Docent Corps Takes Portland

Add Pizzazz to Your Event with a Master Docent® Volunteer Guide

While being trained as a volunteer tour guide for a botanical garden in Portland, Oregon, I was encouraged to upgrade my work to that of a “docent,” like you find in museums and art galleries. This enhancement included using scientific names for plants instead of the common names. The first time I used the term Arctostaphylos uva-ursi with a tour group, a few members snickered. Nevertheless, I was determined to act like a docent, whether the unschooled liked it or not. So a few months later, when Portland launched its Master Docent® training program, with only 30 privileged candidates to be accepted into the inaugural class, I applied immediately.

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Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Terry Glase, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Like similar programs around the country that produce Master Gardeners, Master Composters, and Master Recyclers, the Master Docent Program is designed to appropriate idle time from retirees and eco-zealots in order to staff public programs otherwise starved for funding. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Portland ranks sixth in the nation for volunteerism, behind Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Rochester. (I can understand why Salt Lake City is ahead because of all those white-shirted young Mormons on bicycles, but what’s with the Midwest?) Also, Portlanders can breathe a sigh of relief that Seattle moved down to seventh place after beating the Rose City the previous year. Regardless, why does Seattle, with its exorbitant sales tax, need so many volunteers to run the city, anyway?
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Organ of Jean-Claudism

Duvalier_0002-3When I read about the recent death of former Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier, I was transported back nearly four decades to my first and longest field trip to that beleaguered country.  What stood out in my memory was the fact that I helped to promote a fledgling Haitian rock band inspired by the words of the young ruler.  This recollection stood in contrast to the usual portrait of a maligned leader, and gave me pause to reflect on the man and my nuanced image of him.

Jean-Claude was the youngest head of state in modern times.  And he was a ruthless dictator.  Only 19 when his father, “Papa Doc” Francois Duvalier, died suddenly in 1971, he inherited a legacy infamous for its repression and brutality.  However, hope abounded that the new leader would usher Haiti into a more progressive era of political and economic reform.  Young people were particularly attracted to the new president, who in earlier years was often seen riding his motorcycle through the streets of Port-au-Prince.  It took a while before people became fully disillusioned, but in the early days of Duvalier’s leadership there was heart-felt optimism in many quarters. Continue reading

Commentary: Jean-Claude Duvalier

By Gladys Mayard

Haitian anthropologist, researcher, consultant and Director, Centre de Research et de Service Socio-Humanitaire (CRESHM). 

It was the Duvalier regime that produced Jean-Claudism, and in the end it simply became the Duvalier doctrine.  My views are based on having read and heard about these events, as well as having friends who had family members who were victims of the regime.  It is necessary to speak of this doctrine as a complex ideology and mentality.

As an ordinary physician Francois Duvalier knew quite well to install his doctrine little by little.  He began by involving himself with the rural population before his presidency in the eradication of yaws, and through this made many friends.  Once in power, he understood the importance of establishing a corps of supporters, the macoutes, recruited from the peasantry, the poor and the middle class.  He conferred titles and diplomas on people who could neither read nor write.  He gave the poor legitimacy by eliminating social barriers to education, power and wealth.  Very quickly he made allies everywhere, and a strong macoute force was installed at every socio-economic level.

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The VSN in formation, Abricots, 1977

The brutal aspect of the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier was largely the work of the tonton macoutes, officially known as the VSN, Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale.  This unpaid militia resorted to ruthless and violent means to earn a living and to enforce the regime’s agenda.  Through them he eliminated the young intellectuals who opposed him.  When he realized that the families of the disappeared were working together and seeking ways to organize outside the country, he began monitoring all mail from outside.  My brother-in-law, one of the regime’s targets, had to speak in code even to close family members. Continue reading

Bamboozeled by Bright-siding

Americans Lash Back against Positive Thinking

Poppies closeupAmericans have been bamboozled by bright-siding1. We’ve been falsely led to believe that positive thinking will save us from all harm. Our generation has been duped into thinking that we can (indeed must) stay young forever, maintain perfect health, have it all, visualize our way to success, get rich, and enjoy 15 minutes of fame. To this end we have diligently followed expert advice, nurtured our bodies, worked like zealots, banished self-doubt and affirmed our inner strength. But a creeping suspicion is growing that maybe, just maybe, we’ve been blind-sided by a cruel hoax. Gasp—have we been fed a fairy tale?

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The New Matchmaking –anyone can do it!

Each September, the tiny village of Lisdoonvarna, Ireland, swells with the influx of thousands of merrymakers for the month-long, world famous Matchmaking Festival. People come from all over Europe as well as other continents to enjoy the daily festivities of music, dancing, drinking and romancing. The most famous local celebrity is a fourth-generation matchmaker, Willy Daly, whose book, The Last Matchmaker, tells the story of his family’s tradition of finding partners for rural farmers who came into the village after harvest season in search of a bride.

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M.J and Stormy in Lisdoonvarna

I visited Lisdoonvarna with my friend Stormy in late August, 2010, when the local bars and hotels were gearing up for the onslaught of visitors, and the official Matchmaker pub was closed for preparation. You could feel the anticipation in the air and we got caught up in the excitement, although we couldn’t stay for the festival. That visit sparked my interest in the once widespread custom of matchmaking. Continue reading