Something to which I can aspire–
Header Image: Small Buddhas in wall niches at a temple in Laos.
Header Image: Small Buddhas in wall niches at a temple in Laos.
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”
After more than two months of quarantine – under very strict rules – in my small apartment in Rionegro, Colombia, I long to go for a rugged hike in the mountains or a walk along a sandy beach while listening to the soothing sound of breaking waves. Unfortunately, all non-essential travel is still banned in the region, with checkpoints set up to prevent unnecessary contact between people from different towns. With the healthcare disaster taking place in neighboring Brazil very much on people’s minds, the government of Colombia is taking the transmission of Covid-19 very seriously.
But, hey, I’m not complaining. Compared to the millions around the world who are currently suffering serious illness or feverishly searching for their next meal, I know I’m very lucky. And, while I’m grateful to be in a country where the government is placing the health of citizens first, my spirit needs to fly free for a while.
Despite feeling alone, distracted and at times disoriented, I’ve been finding a degree of solace in the 25,000+ photos on my hard drive which allow me to relive memorable past adventures. Even though I’m not a prolific selfie taker, I must admit that seeing photos of myself surrounded by magical landscapes makes it easier for me to visualize an escape from the reality of the moment.
In 1988, I moved to Seattle, a tolerant, diverse city with thriving art and music scenes. While I immediately felt as if I’d found my home, it was what lay just beyond the urban area that fully ticked all the boxes on my best places to live list. Gazing in any direction from one of the city’s seven hills, there were splendid views of snow-capped mountains and glistening water – a true wilderness lovers paradise.
As a child, I remember laying in my grandparents yard on delightfully dark nights while gazing at the clearly visible glow of our galaxy – the Milky Way – and the sparkle of uncountable twinkling stars. Star-gazing gave me a sense of wholeness and complete peace and calm, as any earthly problems I had lost their significance when compared to the vastness and timelessness of space itself.
Unfortunately, suburban sprawl and accompanying light pollution have enveloped the area where I grew up, making it impossible to view the contours of our galaxy without the aid of a telescope. Still, that feeling of personal insignificance in the larger scheme of the universe has stayed with me throughout my life.
After seeing images of a distant Earth taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 as it headed for the outer limits of our solar system, American astronomer and well-known science educator Carl Sagan eloquently summed up my feelings.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
Sagan’s words seem particularly notable during our current time of crisis as governments and citizens bicker over the perceived best way forward when faced with the difficult choice between saving human lives or protecting livelihoods. While individuals and organizations in many regions of the world are coming together to support those in need, there are some who are using the current situation to further their own narrow political agenda with little regard for the rights of others or the greater good.
While some areas of Europe and the USA are beginning to see a flattening of the Covid-19 transmission curve and subsequent death rates, much of the rest of the world is still in the early stages of the pandemic’s first wave. Business lock-downs and population quarantines have become the widely accepted means of reducing the spread of infections across the globe. Governments — in countries both rich and poor — are now grappling with how to restart sagging economies without risking an overwhelmed healthcare sector.
Meanwhile, millions of workers in the informal economies of the developing world — who scrape together what they and their families need to survive on a daily basis — are becoming increasingly restless as insufficient government efforts fail to supply food to the neediest across the globe. Many governments in Latin America are facing the threat of medical worker strikes unless they can provide the personal protective equipment (PPE) desperately needed by staff.
As rich and poor countries compete for the same limited international supplies of PPE as well as ventilators for the most severely ill patients, a pattern is beginning to form. The developing world is being priced out of the very supplies necessary to fight the pandemic.
As infections and deaths continue to increase in the poorest regions of the world, indications are that social unrest will grow as well. This is especially true in countries such as Chile and Ecuador that saw weeks of protests, rioting and looting during last fall’s uprising against corrupt, institutionalized systems that have always favored the wealthy, leading to some of the world’s most dramatic economic inequality. Such raw feelings will be easily reawakened by the ongoing ravages of hunger, illness and death associated with Covid-19.
Here are some of the stories I followed for readers this week across Latin America and beyond.
No, I’m not working for the New York Times (don’t I wish!), but I just read a credible, practical and useful article in NYT written by two geneticists that explain coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission in easily understood layman’s terms. Speaking for myself, I’m totally open to useful advice these days!
…and follow the link below ⇓
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the USA’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, made the following statement about the new coronavirus in an article published in the New York Times on February 2, 2020.
It’s very, very transmissible, and it almost certainly is going to be a pandemic.
-Dr. Anthony Fauci
Infectious disease specialists working with the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predict the number of new COVID-19 infections in the USA may not peak for three to six weeks.
How high will the number of confirmed cases and deaths have climbed by then?
What will America’s healthcare systems look like at that point?
How did we get here?
Americans must depend on those who
are risking their own lives at the moment
on the front lines of the battle
at times without proper
our brave and dedicated
As a close friend living under a mandatory quarantine in Italy advised me this week, “Stay home.”
peace and good health~henry
Time and reflection change the sight little by little ’till we come to understand.
My phone notifies me that I have another whatsapp message. I hesitate, wondering if it’s news from an old friend abroad or from my local contact who’s keeping me updated on steps the Colombian government is taking to fight the rapid spread of the new coronavirus here in my adopted country of Colombia.
Over the past two months, many of us have had the good fortune of watching from a safe distance as lives were turned upside down in other parts of the world. That’s no longer the case, as COVID-19 has continued to spread rapidly, with confirmed cases now being reported in 185 countries, areas or territories according to the WHO.
The initial incompetent reactions – or lack of action – from top leaders in the USA, the UK and here in Colombia have caused conflicts and chaos which in turn have slowed any positive steps toward controlling the outbreak before it began spreading from person to person within local communities. Despite earlier warnings from both the military, intelligence community and international medical professionals, many national governments have shown themselves to be unprepared and unwilling to listen to voices of reason coming from regional and local officials aware of the real-time changes taking place on the ground.
In my local region of Antioquia, last night marked our first mandatory 3-day lock-down, a test to identify the service gaps prior to a longer period of quarantine. After taking action on their own, local and regional leaders are now finding Colombia’s national government more conducive to cooperating with local authorities. Although the confirmed case numbers here remain much lower than in the USA or Western Europe, medical experts are demanding action – now.
Fearing that even a mild epidemic could cause the country’s underfunded healthcare system to collapse, the national government has finally heeded the call of health experts and local leaders, calling for a nation-wide lock-down from March 25 to April 12. Colombia’s borders are now closed and all international flights into and out of the country will cease operations on March 25.
Unfortunately, these actions have come too late as infections are no longer limited to international travelers and have begun to spread within communities. The situation on the ground seems to be changing at lightening speed and we can no longer fool ourselves with the belief that the wolf will remain on someone else’s doorstep.
Dating back to approximately the 5th century BCE and popularized in the 17th century by Quakers looking for a more egalitarian gesture than bowing or tipping one’s hat, the handshake has become the defacto greeting used in international business situations. To some degree, it has also replaced many traditional forms of personal acknowledgment once used in various cultures around our planet.
While searching through news articles this week, I discovered that I have something in common with Donald Trump. [You, dear reader, may be surprised, but imagine how I felt!] It seems that it’s a well-established fact – as opposed to an alternative fact – that Trump is a germaphobe and will often go to great lengths to prevent exposure to coughs, sneezes, and yes, even the common handshake. He reportedly once wrote that the practice of shaking hands was “barbaric”
I admit that I too have occasionally been known to recoil in horror (at least internally) when meeting new people and feeling the pressure to swap sweaty palms. It’s not that I dislike being touched. On the contrary, I think human touch is essential to an individual’s well-being. Part of my reluctance to press hand flesh with a stranger is because of my childhood upbringing.
Even though our factual truth is never completely free of interpretation or personal perspective, this situation cannot serve as an argument against the existence of reality and facts, nor can it justify blurring the dividing lines between fact, opinion, and interpretation. The outcome of such blurring is a confused public that cannot differentiate between fact, fabrication, and opinion.
-Philosopher Hannah Arendt
The mid-20th century writings of Arendt seem prophetic in today’s post-truth world where maintaining political advantage often outweighs the common good. In such an era, what happens when a confused public is faced with contradictory information relating to a topic as important as public health? A comparable scenario was created this week by the Trump administration while discussing the level of risk the US population may face from the current world-wide corona virus (COVID-19) epidemic.
The stage was set by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who accused the media of stoking virus fears to “bring down the President.” Mulvaney’s comments were purely political and had no basis in fact, and indeed, ignored the seriousness of the worldwide COVID-19 epidemic. They also fly in the face of health experts worldwide.
In an interview with the BBC, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director of health emergencies, Mike Ryan, noted the advice posted on the official WHO website on Friday, February 28. “We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high.” This is the WHO’s highest level of warning.
The WHO warning calls for “all countries to educate their populations, to expand surveillance, to find, isolate and care for every case, to trace every contact, and to take an all-of-government and all-of-society approach.” According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States.”
Working as a miner has long been one of the most perilous occupations on the planet. As the ancient Romans famously conquered lands near and far, they sentenced the slaves they took prisoner to a life of back-breaking labor in their mines. The hardships of such labor were famously portrayed in the Hollywood production of Spartacus, the story of a slave who worked in the mines, refused to submit to the torture of his captors and eventually led a rebellion against Roman tyranny.
Fast forward to mid-18th century Britain–the mining of coal produced the energy needed to power factories and run transport networks, bringing about what would later be known as the Industrial Revolution. As knowledge of new industrial technologies spread across Western Europe and then on to the Americas, countries rich in this relatively inexpensive resource developed into industrial powerhouses.
The advent of industrialization sparked an exodus of rural folks from the countryside to rapidly growing cities where they found employment in factories, and for the first time had wages which enabled them to purchase goods. Using abundant coal reserves as fuel allowed factory owners to produce more goods than were needed, thus introducing the concept of buying things as a sign of status. Later industrialists, such as Henry Ford, developed methods of mass production for goods which accelerated these emerging trends. Factory jobs, in turn, provided the steady incomes that built a middle class which could afford to consume more, and therefore, set the stage for contemporary economic systems based principally on the mass consumption of goods and services.
The discovery and use of coal as a tool for rapid economic development not only changed the way people went about their daily lives, it also became a tool for political propaganda. According to Barbara Freese, author of Coal, A Human History:
In the 1800s, a lot of theologians who wrote about coal saw coal deposits as signs of God’s favor. And that’s why God gave America so much coal and gave England so much coal because he essentially wanted English-speaking countries to have a controlling influence over world affairs. So it was seen really as further evidence of our manifest destiny–Barbara Freese