Friday, September 27, 2013

Aloha Hawaii, MLK March Redux, Honduras RPCV, Interpretation Surprises, Baby Panda, Metro Doors, Dame from Spain, Zimmerman Again, Ted Cruz, Honduras Deportees, Pope Francis, Syria, Mugabe, Cholera in Cuba, Antúnez, New Cuban POCs

Whew! Please excuse my long delay between postings and everything but the kitchen sink posted here as a result. I was away visiting my kids, Stephanie and Jon, living in Honolulu, as per photos above, including of daughter Stephanie with her pet tortoise and her chameleon. The back yard of the house she owns with her husband is filled with abundant fruit trees: avocado, mango, orange, and papaya, a veritable Garden of Eden. The avocados are huge, round and sweet. My last visit there was 2 ½ years ago and it’s always a joy. Hawaii is an oasis in an otherwise difficult and violent world, but it’s cut off from everywhere else, which may be a blessing. The nearest land mass is California, almost 5 hours away by air. Hawaii is laid-back, beautiful, and has pretty good weather all year, oscillating between an average of 80 and 66 F in Jan. the coldest month, and between 89 and 75 F in August, the hottest month and it’s not humid, with ocean breezes always blowing. It does rain, especially in our winter months, but often at night, a heavy, quick, downpour. However, there are some wrinkles in Paradise, if that’s the right metaphor. Occasionally, there is a hurricane. At the beach near were Jon lives, there was no swimming because a cargo of molasses had spilled, killing flora and fauna. At Steph’s home, a wagon, pair of hiking boots, and bicycle pump my daughter and her husband left in their open carport was stolen while I was there. But it was wonderful seeing them again and worth enduring the lengthy plane trip, 3 different flights in all.

I was sent a photo taken of me and another woman who had been at ML King’s first march. The man who took it was showing it around his office when someone I know recognized me and gave him my e-mail address.

One of my fellow Honduras Peace Corps volunteers, Mitch, and his lovely Mexican wife, visited with their new baby (shown with me above).

A recent interpretation client from Peru, while getting ready for an MRI, asked me when I had first come to the U.S. and how long I had been living in this country, since I obviously knew English. I was totally flabbergasted, as I just assumed he knew I was a gringa. “Well,” I replied, both flattered and surprised, “I was born in this country and lived here most of my life, except a year in Central America as a toddler, two years in Colombia as a teenager, and then in Honduras with the Peace Corps in my sixties.” People have told me before that I don't have an accent in Spanish, but that kind of clinches it.

At a hospital, it happens sometimes that I am assigned as an interpreter for a Portuguese-, not Spanish-, speaking patient. Their names sound similar to Spanish names, they are from South America (i.e. Brazil), so it’s assumed that if they don’t know English, then they must speak Spanish. The two agencies I work for have Portuguese-speaking interpreters on-call, just as I’m on-call for Spanish. In any case, it happened again the other day, but that particular guy works in construction with Spanish-speakers and there are many similarities between Portuguese and Spanish, so we got along fine.

The baby giant panda born here at the National Zoo is female and, so far, so good, as she is still alive. Last year’s cub, also female, died, causing the mother panda to let out cries of distress and grief. As a female, this new cub may be allow to breed before being sent back to China, though I’m not sure that the Chinese government has dibs on all pandas born in perpetuity from those originally loaned to the US or whether our zoo can keep some of her offspring after sending her back. We had to send back her older brother when he turned 4. Her father is Tian Tian, also on loan to the National Zoo, whose breeding technique is faulty, so artificial insemination was used again. Apparently, when the female was fertile, he just pushed her face down and stood on her back. That was not effective. Just in case, semen from another male panda from the San Diego Zoo was also inserted, but Tian Tian’s won out according to a DNA test on the cub. She was born naked, but has since acquired hair, according to photos. She hasn’t yet made her public debut yet nor has she been named, since by Chinese custom, baby pandas aren’t named until they are 100 days old.

While coming back on the metro from a recent interpretation assignment, a man thrust his bag into the closing doors to keep them open while he tried to squeeze in, but the doors kept right on closing. Metro doors are not like elevator doors that open up again if someone comes between them. When the announcement is heard “Doors closing,” they keep right on closing without stopping. I suppose if it were otherwise, trains would be delayed. So this guy’s bag was barely inside the train and his hand was in the doors as they closed and the train started moving with his hand still stuck between the doors, dragging him along. We, the other passengers, tried to alert the driver in a front car far ahead, but fortunately, the man managed to pull his hand out and, though he stumbled, he didn’t fall off the platform. But his bag remained inside the train, partially stuck between the doors. At the next stop, I pulled the bag inside and another passenger with a cell phone looked through it for his number to call to tell him that we had his bag. Alas, his cell was in the bag, so no use calling. At a main intersection, Metro Center, the other passenger turned the bag into the office. It was quite scary when the man was being dragged by his hand and, I’m sure, he won’t ever try to force the doors open again. If he had an urgent appointment, he missed it.

Waiting for a flu shot at my local pharmacy, I sat next to a lady arguing vociferously on her cell phone with an insurance company and Medicare, demanding to be reimbursed for the cost of a blood pressure apparatus because her doctor had told her to take her blood pressure before taking a certain medication. I don’t know what finally happened with her efforts, but I also have moderate hypertension and have bought one of the monitors she was talking about from that same pharmacy for about $50, as I recall. It never occurred to me to try to bill health insurance. I do think small one-time expenses like that, even though health-related, should be born out-of-pocket by consumers and not passed on to insurance. Perhaps Medicaid for a low-income person could cover something like that if needed or could buy some in bulk and distribute them to needy recipients, but an ordinary consumer should be able to afford a OTC blood-pressure monitor and also a daily baby aspirin, even if a doctor has recommended them. Voters complain about burdensome taxes and the “nanny state,” so they need to show a little independence and bear some costs themselves, not take up the time of insurance company or Medicare staff to nickel-and-dime them.

A woman originally from South America, now resident in Spain, arrived recently at my house, but never felt comfortable sharing with other people. She was a real prima donna, used to living in a luxury home (photos of which she showed me)belonging to her much older lover, who apparently coddled her, a lovely place complete with swimming pool and flowered balconies. As soon as she arrived at my place, she took all the pictures off the wall in her room, feared the bed would collapse, did not want to share a bath although she had rejected the room with private bath as giving her “bad vibes,” and complained that sometimes her wireless connection failed (although I bought a booster). She didn’t speak English, so we all spoke to her in Spanish, even though that’s not the native language of any of the rest of us and we bent over backwards to show her all around the city. She soon found a place she liked better with a Spanish-speaking woman with a car (to whom she probably gave a terrible sob story about how much she had suffered at our house) and she left, much to my relief. I gladly refunded her share of our communal expenses. I’m just sorry that I turned away others because of her. In years of hosting international visitors, she’s the very first person to find my home intolerable. Different strokes for different folks. Her new hostess will soon find out that there’s no pleasing her. It’s interesting how some people have so little insight into their own behavior. She immediately rejected the room with wood floors and private bath, instead choosing one with wall-to-wall carpeting and shared bath, then began complaining about both those features and accusing me of misrepresenting my house to her. I had told her in advance that the house is 115 years old and in need of repairs and I tried to accommodate her wishes by giving her the room that met her specifications. This lady is 48 years old and purports to be a human right lawyer, but one who showed little concern for the human rights of other people living in the house. She had sent me in advance some photos shot of her by her boy friend in various “glam” poses, which were a red flag, but I had told myself not to judge her until I’d actually met her. By then it was too late. Now the house is wonderfully peaceful without her, indicative of the tension that the rest of us had endured while she was present. It’s always a risk to make such arrangements by long distance, kind of like on-line or blind dating, as when people actually meet face-to-face, they may or may not “click.”

So now George Zimmerman’s wife, after his acquittal of the murder of Trayvon Martin, is filing for divorce and has accusing him of threatening her and her father with a gun, though later failing to follow through on pressing charges. (She’s probably afraid that then he really would kill her.) Zimmerman also was arrested recently for driving under the influence, but released. It would appear that the guy is an impulsive hot-head who should never be allowed to carry a gun, but, I suppose, at the slightest move to take his guns away, the NRA and his other firearms’ supporters would rush in alarm to his defense.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is certainly making a name for himself, but while some are touting him as a future presidential candidate, nary a word has been said about the fact that he was born in Canada. Nor was John McCain’s Panama birthplace ever an issue. But Barack Obama, who was actually born in the USA, has been continually subjected to rumors that he was born in Kenya—a place he never even visited until he was an adult. And there are some deluded souls who still believe he was born there. Such is the power of false advertising or wishful thinking by those who reject him as president. Meanwhile, the government shutdown that Cruz and his allies seem to desire is looming. Even if it averted at the last moment, considerable economic damage has already been done in preparing for it and in the country’s international reputation for solvency and good governance.

According to our local Spanish-language press, a record 28,000 Hondurans have already been deported so far in 2013. Pope Francis issued a statement on the Syrian conflict: There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming. I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people. May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries. May humanitarian workers, charged with the task of alleviating the sufferings of these people, be granted access so as to provide the necessary aid…All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity! I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace. May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

Francis has also told the hierarchy to stop obsessing about gay marriage and abortion.

From the photos, I’m pretty sure that the mall at the center of the terrorist attack in Nairobi is one that I once visited, very large, modern, and upscale. I don’t think there are 2 malls of that fancy caliber in Nairobi. I was taken there to show it off to me when I was on my way to South Sudan in 2006.

Recent revelations of atrocities committed by some rebels last year certainly muddy the waters on intervention in the Syrian conflict. The internet has greatly increased the visibility of atrocities on both sides in this conflict. Maybe the Russian-backed proposal to have Syria destroy its chemical weapons will avoid the many problems stemming from an actual US attack.

How attitudes have changed in terms of civilian war casualties! During World War II, the US did not hesitate to firebomb and destroy Dresden, notwithstanding the presence of civilians. Even more egregious was the atomic bombing of not one, but two, Japanese cities with countless very cruel deaths and maiming of civilians. Fortunately, world opinion seems to have turned against the infliction of civilian casualties, though they continue to occur.

Nonagenarian Robert Mugabe, commenting recently on his latest supposed presidential victory, one of a whole string of suspect victories over the decades, said, “Those who can’t stomach the defeat, you can commit suicide.”

Cholera in Cuba - Advisory to Travellers Havana, Sept. 4.─ The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has issued a Report that may serve as a notice of prevention to travelers about a Cholera outbreak in Cuba. Cholera is one of the oldest reportable diseases along with the plague and yellow fever. Under the International Health Regulations (IHR), the regulatory arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), the rapid spread of cholera has a long history. Cuba's decaying infrastructure of poor water, sewage, sanitation and housing conditions coupled with heavy rains and international medical missions exporting medical doctors to other countries, makes cholera ripe for rapid spread not only in Cuba but in other countries having many tourists visiting the Island. Recent laboratory evidence confirmed that travelers carried more than their luggage home from Cuba. In the past two weeks, PAHO reported cases ailing tourist returning to Italy, Venezuela, Chile, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. "Included in the confirmed cholera cases are 12 persons who had travelled to Cuba from other countries", the PAHO Report says. PAHO reports a spread of cholera in the provinces of Havana, Santiago and Camaguey and a total of 163 recently confirmed cases plus 417 reported in 2012. The U.S. Interests Section announced a cholera warning for Cuba on August 20, 2013. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States, has not posted yet a notification about cholera in Cuba for the summer of 2013.

Since then, have heard of a few dengue cases in south Florida, probably brought by Caribbean visitors.

Two rafters trying to escape eastern Cuba drowned and six survivors were arrested by Cuban authorities.

Another recent Cuban human rights visitor to DC was Afro-Cuban activist Jorge Luis García Pérez, nicknamed Antúnez (shown with me above), who after refusing political “rehabilitation,” was finally released in 2007. (See photo of me with him above.) He has been arrested and beaten by the authorities numerous times since and has embarked on several hunger strikes to protest the deaths and mistreatment of other prisoners. While incarcerated, he wrote and smuggled out a book about prison conditions entitled Boitel Vive, a tribute to political prisoner Pedro Luis Boitel, who died following a hunger strike in 1972. He gave me a signed copy of his book. Antúnez contends that Afro-Cubans have suffered disproportionate repression in Cuba, filling up the jails and being unwelcome in the government’s inner circle, “A black president is impossible in Cuba because of not being a Castro.” He considers the Obama Administration too conciliatory toward the regime and proudly declares himself “not a dissident, but an opponent,” though always committed to employing peaceful means. And, while he is glad to have the chance to tell his story abroad, it’s not being heard inside Cuba, where it really counts.

As most readers know, I’ve been an Amnesty International volunteer activist for more than 30 years, the last 9 years serving as coordinator for the Caribbean. We at Amnesty have just named 6 new Cuban prisoners of conscience, that is, those who have neither advocated nor engaged in violence, incarcerated only for peaceful expression. Among them are three brothers, including teenage twins. One has been on a hunger strike since his arrest in late July, 40-year-old Afro-Cuban Iván Fernández, charged with “dangerousness,” a catch-all category used to arrest people before they actually commit a crime.