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A Flood of Good Intentions in Senegal

Local architects and engineers devised a way to use destructive coastal rains to water gardens and reservoirs.

Flooding in Dakar, Senegal. Photo by MyriamLouviot via Wikimedia Commons

Every year, torrential floods thrash the coastal towns of Senegal. The waters have grown increasingly erratic and disastrous since the 1970s for a host of reasons. In bad years (like 2009) they’ve caused over $100 million in damages to the capital of Dakar alone, affecting hundreds of thousands of people with property damages, waterborne diseases, and dislocation. Although Senegal has a better track record than many of its neighbors in terms of infrastructure and government works, local authorities still scramble to respond to these deluges, assembling ad hoc parties to dig emergency canals and raising last-minute funds. Yet while officials and aid workers struggle year after year to dry out waterlogged towns, a group of local architects have devised a way to turn their floodwaters into an asset, channeling them into beautifying, moneymaking communal gardens, and greening up areas that are ironically parched for the bulk of the year.

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The Crustacean Cure for one of the World’s Worst Parasites

Schistosomiasis is one of the most debilitating tropical diseases, but it can be combatted with the help of a few million prawns

The noble prawn

Schistosomiasis, a.k.a. bilharzia or blood fluke, is a particularly nasty affliction. Stemming from the presence of a parasite in the blood, the illness is one of the world’s 17 neglected tropical diseases. Active mostly in Africa but also in swaths of Asia and Latin America, it afflicts 230 million people every year, killing more than 200,000. Days or months after the waterborne parasites enter one’s body (ironically, the water is still potable—it’s just contact with the skin that allows parasitic transmission), those afflicted develop an itchy rash, fever, chills, coughs, and debilitating aches with no warning. And repeated infections—which are quite common, especially among youth—can lead to lifelong anemia, learning disorders, malnutrition, organ damage, and even seizures, due to spinal inflammation as the body reacts to the presence of blood fluke eggs in its system. In terms of its prevalence and long-term effects, the disease is second in its debilitating capacity to malaria, possibly the most deadly disease in human history. Traditionally, treatment options have been relatively ineffective and quite expensive. But recently, in at least one hard-hit region, a project has developed with potential to totally eliminate schistosomiasis from local communities, while creating sustainable agriculture—all through the clever use of prawns.

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I met Walshy Fire a few months ago in the parking lot of the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. His band, Major Lazer, was in town to perform at the Cradle that evening, and soundcheck was just wrapping up when he emerged, with a smile, from the tour bus.

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Three weeks ago, courts in Senegal ruled that Muslim holy men were no longer allowed to enlist children to beg on their behalf. According to The New York Times, flocks of ragged young boys, known as "talibes," have traditionally spent many hours a day walking barefoot through busy streets, holding tin cans and begging for change—which they deliver to the holy men, or "marabouts."

[Talibes] could be seen in every neighborhood of this Muslim West African metropolis. Ostensibly students in schools where the Koran is taught, the boys often leave these makeshift establishments knowing little of the Muslim sacred texts, according to Human Rights Watch, which estimates that there are as many as 50,000 on the streets of Senegal.

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Youssou N'Dour on Music, Islam, and Obama

\r\n In the wake of controversy, and in the spotlight of a new documentary, the venerable musician opens up.\r\nYou have probably...

In the wake of controversy, and in the spotlight of a new documentary, the venerable musician opens up.You have probably heard the Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour. It is N'Dour's bracing voice, singing in his native Wolof, that takes over for Peter Gabriel at the end of the 1986 single "In Your Eyes." For Africans, though, and especially Senegalese, N'Dour is a cultural icon. In the 1970s, N'Dour helped develop a musical genre called m'balax-a fusion of Western pop styles with traditional Senegalese griot percussion-that still thrives today.When N'Dour released Egypt, an album celebrating the Sufi tradition of Islam, however, he faced an unexpected backlash. While the album earned him his first Grammy, it inspired criticism in the Senegalese press and boycotts from Muslims, upset that a pop star would record religious music. The documentary I Bring What I Love (which is now playing in New York and opens in Los Angeles July 3) tells the story of the Egypt album and the controversy that surrounded it. GOOD recently talked with N'Dour to ask him about music, Islam, and Obama's speech in Cairo.GOOD: How did you first become interested in music? What were your early influences?YOUSOU N'DOUR: I started when I was 16. My principle influences were salsa and rumba. My references were my mother's family of griot singers, African traditional singers, and some more modern voices like [the afrobeat pioneer] Fela Kuti. It was in my blood. I just wanted to sing.G: Can you describe the m'balax music you helped to develop?YN: The mbalax is a rhythm and a dance, where the percussion and the talking drums are very important. There is a real dialogue between the percussion, the talking drums, and the people who dance.G: And you sing in Wolof, the Senegalese language?YN: The language I'm most comfortable with is Wolof. It's important for me that people from Senegal understand my lyrics. Sometimes I sing in English or in French, but Wolof is my first language and I live in Senegal.G: What inspired the 2004 Egypt album?

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