This year marks 100 years since the Easter Rising – the event that would eventually kick Ireland’s fight for independence from Great Britain into full gear. But at first the uprising was extremely unpopular. You see, when Patrick Pearse first stood on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin’s city center on April 24, 1916 and read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to the people gathered outside, he did so with the conviction that it was time for the Irish to stand free of the British oppression. He was right, but the struggle had only just begun, and they would brutally lose this fight.
The British response was fierce. They sent for reinforcements and thousands of British soldiers landed in Ireland, bombarding the city center occupied by the Irish Republicans with heavy artillery. The resulting carnage and wreckage where people’s lives and homes had been ruined did little to win the public over to the Republicans’ side. However, that was soon about to change.
What swayed the public was the incredibly inhumane treatment the British gave the insurrectionists as a response. They must’ve felt that a harsh punishment would act as a deterrent to any future uprising. There are many better places to read about the uprising and the treatment the prisoners were given, so I will not go into detail. On my recent visit to Dublin I took a tour of the Dublin gaol (jail) and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and obviously moved by the history of the place. He told us of the atrocities with a great passion and at times stifled, inflamed, anger. He was so good he made us feel the pain, physical but mostly the psychological pain of the prisoners and the Irish people in general. We stood outside the cells looking in at the rooms that had been occupied by the ring leaders of the uprising feeling the hopelessness the men must’ve felt in their last moments, waiting to be dragged out of their cells to face the firing squad.
The fury of the Irish had been awakened, and soon the terribly oppressed people would gain their independence, but only after years of struggle and a bloody civil war. Even then, the 6 counties of Northern Ireland remained in the UK. To “protect the protestant population”, mainly heirs to the protestant Scottish and English landowners that had been “planted” there as a way to stifle the Irish spirit and will to gain independence (a recurring theme it seems in the entire history of British occupation of the island). This division of a people lead to even more bloody atrocities and for a long time, terror in Europe was synonymous with the Irish (and the Basque) among simple minded people that can’t live by anything other than generalizations – just as today those same people draw the very same parallel with Muslims. The pattern we see today of fear, distrust, a feeling of righteousness and building of walls has happened before as this story proves.
Today, the fighting seems to have stopped. The walls are still there, even though they are being torn down, but it’s not only physical barriers maintaining the separation. I crossed the border from the Republic into the 6 counties by road, in a rental car with kilometers per hour on the speedometer. While there were no soldiers or customs agents checking my credentials, and I needn’t even slow down to cross from one part of the same island to the next; I knew I was in the UK as the road signs greeted me with the information that all speed limits would now be given in miles per hour. I wasn’t surprised, I’d prepared a mental conversion sheet beforehand but it made a stark contrast and a first sign that another will was imposed on this part of the land – even though I had not crossed any physical, visible line.
Soon, as I rolled through the first town, I became aware of something I had not seen before, not in England, not in Scotland and certainly not in the Republic of Ireland; the Union Jack lined the streets of most towns and would only here and there be replaced by the flag of the county I was in, or the Northern Irish flag. But the greatest reminder of all that this was not a free country was the presence of one thing in particular: the Queen’s portrait 3 or 4 meters above ground in almost every town, the royal head of oppression reminding her subjects of their bondage to an undeserving individual who has done nothing other than being born into the right house.
I could go on about the taste of the air being different, the mood of the people even their friendliness being less, but it is no longer needed to tell my point of view – I think it is clear already. I know this is a much more complex matter and a lot of spilled, bad blood stands in the way of a reunification. But that might be about to change.
You see, the Irish stood for something when they sprang into action back in 1916 and proclaimed the republic with independence from the Union. They had been mistreated for generations, exploited and left to starve in their own land. Now, 100 years later, the English and the Welsh also feel like they need to stand up against oppression by a larger union. The atrocities and insults committed on the British people – and the shade of their former glory as world invaders – by the citizens of various European Union member states has gone too far.
As a person who strongly believes in unity I can’t say I stand with the English. But then, how can I say that I stand with the Irish? The answer lies in the union. Of course a union that leads to suffering and pain can’t go on. So fair enough, if the English and Welsh really feel like the “massive wave” of European migrants that come in and “steal their jobs”, or beg in the streets, is too much to handle for a country that has invaded the majority of the planet throughout it’s glorious history; then so be it. Good bye, adieu England and Wales.
But this is where it becomes interesting. You see, they don’t share the same notion in Scotland – a nation that just recently declined the chance to gain independence peacefully – nor are they so sure in the 6 counties of Northern Ireland. In fact, this very act of defiance by the British, this wish to stand on their own and once again be as glorious as the turn of the century (the previous one of course), might be the undoing of the United Kingdom and final nail in the coffin of England’s claim to greatness. This in turn would have to mean the end to the Union Jack – a flag my Irish friend termed as “illegal” due to it’s use of the cross of St Patrick (the diagonal red cross of the famous flag) which represents the entire island of Ireland – something they do not have claims on.
All this aside, it is interesting how we like to draw lines in the sand. Invisible for the eye to see, and ban people from entering or leaving without proper documentation. Although we are all the same species, originating from the same, exploited continent we cannot be allowed to move about freely, be it for love, money or freedom. Instead, we need to build walls and protect what is ours.
“All Mongolians are criminals, they’re drug dealers, and they’re rapists!” proclaimed Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, China’s first Emperor as he rose to power, promising to build a wall to keep out all those pesky Mongolians. Which is exactly what he did, and so the Great Wall of China was built. Yet he failed to even appreciate the extensiveness his own greatness, for not only did it keep out all the Mongolians, it also kept out all the Mexicans.
“China built a wall, and guess how many Mexicans they have.” tweeted Donald J Trump on September 24th, 2015.
And he was very right. China does indeed have very few Mexicans. So in that aspect, could you call building a wall to stop an entire race of people from entering your country a worthwhile and effective strategy at a very complicated issue?
Lets have a look at two very different strategies.
Trump’s wall vs TribeLAB’s playground
First up, Donald J Trump.
Donald Trump’s strategy for tackling the immigration issue, by his own website’s admission, involves:
- Building a wall across the southern border, which Mexico should pay for.
- Eviction of all convicted foreigners for even the slightest misdemeanor
- Legalised discrimination based on ethnicity for jobs
- Cutting aid to refugee programs
Now let’s just have a look at one of these issues, because frankly I have better things to do. But let’s see what effect that building a wall between the USA and Mexico would have.
No matter how patriotic or what level of national pride you may have – and there’s nothing wrong with that per-se – you have to consider the idea that every single country is simply a made up thing. It isn’t real, it doesn’t actually exist. It is a human construct divided by imaginary lines drawn on pieces of paper that separate what we all collectively have accepted as being “different countries”, but in reality, it is all just different bits of this rock, this planet we all live on. These lines, these borders, move all the time. They are imaginary. They aren’t real. Some countries are separated by water, they are islands, and that has more credibility. There is physically a large body of water separating it from other parts of land. But other than that, a country is simply a made up, imaginary geo-political construct which we all sort of believe and accept.
The truth is that we are all human beings, and we are all living on this planet called earth, and very few of us actually originate and owe our ancestry to the place we now find ourselves in. Borders, countries, nations, whatever – all of these are artificial constructs distracting us from the truth that we are all human beings, we all feel, we all suffer, we all love, and we all deserve every opportunity to do whatever we can to make our lives as happy and joy-filled as possible and contribute as much as we can to our society’s advancement.
As someone who spent 2015 travelling all through Central America and crossing many of these borders, it is abundantly clear that those opportunities for personal and collective advancement are very different, depending on which side of one of those imaginary lines you are born.
As Russel Brand famously pointed out, “An immigrant is just someone who used to be somewhere else…” The desire to improve your own life, and that of your family, should be celebrated, not condemned or criminalised. In fact, doesn’t that very idea lie at the heart of the American dream?
Building a wall, a real, physical wall, would only serve to further entrench the separation and segregation which one could argue is the defining crisis of our generation. It strengthens the “us vs them” mentality, when in reality, there is really only “us”. We are all in this together, on this planet, trying to make things work. It would be a step backwards, reminiscent of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, which history celebrated the world over when humanity finally gathered the strength to realise that what we have in common is far more powerful than any of the superficial things which separate us.
Every victory in every civil movement has involved the removal and breaking down of segregation, not building it up.
Ok so that’s Trump’s wall, now let’s have a look at TribeLAB…
If you don’t know who TribeLAB are, that’s ok. While they may not share the same budget that the Worldvisions or UNICEFs of the world may have, the work they are doing is making waves across a wide range of developmental and indigenous issues, and even though they are small, many of the big players in the not-for-profit world are starting to pay attention to this small design collective, and for good reason.
Originally started to tackle indigenous sustainable housing in Guatemala, TribeLAB are now tackling abandonment, anger and youth mental health issues in refugee camps in Western Europe by building… Playgrounds! Being able to jump from designing and building homes for indigenous communities in Central America to designing and creating playgrounds for children in refugee camps is quite a leap, but that’s the advantage of being a smaller, more dynamic not-for-profit; their size gives TribeLAB the flexibility and agility that the bigger players in the scene simply do not have.
These children are often fleeing war, conflict, the destruction of their homes and neighbourhoods, and many of them have had to go through more in their short little lives than most of us in the Western World could even imagine. This is simply because we were born on a different part of this rock, on a different side of those imaginary lines. Fear, uncertainty, tragedy and loss are not words that should ever be used to describe or define a childhood.
If you are thinking that building a playground isn’t going to fix the refugee issue, then you are missing the point.
“Nobody can fix everything, but everyone can do something to make things a little bit better.”
TribeLAB aren’t trying to fix the refugee crisis. They’re just trying to build some playgrounds so kids can laugh and play and have some fun.
Play is fundamentally important to every child’s health and wellbeing. The UN even recognised play as one of a child’s basic human rights. Fun, laughter, joy, friendships, these are the words that should be used to describe a childhood.
Maybe if more people stopped trying to fix the big issues of the world, and instead tried just making things a little bit better, then slowly, but surely, we might just save the world.
Make children happy. Let children laugh. Help those in need. Make things a little bit better. These are all values and virtues which every human can grasp.
Build a wall. Be afraid. Blame those foreigners. Us vs Them. These are also ideas which every human has the capacity to choose, if they so wish.
Whichever side we choose says not only a lot about us as individuals, but also our collective humanity.
Here’s a video about TribeLAB’s most recent project, a playground in the refugee camp in Dunkirk.
(if the video doesn’t appear, you can watch it here.)
Or to support Trump’s wall, you can donate to the Trump campaign here.
Nepal is a poor country, really poor. It’s never been the seat of high power, always a country on the margins. But it’s a country rich in character, culture and humility. Nowhere else have I ever been met with such dignity and kindness as I did in Nepal.
A part of the charm with Nepal is the traditional life a lot of people still lead – a side effect of the poverty no doubt. However in this case it’s not a downside, rather it helps make Nepal one of the friendliest countries on earth, where you feel welcomed and belonging, even though everything is completely alien to you and all the street signs are intelligible – don’t even bother with a map, navigate by landmarks and the sun.
This old man was one of many, many other men, women and children I’d see during my stay in Kathmandu. This image was actually taken in nearby Patan on a day trip to the other two Durbar (palace) squares in the Kathmandu valley, the other being Bakhtapur; the place that moved me the most on my short one week trip in the country, but that’s a story for a different time.
I just walked out on a date with one of the hottest women I’ve ever been on a date with. Here’s why…
So we met up at this taco place in Cancun, and she arrives and looks absolutely gorgeous, with a fancy dress and hair and make-up all done up like it was a Friday night and I was taking her to the most expensive restaurant in town because it was our anniversary. It wasn’t our anniversary, it was our first date, and it was a Thursday night. We were getting tacos. I don’t think she was particularly pleased that I took her to a taco place, or that I was wearing a sideways cap and a dirty Tshirt with a swearing monkey on it but whatever woman this is just how I roll these days…
Anyway the tacos are super cheap, like 30 pesos for 2, so we order and start chatting. It seems to be going ok, I’ve done this before…
After a few minutes this woman comes up with her son behind her and starts speaking in Spanish. She didn’t seem homeless, or like a junkie, and the kid was wearing jeans and a nice shirt. She seemed like a normal mum. I could feel how uncomfortable the kid was. Anyway my date just dismissed them really quickly and they went off.
I watched this mum and son go to 3 or 4 different tables and nobody would help them. Then they crossed the road and went into Burger King.
The chick was telling me some boring story about her cat, which I really didn’t give a fuck about to be honest, so I interrupted her…
“Hang on, was that lady asking for money or food?”
“Err food… But…”.
“For her or for her son?”
“For her son I think, but…”
“Here, hang on a second, I’ll be right back…”
I got up and crossed the road to the Burger King, and saw the mum sitting in one of the booths with her head on her hands crying. Her son was opposite her, just sitting there.
I went over, and said in my best crappy Spanish “lo siento, hablo solamente un pocito espanol, pero el chico… El necessito comida?” (I’m sorry I only speak a little spanish, the boy… He needs food?)
The woman lifted her head up, tears pouring down her face, and she said “si, si”.
I looked at the kid “tienes hambre?” (You hungry?)
He said yes, in English.
I smiled and said “ok, let’s get you some food kid!”
We went up to the counter and I told him he could order whatever he wanted. He seemed really nervous, I could feel how ashamed he was. At first he said he’d just have some fries, but i insisted he could have whatever he wanted, it was ok. He ordered some BK triple chicken whopper burger combo meal with a large fries and a sprite. While we waited we chatted.
His name was Steven, he spoke a little English but it was probably better than my spanish. His dad had just died. His mum didn’t work. It was now just the two of them. His mum has some problem with her eyes to where it was hard for her to get a job. He was trying to find work but it was hard because he was only 8.
His meal was 69 pesos. I paid with a hundred, and gave him the change and told him to do something nice with it for his mum. And to at least share his fries with her. He thanked me, and said I was a very nice man. I left to go back to my date.
Back at the taco place the chick was pissed.
“What the hell! You invite me to this crappy place, then you just walk off and leave me here by myself?”
“Yeah, the kid was hungry…”
“So? Do you not think it’s rude to just walk off in the middle of a date!?”
At that point our tacos arrived. I put 30 pesos on the table.
“You know what? Here I’ll pay for that kid’s food, but I’m not paying for yours. Peace out brussel sprout.”
I grabbed my tacos, shoved one into my mouth, and walked off.
She seemed like a cow anyway…
It was one of my greatest exit lines ever.
I’ll just let this image speak for itself.
I found this mother and child at the very top of the temple complex Swayambunath in the nort-western parts of Kathmandu. The climb up was steep, but all the monkeys I saw everywhere made me stop every few steps just to watch them and try to snatch a photo before they ran away. I found that to be easier said than done as it seemed like most of the little monkeys were camera shy.
However, the sheer amount of monkeys at Swayambunath means you get plenty of chances for excellent photos, and while this is not the strongest of my shots I think it’s a nice and warm image that shows the mother-child bond is strong in animals too.
Boudhanath was meant to be a minor stop on the way to catch a glimpse of the mighty Himalayas, but I ended up becoming sucked in by the place. I’d been told that you always walk clockwise around all Buddhist and Hindu temples, rooms and structures. So I followed that advice and spent the better part of the afternoon walking around the stupa, climbing level after level until I reached the top where I turned back down but kept going around, descending one level at a time.
I watched the people and their customs, I drank in the smells and just allowed myself to be right there in that moment. The thousands little colourful flags stimulated my eyes and mind; I could’ve easily spent a whole day in that square, people watching and just enjoying the warm sun, letting it warm my body before the cold of night when I’d huddle under 3 pairs of blankets while still wearing my thickest sweater.
This stupa is one of the few UNESCO sites that went relatively unscathed from the earth quake. A few of the surrounding buildings collapsed, but the stupa itself still stands with the face of the Buddha watching over the devastation wrought by nature.
This image was taken from the balcony of a rooftop restaurant at Durbar Square in Kathmandu. The mountains in the background are barely visible through all the smog.
Many of the buildings you see in this photo are no longer standing, a silent testimony to the force of nature.
The white buildings you can barely make out on top of the smaller hill is the temple of Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple after the holy monkeys that live in the north-west part of the temple complex. More images of that, much more close up, will follow.
Do you give a fuck? Or do you not give a fuck? Really who gives a fuck if you do or you don’t?
Why do we give a fuck more about what happens on Sons of Anarchy than actual gang related violence? Why do we give a fuck about Kim Kardashian’s ass and not about the reality that every day children are sold into sex slavery and child prostitution?
We give a fuck about what people think about us, and not whether we’re being the people we really think we should be.
Truth is, as human beings we only have a limited amount of fucks we can give. Some of us have more, some of us have less, but we all have a certain amount of fucks, and it is our choice to give them wherever we want.
The problem is that many of us give our fucks to things that really don’t matter. We give a fuck about our shitty jobs. We give a fuck about the economy. We give a fuck about our ex. We give a fuck about ISIS. If your ex is now in ISIS then you’re really fucked…
But it’s only when we stop giving a fuck, that we begin to replenish our fuck bank. If we stop giving a fuck about ISIS, then that fuck comes back to us. If we stop giving a fuck about all the unimportant shit, then all of a sudden we have a whole bunch of fucks we can give about things we can actually consciously choose to give a fuck about. We can direct our fucks, we can aim them, to worthwhile causes.
We never do anything we don’t give a fuck about. Why would we? So if we’re ever gonna do anything worthwhile, we need to start giving a fuck about it.
So stop giving a fuck about everything. Take your fucks back. Reclaim your fucks. Go an entire day where not a single fuck was given.
Then decide what YOU really give a fuck about.
(hint: its probably not what the media tells you you should give a fuck about…)
Kathmandu was a magical place, it really saddened me to hear the news of the earth quake that devastated the city and all its rich cultural heritage. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been there so recently and just before the disaster and was able to see all the magical sites around the city.
So with this I begin a series of images where I remember Nepal in all its beauty. Many of the buildings, and quite possibly some of the people, you will see in this series are no longer there. They were shaken and reduced to a pile of rubble. However Nepal has seen the terrible force of nature before and they rebuilt. That is what is happening now, as we speak, the resilient Nepali people are once again gathering their strength, everyone pitching in to rebuild the nation.
This image is of a monk at Kathmandu Durbar Square. He stood there, almost motionless, the entire time I was watching him, hardly even flinching as the pigeons flew all around him. It was while I was taking this photo that I was approached and asked to be photographed myself – the tourist became the attraction. With my long, strawberry blonde hair I had then and my 186 cm height I stood out from the crowd. Yet another fond memory of one of my favourite places on Earth.