A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘health’ Category

Ward’ening off swine flu in Kuwait

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 4, 2009

Last week I reported on the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait’s efforts to make swine flu, at least as a term, go away: the Embassy’s warden message described it as “H1N1 Influenza A, formerly known as swine flu”.

Apparently those efforts have been less than successful, as indicated by the latest warden message, posted below. Mr. Formerly Known as Swine Flu has now been acknowledged as Mr. Sometimes Referred to as Swine Flu.

Whatever his name, the Kuwaiti authorities clearly are not fooled – and nor are they interested in letting him get his former or sometimes hands on Kuwait residents. If you’re planning a trip to Kuwait in the near future, be ready for a health check-up. And if you’re planning a trip elsewhere in the region, be ready to be ready: I imagine that other countries may follow Kuwait’s lead.

Kuwait City, Kuwait
May 4, 2009

MEMORANDUM

To:             All American Wardens

From:           Consular Section

Subject:        Warden Notice 2009 – 8

Please circulate the following message without additions or omissions immediately to all American citizens within your area of responsibility.

Begin Text.

Warden Message
Kuwait
May 4, 2009

This Warden Message alerts U.S. citizens to the latest information regarding human cases of 2009-H1N1 influenza, sometimes referred to as swine flu.  The Kuwait Ministry of Health, Ports and Frontiers Division, is distributing three-part health surveillance cards to travelers arriving from countries that have reported cases of the H1N1 influenza. Within 72 hours of arrival, travelers are required to report to a designated Ministry of Health clinic to receive a check-up.  Currently, some Ministry of Health clinics are requiring travelers to return for a second check-up within seven days of arrival.  Failure to meet these requirements could result in a fine or imprisonment.

The clinics are listed in Arabic on the back of the health surveillance card.  With this card, most taxi drivers or hotel staff should be able to direct travelers to the nearest center.  The ministry also has a website at http://www.moh.gov.kw/ that lists, in Arabic, the centers’ locations and contact information. One part of the health surveillance card will be kept by the traveler.  Currently Kuwaiti authorities are not requiring travelers to turn in their copy of the card.  Travelers transiting Kuwait or planning to be in Kuwait less than 72 hours should ask airport authorities for guidance upon arrival …

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Posted in Arab world, health, Kuwait | Leave a Comment »

fun with medics

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 4, 2009

This morning I had an annual check-up with a new doctor. Well, in fact all my doctors are new – the result of a new insurance provider and a new neighborhood. I’ve chosen them a bit at random: my requirements are that they be within walking distance of office or home, have received their final degree no earlier than 1992, and have published in their field.

(I did think about adding “speak Arabic” to this list, since my insurance provider’s website can also sort doctors and dentists by languages spoken, but decided that this was just a bit too weird of me.)

As part of each first visit to the people who now keep me healthy, I have had to fill out various types of “medical history” forms. These forms ask fairly standard questions, but I have learned that my answers can cause rather non-standard responses.

Tell me what Beirut is like, a friendly dental hygienist asked this fall, while wedging a machine that looked frighteningly like a small electric sander into my mouth. (Apparently its better than a toothbrush – perhaps because the goo and plaque melts off one’s teeth out of fear.)

Ttttssssnnnnceeee, I said while trying to preserve my tongue.

Today, my medical history was evidently so remarkable that the doctor called me into her office for a pre-check-up chat.

I just wanted to say, she said, that you are the only patient I have ever seen who listed “Beirut, Lebanon” as the last place he or she had been for this procedure.

But in all other respects, we both agreed, my health is totally boring :).

Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, health, New York | 1 Comment »

a pox on you: Ottomans and the cure for smallpox

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 2, 2009

Last week I was asked to take a look at the John Carter Brown Library‘s exhibit “Islamic Encounters”, which is available for viewing both in-person and online. Its a very sweet exhibit, and an impressive effort by the library to encourage its collection, which focuses on books and manuscripts written by Europeans traveling abroad, to speak more broadly and to new audiences.

While looking at the artifacts selected for the “Exchange of Knowledge” section, I learned something that utterly blew me away:

Amid a smallpox epidemic in the city of Boston, Cotton Mather and Dr. Zabdiel Boylston fought deep public resistance in order to implement smallpox inoculation as a public health measure. Mather cited the customary use of inoculation in Constantinople, and was deeply impatient with those who objected to adopting any practice used by the Turks. Mather knew the Koran well and cited it often in his theological writing.

I suspect that Mather’s Quranic citations were used for rather partisan purposes – but I had no idea that the idea of smallpox inoculation came to us from the Ottomans. Where was this story when I was taught that it came from Jenner’s study of milkmaids whose exposure to cowpox made them resistant to smallpox?

Naturally, I turned to Google for more information. I found further confirmation in an article on Edward Jenner published in Baylor University’s medical journal, which states:

Inoculation, hereafter referred to as variolation, was likely practiced in Africa, India, and China long before the 18th century, when it was introduced to Europe. In 1670, Circassian traders introduced variolation to the Turkish “Ottoman” Empire. Women from the Caucasus, who were in great demand in the Turkish sultan’s harem in Istanbul because of their legendary beauty, were inoculated as children in parts of their bodies where scars would not be seen. These women must also have brought the practice of variolation to the court of the Sublime Porte.

Well, I think the characterization of the Ottoman Empire as a Turkish “Ottoman” Empire is questionable, but the Circassian women and their “moon-faced” beauty is certainly a part of the Empire’s history. Who knew that they brought health along with good looks!

The article continues:

Variolation came to Europe at the beginning of the 18th century with the arrival of travelers from Istanbul. It was the continued advocacy of the English aristocrat Lady Mary Wortley Montague that was responsible for the introduction of variolation in England. In 1715, Lady Montague suffered from an episode of smallpox, which severely disfigured her beautiful face. Her 20-year-old brother died of the illness 18 months later.

In 1717, Lady Montague’s husband, Edward Wortley Montague, was appointed ambassador to the Sublime Porte. A few weeks after their arrival in Istanbul, Lady Montague wrote to her friend about the method of variolation used at the Ottoman court. Lady Montague was so determined to prevent the ravages of smallpox that she ordered the embassy surgeon, Charles Maitland, to inoculate her 5-year-old son. The inoculation procedure was performed in March 1718. Upon their return to London in April 1721, Lady Montague had Charles Maitland inoculate her 4-year-old daughter in the presence of physicians of the royal court.

Mather and a few other Boston-based physicians had heard of inoculation through European contacts, and brought the practice to the American colonies; Jenner’s work on vaccination began in the later 1700s, and drew heavily upon earlier practices of inoculation/variolation.

What a delightful bit of historical knowledge: I love that it shows “my” Ottomans in a favorable light, and I love that it was the courage and ingenuity of a woman that brought the practice West.

Its a lovely start to my week – happy Monday to you all 🙂

Posted in childhood, health, research, science, time, women | 3 Comments »

Barley-bread and buttermilk

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on November 11, 2008

I’m a great fan of whole grains – but I’m not a great fan of the time it can take to cook them. So when Big D began sending us Seeds of Change’s various whole-grain pilaf blends, I was delighted. They cook easily and require very little attention from the chef, and they are delicious.

The one we like best is the “Persia” whole-grain dish, which the company calls a “pilaf blend”. I’m all for creative marketing, but both of us are mystified by the company’s description of the uses for barley:

img_1015

Many of my relatives are Christian Scientist, so we have grown up with a fairly healthy skepticism of medical remedies. But using barley to cure cancer? I wish.

As for the ‘Middle Eastern saying’ about barley-bread and buttermilk: H professes total ignorance. I know: he’s from Lebanon, and Persia is Iran. But what good is postulating a Shia triangle between Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran if folk sayings don’t circulate along with the religious teachings?

Posted in Americans, Arab world, food, health, Iran, Lebanon, words | Leave a Comment »

Fadlallah: living God’s command to protect the weak

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on September 5, 2008

Once again, I am delighted to report that Lebanon’s most well-known Shia cleric, Hussein Fadlallah, has stepped up to the plate with a religious legal ruling that prohibits abuse of domestic workers. Most Gulf states deny that their nationals mis-treat foreign domestic workers, calling instances of abuse isolated cases. And Lebanon’s legal system shoves the issue under the rug altogether, by excluding domestic workers from the category of “worker” – denying them the right to demand the minimum wage, sue their workers in court or claim abuse.

The article below comes from today’s Daily Star, and L’Orient-Le Jour reported the same news earlier this week. Fadlallah has been a pioneer in issuing progressive fatwas, including one last year that told women that they had the right to defend themselves if their husbands, brothers or fathers tried to beat them. He has also issued a ruling prohibiting honor killings, and stating that men who consider the honor of their families to reside in their daughters’ virginity should be ashamed of themselves.

Not all domestic workers are mis-treated, of course. But those who are find little sympathy and few avenues toward justice.

Here’s the article:

Senior Shiite cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah issued a fatwa, or religious edict, on Thursday urging employers to refrain from resorting to physical violence,sexual harassment and unjust actions against foreign domestic workers.

There are roughly 200,000 domestic workers, mostly from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and the Philippines, working in Lebanon. There is also a large, predominantly male, Syrian population who mostly work as day laborers.A great number of domestic workers are employed as live-in maids and are often forced to work long hours with out a weekly break or sufficient food.A 2006 survey conducted in Lebanon by Dr. Ray Jureidini of 600 migrant domestic workers found that 56 percent worked more than 12 hours a day and 34 percent were not allowed regular time off.

A statement issued last Tuesday by leading rights group Human Rights Watch spoke of “the urgent need” to improve the working and living conditions of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, saying that “at least” 95 women had died between January 1, 2007, and August 15, 2008. Many had died as a result of abuse or while trying to escape their employers, it said.

Fadlallah stressed that such unethical treatment was an indication of social,educational,and legal disorder within Lebanon.

Remarking on the many other forms of abuse migrant domestic workers faced in Lebanon, Fadlallah pointed to the “sale” of workers to other Lebanese. More often than not, this takes place without the consent of the worker concerned, he said.It also forces female domestic workers to assume the role of the mother in raising the children of her employers, he said.

Such actions were religiously and legally forbidden, said Fadlallah, who urged Lebanese authorities to assume their responsibility in imposing the law.

“These forms of exploitation are not only unethical but could also pressure the worker into committing suicide or harming themselves,” the cleric said.

His statement added that “racial considerations” were no excuse to treat workers as “second-class human beings,” and said such mentalities should be corrected. He also urged that employers be legally bound to the durations stipulated in the employees’ work contracts.

Among the other reasons for violence committed against migrant workers was the issue of political and security conflict between Lebanon and the workers’ country of origin, said the statement in an indirect reference to Syrian workers.

“This kind of behavior could drive any country to resort in the future to such action against immigrants in the event of political instability in their country of origin,” added Fadlallah.

Posted in Arab world, Beirut, health, Islam, Lebanon, women, words | 1 Comment »

adventures in machine translation

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 21, 2008

As I noted yesterday, I’ve been taking advantage of the mid-August slow-down to address long-neglected housecleaning tasks at my new organization, like the computer defragmenting I mentioned yesterday and backing up our shared files. Neither of which have been done before. Ever.

My colleagues have a fine collection of advanced degrees from well-regarded universities around the US and Europe – which is just another way of saying that we confirm the cliche that some of the brightest people have the least common sense.

Anyway. In between bouts of hausfrau’ing, I have been busily investigating the latest advances in machine translation. When I mentioned this online to our friend B, he responded in kind:

01010111011010000110000101, B wrote.

11010000100000011000010111
001001100101001000000111100101101111011101010010000
00111010001110010011000010110111001110011011011000110000101110100011010010110
111001100111? he asked me.

I have absolutely no idea what he was saying – although I’m hoping it was something along the lines of:

Hi Diamond. I’ll be back in New York this weekend – let’s all try to meet up for another spicier-than-anything-nature-intended Punjabi dinner on Curry Row.


In any case, this wasn’t what I meant. Machine translation doesn’t refer to the way in which computers translate ones and zeros into human language – it refers to the way in which computers manually translate one human language to another. You’ve probably had some experience with this, whether through Google’s automatic page translation service or that first-generation standby, Babelfish.

Machine translation is usually a poor substitute for human translation – even when moving between relatively close languages like French and Spanish, or English and German. And when it comes to translating between Arabic and English, most manual translators give the would-be reader only a glancing sense of what the original text might say. Individual words translate well, but coherent phrases are relatively rare. (Try translating Al Jazeera’s homepage via Google and you will see what I mean.)

But, as can often be the case with mis-translations, some of the translations that the system I was testing out offered (English to Arabic and vice versa) made me think – like “plastic surgery”.

(This wasn’t a Freudian choice of phrase, honestly. We had been talking about plastic surgery the other day, and I was testing out technical terms – compound nouns or noun-adjective phrases that as a whole meant something different than the sum of their parts.)

The phrase in Arabic that I use for “plastic surgery” is:

عملية التجميل

I’ve never really thought about its literal meaning – so when the machine translator came up with

الجراحة البلاستيكية

my initial reaction was to laugh. After all, a jur7 is a wound, and “plastique”, as in English, refers to explosives. So I thought that the site had erred, coming up with “explosive wounding” – which sounded like a pretty fine critique of plastic surgery to me. (And when I pulled out my dictionary, I learned that “jira7a” means surgery. Also an appropriate term, since surgery does involve making deliberate wounds in the human body.)

But when I thought further, I realized that the “normal” term for plastic surgery is a bit odd, too. 3amiliya al-tajmeel literally means “beautifying operation” – a phrase that lays bare the primary function of today’s plastic surgery procedures.

I’m still not sold on machine translation, but in this particular case, it gave me far more to think about than I had anticipated.

Posted in Arab world, Arabic, fashion, friends, health, Lebanon, media, research, science, vanity, words | 3 Comments »

gym odds and ends – with an emphasis on “odd”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 7, 2008

Two Saturday mornings ago, H picked me up from the gym so that we could attend part of a conference that AUB was having on museums. (Did I mention that we are both total nerds?)

When I got into the car, I noticed that he was frowning slightly. I asked him if everything was okay, and he said yes.

I had a dream earlier this morning that I was picking you up from the gym, H told me.

That didn’t seem terribly disturbing to me – actually, I thought it was a good dream, since it helped him remember the very important to-do item on his daily list :).

But it wasn’t just you, H continued, frowning deeper. I was also supposed to pick up Walid Jumblatt.

Interesting. And no wonder he was frowning.

For the past two weeks, I have been trying to reassure myself about this with arguments like the following: I like working out with my father when we’re in the same city, so I’m sure I would enjoy working out with Walid Jumblatt.

Its not working all that well, but I’m trying to move on anyway. And if Mr. Jumblatt ever does pop up on the elliptical next to mine, I’m sure we’ll find a lot to talk about.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, bodybuilding, health, Lebanon, politics, vanity, words | 1 Comment »

a day in the country

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 25, 2008

Last weekend, while the Doha negotiations were still underway, H and I decided that we needed to get away from it all. So we joined one of Lebanon’s many outdoors appreciation groups (Blue Carrot, Esprit Nomade, and Vamos Todos are the best known, but there are others) for a hike in the mountains.

It was a “typically Lebanese” hike in many ways: we waited 45 minutes after the scheduled departure date to make sure that the “group” had all arrived; we stopped for manoushe before starting our hike; and when we did start, we hiked for 10 minutes and stopped for 20, hiked for another 10 and stopped for 15, hiked for another 10 and then stopped for tea and coffee. (No, I’m not exaggerating – I was wearing a watch!)

But it was a convivial group and we enjoyed the much-needed dose of fresh air and sunshine – not to mention the hike leader, who knew a great deal about the region, and entertained us with bits of history and geography.

He also had a great sense of humor. As we passed an area covered in scrub flora and rocks of all sizes, he said: w hal manta2a ghaniye kteer bi ramal, with an utterly straight look on his face. It was a type of richness, I suppose – and his description made us all laugh.

View behind us as we started the first ascent:

View overlooking the Metn and/or Keserouan, I forget which (and as an American I claim no skill in geography):

It was a lovely day, and worth the two days of hobbling around that followed. Sore muscles and work-appropriate heels don’t mesh well together.

Posted in bugs, health, Lebanon, travel, weather, women | Leave a Comment »

“you are very small for what you do”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 18, 2007

My current work visa excites much more interest from Lebanon’s bureaucratic apparatus than my previous one. When I last “traveled” (which is what Lebanese say for trips outside the country), I learned that I ought to factor in more time to pass through emigration, not to mention the check-out line at the duty-free Virgin Megastore.

My visa includes not only the separate, laminated card I carry around, but also a full page of a handwritten description of my job in my US passport. Its shorter than a novel, longer than a letter, and rather poetic – and every Arabic-reading official to whom I give my passport devotes his full attention to it.

Or, perhaps I should say, devotes his full attention to it and my photograph. In the opinions of most Lebanese officials, what I do and what I look like are a poor match.

You know, the emigration official told me after flipping back and forth from photo to description and back again, you are very small for what you do.

In Arabic, “small” and “big” are used conversationally for “younger” and “older”. It works in English as well – kind of. For example, I am Sporty Diamond’s “big sister” and if there were three of us, the third sister could be the “little sister”. But a giggle escapes me every time I hear her described as my “small sister”.

It makes her sound like a miniature version – the portable, pocket-sized sister, suitable for travel and small apartments :D.

Anyway – I knew that the emigration official meant that I look young for what I do. But I am a bit on the small side, at least for Americans. And I’m pretty amused by the idea that I am also a pocket-sized professional.

Posted in Americans, Arabic, Beirut, family, health, travel, vanity, words | Leave a Comment »

Syrians learn to walk

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 25, 2007

In the immediate aftermath of last summer’s July war, one starkly topical Johnnie Walker ad took on semi-iconic status for those looking for signs of Lebanon’s capacity for resuming normal life despite the devastation created by Israeli bombing raids:

04walker_287x450.jpg

(For one of many articles about this advertisement, which appeared as a billboard, see the New York Times“A brash message to a wounded country”.)

Thanks to SANA, my favorite state news agency, I see that Syrians are now walking as well – although for health rather than political reasons:

Walking festival is organized in Syria

HOMS, (SANA)_ A festival for mass walking was organized yesterday in the central Syrian governorate of Homs with the aim of generalization of the walking culture and giving it the sufficient attention due to its medical importance in treating diseases and prevention from it.

Participants, who are from all ages and from different unions, vocational syndicates, popular organizations and from health institutions, moved in three axis in the city raising banners calling for practicing daily walk and abandoning car and smoking for keeping a healthy heart and lung.

For this occasion a central symposium on healthy and psychological importance of walking and its correct ways was held with the participation of a number of specialists in physical medicine and heart and chest diseases.

No snide comments about Homsis needing to be taught the “correct ways” of walking, please!

Posted in advertising, Arab world, art, Beirut, health, humor, Lebanon, neighbors, Syria | Leave a Comment »