Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

WHO Plans Global War on Cholera as Yemen Caseload Soars



WHO Plans Global War on Cholera as Yemen Caseload Soars

By Tom Miles, Reuters on September 19, 2017


GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization will next month launch a strategy to stop cholera transmission by 2030, it said on Monday, as an unprecedented outbreak in Yemen raced towards 700,000 suspected cases with little sign of slowing down.

The WHO is also trying to keep the lid on a flare-up in Nigeria while tackling many entrenched outbreaks in Africa and an epidemic in Haiti, where almost 10,000 people have died since 2010.

“Once it’s out of the box, once it has spread, it’s very, very difficult to contain and we have a huge number of cases and deaths,” said Dominique Legros, the cholera focal point at WHO’s department for pandemic and epidemic diseases.

Epidemics often arise in war zones. The WHO is sending an expert to Bangladesh to assess the risk for Rohingya Muslims fleeing from violence in Myanmar.

“The risk is probably relatively high,” Legros said.

In Yemen, the most explosive outbreak on record has caused 686,783 suspected cases and 2,090 deaths since late April. The number of deaths has slowed but the spread of disease has not: in the past week there were 40,000 suspected cases, the most for seven weeks.

Legros said it was impossible to predict how any outbreak would evolve, but Yemen’s was likely to continue for a long time. The low death rate suggested the outbreak was not severe, although there may be many uncounted deaths in the community.

The number of suspected cases in Yemen cannot be checked accurately, and many may be acute watery diarrhea, which has similar symptoms and treatment but is not caused by the cholera bacterium, which is spread by contaminated food and water.

The WHO estimates there are 2.9 million cases and 95,000 deaths globally each year, far more than officially reported.

Equipped with a vaccine stockpile that it created in 2013, it plans to launch a global strategy on Oct. 4.

“The objective of the new strategy is to stop transmission by 2030,” Legros said. “Overall, we expect reduction of mortality by 90 percent by 2030.”

The strategy will aim to use the vaccine to contain outbreaks as fast as possible, while addressing deeper problems.

In Africa, growing urbanization, climate change, conflict, displacement camps - as well as sanitation investment that is a third of what it should be - mean there is no reason to expect any improvement without deliberate action, he said.

BBC opinion piece on US future role in Afghanistan (***opinion***)

Viewpoint: Why the US should withdraw from Afghanistan

  • 22 August 2017
  •  
  • From the section


US Marines and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers carry flags during a handover ceremony at Leatherneck Camp in Lashkar Gah in the Afghan province of Helmand on 29 April 2017Image copyrightAFP
Image captionAll US troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan, says Professor Andrew Bacevich

US President Donald Trump has committed his country to an open-ended war in Afghanistan that is likely to see more troops deployed. Before becoming president, he had on several occasions advocated the withdrawal of US forces.
Many analysts believe Mr Trump made the right decision in changing his mind. But some do not. They argue the costly war is at a stalemate and American troops should come home. Andrew Bacevich, Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at Boston University, told the BBC why he thinks withdrawal is the best option.
If keeping US troops in Afghanistan could guarantee that our country would not be targeted by further terrorist attacks, I would favour making our longest war longer still.
But the terrorist threat has evolved since 9/11 and keeping US forces in Afghanistan does not "make America safe".
The opposite is true. Occupying countries in the Islamic world exacerbates the threat rather than reduces it.
Donald Trump as a candidate appeared to get that but now as president has reversed course.
He has returned to establishment views held by the generals that advise him. They insist that there is no alternative than to keep doing what we have been doing since 2001. It is an odd argument: that the most powerful country on the planet has no alternative but to persist in failure.
The argument for continuing the war in Afghanistan assumes that Afghans are incapable of managing their own affairs. It also assumes that our presence and our assistance can make Afghanistan governable.

For almost 16 years, we have tested that proposition. No evidence exists to support it, nor is there reason to think that more of the same - that is what Trump is proposing - will produce better results. Certainly half-measures will not work.
One might speculate that a major escalation - a couple of hundred thousand troops, a few trillion dollars, a decade or so of further exertions - might turn things around. But neither the American public nor Congress nor President Trump himself will support any such effort. As the president said on Monday, Americans are weary of this war.
I am not naïve. I have zero expectation that if the US and its allies withdrew that somehow the various factions in Afghanistan would get together and create a stable, liberal democratic order.
However, it is not implausible to consider the possibility of Afghanistan and its neighbours cobbling together arrangements enabling the various factions to more or less co-exist.
Can I guarantee that this would happen? No.
But if you have been pursuing one course of action for a decade and a half and it hasn't worked, maybe it's time to seriously consider alternatives.
Frankly, if Afghans could cease to fight among themselves and refuse to provide sanctuary to terrorist organisations, that would more than satisfy US interests.
Even if the Taliban regained power, would they embrace IS, al-Qaeda or other such entities? The answer is not necessarily. The last time they did they paid a heavy penalty.
The key would be to create incentives encouraging good behaviour on their part. Economic assistance could be offered as a positive incentive. Promising severe punishment - punitive air strikes, for example - in the event of misconduct might also figure.
Professor Barry Posen of MIT has suggested that a US departure from Afghanistan would energise other countries in the region, like Pakistan, Iran, India and Russia, to exert themselves to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state.
I think this is an important perspective. We should not accept President Trump's absolute certainty that if we leave then Afghanistan will become a terrorist haven.
Finally, I would emphasise that the more preoccupied we are with Afghanistan, the less attention we give to far more pressing issues such as climate change and potential instability in East Asia.
The strategically prudent course of action for the US is to acknowledge our failure and leave.


http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41016347  

Saudi boy arrested for doing the macarena

Saudi police have released a 14-year-old boy who was arrested after footage emerged of him dancing the Macarena in the street at a busy intersection.
The footage was filmed some time ago but went viral this week, prompting police in the conservative kingdom to detain the teenager.
The interior ministry said the teen was released without charge after he and his guardian were questioned about his "improper public behaviour" by officers.


Afghanistan's president praises Trump's Afghan strategy at UN

(CNN)The President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, used a substantial part of his speech before Tuesday's session of the United Nations General Assembly to praise President Donald Trump's recently announced strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia.
"With President Trump's recent announcement of his strategy to counter terror and stabilize South Asia, Afghanistan's enduring partnership with the United States and the international community has been renewed and redirected," Ghani told the audience at the UN headquarters in New York.
He said the strategy, which states that US military engagement in the country will be based on conditions rather than timelines, provided a certainty over US support for Afghanistan which he said the Afghan people had been seeking "for years."
    "We welcome this strategy, which has now set us on a pathway to certainty," Ghani said.
    American military commanders have similarly long sought an enduring US troop presence in Afghanistan that is based on battlefield conditions rather than an arbitrary withdrawal timeline -- seeing it as a critical component of any strategy that aims to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table and compel meaningful cooperation from Pakistan.
    Ghani for his part called on "all ranks of the Taliban" to engage in dialogue with the Afghan government.
    He also echoed Trump's strategy in asking Pakistan to do more to foster security and stability in the region, calling on Pakistan to join a "comprehensive dialogue" and saying that the Afghans had "proven that we are committed to peace."
    Afghan and US officials have long accused Pakistan of taking insufficient military action against Taliban leadership in that country.
    "President Trumps' new strategy includes the disruption and denial of sanctuary to terrorists whose motives know no boundaries," Ghani said.
    Ghani said Afghanistan is doing a lot more to combat corruption and promote merit over patronage, issues long prioritized by the US.
    There are about 11,000 US troops currently deployed to Afghanistan. The majority of them are in supporting roles, assigned to the NATO mission to train and advise Afghan security forces alongside approximately 6,000 troops from other NATO countries. The remainder of US forces in Afghanistan carry out counterterrorism missions in the country.
    Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday that just over 3,000 additional US troops were in the process of deploying to Afghanistan in order to be part of a "stronger train, advise and assist effort."
    And Ghani sought to link the fight in Afghanistan to the global fight against terrorism.
    "The future of Afghanistan matters because we are on the front lines of the global effort to eradicate the threat of terrorism," Ghani said.
    Ghani, a former World Bank official, praised international institutions like the UN for helping to foster stability in the wake of the second world war, but he said new efforts were needed to confront the "threats we are facing to our economies, our security and our values."
    "We must confront the threat of terrorism as a united force and meet it with a long-term solution that matches the long-term agenda of the terrorists themselves."
    In addition to saluting Trump's new strategic direction, Ghani took time to criticize Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, saying her "lengthy silence" on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya "was tragic."
    Ghani made the comments during the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.

    Friday, August 18, 2017

    The Kites of Kabul

    Image result for kabul kites

    Image result for kabul kites

    Image result for kabul kites

    Image result for kabul kites

    Image result for ‫افغانی بادبادک‬‎

     Afghans gather on a Friday on Nadir Shah Hill, or Kite Hill- to fly paper kites and battle others in a traditional match. When a Kite is cut children with long brooms have to catch the kites before their prize blows away. Kite flying is a popular recreation for Afghan children

    This isn't a kite photo, but a stunning panorama of Kabul.
    Image result for kabul kites

    Thursday, August 10, 2017

    National Procurement Commission & Authority of Afghanistan - an introduction

    NPC & NPA Introduction:


    About Us:

    The importance of procurement processes roots from persistent connection between procurement and all other sectors in governments. Nowadays, procurement plays vital role in human society’s development at national and international levels. In addition, sound procurement system leads to economic and socio-political stability in a country. Through reasonable financial and economic mechanisms and in the light of national regulatory frameworks as well as global standards, procurement facilitates health, education and other infrastructural services for citizens, and paves the way for business development and brighter future for all. The Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan recognizes the key role which public procurement plays in a country. Based on surveys 19 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and approximately 50 percent of National budget is spent through public procurement, therefore the government took a number of reforms up to provide better pubic services, establish an effective and transparent procurement system, controlling public expenditure, and decrease corruption. Based on decree no. 16 of H.E. the President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on 20/7/1393 the National Procurement Authority (NPA) established under the Administrative Office of the President. Afterwards through the legislative decree no. 60 on 21/11/93, decree no. 72 on 13/12/93 and decree no. 75, the Special Procurement Commission (SPC) upgraded to National Procurement Commission (NPC), Contract Management Office (CMO) dissolved, while the Afghanistan Reconstruction & Development Services (ARDS) and Procurement Policy Unit (PPU) merged to the National Procurement Authority (NPA). Then the Procurement Law was ratified by the cabinet of GIRoA by directive no. 20 on 11/6/1394, and enforced through legislative decree no. 75 on 13/6/1394, and after that it was published at official gazette no. 1186 on 15/7/1395. Based on the article 79th of the constitution, this legislative decree (75 – 13/6/1394) dispatched to the Parliament of Afghanistan for ratification purpose and ratified by the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) on 23/10/1394. As per the constitution’s directives; the bill after the ratification of lower house of parliament (Wolesi Jirga) dispatched to Meshrano Jirga (Upper House of Parliament) for endorsement, and after ratification of both houses of parliament; it was signed and approved by the President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through decree no. 90, and published at official gazette no. 1223 on 27/6/1395.

    Wednesday, August 09, 2017

    Contract to design Kabul urban master plan approved (New Kabul City)

    *Blogger's note - this is an article from January of 2017.  This is not new news*


    On
    Jan 08, 2017 
    KABUL (Pajhwok): The National Procurement Commission (NPC) has approved four contracts, including one for drafting and designing urban master plan for Kabul city.
    A statement from the Presidential Palace to Pajhwok Afghan News said the contracts worth 460 million afghanis were signed at weekly meeting of the NPC that met Saturday evening with the president in the chair.
    Other contracts were about construction of roads in the 10th police district of Kabul. The contracts of Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) and Essential Package of Health Services (EPHS) services in Kunar province were extended.
    The meeting contracted a company to draft and design urban master plan for Kabul city as suggested by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
    The meeting directed the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to oversee performance of BPHS and EPHS services in Kunar.
    The NPC also reviewed repairing process of the Afghan embassy’s building in London.
    President Ghani directed the foreign minister to provide programs for repairing of Afghanistan’s embassies in foreign countries and share progress with the Presidential Palace.

    Friday, August 04, 2017

    Delivering safe childbirth in Afghanistan

    **Author's note - This article was written in 2011.  I'll be posting more on this topic in the near future**

    Delivering safe childbirth in Afghanistan



     
    An Afghan midwife talks with a family after a successful hospital delivery. 
    Photograph: Olivia Arthur/Magnum Photos

    First published on Friday 6 May 2011 02.00 EDT

    Roya, a midwife in Guldara, north of Kabul, is on the frontline of what may no longer be a war zone, but is still a killing field for women. Afghanistan has the highest proportion of women who die in childbirth of any country in the world.

    "It is very common that women give birth at home and either the mother or the child dies," Roya says. "Mothers at home mostly deliver in a sitting position, which can cause the baby's body to end up in the wrong position during delivery. Because the mother doesn't have enough milk in the first three days after delivery, they give butter to the child. Often when they deliver the baby, they don't cut the umbilical cord properly with a clean instrument, which means it gets infected and the child dies."

    According to figures from the Institute of Health Metrics in Seattle published last year, 1,575 women died for every 100,000 births in Afghanistan in 2008 – the equivalent figure for the UK is eight. Unicef says 52 babies out of every 1,000 die within two weeks of birth and 134 before their first birthday. A third of the deaths are caused by obstructed labour, in which years of heavy toil, having too many children too young, and possibly vitamin D deficiency as a result of purdah (which forces women to stay indoors), may all play a part.

    The vast majority of women – around 87% – deliver with no skilled help, partly because of the paucity of health centres and midwives, partly because of the harsh terrain, and partly because male honour still demands women stay in their homes.

    Just before 9/11, Brigid McConville of the White Ribbon Alliance for safe motherhood visited Kandahar province to see how women gave birth there. She visited a compound full of women, girls and babies who, from the age of 11, were not permitted to leave without a male family member as escort. "Giving birth was within that compound, with a neighbour or relative to help," she says. "They gave birth on a cloth over a dung heap, which absorbs the blood. The source of water was the stream running down the hillside behind. The toilets were also on that hillside. Women could only go there under cover of darkness. The stream was polluted. No wonder so many babies die."

    The hunt for Osama bin Laden, which recently came to a bloody end, brought soldiers but also unprecedented aid to Afghanistan. The country's tragic record on childbirth triggered international support for a government initiative to train new midwives in remote rural areas. World Health Organisation estimates suggest Afghanistan needs 4,546 midwives to cover 90% of pregnancies – although USAid says it needs 8,000. In 2002, it had just 467.

    Save the Children, which runs a college in Jawzjan province, says 2,400 midwives have been trained since the government launched these 18-month community courses and there are 31 schools instead of the six that existed in the cities before 2002. Linda Doull, Merlin's director of health and policy, talks of the sheer physical difficulty in Afghanistan's mountainous regions of accessing any sort of healthcare. "Some women travel three days by donkey over mountain ridges," she says. The need is to get care closer to them. "We choose women to train as midwives from the remote rural villages so that they go back there," she says.

    Lima, 25, has delivered more than 600 live babies at the Uruzgan provincial hospital since qualifying in 2007. Women travel many miles, she says, and sometimes are robbed or punished for making the trip by people she calls "militants". "One of the sad cases happened last month," she says. "I received a woman who had delivered at home. When she came to the hospital she was bleeding and had lost a lot of blood. My colleague and I couldn't save her and she died. She left eight children behind her."

    According to Save the Children, which published a major report, Missing Midwives, this year, there are just 13 midwives in Uruzgan province where 12,000 women deliver every year and 300 die. Afghanistan has now trained between half and a third of the midwives it needs – although there are still major issues around getting pregnant women to the clinics where they are based. But the worry now is that, as the pull-out of troops accelerates, the funding for training will dry up.

    It appears to be happening already. A midwifery college in Kunar, in the heart of the mountainous, violent northeast of the country bordering Pakistan's tribal areas, has just closed. It was being funded by Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations, but once one tranche of students had graduated, the money stopped and no other donors have come forward.

    Those in the field say they are aware of a "rethink" towards funding. USAid, which has supported training, is looking at how best the money should be used. Funding for one of the Merlin schools, in Kunduz, ended in April because the midwife quota set for that region has been fulfilled. It is supposed to start again in two years.

    It's a sensitive issue. Nobody wants to criticise donors over decisions concerning Afghanistan, but Unicef's deputy country representative, Gopal Sharma, says the job of training midwives is far from done. "There is a big gap in funding which needs to be filled."

    Provision is dire in Afghanistan, but no country has enough midwives, according to campaigners such as the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, which estimates that at least 350,000 more are needed worldwide. In some countries they have been trained but the government-run health service cannot afford to employ them. Some blame the International Monetary Fund for its past edicts on public-sector employment. Some just point to the poverty of developing countries and the low priority of health in the government budget.

    The dreadful conditions in Afghanistan are a far cry from hygienic NHS labour wards, although the UK is just 23rd in the global league table. Yet Professor Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, argues that even the UK is 4,500 midwives short. Current numbers failed to anticipate the rising birth-rate of the past 10 years, nor the increasing complexities of cases, as older women and those with other health problems such as obesity go into labour – nor the need for post-birth care over breastfeeding and the risk of infection, for example.

    Campaigners say more midwives are critical if the world is to get anywhere near to meeting the two most failing UN millennium development goals of reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters and child deaths by two-thirds. Every day, 1,000 women and 2,000 babies die of infections and other complications of childbirth, according to childbirth campaigners. Trained midwives can identify potential problems in pregnancy and attempt to ensure women give birth in clinics where they have a chance. But one in three women (35%) still gives birth alone or with only friends or relatives on hand.

    At the UN summit on the development goals in New York last September, government, private and charitable donors pledged $40bn (£23bn) to improve maternal and child health. "Now we have to make sure the promises are kept," says McConville, "and money goes on training midwives."

    The secret behind Italy's rarest pasta


    Away from its famed cerulean seas, Sardinia’s craggy interior is a twisting maze of deep chasms and impenetrable massifs that shelter some of Europe’s most ancient traditions.

    Residents here still speak Sardo, the closest living form of Latin. Grandmothers gaze warily at outsiders from under embroidered veils. And, in a modest apartment in the town of Nuoro, a slight 62-year-old named Paola Abraini wakes up every day at 7 am to begin making su filindeu – the rarest pasta in the world.
    For 300 years, the recipe of su filindeu has remained in the town of Nuoro (Credit: Credit: ozzadavies/Flickr)
    For 300 years, the recipe of su filindeu has remained in the town of Nuoro (Credit: ozzadavies/Flickr)

    In fact, there are only two other women on the planet who still know how to make it: Abraini’s niece and her sister-in-law, both of whom live in this far-flung town clinging to the slopes of Monte Ortobene.

    No one can remember how or why the women in Nuoro started preparing su filindeu (whose name means “the threads of God”), but for more than 300 years, the recipe and technique have only been passed down through the women in Abraini’s family – each of whom have guarded it tightly before teaching it to their daughters.

    But after an unexpected invitation to Abraini’s home, I found myself in her kitchen, watching her work.

    I wasn’t her first guest, though. Last year, a team of engineers from Barilla pasta came to see if they could reproduce her technique with a machine. They couldn’t. After hearing rumours about a secret Sardinian pasta, Carlo Petrini, the president of Slow Food International, visited this spring. And this summer, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver stopped by to ask Abraini if she could teach him how to make the dish. After failing for two hours, he threw his hands up and said, “I’ve been making pasta for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
    Paola Abraini, 62, wakes up at 7 am every day to prepare the pasta (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    Paola Abraini, 62, wakes up at 7 am every day to prepare the pasta (Credit: Eliot Stein)

    “Many people say that I have a secret I don’t want to reveal,” Abraini told me, smiling. “But the secret is right in front of you. It’s in my hands.”

    Su filindeu is made by pulling and folding semolina dough into 256 perfectly even strands with the tips of your fingers, and then stretching the needle-thin wires diagonally across a circular frame in an intricate three-layer pattern. It’s so difficult and time-consuming to prepare that for the past 200 years, the sacred dish has only been served to the faithful who complete a 33km pilgrimage on foot or horseback from Nuoro to the village of Lula for the biannual Feast of San Francesco.

    When I arrived, the October feast was three days away and Abraini had just finished making enough su filindeu to feed the 1,500 pilgrims expected to descend on Lula from throughout Sardinia. She worked five hours every day for a month to make 50kg of the pasta, and for the larger nine-day feast in May, she’ll prepare four times as much.

    “There are only three ingredients: semolina wheat, water and salt,” Abraini said, vigorously kneading the dough back and forth. “But since everything is done by hand, the most important ingredient is elbow grease.”
    The dish is so difficult to make that for 200 years it was not served to the general public (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    The dish is so difficult to make that for 200 years it was not served to the general public (Credit: Eliot Stein)

    Abraini patiently explained how you work the pasta thoroughly until it reaches a consistency reminiscent of modelling clay, then divide the dough into smaller sections and continue working it into a rolled-cylindrical shape.

    Then comes the hardest part, a process she calls, “understanding the dough with your hands.” When she feels that it needs to be more elastic, she dips her fingers into a bowl of salt water. When it needs more moisture, she dips them into a separate bowl of regular water. “It can take years to understand,” she beamed. “It’s like a game with your hands. But once you achieve it, then the magic happens.”

    When the semolina reached just the right consistency, Abraini picked up the cylindrical strand to stretch and fold the dough, doubling it as she pressed the heads of the su filindeu into her palms. She repeated this sequence in a fluid motion eight times. With each sweeping pull, the dough became thinner and thinner. After eight sequences, she was left with 256 even strands about half as wide as angel-hair pasta. She then carefully laid the strands on a circular base, one on top of another, to form a cross, trimming any excess from the ends with her fingers before repeating the process over and over.

    First the dough is worked until it reaches the consistency of modelling clay (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)

    The dough is then folded and pulled to create the pasta strands (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    The pasta is done when there are 256 razor-thin, even strands (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    When she’d formed three layers, she took the base outside to dry in the Sardinian sun. After several hours, the layers hardened into delicate sheets of white razor-thin threads resembling stitched lace. Abraini then broke the circular sheets into crude strips and packed them into boxes, ready for the San Francesco feast’s prior to place them in boiling sheep’s broth with grated pecorino and offer it as a thick soup to the pilgrims.

    “No one’s really sure how this ancient tradition started, but it’s at the heart of the festival,” Stefano Flamini, this year’s prior, told me. “If there’s no su filindeu, there’s no Feast of San Francesco.”

    But after more than 300 years in the same matrilineal family tree, these threads of God may need a miracle to survive for future generations. Only one of Abraini’s two daughters knows the basic technique, and lacks the passion and patience of her mother. Neither of Abraini’s daughters have daughters of their own. The two other women in Abraini’s family who still carry on the tradition are now both in their 50s and have yet to find willing successors among their own children.

    “This is one of the most at-risk foods of becoming extinct, in large part because it’s one of the most difficult pastas to make that exists,” said Raffaella Ponzio, head coordinator of Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste, an initiative that aims to classify and preserve the world’s most endangered culinary traditions. Of the project’s 3,844 listed items, no other pasta is made by as few producers as su filindeu – making it both the world’s rarest and most endangered pasta.
    After drying, the layers harden into delicate sheets of threads that resemble lace (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    After drying, the layers harden into delicate sheets of threads that resemble lace (Credit: Eliot Stein)


    “Conserving su filindeu isn’t just a question of a culinary art form, but also a piece of cultural identity,” Ponzio added.

    Recognizing this, Abraini has done something previously unheard of with her family’s tightly guarded dish: she attempted to teach girls in Nuoro from other families how to make it.

    “It didn’t go well,” Abraini admitted. First, she approached the local government to see if she could open up a small school, but they told her there was no money. Then, she agreed to invite students into her home.

    “The problem was that once they saw how I actually do it, they’d say, ‘It’s just too much work’, and wouldn’t come back,” she said.

    Yet, Abraini refuses to let the tradition fade away, making it her mission to share su filindeu with the world. In the last few years, Italy’s premier food and wine magazine, Gambero Rosso, has invited her to Rome twice so they can film her preparing the dish. Recently, she’s begun making su filindeu for three restaurants in the area – and in the process, offering non-pilgrims a chance to taste it for the first time.

    At one of those restaurants, Al Ciusa, her black squid-ink dyed su filindeu nero won Sardinia’s Porcino d’Oro prize for best dish in 2010.
    In 2010, the squid-ink su filindeu won Sardinia’s Porcino d’Oro prize for best dish (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    In 2010, the squid-ink su filindeu won Sardinia’s Porcino d’Oro prize for best dish (Credit: Eliot Stein)


    At another, Il Refugio, it’s the most popular item on the menu.


    “We have people coming from all over Europe just to taste it,” owner Silverio Nanu told me as I sampled the dish. When I shared that news with Abraini, her eyes danced with delight.

    “You know, for me it’s a blessing just to be able to make su filindeu. I’ve been in love with it since the first time I ever saw it, and I love it more each day,” she said. “I hope to continue to make if for many years ahead – but if one day I have to stop, at least I’ll have a video.”

    Greece's disappearing whistled language

    For some 2,500 years, residents of this mountainous village have used an astonishing language that only they understand. But there are only six people left who can ‘speak’ it.
    Hidden deep in the south-east corner of the Greek island of Evia, above a twisting maze of ravines that tumbles toward the Aegean Sea, the tiny village of Antia clings to the slopes of Mount Ochi. There are no hotels or restaurants within 40km, and the hamlet is so remote that it doesn’t exist on Google Maps.
    But as you travel here along a dizzying road from Karystos, through a mythical landscape of megalithic ‘dragon house’ stone tombs and giant Cyclopic boulders, you’ll hear an ancient siren song reverberating against the mountain walls. That’s because for thousands of years, the inhabitants of Antia have used a remarkable whistled language that resembles the sounds of birds to communicate across the distant valleys.
    The tiny village of Antia clings to the slopes of Mount Ochi on the Greek island of Evia (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    The tiny village of Antia clings to the slopes of Mount Ochi on the Greek island of Evia (Credit: Eliot Stein)

    Known as sfyria, it’s one of the rarest and most endangered languages in the world – a mysterious form of long-distance communication in which entire conversations, no matter how complex, can be whistled. For the last two millennia, the only people who have been able to sound and understand sfyria’s secret notes are the shepherds and farmers from this hillside hamlet, each of whom has proudly passed down the tightly guarded tradition to their children.
    But in the last few decades, Antia’s population has dwindled from 250 to 37, and as older whistlers lose their teeth, many can no longer sound sfyria’s sharp notes. Today, there are only six people left on the planet who can still ‘speak’ this unspoken language – and one of them recently invited me to Antia so I could meet the last whistlers of Greece.
    When I arrived, a 45-year-old farmer named Yiannis Apostolou was waiting for me outside the village’s lone store. After greeting me in Greek, he gazed out onto the rolling chasm below the village, tucked his tongue under his bottom teeth and fired a fluted melody into the abyss.
    “Koula? Tsipas? We have company!” he said, by way of a translator.
    Soon, Koula, a slight 76-year-old woman emerged from a stone dwelling high on the mountainside, popped in her dentures and whistled back, turning this jaunty solo into a duet. “Well, what are you waiting for?” she responded over a clanging chorus of goat bells. “Come on up here!”
    As two other villagers descended from the hills to join us, Apostolou asked each of us if we’d like something to drink and then whistled a string of chirps toward the store’s open door. Moments later, owner Maria Kefalas came out with a bottle of water, two cups of tea and a glass of sour cherry vissinada juice - arranging each perfectly on the table in front of us.
    Aristi Tsipas (left) used to whistle to her family from across the valley (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    Aristi Tsipas (left) used to whistle to her family from across the valley (Credit: Eliot Stein)
    No-one can recall exactly how or when the villagers here began using sfyria – which comes from the Greek word sfyrizo, meaning ‘whistle’ – to communicate. Some residents speculate that it came from Persian soldiers who sought refuge in the mountains some 2,500 years ago. Others claim the language developed during Byzantine times as a secret way to warn against danger from rival villages and invading pirates. There’s even a belief that in ancient Athens, they’d post whistlers from Antia on the mountaintops as sentries so they could signal an imminent attack on the empire.
    S
    Remarkably, sfyria was only discovered by the outside world in 1969, when an aeroplane crashed in the mountains behind Antia. As the search crew went out to look for the missing pilot, they heard shepherds volleying a series of trilled scales back and forth across the canyons and became enchanted by their cryptic code.
    According to Dimitra Hengen, a Greek linguist who accompanied me to Antia, sfyria is effectively a whistled version of spoken Greek, in which letters and syllables correspond to distinct tones and frequencies. Because whistled sound waves are different from speech, messages in sfyria can travel up to 4km across open valleys, or roughly 10 times farther than shouting.
    Zografio Kalogirou says she used to be the best whistler in town (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    Zografio Kalogirou says she used to be the best whistler in town (Credit: Eliot Stein)
    “As a girl, I’d practice deep into the night with my head buried under the covers,” remembered Zografio Kalogirou, a 70-year-old villager with lace-white hair. “I used to be able to whistle across the mountaintops when I had my teeth. I was so proud. Now I’m so ashamed. All I can do is eat.”
    For those with a strong bite or modern implants, this ancient form of wireless communication has remained especially useful over the years in a far-flung place like Antia.
    “Roads, water and electricity only came here 30 years ago, and there’s still no mobile phone service,” said Yiannis Tsipas, a 50-year-old goat herder and the youngest whistler in the village after Apostolou. “Until 1997, Koula had the only phone in Antia, so whenever anyone would go to Athens, they’d call her to say that they arrived safely and she’d whistle the news down to the family.”
    While I sipped my vissinada, Kefalas’ face lit up as she told of how sfyria can also be used to coyly court other villagers.
    Aside from Antia’s shepherds and farmers, few people can understand sfyria’s notes (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    Aside from Antia’s shepherds and farmers, few people can understand sfyria’s notes (Credit: Eliot Stein)
    “One night, a man was in the mountains with his sheep when it started snowing. He knew that somewhere deep in the mountains there was a beautiful girl from Antia with her goats. So he found a cave, built a fire and whistled to her to come keep warm. She did, and that’s how my parents fell in love.”
    Today there are as many as 70 other whistled languages in the world, and they all exist in remote mountain villages like Antia. After all, it’s easier to purse your lips than to scramble up and down the mountainsides whenever you want to invite your neighbours over for a glass of ouzo.
    Yet, not only is sfyria believed to be older and more structured than many other whistled languages, it’s also the most critically endangered. In fact, according to the Unesco Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, no other language in Europe – whistled or not – has fewer living speakers than sfyria.
    Yiannis Tsipas (right) hopes to one day teach sfyria to his son (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    Yiannis Tsipas (right) hopes to one day teach sfyria to his son (Credit: Eliot Stein)
    “By nature, a whistled language is already much more threatened than a spoken language because it’s much harder to reproduce," Hengen said. “Unless something drastic here changes, I foresee sfyria vanishing in the very near future, and it’s a tragedy.”
    While many of the elderly whistlers here have died or lost their teeth, the younger ones have moved to Athens. And today, several of the last whistlers of Antia – like Apostolou – no longer live in the village.
    A whistled language is already much more threatened than a spoken language because it’s much harder to reproduce
    “I tried to stay until last year, but there’s no way to earn a living or raise a family here,” he said, staring out over a cluster of abandoned homes with roosters squawking on the roofs. “Today, there’s only one child left here.”
    After ringing through the rugged landscape for dozens of generations, sfyria may well fade into the foggy depths under Mount Ochi with the two Yiannis. Apostolou doesn’t have any children, and while Tsipas hopes to one day teach his son the unique language of Antia, he lives an hour away by the nearest school.
    Panagiotis Skopelitis is one of only 37 people left in Antia (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    Panagiotis Skopelitis is one of only 37 people left in Antia (Credit: Eliot Stein)
    “When I was a child, we had to learn sfyria with Greek to survive,” said Panagiotis Tzanavaris, a soft-spoken 69-year-old and Antia’s best whistler. “It’s our way of life, and if it disappears, so does the cultural identity of this village.”
    So, in 2010, Tzanavaris set out on a quest to resuscitate the dying language, establishing the Cultural Organisation of Antia in the village’s closed-down, one-room schoolhouse.
    Three years ago, he welcomed a team of linguists from Harvard and Yale universities to come record the whistlers’ notes for future generations. Last year, he and Apostolou were featured in a documentary that was screened at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. And most recently, he kindly invited me to Antia.
    Panagiotis Bournousouzis, 31, is the youngest speaker of the village’s ancient language (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
    Many of Antia’s younger residents have moved away; Panagiotis Bournousouzis, 31, is the youngest speaker of the village’s ancient language (Credit: Eliot Stein)
    Tzanavaris has also been doing something previously unheard of with his village’s tightly guarded tradition: teaching someone from another town how to whistle sfyria. After seven years of lessons, the youngest speaker of Antia’s ancient language is now a 31-year-old courier who lives 40km away in Karystos.
    “For years, the people in Antia have been talking about a disappearing language,” Tzanavaris told me. “But with your help, maybe we can start talking about a language that survived.”