Thursday, August 10, 2006

Birds Have Two Hearts

I’m deep in the heart of bird flu territory now, navigating its convoluted double-circulatory ventricles. Just want to keep the inertia going here – I’ll elaborate when there’s some slack in the trip.

I’ve been to Medan and then to Kabenjahe, close to where the cluster of human cases essentially wiped out an entire family in May. I’m trying to contact the lone survivor, whose story illustrates what seems to be widespread distrust of the government among villagers.

Last night I witnessed what is called a “mass culling” of foul in a one kilometer radius surrounding a positive test for bird flu in a chicken. In a sort of “shock and awe” raid, dozens of police and army soldiers went into people’s homes and yards, took all of the birds they could find (including caged songbirds), and cut their throats in the streets. The villagers were generally compliant, but I saw several people pulling carcases out of the writhing piles of burlap bags and spiriting them away to be eaten later on. The whole macabre scene was witnessed by a growing parade of curious children –some were crying, some were laughing, and the youngest seemed to me to be hypnotized in horror.

Five hours later, I also saw the mass burning of more than 3000 carcasses. I will refrain from putting all the terrible details in this post, but I want to mention that at least half of the birds were still alive, and their destruction was miles away from efficient.

Most of my time here has been spent trying to get through the resistant beurocracy, finding people who will talk, and arranging ways to meet with the people who will give me permission to speak with the people who I want to speak with.

More later – thanks for the comments, folks. Amazed and a little guilty that you’ve been checking witout reward for so long.