creative non fiction

A Letter From Richard Steele*

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I realize, dear reader, that it has been more than 300 years since I last penned an edition of The Tattler; and that the United States, didn’t exist back then. But over the years I have always followed events assiduously. The cybernet is limitless, and allows me to reach you now in America ( I should say in the USA, because America refers to an entire hemisphere, right? My bad as you Yanks say.) What seems to be happening there stirs up my quiet conscience and dormant public spirit.

Over the centuries, I have resisted reacting to crude and violent uncivil rage, like the kind that is everywhere around you in the Colonies. (Sorry, as ‘you guys‘ say in  that gender warped way) , it is tempting for me to ignore that Revolution. But I take comfort that language is still something we share; more or less. Bet you don’t know what lucubrations are!

It is specifically the chronic reports of the death of a prominent political pretender to high US office that forces me to comment. I do so with reticence and some embarrasment, because I am rather a coward; I will not name that candidate, in order to avoid being economically destroyed by those, not excluding government, who by comparison to me, commnand unlimited funds, and unlimited time to prosecute!

Although I am still in England, America has a long reach; who knows what  a bity of my old DNA permit, or 23 & me turn up; I must think as a US citizen should. The average person there, facing your system of justice, can neither expect the speedy trial promised by your constitution, nor pay a multimillion cost of defense in the case of an abusive opponent having unlimited funds. The choice is bankruptcy, or a plea of guilty, deviously termed ‘a ‘bargain’, in exchange for an unjust result; it’s a legal kind of blackmail or coersion. Moreover, today,  in an atmosphere of national outrage, certain defendants  can face ugly threats from enraged or uncaged partisans.

That is why, dear readers, to face US justice, ‘ain’t me, babe,‘ in your parlance; so I rely on you to supply the name, which should be easy, since the news of the  most recent death is echoing across the cyberworld ceaselessly, like joyless monotonous waves on an ocean beach. 

The candidate first died in Nov 2008; and again in Nov 2016, but  still appears everywhere, claiming to be alive; to have been alive for many decades; saying a far flung conspiracy exists to lie and decieve.  With due respect, because the eminent candidate  clearly merits that,  I urge acceptance of the dead state bravely and wisely; though the legs and arms may still appear to perform animal functions, the art is not there; the candidate is gone. I hope these lucubrations  help to make that more apparent.  

*

Adapted from The Tattler No.1 April 12, 1709.

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Illegal Criminal Child Aliens

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The subjects are jailed minor boys and girls awaiting deportation, hearing or trial. The facility where they are kept is among the best, both physically and operationally. It is an older but well maintained juvenile detention facility, with a large gymnasium, an astro-turf sports field and an extensive library. There are many opportunities provided by volunteer groups, and various departments at a nearby College…For example, the art department promotes inmate art works; the results are visible inside and outside: sculptures, mosaics, and murals, created by juvenile inmates: The facility is uncrowded; local inmates are housed separately from the illegal alien children — all, by definition are under age 18– The subjects of these brief interviews are confined to a secure facility because they have a violent or criminal past, or both. They speak, read and understand their primary language fairly well but their ability in English is very limited.

 One never knows, in such circumstances, what is exaggeration or lies, but I have been doing similar interviews for a number of years, and in time one becomes more able to evaluate them. These, of course, were children; yet they were far more frank, open and expressive, less manipulative,  than many adults.

Considering the alleged situation in their country of origin, and the unique opportunities available in the facility ( the jail),  one might think they would be happy, or at least feel fortunate. But they are not, despite nourishing food, shelter, medical care, training in English, access to books and both video and classroom teaching.Why unhappy?

First, they are children, and moreover, teens, who by some law of nature are often unhappy and unhinged. Second, they are not free where they are. As Children their views are short-sighted and self focused; as humans they value freedom. It should not be surprising that they don’t like the strange food; but they hate worse the confinement. They want out; even if they go back to a situation that was dangerous or intolerable, it would be a place where they might Try Again to return. The reader may note that most had somehow had access to enough money to hire a coyote. Why? I cannot say, but wonder whether if criminal or drug activities were responsible, directly or  indirectly. Their individual stories are moving. Here are condensed versions of a few.
Male Age 16, El Salvador Crossed on foot TX in 2014 at age 14; coyote $7k paid by parents. However, after crossing had no further assistance. Lived on street, Las Vegas; arrested for theft. Sleepless, wants sleep med and pain med for back problem. We spoke at some length about the dangers of using addictive medications for sleep or chronic pain, both best treated by being active physically! I doubt he wanted to hear such stuff, though; he didn’t seem impressed.
Male Age 17, Honduras Coyote paid $ 10k by family, 5k deposit, 5k due on arrival. Arrived age 14. Reached a relative in Las Vegas but later arrested after caught in robbery. Says he may be sent back, but will return, and is taking classes in English. The food is terrible in the USA, but the country is great!
Male age 17, El Salvador Crossed the border at San Diego asking for asylum. Sent to Oregon, placed in a shelter; but fell in with folk who lived on the street. Was arrested for theft and assault. Allowed that the request for asylum was not really valid; it was just a door that he opened. If he is sent back he will come again, this time without a claim for asylum… will cross some way, probably on foot. ‘ Better illegal here than legal there.’
Male Age 16, Honduras
Dad paid for coyote, but when he got here dad sent word: ‘Good Luck, you are on your own’. Lived on the street. Arrested for assault. Expects release soon, wants to go back to Honduras because he has family there who are not without economic advantages. I asked: drug business? Yes. ‘Better  a rich  criminal there than poor and illegal here’.
Male Age 16, Mexico Was a ‘mule’ for marijuana smuggling; entered into Arizona on foot, but was immediately caught. Sent to Phoenix. Expects to be deported.  However, in Sonora, his home, he doubts he will be able to avoid going back to being a mule. Why? Realistically there is no other choice
Male age 17, Honduras Caught while crossing near Houston; has family somewhere in US but they did not respond to attempts to locate them. Seems a bright kid, communicative, but didn’t know who his namesake, Roosevelt, was. I told him briefly about two presidents by that name. both, and he plans to look them up in the library and ask the English teacher to comment.
Female Age 14, Mexico Coyote crossed border AZ in a car trunk. Placed on bus to Las Vegas. Arrested prostitution and theft.  Jailed then transferred here. Is awaiting hearing, pending transfer motion. On zoloft and resperidol not sure what it is or why. C/O tooth problem. Whether released or sent back home thinks she will return one way or another, this time with some English. She understands she has no skills and no advantages except  quite a few years ahead for profiting from her looks. I expressed surprise that plan in place at her age, but she looked at me sideways, and commented that she lives in the real world where people have to deal not with ideas but with facts; besides, she said,  ‘I have a good connections in Vegas.’

Male Age 16, Honduras Crossed on foot to reach his uncle here. But the uncle was unable to take him in. Lived on street; theft, prostitution, drug abuse. Arrested states he was ‘beat up’ and remanded to Foster care. Has HIV, probable source uncle? Hep C?He doesn’t know. On medication now. I asked him about his unusual first name. He said it was from a famous poet; he knew nothing else, but says he likes poetry. I suggested he try to look up two poems that may have something to do with his unusual  last name. The first is by Oscar Wilde:

Le Jardin
The lily’s withered chalice falls
Around its rod of dusty gold,
And from the beech-trees on the wold
The last wood-pigeon coos and calls.

The gaudy leonine sunflower
Hangs black and barren on its stalk,
And down the windy garden walk
The dead leaves scatter, – hour by hour.

Pale privet-petals white as milk
Are blown into a snowy mass:
The roses lie upon the grass
Like little shreds of crimson silk.

The other poem is by Brazilian Eduardo Alves da Costa, fairly easy to understand for Spanish speakers: Essentially: The first night they robbed a flower from our garden. We said nothing. The second night they openly trampled the rest of our flowers. We said nothing. Until the weakest among them entered our house by night and stole our light; and knowing of our fear, ripped our voice from our throats; then we could say nothing.
Jardim

Na primeira noite eles se aproximam
e roubam uma flor
do nosso jardim.
E não dizemos nada.
Na segunda noite, já não se escondem:
pisam as flores,
matam nosso cão,
e não dizemos nada.
Até que um dia,
o mais frágil deles
entra sozinho e nossa casa,
rouba-nos a luz e,
conhecendo nosso medo,
arranca-nos a voz da garganta.
E já não podemos dizer nada.

Comment: These histories pose a problem: they put a face on illegal immigrants even though in this case they are criminals. The last three cases in particular suggest that it is risky to look at them, or to hear them, too closely. The same is often true of all criminals, and illegal immigrants.  While our country cannot open our borders to billions of people from all over the world, we share a hemisphere with many other Americans, North and South; we share a common cultural and ethnic past with people on our borders.
In fact, as always, the USA needs immigrants. If all illegal aliens were to disappear instantly, there would be an economic and social crisis here; in gardening, building, hotel maintenance, restaurant work, and farming, to say the least… and arguably, even in child-bearing! We North Americans are too often unwilling to raise enough children to replace ourselves. That is too great a sacrifice! Houses, cars, travel, education, health care, and entertainment are expensive priorities, and it costs several hundred thousand dollars and tens of thousands of hours to produce and to raise a child conscientiously.

 A child, as often claimed,  is a hostage to fate: a risk.  But without children there is only past. Frankly, it seems possible  that within 20 years we will offer to pay people to immigrate to our big beautiful USA. To relate stories like those above is not meant  to glorify illegal immigrant children; yet, their desperation and decisive, high risk attempt to change their lives is the recurring story of the USA. Unfortunately, many of these  illegal children come from criminal and drug dealing environments, or worse; they bring that with them. Some are MS13 members. But the first illegal immigrants who crossed the atlantic in wooden ships were often undesirables, rebels, or troublemakers. Some were criminals. All are kin to those, criminals or not,  who pay coyotes or cross nations and deserts to reach our beloved land.

 Adults who are illegal immigrants today are people whose journeys are even more hazardous, more sacrificial, than that of most child criminals; yet they also reveal an intense desire to find a better life in the US. As a consequence they create a better North America, and in a wider sense, better Americas.

My son Fred, a master carpenter,  once again  this April, drove from South Dakota to Baja California pulling a trailer full of equipment. He joined a group of Methodists to build small homes. In this case that is not simply  a charitable act; the recipients of homes are limited to people who 1) work 2) have their own a half hectare lot, where they live in very marginal conditions,  and 3) have children who regularly attend  school. I go to build or to work as a translator for Lighting for Literature,  providing small solar lighting units in the homes  of the same kind of families, so schoolchildren have light to study in the evenings.

The clear majority  of such families have a connection with the USA;  it is generally  with a close relative,  usually one who has, during most of a lifetime,  regularly sent money to their relatives to make their  present and future more  promising.  That sort of story of immigrants and cross culture exchange  is as old as time. It is the stuff of progress, and of civilization.

 

 

Friends of Grays and Fleets

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We’ve been probed, CT’d and MRI’d,

Have suprapubic midline tatoos,

And golden marker seeds inside

To show gamma ray binocular eyes

Where to send high energy rays

to the place where cancer lies

awaiting a deadly dose of Grays.

 

We arrive, our bladders full,

With a Fleet’s clean sigmoid;

Identified, pastic bracleted, we pull

Off our clothes and try to avoid

More exposure of bare buttox

To watchful target cathodes

waiting in cold whiteness.

 

We are cheered by nurse and technician

Who treat us like aged newborn babes

And carefully swaddle us in position.

They leave. The machine wakes, and stirs,

To mufflled beats of rap that plays;

It rotates, stops, starts, and whirs

To shoot off focused gamma rays,

 

Until the prescribed dose is spent;

Then deflates the swaddling wrap,

sighs, and stops, as if content,

and settles down to take a nap.

Our nurse helps us to our feet,

pulls off our wadded sheets,

Then sets it all in order again

For friends of Grays and Fleet’s

The Age of Information

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Will Durant became widely known for his early books, especially The Story of Philosophy.*  My copy is from 1933, the 15th printing. A yelloeing newspaper clipping is inside; it is an interview with the Durants in 1963 by Jim Bishop, and  includes a brief account of their 1913 marriage: Ariel  was 15 years old; Will, her tutor, was 25; yet they obtained approval to marry. She rollerskated to the courthouse; a ring she wore ever after was donated by an attendant; the marriage lasted 68 years until their deaths two weeks apart. Ariel was a collaborator in all of the Durant’s subsequent books, and co-authored the later ones; their commitment and devotion is palpable in the dedication of  Story of Philosoply which reads:

To My Wife

Grow strong, my comrade… that you may stand

Unshaken when I fall; that I may know

the shattered fragments of my song will come

at last to finer melody in you;

that I may tell my heart that you begin

where passing I leave off, and fathom more.

The same features of Durant’s book that made it popular were offensive to many formal historians: it is clearly written, and contains opinion, commentary, and humor. In other words, it was written to be read. understood, and enjoyed. As I open up my old copy again, the preface pages seem relevant to us in the 21st century; “Science teaches us how to heal and how to kill; it reduces the death rate retail, then kills us wholesale in war.” .They argue that only wisdom, as revealed through  “desire coordinated in the light of experience, ( philosophy)   can tell us when to heal and when to kill.” I will suggest that the world-wide chaos all around us in this new century is only another chapter in  an imagined Story of Creation: There is no author other than humanity:

Book One, The Age of Agriculture is unfinished. It begins with the creation of farming and husbandry, which promote stable communities at the expense of hunter-gathering. Stable communities lead to social order, and in time, to science, art, land ownership, geometry, mathematics, commerce, architecture, rule of law. The chapter now being written in an increasingly urban 21st century is titled,   Malthus, Speak.

Book Two, The age of Information,  is also unfinished. Its dominant theme is that to create easy access to information can lead to chaos, which in turn, creates change in human behavior. How ironic and circular it is that humankind creates that which creates change in humanity!  The chapter on the Biblical Genesis suggests that too much knowledge– information– is too much power; and power is something humans do not manage well.  When the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is eaten, God becomes enraged and expels Adam and Eve from Eden. Now  we billions of tiny fleshy gods suffer from knowledge: Infomania, or infodynia.

The chapter on the creation of the Printing Press was about  the time when printed information became available to the entire world, information  formerly accessible only to Church, Wealth and Monarchy (one and the same). The result is a still evolving revolution in various degrees, and weakening of the three-in-one powers. Only Wealth seems still healthy; yet for how long? Perhaps we shall see. Many grotesquely wealthy people are divesting through charity already, aware that their life is finite, and wealth is anathematic when hundreds of millions of people, whose voices, unheard light years distant, are now loud and clear on Social Media.

The chapter on information  is still being written but, Ready or not, Social Media is here now, vital and alive, making books, magazines, and TV Old Media;  still of interest but mainly in retrospect.  We might have noticed the change when Talk Radio heralded new media, but was  less interactive. Social Media, in countries where not suppressed, is egalitarian,  and remains in the hands of the limitless number of individuals whose collective voice is very loud even though each one by itself is– pipsqueak–  unless it goes ‘viral’. That Info-genie, is out of the bottle; it’s body is made up of various aspects of the internet, browsers, email, skype etc.;   social media is its mind and voice,  where live information is instantly available to almost anyone, anywhere. Any image, any idea,  can spread in minutes around the globe.  Any single voice can be heard. Meanwhile traditional top down sources of information shrivel , snivel, and fail: newspapers shrink to the size of circulars, sirviving  on snippets of local news, and remunerative misleading medical or  cure-all ads. Information offered on TV remains stale, dull, repetitive, and uniform; talking heads  are entertainers on the order of professional wrestlers or football players, but less entertaining; some are serial sexual predators, violent scofflaws and drug users, yet they  foppishly foist political views on viewers who turn to free media, social media.  However we  face a  tsunami of information which creates chaos, both internal and societal. We are unable to evaluate, filter and sort it all. And until we are able to live wisely, and adapt, or create new ways of dealing with all this information, we are likely to remain factionalized, frustrated, fragile, and furious.

The Durant position is that people gnerally  lack wisdom, which they see as the realm of philosophy. They decry epistemology, as an analytic approach or scientification of philosophy. The introductory paragraph  in The Story of Philosophy, titled To the Reader suggests that:

‘epistemology has kidnapped modern philosophy’.

‘the knowledge-process … (is) the business of science,

‘philosophy (is) interpretation of … experience rather than (its) analytic description’

‘Analysis belongs to science, and gives us knowledge, while

‘philosophy must provide a synthesis… wisdom.’

The four and a half page extended  introduction expands on these assertions.  “… to seize the value and perspective of passing things, and …pull ourselves up out of the maelstrom of daily circumstance we need to know that …Science is analytical description, ( while) philosophy is synthetic interpretation. The philosopher ‘tries to put together that great universe-watch that science has taken apart”.  The Durants claim that if we break philosophy down like scientists, into– logic: ideal method in thought; esthetics: ideal form; ethics: ideal conduct; Politics: ideal organization; and Metaphysics: ultimate reality, “ it becomes dismembered, loses its beauty and joy. That is found by studying philosophers. We have had the same experiences they had but we did not suck those experiences dry of their secret and subtle meanings. So let us listen, ready to forgive errors, and eager to learn.” So maybe this is a good time to hear the philosophers speak to us through a book that is clear, short, enjoyable, and perhaps can make us a bit more wise.

*The Story of Philosophy, 412 pp, focuses on the West, and excludes Asia. But the first volume of their 12 volume History of Civilization is devoted to Eastern Philosophy and History. Caution: 1150 pp. Both are free PDF on-line. But not without cost: that of mostly shutting down Critter, Glitter, Fritter, and to some extent, email, Siri and Browser. Enjoy!

A Return to Panamà and Pànama after Fifty Two Years:

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Panamà…  as we pronounce it would be Pànama… is a metaphoric  inversion expressed by  the different accents.  I first went there as an  intern in 1954-55,  not yet age 22, interested- vaguely- in tropical medicine but more concretely in adventure. Among my 8  colleagues,  half  were preparing for missionary work,  one for public health, one for psychiatry.   Before 1903, Panama was an  isolated part of Colombia, an oligarchy run by four or five families.  It was inaccessible  by land across the Darien.  The  current sometimes road, actually highway 5,  or the Pan American Highway,  is still  often  impassable.

A canal had long been considered to facilitate travel between the Atlantic and Pacific, which required a long sea voyage around Cape Horn or difficult overland  Balboa took across the isthmus of Panama.  A French venture acquired permission to build the canal under the direction of  Ferdinand deLesseps  ( Suez Canal,  desert, flat,  no locks). He wanted to cut a similar sea level swatch across Panama. 40,000 French (and French colonials)  died there due to that  miscalculation,  graft, malaria, yellow fever, poor nutrition and dysentery; it was abandoned.  But in 1903  the US  felt it could big crazy things. Teddy Roosevelt tried to arrange a canal treaty with Colombia and failed. But because of the isolation of the isthmus from Colombia the locals felt like colonists, and resented their voiceless circumstances and  distant and neglectful rulers, like the rebellious British Colonies  in North America.  They  found common cause with Teddy Roosevelt who wanted a canal, and revolted, assisted by U S  gunboat diplomacy.

 

The US Canal Zone  was about 10 miles across and some 50 miles long. Panama is Water, and water is the Power that could  operate the locks of a  canal.  A dam was required to store that water, and also control the swampland created by the ever flooding Chagas River; and thereby  to control mosquito borne diseases.  Incredibly the huge project was completed by 1914!  The original locks still operate unaltered, today.

 Overall, The US Army Corps of Engineers and Black Caribbean laborers really did the heavy lifting: John F. Wallace conceived the engineering of the canal but became a victim of the terrain, disease, and the political bureaucracy; he survived there for less than one year. John Stevens, a famous civil engineer,  took seriously the yellow fever/malaria problem. The largest earthen dam ever built controlled the Chagas River, and drained the swamps; which controlled the mosquitoes, malaria and Yellow Fever, and provided the gravity flow water power to operate the canal locks. Col. George Washington Goethels was finally  given unrestrained authority, and was able to complete the job over the next 7 years. William C Gorgas, a U S Army physician who understood the relation of malaria to mosquitoes, convinced the Army to drain the swamps, making it possible from a medical standpoint to build the canal. A second canal was started  but abandoned because of WWII;  now it has been completed, arguably  by China, who also had studied the  sea level alternative as across Nicaragua but abandoned it.

In 1954 the canal was still operated by the US civil Service.   There was segregation of several  sorts.  First, upper level administrators and U S military had the option to  live on base, with typical military housing and   commissary privileges with access to US goods and food.  Most privileged long term US citizen employees of the Canal Company lived in bungalows.  Second,  short term US citizen employees like MD  interns, lived in curious multi family wooden apartment buildings, each apartment located upstairs from a parking area below.    The apartment buildings were oriented with long sides facing the sea breezes.  They were two story wooden structures with space for parking underneath, and 12 ft high ceilings. There were no internal doors;  the  kitchen, dining and bedroom were in one  line so that that the sea breeze, could flow through open screens placed above 8 ft.  Each apartment had a bathroom off center and a  heat closet to keep clothing dry.  Construction was so light that people learned to speak quietly, even quarrel in harsh whispers. Sexual revelry was often audible, though as invisible as  the morning alarm clock,  flushing of toilets. Notice the 6 ft eves,  a traditional style there. In the city they offer much needed shelter for passersby on sidewalks but shoot waterfalls out onto cars in heavy rain.

When I was there in 1975 the buildings were scheduled to be torn down. But the location was ideal, and all the infrastructure already in place. They were acquired somehow and have been gentrified, rebuilt so nicely that the  old structures can hardly be seen. In the photo above, some of the screened breezeways persist. The open lower floor also is still there, but made into a living area, like a covered outdoor garden or patio.

The third level of segregation was provided to ‘local raters’ whose situation devolved from the building of the canal.   The US Army had recruited English speaking workers among blacks of the Caribbean.   Communication was more practical in English, and the work performance was superior to indigenous workers. ( Only the Spanish had managed to induce los indios  to work through a brutal choice made clear in a statue at a Mission in Baja CA: a priest holds a bible in one hand and a skull in the other. Believe or die. Work now to live, and die for the glory of God and the Catholic Queen. But the Caribbean blacks were different, perhaps in part because, though paid less than US citizens, and they had significant inducements:  Local raters’ were provided decent livable wages,  living quarters, medical care, and allowed to buy US imported  goods at a reduced rate from a local rate commissary.  In the long run, however local raters felt abandoned after September 7, 1977, when  President Jimmy Carter gave the Canal to Panama; a long standing local resentment of blacks with special privilege boiled over. Soon many ex local raters had nether  job, nor any apparent citizenship.    Yet there was, and is, a  Black American Atlantic Coast and black Carribean island archipelago; it may be largely invisible to most of us in the USA, though it consists of many black communities which are the source for much unique American and Brazilian   music, art, dance, custom, and language.  Therefore, the abandoned  black local raters of Panama, did not live in limbo; they have adapted or relocated. It’s instructive to kindle and google the many American Black authors, and the Quaker beginnings of the emancipation movement. The very first American revolution was black: Haiti. * Like most US citizens I  often focus only on the Northern Hemisphere.  We tend to forget that we are  all Americans: one continent, one hemisphere,  with a shared history, indigenous, immigrant past, and present.

We visited Panama City in late 2016. Much has conspired to make it the commercial and banking center of South America, rivaling  Miami. The canal was gradually  and totally transferred to Panama  control by 2000.  Panama has  retained the $US as their currency, which stabilized the economy; despite many problems it became a place where people with means could find refuge from chaos at home, or for various thieves to hide money, including drug money.

The former head of the militarily, Manuel Noriega, a cooperator with the CIA, became de facto dictator and drug lord .The US invasion to depose him in 1989-90 was  complex, while brief was a real war that has left a shambles of Noriega’s base of operations still unpaired.  And the whole episode has became the source of many true lies:  afterward there was an election at the insistence of the US; but the winning candidate was assaulted and Noriega declared the election null and void.   While US invasion was widely supported by the populace, it was  real warfare against a well prepared military,  deadly and destructive. It was hugely condemned, as customary, in Europe and the UN;  The Panamanian military was dissolved.  However, the emergence  of Panama as a commercial and banking center, and a repository for suspect money, continued.


The second canal has been completed, financed largely by the Chinese. Transit fee $100,000,000. A Trump hotel, shaped  like a huge sail, looks like a twin to one in Dubai. A metro was completed last year.

.

 

Upscale barrios and yacht harbors, continued to appear.   Old is being gentrfied, the president lived there near a fast growing tourist area, and expensive restaurants  flourish. As to the currently  strong US dollar, Panama is something of an exception,  comparable to Chile.  Most other countries today are,  by comparison, a bargain. But it is a good place to visit, safe for the average sane foreigner, usually cool at night,  when the ocean breeze is up.   In the 50’s that meant street dancing to Lucho Ascarraga’s wild electric  organ: Cha Cha Chas, with  typical flat foot moves,   keeping the  whole foot including the heel on the floor and moving The Rest… none of that  heel-high stuff.  That, happily, is the same today.

Ancon Hill is the highest spot overlooking the Pacific entrance of the canal, with old gun embankments at the top,  set among tropical forest. Several hundred yards down hill is the site of  Gorgas Hospital where I interned in 1954. My oldest daughter was born there, delivered by a descendant of one of the founding families.

My Grandparents, Leon and Anna founded the Methodist church just at the edge of the Canal Zone. It was built and supported by the North American population of the Zone who operated the canal, and large number of military people who guarded it.  But when the canal was given to Panama that U S  population very quickly disappeared. The old church is imposing, but obviously neglected now. There was no pastor, but we spoke with a woman in the parish and she took us inside the elegant but sad  and  tired building.

 

 

We visited the site of the old Gorgas hospital, of French design. It had a stolid central administration building surrounded by a series of white one story buildings  in colonial French style… a series of medical units, white wooden buildings with 11 foot high ceilings where the top four feet were open screens. The units were interconnected by covered walkways among sculptured tropical gardens to allow for air circulation. How well I recall doing a femoral stick on babies or spinal taps, sweating in the humid night air. At least that is the way it all comes to my mind; it is all gone.  One wing of the admin  center where interns stayed and sometimes slept during 36  on and 12 off shifts looks down darkly past the  surrounding neglected  padlocked wire fence strangely dressed in banners left over from some event.  No one was around to ask if we might go in; and yet that seemed a small loss. I didn’t  much want to view the corpse from the inside.


Otherwise, Panama was no corpse, but alive and well.  

 

Even most of the relics of Old Town were full of color and life, on the way to being restored.  thier roof still extended out 4 feet over the sidewalks and balconies to shelter people from the rain.

 

And the restoration was everywhere evident as well, set among the colorful lives of a small rich country whose future seems bright.

 

 

And we pretended to be rich turistas nortamericanos:








 

 

 

*You may want to kindle and google the many black  authors of the Americas,  the John Woolworth and the Quaker beginnings of the emancipation movement, and the first American revolution, which was black: in Haiti. Like many US citizens I  often focus only on the Northern Hemisphere.  But we are Americans: one continent, one hemisphere,  with a shared history, indigenous, immigrant past, and present.

* * There is a  645 pp third edition of a book Americas by Peter Winn. But frankly, it seems to me  simply a compulsive compilation of the ‘news’ we read in the US. Whenever the author treats places and peoples I know very well, the omissions and commissions of errors really rankle me terribly. My bias is this: The record of a people and a time are found in between the lies, and lines; and in fiction, poetry;  in other words in Literature. Usually what we call News or  History is moribund  fiction without flesh or soul.

 

Pablo Pavo, Pisco, Guajolote

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What follows is Creative Non Fiction about a  hot air sauna burn in late November, 2016

 

I  am Pablo. I most enjoy those times when I alone am personally responsible for what I do, whether in on a mountain peak, or in an ultra-lite over the Sierras, or a Cessna flying from California to Punta Arenas, Chile. At times, of course, that sort of self indulgence, lust for adventure –  arrogance perhaps- has put me precariously clinging to a cliff face, or flying alone over SW Argentina when it was prohibited by the threat of war.  Similarly, I enjoy dry heat so much it recently put me alone in a sauna, on Thanksgiving day 2016, for between 20 and 40 minutes.  I cooked myself like a turkey. The recipe, or receta para asarse:

Lie down in a hot air  sauna at the highest, hottest level. If you are diabetic and use  repository insulin, which activates more quickly in heat, drink some water often, and eat an apple or an orange every 20 minutes.

I  followed the recipe, but remember nothing after lying down to begin my second 20 minute session in the sauna, until sitting in a wheelchair, confused,  frightened, and hyperventilating, amid  about ten strangely dressed strangers in a strange world who spoke in unintelligible tongues.  I had no recollection of being found unconscious in the sauna or being extracted. I could not formulate my own thoughts, or movement or speech. I began to shiver and have coarse  muscular spasms. There was no pain, but I was angry at having no control of what was happening; about missing the rest of my life; maybe that anger motivated me to mumble some jumbled thoughts that surfaced: though it took me several long minutes to get the words to form, i finally managed to say:

“Diabetes!”   a voice in English said,

“Your blood sugar is 87. You are going to be fine.” Happy to hear a familiar language, I said

“Adrenalin?” The voice said

“ No. ” and after  I insisted on some water with sugar. The voice said “ Your blood sugar is 87. ” I said

“Wet towels, Ice” …The voice responded

“Your temperature is normal now.”” But  then my wife and daughters appeared and got the towels, and gave me sugar water with a straw.  I suggested

“Ambulance.” The voice said

“ It is on the way” I still could not get up or control my movements, and felt hopeless, as if i were sliding into oblivion. But  gradually I was thinking more clearly assuming I was in Sacramento. I began to fear I would live, and be terribly embarrassed when my E R colleagues saw me and learned of my my stupid sauna behavior.

I was lifted on to a wheelchair and for what seemed a very long time was pushed down a long series of poorly lighted bare cement halls and walls, set among conduits, and dark recesses. Then out into the night to be lifted onto a sheet, and then to a cot and placed into primitive station wagon ambulance. I began to recall I was in some other country, but couldn’t recall which: In the ambulance I asked about a place I had been recently:

“ Brazil?” My wife,  Marili answered,

“ Panama!” It all came back to me. I had been  alone in the hot air  sauna of a hotel.   I felt that surely I would need to be hospitalized for some time and said,

“ You go home as planned. I’ll fly back later, or come by helicopter.”

“No, we will not and you will not!”

By the time we got to the hospital, I was fully alert, coherent, and coordinated. The nurse took vitals, did an EKG, asked my name and birth date, asked the litany of questions about illness, medicines, and allergies, and drew blood with some difficulty due to collapsed veins. The Dr. repeated the same questions, checked my coordination and strength. My Family Angels were allowed to be with one at a time. Lili asked about an MRI, because it might be possible I that I had a stroke or a fall with injury because  found unconscious  with strange lower extremity injuries. And though the Dr. said there was no need, and I agreed, the universal rule prevailed: when a test is possible and suggested it must be done. In short order the  normal labs and MRI results were back, and I was released. The Dr. explained that I had minor first degree burns. Obviously neither of us knew much about Hot Air Sauna Burns* at the time. We paid the $753 bill, of which more than $400 was for the MRI.

As I write it is six days since trying  to cook myself for Thanksgiving; I am now guardedly thankful to be alive, and in relatively human condition. It was at first curious that most of my  injures were below the knees; it became clear they were not abrasions, but: Bullae! Blisters. The skin is cooled by evaporation of sweat and by cooling from blood circulation; because circulation is less in the lower extremities by comparison to the rest of the body, both circulation and sweating are decreased there… more blistering or burning result. Deep partial thickness burns are  very tender to touch . They can look something like the skin of a turkey leg that begins to blister as it cooks. On standing up the pressure increases immediately and for about 10 min causing pain. very pa. Yet after lying down again they become more tolerable.  I lie about a lot. The deeper ones form an eschar… a leathery covering that must be scraped off to allow healing; that eschar removal process is almost beyond tolerable, but smaller wounds like mine are not worth the risk or trouble of anesthesia. When being cleaned up I despair about the purpose or significance of life.  On the other hand, yesterday I was able to do a half hour of upper body workout and a half hour of elliptical trainer. I should be healed within a few weeks, though full recovery will require several months, and resolve to avoid hot air saunas from now on.

Sinceramente,

Pablo

* two links on the subject:

file:///C:/Users/john/AppData/Local/Temp/Hot%20Air%20Sauna%20Burns-Review%20of%20Their%20Etiology%20and%20Treatment-3.pdf

  •  Virve Koljonen, MD, PhD Summary  from ResearchGate  \

Hot air sauna burns (HASBs) are rare but potentially fatal injuries with simultaneous rhabdomyolysis. The mechanism of HASBs involves prolonged exposure to hot air because of immobility. The burned areas are on the parts of the body that are directly exposed to hot air. This type of heat exposure results in a complex injury, in which full-thickness skin damage occurs concurrently with deeper tissue destruction. Sauna bathing is becoming more and more a popular recreational activity around the world. The objective of this review article is to familiarize burn care specialists on this unique and clinically challenging type of burn injury and to illustrate our department’s long experience in treating.

http://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/46530497-story

Wheed Machey

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I have diabetes and use a long acting repository insulin that slowly is released over about 24 hours. At night, if my blood sugar is very low  I sweat and awake.* That can happen if I forget to eat at all  after mid day because of mild 
gastroparesis;  my slovenly slouch stomach just sits there silently doing-nothing. I don’t get hungry.  see https://nwalmanac.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/a-90-hour-fast/  

For the same reason, lazy stomach,  I don’t like to eat much before lying down to sleep; a meal will stagnate acidly while   waiting for attention like a supplicant at The Department of Motor Vehicles.

By contrast,  mildly low  levels during sleep can spin off splendiferous dreams. At night when my bed is toasty warm the little lake of repository insulin warms up  too, and that heat causes a faster release of insulin. Last night I had such a dream based on the following real life situations:

My daughter, a well known free lance writer, has been waiting during several years for an eminent national  U S newspaper to be granted a visa to send her to Cuba for an interview with their most popular TV personality; he has, in effect, become too big to fail; he gently but sharply lampoons the average Cuban’s encounters with the dictatorship.

Yet it is unlikely a visa will be granted for an interview in the near future because of the  politics and economic circumstances of the two countries. The Cuban government fears calling more attention the embarrassingly popular TV show magnate. Our government– while grandly announcing an historic breakthrough in  diplomatic relations, tourism and commerce– fears voters.  Long after the hoopla, no average citizen can visit freely, independently, economically, and legally.

The two governments have quietly collaborated on restrictions which give each what they want, but pitifully little to the average would be visitor who hopes to travel freely and communicate freely with average Cubanos. The restrictions  and process remain obscure, but effectively make it impossible to visit except under conditions imposed by cooperating tour agencies and privileged Cuban groups that can profit nicely from the  great interest in Cuba travel. It is as usual: profit and  politics rule.

But last night was different. In a low sugar moment, L’s visa was approved. After a long and involved series of preparations too detailed to recall or understand, she left. Shortly afterward, a mysterious person called to ask me to remind her to look up Wheed Machey in Havana. At that point I awoke, recalling that I had not eaten much supper. Blood sugar 73; half a banana and a quarter of an apple took care of that nicely.

But what to do about Mr. Machey? Afraid to forget details as in most dreams, I wrote down his name and slept on it. Today I called L, but she didn’t know how to reach him, so I am posting, emailing and Face-booking this open letter, hoping it will be shared, and ultimately reach Wheed Machey H:

Muy estimado Sr. Machey,

Le saludo cordialmente. Lamento la nececidad de intentar conectarme con Ud. de esta manera tan extraordinaria. Creo que posiblemente somos parientes. Mis tatarabuelos vivian en Matanzas ,  pero no se nada de ellos. Por la situacion internacional creo que no voy nunca poder viajar a Matanzas antes que me muera.   Con la esperanza que me pueda responder lo mas luego posible,

Atentamente,

Juan Heriberto Huachuca  Machey

 

*Long ago I used both insulin and two oral medications for diabetes; after 45 minutes sweating in a very hot sauna, which always delights me, I felt weak; thanks to the combination of oral medications and long acting insulin my blood sugar was 10! But since stopping all medication except insulin I have never had a similar problem.