Good Reads: From life-changing wells, to women who live as men, to acoustic wonders

This week's roundup of Good Reads includes the impact of drinking wells in Uganda, why an American reporter resigned from RT, Albanian mountain women who live as men, the continuing plight of bluefin tuna, and acoustic wonders.

By , Staff writer

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    Kashmiri village girls carried water vessels on World Water Day, March 22.
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Helen Apio used to start her day with a mile-and-a-half predawn march to stand in line waiting for water, Becky Straw writes on the community blogging site Maptia. Then she would turn around and head home, hopefully with two full five-gallon jerrycans.

Ms. Straw met Ms. Apio when she visited a small village in Atek, Uganda, with colleagues from charity: water, a nonprofit water relief organization. When the charity: water crew arrived, Apio and other women swarmed the truck and began cheering and dancing, Straw writes. Apio told them about the village’s new well. The well meant that she no longer had to choose between watering her garden so she could grow food for her family and washing her children’s uniforms so they would not be sent home from school, Straw writes. It meant that she could take care of herself, too. “Now, I am beautiful,” Apio told Straw.

Not Putin’s pawn

On March 5, RT (previously known as Russia Today) correspondent Elizabeth Wahl tendered her resignation on the air. “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of [President Vladimir] Putin,” she announced during her final evening broadcast.

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Ms. Wahl outlines on Politico.com how she came to report for the English-language international cable network funded by the Russian government. The network had lured her with an opportunity to tackle “stories the mainstream media ignores” and a company mantra of “Question More,” she writes.

She joined the network shortly before discontented protesters started setting up tent cities all across the United States as part of the “Occupy” movement. She and her fellow correspondents covered the protests heavily, especially the protesters’ complaints about the US government, she writes. But there was no interest in comparable coverage of protests in Moscow, she adds. When Russia annexed Crimea, the network pushed for “Kremlin-driven coverage … with propaganda and censorship like I’ve never seen it before,” she writes. She soon decided that she had to resign publicly. “I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth,” she said in her closing statement.

Where mountain women live as men

In the mountains of Albania, a dozen or more women live out their lives as men. While some of these burrneshas always felt they were male, even when they were small, the majority did not, GQ’s Michael Paterniti writes. The practice dates back hundreds of years as a way for daughters to inherit family land.
A medieval canon of laws, known as the Kanun, outlines strict rules of patrilineal inheritance, he explains. The only way for a woman to inherit property is to become a celibate burrnesha. While the practice has fallen out of favor, there are still burrneshas living out their lives alone in the Albanian Alps. Most Albanians have no idea they exist, he reports.

One burrnesha, Haki, told Paterniti that “he” (his pronoun of choice) had survived some very hard times. “But he’d always had the barn, the garden. He’d always had the well, and the fresh water in it. And he had relative peace.” That’s a valuable commodity in a region where 20,000 people are entangled in blood feuds.

The majestic tuna

The bluefin tuna has traversed the world’s oceans for thousands of years. Classic author Ernest Hemingway called the 14-foot, 3/4-ton giant “the king of all fish.” Archaeologists have found the bluefin’s hulking silhouette etched on Stone Age cave paintings and on Greek and Celtic coins, Kenneth Brower reports for National Geographic. “Bluefin helped build Western civilization,” Stanford University professor Barbara Block, a bluefin scholar, told Mr. Brower. Today, bluefin are still beloved, perilously so.

“Bluefin are among the most overfished species on Earth,” he writes. High consumer demand and poor management have pushed the world’s fisheries to a new brink, he reports. The western Atlantic stock has declined 64 percent since 1970, a plight shared by Canada’s cod, Peru’s anchovies, the Pacific Northwest’s salmon, Antarctica’s Patagonian toothfish, and the world’s sharks.

The acoustic wonders of the world

Trevor Cox stumbled upon his “life’s grandest quest” while descending into a sewer, Joseph Stromberg reports for Smithsonian
mag.com. “I heard something interesting down there, a sound sprialing [sic] around the sewer,” the acoustic engineer told Mr. Stromberg. “It kind of took me by surprise, and it got me thinking: what other remarkable sounds are out there?”

Mr. Cox traveled all over the world to catalog acoustic wonders for his new book, “The Sound Book.” He recorded the melancholy groans of Iceland’s shifting glaciers, the guttural humming of Mojave Desert dunes, and the eerie songs of Alaska’s bearded seals. He captured the perplexing projection of sound within spherical whisper chambers and the endless echo within an abandoned oil tank. After all that hunting, he told Stromberg, Cox realized that acoustic wonders are everywhere, in the rumble of traffic, the song of a bird, and yes, even in the sewer.

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