Some years ago, my children (and admittedly, I) found a new comic hero, the controversial Kazakhstani “journalist”, Borat. The alter ego of British comic, Sacha Baron-Cohen, his starring role in the movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan disappointedly missed out on an Academy Award for the movie, which should have also have gone to Baron-Cohen and the sparkling, Pamela Anderson. Suddenly Kazakhstan was on the map though in a way best summarised by the comical error of playing of Borat’s version of their national anthem at an international shooting competition in Kuwait.
Recently, more comedy has come from Kazakh sources. The noted British source of information, the Daily Mail produced a story worthy of Borat’s journalism. They claimed Kazakhstanis had been hit by a mystery sleeping sickness that causes them to doze for days with local doctors stating that it was caused by an accumulation of brain fluid. Locals in the village of Kalachi, north Kazakhstan (6 hours from the capital, Astana) say their mystery illness is getting worse with dozens of residents regularly hit by ‘sleeping epidemic’ for days at a time.
Doctors have ruled out viruses and contaminated water as possible causes but suggest the Soviet-era uranium mine nearby may be responsible even though sleepiness is not a symptom of radiation poisoning and radiation levels in village have been found to be the same as normal background radiation.
According to the website, Doubtful News, the story actually dates back to 2013 and has reappeared in waves. The common thoughts about causes aren’t adding up because if it’s some factor that can be measured in the environment, it hasn’t been found. Blood tests have not been suggestive of any common cause. Doubtful News ask why would one person be susceptible to the cause and not the person who lives next to them? The story regularly runs in esoteric print media such as the Siberian Times which must be a sister newspaper to the Daily Mail as the story looks exactly the same. Of course, global conspiracy theorists on alien infections get excited about these cases too.
There have been sporadic cases of sleepiness epidemics in villages – I remember one about 20 years ago in Italy which was proven to be a case of mass hysteria and another case where criminals were drugging villagers with hypnotics in order to burgle their houses ! Other times, its more serious as evidenced by the discovery of fatal familial insomnia in related villagers in Italy.
I am not sure what Borat would make of this. He would probably blame his mortal enemies the “filthy Uzbeks” or claim it is the result of an international semitic conspiracy. I guess that makes as much sense as Soviet era radon or viruses from outer space.