Saturday, June 23, 2007


Dear Dodo,

I will be honest and I will tell you up-front that I did not know much about you - that is until Julien Lepers made your glorious portrait in one of his "questions" at TV5 Monde! You may wonder who is Julien, what is a "question"... - let me tell you for one thing how surprised I was when I realized that you are the symbol of Mauritius today! Is that not "posthumous" (for lack of a better word) fame, or what? Of course, of course I know what you are going to respond: "What does it matter now since I am dead?" Well, this is something we do often down here on earth: first we kill, then we bestow glory! Oh! Just because I hate leaving questions unanswered, let me tell you that you appeared on a television show.. and Julien was the host..

But this is all nonsense what I am writing here.. You do not even know what a television is... But I cannot go into that, it will take me forever to finish off, and you must know that we, modern human beings, are on a "tight schedule", we have a thing we call clock and it regulates our lives.. it tells us how much time we have to accomplish something, until we move on to the next one.. So I beg for your understanding, please bear with me and I promise I will answer all questions you may have. Speaking of begging, this is probably the point we should start apologizing, I and my fellow humans, begging for your forgiveness...

I am very much aware by now that the reason why you are not among us, is because people like me -well, my/our ancestors to be precise- decided to put you out of this world. When the first sailors arrived in Mauritius in the 16th century they spotted you immediately since you could not fly...then you know the story. You could not fly and we could not wait - we humans, let me tell you that, we can get very greedy.. In just about a century you were "extinct" - fancy word for a terrible act, don't you agree? Much as I would have liked for you to continue to roam in Mauritius, so I could come and visit you, I only wonder, was it perhaps better that you never lived to see our "décadence"?

I do not know how much of a consolation this is to you, but I must tell you that it is not only innocuous species like you that we are after; we go after pretty much everything that can give us even minimal utility, we even go after our fellow humans. No! No! Do not think that we eat human flesh, only our behavior is cannibalistic. And yet I am sure you will be equally disgusted, once you get to learn some of our habits: we have this thing here we call "war" where we pretty much set out to fight against each other for a bigger or a smaller cause. Sometimes we prefer not to kill people but instead to "torture" them - how shall I explain this? Imagine for example if someone was slowly pulling off your feathers... I know, I know you surely do not want to hear more about us. And what a shame really, I was about to start talking about our grand civilizations... We take great pride in them you must know.

I will let you now. Surely, you must be tired hearing all that we humans do - but this was my only way to contextualize your story and explain -in a simple way- why today you are only on stamps and postcards... More importantly, it is the debt I sense on my shoulders too, even though I do not hail from either Portugal or the Netherlands: learning from Julien that you did not have any predators until we, humans, came to Mauritius was enough to cause a sense of embarassment! If you still maintain any contacts down on earth, please let them know that they should be wary of humans... that is, if I am still allowed to offer a piece of advice..

Truthfully yours and very, very humbled,
a human being from Earth


For more information about the Dodo: Description of the Dodo Bird
Note: The picture that prefaces the letter is also part of the instructive website referenced above.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Toys do not always come in a fancy gift wrap: Children of the World, Part B

I am holding a book in my hands by Ishmael Beah, a young Sierra Leonese who currently resides in New York City. If the name of the 26-year old does not sound familiar to you, there is nothing wrong; he is not to be found among the annals of African literature and story-telling tradition along with Soyinka, Achebe or Gordimer, but this makes his book no less important. In fact, it is precisely the hitherto "anonymity" of its author what is the defining element of the book: "A long way gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" is the story of Beah, a child-soldier in the Sierra Leone Civil War, one of many. Beah's memoir is truly the "voice" of many anonymous child-soldiers from Sierra Leone and abroad who have been trapped in bloody conflicts. It is the book of Beah's brother, Junior, who disappeared one fine day and was never to be seen again, it is the book of his classmates, of his friends, it is the book of other youngsters who could be in his position writing the book, but, sadly, did not "live to tell the tale" [to use the title of Garcia-Marquez's recent novel].

Like flies trapped in a spider web, the children caught by guerrillas (or the government army) are virtually at the mercy of their captors. And yet unlike flies, their death will not be quick and (presumably) painless but, instead, long and brutal. They surrender body and soul, agency and childhood. They get in return the only toy they are allowed to have: a gun boxed in instructions about killing and killing and obeying the superiors. This is because the voracious appetite of the leaders will not be satiated unless the children mutate into obedient recruits capable of satisfying any cause that appears "worthy" to the leaders. Generalized as this description may be, it resonates with the testimonies of several child-soldiers from different countries, Sierra Leone being just one example. A notorious case involves the now-indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) guerrila leader Joseph Kony of Uganda whose group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), has abducted some 20,000 children.

Whether it fits the definition of child labor or not, the truth remains that the brutality and exploitation of children-converted-into-soldiers in combat zones and conflicts is repugnant and intolerable. The "institution" of child-soldiers consists, naturally so, an outright violation of the essence of the major human rights texts like the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" (1948) or the "Convention on the Rigths of Children" (1989)- in fact, it is safe to argue that captors of child-soldiers nullify the very notion of human rights, let alone of children rights. Conversely, it needs not be repeated how damaging participating to wars is to children; what must be mentioned though is that even the children that manage somehow to escape or are rescued by the international community even at an early stage -like Ishmael Beah who was saved by UNICEF- need to undergo tremendous treatments in order to recover, to heal and to come in terms with their past.

The 11-year conflict that tore apart Sierra Leone erupted in 1991 with the first expedition of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a guerrila group who wanted to oust the All People's Congress (APC) government. The conflict ended in 2002, leaving thousands dead and an estimated 2 million people displaced. Statistics of the children-soldiers are harder to tabulate and largely do not make headlines during and even after the conflict ends. However child-soldiers are a distinct reality of warfare today, particularly in Africa, notably in Uganda, DR Congo and Angola, but elsewhere too, as in Colombia and Lebanon. According to Amnesty International some 300,000 children soldiers -close to the population of such capitals as Ljubljana, Slovenia or Canberra, Australia- fight in conflicts today. On the legislation front, progess has been achieved by the entry into force of the "Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Children on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts" in 2002 although sadly not all countries that are party to it have ratified it. Against the distressing reality and in lieu of any conclusion, I have decided to quote from Amnesty International's website a 15-year old girl, a former child-soldier of Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda - she tells: "I would like to give you a message. Please do your best to tell the world what is happening to us, the children. So that other children don't have to pass through this violence."


Reference: Child Soldiers, Amnesty International

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Toys do not always come in a fancy gift wrap: Children of the World, Part A

Yesterday was the World Day Against Child Labor and I, like many, was dumbfounded by the statistics of UNICEF and the ILO: over 132 million children work worldwide in agriculture, the largest "employer" of children. Children work also in private households, factories, mines - the list, sadly, goes on.. And one could take the discussion a step further, only to discover more misery, only to realize how systematic the violations of such major conventions as the Convention of the Rights of Children (1990) or the ILO Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) are...

One of the worst forms of child labor, or shall I say, child exploitation, is occurring in Thailand today: Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing "for children". Children as young as four are taken to booting camps where they are trained -from dawn to dusk and beyond- to participate in "children boxing", a sport that scors high in popularity among many Thais. In fact, behind children boxing there is an entire industry of bookmakers, trainers and parents who collectively and conscientiously exploit children in order to make profit: yes, it is about children fighting for the pure enjoyment of adults and the money-making that comes along.

Even though it has been illegal since 1999, child boxing continues to date - causing acute physical and psychological violence to children, often hampering their physical and mental growth. The industry, however, remains undeterred partly because it is lucrative, partly because of the underlying cultural argument [that Muay Thai is part of the culture of Thailand] - which is true except that it needs not to violate human rights, let alone the rights of the most vulnerable, the children. The version of Muay Thai that is revived in the poor neighborhoods of Bangkok seems closer to a misappropriation of the cultural heritage of the country, rather than anything else.

It is my firm belief that cultures, and more so cultural traditions must be preserved for the people that cherish them as part of their heritage and for the rest of us, outsiders, to be able to observe and enjoy. However one must be alert to potential misappropriation of culture in the name of some obscene goal: it is easy for the culturally sensitive to be overtaken by some mélange of cultural righteousness and a dose of "cultural relativism" discourse. Muay Thai, as practiced today, looks less like a cultural tradition and more like a distorted version or an ill-twisted reflection of something "cultural".

Humbled as I am by my limited knowledge of Thai culture and practices, I have refrained from expressing an inflexible position, even if subtantial evidence has tempted me to do so. Hence in my post so far I have favored "likelihood" over "certainty" when making culturally-related statements. However if there is one thing I am certain of, then this is that the four year-olds appearing on the footage of both France 24 and TV5 Monde did not make a rational and conscientious decision to join the boxing camps, if they made any decision at all, simply because at the age of four one is not in a position to make such decisions. They were taken there. Hence I have grounds to doubt that the physical or psychological torment that children undergo is in any manner or shape acceptable to them. I am even concerned that they may not have the opportunity to express an opinion (about pretty much anything) because of punishment (or fear thereof).

Profit needs not "guide empires" only (to borrow a line from a famous Greek song). Profit needs not be found in modern, industrialized, free-market societies only. Profit can be found in poor, rural Thailand too. And so can voiceless, vulnerable and exploited children - only that news about children ought to surprise us, economics not.


The poignant video of France 24: Muay Thai: No child's play In English. Footage is graphic.

On Child Labor

En français: L'agriculture emploie 70 % de la main-d'oeuvre infantile

Στα ελληνικά: Το δικό σου σουβενίρ ποιο Κινεζάκι θα το φτιάξει;

Friday, June 01, 2007

Για την τελευταία "Αμαλία"

Today's post is dedicated to a brave young Greek woman who lost her life to cancer. And yet it is not only her illness that is to blame for her untimely death; Amalia was unlucky enough to also bear the consequences of medical malpractice. The majority of Greek bloggers have dedicated this day, June 1st, to Amalia; more importantly they call for reforms in the health system so that no additional people die. Amalia maintained a blog ( where she documented her struggle (in Greek) and criticized the current health system. Her last wish was that money be given to ELPIDA a Greek NGO dedicated to help children fighting cancer so that the first hospital for children be built soon. [ELPIDA:, tel. (+30) 210-7757153]

Η περίπτωση της Αμαλίας συνιστά κατάφορη απόδειξη ότι η Ελλάδα του 21ου αιώνα, καταπιάνεται με μεγαλόπνοα σχέδια αλλά ταυτοχρονα αδυνατεί να σταθεί στον πολίτη στις βασικές του ανάγκες, μια εξ'αυτών η ποιοτική ιατρική περίθαλψη. Πιο συνταρακτικό σίγουρα ειναι το γεγονός ότι στη μοντέρνα μας χώρα, θεμελιώδεις αξίες όπως η ιερότητα της ανθρώπινης ζωής, ενίοτε τουλάχιστον, δεν τυγχάνουν αναλόγου σεβασμού... Το πρόβλημα που περιγράφει η Αμαλία δεν αφορά το σύστημα υγείας μας μόνο. Η Αμαλία μιλάει και για την έλλειψη υπευθυνότητας, για την ηθική αυτουργία, για τη διαφθορά, για το "κουκουλωμα", για την έλλειψη συμπαραστασης.. Για αυτό και το ζήτημα είναι "πολιτικό" - όχι μόνο των πολιτικών, αλλά των πολιτών.

Αλλά σήμερα δεν ειναι η ημέρα των αναλύσεων - είναι η ημέρα για τη μνήμη της Αμαλίας. Από τη 2α Ιουνίου μπορούμε να σκαλίσουμε κάτω από την επιφάνεια "της μεμονωμένης περίπτωσης" για να αντικρίσουμε τις πραγματικές διαστάσεις της σήψης μας...

Για τις "Αμαλίες" που φύγανε αθόρυβα, χωρίς να μάθουμε τίποτα.
Για να γίνει η Αμαλία Καλυβίνου η τελευταία "Αμαλία".

Μην πάρεις φακελάκι - Μην δώσεις φακελάκι

Τελευταία της επιθυμία, η οποια συνεισφορά των πολιτών να τροφοδοτεί οργανωμένες προσπάθειες όπως του συλλόγου Ελπίδα για την ανέγερση του Α΄Ογκολογικού Νοσοκομείου για παιδιά. [Σύλλογος Ελπίδα, τηλ: 210-7757153, e-mail:, λογαριασμός Εθνικής Τράπεζας: 080/480898-36, λογαριασμός Alphabank: 152-002-002-000-515) "Αμαλία Καλυβίνου"]

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