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News and Trends
October 26 & November 9, 2009


Big, Cold—and Free
Freedom in the Skies
A Soccer Homecoming
Bashful But Brainy
Genghis Khan Rides Again
A Twist on Student Loans

Big, Cold—and Free
The thing about being from Greenland, says Susan Gudmundsdottir Johnsen, is that most people have no clue where it is. "I have to explain: 'Here you have a map. Here's Europe. The big white thing is Greenland,'" she says. But this country with 58,000 people and only two traffic lights is now securing its place in the world. In June, it began a new era of self-rule with the goal of eventual independence from Denmark—its ruler since 1721, when Danes established a colony there. Now, Greenland's government gets to call itself by its Inuit name, Naalakkersuisut. These are uncertain times in Greenland, where unemployment is around 9 percent and global warming is melting some of the ice cap that covers 80 percent of the country's 840,000 square miles. But self-rule is giving many Greenlanders a new sense of pride. Says Peter Lovstrom, 28, who works in the national art museum in Nuuk, Greenland's capital, "I feel a bit more Greenlandic now."

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Freedom in the Skies
A decade ago, unmarried Arab women working outside their home countries were rare. Today, many young women from around the Middle East are going to countries like the United Arab Emirates to become flight attendants. They enjoy freedoms nearly unimaginable elsewhere in the region. But many Muslim families fear that if a daughter leaves home, it will damage her marriage prospects, and some airlines are trying to address these concerns. No men are allowed in the flight attendants' dorm for Etihad, the national airline of the U.A.E. And Etihad flight attendants wear a scarf resembling a hijab, the head covering worn by many Muslim women. These measures help reassure families, says a flight attendant for Emirates, another U.A.E. airline. "They know that if their girls start flying," she says, "they won't be thrown into the wide world without protection."

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A Soccer Homecoming
One sweltering night in July, tens of thousands of Iraqis poured into Baghdad's Shaab Stadium for the first time since 2002. Their national soccer team, displaced for years by war, had finally come home. Soccer may be the one thing that unifies this divided nation, and hours before the match, the stadium was filled with cheering fans. Then, amid a deafening roar, Iraq cruised to a 4-0 victory over a Palestinian team. Even in the darkest days of the war, Iraq's team had given a soccer-crazed nation something to cheer about, finishing fourth in the Athens Olympics in 2004. But the danger in Iraq forced the team to live and play outside the country. Although they failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, players say that the team, like Iraq, has turned a corner. "We're tired of traveling," says goalkeeper Mohammed Gosad. "Now we have our own country."

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Bashful But Brainy
Scientists have long considered the long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bartoni) nearly impossible to study. One of the world's oldest, rarest, and shyest animals, it's found only the rain forests of New Guinea and surrounding islands. But Muse Opiang, whose initial research was at the Bronx Zoo in New York, managed to capture and attach transmitters to 22 echidnas. The spiny creatures are a living link between birds and mammals: Although they lay eggs, they nurse their young with milk. Another oddity is that the females are larger than the males. These animals also have a mighty brain, says Peggy Rismiller, a scientist based in Australia. "Among humans," says Rismiller, "the neocortex that allows us to reason accounts for 30 percent of the brain; in echidnas, it's 50 percent."

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Genghis Khan Rides Again
The legendary 13th-century horseman, who ruled history's largest contiguous empire—which stretched across much of Asia—has returned to the steppes of Mongolia. And now he's charging admission. Not far from Ulan Bator, Mongolia's capital, stands a 131-foot-tall statue of Genghis Khan on horseback. As the centerpiece of a planned Genghis Khan theme park, the statue is the latest tribute to Mongolia's most famous son, known locally as Chinggis Khaan ("Universal Ruler"). Inside the statue's base, visitors can see a replica of Genghis Khan's golden whip and sample traditional cuisine, which is heavy on horse meat and potatoes. The rush to honor and profit from their hero comes as Mongolians are seeking a national identity following centuries of foreign dominance. But the tributes are unlikely to focus on the more bloodthirsty aspects of Genghis Khan, who began his conquests after uniting warring nomadic tribes. "Foreigners have no idea who Chinggis Khaan really was," says Khaliun Ganbold, 21, a tour guide at the theme park. "All they know is the bit of information they read on Wikipedia."

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A Twist on Student Loans
Last year, a group of students at the Meadows School in Las Vegas, Nevada, started a microbank for fighting poverty in poor countries. Through weekly sandwich sales at their school and contributions, the students raised $25,000. They invested the money with Pro Mujer ("Pro Women"), a nonprofit organization based in New York that issues small loans to poor women in foreign countries to use for starting or expanding small businesses. Now, according to faculty adviser Kirk Knutsen, the Meadows Microcredit Action Group has made microloans to women in Peru, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, and other countries. Their first loan—$350—went to Rosa, a woman in Peru who used it to restock her small grocery store. And the Meadows group is not the only high school microbank: The Microfinance Club at Bellevue High School in Bellevue, Washington, has raised more than $125,000 for microloans in the Dominican Republic. One goal of the Meadows club is to encourage other schools to start microfinace groups. "In the countries we're looking at, the government can't help the people," says Ashley Lovell, a 17-year-old senior who belongs to the Meadows group. "They rely entirely on charitable gifts to survive."

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