Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Week 3 USA: Full of Activity

Connected to Stany and Shanty only by phone conversations this week, I will add some of their experiences from this week upon their arrival back to Portland. In their absence, our week has been full of activity that includes political demonstrations, a wedding, birthday celebrations, a religious retreat for my wife, several communications with our daughter in Costa Rica, and my preparations for classes to begin. The featured photo is of the Burnside Bridge in Portland where I (in the shadow) would later join others in holding 7 signs:

1) Bradley Manning, 2) Spilled the Beans, 3) Now War is Deadly by Any Means. 4) Our Lethal Drones, 5) Execute Civilians in Their Homes. 6) Stop War, 7) Free Bradley Manning.

For those who may have never heard about Bradley Manning (or have forgotten about him), he was a young U.S. Army soldier in Iraq who was arrested in May of 2010 on suspicion of releasing classified information (including 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables and footage of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Afganistan) to the website WikiLeaks. This information inspired the New York Times and many other newspapers to unveil many secrets in subsequent articles which, in turn, helped to fan the winds of revolutionary change in Egypt and elsewhere. After being held under inhumane conditions for over 10 months in solitary confinement (and often even without clothing), Bradley Manning awaits court martial proceedings in the medium security military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Local demonstrations throughout the U.S., including ours, seek his freedom and defend the principle that democracy functions best when secrecy is kept to a minimum.

In another event into which I had input, about 100 people gathered to commemorate the attack of 9/11/20 together with its aftermath. We met out of regards to the 2,753 mostly civilians who perished that day, and the over 6,000 U.S. servicemen who have died carrying out U.S. policies over the 10 years following that day. By some estimates, a total of over one million have lost their lives in Iraq, Afganistan, and Pakistan with more than 90% of these being civilians. A debatable combination of lies and erroneous information fuel by a cultural impulse seeking revenge accounts for most of this carnage.

We now know that, prior to the U.S. onslaught, the Taliban in Afganistan had offered to detain Osama Bin Laden pending a trial by an international tribunal, that Saddam Hussein had none of the ``weapons of mass destruction`` which were used by the U.S. to justify a pre-emptive strike against his regime in Iraq, and that President Musharif of Pakistan had been warned of a possible U.S. invasion of his country if he failed to cooperate with our ``War on Terror``. Might much, if not all of the suffering, caused by U.S. policies both prior to 9/11 and after have been avoided if we this country were to behave more as a compassionate neighbor than as an Empire defending its self-proclaimed ``way of life``? What would Gandhi say? Buddha? Jesus? Mohammad? What would you say?

Most of us say ``Yes`` to life most of the time. A dramatic example of that for our family this week were present in our attending a wedding for a friend of our housemate Iris where my wife and I were welcomed attendees of a Spanish Mass where two people of Mexican heritage exchanged their vows of lifelong commitment. Celebrating our former foster daughter`s birthday was another, with Margarita (Maggie) throwing a party for her daughter Hanilyn the next day at her home – with over 40 people overeating while enjoying the excellent music of a three-person Mexican band. Approaching 2 years old, Hanilyn and I played in a sandbox and later sat in my lap for a record 15 minutes (enjoying the scene and fascinated by my camera)! She also allowed my wife Kristine to feed her for the first time! After being neglected by us for the first year of her life (9 months of which we were traveling abroad), it seems that she is willing to forgive her strangely pale grandparents in her second year! All that certainly says ``Yes`` ~~ to me!

Much of the rest of the week was consumed by me preparing for Fall Term courses I teach as well as Kris attending a religious retreat for which she mostly maintained silence for three days. Shaman, Iris , and I managed some mindless entertainment while seeing the film ``Transformers III: the Dark Side of the Moon`` and, in fact, there was a lovely full harvest (orange) moon last weekend. Kris` niece Nicole gave birth to a healthy son with a great new name: Rory Boone (O`Neil). Our daughter Sonrisa has been having a fine time milking goats, picking coffee beans, and learning all about methane while working on an organic farm in Costa Rica. Our housemate Tom continues volunteering with Senator Merkely.

Overall, our lives this week have been fairly full of activity!From their week visiting relatives in Florida and Texas, Stany and Shanty had much to share. Their Florida adventure began with a long drive from Ft. Lauderdale down to the very bottom of the Florida Keyes. The beauty of the Palm Trees and tropical environment reminded them much of Kerala, though traversing the seven miles of bridges linking the islands was a sight almost beyond the imagination. Numerous waterways were reminiscent of the Kerala backwaters, though the alligators they saw in Florida are a contrast to what may be found in India. The weather, however, including the seasonal rainfall was much like that of Kerala, prompting Shanty to tell us that ``It was much too hot and humid, Uncle.``

In the way to Key West they had stopped to watch the launching of a satellite (Delta II) from the Kennedy Space Center where a whole day was spent. As the rocket made its way into the sky they were able to better imagine the reality of space exploration which they could see documented at the Space Center. There they learned all about the Apollo trips to the moon, together with artifacts from that time. There also was a Space Shuttle on display, open enough for them to see its inner workings. How amazing is the technology we humans have managed to create! Yet if we applied that energy to making peace on Earth, might that be an even greater ``giant step for mankind``? Perhaps a small step in that direct could begin with India and Pakistan working together to relieve their peoples suffering from a second year of belated and behemoth monsoon rains?

On their way back from Key West their tour stopped at Miami Sea Aquarium where they enjoyed viewing seals, sea lions, and dolphins. Apparently the dolphins were most impressive in the skills they displayed, leaping out of the water and high into the air seeming to smile all the time in accordance with their trainers instructions. Shanty observed how she had tried to use some of the hand signals on Stany but without much success (ha). I suggested that maybe Dolphins were smarter than her husband and I, and that she and my wife might have to employ other strategies on us to get what they want!

While there was no time during their few days in Florida to go to Disney World, Stany and Shanty were given the experience of going into a Casino. Stany observed the behaviors of folks ranging from younger people seeming to have a good time to a disproportionate number of senior citizens who appeared to take their gambling more seriously. Upon his return, we talked about the ``get rich quick`` attitude that many see as a growing cultural trend in the U.S. with many adverse consequences. For the few who do get rich quick, there is often a feeling of somehow deserving that which was not really earned, and a corresponding lack of willingness to share with others their good fortune. For the many losers the myth of the American Dream continues, together with the hope that only a little effort is needed to really score big! Ironically, Shanty played a little on the slot machines and won $100! Rather than celebrate and go for more, they stopped and gave the money away to help cover the cost of gasoline for the car transporting them around.

It is good that Stany and Shanty were able to share Saturday, September 11th in the company of family and friends. This is the climax of the Kerala harvest week of ONUM celebrated by all religious groups and economic classes. There children are released from schools for the week, family feasts are common, and traditional events are jointly celebrated. Had they been with us in Portland, Stany and Shanty might have been far more homesick. Skyping relatives in India provides some emotional sustenance – but there can be no real substitute for sharing with family in person at times like this. When I phoned them that day, I could feel the happiness in Stany`s voice.

Their flight to Dallas, Texas was like from a steaming pressure cooker into a fire. The dry heat of Texas was overwhelming for Shanty who was reluctant to leave the comfort of air conditioned rooms. ``It was like a desert, Uncle``! In fact, Texas is not unlike a burning furnace these days, with autumn heats still into the 90-100 degree Fahrenheit extending an historic period of draught which is still feeding wildfires near Austin that have consumed well over 1,000 homes. It is in this context, including extreme water rationing and livestock dying that Republican Governor and Presidential hopeful Rick Perry confesses his continuing skepticism regarding whether or not global warming is affected at all by human behavior. Such denial, perhaps, is made more possible by the most popular distraction (drug?) enjoyed in that state: American Football. Might sports be described as a great opium for the people? As long as the Texas Longhorn team (whose massive stadium Stany and Shanty were able to gaze at from the outside) stands tall, the painful death of longhorn steers can be of less concern those not too directly affected….

Shown great hospitality by their many cousins who live in and around Dallas/Ft. Worth, Stany and Shanty were encouraged to shop with them, but resisted in preference to good conversations in which they could affirm relationships which, in some cases had gone 15 years without personal contact. ``My father taught me well``, said Stany, ``that people are much more important than property``. ``Having more things does not bring happiness. Having loving relationships can do that.`` So it is that the Fulbright Scholar from India displays a more philosophical and spiritual side – a side that affirms to m that he and I have far more in common regarding basic values than I had realized when we were in India.

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