The Panic Flu

This is something I wrote about back in April 2009… I had a look at it and made me think for a bit on the worries and woes of the world. If my life does look about 300% different than then (I see a certain naiveté on the way I used to write) the world looks… the same. Sad Certainly.

This story is what constituted in the end, the beginning of Calderon’s war against the cartels and what indeed has brought more deaths to the country than at any moment the swine flu worldwide did. The irony.

From Peaceful Disconnection to a World in Crisis (Day one)

You live a bit in your own world. It started happening since you finished your active work in that non for profit. You take time off. Not only because almost ten years of work exhaust you and you take some weeks or even months off everything, but everything seems to slow down… there is no longer a need to be on top of hundreds of E-mails in your inbox, many phone calls and meetings throughout the day, exciting and yet draining business travel; somehow you no longer need to be on top of everything important happening in the world; and as everything slows down as you realize the weight of responsibility is gone, your attention slowly shifts: Leaving your mobile home, checking your mail once a day and skipping the news for few days or even weeks is no longer lethal, and that old set of things that you put on hold for a long time become the base of your every day.

Sometimes you miss the old days… So many nice, intelligent, and absolutely extraordinary people, different places, the constant fix you got of excitement and change, the sense of meaning and fulfillment you had through your job, but to be honest, after you got over the withdrawal symptoms of this life, you got used to the new life you have, and as your job only pays the bills, you started looking for that sense of meaning and fulfillment somewhere else, in your relationships, in keeping your body and mind in a good state, but most of all, on enjoying the present minute by minute as it was the last. It is funny to realize that it is only now that you can finally achieve a life intensity few get to have, and even more important you have learned to manage it, through the ups and downs of this new life, overall you feel in harmony. In the past you lived life so fast and so intensely that you learned there is truth to the saying: A bullet doesn’t kill, the speed does. And there was no much of the present more than the pain of a broken heart and betrayal on your face because in your head there was only the future…

Today seemed like any other day in this new life. You woke up on the side of the person you love, the Sun is shining outside and as you share breakfast, as you hope you will do for the rest of your life if there really is something as life long unconditional love, he turns on the news… BBC is on its daily ranting of nothing but bad news… bombs in Iraq, multinationals doing their usual financial up and down – more downs that ups lately-, corruption here and there an ad about a show “cooking in conflict zones”… You wonder once again how the world got to this point. Ingredients: One liter of water (of the water you carried on your bare shoulders for 20 km under the scalding Sun) one cup of rice (that you bought with your entire weekly earnings), boil the rice (in an 50 year old super dirty pan you found in a dump), after 20 minutes it will taste like the authentic meal of a displaced person in a refugee camp?

But there is something about today that is different, suddenly the news focus on your country, for more than a minute –normally your country won’t do anything noticeable by the international community-… it seems a deathly virus is spreading in the same place where you were born, that place that only gets some of your thoughts because your entire family is there and because in the end, it doesn’t matter how many places you’ve seen, how many places you have lived in, and that you call a different country home, there is always a spark in your heart about this place that will easily turn into a flame in case it is necessary. The unconditional love you feel for this piece of sometimes forsaken land has taken you as far as to only accept the citizenship of your new home if you can keep the old one. The stain of history it left in you, the stain it left in your history is undeniable.

What is really going on? (Day one to seven)

And there it is, the BBC, showing apocalyptic images of Mexico City. Soldiers are handing out masks to avoid the airborne infection that seems to be killing hundreds, in the largest urban population in this world. It seems to have mutated from pigs and no one knows if there is a cure or vaccine, which is also as a matter of fact, because the virus A/H1N1 is actually originated in birds and pigs were just a nice mixing pot, funny enough in an American pig farm in Veracruz. Maybe calling it “bird flu 2” wouldn’t be marketable enough, and maybe no one wants to get into the conditions of so many animal farms worldwide. You remember the times of SARS and Ebola, where the press was frantically talking of a pandemic that never happened, and the absolute end of humankind. The announcement is made that schools will be closed. On the other hand, more than once you wondered how that massive conglomerate of people (where you grew up) was still functioning, you studied it, and in theory the mere function of this city is a miracle, it actually shouldn’t work, and you knew this would be the worst place in the world for such a crisis to strike. If it is really bad it will get nasty really fast. You never really trusted the Mexican government. You start drafting a plan to get your family out of there, financially, legally, how… fast. Suddenly you have a thought… call home and ask.

As the phone is ringing, you check Facebook and Twitter. If something of that magnitude is happening you will see it straight away, but surprisingly there is no reference to the supposed death of hundreds. As your mother picks up and you ask about the seriousness of the situation, after saying everyone home is fine, she laughs ironically. She seems happy to have the days off and even makes a joke about “building a monument to pigs”. How could there be such a huge discrepancy between what your mother is saying and what the news agencies are saying? Maybe she is protecting you, doesn’t want you to get worried, so you speak to your siblings to conclude the only thing dying in Mexico City is the inhabitants’ social life. There is no Marshall Law in place; yet, the clubs, restaurants and cinemas seem to have closed. Your siblings were afraid they would close the supermarkets… how were they supposed to get groceries then? You don’t think there is really any need to mention that the Mexican government is not prepared or has the resources to provide for 30 million people, probably no one in the world is ready for that one… You visit the website of the national news agency… Mexico City’s streets look deserted and void of life. There is panic; but the question that inevitably pops in your head is: Is this panic worth having or is someone creating it? Who would gain from this?

The Profits and Economic Impact of Panic (Day seven to ten)

The naïve or controlled news agencies are wondering why the disease is hitting much harder in Mexico than anywhere else as the first cases in other countries start to show. Why the German patient improving but the people in Mexico City is so badly hit? As the media pops this question an Earthquake hits the city, and not a light one, but no one seems to care much about that and the real impact that would have in a real outbreak of the magnitude they describe you start thinking they want you to believe this has. The main thing that lets you know what will happen next is in the market… how sad and yet how real. As the stocks of all travel companies are going to hell, the pharmaceutical companies seem to be back to their days of glory, pre credit crunch time.

You see it in the future, the governments in panic will want to cut all travel to and from Mexico (Cuba has done it, and France is pushing the EU to do it too), a vaccine will be announced to be ready to deploy in a couple of months, there will be a random death out of the country the alert will increase, in Mexico people will get even more scared and the economy of the country will be fucked, no one wants to go to work to save their lives. You are surprised that until this point no one has come with basic conclusions:

• The virus is longer incubated in Mexico.
• There was no proof as to that point in time as of what the real cause of death of many was.
• Mexicans have a strong culture of self medication. According to my friends and family, those that died, died because they got diagnosed too late, hence few foreigners die.

You arrogantly conclude that if people did proper research before panic, they would know that for those dead, there are thousands that could be infected yet they healed with timely treatment that is far from rocket science. Yes, the disease is as contagious and as manageable as a regular cold but no one stops to see it. You laugh at the silly idea of a virus for Mexicans only and have a cynical picture in your mind: Your future travel. If you dare to sneeze in an airport you will be put in quarantine, you will have to proof you haven’t been to Mexico since before the outbreak happened. Maybe you even get a special section in the plane. Yes, that’s all you needed for your life as an immigrant in Europe to be harder and Twitter, BBC and CNN will make sure it happens.

What is funnier, at the end of the day, things are so blown out of proportion that the press starts questioning itself and if they are not getting caught in the huge scandal they seem to have created. Time confirms 2000 cases and 150 deaths in Mexico alone, everyone is giving their shot at the scary story, and in the meantime Egypt started slaughtering 350’000 pigs. No one cared to listen to the Mexican Health Secretary who said they have tested 132 cases, 99 were positive 91 of which are healthy back home, making the death count eight. Maybe Time is counting the people who are scared to death by them and think their regular cough is the swine flu… Anyone can tell you the number will raise which it probably will, but it is still far from thousands and at home everyone wished things were back to normal and the local websites get loaded with tips and hints on what to do no to die bored of their mind. At least they have to take the boredom still until May 5th. Christ! Even the first “American” death was a Mexican… but let’s makes a huge show about how we all are going to die. To be truth, no one has died of swine flu abroad either. And you really dislike being asked about it, you feel disgusted by the media.

What we don’t see in the meantime… (Day ten to date)

So you decide to go online and see any other traces of the usual “disease” of the world that everyone seems to be ignoring on their fear to die.

• In Mexico itself, the senate approved the doses of several drugs as for personal use. Five grams of marihuana, 2 grams of opium, 50mg of heroine, .01mg of LSD, 40mg of crystal or methamphetamines. Is it you or this doses are extremely high? Is it you or heroine should not be considered ok to use? You have always been a liberal on this topic and this is a bit too much. So many reforms of this type are being passed in Mexico in this week and no one really cares…
• A dude killed 12 people in a school in Azerbaijan.
• Chrysler and Fiat are bankrupt.

Today you heard nothing about Iraq. Nothing about Palestine and Israel. What about Iran and North Korea? Are they also on holidays afraid of the swine flu? What would you tell others? If you are in Mexico you would wish them this utterly strange time comes to an end soon (in case of emergency you have anyways mapped a plan to extract your family from the country), may they never be as bored as they are now and hopefully at the end of it, the economy isn’t death. Take care, and go to the doctor if something out of normal, but overall to the world you wish they’d take a chill pill.

In the end you are only mad at someone the press, agencies and governments, for causing this panic of enormous proportions. If they were professionals… oh well… we’d be somewhere else, but in the era in which news comes from Twitter, there isn’t much you can ask. Let’s see for how long the Chinese whispers continue…

Can you be wrong about all this? Maybe, but you may also be right. In the end, you mom is making a monument to pigs, not knowing she should build it to birds and for everyone else you know, they are healthy trying to live life as normal as possible. You can go to bed and sleep in peace… the chances of dieing in a car crash are still higher even if there is no special report and breaking news for that.

In the end, panic is just as contagious as the regular flu.

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