Lesson #390: Protracted Refugees

I was reading an article, recently, about how the UN’s daily food allotment for roughly 450,000 African refugees is 850 calories. That’s not a lot. It’s about a third of what the average American consumes on a daily basis.

This got me to thinking about how long that’s sustainable. Obviously, that’s an untenable situation — because math, science, and common sense say so — and something will have to give, but I was curious about the length of time the average refugee is dependent on UN food resources.

According the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a protracted refugee situation is one in which 25,000 or more people from the same country seek refugee status in another country (or countries) for a period of at least five years. Of the 15 million refugees worldwide, roughly two-thirds are living in protracted situations. But here’s the thing…in 1993, the average length of protracted refugee situations was nine years; by the end of 2003, it was 17 years. Seventeen years. That’s very literally half my life. 17 years stuck in a foreign country, often without the resources or recourse to find employment, or housing, or access to education. I’ve spent more than 17 years of my life being educated by actual institutions. Seventeen years of being stuck in a place with few, if any, options to move, work, and learn is just unfathomable to me.

Anyway, there’s a challenge that exists to go a single day on 850 calories. It’s honestly not that bad if you do it right…I did it for a week and wasn’t any the worse for wear as a result. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it still sucks. But it’s not that bad if you can eat a variety of things. For me, it was a lot of chicken, fresh vegetables, hard boiled eggs, beans, and a lot of spices. No bread or pasta — which aren’t things I eat a lot of anyway, so that wasn’t a huge challenge — no crackers, no pecan butter, no cheese, (mostly) no chocolate, no juice or pop — also fine because apart from limeade, I rarely drink either — and definitely no booze.* Basically no drinks other than water and one glass of chocolate milk a day.** But refugees don’t have access to grocery stores/farmer’s market and fresh fruits and veggies and eggs and lean meats. They have access to lentils, rice, and a spoonful of salt. Every day. If I’d had to do a week of that, there’s barely a sliver of a chance I’d have succeeded — in no small part because unless you put it in jambalaya, I’m not really very keen on rice. I’d encourage you to give the challenge a go, though. If nothing else, it was really interesting to pay that close attention to what I was eating.

For more on protracted refugee situations, including which nationalities are listed among the displaced, see the state department’s website, here. Or Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre’s website, here.

*I find I drink more frequently during the summer — because, as I’ve already noted, everyone knows beer consumed outdoors tastes better than beer consumed indoors and everyone enjoys being out in good weather — but giving it up for the football match was the harder aspect. Beer and football go together and always have. I gave up drinking for five weeks between the end of the Premier League season and the start of the World Cup, and that was fine. I went and hung out on patios for happy hours and to friends’ barbeques and whatnot…no problem. I spend one Sunday 8:30am match not drinking with my footie mates, and it’s two hours of agony. Even with a 4-0 victory for Spurs.

**Because secretly, I’m eight.

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Lesson #385: Malaria

As Liverpool didn’t play until this morning, I invited our Tanzanian friend out to the clubhouse with us for the first match of the new football season. Afterwards, we stopped by our local for a pint and got to talking about the work he’s doing. He’s over doing a year of his PhD work at the School of Public Health, in which he’s working on shortening the length of time a mosquito can transmit malaria — he said right now it’s about six days; he’s working with a team to cut that in half. Which meant he had to explain all the basics of malaria to me because my knowledge of malaria was two points. It’s transmitted by mosquitos, and it’s treated with quinine.

I learned all sorts of cool stuff. First, that malaria’s symptoms are flu-like, which can make it hard to diagnose. Second, that your body will develop a tolerance to it over time. Because he grew up in Tanzania, he’s had malaria many, many times and, as a result, when he contracts it, it feels more like just being a bit fatigued and generally just kind of off for a few days. Whereas, as I’ve never had it, so it would knock me on my ass for a week. Third, that while you can develop a tolerance, being unexposed for an extended period of time — as he will be for the year that he’s here — means that your body forgets how to deal with it, so he admits he’s in for a rough go when he gets home.* Fourth,  the mosquito isn’t the host for malaria, humans are; the mosquito is just the vehicle. The parasite that causes it gets processed by the mosquito’s system in such a way that it moves from the blood the mosquito has consumed from an infected host up into its salivary glands so that when it next feeds, it will infect a new host. It’s a genius system, really.

Anyway, you can read all sorts of fun stuff about malaria — like the the fact that it kills more than 600,000 people every year (!), that there are four different strains, and that it takes quite a long time (usually 10 – 15 days) for symptoms to develop after a bite — from the WHO and CDC here and here, respectively.

*This explains why our Togolese striker missed the North American tour after contracting malaria while he was home during the offseason.

Forthcoming, I promise

20/2 edit: I was going to take this post down after I posted the day’s lesson, especially since my dad emailed me yesterday afternoon to suggest that I was on the verge of going completely off the rails and turning the blog into one giant rant. But my mother (strangely) found it funny, as did the friend in Texas who had the joy of talking to me in the closing minutes of the game, so I’ve decided to leave it.

There was learning, but my day kind of got away from me yesterday. In my normal life, I post after I watch the early hockey game, which in my world ends later than I should probably still be awake, but I’m kind of a vampire (in the hours I keep, I mean…I don’t actually think I’m a vampire), but I’m usually up for another hour or so after the early game is over. Longer if my west coast team is playing and I can sleep in the next day.

Anyway, last night was the Canada/Switzerland game, the last 30 minutes of which, I literally spent lying on the floor, trying to keep my blood pressure from making my heart explode, wishing I could reach through my screen and punch the commentators* in the throat — so much so that I conceded to a friend in a major city in the Mid-Atlantic that I’d gladly trade them for Joe Buck, whom I abhor with every ounce of my being — because every word out of their mouths was more absurd than the one before, reminding myself to breathe, trying not to shout at the game (or the commentators) because my housemates keep normal people hours and were sleeping, and swearing to one of my closest friends, who just moved to a city in Texas that I have never been to, that I was going to be sick.

I’m not joking.

I always forget this because my teams so rarely make the playoffs of anything, but I really suck at watching important sporting events in which I have a vested interest. Especially if the game is close. And the team you’re cheering for is starting to remind you of your horribly inept regular season team. And they can’t seem to buy a goal, no matter how hard they try.

So yeah, the next few hours after that were spent not writing a post. Instead, they were spent trying to bring my blood pressure back down.

You’ll have a post soon.

*For the first three games the terribleness of the commentators was hilarious. I swear on my life, I heard the following statement in yesterday’s US/Norway game: “they’re referring to him as a swan or a mother goose, gliding across and making himself look big.” Do you have any idea what that means, because I don’t. They were talking about Ryan Miller, if that helps. Oh, it doesn’t? Yeah, I didn’t think it would. Anyway…their ineptitude was hilarious for three games. It stopped being hilarious when they started getting on my favourite player in the middle of the FIRST PERIOD for not scoring a hat trick like he did in the game against Norway on Tuesday. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? It’s not like he wasn’t feeding the puck well or putting himself in front of the goal (both of which he was doing). But that was irrelevant because he hadn’t scored three goals in the first ten minutes of play. It was even less hilarious when at the end of the second period they were packing the entire competition in for Canada. YOU NONSENSICALLY COMPARED RYAN MILLER TO A GOOSE! YOU DON’T GET TO DECIDE CANADA HAVE IMPLODED WITH A FULL THIRD OF THE GAME YET TO PLAY! There’s a word for that where I live. It’s “wankers.”

Lesson #20: Type I Diabetes

One of my travel companions is a type I diabetic. He’s a friend of one of my friends who came along for the ride, so I had never met him before arriving in Budapest. Having never spent any real time with a type I diabetic, I bombarded him with questions and he was really cool about humouring my curiosity (thanks Chris!) and answering whatever I wanted to know, which was, pretty much everything.

So here’s what I learned*:

1. Blood sugar ought to be tested five times a day, but people who have been living with it for an extended period of time often don’t test themselves that often; they tend to go on how they feel, which is a pretty reliable meter.

2. Diabetic comas aren’t sudden onset like they are on TV. They take days and days of high blood sugar accumulation to take effect. The result, however, is almost always death.

3. Diabetic fits happen when the blood sugar gets too low and it can get pretty ugly (he’s got some pretty gruesome stories — one involving swearing at the paramedics who were trying to give him that high sugar gel that marathon runners use because he was convinced they were trying to feed him wood glue.)

4. Everything a diabetic eats that has sugars in it (which is pretty much everything that isn’t meat) has a value to it and the amount of insulin they inject is based on what they have consumed.

5. It’s not that diabetics *can’t* have cake so much as they shouldn’t have cake every day. Or a whole cake. Which is pretty much true for everyone whether they’re diabetic or not.

6. My blood sugar is well within normal ranges — also, the testing needle doesn’t really hurt, but I definitely wouldn’t want to do that five times a day. It’s not the most awesome feeling ever.

7. The best places on the body to inject insulin are around the belly button, the backs of the arms and the backs of the legs.

8. There is an inhaler that can be used in the stead of the traditional injection method.

9. As diabetics get older, the disease becomes more dangerous in that it has to be very closely regulated and failure to do so can result in all sorts of complications and/or death…as the memory starts to slip, the disease becomes more and more dangerous.

10. While most people are diagnosed at a young age (around 10-ish), it’s not unheard of for people with a history of diabetes in the family to be diagnosed in their 20s (Chris, for example, was 24 when he was diagnosed).

11. Insulin is on the IOC’s, among others, banned substances list because it is essentially a short term energy boost for those of us with a functioning pancreas. Diabetics are obviously exempted from this substance ban.

*No citations here, just what I picked up from someone who knows firsthand.