Saturday, March 28, 2020

Isolation Updates

Like many governments all over the world, the Egyptians have been told to stay at home unless it's absolutely necessary to leave their  homes, schools have been closed and there is a 7 pm to 6 pm curfew every day. In addition public transport has been stopped on Friday and Saturday. In a country with so many people living in rural areas where there is no public transport, this poses some interesting issues.

How close is too close now?

For many in the rural areas, walking is the main means of transport unless one owns a donkey cart or something similar. But I have noticed some greater sense of social distance. I have a car at the farm and if I need milk here, someone has to go to buy it. The tetrapacks of milk are at a grocery store about 8 km away. There is no delivery. But there are not crowds entering and leaving the shop, and as I am parked outside (I am the chauffeur) people are not standing on top of each other. We buy our fruits and vegetables from a roadside stand that I have been using for almost 20 years. I can stand an easy 2 meters away and be given the items that I need. I ask the girl if anyone in the neighbourhood is sick and she says, "No. But people here are staying away from the city." This means that the virus will likely come more slowly to us. She also gives me her phone number and says that since she has to be closed over Friday and Saturday, if I need anything to call her and she will provide it from her home if I can send someone. I think that we will be ok.

Most of the "villages", which are simply small to medium cities without services, have water issues and in our area larger farms and homes have installed water filters that are attached to an outside wall to provide clean water to poorer neighbours. These water stations can be quite crowded at times. Since I'm hardly ever out of the farm I don't know how this is working out. Our water comes from our wells on the farm and the drinking water is filtered in the kitchen. Tests have showed that the water is clean but highly mineralised, which is really rough on electric kettles and such. That is the main reason for our filter. But we are self sufficient for water at least.

Here at the farm, the guys have work to do spread out over 3 feddans (acres) so again social distancing is being observed. My friend and her daughters are wandering around with their own projects or helping the guys, so they are also out of doors a lot. If anyone is inside much, it is me since keeping up with the news these days is almost a full time job. I'm spending a lot of time catching up with friends abroad, with events in the neighbourhood, with friends who are all going slowly mad in their homes and apartments in the cities. With a 7 pm curfew, the guys are here all day, go  home to their families, have a bite to eat, and everyone goes to bed pretty early. On the first night of the curfew, the police did arrive to shut down a couple of weddings in the area, and  no one has heard any more. Weddings out here in the reef are generally held out of doors so that all the neighbours can "enjoy" the music that is played at maximum decibels. There are some silver linings.

I have more time available to observe the social interactions of the dog pack lately. We lost our alpha male, Finn, who formed our pack some 15 years ago, a few months back. He had taken some time to train JC, our wolfdog, and Calypso, a baladi who looks exactly like a Cane Corso and is my self-appointed personal assistant, to take over his job, but nevertheless actually doing the job has been a pretty steep learning curve for them. Finn generally just sort of cruised around watching and giving very subtle orders to the others. He did have to get a bit louder with the 6 month to 1 year age group, the teenagers who need to learn that there really are limits, since puppies under 6 months old are treated quite kindly. JC is only about 3 and Calypso is only 4 years old, so they are working on volume control when disciplining the teenagers. When we have school trips here, one of the most common questions about the dogs has always been, "Who is the boss?" and why. Is it size? In that case Bran our doofus Dane would be boss, but that is unlikely ever to  happen. Is it strength? That could be a real toss-up. I suspect that it is a combination of emotional intelligence, communications skills, and organisational intelligence. I could see Finn spending more time with JC and Calypso in the last months of his life, so it was clear to me that he was working at teaching them something, although I wasn't sure of what it was.

How am I doing? Well that depends. I am not bored. Not in the least. The planning and logistics work continues apace. We are replacing the crazy old yellow house in what we call Narieda's garden with a new house of two floors that will each have three bedrooms and bathrooms, a big living area for meetings or gatherings and an enormous kitchen that can be used for teaching, cooking, teaching cooking, first aid classes or whatever. So I have workmen pouring concrete and doing all that housebuilding stuff at the other end of the farm. The guys are working on the gardens and green house as well as the horses, goats, and sheep, since this is the time of year when ordinarily we would be making at least one trip to the plant fair in Orman Gardens... but of course those trips aren't  happening. I'm corresponding with a farrier in either Switzerland or India depending on his schedule and a vet professor in Italy. Bernard is currently in India but is quite isolated (he sent photos to prove it) and Sergio is laying low in Italy with success so far.

They were here earlier this winter and we are hoping to be able to set up a school for farriers and for veterinary paramedics if the stars align themselves in the coming year with the help of Giza University. And of course in my free time I'm supposed to be writing my book. I don't know whether the blog qualifies on cheating at that or preparation for it.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A New Meaning To Mindfulness

My morning started with a good friend of mine who lives with some pets in a house in a rural area and, when there are no viral shut downs, she's a teacher in an international school. Oddly enough, she and some other friends of mine, many of them connected with schools but not all, came down with a really nasty flu, for lack of better identification, that involved high fever, aching limbs, a dry cough, and no real respiratory symptoms...but this was in November/December before COVID-19 had even been identified as far as we know. For my friends a penny dropped with the symptom description, but as far as anyone knows, this virus hadn't been even identified in China at that point. Egypt does have a huge number of Chinese companies and workers, but there is no way that I know of to identify what this was in hindsight. And just for the record, all of them survived the experience or I would never have heard of it. But recently she had gone to another part of Cairo where she walked into a shop to buy a bagel (most other things were closed) which she ate while watching the Nile. Later a couple of her friends were very upset with her for doing this and she was wondering where the anger was coming from. I suggested that the vitriol that sometimes is spilling out into statements of what someone should or shouldn't be doing in this time of concern over disease is probably based in fear.

All of the people that I know, not just this group that got sick before, are sheltering in place, trying to avoid contact and possible contagion. For some people this carries a lot of emotional baggage and I do know people who are spending much of their days in a fog of anxiety and fear. I know people who have dogs in the city who have to go for walks furing which they encounter people who demand to know how they can be endangering others in this fashion, and I know dogs that have been dumped by people who can't deal with that. Two of my dogs recently brought home a lovely spayed, flea and tick-treated female dog who had been hanging around my front gate for a month. She is definitely a family dog down on her luck and no one identified her on the page for lost animals that I run here on Facebook. She's quite happy to have a home. I have horses who live in a 3/4 feddan (acre) paddock where they can run around, and dogs who have all of 3 feddans (acres) to run in, so I don't have to venture off my farm due to animal need pressures.

I can hole up in my home, I can wander around and work in the gardens...for me this shut down is just fine, other than the fact that my animals still need to eat and I still need to pay for their food and my staff's salaries. I am one of the fortunate ones and I will never forget this fact. And for now I'm reading things online that are very thought provoking. Susan Sontag's Disease as a Metaphor  was published in the New York Review of Books in 1978 and is primarily concerned with how we use disease to define our personal and political world, as in "Communism is the exasperation of the bureaucratic cancer that has always wasted humanity. A German cancer, a product of the characteristic German preparationism. Every pedantic preparation is anti-human….".  However, what struck me as I was reading it was the automatic assumption that unless something from our environment like a bacteria or a virus attacks our bodies, we are somehow clean or healthy by default. In fact, research in science since she wrote this has indicated that every human body is a delicate balancing act involving billions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, as well our own tissues, and much of health is defined by keeping all of these things in balance. This is an entirely different world view. Yes, a virus or bacteria or fungus that throws off this balance can cause havoc as we are seeing with COVID-19, and some of the "risk factors" mentioned with regards to who is getting very ill as opposed to who is just sick, are in fact imbalances among the normal inhabitants of the human body.

Another article from the Atlantic that appeared in my timeline is more recent.  The Pattern That Epidemics Always Follow is one of the most rational articles that I've read regarding the current situation in the world. Karl Taro Greenfeld was the editor of Time Asia and was based in Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic in 2002. This was an outbreak that was quite similar to the current problem. It was also a product of the wet markets for wild animals but it was spread quite differently, which meant that the "solution" to the problem was different as well. Where Sontag was looking at social and political systems that have been described as medical problems, Greenfeld is much more pragmatic and is discussing how people react to epidemics.  

"Which brings us to the last stage of epidemic grief: rational response. After denial, panic, and fear, we can finally get down to the business of basic sanitary measures and infection protocols. At Time Asia, we urged better hygiene. We reminded anyone with a fever to stay home. We looked on as the medical establishment formalized the clinical response, determined diagnostic criteria, and isolated the virus."

Greenfeld reminds us that epidemics are inherently terrifying for people because they are larger than people. It is only recently that we have identified the tiny culprits, the bacterias, viruses, molds, and fungi, that instigate the epidemic, but still we are frightened because the imbalance in our families, communities and social structure is enormous and debilitating. When we take a deep breath and look at the data from the World Health Organisation we will see that there are 189 countries reporting cases of COVID-19, there are 267,013 reported cases of it worldwide, and that there have been 11,201 confirmed deaths worldwide. If we look at the numbers of deaths from road accidents alone in Egypt as reported by the same organisation we will see that there are generally around 12,ooo each year with the figure rising slowly but surely. There were more deaths from traffic accidents in Egypt last year than there have been deaths all over the world from COVID-19.

It is easy to say that this comparison is unfair. The figure for traffic deaths is for an entire year and we are looking at a few months for COVID. This is true. But  again, this is only for one country. What if we looked at the worldwide figure for traffic deaths in a year? This is currently 1.3 million people. Cars and driving, especially when combined with alcohol, are still vastly more endangering. Will COVID-19 turn out to be worse? It is possible, but I don't think that any medical person would predict this.

What is so disconcerting to all of us is the sudden imbalance in the availability of medical assistance when many people need the services but hospitals and doctors are overwhelmed by a rush of demand for their help, the lack of transparency on the parts of many governments who refuse to acknowledge that any problem even exists (which adds a great deal to the general stress and anxiety), and the fear that each of us could be a target for some tiny thing that might make us ill in varying degrees...or that we might pass on to our loved ones. So it's time to take a deep breath and look at all of this rationally. 

What do we do in this situation? COVID is spread by contact with a virus in fluids that can remain on surfaces or contact us directly. Staying as far apart as possible is a good idea. Isolating ourselves if we feel at all unwell or if the risks to us if we become sick are much higher than for other people is also a good idea. It isn't possible for some people to stay home from work, starting with medical staff, but also for people who have to transport our food from fields to markets, for people who work in the sources of our food such as markets and shops, for people who work in banks or other services, for the people who are in police forces or ambulance personnel , for the people who collect the refuse, for the people who work in gas stations, for farmers, for transport drivers (cabs, buses, metros and so on), for people who simply cannot afford not to work for fear that their families will have nothing to eat, for many more people than we have even thought about for many years. This is a good time to look at our links to our communities and consider how those links can teach us to care for each other.

May everyone remain well.

copyright 2020 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani