2016 Summer Fellows Research Journal


Aydin Anwar is a rising sophomore from Fairfax, Virginia, interested in studying Neuroscience and Documentary Studies.  This summer, she will be traveling to Istanbul and Kayseri, Turkey to delve into the past and present stories of the Uyghur diaspora population by interviewing Uyghur refugees and creating a documentary film. Through the film, she hopes to not only shed light on the stories of an unknown, oppressed population, but also influence the viewers’ framing of their ethical viewpoints.

Evan Nicole Bell is a rising junior from Columbia, Maryland, pursuing a Program II degree entitled “Documenting Justice: The Role of Photographic Narratives in Activism.” Evan will spend the summer facilitating a non-profit initiative that she founded to subsidize the cost of travel for children in the Baltimore-Washington corridor to visit their incarcerated parents. Additionally, she will partner with a national non-profit to advocate for improving the quality and efficacy of parent-child visits. She will share the stories of families affected by incarceration in an ethical, meaningful way by culminating her work in the creation of a documentary photography portfolio and exhibition.

Amanda Gavcovich is a rising junior from Miami, Florida, majoring in Public Policy and Women’s Studies. She spent her last summer interning for a Florida State Attorney’s office, curious about the ethics that guide all involved in criminal justice. The project will consist of conducting interviews of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges as well as taking a deeper look into jury selection to uncover racial, gender, and socioeconomic biases employed in criminal proceedings. The main focus will be on the changing attitude on the death penalty in Florida and language used in sexual battery cases.

Rajiv Golla is a rising senior from Daytona Beach, Florida, studying Political Science, History, and Visual Media Studies. While in South Sudan in July 2015, he met a number of Indian commodity traders based in Juba that had amassed fortunes supplying basic goods to the war stricken nation. Their presence is a common sight in the continent’s most fraught areas; this summer, Rajiv will be traveling to Kampala, Uganda, and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, to study these Indian entrepreneurs and their relations to the wars in neighboring countries. He will investigate the networks and justifications they employ in profiteering from devastating conflict and the threads they hold in the fragile institutions that govern these nations.

Amanda – Welcome to South Florida

Amanda_1_400Welcome to the State Attorneys Office! I’m here (again) for the next 8 weeks, surrounded by the courthouse, the jail, and the public defender’s office. I believe there’s a police department around too.

I interned for an assistant state attorney (ASA) in the homicide department last summer. You can say it’s addictive. I guess it has to be for the pay the ASAs earn. As an intern last summer I obviously learned a lot about the system but I also learned more about the effect of relationships and people’s personalities. I wondered what brought criminal justice actors here, into the courthouse where above each judicial bench reads a sign, “We Who Labor Here Seek Only Truth.”
I am mostly interested in the actors of the criminal justice system, what the TV shows don’t always show – the relationships and dynamics between judges, juries, prosecutors, and public defenders. Law & Order SVU, for example, (my favorite) never fails to depict drama in the courtroom, and that’s true if there’s a jury present. But that’s the very tip of the criminal justice system‘s iceberg and a lot of the “boring stuff” – which I find most interesting – gets compressed out of the popular narrative.  That boring stuff ranges from competency hearings to jury selection!

I came in this summer with the intention to interview prosecutors on their ethics. Broad, I know. So far, I’ve had short conversations on the topic as I’ve introduced my research to many of the ASAs. They’ve all offered bits on how the state attorney’s office (SAO) is different from other offices, or how much influence they must recognize they have, or how a bad relationship with the “other side” or a judge impacts an outcome. While I’m trying to focus on the changing nature of the death penalty here in Florida, I am using the death penalty question as a springboard for questioning who has the power to decide who is charged and with what, and what ethical obligations do they see themselves fulfilling. There may be no clear answer to this, but I am curious as to what individuals think. The death penalty is a consequential example of a more durable question of responsibility for punishment.

Prior to beginning my internship, I read up on prosecutorial ethics, and the majority of journals or excerpts included race issues and how much it affects who is sent to jail in this country. However, for this matter, I believe that this jurisdiction is an exception (so far!). With a Latin majority county and a hugely diverse state attorney’s office with many more females than males and a new swath of young black ASAs, it seems like there is a stronger sense of understanding of crime when the office reflects the population.

This office also seems different when it comes to the pressure to win in trial. The ASAs claim its existence is minor. However, I think it’s more about a lack of pressure to bring a case to court in order to come out with a definitive “win” (a jury finding guilt). I’m not yet sure if this has to do with an atmosphere of justice than it is a fear of losing while in trial. Still, it will be difficult to discern, just based on interviews with savvy ASAs, if a desire to seek justice, and “only the truth” trumps an adversarial atmosphere. In addition, I wonder if the well-researched fact that prosecutorial misconduct is hard to uncover – as it is rarely reported – perpetuates the misconduct.

As I sit in trial for a first-degree murder case, following yesterday’s 11-hour jury selection, voir dire, I recognize how much human nature plays into the job and how adversarial ethics guides much of everyone’s daily interactions. Not only do I come to this understanding from my conversations with ASAs but because I have had an active role so far in this trial. It’s been a weird feeling taking part in this “seeking justice and truth” business. I’ve met the family of the deceased, and I have caught glances from the defendant, a man that I’ve essentially helped try and put in prison for the rest of his life.

After my first week, there’s so much going on in my mind. I have so many questions and I know I need to narrow down my scope of interest. Do prosecutors or judges or defense attorneys think about ethics as much as I think they do or should? Will I ever find a stance on the death penalty? Once I sit down for my actual interviews that start next week, I think I will be able to find a much more streamlined approach. Next week I also begin my reading on Florida’s death penalty changes.

Aydin – Meet the Uyghurs

Aydin 1_400Alright. I guess this is it. I just got off a red-eye flight from DC to Amsterdam, and I’m using these three hours of waiting time to Istanbul to write my first blog post. I’m already being productive. *subtlety pats self on back*

For my project, I’ll be in Turkey interviewing the Muslim Uyghur diaspora population, who hail from East Turkistan, a nation that has been under the occupation and control of communist China since 1949. (China officially named the territory as the Xinjiang Province, which is located in the northwest part of China and literally means “new territory” in Chinese). Additionally, to shed light on this relatively unknown population, I hope to create a documentary film showcasing the past and present stories of the Uyghurs (pronounced “Oy-ghur,” not “Wee-gur”).

For those who don’t know me, I was born and raised in Northern Virginia, but my parents are from East Turkistan. My father, a Uyghur activist himself, left East Turkistan to flee Chinese persecution and has been in the U.S. since 1988. I’ve grown up constantly hearing about the injustices occurring back home, attending protests in front of the Chinese embassy in D.C. and doing projects aimed to raise awareness.

Since the 1949 Communist Chinese occupation, China has made increasing efforts to keep the spacious, mineral-rich land and its natural resources (Currently, approximately 1/3 of China’s wealth comes from the East Turkistan region[1]). Because the occupation process has been resisted (sometimes violently), millions of Uyghurs have been killed, imprisoned, and tortured within Chinese borders. These policies are large-scale and genocide-like in their effects. Most importantly, the Communist Party continues to implement subtle and gradual policies to mitigate anything that may encourage a defined and dignified Uyghur identity, especially religion and culture. For example, government workers and students are forbidden to fast during the holy month of Ramadan, women are forbidden to wear the hijab/niqab, men are forbidden to grow beards, and most of the Uyghur population are forbidden to enter mosques. China has also been forcibly assimilating and diluting the population by incentivizing Han Chinese to move into the East Turkistan region. Ethnic Han now make up around 40% of the East Turkistan population. Uyghur schools have been shut down, traditional homes and buildings have been demolished, and violence has been erupting in the region for decades. Genocide has occurred; with the most recent one being during the summer of 2014 in Yarkend, with at least 2,000 Uyghur men, women, and children killed by Chinese officials in a week.[2]

One thing that has driven me to do this project is the fact that a very small portion of the global community knows the situation of the Uyghurs in East Turkistan, let alone what or where East Turkistan is. Every time someone asks where I am ethnically from, my response takes at least 3 minutes because I end explaining to them what East Turkistan is and who Uyghurs are. And I don’t blame them at all. Uyghurs have been silenced for decades, and since China controls the media in the region the situation of the Uyghurs is never shown. In fact, China justifies its policies towards the population by identifying East Turkistan as a hotbed of terrorism, a strategy that has been effective in garnering both domestic and international opposition towards the Uyghurs. That’s why I’ve felt that creating a film could help shed light on the population who has been yearning for its voice to be heard. And one way to shed that light is to ask people who’ve lived through the experiences themselves, hence, my intention to interview and film refugees.

Thousands of Uyghurs attempt to flee China, but only the few who are granted both passports and visas make it out legally. Many of those who are denied passports use fake passports and make perilous journeys through neighboring countries. Some leave with tourist visas and then seek asylum once in the country. Currently, there are approximately 50,000 Uyghurs living in Turkey, with a great portion of them living in Istanbul. These Uyghurs consist of refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, visa overstayers, and descendants of those who originally left the country.

Ideally, it would have been best if I could do this fellowship in East Turkistan, but the situation in the region is too dangerous. Journalists who attempt to document the situation are often detained and forced out of the region. If I had gone to China, I would not only be stalked by Chinese officials (as was done before when I visited the country in 2008), but my attempt to interview and film the Uyghur inhabitants would likely put both me and the interviewees in danger.

Other than overcoming jetlag, my goals for this week is to 1) get accustomed to Istanbul, which I heard is ridiculously huge, and 2) meet up with a few Uyghurs who I have fortunately been connected through familial ties.

I’m honestly both nervous and excited; I don’t know what to expect during this journey, but I’m looking forward to what I’ll learn from it. Having mixed feelings will force me to overcome them day-by-day and help me grow into a stronger person, which is probably the best part about going abroad. Well, at least that’s the goal.

After writing this post, I should probably continue to review the list of useful Turkish phrases I made in my notebook so I’m not too overwhelmed once in the city… (p.s. the Uyghur language is similar to Turkish, but unfortunately its different enough for me not to completely understand). Or… I should probably nap since it’s been 19 hours since I’ve last slept.

Wish me luck y’all. Can’t wait for the next fruitful two months!




[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/world/asia/china-invests-in-xinjiang-region-rich-in-oil-coal-and-also-strife.html?_r=0

[2] http://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/yarkand-08052014150547.html

Rajiv – Cowboys & Indians

DISPATCH 1 // Cowboys & Indians // Nairobi, Kenya

It’s a bit like trying to find needles in a haystack. Except the needles are actively trying to pass off as hay, don’t understand English too well, and are wary of journalists. 2,000 Indians stand before me, all speaking Telugu and wearing traditional garb. And I know at least a handful of them are exactly what I need. They’ve gathered here at the SSDS Temple in the upscale ‘Westlands’ neighborhood of Kenya’s capital for a special event put on by the Tirupati committee, representing one of the holiest sites of Hindu India.  If you had been shuttled right from the airport to these temple grounds, you would have no way of telling you weren’t in India.

I’ve come here, on the first day of my investigations, to hunt down Indian businessmen that make their profits trading in some of Africa’s most debilitating conflicts — in South Sudan, DRC, CAR, and Somalia. I met a handful of these men during a previous reporting trip to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, where two years prior civil war had erupted between supporters of the president on the government side and supporters of the VP on the rebel side, fracturing the country along ethnic lines. While I was there, they had been more than willing to share stories of running around the Congo, Angola, and Somalia at the heights of their crises, chasing profit without care for their lives — we’d all be reborn anyway, right? But here, on the fringes of the war economy and thousands of miles from Juba, Indians would be a bit more tepid on sharing stories of flirting with law and limb, especially with a legal apparatus as robust as Kenya’s.

I’d known that Indians had been no strangers to Africa, settling here in the 1800s under British colonial rule, but finding them in Juba last year was a bit of a surprise. As far as American media is concerned with foreign meddling in modern Africa, Chinese state-backed entrepreneurship stands king. The trend began in the 1980s with China’s decision to embark on a regimented and strongly backed program to extend influence to the Cold War’s third world. Through rebranded corporations representing state interests, China sought to shore up economic security in raw resources, which lie under some of the bloodiest ground in the African continent — and by no accident.

China officially maintains that its economic development packages are ‘no strings attached’ and are strictly non-interfering, politically speaking. But their willingness to indiscriminately do business with regimes as broken as Robert Mugabe’s in Zimbabwe and as brutal as Omar al-Bashir’s in Sudan puts China on the axis of Western foreign policy. In recent months, the standoff has become even more explicit. The Chinese government has broken ground for a military base in Djibouti, right next to Camp Lemonnier, America’s largest military base in the continent.

Indians, on the other hand, are near unknown to Western media accounts of African economies, but to the locals, it’s no secret who pulls the strings of the markets.

Indians have long been an integral part of the African fabric and trade records show sustained contact between Indian maritime merchants and East African traders as early as the 1400s. But it was not until the 1800s British conquest of East Africa that Indians arrived en masse. Unhappy with the quality of labor they found in Africa, the British opted instead to import laborers from their colony of India, whose subjects they found to be much more docile and industrious. 32,000 indentured servants arrived after having signed predatory contracts and set about constructing the Kenya-Uganda railroad, linking two of Britain’s most profitable colonies. Just as in the Chinese case, independent low-level entrepreneurs, or dukawallas, followed suit. After the contracts of the servants expired, many went back to India. But about 6,500 decided to begin life anew in Africa.

Over the next century, they became embedded in East African economies. Their ubiquitous streetside stands grew to multi-national conglomerates and their meager earnings soon multiplied to make them some of the richest men here. Soon enough, the 1960s rolled along and saw the uhuru movements for independence across the sub-Saharan. The figureheads of these movements spouted vitriolic, though not entirely unwarranted, rhetoric against foreigners in their nations. This was Africa’s moment. No longer would occupying colonial forces dictate the lives of millions that had not agreed to their rule. And owing to Indian commercial success, they were lumped into the ruling colonial class as well. And for good reason; by the 1950s there were about 320,000 Indians in East Africa and they laid claim to more than 80% of the trade in the region. Jomo Kenyatta, leader of Kenyan independence and later the first president of Kenya, called Indians “blood sucking leeches” and called for their exodus from Africa.

But it was His Excellency, Conqueror of Africa in General and Uganda in Particular, Idi Amin, that actually made good on that threat. In 1972, he gave a 90-day warning to all those of Asian descent in Uganda, where nearly the entire cotton trade was monopolized by Indians, to leave the country. And leave they did. They saw violent retribution and conflict unfolding around them with Patrice Lumumba’s bloody ouster in the DRC or the pogroms against the Portuguese in Angola’s independence struggle. So they packed their bags and head off back to India, the UK, or Canada. With calmer seas returned Indian entrepreneurs, many of whom had set up shop in the UK during their exodus and simply expanded their business back into their old stomping grounds.

Another boost for Indian immigration to Africa came in the 1990s with shifting domestic tides in Indian economic policy. With the red tape of the former ‘License Raj’ era loosened, foreign corporations began to set up shop in India and imports boomed. But this deregulation also allowed flows in the other direction and encouraged Indian entrepreneurship in Africa, now bolstered by ties to UK capital.

And it’s this last group of Indians, those liberated by 1990s trade policy and emboldened by a more ideologically stable Africa, that brought me to SSDS Temple. But again, it would be a matter of finding a needle in a haystack to track down an Indian businessman among many that has networks into South Sudan. Further, it would not be as easy to ingratiate myself in well-established Indian communities such as the one here. In the States, there is a well-recognized convention among Indians, especially those hailing from the same region, to make small talk whenever they see each other in public. That’s why it was so easy in Juba where, at the time, only about 400 Indians lived. But here I’m just another Indian. Well, until they talk to me. Then I’m American. Which doesn’t make this any easier.

My salvation, at least from crippling shyness and boredom, came in the form of Santosh. He spotted me lingering on the fringes of the congregation and struck up conversation with me. Santosh turns out to be a IT specialist with the United Nations, recently moved to Nairobi to help the mission to Mogadishu, which despite how much Western money has been poured into the Transitional Government there still has very little power to stabilize the country and instead finds itself bogged down in endless corruption and clan politics. But as long as the US and EU are footing the bill and have the other foot stifling attempts at independent local governance, who can blame them? In any case, Santosh was taken with my project and said he would try to set me up with his friends in Entebbe, Uganda, and see if he could dig up contacts in Mogadishu. He was generous enough to let me sit with him and his parents, who had just arrived from Hyderabad to visit their son. We enjoyed a fine meal prepared by cooks brought over from India along with the Tirupati committee (not so different from Chinese habits) before parting ways and sharing contact information.

So in the end, SSDS turned out to be a dud. But it has nonetheless prepared me for Kampala, where the city is saturated with Indians that returned with the fall of Idi Amin and 1986 rise of (current) president Yoweri Museveni. The haystack would be bigger and — with recent election woes still lingering in the air — the needles all the more elusive. 

Evan – The Invisible Population

Evan-1-400Three years ago, I was introduced to my high school classmate John* by a mutual friend. An upbeat, outgoing, and somewhat goofy boy, he was loved by classmates and teachers alike. Though we did not spend much time alone, he was always warm and welcoming when I would encounter him at lunch or in the hallway. One day, as we sat amongst friends at the lunch table, casually chatting, John divulged to me that his family life differed from most of our peers. As casually as if he were telling me he had eaten a bagel for breakfast, he revealed that his father was serving a ten-year sentence in prison for attempted manslaughter. At the age of ten, his father was arrested before his eyes, and since then, he has grappled with anxiety, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Through additional conversation with John, I learned that he was only able to visit his father on special occasions like on his birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. As his mother and grandmother were unable to afford to take off of work to drive him the 100+ miles necessary to visit the prison, John’s relationship with his father, whom John spoke with every day prior to his incarceration, was reduced to a few visits less than ten hours out of the year.

Making assumptions based on social stigma and media stereotypes, I wrongly believed that those affected by incarceration were all from urban areas plagued by radical policing and racial profiling. Because most inmates reside in low-income homes, with about half of incarcerated parents reporting a monthly income of less than $1,000 prior to arrest1, I did not think this problem would exist within my sanitized, suburban hometown of Columbia, Maryland, an affluent community with great schools, low crime, and an overall air of contentment and peace of mind. Ranked sixth in Money Magazine’s “America’s Best Places to Live”2, Columbia was the last place that I would imagine there could be a child struggling with losing a parent to incarceration.

John’s story was the first of many stories of children of incarcerated parents that I would go on to hear, helping me to understand that there is no one singular story of a child of an incarcerated parent. More than 2.7 million children in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent.3 Children of incarcerated parents are wealthy and they are poor. They live in urban cities and in rural towns. They are black and they are white. Their parents are blue-collar workers and their parents are white-collar workers.

Children always experience the loss of a parent as a traumatic event regardless of the circumstances surrounding the parent’s departure, but incarceration is especially detrimental due to the added elements of shame and stigma. Unlike responses to other forms of abandonment, sympathy is rarely given to children who are victims of abandonment due to imprisonment. Often referred to as the “invisible population”, children of incarcerated parents receive a lack of mainstream attention, advocacy, and support.

This summer, I have returned to my hometown to conduct investigative research on the population of children of incarcerated parents in the Baltimore-Washington corridor and amplify their stories to a greater audience. In addition to my research, I am using my Kenan Fellowship to fund Project InTouch, an organization I founded to provide free transportation for children in the Baltimore-Washington corridor to visit their incarcerated parents, alleviating the financial barriers that prevent many children from being able to visit their incarcerated parent(s).

Through interviews and photo documentation of current and former children of incarcerated parents, I seek to put a face to the “invisible population” while educating the world on the ethics of justice and care for children affected by incarceration. I aim to show that while each individual’s experiences are unified through the shared experience of losing a parent to incarceration, there is no single narrative or “face” of a child of an incarcerated parent. By revealing the uniqueness, nuances, and individual voices of children of incarceration parents through personal narratives and documentary photography, I hope to help lower the stereotypes and stigma associated with parental incarceration.

As an individual who has a close, involved relationship with both of her parents, I feel it is my ethical obligation to support the welfare of those who have been stripped of their basic right to have a relationship with their parent(s). Through the accumulation of my research, I seek to ask the following ethical inquiries: How can we, as a society, provide adequate support and compassion for incarcerated individuals and their families without appearing to condone the parent’s criminal behavior? In what ways, outside of political engagement, can an individual implement a solution that can make a significant impact on a marginalized community (i.e. children of incarcerated parents)? How can the stories of families affected by incarceration be shared in an ethically responsible way?

By the end of the summer I hope to establish a cohesive body of narratives and photos that give insight to the experience of being the child of incarcerated parent. Because of the sensitive nature of the topic of incarceration, I anticipate it won’t be easy to find caretakers who are willing to let me sit down and talk their children about a topic so stigmatized in our society. To document at least five stories, each distinctly unique, thought-provoking, and eye-opening, would be a success.

*Name and details changed for anonymity

1 Broken Bonds: Understanding and Addressing the Needs of Children with Incarcerated Parents, http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/411616-Broken-Bonds-Understanding-and-Addressing-the-Needs-of-Children-with-Incarcerated-Parents.PDF

2 Best Places to Live 2014, http://time.com/money/3312314/columbia-ellicott-city-maryland-best-places-to-live/

3 Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2010/collateralcosts1pdf.pdf

Amanda – We Who Labor Here Seek Only Truth

Photo courtesy of the "From Courtroom to Classroom" Blog

Photo courtesy of the “From Courtroom to Classroom” Blog

“We who labor here seek only truth”

These words hang about each judicial seat in the Miami-Dade courthouse, and that line of thought runs into jury selection—one of the most fascinating and important parts to a trial, a portion of that is really underrated on TV. In jury selection, it’s not about seeking the truth in a case; it’s about finding a raw truth of an individual’s prejudices, and everyone certainly has them, but the attorneys try and determine if those biases are too strong to be impartial. What a way to get an idea of a city’s beliefs.

Jury selection works like this for a first-degree homicide case where the trial requires 12 jurors and two alternates: bring in a random panel of about 50 jurors, ask them questions, and exclude them one by one, with the defendant’s input. Jurors can only be excluded by “cause actions” where the juror has indicated an inability to be impartial to either the state or defendant, or five “peremptory challenges,” an exclusion that cannot be racially influenced.

A lot of jury selection is about biases people hold, and in the case I helped pick a jury for, the prosecution needed to find panelists’ bias against police officers—witnesses in this “felony murder” case (a concept I’ll explain later). The defense tried finding biases against black people, as the defendant is a black man. The attorneys didn’t ask these questions outright, but they used metaphors and hypotheticals. The attorneys plead for direct honesty, but they know they won’t get someone to say that they are racist or say that they don’t trust two female prosecutors in front of 50 other people. The attorneys are not there to judge people’s beliefs—even if they are just spewing nonsense to get out of jury duty. It’s some people’s profession to pick a jury, and it does take talent: The best at jury selection connect with the jurors and engage with them on a personal level, really able to probe their psyches It’s not about excluding anyone that goes against the prosecutor’s version of the facts – you have to have a reason to release a juror that has to do with their ability to be impartial. Each side has their “perfect” juror in mind. For example, in a recent “delayed death” homicide case, the prosecution looked for nurses, as the evidence centered on the testimony of the medical examiner and the physician. However, thinking about jury selection as trying to find an array of perspectives for a specific trial is a little naïve. It’s often “slim pickens” in a panel because too many citizens simply toss their summons – often those that are upper class and have the connections to get off, are self-employed, or do not fear the criminal justice system the way in which citizens without money and means do. Both sides just end up trying to find impartial panelists with at least a high school education and understanding of most English. This did not stop one jury (that I’ve heard of) from deliberating in Spanish. Only Miami.

In every aspect of a trial, including jury selection, the state can’t miss a beat with everything being “on record” and at risk of an appeal. The State Attorney’s job is much about publicity of the office, so an appeal in a homicide case would be detrimental for PR. (I was planning on doing a later entry about promotions and publicity!) The defense can be more aggressive in trying to keep certain jury panelists despite clear biases they may hold against the police or criminal justice system in general. The state can’t do this. While prosecutors would say they’re just “not being assholes” the defense attorneys don’t risk a not guilty verdict being overturned (double jeopardy!). Meaning, once a guilty verdict has been established, there’s nothing the state can do, even if compelling evidence arises later.

While the ends of finding a fair and impartial jury are completely justifiable, are some of the underlying reasons ethical? A constant and only natural desire to win and “look good” can often rise to the surface for prosecutors when conducting voir dire. Many, when I speak with them, say that they’re doing what’s fair for a defendant, what’s right. However, they’re savvy folk and when you have closer interactions, they can too easily lose sight of what they know is “right.” Rules like double jeopardy or a defendant’s ability to have a say in a jury keep a prosecutor’s human nature in check and force us to find those that are impartial, not ones that will help the state gain a win. I am not sure if there is anyone that is 100% impartial to a side or to a character they see in one of the witnesses, but the state looks for someone close to that “50 yard mark” on the football field, as they explain in a death penalty jury selection, for example.

After interviewing upwards of twenty prosecutors, asking them what they would change about the criminal justice system, so many have referred to jury selection: Most are unsure as to how to change it up – some suggest changing from where we pick addresses, or finding a way to express the gravity of skipping out on jury duty to have more of a chance of finding impartiality in a jury. Nevertheless, the entire courthouse stresses the need for people to attend jury duty in order to have a diverse panel that can be representative of the county. A more representative panel gives both sides more options to gather a jury to “seek only the truth.”


Aydin – Crossing Barriers and Borders

Aydin-2-400This past week was both beautiful and overwhelming. Because Uyghur and Turkish people are both Turks and I’ve immersed myself in Uyghur culture growing up, I wasn’t expecting much of a culture shock. But this week was the complete opposite of my expectations—never before have I felt so lost and amazed at the same time.

I had to get used to the crowded neighborhoods, narrow alleyways, stray cats and dogs, dusty streets, young and old beggars, lurking cigarette smoke, crazy drivers who give no right of way to pedestrians and love honking their horn, and the ridiculous traffic that forces people to just take the metro train/bus.  And then there are the countless mosques, with their beautiful calls to prayer that go off simultaneously and echo through the busy streets (For the first time in a very long time, I didn’t have to wake up to my obnoxious phone alarm for Fajr prayer (the Islamic prayer before sunrise)). This week was also the first time I indulged in the famous Turkish dondurma (icecream) that costs less than a dollar, and the weekly Friday bazaar that sells everything that I love—hijabs, Turkish delights, accessories, food, skirts, and more food.

And then there was also the language barrier. Like I mentioned in my previous blog, the Uyghur and Turkish language is different enough for me not to completely understand. The first day upon my arrival I had already mastered the phrase, “cok az turkce biliyorum”, meaning “I know very little Turkish”, in an attempt to mitigate any awkwardness arisen in conversations.

A relative that Oghuz (my brother whose accompanying me throughout my stay) and I had stayed with the first day emphasized to us that many Turkish people would treat us differently once they knew we don’t speak the language. And, based off the past few days, I tried to just convince myself that the people we were interacting with were just having a rough day. I remember a Turkish phone company worker had rolled her eyes when we had asked her to help us with our phone situation (btw, we had no wifi or data for three days straight – probably one of the best and worst experiences of my life). She gave off a pretty negative vibe and set the tone for how I initially viewed Turkey and its hospitality.

But, alhamdulilah (Praise and thanks to God), we had someone we knew to guide us and show us how things work.  Many refugees or immigrants don’t, and that only made me think of how much harder it is for people to adapt when the only people they have is themselves. Many learn about the country the hard way—by feeling inadequate, lost, or being taken advantage of, three feelings I felt when I didn’t have my relative with me.

By the fifth day in Istanbul, my relative brought Oghuz and me to Zeytinburnu, where most Uyghurs in Turkey live. I was grateful for the experience, because after four days of being utterly confused and overwhelmed I finally felt a bit at home. I was able to understand the signs of restaurants and shops because they were written in Uyghur, and I could understand the conversations of the Uyghur elders and children strolling down the alleyways. I could walk into a Uyghur restaurant and eat food that I normally eat at home, and could ask someone for directions without having to try to decipher what they were saying.

One of my goals for this week had been to start meeting with and getting to know some potential interviewees, before deciding to formally interview them with my camera. While in Zeytinburnu, we ate at an Uyghur restaurant and briefly met an Uyghur man who was on his lunch break (keeping him anonymous for now). I wasn’t able to ask him much, but he looked to be in 20s. I found out that he was born and raised in Turkey, and had been actively working to help Uyghur refugees in Istanbul and Kayseri. His father has been in the Chinese prisons for more than a decade, but I didn’t ask him why or how—not only because he already looked distressed and tired, but because he didn’t say the reason himself and I didn’t want to impose more negative thoughts when he had to get back to work.

While in Zeytinburnu, I also learned a bit of the political landscape in Turkey regarding China and the Uyghur diaspora population. Many who still have family back in East Turkistan cannot openly declare or show their ethnic and nationalistic pride without fearing consequences by the Chinese government. Multiple Uyghurs informed me that there is a large number of Uyghur informants in Turkey that get paid by the Chinese government to report religious and political activities that may mobilize sentiment against China. That’s why it is rare, for example, to see the East Turkistan flag hanging outside of an apartment/restaurant or for someone who still has ties in China to openly do religious activities. I had asked a lady if she would be willing to go to a Quran study group that would meet up everyday, and she told me that if she were to be seen by the informants, she would stop receiving her only source of money, or her monthly retirement pension from the Chinese government.

There’s still so much more to learn, and so much more to do. I’m just starting to realize how little I actually know about my own people. I’ll be updating y’all next week. Wish me luck!



Rajiv – Democracy vs Stability

If you, like me, are a casual observer of Ugandan politics, you would have seen over the past few months the ugly head of authoritarianism reared in an otherwise stable and thriving political system. House arrests, street protests, masked vigilantes, media blackouts. That’s right. It was election season. Ah yes, the captivating event that comes along every 4-6 years and sees nations clamber in turmoil over choosing a victor, despite the outcome usually being all but certain.

In this case, our luckless opposition figure was Kizza Besiege (FDC), a retired army hero and previous contender for the heavyweight title of the Ugandan presidency. In the other corner, our reigning champ, Yoweri Museveni (NRM), whose undefeated streak of 30 years is rivaled only by such leaders as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar Gullah of Djibouti, or Paul Biya of Cameroon. The sheer length of his administration — institution, rather — prompted Ugandans to take to Twitter behind the #WhenMuseveniBecamePresident hashtag and post photos of their parents in college or themselves in diapers.

Despite what Samuel Huntington and other development thinkers would have you believe, it seems that democratic transition is not yet on the horizon for much of Africa. The continent is being wracked by an epidemic of the “Third term” virus. Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, Chad’s Idriss Debé (actually a 4th term), DRC’s Laurent Kabila, and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame are all now campaigning for constitutional reforms to allow a third term and most seem to be well on their way to securing another few years in office, at the least.

Seems that stability and economic growth does not necessarily mean democracy, especially when the Clintons are using the full force of the US State Department and their ‘philanthropic’ organization to keep Kagame in power despite human rights violations and curtailed civil liberties. But hey, check out that GDP growth. Rwanda, a la Singapore and 1970s Chile, is soon to join the growing list of nations that seem to skirt liberal governance for strong economic growth and contradict established development theory which continues to pretend that the United States/ Western Europe and its imperial tendencies — IMF, World Bank, Paris Club — are charitable and apolitical organizations.

In any case, Kizza Besigye is, depending on when you’re reading this, either under house arrest or in prison proper, his list of charges as long as they are vague. The instability his weekly rallies and parallel mock presidential swearing-in have created have the NRM furious, investors pulling their money, and most importantly for us, Indians shaking in their boots. To them, Besigye’s rhetoric and popular support presents a threat to the comfortable and preferential status quo that Museveni carved out for Indians after taking power over from Idi Amin in 1986 (Milton Obote’s second stint as president is actually sandwiched between the two regimes but is largely relegated to the footnotes of history).

Following Idi Amin’s Asian expulsion in 1972, the country fell into economic despair — play by play replays of Jewish expulsion from Spain or the Portuguese expulsion from Angola — only to be saved by Yoweri Museveni, who saw the integral role these foreign traders played in the East African economy. Though Indians are a great bogeyman in electoral politics and do represent something of a threat to organic African sovereignty, they are nevertheless central to the stability of the region. To coax these Indians back, he re-appropriated Indian property taken by Amin’s regime back to their rightful owners, cut tax breaks for foreign money, and instituted a host of other economic policies to entice Indians back to the nation that had once burned them.

My landlady, as luck would have it, was one of the first Indians to return to Uganda in 1986. “There was nothing of what you see on the streets today. It was all shacks and dirt roads,” she tells. She had been married in India and was brought to Mombasa, Kenya, first by her husband who had been an up and coming real estate mogul. There, she enjoyed relative liberty but when they came to Uganda a few years later, she was confined to the walls of her flat in Old Kampala. Tensions still ran high on the streets with Museveni’s young regime and the still simmering fear of Indian economic prowess that Amin had sown in his subjects.

It took another 6-7 years of stability and progress for the Museveni regime to be entrenched enough and maintain its dialogue with the English Indian community for more to return. Now, there are about 20,000 in Kampala alone and the silhouettes of Indian temples define the skyline downtown. Indian names are emblazoned in every crack and crevice of the city, from the tops of shopping malls and office buildings to the stamps on matchboxes and plastic chairs. The time is ripe to capitalize on Indian success once again and Besigye has been the man to do it, forcing my landlady back into hiding whenever his demonstrations come through town.

Foreign traders as a powerful force is nothing new to modern Africa. In West Africa, Lebanese traders have long held the pursestrings to despotic regimes, financing the diamond mines and private security that weak state leaders require to hold their grasp on power. Foreign traders are actually quite a boon for heads of fragile nations. They present a class of people economically powerful but politically impotent because their ethnic background prevents them from becoming citizens and therefore, holding political office.

It benefits these heads of state to transfer much of the governments burden of servicing to this independent class because it lessens the risk of someone within the bureaucracy hijacking the system and turning it against the leader and also means there is a much smaller group of people to satisfy through patronage, meaning more in the pocket for our leader. In addition, foreign traders are removed from the ethnic politics that define much of African systems and can therefore stand alone through regime changes, coups, and ousters, so long as they are not the targets of an incoming administration.

And that’s what Indians in South Sudan present the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling political force of the nation since it coalesced under Dr. John Garang de Mabior as an insurgent group against Khartoum in 1983. At least, that’s what I hope. It’s been tough to really get at that question of what do these traders actually mean for the conflict and political systems of these nations?

I’ve met a few men here who have done and continue to do business illicitly (more on that at a later date) with South Sudan, and they have all gone off listing their grievances of dealing in South Sudan, the government and people alike. They’ve described to me how they find their network and the ins and outs of running a commodity trade. But they, being businessmen, find it difficult to pitch their economic goals against a broader political backdrop.

So that task falls to me.

More coming soon.

Amanda – We Who Labor Here Seek Only Truth II

Jury nullification is also an interesting topic, and I read a bit about it from a former prosecutor turned hip hop and rap analyst. Paul Butler is in favor of the use of jury nullification (jury nullification is a person’s attempt to get onto a jury to acquit the defendant because the person disagrees with the law or its application) for nonviolent crimes in order to curb the amount of young black men in prison. He is not an advocate of its use for violent crimes such as homicide, when a crime has a clear victim.

However, as I’ve come to understand, homicide can be confusing. For example, the trial I’m watching right now is a “felony murder” case: when someone commits a certain felony and someone dies in the course of it, the defendant can be charged in Florida with first-degree murder. The intention to commit a felony replaces the premeditation, as some crimes are so inherently dangerous that one must expect death or great bodily harm to come as a result. So the defendant in this case is not the shooter, but an accomplice in a robbery. He now faces life in prison if the jury comes back with a guilty verdict.

Sounds like I just got everyone, myself included, really sidetracked. Fear not. We are back. Ok, I swear this has to do with jury nullification; the prosecution had to weed out the jury panelists that may disagree with the concept of felony murder. The prosecution had to distinguish for the panel a difference between thinking a law is unfair and the existence of a crime. While the jury has a lot of power and could exercise nullification legally that has never been their duty by law. The courthouse I have been frequenting describes a jury as, “a body of qualified citizens selected and sworn to decide disputed issues of fact in a civil or criminal trial, according to the law and the evidence presented in court.” The judge tells them that they are “fact finders” – not Supreme Court judges or decision makers on the rightness or wrongness of a law.

It’s hard to tell if it’s “wrong” to commit jury nullification. Yes, it is lying under oath during voir dire in order to get onto the jury by pretending to be impartial, but you can also look at it as noble. People do it for a larger picture, for ensuring yet another young black man will not go to jail for the same kinds of crimes for which other races and genders may not be punished at the same degree.

The defense and prosecution reaches an agreement on one major point, despite the hundreds of objections. That is, the importance of being a juror and attending jury selection when summoned. It may be a legal obligation, but too many just throw the piece of paper out (some people in my family were once guilty of this before I began working here.) It’s the cornerstone of an entire third of our democracy. When you’re in the courtroom, you feel an air of importance in what you’re doing, and I saw it in many of the jurors’ faces. The judge emphasizes that this is one of our only legal duties as American citizens and we must take this seriously. It is the jury, the judge articulates, that are the truth finders in a case.

So to the jury! They are sworn in before they begin and as they enter the panel. “To tell the truth and nothing but the truth.” This carries more weight for jurors, as they are, again, the “truth seekers.” You come to love and adore the jurors and remember them by their quirks. This jury is made up of eight women and six men (including two alternates that will not deliberate with the others). Four are black and at least five are Latinx. In more recent weeks, I have seen similar makeups; this was no exception. I talked about this makeup with some family and prosecutors outside Miami. It’s nearly unheard of for a prosecution to have a disproportionate number of black jurors from the population. From my experience in the courtroom, black jurors often openly express their bias against the state, having had family dealing with the system.

But shouldn’t it be a jury truly made of your peers that have an understanding of what it’s actually like to be a person of color, especially in regards to the history of state sponsored malice against young black men or institutional discrimination? Or should we avoid jurors that have too much sympathy for the defendant and cannot separate their feelings from their duty? What I’m trying to say, is that when you have a black man sitting before a jury panel (before they’ve been narrowed down) there’s consistently conversation when I’ve been present in voir dire— especially among the black and Latinx population of jurors—around the fact that they tend to feel negatively toward the state because they’ve had family or friends in the system or have seen systematic mistreatment from cops or prosecutors or judges elsewhere. And I see the reaction that the state has to this—where they see a quieter and young black or Hispanic juror they fear that this person will “tank” their case because they have an “understanding” of the defendant: as a victim of the system and the result of the encompassing racism in American life rather than an ability to possibly see guilt, ever or find that defendant personally responsible. Seasoned prosecutors insist that striking a juror by just looking at them would be a mistake. However, in a less institutionally problematic example, some prosecutors also insist that they would not have put a young white man in the recent Stanford sexual assault case that involved a college aged white man. There are a multitude of juror preconceptions that can be brought up in a later post! Incentive to keep reading my journal!?

All in all, there is tremendous complexity when it comes to people: race, gender, sexuality, nationality, political leaning on and on and on, and their engagement with this system. However, are we, in a sense, systematically excluding the black and Latinx jurors under legal terminology even though their skepticism may be potentially vital in their duty of fact finding and truth seeking?

Aydin – An Eventful Ramadan

This Ramadan I’ve found the fasting to be quite hard. I (and other fasting Muslims) get pretty exhausted by the time it’s mid-afternoon, a time when the hunger and thirst starts to kick in and all the body yearns for is rest. Last week, just traveling to Zeytinburnu, a 40-minute route, everyday to do interviews and go to the Quran study group was exhausting.

But this week was particularly harder because, instead of interviewing, I joined 28 Uyghur children on their Sunday school field trip to Ankara, where they showcased East Turkistan and its history/culture through performing songs, poetry, and a traditional dance. But despite the difficulty of fasting while filming dozens of young, energetic children for three days, the experience has been one major highlight of my project — not only has it given me an opportunity to film something other than interviews, but it reminded me that a prime component of the Uyghur diaspora population is children.

We stayed in Ankara for three days total. The first day, after our five-hour bus ride, we settled in at a camp center, broke our fast at the mosque where the kids would perform, and attended the mosque’s comedy show. On the second day, before the children’s performances, we went to President Tayyib Erdogan’s palace to pay respect to one of his assistants, who met with the children to show his solidarity with East Turkistan. We got to enter the mosque of the palace and then later meet Baynali Yildirim, Turkey’s prime minister. On the third day, before heading back to Istanbul, we visited the tomb of one of East Turkistan’s prominent leaders, Muhammad Amin Bughra, who helped set up the first East Turkistan Republic in 1933.

Much of the audience seemed to be awed by the performances, something that I was grateful for because they’ve been at least somewhat exposed to East Turkistan. In the past three weeks I’ve realized that, despite the ethnic kinship between Uyghurs and Turks, many Turkish people don’t know much of East Turkistan. I’ve encountered multiple Turkish people who’ve looked at me blankly when I told them I was originally from East Turkistan. Sometimes when I tried to clarify by saying I was “Uyghur Turk”, they then understood what I was talking about – an indication that many haven’t heard the name “East Turkistan” before, but only knew of the people living there. I started to realize a possible cause of this phenomenon: so far I’ve witnessed a few Uyghurs, who didn’t necessarily flee from persecution and were in Turkey to study, introduce themselves to others by omitting the name East Turkistan and rather saying they are from Xinjiang or China. I asked my father what were possible reasons for them not using the name East Turkistan. He said there were two reasons:
1) If they were planning to go back to China, they have to say they are from Xinjiang or China in order to avoid persecution and imprisonment.
2) They have been indoctrinated and brainwashed by China. When Communist China formally occupied East Turkistan in 1949, the Communist party “twisted the narrative 180 degrees” by claiming that it was not an occupation, but a liberation of the Uyghurs. Many Uyghurs living in East Turkistan today don’t know that they are living in occupied territory, especially since opportunities to learn about its history is banned in China. Many haven’t even heard the phrase “Sherqi (East) Turkistan” or have seen its light blue flag before because the Uyghurs living there are afraid of saying it (even saying “Sherqi Turkistan” or possessing a flag results in persecution and imprisonment). Thus, although many Uyghurs have likely seen the oppression towards their fellow people, they’ve never really had the chance to develop nationalistic pride for East Turkistan– because they don’t know they could have Uyghur nationalism in the first place. And even if they do know that they could have Uyghur nationalism, they’ve been indoctrinated and assimilated into Chinese culture enough to the point where they’ll say they’re from China.

On our bus ride back to Istanbul, I ended up having a casual interview with one of the boys. He was born in Syria in 2006, but he and his family had moved to Turkey a few years before the Syrian civil war began in 2011. One thing that struck me during our conversation was his response when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to go to East Turkistan and become a military general to fight China. Knowing that he’d never even been to East Turkistan, and thus never faced the oppression there, I was stunned at how adamant he was about the independence movement at such a young age.

Talking to him reminded me that the children’s parents, who have all lived through the oppression first-hand, want their children to continue their legacy and represent East Turkistan. They immerse them in Uyghur culture at a young age, teach them their history and current situation, and tell them that they indeed have a country of their own. They want their children to be a source of answers when someone asks what East Turkistan is.
I didn’t realize how hard it is to get interviews until I got back to Istanbul. Most people I’ve asked to interview have refused because doing so would possibly result in persecution of their family back in East Turkistan. Even though I assured them they would be anonymous and that I would not include identifiable information, they were still very reluctant. I started to get stressed because the main reason I had come to Turkey was to hear the stories of the Uyghur population, and only a few people were willing to let me hear them.

Their fear of being interviewed showed me the extent of oppression that many of the refugees still face. By threatening their families, China manages to control them even after they’ve fled. Although the diaspora population can exercise most freedoms in Turkey, like freedom of religion, the threat of Chinese punishment hinders their freedom of expression. What frustrates me is that the Uyghurs who have been direct victims of injustice have so much to say — yet when they are given the opportunity to break their forced silence, they, in reality, cannot. Many of the refugees also have to bear the pain of being separated from family or knowing that they are being tortured. Maryam, who I referred to in my previous post, won’t see her daughter for at least seven more years. Nothing can guarantee her daughter being able to escape China once she’s released from prison. I’ve met multiple fathers who managed to escape first but are still waiting for their wife and children (some of whom are undocumented if they exceed the 2-child policy) to obtain passports. One of my interviewees said that he couldn’t even be like Turkey’s stray cats, many of which can be with its litter of kittens everyday.

There are some who haven’t been as reluctant to be interviewed, however. Many of those who agreed told me they were grateful for the opportunity to speak. Maryam told me that she’s been waiting so long for someone to tell everything to. She said that not a single journalist had come to them while back in East Turkistan (because journalists are barred from entering the East Turkistan region) and that I was probably the first person to come to Turkey to broadcast their voices. So when I interviewed her, she vented for four hours and even asked if I could stay for iftar and sleep over so she could continue—but I promised her I would meet up with her again another time because it was late and I didn’t want to bother. What struck me the most though was that, during the interview, Maryam referred to a notebook of notes she prepared a few days before so she wouldn’t forget to say an important point. She had written more than thirty pages and told me she had not finished. Before I left her house, she ripped out those pages, told me to bring them to America and have them translated, and share them with the world.

Rajiv – Diminished Expat Nationalisms

Rajiv_3I settle down at a table in Shadows Restaurant overlooking Mukwano Plaza in Old Kampala. Mukwano Industries seems to own this city, the buildings that compose it, the chairs it sits on, the sugar it stirs into its tea, and oh, the tea too. It comes as no surprise that its CEO, Tony Gadhoke, is of Indian descent.

Looking over the menu, its as if my mom is in the kitchen. Chapati, biryani, palau, chicken korma, goat curry, this is my dinner table an ocean apart. The influence is undeniable, made all the more so by the man who comes to take my order. Well, to be specific, he is Pakistani, but here? No one cares.

Or at least that’s how Syed Shah, who, as luck would have it, was once a trader in Juba, sees it. “Here, there’s no India, no Pakistan,” he tells me, drawing up another seat. And that’s exactly what he told the Indian embassy official that had the audacity to ask for his papers in Juba on December 15, 2013.

They had been holed up in the plaza of the Panorama Hotel for two days by then. The bodies were piling up outside and there was no more money to pay off the militias roving the streets outside. It had already taken $20,000 paid to some soldiers to get the group across town to the hotel. The 6 Indians and Syed had been shaken down three time already. Syed had been manning the door day and night, all the while seeing what strings he could pull with his friends at the UN and National Security Office.

Now this Indian officer had the sheer temerity to ask for Syed’s papers. He shouted the officer down. There’s a war outside. There’s no India, no Pakistan here.

A few hours and $600 later, Syed flew to Uganda aboard a plane commissioned by the Indian embassy. He returned to Juba in less than a month. “Contracts are contracts. Someone’s got to fill the order.”

Those days of violence that Syed was lucky to escape descended the world’s newest nation of South Sudan into 2 years of civil war. Forces loyal to President Salva Kiir were turned loose on the capital city of Juba after a political split with his Vice-President over electoral reform and an alleged (unfounded) coup gave Kiir pretense to launch the attack he had been planning for months to solidify his tenuous hold on the South Sudanese government. Over the next 3 days, 20,000 were killed in heated ethnic tensions between Kiir’s Dinka loyalists and Riek’s Nuer ethnicity. Riek escaped Juba with his life and traveled north to set up base camp from where the war was waged for the following 19 months. Despite a peace deal signed in August 2015, violence continues to envelop the country and Riek’s return to Juba last month to form a unity government has done little to assuage the fears of citizens and observers alike.

But to Shah, as he has said before, politics are not his concern. He began life in northern Pakistan, right near the Afghan border before being sent away to Karachi for schooling. The son of a chef, it was only natural that he would find his way into the restaurant business.

Starting off selling paan, a chewable stuffed tobacco leaf, at a local restaurant he worked his way up until he managed the whole place. From there, he and a group of friends created a restaurant management consulting group that would help businessmen open new establishments. When prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a bombing in TKTK, he knew he couldn’t stay in Pakistan much longer. The subsequent leftist military regime sapped Shah of his will to remain in the uncertain future of Pakistan. He took up a friends offer to come to Kampala, Uganda in 2006. He ran the same racket in the former ‘Pearl of Africa’ before taking up another opportunity to run a restaurant in Juba, South Sudan in mid-2013.

But as he would find out, the evil he knew was not always worse than the evil he did not.

His friend had abandoned him at the last minute and Shah found himself alone in the capital city, no contacts, no prospects. But Shah, always the hustler, found himself a job with India’s Reliance Industries, a subsidiary of Tata Group, to help establish the security and networking systems of South Sudan’s banks. This were looking up, even better when he landed a job with Fontana Auto Parts supplying spare parts to the UN.

Then the war hit and Shah found himself shouting down an Indian official to get a ride out of the country.

Shah has since settled down, the bloodshed and risks of the road becoming too much for him to bear. Now he owns this restaurant in Old Kampala with his wife where he whips up south Asian dishes and regales anyone who will listen with stories of playing soccer for the army, riding horseback to the Afgahn border, and surviving the December 2013 ethnic cleansing of Juba.

Amanda – On Pay, Promotions, & Hiring

I think everyone I have interviewed so far has made a joking comment along the lines of, “I would like a grant to supplement my ‘allowance.’” The prosecutors in the office often refer to their salary as an allowance – a little pocket change they get from their parents (a.k.a the state of Florida).

In all of my interviews so far I’ve asked what success looks like in their job or career. With only a handful of people sticking around the office for more than ten years, there’s a ton of youth in the office. Specifically, I was looking to find out how to get a promotion, essentially.
I found out that promotions are given not by merit but by your “number” in line. When a spot opens up, whoever has been in the position directly lower moves up. People are literally given an A, B, C denotation. When a B spot opens up, a C moves up to fill it.

Younger prosecutors find this fair because of the arbitrary nature of each courtroom. Judges are not robots, and they are all different with varied sentencing beliefs (this randomness will be saved for elaboration in another post!) Without this “line,” the prosecutors ask, how would superiors measure merit? The State Attorney appreciates this model because it does not encourage prosecutors to go to trial, risk using unethical means to reaching a guilty verdict in order to have a solid trial winning record. In addition, the “line” serves the flip side: ensuring that not too many low plea bargains are offered by the state instead of going to trial for a case they do not believe they can win as to not, again, lower their “win” percentage.

However, it’s also frustrating to both these young prosecutors and their supervisors – like my boss and her colleagues at the same level. It allows for some unqualified, untrained prosecutors to move up too soon, but due to the constant turnover, the quick promotions become necessary. An assistant state attorney can be helping to try a death penalty case in just ten years out of law school.

So who does and does not stay around the office?

Young black prosecutors leave in hordes despite the fact that the office hires so many young black women. There is an expressed necessity to be independently wealthy outside of the office in order to make being a state attorney a career and live comfortably in Miami-Dade. The state attorney’s office runs the risk of being “pink collar” and whitewashed. White people in the community are more likely to be independently wealthy – having family money, inheritances, something like that. Those people can afford to stick around the office and live in a safe neighborhood? Men use the trial experience and notoriety of Miami’s state attorney’s office as a stepping-stone in their career toward more money while married women do not share the fear and definitely stigma of making less money than a male partner. In addition, a government job is known to be secure, with good benefits and flexible hours. In a society where women are still expected to carry much of the burden of performing the “domestic duties” of being a mother even if she has the same professional workload, flexible hours in a job are sought after.

I look around the office and see the strength in the “girls clubs” that have formed out of the female-led office. However, I see that can also be dangerous to the profession. Coming out of law school and going to be a prosecutor, those in my interviews have told me, is not dignified. Law school peers see those people at the bottom of the barrel because they will be making $35,000 instead of over $100,000. However, they are definitely not the worst or lowest rank in their classes. Those in private firms could never be trial lawyers, something that excites more than paper pushing. Still, there are jobs that pay a lot and could be very stimulating. Here’s a lot of the reasoning behind choosing to spend one’s first years at the state attorney’s office: the office recruits on law school campuses, guaranteeing a job the moment you graduate law school if you are hired. Many students cannot afford an application waiting game and pick up on the first job they are offered. Becoming “pink collar” puts the career further in danger of becoming less dignified by the rest of a law school, county, and country. I wish everyone could see the power that I do in this female dominated profession, reflected in pay and peer approval.

Black women’s exits from the field may be more consequential. Currently, there is only one black division chief in an office of a few hundred attorneys. The attorneys of color that I have interviewed have expressed the importance of their race in their job in that they bring a broad sense of “understanding” to a job that has a ton of power and personal discretion Whether from the area or not, the majority of attorneys interviewed do see the institutional barriers that people of color face and that often lead them through the revolving door of the criminal justice system. Many of my interviewees have expressed the notion that when you may have faced those same barriers yourself, you are more likely to handle the case with the thoughtfulness each deserves. Like we see on Duke’s campus, a lot of humanities majors without clear prospects tend to skew white and upper, upper middle class. In other words, they have family inherited advantages with an ability to afford taking a chance on something that may not pay well and may be riskier than a job with title with one word.
It only makes sense if we parallel Duke’s campus with the state attorney’s office. People of color often have a pressure to earn higher because social mobility takes more resources for black people than whites in our country. I guess we hope that those that stay around want to “do good,” but because of market pressures on multiple fronts – economically and socially – we cannot expect an office as similar to those they are prosecuting as possible to remain.

Aydin – Ahmed’s Story

On July 5, 2009, peaceful protests by Uyghurs in East Turkistan’s capital city of Urumqi turned into violent clashes between the Uyghurs and Han Chinese. It became one of the bloodiest and largest riots in Uyghur history, with over 200 killed and over four thousand Uyghurs arrested. Since the event, there have also been numerous cases of disappearance of suspects, breaches of due process, torture, and death sentences.

This week I was able to interview one of the suspects who had disappeared after the Urumqi 2009 riot. He is a young man, whom I’ll refer to as Ahmed, who had taken part in the Urumqi protest but ran away shortly after he saw his friends being arrested. Knowing that he would be imprisoned and most likely killed if Chinese officials found him, he had been living as a runaway for seven years within his own city. He managed to escape to Turkey a couple months ago on a fake passport.

He told me that it wasn’t until that event when he started to truly despise China. The riot was a turning point in his life—as an escapee, he has always lived with fear of being found by the Chinese officials. For Ahmed to simply go out and run an errand was a huge risk. Several of my interviewees informed me that Chinese police officers often stop Uyghurs on the streets to ask them for their ID’s, a horrifying occurrence for the many Uyghurs who are either undocumented or on China’s wanted list. Ahmed ended up getting unofficially married by doing a small Islamic nikkah, but without a marriage certificate. He had six children, all of whom had to be undocumented. Now he’s trying to figure out how his wife and children will join him in Turkey. I wasn’t able to get much information regarding how he escaped China, but he told me he managed to obtain a fake passport using someone else’s ID. He was incredibly nervous throughout the interview, trying his best not to be too specific. Mid-interview, there was a heavy moment of silence as he let out his tears.

This interview was the first time I felt obliged to end the interview faster. Previous interviewees who had agreed to be interviewed didn’t seem as nervous as him. He had mentioned his children and wife a few times, saying that he couldn’t even be like Turkey’s stray cats that could come home to its litter of kittens. He knows that seeing his family again is not guaranteed and that, even if his wife and children manage to escape, it would be through perilous, dangerous routes through neighboring countries.

Throughout my stay, I’ve also found out that many Uyghurs have been preparing themselves to wage a war against China. Eight of Ahmed’s brothers are currently in Syria fighting the Assad regime in order to gain militant combat experience. His elderly father who is also in Turkey has been trying to figure out how he can join his sons in Syria. A 21 year old newly-arrived Uyghur told me that she can’t enroll in one of Turkey’s universities because none of them offer her desired major that would allow her to become a war pilot. Learning this has allowed me to sense the amount of frustration and pain they have been enduring, enough for them to prepare for physical retribution.

Rajiv – Business in South Sudan

Earlier this year, I did some reporting around a project for Roads & Kingdoms on some of New York City’s hidden ethnic enclaves. I spent hours flipping through the phone book looking for ethnic names and running around the city following 3 year old blog posts to find ins with hidden communities of Kurdish historians, Sri Lankan porn distributors, Caribbean Voodoo practitioners, and Pacific micro-Islanders. Most of the leads ended up being duds.

In the end, I did 3 stories: a Harlem nightclub owned and operated by a collective of revolutionary rappers from Burkina Faso, the last Cambodian temple in Brooklyn, and the hidden history of Somalis in New York.

What I found was the best ‘in’ for these communities were their restaurants and grocery stores. Food binds communities and its the last bit of a culture to be washed away in the tides of Americanization, or whatever adoptive culture have you.. Wherever someone settles away from their home, they’ll always yearn for their mothers cooking. Find the food, and you’ve found your in.

So when I tried to find Indians in Kampala, I took the same tactic. And for the best Indian cuisine in the city, there’s only one contender: Khanna Khazana. And perhaps just as legendary as Khanna Khazana is its proprietor: Aman Kapur

A portly man about 5 feet tall, Kapur is everything an Indian Don Corleone could hope to be. Gold rings on every finger, gold chain, labored speech, a debilitating golf habit, and a commercial empire to boot. His establishment is just as regal, pulled right out of Mughal paintings of palaces. Even the Ugandan staff is decked out in Rajasthani garb.

As per Indian custom, Mr. Kapur’s office behind the restaurant does not betray his immense wealth. The room is bare save for some harsh fluorescent lighting, some plastic chairs, and a desk made of chipboard and vinyl veneer. I had heard Kapur had done a bit of business in Juba, bringing food into the country along the notorious Kampala-Nimule-Juba highway. Mr. Kapur sets the tone for the conversation when he begins citing revenue figures in the millions. Dollars, not shillings.

Kapur enumerated the go-to list of complaints that every businessman has given me about doing work in South Sudan.

*Outside the capital, there’s little infrastructure. Within the capital, you’re at the whim and fancy of government officials and rogue soldiers. You lose a lot of money at every check point, a few hundreds pounds here and few hundred there. Where are the margins?*

*It’s impossible to do business with South Sudanese Pounds. Who the hell wants to deal with it? The currency is in free fall. It’s easy to bring dollars in but requires a miracle to get them out.*

*And don’t get me started on these South Sudanese. Man, they’ve had everything paid for them by the international community for 50 years. They’ve never worked a day in their lives. You’ll set up your business there and work for years to grow it and then one day some South Sudanese will walk in, take a look around, and now all of a sudden, you’re sent packing and this guy owns your baby. And of course he runs it into the ground.*

Needless to say, Kapur no longer does business with South Sudan.

But surely, there must be some Indians that still do?

Kanpur pulled out his iPhone and began scrolling through his contacts. Ah, Tony Gadhoke of Mukwano Industries, one of the largest conglomerates in Uganda.

“Tony? How are you? We haven’t seen you at the golf course! Anyway, I have a kid here asking about Juba. You still work there? Yeah, I thought so. Anyway, let’s get out to the links soon.”

The scene repeated itself for 5 of Kampala’s most prominent businessmen, Indian of course.

Trade to Juba is dead.

But where the formal market fails, the informal flourishes and for businessmen once bitten and twice shy by dealing in South Sudan, there remains one avenue. The open air, one lane, congested, beautiful market that is Kikuubu. Here you can buy just about everything from Dora the Explorer trapper keepers to cheap Indian whiskey, and if you’re savvy, a one way ticket for your product to South Sudan. At Kikuubu Market in downtown Kampala, Uganda, million dollar deals are struck on the street amongst toothpaste salesmen and mattress hawkers. It’s here that essential commodities trade hands from Asian suppliers to Ugandans much more adept at maneuvering the quixotic system of bribes and hand greasing levied on every truck entering South Sudan.

Trucks are loaded before the morning rush that paralyzes Kampala’s streets and take to the Gulu highway which hosts some of Uganda’s most scenic views of rolling hill country and the raging Nile. My own bus ride along the road was accompanied by an all too perfect Kenny Rogers playlist. Though the road has become much more secure in recent years the areas around Gulu, which once played host to Alice Auma’s rebel forces and more recently Kony’s LRA, are still a bit hot. Just last week, a police station in Gulu was overrun by ADF militia forces hoping to free one of their imprisoned inside. After 8 hours — or about 4 Kenny Rogers albums — along that road you arrive at Elegu, where a wrought iron bridge and 2 vastly different police forces are the demarcation between Uganda and South Sudan. Going into South Sudan are a line of trucks and tankers. Coming out of South Sudan are a steady stream of refugees fed up with rising insecurity and a falling South Sudanese Pound.

The road up to Elegu has been a cakewalk. The next 184km of tarmac are some of the most bloody in the region. In a matter of one week last month, 12 people were killed by ‘anonymous gunmen’ who did not even bother to loot their spoils. And don’t sleep on the Arrow Boys who allegedly have 15,000 soldiers roaming through the region. But the largest threat undoubtedly comes from South Sudan’s military itself. Soldiers that haven’t been paid in months fulfill their arrears through frequent checkpoints that impose taxes of whatever cash or cell phones drivers carry in their pockets.

When you finally reach Juba, you are subject to even more checkpoints and hastily drawn paperwork that demand additional taxes paid to ministries you’ve never heard of. By the time you’ve unloaded your truck, the cost of your goods has doubled. I wish I could say that all the trouble was worth it, that you’ll sell your product at healthy margins. But alas, this is a country wracked by war and mismanagement and economies don’t tend to thrive in such situations.

When I was in South Sudan last year, the bank was trading 3 SSP for one dollar but on the street you’d get 12. Now you’re looking at 45-50 pounds to a dollar, but next week you could probably get 60. You’re selling your products at a loss, there’s no way around it unless you’re on contract with NGOs in which case you wouldn’t be going to Kikuubu in the first place. The Indian traders that are buying up these goods in Juba are only here because they’ve invested too much to leave now.

So they’ll stay for now, wishing they were in Kampala dining at Khanna Kazzana, but they also ready to pack their bags if this country goes back to war, which given the current situation, is not such an impossibility.

Amanda – On Policing Law Enforcement

[wptabconent]I began writing this post at the end of June only for the horrific week after Independence Day that the United States had to experience together. I have this opportunity – unlike any other time in my life up to this point – to be in the unique position to speak with the people often, and sometimes invisibly, at the forefront of the police shooting and brutality issues. It is the state or district attorney’s office – a political body – that prosecutes (or not) police and law enforcement officials in the most recent and hugely depressing cases we have all witnessed. I started writing the entry with the intent to focus on Freddie Gray, a legally settled case, and the death of Darren Rainey, a Miami correctional facility inmate with severe mental illness. While mental illness combined with the criminal justice system present a separate rabbit hole, I will focus on Rainey as it relates to state prosecution.

The state attorney’s office works hand-in-hand with other government entities like the police and the medical examiner to prosecute crimes, and—more peripherally – jails and state hospitals. The state hospital is where mentally ill patients go whom are a danger to society. The system is in heavy need of reform following massive budget cuts from the state. (To the tune of about $100 million) Thanks again, Rick Scott. The detrimental budget cuts have led untrained personnel to handle patients that should take years of training to work with. In addition, state hospitals cannot handle the crushing load of patients living in the Dade county area.

In 2012 – yes, four years ago – Darren Rainey suffered a psychotic episode, reports indicate, when correctional officers put him in a steaming shower for over two hours where he died, burned. It is negligence. It is complete disregard of human life. It is manslaughter, a felony. His death has been ruled an accident. Like so many other victims we have learned about recently, another black man got a death sentence for a crime with a maximum sentence of like five years. (Rainey had been sentenced to two years for drug possession. Prison is our largest mental illness facility. [I am repeating a sarcastic line I’ve heard several proescutors use here.] Our society has moved away from rehab despite the fact that so many of those arrested on drug possessions have serious mental illness and addiction problems. Like I said, another whole rabbit hole to hop down.)

Here is an article for more info on Rainey.

It seems obvious for charges to be filed on the Rainey case, based on the public information. The state attorney’s office has almost total discretion in filing charges in a case. I see that it may be awkward to charge corrections officers, but prosecutors have a duty to see that justice is done. The state attorney’s office could damage their relationship with correctional facilities and their officers. It is a group that the prosecution relies on heavily to cooperate with their decisions.

I find a lot of fault in the system in place that investigates and prosecutes police officers involved in a shooting or misconduct. The prosecutor-police relationship is close and dependent. The state attorney’s office investigates every single police shooting. Sounds pretty noble at the forefront. But I think it’s a huge conflict of interest. Police officers roam the halls of the office every minute of every day. They work with state attorneys and they easily develop friendships; some date each other. So it’s your friends that could investigate and prosecute you if you are a police officer involved in a shooting or some type of misconduct. I have asked a bunch of prosecutors their take on their close relationships with police (which are most oftentimes helpful to their case). Almost none saw it as an issue. They are there to do their job no matter who it is that they may be prosecuting. I can’t help but assume(?) that this would be problematic – its easy to overlook some piece of evidence that could be damaging to the officers’ case. Who is there to prosecute the prosecutors besides some quiet protestors, protestors that are not privy to all facts? I worry about this for lesser-known shootings that occur in Miami and elsewhere. I cannot help but think of the conflict of interest I see when it comes to Alton Sterling. I feel like I am I so jaded by the few bad guys in the system that I think we need more laws preventing unethical behavior? Shouldn’t we trust people to do their job? Or should we fear and actively prevent human error and bias even when it’s rare?

I think the state attorney in Baltimore messed up big time and it may not have been because of a desire to protect cops. She was catering to the nation and her own publicity instead of to justice. For whatever reason, and unlike what I believe for Rainey, she did not meet the office’s burden of proof and tried the case anyway. Going forward on a case that does not meet the state’s burden of proof is against many prosecutors’ ethics, at least most of those I have interviewed so far. Let’s say the case had not involved a black man dying in policy custody, an issue sensitive to the American psyche. But, prosecutors went to trial without meeting their burden of proof, like I believe happened under an inexperienced state attorney; many would claim how unethical it would be to do so. And we keep seeing, over and over, that the police officers have been acquitted – often to my own embarrassment as I try and defend Black Lives Matter to my coworkers. Just how the Dallas shooter, and now the Baton Rouge shooter, has mired the real public direction of Black Lives Matter, the Baltimore State Attorney has done the same – directing eyes negatively towards or away from BLM.

In all the cases I have brought up, I think we have a major problem, one that eats away tax dollars and fills prisons and really destroys communities, where we have a system that prosecutes minor crimes. And, those crimes build up until you become a “habitual offender,” a felon.

To the question on what the heck is (if anything) wrong with the system, I think I do have more answers than I thought I would. To prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, problems have been scarily easy to explain, and both “sides” agree on most issues. I have asked prosecutors how they feel about the shootings caught on video. Most show sorrow but do not see their place in the matter, and they also do not see the issues as a huge problem in Miami. But maybe that is because Miami is accustomed to police corruption? History of Miami police and state attorney’s office blurb to come! So Miami Vice. The attorneys see police brutality differently than much of the American public, and it is a sort of middle ground. Many have expressed that there should be social and legislative change to combat the “apartheid” we saw in our courtrooms. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, public defenders that have become prosecutors, prosecutors that became public defenders want to see this end by decriminalizing certain aspects of the law, for example.
We take it to a legislative level: minimum mandatory sentences that have disproportionately affected black and poor people, lack of funding and lack of clarity in the law for the mentally ill.

With a heavy heart, our country cannot only pray and mourn for Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Darren Rainey, the five police officers of Dallas, and Philando Castillo. We have to vote in the coming elections, state and federal, for the candidates that choose to develop an understanding for the complex issues that we have faced for decades, one that includes restructuring investigation and prosecution of government bodies.[/wptabcontent]

Aydin – A Different Eid

Eid is supposed to be a time of happiness—and don’t get me wrong, it is. It’s the holiday celebrated by 1.6 billion Muslims twice a year, one of them marking the end of Ramadan. Bright colors fill the streets, strangers greet one another, families are united, kids are showered with money and gifts, sweets are made, and, in Muslim countries, most work places are closed. But for some, this time becomes a holiday of forced happiness, one filled with the remembrance of their pain. Perhaps it is the first Eid without loved ones because some of them have been imprisoned; perhaps it is the first Eid not in their motherland because they have fled from persecution; perhaps it is the first Eid where they cannot afford a proper feast because their new arrival means that no one in the family can work yet. For the first time in my life, I immersed myself in an Eid that was exactly like that. Clearly, I myself did not experience it, but I could sense the pain and anxiety that had come from it.

Eid is generally celebrated for three days. I spent the first two immersing myself in what I’ve always associated Eid with: excitement, happiness, and warmth. The relatives and family friends I had visited had all been long-settled Uyghurs, who had come to Turkey decades before. Their houses were spacious and beautifully furnished, and the families had greeted me excitedly. For the first time in weeks, my conversations with Uyghurs had nothing to do with East Turkistan, China, or the oppression happening back home. It was Eid, and we celebrated by going out to the Friday bazaar, buying clothing, playing with stray cats, and eating ice cream.

It wasn’t until the third day when I would sense an Eid quite the opposite. One of the newly arrived refugees who I quickly conversed with two weeks prior, Maryam (who I’ve referred to in previous posts), had invited me and my brother to come over for lunch. I could sense grief the moment Maryam’s son had escorted us to their apartment; he walked ahead of us quietly with his head down, only saying a few sentences to introduce himself.

The home was on the seventh floor of an old apartment building with no elevator—an immediate indication to me that their choices of affordable homes were limited. I continued to feel the pain and anxiety when Maryam’s husband opened the door—half of his face was hidden behind the door as he quietly greeted “Assalamu alaykum” and let us in. The conditions of the home were deplorable; the walls were cracked and the home scantily furnished. Maryam walked into the living room and greeted us quietly. The conversation was dark as her husband talked about their current situation and imprisoned daughter. Maryam chimed in occasionally with heavy breathes in between. Her hands also shook as she poured tea into cups, something I assumed showed her emotional instability. Her two teenage sons continuously walked in and out of the room, bringing fruits and utensils to the table. They later sat down and listened in on the conversation with exhausted eyes.

After eating lunch, I retreated into a different room to pray the afternoon prayer. As I was finishing up the prayer, Maryam came into the room and sat down next to me. We continued to converse. She told me things that she didn’t tell me during the interview, like how she was grateful that her sons knew and practiced their religion – but it was under dangerous conditions that they received this education. Back in East Turkistan, she had sent them to an Islamic Sunday School that took place in a moving van. That was their way of avoiding being caught by the Chinese officials.

She then showed me a picture of her one-year-old son, who was left behind back in East Turkistan because he had no birth certificate. Because China prohibits Uyghurs from having more than two children, Maryam had to make her last five children undocumented. A friend of Maryam is currently taking care of her son, and is trying hard to obtain a fake birth certificate and passport for him so he can later join his family in Turkey.

It was with this particular event that I realized how bad the Uyghur situation is in East Turkestan. If I want others to know these stories through a documentary, then I’m going to need to make the film good—really good. I don’t have much filmmaking experience, so for me to create a documentary that might turn out amateur could demean this whole project and my interviewees. I want to do something bigger, and have this fellowship be the first step. I met an Uyghur college student who just graduated with a degree in cinematography here in Turkey, and was telling me that my project is something that thousands of Uyghurs, including himself, dream to do. But, unfortunately, to embark on a project without facing retribution isn’t possible since they still have family back home. He said he would be willing to help me with this project if he were not living in East Turkistan. He suggested that I take this project slow and get professional help along the way—a piece of advice that I took to heart.

It was also with Maryam’s lunch invitation that I sensed her eagerness for us to continue our friendship. She wanted our relationship to be more than just an interviewer/interviewee relationship. And I’m grateful for her eagerness; it was through our continued friendship that has allowed me to immerse myself in her life as a refugee, making it easier for me to share her life story with the world.

Rajiv – Not Following the Story–For Now

My original plan for this summer was to split my time between Kampala and Kinshasa, DRC. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had long been a haven for Indians. Their origins in this part of the world had been a bit more of a mystery to me. Kinshasa was on the opposite coast from India, and as we’ve already learned, Africa is for lazy indians. Then, DRC had never been a British colony. The official language was French. Save for a few enclaves such as Pondicherry, India had very little French influence. Finally, Mobutu Sese Seko, the CIA-backed dictator that took over the DRC from the democratically elected leftist Patrice Lumumba, had not fond of foreigners. At least in the form of petty traders, which many of these Indians were.

Upon seizing the throne, Mobutu had set upon a program of recreating a ‘true’ Congo. He changed the name of the country to Zaire, demanded that everyone referred to each other as citoyen or citoyenne and fabricated a national cultural costume complete with his trademark leopard skin pill box hat. Until Mobutu came along, all of these changes were unknown to Congolese. The man had crafted an entire national identity from thin air and along with that national identity came ardent nationalism that sought to push out foreigners, an easy ploy to gain popular support.

V.S. Naipaul, a Trinidadian-born Indian author, wrote the book “Bend in the River” about this specific juncture of Zaire’s history. The novel depicts the life of an Indian man in Kenya whose family is forced out by the Uhuru movements of the times. Uncertain of his ties to his ethnic birth land and his adoptive yet unaccepting homeland, he chooses to venture deeper into the African continent rather than return to India with his family. He takes up his uncles store deep in the Congo and sets about developing his business and lives through the tides of Lumumba, Sese Seko’s rise, and Sese Seko’s nationalism.

In any case, I’ve decided against going to DRC. At least this summer. Let me explain.

First off, there’s an election slated for August. And as we’ve seen before, elections aren’t exactly the best times for a country. In this case we have the incumbent Laurent Kabila who took over after his father was killed in his sleep by one of his guards. This is the dynasty that has ruled the DRC following the second civil war was as close to a continental conflict as Africa has ever seen. He’s had a pretty bad track record with human rights and hasn’t fared much better handling the economy either.

Kabila has been cracking down hard on dissenters, sometimes with deadly force, and has taken every pain to delay the elections for as long as he can. Kabila’s seen just how sour an attempt at a constitutional amendment for a term extension can go — check out Burkina Faso and Burundi. So instead he’s turned to more mundane methods of creating new voter lists, conducting censuses, etc. It’s unclear if the elections will even take place next month.

On the other side we have the billionaire soccer team owning Katumbi who, as most opposition politicians tend to be, is condemned by the DRC courts and sentenced to a prison term in absentia. The courts nailed him for charges of attempting a coup when it was discovered that he had hired American ex-special forces mercenaries as body guards. He’s since fled the country, claimed the charges are bogus, and that he’s still running. We’ve heard it a thousand times.

As I learned from Syed Shah, elections don’t make for the best time to study the behavior of businessmen. Given the instability such an election entails, most investors tend to pull their money out a year or two before and wait until the dust of the election results to settle before reinvesting. It’s why Syed is now packing his bags, shutting down Shadows, and planning on going back home to Pakistan to hunt bats on horseback instead. It will be much the same case in DRC, where things have been known to get very nasty. Many businessmen will likely have left or be too afraid to say much to be of much use to my study.

Perhaps the most significant factor that’s played into my decision to skip the DRC for now is that my initial assessment of the economic of the landscape was a bit misguided. I had planned my trip to Kinshasa to talk to entrepreneurs that had been doing dealings in the East Kivus, on the other end of the country where more than 40 rebel groups have laid claim to different tracts of land to capitalize on the regions rich ethnic divisions and resources. But as it turned out, from my asking around and doing a bit more digging, Kinshasa is almost entirely economically divided from the eastern regions because of the poor infrastructure and high volatility of the region.

The pattern had actually began under Mobutu Sese Seko. While the Cold War raged, Mobutu was on top of the world. He had limitless arms and funding coming in from the United States and was given a hero’s welcome to Washington DC on multiple occasions. Sure he had quite a bit of blood on his hands and didn’t exactly represent anything akin to democracy but he was a valuable asset against Communist backed Angola. He used the patronage to rule the entirety of the country with an iron fist, employing a huge military and secret service to weed out dissidence and ensure conformity. But the system came tumbling down rather quickly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. There was little reason to keep propping up the regime when communism stopped presenting a threat to the world order. Mobutu began scrapping branches of his government and swathes of his civil servants when he could no longer afford to keep up his patronage networks. Bureaucratic capacities were pawned off to war lords and Seko instead focused his efforts on maintaining the central circles of his government, based in Kinshasa. Quite quickly the eastern, resource rich, portions of the country fell out of contact with the seat of power. And after almost 30 years and two civil wars, that’s how it remains.

To study the role of Indian entrepreneurs in the East Kivus would require my going to the East Kivus. Given the incredible fluidity of the situation there, the ongoing violence, the poor infrastructure, my lack of contacts and understanding of the war, and Duke’s restricted regions list, it doesn’t seem to advisable to make the trip. I’ve heard tell of some wealth Indians that have a side gig running precious metals out of the rebel held areas of DRC so I’ll keep follow that. Just one step more sketchy than Kikuubu Market. But in the meantime, following up on South Sudan from Uganda continues to be fruitful and given that the nation seems to be on the brink of returning to war, it seems like this is the place to be.

Amanda – In the System We Do Not Trust

Miami is a drug city. Miami is a violent city. The two go hand in hand. But the violence has switched demographics in the last two decades. Once a Cuban and Colombian migrant trade now has been turned over to poor black communities that have weakened economically in part because of highway systems situated in areas with the least resistance, a lack of updated infrastructure as well as the legacy of redlining.

Miami has this deep distrust for cops that began in the 70s and early 1980s with the emerging drug cartels. Miami police departments needed more police bodies as the city went from a sleepy retirement community to a thriving and popular destination for the young and the curious. The police department did not have time to vet their new hires properly, and so many became corrupt, accepting bribes or being deeply involved in the cocaine industry themselves. This is why the courthouse in Miami can go through so many jury panels in a day before finding an impartial one – mostly due to cops, actually. One of the most popular defenses can be the corrupt cop story, and unlike many other counties, Miamians really buy it. And why shouldn’t they? We have had decades long corruption in the force, especially in the narcotics departments. And before the arrival of cocaine into Miami, the town emulated much of the rest of the South, segregation unsuppressed. I guess the “Southerness” of Florida is an open question, and changes depending on whom you ask. Anyone from Miami will scoff and shout out their moral superiority over the rest of the state, joking about wanting to become our own state. But as recent news has shown, urban areas have their own distinct issues.

The way we look at this city and view each region has been shaped by redlining and its changing demographics. I found a map from the National Archives. My neighborhood (man made islands built on the bay in the 1960s) isn’t there yet! A lot of young state attorneys have maps of Dade County in their offices, especially if they are not from the area. They use it to verify and corroborate stories from witnesses, including cops. One young assistant state attorney told me a story about a case involving a Cuban officer and a black defendant; the officer told the attorney some inculpatory evidence, which the attorney made sure to do a recheck. Thankfully she did that because it turned out the officer had been exaggerating. She says she would not have done it if she had not had a good understanding of each community’s dynamics in the city. She looked at her map and located the neighborhood – a community with a lot of distrust of cops and a legacy of corruption as well as rivalry and this corrosive dislike between the Cuban and African American communities.

Rajiv – Indians Staying in South Sudan

South Sudan is once again up in flames. After a series of targeted assassinations of rebel officials by the SPLA and ensuing tit-for-tat killings put the capital on edge, full-on fighting finally broke out last week. A siege was laid on the presidential palace during a joint press conference between Kiir and Riek, killing more than 300 soldiers. The situation spiraled out of control quite quickly. Fighting erupted in several neighborhoods around Juba. The following days saw thousands displaced amidst heavy shelling, constant gunfire, and the bombing of several hotels and buildings around town alleged to be rebel holdouts.

Rumors began to fly around town faster than the mortar shells. At first, it was that Riek had attempted a coup against the president. Then, it was that Kiir had attempted to kill Riek and bombed his home. Next, it was that neither the President nor FVP had any knowledge or control of what was happening in the city and were hunkered down waiting for it to pass. The truth is still elusive, death counts have yet to be made, and the whereabouts of Riek are as yet unknown. A ceasefire was announced and for the time being, Juba is calm. Tense, to be sure, but calm.

Soon after the ceasefire was called, the Indian Air Force sent two C–17 Globetrotters to Juba to evacuate the Indians living in country. But of the 550 reportedly living in the capital, only 156 chose to board the planes. The second plane returned almost entirely empty.

I was lucky enough to be added to the whatsapp group run by the Indian embassy which includes all the Indians in South Sudan on their email list. So I’ve been calling around trying to figure out why so many chose to stay. From my previous interviews with most of the mid level guys in town, they had all expressed to me that they were ready to pack their bags and skip town. The economy was crushing their margins and the security situation was becoming unbearable. I thought for sure that this recent flare-up would be straw that broke the camels back.

But instead what I’ve found is that most of those that chose to fly back aboard the C–17 were in fact lower level workers that had been brought in from India by bigger businessmen straight out of college. South Sudan, and Africa in general, as Rajesh from Adjumani told us, is perfect for Indian students with mediocre marks. They wouldn’t be able to compete in India, but if they’re willing to take a cut in standard of living and head off to South Sudan, they could make a killing and send back five to ten times as much money to their families than they could have provided had they stayed in India. But even this income is not worth risking life and so when the opportunity came to jet out, they went. That being said, many have expressed interest in returning to South Sudan should the situation calm down a bit. So this doesn’t spell quite a death sentence for the commercial capacities of Juba.

Those Indians that had come years ago and built their businesses in South Sudan from scratch, on the other hand, chose not to take the flights. Leaving everything they’ve worked all these years for, left vulnerable to the spate of looting that taken over Juba following the fighting? That for them would be paramount to suicide. They’ll stick it out for the next few years, praying for better days and hunkering down through the crises. But they won’t be giving up. For some of these men, who deal with NGO tenders and service internationals and therefore get paid in dollars, the crisis means they’ll be turning over even higher profits than before. International attention follows violence and dollars follow international attention. For a select few, this is boom time.

The other large portion of Indians that had not evacuated are those that are working in the northern oil fields. South Sudan presents one of India’s largest investments in foreign energy supplies and leaving now would be tantamount to surrendering to Chinese interests which are king of the oil fields. Also, with all the airports shut down, it would be next to impossible for these Indians to get down south to Juba where the embassy was evacuating from.

There’s still quite a bit of digging to be done around the changing situation of Indians here and much of the situation on the ground is still unclear. No one is quite sure whether the ceasefire will hold or whether this means a return to war. I don’t think the dust will settle here anytime soon, but Indians may prove to be an interesting barometer in the coming months of the development of the security and economic situation in South Sudan.

Aydin – It Doesn’t End Here

I wasn’t planning to meet with a newly released Guantanamo Bay prisoner, whom I’ll refer to as Mehmet. It was more of an accident, a lucky encounter. The restaurant owner of one of Istanbul’s Uyghur restaurants, a friend of my father, had invited my brother and I for dinner. During the dinner, he had casually introduced his younger brother who was sitting on the other end of the restaurant. He told us that his brother had spent time in the Guantanamo prison. Mehmet was one of 22 Uyghur Guantanamo Bay prisoners who were wrongly convicted of being involved in 9/11. They were captured in eastern Afghanistan, where they had escaped to in order to flee Chinese persecution. According to a number of reports, the US had detained these Uyghurs at a time when it was heavily dependent on Afghan proxies who accepted monetary incentives for captives.

Mehmet came over to meet us, and said he knew our father. I told him about my project and then asked him if I could interview him. Mehmet laughed lightly and said that 1) I wouldn’t be able to handle it. There was a lady who listened to his experiences of him in the prison and she busted out crying in the middle, 2) He’s had bad experiences with translators who poorly translated what he said, resulting in humiliation, and 3) He and his fellow Uyghur inmates made a promise upon release that they would not agree to tell media about their experiences.

For the past seven weeks, it never really bothered me when the Uyghurs I asked to be interviewed refused. I would tell myself that it was no big deal, and that I would continue asking people until someone said yes. But I wanted to interview Mehmet so badly – I wanted to know specifically how, from his own words, he ended up in one of the world’s most notorious prisons because he happened to escape China and be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I wanted to know the prison conditions, even though I knew that the CIA had already released torture reports that I could read online if I wanted to. I knew I was being quite selfish – not only because I’d wanted to incorporate him into my film, but also because I was so disappointed about the rejection afterwards.

To cope with this rejection, I had to remind myself that the information I’ve attained in the past two months is enough to shed light on what’s been going on in East Turkistan. I’ve gathered over 25 hours of footage—coming from men, women, and children who recounted the horrors that they’ve lived through. Each interview has new and unheard information. I’m already overwhelmed at how I’m going to have to choose the “most important” portions of their interviews to include in the documentary.

Part of my plan for this fellowship was to also interview the diaspora population living in Turkey’s city of Kayseri, where I was told that thousands of Uyghurs have newly arrived. But I realized that it takes a long time to find people who’d be willing to speak – I was pretty lucky with recruiting interviewees in Istanbul due to family connections; however, even with these connections, I still needed a full two months to focus on Istanbul. If I were to go to Kayseri, I would’ve needed an ample amount of time to recruit potential interviewees.

Overall, I am grateful for these past two months. I feel like I have come back to the States as a completely different person, someone who’s been able to briefly immerse herself in some of the world’s unknown injustices. I feel like I have come back to the States with a different and reformed world view and have realized how incredibly lucky I am to be living in the US. I have come back to the States with bigger plans, to hopefully make this documentary into something that can be seen by millions. I hope this project will be the first step into creating something bigger and better—something that will finally serve as a voice for the silenced 35 million Uyghurs trapped in their homeland.

Rajiv – Next Chapters

Paul Markovits, in his book “The Global World of Indian Merchants” used the term circulation instead of “diaspora” to describe the global network of Indian entrepreneurs. To Markovits ‘diaspora’ suggests that these Indians leave the homeland and rarely return, having minimal economic and political connections across the divide. But in the book, he shows that the famous Sindh merchant class that had created a global network centuries ago had a very strong relation to India and that they instead circulated between their home in India, the several hubs of Sindh merchants overseas, and the ports where they sold their goods. And, barring those Indians that are descendants of those brought over to Africa by the British, the same holds for many of the Indian nationals currently working in East Africa.

So I’ve decided to continue my research independently in India. For the next year, I’ll be jetting between India and East Africa to follow these trade routes and immigration patterns. In my interviews with Indian businessmen in Kampala and through phone/ Skype talks with those in South Sudan, I’ve hit on a few interesting points that I hope to investigate further.

Thus far I’ve spent most of time with the higher class of Indian entrepreneurs working in Africa. But a bulk of the Indian population here and by far the fastest growing are the ones I mentioned earlier and the ones that boarded the evacuation flight of Juba: The young Indians whose poor grades and lack of skills kept them from competing in India but allowed them to make a comfortable living across the Indian Ocean. I’d like to trace the path of one of these workers from their school to their hiring and then work in African enterprises. Though it is a great opportunity for Indians, the whole system risks plunging all Indians back into the situation that Idi Amin put them in 1972. By choosing to import labor rather than train and utilize local African capacities, they alienate their host populations and make themselves perfect targets for nationalization policies and threaten to push Indian diplomatic efforts back thirty years.

When India became a sovereign nation in 1947, it sought to become a beacon of strength for the global south, to present an alternative to Cold War alignment and create something of a political bloc of developing nations heavily influenced by socialist ideology. Part of what that entailed is developing the production and industrial capacities of lagging nations, such as those in Africa which would become independent in the coming decades. But there is quite a bit of difference between the sharing of solid technological equipment and technological know-how. Thus far, Indians have played a big role in bringing the equipment to the African continent but have retained a monopoly on the know-how, primarily by using such schemes as the one above to use Indian labour rather than train Africans, allowing these men to maintain their monopolies on industry in the continent. One such monopoly that is almost entirely Indian is that of water bore hole drilling. In nearly every country in Africa, the bore hole drillers are Indian, and more specifically from the south, seemingly the only industry that southerners have cornered in Africa. This is due to the technological hub of Hyderabad in south India and the cluster of bore hole equipment developers based here such as KLR Industries, the global leader in the industry. These companies host tours for Indians to travel to Africa and dip their toes in the market before purchasing the equipment and moving out to start a business. But again, despite the service these Indians provide by supplying remote places with clean water, the hoarding of know how and expertise threaten the same consequences as above.

India is world famous as a hub for pharmaceutic production. And it is also notorious for its lack of regulatory standards on these drugs. I was turned on to a lead about a drug company that had spent the last thirty years pumping African conflict markets with substandard medication at unbeatable prices. They then used the government and business contacts formed through entering the medical trade in these vulnerable areas to hustle their way into the mining sector. Now this same drug company has a mining operation in the DRC extracting cobalt and copper from some of the more volatile regions. A bit of digging into their history uncovered a history of worker abuses and land mismanagement. It’ll take quite a bit of work to draw strong connection between their pharma trade and mining operations but of everything I’ve seen of Indian involvement in Africa, this remains one of the more insidious schemes I’ve come across and deserves to be researched thoroughly.

I can’t thank Kenan enough for the opportunity they’ve given me here and can’t wait to dig my teeth into these leads. Thanks for everything and stay tuned for the rest of my research!