Kidney for Sale
A strong and hot wind suddenly begins to blow from the desert. The flames of the oil refineries chimneys’ around the city of Ahvaz bend all in the direction of the Persian Gulf as they were the candles of a birthday cake.

The sound of a drum roll arrives from the road, a festive crowd advances in the dust raised by the wind. As in all other Iranian cities, the Shiites are celebrating Ashura. Ghaffar goes to the window, he would like to be with them, but this year he can not. He is in a hospital waiting for a kidney transplant.

In the room number five of the female transplants unit, the rhythm of the drums does not stop the cheerful chatter of the three girls hospitalized. Tandis and Chaman are showing the scar on their chest, they received a kidney and now they are recovering. Narin watches the engraved signs on their bodies, she will have one of these scars too, she has sold a kidney to Ghaffar.

Iran is the only country in the world where it is allowed to sell a kidney. The “Rewarded Gifting” act was approved by the Iranian Board of Ministers in 1997, two years later the waiting list for a kidney transplant was almost disappeared ( The state guarantees to the donor a cash reward, about 400 €, and one year of medical insurance. But the “rewarded gifting” is mainly based on private transactions.

Outside Iranians’ hospitals there are thousands of ads, «A+ 25 years, I sell my kidney», or «B neg sells kidney, 33, a bargain». Blood type, age and phone number, are the essential informations that are reported. The closer you get to 35, maximum age to donate a kidney in Iran, the more the price drops.

«I wanted to become a teacher, but I had to stop studying because of the disease. In these years I had only one purpose, to find a donor». Ghaffar has called hundreds of numbers and has found 72 possible donors with his own blood type, they were all rejected by the doctors due to incompatibilities, or because of their poor health conditions.

«One year ago I found a donor, Ashkan, he passed all compatibility tests, but he escaped with the money three days before the operation. I was desperate» says Ghaffar. «Few months later, I saw the announce of Narin. I called her, she wanted 20 million Toman, I could offer her only 13. In the end we agreed to 15 million (4.900€)».

The experience of Ghaffar is an exception in Iran. Only the wealthies can afford to buy a kidney spending an amount of money equal to two years' salary of a public employee. «We sold all the family lands to pay for the transplant», says Gholamreza, the father of Ghaffar. "We had to choose between the sustenance of the family, or to save a son, we preferred Ghaffar. But how we will live now?».

Also Narin comes from a poor family. She just got married, but her husband and her are both unemployed, so they are living in the parental home. They are part of the many young Iranians out of work because of the collapse of oil prices and the economic crisis. Narin refuses to talk about the reasons of the kidney’s sale, «it is an act of altruism» she says.

Ghaffar explains «I hosted Narin and her husband at home for a few days before the surgery, we got the chance to know each others better. In Iran it is a shame for a married couple to still live with the parents. With the sale of the kidney, Narin and her husband will be able to rent a house and settle down, at least for a while. They hope that the price of the oil will raise, so that there will be more job opportunities».

Lari Zadeh, president of Kidneys Transplant Association of Ahvaz thinks that "one kidney can be enough. The kidneys are organs used to cope with high workloads increasing their volume and capacity». But for the World Health Organization the sale of a kidney should be banned. The Istanbul Declaration affirms «transplant commercialism targets impoverished and otherwise vulnerable donors, it leads inexorably to inequity and injustice and should be prohibited».

Ana Manzano, researcher at the Centre for Health, Technologies & Social Practice at the University of Leeds, explains «it is a form of exploitation of the poors, the ones who are in need of money decide to sell a part of their body in order to survive». But the risks can be high. According to Manzano «there are no long-term studies on the health of Iranian donors, for all we know, the more the donor is poor, the higher is the possibility that he loses the functionality of the remaining kidney because of a demanding work, or inadequate health care».

The morning of the transplant Ghaffar is nervous, he does not speak. We ask to attend the intervention, but the surgeon opposes «you can not take pictures, you should not even be inside the hospital». We remain outside the door of the operating room. Narin goes first, then comes the turn of Ghaffar.

After four hours, the intervention finishes successfully. Ghaffar will remain under observation for three weeks. While Narin will be back home in three days. When he wakes up from anesthesia, Ghaffar starts to think about the future «thanks to Narin I will finally become a teacher».

One month later. A sudden gust of wind bends the candles flames in direction of the desert. A group of people is waking around a freshly dug grave. Ghaffar has died. He didn’t survive a rejection crisis. Narin’s kidney today is buried with him in the graveyard of the village of Benshoar.

By Francesco Alesi and Luca Muzi
... read more
Bekoji, the runners' town
If you look at the birth certificates of the best Marathon runners in the world, you will discover that many of them come from Bekoji, Ethiopia. This small and isolated town lies in the south of the country and is becoming famous for being the "town of runners".

In recent years, 6 runners from Bekoji won at least one Olympic gold medal for long distance running. Amongst the town's most famous runners are Kenenisa Bekele, world record holder in both the 5000 metres and 10,000 metres for men, and Tirunesh Dibaba, the women's 5000 metres world record holder.

What’s Bekoji's secret? It seems to be a combination of environmental and social factors: the 2800 metre elevation gives it thin and clean air, and there are no cars, but the main thing is the hard training and will to succed.

At 6am at least 50 teenagers gather together in the forest near Bekoji to train among the trees, roots, and mud, running up and down the trails. They do it six days a week from the age of 16.

The running fever affects the whole town. Almost everybody wears running shoes even though they are farmers, barbers or stone breakers. When the running shoes get old, there are cobblers specialized in fixing them, recycling fabric and rubber from other objects. Usually they too are runners.

In a few years, some of these kids will win gold medals, stay in luxury hotels, and sign contracts with Nike or Puma. But they'll never forget where they're from, and how they got to where they are.
... read more
Nagorno Karabakh, the limbo nation
Nagorno Karabakh is a landlocked region in the South Caucasus.

In 1991 its inhabitants decided for independence, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But, unluckily, they never received an international legitimacy. So, since then, most of the region has been ruled by the Nagorno-Karabakh republic, an unrecognized, de facto independent state established on the basis of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast.

Nevertheless this territory is still internationally recognized as part of the Azerbaijan, a country which has not exercised power over the region since then. The independence declaration led imediately to the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which ended in 1994 and resulted in 30.000 deaths and displacement of more of 700.000 people.

Luckily in 1994, the two nations have gone through a peace talks process and signed a cease-fire leaving Nagorno-Karabakh in a juridical limbo, an unusual state of an unrecognized country. Although it doesn't exist de jure, Nagorno-Karabakh is, de facto, a community of 140.000 people that are more concerned with their everyday lives than worrying about the legal recognition of a state.
... read more
Campania d'Africa
Castel Volturno is a city of 25,000 inhabitants 40km from Naples, Italy.

It is a unique town: it has the highest percentage of Africans in Europe.

According to official statistics, 10% of the inhabitants come from Africa. According to the Caritas Centre, which looks after foreigners in need, there are between 10,000 and 15,000 Africans living in the city.

The population is comprised mostly of sub-Saharians, young, male, poor and illegal who live in the dilapidated suburbs of the city.

They wake up at 4,30 am to get the first bus from Castel Volturno to the roundabouts of Naples in the hope of finding a job for 25 euros.

For the Italian Government “they are clandestine to be repatriated,” whereas best-selling author Roberto Saviano defines them “an asset for Italy.”

In 2008 the South African singer Miriam Makeba died in Castel Volturno after her last concert. “She died in Africa,” commented her relatives.
... read more
Youth of Ashura
The Day of Ashura is the most significant religious ceremonial for Shiite Muslims.

The celebration of the Ashura consists in mourning for the death of Hussain, the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, killed after an heroic fighting to save his people from the tiranny.

Hussain's martyrdom is widely interpreted by Shiite as a symbol of the fight against injustice and oppression.

Young generations of Iranians are the most passionate partecipants of the commemoration of the Hussain’s martyrdom. Hussain is not just a Prophet, regardless of the religious belief, he is an hero and an example to follow for those claiming for justice and freedom.

During the day of Ashura young Iranians become actors playing the story of Hussein. Once a year they can take the streets screaming, dancing and fighting against the tiranny. The bounderies between play and reality is blurred. Sometimes these celebrations mark the begining for remonstrations against the government.

Because of this danger, some governments have banned the Ashura. In 1930s Reza Shah forbade it in Iran. The regime of Saddam Hussein saw this as a potential threat and banned it for many years.

After more than 13 centuries, the memory of Hussain still warm up the blood of thousands of young Iranians. Celebrating the Ashura they say they are ready to die to fight for freedom and justice.
... read more
God Bless Ya
The Irish Travellers are one of the strongest Catholic communities in the world.

Irish Travellers were a nomadic family-based group trading horses and tools with farmers in rural areas of Ireland.

Since the country became more and more mechanized, they lost their economic role and travelling became less convenient. Hence they became more settled and their lifestyle began to adapt to the new condition.

Among Travelling people religion has always played a vital role and nowadays their adherence to Catholic morals is still one of the most stringent worldwide.

The way Travellers experience faith is far from being intimate and discreet, as the Christian moderation does not hinder their vitality and exuberance.

This photo-reportage is a result of a whole summer spent in Ireland moving from campsites to churches, to holy wells, to shrines.
... read more
Tinku, traditional fighting in Bolivia
A project by Francesco Alesi & Jesper Klemedsson.

At 4,000 meters of altitude, in the Bolivian Andes, life is a constant struggle. Here, descendants of the Incas still live from the fertile soil of the mountains. But it takes more than just ancient skills for to have a good harvest: according to the people of the Andes, once a year Mother Earth (Pachamama) demands the sacrifice of human blood to be fertilized.

During thousands of years indigenous people have venerated Pachamama. Therefore, every year, in the beginning of May, the quechuas gather in the Potosi region of southern Bolivia for sacred fist fights during the Tinku ceremony. Every drop of blood is seen as a sacrifice for the coming harvest. Every dead man is guarantee.

Even to this day none is legally responsible if a death happens during the fights. The death is seen as a natural event. According to some anthropologists Tinku, traditionally, was just a peaceful gathering between various local communities. It was after the Spanish colonization that Tinku was transformed into some sort of Roman circus where the indigenous population was forced to fight as entertainment for the Spanish.

The Tinku project is a collaborative work with my friend and collegue Jesper Klemedsson. Why did we shoot with mobile phones? Actually, me and Jesper were in Bolivia filming an upcoming documentary about Tinku. Among cameras, tripods, microphones, headphones and stuff, if we had a free finger, we pushed the red dot on the smartphone, just to have a memoir of what we were doing.

Watching at that photos before falling asleep in the night, we relized that with phones we were able to have a closer perspective of the story. So, we decided to take it seriously and that's how this project came out.
... read more
The new Commander
Lebanon. January 2012. The UNIFIL force celebrates the arrive of the new Commander, the Italian General Paolo Serra.

For the next two years the Gen. Serra will lead the UNIFIL force that was established after the 2006 conflict between Lebanon and Israel.

The celebrations for the new Commander start the morning with official ceremonies and finish the night with concerts and live music in the military base.

... read more
Books in trench
When I asked to the press officier that I wanted to build a photographic set to take portraits of the soldiers and ask them about books, he thought I was joking.

Actually, talking with the soldiers about The Lord of the Rings, the Coran and Horses magazines was the most remarkable experience I did during the week I spent embedded with the Italian Army in Lebanon.
... read more