Friday, May 29, 2009

Musings about the Swine Flu

Swine flu is no longer breaking news material and seems to have become 'another flu' just like bird flu. We know it's there but we don't think about it much, even though we are anticipating the second deadly wave around autumn.

I remember at the beginning when it looked like it was going to be something bigger than bird flu or even SARS how I used to read testimonies from all over the world to evaluate the situation of the outbreak. A family's ordeal in the UK struck me as something like a movie script...

"My partner and I returned to Birmingham from Cancun yesterday morning at 08:20am. There were no members of the health department there to meet us, over 400 people passed through without help or advise being offered.
We returned home to our seven-months-old daughter and in-laws. Last night we developed many of the symptoms listed.
I contacted the NHS Direct and after several hours we were asked to go to the hospital ourselves. We had to wait in A&E before being seen by doctors dressed in masks, aprons and gloves.
We have high temperatures over 38 degrees, aches, coughing and sneezing, diarrhoea and nausea. The hospital prescribed us both with Tamiflu and told us to drive to a chemist in Coventry, we waited for 15 minutes surrounded by other people before we had the Tamiflu.
The chemist informed us that they only had one dose available and that we would need to return the following day. This morning we were contacted by the HPA, we informed them of the situation and they told us that under no circumstances should we leave the house.
We are waiting the results now, we are very concerned about our daughter and family around us as it looks like we have now infected them. "
Richard Cook, Nuneaton, UK

The pandemic scenario painted by the WHO means that what happened to the family above could have resulted in a much worse situation and that maybe a few basic rules had been flaunted.

(1) no members of health department at the airport
(2) no one offering advice
(3) they contacted the NHS who asked them to go to the hospital => so putting many people at risk on the way !
(4) they had to wait at the ER => more contact with people
(5) they had high temperature and were sneazing
(6) they had to go on their own to get the medicine from the pharmacy => putting more people at risk on their way
(7) they were asked to return the second day to get more Tamiflu.

Only 3 days after they returned were they contacted by the equivalent of the CDC and asked to stay put. I don't know what happened to them but I expected this to happen in an non EU OECD country, like Libya for example. How safe are we really and is it realistic to expect that people will watch their borders as closely as we imagine or does that only happen in movies?

I had the opportunity to experience first hand and compare when I recently travelled to Britain.

Upon boarding the flight to London from Tripoli international airport, there were a number of medical staff at the gate, the tube to the airplane has obviously been cleaned and sprayed with something similar to Dettol- so I assumed this was a request by the country of destination so that travellers do not bring any germs in the sole of shoes or something.

My flight landed about the same time as a flight arriving from Mexico, and my luggage was on the conveyor belt right next to the one of the Mexico flight. I saw no body with face mask or from any medical body and that area was quite crowded. It was just business as usual. I retrieved my baggage very fast and proceeded to the customs and the way out.

When I returned to Libya, we were greeted at the gate by medical staff with masks and gloves who proceeded to screen travellers by checking their forehead temperatures. I realise it may not be much and I'm not that knowledgeable medically but I guess that someone with fever was going to be asked to step outside into another area. I think Hong Kong had already been using sophisticated thermal scanners since the bird flu alert, we have nothing like that in Libya but I was happy at the effort deployed no matter how insignificant or ridiculous or annoying some people were thinking it was.

So far Libya and the rest of the Maghreb as Swine flu free. For the naysayers and negative people who see always only the bad sides yes we do have lots of other problems but it's good to know someone has thought about this virus because if it is as dangerous as they say then our health system cannot deal with it, so an ounce of prevention goes a long way.

Our neighbours in Egypt had decided to cull pigs - I'm not sure that's such a great idea because the waste generated is above their capacity to clean up and could probably cause an outbreak of something else besides Swine flu. I mean they still have cases of bird flu as recently as last week.

The Swine flu or Mexican flu as some people call it (unfairly) has also brought a number of questions to my mind it has now spread into over 42 countries. ( see map here for confirmed cases and deaths). So why many of us would hesitate to go to Mexico even though we know now it is a mild strain - and yet would travel to the USA or to Europe without any second thoughts?

Another idea to ponder on is that human greed is the cause of all disasters and similarly to Mad Cow Disease, Swine flu also seems to have a human mismanagement component in farming. When we mess with nature it always backfires.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Libyan Female Writers

Beirut has been chosen as the World Book Capital this year, and the bookworm that I wanted so much to be there and immerse myself in all these books on display but I had other commitments.

There has indeed been a flurry of Arab novels in the last few years not only in the Arab world but also on the international scene. Recalling the hit books by Arab authors that reached international fame, I found myself nodding in agreement with the statement that ""The West likes Arab novels that deal with political oppression, women, or sexual taboos. ""...

Algerian writer Ahlam Mosthaghanemi is not far from this thought
when she notes that:

"Arabic writers are accepted in the West only if they criticise their homeland or their culture and religion. The West only promotes Arab writers who criticise their own people and culture. Mosthaghanemi, who has more than 2 million readers in the Arab world, said her works are not well received by the Western world because of her great respect for the Arab culture and her religion."

Something tells me that's how our very own Hisham became famous ;) but that is not today's topic so put those filed tongues back where they belong he he he....

What I had been thinking about all along was... are taboos really stiffling Arab women writers as this article implies ? which is again what Mosthaghanemi whom I respect immensely states :

" [..]as women writers are forbidden from using personal emotions as a tool of creative writings, most of the works of Arab women lack the warmth of real life. “We have to take great risks to portray the basic emotions of human beings like love, lust and romance”".

It vividly brought to mind a chat I had with a great Arab blogger friend of mine (let's call her A) about why with all her talent, head firmly on her shoulders and great humour does she not write a book. A told me that she shelved her dreams of writing novels because everything she wants to write about could be unacceptable.

This led me to have a short look at Libyan blogs after all even blogging is writing n'est ce pas?

And so I discovered that poet Lolitta's blog was no longer available... a week after she made this post :

Lolitta is Libyan and she writes beautiful daring poetry in English. Is it social pressure or is it because she has gotten married and simply moved on?

In a ranting from back in January, it was with surprise that I noted Shahrazad complaining that :

" Many Libyan female bloggers have either left the blogspehere all together or have made their blogs open to invites only [because]hey have been put into the so called pressured social paralysis situation where either the parents or some other family member has read the so called blog and disapproved of it existing . On the other hand these fanatic members of family read other blogs and enjoy them as well[.]Many fathers have given consent to their daughters writing a blog and quite a few are so proud of them and encourage them continuously until they get entangled in the dos and don’t of a young lady still unmarried whose future hubby might not approve of her blog!"

I'm all for sharing everything with family but it's difficult enough to be a blogger so why bother to tell anyone? (personally I regret telling some people - who are not family about it but I was happily surprised that one of my brothers who stumbled on it by chance loved it and was so proud of me he actually wanted me to stop being anonymous). Use the blogosphere as a sandpit to hon in your writing skills ladies - and don't tell anyone yet :P

I don't think that the Libyan males are against their sisters, mothers, wives etc. writing but more as social pressure and the 3ayb part - as in what cannot be seen then does not exist... or that the precious females maybe recognised and their ideas misintepreted and God forbid their reputation ruined because Libyan dudes would be trolling their website/blog . This was indeed confirmed in the comments from various Libyan female bloggers on that post here.

I think that's why controversial Libyan Violet's blog is hardly known and people who do comment do so almost shyly because most of her writing is about love or sometimes blatant erotica and all one anonymous commenter could tell her was " u're longing for an orgasm ".

Then I checked Luna and she echos Shahrazad " we Libyan bloggers especially the women face tremendous pressures from family ,work and all who are close. Is Blogging such an awful thing ??I never in my mind thought it to be till I got into trouble with needless to say the closest people to me." Again some of the comments confirm the suspected weird behaviour that prompted some bloggers to go underground or in this case in 'restrict' mode.

This is a pity as we readers loose so much by not being able to tap into their ideas, experiences, emotions plus someone could actually be the next Nobel or Pulitzer prize winner.

We have tons of talented ladies!

So I guess if you keep to cooking recipes, mothering and crochet tips ( which I think is absolutely fine as topics as well) you are OK. If you venture into more mature ground whether you are blogging or being in the printed media - about your life, fantasies or hopes then you have two choices : (1) if you bash your own strongly enough then you will be celebrated in the West a la Hirsi Ali or (2) move to Beirut :) otherwise the climb is very steep!