Artisanal (unmechanised) sand mining is an ancient mining technique used to obtain sand for construction purposes. Depending on the natural conditions (strength of the stream, depth of the river etc.), together with the sand miners' physical condition, the material is extracted in metal buckets, either by standing on the river bottom and searching for sand by feet, or, diving up to 3-5 meters deep using a wooden plank with steps. In spite of the physically demanding work, a sand miner's daily salary does not exceed 15-20 US dollars. However, the sand miners are very proud of their profession, valuing their work freedom above all, and usually, as long as their health and strength permit, they keep facing the river stream.
Wheelchair rugby, a full-contact team sport, was developed in Canada in 1977 under the name murderball. The game is played only by athletes with some form of disability in both the upper and lower limbs (quadriplegics). Attempting to score by carrying the ball across the goal line, four players from each team roughly crash into each other in specially designed armored wheelchairs. Although the team from Bogota is supported by a foundation (gear), quad rugby players, mostly coming from the remote, socially deprived neighbourhoods, often can not attend a training due to lack of funds for transportation. However, they still dream of representing Colombia at Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
During the last two decades, Central America has become the deadliest region in the world that is not at war. According to the UN statistics, more people per capita were killed in El Salvador than in Iraq, in recent years. Due to the criminal activities of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street Gang (M-18), the two major street gangs in El Salvador, the country has fallen into the spiral of fear, violence and death. Thousands of Mara gang members, both on the streets or in the overcrowded prisons, organize and run extortions, distribution of drugs and kidnappings. Tattooed armed young men, mainly from the poorest neighborhoods, fight unmerciful turf battles with their coevals from the rival gang, balancing between life and death every day. Twenty years after the devastating civil war, a social war has paralyzed the nation of El Salvador.
Lucha libre, literally “free fight” in Spanish, is a unique Mexican sporting event and cultural phenomenon. Based on aerial acrobatics, rapid holds and the use of mysterious masks, Lucha libre features the wrestlers as fictional characters (Good vs. Evil). Given the popularity of Lucha libre in Mexico, many wrestlers have reached the cult status, showing up in movies or TV shows. However, almost all female fighters are amateur part-time wrestlers or housewives. Passing through the dirty remote areas in the peripheries, listening to the obscene screams from the mainly male audience, these no-name luchadoras fight straight on the street and charge about 10 US dollars for a show. Still, most of the young luchadoras train hard and wrestle virtually anywhere dreaming to escape from the poverty and to become a star worshipped by the modern Mexican society.
The Palo religion (Las Reglas de Congo) belongs to the group of syncretic religions which developed in Cuba amongst the black slaves, originally brought from Congo during the colonial period. Palo, having its roots in spiritual concepts of the indigenous people in Africa, worships the spirits and natural powers but can often give them faces and names known from the Christian dogma. Although there have been strong religious restrictions during the decades of the Cuban Revolution, the majority of Cubans still consult their problems with practitioners of some Afro Cuban religion.
Every morning, hundreds of shark bodies and thousands of shark fins are sold on the Pacific coast of Ecuador. Most of the shark species fished in Ecuadorean waters are considered as “vulnerable to extinction” by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Although fishing sharks barely sustain the livelihoods of many poor fishermen on Ecuadorean coast, at the end of the shark fins business chain in Hong Kong they are sold as the most expensive seafood item in the world. The shark fins are primarily exported to China where the shark's fin soup is believed to boost sexual potency and increase vitality. Rapid economic growth across Asia in recent years has dramatically increased demand for the shark fins and has put many shark species populations on the road to extinction.
Exorcism is an ancient religious technique of evicting spirits, generally called demons or evil, from a person which is believed to be possessed. Although the formal catholic rite of exorcism is rarely seen and must be only conducted by a designated priest, there are many Christian pastors and preachers (known as ‘exorcistas’) performing exorcism and prayers of liberation. Using their strong charisma, special skills and religous formulas, they command the evil spirit to depart a victim's mind and body, usually invoking Jesus Christ or God to intervene in favour of a possessed person.
Although the Caribbean islands are widely considered as a holiday paradise, Haiti evokes a hell and a disaster rather than anything else. The overall situation on Haiti gets worse every year and the extreme, hardly imaginable poverty hits more and more people. The Haitian economics is paralysed, there is no infrastructure, no food supplies, the population suffer from hunger, social and living conditions in Haitian slums (e.g. Cité Soleil) are a human tragedy. There seems to be no way out of this misery. Haitian administration is (and always has been) higly corrupted, misappropriation of public funds is common. MINUSTAH (Blue Helmets installed on Haiti by the UN in 2004) substitute the police therefore they are generally not welcomed by the Haitian population. The rage grows and the tension continues with undiminished strength.
With nearly fifty years of armed conflict, Colombia has the highest number of civil war refugees in the world. During the last ten years of the civil war more than 3 million people have been forced to abandon their lands and to leave their homes due to the violence. Internally displaced people (IDPs) come from remote rural areas, where most of the clashes between leftist guerrillas FARC-ELN, right-wing paramilitary groups and government forces takes place. Displaced persons flee in a hurry, carrying just personal belongings, and thus they inevitably end up in large slums of the big cities, with no hope for the future.
The Nukak Maku people, nomadic hunter-gatherers from Amazonia, were violently driven out of the jungle by the Colombian guerilla and paramilitary squads. Now, roughly cut off their original tribal lifestyle, they stuck between worlds. They learn from the (mainly Christian) aid workers to use clothes, to listen to the radio, to beg for money. Although their digestion suffer, they love to eat sweets, cookies and other western food. They have hunted out all the animals around and now there is nothing left for them. Nukak can not return to the jungle, their world has already passed through an irreversible change.
During the Cuban Revolution, an armed rebellion at the end of the 1950s in Cuba, most of the revolutionary leaders started as no-name soldiers fighting in the jungle. As those young men risked unselfishly their lives in the name of the country's better future, soon they gained the hearts and genuine support of all poor Cubans. Although the revolutionary leaders, after taking over the power, became autocratic rulers holding almost absolute power and putting the opposition in jail, for some reason Cuban people have never stopped to worship Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raul Castro and others. Cubans hang their photos and portraits on the wall in homes, shops and working places even they don't have to. The people of Cuba love their heroes.
The Cauca River valley is the booming centre of agriculture and sugar cane cultivation in Colombia. Although the main part of the crop is still refined into a sugar, the global demand of biofuel and ethanol has intensified the sugar cane production in the last years. 85 percent of Colombia's cane crop is still harvested the manual way, employing approximately 30,000 workers. Working six days a week, under harsch labor conditions, the sugar cane cutters earn $4 for every ton of cane they cut, with no access to social benefits due to the tricky system of intermediary contractors and cooperatives.
The annual week-long Easter festivity (called “La Judea”), performed in the rugged mountain country of Sierra del Nayar, merges indigenous tradition (agricultural cycle and the regeneration of life worshipping) and animistic beliefs with the Christian dogma. Each year in the spring, the Cora villages are taken over by hundreds of wildly running men. Painted all over their semi-naked bodies, fighting ritual battles with wooden swords and dancing crazily, they perform demons (the evil) that metaphorically chase Jesus Christ, kill him, but finally fail due to his resurrection. La Judea, the Holy Week sacred spectacle, represents the most truthful expression of the Coras' culture, religiosity and identity.
Every day tens of Moroccan young men try to cross ilegally the Strait of Gibraltar. “Harraga” (immigrants in Arabic) come to Tanger from all over Morocco. They try their good luck and hidden between the wheels of a truck they attempt to board on a ferry and get to Spain, eventually further to Europe. Considering the thorough checks at the port only few of them make it. Therefore they spend months living on a beach, in huts along the walls of the port, begging for food and waiting for the right night so as their dream about Europe came true.
About 50 years after the national rebellion, led by Fidel Castro, and adopting the communist ideology shortly after the victory, the Caribbean island of Cuba is the only country in Americas having the communist political system. Although the Cuban state-controlled economy has never been developed enough to allow Cubans living in social conditions similar to the US or to Europe, mostly middle-age and older Cubans still support the Castro Brothers' regime and the idea of the Cuban Revolution. Since the 1990s Cuba struggles with chronic economic crisis and mainly young Cubans call for the economic changes.