School sacrifice

Ever on the lookout for the curious news story, I read in yesterday’s Sudonline of a new outbreak of mass hysteria at a Dakar secondary school. The first occurrence had been last Friday when some 90 students had experienced “hysterical” symptoms of screaming, trembling and falling into a trance-like state. Of the group, 88 were girls.

In the second outbreak, only 21 students were affected, all girls. They were taken to hospital for observation or treated on the spot before being released to their families. The school had been closed for 48 hours after the first outbreak, and has been closed again, indefinitely, following the second wave of attacks.

The writer begins by asking whether the school is haunted, goes on to describe the confusion of local medical experts and finishes with an exorcist demanding sacrifices.

This morning there was a similar article describing a prolonged series of hysterical outbreaks at another school, in Sédhiou. Strangely there was no reference to yesterday’s article or the events at the school in Dakar.

A little googling reveals that such occurrences, called mass sociogenic illnesses, are in fact more frequent and widespread than one might imagine. A fascinating overview of the literature can be found here.

One wonders whether the students at the Senegalese schools are subject to a particularly strict regime, or whether there is particularly high stress related to the forthcoming exam period. If nothing else, the thesis of air pollution is a strong contender, given the black clouds of exhaust fumes billowing from the car rapides and decrepit taxis stuck in Dakar’s gridlocked streets.

From a different perspective comes a series of “remedies” guaranteed 100%, offered by Xam Xam in his comment on the first article:

1. They (females, obviously) wear head scarves
2. They stop wearing “Jombakhts out”
3. They stop making love together
4. They stop drinking café touba (spiced coffee)

From which we can only conclude that Mister Xam Xam is afraid of women, their hair, their clothes, their sexuality and their drinking habits. I think those are symptoms of a more frequent and widespread mass sociogenic illness, found among men in Islamic countries. Discuss.

Still, I’d love to know what “jombakhts” are.

Muezzin musing

One of my first questions to my prospective landlord was whether there was a mosque in the neighbourhood. He laughed and said no.

On the first night in the house, empty except for two double foam mattresses on the floor, I woke at 4:30 am to the sound of the muezzin calling for the first prayer of the day. He called, called again, then again and again, and … you’d think everybody had heard by now, no? Again? Is he calling each of the faithful individually? Madame Diouf … yoo-hoo!

I got up and fetched a roll of toilet paper, tore off a sheet and fashioned ear plugs by twirling it into an cone. Then I lay down again, stretched rigid on our superior density foam mattress (actually brutally unforgiving on any but the heaviest bodies). The pink paper ear plug stuck straight up from my ear, but who was looking.

The muezzin was as loud as before and seemed to be doing a full live broadcast of the service. It lasted until 6 am, by which time the tremendous dawn chorus of birdsong was beginning to drown out his voice in any case. Tweet bloody twitter!

I drifted off just before Baby J woke up at 7. Groaning, I raised my aching body from the ground to start the day …