kyrgyzstan – the ethiopians

This is a story we didn’t expect to do while in Kyrgyzstan.

In fact, we didn’t even know this story existed before the first night in the country.

To give some background: In 1989, approximately 80 Ethiopian Air Force members traveled to TokMok, Kyrgyzstan for flight training. And when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, so did the regime they were a part of in Ethiopia. Because of this, it wasn’t safe for them to return home. So they had to settle in for a few years. But being one of the few black people in Kyrgyzstan isn’t easy in any sense of the word. The group dealt with a wide range of discrimination, in everything from walking down the street to having burial services for their friends to applying for a passport. Above is a man named Haymanot, who was our main contact within the community, sitting on the couch/bed of his friend Nasir (you’ll meet him later), putting his hands to his face in an expression of exhaustion. Exhaustion beyond the ‘needing sleep’ sense of the word.

After a while in the country, some of the Ethiopians died, some found ways to leave and some settled down, married and had kids.

Again, this brought discrimination toward both their wives and children.

Enette (above), one of Haymanot’s two daughters, was the sweetest, cutest girl I think I’ve ever met. She would hop around their small, one bedroom apartment like a frog, trying to model after a cartoon she had watched.

But I imagine this happiness comes only because of her young age. While working on the story, we heard countless anecdotes about their kids being shunned by the other kids at school. One of Haymanot’s sons had actually been close to murdered by the police. Nasir showed us his stab wounds, one directly beneath his heart. The kids get called “negro” or “nigger” at school on a constant basis.

Haymanot’s wife, Denada, was incredibly nice and cared for her family just as much as Haymanot. It was great to see the few Kyrgyz people who did accept the group of Ethiopians. Haymont is a taxi driver, and he gets along with the other drivers who park at the same spot as him. But everywhere they went there were stares, and you could tell that the overwhelming sentiment was that they were different, and that they didn’t belong there.

As I smoked a cigarette with Nasir (below) in his kitchen, he stopped for a minute, pointed at the cigarette, and said, “dangerous life!” I laughed along with him and his tentative English, because it was the right thing to do, but in my head I couldn’t stop thinking how someone who has been through as much as this group of people could joke about cigarettes being dangerous. Comparatively, their body housed stab wounds, their ears were permanently scarred from the hateful things that have been directed toward them and their minds were in a constant state of worry and fear for their families…

The only work Nasir could find was at a restaurant/club called Gavayi. Translated from Russian, it means Hawaii. To the Kyrgyz, Hawaii involved statues of a cheetah taking down a mountain lion. On the other side of the building you could find a statue of an alligator. They had a skewed sense of the state, but it made for extravagance in terms of the Kyrgyz dining experience.

His job at Gavayi is to perform a dance, and to dance along with all of those attending the restaurant for the remainder of the evening.

But Nasir isn’t happy there. It gets him by, but he has to spend every night of the week (only two nights off per month) being the ‘black guy’ that people swarm to and want their picture taken with. And when the clients get to the tipping point of the vodka bottle, their actions get more intense, they get more aggressive and it was noticeable that Nasir was being pulled around like a show animal.

Of those who came in 1989 but aren’t around anymore are two friends of Nasir and Haymanot. Both died unnaturally, and neither were investigated by police.

The first got into a domestic dispute with his wife, and was then attacked by a group of Kyrgyz for that. The killers called the cops and told them that there was a body they needed to come pick up. The police then called Haymanot and said, ‘we have your friend, he’s dead, you need to come pick his body up.’ They refused to perform an autopsy. They refused to investigate.

After much insistence by the small Ethiopian community, one of the killers got a short amount of jail time. The other never received any punishment.

The Ethiopians had to go to the graveyard, dig a grave and bury their friend themselves because no one would touch the body.

It made me sick to hear these stories. But this should not be taken as a negative generalization about the Kyrgyz people as a whole. I speak specifically to this situation and my observances during my time spent with the Ethiopians.

I will forever be indebted to Haymanot, Nasir, Cesar, Hailu, Enette, Stefanie, Denada, Abel and Tedross. They’ve been through so much, but they still allowed me into their homes for a week straight. It strikes me with a form of guilt to have made them remember those terrible stories during video interviews. To them, my presence there every day was a reminder that they had lived this life, and that they were still living it.

“For any guy, future is hope,” Haymanot said. “But for us, every past day is better than today and tomorrow.”

I can only take some of that future hope and pray that the finished result of the multimedia piece from this story can help this community in some way.

a penn state reflection

I was going to wait until the end of the weekend to post anything from my Penn State trip on here, but I want to write while it’s fresh. It won’t be much to read, but I’m putting these words down as much for myself as I am for anyone else.

After traveling from 4 a.m to 4 p.m. to get to State College, puking on the first plane flight (in the bathroom, not in the barf bag) and sitting through countless delays, we arrived in State College, Pa., where the town is mostly made up of its college student population, which is somewhere around 40,000.

To preface this, before the trip I was looking forward to, honestly, a weekend of getting to party with Penn State photojournalists and shooting a good football game. But the events of the past week changed the meaning of this trip quite a bit.

So I was looking forward to this vigil more than anything else on Friday. Thousands of students gathered outside of Old Main on campus and held candles, listened to speakers and sang along to songs all to support the alleged victims of sexual abuse in the Sandusky case, and all other youth who are sexually abused.

These are the same students who, two days prior, flipped a news van over and knocked down a few light poles in a riot following the firing of the highly regarded Joe Paterno. Back in Lincoln I thought these kids were idiots, why would they riot in support of a man who didn’t speak out to the police when he knew the terrible things he was doing?

The vigil, and the students who attended it, helped change my perception of that a bit. I still think the rioting was unwarranted and casts a bad light on their student body, but JoePa is like a grandpa to these kids. And, out of the blue, he was taken away from them.

While that doesn’t make their actions on Wednesday night acceptable, it did make me feel more empathetic toward them, and toward all those that look up to Paterno. The cab driver who took us to campus from the airport said JoePa being fired felt like a “death in the family.”

I was inspired by how many students were out in support of raising awareness for this issue. It’s sad that it takes such horrible and public occurences to cause people to care about issues such as these…..

And it was nice to hear Bo Pelini say that the Sandusky case, and child abuse in general, was more important than football.

But even after that touching event, State College is still just another college town, with vodka and beer all over the floor of the elevator to the Collegian photo editor’s apartment. Not that being a college town or drinking a lot are bad, but it brought me back to reality.

The DN sports editor and I relaxed and stayed up too late, but the next morning we arrived at the game. I’d only heard nasty things about Penn State fans, but they were calm and nice throughout the morning. I think the athletic departments at both schools made a good move by joining teams and kneeling in the middle of the field for a prayer before the game started.

It was mindblowing and made your heart pang to see a stadium of 110,000 fans fall silent while the teams joined in prayer.

Of course I didn’t make a good picture of the situation.

But I do think that it helped make everyone realize just what Bo had said, that issues like child sexual abuse are more important than football. And the fans stayed respectful and lively for the whole game, as far as I could tell.

After a boring first quarter, the game picked up and I had a great time.

I’m not sure what tonight will bring in terms of photos, but this has been an incredible trip that I won’t forget. And to all of the Penn State Collegian writers and photographers that I met, it was great to spend time with you and hope to see you around in the future.

See you tomorrow, Nebraska.

pre eddie adams jitters

For those of you who don’t know, I’m currently in New York City. I’ll be heading upstate to Jeffersonville, New York, tomorrow for the Eddie Adams Workshop. It’s going to be an incredible experience, and I wanted to get out and spend my day exploring and shooting before the workshop started. I’ll be on a team with 9 other workshop attendees, and the team will be led by Michael Williamson, Tim Rasmussen and Lisa Krantz, three professionals who I have an incredible amount of respect for and have admired since I got into photojournalism.

The first set of images here is from the Occupy Wall Street protests. Following that are some ‘from-the-hip’ street-style photos from my walk to High Line Park, which is where the third set of images comes from.

And here are my ‘from-the-hip-style’ street photos on my walk to High Line Park…

High Line Park is gorgeous. It’s a different way to view the city, no stoplights, greenery everywhere and a really relaxed, happy atmosphere. My legs are dead from all the walking I did today, but I enjoyed it. Here are some images from the park.

And lastly is a quick portrait I shot of an Argentinian woman I had the pleasure of meeting today. If you follow up and check this blog, feel free to grab this image for yourself, it was nice meeting you and I hope you enjoy!

a memorial and memorial stadium

slow reaction time


© 2010 Andrew Dickinson and/or the Daily Nebraskan and/or the Lincoln Journal Star

midwestern sunset

I’m kind of backlogged right now…family thanksgiving photos will be coming tomorrow.

© 2010 Andrew Dickinson and/or the Lincoln Journal Star

heineman & co.

© 2010 Andrew Dickinson and/or the Daily Nebraskan


I’m somehow picking up wifi while sitting in my car in the Old Market in Omaha, Neb., so I decided to upload photos now. Heading off to an AP interview shortly.

© 2010 Andrew Dickinson and/or the Daily Nebraskan

anti-columbus day

© 2010 Andrew Dickinson and/or the Daily Nebraskan