The big news today is that the Travelmag Editor (that’s me) has had a literary baby, and I hope that many readers will show their loyalty to the Travelmag – and take a punt on my writing skills – by buying a copy.
‘The Aids Coup’ isn’t a travel book. It’s a fast-moving page-turner that is guaranteed to keep you reading until very near the very end.
It challenges two basic assumptions about the Aids epidemic – that drug companies cashing in on treatments would be pleased to find a cure, and that all HIV+ve people will just quietly creep away and slowly die.
Short on taste and certainly free of sentimentality, this book is long on African settings and period adventure. This early edition of a controversial book may well become a collector’s item – and I’ll sign your copy if you like – thus (when someone’s bought the film rights) setting you up for a long and hugely wealthy retirement.
Find out more – and please, please, buy a copy – by clicking through to 1stBooks.com. Or if you’re still not convinced, the next page will tell you more about the book and let you read a sample chapter…
The Aids Coup
When Dr Paul Davies discovers a natural cure for Aids, he expects to be hailed a hero. Not so. Drug companies make their profits from treatments, not cures. As Pharmaceutical giants try to stifle his discovery, Dr Davies finds himself fleeing Africa for his life. In Europe’s concrete jungle he finds unexpected allies.
A group of black children kicked a football around the dusty square in the heat of the tropical sun. Two weeks since he’d sent his report back to Eastgate, and nothing. No reaction at all. Another day in Africa.
Fretted by the heat, Paul felt all the old doubts crowd back. Even he found it hard to believe that he’d actually done it, really found the cure for Aids. Isolated in his station, he longed to have someone to talk to, another scientist to verify his find. Again he walked along the low sheds to confirm with his own eyes the evidence of his experiments.
Inside the long thatched cages hundreds of monkeys worked their way through the slopes of grain mountains that had arrived two years after the last famine. No-one dared tell the donors it was no longer needed, but it left Buramba with a problem. It couldn’t be stored for ever, and putting it on the open market would have brought prices tumbling, wiping out the country’s fragile agricultural industry. Paul had claimed some for his monkey farm. Fed from the deep wallets of European taxpayers, the monkeys had nothing to do but breed, which they did, with a vengeance. Every day he took a handful of baby monkeys from maternity, and their first treat in life was infection with the HIV virus.
Their response to this was initially so predictable Paul had been briefly tempted to open an abattoir. Whichever tribal remedy he tried, the monkeys sat around for a few weeks in their compounds before going down with some Aids-related infection. Sickened and saddened, Paul piled up the bodies for daily collection by a local petfood canner. Sometimes he smiled at how Western petlovers would react if they knew what they were feeding Fido.
But he didn’t smile often. In the atmosphere of death and disease, only one thought had kept him going.
Somewhere in Nature, Paul had always been sure there’d be a cure for Aids. It might be a wild orchid from the jungles of South America, or some obscure Russian mushroom, but the only research contract he could get had landed him in Africa, so that’s where he’d started his search.
The word went out Paul would pay good money for local medicines, and hardly a day went by without some tribal bushman bringing a potential cure. Sometimes, Paul knew, he’d been taken for a ride, but eight months ago his luck had changed.
He’d been sitting at his desk, head in his hand, deep in thoughts of guilt, failure and despair. At first the research contract in Africa had seemed a dream of escape, the possibility of redemption. But where had it got him? Sat deep in the bush killing off monkeys faster than Joseph Mengele.
A strange sensation – not in his head, in his heart – had made him look up. He was no longer alone. Sitting in the doorway was an old black man, skull gleaming through crinkly white hair, cheek-bones drawn clearly through the parchment of his skin. In the heat of the morning their eyes met, Paul’s pale blue and the native’s deep black pools, calm, at once blind and omniscient. For a moment, they sat silent, a timeless tableau, and then the old man’s face split into a leathery smile, lighting his face – surprisingly, at his age – with a full set of gleaming white teeth. In a slow, graceful movement, he effortlessly lifted a pigskin, tied by the legs for carrying, up and over his knees, and settled it gently on the floor of the office. It was stuffed with seedlings, roots moist in a bed of earth. Another offering.
How had the old man carried them? Paul walked over, felt the weight of the pigskin. Even though strong and fit after his spell in the bush, he had trouble lifting it from the floor. The plants, he’d never seen anything quite like them before. The stems were like cactus, spiny and hard: from there brackeny branches supported heavy buds, drooping and opening into dry, yellow flowers. They were in prime condition – he’d pay well. But when he looked up, the old man had gone. Paul walked to the door, eyes searching the bush that encroached on his clearing. There was no sign of the old man.
The mystery of that meeting had never left him. Eight months later the questions the old man had left behind were still unanswered. Where were the plants from? No-one seemed to know. Where else did they grow? Paul couldn’t even say what sort of plant it was. How had the old man been able to blend so quickly into the bush, to disappear in the few seconds Paul had been looking at the plants?
Over the weeks these questions had become very important. Because these plants were the ones Paul had dreamt of finding. These were the ones that cured the disease. Although he’d been tempted to name them after himself, the credit belonged to the unknown old man, the dry overgrazed country where the plant came from. He’d called them ‘Buramba Blend.’
Even now, he still hardly believed how well they worked. A simple infusion, added to the monkey’s water, cured within days. Scarcely crediting his luck, he tested the cure on batch after batch of monkeys, in case he suddenly woke up from a dream. Every time it worked. The monkeys in the end section were chattering and playing, though a week ago they’d been sick and near death.
He looked across at his foreman, whose face cracked open in a large, open grin. Oliver was a big black man radiating health and strength. Six weeks before he’d been hunched and sick with Aids, with hardly the energy to get up and walk. Now he was back in prime condition. The blood samples he’d sent off to Nairobi came back clear: it seemed to work on HIV-1 and HIV-2. It was a miracle. Paul watched as the man cleared more scrub with strong strokes of his machete, looked over the neat field of Buramba Blend. This was his second crop. This he was growing for seed. It wasn’t a dream. He’d really found the cure.
He walked over to the generator and unplugged the electric fence, stranded around the field and between every row. Keeping wild animals off the crop was a constant challenge in a country where every other plant was dense with defensive thorns. He connected the irrigation system, and heard water drawn from the bore-hole push through the hoses and down the pipes that ran between every furrow. He could see the dark, life-giving water darkening the earth by the nearest rows. It was vital the plant was spread around the world, spreading the risk of crop failure. A natural disaster, a plague of locusts or a bush fire, would be enough to wipe out his entire crop, and he still didn’t know where the original plants had come from. None of his workers had recognised them as native to Buramba. This might be the most important field in the world.
He’d done as much as he could, out in the field, as it were. It was time for the labs to get on with some analysis, for the farming industry to get into cultivation. If Buramba Blend could fight one virus it might be able to fight more. The realisation of the plant’s potential flooded through him in a warm flush. It was the first effective anti-retroviral agent and its potential might be huge.
Christ. He might have changed the face of modern medicine.
So why was it taking Eastgate so long to react?
About the Author
Jack Barker writes about travel for the UK press, including the Telegraph, The Times, Financial Times, Guardian and many magazines. He has also written various guidebooks, the best being on Kenya and South Africa though there are others, and has travelled extensively in Africa, Asia and Latin America. He has received various awards for his writing over the years, including an early Webby for his website www.travelmag.co.uk, but regards his greatest achievement as managing to support himself – and latterly, a family – by occasional expeditions and a chain of holidays, interspersed with a little light typing.
Now admit it. You really have to buy a copy now. Click through to 1stBooks.com.
Copyright © 2003 Jack Barker