The Boundaries of Love in the Holy Land

By Daniel Estrin

It is rare for an Israeli and a Palestinian to fall in love. There are physical barriers, as Israelis can’t enter Palestinian areas, and Palestinians can’t enter Israeli areas, without special permits. There are also cultural barriers, of course. But a year ago, two 29-year-old men – one from Jerusalem, the other from a West Bank village – met one another and demonstrated that sometimes love can be found. Reporter Daniel Estrin brings us their story.

This production aired as part of our “Love is Complicated” series, part of the Global Story Project with support from the Open Society Foundations. Presented by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Gorilla Warfare: Inside the Battle for the Soul of Virunga National Park

By Karen Lowe

In the first ever national park in all of Africa, a years-long battle is being waged for the soul and sustenance of the land. In this audio documentary, we visit Virunga National Park, hear the sounds of the wild and rare mountain gorillas up close, and meet the rangers who risk their lives to protect them and the people trying to usher in a new era of sustainable tourism that could benefit the local community for generations to come.

This story aired on Evolve Magazine, PRI’s Living on Earth, and KCRW’s Unfictional.

Siege recipe site helps blockaded Syrians to keep eating

By Erika Solomon

From radish leaf breakfast salads to sparrow stew dinners, Abu Omar has meals covered for tens of thousands of Syriansliving under siege.

His darkly comedic Blockade Meals, a Facebook page with nearly 11,000 likes, offers cooking tips, recipe ideas and step-by-step photographs that mimic the style of foodie cookery sites. But this young mechanic-turned-rebel offers recipes that are neither organic nor gourmet: they show how to make a meal out of dwindling food supplies in areas under blockade.

One recent post recommends picking leaves from the common Syrian mulberry plant.

“You can either fry them or you can stew them,” an April post suggests. “Put them in a pressure cooker for half an hour, add some oil and spices, and then stew it another half-hour. It will become a tasty meal. Another plus: It helps move your bowels.”

The UN estimates that around a quarter of a million Syrians are living under blockade as the country’s civil war enters its fourth year. Food scarcity has been so severe in some areas that local doctors have reported cases of sickness and even death from malnutrition, most of them children.

Civilians evacuated from Old Homs under UN auspices earlier this year said many people had resorted to eating cats and leaves.

Abu Omar, who uses a nom de guerre, says he lived in Homs’s Old City under blockade for nearly two years. He and some 1,000 fellow fighters were finally able to leave the city this week through a deal with the government.

“Even more than offering recipe ideas I wanted to show we are still happy . . . We mujahideen [holy warriors] don’t have a problem making do with whatever God leaves us with,” he says in an interview with the Financial Times.

The 24-year-old Abu Omar had never cooked a meal before he and his comrades were trapped by the government siege. He learnt through friends and by trading ideas over the internet with Syrians under blockade in other areas.

“In the (besieged) Assaly district of Damascus, they make bread out of lentils for example, because they have a lot of that there. We don’t. But for ingredients we all have, we share ideas,” he said. “For example, everyone has grasshoppers.”

(Wash them and fry them, he says in one post. “They’re tasty.”)

On Blockade Meals, Abu Omar also suggests planting a garden with radishes – the leaves grow quickly and make good salads until the vegetable matures. If something tastes bad, hide the taste with pomegranate syrup – a locally made sweetener.

Most important, he says, are the right cooking utensils. “The pressure cooker is the best friend of the besieged. It will cook anything,” he writes in one post, with a picture of a battered metal pot. “I’m in love with my pressure cooker.”

President Bashar al-Assad’s forces began using blockades as a tactic in late 2012 in an effort to choke supplies to areas where they were unable to dislodge rebel fighters.

There are several blockaded areas around Homs and Damascus – cities where the government wants to cement its control in order to hold the country’s strategic centre. Rebels still hold large swaths of northern and eastern Syria.

Some opposition-held suburbs of the capital that refused to make a deal with Mr. Assad’s forces have been besieged for more than a year and a half.

Rebels have adopted the blockade technique themselves, particularly in the northern province of Aleppo, where they have besieged two loyalist towns as well as the government-held half of Aleppo city. Abu Omar, now out of Homs, hopes to enjoy the taste of freedom with one of his two favourite meals: fried fish or chicken liver.

There is one blockade recipe he plans to keep using: fried green figs. “Cut them in half, salt them and fry them. The taste is something between fried eggplant and potatoes – delicious.”

This post originally appeared on FT.com

Guerillas, Gorillas and Oil: A Toxic Mix?

By Evelyn Iritani

DRCongo-parkrangers

RUMANGABO, Democratic Republic of Congo — Emmanuel de Merode knows exactly when his passion began. He was a curious young man with a dream of becoming a park ranger when he first saw the mountain gorillas, giant beasts with an intelligent, surprisingly disarming nature. 

He was smitten. 

“Every time you go into a group of gorillas, you’re blown off your feet,” said de Merode, who is now the director at Virunga National Park, home for 220 of the endangered animals. “It’s like being married to somebody you adore. Whether you’re 20 or 90. It’s the same thing with the mountain gorillas.”

Continue reading on Al Jazeera America

On Crossing the Border: David and Eyad in Jerusalem

By Daniel Estrin

At the Israeli army checkpoint, David barely slowed down. His pale skin, blue eyes and confident smile identified him as an Israeli. Even when Israeli soldiers signaled to him to stop or slow down, he just waved and drove past, spitting dust behind him.

Each time he did this, and it was often, he was thrilled and terrified. So was his Palestinian boyfriend, Eyad, who would sit in the back seat. It is hard to describe how dicey pulling this stunt off is in this part of the world. But for David and Eyad, sneaking Eyad from the West Bank to David’s apartment in Israel was worth the risk.

It is extremely rare for an Israeli to fall in love with a Palestinian. Gay love is an even trickier prospect.

There is, of course, the bitter conflict waging between the two peoples. Sleeping with the enemy is, in most circles, considered to be a betrayal to one’s family, identity and nation.

There are legal barriers. Israel bans Palestinians from joining their spouses in Israel, citing fears that Palestinians could carry out attacks if given entry to Israel.

There are physical hurdles. Security forces carefully police the frontier between Israel and the Palestinian territories. No Israeli is allowed to enter Palestinian-governed areas, and no Palestinian is allowed into Israeli areas, without special permits.

You don’t need a special permit, however, to enter a dating website.

In early 2012, a 29-year-old Israeli man from Jerusalem began chatting online with a 29-year-old Palestinian man in the West Bank. They lived just a few miles, and worlds away, from each other.

The Palestinian asked the Israeli what his name was. (Their real names are not revealed here, for their safety and privacy.) When the Israeli responded with a Hebrew name, the Palestinian thought it was a joke, a fake nickname.

“I was speaking to him in Arabic, and he saw my pictures, and I didn’t seem like an Arab,” David, the Israeli, said. “He thought I was fooling him. And eventually I told him I was Jewish. And he was shocked. And I asked if problem. And he said, ‘no, no.’”

Many Palestinian gay men do not reveal their real names to the Palestinian men they meet online. Strangers, even gay strangers, cannot be trusted to keep their sexuality a secret. Homosexuality is one of the most extreme taboos in Palestinian society.

David was not the first Israeli man Eyad chatted with online. But none of them with were willing to meet him, a Palestinian, in the West Bank. They thought it would be dangerous.

David agreed to meet him in a town in the West Bank, taking circuitous, Jewish settlement back roads to avoid Israeli military checkpoints.

“I still remember his face. How happy he was,” Eyad, the Palestinian, said of their first date. “I told him, you are in Jerusalem, and I am in the West Bank, and there is a wall between us…it’s not a good idea to draw expectations. Like, we cannot really go far with it.”

Then, as if defying gravity, they fell in love. To be a couple – this kind of couple, in this unforgiving place – required creating a life of fiction. David didn’t tell his parents for a very long time about his relationship with Eyad. And Eyad hid his own sexuality from his family, as well as the true nature of his relationship with David, who became a frequent and welcome visitor to his family’s village home.

“I really can’t tell what would happen if someone from Palestine knew that I am gay. People here in Palestine, they say that, oh, that guy was talking about this, he should be killed,” Eyad said. “I live in a big lie.”

When their fiction began to unravel, the two crossed many of their own personal boundaries, in a place where borders matter most.

Tune into their audio documentary to hear David and Eyad tell their story.

In Afghanistan, A Woman’s Nose Can Be Her Destiny

By Greg Warner

Marriage prospects can balance on a lot of things: Money, status, geography.  But for some women in Afghanistan, Greg Warner learned, the shape of her nose can determine whether she makes it to the altar.

This production aired as part of our “Love is Complicated” series, part of the Global Story Project with support from the Open Society Foundations. Presented by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

Black As I Wanna Be

By Jerome Campbell

In this personal narrative, Jerome Campbell asks both his childhood friends and LA neighbors, “How black am I?”. How much do “nerdy” interests, vocabulary or dance moves help define his racial identity — compared to heritage or experiences with prejudice?

Kurdish women fight for equality in Syria

By Erika Solomon

MALIKIYA, Syria (Reuters) – Like her five sisters before her, Ahin left school to help her mother at home. Now she’s training to fight.

At a remote Kurdish militia base on the grassy rolling hills near Syria’s border with Iraq, the stocky 19-year-old jumps and crawls with rows of women in olive green fatigues. Their commander barks an order, and they take position and aim their Kalashnikovs.

The training camp is a powerful sign of the way Syria’s Kurds are working to create an autonomous region. While both Islamist rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have sidelined women, in this Kurdish area, men are happy to fight alongside them. Kurdish military leaders say about a third of the Kurds’ fighting force are women. Many, like Ahin, would never have dreamed of taking up arms until recently.

“I saw all these women leaving home to defend our land and was inspired. I never thought about things like women’s equality before I joined the Women’s Defence Brigades. It was a strange decision for me to make,” she says, wiping sweaty brown curls off her forehead. “Now I’ve started a whole new life.”

Kurdish society in Syria may be conservative by Western standards, but it is less so than other communities in the country. Now, says Nisreen, the base’s 32-year-old trainer and commander, Kurdish women see an opportunity to tie their own liberation to the region’s.

“When there is war, violence doesn’t discriminate between men or women, so why do we? Women are just as much a part of this society. We will share in this task,” she says.

Like all the women interviewed for this story, Nisreen declined to give her last name.

SMART POLITICS

The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the most powerful group in Syria’s Kurdish areas, has run the region since Assad’s forces withdrew in 2012, and created both the male and female militia groups that now defend the area. The PYD has ideological ties to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in Turkey, which fought a three-decade war against Ankara and pioneered women’s militias and quotas.

Both groups require political and military leadership roles to have co-chairs – one man, one woman. The rule is ideological, but also smart politics in a society where women have few options in public life.

“That’s a whole extra bloc of potential constituents,” says Kurdish expert Aliza Marcus. “And because it offers options for advancement, women are often the most committed members.”

Nojan, 20, who adorns her plain fatigues with a black scarf embroidered with flowers, said female fighters were particularly proud of helping beat back fighters from al Qaeda during battles late last year.

“When we arrived at the front, it was dark, and al Qaeda was close to our position … we shouted to them that we were women with weapons in our hands, here to defend our people to the death,” says Nojan.

“They told us to leave, they didn’t want to fight women.”

Ahin says that on trips home she is sparking heated debates about women’s rights with her brothers and father, who bristle at her critiques of male-dominated society.

“I want them to follow my path, but they need time,” she says, smiling. “When I lived at home, I was just a well-behaved girl. Here, I not only learned how to carry a gun, I learned how to speak. I became a woman.”

Erika Solomon is a Bending Borders contributor. Reuters originally published this story in January 2014.

24 Hours: A Day in the Working Life

In this special report for Labor Day, twelve workers who might otherwise go unnoticed – including a stripper, deli waitress, bus driver, metal scrapper and bathroom attendant – take us inside their places of work to show us what they do, why they do it and what it takes. Produced in partnership with Homelands Productions and graduate students at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC.

This piece aired on WFAE Charlotte, KGOU Oklahoma City, Northeast Public Radio, WSNC Winston-Salem, WXXI Rochester and WPRI Rensselaer.