Archive For October 13, 2021

What the opening of the U.S.-Mexico border means to one reporter

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What the opening of the U.S.-Mexico border means to one reporter

NPR’s Ailsa Chang speaks with reporter Vicente Calderón about how visa holders, like himself, who can show proof of vaccination will be able to cross the U.S.-Mexico border again.


AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The U.S. will open its land borders with Canada and Mexico next month. Visa holders who can show proof of vaccination will be able to cross again after some 18 months of being locked out. The land borders had been closed to all but essential travel when COVID hit, and this reopening is a huge deal for people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border who often cross daily to see family or to shop.

Reporter Vicente Calderon lives in Tijuana. He’s a visa holder himself who hasn’t been able to cross to San Diego in a year and a half. Welcome.

VICENTE CALDERON: Thank you very much.

CHANG: Can you just tell me who is in San Diego whom you haven’t been able to see personally for so long?

CALDERON: Many people, but mainly my daughters. But I also I’m missing a lot of friends because we along the U.S.-Mexico border live a bi-national life, so to speak.

CHANG: Well, I am so excited for you that you are now going to be able to see them next month. Let me ask you, Vicente, because you cover this region as a reporter, how have these stores, these shops been affected by this border closure for so long?

CALDERON: Well, the businesses on the U.S. side of the border are the ones who have been hit the most. About a year into the lockdown, the president of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, which is the community adjacent to the border, told us at that time, already around 200 businesses were forced to close because they were not seeing any customers.

CHANG: Right.

CALDERON: Mexicans spend millions and millions of dollars every year in businesses and in services in the other side of the border.

CHANG: What do you think the effect of the border reopening will be for businesses on the Mexico side? Because if a lot of money that would have gone to the U.S. stayed in Mexico during lockdown, could the border reopening be not so great for, say, Tijuana businesses?

CALDERON: That’s a topic that we have been discussing because we see normally a lot of Mexicans spending their dollars in the U.S. And for more than a year, those customers have been captive on this side of the border. So those customers are going back to the U.S. And also, we probably will miss some of the U.S. customers who were spending time here, especially if the waiting at the border takes longer, those customers not coming back to Tijuana as they’ve been doing during this pandemic period.

CHANG: Right. Well, I’m curious for you personally, is there one store that you have been waiting so long to get back to in the U.S., one thing that you cannot buy in Mexico?

CALDERON: (Laughter) Well, that’s funny because we normally don’t shop that much in Mexico. Most of the time, we go to do many of our shopping in the U.S. side.

CHANG: (Laughter).

CALDERON: So there is some memes with the picture of President Joe Biden saying that if we don’t get vaccinated, we will not be allowed to cross to Ross or to Marshalls or to Trader Joe’s, for example.

CHANG: Are you a Trader Joe’s fan?

CALDERON: Yes, I am.

CHANG: What do you get at Trader Joe’s that you love?

CALDERON: Well, cold cuts, wine…

CHANG: Oh, yeah – good cheap wine.

CALDERON: …Which is funny because there’s a lot of U.S. residents that come across to buy stuff here, from LA to San Diego.

CHANG: Well, I’m just wondering when November comes around and the border reopens to vaccinated visa holders, are you worried about the border wait? Because just yesterday, even with way less people crossing, I saw that the wait was more than three hours. So what do you think it’s going to be like in November?

CALDERON: That’s a big concern here because there have been times where people have to wait up to eight hours. More people are going to be able to go across. We expect that the delays will be worse.

CHANG: That is Vicente Calderon with the online news site tijuanapress.com in Tijuana. Thank you very much for joining us today.

CALDERON: Thank you for the invitation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Music classes are back in school this year, finally indoors and off Zoom

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Music classes are back in school this year, finally indoors and off Zoom

For many students, band and choir classes were a far cry from normal last year — students practiced outside or over Zoom. With students back in school this fall, music classes look almost normal.


SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

For many students last year, band and choir classes were a far cry from normal. Students practiced outside or over Zoom. As Craig LeMoult of member station GBH in Boston reports, with students back in school this fall, many are overjoyed to take part in almost-normal music classes.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: Students in Westwood High School’s wind ensemble class catch up with each other and fiddle with instruments as rehearsal begins. Then the director, Dr. Heather Cote, raises her hand, and they begin to tune up.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

HEATHER COTE: The first day that we were in here this fall, and they all played together, I started to tear up.

One, two, beginning and ready go.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

LEMOULT: Last year, Cote says, they mostly practiced outside, which got harder as the weather cooled. And the students were split into two cohorts that came to school in person on different days.

COTE: We didn’t have the whole group together, so sometimes, you know, the balance was weird and, you know, you had too many of one instrument because all the other ones were in the other cohort.

LEMOULT: Senior and tenor sax player Frank Papetti says when they were at home last year, they’d mute their microphones and play along.

FRANK PAPETTI: Yeah, you kind of feel isolated. It kind of turns you off in a sense. You don’t really want to play. Nobody can hear you.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

LEMOULT: Now he’s thrilled they’re all back together again.

PAPETTI: Oh, my God. I’m super excited. I love playing my instrument.

LEMOULT: Things do look a bit different in wind ensemble this year. There’s a black filter covering the bell of Papetti’s saxophone.

PAPETTI: And honestly, it doesn’t make that much of a difference. It doesn’t make your sound much different at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

LEMOULT: But scientists say it does make playing instruments safer. Jelena Srebric of the University of Maryland was one of the leading researchers behind a study that used lasers and high-speed cameras to visualize how aerosols spread from instruments and singers.

JELENA SREBRIC: When you put the mask or bell cover, the area that is immediately directly affected by a breath shrinks by one-third, which is enormous.

LEMOULT: Singing is a concern, too. One of the first-known COVID superspreader events in the U.S. happened in a choir in Washington state. The study’s authors put out a list of recommendations, including bell covers for bands and masks for choruses when they rehearse indoors. They also suggest things like physical distancing and added air filtration. The organizations that supported the study say about 20 states are requiring these steps – 20 more have some sort of recommendation to follow the guidelines, and 10 have none.

UNIDENTIFIED BAND DIRECTOR: And one, two – one, two, three, four.

(SOUNDBITE OF STUDENTS PLAYING INSTRUMENTS)

LEMOULT: The high school jazz ensemble in Wellesley, Mass., is going a step further. As junior Max Goldensen points out, even as he plays his trumpet, he’s wearing a mask.

MAX GOLDENSEN: There’s a hole in the center, and each side has a magnet on it, so you can kind of flip it closed whenever you’re not playing.

LEMOULT: Freshman Ben Harris says for music class last year, he had to record his bass guitar parts into an app, which told him if he got the notes right. He says he went from loving music class to it feeling like a chore.

BEN HARRIS: I mean, it works, but it’s not, like, the nicest way to play.

LEMOULT: He says it felt a bit like a video game.

HARRIS: But not the most entertaining one.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHOIR SINGING JAMES TAYLOR SONG, “THAT LONESOME ROAD”)

WELLESLEY HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) Walk down that lonesome road.

LEMOULT: Down the hall, about 40 masked members of a Wellesley High School choir are back together, including senior Nora Jarquin.

NORA JARQUIN: For all of us, like, this is our community. This is where we find joy in our day to day. Like, it’s a break from the schoolwork, and it’s a time – like, all my friends are in these choirs and in these groups. So to lose that was a really hard time. We don’t want to do that again.

LEMOULT: And they’re all hoping, with these new protective measures, that they won’t have to.

For NPR News, I’m Craig LeMoult in Wellesley, Mass.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHOIR SINGING JAMES TAYLOR SONG, “THAT LONESOME ROAD”)

WELLESLEY HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) Walk down that…

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR DIRECTOR: Two, three…

WELLESLEY HIGH SCHOOL CHOIR: (Singing) Lonesome road.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Tubist Richard Antoine White shares his unlikely path to the stage ‘I’m Possible’

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Tubist Richard Antoine White shares his unlikely path to the stage ‘I’m Possible’

White spent his early childhood in poverty in Baltimore, at times sleeping in abandoned houses. He’s now principal tubist in the Santa Fe Symphony and the New Mexico Philharmonic.

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Under the Taliban, it’s harder than ever to be an Afghan journalist

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Under the Taliban, it’s harder than ever to be an Afghan journalist

A member of the Taliban special forces pushes a journalist covering a demonstration by women protesters in Kabul on Sept. 30.

Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images

Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images

ISLAMABAD — The nightmares come easy and often for Afghan journalist Taqi Daryabi.

When they do, the 22-year-old reporter for the Afghan newspaper Etilaatroz is instantly transported back to a dank room in a Taliban-run police station, where a group of former fighters brutally beat him and his colleague Nematullah Naqdi last month for covering a women’s protest in Kabul.

“All of them started beating me with whatever they had in their hands — with whips, batons, with rubber, with wood,” says Daryabi, who is still in and out of the hospital for treatment of his lacerations. “With whatever torturing tool they had, they beat me until I passed out.”

Naqdi, his colleague, has partially lost his vision from the beating he endured that day.

Afghan journalists Nematullah Naqdi, 28, and Taqi Daryabi, 22, show their injuries at the Etilaatroz office in Kabul, Sept. 10. Taliban forces detained and beat them after they covered a women’s protest in Kabul.

Bernat Armangue/AP

Bernat Armangue/AP

About 500 miles away, in the western city of Herat, it’s not the past that haunts 26-year-old journalist Atefa. It’s the fear of the future.

Atefa, who wants to use only her first name to protect her safety, used to write critically about the Taliban’s attitudes and treatment of women for various Afghan news outlets. Now she’s in hiding.

Ever since the group recaptured Herat in mid-August, her neighbors have been telling her the Taliban have been looking for her. In recent weeks, she’s received text messages from unknown numbers, containing grisly video clips. She presumes they’re from the Taliban, warning her of what’s to come.

“One recent video I got shows the Taliban torturing a man to death,” she says. “I am ready to be killed by a bullet, but I do not want to fall into the hands of the Taliban. I don’t want to be cut up into pieces.”

There’s a disconnect between what Taliban officials say and what their foot soldiers do

Reporting has long been a dangerous and even deadly business for Afghan journalists. They have been targeted with attacks and kidnappings, some of which have been claimed by the Taliban. Now, with the Taliban in power, the mix of threats, detentions and vague media rules, plus a shattered economy, have set the clock back on Afghan media progress.

More than 150 media companies and radio stations across the country have shut down, according to TOLO News, Afghanistan’s most prominent broadcast news outlet. Hundreds of Afghan journalists have fled the country since Taliban forces took control of Kabul in August.

Those who have stayed, like Daryabi and Atefa, say they don’t know where the Taliban’s red lines are. Many have stopped working for fear of retribution, violent assaults and inexplicable detentions.

“The Taliban doesn’t have full control over the way its people operate,” says Steven Butler, the Asia program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists.

He has been following the cases of Afghan journalists and says there appears to be a disconnect between Taliban leaders, who insist publicly that they support press freedoms, and its foot soldiers who mete out harsh punishments.

Taliban leaders argue that those now patrolling the streets have spent the last 20 years fighting, not policing or engaging with civic society. Some lower-level Taliban admit they’re struggling to adjust to their new lives and miss the battle.

Taliban officials use this as justification for media restrictions.

“We have repeatedly said that we believe in the freedom of speech in the media,” Taliban spokesman Inamullah Samangani tells NPR. “Of course, because the situation is not normal yet and is not fully under control, we want to prevent some irregular and disorderly scenarios and assure the security and safety of journalists … to prepare the ground for them to report. Right now, in places like military centers or places that are still contested and combative and not yet fully in our control — we advise journalists not to report from there.”

Adding to the confusion, Samangani denies the existence of 11 harsh rules for the press that were announced by Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi, the Taliban’s interim director of the Government Media and Information Center, at a Sept. 19 press conference.

For now, Samangani specifies two general prohibitions: “There are two issues we won’t tolerate — when our religious rights are attacked, and second, when there’s an obvious agenda against our national interest,” he says. “Apart from these two items, I told you we are open to accepting criticism and we can be held accountable. But the problem is that the regime is not formed well yet. It is in the process of forming and it is our view that all institutions should start their affairs first, and that will allow for better cooperation and dissemination of information. That’s when we will be ready to have long investigative stories and we will cooperate with them.”

When asked about the violent detention of Daryabi and his colleague, Samangani expresses regret but deflects blame.

“We believe that the journalists turned into the victims of an illegal protest. The protest was not run in cooperation with the government and legal systems,” he says. “Unfortunately, the mujahideen who were there for security were not aware and were not prepared to deal with that.”

The Taliban are unlikely to promote press freedom

Even the most ardent critics of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan regard the flowering of Afghan media as one of the country’s greatest success stories of the last 20 years. Few could have imagined that TVs — largely banned during Taliban rule in the 1990s — or radios, which only carried propaganda and Islamic programming back then, would eventually offer a vibrant array of news, programming and entertainment. By this year, the country had roughly 70 television stations, more than 170 FM radio stations and 175 newspapers.

Butler fears Afghanistan is likely headed toward a system in which the Taliban control what journalists write. “Journalists who step over a line will get into trouble one way or another,” he warns.

As foreign correspondents are called to cover other crises and conflicts, the world’s attention will inevitably turn away from Afghanistan. It is at that moment that the story of Afghanistan will fall squarely on the shoulders of Afghan journalists — and that, Butler says, is when the Taliban’s true positions on a free press will come into focus.

“You have to ask yourself, is this a government that is willing to accept criticism, you know, sharp criticism that a free press normally would deliver?” says Butler. “I think it’s unlikely.”

Fazelminallah Qazizai reported from Kabul.

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The U.S. will soon allow nonessential travelers from Canada and Mexico again

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The U.S. will soon allow nonessential travelers from Canada and Mexico again

A U.S. port of entry in Blaine, Wash., at the U.S.-Canada border, is seen on Aug. 9.

Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

The United States is taking a major step toward reopening its borders with Canada and Mexico.

Beginning next month, the U.S. will allow nonessential travelers to enter the country along the long land borders it shares with its two neighbors.

Nonessential entry has been barred since the early weeks of the global COVID-19 pandemic, in March 2020. That’s despite the fact that Canada began allowing vaccinated Americans back in in August.

Inbound nonessential travelers will have to prove they are fully vaccinated, along with other more standard paperwork required for legal entry.

The move parallels a recently announced step for international air travelers.

The Biden administration has not announced the exact date that either policy will go into effect, only saying “early November” in a call with reporters. Other details — like whether the U.S. will consider the many Canadians who received doses of two different COVID-19 vaccines as “fully vaccinated” — have not been clarified yet either.

As of right now, people traveling into the U.S. for essential reasons do not have to be vaccinated. Administration officials say they’ll begin requiring vaccinations across the board — for both essential and nonessential travel — in January.

The vaccination mandates for foreign travelers are among the latest increasingly strict steps the Biden administration is taking to require COVID-19 shots.

President Biden began by urging Americans to get vaccinated, and then cheering on universities and private employers that imposed their own mandates. Biden then started imposing more limited vaccination requirements on health care workers, the U.S. military and other groups, before announcing that all employees at large workplaces would have to be inoculated or be tested weekly.

All these steps came as the delta variant surged across the United States, despite hundreds of millions of vaccines administered, and billions of dollars directed toward distributing more personal protective equipment, coronavirus tests and other efforts.

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