Meet the New OZY

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At OZY, we’ve always believed that design matters – and that great journalism deserves great packaging.

So today we’re upping our game and launching a new look for a site that has already been a finalist for numerous awards. We’ve rolled out a slew of bells and whistles based on your comments: flashier navigation, a special emphasis on original photography, as well as updated breaking-news alerts and a spotlight on our biggest features and boldest series. We’ve made the site more (inter)active and given you additional ways to share your favorite OZY stories and join the conversation.

Tell us what you think. We want every idea you have on how we can stick to our mission: to stay ahead of the curve and consistently earn your time.

Words for Baltimore

violence

As we write, the Orioles are playing the Red Sox in Camden Yards to an empty stadium. As far as anyone can figure, it’s the first closed-door game in big-league history. Baltimore is under curfew, and schools were closed on Tuesday. For 11 days, people have been taking to the streets over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old resident of Sandtown, an impoverished neighborhood in West Baltimore.

What is happening in Maryland today takes place in a greater context of uprising. Eugene S. Robinson wrote this lyrical, heart-wrenching take on Ferguson that takes us on a tour of 1992, Rodney King — his fractured face and skull, his broken bones and teeth, his kidney damage. The 11,000 arrested, 2,000 injured and 53 dead after the infamous verdict. Robinson reminds us of Miami’s Overtown Riots (1989) and the Newark Riots (1967). Of the confounding sense that “these actions are not often seen as wrongdoing until the needle gets moved to the tune of millions of dollars of damage, dead people and cities in flames.”

Joe Flood tells us a story of John Lindsay. Never heard of him? That’s because he’s the New York City Republican mayor whose fervor for the civil rights movement left a bad taste in the maw of the NYPD and also of some citizens, “who saw him as a headline-grabbing grandstander.” He was not re-elected.

Then there’s Sydney. Yes, Australia. Laura Secorun Palet recounts a familiar story in a less familiar place. The island has a mostly white police force — by the by, Baltimore’s police force is roughly 40 percent African-American, and the city has a black mayor — and relations with its aboriginal citizens have never been great. Since the #BlackLivesMatter movement was born in the U.S., Aborigines, incensed at 200 years of disenfranchisement and abuse from police, have taken inspiration and are exploring how to use tactics from up north to turn a two-century tide.

Wishing Baltimore our heartfelt best. And a little justice.

Camping Among the Polar Bears

In the late spring, temperatures hover around 36 F.

Camping often conjures images of family outings in a flimsy tent in the woods. But imagine poking your head from your tent to see a polar bear in the distance, or a narwhal just beyond the edge of the frozen ocean — your temporary backyard. That’s what awaits during an on-the-edge camping trip in Canada’s Arctic territory. 

During a brief window in late spring, from around mid-May to the third week in June, before the landfast ice begins to break apart and becomes too dangerous to travel across, intrepid travelers can camp on the “floe edge.” Here, some 40 miles off the north side of Baffin Island, the frozen sea meets the open ocean, and a wealth of wildlife shows up to hunt. 

Canadian company Black Feather is one of a few outfitters that operate in the remote area, arranging eight-night camping trips ($5,164) that depart from Pond Inlet, a tiny Inuit hamlet reached via a seven-hour flight from Ottawa. From here, tour participants travel for three hours inside qamutiks (traditional Inuit sleds) pulled by Ski-Doos over ice three meters thick. “It’s a very dynamic area,” says David Reid of Polar Sea Adventures. One afternoon we watched for four hours as hundreds of narwhals gathered at the floe edge and even took to “tusking” (the toothed-whale equivalent of a fencing match). 

Tents are set 50 yards back from the ice’s edge, allowing a thoroughfare for the polar bears that’s “less intimidating.”

It’s here on the edge of the ice where you’ll spend your nights (but with no darkness; there’s close to 24 hours of daylight at this time), complete with air mattresses and down sleeping bags to keep you cozy in temperatures that hover around 36 F. Tents are set up in a line about 50 yards back from the ice’s edge, allowing a normal thoroughfare for the polar bears that’s “less intimidating,” says Conor Goddard, a Black Feather guide. But just in case a polar bear strays, a guide is on watch 24/7 with binoculars or a spotting telescope — and a shotgun. (The sound of a Ski-Doo engine starting is usually enough to scare away curious animals, Goddard says.) There have been a few close encounters when bears have ventured close to camp, though they didn’t show interest — just presented a photo op. When this happens, guides usually wake sleeping guests. 

Polar bears aren’t the only risk at the floe edge. After all, you’re standing on the ocean. Reid says that there are stories of Inuit breaking off on ice floes and drifting out to sea. For this reason, tourist camping expeditions to the floe edge stop before the ice starts to break apart. And a week-plus of outdoor exposure will chill your bones. The camp has a warming tent with hot drinks and meals, but it’s important to dress warmly. My parka, wool socks and long underwear kept me plenty toasty.

But while there are risks, the rewards for a nature lover are profound. “It feels like you’re really in [the polar bears’] environment here,” says Goddard. “There’s a thin layer of nylon between you and them, and that’s pretty much it.”

Chile’s Leader Under Fire

Supporters of Chilean socialist candidate for the New Majority coalition, Michelle Bachelet, celebrate in front of the party's headquarters in Santiago.

Part of OZY’s occasional Know This Name series, on prominent business, political and other world leaders.

Family dinners must be pretty awkward these days in the Bachelet clan. Chile’s leader, Michelle Bachelet, was riding a wave of policy successes — education reform! tax reform! electoral reform! — when the government started getting flak for cronyism. Now a corruption scandal has cast a pall over otherwise upright Chile, and right in the middle of it is Bachelet’s own son, accused of dodgy ethics in his acceptance of a business credit that would have been difficult to earn if it wasn’t for who his mom is.

It’s suddenly easy for folks to forget the major accomplishments Bachelet has pushed through during her time in government, both in her first term as president, from 2006 to 2010, and since she took helm again in March last year. Catalyzed by student protests during those early days in power, she pushed through important education reforms intended to address social inequality. And, in January, she changed her country’s electoral system, something many governments before had tried — but failed — to do. But Bachelet, who didn’t respond to a request to comment, must also contend with Chile’s staggering economic inequality. Only a small proportion of Chileans live in a developed country, while most live in third world conditions, says Fernando Rosenblatt, a politics professor at Universidad Diego Portales.

Still, Bachelet’s history shows that she’s overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. Born into a military family, she learned English while stationed in Maryland as a child. Back in Chile, following Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’etat, her father was detained and died in 1974. At home less than a year later, Bachelet and her mother were blindfolded and thrown into Villa Grimaldi, the most infamous of the secret detention camps, where she was tortured. “She sort of personifies the difficult years of Chile, because she lived it all,” says Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser, a professor of politics at the Universidad Diego Portales in Chile. Bachelet managed to go into exile — first in Australia and then in East Germany, where she linked up with the Chilean socialist party’s outpost there and began her training to become a pediatrician. She returned to Chile four years later, finished her schooling and began to rise through the ranks of the Socialist party.

After winning Chile’s election in 2013, she returned for “Bachelet 2.0,” and for the past year she’s been on a roll.

In 2000, Bachelet was elected Minister of Health by President Ricardo Lagos and tasked with eliminating waitlists at public hospitals. She largely succeeded, and in doing so, proved herself an action-oriented politician. Next test: Ministry of National Defense. Her appointment there in 2002 was revolutionary, as she was a female doctor in a position traditionally held by male military leaders, and she became the first female to do so in Latin America. When floods struck Chile under her watch she mounted a tank, solidifying for many Chileans the image of a leader in times of trial. Four years later, she was president — the first Latin American woman to accomplish that without the help of a spouse’s legacy

Her first term in power was shaken by massive student demonstrations — the first of their kind in the democracy — followed by an unpopular subway reform called Transantiago, which drove her approval rating down into the 30s. And then, right at the twilight of her term in 2010, an earthquake led the media to predict she’d only crawl out of office. But, in a surprising turn, her response proved popular enough to buoy her approval rating up to 85 percent, and she sashayed away to become the head of UN Women.  

With her freshly brushed hazelnut bob and an emphatic nod over pearls, Bachelet could pass for Angela Merkel’s sister. Although the leader of a Catholic country, she’s committed several deadly sins: Divorced. Three children — from two men. And, in what could have been a dealbreaker for many, she doesn’t believe in the Big G upstairs. Instead, she says, “I am agnostic … I believe in the state.” As it turns out, the state believes in her. After heartily winning Chile’s election in 2013, she returned — for what Kaltwasser calls “Bachelet 2.0” — and for the past year, she’s been on a roll. 

But that doesn’t mean the country isn’t divided by her approach. Her tax and education reforms remain contested topics. Debates have morphed into street protests, as the country’s rising middle class have begun demanding more than they used to. The thinking, Kaltwasser says, is “OK, so we have democracy, but now let’s make it better.” Then there’s the corruption scandal she’s embroiled in, which has a way of paralyzing governments. Recent topics on the table used to be education reform and abortion, but today, all anyone can talk about is corruption.

If Bachelet handles the scandal correctly, perhaps through tough reforms against corruption, she could leave a legacy of a stronger rule of law in Chile, Kaltwasser says. The question is whether the doctor can cure the illness before it spreads, or whether it’s already too late.

For more from our Know This Name series, read about The Star of Argentina’s Political Stage and Vietnam’s POW Turned President.

To Walk Inside a Gambler’s Soul

Iconic Las Vegas sign

The thought of getting back all that he has lost — that’s what fuels his fire. “Hit me again!” But the cards are always a day late and a dollar short. 

Just one more time, Mr. Dealer Man. But this time, deal me the card of all cards. That perfect one that sets my soul on fire and makes my blood pump victory up in here!

I’ve gotta win, so make those cards be nice to me, Mr. Dealer Man!

Can’t go home with this lint in my pocket. Deal me the hand of all hands, so I never have to come back to this hell-hole again.

I was going on 19 when I went to stay with Uncle James while I attended a junior college in Las Vegas. My mother’s only sibling was the only man who ever seemed to truly love the boy that lived in me. When I reached out to him for help, without hesitation he sent for me by the end of the week. The man my uncle had sent to pick me up was a peculiar brotha who wore fancy clothes drove a red and white Cadillac convertible and walked with a confidence I had never seen. Pretty Ricky’s was the first face I saw when my plane touched down in Sin City. He had an air about him that was alluring to the common woman. When I sat down in the front seat across from him, he noticed me staring at a brand-new bottle of what had to be some high-price cologne.

“I keep it at arm’s reach, just because,” he said, reaching upwards and pulling down on the front of his Stetson brim with a smile. He was tall and handsome, and spoke to everyone as if he’d had never met a stranger. He exemplified Las Vegas. What was my uncle thinking when he ask this man of all people to transport me, his nephew … anywhere? Seeing Pretty Ricky made me wonder: Did my uncle somehow have a wild side my mother didn’t know about?

We got to my uncle’s — it had been years. He spoke of showing me the whole strip — “ain’t nothing like it in the world, all of the bright lights and beautiful women.” We spent some time together, but it took me a while to understand my uncle’s world. It struck perhaps for the first time one afternoon riding down the strip. We stopped at a McDonald’s, went through the drive-thru. My uncle paid and told the lady, “No, thanks,” when she went to get him his change. 

“Unk, why did you do that?” I asked.

“Do what?” 

“Give her a tip.” And he said to me, “Because they’re people too. They work hard just like us, and when they do something good, why not tip them?” 

We didn’t grow up with money, but here my uncle was spending. I went with him to the card tables and watched him win money faster than I had seen Bob Hayes run a 100-yard dash — and lose it just as fast. I saw him sit down at a card table one night and lose as much as $60,000 in three hands as if it was nothing. I watched him attempt to tame the untamable demon inside a gambler’s soul. My uncle seemed to trust something in nature that only he could see.

One night, my uncle sat me down and told me that he had to go out of town for a while. He gave me telephone numbers of his friends just in case. I knew something was wrong. He had run out of money — and run out of favors. He did me the good deed of leaving me with a roof — but he’d left without paying the rent. So how could I make the bills while staying in school? After class each day, I took my meager cash down to the casino to bet on my survival. 

The notices were coming on the door every day — the apartment was a floor above the renter’s office. One day I remember being down to my last 75 cents and I needed to win to eat my next meal and to ride the bus the next day. I closed my eyes and played my last. And then came the sweetest thing a gambler ever hopes for. A royal flush. There was relief — but there was also a moment, that rush. I knew what my uncle had been chasing all those years. My mother once told me, “When you kiss a fool, you kiss all of his lies.” I wasn’t immune to my uncle’s addiction.

But instead of the unknown, I learned to bet on my efforts, on myself. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to walk inside the complicated mind of a gambler. I’ll never take those sorts of risks. But my uncle took the biggest bet of them all that morning he left his nephew stranded in Las Vegas. He gambled my life, as if he knew that I had inside me what it would take to survive. So he doubled down on the 19-year-old kid from Texas, and to this day, he and that kid are both winning big.

The Ignominious End to Britain’s First Labour Prime Minister

Ramsay MacDonald

The selective memory of history can be extremely cruel. For Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s first prime minister from the leftist Labour Party, one of the biggest blemishes on his legacy came down to this: betrayal. That is, betrayal of Labour’s working-class supporters when MacDonald, in 1931, joined his Conservative opponents and cut unemployment benefits at the height of the Great Depression. Tens of thousands of workers rioted in Manchester and Glasgow, while sailors facing pay cuts mutinied in the Cromarty Firth, in Scotland, not far from MacDonald’s birthplace in Lossiemouth.

Today, the Labour Party is a British establishment, having sharply moderated its anti-capitalist platform under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. In the 1920s, it was anything but. Still, if MacDonald left one enduring legacy for Britain, it was the idea that the Labour Party could responsibly assume power without wrecking the nation. For that, he might have done his party more good than he has ever been given credit for, though that view is far from universal. Writing in Britain’s Socialist Review in 1996, Dave Renton of the far-left Socialist Workers Party searched through history to find a Labour leader as despicably right-wing as Blair. “The only candidate who comes even close is Ramsay MacDonald,” he wrote, citing “the ‘Great Betrayal’ of 1931.”

MacDonald wasn’t exactly cut from the cloth of typical British politicians. During one especially nasty public spat in 1915, during World War I, the editor of the ultrapatriotic John Bull magazine, Horatio Bottomley, labeled MacDonald a “traitor, a coward and a cur” — and then proceeded to unveil MacDonald’s birth certificate, proving that he was the illegitimate son of “a Scotch servant girl.” His name wasn’t even Ramsay MacDonald, but James MacDonald Ramsay — a fact apparently unknown to MacDonald himself at the time, according to his biographer, David Potter. MacDonald, you see, took a principled stance to oppose Britain’s joining the war against Germany, a position that forced him to resign as leader of the still-fledgling Labour Party the year before. “He was very much a Scottish self-made man, with a staunch Calvinist background,” Potter tells OZY.

MacDonald’s Labour colleagues abandoned him in anger, while he served as a virtual puppet of the Conservatives until 1935. 

Pacifism made MacDonald extremely unpopular and cost him the next election, but political memories are short, especially since Britain seemed to gain nothing from winning the war. What brought him back was brilliant and charismatic oratory, sermons on justice for Britain’s poor delivered with a distinct Scottish brogue, combined with a methodical and calculating political moderation. A few years after the war, MacDonald was back in Parliament and once again head of the Labour Party. After the Conservatives failed to win a majority and couldn’t form a government, he had that fateful call in early 1924 from King George V to come to the palace. The king invited MacDonald to form a government, with the admonition not to shake hands with the “murderers of my relatives” — meaning the Bolsheviks in Moscow, who had executed the king’s cousin, Czar Nicholas, and his family.

Britain’s first Labour government lasted only nine months and accomplished little, though that might have been a good thing. They didn’t do anything crazy, giving no substance to fears that they were Communists in disguise or that they would nationalize industry and impose socialism. (That had to wait until after the next war to happen.) MacDonald did establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, but he also managed to cultivate a close relationship with the king, which would serve him well in later years. Nonetheless, an apparently forged letter calling for revolution in Britain from Soviet leader Grigory Zinoviev on the eve of the November elections helped to sink Labour.

Still, the memory of Labour rule was not too terrible. Labour support swelled following the general strike of 1926, and Labour triumphed in 1929, sending MacDonald once again to Buckingham Palace for the king’s approval. Yet the second Labour government was hardly better off than the first, overwhelmed by soaring unemployment from the Great Depression. Britain was on the verge of bankruptcy by 1931, but financiers would lend money only if spending was cut.

Perhaps it was the king who convinced MacDonald to join with the Conservatives to do that, in the interest of the nation. MacDonald’s Labour colleagues abandoned him in anger, while he served as prime minister as a virtual puppet of the Conservatives until 1935 and while his health steadily deteriorated. He died a few years later a lonely man, abandoned by the left and the right. “Ramsay MacDonald would never be forgiven, and his name would seldom be mentioned without a curse or a spit on the ground,” writes Potter.

Trying to Leave Behind ‘No Child Left Behind’

Marquez Allen, age 12, reads test questions in Feb. 2015 on a laptop computer during in a trial run of a new state assessment test linked to 'No Child Left Behind' at Annapolis Middle School in Annapolis, Md.

When it comes to public education in America, 2002 now seems light years in the past — a simpler time, where politicians like George W. Bush, John Boehner and Ted Kennedy could stand together on a stage and applaud the same law. President Bush declared at the time, with the naive confidence of a man who’d been in the White House only a year, “As of this hour, America’s schools will be on a new path of reform and a new path of results.”

Hardly. Instead, education has become a progressively more vicious policy battleground that cuts across partisan lines. And nothing has been the subject of more ire than No Child Left Behind, the law that the then president, future Speaker of the House and liberal Lion of the Senate all cheered. In the years since its passage, the law has prompted a right-wing revolt against federal meddling in public schools, even if that means sacrificing other school reforms Republicans hold dear. It’s also polarized the two parties to such a degree that few hold out hope a replacement currently being drafted by Congress will pass. Ironically, that will leave America with education regulations almost nobody likes.

This isn’t the first time Washington has attempted to rein in the Frankenstein it created in 2002. No Child Left Behind expired in 2007, and lawmakers proposed revisions in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Catherine Brown, vice president for education policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, says “a lot of people thought it was for real” this time, given an “increasing urgency in the country.” With veteran senators in both parties working to reform the law, backers were hopeful. But then the House of Representatives, as it is wont to do these days, threw a wrench in those plans. 

Marquez Allen, age 12, reads test questions in Feb. 2015 on a laptop computer during in a trial run of a new state assessment test linked to 'No Child Left Behind' at Annapolis Middle School in Annapolis, Md.

Marquez Allen, age 12, reads test questions in Feb. 2015 on a laptop computer during a trial run of a new state assessment test linked to No Child Left Behind at Annapolis Middle School in Annapolis, Md.

Source Patrick Semansky/AP

Boehner and his Republican majority were all set to vote on, and pass, a new law earlier this year when GOP leaders surprised everyone by suddenly yanking it. The reason: A band of conservatives were refusing to vote for it. “It’s a tough sell with a lot of our base,” explains one conservative congressman, who declined to be identified. “In the last year and a half, education has become a huge issue.” Never mind that President Obama had threatened to veto the bill for going too far in conservatives’ direction. To those House Republicans, it didn’t roll back No Child Left Behind sufficiently. The Senate has since introduced a bipartisan consensus bill, which conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation have likewise panned. With the House revolt, the path to a new law “narrowed considerably,” concedes Brown.

“How can you find a place in the center where you can get enough votes and you can get a signature by the president?”

 Michael Petrilli, president of the center-right Fordham Institute

States’ rights are at the heart of conservatives’ push to gut No Child Left Behind. The law created a web of requirements for public schools, things that had never been governed by the feds before, like how frequently to conduct standardized testing and how to measure student progress. The federal government was supposed to provide new funding pots to help schools meet these new requirements. It hasn’t. And some of the bars the law set for school achievement were far too ambitious, policymakers soon discovered.

US President Barack Obama greets guests after speaking about providing US states flexibility under No Child Left Behind program

President Obama greets guests after speaking about providing U.S. states flexibility under No Child Left Behind programs in exchange for education reform, at the White House on Feb. 9, 2012.

Source Saul Loeb/Getty

“There’s always been this tension between [Republicans’] commitment to education reform and their commitment to a small role for the federal government,” says Michael Petrilli, president of the center-right Fordham Institute, an education policy group. Bush won Republican support for the bill with new rules to hold schools accountable for performance and to let students in bad schools go elsewhere. That principle, dubbed “school choice,” has been at the heart of GOP school-reform proposals for decades. They’ve joined with some Democrats to support a growing number of charter schools, open school districts and even systems for funneling public funds to private schools, with states like Arizona and Louisiana leading the way. But right now, “there’s a much bigger focus on shrinking the federal government,” Petrilli says. That’s echoed by Rep. Mark Walker, who’s sponsored legislation allowing states to opt out of No Child Left Behind. His goal for the rewrite is to “reduce the federal footprint in classrooms,” he says in a statement to OZY. 

Given that hard-line stance by many in the House GOP, experts like Petrilli are wondering: “How can you find a place in the center where you can get enough votes and you can get a signature by the president?” It’s a good question. Even if Republicans give in on their efforts to expand school choice, as they have in the Senate proposal, Democrats still aren’t likely to go for proposals that dismantle accountability programs or funding streams for disadvantaged districts. The Obama White House threatened to veto the House bill before it was pulled; it’s reserved judgment on the Senate proposal. The smart money says they’ll fail to meet in the middle, which would leave the status quo in place, says Lindsey Burke, an education fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

But how is that better for conservatives than a new law that actually starts to roll back some of the biggest problems with No Child Left Behind? The Republican congressman who spoke to OZY says that any new law would be in effect for multiple years, which makes small ball less appealing. He and other conservatives would rather take their chances, it seems, that they’ll have a Republican in the White House in 2017, and then go big. “This is going to play out with presidential politics,” the congressman says. “That’s going to go a long way in shaping the debate.”

Fashion in Sudan

Women in colorful beautiful outfits backstage in the evening outdoors

When fighting erupted in Juba, South Sudan more than a year ago between government forces and rebels loyal to an ousted vice president, it threatened to unravel everything the new country had built, both physically and culturally. One such cultural touchstone was Juba’s emerging fashion industry, led by designers such as Akuja de Garang. Her annual Festival of Fashion & Arts for Peace has drawn the attention of international press, which hailed her as one of South Sudan’s enterprising repats helping define the new country’s cultural identity.

In the days before the recent fighting began, another South Sudanese designer, Nyanut von Habsburg-Lothringen, had her work on display in a two-night fashion show in the courtyard of Home and Away, an upscale Thai restaurant popular among aid workers and oil-industry expats. It was a vast space: an outdoor eating area covered by trees, umbrellas and vines, with a large parking lot for the SUVs of NGO personnel and a large banquet area that hosted the catwalk.

Backstage, there was the busy energy of a N.Y. fashion show, but with no makeup artists and lots of concertina wire.

Nyanut markets her designs under the brand Nile Style and has produced several such shows over the years, not only to exhibit her clothing, but also to create opportunities for working and aspiring models in South Sudan. She also moonlights as the Miss World franchise holder for South Sudan, helping send the country’s candidates to China and Indonesia for the last two years’ competitions.

I have photographed everything from the war in Iraq to New York Fashion Week, and I stumbled upon this show while in Juba on another assignment. The scene struck me as familiar. Like many events in the developing world that try to emulate their counterparts in the first, it looked impeccable from afar, although closer inspection revealed the homespun nature of the show: the wobbly, uneven catwalk; the novice DJ with cheesy jokes. Backstage, the atmosphere had the same upbeat and busy energy of a New York fashion show, except with no makeup artists and lots of concertina wire on the wall enclosing the venue.

 

But Nyanut seemed unstressed, as did the models. Some of them were amateurs, while others were already working in the modeling industry. All were trying to follow in the footsteps of Alek Wek, South Sudan’s most famous supermodel, who, since making it big in America, has worked to bring attention to the problems in the country of her birth.

Two days after the show, the eruption of violence plunged the country into renewed turmoil. Nyanut, who divides her time between South Sudan and Kenya, left for Nairobi just before Christmas. There, she is now organizing a series of events — from fashion shows to discussion forums for South Sudanese refugees and diaspora — that “aim to build bridges between our divided people,” she wrote in a recent email. “The aim is to keep challenging ourselves to find a way forward.”

A fragile cease-fire was negotiated in January, and then promptly disregarded. Juba is calmer now, but fighting continues in several South Sudanese territories. Fashion shows are a small example of what hangs in the balance: the aspirations of the models and designers for a normal life with the ability to be in fashion. 

The images below were taken as the models prepared backstage on the first night of Juba Fashion Week, Dec. 12, 2013 in Juba, South Sudan.

This OZY encore was originally published in March 2014.

4 Weeks, 4 Holy Diets

religion

Maria Yagoda lives in New York City and has written for The New York Times, The AtlanticBustle, People, Al Jazeera America and others.

On an unseasonably bitter night, I reached for the garlic, the only “vegetable” ever in my vegetable bowl, then paused. Garlic could arouse me sexually or inspire lethargy. That’s what the Jains say, anyway. And at this particular moment, I was supposed to do as the Jains say. I was embarking on my first day of a strange, monthlong journey: I had four weeks to try out four distinct religious diets.

Newly jobless and chronically depressed, I sought salvation in the cult of food, but as an atheist, I wondered if I was entitled to salvation, or even the grace of religious insight. But food? I understand food — how it nourishes and, yes, blesses. My particular brand of gastronomic worship, however, had taken the form of White Castle Wednesdays and Pizza-Plus-Scandal Thursdays. So I wondered: Could the blind following of rules lead me toward balanced, thoughtful and conscientious eating? And could I do it without devoting myself to the cult of juice cleanses and spin classes?

For centuries, of course, food has been part and parcel of almost every culture’s religion, be it the Torah’s ban on shellfish or the Hindus’ avoidance of beef. I can conjecture why: If religion is about the daily rules and values by which we live, well, you can’t get much more daily than your three regular meals and, um, elevenses, drunk munchies and, for the civilized, a spot of afternoon tea. But society has its own set of cuisine rules, the number of which just keeps mounting. No gluten; yes to kale, antibiotic-free salmon and grass-fed beef. Indeed, the world is going through a food reset, begot by both the angels and the devils of our better nature, from concern over climate change to worries about our waistlines. 

 

This, though, was about something personal. Making myself an adult, perhaps? Because no one ever told me — there wasn’t a rulebook for a 20-something with no money. Maybe borrowing someone else’s food rules could help. I chose the four diets — each hailing from a very different theological framework — that would challenge me the most: I would eat like a Jain, a Mormon, a Rastafarian and an Edenic-minded Christian, all while consulting a nutritionist for a secular perspective. Desperate to shock my takeout-fueled system and discover a healthier, more enlightened way of being, I embarked on a journey to relearn how to eat.

WEEK ONE: JAINISM

I needed veggies, which I would have to down absent of garlic or onion. Good news: I had a pack of frozen ones, left over from the night I decided to “get healthy!” last summer. I sliced open the gross frozen brick. But. Shit. A few orange chunks of carrot were wedged in there somewhere.

Jains don’t do root vegetables. In their extreme attempt to avoid all killing or harming of any life-form, they object to eating carrots, potatoes and, yes, garlic, out of concern that small insects suffer or die during their harvest. Jainism, an ancient Indian religion, espouses nonviolence (ahimsa) for all living creatures. If you take violent actions, the universe (powered by karma, not God) will punish you. Mahima Shah, an 18-year-old Jain from New Jersey, assured me that American interpretations of the Jain diet are often more relaxed, especially among younger generations. She’s “just a vegetarian” and doesn’t eat eggs. But she’s considering veganism in the future. Gulp.   

The next morning, I ate organic bran cereal for breakfast with homemade almond milk. I went for a 10-minute run and felt self-satisfied. I nibbled on cucumbers and garlic-free hummus. For dinner, I met up with my sister, a high school history teacher who had recently taught Jainism to a class of ninth-graders. She educated me further: It wasn’t just about “Do no harm” but also “Have no sex” … and, she added, you’d better not like your stuff too much. “Don’t form attachments to anything,” she counseled. I thought of my many earthly attachments. Thursday night television. Vanilla lattes. Routine sex. Sunday television. 

For the remainder of the week, I awoke hungry and gassy. My mornings were suddenly free of such spiritually obscuring concerns as McMuffins and (probably) stepping on bugs. But apparently I was kind of dooming myself by going to extremes, warned Marissa Lippert, a nutritionist and the owner of Nourish, a health-minded restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village. She was proud of me for eating good proteins — tofu and nuts. I counted this diet as a minor success: Although I continued to fantasize about roasting de-lish-ous legs of meat, I did stop going to the taqueria next door to covertly smell other people’s food. By the end of the week, I hadn’t lost any pounds, but I did feel lighter. Maybe it was the shed weight of all those hefty attachments. 

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Jains don’t do root vegetables.

WEEK TWO: WORD OF WISDOM

On Feb. 27, 1833, God dictated to Joseph Smith a set of health rules known as “The Word of Wisdom,” which Smith recorded in Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The guidelines read like the conclusion of a Michael Pollan manifesto: Eat meat sparingly. Avoid alcohol. Eat in-season vegetables. Don’t overeat. Avoid coffee and tea. Historically, church leaders have emphasized the prohibitions while stressing less the positive prescriptions. But as Jane Birch, an author and a follower of the Word of Wisdom, explained to me, it doesn’t have to be punitive. “God’s saying to us: Here’s a way to be blessed. Here’s a way I can give you more joy.”

It never occurred to me that I was a coffee person until my second morning without coffee. Exhausted, I entertained fantasies of buying a bedpan. The toilet was so far. I napped three times that first day: once in the morning, once in the early afternoon and once on the bus home to Philadelphia. Even if you discount the bus nap — too inevitable — two naps is excessive for a young woman who is not hospitalized. I waited desperately for the “light and energy and joy” that Birch had promised me. “God wants us to get away from these addictions, these dependencies, so we can be free,” she had told me. Thankfully, Lippert suggested my coffee attachment wasn’t so devilish: Caffeine, she said, “has amazing health benefits” — in moderation. 

That evening I set the table with my mother for our family dinner. I wondered out loud if I could drink cider with the meal. The day was celebratory, so I felt I needed a drink. (And, yes, I recognized the urge as problematic. My budding Mormon conscience told me: You should never need a drink to celebrate.) “Mitt Romney would never drink cider,” my mom said, refolding all of my napkins into neat triangles. My caffeineless brain had no patience for my Mormon-novice mother. I turned to my holy text. Google said: Cider was a no-no. 

WEEK THREE: ITAL DIET

I knew nothing of Rastafarianism except that I disliked the kids in high school who thought Bob Marley was God. Of course, those faux rebels gravely misunderstood Rastafarianism, which began in the 1930s as a Jamaican black-power movement. An important part of Rasta culture is the ital diet. “Ital cooking is like a woman without makeup,” said Michael Gordon, the 44-year-old chef and owner of an ital restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, as he chopped scallions for his “anytin’ stew.” Allll natural.

Gordon grew up in a small country village in Jamaica, where there were no refrigerators or modern conveniences. “My toy was a chicken. I still play with my food.” This aesthetic makes a Rasta diet fairly friendly to today’s hipsters: At his Crown Heights restaurant, he does the organic and fresh thing. The foods are meant to increase your “life energy” by keeping out the artificial. No canned items, no artificial additives and — as a typically vegan diet — no meat, dairy or eggs.

You have to cook to eat. I’d forgotten something so basic. Ital’s powerful brand of naturalism demanded that I reconsider not just what I feed myself, but how. This week I would choose a different, simpler kind of love — a love of self and of earth — that required I cook to eat. Every other day, I visited a New York farmer’s market, bought enough sprouted things to feed 10 hungry families and prepared giant veggie feasts of soups and stir-fry and salads. (Lippert liked this “dynamic” approach.)

The hard part was the guidelines about cooking: Don’t cook on metal; don’t eat out of cans. I went for simple salads, rice, nuts, carrots and lots of smoothies blended with almond milk, frozen bananas, strawberries and kale. I convinced myself that these smoothies tasted exactly like milkshakes, which I told to friends and anyone who’d listen. 

But I couldn’t cook my own stuff forever. On my last day, I journeyed to the Whole Foods buffet for a raw veggie salad, which I ate next to a man systematically deconstructing a rotisserie chicken with his hands and face. I swooned with jealousy, vaguely recalling my meaty former life, and watched him finish his carcass. I proceeded to buy a butternut squash and head home to prepare dinner, because at 1 p.m., just 10 minutes into digesting lunch, I was hungry again.

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A Rasta diet is fairly friendly to today’s hipsters.

WEEK FOUR: HALLELUJAH DIET

I wanted oatmeal. Couldn’t. I wanted a bagel. Couldn’t. I wanted cereal. Couldn’t. This was the beginning of a nightmare.

The Hallelujah Diet is mostly raw vegan, which is the closest to dying you can get without dying. You must eat 85 percent raw foods, leaving 15 percent of your daily intake for cooked (still vegan, still all-natural) indulgences like brown rice and beans, nondairy cheese, herbal tea or stewed fruit. I’d stocked up on raw nut butters, so I slathered raw peanut butter on two apples and watched 1980s fitness videos. I went for a walk. I tried reading, but each word looked like a mini pepperoni pizza. 

Unlike the other diets, the Hallelujah Diet makes someone real money. That someone is the Rev. George Malkmus, who in the early 1990s claimed that switching to a more natural, biblically based diet cured him of colon cancer (as detailed in his book Why Christians Get Sick). He opened Hallelujah Acres in 1992 in Rogersville, Tennessee, which now has a restaurant, cafe and juice bar. The diet, though, has humble origins, inspired by an Adam-and-Eve lifestyle — Genesis 1:29, to be precise: 

“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb and bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

I contacted Marvin Young, chief marketing officer at Hallelujah Diet, with questions, and he responded, instead, to my word choice: “Our diet is not a religious-based diet; it’s a plant-based diet.” Maybe that’s its best selling point? Young bragged that the diet’s followers included everyone from baby boomers to generally raw-vegan-friendly folks. I considered that fads can have many incarnations, from Bushwick to the Bible Belt. There are some unsettling promises, like the Cancer Get Started Kit, which, for $400, will detoxify your body with enzymes, probiotics and nascent iodine. 

During this week, I napped a lot too. And dreamed that I served Martha Stewart and Jane Krakowski a luscious, raw blender soup made with carrots, kale and ginger. I woke up and trekked to the supermarket to pick up the ingredients, as though I were expecting Martha and Jane any minute. It had even infected my dreams — where I could fantasize about anything, from rubbing my body with ground pork to swimming in a sea of turkey chili — with raw- and kale-centric visions. I was a convert. 

It was cold out, though, and Lippert said that might be an excuse. Raw diets in the cold: bad news. I had lost 3 pounds at the end of the week. But I didn’t feel much lighter.

Photography by Cary Jobe

 

How Was Your Day … Caribbean Cruise Ship Electrician?

A man trapped in an elevator.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?” 

Ante Kotromanovic
Split, Croatia 

I’ve just finished 8-hours doing mostly elevator maintenance. Sometimes the elevators on this ship just stop. If we’re lucky, nobody is inside. If we’re not…well, it’s our job to evacuate the people from the elevator quickly and safely. Most of the time, people are understanding; sometimes, they’re not so willing to cooperate, and just want to get out ASAP. But it’s important to remain calm.

Of the last 13 months, I’ve spent 11 on a ship. My hometown is Split, Croatia and that’s where I spend most of my time when not working. I’m 26. I work for AIDACruises on a mid-sized cruise ship with approximately 600 crewmembers and 2,200 guests. A 10-day Caribbean cruise isn’t just a privilege of the wealthy anymore. I’d guess that most of our guests aren’t doing great financially, but belong to that famous middle-class, if such a thing still exists. I’ve learned that there’s a huge world out there, but that most people occupy their minds with pretty much the same things.

I hate being polite with bitchy guests.

Today we had problems with something called the earth fault. Some machine’s electrical insulation was damaged and part of the current leaked into the ship’s hull. If there is more than one serious earth fault, the main breaker trips, causing about thirty machines in the Main Galley – where food for the guests is prepared – to be instantly out of order. And then begins the fun part…when people go crazy. Once a guest yelled some random shit at me because of the power failure in his cabin. I looked humble and apologized and said it was completely our mistake, although it wasn’t – the breaker was tripped because the guest had too many devices in use at once.

 

A cruise ship is pretty much a floating company. Do as you are told and your contract will be respected. Dare to disturb the order of the ship and measures will be taken — an informal talk with your supervisor or a formal talk with the Captain; getting beaten up by an angry drunk colleague or getting fired and being obligated to cover all the travel expenses for yourself — and your replacement.

The worst parts of my job are taking orders and never having a “day-off.” I never have family and friends around when I really need them. I hate being polite with bitchy guests. I do, however, love making sweet love to women from all continents.

After this contract, I’m taking a break from sailing. Probably a long one. I’ve grown bored with this kind of life.