The report of female students at a high school in south Trinidad simultaneously stricken by a mysterious illness, which had them fainting and flailing on the ground screaming, is rightfully a cause of great concern and fright for many.
Given that T&T is a land ruled by the organised superstition we call religion, there is now the typical talk of demon possession, pagan devilry and spiritual forces at work in the school. According to one daily, a parent is quoted as suggesting the Divali puja held at the school was to blame. This occurrence brings to mind a report I once read about a group of local students who were taken to church to pray for success in their exams, only to become terrified when they all thought they saw the statues–not idols, this is a church not a mandir–begin winking and nodding at them.
Similar events like this have been recorded throughout history but it is only now they can be observed and scrutinised with the light of science and reason. In a piece in the New Yorker magazine, Malcolm Gladwell writes about a Belgian case where over 100 children were hospitalised for nausea, dizziness, and headaches after drinking Coca-Cola with infinitesimal traces of sulfur compounds, which would have effects no worse than a rotten egg smell.
The Economist writes about a December, 2005, outbreak among students in a particular school in Chechnya of "convulsions, nausea and breathing difficulties" which then spread to other nearby schools. Experts involved in the Chechnyan case found no evidence of infections or poisons.
The difference between the local phenomena and its foreign analogue is that Trinidadians seem to favour vacuous, religio-superstitious excuses whereas the Belgians and Chechnyans seemed to prefer something more closely resembling a scientific explanation, such as tainted drinks or chemical warfare respectively.
The strange thing with the Belgian event is that only half of the affected kids drank any Coke. According to Simon Wessely, a psychiatrist who studies mass hys- teria, occurrences in schools and among children is typical of this sort of thing.The newspaper reports state that when the students in the south high school began acting up a priest was called and along with teachers they began praying with the students. This may have had the effect of exacerbating the intensity of their symptoms.
Because the students may have believed they were under spiritual attack the prayers would have fed their delusions and made their condition worse. This incident also shows the level of enlightenment of our teachers.
I ask the citizens of T&T to resist the temptation to fall back on outdated, prejudiced beliefs about black magic and idolatry. I don't mean to sound elitist but for Pete's sake, people, pick up a book and read some time. It's about time you leave the Dark Ages and join the 21st century. Let peace, reason and common sense
n Similar events like this have been recorded throughout history.
n Trinidadians seem to favour vacuous, religio-supersti-tious excuses.
n I ask the citizens of T&T to resist the temptation to fall back on outdated, prejudiced beliefs about black magic and idolatry.
n It's about time you leave the Dark Ages and join the 21st century.