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Amazon Gold Rush Destroying Peruvian Rain Forest

Posted by shadmia on June 12, 2011

A gold rush that accelerated with the onset of the 2008 global recession is compounding the woes of the Amazon basin, laying waste to Peruvian rain forest and spilling tons of toxic mercury into the air and water. An army of small-scale miners in the state of Madre de Dios has swelled to some 40,000.

“Extracting an ounce of gold costs from $400 to $500 and the profit is $1,000 per ounce,” notes Peru’s environment minister, Antonio Brack. In just a decade, gold has more than tripled in value.

Government controls are mostly futile.

“We found that nearly all the public officials in Puerto Maldonado were involved,” the minister said. “In 2010, the regional mining director had a mining company. His No. 2 had one. His wife had one. His sister had one (as did) the sister of the No. 2. They were all in it. And you think anyone is going to regulate anything?”

The entire article on the situation can be found here. It is worthwhile reading.

This is a tragedy just waiting to unfold. I can understand the need to make a living and support a family (most of us go through this every day) and want a better future, but at what cost to your own personal health and the environmen­t.

These workers are suffering a slow death. The environmen­t is being destroyed and the authoritie­s are at least turning a blind eye to the situation and at worst profiting from it. There was also a brief mention of possibly indigenous and uncontacte­d tribes living nearby. Are their habitats and life style also being adversely affected?

I know it is easy to sit in an comfortable chair with a computer in hand and judge people and their actions thousands of miles away but maybe if the demand (and price) for gold wasn’t so high then there would be less incentive to engage in practices detrimenta­l to human health and the environmen­t.

Just something to think about the next time we are in a jewelry store marveling at how nice that necklace, chain or ring would compliment our evening attire. We are as much to blame as anyone else.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Posted in Culture, news, Our World, Peru, world | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

6-Year-Old Albino Girl Killed for Body Parts

Posted by shadmia on November 19, 2008

RichardZihada MsemboAlbino Children

I had no idea that in the 21st century witch doctors still made magic potions – out of human body parts. I did not know that they use body parts such as arms, legs, hair, skin and genitals to concoct their potions. I did not know that albinos were considered choice candidates for making these magic potions. I also did not know that in some parts of Africa, albinos are considered less than human and that killing an albino was not even considered a capital offense in Tanzania – until very recently. I did not know that “at least 27 albinos, mostly women and children, have been killed in different parts of Tanzania over the past year“…..for their body parts. I did not know that “discrimination against albinos is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa”. I did not know that “traditionally, midwives were known to kill albino babies, declare them stillborn and bury them secretly”. These are some of the things I learned after reading the following story:

In Ruyigi province, Burundi, a 6-year-old girl, named Cizanye, was murdered in front of her family because she was an albino. A gang of armed bandits broke into the family home; they tied up the girl’s parents and shot the little girl in the head. They then cut off her head and both her arms and legs and left with the body parts. The attack took place at the family’s home in Bugongo, more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of the capital Bujumbura. Police said they suspected criminals of hunting albinos to sell their organs and limbs to witch doctors in Tanzania who use them for lucky charms.

“This little girl is the third albino victim of such barbaric crimes in our province since September. We are doing everything we can to find the killers,” Ruyigi province prosecutor Nicodeme Gahimbare said.

Albino BabyBurundi MapAlbino Woman

The recent attacks against albinos had prompted the local authorities to set up a shelter where the albinos in Ruyigi province were invited to gather. In neighboring Tanzania, at least 27 albinos, mostly women and children, have been killed in different parts of the country over the past year alone.

In Burundi, officials said they made two arrests related to the killings of albinos in that country.

“The two who were arrested confessed to the crime and said they got 1 million Burundian francs ($840) from a Tanzanian seeking albino body parts,” Gahimbare told Reuters.

Police also arrested two elderly men. Gahimbare said they confessed to being in touch with a Tanzanian who had promised them three million francs for albino hair.

In the meantime, officials in eastern Burundi said that 24 albinos have fled their villages and gone into towns for fear of slaughter. Kazungu Kassim, head of Burundi’s albino association, appealed to the government to boost their security.

“Our biggest fear right now is the fear of living. If you leave work at night as an albino, you are unsure of reaching home safely. When you sleep, you are unsure of waking up in one piece,” Zihada Msembo, secretary general of the Tanzania Albino Society, told Reuters in an interview.

“We marched, the president (Jakaya Kikwete) received us and we said ‘now we can have some peace’ and slept soundly that night. Next morning, we hear yet another albino was killed that very night.”

Msembo said many albino children were dropping out of school for fear of being kidnapped. Many albinos have sought refuge in urban centers, which are relatively safer. She said “They are cutting us up like chickens” while pointing to a picture on a wall in her cramped office of a limbless body with the skin on its face peeled off from an incident in 2007.

“We are human beings like others, we have a right to live,” Msemgo said, adding they had been turned into a commodity.

“Our country has earned a reputation that it is doing business with albino body parts, so people in other countries can kill and cross into Tanzania where there is a ready market.”

Olalekan Ajia, a communication specialist for UNICEF in Burundi, said the Government of Tanzania has started to take some action:

“Now the Government of Tanzania quickly took action and made it a capital crime for anybody to kill albinos,” he said. “And the witch doctors and so on moved on to Burundi, where there’s a lot of poverty, and got some people who are completely dislocated mentally and psychologically to begin to hunt for albinos.”

“……we are working with [the] Government to raise awareness around the country to explode the myth that using body parts or blood can make anybody rich.” said Ajia.

He also said Burundian authorities have responded swiftly to the recent wave of attacks, passing laws similar to those in Tanzania and offering a safe house in at least one province for albino children. He noted that many albinos remain extremely fearful about their safety and are asking the Government to do more to protect them.

In another incident police caught a man in Tanzania trying sell his albino wife for $3,000. He allegedly tried to make the sale to two businessmen from Congo, police say. His wife did not know she was about to be sold. Police arrested the husband, a fisherman, after receiving a tip. The businessmen, though, escaped and are thought to have returned to their native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tanzania has asked the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to help find them.

Councilor Joseph Manyara told a rally organized by the Tanzania Albino Society (TAS): “It is utterly stupid for some people to believe that albinos have magic powers and their parts can make them rich.”

“People should be provided with education to understand that it is only through hard working that they can prosper in life and not through selling albinos’ body parts.”

Albinism is a congenital lack of the melanin pigment in the skin, eyes and hair which protects from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. For further details click here. Albinos are vulnerable to medical complications and social discrimination in Africa. Many African societies shun albinos and treat them as if they bring misfortune or accuse them of being involved in witchcraft. Below is a special report on the plight of albinos in Tanzania:

For more on albinos in Tanzania click here


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Will You Help Me Die??

Posted by shadmia on February 18, 2008

Suicide is taboo in most western societies. People are expected to hold on to life – no matter the consequences. But is there any benefit to being alive and suffering constantly, with no hope of ever leading a “normal life” again. Is there a point at which it is preferable to leave this world with dignity and grace?

These are questions that have been asked for an eternity. Recently, the medical profession has become more deeply involved in this dilemma. Should a physician, who is trained to preserve life, be either actively or passively aiding a terminally ill patient to terminate his/her own life? Should a family member be given the authority to decide if someone should live or die? Can someone make a decision on their own that it is time to go and expect medical assistance?

Then there is the question of the law. Countries have different laws regarding assisted suicide. In some countries a person could be charged with murder for assisting in a suicide(no….I don’t think the death penalty would be applied…but that would be ironic!). For a look at how some countries treat this matter, check out this link.

The following are real-life stories from people who have struggled with this problem, taken from a New York Times article.

Gloria C. Phares, a 93-year-old retired teacher in Missouri, wrote:

“I was healthy until 90, and then Boom! Atrial fibrillation; deaf, can’t enjoy music or hear a voice unless 10 inches from my ear; fell, fractured my thigh and am now a cripple; had a slight stroke the day after my beloved husband died after 61 years of marriage.

“I’ve lived a happy life, but from here on out it’s all downhill. Is there any point in my living any longer? I’m not living — just existing. I very much want to die, but our society doesn’t let me. Oh for a pill to ease myself out and end my pain, pain, pain.”

Betty Rollin’s mother, Ida, who, at 75, also had advanced ovarian cancer.

As Ms. Rollin told it in “Last Wish” (Linden, 1985), Ida was a loving, funny, delightful human being. She was also a no-nonsense, take-charge person. So when Ida’s life had become a series of debilitating medical crises — “Every day is bad,” she said — she asked her daughter to help her end it.

“Mother,” Ms. Rollin responded, “is that really what you want — to die?”

“Of course I want to die,” Ida said. “Next to the happiness of my children, I want to die more than anything in the world.”

And so Ms. Rollin embarked on a quest to find out how her mother’s wish might be granted. It took courage and perseverance. But most of all, it took love, enormous love and respect for a woman who knew what she wanted “more than anything in the world.” With the right prescription finally amassed, Ida died peacefully by her own hand.

Then there is the example of Dr. Timothy E. Quill of the University of Rochester School of Medicine says he believes that there is an occasional need for an assisted death. As he wrote in May 2004 in The New England Journal of Medicine:

“I recently helped my father to die. He was an engineer, independent, always on the go and in charge. He began to deteriorate rapidly from an ill-defined dementing illness, and his confusion and intermittent agitation did not respond to the standard treatments that were tried. He had made his wishes clear about avoiding any prolongation of his dying, but now he had lost the capacity to make decisions for himself.

“He was unable to sleep or relax at night, despite trials of neuroleptics, antidepressants, and antianxiety agents. How were we to honor his wishes and values and help him to find dignity and peace in the last phase of his life?

“We elected to try low-dose Phenobarbital. He awakened periodically to exchange a few words, but he almost completely stopped eating and drinking. He died peacefully five days later.”

The doctor continues: “I for one have made my wishes clear to my family. When the tortures of a continued existence with no hope of recovery outweigh the benefits of maintaining that existence, I want out. And I hope that those who love me will find a way to make that happen.”

When someone expresses a clear and unambiguous desire to end their life, is that not their right? Or does society have a vested interest in preserving that life at all costs, even against the will of the person most affected by this decision?

Just recently there was a halt of executions of condemned prisoners on death row in the U.S. The reason – the lethal injection cocktail they are given may cause the condemned to experience substantial pain before dying and this constituted “cruel and unusual” punishment. On the other hand, terminally ill patients who are undoubtedly in great pain have to endure what can only be described as “cruel and unusual” punishment.

It also occurred to me that maybe it is the living that don’t want to let a loved one go. It is like having a party for a one-year-old baby. Who is the party for? the baby who surely can’t appreciate why all these people are here making such a fuss. Or is it for the adults who need to mark the baby’s first birthday? Personally I believe the party is for the adults to gather and celebrate. So maybe it is out of selfishness that people want a dying loved one to live/suffer for as long as possible.

There are of course many arguments in support of and in opposition to assisted suicide. These can be broken down into 4 main categories:

  1. Ethical and Moral
  2. Legal
  3. Medical
  4. Safeguards

Arguments for assisted suicide and Arguments against assisted suicide

Nevertheless, it is my belief that as long as a person is sane and has been given the opportunity to explore alternatives, then if they desire to end their life they should be allowed to do so, with medically approved means so as to minimize discomfort.

 

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Posted in Assisted Suicide, Culture, Health, Health Care, Medicine, news, Our World, Suicide, Terminal Illness, world | 2 Comments »

Female Genital Mutilation

Posted by shadmia on February 12, 2008

fgm-model.jpgfgm-procedure.jpgstop-fgm.jpgfemale-genital-mutilation.jpg

Amnesty International estimates that over 130 million women worldwide have been affected by some form of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) with over 2 million procedures being performed every year. But what exactly is FGM, why is it practiced and why is there so much controversy about it?

According to Wikipedia:

Female genital cutting (FGC), also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision, refers to “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons.”

Infgm_map.gif other words it is the disfigurement of a woman’s private parts for non-medical reasons. It is practiced in many parts of the world but primarily in Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia. The traditional cultural practice of FGM predates both Islam and Christianity. A Greek papyrus from 163 B.C. mentions girls in Egypt undergoing circumcision and it is widely accepted to have originated in Egypt and the Nile valley at the time of the Pharaohs.

The procedure is now practiced among Muslims, Christians, and Animists. Some African societies consider FGM part of maintaining cleanliness as it removes secreting parts of the genitalia. However, just the opposite is true. Vaginal secretions play a critical part in maintaining female health.

There are 4 categories of FGM: Type I, II, III and IV each of which will be described more fully later. Organizations like the WHO have been campaigning for decades to have this procedure stopped. Nevertheless, because of cultural and religious practices it is still popular in many societies.

There have been disagreements about the actual name of the procedure.

  • Female Circumcision “implies a fallacious analogy to non-mutilating male circumcision”.
  • Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) “may imply excessive judgment by outsiders as well as insensitivity toward individuals who have undergone some form of genital excision.” Parents may resent the suggestion that they are “mutilating” their daughters.
  • Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is deemed to be more politically correct because “local languages generally use the less judgmental “cutting” to describe the practice.” Also, so as to avoid alienating communities and demonizing certain cultural and religious practices, “cutting” has been gaining in popularity.

The following video describes FGM as practiced in the African country of Sierra Leone.

 

As mentioned before there are four categories of FGM: Type I, II, III and IV. The diagrams below will help in identifying the parts affected by each of the categories.

clitoris_outer_anatomy.gif humanvulva.jpgfgm.jpg

TYPE I:

Sunna circumcision in which the prepuce (the clitoral covering) is removed, along with part or all of the clitoris. This is called Clitoridectomy, Sunna, meaning removal of the clitoris in the tradition of the Prophet Mohammed. It is called “Sunna Kashfa” (Open Sunna) in Sudan. This is found most commonly in West African countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal.

TYPE II:

Excision: The entire clitoris and prepuce are removed, along with all or part of the labia minora. This is called “Sunna Magatia” (Closed Sunna) in Sudan. It is most commonly found in Burkina Faso and Sudan.

TYPE III:

Infibulation(a.k.a. Pharaonic circumcision): This involves removal of the clitoris and prepuce, followed by sewing up of the vulva. A small opening is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to pass. A second operation is done later in life to reverse some of the damage.

In some cultures, the woman is cut open by her husband on their wedding night with a double edged dagger. She may be sewn up again if her husband leaves on a long trip. During childbirth, the enlargement is too small to allow vaginal delivery, and so the infibulation must be opened completely and restored after delivery.

A five-year study of 300 women and 100 men in Sudan found that “sexual desire, pleasure, and orgasm are experienced by the majority of women who have been subjected to this extreme sexual mutilation, in spite of their being culturally bound to hide these experiences.” Many infibulated women will contend that the pleasure their partners receive due to this procedure is a definitive part of a successful marriage and enjoyable sex life.This is often referred to as Pharaonic or Sudanese circumcision. It is the most extreme form of FGC, and accounts for about 15% of all FGC procedures. It is most commonly practiced in Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mali, Somalia and Sudan.

TYPE IV:

There are also various other practices, which may or may not involve any tissue removal at all, including stretching of the clitoris and/or labia, burning of the clitoris and adjacent tissues by cauterization, scraping of the vaginal orifice, cutting the vagina, placing corrosive substances or herbs in the vaginal in order to tighten it. Type IV is found primarily among isolated ethnic groups as well as in combination with other types.

Health Risks:

A recent study by the WHO found that women who have undergone FGM were more likely to have difficulties during childbirth and that the babies themselves were more likely to die. The study involved 28,393 women at 28 obstetric centers in six countries, where FGM is common – Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. The centers varied from relatively isolated rural hospitals to teaching hospitals in capital cities. They were chosen to provide appropriate diversity of types of FGM.

Serious complications during childbirth include the need to have a cesarean section, dangerously heavy bleeding after the birth of the baby and prolonged hospitalization following the birth. The study showed that the degree of complications increased according to the extent and severity of the FGM.

In the case of cesarean section, women who have been subjected to the most serious form of FGM (“Type III“) will have on average 30 per cent more caesarean sections compared with those who have not had any FGM. Similarly there is a 70 per cent increase in numbers of women who suffer from postpartum haemorrhage in those with Type III compared to those women without FGM.

The study also found that FGM put the women’s babies in substantial danger during childbirth. Researchers found there was an increased need to resuscitate babies whose mother had had FGM (66% higher in women with FGM Type III). The death rate among babies during and immediately after birth is also much higher for those born to mothers with FGM: 15% higher in those with FGM Type I, 32% higher in those with FGM Type II, and 55% higher in those with FGM Type III. It is estimated that an additional 10 to 20 babies die per 1000 deliveries as a result of the practice.

“This research was carried out in hospitals where the obstetric staff are used to dealing with women who have undergone FGM. The consequences for the countless women and babies who deliver at home without the help of experienced staff are likely to be even worse,” added WHO’s Dr Paul Van Look, Director of the Special Programme for Human Reproduction Research (HRP) which organized the study.

Cultural and Societal Factors:

Given the brutality of the procedure and the permanency of the disfigurement to a woman’s body; the obvious question is WHY?? WHY is this procedure even permitted and WHY is it still prevalent in many countries?

The World Health Organization(WHO) and other similar international organizations have been for decades waging a battle to have the practice of FGM stopped. There are however significant cultural and societal obstacles that promote and perpetuate FGM. These include:

  • Psycho-sexual reasons:
  • Reduction or elimination of the sensitive tissue of the outer genitalia, particularly the clitoris, in order to attenuate sexual desire in the female, maintain chastity and virginity before marriage and fidelity during marriage, and increase male sexual pleasure;

  • Sociological reasons:
  • Identification with the cultural heritage, initiation of girls into womanhood, social integration and the maintenance of social cohesion;

  • Hygiene and Aesthetic reasons:
  • The external female genitalia are considered dirty and unsightly and are to be removed to promote hygiene and provide aesthetic appeal;

  • Religious reasons:
  • Some Muslim communities, however, practice FGM in the belief that it is demanded by the Islamic faith. The practice, however, predates Islam.

The justification for the operation appears to be largely grounded in a desire to terminate or reduce feelings of sexual arousal in women so that they will be much less likely to engage in pre-marital intercourse or adultery. The clitoris holds a massive number of nerve endings, and generates feelings of sexual arousal when stimulated.

Parents in those cultures where FGM is common often feel that it is the only way to guarantee that their girl children will remain “pure” until marriage. This belief is so strong that it can overcome the dangers to the girls: some do not survive the blood loss during the operation; others die from infection; most suffer life-long complications.

Uncircumcised women in countries where FGM is normally performed have difficulty finding a marriage partner. Men typically prefer a circumcised wife because they are considered more likely to be faithful.

FGM in AFRICA:

africa.gif

There are many countries in Africa that practice FGM, some of which continue the practice even though there are laws on the books against it. Although precise figures are hard to come by, the following indicates some of the countries where FGM is prevalent:

Somalia (98%) Djibouti (98%) Eritrea (95%) Mali (94%) Sierra Leone (90%) Sudan (90%) Egypt (85-95%) Ethiopia (70-90%) Guinea (65-90%) Nigeria (60-90%) Gambia (60-90%) Chad (60%) Kenya (50%) Liberia (50%)

In 14 African countries at least half the female population practice FGM. In most of these countries where some form of legislation exists against FGM, it is poorly prosecuted, if at all. See Basic Country FGM Facts for a country by country breakdown.

STORIES:

The following stories come from 4 Kenyan girls affected, one way or another, by FGM.

Grace’s Story

Grace starts by saying that FGM is very painful. She was only 12 years old when she was taken from her grandmother’s house at 5 am. They took her to the river she recalls how cold the water was, in order to numb her body. She was taken with other girls of her age. She went first; she was naked and had to sit on a special stone. A very strong woman covered her eyes and mouth. “If you scream, you bring omen in your family.”

The knife came down and it was painful, it wasn’t too sharp and cut everything off. The pain was so bad it went into her head. She was in the house for over a month and desperately ill when they took her to the hospital, looking for medication. Grace felt how inhumane it is, so she will never do it against her daughters’ wishes. God blessed her with 3 girls and she has kept her promise. Her daughters are adults now, almost married and performing well at school.

When the wound is healed, Grace continues, there is a scar that isn’t flexible. Therefore it is dangerous to give birth at home. Even the delivery in hospital is extremely painful. “For those of you that think about circumcision for yourself or daughters; DON’T DO IT!” she said.

Ester’s Story

Esther begins, “We are conquerors. We were given information and insight into FGM but it was difficult to resist the rite. We were seen as sources of friction in the community, we had a big problem with our grandmother who talked about it for years. I could resist because I was educated.”

Esther couldn’t stay with circumcised girls but persevered even after the other girls shut her out. Circumcised girls were brought gifts and good clothing but she wasn’t given anything. One day, she went to her cousin to talk about FGM.

“My grandmother came for my cousin forcefully but she resisted with the help of my parents. The community came as the girl screamed and said we brought shame to the community. It created conflict between family members as the cousin stayed with me. People said we will become prostitutes and smell, but that didn’t shake us. Now we say we are conquerors. Join your hands together and say no to FGM!!”

Zipporah’s Story

“I was brought up in a Christian family and I knew that one day I would be circumcised. When my time came my mum said. ‘Read from the Bible. Genesis 17 where Abraham was circumcised.’ In the old days only boys were circumcised. The Bible doesn’t say that girls should be circumcised. Mum said it was painful when she give birth to me. At that time I was so young I didn’t even know where babies came from. So we were left out while all the other girls were circumcised. This meant that I didn’t have any gifts and was teased at school and on the field. I couldn’t even speak to the teacher about it, but mum did. As a result the girls who teased me were caned. Since then they started using my proper name and never teased again.

Zipporah goes on seminars into communities to inform parents in the fight against FGM.

Nurse Mary’s Story

“Very young girls came to the hospital in the early hours. I put them in a small bed, washed my hands and put gloves on. I would disinfect and anaesthetize the vagina before cutting off the clitoris with a knife and scissors. Then I put disinfectant on the wound to prevent infections. Today we have come to say no to FGM because there are so many complications afterwards, for example, urine tube infections, HIV/Aids, hepatitis, and tetanus.

“Circumcised women do not enjoy sex with their husband, leading to broken families. The men go to the cities to look for women who aren’t circumcised, let’s put our hands together to fight against FGM.”

The following video is an interview with super model Waris Dirie who, herself, is a victim of FGM. She has written a book about her experience and is an outspoken advocate against the procedure.

Changing Attitudes:

Attitudes towards FGM are slowly changing. Campaigners have tried for decades to bring an end to FGM. But their tactics of providing alternative employment to the circumcisers, introducing alternative rites of passage for girls, or demanding legislation to outlaw the practice have all failed to make a dent: an estimated 2 million girls in about 26 African countries are circumcised every year. There is however a movement started in Senegal that is gradually spreading and making a difference:

Back in 1997, 13 Senegalese villages publicly declared that they would no longer permit female circumcision, or female genital mutilation. In the eight years since, the number has grown to 1,527, representing 30 percent of Senegalese communities where FGM has been practiced. Dozens more villages are preparing to make similar declarations.

The change in Senegal is being credited to a slow but steady program of human rights education that allows villagers to make up their own minds about whether to abandon female circumcision. Spearheaded by a local rights agency called Tostan, the program’s success is proving so eye-catching that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is endorsing it as a model.

“The Tostan approach is working because it’s a holistic approach, and it works with communities,” says Lalla Toure, UNICEF’s regional adviser for women’s health. “The starting point is not female genital mutilation; it’s about rights, it’s about health, it’s about development. We think that’s the best approach.”

The program is being replicated with some success in Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Mali, and is currently being considered for one of the strongholds of FGM, Somalia, where nearly 100 percent of girls are circumcised. It’s this same power of social conformity that is helping the campaign to end FGM in Senegal. As more villages publicly announce that they are abandoning the practice, Tostan says others begin realizing it may no longer be a marriage requirement, momentum builds, and the number of villages following suit snowballs.

“People are realizing that the social convention is changing,” says Molly Melching, the Texas-born director of Tostan who has lived in Senegal for more than two decades.

The birthplace of the Tostan approach, Ker Simbara, Senegal, eventually declared in 1999 that its citizens would no longer practice female circumcision. Ramata Sow, who staffs the local clinic and nursery illustrates the transformation. She circumcised her eldest daughter, but her two youngest, Sadio, 13, and Nabou, 7, and her granddaughter Duma, 2, are not circumcised.

“I will never do it again,” she declares. “Things have changed.”

 

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Posted in Africa, Culture, Female Genital Mutilation, FGC, FGM, Health, news, Our World, Waris Dirie, Women, world | 1 Comment »

Last Full-Blooded Native Eyak Dies

Posted by shadmia on January 25, 2008

chief-marie-smith-jones.jpg

“When a language dies, a whole world dies. It takes millennia to develop, and is an artifact that contains within it a whole culture. This is a tragedy.” said Steven Levinson, of the Max Planck institute for psycholinguists in the Netherlands.

Chief Marie Smith Jones, 89, the last full-blooded member of Alaska’s Eyak Indians has died. She was not only the last of her tribe but also the last fluent speaker of the Eyak language. Born Udach’ Kuqax*a’a’ch, which means “a sound that calls people from afar”, on May 14, 1918 in Cordova, Alaska, Chief Marie Smith Jones grew up on Eyak Lake, where her family had a homestead. She died Jan. 21, 2008 at her home in Anchorage.

Udach’ Kuqax*a’a’ch had a passion. She wanted to preserve the Eyak language. As the last fluent speaker of Eyak she collaborated with Michael Krauss, a linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her goal was to create a written record of the language that future generations could learn from and maybe even resurrect. She helped Krauss compile an Eyak dictionary and grammar. Along with her sister and a cousin she told Krauss stories, Eyak tales, that were made into a book.

“With her death, the Eyak language becomes extinct,” Krauss said. In all, he said, nearly 20 native Alaskan languages are at risk of the same fate. He called them “the intellectual heritage of this part of the world. It is unique to us and if we lose them, we lose what is unique to Alaska.”

According to her daughter, Bernice Galloway, her mother was a traditional Indian in many ways. She was the youngest of the children and waited until her last older sister, Sophie, died in 1992 before taking on the responsibility that comes with being the oldest child. It was at that time that Jones pursued her interest in preserving the Eyak language and the environment, Galloway said.

To the best of our knowledge she was the last full-blooded Eyak alive,” Galloway said. She was a woman who faced incredible adversity in her life and overcame it, she was about as tenacious as you can get.”

Many of her siblings died young when smallpox and influenza tore through the Eyaks, her daughter said. In 1948, she married William F. Smith, a white Oregon fisherman who met Jones while working his way up the coastline. The couple had nine children, seven of whom are still alive. None of them learned Eyak because they grew up at a time when it was considered wrong to speak anything but English.

Wary of the press, Mrs Smith-Jones nevertheless gained a global reputation for activism. She fought against logging on the Eyaks’ ancestral lands – which run 300 miles along the Gulf of Alaska – oversaw the repatriation of Eyak bones, and twice addressed the United Nations on the subject of peace and the preservation of indigenous languages.

According to Michael Krauss, “she was very much alone as the last speaker of Eyak for the last 15 years. She understood as only someone in her unique position could, what it meant to be the last of her kind.”

“It’s the first, but probably not the last, at the rate things are going, of the Alaska Native languages to go extinct. She understood what was at stake and its significance, and bore that tragic mantle with grace and dignity.”

 

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Posted in Alaska, Culture, Eyak, Language, Marie Smith Jones, Michael Krauss, Native Americans, news, Our World, William F. Smith | Leave a Comment »

Monkey Meat – A Religious Rite?

Posted by shadmia on November 25, 2007

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Mamie Manneh, 39, is in a lot of trouble. The Liberian-born New York City resident is in federal court fighting charges that accuse her of the illegal importation of bushmeat from Africa. The case dates to early 2006, when federal inspectors at JFK Airport examined a shipment of 12 cardboard boxes from Guinea. They were addressed to Manneh and, according to a flight manifest, contained African dresses and smoked fish with a value of $780. While inspecting the shipment the inspectors came upon some interesting items which had not been declared.

Stashed underneath the smoked fish, the inspectors found what West Africans refer to as bushmeat: “skulls, limbs and torsos of non-human primate species” including green monkeys and hamadryas baboons, plus the hoof and leg of a small antelope, according to court papers. The meat had been smoked.

Shortly afterwards Mamie received a visit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents. They showed up at her house and she explained to them that she ran a smoked fish importing business. She denied knowing anything about bushmeat from Africa and said she had not eaten any since being in the United States. But after she consented to a search, the agents came across a tiny, hairy arm hidden in her garage. “Monkey,” she explained, claiming the arm was sent to her out of the blue “as a gift from God in heaven.”

Federal prosecutors hit Manneh with smuggling charges that accused her of violating import procedures. Although the importation of bushmeat is not specifically banned, Manneh is accused of falsely labeling her delivery and failing to obtain proper permits, charges that could bring a maximum prison sentence of five years. They suggested she was a menace to man and beast alike. The complaint cited evidence that the illegal importation of bushmeat encourages the slaughter of protected wild animals.

More ominously, the complaint warned of “the potential health risks to humans linking bushmeat to diseases like Lassa fever, Ebola, HIV, SARS and monkeypox.”

The case has attracted attention from an array of interested parties. Wildlife conservationists see trade in bushmeat as a grave threat to dwindling species; epidemiologists view it as a dangerous vector of disease. Many African immigrants, who eat bushmeat cubed and cooked in a stew of onions, garlic, tomatoes and chili pepper, see it as a referendum on a cultural practice.

The case took on a new dimension in February, when Ms. Manneh’s lawyer, Jan Rostal of Federal Defenders of New York, filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the meat provides “spiritual sustenance” similar to the bitter herbs served at a Passover Seder.

“Unfortunately for the government,” she wrote, the bushmeat case “represents the sort of clash of cultural and religious values inherent in the ‘melting pot’ that is America.”

Manneh testified last year that before arriving in the United States more than 25 years ago, monkey meat was critical to her religious upbringing. At age 7, “I was baptized and they used that for the baptizing ceremony,” she told a judge. Baptisms, Easter, Christmas, weddings—all are occasions for eating monkey, Manneh’s supporters said in a sworn statement filed with the court.Manneh has managed to recruit some notable allies. Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy picked up the case in April, offering two lawyers to assist Ms. Rostal, who works out of the public federal defenders office. Manneh’s attorneys plan on calling the Harvard professor, Mr. Olupona, to testify to the religious significance of eating bushmeat, according to court papers. Manneh’s church also submitted an affidavit explaining:

“This is something our forefathers did, it is something we learned as children, and it is a part of our treasured relationship with God as African Christians.”

African expatriates like Edward Lama Wonkeryor, a lecturer at Temple University, have long turned to bushmeat as a home comfort: During his earliest trips from Liberia to this country, in the 1970s, his mother would wrap parcels of bushmeat — monkey, bush hog or lion, smoked so it would keep — and slip them into his suitcase. He would save them for events like weddings and christenings, or when he wanted to feel smarter.

“If I were going to take the Graduate Record Examination or the Law School Admissions Test, definitely I would” eat bushmeat beforehand, said Dr. Wonkeryor, who wrote a letter in Ms. Manneh’s defense. “I am really surprised that they are making a big issue out of this.”

In the meantime Mamie Manneh is sitting in prison over something complete unrelated to this case: For assaulting a woman outside a Staten Island movie theater. Manneh drove her car towards her husband and a woman she suspected was her husband’s girlfriend; the husband got out of the way, but Manneh managed to hit the woman.

 

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Posted in Bushmeat, courts, Culture, Liberia, Mamie Manneh, Monkey Meat, news, odd, Our World, Religion, Weird, world | Leave a Comment »

Bullies Confronted by Pink Power

Posted by shadmia on September 15, 2007

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On the first day of school, David Shepherd and Travis Price, two seniors at Central Kings Rural High School witnessed a 9th grader getting bullied by a group of students for wearing a pink polo-style shirt. The next day the same bullies threatened to beat up the youth. On the third day of school, at the urging of David and Travis, the student body went to bat for the new kid.

“I bought 50 pink T-shirts,” said Grade 12 student David Shepherd. “We’re making a statement.”

He was joined by classmates Travis Price, Chris Spencer, Nick Sullivan and John Kenneally.

“We went to the store before it even opened this morning to get more,” Price said. “The girls let us in early and were very nice.”

Shepherd said, once the staff at the Cambridge Discount Centre heard what they were up to, “clothes were flying. They were digging to help us find pink shirts.”

The boys took the pink shirts to school and set up in the lobby, handing them out to other students and according to Shepherd “people would just grab them”. They also brought a pink basketball to school as well as pink material for headbands and arm bands. David and Travis figure about half the school’s 830 students wore pink, even the student who was bullied had one on.

“It’s our last year and we want to make a difference. At a young age, you don’t know the difference between playful teasing and bullying. Doing it over the colour pink is just so stupid.”

Central Kings principal Stephen Pearl said the students approached him with their idea for a pink wave of support, and he gave them some guidelines and the go-ahead. “It doesn’t surprise me at all they’d want to do this – we have some great kids.”

The only ones not happy about the show of support were, of course, the bullies. David said one of the bullies angrily asked him whether he knew pink on a male was a symbol of homosexuality. He told the bully that didn’t matter to him and shouldn’t to anyone. Travis said the bullies “keep giving us dirty looks, but we know we have the support of the whole student body. “Kids don’t need this in their lives, worrying about what to wear to school. That should be the last thing on their minds.”

Travis said that growing up, he was often picked on for wearing store-brand clothes instead of designer duds. The two friends said they didn’t take the action looking for publicity, but rather to show leadership in combating what they say is frequent bullying in schools.

As far as disciplining those behind the bullying, Pearl said the incident is under investigation. “We know who all the people are, and it will be dealt with with appropriate corrective behaviour.” While the lead bully didn’t show up for school that day, Pearl said he’ll get the message from his peers his actions aren’t acceptable at Central Kings. “Student-driven attention goes a lot further, and he’ll hear about what happened today.”

 

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Posted in Bullies, Colors, Culture, David Shepherd, news, odd, Our World, Schools, Teens, Travis Price | 8 Comments »

Pink for Girls, Blue for Boys – Why??

Posted by shadmia on August 21, 2007

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Have you ever wondered why girls prefer the color pink and boys the color blue? Is it because we have been conditioned to think that way since infancy or is there a genetic predisposition to color preference? Does culture or race have anything to do with it? A group of British researchers took up this question and claim to have come up with a definitive answer.

“Although we expected to find sex differences, we were surprised at how robust they were, given the simplicity of our test,” said visual neuroscientist Anya Hurlbert of Newcastle University at Newcastle upon Tyne. Along with psychologist Yazhu Ling, Professor Hurlbert asked volunteers to select, as quickly as possible, their preferred colour from each of a series of paired, coloured rectangles. They reported in the journal Current Biology (Aug. 21, 2007 issue) that the most popular colour by far was blue.

IT’S official. Blue is the most popular colour and women really do prefer pink, and reddish shades of blue like lilac and purple. And the preference isn’t just a result of social stereotypes, pushing pink on girls and blue on boys. It’s innate and occurs across cultures, claim British researchers who studied the colour preferences of 208 young adults: 171 Britons and 37 mainland Chinese.

The finding was so strong that observers could pick the sex of people based upon their colour preferences alone.

It is thought the difference has its roots in evolution and the activities of our hunter-gatherer forebears.

While men developed a preference for the clear blue skies that signalled good weather for hunting, women honed their ability to pick out the reds and pink while foraging for ripe fruits and berries. Professor Hulbert, of Newcastle’s school of psychology, said: “The explanation might date back to humans’ hunter-gatherer days, when women were the primary gatherers and would have benefited from the ability to home in on ripe, red fruits.”

However not everyone agrees with this characterization. As a matter of fact the opposite was true (blue for girls and pink for boys) when gender specific color dressing became popular at the beginning of the 20th century.

“At one point pink was considered more of a boy’s color, (as a watered-down red, which is a fierce color) and blue was more for girls. The associate of pink with bold, dramatic red clearly affected its use for boys. An American newspaper in 1914 advised mothers, “If you like the color note on the little one’s garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.” [The Sunday Sentinal, March 29, 1914.]

“There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” [Ladies Home Journal, June, 1918]

“The preferred color to dress young boys in was pink! Blue was reserved for girls as it was considered the paler, more dainty of the two colors, and pink was thought to be the stronger (akin to red). It was not until WWII that the colors were reversed and pink was used for girls and blue for boys…” – Quote from Dress Maker Magazine

According to Jo B. Paoletti and Carol Kregloh: “The current pink for girls and blue for boys wasn’t uniform until the 1950’s.

On the other hand, the idea of associating blue with male babies may stem back to ancient times when having a boy was good luck. Blue, the color of the sky where gods and fates lived, held powers to ward off evil, so baby boys where dressed in blue. In Greece a blue eye is still thought to have powers to ward off evil. The idea of pink for girls might come from the European legend that baby girls were born inside delicate pink roses.

Another theory states that the sexual origins can be found in ancient China. At a time when certain dyes were quite rare, pink dye was readily available and therefore inexpensive. Since blues were rare and expensive, it was therefore considered to be more worthwhile to dress your son in blue, because when he married the family would receive a dowry.

OK………..I admit that I really don’t know what to believe. Does anyone know anyone who was old enough to remember the early days of the 20th century, who might shed some light on this? Or maybe we should just accept the fact that:

Blue is for boys and Pink is for girls!!

 

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Posted in Colors, Culture, Evolution, Fashion, Humans, news, Our World, Psychology, Science, world | 3 Comments »