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Mohamed Barud was a 31-year-old newlywed when he was sentenced to life in prison in Somalia.

This was 1981. Somalia was ruled by a military dictator, Siad Barre. And Mohamed's crime, if you can call it that, was writing a letter complaining about conditions at the local hospital, a complaint the government saw as treasonous. Mohamed was put in solitary confinement.

"It was strictly forbidden to talk to your neighbors. So you walk forward and backward." Just three short steps.

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Mohamed Barud was a 31-year-old newlywed when he was sentenced to life in prison in Somalia.

The World Economic Forum sounds like it should be a gathering of nerdy people in discounted suits in a mid-range hotel in an off-season resort, all standing around drinking Two-Buck Chuck and discussing wonky things like cost-benefit analysis and market-driven incentives.

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Editor's note: This post is an update of an earlier story, from the Invisibilia podcast and program, which is broadcast on participating public radio stations.

In what countries are women and men on the most equal footing?

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If you're in South Sudan and something big happens in your life — you get married, you buy property or pay a penalty for a crime — cows are most likely involved. Cows are currency and credit card and bank account rolled into one. In South Sudan, banks can go bankrupt — cows are more reliable. At least that's how it used to be.

This story comes from NPR's Rough Translation podcast, which explores how ideas we wrestle with in the U.S. are being discussed in the rest of the world.

Sophia Lierenfeld didn't set out to give dating advice to Syrian refugees.

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Two days before my first trip to Afghanistan, in 2007, I was terrified, speaking no Dari and having never interviewed anyone in a war zone. On impulse, I grabbed my little red travel accordion, mumbling something about using the "universal language of music" to connect with people whose world seemed wholly different from my own.

Michael Sharp believed in the power of persuasion. The 34-year-old Kansan with the round face and a penchant for plaid shirts would walk, unarmed, deep into rebel-held territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sit in the shade of banana trees with rebels and exchange stories.

Inevitably, those stories would turn to the past. "Rebels love talking about the past," Michael once told me.

As part of the project A Nation Engaged, NPR and member stations are exploring America's role in the world heading into the presidential election.

Everyone knew President Obama would say something about gay rights when he visited Kenya last summer. Many American activists were pressing him to publicly condemn Kenya's colonial-era law making homosexuality a crime.

At 16, Roda Hassan was the top scoring girl student in her high school exams in all of Somaliland.

The videos trickled out slowly on social media — slowly, because those posting them had to use special software to get around what seemed to be a government-imposed internet block.

This video showed thousands of people in the streets of the northern Ethiopian town of Gondar. The size of the crowd was significant in a country where civil protests are usually banned.

Even more significant? The location o f this anti-government protest.

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