Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Serene Reflection

Hoa Lo Prison - Hanoi

The walls were painted black, as if the place needed a more creepy feng shui to make your skin crawl. And it was cold, the type of chill that penetrates into and ices your marrow space. It’s the cold that wool, down, Canada Goose, and layers cannot conquer. Could this place be as those in charge claimed, a venue set up for contemplation, for serene reflection?  I guess it depends on who you ask.

We were in Hanoi’s Hoa Lo Prison. In its prime, this once massive French fortress, aka Maison Centrale, was the place no rebel in Vietnam’s twentieth century struggle for independence wanted to be in while the country was still a colonial outpost. More recently US  POW’s captured during the slog of the Vietnam War derisively dubbed Hoa Lo the Hanoi Hilton. By the way, hoa lo translates to ‘fiery furnace’ or ‘hell’s hole.’ Serene reflection in a ‘fiery furnace’? Something doesn’t compute.

Independence Palace - April 30, 1975

On April 30, 1975 Ho Chi Minh’s Communist minions smashed through the iron gates of Saigon’s Independence Palace finally prevailing in their quest to unite Vietnam’s North and South. As the helicopter ferrying the last of those desperate to leave took off from the roof of the US Embassy, a decade of war came to a close. It was also the day the victors started writing their version of history.  The North’s narrative would have us believe POWs had the best possible living conditions. Aside from treatment of injuries, our guys were given periodic health check-ups, healthcare, and generally treated well and humanely. All this TLC despite difficulties and shortages the Vietnamese people faced during wartime. Such ‘best possible living conditions’ were designed to allow the men use of their quiet time, when not watching TV, playing chess, or pick-up basketball, for serene reflection on their role in the ‘The American War.’ 

Former POW Senator John McCain and the hundreds of other US airmen who were Hilton guests might have a different perspective. The depiction of what they experienced/endured during their stay had “very little connection with actual events that took place inside those walls.” They know all too well having your hands and feet bound, then hoisted on a meat hook while bent in a hog-tied position was not a therapeutic option at the Hilton’s spa. Spending months in solitary confinement was also not considered to be an upgrade to a private room. While it’s true a firm mattress is often preferable for achieving a good night’s sleep, the hotel’s offering of concrete slab beds was a bit extreme. Bottom line, other than sharing the facilities with assorted vermin and rodents, starvation, isolation, and torture were POWs’ constant companions.  

It is said victors write the history. That accounts for Vietnam’s portrayal of Hoa Lo as our captured airmen’s venue for serene reflection. It’s also true that sound journalism requires checking and cross-checking sources; a principle critical in the climate of alternative facts and fake news. So it’s good to keep that in mind as one considers how serene reflection within the walls of the Hanoi Hilton stacks up against the TripAdvisor review Senator McCain would have given the hotel …. would not recommend, a 0/5.

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The Gallery of my Vietnam images is titled Vietnam Vignette

images © David Greenfield 2018

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Use every drop .... twice

a drop - destined to be used again somewhere
Populating Childhood 101’s playlist are cheery nursery rhymes like, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. But there’s also an outlier recounting how a rainy day is a bummer. 

Rain, rain, go away
Come again another day
All the family wants to play
Rain, rain, go away

But in Israel, a distant sliver of land within a vast arid landscape, the people do not ‘look out on the morning rain and feel uninspired.’ It’s not a downer  for them.

looking out at a rare day in the Negev - the southern desert

Israelis celebrate rain for it replenishes water levels in lakes, rivers, and streams. From those sources, water is skillfully directed to homes and fields. Water is life, without it there is no life, no future. 

But with annual rainfall in steady decline, a growing population, and hostile water source-sharing neighbors, rain alone cannot make the desert bloom. Nor can it sate the thirst of its citizens or the countless thousands, friend or foe, Israel currently supplies outside its meager land mass.  

the challenge

Despite the odds, waters continue to flow and make miracles in the desert. There is no alternative.
So how do they do it?

Answer - Water is viewed as a national asset and early on the country’s leaders had a vision to achieve water self sufficiency. Respect for every drop is also instilled from Day One. Consider this jingle from Israeli kids’ own Childhood 101 playlist.

'Ushavtem mayim b'sasson
mimainei hayeshua'
Joyfully shall you draw water
From the fountains of triumph
Water - water - water - water
Hey, water in joy

But R-E-S-P-E-C-T or celebration is not enough. There’s also a multi-faceted action plan. It combines innovative technologies like smartphone enabled controls and drip technology for irrigation, a continuous education campaign to reduce waste and prevent loss, waste water treatment and recycling - using every drop twice - and deep drilling in remote areas for as yet untapped aquifers. In addition, and perhaps most important, consumers pay full fare for the water they use. Eliminating subsidies results in more thoughtful use of this vital national asset.

When these efforts do not meet the need, the gap between supply and demand is removed with desalination. Waters of the Mediterranean are converted into a plentiful precious potable resource.  

Water, water everywhere, and now more than enough to drink
at the Sorek Desalination Center, thirty minutes ago this water was in the sea

Water is life. To life! Le Chaim!

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images © David Greenfield 2017


Monday, October 9, 2017

Shelters - all are temporary

the Sukkah

If I don’t get some shelter
Oh, yeah, I’m gonna fade away
Gimme Shelter - Rolling Stones

The island of Puerto Rico once sent us Maria, the heart throb of West Side Story. That Maria suffered unspeakable loss as her brother Bernardo and her lover Tony lay mortally wounded on a dark, grimy New York street. A different Maria, one not caring to feel particularly pretty, recently stormed back with a vengeance. This Maria inflicted loss of biblical proportions and laid waste to an entire island. After she blew by, Puerto Rico barely registered a heartbeat as the once beautiful island almost sunk back into the ocean. 

In addition to Americans ravaged in Puerto Rico today, far across the globe it’s the  Rohingyas in Myanmar. Yesterday it was those afflicted by quakes in Mexico, Irma in Houston and Florida, and since 2011internal warfare consuming virtually all of Syria. Whether by the awesome destructive forces of nature, or by the cruelty and brutality of fellow man, tragedies left tens of millions of men, women, and children homeless and searching for shelter. Believe what you will but none of us is immune from similarly having our lives abruptly turned upside down and desperately needing to seek safe haven. In essence, all manner of shelter regardless how solidly perceived or built, is temporary.

You may dismiss this thesis, thinking optimistically ‘that can’t happen here.’ But devastation resulting from frigid temperatures, snow & ice, forest fires, rain, flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and Nor’easters disrupt countless lives in the US yearly. Choose your region’s poison, it doesn’t matter, we’re all only a heartbeat away from losing the roofs over our heads …. and perhaps much more.

open to the sky

There is a reminder of this fragility which coincidentally arrives each autumn. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot recalls the temporary dwellings recently freed Israelites erected for shelter on their forty year trek from Egypt across the Sinai wilderness. After centuries of bondage the experience was formative for an emerging new generation and forged self reliance. 

I gotta get out of bed and get a hammer and nail
Learn how to use my hands 
Hammer and Nail - Indigo Girls 

Sukkot observance is textured with messages other than fragility.
When summer crops are ready for fall harvest, it is time to appreciate a seasonal cornucopia of earth’s offerings. It’s also a time to pause and savor the permanence of bounties, such as the embrace of family each of us are fortunate to claim.

But as fields are gleaned and baskets filled to overflow, Sukkot reminds us that many  do not share in the abundance. Accordingly it is customary for a portion of the harvest to be set aside for those who may not experience the riches more fortunate neighbors enjoy. 

Now back to real time - those souls near and far afflicted by either violent acts of nature or by fellow man need space to dry their tears and mourn their losses. Soon after, with help from the family of man they’ll pick up hammers and nails to begin the painstaking work of rebuilding.  Perhaps Sukkot’s themes of taking action, appreciation of inviolable personal riches, and the willing hands of neighbors can provide a measure of comfort and encouragement.

We'll find a new way of living, 
Somewhere . . . 

Hold my hand and we're halfway there. 
West Side Story

Somewhere - Stephen Sondheim

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       all images ©David Greenfield

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hunger - it's not a game

Tunafish sandwiches on buns

Summertime, and the livin' is easy (Porgy & Bess by George Gershwin, 1934)

Ah, the lazy, hazy days of summer. Unlike the staccato pace of a 24/7 lifestyle, summertime conjures up images of sweet tasting R&R -  escaping with a pulp fiction novel while nestled in a tree slung hammock, walking on the beach at late afternoon’s golden hour, taking a dip in the ol’ swimming hole, or just chilling with munchies and a cold one. Bottom line, no cares in the world. 

Not so if you’re hungry. And it don’t matter whether the fish are jumpin', or your daddy's rich and your ma is good-lookin’. You can’t hush your belly, when it’s crying. 

Most of us are fortunate not to know that gnawing feeling in the pit of our stomachs, but that’s what too many kids face as they sprint out the door on the last day of the school year. Summertime hunger is an extended version of what some kids deal with every Friday afternoon from September to June as the cafeteria buttons up and rests until Monday lunchtime. 

But it doesn’t have to be. We can help. We can make tunafish sandwiches. 

It is a shameful fact that here in the US of A, the greatest food producing nation on earth, upwards of 50 million Americans frequently worry where their next meal will come from, and when they’ll have it. A third of those Americans are kids. As hard as that is to fathom, it gets worse. Despite all the energy, open land, and the majority of our freshwater gobbled up to produce America’s cornucopia, 40 percent goes uneaten. That’s the equivalent of tens of billions in cash flushed away. 

Meanwhile the wasted food piles up and rots in landfills wafting methane into our already challenged air. Cutting the waste by just 15 percent would make enough food available to feed half those hungry Americans. Fixing this food challenge, just like the myriad of other cracks in our systems, is an immense undertaking … but it is not insurmountable.

OK, there are cracks, but it’s through those cracks that light filters in. The rays create illumination enabling work to start on repairs. A Talmudic teaching also shines light for the way forward - "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.” 

This is where tunafish sandwiches, and Willing Hands come in.  

My wife and I are fortunate to spend summers in New Hampshire’s Upper Valley Region. There’s a lot to love here, but all that goodness doesn’t mask the coexisting needs. That’s one reason we connected with Take a Bite Out of Hunger. In an impressive, precision fashion, the program mobilizes teams of volunteers working out of Vermont’s Hartford Middle School Cafeteria kitchen to make, pack, and distribute lunches to area families and children. Last summer Take a Bite supplied over 12,000 meals. Grant and donation monies are used to purchase food and more is provided by area farmers, grocers, and bakers. These local food producers are expert in creating top-shelf quality food … and they hate to see it go to waste. Sometimes their output out paces what can be harvested. That’s when the call goes out for gleaners

So what’s a gleaner? Willing Hands, a local non-profit has the answer. Like the lunch makers of Take a Bite Out of Hunger, Willing Hands dispatches teams to designated farms to pick surplus corn, potatoes, blueberries, you name it, any fruit or veggie which would otherwise be left to whither on the vine.  In just one of our hour and a half stints, my team gleaned 150 pounds of potentially abandoned ripe blueberries. Not surprisingly, some of the blueberry trays turned out at Hartford Middle School the next day. We didn’t feed all the hungry, but we made a dent in the problem.  

"It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.” 

This incremental approach means that the goal may not be reached in one generation. Each generation will improve the world as far as it can, then it must pass on the mission to the next generation, until the goal is reached. 

In the meantime, we can help. We can make tunafish sandwiches. 

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                                   all images ©David Greenfield

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Teach a man to fish

“Feed a man a fish and his hunger will be sated ……. 

…… Teach a man to fish and he will never know hunger again.” 

Joe and Aaron

But what if his hunger is to explore, to grow, and to expand the shorelines of his world? You might lend him your boat so he could sail away to investigate the opposite shore. But if you teach him to build a boat, his craft could ferry him to possibilities well beyond the horizon. 

The fish/fishing parable speaks of empowerment through transmitted wisdom. At first glance, the beneficiary appears only to be he who hungers. But can the teacher not also feel a hunger? If it is true that one who gives also receives, then passing down knowledge acquired through years of experience fulfills an equally compelling need of the teacher. 

Let’s unpack this proposition viewing through a real time lens …….

As in the previous years, a small cadre of seasoned New Hampshire craftsmen assembled to begin a project guiding local teens in building a seaworthy vessel from scratch. The team was from Eastman, a small lakeside community. It proudly lists a skiff and mahogany kayak in its growing fleet. This year’s project, code named - Whatever Floats Your Boat, was a Kaholo 14 stand up paddle board. The design would produce a handsome craft not only capable of spiriting its navigator from one shore to the next, but also to shores yet to be envisioned. With camera in hand, I was privileged to be in the room where it happened for every step of the construction, witnessing the ‘give and take’ which emerged between the teens and their mentors. All reaped unheralded rewards from the generation to generation synergy. The experience was a form of déja vue all over again.

John, Chief of Operations with David

Back in the Sixty’s, folk legends Peter, Paul, and Mary helped shape the vision of many young minds with ideals messaged in the trio’s lyrics and songs. Today, although not writing music or lyrics but whistling while they worked, John, Roger, Frank ….. and Mary taught the essentials of boat building to a new generation. During winter and spring school vacation weeks they worked alongside their charges, a select crew from Eastman’s Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), a team which also has several Eastman improvement projects in landscaping and construction to its credit. While building the Kaholo 14, mentors instilled the importance of patience, problem solving, precision, attention to detail, and more to the mission at hand. They transmitted knowledge amassed during their lifetime experiences.  


All older adults like these mentors have gradually built their own reservoirs of knowledge. With active career years mostly in the rear view mirror, sharing talents for the benefit of their communities is a common thread for their next life stage, their encores. Partnering on projects with area youth is a feature of life in Eastman. The community, tucked within Grantham, NH - town of three thousand, was singled out as a 2016 USA Best Intergenerational Community. The honor was a shared one. The other recipient was Milwaukee, a city in command of vastly greater human resources and funds. 

on the level - Nick and Anna

Now back to the boat and learning to fish.

In June when completed and on display for the community to see, the Kaholo 14 was raffled off. As you might imagine, the lucky winner was ecstatic; but there was another winner - ticket proceeds were channeled into the next boat building project. That one will  provide another opportunity for Eastmanite mentors to give back. Like this year’s YCCers, the next Whatever Floats Your Boat crew will surely also glean newfound skills and knowledge. In the process they’ll be empowered to sate their hungers for exploration then confidently sail into their next life stage. No doubt about it, boat building in Eastman is a win-win.

photo credit Ellen Chandler

To view the full essay of images and text for Phase I and Phase II of construction, click on the following links:



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                        all images other than the one noted ©David Greenfield

Thursday, July 20, 2017

You must come

images © David Greenfield 2017
Ellie’s home in Kutaisi, the former capital of Georgia

“You must come visit and see my country.” 
That was Ellie Kokhreidze’s impassioned request as she prepared to leave the US and return to her home and family in the Republic of Georgia. For two years Ellie cared for my mom 24/7. She had been a supportive ‘bookend’ as the last chapter of my mom’s life came to a close. Our families became one. But in 2013 with my mom gone, and too many years of separation from her family heavy on her heart, Ellie felt the draw of returning home to Georgia too powerful to resist. My wife and I didn’t know when we would visit, but we promised we would honor Ellie’s request to come ‘see my country.’

Where exactly is the Republic of Georgia? 
Georgia is nestled in the Southern Caucasus of Eurasia, at the crossroads of East and West. Traveling there is hardly a user-friendly journey; flights are long and tedious, and connections are  limited with long layovers. But with expert guidance and a lot of planning we made the journey, managing to traverse the country from Kakheti - the eastern wine region, to the mountains of the Kazbek in the north, to the shores of the Black Sea in the west. We returned to the US with profound appreciation for the warmth and hospitality of Georgians, passion for the wonderful food and drink, and new insights into geo-politics and personal sacrifice. Despite challenges of the travel, we wanted to go and keep our promise. 

Lunch at Ellie’s
gouda cheese, tomatoes, and bread, all fresh and purchased moments before.

But why did Ellie leave the country and her family? 
After collapse of the USSR in the early ‘90s, Georgia as a former republic realized independence but emerged from behind a shattered Iron Curtain devoid of any supportive Soviet infrastructure. Times were troubled, nothing worked, the Kokhreidzes lost almost everything. Although her first grandchild, a granddaughter, had just been born and her parents were aging, Ellie and her husband Johnny made a gut wrenching decision to leave and come to America to work and earn enough to rebuild. Becoming destitute was not in their playbook. Meeting Ellie’s family, spending time with them, and seeing how the Kokhreidze family’s life is back on track, was gratifying beyond measure.

Johnny’s toast to my family from his wine cellar

Crisscrossing the country, we also established a special friendship with another Georgian family - Molly, Kakha and their young inquisitive daughter Salome. Molly is an ex-pat journalist working for the BBC, Kakha is a patriotic Georgian Everyman who absolutely loves the US for having Georgia’s ‘back’ as it leans West away from Russia’s orbit. When we needed to travel from one region to another, regardless of road conditions, terrain, or weather, Kakha was at the ready to drive us. Along the way he tutored us about Georgian history, culture, food, wine, and religion while showering us with small gifts of local delicacies. When it was time to eat, he took us to out of the way roadside open air markets and bakeries, the ones only locals know about. Each stop on these roads less traveled brought us into another world. All were memorable. By the end of our adventure it was clear we were joined at the hip. For our last night in country, Kakha and Molly insisted Carol and I skip a hotel and stay over at their home and enjoy a home cooked feast and, of course, local wine. All of us, including Salome, are now also family. It’s the Georgian way. 

Salome and Kakha

                                                  The full Gallery of Georgia images can be viewed here: Georgia - the Republic of 

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