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26 African girls were found floating in the Mediterranean

The bodies of 26 teenage African girls were found floating in the Mediterranean sea on Nov. 7. It’s been more than a month since and very few details have been released about their deaths. Who were these girls? How did they get there? And why isn’t this story in the headlines? It is believed the victims were part of a sex trafficking trade from African to Europe and that the girls met their untimely death along the perilous refugee sea path to Italy that has already claimed many lives. The victims were between 14 and 18 years old.

Over the years, we have seen many headlines that flash briefly about the bodies of refugees found at sea, mostly those from Yemen and Syria, as they try to make their way to Europe. So far only two men in Italy have been arrested and charged in the deaths of the girls. Many of the girls as young of 14 suffered visible abuse. It is alleged the girls were picked up in southern Nigeria, held in Libya and then sent to Italy.

These girls were only a few of the many that may have been trafficked over the years — girls who have been tortured and raped. And we know very little about them.

These girls are nameless. They are forgotten victims. Their bodies, which were fished from the sea and placed in body bags, have not been identified or claimed. Since the early 1990s, girls have been taken from Nigeria and sent to Italy where they are forced into prostitution. According to the United Nations, there has been an increase in the amount of potential victims arriving in Italy by sea.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that in 2016, nearly 11,000 girls made the trip.

The IOM conducted a study that found since 2014. over 22,000 migrants disappeared globally while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. These are, of course, simply statistics. There is barely any background information on most of the refugees or those being forced into prostitution. Libya is serving as a modern day port for slavery and sex trafficking.  It’s a topic that is being ignored by mainstream media, as many sub-Saharan migrants face bigotry in Libya. The darker your skin, the fiercer the abuse. Men are being forced into construction jobs with almost no pay and migrants are even auctioned off.

For the girls that do survive migration trips, they are greeted with intense racism and degradation of the body once forced into prostitution.

Situations like this are heartbreaking and are spinning out of control.  That 26 African girls can disappear and nobody will notice is a debilitating thought. I can only imagine what their family and friends are feeling back home. These girls deserved much more — they deserve the headlines, to be remembered instead of being left floating in the sea.

Wildfire Thomas fifth largest in history of California

California’s wildfire, named Thomas, is still raging, becoming the worst of the five fires currently destroying the countryside. After spreading to more than 50,000 acres on Sunday, Thomas has set the record as the fifth largest wildfire in the history of the state. The fire is much more severe than those seen in Boston and New York in recent years.

To date, more than 230,000 acres have been destroyed by the fire and almost 5000 homes were issued evacuation orders after being placed in the latest danger zones. Due to unpredictable and shifting winds, combined with low humidity, this has caused the fire to burn uncontrollably for more than a week.

After a week not much has changed. The Governor of California, Rick Brown, issued a sombre statement, telling residents of Southern California this is the new normal. Close to 800 structures have been destroyed by the fire.

“With climate change, some scientists are saying that Southern California is literally burning up,” Brown said in a statement. ” So we have to have the resources to combat the fires and we also have to invest in managing the vegetation and forests, in a place thats getting hotter.” Brown also told reporters that he sees extreme fire activity happening on a regular basis for decades to come.

More than 5700 firefighters, from 100 different crews, have been putting in their efforts to help contain and control the wildfires, But heavy winds are making the task extremely difficult. In the past week, firefighters were only able to contain 15 per cent of the vast fire and this number is expected to drop over the next week.

The fire started in Ventura County last Monday. Only one person has died so far — Virginia Pesola, 70, passed away at the scene of a car crash along the evacuation route. There is still a red flag warning in effect for most of Los Angeles.

So far, the state has spent more than $34 million in relief efforts in order to try and contain Thomas. Thousands of residential areas are without electricity and over 200,000  people have had to evacuate their home since last Monday.

The White House has approved additional funding  to combat Thomas and California will receive direct federal assistance. New evacuation orders have also been issued, as the fire threatens another 25,000 homes in the Santa Barbara county. The evacuation orders are for the area spanning Buena Vista Drive to Toro Canyon Road.

Back in October, fires destroyed parts of Northern Calofirnina, killing almost 40 people and destroying close to 9000 homes.

The true origins of the Lord of the Dead. Read if you dare!

When most people talk about the history of Halloween, their mind turns to Spain and Mexico, and the Day of the Dead. It’s a commonly known holiday in which the people honour those who have passed away by visiting them at their graves and leaving behind gifts or possessions.

But, the history and culture of Halloween goes back even further.

The American version of Halloween today draws a very real resemblance to the European gaelic festival called Samhain. When we think of Halloween today, we think of costumes, a chance to be something or someone different, candy, carved pumpkins, and sinister things that lurk in the night. But, in reality this version of Halloween, or All’ Hallows Eve is mostly manufactured by corporations and candy companies — and no, this isn’t some conspiracy theory.

The festival of Samhain is is celebrated on October 31st in the pagan celtic calendar and marks the beginning of the long winter months. The traditions of this festival can be traced back all the way to the 10th century, where it was named after Samhain, Lord of the Dead. The festival is supposed to give people time to take stock of their lives and prepare for the coming of the colder months. Dead crops are stripped from the land.

The festival also represented a period in time where the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest.

The celtic people of Ireland long celebrated Samhain before the arrival of Christianity. The celtic people were migrants of the Roman Empire across Europe and often travelled with tales of mystery and myth, sharing folklore in various communities and speaking in direct opposition to the teachings of early Christianity. Spirituality, magic and superstition were all beliefs held in the Celtic culture. The people  believed in the connection of the land with the universe and that life continues after death. During the time of Samhain, when the darkness of winter arrived, so did unwanted spirits. They held bonfires, dressing in dead animal skins and praying to the Gods to ward off evil spirits. It was a festival of gathering and community.

Another reason the Celtic people dressed in dead animal skins or disguised themselves as ghoulish figures was to protect themselves from wandering evil spirits. The spirits would recognize them as one of their own and leave the celtic people alone.

The Lord of the Dead was not only feared, but revered. The people appealed to him in order to ensure that lost souls could be reborn. During Samhain, there are similar traditions and links to Halloween we see today — the dressing up as ghoulish figures, and the presentation of gifts, often something sweet to the Lord of the Dead. The Celtic people were even known to carve turnips to mark ancestors.

The traditions and myths of  the Celtics have been reconditioned under Christianity and has changed the way we see Halloween. Samhain was the original event to which Halloween was marketed, and similar traditions can even be seen in other cultures, for instance the Day of the Dead celebrated in Mexico to mark the memory of past ancestors.

Traditionally, Samhain is celebrated by the Irish, Scottish and even those that practice wicca. Wiccans often see the holiday as the beginning of the spiritual new year. While Samhain has not been replaced by Christianity, the Christian calendar instead celebrates All Soul’s Day on November 1st to pay tribute to Pope Gregory III.  To celebrate All Soul’s Day, people and members of the Christian church were encouraged to pay tribute to the saints by making little soul cakes or bread that represented a blessed Christian soul.

Leave a comment below on what makes Halloween creepy for you!

Gordon Downie of The Tragically Hip dies

Wednesday morning, Canadians woke up to heartbreaking news. Gordon Downie, lead singer of rock band The Tragically Hip, had passed away.

The band confirmed his death in a statement, saying “Gord knew this day was coming – his response was to spend this precious time as he always had – making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived, often sealing it with a kiss… on the lips.”

Downie’s music was quintessentially Canadian. His lyrics connected all parts of this great nation, from the prairies to the maritimes. While most bands wrote songs about relationships, The Tragically Hip wrote about issues that really mattered to them. Wheat Kings, for example, was about a wrongfully convicted murder from Winnipeg called David Milgaard. The group put a small Ontario town on the map in the song  Bobcaygeon and often sang about uniting the many cultures and regions of Canada. It didn’t matter where you came from or where you were at that moment, Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip made you feel like you were home.

But Downie wasn’t just a musician. He was also a strong advocate for Indigenous reconciliation and the protection of water rights. He sat on the board of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and was part of the Swim Drink Fish Club, which brought musicians together to help protect the environment. Downie and his brother helped found The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to support reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. He often spoke publicly about the hardships and challenges Indigenous youth must overcome. 

In 2016, Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and decided to tour the country one final time. Tickets sold out in minutes. The band’s final concert in Kingston was broadcast live on CBC, with over 11 million people tuned in.

While Canadians knew this day would come eventually, news of Downie’s death is still having an impact. Many grew up with his music, and many others were introduced to it over the last two years. Downie made us proud to be Canadian — and for that we will forever be grateful.

Rest In Peace.

 

Featured Image: The Tragically Hip play during a stop at the Orpheum in Vancouver, June 22nd, 2009, on their tour supporting their new album “We are the same.” (Scott Alexander/Pressphotointl.com)

Earthquake hit Mexico and Hurricane Maria passes through Caribbean

In an eerie order of events, many residents of Mexico City were practicing an earthquake drill just a mere two hours before a powerful 7.1 magnitude quake hit the city and surrounding areas. The drill is done every year as an effort of preparedness after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck the south-west coast of Mexico on Sept. 19, 1985. Thirty-two years to the day, Mexico is dealing with devastation again as death tolls continue to rise in the city. Over 220 people have died since the quake, with the toll expected to rise in the coming days as many residents help search the rubble of collapsed buildings in the city.

The powerful earthquake struck the southern state of Puebla, 123km from Mexico City. So far, 86 deaths have been reported in Mexico City itself. Over 40 buildings have collapsed, including elementary schools. This is the largest earthquake to strike so close to the country’s capital since the 1985 quake which claimed over 5000 lives. Many volunteers, members of the Navy, and designated rescue workers were working overnight to rescue missing children from the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school. Many children died when the A Wing of the three-storey building fell down.

Just two weeks ago, another fatal earthquake hit the south of Mexico, where it claimed the lives of 70 people. That earthquake registered at a magnitude of 8.2 near rural communities in Oaxaca state. With only two weeks apart, these devastating earthquakes have already claimed too many lives. Geophysicists from the US Geology Survey have determined that both earthquakes were a result of a rupture in the fault lines in North American tectonic plates. Mexico City is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and according to geologists it is at risk because of that location. Mexico is located in an area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire which contains the most active volcanoes. According to Hongfeng Yang, a seismologist from the University of Hong Kong, almost 80 per cent of the world’s earthquakes strike in the Ring of Fire.

The tremors in the city were said to last up to seven minutes and so far there have been 11 aftershocks reported 11, with the strongest one carrying a magnitude of 4.0

Hurricane Update:

Hurricane Maria is still causing destruction in the Caribbean, with 90 per cent of the buildings in Dominica absolutely totalled.

Maria has made landfall in Puerto Rico. With winds of over 150mph, this storm will prove to be even more catastrophic than Hurricane Irma, which damaged parts of the country just last week. Many of these caribbean countries were still recovering from the last two hurricanes to hit and now many in Puerto Rico are dealing with storm surges, intense flash flooding, and power outages. So far, over 900,000 residents have lost power. Maria made landfall near the city of Yabucoa with the strength of a Category 4 storm. The storm has also ruined two National Weather Service radars on the island. Maria is the first hurricane in over 80 years with a category 4 strength to hit the island.

So far Maria has killed nine people in the Caribbean and is expected to make its way past Turks and Caicos before weakening out at sea. Tropical storm Lee, which was following the path of Maria, has died down to a tropical depression and has almost completely disappeared and is causing no threat to the Caribbean.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those being affected during this difficult time.

Update 1:56 PM Wednesday

Officials from the Puerto Rico Office of Emergency Management Agency said that Puerto Rico has lost 100 per cent power on the island and that anyone with electricity is using a generator. So far Hurricane Maria has caused severe damage to infrastructure. Maria is forecasted to approach north of Punta Cana in the Dominican republic overnight and  by Thursday afternoon make its way through Turks and Caicos

UPDATE : Hurricane Irma is now a post-tropical cyclone

To the people in the Leeward Islands and the state of Florida, Hurricane Irma will be remembered as one of the deadliest storms. Irma is actually still going strong, however, the storm is now downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone in the south-eastern United States. With 40km/h winds, Irma is causing moderate rainfall as it tracks its way to the Tennessee valley.

This is nothing compared to the force Irma carried as it hit the Caribbean islands. It left countries completely devastated, nearly wiped off the map. So far, there have been 40 deaths as a result of Irma, with the toll sure to rise in the coming weeks.

Many island countries are struggling to rebuild and various international organizations and governments are contributing to the need. Virgin Atlantic CEO, Richard Branson, has already started raising money for Irma relief. Branson chose to ride out the storm by hunkering down in a wine cellar in his private home in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Many people in BVI are now homeless, with their houses reduced to complete rubble. As Branson said, short term aid and long-term recovery are important for the Caribbean communities to rebuild. The islands are not like metropolitan cities, but are small communities with less resources and disaster preparedness.

In Puerto Rico, over 1 million residents are slowly regaining power in an effort to recover from Hurricane Irma last weekend. Seventy per cent of the homes have their electricity restored, however, the last 30 per cent have to wait between two weeks and a month. Leading up to the storm, the island’s sole electricity provider, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, was left in a fragile state and authorities had even warned residents that they could face power outages for up to six months in some parts of the island. Thankfully, due to a change in the storm path this did not happen.

Hurricane Irma did, however, show the fragility of the Puerto Rican economy and the public– sector debt. The island is an unincorporated US territory and the US has offered federal assistance to help rebuild following the destruction caused by Irma. Many Puerto Ricans are now pushing for a rise in privatization and entrepreneurship to help strengthen the economy.

In Florida, there are approximately 15 million residents left without power and many people are left cleaning up the debris in the streets. It was reported that five residents of a South Florida nursing home died after losing power. Irma hit South Florida as a category three storm and immediately battered areas such as Miami and Venice Florida.

The storm featured a rare phenomenon known as a reverse storm surge. This sucked the water from coastal areas, resulting in an eerily desert looking landscape as the winds blew in reverse directions causing flooding in other parts. This affected even the Bahamas and the Key Largo and Tampa areas.

 

 

Many celebrities have already started raising relief for Hurricane Irma and Harvey. The Hand in Hand telethon was a star studded event, including performances that helped raise approximately $44 million . In Texas, the estimated loss from hurricane Harvey and Irma is an average $200 billion. As many communities rebuild and raise funds, Hurricane Jose is looming in the southwest Atlantic near the Bahamas and Bermuda. Jose is a category one storm, but is tracking an uncertain and unusual path. The storm may cause effects to the Atlantic Canada region.

Canada has sent $160K of relief for caribbean countries and continues to send disaster teams.

Hurricane Irma causes destruction in the Caribbean

With much of Texas still recovering from the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma is threatening much of South Florida. Many residents from Florida to the Carolinas are preparing for the major category five storm.

 

Supermarket shelves are already barren and hardware stores are seeing a spike in sales. Water, batteries, torchlights, emergency kits, and weatherproof clothing are just a few of the essentials.

 

Devastatingly, Irma has already made landfall in some of the Eastern Caribbean islands and has passed through some islands of the Greater Antilles. The damage done in the Eastern Caribbean, including St. Martin (French side), Turks and Caicos, Anguilla, St. Maarten (Dutch side), St Barts, and the Virgin islands ( US and British), is insurmountable. According to the Royal Dutch Navy, the southern half of St. Maarten suffered severe damage and on the French side, the island is considered barely inhabitable. The footage from a BBC video shows the damage done to the country courtesy of the Dutch Forces

 

The world famous Princess Juliana international Airport, the main airport for St Martin is so badly damaged it is unreachable.

 

This also applies for the small island of Barbuda, from Antigua and Barbuda this island is in rubble with 95% of the island destroyed. According to the Prime Minister there has been one reported death so far but the island is uninhabitable. Hurricane Jose, which is closely following Irma is set to become a major hurricane by Friday and a Hurricane watch has now been issued again for this island.

 

Irma has also caused damage in Puerto Rico, with much of the country without electricity, Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Irma has already made records by maintaining its high winds. There have been three recorded deaths in Puerto Rico and 13 deaths overall. Many countries are trying their best to re-evaluate everything after the destruction of Irma and many Americana are praying for safety in Florida.

The poetic justice of growing old and letting go in “The Analyst”

“It’s always backwards in analysis, isn’t it?,” poet Molly Peacock asks in her new collection.

The Analyst by Molly Peacock is a book of poetry that explores the evolution of relationships as people grow older over time, and how these emotions can be captured and understood through the process of creative license. The anthology of poems is based on the author’s relationship with her therapist, Joan Workman Stein, who she met in New York when she was a young woman and stayed in contact with for several years. Stein suffers a stroke and Peacock, once the patient, becomes a caregiver in helping her therapist recover.

The book is separated into four parts, Part One: The Pottery Jar; Part Two: The Hours; Part Three: Ruby Roses, Kiss Goodbye; and Part Four: Whisper of Liberty. Each section follows the two friends through the initial shock of having a loved one experience a stroke, helping them recover, letting go of their lost capacities and accepting their new self. Peacock helps Stein to rediscover her lost love of art, and it ultimately becomes the tool that brings her back to life.

Peacock ultimately realizes that Stein helping her all of those years prepared her to return the favour when her therapist reaches old age and needs someone to be there. In the final poem, “Mandala in the Making”, she states, “Only when something’s over can its shape materialize,” thus showing that life is a series of evolutionary cycles repeating themselves throughout time. The Analyst uses a deeply creative means to show how people can never know quite what certain events their lives truly mean until they have passed.

The set of poems employs subtle references and the author’s own experiences to lead the reader down a path of understanding long-term relationships and how they change as people grow older. Oftentimes, poetry seeks to avoid the more disgusting facts of aging, and focuses instead on the beauty of youth and love. Peacock avoids this pattern and faces the gruesome realities that lie behind having a stroke and losing the capacity to be fully functional that is ultimately a result of aging. In “The Canning Jar”, it is almost hard to swallow the description of the dead rabbit in the St. Lawrence Market, but the reader is forced to contend with death and ultimately reconcile with it.

Overall, Peacock takes the mundane and turns it into art. Growing old is by no means special, but her changed relationship with her therapist puts her in a position to see how letting go of the old self is always a singularly unique and beautiful experience no matter how it happens or who it happens with. The journey of The Analyst becomes exceptional precisely because it turns the tragedy of a stroke into the miracle of rebirth when Stein embraces becoming an artist and let’s go of being a therapist.

This book of poems is a great read, especially for someone looking to reconcile with an aging loved one. Peacock engages with the trauma of watching her friend be affected by a stroke and the reader can feel her desperation and eventual acceptance. Take a chance on The Analyst and it will leave you wondering which relationships will change and evolve over time and how each person will meet their own limitations of mortality.