Bird Flu Week 2


[just to show how chickens are everywhere, see if you can spot the chicken in each of one of these photos, in this case the hen is under the bow of the boat]

It is funny how you know things before you really know them. That the chickens had started disappearing before we actually noticed they were gone, was one thing, but when we heard that there was bird flu here in Ghana, well, we sort of already knew that.

It how now been a week since the public knowledge of the Bird Flu outbreak here in Ghana, and its been interesting to see how it is being handled. For example, at our kid’s school, chicken is gone from the menu even though it is known to be safe to eat well cooked chicken. We’ve seen memos home from other schools in the area warning people not to eat chicken at all.

In the local paper, the Daily Graphic, Suzanne and I were having a discussion on how the reporting matches what we have been told. A week ago the headline “1st Case of Bird flu discovered in Tema,” and the article it reports that the investigation began at the Accra Veterinary Laboratory Tuesday on April 24, a full six days before the US Regional Coordinator for AI (Avian Influenza) says he gathered samples. The US Regional Coordinator spoke of flying to Cairo to the Navy testing lab there, but the article reports further texts being performed in Italy.

In Friday’s edition there is no mention of AI, except briefly in an op ed piece called “Letter to Jomo”. Alongside the energy rationing program, bird flu, there is a rumors about the deadly cell phone virus. This is a new one going around that our kids have heard at school, and even Sarah has been warned from Ghanaian officials that people are dying all over the country from answering cell phones. These calls arrive with an unusually long series of numbers, and a fiery red color. The phone rings. The owner picks it, “Hello,” he says into and bang, he drops dead. Very dead, or at least that’s how the rumor is reported in the paper.

In Saturday’s edition, and really every one since, there is no mention of bird flu, so we turn to other on line news sources from Dubai, and Australia. There we read that suspicions have turned toward Nigeria. Nigeria is the favored suspect here in Ghana. What can be blamed on that country usually is, and in the case of these infected birds, it was a quick association. It seems that since they were discovered near Tema, with Tema being Ghana’s, and for that matter all of West Africa’s preferred port city, the Dubai paper reports that they were smuggled in from Nigeria. It also contains a time-line closer to the one I’m familiar with, that the local labs first tested the birds, and then the Cairo lab confirmed it.

In talking to a friend of ours who is a chicken farmer, and knows the family who’s farm was infected, she says “its been in the area for sometime,” but then adds that it was found usually in isolated cases, but this was a complete farm, 1600 birds, and they were all destroyed. She also says that the authorities had met last month to discuss this very issue, and how it would be handled in Ghana, and now they are following the plan.

As of now, there has not been wide spread panic. There has not been the widespread roundup of chickens like we saw and heard evidence of in the weeks that proceeded our visit to Egypt. I still see the occasional chicken wondering our neighborhood, and at lunch with Suzanne, I heard a sound I had not heard in long time, a rooster crowing. Going home, I even saw a man walking up the street with a head load of young chicks in a cage. They were perhaps a month old, and ready to sell, but there were no buyers. Part of me wants to go to Keneshi Market, and see what has become of the live bird market there, the other part of me knows it is not safe. This is just the sort of place we’ve been instructed to avoid, and yet I wonder. How close could I get and still be safe?

Nothing has really changed for us, oh we’re not eating chicken so much these days—which is good—but my mind keeps going back to a conversation that Emmanuel and I had on the steps of his father-in-law’s house. I was thinking about all the chickens I had seen, and how they live with the people in the village, going in and out of the houses, mother hens and their little chicks following. These are a hardy lot and you never see a dead one on the road, as the stupid ones didn’t live long enough to pass on their stupid genes. I think about how hard it would be to contain an epidemic here, the hundreds of thousands of chickens that would have to be rounded up, slaughtered, and burned, and I wonder if the people would have the will to keep it contained. Emmanuel asked about it once, and I told him about the epidemic that almost kept us from coming and he said he didn’t believe it, that he would be against the slaughter of chickens to stop an epidemic. He is a wise one, and when grouped with the other crisis’ this country is fighting: an energy crisis, killer mobile phone calls, and bird flu, it is easy to see how the people might not take the threat seriously if it reached that stage.

But things are changing, at lunch today at the Ashesi canteen, the lady asked us three times if we wanted chicken, we almost always have chicken, but not today. At the funeral for Vida’s Aunt, no one was eating the chicken the chicken they had ordered, so the returned it to the cold storage store. So we wait, and pray for this country, and its people who are working very hard and just can’t seem to get a break, or when they do, know what to do with it.

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