The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Tuesday, December 16

Christmas Spirit and Justice for All March

Today I'm off to the Kennedy for a candle-light concert.  It's gotten colder about 35 F.  Decorations are up and it’s feeling like Christmas time.

But yesterday, I put on my marching shoes.  I joined several thousands walking from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. 
I’m part of the Justice for All March and Rally protesting the killing of black sons and the impunity of police.  
This kind of marched is being echoed in cities across the country.  I think it’s the civil rights issue of the new millennium.   If you ask me, it's long overdue.  

We walk together chanting: 

"Hands up.  Don't Shoot"                "We can’t breathe” 

     “Stop the Killing.”   “No Peace without Justice.”   

Signs amplify the anguish and a hope for a better future.    Many announce “Black Lives Matter.” A mother tells her fear, “Don’t shoot…my son has a future.”  I think, how sad that in 2014 we still need to say such things. 
But then again, after weeks of protest, the killings have barely penetrated American consciousness.  Several signs are telling,  “White Silence = Equals White Consent.” 

I’m struck by a young boy’s hand-made sign saying simply – “Am I next?” 

As I try to absorb the experience, it feels unlike other marches.  Missing is a chaotic carnival feel that's been prevalent in other marches I've attended.  And there's no hint of violence. 
Instead families are serious, intent. They stand stoically almost prayerfully.  In fact, when an invocation is offered, silence spreads across the crowd.  Heads are bowed and strangers hold hands - one with another. 

 "Hear us, O Lord."
It seems to me that this atmosphere is under girded by hope that life can be better.  Of course it's mixed with fears and anguish that have lasted too long.  "O God, how long."

A radio commentary gives context.  Lethal violence has been the American experience used against black people during slavery and ever since the Reconstruction Era - Especially against black men who were often lynched with the help or at least the complacency of law enforcement.   

A speaker at the rally polls the crowd , “Raise your hand if you’re a black man who has felt fearful when pulled over by the police.”  Nearly ever hand goes up for as far as I can see.  Then he asks the same of white men and hardly a hand is raised.   I’m not surprised and isn't that the real pity. 

On the platform, the families of those unarmed black men killed by police are introduced.  They form a “wall of shame” and surprisingly to me are many more than I thought.  Naming 76 men and women unarmed, but killed by police, the NAACP chronicles these lost lives.   Read about them and click here.  

I walk around taking a few pictures.  I get to talking with a father with his young toddler.  I tell him about my grandson.  Our kids are two months apart.  He beams about his son.  We take a selfie. 
As we depart I say, “thanks for being here.”  And he says, No, no , thank you for being here.”  I guess his emphasis is because of my whiteness which is not as well represented as you might wish.

Though for me, it's a privilege to be here.  I say to him, “it’s a little thing considering….I just wanted to use my feet to help a little.”

As the Rally winds down, I sit on a bench and watch families pass by.  Some of us exchange smiles.  It feels good to be among people who want to make this world a better place for all.

Strangely, I get to thinking, “it’s feeling a lot like Christmas.”  

Because after you scrape away the seasonal glitter and the abundance under the tree, what remains?   

Slowly, a smile tweaks across my face.  It’s gotta be the practice of loving one another and walking for justice in this world.  

I think to myself, "God help us.  And of course, God is...."

Tuesday, September 23

Life Changes

Of course, we all know how life can change suddenly, but we don’t think about it much.  It hangs underneath daily consciousness until something happens and we become hyper-aware.   

A tall step ladder stands by the wall where I had left it a few days ago.  I was in the midst of trimming bushes on the edges of my patio garden.  Daylight ran out and I pledged to finish before the weekend was over. 
It’s Monday noon and the step ladder still beckons me to finish the job.  

Carefully, I place the ladder next to the bush which is more like a small tree.  Actually it’s about 10 feet tall.  I climb the ladder and hack away at the limbs. 

All is going well and a lot quicker than I thought.  Assessing my work, I move the ladder a few feet and hop back on.  Almost done, I reach for the final two branches in the back.

Then like a slow motion movie, the ladder shifts.  My mind races ahead.  “Jud, watch out. “  One of the legs of the ladder begins to sink into the moist soil.  I feel myself going and going and then gone.  The ladder falls one way and I’m flung the other with a terrible thud. 

“I’m in trouble,” I say to myself.  The white heat flashes from my extremities in an explosion of pain.  Hugging the earth, I look at my left arm.  It’s twisted at a 90 degree angle, just like an upside down L.

“Oh, this is not good,” I repeat to myself and attempt to pull the arm into a straighter line.  No bones seem to be protruding.  This is good.  I can move my neck and legs. That’s really good.  I’m feeling grateful. 

Up on a balcony a neighbor says that she’ll call 911.  Time passes as I practice slow steady breathing.  Now I know why I went to a Yoga class a few weeks ago.  Preparation. 

My mind races in hundreds of directions.  I think of all the what-ifs and should-haves and could-haves.  I image family and friends and feel their presence.  I tell myself it will be all right, but it hurts so bad.  What’s taking so long?

Too much time has passed.  No one has come.  I can’t hold it in any longer.  I yell out – “Help me.  Help me.  Help me!”  Up and down my apartment stack I hear balcony doors opening.  “Where are you?”  I yell back and more promises are made to get help. 

Time passes and for me now, time is pain. It’s so much more intense.  The arm has swollen like a long sausage balloon.  I want it to go away.  Then the neighbor above says she hears a siren.  I listen and yes it’s coming closer. 

The EMT crew arrives and takes charge.  Checking vital signs and keeping me informed of everything is so reassuring.  Soon I’m on a gurney and on my way to the awaiting ambulance.

I think to myself, “It’ll be okay.” 

It’s now a week later. All went well except I had to change hospitals.  My healthcare provider doesn’t have a contract with the hospital where I was first taken.  I think it’s yet another reason for single payer universal health care. 
My operation went well.  They realigned my bones (both were broken) and screwed in titanium plates to keep everything in place.  I’m definitely equipped for excitement at the airport security gates.

At home, I’m learning one-handed life.  Simple tasks like putting on socks or changing a pillow case become mini-challenges. 

It takes me back to Ukrkaine and my Peace Corps service.  Ordinary chores had to be relearned the Ukrainian way - like swooshing laundry in the bath tub instead of popping it into a machine or taking a hot bath only after three pots of water have been boiled on the stove. I can see now that living day-to-day will be many new projects.

Of course, the benefit is more mindfulness.  I’m forced to slow down and notice.  I’m less on automatic pilot and more into making plans with what I have.  I’m thinking that in our modern technological life cluttered with more multi-tasking data, finding moments to be mindful is a very good thing. 

I remember how people appear when needed the most.  A lady on a balcony calls for help.  Others stop what they are doing to answer my screams of distress.  Friends call with support and well wishes.  Small acts of kindness give me a deep feeling of gratefulness.  I’m connected to a wonderful human family.  There’s such abundance when loving one another is practiced. 

No doubt, my healing will be a long slog. I wish I had a magic wand that could make it all better.  But I don’t. 

What I do have is the chance to take these experiences and re-weave them into my life-story.  I’ll learn more about living and giving in the moment.  I’ll cherish friendships more and make new ones.  Acts of kindness are not going to be taken for granted or quickly forgotten.  I have a chance to practice gratefulness and imagine new ways to pass it on.  As they say, “pay it forward!”

Sure, my arm is broken.  But I’m thinking. “maybe it’s not going to be so bad.”

Thursday, March 13

Crimean Tatars - Lest We Forget

I admit it.  Before going to Ukraine, I had no real knowledge of the Crimean Tatar people. 

Then my good friend Barb was placed in Crimea to work at the Crimean Tatar Library.  She lived with a Tatar family and ended up serving for nearly 4 years. 

Barbara has many deep and lasting friendships.  Since the Russian invasion, she has been on the phone daily, sometime for hours, trying to listen, console, and reassure them that they are not forgotten.

I think, if truth be told, they are mostly invisible.  Their stories get scant coverage in the West although a few articles are beginning to come through about the terror being reigned down upon these people.   

Thugs roam the cities and villages.  They mark doors with racial slurs identifying Tatar homes like the Soviets did 60 years ago in the forced deportation.  They intimidate families by demanding passports.  They talk about "killing those people."  

The dark-side of the pro Russia rallies we see on TV is this violence that is brewing against Tatars.  They are a vulnerable 13% of the population.  

The nightly news - even PBS - simplifies and fails to give us texture and complexity of what is going on.  I hope this will change.  

Recently, Barb was interviewed by WBEZ Radio in Chicago. She was able to give historical context and present examples of the situation.  

Click here  and scroll down to the podcast "Tatars in Crimea."  

I'm indebted to Barb for educating me.  In turn, I share what I have learned so that you might come to know the warm and generous people who are Crimean Tatars. 

Maybe someone with more social media savvy than I will post and help educate others too.     

Adapted from Presentation of Barbara Wieser

The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic Muslim people who have inhabited the Crimean peninsula for over seven centuries. They are a mixture of the descendants of the Golden Horde (the western part of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan) and the many ethnic groups of Crimea.

They are considered the indigenous people of Crimea.

From 1441 and for 300 years, the Crimean Tatars ruled the peninsula.  Then in 1783 Crimea was annexed by Russia even though these indigenous people comprised 98% of the population.

Over the next century, Russian oppression grew.  In waves of emigration the Tatar population decreased.  Some fled to the Balkans and Turkey while others were deported to Siberia by the tsarists deliberate policy of annihilating the Crimean Tatar existence.    

After the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin, there was an intensification of repressive policies and terror that further devastated the Crimean Tatar people and culture. 

These practices culminated on May 18, 1944.  The Soviets carried out a plan to forcefully removed Tatars in a mass over-night deportation.  They were carted into box cars and taken to  Uzbekistan and other distant Soviet Republics.  Many ended up in Gulags with as many as 46% dying along the way.  It's been called the Crimean Tatar Holocaust.  

Through all this suffering, the people kept alive the dream of returning to their homeland.  They formed a national movement and for fifty years of nonviolent struggle in the Soviet system, they kept this hope alive.  

In 1985 as the Soviet system started to collapse, the Crimean Tatars saw a chance to realize their dreams.  As more and more restrictions were lifted, their movement gained momentum. They could return to Crimea.  

In a 4-year period from 1989 to 1993, over 200,000 Crimean Tatars came back to Crimea.  Today, an estimated 350,000 Crimean Tatars live in Crimea, constituting 13% of the population.

When the Crimean Tatars began to return to their homeland, their requests for land on which to build their homes to replace the land and homes taken from them in the Deportation were denied. Seeing no other option, they squatted on vacant land and built homes without permits.  This, sometimes, lead to personal violence against them and destruction of their property.

Eventually land was allocated to the Crimean Tatars in “compact settlements” in Simferopol and other cities and in remote locations across the peninsula. Today the land reparations question still remains largely unsolved.

The Crimean Tatars are a cultured people.  They have established a vibrant society. They have an active political organization--the Mejlis, representatives in the Crimea and Ukraine Rada, 15 national schools that teach all subjects in Crimean Tatar, a university that educates Crimean Tatar language teachers, art and history museums, theater, library, radio and TV stations.

A link for more information on  The Deportation and Fate of the Crimean Tatars

I can’t help but think of that phrase – “Lest we forget…”   

Maybe in the reading of this blog in some small way, we'll know and remember.   

They say that when something goes viral on the Internet millions of people make an individual decision to pass it on.  Isn't it important that more people begin to know about the Crimea Tatars and the terror they are facing?  

The current crisis is more than Geo-political posturing, more than invasion and western response.  It's about a people with a history and a present danger who just want to live their lives and care for their families.  Lest we forget...

Thursday, March 6

Ukraine in Crisis

Here in America we get a matter-of-fact feel for crisis events.  From far away, some development flashes across the media. 

PBS News Hour silently shows photos of  soldiers killed in Afghanistan.   Regrets are felt for another drone that misfires on innocent life.  Demonstrations flare in Bangkok, Venezuela, Cairo, Myanmar.  Name the continent and something seems to be happening there.  So many many events…oh well.

Inspired by my Peace Corps service in Ukraine
And then there’s Ukraine.  Suddenly, the blurs of world events become personal.  I know Ukraine – its history, places and most importantly its people.  They are part of me and I believe that I’m a small part of them.    

A Skype call with a friend in Kiev starts with the telling of a murder.  “My colleague was killed by one of Yanukovych’s snipers.  He leaves a wife and a small child.  Only 32 years,” he tells me.  We stare at each other for a long time – separated, yet electronically close.  I’m so sad.  He looks tired or maybe worn out from the horror of it all. 

I ask him if people were targeted by the snipers up on the roofs.   “No,” he continues, “my colleague wasn’t even on the front lines of the demonstration.  He had no battle gear, no helmet, nothing.  He was killed taking a few medical supplies to help others.”

My friend tells me about joining a million on the Maidon (Independence Square) and being hit by a rubber bullet.  “Damn, it hurts real bad.” 
Scaring on the Maidan, Kiev's central square, displayed in a spliced photo

I remember the numerous times we made pizza and drank piva.  I think about how grateful I am that it was not a sniper bullet and then remember a 100 who weren’t as fortunate.  

I ask about Konotop.  “How is it going for people there?”  He tells me that the huge statue a Lenin is gone – pulled down.  “You mean the huge one that looked out upon the Square? “ I ask incredulously. 
Lenin tumbles in front of Konotop's Mayor's Office
I wonder if any of my friends were involved and what about the civic leaders who were part of my Leadership English classes.   Obviously they allowed this action to happen.  So many people were there.

Konotop is not alone.  I understand that the Lenin is disappearing from town squares across Ukraine.  In some places, the statue is severed at the chest and the face is taken away.  In its place a bust of Ukrainian poet and hero, Shevchenko, is cemented into place.  It’s a powerful patriotic statement. 

We end our chat hoping for the best, yet aware that the situation is so volatile.  

A few hours later I get word that Peace Corps is evacuating Ukraine - 240 volunteers back in America.  I make plans to welcome my friend, Barb who’s been serving for nearly 4 years.  We’ll hang out for a few days and try to make sense of what’s happening and worry about the people we love.