The Great Land Grab: Beyla


By Maniza Naqvi

Beyla o Beyla—-My precious Beyla! O meri lal-Beyla!

Mubarak Beyla—Jiayanoon Beyla! See, didn’t I always say to you –Keep your courage—Keep your faith–So what if your man is no more? We are here for you—my lali Beyla. Don’t I always say to you we will take care of you–my woman and I are still here for the whole village—like the protective shade of a father, or a brother or a man—We are here. Now just see how we take care of you. I have brought renters for your barren land. Now you will rule like a queen precious Beyla!

I told them to wait until I had talked to you myself. They are waiting on the highway—in their jeep—they are shy and not sure if you will accept them as renters. But I can tell you they are good people. You have my word on that. They want to rent your land. They want to become farmers—you know how the city folk are—they like to have hobbies—you know how they like to hunt around here—shooting and eating those small birds! Now they want to farm! So let them! They are naive in the ways of farming—what do they know about barren land? They think they can farm it. So let them Beyla. I told them that I will talk to you first. I will call them after you agree. They want to be your tenants! Imagine that Beyla—now you will have tenants!

They will give you five thousand rupees per acre for that barren land that the government gave you. Imagine! Do you remember when that oil company came and put up the fences nearby? They said the land didn't belong to anyone, it wasn't in anyone's name. They had bought it from the Government. Remember? And all that time we thought the land was ours and belonged to the village and no one even asked us if we used that land for cattle grazing or anything. Just because it wasn't in our names, we had no right to it. Remember? But now, see you will get forty thousand rupees per year for this land which the Government has given you and it is in your name, this barren land. Let them take it Beyla. You will be able to buy all the grain you want for your oven and your children. And the goats you’ve always wanted. And listen, guess what else, these naïve people want—You will laugh at this—I did—but then I thought why not—they can do what they want—it’s their money—and if they want to give you the money in exchange for nothing then let them—listen to this Beyla–they want to be your renters for one hundred years. Can you imagine?

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Divining Water


By Maniza Naqvi

“Say: Just think: If your water were to dry up in the morning who will bring you water from a fresh, flowing stream?”

A sunflower yellow plastic container caught my attention as my cab weaved its way through morning traffic in DC. Exactly the kind carried every day of the year on the backs of camels, mules, women and children from Addis to Lemo to Jijiga to Woldia to Mekele-and all the places east, south, west and north of them. The kind like a jerry can used for selling cooking oil and recycled by millions to fetch water often over long distances and difficult terrain. I walked back later in the day in search of it. There it sat, just around the corner from the White House gracing the ledge outside a vending kiosk. The yellow color, radiant and hopeful in the sunshine set against the chrome exterior, of the tiny shop. There perhaps, as a memory or a talisman, or an offering. Inside, the kiosk, an Ethiopian woman selling hotdogs and chewing gum– and bottled water from New Zealand to passersby.

Thousands of miles and days later in Addis, my eyes focus on the yellow container strapped to the back of a slow moving woman in the crowd milling about a construction site, my eyes train on her, she is pregnant. Hundreds of dilapidated and messy kiosk sized houses, cafes, businesses have been removed, to find livelihoods elsewhere on the outskirts of attention, to make way for organized, tall and sprawling shiny corporate sized realities. Inside, one such air conditioned conference room, where I sit gazing out the window, the speaker has been talking about climate change—the rising temperatures, more rains, more floods and more droughts: this subject will lead all others from now on, he says, and will be the new theme for attracting financing for those whose business it is to reduce poverty. The answer is charismatic carbon— programs which have the potential to attract financing to support food for the poor through dispensing carbon credit to growth industries.

Someone whispers in my ear: “New theme? Nothing new at all! It seems like hostage taking of the poor by holding their condition up for their own ransom. We won’t create the conditions to allow people to grow their own food—and we won’t stop polluting or thinking only about growth and we’ll keep shoveling food aid at people whose weather risk we’ve increased because of our pollution. We’ll keep thinking of indebting further, credit this and credit that—now can you believe this? Carbon credit! Charismatic carbon! Burning up our planet–drying up our water for greed.!”

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Necessary Luxury

by Dave Munger

Sculpture4It's almost impossible to come up with a pithy statement summarizing the age-old struggle to define “art” and “artist.” Yet for my stepbrother Mark, for whom daily existence is a struggle, wrestling with these concepts takes on a new dimension.

I can still remember scoffing in my Intro to Art class in college, when the professor told us about objets trouvés and showed us works like Duchamp's Fountain—an unmodified urinal displayed as art. That's not art, I muttered to myself. If I can do it, it's definitely not art. Picking up some random object and putting it in a museum does not make something art. Art is something more than that (Of course, maybe it's not, but at the time I was quite convinced I was right).

When we were kids, Mark was always picking up sticks and shaping them into amazing things. I was particularly fond of a knotted piece of driftwood that he carved into a hydroplane with his pocketknife. Hydros are like Seattle's version of stock car racing, and here Mark had transformed a bit of flotsam into something any ten-year-old would love.

Eventually one of his parents gave him a set of real carving tools, and he started to make sculptures out of wood. “Wood is interesting to me because it had a previous existence,” Mark says. “Then it ends up dying and being made into something completely different. What it went through in its life affects how it grows, which affects what you can make out of it.” Mark created the sculpture above to represent metamorphosis; as you rotate it, the magical person he's depicted seems to change, to lose its skin and express its inner self. But the act of creating the carving mimicked the work itself (or is it the other way around?), as he transformed a piece of wood into into a work that expressed what he wanted.

The more difficult transition, the one he's still struggling with, is making himself into an artist. It's something I share with him, because I struggle with it too. The differences between the two of us are primarily due to chance. I've never had the physical ailments he's had, and unlike me, he wasn't lucky enough to marry someone who can support the irregular career of an aspiring artist (Once again, we're back to definitions—you can of course dispute whether a writer is an artist).

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