From Lahore to Quetta by train

1120 km. The woman at the counter told me 20 hours, the people on the train said 24 hours – at the end it took 27 hours to reach Quetta, Balochistan from Lahore. What a train ride! Balochistan is a province of southwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan and Iran.

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This is our train, Lahore Railway Station, track 9

I felt a bit like an alien amongst all the Pakistani men, many of them starring at me as if I was one;-) It seemed that they haven’t seen any Western woman in this train before. Hardly anyone spoke English … one old gentleman spoke a few words and he became “my guide” for this journey. He really took good care of me. He gave me food (home cooked Punjabi chicken) and something to drink, he provided a warm blanket for me for the night. In Indian trains they provide pillows, sheets and blankets at the night trains but in Pakistan – as it turned out – they don’t. So I was very happy to get his blanket since it became really cold at night. Lucky me;-)

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Conductor checking our tickets

After a “warm-up” curiosity won and a conversation started. They asked questions like what I do and what I am up to. It was quite surprising to them that someone would travel all alone to Quetta, Balochistan, a place they love but consider as very dangerous and insecure. “My guide” explained me about the main challenges between the people living in Balochistan …. a region full of tribal people, many of them with hardly any contact to the outside world. They live in structures and societies which haven’t changed for the last couple of hundreds years. These tribes don’t care about government structures and especially not about those set up all the way in the north of Pakistan, in Islamabad. They follow their own laws. This doesn’t mean that they are bad people – they simply live in their own world – so to speak. So whenever government – in the case of Balochistan government very often means military or police or special security forces – “act”, these tribes might fight back! That’s one layer of the conflict. Another one is that the Baloch, Pashtuns and Brahuis – the main ethnic groups in Baluchistan – aren’t very friendly among themselves. They are only unified in the fact that they don’t like (many of them use the word “hate”) the Pakistani. And on top of that there is a lot of Indian and American money in this region – and both countries have NO interest in peace in Pakistan. For India peace in Pakistan would mean that the conflict regarding Kashmir would raise again, and the US might loose an important ally in its “fight for democracy” (currently the Aghanistan-Taliban conflict zones) in this region.

Quetta is the capital of Balochistan. It’s known as a place where money is made through smuggling; mainly arms and drugs (heroine and opium). And oil coming in from Iran. It spreads on a plateau 1600 m high, in which three valleys end: one coming in from Iran, one from Afghanistan and one from the Urak Valley, Pakistan. Quetta has been a strategic point since the early days of trade … The magnificent Bolan Pass route was once the only gateway from Central Asia to South Asia.

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Train climbing up Bolan Pass

Bolan Pass is a bottleneck. At Sibi a smaller town a few km away from Quetta the train enters the plateau. The Brahui of the Baluchi ethnic group are in charge of the law and order situation through the Pass area. But these days you see many Frontier Corps (FC) soldiers securing the train along the tracks but also inside the train. FC is a federal auxiliary military force under the command of the paramilitary command of Pakistan. In our coach alone every 2-5 minutes a FC guy, heavily armed, walked through the coach and at every stop all doors were secured. In recent weeks the train came under gunfire frequently. After my train rde 10 days ago two major attacks happened. 20 people were killed, many injured. The latest was just today … I was lucky. I arrived safe.

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Official start of the Peace Pilgrimage – Today

After 3600 km on the road – all the way from Delhi – I arrived this morning via bus in Teheran. WOW, what a trip so far. I got stuck twice but I made it just 3.5 hours before the official start;-)

And yes, I will follow up with some blog posts later including some nice pictures from incredible Balochistan.

On my way to Teheran many people have been asking me: Why are you doing this?

Basically I have two major reasons:

Firstly, I do believe that it is very important to show the people in Syria that I not only think about them, but that I really care and be there. It gives them hope. And hope is simply all they have. I know they will happy to see me – even without giving aid – it will show show them: they are NOT forgotten. A very simply basic human desire. I carry about 150 peace cards from students in India and Pakistan with me which I will give the Syrian kids.

For me it is a question of priorities. It is not that I can easily afford this trip (which is partially funded) or that I do have the extra time doing it. In every free minute I work on a project back home in Germany and I continue my work for we_school in India. Virtually, with a huge amount of online time. I do it because I am convinced it is the right thing to do. Each border I have been crossing so far on this trip wasn’t a border between “friendly countries”. The tensions between India and Pakistan are high (Kashmir); the American influence in Pakistan is stretching the nerves of the Iran-Pak relations and crossing Balochistan (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran) is a layer on top of all: They are neither friendly with the governments in their countries nor are they in freedom with themselves. Tribes, warlords and foreign interests (India, USA, Saudi Arabia, Russia … ) keep the unrests going. There is no honest interest in peace. And then there is the Pak-Syria connection: The highest number of jihadists in Syria are coming from Pakistan!

Secondly, I am really so tired and desperate about our “Western” attitudes. I lost confidence in our media and our politicians. One of the reasons we started we-magazine a few years ago. I see capitalism running against the wall and destroying the last ethics and morals in politics and economics. What we witness in Syria is  THE playground in the world of money and political interests. None of the countries involved cares about the Syrian people. Nor did they care about the Libyans, Iraquis, Afghanis, Pakistanis … you name it.

By joining this Peace Pilgrimage from the “East” doesn’t mean I do not say Assad and his government is right. No, not at all. Friends of mine are suffering in Syrian government jails. What I am saying is that there needs to be an end with our “Western Imperialism” which is only interested in money and   What America has turned into after 9/11 is a mess. And I feel ashamed that we in the West don’t have the guts to speak up against our allies when they violate over and over again international law. It’s high time to do so. The world needs a conversation among EQUAL partners – equal in its purest sense. It needs an honest conversation and politics should strictly be seperated from money!

And last but not least there is curiosity and some kind of adventuresome spirit which keeps me going;-) No doubt!

So, here we go Peace Pilgrimage: This is our “official” logo and our common statement …

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Peace Pilgrimage to Syria, is a civil movement of peace activists for providing humanitarian aid to Syria and strive to bring peace in the country as soon as possible. This movement has eminent personalities and peace activists from all over the world. This caravan after its presence in Iran will move towards Damascus on 9th April, with humanitarian aid which mainly consists of medical and pharmaceutical aids, to help and meet different groups of people and distribute the relief to the war stricken people of Syria. This convoy includes activists from countries such as Britain, Canada, Germany, Lebanon, Australia, Pakistan, India and Iran and they declare that:

This convoy is not affiliated with any of the parties involved in the Syrian conflict and it emphasizes on supporting peace and opposes violence in Syria and explicitly expresses that peace can be only achieved in Syria by dialogue and negotiations.

  • Any foreign intervention in Syria is condemned and only the Syrian people without any pressure from outside decide their own future.
  • Crimes committed in the name of religion by Takfiri extremist in Syria on religious minorities is condemned and we consider it necessary for governments of the region to stop sending arms and financial aids to parties and group involved in the violence.
  • In the end the members of this convoy invite other governments and people movements from various countries try to do their best so that relief reaches the war stricken people of Syria in every possible manner and in the shortest time frame.

5 April 2014 / Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

And for those of you who speak Arabic and/or Farsi, here is the trailer.

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New Dehli to Teheran overland

I am invited to join a peace pilgrimage from Teheran, Iran, to Damascus, Syria. People from Australia, Canada, Ireland, Lebanon, UK meet for a peace conference in Teheran and then fly out to Damascus to bring medical aid to the Syrian people. I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation. I am fully aware that such a trip has to be protected by the Syrian government, but frankly speaking if it helps the Syrian civilians, I don’t care.

Once it was clear that I would start my travels from India, I’ve had the idea to travel overland: Delhi, Amritsar, Waqah Border (India-Pakistan border) Lahore, Quetta, Taftan (Pakistan-Iran border), Zahedan, Kerman, Esfahan, Teheran – 3500 km by train, car and bus. The route is part of a road known as the Hippie Trail. This was a legendary route since the sixties and was followed by thousands of travelers until the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the beginning of the civil war in Afghanistan, both in 1979. Today it is a bigger challenge than it was before these political events and depending on the local political situation it may be possible or not. Borders between countries are closed from time to time. Some places are no longer accessible for ordinary travelers without great risks for their safety.

The route is also part of the Silk Road used throughout ancient times from Europe to Asia.

I am really excited to do this part of the trip – however I am not sure yet how to manage the challenging part between Quetta and Zahedan. Already people advise me NOT to go Quetta. But I already got my train ticket (1120 km, 22-24 hours, 15 Euros) and I will start tomorrow. Let’s see.

I left Delhi a few days ago – unfortunately WITHOUT my Indian friend who simply couldn’t get a visa. If Indians don’t have any blood relatives, it’s almost impossible for them to go to Pakistan. Same thing the other way round. And both sides – at least from what I hear from my friends – they all would love to go and meet. Once again it’s much more a political issue than an issue between people. When will governments ever understand?

Before I left Delhi two friends of mine, both involved in the Teach for India program which is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and professionals working towards eliminating educational inequity in India, gave me PEACE cards made by their students for the students in Pakistan and Syria!

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Peace cards from Indian students for their students in Pakistan and Syria.

This morning I handed some of them over to the students of the Sharif Education Complex in Lahore, with whom I worked last year for more than a week. In return they gave me their peace cards which I now carry on to Teheran and Damascus. Some of them will also make their way back to India – just to close the circle;-)

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Zarin Shoaib, principal of the Sharif Education Complex with the peace cards from her students

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The Old City of Lahore

This is actually the part of Lahore which I like the best … It is so full of life – all kind of smells, from delicious local food to the disgusting smell of the garbage, noises, colors, people, fabrics and thousands of other goods. A market place where bargaining is a must!

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Entrance when you enter the Old City from Delhi Gate

I went there by auto from fancy Gulberg, a place where the culture resides, business flourishes and people enjoy. One of the biggest commercial and residential areas in Lahore.

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Autos are just about the same as they are in India, just a bit more “expensive” in Lahore. Which was surprising.

In the Old City I bought beautiful cotton (1m by 1.75 m wide, 1.20 Euro) and I had a lot of fun while I was trying to explain the guys that I now need a stitcher to make shirts out of it;-) “Male” shirts – for my trip through the wilderness of Balochistan. Finally we worked everything out and tomorrow I can pick them up. Photos will follow by then.

Just around of Delhi Gate is the Lahore Railway Station. A beautitful old brick building with much less hazzle inside than in Delhi’s Nizzamudin. It was pretty easy to buy my train ticket from Lahore to Quetta (1120 km, 22 hours, 15 Euros) – I am looking forward to this adventure. The woman at the counter spoke basic English and seemed to be happy to see a foreigner at her counter. Not so many “Westerners” in the city.

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Happy Birthday OUBEY and thank you for your ARTBOARD/SKATEBOARD

I’ve heard about OUBEY and the MINDKISS project just before its website was launched a few years ago. I was introduced to Dagmar Woyde-Koehler – the woman “behind” MINDKISS. I immediately fell in love with the concept – it was and still is a unique way to present art outside the artificial art world;-)

And since then Dagmar and I frequently meet and discuss MINDKISS’ latest developments.

But first things first.
What am I talking about?

On its website the project is described as follows:

Persistent and uncompromising, dedicated solely to his own artistic vision – this was how OUBEY, voluntarily isolated from the public, created an unmistakable, multifaceted and incomparable oeuvre over the course of 25 years. Uninfluenced by the art business, OUBEY created over 1000 pictures with an astonishing, creative force in the greatest possible inner and external freedom.

When OUBEY started thinking about an exhibition again for the first time in a long time, he lost his life in a traffic accident in August 2004 at the age of 46.

The project MINDKISS posthumously realizes his plan, now opening a door for the first time, five years after OUBEY’s early and untimely death, to the hidden treasure he created and left behind. The book MINDKISS, the experience film OUBEY, and the web site OUBEY.com are the first steps along the way to a long-term goal. This goal consists of presenting the originals of OUBEY’s pictures permanently in an exhibition, in which the mental context in which this art was created can be understood and experienced at the same time.

And one tiny little piece within the bigger MINDKISS puzzle is this ARTBOARD. “Highly original and full of zest” is how Dagmar describes the drawing OUBEY made in 1981 which she selected as her contribution to ARTBOARD / SKATEBOARD. It’s a genuine rarity given the fact that the original work will never be put on sale. “I hope the new owner has lots of fun with this board,” she says!

So please take your chance ….

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A big THANK YOU to the OUBEY community who really helped to let OUBEY’S ARTBOARD take off today!
I assume Oubey would be more than happy to observe all this on his birthday!
Happy birthday Oubey!

Not sure what else to say …. just please keep on bidding;-)
The kids will love you for this!

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The MAATI Way – ARTBOARDS/SKATEBOARDS from Local Indian Artists

MAATI (which means earth) is a small boutique in South Delhi’s trendy and hipster Hauz Khas Village. For almost two years I always passed by this shop, because from what I saw in the windows it seemed to be just another tourist trap.

But I was wrong!

One day my host in Hauz Khas introduced me to Aniruddha Saha, the guy who runs MAATI together with his wife Swati. Only then I had a closer look on what they are doing. And it turned out to be amazing;-)

Here is an interview I did with them a few month ago.

They describe themselves as follows: “MAATI promotes artists of many disciplines. In its quest for classical art forms, team MAATI travels to the remotest areas of the subcontinent in search of heirs and heroes of these art forms, who have or are in the process of foregoing their legacy of generations for lack of support in a materialistic world.”

MAATI guides and trains the artists, offers medical and educational assistance to their tribal and rural artisan families and shows them a way to make their living. What ever the artists “produce” in their studio close to Hauz Khas Village, MAATI sells online or in their boutique: hand painted T-shirts, frames, bags, jewelery … you name it!

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Together with Kanhaiya Prasad Singh, Mithun Ray and Aniruddha (from left to right) at their studio

So when we started the ARTBOARD/SKATEBOARD project I immediately went to see Aniruddha and I asked him if they would design an ARTBOARD. And they did … actually the hand painted four outstanding pieces of art – which for me are so much INDIAN. I simply love the colors and the design … but please have a look on your own!!!

They are on auction NOW!!! So please go and bid for them!

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Mithun Ray painted this motorbike ARTBOARD – it is almost 3D. You need to feel it;-)

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Kanhaiya Prasad Singh used to paint movie posters. No wonder his ARTBOARD shows various scenes from a very famous Indian Bollywood movie!

The following two ARTBOARDS were painted by Chanchal Mitral.

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The Learning Experience – A different way to school …

This post was sent to me by Nicola Claire, who is running a school in Istanbul and advises we_school. With Nicola I share my thoughts on how to build a “matrix curriculum” for we_school. Traditional curriculum combined with “out of school” ways of learning re-integrated into it. This is her second post on the ARTBOARD/SKATEBOARD project.

Take a group of rural Indian children between the ages of 8 and 14 years old, who have no formal schooling, and present them with a project-based learning scenario. You might expect to get at the very least blank faces, and at worst some not very polite language.

But not when the project is to build your very own skateboard!

From the get go you have their attention. And then, when you go on to explain that you have no resources to give them, and they have to go and find everything they need themselves, an excited discussion ensues.

But, first things first…

  • What exactly is a skateboard?
  • To what uses could it be put apart from skating?
  • How big/small could it be to still work?
  • How heavy does it need to be to stop it tipping constantly?
  • How big do the wheels needs to be and what happens if you put more or less than four wheels on?

By now the group is totally engaged and coming up with many more questions.
As a group they discuss and generate ways to solve the problems, and chalkstone on a wall serves for a design space. Some of the suggestions are:

  • Recycling for materials
  • Extra wheels
  • Large wheels
  • Dog powered
  • Two skateboards strapped together to provide a wide carrying platform

And many more are discussed.

After the discussion, there is the making, engaging with maths, hand-working, crafting and constructing. Before, finally, the finishing artwork, personal logo and then the testing.
The group of young people have worked their way through a project-based learning that any teacher would be happy to put their name to.

Sure, they had the guidance of a teacher, but she kept her input to a minimum, encouraging the young people to be constantly challenging themselves for answers.
The project might last anything from a week, if the group turn-up every day, to a month or more if they are only meeting together a couple of times a week.

The learning they have made is a secure lifelong learning across a range of subjects, with measurable outcomes and an end goal that is functional and fun.

Children in very different environments and circumstances require learning that is relevant to them and their lives. Often this is not building based, white western European and aimed at university entrance, but local, community based and aimed at improving their, and their communities’ lives.

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Ai Weiwei joined our ARTBOARD/SKATEBOARD initiative !!!

ai_weiwei_sw_150x150I still can’t believe it and I am humbled …
Ai Weiwei OK’ed to auction an ARTBOARD of his! It will be signed by him!

I don’t think he needs any further introduction …
The auction will start tomorrow and you can bid right here!

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ARTBOARD/SKATEBOARD: The Children of Jodhpur, Rajasthan

Last year in October I went to Jodhpur in Rajasthan, a tiny little village 3,5 hours away from South Delhi. We did a painting/skateboarding workshop there. I wrote about it on this blog. During these four days the children painted three ARTBOARDS and many pictures, of which we selected five and which we then framed.

For both you can bid on our ARTBOARD/SKATEBOARD auction which will start tomorrow – March 20! Those are the kids who will benefit from the auction – for them we will build the skatepark!

Their boards (see below) you can only auction in the triple package, minimum bid – as for all the other boards – is 300 EURO.

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Same is true for the pictures they’ve been drawing. You can only auction ALL FIVE together – a colorful potpourri giving you a glimpse of Indian design, form and expression. And think about – these kids NEVER EVER painted before!

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And this is how I’ve framed all of them:

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When we left the village in October I promised the kids to bring those to Delhi, who painted best. So last week end four boys came to see me in Delhi – we’ve had a wonderful time at Delhi’s first indoor skatepark “freemotion” – and we showed them around in the city. What a lovely experience for all of us … they’ve never been to the city before! In April the girls will come!

Below you can see the boys getting their instructions for the skatepark …

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Here comes the next ARTBOARD: Monika Fleischmann und Wolfgang Strauss

10 years ago I contacted Monika and Wolfgang – these days both of them were working at Fraunhofer, one of Germany’s finest addresses when we talk about research. As digital multimedia artists they were working at the intersection of arts, business and technology. Exactly what I needed for realizing my “once in a lifetime” book dream: digitale transformationen (sorry, only available in German).

Financially the book almost ruined me – but I would do it all over again. “digitale transformationen” deals with the fundamental transformations in business, culture and science driven by digital technologies. It quickly became a benchmark and with the help of Monika and Wolfgang I was able to get the right people for the right topics.

When I asked them to design an ARTBOARD for our auction they immediately agreed and send a file;-) It was a bit tricky to get it on the board, but with the help of an excellent printing studio in Berlin it worked out beautifully – as you can see! The surface of the skateboard is like a navigation system. It can travel in any direction and always gets there. The growth rings of a tree seem like the plan for an archetypal city.

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So, if you like this one, start bidding on March 20!
The only chance to get a hold of it;-)

Today Monika and Wolfgang run their own independent research unit, the MARS – Exploratory Media Lab in which they work on topics such as media aesthetics, knowledge media and fluid architecture. In their research on interactivity and interaction design they develop participatory experiences. For their “Home of the Brain”, the first art virtual reality installation to be walked through with datagloves and data glasses, they received the 1992 Golden Nica of Prix Ars Electronica. Just recently they’ve been nominated again for Ars Electronica, this time in the new category: Visionary Pioneers of Media Art.

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