Readers’ Voices: An American in Cuba

Published March 3, 2015

USA Today features Tom Millington, a U.S educator in Cuba USA Today
Tom Millington wanted to be a diplomat. Instead, he’s an educator in Cuba. But he acts as an ambassador of sorts, coordinating a study abroad program that helps American students learn more about the island nation. And with the historic shift to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations announced Dec. 17, he is eager to see firsthand what happens next.

What do the U.S. and Cuba have in common? And what do Cuban students teach their American peers? Listen to this installment of Readers’ Voices.

Tom Millington teaches in Cuba.

Tom Millington teaches in Cuba.

Francis Parker Exploring South East Asia

Published February 18, 2015

Sunday, Feb. 15: One Foot in the Past, One in the Future

“If you put one foot in the past and one in the future, you pee on today,” Yut, our tour guide in Siem Reap, reminded us with his spread-out stance. Although seemingly far from profound and even silly, we’ve seen this Buddhist sentiment reiterated throughout our several days in Cambodia. Living in the present is vital for the religion, as it keeps us humble, aware, and centered. But something Yut also stressed was the importance of looking outside of Cambodia’s past: Angkor Wat, the genocide, and other previous moments in their history. Unfortunately, in many ways the country has been defined mainly by its bygones. Luckily, we were able to see developing juxtapositions and the promise of Cambodia’s future.

Monks walking around the perimeter of Ta Prohm temple. Even the monks carried cellphones and digital cameras for photos, which was interesting to see. Fun fact: our tour guide in Siem Reap, Yut, was a practicing monk for sixteen years! Photo by Grace Sellick.

Monks walking around the perimeter of Ta Prohm temple. Even the monks carried cellphones and digital cameras for photos, which was interesting to see. Fun fact: our tour guide in Siem Reap, Yut, was a practicing monk for sixteen years! Photo by Grace Sellick.

The shadow puppet show we enjoyed (prior to a downpour of rain) centered around ancient stories from the Ramayana. Angkor Wat displayed a mixture of new and centuries-upon-centuries of old, as some of its walls were damaged by bullets from the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Also, many of the sacred Buddhas inside all of the temples we visited, from Angkor Wat to Ta Prohm, were decapitated and looted more recently to be sold on the black market. Contrastingly, the circus show, named “Chills,” gave promise and a future in the visual arts to young adults and teenagers from a village around three hours away. Building wheelchairs for the victims of landmines shows the past’s toll on today, as many of the mines were planted 40+ years ago. Therefore, the Landmine Mueseum has put forward efforts by building schools, removing thousands of mines, and providing a scholarships and other opportunities for students who aid them.

Cambodia, Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm Temple (the set of the film Tomb Raider) transitioned from Buddhism to Hinduism, as etchings of Buddha on its walls changed forms over the centuries. Photo by senior Grace Sellick.

Land Mine Museum, Cambodia

The Landmine Museum and its group of mine-removers has had no demining-related casualties even though they have handled thousands of landmines (for example, in one week, they removed 1,500). Other demining groups have had about a dozen injuries over the past few years. Photo by Grace Sellick.

We arrived in Phnom Penh after a forty-minute flight, and then drove to our lunch. Immediately, we were aware of the difference between the capital and Siem Reap. Previously, we had eaten at semi-upscale restaurants whose clienteles were mainly tourists. This restaurant, with its much more unfamiliar foods, was mainly filled with residents of Phnom Penh, mostly Chinese, Koreans, and other foreigners living permanently in the city and working for nearby NGOs. We soon arrived at the You Khin House, a guesthouse whose profits go towards the Seametrey Children’s Village located in the building next door. (This, too, seemed an immediate departure from our stay in Siem Reap, where we slept under mosquito netting on wooden beds.)

Leaving the comforts of our new hotel, we entered into a Cambodia quite different from the sanitized, westernized streets of Siem Reap (dominated by elephant-patterned harem pants and resorts with Angkor in the name) and entered the slums around the governmental housing known as the White House. Designed by the former king of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, the buildings today are crumbling, houseplants spilling out from small balconies. Almost immediately, the group (conspicuous with our clothing and expensive cameras) felt somewhat out of place. In contrast with the food stalls, motorcycle repair shops, and children running around, our middle-class American lifestyle stood out like a sore thumb. Many in the group later remarked that it almost felt like slum tourism, or that we should not have visited in the first place. Still, being able to see the living conditions and humble beginnings of the Cambodian Living Arts’ (CLA) students provided important context prior to seeing one of the graduated student’s (Neang Kavich) documentaries, Where I Go. The documentary followed a different CLA student, Pattica, throughout his dance studies, familial conflicts, and problems with discrimination (being half Cambodian and half Cameroonian, as well as not knowing his father).

Siem Reap, Cambodia

When it was constructed, the White Building was the tallest structure in the country. After the Khmer Rouge, it became a center for well-known artists and performers. Now, only the middle part of the building remains, and the CLA’s influence has helped to decrease the amount of teenagers in the area who become addicted to drugs, solicit sex, or get involved in gangs. Photo by Grace Sellick

Following the showing of the film, we departed to dinner across the street from the CLA office with the filmmaker, his brother and friend, and the coordinator of the CLA program, Melissa. Throughout dinner, we had the opportunity to ask questions regarding his production process/his inspiration for the film and the history of CLA and Melissa’s work with the program while eating coconut and mushroom soup, tempura vegetables, and delicious egg and fish “quiche/omlette.”

Cambodian Film Maker filmmaker Neang Kavich

Group picture after dinner with filmmaker Neang Kavich (far left), his brother Sal (second to left) and a friend who all participate or participated as CLA students.

We are looking forward to more work with CLA throughout this next week and exploring a new city.

— Olivia Fidler, Isaac Gray and Grace Sellick

Francis Parker Exploring Southeast Asia

Published

Saturday, Feb.14: Witnessing the Realities of Cambodia

Our group awoke at around 6:30 to have our first breakfast at the Metta Karuna Center. We shared a buffet-style meal, with baguettes, assorted jams, bannanas and packaged ramen soup. After we all stuffed ourselves with food, we hopped on a bus headed for Banteay Srei, an old temple of almost a thousand years. On the way we passed by small shops with patchy areas of palm trees growing around them. These shops sold many of the same items, which were evidently catered towards tourists. The products consisted of many woven coasters and boxes, bowls and wooden tableware. The vast majority of our group purchased the sweet palm sugar chunks, after having sampled them. They were intensely sweet and buttery, dissolving in our mouths.

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Palm sap being boiled to make palm sugar. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

The group passes around palm sugar chunks for tasting. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

The group passes around palm sugar chunks for tasting. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

Once we arrived at the temple, we learned from our tour guided, Mr. Yut, that the temple was built, designed and carved entirely by women. Observing the many small inscriptions and depictions, we soon realized the skill and the patience that went into this beautiful structure. The temple was constructed and finished by two Angkorian kings, King Rajendravarman and King Jayavarman V. The first king began this project and funded it, with his successor, Jayavarman V, supposedly appointing women as laborers. The intricate and delicate carvings and the small doorways were thought to be too beautiful to have been carved by men. Although this is just a myth, many women did play an evident and important role in Angkorian society. In wartime, for example, they joined in as fighters; they used this temple to pray for luck and victory before battle.

The intricate facade of the Banteay Srei, or "Lady Temple." Even though the Banteay Srei was constructed in the late 10th century, earlier than Angkor Wat, the floral details have not yet faded. The temple was built by women, the decorations were carved by women, and only women were allowed to pray here, as reflected by the petite door-frames. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

The intricate facade of the Banteay Srei, or “Lady Temple.” Even though the Banteay Srei was constructed in the late 10th century, earlier than Angkor Wat, the floral details have not yet faded. The temple was built by women, the decorations were carved by women, and only women were allowed to pray here, as reflected by the petite door-frames. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

Interior of the Banteay Srei temple. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

Interior of the Banteay Srei temple. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

Group photo in front of Banteay Srei temple.

Group photo in front of Banteay Srei temple.

At the Banteay Srei temple, we watched a live performance of traditional Khmer music by victims of Cambodian land mines. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

At the Banteay Srei temple, we watched a live performance of traditional Khmer music by victims of Cambodian land mines. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

Many children crowded around us as we exited the temple. They held postcards, wooden flutes and other souvenirs. This is a very controversial subject in Cambodia. Many people would have problems with children selling goods to support themselves and their families; however, the parents also exploit their children to conjure sympathy from tourists. Even though we cannot help feeling sympathy for the kids, it is nonetheless a prevalent issue.

After leaving the temple, we visited the Cambodian Land Mine Museum. This museum explained a lot of the horrors that still occur frequently in Cambodia. Many of these victims are children. Some of these children wounded and disabled by these mines have become workers in the effort to clear mines in Cambodia. This effort and museum were greatly influenced by Aki Ra, a former child soldier in the Khmer Rouge, and Bill Morse, an ex history teacher from California. In Cambodia an average of three casualties a week are caused by land mines. This devastation was caused by the U.S., the Soviet Union, and China, who supplied the Khmer Rouge and Cambodian armies as well as the Vietnamese. The complicated web of weapons deals and inner conflicts of Cambodia and Vietnam led to the scattering of billions of tons of mines and bombs in Cambodia. An incredibly shocking and heartbreaking thing Bill explained to us was that young kids would find these mines and cluster bombs not knowing what they were and would pick them up seeing them as interesting shiny objects–the result is obvious. This lack of knowledge is consistantly troubling for the demining of Cambodia, as many outer villages in the forest are uneducated about the dangers and are difficult to get to because of the land mines surrounding them. Many of these victims suffer from PTSD, which is not treated by the NGO. These ongoing tragedies show a harsher and darker side to present Cambodia. Not only are we reflecting on the ancient Buddhist civilizations in Cambodia, but also we are confronting the current events of Cambodia.

Hundreds of pieces of bombs and artillery at the Cambodian Land Mine Museum that were recovered from cleared land mines. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

Hundreds of pieces of bombs and artillery at the Cambodian Land Mine Museum that were recovered from cleared land mines. Photograph by junior Snigdha Nandipati.

After having eaten lunch, we headed for the Ta Prohm temple, a famous and world renowned temple used in such films as Tomb Raider, featuring Angelina Jolie. The temple itself was captivating, as we all witnessed the natural phenomenon of the native banyan trees growing through the temple’s foundation. Another interesting phenomonon about Prohm is the discovery of a stegosaurus carving in the walls of the temple. We aren’t sure if this is just a coincidence or if it speaks to us about the ancient civilization’s scientific advances. It is just another unique element that adds to the wonder of the temple. The temple was built in the early eleventh century as a place of worship for Buddhists. However, by the thirteenth century, the new king imposed a new system of Hindu beliefs on the kingdom, changing the temple from Buddhist to Hindu. The thousand carvings of Buddha were defaced and changed to phallic symbols called Shiva lingam.

A banyan tree grows in the interior of the Ta Prohm temple. Banyan trees are considered holy in Buddhist tradition because the Buddha was born under a banyan tree. This banyan tree, along with many other trees, are believed to have caused the destruction of the temple. The tree's roots insidiously creeped into the crevices of the rock, and the temple's foundation crumbled. Photograph by senior Karina Dominguez.

A banyan tree grows in the interior of the Ta Prohm temple. Banyan trees are considered holy in Buddhist tradition because the Buddha was born under a banyan tree. This banyan tree, along with many other trees, are believed to have caused the destruction of the temple. The tree’s roots insidiously creeped into the crevices of the rock, and the temple’s foundation crumbled. Photograph by senior Karina Dominguez.

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One of the amazing aspects of this temple is that it rises magnificently out of the grey rubble and temple ruins. Efforts are being made to restore the temple to its former state. This can be seen as controversial because some believe that the temple should be left to crumble naturally, while others believe that it should be held together to preserve its glory. Photographed by senior Karina Dominguez.

After dinner, we took tuk tuks to an outdoor shadow puppet theater. We watched the performance of the Indian epic Ramayana. The shadow puppet artists used leather silhouettes and incorporated dance movements to act out certain sections of the epic. Unfortunately, the performance was cut short due to an unexpected (and pleasantly refereshing) rain shower. Our curiousity about the ending of the story was satisfied when junior Snigdha Nandipati told the rest of us about the part that we sadly missed.

Scene from shadow puppet performance. Photographed by senior Karina Dominguez.

Scene from shadow puppet performance. Photographed by senior Karina Dominguez.

A sketch of the Cambodian mythical lion which symbolizes power. Even though lions aren't native to Cambodia, the lion has emerged as a symbol of the royal family through relations of Hindu mythology. While visiting the various temples in Siem Reap over the past couple of days, we saw multiple carvings of the siha featured on the temples' stone walls. Siha statues are also very commonly found guarding the entrance to buildings (such as the Metta Karuna Center, where we stayed) and can be compared to watch dogs. Sketched by junior Angelica Vera.

A sketch of the Cambodian mythical lion which symbolizes power. Even though lions aren’t native to Cambodia, the lion has emerged as a symbol of the royal family through relations of Hindu mythology. While visiting the various temples in Siem Reap over the past couple of days, we saw multiple carvings of the siha featured on the temples’ stone walls. Siha statues are also very commonly found guarding the entrance to buildings (such as the Metta Karuna Center, where we stayed) and can be compared to watch dogs. Sketched by junior Angelica Vera.

–Mitchell Capp, Snigdha Nandipati, Angelica Vera

 

Francis Parker Exploring Southeast Asia

Published

Tuesday, Feb. 10: The Road to Recovery

As we piled onto the familiar red bus after another delicious breakfast, Mr. Long, our guide, began to prepare us for our first destination with a little history.

Agent Orange: accounting for nearly twelve of the estimated seventeen million gallons sprayed over Vietnam, the herbicide was one of eleven used by the United States to clear the foilage and increase ground visibility. Named after the distinctive color of a strip on its shipping container, the compound reduced the cover and food available to the Vietnamese Communist soldiers.

Although its suppliers claimed that the herbicide was harmless to humans and the environment, post-war research quickly revealed that such was not the case. The herbicide, which often drenched those hiding in the vegetation and in close proximity and seeped into the soil as well as water sources of the surrounding area, was toxic, and its effects extend to the present day.

Entire areas of land and water were deemed contaminated and therefore unusable. Those directly exposed to the chemical spray developed cancers and painful sores, and in turn gave birth to children with serious health complications, including physical deformities and mental disabilities. Portions of the estimated four million Vietnamese affected were shunned in fear of the unknown—all consequences of Agent Orange.

However, the Vietnamese are not easily disheartened. Support groups and organizations dedicated to helping the victims soon emerged as awareness was raised, both domestically and internationally. Contaminated areas were, and continue to be, carefully monitored by scientists and used to hold the United States accountable for the copious amounts of toxic herbicide sprayed. The Pineapple Village, founded by affected women who were ostracized from their original communities, helped change attitudes as they sold pineapples for a living and gradually regained acceptance.

We had the honor of visiting one such organization with our pen pals from Hanoi University: the Peace Village, or Thanh Xuan.

Upon meeting up with our pen pal friends, most of whom used taxis, public transportation, or motorbikes to reach the destination, we were escorted into a room with residents of the village for a brief introduction by lead Doctor Vu Son Ha.

Since its establishment in 1991, we learned, the Peace Village has provided medical treatment to over ten million people; the Hanoi branch focuses primairly on providing aid to Agent Orange victims. Their educational and physical therapy programs are specifically designed for the needs of the victims, beginning in primary school and continuing as far as vocational training to help facilitate the students’ integration into society.

We were welcomed by a few of the village’s students with a song called “I Am Not Sad,” which was specially composed for Agent Orange victims to help lift their spirits. In response, we sang “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” which allowed the students to participate by clapping their hands, stomping their feet, and jumping around in rhythm with us.

We were then able to visit their classrooms and interact with the children on an individual basis. Given that most of the children were not able to speak, or disliked doing so, our pen pal friends and we were forced to work together to communicate through other means, including pictures, hand motions, and facial expressions. The residents of the village—although the “village” more closely resembles an apartment complex—were also gracious enough to allow us to try our hands at their embroidery pieces, which depicted countryside scenes and cultural sites of Vietnam. As both Hanoi University and Parker students alike struggled to sew in straight lines, we learned that the ease with which the women worked was something acquired over many years, their techniques developed over several of the pieces that took up to five months to complete. In addition to embroidery, the able residents also learn how to weave pouches, scarves, vests, and even jackets in multi-colored, varying patterns to sell alongside their embroidery pieces, handmade bracelets, and crocheted squares.

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Pen pals from Hanoi University play with several of the children from the Peace Village, showing them how to use the stamps that were donated by Mrs. Hayman’s second grade class at Francis Parker. Aside from the stamps, the students from the Lower and Upper School donated a variety of art supplies, a world map mural, and a washing machine.

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Juniors Simone Tift and Snigdha Nandipati practice their needle point on the machines that the children, affected by Agent Orange, use to create magnificent and unique pieces of art to sell and raise money for the Peace Village.

After bidding farewell to the Peace Village with broken—but improving!—Vietnamese, we enjoyed a traditional lunch of a Vietnamese-style sandwich and bananas, and with the guidance of our friends, we walked off the meal by exploring the surrounding area. We came across another market, and ducked under its entrance into the dark, tented enclosure, shuffling through stalls selling kitchenware and clothes that morphed into produce and shoes became crates of fruit while baskets of hair accessories became cages of chickens, and followed the narrow path for only a couple minutes before exiting back onto the streets and headed to a well-known cafe for a taste of Vietnamese coffee.

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After spending the first half of the day at the Peace Village, seniors Grace Sellick, Emma Sheean, Pedro Gallardo, Sam Pryor, Olivia Ghosh, and Olivia Fidler and their pen pals toured the area and stopped to sample traditional Vietnamese coffee and other specials treats at the Twitter Beans Coffee. A traditional Vietnamese coffee is similar to an espresso but is made with condensed milk.

Suspiciously similar in both color scheme, design, and drink options to a certain American chain, the Twitter Beans Cafe provided us with an opportunity to relax, perhaps a little too much as we lost track of time and found ourselves rushing several blocks back to the bus to arrive at the appointed departure time and make a timely arrival at the family home of one of our very own friends, S’on.

We were dropped off across the street and, using the sticky rice technique, crossed the bustling streets and made our way to his home. His mother and father stood by as twenty-five people crammed into their living room. Assorted Vietnamese candy, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and warm tea awaited us inside the Giang household, and as we continued coversation with our university friends, we took in the wandering tabby cat, the first feline we saw on our trip, took in the family shrine, adorned with gold coloring for prosperity and luck, as well as fresh dragonfuit, bananas, and custard apples, took in the large family portrait that hung above a cherry blossom tree design that added a personal flare to the gray walls.

As the afternoon turned to evening, we reluctantly parted from our friends from Hanoi University, and we headed off to the final destination, a traditional water puppet show at Thank Long water puppet theatre.
Established by farmers in the eleventh century as a celebration of a good crop, water puppetry became very popular in northern Vietnam as a form of public entertainment. Made from soft wood easily carved by the non-specialized farmers, the puppets were sculpted into many flexible shapes, such as people, animals including foxes, water buffalo, and frogs and mystical creatures like dragons, fairies, and phoenixes. In order to seal the wood and prevent it from sinking, lacquers were developed to add color to the tan coloring of the wood.

However, this art was almost lost after the war and continued to dwindle as the population struggled to stay afloat and, in turn, had little time for entertainment. This trend began to turn around in 1986, when the economy began shifting from largely subsidized to more free market.
As Vietnam opened its borders once again, tourism revived the art and developed into the complex stories and manipulation of puppets we saw today.

As the puppeteers stood in wasit-high water, they manipulated the puppets in front of a bamboo screen. Coupled with live singing and music utilizing traditional Vietnamese strung instruments and flutes, the show was well received and enjoyed.

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Vietnamese water puppets have been a part of the culture for several centuries; however, the tradition faded away but recently has been brought back to Hanoi due to a rise in tourism.

We ended the group’s night at a Western-style restaurant, where we experienced a food with a Vietnamese twist, including pizza, spaghetti lasagna, and grilled beef and french fries, and divided into smaller groups that could choose to explore the hotel’s surrounding area or opt to get a head start on the following day.

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Following dinner, seniors Sam Pryor, Olivia Fidler and Pedro Gallardo and juniors Nicole Keeney, Mitchell Capp, Rex Winn, and Simone Tift went across the street from the hotel to jump in on a dance exercise with local women in the park, listening to upbeat, electronic Vietnamese music.

–Karina Dominguez, Angelica Vera, Grace Sellick

CUBA VISUAL STORY TELLING

Published February 9, 2015

JOE MEDINA, HW MIDDLE SCHOOL VISUAL ARTS TEACHER, ALYSSA SHERWOOD HW UPPER SCHOOL VISUAL ARTS TEACHER AND Peace Works Travel tourS WORKED COLLABORATIVELY TO INITIATE AN ON-GOING GLOBAL COLLABORATION BETWEEN TEENS AT HARVARD WESTLAKE AND TEENS IN CUBA. STUDENTS WILL USE CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY, CAMERA PHONES, TRADITIONAL CAMERAS, SOCIAL MEDIA AND ON-LINE DIGITAL SKETCH BOOKS AS A MEANS TO EXPLORE AND FORM IDENTITY, AND DEVELOP VISUAL COMMUNICATION. THIS INVESTIGATION AND DOCUMENTATION OF TEEN IDENTITY VIA TECHNOLOGY, SOCIAL MEDIA AND SMARTPHONES IS MIRRORING THE CURRENT CHANGES TAKING PLACE IN CUBA AND UNITED STATES. IN PRE-DEPARTURE WORKSHOP’S WITH HW TEACHERS AND DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHER EUNICE ADORNNO , STUDENTS WILL ACQUIRE SKILLS AND PRACTICAL STRATEGIES IN VISUAL COMMUNICATION, DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY, INTERVIEWS, CAMERA USE, AND SOCIAL MEDIA AS A VISUAL DIARY. THE PROJECT WILL ESTABLISH LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES WHERE STUDENTS THINK AND ACT GLOBALLY AS WELL AS LOCALLY. WE HOPE OUR PROJECT WILL TRANSITION INTO ONGOING GLOBAL VISUAL ARTS -COLLABORATION THAT INVITES STUDENTS FROM AROUND THE GLOBE TO COLLABORATE IN A COMMON THEME. THE COMPLETED PROJECTS WILL RESULT IN A BOOK AND GALLERY SHOW.

U.S. co-opted Cuba’s hip-hop scene in failed attempt to spark unrest in communist nation

Published December 16, 2014

An Associated Press investigation revealed a secret operation to infiltrate Cuba’s underground hip-hop scene was ill-conceived and put innocent Cubans at risk.

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RAMON ESPINOSA/AP
Cuban fans sing during a hip-hop concert in Havana on Nov. 30. Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that a U.S. agency infiltrated Cuba’s hip-hop scene and recruited unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government.

A covert U.S. operation to spark a democracy-spreading youth movement in Cuba by infiltrating the country’s underground hip-hop scene ended up a Looney tune.

An Associated Press investigation blew the lid off the clandestine mission by the U.S. Agency for International Development, revealing it flopped because it was ill-conceived, reckless and executed by amateurs.

Instead of spreading democracy, the mission put innocent Cubans at risk and left unwitting recruits detained and interrogated by Cuban officials.

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AP
Los Aldeanos’ Aldo Rodriguez (l.) and EL B (r.) perform in concert at the Acapulco Theater in Havana.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) called the operation “just plain stupid,” while U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) deemed it “boneheaded.”

“The conduct described suggests an alarming lack of concern for the safety of the Cubans involved, and anyone who knows Cuba could predict it would fail,” said Leahy, chairman of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Committee.

Untitled

Click to view video.

“USAID never informed Congress about this and should never have been associated with anything so incompetent and reckless,” Leahy said after reviewing the AP’s findings.

Uncovering reams of records, the AP found that USAID repeatedly put innocent Cubans and its own operatives in jeopardy despite warning signs.

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RAMON ESPINOSA/AP
Cuban musician Silvio Rodriguez talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Havana. Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that a U.S. agency infiltrated Cuba’s hip-hop scene, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government.

Authorities detained or interrogated musicians or USAID operatives at least six times, often confiscating their computers and thumb drives, which in some cases contained material linking them to USAID.

The missions initial point person, a Serbian music promoter named Rajko Bozic, infiltrated a popular rap group known as Los Aldeanos.

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FRANKLIN REYES/AP
People cheer during a concert of Puerto Rico’s band Calle 13 in Havana on March 23, 2010. Calle 13 brought its edgy mix of reggaeton and hip-hop to Havana late Tuesday, rocking thousands of screaming fans from an open-air, concrete stage dubbed ‘Anti-imperialist Plaza’ and built in the shadow of the U.S. diplomatic mission to Cuba.

But When the Cuban government caught wind of the scheme, Los Aldeanos began facing political pressure and had to emigrate to South Florida.

A popular music festival was also banned because of the perception that USAID was pulling the strings for it. So instead of sparking a democratic revolution, it compromised an authentic source of protest that had produced some of the hardest-hitting grassroots criticism since Fidel Castro took power in 1959, an AP investigation found.

“These actions have gone from boneheaded to a downright irresponsible use of U.S. taxpayer money,” said Flake.

 

BY BILL HUTCHINSON NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Published: Thursday, December 11, 2014, 4:55 AM

Updated: Friday, December 12, 2014, 11:29 AM

 

Cuban Skating

Published May 30, 2014

Cuba isn’t known for its non-conformists, so skateboarding, with its counter-cultural roots, is not a sport that has been encouraged on the Caribbean island. But a group of young individuals are still ollie-ing and grinding through the streets of Havana.
The below video (created for Cuba Skate by Humanity’s Gaston Blanchet) focuses on Cuban skater Yojani Pérez Rivera and he and his friends’ journey to live life their own way: with a skateboard beneath their feet and doing as much as they can with the little they have.
Hoping to facilitate the sport’s progress in Cuba, Cuba Skate is an American NGO created by skater Miles Jackson. They work with skaters in Cuba to upgrade gear, renovate the only skate park in Havana, and establish a cross-cultural communication between Cuban and American skaters.
While Cuba remains a fairly closed country and one not easily visited by American tourists, the times they are a-changin’, and non-conformists like Rivera and his pals are at the forefront of a mini cultural-revolution.
Check out this newly minted Vimeo Staff Pick here:
Skateboarders Take to the Streets of Cuba

Cambodia: Spirituality of the everyday

Published April 28, 2014

Cambodia:  Spirituality of the everyday.

Michael Hernandez
Michael teaches cinematic arts and broadcast journalism in Los Angeles.
www.cinehead.com

The resilience and optimism of the Buddhist culture of Cambodia left a lasting impression on this non-religious westerner–one of humbleness, awareness of the world around me and a sense of the temporary nature of all things.

Whether it was the genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge or the ravages of weather and the jungle on ancient stone wats, this place is in a constant cycle of decay and regeneration. It’s no wonder that Buddhist spirituality permeates every element of society in Cambodia.

Sunrise at Ankor Wat was beautiful and peaceful despite the throngs of Chinese and Australian tourists. This UN World Heritage site was built in the 9th century and later restored by the French in the early 1900’s. Originally built as a Hindu temple, it was later converted to a Buddhist temple, where it remains an active religious site.

Oddly, tourists are free to roam the site, and hopefully not vandalize the samsaras or other detailed relief carvings that wrap virtually every surface.


After making a small donation, this monk blessed me with a chant and a bright pink bracelet, then blew on it for good luck. I really like his krama, a multi-use bandana-like scarf that Cambodian men wear.


Virtually every home and business has a spirit house to ward off evil spirits. Food offerings and burning incense are placed in these mini temples, which you’ll find in yards, apartment balconies, or alleyways.



Mira Costa School – 3 Days & a Reflection Center

Published April 9, 2014

by  on April 9, 2014 in Letters From Cambodia
The morning rush is inevitable, it happens almost every day on this trip but the one 3 days ago was on an even stricter time crunch. That morning we planned on getting up completely packed to leave Phnom Penh so we could fly to Siem Reap, and although most were some weren’t which cost us a bit of time. Then after a quick breakfast we headed, luggage and all, into a bus headed for the Russian Market.
Buy, sell, bargain, and buy again. The Russian market was alive with colors and shadows. The busyness of the place beautifully contrasted with the quiet intimate moments that a buyer has with one of the vendors. The couple seconds to many minutes back and forth on the price that in-the-end results in the buyer getting whatever he wanted for about half the original price is perfect bliss. The smells that waft from the center of the market really bring alive the true underground and gritty beauty of the market. Not to mention the contents of the market. From elephant pants to knock off Gucci bag to decorative swords the market encompasses it in all it’s splendor.
From the market we took a quick hop over to the Phnom Penh Airport and on to new age propellor plane (Seen below) for our 1 hour rocket over to Siem Reap.
Just landed in Siem Reap. Walking from the tarmac to the airport building.
Once in Siem Reap we went to the Metta Karuna Centre, which would be our place of rest for the next 2 nights. Now this place was a bit different from our last place of stay. This center was a reflection & refugee centre for people. At this centre we lived like a middle class Cambodian. Meaning there was no warm water, bugs everywhere (termites, mosquitoes, and beetles), and no air conditioning. The rustic style of living was quite the culture shock but looking back on it I am very glad I got to live through those conditions. The situation has given me another new perspective on life and I am extremely happy that I have had this opportunity to grown from it.
Two days ago the sun rose over the once gleaming temple of Angkor Wat. Now a spiritual set of ruins tat glow against the morning sun. The energy of the civilization of the past here resonates and flows through the buildings empty corridors. The smell of incenses and child-like enthusiasm for the beautiful architecture waft around corners and into my nose. As my bare feet walk on the cold stone worn down by history I feel my soul energy being drawn through the temple. As I find a place where the energy seems to surge like a raging bull around me I begin to meditate.
Morning crane pose at Angkor Wat
After a lovely sunrise visit to the “Number 9 Wonder of the World” we took a quick tuk tuk ride over to Ta Prohm Temple, the location of the Tomb Raider movie. The temple was overgrown with roots and trees that grew from it’s center yet it still was beautiful. It glowed in morning sun, with the sun pushing through the leaves. 
Finally touching on yesterday, a day full of filming and elephants. With another early wake up time, and another sunrise we arrived at Angkor Thom (Seen Below)
The morning sky over Angkor Thom
After a calm and relaxing time filming and wandering around Angkor Thom we took a short walk over to the Elephants Terrace where we scaled the kings temple and marveled at the beauty. Then we took a magical ride on the local elephants around the temples.

An extreme selfie (using a GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition) on the back of an elephant with Angkor Thom in the background.
After a long and breezy tuk tuk ride we arrived at The Cambodian Land Mine Museum. There I conducted an interview with Claire. We interviewed Bill Morse (Seen Below), the owner of the museum and an extremely interesting man for our documentary.
Interviewing Bill Morse on the Canon 7D
Bill was so gracious and was incredibly well spoken, I can’t thank him enough for the interview.  The interview was quite long and we ended up going over time. So by the time we finished the interview we had to rush back to Metta Karuna Centre, pack, and head to our final place of stay, Soria Maria.

Mira Costa School – Pictures from Cambodia 2014

Published

Students at Angkor Wat.

Documentary scripting time.

Building wheelchairs for landline victims.

Sunset at the floating villages.

5:00 am can’t kill these smiles :)
Elephant rides at Bayon temple.

Elephant riders.

Landmine victim helps us assemble wheelchairs for other amputees.
Note the prosthetic leg.

Floating villages.

Students interview amputee landmine survivor.

Foot massages for the girls.

Model US airplane dropping cluster bombs.

Bayon temple of faces.

Temple carvings.
Gardens at Metta Karuna Centre.