Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How does it feel, Crimea?

Crimea then, a mixture of cultures and beauty, and the sea. 
Human Rights Watch investigation.

Crimea today, occupied, going downhill
under Russification campaign and Stalinist terror tactics.
NYT "Property grab in Crimea.".
The Russians stole Crimea from Ukraine in a stealth nationalistic and militaristic campaign orchestrated by Putin, which accompanied a covert and overt brutal intervention. Brutal.  The Russian invaders claimed that over 90% of Crimeans voted to join Russia in what is considered by most countries as a fraudulent illegal election.  Rigged to the teeth.   I've always doubted that "over 90%" hogwash. More Putin propaganda.  But if that's what the majority of Crimeans wanted, those Russian-speaking,revved-up hyper-hysterics, that's what they got.

The Russians have infiltrated and are destroying Crimea's economy, politics and culture.  It's a Russification campaign that is sickening to witness and worse to hear about from friends whose lives are in danger.  What used to be an autonomous republic under Ukraine, with relatively peaceful relations among its citizens, and freedom of speech and assembly, is now like a Soviet socialist republic ruled with an iron fist, a Stalinist regime installed and ruled by Russia.  It's illegal, and so far Putin is getting away with it. There is no justification for his invasion of another country's lawfully acknowledged territorial integrity and boundaries.  None.  

According to Human Rights Watch, human rights abuses in Crimea are now rampant, against Tatars, journalists, professionals, anyone who voices any criticism or anyone who is not becoming a Russian citizen.  "Under various pretexts, such as combating extremism, the authorities have been persecuting people who dare to openly voice criticism of Russia's actions on the pennisula."   Persecuting, kidnapping, murdering. The Russian puppets have set a deadline of January 2015 for people to become either Russian citizens or be designated "foreigners" with no rights at all.. Lines for passports run for days and days; frustration mounts. Nothing works. Hospitals, banks, shops. Even worse, heavily armed thugs, mercenaries, and extra-legal gangs rule with abandon.  No effort to restrain them. This is a civilized society in the 21st century?  The quality of life has become unbearable and will get worse as the Russian economy tanks.

The Russification campaign includes land grabs on a large scale.  An AP investigation found many instances of "legal owners strong-armed off their premises; buildings, farms and other prime real estate seized on dubious pretenses, or with no legal justification at all; non-payment of the compensation mandated by the Russian constitution; and targeting of assets belonging to or used by the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority and the pro-Kiev branch of the Orthodox Church."   What happened to the Yalta Film Studio, set in the mountains overlooking the Black Sea, has been replicated over and over: 
"One day in October, a dozen armed men in masks drove up to the gates of Yalta Film Studios.  They weren’t actors, and this was no make-believe. It was a hostile takeover....'They forced all  the employees onto the ground, sealed off the premises and halted the work of the studio,' said  owner Sergei Arshinov...." 

Ukraine's justice ministry has said that about 4,000 enterprises, organizations and agencies have had their property expropriated.  "Some holdings, from shipyards to health resorts, were publicly earmarked for repossession by Crimea's regional government, now part of the Russian Federation. Others were simply seized by armed men, sometimes carrying official decrees that were never published or no documentation at all." ( http://news.yahoo.com/change-leadership-crimea-means-property-grab-202020014.html).  
Welcome to the new Crimea.  This once-harmonious pennisula, homeland of Tatars, a tourist mecca for world travelers, a feast of historic sites like Bachysaray,Yalta and Yevpatoria, is now submerged into a Stalinist state and going into the abyss with the Russian economy.  My heart goes out to Crimeans who wonder, to those like the Tatars who are persecuted, again, to those once-Ukrainian loyalists who are now prisoners of a Stalinist state.  .   .  

But for those who joined the thugs' protests and "voted" to join mother Russia, for those hyper-hysterics, you are getting what you deserve. You let yourselves be sucked in by false propaganda, false promises, ramped up BS ad nauseum,  You supported the stealth violence and stealth takeovers, taking down Ukrainian flags, putting up Russian flags in public mass hysteria gatherings organized by Russian mercenaries, directed by Putin. You invited dear mother Russia to run rampant over your government, your people's halls, and public organizations. You allowed Russian mercenaries and thugs to destroyUkrainian armed forces, and in thousands of humiliating ways. Humiliating.  How could you do this? You allowed Russians to take over your education system and your economy. There are no NGOs.  The once-thriving tourism trade on which you depended?  It no longer exists.740 hotels? almst empty. You are Ukraine's traitors in what is now Putin's Jerusalem.   You are suffering the consequences of your "majority" vote to join the motherland. Hysterical nostalgia got you nowhere.
How does it feel, Crimea? 

Articles: 
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/22/world/europe/under-russia-life-in-crimea-grows-chaotic.html?

http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/17/crimea-human-rights-decline

http://www.theweek.co.uk/russia/60273/crimea-how-daily-life-has-changed-under-russian-rule

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/lithuanias-military-alert-russian-activities-190100709.html

http://therearenosunglasses.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/russia-we-have-the-right-to-put-nuclear-weapons-in-crimea/





Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Rumi Circle

Rumi, wikimedia image
Rumi quotes:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there."

"When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.” 

"The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

My Rumi Circle, as I call it, is small.  No one knows about it.  Those few people who are in this circle don’t even know they are in it. It’s not like having facebook friends. It’s a little group of people I think of as soulmates, friends who float through the real world grounded, purposeful, and looking for the lightness of being.  Not in the Milan Kundera sense, but in the sense of seeking light while wandering through a forest.  A dark forest with many paths.

Probably they would like the Rumi quotes above, or we would talk about them with zeal.  I think of these friends as critical (in the broad sense of the word) and tolerant, wide-ranging in their interests, knowledgable, travelled, compassionate, open and searching. They are imperfect and know it but they stretch.   They are flawed, and they deal with it.  They reach out with open arms, sometimes not knowing who or what they might embrace.  They welcome the marginal and the lost.  

My brother Loren is in my Rumi circle, beloved, and Andy, Doris and people who understand some of my blogs, facebook comments and rants.  I feel safe ranting with them because they know I’ll get back to the center somehow, somewhere, and they know it as the process is unfolding.  We all go off like this.  But we know where we are heading ultimately, the general direction, often circuitous, which is to that field Rumi talks about. 

My Rumi circle just instinctively understands this.  We don't have to say anything.  It's not a matter of discussion. We just know in our gut that there's a reason for rising indignation and there will be a reason for adjusting it.  There's some compelling impetus behind the indignation and urge to rant, and the same compelling impetus in defusing it.  Things just settle where they are supposed to in time. 

The people in my Rumi Circle live far apart, some here on earth and others only the goddess knows where.  They do not know each other. Sometimes we don’t communicate for ages, years even, that is not in words or on facebook or skype even, but for me they are always there, always present. It's an unbreakable connection.

“The smallest coffin is the heaviest,” said a mourner today at a burial of the children killed by Taliban terrorists at a Peshawar, Pakistan school.  

It’s a sadness that led me to think about this Rumi circle in the first place. I believe these friends understand how the smallest is the heaviest. In lots of ways. On so many levels.  “Too horrific for words,” said reporter Nic Robinson of CNN. Yes, and through the disbelief and the outrage rises the compelling indignation, and the need to rant.  The souls in my Rumi Circle can walk in and through contradictions and foolishness, and even outrageousness, and find that we are still behind one another. This circle of unusual friends.  

We understand what others might consider “weird” things.  Like Rumi saying that “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” 

We know these wounds. They are wounds we carry from childhood, from mistakes we have made, the shame we bear, the rejection we have experienced, the pain and loneliness brought on by ourselves or sometimes others.  We also know the inexpressible joy that emerges in time from these same wounds, self-inflicted or other-inflicted.  It’s like Mary Oliver says in her poem Wild Geese: 
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

In the Rumi circle, we share our wounds, and our imaginations; we help each other heal and expand, to take our part “in the family of things.”  Hard as it is, and as far as we fall from grace, we reach for the transcendent and universal, that spirit, that field, that light that Rumi and Mary Oliver talk about. 

Poem (The spirit likes to dress up...) by Mary Oliver
The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body's world,
instinct

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
sweetness
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is --

so it enters us --
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Next Nobel Prize Winner? Mustafa Dzhemilev,Crimean Tatar Human Rights Warrior

yahoo images, 2015
The Nobel Peace Prize is sometimes contested.  The 2015 winners, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, the brave young woman advocate for children's education, and Kailash Satyarthi of India, fighter against child slavery, seem notable and laudable.

But I have one great human rights warrior to add to the list for 2016: Mustafa Dzhemilev, the courageous and long-time nonviolent fighter for the rights of the Crimean Tatars. He has been imprisoned, tortured, spent years in gulags. He continues to fight. The Ghandi of his people.  His pain and struggle are etched on his face, but he remains unbowed.

I learned that he was nominated for the award in the past, which I hope won't exclude him from consideration in the future. The Tatars, an ethnic (Tatar) and religious (Muslim) minority on the Crimean peninsula, are forced once again to fight for their survival.  Literally.  Dzhemilev, at 73 years of age, continues to lead the struggle.

Exiled forcibly with his family (he was a young child) upon Stalin's deportation order in May 1944, along with some 250,000 other Tatars, he grew up in Uzbekistan to become a fighter for the rights of Tartars to return to their homeland.

I can't imagine being forced from home one dark night, suddenly, viciously, at the barrel of a gun, with nothing but the clothes on your back, and maybe a handicraft item grabbed while fleeing, hidden away to pass on to kids and grandkids.  A reminder of a homeland and a tortuous past.   One family told me this story when I visited them in Simferopol, and showed me a common but beloved household item that had been passed along in this way.

In 1989, Dzhemilev returned to Crimea, joined by thousands upon thousands of other Tatars. They began to rebuild homes, communities, and social and cultural institutions.  A fleeting moment of joy.  The Ismail Gasprinskiy Library, a UNESCO heritage site devoted to preserving Tatar culture, is one shining example.  The vibrant beauty of iconic Bachysaray, a main tourist attraction with the stunning palace and historic grounds of the Crimean Khan (15th to 18th centuries), surrounded by awesome cave dwellings, another.

I can't imagine returning to Crimea after living in exile somewhere in Central Asia for decades, your land confiscated, your heritage dimmed. I can't imagine trying to rebuild your life, step by step, stitch by stitch, brick by brick, and then being forced to live once again under a Russian occupation. What an unbearable shock.

That's what happened early this year, when Putin began his deadly stealth campaign on Ukrainian land, when he occupied, invaded and took over Crimea. He ramped up the propaganda, along with secret services operatives, mercenaries, and weapons, to a fever pitch.  A once peaceful and relatively prosperous part of Ukraine became a war zone.  Crimea "belonged" to Russia, Putin pronounced, again at the barrel of a gun and with brutal violence. I suppose like Alaska "belonged" to Russia at one time. But grounds for an invasion today? Grounds for breaking international treaties and humanitarian laws? Grounds for violating the territorial integrity of another country?

Today, the Crimean Tatar people are under an oppressive Russian rule on the land of their ancestors.  Putin has taken over part of modern Ukraine for his own delusional purposes. It's a heartbreaking tragedy, and an international crime.

Putin got away with it.  Crimea is now ruled with an iron fist by a totalitarian regime enforcing Russification on every level.  The Tatars are being victimized beyond endurance.  Killed, disappeared, threatened daily, their neighborhoods and institutions taken over by Russians, some destroyed.  It's happening in eastern Ukraine, too, in Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts, in other cities: stealth, invasion, violence, convoys of Russian heavy weapons and soldiers, special ops; bombs here and there, violent brawls in parliaments, on the streets, in government offices; explosions in Khargiv, in Odessa, Mariupol.  The sounds of Putin's war, with no end in sight.

Putin is a war criminal strutting on the terrain of freedom like a mad dog.

So Mustafa Dzhemilev, this elegant, brilliant and nonviolent fighter for justice, was recently denied entry into the homeland for which he has fought all his life. How devastating beyond words.

He had been in Poland, receiving the first Leah Walesea peace prize. He was stopped at a border check point by Russian soldiers, as five thousand Tatars, who had come to welcome him, watched--helpless, infuriated, defiant. Their hero. Treated like a common criminal.  Forbidden to return to Crimea. Putin's victory.

A surreal rerun of a terrible tragic history.  Crimea.  So beautiful.  So haunting. So violated.

The world needs to recognize what has been lost.  The dreams that have been shattered by Russia's invasion. The tragedy of ethnic Ukrainians who dare not speak out.  The tragedy of the Crimean Tatars, a peaceful people, whose homeland has been repeatedly wrested from them. The hopes dashed. The fabric of a unique cultural heritage destroyed.  The struggle that Mustafa Dzhemilev symbolizes.


SOME SOURCES (copied and pasted but have to type in):
http://journal.georgetown.edu/islamic-justice-through-nonviolence-mustafa-dzhemilev-and-the-national-movement-of-crimean-tatars/

http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-crimea-dzhemilev-interview/25387012.html

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews

http://www.mfa.gov.pl/en/news/solidarity_prize_for_mustafa_dzhemilev_of_ukraine

http://crimeantatarlibrary.blogspot.com/2012/03/international-mother-language-day-at.html. A blog by Peace Corps friend Barbara Wieser who served in Crimea.  She also recommends the International Committee for Crimea (ICC).

http://www.rferl.org/content/crimea-tatars/26595092.html. Tatar scholar attacked; historic library forced to close by Russians. Not sure of the status of the Gasprinskiy library now.

http://unpo.org/article/17764

http://news.yahoo.com/crimea-annexation-upends-lives-tatar-minority













Monday, December 1, 2014

Modern Physical Exam: The Medical Equivalent of 20 Questions

I just had a complete physical.  I was prepared for it, checked-in, the reception desk confirmed "getting the full deal today." Medicare requirement. No co-pay.

Randy Glasergen cartoon.
It turns out this complete physical had nothing to do with a physical exam as people my age define it and understand it.  It amounted to a game of 20 Questions, maybe a few more or less.  First the nurse, at her computer, not even looking at me, asks her 20 or so questions.  Then the doctor comes in, sits at her computer, and asks her 20-something questions. The questions (some of which overlap) have to do with diet (how many vegetables per day, do you eat fried foods,etc.), excercise, preventive shots, home safety, balance issues, and "mood" (have you felt sad the last few weeks, do you feel stressed, etc.).

The doctor nicely explained this was a Medicare Wellness Exam, which focuses on prevention.  Blood pressure, pulse, listening to heart and lungs, and 20-something questions. Wow. That's it.  I think my stress grew during this exam, because I couldn't believe it was the "full deal."

I left wondering how my health really was. Who knows?   Worsening arthritis? Stomach issues? Any other organs going?  Ears, nose and throat?  I didn't feel like asking. It was a done deal.  I had the medical equivalent of "20 questions." I had my "preventive" physical exam.

A last question: "Would you say you are in excellent, good...."  

"I'm in excellent health," I replied, as the doctor closed her computer and walked out the door, wishing me happy holidays.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Thoughts

image, healthcoachzach.com
I just made my annual contribution to Cherry Street Mission. They shelter and feed the homeless, and I am grateful for their work. "Giving people a shot at a healthy life."  I also support Toledo Streets newspaper and Veterans Matter(1matters.org), which serve homeless vets.

The needs are so great, I wish I could give more.  I remind myself there are many ways to give.  I give money to a few charities, time to others, and prayers for most, in hopes other people will give thanks by supporting them. At this time of year I'm grateful for America's "can do" and philanthropic spirit.

I filled in a survey from my old high school in Rochester, NY.   It's a fantastic school that deserves lots of support.  But it's far away, like my college and my graduate school, also great educational institutions. It made me think, I am choosing to give closer to home, and also to smaller groups.  The bigger the non-profit, even crisis and environmental organizations whose missions I support, the less I'm likely to give, probably because I figure my little gift won't mean as much as giving closer to home. I think we feel best about giving when we can see the impact our gifts make on people and on our community.

It's that way with online appeals, too.  I have signed many a petition online, for gun control, against fracking, to support this political action or that, and then I am immediately asked for a donation.  Now I am on lots of lists and the appeals never stop.  As much as I care about certain issues and certain political action groups, I no longer sign online petitions. It just makes me feel bad that I can't support every cause I believe in, at least not with money.

I'm not sure about political appeals either.   Think of all we could give to those in need with the money poured into political campaigns!  I think most Americans feel the same way. Is it okay that people like the Koch brothers and other super wealthy donors dominate the landscape?  Our measley gifts mean nothing in the face of such political contributions. Maybe I'll make one exception: a small contribution to a woman presidential candidate in 2015, more to make a statement than to fund what will be another obscenely costly campaign.  I taught women's history for many years, focusing on women's struggle for the vote and greater participation in American political life. I'd be happy to see a woman president in my lifetime!

I do support a few international groups, like Doctors without Borders, but not many.  I believe Peace Corps Partnership projects, individual PCV projects that are tax-deductible, are a good bet, because I know they really do get down to the local level (http://donate.peacecorps.gov).  With a Partnership Grant, and some book donations from friends in Toledo, Ohio, a little public library in Starobelsk, Ukraine, was able to start its first English-language book collection and make a first step in applying for a Gates foundation grant to computerize the library.

image, novateupartners.com
In these cases, every little bit helps.  I believe individuals can make a difference, and that we can give in many ways.  America's philanthropic spirit is an anecdote to the nastiness of politics and a blessing for those less fortunate than we are.  Giving and gratitude: The spirit of Thanksgiving. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Open World: Host Families and Ukrainian Visitors Form Connections of a Lifetime



Some "host families" greeted the Ukrainian delegation upon their arrival at the Toledo airport on 7 November, then we all met for a brief orientation at Sally and Fred Vallongo's house. Here we all are, visitors and hosts, getting acquainted, starting our great adventure.  Elizabeth Balint and Victoryia Maryamova of the GLC, who did so much to keep us together and provide an incrredible learning experience, and Rep.Marcy Kaptur who made the Open World program possible, are also pictured.  
One of the best things about the Open World program is the chance for local residents to "host" international visitors.  We began with some trepidation, interested but not knowing what this "hosting" would entail. We ended by agreeing, with lots of enthusiasm, that the experience was fantastic. New friendships were formed, strong bonds that will last forever. "These women are amazing," Sally Vallongo noted with some awe, speaking for all of us.    

Tamara, Sally & Fred Vallongo
There were five host families. Sally and Fred Vallongo hosted Tamara Zycova from Kyiv, the coordinator of the delegation. Tamara was in charge of making sure the group got off from Kyiv and shepherded them, along with the incredible Elizabeth Balint, from place to place. Tamara spoke excellent English, was calm, professional, funny. When she misplaced her phone, the Vallongos made a special trip to Ann Arbor to get to an Apple Store.  As it turned out, we found Tamara's phone, hidden in my sofa. But they had a great experience. The Vallongos loved hosting Tamara and learned a lot about Ukraine through her.

Beth Anne Varney
& Vera at Karen's

house
Gary Varney at his house with Vera and Natalia.
Gary and Beth Anne Varney hosted Vera Flyat from Starobelsk. Gary knows some Russian and Vera speaks no English so we thought it would be a good fit. And it was.  BethAnne said she felt "blessed" to host Vera. They took Vera to the Toledo Museum of Art, around their lovely Sylvania Mayberry neighborhood, around town, shopping. They had a great time, and Vera rewarded them with her homemade borscht! A real exchange. Vera made enough borscht for all the women from Lugansk oblast to share at my place on their last night in Sylvania. What a night, borscht and wine, reminiscing, remembering, sharing. As tired as we were, we didn't want the night to end.

Diane Kalb hosted our Burtyn guests, Stanislava and Antonina. Diane has a large home and loves to entertain. She had plenty of opportunity to do so. She was delighted that Rep. Marcy Kaptur came to visit one night.  "I was with a group of friends, my Bible study group. Boy were they impressed that Marcy came knocking on my door!" Diane provided some huge and delicious dishes for our potluck farewell party at the Sylvania Heritage Museum, too.  What a host! Slava and Antonina also spent a few nights with Ukrainian-American hosts in Grand Rapids, Ohio, enjoying vists through the town and to the zoo.
I'm sharing a Sylvania bench with Karen and Tonya. 

Karen Irion Tank hosted Tonya from Starobelsk; they adored each other from the start.  Karen is a pianist and piano teacher and Tonya sings. One night at a gathering at Karen's home, Tonya sang an Edith Piaff song, accompanied by Karen. Talk about an"exchange"! So moving.  Karen was enthralled with her guest.  "She's a philosopher! We can talk about everything. She is thoughtful and talented."  One of Tonya's talents is cooking, and like Vera, she made her host a delicious red borscht. Karen was thrillled to be a host. "It enriched my life," she said.  "I will miss Tonya." Their bond is deep and heartfelt.
In the middle between Vera and Natalia, in my living room. 

Natalia in front of my apartment house on Main,
Sylvania. We couldn't believe it was true!
I hosted Natalia, the college English teacher who helped me when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Starobelsk. She was my translator, friend, and savior through some rough times. She made it possible to write grants for Vera's Victoria NGO and for the Starobelsk Biblioteca. I remember a visit to her house on the Aydar river in Lymon, with a huge garden and lots of trees, Her sister and brother (who lives just over the line in Russia) were there, her husband Vasyl, and sons Artur and Artom. It was a hot summer day and everyone went for a swim in the river after shaslick (barbeque) and a fabulous Ukrainian meal. I hadn't brought a bathing suit, but couldn't resist the temptation.  I stripped down to my underwear and plunged in. I think they were amazed, and amused. The Amerikanka was okay afterall!


Daughter Michelle, grandkids, & Mike Stein,
 Philip's granddad,  who dropped him off 
 to play with his cousins..
How special it was to have Natalia in America, absorbing new surroundings, ideas, people, my neighborhood, the suburbs, the city, the farms. She thought our people were "hospitable and our nature beautiful." We walked around the Old West End (which she loved),  stopped at my old family home on Robinwood,
At TMA cafe.  
then walked down the street to the Art Museum and had lunch at the cafe.

She met my family. Elissa was around for meetings and greetings, at Laura's Russian class, at a farewell reception at the Sylvania Heritage Museum. We paid a special visit to Michelle and her kids, and to my granddaughter Julia and her son Philip. Natalia had heard so many stories, and now she got to meet my kids and grandkids, in person.  How unbelievable.  "I didn't have hope I would ever come here," she said. "But now I do.  I have hope." And of course we went shopping, to the Mall, to Marshalls, Gabes, Clothes Mentor, to this store and that. She had a blast finding great "bargains."  It was a side of Natalia I hadn't known in Starobelsk. Of course there aren't many big stores there either!

 
Natalia with Laura, daughter Elissa, 
artist Martin Nagy, who taught the
girls at Maumee Valley and is active
in GLC and the Hungarian Club.
It's a small world!
The Open World program takes place on so many levels, the educational, cultural, social, and personal.  Every level matters, flows into one another, blends and creates something new, for guests and for hosts.  I can't tell all the stories of the host families; I hope they will one day soon. But I got the gist of their stories through the times we were together. I know how special it was to host Natalia.  I know how important our talks, walks and exchanges were. I know we learned from each other in a true people-to-people way that is the foundation for peace in the world.  Unforgettable.

In front of the old Cary family home on Robinwood in
the Old West End of Toledo.  Natalia loved it. 
Natalia, Tonya, Vera, last
night in Sylvania. 
TMA! After a walk through the OWE.

Shopping, and more shopping. 



Immigration Action: Immigration Nation

"You can come out of the shadows." 
 President Obama, speech on his Executive Order on Immigration 
Photo by Jim Bourg/Getty Image, in Washington Post, 20 November 2014.
President Obama did the right thing. He did the smart thing, too.   He came out and addressed the long-simmering immigration issue because Congress hasn't. He took charge. He's not going to play dead because angry Republicans, powerless against his initiative, continue to pummel him beyond reason.

Obama's plan is simple, straightforward, and timely--all he can do legally in an Executive Order.  As he himself said in his speech, it is not a substitute for real change to a broken immigration system. That's in the hands of the US Congress.

He threw the ball into their court: "Pass a Bill."  Do your job. 

As far as I am concerned, however, the Boehner-led House of Representatives has flunked every test of accountability and responsibility. The Republican Obama haters have stalled on the immigration issue for 500 days. Now they are talking about talking! Now they are talking about "King" Obama. "Emperor" Obama.  It's almost funny. Because they have been one-upped. Because the President has been talking with them, consulting with them, prodding them, for 500 days  To no avail. The truth is that Boehner has sat on a Senate-passed compromise bill for over a year, and for no apparent or transparent reason.

So, okay, let's hammer the president about the legality of his Executive Order (and throw in a lawsuit against Obamacare at the same time).  Good lord. Boehner is frothing at the mouth, and most other Rs are joining him.  But the Appropriations Committee has already addressed the issue:
"The primary agency for implementing the President’s new immigration executive order is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications. Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the ‘E-Verify’ program. Therefore, the Appropriations process cannot be used to ‘de-fund’ the agency. The agency has the ability to continue to collect and use fees to continue current operations, and to expand operations as under a new Executive Order, without needing legislative approval by the Appropriations Committee or the Congress, even under a continuing resolution or a government shutdown.”

Boehner and his cronies are lying to the American people.  They are making up ridiculous scenarios.  They are spewing forth propaganda that almost matches Putin's propaganda about his invasion of Ukraine.  It's plain wrong.  It's disinformation. Dishonest. Untruthful.  I think most people will see through it.

I hope all immigrants affected by Obama's Executive Order, mostly parents and children, "come out of the shadows" and vote in 2016.  The Latino vote.  The Asian vote.  The immigrant vote.  And, afterall, we are ALL immigrants.  It will matter.  That will be the best action Americans can take against this hateful do-nothing Congress out to get Obama.

With thanks to the Latin Grammy Awards for stopping their award show in LA to listen to Obama's speech, and wildly applauding it afterward!

And to CNN for a report, "Obama Echoes Bush," that juxtaposes George W. Bush's 2006 speech urging Congressional action on immigration with President Obama's speech last night. Totally in sync.   "We are and always will be a nation of immigrants."



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Open World Opens Doors: Ukrainian Women Leaders Learn about America

The Ukrainian women receive certificates upon the highly successful
completion of their Open World program, "Accountable Governance: Women Leaders."
 With Dr.Elizabeth Balint, GLC, at final program at the Sylvania Public Library. Ever-teaching, Elizabeth presented the women with a PowWow give-away, a native America tradition!  The women were grateful for the tradition, the gifts of love, and the international understanding the entire program offered. 
The three women community leaders from eastern Ukraine, Vera Flyat, Tonya Aksenina, and Natalia Dohadailo, were friends from my Peace Corps days in Starobelsk village in eastern Lugansk oblast.  We worked together on many projects.  And here they were, almost three years later, in the USA, in NW Ohio, in Sylvania. So hard to believe! In America for the first time, thanks to Open World, an exchange program of US Congress and made possible by Rep. Marcy Kaptur. We had administrative help along the way from Maureen Jameson of World Services of LaCrosse,Wisconsin, a national hosting organization like GLC in NW Ohio.
Handouts brochures, flyers, and some  information that the women
 received from the various sites they visited. 

United Way in Port Clinton
The women were overwhelmed with the new opportunities they had and the ways of life we have in our country.  It's hard to imagine coming from a war zone to America for an international training program in democracy building, leadership development, and citizen involvement in social change.  But these women are not whiners; they are upbeat, brilliant, hopeful, engaging, funny. Sometimes the sadness shows, and the suffering, but not often. "We want to be positive," Natalia said many times if we trailed off into the sad news.

The women from Lugansk oblast, plus two women from Burtyn Village in the Khmelnitsky oblast in western Ukraine, Stansilava Ostrovska, mayor, and Antonina Swintitska, a teacher, along with the delegation coordinator,Tamara Zykova from Kyiv (right photo, with Rep. Marcy Kaptur), completed a full and busy program that took them from Toledo and Sylvania, to Port Clinton, Fremont, Bowling Green, the Amish community in Holmes County, to Detroit and Warren, MI.
Stanislava in Holmes C0untry

The group's translator was Olga Shostachuk, from Cleveland. Tamara filled in quite a bit, as did Natalia Dohadailo.

Facilitated by Dr. Elizabeth Balint, project manager of the Great Lakes Consortium for Training and Development (GLC), the women travelled from
Great idea from Amish
country
In Fremont, at WSOS
Port Clinton
program to program in four counties representing WSOS Community Action, taking in tons of information, experiencing everyday life, and absorbing the culture and diversity of America.  They met with Rep. Marcy Kaptur, local mayors and officials, professors, teachers, and nonprofit managers, former Toledo city council member Peter Ujvagi and current member Lindsay Webb, members of the Toledo Hungarian Club, students, agricultural workers and consultants, entrepreneurs, staff and volunteers of the Ottawa County United Way and other rural nonprofits, church-based and community-based programs for the poor and elderly, with Toledo Botanical Gardens and community gardens, The Hungarian Club hosted a Ukrainian-Hungarian friendship lunch.  The women visited the Hartzler Farm in Wooster, the Hershberger Farm and Bakery, and other farms and entrepreneurial efforts in Amish country.The women presented programs on Ukraine Today with Patti Skaff at Lourdes, Laura Kline at Wayne State, Irina Stakhanova at Bowling Green.
At Hungarian Club, top, with Bill Hilt and Peter Uvjagi. 
Above, starting out in Washington, DC; meetings with Rep.Kaptur, at Lourdes. 
It was an incredibly rich and varied program that covered the four community pillars required by Open World: leadership development, youth engagement in community service, entrepreurial development, and community philanthropy. The women received their Open World Certificates of  Completion with gratitude.  "I am overwhelmed at this experience of seeing America up-close and learning how it works," Tonya said.  "We will bring home new ideas and new energy," Vera promised. "It's the people exchange that was so important," Natalia added.

"I hope they learned as much from us as we learned from them," BethAnne Varney said.  They did. A lifetime of experience for all of them. Open World made a difference.  It was hard to say goodbye, but we will be hearing from these women!


Special thanks for this fantastic experience belong to Viktoriya Maryamova, a program coodinator for the GLC and dedicated volunteer; to WSOS; World Servces of LaCrosse, and of course GLC project manager Dr. ELizabeth Balint, who planned, organized and implemented one of the best Open World programs I can imagine, with outstanding success.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Open World: New Horizons and Ukraine Today



At Dr. Laura Kline's Russian Class at Wayne State University. with Vera Andrushkiw of the Ukraine-American Foundation. The women delighted us with some Ukrainian songs. Natalia lost her voice and couldn't join in, but presented gifts at  program's end.  Stanislava, Mayor of the town of Burtyn, where Rep.Marcy Kaptur's ancestors are from, presented Laura with a Ukrainian scarf.  
"It's been beyond our wildest dreams. We're learning so much,"  Natalia Dohadailo, an English teacher at Taras Shevchenko University, enthused.  Vera Flyat, director of Victoria, a human and women's rights NGO, added, "I already have lots of new ideas to take home to Starobelsk with me." Tonya Aksenina, a rural activist, philosophized about the meeting of cultures, the exchange of ideas, the human condition we all share no matter where we are from.  A teacher, a social activist, and a philosopher reformer all had their say. 

We were at Dr. Laura Kline's Russian class at Wayne State University for a "Ukraine Today" program.  The women from Starobelsk and surrounding villages in eastern Ukraine talked eloquently about how much the Open World educational exchange meant to them.

Stanislava, Mayor of
Burtyn, with Tamara
Stanislava Ostrovska, the mayor of the village of Burtyn, Antonina Swintiska, a teacher, and Tarama Zykova, of Save Ukraine Now (SUN) in Kyiv, joined in.  "I am sorry I never learned English," Stanislava confessed to a rapt audience, "but I never thought I would come to America."  She had tears in her eyes.  We all did.

The women talked about "Ukraine Today," the theme of the program. Of course it's impossible to address this topic without talking about the war raging in the east. Vera wanted people to know that  "the war is not a civil war.  It is an invasion and occupation. Russia has invaded Ukraine, with troops, tanks and weapons, caused many deaths, and there's no end in sight."  She said she worried about her son Konstantin, 24, who joined a volunteer militia to defend Starobelsk from the war that's only 20 miles away.

A huge problem now is the refugee crisis, the women agreed. For example, the population of Starobelsk has almost tripled, we learned, with thousands fleeing from the fighting in southern Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts with little more than the clothes on their backs.  It's a huge humanitarian crisis.

But these women from Ukraine, who are keeping body and soul together, keeping families and communities going, won't let a war stop them.  They will continue to fight, assist in the war effort, and do what they can about the refugee crisis.  Meanwhile, they are concerned about their national government and its ability during war to address the serious needs of the people of Ukraine. Many are unemployed.  Many are homeless.  Many who do work are not even getting paid, teachers, nurses and health care workers. "Who knows what the future will bring?"

Dr. Kline's class, which began with presentations about Peace Corps (RPCV Michael Gall did a great job) and ended with an informative question and answer session, engaged all of us.  A great success!

After the class the women were invited to tour the Detroit Ukrainian community, organized by the indefatiguable Vera Andrushkiw of the Ukraine-American Foundation, who lives in Detroit. A church, cultural center, meal and songfest were highlights.
Detroit's active Ukrainian
diasporan community
.
The Ukrainian village women were only about half-way through their cultural exchange program, but one of the main lessons was already clear: "It's the human connections and relationships that mean the most," Natalia said when she returned to my place in Sylvania. "The people-to-people diplomacy.  This Open World project is providing that."






Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Best of Ukraine in the USA

From left to right, just arrived in Toledo, Ohio: Tamara, from Kyiv; Vera, Tonya, and Natalia, from Starobelsk and region; Stanislava and Antonina, from Burtyn. We couldn't believe it was true!
Ukraine is a world away, several thousand miles from Ohio, seven hours ahead in another time zone, and it is in a war with no end with its Russian neighbor. Invaded, occupied, destabilized.  Crimea is gone and the war in Lugansk and Donetsk continues unabated, with Russian-backed separatists proclaiming new republics and more Russian troops, weapons and heavy artillary coming into eastern Ukraine every day. The violence is escalating again.  Few people think Ukraine, with it's almost non-existent army, has much chance against Russia, with its massive military might. The Big Bear attacking a lamb. More than 4000 people have died, mostly young men around 19 years of age, and thousands upon thousands of refugees have flooded other parts of Ukraine from Crimea and the east.  It's a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions, and winter has arrived.

In Port Clinton, on Lake Erie, with NGO director,
 learning about their work and Head  Start.

And yet, six brave Ukrainian women leaders are now visiting the USA on an Open World international exchange program to learn about how our democracy works, about tools for change and educating the young, about modern agricultural methods and entrepreneurship.

Tonya, Natalia and Vera are from the Starobelsk region of Lugansk oblast in eastern Ukraine, about 50 miles from the Russian border, about 20 miles from the heaviest fighting front in Lugansk. It's where I served as a PCV. They have seen young men off to war; collected food and medical supplies for soldiers without warm clothing and poorly equipped; buried at least 27 unknown soldiers who ended up in the Starobelsk morgue.  They are teachers, NGO workers, civic and rural activists trying to keep their community together during the most difficult time, and trying to keep the fighting itself at bay. So far, Starobelsk is outside the Lugansk area taken over by the Russians.   But the town of 18,000 is inundated with refugees who have no shelter, clothing, food or medical care. So they have out of necessity turned their attention to the daily needs of residents who are overwhelmed with the effects of this war that the world denies exists.

Stanislava is the mayor of Burtyn, a town in western Ukraine where our Congressional representative, Marcy Kaptur, has a close relationship because her grandmother was born there.  Also from Burtyn is Antonina, a young teacher of English. The war has come to them too, through the pre-occupation of the federal government, economic dislocation, war-time casualties, and refugees.  Making positive progress in a time of war is tough, the Burtyn mayor acknowledges.

The women spent two days in DC, meeting the Open World
ambassador and touring the sites.  They thought it was beautiful.  
The sixth woman, Tamara, a vivacious professional who lives and works in Kyiv for an organization called Save Ukraine Now (SUN), is the group coordinator and facilitator.  She made sure the women got to Kyiv (no easy task from Starobelsk), caught their flights, spent two positive days in Washington, and made it to Toledo, Ohio. She is still with them as they travel around the area on an educational tour, with them all the way.

I worked with Rep. Kaptur and the Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development (GLC) for almost three years to bring a Ukraine delegation here.  The last big push came when we worked together on an Open World application, a program of the US Congress operated through the Library of Congress (www.openworld.gov). There are several layers of operation and policies; Marcy helped us get through all of them. So did GLC program director Elizabeth Balint. As far as I am concerned, these two women hang the moon.

Host families and guests: Back row standing: Tamara, Gary & Beth Anne Varney
with Antonina and Slava; Diane Kelb, Sally and Fred Vollango, Elizabeth Balint,far right.
Karen Tank on sofa between Tonya and Vera.
It's almost overwhelming to have these wonderful women warriors here at this time, in our city, in our Great Lakes region.  Elizabeth oranized a powerful program.  The women are learning so much, and we are learning from them.  Our host families are impressed with their guests from Ukraine, and new friendships are forming.  Through the various programs Elizabeth has organized with local officials, NGO leaders, universities, agricultural entrepreneurs, our guests are learning tools to take back to their communities. The people of our region are learning about Ukraine, its culture and past and Ukraine today.

The women don't sing the blues.  They embody activism and courage.  They are engaged; they are funny.  They are the human face of eastern Ukraine and western Ukraine.

I am overjoyed to see my friends from Starobelsk again.  When we said goodbye in April 2011 I think we all felt in our hearts we would never see each other again.  "Our dreams have come true," Natalia said, as we hugged at the Toledo airport.  Vera and Tonya said the same, tears of joy welling up.

We learned so much from each other then. We know that we can't give up. Hard as it is to believe, things are worse now than they were then.  The future is far from clear. It might be dreadful, even deadly.  But we can fight against the odds. I know these women, these brave, good souls, will persevere. The world is a better place because they are in it, doing God's work on earth, no matter what happens.
At my place with Toledo City Councilwoman Lindsey Webb
 (and her daughter), Natalia, Tonya and Vera, my Starobelsk
friends, for a "Conversation on Local Government and eastern Ukraine Today."