Thursday, September 29, 2011

Summer in December: Education with Adventure

By Morgan Sigrist

Institute for Int’l Journalism

Winter intersession is drawing near and the cold days and icy roads are almost upon us. But 18 Ohio University students from three schools in the Scripps College of Communication have a Plan B this winter intersession. They are preparing for their trip to Zambia, Southern Africa. They will escape the wintry blizzards, below freezing wind gusts, and the daily shoveling of 2-feet of snow, to enjoy some amazing African summer flora and fauna, outdoor swimming, and hiking in the jungles. Participants will depart for Zambia on November 25, a day after Thanksgiving and return on December 22, 2011.

The program administered by the Institute for International Journalism (IIJ) in the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism in coordination with the University of Zambia’s Department of Mass Communication in the capital, Lusaka. Two professors who were part of the SUSI Journalism and Media program in 2010 and 2011 are assisting with the preparations and eventual administration of this year’s program. SUSI is a U.S. Department of State funded grant-project, a scholars' program sponsored through the Study of the U.S. Branch. Students will spend 24 days immersed in Zambian media, government, culture, wildlife, and service projects.

Students nominated for this competitive annual journalism study abroad program to Africa are: Lindsay Boyle (online journalism), Brenda Evans (online journalism) Heather Farr (public relations), Lauren Nolan (public relations), Bethany Scott (public relations), Danielle Parker (public relations), Sara M. Rice (public relations), Molly Nocheck (broadcast), Bradley Parks (broadcast), Jenna Miller (broadcast), Amber Skorpenske (broadcast), Adam C. Flango (magazine), Brooke Bunce (magazine), Tyler O. Deal (magazine), Rebecca Koch (advertising), Sarah DuBois (communication studies), Chelsea A. Molder (communication studies) and Alisha Estabrook (visual communication).

Participants will “experience the complexity of the economic and political environment in the news media (TV, Radio, and Magazine), advertising or marketing firms, PR organizations and non-for-profit sector.” Danielle Parker, a junior and PR Journalism student was asked how she is preparing for the trip, “My faith is a really big part of my life... A lot of prayer and meditation and journaling to make sure that I am mentally prepared to be so far away from home.” She is academically preparing for the trip this fall by taking a course titled, International Studies 113 at Ohio University, learning about Africa from a Zambian teacher.

Dr. Yusuf Kalyango, the program director for the Zambia program and IIJ director, is conducting weekly orientation sessions on Fridays at 10:30 a.m., to prepare participants for the African adventure.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Poor Family, Old Kasbah, Bread-making

By Rachel Ferchak

Tighza Valley, Morocco

Over the course of about a week, I was able to spend time with a kind family that lives in the next village over. The first time I visited the home, I met the father, El Hssaine Bouhmade, and one of the seven children, who both showed me around their old kasbah. The kasbah, an old fortified Moroccan home, is a few hundred years old, standing four stories high, made of earth, stone, and straw. Windy, narrow, and barely lit stone staircases lead to each of the levels. The wooden-beamed ceilings stand seven feet tall, and if someone is on the floor above you, bits of earth fall through the ceiling.

There are two rooms on each floor, some of which are separated by five-foot wooden doors. The family keeps old clothes and toys behind the closed doors, almost like storage rooms. When the building was a functioning kasbah, vendors used the rooms to sell and trade clothes, food, and other goods in the village. The roof of the kasbah resembles a guarded castle with four turrets. Long ago, the chief of the village lived in the kasbah, and four guards kept their posts in the turrets of the kasbah. (They were the protectors of the village and the chief.)

El Hssaine’s father was once the “chef du village,” the village leader or chief. He was a well-respected man, causing his family to be respected as well. After he died, his family fell on hard times, and his son has had difficulty making ends meet for his 10 children ever since. (Three of the children were born to his first wife, who died move than 20 years ago. He remarried shortly after in order to have a mother for his three children. His wife, Malika, has had seven children since they were first married.)

El Hssaine, 47, is a subsistence farmer on his family’s land, while Malika, 43, works inside the home. Two of their daughters, Rachida, 14, and Fadma, 18, chose to leave the family home and work as housekeepers in Marrakech. With their wages, they are able to meet the minimal needs of the family. All of the children’s clothes are second-hand, given to them by other villagers or by tourists stopping through. Malika, with sad and tired eyes, described how hard it is on her to not be able to meet all of her family’s needs, and it is especially difficult watching her daughters leave to work and support the family.

(Left to right: Malika, Nezha, Fatima, El Hssaine, Ibrahime, Aicha)

Despite their tough financial situation, the family has a strong love for each other, and it especially shows through the parents. It was evident when we took pictures of the father and the two littlest daughters, Aicha, 8, and Fatima, 5. At times the father would hold the daughters’ hands as they skipped beside him, and at one point he scooped them both into his arms as they laughed and smiled.

Like the other mothers here, Malika works from inside the home, waking up every morning at 5:30 to start her work for the day. One morning, she invited us to watch as she made her daily amount of bread in her clay oven. We arrived at 7:30 a.m., finding that Malika had already been quite busy and El Hssaine had already left for the garden. All but one child was still in the house, little Fatima, who was still sleeping on the floor of the salon, the family’s living and dining room. The salon is the only room in their house with mats on the floor and 2-feet tall sponge-like padding for the cushions. Normally, the cushions are completed covered in decorative tapestry; however, these cushions had a single, worn orange tapestry resting on top. We rested on the “couch” while waiting for Malika to finish the bread preparations.

As we waited, Fatima hid under the heavy, carpet-like blue blanket that she and the other children share at night. Every so often, she would poke her large brown eyes and her disheveled, straw-like hair out from under the blanket. She played that game for another half an hour until Malika came in to put her pants on. Once Fatima was dressed, Malika finished the preparations for the bread.

We followed Malika into what seemed like a secret passageway, up a dark, windy, stone and earth staircase to the roof of a segment of their house. She led us to a clay oven, which stood about two feet tall. A small, roofed shelter covered the area around the domed clay oven to protect the oven and the person baking the bread from the hot sun.

Malika offered us small stools to sit on while we watched, as she sat on a rock covered by a plastic sack. At her side, Malika had a shallow but wide plastic tub where she kept the bread dough, which contained a mixture of white and wheat flour, salt, olive oil, and water. To start, she made a fire in the right half of the oven using wood. The fire heats the pebbles that fill the left half of the oven. While waiting for the stones to become hot, Malika scraped out a portion of dough, enough to fill her two hands. On a large round stone, Malika placed an old, worn tablecloth, and then sprinkled a little flour on the cloth.

With a thump, she tossed the dough onto the stone and began to flatten it like pizza crust. First, she patted the dough down three times with her right hand, then flipped up the dough using the tablecloth and her left hand (so the dough wouldn’t stick to the cloth). She repeated the process until the dough was stretched to the size of an extra large pizza crust. Flipping the dough onto a round wooden board, she put the dough onto the hot pebbles.

Every few minutes, she used metal stick to shift the dough in a circular motion so that the dough would cook evenly. After about seven minutes, she flipped the dough to cook the other side. She proceeded to rotate the forming bread, scraping out pebbles that were stuck in the dough. Finally, with a swift motion, she rolled the dough out of the oven like a wheel and set it off to the side. The bread, “aghrom” in Tachelhit, was golden brown with small grooves from the pebbles. It was warm and fresh, crispy on the outside and flakey on the inside, and it tasted like plain pizza crust.

Within the next hour, Malika had finished five “loaves” of bread, about a day or two day’s worth of bread for the family, and two of her neighbor friends joined in on the bread-making party. Bread-making is a social activity for women in the village. The work they can do together makes the job a little easier and less lonely, especially because each of the women have the same work to do in the home: take care of the children, cook, clean, entertain guests, and wash clothing. Some women must also retrieve water for their families and/or fetch loads of feed for their animals, if their children aren’t old enough to do that for them. Often times, you see women hunched over, carrying 30-pound loads of grasses and alfalfa. The men say that women’s backs are stronger and that is why they want them to carry the heavy loads.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Global Spotlight: Final Days of SUSI 2011

In this latest issue of Global Spotlight, we highlight a series of stories that provide an insight into the 2011 SUSI summer program at the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

The Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) on Journalism and Media is an annual summer institute of international journalism scholars and media experts from universities and academic institutions from around the world. The SUSI summer institute is funded by an annual renewable grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Study of the U.S. Branch in the Office of Academic Exchange Programs. It is administered by the Institute for International Journalism.

The first two pages — a map of the world with each scholar’s nation in various colors — give a glimpse into each scholar’s thoughts on the first two weeks of the program.

The program combines academic sessions with cultural experiences to enrich each scholar’s knowledge of the different media systems in the U.S. while also expanding each scholar’s knowledge of our nation’s history and culture.

We hope that with each story, you will experience a different aspect of the program.

Click here to read this edition

Fatima: Single Mother, Social Outcast

By Rachel Ferchak

Tighza Valley, Morocco

A pair of henna-covered hands works swiftly and almost effortlessly. Her movements come as habit, like a science. At first, the woman digs into her white plastic box, which resembles a tackle box, and pulls out a handful of bags of multicolored, pinhead-sized beads. Rustling through the plastic bags, she finds five shiny beads with perfectly coordinated shades of amethyst and dark lime green. With an inch-long piece of sterling, looped at one end, in her right hand, she scoops up the beads one-by-one. She repeats the process until she has six pieces of coordinated sterling.

Tool in hand, she makes a small loop on the other ends so the beads won’t budge. Then, she places three of the sterling pieces onto a question mark-shaped sliver of sterling, tightening the loops as she goes. Within 10 minutes, she has finished a pair of earrings, which she sells for 50 dirhams. Earring-making is just one of the few ways she supports herself and her 8-year-old daughter.

Fatima Ouahassou, 32, moved to the village seven years ago, just months after her daughter Ikram was born. A family in the village offered for her to live in a two-room home, rent free; thus, she moved to the village because it was all she could afford, considering she had no income and no family to help her. Prior to the birth of her daughter, Fatima’s boyfriend ran off, leaving her pregnant and alone. Nearly everyone disowned her because having a child out of wedlock is shameful in the Muslim community. But she kept her child regardless, though she had offers from people who wanted to buy Ikram from her.

In tears, Fatima recounted her story for me…

Moving to the village was one of the hardest things she has done, mainly because of the rumors floating around about her. Fatima said that nearly everyone in this village refers to her as a “whore” or “prostitute” because Ikram doesn’t have a father. She said Ikram suffers as well.

Most of the young girls either make fun of Ikram, or the girls’ parents won’t allow Ikram to play with their daughters. At school and around the village, Ikram said she is subject to ridicule and gossip about her mother, which often makes her cry. Sometimes she tells her mother, other times she doesn’t, because when she does, she and her mother cry together. She hates seeing her mother cry.

By this point, Fatima said that she has explained the situation to her daughter and she said Ikram understands. However, Fatima said she is sending Ikram to live with her grandmother in Ouarzazate in September in order that receive a better education than the education offered in the village. But Ikram said that she is leaving because of constant mockery by other children. Either way, both Ikram and Fatima believe that Ikram will have a better life in the city because many children are in the same situation in the city. Also in the city, Fatima said, people are not in each other’s business, and most even keep to themselves.

Caring for a child on her own is not the only major trial Fatima has had to overcome. When she was a child, her father did not want her in the home, so he sent Fatima to live with her grandmother. When her grandmother died, she left 16-year-old Fatima on her own. And she has worked to support herself ever since. Later, after Ikram was born, Fatima discovered a growth on the right side of her jaw, which turned out to be a dental abscess. In 2007, with the help of Angela (a nun from Ouarzazate) and Claire (her sponsor from the United Kingdom), Fatima had extensive surgery to take out the abscess that could have taken her life.

Regardless of her situation and the setbacks of her past, Fatima tries to continue life as normally as she can. She managed to work out a deal with a shop owner from Ouarzazate, who allows her to sell clothing to women in the Tighza region (her village and the three surrounding villages). Fatima receives a portion of the clothing sales, making about 100 dirhams per week. She also makes a little extra money by helping Carolyn around the kasbah and by making small tapestries. The remainder of her income comes from Claire, who sends her 300 dirhams per month to help with Ikram’s expenses.

Despite everything in her life, Fatima will always greet you with a gentle and joyful smile, the kind of smile that will warm your heart and brighten your day.

(Ikram shows off her Berber dancing skills, while Fatima knits.)

For more information on my trip to Morocco, check out my website, "Rock the Kasbah."

Monday, September 5, 2011

One Month in the Holy Land

By Evan Barton

I arrived in Israel about a month ago, just before the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av. I spent my first few days in the region in West Jerusalem, where most stores and restaurants observe the Jewish holidays and the religious strictures concerning work and food. While in Jerusalem I stayed in a hostel, and the staff there told guests to make sure they had enough food for the day because most restaurants would be closed. I had never heard of the holiday, although a retired teacher from Queens - who was also staying at the hostel - filled me in: Tisha B'Av commemorates the destruction of the First Temple and the Second Temple, the last of which fell in 70 AD.

One of the benefits of being here has been the ability to witness the extent that religion affects society as a whole. Regardless of whether you are secular or observant, events from the ancient past bear significance on people's identity and culture.

The organization I am working for provides coverage on Palestinian issues and events in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although it is officially based in Jerusalem, the editorial office is in Ramallah, which is a few miles north of Jerusalem in the West Bank. Since the Oslo peace agreements, Israeli citizens have been discouraged from going into Palestinian-controlled "Area A" towns in the West Bank, so Ramallah-bound travelers often have to go to Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem to find a taxi or shuttle-bus that can go through Qalandiya checkpoint and into the city. Sometimes taxis only go as far as the separation wall, forcing travelers to go through the checkpoint and search for transportation on the other side. Fortunately, on my way to Damascus Gate I found a taxi willing to take me all the way to Ramallah. It was expensive although I had so many bags that loading them onto a cramped shuttle-bus would have been too much of a hassel -- I was pretty happy with the deal.

Once in Ramallah, I realized that Ramadan was well underway in the West Bank. During the month of Ramadan, observant Muslims are required to fast from from dawn until dusk -- a difficult task during summer time. A lot of Muslims I have met here did not observe the fast, although the holy month affects everyone to some degree. Most restaurants and many convenience stores close during the day, and you cannot eat or drink anything in the streets. Even if you are Christian, people see it as really disrespectful to eat or drink in public during Ramadan -- and if you do they will have no qualms calling you out on it.
About half of my office was fasting, so it seemed a little rude to eat a lot during work. I never fasted, although I ended up eating more than average for breakfast and dinner, and less for lunch.

One of the issues in the conflict is that both the Palestinian and Israeli governments want their capital in Jerusalem. Following the 1967 War, however, Israel annexed East Jerusalem into Israel (this is a big sticking point in international relations between Israel and other nations, with Obama reaffirming the American position that Israel should return to the pre-1967 borders), so the Palestinian Authority is effectively based in neighboring Ramallah.
In addition to the government, a lot of NGOs and businesses are based here, and there is a college in the neighboring town. People from all over the West Bank commute to the city or have moved here permanently because of their jobs. The standard of living is higher in Ramallah than in many other parts of the West Bank, although food and housing tends to cost more than in other places.

Despite the relatively cosmopolitan vibe in the city, one big difference between Ramallah and Jerusalem is that there is no bus transportation within the city. Ramallah is much smaller than Jerusalem of course, although the Israeli cities I have visited all have fairly extensive bus systems traveling between cities and stopping at points within the city. In Ramallah, there are buses that take people to more distant points in the West Bank, although people traveling to Ramallah from nearby cities take the "service," which is a van-sized shuttle that fits about 10 people inside of it. Traveling within Ramallah, you have to take the "taxi service," which travels from outlying areas to the center of town. The price is less than a dollar USD although the taxi drivers invariably take four passengers in the car. It is a cramped way to travel - especially if you are the middle - but it gets you close to where you need to go for much less than a private taxi.

Israel has attracted a lot of international attention in the past few weeks, with the bus bombing in the Negev, Israel's retaliation resulting in the death of 5 Egyptian soldiers, "social justice" protests in Tel Aviv and other cities around the country, Palestine's UN bid to become a unified nation, and the increased tension between Israel and Turkey following Israel's unwillingness to apologize for the deaths of several Turkish citizens on the"Freedom Flotilla" to Gaza in May 2010. Turkey expected an apology following a UN commission's report finding the military's use of force in boarding the flotilla "excessive."

The JMCC uses a newswire to publish a lot breaking news, so I have been doing a mixture of some breaking news, along with updating background articles on the website and writing up smaller events and less time-sensitive stories.*

With so many things happening at once, you never really know what is going to happen next or how it will all turn out. People here are fond of making guesses, however, and I have found both Jews and Arabs in the region are quick to give their opinion regarding the conflict. This is definitely an interesting place for journalism.

*Here are two examples of stories I have written over the past few weeks
Protest at Qalandiya checkpoint: