As Olympics Near, Violence Grips Rio's 'Pacified' Favelas

A man performs yoga in the Babilonia favela overlooking Rio de Janeiro in 2014. The Brazilian government made a big push to impose order on the shantytowns in advance of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics this summer. Babilonia was once considered a model, but violence has been on the rise in the run-up to the games.

A man performs yoga in the Babilonia favela overlooking Rio de Janeiro in 2014. The Brazilian government made a big push to impose order on the shantytowns in advance of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics this summer. Babilonia was once considered a model, but violence has been on the rise in the run-up to the games. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mario Tama/Getty Images

In the misty rain, surrounded by Rio de Janeiro’s green hills, police officer Eduardo Dias was buried last week. He was shot, purportedly by gang members, as he was leaving his post inside the favela, or shantytown, where he worked as a community cop.

The killing took place a few hundred feet from the Maracana Stadium, where the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics will be held on Aug. 5. As family members wept by the graveside, the pastor raised his hands.

“This rain is like our tears,” he said. “Not just ours, but coming also from the heavens for everything that we are going through. I have been asking God, until when, my lord? Until when are we going to have to bury our good policemen? Until when will we have to keep burying our children?”

Brazil has been rattled by a terrible recession, multiple corruption scandals, a political meltdown and the Zika virus. And now Rio is suffering a security crisis.

Murders are up 15 percent from last year. Robbery is up 30 percent. Amid the economic and political turmoil, the state security budget has been cut by a third. The gangs are fighting for territory in advance of the Olympics, according to authorities.

While everyone is feeling the effects, the impact is greatest on Rio’s poorest communities, or favelas.

‘Disneyland’ Favela

To get a sense of how far things have slipped, I went back to Babilonia, a community I visited when I first arrived to Rio three years ago.

Babilonia, like many of Rio’s favelas, is located on a hillside with an amazing view of the water and the famed Copacabana beach. Babilonia became known as one of the so-called Disneyland favelas because they were shown to visiting dignitaries and the media as an example of how conditions had improved.

In the new and improved Babilonia, police walked around with their guns holstered. Residents were opening up businesses catering to tourists. They included restaurants, and hostels that were advertised on AirBnB. The drug gangs kept a low profile.

All this was part of a bold policing program called pacification, which placed permanent bases of community police, called UPPs, in neighborhoods that had little or no state presence previously. Residents considered them long overdue and the state considered them necessary as Brazil prepared to host the World Cup in 2014 and this summer’s Olympics.

But unlike three years ago, the pacification police are now patrolling with their guns drawn. Police commander Paulo Berbat walks to the crest of the hill, where muddy paths disappear into the jungle.

He says six weeks ago, a rival gang from the neighboring favela tried to push in and take control from the group that controls the drugs and guns in Babilonia. Three drug dealers were killed in a firefight that sent fear through the community.

Too Scared To Speak

Rodrigo da Silva agreed to meet with me on the beach where he works. He owns a hostel in the favela that he advertises on AirBnB, but he also sells food on Copacabana to make ends meet.

He hoped the Summer Olympics would get him out of the hot sun. But so far, there have been few guests at his hostel. “Our business has decreased,” he says. “We had much higher expectations in terms of hosting people throughout the Olympics. If the situation had improved, maybe I wouldn’t still have to work here on the beach.”

Other members of the community had similar stories about a sharp drop in business due to the violence.

Aside from da Silva, favela residents refused to be interviewed, in marked contrast to three years ago. Several told me they had been directly threatened by the gangs, who said we were asking too many questions.

“If you talk too much, it ends badly,” da Silva says. “Here’s the deal: you do not mess with their business, don’t mess with their stuff — and they don’t mess with you.”

Olympic officials are promising the games will be safe for visitors and athletes. Brazil will be bringing in double the amount of security that the London Games had four years ago.

“What we need to push, and we will do so, is to have more security before the Games, and more security after the Games. We don’t want the Games to be an island of success and perfection. We want the Games to transform Rio, and to make Rio a safer city in the years to come,” says Mario Andrada, the communications director for Rio 2016.

But even if the Olympics go to plan, the future of the pacification program is in doubt. Da Silva tells me he fears the worst.

“There will be more violence, more violence in all the communities because of the fights between the drug gangs, fights against the police,” he says. “In the end the ones who will pay for this will be the residents, as always.”

NPR has been collaborating with the the PBS NewsHour, which will also feature reporting by Lulu Garcia-Navarro on its program Tuesday evening.

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Metropolis: 5/28/16

This week’s episode of Metropolis features the song “Blast” by Clams Casino. Tim Saccenti/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Tim Saccenti/Courtesy of the artist

This Week’s Playlist
  • Flume, “Tiny Cities (feat. Beck)” (Mom + Pop)
  • Kaytranada, “Drive Me Crazy [Bonus Beats]” (XL)
  • Kaytranada, “Drive Me Crazy (feat. Vic Mensa)” (XL)
  • James Blake, “Timeless” (Republic)
  • Clams Casino, “Blast” (Columbia)
  • Flume, “Take A Chance [feat. Little Dragon]” (Mom + Pop)
  • BADBADNOTGOOD, “Time Moves Slow [feat. Sam Herring]” (Innovative Leisure)
  • Classixx, “A Mountain With No Ending” (Innovative Leisure)
  • Ferrick Dawn & Rene Amesz, “Lord [Extended Mix]”
  • Damian Lazarus & The Ancient Moons, “Sacred Dance Of The Demon [Gorgon City Remix]” (Crosstown Rebels)
  • Gorgon City, “Blue Parrot” (Virgin/EMI)
  • Claude VonStroke, “Who’s Afraid Of Detroit [Visionquest Remix]” (Dirtybird)
  • Digitalism, “Go Time [Mumbai Science Remix]” (Magnetism)
  • Justin Martin, “Wet Cat (feat. Kill Frenzy & Ardalan)” (Dirtybird)
  • Gorgon City, “Doubts” (Virgin/EMI)
  • Underworld, “Nylon Strung” (Ume)
  • Tom Middleton, “Heva [Vincenzo Remix]” (Anjunadeep)
  • Maceo Plex, “Love Somebody Else (feat. Joi Cardwell)” (Future Musik)
  • Kraak & Smaak, “Mountain Top [K&S Sweaty Mix]” (Jalapeno)
  • Latroit, “Origami” (House Of Latroit)
  • Kaytranada, “Bullets” (XL)
  • Bicep, “Just” (Aus)
  • Anohni, “Drone Bomb Me” (Secretly Canadian)
  • Whoarei, “For Brown Eyes” (Timetable)
  • Classixx, “In These Fine Times (feat. De Lux)” (Innovative Leisure)
  • Bibio, “Light Up The Sky” (Warp)
  • James Blake, “Always” (Republic)
  • Moby, “Lie Down In Darkness” (Mute)

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Call Me Professor Jolie Pitt: The Buzz About Her New Job

American actress Angelina Jolie speaks at a conference fr the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, at the Dom Armije in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on March 28, 2014.

American actress Angelina Jolie speaks at a conference fr the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, at the Dom Armije in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on March 28, 2014. Ismail Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ismail Duru/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Model. Actress. Oscar winner. Activist. Director. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees special envoy. And now professor?

Last week, Angelina Jolie Pitt was appointed as a visiting professor at the London School of Economics’ new masters program on women, peace and security. It’s created a substantial debate among academics in the global development community: Are celebrity professors effective?

Jolie Pitt, who is a champion for the refugee crisis and an activist against sexual violence, told the university she was “looking forward to sharing” her “own experiences of working alongside governments and the United Nations.” Her appointment — which will require her to deliver guest lectures, participate in public events and do her own research — starts in fall 2016 and lasts one year.

Since the announcement, quite a few academics — from human rights lawyers to professors of international politics — have shared critical comments on the appointment. Some are concerned that higher education institutions are “selling out,” while others worry celebrities may have a negative impact on important aid work.

Here’s a selection of viewpoints and reactions on Jolie Pitt’s appointment, from around the global development blogosphere:

It’s not a big deal

Dan Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, wants us to calm down. “Professors of practice” — or visiting professors — aren’t a big deal in the academic world, he says. In his piece, “A mild defense of professor Angelina Jolie” in The Washington Post, he wrote:

“Everyone take a deep breath. Jolie hasn’t been given a tenured position, she’s been made a ‘professor of practice.’ … Professors of practice are based on the premise that individuals with actual policy-making experience might have something to offer to students even if they haven’t published in peer-reviewed journals on the topic.”

They can attract attention to humanitarian issues, but…

Carrie Reiling, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Irvine, outlined some of the challenges when celebrities, activists and academics get involved in complex policy debates, raising concerns that a celebrity might distort priorities. In a piece titled Thoughts on Angelina Jolie and WPS on her blog, she wrote:

“Truly, Jolie’s attention to the rights of women, especially to combating sexual violence in conflict, is genuine. But universities … should be cautious about involving celebrities, even when it brings much-needed attention.”

Big name lecturers can be elitist

Megan Mackenzie, a senior lecturer in the department of government and international relations at the University of Sydney, Australia, recalls her own experience as a student being taught by a well-known professor in a piece for the global development blog “Duck of Minerva.”

“While attending another top university (some might say, THE top university) I took a class from a very rich female former ambassador and, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty, it was all kinda colors of white-savior/let’s hear about my amazing contributions to the world/enlightenment logic on steroids. Having this kind of ‘knowledge’ poured into some of the ‘top’ minds reproduces elitism and, ultimately, provides the following take-home message: Rich people should try to help poor people (or at least think about them) once in a while (mostly because it feels good) — all the while ignoring structural hierarchies/forms of oppression/global systems of exploitation.”

Stars have a gilded view of development

That’s the theme in a post from blogger Kate Cronin-Furman, a human rights lawyer and political scientist. For her website Wronging Rights, she interviewed Nimmi Gowrinathan, a visiting professor at the Colin Powell Center for Civic and Global Leadership at City College, New York, about the Jolie appointment:

“While masters programs often, effectively, rely on professors of practice, the ‘practical’ element of Angelina Jolie’s engagement in critical issues remains an exceptional experience that students cannot, and should not, expect to mimic. In humanitarian crises, the secure nature of her travel and access to pre-selected sample sizes rivals that of a Vatican visit. In her advocacy and activism, she is handed a microphone and captive audience of policymakers. Those that have lived to tell the tale of violence spend lifetimes navigating apathy and checkpoints, hoping to be the background noise that doesn’t get drowned out of critical conversations. Her practice of celebrity activism may be more thoughtful than most, but the next generation of scholars and analysts should formulate new critiques from an understanding of the hard realities of the development sector, not the plushly carpeted pathways to power.”

As one of my friends remarked on my Facebook page: “Maybe they should invite former World Bank President Joe Stiglitz to Inside the Actors Studio to talk about development economics.” While that could be entertaining, you would probably question his cinematic credibility.

Tobias Denskus is a senior lecturer in communication for development at Malmö University, Sweden, and the blogger behind Aidnography.

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Former AG Holder Says Edward Snowden's Leak Was A 'Public Service'

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, center speaks via video conference at Johns Hopkins University in February.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, center speaks via video conference at Johns Hopkins University in February. Juliet Linderman /AP hide caption

toggle caption Juliet Linderman /AP

Former Attorney General Eric Holder says Edward Snowden’s leak was “inappropriate and illegal” but “I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made.”

Holder, who was attorney general when Snowden leaked highly sensitive documents that detailed some of the work of the National Security Agency, made the comments in an interview with former Obama adviser David Axelrod.

Holder went on to say: “He harmed American interests. I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised. There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence.”

After leaking the documents to The Guardian and other publications, the former NSA contractor fled ending up in Russia where he remains exiled.

In the past, Snowden has said he is willing to return to the U.S. if he is afforded a fair trial. Snowden is charged with espionage and theft.

Yesterday, Snowden tweeted:

2013: It’s treason!
2014: Maybe not, but it was reckless
2015: Still, technically it was unlawful
2016: It was a public service but

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) May 30, 2016

In his interview, Holder also said that its time for Snowden to make a decision.

“I think that he’s got to make a decision,” Holder said. “He’s broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done.”

Holder continued: “But, I think in deciding what an appropriate sentence should be, I think a judge could take into account the usefulness of having had that national debate.”

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Amid Strong Dissent, Supreme Court Weighs In On 2 Death Penalty Cases

The Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Supreme Court took action in two capital cases Tuesday, with dissenting justices from the right and left pricking their colleagues in dissent.

In one, the court ordered the resentencing of a convicted Arizona killer because the jury was not told that if he were sentenced to life in prison, there was no chance he would be paroled. And in the other, the court declined to hear a broad constitutional challenge to the death penalty.

In the Arizona case, the court reiterated that when the prosecution makes a capital defendant’s “future dangerousness” an issue, and the only sentencing alternative to death is life without parole, the jury must be instructed that the defendant is ineligible for release.

The court rejected the state’s argument that the possibility of parole always exists because the legislature might change the law some day to permit it. The six-justice majority said that accepting that argument would mean that juries would never have to be informed that life in prison means what it says.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, calling the unsigned majority opinion “nonsense.” Writing for the two, Justice Thomas said the majority’s decision “is a remarkably aggressive” use of the court’s power to review the decisions of the states’ highest courts.

In a second capital case, this one from Louisiana, the court declined to undertake a broad constitutional review of the death penalty.

As he did last term, Justice Stephen Breyer called for such a review in dissent, pointing to the geographical inequalities of capital punishment. Joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he observed that the defendant was tried and sentenced to death in Caddo Parish, La., which imposes almost half of the death sentences in the state, even though it has only 5 percent of the population. “One could reasonably believe,” Breyer said, that if the same defendant had been tried for the same crime in another parish, “he would not now be on death row.”

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A Homecoming For Luna — And Its Devoted Following

The rock group Luna is reuniting, performing shows again and releasing a box set of its five albums.

The rock group Luna is reuniting, performing shows again and releasing a box set of its five albums. Stefano Giovannini hide caption

toggle caption Stefano Giovannini

I was 12 years old when my older brother came home from college with a couple of Luna CDs, and they became my first favorite band. Ever since, Luna’s bittersweet tunes have become the soundtrack for all of our reunions. Recently, the band announced its own reunion — including performing shows again and releasing a box set of vinyl reissues. For most people, that won’t mean too much; the ’90s rock group has long been, as Rolling Stone magazine put it, “the best band you’ve never heard of.” But for me, it felt like another homecoming.

I recently met up with the group as its members got ready for a show at the Starline in Oakland, Calif. Lead singer Dean Wareham and guitarist Sean Eden seem like they haven’t missed a beat. Wareham, for example, notices that Eden is wearing the same velvet jacket he wore at the band’s farewell shows, 11 years ago.

“So he brought out his lucky jacket,” Wareham says. “And it still fits him; that’s the good news.”

They are a little more silver, but still hip. Many of the fans, though, have graduated to extra-large band shirts. But when the music starts, it’s like no time has passed at all.

Most fans at the show look like they fell in love with Luna, or even Dean Wareham’s earlier band Galaxie 500, in the 1990s. Back then, grunge was big, and this type of music quietly stood off to the side, on college radio stations.

That’s where I first got to talk with Wareham — at my college station, Brown Student And Community Radio. It was my first interview ever, and I wanted to know what everyone else wanted to know in the winter of 2004: Why was Luna breaking up?

“Oh, well, I have so many reasons I could come up with,” Wareham said in that interview. “I have a reason for every day of the year. I guess the simple answer is because that is what bands do: They break up.”

I play the old interview back for him the day after the show; he says it made him squirm.

“When you break up with someone, you start to build a case in your head,” Wareham says. “And you kind of convince yourself that the whole thing is driving you crazy, and I guess it was at the time.”

Luna was a big enough deal that a film, called Tell Me Do You Miss Me, documented the breakup. In it, Eden and Wareham act like brothers who know how to push each other’s buttons.

“You’re a little lonely, everybody’s being a smart-ass to everybody else, just like, goddammit,” Eden says in the film. Wareham expresses a similar feeling: “I cannot pretend that it is fun to sit in a van for eight hours a day, telling the same stupid jokes,” he says.

By the last album, the frustration of being together was starting to bleed into the music. So why get back together? For one thing, Wareham says, they’re all in their 50s now.

“You understand why bands hire therapists,” he says. “Instead, we took 10 years off and worked through it ourselves. And now, I like to say, we’re better at speaking our minds and not letting things fester.”

My brother and I didn’t get to go to a Luna show together this time; we live on opposite sides of the country, and he has two young kids. But we still love the band. When I asked my brother why, he said for him, it’s because the music brings up powerful feelings of nostalgia. It’s a word Wareham has been considering, too.

“The word nostalgia confuses me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about that. This book I was reading, the author broke it down into the Greek: ‘nostalgia,’ meaning the pain of returning home. It’s both exciting and it’s slightly painful, too, and so it’s pleasure and sadness. And that’s kind of what we try to do with the music, too.”

To me, the music always felt like a homecoming. This time, it’s theirs.

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Diary Of A Saudi Girl: Karate Lover, Science Nerd … Bride?

Majd kept a journal about a time in her life when she was torn between getting married or going to school.

Majd kept a journal about a time in her life when she was torn between getting married or going to school. Courtesy of Madj hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Madj

Majd Abdulghani is a young woman from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who dreams of becoming a scientist — while her parents hope to arrange her marriage. Radio Diaries, a storytelling nonprofit and podcast, sent Abdulghani a recorder — and she ended up chronicling her world for over two years. Here are some scenes from her diary, which began on October 31, 2013.

Meet The Abdulghanis

Hello. This is Majd and I turned 19 today.

Ring ring ring!

That’s my alarm. It thinks I’m asleep.

It’s 6:45. I’m just here in my room and I’m about to do my morning stretches. I like to count in Japanese when I do them.

Ichi, Ni, San, Shi…

OK, I’m done.

I’m going to introduce my family to you, and you to my family. There’s my older brother’s room to the left.

Knock knock.

“Hi Mohammed. Can I interview you? So, can you talk about your work?”

“Work is great,” he says.

I have four brothers. I’m the only girl.

Now I’m passing the family sitting room. I’m opening a door. And now I’m in the kitchen with my younger brother, Moath.

“What are you eating? Is this corn flakes?”

He nods. In Arabic, we call corn flakes “Corna Flix.”

My mom is here. Something funny just happened and she’s telling me about it. She got a call from some guy’s mother who said, “We heard that you have a beautiful daughter and we want to get our son married to her.”

My mom says her first instinct was to tell her, “No my daughter is too young.” She wanted to end the call as soon as possible. But she said, “I stopped myself because I felt like I need to acknowledge that you’re growing up.” So she told the mother that she could come over on Monday or Tuesday.

I tell my mom: “Listen mom. The chance that I will agree to this person is 0.00000001 percent.”

Ugh, I’m going to be late. I’m heading downstairs and hoping I haven’t forgotten anything. I have my purse, I have my phone, I have my book. OK.

I’m putting on my abaya, which I put on before I leave the house. It’s all black. And I’m wearing my niqab. It’s this fabric that covers my face except my eye area.

I’m a bachelor’s student of clinical lab sciences at King Saud University. The campus is really new — basically a lot of grass and a lot of palm trees. The male campus has been there since forever, and now they moved the female campus next to it.

There’s not a single man on campus — and if there are, they’re in basements. They have a special entrance so you never run into them. That’s why I can laugh as loudly as I want and not wear an abaya and look as pretty as I want. In the university, it’s just me being me.

It’s the norm for girls to study now. It’s not strange, it’s not a big deal. I want to be a scientist. I want to get a masters, and then I want to get a PhD. And then I want to do a postdoc. This is my life plan.

My Brother, The Wali

“Orange juice please. Fresh.”

The date is December 2. I’m at an Outback Steakhouse with Majid, my oldest brother.

“I just ordered grilled salmon, and Majid, what did you order?”

“Chicken fried chicken. Which is a bit redundant.”

We’re sitting in the “family section” of the restaurant. Usually restaurants in Saudi Arabia are divided [by sex] with partitions. There’s a section for men only, and then there’s a family section where women or mixed groups can sit.

“So do you mind if I do an interview with you?”

“Uh, OK,” he says.

“How do you see your role as my brother? What do you think your responsibilities are toward me?”

“The responsibilities are many,” he says. “But to sum up, if your father, my father, may God forbid, dies, then I would be the one who’s in charge — what they call in Arabic, the wali.”

“The guardian.”

“Yeah,” he says.

Male guardianship is “a thing” in Saudi Arabia. So for example, as a Saudi woman, I have to get permission to go to university or get married. It’s one of the things we have to deal with.

“So what do you want me to do in the future?”


“Yes, me.”

“To be a great mom. And to have a great husband. Yup.” He says.

“So when do you think I should get married?”

“You should get married now.”

“Now? What?”

“You are capable of getting married so you should get married now.”

“I will, inshallah [if God wills it]. I will be capable in three or four years as well.”

“No, you are now capable,” he says.

“Yes, and I was capable last year too.”

“You are missing a lot of great opportunities,” he says.

“Actually I think I will miss great opportunities if I do get married. If I get married I have to be responsible toward my husband and so that would stop me from doing the things I want to do.”

“Being responsible for your husband is just [so] very marvelous that you’ll forget everything else,” he says.

“OK, wow. We’re moving on. Do you have any questions for me?”

“When you will start to cover yourself properly?” He asks.

“I already am.”

“So sometimes you’re covering your face. Sometimes not covering. Sometimes… So it’s a bit like hypocrisy?”

“No it’s not. I usually cover my face when I have makeup on. But sometimes I don’t feel like it’s needed.

“So, subjective.”

“Yes. What’s the problem with that?”

“Not what I think,” he says. “What the prophet and the Quran tell you to do and cover.”

I laugh. “We both know that there are a lot of opinions on this by the scholars.”

“No. According to the majority of the scholars, you should cover your body — excluding maybe, I could say, your hands and maybe, one hole for your eye.”

“One hole for the eye. What is this? I would trip over everything. Oh please. You would never say this if I weren’t recording. You know that. You’re trying to shock people.”

“Anyway, do you have any last things to add?”

“Why do you ask a lot of questions?” he says, laughing.

We Used To Be Friends

I should explain that over here, when you’re young, you might grow up with a lot of guy friends as a little kid. But then one day, you’re supposed to start detaching yourself from them — not seeing them anymore ’cause you have to cover up from them.

I remember, even with my cousin. When I was little I would see him every day. We used to play games and stuff. Sneak food to each other. It was fun. And then one day, his voice was thicker, my chest was bigger, and all of a sudden you’re not friends anymore. You only say, “Hi, how are you?”

And that’s as far as it goes. It was like, game over.

Fight Club

It’s been a really long busy couple of weeks. Right now I’m in the female gym where I take my karate classes. There are so few girls in Saudi Arabia who do karate. We’re this secret club, like Fight Club.

There are seven of us in the class. When I’m practicing karate, I don’t think about anything else — just turning myself the right way and breathing the right way — and delivering efficient speed with the move. But mostly, I love how it makes me feel better about myself.

My dad seems to want me to stop taking karate classes. He’s been saying that for a long time. But last night, he was more insistent than usual. He said, “Karate, it’s just not natural.” He probably thinks it will throw my femininity out the window. My mom doesn’t like it either ’cause I’ve been doing pushups. My arms are a little more toned now.

My parents want me to sit in the kitchen and learn how to cook for a future husband that I don’t even know if I’m going to get married to. And that really, really annoys me.

I don’t want to be cooped up in the house. I want to be able to walk alone in the street and laugh loudly with my friends and not worry about how it looks, and not worry about being able to breathe [through] my niqab.

I love Saudi Arabia. It’s my — it sounds corny — it’s my country. It’s where I was born, where I was raised, all that cliché stuff. But I don’t want to be here right now.

Mixed Company

Yesterday I turned 20. I’m glad I’m not a teenager anymore. I’m now at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), the first mixed-gender university in Saudi Arabia. I’m living away from home for the first time.

I’m working in a genetics lab. It’s crazy how much I love looking under the microscope. This is inside of us, this is what’s happening inside my body. This is what’s making me who I am.

I’m working with a man named Philip. He’s a Ph.D. in the lab.

“What’s the status of the kith proteins?” I asked.

“We need to quantify them,” he says. “We’re comparing several methodologies to isolate DNA, RNA and proteins.”

I don’t mind being in an environment where there are men, but it’s strange for me. There are lines I don’t cross. I don’t shake their hands. I make sure we don’t have physical contact. My family accepts that this is my field of work and so they trust me.

“Philip, it’s going to work! Seriously.”

Click here to subscribe to our weekly global health and development email. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

“Yeah,” he says. “Inshallah.”

I laugh.

A 1 Percent Chance

I’m on a video call with my parents. I’m at KAUST and they are in Riyadh.

My mother is saying that there is another person who wants to get married to me. And he proposed. She says he is very well-mannered and polite. His professors see him in the mosque.

I ask her how she feels.

“There’s nothing that I would love more than for you to be with me forever and not get married at all,” she says. “But you have to. It’s how life goes. So we’ll just make sure he’s the right person.”

Then she hands me over to my dad.

“Oh!” says my dad. “His dad is a professor of bacteriology.”

Bacteriology? That’s so cool. I just might marry him just for his father.

“We’ll see how it goes,” says my mom.

I agreed to meet him in a few months. I’m probably going to say no. But I feel like there’s a 1 percent chance that I’ll change my mind.

‘The Guy’

It’s been a couple of months. I’m back home and it’s the 13th, I think, of Ramadan and it’s Friday.

So here’s what happened. I met the guy who proposed to me. I don’t want to say his name. I’ll just refer to him as “the guy.” (I really like the fact that the English language has the word “guy.” You don’t have to say “boy” and you don’t have to say “man.” You can say “guy.”)

Anyway, the guy and his dad came. They were sitting in the men’s section of the house. My mother and I were peeking through the door but it was still too far to hear much.

Finally, they said, “It’s time.”

So I walked in and I thought he was pretty cute actually. He made eye contact — proper eye contact — and he said, “How are you?” I said I was good and I said, “How are you?” and he said he was fine.

He asked me first what are my interests. I was like, “I like genetics and I like karate.”

And he didn’t seem to mind. Which is good.

My dad asked him how much of the Quran he has memorized.

The guy said, “I try to read a chapter every day, but I have [had] a problem with memorizing things even when I was in university.”

My dad was like, “Well you know, Majd has won many competitions in Quran recitation, memorization.”

And I was like, “Dad that was a long time ago.”

My dad was like, “Majd, do you have any questions for him.”

So I asked the guy, “What do you want to achieve in life?”

He was like, “I want to change the way energy is used in Saudi Arabia.”

He said, “We use a very old system and I want to invent something.”

I looked at him and I was like, “Yeah, nice. That’s a good answer.”

He was like, “What about you?”

And I told him, “I want to prove that being a Muslim Saudi woman who wears a headscarf doesn’t stop me from being a scientist.”

And his eyes shone a little bit. It was a good feeling.

Thinking About Love

Hi, it’s me again. It’s 10 minutes to 3 in the morning. I’m in my room, listening to songs and I can’t sleep. Truthfully, this is embarrassing. I’ve just been thinking about love, you know — if I’ll ever have a go at it.

My potential future fiancé: He seems like a nice guy, a good guy. But I don’t want to get married.

Marriage is so much more than that. It’s so much more. You have to listen to what your husband says. It’s a religious requirement.

And even though I know that since God said it, that it’s for the best. It’s hard for me to comply with that.

I just want to love someone and have someone love me back. But I don’t want to be 20 years old and married. I’m too young for that.


Goodnight, I guess.

I Said ‘Yes’

My cousin’s angry ’cause I don’t want to put a lot of makeup on. I want something really soft.

“Liar,” she says.

Ok, maybe I can put on some eyeliner. Maybe.

A lot has happened in the past few weeks. I said, “yes!”

“Congratulations, my love,” says my cousin.

“Thank you.”

Today I will be married. I feel good about this. I do. I wouldn’t say I’m completely sure yet ’cause I’ve still only met him face-to-face twice. And one of them was for like two seconds.

But he’s so supportive of everything I want to do. And there’s this thing he said. He asked me what I was scared of. I said, “Of failing. I really want to make a difference. To change something.” I told him, in all probability, I won’t. And he said, “We’ll push each other to the top.” That stuck with me.

Majd and "the guy" — her husband Anmar.

Majd and “the guy” — her husband Anmar. Courtesy fo Majd Abdulghan hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy fo Majd Abdulghan

Knock knock.


My mother just came in. She told me that it’s 10 p.m. People are starting to arrive. I’m so nervous. I am so nervous.

My mother is telling me to go downstairs now.

A year ago if you had told me that I would be married, I would have thought, me? Getting married? No way.

There’s a verse in the Quran about naseeb, which according to Google Translate, means “share.” Like, these are my “shares” in life. Being a Saudi Arabian, being a Muslim — this is my naseeb. This is what’s written for me and this is God’s plan for me. This is my fate.

My dad told me that naseeb is 80 percent and your choices are 20 percent. In the end, we really don’t control a lot of what happens around us. But at the same time, God gives us the freedom of choice, and I think I made the right choice.

OK, this is Majd. Bye.

Since her wedding, Majd has been accepted into a masters program in genetics. And she earned a green belt in Karate.

Majd’s diary was produced by Sarah Kate Kramer and Joe Richman of Radio Diaries, with help from Nellie Gilles, and edited by Deborah George and Ben Shapiro. You can listen to an extended version of this story, along with a conversation that Majd recorded with her new husband, on the Radio Diaries Podcast.

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Ex-Barclays director accused by U.S. of illegal tips to plumber

A former director at Barclays Plc was arrested on Tuesday on U.S. charges that he provided inside information about impending mergers that he learned about at the bank to a plumber, who used the tips to illegally make $76,000 (£52,526).

Steven McClatchey, 58, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court with conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud after the plumber, Gary Pusey, secretly pleaded guilty on Friday and agreed to cooperate with authorities.

McClatchey, who worked at the British bank in its Manhattan offices from December 2008 to December 2015, was arrested on Long Island, where he resides, and was expected to appear in court later in the day.

Lawyers for McClatchey and Pusey, 47, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The charges were announced by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office has been engaged in a crackdown on insider trading that since 2009 has resulted in 102 people being charged and 78 being convicted.

That crackdown has suffered significant setbacks more recently following a 2014 appellate ruling that limited the scope of the applicable laws, resulting in charges being dropped or dismissed against 14 insider trading defendants. ,

As part of his job, McClatchey was responsible for tracking all potential deals in which the bank was involved, enabling him to obtain highly confidential information on them, according to the complaint and a related U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit filed on Tuesday.

He began tipping Pusey, a friend he met through boating, as early as 2013, enabling the plumber to execute trades ahead of merger announcements involving 11 companies, including Forrest Oil Corp and PetSmart Inc.

In exchange, Pusey made thousands of cash payments to McClatchey, in some instances placing cash in a gym bag that McClatchey brought with him to a marina in Freeport, New York, and also provided home renovation services.

While Barclays was not identified by name in court papers, the bank confirmed it was the British investment bank that had employed McClatchey.

In a statement, Barclays said it has cooperated fully with authorities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the SEC “since learning about this incident involving a former employee.”

The cases in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, are U.S. v. McClatchey, No. 16-mj-3433, and Securities and Exchange Commission v. Pusey, No. 16-cv-04029.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

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