Above: Malagasy plague specialists perform an autopsy on a potential plague rat.
We went to Madagascar in the fall of 2013 because the village of Beranimbo had been an epicenter of a black plague outbreak that resulted in nearly 600 cases and more than 90 deaths across the country. Madagascar reports the most instances of the disease in the world.
Read: The Hot Zone – Black Death Returns to Madagascar
The Hot Zone: Black Death Returns to Madagascar
sat in a helicopter as it banked around and down toward a clearing in the center of Beranimbo, a village of 80 or so palm-thatched huts tucked away in the emerald mountains of Madagascar’s Northern Highlands. My pilot, a blocky German expat named Gerd, had already made one attempt to touch down the shaky single-engine copter, but he’d aborted the landing after the rotor blades kicked up enough dust to cause a brownout.
A few hours earlier, when we’d set out for Beranimbo—a three-hour journey from the Malagasy capital of Antananarivo—Gerd had seemed excited. He doesn’t normally get jobs like this, typically making his money flying film crews around the countryside to shoot B-roll for ecotourism documentaries, usually about lemurs. “You want me to do a pass?” he asked, and before I could find out what he meant, we were swooping low through the hills. My stomach lurched upward; from this altitude we could see the spiny forest vegetation, tall ravenala trees, and great gaping wounds in the countryside, scars of systematic deforestation.
We were there because, in the fall of 2013, Beranimbo had been an epicenter of a black plague outbreak that resulted in nearly 600 cases and more than 90 deaths across the country. Madagascar reports the most instances of the disease in the world. Depending on which century you’re talking about, it’s perhaps best known as the plague—a scourge generally associated with the Middle Ages, when rats, fleas, and poor hygiene resulted in the deaths of between 75 and 200 million people. The disease remains an enduring threat in third-world nations; public-health watchdogs report up to 2,000 cases a year.
In the 1930s, the rise of antibiotics dampened and then nearly extinguished the clinical threat of the disease, at least in the developed world, and it lost its status as a global killer. But for years, epidemiologists have warned that Madagascar is particularly vulnerable to widespread rural and urban contagion. I wanted to find out just how dangerous this medieval disease is in the 21st century, and why it persists in this corner of the world. That search led me to Beranimbo.
When we arrived, Gerd’s nervousness was apparent. “This may be too dangerous,” he muttered into his headset intercom as he tried to land the helicopter. Gerd’s concern wasn’t for his own safety, but rather the security of 200 people gathered around the makeshift landing pad below. Any one of them could have easily lost an eyeball to a pebble or twig whipped upward into the air. Helicopters are rare in Beranimbo and always attract attention, as they usually carry aid workers from the Red Cross. When we finally found a suitable spot to land, villagers ran from the dusty complex of huts to greet us.
On the ground, I was introduced to the village elder, a thin old man in a light jacket and safari hat. To celebrate our arrival, he had organized the slaughter of a zebu, a type of domestic cattle with a large, camel-like hump, for a celebratory lunch. “The sacrifice of the zebu marks our friendship,” he told me. “I can’t express enough our happiness. Enjoy it with all our gratitude.” The animal’s neck was cut, and I was taken to meet Rasoa Marozafy, a 59-year-old father of seven who’s spent his life in the village. Rasoa is a plague survivor, and part of the reason I’d come to this place.
The Sad Demise of Nancy Lee, One of Britain’s Young Ketamine Casualties
Ketamine is that crazy wobbly-leg drug. The wacky-student drug, the post-club chill-out aid, the new-gen LSD that gives users the power to become—according to 1970s K-hole explorer and dolphin whisperer John C. Lilly—“peeping toms at the keyhole of eternity.” But its reputation as a popular recreational drug, since filtering into the mainstream via the gay-clubbing and free-party scenes in the 2000s, does not tell the whole story of what’s going on in modern British K-land.
Apart from a brief paragraph in the Brighton Argus’s obituary column, Nancy Lee’s drug death went unreported. There was no shock factor: She hadn’t collapsed in public from a toxic reaction to a pill or a line of powder in a club. Instead, at the age of 23, Nancy had died slowly over seven years, her body trashed by a steady diet of ketamine.
Nancy started using ketamine at age 16 when she made new friends. Most teenagers getting high in the local Brighton park were necking cider and smoking skunk, but Nancy and her group of indie-kid outsiders used the open spaces to take ketamine. It was cheap, at 12 grams for about $150, and, important for Nancy, it transported her away from real life.
“She was sensitive and very caring, but Nancy was a misfit,” her father Jim, a college lecturer, told me. “She was bullied at school because of a bad squint and for being a tomboy. She had a victim mentality, a feeling that the world was against her.” It’s just that Nancy ended up finding solace in ketamine. “If someone were to design the perfect drug for a teenager who is depressed and doesn’t have much money, this would be it,” Jim said.
By Anya Davidson
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Hey, Young Person—in Case You Plan on Dying, Here’s How to Write a Will
Being in the 15–24 year old demographic is pretty freakin’ sweet. Nobody expects you to be responsible or employed, and you’re still living at home, playing Angry Birds: Star Warson the phone your parents bought you. This frees up a lot of time for unbridled drug use, alcohol poisoning, reckless driving, climbing structures that would best be left unclimbed, moshing, punching people in the head, and other stupid shit that is liable to get you killed. As a generation we’ve got the highest number of accidental deaths, by far. Mostly thanks to car accidents. Thanks.
The fact is, you’re going to die. Probably sooner rather than later. And when that happens, who do you think will get all of your wacky, vintage junk? That’s right, your lame parents. And what are they going to do with it the moment they’re done grieving? That’s right, it’s going straight in the fucking trash where it belongs, now that you’re dead.
For your pre-mortal benefit, we called up Florida estate attorney Grady H. Williams Jr., LLM, of FloridaElder.com (whose hold music was Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law”) for some info about getting a will and testament set up so you’ll have one less thing to worry about while texting Aaron the story of you getting sucked while off going 90 in the Civic.
VICE: Mr. Williams, what happens to my stuff if I don’t have a will and I drive into the ocean on my scooter because I’m distracted by a Google Glass update?
Grady H. Williams Jr.: Here’s the deal: If you don’t have a will that is legally enforceable upon your death, then your state or jurisdiction has a default will for you called an intestate succession. That’s legal talk for how the state legislature thinks your property, your stuff, your legal rights should be passed upon your death, based on your marital status. If you’ve got someone like my son, for example—who as far as I know is single with no kids—if he deceases tomorrow, then his mother and I are his heirs. Whereas if he had a one-year-old child we didn’t know about, that child would become his heir.
So it’s probably important to set up a will if you don’t want your mama, baby mama, or baby baby to inherit your collection of female-bodybuilder VHS porn, or whatever.
Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish versus what your default position is, yes, it may be very important to you. On the other hand, if you don’t have anything, or if you’re perfectly happy with your parents or children or wife getting everything, that may be OK.
Cannibal Cop and the Freedom to Have Fucked-Up Fantasies
As every middle schooler knows, the internet is a repository of strange shit. A few casual keystrokes can take you to Goatse, Lemon Party, Cake Farts, and a dozen other weird porn memes. A few more clicks and you can find photos of mass graves, diseased genitals, rotting animal corpses teeming with maggots, open wounds festering and dripping with pus. Most hardened internet denizens laugh (or turn away in disgust) and move on when confronted with the web’s dark corners, but occasionally, people end up curling up inside them and making a home.
That’s one way to describe what happened to Gilberto Valle, the tabloid-famous “Cannibal Cop” who just had his conviction for plotting to kidnap, kill, and eat a bunch of women overturned by a judge who ruled that all of the online discussions he had with others about murder and vorefantasies were just that: fantasies.
“Once the lies and the fantastical elements are stripped away, what is left are deeply disturbing misogynistic chats and emails written by an individual obsessed with imagining women he knows suffering horrific sex-related pain, terror and degradation,” Judge Paul Gardephe wrote in an opinion released Monday night that sided with the defense. “Despite the highly disturbing nature of Valle’s deviant and depraved sexual interests, his chats and emails about these interests are not sufficient—standing alone—to make out the elements of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.”
Death in a Can: Australia’s Euthanasia Loophole
Max Dog Brewing
sells canisters of nitrogen for carbonating beer, or killing yourself, depending on who you ask.
We asked the man behind the company and euthanasia advocate Dr Philip Nitschke
, who in 1996 became the world’s first physician to administer a legal, lethal injection in Northern Australia. The Australian government later quashed the North’s euthanasia law, so Philip set up an organization called Exit International
to help advise over-fifties on taking matters into their own hands. Since then he’s pioneered several suicide devices, written three books, and formed a political party, all in the pursuit of legalized euthanasia.
A Visit to the Little Shop Where Hollywood Buys Its Dead Bodies
On the face of it, Dapper Cadaver looks like any other windowless storefront underneath the landing pattern of Burbank Airport, just outside LA. Its sign advertises “Props Rentals, Sales, Halloween,” and something called “Casualty Simulation.” Google Maps helpfully tags it “Death Related,” and “Horror Movie,” in case that’s what you’re shopping for.
If it’s not Halloween, the people regularly shopping for “Casualty Simulation” are the prop masters of your favorite movies and TV shows. Sure, as a high-paid art director, you could make your own corpses from scratch, and many do. But when there’s a shop that offers medically realistic dead bodies, not just of humans, but of all creatures great and small, you may as well go retail.
Law and Order is a frequent shopper, as were Breaking Bad and Dexter. Think Game of Thrones' top shelf gore is too classy to be store-bought? Think again. The severed heads of certain major GOT characters were custom orders.
Schindler’s Witch: How Sorcery Saved Lives During the Rwandan Genocide
Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, the country is still coming to terms with what took place during that period of extreme violence. Perpetrators are still being brought to justice, and heroic stories are still emerging.
One such story belongs to Zula Karuhimbi, a woman some Rwandans claim saved more than 100 people through “sorcery.”
After we learned that she lived in the southern Ruhango District, we drove from Kigali to find her. On the way, we stopped at a roadside restaurant, where we told the waiter we were searching for the “witch” who had saved lives during the genocide. “The witch who was honored by the government?” a customer asked. “I know where she lives. I’ll take you to her.”
He brought us to Musamo Village, where we abandoned our car and ploughed by foot through waist-high shrubbery. Turning into an enclosure, we found Karuhimbi asleep on a straw mat outside a tiny house. She was hugging a small child, who, we later discovered, was an orphaned boy she had recently adopted.
She looked wizened and frail as she slept, but she jumped to attention when we told her we had come to hear her story. “Yes,” she confirmed, “I’m the Zula who hid Tutsis.” Pointing to the ground, she said, “I put them here in the compound and covered them with dry leaves of beans and baskets.” As many as 100 Tutsis, 50 Tutsis, two Twas, and three white men had taken refuge in and around her tiny two-room house during the three-month genocide in 1994.
“I hid so many people that I don’t know some of their names. I hid little babies I found on the backs of their dead mothers, and I brought them here.”
When the militia encircled her enclosure, Karuhimbi covered her hands in herbs that would cause skin irritation, according to The New Times. She touched the killers—who became fearful because they believed she was cursing them—and then retreated inside her house. She grabbed whatever she could find and shook it, claiming that it was the sound of the spirits becoming angry. “I hid those people seriously. I’d prepare some magic, and when the killers came, I’d tell them I would kill them. I told them no Tutsis had come to my house—that no one comes in my house—while all the time they were all inside.”
Karuhimbi grew up in a family of traditional healers. Her identity card indicates that she was born in 1925, making her five or six when the Belgian administration deposted Rwandan King Yuhi Musinga, who had been in power for 35 years, partly because of his refusal to be baptized as a Roman Catholic. During this period, Karuhimbi said, her mother would regularly hide people, and she was responsible for delivering their food. “Whenever I spoke out, I’d be beaten by my mother, who eventually brought a fiery leaf of a plant and slid it over my lips and told me, ‘If you say anything I will kill you.’”