Welcome to Thursday, where a U.S. air raid in Syria kills civilians, tainted cocaine kills 20 in Argentina, and Jeff Bezos’ superyacht gets special treatment in Rotterdam. Thanks to Persian-language media Kayhan, we also look at the discontent brewing among Iranians vis-à-vis their country’s religious government.
[*Northern Sotho, South Africa]
I don’t want children because … I don’t want children
Italy's low fertility rate and lack of support for young people have become a hot topic. But economic and social conditions are not what's stopping all Italian women from having children. Some simply want to do other things with their lives. Italian writer Simonetta Sciandivasci asks in Turin-based daily La Stampa: Does that make them selfish?
Simonetta Sciandivasci’s letter is addressed to ISTAT, Italy’s official statistics office, which explained Italy's low fertility rates as a reaction to economic or social conditions and the lack of support for young people and new parents. But Sciandivasci says the numbers don't tell her story. This article has been edited for length.
Dear ISTAT, I am writing to you because I don't fit into your numbers. From what I understand, I am part of the scant five percent. A thriving, and sometimes happy, small minority of women who don't have children because they don't want to. Not because we can't afford to or because we have no faith in the future. Not because we are dull, nihilistic, lonely, or cynical.
I'm afraid that you have a facile and sketchy idea of me and the minority in which I include myself. I would prefer to call us a bubble since I don't suffer discrimination (no one prevents me from enjoying my rights), but only socio-cultural stigmatization.
But I'm not talking about relatives and gynecologists asking me why I'm 36, have a job and good health but no one is calling me mamma. I am referring instead to the fact that I cannot adopt a child, because to do so in this country, I would have to be rich, married and never divorced, young, preferably chaste and a descendant of an ancient lineage of illustrious people.
I am aware of the fact that in this country there are many women who want to have a child and cannot because they lack the economic means or living conditions. I thank you, ISTAT, because it seems to me that you have recorded and described their reasons very well.
But describing a majority is easy. The same is not true for a minority, even at a time when we try, with some inevitable yet useful hypocrisy, to represent minorities more carefully. I doubt that the gap between those who don't have children because they can't and those who don't because they don't want to is as wide as you claim, but I'm basing my observations on what I see around me and yours are based on extensive surveys.
But there's an important caveat: pollsters are lied to. People lie in polls because not all answers fit within a yes, no or maybe. People also lie because they are ashamed, in a hurry, or don't feel like telling the truth.
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard some of my friends say around large dinner tables that they had no intention of having children because "where do I leave them? How do I feed them? Who will help me?" They were the same ones who — sitting at much smaller tables — I heard say: "Thank goodness I don't have a child."
Ninety percent of my female friends are happy not to have had a baby. They have no intention of having one, and they live with delightful and sometimes frightened men who would be happy to have a child but are happier to accept the wishes of the person they love. Am I lucky? Maybe. Do I hang out with a bubble of highbrow turbo-capitalists? No. My friends almost all started earning a decent income in their thirties, after working their way up through the ranks during difficult years that they even remember affectionately.
It is often repeated that people do not procreate here because Italy is not a country for young people.Those poor young people — so depressed, demotivated, abandoned, lonely and unproductive. We should help them to procreate, give them a bonus to do so or parental leave.
I don't want a child and yes, I can afford to have one. Am I being selfish? I have a lot of ideas about how a selfish society can stay on its feet and even progress, and some of them came to me while reading Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness.
Well, when I listen to sociologists, psychologists and columnists discussing the reasons why Italian women don't have children (males are not involved, they are an accessory), I realize that they all do the same: they speak for me, they identify themselves with me. And they lead me back to something I am not: an unhappy, unsatisfied woman, abandoned by her country.
If the day after tomorrow Prime Minister Mario Draghi brought me a million euros in cash and told me to use it to support a child, I would decline the offer. I would tell him there are other ways I can contribute to society. This includes trying to get it out of our heads that if the system isn't working because retired people outnumber the younger generation and that the only way to help is to have children.
And I don't rule out that 20 years from now, when not having children isn't an identity or generational issue, when it isn't associated with public mental health, that my friends' daughters and sons won't have a great desire to become parents. But for now that's not the case. Let's accept that and try telling each other the truth.
— Simonetta Sciandivasci / La Stampa
• Civilians killed in U.S. raid in Syria: U.S. special forces have carried out a large-scale counterterrorism raid targeting top al-Qaeda operatives in northwestern Syria. The operation, which the Pentagon called “successful,” killed at least 13 people. But reports on the ground by the White Helmets rescue service, a volunteer organization formed during the Syrian Civil War, said among the dead were six children and four women.
• Biden deploys 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe: The U.S. will send some 3,000 additional troops to Poland, Germany and Romania to bolster the defense of NATO countries in Eastern Europe, which are facing the threat of possible Russia’s military moves in Ukraine. These troops are in addition to the 8,500 U.S. troops deployed last week on heightened alert, the Pentagon said, without “ruling out the possibility that there will be more” troop movement in the coming days. Meanwhile, Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Ukraine to act as a mediator in the crisis.
• COVID border openings: New Zealand has announced a phased reopening of its borders which have been shut for nearly two years due the coronavirus pandemic, as the country will start to ease some of the world’s toughest border policies at the end of February. Meanwhile, Bali has welcomed its first direct flight carrying foreign tourists in nearly two years, as the government of the Indonesian island plans a full reopening this year to restart its struggling tourism industry.
• Refugees found frozen to death on Turkey-Greece border: The partially clothed bodies of 12 refugees believed to have frozen to death were found in Turkey close to the border with Greece, sparking a row between the two countries. Turkey’s interior minister has accused Greek guards of deliberately pushing the refugees back across the border after stripping them of clothes.
• Poisoned cocaine kills 20 in Argentina: At least 20 people have died and 74 hospitalized in serious condition around the Buenos Aires region, after they ingested cocaine which was either laced with a kind of poison or “cut” with a toxic substance.
• Facebook is losing users for the first time in its history: The social media giant has seen its daily active users drop by about half a million in the last three months of 2021, to reach a total of 1.929 billion, a first in Facebook’s 18-year history. Shares of its parent company Meta plunged over 20% after it also reported growing losses of more than $10 billion in 2021 for its Reality Labs division.
• Rotterdam to dismantle historic bridge for Jeff Bezos’ superyacht: The Dutch city of Rotterdam has confirmed it will temporarily dismantle parts of the historic steel Koningshaven Bridge to make way for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ 40-meter-high superyacht. The vessel, which will be the largest of its kind in the world, is currently being built by a Dutch firm and has to sail through Rotterdam to reach the sea.
Argentine daily Página/12 reports on the “white death” of at least 20 people in Argentina who ingested cocaine suspected of containing a poisonous substance. Dozens are also being hospitalized in serious conditions. Experts are still analyzing the drug to determine what caused the deaths, but authorities suspect that it may have been deliberately adulterated as part of ongoing clashes between rival drug traffickers.
Growing public hatred of religious leaders unnerves Iran regime
An increase in public protests has sounded the alarm bell for Iranian officials and clerics. But public discontent runs much deeper than discontent over wages and water. There are also signs of nostalgia for the monarchy that ruled the country before the 1979 revolution, reports Persian-language media Kayhan-London.
🕌 Recently quoted by Iran's government news agency, IRNA, Taghi Rostamvandi, the country's deputy interior minister, addressed a subject that had long gone unspoken: "People are moving in a direction where the religious government is no longer addressing their problems." He said they may seek the solution to these in a "secular or non-religious system." Rostamvandi told a Tehran seminar on social problems on Jan. 16 that people's interest in secular models of governance should be taken as "sounding the alarm" for the Islamic Republic.
😡 State officials and clerics know of the discontent brewing among Iranians. This awareness is the reason for the ruthless suppression of protests, which happened recently in Isfahan, central Iran, as well as the considerable sums of money being spent on propaganda against protesters and all secularizing or liberal opinions. Another cleric teaching in Qom, Mohammadtaqi Fazel-Meibodi, recently said "people take a poor view" and "blame the clergy" for their difficulties. He also pointed out that when theology students (tollab in Persian) "go to the market to shop for something... [they] try not to wear their clerical garb, as people will mock or insult them."
💥 A good many, if not all, of the protests in recent years began around specific issues like fuel prices, wages or water shortages, and quickly grew into vociferous, anti-regime demonstrations. The authorities often blame this mutation and oft-recurring slogans like "Death to the Dictator" on infiltrators. Perhaps the worst of it for them is the enduring memory of a monarchy the regime was confident it had consigned to history's trash bin.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Online fundraising platform Gofundme has paused and put on review the more than 10 million Canadian dollars ($7.9m) raised by a group of Canada-based truckers on the page "Freedom Convoy 2022" initially created to to sustain protest against vaccine mandates in Ottawa. So far, about C$1m have been released to organizers. As a number of officials have suggested legal action against Gofundme, to prevent the release of more funds, the platform is at risk of being suspended altogether amid the involvment of an organiser who has espoused white supremacist views.
“Beijing will try once again to create an illusion to the world that all is good.”
— In an interview with Al Jazeera, the exiled Chinese political cartoonist and artist Badiucao compared the current Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics status quo to the 2008 Summer Games in the capital, when China promised to become “a more open and democratic society.” He denounced the “slave labor treatment” of Uighurs and the “draconian” COVID-19 lockdowns measures enforced by the government. Badiucao has released “Beijing 2022 collection,” a series of NFT artworks and videos depicting the Chinese government’s human rights abuses.
Students in Bhopal, India wait to get the coronavirus vaccine in a school turned vaccination center. More than 45 million teenagers aged between 15 and 18 have received at least a first dose since India started vaccinating young people on Jan. 3. — Photo: Sanjeev Gupta/SOPA Images/ZUMA
✍️ Newsletter by Jane Herbelin and Anne-Sophie Goninet
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For four years, indigenous photographer David Díaz Gonzales has documented the lives and movements of his Shipibo-Conibo community, as many of them migrated from their native Peruvian Amazon to the city. A work of remembrance and resistance.
YARINACOCHA — It was decades ago when the Shipibo-Conibo left their settlements along the banks of the Ucayali River, in eastern Peru, to begin a great migration to the cities. Still among the largest Amazonian communities in Peru — 32,964 according to the Ministry of Culture — though most Shipibo-Conibo now live in the urban district of Yarinacocha.
For four years, Shipibo-Conibo photographer David Díaz Gonzales has documented the lives of his relatives and neighbors from Yarinacocha, in the Ucayali area, to show how they strive to keep their culture alive and share their vision of the world.
Traditions in the city
Shipibo-Conibo professor Eli Sánchez Rodríguez, an expert in the history and customs of his people, says that the indigenous group's migration to Yarinacocha began in the 1960s, when the European Adventist missions began to send members of the Shipibo-Conibo people from Paoyhan (the main settlement on the banks of the Ucayali) to the city, to join their churches.
"The first Shipibo-Conibo family to arrive in Yarinacocha were the Rojas," says Sánchez Rodríguez. "In the following years we continued migrating due to the creation of the Amazon Hospital, where they brought us to be treated; and later, we also moved there to receive education.”
David Díaz Gonzales, a Shipibo-Conibo photographer who grew up and lives in the Nueva Era settlement, made it its mission four years ago to document and pay homage to the transitory group. He began photographing his relatives and neighbors from Yarinacocha, in central Peru, to show how his people try to preserve their culture nowadays — but also how it has been transformed.
“We who are living in urban neighborhoods, and not in our native rural communities, continue to practice our customs, despite being far away from our ancestors. Those customs have survived extreme hardships and are still being kept alive,” says Díaz Gonzales, whose name in Shipibo-Conibo is Isa Rono: "It means 'little bird' and 'snake' — my grandfather on my dad's side gave me that name," he says.
A woman prepares cotton to turn it into thread for weaving.
Transformed indigenous heritage
In the Shipibo-Conibo language, the name of the community is related to the words "monkey" and "fish". According to their mythology, people transit through different worlds: the world we inhabit, "Non Nete", and the world of water, "Jene Nete".
While some Shipibo-Conibo traditions are still intact, others have been changing and adapting. Take hairstyling, for instance: A woman with a fringe is usually taking part in a ceremony or celebration. In the Besteti Xeati, or "haircut festival" adolescent girls' fringes were cut to present them to society.
A haircut as weapon of protection.A haircut was also a farewell and a weapon of protection. When a man died, the widow would cut off all her hair as a sign of mourning, and to protect the family from another death or tragedy. "It was not just a haircut, but also a ceremony where the family of the widow and the deceased participated," professor Sánchez Rodríguez points out.
Formerly, that same ritual included clitoridectomies, or removing the girls' clitoris to "purify" them. Such female genital mutilation stopped being practiced between the 1950s and 1960s.
The kené design is drawn or embroidered by Shipibo-Conibo women to express various aspects of their culture, from traditional song to medicine and aesthetics.
More than clothes
Clothing is also very characteristic of the Shipibo-Conibo people. The women wear colorful blouses and skirts with geometric designs; the men, a kind of long tunic, adorned with designs of geometric figures. Currently, says Sánchez Rodríguez, not all Shipibo-Conibo men and women wear their traditional costumes on a daily basis — this is mostly done by older people — but rather for special occasions.
The elaboration of the garments is a laborious task, especially when it comes to men's kushmas, long and ornate tunics. These are woven by hand, from the fabric on. The women prepare the cotton, then turn it into thread and then into clothes.
The women wear the koton, the blouse, and the chitonti, the skirt. Both the chitonti and the kushma are embroidered or painted with the kené ― embroidered motif. The kené design, which made it into the country's official Cultural Patrimony in 2008, is done by women and decorates not only clothing but also other fabrics, as well as ceramics, weapons, shaman crowns — and even serves as body adornment.
But the kené is not just an ornament in the form of geometric figures: It expresses the worldview, knowledge, aesthetics and traditional medicine of the Shipibo-Conibo people, as anthropologist Luisa Elvira Belaunde explains. During Ayahuasca or Piri Piri hallucinatory-plant ceremonies, men and women are said to have visions of the kené, although only the latter are the ones who execute it. The kené is also the basis for traditional songs.
During his photographic journey, Díaz Gonzáles did a lot of research. He also got to make aluminum necklaces and earrings that some of his models wore. The necklaces are usually made of plastic beads or aluminum circles, and evoke how, when merchants from the city started reaching the Shipibo-Conibo by canoe in the 1960s, they would pay members of the indigenous communities in coins. As they did not know what to do with them, having never seen coins before — they started making jewelry instead.
Previously, the Shipibo-Conibo pierced their nose and chin to hang earrings shaped like circles, leaves or even Christianity-inspired crosses.
"I remember that my grandmother had a hole in her chin, but the one in her nose had already closed," says photographer Díaz Gonzáles. "I also remember the story of an aunt who had a chin earring in the shape of a cross, but the priest in her town would not let her wear it and threw it into the river because he said that was wrong."
Ruperto Fasabi is a shaman: a mediator between the worlds.
David Díaz Gonzáles also spoke to the wisest among his people, like Shipibo-Conibo professor Eli Sánchez Rodríguez ― or "Pakan Meni" in his language― who has helped to systematize and spread the knowledge and folklore of this indigenous people. The expert has helped create school material for the teaching of Intercultural Bilingual Education (EIB), in addition to writing books about the culture of his people and even translating foreign literature, such as The Little Prince, into Shipibo-Conibo.
The national curriculum has never been designed to preserve our cultural identity.
The photographer also met with shamans, such as the renowned Ruperto Fasabi who is highly respected among the Shipibo-Conibo and who also happens to be the father of the rapper Wihtner Fasabi Gonzales or “Wihtner FaGo”. The shaman is the community's highest sage and acts as a kind of mediator between the worlds.
Díaz Gonzáles also photographed members of the "Comando Matico": people who, in the toughest times of COVID-19, turned to the benefits of the matico plant. Richard Soria, a member of this group, says that they discovered the properties of the matico while trying to alleviate the pain of COVID-hit patients with the plants that were growing in their gardens.
The Comando Matico also served to worked toward raising awareness around the alarming state of the hospitals in the region, about which the government does very little.
According to Soria, neglect starts at the education level: “The national curriculum has never been designed to preserve our cultural identity. Only one perspective has prevailed. In schools there has never been the desire to give importance to our culture. For this reason, we have formed indigenous organizations to make sure that the community, its culture and language, continue to exist. This is how we exist, as a resistance.”
Photographer David Díaz Gonzáles has moments of introspection and anxiety. During them, he thinks that someone like him, an indigenous artist in a world where indigenous knowledge is not valued, has to do something to right that wrong. Picking up his camera, he adds, "Whatever I do will remain as an example and incentive for my people, it is my responsibility."
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