Saturday, December 24, 2016

World's last wild frankincense forests are under threat

Jason Patinkin
...So imagine that we'd have to retell or restructure the Christmas story because children in the future do not have a clue on what the gift of one of the Magi was...Frankincense...and all because we wanted to fill our pockets today....
In a tradition dating to Biblical times, men rise at dawn in the rugged Cal Madow mountains of Somaliland in the Horn of Africa to scale rocky outcrops in search of the prized sap of wild frankincense trees.
Bracing against high winds, Musse Ismail Hassan climbs with his feet wrapped in cloth to protect against the sticky resin. With a metal scraper, he chips off bark and the tree's white sap bleeds into the salty air. "My father and grandfather were both doing this job," said Hassan, who like all around here is Muslim. "We heard that it was with Jesus."
When dried and burned, the sap produces a fragrant smoke which perfumes churches and mosques around the world. Frankincense, along with gold and myrrh, was brought by the Three Kings as gifts in the Gospel account of the birth of Jesus.
But now these last intact wild frankincense forests on Earth are under threat as prices have shot up in recent years with the global appetite for essential oils. Overharvesting has led to the trees dying off faster than they can replenish, putting the ancient resin trade at risk.
"(Frankincense) is something that is literally given by God to humanity, so if we don't preserve it, if we don't take care of it, if we don't look after it, we will lose that," said Shukri Ismail, Somaliland's minister of environment and rural development.
The Cal Madow mountains, which rise from the Gulf of Aden in sheer cliff faces reaching over 8,000 feet (2,440 meters), are part of Somaliland, an autonomous republic in Somalia's northwest. The frankincense trade is Somaliland's largest source of government revenue after livestock and livestock products, Ismail said.
Harvesting frankincense is risky. The trees can grow high on cliff edges, shallow roots gripping bare rock slithering with venomous snakes. Harvesters often slip and tumble down canyon walls.
"Every year people either break both legs or die. Those casualties are so often," said Hassan, adding that he wished he had proper ropes and climbing gear. "It's a very dangerous job, but we don't have any alternative."
Once the resin is collected, women sort the chunks by color and size. The various classes of resin are shipped to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and eventually Europe and America. Besides its use as incense, frankincense gum is distilled into oil for use in perfumes, skin lotions, medicine and chewing gum.
In the last six years, prices for raw frankincense have shot up from around $1 per kilogram to $5 to $7, said Anjanette DeCarlo, an ecologist and director of Conserve Cal Madow, an environmental group.
The rise in demand is the result of stronger marketing in the essential oils industry, which labels frankincense as the "King of Essential Oils," DeCarlo said. The dwindling supply of high-quality resin, and competition between exporters, also are factors.
Now over-tapping is destroying the trees across the Cal Madow, as tappers try to extract as much sap as possible and make too many cuts per tree. They also tap the trees year-round rather than seasonally, preventing the trees from recovering.
"The death rate of the adult trees is alarming," DeCarlo said. "There is potential for regeneration, but it takes about 40 years or so for these trees to become viable for tapping if it's done right."
Officials worry the ancient trade could disappear.
"Frankincense that the pharaohs were using came from here, so you could imagine it has a history, it has a rich history," Ismail said. "I'm afraid that we will lose that rich history."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A woman turns down her boyfriend’s marriage proposal... Then he kills her

Jason Eaton went to his girlfriend’s Indiana home last week with an engagement ring, he told police. He planned on proposing to Wendy Sabatini, according to court documents. But Sabatini told Eaton “no” before he even got the question out.

Then, Eaton grabbed a gun, he later told police.

Eaton now stands accused in the fatal shooting of Sabatini. The Greensburg Daily News reports that Eaton faces a murder charge in connection with Sabatini’s death, a crime authorities say he has confessed to. Eaton walked into the Greensburg police department on Oct. 25 and asked to speak with an officer, according to a probable cause affidavit. He told the officer that he had killed his girlfriend, and authorities went out to check on Sabatini.

They were met at Sabatini’s Indiana home by her son, who thought his mother was still at work. The son was eating dinner after an internship, and was “unaware of any problems in the home,” the affidavit notes.

“Officers searched the residence and found Sabatini deceased in an upstairs bedroom from an apparent single gunshot wound to the crown of her head,” the documents read. “A firearm located inside the bedroom was found and seized.”

After Eaton was detained at the police station, he told police about the failed proposal attempt and subsequent shooting.

“Eaton advised that earlier in the afternoon, he was speaking to Sabatini in the upstairs bedroom and approached her with an engagement ring, with the intent to ask Sabatini to marry Eaton. Sabatini declined before he asked,” the court documents state. “Eaton said that he then retrieved a firearm from a nightstand and moved behind Sabatini, who was seated on the opposite side of the bed. Eaton said the gun fired, striking Sabatini in the head.”

Eaton told police that he left the gun in the bedroom and went downstairs. Eventually, he told investigators, he left the house and traveled to the home of another woman.

Eaton told that woman “that he messed up and he thinks he killed Sabatini,” the affidavit states. The pair then drove to the police department.

The affidavit notes that the investigation is ongoing, “with regard to intent, motive and timeline.”

“The investigation by the Greensburg Police Department is ongoing,” Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Harter said in a statement released to the Greensburg Daily News. “Any person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This office will have no further comment on this pending criminal case, consistent with the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct.”

A message left with Eaton’s attorney was not immediately returned.
Sabatini’s son, Lake, spoke with Fox 59 after the shooting, telling the station that he knew his mother, who was divorced, would turn down a proposal, saying that she simply did not want to get remarried.
“Anybody instantly would fall in love when you met her,” he said of his mother. “She was a wonderful person.”

Sabatini’s sister told the Fox affiliate that she was shocked by Eaton’s reaction to the rejection.

“I would have never seen this side out of him, but I guess you truly don’t know everybody,” Heather Rasmus told the station. “He just didn’t get the answer he wanted.”

Of her slain sister, Rasmus said: “She was a very stern woman. She stood her ground.”

Sabatini’s friends remembered the 44-year-old as a supportive woman who was “inspiring,” according to the Logansport Pharos-Tribune. Her ex-husband recalled her smile, telling the newspaper that when they met: “I couldn’t take my eyes off her.”

“There was just something about her,” John Sabatini told the Pharos-Tribune. “She was always smiling.”

Another acquaintance, Lora Collins, said learned of Sabatini’s death the morning after the shooting, after noticing several missed calls.

“If she wanted something,” Collins told the newspaper, “Wendy went out and got it. But she was also so humble and had an awesome personality, and I will always remember that laughter.”

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Couple Waited 9 Years to Unwrap Wedding Gift That Read 'Do Not Open Until 1st Disagreement'

No offense to your Vitamix, but it's safe to say that this is the greatest wedding gift of all time.

Although Kathy and Brandon Gunn have been married since Sept. 1, 2007, they still had one wedding that they hadn't opened – until this May. Kathy wrote a post explaining why they'd waited to open the gift, which was from her great Aunt Alison and was attached to a note that read, "Do not open until your first disagreement."

"Now, there had obviously been plenty of disagreements, arguments and slammed doors throughout our 9 years," she wrote in the post, which was shared by the page Love What Matters on August 29. "There were even a couple of instances where we both considered giving up but we never opened the box."

Kathy admits that they'd avoided opening the box after all these years because they thought it would have symbolized a failure. "To us, it would have meant that we didn't have what it takes to make our marriage work – and we're both too stubborn and determined for that," she wrote. "So it forced us to reassess situations. Was it really time to open the box? What if this isn't our worst fight? What if there's a worse one ahead of us and we don't have our box?!"

In May, after almost a decade and three moves, they finally decided to open the box, and found two hand-written notes wrapped around some cash, as well as wine glasses and bath products. The note to Kathy told her to buy pizza ("or something you both like") and prepare a bath, and the note to Brandon said, "Go get flowers and a bottle of wine."

In the end, Kathy wrote that they had been enjoying this gift for almost a decade, even though the box – which she calls "the greatest wedding gift of all" – hadn't been opened.

"I realized that the tools for creating a strong, healthy marriage were never within that box – they were within us."

In an interview with PEOPLE, Kathy opened up about how their story has inspired other couples.

"My husband and I are in awe of how much attention this story has garnered," she says. "I had only intended to give credit to my great aunt and share how important the box was for my husband and I – and the lessons that it had inadvertently taught us. Now that our story has gotten so much attention and has inspired others, it seems to be the gift that keeps on giving!"

As for her wise great aunt, Kathy says, "She is just tickled by how much attention this has gotten – how many people have shared that they wish they had an 'Aunt Alison' and those that think her gift was absolutely genius. She didn't realize just how special the gift was to us until a number of years after our wedding when she found out that we hadn't opened it yet.

"Aunt Alison was surprised that we kept it for nine years, then the lessons it taught us – inadvertently – and now she's even more surprised at the response our story has received."

And when it comes to their best advice to other couples when it comes to handling disagreements, she says, "For the little things, learn how to disagree and move on. For the bigger things, learn how to get mad and get over it. Giving up was never an option in our situation because we never had the illusion that marriage was going to be easy. Building that strong foundation is hard work – but once it's set, it will provide a lifetime of friendship, partnership and love."


Thursday, July 14, 2016

9 Things That Bore Wedding Guests to Death

You can't please everyone! When it comes to weddings especially, this statement couldn't be truer. No matter how hard you try or what precautions you take, there are bound to be a few yawn inducing moments in every big day (yes, even at the best of them).

1.   Tons of traditional dances
"The billion dances they do! The first dance, father daughter, mother son, grandparents, money dance, bridal party dance, etc., etc. Usually by the time they're done my buzz has already worn off." — Candace 
View our complete list of the best white dress looks from the red carpet.

2. Slideshows
"I feel bad even saying this, but I think wedding slideshows are so boring. They keep me entertained for the first minute or two. After that though I kind of zone out and stop paying attention. Most go on for far too long, and you can tell other guests have lost interest too. Keep it short and sweet if you're going to do it." — Deena

3. Never ending speeches
"They're the worst! I went to a big wedding last year where after the planned wedding speecheswere done, the bride and groom passed the microphone around to every single table so that each guest would have the opportunity to say something. This took an hour minimum and was painful to sit through." — Jordan

4. Poorly timed cake cuttings
"This seems to happen at every wedding I attend! The evening is flowing beautifully and everyone is having an awesome time. Then out of nowhere, bam! The party suddenly stops and we're all ushered off the dance floor for a five minute cake cutting." — Brittney
View our complete list of how to find the perfect wedding dress for your body type.

5. Bad music
"DJs that only play one type of music or all oldies bore me. At my cousin's wedding, it was 70s rock the entire night and not even the good stuff. At another wedding I went to, the band played a bunch of  original songs that no one was really feeling." — Courtney

6. Receiving lines
"They feel like they last forever, particularly at big weddings. The guests at the front are sitting in an empty room for almost an hour trying to find ways to kill time and the guests at the back are shuffling from foot to foot just to avoid blisters. Don't do it!" — Morgan
View our complete list of celebrity-approved honeymoon destinations.

7. A big gap between the ceremony and reception
"Ugh, don't even get me started.This happened recently at a destination wedding in a tiny town where there was literally nothing to do except go back to our hotel and watch HGTV for three hours while starving." —Jenna

8. Long readings

"Not many people are very good at doing ceremony readings so it's often just painfully slow and super boring and makes an already long ceremony that much longer. Yawn!" — Kamlyn

9. Games

"I was at a wedding where the bride and groom played the newlywed game. They sat back-to-back and answered questions about each other by raising a pink or blue flag. No one cared! Everyone at the table was either drinking or chatting heavily." — Sam

Learning to Love Yourself According to Your Sign

Good self-esteem is vital in order to grow and come out of your shell. It's this self confidence that allows us to achieve our goals in all aspects of our life, but it isn’t always easy… To help resolve this, we’re here to reveal secrets about learning to love yourself according to your star sign!
Self-esteem is developed from infancy to adulthood, and certain wounds can sometimes be detrimental to our relationships and prevent us from living happy carefree lives. Addressing these 'wounds' will make us feel better about ourselves and help us to turn over a new leaf. No need to worry as astrology is here to help…
It’s only a question of learning to love yourself and being aware of your qualities and accepting yourself as you are. Good self-esteem is essential in order to feel at ease in your skin.


You are often too hard on yourself, dear Aries. Be more tolerant and learn how to please yourself. Treat yourself like a friend or a person you love and you’ll be able to perceive your qualities better that way.
The secret to loving yourself: Don’t put so much pressure on yourself in order to attain your goals, be patient and don’t hesitate to stop and enjoy yourself en route to your goal. In short, be more tolerant with yourself!


You mistakenly think that asking for help is a sign of weakness! Accept the helping hand of your loved ones without feeling ashamed. Know that it’s sometimes more beneficial to learn than to teach…
The secret to loving yourself: Learn to ask for help without being ashamed… be proud instead! Keep in mind that asking for help from others doesn’t make you incapable of doing things (it’s quite the contrary, instead!). You’ll soon realize that working in a team offers a different satisfaction… In short, know to ask for help when you need it!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Blood Sucking Skinny Jeans

If you’ve ever done any serious moving in skinny jeans, you’re probably aware that they can get pretty uncomfortable. (They’re definitely not yoga pants.) You probably didn’t know, however, that tight skinny jeans can also get dangerous.
In a new case study published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, doctors highlight a 35-year-old woman who arrived at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia. She presented with weakness in both ankles and feet, so much so that she was unable to walk. She also suffered severe swelling below the knees in both legs, so much so that doctors had to cut her jeans off the previous day.

She recalled to doctors that the issues had begun the day before, when she was helping a relative move and spent hours squatting to empty cupboards. She’d been wearing skinny jeans at the time, and remembered they grew increasingly snug and uncomfortable the longer she had them on.
The doctors determined her symptoms were the result of nerve damage in both legs, due to two factors, according to study author Thomas Kimber, MD, a neurologist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Adelaide.
“It was the combination of squatting and tight jeans that caused the problem,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Squatting would have compressed the peroneal nerves in the lower leg and reduced the blood supply to the calf muscles; the tight jeans meant that, as the calf muscles started to swell in response to the reduced blood supply, they compressed the adjacent tibial nerves and further cut off the blood supply to the muscles.”

This resulted in compartment syndrome, which occurs when there’s increased pressure within one of the body’s “compartments”containing muscles and nerves. The pressure decreases the blood flow that provides key nourishment and oxygen to cells, causing them to swell and further damaging the already-swollen muscles.

You can think about it this way. If the woman had been wearing loose pants or sweats the previous day, Kimber explains, the calf muscles could have swollen “outwards rather than inwards, avoiding pressure on the nerves and blood vessels.” Since there has never been a previous report of squatting alone causing tibial nerve damage or severe calf muscle swelling, the doctors determined skinny jeans were a major contributor.

The fix was prolonged, but simple: the woman was put on an IV drip for four days, before being discharged from the hospital. “This was required, as the muscle damage had caused a condition called rhabdomyolysis — or, severe breakdown of muscle fibers — which might have damaged her kidneys if not treated with IV hydration,” Kimber says.
What’s the lesson here? Kimber says not to squat for any length of time while you’re wearing skinny jeans. If you’re compressing your legs at all in tight pants, don’t ignore discomfort. “If you experience leg discomfort or tingling, you should stand up and walk around,” he says. 
This isn’t the first time skinny jeans have been accused of being unhealthy.
Dr. John Michael Li, a neurologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told CBS Miami that people can suffer from “tight pants syndrome,” or abdominal discomfort, heartburn and belching. They can also cause meralgia paresthetica, or a feeling of numbness running down the leg. And men should be extra careful when donning skinny slacks, as they can bring on testicular torsion, which is where one testicle gets twisted, hampering circulation, causing severe pain, swelling, and — in extreme cases — causing the testicle to die. Ouch! 
Ultimately, consider this case a pretty great (and healthy) excuse for wearing boyfriend jeans, yoga pants — and embracing this season’s wide-legged pants trend.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Locks Market: The Truth Behind the Business of Hair Extensions

By Katherine Zoepf

There's just no way around it -- the bald women are alarming-looking. In this small city in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, they're also everywhere: grandmothers and gawky teenagers and pretty young matrons by the hairless hundreds, walking along the road or squashed into the backs of minibuses or waiting cross-legged in the shade in front of the municipal train station. It's impossible to look directly at them, at first. Despite their gold jewelry and bright saris, their palely gleaming scalps call to mind prisoners, cancer patients, inmates of a 19th-century insane asylum.

The women -- and men, too, though the sight of men with freshly shaved heads is far less startling -- are religious pilgrims visiting Tirumala, a temple of the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism high in the red granite hills above the town of Tirupati. Since the ninth century, devout Hindus have been coming here to pay their respects to the resident deity, Lord Venkateswara, one of the forms of the god Vishnu. And for many of these pilgrims, a visit to the temple is not complete without tonsuring -- a ritual shaving off of all their hair as a gesture of devotion and gratitude to the god. These devotees believe that if they give up their hair, the god will grant them any wish. But in recent years, the practice of tonsuring -- aided by the implacable forces of globalization -- has also helped to make Tirumala into one of the richest religious pilgrimage sites in the world.

For the reason, look no further than the pages of the nearest celebrity gossip weekly. The lush, high-quality hair extensions beloved by celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Britney Spears, and Jessica Simpson have helped create a soaring Western demand for "temple hair," as it is often called. Temple hair most often comes from Tirumala, by far the largest of the South Indian temples where tonsuring is practiced. And at Tirumala, the glossy, healthy, waistlength hair from the heads of young Indian women -- women who typically have not cut their hair since early childhood, and who have never allowed anything harsher than fresh coconut oil and herbal Ayurvedic soap to touch it -- fetches the highest prices.

Brett Butcher, the national program director for the American arm of the Italy-based high-end hair-extensions maker Great Lengths, is rhapsodic as he describes the strength and beauty of temple hair. Even after it has been sorted, cleaned, processed, stripped of color, recolored one of 56 available hues, stitched into extensions, curled or straightened, and bonded to a woman's natural hair, extensions made with temple hair can last for up to six months, all the while being brushed, washed, and styled just as if they were their wearer's own strands.

"It's the highest-quality hair that's available to the mass market in the world," Butcher says. "And the best part is that it's donated by these women, to pay tribute at the temples."

In fact, it can feel a little disconcerting for a foreign visitor to see just how freely thousands of women do give up their hair at Tirumala each day. In the temple's main tonsuring room, a line of women wait, barefoot, on a white tile floor that is grimy, slippery, and strewn with matted clumps of hair. The women are wearing their festival best, saris and shalwar kameez in shades of shocking pink or turquoise or tangerine, and some of them have garlands of jasmine wound around their long braids. One by one the women sit on the floor before a line of five impassive-looking female barbers with towels spread across their laps. One by one they lower their heads forward over the tiled floor.

The barbers are brisk, businesslike. They scarcely look up as they work, periodically dunking the razors in buckets of cold water and taking care to scrape off even the fine hair on the nape of a woman's neck or below her ears. On average, the temple goes through 50,000 blades a day. One by one the women stand up, staggering slightly, perhaps dizzy as the blood rushes from their heads. Their hair -- vast quantities of it -- is being swept into giant steel bins, about eight feet high and roughly twice the diameter of a standard New York City trash can. But most of the women leave the room quickly and don't even turn around to look. If they're aware that anything happens to their hair after they leave, they don't show it.

Teams of men empty the steel bins, methodically stuffing skein after skein of hair into burlap sacks. The sacks of hair are then brought to a central collection point -- several Quonset hut-shaped warehouses behind the temple's main marketing office -- where the hair is spread out and dried. An unmistakably scalpy coconut-oil smell emanates from the wide-gauge screen windows of these vast storage sheds. Inside, the dark piles of human hair are waist-deep.

Good-quality hair -- typically from young women -- that is more than 16 inches long can sell for 12,000 rupees (around $245) per kilogram or more, says Mayoor Balsara, who heads SDTC Exports, an independent company that buys temple hair from Tirumala, does part of its processing, then sells it to Great Lengths. "Because they understand that hair has value, they take great care that it's collected and stored in a proper manner," Balsara says of Tirumala's administrators. (SDTC Exports monitors the temple's storage procedures.) And for good reason: "We call it black gold," says O. Balaji, the chief accounts officer of the Tirumala temple, proudly. After the hair is dried, it is sorted into grades, depending on its length. The price for temple hair has more than tripled over the past five years, thanks to the burgeoning hair-extension industry -- a fact that "was really a big surprise for us," Balaji says. "Really now it is fetching a good amount. The hair must be given lots of importance here because of the amount of revenue it produces. Our deity is now the richest deity in the world."

Three or four times a year, the hair collected at Tirumala is sold at auction. Approximately 500 tons of human hair is sold per year, Balsara says. Before the hair extensions craze began, about ten years ago, the hair was sold to wigmakers or to furniture companies as mattress stuffing -- but far less of it was sold, and for far less money. The hair now brings the temple 100 crore rupees (approximately $20.6 million) annually. The money, Balsara says, is all poured back into the temple and the community: providing the free meal that each needy pilgrim is eligible to receive upon a visit to the temple, for example, and supporting local hospitals and religious schools.

"My favorite thing about Great Lengths, which I just love, love, love, is that the hair is a huge source of revenue for these needy communities," Butcher says. (Great Lengths is not the only company that buys hair originating from Tirumala -- hair extensions makers and wigmakers worldwide purchase temple hair -- but it is the biggest.) "The temple funds schools and medical centers," Butcher says. "It maybe looks a little brutal when you see the hair being cut off, but the pilgrims feel that it's really an honor for them to do this."

Fair enough, but are the female pilgrims to Tirumala -- whose hair fetches the money -- aware of what their hair is worth, or of the simple fact that it's being sold in the first place?

In the warm morning sunlight outside the tonsuring room, the mood among all the so-called "tonsure pilgrims" -- the roughly 10 percent of visitors to Tirumala who donate their hair -- has lightened, now that the ritual is complete. Hindu holy Muzak plays in the background and families mill around the gift shops, gardens, and snack stalls outside the main temple. Small children are wailing -- after having their own hair cut off or perhaps confronting a bald mother for the first time -- and the passersby shoot their parents warm, understanding looks. But among the adults, there seems to be a sense of giddiness and shared relief that the tonsuring ordeal has passed.

Para Sakthi, a 40-year-old pilgrim wearing a fuchsia sari and a large gold nose ring and clutching her 6-year-old daughter, Manju, by the hand, explains that she and Manju were both tonsured that morning as a gesture of thanks for the health of their cow.

"We had a cow at home that was sick," explains Sakthi, who is from the city of Vellore, in Tamil Nadu. "Everyone was earning money from the cow -- that cow supported us all. We asked God to please heal our cow, and it worked. Now our cow is better, so we have come to Tirumala."

Asked how long her hair had been before making her pilgrimage to Tirumala for tonsuring, Sakthi grins broadly and gestures at a point on her lower thigh. "I wanted to offer it to God," she says. "I have grown my hair since childhood. If you have a problem and God helps, this is what you do."

Sakthi furrows her brow momentarily when asked if she knows that the hair from tonsurings at Tirumala is later sold to make hair extensions. When told that hair extensions can cost as much as $3,000 at salons in the United States -- more than triple the average yearly per capita income in India, just over $800 -- her smile vanishes. She rolls her eyes skyward.

"Well, I didn't know this, that our hair was sold," Sakthi says. "But it doesn't bother me as long as the money goes to God."

But the money certainly doesn't all go to the temple. After the hair is sold at temple auctions to Indian hair brokers, it typically is sold to factories in India where it is sorted by length and goes through the first stages of cleaning, fumigating, and processing. Then it is sold to wigmakers or hair-extensions makers, who process the hair further at facilities in Tunisia and Italy. From there, it is sold to distributors in dozens of countries around the world, who in turn sell the hair extensions to salons. All involved take a cut.

After their tonsuring, Sakthi and Manju join the line to get into the main temple. "Doing darshan," as viewing the statue of Lord Venkateswara in the temple's inner sanctum is called, typically follows the head-shaving ritual and can take 14 hours or more. It is a deeply emotional experience for many pilgrims. When, after a very long day in line (darshan is a strictly shoes-off affair, and there's lots of murky standing water -- with the occasional rat and submerged rock), the pilgrims come within sight of the statue, many burst into tears. So many pilgrims try to sink to their knees, or even faint, in front of the statue that temple workers sometimes physically push the crowd along.

In the train station, two sisters from Hyderabad, 25-year-old Rana and 26-year-old Mangamma, shriek with laughter and clutch each other in disbelief when told, in brief, about the economics of the hair-extensions industry, with the $3,000 figure translated into Indian rupees. Both sisters wear pretty paisley scarves tied kerchief-style over their newly bald heads; both say that their hair had reached below their waists until that morning.

Mangamma claps her hands over her mouth, then over her ears. "I didn't know this!" she exclaims, and repeats herself several times. "I didn't know!" Rana, with delicately arched brows and enormous brown eyes, recovers her composure more quickly. She asks again for an explanation of what hair extensions are and why exactly Western women like Indian hair so much. Then she nods, as if it all suddenly makes perfect sense. "It is for the god, and we are happy," Rana says firmly.

There is a moment of awkwardness as Mangamma absorbs her sister's words and nods slowly. Has her joy in the Tirumala pilgrimage been spoiled with crass talk of the international hair trade, the extensions industry, the coloring and processing and fumigating and stitching that the sisters' heartfelt sacrifice will soon undergo?

But Rana does indeed seem serenely happy: intrigued and flattered to learn that the beauty of Indian hair is known and appreciated by Hollywood celebrities, and even more proud of the gift she's just offered to her beloved deity.

Of course, thousands of young women like her aren't aware of what happens to their Tirumala sacrifice, their beautiful hair. Would it matter to them? Would they want to know? And if they don't know, and are happy, should it matter to us?

The hair-extensions industry has made it easy to get lush tresses. Answering the moral questions it raises is more complicated.