No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Helping Hands in Haiti Kidnapped

Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is credited with voicing that “No good deed goes unpunished.” Proof of his saying is playing out, not in Ireland, but in Haiti right now. A ruthless Haitian gang has kidnapped a group of 17 missionaries, including women and children, who were returning from rebuilding work at an orphanage. Not what most of us would deem a fitting reward for those actively helping their fellow man. Sadly, this crime is not an isolated incident in Haiti.

If you are planning a Caribbean vacation, cross Haiti off of your list. Why? It may be a tropical location, but Haiti is better described as the wild, wild west currently. It’s the kidnapping capital of the world, and the country is in general is plagued by lawlessness. Gangs are believed to control over two-thirds of Haiti. The situation is so bad in the Caribbean’s most populous country that the U.S. government has urged U.S. citizens not to travel there. You don’t have to tell me twice!

In case you are leery of anything the U.S. government advises, let’s consider some facts. At least 629 kidnappings were reported in Haiti since January. Of the victims, 29 were foreigners. Well, at least the criminals aren’t biased; they’ll take their fellow countrymen as well as hapless foreigners. A 300% increase in kidnappings has occurred since July. And these criminals aren’t taking any kind of a fall break. During the first half of October, at least 119 kidnappings were carried out.

What in the world is happening to result in such rampant crime in Haiti? The country is dealing with a number of daunting issues such as political instability, civil unrest, severe poverty, and natural disasters among others. Just this year the country’s president was shot and killed at his residence in early July, and a 7.2 strength earthquake killed over 2,200 people the following month. Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country; over 40% of the population is food insecure. The bottom line is that the country is a hot mess.

The continuing lack of opportunity in Haiti is a breeding ground for the rise of gangs. Some 165 factions are thought to operate in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Even scarier than the number of gangs is that many of them are better armed than the country’s police force. Food may be hard to come by, but weapons are apparently a commodity which can be secured.

The high profile gang of the moment is 400 Mawozo. The gang’s name roughly translates to 400 “inexperienced men.” I’m not sure what they are inexperienced at, but it isn’t kidnapping. Once notorious for stealing cars, gang members now focus on kidnapping. This gang has pioneered and perfected kidnappings of large groups of victims from cars and buses. Why kidnapping? Holding the victims for ransom provides a healthy, albeit illegal, source of income and is a hallmark of the gang’s activity. In addition to kidnappings, 400 Mawozo dabbles in carjackings and extortion of business owners. They might be lawless but they are certainly industrious.

To no one’s surprise, the surge in kidnappings has people afraid to go into the streets. The Haitian transportation union called for an indefinite strike starting Monday to protest the spike in kidnappings. The transportation sector, of course, is an easy and frequent target of the gangs.

The great increase in abductions this year is indicative of the growing power of violent criminal gangs in Haiti. Mawozo 400 has essentially taken control of Croix des Bouquets, a northeast suburb of Port-au-Prince, and the location of the orphanage Maison La Providence de Dieu. To this orphanage a group of missionaries with the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries traveled to assist with rebuilding efforts from damage in the August earthquake. Despite the knowledge of the dangerous conditions in Haiti, these missionaries willingly took risks to travel to this needy country to show love and to help their fellow man. But the gangs are no respecters of people of faith. Earlier this year they kidnapped 5 priests and 2 nuns. These gang members sure have a lot of actions to confess….

While traveling back to their in-country base of operations on October 16, the Ohio missionary group ran into some trouble. (OK, a LOT of trouble.) The 400 Mawozo stopped their van, and all 17 group members were taken hostage. In the group were 16 Americans and 1 Canadian–5 men, 7 women, and 5 children. The adults ranged in age from 18 to 48, and the children were 8 months, 3, 6, 13, and 15. With the children, I’m rooting for a “The Ransom of Red Chief” situation to occur.

How did the locals react to this rude treatment of people who came to Haiti to help people they did not even know? They were less than pleased. On October 19th, a peaceful demonstration was staged in Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, to protest the kidnappings. Participants held aloft signs saying “No to Kidnapping!” Protestors pointed out that the victims had helped them; they had built roads and schools and assisted with bills. These Haitians, unlike the gang members. recognized the missionaries did not deserve to be treated in this fashion given their unselfish acts.

But these protestations have fallen on deaf ears. The gang is holding firm to its demand of $1 million for EACH hostage. U.S. policy, however, is that it won’t negotiate with hostage takers. Wilson Joseph, the gang’s leader, has indicated that if the ransom is not paid, “I’ll put a bullet in each of their heads.” Despite the gang’s barbaric actions and statements, the missionary organization made a statement advising hat family members of the hostages had forgiven the perpetrators.

How this outrageous criminal incident will conclude is unknown. Hopefully, it will result in gang members cooling their heels in a hot jail cell for a lengthy time during which they can contemplate their selfishness and depravity. As for the hostages, I personally believe their good deeds will eventually be rewarded; unfortunately, that may not occur in this life. Nevertheless, they have provided a worthy example of putting the good of others before oneself. I, for one, am appreciative of their efforts to show love and to care for their fellow man.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Do you agree with the U.S. policy not to negotiate with kidnappers? Why or why not? If given the opportunity, would you travel to Haiti on a humanitarian or mission trip? Should the U.S. be concerned about the unstable condition in Haiti?

Jewelry A Hit On The Baseball Diamond: Are Pearls A Player’s Best Friend?

It’s October, which can only mean one thing. Well, perhaps two. Halloween, when everyone enjoys dressing up, comes at the end of the month. October’s also MLB playoff time. Baseball players are getting all spiffed up to go to the ball park so they can slide around in the dirt and grass to try to win a championship. While they must wear a regulation uniform, players can show off some individual style with their impressive jewelry. Yes, diamonds, as well as gold and pearls, can be spotted on the baseball diamond.

Why on earth would a ball player need to wear expensive jewelry while on the field? And sometimes players are literally on the field if they slide or try to make a diving catch. Three reasons have been suggested for this head-scratching behavior. First, a religious conviction may prompt the wearing of jewelry. Cross necklaces, for example, can be worn to express one’s faith. This accessory is often accompanied by chest pounding and pointing skyward after a great play or crossing oneself before batting.

Style is a second reason to wear expensive, perhaps even gaudy, jewelry while engaging in athletics. A player wants to make a fashion statement. His uniform looks exactly like that of all the other members of the team, but he can stand out by being bedecked with bling.

Superstition could be the third reason for putting on glitzy jewelry for a game. Baseball players are well-known for being superstitious. Some won’t change socks or shave while they have a hitting or winning streak going; former Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs would only eat chicken before a game. Athletes may view a necklace as a good luck charm. Fans in the stands, however, are more likely to equate fancy jewelry with dollar signs and could be blinded by the light reflecting off that rope hanging around Mr. Pro Athlete’s neck.

The 2021 Official Rules of Major League Baseball are extremely detailed; yet, jewelry wearing by players is not addressed in Rule 3 about Equipment and Uniforms. While I did read Rule 3, I confess I had neither the time nor the inclination to read all 191 pages of the Official Rules; however, a quick review of the table of contents failed to reveal a section on diamonds on the diamond, pearls on the playing field, or gold behind the glove.

Since jewelry apparently isn’t banned, high profile baseball players often display shiny accessories. Take Los Angeles Dodgers’ right fielder Mookie Betts (whose initials spell MLB), for example. As if the nickname “Mookie” (short for Markus) didn’t make him stand out, Betts wears a sizeable gold chain to catch your eye. So the story goes, he got the necklace from a fan during a spring training game for the Boston Red Sox, his former team, in 2018. What a well-heeled fan!

But wearing expensive jewelry during a game comes with perils. The accessory can break right there on the field. In 2018 N.Y. Mets player Yoenis Cespedes broke his diamond necklace while sliding into second base. Umpires and players alike were finding diamonds in the infield (not the sky) as the game continued at Citi Field in New York. During a 2017 ALCS game between Houston and the Yankees, Astros pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. broke his black diamond necklace requiring him to dig around in the dirt on the mound to locate the pieces.

But in 2021, the big news regarding baseball players wearing jewelry comes during the playoffs and involves Joc Pederson of the Atlanta Braves. Although just traded to the Braves from the Cubs back in July, Joc has endeared himself to Braves fans who are enjoying what they have dubbed “Joctober.” Aside from his hot bat, Joc is attracting attention for the string of pearls he first sported during a pinch hitting appearance on September 29th. Previously having worn black and gold chains, Joc probably figured something more elegant was required at this elite and elevated playing level.

What’s the reaction to Joc’s accessory? His fashion choice has hit it out of the park. When his solo homer provided the only run scored by the Braves in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Brewers, social media attributed Joc’s success to his wearing the pearls. Joc, of course, continued to wear the pearls and tweeted a photo of himself wearing them in Game 3 of that series where he hit the go-ahead homer. He captioned his picture “pearl JAM.” When the Braves clinched a NLCS spot, Joc celebrated by spraying champagne, holding a cigar in his mouth, and wearing his pearls, which he has confirmed to reporters are real.

It’s pearl pandemonium for Braves fans who were seen at Truist Field in Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS wearing replica pearls. Hey, if it’s good enough for Joc to wear to the game, it’s good enough for them to wear while cheering Atlanta on. The ever astute Braves marketing team arranged for $5 replica pearls to be available for fans to purchase at the park. To absolutely no one’s surprise, all 5,000 on hand were sold out after Sunday’s game. Yes, Joc is not only a major league ball player, but a jewelry trendsetter as well.

Why does Joc wear pearls? Is he superstitious? Is he making a style statement? Joc answered the question simply: “I like it. It looks good.” But Joc and his fellow Braves will need to do more than look good for him to sport the pearls during the World Series. They must also play well to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and advance. Even if Joc’s team goes down in defeat, he’ll look smashing as the Braves’ hopes of winning the World Series are smashed.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Have you been watching the MLB playoffs? Should athletes be allowed to wear jewelry of any kind while on the playing field? Does Joc’s wearing a string of pearls detract from the game or add to the fun?

Celebration Controversy–To Observe Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day?

People can’t seem to agree on anything these days, including what they were to celebrate on October 11, 2021. My calendar designated that day as “Indigenous People’s Day/Christopher Columbus Day.” In digenous People are referenced first because, of course, they were here first. Unfortunately, you cannot celebrate both occasions; it’s like trying to mix oil and water. Indigenous People believe Christopher Columbus did them wrong, so if someone honors Columbus, they’re basically thumbing their noses at the Indigenous People. You can’t be Switzerland; you must choose a side with whom to celebrate.

Indigenous People’s Day is actually the newest U.S. holiday. On October 8, 2021, President Biden signed a presidential proclamation formally recognizing it and declaring it a national holiday. Of course, that didn’t leave his countrymen much time to prepare for that event. Three days’ notice? But forget preparing. First you have to figure out the appropriate thing to do on such a holiday. The newspaper in my area was bereft of information about how you could observe the event.

The purpose for Indigenous People’s Day is to celebrate and honor Native American peoples and their histories and cultures. As President Biden’s proclamation noted, “On Indigenous People’s Day, we honor America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal Nations that continue to thrive today.” So, literally, Indigenous People can truly say, “We’re #1” since they were the first ones here, not that Johnny-come-lately, Christopher Columbus.

Biden’s proclamation earlier this month was the first time a U.S. president has officially recognized Indigenous People’s Day. Nevertheless, the day has been recognized and celebrated for several years. The impetus for it came from an international conference on discrimination that the United Nations sponsored in 1977. Berkeley, California instituted Indigenous People’s Day in 1992, the year marking the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Remember learning in school, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”?

Marking Indigenous People’s Day on the same day as Columbus Day arose as a counter-celebration to honoring the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. Although hailed as an explorer and discoverer by history books, he has been denounced by some, including Native Americans, as representing the violent history of colonization of the New World in the Western Hemisphere. South Dakota, in fact, went so far as to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in 1989.

But those opposed to celebrating Columbus Day probably have no idea of the history behind how that holiday came into existence. Ironically, both Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day arose from the mistreatment of minorities. Although named for Christopher Columbus, the day wasn’t so much about him as it was about Italian Americans.

Back in 1892, on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage (still counting from the sailing of the ocean blue in 1492), President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day a one-time national celebration. The impetus for this announcement? Why, the lynching in New Orleans of 11 Italian immigrants. The president’s proclamation was seen as a means to appease Italian Americans and to ease tensions with Italy.

Fast forward to 1934 when the Knights of Columbus and a New York City Italian leader lobbied for a national proclamation of October 12th as Columbus Day. Nevertheless, it took until 1971 before the day became a recognized federal holiday. Many Italian Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage as opposed to idolizing or glorifying Christopher Columbus.

While Biden’s proclamation formalized the new holiday of Indigenous People’s Day, it gave no guidelines or even suggestions for observing it. How should you appreciate those the day seeks to honor? One way to do so is to learn more about the honorees. With the internet, that activity is literally right at your fingertips. You can go to http://www.sacredspaceonlinelearning.com/ssol-categories/native-american-first-nations-and-indigenous-peoples-nafni/ to check out public online resources and webinars offered by NAFNI (Native American, First Nations and Indigenous People) to bring awareness to their ways of life and traditions.

A second way to actively enjoy the day would be to make and enjoy some Native American food. Indigenous recipes can be found at https://www.powwows.com/25-favorite-native-american-recipes/. Three Sisters Soup sounds delicious and highlights the prevalence of three ingredients in the native diet: corn, beans, and squash. Fry Bread is a familiar food of Native Americans, but making it the traditional way fried in lard may not be the healthiest choice.

Columbus Day can certainly be celebrated as a tip of the hat to Italian Americans. Columbus was, undisputedly, a famous Italian who had an impact on America. His explorations are a part of history and need to be recognized. BUT, perhaps a better way to treat the holiday is to learn ALL of the story about his discovery of the New World, including, and especially, his treatment of the Indigenous People he encountered there. While history cannot be changed, our perspective of it might if we consider the entire story. Perhaps everyone could learn from the mistakes made in the past when it comes to human relations.

As for me, I prefer not to have to choose between the two holidays. I suggest we “accentuate the positive” and honor BOTH Indigenous People and Italian Americans. Nevertheless, I have a confession to make. I didn’t have the day off, so it was a day like all days to me. No celebrating or honoring was done–just working. I’ll do better next year and recognize these two groups, of which I belong to neither. Isn’t that what makes America great though? We are not all the same. By the way, you can kiss me because I’m Irish. You don’t even have to wait until St. Patrick’s Day, which isn’t a federal holiday….

WONDER-ing Woman:

Did you celebrate either Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day this week? If so, how? Were you aware of how Columbus Day initially came to be recognized? Is it possible to honor both Italian American heritage and Indigenous People at the same time?

“No Time To Die”–It’s Time To Find Diamonds!

Excitement is at a fever pitch for the U.S. release tomorrow of the latest James Bond movie, “No Time To Die.” Apparently the British spy refuses to die as this is his 25th film spanning many decades. As an avid fan of 007, I hope the latest release is a sparkling success, with the word “sparkling” evoking memories of the 1971 Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever.” Diamonds play a role in another success, this time in real life, with the recent discovery of a diamond over 4 carats in an Arkansas state park.

Actor Daniel Craig, appearing in his final James Bond silver screen saga, had a rough and lengthy journey having “No Time To Die” see the light of day–or at least the darkness of the movie theater. Set to come out in 2019, setbacks with a change in director and the pandemic greatly delayed the movie’s release. One would think getting a James Bond movie out would be much easier than an average Jane Q. Citizen finding a large diamond in a field. But you’d be wrong!

Just as October 8th will be a red letter day for James Bond fans in the U.S., September 23rd was an epic day for a California woman traveling in Arkansas. While on the road, she decided it would be great fun to visit Crater of Diamonds, an Arkansas state park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas she’d read about. This park, located in southwest Arkansas, is the only public diamond mine in the world. Visitors to the park can search for diamonds there with a “finders, keepers” policy in effect.

Within an hour of arriving and starting her hunt for “ice,” Noreen Wredberg found a clean and shiny object sitting on top of the ground. So, she picked it up. Taking her find to the park’s Diamond Discovery Center, she learned she was the new owner of a 4.38 carat yellow diamond, the largest diamond found at the state park in the last year. The gem is described as being the size of jellybean with a pear shape and a lemonade color. (But don’t drink it!)

How could such a stunning discovery so easily and quickly have been made? Well, as they say, timing is everything. Noreen went to the park a couple of days after it had rained. Rain can uncover a larger diamond, and with the sun out, rays were hitting the gem’s reflective surface making it more noticeable.

While visiting a state park evokes visions of hiking trails, canoeing on a lake, and picnicking, searching for diamonds is unlikely to come to mind. And getting rich during a visit to a state park is even more unbelievable. But that’s what can happen at Crater of Diamonds State Park. On an average day, park visitor find one or two diamonds. During 2021, 258 diamonds have been registered at the park, together totaling around 46 carats. Since the park opened in 1972, park visitors have discovered over 33,100 diamonds. Holy Bling, Batman!

Noreen named her new bauble “Lucy’s Diamond” despite the gem having been found on the ground rather than in the sky. But “Lucy” isn’t the biggest diamond discovered at Crater of Diamonds. On Labor Day 2020, an Arkansas man came across a 9.07 carat diamond. But the MOAD (“Mother Of All Diamonds”) unearthed at the site was a 40.23 carat pink diamond located in 1924 prior to the area becoming a state park.

But what are diamonds doing in Arkansas of all places? That state is known for razorbacks, not gems. Aren’t diamonds from mines in South Africa? Well, yes. Arkansas is the first place outside of South Africa where diamonds can be found at their original volcanic source. Visitors to Crater of Diamonds State Park search a 37.5 acre plowed field which is the eroded surface of a volcanic crater. The park is situated over an eroded lamprocite volcanic pipe which formed as the result of violent eruptions of “deep-origin” volcanoes.

Not being a geology whiz, this explanation sounds like Greek to me. But in simpler terms, in order for diamonds to form, they require extremely high pressures and temperatures which can only be found deep in the earth’s mantle, the mostly solid bulk of Earth’s interior. Diamonds are brought to the surface during eruptions through relatively rare pipes which provide a conduit from down below to up above. These pipes are well known as the primary source of diamonds. I don’t know about pipes and carbon, but I am amazed at what beauty results from heat, pressure, and an eruption.

The diamonds produced from these extreme conditions and upheaval come in all colors of the rainbow. The three colors which have been found at Crater of Diamonds State Park are white, brown, and yellow. A gem’s color is dependent on trace elements captured in the diamond as it is being formed. Talk about being a product of your environment, even diamonds are in this category.

Dreaming of hitting it rich by coming across a diamond lying on the ground in a public park seems as likely to occur as James Bond not getting the girl, not bringing down the villain, and not ordering a martini “shaken, not stirred.” But 007 may experience some twists and turns accomplishing these things. I’m counting the hours until I can see the new Bond flick this weekend, but I’ll have to sit through 163 minutes, the longest Bond movie yet, to find how he manages to find success in his latest endeavors. In contrast, one lucky California women took only an hour to find a diamond to change her life forever.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Are you a James Bond fan? Were you aware diamonds can be found in the U.S.? Would you like to go to Arkansas and search for a diamond at Crater of Diamonds? Why or why not?