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Dec 1 & 4, 2011: from, Afghanistan - Egypt - The Philippines - Amsterdam - Colombia

From our correspondents around the world...

Volunteers install an old pop bottle filled with water and bleach through the metal roof of house in Manila.  The savings will put meals on the table of its poor occupants. Photo/Simone Orendain.

A plastic pop bottle is lighting the lives of the poor in the Philippines. You'll wonder why no one thought of it sooner. 

Tapping the illiterate vote. How Egyptian politicians are reaching those who can't read.

Blackface characters in a Dutch Christmas tradition set some on edge while others say the country's gone post-racial.  See what you think.
Tweets from the Taliban.  How the enemy's using social media to take the progaganda war to NATO.  

An explorer's story. Why Sir Christopher Ondaatje sold his soul.

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Sheila Royeras points to the new solar light bulb that's made from an old pop bottle. Photo/Simone Orendain

A litre of light

Mr. McGuire's advice to young Dustin Hoffman in the movie "The Graduate" was a little cryptic back in 1967. 

listen to his sage words

But discarded plastic bottles are throwing new light in a Philippine slum today in ways he'd never have imagined.

Simone Orendain's View from Here





Voters in Egypt line up to cast their ballots in the first ground of elections.  Photo/Derek Stoffel

Campaigning Cairo-style

Egypt continues to startle and surprise.  After days of angry protest, voters turned their energies to crowding polling booths for mostly-peaceful parliamentary elections.
This round continues until January and the whole process should wrap in July with the election of a President that will see the military withdraw from political life.

At least, that's the plan on paper. 

CBC's Middle East correspondent Derek Stoffel joined Rick from downtown Cairo . 

listen to Derek's chat with Rick

The CBC's Middle East correspondent, Derek Stoffel, in Cairo.

If you're an Egyptian ex-pat or citizen of any of the Arab Spring countries, email some of your recollections to dispatches@cbc.ca


Sinteklaas arrives with his black-faced helpers.  They're loveable  rascals, but some see them as slaves. Photo/Lauren Comiteau

Blackface in Holland causes Christmas questions

The holiday season may be a time of brotherly love and all, but in the Low Countries, it's the yearly collision of European and colonial sensibilities.

In The Netherlands, for example, it starts with the Dutch tradition of celebrating a white-haired sort of Santa figure called Sinterklaas, and his little black-faced helpers.

Lauren Comiteau's View from Here

What do you think?  Racist or post-racial?  Let us know with an email to dispatches@cbc.ca


French signer Yves Duteil  Photo/EMI-Pathe

Soundtrax: Prendre un Enfant

Hear Rick's soundtrack

The UN's warning that Syrian forces had killed more than 200 children got Rick thinking of this song about children he heard in France twenty years ago.

Check out Yves Duteil on youtube

If you've got music that evokes a story of a foreign place in your life, email it to dispatches@cbc.ca and let us tell your story in Soundtrax.


A NATO helicopter flies next to the building taken over by Afghan insurgents during an attack near the U.S. embassy in Kabul September 13, 2011. By the end of the 20-hour attack, two civilians were dead, along with at least four Afghan troops and nine attackers, in Kabul's heavily fortified embassy district.  Photo/REUTERS-Ahmad Masood

The Taliban take on

social-media technology

A decade of war in Afghanistan has taught both sides the ways of the enemy.  In combat and in propaganda, and the technology for spreading it.

The Taliban may have perverse views of the modern world, but it's rushed to embrace the western ways of Twitter and Bluetooth in order to get its message out.

We hear how in this example from Dispatches contributor Brian Calvert.

Hear Brian's documentary


Viviana Duarte waited for most of her life for the release of her father, who was a police commander taken by FARC. Photo/Jacob Silberberg

Jungle injustice in Colombia

We've got an update for you now on "Kidnap Radio", a story we first brought you from Colombia last year around this time. 

It was about people who rely on a local radio station to beam their words out to family members held hostage in the Colombian jungle by the rebel movement known as FARC.

Correspondent Annie Correal got back in touch to report that one managed to escape a few days ago, in a botched rescue attempt by the army.

But the rebels executed four others. One of them, the father of a girl in Annie's story. 
Viviana was only two when Colonel Edgar Duarte was kidnapped in 1998, and she knew him only through videos made by the rebels to prove he was alive. 

Here's an excerpt from Correal's documentary.

Annie's excerpt

FARC rebels still hold dozens of civilian and military hostages. And next Tuesday, Colombians are planning street demonstrations in protest its tactics. 

Listen to Annie's original story, Kidnap Radio


Sir Christopher Ondaatje Photo/Thames & Hudson

A knight's travelling tale

Our guest arrived at the CBC like a gust of wind, whip-thin and lanky under a snap-brim fedora Indiana Jones wishes he had. Under the topcoat, a sensible down vest is strapped over his English-cut suit. 

These are the two of the sides to Sir Christopher Ondaatje. 

Aware of social convention but not wed to it.  Refined but ready to stalk leopard in the African bush.

Maybe that's why he's a millionaire when most of us aren't.

But he arrived in Canada with thirteen bucks in his pocket on a boat from Sri Lanka in 1956. 

In time he'd be a member of Canada's Olympic bobsled team. 
Build his own brokerage house and a publishing empire.  And sell it all.

These days he writes, finding inspiration on the paths of old-time explorers like Richard Burton and John Speke who roamed Africa in the 1850's.

At 77, Chris Ondaatje's distilled some of his stories into his latest book, The Last Colonial: Curious Adventures and Stories from a Vanishing World.

He joined us to talk a bit about his restless life. 

Listen to our broadcast interview

Or, if you like, listen to Rick's full interview with Sir Christopher.

The Last Colonial is published by Thames and Hudson.

This program is the work of producers Dawna Dingwall, Alison Masemann and Steve McNally with technical producers Cesil Fernandes and Mark Thibideau, and our senior producer Alan Guettel.

We'll bring you the World!

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