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Mutation: from Giraffes to the New Virus Strain

The world and its helpless living creatures are still evolving. My grandma used to tell me a story about how giraffes ended up with long necks. The gracious animals had to stretch their necks to nibble on the young leaves growing higher and higher in the treetops in Africa. Nowadays, you see that all giraffes have long necks, unless they are genetically modified.

Similar stories can be found in Thailand. I have read that some women living in a remote village in Thailand wear brass rings around their necks to enhance their appearance. Their husbands must be happy that the rings are not made of gold, otherwise keeping those material girls would be too costly. The number of the rings around their necks also increases according to their age. This custom beats me. Probably they believe that the older you are, the more sins you carry and the heavier the burden that should be clinging to your neck. Apparently they only take off their heavy jewellery during bathing and sleeping. I could imagine drowning while bathing due to the excessively heavy jewellery around one’s neck could be quite an embarrassing accident, don’t you think? The secret to the creation of the long neck is that the women’s clavicles and rib cages are pressed lower and lower while their necks seem to be longer and longer. I heard that some men from different parts of the world had tried to use similar methods for their nether regions – but the practice stopped as the weight of the rings created annoying imbalance effects.

I believe that the world is evolving and its creatures are mutating, whether we realise it or not. Most Japanese men nowadays are tall and good looking, instead of the dentally challenged short men with squinted eyes, scurrying around on their short legs while continuously shouting ‘Prease considuh!’ – which was often portrayed by cartoonists in the last decade. Hollywood actresses have also changed. Instead of flaunting voluptuous bodies like their peers in the 50s, most of them now are as skinny as twigs; these washboard goddesses don’t even walk anymore, they just float. They also tend to go to the bathroom more often, especially after consuming a hefty meal.

A couple of weeks back, I read an interesting discovery about the recent dengue fever epidemic in Indonesia. The article in the newspaper reported that a local mosquito expert (is there any such thing?) had discovered that the current dengue fever virus is a new strain. Apparently over the last five years the pestering local mosquito community had been secretly developing and mutating their old weapon into a more dangerous and stronger mass killing virus, assisted by escalating pollution and the consumption of ever stronger antibiotic drugs by the two-legged community. Hell, even mosquitoes use pollution as an excuse. What is the next excuse they are going to come up with? Virus mutation due to the escalating traffic jams caused by busways? This makes me wonder if the mosquitoes are already familiar with ‘jam karet’, squatting on the roadsides and ‘kretek’ cigarettes as well.

So, if a mutation process has had an affect upon mosquitoes, Japanese men, Hollywood actresses, Thai women and giraffes with their long necks, what about us? Are we, the common laymen and women who struggle daily to make a living in this polluted city, immune to the process? Is it already affecting us without us even noticing? Hey, learning from our buzzing brothers, we can use pollution or hundreds of other pathetic excuses for our own mutations.

Myself, I know for sure that I have mutated. There are the matters of health and personality. When I first arrived in Jakarta almost a decade ago, despite the fact that I was younger, I was also healthier. I rarely had health problems at all. At that time I lived in my first house in Central Jakarta, surrounded by the Dutch’s brilliant invention of an open sewer system which is currently inhabited by millions of mutant mosquitoes, rats and the city’s crap flavored by the aroma of gasses produced by the reactions between the mosquito larvae, rotten rats and the crap. I knew that I had gotten used to the odors when I started to describe the fragrant smell of Isake Miyake perfume as ‘something alien’. As the level of my taste dropped uncontrollably, so did my health. I developed a stress-related sinus infection and periodic heartburn, which cannot be cured by merely taking Bodrex and Promaag tablets. I fell into the bottomless dark hole of antibiotic addiction. Then the mosquitoes cheered in glee, they had found another excuse to mutate, following the unavoidable defeat of the first human mutation.

But that was the only mutation that affected my health. From the aspect of my personality, I have mutated quite heavily. Ten years ago, I moved from Yogyakarta, a peaceful town, surrounded by lush green mountains and the vast wild Indian Ocean, to Jakarta (nuff said about this city!). When I first arrived, I was a soft-spoken, humble and gracious, though already strong-headed, Javanese lady. It took me almost a year to settle down, to get used to the heavy traffic, pollution and most importantly the beautiful people of Jakarta. As a melting pot of various races and nationalities, as well as a city ripe with opportunity, Jakarta is a tough city to compete to make a living. It was too harsh for a naïve Javanese lady. After a few slaps on my cheeks, a few back stabbings and carpet burns, at the end of that first year I could hardly finish saying a sentence without inserting the F word, at least once.

One thing I learnt from the evil mosquitoes is that we all change and even mutate if necessary, for better or for worse. But sharing the same world together with millions of other people, animals, plants and other living organisms, these living things rarely change and mutate by themselves. They change because everybody changes. It’s a catch-22, isn’t it? Next time I do something, no matter how small, like trying to give a massive heart attack to the weasel-like creature who has been living in our roof since last century (using a piece of meat infused with two dozen Viagra pills or something similar), I think I need to be aware that the action might initiate continuing mutations in the future.

What about you – do you still have those ingrown nails? It might be the first sign of mutation.