News & Current Affairs

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… 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.

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September 13, 2008

Palin husband ordered to testify

Palin husband ordered to testify

Todd and Sarah Palin

Mrs Palin will also be interviewed as part of the probe

Todd Palin, husband of Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, has been ordered to testify to an inquiry into her alleged abuse of power.

The Alaska legislative probe began after Mrs Palin was accused of pressuring staff to fire her sister’s ex-husband as a state trooper.

Mrs Palin, the governor of Alaska, denies any improper behavior.

Twelve other witnesses will also be required to give evidence, although Mrs Palin will not receive a subpoena.

Officials say she will be interviewed as part of the investigation, however.

‘Personal feud’

The probe into the affair – referred to by some as “Troopergate” – began before Republican presidential nominee John McCain picked Mrs Palin as his running-mate.

In July, the Alaska state legislature appointed retired prosecutor Stephen Branchflower to look into allegations that Mrs Palin had removed Alaska’s Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan after he had refused her request to fire her ex-brother-in-law, Mike Wooten.

Critics said Mrs Palin was using her power as governor to pursue a personal feud.

Mr Branchflower is also investigating whether a Palin administration official, Frank Bailey, improperly accessed Mr Wooten’s personnel file.

Concerns were raised when a recording emerged of Mr Bailey discussing confidential information about Mr Wooten with a Alaska State Trooper lieutenant.

Mrs Palin insists that she fired Mr Monegan over disagreements about budget priorities, while Mr Bailey says he learned of Mr Wooten’s personal details from Todd Palin, not from Mr Wooten’s file.

September 7, 2008

Canadian PM calls snap election

Canadian PM calls snap election

Stephen Harper - file photo

Mr Harper’s minority government has needed opposition support to pass bills

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called an early election for 14 October in a bid to strengthen his minority Conservative government.

He met Governor General Michaelle Jean – the representative of Canada’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II – to request the dissolution of parliament.

The latest polls indicate the Conservatives are ahead of the opposition Liberals.

The PM, elected in 2006, has complained that parliament is deadlocked.

The vote will be Canada’s third national election in four years.

Economic issues

Mr Harper’s government has needed the support of the main opposition parties, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois, to pass legislation and adopt budgets.

The election call had been widely expected, with Mr Harper complaining in recent weeks that parliament was “dysfunctional”.

Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble
Stephen Harper

Holding the election this year breaks Mr Harper’s own fixed-date election law, something he had said was necessary to prevent prime ministers calling elections when polls indicated they were in a favorable position.

Mr Harper has made it clear he is running on economic issues and criticized the Liberals’ plan to tax greenhouse gas polluters while cutting other taxes.

“Between now and October 14, Canadians will choose a government to look out for their interests at a time of global economic trouble,” Mr Harper said in a statement.

“They will choose between direction or uncertainty; between common sense or risky experiments; between steadiness or recklessness.”

The opposition leaders are expected to make their own addresses later on Sunday.

Favourable polls

Mr Harper led the Conservatives to victory in the 2006 election, ending 12 years of Liberal government.

The party heads into the election with 127 of parliament’s 308 seats. The Liberals have 95, the Bloc Quebecois has 48 and the New Democratic Party (NDP) 30.

There are three Independent MPs, the Green Party has one seat and four are vacant.

Stephane Dion - file photo

Opposition Liberal leader Stephane Dion proposes taxing polluters

An opinion poll held last week suggested support for the Conservatives had grown over the summer.

The Environics survey suggested that 38% of Canadians would vote for the Conservatives; 28% for the Liberals; 19% for the NDP, eight for the Bloc Quebecois and seven for the Greens.

The figures put the Conservatives within striking distance of a majority government, Donna Dasko, senior vice-president of Environics Research Group, told CBC News.

The leader of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, Gilles Duceppe, said his party was best positioned to stop the Conservatives gaining a majority.

The same Environics poll indicated increased support for the Conservatives in Quebec, where separatist ardour has faded in recent years.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion is staking his command of the party on his “Green Shift” plan, which would tax polluters but reduce other taxes.

If his party does not do well on 14 October, his leadership will likely come under scrutiny at a party convention in December.

Mr Dion has described Mr Harper as Canada’s most right-wing prime minister in history.

Mr Harper supported the Iraq war while in opposition and withdrew Canada from the Kyoto Protocol that aims to cut greenhouse gases. He has also increased Canada’s troop commitment to Afghanistan.

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