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The Price of a Baby

Photo by Sally Hayden/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Shockingly, there are several types of people you can buy a baby from in Nairobi, Kenya — corrupt officials, street snatchers preying on vulnerable women, or mothers themselves giving birth in clinics running a black-market trade in babies. These disturbing facts were found out by investigative journalists working for Africa Eye — a documentary strand from the BBC focusing on Africa. Peter Murimi, Joel Gunter, and Tom Watson also detailed these findings in an article on the BBC website — and with no reliable statistics on child trafficking in Kenya, this exposure is of vital importance.

Over the course of a year-long investigation, Africa Eye has found evidence of children being snatched from homeless mothers and sold for massive profits. We uncovered illegal child trafficking in street clinics and babies being stolen to order at a major government-run hospital. And in an effort to expose those abusing government positions, we arranged to purchase an abandoned child from a hospital official, who used legitimate paperwork to take custody of a two-week old boy before selling him directly to us.

The baby-stealers range from vulnerable opportunists to organised criminals — often both elements working together. Among the opportunists are women like Anita, a heavy drinker and drug user who herself lives on and off the street, and makes money stealing children from women like Rebecca — targeting mothers with infants under the age of three.

Africa Eye found out about Anita through a friend of hers, who wanted to remain anonymous. The friend, who asked to be called Emma, said Anita had different methods for snatching children on the street.

“Sometimes she will speak to the mother first, to try and see if the mother knows what she plans to do,” Emma said. “Sometimes she will drug the mother, give her sleeping pills or glue. Sometimes she will play with the kid.

“Anita has a lot of ways to get kids.”

This raises the question of how there is a market for stolen children. Yet, incredibly, there is — and the sellers do not seem too concerned about who the buyers actually are.

Some of the customers were “women who are barren, so for them this is a kind of adoption,” she said, but “some use them for sacrifices”.

“Yes, they are used for sacrifices. These children just disappear from the streets and they are never seen again.”

That dark hint echoed something Emma had already told us, that Anita said some buyers “take the kids for rituals”.

In reality, once Anita has sold a child on, she knows little about their fate. She sells them to the businesswoman for 50,000 shillings for a girl or 80,000 shillings for a boy, she said — £350 or £550. That is roughly the going rate in Nairobi to steal a child from a woman on the street.

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The End of The Wolf, The Start of The Questions

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Stqéyəʔ is the Songhees First Nation’s word for a wolf that became known as Takaya — a solitary wolf who lived alone for almost eight years on Discovery Island, in British Columbia, Canada. Larry Pynn explains in Hakai Magazine how during this time he became a local celebrity, particularly adored by conservation photographer Cheryl Alexander,such a regular visitor that Takaya “became a lot like a dog, he will come within 20 feet … sit down, and scratch behind his ear.”

Fast forward to 2020 and Takaya, for unknown reasons, finally left his home and swam to the main island, where, in a world in which humans no longer equaled friends, he met his end at the hands of a hunter. His death has led to a debate around who is to blame. For some, it’s his greatest advocate, Cheryl.

“She broke the wildness of this wolf,” says Danny Smith, a BC trophy-and-meat hunter who has appeared as a hunting personality on Wild TV. “It trusted her.”

… The provincial government had also made up its mind on that point. “It (Takaya) is habituated to people due to years of Discovery Island well-wishers encroaching on its space,” conservation officer Sergeant Scott Norris said in an internal government email.

Cheryl disputes this, not buying into the argument that wolves should naturally be wary of people as “The fear has come from how we treat them. That’s the sad part of this.” Canadian hunting laws have also been brought under the spotlight — wolves are not eaten, but rather hunted as trophies — which can be hard to justify.

Alexander feared Takaya would be shot or trapped ever since his relocation.

“It’s very definitely the government regulations and mentality that need to be addressed rather than just this individual hunter who unfortunately was in the position where he shot a famous wolf,” she says.

The provincial government reports that hunters kill, on average, 20 wolves per year on Vancouver Island, while trappers take another seven. Those kills are not enough to jeopardize the population, but it underscores a troubling attitude to predators, says Darimont. “This is not an issue of the population’s numerical sustainability, it’s an ethical issue. I think it’s wrong to kill something with no intention of eating it. Let’s face it, it’s pretty gross behavior … and it casts all hunters in a bad light,” he says.

Whatever your viewpoint, it is clear that Takaya lost his wildness, and then his life. In his death, he has highlighted the different social values of the people who inhabit his old territory — with the arguments even extending to his remains.

… on March 31, Alexander wrote to the provincial government saying that, if it comes into possession of the skull and hide, “I request that they be returned to myself so that Takaya’s legacy can be continued through public exhibitions at museums.”

… That didn’t happen.

On April 30, the Ministry of Environment provided me with a brief statement: “We understand that the hunter and Songhees First Nation have reached a resolution that will see the body returned to the Nation. We are grateful that a resolution has been reached, so that Songhees can carry out appropriate ceremony for healing and closure.”

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Let Me In

Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Nkiacha Atemnkeng, a writer from Cameroon, is often invited to attend writer’s residencies in other countries. However, as he explains in The Johannesburg Review of Books, it is rare for him to actually get to go. As a young, single man, he is often, viewed as a “flight risk” by western countries, and denied entry — but not before being put through a humiliating interview at their embassy. Visas to the US have become particularly elusive under the presidency of Donald Trump — with entry to the US, even to study,  “very very tight, very tight.”

The rejections continue. Even a pastor is turned away, visaless. A woman who has brought her old, ailing father is making a scene. He has been given a visa and she has been rejected. He is quiet. She is screaming. How will he get to the US alone? He can barely walk. The consular officers are unmoved by her theatrics. She won’t leave the counter. A security guard appears. She walks away. The consular officers keep working. They don’t even examine applicants’ documents, as I heard they did in the past – they just look at the admission letter or invitation to a university graduation or wedding. Then they interview the applicant and decide upon their fate, which is mostly reject, reject, reject.

I am next, residency invitation in hand, other documents and published work neatly in a file. I have to stand in front of the seated consular officer – a slim man with geeky reading glasses – throughout my interview.

“What is the purpose of your trip to the US?”

“I’m going to attend the Art Omi international residency, sir,” I say, handing him my invitation through the space in the glass. He reads it diligently.

“So who is paying for your trip?”

“Art Omi will pay for my lodging and feeding, as it is said in the letter. I will pay for my flight.”

“What do you write?”

“Fiction and creative nonfiction. I’m a blogger, too, so I create online content.” He types all I say. I continue. “I’ve brought all my published works in print with me. Short stories in a few anthologies and my children’s chapbook.”

I am about to give him my second file of published work when he snaps through the microphone: “No, no, no, I don’t want to see any books.” He opens his right palm towards me and shakes it vigorously from right to left and left to right, in a keep-those-things-away manner.

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The Toll of Separation

Safa and Marwa Bibi, Caters News Agency

This week, 3-year-old twins Safa and Marwa Bibi went back home to Pakistan — having been away since August 2018. As Rachael Buchanan reports for the BBC, this was the time it has taken to separate the twins — who were conjoined at the head.  

Conjoined twins develop from one fertilised egg and so are always identical.

There are two theories about why they are fused together – either the split into two embryos happens later than usual, and the twins only partially divide, or, following the split, parts of the embryos remain in contact and those body parts merge as they grow.

When it occurs, twins are more commonly connected at the chest, abdomen or pelvis. 

Safa and Marwa’s particular commingled physiology presents a unique set of challenges for the GOSH team. The girls are joined at the top of their heads – crown to crown – facing opposite directions.  

They have never seen each other’s faces.

The twins were treated by a team of 100 people at Great Ormond Street Hospital, in England. One of their surgeons, Professor David Dunaway, described their case as the hardest they have ever undertaken, partly because of their distorted brain shape, and partly because of their age — younger twins have a greater chance of success, but due to problems raising funding, Safa and Marwa were 19 months before they were brought to England. This led to some agonizing decisions being made on the operating table, which in turn took an emotional toll on the girls’ doctors.  

That’s when Marwa’s heart rate plummets and they fear she may die on the table.

There is suddenly quiet and stillness around the operating table as all eyes are on the instrument screens. The only sounds are the accelerated beeps of the heart monitors.

The crisis passes, but not without serious consequences.

It is clear to the surgical team that Marwa is the weaker twin. So they decide to give her a key shared vein. It will increase her chances of survival.

It is a hugely difficult decision. Jeelani knows that it may have a serious impact on Safa, until now the stronger twin.

But the team agrees that it is the right thing to do. The operation lasts more than 20 hours. Jeelani is exhausted and hands over to plastic surgeon Juling Ong to close.

“I am relieved. We thought we might lose Marwa at one point,” he says. “But if they wake up as we hope they will, it’s gone well.”

…. In the late afternoon, Jeelani telephones the hospital from home to check on the girls. He is told that Safa is in trouble, making no effort to breathe and her skin is mottled.

“I thought, ‘Safa is dead’,” he says, and recounts how, emotionally exhausted and sleep-deprived, he collapsed on his kitchen floor and started to cry.

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Who Gets a Vaccine?

Photo by Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images

2020 is the year that brought us COVID-19 — but as Danielle Groen explains in The Walrus, the battle against viruses is not a new one. In the 1600s Chinese doctors were attempting to vaccinate against smallpox by grinding a “scab into a powder” and blowing it up the patient’s nose, and the basic principle has not changed to this day — teaching the immune system how to fight a virus if it is infected. The difference with COVID-19 is the need to vaccinate the whole world, fast. Developing the vaccine is still the first hurdle, but what comes next is going to be just as complicated, with every country in competition for supplies. 

Making a successful vaccine is one challenge. Making enough of it to satisfy world demand is another. There are, of course, all sorts of regulations and standards concerning how to go about production: “I can’t head into my basement and start brewing up a vaccine,” says Curtis Cooper, president of the Canadian Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Every facility needs to conform to Good Manufacturing Practices (gmp), which are exceptionally specific rules set out by the WHO that ensure quality control. You want consistency over time so that each successive batch is precisely the same.

… the UK reserved 100 million doses of the University of Oxford’s vaccine while the US secured another 300 million—that’s nearly a quarter of Oxford’s projected annual supply gone. By mid-August, preorders of COVID-19 vaccine candidates were reportedly stretching toward 6 billion doses, almost all of them claimed by wealthy nations. None of these vaccines has yet been proven to work.

This raises the question of whether it will be the wealthy countries that dominate the vaccine supply, and other ethical questions also lurk beneath the surface. 

Do you vaccinate to prevent mortality? In that case, for this virus, the elderly need to be prioritized. Do you vaccinate to reduce transmission and spread? There are some house-partying twentysomethings in Kelowna who could get the jab. Or do you vaccinate widely in an attempt to achieve herd immunity? NACI advises that front line workers be prioritized because they’re at a greater risk of infection based on the work they do. But that’s not axiomatic: “There’s no commandment in the bible of pandemic response that health care workers go first,” Upshur says. “You have to make arguments, and those arguments are based partly on data and partly on ethics.” We know that racialized and low-income people are infected at rates wildly disproportionate to their populations, not for any epidemiological reason but because of historical and economic disadvantages. This inequality persists for those working in the health care system itself: The Lancet published a study of almost 100,000 front line health care workers in the UK and US, which found that racialized workers were nearly twice as likely as their white colleagues to come down with COVID-19. Should decision making about vaccine prioritization be based on structural social causes instead?

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Selling Fame

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A celebrity autograph scribbled on a scrap of paper with a sharpie used to be a treasured possession — but, as K.J Yossman notes in his piece for Wired UK, it’s now a selfie or a video to post on social media that makes a brush with fame worthwhile. With few fans getting to actually encounter their idols in real life, a group of entrepreneurs is using an app called Cameo as a way to cash in on this trend.

The site boasts more than 30,000 “celebrities” across a plethora of industries from entertainment to sports to social media to business, all available to deliver individually-tailored missives at the touch of a button. All you need to do is select a name, type in what you want her or him to say and fill in your payment details. The person you’ve booked then has seven days to record your message and upload it to Cameo.com, where anyone can view it (unless you’ve opted to make the video private).

At the time of writing, fees range anywhere from £8.30, for New Zealand cricketer Peter Younghusband, to £41,500, for American comedian Chris D’Elia, who, unsurprisingly, has never been booked at that price. Talent set their own price tags, although Cameo, which takes a 25 per cent cut of each transaction, does offer guidance. “It’s about how much your fans can afford, not how much you’re worth,” says Abbie Sheppard, who heads Cameo’s UK and European office. (Galanis puts D’Elia’s eye-watering fee down to his wacky sense of humour.) For those with a more restricted budget, there are still plenty of household names available for under £1,000, including Snoop Dogg (£622.50), Lindsay Lohan (£249), John Cleese (£352.75) and even 94-year-old Dick van Dyke (£830), whose video greetings are recorded at a piano and almost always include a few lines from some of his best-known hits.

For many celebrities, the idea of charging fans to wish them congratulations or say hello does not sit well, but from February to March of this year there was still a 77 percent increase in talent joining the site — suggesting that the pandemic shutting down other avenues for exposure enhanced Cameo’s appeal. For the fans, this has been a delight, with the site offering new ways to deliver messages that could not always be given in person during COVID-19.

a woman booking NFL player Tyler Lockett to tell her husband that she’s pregnant, a fan requesting that actor Dolph Lundgren wish his doctor friend luck fighting Covid-19, and one customer asking influencer and voice actor IRLRosie to tell someone to stop talking during films – in the manner of Amazon’s Alexa device. From mid-March to mid-April Cameo reported a 176 per cent increase in bookings; Galanis says many were requests for reassurance or advice.

However, there is a darker side to Cameo, with some people finding their fame being inadvertently used to support causes they do not believe in.

…in 2018 a handful of celebrities including NFL player Brett Favre, comedian Andy Dick and rapper Soulja Boy were tricked into recording shout-outs for a white supremacist group, some of which included coded antisemitic messages. “You guys are patriots in my eyes,” Favre, who charges £249 per video, said in the video, mistakenly believing he was talking to a veterans’ organisation. In the same year, Flava Flav was duped into sending a “happy retirement” message to an Australian cardinal who had recently been convicted of sexually abusing children (the conviction was later overturned).

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Until I Have Your Money

In an article for Chantelaine, Courtney Shea explores a dating hazard that, before the advent of Dirty John,  many did not associate with romance — financial scammers, a step beyond normal catfishing. It’s a problem that is on the rise, so much so that “weeding out scammers is just another reality of dating these days, right up there with fielding dick pics.” Figures show that women over the age of forty are particularly susceptible to these scam artists. 

“Invisible woman syndrome” describes the phenomenon wherein women are ignored after they reach a certain age—by potential employers, by suitors, by bartenders. No longer imbued with youth or fertility or (as Amy Schumer would say) “f-ckability,” we have ceased to serve our biological purpose and are deemed less valuable. And then along comes a person who sees you and appreciates you and promises to make all of your dreams come true. Who wouldn’t want to believe in that?

In this article Shea talks to several Canadian women who were scammed by the same man, Marcel Andre Vautour. The women found that police took little interest in their cases, citing romance fraud as more of a civil matter. However, by banding together these women discovered a source of comfort — and the courage to act as their own detectives. 

For Nikola, connecting with Vautour’s other victims was the only thing that got her through that terrible time. “I went to the police and they basically kicked me out of the room,” she says. “Rosey and the other women gave me a lot of support.” And she gave them a good tip: Vautour had bought himself a fancy backpack with her credit card and, knowing him, he would try to sell it. Rosey went onto Kijiji and there was the identical backpack, for sale by a guy in Nanaimo named Marc.

This was in June 2019; by then I had been researching this story for a few months. I was at my mom’s 70th birthday party when I got a text from Jodi: “WE’VE GOT HIM!!! FINALLY!!! WE’RE GOING TO GET THIS GUY!!!” She was in Nanaimo, having made the six-hour journey from Kelowna. Her new boyfriend, Vince, was with her and they checked into a hotel before setting off on their mission. Rosey was also en route.

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When Boomers Must Zoom

Photo by Horacio Villalobos#Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Anne Fadiman has spent the last 15 years teaching writing with only one requirement — a round table in the smallest possible room, to enable an intimate environment for her students to learn. A self-proclaimed Boomer with limited technological knowledge, moving her class online due to COVID-19 filled her with fear. Bravely, she signed up for a course to learn the intricacies of Zoom. She tells us all about in Wired:

Brian addresses us from his bedroom, which has an impressive record collection, an electric-guitar case, a full wastebasket, a bowl of pet food, and a bed whose duvet is slightly askew. He has a beard and a voice so soothing that he sounds as if he is telling a bedtime story. This is exactly what we need. The other faculty members who are taking the class—I see their diminutive heads, some of them gray-haired, arrayed in a vertical column on the right of my screen—are probably as terrified as I am.

Brian is an excellent teacher. He shows us how to sign in to the university’s Zoom page and calmly guides us through the mysteries of Gallery vs. Speaker View, Spotlight Video, Microphone Mute and Unmute, Chat, Screen Share, Whiteboard, and Breakout Rooms. I’ve heard Zoom images described as “squares,” but I see now that they’re horizontal rectangles, each inhabited by a face. In addition to us real students, Brian has four pretend students, one per rectangle. Two of them, Clare and Timberley, whose names are displayed below them in white, are fellow educational technology staffers. They wave at us. The other two—Barry, a small blue teddy bear, and Yoda, who is crocheted—do not wave.

With a class full of Gen Zs who grew up on screens, Fadiman was confident that her students would have no issues learning through Zoom rather than IRL. But she found that they missed being together — and the physical expression of sharing food or touching an arm to offer support. Beyond the class, her students were also missing out on rites of passage others have taken for granted.

It’s worst for the seniors. Senior spring is supposed to be the best time they’ll ever have in college, the time to consolidate friendships and check off their bucket lists and try to hook up with people they’ve always considered out of their league, because it’s now or never. They’ll miss Senior Week: Bar Night, the Last Chance Dance, the Day of Service, the senior picnic. They’ll miss Commencement.

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I Don’t Wear Pink

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In this article for Parenting magazine, Alex Bliss (all names have been changed), explains with complete honesty the process she went through in order to embrace her child being transgender; initially struggling to accept that her four-year-old daughter identified as a boy. 

…My daughter, the nurse explained, had peed in her pants in the middle of the cafeteria.

I rushed to the school with a dry pair of pants and underwear.

“What happened?” I asked.

Isabel was silent.

“Did you wait too long? Are you feeling sick?”

It would be hours before she would tell me, “I couldn’t hold it.”

“Why do you think you have to hold it?” I asked.

“I can’t use the bathroom,” she said.

There was anger in my throat. What teacher doesn’t allow children to use the bathroom?

“I’ll talk to your teacher. This is crazy,” I said.

“No, mommy,” she said. “It’s not the teacher. I can’t go because I’m not allowed in the boys’ bathroom and I don’t belong in the girls’ bathroom.”

Even as I worked with the school to ensure that she could use a gender-neutral bathroom and even as I found myself saying “she might be transgender,” I harbored—and courted—doubts. My stomach turned whenever I thought of Boys Don’t Cry. How would I keep a transgender boy safe? How would a transgender boy find love? Happiness? Success?

Turning to therapy for answers, it became clear that this was not a “phase,” but reality.

Before our rear ends had even warmed the couch, I blurted, “I need to know if this is just a phase. If she’s transgender, I need to know for sure.” I wanted a test, a diagnostic tool like the Beck Depression Inventory, something definitive that would pronounce my child transgender or not. I learned that no such test exists.

Still, my husband and I left the room so the therapist could conduct an initial evaluation.

Twenty minutes later, we settled down on the same couch, my husband on one side of Isabel, me on the other.

“Your son said something interesting,” the psychologist said.

I heard the word “son” louder than the “your” and the “something interesting.” It was as if the therapist shouted that one word through a bullhorn and bolded and underlined it just before it traveled the distance from her mouth and to my ears.

He said he didn’t think his parents were ready yet.”

Gradually, Bliss started to refer to her son Shane, rather than her daughter Isobel. Explaining to more and more friends and family about his gender. As she embraced the situation, she realized that she had a son — and that she loved him.

About halfway through fifth grade, just before he went to bed one night, I looked at him. Really looked at him. There was that short hair and handsome face, the deep-ish voice and abrupt mannerisms, a bare chest, and arms folded behind his head.

There was no doubt. He was a boy.

He wasn’t just any boy, either. He was my boy. My incredibly smart, funny, quirky, kind, just-plain-awesome boy.

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Pretty and Dumb? Tell It to the Avocado

Philippines, Natives cutting abaca, Colored engraving, 'The Spanish and American Illustration,' 1876. (Photo by Prisma/UIG/Getty Images)

When Christopher Columbus first encountered “Indians,” he formed the opinion: “These are very simple-minded and handsomely formed people.” As Robert Jago explains for The Walrus, this unjustified view of Native incompetence has persisted in some non-Natives to this day — even encountered in the way his tribe currently fishes the river named after them.

in another news report, they advised that any salmon bought from us poses a “significant risk to human health.”

Our catch is fine for us to eat, apparently—it’s just a problem for “human” health.

Stó:lō means “river people,” and this river is full of salmon—or, at least, it used to be. It’s our staple food, eaten smoked, baked, boiled, and candied. My grandma prized the eyes, plucked out and sucked on till they popped and released their fishy goo. My nephew goes for the eggs; he quite literally licks his lips at the sight of them. My uncle takes the best cuts to smoke outdoors with a closely guarded, centuries-old family recipe.

It takes a lot of nerve to say we don’t know how to handle salmon—but I suspect the reality behind that claim is that a great many Canadians can’t imagine us knowing anything independently, as Native people.

In reality, Jago argues that it was only with the help of native knowledge and creations that non-Natives were able to create their world at all — alluded to in the name his ancestors gave to the new arrivals in Canada:  xwelítem — the hungry people. A name coined after starving white miners came begging for food during the Fraser River gold rush.

Indigenous people around the world were experts at food long before non-Natives made an appearance — responsible for developing the agriculture techniques that led to the potato, maize, avocado, tomato, chocolate, and quinoa, to name but a few.

European farmers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had to leave as much as half of their fields empty at any time so as not to exhaust their growing potential. They were also overreliant on grain as one of their few sources of nutrition. The result was that, in England alone, between 1523 and 1623, there were seventeen major famines. The addition of Indigenous agricultural methods and foods domesticated by Indigenous people changed that. Where in the past, a study in Nature found, European farmers could feed 1.9 people per hectare, with our help they could now feed 4.3. Writing in Smithsonian Magazine, Charles C. Mann concludes that, with Indigenous peoples’ sharing of their domesticated foods and agricultural technology, “the revolution begun by potatoes, corn, and guano has allowed living standards to double or triple worldwide even as human numbers climbed from fewer than one billion in 1700 to some seven billion today.” didn’t hand us the keys to the modern world—they took from us the tools that built its foundations.

Non-Natives like to think that the Mayflower had Wi-Fi, that the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María brought with them consumer goods, Facebook, and nuclear medicine. In reality, they brought very little from Europe that Natives wanted beyond weapons and metalwork.

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