Sunday, October 27, 2013

Vermont Visitors, Federal Budget Reprieve, Immigration Reform Next, Richmond Art Museum, Honduras, DR, Cholera, Sudan, Hesperian Health Guides, Baby’s Death, Adoption Plea, Nigerian Artist, Anthony Weiner Again, Happy Halloween

Don't know why typeface here came out blue--if it posts in blue, it's not my doing, but OK, let's leave it, just one more blogging mystery. If the intermittent blue type remains, it will provide an interesting checkerboard pattern.

Among the photos above is the flag outside the DR Embassy on Oct. 23, an international day of protest against the latest attempt in the Dominican Republic to strip people of Haitian descent of their citizenship (more on this issue below). These tactics remind me of the Tea Party’s attitude toward Hispanic immigrants and their offspring here. The stark white group statue stands next to the Indonesian Embassy, en route to the DR Embassy. Right next door, on the statue’s other side is the Portuguese Embassy, quite fitting, because Portugal, at Fatima, celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to three children, not unlike the three children viewing the Indonesian goddess. Religious folklore has consistent themes across religious, language, and geographic divides.

The other photos were taken by my friend Carol, a few years my junior, visiting DC with her husband. They loved the weekend outdoor Eastern Market and the Smithsonian museums, which had just reopened. Though we have not seen each other often over the years, we first met as children back in Vermont, where she is still living. She has invited me to attend her mother’s 99th birthday celebration there in January. I would like to be there, but also have Honduras coming up again in Feb. There may be another celebration for her 100th, but it might be tempting fate to postpone a trip until that time. Carol seemed fascinated by my bed, as can be seen, as well as my wall of masks collected from all over the world and display of degrees and awards. Readers will also recognize the exterior of my house, now about 115 years old. In the couch photo, we are holding photos of her own family to show her relatives back home.

 Last time, at the first attempt, my posting did not post, then, when it finally did post, the initial abortive attempt, consisting of only the headline, was no longer there. I don’t know if a good fairy or a real live blogspot person came to my rescue to erase the first attempt, hence my odd comment at the beginning of the last blog (if you even noticed it). How all this stuff works is a mystery to me, but I’m taking it on faith. [Blue is no longer appearing below on my screen.]

Whew! House Speaker John Boehner finally let the House vote and now we have a short reprieve before the whole battle starts up again. Or maybe the Republican Party establishment has had enough? It would be great if Tea Partiers had some wind knocked out of their sails, but the fight may have just whetted their appetite. Since they’re in safe districts, they face few constraints. Despite the end of the government shutdown, much damage has already been done. Boehner seemed willing to sacrifice the country and risk the world economy just to make sure he retained his speakership. A civil war is now raging within the Republican Party, which is fine with me.

Immigration reform is next and will be another test. It seems pretty obvious that if people are already here, living and working productively and raising US-born children, integrated into the national fabric however they got here, then we should welcome them because our economy and civic life need them. Unlike with new immigrants, there’s no need to put them through cumbersome immigration procedures and offer support services because they are already here, acclimated, and integrated into our system. Without them, we would be losing population, especially of working age, as is happening in Japan and some European countries. White Americans, once the demographic backbone, are not reproducing themselves in sufficient numbers.

 The day before the government shutdown finally ended, I went with an idled federal employee friend to visit her daughter attending college in Richmond, Virginia’s capital. It is a smallish but growing city (population 210,000) with a population somewhat younger and less affluent than the state as a whole with more affordable housing than in the DC area. It has an unhurried charm and some old-fashioned houses and buildings. We ate a crayfish sandwich at local eatery and saw the old statehouse and a row of monuments to southern civil war heroes, including Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson. We also visited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, with a very respectable collection, including of African Art. We honed in especially on the Dorothy & Herbert Vogel exhibit, an eclectic collection of arts works acquired over decades by a childless NYC couple living in a cluttered one-bedroom apartment with their goldfish and pet cats. He was a postal worker, she a librarian. A video feed was shown of films made over the course of their collecting career and the gallery openings displaying their collected works. It shows Dorothy, the taller and more physically vigorous of the two, taking the lead. They only bought works they liked; also those they could carry home on the subway or in a cab. Their patronage helped propel many later well-known artists into prominence. Dorothy came for the Virginian Museum exhibit opening, as by now, Herbert has passed on. The story of their life and how they acquired their collection is almost more interesting than the art itself.

On Oct. 15, Honduran military police wearing camouflage and carrying high-caliber weapons invaded dangerous sectors of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the two largest cities, looking for wanted subjects, especially those connected with gangs. With presidential and other office elections coming up in November in Honduras, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, who was an outspoken cardinal when I was in the Peace Corps there, urged voters not be afraid to go out to vote, that their participation is needed. [Blue popped up again here, very interesting.]

 In the DR, as referred to above, there has been a disturbing high court ruling: and

See also NY Times: “Dominicans of Haitian Descent Cast Into Legal Limbo by Court” (Oct. 24, 2013).
Although the DR Supreme Court has decreed that Dominican-born descendants of Haitians are not citizens, our local Spanish language press in DC says that DR President Danilo Medina has agreed to meet with spokespersons for Haitian-Dominicans. Could he overrule the court? On Oct. 23, in concert with people around the world, I attended in a demonstration at the Dominican Embassy in Washington, DC (as per flag outside the Dominican Embassy above).

 This is from Amnesty International’s London headquarters regarding the issue:

We share with you the Urgent Action AMR 27/014/2013 issued today by Amnesty International on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people at risk of being deprived of their nationality in the Dominican Republic and potentially being made stateless following the ruling issued last month by the Constitutional Court.

The cholera apparently spread to Haiti by Nepalese Peace Keepers—perhaps even by a single sick guy—with devastating effect, then moved over the border to the Dominican Republic and to Cuba, right after Cuban health workers had returned from service in Haiti. From Cuba, via tourists, it spread all over the world, though seemingly nipped in the bud in Europe. But from the Caribbean, it has now moved into Mexico and is approaching the US border. It may be spread inadvertently by people with no or only mild symptoms. So that possibly lone Nepalese soldier has made a worldwide impact.

 In Sudan, the oil-rich border region of Abyei is still in dispute and a promised referendum has not yet been held, so the residents of the region have decided to hold their own plebiscite to determine if they want to be part of North or South Sudan. From having been there myself in 2006, I would expect most wanting to go with the south. North Sudan’s President al-Bashir has indicated that holding a vote on the matter now would be premature, but recently seems to be yielding on the issue.

We returned Peace Corps volunteers gathered at a local watering hole near Howard University called “Cause Philathropub,” an enterprise that donates event proceeds, in whole or in part, to good causes. On that particular evening, we were celebrating the publication in multiple languages of health guides of the Hesperian Foundation, based in Pal Alto, California. I used 2 of them extensively when I was in Honduras: Donde de Hay Doctor (Where There Is No Doctor) and Aprendiendo a Promover la Salud (Learning Health Promotion).

 Sadly, I just got word that a child I had been trying to help has died. He was born last March with a severe harelip and cleft palate, on the very day I donated a wheelchair to a birthing center in Jesus de Otoro, a rural town in Honduras. The mother always had a hard time feeding him because he could not suck or swallow well. The family took him to a center in Tegucigalpa to arrange for him to have surgery, but the center staff found him insufficiently well-nourished to go ahead. The family was told he would have to become somewhat bigger and stronger before he could undergo surgery. But soon after they returned home, the baby died, whether of malnutrition or simple crib death, is not known. He was about 8 months old, so crib death seems unlikely. A family of little means and little education, like that one, struggling to comply with specialized feeding requirements and lacking the means to do so adequately, was in a catch-22 situation. The mother was expressing breast milk manually, not very efficient. The baby could not take in adequate nutrition because of his congenital problem and could not have it remedied because of the effects of that same problem. So, he has now died.  In the U.S. a child like that might have had a temporary feeding tube inserted. A reminder to would-be mothers: take your folic acid from the beginning of, or even before, a pregnancy. As a bereaved mother myself, I feel special sympathy for parents who lose a child at any age.

 Did you hear about a 15-year-old African American boy, who had been living for years in foster care now making a request for an adoptive family? Standing bravely before the congregation at Florida church, he said: "I'll take anyone. Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don't care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be." A teenage black boy is usually about the hardest type of child to place with an adoptive family, as people are often afraid to try to be parent a kid like that, given all the baggage he brings. Of course, since his plea went viral, thousands responded from all over the world. I hope he is able to find the right family.

 However, I also couldn't help thinking that as brave and sincere as that young man might be, now, at his age of 15, finding him a "forever" home now will not be a slam-dunk. Children who have been through a lot and are no longer babies usually have issues and need more than just a roof over their head and lots of love.

 A couple I know adopted an adorable 12-year-old girl from overseas. They showered her with activities and stuff and reported on their experiences on a blog. Of course, it was all fun and games at first. But when the blog went dark, I was pretty sure the honeymoon was over. I e-mailed the wife who said they were now in family therapy and struggling. It's as risky to give newly arrived kids the Disneyworld experience as it is to neglect them.

 I’ve previously mentioned Gabriela, a Romanian girl whose adoption I indirectly facilitated. She came to this country at age 7 after years of neglect in an orphanage. She has done beautifully since, in part because of her own spirit, but also because her parents, teachers, and therapists all gave her the right support. A good outcome doesn’t happen automatically.

 In that regard Reuters has revealed a practice of dumping older kids from overseas via the internet when their new adoptive families don’t work out. Desperate adoptive parents unable to handle a child seek out a new home on line and simply hand the youngster over. Like much internet traffic, such transactions are hard to police, but maybe now that the practice is known, steps can be taken to better protect kids.

Below is the Smithsonian’s description of my Nigerian artist visitor’s task here in DC, unfortunately interrupted by the federal government shutdown. He has traveled to NYC and Baltimore in the meantime but began running out of options to occupy his time productively. He is not familiar with preparing his own food in the kitchen—probably his wife or a maid does it at home—so I showed him how to use a microwave and turn on a gas burner. Unfortunately, he refuses to allow any images of his work to appear on Google and doesn’t have any e-mail images, so I’ve never actually seen his work.

Evaristus Chukwuemeka Obodo is a Nigerian-based artist who works in fiber, cloth and other soft materials. His goal for his research is to focus on the woven structure of textiles and to rethink fabric and fiber visually and in its manufacture. He plans to compare and contrast naturally woven structures such as bird nests and leaf vines with African textiles. He will concentrate on the National Museum of African Art, National Museum of Natural History and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum for his studies.

 Poor Evaristus, he not only had to buy a jacket because of cooler weather, but he is feeling a resurgence of the malaria from which he has suffered off and on throughout his life. It’s quite true that it’s not necessary to be bitten again by a malaria mosquito to suffer a recurrence, since the parasite may linger in the bloodstream. Fortunately for me, although I’ve had malaria more than once, I believe it’s only recurred through a new mosquito bite, as it only came back to me after decades when I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras. However, because of having had it, I cannot give blood.

 This below from Anthony Weiner in a candid interview for CQ magazine regarding his wife and his apparent addiction to sexting:
"[H]er reputation has become the Woman Who Married an Idiot and Stuck with Him. More of it rolls off my back, because that's the way I am constitutionally. She's more sensitive. I'm just an empty, soulless vessel, so it doesn't hurt me as much."

 Finally, Happy Halloween to one and all!

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