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, 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.

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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.