Day 110, extra – The toddler who cannot talk

This is an incredible (as in, literally not credible) story from the UAE.
Please take the time to read it.

 

When his widowed mother died during childbirth, there was never any question that the team at Dubai’s Al-Shabbas Private Hospital would take care of little Ata. In this strange, overwhelming, futuristic city, sometimes the personal touch can be forgotten, and the staff at Al-Shabbas probably knew that without their shared care, baby Ata – his name means ‘Gift from Allah’ – might fall through the cracks in the UAE’s social service system.

It’s been a strange life for Ata, now almost three years old. He has many mothers and fathers in the hospital and has become a favourite with staff and patients alike. He lives, plays, learns and sleeps in the hospital unit in which he was born and which he has never left. The staff – from the porters and cleaners, through to some of the most celebrated consultants in the world – are each happy to take time out from their daily schedule to do their bit to look after Ata: whether it’s sitting with him during breakfast or lunch in the hospital canteen, or reading him a bedtime story before he settles down to sleep in the on-call bunk room that has become his home.

“He’s our child – all of us are his parents,” says Australian Ward Clerk Sandy Johnson, her voice slightly muffled behind her surgical mask. “He’s got an international family!”

Indeed, an astonishing total of 18 different nationalities currently work in the unit that Ata calls home, and all of them have their own story to tell about the little boy.

One could argue that such an unusual upbringing might be detrimental to a child, but Ata seems to relish being cared for by so many individuals. In fact, you would never know that he doesn’t live the normal life of a three year old were it not for one striking feature: he cannot talk.

Despite being just two weeks away from his third birthday, Ata can only communicate via various basic vowel sounds and some form of rudimentary sign language. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t seem to affect his happiness at all, but despite months of speech therapy (on the house – this is a hospital community, after all!), he cannot utter a single word.

“At first, we thought it was maybe because he was experiencing many different mother tongues,” comments Registrar, Dr Iqbal Ahmed. “But that wouldn’t explain why he literally can’t make the sounds that make up the words of any language. It was only recently that we worked out what the actual problem was: our masks. Ata’s speech is handicapped because he almost never sees a mouth due to everyone wearing a mask, and can’t look at the lips moving. I’m surprised more people working at this Dubai hospital haven’t told their friends overseas about this.”

“It’s the same reason that visually impaired people can’t talk,” explains Speech Therapist Noora Koram, plainly ignoring reality. “When we are learning how to speak, we look at the lips of the person speaking and we make the same shape with our lips and that’s how we learn to talk. Ata can’t see any lips because of his weird upbringing in a hospital, where everyone wears masks all the time and never ever takes them off, even when eating, so he never sees their mouth and their lips moving and so he can’t speak. I don’t think he’ll ever learn to whistle either. Or play the clarinet.”

Sandy Johnson agrees: “Yeah, it’s definitely the mask thing. Well, either that or he doesn’t actually have any lips either. We don’t know because he wears a mask all the time too. Everyone wears masks here all the time because it’s a hospital and that’s what people do in a hospital, even when they’re raising a fictional child in a fantasy parenting collective situation.”

“To be honest, I’m not sure if Ata even knows that humans have mouths,” says Koram. “He’s never ever been outside the hospital unit and so everyone he’s ever met has been wearing a mask. Always. We’re not even really sure how he learned to eat, because you use your mouth for that as well and it’s really hard to do that when you’re wearing a mask. Which we all do. All the time. It might actually be terrifying for him to ever see a full human face when all he knows is two eyes and a rectangle of blue pleated paper below them.”

“With hindsight, it might have been better if he had grown up in a regular family environment,” admits Consultant Gynaecologist, Professor Jennifer Hammond. “But it’s too late for that now. Because of the strict government guidelines all over the world, even regular families wear masks all day and night now, and they’re not even living in hospitals where we also wear masks all the time. Twenty-four seven. I’d imagine that we will see many more children whose speech is handicapped because they almost never see a mouth due to everyone wearing a mask, and can’t look at the lips moving. Of course, those children also never watch TV or watch videos on the internet or live in the real world, because otherwise this would be less of a problem. But almost never seeing a mouth due to everyone wearing a mask is going to be a real issue in our near future. I’m even concerned that I will forget what a mouth looks like and lose the ability to talk, due to everyone wearing a mask.”

It’s a frightening prospect, but as I leave Professor Hammond’s office, there is Ata in the corridor outside: carefree and happy – a smile in his eyes (and possibly lower down his face as well – I can’t see), and just for a moment the world seems a better place. I give him a grin – which he can’t see either – and bid him farewell.

Ata grunts contentedly and goes back to playing with his teddy bear, which I can’t help but notice, also has a mask on.

As we all do. All the time.

 

For a full explanation, click here.

Dubai

I’m flying to Dubai today, and that’s got me quite excited.

Travelling is exciting anyway, but Dubai is especially thrilling.

Reason: Loads of ANC-related people seem to have gone to Dubai in the past, and returned with lavish gifts, bonuses, jobs and property. (Not literally property, obviously, but the legal documentation thereof.)

Now, I’m not an ANC-related person, but I really don’t see how this will adversely affect my chances of hitting the big time in the commercial hub of the Middle East. It seems to me that all I have to do is attend a meeting that I will thereafter swear never took place, say yes to the right people, and suddenly Atul and Ajay are my metaphorical uncles.

Ker – if you’ll bear with me for one more moment – Ching.

I can’t wait. I might even take a R600m bribe if when I’m offered it.
Well, it’d be rude and wholly ethical not to, wouldn’t it?

And I’d hate to be rude.

I’ll be back presently, and in the meantime, blog posts will obviously continue, as they always do. Once I’m completely captured, I’ll be able to travel a lot more to Dubai, launching 6000.ae before potentially retiring there and avoiding numerous criminal charges.
Impunity and immunity can like to be my middle names.

I mean, have you seen their extradition policy with SA?
No? Exactly.

A long way for a cocktail

Messing around on Google Maps last night, I noticed that my “timeline” is now available on mobile. I had a look at my day on Thursday 10th, and got this:

image

My travels that day were rather more complex than this seems to make out (also, we actually avoided Iraq and Syria) , but I quite like the idea that I flew all the way from Dubai to northern England, just to get a cocktail.

Thoughts on Ebola screening

Having been to the UK this last week, having traveled (twice, nogal) through the global hub that is Dubai, and with Ebola knocking ISIS from the headlines at the moment, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts I had while attempting not to contract Ebola or any other virus.

Firstly, that headline thing. Yes. Ebola is the number one headline in the UK news at the moment. Mainly stories around the country’s preparation for any incoming cases and the screening at the airports. Or ‘airport’, anyway. Fly into Manchester and you’re home free – no scans, no questions asked, no nothing. Just a hint for any suicide bioterrorists there.
So yes, number one headline, despite the fact that there are no UK cases. It’s an odd way of allaying fears and avoiding hysteria and it’s cementing my opinion that Ebola is a “superstar disease”. The current outbreak is bad news, certainly, but needs to be put in context – perhaps with some sort of graphic:

causes_of_death_africa.0

The fact that it needs ringing in yellow says a lot. And yes, I realise that the Ebola thing is current and it’s acute, but still. This outbreak has killed thirty times fewer people than even “Fire, heat, and hot substances”. And let me tell you, some of those hot substances can be pretty damn deadly. But joking aside, you’re seventy times more likely to die of malnutrition than Ebola and we don’t seem to be quite as concerned with that. That’s rather sad.

But if the rest of the world is to have a reaction to Ebola and is to try and prevent its spread, then it needs to be a sensible and organised approach so as to be effective, hence my confusion at the screening being solely at Heathrow (and possibly Gatwick and bizarrely, on Eurostar trains). If you’re serious about screening passengers and keeping Ebola out of the UK (and despite the fact that it’s not a particularly effective means of determining who’s carrying the infection), then why not do it at Manchester airport as well?
There’s no point in locking your front door if you’re going to leave all your windows open.

No-one at Manchester batted an eyelid when I flew in from Dubai, even though there are excellent links from there to West Africa. Every bit as good as the ones to Heathrow.
And, with that in mind, I saw nothing – NOTHING – at Dubai about Ebola. And that place is like some terrestrial version of a Star Wars space station – what an extraordinary mix of people and nationalities. If Ebola is to get a foothold anywhere else, then it may well be through Dubai. But there’s no mention of it there at all.
Finally, Cape Town, which (amazingly? reassuringly?) had the best response of the airports I used. And that was merely an announcement asking me to “go and talk to the people at the Health Desk if I’d been to West Africa in the last few weeks”. This self-reporting with a disease which carries a stigma like an STD? It’s not exactly foolproof, is it?

I’m really not sure there is good reason for screening passengers arriving at any airport, although there are some experts who believe that there are other benefits besides the limited chance of detecting anyone carrying the virus:

Prof David Evans, a virologist at the University of Warwick, says that while testing passengers is “unlikely to detect symptomatic cases” as they arrive in this country, “the introduction of inbound passenger testing will both raise awareness and provide information that should ensure that passengers who subsequently develop symptoms can rapidly seek medical advice and, if needed, treatment.” The measures are, therefore, sensible, “primarily because they raise awareness of the disease in travellers and their contacts.”

But it also seems utterly pointless if you’re not going to do it thoroughly.

UPDATE: And, as if by magic…

What a good idea, guys…