Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A Hero for Peace

I have a degree in Peace. This has been a source of amusement over the years from many corners, especially after I took up karate and found I enjoyed kicking things! Given the current context of violence, division and outright hatred in the U.S., I can understand why a degree in peace seems laughable...but the struggle for justice and peace has never been more important.

So you can imagine my delight on September 1st to be able to witness Nicaragua honoring a Peace Hero. On the 33rd anniversary of his protest to stop trains carrying weapons bound for the Contras, the Nicaraguan National Assembly bestowed on Brian Willson its greatest honor, the Order of General Jose Dolores Estrada, Battle of San Jacinto, Great Cross Level.

At 27 years old Brian was drafted into the Vietnam War. When he was sent to villages that had been napalmed and carpet-bombed, Brian came to see that the Vietnamese peasants weren't the enemy. "I realized that I was on the wrong side, and that was very difficult for me," he said in his speech at the ceremony. When Brian returned the U.S., he became an activist, joining Veterans for Peace, and traveling many times to Nicaragua to support the fledgling Sandinista Revolution. "Vietnam taught me that we needed a revolution, Nicaragua taught me how a revolution is made." In 1986 Brian and three others carried out a 47-day Veterans Fast For Life on the steps of the US Capitol, which unbeknownst to them, led to the four to be placed on a domestic "terrorist" watch list by the FBI. In 1987, Brian and two other veterans planned an action outside Concord, CA to physically block the tracks to stop trains shipping weapons destined to kill peasants in El Salvador and Nicaragua. 

The three expected to be arrested that day. But instead of stopping, as was protocol, the train accelerated to more than three times its 5 MPH legal speed limit. Brian later discovered that the train crew that day had been ordered NOT to stop due to the FBI's investigation of them as "domestic terrorist suspects." Although the other two veterans managed to jump to safety, Brian did not. The train plowed into him, only stopping 500 feet down the tracks.

"I spent one month in the hospital recovering from my injuries – double leg amputations below the knee, fractured skull with destruction of right frontal lobe, two broken elbows, broken right wrist, many cracked ribs, broken right shoulder blade, damaged right kidney, and many skin abrasions, including 100 stitches inside my mouth. I needed facial reconstruction including re-attaching my severed outer left ear. I left the hospital with two prosthetic legs and a walker." See Brian's full account of that event here

Others continued what Brian had started - for years afterward, anti-war protesters maintained a 24-hour-a-day vigil at the weapons depot, which shipped between 60,000 and 120,000 tons of munitions each year. Brian has continued his activism, and now lives in Nicaragua.

It was a joy for me to take Orla (nearly 13 year-old daughter) and Abril (18 year-old goddaughter) to accompany Brian and a group of friends to the National Assembly for the ceremony. Orla and I also joined a group later at the National Autonomous University where Brian received an honorary degree. Because he is a hero for peace, Brian took advantage of the moment to speak directly to the Nicaraguan people about the recently exposed plan by the U.S. to interfere in upcoming 2021 elections and to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, called RAIN.

"I hope that all Nicaraguans are in solidarity with preserving your sovereignty, protecting your country from the United States, because the United States is going to try to destroy everything you have. I stand with the Nicaraguan people, and I am going to oppose all forms of North American aggression, and I hope to do it together with all of you."

In a climate of fear and anxiety, we should all be honoring our Heroes for Peace. - Becca

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Future Fridays: The Basis of Life: Bugs

Since we started self-quarantining back in March, we have rarely had staff or visitors in our house, which means that the spider webs are growing.  I sit on our porch which is screened in and look up at all the cobwebs forming and think, “I should clean those.  Nah.  Those spiders will kill mosquitoes.”  

It is the rainy season here in Nicaragua, and mosquitoes are flourishing.  I hate mosquitoes.  I’ve had dengue…twice.  Mike has had dengue and malaria…twice.  Becca has had all mosquito-borne viruses except malaria and West Nile…ergo, I hate mosquitoes. 

Except for mosquitoes, insects are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Some are becoming extinct and that is not good and very rare.  When we moved here just 26 years ago, we could go out our gate and see dung beetles rolling little balls of horse or cow dung down our dirt road.  One of the highlights of our dear friend, Becky’s trips here was watching them roll and move the dung.  When she comes now, she always comments on missing those beetles.

Dung beetle at work - photo shutterstock licensed

26 years ago, we were constantly trying to protect baby trees from leaf cutter ants by making circles around the trees with urine.  In 2000 we had thousands of little trees to take to Nueva Vida and I asked all the male staff to go pee in a large circle to save them.  They were shocked but they saved the trees from the ants.  Now all our plants are safe…but is that good?

About 15 years ago, on one of her visits here our friend, Emma, who was an entomologist, took the boys out hunting for bugs…they called her the Bug Lady…and found a florescent bee!  In our yard!  Now we have only African bees, sometimes wasps, and little sweat bees.

The first year we were here when the June beetles came, with no screens.  For the next few days in the morning we would sweep up into a circle, about two feet wide and six inches high, dead June beetles.  Now we see them rarely.  I miss them flying into my hair and getting stuck in the strands of my hair.

We used to hear crickets and see fire flies at night.  No more.  The nights are quieter and void of the twinkling lights.

The problem is that globally the world is losing about 2.5% of insects each year…at that rate in 100 years they will be gone.  Gone! This will collapse the eco-system.  Why are the insects going extinct when they have survived other extinctions? 

Cities are encroaching…like with us.  26 years ago, we were in the middle of nowhere; now we find ourselves surrounded, in the city.  Pesticides are killing all the insects that are not pests.  On our two pieces of land, we use no pesticides except to spray for mosquitoes, which only kill the mosquitoes…or should.  Did I mentioned I hate mosquitoes?

Plants and insects are the basis of life.  If the insects die…well, if the bees die off, then pollination will end.  Insects like the dung beetle are decomposers.  If ants and termites die off, then we lose soil engineering.  If aphids and the like die off, then we lose natural pest control.  And many reptiles, birds and animals eat insects, as well as many humans.  We have to stop using non-organic pesticides and save our insects.

We do not need grassy yards but we do need crickets, lady bugs, bees, and ants.

We can control pests with aphids, ant eaters, traps and organic means like neem oil.


(Except maybe mosquitoes?  😊)


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Monday, September 21, 2020

First John Lewis and now Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday (Sept. 18th)  and with her death and the death of Rep. John Lewis, the United States of America has lost two of its greatest leaders in the manner of a couple of months…two people who will go down in history as champions of the oppressed.

John Lewis - Ruth Bader Ginsberg  Shutterstock photo licensed

When Rep. John Lewis died on July 17th, I thought to myself, “what could I write about this great man?”: because as most of you know, John Lewis was a civil rights advocate, demonstrator, protester turned congressperson.  He worked outside the law demanding that the law change to give equal rights to minorities especially the Black population in my South…towns of my childhood…and then ran for congress to create law for equality.  I was at a loss.

Again, I am at a loss because as most of you also know, Justice Ginsburg lived her adult life inside the law trying cases that would essentially change the interpretation of the law for minorities and women and later ruling on cases for justice, first as a federal judge, then later a Supreme Court Justice.  Two different approaches, but the changes these two amazing people brought about were great none-the-less.

RBG and John Lewis were eloquent in their words, firm in their convictions, and kind in their approach to others.  What could I possibly add?

I can’t, so to honor them and educate us, read John's and Ruth's words because no one can say it better:

"Don't be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time." -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

When I was a student, I studied philosophy and religion. I talked about being patient. Some people say I was too hopeful, too optimistic, but you have to be optimistic just in keeping with the philosophy of non-violence.”
 John Lewis

"Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time." –Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“If you're not hopeful and optimistic, then you just give up. You have to take that long hard look and just believe that if you're consistent, you will succeed
John Lewis

I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” –Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“When people tell me nothing has changed, I say come walk in my shoes and I will show you change.”
John Lewis

“I don’t say women’s rights—I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.”
John Lewis

“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.”
John Lewis

We grieve their deaths, but much more we grieve the loss to our world which desperately continues to need their voices, their optimism, their congeniality, their wisdom and their pure doggedness to keep change going and keep us all growing in human kindness and justice for all people.


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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Future Fridays: Democracy?

 We have a son, two grandchildren and a daughter-in-law in the fire areas of California.  Coury, our son, is an operatic voice major and the grandchildren are three years and one year: all breathing in the horrid air of ash and smoke while Cassie, our daughter-in-law is a family practice physician dealing with her own lungs and all her patients at risk.

As a result, we have been paying close attention to the fires in the west.  We watched Gov. Gavin Newsom say earlier in the week he was tired of climate deniers…then later, he was just exhausted as his state burned and then even later, how the proof of climate change was California.

Gov. Gavin Newsom - Shutterstock licensed photo

When we value democracy so highly at what point does the people’s actual will to address climate change actually takes priority (56%) right now, 13% in a few years, 13% later in the future, and only…ONLY 18% doesn’tthink it should be address. 

Almost 40 million people live in California…people living through the fires, droughts, floods, etc.  Two in three Californians say that they are feeling the effects of climate change now.  In a democracy, one would think that that would have an impact…but unlike Nicaragua, the United States is not a democracy.  It is a republic.

There are 62 senators representing about one-fourth of the population in the States and only six senators representing another fourth of the population while 32 senators represent the remaining half.  Where California only has two seats in the Senate…23 other states totaling together a population of almost 40 million people have 46 seats to California’s two. 

US Voting - Shutterstock licensed photo

In Nicaragua, those who lose the election still get representation in the National Assembly…for example if the U.S. had used a system in 2016 like Nicaragua's:  Hillary would have won the presidency and the democrats would have held a majority in the Assembly and the Republicans would have had a close minority, with Independents having a few representatives, Libertarians  would have had some, and the Green party would have had a few as well.  Here, if any party gets a decent percentage of votes they have representation in the Assembly…it is not winner-take-all like in the U.S.

Verifying precinct registration lists - Voting in Nicaragua

In North Carolina, where I have lived most of my life, the two parties came close in many senate races and presidential races…49% to 48% in many elections…and yet the one losing got no representation at all.

Also, in the States, you are eligible to vote if you are 18 years and older…in Nicaragua 16 years and older are eligible to vote.  At 16, Nicaraguans file for their cedulas which are their social security number, their national ID card, and their voting pass.  In Nicaragua, if you are 16 years old and are a citizen, you can vote.  If that applied to the U.S. in 2016 to anyone 18 years and older, then over 246.5 million U.S. citizens people could have voted.  But as it was, only a little over 157.6 million were registered to vote and 137.5 million said they actually voted.

If most of the population want climate change to be addressed NOW…most of the population needs to vote in leaders who will make climate change a priority.  The Scientific American actually has endorsed Joe Biden as president this year (first time in 175 years) because of COVID-19, science, and climate change.

Sometimes in the U.S. it feels like walking in thick sludge to get anything done for the good of the whole instead of padding the pockets of the wealthy…but I believe in my heart it can be done.  Plus climate change will not only hurt those who contribute to it or do nothing, but hurt the poor, the disenfranchised, and nations like Nicaragua who ARE trying to address it.  There are no borders on air.

This November we have a chance to do something different.  Let Picard would say on Star Trek the Next Generation…make it so.  We owe it to ourselves, our children, our grandchildren.


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Friday, September 11, 2020

Future Fridays: Thunderstorms & 9-11

There was a long and enormous thunderstorm last night here in Nicaragua. Thunderstorms are part of the rainy season, but this one was intense.  It jolted me out of my sleep, led me to seeking towels and trashcans for roof leaks, and then I paused… 

I watched out the window as, at midnight, the sky was a light grey from lightning sparking continuously through the cloud cover, and listened as the thunder rolls overwhelmed the sound of rain on our metal roof.  The huge strikes of lightning and blasts of thunder jolted the scene.  And our enormous rubber tree just stood there.

In the ongoing storm with the cloud cover backdrop, the rubber tree was a clear black silhouette at midnight. There was no wind.  Not a branch moved.  It just stood there strong against the sky, with an occasional twitch of the topmost leaves.  And when lightning bolts ignited the sky, each still leaf stood out in definition.

I watched, listening to the storm and the rain, for a long time, until the roar of the thunder diminished, until it sounded like separate incoming planes instead of a continuous drum roll, until the frogs began croaking loud enough to be heard over the lessening rain.  And I thought once again, “I am not in control.”  

Yes, we people are NOT in control.  The earth and the universe are, and when we fail to pay attention or treat our world with respect as caretakers, all of us creatures, ALL of us, suffer.  Unfortunately, the poor everywhere suffer the most.

Today is 9/11.  I awoke with a heavy heart, because I fear that some of us tiny humans will do something stupid today, stressed out by coronavirus, fires, windshears, hurricanes, unemployment, threats of war, discoveries of lies and deceit, etc. etc… and the remembrance of the pain and anger of 9/11 will burst through.  I pray not.  We, as the United States, jumped to blame and wreaked havoc then, for which we and the world are still paying.

And I remember those 9/11 first responders. And watch the first responders now. And watch the mail carriers and the sanitation workers and the bus drivers and the teachers, and so many others, in addition to all the medical folk, being first responders and essential workers now. And I listen to their pleas for support.

And so I’m trying to remember the thunderstorm.  The beautiful gift of nature equalizing positive and negative forces in the atmosphere, the rain, the frogs, and the rubber tree standing against the night.  I am not in charge.  I will do my best to preserve and protect the earth and ALL of us tiny humans.  I can participate in life. I can use my voice, my actions, my vote to answer the pleas now.  I will wear my mask and socially distance.  And I will remember the thunderstorm.

- Sarah

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Thursday, September 3, 2020

Future Fridays: Hurricanes, Tornados, Fires, Oh My!

Feeling helpless about what is going on in the world is something that I know intimately.  Four of the five adult children and four of the five grandchildren live in the States far away from us and we must trust them and the Divine that they will be safe. 

Last week one son and daughter-in-law were facing Hurricane Laura and Marco in Houston while another son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were carefully watching the fires in Sonoma County.  A third son was looking for an apartment he and his love could afford since he has been unemployed due to COVID-19, while our daughter and two more grandchildren are figuring out home-schooling while working, since school openings are tenuous at best.  


2020-08 Battling California fires - photo Shutterstock licensed

Increases in hurricanes, droughts/fires, and pandemics are all a direct result of climate change.  Tornados are becoming bigger and fiercer and the derecho in Iowa was something we had never heard of in our lives, all because of climate change. 

Greenland lost so much of its ice shelf to the Atlantic Ocean, even if temperatures were to stop rising but hold steady it cannot recover.  In one 24-hour period July 30 and 31st an estimated 12 billion tons of ice fell into the ocean.  Approximately a week later the last Canadian ice shelf the size of Manhattan fell into the ocean.  This much fresh water will affect the salinity of the ocean.  Our oceans and seas control most weather patterns and with climate change their waters and life forms are changing and not to the good for humanity’s survival.

Marjorie Glacier meltdown - photo Shutterstock licensed

Helplessness overpowers me at times.  My small actions do little to address climate change.  In The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallis-Wells, he says one of the most important things we can do to slow climate change is to vote for leaders who will make climate change their number one priority.

We have to use Greta Thunberg (a 17-year old) as an example how to not let helplessness overpower us, but we instead overpower helplessness by loudly, continually, and forcibly demanding, coercing and even strong-arming government leaders and stockholders and CEOs to sit their butts down and put into place laws, regulations, and severe penalties that work on this problem.

Greta Thunberg - photo Shutterstock licensed

We must take our blinders off.  We must act.  We must vote.  We must yell.  We must resist.  There is no more time to dawdle.


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