Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Mar 9, 2021 in Stuff You Should Know

Refugee Tragedy

Refugees frequently cross the Bab al-Mandeb strait between the east coast of Africa and the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula. They look for work and better living conditions in wealthier Gulf nations, such as Saudi Arabia. But this journey is dangerous, and often ends in tragedy. It is common for smugglers in the area to attack refugee boats  and demand large amounts of money. In other cases, once refugees are at sea, the smugglers tell them that if they don’t pay more money, they’ll be forced overboard. Dozens of refugees drowned this way in 2017 and 2018, with three such incidents occurring in the past six months alone. Still, thousands of refugees attempt to make the journey every few weeks.

Last week five refugees drowned in the waters between Yemen and Djibouti. Almost two hundred refugees, including children, boarded a smuggler’s boat to cross the strait from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. But about a half hour after departing, the smugglers decided that there were too many people onboard. They began forcing about eighty of the passengers into the water.

Last October, smugglers attacked another boat full of Ethiopian refugees and forced them into the water. Fourteen survived and received medical care. But eight drowned, and another twelve remain missing, according to the International Organization for Migration. It’s believed that the boat was on its way to Saudi Arabia but had turned back when COVID-19 border closures prevented them from entering the country.

Dig Deeper Given the tragic events of this story, do some research to learn more about the conditions that these refugees in Africa are trying to escape. Write a summary paragraph describing what you learn.

The Nation’s Newest Park

Did you know that the United States has a new national park? The New River Gorge National River was classified as the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in January 2021. The nation’s 63rd national park is located in southern West Virginia. Its 72,000 acres include hills, ravines, cliffs, centuries-old forests, and, of course, the New River, which is well known for its amazing rafting. Visitors who prefer to stay dry can also hike, rappel, zipline, mountain bike, and rock climb. The park offers a self-guided African American Heritage Auto Tour focused on the area’s history. And wildlife enthusiasts can spot white-tail deer, coyotes, bobcats, black bears, bats, bald eagles, and even peregrine falcons – a species which the National Park Service is working hard to restore.

The COVID-19 pandemichas encouraged people to participate in more outdoor activities. Most national parks have seen a surge in visitors this year, and the New River Gorge area is no exception. Usually about a million people visit the New River Gorge but 2020 saw a 20 percent increase. And New River Gorge is especially well-suited to safe travel right now, with its cabins and outdoor primitive camping areas, many of which don’t require a reservation or fee.

But while it’s exciting to see more people taking advantage of all that the new park has to offer, residents in this sparsely-populated area are concerned about the sudden influx of people. Some locals, including hunters and fishermen, have voiced concern that the region’s infrastructure isn’t ready for such sudden growth.

Dig Deeper: Visit the National Park Service’s website to find the national park closest to you. Write a paragraph describing the park from your own experiences if you’ve visited in person or based on the park’s website if you haven’t.

2020 Toy Hall of Fame Inductees

Did you know that there is a National Toy Hall of Fame? Located at The Strong museum in New York, which houses the world’s largest collection of play-related items, the Hall of Fame includes 74 classic, iconic toys. The inductees for 2020 are Jenga, Baby Nancy, and sidewalk chalk.

Jenga, which comes from the Swahili word Kujenga (meaning “to build”), is a stacking game. Jenga was created by East African-born Leslie Scott in the 1980s. The original version consists of 54 simple wooden blocks, but over time other versions have been added, including Truth or Dare, giant-size, and electronic. Chalk, on the other hand, has been around since ancient times, and has been used in street painting as early as the 16th century. By the mid-20th century, sidewalk chalking had become a popular and inexpensive activity for kids.

But some toys are more than just playthings. The third inductee of 2020, Baby Nancy, was “born” during the civil rights era of the late 1960s. A group of civil rights activists, community members, and toy developers launched Shindana Toys in 1968.The company developed to showcasing African American pride and talent. Baby Nancy was unique because she wasn’t just the African American version of a white doll; she was created by a African American sculptor named Jim Toatley. The doll had a darker complexion, and her hair was a short Afro. Baby Nancy was also the first doll marketed as African American, with the company even playing up its nearly all-African American employee base in its advertisements. By marketing authentically African American dolls and toys to both African American and white children, Shindana hoped to foster a greater atmosphere of acceptance and love.

Dig Deeper What does the name “Shindana” mean? (Hint: it comes from a Swahili word.)

Unlocking History

You probably don’t do a lot of physical note writing with you friends. But you also probably don’t want people reading your texts without permission. In the news recently was a centuries old technique for maintaing letter contents secret dates back as far as the seventeenth century. “Letterlocking” is a method of using folds, slits, and twists to fold a piece of paper so that others can’t open it without destroying the contents. It was used for hundreds of years, before gummed envelopes were invented in the 1830s. Recently, a trunk containing 577 unopened letters was discovered in the Netherlands. A team of researchers successfully used a special X-ray scanner to view an image of the contents of the letters without trying to open them.

So far, most of the letters seem to contain basic, day-to-day information and communications. But this same process can be used to decipher unopened letters from all over the world, such as the Prize Papers: written materials collected from enemy ships by the British from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Historians are interested not just in the contents of the letters themselves, but in the ways that letterlocking techniques were passed from one country to another around the globe. Dozens of letterlocking techniques have already been discovered, with varying degrees of security associated with them.

Watch this YouTube video to see how letterlocking was used to protect the contents of the document.

Dig Deeper Unlocking History is a group of scholars, historians, scientists, engineers, and more who are interested in studying the ancient process of letterlocking. Together, they have compiled a “Dictionary of Letterlocking” that lists more than one hundred terms, including letterlocking methods and techniques. Visit to choose a term and write a short paragraph describing it. (Or if you prefer, you can draw a picture to illustrate your term.)