Friday, 10 September 2010



-A love story from a far flung desert media hole-

I was another of the one thousand cameramen consuming the same daily updates in Camp Hope being fed breakfast, lunch and dinner by the government.

The truth was that most of the time at Camp Esperanza, nothing much happened other than lunchtime and Roly the clown doing his rounds at the family tents in his sinuous way of getting his world renowned picture taken. And click click they did, at anything really, to the effect that the Chilean government learnt how to play up their own orchestration of events, creating a kind of window, if but a caricature, to how it wanted the country to be portrayed to the World. What was always certain was that the real story was 700 metres below the ground - the stories which are beginning to unfold as the 33 miners erode their vow of silence and speak of their experiences, and in particular of the first 17 days before they were found alive.

For quite some time the daily activities from below were closely monitored. Psychologists and medics detained letters, any news and objects they deemed unhealthy for the miners were withdrawn as was any information coming from below speaking of the harshness of those first lost subterranean days. Families were prohibited from sending anything that may affect the miners psyche, chocolates, ipods and smokes included. Big brother knew what was best.

In the midst of this I kept a close vigil on Edison Peña, a miner who appeared to be the first to describe in his letters the real conditions of inside the mine and whose fears were that the mountain could swallow them before they could be rescued.

Here wrote in hyphens:

- We are the ones below the earth.

- If we run out of air, imagine.

- If it all collapses, imagine.

- If someone gets seriously injured, imagine what we would do with that person inside.

- Let’s not separate ourselves from the real sense or how grave it could become inside.

- It is us here in the darkness.

- We can die at any moment by a collapse.

Angelica, Edison’s partner, treasured these letters as though her lover’s words were bestowed with the voice of reason beyond the far-too-often farcical angle represented by the government. Her own quest went towards hunting down the truth, watch-dogging the very movements the authorities on top were celebrating. The day the ‘Phoenix’ rescue capsule was launched seemed to epitomise this; painted in the colours of the Chilean flag but appearing more like Captain America, with the torch-carrying mining minister himself Lawrance Golborne paraded as a saviour. Any one who spoke against the epic rescue preparations was deemed a haggard cynic.

The truth was that the Chilean government had it all to play for. Had a triumphant rescue attempt not been fulfilled, there would have been many more severed heads other than the scapegoated San Jose mine owners. Prior to the collapse, much of the conditions within the mine where lackadaisical, responding to weak government inspections and a general culture of negligence that carries throughout Chile’s mining industry. The incredible engineering feat that has now remapped this slither of a country has completely overshadowed the State’s blame in the events before the collapse.

Soon enough porn was sent down. Love letters also took on new eloquent forms. The borehole connecting the lower world with the loved ones on top became the emotional umbilical cord maintaining the miners’ sanity. Finally in the first established video conference call, Angelica would get to see her cherished Edison. She took with her, her 3 year-old daughter Nakita from a previous relation and Edison’s brother Rafael. Taken by the moment, Edison went into an acapella frenzy of Elvis songs - drowning the cries of “Daddy!” shouted by Nakita. His eyes appearing silvery, possessed even. He spoke of his new running routine, displaying his calves and chopped off boots personalised for better runability.

“He was always an extrovert. Perhaps he hides in his different personas to make us feel he is doing ok. But it’s difficult because when we go to him and want to talk to him about serious things, we can’t because he becomes Elvis.” - Angelica

The turtle race continued as the three different rescue plans were underway. Plan A, B and C. Plan D involving dynamite was quickly discarded as a kamikaze bypass, belittling the very wild cat miners that had conceived it. Each drill had its own set backs, stoppages and reignitions. Plan C labeled the Eiffel Tower of the desert was deemed the favourite owing to its sheer monstrosity. But as soon as Plan C began to have repeated hiccoughs the families and miners become increasingly uneasy. Edison was becoming less fluent in his letters and increasingly angry, and not only with the situation but with Angelica.

It was then that Angelica began to question her whole reasoning behind her search for truth, for the very pillar that maintained her at the mine and the centre of her sorrow now began to reprimand her. She chose at this time not to speak to me, shutting herself in her room till Edison would ask for forgiveness. When that chance finally came via a telephone call Edison hung up before she could even get a word in. Angelica was distraught.

Their own story as to how they met is central to understanding why. Three years before Edison had arrived up North in search of prosperity from the capital Santiago on a short-term contract as an electrician. He stayed at a local bed & breakfast in Copiapó the proprietor of which was Angelica, a woman ten years his senior, also dealt with life’s losses, from her previous husband dying at 33 from a heart attack, and losing both her parents before she reached her twenties. Angelica paid no attention to Edison’s overtures. His tenacity eventually got the better of her, lured as she was by his spontaneous romantic gestures. Edison returned to Santiago now decidedly in love and began to visit her on weekends - a 20 hour bus journey both ways. Finally the chance for them to be together came when Angelica got Edison a job at the San Jose mine, unbeknown to her a notoriously unsafe mine that paid well and wasn’t stringent on employee qualifications. He had only served four months before the collapse had happened. Was he blaming her?

“I could easily forget everything and erase it all from scratch. If I am no longer going to be with him, it’s better to forget everything. It is too much pain as it is for him to play mind games with me.” - Angelica

Edison in the meantime ran, like he never had done before. Inside the darkness with a torch, on his helmet, sometimes holding one in his hand. He notched 8k a day. His message to the people on top was clear - “People should be thankful of the bodies they have.” Next to his bed lay a toy sun.

The good news that Plan B had finally made it to the miners and that little was left before they would be pulleyed-out changed the atmosphere below within seconds. Camp Esperanza looked like a global village with the miners' families gathered around and flocks of curious reporters queueing up to talk to them. Cameras would get in between the cracks to film the precious expressions of bottled anxiety. Not even journalists that kept close contact with the families in the weeks before the mayhem could expect any loyalty. Angelica stood around nervously, looking freshly groomed from her visit to the hairdresser's and beautician from the day before. Although she was afraid that something could go wrong with the rescue plan, she was even more anxious of the person that would emerge.

The final hours were something like the birth of a stranger with feelings of discomposed excitement. It was past midnight. All the journalists were glued to the same screens the whole world seemed to be watching. The tension and hunter survival aversion towards getting the best close-up reaction shots of the families of the miners brought down tents and chaos. And then he was out; Florencio Avalos, and at steady intervals the mountain coughed out the 32 miners remaining.

The television machine unhinged itself. New stars were in the making.

Wading past the Chilean national channels flapping chequebooks and tripods, I finally got to Angelica’s front door where I was told to wait. Edison was being interviewed. Money had been paid. To my favour the weeks of friendship with Angelica gave us the right opening; Edison was grateful for our support.

Edison looked withdrawn, shifty even, avoiding initial eye contact. But when asked of how he was, he had no apprehensions.

Why did you run so much Edison?

Why did I run? I ran because of the fury in my chest. I ran with a torch in otherwise complete darkness. When the rocks in the tunnel ceiling were wet they would leak and the mountain would creek. In that moment any large rock falling could have proved fatal. But I didn’t care I still ran. And I’d wear my headphones with my mp3 on, so I couldn’t hear the mountain. My trainers would get all muddy.

Did the mountain ever defeat you?

Almost. Do you know what it is like to cry of hunger? Does anyone know what it is like to cry of hunger? You couldn’t compare it to Africa. Because down there are no roots. There was nothing you could do. It was as though the mountain was telling you – with a glaring neon sign – that you will die, and die slowly, and there is nothing you can do about it.

What did you make of the probes when they shot past trying to locate you, what were you thinking?

We heard the sondas. But we also knew that for them to find us it was a little like that game…buckaroo. We knew there was a strong possibility they would never hit the targets. At one point we gathered all the explosives we had and thought that by creating a massive explosion it would alert the people on top. Turns out they never heard it. I seriously believe God came for us at the very last minute.

Edison opens another beer; it’s a celebratory moment. It’s his fifth in the night. As the night progresses he becomes more volatile, breaking into song, expectedly Elvis. Apart from the slurred American twang he carries it off well. Soon enough he also begins Popeye, Rocky and Tom Jones impressions. It is difficult to get a word in.

The following day we meet with the whole family for a day out at the beach. In an off moment Angelica provides me with insight into his mental condition. He is out control. Histrionic. Yet she is looking out for him. Sticking by her man.

Some of his childhood friends have arrived. His cell phone doesn’t stop ringing, as he garbles the same unintelligible mantra – ‘I want to spread the honey so that everyone can touch it, because everyone deserves to be happy.’ But his persona seems offish with an air of strange pride reeling off the salutes from randoms on the street. It’s difficult to break the ice. More and more drinks are opened.

The cabins at the beach had now been identified by several media outlets as a retreating point for at least three miners. Massive telephoto lenses arrive, cars and jotting journals. At one point it almost feels like a zombie film where every other human is not another tourist but a journalist trying to eat the same story. Impaired by the overt attention Edison lashes out at a colleague of mine, striking him almost.

Some space was needed for separation.

The following day Edison, nursing a hangover, appeared a shadow of the extrovert from the day before. Angelica told me he had ran to the shore at 3am going on his knees asking God for an explanation. This time speaking from well inside his shell I finally understood the meaning about the message he was trying to express.

"My message is that man can do it - even in the most adversible conditions - man can do it.

People outside still don't understand. They see the images but they are ignorant of how it really was. This isn't my understanding. Every day I wanted to get out, every day, every day. Somehow at one point I got used to it. I could live down there and get by. With no light. With nothing. I thought I was never coming out.

There are things I will never be able to tell. The devil was there with me sometimes. I heard sounds and voices. He was on my back. And you know what I did? You know what I did? I put my headphones on and kept running. So whilst the others huddled together near the light, I went into the darkness."

Days following, speaking to Angelica, she spoke how Edison had had an alcohol induced coma. Incredibly three days later, against the orders of the doctors, Edison came second in a triathlon race. Edison was back in shape. From around the world sport companies began mulling over the commercialibilty of the running man of the tunnels - many foreign invites promise a new stage beyond anyone’s belief. Next to him Angelica’s fears materialise.

“I am afraid because of Edison’s personality. Knowing how he is. I think the exit has worked against him. All the TV stations want him to appear, they are going distort his situation. And yet maybe he wants to experience all of that. From my part…I love him very much, I try to advise him not to expose himself in that way, and that we should try and lead a normal life. But I fear in a short time he may fall again – and it will be ugly.”

Sunday, 15 August 2010


On the hunt, in the outskirts of the Northern of Trujillo, Peru's third largest city. So far there have been 28 cases, 3 confirmed dead. Bubonic plague.

Fears that the disease could reach Trujillo have been allayed as authorities believe the outbreak has been maintained. Two weeks have gone past since the last reported infection. While two medics remain in hospital after negligently catching the plague. All three deaths, a child of 4, a boy of 14 and a woman 29 lived next to wheat or sugar cane crops - perfect burrows for field rats.

The bacteria 'yersinia pestis' begins in the rata negra, as the field rat is known in Peru. The disease is transmitted by fleas. Every ten or fifteen years outbreaks as such are reported in the Northern region, a place ideal for field rats, for its dryness and high stalk agriculture. Interestingly urban rats do not develop the bacteria though they also can be receptors of the disease as can be other animals and humans. Attention has been brought onto the outskirts and markets city of Trujillo rife with rats living off unattended rubbish dumps.

Bubonic plague arrived in Peru, it is said, on a Chinese ship in 1903.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

PAUCARTAMBO: Initiation at the cemetery

At the cemetery of their forefathers their initiation begins; young men present their valour so that they may belong to one of many the groups of "Qollas" or "Antis". That day I got whipped...

An Andean Labyrinth

What if anything be the call for our yearnings that we stay stymied with the day and day. In the heart of the Andes, from where the Incas came, a subworld of creatures still reign. Like a labyrinth of hierarchies they play out the past and dance, as La Virgen del Carmen is brought out of the church and onto the street.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010



When it happened our eyes went goopy. Poor Haiti -a land beshitted by nature and political incompetence- finally at its knees with its capital crushed by a 7.0 earthquake. They came like crusaders fighting over what was left of the airfield tarmac, whilst the Americans soon enough took over the control tower. 27 days later a man was found under the rubble of a flea market surviving on little more than water and possibly fruit. The world’s press continues to fight it out to paint the most discerning picture: The naked man walking through the shattered streets of Port-au-Prince, the little boy people stop by to listen to, singing his heart out using a 7up plastic bottle as a guitar, or the Haitian sisters snow-ball fighting in their new home in the outskirts of Syracuse.

Surprisingly the little understood faith of Voodoo, and subsequently its relationship to death hasn't been mentioned. This seems odd as Voodoo would usually be the first thing you associate with Haiti. Funeral rites are among the most sacred of all ceremonies to Haitians, who have been known to spend more money on their burial crypts than on their own homes. Death is an important factor in understanding ones lineage and future. During times of slavery, despite the tendency of the slave owners to give their dead slaves only the most perfunctory of funerary rites, slaves managed to succeed in taking over the Catholic rituals. The mass of the dead became the only means of asserting and recovering their lost human dignity. By respecting their dead, their connection to their spiritual home is not lost. Families forever stay connected to their ancestors.

Now the problem emerges, as the images soon followed the mass burials with hundreds of unidentified contorted bodies lumped together. Relatives began fast-tracking ceremonies and cracking open old tombs in the famous Port-au- Prince cemetery in order to create space. According to Voodoo credence, not being able to give an honest burial, especially following such sudden deaths, can only lead the soul to stay trapped between this world and the invisible one – as such damming future generations.

What then for the over 230,000 souls lost in-between? To best explain this quandary we got in contact with Max Beauvoir, the supreme master of Voodoo himself. An eloquent man, Max Beauvoir studied chemistry in New York and then biochemistry at the Sorbonne. His grandfather chose him, upon on his deathbed, to succeed as a grand Houngan. Not free from controversy Beauvoir is said to have profited from Western exoticism-seeking alternative tourism and is also said to be linked with François Duvalier, or Baby Doc, the dictator who fled the country in 1986 after a popular uprising against him.

LC: How do you hope to bring peace to most of those over 200,000 souls that haven’t been given a traditional burial?
MAX DE BEAUVOIR: We are in the process of doing this. And it is set for the 12 February. All religions will come together in a communal way to bring the final rest to the lost souls, so that we may send them below water to be cleansed. So that they can come back in next life refreshed. It will be a long ritual of one year and one day. Because the soul cannot die: it is always alive even if the body is crushed.

LC: How will this extraordinary event take place? Will there be sacrifices?
BEAUVOIR: There will be no sacrifices. Just water to purify and guide the souls on their way. We hope to do it in front of the demolished presidential palace. All religions will be invited; Protestants..Catholics.. The president will be there too.

LC: But you speak of water, will that mean water will be central to the ceremony?
BEAUVOIR: You and I will not go in any water. The spirits will. The souls are everywhere, and we must guide them. You see we are connected by spirits not by people. But you know this is too difficult to explain via the phone.

LC: How can voodoo still expect to be a sort of social glue in the face of such a disaster?
BEAUVOIR: Voodoo people made what this country is. The glue is already there. The glue is our identity, we cannot question it.

LC: However many people oppose voodoo, do you think some will see this as a point to review Haitian culture?
BEAUVOIR: Many people oppose Voodoo. But nobody can alter it because it is a part of us, without it our identity would be lost. I think our identity will have to be more solid. We must look to fortify our society because it is broken.

LC: What do people need at the moment? How can they be empowered?
BEAUVOIR: Through integrity. By joining the body and soul you work to get strength. But without integrity there is no strength.

LC: What do people fear now? I have read that many fear the ‘loup-garou’ a werewolf that eats children, and that lots of murderers and other hardened criminals have escaped from prison...
BEAUVOIR: No!...Never... There have never been wolves. These are the bad things that Christians create to prevent cohesion between the Haitian people. The only thing people are scared about, and haunts them still, is another earthquake.

LC: Is there a fight for power?
BEAUVOIR: No fight. I fear people who cross the river do not change horses while in the middle of the stream. We have to support our government. We have to support the bastions of our society, because our reality cannot change.

So there you have it the archetypal purifier: water. The souls are meant to return to water so that they may return refreshed. I kept close tabs for the 12th, a month after the earthquake. The mass prayers of Evangelists overshadowed any voodoo practice. I was told voodoo believers were gathering around ponds, in processions with Simbi the spirit of rain. Now the dark nights are overfilled with the fears of unleashed daemons. Women in the makeshift camps said to keep machetes under their beds in fear of sexual predators. The random wafts of the faceless victims still under the rubble a reminder of death’s hand and the spirits consumed still in the disaster. Fear now enters at a far deeper psychological level as believers feel the lost spirits may persecute on retribution of their past, wherefrom demons take over bodies rendering them powerless. Cases are alert for paranoid schizophrenia.

appeasing the spirits - voodoo

a christian burial

Monday, 1 February 2010

Glitches. So tired are the structures, technology itself rebels and offers guidance.
Here to alterior dimensia. Here to strokes of accidents. Meaning is nothing, we supply that later.
Random is the passage to escapedom. With slash imagery feeding from one channel to the next.
Images of monotony. Images of poverty; of so called truth layered with grotesque parallels of nothingness.
Youtube fed us to the dogs. Television programs lost in self-doubt. What now is the inner we?
Slash imagery, keys to clues to happy cinders. Digi-data, where colours are altered, surmised and doctored by chance.
Where machinery warp from idle men to cutlery switching to the taliban to klein blue to cartoon teradactyls of death.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Sunday, 24 January 2010