Monday, April 26, 2010

Bedouin gun runners

Sometimes not identifying people is a precondition for me being allowed to photograph them.

Such was the case with a group of Bedouin arms smugglers in the Sinai peninsula.

I actually was tagging along with Abigail Hauslohner, TIME's stringer in Cairo. She wrote about Bedouins who smuggle goods and humans across Egypt's borders with Gaza and Israel. To read her two stories, click here ("Egypt's New Challenge: Sinai's Restive Bedouins") and here ("North Sinai: Security Challenges and Ethnic Tensions").

It's always pretty challenging to photograph people who can't actually be photographed.

One of the smugglers cleans his Glock pistol. The Glock was overwhelmingly the chosen sidearm for the smugglers we hung out with.

One of the smugglers' wives.

Me trying to be creative with the whole I-have-photograph-you-but-can't-photograph-you thing.

The Egyptian National soccer team pulled out a win over Algeria, and, in a show of their power, the smugglers rode through the village of Sheikh Ziyad, leading the parade of honking vehicles.

One of the smugglers got a bit carried away and fired his weapon into the air.

We did a lot of driving around the desert aimlessly. We kept hoping they'd show us an arms shipment or take us to a group of Somalis in a safe house, waiting to be smuggled across the border.

But, they didn't. Instead we saw an Israeli border post in the middle of the Sinai desert.

Then the smugglers took us to see one of the poor Bedouin families living in the middle of nowhere. This woman's father was lying behind her and too ill to stand.

Here we are again, whisked away to the desert to visit more Bedouin families.

Quite beautiful out in the desert.

Sabeha. She doesn't know how old she is, but thinks she's 50 or 60.

A sandstorm colored the air the next day.

It really does feel like the end of the earth.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


The following photographs are of Somali refugees in Yemen. I worked with Abigail Hauslohner on a story about the refugees in Yemen's port city Aden. published a video, Yemen a Dead End for Somali Refugees, and a print story. Check it out!

Although Somali refugee camps are scattered throughout the South, the only place we could easily access was just outside Aden in the slum of Bassatine, which has become a permanent settlement of African migrants over the past decade or two.

We visited one of the community leaders who had taken in 22 refugees, mostly widows, who had no place else to go. Above, one of the shacks shared by 8 women in Jilani Ali Maalim's compound. The women must beg to earn money.

Roughly 16,000 Somalis live in Bassatine, and 150,000 Somali refugees in Yemen are registered with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). In Yemen, the Arab Peninsula's poorest nation, where half the population lives in abject poverty, the government is ill-equipped to deal with the recent increase in Somali refugees.

How terrible must life be to flee to Yemen, where there is no safety net, no work prospects and virtually no government?

Desperation incarnate: Baby Layla's mom swam several kilometers, eight months pregnant, to reach the shore of Yemen. Her smugglers tossed her from the boat within sight of the coast.

Drownings are common in the passage. Sofia Abdel Samat's 6-year-old sister died during the journey from their homeland a month ago.

One of the lovely things about working on this story is that the women didn't mind having their photographs taken. I guess I have gotten pretty used to places where photographing women is haram (a sin). Yemen is probably one of the most conservative places on earth and no exception to this. So this story, despite the difficult subject matter, was a breath of fresh air for me.

Jamila, 13.

Abdullah and his 6-month-old daughter Kamer. He said his wife abandoned them recently for Saudi Arabia. "She was crying everyday," Abdullah said of his wife's unhappiness in Yemen, a gateway to richer Arab nations.

Sofia makes lunch for the refugees in Maalim's compound.

The last one from the Maalim compound.

Bassatine's main street.

A refugee, with the image of a boat behind him.

The tailor.

Hassan, the butcher.

A remembrance of home in a cafe.