Tuesday, May 29, 2018

On the Front Lines of the Ebola Epidemic

“It felt like being on a sinking ship,” Kidega says. “You can’t believe the fear.”

Some victims swarmed the hospitals, while others ran away in panic as nurses fell ill all around them. Even the rebels were spooked; the LRA released 40 prisoners, fearing that they might be carrying the virus.

When the trucks pull into Akwayugi, villagers look up from sifting maize and wheat. This isn’t as bad as Sub-Saharan Africa gets, but there’s serious squalor here. About a fifth of the children have the bulging bellies that indicate severe malnutrition.

The Red Cross volunteers divide into four-person teams and move through the village, asking questions of the small crowds that gather wherever they go: Did anyone have a fever? Did anyone have bloody diarrhea or vomit? Was there a sudden death?

The team has a “reintegration kit” for two girls who survived Ebola after they lost their mother to the disease. They find them with their father, Charles Odongo, outside the family’s round, mud-brick hut. Two weeks earlier, Odongo returned from the fields to find his wife in the hut with a headache and high fever. “It took six hours for the ambulance to get here,” he says. “And by the time they arrived, she had died.” When he sees the kit—cooking pots, blankets, soap, salt, and clothing—he smiles gratefully. “Immediately upon leaving for the hospital with my wife’s body, our things were burned by the neighbors,” he says.

Read the entire story here!

Dangerous Medicine

When the old Czech prop-plane lurches to a halt at the side of the military airstrip, the six doctors unfurl their stiff legs, disembark, and begin unloading. They shift 47 boxes—a metric ton of laboratory gear—onto a truck and drive toward town, trailing a spiral of orange dust as they pass army checkpoints and outsized churches, roadside vendors and crowds of people listening to radios, talking, and singing.

The most surprising thing is how ordinary it all looks, at first. Set in the middle of a fertile, if unrelieved, savanna, Gulu could be any other East African provincial center. Everywhere, people are on the move, some pedaling bikes, others riding on the fringed rear seats of bicycle taxis, most just walking. They walk upright, with stone-straight posture, some carrying babies on their backs, some balancing loads on their heads, some bare-footed, others in sandals. They walk—and the doctors drive—past the field where the Pope once spoke, from atop two shipping containers still piled one atop the other; past the turnoff that leads to the witch doctor’s house; past another road that leads to a small village near the forest—the forest where, perhaps, it all started.

It takes a few minutes, as if the doctors’ eyes were getting used to a new light, before hints begin to emerge that life here is far from normal. There are none of the usual swarms of children in school uniforms. White trucks drive through town, emblazoned with the red crosses and acronyms—UN, WHO, MSF—that portend crisis. The hospital building, where the doctors pull up, is wrapped in white plastic sheeting. At the door, a hand-lettered sign warns “No entrance without permission.” The sign is illustrated with a crude human figure, with an X drawn over it.

Read the entire story here!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The World’s Toughest Trucker

Garry grapples with the bucking Kenworth, plowing the rig through a sand berm at the bottom of the creek bed and into a motocrosser’s nightmare of boulders and hip-deep ruts. As the gully bottoms out there’s a nauseating crunch behind us, the sound of metal tearing apart. Fighting to maintain momentum, Garry stomps the throttle, downshifting twice a second as we bore into the soft sand. With each lower gear the engine roars an agonizing note, and the Dunlops burrow deeper. Overcome by grit and gravity, we bog to a stop. 

As the dust rises around us, Garry grabs his window crank to seal off the cab. The crank falls off in his hand.

“Bloody mongrel roads,” he growls.

The Top

Hidden under the rainforest canopy at the top of Australia's Cape York Peninsula, Pajinka Wilderness Lodge is a tropical retreat for wildlife lovers, bird watchers and fishermen. The lodge lies just short of the northernmost point in Australia, at the tip of a slender green finger that stretches up from the wide brown continent toward New Guinea. Locals call this spot simply The Top.

After a day in the sun deep-sea fishing with Pajinka's manager, Alan Geary, a few guests cooled off at the lodge's outdoor bar. Someone brought over a round of XXXX (Queensland’s home-brewed beer, pronounced “Four-X”) and asked Alan a question of essential interest:

In a place where the temperature rarely dips below 90 degrees, a place far too remote for electrical lines, how is it that the beer at Pajinka is always cold?

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Monday, April 9, 2018

Analog Kids in a Digital Age

As smartphones and social media become ever more ubiquitous and embedded, the love of nature—what E.O. Wilson called biophilia—is morphing into videophilia, a love of electronic media.

"We've quickly gone from a place where the average child would choose active outside activities to one where kids choose sedentary activities involving computers and smartphones and video," says conservation ecologist Patricia Zaradic. She and Oliver Pergams co-authored two studies that found that per capita visits to national parks and forests and other indicators of nature recreation have declined in developed countries since the late 1980s, due in large part to the increase in the amount of time spent on electronic media.

The trends they've identified have alarmed conservationists, whose efforts to protect wilderness depend on the support of people who connected with nature during their formative years. A rising generation of adults with little experience with wild places and little understanding of their value may ultimately have a greater impact on biodiversity and ecosystem health than bulldozers, invasive species, or even greenhouse-gas emissions, some think.

Read the entire story here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Plugging Into Nature

I was at the campfire, flipping pancakes, when 13-year-old Ethan came over and asked if he could use my phone.

"I want to show those guys a YouTube video," he said, nodding toward his brother, Sam, and my sons, Charlie and Joe.

I looked up and arched an eyebrow. "Seriously, Ethan?" I said. "We all agreed this would be an electronics-free camping trip. Remember?"

"I know," he said, "but it's a video about camping."

Read the entire story here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Laser Scans Reveal Maya "Megalopolis" Below Guatemalan Jungle

In a discovery that’s being hailed as a major breakthrough in Maya archaeology, researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that were hidden for centuries under the jungles of Central America.

The vast, interconnected network of ancient cities in what is now northern Guatemala was home to millions more people than previously thought.

Scholars used a revolutionary technology known as LiDAR (short for “Light Detection and Ranging”), to digitally remove the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed.

“The LiDAR images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system whose scale and population density had been grossly underestimated,” said Thomas Garrison, an Ithaca College archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who specializes in using digital technology for archaeological research.

Read the full story here.

On the Front Lines of the Ebola Epidemic

“It felt like being on a sinking ship,” Kidega says. “You can’t believe the fear.” Some victims swarmed the hospitals, while others ran ...