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TOPIC: traditions


The Last Reindeer Herder: One Woman’s Fight To Save A Mongolian Tradition

Her museum houses relics of a disappearing culture in the frozen taiga. Will cash payments and new language classes be enough to help her save the Dukha way of life?

TSAGAANNUUR — In the forested, snowy mountains of Tsaatan, a herdsman and his family tie his reindeer herd to trees to let them graze. Uvugdorj Delger, 70, is Dukha, but he speaks to the children in the Mongolian language. When asked why he doesn’t speak the Dukha language, he sighs and says only elders like him speak it now.

The Dukha are the last reindeer herders of Mongolia. Many live deep in the taiga of north Mongolia, where temperatures can drop to minus 53 degrees Celsius in the winter and rarely rise above 23 in the summer (a swing in Fahrenheit from 63 below zero to 73 degrees). Although historically related to the ethnic Tuva people, who live in parts of Mongolia, Russia and China, the 427 Dukha of Tsagaannuur soum have their own traditions and speak a distinct variety of the Tuva language.

The pristine nature of the taiga and the rareness of reindeer husbandry persuade a few tourists to endure the bumpy roads — passable only by horse during the summer — to come here, where they can ride reindeer, sleep in traditional Dukha tents, called urts in Mongolian (not to be confused with the Mongolian yurt), and buy handicrafts made from reindeer antlers.

Whatever memorable travel stories they take with them, however, overlooks a difficult reality for the Dukha — one of land, culture and language loss.

With environmental protections encroaching on their traditional territory, and many Dukha increasingly leaving the taiga and assimilating into Mongolian society, Dukha culture could be lost forever in a few generations. “All we have left is our reindeer and our urts,” says Uvugdorj.

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Marchas Populares, A Great Lisbon Tradition Is Missing Men

The Marchas Populares, Lisbon's summertime carnival parades, are a spectacle of dancing and music — but a shortage of money, free time and men who want to dance are endangering this midsummer tradition.

LISBON — With evictions in the city's “soul” neighborhoods and the aging of residents who have carried on traditions, it sometimes seems that a basic sense of community in Lisbon is fading away.

Nine years shy of their 100th year, Lisbon's traditional Popular Marches — nighttime carnival parades through the city's neighborhoods — are having a hard time finding participants to join the march, especially men.

Meanwhile, just across the river from Lisbon, in nearby municipalities Setúbal and Charneca da Caparica, the solution is to take marchers from one bank to the other.

For many of the participants in this traditional choreography, it no longer matters whether they dance for the neighborhood São Domingos de Benfica, Bica or Campo de Ourique. What they want is to keep going every year, and to save the future of this tradition, which for years has been struggling with a lack of men.

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A Christmas Invitation Lost In Translation


La signora Ernestina is a lovely old lady who lives in a basso near my house. Just outside that tiny street-level studio, she keeps a small altar with the photos of her deceased loved ones, and of those of almost all the neighborhood. When Christmas comes, she adorns it with a thousand lights, baubles and ornaments — enough to compete with any Chinese wholesaler.

The effect is quite picturesque, and in fact yesterday a couple of tourists were standing outside her house to admire the lights.

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Tarmac Voodoo: Plane Struck By Lightning Exorcized After Landing

What happens when lightning strikes a plane? First, thanks to modern safety features, it flies on and lands without incident. But in Togo, airport staff last week made sure one such plane was thoroughly *explored and inspected.

With bolts of lightning regularly striking airplanes, aeronautics has long since developed technologies to ensure the planes can withstand the impact, and pilots and passengers can safely continue their journey.

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food / travel
Solène Lhénoret

Vegan Or Gluten-Free: Hard To Swallow In France

The 'exceptional' eaters are tolerated if it's part of a medical treatment. But when it's based on well-being or upsets dinner parties, it can get tricky.

PARIS — Try this: tell those around you at dinner that you have stopped consuming gluten. Or meat. Or dairy. And wait for the answers: "What's this, a new fad?", "Do you want to lose weight?", "Are you sick?"

Refusing to share a meal often sparks all sorts of comments and more or less unpleasant criticism, even debate. Since becoming a vegetarian four years ago, Laura Antonakis has become very familiar with this. "But… What are we going to eat?", "Men have been eating meat since prehistoric times!", "What you're doing is useless, it won't change anything", "Your carrot is suffering too" are remarks she often hears when the subject is brought up during meals. The 31-year-old Parisian librarian says she has been called a "quinoa eater" and a "stupid hipster."

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Ghadeer Ahmed

Female Sexuality, Still A Victim Of Egypt's Patriarchy

CAIRO — A friend of mine lived alone in downtown Cairo. She was single when she moved in but after getting into a relationship, her boyfriend joined her. One day in 2012, her neighbors saw her heading to the apartment with her boyfriend and two friends, a man and a woman. Once they were inside, the neighbors started banging on the door, calling her a prostitute and threatening to call the police to arrest them for prostitution. An old man, another neighbor, intervened and tried to calm them down. My friend told them that she and her partner were married, through an urfi or unregistered marriage, and the guests were just friends. Things settled down only after she promised that she would move out of the apartment.

Many women have been raised in familial contexts where their mobility and sexuality are restricted. We are taught how to act "respectably," to pay attention to our reputation, to access public spaces only temporarily and with a clear purpose, and, of course, not to have sex unless married. These restrictions have driven many of us to move out of our family homes in a quest to experience life for ourselves, and enter the expanding ranks of the mustaqellat, or independent women, those who live in the home of neither their families nor husbands.

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Emmanuel Libondo

Congolese Mourning Rites That Are Abusive To Widows

Representatives and victims in the Congo are pushing back on ancient traditions that render women without rights after the deaths of their husbands, even prohibiting them from eating or drinking when they want.

SIBITI — Being gifted as inheritance to the brother of your dead husband, seeing everything you own confiscated, being able to wash only when your in-laws decide. These are some of the abusive traditional practices suffered too often by widowed women in the Lékoumou region of the Republic of the Congo.

A recent gathering of various women's protection groups and local representatives confronted this custom, known as "le Ngo." Participants, including native women representing local neighborhoods, denounced such abuse.

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Jerzy Ziemacki

Polish Immigrants Come Home For Christmas, If Only In Their Dreams

Poles in the United States, Brazil and Britain recount how they've tried to adapt to the season in their new homelands. It can be bittersweet, as Polish traditions for them still hold sway.

CHICAGO — In Poland, the highlight of this season is Christmas Eve, when families gather to have an abundant 12-course meal. Agnieszka even has two. Ever since emigrating to Chicago 28 years ago, she awakes on Dec. 24and immediately begins preparing for the big dinner. After putting on an evening dress, she makes a video call to Poland, where her aunts and uncles are already sitting at a sumptuous table, next to a real Christmas tree.

Agnieszka still recalls the days when she recorded her Christmas greetings on a VHS tape and sent it to her loved ones by mail. Now her happy face appears in her family via digital screen, as 19th century portraits of her ancestors hang on the walls back home.

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Morning Assembly

Thailand takes national pride very seriously. Every morning in schools throughout the country, students gather to salute the flag, stand at attention — hands out of pockets — and sing patriotic songs.


Where Tradition Lived On

In the 1970s some elderly women in Volendam in northern Netherlands were still wearing traditional dresses and bonnets as part of their daily lives. Back in my native Franche-Comté, I was the conductor of a traditional folk choir in which the singers — including me — wore 19th century costumes.


The Meanings Of Bigouden

The Breton word "Bigouden" was first used to designate the very distinctive, sugarloaf-shaped lace bonnet traditionally worn by the women in the southwestern tip of the French region of Brittany. Then the meaning expanded, and "Bigouden" was used to identify the women themselves, then all the inhabitants of the region — then the region itself! Alors ... here's a shot I took in Bigouden of two Bigouden wearing their Bigouden.


Texas Cousins

When people hear the word "cajun," they automatically think about Louisiana. But a small community of these descendants of French-speaking Acadian exiles also lives in Texas. The association "Les Acadiens du Texas" was founded in Beaumont in the late 1970s to preserve their history, which included traditional dances in not-so-traditional outfits.