BUZZ FEED: Over the long weekend, three college-age kids and five adults fell ill with the same symptoms. First they would slur their words, as if they were drunk. They would see double, and start swaying, then they would fall asleep and snore heavily. They could be roused, speak, go to the bathroom, even eat food, but then they would fall back asleep. They stayed in this state for days. When they finally woke up, they didn’t remember anything. The villagers didn’t understand what was wrong. Maybe the kids had been doing drugs, they told each other, maybe the adults drank too much. But it didn’t add up.
That’s when the townspeople remembered Lyuba and Nadezhda. They remembered another woman who worked in a shop across the street from the market, who fell ill a few weeks after Nadezhda. She snored and couldn’t be woken for days either. Someone mentioned Bogdan — the high school senior who had come home from school and fallen on the carpet around the same time as Lyuba. Bogdan had been active in his illness, verging on violent. He kept trying to run somewhere and had to be tied down to the hospital bed. He was out for nine days. He didn’t remember anything either. Drugs, the town rumor mill had churned, maybe he drank something. It wouldn’t be the first time homemade brew had gone wrong. Teenagers, they had tutted.
They remembered Julia, a shop attendant who had gone across the street to the bakery in Kalachi a few months before Nauryz. After she came back, she took off her jacket and sat down, but when she tried to stand again, she couldn’t. She tried to speak, but her speech was slurred, as if she’d chugged a bottle of vodka on her morning bread run. She was ill for three days. When she woke up, the doctors told her she had overexerted herself. She needed to rest more. But Julia was 28 and she wasn’t particularly tired. The doctors said there was something wrong with her spine. After that, Julia was fired from her job; the proprietor didn’t want a liability. Poor Julia, people had said at the time.
Just as they were slowly connecting the dots, the residents of Kalachi and Krasnogorsk started getting sick en masse. It came like a biblical plague exacting revenge on all those people who had tutted poor Lyuba, poor Nadezhda, poor Julia. There would be nine waves of sleeping sickness in total — no street would be spared — over 130 people, a quarter of the total population, some multiple times. Everyone would exhibit similar symptoms: the slurred speech, the swaying, and the double vision. When they woke up, they remembered nothing. Everyone was getting the same diagnosis: encephalopathy of unknown origin, basically abnormal brain function of no known cause. Scientists arrived with sample baggies and metal machines; then came local government officials in suits with clipboards and surveys about relocation. Journalists swarmed. People kept getting sick. No one knew why or what to do about it. And — despite reports this summer that a possible explanation has been discovered — they still don’t. MORE