Author Archives: maribeth shanley

About maribeth shanley

Maribeth is the author of the novel, Crack in the World, published by Indigo Sea Press, Winston-Salem, NC. In February of 2016, her second novel, A View to the Unknown, the stand-alone sequel to Crack in the World, was published by Indigo Sea Publishing. Please visit Maribeth's website, www.maribethshanley.com where you can read the first chapter of both novels, as well as four short stories and three poems. Maribeth is married. She loves and advocates for animals. She knows that we are all the authors of our own lives. Maribeth lives life like she means it through kindness, love and shear determination to never waste one minute of her life so that when she crosses over, people who knew her will consider her life a best seller.

Best of Both Worlds By Maribeth Shanley

Life is full of surprises. Some things you plan; and, well, some things turn up as complete surprises!

When Bob and I first discussed where we were going to retire, we had three destinations on our list.

We lived in the Nashville, TN area, so we decided that we might stay in the area but purchase a refurbished house in the historic district. Our second choice was in the Smokie Mountains area. In particular, we thought about living near the city of Gatlinburg. Our third choice was to move to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

As we weighed our choices, we decided that we loved both the ocean and the mountains. Thus, we decided to move to the Myrtle Beach area and then, later, purchase or build a small cabin in the Gatlinburg area which lies on the north side of the Smokie Mountains.

We loved Nashville, but it didn’t have anything more to offer us. Gatlinburg did. So did Myrtle Beach. Had we stayed in Nashville, we would have had to travel to both Gatlinburg as well as to Myrtle Beach. Gatlinburg was about four hours away, and Myrtle Beach was twelve hours away. Retiring in Nashville was the first casualty of our decision.

Gatlinburg was where Bob, I and all our critters had spent at least ten Christmases. The town is lit up like a fairytale during the season, and there’s so much to see in the area. On the other hand, it gets cold in the winter. Sometimes it snows. Did we want to be cold in the winter and shovel snow? The answer was no. Thus, the decision to permanently relocate to Myrtle Beach, yet purchase or build a small cottage in the Gatlinburg area became our plan.

We’ve lived in Myrtle Beach going on four years. We love it here. We both love the beach and, although we only went to the beach twice this year, we have promised each other that next year, we will go more often. I much prefer the ocean over a crowded pool. Plus, I love that, regardless of the time of year, there’s always an ocean breeze.

As we considered our small place in Gatlinburg, one day we walked out of our garage to see that our neighbor three doors up had an RV parked in front of their house. Martin, the husband, was out at the vehicle, so we strolled up to say hi. As we stood in his driveway talking to him, Linda, his wife strolled out with a tub of items she was carrying to the RV. They were headed out the following morning for a two-week jaunt to Montana. The couple invited us to look inside, which we did. After a long discussion about how they have enjoyed their RV and planned to go away at least once each month for a week or two, we walked back to our house.

I usually make all the financial decisions. I don’t recall how that happened. However, I seem to be the one who can make things happen. Bob lovingly refers to me as the CFO. I usually chuckle when he does.

The more I thought about Linda and Martin’s RV the more I liked the idea. Over the past four years, I managed to pay off everything, including a new car and jeep. Also, we own our home. We did that by cashing in two of our 401 plans. As I thought about an RV vs. a small cottage in the mountains, I thought, A cottage would be nice, but it would be a static venue. On the other hand, an RV would mean we could plan trips to many places, including the Gatlinburg area. It made sense to me to go the RV route vs. buying a second home and feeling compelled to use it vs. visit other areas of the country.

I brought up the issue to Bob, and he agreed with my reasoning. I then talked to Linda. She told me that they had made the same decision, i.e., purchase an RV vs. a permanent cottage in the mountains. They loved the freedom of their RV.

It didn’t take much more consideration before Bob, and I made the decision, then the leap to go purchase an RV.  We now own a 29 ft. RV that could sleep up to eight people. In other words, it’s big enough for us and all our critters, two small dogs, two cats, and four parrots.

RV
We purchased our RV four months ago. Our first trip was up to a campground in North Carolina. It was a trip we made where we stayed five nights for free, and it was part of the purchase of our RV.  Little did we know, there was a catch. We had to sit through a sales presentation where we could join Travel Resorts of America. We weren’t all that pumped up about sitting through the presentation and were pretty sure we wouldn’t join. So, on day two, a fella came by our site in a golf cart and took us around the campgrounds showing us all the amenities. As we sat through the presentation, I began to realize it was a very good deal for not as much money than it would cost us over the long run if we didn’t join.

After the presentation, Bob and I discussed our options. We managed to buy one of their packages which gives us free stays at three of their eight sites anytime we want to visit the sites. The three sites define our three “home bases,” which are free to use for as long as we want each trip. Also, we get to stay at the remaining five sites for $10/day anytime we want to visit. The sites are located in various States up and down the east coast.

On top of that, we have access to some other sites that are part of the Travel Resorts of America across the country for only $10/day. Normally, campsites cost $40-50 per day, and that doesn’t include the gas you purchase to get to and from the sites. So, we signed up.

We’ve been camping every month for the past four months and enjoying every minute of our new adventure. Three of those trips have been at our home-base campgrounds. Thus, those camping fees have added up to $0. One of those trips was a trip up to Ohio.

Hurricane Florence was due to come onshore, and as it moved toward the SC/NC shores, it was scheduled to be a category three hurricane. We had already experienced a category one hurricane two summers ago, and after moving into our current home, we decided a category three hurricane would be far scarier. The category one was scary enough.

At first, Bob wanted to stay home. However, after we purchased a generator for $900, and discovered that the generator would only power up one appliance and one lamp, we changed our minds. Being newcomers to natural disasters, we thought a generator would power up the entire house. So, once we realized the limited capacity of the outrageously expensive generator, we decided to take it back, get a refund and call one of our three home bases, to escape the hurricane.

We called the campground in NC where we first stayed. They were under a flood warning, so, we called the Ohio facility which was not one of our home bases. We discovered, however,  that they were offering members a free stay vs. the normal $10/day fee as a “hurricane” courtesy. We spent the following day, pulling in everything from the outside and securing them in our garage and house. We then loaded up our RV and headed out.

When the hurricane hit, the Myrtle Beach area basically suffered a category one. The brunt of the hurricane caused far more damage in North Carolina. Nonetheless, we didn’t have to sit through even the scary winds and rain of a category one hurricane. Plus, we thoroughly enjoyed our four days stay in Ohio where we will return to stay again and enjoy some of their amenities like horseback riding.

Reg. Pilot Mtn

Recently, we spent four days in North Carolina at a campground for which we paid the full charge. However, it was still a great trip. We camped at the base of Pilot Mountain in North Carolina and only fifty miles south of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Pilot Mountain is beautiful, especially when the morning skies to the south are lit up with the pink of a rising sun, causing the granite rock that juts up on the top of the  mountain to appear pink as well.

The temperatures were crisp during the evenings. The days were cool but pleasant. It was pleasant sleeping under a few quilts with our two dogs and cats sharing the bed with us.

Our birds also enjoyed the trip. Their three cages sit above the cab, and we always bring plenty of covers to keep them cozy and warm during the evening. Our African Grey parrot, Jasper, especially likes traveling in the RV. His cage sits next to the window, so he can watch outside as we drive down the highway. He sings and talks the entire time. The cats love to travel as well. They spend most of the drive time under the driver’s and passenger’s seats. It’s warm under there. The dogs love it too.
When Bob drives, Slugger, our thirteen-year-old Schnauzer sleeps in his bed the entire trip up and back. Our other Schnauzer Bailey, who is still a puppy, takes advantage of me by climbing up on my lap. I don’t mind at all. This last trip, I drove both ways. Bailey slept on a pad in between Bob and me. Bob’s not the sucker I am. He prefers no pets wiggling around on his lap.

We’ve decided to stay home for Thanksgiving. We were planning a trip to the Outer Banks. However, we decided to add on to our downstairs patio instead. We’ll visit the Outer Banks next summer when we can go swimming in the ocean.

For Christmas, we’ve decided to spend it in our favorite Christmas town, Gatlinburg. We’ll stay in a campground just outside the town. We tow our Jeep whenever we camp. The Jeep gives us lots of mobility.

This next year we plan to take a trip up the east coast, all the way to Maine. Along the way, we’ll stop in Rhode Island, my birth State. I want to visit the beach I used to go to as well as eat clam cakes at Aunt Carrie’s not far from the beach, Sandy Point. It’s beautiful along the beach route which will give me a little bit of nostalgia and will introduce Bob to a part of the country he hasn’t traveled.

In a year or two, we plan a big adventure. Bob has traveled out west. I have as well, but only by air. I was once at the edge of the Rocky Mountains where I picked up my brother and his girlfriend and brought them back to where we lived in Illinois. However, I was only able to get a small glimpse of the Rockies.   A trip out west will  be a spectacular adventure for me. We’ll drive out by taking the northern route, then return traveling through the southern route. We’ll get to see a lot of the west, and we’ll take our time doing it. We’re talking about a month-long trip.

Despite the threat of hurricanes, we’re happy we chose to live at the beach. Fortunately, the Myrtle Beach coastline is indented, so it misses many of the hurricanes. When they do come on shore, they are the tail of the storm. We’re also happy we now have a means of enjoying the Smokie Mountains and Gatlinburg. Also, we will be taking a trip back to Nashville to see some of our friends and enjoying some of our old stomping grounds. Best of all, we will do all of that and more while driving our rolling home while towing our Jeep enabling us to go wherever we want while we’re camping.

We have indeed discovered the best of both worlds. We live at the beach.  Plus, it has been a wonderful, unplanned surprise to realize we have lots of trips to look forward to in our future.

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How Did the U.S. Arrive at an Impasse? By Maribeth Shanley

In the era of Donald Trump and the Evangelical Republicans, we keep hearing that candidates and their voters have become divided into two distinctive camps.  Hatred of the other camp has become that divide.  The empty Supreme Court seat left vacant first by Justice Scalia and then by Justice Kennedy have become the pinnacle battleground for the two camps.  How did we get here?

Having no credentials to discuss the history of this impasse, I still have thought long and hard about how we have turned our backs on reaching across the aisle to become two closed, armed camps.  Even our closed arm posture signals how closed off to political compromise we have become. 

Trump folded arms2     Trump folded arms

When did we become so closed off from each other politically and ideologically?

I believe it began with the inauguration of our first non-white, African American president, Barack Husein Obama.  Ironically, the birth of the impasse was born during the first period in our U.S. history when equality had shown itself in all its glory. 

In 1863, as our nation approached its third year of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

With President Obama’s election and 2009 inauguration, it seemed that we the people had finally ripped up one of our last and most brutal forms of hatred, and contempt for a group of people, most of whom arrived in the U.S. in chains.  We had our first African American president. 

As President Obama began to serve his first four years, he went to work trying to repair the broken economy that coincided with the 2008 stock market collapse which followed in the wake of 2007 housing market crash.   The Tea Party movement reared its ugly head immediately after Obama’s 2009 announcement of his plans to give financial aid to bankrupt homeowners.

A major force behind the movement was a group called the Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group founded by businessman and political activist David H. Koch of the infamous Koch brothers. 

Following the announcement of the financial bailout of bankrupt homeowners, on February 19, 2009, CNBC reporter Rick Santelli, while reporting from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, called for a “tea party,” a reference to the 1773 rebellious action taken in Boston, MA.   On December 16, 1773, angry colonists acted out the protest directed at Colonial Britain for imposing “taxation without representation.” The rebels dumped 342 chests of British tea into the harbor.

The 2009 Santelli call to action inspired over fifty conservative activists to unite against Obama’s agenda as they scheduled a series of protests, including the 2009 Taxpayer March on Washington.  This union of conservative and libertarian activists encouraged sympathizers and supporters to carry forth the protests turning the ultra-right sentiment into a movement that began to impact and infiltrate the internal politics of the Republican Party.  Although the Tea Party isn’t a separate or independent party, members of the Tea Party Caucus vote like a significantly farther right party than do the established members of the GOP.  Today those Tea Party politicians are referred to as the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives.

That ultra conservative sentiment and ultra-right voting tendency came full force into view after the 2010 mid-term election when the Republicans beat out the Democrats across the nation and took over the majority vote in the House.  An interesting admonition of this election was the deplorable turnout of registered Democratic Party voters. 

Statistics demonstrate that Democrats don’t vote as religiously as do Republicans, especially during non-presidential elections, i.e., mid-term elections.  Where the voter turnout during the 2008 General election hit a 40-year high, largely due to the overwhelming popularity of Barack Obama, the turnout during the 2010 Midterm election suffered dramatically.  In 2008, 57.1% of the voting-age population cast ballots; but, two years later, the cast votes dropped to only 36.9% of the voter population.  Then a rebound in voter turnout occurred in 2012 when Obama ran for his second term.  The turn out for President Obama during both the 2008 and 2012 general elections was due largely to Obama’s campaign success in expanding the electorate through successful inspiration to turn out both new voters and black voters.  Again, however, during the 2014 mid-term elections, voter turnout dropped dramatically resulting in the lowest turnout in seventy years.  Generally, Republican turnout during midterms is three percent higher than the Democrat turnout.  Following that pattern, the Democratic Party lost the Senate to the GOP in 2014.

During the Obama era, something more subtle was in the works.  There was resentment among many white groups within the population.  That racial divide was always there. However, it again became evident during the Obama presidency, and it began almost immediately.  Several incidents prove as definitive evidence of the still vibrant racial divide.

For example, that divide became evident the moment  President Obama declared in July 2009 that a white police officer acted “stupidly.” The police officer answered a call to investigate a possible break-in at the home of  Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.   

It seems that, upon arriving home from a trip to China, Gates found a jammed front door. Gates and his driver began to push the door in, leading a neighbor to call the police to report a break-in.  Sparked by failed communication and acute misunderstanding on the part of both parties, the arrest was the result.  That arrest created a national discussion around racial profiling which is still a current topic whenever there is a white police officer involved in an incident with a black adult male where the black male winds up killed.  Later it was determined that the incident was a mixture of cause and effect that was fueled by the mix of race (white officer and black “offender”), class (professor and police officer), and displaced respect on both parts as well as the element of police authority.  The professor who felt he was being mistreated based on his race soon realized he was not in control of the situation.  Instead, due to his role of authority, the police officer was in control.

Of course, the racial issue was at the center of a secret meeting, headed up by Mitch McConnell.  During that meeting, McConnell and the other GOP members swore they would do all they could to prevent the reelection of Obama.  After all, there was a subtle shiver running through much of the white population in the U.S.  The shiver was the utter shock that a black man was now sitting in the White House. 

Probably the most notorious example of GOP obstruction came during Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland as the successor of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.  Republicans refused even to allow the interviewing of Garland, leaving the seat vacant for the duration of Obama’s presidency, March 16, 2016, through January 3, 2017.  One of the major excuses used by McConnell was that 2016 represented an election year which meant a lame-duck president shouldn’t have the opportunity to seat a new Supreme Court Justice.  Never mind that in 2018, also an election year, the man who sits in the White House and who is under investigation for multiple alleged offensives has been allowed to nominate a justice for the seat vacated by retired Justice Anthony Kennedy.  Such is the power of the majority party who, through the apathy of Democratic Party voters who chose to sit out the 2014 mid-term elections thus giving the majority to the GOP.  It is that same party of course which remained as the majority after the 2016 election of the outrageous phenomenon called Donald Trump.

Speaking of the Donald, it was he who stirred up the birther issue in which President Obama’s origin became questionable.  Trump is a notorious conspiracy theory believer.  Given his propensity toward conspiracy theories, it is not a coincidence that during Obama’s presidency, he was plagued by other trumped up conspiracy theories such as the allegations that he secretly practices Islam.  After all his middle name is Hussein.  How much proof is needed to prove his real religion?  

There were also other minor conspiracy theories such as the belief among some that Obama was the antichrist of Christian eschatology which portends the end of times.  All those conspiracy theories were believed not only by uneducated people, but they were completely embraced by educated people as well.  Especially true was the birther issue which laid claim that President Obama was not born in Hawaii, but instead his mother gave birth to him while living in Kenya and that his birth certificate was a fake.

The biggest irony of all was the election of Mr. Birther himself, Donald J. Trump.  During the first two years of Trump’s presidency, he has been responsible for fueling the fire of divide.  He is notorious for holding rallies even when they are unnecessary.  Those rallies, however, give the ultimate producer of TV the opportunity to keep his base of 30-some-percent voters riled up.  Ironically, many of those voters voted for Obama twice.  However, during the last few decades, those voters have felt ignored and left behind.  Many of them come from industries that are fast becoming obsolete.  Where presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promised to retrain those workers needing to be retrained, Trump has spent his first two years bringing back or fortifying the obsolete industries that employed these voters. 

Realistically though, if a person thinks about the events of the last ten years, and given all the consternation surrounding the Obama administration, it was predictable that a female president could never follow the first black president.  That is the case especially given that the opposing candidate is the conspiracy theorist himself, Donald J. Trump. 

Trump has also spent his first two years playing out his insane jealousy toward Barack Obama as he deliberately undoes as many advancements Obama accomplished during his tenure.   Trump is a consummate narcissist who spends his time carping and disparaging anyone who criticizes him.  He spends his time either watching TV and tweeting subjecting all of us to his lack of knowledge, refusal to learn and, in general, chaotic craziness.  His only accomplishment is the fear he has instilled in the GOP members of his party so that, a Representative or Senator has only two choices, continue to work toward reelection or quit as in retire.  Even the older, more conventional GOP members run scared of Trump’s threats to primary them.  Lindsey Graham is one of those who tow the Trump line to keep his job.  Until we can be rid of Trump and have a more stable, sensible career politician in the White House, we are doomed to continue to live as a divided people.

*  *  *  *

(Note:  Here is an interesting piece of modern history.  Until February 7, 2013, the state of Mississippi had never submitted the required documentation to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, meaning it never officially had abolished slavery. The amendment was adopted in December 1865 after the necessary three-fourths of the then 36 states voted in favor of ratification. (https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/02/mississippi-officially-abolishes-slavery-ratifies-13th-amendment/)

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A Tribute to My Precious Husband of Forty-eight Years … by Maribeth Shanley

I recently read an article about a woman and her wedding that she canceled.

The bride wanted a lavish wedding.  It was a very big deal for her to enter her marriage with the obligatory fairytale celebration.  Once she finalized her plan, she figured the cost.  Although she desperately wanted her elaborate wedding, she realized she could not afford the event.  So she did something she thought was clever.  She sent out invitations with one stipulation.  She asked each attendee to pay $1,500.00 to attend her wedding.

As I read this article, I considered her request absurd and self-indulgent.  I thought, Perhaps if she weren’t so greedy and asked for a donation vs. a wedding gift, she may have been pleased with the outcome.  She would have at least been able to offset her cost a little bit.  I also thought about Bob’s and my wedding.

As I learned forty-eight years ago this Sept. 5th, it isn’t the actual wedding ceremony that matters.  Instead, what does matter are the years of marriage after the ceremony.

Young disco Bob and me       Young Bob

I was twenty-two when I met Bob. I met him the very first night after moving from my parent’s home in New Jersey to Washington, D.C.   I planned to work for the Federal Government for one year, then enter a program where the Government would send me overseas to work.  I wanted to relocate to Brussels, Belgium.  Although at twenty-two, I was unaware of my behind-the-scenes’ reason, I now realize I wanted, no, I needed to move as far away from my parents as I possibly could.  I needed to find out who I was and what I was capable of accomplishing.  I was never a prisoner of my past.  I absolutely refused to become a prisoner of something I had no control over.  I was me, not him.  I always looked forward and dwelled in the sunshine of life.  That was what I chose for myself!  My father lived in a dark, dingy, corrupt world all by himself.  I lived in another world, my own world I created, then, with Bob, we created.  My father tried to destroy me, but I called his bluff and became independent, happy and married to the most incredible man on this planet.  Oh, I never made it to Brussels.  However, with Bob, I did indeed move as far away as I possibly could from my parents and my childhood.

I was the oldest girl of six offspring.  For as long as I could remember, my parents promised me a big wedding.  That never happened.  Instead, and because I embraced my freedom with far too much eagerness, my parents turned their backs on me. I married a man who, at age eighteen, married a young girl with whom a pregnancy had occurred. Doing the right thing, Bob married the young girl.  That marriage ended in divorce not too long after.

I was raised in the Catholic Church, yes, the one that is populated by pedophiles. I was molested from the age of six until I can’t recall when, not by a priest, but, by a man, who intended to become a priest. After spending a short time in a seminary, the man returned home to marry the woman he met before leaving for the seminary. That man was my father. The woman was my mother.

When I announced that I would marry Bob, it was a given that, to stay in good graces with my parents, we would marry in the Catholic Church. However, the sinful Catholic Church was also the most judgmental of all organized religions as it banned marriage between a Catholic and a divorced person. However, in 1970, there was a loop-hole.

If Bob renounced his daughter, in the eyes of the Church, his marriage would be considered annulled, thus canceling out his marriage.  Bob was willing to do that for me. He wanted to marry me. At the time, we had no idea what was to happen only a month later. However, I refused to cave into what I considered a despicable request.  I was not about to start my marriage with cruelty.  I considered it cruel to label Bob’s daughter as a bastard daughter, thus, we announced to my parents that we would not marry in what I considered the obnoxious Catholic Church.  Instead, our ceremony would take place in a Unitarian Church.  That church’s pastor would perform the ceremony.  That was the end of my big wedding.

Bob and Me on Wedding Day

Nonetheless, we invited my parents. They did come to our wedding but intentionally dressed in casual old clothes. They were there for one reason only.  They wanted to see if I would follow through on marrying outside of the Catholic Church. I suspect they hoped that their presence would intimidate me into backing out of the ceremony and walking away from Bob.  They, especially my father, were extreme arrogant individuals who had no business getting married in the first place.  More, they were so inadequate as individuals, they should never, ever have had children, let alone, six children.

Hoping they would come to celebrate our marriage, Bob and I bought corsages for them, and my grandmother, who accompanied my parents.  However, my parents refused to accept the corsages.  Instead, they were hostile toward the pastor who offered the flowers to them.  Also,  they had so brainwashed my younger sister, Colleen, with disparaging words about what I was doing and the mortal sin I was committing, that, in the middle of the ceremony, Colleen had to rush out of the Church. She left because she needed to throw up.

I wanted a white dress for my wedding but knew neither Bob nor I could afford a wedding dress.  I was resigned to accepting a more humble wedding when my older brother stepped in.  He had just received a settlement from a former employer, so he offered to pay for my wedding dress.  Additionally, Danny walked me down the aisle. Later, we had a small reception held at Danny’s apartment.  Two ironies occurred after we married.

The first irony took place on the evening Bob, and I returned from our honeymoon which we spent camping in a farmer’s pasture in West Virginia where we spent several previous weekends caving, i.e., spelunking, in the wild caves of West Virginia.  That evening, Bob’s father called to tell Bob that, due to child abuse, his daughter, Kim, had been removed from her mother’s home.  Not only was she removed, but Bob’s father put pressure on Bob to fly out to California where Kim, her mother and mother’s boyfriend lived, to bring Kim back to the Washington D.C. area and his new marriage.

When Bob and I were to be married, we decided that we did not want children. That decision was more my decision than his.  Years later I learned that my decision resulted from the trauma I endured at the hands of my father.  Without realizing, I suffered from PTSD which haunted me into my forties for what my father did to me.   However, knowing Kim’s situation, I didn’t tell Bob not to go to California, thus, one month after marrying Bob, I became a mother of a seven-year-old, who, and resulting from suffering abuse was a very difficult child to raise.   We would learn later that Kim was deaf in one ear resulting from being struck by the boyfriend using his beer bottle on the side of her deaf ear.

The second irony occurred in April of the following year.  My younger sister, Colleen, who had flunked out of college, decided to marry a young man she met at college.  She would have the wedding denied me.  Several months earlier, my father, a U.S. Naval officer, had been reassigned to the Pentagon just across the Potomac River from  Washington D.C.  My parents were now living in one of the suburbs.

Bob, Kim and I were visiting my parent’s new home that evening during which wedding plans were discussed.  Colleen and my parents asked me to be Colleen’s Maid of Honor. No one considered my feelings; but, that was normal in my family.  However, I was so hurt, that I did express my feelings as I also refused to play a part in her wedding.  Bob, Kim and I attended the wedding.  However, we did not engage with my parents as we, my parents, Bob and I were in the midst of a cold war that lasted for several years.

There’s also a third irony that followed.  I am one of six siblings.  I am the only off-spring for whom a wedding was not paid for by my parents.  They did, in fact, foot the bill for each of their five children, including both boys.  Ironically, all five of my siblings have divorced the spouse the ceremony celebrated and, except for one brother, remarried. On the other hand, I am still married to and very much in love with my first and only husband, Bob.

On September 5th, Bob and I will celebrate our 48th Wedding Anniversary.  That’s not only an event.  Instead,  it’s also a genuinely joyous affair.  Bob and I are not only husband and wife, but we’re best of friends and have been each other’s cheerleaders for all forty-eight years.  Those forty-eight years annulled the manner in which our marriage began.  We know what is important and what is not important.

No wedding, regardless of the lavishness or expense, can compare to the solid bonds that we have formed over all these years.  Forming those bonds, however, comes with a solid dedication to the love we first felt for one another.  That dedication requires lots of work as we worked through the tough times.  We did the work, and now we are about to celebrate the result of that work.  We both hope there are many more years to enjoy with each other as we grow old, wrinkled, and slower physically and mentally.  It’s not only a feat to celebrate 48 years together; it’s a glorious feat.

Young me on Bob's bike

Someone recently commented to me, “Wait until Bob is around constantly, you will get sick of him.” My dogged answer:  Bob and I have not only been married for forty-eight years but, during those forty-eight years, we’ve done everything together.  When Bob goes to car races or car shows, I go too. When Bob began riding a motorcycle, I not only rode on the back but, I purchased a motorcycle so we could fully enjoy our adventures together.  Bob has always accompanied me as we did things I like to do.  That includes everything except shopping.  Ha, ha, I go by myself, but, Bob is with me even then.  He never complains about anything I buy for myself.  As I am for Bob, he’s a true friend and my most loyal supporter.   Several weeks ago, I spotted and purchased a plaque that resonated with me.  It reads, “When I first saw you, I knew an adventure was about to begin.”

❤…  HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, BOB …

Life with you has been a magnificent adventure.  You are my one and only hero!

 

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YOU WERE BORN TO RIDE! By Maribeth Shanley

This past week, I made a hard, terrible, but necessary mistake. I sold my Harley Davidson motorcycle. For the first time in thirty three years, I am now without a bike.

After three decades of owning and riding a motorcycle, I decided it was time to quit riding my own. The decision wasn’t an easy one; however, at the time, I felt it was my only alternative.

I began riding a motorcycle in 1985. My husband, Bob, arranged with our local Harley dealer to deliver the bike to our garage while I was out of town on business. I vividly remember that day.

I arrived home earlier than expected and noticed that Bob was not at home. I parked my car in the driveway, pulled my keys out of the ignition and got out. We had a side door to the garage which I unlocked and walked through. My eyes were immediately drawn to bright light at the back of the garage. The light, hanging from one of the garage door ceiling rails illuminated a shiny royal blue motorcycle. The next thing I noticed was the logo on the side of the tank. In scroll, it read Harley Davidson. I gasped as my heart skipped several beats.

Bob and I had talked many times about me riding my own motorcycle. The idea of doing that was inspired by a small framed dark-haired woman on her rootbeer brown motorcycle several bikes in front of us as we participated in a dealership Sunday ride.

While sitting on the back of Bob’s bike, I noticed her. She looked like poetry in motion with her hair tied in a ponytail and wrapped with a long, white silk scarf, both of which were dancing in the wind. As I watched, I leaned forward and pointed her out to Bob. He acknowledged her as I whispered, “I want to do that.”

When we stopped for lunch, we talked to her, and she encouraged me to buy a motorcycle. Bob and I began discussing that option immediately upon arriving at home. On Sundays, when we weren’t riding with a group, I’d ride on the back of Bob’s bike down to the Opryland parking lot in Nashville where we lived. There, I would practice riding Bob’s bike. Once I began to feel comfortable on his bike, Bob and I talked in earnest about what I would purchase. We decided that I should buy a less expensive Japanese motorcycle so I could determine that I did indeed want to ride on the front. If I did, I could then move up to a Harley Davidson.

When I walked through that garage door and saw the name, Harley Davidson, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I stood in that doorway for several minutes when I realized that, if I stayed, I would ruin the surprise for Bob. So, I immediately turned around, locked the door and got back in my car. I drove around for about an hour before pulling back into the driveway. I kept my secret for several years.

That first motorcycle was a Sportster 883 which I kept for one year. At the time, Harley had a trade-in deal on 883’s, and that deal was specifically targeting women riders. If an owner of an 883 traded in her bike after one year, she could recoup her original price paid as long as she traded it for a larger bike. After that first year, I was ready for a larger motorcycle, so I took advantage of that deal and purchased a Super Glide.

That year was the same year Harley introduced the beautiful Heritage model. The original Heritage paint scheme was royal blue with a cream white insert on both sides of the tank where the brand name appeared. The Heritage was considerably more expensive, so, instead, I immediately had my Super Glide repainted to match the Heritage.  Since my second bike, I have owned eight motorcycles, including two choppers, one which was a hard-tail, i.e., no suspension. I rode that chopper all the way from Nashville, TN along the winding road of the Blue Ridge Parkway to Myrtle Beach, SC for Spring Bike Week. When we returned home after riding through the mountains of Georgia, our friend Rick told me that I made him a bunch of money. He had wagered a bet with several other male riders. Rick believed I would ride the entire way and never complain. The other males bet I would complain about the rough ride, especially over bumps in the road. I never did complain. I also never asked to stop before everyone else was ready to stop.

As you read this, you’re probably asking yourself; it sounds like Maribeth loves to ride. So, why on earth did she sell her motorcycle? It’s called allowing my brain to play with my head.

About ten years ago, while in Myrtle Beach, I had a bad accident on my first chopper. Bob, Rick and his fiancé, Cindy, and I were returning to Myrtle Beach after a day trip to Charleston, SC. That morning, we stopped for breakfast as it began to rain. Once we were ready to climb back on our bikes, Bob came over to me and asked, “Can we skip this ride today and do it another day this week?” He had a bad feeling in the pit of his belly about the ride. I didn’t want to wait, so Bob ignored the premonition, and we rode the two hours to Charleston. On the way back to Myrtle Beach that late afternoon, Bob’s intuition played itself out.

On all our rides, Bob was the Road Captain (leader). I would always ride just behind him but in the traditional and safer staggered position. Rick with Cindy on the back of his bike rode behind me also in a staggered position. I was riding along the side of the highway and close to the shoulder when we reached the crest of a small rise in the road and began to descend to the back side of that crest. I saw a dog off to the side and ready to run out into the highway, right in front of me. I checked both of my mirrors, used my signal and began to drift over into the left lane to avoid the dog. I over-reacted as I found myself riding on the small traction of the median shoulder. I definitely wanted to avoid riding in the grassy area of the median which I knew would provide no traction. Again, I assessed my situation and began to slow down. I looked ahead and knew where I would get back on the road. However, I suddenly realized I was about to ride through a deep semi-truck tire track trench in the median. That Spring had been an unusually wet Spring in the Southeast. The truck, I imagined, had left the tire depression after leaving the road, coming to a halt at the bottom of the dip in the median.

As I spotted the depression, in my head I spoke a few expletives and held my breath. Once I was on the other side, I thought, I’ll be fine now. So I returned to concentrating on the road ahead when, suddenly, my handlebars began to vibrate violently. What the hell is happening, I asked. Then, This shouldn’t be happening, my mind screamed.

Next, I felt my bike veering to the left deeper into the median. I knew I was about to crash. The next thing I recall was staring down at the pavement and realizing I was lying, face down on the road, the same road upon which trucks loaded down with pine trees and headed to the paper mill in Georgetown traveled.

I jumped up off the road and quickly walked over to my beautiful bike lying in two pieces in the middle of the median. My handlebars were lying inches away from the bike. I realized that vibrating was my handlebars separating from the bike frame. My god! I was riding my bike while my handlebars were no longer attached to the bike. I was holding them in mid-air!

Soon I was surrounded by Bob, Rick, and Cindy. I said to Bob, “My handlebars came apart.” From that moment, everything began happening quickly.

A wildlife warden traveling on the other side of the highway stopped to help as did a truck with two males and one woman which stopped on our side of the highway. I was pretty banged up.

After several minutes, the warden offered to drive me to the Georgetown hospital about twenty minutes north. Bob agreed and asked Cindy to go with me. I wasn’t given a choice. However, because I didn’t know the man who was going to drive Cindy and me to the hospital, as he opened the passenger door of his truck, I looked him in the eyes and said, “You better not touch either of us. If you do, you will be sorry you did.” He responded, “No ma’am, I would never do that. I just want to get you to the hospital in case you have a bad injury.” It turned out that he was a very nice man who did exactly what he said he intended to do.

As we began to drive off, we heard a gunshot. Later we found out that the dog was a stray. It did in fact cross over the road to the median. The two men and one woman were going to take it home with them. They explained to Bob and Rick that area was an area where people frequently dropped off their unwanted dogs. As the three tried to corral the dog, he ran back out onto the highway only to be hit by a car. The gunshot was a mercy shot. The dog was so badly mangled but still alive when one of the truck males, took out his rifle and put down the dog. When I heard the story later, I felt horrible. I felt my over-reaction had caused this poor dog his life.

Fast forward to this year, 2018.

When Bob and I decided to cash in two 401-K plans to buy a house we could retire to, we finally settled on returning to Myrtle Beach. We had spent 29 previous springs riding to Myrtle Beach for Spring Bike Week and a few additional rides in the fall to attend the Fall Bike Week. It seemed like a natural place for us to retire. We both love the beach which gave us the feeling that we were on a never-ending vacation. Plus, Myrtle Beach isn’t that far from the mountains which we also love. So, Myrtle Beach is where we purchased our last house and now live.

So, what does moving to Myrtle Beach have to do with my selling my motorcycle, especially given that this is where two bike rallies take place each year? Being bike owners, Myrtle Beach seemed the perfect place to retire.

Two years ago, however, I made several trips down to Charleston. It was the year my dog, Pooker, was dying of diabetes. Bob was still employed but working from an office in our home. A specialist practiced in Charleston. She was trying to keep Pooker alive while giving him a comfortable existence. Pooker and I rode down to Charleston at least once each week for three months. The first time we made the trip, I tried to recognize the spot on the highway where I had crashed. I don’t know if it were the sadness of Pooker’s condition, coupled with reliving the crash each time I would drive by that spot where that poor dog died that began playing with my mind. However, I began to think that it might be time to stop riding solo. Too, when there are no rallies in progress, the tourists who travel to Myrtle Beach are dangerous drivers. Add to that mixture that Myrtle Beach is a prime retirement destination. I may be seventy years old, but, I’m a young seventy-year-old woman. I don’t look or act like I am seventy. Neither does Bob look or act like he is seventy-four. However, the bulk of the other retired people in the area look and, worse, act like old people. Worse still, they drive like old people. I began thinking; I don’t want to die on my bike.

Add to that entire stew that I’m in the middle of putting together an anthology of short stories as my next publication. For that anthology, I wrote a ghost story about a young female rider who dies while riding her motorcycle. She is hit by an older woman who turned left, hitting the young woman who she failed to see.

Over the years, I have had premonitions and, if I ignored them, they would happen. Thus, all these ghosts began stirring in my mind causing me to experience an exaggerated fear of riding my motorcycle.

So, last week, I called the local Harley Dealer and talked to the general manager about buying my bike. He asked me what I would take for it. I gave him a figure $1,000 more than I thought I would get. I knew the bike; a Harley Davidson Cross Bones was a sought after bike because, for one, it had an old school look to it, and two, it was only made for two years. I not only broke even, but I made an additional $500.

The morning I took it for my last ride, my mind kept telling me, This is a big mistake. For the first time since my mind began playing tricks on me, I thoroughly enjoyed riding my bike. The morning was a pleasant one. When I arrived at the dealer, the Manager came out to greet me. I told him about my second thoughts. He said, “You can change your mind.” He then began to tell me that the next year’s model will be out in a few weeks making my bike a year older than it was at present. He also began to show me the newer, 2018 models and all the dramatic improvements made over the ten years I owned the Cross Bones
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The moral of this story is that I have come to recognize that although a premonition, it was not a fateful forewarning. I am not ready to quit riding. I’ve been sad since I sold my bike, but, I’m now also hopeful. Too, my wonderful husband, Bob told me, “Look, I’ve watched you work wonders with the budget. You should make a plan to save up half the cost of the bike, buy it and then pay it off as quickly as possible.” That’s exactly what I am going to do.

By next Spring, I will be on a 2018 Black Fat Boy Harley Davidson. I will take a short respite from riding on the front. I will have to learn to ride on the back where I will not be in control. Yikes! But, I also tell myself, You can do this. Besides, it’s only a few short months, and several of them will be winter months. Go for it, Maribeth.

You were born to ride!

Note:  As I wrote this, I found a photo of my first non-Harley motorcycle.  I owned three American Iron Horse bikes.  The first, this beauty, was called the Outlaw.  My second and third AI were the two choppers.  Of all my motorcycles, this one is by far the most beautiful.  It was also the most radical!
Outlaw

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The Legalization of Marijuana – History Repeats Itself by: Maribeth Shanley

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I am in favor of legalizing marijuana. I now own stocks in this very complex industry and am looking forward to seeing how they do, especially when this October, Canada completes its goal of legalizing Marijuana recreationally, making it the first G7 nation to do so.  Uruguay was the first to nationally legalize recreational Marijuana.  Marijuana has been legal medically in all of Canada since 2001.

The legalization of marijuana both medicinally and recreationally will one day become a United States national mandate via an amendment to the Constitution. It will follow in the footsteps of alcohol, the sale of which was prohibited under the law via the Eighteenth Amendment and then repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933. In the immediate future, however, we are watching marijuana being legalized State by State for either medicinal usage or, both medicinal and recreational use.

Marijuana gets its name from the Cannabis plant. According to historical records, Cannabis is the oldest crop known to humans. It’s been around for at least 5,000 years as physical evidence of its usage had been uncovered by archeologists as far back as the first millennium in India, Africa, China and the Assyrian Empire founded in 2500 BC.  Cannabis has a colorful and interesting history.

Hemp, a form of Cannabis was produced during the 17th century and widely used to produce clothing, rope and, most interesting, the sails of ships. Our first President George Washington was interested in farming hemp. He was also curious about its medicinal qualities and wrote about its usage in his journals in 1765. In fact, the earliest uses of the Cannabis plant was for medicinal purposes.

Medical Marijuana

Recently, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a practicing Neurosurgeon, and the Chief Medical Correspondent to CNN produced a documentary called “Weed,” which explored the medicinal qualities of Cannabis. Gupta explains that, in the beginning, he opposed the use of Cannabis. In fact, he wrote a TIME magazine article in 2009 titled, “Why I Would Vote No on Pot.” When he completed his “Weed” project, he opened the documentary with the words: “Well, I am here to apologize.”

He continued, “I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.”

Today Dr. Gupta is a strong proponent of legalizing marijuana, especially for medicinal applications. In a written appeal to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Gupta points out that, “Not only can cannabis work for a variety of conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and pain, sometimes, it is the only thing that works. I changed my mind, and I am certain you can, as well. It is time for safe and regulated medical marijuana to be made available nationally.” In fact, Gupta stresses that marijuana could, in fact, save many people who are addicted to opioids.

Here in the U.S., in 1840, Marijuana was widely accepted as an ingredient in mainstream over-the-counter products. By 1850, the U.S. Pharmacopeia added marijuana to its prescription list as a treatment for opioid withdrawal, pain, an appetite stimulant and relief for nausea and vomiting. In 1862, VANITY AFFAIR advertised Hashish candy in its issue as a pleasant and harmless cure for melancholy and nervousness.

Between the years 1900 and 1930, marijuana became a medicinal ingredient in a variety of medicines. It was used to quell physical pain, muscle spasms and was also taken as a sedative. During that same period, our current imagined nemesis struck.

Mexican immigrants introduced marijuana as a recreation. History claims that, because marijuana became associated with Mexicans, people began to fear the drug.
Mexicans are the closest neighbors on our southern border. We should love and respect and welcome Mexicans as we do our northern neighbors, Canadians. However, as religion uses Satan to enforce a god-centric faith-based practice on its people, our government uses Mexico and its people as a means of enforcing conservative values on U.S. citizens.

Campaigns became popular across the U.S. referring to the recreational use of Cannabis as the “Mexican Menace.” Those campaigns led to the total ban of Cannabis by twenty-six states during 1914-1925. Enter the Great Depression of the 1930’s during which Cannabis was associated with the evil Mexicans as U.S. citizens lost their jobs and feared a continuance of joblessness attributed to jobs going to Mexicans. The more fear that Cannabis and its by-product Marijuana generated, the more the media played up the fears.

Reports began to pop up claiming that scientific research could tie the use of Marijuana to crime. One thing led to another as the Federal Bureau of Narcotics used the fake research and public fear to begin a process of criminalizing Marijuana. The Bureau went as far as claiming that Marijuana caused insanity. As a result of the entire anti-Marijuana campaign success, in 1936, all states passed a variety of laws criminalizing the use of Marijuana.

Even Hollywood got into the act as, in 1936, it released the film Reefer Madness, claiming that Marijuana led to violence, rape, suicide, and psychosis.

The anti-Marijuana campaign kept gaining fuel when, in 1942, the U.S. Pharmacopeia and doctors began to discredit all the medicinal uses as failures declaring Marijuana as useless against any medical condition. This campaign led to the 1944 report published by the New York Academy of Medicine claiming Marijuana was nothing more than a mild intoxicant. The Bureau of Narcotics subsequently released a report that appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry that attacked and discredited all previous positive claims associated with Cannabis and Marijuana in particular. In 1952, the Boggs Act passed. The act created strict regulations which, if broken, would lead to mandatory punishments up to and including incarceration for violating the regulations.

The tide began to once again change in 1962, when, during the Vietnam War, the counter-culture began using Marijuana for what it termed, a harmless high. Marijuana began to gain popularity again via college students, free-spirited Beats or Beatniks, anti-Vietnam war activists, hippies and other youth. Subsequently, both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Johnson commissioned reports that found that Marijuana did not induce violence or lead to the use of other more dangerous (some addictive) drugs.

Nonetheless, between 1965 and 1970, arrests at a State level dramatically increased as authorities cracked down on the use and distribution of Marijuana. The result was the 1970 Controlled Substance Act, as the Federal Government dropped Marijuana into the same Schedule I drug category the hallucinogen, LSD, and the highly addictive drug, heroin.

The Act claimed that Marijuana had absolutely zero medicinal benefits but led instead to a high level of abuse. The Act further created harsh penalties for the use or distribution of Marijuana causing otherwise, knowing doctors and scientists from prescribing or even studying the use of the plant and Marijuana in particular. However, three states ignored the Act as Oregon, Maine and Alaska decriminalized Marijuana. That led to the Shafer Committee recommendation that Marijuana should be decriminalized nationally for personal use. The recommendation was completely ignored by then President Nixon who was absorbed in an evolving criminal investigation of his own.

The following years of the 1970’s began a myriad of efforts to curtail all usage of Marijuana as it remained lumped in with all Schedule I drugs. For example, a parent’s against drugs movement began and picked up steam when TV ads sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse flooded the airwaves. By 1980-1990, Marijuana gained back its reputation as being the gateway to more dangerous drugs such as heroin and cocaine. First Lady, Nancy Reagan also got into the act with her “Just Say No” campaign.

The end of the twentieth century, and, in particular, the Clinton Administration gave us the last heavy-hitting campaign against the use of Marijuana when Clinton poured $25 million into TV ads strategically placed during primetime TV shows warning of the consequences of drug use, in particular Marijuana.

Enter the twenty-first century, and the tides of change began to repeat history once again.

Although Marijuana remains illegal in most states, as of April 2018, Medical Marijuana is legal in 29 states, and it is legal for recreational use in nine states. On April 20th of this year, an unofficial yet national light-up holiday, also known as 420, was declared and celebrated. In 2017, Gallup reported that 64% of all Americans support legalization; and, for the first time, the majority of Republicans support legalization as well.

With recreational legalization in effect in some states and the District of Columbia as well, conundrums are taking place on a daily basis across the country.  For example, In Virginia, a person can be charged, fined and incarcerated, just across the line separating Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Hmm, I wonder what would happen if a person stood with one leg on Virginia soil and the other on D.C. soil while holding and puffing on a joint with his or her hand and mouth pointed toward the D.C. side of his or her person?

With legalization and, more importantly to the future of legalization, public approval of the Cannabis product Marijuana, medical usage, and confirmation of the benefits proven on a daily basis will march forward.  Here are a handful of benefits of medical use of Marijuana.

1. Control of and reduction of epileptic seizures. In fact, Marijuana is purported to be far more effective than conventional anticonvulsants.

2. Helps people suffering from PTSD. Marijuana cannabinoids manage the body’s system that causes fear and anxiety, helping patients forget painful events and form new memories. This one is good news from troops returning from combat duty in Afghanistan for instance!

3. Marijuana protects the brain after it suffers a stroke. Some research shows that it may reduce the size of the area affected by the stroke and lessen the bruising of the brain after a traumatic injury.

4. Marijuana lessens the pain caused by Multiple Sclerosis. A Canadian study found that pot’s active ingredient, THC, reduces pain by binding to nerve receptors.

5. Marijuana reduces pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Published in 2006 in a Rheumatology journal study, scientists compared Marijuana to placebos. The Marijuana produced statistically significant improvements of pain at rest and quality of sleep.

6. Cannabis alleviates the side-effects of Chemotherapy as it reduces pain, suppresses nausea, and stimulates appetite. All of these side-effects stem from the harsh chemicals used to treat cancer.

7. Marijuana may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease. A study conducted in 2006 showed that THC blocked the enzyme that produces the amyloid plaques responsible for killing brain cells in Alzheimer patients.

Having been a child of the hippie and anti-Vietnam War generation, once I moved away from my parents’ home, I began smoking Marijuana. I smoked through college and beyond. However, when the Fortune 500 Spice Company, McCormick purchased the company I was working for at the time and brought over its sales force which I was a part of, I abruptly stopped. I fell victim to the times when fear of losing my career was a reality. I was asked to take a drug test.

Fortunately, the request came between Thanksgiving and Christmas of that year. I was able to postpone the test as I abstained for several weeks then paid for a test to make sure I could pass the “official” test. I did. That event, however, put the fear of losing my career in me so, for me, inhaling became history.

After researching for this blog, I wonder if I could have found relief from the pain I confronted when my mother died, and I crashed into the agony of my past. After all, my father who molested me as a child was still alive and in control of the family narrative and all my sibling’s reactions to my getting help to deal with the pain of those memories. Although my father never denied what he did, he denied the severity and blamed me for the breakup of “the family.” To this day, I have a relationship with only one sibling. The remaining five continue to hold me in contempt.

Canada and Marijuana

Personally, I am looking forward to watching the legalization of Marijuana in the huge country of Canada. I hope I make some significant money from the stocks I now own as a result of joining an investment group and investing in several of these stocks. I also look forward to using the gains to buy more stocks associated with the Marijuana industry as well as other medical advancements to supplement my husband’s, and my retirement income. Furthermore, I hope the eventual federal legalization in the U.S. ends the cycle of repeating history for this one plant and all its by-products and benefits which are currently known, and scientists will discover in the future!  Lastly, I look forward to discoveries of medical marijuana to help cure cancer.  I have a dear friend I would give my right arm for to have the words, “I’m cured,” to fall from her lips.  I was the person who introduced her and encouraged her to look into the use of marijuana.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was ready and already looking for anything to help her fight the enemy , “Big C.”

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Rwanda and Uganda – My Favorite Things By: Maribeth Shanley

               So many people have asked me what were my favorite parts of my trip to Rwanda and Uganda that I decided to make them the theme of my May blog. 

                The entire trip was my favorite, but, okay, okay, I’ll be more specific as I break it down into two parts. 

                Part One – Significance of Family 

               I enjoyed meeting Edwin’s friends, most of whom were family members.  I especially enjoyed experiencing the African “family” theme that resounded on a continuous basis.  In a few words, the family is the core of every African’s existence.  Children grow up with relatives, for example,  as they identify their cousins as their best childhood friends. 

                 In the U.S. we claim the importance of family, however, for many of us in the U.S., that’s an overstated theme. 

                 While we are children, we yearn for the day we grow up and can move away from our family and hometown.   Instead of concentrating on our childhood, we long for adulthood, freedom, and independence.  Americans are the ultimate cowboys and cowgirls.  We’re fiercely independent to the detriment of our core family.  Not so in either Rwanda or Uganda.  The family is central.

                  A few days after arriving in Rwanda, Edwin and I made a day of driving to Uganda to visit with his mother’s side of the family.  We stayed three nights with Edwin’s favorite uncle, Emmanuel.  A flamboyant man, I found him to be proud, caring and full of mischief.  Shortly after arriving at his farm, Emmanuel informed Edwin that another uncle and aunt were about to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  In fact, an elaborately planned event would take place on the second day of our visit. 

                  Before leaving my home in South Carolina, I thought about packing a dress but decided I would probably never wear it while away.  I did pack a pair of black leggings and a nice tunic.  I was glad I did; and, I was also happy I thought to pack it for the trip to Uganda.  The celebration was amazing.  I felt a sentimental joy in being included. 

               Bob and I will celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary two years from September of this year.  I feel the fiftieth-anniversary folks belong to a special club, regardless of where we live.  For me, it’s amazing to recognize that I’m married to my first husband and that, after all these years, we still love each other to the moon.  It was evident that Uncle Geofrey and Aunt Jemima also share a special love.  It was wonderful watching Geofrey’s attentive gentility as he guided his wife, decked out in a long, elaborate gown, tackle the bumpy ground on their way from the event entrance to the stage where they both sat.  They were, after all, the king and queen of the day.

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                While visiting with the couple for a few hours the day after the celebration, Jemima and I exchanged thoughts on how much work is involved in keeping a relationship going for that long. However, we also agreed that we wouldn’t have it any other way.           

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                Too, the day after their celebration, I was able to meet Edwin’s godfather, Christopher, and his family as well as two of Edwin’s best childhood friends who also happen to be his cousins.  I had forgotten all about Uganda’s eight years of tyranny under the rule of the monster, Idi Amin. 

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               Christopher told us a chilling story about how he and his family became the targets of Amin.  In fact, as an act of retribution toward Christopher’s brother who fought with the rebels in their effort to  overthrow the brutal dictator, Amin focused on Christopher.  Amin’s people couldn’t find the brother so, because Christopher was conveniently available, and physically resembled his brother, he and his family became targets for Amin’s revenge. 

               On one particular day, Christopher discovered from a friend and informant that he and his family were destined to be slaughtered that evening.  Fearing becoming trapped, they left their home and wandered out into the bush where they hid the night.  Christopher’s and Anna’s (his wife) had a baby with them.  Their first child, a daughter, was just a few months old at the time.  Christopher related how Anna had to hold her hand over the baby’s mouth as they heard the soldiers who were searching for them in the same vicinity.   

            As Edwin and I sat with Christopher and Edwin’s two cousins, I listened to the four men talk in their native language.  Although I couldn’t understand any of their conversations, I intuited from their body language how much they all love Edwin in addition to feeling protective of him.  I also recognized that Christopher was sizing me up.  He wanted to make sure I was the best writer for Edwin’s autobiography.  In fact, when Edwin said, “Maribeth, feel free to jump in and ask any questions you would like answered,” my heart skipped a few beats as I thought, “Oh, geez, what am I going to say that won’t sound stupid or lame?”  I wanted to crawl under my chair.  Instead, I asked an open-ended question about Edwin’s childhood.  “What was Edwin like as a child?”  To my surprise and pleasure, the question opened up a lively discussion as I learned about Edwin’s mom and how Christopher became his godfather.  I also learned of the Amin threat which made the hair on my neck crawl with fear.               Christopher now had a second daughter, Angel, a precocious little girl who sat glued to Christopher’s lap for most of our visit. 

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                I was thrilled when, in my presence, Christopher commented to Edwin that he was fortunate to have me writing his autobiography.  My sensitivity toward people and the pain they experience touched his heart and soul.  In fact, Edwin later told me Christopher said, “The next time Maribeth visits, she’s staying with me.”

                The following week, Edwin and I were scheduled to meet with one of his father’s relatives and friends.  We had to cancel seeing the one relative in the Kigali, Rwanda area.  Our schedules simply couldn’t mesh.  However, we did travel about an hour from Kigali to visit with his father’s best friend, Patrick Byabagamba.   He’s known as the family’s historian.  He has a wealth of knowledge with a bear-trap mind for details.   His face, manners and gentility endeared him to me.  I hope to see him again one day.

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              Last, but not least was meeting Edwin’s youngest brother, Enoch. What a sweet young man and not at all bad looking. Enoch works with Edwin on his Rwanda Eco Tours venture. In fact, he’s Edwin’s right hand man. For me, he’s my go to guy when Edwin, who is extremely busy, can’t be reached.

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Part Two – The Amazing Animals of Africa              

                My second favorite part of my trip were the animals we were able to see.  Actually, seeing the animals was not at all my second favorite part.  It’s right up there and equal to my first favorite part. 

               My entire adulthood I have dreamed of going to Africa and seeing all the exotic animals  untethered and in the “WILD!”  Animals doing what they are designed to do; live normal lives without fear of entrapment and being slaughtered.  Rwanda does not allow trophy hunting.  They honor and value their wild animals and for me, seeing them was an absolute dream come true.  Thank you Rwanda.  Thank you. President Kagame, for your intelligence and compassion to know the value of these special creatures.  I only wish more African countries did as well and that they too banned hunting these animals for nothing more than a trophy, a purpose I can’t fathom a reason for wanting to hang a beautiful animal’s head on a wall or wear it as a coat, or walk on it as a rug.  The animals of Africa are living monuments to be cherished and shot through the lens of a camera and not by the end of a rifle.

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                On our way back to Edwin’s home, we spent the evening at Akargera National Park.  The 463.32 square-mile Park is fenced off to keep the animals from wandering into a local village where, before being fenced off, the wild animals would wreak havoc. 

                We were fortunate to see one or more of the majority of most the animals that inhabit this massive park including a 30-foot tall giraffe, several antelopes, baboons, hippos, a crocodile swimming with the hippos, zebras, more giraffes, and many unusual and beautiful birds.  We also saw a small monkey who sat on a clay mound looking as if he was waiting for a cab or uber to come pick him up.

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              When it was nearly time to leave the park, Edwin lamented that we had not seen elephants.  He knew these beautiful creatures were among my favorite.  I was concerned that Edwin felt bad about not seeing the elephants.  I said, “Edwin, don’t worry.  I’ll be back and will see elephants.  Besides, they are here living their lives.  They’re not here for our entertainment. I’m good.”  We were all resigned that the elephants were hiding when our guide spotted a humongous male elephant walking out of the bush into a clearing.  I got out of the car but climbed back in when I realized how massive the bull was.  So, at a safe distance, we stayed a while longer watching him tare down a tree and devour all the vegetation.  The crunching sound of the vegetation and then some of the tree itself was incredible!  Seeing the elephant meant that we had seen all the animals except the rhinos and lions.  We were happy and content.  I was thrilled and can’t wait to see them all again.

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                Several days later, I had an incredible experience and the thrill of a lifetime!  

                With a group of eight individuals and guided by a wonderfully energetic, fun man, Francios Bigirimana, who spent fifteen years of his life working side by side with one of my heroes, Dian Fossey, I trekked up the mountainside to visit with a troop of mountain gorillas.  What an amazing experience!  After taking several photos, I stood still just watching their behavior when I recognized that they were aware that they are related to us.  In fact, I walked over to where Francios stood and said, “Am I right?  I think these guys know they are our cousins.”  He said they did indeed as he also took my camera relieving me of the burden of taking photos so I could be with the gorillas.  I think my thoughtfulness gave Francios pleasure.  Having the ability to observe the gorillas gave me pleasure.  I loved being in the presence of my not too distant cousins with whom we share 98.8% DNA!  I hope to return one day with my husband and my sister, Gail,  to visit again with these incredible beings.  Below is the troop’s silverback.  What a clown he was.  He loves posing for photos.  Beautiful cousin!

Silver Back

            One last thing deserves mentioning because it left a lasting impression on me and my soul.  I stayed in the front-room bedroom of Edwin’s home.  It faced a hill that led down, then back up another hill to the city of Kigali.  Unlike the U.S., Rwanda does not discriminate or disparage other people who are different.  Instead, they embrace difference.  

               The evenings in Rwanda are cool enough to leave the windows open.  It was wonderful to wake to all the beautiful birds the country has to offer.  In addition to the birds, however, I would wake each morning around 4:50 a.m.  That’s when the Imam of a local mosque would climb the stairs of the tall tower called a minaret to announce the call to prayer.  His announcement was not spoken.  It was sung.  I absolutely loved waking to his song.  His voice was low and gravely, but romantic as well.  The first morning I listened I couldn’t help but choke up a bit as I thanked the country for it’s acceptance and tolerance of one of the four most important and historic religions of our world, Islam.   It filled my ears with pleasure and my heart with joy.   I will never forget my 4:50 a.m. beautiful ritual.

               In summary, I’ve never cared about traveling anywhere else in the world except Africa.  I’ve wanted to experience the continent for as long as I can remember.  My trip was a dream come true.

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Francios Bigirimana

                Note:  There is a section on my website, www.maribethshanley.com, where I posted daily blogs and included lots of photos if you care to see and read more about my wonderful month in beautiful Rwanda and Uganda.  I can’t wait to return.  It’s where I left part of my heart.

 

 

 

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My Biggest and Most Lasting Impression of Rwanda – By Maribeth Shanley

During most of the month of February, I spent my time visiting with Edwin Sabuhoro for whom I will help him write his autobiography.

Out of respect for the people of Rwanda, everyone who comes to Rwanda has an obligation of knowing the country’s terrible history.  It is the history that haunts the hearts and souls of today’s Rwandan men and women.  Once you know the history, and even more, embrace that history can you begin to know the people you now share your intimate world with?  You are now ready to embrace the hearts and souls of these incredibly loving, generous and deeply wealthy humans.  You feel your entire being melding with their history and the people who still live in the spirit of their original ancestors.

After my first meeting with Edwin, I did some research on the history.  I knew of the 1994 Genocide but didn’t know that it was the last of four.  Nor did I understand the connection of the brutality to colonialism.  My single question was,  how does a country come back after such a horrific act that was perpetrated by its citizens?

As a result, I traveled to Rwanda not just to learn Edwin’s history, but to learn the country’s history and how it was connected to everything.

I learned much while in Rwanda and Uganda.  Now, what stands out most in my mind,  is how a country of people can live through the twisted European view of how the world should work as they imposed their point of view on the peoples of Rwanda through a thoughtless, yet clinical form of brainwashing.

The Belgian colonialists turned a once harmonious country into a deeply disturbed one as two groups of people, the Tutsi and the Hutu were turned upside down and inside out causing a horrific chasm which manifested itself in attempted genocide.  Yet, regardless of these revealed horrors, through a return to the pre-colonial traditional justice, Rwanda has returned to its true nature.  In fact, the country is listed as one of the top twenty safest countries on earth; a list that does not include the U.S.

The history of which I speak is wrapped in a commonality of the innocence of heart and spirit, but which was invaded and brainwashed into believing they were something far different from who they were.  This invasion took place in the late 19th Century; and, as it is with most modern-day invasions the footprint of that invasion had Western European imprints all over it.   In particular, the footprints were those of  Germany and Belgium.

Western Europeans come from a fictional then learned and honed tradition of incredible vanity and imagination.  It is a history whose core is so warped that it lacks the power to embrace and learn from other cultures that are still innocent and pure; other cultures passed down via the spoken word told through stories.

It is a familiar fate that has plagued the entire world causing distortion and doubt of one’s past.

Colonialism, the European Plague

In the beginning, Rwandans were one.  They spoke the same language, honored the same gods and dreamed the same dreams.  Although they came from different origins, their hearts were one.

The Twa are the original inhabitants of Rwanda.  They are small in stature and are known as pygmies.  They lived in harmony with the forest and all it had to offer.  Both the Hutu and Tutsi migrated from northern regions.  The major difference was their economy.  The Tutsi were well-organized herd’s people who possessed sophisticated combat skills.  On the other hand, and although the Hutu were larger in numbers, they were less organized, lacked the same skills of combat and came from a history of farming.

The rest of this story is long and detailed.  Thus, I will try to shrink it in a shorter version which will give you all the important pieces to link together.   Dominating the story were lies, distortion, chaos, and ugly pain.  It’s a recent history we are all familiar with.  It involves tremendous brainwashing, and the result is a terrible reality called Genocide.

You probably anticipate the outcome of this terrible reality.  You also intuitively understand the nature and birth of this dreadful outcome.  However, suffice it to say, it begins with the Germans.  Then, after WWI, with the Belgians.  The two parties involved were the majority ethnic group, the Hutu and the smaller group, the Tutsi.

In the late 1800 ’s the European countries were divvying up the Continent of Africa that were inhabited by other ethnic groups.  In particular, the division of the continent of Africa took place mainly between Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and France.

The big land grab began with the Belgian colonists who were an egregious lot ruled by a narcissistic Head of State, King Leopold II.  Having access to the ocean was critical for Leopold’s Belgium because Leopold worshiped greed demonstrated through physical objects, especially shiny objects like gold, diamond, as well as other resources such as rubber.  Leopold hired the journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley to travel to the then Kingdom of Kongo in order to establish Belgian rule over the country, its wealth of resources and its people.

Leopold was a nation builder who had free reign given to him by the Belgium Civil Government.   Following in the likeness of their ruler; the Belgium colonists were equally narcissistic.  They believed their race to be a superior one.

Once the acquisition of land grab was complete, the colonial nations of Europe, at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 gave legal authorization to Leopold’s claim by committing the Congo Free State to improving the lives of the native inhabitants.  During the same conference, Rwanda began its colonial history as it, then Ruanda-Burundi was handed over to Germany.  To the north of both states was Uganda which was given to the United Kingdom.

Never intending to honor his commitment to improving the lives of his new people, Leopold completely ignored that commitment.  Instead, he used the Congo, with its access to the Atlantic Ocean, to further enhance his wealth as he influenced the creation and utilization of the Publique Force, a military comprised of Belgian regular soldiers and mercenaries from other countries with a mandate to keep the natives in check.

During the occupation of the Congo, an ethnically mixed African force called Askari was established under the Publique Force.  The Congo was filled with rubber trees, so rubber became the major export product.  The military forces’ major purpose was to enforce rubber quotas as well as other forms of forced labor.  The system was a brutal use of power by a colonial government ruling from afar.  Stories of brutality were common as flogging of Congolese men and flogging and rape of women as well as the burning of villages became the accepted norm.

The grotesque ivory trade, i.e., the brutally hacking off the tusks of elephants left to die a painful death as their carcasses rotted in the sun was begun at Leopold’s behest.  By the early 1890’s the slave trade also took hold in the Free State.

As the Congolese people were experiencing the cruelty of their rulers, in Ruanda-Burundi, nothing was happening.  The tiny state was a land-locked one.  Thus the united people never realized their land was no longer theirs, as they continued living as they always had in peace and harmony.

Instead, Germany was more interested in the massive State of Tanzania to the east which they also acquired from the Berlin Conference.  Tanzania had a vast coastal area bordering the Indian Ocean.  A fortunate fact for the people of Ruanda-Burundi.

It wasn’t until 1894, that the first German entered the kingdom.  Count von Götzen, visited the court of the sitting Mwami, Rwabugir, informing the surprised Mwami that his land had been under German rule for the last nine years.  Had it not been for the untimely death of Rwabugir the following year, Germany would more than likely have taken a hands-off approach.  However, with the death of the Mwami, a battle over Rwabugir’s successor influenced the Germans to move in.

Germany was well aware of the peaceful existence of the three ethnic groups in Rwanda (modern-day spelling).   German Catholic missionaries previously visited the small country and one explorer wrote of the curious, cohesive behavior and traditions of the native inhabitants.   After all, a peaceful environment was a new phenomenon for Europeans who had spent their entire existence waring with each other.  Thus, between 1894 and WWI, Germany ruled from afar by assigning German agents to the courts of local leaders.

During the First World War, Germany invaded its neighbor Belgium.  In retaliation, Belgium fought back by invading Ruanda-Burundi.

Following WWI, the fate of the people of Ruanda-Burundi was sealed when in 1924, the League of Nations granted Belgium a mandate to rule over Ruanda-Burundi.  The mandate would dramatically change life for the native Ruandans.

Belgium completely ignored all that Germany allowed as it linked the region with Belgian Congo.  However, Belgian form of rule in Ruanda-Burundi was designed differently from that of the Congo.

Where the Germans appreciated the cultural closeness and the notion of a cohesive, and harmonious state, the Belgians couldn’t grasp the concept at all.  Thus, began a great divide as friction took hold of the state.

Believing the Tutsi to be a superior “race” from the Hutu, the Belgians treated the Tutsi group far different than they did the Hutu.  They liked everything about the Tutsis who were tall and elegant physically and scorned the Hutu who were shorter.  They even brought in scientists who were influenced to demonstrate a physical difference between the two groups, all for one reason.  They wished to divide the two groups as they pitted them against each other.

The Belgians also appreciated the Tutsi economic culture.  On the other hand, they looked down their noses on the Hutu.  Instead of running the government of Ruanda-Burundi themselves, the Belgians assigned the Tutsi as administers of the government of the tiny state.  Differences began to establish themselves as they subtly created an invisible divide between the Tutsi and Hutu. The Belgians intentionally pitted the Hutu against the Tutsi.  However, the Tutsie never changed their behavior from feeling as one.   Conversely,  feeling the emotional and mental abuse by the Belgians, the Hutu began to change as extreme jealousy and hatred for their once brothers and sisters began to fester.

There were still inter-marriage as the two groups lived as neighbors and friends.  However, the psychological warfare the Belgians waged on the Hutu created a terrible cultural divide on a larger scale.  The end result was the establishment of a foundation that created a divided nation at odds with itself.

In 1935, the difference in this ethnically driven class system was solidified and made even more obvious when identification cards distinguishing the two groups were issued. This terrible distinction and, more importantly, the obvious favoritism of one group over another set the tone for the future…a future which would give rise to brutal violence conducted by the Hutu against the Tutsi.

Too, where prior to the ID cards and colonialism in general, Hutus had access to the Tutsi status, the ID cards made it almost impossible for a Hutu to become a Tutsi.  As such, colonialism proved itself to be the cruel feudal form of a rule, as it locked and loaded one group’s burgeoning hatred for another.  Suffice it to say that NEVER in the history of the Hutu/Tutsi interaction was racially-based massacre an outcome.  However, the first occasion resulting in a manifestation of that hatred established itself as the rush toward independence from colonialism began to take shape during the late 1950’s.

When Rwanda struggled for independence from Belgium, ironically, the Belgians, fearing a revolution, switched the status of the two groups.   The Belgians took the administration of the government away from the Tutsi and handed it over to the Hutu.  Like a powder keg, the growing hatred for Tutsi became the norm in Ruanda.

In 1957, the Ruandan Hutu leaders published a Hutu Manifesto, thus preparing its supporters for a future of politically charged conflicts based solely on ethnic grounds.

In 1959, the first of four outbreaks of mass violence was subsequently sparked when a group of Tutsi political activists beat up a Hutu rival named Dominique Mbonyumutwa.   Although Mr. Mbonyumutwa survived the beating, rumors of his death spread like wildfire through the Hutu population resulting in a nationwide campaign of Hutu violence against the Tutsi.  This first massacre lasting several months became known as ‘the wind of destruction.’ At the same time, many Tutsi, including the 25-year-old hereditary ruler, the Mwami, fled Ruanda.  The absence of a monarchy would prove detrimental to Tutsi future and Ruanda in general.

During the elections of 1960, the Hutu politicians scored an overwhelming victory as one of the authors of the Hutu Manifesto, Gregoire Kayibanda, led a provisional government during the interim period between colonialism and independence.

Independence came in 1962.  Despite that the UN pressured the two territories, Ruanda and Urundi to federate as one nation, the territories decided to separate.  Although ethnic violence continued in Ruanda between 1959 and 1961, in 1962, the U.N. declared the territory a republic.   The ‘republic’ declaration was due to the absence of the young Mwami as the monarchy was declared defunct and the republic declaration was made official.  After the declaration, the government changed the spelling from Ruanda to the modern-day spelling…Rwanda.

Immediately following independence, Rwanda held its first presidential election.  Gregoire Kayibanda was declared the President of the Republic of Rwanda.  Since his party’s name translated to ‘the Party for Hutu Emancipation,’ it became blatantly obvious what the central focus of his presidency would be.   Within the pages of that manifesto, the name ‘cockroach’ had been coined and that name became synonymous with the minority Tutsi population.  As a result, the killing of the cockroaches became an all-too dominant theme of Rwandan life.  This growing hatred gave rise to the Hutu government’s determination to maintain control as it freely whipped up the frenzy of hatred at any time it perceived a crisis.  That crisis reared its head in 1963.

In December 1963, several hundred exiled Tutsi guerrillas entered Rwanda from Burundi and advanced within twelve miles of the capital of Kigali but were eliminated by the Rwandan army.  Yet, the event gave the government just the ammunition it hungered for as it declared a state of emergency and gave the order to ‘clear the bush’ of subversive elements, a covert term for kill the cockroaches.

Over the course of a few days, 14,000 Tutsi were massacred in the southern province of Gikongoro and became known as the worst, systematic massacre since the Holocaust.  Yet the actual worst of the four massacres was yet to come.

The third wave of killings took place in 1973.  It began in one part of Rwanda and was spreading to other sections of the country when the killings abruptly stopped.  Descriptions of the sequence of events for this third wave were all too like the previous occurrences.

Rumors emerged among the Rwandans that a massacre was about to happen.  Prior to all such massacres, there seemed to be an inevitability that established itself.   Over the course of time, the massacres gave way to an official name, muyaga, which, translated, meant wind.  Like a terrible wind, the event would begin with a fury, then, just as suddenly as a wind, would end abruptly.  No one would know when the events would come, but, like the wind, the rumors were carried by the winds into every nook and cranny of the country.

Looting by Hutus of Tutsi property would be the first indication that the event had begun.  Next, Tutsi houses would be set on fire.  Then the actual killing would take place with the killers, Hutu and those being killed, Tutsi.  The killings would last as long as the wind blew.  It stopped when the command was given.  In the hinterland, that command to stop began with the beating of drums, followed by calls from hilltops, “Ihumere…ihumere…ihumere…” or,  “It is time for peace.” At the announcement, the violence would abruptly cease.  Killers would return home and Tutsis who were still alive would return to where their houses stood.

If there can be logic in insanity, the massacres of Rwanda are an example of logical insanity.  The reasoning went like this.

The looting would begin at the behest of the Hutu leaders who would give the command to proceed with the terror.  Next, the looting would escalate to the burning of the houses being looted.  Both the looting and the burning would lead to concern about what would happen when the violence ended, which it always did.  The big question…would there be retribution on the part of the effected Tutsi?  Would the rightful owners of the looted goods demand their property be returned?  Since that was a real possibility, then the rightful owners must be eliminated.  Thus, the killings would take place.  Yet, it wasn’t enough to kill only the male rightful owner of the goods.  The family members, who could lay claim to the goods, also needed to be eliminated.   Thus, the insanity would be coherent.

The latest massacre of 1973 coincided with the unrest that was taking place among the Hutu supporters of Gregoire Kayibanda’s regime.  Fighting within the Hutu leadership had erupted.  To gather support for his regime, the president rallied the Hutu population to get ready for the muyaga aimed at their common enemy…the Tutsi.  As the underlying flame of hatred for Tutsi was stoked, the plan was embraced by the president’s supporters as well as his opposition, who viewed the violence as a justification for a planned coup.  The underhanded power grab cost thousands of Tutsi lives during this muyaga as it had during the two preceding massacres.  During this same period, thousands more Tutsis fled the country.

The planned coup d’état took place that same year.  Gregoire Kayibanda was removed from power by a group of army officers who subsequently propped up one of their own, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana.  Habyarimana remained in power for the next twenty-one years, running a conventional military dictatorship which was initially welcomed by several European countries including, and in particular, France.  However, Habyarimana’s Hutu ethnic policy, which was essentially an extension of the former policy was becoming increasingly problematic.  Just across Rwanda’s borders a vast number of Tutsi exiles were becoming increasingly unwelcomed by their host countries yet attempts to send the refugees’ home became futile as Rwanda rejected them.

In 1986 Habyarimana declared as a policy that no refugee would be granted the right to repatriate.  Thus, during the following year, the exiles formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as it committed itself to an armed struggle against the sitting regime.  The nucleus of the RPF were Tutsi officers serving in the Ugandan army.  One of those officers, Paul Kagame, would later become president.

On a predetermined date, October 1, 1990, the officers deserted from the Ugandan army taking their equipment with them.  The newly formed RPF subsequently moved south and crossed the border into Rwanda.  The invasion sparked an all-out civil war between the Rwandan army and the RPF.  Paradoxically, the invasion also ignited one of the twentieth century’s most horrific genocide.

Initially, Habyarimana was able to resist the RPF invasion as French President Mitterrand deployed paratroopers to assist Habyarimana’s efforts of crushing the invasion.  This initial resistance became a precursor to the horrific genocide as Habyarimana’s government encouraged a new wave of Tutsi persecution.

In December 1990, the country’s most virulent racist newspaper published the Hutu Ten Commandments, which was nothing less than a litany of hatred aimed at the Tutsi population.  The commandments attributed treachery and dishonesty not only to all Tutsi, but it also condemned any Hutu who befriended a Tutsi.  In fact, the eighth commandment which became the tenor of hatred stated that ‘Hutus must stop having mercy on the Tutsis.’  This commandment gave rise to a new breed of ethnic battle cry called Hutu Power.

Sanctioned by the Habyarimana regime, in 1991 the government recruited Hutu youth militias who became known as the Interahamwe orthose who attack together.’   The stage was set for what happened next.

The Genocide of 1994

Immediately following the recruitment of a youth militia, their violent members, all young men, roared through the streets on motorbikes.  Sanctioned by the government they felt powerful as their hatred was fed by drunken rallies held under portraits of President Habyarimana.

In seclusion, they assembled together as they perfected the skills of manipulating machetes.  During this period, they set fire to houses owned by Tutsis as well as those owned by Hutus believed to be sympathizers.  They also utilized the government resources as they drew up lists garnered from the Identification Card information.  They knew who Tutsi were and who the Hutu sympathizers were as well.  Worse, they also knew where they lived!  During this period, the mood of ethnic violence festered and was directly fueled by the government.  An example of this heightened frenzy transpired in March of 1992 when Government-owned Radio Rwanda spread a deliberate, false rumor that a Tutsi plot to massacre Hutus had been uncovered.

By 1992, however, Habyarimana had begun losing his popularity among his extremist supporters.  His failure to completely suppress the RPF guerrillas came under scrutiny by international powers that were pressuring him to come to terms with the rebels.  As a result, he began negotiations with the RPF.  This infuriated the Hutu Power criminals as news spread that the government had declared a ceasefire with the Tutsis.  In August 1992, this ceasefire news provoked a new wave of attacks on Tutsis.  Over the next year, the peace process continued as it further alienated the Habyarimana regime from its former supporters.

In August 1993, following talks at the Arusha Accords in Tanzania, Habyarimana signed a peace treaty with the RPF, officially declaring peace.  However, the treaty went even further than simply declaring an end to the war.  Habyarimana negotiated the right of return for all Rwanda’s refugees, the merging of the RPF with the national army as well as establishing a transitional period leading up to elections and a democratic government.  During the transition, a provisional government would be established which would include representation of the RPF.  In addition, UN forces would be invited into Rwanda for purposes of securing the process.

As would be predicted, the peace terms outraged the Interahamwe and their political superiors.  On April 6, 1994, a rocket believed to have been fired by Hutu extremists hit the plane carrying Habyarimana and the head of state of neighboring Burundi, killing all on board.  Blamed on the Tutsis, the assassination of the President was just the desired justification for Hutu extremists as they conducted a killing orgy over the following weeks.   Fueling the orgy were state radio broadcasts which urged the people to “do their duty” with instructions to seek out Tutsis as well as Tutsi-sympathizers living among the Tutsi.  Eliminate the cockroaches was the message.

On April 29, the state radio announced that May 5th would be the cleanup day during which the capital, Kigali, would and must be cleansed of Tutsis.  One infamous broadcast even suggested that, in the interest of thoroughness, unborn children should be torn from the wombs of pregnant women.

In this environment of utter revulsion, the Interahamwe and a large portion of ordinary Hutus, who were given the ultimatum by their peers to kill or be killed, went to work with a fury never recorded in human history.  Between April and July, known also as the 100 days of slaughter, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were murdered in the cruelest and crudest of fashion.  The weapon of preference was the everyday, agriculture tool…the machete.  The UN forces, though present at the time, were powerless to intervene as the U.N. wasted precious time.  They sat idle, reluctant to declare the genocide for what it was, an ethnic cleansing.  Former U.S. President Clinton also reluctant to intervene describes his indecision as THE greatest regret of his presidency.  It was a terrible thing that the genocide could take place while the world stood by in silence.

Too, during the initial stages of the bloodbath, the Hutu Prime Minister, now by default, the Constitutional Head of State, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and her husband were murdered by the Government’s own Presidential Guard whose duty it was to protect her and her family.  Once dead, the guard turned on the ten Belgian U.N. peacekeepers also charged with protecting the new president.  The guard ordered the Belgians to lay down their arms.  At first reluctant, they finally complied.  The guard then methodically castrated each of them, gagged them with their own genitalia, and then murdered all ten men.

The Rwandan carnage ended in July and only after the RPF, led by Kagame, took over the country.  Immediately following the takeover, an estimated two million Hutus fled across the border into Zaire, Burundi, and Tanzania.  The fleeing Hutus were running from the RPF.

Post Genocide

As can be imagined, immediately following the genocide, chaos broke out.  Since the murderers would not allow burials, bodies littered the country.   They were everywhere!  Thousands of bodies were dumped into the northern flowing Nyabarongo River, thus sending the Tutsi bodies out of the country forever.

With Rwanda now in control and under the watchful eyes of the RPF, thousands of Hutus, including members of the Interahamwe, fled across the borders.  The exodus quickly gained notoriety as it became known as the fastest exodus of modern times.  Yet, those fleeing Rwanda were not refugees seeking safety.  They were groups of Hutus instructed by their former leaders to take refuge on the border, as their intentions became crystal clear.  It was nothing less than the Hutu exiles’ desire to continue the war.  At the same time this exodus was taking place, some 700,000 refugees, most of whom were exiled Tutsis, began returning to their home country.

As the RPF captured the capital, Kigali, in June, the French military simultaneously set up a safe zone in the southwest of Rwanda.  The safe zone was dubbed ‘Operation Turquoise’ whereby a ‘safe zone’ was intended to stop the genocide…yet…ironically the RPF were prohibited from entering the safe zone.    Too, the genocide had already been curtailed by the RPF causing the exodus of the militants, members of the former government as well as ordinary Hutu civilians.  The French finally ended their intervention when France sent word to retreat which led to approximately 300,000 people fleeing the turquoise zone; many who feared retribution.  On July 18th the RPF forces moved in and captured the town of Gisenyi in the upper northwest corner of the republic, declaring a new government with Pasteur Bizimungu as president and Kagame in the newly created position of vice-president.  Gisenyi became the center of the provisional government causing 800,000 Rwandans to flee across the border into Goma, Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This exodus was also highly organized as administrative structures of the former Hutu government were simply transferred across the border.

By the end of August 1994, an estimated 2.1 million Rwandan refugees took up residence in some 35 camps.  Another nine camps were established in Burundi and an additional eight camps in Tanzania.  The refugees around Goma included an estimated 30-40,000 soldiers from the former Armed Forces of Rwanda.  They were fully armed and had an intact officer corps and transport unit.  The politicians of the former administration also relocated to Goma.

About 140,000 refugees voluntarily returned to Rwanda during the three months following the original exodus.  The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHRC), sent in to help was forced to halt its efforts to repatriate refugees, however, when both their staff and the refugees were threatened by the Interahamwe under orders of the exiled leadership, they left.  However, by September 1994 rumors of violence by the RPF inside Rwanda, combined with tightened control by Hutu leaders inside the camps brought the return to a halt by early 1995.

Aid to the camps was inadequate.  After pleas from the UN, the U.S. finally agreed to join the effort.  U.S. relief planes were sent in to drop food packages from the air to alleviate the suffering in the camps, but the opposite happened.  People were slaughtered in the rush to the packages, causing the U.S. to refuse to bring the aid closer to the ground.  As time went by disease besieged the refugees in the form of dysentery and cholera.   The result, over 50,000 died.  Soon rainfall amplified the disastrous conditions as many of the refugees contacted septic meningitis.

During the onslaught of disease, the French established a field hospital in the area of Lake Kivu.  To aid the ground forces, Israel intervened with the largest medical mission in its history.  As France provided the medical supplies, Israel provided an all-volunteer military force of surgeons comprised of specialists and sub-specialists.  In addition, the Netherlands sent in a small group of medics and nurses.  CARE Deutschland supplied ambulances and Merlin of Ireland sent in trucks and heavy equipment to distribute food and supplies.  Together CARE AND Merlin are credited with curbing the death toll in Lake Kivu, near Goma, Zaire.

As the world began to recognize the devastation, media coverage of the refugee crisis emerged eventually resulting in President Clinton’s declaration that Rwanda was in the middle of the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis in a generation.”  The result was a mobilization of a large relief effort.  But, because the effort was an afterthought, in a large sense, it became a day too late and a dollar short.

Attention quickly became focused on the refugees of Goma as 200 aid organizations rushed into the area to start emergency relief efforts on the level of that given to the Yugoslavian wars.  Until December 1994, the UNHCR received over $1 million monthly resulting in a rapid drop in mortality rates.  The American military was deployed to Uganda’s Entebbe Airport where an emergency operation was established.  From this location relief and personnel were transported to the crisis regions.  Many humanitarian organizations expressed concern that the military was involved; however, it quickly became evident that only the military could create a large, logistical support system capable of exporting with the necessary speed and efficiency needed to alleviate the massive humanitarian emergency.   If health threats weren’t enough for the refugees to deal with there were more hardships to deal with as well.

Many of the refugee camps fell under the governance of the former political leaders as they were inadvertently put in charge of the food supplies.  Under this authority, a ‘system’ was put in place whereby ‘elected popular leaders’ were able to step in as a front for the real leaders to secure control over the aid.  The system punished those identified as enemies by withholding that aid from them in favor of giving more food supplies to those identified as supporters.  The system then enabled the supporters to make money.  By reporting more refugees than the actual number of exiles, the supporters were able to sell the surplus.  They even created a food tax, forcing actual refugees to buy their food.  For example, this system led to 40% of the ‘enemy’ refugees in one camp receiving less food than the 13% of the ‘supporter’ refugees.  This in-camp corruption became a means of intimidation as refugees who either disagreed with the structure, complained to aid workers or who tried to return to Rwanda were subject to punishment up to and including murder.  However, as the acute level of the humanitarian crisis began to stabilize, aid workers began to raise concern over the presence of armed elements in the camps.  Members of the Interahamwe militia established outposts on the outskirts of the camps, as they reported directly to officials from the former government.  The humanitarian workers began to report the corruption on behalf of the suffering refugees who began to complain that the relief organizations were creating the corruption causing a crisis of conscience among the agencies, who answered the quagmire by abandoning the camps.   

As the RPF established the new government in July 1994, the military wing of the
RPF was renamed the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) as it became the national army.  As Kagame assumed the role of Vice President, Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu public servant under the Habyarimana, but who had fled to join the RPF was appointed the president.  Bizimungu and his cabinet had some control over domestic affairs, but Kagame remained commander-in-chief of the army, was, in fact, the actual ruler of the country.

As international aid was being concentrated in the refugee camps across the borders, Kagame went to work rebuilding the country.  He made tremendous efforts to portray the new government as an all-inclusive one vs. a Tutsi only government.  One of his first acts was to remove the ethnicity from ID cards to remove the distinctions between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa.  Also, during this post-genocide period, new soldiers were recruited to the army.

Shortly after establishing the post-genocide government, it began prosecuting crimes committed during the genocide.  The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, under the mandate of the U.N., was set up in Arusha with intentions of prosecuting the most senior leaders responsible for the genocide.   In addition, the government determined to prosecute all suspected perpetrators, including ordinary citizens who were known to have taken part in the killings.

Between 1994 and 2000 120,000 suspects were arrested.  There were so many suspects intended to stand trial that the prisons were bursting at the seams.  By 2006 and twelve years after the genocide, only 10,000 of those arrested had been tried.  Recognizing the impossibility of continuing, the government introduced Gacaca, a village court system based on traditional, pre-colonial justice.  Gacaca is loosely translated as justice in the grass.  The system was adopted as a means of healing the people in order to move the progress of repairing the country forward.  The goal of the Gacaca system was meant to do the following:

  • Establish truth about what happened
  • Accelerate the legal proceedings against those accused of Genocide Crimes
  • Eradicate the culture of impunity
  • Reconcile Rwandans and reinforce their unity
  • Use the capacities of Rwandan society to deal with its problems through a justice based Rwandan Custom.

Today, Rwanda is again harmonious with no division between the different groups.  In fact, my assessment is that Rwanda is a model nation who could teach the rest of the world a lot about how to heal.

Footnote:  This morning I watched the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, talk about his new book, In the Shadow of Statues, and his reasons for removing all New Orlean’s  Confederate statues.  To the question, why don’t more public figures address the same issue, Landrieu responded that it’s because humans have a hard time asking for forgiveness as well as granting forgiveness.  Landrieu’s answer reminded me of the most important lesson I carried in my heart home from my time in Rwanda.

While visiting the Kigali Genocide Museum, the sacred grounds with its church and school where over 1,000 adults and children were slaughtered, then the compound where Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her husband plus the ten Belgian soldiers murdered, I learned the following.

I learned how a tiny country situated in the heart of Africa, and under the guidance of a giant leader, Paul Kagame, became a beacon of light and hope for the entire world. Guided by their tradition prior to colonialism of sitting in the grass and discussing their future in the shadow of genocide, they were able to speak of sorrow, regret, then forgiveness and love. Thank you, Rwanda for giving the world hope that humans can become giants.

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INTO BEAUTIFUL AFRICA – By Maribeth Shanley

Edwin

I’m finally headed to Africa. I’ll travel to both Rwanda and Uganda with Edwin Sabuhoro, the young man I met after the July 2016 killing of Cecil the Lion. I leave Sunday, Feb. 10 and return home on Feb. 28th. My trip will be a jam-packed working trip with lots of people to meet, animals to see and information to gather.

In case you don’t recall my previous blog about Edwin, here’s the short version of who he is.
road-map-of-Rwanda
Edwin grew up in the relatively small country of Rwanda in Central Africa. He was just a baby when the fourth and worst genocide broke out. Being of Tutsi origin, Edwin, his family, and relatives were the targets of the Hutu Government which casually authorized the 1994 Genocide during which nearly one million Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers were bludgeoned to death leaving the land littered with bodies, parts of bodies and rivers of blood.

Edwin’s mother, siblings, and relatives fled Rwanda and traveled by foot to the safety of the refugee camps just inside the borders of  Uganda. At one point in their journey, the relatives feared that Edwin was slowing down the group. Edwin’s Mum carried him as she ran for her life. The consensus was that his Mum should throw Edwin into a river, so that the group could move faster. However, Edwin’s Mum would have none of it, as she trudged on carrying her sweet baby close to her bosom.

When Edwin grew up, he earned his law degree. As a lawyer, part of his responsibilities was to represent people on a pro-bono basis. When Edwin was asked to represent a Hutu man, who bludgeoned an entire family to death, Edwin abandoned the law. He subsequently began working as a park ranger in Volcanoes National Park where the endangered mountain gorillas live. Edwin fell in love with the gorillas and other animals as he sought to protect them from poaching.
Baby Gorilla
At one point, the rangers caught wind of a baby gorilla which had been captured and was up for sale to the highest bidder. Edwin volunteered to pose as a buyer. Once the exchange was made, the poachers were captured, and the baby was returned to his home. Edwin described to me what he felt when he peered into the burlap bag carrying the captured gorilla. He was overwhelmed with compassion and wonder at the big brown eyes staring back at him.

Over the next few days, Edwin thought about the poachers. He could tell they were not wealthy. Instead, they were ordinary males who lived in a local village. Edwin couldn’t shake the gnawing in his gut as he felt guilty for helping to put these men in jail. So, he did something remarkable.

Instead of brushing off his empathy for the men, he became more curious about them and especially the reasons why they worked as poachers. So, he got in his car and drove to the village. There he sat down with one of the more elderly males and asked him, “Why do you poach?”

They were sitting outside at the time and there were many children playing close by. Thus, the man made a sweeping gesture with his arm as he said, “We do it to feed our children.” In other words, the reasons were economically based. The poachers had no other means of earning a living. Being a logical,  compassionate human, Edwin immediately understood.

When Edwin left the village, he couldn’t stop thinking of the man he met and the trapped lifestyle the villagers were living. So, he came up with a plan to help the village provide food for their people via different methods. Edwin had a savings account which he emptied, giving the money to the to the village males as he discussed his idea with them. They would use the money to rent farm land where they could grow their food. Within six months the village was producing enough food for the village with a surplus of food to sell.

Batwa
Note: The poachers and village population belonged to the third ethnic group in Rwanda, the Batwa. The Batwa are the original inhabitants of Rwanda. They are the indigenous population who, for generations, depended on the forest and its animals for sustenance
village

Two years later, Edwin helped the Batwa community establish a living history village to educate and entertain visitors to the park where the gorillas reside. The hamlet is called Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. While in Rwanda, Edwin and I will spend one and one-half days in the Village talking to the people, including the ex-poachers who now pride themselves as the guardians of the gorillas.  Best of all, we’ll also visit the mountain gorillas.

Because of Edwin’s efforts to save the endangered mountain gorillas and change the lives of the Batwa who poached the gorillas, in 2015 he was nominated for the coveted award of CNN Hero of the Year.

I met Edwin back in 2016, shortly after the death of Cecil the Lion who was murdered by an American dentist, Walter Palmer. As were so many animal lovers, I was utterly shaken by the killing.

It was a deliberate kill, as Palmer’s guides dragged a carcass behind their jeep trying to coax Cecil from the protective boundaries of the park where he, his male friend, Jericho and Cecil’s family lived.

Walter Palmer was an avid Trophy Hunter. Trophy hunters deceive themselves into believing they are conservationists. How can a true conservationist kill a unique animal such as a lion?  They can’t morally and won’t. Palmer and all Trophy Hunters are nothing more than poachers. They poach for personal booty. Their plunder is the animal’s head, skin and other body parts all for two purposes: bragging rights and to hang as evidence the trophy head on a wall in their coveted trophy room.

I sent Edwin a friend request which he immediately accepted. Then, one evening, after learning, via Facebook that he lived “up the highway from me,” I sent an instant message to him. We began talking that evening. I was excited to have found such a remarkable human as he explained to me that he was a CNN 2015 hero of the year nominee and that he was currently earning his Doctorate in Conservation and Tourism at Clemson University. I don’t recall what it was I said, but I evidently mentioned that I was a writer. I was typing away when my eye caught a sentence in his last message. He wrote, “You’re a writer? I’m looking for someone to write my autobiography.” I stopped cold as my eyeballs leapt out of my head, hit the screen of my computer, then bounced back into my sockets. My heart stopped as I said out loud, “Oh my God!” And so, our story began.

While I’m away, I plan to blog every day. My next-door neighbor suggested I do that, so she could keep up with me. I thought that was a great idea as well, because, in addition to my written notes and those I record via two hand held recorders, my blog could add to my notes especially since they will be written in real time, capturing my emotions which I know will be abundant.

If you care to follow me while I’m away, I’ll post a link on my website, http://www.maribethshanley.com. My first post, I will publish before I leave on the 10th, will be the itinerary Edwin has prepared for my eighteen-day visit.

I hope you to join me on my journey into beautiful Africa!

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Hidden Southern Culture by Maribeth Shanley

I’ve lived in the south for half my life. In the depths of my heart, I have never liked the southern environment.

For many southern whites, racism and hatred, coupled with a suspicion of different people are alive and well. That suspicion and hatred are evident when another white person looks your way and rolls her eyes at an old black man sitting on a bench in front of a grocery store. As a gesture of agreement, I presume the recipient is supposed to respond with a similar eye roll. When I encountered such a glance, I returned a glare of disdain at the woman who quickly looked away then scurried to the parking lot.

Then, there are all those sneaky racist ploys on the part of southern GOP candidates as they gerrymander their districts to cut out the black voters from their district, ensuring they will win the vote. In South Carolina, for a Democrat, that devious white southern culture shows through at the voting booth, when, as a first time SC voter, you realize your choice is to either vote for the Republican or abstain from voting for most local seats. Too, voter suppression is obvious when town mayors shut down the Sunday polls during an election, thus, curtailing the Souls to the Polls vote where preachers load their congregation onto buses and drive them to the polls so they can vote.

Most of my time in the south, I lived in Tennessee. Racism was evident, especially with the display of the Confederate flag. The excuse for openly touting the symbol was wrapped up in the rationalization of a demonstration of one’s southern heritage. My skin crawls when I see that symbol of oppression whose history included lynchings.

I once wrote a Letter to the Editor of THE TENNESSEAN about the heritage equation. In that letter, I compared the impact of the flag for blacks with the impact of the Nazi flag for Jews. The day my letter was published, I received several hateful phone calls from males identifying themselves as Sons of the Confederacy. I also received a letter from a woman who thanked me for making the comparison as she had always discussed her southern heritage in the same manner. She wrote that now she understood and promised never to make that comparison again.

Living in Tennessee was tough enough. However, the real challenge has been my life in South Carolina, the first State to secede from the United States of America. The South Carolina Declaration of Secession stated that the reason for secession had to do with the issue of slavery which the wealthy planter class was not willing to relinquish. I searched the internet for that Secession statement shortly after moving to South Carolina. I did because I knew in my heart that there was a hidden darkness which still exists here.

I also began to detect that there was a hidden culture rich in history and tradition that existed. I could feel it in the small southern towns. So I began to explore that culture only to find that it had a lot to do with a particular crop grown in Antebellum South Carolina.

During the colonial period, Coastal Carolina was the largest producer of rice in America, and it happened by accident.

Around the year 1685, a ship sailing from Madagascar was caught in a fierce storm off the coast of South Carolina. The ship sought refuge in the Charleston Harbor. While being repaired the ship’s captain met a prominent planter who was known to be the first English settler in the Charleston area. The captain and the gentleman, Henry Woodard, spent time discussing commerce. When the ship was repaired, and the captain and crew were to make their way to their original destination, the captain gave a bag of rice to Woodard who experimented with the rice. The resulting crop was so good that shortly after rice became the main cash crop for the Coastal river plantations of South Carolina.

Rice farming was labor intensive. It required workers who not only possess knowledge of the land but of the cultivation of the rice crop. Growing and harvesting required all this and lots of free labor working long, painful hours to keep the planter class living the lives of luxury to which they were accustomed. Thus, the planters needed an African for the plantations specializing in rice growing. Coastal West African soil was similar to that of Coastal South Carolina. The Coastal West African tribes were expert rice farmers. They became the target of capture as they were kidnapped then transported to South Carolina.

As I began to explore my surroundings, I soon discovered a people rich in culture and color. The culture is called Gullah. The color is the many art forms that came out of that cultivation of rice.

The modern Gullah people are the descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to the Low-Country of South Carolina for rice cultivation. Slave traders kidnapped individuals from a wealth of different ethnic groups throughout the Coastal areas of West Africa. Communication became a challenge for the slaves. Thus, a creole language called the Gullah language was born. The language influenced by a culture rich in African influences defined the uniqueness of the Gullah people. This distinction has become a badge of pride for the descendants as they carried on many of the traditions by turning them into an art.

Sweetgrass Simple        Sweetgrass Intricate     Sweetgrass Elaborate

In particular is the Sweetgrass Baskets woven mainly by females and sold to the public. Every artist brings her distinct technique to the art form.

The original “coiled” baskets brought over on the slave ships were called fanner baskets. The slaves used them to inspect the rice. The baskets were critical tools of rice production and processing. As time went on the techniques of basket weaving was passed down to descendants who turned the tool into individual expressions of art. These baskets now grace homes and museums around the world. They are purchased for their beauty and displayed in museums as a tribute to the rich culture of people stolen from their homes and brought over in chains only to serve as free labor for a class of wealthy white plantation owners. The baskets range in price and design. A small, simple basket could cost as little as $50 while an intricately designed basket could cost as much as several hundreds of dollars. Although the artist ensures the purchaser that the basket is a functional one, most basket owners place their basket(s) in their homes to be admired for the beauty of their art and artist.

Footnote: Rice remained a dominant crop for South Carolina up until the end of the Civil War. With the Emancipation came a fast decline of the wealthy rice economy. Without the free labor of slaves, rice plantations were unsustainable. In the early 1900’s rice farming disappeared from South Carolina.

 

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Girls Need Heroes Too

I was born in December of 1947.  I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s, which were extremely oppressive decades for women and young girls.  There were no female heroes little girls could look up to and aspire to become.  The closest I came to female heroes was Lois Lane and Dale Evans.  Later, I would fall in love with and read every Nancy Drew book published.  I wanted to become a sleuth like Nancy.

The sad truth is, there were no such characters as Wonder Woman, Super Girl or the like.  Boys had the monopoly on heroes, which made growing up with realistic aspirations a given.

I was the oldest girl of six children.  My brother was the oldest of all six.  Our family was a dysfunctional one with a father who wielded his power over everyone with zeal, and a mother who was wholly beholden to her husband.   Dad was an officer and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Navy, which meant he was not home all the time.  He would go off to sea for months on end.  In his absence, our mother took over the household.  She was in control and, in my eyes, did a great job.  However, when Dad would return, she shrunk to her second-class-subservient-role never questioning the demotion.

Mom became anything but a role model for me, especially when she would stoop to talking in a baby-like manner in the presence of Dad.  The mere thought of that behavior makes my skin crawl.

Living in a household populated by lots of people, I was extremely lonely.  The reason for my loneliness was devastating for me.  I fell victim to a father who was also a pedophile.   To date, my siblings have confirmed that I was his sole family victim.

I realize now that I spent my entire life in my parent’s home trying my best to hide from my father.  The only periods I felt safe were those when he was gone.  While he was home, I looked forward to family vacations when we would stay in motels.  I learned to love the evening sound of traffic as trucks and cars whizzed by the motels.

While he was home, I sought safety in my mind.  I found solace retreating to my mind where I would write my future; one which was free of harm; and, one where I was equally important.  Too, I would devise situations where I could protect myself from him and his hands.

When in high school, for example, I talked my youngest sister into sleeping with me promising her she’d never make another bed.   With her in my bed, I knew our father wouldn’t risk coming to my bed during the night to bother me.  All the while I lived under my parent’s roof I didn’t realize I was cultivating a new female hero.

With my ingenious thinking, I was becoming my hero because I was devising ways in which to stay safe.  Still, I craved outside female heroes.  Those didn’t come along until much later, and after I finally fled my parent’s hell.

It’s no coincidence that I met my husband of now forty-seven years in 1970, the year I left home.

Until then, I tried numerous times to leave.  Each time, however, my parents would play the blame game with me, e.g., “How dare you think of leaving, after everything we’ve done for you.”  In truth, they did little for me.  In fact, when I went to work for the Federal Government at the age of 18, they demanded that I hand over my entire paycheck from which my Mom would give me a meager allowance.

Working out in the world,” at 18 I decided I wanted to go to college; my parents did all they could to discourage me.  Until then, I never considered college.  For one, I was never encouraged to think of anything other than getting married and having as many children as God would give me.  Too, until I experienced the freedom of being in the workforce, I was constantly in a state of emergency where I directed all my energy toward staying out of harm’s way.

I would soon learn that there was a college fund; but, it was never meant for me.

It was originally intended for my oldest brother.  When, however, he made it clear he had no intentions of attending college, the fund was reassigned to my sister who was two siblings younger than me.  I was not intelligent enough. Instead, my label was not college material.

My parents were panicked.  How can we discourage Maribeth?

They enlisted my Dad’s younger brother, who was a Dominican Priest and a professor at Catholic University in the Washington, D.C. area where we lived, and I worked.  He, Tom, devised the perfect plan as he made an appointment for me with a female dean at the University who was instructed to intimidate and discourage me, leading me to acknowledge I was indeed not college material.

I remember that dark-haired, be-speckled queen-bee type woman.  When I told her I was interested in studying biology, she went to work scaring the bejesus out of me as I became convinced I could never pass chemistry.  So, the next day I went back to work, leaving my college wish behind.

In April of 1970, and after having saved a down payment for a new royal blue Camaro, I finally moved away from home.  I planned to move back to the Washington, D.C. area and, in one year, qualify for a program where I would be sent overseas to work.  I wanted to move and work in Brussels, Belgium.  I wanted to move far away physically and emotionally from my past.  I wanted to begin living the life I only dreamed of living.

I never made it to Belguim.  Instead, on my first night in D.C., I met Bob.  He had become friends with my older brother, with whom I stayed while looking for my apartment.  Bob was different from any male I had met.  He was kind, going to college while working as a meat cutter in the Safeway stores.  He was paying for college via his earned income and the GI Bill.  During the Vietnam war, Bob had spent four years in the U.S. Army as a medic assigned to an evacuation hospital.

Soon after meeting Bob, we moved in together.  We married in September of 1970.  One Sunday, while talking to Bob about what I wanted from my future, I told him about my desire to earn a degree.  For Bob, that was a no-brainer.  He encouraged me and a few months later walked me through registration as I registered for two evening classes with the University of Maryland, the same college he attended.

I began taking courses during the evenings, and, during the day, I worked at the Civil Rights Commission.  My world was expanding rapidly.  I relished every single minute of my growth.  Ironically, the same uncle had left the priesthood, married an ex-nun and was in the process of moving to Washington, D.C. where a job was waiting for him.  He asked me to take him around to apartments.  During those few days, Uncle Tom tried his best to break up Bob and me.  He explained to Bob that he was leaps and bounds ahead of me intellectually.  He begged Bob to break up with me.  “Maribeth is a sweet girl, but she’s not all that bright.  You will become bored with her and wind up breaking her heart,” Tom explained.  Bob countered that Tom had no idea who I was nor how intelligent and complex I was.  Tom lost that argument and Bob, and I married a few months later.

I think I was always looking for female role models, so, in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the presidency, I fell head over heels in love with his beautiful, assertive wife, Hillary.

Hillary was everything I aspired to be.  She was bright, inquisitive, assertive and she was not a typical wife, let alone First Lady.

Soon after Bob and I wed, the Navy assigned my father to the Pentagon as he subsequently moved my Mom and younger siblings to the D.C. area.  A week after Bob and I married, Bob’s father called him.  Bob’s daughter, Kimberley, from a long-past marriage, was living in a foster home in the California area.  Social Services removed Kim from her mother’s living quarters where a live-in boyfriend beat her with a beer bottle.  A month later, I was a mother.

When we married, both Bob and I agreed that we would not have children.  I never knew why I didn’t want children. However, I knew I didn’t.  So, becoming a mother the way it happened was a shock to my senses.  For the first few months after Kim’s arrival, a Social worker visited us on a frequent basis.

My mother went to work on me coaching me how to act.  She encouraged me to make cookies for our first Social Services visit.  I reluctantly did.  However, the social worker caught on to my feelings of reluctance to play the stereotypical mommy role.  When she left our first meeting, she instructed me to be myself and act naturally.  It wasn’t too long after that meeting that the social worker suggested that we had the option to send Kim back to California.  Bob had not been a father very long when he and his first wife were divorced.  Thus, when suggested, he flirted with that solution.  Too, he was terrified of losing me.  I, however, could not agree to send her back.  I had spent my entire childhood in misery.  I was not going to be the person who doomed Kimberley to a life of misery knowing she was unwanted.  So I raised her, giving her all the guidance I could offer.

When Hillary came along, she was the very role model I had thirsted for all my life.  I was captivated when she made the statement, “I’m not sitting here like some little woman who stands by my man like Tammy Wynette.”  Later, she followed that up with, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and have teas; but, what I decided was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public office.”  Wow, hot dog was my reaction to this assertive, proud female who was my age and was standing up to the world with vigor, confidence and an I am who I wish to be boldness.  And, so, I stepped up and became the same type of woman, one who proudly assumed the label of uppity.

Later in life and during a job review, my male supervisor evaluated me as an average worker on paper, however, in our meeting he raked me over the coals.

I was the Kroger, Nashville Division’s first female Meat Field Supervisor.  I supervised two store districts and thirty meat departments.  My approach to those departments and their meat managers was not the typical field supervisor one.

Instead of playing a merchandising department cop, my style was to become a partner with the departments.  Everything I did, including sending out a plan that accompanied the weekly sales plan was intended to help the departments utilize their merchandising skills.  For example, I would discuss selling cuts of meat that made up for the unprofitability of the cuts on sale.  I respected the department heads and their staff.  In return, I was respected and appreciated.  In fact, after several inventory periods, all my stores began bringing in profits that surpassed their expected profits, something that had not been achieved in recent history.  The zone and store managers loved me because I was making them look like heroes.  My immediate supervisor did not.  He felt threatened; and, so he told me I had a reputation for being too pushy.  He then told me that women should have a quiet power.  I listened, felt bad, questioned myself, but, then, picked up my head, held it high and, when offered a job with a Fortune 500 company, I moved on.  I would later learn how much respect I earned while I was the Meat Field Supervisor.

One of my husband’s co-workers was friends with the Kroger, Nashville Vice President of Store Operations.  This VP expressed regret that I left the company as he called me a shining star who was destined to go places with Kroger.

Recently, a friend asked why I was still commenting on Facebook that I was #StillWithHillary.  He explained that although he respected the former Secretary of State, there were so many other outstanding women in politics and business.  I decided not to give him the short, tart FB answer.

Instead, his question made me ask myself the same one.  I wanted to know the answer, and that would take me time.  I explained that to him and told him I would give him the link to my blog when published.  He accepted my offer and said he looked forward to reading my answer.

Hillary Clinton was my first real female hero.  She came along for me when I desperately needed a female role model.  She was everything I aspired to become and now realize I was already becoming.  Although there are many outstanding women qualified to become our first female president, I feel Hillary earned that right to be the first.  She earned the right to be the first female to break that ultimate glass ceiling.  She wasn’t, and now I look to the future.  However, I will always stand with Hillary Clinton.

As Hillary became my first hero, I became my second hero.  I have overcome much in my life to accomplish more than I ever expected.  As the title reads, Women need Heroes Too.  As girls and women, we need other females to look up to and emulate.  We also need to be so proud of who we’ve become that we too become our hero.

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