Friday, June 1, 2012

Surgery Is Over, House Repairs Underway, Cuba Book Pending, Bullying & Other High School Challenges, Raul Castro’s Daughter Visits US

Photos being shown here are of my house repairs and of a lunch with former Cuban rafter Jose Manuel and his partner.

This letter is being sent out a little late because I’m recuperating from recent surgery for a hernia first noticed before my trip to Honduras in Feb., requiring extra care in lifting heavy suitcases during that trip. Fortunately, I always leave my suitcases and their contents behind in Honduras, returning with only a carry-on. While my surgery was underway, I was in a sort of fugue state, drifting in and out of consciousness, with my outspread arms tied down and a mesh cloth over my face. At one point, I heard those working above exchange remarks about Cuban doctors and Cuban medicine being excellent. I wanted to say something like, “Yes, their training is excellent, but they lack equipment and medicines,” but I couldn’t speak. I think that conversation was real and not just a dream.

Meanwhile, I was attended during my immediate post-op period by daughter Melanie, along with her 13-year-old sister-in-law Arianna and my 4-year-old great-grandson De’Andre, which made for a lively get-well combination. Of course, my housemates were also present and adding to the mix was my friend Basilio, a carpenter making major repairs on the back of the house. Basilio, now age 75, is still doing remodeling and is a meticulous worker. He is not afraid to climb high ladders and scaffolds and is not afraid of much of anything. He spent 22 years as a political prisoner in Cuba, released only in 1984 when our local Amnesty International group gave his name, along with that of 25 other Amnesty prisoners, to then-presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, who brought them all out. We were at Dulles International Airport, waiting to greet them in the wee hours of a June morning. Basilio ended up marrying a member of our Amnesty group, with whom he has a daughter now age 21. When I finish my own Cuba-memoir-in-progress, I’ve promised to help Basilio write his prison memoir. If anyone in the DC area needs house repairs or remodeling, call Basilio Guzman (703) 338-4348.

For a few days, I’ve had to reluctantly turn down interpretation requests. However, 2 days prior, I did put in 7 hours at a high school with over 700 students on parent/teacher day. No classes were being held. Instead, parents were invited to come by to speak with their student’s teachers. All together, we were 3 Spanish interpreters and 2 Amharic interpreters on duty, with the Spanish interpreters much busier. It was an old-style school building with several levels requiring much up-and-down via steep stairs—I was worn out at day’s end. One 16-year-old student had arrived 3 weeks before from a Latin American country, having been separated from his parents for several years, a typical case where younger siblings had been born meanwhile. He was not a happy student, despite the best efforts of the school to integrate him, including having him attend special language and orientation classes for recent arrivals. He was looking forward to the pending summer vacation.

Another mother reluctantly confessed that her son is absent from school and especially from first- and last-period classes because of fear of “black boys” who would wait to beat him up and steal his lunch money. He did not want to report this for fear of even fiercer reprisals. The school agreed to try to look into remedying the situation delicately, but, of course, who knows what will happen? With the new anti-bullying emphasis, maybe something can be done, though these situations are difficult to manage without making matters worse for the victim.

In my various encounters as an interpreter with DC public schools, I have been impressed by teachers’ and administrators’ dedication, understanding, and flexibility. The schools seem to have improved considerably since my kids attended in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Perhaps much of the credit goes to the much-maligned education reformer Michelle Rie?

Both Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela, a gay rights advocate, and delegates from Jamaica came to this country to participate in meetings for LGBT rights in San Francisco and New York City. Mariela used the opportunity to excoriate exile Cubans for holding Americans “hostage” by spreading disinformation about Cuba and for preventing their freedom to travel to Cuba. Questions were not allowed. Although her visa had been approved and, according to the State Department, she also made three trips to the U.S. during the George W. Bush administration, she went out of her way avoid extending an olive branch. “Bite the hand that feeds you,” seems to be the motto of the increasingly defensive Castro regime in not admitting that the largest portion of its imported food and medicines comes from the U.S. and that Americans now comprise the biggest tourist group. She failed to acknowledge that the embargo is now just a shadow of its former self, though still a potent excuse for cracking down on internal dissent. Mariela deserves credit for her gay-rights’ advocacy, but it doesn’t extend into other human rights realms or to gay rights activities outside the official government-sanctioned body .

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