Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Fest, Wasp Nest, Franciscan Catacombs, Interpretation Adventures, Friend Loses Her Son, Gay Marriage Quirk, Malala, Cuban Migrants, Cuban Five, Drones, Healthcare Efficiency, Peace Corps Adjustment

Again, mysterious underlined words appeared in my last blog. Why?

 OK Folks, here’s your chance to stop by to chat with the author and get your signed copy of either or both of my books, Triumph & Hope: Golden Years with the Peace Corps in Honduras and Confessions of Secret Latina: How I Fell Out of Love with Castro & In Love with the Cuban People. Meet with me and other outstanding local authors at ML King Library, 901 G St. NW, on Saturday, Oct. 18, 9 am to 12:30 pm or 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm, across the street from Gallery Place metro stop (9th & G exit).  Mark your calendar today!

A wasp nest appeared mysteriously clinging to a cloth embroidered wall hanging that I had gotten in Kenya, a scene featuring ostriches. I carefully removed the mud nest, which was empty, and scraped the cloth with a butter knife, but a residue of mud-dust remains, as seen in the corner depicted. I am wondering how to clean the rest without damaging or staining the fabric, as I fear using water or alcohol would do. Maybe a vacuum cleaner? Any other suggestions would be welcome.
Above photos are from a visit to the Franciscan monastery located in DC, with its underground catacombs, a smaller  copy  of those in Rome. They’re kind of macabre, with shrines and replicas of tombs of saints, including one of St. Sebastian, killed by an arrow in a thigh, of particular interest because of preshooler Sebastian in our party. Included is a bas-relief representation of purgatory, with unfortunates struggling to get out. You’ll be surprised that I met Pope Francis there! Perhaps the most eerie was the glassed enclosure containing an actual desiccated body, that of a little girl who died centuries ago, nicely dressed with a cherubic face mask, but with her actual dark shriveled hands emerging from her gown.

 At a recent hospital interpretation assignment, I ran into another interpreter, I think for Hindi. His client was spectacular-looking, wearing a turban, robes, and a long beard. My own patient that day was very hard of hearing and needed an MRI test requiring her to remove her single hearing aid. I then had to shout instructions to her, wearing out my voice until I was almost hoarse by the end. Another patient told me he works nights on the current capitol building repair project, something I can see from my neighborhood, the dome now surrounded by scaffolding. With interpretation, we never know whom or what to expect, which keeps it interesting.

 I was devastated to hear that my kids’ childhood friend, who used to live 2 doors away, has died suddenly. I just talked with his mother and, of course, there is no consolation for such a loss. I mentioned The Compassionate Friends to her, a support group for bereaved parents, but it only helps them feel less alone and does nothing, obviously, to bring back the lost child. The death of a child is simply something a parent never gets over. If an analogy can be made with a physical loss, it might be like learning to live without a limb or eyesight, though most parents would gladly give up a physical attribute in exchange for the life of their child. Most would even give up their own life for their child’s life. But we are not given that choice. We are acutely aware of the fragility of life and how any of us and those we love could die tomorrow, or even today.

 Now all local jurisdictions, DC, Maryland, and Virginia, allow gay marriage. A young woman I know works in a restaurant where a waitress from Eastern Europe asked her to marry her, only on paper, so she could get a green card. When my younger daughter was a college student out in Washington State, she had similar marriage proposals from foreign students, but back then, all were men. Now the marriage possibilities have doubled! When I travel, I wonder if foreign women will begin to ask me to marry them just as men do now? Who would have envisioned this consequence of the gay marriage boom?   

 Kudos to Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. She is a brave, well-spoken young woman. In a recent radio interview, a prominent Pakistani newspaper editor, whose name escapes me, declared that the prize was all part of an American (?) plot to undermine Muslim values and mix boys and girls together in schools where immoral acts could take place. Of course, girls can always be educated separately from boys to avoid such risks. And Malala is still targeted for death by the Taliban and must live under guard at all times, probably even more so now because of her increased notoriety and recognition in the west. The editor said he didn’t believe that she had actually been shot. It was all a conspiracy against Muslims.

 A New York Times editorial for October 12, 2014 urges ending the US embargo against Cuba, a process that has been occurring gradually already de facto, but is unlikely to end completely until perhaps after the November elections. Jesse Jackson, whom I met in 1984, along with 26 long-term Cuba prisoners that our local Amnesty International group had asked him to get released (as per my book), has also come out in favor of jettisoning the embargo, in a statement in the Chicago Sun-Times. If the embargo is gone, what will be the Cuban government’s justification for restricting and punishing its own citizens?

 It would not surprise me, as part of his post-election immigration reform efforts, if President Obama rescinds the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy for Cuban rafters established by Bill Clinton, allowing them to remain if they touch US soil. I know several successful rafters and also heard of those arriving at the Honduran Caribbean coast while I was living there, some of whom stayed in Honduras. But others were picked up at sea by the US Coast Guard or in the Bahamas and returned to Cuba, so must have suffered reprisals. And, who knows how many have been lost at sea, like the unfortunate rafters mentioned below? The safest, but most expensive, way for Cubans to cross into the US is via Mexico, requiring relatives outside Cuba to obtain for them a flight to Panama or Ecuador and, from there, usually ground transportation through Central America and Mexico, then across the Mexican border after paying off Mexican border guards. I brought Armando, my Cuban kidney patient to the US that way, 16 years ago, and he did the same with his own son, as recounted in my Cuba book.

Reuters, Oct. 5, 2014 [excerpts]

A group of Cuban migrants drank their own urine and blood after the engine of their homemade boat failed, leaving them adrift in the Caribbean for three weeks without food or water, according to survivors who reached the United States this week.

 "I’m happy I made it, alive, but it was something no-one should have to go through,” said Alain Izquierdo, a Havana butcher, and one of 15 survivors of the 32 passengers. Six passengers are missing after they tried to swim to shore, while 11 others died of dehydration.

 “I just feel sad for those who didn’t make it,” said Izquierdo, sitting under a sun shade by the pool of his uncle and aunt’s home in Port St Lucie, on Florida’s east coast.

 The survivors were rescued by Mexican fishermen 150 miles (240 km) northeast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and were briefly detained in Mexico before being released late last month…

 U.S. authorities said last month more than 16,200 Cubans arrived without visas at the border with Mexico in the past 11 months, the highest number in a decade.

 I missed this article about Cuban US Dept. of Defense “mole” spy Ana Montes when it first came out, but I did know about her. Many thanks to an alert blog reader for sending it to me, a fascinating story,

While the Cuban government has made a full-court press for the release of the three remaining Cuban Five prisoners, with a relentless US and European campaign and the arrest of Alan Gross 5 years ago, it has said virtually nothing about Ana Montes. A reader speculates that the Cuban government isn’t going to waste its time on Montes, a lost cause, as the evidence against her was pretty overwhelming. But, apparently, it considers the Cuban Three not to be a lost cause and certainly I’ve heard from a fair number of Americans involved in campaigning for their release—considering them innocent and victims of an unfair trial, as the Cuban government alleges. There is also a vocal contingent of Europeans convinced of their innocence and involved in the same campaign to free them. So an exchange of Alan Gross for the Three after the November elections would not surprise me, along with a further easing of the embargo and immigration measures including getting rid of wet-foot/dry-foot (on grounds that it puts rafters in serious danger), as I’ve said. I’m not sure how much Congressional approval might be required for these last two measures.   

 I have a Cuban-born friend who fears in the abstract—he has absolutely no actual information on this—that with the growth and proliferation of drone technology, Cuban exiles might attempt a drone attack on Cuba, perhaps from another country, causing all hell to break out there. The US government would certainly want to prevent such a scenario. I don't know how easy drones are to make or acquire, but if they were launched into Cuba from another country--such as the DR or Haiti--the US government might not be able to stop them. And there's nothing to say that drones from elsewhere won't be launched against the US. We don't have an iron dome over the whole USA. This whole drone business, like anything else, is a two-edged sword, potentially very scary for us, as well as protective.  Certain nations, like Iran, have captured American drones and have studied how they are made and operate. Once nuclear weapons were the big fear in the arms race; now, it’s drones. If our country can use them, others cannot be far behind.

The US is number 44 according to a ranking of healthcare efficiency done by Bloomberg, examining "health care costs as a share of GDP and per capita, as well as life expectancy and improvements from last year." If it’s any solace, Russia was the worst at #51.

 Reading about the usual struggles and adjustment of Peace Corps volunteers, I realize again how lucky I am that when I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras and during my 10 return trips so far, I’ve never felt or been treated like a foreigner or a second-class citizen. Of course, most (but not all) people there know objectively that I'm a "North American," but sometimes they forget during their conversations and I'm always welcome as a guest in their homes. Often, I'm offered the "Honduran" price for something, including the senior citizen price. I was perfectly happy to be the only foreigner living in El Triunfo during PC. It must be harder for most volunteers, as I’ve come to realize reading their memoirs and postings.



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