Policing the police in Rio

Policing the police in Rio

I always thought the police were the good guys when I was a kid. They are the people you call when you are in trouble – right? Of course this naïve view of the world altered as my understanding of the social context of much of the world expanded, and it was probably in my teens when I started to question why rappers often referred to the police as pigs. In places like Rio de Janeiro – more specifically in poorer parts of the city where corrupt authorities, lawless gangs and ordinary citizens collide, police mistrust is an accepted daily reality. The tragic consequences of these complex relationships have been well documented and popularised globally in films such as elite squad and City of God and in the plethora of pre-World Cup news coverage. But beyond the hype – there are people exploring real solutions to the entrenched and difficult problem of excessive violence in poor neighbourhoods, and harnessing simple technologies that are an inevitable part of our future to tackle them. The Igarapé Institute is one such example. Having already worked with Google to create an award-winning mapping arms data (MAD) visualisation tool that tracks global imports and exports of guns, they are currently collaborating with police forces in Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi and Cape Town to pilot a project called ‘smart policing’. Smart policing quite simply involves police officers wearing smartphones with an app that records their every movement while they are out on patrol. It aims to increase transparency, police protection and accountability. If a police officer spots trouble, s/he can send a signal back to...
For the love of the game

For the love of the game

Admittedly there haven’t been many moments in my life where I’ve shared a confined space with football fans, but flight KL 205 from Amsterdam-Rio blessed me with 12 hours of such an experience. I would estimate the ratio of men to women on the flight was around 8:2. Wedged in the middle of the aircraft, I got chatting to diehard England football fan Chad, from Doncaster. Chad has bought a one-way ticket to Rio. He will fly around Brazil wherever England are playing, planning only to return home when England are out of the cup. “There’s no point in staying after that”, he said. I didn’t dare ask at which stage he thought that might be, though based on recent events…I guess he may not be here as long as he had hoped. He also told me he doesn’t have a job, and is funding his Brazilian football foray on credit, thanks to a Tesco 18 month interest free payback credit card. “When people ask me how I afford it, I ask them how they pay for cigarettes and alcohol.” You find the money for the things you love, I think was his point. Part of me thought it was unthinkable to fly to the World Cup without an income, but another part of me admired his unflinching commitment to football, and more specifically the England football team. At the end of the flight, Chad pulled a big shiny fake world cup trophy from his bag and declared his intention to run onto the pitch and deliver it by hand to Steven Gerrard if England make it to the...
Playground of the gods

Playground of the gods

 I recently discovered I am incredibly prone to travel sickness; a message, which I feel, my body has delivered quite late in life. It was on the beautiful and scenic drive up the winding mountain roads that led to the sublime and sacred land of Uttarkashi, that I learnt this lesson*. Uttarkashi also known as the ‘playground of the gods’ is nestled in the Himalayan foothills close to the source of the Ganges, where wandering monks take refuge by the serene and holy river, as they have done for many thousands of years. Dotted throughout with ashrams, temples and legendary sites, hundreds of ascetics inhabit this mountainous terrain wearing simple orange clothes as a symbol of the burning of their desires in the ‘eternal fire of knowledge’.  This is a place not oft-visited by the millions of travellers and tourists that pass through India (as the condition of the roads suggest), many of whom halt their Himalayan journey much further down the Ganges at Rishikesh. There is indeed much natural beauty to be admired once the treacherous journey across hours of mountain roads of ‘hairpin’ bends has been endured. It is a lush and unmanicured land barely touched by development littered with wild flowers, offering views of snow-capped peaks in the horizon. But the real beauty of Uttarkashi lies in its history and legacy that continues to draw a unique and distinct crowd. Spiritual aspirants have held Uttarkashi sacred since time immemorial, as a place where countless sages have attained enlightenment on the banks of the river, and lived their lives in blissful solitude. It is a place of...
A good cuppa chai

A good cuppa chai

 When I think of the small and simple pleasures of visiting India, drinking a piping hot, milky tea with excess sugar definitely stands among them. From street corners to train stations – it is the tasty cup of chai that hits the spot every time. Yet on a recent visit to one of Delhi airport’s domestic terminals I was disgruntled to discover there was none on offer. I could buy a 200 rupees (approx £2) café latte, but if I wanted to indulge in a simple cup of a chai…I’d have to go somewhere else. The chai wasn’t the only glaring omission in the airport terminal. You can shop to your heart’s content at Early Learning Centre, WHSmith or Marks and Spencer, but if you want to pick up a salwar, sari or the like – you will be disappointed. This contrasts quite heavily with the international terminal at Delhi, that packages up India in all its exportable splendour with beautifully packaged incense sticks, ayurvedic oils, ethnic fabrics, ornamental statues and other paraphernalia. You can even consult an ayurvedic doctor and catch some live Indian classical music while you wait for your flight. Whilst I do appreciate the quality of staple UK brands and a well-crafted foamy latte…I also consider it rather a shame that the quintessentially Indian joy of drinking chai has disappeared from a hub airport in the country’s...
Telling the story of a sex worker

Telling the story of a sex worker

Amina was one of nearly twenty urban sex workers I met in Tanzania’s capital a while ago on a film, photography and storygathering assignment. I was interviewing them to capture the perspectives of marginalised women, which we wanted to amplify in support of VSO’s campaign for increasing women’s involvement in decision-making globally. They had formed a grassroots organisation to lobby for access to basic services. As you might expect, all the sex workers were quite different in appearance and manner. Some were confident and assertive, others shy and sceptical of what we were there to do. Some wanted to be identified on camera, even though their work is illegal and dangerous; while others wanted to share their personal story, but remain anonymous. Amina was one of the young women, who did not want to be identified, and it was her experience that really did strike a chord. Her journey was one of a young village girl living in poverty, lured to the city under the false pretence of being given work as a maid. Still in her teens, she was forced into a life of prostitution. She managed to escape it, but without any other obvious means of survival, she continues to live and work as an illegal sex worker in Dar es Salaam today. The issue of sex workers’ rights is a sensitive one. Some people find it hard to sympathise, believing women should not choose this way of life, while others would argue that everyone, regardless of their background, should not be denied basic human rights. With colleagues back in the UK, we decided to tell Amina’s story through animation, which allowed her...