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September 23 & 26, 2010: from Pakistan - Moscow - Johannesburg - India - Damascus

A typical street in the Little Baghdad of Damascus(Photo/Oussayma Canbarieh)

Our correspondent speaks with shock and awe about covering the disastrous floods ravaging Pakistan.

In South Africa, they're trying to grow leaders who'll change the way politics are practiced on the continent,  and we're there for graduation day.

The very angry mission of Sampat Pal, a rebel confronting a culture that abuses women in India.

For Iraqi refugees in Syria, sanctuary is proving to be a double-edged sword that makes them safe, but sorry.

And, folks in Moscow are so mad at over-privileged drivers, they've taken to wearing blue buckets on their heads. Wait'll you hear what they do with their feet.


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View from a disaster

It didn't get much attention worldwide, but a man died this week after setting himself on fire outside the house of Pakistan's prime minister.

Turns out he'd lost his house in the floods that have affected more than 20 million others since July.  

But with the water receding, stories of damage and despair are emerging.
CBC correspondent Tom Parry just returned from two weeks in the disaster zone, which he describes simply, as vast.  With some reflections on what he's seen, he joined Rick from his home base in London.

Rick's interview with Tom...

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The Blue-Bucket Brigade

There's this video on Youtube

A car waits to turn at a busy Moscow intersection. It's got one of those official-looking blue emergency lights on the roof.

And all of a sudden, a guy darts through the traffic, pops a blue bucket over his head, and runs up and over the car.

Score one for the Blue-Bucket Brigade, striking a blow for democracy, according to one of the longest-serving correspondents in eastern Europe. 

Here's Ben Aris with this week's guest essay....

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Ben Aris is the editor and publisher of the magazine, Business New Europe


Baby formula at midnight: a sign of the times

Want to sniff out an economic trend, you could do worse than check out Walmart.

It already knows to sells thing in big packages at the start of the month, when folks have money.  Little packages at the end of it, when they don't.

And while some say the recession is over in The States, at a retail conference in the U.S. recently, Walmart president Bill Simon offered a poignant rejoinder:

I don't need to tell you that our customer remains challenged. The Walmart customer is a bit of a microcosm of the U.S. economy....And you need not go further than one of our stores on midnight at the end of the month. And it's real interesting to watch, about 11 p.m., customers start to come in and shop, fill their grocery basket with basic items (baby formula, milk, bread, eggs) and continue to shop and mill about the store until midnight, when ... government electronic benefits cards get activated and then the checkout starts and occurs. And our sales for those first few hours on the first of the month are substantially and significantly higher.

And if you really think about it, the only reason somebody gets out in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it, and they've been waiting for it. Otherwise, you know, we're are open 24 hours - come at 5 a.m., come at 7 a.m., come at 10 a.m. But if you are there at midnight, you're there for a reason.


Growing Africa's new leaders

Imagine a school where a student learns political ethics, then works to develop a face cream to fight malaria, you get an idea what goes on at one of Africa's most innovative centres of learning. 

At the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, they're trying to grow leaders.

Its first graduates have already shown their mettle, changing legislation in Kenya, and building a school for refugees in Uganda, as we hear from Kyle G. Brown on a very big day at the academy. 

Kyle's dispatch....

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Rebels in pink saris

 India's about to do something not done since the days of the Raj, back when Britain ran the country 80 years ago.

Next year in a census, it'll be asking Indians to disclose their caste: the social class into which they were born.

And it's controversial. Supporters say it'll help the government determine where the poor are most in need. Critics say it will just reinforce an opressive social hierarchy.   

All this at a time when some Indians are gradually throwing off the idea that their futures are pre-determined by their family's past.

(Photo/Pink Saris/Women Make Movies)

But it is still very much in effect in rural India. And especially hard on girls, documented in a new film entitled Pink Saris, the uniform of abused women banding together to fight back.

The film is animated by their self-proclaimed champion, a tenacious, sometimes maddening woman named Sampat Pal. 

To bring context to it all, Rick spoke with Kim Longinotto, a career documentary maker with a fondness for rebels.

Rick's conversation with Kim...

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Pink Saris recently had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.


Life underground in Syria's "Little Baghdad" 

Iraqi refugee Zakiya and her son Mohammed in their home in Damascus, Syria (Photo/Oussayma Canbarieh)

Sanctuary can be a double-edged sword, as some Iraqis are finding out.  

When Baghdad became a war zone, some fled the country and most ended up in neighbouring Syria, which generously offers them safety and social benefits as they wait out the danger. 

But life in the Syrian capital is leaving many Iraqis under-employed and underground, as we hear from Canadian journalist Oussayma Canbarieh in a Damascus beauty parlour...

Oussayma's documentary...
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Coming up on next week's Dispatches

Tune in next week for Rick's conversation with Maz Jobrani (LINK).  He's an Iranian-American comedian who's taken his act to the middle East and offers  insights into the culture, both serious and silly.

Maz Jobrani's Middle East, next week on Dispatches.


Listener dispatches

Each week, we try to take you places most people never go. Reactions vary widely.  Sometimes they surprise us. For example, last week we ran a story about a Ramadan roadtrip, when two American Muslims visited 30 mosques in 30 states in 30 days. Listener Mark Sorial writes:

The CBC has this interesting but consistent pattern of glorifying everything Islamic. I don't recall listening to a program about committed Christians visiting a number of churches during Lent or before Christmas. This discriminatory attitude is just unexplainable. if mosques are such wonderful places, how come they produce so much hate and violence?

From Kamloops, a very different take from listener Geoff Bowe:

Was fascinated by your program, and found it enlightening. I remember thinking I'm grateful to the CBC for providing insight and expression for this fun project, something sorely needed to help ameliorate some North American misconceptions about Islam.

On another story, correspondent Jennifer Westaway reported a couple weeks back on the chequered effort to improve the quality of school lunches in Oakland, California. 

Well it sure did ring a bell with Nathan Mackay of Kamloops, B.C, who emailed his own story of a successful effort at changing a menu here in Canada.

When he discovered his college cafeteria in Ontario serving only junk food, he wrote the president of the catering company, suggesting that:

...if his company was making an investment into the University and the Ontario economy,...(then its) ... current offering of food was an insult to the student body, and was failing the student population as brain food to fuel a generation of future leaders and skilled workers.

Well the president was apparently so moved he sent a senior manager to hear Nathan's suggestions and three months later:

...the cafeteria was renovated, fast food was removed.  And a whole new menu was created, with fresh food and a buffet with healthy...offerings... I saw this as a real victory, and a great example of a company truly listening to its customers, and meeting a need of a generation...I hope people will not just overlook those 1-800 numbers and customer service emails on food products. We can truly inspire change, by using these resources to communicate with companies from which we consume...food products.

Your letters. Our thanks. Keep them coming to dispatches@cbc.ca


This program is the work of producers Dawna Dingwall, Alison Masemann and Steve McNally with technical producer Victor Johnston, senior producer Alan Guettel, and Rick MacInnes-Rae. 


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