Geneva, 13 March, 2021
I saw a news item about how the p*ndemic has run unchecked in a hot and sandy country that I had the mixed fortune to visit quite some years ago. At the time, I was working as a field surgeon for the International Committee of the Red Cross. One of the organisation’s neutral and impartial visiting cards was to host a surgical seminar about treating war wounds. We knew that this could open the door for “humanitarian” access in particularly difficult contexts. So, instead of heading to a field hospital – and long before we knew about powerpoint – a long and dusty drive took me to BBDland with a travel pack of videos and photographic slides (remember them?) I was to facilitate an exchange of ideas and experiences with BBDland’s military surgeons. The seminar had been given the go-ahead by the Big Bad Dictator himself.
We already knew that BBDland’s political elite and army were the only people who had access to the country’s health care system. Before leaving Geneva, I was advised against raising this issue. As a preliminary to the seminar, I met my surgical counterparts at the rather plush Central Military Hospital. I feared a me-against-them atmosphere for the days to come. This fear proved groundless; they were all charming and welcoming. Many had trained in Europe and North America and were now starved of contact with international colleagues. I am sure I could have discussed the inequity of BBDland’s health care with them. The only time a shadow passed over their faces was when any allusion to BBD was made.
The seminar itself was to be held in a modern, but barely used, conference centre. On arrival, I was surprised to see TV cameras at the door and realised that the ministry of information was going to squeeze as much positive PR for BBD out of this. The cameras rolled as I walked through the main door. Cheers went up. The Red Cross doctor had just walked over a massive and intricate floor mosaic that depicted the smiling face of the President of the USA with blood dribbling from his teeth. “Bush is a killer” the caption read. I hadn’t seen that one coming. One of my colleagues plucked up courage to say very quietly “We’re sorry!” I hoped there would no further political interference in our modest collegiate event. Like, yeah!
In the auditorium, I positioned the slide projector in the middle of the floor, carefully placed my slides in the carousel (reversed and upside down!) and clankity-clicked through them all in a quick trial run. Ready to go! The place started to fill. Not only were the surgeons present but also two hundred or so other doctors and nurses all in full uniform. Suddenly, the chatter stopped. Everyone took a seat and kept their eyes on the floor. The fear was palpable. I was told that the brother of BBD, the Minister of the Interior (a man known to have much blood on his hands) was about to arrive. He had decided to open the seminar. Could this ruin the whole event?
The doors crashed open. Fifty men charged in with AK47s at the ready. Immaculate uniforms and distinctive red berets signified an elite guard; they were checking the security of the place before the arrival of B-BBD. One of them clearly didn’t like the look of the slide projector with its long lens pointing up towards the podium. He unplugged it, picked the whole thing up and marched off. I watched in horror as my slides fell out on to the carpet one by one. I moved to pick them up. Unwise. In a language I didn’t know I was told to sit still; the command was quite understandable in tone and kalashni-gesture.
B-BBD swept in surrounded by flunkies. He neither smiled nor asked to meet me. He made a one-minute speech and then left. The red berets eventually left too; the last of them walked out backwards AKs still at the ready. After some minutes there were audible sighs but the chatter was subdued. Nobody wanted to tell me what B-BBD had said.
I followed the trail of slides that led to the discarded projector. Later than expected, we kicked off the seminar that happily proved to be congenial and informative for both sides. I later heard that the whole exercise did eventually open some doors for ICRC colleagues to visit prisoners and gain access to some displaced people. And so the “humanitarian” world turns.
BBD, B-BBD and the whole regime have long gone leaving only a poor, chaotic and dangerous country with no public health infrastructure. I often wonder what became of my surgical friends there. It is difficult to see how, in 2021, such a country will gather the necessary c*vid-19 data and the resources needed for a structured vaccination programme. It is also difficult to see how such a country being behind the vaccination curve will avoid a “natural” evolution of the p*ndemic with high case numbers and associated mortality. Such a country is also likely to become a source of further variants of the virus. I really hope I am wrong on this. Whatever, there is little doubt that this p*ndemic has on a global basis brought into stark relief the difference between the haves and the have-nots.
Another desert landscape! Isn’t the Perseverance landing on Mars just great? Isn’t this news so welcome when all we currently hear about is the vaccine – variant race against time and how this will determine the relaxation of social distancing measures? (And the postponed 2020 Olympic games in Japan will go ahead this year but without spectators.)
One of the great paradoxes of our time must be that the same country that has harnessed the power of science to put a vehicle on another planet elected and nearly re-elected a President who, during the c*vid-19 p*ndemic, refused to grasp even the most fundamental tenets of public health science. The same President whose Twitter and Facebook accounts were closed.
So, you may be wondering by now what links the p*ndemic, the daily news, propaganda, science and technology (largely American), the US President and why I have written “c*vid” and “p*ndemic.” It’s all about those algorithms that support the social media giants allowing them to promote or suppress posts that contain certain words. I have it on authority from someone who knows about these things that it’s quite possible some sneaky algorithm is suppressing the reach of posts and messages that contain the words “c*vid” and “p*ndemic” the idea being to foil the conspiracy theorists and the anti-vaxxers. Inevitably, I believe this is the reason why, up to now, these C*VID Chronicles have not gone viral. Ha!
On a lighter note, we are now beginning to see TV series that were produced in the time of c*vid-19. Social distancing rules dictated that for some series, all involved had to live in an isolation “bubble.” And so I recommend Channel 4’s Great Pottery Throwdown. During the making of this series the contestants, presenters and experts alike became great friends. I’ve never had a burning interest in pottery but this eclectic bunch produce a wide variety of truly beautiful stuff. There is something genuine and human about this series. What grips me through the enthusiasm, laughter and tears is how the different pottery challenges bring the potters’ lives to the fore and reveal such close bonds within the group.
The sun is shining. Spring is in the air. My wife and I are heading out to play golf. In our traditional and deadly serious competition that runs throughout the season, the score is 6 games each!
Go well. Be wise.