Friday, November 15, 2013

Nigerian Artist, Grandson Andrew, Pending Honduran Elections, Iran Nuclear Talks, Sen. Graham, Obamacare, Atheist “Churches,” Books

Photos are of Evaristus or “Eva” (pronounced Eh-vah), the visiting Nigerian artist, and his fabric-based works, November roses and berries, and my grandson Andrew, named for his late Uncle, whose father is my son Jonathan, now an 11-year-old football star in Texas. I’m also including a photo that was lost, but miraculously just found again, of my bath time in 1940, in Central America, when I was 2 ½, included in my upcoming book, title mentioned below. The child standing next to me is my younger brother, then only a little more than a year old. (It looks like that photo came out very small, but I’d better not fool with it.)

 Evaristus, my artist visitor from Nigeria, just left, looking forward to returning to his wife, four kids, and teaching job there. On his last Sunday, he told me for the first time that he wanted to go to church and that he is Catholic. Most of my other African visitors have been fundamentalist Protestants or non-affiliated, so I was surprised and sorry that he had not spoken up sooner. I took him with me to Communitas, the little storefront Catholic community I belong to. Only about 20 people were there that day, but they received him warmly and he even spoke up at various junctures where responses were solicited from those gathered, i.e. in answer to the question: “What are you thankful for,” he spoke up, “For all of the wonderful people I’ve met while in this country, including all of you here.” As for the bloodshed between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, he insisted that Muslims have mostly attacked Christians, not vice versa. This was his first visit to the US and he was only here for 2 months, so his adaptation had to take place quickly. Using the metro, confronting the government shutdown, and just getting used to US currency, especially coins, were all challenges. Halloween kids and colorful and falling leaves were surprises. Hardest for him was adjusting to colder weather (by mid-November, we had not yet had freezing temperatures, so he hadn’t seen anything yet!), requiring him to buy a sweater and a vest, but he refused to wear socks with his sandals, saying that would be an unnecessary extravagance because he was going home soon. He is a fabric artist as well as a professor of art, so I’m going to try to post some images of his work—let’s see if I can. The other person in the photo by the cars is Sarah, another housemate and a recent college grad and an intern at Amazon Watch, an environmental and indigenous rights organization, though she’s soon starting a paid job elsewhere. Nathalia, my doctoral student from Brazil, is getting married next month, so she also will be leaving soon. I do miss most folks when they leave, but turnover is also interesting, as I never know who to expect next or when. Eva’s final message to me was: Thank you so much. You have been a wonderful person to stay with. I really enjoyed staying with you. May God keep you healthy. Farewell. Eva

 Honduran elections are coming up on Sunday, November 24. In addition to the traditional Liberal and Nationalist parties, there are six other candidates, notably, Xiomara Castro of the newly constituted “Free” (Libre) Party, wife of deposed President Manuel Zelaya. Municipal offices are also in play. I confess to not knowing if the biggest vote-getter wins (as in neighboring Nicaragua, allowing Daniel Ortega to be elected and re-elected) or if the winner must achieve a certain percentage of votes.

I don’t claim to know what’s in the secret heart of Iran’s nuclear negotiators, but if the US and Iran can come to agreement, that will further reduce tensions and the danger of a nuclear Iran—and of an increasingly hostile Muslim world. Such agreements are more than mere legal documents, they are confidence- and trust-building measures. Of course, these talks may also be an Iranian stalling tactic. Yes, Israel’s Netanyahu is right in intimating that perhaps the only way to assure that Iran doesn’t build nuclear weapons is to nuke all their nuclear sites preemptively. Would that be wise? Would that really protect Israel and the world? I doubt it.

In the DC area, since we are so top-heavy with government workers, we’re still recovering from the government shutdown. Minority rights shouldn’t be allowed to coerce the majority, as is happening in today’s Congress. Even one recalcitrant lawmaker can hold up everything, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, now threatening to block the confirmation of Janet Yellen as Fed. Reserve Chair and Jeh Johnson as Homeland Security Director. People like him and Senator Ted Cruz are in the contradictory position of combating government as the enemy while they are also part of government and receiving their income, platform, and influence from that source. We need government, so if it’s not effective, the answer is to make it more effective, not to demolish it, or we are all in trouble.

 Probably the Obama administration considered certain health insurance policies inadequate because they lacked particular key items of coverage, lacks that might still fall onto the health care system in terms of worsening health leading to emergency room visits, which cannot be denied, coverage or no. Of course, the President should have anticipated this problem before speaking out so glibly about allowing people to keep their existing coverage. Added to the problems with the Obamacare website, this was another glitch in the roll-out of a program already under fierce fire from Republicans. Obama did well to yield somewhat on this issue, after pressure coming also from Democrats.

Interesting and not all that surprising that atheists, feeling beleaguered and alone, have joined together in “non-religious” gatherings to celebrate togetherness, song, and ethical living. Certainly those qualities of religious observances are probably as important as actual beliefs.

 A gentle reminder that my book, Triumph & Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras, is available in print from Amazon and electronically on Kindle and the Nook, makes a thoughtful gift for people of all ages, not necessarily just for would-be Peace Corps volunteers. It’s a human story with widespread appeal. I’ll be doing a couple of radio-website interviews on my book and my life on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2 respectively and will let you know details when I get them.

 I’ve finished a second memoir entitled Confessions of Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People, but, as we all know, just writing a book is hardly the end of it. It must be set up in print and digital formats and I like to include lots of photos, which adds complications. I’ve proofed my manuscript over and over, but probably have still missed a word or two. My graphic designer is in Honolulu, so that adds another layer of complexity. It’s quite a process and that’s only the beginning, as marketing it comes next, something I’m not very good at. You will know first on this blog when the new book becomes available. In the case of either or both books, if you want me to send you a signed copy, let me know and I’ll arrange to do that.

 Speaking of books, they’re practically my only recreation or indulgence, since I have little free time and don’t watch TV and only listen to NPR when eating or doing chores. When I was in the Peace Corps, books were much coveted by volunteers, voraciously read, passed hand-to-hand, and many old favorites were re-visited, at least by me, classics like The Secret Garden, Little Women, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist, Moby Dick, and The Scarlet Letter. I think I enjoyed them even more in my old age than in my youth—in part, because of the nostalgia factor, in part because, as a writer, I could better appreciate their structure and craftsmanship.

 Now, I read mostly non-fiction, library books that turn over quickly. A recent one was Hanna Rosen’s The End of Men (2012), a best-seller arguing that while women have forged ahead in education (earning more than half of all college degrees, including in medicine) and have become more wide-ranging in their workplace choices, most men have stood still or lost ground, unwilling or unable to adapt to the demands of the current marketplace and only half-heartedly taking up some of the burden of household chores and childrearing. (Women also predominate in the Peace Corps.) Another recent read was Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope (2006), written before his presidential campaign and finished only just as he had won his senate seat. It’s a frank, well-written book, foreshadowing many of his positions and initiatives as president, not obviously self-aggrandizing as is the case with other political memoirs. It’s a very adroit exposition of personal and family details blended with sensitive issues of faith, race, and family structure along with public appearances and policy maneuvers. For example, his early life in Indonesia leads into a discussion of the history of US involvement in that part of the world. Rather than making him less American, his experiences abroad probably made him more appreciative and more knowledgeable of the issues our country faces. As far as I know, Obama did not have a ghost writer, as GW Bush and Sarah Palin did.

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