Archive for August, 2010


The Peter Pan of the Pandemic Flu at the river of de Nile

I’m in the middle of writing a course on how to plan and prepare for the Pandemic Flu.  Not your usual soft-skill course on self-esteem,  leadership, or team-building.  Pretty sobering stuff.  Brings you down to brass tacks.   No doubt about it, there could be great suffering–not just for the people in Pakistan, the Congo, or Louisiana, but for people who almost have their mortgage paid, who raised great kids, who never smoked, drank, or did drugs.  The 1918 Pandemic Flu attacked a group of people that the experts couldn’t predict:  the young adults in their 20’s and 30’s.  Apparently, their immune system was too good and over-reacted almost like an autoimmune disease.  More soldiers died from the flu than in battle.

We literally cannot imagine this happening in our blackberry world, so we don’t.  If we start to get an inkling, we hide it under our pillows where it might come into our dreams.  The only way we can handle it is to deny it.  We all live at that river in Egypt called de Nile.  It’s a subconscious safety mechanism that many Westerners still have.  Death is not the default for them at the river of de Nile.  Peter Pan takes us to Never-Never Land where terrible things Never happen.  It makes us naive and childish–that’s how others from the world view us when we are not looking.

“How can bad things happen to good people!”  “Where is God; there can’t be a God!”  Tantrums start with otherwise intelligent, educated, professional people.  There is no vaccine; there is no magic bullet.  No matter how good your diet is, how much you exercise and do yoga, how much you disinfect and clean things that don’t need to be cleaned—you are still vulnerable; we all are.

To be realistic, we can’t face this head-on.  We just don’t have the capacity.  But just turn your head a little each day, and take deep breaths–you know how to do that from your yoga classes.  You can start taking one foot in front of the other and leave Never-Never land.  Say goodbye to de Nile.

If you are a Westerner, especially an American, your first reaction will be, “So what can I do?  Let’s be pro-active.”  (Are they still saying pro-active?).  Well, actually there are things you can do.  Many things. I’m not giving websites here.  If you’ve gotten this far, you know how to google.  (My spell-check doesn’t recognize google?)  But basically, it comes down to what made America great.  It’s the best team-building exercise to raise leaders.  You need take your hands away from the keyboard; get up from your chair, and look outside the window–you know which one I mean.  Those people who live in the apartments or houses next to you can save your life.  If you don’t know how to communicate with them now, you won’t be able to in a crisis when you’ll wish your blackberry was the fruit.  You might want to keep some of those things called books, because they don’t need electricity to entertain you or to take you to another world, and you might really need that when you are stuck in your house because the government has called for quarantine or “social distancing.”  Are you googling yet?  Because I’m not going to give you this on a silver platter, only the silver lining.

Think of John Lennon’s song, Imagine.  Now put your own words to it, something like this:

Imagine there’s no power

no electricity or running water

imagine there are no shops open

or petrol to run my car

Imagine all the people…


The Results of No Internet for a Month

I moved just a block away, but being in India, it took a month to get my internet connected again because I was in a postal Bermuda triangle.  The internet providers couldn’t agree in what sector I belonged.  It was a very interesting time for me, and afterward I considered having a Shabbat from the internet.

Being an ex-pat in India, the internet fills a special need for me–it helps me feel connected with my friends who have the same background as I do, the same memories. They take me back to my hometown without me having to mess with airport security in smelly bare feet after being ordered to take off my potentially lethal shoes.

Since I am not fluent in the local language here, I am isolated to an extent in my “real world.” Playing cultural bumper cars all day long, every day, gets tiring, confusing. Coming on to Facebook, iming, twittering, and getting emails from 10k miles away kept me centered. And then I was cut off and had to join the real world here–a National Geographic documentary that doesn’t stop and has no commercials. And this is what I learned:

1. Because I had more free time in the real world, my house was cleaner, more organized. I noticed dirt and clutter that my cyber eyes were blind to before.

2. I developed a hunger for human companionship, making me more patient listening to garbled English and more out-going in practicing what I knew of the local language. I took more time with people–just sitting around drinking tea. I couldn’t flip the web pages now. I had to stay on the same channel in the real world.

3. I cooked more interesting foods like hummus and sharma.

4. I re-decorated part of my house using clay pots I found at local markets I didn’t know existed.

5. I almost got back into drawing and painting again.

6. I started doing yoga again, and my backache from too much time at the computer was gone.

7. I spent more time with my dog, running around and playing, training him out of bad habits.

After a few days, I didn’t miss having the internet as much as I thought. I almost didn’t want the engineer to come and hook me up again. Did I really spend so many hours in that darkened dusty room?  Was I a mole?

And then, when I finally did get hooked up, I found a lot of my “friends” didn’t really notice. There wasn’t the avalanche of emails that I thought that I would be buried under. There were no desperate messages on Facebook. I was a tree that fell in the cyber forest and nobody heard.

And now, since I got an overseas contract to do some writing–I will be forced to connect my life with the internet as never before. I tried so hard to just teach English here and be with animate humans, but the pay is lower than my chances of getting the Pultizer Prize. Again, I am part of the Borg.

Since I am eccentric, only on the internet can I find people who think as I do. How many people do you know are interested in Canine Homeopathy, the Torah from a Christian perspective (especially if you live where I live), and watching Grey’s Anatomy in French (it’s too boring in English now) ?

However, the internet, just like the net that the fishermen use on the beach that I can see outside my window (not XP), it can be cut easily. Come on. You know that the day is coming where we better know how to live without the internet–when we have black-outs due to terrorism or stupid corporate cuts that lead to under-skilled engineers and poor infra-structure. The Y2K phobia might have got the actual date wrong, but we better be taking lessons from the Amish.

PS  Thanks to Alvin Saldanha for his inspiration.