Stepping Over the Dead on a Migrant Boat – The New York Times

It began with blips on a radar screen, 12 miles off the Libyan coast. As the rescuers approached, they found overloaded wooden vessels and rafts that evoked scenes of the slave trade.

Credit Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Aris Messinis, an Agence France-Presse photographer aboard the rescue boat Astral, said it was like nothing he had ever seen.

The passengers — from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria and other sub-Saharan countries — were found by the Astral on Tuesday, part of a wave of more than 11,000 rescued in the Mediterranean by aid groups and the Italian Coast Guard this week.

Migrants aboard a large wooden boat, which may have held 1,000 people — roughly five times its capacity — waited frantically for help. Some jumped into the water.


via Stepping Over the Dead on a Migrant Boat – The New York Times


Where will she go?

Fatuma Ibrahim before January 6, 2016 was a mother of four in Korof Harar, deep inside Wajir on the north eastern side of Kenya.

However, her husband changed this narrative on that sixth day of the year.

He stabbed her.

On her thigh.

On her leg.

On her chin.

On her right cheek and when he tried to pull out the 10-inch knife, but it was stuck.

Ms Fatuma Ibrahim at Wajir Airport, shortly before her medical evacuation on January 7, 2016. Photo/Eunice Kilonzo

The rusty knife with a rugged handle went through her head on her right cheek and almost popped out a short distance from her left eye.

But it didn’t.

It stayed there from 5.30pm that Wednesday when he attacked her, was still there when she was taken to hospital at 2am.

Wajir Referral Hospital would not move it either otherwise, she would have “bled internally and suffocated in her own blood.”

That’s what her attending doctor said.

Our paths crossed on Thursday at around 5pm. I was part of three other journalists who had gone to airlift her to Nairobi where she would get the Intensive Care treatment she required. Nearly two hours away from her home, away from her children and away from the man, who had put her in this place. With a knife sticking out of her now swollen face.

She was very still during the flight.

Ms Fatuma Ibrahim airborne heading to Nairobi aboard the Amref Flying Doctors plane. On her right is nurse Charles Atemba from Amref. Photo/Eunice Kilonzo

She did not move.

She did not cry.

Only half-way in the flight did she say her legs were paining.

The in-flight doctor raised her legs, dressed her wounds and gave her something for the pain.

Then I saw the scars on her thighs.

Shiny patches of skin that had once been smooth but now held reminders of previous attacks.

I began to reason maybe, just maybe, they are tribal or beauty marks or large birthmarks.


She would not talk to confirm or allay my fears, so I let it pass.

We got to Nairobi at 8pm, into a waiting ambulance where she was rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital.

About four hours later, she was wheeled to theater and the lodged knife removed.

By morning, she was up and talking to visitors.

Her husband was arraigned in court and he said his wife, Fatuma, wanted to commit suicide and “he was trying to help her.”

Nine days later with several trauma counseling sessions in-between, Fatuma was fit to be discharged from Kenyatta National Hospital.

I was fortunate to meet her before she left ward 5A.

A few minutes before being discharged. Photo/Eunice Kilonzo

Then she smiled.

And I saw the missing front teeth. Probably four or three.

“He knocked them out in a previous fight,” she said through a translator.

“He has beaten me not ten or twenty times, several times: I don’t know how many.”

She smiled some more when she walked into the waiting ambulance that would take her out of the hospital.

Enter a caption

The husband Mohammed Deq on the other hand was still in police custody.

I called my mother and we discussed about Fatuma and she asked me: But where will she go?

My friend and editor, Zipporah Musau, asked: “But where will she go? Back to the same home where she was stabbed? Where she had endured so much violence? Is she safe there?

These questions stung me: Where will she go?

Those who came to discharge her said they would take her to relatives, away from her home but back to her children.

Where will Ms Fatuma Ibrahim (really) go? She has no Identification Card, she has no skills and she is unemployed.

Where will she go?


For more information read here, here and here.

‘Visibly Pregnant’ Girls Are Banned From School In Sierra Leone : Goats and Soda : NPR

Across Sierra Leone, students are preparing to return to school April 14, after nine months off because of the Ebola epidemic. But one group has been banned from returning, according to a new decree by the minister of education: “visibly pregnant” girls.

Minister of education Minkailu Bah announced the ban last week, explaining that “innocent girls” could be negatively affected by their pregnant peers. The ban would prevent seniors from taking the exams needed to graduate and attend college.

And this isn’t just a Sierra Leone issue. The question of how to educate pregnant girls spans the globe and hits home in the U.S. — despite laws here that guarantee a teenager’s right to an education even if she is pregnant.

The ban in Sierra Leone comes at a time when the government has already undertaken a strategy to reduce teen pregnancy, including peer mentorship and health education. The country says that its high rate of pregnancy among adolescent girls is a national crisis. One third of pregnancies in Sierra Leone are teenage pregnancies, according to national health data.

via ‘Visibly Pregnant’ Girls Are Banned From School In Sierra Leone : Goats and Soda : NPR.

Getting Rid of Parasites

When a little girl named Marcelina is spitting up worms, it’s an image that you have trouble forgetting. Deworming children is a simple and straightforward task – a five-cent pill of albendazole usually does the trick – and yet in countries like Angola many kids are missed. They suffer anemia and, in extreme cases, an intestinal blockage that may require surgery.

My column today notes that these kinds of intestinal parasites are enabled by another kind of parasite – corrupt officials. Angola is pretty much a world capital of corruption, but it’s also enabled by global companies, including oil companies. And American oil companies are resisting transparency requirements in ways that would benefit parasitic government officials.

via subscription-1 – The New York Times.

Of Suicides, Depression and a Blood test…

I meant to put this post up last year but I was not sure I had the right words to say. But now, I know holding on to it will not make it any better, so here goes.

I was in a matatu, public service vehicle, a day after my birthday and I heard about Robin Williams a.k.a Mrs Doubtfire a.k.a Genies’s voice in Aladdin had died. Cause of death? Suicide.

The man who had defined my childhood laughter, creativity and interest in acting had been found on August 11 in his house, dead.

I was disappointed as I was shocked that someone who brought so much laughter and joy to others lives had so much tears, hurt, and depression within himself that suicide was the only option out.


Earlier on, on August 9 last year, I came across an update on my Facebook Timeline that was threatening to end two lives. T-W-O. Their own and someone else’s: her baby. This was one of many other similar updates from this friend who by the look of her words was struggling with something and the pain of it all that was weighing her down.

I am no psychiatrist and I do not know what people do at such times but I panicked. I was scared and hoped it was not true…that even in years to come, it should not be true. That suicide is a solution.

I called her, sent texts and Whatsapps text but there was no response. I contacted our mutual friends and we made it to her place only to find it locked. Fortunately, I have gotten communication that they are both okay (they still are fine to date) but at the back of mind I have a fear that this is something that needs to be addressed. Now. Not tomorrow. Not a week later but now.

Suicide is not freedom. It’s a cry for help that always comes too late. Suicide, depression and other mental issues are barely understood. In fact, most times after a suicide, people would say: But what was bothering them? Dint they look fine? Couldn’t they just stop those depressing thoughts from coming into their heads? It is all in the mind…don’t think it.

Clearly, there is a profound misunderstanding about the nature of mental illness and the hope that with money and fame you shouldn’t be depressed…if anything, you should be the healthiest person around. Depression is an illness that descends upon people irrespective of whether they are funny, as Williams was, or successful or beautiful or any other adjective that describes the people we know.

You and I too, could be depressed.

depression 2

As a journalist, I have discovered that reporting on deaths, accidents, and suicide is difficult as it is necessary.

And I may not admit it but at times, stories that I do get into me. They change my mood, they make me question so  much I have known about humanity and a lot more. As journalists, we are told not to be attached to a story, to our sources etc. But, this is not possible. It is a constant juggle of thoughts and when I get back home, I try to block these things out, I try to talk about them with my family and friends and try to move on. But, it is not easy.

Writing about suicide is a matter that unless it involves a prominent person, it is something that is discussed as a by-the-way matter. Barely would people be interested to do a follow up of the cause of suicides around them mainly because of the trauma, shame and lack of information on the issue.

Depression and suicide are the shadows that lurk around us every day, they are constant battles that our brains are pushing hard to keep at bay so that we do not crumble and give up and die out. A constant battle.

Even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon knows this too well. He is urging governments to invest in and support young people with mental health conditions. This comes as about 20 per cent of the world’s young people (about 280 million) experience a mental health condition each year according to a UN report.

“Let us begin to talk about our mental-health in the same way we talk about our overall health. The United Nations wants to help lift the veil that keeps young people locked in a chamber of isolation and silence,” the UN head said during the observance of International Youth Day which is marked each year on August 12.

It is not surprising that last year’s slogan was ‘Mental Health Matters.’

Still in my research, I discovered that, apparently it is now possible to predict who had experienced suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide just by a blood test, researchers say.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed a genetic modification may be able to predict suicide risk.

The scientists from took samples of brain tissue from mentally ill, healthy people and from people who had died from suicide. They discovered a chemical (methylation) released by the brain in response to stress has the effect of managing the strain of everyday life so that it does not turn into suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The research, which was about 80 per cent accurate, noted that in some groups, lower levels of the human gene (SKA2) were associated with people who had committed suicide. The SKA2 helps to instruct a region of the brain that controls negative thoughts and impulsive behaviors. Thus an abnormal version of the gene means the brain will have trouble keeping at bay stress hormones.

Zachary Kaminsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said: “With a test like ours, we may be able to stem suicide rates by identifying those people and intervening early enough to head off a catastrophe.”

I hope that this test works and soon it will be able to correctly prescribe drugs to tackle depression as it is for Malaria and other infections. I hope it works and it is made available in the country as more and more, we hear and read about a police officer who in rage killed his wife, at times children, and himself.

We hear of fathers who kill their children because ‘Life was too hard’ or of the recent case that a man, allegedly, killed his three beautiful children, his wife and jumped on an oncoming bus. The whole family ended in a span of one week. The deaths were blamed on a cult but information about the guy point out at a depressed man, who locked himself away from the world as we know it and immersed himself into a church.

Mental health is an issue that we should all be involved in. The loss of a friend, sister or brother or a relative is heartbreaking. If it is through suicide, it affects many more as there will be the guilt that perhaps, if you would have been there often maybe, it would have made a difference. It certainly would. It will be so much better, if we understood what depression is, what it can lead to and how we can be true friends by genuinely seeking to be there for our friends and relatives. It will be even better, if we stopped judging those among us who are battling depression and seek help for them from people who know how to address these medical concerns.

depression 3

I am still looking for ways to help my friend. To help myself as well. I am reading about it and talking to people who can help her stay afloat. It is little, it is scary but I think it is necessary. I should do it. If I can, I will do more.

As Robin Williams’s said: “Now we have to adjust to the realities of miracles. We can hide behind the veil of science and say it was the drug that failed or that the illness itself had returned…The reality is we don’t know what went wrong any more than we know what went right.”