The China Mystery Illness and the Power of Stories

4d9c7547g94283a8859d8&690From Undark Magazine: To Believe is to Feel: When a Mysterious Epidemic Isn’t So Mysterious

When U.S. diplomats in the Chinese city of Guangzhou recently started reporting strange, inexplicable symptoms of unknown origin — and which seemed to be spreading among State Department employees — I was reminded of a similar “mystery illness” that I spent some time researching a few hours south of Guangzhou, in a village called Fuhu.

One afternoon in May of 2004, a third-grade boy at a local school in Fuhu reported feeling that his genitals were shrinking. He panicked, ran home, and his parents fetched the local healer — an 80-year-old woman who had seen this sort of thing before: In 1963, she said, around the time of the Great Leap Forward, an “evil wind” had blown through the village and many people were struck by this illness known as “suo-yang.” She treated the boy by traditional means and he recovered quickly.

Two days later when the school principal learned of the incident, he gathered all 680 students in the school courtyard and, according to a report by Dr. Li Jie of the Guangzhou Psychiatric Hospital, “explained to the students in detail what had happened, and warned them to be cautious, and to take emergency measures if they experienced similar symptoms.”

Read the rest here.

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Class: Write Around the World

28238834_1615693778478879_9025094513664493815_oThis summer, I’ll be teaching a half-day class on travel writing at The Loft Literary Center: “Write Around the World: Your Journey from Travel Writing to Publication

When: Saturday, 8/4/18, 9:00 – 1:00 pm

Class Description: “Even in today’s connected world, travel writing remains an indispensable genre. In this class, we’ll look at exactly what travel writing is, where it’s published, the differences between narrative and service-oriented travel writing, and how to know which branch is for you. We’ll look at the craft side, and talk about the business end as well, including how to pitch your story to the right market.”

Instructor: “Frank Bures is the author of The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes. His work has been included in the Best American Travel Writing and selected as “Notable” for the Best American Sports Writing and Best American Essays.”

Hope you can join us!

 

The Same River

SWMFrom Southwest Airlines Magazine: Uncharted Waters:

At 6 a.m., I was shin deep in the Mississippi River, strapping our bags into our canoe so they wouldn’t float away if we capsized. On shore, my wife, Bridgit, stood with our two girls, Libby and Josie, who were skipping rocks.

P1010993Once the last bag was secure, we climbed in and found, to our relief, that there were still several inches between the top of the canoe and the water. We pushed out into the river, and were off on our journey southward.

It was an adventure we had planned ever since we’d moved back to Minnesota nearly a decade ago. I’d grown up in a small Minnesota town called Winona, 120 miles downstream from where we lived now in Minneapolis. It felt important to connect the two places, to 20170627_153041know the river between them. We would row together, like the voyageurs. We would forget about the modern world and its troubles for five days and see our home in a new light. It was just a small piece of the river’s 2,350 miles, but it was a piece filled with meaning for me.

Read the rest here.

Geography of Madness: Spanish Edition

GOMespThe Geography of Madness is now available in Spanish:

Geografía de la locura: En busca del pene perdido y otros delirios colectivos (Ensayo General)

Una desternillante exploración de las extravagancias y los desvaríos colectivos: ¿Por qué ciertos individuos creen que unos vándalos roban sus penes o que tienen lagartos bajo la piel? ¿Cuál es el origen del vudú? ¿Existe el latah, ese curioso estado que provoca bailes frenéticos y movimientos espasmódicos? Frank Bures ha viajado por todo el mundo para rastrear los síndromes más estrambóticos ligados a la cultura y contar luego deliciosas historias sobre esas extrañezas. Se confirma una vez más que el hombre es un animal muy raro.

Read the rest here.

Where to Eat Somali Food in Minneapolis

Qoraxlow_11RBG-e1517608934558New story at Roads & Kingdoms, featuring beautiful photos from Priscilla Briggs.

A few months before I moved to Minneapolis, I stopped at a gas station while visiting the city looking for a place to eat. The cashier and two customers—all of whom were Somali—conferred for a minute, then pointed me up the street to a building that didn’t look much like a restaurant. The windows were dark and the façade was strange, but high on the roof was a sign that read: Qoraxlow Restaurant #1 African and American Cuisine.

I walked inside. The place was run down: a giant TV played CNN, there were no menus, and the credit-card machine was broken. But once the door closed, the sound of talking and laughing, and the smell of rice and goat meat, brought me straight back to East Africa. I’ve never tired of eating at Qoraxlow since.

That was nearly a decade ago. Somalis had started landing in Minneapolis in force a few years earlier. After the Somali civil war started in 1991, people came to Minnesota to work in meat-packing jobs in the western part of the state. By 2010, according to Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, author of Somalis in Minnesota, their numbers had grown to somewhere between 36,000 (the U.S. census number) and 70,000 (the community’s estimate). Before long, you could find places like Qoraxlow across Minneapolis. For someone like myself, with young kids and little extra money for the kind of globetrotting I did when I was younger, these places felt like an escape. Sometimes I would meet old Somali men who spoke Italian and young ones who spoke Swahili. I could eat sambusas and drink chai and feel refreshingly far from home.

Read the rest here.

He speaks for the trees

From the Star Tribune:

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 4.44.50 PM

Dennis Robertson was visiting his wife’s hometown of Medicine Hat, in Alberta, Canada, when he picked up a brochure for the local “Heritage Tree Trail.” There were seven trees on the trail. They drove around the city tracking them down, one by one. There was giant white pine planted by a famous horticulturalist. There was the first cottonwood planted in the city (in 1888). There was a dragon spruce, native to China, that grew well in Medicine Hat’s environment. There were other trees of note.

 

When Robertson got home, it occurred to the retired ophthalmologist that Lake City had some pretty good trees, too, and that those trees had some history. For starters, it had a park filled with unusual species from the Jewell Nursery, which was founded in 1868 and became the largest landscape nursery in the country, if not the world. A heritage tree trail, he thought, would be a great way not only to help people learn about those trees but serve as a bridge to the past. As far as he knew, such a trail also would be a first in Minnesota.

The idea of heritage trees has been gaining in popularity around the world, even if what constitutes “heritage” is open to debate.

Read the rest here.

Festival Season: Upcoming Appearances

It’s festival season again, and over the next few weeks I’ll be speaking at two. First, on Sunday October 29th I’ll be talking about the power of belief at the Chicago Humanities Festival. The following weekend on Saturday, November 4, I’ll be in Madison for the Wisconsin Book Festival. If you’re near either one, please stop by! Details below:

CHF_Logo-No_Tagline_RedThe Geography of Madness
Sunday, October 29, 4 – 5 PM
Chicago Athletic Association, Stagg Court
12 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

Is there a connection between mental health, disease, and belief? In Geography of Madness, journalist Frank Bures offers a resounding yes. In tracking the delusion that one’s genitals can be stolen—a relatively common complaint in countries ranging from Nigeria to Singapore—Bures sought to uncover the roots of a whole range of “culture–bound syndromes,” and how people’s beliefs about their health shape their physical experiences of health. Join Bures for a conversation about penis theft, placebos, and the intersection of Western and Chinese medicine.

main_logoThe Geography of Madness
11/04/2017, 4:00pm
Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, DeLuca Forum

The Geography of Madness is an investigation of “culture-bound” syndromes, which are far stranger than they sound. Why is it, for example, that some men believe, against all reason, that vandals stole their penises, even though they’re in good physical shape? In The Geography of Madness, acclaimed magazine writer Frank Bures travels around the world to trace culture-bound syndromes to their sources–and in the process, tells a remarkable story about the strange things all of us believe.

Presented in partnership with the Wisconsin Science Festival.