The Kibera neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Dahravi section of Mumbai, India, are two of the planet's most appalling slums, but residents have recently discovered well-off international visitors roaming their toxic, fetid urban hells as voyeurs on travel agency-arranged tours. "(T)hey want to come and take pictures ... tell their friends they've been to the worst slum in Africa," lamented one resident of Kibera (which has one toilet for every 1,440 people), speaking to a Reuters reporter in February, but a March Smithsonian magazine piece quoted a Dahravi tour entrepreneur as promising to show "the positive side of (the) slum" (for instance, the community spirit that discourages street beggars, in a nation otherwise teeming with them).
-- Among traditional rituals still celebrated: (1) Tinku, in Bolivia's high plains, pits two tribes in Sacaca each February in day-long drinking and all-out fist-fighting. Despite the bloodshed, Tinku survives, helped by President Evo Morales' support for indigenous cultures. The mayor of Sacaca called Tinku "a sublime, beautiful act," in a February New York Times dispatch. (2) And at the Historic Carnival of Ivrea, Italy, in February, nine "teams" battled in commemoration of the centuries-old rebellion against noblemen, who enjoyed deflowering commoners' brides on their wedding eves. Today, that battle is waged by people pelting one another with oranges (this year, more than a million).
-- The U.S. Border Patrol has for three decades worked with a small group of Native Americans (Navajos, Kiowa and Sioux, among others) who call themselves the Shadow Wolves and who proudly use ancestral techniques to help track down drug smugglers and human traffickers along the Arizona and California borders with Mexico. According to a February Reuters dispatch, the Wolves can detect "barely visible scuff marks" on the ground and know how to follow trails of tiny fibers.
-- The University of Texas-Arlington fired two employees last year after they had prayed at the cubicle of a co-worker and anointed it with prayer oil, and in December the two filed a lawsuit over the termination. The school said that "praying, shouting and/or chanting over a co-worker's ... belongings without her knowledge and consent constitutes harassment," and that rubbing down the cubicle frame with oil showed "disregard for university property." Evelyne Shatkin and Linda Shifflett said that the co-worker was on vacation at the time, but they declined to say why they thought she needed the benefit of prayer.
-- Britain's Home Office decided recently, in the course of remodeling at the Brixton prison in London, that, because of Muslim inmates, all the toilets should be re-positioned so that users would be respectfully facing perpendicular to Mecca as they answered nature's calls. In China, meanwhile, several multinational corporations, along with the government's television network, said they are de-emphasizing pigs in advertising and promotion even though this is the Year of the Pig in the Chinese zodiac. The Han Chinese majority regard pork as their premier meat and the pig as a symbol of happiness, honesty and fertility, according to a January Wall Street Journal dispatch.
-- TV evangelist Darlene Bishop (Monroe, Ohio) had a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against her in late 2006 by the family of her brother, who died after a battle with throat cancer, which the family says Bishop convinced him (on his deathbed) that he had defeated through her ministry of prayer. Before her brother was stricken, Bishop's main healing example was herself, in that she touted prayer as having enabled her to beat her own breast cancer, but she later conceded that she merely believed herself stricken and that no formal diagnosis had been made. (Bishop's brother was a prominent country and western songwriter, and the family members are contesting his considerable estate.)
-- Two solutions to "bullying": (1) In November, a mother (with her two daughters and a family friend in tow) rushed to a school in Charlotte, N.C., to defend her 15-year-old son, who had been complaining of bullying. (Logically, a defense by one's mother might not put an end to bullying.) (2) The South Korean government commenced a pilot program in March to supply to-and-from-school bodyguards for kids who complain about bullying (to be funded by private donations). However, the bodyguards would not actually sit with kids in class.
-- Seattle parents of 9-year-old "Ashley" announced they have decided to give her intensive hormone therapy, which will likely cause her not to grow beyond her current stature (4-foot-5, 75 pounds), in that she has a likely permanent brain impairment that prevents her from almost all of life's activities (walking, talking, eating, keeping upright). The parents decided that, since she requires constant care, their incentive to take her places and engage her would be increased if she were of a manageable size rather than a full-grown adult.
(1) "Feral Shih Tzus Roam Georgia Condo Complex" (Science Daily); (2) "Son Gets Six Months, Probation, for Dismembering Mother" (WINS Radio, New York City); (3) "Judge Rules Government Supply of Marijuana Is Inadequate" (San Jose Mercury News). (The dogs romped through the Covered Bridge complex in Marietta; the 16-year-old son was found to be emotionally under the spell of a sadistic adult molester; and the federal government's marijuana farm was not producing enough for medical research.)
Brian Ward, 29, was arrested in St. Clairsville, W.Va., in February after a student's parent saw him acting strange while parked across the street from St. Clairsville High School. The parent reported that Ward appeared maybe to be having a seizure, in that his arms were "thrashing around," but police found that that was just his reaction to an illegal inhalant, which was not identified.
Novelist (27 books) David Eddings, 75, accidentally destroyed his Carson City, Nev., garage and part of his next-door office in January while he was flushing out the gas tank of his idle sports car. He said later that his intention was to remove the gasoline from the car to reduce the fire risk, but then he saw that some fluid had leaked onto the garage floor. For some reason, Eddings' curiosity about the leak (water or gasoline?) caused him to light a piece of paper and toss it onto the puddle, just to find out. "One word comes to mind," he later told the Nevada Appeal. "Dumb."
News of the Weird has formally retired the category of household-hoarding stories, but apparently Ann Biglin of West Yarmouth, Mass., has an additional problem: hoarding in her automobile. Police issued her a citation in February after her car jumped a curb and knocked over a light post, which Biglin explained was due to "several old coffee cups" and "assorted pieces of trash" that might have accidently fallen and hit the accelerator. However, police found the seats filled at least chest-high with trash. A Boston Herald photo showed the driver's seat uninhabitable, and its story described the mess as "mountains of trash" that came down as an "avalanche" on her accelerator.
Though much of Pakistan remains devoutly Islamic and sometimes even intensely tribal in nature, 28-year-old Mr. Ali Saleem enjoys modest success on television each week as a cross-dressing diva named Begum Nawazish Ali, whose flamboyant character alternates between coquettish and outrageous. According to a January New York Times dispatch from Karachi, Ali and his fans believe no biological female could do what he does, either because of religious norms or sensitive family "honor" (which sometimes leads relatives to punish or even kill female family members who bring them shame in their community).
(Visit Chuck Shepherd daily at http://NewsoftheWeird.blogspot.com or www.NewsoftheWeird.com. Send your Weird News to WeirdNewsTips@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, FL 33679.)