Sunday, September 16, 2012

Amish at Eastern Market, Cuban Dissidents, Juvenile Services, Cameroonian Artist, Muslim Rage, Romney, Blog Advice

On Tuesday afternoons, at our local Eastern Market, Amish families arrive from Pennsylvania to sell produce outside, looking rather exotic wearing their traditional attire, hats, and long beards. They transport themselves and their products in what appear to be covered wagons, but pulled by a motor vehicle, usually a truck or pick-up. I suppose that’s because a horse-drawn carriage cannot travel on city streets, so they adapt in that way. Last Tuesday, almost at dusk, I took a photo (above) of one of their parked wagons with a little Amish girl beside it. Afterwards, she ran shyly away, barefoot on that warm September evening.

The second photo is of an historic Cuban dissident, Ana Lázara Rodríguez, whom I met on September 14 at The Institute of World Politics here in Washington, DC, during an event honoring female survivors of communist prisons. A woman my own age, now living in Miami, she has written a memoir entitled Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Woman’s Prison. Her opposition to Batista began when she was only 13 and continued after she became a medical student. Glad to see him ousted, her curiosity was initially aroused by Fidel’s “romantic story,” but not for long. Soon disillusioned, she began working against Castro, “just as against Batista,” mostly using the written word and mockery, “We made fun of him and his long-winded pronouncements. I was not afraid. If they destroyed me, that would spare me suffering and they would no longer have an enemy left to fight,” she said. “I told them, I am free to talk; you are not.” Her freedom to talk was short lived; someone turned her in. She was arrested in 1961 and sentenced to 30 years. “When they burned all my books, I cried,” she admitted, “but I didn’t let them see it.” She endured 19 years of ill treatment, periods of solitary confinement, being moved from one prison to another, hunger strikes, and, during one such strike, prisoners were also denied water. These women, called plantadas, were forced to give blood for hospital patients. Finally in 1979, Ana was freed in an agreement brokered by President Jimmy Carter, who had lifted the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, and she came to the U.S. in 1980. She took up her medical studies again in the Dominican Republic, but by then in her forties, never practiced medicine in the United States. Once a devout Catholic attending daily Mass, she now feels the church has been too accommodating to the regime. “Communism, fascism, any kind of ‘ism,’ it’s still a dictatorship,” she declared. After I took her photo, I promised to e-mail her a copy, but she has refused to have e-mail, “because then you have no privacy or independence; everything you do can be monitored.”

In Cuba, on September 11, independent LGBT activist Leannes Imbert Acosta was arrested by state security and a planned exhibit opening was disrupted. Cuba only allows regime-sponsored LGBT organizations approved by first daughter Mariela Castro.

For three days in a row, my interpretation assignments were all at Maryland juvenile services. Each time, it was a single mother who didn’t speak English with a wayward teenage daughter or son who does speak English and may have been born here. Very rarely do these kids live with a mother with a husband at home and never in eight years of working as an interpreter have I ever had a father actually come to juvenile services with the youngster. Nor in the waiting room sitting next to English-speaking families do I ever see any fathers present. If a teen gets into trouble, shouldn’t the father be concerned? That may be a big part of the problem. Again, with kids’ health problems in hospitals or clinics, usually it’s the mother only with the youngster, although in the case of surgery, an occasional father has appeared with the mother. It does take two to produce a child.

Herve, an artist from Cameroon, arrived Saturday and immediately wanted to get on the internet with his laptop to notify his family back home that he had arrived safely. But his battery was low and I didn’t have an adapter for his plug-in, only adapters going from here to other countries, not vice versa, but we found the right one at the local Radio Shack. He will be doing research for two months at the Museum of African Art. Something about comparative styles, I’m not sure what, as his English is not fluent. This is not his first trip to Washington; he was here for one day last year to give a lecture. A museum staff member picked him up at the airport and said that obtaining his visa and getting through the airport have become harder than ever now. Surely, with all the unrest abroad, getting even temporary visas will become more complicated and difficult.

J. Christopher Stevens, our Ambassador to Libya killed recently, was once a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, 1982-1985, probably where he first learned Arabic. The anti-Islam film or video that led to his death and that of his colleagues was not in general circulation until excerpts went viral on the internet. Google has now blocked access, but a little late. The producer/director (on probation for financial crimes in California) was first identified as Israeli, then as an Arab, an Egyptian Coptic Christian, evoking fury against already beleaguered Copts in Egypt. Of course, such attacks would only seem to corroborate one apparent premise of the video, that Islam is a violent, fanatical, and corrupt religion. It was certainly unknown to the U.S. government and American public until now, when these events have raised its profile, so an attack on American government facilities makes no logical sense. But since when is logic involved? Attacks on the German embassy in Khartoum make even less sense. While Islamist extremists may represent only a small percentage of Muslims, they certainly do a lot of damage, reacting to any perceived or imagined insult or slight, as evidenced by the Danish cartoon controversy, reactions to Koran burnings and some of Pope Benedict’s pronouncements, and now this film. Of course, suicide bombings and the 9/11 attacks are further evidence of such fanaticism, seeming all out of proportion to the alleged original offenses. Is the violence that has swept the Muslim world just an expression of anti-western feeling writ large or of frustrations with their own daily life and with the unfulfilled expectations of the “Arab Spring”? The relative youthfulness of Muslim populations is also a factor, as is the cunning of agitators ready to pounce on any excuse to whip up a crowd. Of course, once such mobs get going, they attract others and inspire copy-cats in other countries. The excitement of the crowd and the thrill of destruction apparently sweep up many young people, already in the habit of fighting and demonstrating. At the same time, western societies and governments, which allow freedom of speech and expression, cannot be policing every piece of obscure writing, drawing, film, or action that might conceivably enrage some folks in the Muslim world.

Mitt Romney would seem to be out-of-touch with middle income voters if he defines “middle income” as $200,000 to $250,000 per year, when the real figure is about $50,000. Most of us would feel downright wealthy if we earned $200,000. In all fairness, Romney did qualify his statement by adding “or less” at the end. Presidential candidates have to be super-careful about saying anything that can be cut into a sound bite, just as Obama’s “You didn’t make this” was excerpted without the qualifier “alone.” And Romney states that there would be no mid-east turmoil if he were president? I suspect it would be worse. The man seems confused about what just he plans to do and what he wants to say. Is that someone who should be president?

Blog advice columns (yes any and all subjects are legitimate blog topics, including how to write a blog) definitely recommend being focused on your blog, also promoting it to a targeted audience, which you are supposed to notify whenever a new posting goes up. I confess to my readers that I am completely unfocused in life and an on my blog, moving in many different directions at once. No wonder I’m always pressed for time! My blog is like a rambling conversation that I would be having face-to-face with you, my indulgent reader, something that probably appeals to only a few, mostly good friends, at least judging from those who actually send me comments via e-mail. I am expressing myself and discussing what interests me and what I hope interests you in a sort of public diary. At the very least, when I am gone, my kids will be able to go through the blog and reconstruct much of their mother’s daily life.

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