MARSEILLE â€" Saïd* carries the dishes to the living room table as guests arrive in dribs and drabs with more food in their arms. The atmosphere is cheerful as greetings, kisses and the latest family news are shared with smiles.
Earlier in this just-concluded holy month of Ramadan, the members of the Homosexual Muslims of France Association (HM2F) had decided to break the fast together in the southern French city of Marseille. "These moments are important because they allow us to gather and â€" for some of us â€" to maintain a link with our religion," says Salim, 22, who joined the association in February.
The clock says 9:25 p.m, and the sun has finally set. Ludovic, Karim, Saïd and Salim unroll their prayer rugs on the terrace. In the room next door, the other guests who have not fasted listen closely to the prayers. This association â€" which has merged with the Progressive Muslims of France (MPF) â€" allows its members to live their religion as they wish.
"For a long time, I could not practice my religion. Now, things have changed, even though it is still hard to admit I am a Muslim and homosexual at the same time," explains Adil, 42, a Franco-Algerian man who settled in France in 1993. Still today, many gay Muslims feel a split identity, as homosexuality and Islam are widely perceived as incompatible.
The burden of community
Salim, one of the coordinators of the association's Marseille branch, fields calls from troubled young North Africans who fear rejection from the families and friends because of their sexual orientation. Accepting their own homosexuality is indeed extremely complicated in these neighborhoods with strong Arab-Muslims communities. "Individuals are highly reliant on their community," Salim explains. "They acquire an identity thanks to it. To some extent, such communities compensate for immigrants' lack of integration in France."
To live their sexual orientation without exclusion, gay Muslims often do not tell their whole family about their homosexuality â€" which make them feel "schyzophrenic," says Karim, 35, whose parents are from Morocco. "For my parents, I am a straight man ready to marry to a Muslim woman," he says. "In reality, I live with a man, and the woman I am supposed to marry is a lesbian. I chose her to be the mother of my child."
After arriving in France, Adil never thought that he would find the same homophobic attitudes and insults as in his native country. "I've been bullied as much here as in my country. At work, some Muslims knew I was gay and asked me to quit my job. I don't want to talk to these kinds of people anymore."
Despite the huge distance between himself and his family, Saïd can't break free from the burden of community. In his prayers, he asks God for forgiveness. "The only reason why I keep practicing my religion is God's mercifulness," he says.
According to Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, the Algerian-born imam and anthropologist who founded HM2F, this feeling of guilt is part of the process of Arab-Muslim communities rewriting their history and identity by blaming and ignoring gay people. "They deny their existence, pretending that they come from the West," says Zahed, whose book Le Coran et la chair ("The Koran and the Flesh") was published in 2012.
The first French Muslim man legally married to a man, Zahed carefully cites all of the scientific and historical evidence from researchers concerning Islam's inherent tolerance and appreciation of gay people, in particular during the time of the prophet Muhammad.
Zahed's works highlight the existence of the Mukhanathuns â€" men with a feminine appearance whom he says the Prophet defended and welcomed in his home among his wife and family. "All of the Muslims forget that patriarchal and macho values emerged because of the colonization and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire," he says.
The Ramadan meal is over. Everybody gathers on the balcony to take in some fresh air. Music resonates and discussions grow more intense. Hichem gets a piece of paper out of his pocket. In a soft voice he announces that he would like to read the letter of the Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïah, penned after the lynching of a homosexual in the Moroccan city of Fez. Silence. "Impossible to shed even a single tear," Hichem reads. "I feel so shocked that everything has stopped living inside of me."
The night is dark in this French port city, but we can see that sorrow has taken over the faces of the gathered friends. "That's it," sighs Saïd, as the reading concludes. From one Mediterranean shore to another, the same curse of amnesia carries on.
*Most of the names have been changed to protect the identities of those interviewed.
With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.
CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.
Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.
It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.
Abundant sunshine, low temperatures
The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.
Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.
It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.
Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park
Chinese want to expand
The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.
The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.
The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.
The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.
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