Monday, April 20, 2020

Eulogy: Dr. N has Passed Away

Today I learned that Dr. N died of COVID-19 complications in a nursing home in Canton. He was a Persian immigrant, a cardiologist who drove early morning carpool a couple times per week when I was in kindergarten and first grade (which I did twice with good benefit!). He would firmly correct me and the other kids, though seemingly I was the most frequent offender, “Not Mr. N., Doctor N!” He was married to a boisterous friend of my mother’s, who was famous with us for going barefoot in all environments in all months of the year, a memory which is surely exaggerated by the passage of time. They had three kids together, all of them older than my twin sister and me; I think all of them might have become doctors.

So Dr. N. died and I am melancholy because now I know somebody, but maybe it was a blessing because he spent the last years of his life mostly separated from the ones that he loved and who loved him. Instead of the seemingly marvelous Gandhi that he was in the days before dementia set in, he had become an unmanageable tyrant, which apparently Gandhi was, too, moving from institution to institution, including McLean, where the very much alive James Taylor and the late poet Robert Lowell and other Brahmins have spent time struggling with demons. 

I feel a million miles away. Starting to play the unhealthy game of: What if I get sick? What if my aged parents or other loved ones, whose funerals I have pledged (silently to myself) that I shall not miss, get taken away? Of course, it occurs to me that even if I was in New England, funerals might not take place for months. 

I am trapped here--almost no commercial planes in or out--in a country that has nearly doubled its death toll number for the city at the epicenter. ("The Chinese government has upped its official coronavirus death toll to 4,632 -- an increase of nearly 40 percent.") The Trump Administration is ratcheting up the rhetoric about China, with Pompeo focused on 5G from Huawei and the President off-message, but pounding China as a foe. On March 4, I made a decision to return, which I do not yet regret, but it was certainly based on incomplete information. Nevertheless, China's "fake numbers" does seem to be the result of media bias. By mid-February, China had flattened its curve.

I have watched the unfolding events here with horror and a growing amount of fear. "Harbin has had 26 new confirmed cases and 19 asymptomatic infections since April 9. Before that, the province had reported zero domestic infections for 29 consecutive days." Harbin, the capital of China's northeasternmost province, is 2070 miles away or roughly as far away as Chibougamu, Quebec, is from Miami, Florida, but it is relevant, because, like Guangzhou, it is a border city and the Chinese have tried mightily in the last few weeks to make the case that most new cases have stemmed from foreigners. They have rushed to gather the data that proves their point.

Readers of this blog know that there was a dragnet for Africans here in Guangzhou, which eventually attracted international media attention and the condemnation of legates from a variety of One Belt, One Road countries in the global South. The police force here has vowed to deport 'foreigners' who refuse to be quarantined amid rising xenophobia due to coronavirus. "Officials have also disclosed that 4,553 Africans, out of a black population of about the same figure, had undergone testing in Guangzhou since April 3." [my emphasis] (The Nation- a Nigerian publication)*

On a brighter note, a black British acquaintance of mine, whose wife is from a nation in Africa from which no reported imported cases came, was thrown into quarantine for only three days and then released, rather bafflingly. I surmise there was a response from Beijing to the local government's draconian treatment of blacks--no matter where they are from. However, the blaming of foreigners for the spread of this disease seems to be on the rise, perhaps as a reaction to the problematic response of my own government, where top officials call it the Wuhan or China virus. This may just be my perception from news articles and endless reports from foreign friends and acquaintances. 

Yesterday, another acquaintance reported that not only was he in quarantine because a sick person had visited the restaurant where he is a proprietor, but all four restaurants that are frequented by foreigners on that street have been shut down by the government. One of the people who went to one of those restaurants is from Boston and he was taken away from his Chinese girlfriend and her daughter after contact tracing led to his door. He is angry, because they scammed him into extra blood tests and a CT scan. "Seems it was optional." He is also frustrated because he says, "I was taken out of my house like a criminal." 

*I think that these numbers are underestimates; there are many more Africans here than that, quite a few without proper paperwork reportedly, and there are large numbers of "blacks" (of African and Caribbean origin) who are here from the US, UK, and other nations. 

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