Sunday, May 31, 2020

How Are We Going to Write About This?

As we speak, I am in the midst of a Blog Tour for the publication of my new book, the second in the Lakes Crime Thriller trilogy, BONES IN THE RIVER. I should have been talking about the book at Newcastle Noir and CrimeFest as well.

Current circumstances—UK lockdown for Covid-19 coronavirus—have put paid to any physical festivals or conventions. So, everything has moved online, with panels and interviews and readings. I took part in the recent Virtual Noir At The Bar (Episode 5 on April 29, from about 44:00min to 51:00min) instead of actually meeting up, in an actual bar, to do actual readings from our works.

As well as keeping on top of the Blog Tour, I’m also deeply into the planning of the next two books. And that’s where I run into the biggest questions of all.

How are we going to write about the events of 2020 in the future?

If I look at BONES IN THE RIVER, for instance, the events of the story occur at the annual Appleby Horse Fair, held in the Cumbrian market town for hundreds of years and famous as being the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.

 This year it has been cancelled.

The opening scene, in which a man accidentally runs down and kills a child on a deserted country road at night, could still happen in lockdown—but not after he’d just spent an evening having a meal with friends where they were undoubtedly all sitting around a dinner table—inside—in close proximity.

My CSI, Grace McColl, goes from crime scene to office and out into the field again, mixing with both the public and her colleagues. My detective, Nick Weston, goes to interview suspects and potential witnesses in person rather than by phone or Zoom, because how can you really get a feel for the reactions of the people you’re talking to unless you can see them while you talk.

People are brought in for questioning—their legal representatives sitting alongside them. What will happen in future? Zoom again, or will this cause a major leap forwards in projection hologram technology?

Grace visits her mother, Eleanor, who has moved back from the south coast up to Appleby. Grace’s ex-husband, Max, has been making himself useful around Eleanor’s new house and garden, perhaps as a way of trying to reinsert himself into Grace’s life. Even with the slight easing of lockdown due to take place in the UK from June 1, this is dubious behaviour. They have a barbecue—which as it’s outside would probably be allowed. But Nick also attends and he doesn’t count as family. Not sure he and Grace stay the full six feet apart at all times there, either…

Besides, Nick’s a father with a young daughter, Sophie. Would he risk her health by associating with others more than he absolutely had to for his job? And what about Nick’s partner, Lisa, who has been working suspiciously late at a hair and beauty salon that wouldn’t be open for business yet anyway.

Meanwhile, one of the other CSIs is suspended for a supposed error. He’s staying at home in his scruffs, watching the TV and playing video games—perfectly feasible in these lockdown times! But then he gets a visit from one of his colleagues and, instead of insisting the man stays on the doorstep so they can chat (no garden available in a little terraced house in Workington) he invites the man inside his home—without hand sanitiser, gloves or face mask.

The Travelling community at the Fair live in close proximity inside their vardo and bow-top horse-drawn caravans, and spend their time largely out of doors, but at the Fair they all mix and mingle with no thought to cross-contamination. There’s plenty of washing goes on, but it’s mostly of horses in the River Eden, as fits with tradition rather than to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infection.

And at the stand-off near the end of the book, the police are more concerned with the numbers involved than the risks of getting too close to the saliva of others.

If I’d been writing this book next year, and setting it this year, it might have been a very different story altogether.

So, what do I do about the third instalment? Do I mentally set the story pre-winter 2019, when Corona was still just a beer, and a virus was something more likely to be contracted by your computer than by your elderly relatives?

After all, I didn’t specify that BONES IN THE RIVER was set in any particularly year. It’s contemporary but not tied to any specific, non-transferrable event—the millennium, for instance.

But, in a few years’ time, the obvious setting of a book pre- or post-Covid-19 will undoubtedly date it. I went through my very first book recently, KILLER INSTINCT and UN-dated it. I didn’t change the story but I did take out references to minor things that I felt dated it badly. References to computer floppy disks, video cassette tapes—even public phone boxes, most of which have either disappeared from our streets or been turned into tiny libraries or stations for community defibrillators.

The next book I have planned is a bit more of an experiment, and therefore could be set at any time in the last few years. I don’t intend to make reference to Covid-19 in that story. It still feels too soon. Too raw.

This will give me time to see what’s going to change in societal behaviours in the slightly longer term before I start the next Charlie Fox book. If Charlie’s greatest threat to someone in the future is that if they don’t stop what they’re doing, she’ll cough on them, it’s going to change things in a big way…

What are your feelings, both as writers and readers about the inclusion of Covid-19 in books written right now, to be read in the next year or eighteen months? Do you want them to reflect these strange times in full and horrible detail, or do you read as more of an escape of what’s going on around you, and therefore not want to be reminded?

And will pre-2020 become seen as the new Golden Age—both of crime and of life?

This week’s Word of the Week is petrichor, meaning the smell of rain on dry earth. It comes from the Greek petra, which means stone and ichor, which means the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. My thanks to EvKa for sending me this among a whole list of wonderful words. A gift to treasure for a logophile like me!

BONES IN THE RIVER, book No2 in the Lakes crime thriller trilogy, was published worldwide on May 26 2020by ZACE Ltd. You can grab a sneak peek at the first three chapters, and buy here from all the usual retailers.

eBook: 978-1-909344-69-3
Mass-market paperback: 978-1-909344-70-9
Hardcover: 978-1-909344-71-6
Hardcover Large Print: 978-1-909344-72-3

Driving on a country road late at night,
you hit a child.
There are no witnesses.
You have everythingto lose.
What do you do?

The traditional Appleby Horse Fair hosts the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe.

The sudden influx of more than 40,000 visitors into the small Lakeland town has always caused its share of problems, with strained relations between off-comers and locals.

But it’s also known as a good time to settle old scores.

This year, the Fair brings with it with the discovery of two bodies near the River Eden—one very recent and another a long time buried.

As CSI Grace McColl and Detective Nick Weston search for answers, old secrets are revealed, old wounds are reopened, and tensions threaten to erupt into violence.

While someone much closer to home is trying to get away with murder…

The follow-up to DANCING ON THE GRAVE, the first of the Lakes crime thriller series, BONES IN THE RIVER is a self-contained story featuring:
CSI Grace McColl. She is forty, amicably divorced from her husband, Max. Born in the Lakes, she was always a keen photographer, who trained as a crime scene investigator after her photographs were used to help acquit a man who later caused a woman’s death. Grace still feels she has much to make amends for. She hides her emotions behind a calm façade that can make her sometimes appear cold. She lives in Orton village, with a Weimaraner dog called Tallie.

Detective Constable Nick Weston. He is thirty-two, living with his partner, Lisa, a hairdresser, with whom he has a volatile relationship, and a young daughter, Sophie. Nick worked in Firearms in Manchester and then undercover for the Met in London. After he was compromised and almost beaten to death on an undercover op, Lisa persuaded him to transfer up to her native Cumbria, where he is considered an outsider among his colleagues. Nick is still coping with some of the mental and physical after-effects of his experiences.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Awash in Uncertainty


Ten days ago, Athens Insider Magazine published my second Corona Chronicles column, titling it, “Awash in Uncertainty,” and in its introduction wrote, “The emotions that run through this column starkly contrast with the hope he expresses in his first corona column [published one month earlier].”

Had I written that column today, the contrast would be even starker.  The consequences of politics trumping science in a public health crisis are now coming home to roost, most vividly so (for the moment) in Brazil.  Heaven help us what the world may be facing when my next column is due.  

So, let’s take a look at how I saw the world just ten days ago.

Welcome to the second monthly installment of my chronicle of living through pandemic times, as told from the perspective of an American mystery writer who’s called Greece home for 35 years.

My wife and I remain in lockdown mode at our rural New Jersey farm, close by America’s Greater New York City coronavirus epicenter; our plans at returning to Greece put on indeterminate hold by the risks and vagaries of long international flights out of NYC area airports.

A lot has changed in the month since my last column. The bear I mentioned back then as the bane of my trashcan’s existence, now often takes a lazy mid-afternoon dip in my pond. He follows it up with a visit to his favorite telephone pole for a bit of claw sharpening, and a leisurely back-scratch up against his roughed up handiwork, before wandering off through the pasture, leaving me alone to contemplate more mundane matters, such as the state of our Covid-19 plagued world.

The big guy brought along a buddy for this visit.

As I said, much has changed in a month.  Back then I wrote of how nations had discovered new heroes in public health professionals valiantly leading their nations’ non-partisan efforts to keep all citizens safe.  Today, some of those same champions are taking fire from government leaders seeking to politically profit off pandering to the justly impatient and worried among us, through orchestrated partisan attacks aimed at discrediting the character, competence, and motives of those same heroes and the heralded institutions they represent.

That’s not to suggest the economic pain isn’t real. We’re facing catastrophic worldwide economic meltdown. No one knows that better than Greece, and yet it’s managed to put science and compassion first, setting examples of courage and resilience for the world.

I doubt you’ll find many on our planet not anxious to return to the lives they once knew.  We’re all desperate to restore at least a semblance of face-to-face human interaction, and to resurrect our jobs, businesses and professional careers. The numbers of the newly unemployed are staggering. But, so too, are the ever-mounting totals of Covid-19 infections…and deaths.

Those numbers are of a magnitude vast enough to bring to mind the import of a quote attributed to Joseph Stalin. “The death of one person is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

Do you recall your anxiety when the first case of the virus reached your country?  Or when you learned of your nation’s first death? Today, in the lands hardest hit, I’d venture to say if you asked most to guess the number of their country’s infections, they’d be off by tens of thousands, and for deaths by thousands.

People just want “it” to be over, and will grasp at the weakest of proffered straws promising a speedy end to their taxing societal and economic confinement.

This past week, many nations began re-opening their economies, some driven by science, some by politics, and some by a mix of both. Perhaps by my next chronicle entry, we’ll have a better idea of which leaders made the prudent choice, and which faltered—hopefully none badly.

On the other side of the ledger, one might think these times are providing terrific fodder for the artist and the writer, for we’re living through what will undoubtedly define the balance of our lives.  Our planet is at war, simultaneously battling the identical existential threat in every household, every family, and every nation. It is a universally shared crisis of epic proportion, with individual heroism and altruism revealing the very best of the human soul, and callous indifference and opportunism laying bare its very worst.

Just think of all the masterful novels, epic paintings, and transporting musical compositions this must inspire.

To be honest, it’s all just too damn draining to concentrate. 

We’re awash in uncertainty and nebulous distractions from the essence of the lives we’re accustomed to leading. Focus is gone.

Yes, undoubtedly that shall pass, and I expect a plethora of pandemic inspired works to be out there, whether or not the market is ready.

But for the moment, we writers are learning to cope with a world without in-person book appearances, festivals, conferences, or even casual interactions.  Virtual events just aren’t the same.  They take getting used to, like everything else these days.

For those who think writing is meant to be a lonely experience, and therefore isolation’s not that big a deal, they’d be wrong. It’s a solitary experience. Most writers love to interact with fans and colleagues, and miss that personal interplay as much as many miss time spent with their buddies. Sure, over time we’ll learn to compensate, and even fit the experiences into our work. But for now, it’s frustrating.

After all, we’re in this together, because we like being together.  We need and desire companionship, and the occasional bear in the pasture doesn’t cut it. Even though he’s not a bad chap.


Friday, May 29, 2020

The Print Point Post

This week, I pinned the rather marvellous Karen Latto down in her busy schedule and  interrogated her for the sake of the blog.  Karen owns the book shop in Bute, an indie book shop that sells all kinds of wonderful stuff, notebooks, cards, pens and art material.  And you can always get a good coffee and some muffins.

The Book Shop  Print Point

Where is your shop?  

Print Point is situated in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute which lies on the firth of Clyde on the West Coast of Scotland. It is 3 miles wide by 15 miles long and has a population of around 6500 people.

                                                          Packed to the gunnels for an event

How do you commute to work?

I actually live in Glasgow with my husband which is an hours drive to Wemyss Bay ferry terminal then a 40 minute sail across to Bute. I do this commute at the start of the week then stay with my mum in Rothesay 3 or 4 nights during the week, she is a 5 minute walk away from my shop. I have been doing that since 1998!

                                                 Some people who should know better.

How long have you had Print Point  for, and was it a  ambition of yours to own a book shop?

I always loved books and stationery so a year after I left school I wrote to a company called Bute Print to see if they had any voluntary work. They took me on a job-seekers allowance scheme for a couple of years  or so  then offered me a full time job. In 1997 the owners weren't making enough money to stay open so sold it to my 2 colleagues and I for £1.

                                       A few folk here that you should never lend money to...

To me it seems an idyllic existence;  reading books, eating cupcakes and drinking good coffee. What is the reality like?

The reality is that you work more behind the scenes than you do in the shop. You have to be constantly on the ball when it comes to keeping up with new publications coming out as there are a lot of avid readers on the island always looking for the next bestseller. I am usually 2 months ahead in terms of pre-ordering. There is also a lot of paperwork involved, I do all our accounts too! But it is idyllic, I always start the day with a good coffee and couldn't imagine working anywhere else.

              Craig Robertson  trying to keep female crime writers under control in the museum.

What changes in book buying, and selling, have you seen  in the life span of Print Point?

When we first bought Print Point, our main book supplier was and still is to this day Gardners Books. Before technology took over they had a physical catalogue sent to us every year with all the book titles in that they stocked, so if someone was looking for a book you had to thumb through it in alphabetical order to see if they stocked it, then call them to see if they had it to get it sent out! We also had an account with Lomond Books which we still do and they supplied Bargain Books on the High Street so every couple of months we would visit one on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow and just buy in bulk straight off their shelves. Now it's all done online. Book sales have certainly increased since the earlier days but there is such a vast choice now and since ebooks came on the scene I have noticed that publishers have been making book covers more appealing than ever before.

What adaptations have you made? What do you think has worked well? Have you had any disasters?

We were in our previous shop for 11 years which was around a quarter of the size of our current premises but I still managed to squeeze a lot in. We moved to our current shop because book sales were increasing and I wanted to incorporate a small coffee area to give it a bit of a mainland feel, all the bookshops in big cities were doing this and people seemed to love it. It certainly drew in a lot of new customers and we haven't looked back. Having a bigger shop meant we could host author events too. No disasters yet, touch wood!
                                            Craig doing his impersonation  of a teapot

Many MIE readers are familiar with Bute Noir.  Whose idea was it and how much drink was involved? Does Craig Robertson cheat at the quiz? Why have you never been asked to play the theme tune to Van  Der Valk on the kazoo? Do you have an overriding favourite memory? For me, it’s Mason Cross doing a charade of Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks.

Craig Robertson was appearing at our local library with Alexandra Sokoloff during Book Week Scotland in 2016 and I was asked along by the library to sell his books. I had never met him before but asked if he had ever considered hosting a crime festival on the island, he said it sounded like a good idea and would get back to me. I went home quite excited and messaged my friend to say I had approached him about it not realising he was staying at the hotel she worked at. The next morning when he went for breakfast she said to him ‘I hear you are organising a crime festival on Bute’... A few weeks went by and I hadn't heard from him so I messaged him on Twitter, then again, then he finally said if I could find accommodation he would find the authors. 5 minutes later the accommodation was booked, Craig called 10 of his author friends and 6 weeks later we held our first Bute Noir. Re Craig cheating at the Quiz, I'm just there to make sure he never forgets his buzzers. I have no idea why I have never been asked to play the kazoo at the quiz but having seen Michael J Malone’s attempt I doubt I could do any better  and my most memorable moment was probably the end of our very first one, just having achieved it all without a hitch in such a short space of time was pretty amazing. I have to say that Anne Speirs from Bute Museum and Patricia McArthur from Rothesay Library deserve all the credit too, we have a great team.
                                               Crime night at the museum

What do you read?  What book surprised you with the way it sold, or did not sell?

I read crime fiction funnily enough although one of my favourite books is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, not my usual choice but I loved it. My husband and I were lucky enough to see the play in London a couple of years ago too and it was amazing. I think back to the first book I sold multiples of and it was The Little Book of Calm. Just a small pocket book but it sold out so many times. Then Harry Potter of course, we had midnight openings and even held a party for 120 people in Rothesay Castle for The Deathly Hallows, there were bats flying around the courtyard and some children thought I'd brought them along to add to the atmosphere.

What do the good people of Bute read?

Crime fiction is a huge seller on Bute, especially since Bute Noir began as many of my customers have got to know a lot of the authors through various events so are always waiting for the next publication. We also sell a lot of childrens books, nature and Scottish. To be honest anything goes!

How can we lazy Amazon purchasing types help the indy  book shops? Hive ?

Hive is a website set up through Gardners Books to help indie bookshops have a presence online. It stocks books, cd’s, vinyl, gifts and more and you choose your preferred bookshop who then get a small percentage of the sale. We have never had an actual website ourselves but after coronavirus  it may be something we look to in the future so we can promote all our books that way rather than just through social media. The best way to support indies other than going into the shop itself would be to give them a call or drop them an email, I'm sure after lockdown many would be happy to hear from you.

Are indy bookshops making a comeback? What do you think they can offer that the big boys cannot?

Indie bookshops are definitely making a comeback, just like vinyl I think people miss the simple life sometimes. Indies offer a more personal service and can be the hub of their community with book clubs, quiz nights, author events and more. And regarding Print Point, all our events come with freshly ground coffee and home made cupcakes, what more could you want?

You live in Glasgow but where are you from?  I am not a Glaswegian, I was born in Oban and moved to Bute when I was 3. I think of myself as a quarter Scouse though as my grandpa was from Liverpool and its my home from home.

And where are you in the process of  easing lockdown? What changes have you made to facilitate reopening?

We are awaiting Phase 2 of Lockdown which could be anytime in the next 4 weeks or so. We have had a perspex screen put up in front of our counter, have moved some stands around to make more space, put up appropriate signs including ‘Practice panic buying’ and will be allowing 2 people in the shop at a time. I am also planning ‘Book a Browse’ for after normal hours so that people can come in at set times to have a proper look round rather than feel rushed, we have over 4000 books in store so you need more than 5 minutes!

So now you know, go hive and support your indie!

Caro Ramsay

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Cape Town water situation

Stanley - Thursday

Given the near disaster that befell Cape Town in the first quarter of 2018, I'm frequently asked by friends in the USA and Europe what the current water situation is in Cape Town.

You may remember in January 2018, the city of Cape Town announced that it had 90 days of water left, that it would run out of water on April 12 - Day Zero. The announcement shocked the world - how could a major city run out of water? 

What had led to the situation was several years of insipid rainfall, leaving the feeder dams much lower than usual. In addition, the population of Cape Town was growing well beyond the existing infrastructure.

Theewaterskloof Dam - Cape Town's largest - in March 2018

Capetonians queue for spring water in 2018.
The city put in place severe restrictions on water use, both personal and commercial. It also hiked the price of water, and unleashed a huge conservation publicity drive. All of this helped push Day Zero back into the rainy season. And fortunately it did rain, avoiding a disaster.

I can't speak for other Capetonians, but I know I still practice many of the conservation measures of those dire times. I wet myself in the shower, turn the water off, soap, and then rinse. In and out in less than ninety seconds. I never let the water run while brushing my teeth and still have a small bucket in the kitchen sink to catch water that I later use to water the plants. However, I have given up my practice of standing in a bucket in the shower to catch water to use to flush the toilet.

So what is the current status?

The two lowest points in the graph above show that Cape Town's dams dropped to 20% capacity in 2017 and 2018. There was very little rain in winter 2017. Today we are a little below average capacity.

This graph shows that, relative to the past 5 years, we are in better shape (black dotted line). Vertical axis is volume; horizontal axis is week number. 

The prognosis for next summer - the dry season - depends a lot on what June, July, and August bring, as these are the three rainiest months. If we have average rain, next year should be fine. If we have no rain, we will be in trouble again.

The good news is that it is raining quite heavily in the Cape Town area right now and there has been snow on the mountains - not on Table Mountain, however. That will definitely help the dam levels. 

Beautiful sight

This could be the first time she's seen snow!

This could be the first time it's seen snow!
So I am feeling cautiously optimistic about 2021. Cross fingers.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020



Wednesday--Kwei Quartey

As of this posting, the continent of Africa has around 116,000 recorded cases of COVID-19, of which some 3500 have died. From South Africa's high of 24,000 cases and 429 deaths to Western Sahara's low of only ten cases, the profile of the pandemic in Africa is as varied and multi-layered as the continent itself.

Map of the COVID-19 outbreak in Africa. (Image: CanuckguyLokal_Profil + Xfigpower)    100,000+ Confirmed cases    10,000–99,999 Confirmed cases    1000–9999 Confirmed cases    100–999 Confirmed cases    10–99 Confirmed cases    1–9 Confirmed cases

Some African governments followed the lead of western nations in imposing stay-at-home orders, but as has been pointed out, in many cases, the efficacy of such a measure is questionable. Consider slums such as Nairobi's Kibera or Accra's Agbogbloshie, where six to ten people may live in a small wooden shack. The notion of "social distancing" in this situation is farcical. For many of these people who work in the informal economy, missing even a day's work can mean going hungry.

Agbogbloshie slum, Accra (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

In Ghana, President Nana Akuffo-Addo probably read the signs of rapidly growing malcontent among the citizenry and eased the restrictions after a strict lockdown of only three weeks. Like Trump, Akuffo-Addo faces a challenge to his reelection at the end of 2020, and media optics of out-of-control Ghanaian policemen assaulting people in the streets for not staying home reflected badly on Ghana's president, who is not wildly popular at the moment. 


Like other parts of the world, the numbers in Africa depend on several factors, including the fundamental ability to perform the COVID-19 test in the first place. Here, individual nations have widely differing capabilities. With vast testing experience for HIV, South Africa, with less than 5% of the continent’s population, has a testing rate of 6.5 per 1000 population, with Ghana following at 5.5/1000. But Nigeria, with more than three times South Africa’s population, has tested only about 0.2/1000. 

Therefore, do we have a true representation of the number of cases and the fatality rate in Africa? Almost certainly not, particularly as many young people may not be showing any symptoms (pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic). Remember that 19 of the top 20 youngest countries are in Africa.

Ghanaian lab tech with SARS-CoV-2 test kit (Image: Shutterstock)

Bearing in mind that even the US has had months-long problems with access to testing, Africa faces great difficulties in the areas of infrastructure, equipment, and trained human resources, but the most severe obstacle is the availability of reagents necessary for the testing. Warns Africa CDC head John Nkengasong, "The collapse of global cooperation and a failure of international solidarity have shoved Africa out of the diagnostics market. With its lack of hospitals and high prevalence of conditions such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and malnutrition, Africa could see COVID-19 mortality rates higher than elsewhere, even in children."

Under the Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing (PACT), established by the African Union and Africa CDC, the number of tests throughout the continent grew from a mere 415,000 in mid-April to approximately 1.2 million now. PACT aims to strengthen capacity to test at least 10 million Africans for COVID-19 across Africa in the next six months.  

Dodgy Predictions and an Incomplete Picture

There have been dire predictions of a devastating 300,000 to 3.3 million COVID-related deaths in Africa. During a CNN interview, Melinda Gates said, "Look at what’s going on in Ecuador. They’re putting bodies out on the street. You’re going to see that in countries in Africa.” While Gates was undoubtedly expressing a fear she had and not relishing the notion, it's no surprise that this declaration did not go down well with Africans, many of whom are already suspicious of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's involvement with vaccine production. 

Melinda Gates's distasteful imagery ("putting bodies out on the street") painted the 54 different African countries with a broad, sweeping brush suggesting passivity and helplessness. But, it should be recalled that the African continent has had experience with HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and Ebola. Whereas the concept of lockdown for COVID-19 was foreign to the US and many European countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia were already familiar with it from the Ebola epidemic, and both countries wrestled with Ebola until they beat it, much of it through local efforts. 

Just as the states in the US can hardly be said to have had homogenous responses to the novel Coronavirus outbreaks, neither has Africa, but many African countries imposed travel bans before or around the same time that the US government did. For example, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced a ban on large public gatherings including weddings and church services on March 19, 2020 before Uganda had a single COVID-19 case. Uganda has around 212 recorded cases and an unknown number of deaths, according to the site

Rwanda, with 327 recorded cases, was also quick to react. Shortly after the outbreak was confirmed in January, the government set up a committee to evaluate and bolster preparedness and response to the pandemic, training about 500 health workers, including laboratory technicians to cope with a potential national epidemic.

Hospitals and Health Care Systems

Some of Africa's best hospitals, both private and public, are found in South Africa, Tunisia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Zambia, Tanzania. Even so, South Africa has fewer than 1,000 intensive care unit (ICU) beds, of which 160 are in the private sector, for a population of almost 60 million.

Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi, is used as a benchmark by other hospitals in Africa.
Photo: Aga Khan University Hospitals)

Estimates are that South Africa currently has 3,216 ventilators, with 2,105 in the private sector. South Africa's health authorities put the projected need for a peak COVID-19 epidemic at 7,000. Meanwhile, Kenya has 259 machines; Ghana, 200; Nigeria, 169; South Sudan, 4; and Somalia, zero. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending from which angle you look at it, the desperate ICU/ventilator scenarios in the West months ago could not even logistically exist in most of Africa, and the continent's response to COVID-19 will not be a picture of elite hospitals like the Aga Khan placing hundreds of people on ventilators.

Instead, it will be a story of how the illness affects communities with few resources. As in Ghana, the unfolding march of the disease might be more represented by mortuaries overflowing with bodies as families wait for a day in the future when full-scale funerals can be held again. They may have to wait a long time.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

Annamaria on a Holiday Monday

Today's holiday used to be called Decoration Day and began as a day to decorate the graves  of the fallen in war, starting with the Civil War here in the USA.  Many towns and cities in the country have claimed to be the birthplace of the tradition.  In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson awarded that official honor to the village of Waterloo, New York.  Now part of Seneca Falls, a small, out-of-the-way place that also happened to be the scene of the first US Women's Rights Convention in 1848.

These days, when so many have and still are falling in a pandemic, I have been thinking of how we might memorialize them.  The New York Times front page this Sunday has begun to attempt such a daunting task.  Perhaps every town and village will have to have its own monument.  Here is as much of today's front page as I can manage to display.

The sub-headline says:
 "They Were Not Simply
 Names on a List.
They Were Us."

In the traditional spirit of Memorial Day for the fallen in war, I share my post from three years ago.  The good thing about writing of history, as I am always fond of saying, is that it never goes out of date.   

I am thinking of World War Two, the war that shaped my young life, so my post today will be highly personal one.  Here are some images that tell of the people who fought, the people who worked and prayed on the home front, of one who did not come back and one who did.

Here is the data; the numbers are in MILLIONS:

Here is the moral of the story:

 Here are my personal remembrances:

My brother Andy and me (c.1945), wearing hats that belonged to our uncles.

My vague earliest memories are of saying our good-byes and of how tense my mother and my grandmother were for all those years.

A flag like this hung in the front window of the two-family house that my family shared with my grandparents.  Ours had five stars, for my dad and for four of my mother's brothers.  They were all blue until the last year of the war.

Our gold star was for my godfather John Pisacane, who served in Patton's army and then in a tank battalion under General Eisenhower.  He was killed during the push to Berlin.

I was lucky enough to get my daddy back.  Sam always felt to me like the guardian angel that he appears as in this post-war trip to the beach.  I'm the little girl on the right next to my brother Andy.

The other children are my cousins Jimmy, Joann, and Tony.

I longed for my daddy so much for the years while he was gone that images of returning soldiers still move me to tears.

Every year, on Memorial Day I watch this clip from the incredible TV documentary series. Victory at Sea.  If you don't see the link, PLEASE find it on YouTube: Victory at Sea Episode 26 Part 3--
Don't miss the footage of joyful reunions after years of separation.

I have to go now.  I watched it again, and I am weeping.