Category Archives: history

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 in 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 also 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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Filed under history, Maribeth Shanley, writing

Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod of Lachlan by Sherrie Hansen

If Prince Rod of Lachlan sounds like something straight from the pages of a fairy tale, you’re right.

Golden Rod painting

When Katelyn O’Neal, a reluctant “princess” from Minnesota, inherits a castle from a great uncle she met only once, she views the whole ordeal as a huge bother, except that selling the castle to a rich developer will pay for a very expensive, experimental cancer treatment for her 12 year old niece, Kacie.

Golden Rod Castle - Gold.jpg

Rod MacKenzie, the illegitimate but rightful heir to Lachlan, has used his own time and money to take care of the castle and its magnificent gardens for years – despite the fact that his grandfather wrote him out of his will. Rod would love to live happily ever after in the land of his ancestors even though he’s always known it was an impossibility.


Add Laird Valan MacKenzie and the lovely Lady Rosemary, a pair of 500 year old ghosts who are bound to the castle by age-old curses, and would do anything to escape the place, and you have GOLDEN ROD, a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends that turns everything upside down.

S - Brodick Castle

Lachlan – a centuries old castle on Loch Carron in Scotland. Kacie – a twelve year old girl whose dying wish is to see it. Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary – 500 year old ghosts who desperately want to escape it. Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod MacKenzie – the rightful heir who loves Lachlan and its gardens even though he will never inherit.  Katelyn O’Neal – the legal heir who unwitting sold the castle to a low life scum at a high price.


GOLDEN ROD, a Wildflowers of Scotland novel by Sherrie Hansen – coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.



Filed under history, photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen, Travel

Medieval Brass Rubbings

Being a romantic, I’ve always had an affinity for the Medieval through Renaissance periods of Britain; roughly between the 5th–17th centuries. Some really beautiful artwork can be found in catacombs and tombs in churches and abbeys, particularly in England, in the form of monumental brasses, which memorialize burials of important people of the day. Brass plates were often etched in effigies of the deceased and sometimes included relatives, pets, armor, status, even occupation of the individual. For historical or artistic value, many people have sought to copy some of these brasses onto paper. I decided I’d like to do that too.

Medieval brasses date back to as early as 1015 AD, I was told, but most of the ones that have survived through the ages are from the 14th century on up to the present day. Many were lost during the Bubonic Plague or Black Death beginning in 1347 AD, building and reconstruction projects, and destruction from wars throughout Europe. Although, the largest collections of brasses are in England, others can be found on the Continent.

Much information can be gleaned from these brasses, such as style and fashion, occupations and status, genealogy, heraldry, the history of armor and even ecclesiastical history. In fact, one could spend a lifetime studying this subject. For me, though, I was interested in learning the craft of rubbing and having a couple pieces of history in my home as mementos of my trip. I have a room with a 6½ʹ tall x 4ʹ wide medieval tapestry and I wanted a couple of brass rubbings for that room, as well.

I lived in Germany at the time and researched for several months to find brasses of the right ilk and then headed for England. Unfortunately, many of the really old brasses are not available anymore for rubbing, because they have been worn down over time, but replica brasses have been made, many of which are exact copies of the originals and are available for rubbing. There are also miniature brasses for those who don’t have time to rub a large one.

To make my rubbing, I used a special black rag paper, a gold metallic, hard wax block and a smaller pencil shaped wax tool, and masking tape to affix the paper to the brass. Many people have thought that making rubbings would be easy, just like coloring. But I can tell you, if you want a really good rubbing, it takes time and patience and sensitivity in one’s fingertips to feel through the paper to the raised areas of the design in order to know where the edges are. The weight of pressing down with the hard wax tool one uses to actually rub is tricky and the consistent direction one rubs makes for a neat and attractive finished product. Achy fingers are a given, before a brass rubbing is completed, I can assure you, but the finished product, for me, was well worth it.

I now have three framed brass rubbings. A small one, I rubbed myself, which is about 26ʺ tall x 10ʺ wide, and a pair, each 3½ʹ tall x 16ʺ wide, of Sir Roger Bellingham, d. 1544 and his wife Elizabeth, d.1500 from Kendal, Westmorland, England; my knight in shining armor and his lady.

If you are interested in learning more about brasses in England you may wish to visit The Monumental Brass Society online. My brass rubbing are below. I also have some grave stone rubbings that I made here in the U.S. Have you ever done any rubbings?

P1020390             P1020400      P1020411


Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.


Filed under Art, history, How To, photographs, Travel

Have We Completely Run Out Of Ideas?

I was watching television the other night and saw something so incredibly bad that it drove me to wonder how it came to be before me in the first place.  How was this horrific concept presented and who listened to this half-thought out lunacy and thought, “Hmm.  Its better than anything I’ve heard recently.  Let’s pump a few million into it.”  What were they listening to, I wonder?

I remember Bewitched. A fun sitcom about a mixed marriage between a witch and a mortal. I liked how Darren used his position as an ad exec to explain the weird goings on in the Stevens household. He and his boss would pop in and find a unicorn in his living room and Darren would, after a few exaggerated facial expressions, smile and introduce his boss to the new image for a car they’re representing.

“How about the Unicorn, Larry? Legendary gas mileage. Pretty great, eh?”

It wasn’t. Now every time I see a commercial or concept so inexplicably bad that I’m driven to wonder how such an atrocity ever made it to public airing, I call it a Darren Stevens. Something truly bizarre must have happened to allow this to seem like a good idea. Witchcraft, maybe. That would almost explain such concepts as casting Pierce Brosnan in a musical.

Movies, you see, have often crossed the line. I was appalled by last years’ release depicting Abraham Lincoln as a super hero vampire killer. I’ve written some pretty good stories but still had to fight my way through the thousands of other good stories to try to get a publisher’s attention. This is because there are good writers with new thoughts to be expressed in abundance. So what enormous bet must someone have lost to allow this laughable excuse for a storyline to find its way to the screen? Is this any way to pay homage to one of the greatest figures in American History? Is this a direction we in the creative or entertainment world want to take?

My fear is that this may spark a trend of salvaging truly bad scripts or manuscripts by recasting the lead as a pre-accepted historical figure. The public already likes them so the hack story has a foot in the viewing or reading audience’s door despite the total lack of credibility, creativity or talent.

But perhaps I’m being overly cynical. Perhaps this is why so many creative works never see the light of day.  We may simply be trying too hard.  This substitute for talent and hard work may in fact be a new and viable form of creativity. Perhaps exploiting the memory of historical heroes for a cheap buck is a good thing. Think of the endless possibilities.

Young George Washington tells his father, “I cannot tell a lie, Father. I chopped down your cherry tree… when my space ship crash landed on your planet.”  Washington – ET Patriot!

“I have a dream… of driving all the demons out of the White House!”                                                                                                                                                                Martin Luther King – Presidential Exorcist

“Old Soldiers never die… Until I chop their zombie heads off with my magic sabre”                                                                                                                                       General Douglas MacArthur versus the Army of the Undead!

 The possibilities are endless. And America doesn’t hold the patent on greed, bad taste and sensationalism. Britain has every right to jump onto the bandwagon.

This is England’s finest hour…  I know because I went back in time to diffuse Hitler’s bomb and change the course of history!”                                                Churchill- Time Minister.

Hey. That’s good. I’m calling Paramount right now!

You can find more about Donovan Galway at the Second Wind Publishing website!donovan-galway/c1ap8 and the usual places. Amazon, Google, or by liking Donovan on Facebook.


Filed under fiction, history, Humor, writing

Ordinary mysteries

It’s no secret that I enjoy a good mystery.  Heck, that’s what I write.

And it probably won’t come as a surprise to those who know me, but I really like those stories where the “ordinary people” find themselves doing something extra-ordinary.  You know, like the woman accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, who managed to survive captivity.  Or the man who fought for the Union during the Civil War while his brothers enlisted in the Confederacy.

To me, those are more interesting stories than Wonder Woman.  And I love Wonder Woman!
Plus, everyone’s got a story.

Do you ever wonder how those stories shape you?  For example, did your tenth-great grandfather help start one of the original 13 colonies?  Or did your third-great grandfather work in a chocolate factory?   Or is your sixth great-grand uncle pictured on the one dollar bill?

All of those things would have shaped the people closest to them.  Which in turn shaped the people they touched.  All the way down to me.  (Although I think the chocolate factory thing shaped my waist more than the others…)

Recently author Stephen King was on PBS’s “Finding Your Roots”  (an episode which focused on long-lost fathers) and learned that his family name isn’t really King.

Another mystery.

Another everyday, ordinary person, mystery.

What’s your mystery?


Nichole R. Bennett has been an avid mystery reader from a young age.  Her novels, Ghost Mountain and Sleeping Bear, are available from Second Wind Publishing. When she’s not writing, Nichole can be found doing a plethora of crafty things, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, or spending too much time online.  Oh, and researching her family tree.


Filed under history, writing

Art As Inspiration by Ginger K King

My normal inspirations are strong people I’ve known or know of, seeing interesting action (no audio) or hearing interesting interaction between people, my dreams and especially music. Art is a new inspiration to me. Especially large sculpture. It’s as if I were viewing an interesting or even an ordinary moment in the subjects life. The circumstances around them, what caused them to be in such a pose/posture, what happened before and after this moment in time. All of these questions get the creative juices flowing.

Some poetry I wrote while visiting our country’s oldest botanical garden Brookgreen Gardens in coastal SC :

©GingerKKing 2014



What sprite or water creature moves
The muses one step closer, closer still
Toward a destiny a hope or claim
Making a mere mortal fame

When gazing into a fountain looms
A misty memory of some gray thing
The sprite or creature lilts and soon
A waning distant crescent moon

They’re running now, running still
For every freedom thought or will
A muses job is never done
Not by night or dawn of sun

©GingerKKing 2014

On Marble Wings

A better perspective
I dare not try
Only looking upward to the sky
You bring to life
And lift on high
The only horse to ever fly

©GingerKKing 2014

DSCF5839 DSCF5840

The Widow Bow

There huntress and her widow bow
Will make a measure of the snow
On winter day or tide of sun
This is a hunt that will be won

Her snare is not her cunning low
But every wisdom that she knows
Is sometimes that it pays to wait
To bring home feasts for heavens gate

A widow she may stand alone
But no dark mister will bestow
For this fair damsel is not lame
Any male hunter she will put to shame

What are your new inspirations?



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Filed under Art, history, music, photographs, Travel, writing

My First Shot At Regency Romance by Christina OW

I think I should start with a little introduction 🙂

Hi, my name is Rinah and I go by the author name Christina OW–it’s my mom’s names and initials. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her and all she’s done for me being a single parent raising three girls. I write Paranormal, Contemporary, Fantasy fiction romance and now Regency/Historical romance. I must say, so far Regency romance has been my favorite to write– it feels like giving unknown personalities from the 18th and 19th century life by telling their ‘what if’ story and I find it remarkable.

Once upon a time, long long time ago I wasn’t much of a fan of historical books. Yeah, shocking! But I used to think the Old English was too distracting and I didn’t like the description of the characters especially the male ones–too unmanly. An image of a pale out of shape stuffy dandy with an annoying nasal voice kept popping in my head when I’d read some of the dialogue. And the women, they annoyed me most. Always written like complete air heads who fainted at the littlest things and hang onto the belief that without a man their lives were meaningless! I also didn’t like that they didn’t have a say in their own lives– I became a true feminist while reading those books. So I stopped reading them all together until I happened across a book by Jerrica Knight-Catania. There was nothing wrong with the genre I was just reading the wrong categories and books by authors who didn’t suit my taste.

She introduced me to lust worthy heroes and strong heroines despite their limited life coupled with restrictions of the society  and the best description of a world I wished I’d seen first hand. And let’s just say the forbidden fruit is tastier even for a passive audience like a reader. The illicit affairs, the forbidden loves and the lengths the heroes and heroines would go for happiness… regency romance became a fantasy fairytale to me full of passion and excitement that drew me in and left me craving for more! After just one of Jerrica’s books I became hooked, an addict for the genre searching for authors with the same writing style and adding them to my favorite authors list. Then one day I just thought, why not try my hand at it?

I knew I would need to do a lot of research to make the story authentic enough and change my way of thinking and writing to fit the genre and then finally, I let my imagination weave the rest and thus TRIAL OF LOVE, book #1 of THE SLAVE BOUND SERIES was born! It took a while before I queried it because I was so frightened it wouldn’t be good enough. But I took the risk, figuring the only way I could truly know it was read worthy was if I queried it to the same publisher who published a good number of my favorite regency/historical books.  I queried to Second Wind Publishing and Mike loved it. It was a long road before the final product was out but I’m proud of the book we both put out.

Trial Of Love, a turbulent love story about a slave from America and the Earl who saved her from a fate worse than death.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00015]

Blurb: After her mother’s death, Melanie’s life in America is full of heartache. Still, she has never allowed herself to despair. She was responsible for the care of her beloved father. Then he remarried a woman to wicked to be considered a mother to Melanie or her two sisters. After years of abuse, the stepmother sells Melanie off—to work in a brothel, and about to be sold to the highest bidder. Through a series of fortuitous events, Melanie falls into the care of Christopher, Earl of Ashworth, who has family issues of her own. The solution to his problems—and redemption for Melanie—wind together toward destiny.

Book Link:

It was great meeting you all!I look forward to my next post in the 2W blog.

See you in the pages of Trial Of Love!


Filed under books, fiction, history, Mike Simpson, writing

The Sum of All Nightmares Comes True: Read This and Pray with Me That I’m Wrong by Mike Simpson

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, as I drove home, I gazed with skepticism at the long lines of people gassing up their cars. Among the rumors going around that day was that American oil and gasoline supplies would be cut off. That turned out, as I suspected, not to be true. My daughter called that night and asked if I thought she should leave the city where she lived. There was a the rumor going around that, since there was a nearby oil tank “farm,” it would be a high value target to those attacking our nation. While I had a real sense that nobody was coming to blow up those oil tanks, I also knew she’d feel more secure if she took her cat and dog and stayed with a friend that night. As it turned out, the rumors about the tank farm were also untrue.MikeI’m the guy who doesn’t buy into scams and rumors, even when our nation is under attack. Regarding 9-11, my intuition from the beginning was that those who conducted the attack had a fairly limited plan. They had no ability to take over the entire country or destroy all the potential “soft targets” in our land. They just wanted to terrorize us and disrupt our lives to maximum extent possible with the relatively limited resources they possessed.

At this moment, however — as a person who is always skeptical about alarms, rumors and conspiracy theories — I feel the need to echo a warning. I have a quite rational fear about what may have happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and what may happen to us as a result.

I am writing this blog on the afternoon of the Ides of March, 2014. At this writing the current supposition about MA 370 is that it ran out of fuel as it flew, fell into the Indian Ocean and sank. While it would mean 279 people died tragically, I really hope that scenario is true, because most of the alternatives possibilities are much worse. My fondest hope is that the concerns I’m unpacking here are completely unfounded.

Like so many others who have watched this unfolding mystery with curiosity, I pretty much decided several days ago that it wasn’t mechanical failure but human intervention that caused the flight to vanish. If you consider the manner of the jet’s disappearance, it clearly supports the idea that a plan was in place to make a plane go missing at a time and in a place where it’s absence would be difficult to detect and tracking it would be next to impossible: 1) flying long after dark, 2) shutting off communication devices systematically, 3) turning abruptly and flying into an area where there would be little civilian tracking available, 4) altering altitude several times—which would among other things make satellite tracking more difficult. Ultimately it seems quite possible the hijacker flew out across the vast, deep Indian Ocean to make it appear that it crashed there. If that was a ruse—the way everything else the hijacker did was a ruse—then it’s still working: a dozen navies are scouring the seas for a jet that I think probably never hit the water.

As I was trying to piece various possibilities together last night, I read a chilling comment at the end of a news article dealing with the flight’s change in altitude. The strange jump up to 45,000 feet, I learned, would make its fuel last longer and would make it more difficult for satellites to track. However the real reason for this dangerous change in altitude, according to the comment, would be to kill the passengers. Soaring to 45,000 feet and depressurizing the cabin would freeze and suffocate the passengers. Even if the famous buttercup airbags deployed, those in the cabin would have at most twenty minutes of air. Those in the cockpit would have substantially more air as well as protection from the frigid temperatures.

An eerie awareness descended on me as I began to put together some of the things I had heard (that had not been discredited). We know the plane did not come apart catastrophically. We also know that passengers these days are savvy enough to try to establish contact from endangered planes and also are more than willing to take on potential hijackers. Did no one on the plane have a satellite phone? In the days following the disappearance, passengers’ phones rang—indicating they were viable, but none were answered. Why no news from the passengers? Perhaps it’s because they suffocated swiftly at 45,000 feet. Once that occurred, any hijackers would not have to worry about being rushed or having to care for traumatized people.

Of course the old saying is, “a dead hostage is useless.” Wouldn’t it defeat the purposes of an air pirate to kill those he has kidnapped? Wouldn’t those potentially paying ransom want assurances that the passengers were alive and unharmed? Given the extensive ongoing search for the jet, wouldn’t kidnappers hasten to make contact with authorities and consummate a ransom deal before their whereabouts were discovered? Since the answer to all those questions is “yes,” then it seems logical to assume that this is not an act of air piracy.

If the hijackers didn’t want the passengers, what did they want? They wanted the plane.

Those who took MA 370 have demonstrated with awful clarity that they know how to fly it, how to manipulate all its systems, how to avoid radar detection and how to distract the foremost experts in commercial jet avionics. If the hijacker or hijackers are not at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, then it seems to me we must admit they have been two steps ahead of those pursuing them from the very beginning. In order to catch up, then, it seems to me we should ask where this journey ultimately might be leading.

Let’s start by asking why would they want the plane? My guess is they want to turn it into a single use weapon, one that can travel up to 7000 miles at 600 miles an hour and blend in with other aircraft (whose flight paths and travel times seem to be known to the hijacker). Only, what can you do with just one jet? Well, not far north of the area where the flight disappeared are a number of former Soviet republics and a couple other nations that possess nuclear weapons. I think it’s possible that this plane is being fitted with a nuclear device.

So, just for the sake of argument, if you were the sort of person who would hijack a jetliner and kill all the passengers aboard it, and if you had a nuclear bomb and high-flying way to deliver it, where would you detonate it? If you wanted to obliterate Israel, you could blow it up there. Or you could take out any major European capital. After 9-11 and its aftermath, however, I’m just paranoid enough to think that the United States might be the most tantalizing target of all.

Where in the US would you strike with a nuclear device? As 9-11 demonstrated, you can demolish the financial heart of the nation and the American economy pretty much keeps on percolating. So I find myself wondering if those with that sort of weapon might be more likely to strike the nation’s capital. A single nuclear weapon detonated at the worst possible moment has the potential to decimate or eliminate the entire elected leadership of our nation—and like the passengers on MA 370—they might never see it coming. Additionally, an unforeseen nuclear strike on Washington could turn irreplaceable artifacts, documents and facilities to dust, contaminating the surrounding area and making it uninhabitable in the process.

I’ve left out the worst result of a nuclear strike on any major city: the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. And that brings me to the most ironic part of this nightmare scenario: there are at least a couple places in this world where our nation is hated because of drone strikes that allegedly have taken the lives of innocent civilians. I have to ask myself if those who might possess stolen a Boeing 777 and may have turned it into a flying atomic bomb might also consider the sudden death of innocent American citizens from the sky a sort of ironic turnabout.

Again, I would love to be wrong about all this supposition, though nothing yet has said to me that it isn’t entirely possible and quite plausible. As noted, if this scenario is transpiring, then those conducting it are ruthless, clever and competent. As said above, these folks, like the 9-11 attackers, just want to terrorize us and disrupt our lives to maximum extent possible with the relatively limited resources they possessed.

What do we have going for us in trying to ferret out and stop such an attack? Time, maybe. We know that it has taken terrorists a certain amount of time to ready and carry out their plans in the past. With so many people searching for the plane, however, one might assume the hijackers will act as swiftly as possible. Technology is also on the side of the civilized nations here. Avionic experts have a global grid of multiple varieties of surveillance and communication that might be tweaked and tasked with detecting this plane should it ever take to the air again. We also have civilization on our side. Much as we may detest certain other nations and their leaders, it’s quite clear that civilized human beings would cooperate in deterring an unprovoked nuclear attack.

In his book The Sum of All Fears, the late Tom Clancy wrote of an unprovoked nuclear attack as being the inspiration for his title. The thing is, that was just a fanciful story with no actual basis in fact. What’s worse than a make-believe story and worse than worrisome rumors, however, is a horrific nightmare scenario that might really occur—it’s like the sum of all our nightmares turning out to be true. I hope you’ll join me in praying that this awful dream never comes true, and that those entrusted with the safety of ours and other nations have been thinking about these possibilities as well.


Filed under history, Mike Simpson, musings

Artistic New Port Richey, FL

New Port Richey, with a population of approximately 15,000, is about 35 miles northwest of Tampa in Pasco County on the Gulf of Mexico. One to two story buildings comprise the main thoroughfare which is lined with street lights topped by old-time glass globes, adding charming ambiance to mainly small businesses and restaurants, and much of the architecture of years ago has been preserved. The Pithlachascotee River (try to say that three times fast!) meanders through the downtown area with a river walk for visitors and residents alike to enjoy. In the 1920’s, New Port Richey was gaining a reputation as the Hollywood of the East, since many famous people and movie stars visited and bought homes here. The depression years changed that and it remained a small, but lovely city.

Over the last several years artists have been encouraged to paint historic themed murals on the downtown buildings and I recently decided to walk around and take pictures. What was originally to be a photographic exercise turned out to be a relaxing and delightful afternoon’s stroll of discovery.

Some of the murals had a whimsical feel, others were a tromp l’oeil experience. I had the feeling some of the likenesses were of past leaders of the community, people with whom I was unfamiliar, but it didn’t matter. If that were true, I was glad they were recognized.

I returned home feeling pleased I live in such a creative community, a place where people value history and the arts. I felt inspired to try being creative in some way too. I felt happy.

Does something about your community inspire you or make you happy?







Filed under Art, history, Travel

Ghosts of my past and present – by Nicole Eva Fraser

Mikmaq womenWhen I was in my thirties, I discovered major secrets on my mother’s side of the family: she was Pennsylvania Shawnee a hundred years back on her father’s side, which was forgivable—but her maternal great-grandmother and many other female relatives were full-blooded Micmac Indians from Canada. My mother’s disowned brother was the rebel who had hunted down this truth.

Having Micmac blood was kept a family secret because, in early 20th-century Boston, Micmacs were considered contemptible, inferior creatures, similar to the low-caste untouchables of India.

My mother’s parents were social and professional climbers who benefited from the Scottish heritage that lightened their hair and skin. Their Indian blood, however, explained the fierce eyes, the broad foreheads and faces, the silent endurance and the melancholy that persisted through the generations to me.

My mother’s mother’s side of the family descended from Scottish Highland troops, who came to Atlantic Canada around 1800, and their Micmac Indian wives. The women were native to the region that became Campbellton, New Brunswick, across the Restigouche River from Québec.

Those original Scots settlers married Micmac women, had sons who grew up and married Micmac women, and so on. In the 1890s, some of these men packed up their wives and children and emigrated from Canada to Boston in search of better lives. The full-blooded Micmac women, my great-great grandmothers and aunts, were closeted away, and died before I was born in Boston in 1959.

Soon after learning about my hidden heritage, I found out through research that the Micmacs are a tribe with very little recorded history. The one book I uncovered is a cobbling-together of disparate historical items dating back to the 1500s—journal notes from French and Scots explorers; a few drawings and, later, photographs; Quebecois census pages; transcriptions of brief conversations with Micmac elders.

A few of those disparate pieces of history gave me an immediate sense of connection to my ancestors.

For example, the first French explorers who sailed into an Atlantic Canadian harbor in 1534 were greeted by tribesmen who ran into the water bearing gifts and calling, “Nikmaq! Nikmaq!” which means “My kin-friends! My kin-friends!” The innocence and naiveté of the Micmacs’ open hearts led ultimately to their destruction—a fractured innocence I relate to.

French explorer Chretien Le Clerc, writing around 1680 in Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula, said, “One cannot express the tenderness and affection which the fathers and mothers have for their children. I have seen considerable presents offered to the parents in order that they might give the children to certain Frenchmen who would have taken them to France. But this would have torn their hearts, and millions would not induce them to abandon their children for a moment.” That fierce, tender, all-consuming love runs also in my veins for my sons.

And the eighteenth-century missionary priest Abbé Maillard documented the Micmacs’ affinity for rhyming metered verse: “I take care of observing measure and cadence in the delivery of my words…I affect, above all, to rhyme as they do…If I read this (language) to you myself, the rhyming talent of these people would be obvious.” I was born with a flair for rhyme and meter, a quality that led me into a surprisingly successful career writing verses for commercial products.

Beyond the connections of history, Micmac myths and legends rang true to my own difficult growing-up story.

Micmac legends are dark; nothing is as it seems; no one is as they seem; very few of the tales have happy endings. Hideous, violent beings stalk the innocent ones, and at any moment, a seeming Hero could become a Villain and vice versa, because the universe is unpredictable and unreliable.

Many of the Micmac legends are universal—they would ring true for lots of people. Tales about marriage being a dangerous partnership. Cautionary tales about the mistake of flaunting your Power. Stories about the strong bonds between siblings, and between people and animals. One story about a grief-stricken father who braves the terrors of Ghost World in a desperate attempt to bring his child back from the dead.

I could see that the universality was one reason the Micmac legends had endured.

And that was the beginning of my novel The Hardest Thing in This World. I decided to weave, with universal threads, a story about ghosts, mental illness, and family—threads that many of us share.

I wanted to write a story that whispers to the reader, This is a little bit of what it was like for me, for us. This is how I see it. 

A story that asks Do you want to know what it was like? or Was it this way for you, too?

A story that invites the reader in and says I hope you try to understand, or You belong.

Your stories matter. Your life matters. And when you’re gone, your stories remain to affirm I was here. My life had meaning.

Nicole Eva Fraser is the author of The Hardest Thing in This World, released by Second Wind Publishing in October 2013.


Filed under history