Showing posts from 2013

Christians, Muslims, Brothers.

“Be careful, don’t be too friendly, they are still a bit closed minded,” warned a kindly traveler as I boarded a bus to Kosovo from Bulgaria. But nothing could have been further from the truth. There was something in the air in Pristina; I sensed it as soon as I stepped out of the station in Kosovo's capital.  Kosovo like the majority of its population is young –having only declared independence in 1998. The area has a history of religious tolerance but this doesn’t make the headlines. Conflict does, and territorial tensions down ethnic divides came to a head in the war of 1998 to 1999. This had left negative images in my mind that were not borne out by the helpful, polite and friendly people I met -particularly in Peja.

The western town of Peja lies at the foot of ravine cut mountains that rise abruptly from the flat plains of Kosovo. Travelling with a friend we were destined to visit the Serbian monastery of the Pec Patriacharchate but our driver insisted on taking us to see the …

Same Story, Different Time.

This poem was written during the Kosovo War in reponse to BBC radio reports. It attempts to acknowledge the shadow side of humanity yet still find room for hope.

The same sunk faces amassed on the borders, in the reserves, the refugee camps, the transit camps. The same loss etched in expression across Tibet, Rwanda, Kosovo. The same resonant legacy in the anguish of Auschwitz, Jericho, all along the Red Road.

The same ancient record played out, stuck in cyclical revenge. The same trust blinded by betrayal. The same forgotten humanity, The same dammed inhumanity. The same distorted belief that 'all delusion is in the minds of others!' The same rant restated:
To rob a people of their power cut their hair, To rob a people of their pride burn their homes, To rob a people of everything, take their land. 
In a different guise at a different time we have all stood in the stench of smoke and shit and death. Their loss is our loss, their present our past.

To heal is to look inward, as…

Mitrovica: Images from a town divided.

Mitrovica, Kosovo is a town divided: Serbs on the North side of the river, Kosovo Albanians on the south. 

A dead end to Dobrinovo

Down a dead end road in south-east Bulgaria lies Dobrinovo, a village seemingly in death throes. Along it`s grid system of roads house upon house lies dormant, derelict, slowly sinking into the thick clay it`s thin foundations were built upon. Brick walls have cracked and crumbled; rain pours through fallen roofs; sun shines through fallen ceilings. Amongst the collapse life continues: dogs do their duty, barking outside the houses still maintained; women chat in a small shop selling bare essentials; men fix an old car or chew the fat with friends. Chickens, sheep and goats meander along a stream sniffing out a subsistence living like their human counterparts. All the while a dedicated son spends the small sums of money he earns looking after his ageing father.

(Dobrinovo translates as 'kind place')

Dobrinovo`s decline marries communism`s. The village school closed some thirty years ago, the collective farm in 1989. Since then the trades associated with the workers: the baker, t…

Bulgaria: A postcard from the periphary

The industrial remains of Soviet Socialism are very evident in the towns on the outskirts of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Decay and dereliction scars the region.  Listen to a podcast description of the startling views from a bus window travelling west towards Macedonia.

Photo:  A warm welcome in the village of Dobrinovo

In Limbo, In Istanbul

On leaving mount Athos the everyday realities of speed, poverty, greed, manipulation and ostentatiousness seem utterly surreal. Crossing the Greek Turkish border our bus drivers were arrested for smuggling iPhones among the supplies. A group of English Muslims en route to Syria with an aid convoy of five ambulances were held up in customs with us. One of them told stories about government forces making a mother drink the soup of her own boiled baby; and that Hezbollah were carrying out attacks on white Journalists to make it look like the work of ‘rebels.’ Truth being the first victim of war, none of this could be taken at face value, but he felt his help was needed: “I’m helping to bring Islam and topple dictators who stop the prayer, Islamic way of life.”
Once in Istanbul a cab driver hiked up the agreed price mid journey and spat on the ground when I refused to travel any further. Hotel hustlers assumed I was wealthy and tried to sell me overpriced room deals.When talking with some…

Mount Athos Epiphany

The ferry to Mount Athos is a serene, sedate affair. Women have been left behind. Black clad bearded monks and priests finger rosary beads and contemplate the steep rise of pine clad foothills to the sharp jagged mountain pinnacle. Peppered amongst the black gowns are logo brandishing pilgrims flicking mobile phones; some carrying wooden staffs. 

Here 21st century meets ancient tradition head on. Although Athos is a peninsula the feeling is of cutting away from the modern world, to an island set back in time. Among the foothills to the Mountain there are many monasteries where one can stay and pray. Since praying for my life Afghanistan I had lost all resistance to deep contemplation or prayer. In the words of William Dalyrmple Athos is, “A self governing monastic republic dedicated to prayer chastity and pure untarnished orthodoxy.” So it was to this rather austere environment I came for solace.  Fortuitously unplanned my arrival comes at an auspicious time. It is the feast of th…

Pitched up in Paris

Paris. Something told me the scantily clad women in black boots weren’t selling ice creams from white vans parked in a thoroughfare of the Bois du Boulonge. When one emptied the garbage of the night before into a waste-bin she revealed  her profession in the back of her wagon, a bed. It would be easy to wax lyrical about the magnificence of Paris, as it is, but this trip was, let's say, er, a little more rustic. It all began...

When I was standing at a ticket machine in London Victoria poised to buy a ticket back home to Newcastle. A young Spanish man came up to me and asked, "Want to buy a ticket to Paris for £20?" I looked him in the eyes, they were relaxed, warm and genuine. "Go on then, Yes," came out my mouth. Pablo, and is girlfriend Nerea, through love and long hours have saved up enough money working in McDonalds on minimum wage to travel the world for a while. With a sleeping bag and bivvy, camping stove and passport in my rucksack I concluded living on…