In Washington, three weddings (whew!) and a shutdown

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Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, greets couples unable to obtain marriage licenses because of the partial federal government shutdown after signing the "Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Act of 2019," or "LOVE Act," which gives the mayor the authority to issue marriage licenses, following a signing ceremony in Washington, DC, January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, signs the "Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Act of 2019," or "LOVE Act," which gives the mayor the authority to issue marriage licenses during the partial federal government shutdown during a signing ceremony in Washington, DC, January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, greets couples unable to obtain marriage licenses because of the partial federal government shutdown after signing the "Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Act of 2019," or "LOVE Act," which gives the mayor the authority to issue marriage licenses, following a signing ceremony in Washington, DC, January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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Wedding planner Rachel Rice, owner and operator of The One Moment Events, is pictured January 11, 2019 at her shop in Fairfax, Virginia. (AFP)
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Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, greets couples unable to obtain marriage licenses because of the partial federal government shutdown after signing the "Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Act of 2019," or "LOVE Act," which gives the mayor the authority to issue marriage licenses, following a signing ceremony in Washington, DC, January 11, 2019. (AFP)
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District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, seated, holds the LOVE Act she just signed joined by soon to be newlyweds, Claire O'Rourke, left and her fiancé Sam Bockenhauer; Caitlin Walters, back left, and her fiance Kirk Kasa; and Danielle Geanacopoulos, second from right, and her fiance Dan Pollock, right, after signing the LOVE Act that will allow couples to get married in the District despite the government shutdown during a ceremony at the Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, (AP)
Updated 13 January 2019
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In Washington, three weddings (whew!) and a shutdown

WASHINGTON: There doesn’t seem to be much love in the air in Washington these days, as a long and bitter government shutdown drags on with no end in sight.
But couples whose marriage plans were thwarted by the partial shutdown have gotten a break, thanks to the action of Mayor Muriel Bowser and city council.
The city’s Marriage Bureau, part of the US capital’s federally funded court system, had been deemed “nonessential” and shuttered as part of the thorny standoff between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats.
But on Friday, Bowser signed an emergency measure authorizing city officials to validate marriages in the absence of the Marriage Bureau, which closed when the budget standoff began on December 22.
“They can shut down the US government, but they cannot shut down love in the District of Columbia,” City Council member Brandon Todd said when he introduced the measure.
Titled the Let Our Vows Endure Emergency Amendment Act, or LOVE act, the law is valid for 90 days and will spare future brides like Claire O’Rourke from finding themselves in Kafkaesque situations.
“Practically, we couldn’t sign all the legal certificates during the shutdown without having a marriage license,” O’Rourke, a Washingtonian who was preparing to wed fiance Sam Bockenhauer, told AFP.
“So we were going to have a wonderful party, of course, but couldn’t be legally married in DC until we got our marriage license.”
Some couples, like Dan Pollock and Danielle Geanacopoulos, had no time to spare. They managed to get their wedding license on December 27, just two days before their scheduled wedding.

“By the time we figured out we couldn’t get a license, we were running out of time before friends and family were coming to Washington to celebrate with us,” Geanacopoulos said. “So we focused on the really important thing — celebrating — and decided to figure out the rest later.”
Her mother, Daphne, said she was “delighted.”
“We had a really great big wedding two weeks ago... (but) it feels wonderful to have it official.”
For Caitlin Walters, who plans to wed Kirk Kasa on February 2 on the campus of Catholic University, the shutdown was simply “a small speed bump in the road.”
“Obviously we knew about the shutdown, but we didn’t know that it would directly affect our ability to get married in DC legally,” said Walters, a New York resident who was determined to get married in the nation’s capital.
But while some have taken the shutdown in stride, it has brought “chaos” to those in the wedding business.
“It’s a lot of chaos, it’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Rachel Rice, a wedding planner who recently had to shift a wedding ceremony from Washington to nearby Virginia.
Even if the shutdown were to end next month, Rice said, “some people might say, ‘I can’t wait to book my venue; I have to book my catering, my photographer.’“
On top of that, the approximately 800,000 federal employees sent home or forced to work without pay — some of them with wedding plans, no doubt — have just missed their first paycheck and will be forced to scale back their plans.
Claire O’Rourke has her own shutdown-related regret.
She had hoped to have her official wedding photo taken in the National Portrait Gallery.
But like most of the capital’s vast Smithsonian system, the popular museum remains closed.


Rwanda’s rhino population grows, tourists expected to increase

Updated 25 June 2019
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Rwanda’s rhino population grows, tourists expected to increase

  • There are only about 1,000 black rhinos left in the wild, Jes Gruner, the Akagera National Park manager, said
  • In 2017 tourism earned Rwanda $437 million

KIGALI: Rhino keepers who successfully delivered five endangered black rhinos to Rwanda spent months hugging and coddling them inside their transport boxes to prepare them for the journey, a rhino handler said as the animals were freed on Monday.
The two male and three female eastern black rhinoceroses were flown from Safari Park Dour Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic, where they had been getting to know each other after arriving from separate European parks.
“The preparation process took several months. It started in autumn last year when two animals were brought here from Denmark and England. They started to bond, which always takes weeks because black rhinos are very alert and nervous animals,” said rhino handler Jaromir Sejnoha from the Dvur Kralove Safari Park.
“In the final phase (of preparations) the rhino is trained to stay inside the box for several minutes. We feed them and hug them in there, so they aren’t scared of the box and become accustomed to it, and so on the day of transportation they don’t get nervous and the whole transportation goes smoothly.”
There are only about 1,000 black rhinos left in the wild, Jes Gruner, the Akagera National Park manager, said. The new arrivals mean Rwanda is home to 25 of them.
Tourism is a key foreign exchange earner in the East African nation, home to mountain gorillas and the so-called “Big Five” African game animals — lions, rhinos, elephants, buffalo, and leopard.
“Every year our tourism numbers are going up and bringing these rhinos I am sure will help,” Gruner said.
The park received 44,000 visitors who generated over $2 million last year, Gruner said.
In 2017 tourism earned Rwanda $437 million. Clare Akamanzi, chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board, said 2018 numbers were not yet ready due to a change of methodology.
The push for tourist dollars in not without controversy. The government’s 2018 deal to pay British football club Arsenal £30 million ($38 million) to have “Visit Rwanda” emblazoned on the team’s jersey was criticized by politicians in some donor nations who questioned whether it was a good use of money by a government still heavily dependent on foreign aid.