Meet Little Amal: A puppet celebrating New York City’s roots

Meet Little Amal: A puppet celebrating New York City’s roots
Commuters and tourists gather around a large puppet named Little Amal as she walks around Grand Central Station in New York, on Thursday. (AP)
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Updated 15 September 2022

Meet Little Amal: A puppet celebrating New York City’s roots

Meet Little Amal: A puppet celebrating New York City’s roots
  • Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee, is on a 17-day blitz through every corner of the Big Apple
  • Amal will join kids her age to hear a reading of the inclusive picture book “Julián Is a Mermaid”

NEW YORK: New York City’s latest celebrity visitor is stopping traffic even in this jaded, larger-than-life town.
Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee, is on a 17-day blitz through every corner of the Big Apple as part of a theater project hoping to raise awareness about immigration.
“When we talk about migration and refugees, we tend to forget that more than half of the people we’re talking about are children,” said playwright and director Amir Nizar Zuabi, the artistic director of Little Amal Walks NYC. “The reality is they’re children and all children are beautiful in their own special way. And I think that’s what Amal brings to the table.”
She will visit tourists meccas — Times Square, Grand Central Station, the American Museum of Natural History and Central Park, among them — and also communities far from the glitz of Manhattan, like Corona in the Queens borough and Bedford–Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.
“The role of the project is to talk about displacement, to talk about immigration, to talk about vulnerability in different contexts and, of course, each locality,” said Zuabi.
At each of the 55 planned stops, organizers have reached out to community artists and leaders to create a special event anchored by the place visited. So, Amal will join kids her age to hear a reading of the inclusive picture book “Julián Is a Mermaid” at the Brooklyn Public Library. And when she goes to Harlem she will listen to a drum circle performed by students from the Harlem School of the Arts and be accompanied by a stilt walker from Kotchenga Dance Company.
Yazmany Arboleda, a Colombian American artist who is creative producer of the New York visit, calls it one of the largest scale theatrical experiences ever built in the city: “This is the biggest stage on Earth and it comes from all the pluralism, of all the stories, of all the people who live here.”
The puppet comes to the city after completing a 5,000-mile trek across Europe, from the Syrian-Turkish border to Manchester in northwest England. She has traveled through 12 countries — including greeting refuges from Ukraine at a Polish train station and stopping at refugee camps in Greece — and met with Pope Francis.
“New York is interesting because it is a city built from displacement, forced migration and migration. These are the elements that created the city. And the city looms tall and has a very, very interesting engine of creativity, of innovation, of audaciousness. So, bringing this project here is very interesting for us,” said Zuabi.
During a recent rehearsal at the performing arts institution and project co-producer St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, Zuabi stressed the core idea with his 10 puppeteers, four of which are needed to manipulate the puppet at any one time.
“She is a 10-year-old lost in the city. Whenever you are in doubt, go back to that,” he told them as they stretched in a circle. “She’s never safe in this city. If we understand that, I think we can make real magic.”
Some other stops for the puppet — designed and built by Handspring Puppet Company — include salsa dancing in Washington Heights, walking along the Coney Island boardwalk and listening to drummers in Jackson Heights. At Grand Central Station on Thursday, she loomed over admiring pedestrians, who gazed up and took pictures.
“We often focus on the plight of the immigrant or the refugee, and I think what this work does is really bring our attention to the promise and the beauty,” said Arboleda. “As she walks through New York, we’re all going to be learning along.”
One of Amal’s stops will be Liberty Island, where she’ll come face-to-toe with the Statue of Liberty, who welcomes the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
“The core of this project is empathy, is to fight indifference, because indifference is like a stone. You can’t turn it. It’s what it is. The minute you start cracking indifference, something happens,” said Zuabi.


Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
Updated 26 January 2023

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
  • Instead, Ghashghavi placed his hand on his chest and bowed slightly

LONDON: Iranian Ambassador to Spain Hassan Ghashghavi refrained from shaking hands with Queen Letizia during a reception on Wednesday for Madrid’s diplomatic corps at Zarzuela Palace.

In footage shared on Twitter, Ghashghavi shook hands with King Felipe VI but not Queen Letizia, who was standing beside him.

Royal fans, according to The Daily Mail, believe the Iranian ambassador’s gesture to be “disrespectful” and “awkward.”

Social media commentators, however, highlighted that his placing his right hand on his chest and slightly bowing to the queen instead showed he was following Iranian customs.

Others speculated that the queen’s lack of movement toward the Iranian diplomat suggested that she had been advised by her staff about her guest’s protocol.

In several Islamic cultures, physical contact with the opposite sex, including handshakes, is often discouraged or even prohibited.


US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
Updated 25 January 2023

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
  • A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2027 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency’s chief said on Tuesday.
NASA will partner with the US military’s research and development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it to space “as soon as 2027,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The US space agency has studied for decades the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion, which introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to a hydrogen propellant in order to provide a thrust believed to be far more efficient than traditional chemical-based rocket engines.
NASA officials view nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial for sending humans beyond the moon and deeper into space. A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say.
That would substantially reduce the time astronauts would be exposed to deep-space radiation and would also require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.
“If we have swifter trips for humans, they are safer trips,” NASA deputy administrator and former astronaut Pam Melroy said Tuesday.
The planned 2027 demonstration, part of an existing DARPA research program that NASA is now joining, could also inform the ambitions of the US Space Force, which has envisioned deploying nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft capable of moving other satellites orbiting near the moon, DARPA and NASA officials said.
DARPA in 2021 awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin to study designs of nuclear reactors and spacecraft. By around March, the agency will pick a company to build the nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration, the program’s manager Tabitha Dodson said in an interview.
The joint NASA-DARPA effort’s budget is $110 million for fiscal year 2023 and is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more through 2027.

 


New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense
Updated 27 January 2023

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense
  • He was arrested and strip-searched in the late 1990s while protesting proposed reforms to university education

WELLINGTON: New Zealand's next prime minister does not draw adoring crowds like his predecessor Jacinda Ardern, but is well known throughout the country for his political nous, poor dress sense and a love of diet Coke.
Chris Hipkins, 44, was on Wednesday morning officially sworn in to replace Ardern, his friend of more than 20 years, who resigned because she no longer had "enough in the tank".
The straight-talking Hipkins was the architect of New Zealand's Covid-19 response, and is widely seen as a personable politician with a safe pair of hands.
"Hopefully New Zealanders know me as someone who is upfront, doesn't mind admitting when they've made a mistake and can laugh at themselves," he told reporters after being touted for the role last week.
Hipkins has somewhat mellowed since his early days as a firebrand of student politics.
He was arrested and strip-searched in the late 1990s while protesting proposed reforms to university education.
Political commentator Josie Pagani has described Hipkins, with more than 14 years in opposition and government, as "sensible, likeable, tough and capable".
He will now be tasked with turning around the sagging popularity of Ardern's Labour government, which has been hampered by a looming recession and a resurgent conservative opposition.
Hipkins won plaudits for his near two-year term as the Covid response minister in a country that shut its borders to keep the coronavirus out, only fully reopening to the outside world in August last year.
Hailing from the working class Hutt Valley in New Zealand's North Island, Hipkins has held high-profile portfolios including police and education.
"I think I am relatively upfront, I'm relatively inclusive. People won't die wondering what I think," he has said.
"My parents came from relatively humble beginnings and worked really hard to provide a good life for my brother and I."
His diet has drawn the attention of his colleagues, with a former boss once remarking that Hipkins "appears to eat nothing more than sausage rolls and diet Coke".
Justice Minister Kiri Allan, one of Labour's senior Maori MPs, who had been considered a potential prime minister herself, has described Hipkins as decisive and an "incredibly strong" leader.
"He is extremely competent, with a track record of delivering for New Zealand as one of our most senior ministers over the past six years," she said.
Hipkins told journalists he liked cycling, gardening, DIY work and being outdoors, but conceded: "Maybe I don't have the best fashion sense in parliament."
Asked whether having a red-haired prime minister would be a historic moment for the country, he said: "I think it was about time we had a ginger at the top."
The incoming New Zealand leader studied politics and criminology at Victoria University in the capital Wellington and then worked in the industry training sector.
Before becoming an MP in 2008, he worked as a senior adviser to two education ministers and former prime minister Helen Clark.
Although known as a personable and laid-back operator, Hipkins is also capable of playing hard-nosed politics -- and was involved in some high-profile spats with Australia's former conservative government.
In 2021, he accused Australia of "exporting its garbage" to New Zealand -- a reference to Canberra's controversial policy of deporting criminals back to their country of birth.
Hipkins was admonished by Ardern in 2017 after he was accused of orchestrating the resignation of Australia's then-deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce.
Information released to Hipkins showed Joyce was a dual citizen of both Australia and New Zealand -- which disqualified him from sitting in parliament under Australia's constitution.

 


US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program

US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program
Updated 24 January 2023

US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program

US venture capital firm launches Riyadh-based accelerator program
  • Program focuses on startups in MENA that are growing their businesses

RIYADH: Techstars, a US venture capital firm, announced a new partnership to continue the Techstars Riyadh Accelerator in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Raed Ventures and the National Bank of Saudi Arabia. 

The accelerator focuses on startups in the Middle East and North Africa that are establishing and growing their businesses, with the goal of paving the way for future innovation in the region’s digital economy. 

“I am very excited about the growth of the startup ecosystem in the Kingdom, and between the Kingdom’s investment in entrepreneurship and its pivotal location, Riyadh can attract global emerging talent to the entire region,” Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet said. 

“The best entrepreneurs can influence the world no matter where they are, and part of what we do at Techstars is help them connect their innovations to the rest of the world,” Gavet added.

Abdullah Al-Shamrani, director of digital entrepreneurship at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, emphasized the importance of technological and innovative entrepreneurship in achieving Vision 2030. 

The accelerator is accepting applications for a 13-week program from June to September 2023. Funding and fundraising opportunities, as well as curated workshops and resources, will be available to each company. Participants will also benefit from a network of mentors from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the National Bank of Saudi Arabia and Raed Ventures.

 


16th Al-Dhafra Festival starts Sunday

16th Al-Dhafra Festival starts Sunday
Updated 21 January 2023

16th Al-Dhafra Festival starts Sunday

16th Al-Dhafra Festival starts Sunday
  • Festival continues until Feb. 2 as part of Abu Dhabi’s camel beauty contest season
  • Organizing committee chairman hails UAE leadership’s support for heritage preservation projects

AL-DHAFRA, UAE: Competitions and activities of the 16th Al-Dhafra Festival begin on Sunday as part of Abu Dhabi’s camel beauty contest season.
The festival, held under the patronage of UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, will continue until Feb. 2 in Madinat Zayed, the Emirates News Agency reported on Saturday.
Organized by the Abu Dhabi Cultural Programs and Heritage Festival committee, with strategic partner ADNOC, the festival aims to preserve and develop heritage activities, and enable camel owners to continue the tradition of breeding and caring for camels.
The festival also highlights the camel’s role in Emirati and Gulf culture.
Faris Khalaf Al-Mazrouei, the committee chairman, hailed the UAE leadership’s support for heritage preservation projects and festivals.
He also praised the leadership’s support for falconry competitions, and purebred Arabian horse and heritage competitions, which make the capital a unique role model in the field of organizing heritage festivals.
Al-Mazrouei said that since its first edition in 2008, the festival has been a key pillar in preserving Emirati heritage and traditions for generations to come.