Floating on flowers

Behind the scenes with the Rose Parade’s award-winning float builders

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/27/2012

The end of the year is nigh, which means the float industry is gearing up for its big show on Jan. 1. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people line Colorado Boulevard and 72 million people in nearly 200 countries tune in to watch what has been dubbed "America's New Year's celebration" to experience flowers and music. But the crown jewels of the operation, now in its 124th year, are the floats.

In warehouses across San Gabriel Valley, and throughout Greater Los Angeles, year-round builders are putting the final touches on 42 enormous floats as thousands of volunteers cover every square inch of the moving structures with organic material, from a variety of flowers, beans and rice to seeds, grains and even produce. A Tournament of Roses Association liaison is assigned to inspect each float moments before it is displayed to the world.

The flowers, which come from all across the globe just two days before the parade, are the very last things to go on the floats to ensure their freshness. Besides the crowds of volunteers who help decorate, at least 30 employees work hard year round at each of the two main award-winning float building companies, Fiesta Parade Floats and Phoenix Decorating Co. That number can reach 200 come December.

"One of the biggest misconceptions about the Rose Parade is that we take three months off every year, put some metal on some wheels, slap on some flowers, and we've got a parade float," said Brian Dancel, media relations manager of Phoenix. "Absolutely not. Our deconstruction begins Jan. 3. We don't reuse anything except the banner float; these all get broken down, all the metal thrown into recycling, all of the natural materials thrown into the trash, and we begin again right away for next year."

The first sales meetings between the float builders and sponsors occur in early January. By March, most of the designs are finalized and construction begins on the first wave of floats. According to Tim Estes, president of Fiesta, the designers, builders and sponsors work very closely on every step of the process.

"We really work closely with each and every client to develop the design that they want," said Estes. "It's a working relationship that takes anywhere from three weeks to as much as eight weeks to come up with the design. Once the design's done, we're able to convert it into a rough construction model, do blueprints and start the construction. The design element is the hardest part in the whole process."

Even though Fiesta's designs are ultimately drawn up by internationally renowned artist Raul Rodriguez, the final product is the result of a collaboration of Estes, Floral Director Jim Hynd and Rodriguez working directly with clients.

The clients of all four float companies--from cities like Los Angeles, Glendale, South Pasadena and Sierra Madre, to companies like Dole, Miracle Grow, Farmer's Insurance and Honda, the main sponsor of the Rose Parade--all enjoy very healthy returns on their investments, with float costs ranging from about $100,000 to $400,000.

"These floats are not rolling commercials," said Dancel. "However, they do get 45 seconds of coverage on live television in what is the second most-watched event in the United States every year behind the Super Bowl. It's a fraction of the price with more bang for your buck. You're talking about an outreach to a lot of people. It's one of the smartest business decisions that any company could make."

Estes, who has been in the float industry for nearly 50 years, has seen positive and negative changes in float making in the past few decades. From a design standpoint, clients want more of a message involved, as opposed to just having a pretty float with their name on it.

"With respect to actual construction, we're finding easier and better ways to come up with creating the figures and components that go on the float," he said. "The materials we're using today are not the same materials we used on floats 30 to 40 years ago. Animation has also certainly made some good, positive steps with respect to using more hydraulic power."

However, Estes has watched the parade be cut down from two and a half hours to two hours, and the toal number of floats from 60 to 42. The parade has also been shortened to accommodate TV broadcasting schedules. Both Fiesta and Phoenix would rather see more floats restored to the parade.

"Since the Rose Parade is so well known, due to the great floral floats that are created by some very creative artists, float builders and the self-built floats, perhaps we could try to eliminate a couple bands and equestrian units and increase the parade by about 10 floats," said Estes. "One large band equals approximately two to three floats in overall length, so get rid of one band and you can bring in two or three more floats."

The variety and craftsmanship among the remaining 42 floats, however, is quite a sight to see even before the flowers are attached. Oen of Fiesta's floats will have a 30-foot real flame shooting out the top of a 26-foot volcano. Rodriguez and his bright blue Hyacinth Macaw, Sebastian, will be riding on that float, sponsored by Dole. Farmer's Insurance sponsored a float that will host the first wedding ever broadcast live during the Rose Parade right at TV Corner at Colorado and Orange Grove boulevards. Virginia couple Gerald Sapienza and Nicole Angelillo won a Facebook contest and will say "I do" atop Farmer's Insurance's "Love Float."

From a giant Cat in the Hat to a 40-foot slide that kids will ride during the parade to Jesus standing at the pearly gates, there's something everyone can enjoy during the 2013 Rose Parade.

"There's a lot of variety of people who will be riding, things that we're honoring; you name it, we've got it here," said Dancel. "It doesn't get any larger on New Year's Day than the Tournament of Roses Parade. We're just happy to be a part of it."

The fight of their lives

Art Aids Art celebrates 10 years of empowering South African women

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 12/6/2012

For 10 years, Dorothy Garcia and Tom Harding have dedicated themselves to a poor township in South Africa. Their Altadena-based nonprofit organization, Art Aids Art, has done invaluable good for the people living in Khayelitsha, an unfortunate lingering remnant of the apartheid era situated on the outskirts of Cape Town. In 2003, Garcia and Harding began buying beaded artwork made by otherwise unemployed South African women. They sold the artwork at home parties in Altadena and Pasadena and reinvested the profits back into Khayelitsha. Today, with more than 100 events held nationwide, the organization has helped generate more than $200,000 for the township community.
Five years after their first venture, with a group of Harvard students, they helped design and build a community center, eKhaya eKasi, which provides essential art, education and economic development programs that have become an instrumental backbone for the township. 
On Dec. 2, Mountain View Mausoleum in Altadena hosted a solo, chamber and vocal music concert to celebrate Art Aids Art’s 10th anniversary. The event also exhibited works by iconic South African artists such as Peter Clarke, considered one of the 10 greatest living artists in South Africa, and Jurgen Schadeberg, a German-born photographer whose early photos of Nelson Mandela and the struggle against apartheid were featured in the Weekly, the Pasadena Central Library and Pasadena City College’s Shatford Library, as well as internationally. More than 100 people attended the celebration, participating in a silent auction and purchasing South African art and handicrafts.  
Back to the motherland
In March, the Weekly traveled with Art Aids Art to South Africa to see the organization in action. Khayelitsha, home to 1 million people living in abject poverty, is one of the biggest townships in Cape Town. Most of its residents come from the Eastern Cape, a province of South Africa. The most depressing and unfortunate thing about the townships is that they still exist nearly two decades after the end of apartheid. 
There are different styles of housing in the townships. Some are government built and subsidized with satellite dishes on the roofs, while others are squat shacks crammed together over winding hills, providing a heartrending view of a tragically beautiful way of life. People living there can’t afford to leave the township, and this creates a palpable sense of a community based on survival. The lack of transportation, a system which has not changed much since apartheid, is especially difficult for women, which inspired Garcia and Harding to launch the Wheels for Women campaign. This program will bolster self-sufficiency for women in Khayelitsha looking to expand their small businesses.
“We’re going to start by getting a vehicle at eKhaya eKasi,” said Harding. “We have a whole community of women there coming up with design ideas and training each other, but when they need materials or try to go market their stuff, they have to rely on some man who owns a car or a taxi. So that independence they’re achieving is derailed by this lack of transportation.”
Every day across the small road from eKhaya eKasi, which opened on World Aids Day, December 1, 2008, a queue of women wait to have their beadwork and other craftwork judged by one buyer, who decides if she will purchase their artwork and then resell it at a market at a higher price. The problem is that there’s no opportunity for growth among the artisans.
At the modern, two-story eKhaya eKasi, it’s a different situation. Formerly unemployed women take classes, learn vital skills and develop their businesses at the locally run community center. Art Aids Art has also promoted artistic education, including fabric painting, silk-screening, beading and felting.
A global battle
One of the major issues facing residents of the townships is HIV, which remains a difficult subject to address. Following the 6th Annual HIV/AIDS Action Summit in September at City of Hope in Duarte, hosted by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, keynote speaker Mondo Guerra teamed up with Art Aids Art to do just that.
The winner of Lifetime Television’s Project Runway All-Stars, who announced his HIV positive status on the show, Guerra placed an order with a group of South African mothers to make a limited edition pin of his Pozitivity design, a print he created that helped him win the show. The handmade pins, part of Art Aids Art’s Beads of Change initiative, can be purchased on his Web site, mondoguerra.com.
“Art has always helped me overcome difficulties in my life,” Guerra said.  “I’m proud to support Art Aids Art to empower people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS through their art.”
The Art Aids Art founders are particularly proud of this collaboration, knowing it will make a difference for those living with HIV in South Africa as well as raise awareness here in the United States.
“It’s just an incredible collaboration between these people who are involved in the struggle against AIDS on opposite sides of the planet,” said Harding. “How great to see the women’s entrepreneurship being carried so far.”
Learning independence
Each year, Art Aids Art leads a group of volunteers to Cape Town to provide assistance to those affected by HIV and poverty. In January, several occupational therapists will be working with universities in South Africa. In the past, a group of Blair High students traveled to the township.
“I got so excited about seeing so much participation from Blair,” said Garcia. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to take a group of public school children to see life in Khayelitsha?’ I think that’s really important. It gives them a chance to apply their skills in a situation that, like it did for me, can really change their lives. That’s another big fantasy from (Art Aids Art), to send people there and keep trying to make the connections, and keep trying to create common language.”
Experiencing the daily hardships that many South Africans live everyday can, indeed, be a transformative process. Garcia and Harding also strive to make sure the programs at eKhaya eKasi are locally run.
“The goal is not for us to be in charge,” said Garcia. “Using a parental analogy, you do what you need to do to have it hold itself up. That was its intention. It’s about finding ways to disassociate and, at the same time, be as structurally supportive as possible.”
This remains especially important as the organization gears up for the next decade. Harding noted that they try to make sure they’re not pulling all the strings from their headquarters in Altadena.
“Part of the excitement and anticipation of the next 10 years is to know that the people who are there are going to be just fine running the project, and the combination of the local community and the international contributions and energy that are coming in,” Harding said. “Who knows what the future holds?”

Something Wal-Mart this way comes

Opponents strategize as giant chain store discusses a second outlet in Altadena

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 7/12/2012

Without public hearings or adequate notice about Wal-Mart’s controversial plans to open a grocery store early next year at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Figueroa Drive in Altadena, the company has added fuel to a growing fire by negotiating a second location for another store on an empty lot at Lake Avenue and Calaveras Street.

A spokesperson with the company told the Pasadena Weekly on Friday there were no current plans to open a second store in Altadena, but a representative of Supervisor Mike Antonovich confirmed in two separate phone calls that Wal-Mart was looking at a second site as well.

The impending arrival of Wal-Mart has divided the community, with many claiming the store will mean the end for a number of independently owned businesses.

Supporters say the store will bring jobs and money to the bedroom community.

“Nothing’s been signed yet, but they are very, very interested in ruining our community,” said former Altadena Town Council member Steve Lamb. “All the stuff that Wal-Mart’s using to sell people on why it’s a good idea to have them in town — those things aren’t true. You end up with a net loss in jobs, a net loss in sales tax.”

The Town Council, which has no decision-making power and acts mostly as an advisory board to Antonovich, has not yet met publicly regarding the issue. However, a number of the council’s 16 members, including Brent Musson and Tecumseh Shackelford, have said as individuals that they support the opening of a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in West Altadena.

A flyer was delivered to several homes in the area last weekend listing the “Altadena Town Council, Tecumseh Shackelford and Brent Musson” inviting the community to an informational meeting, though Town Council chair Sandra Thomas said she had not been informed about the meeting and that the council has not yet taken a position.

“We hope that any future tenant would reach out to the community and express their desire to work within the context of being a good neighbor, and to elicit support for any potential developments in Altadena,” said Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell. “It’s the community’s needs that come first. Any potential tenant needs to engage the community so they can meet their needs.”

Arman Gabay, the Beverly Hills-based developer who owns both properties, could not be reached for comment on this story.

The Altadena Chamber of Commerce has met with Wal-Mart representatives but has taken a neutral position on the company’s plans, according to Lori Webster, owner of Webster’s Fine Stationers and a member of the chamber’s board of directors.

As a small business owner, Webster is part of an opposition group called Save Altadena, comprised of residents, former Town Council members, local business owners and other community leaders, which has begun planning opposition to both stores.

“Having two Wal-Marts in Altadena is definitely going to put a hurt on the small businesses in town,” said Webster. “It’s basically going to be a vice. Since they’re bypassing all county review, how is the community supposed to react to it? What can we do about it if we don’t want it? That’s why Save Altadena is trying to educate people about Wal-Mart and the negative effects it has on small businesses.”

Save Altadena members are not the only ones who oppose Wal-Mart opening stores in their town. According to a City News Service report, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) and the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 770 announced last week that they jointly filed a lawsuit against the LA City Department of Building and Safety for failing to inform the public of its decision to allow a Wal-Mart store in Chinatown to proceed without environmental review. The lawsuit also seeks to stop construction at the store.

Wal-Mart has announced plans to open new grocery stores in Los Angeles and Ventura counties in commercial zones that don’t require a conditional use permit as long as the store does not sell alcohol. Once the stores open and become established, however, they could then easily apply for a liquor license.

One of the tools Save Altadena is utilizing is peer-reviewed studies conducted by institutions such as Cal Berkeley’s Labor Center. The documentary “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices” will be screened July 21 at Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena. Visit nowalmartaltadena.com for more information.

“There is nothing like the facts to stir up a discussion and make people think twice about supporting Wal-Mart in any way,” Jeanette Lamb, Steve’s wife, wrote in an email.

While Arkansas-based Wal-Mart is celebrating its 50th anniversary July 2, citations for sobering statistics used in that documentary assert that Wal-Mart currently faces lawsuits in 31 states, including several in California, for such issues as wage and hour abuses potentially involving hundreds of thousands of workers.

Supporters of Wal-Mart stores planned for Altadena maintain that they will provide jobs in the economically depressed areas of West Altadena and North Lake Avenue (Wal-Mart representatives have promised 64 new jobs at the Lincoln and Figueroa store alone), reduce crime in the area and attract more businesses to Altadena.

However, according to several peer-reviewed studies, these arguments don’t hold up. Wal-Mart has been shown to cause a loss of 1.4 jobs to the community for every job available at Wal-Mart, meaning the first store will cost the community 89.5 jobs. Among other negative effects, these academic studies have shown that local area retail store sales and overall sales tax revenue are reduced and crime increases when a Wal-Mart moves into town.

“Unless we address the drug and gang problems, no retail store in the world is going to solve the crime problem,” said Webster. “That’s up to the community and the Sheriff’s Department. There are no Wal-Marts close by, so it will attract people from outside Altadena, but does that mean they’re going to patronize other businesses in Altadena? Not likely.”

Cape Town to Kampala

Trek Through Southern Africa: A treacherous journey by road

Since the age of 14, Justin Chapman has always wanted to come to Africa. More than a decade later, at the age of 26, he realised his dream, with an exhilarating, if not risky, adventure from Cape Town to Kampala

By Justin Chapman, Sunday edition of New Vision's Discovery Magazine (Uganda), 5/27/2012

Although I am a white American, I consider myself a global citizen. Uganda is the 25th country I have visited. When most Americans think of Africa, they think safaris. They envision lions, zebras, elephants and giraffe running wild. They think of languages with clicking noises. They think of skinny, starving children, their rib cages exposed, barely covered by a thin layer of skin, swarmed by flies that are so plentiful it is useless to swat them away. They recognise names of some people and places: Nelson Mandela, the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro, Johannesburg, and a few others. Most Americans have no concept of the size of the continent (indeed many think Africa is a country, not a continent with 54 individual countries), let alone the countless cultures, ethnic groups, and languages.

I came to Africa, by myself, to see this exotic land with my own eyes, to experience the people and feel Africa's powerful energy.

I have a lot of experience travelling to places that are not like America. But this three-month journey I am undertaking is an enormous step above the rest. Africa and America are almost polar opposites; there are similarities, yes, but they are vastly different worlds.

I decided to take buses and trains from Cape Town, South Africa, all the way to the Pearl of Africa. Once I had my plane ticket to Cape Town, I worked for three or four months to save money for the trip. It took 30 hours from Los Angeles to Cape Town by plane.

I had business in Cape Town and in Mityana, so I could have easily taken a plane and made my trip much easier and less expensive, but I wanted to see more of Africa, not fly over it. This decision really made the journey a test of survival. I must be either a very brave or a very stupid mzungu, but despite the challenges I have faced, I have made it, triumphantly. What follows is a painfully condensed account of my adventures, I could fill several thick books detailing the entire journey, which has yet to come to a conclusion.

Third class

The idea was to visit Cape Town for a couple weeks, where a non-profit organization called Art Aids Art, based near Los Angeles in Altadena, California, where I grew up, has built a community center in the township of Khayelitsha and employs women living there. Among other activities, they buy artwork from otherwise unemployed women at fair trade prices, bring the art back to America, sell it at home parties, and then reinvest the profits back into Khayelitsha. I travelled to Cape Town to see their work firsthand.

I spent about two weeks in Cape Town and experienced nearly everything it has to offer: from the poorest townships in the Cape Flats to the upscale mansions on the hills of Fish Hoek. I hiked around the entire top surface of Table Mountain and swam in a lake in its foothills. I attended the screening of an independent film about Derick Orderson (who was present at the screening), a swimmer who broke international records and would have qualified for the Olympics had it not been for apartheid. I enjoyed the International Cape Town Jazz Festival. I always rode in third class on the Metrorail trains and never felt threatened despite dozens of horror stories and warnings from locals and visitors alike. I almost got locked up in a mental institution when the guards thought I was an escaped patient. I almost got stranded at night in Guguletu, a dangerous township to be in at that hour. I also squeezed in a couple touristy activities like Robben Island and the Cape of Good Hope.

I rode third class in the Shosholoza Meyl train, a 28-hour journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The entire time, women in my carriage were dancing and singing and pounding the walls, never repeating the same song, while the men got way too drunk and began screaming and fighting each other. It was impossible to get any sleep. My carriage was a fracas, but in the very next carriage, which was still third class, there was utter silence, like in American trains. There were South African police on the train, but they did nothing to stop the drunken men screaming and punching each other. I enjoyed the experience, but I vowed never to take third class again.

From Johannesburg, I took a bus to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, then to Francistown in transit to the Zimbabwe border. What happened next was one of the highlights of my trip.

Zimbabwe the hard way

Zimbabwe was the country I was most worried about because of what I had seen and read in the news about Robert Mugabe's regime. As it turned out, Zimbabweans were among the friendliest of all the Africans I met along the way (except Ugandans, of course).

After going through immigration at the Zim border, I walked outside and asked a young woman and a professor how to get to Bulawayo, where I needed to buy my overnight train ticket up to Victoria Falls. They said it was better to wait with them than go outside the gate and be surrounded by vultures [taxis for hire]. A ride was coming to pick them up, so I stayed with them.

Finally, their van arrived, and the three of us crammed our luggage and ourselves in along with six other people and their luggage. It was a very tight and uncomfortable fit. After we passed the gate and officially entered Zimbabwe, we began speeding along the road, which was undergoing construction. Cars had to veer in and out of the lanes in order to avoid the barriers on teh two-lane highway.

Not five minutes past the border, I was talking to the professor to my left when all of a sudden a car slammed into us from the right side, shattering the windows in our faces. We started spinning uncontrollably for what seemed like 10 minutes and one second at the same time. We could feel the wheels on the left side of the van lift up as we did a 180 degree turn and thought for sure the van was going to flip over into the bush, which would have surely killed us all.

The driver saved our lives by managing to bring the van to a halt. Everyone immediately scrambled out of the vehicle. It wasn't until I got out that I realised there was glass in the hair on my head, on my face, the hair on my arms, in my shoes, in my trouser cuffs, and all over our luggage inside the van. The car that hit us was about 250 feet away, having landed in the bush. About eight or nine people got out, one a mother holding a baby. Both cars were demolished, done, finished. It's amazing that no one got hurt, because it was a terrible car crash, the worst I'd ever been in, and certainly a near-death experience.

If I had been killed, it would have taken months for my family in America to find out what happened. And how would they retrieve my body, let alone deal with the grief?

After we made sure no one was hurt, the girl I met at the border flagged down a truck and asked for a ride for three people to Bulawayo. As the driver of the van was screaming and yelling at the people from the other car (it was their fault), the professor and I grabbed our luggage out of the van and ran for the truck, joining the girl. We hopped into the open-air bed of the truck, which already had a couple people in it, and sped away. Still shaken and shocked, we sat mostly in silence for the hour-long drive to Bulawayo. If we had been in the back of this truck when the accident happened, we would be dead, yes sir. I lifted my arms to the windy sky and laughed and screamed, "WE'RE ALIVE!"

We came upon a police checkpoint. The professor told them in the local language about the accident and that two cars and many people were still down the road dealing with the situation.

"Oh, really? Huh," was their response. They didn't care, and showed no signs of moving from their shaded post under a tree.

"That was the largest car crash I have ever been in," I told the 35-year-old professor.

"That was my first," he replied, which surprised me considering the haphazard way Africans drive, and the risks they take. In America, I've experienced quite a few accidents, but nothing like this.

When we arrived in Bulawayo, the truck driver did not charge us. It took a near-death experience to get a free ride. The professor, the girl, and I said goodbye, us three strangers who will never see each other again but experienced something together that we will never forget as long as we live.

River rain

The Bulawayo-Vic Falls train was built by the British in 1952. It had no electricity and no toilet paper. Victoria Falls itwself was brilliantly beautiful. The falls are so massive that you can see a towering cloud rising up all the way from the small local town. Once inside the park, I walked along a narrow path through a rainforest, literally. The closer I got to the falls, the harder the river rain would pour down on me, a constant shower pushed up from the bottom of the valley high into the air as the hot sun burned bright. I couldn't help but lift my arms in the air, lift my head to the sky, and laugh hysterically as the river rain drenched me in the middle of this Zimbabwean jungle.

People are constantly trying to sell you their wares in any city or town in Africa, but walking through Vic Falls was particularly annoying. Several guys would come out of nowhere and surround me, following me wherever I went, trying to sell me this or that. They would not take "no" for an answer. If I reached my destination and hours later came out, they would be there waiting for me.

I walked with a young local man across the road and into a dense bush. We walked over huge piles of elephant droppings and down some railroad tracks and then back into the bush. We came into a clearing where locals had set up a small huts and lined up their stone-carved statues. It was a shame my camera wasn't working. I suppose it was for the best. Some things are just supposed to exist in the moment and the memory, not to be recorded or shared. I could see several spots where people had recently built cooking fires, and several warthogs walked around us, looking for food.

I eventually went to the Zambian border, where baboons walked around freely, lounging in the sun. As I waited for the bus in Livingstone, I pulled out my playing cards. Three Zambian guys immediately came over and several others watched as the four of us played an African card game in the dirt.

The African Darjeeling Limited

I took a bus ride to the New Kapiri Mposhi train station, where the famous Tazara railway train departs. This one was built by the Chinese for access to Zambian copper, which is why it doesn't reach the capital of Lusaka. It is a much better train than the British-built ones. It has electricity, showers, toilet paper, bed sheets. I bought a first class ticket this time, and was placed in a compartment with a young guy who lived in Zanzibar, where I was planning on going. His parents have a mansion right on the beach. He invited me to stay with them, an offer I couldn't refuse.

Zambia was relatively uneventful, but Tanzania is one of the most beautiful countries I've ever seen (besides Uganda, of course). It took a day to reach the border between the two countries. I was in the lounge at the back of the train, charging my phone while the Zambian immigration officials went room to room, so they didn't find me even though they knew how many passengers were on board. I was never stamped out of that country. Bureaucratically speaking, the Zambian government still thinks I'm in their country. The Tanzanian officials stamped me into their country, though. It wasn't their problem.

For Americans, Zanzibar is an exotic place that doesn't really exist in our sphere of influence or effluence. I had no plans of visiting the mysterious island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I came to learn quite a bit about the Zanzibar Archipelago, which contains several islands that used to be its own country. Incredibly, it is the only (semi-)working joint government that exists on the entire continent.

Zanzibar has a "revolutionary government," though there are hardly any tangible signs of it, give or take a few actual signs that read "The Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar," as well as worn campaign posters plastered on every public surface that will hold them.

Unlike most places in Africa (or the rest of the world for that matter), you feel completely safe and unthreatened walking around anywhere at night by yourself.

Ending and beginning

Back in Dar es Salaam, I took a 30-hour bus ride to Kampala via Nairobi. As we approached the Ugandan border from the Kenyan side, I woke up and saw our bus driver being chased by a Kenyan police officer with a big, protruding belly. The cop's hat fell off, so he rushed back to pick it up, and then resumed chasing the driver as all the passengers watched in amusement. The officer was too far to catch the driver, so the two went around a small building in circles for several minutes. It was like a cartoon.

The police brought us to the Busia District station. One of the passengers told me the driver would be tortured. He was taken inside a building and sure enough, he emerged 10 minutes later with two black eyes. We proceeded towards Kampala. When we reached Jinja, the police made everyone get off the bus and a sniffer dog was brought onboard. It was the first drug-sniffing dog I had seen in Africa. The police here have only recently begun using them to search for drugs or bombs. The passenger who had been sitting to my left, a South African, whispered to me that he had some marijuana in his bag in the luggage compartment under the bus. He was sweating bullets of nervousness, but to my surprise, and his relief, the dog did not find anything.

The Pearl of Africa

My business in Uganda consists of teaching at a couple of high schools in Mityana with Father Kizito Ssendi of Kiyinda Cathedral, as well as my regular profession of journalism. Although I have reached my "final" destination, my time in Africa is only half over. Now the real work begins. My first impression of Uganda was favorable. It is a much cleaner country than most of the places I've visited in Africa. There is hardly any trash on the ground, the environment has been preserved, even the dirt looks clean. The dirt itself is blood red, mixed with green so bright that it actually looks Christmassy.

The villages and town that we passed are actually very nice. A lot of Americans work very hard (or usually pay Mexicans to work very hard) to make their yards look like what Ugandans have naturally. Jungles give way to square, dense forests with hundreds of thin trees give way to vast expanses of plains and farms give way to small towns, which give way to hills surrounded by green fields and banana trees and wheat fields and coffee plantations and sugarcane stalks. You can smell the life in the air, hard won by a proud yet still wary people.

These breahtaking, multi-layered landscapes, farmers plowing, animals grazing, all shades of green trees and yellow plants shining in the Ugandan sun, let all troubles pass from my mind. These landscapes are fertilized by the victims of the horror regimes of Amin, Obote, and the many vicious rebel groups, such as the Lord's Resistance Army, of which Joseph Kony is a leader. A friend of mine named Ben Wallingford recently visited Gulu in northern Uganda, the site of much of the kidnappings many years ago and reported via Facebook that, "Kony has not been here for six years. It is 100 percent safe. Are you listening, Invisible Children?"

At the time of publication, US Special Forces have joined the Ugandan army in the Central African Republic to find Kony and his rebel bandits.

Learning link

Local nonprofit supplements educational needs for struggling students

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/16/2012

When the nonprofit organization Neighbors Acting Together to Help All (NATHA) was first created in 1991, it was a small neighborhood watch group tucked away in a residential section of Northwest Pasadena, near the Altadena border.

Over the years, it has transformed into a critical support network for students and families from all over Greater Pasadena, from San Gabriel to La Canada Flintridge.

Now the grassroots agency is partnering with other local community organizations, as well as most charter, private and public schools, to serve an area of about 1,900 homes with afterschool and summer programs for kindergarteners to high school students, offering programs Monday through Friday with occasional activities on the weekends.

"NATHA was created specifically to give an opportunity to all children, but especially children who may not be exposed to different opportunities, to travel or go on field trips, or be exposed to different things they may not have if they weren't participating in a program," said program coordinator Jalila Walker.

NATHA's programs, designed to supplement what they're learning in school, include: the Lemonade Brigade, an entrepreneurial business created by the Youth Leadership Group that sells lemonade at community events and reinvests the profits back into the organization; the Wagon Tails program, in which kids read to dogs to help build their reading confidence; tennis instruction with the company iTennis; and fitness activities with a personal trainer.

This year, students in the organization's anti-drug and alcohol coalition are planning to expand the Web series they created, which so far is composed of three episodes that the coalition wrote, filmed, acted in and edited with financial support and resources donated by OnWeb Television.

For all the organization's strong ties to the community and partnerships with various schools, however, NATHA remains somewhat under the radar, and that is no accident.

"We're really in the trenches," said Celestine Walker, NATHA's executive director. "We're at the grassroots level, and we really want to make sure that we're providing the services that are needed, so our focus is there as opposed to advertising our accomplishments all over town."

She added that they spend more time trying to interface with young people and their families to make their community better and level the playing field.

"We can't look outward as much, because we don't want to miss a beat here by being more external," she said. "It's also really complicated out there and highly political. We don't want to be derailed from what our passion and purpose truly is and why we're here, and that's the families and people in our community. We're very invested here."

For those involved with NATHA, that sentiment is exactly what makes the organization so special.

"What struck me most about the organization was that the people involved seemed to be genuinely interested in waht they were doing," said Colin Burton, a former Weekly contributor who tutored at NATHA in summer 2001. "When I took the job, I assumed that everyone was somewhat interested in the field of work but mostly in it for a paycheck, as I was at first. But by the end of the summer, it was obvious that the staff genuinely cared about supporting and enriching their community, and the sentiment was infectious. By the end, I found myself doing things above and beyond what I was paid for, simply for the satisfaction of knowing that I had helped in some way."

NATHA is funded by private donations, LA County's Community Development Commission (CDC) and grants, such as the federal Department of Health and Human Services' Drug Free Communities Grant. Jalila Walker said she's not worried about the end of redevelopment funding.

"I don't think it will affect NATHA in a negative way," she said. "We've been able to survive here for a long period of time. A lot of our resources come from our parents and community partners who support what we do, and so that's how we really survive. It's about the commitment of our community partners and the parents and people who work here still willing to make it work."

In the future, Walker would like to see NATHA expand its services to include resources for young adults who have graduated from high school and are either looking for a job or applying to colleges.

"I think young people who are fresh out of high school, until they are about 24 years old, need a place to go where they can learn skills, such as writing resumes and cover letters," she said, " as well as find out what other options they have, like internships or externships or volunteering somewhere. Because even if they can't get a job, there are still opportunities where they can get the skills they need to succeed."

NATHA's staff is actively working toward realizing that goal of expanding the organization to include those kinds of programs.

"We appreciate those who remember that we're here and come by to offer their services," said Walker. "That's what it's about, taking care of each other and making sure that people are successful in society."

To learn more about NATHA, call (626) 794-5889 or visit natha.org.

Print version:

Words to live by

Chineses students visit with Pasadena counterparts studying Mandarin

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/2/2012

A delegation from China recently provided area students enrolled in a popular dual-language immersion program with a rare opportunity to test their fluency in Mandarin by interacting with their counterparts from Beijing.

The 70-teacher and 62-student delegation from Huangchenggen Elementary School in the Xicheng District of Beijing, Pasadena's sister city, last week visited Eugene Field Elementary, which has more than 100 students taking part in the school's growing English-Mandarin dual-language immersion program. The program--one of two offered by the Pasadena Unified School District, the other conducted in Spanish at San Rafael Elementary--has nearly quadrupled in size since it began more than two years ago.

Over two days, guests visited classrooms and observed the future bi-literate students in action--from kindergarteners taking turns counting in Mandarin to first-graders learning about and tasting food with a nutritionist, and from second-graders working on a video newscast in English to third-graders learning multiplication in Chinese.

The total number of students in the Mandarin program has grown from 28 when it first started at Altadena's Burbank Elementary School in 2009 to its current level of 110. The grant-funded program moved to Field Elementary last year after the PUSD shuttered Burbank due to declining enrollments and budget cuts.

The program is expected to continue growing next year if future grant applications with the US Department of Education's Foreign Language Assistance Program are approved. There appears to be no shortage of interest in the program, based on applications submitted during Pasadena Unified School District's open enrollment process, which ended last week. According to district Communications Director Adam Wolfson, students from Arcadia and other nearby school districts are applying to get in the program.

"We're happy to have them, but students within PUSD come first," Wolfson said.

"At this time, we have two programs which are thriving," said Kathy Onoye, PUSD's executive director of elementary schools, referring to both the Mandarin program at Field and the English-Spanish immersion program at San Rafael.

"Due to budget constraints, we really haven't been talking about moving beyond that," Onoye said. "Programs like this are fantastic. We'd love to do more, but because of the budget situation, it's just not feasible."

Longer web version:

Life learners

Field Elementary’s dual-language immersion program allows more students to become bi-literate at a young age

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/2/2012

Last Friday and Tuesday, right in the middle of the Chinese New Year celebration, dozens of representatives from Pasadena’s sister city in China, the Xicheng District of Beijing, visited Pasadena Unified School District’s Eugene Field Elementary. The group of Chinese teachers’ and students’ two-day tours of the school’s growing English-Mandarin dual language immersion program (DLIP) gave Field students a rare and unparalleled opportunity to test their fluency by speaking and interacting with their counterparts from China.

The program has become very popular since it began in 2009 at Burbank Elementary in Altadena. The total number of students has grown from 28 when it first started to its current level of 110 and is expected to continue to grow next year now that PUSD’s open enrollment process is underway. According to Adam Wolfson, the district’s communications director, students from Arcadia and other nearby school districts are applying to the program.

“We’re happy to have them, but students within PUSD come first,” said Wolfson.

The Chinese guests visited each classroom and witnessed the future bi-literate students in action, from kindergarteners taking turns counting in Mandarin to first-graders learning about and tasting food with a Chinese nutritionist, and second-graders working on a video newscast in English to third-graders learning multiplication in Mandarin.

Students who participate in the program learn core academic content, such as language arts, math and science, in both languages, spending 10 percent of the day learning in English and 90 percent in Mandarin their first year. The next year is split 80/20 and so on until it is 50/50. This allows them to become proficient and fluent in both languages at an early age.

“By that time, the students are pretty literate in the target language,” said Wolfson. “Students who are bi-literate when they graduate high school will have a seal on their diplomas and receive PUSD’s Certificate of Bi-Literacy.”

As the students get older the program will continue to expand to the next grade. As for expanding it to other schools, however, the focus right now remains fixed on the existing dual language immersion programs.

“At this time we have two programs which are thriving,” said Kathy Onoye, PUSD’s executive director of elementary schools, referring to both the Mandarin program at Field and the very similar English-Spanish dual language immersion program at San Rafael Elementary School. “Due to budget constraints we really haven’t been talking about moving beyond that. Programs like this are fantastic. We’d love to do more, but because of the budget situation it’s just not feasible.”

Each class is taught by certified bilingual teachers. In the classroom students are only allowed to speak whichever language that part of the day is set aside for.

“This year we have put a new rule in place that the Mandarin program classroom teacher only addresses the children in Mandarin so the kids cannot see them speaking English,” said Field principal Ana Maria Apodaca.

An English teacher from Beijing explained during the tour that they have the same rule at Field’s sister school in China.

“The teachers have said that it is encouraging the kids and prompting them to use more Mandarin,” said Apodaca. “It’s a different approach than the English-Spanish dual language immersion program at San Rafael Elementary. Most students here are not using Mandarin in a comfortable, natural way. We don’t see the language being used student to student, so we try our best to encourage them to use it in an informal way outside the classroom.”

Those efforts include classroom programs such as “Harvest of the Month,” where the students learn about a different vegetable or fruit in Mandarin and get to taste it. During the visit by Chinese representatives the citrusy smell of grapefruit wafted out of the science room. There are two nutritionists on staff who help teach the kids to use the language in such creative ways as the monthly harvest program.

“I don’t speak Mandarin so I can’t communicate with the teacher in front of the children, so I’ll write notes and communicate in other ways,” said Apodaca. “It’s been a challenge for me and some parents to communicate with the teachers and students in Mandarin, so sometimes we use physical gestures.”

When the Board of Education voted to shutter Burbank last year, the Mandarin dual language immersion program, which is funded in part by a federal Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grant, moved to Field Elementary in Pasadena for the 2011-12 school year, where it is managed by the Mandarin Parent Advisory Committee. The grant lasts for three years, and the committee is currently in the process of applying for another grant to continue the program next year.

Although the grant has helped provide personnel and support curriculum development, the program itself is funded by the district, according to Onoye.

“Every year we expand to the next grade level, so it’s a growing program,” she said. “It would survive without the grant, however. As long as we have students, the program will be able to expand.”

This year, the school has a total of five Mandarin dual language immersion classes: two for kindergarten and one each for first- through third-grades. Although there are a few more Asian students than other ethnicities, Onoye said, there is a very diverse cross section of Pasadena represented in the program. About 50 percent of the students are Asian and the other 50 percent is a mix of African-American, Caucasian and Latino children.

The Mandarin Parent Advisory Committee consists of two parent representatives at each grade level, a project coordinator, one dual language immersion program teacher, principal Apodaca, and Mandarin community assistant Dr. Cathy Wei, who teaches at Pasadena City College and heads that school’s Chinese language program. Wei helped organize the tours for the Beijing sister city teachers and students. The committee meets monthly to address concerns and ensure the program’s smooth implementation.

The next meeting will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 15 at Field Elementary, located at 3600 Sierra Madre Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 396-5860 or visit field.pasadenausd.org for more information.

Original brief version:

Fast learners

Field Elementary’s dual language immersion program allows more students to become bi-literate at a young age

By Justin Chapman

With the Pasadena Unified School District’s Open Enrollment process now underway, more students are expected to participate in the district’s English-Mandarin dual language immersion program held at Eugene Field Elementary School.

The program, which has been growing in popularity across LA County, began in 2009 at Burbank Elementary in Altadena when the district received a federal Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grant. After the school board voted to shutter Burbank last year, the program moved to Field Elementary in Pasadena for the 2011-12 school year, where it is managed by the Mandarin Parent Advisory Committee. The grant lasts for three years and the committee is currently in the process of applying for another grant to continue the program next year.

Although the grant has helped provide personnel and support curriculum development, the program is funded by the district, according to Kathy Onoye, PUSD’s Executive Director of Elementary Schools.

“Every year we expand to the next grade level, so it’s a growing program,” she said. “It would survive without the grant, however. As long as we have students the program will be able to expand.”

This year the school has two Mandarin dual language classes for kindergarten and one each for first through third grades. The number of students has grown from 28 to 110 since it started nearly two and a half years ago and is expected to continue that trend. Although there are a few more Asian students than other ethnicities, Onoye said there is a very diverse cross section of Pasadena represented in the program.

Students who participate in the program learn core academic content, such as language arts, math and science, in both languages, spending 10 percent of the day learning in English and 90 percent in Mandarin their first year. The next year is split 80/20 and so on until it is 50/50. This allows them to become proficient and fluent in both languages at an early age.

“By that time the students are pretty literate in the target language,” said Adam Wolfson, Director of Communications at PUSD.

On Jan. 31, just a week after Chinese New Year, representatives from Pasadena’s sister city in China, the Xicheng District of Beijing, will be visiting Crown City. They will be making a stop at Field Elementary, giving the dual language immersion program students an unparalleled opportunity to test their fluency.

The Mandarin Parent Advisory Committee consists of two parent representatives at each grade level, a Mandarin community assistant, Field’s principal Ana Maria Apodaca, a project coordinator, and one dual language program teacher. It meets monthly to address concerns and ensure the program’s smooth implementation.

Forever young

Winning the battle over some of the unwanted consequences of aging

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 1/26/2012

Matt Kramer must have some reputable standing in the medical world, because last week the company he owns, Oh!UBeauty Med Spa in Glendale, acquired a new device called a Cool Sculpting machine that not just anyone can get.
“It’s so coveted that you can’t buy it if you want to,” said Kramer. “You have to have clout and be a good enough doctor if you want to get it.”

The machine, recently approved by the Federal Drug Administration, offers a nonsurgical procedure that freezes fat cells and kills them permanently in order to lose pinchable fat, such as under arms and love handles. It is primarily for older people who want to lose about five to 15 pounds of fat that they can’t otherwise get rid of. It’s not a device that can be compared to liposuction, and it’s not designed for overweight or obese people.

“The machine is not invasive, compared to liposuction or lasers, which can be very invasive, painful and expensive,” Kramer explained.

The Cool Sculpting machine is not the only service that the popular med spa offers. The staff of 18 medical professionals focuses on the aesthetic aspects of medicine. They do injectable procedures, like Botox and dermal fillers, and anything else that gets the job done, besides plastic surgery.

“It’s affordable, quick, easy and you don’t go into the ER or anything,” said Kramer. “It’s very effective, and there’s no down time. I think our customers are happy and keep coming back because our prices are good, our personnel are very experienced and customers leave very satisfied. We’re now one of the largest medical spas in Los Angeles County.”
The med spa’s prices range from $750 to $1,500 per treatment. Currently, there is a big introductory special being offered.

Oh!UBeauty is at 130 N. Brand Blvd., Suite 130, Glendale. Call (818) 551-1682 or visit oubeauty.com for more information.

If you’re looking for a med spa that also includes plastic surgery, check out Congress Cosmetic Medical Corporation in Pasadena.

Dr. Marilyn Mehlmauer has been in business at the same location since 1991. Mehlmauer has a highly trained staff of medical professionals that includes three physicians, a licensed esthetician and four staff administrators, two of whom are registered nurses.

Mehlmauer’s business is a dermatology practice, covering skin cancer, surgeries, cosmetic procedures, Botox, plastic surgery, facelifts, neck lifts and liposuction. Like Kramer’s spa, her business has also seen an increase in customers over the past few years.

“I think it’s because we have really talented young physicians. The patients are just very happy with what they’re getting, so they tell their friends,” said the doctor. “Also, the economy is getting a little better. But mostly the customers are very happy with the results they get and also the attention. We are intentionally involved in getting the patient good quality care, and it shows.”

She added that the benefits to her practice generally include healthier skin. They try to fit the treatment to the problem, disease or defect, as well as the patient’s economic situation.

“We try to gear the treatment to the patient’s lifestyle and ability to pay,” she said.

Mehlmauer added that she’s surprised to hear patients telling her how much more expensive other places are than Congress Cosmetic Medical Corporation, which is located at 10 Congress St., Pasadena.  Call (626) 585-9474 or visit www.mehlmauer.com for more information.

‘Occupy’ everything

New Occupy group set to hold two protests against corporate personhood and political influence

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 1/19/2012

A new Occupy group that includes some old members of the movement has planned two protests inspired by Move to Amend, a coalition of groups opposed to US Supreme Court rulings allowing unlimited contributions to politicians and granting personhood to corporations.
The group Occupy Democracy-Pasadena is not part of Occupy Pasadena, Occupy the Rose Parade or Occupy LA, but a few main organizers from those groups are participating, including Occupy Pasadena’s Patrick Briggs, Maddie Gavel-Briggs and Karen Berger. Also included is Pete Thottam, who organized Occupy the Rose Parade.
Friday’s protest is called Occupy the Courts, which is part of a national effort by Move to Amend, which includes the American Friends Service Committee, the Alliance for Survival, the Center for Media and Democracy and the National Lawyers Guild among its 15 members.
Demonstrators will gather in front of the Pasadena Central Library, across the street from the Pasadena Superior Courthouse, from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday. They are mainly against the Supreme Court ruling two years ago in Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission, which allowed corporations to give unrestricted amounts of money to political campaigns. 
“We the people of the United States of America reject the US Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights,” said Berger.
“Corporations now have almost complete control over the financing mechanism of campaigns,” Thottam said. “All these companies are empowered by Citizens United, and it really is one dollar, one vote. So you’ve got a complete plutocracy now, where the electoral process is controlled by corporate interests. Occupy the Courts is saying ‘Corporate money out of politics.’” 
Saturday’s protest is called Occupy the Corporations. From noon to 3 p.m. protesters will gather in front of the AT&T building, 83 E. Colorado Blvd.

‘Warrior’ artist

Controversial and prolific artist Betye Saar comes home

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 1/19/2012

After proving herself as one of the most influential assemblage artists of the past 50 years, Betye Saar is still going strong at age 85. Over the years, the artist’s sometimes controversial works have been shown at prominent museums and art galleries, and today she’s come back to her hometown for a Pacific Standard Time exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
Opening Sunday, “LA RAW: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980, From Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy” includes works by Saar and 40 others in a variety of media examining the roles these artists played in the historical context of post-World War II America. 
“My most famous piece is ‘The Liberation of Aunt Jemima,’ which is a figure that was fabricated, actually manufactured, to be a kitchen item to hold a notepad and a pencil and things like that,” Saar explains in a recent interview with the Pasadena Weekly. “So instead of the pencil, I put a rifle in there, and instead of the notepad, I put a photograph in there, so that sort of became an icon. Instead of a servant, I made her a warrior.”
Saar’s family moved to Pasadena in 1932, and although she now lives in Los Angeles, she attended Cleveland and Washington elementary schools as well as Washington Junior High and spent the last two years of high school at Pasadena City College, when it was called Pasadena Junior College. She studied art at UCLA and received her master’s degree from Cal State Long Beach.
After dabbling in fine arts and printmaking, Saar dedicated her talent and energy to assemblage art, or three-dimensional collages. She started gaining respect and admiration in the art world following her controversial works, which recycled derogatory images and figures, such as Aunt Jemima and Little Black Sambo.
Dorothy Garcia, co-founder of the Altadena-based nonprofit Art Aids Art, has known Saar’s mother and family since she was 14, but it wasn’t until seeing one of Saar’s art shows in San Francisco that she realized Saar’s connection with Pasadena and her life.
“For me, Betye is a West Coast artist, a Pasadena artist, and she’s just starting to realize how much she is loved here,” says Garcia. “I would really like to see Pasadena own her. She is a goddess.”
Saar recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the California African American Museum for her contribution to the early black arts and women’s movements. But even at age 85, Saar is nowhere near retiring.
“I think my success just comes from continually doing it,” she says. “I can’t give up, because I just have too many ideas, and I’ve got all this stuff to do, so that’s why I think I continue to be an artist. The more you do, the more you can do.”
Saar recalls how she started out, after discovering a trunk that her mother had brought back from Kansas City. The trunk was full of handkerchiefs, gloves, personal letters and other items, such as old photographs of African Americans, which she began using in assemblage art aimed at telling the story of her mixed African, Irish and Native American heritage.
“I like transforming junk into something else,” said Saar. “I go to the PCC flea market, thrift stores, antique stores and yard sales. Those are good places to find materials. I like turning trash into art, which is kind of a California movement.”
The length of time it takes her to finish a piece varies. She’s always writing down ideas and collecting items to use, and sometimes it takes several years until she has gathered enough materials to create a display. Once she is ready, however, putting a piece together usually doesn’t take too long. Her home and art studio is filled with rare and antique items waiting to be turned into three-dimensional works of art.
Although she has only had one solo art installation, Saar enjoys showing her work with other artists. One group show she is particularly proud of consisted of her work along with visual art created by two of her three daughters, Alison and Lezley.
“Betye is the only artist who has had a show with two other women, both her daughters, at the Pasadena Museum of California Art,” said Garcia. “It’s a big deal. If Michelangelo and his son had a show together, we would think it was so hot. The fact that her progeny is having art shows with her, it’s just not usually done.”
Saar, who has been represented by the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York for more than two decades, is ready to bring her work back to the city she grew up in.
“It’s always hard to make it in your own hometown,” said Saar. “It seems like you have to go elsewhere and develop a reputation and then you can be accepted back home. But I’ve always been very fond of Pasadena, and I still go there a lot.” 

“LA RAW: Abject Expressionism in Los Angeles 1945-1980, From Rico Lebrun to Paul McCarthy” opens from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday to May 20 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, 490 E. Union St., Pasadena. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Call (626) 568-3665 or visit www.pmcaonline.org for more information.