Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Prancing Ants and Panting crows

Greetings All,

Our picture today, from the ongoing "When life give you Lemoniers, make Lemoniade" series, is of the sun, at about 6 pm, setting to the west of CLU-ville.  Actually, since the CLUs are in blocks by letter, with "A" furthest west and "F" furthest east, many on camp call this area "Fomalia".  What prompted me to take the picture is the peculiar aspect of old Sol.  The filtering here is through the haze of suspended particulate matter - smoke from diesel engines and the dump to the south combined with dust - and fog that envelopes us on many days.  I know it will appear that the dimness and peculiar cast of the light is a phenomenon of approaching sunset, but it is in fact not uncommon for the sun to appear tiny, distant and brownish all day.  One might think that this would be accompanied by a diminution of the heat, like when a fog rolls over our house in Ocean Beach, but the better model here is the planet Venus, where the thick atmosphere traps the sun's heat and renders the planet's surface a searing, inhospitable wasteland.  Just add CLU's, the internet and a galley and you'd have Camp Lemonnier!

Recent doings by your HOA correspondent include another trip to Peltier, where I worked with Dr. Assam, the Egyptian anesthesiologist.  He's a very nice fellow, with reasonably good english (certainly better than my French).  We passed a pleasant few hours discussing Egyptian medical training in comparison to that in the US and Canada.  In a nutshell, the Egyptians (as voiced by this representative) are quite proud of their medical establishment and accomplishments,  but are unable to or uninterested in support for research based academic medicine as is characteristic of university based North American programs.  For that reason, a chance to study in the US (or England - not so much France, I was assured) is highly prized by physicians from Egypt and environs.    The discussion was interesting and quite collegial, but I did find myself in an odd sort of bind.  

As you might imagine - and I'll send along OR pictures some time - the nature of the practice of medicine, surgery and anesthesia is a much more rudimentary affair here than where I work.  For that reason, I'm interested in the choices the folks here make in providing care - why this instead of that - as it provides me some guidance in my somewhat more austere setting back at base (apples and oranges - but those are both fruits, after all).  It was difficult though to ask  questions without seeming to criticize the practice here.  Thus, "Do you give pre-operative antibiotics to your patients?", seems to come across as an implied slight on their clinical conduct.  It is interesting to what extent one becomes a symbol of the culture or the profession when in a foreign place, and the status of US medicine - despite the ongoing debates about how we must change - as a paragon of medical modernity and virtue gives that symbolism a real power.  It must be somewhat like being a citizen of the Roman Republic must have been in the hinterlands of the Middle Sea in the days of the Caesars - the mere fact of membership in the ranks of dominant empire lending weight to one's judgments and questions.   In any event, it was an educational day and I shall look forward to more such.

So, how hot is it?  Well, about a week ago, on a really stinky hot day (although my standard of comparison is still evolving) I was walking back to the CLU at lunchtime.  Perched on a window sill was a crow.  Not too unusual here, where the corvid brethren are an ever present raucous, impertinent, opinionated mob.  They are, for all that, pretty wary and it is rare for them to allow a human within 10 feet.  (They are also camera shy, as I believe I have mentioned.  I suspect that they are used to having things aimed at them).  Anyway, not so this bird...he sat there until I was well within 4 feet and then with a poisonous glare flapped his wings just as many times as required to reach the branches of an overhanging tree.  As I watched him, I noticed that there were about a dozen of his grey and black brethren already in the branches, nestled into the densest shade they could find and all (now including my initial contact) sat with their feathers fluffed, their heads pointed ever so slightly skyward, beaks apart and tongues hovering between upper and lower jaw.  And they were all absolutely silent!  It was a bit ominous at first - were they poisoned?  Victims of mass hysteria?  Was this some ancient crow religious ritual?  It took me a bit to work out that they must have been desperately trying to cool down.  Birds don't sweat of course, so to cool down one of their strategies is to pant - open mouthed and, as I now know, silent.  How hot?  So hot that the crows are panting.

Most recent "wild life" encounter was this morning when I noticed a ping-pong sized ball of tiny ants in the lower right corner of my window, bearing eggs and larvae on closer inspection.  I try to be an evolved and superior creature when possible, but on reflection I decided that the "no pets" policy would apply to management of a free range ant farm, and called the guys from vector control.  They showed up 2 hours later with some ant baits, but their eyes got big when they saw the incipient colony, and the junior of the two was sent back to the truck for something with a bit more persuasive power.  I stepped out while the ants and exterminators negotiated and when I returned a few hours later, only a few dazed survivors wandered here and there.  I wonder though.  The Argentinean ants, which these guys resembled in size and disposition,  are pretty difficult to get rid of.   Is the aardvark an African animal?  Could I convince the folks in housing that it was a service animal?

Not much else of note.  Went out to the Ethiopian/Fondue place on Sunday evening, and tried the fondue this time, with a lovely French rose wine.  Both eminently satisfactory.  Tomorrow, I'm off to the cheetah refuge, so should have some pictures and stories to share.  Reading Bernard Lewis'  The Middle East, which is good as far as it goes, but a bit too superficial.  Does anyone out there have a suggestion for a good Middle Eastern history book that's readable but a bit more in depth?  If you do, I'd love to hear about it.

All the best!

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