Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for February, 2011

Children at Rwandan Airport

This is part of a story by Sean at ROP Stories. If you can’t fly to Rwanda, please lend a hand by donating to the ROP Center for Street Children and help with food, water, schooling, job training, clothes and health care.

ROP VISITS THE AIRPORT

Most of us take airplanes for granted. For some, like me, they are fascinating. For others they are simply another form of transportation. But for all of us they are commonplace. Airports and airplanes, ho-hum.

To our boys though, they are quite interesting. The ROP Center sits just outside of the airport, so they are quite used to seeing airliners sporadically roaring overhead. But they seem quite interested every time, especially when it’s Ethiopian Airlines’ big 767 or the UN’s massive, deafening cargo plane that makes the ground tremble as it departs Kigali. They also see numerous helicopters buzzing around throughout the day. This is undoubtedly why, when Jenny gives the boys paper and pencils for drawing, there are always at least a few who draw their own versions of aircraft and helos.

Even before we left Rwanda for our visit to America, the younger boys had been asking Jenny if she could arrange a visit at the airport for them. Upon our return she submitted a letter to the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority requesting we be allowed a tour. After a short wait they called her to inform her that they accepted and gave her a date. On Tuesday we decided to inform the boys while they were all having lunch in the dining hall. Jenny told them, “Since you all have been so good lately, we have arranged a very special trip for you.” Celestin, the director, asked is anyone wanted to guess where. Several of the boys began shouting “America! America!”. Jenny and I immediately felt that the real surprise would now probably be disappointing, but we told them and they seemed quite happy, especially the younger boys.

CONCLUSION OF VISIT AND MORE PHOTOS

HUMAN RIGHTS & MYANMAR

Burmese (Myanmar) holding photo of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was recently released after decades of house arrest and imprisonment.

Our local Amnesty International (AI) group was one of the first ones established in the U.S. In fact, we were the 5th. For over 40 years we, along with millions of people worldwide, have taken action to have prisoners of conscience released (people who have not committed any act of violence and are imprisoned solely for their political, religious or personal views and/or because of their gender or sexual preference); have fair and partial trials for anyone imprisoned; abolish the death penalty; and put a stop to torture and ill-treatment for any reason.

The Santa Cruz Chapter of AI has worked to have people released, torture stopped and people fairly treated while in detention, in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Mynamar, Tibet, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and many more. Presently, we are trying to obtain the release of Myo Min Zaw and Ko Aye Aung, who were arrested in 1998 for distributing leaflets and organizing peaceful student demonstrations in Myanmar’s biggest city of Yangon. They have been given sentences of 52 years and 59 years respectively. They have reportedly been tortured as well during interrogation. Both men are prisoners of conscience detained solely for the non-violent expression of their beliefs.

YOU CAN DO SOMETHING AND HELP!

WRITE COURTEOUSLY WORDED LETTERS AND EMAILS TO THE AUTHORITIES IN MYANMAR. Call on the authorities to ensure that:

Myo Min Zaw and Ko Aye Aung are released immediately and unconditionally. They are prisoners of conscience who are imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of rights guaranteed to them under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

• Myo Min Zaw and Ko Aye Aung are not subjected to torture or other forms of abuse including any and all cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

• Myo Min Zaw and Ko Aye Aung are able to access necessary medical care and be allowed to receive visits from legal advisors and family members

• All prisoners of conscience held in Myanmar are released

HERE IS WHO AND WHERE TO WRITE:

Chairman, State Peace and Development Council
Senior General Than Shwe
c/o Ministry of Defense
Naypyitaw
UNION OF MYANMAR (Burma)
Salutation: Dear Senior General Than Shwe

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Nyan Win
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Bldg. (19)
Naypyitaw
UNION OF MYANMAR (Burma)
Tel 011 95 67 41-2335
Fax 011 95 67 41-2336 or 011 95 97 41-2395
Email mofa.aung@mptmail.net.mm
Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister of Information
Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan
Ministry of Information
Bldg. (7)
Naypyitaw
UNION OF MYANMAR (Burma)
Fax 011 95 67 412 363
Email Media.moi@mptmail.net.mm
Salutation: Dear General

Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
2300 S. Street NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax 202-332-4351
Email info@mewashingtondc.com
Telephone 202-332-3344

***

To join the Santa Cruz Chapter of AI and/or attend our monthly meetings, please contact Laura Chatham at 831-440-9738 or LChatham @ surfnetusa.com

What Is It? Who Is She?

Beginning of the novel FERAL by Deena Metzger.

The moment it first occurred to the woman that she would bring the girl home was when the girl had climbed to a sturdy branch halfway up the sycamore and ensconced herself there, first removing, then dropping, her yellow leather work boots and then her socks, stretched out like lilies at their tops, fluorescent lime green no less. The girl wrapped what looked like prehensile toes around some of the finer twigs so that it appeared that she had grown into the tree or it into her. When the woman was trying to discern the nature of the being she was examining, first she thought feral, then thinking feral, she thought wolf. But wolves don’t climb trees, both the girl and the woman knew that.

Confronted by the girl’s feet, she was compelled to say simian, ape, primate, mono, monkey, but stopped there as no one would identify a species by its feet alone. Then as the woman teetered between one identification and another without knowing if the confusion or complexity was in the girl or in herself, the girl raised her mouth to the sky and opened it into a fluted goblet as if to catch rain. The sadness the child exuded was so like a perfume that one could not bear taking it in or being without it. Grief eased out into the air extending itself in mineral colors like oil on water, the thinnest of diaphanous films until it found its destination and wrapped itself about the living body, a sculpture in opal and mother of pearl. So many days, the woman admitted, she had been curious about grief while most willing to avoid the textures of its mysteries.

Climbing the tree had not been a thoughtless or impetuous action. The girl had taken a Jew’s harp, a handful of dried cranberries, a scrap of blue leather, feathers, a vial of silver and turquoise beads, a needle, some thread, other secret objects, some sacred, all carefully balanced in the lap of an oversized T-shirt that the girl turned alternately into a desk, a knapsack, a handkerchief for blowing her nose, while another T-shirt became a bandanna, a snood, and a white banner that declared most adamantly: “I will not surrender.”

Closer scrutiny indicated however that this was not a wolf or a monkey person. Nothing so close to human. Or so diminished as to say humanoid. No protoperson. Nor was she any animal the woman could identify, but she was of another species, the woman thought, of another species altogether. The way the words fell together, something else she could not yet understand was presented to her mind: An animal of other species altogether. Or, as she was only later to understand the meaning of: an animal of other species all together.

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No Smiling On Thursdays

Excerpt from short story collection for children Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

No Smiling On Thursdays

Papa said, “No smiling on Thursdays!”

I kept my head buried in Mama’s shoulder. My tears were getting her shirt wet.

Papa asked Mama, “Isn’t today Thursday?”

Mama said, “Yep, Thursday all day.”

I looked at Papa, then at Mama and put my head back in Mama’s shirt. Papa got down on his knees, went behind Mama and peeked at me over her shoulder.

“No smiling on Thursdays!” he said smiling.

My sniffles stopped. My face felt happy. A big smile jumped on my lips.

“Hey!” Papa said, “This is Thursday! No smiling!”

A giggle ran out my mouth, then another and another. It was a giggle race. I couldn’t stop.

Mama and Papa both had pretend mean faces on and said, “Stop that! This is Thursday.” Then they smiled and laughed.

***

At school, my friend, Ben, ran up to the teacher crying. He put his arms around her leg and his face on her pants.

I went behind the teacher, looked between her legs at Ben and said, “This is Thursday.” He looked at me funny for a second, then put his head back on her leg. I said it again, “This is Thursday Ben. There’s no smiling allowed on Thursdays.”

Ben stopped crying. “What?” he asked.

“There’s no smiling on Thursdays,” I said again. He smiled and looked up at the teacher, who smiled back.

“Hey!” I said, just like Papa. “Stop smiling!”

Ben started laughing, let go of the teacher’s leg and tried to catch me.

“No smiling!” I shouted, as we both ran off to play.

***

At bedtime I heard Mama and Papa yelling. Papa came into my room to help with my pajamas. He looked sad.

Then Mama came in. She looked sad too.

After Papa buttoned the last button on my pajamas, I went behind him and said, “Don’t forget Papa. No smiling on Thursdays.”

He looked over his shoulder at me, then up at Mama and smiled.

“What?” he said. “Is this Thursday?”

“Yep!” I nodded back.

“You’re right!” said Mama. She smiled at Papa and kissed him on the cheek. She looked happy. “How could we forget?” she said.

Mama and Papa started tickling me all over.

“No smiling!” I said in between laughing, yelling and giggling. “It’s Thursday!”

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And The Winner Is?

No matter how commercial, glittery or fake the Oscar’s are, I still love ’em. Guessing who will win or who I want to win, is half the fun, even if I haven’t seen half the movies, actors or screenwriters that are up for awards.

It is ironic, since film, like books, are so different, one from the other, that the idea of comparing one to another is actually quite ridiculous. It’s always nice to have support and praise from your peers, but in many ways it is like comparing apples and oranges to guava, bananas and nectarines. Unlike books, film making is a totally collaborate and team effort.

To say a movie is “A film by….” is quite erroneous, since it usually takes hundreds, if not thousands of people to complete a story for the screen. Writers, producers, directors, editors, actors, drivers, camera operators, cinematographers, lights, sound and more and more and more.

There is also the fact that there are so many more important matters, events and concerns taking place around the world and awards shows pale in comparison to their importance. I’m not ignoring this reality by watching the Academy Awards, just taking a few minutes off. Movies also have the power to inspire, enlighten and transform the way people think and see the world, so I hope some of that is conveyed during the show.

So, in spite of these realities, I still like to watch every minute of the Academy Awards and have for years. Perhaps it is the small independent film or an unknown screenwriter, actor or director that has been working for years who has the chance to finally be recognized and appreciated. Maybe, it’s the appreciation I have for the amazing creativity and cooperation that is required to make a good film. Then there’s my fantasy to one day see my name mentioned, as “a film, based on the book by Gabriel Constans“. Whatever the reason, I know exactly where I (and most of our family and friends) will be at 6:00 pm this coming Sunday.

Bombs Away

Excerpt from biography Paging Dr. Leff: Pride, Patriotism & Protest.

Fred Branfman emerged from the jungles of Laos carrying a heavy load. He wasn’t weighed down with ammunition, guns or rations. The international volunteer, who had been in and out of Laos for over three years, was burdened with something far greater than goods or a heavy backpack.

What he carried were photographs, drawings, documents and stories of the Laotian people and the devastation that had been inflicted upon them by United States bombs – bombs that officially didn’t exist; bombs that burned flesh and chopped off limbs; took the lives of mothers, children, elders and babies; bombs that destroyed homes, crops and entire villages; bombs that were intended for the communist Pathet Lao.

If was 1969, and the war in Vietnam was in full swing, though much of the fighting had been diverted from ground troops to killing by air. From 1968 through 1974, Laos had more ordnance, including cluster, fragmentation, Napalm, and 500 pound bombs – dropped on their lands and their people than did the Koreans, Europeans and Japanese during the entirety of the Korean War and World War II. The Pentagon estimated that they were dropping about six million pounds of bombs per day. Historically a gentle land of farmers, most Laotians had no idea what was happening or why America was trying to destroy them.

Few Americans had heard of the destruction taking place on The Plain of Jars and its 50,000 inhabitants, let alone that Laos and the U. S. government was intent on keeping it that way. U. S. reporters were not allowed on bombing runs into Laos and were restricted from speaking to military brass. Everything surrounding the raids was classified, but not all the people who witnessed or knew of the carnage could be silenced.

Fred Branfman carried pictures of people on the ground, the victims of impersonal high altitude air strikes authorized by U. S. Ambassador Godley and frequently directed by the CIA. He had close-ups of unexploded bombs bearing the symbol of the US; bombs dropped by American pilots who had never met a Laotian, let alone knew one. But Fred knew them personally; he had been to their homes, talked to the elders, and shared meals with families and communities. Fred was in bed, not with the military, but with the stories of the Laotian people. He was embedded with scenes and images he would rather not hold. He was embedded with unbearable atrocities that had been committed by his fellow Americans and was determined that the truth of these events not be buried with the Laotian people or minimized by U.S. propaganda that denied civilians were ever targeted.

Some Laotian Peace Corps friends of Fred’s told him about a young captain in the Air Force who was going to Washington to testify about the bombing of Laos to the Fulbright Foreign Relations Committee, the most powerful committee in the senate, chaired by Senator William Fulbright. They’d said this captain was a physician at the Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base In Northeast Thailand, just over the Laotian border. The base was a hub for the US and CIA aircraft that were bombing the very people he held so dear. This officer had put out the word, through his civilian friends and employees of Air America (a front for the CIA), that he was looking for informational ammo about the situation in Laos.

How this captain had been so blatant about his mission and survived being thrown out of the Air Force was beyond Fred’s comprehension. He was just glad there was somebody sane enough to listen, someone who might be able to help stop the madness.

In late fall of 1969, Fred Branfman met Capt. Arnie Leff, MD, USAF, at The Bungalow, a counter-culture way station for off-duty military and civilians traveling throughout Southeast Asia. He entrusted all his papers, files, interviews and photographs about the bombing of Laos to Dr. Leff, a passionate Jewish-American kid from Brooklyn who had the guts, chutzpah, or naivete to stand up to the U. S. military and political regime and say, “This is wrong. This isn’t the America I believe in.”

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Don’t Forget

Don’t Forget by NGARANBE Daniel (in photo), is an excerpt from The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales.

My life was in the streets and my bed in the dirt. My food was from dustbins. I used drugs to try to forget, but they didn’t help. I was a thief and would rob whoever passed my way. Then I found a new home and new parents at an orphanage called ROP Center for Street Children.

The man at ROP told me to come out from the street and join the other kids. They clothed me, treated me well, and helped me when I was sick. What touched me most was that they treated me just like any other kid. That is why I thank my new parents at ROP. Now I have a future. I am speaking English, Some French, and taking other courses.

I would ask the leaders of this nation, and all nations that are helping children, to keep doing what you can. Not because the children are your biological blood, but because they are people just like you.

Children are tomorrow’s wonder.

There are others in some families who are being misused for sexually immoral things and heavy work. Don’t forget all of those who are being wronged. They are looking to you, to anybody, wondering who will see them and reach out a hand.

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