Our Little Earth – February 29, 2008

February 29, 2008
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WHAT’S GOING ON
Kosovo gains independence

Fig One On February 17th, Kosovo declared itself to be a new country. It was a part of Serbia before this, which in turn used to be a part of Yugoslavia. Since 1991, Yugoslavia has split into seven countries – Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (that’s just one country, not two!), Montenegro, Serbia, and now Kosovo.

So why did Kosovo break away from Serbia? The biggest reason was the differences in the people living in Kosovo and in the rest of Serbia. While most people living in Serbia are Serbs, Kosovo was mainly inhabited by Albanians (Kosovo is a neighbor of the country Albania). In the late 1990s, there was a lot of conflict between these two groups of people. In 1999, NATO and the UN, two international organizations, stepped in to end the fighting. Kosovo had been under UN administration until its recent declaration of independence. Kosovo’s capital will be a city named Pristina. A few countries such as Serbia, Russia and China have not yet accepted Kosovo as a new country.

The Albanians have a beautiful string instrument, the ciftelia, that is very popular in Kosovo. It has a pear-shaped sound bowl made out of a single piece of wood. The ciftelia usually has just two strings.

Fidel Castro of Cuba steps down

Fig Two After 49 years of leading Cuba, Fidel Castro has decided to step down as president because of health problems. His brother, Raul Castro, was elected as the next president of Cuba on 24th February.

Cuba is an island country in the Caribbean. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 on his first voyage. Fidel Castro is one of the longest ruling leaders in modern times. He was born in 1926, and studied to become a lawyer. Castro believed in communism, where the government owns all property and controls jobs and education. When Castro took power in 1959, the government started taking control of all the land. Some of the land was owned by Americans. In return, the US launched a trade embargo against Cuba. This meant that American companies could not buy from or sell to Cuban companies. The Soviet Union decided to help Cuba by buying Cuban products and providing money. This kept the Cuban economy reasonably healthy until the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost one of its biggest supporters.

One of Castro’s biggest focus was providing Cubans the best education and health care system that was free for all. Today, Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world – out of 1000 people, only 2 are uneducated. Cuba also has produced a lot of excellent doctors, which has promoted “health tourism”. People travel to Cuba from other countries to get medical treatment such as surgeries.

If you ever happen to be in Cuba, certainly get a ride in the Coco Taxi ? it is a yellow, egg-shaped, 3 wheeled vehicle that zips and zooms around town!

New record for cycling around the world

Fig Three- On February 15th, Mark Beaumont, a 25 year old British citizen, broke the world record for the fastest bike ride around the globe. He cycled approximately 18,000 miles (almost 30,000 km) in 194 days and 17 hours. He broke the previous record by an amazing 81 days!

Mark started his bike journey in Paris, France and completed it at the same spot. He biked through 20 countries to complete his ride. He had some excitement on his trip as well – his wallet and camera were stolen, and he was even hit by a car!

Mark has been on a bike for so long that he is having trouble walking – he is going through some “de-training” to help him recover!

SOMETHING FAMOUS
Figure

Let’s ride the Tour de France! It is considered to be not only the world’s biggest cycling race but also one of the toughest sports challenges on Earth!

The Tour de France is a 23-day race that is held every year in July in France. The race goes all around France and often passes through some of its neighboring countries. The route of the race changes every year, but it usually runs around 3500 km (more than 2000 miles). Each day of the bike race is roughly equivalent to running a marathon, in terms of effort. Now imagine running a marathon each day for three straight weeks!! On a typical day, each biker needs to eat or drink about 10,000 calories (most of us need just 2,000).

There are many different awards given during each stage of the race, but the main award is for the person who has the overall least time during the race. That winner gets to wear the yellow jersey (a yellow colored biking shirt). The fastest sprinter wears the green jersey, the best climber wears a red polka dot jersey, and the fastest young rider (under 25) wears the white jersey.

Now who do you think came up with the idea of starting such a race? Some serious bikers, perhaps? Not quite. The race was started by a magazine company in 1903 with the hopes of increasing its circulation!

DID YOU KNOW
France is the most visited country in the world. In 2006, it had almost 80 million visitors, which was 20 million more than any other country!
The smallest bird in the world is generally agreed to be the Bee Hummingbird from Cuba. It weighs around 2g (0.07oz), making it lighter than even the smallest coin in most currencies!
FUNNY BONE
“It’s clear” said the teacher, “that you haven’t studied your geography. Why is that?”
“Well, my dad says the world is changing every day. So I decided to wait until it settles down!”
GO FIGURE
Mark Beaumont (from the biking story above) biked through 8 countries to get from France to Iran. Which countries are these? Their names begin with the letters B,N,G,P,U,R,B, and T.
“Eleven plus two” equals 13. Well, “Eleven plus two” is an anagram for something else that equals 13. What is it? Jumble up the letters and figure it out!
FIGURED OUT
Puzzle from last edition: You had to guess who had committed an art theft, given all the statements of the suspects and some facts about how many of those statements were lies.
Solution:
Charlie, since his was the only name that was mentioned exactly four times. If the thief was any of the others, then only two or three of the statements would have been false.
Puzzle from last edition: The letters of my name spell “Take All Ions”. Who am I?
Solution:
Nikola Tesla
ETCETERA
Credits: Agencia Brazil for Castro photo, kacaj.net for cifteli photo, ASO for Tour de France photo.
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