Meet the fish that happily live in the lake that turns birds to stone

Perhaps you have recently heard about Tanzania's Lake Natron, a body of water that has become famous on the Internet over the last couple of days because of the work of artist Nick Brandt, who took some eerie, posed photos of the calcified corpses of birds that he found along the lake's shore.

Natron, the stuff for which the lake is named, should also sound a bit familiar to you. That's because it's the mineral salt the ancient Egyptians used as part of their mummification rituals. (In fact, they used to harvest it from dry lake beds — Lake Natron isn't the only lake in Africa that's home to large quantities of naturally occurring natron.) It's both a serious drying agent and anti-bacterial, so immersion in natron can suck all the moisture out of a dead body while simultaneously preserving it against the ravages of microorganisms. As far as I can tell, that's what you're seeing in Brandt's creepy photos — birds and bats that look like Tim Burton's garden statuary, but are actually just mummified (and then propped up for artistic purposes).

Which brings us back to the video above. If Lake Natron mummifies birds, how do the fish survive?

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Crowdfunded mosquito-confusing patch to be sent to Uganda


The Kite Patch is the subject of a very successful Indiegogo fundraiser, and holds the promise of a lasting peace between mosquitoes and humans. It bears a compound designed by UC Riverside entomologist Anandasankar Ray that confuses mosquitoes' ability to track and follow concentration gradients of CO2, which is how they locate humans. However, the product couldn't be marketed in the USA without further testing, hence the crowdfunding campaign, which will send thousands of patches to Uganda, where they will be used as part of a wider trial in fighting malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. The actual nature of the compound is confusing: the Wired article describes it as both "toxic" and "nontoxic" and the crowdfunding FAQ calls it "nontoxic."

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Trapping Africa's animals — on camera

This great shot of a cheetah family comes from the Serengeti camera traps set up by University of Minnesota researcher Ali Swanson. The cameras are activated by heat and motion, and Swanson uses the help of citizen scientists to sort through the many, many pictures and identify species — a process that helps the scientists learn how those other big animals interact with the prides of lions that live in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park.

Check out some other great photos from the camera traps at Minnesota Public Radio's Daily Circuit blog. (I'm a big fan of the dueling buffalo.)

Head to Snapshot Serengeti to help scientists learn about how animals live.

Goths of Kenya

Middle-class Kenyan teens are inventing a local version of goth subculture, and are at the center of a moral panic about kids-gone-wild -- according to an article in Think Africa Press. The article is shy on details or photographic evidence, but I hope its true about the subculture (and not about the moral panic). Anyone have more evidence of this?

The negative public image of the goth scene also extends beyond the general public and is apparent in the attitudes of local authorities, at times with dramatic consequences. David used to have long hair, another way to stand out in a country where men tend to wear it very short. A couple of weeks before I met him, he was walking in town at dusk, waiting for the bus back to Nakuru, when a police car pulled over in front of him. The police approached him and asked to see his passport, which he was not carrying, before they accused him of looking like ‘an al-Shabaab’ – a Somali militant Islamist group responsible for several terrorist attacks in the region.

David denied this, stating that he was a Kenyan. The police then challenged him as to why he had untidy hair and facial piercings, preposterously claiming that these are hallmarks of Somali terrorists. They put him in their car and drove him to a nearby barber where they forced him to shave his head. They said that this would "stop confusing them", and they told him to "dress like a decent person" in future.

When I first met David one of the first things I asked was whether he wore his preferred clothes all the time. I asked most of the goths this question and generally they admitted to travelling incognito, blending into the crowd. David, however, looked vaguely insulted at my question before replying, simply, “Me, I even wear this in Church”.

A Day in the Life of a Kenyan Goth [Rowan Emslie/Think Africa Press]

(via Christian Science Monitor)

Namibia's Herero: amazing fashion derived from early 20th century German colonizers


Wired has a gorgeous gallery of photos from Conflict and Costume, a new book by Jim Naughten documenting the Herero tribe of Namibia, who fought an early 20th-century action with German colonizers, and wore captured German uniforms as trophies. The women adopted the ankle-length dresses of German missionary women, and adapted them into gorgeous, patchwork garments that are worn with headdresses made to look like cattle-horns.

The Herero women adopted the German missionaries’ Victorian-style floor length gowns, but they eventually incorporated the vivid colors and cow-horn-shaped headdress (to represent the Herero’s respect for cattle) you see today. After a woman is married, she is expected to make most of her dresses, often from the offcuts of other garments. These voluminous, patchwork outfits are considered every-day attire, while dresses made from a single material are reserved for special occasions. In the book’s introduction, Lutz Martin writes: “Rounded to resemble healthy cows, the dresses contain up to 10 metres of cloth, despite summer temperatures reaching 50 degrees celsius.”

To get his portraits, Naughten immersed himself in Herero culture. He and his guide traveled from village to village, asking permission of the elders to photograph. In turn, he would be invited to weddings, funerals and ceremonies where would he set up his equipment and snap shots of passersby against the Namibian landscape. Naughten said he lost track of how many people he photographed (it was a lot), but he does recall that most everyone was excited to show off their garb. “The man in the yellow suit has to be a favorite,” Naughten wrote. “For walking in front of the camera/lighting set up without saying a word, posing so perfectly for one shot, and then walking off smiling.”

Conflict and Costume: The Herero Tribe of Namibia [Amazon]

Photos: The Amazing Costume Culture of Africa’s Herero Tribe [Liz Stinson/Wired]

Akissi: kids' comic about a mischievous girl in Cote D'Ivoire [now in the USA!]


Back in April, I reviewed Akissi, a delightful kids' comic about a mischievous little girl in Cote D'Ivoire, translated from the original French. Back then, it was only available in the UK, but as of today, you can buy it in the USA, too! Here's my original review:

Akissi is a French-language comic about the adventures of a little West African girl, now available in English translation thanks to the astoundingly excellent Flying Eye, a new kids' imprint of London's NoBrow. It was created by Marguerite Abouet, whom you may know from Aya, a series of comics for adults set in Cote d'Ivoire, widely available and appreciated in English translation.

Akissi's adventures are both universal and absolutely particular to her milieu. My young daughter -- born and raised in London -- has never kept a pet monkey, had a tapeworm come out of her nose, or had to contend with an older brother who wouldn't take her pigeon hunting; but Akissi's struggles with authority, her close friendships, and her misunderstandings are immediately recognisable to my daughter and her friends when they come over, and I've read the book aloud to them a good half-dozen times since I brought it home last week. It's the perfect combination of gross-out humour, authority clashes, and general mischief to capture a kid's interest.


Akissi comprises seven short stories, each of which stands alone, and, as with all of the NoBrow titles, it is a beautiful package -- great binding, endpapers, paper stock, and spine -- suitable for both your own library and as a handsome gift.

Akissi [Amazon]

AKISSI [Flying Eye]

Awesome Tapes from Africa

Africaaaaaa Awesome Tapes from Africa is just that. They also issue some of their finds on vinyl, CD (and, duh, tape), including the fantastic sounds of Ethiopia's Hailu Mergia posted above.

Hailu made his name in Walias Band and later went on to do some visionary solo recordings. Hailu Mergia's beautiful and surprising 1985 foray into traditional Ethiopian songs via analog synth, electric piano and accordion has been remastered and will be available June 25 on LP/CD/MP3/C60.
Awesome Tapes from Africa (Thanks, Patrick Kelly!)

How clay water filters for Ghana are made

Gmoke sez, "Susan Murcott and her team's factory making clay filters for Pure Home Water in Ghana. Over 100,000 served, so far."

They're shooting for 1,000,000.

Pure Home Water, Ghana: AfriClay Filters

Akissi: kids' comic about a mischievous girl in Cote D'Ivoire


Akissi is a French-language comic about the adventures of a little West African girl, now available in English translation thanks to the astoundingly excellent Flying Eye, a new kids' imprint of London's NoBrow. It was created by Marguerite Abouet, whom you may know from Aya, a series of comics for adults set in Cote d'Ivoire, widely available and appreciated in English translation.

Akissi's adventures are both universal and absolutely particular to her milieu. My young daughter -- born and raised in London -- has never kept a pet monkey, had a tapeworm come out of her nose, or had to contend with an older brother who wouldn't take her pigeon hunting; but Akissi's struggles with authority, her close friendships, and her misunderstandings are immediately recognisable to my daughter and her friends when they come over, and I've read the book aloud to them a good half-dozen times since I brought it home last week. It's the perfect combination of gross-out humour, authority clashes, and general mischief to capture a kid's interest.


Akissi comprises seven short stories, each of which stands alone, and, as with all of the NoBrow titles, it is a beautiful package -- great binding, endpapers, paper stock, and spine -- suitable for both your own library and as a handsome gift. It's on sale in the UK now, and will be out in the USA in June.

Akissi [Amazon UK]

AKISSI [Flying Eye]

Report: Salaries of mining union leaders in South Africa paid by mining companies

Just one year after the "Marikana massacre," an investigative report in South Africa's Daily Maverick reveals "a furtive conflict of interest, with mining houses footing the bill for top National Union of Mineworkers office bearers’ salaries...unionists are being paid high salaries by the very people from whom they are supposed to protect their members. The 'arrangement' is just about to end, in spite of union leaders' unhappiness and an unpredictable labour and political backlash."

Akata Witch: young adult hero's journey of a Nigerian witch

World Fantasy Award-winning novelist Nnedi Okorafor's debut young adult novel is Akata Witch, a beautifully wrought hero's journey story about Sunny, a young girl with albinism born to Nigerian parents in America, and then returned to Nigeria, where she discovers that she is a Leopard Person -- a born sorcerer.

The structure of Sunny's journey to mastery of her wild talent is familiar enough, the stuff of much-loved Rowling and Duane novels. But the world of Leopard People, beautifully presented by Okorafor, makes it sing with freshness. The increasingly difficult challenges that Sunny and her three friends -- a coven predicted in legend and come to Nigeria just in time to save the world from a murdering sorcerer bent on apocalypse -- are each more fascinating and pulse-pounding than the last, and the magic they practice has that dream-logic plausibility of the best fantasy.

Young readers and adults who try Akata Witch will find it a marvellous and uplifting read, heartwarming in its portrayal of true freindship, heartbreaking in its portrayal of headstrong youth and the perils of pride. Woven throughout is an implicit commentary on America's relationship to Africa, the distinct identities of African Americans, Nigerians, and other West Africans, and the adolescent pain of trying to please your family even as you are discovering yourself. Highly recommended.

Akata Witch

Zambia's fictional 1960s space programme


Rick sez, "Spanish photographer Cristina De Middel's fictional documentation of a failed 1960s space programme in Zambia - The Afronauts - has just been nominated for the 2013 Deutsche Borse photography prize."

Zambia's first (unofficial) space programme

Twitter suspends account of Somali Islamist militants linked to Al-Qaeda

Two days after a group of Somali islamist militants vowed to execute Kenyan hostages, and tweeted a video of a captive pleading for the Kenyan government to help free them, the Al-Shabaab Twitter account @HSMPress was suspended. A Google cache is visible here. Warning: includes gruesome photos. The group took a French intelligence officer hostage, then apparently murdered him after an unsuccessful attempted raid by the French military which the US assisted). An @HSMPress press release about that killing is available on Twitlonger.

The Harakat Al-Shabaab Al Mujahideen Twitter account has been around since 2011, promoting the group's vision of strict sharia law in Somalia, 140 characters at a time. The US State Department was reportedly looking in to shutting it down ages ago. Wonder what took them so long?

For its part, Al Shabaab blames its "Christian enemies" for suspending its Twitter account. And they do sound rather miffed about being blocked on the popular social networking platform.

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China's health aid in Africa leads to flood of fake drugs

At The Pulitzer Center website, a feature on the work of investigative journalist Kathleen E. McLaughlin, an American reporter working in Africa whose current work focuses on how China’s health programs, hospitals and medical teams in Africa affect the health landscape. While they do "provide access to life-saving drugs, vaccines and medical care," supply chain problems affect the patient population negatively. One of the biggest problems? Fake drugs, which can in fact kill people.

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African sf anthology

Liam sez, "On the tail of the CC-licensed Muslim SF Anthology: there's a recently-released collection of African SF stories, called Afro SF. It's a collection of stuff written by folks in and around the African continent, so there's a fairly wide spread of content and focus. It's pretty new, and pretty neat, although it isn't CC and it is, at present, only available as a slightly-pricey e-book. Still, SF, some of it quite good (writers like Sarah Lotz, Biram Mboob) marginal voices, and all." (Thanks, Liam!) Cory