5 Cities: Will Their Green Gamble Pay Off?

Have you noticed a trend this summer? No, not that face masks in many countries are making a comeback; we’re talking about the fires, devastating floods and heat waves of almost biblical proportions that have hit vast swathes of our world, from Canada to China to Siberia to Germany. There may still be a raging health pandemic, but we need to also pay attention to another deadly, global plague that’s getting worse, not better: climate change. 

In today’s Daily Dose, we detail how five diverse cities (including one that’s yet to be built) are using innovative ideas to carve paths — not always successfully, mind you — in the pursuit of environmental sustainability. Read on to learn more!

anchorage, alaska

Cold No More. If you’ve ever watched National Geographic’s Life Below Zero, in which hardy men and women tough it out in the icy wilds of the Alaskan frontier, you’ll be surprised to hear the region is under severe threat from a warming climate. In fact, the state has often been referred to as “ground zero” for climate change. Ever hotter temperatures are causing age-old glaciers to recede, sea ice to melt and more frequent, larger wildfires to burn across expanses of tundra. Temperatures in the state are increasing almost twice as fast as in the lower 48. The city of Anchorage, population 283,000, is on the front line, experiencing temperatures 1.5 degrees higher than normal during some winter months. 

Action Stations. What are Alaskans doing about it? After Republican governor Mike Dunleavy came to office in 2018, he put his predecessor’s climate action plan on ice, so to speak. So the people of Anchorage did as Alaskans of yore have done and struck out on their own. Their climate change plan sets an 80% emissions reduction goal for 2050, outlines a shift to electric vehicles and renewable energy and encourages residents to form community gardens to improve food security. Now Alaskans also hope President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan will provide new ways of funding efforts to combat climate change and pursuing forward-looking clean energy projects.  

Results Already. Since the city’s municipal authority, the Anchorage Assembly, voted in its ambitious climate action agenda two years ago, has any progress been made? Yes, according to their most recent annual report. “We expanded our renewable energy generation, won grants for innovative clean energy projects [and] expanded opportunities for residents to engage in climate action,” the report reads. In December, before the U.S. rejoined in the Paris climate agreement, Anchorage signed the “We Are Still In” declaration, confirming their commitment to the goals of the Paris accord. In a short time, Anchorage has upgraded over 16,000 street lamps to LEDs, and long-term loans are now available to businesses seeking to establish clean energy projects. The city also received a grant to fund its first electric garbage trucks and purchased hybrid-electric police vehicles.

copenhagen, denmark

Carbon-Free Philosophy. As cities grow both in number of residents and by physical size, they face a conundrum in terms of how to control and reduce their carbon footprint. Copenhagen finds itself way ahead and is on track to become the world’s first carbon-free city. Since committing to the idea more than a decade ago, residents have rallied to the cause. The city logs a carbon output of 2 million tons, which is modest compared to other (albeit larger) cities like Seoul, which in 2018 was ranked the worst carbon emission offender. But why should cities bother? Among the principles agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries, is a pledge to reduce all signatories’ carbon outputs.

Bike Is Best. A chief avenue to carbon neutrality is reducing the number of vehicles on the streets, and that’s where Copenhagen is ahead of the game. As a city of biking lanes, bike jams and bike-only bridges, you’re more likely to be hit by a bike than by a car, but how did the city manage this? It invested 1 billion krone ($113 million) building out infrastructure for bikers and pedestrians, effectively relegating the vehicle to third place. To be sure, other significant emissions culprits remain, but doing what they can to promote two-wheel transport helps shift residents’ attitudes too. 

Show Me the Numbers. As of 2019, 62% of Copenhagen residents brave the chill to commute on their bikes, up 36% from 2012. In 2016, the number of bikes outnumbered cars on the city’s roads for the first time. The most recent figure is that Danes own 6.6 times more bikes than cars. While bikes are good for the environment, they are also good for the health of the people riding them. The Danish finance ministry estimates that each time someone spends 1 kilometer (.6 of a mile) in the saddle, the city makes 4.80 krone ($0.77). How? Cyclists take less sick leave (as a nation, Denmark’s bike-first posture helps it save an estimated €40 million or $6.4 million annually on health care costs. What’s more, cyclists spend more in the shops than motorists. Cities such as New York, Lisbon and Oslo are all following Copenhagen’s lead.

ulaanbaatar, mongolia

City skyline by the snow mountains

A Smokey Situation. With an estimated 70% of Mongolia’s grazing lands impacted by desertification that took hold as far back as the 1950s, by 2019, 600,000 nomadic people and herders were forced to leave the country’s vast steppe and pitch their tents around Ulaanbaatar, the capital. The tents, known as gers, and other forms of shelter have been heated by coal-burning stoves, wreaking havoc on the city’s air quality. As a result, Ulaanbaatar struggles with some of the most polluted air on earth. In 2018, levels of dangerous particulates reached 133 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit. In 2019, 80% of the city’s air pollution resulted from coal-burning in the settlements on the city’s outskirts, which housed 60% of the city’s residents. 

Putting Out Fires. On May 15, 2019, Mongolia banned the use of raw coal, the predominant fuel source used by low-income families to keep warm during the winter and the culprit of Ulaanbaatar’s notoriously awful air quality. They also introduced refined coal briquettes to the market, subsidizing them so the briquettes would be close to the price of raw coal. The Asian Development Bank approved a $160 million program to help improve air quality in the embattled city by working with the existing government program, which began in 2017 and extends through 2025, providing supplemental funding and other aid. Other programs like Sub Center are working to improve city infrastructure and move families out of gers and into housing developments that would further reduce air pollution. 
Success, Until COVID. While banning raw coal was a positive step, and air quality measured in October 2019 registered an improvement, the ban failed to address the reason families were turning to raw coal in the first place. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and triggered a countrywide economic shutdown, many in Ulaanbaatar couldn’t afford the refined briquettes and turned instead to cheap flammable materials like trash or raw coal found on the sly. Despite the ban on using raw coal, by October 2020 Ulaanbaatar’s air quality still ranked as the worst in the world. Read more on OZY.

istanbul, turkey

Food Shortage. Food insecurity is Istanbul’s most pressing climate-change-related threat, according to scientist Levent Kurnaz. Drought and water shortages are threatening agricultural producers across Turkey, who supply Istanbul with produce, and stressing the entire food system from the top down. Moreover, water shortages and extreme weather events exacerbated by global warming like severe droughts also cause the cost of food to skyrocket, which detrimentally impacts residents of Istanbul who have limited access to goods or are unable to afford the sky-high prices. In April, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even launched an aid campaign that delivered potatoes and onions to needy families to address the growing crisis. 

Ancient Gardens. While modernizing agriculture is one proposed solution to fixing food insecurity in the city, some of Istanbul’s most enterprising farmers have been leaning on one another. Instead of relying on stores or food trucked hundreds of miles from Anatolia, they have been growing their own food right in the city center, alongside and among the ancient city’s Byzantine-era walls. Surrounded by walls more than 1,600 years old, are some of the oldest urban gardens in the world. The narrow green areas between the high walls are the perfect setting for small farmers who tend the Yedikule market gardens. With the Yedikule Fortress as a backdrop, some 200 market gardeners are repurposing public spaces to grow food that feeds their communities and families while earning them money.
The Struggle Goes On. Same day harvesting means the produce they grow is fresher and cheaper than what’s available in supermarkets or on store shelves, something that has turned the farmers into a community staple. The gardens also provide income for the farmers, while utilizing age-old infrastructure and providing a link to an ancient way of life. But their way of life has been threatened as Turkey pushes to modernize its largest city. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality owns the mile-long stretch of green space; the farmers in turn pay a fee to use the land. But while the municipality can give, it also has the power to take away. In January 2016, authorities declared that farming would no longer be permitted along the walls, and within weeks had set about knocking down several sheds used by the farmers. Concerned citizens and environmentalists, however, quickly stepped in (Istanbul is home to a robust green movement). People rallied to the farmers’ cause and forced the municipality to formalize the arrangements with a number of those farming the area.


akon city, senegal

Poverty and Unemployment. The closest hospital to the impoverished coastal town of Mbodiène is an hour away in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. There are no paved roads in the town. The area is mainly populated with fishermen and farmers, and many young people are unemployed. So it’s hard to imagine Mbodiène being transformed into an environmentally friendly, solar-powered, futuristic “smart city” of glass and chrome skyscrapers.

Superstar Solution. But that’s the wildly ambitious, eponymous brainchild of a Senagalese American R&B superstar. Born in the U.S. but with family roots in Senegal, Akon wants to give back to his homeland and says he plans to do so in the greenest way possible. His Akon City, he says, will not only benefit the Sengalese but also be a haven for a Black American diaspora who face racism in the U.S. Residents of the city will use a crypto-currency dubbed “Akoin.” The singer has selected Mbodiène as the location for his $6 billion project, which is expected to take years to build, and Akon City will be certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The singer-turned-philanthropist’s company, Akon Lighting Africa, already provides electricity to rural villages in 14 countries.

Results Are Out. The jury’s still out on the project, which many are comparing to the fictional land of Wakanda in the movie Black Panther. Skeptics note that despite promises to create jobs, Akon City is being designed by an Abu Dhabi-based architect and is due to be built by a U.S. developer. Construction is slated to start this year, and another African nation, Uganda, has already asked the “Smack That” singer to build a similar city there.

The Future: It’s Electrifying!

Load shedding. That’s what large parts of the world call scheduled electricity cuts. In countries like South Africa it’s so routine, that the state power utility has launched an app to tell you when and for how long to expect to be in the dark — so you know whether to cook dinner early! South Africa, like much of the wider world, looks set to benefit from the global movement away from fossil fuels to clean sources of electrification.

In today’s Sunday Magazine, you’ll learn about one organization that’s doing exactly that. We also look at how solar is taking the rest of the world by storm, from the rise of electric cars in the U.S., to e-rickshaws in Bangladesh, to floating solar panel farms in Singapore and Japan’s ambitious plan to install solar panels on the roof of every home. This is certainly solar electricity’s moment in the sun.

a new solar system

Singapore Shine

Earlier this month, the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore unveiled one of the world’s largest floating solar farms: 122,000 panels spanning an area the size of 45 soccer fields. The game-changing, government-run project could reduce annual carbon emissions by about 32 kilotons while quadrupling solar energy production by 2025. The project will produce enough power to run Singapore’s five water treatment plants. Pivoting from its oil-refining past, with Royal Dutch Shell recently halving capacity there, Singapore is looking to a greener future by positioning itself as a regional hub for carbon trading and sustainable development services.

Australia’s ‘Sun Tax’

It’s pretty bright Down Under and almost 3 million (out of 8.3 million) Australian households now boast solar panels, a number that’s expected to double over the next decade. By 2025, the new head of the Australian Energy Market Operator wants the electricity grids to be able to run on 100% renewable energy. But now some Australians say they’re being punished for doing good. Homes with solar panels whose owners export excess electricity onto the public grid could be taxed in an attempt to prevent electricity “traffic jams.” Authorities say it’s a fair move, but some environmentalists argue homeowners should be rewarded, not penalized, for the clean energy they provide.

South Africa’s Solar Shacks

In South Africa, huge numbers of people who live in informal settlements — shacks made from cardboard and tin and erected on any available land — are still living in the dark. One project, Energy 4 Wellbeing, is turning on the lights in the Qandu-Qandu informal settlement in Cape Town by providing solar minigrids. “There’s no running water, no electricity and it’s on a wetland. Most people are unemployed . . . it is dirt-poor,” Jiska de Groot, a clean energy expert at the University of Cape Town, tells OZY. De Groot’s team is now building solar towers and connecting them to the shacks. With three towers built so far, residents have lighting at night and can charge their phones, although refrigeration, which requires more energy, is still a problem. Having won last year’s Newton Prize for her work on urban energy transformations, de Groot and colleagues are now working on a new project on solar-powered fridges. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, she says, especially because solar energy is safe. Previously, some shacks were illegally connected to the electricity grid, leading to fires and electrocutions.

Land of the Rising Sun

Japan already leads the world in solar capacity per square meter. Now, in order to meet its ambitious 2030 emissions target (reducing its 2013 rate of carbon output by 46%), the roof of every building could be fitted with solar panels. The country, which is about the size of California, plans to have 108 gigawatts of solar capacity online within a decade. How? Half of all federal government and municipal buildings will be fitted with solar panels, while many office buildings and most farms will be required to have solar capacity. But that’s not all: The nation’s trade ministry also says every house and apartment built after 2040 must have at least one solar panel, with countries such as South Korea set to do similarly.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Even as manufacturing in this city and across the Rust Belt collapsed over the past several decades, the U.S. found itself the largest importer of lithium-ion batteries, the power source for electric vehicles. President Joe Biden has set the target of achieving a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035, but doing so would require a solar energy workforce four times its current size — some 231,000 people. If Biden’s American Jobs Plan is passed, it could create a million jobs in renewable energies. The U.S. president has also proposed investing $174 billion to take on China in the electric vehicle (EV) market. That investment would help U.S.-based auto manufacturers to produce the vehicles, establish tax incentives for car buyers and build a national network of EV chargers. The plan also proposes electrifying 20% of school buses and the federal fleet, including U.S. Postal Service vehicles.

recharge your batteries

Costly Charge

While lithium-ion technology is a step forward compared to the lead-acid batteries of the past, complaints have persisted around the batteries’ durability, transportation difficulties and prohibitive cost. Although prices have fallen by 98% over the past three decades, the batteries are still a major factor contributing to higher prices of EVs. Why? The cathodes in lithium-ion batteries require metals such as nickel, lithium, cobalt and manganese to store maximum amounts of energy. Not only are these metals expensive to mine, they are environmentally costly and ethically questionable. Congolese cobalt mines linked to some EV companies have been exposed for using child labor.

Green and Clean

New developments in the world of lithium mining aim to solve some of these issues. Currently, lithium is extracted largely through hard rock mining and from underground reservoirs, processes that can result in serious negative environmental impacts such as contaminated waterways and soil. But that could change very soon. Recently in Germany, California and England, high-grade lithium deposits have been found in geothermal waters. Extracting lithium from these waters is projected to use less water and land and emit less carbon. Could green lithium be the future of battery tech?

Energizing Future

Solid-state lithium batteries could become an important, nay revolutionary, successor to the liquid-based lithium equivalents used to power vehicles today. Rather than depending on the latter’s toxic, often highly flammable liquid electrolyte, solid-state batteries employ a solid electrolyte, which eliminates the need for a cooling element. It also optimizes energy-storing capabilities and battery life. These futuristic batteries could potentially bring down manufacturing costs, making electric vehicles cheaper for customers. Several manufacturers are chasing this holy grail of battery tech — researchers at Cuberg in Silicon Valley, Saft R&D and Harvard University are all working on designing and developing solid-state batteries.

China Concerns

So who’s dominating the battery industry? China makes the most lithium-ion batteries in the world, with 93 factories compared to four in the U.S. China also manufactures the most solar panels, contributing 80% of the global supply in 2019. Furthermore, the country has one of the largest solar farms in the world, located in Qinghai province. “But buying Chinese solar panels to reduce emissions is like using gas to put out a fire,” writes Henry Wu, a researcher at the Center for a New American Security think tank. Why? Because to make the raw materials needed to produce the panels, China uses coal-powered electricity. But that’s not even the biggest problem — there are human rights issues too. Last month, the U.S. blocked some Chinese manufacturers of the raw material polysilicon, used in building solar panels, due to allegations the companies were using forced labor. Wu suggests the U.S. should look at changing its supply chains to European producers to avoid reliance on China and to expand its domestic supply of renewables.

mustang sally goes electric

No Greased Lightning!

Now, as concerns over fossil fuel use and climate change take center stage globally, car manufacturers have decided that electric vehicles are the future. Classic American motor brand Ford, for instance, plans to roll out the F-150 Lightning pickup truck next year. And ol’ Mustang Sally’s gone electric too: Ford’s Mustang Mach-E was named this year’s North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, bringing its iconic design into the carbon-free age. It can be charged super fast and has an extended range battery so you can go the extra mile.

A Lightbulb Moment

The idea of electric vehicles has been around for some time. The invention of the alternating current motor in the late 19th century even saw some claim to have conceived of a car that ran on “cosmic rays” — though that story is disputed. The real game-changer in making mass-manufactured electric vehicles a reality is the lithium-ion battery. Without them, we wouldn’t even have modern devices such as smartphones. The battery, invented by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Stanley Whittingham in the 1970s, has decades later proved revolutionary for the electric vehicle world: It boasts a greater energy output and weighs less than its lead-acid counterpart. Since the 1970s, Whittingham’s invention has been refined by numerous other scientists who have made versions of the battery that are safer and more practical.


If you’ve ever visited Southeast Asian capitals such as Bangkok or Jakarta, you’ll have been struck — though hopefully only figuratively — by the huge number of tuk-tuks, motorbikes and rickshaws plowing through the streets. As ever more people in the region move to urban areas and a growing middle class enjoys greater purchasing power for privately owned vehicles, governments are finding that they need to reimagine urban transport systems in order to meet emissions targets. Thailand is one country looking to position itself as an electric vehicle hub, with electric ferries recently launched on Bangkok’s aquatic thoroughfare, the Chao Phraya River. Meanwhile, a team of designers and experts from the Asian Development Bank have helped roll out e-rickshaws, or pedicabs, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in a bid to establish a sustainable source of transport.

BuddhaPedalPower_inforce copyj

Formula E Racing

One of the biggest gripes with electric motors centered for years on power. No longer: Though the Formula E motorsport was seen as counterintuitive and even a lesser form of entertainment by petrolheads when it first held races in 2014, as the electric car market revs up, it’s only natural that the racing world has started to follow suit. Technological advances mean batteries can power cars for longer race periods, which in turn leads to a more thrilling sporting spectacle. Formula 1, the marquee international motorsports competition, has itself put forward an ambitious plan to become more sustainable via a net-zero racing emissions impact by 2030.

what’s next for charger installations?

From the Sun’s Rays to Your Car Engine

Still, a battery is a battery, meaning someday, whether in your neighborhood or out on the open road, it will run out and need to be recharged. But here’s a cool, clean solution: Solar power could become the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to charge an electric vehicle, even at home. While you’ll need to add extra solar panels to your residential system (experts estimate on average eight to 14 solar panels are needed to power an EV), the cost benefit of charging from home far outweighs the initial outlay. Alternatively, using electricity from the grid to charge your EV can be twice as expensive as going the solar route. Not to mention, it’s worse for the environment.

Kansai Electric's Mega Solar Power Station Tour

From the Sun’s Rays to Your Car Engine

Still, a battery is a battery, meaning someday, whether in your neighborhood or out on the open road, it will run out and need to be recharged. But here’s a cool, clean solution: Solar power could become the cheapest and most eco-friendly way to charge an electric vehicle, even at home. While you’ll need to add extra solar panels to your residential system (experts estimate on average eight to 14 solar panels are needed to power an EV), the convenience of charging from home could eventually outweigh the initial outlay. Using electricity from the grid to charge your EV, over time, can be more expensive than going the solar route. Not to mention, it’s worse for the environment.

On the Road

EVs may be the future of ground transportation, but for people living in rural areas — as one in five Americans do — the choice isn’t yet so clear-cut. For the most part, charging stations are concentrated in urban areas and along interstate routes, and while today there are more than 100,000 across the country, six years ago there were just 16,000. Huge changes, however, are in the works: President Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes building a nationwide network of EV charging stations that will number at least 500,000 by 2030.

Soaring Demand

But will that suffice? California Gov. Gavin Newsom is set to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. As a result, the California Energy Commission reports the Golden State will need 1.2 million EV charging stations by 2030 to support the expected surge in electric car ownership. And California isn’t the only one set to implement major change. Electric automaker Rivian is planning to install chargers in all 56 of Tennessee’s state parks and in rural areas of Colorado, while other manufacturers are set to open charging stations to electric vehicles of all stripes.

Cry, the Beloved Country: A Letter From South Africa

It’s the worst violence South Africa has seen since liberation hero Nelson Mandela walked free from prison and laid the foundations for the “Rainbow Nation” three decades ago.

More than 70 people are dead, shopping malls have been burned to the ground, cargo trucks torched, highways blocked, and there have been running street battles and stampedes in which fleeing looters were crushed to death. Banks’ ATMs have been blown up and essential services like health clinics ransacked, while more than 1,000 people have been arrested. Google Maps has introduced a riot tracker so people can avoid unrest. Among the extraordinary scenes, as seen below, a baby was thrown to safety from a building looters had set on fire.

The country, already struggling amid a COVID-19 surge, is now teetering on the brink, forcing President Cyril Ramaphosa to send the army into the streets and prompting calls for calm from the United Nations.

Screenshot 2021-07-14 at 11.49.19 AM

As I drove today through Alexandra, an affected Johannesburg township, passing row after row of shacks, makeshift hair salons, shuttered taverns, police vehicles and streets strewn with rocks from the unrest, I hoped what I was witnessing would be just a blip in South Africa’s progress.

So what happened to this G-20 nation that is Africa’s most industrialized economy with one of the world’s most progressive constitutions?

Democracy happened. Last week, former President Jacob Zuma, a populist who’s often been compared to former U.S. President Donald Trump, was sent to jail.

It was a pivotal moment on a continent, and in the broader world, where the powerful seldom end up behind bars for their crimes.

Zuma, a former freedom fighter from Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) party, was sentenced to 15 months for contempt of court after he failed to appear at a corruption inquiry looking into graft and influence peddling during his nine years in power.

Despite the scandals, the 79-year-old has a stranglehold over an important faction of the ANC and is loved by many for his singing, dancing and contagious laugh — his second name, Gedleyihlekisa, translates to “the one who laughs while grinding his enemies.”

But last week, South Africa’s judiciary had the last laugh and won praise for its fierce independence when it sentenced one of the country’s most powerful men to prison.

Aside from the contempt of court ruling, Zuma — who previously was acquitted of rape charges — faces over 700 counts of corruption in a separate case.

The former goatherd with little formal education rose through the ranks of the ANC when it was a banned organization under the racist apartheid regime. He was imprisoned with Mandela on the notorious Robben Island for 10 years, so in many ways, I find it tragic that he is returning to a cell, not as the hero who was once on the right side of history, but as an old man in disgrace.

But it is also necessary. When Zuma was finally forced to resign in 2018, his successor, Ramaphosa, vowed to end the corruption that has hampered the country’s growth and left millions of South Africans in poverty.

The court’s decision is a declaration that no one is above the law, leaving Zuma’s allies to tremble in their Johannesburg mansions wondering if they are next.

In fact, some are now suggesting that former spies and government officials loyal to Zuma might be perpetuating what is essentially state sabotage in an attempt to bring Ramaphosa’s government to its knees. What kind of protesters, after seizing food and other goods, target a water treatment facility, for example, or attack media offices?

“You can see the modus operandi [is] very sophisticated. This campaign is not sporadic, it is not spontaneous, there is somebody behind who is driving this operation,” State Security Deputy Minister Zizi Kodwa said today. It’s a view that was echoed by Thuli Madonsela, a former special counsel and Zuma appointee who saw her political career doomed as a result of her investigation of the former leader.

The struggle within the ANC between the Zuma wing and those who support Ramaphosa’s “new dawn” could prove to be a tipping point for the country: Will it continue its efforts to recover from what Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has called “nine wasted years” under Zuma, or slide toward becoming a failed state, as some experts have predicted?

More than half of South Africa’s 60 million people live in poverty, a legacy of the inequality and deep divides established during apartheid’s white minority rule.

It is therefore deeply sad and ironic that many of the protesters running riot in Zuma’s name are the same poor South Africans who were hurt the most by his rule. While they loot televisions and microwaves from malls, the former president’s government stole billions in taxpayer money that could have created jobs and built houses, hospitals and schools.

Stoked by Zuma’s faction as well as a plethora of fake news on social media, the protests in Zuma’s home province KwaZulu-Natal heartland and the economic center of Gauteng province have now devolved into anarchy the likes of which South Africa has not seen since the final years of the struggle against apartheid.

Suhayl Essa, an emergency room doctor, was working at Johannesburg’s Hillbrow Clinic when rioting broke out nearby. He saved a 6-month-old baby shot by a rubber bullet but was unable to help a man who had been knifed in the neck by looters.


“It felt like I was in a war zone,” Essa told OZY. “We’re already in such a dire situation with COVID.”

While tribal tensions are seldom mentioned in democratic South Africa, where white-Black fault lines remain an issue, Ramaphosa warned earlier this week against “ethnic mobilization.” This was an apparent reference to Zuma’s Zulu tribe, the biggest in the country. Already, white and Indian South Africans are arming themselves and forming neighborhood watch groups to protect their property, raising fears of vigilantism.

The country also has a history of deadly xenophobic attacks on other African nationals. It’s a powder keg waiting to explode unless the police and army are able to enforce the rule of law.

Alarmingly, the unrest is hampering a vaccine rollout that’s just getting off the ground in the country worst hit by the pandemic on the continent, with more than 65,000 deaths and an oxygen shortage that’s hobbling its battle against the dangerous Delta variant of the virus.

The riots, fueled mostly by maskless looters breaking curfew, could prove the ultimate superspreader events. Vaccination sites that have been damaged or are at risk have been closed, pharmacies and medical centers have been looted, ambulances have been attacked, and HIV patients have had their access to antiretrovirals disrupted.

There are also concerns about food and fuel shortages caused by panic buying. Siyabonga, a 30-year-old from Mandela’s home township of Soweto, told OZY he stopped at several shops in search of bread, and they were all out of the staple.

Today, local communities gathered to defend Soweto’s last remaining shopping center, the Black-owned Maponya Mall, a symbol of post-apartheid South Africa.

“The poor people will suffer,” Siyabonga said. “We were happy the vaccine was here, but now people are causing more damage. … They were not supporting Zuma, they were just stealing.”

And what they’re stealing is priceless. It’s called a dream. One of the modern world’s most ambitious democratic experiments faces its greatest test. Will there still be a rainbow on the other side of this storm?

Hey, Teacher! Indigenous School Wrongs Are Global

When news broke last month that the remains of at least 215 children had been found at what was once Canada’s largest residential school, in the country’s westernmost province, many began wondering whether the discovery was just the tip of the iceberg. South of the Canadian border, hundreds and perhaps thousands of children are believed to have died in church- and government-run residential schools in the 19th and 20th centuries. The conventional thinking among white settlers was that native people needed to be reformed, modernized and educated, and that a Christian education would put all that in place; in practice, whole cultures were wiped out. Decades on, it remains a horrifying and still-unreconciled issue for Indigenous communities across the U.S. and Canada. And with two churches on Indigenous land in Canada burned down using liquid accelerants on Monday, controversy is set to rumble on.

But the forced “re-education” of Indigenous communities is by no means solely a North American experience: Almost everywhere colonialists have set foot, efforts to indoctrinate local populations to the European way of living — and thinking — have been front and center.

Today, we look at how these past wrongs are increasingly coming to light, the voices demanding accountability and, importantly, how some countries are working to promote Indigenous education and culture.

‘kill the indian, save the man’

Pratt’s Maxim

Canada’s system of residential schools for First Nations children has its roots in America’s Indigenous boarding schools. And the origins of the U.S. model lie in a belief articulated with remarkable racist clarity by Col. Richard Pratt, an Army officer who founded and led the Pennsylvania-based Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the first of more than 350 off-reservation boarding schools set up across dozens of U.S. states and territories starting in the mid-19th century. “All the Indian there is in the race should be dead,” Pratt said in an 1892 speech. “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” It was a philosophy that drove the forced separation of hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children from their families for nearly a hundred years. At the residential schools, children’s heads were shaved, students were punished severely if caught speaking their native language and were physically and sexually abused.

All About Money

Why go to such extremes to destroy children? As in many cases of exploitation, it ultimately boiled down to cold, brutal, capitalist calculations. In the late 1880s, the U.S. government concluded it made more sense to culturally kill Indigenous communities through education than to spend money assassinating them. “It is cheaper to give them education than to fight them,” Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hiram Price said in 1885. The government made it legal to withhold rations from families that refused to part with their children, and some parents were even jailed in high-security prisons such as San Francisco’s Alcatraz.

Canada’s Genocide

Tried and tested in the U.S., this model of forced “assimilation” was also adopted by authorities in Canada, where at least 6,000 Indigenous children died in residential schools, a government-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded in 2015. The TRC, established in 2008 accompanied by a public apology from then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper, called it “cultural genocide” — though it wasn’t only culture that had been killed.

America’s Schools Continue

While Canada has attempted to address the horrific legacy of its Indigenous boarding schools, authorities in America have made no such move. In 2017, the bodies of three boys who had died at Pratt’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School were excavated, sparking fresh calls for a thorough investigation into practices at the boarding schools. But while Canada shut its state-funded residential schools for First Nations children in 1996, the federal government in the U.S. continues to run four such schools. However, today these schools aren’t theaters of coercion the way they once were. But they are clear reminders of festering wounds that — like in Canada — could explode and force America to grapple with a chapter of its past that many appear to want to forget.

Read more on OZY


it’s bad elsewhere too


Beijing loves pointing fingers at systemic racism in the West whenever it faces criticism over its human rights record. But when it comes to using education to Sinicize ethnic minorities, the Chinese Communist Party is following Pratt’s example pretty closely. For decades, it tried to mold Uyghurs and Tibetans through demographic changes, crackdowns on their culture and violence. But much like the U.S. during the 19th century, it has concluded that there are alternative ways to get what it wants: In 2019, as it detained hundreds of thousands of Uyghur adults in internment camps, Beijing sent the children left behind to state-run boarding schools. Over the past two years, China has dramatically ramped up a similar program in provinces with Tibetan populations, taking children away to schools in other parts of the country. At these schools — called neidi in Mandarin — they’re cut off from their people and cultural context.

Read more on OZY


If you’ve seen the award-winning film Rabbit-Proof Fence, you’ll have garnered a sense of just how terrible the history of Australia’s “Stolen Generations” is, and seen that the wounds still run deep Down Under today. From the beginning of the 20th century through to the 1970s, tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were ripped from their families and placed in institutions and foster homes, where many suffered neglect, or, worse, terrible abuse. Colonial policies focused on “assimilation” were put in place so that Indigenous people would “die out” and become part of “civilized” white society. They were forbidden from speaking Indigenous languages and their names were changed.

Brazil and Colombia

On a continent where the Catholic Church played a vital and disturbing role in colonization, its denominations were also central to 20th-century efforts to use education to indoctrinate Indigenous children and to sever the intergenerational transfer of cultural knowledge. In Colombia, the government supported multiple Catholic orders that established boarding schools where Indigenous children were taken at the age of 5 and barred from speaking their languages, wearing traditional clothing or visiting their families. A Jesuit order in Brazil ran a similar school for children of the Manoki community, again prohibiting them from speaking their native language. In both countries, Indigenous children were encouraged to intermarry with other communities when they grew up — and were at times even paid if they did so.


Dinesh Majhi remembers mornings at school well. He and his fellow classmates from the 62 Adivasi (which means “original inhabitants” in Hindi) communities in eastern India’s Odisha state would queue up in neat lines and, when instructed, start brushing their teeth vigorously. At the time, it seemed like a funny ritual. Today, it angers Majhi, who is a teacher in New Delhi. “They were basically trying to ‘teach us’ to be clean,” he tells OZY with a hollow laugh. Majhi attended Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, the world’s largest boarding school, with 33,000 students. KISS promises “inclusive education” and claims its aim is to “uplift” India’s Adivasi communities, which have a collective population in excess of 100 million people. But independent researchers have argued that KISS is a 21st-century version of the “civilizational” mission that Pratt and his colleagues once attempted. And it’s only one of thousands of Adivasi boarding schools that still operate across India.


The children of Indigenous San people, also known as Bushmen, often live in remote communities, and the government provides schools with hostels for their children so they can get an education. However, the institutions, known as Remote Area Dweller Hostels, have come under criticism for failing to teach the students their native languages and for the fact that “the idea of separating parents and children are foreign to San culture and the pain and alienation that San students feel at boarding schools can be acute,” according to a U.N. report. The result is that a lot of San children are deprived of any cultural knowledge and drop out.

voices for change

Canada’s Nakuset

If the Nazis deserved to be tried at Nuremberg for the Holocaust, why shouldn’t Canada face similar accountability for its centuries of genocide against Indigenous communities? That’s the question First Nations activist Nakuset is posing after the discovery of the remains of the 215 children in Kamloops. She was separated from her sister as a child under a set of policies known as the Sixties Scoop, which allowed authorities to pick up Indigenous children and place them in foster care, from where white families could adopt them. Now, she wants the Canadian government to stand trial for its crimes.

Australia’s Greens

In 2008, then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a historic apology to the Aboriginal people, with May 26 now deemed “National Sorry Day.” But was it enough? There has long been talk of reparations, and while some state governments have introduced compensation schemes, there have been no payments at the federal level. In April, 800 Indigenous people who were either forcibly removed from their families or are descendents of those who were, brought a class action suit against Canberra, seeking compensation. Last month, the Greens, an opposition party, urged the federal government to allow reparations that would see about $200,000 given to each member of the Stolen Generations nationally.

Brazil’s Ana Paula Ferreira De Lima

She’s making sure Brazil doesn’t get away with educational discrimination just because it no longer has schools like the one Jesuits once ran for the Manoki community. The country’s Indigenous communities constitute 0.5% of Brazil’s population, but 30% of its out-of-school children. The lack of public transportation to schools is a key reason. Ferreira De Lima trains young Indigenous girls to speak up for their rights and empowers them to advocate for their demands with lawmakers. It’s working. FUNDEB, a government fund meant to support schools in marginalized communities, was supposed to wind up in December. But pressure from groups led by Ferreira De Lima ensured that the Brazilian Senate approved a constitutional amendment to make the fund permanent.

Czech Republic’s Magdalena Karvayova

As shocking as it is in 2021, many Roma children in schools across Europe attend segregated schools, where they receive a subpar education. Not only that, some countries place Roma students in remedial classes for pupils with disabilities. These policies are widespread in countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In the latter, Karvayova, a Roma activist who was given a U.S. human rights award in 2018, is trying to fix the inequality in the education system by advocating for Roma inclusion in mainstream schools. Though she now holds a law degree, Karvayova experienced discrimination as a younger student in school, where she was told she’d be better off with her “own race.”

Witch Doctor Riding Horse

where it’s done differently


For 35 years under the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, children who spoke the country’s native language Guaraní in the classroom were beaten, starved and forced to wear diapers as a form of humiliation. But after Stroessner’s removal in 1989, Paraguay adopted a radical new approach with unmatched results. Through a new constitution in 1992, the South American nation made Guaraní a mandatory language of instruction in schools, alongside Spanish. Three decades later, at a time when Indigenous languages across the Americas and Australia are dying out with each passing generation, Guaraní is thriving: 7 out of 10 Paraguayans speak the language today, including many who aren’t from Indigenous backgrounds.

South Africa

On many a Cape Town street these days, you can find the Sackcloth people: dreadlocked men dressed in sackcloth selling medicinal herbs gathered on the mountains and meant to heal all kinds of ills. Long relegated to the periphery by the mainstream, Indigenous South African people have a vast knowledge of biodiversity and the environment, and one program, called Inkcubeko Nendalo, is seeking to take that expertise to schools, where the focus until recently has been on Western scientific knowledge. Now, Indigenous elders are being sent to speak to students, and local ecological knowledge is being integrated into curriculums.

Aadharshila, India

But residential schools don’t have to follow the Pratt model. In a remote part of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, educator couple Amit and Jayashree run one of the country’s most revolutionary schools. The pair has lived among the region’s Adivasi for more than two decades. And Aadharshila Learning Centre, the school they run, reflects their deep understanding of the communities they’re working with. The curriculum marries traditional Adivasi knowledge systems with the latest tech advances. Students perform theater, produce their own newspaper and podcasts, cultivate crops and help manage the school. Teaching is conducted in the local Bareli language. And older students regularly teach classes of younger students — keeping alive the tradition of oral transfer of knowledge that’s intrinsic to Indigenous communities.


For centuries, Christian missionaries in Samiland, an area that stretches over parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, put “heathen” Sami children in boarding schools, with many later saying they had experienced trauma in the institutions. Now, the three Scandinavian countries are trying to atone for the historical injustices against the Arctic Indigenous people, setting up a project to see how Sami children at the preschool level can be best taught in a way that reinforces their native languages and cultural knowledge. Ol-Johan Sikku, one of the project leaders in Norway, explained why the effort is so important, saying: “Our children are educated in a dominant culture that’s not our own.”

Biden Battles Abortion Debate: What’s at Stake?

It’s been a major factor in America’s culture wars, dividing the country for decades. Now, abortion is right back in the headlines with Catholic bishops voting Friday to approve a “teaching document” that would rebuke U.S. President Joe Biden and other politicians for receiving Holy Communion despite their stance on abortion. The move follows the U.S. Supreme Court last month agreeing to take a case that challenges the seminal Roe v. Wade decision. Yet as a woman’s right to end her pregnancy becomes embroiled in political and legal debates in the U.S., Poland and El Salvador, pro-choice activists on the island of Ireland and in majority-Catholic Argentina have achieved surprising gains. Today’s Daily Dose delves into the pressing debate around a woman’s right to choose and looks to where the ever-controversial issue is headed next.

american abortion acrimony

Biden’s Burden

President Joe Biden firmly supports abortion rights. But as evinced by Friday’s news, his stance has landed him in hot water with his church. A Catholic who carries his deceased son’s rosary beads and attends weekly mass, Biden’s views have divided religious leaders. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ vote — despite not receiving Vatican support — shows the breadth of the divide facing the church and many of its followers at this critical juncture. One figure, Cardinal Raymond Burke, is even on record saying “apostate” politicians should be denied the Holy Eucharist. A recent survey by Pew Research Center shows, however, that 67% of Catholic Americans think Biden should be allowed to receive Communion.

Challenge to Roe

Bookish law students aside, most Americans would struggle to name more than a couple of Supreme Court cases. But Roe v. Wade, so historic and divisive, would be the first out of many mouths. The landmark 1973 decision, which rules that the Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s right to an abortion, once again faces a significant threat. Last month, America’s highest court agreed to hear Mississippi’s bid to ban almost all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The court, which now skews 6-3 in favor of conservative judges, will debate the matter in its next term, with a ruling not expected until next year.

Viral Valedictorian

Just this month, Texas teen Paxton Smith caused shock after going off-script during her valedictorian speech to talk about abortion. “I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body,” she said, referring to a new law in Texas banning abortion from as early as six weeks. She added, “I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail me, that if I’m raped, then my hopes and aspirations, efforts and dreams for myself will no longer matter.” The speech was widely praised by former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, Hillary Clinton and others. The law, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says will “save lives,” is set to come into force in September.

Past Challenges

Roe v. Wade has faced, and weathered, a number of assaults over the years. In 1989, a Missouri statute defining life as beginning at conception and prohibiting public facilities from offering to terminate pregnancies was upheld by the Supreme Court. In 1992, a law that required a 24-hour waiting period and counseling for women seeking abortions, and also insisted that a wife inform her husband, was upheld — except for the spousal notice requirement. Then in 2003, former President George W. Bush signed a law prohibiting certain abortion procedures, including the “intact dilation and extraction” procedure. A plethora of other challenges have gone through America’s court system aimed at chipping at Roe and often making abortion trickier for women to access.

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the battle ahead

RIP RBG, Now for ACB

Pro-choice campaigners say that with the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September and former President Donald Trump’s appointment of the conservative Catholic justice Amy Coney Barrett, who took her place a month later, “alarm bells are ringing” over the threat to a women’s right to choose. If the top court next year rules in favor of Mississippi, which currently has only one abortion clinic, abortions would be banned much earlier than the 24-to-28-week time frame that doctors say is typically necessary before the fetus can survive outside of the womb — while potentially setting a precedent that other states could follow. While the justices struck down an attempt by Louisiana to restrict abortion last year, that was while Bader Ginsburg was still on the court.

Heartbeat Bill

The measure Paxton Smith railed against will see abortion in Texas banned after six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can often be detected. The problem, says the pro-choice camp, is that at six weeks, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant yet. The law also makes no exceptions for rape or incest and allows for abortion providers to be sued, even by private citizens. Texas now has some of the most severe abortion restrictions in the country, but there are plenty of other states with legislatures that are keen to follow suit. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice think tank, there have been 561 abortion restrictions, including 165 abortion bans, introduced across 47 states in the 2021 legislative session alone.

What If Roe Falls?

So, big picture, what’s at stake? Well, if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe, abortion would likely be prohibited in 24 states, mainly in the South and across much of the Midwest. Twenty-one states have state statutes, constitutions and laws that protect abortion even if Roe is overturned, but others have so-called “trigger laws” waiting to go into effect. This would create “abortion deserts” and “abortion havens,” forcing women in the former to travel to seek terminations in the latter, which, due to financial and logistical constraints, would be impossible or extremely difficult for many, and would disproportionately affect women of color. Even with Roe in place, state restrictions mean many women are already living a “No Roe” reality.

international reproductive rights

Argentina: Changes Afoot

In January, the South American country became one of only a few in the region to legalize abortion after a series of mass rallies by pro-choice activists wearing trademark green handkerchiefs. Figures from the predominantly Catholic country suggest it’s actually “pro-life” to be pro-choice, considering secret backstreet abortions have killed more than 3,000 women since 1983. Previously, terminations were only allowed after a rape or if a woman’s life was endangered. Despite the change to the law, however, women seeking abortions in the country still face challenges, with some doctors declaring themselves conscientious objectors. Cuba, Uruguay and Guyana legalized abortion before Argentina, but the recent move has prompted renewed debate in Chile on the issue. Will Argentina’s neighbor now see its own “green wave”?

The Island of Ireland: Progress Made

With abortion readily accessible in most of the U.K. for decades, Northern Ireland held out until 2019, when it finally decriminalized terminations. Before then, many women were forced to make the expensive overseas trip to England to terminate their pregnancies. Over the border in the Republic of Ireland, things weren’t much better. It took the death in 2012 of Savita Halappanavar — she was denied an abortion because of a fetal heartbeat while undergoing a miscarriage that proved fatal — to galvanize a massive pro-choice campaign called “Repeal the Eighth.” It referred to the country’s constitutional eighth amendment, which had given equal rights to mother and baby. In 2018, Ireland held a referendum on the issue, which saw the pro-choice camp win a landslide 66.4% of the vote to overturn the ban.

Poland: Harsh New Laws

Meanwhile, in January, Poland ushered in a near-total ban on abortion, despite huge protests in the 38-million-strong country. Termination is now only allowed in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is at risk. In the case of fetal abnormalities, however, it is prohibited. The court ruled that “an unborn child is a human being” and therefore has a right to life. Taking their cue from Argentina, many of the protesters wore green, while Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw and an opponent of the ruling, encouraged women to take to the streets. But with a conservative government in power and the influential church hierarchy steadfast, the ban went ahead. Doctors caught performing terminations now face up to three years in jail.

El Salvador: No Leeway

This Central American nation has some of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world, handing out long prison sentences to women who have illegal abortions or are suspected of having done so. Earlier this month, Sara Rogel, 28, was released from prison early after serving nine years of her original 30-year sentence. Rogel, a student, was arrested in 2012 when she went to the hospital with bleeding she said resulted from a fall. Activists say many women in the country are wrongly imprisoned after suffering obstetric emergencies. Even in the case of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger, El Salvador bans abortion.

Worldwide: The Big Picture

Seventy-two countries, including most Western democracies, allow abortion on request with different term limits, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. The U.S., Australia, South Africa and much of the EU fall into this category, as do China and Russia. Gestational limits vary from country to country, with Iceland and Australia having some of the most progressive laws, permitting abortion up until 22 weeks. India and Japan also have liberal abortion laws, which take into account a woman’s social or economic circumstances. However, some 24 countries around the world restrict abortion altogether and another 42 only permit it in order to save the woman’s life, meaning that a lot of the world’s women have no access to abortion whatsoever.

Global Gag Rule

If you’re an American, you may not think national attitudes toward abortion affect women thousands of miles away in Asia or Africa. But you’d be wrong. Whether U.S. aid money is able to go toward NGOs overseas depends very much on the party in power in Washington, D.C. Under the Trump administration, for instance, a Reagan-era policy known as “the global gag rule” was expanded so that not only would foreign reproductive rights groups be disallowed government funding, NGOs working in other areas of sexual health such as HIV/AIDS would also be unable to access money. Impoverished women suffer the most from the U.S. policy, which, instead of decreasing abortions, has in fact been shown to contribute to an increase in unsafe abortions and maternal mortality.

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what the science says

A Heartbeat?

It’s more of a flutter, doctors say, with new technology able to detect, but not hear, the “heartbeat” on an ultrasound. Technically, it’s “a group of cells with electrical activity,” and medical science shows that even until about the 20th week of pregnancy, what will eventually be the heart remains “a disorganized jumble of tissue.” Some scientists say the pro-life camp uses terms such as “heartbeat” to play on people’s emotions and intentionally obfuscate, claiming that it proves “viability” of the heart, which scientists say is not the case.

The Abortion Pill or In-Clinic Abortion

The abortion pill is very different from Plan B, the so-called morning-after pill, which some mistake it for. The morning-after pill prevents a pregnancy from occurring, whereas the abortion pill, or medical abortion, can be used to safely end an early pregnancy up to 11 weeks. When a pregnancy is further along, a woman may need to have an in-clinic, or surgical, abortion. This takes five to 10 minutes and is safe when done legally. If you need to talk to someone about your options or to get counseling, you can contact Planned Parenthood in your state here.

The Stats

No woman wants to have an abortion; it is born out of necessity, whether for health or economic reasons, rape or simply not being ready for parenthood. In many places, contraception isn’t even an option. According to international contraception and abortion provider Marie Stopes, 218 million women and girls worldwide have no access to contraception; 25 million will have an unsafe abortion, and some 22,000 of them will die as a result.

Afghanistan: What’s at Stake?

Nine years ago, I spent a month reporting from Afghanistan. At once beautiful and brutal, this troubled nation got under my skin, and I’ve yearned to go back ever since. At the time America was only about halfway through its longest war, and there was already fatigue and cynicism but also hope — most evident in the streams of girls seen flocking to school every morning. Since then, several of the local journalists I met on my trip have been killed by the Taliban, and the schoolgirls are again targets of deadly bombings. Now the U.S. is cutting its losses after 20 hard years and pulling troops out. In today’s Daily Dose, you’ll learn what’s next for this oft-invaded country at the heart of the Silk Road and its long-suffering people.

withdrawal symptoms

Taliban Returns. This is the worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, it’s the one experts are betting on. The group, which ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, wasted no time in launching a major offensive in Helmand province as soon as the U.S. troop pullout began on May 1. Since then, they have negotiated the surrender of 26 government positions and bases, including four district centers that serve as local seats of Kabul’s authority.. The Sunni Islamists have promised to “respect human rights,” but for a group that imposes strict sharia law and bans girls from school, that seems unlikely. Pakistan could be kingmaker after the U.S. departure, having long been accused of backing the Taliban, but officials in Islamabad maintain that they’re not helping the group return to power. Meanwhile, the Taliban has warned neighboring countries not to let Washington use their territory to stage continued military forays into Afghanistan. Read more on OZY.

Filling the Vacuum. Even if Pakistan is to be believed, the U.S. exit provides a valuable opportunity for other great powers to fill the void. Enter the dragon. Beijing officials have made conflicting noises about President Joe Biden’s decision to get all remaining troops out by Sept. 11. At first they criticized Washington for leaving an unstable country on China’s doorstep, but later the foreign ministry said it supports the troop withdrawal and looks forward to playing a role in its volatile neighbor’s future. A lot is at stake for China, which is Afghanistan’s largest foreign investor and now wants to extend its Belt and Road Initiative to pass through the territory. Beijing, while having made overtures to the Taliban in the past, also worries the group might shelter China’s own Islamic extremists. Read more on OZY.

Power-Sharing Government. This is the glass half-full version. Some experts argue that neither the Taliban nor the Afghan government have the ability to subdue the other and therefore will inevitably have to work together. The U.S. has also indicated it won’t stand by and let the country become a terrorist haven, and the European Union will not want a wave of refugees at its borders again like it saw with Syria. Last month Afghan President Ashraf Ghani penned a piece in Foreign Affairs laying out his plan for peace and saying: “a political settlement and the integration of the Taliban into society and government is the only way forward.”

Islamic State Expansion. The Taliban has been helping to keep Islamic State militants at bay and part of President Joe Biden’s reckoning in withdrawing U.S. forces has been that the wide-ranging terror-fomenting group poses little threat now to the West. However, some experts worry that in any chaos following the withdrawal of American and NATO troops, this extremist group forged in the Middle East may stage a return. Washington blamed them for several recent deadly attacks, including one on a maternity hospital last year. As analyst and author Colin Clarke notes: “It was the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that provided the opportunity for the rise of the Islamic State.”


women’s woes 

In Government. Right now about 27 percent of Afghanistan’s parliamentary seats are reserved for women. One of the bravest and most outspoken members of parliament is Fawzia Koofi, who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban last year. Despite that, the 46-year-old is among those MPs in stalled negotiations with the group, which she sees as a necessary evil. “I think it (would have been) better if President Biden’s troop withdrawal announcement could happen after a political settlement was reached,” Koofi told OZY in an interview, explaining that the militants see less point in negotiating a power-sharing deal now that victory seems at hand. 

In Education. Some 3.5 million girls out of about 9 million students are now enrolled in education. But as an attack on a Kabul school last month that killed 90 people has shown, this progress is precarious. Koofi says she visited some of the hospitalized girls and was inspired by their resilience, explaining, “even in the hospital, they were reading books and they said they’d go back to school.” While Afghans long for an end to decades of war, many dread losing hard-won gains. “There is a girl from one of the remote provinces who told me that she now goes to school and . . . on the way, there are days that there are rocket attacks,” Koofi says, but the girl would rather take that risk than have to stay at home. 

Donate here to help Koofi educate orphaned teenage girls in Afghanistan.

Women at Work. After being practically invisible in the Taliban era, during which they were often married off young and brutally punished for the smallest infractions, women are now able to participate in civic life in Afghanistan. But, as Koofi notes, they are a prime target, even with the U.S. in the country. “Since February (2020), more than 400 women were killed through targeted killings . . . women like judges, journalists, all of these strong professionals that are prominent,” she says. A lot of women feel betrayed by the troop pullout, she adds, knowing it will make them even more vulnerable.

friends the west forgot

Lost in Translation. In its mission to win hearts and minds and fight militants, successful or not, American and allied forces relied heavily on their Afghan translators. For 20 years, these brave men and women supported the U.S. project in Afghanistan at great personal risk and saved countless lives. Should the Taliban retake power, they could be the first targets. Washington now has a moral and ethical obligation to settle these people — something the Pentagon’s top general affirmed last week. There’s a visa program for them, but it takes an average of three years for a visa to be processed, and there are currently 18,000 Afghans awaiting approval, while Britain is also scrambling to rescue its interpreters. Once foreign troops are gone, one translator told journalists, the Taliban “will slaughter us.”

Hazaras. Minority rights also look set to suffer under a Taliban return. Before the Taliban government was ousted in 2001, ethnic Hazaras were persecuted and in some cases massacred. Last month’s horrific attack on schoolgirls took place in a predominantly Hazara community in Kabul, although the Taliban blamed Islamic State for that carnage. Theocratic militants from either group view these Shiite Muslims as heretics, and anxious Hazaras are now forming a militia in the mountains of Wardak province, noting that they have no choice but to take up arms if the Americans leave. Ethnic minorities currently enjoy protection under the constitution, but like the U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria who were abandoned by the Trump administration in 2019, the Hazaras now face a bleak future. 

Refugee Surge. One result of the foreign troop withdrawal is sure to be a new flood of desperate Afghans seeking asylum abroad. They are already the second largest group of asylum seekers in Europe, with some 2.6 million Afghans displaced worldwide. And they’ve had an even tougher time than their Syrian counterparts: European governments have been repatriating thousands of asylum seekers to Afghanistan, sometimes with deadly consequences. But many more are in Pakistan and Iran than Western countries, and sending refugees back now, as troops withdraw, will only add to the country’s woes. Meanwhile, a new influx of refugees to the West will deprive Afghanistan of the educated and experienced people sorely needed to rebuild.

Robotic Girls Club Exhibition-ByUNicef

afghan changemakers 

Somaya Faruqi.  During my weeks in Afghanistan, I sometimes felt I was driving through a landscape unchanged since Alexander the Great passed through. Mules pulled ramshackle carts, children played outside mud houses, burqa-shrouded women lay prostrate and begging in the middle of dusty roads. The Taliban had tried hard to turn back the centuries in the country, which at one point in the 1970s was a key stop on the hippy trail and a place where some Afghan women wore miniskirts. If there are two things the Taliban don’t like, it’s educated women and technological advancement. Somaya Faruqi is an example of both. The 17-year-old led the country’s Girls Robotic Team to develop ventilators when they started running short last year as COVID-19 ravaged her nation. Faruqi is a strong proponent of girls in STEM fields: “I want Afghanistan and the whole world to shift their mindsets and acknowledge that girls are equal to boys and can use science and technology to innovate.”

Ali ATH. Dr. Dre and Jay-Z. Those are two artists Kabul-based rapper Ali ATH cites as influences. Music was banned under the Taliban as “un-Islamic,” but in the 20 years since the U.S. invasion, rap and other genres have become increasingly popular. Ali ATH makes money from his rap videos on YouTube, which have a fair amount of expletives and don’t mince words about governmental or religious authorities. However, he worries that with the pullout his days could be numbered. “If the Taliban find out I make music, they could kill me. I don’t even want to think about it.” he said.

#IAmMySong. Not one changemaker, but a movement. In what many saw as an overture to the ascendent Taliban — who recently refused to attend peace talks in Doha — the Ministry of Education earlier this year moved to ban girls who’ve reached the age of 12 from singing at public events. In a sign of just how much things have changed in 20 years, the reaction was outrage as girls and women took to social media under #IAmMySong with videos of themselves singing in protest. Chastened officials have since said they’re reassessing the move.

Shahrbanoo Sadat. It would have been unthinkable under the Taliban, which stoned people for adultery. Now this female millennial director has made a taboo-defying film that’s been dubbed Afghanistan’s first romcom. The millennial’s new movie is Kabul Jan, which is already generating interest internationally. It follows the story of a woman who falls in love with a married man. “You rarely see a comedy or a musical coming from war-torn countries. There’s this idea that your stories have to be about suffering – and yes, one side of life is full of tragedies. But there are also so many things to laugh about,” Sadat says. 

Rashid Khan: Cricket might be a national obsession in India and neighboring Pakistan, but in Afghanistan under the Taliban it was banned for being “un-Islamic.” Kabul’s national sports stadium was instead used for executions. After the group’s ouster, the country’s national cricket team was established and this Gen Z bowler has since become an international superstar with several heavy-hitting teams competing for his talents. The 22-year-old grew up as a refugee in Pakistan but in a remarkable rags-to-riches story went on to become Afghanistan’s first Indian Premier League millionaire.

Roya Mahboob: This businesswoman and tech entrepreneur first discovered her love of computers as a teenager in Herat province but, as a girl, wasn’t even allowed into the local computer shop. Now Mahboob’s Afghan Citadel Software Company fosters tech jobs for university-educated women. She’s also helped get computers into classrooms and believes STEM education is the future for Afghan girls and women in the globalized world. The Dreamer Institute, the first STEM school in the country, is supposed to open next year  — if whoever is in charge by then allows it to happen. 

The Taliban Tried to Kill Her. Now She Negotiates With Them

Fawzia Koofi’s early life story mirrors that of many Afghan women. When Koofi was born, her mother left the infant girl out in the sun to die, disappointed that she hadn’t had a son. The newborn suffered terrible burns to her face before the family repented and took her home.

Despite her ignoble entry into the world, which she describes in her autobiography, Koofi rose to become the first female speaker of the Afghan Parliament and an influential politician. She has survived assassination attempts and yet is among the politicians currently in peace talks with the Taliban.    

I spoke to Koofi by phone recently, some nine years after first having tea with her at her Kabul home. I asked her what she thinks about the U.S. troop pullout and beleaguered Afghanistan’s future.

On the U.S. decision to unconditionally withdraw troops by 9/11:

It was supposed to be conditional withdrawal and conditions-based, so the Taliban needed to deliver certain things including a political settlement. President Biden’s announcement … put the Taliban in a position where they will win anyway: militarily or politically. They feel less obliged to (make) a power-sharing arrangement. I think it would have been better if President Biden’s troop withdrawal announcement could (have) happened after a political settlement was reached … Probably the Taliban (would then have had) more generosity and sincerity at the negotiation table. The leverage the U.S. had was the Doha agreement to pressurize the Taliban for a genuine engagement, but they have now announced the unconditional withdrawal so that leverage is not there anymore.

On negotiating with a group that doesn’t recognize women’s rights:

I’ve been present at negotiations for six or seven months. Their attitudes towards me personally have been that we are there just for decoration. The perspective is [women] are there to confront them, not there for meaningful participation. We have to go through a constant process of struggling … to the extent that we’re acceptable. That does not mean that the Taliban have that attitude on the ground. I think [it’s only the] Taliban who are in the five-star hotels, under the observation of the foreigners, including the U.N. and the U.S., they try to show willingness and respect. But those that are fighting, we still see that there are girls’ schools being attacked, we still see that women are being unlawfully punished, we see that women are not even allowed to go to school or to work, so we see that these problems exist in areas that are controlled by the Taliban. I was attacked myself last year but along with me, women like judges, journalists, all of these strong professionals [who] are prominent. So the situation on the ground is different to the negotiation room. 

On why she risks her life to do her work:

Afghanistan has been in [an] active war for over four decades. The civilians are the main tool of war, and we have paid the highest price. I really hope that the negotiations do not fail because we are born in war, we grow up in war, we have not only lost parts of our body, we lost so many opportunities. If this country was in peace I’m sure the citizens, including the women, could have made this country much more advanced. The collapse of institutions and government is something I have actually seen in my lifetime, with the Russian withdrawal. I was a school student, but I could see how institutions collapsed and civil war escalated, followed by the Taliban. I hope we will not witness that. My struggle is actually for my daughters (ages 21 and 22) and their generation because they need to live in a peaceful country. I have been in Afghanistan all my life, I am going to stay here until it becomes impossible. 

On Generation Z, social media and Afghanistan’s brain drain:

I think the institutions are now strong, but at the same time, I think there will be intensive war and escalating violence. A lot of people are actually leaving Afghanistan — brain drain. When I go in the streets, I can see families trying to send their house supplies (overseas) to leave Afghanistan. These are professionals, experts [in] whom Afghanistan has invested a lot. Everyone has the worry that probably we will go back to scratch, but I think we will not because society has become more mobilized towards common principles of democracy. They use mobile phones and social media to let the world know about the problems, so if there is any sign of oppression now it goes viral on social media and people react, and they are not really just a witness but they feel they have a responsibility. Talking with these young people, they actually do not trust this peace process. 

On the future for women and girls:

The Taliban see progress for women as a product of the West. But actually, it’s from the strength and resilience of women. At the end of the day, Americans and the international community leave … women of Afghanistan behind. A lot of women actually feel betrayal because they think they were not consulted. Americans were not in Afghanistan because they wanted to protect women … but they were here and women allied with them. They should continue to financially support women’s education, employment and institutions that help women. I visited the girls’ school that was attacked. I was inspired by their strength … even in the hospital they were reading books and they said they’d go back to school.  There is a girl from one of the remote provinces who told me that she now walks to school. On the way, there are days that there are rocket attacks and insecurity but if there is a peace (deal) that will stop her from going to school, she prefers to experience this than stay home. 

Mama Knows Best: Pandemic Pain and Hope

It’s been a hard year, especially for women and moms. Many faced life-altering career decisions to tend to at-home care and schooling, while others confronted difficult health circumstances in a world on hold and shut down. This Mother’s Day, we’re bringing you a special edition of OZY’s Sunday Magazine, sharing the personal stories of 11 women across five continents and how they’ve dealt with motherhood and unprecedented challenges amid the pandemic. From America to Africa to Asia, from single moms to adoptive moms to moms-to-be to grandmothers, here’s the mother of all Mother’s Day reads.

Mama Bears

Richa Jain, 36, Bangalore, India

With the near-constant sound of ambulance sirens from the street ringing in my ears, I pick up my phone and check my Facebook group of breastfeeding mothers. Over the past year, I’ve found tips, answers to questions and relief in moments of doubt, all in that group. But in recent days, that platform — like every other channel of communication in India today — has offered little comfort. Instead, it has served as a chilling reminder of what it means to be a mother during the worst pandemic in a century.

I’ve read story after story of young families devastated by the deadly second COVID-19 wave that’s raging through India: one parent dead, the other critical and in hospital, their baby alone at home. The child could be a potential carrier, so neighbors don’t want to risk taking care of it — like it’s an infant grenade that could explode with virus droplets deadlier than shrapnel.

So yes, there have been days when I’ve wondered: What if my husband and I aren’t around anymore? The terror that every Indian is living through today is vastly different from the optimism of February when my daughter was born. At the time, India’s caseload was low, vaccines were about to arrive, and 2021 promised to be better than 2020. Three months later, those expectations have evaporated in the fumes from smoldering funeral pyres that dot the country’s cities. Barely a day passes without news of the virus claiming one more person we knew well.

Still, I’m lucky and I’m grateful that my husband and I are together and are healthy, and my parents are with me. Most importantly, my daughter is in my arms, forcing me to focus on the life we want to give her, even amid the shadow of death all around us.

Cecilia Aipira, 45, Malawi/Kenya

I have lived in six cities across four continents in the past decade. It has been one big adventure. So, if you had told me two years ago that I would now be anchored down in Nairobi, raising 10-year-old twin girls in the middle of a pandemic, I would have laughed in your face. But here I am, a clueless single mum trying to guide my two kids on how to navigate our mean, wondrous world.

When the plight of twin girls in my home country of Malawi came to my attention in 2020, I decided I would “save” them. Then COVID-19 hit. Taking advice from my lawyer, I decided to relocate to Malawi to speed up the adoption process. With airports closed, I packed my car and decided the time was right for that one big road trip that I had always wanted to do. So, for three days I traversed the Kenyan and Tanzanian savannas before wearily crossing into Malawi.

The adoption process was straightforward, and by the end of December 2020, I was legally a mum. But it takes time to process these new realities, and there have been moments when I have harbored serious doubts about my parenting abilities. Immediately after the adoption was granted but before taking custody of the kids, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since primary school. She asked me how many kids I had, and without batting an eyelid, I told her I didn’t have any. It wasn’t until that night that I woke with a start and thought: “What the hell is wrong with you?!! You have two kids now!” In January 2021, after the adoption and travel paperwork were done, it was time to return to Nairobi.

You are probably wondering how we have fared so far. Well, the twins are still alive and quickly assimilating into typical big-city girls. They are speaking English, demanding to eat out, going on playdates and enjoying safaris. We play, laugh and have farting competitions. But it has been distressing watching two 10-year-olds struggle to read due to their lack of education in early life. And yes, there are infuriating moments when I just want my old life back. But I am in total awe of their resilience. We had been on asisi (big sister) basis. But two months ago, they started calling me “Mum”! What a delightfully scary name to bear!! I gaze into their sweet, innocent faces that trust me so completely and wonder just who has saved whom.

Daniela Pinheiro, 48, Brazil/Portugal

In December 2019, my mother, 9-year-old daughter, 10-year-old son and I embarked on what was meant to be a great adventure: I had won a journalism scholarship at Oxford University, and we would spend the next six months living a quaint, new English life.

We left Brazil excited, but less than three months later, when the kids were still adjusting to their new school, the four of us found ourselves locked down in a two-bedroom flat for the next three months. The experience was tough. The lack of privacy and space, and the different demands and expectations brought us all into conflict often. The kids were bored at home, and they missed their dad and the rest of the family in Brazil.

So we moved again to Lisbon, Portugal, now with a certain savoir faire about confinement and lockdowns. Things were almost back to normal there COVID-wise, and the children were very happy at their new school, making new friends, when another lockdown hit in October. This time, I decided to act differently: Homeschooling was no longer going to be a daily struggle; I was going to demand they do their chores, but I wasn’t going to make it a daily battle. I relaxed my rationing of the time they could spend on their electronic devices, and I no longer fought when they asked me for junk food or skipped meals. I even stopped fighting if they didn’t take a shower for a day. Life was already too hard for daily fruitless arguments. It was another two and a half months of enclosure. Not less traumatic, but much less confrontational.

I think that this opening and closing of life will continue for some time yet. And what I have learned is that we have to treat each other well, forget routines that once seemed important. What matters now — what I want my children who are anxious about their future — to remember is the delight they feel when they taste a sea salt caramel ice cream, not their mother shouting for them to come and have vegetable soup. Life is already too hard.


Anita Powell, 40, Texas/South Africa

As far as the world knows, I’m a serious foreign correspondent based in Johannesburg. Or at least I was, until I started having to do all my interviews from home with a very opinionated preschooler wedged more or less permanently into my armpit. When the pandemic began and we were all freaked out and locked down, my final interview question to sources on phone/Zoom/etc. was, “How will the pandemic change everything?” But, as I mentioned, my girl has opinions. And so predictably, she said, “Mommy, that question is BORING. Ask them what a unicorn’s favorite pizza is.”

Interviews are an art form, complicated by the fact that we’re now doing them over vast distances while being unsure that the other person is wearing pants. This is a weird new world. So I thought, you know what, let’s embrace the weird. I made this my new soundcheck question. The answers I get are revealing, fun and sort of . . . disturbing sometimes. (What kind of maniac puts almonds and olives on a unicorn’s pizza? I wish I could tell you, but I have to protect my sources.)

So yeah, Pandemic Working Mom Life is a lot. The hours are weird because everything is virtual, so you work all the time. We are all “BBC Dad” now, trying to look like we have it together when we obviously, sometimes hilariously, do not. But every time I get overwhelmed, I stop and think of the delights. Like the luxury of that sweet-smelling hair in my face, or that very hard head nuzzling my body while I’m trying to write. Or the thump-thump-thump of feet during the day. Or the occasional, increasingly long patches of suspicious silence, when I go look for her . . . and find her sitting in her room, reading a book, and my heart wants to explode, but I have to be cool because I’m Busy and Important-Mommy and I have a call in five minutes. Thanks, kiddo.

Gabby Mesiti, 35, Adelaide, Australia

Local council closures of public playgrounds in the early days of lockdown drove many Adelaide parents to the edge. I felt guilty that my rental included a large backyard and swimming pool, so that by the end of each day, my toddlers had thoroughly drained their batteries.

My 4-year-old accepted that the “coronavirus” was the reason he couldn’t see his friends, as readily as he accepted any other rule in his little world. He made do with the company of his 1-year-old brother. They learned to cough into the crook of their elbows. I didn’t fear for their mental well-being, but I think it must have been a different story for parents with teens.

My husband, a medical worker, continued to work throughout lockdown. I stayed home with the toddlers and felt my domestic equality slipping away. Am I living the life of a 1950s housewife, I wondered? Australia’s strict international border control meant that COVID’s tendrils never really came close to touching our family. Border closures between states that had prevented us from visiting grandparents eventually lifted. I felt safe enough from COVID to get pregnant once again: My third son is due in July.

Hattie Farrell, 31, Atlanta, Georgia

I didn’t expect new parenthood to be easy, but I thought I would have my mom here to help. My mom has raised seven kids of her own — both biological and adopted — and cared for more than a dozen newborns in the foster care system. In 2019, when I first announced my pregnancy, the distance between us was a two-and-a-half-hour flight, a minor inconvenience at worst. In 2020, when the global pandemic descended, that two-and-a-half-hour flight became an insurmountable obstacle.

My mom is a cancer survivor just two years post-chemotherapy, and I received a mid-pregnancy diagnosis that puts me in a high-risk category for lung disease. While we were both heartbroken by the situation, the potential consequences of her traveling to meet her only granddaughter were too great, so — to date — I have undertaken the first 10 months of parenthood without her by my side.

Now that the skies are beginning to clear, my fully vaccinated mother finally has her plane ticket. Her bags are packed, her mask is ready, and I’m waiting tensely to find out if I’ve become a mother that she is proud of.


Winnie Tang, 38, Singapore

I work for a global strategic advisory firm and the general expectation before COVID was for executives to be in the office 9-to-5, five days a week, when we were not on the road. I have a 3-year-old daughter, Amelia, and working full time meant that I only got to see her for a few hours a day. The Singapore government implemented a strict lockdown starting in April 2020. All of a sudden, I found myself spending a lot more time with Amelia during the day, and ended up doing a lot more of my work in the evenings once she was asleep. In some ways, this has made me happier and more productive.

Before the pandemic, I was 100 percent dependent on my helper as Amelia’s primary caregiver. Whenever she was upset, she would cry for “Ayi” (Auntie in Chinese) instead of for me. That made me sad, but I accepted it as a price to pay for my career ambitions. Since I’ve started to spend more time with Amelia, we have formed a better, more healthy attachment.

Today, Singapore is no longer in lockdown, and many of my friends and colleagues have returned to the office. However, the pandemic has given me and my firm the opportunity to reset working arrangements and expectations. I think we all realized that we can be just as productive under a different, more flexible arrangement and that it is possible to achieve all my professional goals without sacrificing family life. For example, I was made a partner last year, which was a pretty amazing thing to happen in the middle of lockdown! I think Amelia seeing me working from home also influences the way she sees a woman’s role in society and the workplace. The other day, she told me: “I want to be a CEO!”

I am sure that the pandemic has been difficult for many working mothers, and I know I’m one of the lucky ones, both in where I live and in working for a company that now considers flexible working part of the norm. The pandemic has brought many challenges to many people, but in the midst of everything, I found a silver lining: the opportunity for more fulfillment in balancing two very demanding roles — as a mother and as an ambitious professional.

Amanda Lizwane, 30, Johannesburg, South Africa

I work as a live-in nanny for a family in Johannesburg and my five-year-old daughter lives with her grandmother in Mpumalanga province. Earlier this year I became pregnant for the second time, but I can already tell it’s going very differently from when I had my first child. Now with the pandemic, the clinic I’m going to every month will only see 50 people a day, so I have to go really early to be at the head of the queue and not be turned away after waiting. And of course, you have to sanitize, wear masks, get your temperature taken.

It’s scary because I already know that I have to go by myself to the hospital where I’m going to give birth. No one can be there with me. When I had my daughter, Lebu, my mum was there. But she will at least come to Joburg from the provinces after the birth despite the pandemic because when the baby arrives in our culture, you have to be with your mother or mother-in-law. Almost no one in South Africa has been vaccinated yet and the pandemic has brought nothing but fear. I don’t know if I’ll still have a job next year, and it’s so hard finding employment right now.

Kasia Robinson, 38, San Francisco, California

I was almost four months pregnant when the pandemic hit the Bay Area. Things weren’t too bad at first. My husband was working from home and I was able to see him all the time, which made me happy. I was convinced that by the time I give birth, all the madness would be over.

I wanted my mom to be with me and my husband during the birth, but Poland, where my mom lives, was under lockdown as well, and we started to accept the fact that she wouldn’t be able to come.

There was a lot of anxiety in the air. The global pandemic suddenly started to be part of our reality, America was on fire, people rightfully protesting against police brutality and racism. I was thinking about how I was going to raise my biracial daughter in this mad world that had suddenly become even madder.

For the last two OB-GYN visits, my husband wasn’t allowed to accompany me. I was dreading the prospect of him not being allowed to be with me during the birth. Fortunately, when the time came (she came two weeks early via emergency C-section), he was with me.

Afterward, I suffered from postpartum anxiety and depression. I was so scared about that precious little human; everything seemed to be dangerous. Then I lost my father. He was in Germany, so I was unable to be with him, and it’s hard knowing he will never meet his only grandchild.

It’s been nine months since my daughter was born, and I just received my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. I’m looking forward to going back to “normal” life, even though I know the world will never be the same. We’re going to have a whole generation of children who can read emotions better than ever, and we will never again take hugging the ones we love for granted.


Irma Norman, 81, New York City

The first thing that hits me is that it’s painful and very uncomfortable to be kept away from your loved ones by an invisible enemy. It reminds me of a supervisor I once had at one of the colleges where I worked who was crying one day. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she hadn’t had a hug in five years. That was one of the most profound things I had ever heard. And that’s what it’s like to not get to spend time with your grandchildren. Especially your new grandchild who you have never met. Photos just don’t do it. But I can’t imagine what an empty feeling that must have been. That’s still in my head. I can’t imagine how that would be, though I’ve been forced to.

It’s uniquely weird. And what’s even weirder is that I got a touch of COVID . . . which I believe I got during my daughter-in-law’s pregnancy (Kasia Robinson, noted above, is Irma’s daughter-in-law). I was praying to myself: Please let me make it through the nine months so I can at least see the baby. I kept saying, “Send me a picture so I could see the baby.” I was so scared that I wouldn’t live to at least see her.

Now, though, I feel great. I’m happy and hopeful, and I’m back to myself again and looking forward to my next trip so we can have another great family reunion.

Neph Wake, 37, Sydney, Australia

Parenthood is a strange journey at the best of times, and 2020 was decidedly not the best of times. In March 2020, my job shifted to remote working, which for me looked like a laptop in the living room. My wife was on maternity leave while our 6-month-old son was starting to army-crawl.

Working from home gave me an extra 15 hours a week at home with our son, which I deeply appreciated. But we missed time with extended family, who were nervous about visiting, and went months with limited family support to give us a break. The 12-month language screening with our baby was funny: My wife and I realized that he didn’t understand the word “bye,” because in his world people leaving the house was quite rare!

We are profoundly grateful to live in Sydney, where there’s world-class track-and-trace capability and where quarantine measures have meant that the pandemic has been much easier and shorter than in other parts of the world.


Motherhood by the Numbers

Fertility Fears

Baby boom or bust? Experts have predicted that there will be 300,000 fewer births in the U.S. in 2021, compared to pre-pandemic years, and a new CDC report shows that the American birth rate has fallen to its lowest-ever recorded level. Thirty-four percent of American women decided to postpone having children due to pandemic stressors and job insecurity. The inability to see doctors or going to appointments solo, or isolating from friends and family to stay safe for clinic visits was devastating for many couples. More women also chose to freeze their eggs in the last year, with the NYU Langone Fertility Center reporting a 41 percent rise in procedures.

Sydney Mother Balances Work And Home Schooling During Coronavirus Lockdown

Working Moms

While the pandemic has had a devastating impact on general employment rates, its effect on working mothers has been particularly brutal. Some fear it’s even set women’s rights back by decades. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, from March to April 2020, about 3.5 million mothers with school-age children left the workforce, the result of losing their job, taking a leave or quitting. Employment for mothers has been slowly rebounding but hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic rates. In January 2021, the unemployment rate of mothers with school-age children was 6 percent, compared to about 14 percent in April 2020.

Health Care and Heartbreak

In a study covering 17 countries, researchers found that stillbirths and maternal deaths during pregnancy increased by almost a third during the pandemic. They believe the rise could have resulted from hospitals being overburdened by COVID-19 patients or women being scared of contracting the virus during visits to the doctor or hospital. Notably, Black women in America already had the highest rates of maternal deaths pre-pandemic. Keeping babies alive in the NICU was another challenge that hospitals faced: Touch and the sound of parents’ voices are healing, but the consequences of infants contracting the virus can be devastating.

Equality Starts at Home

At the start of the pandemic, in households where domestic work was shared more equitably between partners, women were less likely to experience adverse employment outcomes. A study by Harvard found that in households where women were responsible for 80 percent to 100 percent of child care, at least half either had to reduce their hours or leave the workforce, fueling concerns of a return to 1950s gender stereotypes.

Best Cities for Moms

You know those surveys that rank the happiest countries in the world, usually with Scandinavian nations up top? Well, a recent survey instead ranked U.S. cities in terms of mom-friendliness — or where it’s easiest to be a mother. Looking at ease of access to OB-GYNs and amounts of paid leave for pregnancy and childbirth, among other criteria, the report found the two best cities for new moms were both in Oregon: Portland and Salem. The worst? Philadelphia and Detroit.

Celebrating Moms Worldwide

American South

Flower shop owner Allean Austin pioneered a long-standing Southern tradition in the 1940s that churchgoers still practice on Mother’s Day: A white flower is worn to commemorate a mother who has passed away, and a red flower honors living moms. Today, corsages are an absolute prerequisite for anyone entering a church in the South. But with COVID protocols still in place in many areas, Black Southern women might be robbed of this chance to symbolically honor their mothers this year, OZY Editor-at-Large Christina Greer explains.

A Day celebrated for Beloved Mother


If you’ve lost your mother, then Mother’s Day in Nepal involves a pilgrimage to a pond, Mata Tirtha, in Kathmandu. The ritual aims to bring peace to the deceased mother’s soul by offering prayers or bathing in the waters. Legend has it that a boy once saw his deceased mother’s reflection in the pool, which inspired the pilgrimage.

Former Yugoslavia

Imagine sleeping peacefully in your bed when your children suddenly cast off your covers and tie you up. The only escape? Giving them presents. Sound like fun? Then maybe you should consider moving to the Balkans, where Mother’s Day is celebrated in December, and it’s the children who get the gifts. Of course, they have some leverage from the whole tying-up business.


Is there a better way to celebrate mothers than with a 10-day festival? We don’t think so! Hindus in India celebrate Durga Puja, dedicated to celebrating the lion-riding mother-goddess. The festival harkens back to the 1500s and lasts for 10 days to mark the time it took the goddess Durga to battle and beat an evil demon. For moms of toddlers, the struggle might sound eerily similar to trying to get your youngster to take a nap.

Every Day. In Every Way.

Why devote just one day to mothers? If international readers find the whole Mother’s Day tradition a bit odd, rest assured: We appreciate that the holiday is but a symbol, and we make sure to honor our mothers each and every day for their love, support and sacrifice — and we encourage readers to do the same.

Happy Mother’s Day!

12 Asian Writers to Watch

Love the surrealism of Haruki Murakami and his cats? Or the caustic wit of White Tiger author Aravind Adiga? Exciting Asian writers are everywhere, both in Asia proper and throughout the diaspora. With a cultural heritage as diverse as the sprawling continent itself, this eclectic group of wordsmiths is worthy of a few trips to the bookstore. Let’s crack the books on these fine authors.

asian american authors

Sanjena Sathian. A former OZY editor, Sathian once rented an entourage to stalk her like a Hollywood star for a story. We are admittedly biased, but Sathian no longer needs to fake it. Having joined the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2017, she just released her debut novel, Gold Diggers, to critical acclaim. The coming-of-age tale peppered with magical realism has been snapped up for TV by comedian Mindy Kaling. Beginning in Sathian’s hometown of Atlanta, the novel centers around the Indian American writer’s idea of belonging — a theme Sathian has been grappling with after the shooting of six Asian American women in Atlanta last month.

Kevin Nguyen. This Brooklyn resident’s debut novel, New Waves, was named one of NPR’s best books of 2020. It also garnered high praise from fellow Vietnamese American novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen and Little Fires Everywhere author Celeste Ng. An editor at The Verge, Nguyen sets his story at a tech startup and explores topics of both race and discrimination. The book “captures beautifully the subtle strains of being disenfranchised, poor and lonely in New York,” The New York Times says, teasing the plot as if Jay Gatsby had worked at a startup.

Simon Han. With his 2020 debut novel, Nights When Nothing Happened, Han examines the Chinese immigrant experience through a story about a family living in Texas — one he can relate to, having been born in Tianjin, China, before settling in Carrollton, Texas. TIME called it a “haunting” novel that asks “whether immigrants in America can ever feel truly safe.” Despite the Cheng family’s achievements in their adopted country and safe suburban life, each of the main characters suffers from terrible insomnia, allowing a sense of unease to permeate the novel.

Anthony Veasna So. Many Khmer Americans feel torn between two worlds, as I discovered while working as a journalist in Cambodia. Tragically, the author of this short story collection — who once described himself as “a grotesque parody of the model minority” — died last year at 28. His collection focuses on intergenerational relationships between traumatized refugee parents who escaped the Khmer Rouge and their American children.

the new feminists

Cho Nam-Joo. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is this Seoul-based writer’s debut novel. While it’s centered around an “extremely ordinary” housewife living a humdrum existence, don’t be fooled: It caused such a sensation in South Korea that it has been made into a movie. One national assembly member bought a copy for each of his fellow 298 legislators because he was so taken by its biting social commentary on gender inequality in South Korea. Published domestically in 2016, the book came out in English last year and has been the most talked about South Korean novel since Han Kang’s haunting feminist treatise The Vegetarian.


Mieko Kawakami. If you’ve seen the Olympics-linked stories of sexism in Tokyo, you won’t be surprised to learn the patriarchy is alive and kicking in Japan. That could explain why Breasts and Eggs, a book about a woman who loathes sex but wants to have a child “without a man,” shocked the nation when it came out in 2019 (with the English translation published last year). Shintaro Ishihara, a former Tokyo governor, deemed it “unpleasant and intolerable,” but readers disagreed: The novel became a runaway bestseller. It even won praise from Murakami, despite Kawakami having earlier criticized the septuagenarian’s books for sexism.

Lauren Ho. Malaysian-born, Singapore-based Ho traded in a soaring career in law for life as a writer. Her 2020 debut novel, Last Tang Standing, generated comparisons to the hit book and movie Crazy Rich Asians. This chick-lit gem centers around a Bridget Jones-esque character named Andrea Tang, a 33-and-fabulous singleton, who, to her family’s chagrin, doesn’t need a man to feel complete.

Avni Doshi. Her debut novel Burnt Sugar, nominated for last year’s Booker Prize, shocked India with its fraught mother-daughter relationship and main character’s postpartum depression. The book uses dark humor to examine family ties and expectations of motherhood, with the Booker judges calling it “utterly compelling … sometimes emotionally wrenching but also cathartic.” Doshi was born in New Jersey but moved to Mumbai and says the idea for the book stemmed from her own uncertainty about whether to have children.

race and war

Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie. This Karachi-born writer deals with confusion around identity in her stunning 2017 novel, Home Fire, in which a British Pakistani youth runs off to join the Islamic State group in Syria, to the horror of his two thoroughly modern sisters. The contemporary take on the ancient Greek play Antigone is a globe-trotting read, one that spans London, Massachusetts, Istanbul and Raqqa. A thought-provoking examination of belonging, it’s a must-read for anyone trying to understand the post-9/11 world.

Nguyen Phan Que Mai. Her first novel published in English, The Mountains Sing, is a generational epic recounting the effects of war through the lens of a single family. Unlike many recent novels about Vietnam, the author focuses on the nationalists who built a communist state after fighting off the French, Japanese and Americans. Nguyen was born in Vietnam, studied in Australia and currently lives in Jakarta.

Alexandra Chang. This debut novelist lives in Ithaca and used to write about tech for Wired magazine, which helps explain the tech journalist protagonist Jing Jing in Chang’s Days of Distraction. The novel tackles complicated situations around race that others may gloss over. One such example? While a promised salary bump never comes and microaggressions abound in the newsroom, Jing Jing longs for the confidence of her white boyfriend. Chang’s secret power is making the seemingly banal gripping, much to the pleasure of her readers.

Megha Majumdar. The New Yorker compared this young Indian writer to William Faulkner. In A Burning, the New York-based Harvard graduate tells the fictional story of a Muslim woman jailed for terrorism after posting a Facebook comment in the wake of a Kolkata bombing. “It’s a book that encourages a reader to think about injustice,” she told the Guardian, adding that the work stemmed from her alarm at politics in India and her fears about the erosion of secular values.

12 Crazy True Stories About Children’s Authors

I haven’t been this disappointed since I found out Aslan the lion was really Jesus and Narnia was proselytizing. As an only child, I could most often be found with my nose in a book. But as I was researching my favorite children’s authors, I learned that some of the “friends” from my salad days were far from innocent. In fact, many were not very nice people, and their ranks include perverts, bullies and racists. Read on to learn about their strange obsessions and dastardly deeds, but be warned — this is no fairy tale!

sex, drugs and … children’s literature?

Hans Christian Andersen. If you grew up on his fairy tales, it might surprise you to learn that the author was a wanker. Literally. In fact, he was so obsessed that he actually kept a diary of how often he shook hands with the milkman, with entries like “I had a double-sensuous ++.” The Dane never married but visited Paris brothels, not to have sex with the prostitutes but to chat with them and then go back to his hotel and, um, add a new entry to his diary. Some of The Little Mermaid author’s stories for children were incredibly dark and his troubled personal history might now explain why.

Kenneth Grahame. Badger, Mole, Ratty and that insufferable narcissist Mr. Toad were all staples of my childhood, with Wind in the Willows transporting me to the bucolic English countryside. The book still charms me with its pastoral innocence, so I was surprised to learn about author Grahame’s tragic life and sexual problems. The writer was asexual until, nearing 40, he began a romance with his soon-to-be wife, Elspeth. The two exchanged cringeworthy letters full of baby talk (adult Grahame still played with dolls and toys), but he was afraid of sex and she was left disappointed. Like giant pandas, however, they must have succeeded at least once because they had a son. Tragically, the child, for whom Grahame invented the stories that would become his greatest book, died of a likely suicide at 19.

Shel Silverstein. If you ever thought grown men cavorting with women dressed as bunnies was infantile, well, then, I suppose it makes sense that a children’s author would want to make his home in the Playboy Mansion. Which is exactly what this Where the Sidewalk Ends writer did. The talented draftsman started off drawing cartoons for Hugh Hefner’s magazine in the 1950s, and later lived with him in his infamous party pad, where he wrote many of his beloved children’s books. Read more on OZY.

cancel culture


Dr. Seuss. I do not like them Sam-I-am, I will not print green eggs and ham. If you’re unaware of the controversy over Dr. Seuss supposedly being canceled earlier this year, you must have been living under a rock. The writer’s estate announced it was pulling six books containing racist stereotypes from circulation, sparking a huge debate over cancel culture on Fox News and elsewhere. Of course, no publicity is bad publicity, and sales of his work have skyrocketed. That some of his cartoons from the 1950s are unacceptable to modern audiences, however, is perhaps less surprising than his sordid personal life. Theodor Seuss Geisel cheated on his wife, resulting in her later committing suicide.

Rudyard Kipling. Most children love fat, lazy Baloo the bear and kindly panther Bagheera in The Jungle Book, but questions have long been raised over their creator, Rudyard Kipling, who has been slammed as a racist and an apologist for colonialism. The furor has been less about his children’s books, however, and more to do with his poem “Mandalay,” which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unwisely quoted during a visit to Myanmar in 2017 and was quickly quieted by the U.K. ambassador. The arbiter of all things British, the BBC dropped the poem from planned Victory Day celebrations, and a mural of another poem of Kipling’s at Manchester University was painted over and replaced with one by Maya Angelou.

Roald Dahl. Witches turn children into mice, wives feed their husbands spaghetti worms and Veruca Salt disappears down a garbage shoot. Gross and nasty things happen in nearly all of Dahl’s books, and children are endlessly delighted by them, but, given his violent imagination, perhaps it’s not surprising the author himself had an unpleasant side. We won’t judge Dahl for writing erotica on the side (including one story about not a giant peach but a giant penis) or cheating on his wife, but we will bring him to book for his anti-Semitism. “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity,” he said in a 1983 interview. “Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

tragic tales

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. To children, The Little Prince is a simple tale about a boy and a fox. For adults, it’s a philosophical treatise on loneliness, love and conflict, made all the more pertinent by its pilot-writer’s disappearance near the end of World War II. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had escaped Vichy France for the U.S. in the 1930s and, despite being in his 40s, convinced the Americans to let him fly reconnaissance missions for them. He died during one of these in 1944, apparently after being shot down or in a plane crash, but the wreckage wasn’t found until 1998, after fishermen in Marseille caught a silver bracelet belonging to the writer in their net, and divers then found the plane.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish writer, in holidays

Oscar Wilde. The witty, sharp-tongued playwright isn’t a children’s author, you may exclaim. But there you’d be wrong. Wilde wrote The Happy Prince and Other Tales, which, despite the title, all have a certain melancholy about them. And they’re all the more poignant when you read them in light of the flamboyant raconteur’s tragic life. Wilde, who was gay, was jailed for “gross indecency” in 1895 and sentenced to two years hard labor, during which he wrote his famous and heartbreaking poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” He only lived three years after his release as a bankrupt and broken man.

J.M. Barrie. Researching the dark side to children’s authors, a clear pattern has emerged. Many of them had childlike natures themselves. This was certainly true with the Peter Pan author, who altered the will of a family friend after she died so that he would become the guardian of her five sons instead of their nanny. The characters of Neverland in Barrie’s novel were based around the children, but unlike their never-aging fictional counterparts, three of the real Lost Boys died young. While one brother died as a soldier in World War I, another threw himself under a train and the third drowned in what was a suspected suicide.

interesting anecdotes

Ludwig Bemelmans. The beloved author of Madeline, a story about a mischievous Parisian girl, was also quite the rebel. While on holiday in Germany in the 1930s, the American showed such disdain for Hitler that he was promptly thrown in jail. He had been sitting with his wife in a beer garden not far from the Führer’s home when a broadcast by the Nazi leader came on the radio. Like John Cleese in the famous goose-stepping scene in Fawlty Towers, Bemelmans muttered, “Pooh-pooh to the tiger in the zoo,” placed a cigar stub on his top lip and offered up a mock Nazi salute. His impersonation saw him charged as a subversive, and he had to be rescued by the American vice consul. Read more on OZY.


Laura Ingalls Wilder. What do the billionaire Koch brothers, whose right-wing movement helped give rise to the Tea Party, have to do with iconic Little House books? Well, in the 1960s, the brothers attended a free-market academy in Colorado called the Freedom School established by author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, and sometimes editor, Rose. Both were staunch opponents of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, which expanded the role of the federal government. The Little House books advocated for rugged individualism, grit and hard work, and the women basically helped kick-start the libertarian movement. Read more on OZY.

Enid Blyton. I named my first dog, Scamper, after the faithful hound in The Secret Seven, and I am still salivating over Blyton’s descriptions of picnics and midnight feasts with “lashings” of ginger beer, hard-boiled eggs and warm buttered bread. I was such a fan of the ever-so-innocent books, where the rudest thing ever said was “golly gosh,” that I was aggrieved to learn that the writer had a darker side. Her daughter Imogen once said Blyton “was without a trace of maternal instinct,” and she cheated on her husband but then banned the children from seeing him after the divorce. The U.K.’s Royal Mint even dropped Blyton from consideration as the face of a new coin in 2019 owing to her “racist, sexist and homophobic” views. She also apparently enjoyed the occasional game of naked tennis. Golly gosh!