Art & Culture

  • For Ethiopia’s Underemployed Youth, Life Can Center on a Leaf


    BAHIR DAR, Ethiopia — Her life revolves around a psychotropic leaf.

    Yeshmebet Asmamaw, 25, has made chewing the drug a ritual, repeated several times a day: She carefully lays papyrus grass on the floor of her home, brews coffee and burns fragrant frankincense to set the mood.

    Then she pinches some Khat leaves, plucked from a potent shrub native to this part of Africa, into a tight ball and places them in one side of her mouth.

    “I love it!” she said, bringing her fingers to her lips with a smack.

    She even chews on the job, on the Khat farm where she picks the delicate, shiny leaves off the shrubs. Emerging from a day’s work, she looked slightly wild-eyed, the amphetamine like effects of the stimulant showing on her face as the sounds of prayer echoed from an Orthodox Christian church close by.

    Ethiopians have long chewed Khat, but the practice tended to be limited to predominantly Muslim areas, where worshipers chew the leaves to help them pray for long periods, especially during the fasting times of Ramadan.

    But in recent years, officials and researchers say, Khat cultivation and consumption have spread to new populations and regions like Amhara, which is mostly Orthodox Christian, and to the countryside, where young people munch without their parents’ knowledge, speaking in code to avoid detection.

    “If you’re a chewer in these parts, you’re a dead, dead man,” said Abhi, 30, who asked that his last name not is used because his family “will no longer consider me as their son.”

    Most alarming, the Ethiopian authorities say, is the number of young people in this predominantly young nation now consuming Khat. About half of Ethiopia’s youth are thought to chew it. Officials consider the problem an epidemic in all but name.

    The country’s government, which rules the economy with a tight grip, is worried that the habit could derail its plans to transform Ethiopia into a middle-income country in less than a decade ― a national undertaking that will require an army of young, capable workers, it says.

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  • Rock-Hewn Churches Mark Old ‘New Jerusalem’ in Ethiopia


    LALIBELA, ETHIOPIA-It’s a darkness so complete, it feels like a physical thing. The guide’s bright scarf serves as my beacon until it disappears into the deepest gloom imaginable, and I start to feel a bit claustrophobic as I follow him. All of the clichés apply, including the one about (not) seeing your hand in front of your face. I’ve never known the true meaning of that other one — about the light at the end of the tunnel — until we near the end of this 30-metre one, and emerge in a church courtyard. I ask the guide, Moges Melkamu, what people call that particular passage. “Oh, we just call it hell,” he says, lightly.

    I’m in Lalibela, a small town cradled in the mountains of northern Ethiopia and home to 11 rock-hewn churches. Commissioned by King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela back in the 13th century, these places of worship had been created as a new Jerusalem for Ethiopian Orthodox pilgrims. Now recognized and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they continue to pull in people by the thousands from around the world, drawn to the biggest attraction in a country where tourism is on the rise.

    I start the day at the largest of them all, Biete Medhane Alem, or House of the Saviour of the World, descending from ground level and circumnavigating the structure before we enter. Melkamu explains the basics as we go. We pass portraits of devotion — an impossibly elderly woman with a red-crossed hat reciting prayers, a man folded in behind the pillars of the church, doing the same — and Melkamu notes that Ethiopia had been one of the first countries to adopt Christianity. Actually mentioned in the biblical Book of Acts, Ethiopia adopted Christianity as its official state religion in the fourth century.

    The churches here had been constructed at the direction of King Lalibela after the sultan Saladin captured Jerusalem in 1187. Carved from grey basalt and volcanic red scoria, “these were built by Ethiopians — with the help of the angels, of course,” Melkamu says.

    It seems wherever we go, we see the faces of angels — Ethiopian ones —with beautiful round faces flanked by wings, staring at us from the ceiling, or from frescoes on the walls.

    At Biete Maryam (House of Miriam), Melkamu pauses to kiss the doors before entering, then shows us the icons inside, which include ancient frescoes depicting the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt.

    We also see priests everywhere, their heads wrapped in turbans and a wooden staff always at the ready. They gather together and walk past reading and talking and, like everyone else, praying.

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  • Chester Bennington Commits Suicide

    The Los Angeles County coroner has confirmed the death of the star – with TMZ reporting he was found dead at a private residence in Palo Verdes Estates, Los Angeles.

    His body was discovered this morning just before 9 am.

    It is believed the singer hanged himself and was found by an employee.

    The singer is survived by his wife of twelve years, Talinda Ann Bennington (nee Bentley), and six children – Jamie, 21, Isaiah, 19, Draven, 15, Tyler Lee, 11, and Lily and Lila, 7.

    They are not thought to have been at the house when the incident took place, and Chester was alone.

    He was previously married to Samantha Marie Olit from 1996 – 2005.

    Chester, whose band Linkin Park spawned rock songs including Numb and Breaking the Habit, often focused his lyrics on personal struggle, depression, and addiction.

    The star was reportedly found in a private residence in Palo Verdes Estates in Los Angeles.

    Mike Shinoda, who also provides vocals for the band, confirmed the news on Twitter and wrote: “Shocked and heartbroken, but it’s true. An official statement will come out as soon as we have one.”

    One of the band’s latest singles, Heavy, released four months ago, focused on the topic of depression.

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  • 10 record-breaking records that have made history


    Luis Fonsi's summer hit Despacito has officially become the most-streamed song of all time - only six months after it was released.
    It has been played 4.6 billion times on streaming services.

    On YouTube, the video for the song has been viewed more than 1.8 billion times.

    It has also reached number one in 35 different countries.

    The song was originally in Spanish, but became popular in the English-speaking world when Justin Bieber heard the song in a nightclub and asked to add a verse.

    It has actually taken the record off Bieber's own song Sorry, which held the streaming title before.

    When asked why he thinks the song is so popular, 39-year-old Fonsi told BBC Music: "Obviously, it's a very catchy melody. The way the chorus starts Des-Pa-Ci-To is very easy to remember.

    "And obviously you add Justin Bieber to that, and it brings another angle to all of this. But I wish I knew exactly what the secret was, so I could apply it to all my future songs!"

    So which other songs have smashed amazing records like this track?

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  • Asmara Became UNESCO’s World Heritage Site


    Eritrea's capital, Asmara, has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list today. The announcement came during the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee that's taking place in Poland. Asmara has been described as a "Modernist City in Africa."

    The European Union is contributing to the conservation of Asmara's unique cultural and architectural heritage, in the framework of the EU program for Local Authorities.

    The EU has, in fact, signed in December 2016 a 2 year's cooperation program with the Asmara Heritage Project (AHP), part of the Department of Public Works Development of the Central Region Administration (Zoba Maekel) aiming at building the capacity for safeguarding Asmara's historic urban environment.

    The EU-funded program included training, capacity building and awareness raising components and will also support the finalization of the Urban Conservation Master Plan, which is among the key recommendations of the World Heritage Committee.

    Candidature of the city of Asmara was submitted to the World Heritage List on the 1 February 2016 and Asmara's application has finally approved today on Saturday, July 8, 2017.

    Making the respected list is hugely important for Asmara, as it can prompt tourism to the city as well provide financial means for preservation. Nine natural, 16 cultural, and four mixed sites have been nominated for examination this year.

    The committee will also inspect the conservation of 108 existing World Heritage sites as well as the 48 sites on the World Heritage in Danger List.

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  • Uganda’s Government Issues Strict Dress Code For Civil Servants

    Public servants in Uganda are facing a strict dress code after the government issued a circular warning them to “dress decently”.

    Female staff have been told that dresses or skirts that are above the knees, sleeveless blouses or any clothing made out of see-through material will not be allowed.

    Braids and extensions have also been banned.

    Men must wear long-sleeved shirts and ties and not brightly-coloured clothes.

    The guidelines, issued by the Ministry of Public Service apply to all non-uniformed civil servants. But there is a feeling that female staff are the main focus on the new rules.

    While women will be allowed to wear pant-suits, they have been warned not to wear any tight-fitting clothing or show cleavage.

    Flat, open shoes are also ruled out, except in cases where one can prove that it is for medical reasons.

    The circular is derived from Public Service Standing Orders on dress code, put in place in 2010.

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