Thursday, May 19, 2011

Critters on the Mesa

So many little time. While getting to know the life and land here on the reservation, I am also meeting the critters.

Everyone is welcome at this table. This thirsty bird joins the humming birds at my feeder every day. I need to get t bird bath! Little moisture on the mesa. I am sure there is a story here and more.

We are told to watch for Black Widows in the garage. Steve treats patients for Widow stings? bites? They are nasty and life threatening. Is this spider outside my front door after Steve cleaned the garage a Black Widow? Hmmmm....

And these Coyote pups? kits? cub? Young 'uns greet me every day on the mesa. If a Coyote crosses the path of a Navajo it is bad luck and a blessing may need to be done but I just enjoy these critters.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Writing Connections: A Good Question

I love the connections I make through my books. They go out into the world and make new friends. Some of them contact me. See this email I just received from Japan. Michiko gave me permission to share:

Dear Karen,
How are you?
Since the Japanese version of “CIRCLES OF HOPE”, people around me read it,
and almost all said, “it was very good!”
Lately some book journals take it up and favorable coments have carried up.

There is a question from a reader. And it is what I also want to know.
You wrote in the dedication words, “In the memory of Gwen Grant Mellon~”
May I ask you who Gwen Grant Mellon is? What was she like? What has she
done for Haiti? Because I’ve never heard of her, I would appreaciate it if you
enlighten me about her.

Have you been in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010?
I visited Haiti in March with a team of Artists without Borders, and had some art
workshop in schools. In many part Haiti is still in mess and difficulty but streets
in Port-au-Prince are full of people’s energy and vigor.
I have written a report on the activities we had done in Haiti, but it is in Japanese.
When the report is translated in English, I’ll send it to you.
During my stay in Haiti, big earthquake and tsunami attacked Japan and nuclear
power plants accident. Though my region didn’t have damage, now we have big
difficulties that will weigh on us in the long future.
But Haiti Is Haiti, we are going to keep supporting haitian school, encouraging
people each other.
Hoping your response, 

Sincerely Yours, Michiko Takaoka

Michiko has a good question. Here is my answer. I had the honor to be at Hospital Albert Schweitzer when Mrs. Mellon was still alive. You will see from the obituary below why I dedicated Circles of Hope to her memory. But first another Circle of sorts. Note that Michiko is raising money along with other artists for Haiti after the tragic and devastation earthquake that many have forgotten about.

At the same time I live on the Navajo reservation where a group of Navajo artists are using art to raise money for those in Japan who have been effected by the tsunami and earthquake.

My answer (in part) to Michiko:

Thank you for your kind note about Circles of Hope. I am please to hear that it is so well received in Japan.

To answer your question about Mrs. Mellon I need to explain that I lived for two years with my husband and four children at Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, Haiti in the 1990s and again for one year in the early 2000s. It was a great pleasure and privilege to know Gwen Mellon who with her husband started the hospital in the 50s. I am attaching her obituary here. I think it gives a good sense of the kind of person she was and her husband as well. Among the many, many things the hospital did for the Haitian people was to start a tree planting project and so I was inspired to write the book through my association with that project. The tree nursery was in my backyard!
I have not been back to Haiti since the earthquake. The hospital has a website. If you google the Mellons, Gwen Grant and Larimer Mellon or HAS or Hospital Albert Schweitzer Haiti You will find much information.
Thanks so much for asking the question. It is a good question and an interesting inspiring story and few people ever ask. There are several books about the Mellons. They had a strong relationship with the famous Albert Schweitzer too.

,We have several close friends in Japan and we feel for your country and your people. It is remarkable that in the face of your own concerns you are still able to turn your attention to Haiti.

I wish for the people of Japan courage and a return to a safe life there.

Friday, December 01, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Gwen Grant Mellon was the dynamic woman behind the reluctant heir, his equal partner in their prosperous Arizona cattle ranch and in their amazingly sudden decision to quit it and devote the rest of their lives and fortune to the people of rural Haiti, co-founding the world-renowned Albert Schweitzer Hospital there.

of Haiti: The Lives of Dr. Larimer and Gwen Mellon
"Song of Haiti" first appeared as an article in the Post-Gazette Sunday Magazine in 1993, it included little about Dr. Larry Mellon's years in Pittsburgh and his family ties. Much of that information -- some of which did not make the book of the same title - appeared in the Sunday Magazine last September.

Mrs. Mellon, widow of Dr. William Larimer Mellon Jr., died Wednesday in Miami at 89 of complications following hip surgery. She remained the hospital's active leader and most elegant, eloquent spokesperson to the end.

Fair, willowy and regal, Gwen Grant was born into a genteel New York family that divided its time between Manhattan and idyllic summers upstate on the Hudson in Geneva. She was educated at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pa., and graduated from Smith College in 1934 -- an excellent equestrienne, adventurous lover of the outdoors and independent-minded maverick, not unlike Larimer Mellon.

Mellon, for his part, had reluctantly joined the family banking and Gulf Oil concerns, working in the sales department for two gloomy years. To escape the confinement of his white-collar job, his first marriage and Pittsburgh, he took off and bought a ranch in Pecos County, Ariz., becoming a dawn-to-dusk working cowboy, building fences, riding herd and doing his own branding.

Gwen Grant had her own confinement and first marriage to escape. When John Rawson, by whom she had three children, informed her he was leaving them behind to take a European job, she replied that she'd be leaving, too.

"I told him, 'I'm going to make myself a new life -- I'm leaving,'" she recalled. "He said, 'You wouldn't dare.' I said, 'Yes, I would dare.' I don't know how I had the nerve, with three kids and no job. But I went out West."

She was a 37-year-old divorcee, supporting herself and three youngsters by working on an Arizona dude ranch, when she and Mellon met in 1945. They fell in love and were married on Feb. 2, 1946, in Wilton, Conn., then returned west and settled into a comfortable ranch life, where it was not uncommon for Mellon and his boys to brand 250 cattle in a day -- a good life, but not wholly fulfilling.

Mellon himself didn't quite realize that until he read a 1947 Life magazine article on Albert Schweitzer's hospital in Gabon.

Mrs. Mellon was in the act of hanging some new curtains when her new husband informed her of a momentous new mission that would radically alter their lives. "He blurted it out: 'I think I'll become a doctor and practice in the undeveloped world.' And I said: 'So that's what's been on your mind lately. You're right, we don't want to sit around looking at the damn cows all our lives.'"

Both enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans. During Mrs. Mellon's medical studies, she dissected mosquitoes for an experimental syphilis treatment program and was trained in malaria control and tropical entomology at Charity Hospital, which was then trying out induced malaria therapy to treat mental illness resulting from syphilis.

Together, they decided to build their hospital in the rural midsection of Haiti, 90 rugged miles northwest of Port-au-Prince in an Artibonite Valley village called Deschapelles.

A healthy ratio of doctors to population is 1 to 2,000. In the Artibonite -- a 600-square-mile area with 185,000 people -- there was not a single doctor in private practice.

Legal, financial and logistical details had to be worked out, and the legwork was left to Mrs. Mellon. The Haitian government was to grant the rent-free site and 15 residential outbuildings on Standard Fruit's former banana plantation at Deschapelles, plus water rights, tax exemptions for equipment and supplies and a 100-acre farm. But the agreement drafted by the Haitians contained a 25-year limitation. Mellon dispatched his wife to Haiti to change it.

Many wives of that day might have been daunted by the prospect of negotiating with the head of a foreign country, but Mrs. Mellon was not among them.

Armed with Dr. Mellon's instructions, she went to Port-au-Prince to tell President Paul Magloire the 25-year restriction had to go -- and came away with the crucial concessions they needed.

While her husband finished med school, Mrs. Mellon almost single-handedly supervised construction of l'Hopital Albert Schweitzer, which opened June 26, 1956.

Certain roles as "enforcer" fell to Mrs. Mellon. Then and now, many called it "l'Hopital de Mme. Mellon" (Madame Mellon's hospital) because it was she who sat out front every day, recording the patients' names and collecting the fees.

The cost of being seen in the clinic -- including examination, lab work, medication and food -- was two gourdes (about 40 cents). It was hard for many to pay. Often a bag of rice or fruit was accepted instead of money. But payment was required on the theory that anything free is not highly valued -- in Haiti or anywhere else.

Mrs. Mellon subsequently helped initiate a vast array of HAS Community Development programs on the hospital campus and at the HAS outreach centers, where literacy, health, sewing, carpentry, homemaking and child care were taught. She was intimately involved in the dozens of sanitation and water projects her husband brought to fruition for the Artibonite Valley over the next 30 years.

Shortly before he died in 1989, Mellon named her as his successor as president of the Grant Foundation and effective head of l'Hopital Schweitzer.

In a country with such terrible overpopulation, disease and high infant mortality rate -- 50 percent -- she was once asked, did she ever get discouraged?

"Neither of us ever was," Mrs. Mellon replied. "We had many disappointments, but we always could think of something else to be done and we did it and it made a difference. We were more fortunate than a poor person sitting in his house with no food. There's not much he can do. For us, it was different. We could try another program, ask someone else for help -- do something."

Every Sunday she would visit and chat with every patient in the hospital, including those who lined the hallways in benches or cots or gurneys.

It meant an enormous amount to the Haitians.

Mrs. Mellon's wry, piquant autobiography "My Road to Deschapelles" was published in 1997.

Ian Rawson, a son of Mrs. Mellon by her first husband, was just 10 when he learned of his mother's intention to start the hospital with his stepfather.

"We had to learn, as children, that we had to share them as parents with other people -- people who relied on them for strength and inspiration," Rawson, of Squirrel Hill, said yesterday. "We learned to see [our mother] as something other than a mother, but as a role model as well."

Rawson said family members have been in touch with the hospital since Mrs. Mellon's death. He said there is "a great sense of loss" there.

Rawson said his mother will be buried next to Dr. Mellon near the hospital, on a hillside overlooking a valley. She will be buried in a simple cardboard box, as was her husband a decade ago.

"His point was that it was the way the very poorest of the poor were buried," Rawson said.

Mrs. Mellon also is survived by son Michael Rawson of Tenafly, N.J.; daughter Jenifer Rawson Grant of Essex, Conn.; 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Private burial will take place in Deschapelles, Haiti, tomorrow.

Memorial contributions may be sent to l'Hopital Albert Schweitzer, in care of The Grant Foundation, 1410 Magellan Drive, Suite 101, Sarasota, Fla., 34243.

Staff writer Caroline Abels c
buted to this report.