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


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.