Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kings Dominion, Congressional Reception for LGBT Advocacy in Jamaica, Cuban Independent LGBT Advocates Barred, DR Citizenship Measure, Bad/Sad News

On Memorial Day weekend, my daughter Melanie and I took her grandson De’Andre to Kings Dominion, a theme park about two hours away near Richmond, Virginia.  I rode only on one ride, a red and yellow car on a monorail circling above the park. I'm not fond of swirling around or bumping or zooming up and down, which seem to be the major motions of most rides. While my daughter and great-grandson rode many of the kiddie rides, I watched the crowds of families walking by, a cross-section of America and Americana, many sunburned overweight people in shorts and tank tops, all sorts of tattoos and hairstyles, men with beards and ponytails, women in saris and hijabs, and whole families wearing color-coded t-shirts of day-glow chartreuse or atomic pink to keep track of their members. Bags were searched at the entrance to assure that no one was bringing in food or drink, as that could only be bought inside at exorbitant prices, like $4 for a soda.  My six-year-old great-grandson’s favorite activity was driving cars of any type, his mother’s son in that regard, as my granddaughter loved driving small cars more than anything at his age. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to go with us, but plans to go next time.

May 17 was the International Day Against Homophobia. During the following week, several events took place, including a bipartisan Congressional reception for Human Rights First (HRF), an LGBT advocacy group in Jamaica. Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL) and Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA) hosted and spoke at the May 22 event. The guest of honor was Jamaican lesbian activist Angeline Jackson, mentioned before on this blog, who started the HRF advocacy organization after she was raped at age 19 by a man who was convicted, then later exonerated. She recounted how the police had advised her to “go back to church” after she reported the crime. She and other lesbian activists in Jamaica are often taunted “You need a man.” The crowd at the event and the rousing cheers after Jackson’s speech, and the bipartisan congressional reception itself held at the Rayburn House Office Building, indicate how mainstream LGBT rights are becoming.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, as reported in a DC gay advocacy newspaper, The Washington Blade, Independent Cuban NGO's Excluded From LGBT Conference

Posted: 08 May 2014
Cuban advocates not invited to international LGBT conference

Apparently, the Blade asked Cuban authorities for comment, but none was forthcoming. One of those cited in the article, independent Cuban AIDS activist Ignacio Estrada, appears in my new book, Confessions of a Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People.

 Partial progress has been seen in the Dominican Republic’s citizenship crisis, triggered when the high court there declared that all descendants of people who arrived in the country after 1929 were not citizens. In the wake of furious world-wide condemnation, the Dominican president, Danilo Medina, has proposed a plan that, so far, as legislative approval. Those born between 1929 and 1997 with proper documentation will be granted full citizenship; those born between 1997 and 2010 will need to apply for citizenship; and those born 2010 or later, or those who have no legal documents, will be given the opportunity to apply for naturalization after 10 years. Implementation must be monitored for the first category of people (who supposedly will get access to their Dominican documents), as well as for the second category, who, meanwhile, remain virtually stateless, and are probably the vast majority of affected people.

A progress report closer to home: the dumpster for the house next door, to which a 2-story rear addition is being added, has been moved somewhat closer to that actual property and I no longer run smack into it going out my front door. Now, the main disruption is a jack hammer starting at 8 am that’s breaking up a concrete slab in the back. I feel for the worker wielding it; he must feel the vibrations throughout his body. Of course, everyone working on the house is Hispanic, only the foreman is not. They heard me speaking Spanish to some guys who took some stumps out of my front yard, so now they always greet me with “buenos dias” in the morning.

Unfortunately local news and everyday happenings include both the bitter and the sweet.  In the last week, unaccountably and quite unusually, there have been four purse robberies if women walking alone in our neighborhood, one occurring as early as 4:45 pm when there is still much daylight. One robber was armed with a gun, the other robberies were apparently at knifepoint with two of the women being stabbed. Police patrols have been strengthened.

The staunch leader of our DC chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a parental bereavement support group, Olivia Gunther, has died after a long battle with cancer. Olivia was a woman who was able to comfort and rally other bereaved parents, despite the loss of her son, husband, and sister. She was a role model for us all.

My visitor from Tanzania received terrible news that her husband’s sister, who had been suffering complications from a botched dental procedure, had died, leaving her husband and two children. It’s so very hard for people here only temporarily to deal with such family tragedies from such a distance—committed as they are to representing their government and unable to make a quick trip home, not only because of the time involved, but the great expense. My visitor was feeling distraught about not being there to help her husband and his family at this crucial time, making it hard to focus on the course she’s taking here.  

Some time ago, an artist from an African country was staying with me. He’d left his young son and pregnant wife back home. One weekend, a girl friend from NYC came to stay with him over a long weekend and they seemed to be having a very good time together when news came from his wife that she had suffered a serious hemorrhage and miscarriage. She begged him to come home and, apparently conscious-stricken, he left immediately, though his time here was not up.

The latest book I've read is Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives by Michael Specter, a writer for the New Yorker. Among his examples are the anti-vaccination scare, the phony marketing of Vioxx, the rejection of genetically modified crops, and blind faith in Echinacea and other alternative medicines and vitamins. As he says, all crops have been genetically modified from their wild state, all medications have side effects as well as desirable impacts, "natural" doesn't mean safe, and childhood vaccination exemptions put not only the children involved at risk, but also children too young to be vaccinated or those with underlying conditions that make vaccination risky--preventing "herd immunity" from protecting them. So now measles, polio, and other common childhood diseases have resurfaced.

I would add American gun violence and the lack of gun restraints to denialism.  The individual “right to bear arms” supported by the Supreme Court, gun manufacturers, the NRA, and a small, but vociferous (violent?)  minority is depriving many Americans of the right to life or to a safe and secure life free of the fear of being killed at random. One columnist recommends, since the mantra is: guns don’t kill, only people do, let’s license and check out the people who wield the guns. But even psychiatrists admit they cannot predict which of the large number of people with emotional or mental health issues will commit violence.  Since countries with strict gun control laws have the lowest homicide and suicide rates, why not try more gun control for a change? As the grieving father of a student killed in Santa Barbara demands, it’s time for lawmakers stand up to the gun lobby. If enough of them did it, even the massive amounts donated by the gun lobby to defeat them would not defeat them all. I still think my proposal, paying gun manufacturers and dealers to phase out and move to another type of business endeavor should be considered. And there would also be less violence in Mexico and countries south without the massive firearms flow from the USA.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Next-door Home Makeover, DR Citizenship, A Lost Day, Tango Turco

As seen in the photos, my next-door neighbors (note sign in front) in an attached house are having a very large 2-story addition constructed on the back of their home, along with many other renovations. My house is the taller red house, with the second photo showing the view from my front steps. The owners expect the job to take 6 months and have moved out meanwhile with their small daughter. Alas, I’m still living in my own house, where banging and drilling of concrete, plaster, and wood goes on all day long both inside and out. Worse yet, their giant dumpster, emptied almost every day, usually sits parked right out in front of my house, not in front of theirs.  After many polite and not-so-polite requests, the foreman had it moved so that it’s no longer blocking my front door, just overlapping only part of my front yard. Still, that’s progress and I hope to have it moved gradually over completely to their side. If necessary, will appeal to city authorities.

 After a worldwide uproar, including from us at Amnesty International, DR President Danilo Medina has apparently sent the legislature a measure that would allow those descended from people coming into the country after 1929 and affected by the high court decision to opt for DR citizenship after all. It's supposed to go into effect June 1, which is pretty soon. If it should actually work, I must express surprise and also relief. Maybe all the pressure finally helped. However, people who have seen his proposal say the devil is in the details, also in the changes that the legislature may make.

 Last Friday, there was a huge rainstorm, but I had an interpretation assignment, so I grabbed an umbrella and set out gamely for the metro. But in a train inside a tunnel, there was an electrical outage and the train just stopped. By the time I made it to a metro stop to catch a bus to continue to my medical interpretation assignment, it was already the time I was supposed to be there. I asked someone else waiting for the bus if I could borrow her cell phone to tell the medical office that I was on my way, though sorry to be late. On that call, I found out the patient had come early, her son had served as her interpreter, and they had already left. So I went wearily back inside the metro station and came home, forfeiting my pay and also causing my agency to lose its half. To compound my problems, after arriving back home, I couldn’t find my keys and apparently no one was home. Thinking I might have dropped them, I retraced my steps to no avail, so I just sat out on my front steps—by then the rain had stopped—hoping someone would show up with keys. Well, finally, a housemate came home and opened the front door. Then another arrived and began a search outside and found my keys under a rose bush where I’d plucked off some dead blossoms, so all was well, but what a wasted day! The woman who found my keys is a GAO fellow from Argentina who had once lived in NYC and told me how she had lost her keys in Central Park and gone back the next day and found them, so she really has a nose for lost keys!

 With an old friend who now lives across the river in Arlington, Va., I saw a play at the Arlington-based Spanish-language theater, Teatro de la Luna, entitled “Tango Turco” or “Turkish Tango.”  I used to attend productions there with members of a Spanish-language book club. That was before I broke off ties after the dispute with my “nunny bunny” accuser which led to the writing of my newest book, Confessions of a Secret Latina. Although it had been some years since I had attended, I was amazed when the woman greeting us at the door remembered me by name! What a memory and how many people have passed through those doors since? My companion was less fluent in Spanish, so we sat in a rear row where surtitled translations flashed above. The staging and acting were excellent, but the work itself was a rather light comedy, as the title would suggest. My interpreting work in hospitals and schools is very basic, so after seeing that play, I found myself missing the more literary aspects of my Spanish-language engagement.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Local BookFest, Goodbye Dr. Helmuth, China’s Economy, Bolivia Brigade, Cuban Twitter, NRA Convention, “Smart” Gun, Ruminations on Retirement Communities

On Sunday, May 4, I participated in a BookFest with other local authors in our Capitol Hill neighborhood, as per photo above.

 Received terrible news that Dr. Helmuth Castro, my Peace Corps health director in Honduras, has died after an illness, a type of encephalitis, contracted while he was attending a conference on HIV in South Africa, no doubt a great honor to have been invited. He was a wonderful, supportive man by now in his 50s. Last I heard from him, he was working with the Peace Corps in Guatemala, after the program in Honduras was shut down.  I just got a message from his wife, whom I had contacted, saying she was sure that his work in disseminating HIV information has had an impact worldwide, which has given her some comfort.

 My local NPR station broadcasts BBC news late at night. One night, I heard speculation that China’s economy might overtake that of the US as the world’s largest later this year.  Other estimates are that it won’t happen until 2019. I had not realized it would be happening so soon in either case. I’m just waiting for some Republican political blog to blame Obama and the Democrats for this occurrence, assuming it is even true. Of course, determining the precise year all depends how an economy is measured.  China has more than 4 times the population of the United States, but we always want to be Number One. Reportedly, the Chinese leadership actually doesn’t want their country to be identified as having the largest economy as that might make it more responsible for climate change, foreign aid, etc.  In any case, apparently, China’s economy might perhaps come to be considered larger not in terms of actual GNP or output of goods or per capita income, but rather in terms of internal citizen purchasing power, in that many items cost less there than in the US. That’s true worldwide. As I have commented before, American manufactured drugs or their equivalents cost less in Honduras than in the US. Often, I can buy them there for less than the co-payment would be here and usually without a doctor’s prescription. (However, even using the measure of internal purchasing power, some argue that China’s economy still won’t be close to surpassing that of the US.)

 A fellow Spanish interpreter sent me a request from a Canadian medical charity working in Bolivia, looking for a Spanish medical interpreter for a surgical mission scheduled for next November. Like IHS, the group I regularly work with in Honduras, it requires volunteers to pay their own expenses, not only airfare, but, in this case, for a hotel stay too, as they perform surgery in a city hospital. It would be very interesting to do this work in a country other than Honduras, but I’m already committed to Honduras, where travel is cheaper. I certainly cannot afford two very expensive volunteer trips like that in a single year, having gone to Honduras already in February. It’s not only a matter of the actual outlay for the costs involved, but of lost work opportunities while I’m away. It takes a while for my interpretation agencies to get me back on board afterward and they are not too happy about my annual absence. I would like to see more of Bolivia, as years ago, I got only as far as the shores of Lake Titicaca, with a tantalizing glimpse of fishermen trawling with nets from their impossibly buoyant reed boats. I’m not particularly fond of Bolivia’s current leadership, especially after the president kicked out the Peace Corps ostensibly as a blow against Yankee imperialism, but I still would want to help people there if I could. For first-time participants in such a volunteer endeavor, it’s very educational and eye-opening.  Probably a Canadian medical charity is more acceptable to President Evo Morales than an American one would be, which he might suspect of being a front for gringo spies.  USAID’s Cuban Twitter program was not helpful in that regard.

The damage caused by the revelation of the now-defunct USAID Cuban Twitter program is based mainly on criticism of its secret character, but it had to be secret to function at all in Cuba, because, of course, the Cuban regime doesn’t allow private communication among its citizens that might threaten its control. Many American critics use Twitter themselves.  News stories and Cuban official outrage have focused on Twitter’s potential for sparking an uprising against the government. But the USAID program was in no way influencing the content of Twitter messages, just providing an avenue of communication in a country where communication is routinely blocked, along with gatherings of likeminded citizens. Most critics of the program don’t acknowledge how very difficult it is for Cubans to have unimpeded communication among themselves. Even gatherings of more than three unrelated people officially require a government permit.

 At the NRA’s recent annual convention in Indianapolis, members had to leave their firearms at the door. What? Were there any complaints about that? Perhaps, but probably even the leadership of the NRA realizes that having a bunch of armed gun owners together in a small space was not such a great idea. With someone like Sarah Palin as their darling, I would say that such folks cannot be trusted with firearms.

In a related development, a Maryland gun dealer planning to sell a “smart gun” that only the owner can fire has decided against it, after getting death threats from gun lovers. I’m not sure of the logic here, but it seemed to have to do with opposing any restriction on gun ownership and use. Such people are fanatics, who value the freedom to shoot a gun and hurt or kill someone else above the right of others to be protected from harm.

 Since my last posting about visiting former neighbors living in a lovely retirement community, I’ve pinpointed the main reason why their comfortable life does not particularly appeal to me, assuming I could even afford it. The complex is fairly far removed geographically, as such places usually are, from city life and the public transportation that I now use almost daily. If I were living there or somewhere like it, I would no longer be able to work, host foreign visitors, give public talks about my books, and just enjoy walking around my lively Eastern Market neighborhood in Washington, DC. I’m afraid I would be bored out of my mind and feel as though I had retired from life, no longer independent and in charge of my own destiny. Going for meals is the highlight of the day for most residents of such places, giving them their main opportunity to interact with others. Eating is a biological necessity, but usually a rather routine one. I need a little more excitement in my life. Of course, if our memory starts to fade and we need prompts about when and what to eat or if we become too disabled physically to care for ourselves, then that’s another story. At that point, we do have to accept that we’ve become dependent and have no other choice. Beyond its relation to dependency, any retirement, assisted, or senior living system is also the next step before death, as we would be reminded if we lived there because the death rate is naturally relatively high among residents. That’s usually how units become vacant and available to newcomers .  Somehow, clustering older people together in a protective environment doesn’t seem quite natural, but many older folks prefer it to being dependent on their kids. My daughter Melanie remarked, when we visited our former neighbors at such a place in rural Maryland, that the layout and amenities seemed identical to those in a complex where she recently visited relatives in Portland, Oregon.  If I end up moving to a retirement community myself, I may change my tune.