On Thursday, April 8, Vivian Lawry will be leading a discussion of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows). Time: 7:30 p.m. Place:Tuckahoe Branch of the Henrico Public Library. The event is free and open to the public.
Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, turtle lover, and dutiful servant of a fluffy tyrant masquerading as a dog.
By this point, most of us have seen something in our lives change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we understand (at least a bit) why things have changed. Our animal companions just see that the humans’ behaviors are suddenly different.
Despite various quarantine and lockdown orders around the world, animals dependent on humans still need care. Many zoos and animal parks house animals that cannot be released into the wild because they were born in captivity, they are still recovering from injuries, their homes have been destroyed, or other circumstances that prevent them being able to thrive. Animal shelters, zoos, rescue and rehabilitation centers, and emergency veterinarians have adjusted to provide food, socialization, attention, playtime, and everything else to keep their charges happy.
Zoos have closed to the public, but zookeepers are still reporting for work. Some keepers have temporarily moved into the zoos themselves to be closer to their charges and to avoid any chance of carrying any infections into the zoo or home to their families. They’re camping in the cafeterias and staying in veterinary isolation huts.
In Cornwall, England, four keepers at Paradise Park have moved into the original house of the family that owned the property. Other keepers rotate in and out to assist, maintaining a strict schedule so that they are not in the zoo at the same time.
Without visitors around all the time, zookeepers have more freedom to take animals to visit their friends in other areas of the parks.
Because most zoos are making do with skeleton crews, keepers don’t have as much time as they’d like to play with the animals in their care. Many animals have been taking their own tours around zoos to see each other and keep each other entertained. (That doesn’t mean that bunnies have been jumping into the lion pens to say hello.)
The tamer animals have been allowed to wander the parks freely while there are no visitors. Territorial animals like geese have taken over bridges and tried to block keepers from crossing to feed other animals. Many zookeepers report that the more social animals still follow them around during rounds, without any leads or harness.
Some animals have left the zoo altogether and gone to explore the world. Peacocks from the Bronx Zoo took a stroll through Prospect Park.
This cockatoo learned how to sing “Row row row your boat” and loves to sing along with kids who come by her enclosure. Without her backup singers, she has started humming to herself in the quiet. Zookeepers report that they can sometimes hear her start the song by herself but trail off sadly when no one joins in.
Without visitors to interact with, many animals are behaving differently. Keepers try to give each animal extra attention during feeding and rounds, but it’s hard to replace a steady stream of admirers. Some animals miss the interaction and get very excited to see anyone. Other animals feel more comfortable without an audience and venture out of hiding spaces more regularly.
Zookeepers come up with activities to keep animals entertained and socialized. Gorillas who regularly mirror gestures and pose for selfies with visitors are shown videos of people talking to them. Leopards at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY have to “hunt” for food in cardboard tubes to keep teeth and jaws strong.
Polar bear cubs at Ouwehands Zoo Rhenen in Holland didn’t have to worry about public crowds when they left the maternity den for the first time.
Snakes, alligators, stingrays, etc. haven’t shown any sign that they’ve even noticed a change. However, one zookeeper noticed that some types of fish have become very attention-seeking.
Veterinarians at the Dubai Camel Hospital in Abu Dhabi have kept their enclosures open to treat their patients. After surgery, the very large patients need plenty of space and lots of help to get over that first hump in their recovery. (Ha! I crack myself up!)
Most veterinarians are only open for emergency cases to lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19. The CDC has confirmed that two pet cats have tested positive for COVID-19, but both showed mild symptoms and are expected to make a full recovery. Updated guidelines for interacting with cats and dogs have been posted on the CDC website. Although pets cannot become infected, there is a chance that they could spread virus surviving in droplets on their fur or paws.
One of the positive side effects of this awful pandemic has been the emptying of animal shelters. All over the world, people are adopting or fostering quarantine buddies. Shelter managers warn that permanent adoption may not be the best choice for families who will not have the time and resources to continue to care for pets when lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Some shelters are offering to cover food or vet bills for adopted or fostered pets as an incentive. While we’re all stuck inside, what could be better than spending extra quality time with our favorite furry buddies? They must be loving it, too. People home all day!
Mental health experts recommend furry, feathery, or scaly companions to mitigate the feelings of loneliness and depression some people are bound to develop while self-isolating. Pets can also be a huge help to parents trying to keep children entertained while they are out of school and have no place to run off all that energy.
Depending on the intelligence and motivation of the pet you adopt or foster, they may be able to help you complete some of your work at home.
Therapy dogs who can no longer visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes are sharing their affection and calm over video.
Several localities are under extremely strict lockdown measures that residents are only allowed outside for specific errands, such as walking the dog. If walking the dog is the only opportunity you have for going outside, you might as well do it in style.
While the zoos and aquariums are closed and everyone is staying home, take a virtual trip. Many parks and zoos have installed virtual tours and live-feeds of animals. These are a few of my favorites.
A while back, I posted a blog on hair and what it says about a character—or at least what impression it makes on others. So what can we glean from how a person (or character) deals with hair now that beauticians and barbers are deemed “nonessential”?
As best I can tell, there is a big divide in hair care priority between those who are deemed essential in jobs that require working onsite and those who are staying home. The former are under more pressure to keep up appearances. But both groups include essentially three subgroups: those who are happy to let it all flow, those who try to recreate professional techniques on their own, and those who create entirely new styles to fit the situation.
Go With the Flow
Theses people are doing nothing beyond washing and brushing their hair. The result may be tri-color—for example, dark chestnut coming in, the remnants of highlights, and gray in front or at the temples. Such people may resort to caps or scarves. Over time, ponytails, braids, barrettes, bands, and ties come in handy. And think wigs! They can be ordered online.
Some would claim this choice is tougher for a man to carry off, to the extent that many men are simply shaving their heads. Women are less likely to choose this option.
Choosing to do nothing is sometimes characterized as “giving my hair a break” from chemical treatments and elaborate coiffures.
Technically, shaving one’s head might be a form of DIY for people who hadn’t already adopted that look. A close alternative is men who have their spouses or partner’s cut their hair, even if they have never cut hair before. Some women opt for this option as well
Some women are cutting their own hair—definitely easier with some styles than others.
But not all households have the basic equipment—hair scissors, clippers, a mirror that allows a steady view of the back of the head. In such situations, what are the alternatives? Think kitchen shears, pinking shears, nail scissors, and safety razors.
Those who color their hair have denuded the shelves of supermarkets and drug stores of home dye. Professionals strongly recommend against DIY color, saying one may severely damage one’s hair. But, hey, it’s only hair. It’ll grow back, right?
A friend suggested to me that I could color the tips of my hair with red food coloring. She said that my hair is so short, it would be cut off soon. It reminds me that when I was in seventh grade a redheaded friend and I experimented with food coloring. She chose green and I chose blue. We (erroneously) thought it would wash right out. So, no red tips. But blue to match my eyes? Maybe.
And that reminds me: so-called temporary hair color is permanent if you have previously had your hair lightened.
DIY may be exceptionally difficult for Black women. The importance of hair care has resulted in a massive industry, worth $2.5 billion at least, including chemical relaxers, braiding services, hair pieces, and so forth. Women may feel uncomfortable wearing “natural” hair, and many more are unable to create their customary look from home.
These are the people who have decided hair care is essential and therefore defy the stay at home/social distancing injunctions. Either the client goes to the home of her/his hairdresser or the practitioner comes to the home of the client. Both greatly increase the risk of spreading the virus, of course.
I’m not a YouTube fan, but there are a gazillion (by actual count!) options for videos of home hair care. Recently, salon experts have been posting and advising their clients to take a look. Some salons are delivering professional supplies and equipment to their clients’ homes in sanitized packaging. And some practitioners are setting up video chats with clients to talk them through coloring or braiding their own hair.
Bottom line for writers: How a character responds to the hair care crisis is a clear reflection of personality. Use it!
Surely everyone out there is aware of the (apparent) worldwide toilet paper shortage. Although people who claim to know say there is plenty of TP to go around, what shoppers actually see are miles of empty shelves. And there’s no denying that the TP panic has led to weirdness. Lots of weirdness.
Writers note: if anything in this blog is useful for your writing, it’s purely incidental to what I hope is the smile factor. (I won’t be able to reference every individual incident. They’re all over the internet. You can look it up!)
Ingenuity or Desperation
A thief in Eugene, Oregon smashed the entire back window of an SUV to steal two 30-roll cases of TP, along with any miscellaneous valuables within reach. That turns out to be small potatoes. Police in Guilford County recovered a stolen 18-wheeler loaded with over 18,000 pounds of TP.
In Hong Kong thieves held up a supermarket delivery driver and made off with hundreds of rolls. Authorities estimated that the value of the TP was $218 (HK$1700) but could be sold for much more on the black market.
A man in the UK crammed his van so full of scarce paper products that he was over the legal weight limit for his vehicle and had to pay a fine worth more than $370 (GPB 300).
Hoarders and others with a supply have offered TP and other scarce items online at sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace for extreme prices to such an extent that efforts to curb price-gouging have been put in place. Several customers have had their accounts suspended.
One man jumped ahead of the curve, going to small towns in his area and buying out the TP and hand sanitizer from the shelves of mom-and-pop stores, Dollar Stores, etc., and then offering them online at such excessive prices that he’s been barred and is stuck with a garage full of supplies he cannot sell.
A similar scalper in Australia had his hoard seized by police and donated to local shelters.
Brick and mortar stores have started imposing limits on how many of each item individual shoppers can buy. Once stores moved to control bulk buying—such as limiting the number of packages customers can buy in one day—desperate people took desperate measures. For example, each member of the family going into the store separately to buy the maximum. When Wegman’s limited people to two packages of TP per day, someone bought the TP and then came back ten minutes later wearing a hat and sunglasses and tried to buy more.
Some people are not happy with the limiting of purchases. Near Richmond, VA, a man arrived at the supermarket check-out with a cart full of paper napkins. When told he could buy only two, he yelled, “F**k you!” then upended the cart and walked out.
The situation has gotten so crazy in some parts of Australia that police are having to guard pallets of toilet paper in stores, handing packages to customers one at a time.
Recently, my endodontist’s receptionist told me that they had locked up their supplies of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other items that had begun to disappear. Public restrooms in gas stations, fast food restaurants, and convenience stores have done the same.
Perhaps they should follow the lead of a convenience store worker in Japan. She hung signs with images of eyes and kanji characters in front of the TP to curse the rolls. The symbols imply that anyone pilfering the TP will be hunted down and eaten by a hungry monster. And the pilfering stopped! Never underestimate the power of superstition.
An Internet cafe in Florida posted the following hand-written note in the bathroom: “Stealing toilet paper at this point in time is not funny. I pray that you do not get the virus— But if you do . . . God was watching!” There was no report of the note’s effectiveness.
Once shelves were denuded of TP, people started stocking up on tissues, paper towels, wipes, and napkins. But flushing such things is likely to screw up the plumbing, septic systems, and sewers. City officials in Ankeny, Iowa tweeted the plea to flush only human waste and TP. The city of West Des Moines posted similar pleas not to flush wipes, paper towels, napkins, diapers, feminine hygiene products, socks, dryer sheets, or facial tissue. Johnston, IA, added toothbrushes and toys to the list!
Iowa isn’t the only place where such warnings are needed. A Tacoma, Washington plumbing company reported an instance of people flushing pieces of T-shirts down the toilet. They routinely give a roll of TP to people who have called them in.
An Arkansas florist turned his pre-COVID-19 stash of TP into “floral bathroom tributes” just $75 (for about 9 rolls). And TP is becoming a welcome wedding gift.
TP has become such a valuable commodity that retailers are rewarding customers with rolls of it. A pizza restaurant in Milwaukee, offered a roll of TP for every large pizza bought. Other large restaurants from coast to coast have started similar TP giveaways. And some establishments accept toilet paper in lieu of money!
An Australian newspaper, NT News, included eight blank pages in the middle of the printed pages to be used as TP, complete with cut lines so customers could get the maximum number of squares.
An LA jewelry store decided to use toilet paper as a marketing ploy, as advertised here.
Arcade owners in the UK and Hong Kong have replaced the usual plush toys in claw game machines with rolls of TP. Other similar vending machines offer hand sanitizer and other personal hygiene products to the prize pool.
No doubt, somewhere out there, someone is standing in the median of a roadway holding a sign that says, “Will Work for Toilet Paper.”
On the Flip Side: Acts of Generosity
In Coral Gables, FL, Church by the Glades announced a day and time for people to pick up free toilet paper.
In Summerville, SC, police issued rolls of TP to drivers in lieu of tickets.
NT News, an Australian newspaper, has begun including extra sheets of blank paper in the centerfold, specifically for use as toilet paper.
Traveling/Keller (an Atlanta-based marketing firm) is one of many companies that are temporarily closed. Having enough TP on hand for 1,000 employees, they decided to give it away. Employees threw rolls of TP through the open windows of cars driving by in their “Toilet Paper Tosses” initiative.
On a smaller scale, many people have been offering a roll or two to friends or family in need, going to the store for those who can’t make it out, or donating hygiene products to local homeless and women’s shelters.
The New Currency
Venezualans have experience using toilet paper and diapers as currency, after skyrocketing inflation. It seems the rest of the world may be catching on.
Alternative Methods of… You Know
There are plenty of other materials with which to maintain your personal hygiene when you don’t feel up to facing the hordes at the stores. Be aware, though: many of these alternatives cannot be flushed. Sewage systems around the world are becoming clogged by “fatbergs” of flushable wipes (that aren’t flushable), paper towels, diaper, sanitary napkins, and all the other alternatives people experimented with.
Do you really need to buy TP right now? Most standard 2-ply, 1000 sheet rolls should last about a week. But for a number tailored to your household, there’s an online calculator for that.
P.S. Police departments around the country are reminding people: Don’t Call 911 If You Run Out Of Toilet Paper. It is not a life-threatening emergency.
What to Do When You Realize You Can’t Return It
Some people have already realized the folly of buying pallets of squished-up trees in preparation for a respiratory illness, but most stores have policies in place refusing returns. Here are some other ideas! (These photos were taken before February 2020.)
By this time, I would bet that nearly everyone on Earth has been touched one way or another by COVID-19. Global pandemics are an unfortunate experience that unites all of humanity. Similarly, medical providers around the world have been called upon to step up, just as they would in any similar event whether historical, fantastic, or science fictional.
Nurse Green treating consumption patients in a New York sanitorium in 1843, Doctor White treating AIDS patients in Zimbabwe in 1997, and Healer Black treating bubonic plague patients in Constantinople in 546 all have the same general goals and similar biological challenges.
Medic Silver treating space plague in patients on the Third Moon of Alpha Centauri is likely to find xirself facing the same situation.
For most of us, all but urgent care medical appointments have been postponed or cancelled. Even urgent care has changed drastically. I recently had an appointment for a root canal in a nearly empty clinic. The receptionist told all patients to wait in their cars until called, and only the dentist, his assistant, one office worker, and I were in the building the entire time I was in the chair. Of course, most of us see these changes from the perspective of the patient. What about the providers?
A chiropractor who has a one-man practice told me that so many patients are canceling (or not making appointments in the first place) that he is worried about what’s happening to his personal income, and whether he can continue to pay his one office worker. My dentist is the head of a small practice (fewer than 50 employees) and he said the same thing: trying to keep the practice open and employees paid when they are seeing only urgent care cases. A dental assistant, recognizing that the practice is vulnerable, worries that she won’t be able to pay the rent.
These people are the tiniest of samples and most would agree they aren’t front-line workers in this pandemic. For that perspective, I am fortunate to have a colleague who lives in a veritable nest of doctors, nurses, medical students, and first responders, and here are things they had to say.
Is this sort of thing what you had in mind when you applied to med school?
Absolutely not. When I went to medical school, I thought I wanted to go into surgery, but I realized that I hated rounding and getting dressed up. As far as the current pandemic, I don’t think anyone envisioned something like this. We haven’t had anything close to this since 1918 with the Great Influenza Pandemic. And in probably every humans’ mind, medical care has advanced so much since then. How could anything like that happen again?
Not at all. I had visions of helping patients overcome their physical or medical disabilities so they could live their lives. Now I am at the frontline of protecting about 100 elderly, disabled patients who were recently hospitalized for other reasons and are now at risk for coming down with COVID-19. We have already diagnosed it in quite a few of our patients. It is likely many of the others also have it but only mild or asymptomatic cases. However, they are still contagious, and we must be extremely careful so we don’t spread it around to other patients, ourselves, and our families.
I always knew working with high-risk patients meant that I would be saying a lot of good-byes, and I thought I was okay with that. I could at least make them feel a little bit better, maybe smile a little. But now I feel like I’m saying that final good-bye every time I leave a patient’s house. Like, will this person even be here the next time I come over?
Pretty much, yeah. I always knew the communities where I wanted to work would be full of infection and contagion, without a lot of medicine or cleaning. But there was always something I could do, yeah? Now there’s no medicine, no vaccine, no ventilators, nothing but me in the same mask I’ve been wearing for a week and trying so hard to convince families that grandmother must stay away from her grandbabies.
Nope. I think a lot of this is media driven. And people fear arguing against safety. But being too safe can have its own trade off and risk other forms of safety.
If we did not want that responsibility, we would not have chosen this career path.
In general, how do you avoid bringing work stress or infections home?
Not bringing infections home is easy. The scrubs I wear for work stay and get laundered at the hospital. I have separate shoes for the hospital which stay in my office. And I use hand sanitizer before I leave the building. We deal with some pretty nasty resistant bugs at work. I don’t need to bring that home to my wife and daughters. I try not to let work get to me. I try to make sure everyone is having fun at work, so it keeps my stress level down. But even with that, it can build up.
It’s been tough, lately. I cry every night. I try not to, but I see so many people sick and nothing I can do. I never let my family see me.
Showers when I get to work and before I leave work. There’s a clean line between my two lives. I don’t bring any of that culture home with me. No stickers or special license plates on my car, just the parking decal.
The key to avoiding bringing infections home is the same as avoiding spreading it at work, always good hygiene and using protective equipment. There really is no difference. And as long as I work as hard as I can and do the best I can, stress is not an issue. Only fatigue, which comes to anybody who works long, hard hours.
Do you prioritize symptoms, patients, contagion, contact, etc. differently now?
It used to be mostly elective or scheduled operations, so we had time to make sure patients are prepped and optimized for surgery ahead of time. On the bus [ambulance], we don’t get to pick and choose our patients. They call us when they are in their worst time. There’s a big difference between a sterile operating room, and the side of the road at 2am. But in the end, a patient is a patient. It’s about the ABCs and then go from there.
Patients have prioritized themselves differently. Nobody will come to the clinic if they can find something else to do. I had a girl come to my house with a broken arm because her parents did not think she should be risk being exposed.
PPE is at a premium. At work, I’m reusing my N-95 masks between patients because otherwise we’d run out. But if I have to intubate a known or suspected COVID patient, we are in full protective gear to include a respirator. We do have new protocols in place for use of PPE on the ambulances when we suspect a COVID patient.
So far we do not have to prioritize anything other than can they leave their room on a closed ward? Should they be cohorted with someone else who also has the virus? Many of our patients have other contagious diseases or infections; we must be careful.
Actually less people are calling 911. Looking at the county stats the call volume has dropped 10-20% over the past month. Generally you can look at a person and tell if they are in distress or not. There used to be a lot of people who called for help when they just wanted a ride. I typically deal with one patient at a time.
What behaviors in the general public infuriate you from a health care view (at any time, not just now)?
I used to get really worked up with people smoking. There is so much data about how bad smoking and drugs are for you, yet young people still start using them. But I realized I can’t change everyone, and it would just cause me undue stress. So I just focus on who I can help in front of me. I also realize people are going to make their own choices, good or bad. All I can do is give them the information and hope they listen to it.
There are so many people who are just forgotten about and so they have no one to help them. They are stuck at home because they are old or no one will talk to them because they are weird or whatever. And then they are sick and no one knows because no one thinks to go and check.
People get a little bit of information and then suddenly they’re the expert and telling everyone else what to do and then people actually do it! Or they follow what the aunties say to do, even if it makes no sense, just because no one wants to upset the aunties. Like, drinking fever tea is not going to cure COVID-19, even if it makes your fever feel a little better.
The only behavior that infuriates me is when I see people carelessly congregating and likely spreading the virus but acting as if it is a joke. It’s infuriating because they are then passing it on to even more possibly highly vulnerable people who have nothing to do with their irresponsible behavior. Otherwise the public’s behavior does not infuriate me. I feel very bad for family members who are not allowed to visit their family members. Must be terrifying being in such a helpless position. When they get obviously upset or even angry, we know it’s understandable.
Passing the liability on to others. “Oh my insurance or doctor said call 911.” And the fact that life is not sunshine and rainbows. Just because you’re not feeling well doesn’t mean you’re going to die.
Have you changed your routines at home or work in the past few months?
I always believed that the immune system is something that needs frequent practice to be strong, and I still do believe that. But with COVID-19, the game has completely changed. I’m now washing my hands much more frequently, or using hand sanitizer whenever I touch something public in the hospital. I wipe my desk, computer, phone, and ID badge down with a sanitizing wipe before I leave work. And I always wash my hands when I walk into my home first thing before I do anything else.
Patients who used to come to me for stomach virus and insulin checks stay far away from the clinic now, especially the pregnant ladies. Now I see only people who are afraid they have coronovirus or that their aunties have coronovirus.
I share a flat with other medics, but I’ve moved back into my parents’ house, where the cellar has a separate washroom and entrance. It’s easier to stay isolated there, even if it’s a longer commute.
In the past two or three weeks our entire day has changed. We do not focus as much on the primary reason the patients are with us, which is to be evaluated and treated for various disabilities. Instead, we are more focused on signs or symptoms suggesting that they may be coming down with the virus. We don’t want to miss them for their sake, and for the increased risk of them spreading it to other patients and staff.
I definitely pray a lot more. I’ll admit it’s a little strange to see His Holiness over video broadcast in an empty room, but it’s very nice to know that I’m not alone to say the Rosary even when I can’t go to Mass here.
Stepped up the disinfecting. And wearing more healthcare protective equipment. We don’t got in nursing homes unless they can’t be brought outside. And we tell people to meet us outside.
I spend more time at each house because a lot of my patients aren’t having any other visitors. All the community outreach stops at the front door now.
Have you seen anything good as a result of the recent insanity?
I try to focus on the good, but it’s so hard when there is so much bad. I guess… traffic is fantastic now. I think everyone is trying to do their part to support local restaurants and businesses. Most people seem to want to do the right thing.
With so many people made to stay at home, I think a lot of families are spending more time together. And everyone seems to be thinking up some way they can help, kids giving birthday money to shelters and medical students doing childcare for health workers.
Communities are recognizing that shop clerks, drivers, cleaners, they’re all absolutely necessary. It’s not just the politicians and rich folk who matter. Where would we be without rubbish clean-up and food delivery?
Difficult times like this often bring out the best that is already in people. The best has been in them all the time, but now they are expressing it and experiencing it more.
People are learning that hospitals are disgusting places and that there are risks in going to them.
Is there anything you wish management, government, media, or whomever would do differently?
All those different entities do so many things wrong, it’s hard to know where to focus. I’ve learned for the most part that there is little that I can affect on a large scale, such as with government or the media. So I tend to not pay attention to either much.
Some countries have been able to mobilize testing of millions of people very rapidly. It would help us to determine who has already had the virus and is very low risk for acquiring it and passing it on, and is therefore fairly safe working on the front lines. They can also get back to work in what is currently called nonessential businesses. Without enough testing, we are fighting this battle blindfolded.
Why do travel companies keep offering cheap tickets?!
The media has been distorting the message. We keep hearing how certain drugs have not been approved for this virus, but really nothing has been approved. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try. About 20% of all medications used have not been approved for the thing doctors are prescribing them for. This is called off label use and we use this approach all the time for many medications. For a governor to ban certain medications because they have not been approved is the same as practicing medicine without a license.
The amount of bad information floating around is so dangerous. I understand that people are scared and no one has all the answers, but I wish people would stop telling things that aren’t true. Washing your mouth with bleach, drinking boiling water, filling your room with smoke… No, don’t do these things.
I wish there was more reliable information available in every language. My neighbours like to assume that, because I speak English, I have all of the answers that are being hoarded by British and American doctors.
It’s become a social and status symbol to say that you’ve been tested or have it. No one cares. Just stay home.
What keeps you up at night?
The one thing that has kept me up at times is when I have a patient that has a complication, whether I contributed to it or not. I tend to “Monday Morning Quarterback” every little thing I did and blame myself even when it’s not my fault.
Nothing currently keeps me up at night. As long as I do my best in my family is okay, I sleep well. It’s been a long time since I’ve been unable to sleep.
I worry about the people no one seems to help – the families who can’t get food, the people stuck behind barricades, the old ones left at home with no neighbors to check on them.
Dead kids tend to make it harder to sleep for a while.
The question we all really want to ask: How do you keep your hands from drying out and cracking when you wash them every twenty seconds?
Make sure you rinse really well. Little bits of soap film, especially in the knuckles or between your fingers, can cause irritation.
Soap and water is so much better than hand sanitizer. The alcohol in hand sanitizer is usually what dries out skin. Plus, soap and water is more effective.
One of the side effects of COVID-19 is that many people have more unstructured time than usual—much more. By unstructured time, I mean periods of time with no plan in place for what one must/wants to get done
Stretches of unstructured time often bring pressure and anxiety, sometimes existential panic.
Worrisome thoughts are more easily set aside when busy. But with unstructured time, it’s easy for self-doubts to come to the fore.
Am I too fat?
Have I done a good job as a parent?
Will anyone remember me when I’m dead?
When we have lots of time available, it’s easy to procrastinate. One can fritter away the time, flitting from one indulgence to another, from reading a novel to online shopping. Come the end of the day, one then feels guilty for not having been productive—or not productive enough. The feeling that one has “wasted time” is uncomfortable.
Being constantly on the go is often linked to self-worth—in which case not being productive leads to low self-esteem, as in “I’m a failure” or “I’m lazy.”
Making the most of every minute of every day isn’t recognized as an impossible, not to say unhealthy, goal.
When deprived of the activities that usually fill our days, we often drift into unhealthy activities.
Being physically inactive
Drinking and/or smoking more
Snacking and/or eating too much
Being suddenly confronted with unstructured time can be disorienting. This is often true of the newly retired. Regularly scheduled activities—which could be anything from work to volunteering, golf or poker to orchestra rehearsals—make people aware of the time of day as well as days of the week or month.
For me, COVID-19 cancellations make every day feel like Monday, my formerly “free” day. I have to pause and think what day of the week it is.
Also, the “natural” day for humans isn’t exactly 24 hours: it’s somewhere between 24 and 26 hours. We reset to 24 hours based on outside constraints. My personal day is longer than most, and it’s easy to stay up and wake progressively later and later—say 3:00 to noon. For those on lock-down due to COVID-19, with no scheduled activities, the time of day might feel “off.”
The short solution to all these negatives is simple: make plans. Keep the list of plans brief — say three — and doable. The plans could be relaxing activities such cutting flowers, taking a walk, etc. The idea is that making plans decreases the likelihood that you’ll pass days in haphazard activities or listlessness.
Astronauts, being experts in the field of isolation, have offered some advice to those of us down here on the planet.
Keep a consistent sleeping schedule
Go outside and get some sun, so long as you do it by yourself
Separate work and leisure time, if you still work from home, so that one does not overtake the other
Stay in touch with people online or over the phone
As more people are staying at home, many organizations are creating virtual activities to keep your mind active. You can take a virtual tour of a museum or national park,audit classes in a variety of subjects, join exercise or meditation groups, watch ballets or operas or Broadway shows, even have a cocktail or movie party with your friends! If all else fails, there are ways to help your community from the comfort of your living room.
OpenCulture has gathered many of these links to allow people to browse their options.
To fix the growing shortage of protective gear among healthcare workers, many people have started making face masks for local hospitals and fire stations.
Coursera is currently working with many universities to allow students to earn college credit
Many independent, foreign, classic, and documentary films are available to watch online for free
One of my favorite guest bloggers has agreed to provide her always unique perspective on current events. With all that’s been written on the current pandemic, we sometimes need to take a step back and look from a (very) different angle. Kathleen Corcoran is a local harpist, teacher, writer, editor, favorite auntie, and tenuous believer in the goodness of humanity.
Whenever society collapses (or maybe wobbles a bit), we seem to see the extremes in people come out. The very best of heroes stand up, and the very worst villains take advantage. As the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett wrote in Good Omens, “Where you found the real McCoy, the real grace and the real heart-stopping evil, was right inside the human mind.” Of course, disaster also sometimes brings out the very weirdest elements…
Note: The examples provided below are by no means a comprehensive list of incidents. They represent my own personal opinions and are not endorsed or promoted by any other entity.
The Best Side of Humanity
During the Plague of Justinian, the official Court Historian Procopius kept notes on how the plague affected the Roman Empire. In addition to some rather bizarre medical theories, he saw the way the plague brought out the very best of humanity. “[T]hen all, so to speak, being thoroughly terrified by the things which were happening, and supposing that they would die immediately, did, as was natural, learn respectability for a season by sheer necessity.” From History of the Wars, II.xxii–xxxiiitranslated by H.B. Dewing.
One constant in every disaster is the appearance of some form of healthcare worker, whether professional or volunteer, providing care for patients despite personal danger, overwhelming circumstances, inadequate supplies, exhaustion, and every other possible obstacle.
As far back as the Plague of Justinian, the court historian Procopious wrote about the exhausting and selfless labors of those who cared for plague patients, though it seems the main job of a nursing aid at the time was stopping their patients from committing suicide before they died from the plague: “When they were struggling to rush headlong out of their houses, they would force them back by shoving and pulling against them.”
Elsie Maud Inglis started a women’s medical corps during WWI and established two hospitals on front lines. When the German army advanced, she was taken prisoner with her patients rather than be evacuated. During a later prisoner exchange, Elsie Inglis refused to be released unless her captors also released her patients, saving 13,000 injured Serbian POWs.
During the 1918 Influenza Pandemic (sometimes called Spanish Flu), the ease of infection and limited hospital space resulted in incredibly high mortality rates among everyone who worked near the sick. Stories emerged after of nurses working straight through their shifts only to die at the end, of medical students taken out of classes to run entire hospital wards, of doctors continuing to direct care rotas despite being confined to bed themselves.
Corporal Desmond Doss repeatedly ran into enemy fire to recover wounded soldiers as a medic in WWII. Despite refusing to carry any weapon as a conscientious objector, he saved nearly 100 wounded soldiers under fire and was awarded the Medal of Honor.
After running 26.2 miles, many Boston marathoners who crossed the finish line after the 2013 bombing continued running several more miles to Massachusetts General Hospital to donate blood.
Despite having been hit earlier by Hurricane Katrina, Cuba was one of the first countries to offer aid to the US victims of the hurricane, offering to send 1,586 doctors and 26 tons of medicine.
Kellan Squire, an ER nurse who ran for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia (in part to fix the healthcare system) has this to say about healthcare workers in the current pandemic: “We’re going to get infected, we’re going to die and get ICUed at a rate a few times above other subgroups, we’re going to charge in without the resources or support we need to do our jobs. It’s just what we do. It’s not like we’re going to stop… especially now.”
Despite facing serious threats to themselves or their families, there are always people who are willing to face that danger in order to aid or shelter others.
Ninety percent of the Jewish population of Denmark survived the Holocaust because nearly the entire Danish population worked together to hide or evacuate their friends and neighbors when the Nazis invaded.
In 1943, hundreds of non-Jewish women married to Jewish men who had been deported gathered every day at the Rosenstrass e 2-4 Welfare Office to demand the release of their relatives, risking harassement, arrest, and execution while completely unarmed themselves. The “Rosenstrasse Protest” was successful; all of the arrested men were released, and the protesters faced no repercussions.
In Kenya in 2015, al-Shabab terrorists started a pattern of entering an area, separating Muslims and non-Muslims at gunpoint, and then massacring all of the non-Muslims. A bus leaving Nairobi in December was boarded by terrorists who demanded that the passengers separate by religion, but Kenyan Muslims on board refused to move, sheltering their fellow riders in their ranks. The al-Shabab terrorists eventually left without firing a shot.
The families of Sarajevo business partners Yosef Kavilio and Mustafa Hardaga wound up saving each other, decades apart. In the 1940s, Mustafa Hardaga and his wife Zejneba hid the Jewish Yosef Kavilio and his family in their cellar. Decades later, in 1992, Kavilio’s descendants in Israel saw on television the danger Zejneba Hardaga faced from Bosnian troops. The petitioned the Israeli government to locate Zejneba and her daughter, who were safely evacuated to Israel.
Sometimes doing the right thing means deliberately disobeying laws or going against direct orders from a superior.
Dominican Friar Najeeb Michael, who was in charge of digitizing thousands of ancient volumes of Iraqi history, refused to leave his abbey in Mosul when ISIL invaded. Instead of evacuating immediately as his superiors orders, he kept boxing up and moving cases of books to prevent them from being destroyed. Even when he finally started to leave the city, he kept stopping his car to children and disabled passengers on his way to safety.
Hugh Thompson was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who landed his helicopter between American soldiers and the fleeing residents of My Lai, threatening to open fire on the soldiers if they did not stop killing civilians and destroying homes. He then flew dozens of survivors to receive medical care. Despite direct orders to cover up the My Lai Massacre, Major Thompson cooperated fully with the investigation into the incident. He was later ostracized by fellow military members, receiving anonymous death threats and mutilated animal bodies left on his front porch.
Tibor Rubin repeatedly broke out of North Korean POW camps to smuggle food back in to fellow prisoners. He also provided medical aid to other POWs, using skills he picked up while surviving Mauthausen concentration camp during the Holocaust
In 1944, Nazi ships tried to round up all of the Jews in the Ionian Islands of Greece. When the SS demanded that Mayor Loukas Karrer of Zakynthos provide a list of all Jews on the island, Bishop Chrysostomos handed them a list with two names on it: Mayor Loukass Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos. Meanwhile, the 275 Jews on the Zakynthos were hidden by residents of nearly inaccessible mountainous villages; every person on the island collaborated in saving their Jewish neighbors.
The Edelweiss Pirates was a loosely connected network of ex-Hitler Youth, mostly between the ages of 14 and 18, who did everything they could disrupt the Nazi war effort in Germany, including blowing up railways and helping Jews escape execution.
Sergeant Dakota Meyer was ordered to ignore a distress call at Ganjigal and to fall back instead. He drove into the battle zone five times, transporting wounded soldiers in his Humvee and providing cover fire for other military personnel to escape.
Dr. Albert Battel was a lieutenant in the German army who stopped the SS from entering Przemysl ghetto in 1942. While the SS was stalled trying to get through the blocked bridge, Lieutenant Battel and his unit moved families out of the ghetto and hid them at his own Army headquarters, preventing the SS from deporting them to the Belzec Extermination Camp.
With the stock market practicing pogo moves, kids needing extra childcare, people missing shifts, and every possible industry seeing some kind of disruption, it’s still amazing to see businesses putting the good of the community over profit.
Zahid Iqbal has donated and delivered thousands of “coronavirus kits” from his convenience store in Edinburgh, Scotland. He and his employees have made the kits from toilet paper, antibacterial handwash, tissues, and anti-inflammatories and then brought them to retirement homes and the homes of at-risk neighbors.
Healthcare workers in America are facing a serious shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), putting them at additional risk of infection while they work. Several medical tv shows are donating PPE used on sets (still sterile boxes of gloves, face masks, surgical gowns, hairnets, etc.) to EMTs, fire stations, and hospitals.
There are some very creative methods of giving back to the community and helping society that take a specific blend of available talent and courage to perform.creative methods of giving
Chef José Andrés closed all of his restaurants in DC to comply with restrictions on social gatherings. With empty kitchens and refrigerators full of food, he decided to go back to work making packaged meals to distribute to people in quarantine, healthcare workers, and anyone else in the area who needs help feeding their families.
Other restaurants that have to close for social distancing are donating massive amounts of food (as well as cooking and packaging supplies) to local food banks, shelters, Meals on Wheels, and community kitchens.
Chiari Hospital in northern Italy needed ventilator valves to help COVID-19 patients breathe. Engineers from Isinnova collaborated with the 3-D printing company FabLab to produce replicas of the valve quickly, allowing the ventilators to stay in use.3-D printing ventilator valves.
Musicologist Ahmad Sarmast graduated from school and then returned to his native Afghanistan to record oral musical traditions he feared would be lost in chaos and uncertainty. Along the way, he started teaching girls to play orchestral instruments in defiance of religious restrictions. He has already survived one bombing assassination attempt and continues to record, notate, and teach despite now being nearly deaf and riddled with shrapnel.
The Worst Side of Humanity
Unfortunately, there will always be people waiting to take advantage of any situation. Some betray their neighbors to save themselves. Some see any opportunity for profit or personal gain. Some seem to hurt people for no other reason than the pleasure they feel when hurting people. Again, Sir Terry Pratchett said it best: “Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.” (from I Shall Wear Midnight)
The phrase “adding insult to injury” comes to mind when reading these next examples. People who are kicked when they are down, sometimes in the most petty of ways.
After the students protesting in Tiananmen Square were gunned down in 1989, the Chinese government reportedly charged families of victims a “bullet fee” for the cost of the bullets used to execute their dead family members.
During Irish Potato Famine, Sultan Abdul Medjid Khan of the Ottoman Empire tried to donate £10,000 and ships full of food to send to Ireland. British ambassadors told him it was forbidden for anyone to donate more than Queen Victoria, who had only donated £1,000.
People running from Hurricane Katrina were turned back at gunpoint when they tried to cross the bridge into neighboring town of Gretna.
White Star Line billed the families of Titanic victims for freight shipping cost of having bodies returned, used a weird contract clause to fire every employee the moment the ship started to sink, and billed the families of the band members for the cost of uniforms that weren’t returned (because they were too busy playing to keep people calm as the ship sank to worry about taking off their clothes and stowing them safely on a lifeboat for return to the company).
The Mongol army was busy beseiging the city of Kaffa (present-day Feodosiya) on the Crimean Peninsula when they were forced to retreat because their ranks were so depleted by the Black Death. Stories from the time claim that the Mongols catapaulted the bodies of soldiers who died from the plague over the city walls into Kaffa on their way out.
At the end of WWII, Soviet soldiers held in German POW forced labor camps were returned to Russia. Trains carrying these soldiers home were diverted to Russian forced labor camps, gulags, where most of the soldiers were sentenced to 10-20 years for the “crimes” of assisting the enemy and having possibly been exposed to Capitalist Western POWs.
A scapegoat can always be found for any disaster or atrocity. Xenophobia and bigotry are easier than understanding the facts.
Armenians were blamed for the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in WWI, providing a convenient justification for the Armenian Genocide.
Jews, Romani, witches, and sailors were all blamed for Black Death at one point or another. Terrified plague mobs expelled, burned alive, deported, stoned, and performed every other imaginable atrocity on whichever group was most convenient at the time.
Mentally and physically handicapped Robert Hubert was not in London during the Great Fire of 1666; his ship didn’t even arrive until two days after the fire was extinguished. Nevertheless, he was tried and hanged for firebombing London and starting the Great Fire.
Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson went on TV and announced that the 9-11 terrorist attacks were the fault of “liberal civil liberties groups, feminists, pagans, homosexuals, and abortion rights supporters.”
The current novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has been blamed on China (especially Wuhan province), Chinese people, people of Chinese descent, people of partial Chinese descent, and people who might look a bit Asian if you tilt your head at just the right angle. Government officials (including those in very high office) have blamed the Chinese government, and it trickles all the way down to children being bullied for “spreading the virus.”
It seems there will always be someone willing to take advantage of others’ fear, selling the Brooklyn Bridge and a guarantee to Heaven all in one convenient package.
“Spiritual leaders” whose primary goal is to raise funds have started asking for donations in return for prayers, going so far as to ask for donations to build a hospital for patients with coronavirus (conveniently leaving out the bit about the hospital being a spiritual place rather than an actual building where medical care is provided.)
The prices of everything from face masks to canned food have skyrocketed around the world.
Price-gouging of food and fuel became so severe during WWII that enabling price controls was one of the primary reasons the government enforced a rationing system.
“Doctors” during the Black Plague in Europe charged extreme prices for very expensive treatments, such as eating a paste of ground emeralds or bathing in the urine of uninfected mothers.
People hoard anything they think might become scarce, even if they don’t immediately need it, even if others need it more.
While people starved by the millions in 1845-1847, the worst years of Ireland’s Great Hunger, millions of bushels of grain were shipped to England, along with livestock, dairy, and beer. Landlords only allowed the peasants to eat potatoes, which had all been destroyed by blight.
People panic buying medical supplies, especially in the US, have caused a shortage in hospitals, clinics, fire stations, nursing homes, etc. Doctors and nurses are re-using face masks, making surgical gowns at home, and not doubling gloves in an attempt to make their increasingly limited supplies last.
Fear makes people do all sorts of strange things, like buying loads of toilet paper in preparation for an illness that doesn’t cause any increase in toilet use.
City officials seeking to cure the “Dancing Plague” in Strasbourg in 1518 asked medical officials how to help people who were literally dancing themselves to death, flailing and jerking around for days on end until they dropped dead from exhaustion. The doctors decided that these people had a sickness that needed to be shaken off… by forcing them to keep dancing!
A strip club in Las Vegas is advertising that the lap dances on offer are guaranteed to be free from coronavirus.
People have begun sharing very odd photos and videos of the ways they are passing time while in quarantine or isolation. Pets wearing ties or being unhelpful coworkers are a popular photo subject, as are twitter competitions for things like jumping on the bed or holding one’s breath.
The Justinian Plague often began with very high fevers, causing hallucinations. These visions were often interpreted as signs from God of punishment to come or evidence of demonic possession. Exorcism was a common prescription, usually carried out by a tonsured monk. There were also people who believed that the monks were demons and the cause of the plague and fled from the sight of any man who was getting a bit bald on top.
According to some reports, the Dutch are hoarding cannabis in preparation for whatever COVID-19 brings, while the French are building stockpiles of red wine.
Something the Justinian Plague and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic had in common – people often wore name tags, armbands, toe tags, or some other external form of ID because the illness could kill so quickly that it was often the only way of ensuring your body would be identified if you dropped dead on the street.
With the aquariums in Chicago closed to visitors, the penguins have taken over!
Be the Best!
You can be one of the good guys. Here are some ways you can show the best of humanity during this pandemic (and at any other time!)
Donate blood! The Red Cross really needs blood donations from healthy people to meet the needs of virus patients on top of all their regular needs.
Buy vouchers or gift certificates online for local restaurants, bars, shops, etc. Redeem them when things are back to normal. Think of it like a microscopic micro-loan.
Donate to organizations working to help the most vulnerable people in our societies.
Call, text, email, video chat with your friends, family members, work acquaintances, that guy down the street you wave to while walking your dog. Social distancing, while necessary for physical health, is not great for mental health. Make an extra effort to reach out to isolated people and stay connected.
We are currently enduring a coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). But perhaps I can tell you some things about pandemics in general that you don’t know!
Writers note: you will find below several bits of information you absolutely must have if you are going to write a story involving a pandemic—or even an epidemic.
First you need to know the different levels of the disease’s severity within a community.
Sporadic: a disease that occurs infrequently and irregularly (rabies, polio)
Endemic: the constant presence and/or usual prevalence of a disease or infectious agent in a population within a geographic area (chicken pox in American schoolchildren, malaria in certain areas of Africa)
Hyperendemic: persistent, high levels of an endemic disease occurrence, above the expected “normal” levels
Epidemic: an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area (Ebola in 2014, Zika in 2018)
Outbreak: carries the same definition of epidemic, but is often used for a more limited geographic area
Holoendemic: essentially every individual in a population is infected, though not all show symptoms (modern occurrences are not common, but one example is hepatitis B in some areas of the Marquesas Islands)
Cluster: aggregation of cases grouped in place and time that are suspected to be greater than the number expected, even though the expected number may not be known
Pandemic: is an epidemic so big it crosses international boundaries and affects large numbers of people.
Pandemics can occur in crops, livestock, fish, trees, or other living things, but I’ll be sticking with people here. You may want a plot line that has people battling a pandemic in another species. What happens to the food supply if all the wheat or corn or soybeans die off? How would people protect themselves from an entire population of aggressively rabid squirrels?
A wide-spread disease or condition that kills many people is a pandemic only if it is infectious. E.g., cancer and diabetes are not pandemics.
Until recently, I thought—in a vague sort of way—that pandemics were a thing of the past, mostly centuries ago. Wrong. Currently, besides COVID-19, HIV/AIDS is an active pandemic world-wide. For example, several African countries have infection rates as high as 25%, or even 29% among pregnant South African women.
Any given pandemic is seldom one-and-done. Maybe none of them are.
Plague: contagious bacterial diseases that cause fever and delirium, usually along with the formation of buboes, sometimes infecting the lungs. In past centuries, plagues killed 20%, 40%, even 50% of a country’s population. The first U.S. plague outbreak was the San Francisco plague of 1900-1904.
Writers note: isolated cases of plague still turn up in the western U.S.
Influenza (a.k.a. Flu): the first flu pandemic recorded was in 1580, and since then influenza pandemics have occurred every 10 to 30 years
Cholera: seems (to me) to be nearly perennial, with pandemics recorded 1871-1824, 1826-1837, 1846-1860, 1863-1875 (in 1866 it killed some 50,000 Americans), 1881-1896, 1899-1923, 1961-1975.
Typhus (a.k.a., camp fever, gaol fever, and ship fever): caused by bacterial Rickettsia prowazekii and characterized by a purple rash, headaches, fever, and usually delirium. It spreads rapidly in cramped quarters, often carried by fleas, lice, and ticks. It’s common in times of war and famine.
Smallpox: caused by the variola virus, it raged from the 18th century through the 1950s. Vaccination campaigns beginning in the 19th century led the World Health Organization to declare smallpox eradicated in 1979.
Writers note: it is the only human infectious disease to have been completely eradicated. But for your purposes, maybe not!
Measles: historically, before the vaccine was introduced in 1963, 90% of people had the measles by age 15. Measles is an endemic disease, so groups of people can develop resistance. But it is often deadly for those who get measles, and it has killed over 200 million people over the last 150 years. Worldwide, in 2000, measles killed 777,000 out of 40 million cases.
Tuberculosis(a.k.a, TB): a very present danger, as new infections occur at a rate of one per second. A quarter of the world’s current population has been infected, and although most of those are latent, 5-10% will progress to active disease. Left untreated, TB kills more than half of its victims.
Leprosy (Hansen’s disease): caused by a bacillus, it is a chronic disease. It has an incubation period up to five years, but it can now be cured. It’s been estimated that in the early 13th century, there were 19,000 leper hospitals (leprosariums) across Europe.
Malaria: widespread in tropical and subtropical regions around the world.
Writers note: consider the implications of climate change. Once common, malaria deaths became all but non-existent due to drug treatment. However, growing drug resistance is a major concern. Malaria is resistant to all classes of antimalarial drugs except artemisinins.
Yellow fever: a viral infection carried by mosquitoes. In 1793, it killed approximately 10% of the population of Philadelphia.
Ebola virus: one of several viral hemorrhagic fevers (along with Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, Marburg virus, and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever) that seem to be pandemics in waiting because they are highly contagious and deadly. On the other hand, transmission requires close contact and moves fast from onset to symptoms, so effective quarantines are possible.
And on the third hand, writers note: it could always mutate and adapt.
Coronaviruses: a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and the current Coronavirus-19, which is a new strain of SARS-CoV-2. Common effects of all of these are fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties.
Historians have identified five (sometimes six) “major pandemics” that have affected enough of the population to cause a significant change in the social order. They are often referred to as plagues, despite not being caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis.
The Plague of Justinian (541-543) continued to cause famine and death after the primary infection had been contained because the sudden lack of a labor force meant that crops weren’t planted and harvested.
The horrific conditions during and after the plague are believed to have created an ideal atmosphere for the rapid spread of Christianity.
Though he survived his infection, Emperor Justinian had to shelve plans to consolidate power and expand the Roman Empire.
The Black Death of 1347 to 1351 is believed to have killed as much as half the world’s population.
Historians have estimated that resulting labor shortage allowed for the end of the feudal system and the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe.
The population of Greenland was so diminished that the Vikings didn’t have the manpower to continue their raids in North America.
The Colombian Exchange is a general term used to cover all of the species of plants, animals, people, and diseases moved from one continent to another during the European invasion of North and South America.
The Third Bubonic Plague began in 1855 and reached every part of the world before it died down in the 1960s.
Researchers confirmed that the disease was spread by bacteria in flea bites, allowing for major breakthroughs in quarantine methods.
Some of those early quarantines involved such draconian measures in colonized areas that they contributed to rebellions in Panthay, Taiping, and several regions of India.
The 1918 Influenza outbreak, commonly known as the Spanish Flu, infected 500 million people around the world and killed more people than World War I. In 25 weeks, it killed more people than AIDS did in its first 25 years.
The close quarters of soldiers involved in World War I contributed to the rapid spread, but the contagion raised public awareness of how disease is transmitted and how to prevent it.
Note: The “Spanish” flu was present around the world, but it gained its name because the Spanish government did not censor information on the pandemic. Because most other countries worked to suppress information so as not to disrupt the war, people got the impression that the disease was coming from Spain, the source of their information.
Though it was first reported in 1981, HIV/AIDS is believed to have originated in a mutated genetic strand of the virus from a monkey in the 1920s.
Sex education in schools and sexual practices among some portions of the population (notably among sex workers) changed drastically to focus on safety.
Because it was first prevalent among the gay community, many religious leaders claimed the virus was a divine sign that homosexuals were evil.
“Alien” diseases are more deadly than local ones. Writers note: what are the implications of colonizing Mars?
In 1529, a measles outbreak in Cuba killed 2/3 of the natives who had previously survived smallpox.
Malaria was a major threat to colonists and Native Americans when introduced to the Americas along with the slave trade.
In Colonial times, West Africa was called “the white man’s grave” because of malaria and yellow fever.
European explorers often had devastating effects on indigenous people—and vice versa. For example, some believe that the death of up to 95% of the Native American population of the new world was caused by old world diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza.
On the other hand, syphilis was carried from the new world to Europe after Columbus’ voyages.
Many notable epidemics and pandemics involve transmission from animals to humans, zoonoses.
Influenza/wild aquatic birds
Avian influenza (bird flu)/birds in Vietnam (a pandemic in waiting)
Writing about pandemics—or any disease, actually, you need to decide on:
Let me be clear, right up front: I hate that we—all around the world—have to endure this pandemic. But as with everything big and small, it’s fuel for writers. Nothing ups the stakes like a global pandemic.
Although you’ve no doubt heard much of what follows, I will nonetheless provide the cautions from the CDC website. According to the CDC, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, and everyone should TAKE STEPS TO PROTECT HIM/HERSELF.
Clean Your Hands Often
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (twice through the Happy Birthday song) especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. (Remember thumbs, backs of hands, and between fingers.)
If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
Writers note: at this time, there is a run on hand sanitizer. Suppose your character looks online for a DIY recipe (2/3 cup 99% rubbing alcohol [isopropyl alcohol] or ethanol; 1/3 cup aloe vera gel; 8-10 drops essential oil, optional) and has a panic attack trying to find the ingredients.
Writers note: some people are allergic to hand sanitizer and can only use the soap and water method. What would they do if hand washing facilities were not available?
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Writers note: on average, people touch their faces 20 times an hour (women typically touch their faces more than men; people with glasses touch their faces more). Consider a non-obsessive/compulsive person trying to follow even these three guidelines. Would thinking about it make them touch their face even more? Or consider a character who chooses not to do these things, or not to do them conscientiously.
If you are NOT sick, you do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.
The two most common types of facemask are those shaped like a rectangular piece of folded paper and those shaped like a cup. The cup-shaped masks are more effective, and they should be reserved for people in the most risk of infection.
Writers note: what if someone who needs facemasks can’t get them?
Avoid Close Contact
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Writers note: what if the sick person is a spouse or child? Is the child old enough to understand why there are no hugs? Does your character avoid or not? And how does the sick person feel about that?
Call ahead: If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have or may have COVID-19. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
Isolate yourself: people who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to isolate at home during their illness. You should restrict activities outside your home.
Talk to your healthcare provider: The decision to discontinue home isolation precautions should be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
Avoid public areas: Do not go to work, school, or public areas.
Avoid public transportation: Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
Writers note: tension points for employed people (and/or partners and children) are obvious. And what about childcare? And school children who rely on breakfast/lunch programs?
But for writers, staying home could be handy writing time!
Stay Away From Others
Lock yourself in: as much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available.
Limit contact with pets & animals: You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.
When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask.
Writers note: how will your character get food, medicine, toilet paper, … ?
Cover Coughs and Sneezes
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
Throw used tissues in the trash.
Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Writers note: consider a character who is bullied or shunned because of seasonal allergies.
Writer’s note: in many countries, blowing one’s nose in public is considered as rude as farting loudly in church. How does a character in such a country stem the drip safely?
If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.
If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room. Learn what to do if you are sick.
Writers note: not just any facemask. It must be one that hugs the bridge of the nose and the area around the mouth. So what if a sick person uses the wrong type of facemask?
Monitor your symptoms
Seek medical attention: seek prompt medical attention if your illness is worsening (e.g., difficulty breathing).
Alert health department: ask your healthcare provider to call the local or state health department. Persons who are placed under active monitoring or facilitated self-monitoring should follow instructions provided by their local health department or occupational health professionals, as appropriate.
Clean and Disinfect
Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
Writers note: would your character do this or not? Or interfere with someone else doing it?
If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
Pandemics Past and Present (Fiction and Non-Fiction)
As promised, here are some of the other authors who have written about illness sweeping through society and the ripples that spread out.
Unlike most zombie narratives, this book follows the entire course of a zombie plague, from Patient Zero to the eventual reconstruction of society. The “historical narratives” are provided by characters from every background and every part of the world. For an extra amazing experience, check out the audio-book, with actors from many countries providing a range of voices and accents.
Set during the Bubonic Plague in 1666, this is a historical fiction account of a rural English village that quarantined itself to prevent the spread of plague to surrounding areas. The characters and most of the their interactions are fictional, but the story of the quarantined village is true.
Following the history of Zambia from the end of the colonial era, the author covers in haunting detail the toll that HIV/AIDS has had on the country. She writes from unfortunately first-hand experience of losing an entire generation of Zambians.
Defoe published this account of London in 1665-1666 as a warning to later readers. He included lists of how many people died in each parish, how entire households were forcibly quarantined, the morning dead carts being pulled through the streets (and what was likely to happen if you fell asleep on the sidewalk!), and lots of individual stories of the people around him in London.
Young adult fantasy novels and horrific plagues are not common bedfellows (bookfellows?), but Levine has included a twist on the typical hero’s journey, a fabulous protagonist, and interesting side-quests. Still, behind all the heroism and romance is the inescapable dread and death that affects every member of society.
This was a television series in the 1970s, made into a novel by Terry Grant, and then made into another television series based on the novel in the 2000s. Except for the very beginning, Survivors deals with the aftermath of a pandemic that wiped out most of the world population; characters have to adapt to a society with no law or order.
This short novel is set around the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 and focuses on a young woman falling in love with a soldier, as both influenza and World War I threaten to destroy their entire world.
Bottom line for writers: any calamity can be good for writers—both fiction and non-fiction writers. Consider the daily news: quarantined cruise ships, all passengers aboard; quarantines for nursing homes and senior living facilities; schools and colleges closing. And the spin-off of people preparing to be quarantined, causing panic buying of hand sanitizer, disinfectants, toilet paper, frozen foods, disposable diapers, etc., etc., etc.
I’ll cut to the chase: when my husband and I talked about Black writers the other day, in the car, the following list rolled off the tips of our tongues. If you search the internet for African American writers, you will find all sorts of lists, from those who made the New York Times Bestsellers list to literally hundreds on Wikipedia arranged into categories. But here is our personal, not-so-big-as-to-be-overwhelming list of our favorite Black authors, and something we especially liked from each. (FYI: we didn’t think of them in alpha order! 😉 )
Born in Nigeria in 1930, Chinua Achebe made a splash with the publication of his first novel, Things Fall Apart, in 1958. Renowned as one of the seminal works of African literature, it has since sold more than 20 million copies and been translated into more than 50 languages. Achebe followed with novels such as No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), and served as a faculty member at renowned universities in the U.S. and Nigeria. He died on March 21, 2013, at age 82, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is the author of three novels, Purple Hibiscus (2003), Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), and Americanah (2013), of a short story collection, The Thing around Your Neck (2009). She has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (2007) and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2008).
Born Christina Ama Ata Aidoo in 1942, was born in Abeadzi Kyiakor, Gold Coast, now Ghana. Combining traditional African storytelling with Western genres, she writes of the contemporary roles of African women and the negative impact of Western influences on African culture. Her first play, The Dilemma of a Ghost, was published in 1965. Her short stories, collected in No Sweetness Here and The Girl Who Can, and her novel, Our Sister Killjoy, expand on these themes, many of which mirror Aidoo’s own experiences. Her other works include the play Anowa, the poems of Someone Talking to Sometime;Birds; and Angry Letter in January; and a collection of children’s stories. The novel Changes: A Love Story (1991) explores a contemporary African marriage.
Born in 1928 in St Louis, Maya Angelou joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild in the late 1950’s. With the guidance of her friend, the novelist James Baldwin, she began work on the book that would become I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Published in 1970, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings received international acclaim made the bestseller list. The book was also banned in many schools during that time as Maya Angelou’s honesty about having been sexually abused opened a subject matter that had long been taboo in the culture. Later, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings would become a course adoption at college campuses around the world. Maya Angelou has wrote 36 books, including more than 30 bestselling titles, before her death in 2014.
Ayi Kwei Armah is a Ghanaian novelist whose work deals with corruption and materialism in contemporary Africa. He worked as a scriptwriter, translator, and English teacher in the United States, among other places. In his first novel, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), Armah showed his deep concern for greed and political corruption in a newly independent African nation. All of Armah’s works are concerned with the widening moral and spiritual chasm that existed between appearance and reality, spirit and substance, and past and present in his native Ghana. He is also an essayist, as well as having written poetry, short stories, and books for children.
Odafe Atogun was born in Nigeria, in the town of Lokoja, where the rivers Niger and Benue meet. He studied Journalism at the Times Journalism Institute, Lagos and is now a full-time writer. His debut novel, Taduno’s Song, was selected for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club, and he has been compared favorably to Franz Kafka and George Orwell in critical reviews. Following his two-book deal with Canongate, Penguin Random House and Arche Verlag, Atogun’s second novel, Wake Me When I’m Gone, was published in 2017. His work has been translated into several languages.
Sefi Atta was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1964 and currently divides her time between the United States, England, and Nigeria. She qualified as a Chartered Accountant in England, a Certified Public Accountant in the United States, and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Atta was a juror for the 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and has received several literary awards for her works, including the 2006 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa and the 2009 Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. In 2015, a critical study of her novels and short stories, Writing Contemporary Nigeria: How Sefi Atta Illuminates African Culture and Tradition, was published by Cambria Press. Also a playwright, her radio plays have been broadcast by the BBC and her stage plays have been performed and published internationally.
Mariama Bâ was one of the pioneers of Senegalese literature. Born in Dakar in 1929, she was raised by her maternal grandmother, who was of Muslim confession and strongly attached to traditional culture. Through the insistence of her father, an open-minded politician, the young Mariama attended French school, obtained her school-leaving certificate, and won admission to the École Normale for girls in Rufisque, from where she graduated as a schoolteacher in 1947. She threw herself into the women’s movement to fight for greater recognition of women’s issues. Throughout her life, she tried to reconcile her grounding in her culture, her Muslim faith, and her openness to other cultural horizons. Towards the end of her life, her literary genius achieved full expression in So Long a Letter, a novel that directly confronted polygamy and the caste-system in Senegal – a predominantly Muslim country, firmly attached to its traditions, yet traversed by profound transformations, and confronted by the challenge of new models of society.
Born in Harlem in 1924, James Baldwin was the oldest of nine children. His writing started as a way to escape his stern stepfather. He graduated from high school in 1942 and moved to New Jersey to begin working as a railroad hand. In 1944, he moved to Greenwich Village where he met Richard Wright and began his first novel, In My Father’s House. In 1953, he finished his important novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, which stands as a partially autobiographical account of his youth. The following year he wrote the play, The Amen Corner and won the Guggenheim Fellowship. During the 1960’s, Baldwin became politically active in support of civil rights. Baldwin wrote novels, poetry, essays and a screenplay in the later years of his life. He died of stomach cancer at his home in St. Paul de Vence, France.
Octavia Estelle Butler, often referred to as the “grand dame of science fiction,” was born in Pasadena, California on June 22, 1947. During 1969 and 1970, she studied at the Screenwriter’s Guild Open Door Program and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop, where she took a class with science fiction master Harlan Ellison (who later became her mentor), and which led to Butler selling her first science fiction stories. Butler’s first story, “Crossover,” was published in the 1971 Clarion anthology.With the publication of Kindred in 1979, Butler was able to support herself writing full time. She won the Hugo Award in 1984 for her short story, “Speech Sounds,” and in 1985, Butler’s novelette “Bloodchild” won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and an award for best novelette from Science Fiction Chronicle. Other books by Octavia E. Butler include the Xenogenesis trilogy: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989), and a short story collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995). Parable of the Sower (1993), the first of her Earthseed series, was a finalist for the Nebula Award as well as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The book’s sequel, Parable of the Talents (1998), won a Nebula Award.
Octavia Butler: The official site of the Pen Lifetime Achievement and MacArthur award winning writer
Charles Chesnutt The Conjure Woman
Charles Waddell Chesnutt was born in Ohio in 1858, the son of free blacks who had emigrated from Fayetteville, N.C. When he was eight years old, Chesnutt’s parents returned to Fayetteville, where Charles worked part-time in the family grocery store and attended a school founded by the Freedmen’s Bureau. In 1872, he began teaching in Charlotte, N.C. but returned to Fayetteville in 1877. Chesnutt married a year later, and by 1880 had become principal of the Fayetteville State Normal School for Negroes. Meanwhile he continued to pursue private studies of the English classics, foreign languages, music, and stenography. In 1883, he moved his family to Cleveland, where he passed the state bar examination and established his own court reporting firm. Financially prosperous and prominent in civic affairs, he resided in Cleveland for the remainder of his life. “The Goophered Grapevine,” an unusual dialect story that displayed intimate knowledge of black folk culture in the South, was Chesnutt’s first nationally recognized work of fiction. Its publication in the August 1887 issue of the Atlantic Monthly marked the first time that a short story by a black had appeared in that prestigious magazine. After subsequent tales in this vein were accepted by other magazines, Chesnutt submitted to Houghton, Mifflin a collection of these stories, which was published in 1899 as The Conjure Woman.
Ta-Nehisi CoatesThe Water Dancer
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates is an American author and journalist. Coates gained a wide readership during his time as national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he wrote about cultural, social, and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans and white supremacy. He was born in Baltimore in 1975, a member of a large, close-knit, politically active family. In addition to his nonfiction work, Coates has been a teacher, has written for Black Panther and Captain America comics, and published his first novel, The Water Dancer, in 2019.
Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. At about the age of twelve or thirteen, Douglass purchased a copy of The Columbian Orator, a popular schoolbook of the time, which helped him to gain an understanding and appreciation of the power of the spoken and the written word, as two of the most effective means by which to bring about permanent, positive change. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Whenever he could he attended abolitionist meetings, and, in October, 1841, after attending an anti-slavery convention on Nantucket Island, Douglass became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and a colleague of William Lloyd Garrison. This work led him into public speaking and writing. He published his own newspaper, The North Star, participated in the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, in 1848, and wrote three autobiographies.
Scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois was an American civil rights activist, leader, Pan-Africanist, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, editor, poet, and scholar. He was born and raised in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895. DuBois was one of the most important black protest leader in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. He shared in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He had two children with his wife, Nina Gomer. In 1963, he became a naturalized citizen of Ghana at the age of 95 – the year of his death.
Born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie (1802–1870), also known as Alexandre Dumas père, was a French writer. His grandmother was Marie-Cessette Dumas, a black slave in what is now Haiti. His works have been translated into many languages, and he is one of the most widely read French authors. Many of his historical novels of high adventure were originally published as serials, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later.
Born in 1914 in Oklahoma City, the grandson of slaves, Ralph Waldo Ellison and his younger brother were raised by their mother, whose husband died when Ralph was 3 years old. His mother supported her young family by working as a nursemaid, a janitor and a domestic. Having earned a degree at Tuskegee University, Ellison was an American novelist, literary critic, and scholar best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act, a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory.
Yaa Gyasi (born 1989) is a Ghanaian-American novelist. Her debut novel, Homegoing, published in 2016, won her, at the age of 26, the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book, the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” honors for 2016 and the American Book Award. She was awarded a Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature in 2020. Homegoing is her debut historical fiction novel, published in 2016. Each chapter in the novel follows a different descendant of an Asante woman named Maame, starting with her two daughters, who are half sisters, separated by circumstance: Effia marries the British governor in charge of Cape Coast Castle, while her half-sister Esi is held captive in the dungeons below. Subsequent chapters follow their children and following generations.
Bessie HeadWhen the Rain Clouds Gather
Bessie Amelia Emery Head, known as Bessie Head, was a South African writer who, though born in South Africa, is usually considered Botswana’s most influential writer. Bessie Amelia Head never knew her real parents — an unstable white woman and an unknown black man. She was born and raised in apartheid South Africa. After spending several years in the field of education, she decided to work as a journalist for the Golden City Post. She experimented with poetry and fiction, and published her first story in The New African. Despite the occasional financial aid from friends, the author lived in absolute poverty, forcing her to live in a refugee camp with her son. Her luck changed when a New York editorial offered her to write a novel, When Rain Clouds Gather (1969), in which she tells about the era she lived as a refugee. This book was met with positive reviews from critics, which encouraged her to continue her literary career with Maru (1971). She wrote novels, short fiction and autobiographical works that are infused with spiritual questioning and reflection.
Langston HughesAny of his poetry and/or essay collections
James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. While working as a busboy in a hotel in Washington, D.C., in late 1925, Hughes put three of his own poems beside the plate of Vachel Lindsay in the dining room. The next day, newspapers around the country reported that Lindsay, among the most popular white poets of the day, had “discovered” an African American busboy poet, which earned Hughes broader notice. Hughes received a scholarship to, and began attending, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in early 1926. That same year, he received the Witter Bynner Undergraduate Poetry Award, and he published “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” in The Nation , a manifesto in which he called for a confident, uniquely black literature. After graduating, he traveled widely in the Soviet Union, Haiti, Japan, and elsewhere and served as a newspaper correspondent (1937) during the Spanish Civil War. Hughes documented African American literature and culture in works such as A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956) and the anthologies The Poetry of the Negro (1949) and The Book of Negro Folklore (1958; with Bontemps). Hughes was one of the most important writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance.
Zora Neale Hurston was an American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. She portrayed racial struggles in the early-1700s American South and published research on hoodoo. During Zora Neale Hurston’s career, she was more concerned with writing about the lives of African Americans in an authentic way that uplifted their existence, rather than focusing on their traumas. Her most celebrated work, 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an example of this philosophy. It follows Janie Mae Crawford, a middle-aged woman in Florida, who details lessons she learned about love and finding herself after three marriages. Hurston used black Southern dialect in the characters’ dialogue to proudly represent their voices and manner.
Edward P. JonesLost in the City
Edward P. Jones was born in 1950 and raised in Washington, D.C. A winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award and recipient of the Lannan Foundation Grant, Jones was educated at Holy Cross College and the University of Virginia. His first book, Lost in the City was originally published by William Morrow in 1992 and shortlisted for the National Book Award. Mr. Jones was named a National Book Award finalist for a second time with the publication of his debut novel The Known World which subsequently won the prestigious 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Dinaw MengestuHow to Read the Air
Dinaw Mengetsu is a Washington, DC-based American writer born in Ethiopia in 1978. In addition to three novels, he has written for Rolling Stone on the war in Darfur, and for Jane Magazine on the conflict in northern Uganda. His writing has also appeared in Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications. He is the Program Director of Written Arts at Bard College. Since his first book was published in 2007, Mengetsu has received numerous literary awards, and was selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2012. He is the author of three novels, most recently All Our Names. His debut novel, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, won the Guardian First Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was a New York Times Notable Book of 2007. His novel How to Read the Air, published in 2010, was the winner of the 2011 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.
Chloe Anthony Wofford, (1931-2019) was an American writer noted for her examination of black experience (particularly black female experience) within the black community. When Morrison was two years old, the owner of her family’s apartment building set their home on fire while they were inside because they were unable to afford the rent. After earning her MA at Cornell University, Morrison taught at Howard University and then became the first black female editor of fiction at Random House Publishing. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for her novel Beloved.
Born in South Africa in 1984, Trevor Noah’s father Robert is of Swiss German ancestry, and his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, is of Xhosa ancestry. Because interracial relations were illegal under Apartheid law, Noah’s mother was jailed and fined by the South African government. Patricia and her mother, Nomalizo Frances Noah, raised Trevor in the black township of Soweto. Trevor Noah has hosted numerous television shows including South Africa’s music, television and film awards, and two seasons of his own late night talk show, Tonight with Trevor Noah. In November 2016, Trevor Noah released his first book Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, which was an instant New York Times bestseller.
Ben Okri is a poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, aphorist, playwright, and writer of film-scripts. He was born in Nigeria in 1958 and came to England as a child. He went to school in London and returned to Nigeria with his parents on the eve of the Nigerian Civil War. The war made a defining impact on his life. After finishing secondary school, he wanted to study physics and become a scientist but was deemed too young then for university. He began writing at a very early age, poetry and published articles and essays about the living conditions of the poor in the slums of Lagos. In 1978, Ben Okri returned to London to study comparative Literature at Essex University. Two years later he published his first novel; and in 1982 came his second novel, The Landscapes Within. After a brief period of homelessness, in 1986 he published Incidents at the Shrine, a collection of stories that won him prizes and enhanced his reputation. The Famished Road won the Booker Prize when it was published in 1991.
Born in Moscow in 1799, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was heavily influenced by his great-grandfather, Abraham Petrovitch Gannibal, who was kidnapped from Cameroon as a child and sold as a slave to the court of Tsar Peter the Great. As a frequent exile himself, Pushkin compared his experience as an outsider to that of a poet’s role as an observer. His unfinished novel The Moor of Peter the Great was meant to be a biography of his great-grandfather, but Eugène Onegin directly refers to Pushkin’s mixed racial background.
Akinwande Oluwole SoyinkaDeath and the King’s Horsemen
Nigerian playwright and political activist Wole Soyinka was the first African recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He was born in 1934 in Abeokuta, near Ibadan, into a Yoruba family and studied at University College in Ibadan, Nigeria, and the University of Leeds, England. Soyinka, who writes in English, is the author of five memoirs, two novels, and 19 plays shaped by a diverse range of influences, including avant-garde traditions, politics, and African myth. Soyinka’s poetry similarly draws on Yoruba myths, his life as an exile and in prison, and politics. An outspoken opponent of oppression and tyranny worldwide and a critic of the political situation in Nigeria, Soyinka has lived in exile on several occasions. During the Nigerian civil war in the 1960s, he was held as a prisoner in solitary confinement after being charged with conspiring with the Biafrans; while in exile, Soyinka was at one point sentenced to death (the sentence was later lifted). Soyinka has taught at a number of universities worldwide, among them Ife University, Cambridge University, Yale University, and Emory University.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, currently Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, was born in Kenya, in 1938 into a large peasant family. In the 1950s, his family was caught up in the Mau Mau Uprising, an experience that influenced much of his later writing. His novel A Grain of Wheat was the first modern novel to be written in Gikuyu; all of Ngũgĩ ‘s work thereafter was written in Gikuyu and Swahili. The play Ngaahika Ndeenda, co-written with Ngũgĩ wa Mirii, was shut down by the Kenyan regime six weeks after its opening, and Ngũgĩ was imprisoned for over a year. While in exile following his release, he worked as a teacher, a writer, and an advocate for justice in Kenya and for native linguistic equality.
Amos Tutuola was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 1920. The son of a cocoa farmer, he attended several schools before training as a blacksmith. He later worked as a civil servant. His first novel, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, was published in 1952 and brought him international recognition. From 1956 until retirement, he worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Company while continuing to write. Many of his novels drew elements from Yoruba folktales as well as oral storytelling traditions. His last book, The Village Witch Doctor and Other Stories, was published in 1990. He died in Ibadan in 1997.
Abraham Verghese was born in Ethiopia to parents from Kerala, India, who worked as teachers. He is the Professor for the Theory and Practice of Medicine at Stanford University Medical School and Senior Associate Chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. He is also the author of three best-selling books, two memoirs and a novel. The novel, Cutting for Stone (2009), follows twin brothers in Ethiopia during its military revolution and in New York, where one of them flees. In 2014, Verghese received the 19th Annual Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities.
The author of short stories and novels, essays and poetry and activist for racial civil rights, women’s equality, and peace among other causes, Alice Walker brought black women’s lives into primary focus as a rich and important subject for US American literature. Her landmark novel The Color Purple (1982), which drew upon her sharecropper family’s Southern roots, made Walker famous and brought her the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction awarded to an African American woman, as well as the National Book Award. Walker’s introduction of the concept of “womanism” (1983) was an influential corrective to the focus on white women understood by many under the term “feminism;” it helped broaden the women’s movement to include women of color and appreciate their traditional cultural and creative roles. Walker has also been instrumental in rediscovering and promoting other Black women writers, past and present, most notably Zora Neale Hurston (1901-1960), whose work she edited and interpreted. Alice Walker has written seven novels, four collections of short stories, four children’s books, and volumes of essays and poetry.
Isabel WilkersonThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Born in Washington D.C. in 1961, Isabel Wilkerson became the first woman of African-American heritage to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1994, while Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times. She devoted 15 years to the research and writing of The Warmth of Other Suns. Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,200 people, unearthed archival works, and gathered the voices of the famous and the unknown to tell the epic story of the Great Migration, one of the largest migrations in American history. During the Great Migration, millions of African Americans departed the Southern states to Northern and Western cities to escape Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and the failing sharecropping system. The book highlights the stories of three individuals and their journeys, from Florida to New York City, Mississippi to Chicago, and Louisiana to Los Angeles. Wilkerson’s in-depth documentation won her a National Book Critics Circle Award for the nonfiction work.
Richard Nathaniel Wright (9/4/1908 – 11/28/1960) was born in Adams County, Mississippi into a life of poverty, and racial discrimination. He was quoted as saying, “I was born too far back in the woods to hear the train whistle…” When he was fifteen, Wright knew he wanted to be a writer. Known as a poet first, through his writing, his goal was to bring two worlds together, one Black and one White, and make them one. His marriage to Ellen Poplar, a white woman, like his writing was controversial. His most successful work, Native Son, a Chicago story about a Mississippi boy, Bigger Thomas, in New York had an autobiographical tone. The author of 16 books, some of which include, Black Boy, The Outsider, and American Hunger, Richard Wright died mysteriously of a heart attack at the age of 52 in Paris, France.
On February 14, people in many countries celebrate love and friendship by exchanging cards, flowers, and candy. But for others, February 14 is a day of protest, a day of pain, death, and disasters—both natural and by human hands. Read this blog and weep. (Author’s Note: The pictures provided to illustrate this blog are not the gruesome, tragic images of the events described.)
Writers: Could your work use a slanted work at Valentine’s Day? Could you use one of these real events as a trigger for action or tension among your characters? It could be an older event that is read about or studied.
SOME EVENTS ARE L-O-N-G REMEMBERED
The Saint Valentine of Christian tradition is most likely an amalgamation of two or three different historical figures. Valentine of Terni was the bishop of what is now known as Interamna, known as Terni today; he was martyred in 273 under the reign Emperor Aurelian. Valentine of Rome was a priest who was martyred in 270; more information is provided about him below. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there is a third saint named Valentine who is mentioned on the date of February 14th under early lists of the martyrs. The only thing known of this Valentine is he was martyred with his companions in Africa and had his head added to the reliquaries of the New Minster Abbey in Winchester, England in 1041.
270 c.e. Feb 14 The early Christian martyr, St. Valentine, was executed by Emperor Claudius II. The Catholic Bishop Valentine was clubbed, stoned, and beheaded for refusing to acknowledge the Roman Emporer’s outlawing of marriage. St. Valentine’s Day evolved from Lupercalia, a Roman festival of fertility. The early Christians made Valentine a symbol to oppose the Roman mid-February ceremony in honor of the god Lupercus, in which Roman teenage girls’ names were put in a box and selected by young Roman men for “sex toy” use until the next lottery. The two or three historical Valentines became merged into a single legendary patron of young lovers.
869 Cyrillus, Greek apostle to the Slavs (creator of the Cyrillic alphabet, used in Russian and most Slavic languages today), died.
1009 St. Bruno of Querfurt was beheaded as a martyr. News of his death included the first mention of Lithuania is official Papal archives.
1076 Pope Gregory VII excommunicated English King Henry IV.
1130 Half of the College of Cardinals elected Pietro Pierleone as Pope (or anti-Pope) Anacletus II, in opposition to Pope (or anti-Pope) Innocent II, elected by the other half of the College of Cardinals. The schism in the Catholic Church was not resolved until 1139.
1540 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V entered Ghent with no resistance to put down a citizen’s revolt against taxes. Leaders were executed, and other rebels were paraded through the city barefoot and wearing nooses.
1556Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was declared a heretic, caught up in the aftermath of the religious and political turmoil caused by the Tudor dynasty.
1571 Benvenuto Cellini (b. 1500), Italian goldsmith and sculptor, writer (Perseus), died. His 1545 autobiography greatly influenced the Renaissance.
1610 The Polish army deposed Russian Czar Vasili Shuishki by forcing the (probably impostor) Czar Dimitri II and the Romanov family to imprison Shuiski as a monk in Warsaw during The Time of Troubles.
1645 Robert Ingle, commissioned by the English Parliament and captain of the tobacco ship Reformation, sailed to St. Mary’s (Maryland) and seized a Dutch trading ship. This marked the beginning of what came to known as “The Plundering Time.”
1779 Nearly 250 soldiers died at the Battle of Kettle Creek in Georgia, which resulted in American Revolutionary Patriot forces defeating Colonial Loyalists.
1779 Captain James Cook (b. 1728), English explorer, was killed on the Big Island in Hawaii. In 2002 Tony Horwitz authored “Blue Latitudes,” and Vanessa Collingridge authored “Captain Cook: A Legacy Under Fire.”
1780 William Blackstone (56), English lawyer, died.
1797 The Spanish fleet was destroyed by the British under Admiral Jervis (with Nelson in support) at the battle of Cape St. Vincent, off Portugal.
1879 Chile invaded the Bolivian port of Antofagasta after Bolivian authorities attempted to auction the confiscated property of CSFA, a Chilean mining company.
SOME EVENTS ARE LONG REMEMBERED
1900 General Roberts invaded South Africa’s Orange Free State with 20,000 British troops.
1904 The “Missouri Kid” was captured in Kansas.
1913 Jimmy Hoffa (James Riddle Hoffa) was born in Brazil, Indiana, U.S. Remembered as the General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the most powerful unions in the United States and with links to organized crime. He is also remembered for his conviction for attempted bribery of a grand juror and defrauding the union’s pension fund. Following his release in 1971, he attempted to rebuild his influence in the Union but on July 30, 1975 he disappeared from the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield and was never seen again. Hoffa is the subject of many urban legends as to who, how and why he was murdered and books and movies have been made about his life.
1917 In San Francisco a police raid closed down the Barbary Coast. The red lights of the Barbary Coast went out. Louis Sidney “Sid” LeProtti was the pianist who led the So Different Jazz Band at Purcell’s, one of the most famous Negro dance halls in the country at 520 Pacific St of the San Francisco Barbary Coast district. A 1982 book by Tom Stoddard: Jazz on the Barbary Coast covers the era.
1921 The Literary Review faced obscenity charges in NY for publishing Ulysses by James Joyce.
1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: seven gangster rivals of Al Capone were murdered in a garage in Chicago when Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn ordered the kill of rival George “Bugs” Moran.
1933 Governor William A. Comstock declared an eight-day bank holiday—really a temporary moratorium. This decision was made in light of the financial emergency that was taking place in the city of Detroit and the rest of the state of Michigan. The main reason for this temporary bank closure was the Detroit Ford Motor Company’s refusal to entrust its deposits to the Union Guardian Trust. Governor Comstock felt that it would help protect the interest of small depositors.
1939 The German Reich launched the battleship Bismarck, which was the largest battleship ever commissioned up to that date. The Bismarck sunk the pride of the British fleet the battle-cruiser HMS Hood in the Battle of the Denmark Strait in May 1941, but in September after spending months trying to gain revenge The Bismarck was sunk by the British Royal Navy.
1940 Britain announced that all merchant ships would be armed.
1941 German Afrika Korps landed in Tripoli, Libya.
1942 The Japanese attacked Sumatra. Aidan MacCarthy’s RAF unit flew to Palembang, in eastern Sumatra, where 30 Royal Australian Air Force Lockheed A-28 Hudson bombers were waiting. The elation was short-lived as Japanese soldiers were parachuting into the jungle that surrounded the airfield.
One of the most significant World War II American defeats occurred during the battle of the Kasserine Pass (de Faïd pass). German General Erwin Rommel and African troops headed an attack against American and other allied forces in Tunisia, North Africa. The Battle of the Kasserine Pass resulted in the death of over 1,000 American soldiers. Hundreds of others were taken prisoner.
David Hilbert (b.1862), German mathematician, died. He is considered the father of modern mathematics.
1944 An anti-Japanese revolt took place on Java.
521 American heavy bombers flew daylight raids over Dresden, Germany following the British assault. The firestorm killed an estimated 135,000 people. At least 35,000 died and some people place the toll closer to 70,000. The novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut was set in Dresden during the firebombing where he was being held as a prisoner of war. US B-17 bombers dropped 771 more tons on Dresden while P-51 Mustang fighters strafed roads packed with soldiers and civilians fleeing the burning city. In 2006 Marshall De Bruhl authored Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden.
The siege of Budapest ended as the Soviets took the city. Only 785 German and Hungarian soldiers managed to escape.
1949 The United States charged the USSR with interning up to 14 million in labor camps.
SOME EVENTS ARE WITHIN LIVING MEMORY FOR MANY—IF THEY NOTICED AT THE TIME
1955 A Jewish couple lost their fight to adopt Catholic twins as the U.S. Supreme Court refused to rule on state law.
1956 The B.F. Huntley furniture plant in Winston-Salem, NC, was destroyed by fire. The factory was rebuilt and the Huntley name continued until it was sold to Thomasville Furniture Industries in 1961.
1957 The Georgia Senate approved Sen Leon Butts’ bill barring blacks from playing baseball with whites.
1965 Malcolm X’s home was firebombed. No injuries were reported.
1967 Ramparts Magazine published an ad in the NY Times and Washington Post saying: “In its March issue, Ramparts magazine will document how the CIA has infiltrated and subverted the world of American student leaders over the past fifteen years.”
1974 Soviet authorities formally charged Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn with treason one day after expelling him from the country and revoking his Russian citizenship.
Adolph Dubs, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, was kidnapped in Kabul by Muslim extremists and killed in a shootout between his abductors and police.
Armed guerrillas attacked the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
1984 In South Africa under Apartheid rule the Black community at Mogopa was displaced in a “force removal” action. Some 300 homes and a cluster of community buildings were bulldozed over.
1989 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a ( FATWA ) death sentence on British writer Salman Rushdie for his authorship of the book Satanic Verses.
1990 Ninety-four people were killed when an Indian Airlines passenger jet crashed while landing at a southern Indian airport.
Iraq charged the bombing of an underground facility the day before, which killed hundreds of civilians, was a deliberate attack on an air raid shelter, a charge denied by the US.
The Iraqi weapons depot at Ukhaydir was bombed. Iraqi authorities revealed to US authorities in 1996 that the site stored hundreds of rockets filled with mustard gas and nerve gas.
1993 The body of James Bulger, a 2-year-old boy who had been lured away from his mother in a Liverpool, England, shopping mall two days earlier, was found along a stretch of railroad track. Two boys (10), Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, were later convicted of murdering James; they spent eight years in detention before being paroled.
1994 Andrei Tsjikatilo, (the Rostov Ripper), Russian mass murderer, was executed.
Eva Hart (90), Titanic survivor, died.
A failed Loral Intelsat satellite launch caused a rocket to hit a village near the Xichang Space Center in China’s southwest Sichuan province. China acknowledged 6 deaths. US intelligence estimated the death toll at 200. The rocket was a new-generation Long March 3B. The satellite was intended for TV shows in Latin America for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
In Burma some 3,000 Karen refugees fled into Thailand to escape fighting. The Karen National Union had been fighting for autonomy since 1948. Thailand said 16,000 Karens were crossing over its border.
In Cambodia Khmer Rouge guerrillas killed all but three government officials sent to make peace.
In Egypt Muslim militants slew 9 Copts. Coptics?
Authorities officially declared Eric Rudolph a suspect in the bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic and offered a $100,000 reward.
In India the Tamil Nadu election campaign ended with bombings and riots in Coimbatore. Some 13 bombs in 11 places took 46 lives.
In Cameroon, a train hauling oil tanker cars derailed and collided with an oncoming train outside Yaounde. It exploded and killed up to 100 people.
John D. Ehrlichman, President Nixon’s domestic affairs adviser imprisoned for his role in the Watergate cover-up that ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation, died in Atlanta at age 73. He wrote at least 4 novels and the memoir Witness to Power: The Nixon Years.
Eritrea shot down an Mi-24 Ethiopian helicopter gunship at Bure and the crew was killed. Eritrea said that 16 civilians had been killed by Ethiopian aircraft since Feb 6.
In Hungary the death toll from the Feb 10 snow storm reached 19, and army helicopters were used to drop food to snow-bound villages.
On Haruku and Saparua Islands in Maluku province of Indonesia at least 20 people were killed in rioting as troops dispersed gangs of Muslims and Christians.
Iraq said that air attacks had killed 5 people and wounded 22 and threatened Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with missile attacks for permitting US warplanes to fly from their countries.
In Kosovo a bomb explosion in Urosevac wounded at least 9 people. Serbian police rounded up about 40 independence activist Albanians.
In Uganda, 2 bombs exploded in Kampala bars and 5 people were killed and 35 injured.
GETTING TO THE HERE AND NOW
A series of tornadoes swept through Georgia, killing 22 people.
In Colorado, 2 teens, Nicholas Kunselman (15) and Stephanie Hart (16), from Columbine High School were shot and killed in a sandwich shop near the school, which was still reeling from the April 1999 massacre.
In Afghanistan, 73 passengers from the hijacked jet returned home, while 74 remained in Britain seeking asylum. The passengers reported that 9 men had taken over their flight and appeared to be relatives of many passengers.
In Russia, 7 mountain climbers, including 3 Britons, were reported killed in an avalanche in the Caucasus Elbrus Range near the Georgia border.
In Turkey, 8 people were killed in 2 clashes between Hezbollah and police.
The Kansas Board of Education approved new science standards restoring evolution to the state’s curriculum.
Khalil Abu Olbeh (35), a Palestinian bus driver, drove his bus into a group of Israelis in Tel Aviv and killed 8 people. The dead included 3 male and 4 female soldiers and 1 civilian woman. Olbeh was later sentenced to eight life terms.
In Chechnya, rebels opened fire on Russian positions and 12 Russian soldiers were killed.
The 168th annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science opened in Boston with a bleak assessment of planet health and a call for conservation of resources.
Jayson Williams (34), former NBA star and NBC Sports commentator, accidentally shot and killed Costas Christofi (55), a limousine driver.
In China, 41 foreigners were arrested and later expelled following pro Falun Gong demonstrations on Tiananmen Square.
Militant Palestinians attacked an Israeli tank in the Gaza Strip and 3 soldiers were killed.
In Brazil, police found the bullet-riddled bodies of six men in the back seat and trunk of a car parked near a Rio de Janeiro slum.
In Colombia a massive explosion rocked the southern city of Neiva as police searched a house for explosives. 15 people died and about 30 were wounded.
Popocatepetl volcano southeast of Mexico City erupted but caused no significant damage.
In Zimbabwe, 2 Valentine’s Day peace parades by women clutching roses and singing hymns were broken up by baton-wielding police who arrested at least 88 people as well as eight journalists.
Valentine’s Day march stopped when Zimbabwe police in the capital, Harare, dispersed more than 100 women who were planning the march to urge national reconciliation. In Bulawayo, the high court refused to hear an urgent application by the Women of Zimbabwe Arise that would have compelled the police to allow the march.
China executed Yang Xinhua (38), a man convicted of murdering 67 people, in what media said might be the country’s longest killing spree in modern history. Yang was convicted of 67 killings and 23 rapes in Henan and three other provinces.
In Iraq, guerrillas launched a bold daylight assault on an Iraqi police station and security compound west of Baghdad, freeing prisoners and sparking a gunbattle that killed 23 people and wounded 33.
In Moscow, Russia, an indoor water park roof collapsed, killing 28 people and injuring more than 100.
In northern Pakistan, two strong earthquakes triggered landslides and toppled walls that killed at least 24 people and injured about 30 others.
In Uganda, a tanker truck carrying diesel fuel collided with a packed minibus and burst into flames, killing at least 32 people.
A terrorist bomb in West Beirut killed nine, including the Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in an apparent assassination.
A gas explosion in China’s northeast Sunjiawan mine killed 214 people in the deadliest mining disaster reported since communist rule began in 1949.
In Iran a mosque fire killed 59 people and injured another 350. It was blamed on a kerosene heater that was placed too close to a thick curtain that separated male and female worshipers.
A roadside bomb killed three Iraqi National Guard troops. Insurgents blew up an oil pipeline near Kirkuk and killed two senior police officers in Baghdad.
In western Japan, a man carrying a knife burst into a public elementary school and stabbed at least 3 adults. Kyodo News reported that one of the victims died.
In Beirut, Lebanon, Rafik Hariri (60) was killed in a massive bomb explosion, as well as twenty two other people were killed and 100 wounded in the blast that devastated the front of the famous St. George Hotel. An Islamist group calling itself the Victory and Jihad Organization in the Levant claimed responsibility.
Three bombs jolted Manila and two other Philippine cities, killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 100 others. The Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the blasts.
Togo police in riot gear faced off with crowds who blocked roads and intimidated residents during a general strike to protest the army’s installation of Faure Gnassingbe to succeed his late father as president.
The UNHCR said flooding left more than 50,000 Sahrawi refugees homeless, destroying up to half of the mud-brick houses in their camps of Awserd, Smara, and Laayoune in the Tindouf region of western Algeria.
Two Australians were sentenced to death by firing squad for leading a drug smuggling ring on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali, verdicts that could strain ties between the countries. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran masterminded the trafficking of 18 pounds of heroin to their homeland.
In southern China, toxic wastewater was flushed untreated into a river, prompting the government to cut water supplies to 28,000 people in Guanyin for at least four days. A power plant on the upper reaches of the Yuexi River in Sichuan province was to blame for the pollution.
The UN said 13 Eritreans employed by the UN peacekeeping mission in Eritrea have been detained by local authorities and another 30 are in hiding for fear of being arrested.
Gunmen attacked a group of Iraqi Shiites working on a farm north of Baghdad, killing 11 and wounding two. A roadside bomb killed a US Marine in western Baghdad in one of two attacks that also wounded six coalition military personnel.
In Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, armed men forced their way into a hospital and killed a teenager under treatment for an earlier attempt on his life.
In Pakistan, thousands of protesters rampaged through Islamabad and Lahore, storming into a diplomatic district and torching Western businesses and a provincial assembly in Pakistan’s worst violence against the Prophet Muhammad drawings. At least two people were killed and 11 injured.
Darfur rebels said they had shot down a government helicopter and captured the only surviving crew member, named as Captain Muawiya Zubeir.
Zimbabwe police arrested at least 60 women who took part in a march with a Valentine’s Day theme calling for love and harmony and protesting food shortages and alleged human rights violations.
(VPM: as far as I can tell, this is not an annual event.)
Sleet stung the faces of pedestrians in New York and snow and ice coated windshields and streets as a Valentine’s Day blizzard roared out of the Midwest and shut down parts of the Northeast.
ConAgra recalled all Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter made at a Georgia plant because of a salmonella outbreak.
German-US auto giant DaimlerChrysler said it planned to axe 13,000 jobs at its loss-making Chrysler subsidiary as part of a broad restructuring plan aimed at returning the US unit to profitability by 2009. The bulk of the job losses will affect union workers, with 9,000 hourly jobs eliminated in the United States and 2,000 in Canada.
NATO officials said warplanes struck a Taliban compound in southern Afghanistan with “precision munitions,” killing an area commander and about 10 of his men. Villagers said the raid in the southern province of Helmand also killed civilians. NATO said Taliban fighters used children as human shields to flee heavy fighting this week during an operation by foreign and Afghan forces to clear rebels from around a key hydro-electric dam. In eastern Afghanistan US-led troops killed a suspected militant and detained 6 others, including one with alleged links to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
In Brazil violence cast a shadow over Rio’s famed Carnival when gunmen killed Guaracy Paes Falcao (42), a leader of one of the premiere samba band groups. Falcao was with an unidentified woman who was also shot dead.
A car loaded with explosives blew up near a bus carrying members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in southeastern Iran, killing 11 of them and wounding 31. An al-Qaida-linked Sunni militant group reportedly claimed responsibility. Within a week, Nasrollah Shanbe Zehi was convicted and executed for the bombing.
The Iraqi government formally launched a long-awaited security crackdown in Baghdad. A parked car bomb struck a predominantly Shiite district elsewhere in central Baghdad, killing four civilians and wounding 10. In Mosul a suicide car bomber targeted an Iraqi army patrol, killing one soldier and four civilians and wounding 20 other people.
Mexican immigration agents allegedly locked 10 Guatemalan and two Salvadoran migrants in a trailer after they refused to pay a bribe of $110 each. In late 2008, the country’s National Human Rights Commission called for a government investigation.
A former student of Northern Illinois University, Steven Kazmierczak (27) opened fire at a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University killing 7 and injuring 14 more. The school placed the campus on lock down, and students and teachers were advised to head to a secure location or take cover. The perpetrator committed suicide at the scene. This was the fourth-deadliest university shooting in the United States.
Chad’s President Idriss Deby declared a state of emergency and signed a decree increasing government powers for 15 days.
The chief of Hezbollah vowed to retaliate against Israeli targets anywhere in the world after accusing the Jewish state of killing the militant Imad Mughniyeh in Syria.
In Thailand, General Secretary Mahn Sha (64), leader of the Karen National Union (KNU), was shot and killed at his home in Mae Sot by three men who arrived in a pickup truck. The KNU is one of the biggest ethnic groups fighting Myanmar’s military government. Initial investigations showed that the assailants were also Karen.
Zimbabwe’s inflation rate, already the highest in the world, soared to a new high of 66,212.3%.
In Alabama, suspicious fires destroyed 2 churches (Union CME Church and Liberty CME Church) and damaged a third near the Georgia border. Both are historically black churches, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church being the present name for former Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.
In Canandaigua, New York, Kimberly and Christopher Glatz were killed at their home. Mary Silliman (23) was slain along with Randall Norman (41) a motorist who intervened when he saw her being roughed up in the parking lot in a pre-dawn attack outside Lakeside Memorial Hospital in Brockport. In August Frank Garcia, a nursing supervisor, was convicted of the Glatz killings and faced another trial for the Brockport killings. On Sep 1 Garcia was sentenced to life in prison.
Over 6,000 people fled the Ndele region of the Central African Republic for a Chadian border village after violence erupted between two ethnic groups, the Runga and the Gulus.
In Iraq, a roadside bomb killed two civilians and wounded four others, including a soldier, when it exploded near an Iraqi army patrol in western Mosul.
In northwestern, Pakistan a suspected US missile strike by a drone aircraft flattened a militant hide-out, killing 27 local and foreign insurgents. Two officials said dozens of followers of Pakistan’s top Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, were staying in the housing compound when it was hit.
In Sri Lanka, a suspected Tamil Tiger rebel hurled a hand grenade at a bus full of war-displaced refugees, killing a woman and wounding 13 others.
In Arizona a helicopter crashed north of Phoenix killing 5 people on-board, including Thomas Stewart (64), the head of Services Group of America.
An apartment fire in Cicero, Ill., killed at least 7 people including 4 children. The fire spread to nearby buildings and over 20 people were left homeless. On March 4 landlord Lawrence Myers (60) and handyman Marion Comier (47) were each charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated arson.
Twelve Afghans, including 6 children, died when two rockets fired at insurgents missed their target and struck a house during the second day of NATO’s most ambitious effort yet to break the militants’ grip on the country’s dangerous south. Thousands of NATO and Afghan troops encountered pockets of resistance, as they moved deeper into Marjah, a town of 80,000 people that is the linchpin of the militants’ logistical and opium-smuggling network in Helmand province. Afghan officials said at least 27 insurgents have been killed in the operation. In the south two British service members died, one from small-arms fire and the other from a roadside bomb explosion.
Department of Conservation workers in New Zealand found nine whales dead on Stewart Island. Wild seas and strong winds made it impossible to mount a rescue for another nineteen beached whales, and conservation officials were forced to euthanize the animals.
A Yemeni military helicopter crashed killing at least 10 troops in the north, as the government sought to implement a ceasefire with Shiite rebels in the mountainous area.
Afghan government prosecutors and police stormed into election commission offices in Kabul to seize control of voting data, accusing the body of not cooperating with a probe into fraud. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of a Kabul shopping and hotel complex. Nine employees of Afghanistan’s Central Bank and a troubled private bank (Kabul Bank), were accused of stealing $1.5 million through a fake check scheme.
Bahrain’s security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at thousands of anti-government protesters attempting to bring the Arab reform wave to the Gulf. Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima (21) died.
Iran’s security forces blockaded the home of an Iranian opposition leader in attempts to stop him attending a rally in support of Egypt’s uprising. Security forces and opposition protesters sporadically clashed in Tehran’s Enghelab Square. Sanee Zhaleh (26) was shot dead during the opposition rally.
A plane used to deliver World Food Program aid crashed in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, killing its Russian pilot and his Congolese co-pilot.
A Honduran commercial airliner crashed near the capital, killing all 14 people aboard, including Assistant Secretary for Public Works Rodolfo Rovelo, United Workers Federation of Honduras leader Jose Israel Salinas, and former Economy Secretary Carlos Chain.
A series of drug cartel shootings in Mexico left 18 people dead in Padilla, Tamaulipas state. In neighboring Nuevo Leon state, gunmen killed Homero Salcido Trevino, a top intelligence officer.
In Malaysia, Islamic morality police detained 40 unmarried Muslim couples in hotel rooms during Operation Valentine, aimed at curbing illegal premarital sex. The main Islamic body issued an edict in 2005 banning Muslims from celebrating what it said was a day synonymous with vice.
In Dagestan, on the border between Eastern Georgia and Russia, a pair of suicide bombers attacked security forces, killing 2 officers and wounding 21 others.
A couple in Pattaya, Thailand, locked lips for 46 hours, 24 minutes and 9 seconds to celebrate Valentine’s Day. A previous world record of 32 hours was set by a German couple in 2009.
Baton-wielding police in Harare, Zimbabwe disrupted a Valentine’s Day march of some 200 women, aimed at promoting peace and love between foes. No arrests were reported. Police said the demonstration was illegal under sweeping security laws that require police clearance.
Ten people were killed in Madagascar after Cyclone Giovanna struck land; a building collapsed in Alaotra Mangoro, killing six.
Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks in Nigeria targeting two major military bases and a highway overpass that wounded an unknown number of people in Kaduna.
A Ugandan minister raided and shut down a workshop run by homosexual rights activists in Entebbe, days after a draconian anti-gay bill was reintroduced.
Somali government forces backed by the African Union attacked Islamist Shebab rebel posts on the outskirts of the war-torn capital Mogadishu with tanks and artillery.
In Iraq, two separate attacks against Iraqi security forces in Mosul and Baghdad killed three people and wounded 18 others.
Bahraini security forces arrested 150 people while dispersing protesters attempting to march on the former Pearl Square in an event marking the one-year anniversary of the Shiite-led uprising against its Sunni rulers.
Syrian government forces renewed their assault on the city of Homs; twenty people were reported killed as pro-Assad forces and army defectors battled for hours in the northern town of Atareb.
Snow as deep as 15 feet (4.5m) isolated areas of Albania, Moldova, and Romania, requiring helicopters and military assistance to deliver food and medicine. Nearly 100 people died weather-related deaths in the extreme cold of early February.
Bolivian police arrested Julio Edwin Valdez (33), the leader of a gang in El Alto believed to have killed 69 people.
A fire in a prison in the Honduran town of Comayagua killed 362 people. When the fire started, the 852 inmates were locked into the prison that had been built for half that number. Most inmates had never been charged, let alone convicted. Many of the survivors of the fire escaped the prison in the chaos.
In South Korea, people rallied near the Chinese Embassy to protest China’s state security police for arresting dozens of North Korean defectors who face torture, imprisonment, and even death if returned to their homeland.
In Thailand, an Iranian man, Saeid Moradi, carrying grenades lost at least one leg in a grenade blast and wounded four civilians in Bangkok. A second man, Mohammad Kharzei, was arrested in Bangkok as he tried to board a flight to Malaysia.
Hackers claimed to have broken into Combined Systems Inc.’s website and stolen personal information belonging to clients and employees of the Jamestown, Pennsylvania-based firm, whose tear gas has been used against Egyptian demonstrators.
In Massachusetts, eleven dolphins beached themselves at Cape Cod. Ten were rescued. In January and February, 178 dolphins were stranded in the area and 125 died.
Zimbabwean riot police in Bulawayo broke up the eleventh annual Valentine’s Day march by Women of Zimbabwe Arise. The marches are an opportunity for the 80,000 members of WOZA to call for government action on such issues as access to water. In Harare, police used tear gas to scatter approximately 1,000 protesters. Bulawayo police detained 195 protesters, who say they were assaulted during the arrests. WOZA members the majority of those arrested suffered injuries and 25 sought medical treatment.
Dozens of Afghan activists and supporters marked Valentine’s Day by marching in Kabul to denounce violence against women amid reports that domestic abuse is on the rise.
Security forces in Bahrain clashed with anti-government protesters, leaving a sixteen year old boy and a police officer dead.
In Pakistan, a roadside bomb hit a vehicle carrying members of an anti-Taliban militia in Stanzai village, killing seven militiamen. A suicide car bomber detonated next to a police post in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing eleven police officers and wounding twenty three others.
Fighting between the Syrian government and Syrian rebels caused major destruction to the Syrian Air Force, military bases, the towns of Shadadah and al-Sahwa as well as the Jbeysa oil field. In addition to the deaths of soldiers and civilians, 42 Shiite women and children were kidnapped.
Turkish authorities arrested eight retired military officers over their alleged involvement in the ousting of an Islamic-led government in the late 1990s.
Indian troops shot and killed a Pakistani soldier who crossed the makeshift border separating Indian and Pakistani held Kashmir.
Mali’s military detained eight Arab men in Timbuktu in a sweep that raised fears of further reprisals against the region’s Arab minority. Hundreds of others have fled to Algeria and Mauritania, where they are living in refugee camps.
Oscar Pistorius, Olympic and Paralympic gold medalist runner, was arrested after shooting and killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
A Norwegian court in Oslo sentenced Sadi Bugingo (47) of Rwanda to 21 years in prison after he was found guilty of taking part in the slaughter of more than a thousand Tutsis in his home country.
A blast struck a bus in Bahrain carrying police as anti-government activists clashed with police, killing one police officer. Twenty six people were arrested in addition to the 29 people arrested the day before.
Egyptian police and residents clashed with supporters of ousted President Morsi, leaving a man shot dead in Damietta and a child killed in Minya.
Iraqi troops regained ground in the northern town of Sulaiman Pek, a day after parts of it were overrun by Sunni Islamist insurgents. At least 12 militants were killed by the army.
A car bomb in Syria killed 32 people the town of al-Yaduda (Yadouda) near the border with Jordan. Five soldiers were killed when Islamist rebels detonated mines under the Carlton Hotel in Aleppo. In Geneva, Syrian government and opposition delegates in Geneva said talks to end their country’s civil war have reached an impasse.
The death toll from a prison break in Sanaa rose to ten, according to Yemeni military and security officials. The government claimed al-Qaida received help from inside the prison to facilitate the escape of 29 inmates.
Dave Walker (58), a Canadian filmmaker, went missing in Cambodia. His body was found April 30 in the woods near the Angkor temple complex.
Eleven Chinese “terrorists” were reported killed during an attack in Wushi County in Xinjiang. The Chinese government sacked the police chief of the southern “sin city” of Dongguan following a report on the underground sex industry there.
In eastern China, a wedding hall collapsed, killing 10 people in Yazhuang village, Zhejiang province.
A volcanic eruption on Java, Indonesia sent a 17 km (10 mile) ash cloud into the air. More than 56,000 people fled their homes and 4 were killed when Mount Kelud erupted. Seven Japanese divers went missing off the island of Bali; five of the divers were found alive on February 17.
A UN Commission of Inquiry found that crimes against humanity had been committed in North Korea and recommended that its findings be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Thousands of Muslims who tried to flee the violence in Bangui in the Central African Republic were turned back by peacekeepers, as crowds of angry Christians shouted “we’re going to kill you all.”
Twenty two Congolese soldiers and 230 Ugandan rebels were been killed in a nearly month-long offensive in eastern .
Zambian ex-diplomat and son of former president Rupiah Banda was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of corruption.
German Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich announced his resignation over claims he leaked confidential information about an international child porn probe.
Italy’s Premier Enrico Letta drove himself to the president’s palace and resigned following questionable back-room political maneuvering.
In Venezuela, soldiers fired tear gas and deployed water cannons to break up hundreds of student demonstrators blocking a highway in protest against President Nicolas Maduro, ultimately arresting more than 100 protesters.
In New Mexico, unusually high levels of radioactive particles were found at an underground nuclear waste site; investigators later found five other potentially explosive barrels in West Texas that came from the same Los Alamos waste stream.
About $2.5 million of Bitcoin was apparently stolen from Silk Road 2.0, a website used to trade mainly illegal drugs. A flaw in Bitcoin’s code was discovered earlier in the month.
IT SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY
Jason Hendrix (16) was killed in a shootout with Maryland police as they tried to pull him over for a speeding violation. A search of his home in Corbin, Kentucky revealed the bodies of his parents and a younger sister.
Fighting intensified ahead of a midnight ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Shelling killed at least eight people and wounded 23, focused in Donetsk and Debaltseve.
A barrage of shots were fired at the Krudttoenden cafe in Copenhagen, Denmark, disrupting a freedom of speech event and killing filmmaker Finn Noergaard (55).
Dozens of anti-coup Thai activists held a demonstration in central Bangkok, handing out roses and copies of George Orwell’s 1984 — a rare expression of public dissent in a nation still under strict martial law.
Algerian soldiers shot dead a heavily armed Islamist in the Tebessa region on the northeastern border with Tunisia.
Pakistani gunmen killed a driver and wounded a polio worker in the Khyber tribal region as another vaccination team went missing ahead of a nationwide vaccination drive.
Twenty six people were killed in Yemen in fighting overnight between Shiite rebels and Sunni tribesmen left 26 dead. Tens of thousands marched in protest against the Houthis in the cities of Ibb, Taiz, Hodeida, Dhamar, and the capital, Sanaa.
Four American journalists, who were covering the anniversary of Bahrain’s 2011 uprising, were arrested and accused of participating in an illegal gathering amid a long crackdown on dissent.
Cameroon ended a four day operation during which its special forces reportedly killed 162 Boko Haram militants in Nigeria’s northeastern town of Goshi, destroying bomb factories and weapons to retake the extremist stronghold.
In Indian-controlled Kashmir, two students were killed during an anti-India protest that followed the killing of a local rebel in a gunbattle with government forces in southern Kakpora village.
A train crashed into a van at a crossing in southern Pakistan, killing eight people and injuring four.
Three Palestinian teenagers were shot and killed while protesting Israeli security forces in the West Bank. Yasmin al-Zaru (20) tried to stab an Israeli policeman in Hebron in the West Bank, but she was shot in the attempt. Two armed Palestinians attacked Israeli police just outside the Old City walls before being shot dead by officers.
The Turkish army shelled positions held by Kurdish-backed militia in northern Syria for a second day, killing two fighters.
Zimbabwe aviation authorities impounded a US-registered cargo jet, with a dead body and millions of South African rand reportedly on board.
Amid anarchist riots and police officers’ strike threats, Brazilian President Michel Temer deployed 9,000 soldiers to maintain security in Rio de Janeiro’s until the end of Carnaval celebrations.
Two journalists were shot dead during a live radio broadcast in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic.
In China, a gas explosion at a coal mine in Hunan province killed at least ten people. Three attackers with knives killed five people and injured another five before being shot dead by police in Xinjiang province.
Seven Hong Kong police officers were convicted in the 2014 assault (caught on tape!) of pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang.
Congo police made a pre-dawn raid on Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), a separatist group in Kinshasa, killing four people.
Four Indian soldiers and four militants were killed in gun-battles in the Bandipora district of northern Kashmir, in the second outbreak of violence between security forces and separatists in three days.
A passenger train and a freight train collided in Luxembourg, killing one person and injuring several more.
Hundreds of Malians fled villages close to the city of Macina after violent clashes between Fulani herders and Bambara farmers over the weekend killed 20 people.
Two days of fighting in northern Syria left 69 dead, including 39 from the Levant Liberation Committee and 30 dead from Jund al-Aqsa.
Police in Vietnam forcibly prevented hundreds of protesters from marching to present compensation claims against a steel plant over a toxic spill in 2016.
Storms packing heavy rains, lashing winds and tornadoes hit the Houston, Texas metropolitan area, ripping roofs off homes, blowing windows out of frames, and leaving tens of thousands of people without power.
Nikolas Cruz (19) barged into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. He killed 17 students and teachers and injured 17 more.
Youth in Iran, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia celebrated Valentine’s Day in protest of religious government authorities banning the celebrations as part of “decadent Western culture.”
In Afghanistan, Taliban attacks on police stations killed at least ten police officers and thirteen insurgents. A land mine in western Herat province killed two children of a local Taliban figure.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari announced that 18,000 people had been killed and 36,000 wounded in the war with the Islamic State militant group since 2014.
Two airport vehicles collided on the airfield at London’s Heathrow Airport, killing a British Airways engineer and injuring another man.
In the Netherlands, former prime minister Ruud Lubbers (b. 1939), died in Rotterdam. He had governed the country from 1982 to 1994.
Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party withdrew from parliament a European treaty designed to combat violence against women after language around gender roles triggered uproar in the European Union’s poorest country.
Most schools in Slovenia closed as nearly 40,000 teachers held a one-day strike following a week of protests by public sector workers.
In north-central Mexico, a train hit a bus carrying factory workers, and at least seven people were killed in San Luis Potosi.
Bolivia’s defense minister said an explosive was used in a blast that killed at least four people during Carnaval de Oruruo celebrations.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte offered a nearly $500 bounty for each communist rebel killed by government forces and told soldiers to shoot female communist guerrillas in the genitals to render them “useless.”
Cambodian lawmakers unanimously approved changes to the criminal code and the constitution making lese majeste – insulting the monarchy – a criminal offense punishable by a fine and up to five years in prison.
In Sri Lanka, a building collapsed in a busy part of Colombo’s Grandpass district, killing seven.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that at least 922 children and young adults had died of measles in Madagascar since October, despite a huge emergency vaccination program.
In Iraq, eight members of a militia linked to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were killed in a bomb blast near Samarra.
Adil Ahmad Dar rammed a car full of explosives into a paramilitary convoy in Kashmir along a key highway on the outskirts of Srinagar, killing 41 soldiers and wounding more than two dozen others.
An armed group in Libya kidnapped 14 Tunisian workers in the western city of Zawiya, near Tripoli.
Yusuf Saloojee, South Africa’s former ambassador to Iran, was arrested in Johannesburg on charges of bribery with international corporations.
In Sudan, security forces fired teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters close to the presidential palace in Khartoum, before plainclothes officers armed with plastic piping rounded up around 30 people.
Italian police arrested Francesco Strangio, convicted in 2018 for international drug trafficking.
Louisiana State Univ. in Baton Rouge announced the arrest of nine members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity for hazing related crimes.
Bottom line for writers: This blog is about how horrific a day with generally positive associations can be. Having a fresh and/or slanted take on something familiar is nearly always a winner. Have at it!
PS – Happy Half-Price Chocolate Day! It lasts all weekend this year!