Kissing-bug: the vampires of reality

I am going to tell its story to the world. Yet for a while it may not have seemed much, it was what journalist Eliane Brum could have done, and the possible is never little


Dignity – the vampires of reality only kill the poor tells stories of people completely excluded from a health system

– Please, dont let me die.

The girl grabs me by both arms. She is only 11. Her eyes, however, are as old as mine. Or older. Her name is Sonia. At that moment when she asks me to change the world, I sink in impotence. I will tell your story, Eliane Brum answers.

When I first thought of this artcile the idea was to write a sensitive, touching and of course, touching article, about people affected by Chagas diseases, but then I came across sotires as Sonias and Cristinas. At that moment I knew I had to re-tell their stories, just because my eyes couldnt hold my tears. Their stories are one of the chapters of my book Dignity (Leya) – The vampires of reality only kill the poor. The book has stories of people who lived under armed conflicts situations, starvation, epidemics or were completely banned from a health system. Journalist Eliane Brum wrote about Chagas disease in Bolivia, one of the countries with greatest prevalence in the world. Despite being an experienced reporter, she claimed to have experimented a new sensation while living with this 11 years-old girl, by facing feelings of impotence. When leaving the province, she was startled by Sonias request to not let her die. Eliane answered as usual: I will tell your story to the world. Yet for a while it may not have seemed much, it was what she could do, and the possible is never little.

Eliane Brum was in Bolivia for an article, in a project of the Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières – MSF) about Chagas disease. The author says she was in villages where 70% of the people had Chagas, the kissing-bug was an omnipresent concept-insect and all that took place because they were too poor for the pharmaceutical industry to care for them. They died because they were the invisible among the invisible. At the same time, they were sweet people, speakers of a very delicate language which is quéchua. Amidst all the reality brutality, they had a place in the poetic world, what captured her forever, she details. At the end of the trip, while saying Sonia goodbye, she grabbed her and said: Dont let me die. The journalist said to have witnessed scarrier realities, but this was the first time someone asked such thing. It was a child afraid to die from a neglected diseases and there I realized that telling her story wouldnt be enough to save her life, she wrote.

The journalist says there are many ways to describe someones death. In Cristinas case, the most ordinary would be to say she died from complications by a disease identified by Brazilian researcher Carlos Chagas in the early 20th century. It is true that she died from Chagas disease. But a small truth. This truth must be enlarged. Cristina died because the pharmaceutical companies have no interest researching treatments, vaccines or cures for the diseases of the poor, she finishes. Eliane remembers that some people live dead. And some people die alive. Cristina Salazar López died alive, she reports.

Eliane said Cristina explained what Vinchuca was. And from that moment the kissing-bug was never mentioned again, but Vinchuca, because this word expresses something bigger, more complex and profound than an insect. I asked what was the Vichucas sound. Cristina said: It sounds like dry corn leaves in the wind. We hear and then we know they are there. In the dark Over our heads. Waiting to fall over our bodies. I asked what the Vinchuca smelled like. She said: It smells like old blood, she wrote.

This was how Cristina told this story… In Elianes words:

Since the world is the world, Vinchuca exists. I learned how to identify the sound of its wings when they lined in the ceiling and wals waiting for our sleep. A sound that could be sweet, but that terrified us. In that time we didnt know they would kill us, but we suffered because they sucked our blood and sometimes our faces and eyes would be swollen in the morning. When we woke up with with the stinging pain and lit the lamp, we would find no more walls or ceiling. There were so many Vinchucas, side by side, that we could no longer see what was behind. So we crushed them with our hands and feed, and the walls were tainted with our blood. When we burned them, that was the smell. Old blood. We would think that was no part of a lifetime without Vinchucas and nights where our blood was drawned by them. So we would play of killing them, without knowing they had already killed us.

Many of the infected people are unable to remember whe or how they were stinged by the kissing-bug or triatomines, the parasites transmitting insect, but many have family history. Generally, a first degree relative also has the disease. Since people are infected at birth, many times still in the mothers womb, the disease begins to evolve almost at the same time as life. Unfortunately, 108 years after this parasitic disease was discovered (the deadliest in Latin America), from 6 to 7 million people are affected, and 7 thousand die every year. These deaths could be avoided with early diagnosis and treatment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Chagas diseases is among the 18 neglected tropical diseases. Argentina and Brazil have the greatest number of infected people, and Bolivia has the greatest prevalence.…