Monday, November 26, 2012

Dominican Friends Reunion, Amnesty DR Twitter Action, Miami Cuban Vote

Fifteen years after we last saw each other in Santo Domingo, I was recently reunited with Espaillat sisters Ana Antonia and Miriam in an outlying Maryland suburb. The photo shows us in front of Willow Manor (the name already gives you a feel of what it’s like), a senior residence in Olney, where Ana, center, is now living. A lot has happened to us all since we last met back in 1997 in the Dominican Republic when I was on my way out of Cuba after my expulsion by state security agents. At the time, Miriam and her husband who lived (and still do) in Maryland, were visiting relatives in their native country. Ana and her brother were waiting for me at the Sto. Domingo airport as I emerged on that fateful visit, feeling distressed and disoriented after a long, intense interrogation by Cuban agents, who had finally allowed me to depart after holding my outgoing flight for several hours on the tarmac with many passengers fuming about the delay. The next morning, Ana, a psychiatric nurse near my age, had taken me to a spa she belonged to relax in the hot tub and sauna to put my interrogation behind me.

In 2000, the year I started my Peace Corps service in Honduras, Ana, then age 60, married a frequent American visitor to the Dominican Republic, a widower several years her senior with MS who used either a wheelchair or a cane, depending on circumstances. He spoke Spanish, having been a missionary in Ecuador in his earlier years. So Ana retired from psychiatric nursing in Santo Domingo, a demanding job, and assumed the care of her husband, who took her to live with him in Massachusetts. He was a man of means and so they were able to spend part of every winter in her apartment in Santo Domingo and also to go on cruises all over the world to places she had never visited. Their travels allowed her to see her three sons in the DR regularly, including a profoundly deaf adoptive son who works with one of his brothers and keeps up her apartment. After her American husband died eight years later, Ana was the main beneficiary of his estate, although he had three grown children apparently grateful for her entrance into their father’s life in his last years—at least that is the story she told. I am sure she took loving care of her husband.

After her husband’s death, with the help and support of his son living nearby, she sold the Mass. house and moved to Willow Manor, a Md. senior residence within walking distance of where her sister Miriam and husband live. It’s a pleasant place with friendly older occupants, a few of whom are Latinas, fortunately for Ana, who has not learned English after 12 years of living in the US. Why not? Well, first, because her late husband spoke Spanish and now because she just wants to relax after her strenuous life as a psychiatric nurse in her native country and eight years of caring for her ailing husband. Her days, it seems, are spent with watching Spanish-language TV and writing her memoirs, all by hand. I suggested devoting at least one hour per day to English-language TV to accustom her ear, something I recommend to my interpretation clients, but she nixed the idea, although admitting that if she knew English, she would have more friends in her apartment complex and would participate in more organized activities. Like many people who live alone, Ana talked non-stop about her life, past and present. I hardly got a word in edgewise, so just decided to shut my mouth and listen.

Ana has already written a memoir of her early years as a psychiatric nurse in a book published in the DR. The book, of which she gave me a copy, is called Un SueƱo Hecho Realidad, which I would translate “A Dream Come True.” However, one of her nephews, who did an English translation in a computer print-out, was more literal: “A Dream Made Reality.” We professional translators/interpreters go more for meaning than for exact word-for-word translation. But Ana, lacking English, was very happy with his effort.

In exchange for the Spanish version of her book, I gave her my Honduras book in English—at least it has a lot of photos. She said she will ask a nephew to read it and give her a summary. However, she is not likely to remember much, as her short-term memory appeared spotty. She often misplaced her keys, couldn’t remember whether she had given me her book, and repeated herself over and over in conversation. So the opportunity to learn English has probably passed her by. She acknowledged her memory failings, but said that when writing her second memoir, this one about her years with her American husband, everything flows off her pen with crystal clarity. Her attentive nephew, who rendered her first book in digital format, has promised do the same for her second book and also to translate it. Computer enabled self-publishing, or the Dominican equivalent, has allowed her to create an unvarnished, unedited narrative of her life. I’ve read some similar self-published memoirs by my fellow bereaved parents, the ordinary day-to-day with the usual birthday and graduation photos, which may not seem terribly compelling to us today, but will give future historians a glimpse into ordinary life in our times, just as diaries have done in past generations. I do hope that Ana remembers my visit and won’t be puzzled when she comes across my Honduras book on her coffee table. A sheltered, safe environment like Willow Manor is perhaps the best place for someone like Ana, who still seems quite physically fit, but whose memory is fading. While I acknowledge the value of such residences for failing seniors, I will do my level best to avoid ever having to live in one myself.

Fidel Castro tweets, so does the Pope. Twitter has gone mainstream, but I still know almost nothing about how it works. Therefore, when I was supposed launch a Twitter campaign on behalf of Amnesty International, I panicked. I still don’t know what to do, but perhaps some of my readers will, so I’m asking them to please look at ,
Spanish version: We want to bombard the DR government with tweets on Nov. 27-29 the third anniversary of the deaths of Cecilio Diaz and William de Jesus Checo, killed by police with no accountability, investigation, or charges being brought. Their deaths are emblematic of the many deaths at hands of the police that are not investigated or punished.

Now that apparently even Miami Cubans have veered toward the Democrats in the presidential election, you have to wonder about the Hegelian dialectic, that extremes on one side will push toward the other and so on, back and forth. The same dynamic that has turned some states red (or blue) may work against them when the actual results are seen and felt on the ground, propelling them to the other side. Certainly budget cutting is a reaction to the "bubble" and the excessive "exuberance" that Greenspan rather belatedly warned against, but now may be going too far in the other direction. Can we ever reach a middle ground? Let’s see how the "fiscal cliff" negotiations will work out.

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