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Irene Mboyo Mola spent 11 days caring for her husband as he died of Ebola in a hospital where she said nurses were too scared to get close. She helped him to the bathroom, picked up his feverish body when he lost his balance, and reinserted an IV that fell out of his bleeding arm.
“He told me all he could see was death,” recalls Mola, a 30-year-old mother of six, as she sat slumped on the floor in her small hut.
That close contact put Mola at high risk of getting a disease that has no cure and kills about half of those infected. But now, as Congo battles the most serious Ebola outbreak since the devastating 2014 epidemic in West Africa, health workers have something new to offer: a vaccine.
With thousands of doses dispatched to front-line health workers, the world is watching to see if a promising but still experimental vaccine might help stop this terrifying disease faster than traditional measures doctors have tried since Ebola was identified 40 years ago.
Even if the vaccine helps, there are serious hurdles. The shots must be transported deep into forests with few paved roads without it spoiling in the heat. Health workers have to identify and track down anyone who’s had contact with a sick person. Hardest of all, they must persuade a scared and wary population that shots pushed by foreigners could save their lives.
“Communities themselves must be at the center of the response if the activities are going to be effective,” said Jonathan Polonsky of the World Health Organization, a surveillance coordinator in Mbandaka, a city of more than 1 million in northwestern Congo.
Mola’s six children have all been vaccinated. But she refused, telling government social workers and WHO workers that she didn’t believe her husband died from Ebola. She said the hospital never showed her records confirming he’d tested positive for the virus.
Fear and opportunity
There’s no guarantee the long-sought vaccine will help stop the outbreak. But Congo’s health ministry and the WHO rushed in 7,500 doses, created by the Public Health Agency of Canada and owned by Merck.
It was deemed the best option because the vaccine was found highly promising in testing a few years ago, when the epidemic in West Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016, was starting to wane.
The plan is called “ring vaccination,” to find and vaccinate everyone who’s had direct contact with a sick person — the first “ring” — and then the contacts of those people, too, to break the chain of infection.
Last month, 11-year-old German Umba and her 6-year-old brother lost their father to Ebola. Both were vaccinated. But a shot alone doesn’t end the worry. U.N. workers monitor the children several times a day for fevers, an early symptom, until the incubation period passes.
Standing in the yard outside her classroom at school the young girl suddenly bursts into tears. Surrounded by aid workers, classmates and teachers who are unable to touch and console her, she buries her face in her shirt.
“I just miss my father,” she said.
Success with the vaccination strategy hinges on the speed at which health workers can identify people at risk.
“If you detect cases late, you’re missing the opportunity to protect people,” said Dr. Iza Ciglenecki, who is working on the vaccination campaign with Doctors Without Borders.
Congo’s current outbreak has killed 14 people so far, according to the country’s Ministry of Health. There have been 38 confirmed infections.
Friday, WHO emergency response chief Peter Salama said many people vaccinated in Mbandaka received the shots more than 10 days ago, meaning they’re now protected — the vaccine has had time to kick in.
Finding people who need vaccination is much harder in the remote area of Iboko, where a new case was just reported. Shoddy infrastructure adds to the challenge.
“The roads are so bad that even if a person gets vaccinated it can be too late and they can still die,” said Rosy Boyekwa Yamba, a regional representative for the Ministry of Health in Mbandaka.
It can take days to travel just 100 miles (160 kilometers) to reach remote areas where Ebola still is spreading. The vaccine must be kept at a temperature of minus 76 to minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 to minus 80 degrees Celsius), and can only be kept in mobile freezers for up to seven days.
Yamba also worries that potentially infected people aren’t being found. Five such people came forward last week in Mbandaka after he pleaded with community members to “be honest with him” about whether they’d been in contact with someone who had the disease.
So far more than 2,000 people, including front-line health workers, have been vaccinated in Mbandaka and the rural villages of Bikoro and Iboko where confirmed cases have been found, says the Congo’s Ministry of Health.
Distrust in the community
Mola’s refusal to believe that Ebola killed her husband is a common reaction in the region. While many in Mbandaka have taken to washing hands and avoiding physical contact amid the outbreak, many also remain skeptical. They often don’t trust a government they say is corrupt. Of the dozens of people The Associated Press spoke to on a recent visit, nearly all said they don’t believe Ebola exists and referred to it as witchcraft.
This is Congo’s ninth outbreak, but illnesses are usually in remote areas, not cities.
“Ebola is not here,” said local resident Aziza Monzu. “It’s a disease created by organizations to get money.”
Dr. Pierre Rollin, an Ebola expert with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, understands.
“People die every day and everywhere but nobody’s interested. Suddenly because of Ebola people are interested and that makes you suspicious,” he said. “Why would they trust us?”
Mola seems to have escaped infection. The incubation period for Ebola is up to 21 days and her husband died three weeks ago.
“I’m still here,” she said.
Still, WHO officials say three-quarters of those who have been approached have agreed to a shot since the campaign started two weeks ago.
Once you’ve got people on board “you’ve tackled 90 percent of the problem,” said Dr. Alhassane Touré, the WHO coordinator for ring vaccination in Congo and Guinea.
Does the vaccine work?
Health experts say the next two weeks will be critical in determining whether the outbreak will be brought under control. The WHO is now shifting efforts to more remote areas to contain the outbreak. The organization has predicted there could be up to 300 cases of Ebola in the coming months.
“We could see is another introduction of someone that comes from Itipo (a village in Iboko) or somewhere else to see family (in Mbandaka),” said CDC’s Rollin. In the last few days there’s been a big push in Itipo, the epicenter of the outbreak with 24 confirmed cases, to retrace people and vaccinate contacts as well as health workers, he said.
No matter how the outbreak unfolds, Rollin says it will be nearly impossible to say whether the vaccine worked to stop the disease’s spread.
“We can say the vaccine plus all the other measures work, but you can’t say the vaccine by itself works,” he said. In order to do that a controlled test would have to be run where in one place only the vaccine is being used and in another it’s not being used at all.
Next year, Merck plans to seek approval of the vaccine from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, based on previous studies of the shots. While the vaccine isn’t being formally studied in the current Congo outbreak, regulatory authorities would want to know if unforeseen side effects crop up.
“If it’s fully approved, then in each outbreak it’ll be the first measure and could be used all over the region,” Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, director general of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Kinshasa told the AP.
In West Africa, a large study is underway that compares the Merck shot and a second vaccine candidate made by Janssen Pharmaceuticals to determine the best vaccination strategies and track how long protection lasts.
In the meantime, some recipients say the shot provided peace of mind.
Seated in a yard in the center of town, Mbandaka resident Marie Louise proudly slaps her vaccination papers on the table. She had cradled her grandson in her arms as he vomited blood on the hospital floor, and he later died. His case wasn’t officially confirmed as Ebola, but she knew she needed to get vaccinated. Tapping her arm where she was given the needle, the 68-year-old beams.
Also read: Vaccination campaign against Ebola in Congo
“Give me the vaccine,” she said. “I get life with the vaccine.” (VOA)
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,
Jack Daniel's is the world's most popular whiskey brand, but until recently, few people knew the liquor was created by Nathan "Nearest" Green, an enslaved Black man who mentored Daniel.
"We've always known," says Debbie Staples, a great-great-granddaughter of Green's who heard the story from her grandmother. … "He made the whiskey, and he taught Jack Daniel. And people didn't believe it … it's hurtful. I don't know if it was because he was a Black man."
But people believe it now — in large part because Brown-Forman Corporation, owner of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, has acknowledged the foundational role Green played in the brand's development.
"The truth of the matter is, Nearest Green was the first head distiller of Jack Daniels whiskey," says Matt Blevins, global brand director for Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. "We're very proud of this story and are very committed to amplifying it and acknowledging that. In the past, we did not amplify it the way that we could have in earlier eras, but we're about the future and moving forward."
America's first-known Black master distiller
The story begins in Lynchburg, Tennessee, current home of the Jack Daniel Distillery. In the mid-1800s, Green's slaveholders hired him out to a local preacher named Dan Call. Green, who had a reputation as a skilled distiller, made whiskey for Call, using a sugar maple charcoal filtering process that is believed to have originated in West Africa. Daniel, a boy who worked for Call, became Green's apprentice and learned the special technique that gave the Tennessee whiskey its smooth taste.
After emancipation in 1863, when all enslaved people were freed, Daniel purchased Call's distillery and hired Green as Jack Daniel Distillery's first master distiller.
"The best knowledge that we have is that they had a mentor-and-mentee sort of a relationship, and I would say, a friendship," says Blevins. "The stories that have been passed down [talk] about the care that Jack Daniel took to always acknowledge … the Green family."
Historic photo of Jack Daniel (in white hat) seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan "Nearest" Green Image source: VOA
There are no known pictures of Green, but there is one of Daniel with Green's son, George, sitting next to Daniel, rather than being relegated to the back.
"That photograph shows the respect that they had for one another and for their families," says Stefanie Benjamin, an assistant professor of tourism management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "To be not only allowed in that photograph, but also positioned in the foreground and sitting right next to Jack Daniels himself."
Search for the truth
Green's role in the history of the brand was uncovered by a writer and entrepreneur named Fawn Weaver, who became fascinated by Green's unheralded contribution to the world's most popular whiskey. After extensive research, including interviews with Green's descendants, Weaver shared her documentation with the company.
"I was very pleasantly surprised when they embraced my research and updated their records to reflect that," Weaver told VOA via email. "I think it said a lot about the character of their company that they moved that quickly to course correct."
Jack Daniel's has incorporated Green's contributions into the official history of the brand, but Weaver has gone a step further. She invested $1 million of her own money to establish Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is now the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history.
Fawn Weaver (center in red) with her leadership team at Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, including master distiller Victoria Eady Butler (far left), the great‐great‐granddaughter of Nearest Green. (Photo courtesy Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) Image credit: VOA
The company's master distiller is Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great‐great‐granddaughter.
"Uncle Nearest is the most-awarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the fact that it is the bloodline of Nearest Green blending and approving what goes into our bottles is something I marvel at regularly," Weaver says. "Victoria is an absolute natural when it comes to blending, and to watch her work is to see something pretty darn close to perfection."
Seven generations of Green's family have worked at the Jack Daniel Distillery, a tradition that continues today with Staples and two of her siblings. But the Green family did not benefit when the Daniel family sold the Jack Daniel distillery to Brown-Forman for $20 million in 1956.
"Although they [the Green family] were very well off in terms of finances [in the 1800s] in that time, they were not the owners or co-owners of the Jack Daniel distillery," Benjamin says. "And so, those millions of dollars have been passed down through generations of the Jack Daniel family, and not necessarily the Green family."
Maturing barrels of whiskey in a barrel house on the grounds of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Jack Daniel's) Image credit: VOA
Weaver's Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has joined forces with Jack Daniel's to launch a program that provides support, expertise and resources to African-American entrepreneurs entering the spirits industry.
Staples says her family is thrilled their great-great-grandfather is finally being recognized.
"It's kind of mind-boggling … and we are so proud," Staples says. "And to think that from here to Africa, that recipe goes all the way back. And to think that he played such an important role in establishing this company. It sometimes seems unreal. It really does."
Because of Weaver's tenacity, Green's story, although left untold for more than a century, will not be lost to history. But that's not the case with so many other stories of Black achievement and contributions to the nation.
"Part of telling his story and sharing his legacy is to give credit and to give attention to a person who, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have the Jack Daniel whiskey as we know it today," Benjamin says. "It showcases yet another example of how formerly enslaved people, Black people, African American people who have really built this country, are left out of the dominant narrative that we tell." (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally written by Dora Mekouar)
Keywords: Jack Daniel's, Whiskey, Nathan Green, Slavery, Black achievement
Cricket fans can now book the ultimate experience with the official accommodation booking partner for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup, Booking.com. The T20 Pavillion, a bespoke cricket-themed luxury stay that transforms the Presidential Suite at Grand Hyatt Mumbai Hotel and Residences into a classic cricket stadium.
The suite offers guests an all-inclusive once-in-a-lifetime experience during the India vs Pakistan ICC Men's T20 World Cup match on October 24, 2021, packed with quirks and luxuries that is sure to satisfy even the biggest cricket enthusiast. Additionally, as a part of the experience, guests will also have the exclusive opportunity to meet Bollywood actor Shraddha Kapoor at The T20 Pavilion.
The booking window that opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021 and check-out on October 25, 2021. | Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash
For one night only, guests can soak in the energy of a roaring stadium to enjoy the epic match on a life-sized screen while seated on comfortable sofas -- just like the luxury box seats at the stadium. They can also head to the locker room (dining room) next to the field (living room) to have some energy drinks, just like a cricketer would do or head to the bedroom, transformed into a net practice area. It's got the field, the pitch, the locker room, pitching nets and cricket memorabilia infused in every element of the room.
The booking window opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021, and check-out on October 25, 2021. The T20 Pavilion is priced at Rs 6666 only in honour of all the great sixes smashed at the T20 World Cup. The T20 Pavilion can accommodate up to four guests. Cricket fans can visit the website or mobile app to book this cricket-inspired stay. (IANS/ MBI)