News & Current Affairs

September 28, 2008

‘Great progress’ in US bail-out

‘Great progress’ in US bail-out

US congressional leaders say they have reached the broad outline of a rescue plan for the American financial system.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “great progress” had been made – but details remain to be agreed.

The Bush administration wants $700bn (£380bn) to be able to buy bad debt that is freezing up financial markets.

A vote could be held in the House of Representatives as early as Sunday, with negotiators keen to reassure the markets before they reopen on Monday.

The deal proposes that the government would spend the $700bn to buy up bad mortgage-related debts from US banks, borrowing the cash from the money markets by issuing more government debt.

A White House spokesman welcomed the announcement and praised the efforts of the negotiators.

“We’re pleased with the progress tonight and appreciate the bipartisan effort to stabilise our financial markets and protect our economy,” said Tony Fratto.

The outline deal gives the treasury secretary powers to oversee the two-year plan, but critics have insisted on the inclusion of greater oversight and reporting.

The tentative agreement that appears to have been reached is thought to include a measure to limit the pay for executives of companies which seek financial assistance, which was a key demand of the Democrats.

At the request of Republicans, who have strongly criticised some elements of the administration’s proposal, the accord is believed to include the setting up an insurance program for mortgage-backed securities.

Payoff restrictions

A statement from Nancy Pelosi’s office said the new agreement would see $250bn issued immediately, and another $100bn when the president wanted to spend it.

But the the final $350bn would only be released after review and approval by Congress.

There would also be measures to protect taxpayers, who would be given an ownership stake and profit-making opportunities in relation to any assets that were sold.

It also puts new restrictions on executive compensation for participating companies, including no “golden parachute” payoffs.

Earlier on Sunday it was announced that the two-year project would be supervised by a board of officials, including the Federal Reserve chairman, and scrutinised by Congress’s investigative arm and an independent inspector general.

Finally, the government could use its power as the owner of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities to help more struggling homeowners modify the terms of their home loans.

‘All night’

US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who took part in the talks, said that Congressional leaders had been “working very hard”.

“We’ve made great progress toward a deal, which will work and will be effective in the marketplace, and effective for all Americans,” he told a news conference.

But Ms Pelosi said the deal had to be committed to paper before it could be formally agreed.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Congress hoped to be able to make an announcement on the deal later on Sunday.

“We’re committing it to paper tonight and our people will work all night long,” he said.

Congressional leaders are trying to finalise the deal in time for the opening of the Asian markets on Monday morning.

September 19, 2008

Why Kenyan women crave stones

Why Kenyan women crave stones

Stones on sale in Kenya market

Nancy Akoth is four months pregnant and like many women in her state has strange cravings.

Some women eat coal, gherkins or soap but Mrs Akoth craves soft stones, known in Kenya, where she lives, as “odowa”.

“I just have this urge to eat these stones. I do very crazy things, I would even wake up at night and go looking for them,” she told.

“I consulted my doctor and all he told me is that maybe I’m lacking iron and gave me medication on iron, but I still have the urge to eat those stones.”

Luckily for Mrs Akoth, she is not alone in craving stones and they are easily found on sale in Nairobi’s sprawling Gikomba market.

It can actually cause things like kidney damage and liver damage, if you don’t take enough fluid
Alice Ndong, nutritionist

Among the fish-mongers and dealers in second-hand goods who flock to the market are traders who specialise in odowa.

Stone-seller Stephen Ndirangu unsurprisingly says women are his main customers.

“Most of them buy the stones to go and sell them to women who are pregnant,” Mr Ndirangu says.

He says he sells one 90kg sack for about $6.

‘Pleasant taste’

Although they are stones, they are too soft to break the teeth of Mrs Akoth and her fellow cravers.

Nutritionist Alice Ndong says the stones have a bland taste.

“It’s a pleasant taste. It doesn’t have a tangy flavor or a salty or a sugary flavor. It’s a bit like eating flour,” she told.

I cannot do without it
Sylvia Moi

She says that because of their abrasive nature, the stones actually clean the teeth as the stone is chewed and the finer particles pass through the mouth.

However, she warns this should not be used as an excuse to eat the stones as the habit can also have harmful consequences.

“If somebody eats those stones and they don’t take enough water, then they will actually get severe constipation‚Ķ It can actually be very dangerous,” she says.

“It can actually cause things like kidney damage and liver damage, if you don’t take enough fluid because it will form a mass that cannot be excreted.”

“When you eat these stones, it’s like eating metal. The particles – because it’s not food – are not digested as finely as fruits or vegetables,” she says.

‘Irresistible’

The phenomenon of craving non-food items like soil or soft stones is referred to as pica, a Latin word for magpie, the bird notorious for eating almost anything.

Researchers from the University of Nigeria interviewed 1,071 pregnant women attending a prenatal clinic at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi.

At least 800 of those interviewed said they ate soil, stones and other non-food items during their pregnancy.

But it is not only those who are pregnant who indulge in this habit.

Sylvia Moi still finds the soft stones irresistible, 14 years after she gave birth.

“I cannot do without it… Walking without it makes me feel bad, as if I’m lacking something [or] I’m hungry,” Mrs Moi says.

She says she would like to quit the habit but just cannot stop herself.

“When you eat it you look awkward, people think: ‘What is it that you lack in you that makes you eat that awkward stone,'” she says.

Infection

Experts say that the craving to eat odowa is largely due to a deficiency of vital minerals, like calcium, in the body.

“Unfortunately, these stones don’t offer a lot of calcium. They offer some other forms of minerals like magnesium but not much calcium,” says Mrs Ndong.

Research shows that these habits have negative side-effects on the women’s health, ranging from parasitic infestations, anaemia and intestinal complications

“The problem with these stones is sometimes they’re not hygienic. I remember up-country I’ve seen people just go somewhere, dig up and maybe people urinate in that spot,” she says.

Experts warn pregnant women and others who enjoy eating odowa to try to ignore these cravings for the sake of their health.

The researchers say that the women are better off eating a balanced diet, than remaining hooked to the myth that their changing bodies need soft stones and soil.

September 3, 2008

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Seven Egyptian women talk about their experience of sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo. It is an increasingly common problem, with a recent survey suggesting more than four out of five women have been sexually harassed, while nearly two-thirds of men admitted assaulting women.

Noha Wagih

Noha Wagih
TV announcer

“I usually don’t answer back, but this time I did”

Posy Abdou

Posy Abdou
Shop worker

“I get harassed 100 times a day “

Nora Khaled

Nora Khaled
School pupil

“I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried”

Nancy Fakhr

Nancy Fakhr
Engineer

“When colleagues asked what was wrong, I lied”

Zeinab Boulaki

Zeinab Boulaki
Auditor

“My mother says I shouldn’t answer back but I think this is wrong”

Hoda Gallal
Housewife

“People gathered around but were not sympathetic”

NOHA WAGIH

Noha Wagih

Once I was out driving with my brother when he stopped at a supermarket and I waited for him outside. Two guys got out of a car and walked towards me in an intimidating way. They started commenting on the way I look and the way I’m dressed.

I usually don’t answer back, but this time I said: ‘I’m not here to get picked up, you know.’ This was too much for one of them who started shouting that I was crazy. I replied that even if I were a prostitute, I wouldn’t give him a second glance.

This made him mad. He came right up to me, shouting that he was a policeman and he would ‘show me’. In no time three more cars pulled up, and a group of men got out and started yelling at me and my brother.

I wrote down the number of the first car saying I was going to report him. He got so angry I thought he was going to beat me, so I slapped his face and started shouting ‘Rape!’ They all ran away, and I was left alone with my brother shaking with fear.

After this experience I want to make a program for TV about sexual harassment.

POSY ABDOU

Posy Abdou

I get harassed 100 times a day. I tried everything to stop it but it doesn’t stop. I wear loose clothes, I don’t wear make up, I spend more than an hour in front of the mirror everyday thinking of ways to hide my body.

I walk home everyday. It only takes me 15 minutes, I cross the bridge. It is usually very loud and busy, but that does not stop men from approaching girls, any girl, good looking or bad looking, covered or not.

I remember so many scary harassment’s. There was this guy who followed me and suddenly grabbed my bottom in front of everyone. I screamed but he ran away and no one interfered.

Once I was shopping with my father and aunt, and this guy kept staring at me and blowing me kisses. My dad shouted at him and started hitting him. I think men are doing this because they are jobless and have no manners.

NORA KHALED

Nora Khaled

I get harassed everyday, during the five minutes I walk from my house to the main street to take the school bus.Also in the seconds I cross the street when I finish my swimming class at the sports club.

I was waiting for the school bus once when a microbus driver followed me and kept calling me very bad names.

I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried.

NANCY FAKHR

Nancy Fakhr

I don’t walk a lot in the streets, because I have a car. But I get harassed by guys driving close to me, they try to grab my attention, it could lead to accidents.

The worst harassment I remember was last winter. I didn’t have my car and I was sleeping over at my sister’s house. I got up at 0700 to catch the bus and go to work. A guy followed me and kept calling me very bad names. I was horrified and I started walking fast, even running.

When he got very close to me, I was scared he would touch me, so I picked a stone from the floor and threw it at him and ran as fast as I could until I got to the main street and took the bus.

I was shaking and trembling. When I arrived at work, I collapsed and cried for a long time. When my colleagues asked me what is wrong, I lied and said I have family problems.

ZEINAB BOULAKI

Zeinab Boulaki

I get harassed whenever I walk down the street; even during the seconds I cross the street to take my car.Yesterday, when I was parking the car in front of my house, a guy grabbed my bottom, I shouted at him, and insulted him. At least I did something about it.

My mother says I shouldn’t answer back, but I think this is wrong. This way they will think they can harass anyone and get away with it. I know that shouting at someone who harasses me verbally or physically is not enough but at least it makes me feel better than doing nothing.

HODA GALLAL

I get harassed every day, although I am always carrying my baby. I thought being a mother would make me immune to harassment, but it made it even worse.

Once I was waiting for the bus with my child and a car stopped, the guy waved his hand at me with a 20 pound note. It was unbelievable. Another time I was walking home and this guy unzipped his trousers in a car next to me.

I screamed, but he shouted back very aggressively, saying ‘Who do you think you are? Why would I even look at you?’ People in the street gathered around us and to my surprise they were not sympathetic with me. They supported him. They all defended the guy because they do the same thing.

Once I was walking with a friend and this guy suddenly grabbed her from behind. We shouted for help and he ran away. A car stopped, they asked us what had happened, had we been mugged? When we told them that we’d been sexually harassed, they drove away. Isn’t this worse than robbery?

REEM IBRAHIM

I get harassed a lot. I can’t count the number of times, especially on public transport.

There was this guy who kept following me from one bus to another. If I stood up he stood by my side and if I sat down he sat beside me. Finally I shouted at him and insulted him, he left the minibus.

I stopped wearing skirts, and stopped doing my hair at the hairdresser’s, I also stopped wearing make up, even my fiance asks me why aren’t you taking care of your looks as you used to do.

But what can I do, I try to stop it but nothing works. I used to always have a smile on my face while walking down the streets, now I am always frowning, always provoked, always feeling the threat of someone approaching me physically or verbally.

At a bus or a microbus, I always feel there is a hand trying to touch me. It happened so many times, that I keep looking at the seat behind me as if I am crazy.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.