Author Archives: stanito

Destination: North Korea

Dear reader,

telling people that I was going to North Korea brought up interesting reactions (I won’t say your names, so relax for now):

Someone: “What?! North Korea?! Why on Earth would you go there?!”

Someone else: “North Korea…? … Is it really possible to go there?”

Somebody else: “They have nuclear weapons, are you crazy?!”

And also: “You have a crush on Kim Jong-un! There’s no other explanation for it”

My answer to these reactions has been: “Because it’s simply unique :) there’s no other country like it, so why not going there!”

For these people above is why I wrote the following piece, so that the image of North Korea can be a little bit more than just bombs, crazy propaganda, etc.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as  North Korea, is anything but an ordinary touristic destination.

There is a government that is famous for keeping at bay international influence and its people almost entirely isolated from whatever source of information leads to international context and events. And if that wasn’t enough, the constant tensions in the peninsula have strongly discouraged tourism.

However, North Korea turned out to be the most interesting and unique place I’ve seen so far

IMG_3898© Stanito, 2013

I personally liked the impressive lack of tourism: for once I didn’t have to fight through hordes of people like in China or Italy and things seemed unspoiled… for now. Because of the oppression they live in, North Koreans keep a post-war style in many aspect of their lives: clothing, transport, food and language (language is still the same that you find in South Korea, only without the introduction of foreign words and the use of Hanjacharacters). Lots of anti-Americanism and anti-Japanism propaganda, lots of image cult, a socialist totalitarian dictatorship based upon the principles of Juche (there will be a post entirely dedicated to this concept), we assume that only a few people (the “elite”) are able to access information on the international events, while most people live either in the shadow of the oppressing propaganda imposed and based on the fantasies of Kim Il Sung & Sons or in the fear of the risks one might take in case they dare to  express subversive opinions (reason why you are not allowed to bring with you any sort of religious texts).


IMG_3267© Stanito, 2013

Since the beginning we knew our tour would be different from any other tour we could imagine, going to North Korea is not like visiting a regular country but rather like visiting somebody’s home, you enter showing respect for their style and beliefs. Our program with YPT might have been limited to the places approved by the authorities, but even so I can say that North Korea has still got a lot to offer: beautiful mountains, rivers everywhere, people walking and washing their clothes in the countryside streams, green fields, waterfalls, beaches, lovely people that will invite you to dance and eat with them right in the middle of the street or at the beach, on the notes of their folklore music and the genuine kindness of everyone you meet. Seriously, the kindness and devotion you perceive are quite rare to find elsewhere.

IMG_4582© Stanito, 2013

Something else that I only found in North Korea, dear reader, is that questions like “Where are we having dinner tonight?” or “Where are we going later on?” will not be useful.
Once we arrived in Pyongyang you will realize that entry is very limited to the few pre-approved tours with very clear rules and guidelines, so the traveler will have no freedom to roam around on his/her own. Therefore, dear reader, realize that most guides and books you will find about North Korea will not give you travel advice and tips to go around, but rather descriptions of places and restrictions over time (some things do change in time, like 3G, when I went there we had no signal, but apparently right now you can find 3G connection, only that no one knows for how long…).

In spite of these intriguing precepts, things turned out to be very interesting and inspiring: I could speak to locals, take photos of them even in remote places, I danced with them and even tried their food. Probably a year or two ago, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Our guides took us to the beach one day in Nampho, awesome idea given the torrid heat of those days. Beach volley, beers, and water was too muddy for my taste, but the others seemed to enjoy it very much :)So instead with two friends we decided to sneak away and explore the shore (sorry Chris!). We might have gone a bit far as we witnessed a lot, we danced with people, we took photos and almost ended up in a fight, accidentally of course.

Stanito©Riccio, 2013

IMG_4523© Stanito, 2013

Little North Korean family drama aside, we reached the top of the cape after dancing chit-chatting to most we encountered.

Even though we behaved quite well and showed complete obedience towards our guide, my friends and I found numerous occasions to slip away and go on an adventure (the beach episode already counts as one!) and to the discovery of mysterious exciting places, starting with… our hotel!

by Stanito

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Stanito© Stanito, 2013

It was on June 5, 1989 when an unknown man (also known as Tank Man) stepped in front of a Chinese row of military tanks under the eyes of thousands of people. He looked so tiny compared to the tank he forced to stop.

tank-man-tiananmen-square-19891© Google, 2013

I’m sure he couldn’t have known by then that this gesture would later become the most famous moment of Tiananmen Square Massacre and it would propagate to the rest of world as a symbol of the one man who rose the voice for defiance and insubordination.

This moment along with many others made Tiananmen Square of particular interest, therefore our first destination in Beijing.
The square is pretty and big, packed with people which made our movements a bit difficult. The buildings that surround the square are in 1950′s Soviet style which makes the entire square look austere.

Even though it’s a public space, Tiananmen Square belongs more to the Government than to its people: it’s surveilled by a closed-circuit cameras, plain-clothes police men ready to jump to whomever dares to scream “Free Tibet!” as we originally planned to do.
My friend J though it might fun if Riccio went to the middle of the square to scream out loud “Free Tibet!” and live some real life experience. I thought that would be very fun too but the hidden police men would take Riccio straight away within only seconds, it was too risky! :O As I was thinking out-loud, I also said at some point in my sentence “Free Tibet!” quite loud too. I freaked out… Not only I subversively cracked internet a couple of days before and now I scream Free Tibet too! I already could see myself beyond bars while J and Riccio would continue to enjoy the rest of China without me… !

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© Google, 2013

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© Stanito, 2013

Cameras surveilling each corner of the square. Also the fact that you can access Tiananmen only from very limited spots and filled with security controls, makes Tiananmen very isolated from the rest of Beijing. Definitely worth visiting.

For more on China and North Korea, please visit http://stanito.com

Land grabbing in the Palestinian Territories: the story of Abed Al-Rabbeh

Tuesday, January 29, the Haaretz.com website reads as follows:
The United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report stating that Israel is violating international law in the Palestinian Territories, and that Israel “must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers” from the West Bank and stop further settlement building “without preconditions”. We have seen headlines like this one for years, at least since the construction of the separation wall and the first settlers arrived which has caused the infinite struggle that Palestinians are enduring still today.

However, I feel it’s more personal to try and relate my personal experience in the West Bank, how I saw the settlements damaging and causing enormous difficulties to the Palestinians, and how I met the most remarkable personality I could imagine in such region: Abed Al-Rabbeh.

It was after a week I was working in Beit Sahour, one rainy morning our friend Alice decided to take us to Al-Walaja – a town north of Bethlehem – to pick up oak seeds up on a hill nearby, and so we did. Mounted on a rocky jeep, went along a rocky road, our driver listening to funny reggae, and we reached the woods surrounding the area of Al-Walaja, and Abed’s house.

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The guy who inhabits this remarkable hill is Abed Al-Rabbeh, a true hero in the Palestinian territories, he lives on the verge of a hill overlooking East Jerusalem

 

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and the Gilo settlement (up on the hill)

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Very charismatic and dedicated to simple farming life, Abed cultivates his lands with olive trees and other crops, he raises chickens, rabbits and has a white-grey donkey grazing along.

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For the past 15 years, Abed has chosen to live by himself in Al-Walaja while his wife and sons stay at the Dheisheh refugee camp. This refugee camp is only a few minutes drive from his farm but as it has happened in several occasions, whenever he left his land to visit his family he had found burned trees and wrecks.

He defends his little farm from the constant warnings of land confiscation imposed by the Israeli government given the fact that his land is currently located on Area C, with a direct view on East Jerusalem and in an area which is part of a current settlement construction plan. Because of this particular location, Abed is subjected to all sorts of restrictions that have made his life more difficult as he lives isolated from electricity, water, he doesn’t have access to a sewage system, and the impossibility to build a house led him to live inside a cave.
The Gilo settlers are not the only problem for Abed, as below you can see the separation wall stretching from the bottom of the hill.

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Little and warmly decorated, his cave walls are covered with books, photos, articles, all written proofs of his widely known struggle to keep his land from Israeli authorities. He offered us hot tea while I checked his 5 guest-books filled with support words from visitors of all over the world.

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Outside there is a pavement and a canopy made by volunteers, buckets to catch rainwater and plants.

Image© Stanito, 2012

The compost toilet

Image© Stanito, 2012

and the donkey

Image© Stanito, 2012

This emblematic hill is the last remaining piece of what used to be Al-Walaja village, and because of the settlement building expansion, most of its former residents now live in the surrounding areas of Beit Jallah and Dheisheh. But Abed decided to stay as his true mission is to defend the land that he rightfully owns. With the settlements expanding everyday more, he will struggle with even more difficulties:

1- The impossibility to obtain planning and building permission: as the Israeli Civil Administration built over 18,000 settlements in the area, only 91 Palestinian applications were approved in 2011. And because of this problematic situation, many Palestinians are denied permission to invest in infrastructure, or repairing roads, or laying pipes to obtain water and electrical power.

2- He and many more Palestinians are forced to build illegally – many buildings demolished: because of the constraints in building, many Palestinians are forced to build their homes illegally, and since illegal constructions are threatened with demolition, the result is that most of these Palestinians residents take the risk to either live “illegally” or become homeless.

Following the Palestinian admission to the UN as a non-member state, following the violation of the Rome Statute and now the Fourth Geneva convention, I believe that maybe Abed now has a better chance to stand up and say “This is my land”.
abed my land
For more information about Permaculture projects in the West Bank: