When we first went to Morocco, there was the ironic portrait of the Super Vol, a volunteer held up by Peace Corps staff to represent the ideal of volunteerism in the Peace Corps. There were actually some such volunteers scattered about the world, but probably none in Morocco, where early volunteers had to struggle against bad programming. Someone in an early Morocco program parodied the idea with a cartoon, choosing a character living under extreme conditions, but, in the end, living at the time in Casablanca, a large, modern metropolis, where escape was a bus or petit taxi ride away.
I recently wrote to a pair of my former American students, now grown and good friends of mine, about a world without escape:
When you guys were seniors, the book club at the high school featured Camus’ The Plague, and Horseman on the Roof. The first was a situation, a quarantined city in North Africa, where the protagonists were trapped, a metaphor for life perhaps, as death is inevitable, as we all know so well. They had to deal with life directly facing death, and Camus used the story to present his existential philosophy. The second book just dealt with a couple of people trapped in a cholera epidemic in southern France, loosely quarantined in a large area and able to escape.
In a 1995 book from the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Laurie Garrett, titled The Coming Plague, she paints a picture of mankind today. All the large predators we once feared have been wiped out, but still here and unseen are the bacteria, protozoans, and viruses that can kill us just as thoroughly, and more efficiently, as any large animal. We have created the perfect medium in which to grow: the large, poor, unsanitary slums that now surround many of the world’s biggest cities. We have provided the means for them to travel quickly, with high-speed trains, airplanes, and cruise ships carrying thousands. We have overused antibiotics, a key weapon against them, so that resistant strains have developed. We have weakened our immune systems through pollution with everything imaginable. We have governments that put privacy (in the form of regime preservation, China being the latest example) first, before public health, or underfund and undermine science (the U.S.). We have developed microbes as weapons of war in unsecured labs. And finally, we have failed to build international organizations that can coordinate the cooperative efforts that alone can confront the danger threatening us.
Wuhan is the latest, but not the last nor the most deadly, of the diseases that threaten to become deadly pandemics. And when the future equivalent of the Black Death strikes worldwide, the consequences will be dire.
Camus says that life is absurd, but there is no other choice than to struggle, like Sisyphus.
Not very cheery thoughts on a cold Saturday morning.