Monday, May 31, 2010

Triumph and Trouble Strikes in Tropical Paradise


Oasis News: Daughter graduates from high school, University of Puerto Rico students continue STRIKE, University professors tricked!



What's going on in my part of this tropical paradise? We have had the most wonderful few days preparing and celebrating Miss A's graduation. (Can you find her in the crowd?) First the graduation, then the prom preparations, and finally, the prom. Did you know that some schools in Puerto Rico hold a prom for the students and parents? I was surprised and slightly embarrassed when my husband in-Tux and me in a floor length formal dress, entered the Sheraton Hotel in San Juan to attend a High School prom. (I had never attended a prom!) All discomfort was over though, when I saw Miss A entering the ballroom on her father's arm and floating down the aisle in a silky Grace Kelly classically draped and styled midnight blue dress. We have had several days of excitement while I put the realities of our life on hold. It's time now to face the trouble!

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Longest University Student Strike on Record!!


The university has been on strike for just under a month. The semester was interrupted by the students a few weeks before the semester ended, and from there on it's gotten difficult. The students have three primary objectives, to stop Certificate 98 which would repeal tuition waivers for honor students, athletes, and children of university workers; they also want to block tuition increases planned for the summer and want the university to open its books so that everyone can see how the money is spent.
An undertow movement of greater political change in Puerto Rico is visibly apparent in posters and the discourse surrounding the strike; many of the protesting students desire some form of Independence and political autonomy for Puerto Rico. The strength of the strike comes from this group but most students are concerned about the overt fiscal issues, if not the Independence Movement. It's difficult because Puerto Rico is in a relationship with the United States that allows for US citizenship and self-government but these citizens cannot actually vote for the US President-though they can vote in the Presidential Primaries. Surprisingly, I have noticed that most Puerto Ricans are members of the Republican party. Still the majority voted for Hillary Clinton as their chosen leader in the United States but happily supported Pres. Obama when he was elected. (These statements are my observations only.) The political relationship is called a Free Associated State or Territory. It is a bit of a confusing love/hate muddle because the Federal government has a strong arm in Puerto Rico regarding law enforcement, and just as any US state desires their own say about what goes on withing its borders, Puerto Rico maintains the right of self-dominion.

[Evidence of the Independence Movement: The current Puerto Rican Governor, Luis Fortuno, is made to look like Batman's Joker in a prominently displayed poster near the UPR's front gate. Below the poster the word "fascismo" (fascism) is written-notice that the letter "o" is in the form of a peace sign. photo-me]


[Students camp out -eat and sleep- within the gates of UPR on all campuses island wide. photo-me]
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Some harsh measures were taken to stop the student strike: water and electricity were shut off (later it was turned back on), for a time parents were not allowed to bring food and water, and a student and parent were injured by the police. Recently, Natalia Sanchez Lopez, a 21year old veterinarian student in Mayaguez was attending a student assembly and died from septic shock, which may have been caused by a viral infection and dehydration. Apparently, the Fire Department was warned about the lack of safe conditions-no water, no bathrooms, and no protection from the tropical heat. Regardless of these unsafe conditions, the Student Assembly took place. Students and professors grieve the loss of this lovely intelligent student. As a mother of a UPR university student and a professor dedicated to her students, I am seriously upset about this loss. (To read more about this loss in Spanish; and a detailed discussion about the negotiations click here.)
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ALL WORK and NO PAY

Finally, all the university professors, sin plaza (on contract), were called in on the 28th of May to sign a contract extension-the time and date was not flexible-everyone was to meet and sign. Professors from all around the island altered their schedules to cooperate;- of course thinking that this was an extension with pay. I should have been forewarned because of the date and time. We signed these contract extensions while an island wide strike took place, consequently, no union representatives were available to assist us in this unexpected turn of events.
When I arrived and spoke with a department director, I mentioned that all of the details of the extension were blank. I was told not to worry and that it would be filled in later by the administration. Friends, remember when your parents told you, "NEVER SIGN A BLANK CHECK"? I should have listened! Still I was concerned about the students because they haven't finished the semester. Without knowing, I signed up for a time commitment up to August 31-WITH NO PAY-excuse my redundancy but I am trying to understand what this means. I am ON CALL and then MUST WORK without pay. Most university semesters in Puerto Rico begin in the middle of August. Does this mean that professors are obligated to teach and cannot accept a position elsewhere? Does this mean that we are both employed and unemployed? Is this legal?
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I do know it means that we have all lost our health insurance because I went to get a prescription filled on Saturday and there was no record of my account in the computer system.

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[A rudimentary translation of this contract amendment from Spanish to English is:
As a result of the labor disagreement,
that is affecting the Rio Piedras campus, we are extending the second semester (Spring) to complete the required contact hours.

We are amending the termination date of your contract to August 31st, or whenever the Second semester ends for the academic year of 2009-10, whichever occurs first. photo and translation-me]

Do you notice it does not mention money or any of the ramifications of this adjustment? The professors were told that we could finish the semester anyway we wanted- on line, in person, by email?- or just turn in the grades. How is that finishing the semester or completing the required hours? Why isn't that orally given information in writing? I have noticed at least three serious problems: It appears because of the urgency and the timing of the meeting that this was a carefully planned out misrepresentation of the contract details. The university policy of signing contracts with blank spaces and missing details to be filled in later is worrisome at best and illegal at worst. Finally, in order to protect the universities accreditation, the students have a right and are obligated to finish their school hours when the strike is over. Why do the university officials tell professors that they can finish the contract "however they want" and yet put in writing that the hours must be completed? Is that ethical?

I am uncomfortable with all of these veiled secrets and subtle threats. Professors are worried about their future. Will I be hired next semester? Will I be full time? The uncertainty over career and the loss of income makes them "shut up and sign". The entire process of this contract extension was mishandled. I heard that the headlines in one of the local papers said that the professors were signing extensions- and that they were being paid for no work. (I haven't found the paper, but I think it was mentioned on local radio, too.) Why did the general public think that this extension of the semester was for pay? It seems that some of the confusion worked in favor of the administration. Everyone thought- because of past policy-that a contraction extension means you are being paid for the continued obligation. Most professors would expect that they have to finish the semester- at least for the sake of the students-and because of specifications in the original contract -therefore, no further arrangement needed to be made. We are routinely required to complete ethic's training hours!

Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble!
Trouble in paradise, indeed!


(Read the complete poem from Shakespeare's Macbeth and/or enjoy the adapted lyrics in Harry Potter)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Carpe Diem


In the garden, the delphiniums were in flower. Through scented twilight the girl in the white dress walked with a step as light as a cobweb. That evening, she hadn't a care in the world.

Mrs. Delahunty, My House in Umbria

Mrs. Delahunty: I may be dead next month. The moon may have crashed into the earth. Who knows what dreadful things may come to pass? But at the moment, I'm happy. What else matters?

Colonal: Carpe Diem

Mrs. Delahunty: I'm never really sure just what that means.

Colonal: Oh. Seize the day. Embrace the present. Enjoy life while you've got the chance.

Mrs. Delahunty: Carpe Diem. I'll remember that.

My House in Umbria
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Lately, I am aware that I have to do just that, carpe diem, because everything seems to have a feeling of impermanence. Not in a dark somber way but in the way that you feel that some thing's moving, some thing's changing.

I wonder what it is about life that after you hit a certain age, you wake up with memories of people and places that you haven't thought about in a long time. And fragments of youth-inspired dreams come back to your mind with a strong force. When I was a teen, I wanted to travel to Europe, and I did. I think my early obsession with travel was connected to my romance novel addiction. The love story inclination was left in the past, while the enjoyment of other lands and people remained.

I think that's why I love Maggie Smith in My House in Umbria. She's a writer of romance novels who has a calling to help people. She quirkily entertains us by her thriving imagination about the people who stay with her after they all are involved in a train explosion. (I wanted to post a link here but it's difficult to find a positive evaluation- to many spoilers. ) Nevertheless, I love the movie and the character that Maggie Smith plays, Mrs. Emily Delahunty- who has many other delightful nom de plumes.

The movie is set in Italy and if you can watch it and not yearn for travel to Italy, you are a strong person. It has magical views and entertaining cultural moments. If you are having an Italian themed movie night, you might rent Under the Tuscan Sun or go out to see Letters to Juliet. Both of these movies will make you feel as though you have been in Italy -or that it's essential for you to go there now!

I have read the memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes), and found it to be richly satisfying-and NOT A ROMANCE. I loaned this book to a close friend who found it tedious with detail about the Italian countryside, garden restorations and house renovations. However, I like these boring details of ordinary life. I like to see how people make decisions and what occupies their time. I'm interested in both real and spruced up life. (A little magic making fantasy is fine with me.) Another popular book that has an enchanting section on an extended vacation in Italy is Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. Did you know that Julie Roberts is going to play Gilbert in the movie? (Scheduled to be released in August.) There is another saturate-yourself-in=Italy movie that I have already mentioned in previous blogs, Enchanted April, which documents a life transforming month in an Italian Medieval castle. Gorgeous scenery! If you want to explore Italy this summer, or imagine yourself there in real life, try Rick Steves' link to travel.
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As for myself, I plan to stay in Puerto Rico, cook vegetarian lasagna, solve concrete everyday problems and at every moment-carpe diem! If that doesn't excite, think about my lovely gardenia bush that finally bloomed after three years of waiting, hoping, and supplementing with coffee grounds. Finally, it has a fragrant white bloom! Maybe it foretells of positive moments yet to come? ~~~~~~~~

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Oasis Life: A Wake Up Call; A view of this morning's mini-mudslides on the side of the mountain


Get out from that kitchen and rattle
those pots and pans

Get out from that kitchen and rattle
those pots and pans

Well, roll my breakfast 'cause I'm a hungry man

I said shake, rattle and roll

I said shake, rattle and roll

I said shake, rattle and roll

I said shake, rattle and roll
You never do nothin' to save your doggone soul...

Oh, come on, Elvis!

Do you really mean for her to get into the kitchen and cook some vittles?


(Or should I blame these sexist lyrics on songwriter Bill Haley?- Please forgive the aside comment here- I just couldn't resist. I digress!)

We had an earthquake this morning!

It occurred sometime after 1:00am while I was lying in bed watching Camilla (1994), a film staring Jessica Tandy and Bridget Fonda. It's kind of a female road trip film that makes me think about how I want my life to play out in the coming years. It's Jessica Tandy's final film. She plays Camilla, a free-spirited violinist who makes a difficult compromise in her life. I particularly appreciate Tandy because as an actress over 80 years of age, she is willing to skinny dip, celebrate life, and make love to her long lost lover (who happens to be her real life husband). The story is compelling- even if some of young Fonda's lines feel false.


Camilla is a real shake-up-your-life movie-as was this morning's earthquake.


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I took a tour of the property to check for damage and found


just a few avocados lying on the ground but most are still hardily growing on the tree.
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We had an earthquake early this morning!


Low rumble crescendos to a smart pound as

adrenalin rushes the sleep out of our bones.

Old shoeboxed photographs fall,

upper shelves now layer the floor.

Box sets of Paul and George open and

spill a pile of The Beatles out

and into the laundry.


We had an earthquake early this morning!


Rushing outside, calling

"What happened?" while the canine pack sniff,

wag and lick the nearest leg or toe.

"A surprise visit from the entire family!"


We had an earthquake early this morning

- a cause for panic

- a cause for celebration

- all is well.


Cynthia Pittmann 5/2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Maternal Moosings

Oasis Returns: A few notes on life, change and mothers

Espresso coffee with warm milk taste better than Mr. Coffee's rushed cup.

Do you start your day off with coffee? I can drink a pot of "American" coffee without getting "the jitters" while consuming two cups of Yaucono espresso could send me over the top. I usually get up early in the morning and put on the coffee- first thing. Though I have cut down my intake of coffee, I continued to drink a cup of coffee in the morning. (Haven't you been thrilled with the news that coffee could have some health benefits?) My motto: Healthy eating in moderation! Isn't that sentiment a contradiction coming from a lifelong vegetarian? I still like a bit of butter and cheese but lately, I prefer higher quality dairy products and avoid eggs.


This morning, I listened to the roosters crow and chickens squawk while I walked to the front gate of Green Oasis Finca. I have just planted a white rose bush that was given to me by nearly grown daughter, Miss A, which I, in turn, dedicated to mom because it was the anniversary of her murder on May 5. I found the physical act of digging deep into the earth and planting this ever-blooming floribunda rose, Summer Snow, the perfect way to connect and disperse this heavy laden grief that burdens me around Mother's Day. I feel refreshed and ready to get on with life. I just need a little sip of coffee, love from my family, and the company of blogging buddies to keep me thriving. I have appreciated the continued visits to my quiet Oasis blog, even though I feel like this black and white Holstein. Look at that face!
I have discovered that "girl cows" do have horns. And that in women, they hide under the surface until about the age of 50 years or so. My own horns are showing! Or rather I'm feeling a bit edgy-and it's not from the coffee. My daughter is soon off to college, and I feel strong pressure coming from that impending change in both of our lives.

My lovely daughter just finished this painting, yesterday.














Beginnings are scary. Endings are usually sad, but it's what's in the middle that most counts. So when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will! Hope Floats


Amber's Sun 5/2010