Vaccination was supposed to free us from the pandemic’s frightening grip. Things would go back to normal, with parties and hugs and everything else. But now with the Delta variant, and the vaccines less than full-proof, COVID is again dominating our collective psyche.
After finally receiving a second dose of the COVID vaccine, everybody was expecting to be protected from the virus
BOGOTA — I often say, even if it’s not really true, that I never get my hopes up too high. That way I can avoid disappointment. Only, life loses a good deal of its charm if you’re rarely excited about anything. As Armando Manzanero’s song (on nocturnal fantasies!) says, “Who cares if I live on dreams/If it makes me happy?”
It’s true that we’re often much more joyful and celebratory on the eve of a feast than on the day itself. We know that an appetizer can be as delectable as the main dish, and that dreaming of travel can be more beautiful than an actual trip.
Likewise, I think many of us, after finally receiving our second dose of the COVID vaccine, were expecting to be protected from the virus that has distorted our lives. We entertained the idea of “immunization” in the full sense of the term: We would be immune to the illness, shielded from this awful virus. As such, we spent weeks or months dreaming of happiness, parties, trips, hugs and friendly faces for a while.
But when the full truth began to emerge, the disappointment was grievous, even if nobody can deprive us of the fanciful joys of past months. Just for a moment we hated the realists who had opened our eyes, but knew that, like it or not, we must return to bitter reality.
Suddenly “immunized” no longer meant we weren’t going to be infected but that our infection would not become symptomatic. Still, we were assured that if we did get infected, the illness would be light, and that with the vaccine, it was much less likely — but not impossible, mind you — that we would end up in the ICU or a coffin.
The great dream has become a paltry consolation. Then came disturbing reports of new coronavirus variants (working their way through the Greek alphabet), for which we have yet to know for sure whether or not all the vaccines are effective, or to what degree. Fortunately they have worked against the variants so far, and infection specialists believe new variants will be much more contagious but less lethal. At the end of the day, viruses prefer to spread and replicate rather than kill their host.
We spent weeks or months dreaming of parties, trips, hugs and friendly faces — Photo: Philipp Von Ditfurth/dpa via ZUMA Press
The Delta variant, however, seems to have remodeled this residual optimism into apprehension. Without a doubt the best protection was, and is, to be vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands and avoid closed spaces full of people. But the vaccine is like a bullet-proof jacket that protects our vital organs, not our legs. The same way that a mask protects your facial orifices, not your hands, etc..
Optimism in wealthy countries now rests with the third jab — a vaccine boost — which is meant to compensate for a gradual decline in antibodies. And while there are no conclusive studies on a third jab being essential for all those without impaired immunity, rich countries have already started hoarding vaccines, hampering their transfer to poor countries that have not even had the first doses.
Obviously pharmaceutical firms prefer to sell to those who can pay any price, and upfront, instead of haggling with poorer countries that want discounts and time to pay. We live with the pretty idea of altruism and expect it of our betters — and that’s one illusion that never fails to disappoint.
Like the jabs themselves, the confidence that came with vaccination is fading. The most solid prospect left for us for now is that two jabs will thwart severe COVID. I, for one, live on that hope and want to keep it alive every day.
Hopes help us live much longer if we can nurture them without fearing disappointments. But the illusion must have the force of truth to work. And for now, at least, it’s still true that vaccination will almost certainly save us from death.
Reports of torture, murder and gang rape are emerging from the civil war in northern Ethiopia. The conflict has spread across the country and an imminent collapse seems likely, spreading across the region. Now Turkey is also getting involved.
Tigrayan Refugees in the Tuneidba Camp near Gedaref, Sudan
The news reaching the international community from the civil war in Ethiopia is deeply shocking. According to Amnesty International, many women in the Tigray region, where fighting is ongoing, say they have been imprisoned for weeks and gang-raped multiple times, sometimes in the presence of family members. They say some of the perpetrators assaulted them with nails and rocks.
These accusations are overwhelmingly directed at Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers who are fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) for power in Ethiopia’s northernmost state. At first, the Ethiopian government dismissed the accusations as “propaganda,” but now the Ministry of Women’s Affairs admits there is “no doubt” that rapes have taken place.
On the other side, militias close to self-declared liberators the TPLF are also believed to have committed atrocities. They have been repeatedly accused of murdering hundreds of members of the Amhara ethnic group, who have been fighting supporters of the militia for centuries for control of relatively fertile farming regions.
The conflict has spread across the country like wildfire. Ethiopia’s central government has not succeeded in removing the TPLF from power for any length of time. Government troops have been driven out of the most important cities in Tigray. The militia is distributing video footage of thousands of soldiers being humiliated and degraded, to make sure everyone in the country gets the message.
In terms of population, Ethiopia is the second largest country in Africa. Now it is caught up in a war on multiple fronts, a war that threatens its very existence. Thousands of people have been killed and almost two million citizens have been driven out of their homes. The TPLF has made gains in the eastern region of Afar, through which the main routes to neighboring Djibouti pass, a vital lifeline for a landlocked country such as Ethiopia.
Refugees draw water from a well in the Somalia region, Ethiopia — Photo: Kay Nietfeld/DPA/ZUMA Press
Beyond the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara, fighting has increasingly spread to the state of Oromia – the most populous in Ethiopia – where the rebel group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) is making advances. It is threatening to block trade routes to Kenya and has announced a military alliance with the TPLF.
One consequence is that the country has been vulnerable to famine for decades. Not least because, according to credible reports from aid organizations, Ethiopia is blocking food supplies to contested regions – although the government officially denies this. The weakened government and the rebel groups are both calling on civilians to arm themselves. Longstanding tensions between ethnic and tribal groups in Ethiopia are escalating.
The TPLF’s main aim is to remove Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from power. Ethiopia, often seen as a shining light of stability in the Horn of Africa, seems at risk of collapse. Observers are already comparing the situation to the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.
Ethiopia’s constitution explicitly allows the secession of individual states. While Abiy is seeking to expand the central government’s influence, there are growing calls for regional self-determination. Once again the model of ethnic federalism seems likely to collapse, as it did in South Sudan.
People waiting in line to gather water during the Siege of Sarajevo, 1992 — Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev
This seems especially likely because the Ethiopian system has been based on pure power calculation from the start. Only 6% of the Ethiopian population are Tigrayan. However, as early as the 1980s, the influential TPLF militia fought the communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam (known as the Black Stalin), and after he was removed from power in 1991 the ethnic minority gained political dominance.
In order to gain support among much larger ethnic groups such as the Oromo (which represents around 34% of the population) they set up a federal system with nine states. In theory, at least, the main people groups of Ethiopia were supposed to be fairly represented.
However, in practice, the TPLF was overrepresented in leadership positions nationwide. Three years ago, ethnic tensions and dissatisfaction about infrastructure projects that didn’t take the interests of local people groups into account boiled over, and they could no longer keep them under control through their ever more authoritarian government.
At first the current Prime Minister Abiy seemed like an ideal candidate who would be able to calm unrest without significant losses for the ruling elite: a young, dynamic representative of the large, dissatisfied Oromo people group.
But the Tigrayans miscalculated. Their influence waned as the new Prime Minister introduced rapid pan-Ethiopian reforms. While Abiy received the Nobel Peace Prize for the apparent easing of tensions with Eritrea, the TPLF felt it had been cheated, as the longstanding border conflict, which had seen thousands of deaths, was concentrated on the Tigray region.
The reaction from Turkey shows how important the ramifications of the current conflict will be on the world stage. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised military support to Ethiopia. That may be badly received in Egypt and puts the recently reopened discourse between Cairo and Ankara at risk.
There is a long-running dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter’s decision to fill up a reservoir behind a dam on the Nile, which could significantly reduce water supply to Egypt. Due to the Tigray crisis, this potential military conflict over water seems almost forgotten. But its effects will be no less devastating.
The September 11 attacks both mobilized America and showed its fragility. Twenty years later, the United States is withdrawing from the Middle East. The greatest beneficiary is not the Muslim world, as Bin Laden dreamed, but two powers reborn in the East.
Let’s not underestimate the impact on the planet of industrial, intensive agriculture, focused on exploiting machines, pesticides and fertilizers across wide tracts of land.
Brexit has doubled the cost of studying in the UK for Europeans, which means many more students are heading to Dutch universities, which offer multiple programs in English. That’s caused hundreds to arrive at universities in the Netherlands this month without promised housing.
Taiwan, Mexico, and Costa Rica are the best expat destinations worldwide in 2021 according to the Expat Insider survey.