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...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

On the Flight Home from Mexico

CSI - actually the real thing not the TV show!

On the flight from Mexico City to Charlotte, N.C. I sat next to a retired CSI agent! BUT first, an honestly inspiring story from him...

About 15 years ago, a friend told him of a family in Mexico who were literally starving. They simply could not feed their kids. The agent went to Mexico, met the family (at that point he had two daughters at home), and offered to bring the 15 year old to the U.S. and adopt her.

It changed his life. He was depressed & going through a divorce. He told me at some length about how she brought such joy to all. She is now married at 31, and living in Mexico trying to get to know her original fmaily. He said it tore him apart when she decided to go to Mexico to live, but knows it's important for her to do it. He visits her when he can & she'd like him to live there too.

He told me the story of how he got her, about 10 years ago, to help him pick out a new car - one she'd enjoy driving too. When they went back to the showroom to pick it up, he handed her the keys to & said "Happy Birthday." He said she cried for a week.

The CSI part :-)

He explained in some detail what they actually do: extensive crime scene collection of evidence. They do NO testing & no investigation. The latter is the job of the police or FBI detectives.

In one case, there was no evidence providing a lead to the identity of the murderer. EXCEPT, the agent saw a dead mosquito on a window sill. Tests provided DNA that led to the killer! Did you know that one piece of dandruff contains your DNA? ¡Cuidado!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Final Thoughts

It's hard to imagine that I take off for home tomorrow. Feelings are mixed as it has been fun as well as not easy! Then again... :-)

OUT AND ABOUT aka odds & ends! or as the Brits say - bits & bobs.

Converting to cobblestone - The street on the north side of the Zocalo (several blocks east) is being redone to be cobblestone - get those wonderful tourists further east !

Seriosuly though it is amazing to walk past.

Many, many men are hard at work with minimal tools. Before a pile of stones, a man selects a stone to be further trimmed - like from 6 x 8 to 4 by 6. All hand tools here.

Next men carefully lay out a grid pattern. The next men carefully place the stones (reduced in size) into straights lines - using a piece of loose concrete that must be just the right width.

Next group checks with a level; finally pour cement, work in, brush off, finish.

ALL within one block.

It is past 7 p.m.- completely dark, and all are still working. On other streets, men labor under flash lights. I have watched these scenes for weeks & have yet to see anyone taking a break - amazing workers.

  • Oaxaca is definitely a wonderful city to visit - very safe, incredibly beautiful, unreal weather 24/7 - ¡Más o menos! BUT watch out for the pitfalls!
    There are all kinds of permanent objects to trip you up. 4 steel posts sticking up about an inch for future lamps!
  • Steel hooks about the size of a size 10 shoe - firmly ensconced in cement and sticking up vertically - right at corners!
  • Streets that are dug up with two parallel trenches about 5 feet deep. At the corners and in between to cross - ¡Cuidado! Walk across a board to cross the street.
  • non-union hours? Workers in the streets work well past 6 p.m.
  • Pedestrians have no right away here - ZIP, nada, rien!
  • Indigenous people who do not read Spanish, older who cannot see - want to take the bus. No problem. Los gritones jump out of the front door as the bus stops & yell, loudly the various locales that the bus passes through. Fare please is 4.5 pesos = 34 U.S. cents OR .21 pounds (British) or .23 Euro.


Teaching is uneven. I think it's time to take private lessons. All schools seem to make the assumption that you are ready for pluscuamperfecto when yours truly is still struggling to understand the spoken word.

Lots of info from fellow students about interesting schools in Guatamala, Spain etc. Not that I wouldn't come back here!


The Oaxacans in the street are very pleasant & one never feels uncomfortable etc. Some of the students are unique! The homestay people are ok. Not much of a family experience like Costa Rica. The lady who does most of the work, lives there etc, and is quasi family - seems to be enthralled with the attitude of The Merchant of Venice! A little more soup, por favor? ¡No! ¡Soy de servir la cantidad exacta!


My Spanish has improved. Understandably to become fluent takes a lot of work. As I will be returning to Europe in February to see my wonderful friends & volunteer, (gosh while I'm already over there!) I hope to go to Granada for 1 or 2 weeks. Pero, first work to pay or it!

There are several interesting schools in Guatemala. One is taught by former guerillas! Another has a program of free classes for volunteering with the local people. I will likely be back here as it is a gorgeous city. I also hope to go to Chiapas (Mexcian state) to San Cristobal.

Happy Thanksgiving all in the U.S.

A group of us just had dinner out - not quite turkey & all the trimmings! But fun. Flight home tomorrow, Friday. Expect to catch up by Monday & do some subbing. Then the 7th of December, I begin 6 weeks of full time substitute teaching at Loch Raven High.

Hasta luego!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Monte Alban, Teotitlan, and Tule - sites

Just a quick note on these incredibly beautiful and interersting places near El Ciudad de Oaxaca.
Monte Alban - A city in the mountain. See pics and sites.

Photo Gallery - Monte Alban

Teotitlan - location of our Investours visit - lovely small pueblo - weaving capitol.


Tule - largest tree in the world.

This www. site below is garish with its ads but pics are good.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Tour in which the cost goes to Micro-Loans for impoverished women - without interest charge!

Investours - an investment in very poor women as they work to obtain a micro-loan. PLEASE DO take at least a quick look at the site:

A wonderful yet simple idea. Those interested pay $50 for a 6 hour venture to Teotitlán del Valle.

You visit two groups of 3 women each. They live in simple, clean but very poor homes. They have come together to obtain a loan of $ 100 = $1300 (pesos) each. Though small this is sizeable here. It allows them to obtain materials etc. to start a small business: weaving, tortilla production, dyed material etc. to be sold in the local market.

They are to pay the loan back & then may apply for a 2nd & 3rd. There is no interest charged. The son of the School´s founder, Carlos, began this particular micro-business. Unlike many, he charges no interest. All $ 50 goes to the loan.

As the provider of the $50 (60.6 British pounds or 67.25 Euro) your group meets afterwards over lunch to determine which group gets the loan that week - not an easy decision. No matter, after three tries, a group will obtain a loan. Most do so by the 2nd try. Apparently they learned a lot.

e is much to say about the visit - incredibly beautiful small woven rugs & resourceful women. It was very difficult to contain my emotions when I saw just how poor & weather worn they are. Vibrant & gracious.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Monte Alban y Oaxaca

I am surprised that so many of us have never heard of Oaxaca City as it is incredibly beautiful.

If possible to travel, these are reasons to come here:

1. Walkable city including at night alone.

2. Cuisine that you would not believe. Check out mole. (2 syllabes, not a growth !!) IMAGE:


3. Smaller Rugs & casual textile shoulder bags from Teotitlan - hand made & beautiful with many bright colors.

4. Generally spring all year round.

5. Cost - for dinner of a large portion of red snapper broiled w/ vegetables, rice, & bread with a giant lemonade with nice tip = $ 11.00

A Pepsi from a local shop - like Royals Farms - 60 c ents.

A banana & a tangerine from a local store = 13 - 16 cents total.

6. History: sites of Conquistador presence, sites such as Monte Alban as part of Zapotec
Indigenous people, Mixteca indigenous - on and on.

7. Museums and places like The Zocolo.

8. Santo Domingo Catedral -

This picture does it little justice. When at Mass, one experiences feels incredible aesthetic beauty while in trhe church. Moments later feelings of repulsion rise up as to the brutal & atavistic theft of the riches indegenous people.

9. Outdoor, free, local music & dance

10. And SO much more to see & experience.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Oaxaca 11/12/09

From There To Here

Some interesting people on the 12 hour journey from D.C. to Oaxaca.

I met a very interesting lady around my age who has similar interests & expectations at this point in life! We talked the entire way from D.C. to the 1st stop – Charlotte. Of course, she lives in Texas & I in Md. Pero, hopefully I can visit her when I am volunteering in San Antonio within the next year at the local Catholic Worker House. I got her email address.

I met a man who along with another man has just invented or created a new vegetable – a combo garlic & onion. It will soon be marketed by a major corporation.
At the airport in Mexico and on the ride to my home stay in Oaxaca, I talked with a young lady who is a working artist. She is here in Oaxaca to study with a resident artist. We are meeting for dinner over the weekend.

One of my suitcases got left behind in Oaxaca, & I did not know if it would arrive until the next day. I was concerned as it had my meds. Mercifully it arrived the next morning.
I was surprised to not be tired at all after 12 hours in flight & the activities after. BUT, the next day (the 1st day of classes), my mind was exhausted from trying to keep up in Spanish!

The Homestay

The homestay is very pleasant. The hostess is a middle school teacher & my host in a semi-retired architect. The house is a 5 minute walk from the language school. I walk right past a large hospital. Ok, except the 1st day I saw a doctor in a white lab coat on the street in front with a mask on. Perhaps a bit loco on my part, but as there are many people who appear ill, I walk on the other side of the street! What with H1N1.

My room is fine except they do not believe in table or floor lamps. All lights are ceiling lights. Not particularly warm. I was struck by how firm the mattress is. I have slept wonderfully!

Breakfast comes with the homestay – all for $ 16 a night. Supper, a light meal, is an extra $ 3. So 7 days at the house w/ breakfast & supper costs $ 130.

There is an interior courtyard – small- but pleasant. The weather has been wonderful – 70’s in the day & 50’s at night. Bright sun.

This week there is one other student at the homestay – an older lady who is ok, but a tad persnickerty.

Next week there will be a 2nd lady. The can hold 5 students.

La escuela – a five minute walk

The school, Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca is in a lovely old home with an interior courtyard and plenty of outside grounds. It is fenced in by a concrete wall about 8 feet tall. Flowers are in bloom and there are many tables & chairs available on the various porches or should I say verandas.

I was very surprised with the Level they put me in. There are 3 levels, each with two sublevels. For example beginner is 1A & 1 B, then 2A & 2B, and finally 3A & 3 B. I am in 2B. Now how did that happen! The 1st hour & ½ I thought my mind would explode! My ability to understand spoken Spanish seemed far inferior to the class level. So after consultation, I went to 2 A for the 2nd 90 minutes. Ok, that was a tad too easy!!! SO, what happened?

Well, in Costa Rica, I began my 1st experience with Spanish instruction in the beginners category, of course. In my 2nd week the teacher spent much of the time flirting w/ the only other student, a young lady. Consequently, though it was only an intermediate beginner class, the teacher covered 4 tenses completely + the infinitive & participles in four class periods. WAY TOO MUCH. She wanted it that way. Result: I had been exposed to many very forms, but with no practice.

THEN, this fall I watched the DVD series 24 which Aman & Mao got me into while in London. At home, I watched Seasons 2 thru 7 with Spanish subtitles taking many notes. Consequently, I am somewhat able to read many very forms but have little ability to hear them or speak them easily. So I’m not really 2B but then again a tad beyond 2A !!

Given the choice, I decided to stay in 2B. Further result? Last night after supper, I began my back etc, stretches lying on my bed. I could not stay awake. I gave up around 8:30 p.m. & slept well until about 6:30 a.m. My poor brain

Posts to come: (hopefully more interesting!)

· A program sponsored by the son of the school’s founder – the program provides micor-loans for Oaxacan women to allow them to become financially successful. It’s a day trip in which we pay $ 50 and visit the women at work (various crafts etc.). The $ 50 goes to loans for the women.

· Intercambio Experience.

· Oaxacan Cooking class – making tortillas from scratch etc.

· Enjoying the evening after supper while watching a group of young people practice their dance steps. They are good!

· Discovering a wonderful restaurant for salads beyond one’s imagination. Keep in mind that in most of Mexico, one eats lettuce etc. while taking a major risk of illness.

· Many wonderful students in the school (many my age) AND some real idiotas!

· A very beautiful and walkable city – Oaxaca. Sunny all day every day in the 70´s F
or 21 to 24 C

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tears, laughs, and stark reality

I am home again. The last day was full of events & emotions. Busy getting food items & cooking for the dinner, all gathered around 7:15.

I wish you could have been there with the asylum seekers & volunteers. The asylum seekers, the guys I call them, were amazing. Such culinary delights with little to work with but total joy.

An Eritrean vegetarian dish that was scrumptuous.

Algerian lamb grilled with tomato halves. Wow!

Ethiopian chicken and rice dish that was plentiful, fresh and tasty.

A Senegalese beef stew made with halal beef and wonderful vegetables - fun and tasty.

and French wine!

I wish I had the ability to transport you there to feel what I sensed palpably. Here are wonderul people: engineers, tradesmen, youth, teachers ripped from family - many tortured and dead - in a land that increasingly is running from 9/11 in any guise it can conjure up.

On my way to the airport with my loving North African friend, I saw headlines about individuals complaining about not being given enough millions to manage their futbol team or headlines about who got drunk when. And next to me and in my heart are real people who give more than they get and do not complain.

Thank you for following along my journey. I hope you will be inspired by them to respond.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Quaker Quest

My friend Chris invited me to go to a Quaker Quest with him tonight. It was a fascinating experience. Housed in a large attractive complex near Euston Station, the evening began at 6:30 p.m. with light dinner snacks.

At 7, three Quakers presented their thoughts on living simply. It was a rare opportunity to hear everyday individuals talk about learning to get to the core of what matters.
Small group discussion followed.

The same three followed up with personal vignettes in their lives as how they practice simplicity. It was fascinating, thought provoking and inspiring. A Q & A session followed. Finally there was an abbreviated 25 minute period of silence.

Quakers are of course well known for their support of peace and social justice.
An online search brought up the following interesting story re: Quakers & Baltimore.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Southend On the Sea

Into the County of Essex, we traveled to meet up with Zelda. It was a bright sunny day in the upper 60's to low 70's.

Atlantic City 1950's

In the 50's as a 3rd, 4th grader, my aunt Anne used to take me to Atlantic City for a week or more. Long before the Casinos, it was a peaceful and fun summer trip - full of shows, rides, cotton candy, plenty of beach, and a board walk on which I rode a bike from one end to the other in the early mornings. That's exactly what the promenade at Southendt looks like to me, well without the boards. Lovely old homes in the distance and row upon row of shops, fun rides (amusement rides), and eateries - both quick and sit down.

The water is the Thames which comes from the North Sea. Mostly a pebbly beach, it is pleasant to walk along and feel the familiar smell and sounds of the sea.

My friend from Eritrea and I went on the roller coaster and dutifully made appropriate sounds! A new experience for me was a snack on cockles - any bivalve mollusk of the genus Cardium, having somewhat heart-shaped, radially ribbed valves.
For a pic go to:

Zelda, up for anything, wanted us to paddle in (wade in) the water. We declined! Not quite our cup of tea - cold & muddy.

There had been a Regatta at nearby Leigh on the Sea. So on our way back, we stopped to walk along the beach. Finally bidding Cheers to Zelda at Basildon, we two went back to London, and after a small meal of fish and chips settled down to watch Season Two of 24. To think I had came to London to see 24 !

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I took Friday off and traveled by train to Hastings in Sussex. It is the home of the Battle of Hastings 1066 - a date all you history lovers surely recall! Also, it is where Foyle's War (detective series taking place during WWII) was mainly filmed - a favorite of mine!

It would be a great place to spend a couple nights to explore Sussex. The City reminds me of a mix of Harpers Ferry, WVA , Ellicott City, MD, and Pisa, Italy. Wrap your minds around that!!

An old section. quaint, replete with many shops, pubs, and places to eat. Fish and chips is available everywhere. Though the price is daunting for us: £5.50 - 7 which in the U.S. at this point is $ 8.95 - 11.39. I passed :-)

There are two lifts, incline cars, available to take you to heights with glorious views across the Channel and toward the Castle and countryside. Many historical sites there and nearby in Rye, Battle, Bexhill etc.

I finally found my gift for my daughter as well as a bookstore with used books - very used for 25p = 1/4 of a pound per book or 10 for £1. I worked hard to find 10, mostly small gifts and humor for people here.

Well, it's back to London for my last week of volunteering. Thursday night we're having a dinner party. They call it Phil's leaving do - go figure!!! Menu will include main course dishes from Senegal, Ethiopia. Algeria, Iran, and the U.S.

Today, my dear friend from Eritrea and I are traveling to Southend near Shoeburyness - what did I say about Brit names! We are meeting Zelda for a day out - including amusement rides.

Sunday, it's the soup kitchen at the Round Chapel - fianlly I'm fit enough to pleasantly bike there through Hackney traffic.

Monday after the cafe, it's a trip to a Quaker Meeting with Chris, Tuesday lunch with Ian, and a get together with Steve. I'm also going to try to fit in short visits to several museums when not working in the Cafe.

Not doing much as usual. :-)

Take care all.


Phil PS Blog entry to follow: Palestinian Monologues - an amazing play I attended.

A Morning at Horseferry Court

Horseferry Court

I went Thursday to a court near Waterloo to support Chris Cole who is the Director of "Fellowship of Reconciliation" here in the U.K.

Christian peace activist, Chris Cole, 46, was arrested this morning (Monday 7 September) and charged with £2,000 of criminal damage following a protest at ... (the) arms fair.

Cole sprayed the words ‘Build Peace not War Machines’ on the conference centre doorsand ‘arms trade = death’ on the steps. He poured red paint as symbolic blood and wrote ‘stop this bloody business’.

“Especially in a time of war, we are called to resist the great lie that our security and well being lies in bigger and better weaponry. The truth is that only justice and love will in the end; bring real peace and real human security to our nation and the world as a whole.” (from ICN 7/9/09)

It is somewhat ironic that I went as I do not agree with breaking the law to make the point, a very real point of protesting an arms fair. In the 60's when the Berrigan brothers protested the Vietnam War, that kind of protest seemed to grab peoples' attention and help focus attention on important issues of the war. To me, these days, no one who can make a real difference politically pays any attention. So it seems that the 'converted are just talking to each other.'

I wonder if more good would not be done if people protested completely non-violently. My hope then is that others might actually reflect on the issues involved rather than on the sensational aspects.

The Magistrate seemed determine to make quick work of things. He would not allow Chris extra time to call a witness from the Arms Fair. Trial date set quickly. He also seemed truculent about gathering evidence for Chris to examine.

After the hearing Chris invited me to join him and Pat Gaffney, Coordinator for Pax Christi U.K. to join them for tea. Both Chris and Pat were most gracious and inquired into my stay. I felt a tad uncomfortable as I wanted the conversation to go back to him and his experience, not on me.
We agreed to meet for lunch when I'm back (hopefully in February) to discuss protests and my questions. Both he and Pat were incredibly gracious. Clearly they are knoweldgeable, commtitted and hard working - now if politicians would just have tea with folks like these, it might make a difference.

Peace, Phil

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Plowshares Action by Fr. Martin Newell & Katrina Alton

Protests expected as Libyan arms dealers come to ExCelTuesday, September 8 12:01 amBy Liz Stephens from

Anti-war protests are expected in London today as a controversial arms fair gets underway.The Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition begins at the ExCel centre in the Docklands today. Protests are planned at ExCel, in the City and also in Westminster. The bi-annual event – which is flagged as the world's largest fully integrated defence and security exhibition – will attract arms dealers and technology and military experts from across the world.
Of the 53 countries invited by UK Trade and Investment's Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) to attend the event, several have been blacklisted by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for human rights violations.

However, the event claims that conventional weapons of torture and landmines will not be on display and all exhibits will comply with UK law and the provisions of the Oslo Accord. "Exhibitors promoting or exhibiting prohibited items, either overtly or covertly during the exhibition, will be in breach of their contract with the organisers and will forfeit their right to exhibit at DSEi," say organisers Clarion Defence and Security.

Protests will take place at a number of locations, although the event itself will be surrounded by a "ring of steel" with only accredited visitors, exhibitors and press allowed within a strict distance of the ExCel centre.

"Huge profits will be made by arms companies, but the costs are borne by the UK taxpayer, and millions of people whose lives are blighted by the arms trade."

Libya has been accused of arming the IRA and other terrorist organisations during the 80s & 90s.

PRESS RELEASE, Wednesday 9th September 2009DSEi
Arms Fair, ExCEL Centre, Docklands, London Catholic Workers Arrested for Exposing Bloody DSEi Arms Fair

London Catholic Workers Katrina Alton and Martin Newell poured red paint on to a sign advertising the DSEi Arms Fair [this morning at 8.30am]. The red paint represents the blood of the victims of the arms fair, on [the walkway which is the main pedestrian entrance to the arms fair by Custom House DLR station]. … The two raised a banner which read “FORGIVE THEM FATHER; THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO”. They remained there kneeling in prayer for 45 minutes while several Arms Dealers took photos and one spoke with Fr. Martin. The two were surrounded by a dozen police officers and arrested for criminal damage, they were taken to a local police station.

Katrina Alton said, “Today the DSEi Arms Fair is proudly trading in arms and weapons that cause death and suffering to millions of the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. As a Christian I believe these children, women, and men are my brothers and sisters. Their voices are silent and their stories are not writ large on advertising stands or at multi billion pound ‘Fairs’: they remain hidden, “out of sight out of mind”. My love and compassion for these victims, faith, means that in faith and solidarity I cannot remain silent or hidden. So our action today is a visible sign that in the heart of our community this week the powerful and the greedy are trading in the blood of the poor: and that blood is on my hands too. By pouring ‘blood’ over the DSEi sign I am hoping to bring out into the light what is happening here today, and challenge these powerful and rich people to think what a difference could be made right now if all this money and resources was used to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and care for the sick just as Jesus asks us to do.

Martin Newell said, “This red paint, our actions today, are for the victims. The victims of the arms trade may not know where their suffering has come from – they may only know that their families have been killed, their homes destroyed, their means of survival wiped out. They may not know the words DSEi, EXCEL, arms fair, arms trade, or capitalism. But those who are working here today, those who work in and for the arms trade, do know that they make a living at the expense of the blood of the innocent. We hope and pray that our action here today will touch those hardened hearts, and open the eyes of those who see but do not perceive, so that hearts of stone will be changed into hearts of flesh. We expect to pay a price for our convictions and our conscientious objection to this arms fair. But I pray that this too will be a small part of my journey to seeing the truth from the perspective of the victims.” The London Catholic Worker is a part of the international, radical, pacifist, Catholic Worker movement. We offer hospitality and welcome to the poor and homeless, refugees and other migrants. At the same time we resist the forces of injustice and violence that create so much suffering, poverty and insecurity. Katrina Alton and Martin Newell are members of the London Catholic Worker (LCW). They live and work in the LCW house of hospitality for refugees in Hackney. They also work in the LCW drop-in and community café. Katrina Alton is 42 years old. Martin Newell is also 42.

The next day

Katrina Alton, Diane, Scott Albrecht, two CW volunteers at the Farm and I went to support Martin in his court appearance today. We had expected the court to begin a 9, but it did not begin until 10. Martin made a brief appearance just afternoon noon. The court then adjourned for lunch and began again at 2:00 p.m. (aka 14:00).

Finally Martin appeared. Two dates were set: October 6th for a pre-trial review & the trial February 24th. Katrina was released yesterday around 7:00 p.m. She received a fixed penalty notice and a fine of £80 around $130. Her stay though briefer than Martin's was distinctly unpleasant. A usually provided screen for women to use the toilet was missing in her cell. The toilet did not work and was sharing a very foul odor.
Martin was held over night due to his record of previous actions making it a long day due to the noise and bright lights at night.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Odds and Ends

The following are just some of the interesting and fun (at least to me!) things I've learned while living in the U.K. this month.

  • I went to the hole in the wall and withdrew £50 for the petty cash. ATMS are most often referred to as cash machines or a hole in the wall!

  • How would you like some stuffed marrow? A vegetable larger than the typical zuchinni stuffed with a rice and seasoning mixture.

  • You know chips are french fries, and crips are chips. Did you know corchettes are zuchini and aubergine are egg plant?

  • One of the refugees has created his own version of English. For example, following my question: "Did you get some tea or coffee?" he replied: Me n di drink. Now to follow him (especially challening in an animated conversation), you must always keep the context in mind and do some detecting. Me n di drink is translated: I had my coffee and drank it already. This person has a heart of gold. When you ask him how he is, he always replies: No bad, which I'm told is a minor variation of what Brits ususally say, Not bad. They are given to understatement always, I'm told! So we all now say No bad and laugh deeply. Laughter cures...
  • In regular Brit speak: I'm nackered means I'm worn out.
  • In one day here in addition to English, I'm likely to speak Spanish, a tad German, and hold several brief conversations in French. I will also hear Amarik, Tegrina, Arabic and Farsi.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

An Overnight with Jim and Nancy Forest in Alkmaar, The Netherlands

The genius and driving force behind the Catholic Worker was, of course, the indomitable Dorothy Day. Jim Forest first met Dorothy when he was a young man of 21. His experiences with Dorothy are well known. He is currently revising his biography of her, Love is the Measure. It is due out next year.

Imagine though my incredible good fortune. Here is a man who has not only met, but worked side by side with Dorothy, Thomas Merron, Thich Nhat Hanh and more. Yet, Jim is in no way pridefull. In fact visiting him and his lovely wife, Nancy, is pure joy.

Dorothy Day's approach, as Jim shared with me on one of many walks, can be sumed up simply: "live generously, loving even your enemies. That means do not shoot them!"

An simple example of generosity: Nancy & Jim showed me a small shirt for their grand daughter that they had just printed with I'd rather be reading Dostoyevesky. I commented that I want to take a copy of the famous picture, Christ of the Breadlines by Fritz Eichenberg, to have it imprinted on a T-shirt. Next thing I knew, Jim went upstairs & got me a full size book of that and many others by Eichenberg saying simply, "It's yours."

Jim & Nancy live in an incredibly beautiful and fascinating Dutch city that feels much more like a small Dutch town, Alkmaar. Canals of all sizes run around and through it. Houses date back centuries. Next door to Jim & Nancy is the oldest house in Alkmaar, built in 1560. I waited under its natural outcropping for a downpour to stop! I will be sending out a set of pictures from Alkmaar one I learn how to down & upload them.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Experiencing the Amsterdam Catholic Worker

As I begin to write this, it is 4:00 a.m. back home in Maryland and 1:36 a.m. on the west coast.

I will wait a bit before I share specific stories. (Perhaps a tad paranoid, but I do not want to put into jeopardy anyone who is seeking asylum. I am not in jeopardy as I do not break any laws, but given ability to hack online & search, I do not want to lead anyone to one of these people. They have been through enough.)

Suffice it to say at this point, that we who are safe, secure, and relatively healthy and peaceful do not realize on a gut level just how fortunate we are. Richard Engel, NBC Bureau Chief for the Middle East and only in his early 30's, reminds us how easy it is to become numbed to tragedy.

Sitting with one of the people seeking asylum and listening to their experience in whatever English they can manage can be heartbreaking.

Being hunted down in their own country (because their father was on the losing side, because they have the wrong religion, because they refuse to fight or to join the terrorists, etc.)

Then having to hide and try to escape,

having their parents pay large sums of money to "travel agents,"only to be left behind once abroad,

finding themselves alone in a foreign country, knowing no one, and not speaking the language,

  • having to defend themselves from unscrupulous people, from the police
  • often put into prison
  • living in the street
  • hoping against hope for some help
  • people passing you by and looking the other way

But that is not the end of the story...

Perhaps you find a group of people to help you, to take you in. You then begin a long journey to prove you cannot possibly go back to oyur own country. (If you went back, you would face torture, waisting away in a small jail cell for years with 50 other people and little or no food, and finally possibly death)

So the journey in the new country involves:

  • trying desperately to find some proof for asylum
  • not being allowed to work or get career training or education
  • learning the new language as best you can
  • having no idea if your parent(s), siblings or alive.
  • no one back home to contact

IMAGINE, my friends, living one month much less 10 years like that.

May I ask you to:

  • stop and pray for them?
  • think what else can you do today?
  • get the word out?

Phil in Holland, for now.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Greetings from Hackney - London N1

I hope this finds everyone well.

I received an incredibly warm welcome here. One young man hugged me so hard and so long that I had think back about 20 years since that happened - a newly graduated high school Senior who had struggled.

Another who is fun but tends to be somewhat reticent, kept giving me periodic hugs. The two kind, regular house managers smiled (I hope!) as soon the house was ringing with laughter. To avoid jet lag, I managed to stay up 34 hours.

Yesterday there was a Mass and social for local Catholic Workers. I met a young couple from Australia who live here London now. They had just returned from Australia. They have rock/metal group. David is going to send me a link which I'll share.

I have begun to network to try to better understand the asylum processes. I'd like to try to help some of the guys' applications to move along.

One, my favorite, his got lost and the lawyers forgot all about it. One blessing is that now that he has been here longer than 18 months, they cannot force him to return to Italy. He has immigrated to Italy from Africa. The experience in Italy was very bad. The EU policy is to insist that you apply for Asylum in the country in which you first enter. Italy is not helpful.

Tomorrow will be the soup kitchen and Monday begins the Community Cafe. It is great fun for me as I get to renew acquaintances with many people each day.

One person, Maureen, who volunteered at the soup kitchen on Sundays just died. She was only in her 50's. I had thought she was younger. I wondered why her email stopped abruptly mid-year. I was shaken by the news of her death as I liked her very much.

Be well all and I'll blog again when there's something worth hearing!



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Eunice Shriver counted Dorothy Day among her friends

Among the many friends Eunice Kennedy Shriver made throughout her illustrious life was Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Daughter Maria Shriver said in her eulogy during her mother’s funeral Aug. 14 that Shriver considered Day a personal hero, along with Mary, Mother Teresa and her own mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and her sister Rosemary.

Day referred to Shriver in her diaries several times in the 1970s. Day’s references to the member of the Kennedy clan mention how Shriver would call just to chat, invite her to Hyannisport for a break or to discuss deeper concerns.

“She (Shriver) is reading my books,” Day wrote April 15, 1976. “Bedside books, she calls them. She is not happy. ‘Do you believe in heaven and hell?’ she asked me. ‘Why?’”
In an entry dated Oct. 30, 1979, Day told about another call from Shriver in which she said her brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, would announce a run for the White House in nine days.
Several years earlier, July 14, 1975, Day described another call from Shriver in which she said her husband, Sargent, was planning to seek the presidency. Shriver asked Day to sign on as a supporter. Day was a bit flabbergasted. “I am an anarchist,” she wrote. “But ‘pray for him.’ I like her. He is a daily communicant.”

The diary excerpts can be found in “The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day” edited by Robert Ellsberg and published in 2008 by Marquette University Press.

By Dennis Sadowski

Monday, July 13, 2009

Wedding Pictures' Site

Laura looks great!!!!

Click on Proofs

Enter Password: 6754

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Grace Filled Day*

A Grace Filled Day*

* Regrettably all too many televangelists have killed words like grace, religious, and Christian. much less Jesus. I use the word 'grace' here to indicate the presence of the 'more' that many of us believe must exist, though we have limited ability to understand - often referred to as God.

In the afternoon I began to make my way to Tacoma, about an hour's bus ride away to visit the Tacoma Catholic Worker, Guadalupe House.

First I met the irrepressible
Peter. Guadalupe House is quite large - two smaller houses joined making it possible to have 13 bedrooms for live in workers & transitional housing for homeless trying to get off the street. Every person I met and it ended up being about 30 were so alive. Today was the day for the open Liturgy and dinner.

The liturgy today was led by the same Peter brimming with excitement. we each mentioned someone who had died to keep in our heart during the prayer. I mentioned Jim and Dorothy Stang. After a reading by Isaiah, individuals shared memories of those who had recently died in the streets . Just to think, here were people in life experiences that we never would want to experience for an hour much less months & years - genuinely sharing their recognition of simple goodness and insight. One felt a sense of community.

At one point we were invited to share how we'd spend our last day. My thoughts went to my daughter, my new son-in-law & his incredible family, and my family & friends gathered simply enjoying each other & the day. Similar to the one I just spent in North East with the Drabs. A grace filled day.

After the Kiss of Peace I joined several to serve the food cafeteria style. I had just heard about the amazing Fr. Bischel, pronounced simply Bix. Double wow! Next to me stood a tall, slender, bearded 81 one year old man dishing out the main course. He made instant contact and you knew you were in the company of greatness - not media like - but real. He was interested in the person right there - an amazing man.

25 years of his work , influence and many good people, this once gang ridden block, now has 5 houses owned by the TCW. He has bought and mostly had donated almost every individual home. People are so impressed by his work that when they die, they simply leave the house to the TCW.

In addition to the main house, surrounding a grass center, there are many buildings: one housed a recently financially devastated family, some houses individuals as well as Bix. In one there is a Contemplation Room (a quiet peaceful room) open to all. Just retrieve the key from a slot outside & let yourself in. it works!

Bix, a Buddhist, an ex-marine and about 10 others travel to Hiroshima next month for the annual remembrance of those two dark days in 1945. They carry a simple petition asking forgiveness for our part in it. Today's Tacoma Tribune carries a front page article on the upcoming trip.

Arriving back in Seattle, I went to get a soda across the street from the hostel. A bedraggled homeless woman approached me. She didn't want money - just please a sandwich from Subway.

Inside we went, happy to help but sadly a tad uncomfortable as I know how proprietors often feel about 'those people coming here.' Christ present? Right next to me. In the person of this likely mentally ill lady. But not quietly! In a loud voice, she kept telling me just a simple tuna sandwich just like her mother made for her. Heck, Subway has foot long subs for about $ 5. Go for it. Nope! Just a 1/2 . She didn't want to impose. And hey, tuna and more mayonnaise please. By now we were the center of a completely still eatery. I'm thinking almost done - going from exalting in her joy and wondering if everyone was going to throw me out. She actually got the young man to put on 1 & 1/2 extra scoops of tuna and lots more mayonnaise!

What was the best in a way was the sheer joy of the two workers. The young man the next day told everyone who came in when I was there. That I could do without!!! Small world? One of the workers was Palestinian. I shared with him my discovery of a Palestinian detective series.

Grace filled day? Does God exist? No need to ask. Tom* was right!

*Tom, my ex-Jesuit spiritual director, is a god send. Today he led me to explore just how I experience God's presence in my life: my daughter & new son-in-law, family & friends, nature, the Eucharist, in individual people I meet, not infrequently the poorest. Prayer then is simply being present to those experiences.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

People We Met on our Christmas Trip

Hello all,

Laura, Jay (her fiancé), and I travelled to Europe the day after Christmas. Originally planned for June, we did our best given the shorter time window. Telling you about all the sites* you yourself have visited or heard about seems silly so below are several interesting people we met etc.



Laura & Jay met several couples and individuals to hang out" with: Lebanese, French, and Aussies among others. We shared a table New Years Eve with an Aussie couple who just completed teaching in Thailand. I enjoyed seeing L & J have a New Years Eve experience with so many young people from around the world.

On the streets, it got a bit dicey. Seems the hooligan types have a tradition of chaos on the streets. Jay took pictures of people jumping from car to car in front of the Stock Exchange. Something ironic about that! I saw news broadcasts showing the extreme violence in Paris and Amsterdam - cars burning etc.

Bruges - A wonderful New Years dinner at Brasserie Chagall.


Red Light District

Laura I took a walk near Amsterdam Centraal (train station) and the end of trams lines. I wondered aloud if we might we venturing into the Red Light District. Shortly the sex shops came into view. Laura had us make a hasty retreat! No place to be with your dad!!

By far our best accommodations were in Amsterdam, but then I have never paid so much for a room! Rooms are expensive and hard to find at New Years there. We both had large suites with great amenities.

Alkmaar - Jim and Nancy Forest

Wanting Laura and Jay to have an evening without dad, I had the opportunity to travel by train to a small town which is the cheese capitol, Alkmaar.

For me this was a wonderful evening. For those familiar with the Catholic worker and peace movement will recognize Jim's name. He knew well (often worked with) Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the Berrigans, Henri Nouwen, Dom Eudes, John Dear among others. Jim shared a story with us at dinner about how the British MI5 boarded a plane from Paris with pictures of Daniel Berrigan hoping to keep this dissident out of the country. You know how peaceful opposition is so threatening to those in power! Thinking ahead, Jim was on that plane. Daniel came on a later flight unimpeded!

When I arrived, Jim took me on a walking tour of Alkmaar. He is a great tour guide. What a way to meet good people and to obtain a sense of the local culture.

Nancy provided a feast for a king, Moussaka. At dinner, Nancy´s soon to be 93 year old mother joined us. I would never have known she was 93. She had lived with them for about 18 months. She paints regularly and is quite talented. (See website info below.)

Good heavens! I went online to find jim´s www. so I could include it. In persuing it quickly, I went to photos to find his mother in laws picture photos. Under friends I found me with this
Phil visited us 2 January 2008 -- the photo reveals that he almost has a halo. Oddly, for me it is not a bad picture!

From Jim:

Mother-in-law's pictures

And the one of you with your almost-halo is here:

All in all on the trip, the most confusing aspect is using the keyboards!!! for example on this one, to type a ( one must hold the shift key and hit the star key which is next to the key labeled with (

To type a ) hold the shift and hit the key with the its opposite which of ocurse is the (

LOST! To type ½ one must hold down the Clt and Alt keys and hit the key labeled 5 which has no indication for ½. The proprietor has been unable to demonstrate how to type the @ or Euro symbol!!

Ok. Cheers.

Tomorrow we fly home! Happy New Year all!


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.