16 August 2009

Chagas Revisited

Yesterday I walked out on my patio to greet the sun and thank God for giving me life and I glanced down at a yellow plastic bucket that I use to water my plants. At the bottom of the bucket I spotted a bug called the "Assassin Bug" (Triatoma infestans) which in Latin America is known as "Vinchuca" (veen-CHOO-kah). This bug is the carrier of a dreaded disease called "Trypanosoma cruzi" or "T. cruzi" for short that causes an illness known as "Chagas". I posted an item to this blog on May 30th of this year entitled "Chagas and Vinchuca". Every year 15,000 people die from Chagas, mostly in Latin America and currently it is estimated that fourteen million people are infected. About thirty percent of people infected will eventually die a slow agonizing death from it and there is no known effective cure for the full blown disease. This year, 2009, is the 100th anniversary of the disease's discovery by a Brazilian doctor and scientist named Carlos Chagas and yet it still has not been made a priority by the World Health Organization (WHO). It almost made it this year but it was bumped off by the H1N1 influenza pandemic. Perhaps it is because it is considered a poor people's disease that it receives little attention. Maybe so, but there is now evidence that Chagas disease has already entered the U.S. donor blood supply and with more and more Americans retiring in Mexico it is something that we should educate ourselves and our Mexican friends and neighbors about. There is a good article about Chagas disease at http://www.scidev.net/en/features/chagas-disease-the-lost-century.html.

The bug that I found in my bucket is no great cause for alarm but it is a reminder that we have to be vigilant and particularly at this time of the year. The Vinchuca is attracted to light on warm humid nights where it knows there are humans to feed on. It is a blood sucking insect and it gets into houses through cracks and holes in window screens and hides in wall crevices, behind picture frames, and in beds. At night it comes out and bites its victim and sucks up a blood meal. It does not spread the disease this way, however. While it is sucking blood it constantly defecates and the T.cruzi organism which causes Chagas is contained in the feces of the bug. This feces then infects the wound made by the bug when the victim scratches the itch made by the wound which is like a mosquito bite. Where there is no human blood available the Vinchuca feeds on the blood of small mammals like tuzos (gophers), ardillas (squirrels), ratas (rats), ratones (mice), mapaches (raccoons), and especially tlacuaches (opossums, also called zarigüeyas).

What should you do to avoid catching this Chagas disease? First of all, tighten up your house. Make sure that there are no places where the insect can enter your home at night especially areas where there are bright lights (external or internal) close to doors and windows. If you should happen to see one of these bugs in your house, especially the bedroom, make a thorough search of your mattresses and bedclothes and also cracks, crevices, or other potential hiding places near your bed. In general if you keep your house neat and tidy there should be no problem. The greatest problem is for people who live in adobe houses or poorly constructed shacks that have no window or door screens. If one of your eyes should swell up for no apparent reason see a doctor immediately and be tested for Chagas. If detected right away, the disease can be treated, but if left to spread throughout the body there is little that can be done at this time. Be careful. It's a jungle out there.

15 August 2009

Learning Spanish - Reading Signs

One of the ways to improve your vocabulary and learn more about a particular region is to read signs. I am talking about all kinds of signs; street signs, billboards, highway signs, storefront signs, supermarket signs...you name it. I am forever learning things from signs. For example, you can look up the names on street signs and learn about the people that they honor. I live near a street named "Héroe de Nacozari" which is a reference to a man named "Jesús García Corona" who on the 7th of November in 1907 saved the town of Nacozari, Sonora by driving away from the town a locomotive pulling a burning train that contained dynamite. In the process of saving the town he was killed when the train blew up and will forever have a warm place in the hearts of his countrymen. I always carry a little notebook with me and some 3"x5" cards so that I can note down words and names to look up later. Sometimes I even take photos of the signs if conditions permit and then figure out what they say at my leisure. I can't begin to tell you how much this has helped me. Even after more than ten years of doing this I still come across strange signs that I need help to decipher.

On the 5th of August I posted an item called "Centro de Convivencia Familiar DIF" about a park for families that we have here in Irapuato. This park has an 800 meter walking track. Around this track at 60 meter intervals are placed twelve signs dedicated to "Valores en Familia" (Family Values). I think that these signs are pretty neat and they are a nice way for Moms and Dads to teach their children about family values while they are walking in the park. I took photos of all the signs and you can see the photos below. I also decided that they might make a good Spanish lesson so I wrote out the words from each one in Spanish and English. You can read my English translations and then go below and see if you can read all the signs in Spanish and understand them. When you do this type of sign reading exercise you will learn a lot about subtle differences in words. For example, at the 180 meter mark we have the word "Respeto". This word means "respect" as in respect for another person. However, if we use the word "respecto" with a "c" in it, it also means respect but in the sense of "with respect to" or "in this respect". I should also point out the the literal word for word translation does not always do justice to the actual intent of the meaning as you can see in the translation for the value "Respeto".

60 Metros - Igualidad es brindar a todas las personas el mismo trato y las mismas oportunidades, sin excluirlas por su raza, condición social o sexo.
Equality is to give everyone the same treatment and equal opportunities, including by race, social status or sex.

120 Metros - Equidad es dar a cada persona lo que necesita considerando su situación particular. Es requisito para la justicia.
Fairness is to give each person what they need considering their particular situation. It is a prerequisite for justice.

180 Metros - Respeto es la capacidad para no rebasar los límites de la otra persona, sin etiquetar sus acciones y pensamientos.
Respect is the ability to not exceed the limits of the other person, without labeling their actions and thoughts (In other words, respect means not interfering with the affairs of another without knowing what motivates their thoughts and actions).

240 Metros - Solidaridad es la inclinación a sentirse vinculados con otros debido a intereses comunes.
Solidarity is the inclination to feel connected with others because of common interests.

300 Metros - Diálogo es el intercambio de ideas y pensamientos que se realiza entre personas. Requiere de claridad.
Dialog is the exchange of ideas and thoughts that takes place between people. It requires clarity.

360 Metros - Negociación es cuando las personas son capaces de analizar sus puntos de vista y las soluciones que proponen para llegar a un acuerdo.
Negotiation is when people are able to discuss their views and propose solutions to reach an agreement.

420 Metros - Consenso es tomar una decisión de común acuerdo entre todas las personas involucradas. Es resultado de negociación.
Consensus is a decision of common agreement among all the people involved. It is the result of negotiation.

480 Metros - Responsabilidad es reconocer, aceptar, y responder por las consecuencias de nuestras decisiones, hechos, y actitudes.
Responsibility is to recognize, accept, and respond to the consequences of our decisions, actions, and attitudes.

540 Metros - Cooperación es el trabajo en equipo con un objetivo en común, en el que se comparten métodos semejantes. Es lo contrario a la competencia.
Cooperation is teamwork with one goal in common, in which similar methods are shared. It is the opposite of competition.

600 Metros - Reflexión es revisar nuestras actitudes y reconocer los costos y consecuencias que tienen para nosotros y para los demás.
Reflection is to review our attitudes and recognize the costs and consequences for ourselves and for others.

660 Metros - Tolerancia es reconocer el derecho de todas y todos a expresar sus ideas, aún siendo diferentes a las propias.
Tolerance is to recognize the right of everyone to express their ideas, though different from one's own.

720 Metros - Comunicación es expresar lo que sentimos y pensamos y, a la vez, es escuchar lo que sientan y piensan otras personas.
Communication is to express what we feel and think and, in turn, is listen to what other people think and feel.

Miscellaneous - The signs contain a few additional sentences that I am including here:

Ayúdanos a conservar limpio nuestro parque.
Help keep our park clean.

Deposita la basura en su lugar.
Put the trash in its proper place

Favor de no pisar las áreas verdes.
Please don't trample the green areas. (Hmm...I wonder how many Anglos think this means "Please don't piss on the grass"?)

12 August 2009

What's it all about?

Someone once said that the World would be a better place if everyone just stayed in their room. That brings to mind one of my favorite musicals, the movie version of Paint your Wagon with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin that came out in 1969. There is a song in the movie called "A Million Miles Away Behind The Door" sung by the character Elizabeth played by Jean Seberg. The last part goes:

"No fears,
No fools,
No lies,
No rules,
Just doing with my life,
What life is for...
A million miles away behind the door."

Today I read on CNN I read that the world's population will reach seven billion by the year 2011. That means that there are around eighty-three million people being added to the world every year over and above the number people who die or who are aborted (China alone aborts thirteen million babies every year). The population of New York City is around 8.3 million, so in other words there are the equivalent of about ten "New York Cities" added to the world on a yearly basis. My, oh my, but that is a hard thing to grasp. I tried to put the number in perspective and that's when things got weirder and weirder. I started playing around with the calculator.

The state of Texas has an area of 268,820 square miles.
7 billion people divided by 268, 820 square miles is 26,040 people per square mile.
There are 27,878,400 square feet in a square mile.
27,878,400 square feet divided by 26,040 people is 1,070 square feet per person.
The square root of 1,070 is about 33.

This means that every person on Earth could have a personal space 33 feet square and it would all fit within the boundaries of state of Texas. If you have a family consisting of 6 people that would mean that you have just about half an acre of space. I know that this seems hard to believe but you can do the math yourself. Hey, then it gets even weirder. I found out that the average volume of the human body is about three cubic feet. Follow along with me:

7 billion people times 3 cubic feet is 21 billion cubic feet.
The cube root of 21 billion (21,000,000,000) is 2,758.92 or in other words a cube that is about 2759 feet on each side or just over a half mile on each side. This means that you could put the entire population of the world in a box that is one half mile wide, one half mile long, and one half mile high. If you set this box on the rim of the Grand Canyon and pushed it off it would fall into the Canyon and disappear from sight. So I guess there aren't that many people after all.

The thing is that about information like we now get from the news media it almost overwhelming. When I read about this supposed population problem I can just imagine a wide eyed Wolf Blitzer with a wrinkled brow and a worried voice asking President Obama what he is going to do about it. I can also imagine the jackals and hyenas on Fox news in a feeding frenzy trying to cast the blame for excess population on the Liberals for their evil progressive ways. So what am I personally going to do about it? First thing, I think I will go clean my room. If everyone else would do the same perhaps we could make some sense out of the situation. In any case, it looks like there is plenty of room for everybody if could just learn to share. Hmmm, I thought we were supposed to learn that in kindergarten. At the very least we could stop aborting the babies! That would be the best place to start...sharing life itself.

08 August 2009

Credit Where Credit is Due

We had a fabulous meal tonight and we owe it all to Sara at "imafoodblog.com". She recently posted a recipe for "Portobello Mushroom Burgers with Roasted Red Peppers" and it is out of this world. Normally I just eat what my wife Gina cooks and she is a very good cook so you can believe me when I say that I am not suffering. The thing is that I have been on a health kick lately and have been trying to avoid eating too much red meat and sometimes I get tired of chicken or fish. I just love hamburgers and I was really missing them when I spotted Sara's recipe. Today at the supermarket I spotted some portobello mushrooms and I thought, "What the heck, let's give it a try". We didn't follow her recipe exactly. In fact we simplified it a bit. We just sautéed the portobello mushroom caps in a little olive oil on both sides and then placed them in our little electric toaster oven stem side up with a little finely chopped onion and some shredded queso asadero cheese on top. Then we toasted them until the cheese melted. We covered one side of a large sesame seed hamburger bun with fresh basil leaves and on top of that we placed pieces of red bell pepper with the skin removed and then the mushroom. On the other half of the bun we put mayonnaise and catsup (ketchup). The result looked and tasted just like a hamburger but the mushroom, basil, and red bell pepper made it taste like one of the best hamburgers that I have ever eaten. I was quite surprised and content with this meal and now I know that you don't have to eat red meat to be happy. I owe Sara a big "thank you" and I encourage anyone who reads this to check it out at:


Like Martha Stewart always says..."It's a good thing".


06 August 2009

Save the Planet

From the New York Times Freakonomics blog: An organization in Brazil has launched a campaign to get people to pee in the shower. They claim that if you eliminate just one toilet flush per day you can save 1157 gallons of water per year in every household and save the rain forest. The video below says it all:

05 August 2009

Centro de Convivencia Familiar DIF

New York City has its Central Park and Chicago has its Lincoln and Grant Parks and Mexico City has its Alameda Park but in Irapuato, Guanajuato we have a park complex that in my mind is as good as any of these and in fact it is even better because it is nearby and the others are all far away. When we go and take a nice walk in the park, it is where we like to go. Our park is commonly called the Convivencia Familiar or "Gathering Place of Families". It is part of a national system of parks and family recreational facilities called "El Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (SNDIF)" or in English "The National System for the Complete Development of the Family". Most people just refer to it as "el DIF" (pronounced "ehl DEEF").

The history of DIF goes back to 1929 when a group of women in Mexico City formed an organization called "El Programa de Gota de Leche (The Drop of Milk Program) to distribute milk to needy children. This led to the formation of an organization named "La Asociación Nacional de Protección a la Infancia (INPI)" (National Association for the Protection of Childhood) in 1961 which began receiving help from the "Lotería Nacional para la Beneficencia Pública" (National Lottery for Public Benefit) which is now called "Lotería Nacional Para la Asistencia Pública" (LOTENAL). In 1968 "La Institución Mexicana de Asistencia a la Niñez (IMAN)" (The Mexican Institution for the Assistance of Children) was created and and the scope of care of INPI was expanded to include helping orphans, abandoned children, unwanted children, disabled children, and children with certain diseases. In 1976 another organization called "El Instituto Mexicano Para la Infancia y la Familia(IMPI)", (The Mexican Institute for Childhood and the Family) was created and in 1977 it was merged with the aforementioned "La Institución Mexicana de Asistencia a la Niñez (IMAN) to form "El Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (SNDIF)" or just plain "DIF". The Mexican president who is credited with the formation of DIF is President José López Portillo y Pacheco who was president from 1976 to 1982. His wife, Carmen Romano Nolk de Portillo, took an active roll in DIF and became the National Director. Since that time and following her lead, the National Director of DIF has traditionally been the First Lady of Mexico. Local chapters of the DIF report to municipal presidents and governors and often their spouses head up the local chapters.

Our Irapuato DIF Convivencia Familiar is very beautiful. It was formed in the early 1940's from a tree nursery called "El Vivero Revolución. That is a very interesting story in itself. Many of Mexico's leaders in the 1930's and 40's were young men at the time of the Mexican Revolution and they were known collectively as "The Sons of the Revolution". They believed in the Revolution and worked very had to make life better for the average Mexican. One president in particular, Lázaro Cárdenas del Río, who was president from 1934 to 1940 ,was very progressive and so were many of the people who served with him in government positions. The governor of the State of Guanajuato, Enrique Fernández Martínez (Interim Governor 1935 - 1937, Governor 1939 - 1943), was that type of person. He did a lot of progressive things for his state. It just so happens that he was particularly fond of Irapuato and spent a considerable amount of time here. By the way, he was also one of the principal founders of the Instituto Allende in San Miguel. Before the Revolution, the State of Guanajuato had an abundance of trees and wooded areas but the period of upheaval brought on by the Revolution and the growing population wreaked havoc on the trees. For one thing, the main source of fuel for cooking was wood and charcoal. In the late thirties the government began to improve the roads so that things like oil and gas could be transported everywhere to be used for cooking. In order to reforest the land the government established tree nurseries called "viveros" where seedlings could be raised in "almácigas" or "semilleros" (seedbeds) for later transplanting. Governor Enrique Fernández Martínez established a vivero called "Vivero Revolución" on the outskirts of Irapuato in 1937 but the land was larger in area than it need be for the purpose intended so just a few years later the vivero was moved to another location in the municipality and placed alongside a community called "Rancho Grande". The original Vivero Revolución was transferred to the City of Irapuato for municipal and recreational development.

The first thing that was built on the land was a Bullfighting stadium in 1940 called the "Plaza de Toros Revolución". In 1942 they built a fútbol stadium right next to it called "El Estadio Revolución" that seats 10,000 people and was one of the first stadiums in Mexico to be built entirely of reinforced concrete. During this time the Convivencia Familiar was being developed as well as the "Prepatoria de Irapuato" which is the High School that my wife Gina attended. They also built a compound for the local chapter of "El Lienzo Charro", the Mexican Rodeo. In 1969 they built the "Estadio Irapuato", a fútbol stadium that seats 24, 000 people. It was renamed "Estadio Sergio León Chávez" in 1990 after the president of the Club Irapuato who gave the impetus to its construction.

Okay, that was the preamble. Now let's get down to the details. The admission to the Convivencia Familiar is two pesos for adults and one peso for children. This gives you access to:

An 800 meter jogging and walking track
An open air theater.
Bicycle Safety Course
Two basketball courts
Three volleyball courts
A surfaced fútbol court
Two dirt fútbol fields
A gymnastics area
A splash pool for little kids.
A swimming pool
Play areas with swing sets, teeter-totters, etc., for kids
Go-cart track
Concession stands
Picnic areas with barbecue grills

In addition there are a whole lot of nice places to sit and watch the world go by. Just take a look at the pictures below and you will get a sense of how nice a park it is.


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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.