Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebel cleric, has just finished his Friday sermon and his militiamen are securing the area around his car. One notices a woman, swathed in robe and head scarf. Everything but her face and hands are covered. Yet she is told to go stand in a corner, because the guards have to be alert and her "presence here confuses us." \n"Is it because I'm a woman?" I ask. \n"Yes. Please stand there." \n"Why do you treat women as though we are the devil?" \n"No, on the contrary, we respect them." \nAnother day, another skirmish. For a woman reporter, doing one's job in Iraq's holiest city is a constant battle of the sexes. \nNO EXPOSURE \nEach day begins with important dress decisions, depending on where one is going. Najaf, a city of several hundred thousand, is the home of the shrine of Ali, Shiite Islam's most beloved saint, and to visit it, or call on any of al-Sadr's lieutenants who congregate in the neighborhood, maximum coverage is advisable -- an ankle-length cloak called an abaya, plus head scarf and socks. Nothing must show but eyes, nose, mouth and hands -- never wrists. \nA single strand of exposed hair will provoke shouting in the street. \nI was first plunged into Najaf life a year ago, after the fall of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime freed pilgrims to converge in the hundreds of thousands on Ali's shrine. It was a nightmarish experience in 38oC heat. To juggle a notebook, pen, handbag and cell phone, while constantly having my robes knocked askew by the jostling human lava pouring down the street, was impossible. Yet each tiny slip -- an errant strand of hair, a hem lifted to avoid the mud -- provoked shrieks from disapproving males. \n"Haram!" -- it's a sin -- they yelled. \nNajaf people could be forgiven for erupting as they did after dec-ades of enforced secularism and oppression of Shiites. It seemed then that everyone was free to make up the rules as they went along -- and the tougher, the better. \nThirteen months later, things have eased somewhat. To visit a tribal leader, or a professor or businessman, the dress code is less stringent. But still, the pressure never lets up in Najaf, and it is applied to all women -- Western and Arab, Muslim and non-Muslim, journalist or not. \nPerhaps worse than the asphyxiating dress code is to not be acknowledged as a professional, a reporter, a human being. \nCOLD SHOULDER \nBecause it is considered inappropriate for a woman to be out on her own and daring to ask questions, the man you're talking to -- bureaucrat, cleric, armed militiaman -- won't talk back to you. He'll look away when you talk to him, and will talk back to the floor, the wall or any man who happens to be with you -- usually your driver. \nThe woman is supposed to be chaperoned by a mahram, a close male relative, but the driver will do if no one else is available. \nDriving around presents its own challenge. It is considered shameful for a man to be seen in the back seat of the car with a woman in front next to the driver. A male Iraqi colleague from Najaf pleaded with me to let him sit in the front as we left a meeting with tribal chiefs who came to the door to say goodbye. \n"They will say he is not a man to let a woman sit in the front," he said. I stayed put and told him it's time the men got used to it. \nmaking men sin \nThese constant clashes over stray hairs are exhausting, but can lead to interesting verbal exchanges. Last year a guard at the Ali shrine told me to cover my hair. I told him to mind his own business. He said it was his duty to "guide" me. But hadn't he sinned simply by looking? No, he explained; I was the sinner, for making him sin. \nOnce a mullah walking toward me lifted his robe to avoid the mud, so I did the same. Wagging his finger, he yelled: "It's wrong to pull up your abaya!" \nSo why was it OK for him? \n"I am a man of religion, that's different." he replied. \nAt one point, as I stood outside a mosque, a woman walked up and tried to rearrange my scarf for me. By then I was so frustrated that I lost my temper and tried to pull off her scarf. \nShe was stunned and appeared apologetic. She pointed to a man standing nearby and said he had told her to do it.
Chinese authorities have marshalled extraordinary resources to monitor a herd of traveling elephants and to keep it away from residential areas. Media reports quoted the Yunnan Forest Fire Brigade as saying that a team of eight people have been tracking the elephants, around the clock, on the ground and by drone. In the latest update, authorities said that the herd of wild Asian elephants had been tracked to a forest just outside a village in Xiyang Township, in Yunnan Province, about 90km southwest of the city of Kunming, heading back in the direction they came from. Drone images showed the elephants lying down
Tall, thin and brightly colored, Hanoi’s “tube houses” dominate the city’s streets as 9 million people compete for space in Vietnam’s bustling capital. Although Vietnam saw a number of villas and garden houses built during the French colonial period, Hanoi has few of these grand residential homes. Instead, tree-lined streets are packed with dwellings that are barely 4m wide, but are three times that in depth. Typically, a tube house might be home to a family of four, but two or three generations of relatives sometimes have to jostle for space. The first tube houses — known as nha ong in Vietnamese — are
The head of the Philippine military on Monday visited a coral-fringed island his country occupies in the South China Sea, a move that could stoke already heightened tensions between Manila and Beijing in disputed waters claimed by both countries. During the visit, Philippine Armed Forces Lieutenant General Cirilito Sobejana commended service members for the role they played in protecting the island’s residents and “guarding the country’s territories” in the strategic waterway. The visit comes after diplomatic protests made by the Philippines in the past few months over what it says is the illegal presence of hundreds of “Chinese maritime militia” vessels inside
Maori might have been the first to discover Antarctica, with connections to the icy continent and its surrounding oceans stretching back to the seventh century, researchers say. A new paper by University of Otago combines literature and oral histories, and concludes that Maori were likely the first people to explore Antarctica’s surrounding waters and possibly the continent in the distance. They write that Maori and Polynesian journeys to the deep south have been occurring for a long time, perhaps as far back as the 7th century, and are recorded in a variety of oral traditions. The oral histories of Maori groups Ngti Rrua