Tuesday, 31 May 2016 00:00 Published in Commentary
The Hague, Netherlands — Nameless migrants laid to rest in unmarked scrubland, murder victims dumped in mass graves, desperate searches for the missing after natural disasters. Around the world, millions of families wait in vain to bury their dead.
“You cannot close the book on the life of a loved one if you do not know the truth, or what the reasons were, why people went missing,” said Salvadoran diplomat Augustin Vasquez Gomez.
His country, where some 8,000 people are still missing after years of civil war, has become one of the latest nations to sign a treaty pledging to support the work of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).
In the Philippines, also a signatory to the treaty, there are still 2,000 missing after Typhoon Haiyan struck in November 2013.
And while finding and identifying the missing killed in conflicts or disasters is an age-old problem, no overall global figure has ever been determined.
The numbers are thought to be “staggering” — between 250,000 and a million in Iraq alone stretching back to the early days of the regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein, said Kathryne Bomberger, ICMP director general.
The organization, which finances its painstaking research through voluntary donations, held a recent seminar on its work as it moves its headquarters from Sarajevo to The Hague.
Born out of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia and set up in 1996 by then US president Bill Clinton, the ICMP has used sophisticated DNA matching techniques to identify more than 70 percent of the 40,000 who went missing in the Balkans wars.
Now it is shedding its ad-hoc status to become a recognized international organization — the only one dedicated exclusively to accounting for the missing.
Migrants new challenge
It hopes to open a new lab in the Dutch city in the coming months, to complement its first one in Sarajevo which already has the capacity to handle up to 10,000 DNA cases a year.
Demand is growing. And as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq feed a new wave of refugees, hundreds of whom have perished at sea lacking any kind of documents, a new challenge is emerging.
After five years of civil war and a huge exodus from the country, there are an estimated 60,000 missing Syrians.
“There’s nothing we can do in Syria for the moment, but we’re already losing time in terms of collecting data from survivors,” Bomberger told AFP.
She’s hoping to try to move into the refugee camps, build up trust with families there and start organising a valuable data base.
Every day Syrian families are contacting the organization for help finding relatives, and the ICMP is already working with Italian authorities to try to identify the dead washing up on Italy’s shores.
In Iraq on Mount Sinjar, it has been working to identify mass graves from the Islamic State group’s persecution of the Yazidi people, protect the sites and catalogue the DNA of the dead.
And that’s without mentioning conflicts in Africa or Asia, where there are also many families waiting to claim their dead.
‘Just one piece of bone’
“Part of what we want to do and focus on is demographics, for once to try to get a handle on how many people are missing in the world,” said Bomberger.
“Most countries don’t have accurate figures because of the highly political nature of these conflicts.”
Identifying the dead is also crucial, if those behind the world’s worst crimes are to be successfully held to account, said Kweku Vanderpuye, senior trial lawyer at the International Criminal Court.
“Oftentimes the perpetrators of those crimes operate under the principle: no bodies, no crime,” he said.
For those left with no grave to mourn over, there is an overwhelming sense of loss, of farewells left unsaid, a raw grief which does not fade as the decades pass.
“Our truth is hidden in mass graves,” said Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica, who lost 22 members of her extended family in the 1995 genocide in the Bosnian enclave.
She told the seminar how one Bosnian Muslim mother died in Srebrenica a few days ago, still mourning her son whose body has never been found.
“Her last words were that if she had been so lucky to find just one little piece of bone she would have wrapped it in silk and kept it for herself. And it would have made her the happiest person in the world,” said Subasic.
San Francisco, United States — In a Silicon Valley culture known for brilliant ideas boiling up in coffee shops, Gaurav Chawla is pouring his heart into chai.
Chawla was on a break from his job as an engineering manager at San Francisco-based cloud-computing star Salesforce when he began lamenting how tough it was to find a cup of chai as good as he makes it at home.
That frustration and echoed complaints by other natives of India, where the blend of spiced tea and simmered milk is woven into daily lifestyles, prompted him to start tinkering.
“I took a rice cooker apart and reconfigured it to make chai,” Chawla told AFP.
“It made good chai, and I realized this process could be automated.”
While his background is in software engineering, Chawla went to work developing a chai machine as simple to use as a coffee maker.
He told of giving his second prototype a test run at Google offices, where it was used daily until it broke. Another prototype got a workout in offices of sound and image specialty firm Dolby, according to Chawla.
Feedback from those and other tests led to a first-generation chai machine to be funded by pre-orders at a freshly launched www.brewchime.com Web site at a temporarily discounted price of $249.
Chime machines aren’t slated to ship until March of next year.
Chai is chai
Chime machines brew one cup of chai at a time, using tea and spices pre-mixed in caps sold by the startup.
“Essentially, you want to brew black tea and spices, add milk then bring it to a boil again,” Chawla said of the chai brewing process.
“Because you are adding milk, you can’t just let it sit by itself or you get a big mess — which I do almost every day.”
Chai has been growing in popularity in San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley, with coffee shops large and small adding it to menus.
Helping drive the trend are ranks of people drawn to the region from India by jobs at technology companies.
Chawla said his friends at Microsoft have told him of the US software giant having people with chai-making skills come in to prepare the tea for employees.
“The Silicon Valley influence of Indians moving here is huge,” Chawla said.
“Even if there is great coffee, chai is chai. It is one of the things of your upbringing.”
A co-founder at Chime is a design engineer who ran product development at Williams-Sonoma, a retail chain specializing in kitchen and home items.
The popularity of chai has climbed in the United States over the past 20 years, with even major chain Starbucks adding it to the menu, according to Chai Cart founder Paawan Kothari.
Kothari earned a masters degree in business from the INSEAD business school in France and spent more than a decade working with technology firms in Silicon Valley before turning a hobby started in 2009 into a startup that sells chai from carts on San Francisco streets.
“I wanted to give people a taste of what homemade chai tastes like,” said Kothari, who started out making the spiced tea in her home and peddling it in the Mission District from a bicycle trailer.
“I was surprised at how many people were looking to have good chai; not just in San Francisco but everywhere.”
She quit her job as an IBM marketing strategist and launched Chai Cart, which she said has been growing steadily.
Kothari estimated that while some 40 percent of her customers are hankering for a taste of chai that harkens back to native countries in South Asia, more than half grew up in households without chai.
“It brings me great pleasure to share a part of my culture and give a taste of the traditional chai that’s enjoyed every day across India,” Kothari said in a post on the Web site thechaicart.com.
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 00:00 Published in Commentary
Los Angeles, United States — Johnny Weissmuller was said to walk the grounds of this retirement home letting out his trademark Tarzan yell.
Another resident wistfully recalls missing out on a date with Marilyn Monroe, while a third has stories about “Walt” or “Frank” — that is Walt Disney or Frank Sinatra.
Hollywood’s golden age may be long gone but it’s still very much alive and kicking at this retirement community north of Los Angeles, where a who’s who of the industry reside.
Here, you can meet a set director who worked on “Doctor Zhivago” or “Mutiny on the Bounty,” a film researcher who worked on “Star Trek,” “Chinatown” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” or a 103-year old actress who knew Sinatra and recently auditioned for a horror flick.
“The people here have done every kind of job you can imagine associated with film and television,” said Bob Beitcher, president and CEO of the Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF), which runs the home located in Woodland Hills.
“You have everything from publicists, to animators to character actors to directors, writers, wardrobe, costume, hair and makeup.”
Founded in 1921 by cinema pioneers Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and Mary Pickford, the MPTF’s mission was initially focused on helping stars unable to make the transition from silent film to ‘talkies.’
The charitable organization began with coin boxes that were placed at the studios, where actors could drop spare change to help industry professionals who often worked as freelancers and had no job protection.
Nearly a century later, the MPTF continues to take care of its own through donations, albeit on a much bigger scale, with the likes of George Clooney, Kirk Douglas and Steven Spielberg lending their support.
“No other industry in the world has done something like this and this is what makes it so remarkable,” Beitcher said.
“People who work in the industry are like gypsies,” he added. “They move from place to place, uproot their families to move to Louisiana, to New York or to Europe... and many do physical labor on a film or TV set that is hard on them.”
About half of the 165 residents at the retirement home pay for their room and board, which ranges from $3,400 to $6,100 a month and the Fund pays for the other half unable to afford the cost.
‘The bigger, the friendlier’
Though a few of the retirees on the sprawling 40-acre campus are well-known in the industry, the majority are cast and crew members who spent their careers working quietly behind the scenes and never got on-screen billing.
Steven Kohler, 87, can make your head spin as he ticks off the names of some of the greats he rubbed shoulders with during his long career as a set dresser.
“Oh yeah, the crew would all sit together for lunch sometimes during filming,” he said, recalling his time on the set of the 1965 epic drama “Doctor Zhivago,” starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie.
Marlon Brando, whom Kohler got to know during filming of the 1962 historical drama “Mutiny on the Bounty,” was nothing more than a kind-hearted gentleman, he says.
“The bigger they were, the more friendly they were,” said Kohler, sitting in his impeccably decorated cottage at the retirement home, where he moved nearly five years ago.
“Brando was very generous. He helped people without anybody knowing.”
Fellow resident Robert Mirisch, 77, whose family ran the Mirisch Company, one of Hollywood’s top independent production companies in the 1960s, for his part likes to recall his missed date with Marilyn Monroe.
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