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Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

I have had more on my mind lately than emoticows and would be posting many a blog on each of the various thoughts that catch my attention like jingling keys and the bits of shiny stuff I’d normally follow, BUT the bloody Internet connection here sucks balls this week so I’m stuck struggling even to send emails.

While I have a slight and fleeting chance of getting something up … in the blog sense, of course … I’m going to smoosh a bunch of stuff into one post with the hope it doesn’t end up like a peanut butter, pork chop and prune sandwich and is somewhat digestible.

Ah, yes! The joys of island life …

Aside from the distance, shit Internet, the difficulty of finding a ______(fill in the blank: plumber, electrician, gardener, carpenter, mason … whatever) who will know what they’re doing AND show up, water issues, bad parking, a propensity to blast crap music from fridge-sized speakers and the lack of Mexican restaurants, life here is pretty good.

We have the most beautiful beaches in the world, lovely mountains and forests, tropical weather, a relatively low crime rate, a postal service that works, clean streets, free education and health care, freedom of religion (and freedom not to have one), and some bloody well interesting people.

Almost no one comes to Seychelles casually. It’s too far from anywhere just to drop by and getting here takes no little effort. There were no people living here at all only about 300 years ago, so even the ancestors of early inhabitants would be considered newbies is most places.

Sure, we now get our share of the rich and famous … and royal … popping in for a week or two for holidays in paradise, but it takes an effort and a special sort of person to call Seychelles home for any length of time.

That being the case, I have had the great good fortune of meeting some very special people.

One comes to mind very much now with this week marking the death of Ernest Hemingway, the author of my favorite literary quote, “The road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed dogs” … and a lot of other great stuff … and the man I immediately think of whenever I hear crowds shouting for “Papa”. (How disappointed I’ve been to find it’s the pope they’re yearning for!)

I was a kid when he took his life, an action that put paid to the wonderfully succinct combos of words that grabbed and held and took me to bars I’d end up drinking in in later years, although not to the extent he took the pastime.

So, I never met the man, which is probably an okay thing since he wasn’t known for having a way with children:

… [he] once told his puking ten-year-old son, “I’ll fix you a Bloody Mary — you’ve just got a hangover.”

I have, however, met and count amongst my friends, Hemingway’s pilot. Okay, one of Hemingway’s bush pilots in Africa, but the only one to join Papa in two … count ’em TWO! … crashes, and both within 2 days.

On January 21, 1954, Ernest and Mary took off from Nairobi, with veteran pilot Roy Marsh at the controls. Taking off from Costermansville – today’s Bukavu – the tour was to continue to Entebbe via Murchison Falls.

“But then it happened,” recalls Emmanuel Eyenga, who has brought some guests in his boat to a point near the waterfall. A post with a sign on top it is jutting out of the water. Written on it is “P.B.M. 9026”.

“That was the registration number of the Cessna. It came down right here,” Eyenga says.

While approaching the falls, Marsh had overlooked a telegraph line at the lodge. The pilot managed to make an emergency landing, but the civilised world was far away.

Headlines like “Ernest Hemingway lost in deepest Africa” were splashed across newspapers and obituaries on Hemingway were already appearing in the US even as the search for him continued.

Then, as a passenger plane on a flight from Entebbe to Sudan changed course, the pilot looked down and saw the Cessna.

The trio were picked up by the SS Murchison which took them to Butiaba on Lake Albert. There, they ran into a pilot named Reginald Cartwright, who convinced Ernest, Mary and Roy to fly with him to Entebbe where the world’s press were waiting.

But Cartwright crashed the plane while taking off. Hemingway managed to escape the wreckage only by smashing a door open – with his skull.

Roy Marsh lives here in Seychelles. Now in his 90s, he’s still dashing, charming, witty and wonderful … and smells like the most delicious combination of beer and cookies, for some reason. (Well, the reason for the beer aura is pretty obvious.)

When I first met Roy some years ago he was still playing a few sets of squash every week and could be found in town most any day he was in the country, speeding around and socializing.

Slight and quiet, the man has stories that continue to amaze even on the third or fourth telling and writing about him has been a goal for me for a long time … any excuse to spend hours in the company of such a perfect manifestation of a sort of man that just doesn’t exist in today’s world in any number that can’t be counted on one hand.

It’s Roy who makes me wish the work talked about in this article had come along sooner, although I doubt he’d be lining up for it:

If Aubrey de Grey’s predictions are right, the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born. And the first person to live for 1,000 years could be less than 20 years younger.

For sure, Hemingway wouldn’t have been interested, an idea made clear by the fact that he took himself out of the game.

There are many theories put forward on why it was Papa topped himself 50 years ago … including injuries resulting from the second of those plane crashes he shared with my friend Roy … and a new one makes sense.

One old friend of his puts no little blame on the FBI and J Edgar Hoover’s propensity for making life a misery when he could.

Some have blamed growing depression over the realisation that the best days of his writing career had come to an end. Others said he was suffering from a personality disorder.

Now, however, Hemingway’s friend and collaborator over the last 13 years of his life has suggested another contributing factor, previously dismissed as a paranoid delusion of the Nobel prize-winning writer. It is that Hemingway was aware of his long surveillance by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who were suspicious of his links with Cuba, and that this may have helped push him to the brink.

Writing in the New York Times on the 50th anniversary of Hemingway’s death, AE Hotchner, author of Papa Hemingway and Hemingway and His World, said he believed that the FBI’s surveillance “substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide”, adding that he had “regretfully misjudged” his friend’s fear of the organization.

That Papa had a good imagination is not a question, and what that can do when mixed with fear based on fact is not easy to live with.

No doubt Hemingway suffered from depression. Many writers do. This article in the Times explores the links tying depression, writers and suicide, including Papa, of course.

It is not surprising that these mood disorders seem most at home in the artistic mind. “The cognitive style of manic-depression overlaps with the creative temperament,” Ms. Jamison said. Researchers have found that in a mildly manic state, subjects think more quickly, fluidly and originally. In a depressed state, subjects are self-critical and obsessive, an ideal frame of mind for revision and editing. “When we think of creative writers,” Ms. Jamison said, “we think of boldness, sensitivity, restlessness, discontent; this is the manic-depressive temperament.”

William Styron, author of that cheerful little ditty,”Sophie’s Choice”, wrote about his battle with depression … a fight he never won, but that did not kill him … in Darkness Visible, one of the most helpful bits of writing I have ever been commanded to read.

This is not to say that one must be depressed to write, nor that all depressives can. Sunny dispositions can lead down primrose paths to libraries, but life’s hard edges and awareness of them … even hyper-awareness … does add grist to the mill and grit to the pulp.

Some might say the days of living large are over. My friend Roy might agree. Marty Beckerman seems to:

But we’ve become so afraid of death that we refuse to actually live. We’re scared of the sun because it might give us cancer; we’re scared of a well-marbled steak because it might raise our cholesterol; we’re scared of bullfighting—the only real sport—so we demean ourselves with yoga and Pilates and other such unholy abominations. The closest we come to genuine thrills, genuine danger, is watching IMAX 3-D superhero movies.

Hemingway, however, knew that death isn’t the worst thing in the world. “[C]owardice is worse, treachery is worse, and simple selfishness is worse,” he said. (Also: staying married to the same woman for more than five minutes.)

Perhaps our safety-padded commercial existence is why young people are increasingly drawn to his life and works. Our entire lives are planned out for us before infancy; deviating from the standard path—SAT > college > 24/7 job—is nearly impossible. (Hemingway didn’t bother with college, instead going straight into the trenches of WWI as a medic, proof that an English degree is truly worthless.)

Independence used to mean defining your own existence; now it means paying your own credit-card bill. Freedom used to mean an open road and uncharted waters; now it means choosing between BlackBerry or Droid data plans. Living on our own terms is a foreign concept, but Hemingway bent the world to his liking through sheer gusto, which is very different than the illusion of choice on sale at the Apple Store. Why speak the truth, consequences be damned, when a single impulsive tweet can cost you a career?

Would love to carry on with this for a while, but my Internet connection just might … right now … allow me to post, and I have to go out and unclog a pipe full of shit since the plumber didn’t show up.

Depressing? Well … not exactly a party, but it does give me something to write about.

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A jar of miracle ... make do

“All the tales of miracles, with which the Old and New Testament are filled, are fit only for impostors to preach and fools to believe”
~ Thomas Paine

Growing up as I did with spells of Catholicism constantly cast in my general direction, the idea of miracle cures seemed … well … reasonable for a while. The film version of St. Bernadette’s escapades at Lourdes did much to solidify images of the manifestations made possible by just enough faith to draw the attention of the Man Upstairs toward the suffering of those who jumped through the right hoops and deserved to be healed.

I was probably about ten when it dawned that such concepts pretty much left anyone unhealed in the shit pile of undeserving, a concept contrary to all those warm fuzzies created through the magic of Hollywood and the smoke and mirrors of Rome, and although I will to this day still acknowledge occasional unexplainable restorations of health and the sometimes-effective wonders of modern medicine the idea of miraculous cures seem nothing but more marketing of snake oil in various flavors for the obvious benefit of those collecting the profits.

I do understand the motivation behind the desperately ill, the hopelessly condemned; when there’s nothing left to do but grasp at straws the option can seem sensible, but since none of us get out of this alive, perhaps more than a bit futile or at most a temporary reprieve.

When a miracle can be bought at a reasonable price … a trip to France, maybe, or some set amount of hours on the knees while fingering beads X number of times … it’s a viable option for passing the time. Waiting for the magic to happen isn’t a bad way to spend that eleventh-hour, unless by doing so those last bits of life are sacrificed in the process.

When, however, attempts at intervention come in a jar labeled “Utter bollox at great cost”, the evil of canned hope becomes apparent, as evidenced in this article:

A Tanzanian pastor has asked people to stop going to his remote home for a “miracle cure” after thousands flocked there, causing chaos in the surrounding area.

Rev Ambilikile “Babu” Mwasapile, 76, says he does not want any new arrivals until after Friday 1 April, to let the crowds die down.

Local media report that about 52 people have died while waiting to see him.

A BBC reporter says the queues to see him stretch for 26km (16 miles).

Belief in magic and the powers of traditional healers are widespread in Tanzania.

Some witchdoctors say that the body parts of people with albinism are effective when making magic charms, leading to the killing of dozens of albinos in recent years.

The retired Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania preacher is sick and tired of the crowds of people who are yanking loved ones out of hospitals and making the trek to his village … while dying both before and after spending time and money … as “medical experts” investigate and debate the intrinsic value of his snake oil.

Yeah, sure … this is Africa and such mumbo-jumbo is part of the culture in many areas, but it’s not the only place claptrap flies to the detriment of others.

Although Africa is presently one scene of devastation in the name of remedy, that’s only because one cornucopia of crap has been virtually wiped out in the parts of the world that insist there’s a cure in them thar hairs.

Rhino populations in Africa are facing the “worst poaching crisis for decades,” say conservationists.

Over the past three years, gangs are said to have killed more than 800 rhinos for their horns, which can fetch £22,000 per kilo on the black market.

Experts fear the rise in poaching could undermine recent efforts to stabilise black and white rhino populations.

… t is estimated that 333 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone last year, with a further 70 being shot dead so far this year.

Conservationists suspect that most of the illegally harvested rhino horn are destined for the traditional medicine markets of South-East Asia, and the growing demand and high prices are fuelling the sharp rise in poaching.

We’re not even talking hopeless desperation here, since murdering a magnificent animal seems a fair enough tradeoff for comfort:

Rhino horn is a time-honored component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). For thousands of years, TCM has credited rhino horn with the potency to cure an unusually wide array of maladies, from headaches to pus-filled boils–and even devil possession.

… Rhino horn has been an essential ingredient in traditional chinese medicine for centuries. An unfortunate proximity to China explains why the combined total of the three Asian rhino species (Javan, Sumatran, and greater one-horned rhino) is still smaller than Africa’s critically endangered black rhino population.

Despite China being a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and banning trade in rhinoceros horn and its derivatives in 1993, current rhino poaching levels suggest that the use of rhino horn continues unabated in traditional medicine markets.

According to Bernard Read’s 1931 translation of Li Shih-chen’s 1597 materia medica Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu, rhino horn was prescribed for nearly everything: “To cure devil possession and keep away all evil spirits and miasmas. For gelsemium poisoning. To remove hallucinations and bewitching nightmares. Continuous administration lightens the body and makes one very robust. For typhoid, headache and feverish colds. For carbuncles and boils full of pus. For intermittent fevers with delirium. To expel fear and anxiety, to calm the liver and clear the vision. It is a sedative to the viscera, a tonic, antipyretic. It dissolves phlegm. It is an antidote to the evil miasma of hill streams. For infantile convulsions and dysentery. Ashed and taken with water to treat violent vomiting, food poisoning, and overdosage of poisonous drugs. For arthritis, melancholia, loss of the voice.”

Since rhino horn is made of the same stuff as fingernails … agglutinated hair … hiring nail biters to spit shards into a collection plate would make as much medical sense and perhaps save a species.

Of course, it seems our species … we furless bipedal wimps that we are … calculates our worth in profit-per-head, and it matters little if it’s grinding up albinos, raping child virgins or ridding the world of rhinos … tigers, bears, whatever … that generates income as long as someone can make a buck and others are so easily convinced to hand over their money for snake oil.

Perhaps there’s a way to turn this inborn stupidity to the advantage, however …

How about we try pushing the notion that powdered brain of greedy people will make one rich?

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I’ve just read the most confounding bit of news I’ve seen in a while, and in a source that usually delivers it straight up, making it even more confusing.

It’s this article in the Washington Post that sent me scurrying all over the Internet in search of corroboration and reason.

The story is about George W. Bush’s Africa trip from the angle of PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, where it has succeeded and where it has fallen short. It makes sense, for the most part, as it explains how $15 billion has increased the availability of treatment, but with the rate of infections going up faster than meds can be handed out, that the big picture is not rosy.

The statement that “nearly half of today’s 15-year-olds in South Africa, one of the biggest beneficiaries of the program, will contract the virus in their lifetimes at current infection rates,” jars gratingly against the claim of 157,000 cases of pediatric HIV prevented through providing antiretrovirals to pregnant women, and research that says 40% of those given the lifesaving drugs drop out of the loop, stop taking their meds and most likely die takes some of the gloss off the 1.3 million PEPFAR supports treatment for.

The political motivation combining with whatever portion of the PEPFAR dollar comes from pure benevolence puts an interesting point on the quill, as well:

Studies have shown that family planning could avert far more infections than antiretroviral drugs because many women, especially those with HIV, want fewer children. Critics say the restriction, along with PEPFAR’s emphasis on untested abstinence programs, exists mainly to win support from conservative congressional Republicans, undermining the full potential of a program that the White House bills as one of the biggest humanitarian ventures in history.

Yes, that’s confounding to me, as medical issues should not be cross-contaminated by moral judgement as far as I’m concerned.

Not nearly as confounding, however, as what wraps up the piece:

Yet the past five years have also shown that the AIDS epidemic can be contained by forces other than U.S. money and political will. Africa’s biggest declines in HIV rates during Bush’s AIDS initiative have come in Zimbabwe, where economic collapse has coincided with fundamental social change, including a shift toward monogamy and away from more-costly multiple relationships, research there shows.

Yep … Sandra reads those words, and goes scuttering in search of something that has THAT make any sense.

Zimbabwe put forth as an example of something going right? Hmmmmm. Me thinks there’s something rotten in Harare.

A quick search of “AIDS in Zimbabwe” comes up with 604,000 links on Google and not one I opened made any grand statements about a drop in the HIV infection rates.

Curious.

AidsPortal.Org has something about an increase in the number of people on antiretrovirals, but also mentions the “daunting task of breaking the vicious cycle of new infections,” which doesn’t sound like a big drop in infections is happening.

HIVInSite, a project of the University of California, doesn’t give any indication of a letup in infections, either. It does, however, give one tiny clue that moved me along … under “New HIV infections, 2005” the entry was “nd”: no data.

Hmmmmm.

Eventually coming across Avert.org’s page on AIDS in Zimbabwe, the true picture emerged.

In many cases, as one Zimbabwean doctor explained to reporters, the reality is that AIDS can now be counted amongst such concerns: “Put simply, people are dying of AIDS before they can starve to death.”

The situation in Zimbabwe is now so bad that:

Between 2002 and 2006, the population is estimated to have decreased by four million people.

Infant mortality has doubled since 1990.

Average life expectancy for women, who are particularly affected by Zimbabwe’s AIDS epidemic, is 34 – the lowest anywhere in the world. Officials from the World Health Organisation have admitted that since this figure is based on data collected two years ago, the real number may be as low as 30.

Zimbabwe has a higher number of orphans, in proportion to its population, than any other country in the world, according to UNICEF. Most of these cases are a result of parents dying from AIDS.

So, there’s the reason AIDS numbers are down in Zimbabwe … more people are already dead than they were last year and the year before, and the deaths are happening just that much faster than new infections are being reported. (We don’t even need to start in on the accuracy of reporting in the country.)

For the WaPo to suggest that Mugabe’s masterwork of horror that is modern-day Zimbabwe proves that “the AIDS epidemic can be contained by forces other than U.S. money and political will,” but rather through, “fundamental social change, including a shift toward monogamy and away from more-costly multiple relationships,” is irresponsible at best, and shows an inclination to accept “research” generated by tyranny in attempts to provide positive spin to genocidal maniacs.

I have come to expect much better from the publication.

Confounding, indeed.

This is x-posted to Adoption Under One Roof because it fits in both places.

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