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A woman on her knees at the Church of Madonna di Polsi, Calabria
A woman on her knees at the Church of Madonna di Polsi, Calabria

In the southern Italian region of Calabria, the organized crime syndicate known as the "Ndrangheta is known for its cruelty and ever more central role in the international drug trade. But in his book Rebelling Sweethearts, journalist Lirio Abbate is focused on a largely untold chapter in "Ndrangheta's story: its women.

Abbate, an award-winning chronicler of the Sicilian Mafia, describes an even more backward, feudal society in Calabria. It is a shock in modern Italy to see such conditions, where the absolute power of life and death is exercised by men over women. Abbate explicitly compares it to the Taliban.

The image of this hell-on-earth is of an old and fierce woman trapped in her black scarf that is the Calabrian version of the burqa -- the destiny of the women of the ‘Ndrangheta is to pass on the “values” to their descendants that keep the society, and the criminal organization, in control.

It is a system that imposes no less than the death penalty on women who don’t follow the rules. So, at almost 90 years-old, a certain Nonna Giuseppina isn’t disturbed at all when her own granddaughter is condemned to death because of an adulterous relationship. Abbate describes the images captured from a prison in the city of Reggio Calabria where the elderly woman confirms the sentence with the gesture of her index finger running from one side of the neck to the other, mimicking the dirty work of a knife. These are family values for the “Pesce di Rosarno” clan.

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Reading the book, we must ask how it is possible that a system like this can exist in a western country? The answers may lie in the isolation in this corner of Italy, of living in a self-sufficient society and growing up with the deceptive myth of a failing state. It’s what Sicily struggled with a half-century ago.

But, it’s not just forbidden relationships that the girls can be punished for. Simona and Maria Concetta went “missing” because of things that were forbidden. They interacted with male friends through Facebook - a forbidden sin. Husbands, brothers and fathers that only recognize one duty: the mob, “blessed” by a fundamentalist religion that finds the apotheosis in the secret mafioso assembly, consecrated in the Church of Madonna di Polsi. This General Assembly decides the fusion of the clans by arranging marriages -- exactly like noble families once did to further their economic interests. The magnificence of marriage is part of the mythology of the "Ndrangheta.

Cracks are appearing in the ‘Ndrangheta as more than one of the girls have decided to co-operate with prosecutors in order to prosecute the men who have ordered the killings of these women. Simona managed to escape near certain death, and is now living under police protection. Her lover was killed by her father. As in other fundamentalisms, the executor must be a male in the family: father, brother, cousin, husband or boyfriend.

“I tried to reason with him many times. I knew that because of the nature of the affair, my father would have killed me too,” she said.

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Economy

In Uganda, Having A "Rolex" Is About Not Going Hungry

Experts fear the higher food prices resulting from the conflict in Ukraine could jeopardize the health of many Ugandans. Take a look at this ritzy-named simple dish.

Zziwa Fred, a street vendor who runs two fast-food businesses in central Uganda, rolls a freshly prepared chapati known as a Rolex.

Nakisanze Segawa

WAKISO — Godfrey Kizito takes a break from his busy shoe repair shop every day so he can enjoy his favorite snack, a vegetable and egg omelet rolled in a freshly prepared chapati known as a Rolex. But for the past few weeks, this daily ritual has given him neither the satisfaction nor the sustenance he is used to consuming. Kizito says this much-needed staple has shrunk in size.

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Most streets and markets in Uganda have at least one vendor firing up a hot plate ready to cook the Rolex, short for rolled eggs — which usually comes with tomatoes, cabbage and onion and is priced anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 Ugandan shillings (28 to 57 cents). Street vendor Farouk Kiyaga says many of his customers share Kizito’s disappointment over the dwindling size of Uganda’s most popular street food, but Kiyaga is struggling with the rising cost of wheat and cooking oil.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has halted exports out of the two countries, which account for about 26% of wheat exports globally and about 80% of the world’s exports of sunflower oil, pushing prices to an all-time high, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations agency. Not only oil and wheat are affected. Prices of the most consumed foods worldwide, such as meat, grains and dairy products, hit their highest levels ever in March, making a nutritious meal even harder to buy for those who already struggle to feed themselves and their families. The U.N. organization warns the conflict could lead to as many as 13.1 million more people going hungry between 2022 and 2026.

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