Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another Book Talk, Barbara Is Honduras Bound, Zelaya Leaves for DR, Lobo Assumes Presidency

On Friday, Jan. 29, I gave a talk at the annual dinner of Volunteer Readers for the Blind, who had recorded my book on tape. About 30 people attended the dinner, including some who were blind and had “read” my book on tape. Among them was Sarah, a blind woman who works for the Census Bureau and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. She is also a neighbor and one of the proofreaders for my book, catching errors that eyes had missed. At my dinner table, we had an interesting debate, triggered in part by recent articles in the NYTimes and other publications, about the pros and cons of blind students no longer being taught Braille now that so much material is available in audio format. The consensus among blind people sitting among us, having themselves learned Braille, was that mere listening is not the same as reading via Braille, which allows the student not only to keep a more permanent record, but to learn to write, compose, and edit material in a way that more passive listening does not. Of course, Braille texts are cumbersome and expensive to produce, while audio can be relayed via computer to both blind and sighted students alike. However, the articles appearing recently on this subject indicate that blind students who rely on audio alone have a lesser grasp of grammar and sentence structure and are less able to express themselves creatively and correctly in composition than those who have mastered Braille. Now that blind students are being mainstreamed, often there is no one to teach them Braille, a loss in terms of their educational development.

My departure day for Honduras approaches, Feb. 1, so this will really be my last blog entry until after my return. Those of you who have been following the Honduras saga know that the Supreme Court dismissed charges against military officers and, on Jan. 27, hours after Porfirio Lobo was sworn in as the new president, he accompanied Zelaya and his family to the airport, where they left for the Dominican Republic. A Wall St. Journal column called it Zelaya’s “Get out of jail free card.” That same article mentioned that US economic sanctions were still in place before Lobo assumed office, but, presumably, they have now been lifted. As for international loans and grants, that remains to be seen.

I am so glad to learn that Port-au-Prince’s Hotel Oloffson where I stayed several times and the proprietor, Haitian American Richard Morse, survived. That place is so old, it’s a Victorian gingerbread structure, yellow with white lacey trim, as recall, so I don't know how it was spared, but maybe it was not along the fault line. Last time I saw it, it seemed to have barely changed since Graham Greene described it in The Comedians. Pretty amazing that a 16-year-old Haitian girl was rescued alive after 15 days of being buried, lucky that her faint cries were eventually heard. At least one political prisoner identified by Amnesty International, Ronald Dauphin, seems to have escaped with thousands of others from the Port-au-Prince National Penitentiary when it collapsed. (It’s an ill wind that blows no good.) An Italian commentator noted that going to Haiti now and being seen and filmed or interviewed there is now a “vanity project” for officials, media, and entertainers. Yes, that certainly seems to be the case. And Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez have reportedly weighed in to blame the US for causing the Haiti earthquake with a nuclear detonation, something that apparently only they were able to detect.

Haven’t had many Cuban interpretation clients, but I happened to have a Cuban woman and her daughter and niece earlier this week at a hospital setting. The daughter is a medical student at Howard University, the niece is a physician newly arrived from Cuba on a rare visitor’s visa. The patient and her daughter came to the US ten years ago, many years after their husband/father came to this country after being released as a political prisoner. That explains their preferential treatment from US immigration authorities and being allowed to join him—the delay, apparently, was with Cuban authorities not wanting to grant them exit visas. The niece is now considering staying here, but her husband is still in Cuba. It would be years, at least, before he could join her, so she is torn between returning or staying. Both young women were very curious about the medical procedure the older woman was undergoing. Most surprising is that this family is from Holguien, the poor rural province where my late foster son Alex was born and had lived. I was there in 1997 and met Alex’s mother and sisters. When I was searching for the family, Cuban authorities told me he had been a gusano, a worm, the term reserved for people who desert the fatherland. But Alex did not desert, he was forced, as per Fidel’s orders, onto a boat at Mariel because he was in jail, for what, he never said, but probably for being gay. He died of AIDS in 1995, one year after my son Andrew had died of other causes. That was a terrible time.

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