Books Worth a Look

  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave - This book is a must read. Better than anything else I've read, it takes you vividly into the life of a person in the 3rd world who has no choice but to escape. It is brilliantly written & works well as an audio book. Often I've sent info about the wonderful refugees I've met in Europe. We know only so much of their plight as it is painful for them to recall much less live through again by recounting it. But over time it is clear what they've lived through. This book is excellent as you discover the horrors of their world. Somewhat how to me, it is like being in Europe near a Concentration Camp. One has an obligation to visit it. 'Never to Forget.' In this case, to have our eyes opened.
  • Garbage King by Eliz Laird - The book is set on the streets on Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia and here lives Mamo and his sister Tiggist. When Mamo's "uncle" offers a job, he soon sets out on a bus to work. Little does he know that he is actually being sold into slavery...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Manuel Antonio &

I thought that there would be little if anything to report as the trip and my studies are almost over. Not so!

Very early Saturday morning, I boarded a bus to Manuel Antonio which is a beautiful national park on the beach on the Pacific Ocean. It's pretty cheap to get there as long as you are willing to ride four hours in a bus which does not cater to tall Americanos! I got to sit next to a "Tico," the term the Costa Ricans use for themselves. He was very informative.

As the bus approaches the Pacific, it gets noticeably warmer. The best is yet to come! In Costa Rica now it is the end of winter so I did not expect 95% humidity. The first day it was awful!!!

Hiking in the Rainforest.

Adam, the young Coast Guard person, I went to Vocano Poas the previous weekend and Florian, a German gentleman who is Jay's age, greeted me warmly - so to speak! After lunch, we decided to go the the parque. We first did a hike into the forest. Sweating profusely, it was still magnificant. and, amazingly, I was able to keep up with them. At one point, it was necessary to take off our shoes & socks to wade across a small stream. Adam and I decided to continue barefoot as most of the trail was wet dirt or mud. So that's why people pay $$ for mud treatments!! We reached the waterfall & rested.

To the beach without a bathing suit!

After our hike we walked toward the private park beach. As it was winter, I did not pack my bathing suit. My friends got in the water; both are excellent swimmers. Adam kept telling me it was ok to come in - in my boxer shorts. I'm thinking: I'm not so sure. What are the laws? The other people here? Some others in the water, were saying, yeah come on in, no problem. I decided to watch and wade. BUT after about 25 minutes of that nonsense (!), I decided to give it a try.

I told the guys swimming that my mother would be pleased because when I was a kid she always said: "Never go out with holes in your underwear and socks." The elastic on the shorts worked well! (You might be wondering: Why not swim in my hiking shorts & then let them dry out.
The problem is: Nothing dries out in that humidity!!!

The rest of the trip

We had dinner and went to a night spot - pretty dead. The busy season begins in January.
The owner of our hotel was from Korea and quite lively and outspoken. She also made meals to order - quite good and not expensive.

The ride back was tough as the Ticos think it's cold when we think it's mild. So with windows closed as we proceeded it was not fun!

ALL is all, it was a good weekend & my companions were fun to be with. Adam is particularly thoughtful.

This week is mostly classes. Arturo and I are taking his mom, my host, to lunch Wednesday as it is her birthday.


For awhile I assumed people were just being nice, but it seems for a beginner my Spanish is coming along nicely. Though basic, I can spoeak paresnt, past and some future tenses. This week in particular, I have an excellent teacher. Were it possible I would stay longer as next week, I would move into the intermediate level.

I will be happy to see Laura, Jason and my friends again. Plus time to substitute for the next trip. Unlike Europe, the dollar is stronger here, of ocurse. In three weeks I have had to withdraw little money as there are about 560 colones to $ 1.

Last Post

Unless something unexpected happens, my last post will probably be when I am home. I would like to share some interesting aspects about Costa Rica I have learned and encountered. One is very busy with studies here that getting to the computer is possible, but there is little time.

Ok all, have a very Happy Thanksgiving - well at least to those who are in the states. To my friends in Europe and Latin America, have a great week.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Dias Nueve

¡Hola my hija and mi yerno a futuro y familia y mis amigos!

Some interesting facts:

  1. The President of China is here in San Jose. Costa Rica is the first and only Latin American country to recognize mainland China. In return China is building the new national stadium and other projects. Free, I am told!
  2. Costa Rica has an immigration problem somewhat similar to us. Many immigrants from Columbia and somewhat less from Nicaragua are coming. They do jobs the CRs will not do. Sound familiar? Unfortunately many increasingly commit crime.
  3. There are only two seasons here: wet and dry. We are about to enter the dry season.
  4. Though the governemnt has the $$, it regularly fails to pay the teachers on time. So the teachers refuse to work until they are paid. Students stay home. This happens time after time.
  5. In my opinion, pedestrians do NOT have the right of way here. They are not even seen by motorists!!! Crossing the main road on my way to school each morning is truly similar to fording a stream - one that is rushing by!
  6. Cosat Rica has not had a military since 1948 & no one has tried to attach it.

    Al fin de semana - weekend. (I have not asked my host yet how to type the accent marks. Just to type @, one has to hold the ALT key and then type 64. Go figure!!)

    Saturday, Adam, another student who is in our Coast Guard, and I took the local bus to El Volcano Poas. see Approaching the crater there was a very strong sulphur odor. Due to the heat from the volcano, one minute it is clear and then it is cloudy. From there one can walk to the lagoon. There Adam and I talked with a man from El Salvador. At one point, I said to the Salvadoran, "¡Donde esta Adam?" We both walked around calling "Adam." I called the Salvadoran gentleman over to point out that Adam was below talking with two lovely Costa Rican young ladies! So I occupied myself. After 50 minutes, I approached Adam and said in my new idomatic Spanish: We have been here for 50 minutes. Shall we go or I can go. He said if it is ok, I will stay longer! What a surprise!

    Sundays, in San Jose are about as active as Williamsburg at night, dead. There are two nice English language bookstores. I was able to purchase a book of verbs - sounds fascinating does it not!!!! Also bought a short history of CR in English and a book of short stories - the left page in Spanish and the right in English. The bus ride one way into the city is 215 colones = 39 cents.

    In the late afternoon, Arturo, son of my host, asked me to play chess. I have not played chess in about 15 years & was never any good. Still I held out for about an hour. Arturo, 23 and a pharmacy researcher, is great. He is very generous with answering questions as well as things in general. His mother raised him all on her own. He plays tennis and soccer weekly and surfs when he can get to the Pacific. His English is excellent.

    Next Weekend, I plan to go to Manuel Antonia, una playa, a beach on the Pacific Ocean.
    See Next week will be my last here.

    Today was Day 1 of Week 2. My new teacher is easier to follow as he will stop to explain something in English. It also helps that there are two of us in this class. I do not have to be on all two hours! This week I have added a conversation class in the afternoons. Two of us meet with a teacher and engage solely in conversation. I speak reasonably ok for a beginner, PERO there is so much to learn. I guess I will have to do additional classes in Latin America and/or Spain. First though I will have to earn dinero for that!

    Lastly, at breakfast Saturday, Adam asked me my age. I told him I would tell him my last day! He frowned. He said he thought 50, and that was more than he thought really. I told him my real age. He could not accept it, so I said 53, He felt better!!!!

    So many good people to meet.

    Have a great week all and blessings!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Day 3


I have settled nicely into the home of my host (still have not located the apostrophe on the Spanish keyboard.) Arturo, 24, after dinner goes out to class, tennis or soccer. My host watches TV in her room in the evening, so I have the downstairs TV to myself.

MEALS - Breakfast (desayuno) includes fresh papaya, whole orange peeled and a bananna. Then depending on the day: eggs, hams and cheese, or cereal, or a sandwich. Coffee or tea.

Lunch (amuerzo) is out with fellow students; it usually costs about 2,000 colones = $ 3.57. Rice and beans, fish, and salad.

Dinner (cena) is provided by my host. So far; chicken, greens beans and bread, or tortillas (meat) or a large salad with bread. Hopefully I will be able to lose some weight again.

El Bano - the bathroom - believe it orn ot this could be interesting! 1st most homes have no hot water. So the shower can come as a shock. You figure out though - purely out of necessity) that if you turn it on only slighty, a device on the shower head makes the water luke warm. ¡Pero quidado! Do not touch the pipe that holds the shower head or you will receive an electrical shock! Apparently many of the students have experienced this. I know I did! The plumbing (pipes)as in Mexico are narrow, thus toilet paper goes into a small contained next to the toilet. You get used to it!

Walking in Santo Domingo - Well, first of all there are the sidewalks, those that exist that is. Most streets have a sidewalk only on one side. Even then, it often just stops. You then can choose where to step into the dirt or sometimes onto grass! One sidwalk begins at a street corner and continues about 300 feet as the ground between it and the street quickly drops. When you get to the end of the sidwalk, you have two choices:

  • jump! Heck it´s only a 12 foot drop


  • go back about 50 feet and walk down the steep stairs.

Why you ask did they build it 60 feet past the steps? Sadly, there is no apparent reason!

Extra activities: The school provides several extra activities at no cost, so to speak!

  • A bus ride to Heredia and a walking tour of the markets, restaurants, park, government building, and Basilica. We went into the bowels of one shop. There we saw in a large cage, a gorgeous toucan. (It is againast the law to cage Toucans.)
  • An orientation walking tour of Santo Domingo Only one problem. Streets do not have names and houses etc, have no number. Mail is deliver by description. For example, one might say " In Santo Domingo de Heredia off the main street just down from the bio-park (heading toward San Jose)but not as far as the Sunoco station, take a right and then a right into a gated community. Go up the single street to the second cul de sac. House is the 1st on the right. It has a 3 car carport.

Hey, why not bop on down for lunch! Take care all!

Felipe Spell check is not working so I hope I got them all!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Santo Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica

¡Buenas dias!

Yesterday was my first day of school! 14 other students; most young but very nice, well except for one young lady - ¡dificil!

First two hours of class - Diego taught 3 of us: one from Denmark, the other student from Germany, both pleasant and very helpful! Diego is pleasant and funny though not always intending to be! In the last half hour, he explained the history of sexual relations in Costa Rica. Seems 1900 - 1970, the only way to meet, so to speak, was working in close proximity in the planatation fields!

2nd two hours of class - I was switched to a new teacher (my two companions had already completed 50 hours of Spanish instruction.) Zedia speaks no English so it was interesting. I think she has a love affair with irregular verbs. Woo. But all in all it was ok. Lots to study.
A good thing I studied some vocabulary before I came.

Lunch - almuerzo

I joined a group and we walked to a soda, a small eatery, where I ordered a casado - beans & rice, salad and fish. All for 2000 colones = approximately $ 3.60.

Special afternoon - A movie about Costa Rica and a walking tour of Santo Domingo de Heredia. A city but seems more like a sleepy town. The weather is wonderful 56 at night and 79 - 81 so far in the day time. Sunny so far about 90% of the time.

Arrive at my host family at 5:30 p.m. tired & homework to do.

In re-reading this upon posting, I see how cryptic it is! No doubt due to busy with lots of Spanish work.

NEXT - My hosts: Virginia Naranjo and her son, Arturo, a 24 year old son pharmacist.
P.S. Everyone asks me who I favored. They love OBama !

Sunday, November 9, 2008

From There to Here !

Well I have arrived in Santo Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica. Normally the flight etc. would not warrant a blog entry; this was interesting.

After Jay & Laura dropped me off at the airport, I had lunch and met Mark Mattesonfrom Seattle. His site is Mark Matteson is an internationally known Speaker, Author and Consultant. His clients include T-Mobile, American Honda Motors, Honeywell... He recommended several novels to me. He is preparing for his trip to Istanbul. This occasioned a long conversation about travel. I recommended an interesting Turkish author who writes murder mysteries and other fiction which take place in medieval Constantinople.

My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk and Erdag Goknar (Paperback - Aug 27, 2002)

As I sat down in the plane, the man next to me said: "My seat mate!" He and his wife of 50 years were headed to Miami for a Carribean cruisue - they and about 60% of the plane! He had not flown for 28 years; this was her first flight. He was not going to miss anything! A stewardess came donw the aiusle with a sleeve of small headphonea for sale. He called out: "Hey, they´re selling candy!" He becamse quite interested in my spanish flash cards. By the end of the trip, he could distinguish la valle (fence) from el valle (valley)!

While waiting for my flight from Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica, I met a graphic artist whose how is in Seattle! We had an animated conversation and he invited me to visit his beach condo, if possible. His wife will be joining him. He explained that I can in fact drink the tap water in Costa Rica. My report: so far, so good!

Arrival in Cosat Rica - yet no one to pick me up!

This was an experience! Every cabby in town appealed to me to go with them. This is the part where I became a tad concerned as I saw no one looking for me, per se, and so many coming up to me wanting me to go with them! (It turns out that my host had been advised that I would be arriving Sunday not Saturday.) One man did seem more legit, so after his long phone conversation with my host, we set out for Santo Domingo de Heredia. I have to admit, I was not 100% sure all was ok. We drove down many isolated and semi dark streets. But finally we arrived at Virginia Naranto's home.

Virginia speaks less English than I speak Spanish - immersion it is! Her home is lovely - faux marble tiled floors, a spacious two story home in a gated community. (The cabby filled me in on crime esp. coming from immigrants from Columbia as well as countries like Nicaragua and Mexico.) hmm!

My room is small but adequate and I have the run of the house, including Cable TV which has 99 stations including about 5 in English. I explained to my host today (with my limited Spanish that Fox is not quite my cup of tea!) Everyone here is for OBama. Virgina stayed up late to watch the returns.

Ok, all, have a great week. The first day of school is bright and early at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow at Academia Columbus about a 15-20 minute walk.

¡Hasta luego!

Felipe :-) P.S. Spell check is not working so I hope I got them all!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Blog Trip to London, Cardiff, Oslo and Prague - Living at the London Catholic Worker

Entries below span from the first entry of August 25th to the last on September 9th. Following that are two sections of various writing.

Next trip is to Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver. That's a catch up trio with friends and family.

In November I hope to travel to Heredia, Costa Rica to study Spanish for three weeks. Entries to continue then.

What follows is in reverse chronological order, so I've listed topics in correct order here.

Monday, August 25, 2008 Peter's Cafe in the Borough of Hackney, London N1

Monday, August 25, 2008 A Victory in Appeals Court

Friday, August 29, 2008 A Day Trip to Dover Castle & the WW II tunnels with Amani from Eritrea

Monday, September 1, 2008 Two Days in Oslo, Norway

Thursday, September 4, 2008 Praha

Sunday, September 7, 2008 People you meet in Hostels and Praha aka Prague - Part 2.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008 A Touching Last Day

REFLECTIONS & ARTICLES - Thoughts on the amazing people I get to meet.

Rich, my 19 year old friend, soon to be Franciscan and recentcommunity member at Haley House in Boston. An article he wrote.

A Brief Summary of my Spiritual Quest - Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Touching Last Day

My last day was a full one. I had thought to cook a Turkey Thanksgiving style meal for all. Then I realized (dah!) that the guys at the house (asylum seekers) do not get meat there and that their own cooking would be great for them. Several are very good cooks.

So the morning was taken with shopping in the markets:

Hallel lamb for an Iranian dish - it was excellent.

Fresh chicken for an Algerian dish - tasty with olives and a nice broth.

Fish, mackerel, for a Congo dish - quite good.

Basmati rice - for Teodros popular rice - yummy! esp. w/ the lamb.

topped off w/ cans of John Smith and Stella Artois.

Barry, the older British gent I introduced 7 weeks ago took me to breakfast.

I had purchased small gifts, calling card to Bolivia, Iran, Algeria etc. Wrapping paper was tabloid newspapers!

In the afternoon, we went to the cafe to say goodbye & give Barry a birthday present. He's 65 on Saturday.

Good buys were heartfelt: those living rough, young professionals etc.

In the evening 13 of us sat down to a sumptuous dinner. Lots of good cheer, laughs and pictures. they gave me a lovely good bye card and two Oxfam gift cards that tell who is being taken care of in our name.

The gifts went well. Lots of laughs. Several heartfelt conversation privately. Emotional good bys. I understand the kissing on both sides of the face, but one ethnic group kisses you non-stop. Oh well!!!!

A truly touching evening. Such good men who face incredible obstacles yet have much joy and are a joy to live with.

Off to the airport in 90 minutes. Amanuel insists in accompanying me on the bus - no doubt taking my luggage!


Sunday, September 7, 2008

People you meet in Hostels

Without question, it is a great experience if you enjoy the energy, enthusiasm, openness and basic goodness of young people.

Some interesting people:

Daniel, 25, from Lisbon - touring Europe for 30 days. He has to do an internship in law and then take his bar exams. He wants to practice law related to urban planning. His agenda: to tour the cities to capture a sense of their unfolding.

Ian, 40, from Australia - came to Prague to help his friend and his wife adjust to having a baby with Downs Syndrome. The experience was hurting the couple's marriage. He helps out at their home 4 days a week& then takes a break. True friendship!

Liz, 29, from Santa Monica who has settled in Prague and manages the cafe in the basement - which looks more like an ancient crypt - such ambiance!

Dave, 26, from Kansas City touring Europe before he gets too old!!!

Richard, 20, from a village near Florence - a musician touring also. He stands 6' 4" and is a very engaging person. He decided to sit and talk with me for several hours. He now keeps in touch by email. He wants to have lunch with Laura, Jason and me when we are in Florence in December!

Emily, the 22 year old student in Oslo, who has to fend off some of the guys as she works at the hostel desk. The guys are polite but clearly interested. Makes sense as she is a delightful, interesting, and attractive young lady.

John, 66, and his son who are here with about 20 guys on a bachelor’s party from England. John is interesting and a true Tory. Unlike most, he's not rooting for Obama!

Praha aka Prague - Part 2.

The trams (streetcars) offer a unique opportunity to see a lot including some wonderful views of the city across the Vltava River. Sir Toby's Hostel allows you to approach the city center and get a feel for its character. Go right across a bridge (most) and arrive at Wenceslas Square, the place where Czech's throughout history gathered to celebrate or protest.

In the Old Town Square, Jan Hus, stands proudly against religious excess. Interestingly, a Hussite church explains the role of Catholic priests about 100 years ago who tried to convince the Vatican to be more open to the world. Today much of what they wanted is in Vatican II.

The Charles River Bridge reminds one of the bridges in Florence though quite different.

Take a ride on Tram 22 past the Castle and see some lovely sites; stop for a soda, pint or coffee and enjoy a wonderful summer day - people watching in a non-tourist area!

It becomes clear that though guide books are quite helpful, you can easily fall prey to develop a "To Do Checklist" which can make it more of a marathon than a stroll to enjoy the culture.

Prague offers a lot to see. Touristy can be a problem! I think in my return visit, I'll pack a nice lunch and spend the whole day in the Castle - which is actually a large site with gardens outside the deer moat and two churches, walking areas and other site inside.

Both here and in the Jewish Quarter you can easily get drawn into buying a pass that covers all. They're pricey and afterwards you're likely to feel that you've been on a sort of tour workout!

Do come to Prague and other countries in Eastern Europe. There is so much to see and learn.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


Well this is truly the city to visit in Eastern Europe. Weather is great - sunny & 70-84 degrees. I actually felt it was warm yesterday - then again it's been 60's most of the time in August in London!

There is simply too much to see in one visit. The Hostel is really very good - convenient, very clean, a big breakfast all you can eat for $5.80. A lounge downstairs & free Czech movies w/ English subtitles 3 nights a week. A small library to check out books, including tour books.
Sir Toby's Hostel in Prague

Lots of interesting people from Portugal, Germany, U.S., Canada, U.K., Spain, Argentina etc.

I strolled through Prague today after touring it by tram yesterday. After this break, I'm heading back to cross the Charles Bridge

and walk into Old Town.

and the Astronomical Clock

This a.m. I toured the Franz Kafka Museum. To me it was one of the most effectively copnceived exhibits I've seen anywhere: images, video, hanging exhibits, conical walks with images appears, info and info in a pond, and more! The peeing figures out front are interesting!

Then onto The Church of St. Nicholas considered to be one of the best examples of Czech Baroque in the Republic.

Tomorrow - the Castle, Jewish Quarter, and New Town.

Price comparisons in dollars:

City London Oslo Prague

Pint of Beer 5.81 10 - 13 2.25

Soft Drink .89 4.00 .55

Tram/Bus 1.60 4.00 1.30

Monday, September 1, 2008

Two Days in Oslo, Norway

After 6 weeks in LCW, I was to leave for 10 days of touring. Given the weak dollar & needs of the LCW house, I'm doing two smaller trips.

1st Stop - OSLO

Norwary is a wealthy country due to its oil. You quickly learn to not spend money! What might cost $ 3 or 4 here will cost about $ 13 there.

Oslo is a small for a capitol city, but quite lovely and with an excellent transportation system. I quickly learned that having a ticket is crucial if you do not wish to pay the $ 200 fine. As I was talking with fellow hostel guests we saw a stream of people running from an equal number of police. Turns out they had no tickets. So when the officers boarded the tram to look at all tickets they fled, en masse!

Edward Munch is a famous artist and the museums attest to this. There are many lovely sites like:

The Scream

Fronger Park Hmm, is that a phallic symbol in the background?

City Hall

The Holmenkollen Ski Jump

The amazing Vigeland Sculpture Park with 212 bronze and granite sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland. and

its harbor with ferries to small picturesque harbor islands

Best of all I met a young Italian band staying at the Amstel Hostel. Richie is now in regular email contact.
Laura, Jay and I will have lunch with him in Florence at Christmas. Some of their music is at

Next tiome, I hope to fly to Copenhagen, take the night ferry to Oslo, and than the train to Bergen in the north - just south of ther Arctic Circle - beautiful Scandinavia.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Day Trip to Dover Castle & the WW II tunnels with Amani from Eritrea

If you've read previous posts, you know a bit about Amani. An impressive young man, 27, who had to flee Eritrea because he had the audacity to have a religious ceremony in his own house.

He first went to Italy, but the only help there is from the local Catholic Churches. He then fled to Britain hiding on trains through Italy & France. The walk long the White Cliffs of Dover brought back memories of having arrived several years before on a lorrie.

I just completed an interesting book about a young boy with Asperger's syndrome. The lady on the train with the food trolley gasped when she saw my copy. we were puzzled, but then she showed us her copy. Then, go figure, a man borded the train and he said "I just finished reading that this morning!" small world.

Dover is a pleasant unassuming town. The walk to the castle and fort is vigorous as it is a steep climb for about 15 minutes - unless you want to wait for the local bus that runs once an hour.

The site itself is well worth visiting: like Cardiff Castle, it dates back to the roman times & serving as a garrison. The Saxon Church & lighthouse are impressive. The castle, outer bailey and keep are very interesting.

There is a guided tour of the tunnels - first built to prepare for an invasion by Napoleon. They were enlarged in the 40's and served a major role on both the Dunkirk and D Day events.

Amani is an amazing young m,an who insists in letting you go first through nay door and will not take no to carrying your things.

Back in London, we took a bus home. On the way, we passed many pubs with the young and well off sitting outside. I ached to think he might taken notice & feel the obvious gulf between what is possible for them and him.

we walked through a neighborhood filled with Vietnamese restaurants. He wanted Kebob - if i did! He found a little shop. I have to say it was the best dinner I've had in my 7 weeks here.

Now if only we could find a way to get him his papers so that he could go to school. He is very bright. I find it difficult to think of the hurdles he faces.

Arrived in Oslo several hours ago trip. It's sunny out & I'm off to do some touring.

P.S. Biden is a great choice!

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Victory in Appeals Court

Invited to go to the Crown Court, I had the opportunity to observe an Appeals Case held before a Judge and two Magistrates. What made it particularly interesting was the fact that it called into question a terrorism law used by the police in Britain.

The Case:

A protestor, a 67 year old spunky lady with dred locks was accompanied by Dan ( a 27 year olf who decided to devote all of his time and talent to peace making) who basically was present to take pictures & be a witness just in case. The lady was seated on a chair in front of the entrance to Downing Street - # 10 beings the Prime Minister's Residence.

The main witness was the arresting police officer. He told how he approached Dan and asked him his name, asked him to move onto the sidewalk etc. for some time, and that Dan was unresponsive. Eventually Dan was arrested.

Apparently British law requires that an arrested person be given a written statement in a timely fashion of all charges. This did not happen until Dan was in a cell. The main point was whether Dan had been advised that he was being arrested for breaking the anti-terrorism statute and when.

The U.K. has what is called CCTV. It basically films what's going on in the streets all over the U.K.
1st Amendment rights would cry foul here.

We watched the tape - like watching grass grow! But alas, after about 12 minutes the officer appears. BUT, what you saw did not match what he said. He walked up to Dan and immediately they moved to the sidewalk.

At this point the chief judge intervened. He instructed the police witness to listen carefully to the questions and then "to have a think on it!" Sadly the officer did not heed the advice.

As testimony continued it became clewar something was off. Eventually the officer admitted that he had not advised Dan of the charge until after arresting him. He said it like, 'well so...' One of the Magistrates had great difficulty in not rolling his eyes.

The judge was terrific as a typical (stereotype) English gentleman. He was incredibly funny. The second day, the case was thrown out of court.

Turns out that the officer was simply lying. That's the sad part: fear and excess of authority run amuck.

Victorious, about 10 of us walked along the Thames to a pub near Tower Bridge to clebrate, Bit hey wait; it wasn't only 11:00 a.m.? Nah, that could not stop the celebrants. This included the young lady Barrister who was very interestng.

Having taught the American Court System in our land to high school students, it was great fun for me to witness this trial AND to see justice done. The sad thing was that again authority all too often gets ahead of itself.

Peter's Cafe in the Borough of Hackney, London N1

An Afternoon in Peter’s Cafe

Recently a young friend wrote to me: “Keep being you!” Today I sit in Peter’s Café here in Hackney, East London listening to poetry and live music: folk both British and American and Spanish guitar music. The musicians are quite good & perform here gratis the 1st Wednesday of every month.

The café, open Monday to Wednesday from noon to 7:00 p.m. (19.00,) serves simple food: home made vegetable soup and toast, cheese toasties, tuna or egg salad sandwiches, salad, sausage, vegetarian or meat burgers and more. Food is very inexpensive and free if you cannot afford it. Many pay more. Those who come to the café form a community rich in its diversity and fraternity: those on pension, young professionals, local neighbourhood children, refugees seeking asylum, homeless (sleeping rough), and workers on lunch break. A family of five just had a full lunch for £4 25p.

The café is staffed by Catholic Workers: a Passionate priest, an atheist, volunteers from local London neighbourhoods and from the United States. The poetry and live music are a monthly event in the café. The good food and diverse community experience are a daily experience. Drop in; grab a bite to eat; spend some time or the afternoon in conversation, read or simply rest a bit.

The music continues punctuated by a reading of a favourite poem. A lady working in a nearby office comes in clearly frustrated saying: “I need a break.” Invited to sit she begins to relax. I make her English tea. She takes a slice of home made banana cake provided by one of the musicians. After about 45 minutes she comes to pay saying she feels better and next time she’ll read a poem by her favourite poet, John Donne. Encouraged, she picks up a volume and locates a poem and read it for us. Smiling, she departs – no worry lines in evidence. Shortly thereafter our local British gent arrives. He is a regular who entertains us often with imitations of various British dialects: cockneys, long shore men, blokes – you name it. His repertoire is almost endless. His quick wit and wry humour a favourite with everyone.

I’ve truly come to realize that Peter’s Café provided by the London Catholic Worker is truly “Cheers” without the alcohol. “Keep being you!” A kind comment but clearly so easy in this wonderful community.

Dorothy Day must be smiling.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dorthy Day House Community Meeting: The Refugees & the Catholic Worker Staff

Meetings. Who likes them? We had the community (house) meeting last night - all are required to attend. Agenda? Reminders: clean up, recycling, laundry issues, announcements, drinks & social afterwards.

I wish you could have been with me. Around the room sat 2 Iranians, 1 Estonian, 1 Eritrean, 1 Algerian and 1 Congolese plus Zelda, Martin & me.

All politely listened. Some questions came out. Then the social.

It was the most incredible experience to be in a small living room with these 7 refugees and witness such goodness. Good men each, they are respectful and supportive of one another. Some speak English fairly well; others haltingly. They like many of us in a foreign tongue often feign understanding, Still the atmosphere was alive with warmth, good humor, and camaraderie.

One of the Iranians bought beer, juice & chips (they call them crisps) for all. We sat and talked & laughed. I kid one of the Ethiopians and the Algerian about being '”Ladies men. They enjoy it.” Thus we bantered and kidded. The generous Iranian (these guys cannot be hired legally, so what they can make is well below regular wages.) would periodically call out “Pheel” & follow with a question as to language or America.

Soon an arm wrestling contest ensued - mercifully it was almost time for my weekly call to daughter & her fiancée.

There are no favorites or whipping boys as we have so often experienced. There are clearly well liked individuals and at least one curious dude - not their word - who is self-comical & a bit pretentious w/o intending to be. Then there is one other who is funny because he is too cautious and so deferential that you cannot help but smile. YET, no one pokes fun. Come to think of it I have yet to hear any gossip.

A Canasta game began and others broke into comfortable small groups to recount experiences, cultural differences, English ways etc.

I keep thinking that if business, political and religious leaders would live & work among people like these for a couple of weeks, they might possibly take a different approach.

Well I fear words have eluded me to get the feel, experience across. I hope some of the magic of the evening came through.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Meet Three Gentlemen Living at the London Catholic Worker

It was 12:15 a.m. & I was about to hit the sack. Islam asked me if I'd join him for a cup of tea and conversation. We moved to the front yard so as to not waken Zelda whose room is on the 1st floor.

Meet Islam

Islam is from an Arab country. He & his wife tried to come to Europe to escape persecution. Regrettably the police found them and arrested them. She's from Nicaragua and was then deported. Islam, an accountant, was held in jail for three months. As he might be jailed upon returning home, the Home Office did not deport him. The difficulty is he is not allowed to work legally. He is applying for asylum so he can achieve citizenship and then join his wife in South America.

In jail in his country, he was beaten on the head with a pistol repeatedly. As a result he fell over & badly damaged his ankles so he could not walk for weeks.

Islam is so interested in America. He sees it as the best country for freedom. He very grateful to the Catholic Worker people for their generosity without any pressure.

I wish you could meet him. He is clearly a gentleman, loves his wife passionately, and is always respectful. It is painful to realize just how many hurdles stand in his way. I try to respond without making it any more difficult.

What a blessing to be in a simple front yard at 1:00 a.m. in England listening to and being a presence for this good man. This is not about me. More it is about the flesh and blood reality of the misery of individuals. I think of all we have, all our toys so to speak. Yet again as I did in Mexico, I experienced people poor and struggling - yet people who are good and kind.

You've met them at home as well. If only we could find a way to end war & strife, and really work for individual prosperity for all.

Meet Zenidine

A true gentleman, a man with a keen eye for beautiful women, a wonderful sense of humour. This is Zennidine.

He speaks French and Arabic and is learning English. His friends tell him he could pass for an Italian or a Latin American.

We speak often and he enjoys my kidding him about his keen eye for les femmes. Yesterday just as I stretched out to watch a movie during my a.m. ½ day break, he came in and began asking me questions about America. Very quickly I shut the TV off. As he talked about his home, he became animated, saying over & over that when he gets his papers & can go home, he wants me to visit him and his father in their family home.

He described the capitol city and nearby sites at length. Were it to happen I suspect he’d be a terrific tour guide. He talked as well about religion and politics in his country and about the rebels who were fighting the army.

Just then the doorbell rang. It was Zennidine’s friend from his home town. Gregory is an animated and affable man in his 20’s. We did our best shifting between English and French. He is not a refugee but is visiting. He told me about how much his native people love visitors. Americans and their government are seen as two separate realities.

It was time for them to go off to swim and work out. We agreed to meet again soon, perhaps for a pint and further sharing.

Another blessing in the form of two fine gentlemen.

Meet Fr. Martin

As I compose my piece about Islam, Martin is in the next room counseling a young person. Not only is it late, but he must get up early to ready himself to go to court for a non-violent protest for which he was arrested. He may well spend the night & the next six in jail.

Martin began the London Catholic Worker and is tireless in his commitment to the disadvantaged and poor. He is kind, unassuming and constantly working on activities aimed at stopping violence and apathy.

Martin is in a sense an unusual man. A priest who chooses to live with the refugees. He, a refugee and I share one small room. He takes the top bunk.

Martin dresses simply and bicycles all over London. There is a cart on wheels which we attach to the back of his bike loaded with supplies for the ride over to the Sunday soup kitchen about a 25 minute bike ride.

A man comes into the café asking for some financial help. A woman at the street corner clearly confused asks for help. Martin stops.

Ronnie and his pals come into the soup kitchen each day for a ‘squash,’ an orange concoction we mix with water. They do not pay as Martin treats them.

The phone rings often at the house for Martin. He seems to work non-stop for others. Yet he truly displays no ‘ego’ as we so often see displayed by those who perform or are in the lime light and crave attention.

I hope these three short and clearly inadequate sketches give you some sense of the wonder & goodness that these individuals possess and manifest.

Keep them and all the others in your prayers.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Religious persecution in Eritrea

From BBC World. I have met one of these individuals. He is a fine person: warm, kind, bright, and hard working. Please read on and pray for him & us that we may find a way to assist him to have full opportunities for his life. Phil

If you are Catholic, Muslim, or a member of the Orthodox and Evangelical churches in Eritrea then it seems you can breathe easy. However, those who believe and practise minority faiths are routinely persecuted, according to human rights groups.

Two years ago the Eritrean government introduced a registration system for religions which forced groups to submit information about themselves in order to be allowed to worship.
Apart from the four mentioned, other faiths have not been recognised. And human rights groups have regularly complained that people practising minority religions have faced harassment.

Secret meeting
I went to visit a small part of a Christian Pentecostal Church that has been banned from meeting for the past two years. We were put into a metal shipping container... During the day it very hot and at night very cold Samuel When I arrived in a small dark room of a private house, 12 men and women face away from each other, looking to the corners of the room. Lit by just a small lamp, some of them are singing, some praying, occasionally one breaks into prayer and collapses to the floor. The congregation has divided into small groups. There are 10 other gatherings just like this, taking place across Asmara tonight. These people are very trusting of each other - just by being here and praying together. There have been numerous occasions reported around Eritrea of neighbours and friends of worshipers informing the authorities.


A few days later I arranged to meet a man, who I will call Samuel.
President Isaias Afewerki does not allow political dissent eitherSamuel was attending a religious service, just like the one I was at, when soldiers arrived. "I was praying with six people at a house one evening and the soldiers came into the house, watched us for one minute and said these meetings are forbidden," he told me. "We were beaten with sticks and then taken to a police station." Samuel told me that he and the other Pentecostals had spent the next three months being moved between different locations where they were regularly beaten. "We were put into a metal shipping container with nine Jehovah's Witnesses; one of them was in his 90s. During the day it very hot and at night very cold". Eventually Samuel said he was released after signing a document in which he promised to return to Orthodox Christianity.


His case, it seems, is not an isolated one. I spoke to one American journalist while she was in Eritrea, undercover, researching religious persecution. She asked that I not mention her name, so that she can return to the country. She told me she repeatedly heard from individuals telling her police had taken them off and beaten them after interrupting them praying at home with friends. They were then told they were an enemy of the people and forced to either sign a paper or kept in jail if they wouldn't sign and left in containers. "All of these things are just happening repeatedly over and over from people of all different Christian denominations and the Jehovah's Witnesses. So it is very pervasive of any group that are not part of the four major religions," she said. The evidence she has seen herself is undeniable, she says. "I've seen the scars on people's legs, I've seen their tears and it's very real and they live under a lot of fear." I was asked to leave Eritrea before I could get a government response to my research and experiences, but a statement from the foreign ministry rejected accusations of religious persecutions from the United States.

The government seems to have decided that anyone who does not follow a certain standard is an enemy of the people, is an enemy of the state. It is afraid that people who consider their highest allegiance to be God, at some point may not be patriotic and follow the state's instructions.
At a time of growing tension, both with Ethiopia and Sudan, it seems the Eritrean government is determined that nothing, not even religion, should fall outside their control.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Refugees

What follows will be brief as I am just getting to know individuals.

I want you to take a moment to conjure up your impressions.

  • What do you think/imagine when you hear the word 'refugees?'

  • Now imagine going to live with a 1/2 dozen or so. What further images come to you?

Eating, sleeping, bathing, socializing etc. in the same house?


I do not know about you, but for me there are aspects to certain images that might not be automatically appealing. So I arrived in the U.K ready to help out but not quite sure how it would be.

To preserve anonymity, names have been changed.


Zineddine - He is from Algeria. Tall, good looking with a ready smile, probably about 30. His family is home & he is here. For political reasons he cannot return. He is affable and easy to talk with. He enjoys a good laugh.

Amarion - Slim, average height, always helping out he is from Eritrea. Amarion always greets you with a smile. He is recovered from TB. He is a victim of torture as most are. Zelda explained the protocol in the cafe kitchen to me. The day Amarion was working there, he was making sure Zelda & I did it correctly. Often, apparently, we did not! His manner & approach are always to be helpful, not judgmental. He forever wears a baseball type cap with camouflage design.

Simplice from The Congo- He comes & goes almost non-stop. He was a student who joined a student protest of another student demonstration. Then the govenrment started to arrest students who had participated in any protests. They tortured some of them. Simplice then fled overland to the U.K. All the refugees look for work. It is difficult as they do not have proper ID yet. It can take a long time.

ImAn - is from Iran. A middle aged man, he could not be more polite. He told me stories of being beaten if he did not go to prayers. He made the mistake of going a protest march in his homeland. Now he too cannot go home.

Kalev - hails from a former Soviet Republic. He escaped as his father was Russian descent and when the U.S.S.R. broke apart, those with Russian heritage were persecuted. Now he is stuck in the U.K. as his former homeland is now a part of the EU and he cannot claim refugee status. Because his heritage is suspect, they will not give him a passport at home. Imagine.

Sohrab - also hails from Iran. I do not know his story as I see him little. He is very polite.

I hope what this conveys is two things:

1. It's easy to think generically when there is no face to a name, a category.

2. Imagine what it must be like to live:

- away from all family
- trying to live with no money
- no health care
- the constant possibility of being deported and then upon returning home being killed,
tortured, imprisoned .
- coming home each day to good people & a place to stay, BUT what do you do without much

May WE not only pray for them and peace in their native lands, but do something tangible today to help so many in need.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

LONDON Day 5 7/25/08

Hello from East London!

Arrived safe & sound to 70 degree and sunny. Martin (Fr. Newell) met me at The tube and my introduction began. He's a pleasant man just 40 who lives Simply. Next I met Zelda, an acknowledge atheist. From the start she has with Much energy (She 3 years younger and at times leaves me in the dust!). She gave me a tour of the simple two story house and then the neighbourhood.

One of the appeals is that the Dorothy Day London CW is in a simple neighborhood - East London in Hackney.

One of the appeals is that the Dorothy Day London CW is in a simple neighborhood - East London in Hackney.

It's a nice walk to the cafe - open M-W 11:30 - 7:00 p.m. There's a canal just a block away on which Zelda is taking me for a short tour to a small neighborhood museum before we begin our cafe shift today.

The café is almost like an extended family. Homeless, poor people scraping by, local children, people out for lunch all stop by for a simple lunch that is cheap or free. What works so well is those who have may give more.

For example, a hearty bowl of soup with toast is 70p which given our weak dollar is about $ 1.40. After eating his lunch a young students gave me £2 = $4.15 and said he did not want any change. There’s no tipping, all goes to support the outreach work.


There are a number of regulars who "hang out" for hours each day. Barry, a retired gentleman in his 60's stays most every afternoon. He is a treat.

Picture your older English gent who sits in a pub and talks with a decidedly English accent (what else!), and has the pauses and inflections in speech that are so much fun. Add to that a wealth of local knowledge and a curiosity that invites you to regular conversation.

I've enjoyed meeting all kinds of people and learning about daily life in the U.K. I'm now working on reading a different paper each day to get a sense of the print media. There is a regular stream of customers in the cafe who live locally - many young and working or in various causes. That is great fun as young people everywhere are open and most interesting.

NEXT POST - Refugees in London


Thoughts on the amazing people I get to meet.

Rich, my 19 year old friend, soon to be Franciscan and recent community member at Haley House in Boston. An article he wrote.