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 16, 2010

Corte de pelo (haircut) for $ 5, McCafe, chicken bus vs mini van...

Imagine an excellent haircut for $5, & that´s expensive here. Care is taken, including a straight edge shaving of hair above the neck. You do not leave until all cut hair is carefully brushed away. Oh & the barberia doubles as an internet kiosk.

McCafe - It is not easy getting decaf coffee in Latin America. After the corte de pelo, I eyed a McDonalds. Oh yes they have decaf, but in the next room. Wow! Like a coffee, pastry, cake place in a Border's bookstore.

After a sip, I wanted more cream, so I askd for a bit more. No problema! They empty the cup into a container, add cream and then blend it again! Such service & in a ceramic cup mit saucer for $1.25. When I finished I started to take the cup & saucer to the counter. The young man rushed out to get it from me. Oh and there's a lovely outdoor garden in which to enjoy your coffee.

Nicknames - I never use Philip, no me gusta, only Phil, but in Spanish I've never seen Phil, solo Felipe. BUT, in San Pedro, hope!! The Spanish Phil is lipe BUT the Tzutijil Phil is lip. So Senior Phil as they prefer to say is Talip. That I like!!

SAFETY - Mini-vans vs camionetas (chicken buses) - To the visitor it makes no sense that chicken buses (recycled & incredibly decorated American school buses) are much less safe than mini-vans. Mini-vans are full of tourists w/ cameras, laptops, money, jewelry etc. I've learned the reason is two fold. 1st camionetas (chicken buses) will likely be safe as long as the driver pays either the police or local gang. Exception is luggage carried on top of the bus. Mini-vans are likely safe because the robbers etc. know that foreign governments will come down hard on the Guatemalan gvernment to find the perpetrators. Thus safer to rob locals & gringos (anyone not Latino) who stray into very dangerous areas, for example Guatemala City.

Venturing en camioneta (chicken bus) out of Antgua - Taking a camioneta to a nearby village is an interesting experience. Occasionally you'll see a gringo, but basically locals, esp. the indigenous people. There is a driver & caller. The caller gets off the bus & loudly calls out the bus' destination, as in Antigua, San Felipe or Guate (Guatemala City). The fare can vary from 1.5Q to 5Q which are questzales (19 cents to 64 cents). The caller also helps indigenous people with their large bundles. He also collects the fare during the trip.

Venders often board the bus to sell chicklets, creams, newspapers. Sometimes bombaderos, firemen, come on board to ask for contributions.

The buses roll along just like school buses, but sadly often their exhaust is terrible. Young backpackers including young women often travel country to country in chicken buses. It can take many, many hours to make one trip like that. For me it would be not only uncomfortable but I think unwise given the varying degrees of safety given the rural areas.

Today I went to the Pueblo, San Felipe. The church has a unique & attractive facade. Across the street is a outdoor market which sells clothing and cloth products. Quite reasonble prices, 1/2 what they are in the mercado in Antigua.

Riding the bus this morning, a young father sat down next to me holding his 5 years old daughter. Though Gautemala City has hospitals, many come by bus to Antigua & then to San Felipe for broken bones to be reset & put into casts. His daughter had both legs in casts. She had lovely eyes & was quite personable. The indigenous here are mostly Cakchiqueles, pronounced CAK chee KEY les. My name in Cakchiquiles como Talip is Ma le´p.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Afternoon to Remember

Servando, Pat and a young lady from Guatemala City visiting Santa Cruz,

In August while at Santa Cruz on Lake Atitlan, I met Noê & Servando. Servando who was then 15, lives in Santa Cruz. He is quite a personable young man. He gave me his email address & has kept in touch regularly on Facebook.

To be honest I was a tad unsure as my Spanish is still in its formative stage! Not to worry! Servando is an amazing, talented and affable young man. We quickly began talking over the lunch menu. He asked me many intelligent questions:

  • What music did I like?
  • What my family is like?
  • Was I religious?
  • Is futbol popular in the U.S.?
  • Have I heard of "Rammstein," a German industrial metal band formed in 1994?
We talked at length about careers. He wants to work in cinema. We talked about the advantage of researching several possible options just in case the cinema field did not work out.

Enter the young lady from Guate (Guatemala City). She overheard us talking. It turns out she is familiar with cinema in Guate & has specific contacts for Servando. Gracia a Dios! This was terrific for him. Later in the conversation, I was able to obtain recommendations of Guatemalan & other Latino films to use to improve my Spanish at home. A muy amable chica!

Enter Pat Tropie I met Pat on Servando´s Facebook friends page. Pat is from Washington State & lives in Santa Cruz 6 months a year. She is head of an NGO which assists Santa Cruz youth in many important ways. Please check the site out at

There we were, the four of us, talking animatedly about the experience of Lake Atitlan and their youth. As is often the case, words cannot adequately express how impressive a young man Servando is. A truly gifted individual personally, in his contributions to Santa Cruz, in his interests, and I think future.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Culure & History

My Spanish class consists of conversation for about 3 hours. My teacher is Mayan & has lived in the U.S., so I get a unique perspective. Some things he´s shared & I´ve gotten from our film nights.

  • San Pedro is almost totally indigenous. The largest group is Tzutujil, pronounced zooteheel. Accent on the heel. The people treat you very well, always a buenos dias, buenas trades etc., a ready sense of humor and warmth. They work very hard. My host, Juan, is a teacher. No on vacation. so he & his 18 year old son go to the mountains several times a week to pick coffee. When not doing that he assists his wife, Rosalia, in baking and decorating the large postres (cakes) they sell.
  • Zack is the two year nieto (grandson) of the school director, Marta. He is very cute & readily relates to the students. The school property is a narrow strip of land that goes from the street to the lake, about a football field + a little more in length. The last 1/3 has small cabanas for individual classes. Yesterday as Zack was going to the beach with his abuela (grandmother) he said good bye to each student cabana by cabana. Right now he is sitting in this room avidly watching a cartoon. Well for a bit, then he was off to play, but not before coming back to say hola!
  • Los Perros, the dogs A travel blog on San Pedro commented on the dogs & concern about rabies. So I wondered if I should get the shot in advance. (Recommended for anyone who is going to be in country for several months.) Good thing I didn´t! There are lots of dogs, but they just stand & watch your progress as you walk by.
  • Marriage The indigenous, at least Tzutujil, tradition is that the young man takes his soon to be bride into his house for the night. He is then married. The next morning the son´s father takes a plate of bread to the girl´s father to say, " I am sorry my son stole your daughter." Then together they plan the boda, wedding!
  • Security in San Pedro I have had the pleasure to go to school &/or visit about 15 places in Central America & Mexico. San Pedro is by far the safest. Why? The locals say it´s because of religion. Great emphasis is placed on not doing harm to people in both the Evangelical & Catholic Churches.
  • Religion is very big here. All through the village, there are sayings neatly painted on the walls from the Bible as well as common wisdom seen in many countires. The older Mayan religion has blended with Christianity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

People you meet in San Pedro

This is truly a fun week. San Pedro is a great place. Some of the people:

Monica from Germany a lovely young lady, 28, traveling throughout Central America for several months. She has a room also at my homestay & we´ve checked several things out. For a slender person, she can eat a ton - a point of humor for all.

Israelis San Pedro and Guatemala are a big draw for young Israelis who have completed their two years of mandatory military service. Apparently much of Central & South America are quite popular with Israeli youth.

Ventura, my Spanish teacher is a very resourceful young man of 27. He spent two years as a gardener in Washington State for one of his former students. He saved most of his money to be able to come back & build his own house. I´ve seen pictures of it, quite lovely. Apparently it is a blend of Mayan & American thinking. His friends do not understand why he wants to build on the outskirts of the village, not closer in town, & with so many windows! It´s the view of the lake he´s after!

The Tuchs´family Rosalia & Juan and their 18 year old son, Abner, are terrific. Rosalia goes to great lengths to make sure I can eat what she´s preparing, given my Diabetes Stage 2. This is summer vacaton now & several days a week Juan & Abner go to the mountains to pick coffee. Rosalia in addition to keeping the house & running the homestay, bakes large cakes for fiestas.

Abner, a normal teen, watches futbol, helps out with dishes in the house & visits friends in the evening. He is very polite & has a nice sense of humor.

James from New Zealand is working on his first novel. A very laid back & interesting young man. I marvel at how some young people can make their way without much concern for conventional materialism.

Jennifer from Nova Scotia Her husband wanted to visit India again, so she´s here volunteering & living in one of the Cabanas on the school property. Roughing it to be sure. She would relay an adventure then add, given my age. Then she found out she was two years young than moi!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Mayan Village

I did not fully realize just how indigenous Lake Atitlan is. Each village is carved out of the base of the mountains, thus the hilly terrain. Streets have no name, except Principal. So there´s a main road that snakes around, a pedestrian beltway! Then interconnecting streets which are also cobblestone, but somewhat narrower. Then you move to cobblestone paths, about 2 people wide. Finally there are dirt, sometimes dirt & rocks paths.

It´s quite interesting how safe it is. I went to the Buddha last night with Monica from Germany! Buddha is a typical gringo spot. It´s ok, but places like this here & in Mexico make me wonder about how hard it must be for locals to see such wealth so easily spent.

Buddha is operated by two Americans. There I ran into my Aussi/English friends again, really nice people. After a bit I headed back to the casa. Monica stayed w/ several Germans ladies. As I did not know the area, I simply walked in the direction I thought might work.

Eventually I came upon paths I recognized. In several places, it became quite dark. I hesitated, but found it all fine. People pass you, often saying Buenas noches! Not wanting to hike back up I took a tuc tuc, costs 63 cents! Quite safe & unique.

The vast majority of the people here are Mayan and have experienced the prejudice & injustice of minorioties all over the world. Much like our native Americans, they have been robbed of their land, customs and culture. A lady from Vermont commented that she thought when global warming did its final thing, these people would survive as they´ve learned to survive on little using what is available.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hola de Guatemala - segundo tiempo!

Getting Here!

Always interesting! Flights were good & meeting a Brit & Canadian to go to dinner with was fun. Later met several guys & ladies in their 20´s visiting Antigua from Gautemala City - fun & funny!

The ride to San Pedro was quite interesting once we were off the highway. Narrow, lots of holes & some precipices due to September mud slides - in one spot it looked like we were hopping boulders in our van!

San Pedro is different. VERY narrow & many STEEP - like San Francisco steep - hills. After settling in, I walked straight up a road w/ a neighbor to watch a futbol (soccer) game.

The players were quite good. Concrete seats & a very dusty playing field. After the toss, all players stood completely still, many w/ heads bowed & prayed - quite impressive to see many young, atheltic young men so peaceful. EVERYONE in the stands stood quietly. Lasted about 2 1/2 minutes.

My Spanish is doing ok. Hard part is understanding the fast speech & words I don´t know yet. Still, all in all, I am able to carry on a conversation fairly well. Everyone I have met in very friendly. Young & old alike go out of their way to smile & say hello. So far several people couldn´t tell I was from the states. Speaking Spanish helps. That plus lots of Canadians & Israelis here.

Tomorrow is the first day of class. I´m hoping they have a canopy tour this week - zip lines above the rain forest.

Take care all!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Back to Guatemala Nov.6th for Spanish study

If you only have a moment, perhaps scroll down to two of my favorites from Guatemala in August.

  • Guatemala Family Visits me from their Pueblo near Quetzaltanango.
  • Soccer (Futbol) Balls for Pueblo Kids

AND, Check out my friend Servando M. Junior on his Facebook page, A high school student I met on my last visit to Lake Attilan. I'll get to see him while in San Pedro la Laguna.

AND! Check out NGO

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Leaving Antigua

This is the rainy season & it rains off & on most afternoons. Beginning around 8 or 9 p.m. it rains almost all night.

My room is in a simple addition to the main house. The addition has a wood roof covered by tin; the rain sounds like it does when you're camping. The walls are painted, as in white washed, in soft yellow.

One does not hand wash clothing as it would take days to dry. Often at night I've lain awake listening to the rain; occasionally going outside in the vernada to watch it late at night. Often after dinner & homework I lie in bed reading as there is little else to do. It's best to be in my around 9 p.m. You might recall that when I was in San Juan de Heredia in Costa Rica, one did not go out every alone. Ever!

Though I have not minded it, I started to feel last night like I'm ready to be done with camping in the rain - if you´ve had that experience.

The city itself is safe. There are tourist police with rifles on most corners. The tourist police go home around 9 or 9:30 p.m. All banks have their own guards with similar rifles. The guards on my way to school & I have developed a warm daily greeting. The federal or national police ride around in black jeeps. Creepy as it may sound, you get used to it. Everyone goes about their business. Sidewalks are very narrow. Surprisingly even though each street is cobblestone, it's fairly easy to negotiate.

Terms like banana republic seem insensitive, but on my hour walk around the city this morning, it occured to me that it refers more to the structure of a country: economic & political. People are people & actually the poor are most often gracious, helpful and giving.

So to me Mexico is perhaps a 3rd world country. Guatemala also, but in some senses a banana republic, keeping in mind the importance of being sensitive to the people & a wonderful culture.

I met a journalist who is working here for 6 months on a special project. He told me the government is like a Mafia monarchy.

¡Pobre Guatemaltecos!

Vahalla Experimental Station: Fighting Poverty & Global Warming

A school sponsored afternoon trip took us to a macadamia agribusiness. Below I provide some details, but the web site has much more on it. It is worth a visit.

We were met by Lorenzo (the magnificent?) the American Dueno who came here from San Francisco in 1978. Lorenzo is an amiable gentleman of 70 who talks with you easily. Part of the tour included getting a facial with macadamia nut oil!

Some highlights:

  • Each macadmaia nut tree removes 30 pounds of carbon monoxide a year from the atmosphere.
  • Lorenzo has donated & continues to plant many trees in the Department (simlar to state) of Sacatepequez, Guatemala.
  • Pancakes are served daily: 30% macadamia flower, macadmaia nuts inside & macadamia nut syrup!
  • Voluteers help on the farm. The two we met were building sustainable homes.
  • Lorenzo's work has received international recognition, yet he is a regular guy exhibiting no self-importance

At the Outdoor Market in Antigua

In the western end of Antigua (a small city about 10-12 blocks square) there is an outdoor market that rivals any I've seen. It has almost everything - well except large applicances like washing machines!

You can purchase: T shirts, soccer shirts, sports shirts, pants, blouses, dresses, socks, underwear (a nice pairt of socks goes for 63 cents. no you do not bargiain that!) shoes, umbrellas, nails, hardware, tools, watches, alarm clocks, fresh fruits, vegetables, freshly slaughtered chickens - no salted grasshoppers though as in Oaxaca, Mexico!

There is a constant buzz. Kids, older ladies & men walking with heavy bundles roving to sell - calling out. Individual booths line each aisle.

You are struck with how every available inch is used. If you've been to Lexington Market in Baltimore, you know the size of the aisles - well except some here are narrower.

Turning one corner, I stood next to neatly stacked home items: sponges, huggies :-) cleaners, & much more. It all was packed tightly & reached to about 6 feet in height.

Imagine 4 phone booths arranged to make a square. Within that space (taking the phone booths away!) there are chairs with people happily sitting enjoying a freshly made fruit drink.

You can sit many places & enjoy freshly cooked food. It's best for us not to do so as food is likely not prepared with purified water.

The price of fresh food, nails & similar items is not negotiable, but ALL else is. You quickly learn how to negotiate. If a camisa (sports shirt) is selling for 95 Q almost $ 12, you begin with say 35 or 40Q = $4.50 - $5.00. Now some may refuse to pay more than one half the asking price. To me that's a tad greedy as these are not rich people, not even close. So perhaps a 95Q asking price for say from 55 - 65 depending. Negotiations are done in good faith - be prepared to walk away saying, no gracias. You'll always get another lower price. Oh yes, it is most important that you know well - how to say & understand spoken Spanish for numerals from 30 - 120 !

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Local Buses - reality & corruption

Today conversing totally in Spanish as always (total immersion) my teacher explained how the camionetas (buses) work.

All buses are privately owned. So I could purchase say 3 buses & obtain permission to run them on a specific route.
  • The fare is 3Q or 38 cents.
  • Buses legally have a capacity of 40 people.
  • For one day the driver is expected to return 300Q = $37.50 to the owner at night. Hopefully the driver will make about 50Q = $6.25.

That is the arrangement. The 300Q is not negotiable. So how then does a driver earn more money? ¡Mirele!

  • Drivers pack the bus three to a seat. These are school buses. When all seats are full, the drivers pack the aisles. Ellen & I had to get off a stop after ours because it took minutes to get through the mass of people in the aisle!
  • Drivers drive VERY fast trying to get to a stop before another bus.
  • At transfer points, buses often sit until enough people from other buses arrive.
  • The national police collect about 5-6Q per bus per day. This amounts to about 500Q which is turned into the chief. In turn the laws regarding capacity are not enforced.

This is a main reason why these buses continue to be referred to as chicken buses. Our version of people being treated as cattle.

An added bonus for us :-) There are callers who yell out (gritar) Guati, Guati, Guati (pronounced Whati) beginning at 5 a.m. This is done so people a block away will know the bus for Guatemala City has arrived.

So each morning you are greeted with a chorus of Guati, Guati, Guati!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Guatemalan Family Visits me from their Pueblo

Yesterday, Santiago's family came 5 hours to meet me in Antigua. Santiago, Davi(d), is a 12 year old Guatemalan I assist through CFCA. His family of 12 lives on $70 a month.

Upon meeting we went to my homestay so we could exchange gifts. The mother helps earn some money by making by hand beautiful clothes, scarves, table coverings, bags etc. She gave me a bag Latino men ususally carry plus a lovely small square table cover. Both she made.

When you sponsor a kid in Latin America, it is not possible to send anything that is more than one inch thick. If you do it will be stolen. So coming in person is an opportunity to bring larger items.

First of all it makes sense to bring a young person a soccer ball. They cost $ 10 or 80Q here, a lot of money for a poor family. Soccer shirts, esp. of Gautemalan teams, are reasonably priced. Plus it is customary to bargain - surprisingly I've become good at that. Not my favorite thing to do, but possibly because I'm using another language, it provides some distance - seems a tad less intense, possibly.

Davi immediately put his soccer shirt on! Of course I had other items for him. Fortunately my daughter had a large suitcase she no longer needed, so I could bring items & the family could take it with them.

Being a tad of a ham (!), I gave the gifts in 3 parts with lots of comraderie. All had a lot of fun. Many pictures were taken.

I offered to take them to McDonald's or Burger King as I'm told the kids like it. BUT the family has never had a hamburger. They preferred to eat in a local Guatemalan chain restuarant. In reality they never go out to eat.

While at the restaurant, the father spoke with me at length, inviting me to their home. That is not an easy thing to do as I know it has a dirt floor, mud walls and a tin roof. He was very thankful for the support & spoke movingly. It was of course a tad difficult as one does not want lots of thanks, but given their life, it's important for them.

I was also quite happy that I could understand him as we were talking alone. I could also speak so that he understood me - definitely improvement in my Spanish!

It is difficult, possibly impossbile to express how moving & wonderful the day was. It is so easy to help someone. Chou!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Soccer Balls for Pueblo Kids

On Thursday, I went with the McLaughlin family to a pueblo to distribute soccer balls (pelotas de futbol). Mom & dad collect used footballs from various clubs in Conneticut. They brought about 140. The 4 teens make daily sojourns into poor pueblos to inflate & distribute the soccer balls.

It's really quite simple. The 4 teens are quite sensitive to the kids & readily incorporate me into their work. We climb high off roads onto paths to reach kids. Word spreads fast & soon we have to suggest that perhaps one ball per family or pair of friends will have to suffice.

A man comes over to me asking for a ball. I reply: "Senior, no eres un chico." Sir, you're not a kid. Behind me a whole row of kids break into laughter. It is a very good feeling that I am finally beginning to speak Spanish in a manner that locals can readily understand. Believe me, in prior trips, even a "Como estas?" was met with a puzzled look!

The afternoon ends with a discussion among the 5 of us about what it means to give & to look beyond any acquisitiveness they experience from the poor youth here. After all, doesn't everyone want to receive their own? Seamus, Aislyn, Joey, and Jordan are wonderful young people to spend the afternoon with in a poor Guatemalan pueblo.

What a Weekend !

Completing my first week of study with a terrific teacher I set off for Lake Atitlan. In Mexico one travels easily by 1st class bus. Sadly not here. You can go either by chicken bus - not advisable - or in mini vans. For a 2 1/2 trip that should be a problem. Ahem!

Actually the going was much better. We were crammed into a van - 14 of us - but everyone was affable so it was bearable. The roads are an experience.

Arriving in Panajachel I found the dock. The adventure begins! There are 8 or 10 slips with no indication as to what is what. Instantly you are deluged with offers of boat trips. (One must go in a boat to get anywhere on the lake.) The first offer was for 200Q, a mere $25 ! The actual fare is 10Q about $1.25.

Arriving at Santa Cruz de Laguna, again no signs. The hotel is pleasant, simple and amid lush vegetation. There is one choice for dinner, grilled chicken. No problem. After dinner, they have first musical chairs & then the limbo. No, I passed! This part of the trip was fun as I met several interesting people from Australia and South Africa. People dressed up in readily available costumes. The next day I told a group of guys from Kent, England that they looked great in their dresses the prior night! Again, boring, I passed and kept my own clothes, thanks!

Toward the end of the evening I spoke for about 40 minutes with a local man & youth. I realized I had been conversing without too much difficulty. That was a good feeling.

The rain from Antigua caught up with us. It rained & rained. Oh well. Es la vida! A man from NY reminded me I was in a banana republic. I don't particularly care for the term, but it does indicate a bit of the experience.

There was no Sunday Mass available. I went up to the pueblo & was stunned by how much was not there. A school, a very poor church with only 1 Mass a month, and no store to purchase food. People have to bring it in, via boat,.

So imagine going out to Safeway, except you first have to go down a very steep hill, wait for a boat - basically a small fishing boat - and shop. You haul back your groceries via boat, and this day in pouring rain. Then you can hike up a very steep hill that takes about 30 minutes to walk.

OR, you can take a tuc tuc (motorized 3 tiny wheeled vehicle that can accomodate 3 people up to the pueblo for 5Q, 65 cents.) or climb into a pick up & ride up, again for 5Q.

Before I walked back down from the pueblo, I stopped for a soda. I bought a can and discovered the top was rusted. I tossed the can. The church I visited was probably the poorest, most basic I've ever seen. Even the vigil light was electric. Clearly candles are just too expensive. I'm reminded just how poor many people are & how fortunate we westerners are.

By now it is really raining hard. Oh well, I have to get back to Pana to catch the mini van. Now I readily admit that my agility has lessened considerbably since beginning my 6th decade. So getting into & out of the fishing boat which has no step or anything to step into - except the hull several feet below - can be a challenge. In this case it is raining hard & the boat is rocking & moving to & fro the dock. A so easy to slip!

Ok, aboard, I'm ready. Well, imagine moving at a good clip in pouring rain and the boat slams hard every 3 seconds. I was not fearful though I'll admit I did review things like recalling that they say the water temp is 72 degrees. Also questions like: "If we sink, do I really have to take my shoes off in the water?" to "Just how long do we have to tread water before help arrives?"

Interrupted thoughts: The flap on the side keeps coming loose & rain comes & every 45 seconds water drips above my head!

Well, we've arrived back in Pana! Phew. Woo, not so fast! Once on the pier I notice that with umbrella & small suitcase I am to negotiate two boards onto the beach & then tip toe across beach and rivulets!

Ok, I'm up on the street. Now where? Similar to London I get conflicting directions to Calle Santander. I walk on & mercifully a tuc tuc comes my way. I get in & we set off for Aeterna Primavera - how ironic! But where the ---- is it? I am truly blest at this point. my young Guatemalan tuc tuc driver will not give up. After many streets & stops to ask for help, he finds it. A fine tip he earned!

An hour later I'm off in a much more comfortable looking mini van. Ah, appearances!

As we head out of town, I see a motorcyle coming straight for us. The van driver steering to not kill the cyclist has to drive into the ditch. Yep! While everyone is seriously inspecting & concerned with the panel dammage, I get out to suggest looking closely at the axle. I recall well the hairpin turns on steep hills coming our way.

Now the driver with help has to drive out of the ditch. He does it! Later he feels a need to stop to rinse the mud off of the fender. Hmm. it's pouring & why I wonder is this a priority now?

Now, recall the comfortable van? It is except my fine driver chooses to take hairpin, snaking turns sharply. I spend an hour hanging on & bracing myself against gravity. Fun? It gets better! There are two basic groups on this ride of 15 people: an Israeli family & a Dutch group. So?

Dutch like German to me is not a melodious language. Problem is the Dutch youth need now to talk non-stop - not a second of silence. Add to the fun, the mother & daughter sit in the front & dad plus two sons sit all the way back. I get to pass muffins, money back & forth etc. My every genial disposition is getting sorely tested as I pass, hold on or brace for dear life & listen to non stop Dutch & Hebrew.

Not to worry. We hit a major traffic jam and sit amidst these melodious tones for about 40 minutes!

Back finally, Quite a Weekend!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More on Antigua

After several days here I can provide more specific info. This city is well worth a visit. Sadly Guatemala is the 2nd poorest country in Central America. A haircut for example is $ 1.50.

So that the local economy can exist, there are tourist police on many corners from the morning until about 10 p.m. Like other Latin countries & England, most places are closed by 11 p.m.

98% of the streets are cobble stone. People often use tuc tucs (little 3 wheel motorized vehicles with very small wheels) as taxis. Buses are old school buses from the U.S. brightly painted but too often belching exhaust. Nice of us to recycle!

Antigua has suffered from many volcanoes in the past. Consequently the city has many ruins throughout, possibly like Athens! Walking is very pleasant though it's important to be careful lest one twists an ankle etc. Sidewalks are narrow & each window is protected by iron grating that protrudes about 4 inches. Consequently, when using a large umbrella - recommended as the rain can be heavy - you will encounted a lot of hurdles!

Finding a place is interesting as 90% or more of buildings painted with different but repeating colors all look the same. My homestay is lovely but behind a wall similar to others. There might be a house, a store, and then a bank in a row. So you have to look closely especially when coming back after dark.

As in Mexico, the local people are very nice, easily smiling and helping out when asked.

This is the beginning of the rainy season. It rains each afternoon. Last night it rained hard for hours. To me it's fine. Cloudy mostly but it is so lovely out.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hola de Antigua, Guatemala

What a wonderful first 24 hours!

Upon arriving in Guatemala City, I rode to Antigua with a family from Connecticut. It's a blended family: mom with two sons, 16 & 14 and dad with a daughter 17 and son 16. Dad's a patent attorney & mom is an anesthesiologist. They are very inclusive & I spent a delightful evening out to dinner with them. The teens are delightful, at least I think so - so far! We are at the same homestay so it's company & insight into what to see & do.

The family brings used soccer balls - about 150- each summer & goes out to poor villages to donate them. I'm going with them one afternoon this week.

I had my first morning of classes. Taking the advice of a former student, I was able to request a specific teacher. Based on the first day, I'd say he may be one of the best I've had in Latin America & at 1/2 the cost of Mexico! He's been at the school for 21 years, married with two children, a girl 13 & a boy 4.

The school building is relatively small but fine. The city of Antigua is the smallest Latin American city I've been in - the size makes for lovely panoramic views in all directions, including 3 volcanoes - two of which are still active.

The homestay is pleasant & has a lovely inner garden. My room overlooks the veranda. After amuerzo (lunch - main meal) I'm taking the school sponsored walking tour.

And gratefully as I see it's about 90 at home, it's in the mid 70's here & cooler at night! Mercifully low humidity.

Off to Lake Atitlan Saturday. Monday, the young man & his parents I sponsor through CFCA come for a visit.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Catonsville 9 and...

Whatever your politics, this documentary is an interesting review of protests during the Vietnam War era.

I have questions about such protest tactics (damaging property) being used today for two reasons:

  1. No one pays attention. I strongly believe the approach needed today is education. I do not think you educate by shocking people. Their natural response is to see you as some kind of quack.
  2. Non-violence seems to question 'destruction' of any kind. That said, the Catonsville 9 (which took place at my Draft Board!) made a difference.

Check it out:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Haiti - 'send the money you paid for your ticket to supplement a family

Sister Mary Finnick, the director of Matthew 25 House in Port auPrince is critical of the stalled recovery efforts in Haiti.

"Wheneverybody comes and has a solution for Haiti it only creates aproblem," Sister Mary says. "A lot of people are coming from theUnited States, but they are doing the work the Haitian people should be doing. I would say, 'send the money you paid for your ticket to supplement a family so that the members could do the work that you were going to do when you were here.'"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spain vs. Netherlands

In case you missed seeing the game (as I did driving across Ohio - though I did get to see some at a truck stop! And heard goal on radio. 1st 1/2 I heard the game in Spanish - hmm - I need to get back to my Spanish study!)

You might enjoy this.

Brick-by-brick: Spain v Holland
Brick-by-brick fussball: The 2010 World Cup final: Holland 0-1 Spain
A recreation of the 2010 World Cup final, in which Spain kept all their pieces together despite dirty play from the Dutch

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Radical Emptiness - Theology

We are like a donut! The hole in the donut is radial emptiness aching to be filled.

We get off track and try to fill it up with $, prestige, degrees, Corvettes, sports; yet the emptiness endures. (This mystery for example is at the heart addiction.)

So in making peace with this emptiness, we find true happiness. Only God can fill it.

We are made, hot wired for God. Only God can fill this hunger.

Jesus is a persistent yes before God, a radical dependence on God. He dared to call him Abba.

We need to become like him. In this sense Jesus is the Son of God. He has become the revelation of God for us, who's given himself up for us.

Substitution theory: For centuries, one theory about Jesus has been taught as if it is the only theory and the only explanation based on faith. (This is false.) Substitution or atonement simply states that Jesus was sent by the father to ransom us back. That is, Adam's sin was so great (a human offense against the divine) that only a divine human could repair the damage. (Makes the father look like a sadist.)

Jesus gave himself for us not as a ransome sacrifice but as one who followed his dream all the way to the Cross. He spoke truth and could not, would not recant to save his own life. The powers of state and synagogue found his word threatening to their power & way life, so they got rid of him.

Jesus gave himself for us in that he believed in justice, peace, equality, and compassion. He was willing to die for that. In this he showed us the Father. This is what we are to live in our daily lives.

Let us open our eyes and see the reign of God in our everyday lives & like Jesus act in accord with the compassion and love of God.

A Theological Reflection - The Word

If you believe in the word of God, you don't fail.

You dance a little, cry a little, sing a new song, share a word, hug a friend, dream at night, break bread, take new wine, careful to throw out the wine skins and you don't fail.

You may have only five loaves and a few fish and it seems little when there is so much to be done. You may have only six jars of water, and no one is very happy with you and with that. you may have only a mustard seed or a manager. The only way out may be Egypt.

You may have only three years to do it all in. You might not even have a boat of your won. you may have only a few stories--no title, no degree, no temple to back you up or support you. You may have only the road to Jerusalem and it goes perilously through Samaria.

You may have only bread and a cup of wine on the night before it's all over. You may have only a few friends and they are asleep.

You may not have the rights words to get yourself off the charge. And so, you forgive them for not knowing what else to do to you. You may not even have a father in the darkness of Calvary and wish your mother were not there. You may have only one apostle left at the cross and hardly any disciples. Sometimes all you have are your wounds and the last shred of hope. But if the word of God is in you, you win. Not for your sake alone but for everyone. If the word of God is in us, nothing is lost, not even a coin, certainly not a sheep that wants to be rescued or a minister who seeks to be a shepherd. Nothing is lost.

Not even Peter who denies Christ or the Pharisee who comes to him only at night. No one is lost. Once the Church had only the word of God, nothing else, and it proclaimed its message without power or legal sanction in Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. Amazingly, it prevailed with the word of God alone. This is not rhetoric---it is history.

We have the word of God, you and I.

Why do we keep thinking we need anything else?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

He can approach the gate but not go no further.

Standing in the modern check-in hall at Heathrow Terminal 5, we hugged and said our good byes. I could not budge as I watched my African friend retrace our steps on his way back to London and to the daily limbo he and so many others live.

My heart was filled with sadness at the complete insanity of governments. There I stood holding a page with my picture on it which allowed me to go anywhere. Why me? What had I or any of my countrymen done to deserve such freedom while this good man had experienced difficulties, loss and sadness beyond imagination?

Fair. Oh such a ready word in 1st world countries - we have no clue.

He insists on accompanying me to the airport each time I leave England - enduring a tube ride that can feel endless. I appreciate his assistance in getting awkward and heavy bags to the airport. Yet each time I struggle wondering what he must be feeling.

I do not ask of course fearing it would make reality's sting all the more real.

He can approach the gate but not go no further. I am 65; he 29. Where is the sense and fairness of it all? I have been blessed with a good life. He waits for his to begin. England is by far is one of the best countries in Europe to escape to. Should he be lucky, and that is very questionable, he will have to wait a mere 14 years or his life to begin.

This thoroughly good young man possessing a quick mind, a kind heart and incredible skills wakes up each morning to what? Yes he is much better off in England away from torture & prison. At home he was the wrong kind of Christian. But he cannot work or go to school legally. How do you live then, waiting for 14 years? What happens to your mind and spirit?

Initially in England his body racked with tuberculosis because like so many others he was forced to live on the streets, he knew no one. How is it possible that this young man retains such a gentle spirit, a ready wit, and consideration rarely witnessed on the streets of our modern world?

I have come to love this young man who has endured so much and now exists in a world consumed with 'ego,' power and puffery. He is like so many from Africa, the Middle East or Asia who escape tyranny, only to languish while we in the "first world" sort out our convenience.

When I wonder will we awake from our self-absorbed world and open our eyes much less our hearts?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Looking for snakes in Clackamas Park with Caleb

Yep, snakes! Actually, mercifully they're not easy to find & mainly not poisonous in these parts. Caleb, 5 years & 8 months, led the way with pillow case in hand. I offered to take him to the zoo, but he had more important things to do, hunt snakes. So off we went.

We covered every inch and every hole in each tree seeking the critters. Are snakes critters? At 5, Caleb's language skills are excellent. I was continually amazed as he made comments like:

  • as we approach
  • that's a conifer tree
  • keep your eyes straight ahead
  • (to offers of assistance by me, he'd reply confidently) "No, thank you."

There is a large fenced off dog area. At one end, there is a fire hydrant. Caleb asked me: "Do you know what that's for?" Answer: "So dogs can pee!"

Throughout our sojourn, Caleb would eye an item of interest and speed off like a sprinter. I myself took advantage of my long stride. He was fully in investigative mode by the time I caught up!

After an hour of running commentary, inspecting new found paths, several side trips to the swings, we headed for home. "Ok, I'm ready to go home." A young man who knows his own mind!

What a delightful, energetic and happy young man. It is easy to see the beauty of life, thedivine, in nature and our young. Now the challenge is to keep up the zest and joy of mystery of life.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Toivo Saukko - a good man dies 7/2/10

Laura's grandfather & my former father-in-law passed away yesterday morning at age 91 while in hospice care at his daughter's, Dot, in Ocean Pines, Md.

Toivo was a simple man, was devoted to his wife and family. Laura took him shopping, took him to doctor's appointment & kept him up to date with his meds for the past 7 years. I recall a delightful image of him in his tuxedo dancing with Laura at her wedding in May 2009.

All of us convened for Christmas dinner each year. It was a treat finding him a Grisham novel. A post card I sent him from Oxford, England arrived on July 1st.

May he rest in peace. we will miss him.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Netherlands 2 Brazil 1

Came across the street to the cafe for my morning coffee. There was barely a seat available as all were watching the Ned vs Brazil game. I caught the last 20 minutes. The international nature of the game is great fun. Plus for me there is a lot of action.

Rain abounds here in Portland so a trip to the zoo with Caleb is not in the offing. Perhaps a trip to the children's Museum. Just need a break in the rain as I am unprepared!

Sunday it's off to Su Casa Catholic Worker in Chicago. I want to check it out for possible future volunteering with the hispanic population. It also affords me the opportunity to sat there while attending my annual Adult Spiritual Renewal Classes at LUC by the lake.


Major Spirituality Issues of our Time: authenticity, commitment, community and hope. Taught by Anthony Padavano one of my all time favorites. A gentle soul, a brilliant mind and fine sense of humor needed when dealing with the institutional church.

Jesus the Kingdom of God with John Dominic Crossan This is quite an opportunity as Crossan is one of the most well known theologians of the Jesus Seminar. Cutting edge theology - what the world needs.

Paul's Letters to Corinth Sadly the world renown scripture school who lives in Jerusalem (Jerome Murphy-O'Connor) is ill. A substitute will teach the class.

Then it's home for a month!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Martin from Hungary at the bus stop in Portland

Looking at my map, a man asked me where I wanted to go. This started an interesting conversation. Martin came from Hungary many years ago. We talked about both Hungary and the U.S. He thinks our current President is excellent, doing his best no matter the flack.

I told him about the unpleasant experience at the Amnesty International event in London. He said yes there was still a lot of anti-semitism in Europe. For him Hungary was in the fore front of it before Hitler came along. To him there are three kinds:

  • an old fashioned version - looking down on Jews an inferior
  • a newer version which is more anti-Israel
  • a version that he feels is present in a country like France, you dress differently, therefore...

We both agreed that many of Israel's actions are reprehensible. But it is not just Israel. Hamas, Arab states are just as guilty. It seems that once people get into power, it changes them drastically. (Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.)

Arriving at my stop, wee bid farewell but not before Martin made sure I knew how to get from the garden to Powell's Book Store. As I walked along, I dropped my book. immediately a man went to pick it up.

Interesting conversation, courtesy abounding, quite an afternoon in Portland!

An Afternoon at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland

Many of you will recall that Todd & Sarah's youngest son has Hurler's Syndrome. Arriving in Portland by train from Seattle, I went to the children's hospital. Ethan was receiving an infusion, his 2nd that day.

Walking into a children's ward, memories flooding back to 33 years ago, I was struck with how upbeat people were. Ethan was busily playing while his dad dutifully rolled the IV pole after him.

We were there until 6:30 p.m. Todd has been there many more hours. Still he maintained a calm and attentive demeanor with his active almost 2 year old.

Coming from the U.K, where I witnessed so much difficulty for those seeking asylum, I was struck again by how easy most of us have it. A child about 8, head completely shaven, walked quietly with his mother. A teen rolling himself about in a wheelchair. There is so much suffering.

Around 6:30 Sarah arrived with Caleb, Ethan's older almost 6 brother. Full of energy and waiting to be held high, he greeted me.

We retired to the cafeteria. I was touched by how easily Ethan & Cal played. Children teach us how to live. It is a difficult and long road ahead of Ethan and his family. He is fortunate to have two loving parents. It is impressive to see Todd & Sarah together, clearly in love and managing a difficult & heartbreaking situation.

Please keep them in your prayers & good thoughts. The immediate question is will the transplant take sucessfully.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Seeking Asylum

This trip I spent most of my days seeking out individuals who could explain to me the labyrinthian (dictonary has it right - tortuous) system for seeking asylum. Jesuit Relief Services have been great.

Some realities:
  1. Will two people with the same identical situations both get asylum? 1 might; the other definitely not.
  2. Can I work legally while awaiting the Home Office's decison which takes about 10 - 14 years? NOPE. They do provide small flat & a few pounds a week. so sit back, relax, actually try a Rip Van Winkle trip. We'll wake you if anything develops.
  3. If the Home Office straight away says I have no merits for a case, will I be deported? Well, hmm, wait a minute. Depends. Ok, so then what do I do? Disappear might be best.
  4. I came to Europe through Greece is this a problem? Greece has a poor record in how they treat people seeking asylum for torture and persecution. Yeah, that's a problem. We'll deport you. (Honey, could I have another cocktail? And where is that cleaning lady?)
  5. What do I do with 14 years of days of no work (that is 5110 days or 122,604 hours.) Hmm. a good question. Hey, you could watch telly & see our football Manager grimmace. Heck he'll paid only £6m a year. Oh thanks. I can catch the dream. Some day!

Editor's Note: Could Fabio (Manager) possibly live on 1/2 a million a year? Gosh, then the other 5 1/2 could go to paying off national debt, assistance for those most in need, cancer research etc. Ok, just a thought! Silly me.

£6,ooo,ooo = $ 8,895,599.84

The World Cup as witnessed from here

1/2 the Brits early on predicted England would do terribly; the other 1/2 seem now to agree after England's poor performance against Algeria.

Pubs with 1 or 2 large screens are packed with fans.
  • Slovenia vs. USA

My two friends (Eritrea and Algeria) accompanied & tutored me while we watched this game in a quiet pub in the afternoon. I knowledge of football is quite limited, but I was on pins & needles when at 1/2 time it was Slo 2 US 0. Mercifully we at least did not suffer a defeat.

  • France vs. Mexico

Steve a Brit friend povided excellent tutoring as we watched this game in a noisy pub in Angel. I, of course. had to root for Mexico - not a bad plan as the place was thrilled when Mexico scored.

Where do we go from here? I'm told England and the U.S. are in the same position. Simply winning the next game is not enough. To move on each must win by 2, a 1-0 victory will not suffice.

I will be state side when their next games are played: Eng v. Slov and US v Algeria. This time I may be able to watch the US match with my son-in-law!

Cheers everyone. It's Fathers Day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Staying in South London

If you look on a tourist map in any guide you will see nothing of East or South London. Well they have to show the south bank of the Thames, but that's about it.

Because my original lodging plans were unexpectedly cancelled on me, I found it necessary to hunt down a place to stay given my five week stint.

Now Woolwich Arsenal meant nothing to me. It is a distance from central London, a hour by bus when traffic is good. It's not so much unsafe as it is populated with many tough people.

The hostel, Queen Victoria, is an experience in itself. It's cheap - longer stay is £10 a night; it's got two connected rooms on the first floor (that would be ground floor here. 1st floor here is our 2nd !) where you can stretch out, play pool or watch telly. I've done only the first. Its rooms face a street noisy all night with traffic - fortunately that doesn't bother me. BUT most importantly, the guests are most interesting.

Here mainly to work or go to school, they hail from Spain, Italy, France, Estonia, Nigeria, Ireland and Australia. Most stay for about 6 months. ~There are a few like me, but no Americans.

Returning from a day out, you are greeted by each person who inquires into your day.

Up at 6:30, I thought I would have 60-90 minutes on my own on a Saturday a.m. Not so, by 7:00 there were 5 of us in the kitchen.

What ensured was a fascinating discussion - more like me listening to thoughtful replies to my initial question about a very poorly done event at Amnesty Internation in London. To a person there was general agreement that many European nations are anti-Israel, read anti-semitic. A Swede acknowledge that Sweden is a very prejudiced nation & the most anti-semitic country in Europe. I had been previously been told this.

My question came about because of a Panel Discussion I attended last week at the London Amnesty International offices. That experience was appallingly biased beyong belief. The panel moderator was anything but. He dismissed anyone who spoke up for Israel. His poor behavior led to the audience acting much like I've seen on TV by the "birthers or some tea parties" back home. Am I in London?

If you have an interest email me & I'll attach the letter I sent to AI in London.

3 Ladies on London Transport

Heading back to the hostel in Woolwich Arsenal, I sat across from a young lady busy with her make-up prep. She had a multi-colored bag with mauves, browns etc. Each piece of her outfit as well as eye liner, lip stick (do they still call it that!) - all blended & matched impecably. She was very pretty.

I could not help but think of the many here in London who have no income to put into such preparation. I wonder if she has a clue as to their world?

Lost in thought, I looked up and there stood a slender young Muslim mother who had on a simple black shoe length dress. Her face peering out of a stylish yet simple black headscarf. She had no make up, no colors, yet she was stunning.

At Canning Town I transfered to the DLR. I saw another Muslim lady sitting & was struck by her simple patterned dress & head scarf. She popped up (Brit speak!) & immediately offered the old man with white hair her seat, I declined thanking her for her thoughtfulness,

3 Ladies on London Transport - an allegory?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Quite a Day

Simple enough it began in Oxford at the Catholic Worker House and ended in South London with side trips to London tidge and Angel Islington! A simple breakfast & packing my things for what has become a too often journey - one place to another laden down with heavy bags - the original arrangement reneged late in the game.

Could you help m write a letter for asylum in English? This ousting the time for going to help at the soup kitchen.

Then to the Oxford London tube bus. Briefly I spoke with a young man on the bus who turned out to be have just gradated. Later guiding me from the bus, including carrying a heavy bag of mine, he shared his next step it medical school.

It struck me, wouldn't it be nice if he worked with 'Doctors Without Borders.' Literally 2 seconds later unprompted he told me that his goal was the work with Medecins sin Frontieres aka Doctors without Borders. What a wonderful chance occurrence.

Then the fun began. I had arranged to meet up with two Brit gentlemen. As I made my way
through London on the tube and later DLR, I hauled my heavy bags - encountering obstacles - time was fast running out to meet my Brit friends.

Finally I reached the hostel in Woolwich Arsenal. Quick check in & back to central London.

My first meet up with Arnold from the Jesuit Refugee Services was full of good conversation and perspective. I am here to help[ out asylum seekers in a system resplendent with obstacles, inconsistency and ...

I next made my way to Angel tube station to meet Steve, a wonderful Brit who eschewed an IT career to help those in need. Following Steve's lead I ordered a veggie burger. Such goof fortune - how tasty & as he said to me: "It's good for you!"

We watched the France v. Mexico game. Steve kindly explained much of the game to me. I have been reading daily & listening carefully to my Ethiopian friend's explanations.

On my long journey back to Woolwich, I stopped off at a Weatherspoons to access the net. Lo & behold I found myself in the midst of English, Scots and Welsh. Who would I side with? Their question. My goal - keeping my head down!

Arriving back at the hostel finally, I was met first by an Italian I had met the prior week and then a young Estonian lad as well. Both were full of enthusiasm at my return - how kind.

Still awake, I made my way to the main room of the hostel to check email & compose my amazing day. As I wrote, the manager, a young man from Sweden, came by & handed me a chocolate treat.

That act in a sense summarized my day. I was surrounded by goodness, a treat to be sure.

Now, how do we alert the world - there is a better way?

Politics - oil & BP as seen here

Sadly its inherent nonsense knows no national boundaries.

Boris Johnson, the quirky London mayor, and some Tories have blasted the President & others for attacking Britain over the BP oil disaster. I checked with Sid who devours the news. Seems not the case, as I suspected.

Newspaper are not to be denied. They go on and on about it. Commentators of ocurse cannot be left in the dust!

One problem for Britain in some pension funds are heavily invested in BP. That said, they did choose to invest in oil - not an inherently conservative investment.

As an interviewee on Radio 4 as I type says: BP is an incredibly important company to Britain.

U.S. vs. Slovenia

Actually that game is not played until tomorrow, Friday. World Cup fever is alive & well here, esp. with 3 games a day. My wonderful Ethiopian friend is patiently teaching me aspects of the game.

  • Opinions vary here as to whether the US could have beaten England in their 1-1 game.

  • Radio commentaries about this World Cup decry its lack of excellence.

Tonight I watch France vs. Mexico with a wonderful British friend. He too is kindly going to try to lessen my vast ignorance!

(Are all these friends from here, Africa & the Middle East really wonderful? Without question.)

Tomorrow big day:

2:30 here - US vs. Slovenia
7:30 here - England vs. Algeria


Monday, June 7, 2010

World Cup 2010

I am learning about football (soccer). My Ethiopian friend is teaching me. The Guardian & other papers have excellent sections on the World Cup. I think it's the fast moving & international aspects that most appeal to me. I've made a date to watch the Eng vs USA, ~Mexico vs. Argentina games. Expect to watch other games w/ several of my Brit friends as well.

So it's off for a a.m. coffee to read more about Rio, Fabio, Lionel and the gang!
You all sleep well; it's 3:10 a.m. EST & just past midnight in ther west.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Asylum in Europe

If the colonial powers had stayed home, much of the turmoil in the world would be less. Many come illegally to Europe, esp. England to escape persecution & torture.

Persecution for
  • religious beliefs (only a couple types of Christianity allowed in Eritrea for example),
  • one's father was in the opposition political party (Ethiopia)
  • mistakenly joining a quiet walk of protest (Iran)
  • terrible turmoil in Iraq - thanks, George, Dick, and Don.
  • having ~Russian parents while living in a former ~Soviet Republic (Estonia)
  • not wanting to follow the party line in business - Cuba

These are just a few of the many.

IF you get asylum just wait around doing nothing for about 10-14 years.

IF you made the mistake of going to another European country 1st - you're sent back to the 1st country. Italy & Greece have terrible records when it comes to helping - basically not. Land in an Italian prison & you'll be subjected to beatings from other prisoners.

I can only imagine what must go through the minds of asylum seekers as they ride a bus past Mayfair seeing locals enjoying expensive clothing, cars etc. Buying a team jersey for $100 or paying lots to attend one game. Them that have often keep; those with little often share - quite a world.

In about an hour, I begin a series of meets get a better handle on the cumbersome process here in the U.K.

Please pray daily for these fine people.

Hostel & hostels & hostels

I've now sampled 4 hostels in & around London. The best is an hour from central London, but it's roomy, free Wifi & is inexpensive. Staff is good & guests are East Europeans, Africans & a few Brits here to work in east London. Great conversations.

Two guys from Estonia speak very good English; two from Nigeria - 1 great, the other annoying. He's always talking about "the west" in terms that are offensive. Nigerians culturally talk very loudly, what we'd call yelling. When he gets going, it's head for the hills!

Several interesting conversations w/ people from Australia, Sweden and Spain - a chance to practice my Spanish.

I'm convinved Americans should come to Europe & mingle. It's eye opening.

Chance Meetings

Busily reading on the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) I missed my stop & had to backtrack fortunately. While sitting waiting for train, I noticed wet spots. Guy next to me said he thought at first when I sneezed I got him. We both moved as source unknown.

As often is the case, I'm asked am I on holiday (vacation). I always say I'm here to visit British friends & do volunteer work with refugees. This always leads to questions. This particular person was very interested. He's a free lance photo journalist. He asked so many questions that the 1/2 hour ride flew by. We plan to meet to chat more next week.

I'm certainly glad I missed by stop!

Bowling in Finsbury

Danny, a wonderful British friend of mine & I accompanied three of the refugees to Finsbury Park to bowl. Emon from Ethiopia, Dean from Georgia and Abdulah from Iran*

Danny had not bowled in 20 years but earned 148 & cme in 1st. Dean, around 50, who has never bowled & has a totally unique delivery (ends of kneeling on one knee) got 3 strikes in a row. I have to say that it was the worst game I've every bowled. Not one strike or spare!

Afterward we all wenr out for chicken. It was good to see these fine men having fun; men who have literally nothing.

It was kind of Danny to help pay for the outing. A most gracious man.

Now I need to work on my delivery! Not to worry just one game is £5 per person about $ 7.45.

* names are changed to protect.

It Takes All Kinds

After a long day. I stopped in a Weatherspoon's Pub near the hostel as they have inexpensive food & free wifi. As I approached the bar to order, a guy said to me "What the f.. are you doing here?" Followed by "Americans are stupid."

I pointed out that was a pretty bad intro as he didn't know me at all. When he persisted I simply ignored him & took a seat. The barman defended Americans pointing out that without us, England would be...

As I began to turn on my computer, the man at the table behind me said: " Why are you in London, it's boring."

Later a guy said to me: "Here's a map of the tube. Circle Woolwich (where I'm staying & the pub is located) and avoid it. Weird people here.

Twilight Zome anyone?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stop Deportation Efforts in the U.K.

This week is devoted to the cause of stopping deportation. Individuals are often hjerded onto planes & sent back to repressive countries.


Detention of children
Abuse of asylum seekers by private companies Attended a meeting w/ this group - fine, ordinary, committed people.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Four Africans & an ole American off to Ali Baba Kabob's

Clearly kabob, donner and other dishes are quite popular with my African & Asian friends here. PLUS, I'm convinced the refugees make sure they guide me to eateries that are good yet not costly.

Saturday, old and new friends headed off to Kinglands Road for dinner. It was a truly wonderful occasion. Some of the guys have moved on to other parts of London. Others are living at the CW House. It was like old home week seeing them catch up & laugh over many remembered events & stories. Good to see them laugh as if they had not a care in the world - only if.

Please pray for them - often to me living saints.

Watching Kite Runner w/ Afghani Refugee friends

A rare opportunity. Two of the guys here in Oxford joined me for the movie, Kite Runner. Apparently most of the music is authentic except for the opening which is more Arabic than Afghani.

The treatment of the Hazara by Pashtun is apparently accurate. Sadly, even the rape of the boy is not uncommon.

We went out for Kabob. I was again struck how polite and insistent they are that the older person be considered. I must go first. "We're happy to watch whatever you would like to see."
Acknowledging the tradition and the inherent respect, with some gentle prodding, the guys are willing to state what they'd like to do.

Facebook is too is an important part of their lives.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It is Breaking My Heart

I would prefer to share outright the stories of individuals I know & now call my friends who have had to flee their country. They often have been tortured, imprisoned, treated very badly.

It is a painful experience for them to relate, and as well I do not want to get too specific on the net.

What I can do is tell you about many of the experiences they have had. I will not individualize it so as to protect their security, such as it is.

BUT, I can tell you what I have all too painfully come to know.

So then speaking for them, Who am I ?

1. In all likelihood I have had to flee my country because:

  • I belonged to the wrong religion.

  • I've been in prison & tortured. My only hope was to escape.

2. I've traveled on foot, in trucks, under train seats across Europe, Africa, the Middle East.

  • I do not speak English, and I do not know the judicial system.

  • I have nothing, am on the streets, and starving.

  • Most likely I have no one. My family are dead or lost themselves.
. I am here to seek asylum. Iwill likely have to wait 5 to 15 years.
  • I may not work. I have no health insurance. I have nothing.
  • I must depend on the goodness & help of groups like Catholic Worker, Primark (United Church of Christ, the Jesuit Refugee Services, the Simon Community.

4. What do I do while I wait?

  • I am not allowed to go to Community College to develop skills for a trade, or prepare for a career in engineering.
  • I spend my time walking, sitting around, watching DVDs, go to the library to read a newspaper - that's if I'm lucky enough to be housed by a group religious or secular.
  • I walk past shops all day long advertising the latest!
  • I see headlines like:

The £50 M fixer-upper.

Tom Cruise picks up the Screen Icon Award.

A Fuller Looking Head on Hair in 30 Minutes

Fergie: I want to be the next dancing Queen.

Glen Beck Informs or is that mis informs!

  • This is my existence morning, noon and night.

5. Can I get deported back to my country where I will likely be imprisoned, tortured, starved?

  • Yes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Greetings from Hammersmith, London

Despite Brit Air strike threat & volcanic ash, I was able to get here - just before the airport was closed. Courts have temporarily halted the strike.

Enthusiastically welcomed. After tossing my stuff in hostel, I made my way to the Urban Table Soup Kitchen. After Danny treated me to dinner in Chinatown. We had a lovely visit & chatted for hours.

The British election:

The new govt is an interesting marriage of conservative & liberal. Lib Dems are more liberal than labour. Question is will it last or will there have to be elections in 18 months or so. Budget cuts are in the offing. Hopefully Lib Dems can restrain the Tory's from hitting the poor & working classes. One thought: instead of radically reducing nurses pay, perhaps cut govt. miniters pay in 1/2! Oh, not possible, huh. 'Surprise!'

Apparently. Cameron is not cut from the same cloth as Thatcher who did not recognize social justice issues. Quidado Margaret, St. Peter awaits!

Americans in Hammersmith:

After dinner with Danny, I though I'd go to bed. After all I'd been up for 37 hours! Back at the hostel I ran into two young college graduates from Boston. What I thought would be a brief chat turned into a wonderful time of sharing on all kinds of topics: wonderful young people. Consequently I gto to bed at 2:30 a.m. which meant I had been up for 43 1/2 hours!
Now that's a record!

Kabob with Mrs. G

A teahcer at my daughter's school gave me some money (unsolicited) to help with the asylum seeks here in London. I took Amanuel, Mao, and Nicholas (a new guest from Sudan) out for Kabob. It was excellent & not pricey. The guys savored every bite. Thanks Mrs. G :-)

Today it's off to see Zelda & hang out with wonderful Chris at the Quaker Center. Tomorrow a visit to the Jesuit Refugee Services to learn what I can do. Sunday off to Andulacia, Spain for study and...

Cheers all !

Cheers all!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Procession of Silence - Good Friday - Queretaro, Mx

La Procesión del Silencio as it is known here is without question a profound and compelling event to witness. 1st come several men dressed as Roman officials.

pics at:

Women colorfully dressed follow, each carrying a symbol such as bread, a fish etc. Young boys & girls dressed very much like those receiving their First Communion are next. Next come women dressed in white similar to brides maids. During the entire 45 minute long procession, everyone is silent, everyone. There are two drums at the beginning of each segment which sound out a simple drum beat. (If you are old enough the remember the Kennedy Funeral or have seen video of it, the sound & overall feel of the procession is similar.)

Then there begins a series of platforms containing figures of Christ at various stages of the Passion or Mary his mother clothed in black following the Via Crucis.

Most platforms are carried on the shoulders of men dressed in black, white, red or violet monastic robes with white cinctures (rope belts). Heads are covered in hoods; the men walk barefoot. For an American the off putting element is that the clothing of the men very much resembles that of the KKK - until one remembers that this religious event long precedes the KKK!

Preceding & following each platform are about 35 men similarly dressed but carrying crosses constructed with tree limbs. Each man drags a chain from an ankle. Thus the only sounds are the drum beat & chains.

There are also 3 platforms representing Mary. These are surrounded & carried by women dressed in black with long black mantillas and candles.

The spectacle, in its more root meaning, is impressive. Those who have seen & liked Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, would probably feel it produced a similar feel. Though I suspect with much less actual violence depicted.

Spending Holy Week in a Latin country is definitely well worth it. Religiously, culturally and festival like, it can't be beat!

To Sid and the Jewish Community, Happy Passover. Phil


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.