May - June 2002 Volume 15, Number 3
Among the Paipai
Picture a few the poorest of the huts you've seen in the colonias in Tijuana, put together with scraps of plywood, corrugated tin, concrete block, and whatever other materials to be had; no running water, no electricity, no plumbing, no utilities. Pluck the few huts out of Tijuana and place them in small communities or ranchos of the beautiful high desert of Baja, elevation ca. 3000 feet. Imagine a group of small families living in the huts and having characteristics of the indigenous Americans you've known: the quiet determination and self-containment; the brown skin, dark eyes and hair; the dedication to family and all living things. Sprinkle each with an assortment of mixed-breed farm animals (chickens, goats, turkeys, horses, mules, burros, dogs, guineas, all "our friends"), and you have a skeleton sketch of the current Paipai.
An indigenous nation in north central Baja California, the Paipai are cultural-linguistic cousins of the Kumeyaay, the Havasupai, the Yavapai, and other members of the Yuman groups. Nomadic herders in ancient times, the Paipai are now ranch workers and traditional craftspeople, living in abject poverty. Sensitive expedition groups provide opportunity for craft sales of baskets and pottery and for paid cultural instruction, extremely important income for this small subsistence-level community. While all speak Paipai, some speak Spanish as well. Our group would be taught their traditional manner of making pottery, resulting in earth-colored unglazed ollas (referred to by some specialists as "utility pots") with fire markings called by my Apache teacher "fire clouds" and considered touches of blessing by Spirit .
For the last several years, the local San Diego County Archeological Society expedition to Santa Catarina, a village in this community, for traditional pottery classes taught by their best potters, has left me agonizing in San Diego, due to teaching schedule conflicts. This year I received the last-minute notice of the three-day expedition which would occur during school-break just before our March potluck, and, as a passionate student of cultures and a potter, I leapt at the chance.
Peace Corps people share with anthropology and archeology folks a deep appreciation, dedication to and love for intercultural communication and mutual respect. In addition, since the field work for the latter is so survival-level hard (like PC life in some quarters), this work is self-selective: if one can't hack it in the dirt, extreme temperatures, emotional edges, and down-to-brass-tacks realities of "primitive" life, one bails at the earliest opportunity. Whoever is left becomes, like PC folk, a member of a special fraternity and seldom meets a stranger among them.
When I had talked in previous years with leader Dr. Steve Bouscaren of City College, he had indicated that my compact vehicle with a low draft would not make it over the deeply rutted roads and I should find a carpool. This time, he (sneakily and blessedly) ignored my questions about the (now fine) roads and manipulated me into a vanpool with driver Lynette (accountant), Diana (professional interpreter), Linda (professional ceramicist/teacher), Chris (anthropology professor/programmer) and his friend Mike (web designer). I would have been a bit more comfortable with the few items my own vehicle would have allowed, but I would have missed the magnificent company and new friendships.
Mike and I were the neophytes in this vanpool, questionably holding our own with the stimulating conversation, background knowledge contributions, deep sharing, and excellent, teasing humor--sometimes ribald--of this group. Conversation was always so interesting and entertaining that a nap or grading papers was out of the question. So was "tuning out" the conversation: one might miss a piece of good humor aimed at oneself!
The Santa Catarina community is about four hours from San Diego, not counting the border wait coming back. We stopped in Ensenada on the way down for last-minute groceries at Gigante (highly recommended). Our campsite would be in traditional Paipai land outside the community, near-pristine high desert now held by the Mexican government but supervised by the Paipai; no water, no improvements of any sort, so water was a requisite item.
After Ensenada, the journey through the mountain foothills was beautiful. Later down the highway a stop at "the cheese and olive lady" offered locally-made cheeses and olives (both excellent) of styles similar to mild Mediterranean ones. Further on, a jaunt off the highway onto a graded road and some miles of lightly dusty driving led us to a dusk arrival. Steve first greeted the elders, obtained last minute arrangement details, made introductions all around, and then we were off to the camping area a few miles away.
The weather had promised (I checked carefully) mild mid-60s days, gentle nights, no storms. Someone should have told the constant gusts of icy wind a la Everest, the rain and the low night temperatures (ice over all the second night) in which we camped. Nevertheless, the air was so clear that flashlights were unnecessary under the half-moon, and the stars were etchings of light in ancient space, like parts of our journey. Days we could see El Diablo peaking in snow to the south, count the sage scrub on nearby foothills and extinct volcanic cones.
Unfortunately, it was dark by the time we were able to cook dinner. However, my group had led us to buy roasted chickens, tortillas, salsa, and "makin's" at Gigante, so we were ahead of the cooking game as the icy gusts swirled around us. Chris offered mescal mixers to warm and cheer us. We ate chicken tacos, topped with homemade salsa and guacamole made by our resident Latina, Diana.
Campfire conversations and Steve's instructional talks provided a brief history of the Spanish interactions in this area: Dominican missionary priests had entered the area during the Spanish Conquest and conscripted Paipai labor in the all-too-usual way; under their mandate, a mission within walking distance of our small community originally named Mission Santa Catalina had been built in 1798 of large local pink basalt--igneous (volcanic) rocks.
In 1822 Mexico gained independence from Spain. In 1840 one of the local Paipai clans organized, revolted and destroyed the mission, killing all the priests. Today there is nothing left of the mission except the building footprint. The pink rock was repossessed, symbolic of lives reclaimed, shared among the Paipai families and now can be seen throughout the community in retaining walls, buildings, and gardens. Across the way the Paipai cemetery holds above-ground family remains covered with similarly mixed rocks; the ground is too hard for gravedigging.
Continued next month
--Brenda Terry-Hahn, Nepal (1964-66), Editor
You are encouraged to gather unused clothing and household goods for the Paipai which can be taken down by those in contact with them. Those who wish more information in order to support the Paipai may contact Dr. Steve Bouscaren <firstname.lastname@example.org> or 619-388-3260.
Adventure in Baja
Hank Davenport (Peru, 1962-64) and I took a four-day, three-night camping trip to Baja, Mexico. Hank is my closest friend, and the board president of the One World, Our World program. We went to Laguna Hanson, in the Parque Nacional Constitucion northeast of Ensenada. (May I say now that I'm glad I had been getting into shape for months by taking long, hilly walks?)
On Easter Sunday we had explored the lakebed (altitude of about 6,000 feet), and made it to the hills north of the lakebed (not much of a lake, due to the drought; even in good times, Baja is mostly a dessert.) That being about six miles of hiking from our campsite, and finding a dirt road up there, heading east, we thought we'd found an avenue to reach a viewpoint overlooking the plains of San Felipe (altitude of between 6,500 and 7,000 feet)
Late Monday morning we drove the main road north, and found the dirt road - the only one on the map, leading to Rancho San Luis. The map showed it running east about seven kilometers, reaching the ridges, and then turning south. Near the bend, we parked Hank's truck, and surveyed a route from the vantage of a hill cum rock pile next to the road. Looking east-northeast we determined what looked to be a route to the back most line of ridges &endash; we thought. Setting out at 11:40 from that hill, we knew in advance that we'd be crossing rough manzanita and assorted thick brush. Along the way we found our "highway" of an arroyo that showed it was well traveled by cattle and deer. Okay, so sometimes the path was very tough, with huge boulders that must be intense cascades during rain. We thought we were taking good care to note landmarks at needed points.
By 1 p.m. we were well into the canyons and noting the beauty of the natural garden we'd reached. By 1:30 we'd even climbed over (and under) the boulders to the ridge we'd reached - and found that we were at least two lines of very rough ridges away from the rim... and maybe that would still not be the edge overlooking the plains. I took pictures overlooking the easy view, back west. We could only peek around our vantage point.
After munching on a muffin, and some of our water, we headed back out. The way in had often been such that we'd gone around dense brush, or bad boulders, so we didn't realize that we'd passed the arroyo tributary that had been our road in. In fact, we must have gone at least two arroyos too far because we were stopped by a nasty box canyon. Two hours later, we'd returned to what we thought was the trail, and now we were on a race against the sun, and our thirst. How would we get out before sunset?
Oh, I neglected to mention that besides all of the cattle and deer tracks, there were cougar (puma) tracks the size of my fist, and numerous large bones proved this cat was a good hunter. This adventure was beginning to take on urgency, and my physical conditioning was not as good as Hank's. The attempt at the box canyon had been a stretch. Hank had the good sense at one point to combine our remaining water, and fill the other bottle from a clear section of a trickling stream.
We forced our way out via the next arroyo, and headed toward the setting sun as best we could. Nearing sunset, we again reached manzanita and pine, and then found a road. The logic indicated we had wound around south, and come back to the southern stretch of our road in, especially since we'd crossed no other roads on our way into the canyon area. We turned north hoping the road would soon turn west, and take us to the truck. Between us we only had one nylon windbreaker, Hank wearing shorts and a T-Shirt, me in a polo shirt and Wrangler jeans.
As the sun set, the temperature began to drop. We started sharing the jacket in half hour shifts. By 8:00 we'd found a sign for Rancho San Luis, walked to a closed gate, raised the attention of some very big sounding dogs, but no humans. I even used the flash from my camera to try to add to our calls for help. That failing, we followed the road, and North Star, to again try for our truck. And we switched to 15-minute cycles of the jacket. An hour later (and an estimated 4 miles) we knew the terrain was wrong, and the road was very desolate, and there was even the light from a town far far ahead. I stated we must be well north of our car, and on the ridges that we'd seen ten hours earlier.
We agreed that we had to keep moving, but that we needed to head south. We also knew that if we stopped, the exposure would rapidly finish us off. Around this time, our thirst had also forced us into drinking the water we'd found. Just past the dogs we came to a wooden rail fence, and another barking dog. It seems that there were even more roads and in the darkness of only starlight, we had now stayed on the main road, and approached much closer a cabin we'd seen earlier from a distance. It too had a dog, and we again called out for help.
A light went on, and a voice cautiously asked what we were about. The man whom we'd awakened came to the rail, and then agreed to help us. His name was Anastacio. He brought us first to an RV camper, gave us juice, and while we drank, he started up the wood stove in his small cabin. Once he'd prepared it, he invited us there to warm up-and he made hot coffee with lots of sugar, and some donuts. As we warmed up, talking to begin to tell where we thought the car was, he also shared that even though he'd grown up in the area, he'd once been lost for three days in the backlands.
The truck was supposedly only eight minutes drive away, but when he'd taken us much further down the road than we thought we'd gone, we made another circle back to the campgrounds, so as to retrace our path from landmarks we recognized. Still no truck in sight! Anastacio took us back to our tents to grab bedding, then put us up so that he could best help us in the morning. He gave us his bed, taking the RV for himself. Next morning we met Martin, the cook. Together they were preparing the property to become a rest stop for travelers. The road we'd found was the main road north to La Rumorosa, and that rest stop marked the midpoint from Ensenada to Mexicali. The string of cabins, restaurant, and general store are to be ready, open for business, before the Christmas holidays 2002.
Martin has had many jobs, including having been a park ranger. He said our truck was probably still there, that we'd just need to go again by daylight. We set out together after a breakfast of more coffee and donuts. The road east was six miles south of Anastacio's cabin, and we found the truck, about 4.5 miles east of that intersection&endash;only a few hundred yards past where we'd turned around the night before. All told we had hiked 28 miles as the crow flies, and that doesn't count the zigzags in the canyons, or the vertical climbs... all in 11 hours from our departure.
Having reached the truck, which held our food, water, and cooking gear, we fixed a feast of quarter pound polish sausages, tomatoes, cilantro and orange juice. Anastacio didn't want to accept anything for all his help, just pass the kindness forward. Hank threatened not to come back and visit, and that was sufficient to let him accept that means of gratitude.
When we were driving back we fully realized how close we had come to our demise: Martin noted that it was the coldest night in several weeks, that there had been frost on the ground that morning. Further, they told us that all of the ranches were empty, with only weekend inhabitants. Desolate place to be lost without water.
We were lucky, blessed, happy to be warm and no longer thirsty. Lots of lessons to be learned from this story of planning ahead to avoid the problems that can happen on a few hours' hike. I had a first aid kit with me, complete with snakebite kit, and we had big muffins, but barely enough water for our plans, not for emergency.
--Rudy Sovinee, Ghana (1970-73)
Rudy is the Executive director of One World, Our World and secretary of SDPCA. (Photos from author)
When spider webs are woven together, they can tie up a lion. --Ethiopian proverb
From the President...
Greetings to All!
We have had a couple of interesting events of late: dinner at the Khyber Pass Restaurant was an enjoyable time with delicious and varied food offerings and secondly the gathering to greet Dane Smith, the President of National Peace Corps Association (NPCA). As a newcomer to this returned Peace Corps association business, this event was especially valuable to me. I needed to hear what the national group was doing and how our group might play a part in those efforts.
Specifically, Dane spoke to the anticipated increase in size of the Peace Corps and his advocacy efforts with Peace Corps to make use of the experience and skills of RPCVs to effectively implement this growth. In addition to reviewing ongoing NPCA programs, he announced a new Microenterprise Fund, an investment opportunity that allows individual RPCVs, groups and friends to earn a return on their money while reengaging in Goal One of the Peace Corps: to help individuals in developing countries improve their lives (see http://www.rpcv.org). He also encouraged everyone to attend the 2002 Conference, June 20-23, in Washington, D.C. which will be celebrating the Peace Corps' 40 years of service.
At our Annual Potluck on Sunday, May 19 (see article herein for details) we will recap the past year, speak of our future plans and elect a new Board of Directors. I make a special appeal to you to attend this event. We can continue to make a difference.
--Gregg Pancoast, Costa Rica (1985-86)
3/4/02 & 4/1/02
Combined Board Minutes
Gregg Pancoast, Frank Yates, Brenda Hahn, and guest Marjory Clyne made both meetings. Gail Souare, Rudy Sovinee & Tony Stark missed the April meeting, which then lacked a quorum. (Sophie Pancoast also made the April 1st meeting.) Minutes were approved as written.
President's Report: Gregg completed our re-affiliation on-line. Threeeditions of Pacific Waves submitted for 2002 Newsletter Awards. Also there is an award for best websites. Greg will fill out forms for both submissions and send by 4/15. Board members are to update committee binders and bring them to our next meeting.
Financial Report: Frank reported balances and provided a detailed statement of income and expenses summarizing the year. Current year revenues are enough to cover the current ISF awards. MMSP to roll over for one year the CD maturing in March.
Membership: Frank reported that the SDPCA membership is at 187 current, (83 free to new San Diego RPCVs), 54 past due, totaling 241. NPCA membership is at 154 current, 39 past due, totaling 193. Tony suggested, and MMSP to research finding a regular location for our monthly board meeting, and for 2nd or 4th Saturday events like foreign film video or speakers. Suggested sites include the Otto Center at Balboa Park. Community Outreach: Marjory reported the table registration fee for Earth Day is $70. We have Peace Corps table banner, and World Wise School Banner, and some post-its from PCLA, but need brochures to help with recruitment.
Fundraising: Bookkeeping is complete. We surpassed last year's sales.
Mark J. Tonner International Support Fund: Grant requests have been received to date. Two were approved, with some funds rolled over to next cycle in November.
Newsletter: The last newsletter was mailed late because the month was short. Brenda is open to more travel stories. Discussed newsletter deadline and technical problems getting it out on time. Patty Eger has been monitoring and responding to email inquiries for us for the last year. She needs to be recognized and thanked somehow.
Web Site: Rudy started a new SD Insider hosted site for the SDPCA. Hosting software now allows multiple people to add content like message boards etc., but needs more work.
Social: Gail wants a social committee. A goal is to have a dine-out every other month, and a regular get together place for an easy social, like a foreign film.
Speaker's Bureau: 3/1/02 event by SDPCA with Peace Corps, World Wise Schools, and the One World, Our World program hosted a global education and Peace Corps awareness sendoff of RPCV Stephanie Palau. She began a 113-day, 5,000-mile bike tour across the USA to end in Washington, DC at the NPCA conference.
Old Business: The Annual Meeting will be held on May 19th at a site yet to be identified by Tony. (Subsequently named as a large conference room in the office where Tony works.)
Next Meeting on 5/6/02 at Gregg Pancoast's new home. All members are welcome
Update on: Third Goal Bike Ride
The Third Goal Bike Tour is a cross country bicycle tour that began on National Peace Corps Day March 1st, 2002 from San Diego, CA to Washington, DC. The Bike Tour is a celebration of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) for having served in the United States Peace Corps.
To follow Stephanie, log onto http://www.geocities.com/thirdgoal/
(More picture below of her sendoff from Balboa Park...)
Our very own Stephanie Palau had posted these e-journal entries as we went to press:
Thursday April 4th, 2002, Mileage: 36 miles, total of 1168, Tatum, NM to Plains,TX.
I am still lingering in Tatum, waiting for the sun to shine and make the ride a wee bit more enjoyable. Had breakfast at the only cafe in town, Steakhouse Cafe. Lots of hellos and good lucks from locals. Even got a bop on the nose from a jovial local older man as he told me to be careful on the road. Others had mentioned seeing me on the road in passing or leaving this place or that en route from Roswell, NM. I´m a celebrity. Much fun to come... Will cross the NM-TX border in just 15 miles and will have a new phone number today along with a change in time zones!
YEEEEeeeeeHawwwwwww, as they say in Texas! Arrived in Plains, TX in the late afternoon and was surprised to see how tiny this town is (population 1400). Went straight for the library to get information, as one should. I found MUCH more than information at this library....I found friendly and helpful folks that make me realize that this town called Plains is a special one indeed. The librarian invited me for hot coffee and homemade cookies in the coffee room while she busily contacted folks to assist me with overnight accommodations. Just then from out behind the video collection, came a friendly invite to their home just a few blocks away. Pam and Bill Rowe took me into their home like they expected my arrival. They learned a bit about my ride while I learned a bit about gospel music, a learning experience for us all. I am forever blown away by the acts of kindness and generosity I have been fortunate enough to encounter on this trip. The Rowe's are no exception. Many thanks to you both and a speedy recovery to Bill!
Friday April 5th, 2002, Mileage: 34 miles...and counting, Plains, TX to Brownfield, TX.
The day is young and I am just taking a rest, possible stay depending on my mood in the city of Brownfield, population nearly 10,000. It looks like rain is coming as it has remained overcast and cool all morning. The Department of Transportation drove on the side of the road to chat with me en route from Plains as I pedaled East on the 380. Lots of thumbs up and waves hello from truckers and drivers from their passing automobiles. I have officially declared Texas as the Most Likely to Wave Hello State. Anything to add entertainment to the less than entertaining scenery that i am passing. Don't get me wrong...it is nice to bike on flat land, but I am finding myself talking & singing to inanimate objects. I have also begun to sing loud enough to scare away all forms of wildlife. Good news is that I am happy to report that a rider may be joining me in Ft. Worth, TX! I will soon add a 'things to bring' button to my web page for all interested riders.
March 1 in Balboa Park: leaving on her Trek
(photos by Rudy Sovinee)
Gathering for the send-off
Addressing the audience
Ready to go!
NPCA Visits SDPCA
On Saturday, March 23, the President of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) Dane Smith and his wife Judy joined over 40 members and guests of the San Diego Peace Corps Association (SDPCA) in a congenial potluck dinner and conversation, the event was held as part of a national tour by Dane to sense the pulse of Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) communities countrywide.
After the meal Dane, presented by SDPCA President Gregg Pancoast, provided a personal sketch of his Peace Corps career. He and Judy initially requested to be assigned to a Latin America country and ended up in Ethiopia! Seeking a life career as a Methodist Minister, he ended up in the Foreign Service culminating as the Ambassador to Senegal before becoming the President of the NPCA.
Dane stated that currently there are over 140 Peace Corps NPCA-related groups in the country, the majority of those being composed of RPCVs. Furthermore, NPCA now boasts over 16,000 members, roughly 10% of the current number of RPCVs. All across the country, in 2001, events sponsored by RPCV groups were held commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps. (Prior to the 9/11/01 tragedies.)
NPCA recent challenges:
NPCA major program emphasis:
Dane then outlined the activities planned for the National Conference to be held this year from June 20-June 23 in Washington, DC. Included are Advocacy Day, a Memorial Day March, an NPCA Business Symposium, a keynote address by the President of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, a gala and workshops, etc. He encouraged attendance to this conference, which is being held primarily to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Peace Corps, one year late due to the events of 9/11/01. Dane commented on how many volunteers (with examples) have had an active role in shaping the world.
A question and answer session followed:
What is Bush's intention of doubling the size of the Peace Corps?
NPCA: There are currently 23 new countries requesting the Peace Corps presence. There are several countries that previously have been closed to the Peace Corps that now want them back. Also, programs in several countries need to be expanded. Bush is intending to meet these requests.
What about the USA Freedom Corps and its relationship to the Peace Corps?
NPCA: The Executive Order that established the Freedom Corps speaks to this question and ensures the autonomy of the agencies included under the umbrella of the Freedom Corps.
There are some new countries that are still an "at risk" situation for volunteer service. What are the administration's intentions related to sending volunteers to these countries?
NPCA: There has been a task force established in the Peace Corps to review this situation on a country by country basis. The GAO has criticized volunteer security in the past. NPCA is active in ensuring that volunteer security remains at the top of the list of priorities.
We've heard that Peace Corps is targeting recruitment toward seniors. What is the status?
NPCA: I'm not aware of such a program but there are a lot of opportunities for seniors. Additionally, Peace Corps does have a recruitment desk that welcomes senior volunteers.
Do you see an expanded role for the Crisis Corps? Since the mid-90s RPCVs have gone in and assisted where there have been natural disasters.
NPCA: From what I can gather, there hasn't been much success with this program to date. The efforts in this program will be reviewed. NPCA has had an Emergency Response Network of RPVCs for the past five years. We are looking to garner more funds for this effort.
Can NPCA assist in knocking down the blocks that we are encountering? (It appears that it is more difficult to access information due to the Privacy Act, specifically, for the SDPCA for its International Support Fund.)
NPCA: We only have the names of those who signed waivers. This is very limiting. I hope that there can be a solution to this problem for all concerned. World Wide might help with these waivers.
How many RPCVs have reenrolled?
NPCA: There is no data on this but my sense is that there is a considerable number, perhaps 15%.
What is the current diversity of the Peace Corps volunteer ranks, especially those with a disability?
NPCA: There has been an increase in minority volunteers during the 90's. Vasquez is interested in recruiting Hispanics. I am not aware of any data on those with disabilities (Comment from the members: Kenya has a structured system to assist those with disabilities)
Are RPCVs being used as recruiters?
NPCA: I have spoken to Vasquez as to the validity of using RPCVs as recruiters.
How can RPCVs help with the plan for doubling the size of the Peace Corps?
NPCA: You can help by working with Peace Corps in the development of programming.
Why is there a requirement of a Bachelors Degree? Those in community colleges represent resources that Peace Corps can use.
NPCA: A good suggestion that I will take back with me. (Comment from the members: Basic requirements depend on the country asking for the service/program.)
The presentation/discussion ended at this point with Dane thanking everyone for their participation and input. Whereupon we asked, "Dessert anyone?"
Author's comment: I left that evening feeling a sense of pride of being part of a movement that started 41 years ago that appears as fresh as it did then for me. Also, I felt a pride and satisfaction that some of our peers have used the Peace Corps experience as a springboard such that they have subsequently participated in affecting the development of peace in many countries and with organizations having a global scope.
--Hank Davenport Barberis, Peru (1962-64)
Our Aqui es Oaxaca Excursion
Saturday, April 13 more than 20 of us met at the border and, after a brief Spanish-Aztec language lesson from our guide Gerry Sodomka (Nigeria, 1966-68), taxied our way to this incredible experience in Oaxacan food and hospitality! Our long table was beautifully set with bright Oaxacan linens and soon the delicious and unique dishes of the region formed an eight-course meal. Afterward we took a cultural stroll back to the border interespersed with Gerry's informational comments. Gerry was a great interpreter of cuisine and culture and our restaurant hosts were warm, patient, and kind. Many, many thanks, Gerry, for your skilled efforts in making this excursion possible for us!!
Excursion group at restaurant. Aqui es Oaxaca is an excellent choice when dining in Tijuana. Avenue Cuauhtemoc Sur Qte. 212-5, phone 686-4193, just across from Hotel Palacio Azteca. Highly recommended by the PC Palate.
When Isselmou recalls his days in Mauritania and the life of forced servitude, he remains soft-spoken and deliberate. "In Mauritania, if a master were to tie you up and beat you until you died, it would not be a problem for him," he said one morning in his small apartment, his voice swooping through his English vowels as if tracing the Arabic calligraphy many Mauritanians adopted centuries ago.
"Many times, my master tied me up and beat me." Isselmou's personal history may sound striking, but like a number of other former Mauritanian asylum seekers in New York, he is resistant to dwelling on his experiences. What he'd rather discuss is El Hor, or the Free, an underground Mauritanian abolitionist movement founded in 1974, with branches that stretch from Africa to Europe to North America.
Last month, El Hor went into high gear in New York when it teamed up with other Mauritanian groups to protest slavery and other civil rights abuses. That protest, in part, was galvanized by a short U.S. talking tour featuring a Mauritanian slave and a master that ended in Manhattan last month. Over the past several years, the Mauritanian exile community here has evolved from a group of disparately placed immigrants and refugees into a collective force for political change. No longer content with simply struggling to survive, they're taking on the highest powers in the land, from their former masters to the American President and the chieftains at the UN.
For the roughly 3000 Mauritanians in the States-a thousand of them in New York alone-this political awakening has been decades in the making. Isselmou says he has been involved with El Hor since he was seven years old. "I had no choice," he explains, when asked why he joined. "I realized that there is no reason why a man should be a slave of another man."
On the map of Africa, Mauritania appears as a large, angular republic situated in the continent's northwest, with a substantial coast on the Atlantic. Mauritania became independent from French rule only in 1960. Like its politics, its borders display the stamp of colonialism. Long straight lines, bearing little relation to topography or ethnic groupings, cut down from Algeria and Western Sahara. Mauritania's eastern frontier with Mali may well have been drawn with one massive tape measure.
Within those borders, though, things are much less orderly. In 1984, Maaouya Ould Sidi Ahmad Taya seized Mauritania's leadership during a bloodless coup and installed a repressive regime. Beginning with Taya's rule, the Moorish-dominated government initiated a campaign of ethnic and racial cleansing that continues to this day, according to international human rights groups. Although this campaign targeted Black Africans living in Mauritania's south, it primarily focused on the Fulani, an ethnic group driven by the tens of thousands into neighboring Senegal.
However, the most abused group in Mauritania may be one that has no real ethnicity: the slave caste of Africans known as the Harateen, who to this day must serve their Moorish masters, and who have done this for so many centuries that they no longer can trace their ancestry, according to Moctar Teyeb, a Harateen who now lives and works in the Bronx, where he runs the top U.S. branch of El Hor. Based on 1994 Mauritanian census figures, Teyeb says, 49 percent of the country's 2.4 million people are either slaves or former slaves.
The practice of slavery in West Africa dates back hundreds of years, and has become deeply woven into Mauritanian customs and religious beliefs. Nearly all Mauritanians are Muslim, and activists such as Teyeb and Isselmou say twisted notions of Islamic scripture have been used to buttress slavery in their homeland for centuries. "Some of my family said I shouldn't go to America," said Isselmou. "They said I should obey my master, my religion, and accept the situation."
Isselmou's small stretch of Brooklyn, between Bedford and Nostrand, is where he has enjoyed a good deal of his freedom since he came to this city two years ago. This neighborhood may be the closest New York has to a Little Mauritania. In addition to the small community of Harateen, the area is also home to a number of Fulani exiles, many of whom also say they are fleeing persecution.
This sense of community may mark something of a change. Both the Fulani and Harateen say they have suffered extensively at the hands of the Moors, but have only recently begun to work together. According to some activists, Mauritania's masters kept the two groups separate in a cynical game of "divide and rule." They cite, for example, instances of slaves or former slaves in the north who were directed to participate in Fulani deportations. But the divisions this policy created are now beginning to drop away, said Habsa Sileymane, a Mauritanian human rights activist living in New York, as more and more black Mauritanian exiles focus on the Taya regime as the root of their country's problems. "We are all working for the respect of human rights in our country; this is what brings us together," Sileymane said over a sweet Senegalese ginger drink at the midtown cafe that serves as an occasional Mauritanian community center.
In the United States, for instance, Mauritanian antislavery activists intensified their efforts after the former slave's speaking tour of the Northeast. The talks, which were cosponsored by the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group and an underground Mauritanian abolitionist movement called SOS Slaves, were led by Nasser Yessa, who grew up in a slave-owning family. "Every day, for the first 16 years of my life, slaves prepared my meals, cleaned my clothes, washed my hands, and massaged my back," he has said. "Though we were both Muslims, my slaves and I understood that their black skin made them impure-and that they had to serve me faithfully."
In Manhattan, Fulani and Harateen émigrés sent an open letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on January 28 pleading their cause; that same day, they gathered before the United Nations to protest the recent banning of a Mauritanian antislavery opposition party, Action for Change. "Silence from the African nations, from the UN, and the United States has not only encouraged Taya to continue his crooked policies, but has made him eager to increase his appetite for abuses and violations of human rights," said Moctar Teyeb, the former slave and national El Hor coordinator, in an address during the demonstration. "Why has Taya banned this antislavery party now? Taya thinks the world is busy with its war against terrorism."
Later, in his Bronx apartment, Teyeb, who has testified before Congress on slavery in Mauritania, further explained how the U.S.-led war on terrorism was having a detrimental effect on his cause. "One week after September 11, unfortunately, President Bush sent a letter to Taya, referring to him as his friend, and so the following week, Taya went around the country on a propaganda tour, reading from the letter, saying that he is close to the United States, and that the United States was with him."
In a typed statement to the Voice, the Mauritanian embassy in Washington defended the banning of Action for Change, accusing the party's leadership of "anti-constitutional behavior" and "making racist anti-democratic statements aiming at dividing Mauritanians and jeopardizing our national unity." The statement continues: "In order to build a democratic republic, a country needs respect for the State and for its institutions. . . . This party has crossed the line, by transforming the [parliament] into a platform to circulate untruths on slavery and reopen old wounds."
On the matter of modern-day slavery, the statement goes on to explain that "our government recognizes that there are still some unfortunate vestiges and consequences of slavery in Mauritania; we are even more determined and committed to eradicate them by concerted and determined action to fight poverty among the poorest social groups." It also states: "Unfortunately certain persons in Mauritania and a small number of Mauritanian immigrants abroad who, in order to advance their political agenda or extend their stay in the host country, decided to use these baseless accusations of slavery and hurt their country."
However, many observers say Mauritania so far has a poor record combating slavery. "If there are only 'unfortunate vestiges and consequences of slavery' left in Mauritania, if the Action for Change party is truly circulating 'untruths' on slavery, then a comprehensive and independent multinational investigation into slavery in Mauritania will prove the government correct," says David Moore, an activist with the American Anti-Slavery Group. "But if there is nothing to hide, then why does the government continue to stifle dissent, ban political parties, and refuse to let foreign journalists freely roam the country?"
According to a 1996 U.S. Congressional Resolution, "Chattel slavery, with an estimated tens of thousands of black Mauritanians considered property of their masters and performing unpaid labor, persists despite its legal abolition in 1980." Moreover, antislavery activists, both here and in Africa, point out that there are no real legal mechanisms to enforce the Mauritanian antislavery law, and that the only people who are granted any right to compensation are the masters, not the slaves.
Still, Isselmou, the former slave living in Brooklyn, is optimistic. "I did not come to the United States just to sit here," he says. "I want to go back to my country to live with my family when I can live a safe life, my own life. The most important thing for any man is the life of freedom." As Karen-Yaa (YGA) says,"Forward Ever (by any means necessary); Backward Never!"
&endash;Raffi Khatchadourian, The Village Voice, 2/20-26/02; forwarded by Joan Clabby, Senegal (1985-87) Email responses to email@example.com
PC News Bytes
Spring Issue of 3/1/61
The spring issue of your membership newsletter 3/1/61 was in the mail in early April. The issue is a special publication on advocacy, who does it, what the issues are, and how you as an NPCA member and as an RPCV can change the course or world events as they are determined in Washington, D.C. The cover story profiles one of America's busiest talking heads these past six months, an RPCV in Nebraska who is an expert on Afghanistan. Also in this special advocacy issue we offer you the growing schedule of exciting events being held June 20-23 at the NPCA National Conference and how you join us in celebrating 41 years of Peace Corps and hear the keynote speaker, President Alejandro Toledo, the first indigenous candidate to be elected president of Peru.
Delight and Puzzlement Greet U.S. Aid Hike
Anti-poverty campaigners said they were delighted by a White House announcement that U.S. aid would be increased by twice as much as President George W. Bush had indicated just last week. They also said the unanticipated change raised questions about the U.S. administration's grasp of and effectiveness in dealing with development financing.
"We love any mistakes that mean more money for the poor," said Adrienne Smith, spokesperson for Oxfam America, said Wednesday. "We are overwhelmingly delighted with the new increase." Last week, Bush had said Washington would contribute five billion dollars over the next three budget years to developing countries, a move touted as the largest single aid increase in U.S. history. That figure now stands at $10 billion.
The new plan was again seen as a way for the U.S. administration, under fire for penny-pinching on aid, to deflect criticism and to buttress Bush's efforts to enlist other countries and international organisations in his campaign to tie aid to on-the-ground economic results. While they were pleased at the new increase, advocates including Oxfam and Interaction, an umbrella for development groups, said they remained concerned that the money would not be dispensed soon enough and that the performance benchmarks were unclear.
David Beckmann, president of faith-based Bread for the World, said that after decades of declining foreign assistance budgets, President Bush's proposal was "a breath of fresh air. However, 2004 is a long way off for the 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone who go to bed hungry each night," he added. "Africa needs our help now, why wait?'" Many groups have said the United States needs to reach beyond economic fundamentalism - which they describe as blind adherence to free markets. With key details not yet spelled out, activists and analysts alike have said it remains to be seen whether the U.S. administration will continue to embrace, or repudiate, such policy prescriptions as privatisation of water services, fees for public schools and health clinics, and business deregulation.
-by Emad Mekay, submitted by Brian Farenell, Friends of Guinea [FOG] Advocacy Director, http://www.friendsofguinea.org
More News Bytes
When Should the Peace Corps Return to Afghanistan?
President Bush has told Director Vasquez to bring volunteers back into Afghanistan. Last week Vasquez made his first overseas trip for the Peace Corps traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan and a Peace Corps Press Release said he would meet with Assessment Teams who are conducting programming and security assessments to determine if conditions will support sending in the agency's Crisis Corps volunteers.
Host Country Updates
NPCA Update on Host Countries
For those who like to keep track of where the Peace Corps is serving, here's the latest information: it looks as if Peace Corps will be returning to Peru since the country agreement is now being worked out. An assessment has been made on the three "Stans" we left after the War in Afghanistan began (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan) and it appears that volunteers will soon be returning. Kazakstan had not been affected and volunteers remained there throughout. Volunteers have left Zimbabwe and the program has been suspended. The situation in Nepal is being monitored and some volunteers have been moved from their sites because of the Maoist rebel attacks. An assessment team is in Afghanistan to determine whether Crisis Corps should enter. Talk of Peace Corps entering East Timor is a bit premature since it has not yet become an independent country.
--Charlotte Butting, NPCA Liaison, Washington State PCA.
Future Harvest recently joined an international effort to restore agriculture in Afghanistan. Scientists and development experts from research institutes, relief and development organizations, universities, and aid agencies will carry out a multi-million dollar effort to rebuild Afghanistan's agriculture. The partnership, called the Future Harvest Consortium to Rebuild Agriculture in Afghanistan, has the potential to be the largest-ever seed recovery effort of its kind. It will provide farmers with seeds to plant for the upcoming spring and fall growing seasons and vaccines to prevent disease in Afghan livestock. The consortium will also focus on the once-prosperous horticultural (fruits and vegetables) sectors, as well as land and water management. See further:
--Future Harvest e-newsletter, April 2002
School was called off throughout much of this sprawling city recently because of inclement weather. It was not a freak spring snow storm, a heat wave or torrential rains. Rather, it was an immense cloud of dust that blew in from China's fast-spreading deserts, about 750 miles away.
It hid Seoul from view throughout the morning, obscuring the sunrise just as surely as the heaviest of fogs. Clinics overflowed with patients complaining of breathing problems, drugstores experienced a run on cough medicines and face masks that supposedly filter the air, and parks and outdoor malls were nearly empty of pedestrians.
With the arrival of the huge dust storms for the third consecutive year, Koreans have begun to grimly resign themselves to the addition of an unwelcome fifth season&endash; already dubbed the season of yellow dust&endash;to the usual four seasons that any temperate country knows.
Ethiopia and Eritrea
Ethiopia claimed victory in its border dispute with Eritrea after an independent tribunal at The Hague handed down a ruling. But the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration was not made public, and Eritrea branded Ethiopia's claims as lies.
The two countries went to war in 1998 over the placement of the 620-mile border. The conflict, which went on for two years, left as many as 80,000 people dead. The five-member court delivered the ruling to the two governments this morning but officials agreed to delay public disclosure of the decision until Monday. That did not stop both sides from trying to put a positive spin on the long-awaited ruling, which is expected to have significant political repercussions in the two countries.
--Marc Lacey, New York Times
Evading U.N. Criticism of Rights Abuses, China escaped a resolution this year criticizing how it treats its citizens, but Cuba found itself once again in the international dock this week as the United Nations began its annual review of human rights abuses around the world.
At the annual session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, no country stepped forward to take China to task over its human rights record after the usual sponsor of such measures, the United States, lost its seat on the panel in an upset vote last fall. This is the first time the United States has not served as a member since the 53-nation group began in 1947, although it retains observer status.
Human Rights Watch, based in New York, said it had tracked increased human rights violations in China over the last year. The group attributed the lack of scrutiny to a "lamentable lack of political will" and accused the 15-country European Union of dodging its responsibility to criticize Beijing. It was only the second time in the last decade that China had evaded being criticized for violating rights, particularly those of Tibetans. This week, Amnesty International said that China executed more people in 2001 than all other countries combined, but Beijing rejected that tally and said the lack of a resolution this year was a recognition of its commitment to human rights.
--Elizabeth Olson, New York Times
The virulent Hindu-Muslim violence that broke out six weeks ago has been largely contained to the western state of Gujarat. But its political consequences spread Friday and today to the national level, opening up deep new fissures in the coalition government that rules India.
Bharatiya Janata, the Hindu nationalist party that leads the national coalition and governs the state of Gujarat, on Friday brusquely rejected a demand from crucial national allies that it fire the Gujarat chief minister. He has been widely blamed for turning a blind eye when Hindu mobs killed hundreds of Muslims. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who just last week mournfully condemned both the firebombing of a train loaded with Hindu activists by Muslims and the retaliatory attacks on Muslims by Hindus, was harshly critical of Muslims in a speech on Friday night.
--Celia W. Dugger, New York Times
A Mining Town's Sullen Peace Masks the Bitter Legacy of China's Labor Strategy as the decrepit mining town Angjiazhanghi was the scene of one of the largest and most violent labor protests to be reported in China in recent memory. Today, two years later, a sullen peace has settled on the two-mile strip of grimy shops and apartment houses and the 19th-century tableau of mines, smelters and slag heaps.
The apparent quiet suggests how effectively the the government has quelled the protests with its usual strategy &emdash; a few arrests, a ban on news reports and quick concessions to the majority of workers. The response has averted a runaway pandemic of protests. But the approach carries hidden dangers too.
The eruption was part of an escalation in labor conflicts as China's run-down state industries stumble and collapse. In the last several weeks, large protests by displaced state workers have occurred in several cities of northeastern, central and western China, usually arising from similar charges of unpaid benefits and self-enriching officials.
--Erik Eckholm, New York Times
Southeast Asia's Press is under pressure as a bitter fight in Thailand between the government and the press reached a high point recently when a cable station was suddenly interrupted, cutting off a critic of the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, in midsentence.
Afterward, the Nation Group, which controls the editorial content of the station, accused the government of deliberately interrupting the transmission of an interview with a former foreign minister, Prasong Soonsiri, a well-known opponent of the current prime minister. The editor of the Nation Group, Thepchai Yong, said he believed the transmission was cut on the orders of the government.
If so, the blackout was the most obvious of a number of moves against the press in Thailand, particularly against the Nation Group, a major media company, which started a feisty Thai language newspaper last year. As well as attacking the company, the government threatened to expel two journalists who work for the Far Eastern Economic Review, banned an issue of The Economist and ordered the office that combats money laundering to investigate the personal finances of Thai journalists.
--Jane Perlez, New York Times
Spring SDPCA ISF Awards Announced
Here is how the Board awarded our International Support Fund (ISF) funds, based on recommendations from the ISF Committee:
QUOTE: Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing. -- Abraham Lincoln
Peace Corps Writers
Want to read about your Country material by RPCV writers? Log onto: http://www.peacecorpswriters.org RPCV Writers, their years of service and their titles are listed.
Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice
The Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego joins theory and application in advancing knowledge and practice in the fields of peace and justice. The goals of the IPJ are to prepare students for careers in conflict resolution and human rights, to provide a forum for scholarly analysis of essential issues in these fields, and to link education and research with the outreach activities of the Institute.
The Institute's outreach activities include serving as an unofficial third party to assist parties in conflict to peacefully prevent or resolve armed conflict and to influence and shape governmental and intergovernmental policies to promote peace with justice. Based at the University of San Diego, the IPJ provides unique opportunities for students and scholars, as well as providing a safe space for parties in conflict to begin a dialogue for peace.
The Institute also sponsors the WWW Virtual Library of over 2200 annotated links in a wide range of international affairs topics. Most of the sites are in English and are carefully selected for their long-term value, favoring those with cost-free, high-quality information and analysis online. The Institute may be reached online at: http://peace.acusd.edu/
May 9, 2002 "World Peace is Inevitable," Dr. Robert Muller, Thursday, May 9, 2002, 5:30-7:00 pm, IPJ Auditorium, University of San Diego. Dr. Robert Muller is the Chancellor at the Universidad de la Paz in Costa Rica. For over four decades, he has worked behind the scenes at the United Nations focusing on world peace. A former Assistant-Secretary-General with the UN, he created a "World Core Curriculum" and is known throughout the world as the "father of global education."
--Dr. Joyce Neu, Executive
Director, 619.260.7509, fax 619.260.7570
UN Cyberschoolbus Seeks Human Rights Activists Profiles
The United Nations Cyberschoolbus, the UN's educational resource for students ages 5-18 and their teachers, is completing work on a massive human rights education project called the Global Atlas of Human Rights. The Global Atlas is comprised of thirty profiles of human rights activists, mostly focused on human rights activist individuals or small groups, and corresponding lesson plans/activities for the classroom.
Geographical and issue balance are important for our project, so we look to you for recommendations and suggestions for people/groups we can profile which are in the Middle East,in Pakistan, in India, involved with press freedom, academic freedom,land rights and/or marriage rights. Please submit to: mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org
Breast Cancer Site Needs Your Click
The Breast Cancer site is having trouble getting enough people to click on it daily to meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to an underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site and click on "donating a mammogram" for free (pink window in the middle). Their corporate sponsors and advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate a mammogram in exchange for advertising. Here's the website! Pass it along to all your friends!! http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/
NPCA's Career Fair and Workshops
Looking for a job, a fellowship or just want to find direction in your life? Come to the NPCA's Career Fair and Workshops June 21 and 22. The Career Fair and Workshops are free to all conference registrants and only $35 for non-registrants. The Career Fair will be open on Friday, June 21 from 9-5 and the Career Workshops will run Friday, June 21 and Saturday, June 22. Register online at: http://npca.org/
NPCA Board Chair Resigns, Accepts Peace Corps Position
National Peace Corps Association Board Chair K Richard Pyle announced this month that he was resigning from the NPCA board and his position as chair due to a conflict of interest after his acceptance of a position with the Peace Corps. A board member for six years, Dick has been chairman since August 2000. He is now a Special Services officer at Peace Corps. He was a PCV in the 60s and a country director in the 90s. At the June Board meeting, the board will elect a chair along with board officers for the 2002-03 year.
Many, many thanks to Jasmine Patti Eger for checking the SDPCA email for us all year and forwarding the information received to appropriate folk. It is silent, caring volunteers like this, doing their jobs unsung, independently, "by remote connection," that keep SDPCA, and indeed the planet, going
Our Khyber Pass Feast
Khyber Pass Restaurant saw about 18 of us savoring the most delicious Afghan food we've ever had! Served family style, we virtually inhaled hors dourves, salads, multiple pilaf dishes of every imaginable type, several curried dishes, and a wide assortment of Persian-style barbecued meats. This was a very special meal designed by the owner, Thio, who was taught by RPCVs. We also welcomed several new faces including Joyce Neu, Executive Director of the new Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at USD. Parking can be a problem, but Khyber Pass, 525 University Avenue, Hillcrest, definitely is worth the hassle. Highly recommended by the PC Palate.
Welcome, New Members!
We of SDPCA extend a warm welcome to our newest members. (If we received your membership late because you joined us through NPCA, this is beyond our control but we apologize anyway.) We've seen some of you at our events already and we want all of you to get involved in our activities. Let us hear from you!! Contact information listed in Contact SDPCA
Pacific Waves is published six times a year by the San Diego Peace Corps Association which is fully responsible for its content. Except for copyrighted material, articles may be reprinted without permission with credit to the SDPCA.
Contributions are encouraged:
Please send to Editor, SDPCA, P.O. Box 26565, San Diego, CA 92196 or e-mail: email@example.com
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