Category Archives: Maribeth Shanley

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in the footsteps of alcohol, the sale of which was prohibited under the law via the Eighteenth Amendment and then repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933.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.

* * * * * * *

                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!

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            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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Filed under history, Maribeth Shanley, writing

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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Humans are Not Born Hating – Humans Learn to Hate

My introduction to the hatred of racism was stark and unforgettably poignant. I was nine years old.

With my family, I had just moved from my birthplace in East Providence, Rhode Island to Pensacola, Florida. Before the move, I had no idea white people hated black people. I wasn’t aware of color.

Raised a Catholic, our new neighborhood was located in St. John’s Parrish. However, since we moved in the middle of the school year, for my older brother, Danny, and myself, St. John’s School was at capacity. We had to go to school in downtown Pensacola. We were enrolled at St. Michael’s which required a city bus ride.

My dad was a U.S. Naval officer. He arranged for Danny and myself to ride our bicycles from home to a fellow officer’s home. So, on a Monday morning, we set off on our thirty-minute ride. Once there, we met the woman of the house who showed us where to park our bikes and the location of the bus stop. The lady was kind enough to wait with us on the sidewalk in front of her house.

The bus arrived about ten minutes later. Danny and I boarded the bus. Danny paid our fare, and he sat down on the seat directly behind the white haired, bespeckled bus driver. I didn’t want to sit up front.

While growing up in Rhode Island, my grandmother would take me to downtown Providence on a city bus which stopped a half block to the right of our street and on the main street, Pawtucket Avenue. We always sat in the very back of the bus. With memories of my then lucid grandmother, the rear seat became my favorite seat.
Without noticing anything different or strange regarding who was sitting up front versus who was sitting toward the back of the bus, I walked the long isle to the back and sat down in the middle. I was the only person sitting in the long, brown leather seat. The middle allowed me to look out both windows, right and left, as well as out the back window.

Once I was seated, the bus doors closed and the bus began to move. I was enjoying my ride as I dangled my feet which didn’t yet touch the floor. I recall a few people sitting toward the back watched me. I smiled at them, and they smiled back.

Several minutes later, the bus stopped to pick up other passengers. Before the bus driver shut the doors, I looked up to see Danny walking toward me. At first, I thought he had decided to sit in the back seat as well. I was wrong.

He stood in front of me and said, “The bus driver said you couldn’t sit back here. He told me to tell you to come up front to sit.”

I recall asking why to which Danny answered, “I don’t know, but he said you couldn’t sit back here.” I

I wasn’t convinced as I barked back, “Well, you aren’t my father, so I don’t have to do what you tell me to do. I like it back here! This is my favorite seat.”

Danny looked disappointed as he turned around and walked back to the front of the bus.

I was looking out the side windows and waiting for the bus to begin moving again. Suddenly, however, the doors, which the driver had shut, burst open with such fury that its thunder ripped through the silence of the bus. I was frightened as I looked up to see the bus driver now standing looking back down the isle.

We all waited as the tall, skinny, white haired driver pointed a long arm and a long, skinny, crooked finger at the back of the bus. Now other passengers were turned around looking at me when the driver yelled, “You, little girl. You better march yourself up here to the front, or I am going to put both you and your brother off the bus right here. Now, march!”

Scared to death, I got up and walked to the front and sat next to Danny in the seat directly behind the driver. I recall one old lady smiled at me as I walked toward the front.

Later that evening, I told my mom what had happened and asked her why I had to sit up front. She explained that we now lived in the south which was a very different place than where we used to live. Rhode Island, she explained, was a northern State. She continued to assert that, in the south, black people were not allowed to interact with white people. She tried her best to explain the meaning of segregation, telling me segregation applied to every interaction, even on bus rides. White people were allowed to sit up in the front portion of the bus, while black people had to sit in the back. White people and black people weren’t allowed to sit with each other or in the same vicinity. Through observation, I would learn that if all the rear seats were occupied, black people who boarded the bus had to stand in the aisle, holding on to the metal poles above their heads until one of the “blacks only” seats became vacant. Even if there were vacant seats in the “whites only” portion of the bus, black people were not allowed to sit in those vacant seats.

The next day, my second day of school, my bus ride to and from school was an entirely different experience. I watched as white people got on the bus and sat on the forward side of the middle door, while black people walked to the seats behind the middle door. No blacks sat up front, and no whites sat in the back. Soon I was noticing other differences. During that school year, I watched little old black ladies with their grocery carts filled with grocery bags board the bus. There were always more black people riding the bus than there were white people. Too, most of the blacks were women of all ages. I recall one little old lady boarded the bus with her loaded grocery cart. There were no vacant seats, so she had to stand. Her face expressed exhaustion. Plus, she was very short in stature, causing her to have a difficult time reaching up to the overhead rail to hold on. Several times, when the bus would stop, she stumbled nearly falling to the floor. I was seated in one of the long seats which faced the center of the bus. I watched this lady struggle. I felt sad that I had to keep my mouth shut because I wanted to get up and give her my seat.
My mother was right. Segregation was everywhere.

All Department stores had four bathrooms. Two were marked as White Men and White Women while two other doors read Colored Men and Colored Women. Also, there were two separate water fountains in every store. One had a sign above that read White Only and the other read Colored Only. I also began to notice that black people rarely looked directly at white people, while white people always looked suspiciously at black people. It was a difficult, confusing three years living in Pensacola.

I never adjusted to living in the south. I couldn’t wait to move back to Rhode Island. Although my parents never talked at length about the separation, intuitively, I knew it was wrong. Sometimes, when no one was looking, I smiled at a black woman if she looked at me. Some smiled back while most did not, but immediately looked away from me.

As it causes pain for all decent people, I am sad that our country is once again experiencing the angst of hatred by one race against others including blacks, Mexicans, Latinos, and distrust of those whose religion is the topic of scorn. The most depressing piece of this new hatred and distrust is fostered and encouraged by the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. When I was that young girl living in Pensacola, Florida, I couldn’t understand how or why white people could hate another group of people because of the color of their skin. I am no longer that little girl, yet, I still have difficulty grasping the hatred the has reared its ugly head recently.

During my years working as a regional manager for McCormick, I recall traveling to the Miami area. I loved Miami because, like New York City, it was a great example of our country’s proud heritage called the melting pot. So many different ethnicities live in the Miami area. I loved traveling to Miami for its wealth of diversity.

I don’t know what the future holds for our country. There’s so much hatred and fear that seems to permeate our country. Even some liberal minded people seem to fear and resent the undocumented people who live and work hard in the U.S. What on earth do people have to fear?

 

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FINAL LANDING PAD

           I am so happy that we have finally moved into our very last house. My days of packing and unpacking are done!
As there’s lots of work to do in a previously owned house, there’s lots of work to do around a new house. Most of the work, for me at least, is outside.
I’ve always loved adding flowers to the perimeter of all houses in which we’ve lived. Past houses included creating new beds, sometimes significant, complete with a bench or two and a path through the garden. I’m afraid I’m way over the new bed syndrome. In fact, I’m not even terribly enthusiastic about adding the flowers, vines and such to my perimeters. It’s hard work!
Impatients

          Two houses ago, I discovered perennials. I used to plant mostly annuals. Not anymore. For this house, I’ve planted several annuals for that immediate wow effect. Fortunately, I now live in South Carolina where winters are mostly mild. I expect some of my annuals will come back, e.g., Lantana. One year in Tennessee, where we lived twice for a total of 31 years, my Impatients along a fence border came back. I’ve planted Impatients on the shady side of this house. However, I’m not holding my breath they will come back. After all, the first two years we lived here were unusually cold ones. So, perennials have become my new BFF.
gazing ball

I’ve bought about a half dozen ready to plant perennials such as coneflowers. I love coneflowers. This year, there seems to be a wider variety of new colors. Not only are there the traditional white and pink coneflowers, but there’s yellow and orange that add a lot of wow to any garden.
Now that I have some color in my perimeter garden, I’m relying on buying perennials from catalog nurseries who have, in recent years, expanded to the Internet. I am an avid internet shopper.
Like gardening, I used to be a regular mall shopper. I loved going to the mall. It didn’t matter that I would return home empty handed. I liked looking. Not anymore. It’s too time-consuming, and now, I’d rather get my walking time in walking our dog with my husband. So, the Internet has been a BFF for a long time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m one of the original avid Internet customers.
One of my favorite catalog/internet nurseries is Spring Hill located in Ohio. I’ve bought from them for probably twenty years and four previous houses. Their prices are reasonable, the variety is significant, the plants hardy and, if some of them don’t make it, they will replace them the next planting season. I bought about a dozen plants this spring and lost only three. I’ll order more plants in the fall. In the meantime, I can’t wait for my hard copy of their catalog. I love looking through the hard copy as I plan what I will order and plant next.
Once I am satisfied that I have filled my gardens with ample flowers and vines, the next target is early spring planting, e.g., daffodils, tulips and such. I was under the impression that those cold weather bulb plants wouldn’t do well in SC. However, the landscaper who mulched and created a beautiful stone edging for my gardens told me they love South Carolina weather. I hope he’s right. I’ll make sure by asking the question of nursery owners. I love spring bulb flowers, so, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that two fall seasons from now, I’ll plant spring bulbs.
My last two homes, I bought worm castings from a company called Worms Way. Castings, when spread in the flower beds, become live brown worms which are the very best way to aerate your gardens. Plus their waste creates wonderful compost. Castings are inexpensive and natural. Worms Way evidently went out of business, but good ole, dependable Amazon had several suppliers. So early spring, I bought castings and spread them throughout the gardens. As I dug holes for my first few annuals, I also dug up a big juicy worm. I was thrilled to see the little guy or gal. I knew I had lots more who were deep in the ground aerating away.
I also bought a compost bin from Amazon. I tried composting several years ago but wasn’t successful. This time, I also bought a thousand red composting wiggler worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. They came packed in a box and secured from crawling around in a green bag. Once my compost bin was put together and set up over the right spot behind a few bushes, I followed the instructions to loosen the soil about 18” X 18.” I then opened the bag dumped in the worms, and the traveling material then covered them with wet newspaper. They will rehydrate and become visibly active as they begin to break down the grass clippings, pine needles, egg shells, banana peels and a few other worm-tasty goodies. I’m looking forward to the worms producing nutrient-enriched compost I will feed my flowers. There’s an added value my compost bin and the wigglers will provide. Because I’ve never been a vegetable gardener, I can dump my dog’s waste into the bin as well. The wigglers will do their job of breaking the waste down into compost.
Not only am I a lover of beautiful flowers, but I also love what is called yard art.

yard art
I recall the first gazing ball I placed in a garden in the backyard of our first house. The red gazing ball sat atop a concrete column. My next door neighbors had never seen a gazing ball. In fact, the female neighbor asked me if I was trying to call home, ala ET fashion. I regret leaving my last red gazing ball atop a wrought iron ball stand for the people who bought our last house. Red gazing balls are hard to find. However, a trip to one of my favorite brick and mortar stores, Hobby Lobby, sent me home with a short stand and a multi-colored blue/pink ball. It’s pretty where it currently sits.

yard art 2
I have other yard art in my gardens such as shepherd hooks with hanging plants, bird baths with sun generated fountains, and melodious wind chimes. My gardens are looking good. I even ordered a second wind spinner like the one I already owned. It’s sitting in the garden I share with a next door neighbor and has the utility box in the middle. I do love wind spinners. This one I have is my favorite. It reminds me of the tall ships of yesteryear.

wind spinner 2
Finishing off my outdoors is my love for birds. I love feeding the birds.
When we began visiting the lot our house sits on; I noted there weren’t too many birds in the area. Surrounded by trees, we chose to back up to one of the two lakes versus the wooded perimeter. I wasn’t confident that I would attract a lot of birds right off the bat. I suspected that I would be able to attract a pair of bluebirds since I did see several. Thus, one of the first things I did was set up my bluebird house. One pair built a nest around the middle of March. I watched the parents build the nest, feed their babies and carry out the small white sacks of poop. Years ago when I began attracting bluebirds, I read they will not nest in a used nest, even their own. I was about to open the box and pull out the nest when I noticed they were back in the box. They had their second nestlings. I lost track of when they began nesting the second time when I noticed that the male was sitting on one of my shepherd hooks with nesting material in his mouth. I walked far enough away to note that he was building a nest in another birdhouse. I thought, hmm, I wonder if there’s a reason they didn’t return to the same box. When I opened the box and put my hand in the nest, I felt an unhatched egg. This time, I pulled the entire nest out of the box. Within a day the pair began building their nest in the original box. I’m told that in South Carolina, bluebirds will nest up to four times each season. I’ll have to keep an eye on the box since I would love to encourage a fourth nest.
Bluebird numbers have declined over the last few decades due to competition with sparrows and Starlings. I’m happy to help the population build to a healthy population again. I’ll keep these birds coming back to my yard all year long too by continuing to feed them mealworms.

blue bird house
We have a Wild Birds Unlimited down the street. They sell live mealworms that are packed in oatmeal. Stored in my refrigerator, I can feed the bluebirds these live worms. I also bought a bag of dried mealworms. In the past, I haven’t had much luck with bluebirds eating the dried variety. However, this pair seem to love both. The dried worms are less expensive and easier to store.
I do also have a nice variety of other species that include: cardinals, sparrows, purple finches and the cutest little birds I can’t identify. This little bird makes a squeaky sound much like the squeaky sound of a dog’s squeaky toy. One of the couples nested in a box hanging from one side of a double shepherd hook. I need to take a photo of them and ask the people at Wild Birds Unlimited if they can help me to identify this sweet bird.  Backing up to a lake is fun for bird viewing as well.  It’s a new lake, however, we already have a few Egrets, two Blue Herons and a small Green Heron who visit frequently.  Oh, did I mention, we also have our very own alligator?
alligator on bank

In the past, I’ve been fortunate to attract hummingbirds. I did not expect that I would attract these little acrobats this year. However, I put out a feeder in April.

hummer2

To my surprise, two little gymnasts showed up almost immediately. They must have been waiting for me to come along.
I’m well on my way to finishing planting so I can have years of enjoying my flowers spread and bloom with little more needed from me than to feed them, compost around them and provide sufficient drinks of water. I’m looking forward to my low-maintenance yard in the not too distant future; one that’s alive with color, butterflies, hummingbirds and the songs of birds along with chimes singing to a soft breeze. All will soothe my soul as I sit on my upper deck or lower patio reading or falling to sleep.

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A Year Of Change – by Maribeth Shanley

My year, 2017 began in November of 2016.  It began with the election; one where our country had the grand opportunity to elect a formidable, caring and genuinely ethical woman to lead our country.  Instead, our country, driven by what I still consider an obsolete, Electoral College, elected the most uninformed, lazy, crude, rude, secretive man in history to become the leader of our country.

I spent the rest of 2016 and well into 2017 mourning the death of a dream.  I’ve been through all the stages of grief which began with severe sadness and evolved into anger and action of that anger.  It’s interesting and oddly ironic that along with a change in myself, the investigation of this grossly inept president is heating up as connections to our country’s arch-enemy, Russia under a cruel and cunning dictator, Vladimir Putin is discovered, and people are unmasked.

As I was experiencing the multi-stages of grief, the loss hit again.  This loss was intimate and unexpected.  My little male fur child, Pooker died.  Diagnosed as being diabetic, Pooker continued to experience complications as they became more severe and frequent.   As I stood on the precipice of a new stage of grief, on February 4, 2017, Pooker died in my arms.  This time, I fell harder than ever back into the first several stages of grief:  shock, denial, pain and guilt.  I experienced destruction as my heart felt like lumps of rubble.

elvis-has-left-the-building

Time has passed; and, with that passing, I am recovering.  I no longer feel the anger I did over the election; and, I no longer feel the complete devastation I felt when Pooker left us.  I am experiencing a rebirth.

Bob_Chopper[2293]

Today, Friday, June 2nd, my husband, Bob, officially retires.  We’ve lived in Myrtle Beach for three years, and I have experienced the area on a limited basis.  I have one friend I met at the gym Bob, and I visit three times each week.  Except on weekends, the time at the gym gives Bob, and I time together.  I’ve been grateful for that together time.  However, I have craved more.  Bob is not only my husband of 46 years; he’s the light of my life and my best friend in the world!  Beginning tomorrow, I will have the opportunity to spend as much time with Bob as will be possible.  Plus, we will use much of that time, at least in the beginning, exploring the surrounding areas of North and South Carolina into the coast of Georgia.  Prime on our list is Savannah, Georgia.  Since the book turned movie,  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I’ve wanted to visit Savannah.  

Next year, we hope to cross the country to the Pacific coast.  I’ve traveled by land as far as Greely, Colorado.  I only experienced a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains.  On multiple occasions, I’ve seen them from the air as I traveled back and forth with the company I worked for.  Bob has seen the entire western portion of the U.S.  The trip will take two and possibly three weeks to complete as we travel out to the west taking the northern route through the Rocky Mountains and out to the Seattle area.  We will then travel down the coast to San Diego.  From there, we will travel back home via the southwest route.  Such a trip will enable us to experience the full beauty of our country.  

We’ve discussed traveling outside the country.  I’m not sure we will be in a hurry to do that.  I’m not interested in Europe.  Other than our continent, the only continent I’ve wanted to visit is Africa. 

Senufo mask

At 29 and when I began my senior year at the University of Illinois, I enrolled in what I thought would be an easy class.  I enrolled in a Western Africa Art Appreciation class.  It actually turned out to be the hardest class I had taken.  In fact, after the first quiz, I talked to the professor.  She informed me that I had enrolled in an advanced class and counseled me that I still had time to drop her class and pick up something else.  However, by that conversation, I had fallen head over heels in love with Africa.  I loved the different cultures and the idea of all the wonderful animals.  I stuck with the class as I spent extra hours reading literature at the University library.  I managed to get a C from the class, the only C of my four years at the university.  However, it was a C I was extremely proud of.  To this day, I can look at a piece of Western African art and know which tribe created it.  Thus, Africa is definitely in our future. 

I only recently became aware of my change.  The emotions of that transformation are calm with a hint of excitement.  Humans work all their lives beholden to companies and individuals with those companies while they are never able to imagine how retiring feels.  For most, it’s a frightening proposition.  Many people don’t prepare for it.  We’ve been preparing for five years.

Five years ago we agreed that I would retire and Bob would continue to work.  I left the corporate world in 2004 to run my clothing company, Iron Cowgirls.   In 2008 when the market crashed, and I was forced to sell the business, it quickly became evident that I had little to no opportunity of re-entering my old profession at the same salary with which I had left.  There were too many people with my talents competing for the same jobs; and, most of them were younger than me.  Thus, after trying the commission only world, I realized it wasn’t a good fit as I lost more than I gained.  So, I retired and took on the continued task of managing the finances with a focus on enabling Bob to retire debt free.  It’s been a daunting task, especially since the sale of my company didn’t clear out all the debt it acquired over the four years I managed it full time.  However, never shrinking from a challenge, I managed to knockout, one by one, every single debt Iron Cowgirls and we had acquired.  When Pooker became ill, we had a slight setback, but even it will be gone as, tomorrow, Bob files his last expense report.

During this entire process, I’ve come to recognize that working toward Bob’s retirement has been cathartic.  I feel a flush of excitement and a sense of peace as I anticipate the rest of our lives.  This process made itself evident when, yesterday, as I was dressing, I had an overwhelming feeling which culminated in my saying out loud, “I no longer have anything to prove to anyone.”  I have no one to prove myself to, and that includes me!

I will continue to write because I love writing.  Too, it’s simply exciting to know I have a talent I never dreamed I had.  I am currently working on an anthology of short stories.  I also want to finally write that memoir which will include my entire family.  I have other books as well that I’ve begun and left hanging.  The one thing I will not do, however, is hold myself to a time table.  I will write when I want to believing that approach will encourage me to write more.  No pressure, the sheer enjoyment of writing will push me naturally.  Now it’s Bob’s opportunity to discover what he likes to do. 

I have no doubt he will find something and maybe he will find multiple somethings.  Bob is brilliant, funny and very talented in so many areas.   The one thing I do know, he will enjoy his retirement.  So many people sink into depression feeling they are now worthless.  Not me and not Bob!  We will continue to thrive individually and together.  With all my heart, I look forward to our future and the many adventures I know we will have.

 

 

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Time to Ride!

I’ve been riding my own motorcycle for about thirty-five years.  I love riding my bike.  It’s probably one of the most empowering feeling a woman can experience.

HD sprint

My first exposure to motorcycles happened one evening after I met my husband, Bob.  The year was 1970.  He owned a 1967 Harley Sprint 350,  made in Italy.  That model was produced before the quality Harley Davidsons of today.

Early in the 1980’s, Harley Davidson nearly went extinct.  Mismanagement and Japanese competition nearly killed the Company.  “In 1981, however, a group of executives who loved the company and its product closed ranks to rescue Harley-Davidson from decline.” (from Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time by Daniel Gross, et al.)  By adopting Japanese quality control and production methods, these executives reinvented Harley Davidson.  Bob and I had a grand opportunity to buy shares in the new company.  Ignorance and a lack of funds stood in our way.  In hindsight, we should have taken out a loan.

The evening Bob broke out his small Sprint, I stood on the sidewalk watching him ride it down the street in front of his apartment building.  Half-way down to the end of the road, he did a wheelie.  His “trick” scared me to death.  Later that evening Bob admitted it was his first wheelie and he also confirmed that it frightened him as well.  He sold the bike soon after.

We married in September of 1970.   Bob never got over his desire for another motorcycle.  In the meantime, he followed the Harley Davidson company.  In 1982, we were talking seriously about buying our first home.  I knew how much Bob wanted another HD, so I told him, “Before we take on a mortgage, I want you to buy a motorcycle.  If you don’t do it now, you may not be able to get one.”

In 1982, we went down to one of the local Harley Davidson stores.  We lived in the Nashville, TN area.  We met and made friends with the owners of that dealership.  Bubba Boswell, the son of the owner, was learning the business so his father could retire.  Bubba sold Bob his first authentic, made in the U.S.A. Harley Davidson.  He purchased a Roadster 1,000 with a “Fat Bob” tank.

Bobs first bike

The day he picked it up and rode it home, I followed him in our car.  I was so nervous for Bob that I didn’t allow a car to pull in front of me and behind him to exit the I-40 split.  I felt bad afterward as the driver blew his horn and flipped me the bird for my action.  However, I didn’t want anyone else driving behind Bob and his new motorcycle.

We arrived home safely and, later that day Bob, and I went out for a ride.  I was anxious at first.  He had what is called a passenger “sissy” pad attached to the back fender.  However, he didn’t purchase a “sissy” bar.  The sissy bar gives the passenger a false sense of safety.  The bar is designed to help prevent the passenger from sliding back and off the bike.  I had to hold Bob around the waste instead.  When we finally arrived back home, I knew I was in love with riding.  Later that week, Bubba called Bob to tell him about the Boswell rides which took place once every month.  We were eager to ride with the group and met all sorts of great people, some of whom we rode with during off-ride weekends.  It was, however, on one of the Boswell’s rides that I got the bug to ride my own motorcycle.

We were riding in a group of about thirty motorcycles when I spotted a young woman several bikes ahead of us.  She was riding her own root beer brown Low Rider.  The year was 1985.  I was mesmerized by the sight of this woman whose long dark hair was tied off by a white scarf.  Her hair and the long white scarf danced in the wind.  I thought her vision was the coolest vision I had ever had.

At lunch, I ran up to her and asked her about her bike and experience.  She encouraged me to get a bike for myself.  Bob and I talked about the idea that evening.  The more we discussed the subject, the more we decided that, for budget reasons, I should get a Japanese-made motorcycle.  Later that year, however, I came home from a business trip and was greeted by a wonderful surprise.

I walked into our garage where I immediately noticed a bright light hung from the overhead garage door rail.  The beam illuminated a shiny royal blue 883 model Sportster with a huge red bow on the handle bars.  My heart skipped several beats when I noticed the words scrolled on the tank.  They read Harley Davidson.

I immediately realized Bob wasn’t home.  I didn’t want to ruin his surprise, so I quickly ducked back out of the side door, locking it behind me.  I jumped in my  car.  I rode around for about an hour at which time I drove back into our cul-de-sac, approached our driveway and saw our car sitting in the driveway.  I got out of my company car, opened the trunk and pulled out my suitcase.  As I entered the garage, Bob was standing in the garage next to the bike under the bright light.  He was beaming ear to ear.  I did my best to act surprised and must have been successful because it wasn’t until several months later that I confessed to Bob.

The following day, a Saturday, we took my bike out, and I got on.  I had been learning to ride and practicing my skills on Bob’s motorcycle.  We often went to the vacant Grand Ole Opry parking lot on Sundays where I would practice.  I started my 883 and began riding.  Bob would run from one end of the cul-de-sac to the other end as I would ride toward him practicing stopping.  I already knew not to lay on the front brake, because one practice ride on his bike, I gently laid down his bike on the front crash bar when I failed to use the foot brake but grabbed the hand break instead.

Riding back and forth in the cul-de-sac, I soon became too brave for my britches.  I thought to myself; I can do this.  So, much to Bob’s alarm, I left the cul-de-sac and began riding the bike through the neighborhood.  I was riding in the newer section of our subdivision when I rounded a corner too fast.  It was dusk, and the light from the setting sun confused me as I realized I was going too fast.  I had to make a split-second decision between laying down the bike on the asphalt versus the soft new grass of the front yard of an unoccupied house.  I chose the grass.  The bike did an 180-degree spin then toppled over with me on the bike.  I found myself sitting in the mud.  My right leg was pinned under the bike.  I sat up and turned around to see if anyone was around.  I needed help freeing my leg.  No one was around as all the surrounding homes were new and unoccupied.  I finally freed my leg, got up, bent down and picked up the bike.  I thought, I need to get Bob so he can come get this damned bike.  Then, however, I recalled what Bob once told me.  He said, “When a person lays down their bike, if that person doesn’t get back on it immediately, that person may become too afraid to ride alone again.”  Thus, I climbed back on my bike, started it up and drove it home.

Bob was panicked.  It had been over a half hour since I left the cul-de-sac.  He and our neighbors were looking for me.  He was standing in the driveway when I drove up.  My right turn signal was hanging off and dangling in mid-air.  Covered in mud, my bike had a small ding on the tank.  Bob was not pleased.  However, he was gentle with his scolding.  The following morning, he refused to ride my bike to Boswells.  Instead, he insisted that I ride it.  I did.  I followed Bob through all the back roads to Boswells, drove up the ramp and into the garage area.  A few weeks later, I picked my bike back up.  Bubba fixed everything but the small tank ding for next to nothing so we wouldn’t have to file an insurance claim.  That was my last incident for several years.

If you ride a motorcycle then you understand the saying,  ‘It’s not if you will crash, but when you will crash.’  I have had two significant crashes over the years.  Each time, I got back on my bike right after or soon after.

After my first crash, I refused to leave my bike where I crashed.  Instead, I insisted on riding it to the emergency room so I could have a gash on my chin stitched.  I recall the two guys we rode with begged me to ride on the back of Bob’s or their bike to the hospital.  The woman who rode with us pointed out that part of my chin was hanging down.  I looked down at my top and saw blood.  A female witness patched my chin, and off we rode with me on my bike.  Several days later one of the guys commented to me, “Next time don’t be so macho!”

My last crash was a nasty one.  We were in Myrtle Beach for Spring Bike Week.  Our friend and my Iron Cowgirls’ business partner and his girlfriend were with us.  Rick and I set up an Iron Cowgirls’ booth for the week.  Before the rally, we all went for a ride to Charleston, S.C. for lunch.  About thirty miles south of Myrtle Beach it began to rain.  We stopped to eat breakfast.  When the sun came back out, we got on our bikes.  Bob felt apprehensive and suggested we not drive the two hours to Charleston.  He had a foreboding intuition.  Being stubborn, I dismissed his fears and insisted we go.  We did.

On our way back to Myrtle Beach, Bob was in the lead, I followed behind him and Rick and his passenger, Cindy pulled up the rear.  It was a nice day, and we were enjoying the ride when suddenly I spotted a stray dog on my right side of the four-lane highway with a grassy median separating the lanes.  I slowed down when I spotted the dog.  I thought I saw the dog dart out onto the highway, so I swerved to my left.  I over-reacted and soon found myself off the highway.  I was on the narrow portion of the median where there was no grass but had traction.  I was concentrating on keeping my bike on that traction path while looking ahead trying to gauge where I could safely reenter the highway when I spotted a huge semi-truck tire depression in front of me.  I knew I had to ride through the depression.  I braced myself and held my breath as my mind yelled, Sh**.  I made it through the depression, sighed relief and thought, I should be fine now, as I also spied my escape route several hundreds of feet ahead.

Suddenly, however, my handlebars began to vibrate violently.  I felt confused as my mind asked,  What the hell is happening?  Then my mind screamed, This shouldn’t be happening!  I suddenly felt my front wheel turn into the grassy median.  I knew I was going to crash.  I did.  The next thing I knew I was face down and lying on the highway.  Later Bob told me he watched in his rear-view mirror as my body flew over the handlebars and tumbled onto the highway.  I tumbled down the highway several times until I stopped.

When I realized I was lying on the highway, I became alarmed.  I was at the bottom of a small hill.  I knew large lumber trucks traveled this highway on their way to the paper mill north of where I was lying.  I immediately jumped to my feet and ran over to where my bike was lying.  The handlebars were separated from the bike and lying close by.  I thought, My handlebars broke off in mid-air.  That’s why I felt the vibration!  I was standing over my bike cursing to myself when Bob and Rick with Cindy pulled up.  As Bob walked over to make sure I was okay, I said, “Bob, I think my handlebars broke in mid-air.”  Of course, Bob was too upset to listen more closely and Rick, who, at times, could be a know-it-all dismissed my comment later telling me the bars broke when I crashed.  Everything was happening so quickly that what I knew happened got lost in the flurry of events.

Fortunately, a Park Ranger was driving in the opposite direction when he also watched me crash.  He stopped to help.  We were about fifteen miles south of the Georgetown hospital when he offered to Bob to take me to the hospital.  Bob asked me to go with the ranger and asked Cindy if she would ride along with us.  I wasn’t comfortable riding with a strange man, so although I agreed, as the three of us walked toward his truck, I stopped, turned to him and said, “You better not do anything wrong because I’ll beat the sh** out of you.”  He smiled and assured me he was harmless.  He was.  He drove us to the hospital and dropped Cindy and me off. He gave us his name and phone number asking us to call him the next time we were all in Myrtle Beach.  He was a nice guy.  He wanted to have us over to his house for a barbecue the next time we were in the area.

I was fine.  I had a lot of road rash.  I have spots all over my body, including on my chin where the top layer of my skin was ripped off.  Those spots have no pigment to their color.  I have to apply a flesh-color crayon to cover the colorless patch on my chin.  The poor dog wasn’t as fortunate as me.  He did run into the median.  A couple in a truck stopped.  They were going to take the stray dog home with them but, when they tried to catch it, the dog panicked, ran back across the highway and was hit.  He died.  That made me very sad because, if only I had not overreacted, he may still be alive.  We found out later that lots of dogs were dumped off in the same proximity by careless owners who no longer wanted their dogs.

That night the shower I took was, by far, the most painful shower I’ve ever taken in my life.  Since the top layer of skin had been scraped off, I had lots of  sub-layers of exposed skin.  I had been wearing shorts that day and had a tank top on to boot.  Too, South Carolina has no helmet laws in place.  I was extremely lucky I wasn’t more severely injured.  That first evening Rick told me Bob sat down on the grass and cried when the ranger drove off.  Five years later, Cindy told me that they all expected they would come back to a dead body on the highway.  Thank my lucky stars, I’m still alive and only have to cover my chin with makeup to cover the patch.  I must admit, the following day I asked Rick who had a second motorcycle at home if I could ride it while my bike was in the shop.  I know, I’m slightly deranged.

While I was at the hospital, a highway patrol officer came by to take my statement.  My adrenaline was rushing through my body by then from realizing what had happened.  I forgot to tell the officer of my suspicion, that my handlebars had snapped in mid-air.  The only person who mentioned the handlebars was the fellow who helped us by picking up my motorcycle and dropping it off at our hotel.  He was a custom bike builder.  I told him what I thought happened.  I also told him what Rick said.  He assured me that the bars did not break upon impact.  His knowledge of motorcycles and his intuition suggested that they had broken before I crashed.  Thus, once we were back home, I began to conduct an investigation.

mb-s AIH

My bike was an American Ironhorse Texas Chopper.  The first phone call I made was to call the American Ironhorse Company.  I talked to the company’s vice president.  He acted concerned but didn’t satisfy my questions.  Thus, I also called a bolt manufacturer in the Nashville area.  I had the two sections of the broken bolts.  I talked to a bolt maker.  I told him the outside of the bolt was chrome.  However, the guts of the bolt looked like soft metal.  As I answered his questions, he told me he suspected that the bolts were an inferior make.  He further speculated that  the interior metal was inferior while the outer portion of the bolts were chrome versus the bolts being solid chrome.  I called a few lawyers in the area, but none of them seemed interested in talking further.  That I failed to mention it to the officer who wrote the report was a problem.  I soon dropped the issue but convinced Rick that the bars had indeed snapped in mid-air and as I rode through the depression.

I did call American Ironhorse a second time, but no one in management would talk to me again.  Ironically, when my bike was repaired and returned to me, it was better than new.  It was apparent that the assembly-line paint job had been dramatically improved.  The paint scheme was more dramatic and had more of an individually custom paint appearance.  My bike no longer looked like an assembly line bike.  The bike was white with cascading gray, biting skulls on the tank and fenders.  Both Bob and I believe American Ironhorse knew they had used faulty bolts.  Instead of talking to me again and chancing a lawsuit, they instructed the paint shop to give the bike a custom look, hoping I would be happy.

Since that crash, my riding has become more conservative.  It was such a violent crash that I recognize how fortunate I was to come away from it relatively unscathed.  I never want to have another experience like that again.  I also now listen to Bob when he has a bad feeling about something I shouldn’t do.

I’m now riding my ninth motorcycle.  In 2008, I traded my third Ironhorse Chopper, a hard tail (no suspension) one for a HD Cross-Bones.  I love my Cross-Bones which HD doesn’t make anymore.  However, my favorite motorcycle of all was my first Ironhorse.  It’s pictured below.  The model was called the Outlaw.  The paint scheme is a custom paint job.  I specifically asked for the colors.  The scheme reminded me of the “Billy Bike,” Dennis Hopper rode in the 1969 cult film, Easy Rider.

Outlaw

 

 

 

 

 

 

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