Swans Commentary » swans.com April 25, 2005  



Again, Genetic Or Cultural?


by Milo Clark





(Swans - April 25, 2005)  Cholera is preventable with minimal sanitation facilities and rudimentary medical services. Control vectors (rats and fleas), provide safe water, protect water table, isolate and process sewage. Minimally sanitary facilities, isolation wards, fluid replacement, dysentery control and such will minimize suffering of the afflicted and maximize survival probabilities.

In much of the world, called Third and Fourth World by many, such minimals do not exist. Embittered activists, struggling authorities and overwhelmed assistance groups such as Doctors without Borders decry, report and little or nothing is done.

Here in this snug and increasingly isolated world, the once United States of America, contracting with fear and containment, shielded from others and the outside, we (meaning us) know less and less about what goes on in the lives of Third and Fourth World peoples.

Writing in Granta, number 88, winter 2004, Alexandra Fuller shares her experiences with cholera and motherhood from Zambia. She has pursued a cholera wagon through the hells of overflowing death and disease to a makeshift cholera clinic in a building once a school. Be prepared!

There were over a hundred people in that school turned cholera clinic, most of them naked but for a single covering of cloth. There were not enough cholera beds (stretchers with holes cut into them with buckets under the holes), so patients shared stretchers. Their bottoms would not fit over the holes with two of them like that, and they were shitting on one another. Other patients had been lined up on soggy cardboards on the veranda where intravenous drips handing from washing lines fed into upturned arms. Babies slept in the nook of their sick mothers' arms. Vomit and shit, like watery rice, were mopped up from the floor, scraped off the beds, sloshed off the cardboard sheets, by a nurse wearing a plastic apron and gumboots.

There was a single flush toilet which had long ceased to flush -- its contents slopped out onto the veranda. The two long-drops [aka privies or outhouses] in the yard wafted disease and exhaustion, flooded and sagging precariously. It was from the morgue that the pervasive, sweet-rotten smell was coming.

This was not a humanitarian disaster on a large scale, jut a heartless indignity imposed upon a few thousand unlucky Zambians, one hundred of whom happened to be dribbling slowly to death right here.

While I was there, the cholera lorry left with bodies from the morgue and another appeared with freshly ill victims.

While I was there, a patient was brought in from a distant village in a wheelbarrow by his relatives and had to be helped on to a corner of cardboard, he died before the orderly could put a needle into his arm.

A baby, kept with its sick mother on a cholera bed in one of the old classrooms, died of pneumonia. It lay like a sodden comma, curled up against its mother, and no one realized it was dead until she began to bleat, her trilling thin with dehydration and despair. A pretty young nurse in a white uniform with black gumboots and a white plastic apron, held the tiny body away from her as she hurried to the morgue.

I was only there an hour.

In My April 11 commentary, "Genetic or Cultural," I peeked into yet another, although older, instance of callous indifference if not active hostility related to ethnic cleansing of America's indigenous peoples.

The Dalai Lama urges wisdom and compassion. Is anyone listening much less practicing either?

Nominal Christians in the once United States of America spew hatred and contempt as directed by their pastors, priests, ministers and political hangers-on. Brutal wars are condoned, supported by floods of dollars and cheered onward. "Freedom" no longer means simply its opposites but permutations beyond imagination. Yet, none of this process is new, only a renewal and reinforcement.

Historian John Lukacs, writing in a book published in 1989, predicted a return to barbarity about now... (See my June 2002 "Differences, Patterns . . . Barbarity.") Notice he was talking about a return to barbarity. His prediction is most accurate.

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Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).



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Published April 25, 2005