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Tales of Travel Madness and Despair

Amazon Book Review: The Geography of MadnessMost of us, when contemplating vacations, consider the obvious: expansive tropical beaches, fine art and fine food, or all-inclusive indulgence. Frank Bures has something different in mind, so to speak. Somewhat paradoxically, he travels the world to explore inner space, seeking the exotic in the darker spaces of our brains.

His new book, The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World's Strangest Syndromes (available April 26), is a travelogue of madness and delusion, a collection of seemingly bizarre, inexplicable, and all-too-human maladies, spanning continents--sometimes incontinence--and cultures. Here Bures lists some of the unusual syndromes encountered in his travels; follow the links for more information, if you suspect you're a sufferer. And if you want to read about the Penis Thieves, you're going to have to buy the book.

Author Frank Bures on The Geography of Madness

There are many ways to lose your mind in this world. Just how you do can depend on what culture—what world!—you live in. Here are a few syndromes that look strange because of where we sit. Born on the other side of a border, however, and these would make perfect sense. In that case we would likely be scratching our heads over the chronically fatigued, anorexic, pet hoarders in America. What strange creatures! Yet other peoples' syndromes also offer a small window into their worlds, into their fears, their hopes and their beliefs. Here are a few that you could have come down with had you been born elsewhere.

Wild Man Syndrome (New Guinea)
This condition tends to strike men of the Gururumba tribe in the New Guinea highlands. It's also called "Wild Pig Syndrome." The subject experiences rapid breathing and circulation, a drop in skin temperature, the inability to speak (or to only speak Neo-Melanesian, not Gururumba) and the urge to steal random items. When he returns from the woods, he is treated by being placed over a smoking fire and given a special feast.

Nangiarnek, or Kayak Angst (Greenland)
An anxiety-related syndrome known among the Inuit of Greenland that affects hunters who are alone on calm water with an absence of reference points (or sometimes in storms). Subjects experience confusion, dizziness, extreme fear of excessive movements and the delusion that kayak is filling with cold water. The attacks generally abate on the arrival of help or on reaching land. But the fear often carries over into other aspects of their lives.

Ihahamuka (Rwanda)
A new syndrome that emerged after the 1994 genocide, which translates literally as "lungs without breath." Ihahamuka affects survivors of the genocide who experience a sudden onset of shortness of breath combined with loneliness, hopelessness, hypervigilance and "behaving like a mad person."

Hwabyung (Korea)
This syndromes translates as "anger (fire) disease" and is believed to be caused by anger accumulating in the body and becoming dense. Sufferers feel a pushing up in their chest, or a mass in their epigastrium, as well as heart palpitations, breathing difficulty, dry-mouth, insomnia as well as others symptoms, and usually seek treatment from a physician, not a psychiatrist.

Empacho (Argentina)
A common cultural syndrome in Argentina in which sufferers experience indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite that is believed to be cause by a bolus (a small round mass) of food stuck to the wall of their intestines. Treatments include "popping the skin on the small of the back to dislodge the bolus," and "rolling an egg on the stomach," as well as drinking olive oil or herbal tea.


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