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The Platinum Blonde Pigeon

Fernley, not his real name, yet everyone calls and knows him as Fernley. Master of Hydrogen peroxide

Cycling along the River Clyde cycling out of Glasgow. Though the derelict industrial landscape that shaped this town and underpins its current identity one noticed shed like towers. These structures too tall to be garden sheds, too makeshift to be electrical transistor stations are purpose build spaces of some sorts. What are these huts? Who is using them?  For what purpose?

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It turns out these are pigeon lofts holding highly regarded collections of “hens” and “cocks” Pigeon.  Breeding these birds was immensely popular amongst male industrial workers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

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UKGL-Grey-0119_V1A5856Fernley Is dying his pigeons’ feathers from a Payne grey to a bright blond. “Just as your misses get her hair done for the night out, I make this hen looking great” he accounts. Using Hydrogen peroxide, he achieves the most desirable “platinum blonde” around.

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Decolourizes, the pigment in the feathers, is loaded with danger as the birds can suffer the loss of feathers, swollen skin or lose sight if the bleach enters their eyes. If any of these occurs precious jewel in the collection of a fancier or it dies, Fernley is in danger accusations can escalate to fights, killing his birds, fistfights and even stabbings he tells me. “Once a consumer try to set fire to his pigeon loft at night,” he tells me.  “The quest for superior beauty at the end of it, however, makes the worth risk”. 

The desire for the authentic blond, bridges from the bird to the human species, Nordic gentlemen favouring of the blond type is well documented through the ages. Famously natural blond and beautiful Rosalie Duthé, born in France in the mid-eighteenth century and raised in a convent, She allegedly once turned the head of the affluent English financier 3rd Earl of Egremont, to such desire that he kidnapped her and brought her back to England, only to end up in bankruptcy and madness. Although this blond tale is probably a myth, blondes do not seem to have lost any of their popularity since. Research suggests that blondes feature more often on magazine covers than any other type. Asserting the notion, that we humans are attracted to the exotic. Most minorities (only 2% of humankind are natural blond) are both reviled and revered by society.

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Rock Pigeons, the ancient relatives of racing pigeons, nonetheless, come only in shades of grey. Not blond, the desire of the “pigeon fancying” keepers must be achieved by using aggressive chemicals. The delicate timing and dosage make Fernley’s dying feather skills invaluable in the peruse of the perfect Platinum Blonde. Praised and well thought after he is a master in turning grey feathers into a beautiful and desirable fledgeling, His flock can be recognised from far away flying in the sky.  “A young hen is jealously guarded by her cock”.     

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Pigeon breeding was immensely popular amongst male industrial workers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Pigeon breeding and racing offered not only the thrills and excitement but also the more sedate and intellectual rewards of spawning and rearing the birds. The pigeon loft was and is a masculine enclave and a retreat from the pressures of domestic life for some, although for others it was an opportunity to share time with their family. For some working-class men, pigeons are a vent to open displays of emotion, contrasted uncomfortably with the more suppressed relations that workers presented to their spouses and children. 

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Successful pigeon racers indeed won both self-esteem and the respect of their peers.  Successful “pigeon fancying” is spoken of in revered tones years after their death. Pigeon thus a route to a more positive self-identification that is too often denied in unbecoming work that followed the downfall of male defining manual professions in the retired heavy industry. 

 

Please contact me if you have added information and thoughts on these initial thoughts for this project.

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Solutions are Embarrassingly obvious

Part XI of the Descendent of the Hyena Series. Start from the beginning

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The message looking at the reality of recurring hunger and the Story of Zara is in some ways all too obvious. It is the interaction of harsh seasons in the Sahel and ramped poverty. Every year good or bad, in the month before the harvest hundreds of millions of people go hungry and must wait for the rain. Eating less and less until there is only water, a hand full of millet and some wild roots left to give to the crying children.
The answer is equally apparent no isolated intervention will ever end that cycle; systematic thinking is needed to organise proven useful ideas into a coherent anti-hunger strategy. Mechanisms by which people can demand their right, and structures to enforce these rights, must be built around all of this.
The rich of this world the one with the warm hands must be prepared to provide the means to make this strategy work. A hunger-free, not only famine free, may seem impossibly idealistic now, but the work of people will ensure that “impossible” will one day no longer be so. Hunger is preventable, it must be prevented. Let us begin the work and give mothers like Zara and her family our ear, empathy and stand in solidarity with their annual fight against hunger.
END of the Descendent of the Hyena Series

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The Lessons from History

Part IX of the Descendent of the Hyena Series.

The battle against seasonal hunger must be fought on several fronts: emergency assistance to protect lives and assets during the hunger months; social protection safety nets to minimise the number of families who require emergency assistance; and agricultural livelihoods development initiatives to work towards a future when safety nets are rarely needed. As Millman and Kates write, “not all food shortages lead to hunger; not all hunger leads to starvation; not all starvation causes death”*. The chain is broken by good policy, and the measures we discuss above are key components of a good policy package.

* “On ending hunger: the lessons from history”. From Hunger in history : food shortage, poverty, and deprivation

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Father of all Famines

Part VII of the Descendent of the Hyena Series.

The outside response to seasonal hunger is sadly apathetic, can not say the same about famines, which deservedly generate enormous outrage and promises of “Never Again”. 2017 Yemen, 2016 Lake Chad Basin, 2012 Somalia Famine, 2012 West African Famine, 2011 Horn of Africa, 2010 Sahel Food Crisis, 2009 Kenya Food Crisis…

Elias Mandela remarks: “No One organises televised concerts for children [world wide one in twelve (or 52 million) of all children under five years of age], who go to school without eating breakfast and go to sleep without supper. Nor are they the primary concern of academics or journalists”. The story of Zara is talking about a deficit of a different order – recurrent and seasonal hunger that kills its victims without attracting national or international attention. The villages and mothers, however, fear and lament first and foremost this kind of hunger.

Talking with Zara and her children laughing at my visit the visceral horror of famine was absent, but that does not mean there was not dying going on. It was a slower kind of dying, a quieter kind of violence, but it was there, and it deserves a response.

in the next instalment, we turn to some of the interventions that prove to mitigate this suffering in the hope these are more readily promoted and implemented.

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For Good or Bad People have to Adopt

Part VI of the Descendent of the Hyena Series.

Photo and text : Samuel Hauenstein Swan www.sambronx-photo.com

Chapter I, II, III and IV

The coping strategies that poor people adopt in response to seasonal hunger are almost identical to those adopted during famines.

The difference between poor which are chronic hungry and an international noted food crisis is the proportion and severity with which hunger is spreading and gripping in a location and its inhabitants.

In all cases, food insecure families are forced to ration food, cut spending and sell assets to survive and provide meals to their children. Rationing is always the most common response because other strategies (such as borrowing, selling off their properties, livestock or migrating) have more serious long-term consequences for household viability.

Every year hunger returns to villages like Zara’s in Niger, only the prevalence of households and the intensity of coping; strategy adoption varies from year to year and country to country.

In 2016 the number of chronically undernourished people in the world is estimated to have increased to 815 million, up from

777 million in 2015. This increase signal a reversal of trends. The food security situation has worsened in particular in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern Asia and Western Asia, and deteriorations have been observed most notably in the context of conflict and conflict combined with droughts or floods. Wasting, the most life-threatening form of hunger, affected one in twelve (52 million) of all children under five years of age.

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Descendent of the Hyena

Photo and Text: Smauel Hauenstein Swan – www.SamBronx-Photo.com

Over the next few weeks, I will post the story of Zara, a women framer from Guidan Koura. The name of the village means the place of the Hyena, in remembrance of the ancient female ruler, once guiding this region of Niger at the edge of the Saharan Desert.

Zara’s story typifies the reality of many smallholder farmers in the Sahelian belt running from Senegal in the west of Subsaharan Africa to Ethiopia in the east. Like many communities in this semi-desert environment; rain falls only a few months of the year, and irrigation sources are few. Every year between April and harvest time in September the food runs low and hunger grips communities, families, men, women and children.

“My Fram is more like a garden,” Zara tells us, “the soil is poor. It gives us no more than two months’ worth of millet, less if the rains are not plentiful. The rest of the year I must look for work and make do with whatever is there is to find”

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Rory Stewart, it is time to act to the Yemen’s looming famine

Somalia Food Crisis 2011

© Samuel Hauenstein Swan 

By Samuel Hauenstein Swan

“I came to listen and learn from you responding to the needs of mothers, fathers and their children in Yemen,” said Rory Stewart MP, UK Minister of State for International Development. This was back in January, Now that the United Nation has announced that there is a Famine looming in Yemen will the United Kondome act on what the minister heard. Priorities what is morally the right thing to do over economic gains from selling arms that are used in this war?

Nearly three hundred delegates participated in the civil society conference on Yemen organised by Action Against Hunger with six other NGOs delivering assistance to civilians affected by the conflict. Donor officials, government representatives, UN delegates and development practitioners, followed the call by Yemeni civil society and aid agencies working in Yemen, to urgently discuss humanitarian challenges and possible options for scaling up humanitarian response.Delegate urged officials to do everything in their power to stop the vicious campaign in Yemen that has cost tens of thousands of lives and left a country in ruins. With some of the biggest powers complicit in the tragedy by supporting armies on all sides. Support that comes with huge economic gains

Nearly three hundred delegates participated in the civil society conference on Yemen organised by Action Against Hunger with six other NGOs delivering assistance to civilians affected by the conflict. Donor officials, government representatives, UN delegates and development practitioners, followed the call by Yemeni civil society and aid agencies working in Yemen, to urgently discuss humanitarian challenges and possible options for scaling up humanitarian response.

Delegate urged politicians and officials to do everything in their power to stop the vicious campaign in Yemen that has cost tens of thousands of lives and left a country in ruins. With some of the biggest powers complicit in the tragedy by supporting armies on all sides. A support that comes with huge economic gains for wealthy nations and their arms industries.

The conference participants urged stakeholders to revert current tactics and instead invest in peace. Yet, even if negotiations progress it is likely that the crisis will continue. There was an urgent call therefore for donors to increase funding and address the overwhelming needs spelt out in the Humanitarian Response Plan. The conference heard from Yemeni local NGO partners how an aerial campaign has left much of the infrastructure in rubbles and created a climate of fear whereby civilians no longer dare to seek assistance in hospitals, public buildings or schools for fear of these being targeted. Food and economic activities have collapsed, the central bank has no cash to pay public sector workers, and parents have no means to care for their children.

The systematic embargo imposed and enforced by regional and global their global allies mainly the UK and the US, in a country greatly dependent on food imports, triggered high commodity prices resulting in a profound deterioration of the nutritional situation, and hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk. An estimated 1.5 million children have fallen ill with acute malnutrition – 370,000 of whom are suffering from its most severe form. One of the leading causes of civilian deaths in Yemen’s conflict are mothers and children dying due to lack of routine health and nutrition services and lack of safe drinking water.

In the midst of violence Action Against Hunger’s team on the ground has scaled up its programmes, reaching an increasing number of children with nutrition stabilisation centres in four governorates. Our teams are running mobile clinics in the worst affected areas where health post and hospitals have stopped functioning. We are not the only international organisation to do so; nonetheless what is clear to us and other aid agencies operating in these dangerous conditions is that there is a need to increase the humanitarian capacity and diplomatic commitment on the ground.

We heard and praised the courage of the Dutch and Swedish representatives to conduct official visits to Sana’a, the principal city in North Yemen. Civil Society invites more diplomatic dialogue to explain to regional and local leaders the humanitarian principals and reach a diplomatic consensus on the engagement of aid agency and aid delivery with Yemen’s leaders.

The only UK official visiting Yemen in years is Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP and former Secretary of State for International Development who shared his thoughts with the participants. He summarised what he saw with the following lines: “Yemen is not starving, Yemen is being starved”. He concluded by suggesting that the UK’s inconsistent policies towards Yemen could be transformed into a force for good: “The UK can play a leading role in finding political solutions to the conflict in Yemen and to address the humanitarian crisis.”

The conference concluded with four direct calls to actions:

The international community and in particular the United Kingdom should redouble its efforts to reinvigorate the peace process, stop fueling the conflict with arms sales and press for meaningful inclusion of civil society voices at all levels to ensure any deal reached is understood and supported especially inside Yemen.

Political will must be found and implemented at all levels to ease restrictions on the flow of goods into and around the country. The cranes for Hodeidah port should be allowed into the country, commercial airspace should be reopened, and approval processes for the movement of humanitarian goods and personnel should be streamlined.

The Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan needs to be fully funded. 2016 ended with an unacceptable shortfall of 40% of the needed resources. Funding needs to be flexible and responsive to the challenges of the ground and longer-term development needs.

Donors and governments should engage inside Yemen as well as with regional governments to increase their understanding of the realities of delivering humanitarian assistance but also allow them to build the relationships needed to apply diplomatic pressure in support of the humanitarian response and international humanitarian law.

The conference was a loud call to action. The many contributions throughout the day were a show of unity among humanitarian organisations and local civil society for donors and governments to raise their game and stand by the victims of this war.

Rory Stewart MP, UK Minister of State for International Development, asked to hear more about the challenges faced by the humanitarian sector and how UK Aid particular and the British Government as a whole could assist and inconsistent policies could be resolved. Conference participants spoke about the many innovative solutions that they are implementing and proposing. Rory Stewart said he will have the opportunity to bring the outcome of this meeting to his counterparts in Spring 2017 when donors and governments will meet to discuss Yemen and the looming Famine. Conference participants expressed their hope that besides a generous pledge and support for humanitarian action, the high-level Spring meeting will renew political will for a process to end one of the four most deadly conflicts worldwide.