Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 Honduras Trip Report Just Behind This One, Blind Boy, Another Blog Featuring Yours Truly, Venezuelan Elections, Amnesty Embassy March, Boston Bombing, Kids’ Well-Being, Bush Library

Photos above, spring had finally sprung, Barbara with daughter of late Cuban democracy activist Oswaldo Paya and former Black Spring prisoner of conscience Regis Iglesias, now residing in Spain, meeting at Amnesty International's DC office on April 11, and April 12 demonstration at Dominican Embassy for disappeared man, Juan Almonte.  

Hope that readers were able to figure out my Honduras trip report, despite my failed efforts to insert all the photos in their rightful places. Readers just have to patiently go back from #3 to #2 to 1 (1 is not actually numbered as I had not anticipated more than one version). I was slowly and painfully posting the photos along the text when the very first effort was erased completely. Belatedly, I noticed the “save” button and then, twice, spontaneously it seemed, the blog posted before I had even finished--I'm thinking now that maybe there is either a content or time limit for any one posting and that as soon as I’d reached it, it automatically posted, at about the same point each time. It was quite arduous to upload all those photos. Really, a slide show would have been much better though, having done it once years ago, I forgot how. Finally, after the trip report posted twice without all the photos, I uploaded the rest without the text, but after the report had already appeared, so for the reader, many photos come first, then the explanatory trip report. To see all the photos, look at all 3 versions. Such is the sequence on a blog, last post appears first. It may take a little time for readers to figure it out, just keep going back. If I have a Honduras mission again next year, will try to insert the photos into a Word document beforehand and see if the blog lets me paste in the whole darn thing at once. Probably not, but worth a try.

Whether via my blog or elsewhere, I’ve been contacted by an American eye surgeon and his wife who volunteer in Honduras, to help them to get a recently blinded boy, age 13 (brain tumor), into Irma’s training center in Santa Lucia. A related item of human interest that I had forgotten to include in my Honduras trip report is that a young man enrolled in Irma’s adult training program who gave me a massage said he had been blinded at age 8 by cousins who had ganged up and attacked him savagely with clubs and sticks, including into his eyes, which could not be saved. The only punishment for the attackers was a beating. However, now at age 20, he said he had accepted his lack of sight, seeing it almost as a blessing, because otherwise, he would not have learned massage, which affords him ample earnings through massages given to hotel visitors in Tegucigalpa on weekends, while during the week, he pursues his studies in Braille, music, and other subjects at the adult training center for the blind.

Had forgotten all about an interview and exchange I had a while back with another blogger and on-line magazine editor, Kathy Williams. So I was surprised to be notified that she had posted an on-line article about me. I don’t know that I sent her all the photos that she posted or whether she found them via other sources. In any case, her blog is heavy with advertising, so be prepared. Here are the links:

Article link:

Blog link:

Venezuelan presidential candidate and anointed successor Nicolas Maduro reported a visitation from a little bird representing his late mentor, Hugo Chavez, whom he also has called “the Jesus Christ of Latin America,” who had assured him of victory. A chapel in a poor neighborhood of Caracas has even been named “Saint Hugo Chavez.” Alas, his body could not be embalmed. Meanwhile, challenger Capriles also attracted enormous crowds. He apparently lost by very little, if at all. Venezuela has developed so many problems since Chavez’s tenure that I suspect citizen discontent will grow and Maduro does not seem to have the ability that his predecessor had to rally citizen support and to cast the blame elsewhere (i.e. on the US). Nor does he seem to have much grasp of governance. My human rights contacts in Venezuela are disappointed, of course, with the Maduro win because they have suffered so much under Chavez. And Maduro, who seems to have plenty of ambition but not many smarts or much likeability, will have to use even more force to protect his position than Chavez did. Too bad for Venezuela, though the Cuban political elite and leaders of other countries receiving Venezuela’s oil largesse are no doubt heaving a huge sigh of relief, assuming that the result holds. Both the Washington Post and Secretary of State Kerry have supported the call for a recount; so has the government of Spain and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. Opposition congressmen have been physically assaulted. Venezuela is in an unstable and dangerous situation and Maduro doesn’t seem to be able to handle it. He also strategically took office before the supposed recount and threatened to arrest rival candidate Capriles for treason or some such.

US investment in Honduras is down 31% since 2009, according to Democracia Participativa (April 9, 2013), an on-line blog focusing on Latin America, not really surprising. I don’t know what would help Honduras get out of the rut it is in, it’s so far down. Where to start? There is a presidential election in November, but I don’t expect a lot from that.

Through trial and error and consultation with a Verizon internet troubleshooter in the Philippines, I finally discovered a very tiny button marked with an amber pinpoint of light that turned out to be key to connecting one of my Kenyan visitors’ laptop onto my wireless system. When pressed, the light turned green and, voila! the computer connected when it had been stubbornly resisting. I scarcely would have guessed that a computer might have a wireless “opt-out” switch. Why, I wonder? If the user doesn’t want wireless, isn’t it sufficient not to log onto the internet?

April 12 was the date of my Amnesty International Group 211’s annual Get-on-the-Bus rally, really a march and demonstration at several embassies of countries with human rights violations. In fact, most nations can be faulted on human rights. Apparently Iceland is the only country never the subject of a critical Amnesty report. This year, the countries involved were the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Romania, South Africa, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

One of our cases this year, as previously, was of a disappeared person, Juan Almonte, whose wife, I discovered, lives in Philadelphia, not New York, as I had been told. I spoke with her by phone and she was not able to join us as she had another trip already planned. She will go to Spain in May, invited there by a Spanish Amnesty group working on her husband’s case. I’m not optimistic that we will ever find out what happened to her husband after he was taken away by four men, apparently from the Dominican national police. Another similar Dominican disappearance case that I worked on in the 1990s, that of Narciso Gonzalez, has never been solved.

At the Romanian Embassy, one of our group members was invited in to explain to puzzled and offended embassy staff what our demonstration there was all about; it was about the treatment of Roma people, who are not receiving sufficient protection from either the government or the larger society. When I was in Romania after Ceausescu’s killing to evaluate children’s institutions, I noticed that many of the children in such places were Roma (gypsies). I must also admit that Roma kids and adults encountered on the street (they were identifiable) seemed pretty scary and more than once tried to snatch my purse.

Voice of America filmed our event and here’s their video where I appear briefly:

At a Texas college, 14 people were attacked by a knife, but none died. At the same time, a Tennessee sheriff’s wife was killed by a 4-year-old picking up one of the man’s guns that he was showing to a relative. Meanwhile, multiple gun murders have continued in various parts of the country while lawmakers have balked at requiring background checks for gun purchases, something a majority of citizens support. Such is the power of and fear engendered by the NRA. Better death than the surrender of any aspect of “gun rights.” The NRA’s opposition seems geared toward increasing gun sales, both by opening purchases to anyone and everyone, thereby engendering fear that leads to more gun purchases for self protection.

A couple who spirited their two sons to Cuba in defiance of a court order were returned to Florida by the Cuban government, perhaps in reciprocity because the boy Elian Gonzalez was returned to his father in Cuba years ago? Is this a sign of a thaw in relations? Or did the Cuban government simply not want to be responsible for the boys and their parents? Nicaragua, where we still have regular diplomatic relations, returned to the US a former DC private-school teacher accused of pedophilia, again a sign of international cooperation despite political differences.

What can I say about the tragedy and explosions in Boston, my own birthplace? So very horrific and sad. How the marathon might relate to grievances about Chechen rights, Islam, or middle east wars in unclear. The surviving suspect looks baby-faced in his photo. According to the Huffington Post and People Magazine, the older brother was married to the daughter of an emergency room doctor. Katie, as she was called, grew up in a Christian household in North Kingstown, R.I., graduated at the top of her class at her high school in 2007, and said in her yearbook that she wanted to go into the Peace Corps. Instead she ended up married to Tamerlan Tsarnaev. I’m sure that Putin is saying, “I told you so,” given Russia’s hostilities vis-a-vis Chechnya.

I wonder whether from now on whether marathons will be risky or targeted celebrations? There are plenty of evil copycats out there. Honduras has lots of its one-on-one violence, as well as occasional larger death tolls, as from prison fires and once even a whole bus full of passengers shot to death. But thank goodness, so far, that no one in Honduras has attempted mass violence on the order of Oklahoma City, 9/11, the Colorado Theater shooting, Newton, or, now, the Boston Marathon.

A recent UNICEF report ranks the United States below Western Europe and Canada in children’s overall well-being. However, in terms of health and education services, particularly for children with special needs, at least here in the greater DC area, children do get a lot of attention. Part of the problem, I suspect, in the US is uneven income distribution and the existence of an underclass of parents with little education struggling to survive economically and not giving their kids optimal care, particularly if the children have special needs. At least in my experience as an interpreter in local hospitals and public schools, I see staff bending over backwards to meet the needs of such kids and to compensate for what is lacking in their home environment. Just this week, I was at a DC public school offering multiple therapies to a 5-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who does not talk or sit still, including assigning a classroom aide to monitor her all day long. The Salvadoran parents, both of whom attended her annual school evaluation meeting (rarely does a father attend), including the mother who cannot read herself, seemed baffled about what to do with her. They have other children, who apparently have not given them any special concern. But for this child, they came to the annual school evaluation meeting with a Spanish speaking advocate to guide them, someone also on the public payroll, not to mention paying my agency for my own interpretation services. The child herself is in a class of only 5 special ed students and gets speech, occupational, and physical therapy as well as transportation services. She eats breakfast and lunch at school and will be enrolled a summer program for children with disabilities. I saw the child myself and she indeed has multiple disabilities, which I felt the school was addressing as best it could. But the father, especially, was not satisfied, feeling his daughter was not making sufficient progress. On the way out, he said to me that he’d heard of a boy with Down Syndrome who went to college. Yes, I said, just as with any group of people, the level of function can vary. I didn’t say that according to my experience, despite the school’s best efforts, his daughter would never go to college and the most that they could hope for is that she might learn to talk and use the bathroom independently. I felt that the school was doing the best possible job given her evident severe level of disability. My interpretation experience has given me new appreciation of DC public schools, which have improved considerably since my children attended years ago. Perhaps some credit for that belongs to the controversial former superintendent Michelle Rhee.

GW Bush was moved to tears at the dedication of his presidential library. In retirement, the man “wrote” a memoir of his time as president and has now taken up painting as a hobby, displaying a clearly amateurish, mediocre, trite style, using himself sitting in the bathtub and his dogs as subjects. He still has trouble speaking in coherent sentences. Not to make fun of his deficiencies, which would have been merely amusing if he had been only an ordinary guy, but when he was elevated to the presidency, a job quite beyond his capacities, his failings of intellect and judgment caused a lot of harm to people in this country and all over the world. Heaven help us if Jeb Bush enters the 2016 presidential race, though he’s more articulate than George W. and his Spanish, thanks to his Latina wife, is not too bad.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Honduras Trip Report, Feb.-March 2013, #3

Obviously, folks since 2 premature postings have already gone out today, no use putting the text here once again. You can read all about it in versions #1 and #2. Sorry I didn't get a chance to do a final edit before the @#$%^&* blog twice posted itself spontaneously!! It seems as though it had a mind of its own. Here, I will only post the remaining photos and try to explain them, but will not attempt again to intersperse them with the text, as obviously, I'm not capable of that. Or perhaps the photo-posting system got overloaded? Ideally, these would have been slide shows. One slide show was originally posted when this blog started, but I have been unable to duplicate that. Check back and read the text separately  (twice, if you like)!! I knew it would be a challenge for me to try to insert the photos in their rightful places. Now, I give up and beg your indulgence. Thank you. Gracias.

OK, where were we? Will try not to repeat photos already posted earlier, just those that remain. However, I may end up repeating some. Below are Santa Lucia photos.

Orchid gorws out of a living tree.

Last two above, when fire was smoldering

                                    The Last Supper, no Honduran home can be without it.

Kids getting therapy at Teleton in Choluteca, including some doing speech mirror therapy
and a boy indulging in tactile therapy.

My former scholarship student Jorge with his bride, above. Below, boys play street soccer at night in Choluteca after the blazing sun goes down.

Above, two 20-year-olds abandoned by the fathers of their children; top is Neris, a possible future nursing student, with her almost two-year-old daughter; below is Marciel whose year-old son accompanies her every day as she makes tortillas at Guasaule at the Nicaraguan border. Their children looked healthy.

Above, in El Triunfo, Jose Luis after motrocycle accident avoiding collision with a dog, his twin daughters, almost 2, his mother (my hostess) cooking, and Mercedes, now 95, with her niece and sitting alone. Her sister was away in Teguc.

Above, top Pedro Joaquin's twin daughters, wife and family, PJ making music and in his home shop fixing electronic equipment, below, early lip/palate patient, almost grown up.

Above scenes all from El Triunfo, mostly folks who begged me to take their photo.

Above, patients wait outside Triunfo health center. Inside, nurse looks through paper files.

                               Above motorize cart hired for the day, kids bathing in river.  

Top, one of my champion village health volunteers, Blanca, in Rio Grande #1.  Local school kids.

Scenes en route to Matapalos, would you trust your child on that diesel-operated ferris wheel?

This is Matapalos where my late volunteer, Lea, lived; she and her husband are buried up the hill next to her parents. Her grandchildren are among the school kids. A daughter and son appear  below.

Above, Bessy, begging at the Honduras-Nicaragua border--gave her money to buy a cell phone, which I hope she still has.

Bus station rest rooms

Sandra's leg looks tumor-free.

Sandra with her mother, who has decided seven children are enough.

Luis's children, Alexandra and Elian, play with their new puppy next to their new maid, Salome.

Tearing up La Esperanza's cobblestone streets in deference to vehicle drivers.

Around La Esperanza, above Luis's daughter Alexandra fingers a melon. Lottery ticket seller in wheelchair he made of bicycle parts.

                   More Esperanza scenes, including two young men in their cups.

Here above, La Esperanza's Banco Atlantida teller line--was my bank when I lived in Honduras. North-coast friend Felicita's 20-year-old son works there. Later, at dinner with him. Then below, Chunga on left  with a customer at her market clothes shop.  

At Jesus de Otoro birthing center, I donate a wheelchair to the doctor in charge. A newborn with severe harelip/cleft plate with his mother. Another woman who has just given birth nurses's her baby girl.  

Making rounds with the Esperanza volunteer Red Cross.

                           Georgia church-based medical brigade sorts medications.

Lions Club dental brigade, La Esperanza

With Armandowith his family in Miami. Wife is taking the photo. Mother-in-law from Nicaragua is sitting next to me.

Dinner at the Coral Gables home of Bolivian architect Carlos, below with 20-year Cuban political prisoner, poet, and playwright Jorge Valls