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Writing in The Time of Trump by Kenneth Weene

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For the past year, I’ve been co-writing the memoir of one of the “Lost Boys” of South Sudan. Fleeing from Arab marauders at only seven years of age, Deng found his way to the refugee camps in Ethiopia. Later, fleeing again—this time from the revolution which had taken place in Ethiopia—he returned to Sudan for a brief stint before, again in flight, he found his way to Kenya. Finally, under the auspices of Catholic Charities, he came to the United States where he finished high school and college and obtained a master’s degree. Now holding dual citizenship in his homeland of South Sudan and the United States, Deng hopes to help build bridges between his two countries.

With the recent election, Deng asked me to assist him with a new writing project. “Just a short paper to help the leadership in Juba and in the South Sudanese diaspora around the world to understand how to work with this new administration,” was his request. He followed this with an additional recognition of what might make this such a difficult task. “But Trump’s so unpredictable, I don’t know what to say.”

We met to work on this “short paper,” something my friend and writing colleague could publish in Juba and share on the social media.

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Before that meeting, I spent some time thinking about Mr. Trump and his unpredictability. Of course, I was also focusing on what I knew of South Sudan. As I thought, I reached a few conclusions. I share them here.

First, unpredictability is in the eye of the beholder. I learned that a long time ago working with the mentally ill. The behavior of even the most erratic seeming patient in the asylum could be predicted a good portion of the time if one merely started with the assumption that behavior makes sense to the individual. I might not see the reason why the severely schizophrenic youngster stuffed crepe paper in his mouth, but knowing that it made sense to him to do so immediately implied that he might stuff other bright things in as well. “Put coloring in his food and he’ll be more willing to eat,” was one obvious suggestion.

I do not suggest here that Mr. Trump is mentally ill. I’ve seen many posts and articles offering diagnoses of him. Some have even been well argued. However, I don’t necessarily think diagnoses of public figures help much. Were I to assign one to the President-Elect, it would be oppositional defiant personality. By the way, that tendency to reject anyone telling him what to do was found in another American leader, a fellow named Teddy Roosevelt, who was incredibly successful in the job.

That diagnoses leads to my first bit of advice to Deng and to the other South Sudanese who want to improve relations with the U.S. under this new regime: Don’t try to tell Mr. Trump what he has to do. Don’t try to appeal to higher principles and notions of good. That will only antagonize this new POTUS.

So, what will work? Appealing to the motivations that he exhibits as being important to him. Back to that bright colored food. What does Mr. Trump attend to? Certainly, not to advice. Certainly, not to reasoned arguments and position papers.

I came up with a list of things that appear to interest this new POTUS.

Top of my list is business and making money. Can South Sudan offer him and American business, which he sees himself as part and head of, ways to make money, significant amounts of money?

Second, what does he want to seem in the eyes of the world and especially his followers? This is a man who takes offense at Saturday Night Live. He’s thin-skinned. He needs to feel that others see him as the tough guy, the hero, fighting off the enemy. Who is that enemy? Perhaps sadly, he and the Republican party have defined the enemy as radical Islam and Sharia law. Can South Sudan help him look tough on those two branches of the Muslim tree?

Third, underneath, of whom is he most afraid? Under such bluster has to be a core of inadequacy and fear of failure. To feel safer is something we all crave, but especially this new President. As a businessman—which is his main self-identification—Mr. Trump has had many failures. In the end, the biggest threat to that identity comes from the burgeoning economy of China. To make China even more of a threat in his eyes, Trump has been forced to turn to China for both products and financing for his various businesses. This is a man who hates those to whom he feels beholden. That’s one reason why—to keep his own head from exploding with the ambivalence he feels towards his father—he understates the degree to which his success has depended on family assistance. Can South Sudan help him diminish China in a meaningful way? Can that fledgling nation help him to feel that he has done successful battle with the dragon and protected himself? That he has made the world safe for Donald Trump?

There it is, my three-pronged approach for the South Sudanese government to follow in communicating with this new American President: Offer business opportunities to make him and his peers richer; Offer a stand against radical Islam to make him appear tough; Offer a way to act against China to make him feel safer, like he is more in control. Three prongs are enough. More and the resulting approach would be too long, too complex, and require too much reading to affect a man who has little use for complexities and academia.

Were we able to put together that action plan, something that Deng could offer to the government in Juba and to South Sudanese leaders throughout the world? Yes, in just over 600 words. Deng and I put together a position paper that may well allow South Sudan’s diplomats to make a major breakthrough. That plan says nothing about the genocidal civil war that has been tearing their country apart. It says nothing about the need for American assistance to help their people.

Just three things: Make money; Stop radical Islam and Sharia; Push back China.

Now, of course, the big question: Will the leaders in Juba take time to read those carefully chosen words? That I can’t say, but what I can say with some certitude is that crafted documents such as that paper can make a difference in the world. That’s just one more reason why I will keep writing in The Time of Trump.

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In addition to the recently completed and not yet published memoir, A Journey Between Worlds, which he co-authored with Deng M. Atem, Ken Weene has published a number of books, stories, poems, and essays. To buy a book.

The Good, The Bad, and The Mexican By: Eduardo Cerviño

 

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Yesterday, by the time sunlight filtered through my office windows, I’d written the first three pages of a short story intended for this blog. Hunger made me stop and eat breakfast, which ended with a glass of grape juice.

As the burning star climbed a few degrees above the trees surrounding my home, the pale natural light began to turn golden yellow. The rays spilled over the treetops and awoke the Mexican bird of paradise on my patio. Its bright incandescent flowers opened up.

Warm light bathed me inside the dining room, passed through a stained glass partition, broke into a rainbow of primary colors, and tinted the carpet, the furniture and the wall

This time of the year, Arizona takes a breather from her customary hellish heat and turns into paradise.

I’d be a fool not to go out and enjoy the pleasant cool breeze.

Outside, the giant Saguaros and palm trees projected long striped shadows. I caught a fleeting glimpse of the cottontail rabbit family living under the cactus grove in my garden.

Overnight, yesterday’s clouds had melted into rain, and around my feet the morning dew created a shimmering blanket of liquid diamonds. Without a cloud in sight, the elegant palm tree canopies softly swayed against the sharp blue sky.

A cherry red Chevy truck entered my driveway. Secundino, the Mexican gentleman who has pruned my trees for the last eighteen years, alighted from the cab.

Buenos días,” he shouted, while removing his blue cap with a Ford decal. His broad smile showed two missing teeth.

Secundino’s onyx black hair is long and shiny with silver streaks over his copper colored ears. He walks straight and looks directly into one’s face with a determined stare. It’s not an arrogant look, but the frank open glance of a hardworking man whose ancestors built an empire with pyramids as majestic as the Egyptians built. Their capital city, upon a lagoon, rivaled The Serenissima Venezia.

“Don Eduardo, it’s time to trim the palms,” he said in the melodious Spanish accent from the state of Sonora. I have not been able to stop him from calling me “Don” Eduardo.

“That’s what they called my grandpa. Eduardo is enough for me.” I’ve said this to him lots of times to no avail. “Don Eduardo makes me feel older than I am.”

Each time he looked at me, bobbed his head up and down, and said: “Muy bien, Don Eduardo.”

“Okay, Secundino, go ahead. They are shedding leaves and pods over my neighbor’s gardens,” I said. We shook hands, and soon after he climbed up the sixty-plus foot high trunks and nestled himself among the frondose canopy. Enormous fan-like waxy green and brown fronds started flying over my head like free floating kites. I ducked for cover.

I watched with admiration. No one would believe he is seventy years old.

I started collecting the falling fronds, not because he expected my help, but because I, too, love the physicality of hard work, especially on a temperate day like this.

A passing SUV stopped by my house. I recognized the driver, a man past the prime of his life who lives facing the park a few blocks away and often walks his huge furry dog by my house. On occasion we chat if I happen to be outside. We have become more than acquaintances, but less than friends.

His house is opulent. An ample carport extends over the semicircular driveway. A second story overlook surveys the nearby mountains and palm trees in the back yard.

He joined me. Our conversation started with idle chat. We both kept talking with tilted up heads and eyes fix on the top of the palms and Secundino.

We grew tired of blowing air mindlessly. It was he who started talking about the politics of the day. At first his words went in one ear and out the other, until the underlying content of his words made them stay inside my head, like water rising up behind a dam.

As a child, Mother used to tell me, “Polite people don’t talk about religion, politics, or money.” Maybe that was the reason she was loved by so many people. She listened to me and everyone else with such intensity that we felt compelled to share with her our innermost worries. To Mother, time didn’t matter when she was consoling a human being. She engaged us in a Socratic conversation. We could talk to our heart’s content about our soul’s problems. She punctuated our diatribe with thoughtful monosyllabic comments, and suggestions. “Aha, I see, calm down, try to do this or that.”

Everybody left her side comforted, peaceful, and reborn. Needless to say, to my chagrin, I’m not like her.

This neighbor of mine kept talking faster than usual. He seemed agitated and started revealing his dehumanizing paleoconservative leanings. Something he said prompted me to ask, “Are you having business problems?”

My mistake. I had broken one of my mother’s politeness rules. His hate for the government in general, and President Obama in particular, spewed forth. His stereotypical political opinions increased the pressure against the imaginary brain dam inside my head.

“Doesn’t everybody these days? These unions are pestering me.” He stopped to light a cigarette, but could not stop venting his innumerable grievances against liberals, minorities, Muslins, and foreigners. I’m not sure if he made distinctions between legal or illegal ones. He loved the idea of a taller, longer, meaner wall at the Mexican border.

The man had fouled my morning, I wanted him to go away so I could decompress my head and reseed my thoughts with love.

“What can I do for you today, my friend?” I interrupted. “I want to get this done before noon.” I pointed at the fronds piling up at the foot of the palms.

“I saw what you are doing. The palms in my yard need pruning, too. I called the landscape company that takes care of my garden. But they said the palms are too high and they no longer can reach the canopy with their cherry picker. You think your guy can come by after he finishes here?”

I looked up and yelled in Spanish: “Secundino, do you want go to this cabron’s house and trim his palms later on?”

He was coming down from one of the palms. He stopped midway down the trunk and yelled back in Spanish. “Of course, Don Eduardo. Tell him thirty-five dollars each, and I can do them tomorrow early. I have two other jobs today.”

I said to my neighbor: “My Mexican friend says . . . and proceeded to translate Secundino’s words.

The man smiled. “Tell him I’ll see him tomorrow anytime.” He lowered his voice. “My landscapers used to charge me forty dollars.”

I felt relieved when he shook my hand and left. Secundino was now on the ground. He approached me while I was organizing fronds in manageable heaps.

“I guess the man doesn’t know what cabron means in Spanish,” Secundino said.

I had called my neighbor an old goat, to indicate to Secundino that he was not a good friend of mine. He understood and asked fifteen dollars more than he charged me.

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About the Author

Eduardo Cerviño Alzugaray, aka E. C. Brierfield, is the author of several novels and numerous short stories. His recent autobiographical novel, Cuba the Crocodile Island, is based on his internment in a forced Communist labor camp during the chaotic beginning years of Fidel Castro’s revolution. This is the reason why he published it under his family name, rather than his pen name.

A few of the characters’ names, except his own, have been changed to protect the identity of persons still residing on the island. Although many of the book’s characters have passed away, they are still present in the author’s memory. Some are remembered with enormous affection and others as a painful, if significant, part of the author’s spiritual growth, but none with rancor.

Thirty years after leaving the island, family issues brought the author back to Cuba.

While he stood in the Cathedral Plaza like any other tourist, a soldier approached him. After a few awkward moments, the officer identified himself as the lieutenant prominently described in this novel. His haggard appearance made him unrecognizable. He was inquisitive about the author’s life in the US. Satisfying his curiosity was a vindicating experience for the author. As the author attempted to pull away and continue his sentimental journey, the officer was reluctant to let go of his hand.

As an architectural designer, Eduardo has traveled extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Latin America. He has lived in several countries, but his principal residence has been in the US since 1968.

He resides in Arizona with his wife and writing collaborator, Les Brierfield.

The author appreciates with all his heart the time you have dedicated to reading his work.

You are invited to visit the author’s website:

www.ecbrierfield.com

To purchase Cuba the Crocodile Island, please visit

http://tinyurl.com/cubacroc

Caribbean Time Capsule By Eduardo Cervino

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Nothing lends a movie historical perspective like vehicles strewn along the street. An elegant horse-drawn carriage, a western stagecoach, or a few iconic American cars traveling across the screen allows our minds to time-travel.

When tourists land in Cuba, they enter a pictorial time capsule, where life has stood still for fifty years.

Havana is a living car museum. A 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air rolls by, followed by a 1957 Cadillac convertible, or a 1950 Mercury. Much older cars still roll the streets of Havana. Any of them might be freshly painted and flashy, like those in American collections. Others can barely hold their own weight. All still faithfully serve their owners’ needs due to inexhaustible Cuban ingenuity.

The streets are almost empty by American standards. Gone are the traffic jams that Cubans like me remember from the pre-Revolutionary 1950s decade.

A time capsule is buried so future generations can peek into the past and gain insight as they admire the official documents, coins, newspapers, and the like preserved inside. Havana is a different type of time capsule, a gigantic one you do not open. Instead, you enter it and observe people moving about you, like actors in a tropical adaptation of the German movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary.

How charming! Tourists might say.

And there they go in one of those classic vehicles now serving as a taxi to visit the Cathedral Plaza, the first one built on the American continent, or eat in restaurants that a majority of Cubans can’t afford.

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They might stay in the mostly European-built new hotels or in old ones from the era of Meyer Lansky and his crime syndicate. Bed-and-breakfasts now flourish around the city, maintained by Cuban families desperate to earn dollars, the only currency with real value on the island. The Cuban peso has become valueless.

If the tourist is a man alone, chances are he is coming to enjoy the darker aspect of Havana. Prostitution is once again rampant for the same reasons that at the end of WWII, women and young men in Italy and Berlin traded sex for chocolates

City streets around the world are movie sets. They reflect the country’s history and folklore, while behind the façades each dweller is the star of their own distinctive play.

In Cuba, as in most countries under dictatorial control, the drama inside each home is the same: constant worry about survival, lack of food, and mistrust of one another. Despair about the future and lack of conveniences we, the Cubans outside the island, take for granted.

Families are stuck in the 1950s. Their refrigerators are falling apart, their furniture is old. Their houses’ interiors are dilapidated, unpainted for years, moldy. What is worse, roofs are in danger of collapsing on their heads.

The exceptions, of course, are those families of politically connected individuals, whose remuneration is not measured in terms of productivity to society but political loyalty. They have been allowed to confiscate the furnished mansions or ranches the old aristocracy left behind.

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In recent months, a great portion of the city became inundated. Water rose to waist height. Fourteen hundred buildings were terribly damaged and a few of them collapsed. For the unlucky residents, life took a turn for the worse. Repairing those homes in today’s Cuban workers’ paradise, with its systemic lack of construction materials, would be like a fairytale coming true.

These floods are a relatively new development in Havana; the enormous area in question includes the large neighborhoods of Old Town Havana, El Cerro, and Centro Havana. The residents had never seen this climate-related phenomenon before.

To Cubans, “climate change” is a reality, not a political football.

The city’s infrastructure, mostly abandoned by the government for the last fifty years, is a disaster. To repair it would cost billions of dollars. Until recently, electricity was constantly failing, and blackouts were a normal occurrence. This problem has been alleviated somewhat.

The potable water system is so old that neighborhoods like the one where I used to live receive water for a few hours during the night and people must store it for daytime use. Contamination is a continuous worry. A very small percentage of the people have access to the Internet.

Havana is a shadow of its former glory. The island population has more than doubled since 1959, while the nation’s mismanaged resources have dwindled. The only prosperous institution is the military.

Cubans are resourceful by nature. They make jokes out of tragedy and laugh when others would be crying. However, these survival strategies mask a sad existence tourists do not see, and the taxi driver will not show them. Why spoil a vacation?

Some tourists come to Havana imbued by romantic leftist political beliefs, and they will not submit to the stress of analyzing their cognitive dissonance.

To those I offer the following to consider. One third of the world population lives in extreme poverty, as defined by an income of less that $2 a day for a 20-day work month.

The United States has a monthly average of $3,200. The rest of the industrialized countries’ incomes vary. Some are higher, some are lower but all are at least 100 times the average Cuban income of  $20, yes, twenty dollars per month. A medical doctor in Havana makes $25. I know this firsthand, as some dear relatives of mine are medical doctors.

When I was a student of architecture in 1950s Havana, my salary as a draftsman was $160, at the time a respectable income. So, Cuba has marched backwards to the alluring rhythms of military anthems, noisy workers May First parades, obligatory attendance at public assemblies, and the wooing of platonic political speeches.

America’s newly developing policy toward Cuba is both welcomed and reviled by Cubans in the US and a large portion of American citizens as well.

Since the policy was made public, Cubans’ attempts to cross the shark-infested Florida Strait have increased by over 100%. By chancing the perilous sea voyage, those Cubans express their lack of confidence about future improvements in their daily lives.

They also are fearful of the US revoking the “wet feet dry feet” benefit only Cubans enjoy, thereby sealing the hole in the imaginary sugar cane curtain surrounding the island.

I predict that once the dust settles, nothing will have changed for the islanders, as long as the geriatric ruling class of the Castro brothers and their sycophants breathe under the majestic swaying royal palms.

Under President Obama’s version of the Cuba detente plan, the only beneficiaries on the island would be the political elite able to suck at the teat of the capitalist cow ninety miles to the north.

In the US, American CEO’s would have another money source to keep filling their already overflowing money pits. Caught in the middle as usual, the Cuban people would continue to live in a Caribbean enactment of George Orwell’s dystopian novella, Animal Farm.

 

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Born in Havana, Cuba, Eduardo Cervino (AKA E.C. Brierfield) lived through General Batista’s dictatorship, Fidel Castro’s revolution, and the period after the revolution from 1959 to 1967. Several attempts to leave Cuba during those eight years failed. In 1967, he moved to Europe and eventually came to the US. His last novel, Crocodile Island, is the story of one such effort. Eduardo is also the author of several other novels and numerous short stories. Please visit www.ecbrierfield.com