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World

These are the top stories NPR's correspondents around the world recommend from 2021

Iraq's average annual temperatures are increasing at nearly double the rate of Earth's temperature rise. This photograph accompanies Ruth Sherlock's <a href="https://www.npr.org/2021/11/07/1051468823/iraq-marshes-climate-change-cop26">story about how climate change</a> is affecting marshlands and the way of life in Iraq.
Mootaz Sami for NPR
Iraq's average annual temperatures are increasing at nearly double the rate of Earth's temperature rise. This photograph accompanies Ruth Sherlock's <a href="https://www.npr.org/2021/11/07/1051468823/iraq-marshes-climate-change-cop26">story about how climate change</a> is affecting marshlands and the way of life in Iraq.

In a year bookended by coronavirus variants, NPR's far-flung correspondents overcame lockdowns and climbed out from their bureaus to deliver their signature feature storytelling and news coverage.

There was a lot to cover. Even as the pandemic continued, major crises broke out, like the war in Gaza, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and pitched battles in Ethiopia. Displaced people around the world faced incredible hurdles as they searched for safe refuge. Disasters struck, fueled by climate change. Global supply chains rattled. A new U.S. administration tried to reengage with the world.

But off all the breaking news, there was also a summer when some of the pandemic-related restrictions eased up and our correspondents set out to provide a travel series as well as unearthing a slew of other feature stories that brought audiences closer to cultural and social issues around the world.

We asked the network's international journalists and contributing reporters to recommend one of their stories from the year. Here are their selections.

That's 'comrade' to you! North Korea fights to purge outside influences on language

North Korea is trying to purge foreign cultural influences, including South Korean variations on the language that the two countries share. Experts say controlling language is an uphill battle. — Anthony Kuhn

On Mexico's southern border, the latest migration surge is Haitian

Thousands of Haitian migrants who had lived in South America for years are crossing into Mexico, overwhelming that country's capacity to process them. Many say their ultimate destination is the U.S. — Carrie Kahn

Haitian migrants jockey for position in line once they learn that there will no more buses for the rest of the day, outside the Mexican city of Tapachula, near the country's southern border with Guatemala. Decades of political and economic instability have led Haitians to leave their country seeking better lives abroad.
/ Richard Tsong-Taatarii for NPR
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Richard Tsong-Taatarii for NPR
Haitian migrants jockey for position in line once they learn that there will be no more buses for the rest of the day, outside the Mexican city of Tapachula, near the country's southern border with Guatemala. Decades of political and economic instability have led Haitians to leave their country seeking better lives abroad.

A haven for Soviet rock and roll is long gone but its music still resonates

Forty years ago in the Soviet Union, a group of underground musicians opened a venue where they and their friends could perform. The Leningrad Rock Club remains a legend of Russian counterculture. — Charles Maynes

22 members of one family killed in Gaza

Days of airstrikes left thousands of Gazans homeless and grieving. — Daniel Estrin

'I was absolutely terrified': American Sam Goodwin describes Syrian prison time

The traveler tells the story of his two months held in Syria's notorious prisons and how his family got a Lebanese official to help secure his release. — Deborah Amos

'I cry at night': Afghan mothers struggle to feed their children in the pandemic

Mothers share their plight to provide the children sustenance. — Diaa Hadid

Shaista sits in her tiny home on the outskirts of Kabul. Her youngest, a 3-year-old girl, sits on her lap; some of her other seven children sit beside her. Behind them, she is boiling a pot of water on the wood-burning stove. But she's told the children it is dinner, and she tells them, "just wait for your father." Then she hopes they'll fall asleep, because there's no food to give them.
/ Diaa Hadid/NPR
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Diaa Hadid/NPR
Shaista sits in her tiny home on the outskirts of Kabul. Her youngest, a 3-year-old girl, sits on her lap; some of her other seven children sit beside her. Behind them, she is boiling a pot of water on the wood-burning stove. But she's told the children it is dinner, and she tells them, "just wait for your father." Then she hopes they'll fall asleep, because there's no food to give them.

This French pianist has been playing for 102 years and just released a new album

Colette Maze, now 107, began playing the piano at age 5. She defied the social conventions of her era to embrace music as a profession rather than as a pastime. She has just released her sixth album. — Eleanor Beardsley

In China, Atlanta shooting victim's kin struggle to understand her — and her death

To her family in southern China, Feng Daoyou remains a mystery. They remember her as generous and headstrong but they knew little of her life in the U.S. She was among eight people killed on March 16. — Emily Feng

Examining Ethiopia's civil war, which has roots that are centuries old

The civil war in Ethiopia has roots that stretch back millennia. A great tragedy is that so many people once peripheral to the fight have been radicalized. — Eyder Peralta

Pair your pints with a trip through history on this British pub crawl across London

The quintessential British institutions have changed over time and now face threats to their very existence. — Frank Langfitt

Afghan music students escaped the Taliban and are beginning their new lives abroad

Students and faculty with the Afghanistan National Institute of Music flew last week from Doha to Lisbon, where they will start their new lives and reconstitute their celebrated academy in exile. — Hannah Bloch

Fayaz, 19, holds his rubab. He is one of the lucky few who was able to take his own musical instrument with him when he fled Afghanistan.
Fatma Tanis / NPR
/
NPR
Fayaz, 19, holds his rubab. He is one of the lucky few who was able to take his own musical instrument with him when he fled Afghanistan.

As U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, experts assess the results of reconstruction

The U.S. spent billions to support reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan over the past two decades. The results have been mixed. American experts are assessing some of the lessons learned. — Jackie Northam

Asylum-seekers make harrowing journeys in pandemic, only to be turned back

Rights groups accuse nations of using COVID-19 as an excuse to shut out refugees. Here's one story of migrants who attempted a risky voyage across the Mediterranean, but Malta sent them back to Libya. — Joanna Kakissis

A dinghy crowded with people on the water is lit by cellphone lights.
/ Hokyoung Kim for NPR
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Hokyoung Kim for NPR

He left Cuba for the U.S., and wound up trekking through 60 miles of dangerous jungle

An NPR team follows Omar Vivó as he sets off from Colombia for the U.S., traversing part of the Darién Gap, where the dangers include raging rivers, snakes and criminals who prey on migrants. — John Otis

50 years later, the legacy of U.S.-China 'pingpong diplomacy' faces challenges

April 10 marks the 50th anniversary of when U.S. table tennis players first visited China in a diplomatic breakthrough. But today, the political winds have shifted — in both countries. — John Ruwitch

Chinese and U.S. table tennis players train together in April 1971 in Beijing. April 10 marked the 50th anniversary of what became known as pingpong diplomacy between the two nation.
Staff / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Chinese and U.S. table tennis players train together in April 1971 in Beijing. April 10 marked the 50th anniversary of what became known as pingpong diplomacy between the two nations.

A world court inches closer to a reckoning in the Philippines' war on drugs

The International Criminal Court's former top prosecutor asked it to investigate suspected crimes against humanity committed during President Duterte's war on drugs. — Julie McCarthy

In India, boy meets girl, proposes — and gets accused of jihad

New state laws make it harder for interfaith couples to marry. The idea is to halt forced marital religious conversions. But they've emboldened extremists to interrupt weddings. — Lauren Frayer

State Department should be more diverse and engaged across U.S., report says

The Biden administration pledges a foreign policy that delivers to middle-class Americans. Linking up to locales across the country — outside D.C. — could help with that, according to a report from the Truman Center. — Michele Kelemen

Istanbul man turns passion for ship spotting into beneficial hobby

One man in Turkey has made a following for himself by tracking one of the world's busiest and most scenic waterways, the Bosporus strait. — Peter Kenyon

Brazil is looking like the worst place on Earth for COVID-19

The country was in crisis, with hospitals at capacity, politicians attacked for lockdowns and a controversial president. — Philip Reeves

Health workers care for COVID-19 patients in the emergency room of a hospital in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on March 11.
Silvio Avila / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Health workers care for COVID-19 patients in the emergency room of a hospital in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on March 11.

Croatia's economy needs tourists. It's opening the doors to vaccinated Americans

For Croatia, the most tourism-dependent country in Europe, opening up quickly is crucial to reviving its pandemic-battered economy. Tourist numbers plummeted last year. — Rob Schmitz

In Iraq's famed marshlands, climate change is upending a way of life

Drought and extreme heat that scientists link to climate change are altering the UNESCO-protected marshlands. Iraq's average annual temperatures are increasing at nearly double the rate of Earth's. — Ruth Sherlock

A once-forgotten port of Italy is alive with a diverse cultural and literary legacy

Overshadowed by nearby Venice, the lesser-known city of Trieste is one of Italy's great destinations and once the stomping ground of great writers like James Joyce. — Sylvia Poggioli

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Few tourists venture as far as Trieste, a city tucked in Italy's northeast corner on the Adriatic Sea.
/ Arianna Pagani for NPR
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Arianna Pagani for NPR
Few tourists venture as far as Trieste, a city tucked in Italy's northeast corner on the Adriatic Sea.