connection

“We don’t like journalists” he says with a sharp American accent. “You come here just to fit us in your already written story”. The sturdy man in a long robe who confronts me at the entrance of Gornja Maoca, a small mountain village in Eastern Bosnia, flaunts a full islamic beard and a wry grin. “You should convert to islam” he cuts short, and desappears in the mosque. The flags…

ZONE ROUGE

It wasn’t easy to reach Mabass. Past the sprawling refugee camps and the dusty market small town of Mokolo, the road becomes a broken track climbing the rocky hills. The soldiers at the check point were suspicious of my presence, they hadn’t seen “blancs” on that trail, but after some bargaining I could go ahead. Mabass is at the heart of the military red zone where the Cameroonian army fights…

open hearts

Little Carmeline wasn’t playing like the other children in the small village of Shisong, North West Cameroun. At two she only weighted 5 kg and was always sick, with frequent fevers and weak feet. Her mother Pascaline, a teacher, finally took her to the nearby Cardiac Center where she was diagnosed a severe aortic stenosis. She wouldn’t have survived without a surgery. She underwent the operation in April 2012 and…

On the verge of the Caliphate #2

­­­Another car bomb (six dead and scores wounded), this time at the entrance of the governor’s office in Erbil, the usually rather safe capital of the Kurdish autonomous region. It’s a disturbing event: it shows that the 1,000 km common frontier with the  Caliphate is hard to defend and that the Is is not short of fanatics willing to attack civilian and military targets. The Caliphate forces seem to be…

On the verge of the Caliphate

The last check point is a maze of sand and gravel mounds at the end of an empty road. Heavily armed kurdish peshmergas are positioned on the ridge of a barren hill looking at the town of Jalawlah, now in the hands of the Is, just two kilometres away: I can see the the minarets and the greenish valley below the setting sun. Here is where I start my journey…

What’s on, baba?
Tunis, October 24, 2014

Going back home through the windswept alleys of the Hammamet medina at night I ruminated what I was told by a policeman at a checkpoint: something will happen before dawn. He was right. Elections are just three days away and something always happens when Tunisians head to the polls. So I wasn’t surprised when the phone rang in the morning with the news that a 25 years old soldier, Ashref…