Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pandemonium


Because I’m a Mexican living in the US, many concerned, thoughtful people have asked my opinion about the swine flu and the general situation in Mexico City. I thought I’d share with you some flu related data I’ve been collecting. I am no expert, but tend to favor facts, particularly those which contribute to a general sense of perspective (as opposed to drama and speculation, which contributes to a general sense of confusion and chaos.)

The flu virus (not swine flu, just flu) mutates to a worldwide epidemic two times every 100 years. In other words, we are not dealing with anything we have never seen before.

Based on existing data, this is not a superbug. This new strain of "swine" flu is not any more virulent, contagious, or deadly than other forms of the flu, and the forms of contagion are just like regular flu (wash your hands.)

In a normal flu season, children, elderly and ill people die from the flu. In fact, 36,000 people die from it in the US every year. 13,000 people have died of normal flu in this country since January, 2009. Not swine flu. Just flu.

In the US, symptoms of swine flu have been mostly mild. In Mexico, swine flu has not been mild, at least not in every case. My personal opinion -my personal inexpert opinion - is that poverty might be a factor. People living in close quarters, undernourished, who have no way to get to doctors or hospitals, who can't afford healthcare or even taking time off to recover.

Here is a good time to add, in the interest of sharing honest, unbiased data, that other pandemic flus strike young, healthy people the hardest. In light of this, wouldn’t it help tremendously to know how many mild cases of swine flu Mexico has had? Just so we’re not feeling that everyone who has gotten it South of the border has died from it (which would be inaccurate?)

I realize influenza is never to be taken lightly. I worry more, however, about the extreme measures the Mexican government has taken. All public places have been closed (I tweeted about soccer games with no audience allowed, a mark of a crisis in a futbol loving country.) Bars, schools (and universities – nation wide), movie theaters, galleries, sporting events have been shut down. A friend said that just walking down a half empty street fills you with an apocalyptical sense of doom.

I am lucky not be in a position where I have to make these types of decisions. From my cushy seat, I think these measures have been over the top.

More concerning of all is that the Mexican government has "given itself power" to search private homes for sick people, intercept them on streets, and force them to get treatment. How would you like it if a government with an iffy reputation could search your home at any time without any kind of warrant? Don’t you think this lends itself to all kinds of abuse?

Fears of abuse aside, I think measures this extreme cause a great deal of panic, and panic contributes to aggravating the situation. Just one example is it leads people to take medicine they don't need, which in turn makes the virus resistant to it. (Speaking of facts, there is no lack of medication - the vaccine industry is strong.)

To answer your (deeply, deeply appreciated) most common question, my family is, thankfully, safe. Up until today, I am not any more worried about swine flu than I am about normal flu. I don’t entirely agree with how the Mexican government has handled it. And I’ll be very happy when this is all over and people can travel to my country again, because Mexico is going through a terrible, scary, disconcerting, awful time (difficult economic conditions + virus + earthquake) and needs all the help it can get. I’ve booked a trip to Mexico for my next vacation, and I hope you do the same.

Photo: flu virus, www.nationalgeographic.com

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Never


I have never been to South Africa or Madagascar or Nebraska never owned red soled shoes or painted my toenails blue have never been seriously ill never felt the absence of my security net one that hangs unfailingly beneath me every time I make a difficult decision I’ve never been accused of a crime have never committed one have never wanted to look back even though sometimes I have to I have never until now drawn attention to all these things always there outlining me yet previously invisible

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It could have been here

Stefania and her husband, Marino, are ordinary people. He is an architect. She’s a clerk. They have a son, Giorgio, who recently turned 15.

They are not and have never been well off. For years they have put all their energy and money into a modest house in the medieval town of L’Aquila, in Abruzzo, Italy.

At 3:32 a.m. on April 6, as the ground shook in the worst, deadliest earthquake that country has seen since 1980, Stefania shouted at Giorgio to stand under the door. The frame above it fell into his hands. He set it down and ran downstairs. The stairway held until the family got out, and then the whole building turned to ruble.

Stefania, Marino and Giorgio are alive. But they lost their house and everything in it. Photo albums, memories, letters, furniture, clothes. It’s all gone. They are not the only ones. The earthquake left more than 20,000 people homeless. 

What would you do if you lost everything but the clothes you happen to be wearing in the middle of the night?

Stefania and her family are currently waiting to be assigned a sort of container where they will be living for a few months (and we hope not years.)

This family is not an anonymous story that took place somewhere far away. Stefania is the sister of one of Luca’s best friends, someone he’s known for more than 20 years.

If you would consider sending money to Stefania and her family it will not be lost in a bureaucratic labyrinth. It will go directly to a family in L’Aquila who would like to start over with a bit of dignity, and who is not ashamed to admit that they need all the help they can get.

I know full well life can change in a second. I know too that second can be in the middle of the night.  I do hope that if I lose everything, someone out there will find it in their heart to help.

Donations (even 5 dollars would be tremendous) can be made with Paypal to  luca_penati@hotmail.com 

Luca and I will be matching donations up to $1,000.

 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bigger small steps


As outlined in perhaps excessive detail in past entries, we have taken all kinds of steps towards being more environmentally responsible. We always have cloth shopping bags in the trunk of our hybrid (and hardly ever request paper or plastic or any kind of shopping bag anymore); have turned off our sprinkler system and water by hand only when absolutely necessary (we haven’t watered at all in over two months because of the rain), and buy mostly local and organic (which, all debating aside, I think tastes better.)

There are five things we are embarking into in 2009 that require a bit more involvement that I thought I'd share.

1. The first has to do with putting things I own and never use into the hands of people who need them. Here is a partial list:

If you have shoes in your closet that you never or seldom use  (and don’t go telling me you don’t) check out souls for soles.

I found a place that takes eyeglass frames in case you have a few that are no longer the right prescription (or that make you look like you belong in the 80's.) 

Every time I travel on business, I throw the beauty products I like the most into my suitcase, until it dawned on me that I had more lotion, shampoo and body wash than I'd ever need. So I dropped them off  here.

If you have books you've read and won't read again, ship them off to someone who wants them. Bookmooch also lets you donate points if you don't want to bother with the swapping.

2. The second step we've taken in our effort to go green is composting, to reduce the amount of waste we put in landfills.

We finally found a composter we felt was right for us and have been experimenting with it for a few days. I’ll let you know how that goes. For now, I feel virtuous every time I go out and dump in my banana peels (and Luca has become a eco-sergeant.)

3. In honor of my brother Pedro who's a water conservation expert, we’re looking into installing a rain barrel in our backyard to collect rainwater to use later for our plants. This might be something we get around to doing before the next rainy season because we didn't move fast enough this time around.

4. We also think it would be really fun to plant our own vegetables (specially since, as a result of composting, we’ll have lovely, rich soil in our hands). We need more time to really get this one going, though.

5. Finally, we looked into how much solar panels would cost but based on their price and the money they would save us (in relation to our current energy consumption) we’ve decided to wait. Getting a personal assessment is free so I recommend you look into it (because price and the money you save is related to where you live, what direction your house faces in, how much energy you use, and a lot of other variables.)

I'll keep you posted on progress (and try not to bore you) and am really interested in hearing anything you’ve been doing.