in words, sights and sounds

picture of seagulls on ice

Nah, not the ones in the photograph above. Although those guys – based in Hamburg, Germany – stood on the frozen Elbe river at the turn of the year when I encountered them and most definitely had cold feet.

Yesterday afternoon, I went through a huge bag of medication including malaria pills and an impressive collection of broad-band antibiotics (some of them in triplicate), determined to finally get rid off all the expired items. Oh yes, and there was this sealed pack of Tamiflu.

Beloved travel pharmacy

Those of you who live in less developed countries or simply travel a lot will know how easy it is to accumulate masses of medication and to actually never ever use them.  This happens particularly easily if you are somewhat chaotic as myself. But, of course, one schlepps her/his little travel pharmacy around the globe – good old backpackers’ style – just in case.

Just in case…that’s also what we thought when my friend and I decided to get ourselves some Tamiflu, at the peak of the non-existing global Avian Flu health crisis. Not because we were particularly afraid that an epidemic could threaten the existence of humankind, or ours, or Lebanon (where we were based at the time), but because everybody, including our employer, was talking about Avian Flu and Tamiflu 24/7 and we felt stupid not to get it…just in case.

So we bought our pack of Tamiflu for 100 USD (!) each which has since sat in various fridges of mine in the Middle East, as well as Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa. Until yesterday when I threw it out.

Different dealings

In any event, I find it interesting how certain societies, mostly those less exposed to the global media-frenzy, tended to be almost entirely unaffected by the hype surrounding the various potential pandemics of the past years: bird flu, swine flu, BSE… while Europe, Australia and the US freaked out, others took hardly note of it. Not that this is necessarily the right approach. However, it is clearly better for one’s nerves and the common psyche to remain calm vis-a-vis potential mass-killers for as long as they are actually killing the masses (or at least more than those killed by ordinary flu each year).

Roast chicken and clinical masks

One anecdote illustrates these cultural differences pretty well: When the whole world was panicking about bird flu and until the Sudanese authorities ordered the killing of thousands of chicken in Khartoum’s poultry farms, the ordinary Sudanese feasted on extremely affordable roast chicken for about two weeks non-stop. They clearly couldn’t care less. At the same time, friends of mine in Hong Kong weren’t allowed to enter their workplaces without having taken their temperatures by health officials in space-suits every morning. Every sneeze and cough was accompanied by panicky glances from the clinical masks surrounding them. And, while the Hong Kong Chinese scanned the temperature of passers-by without even touching them out of fear of contamination, the Sudanese licked their bare fingers, with tummies filled with roast chicken.



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  1. The Canary’s Monthly Round-Up | observations of a canary
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