Watching the World
Cholera Epidemic Hits East Africa
“An outbreak of cholera has reached epidemic proportions in East Africa,” says an Associated Press dispatch from Nairobi, Kenya. Cholera, an infectious intestinal disorder that causes severe diarrhea, can be fatal if left untreated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 61,000 people in East Africa contracted the disease in 1997, and 2,687 deaths were reported. Cholera outbreaks are common in countries with poor sanitation and inadequate medical response. The situation is aggravated when seasonal rains wash human waste into drinking water. Dr. Maria Neira, head of a WHO task force on cholera, said that until sewers and clean water are available in all the affected areas, the region probably won’t rid itself entirely of cholera.
Helping the Dead?
In Hong Kong, keeping up appearances doesn’t always stop when a person dies—for some it extends into the Hereafter. That’s because ancestor worship plays a big part in daily life in Chinese culture. Thus, “even in the spirit world they think it is very important to show wealth,” says shop owner Kwan Wing-ho. To help surviving relatives and friends improve the status of their departed loved ones, Mr. Kwan sells paper replicas of an assortment of material goods, including mobile telephones, computers, microwave ovens, and even a full-size Mercedes Benz. “The goods are burned in the first seven days after death, on anniversaries, and if a relative dreams that a dead person needs to shop,” says an Associated Press dispatch. “It’s a good business,” claims Mr. Kwan, “because the customer can’t come back to complain.”
Gemstones sold to a merchant in Bangkok prompted an international trade alert when it was learned that they were radioactive. Sahabudeen Nizamudeen, an experienced gem dealer, knows a good deal when he sees one. So when an Indonesian trader offered him 50 cat’s-eyes priced far below their normal cost, he snapped them up. “Each was in a prized shade of chocolate, bisected by the characteristic light streak resembling a cat’s slit pupil,” reports Asiaweek. However, it turns out that the gems’ luster came from another source. They had been irradiated to enhance their color in order to raise their value. Another stone, found at a jewelry fair in Hong Kong, registered 25 times the Asian radiation safety limit. “So far, the problem has been restricted to cat’s-eye chrysoberyl,” says the magazine.
On the average, Brazilians read 2.3 books annually, reports Jornal da Tarde. After leaving school, the majority of Brazilians no longer have any contact with books. “The real problem,” says secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Ottaviano de Fiore, “is that 60 percent of the books read in Brazil are obligatory reading” for children in school. “Of the remaining 40 percent, the majority are religious and esoteric books, books about sex, or self-help books,” says the newspaper. Regarding reading habits, De Fiore observes: “Children get together in the family, in school, and around TV. If there are no readers in the family, they will never get any incentive there.” He adds: “Regarding TV, the stimulus to read is the last concern of the major channels.”
Many Latin Americans practice a “self-constructed religion,” says sociologist Fortunato Mallimaci. People are moving away from churches and creeds, feeling free to take yoga courses, read a book about Oriental mysticism, attend meetings where preachers offer healing, or go to Afro-Brazilian ceremonies. “This doesn’t mean that people have become indifferent to religion. They believe, but they have constructed their own religion,” says Mallimaci. Speaking before the Fourth Encounter of Lay Centres in the South Cone (of Latin America), the sociologist said that “Catholicism was undergoing a restructuring process ‘with deep internal divisions and conflicts,’” reports the ENI Bulletin.