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...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Basildon, Dale Farm, last days

I had the good fortune to spend time at Zelda's flat in Basildon, Essex. Zelda is associated with the London Catholic Worker, an atheist, and a former live in house manager. She was there in my first visit 18 months ago.

To hang out with Zelda, one needs to a) do the tread mill or similar conditioning lots first & b) be ready to go, go.
Zelda took me to the Dale Farm outside of Basildon where tinkers/Roma, gypsies have set up.

Dale Farm is experiencing prejudice & possible harm. Both seem to be all too common in the world. For more info, please do look at one of both www sites listed below.

Basically the land is owned by the travelers, a generic term which covers this group. But of course one must get permission to build.

About 1/3 of the people obtained permission previously to build on their land. More recently travelers moved there to set up residence. The problem is that the local government is averse to letting the newer people to build. The local Catholic priest & Evangelical minister have been outstanding in their support of these people. The people are under threat to be forceably removed - EVEN THOUGH the land is owned by travelers. Eviction is not what many in the U.S. would think. It is brutal. Bulldozers come in and anyone & anything in the way can all too often be done in.

I sat in a lovely modular home of a travelers and spoke withy her about her plight & her family for about 1 1/2 hours. The prejudice which often accompanies 'gypsies' is unfounded. I myself was perfectly comfortable & warmly received. Zelda, my friend, has been there many times over the years & knows them well. I hope to learn more & so what I can to solicit support to influence the Basildon Council to relent & be humane.

After our visit, Zelda guided us back on a mile & a half walk. Interestingly, we had to cross a dual carriage highway, legal, but harrowing. Cars whizzing by at about 60+ mph. We waited 5-10 minutes for a break & headed for it, climbing over the barrier and repeated this harrowing process again! Needless to say once was enough for me! We made it back ok, but was I cold by then.

About two hours later, our dear friend, Amanuel from Eritrea, joined us for the remainder of ther weekend. Part of what we did was go bowling again. But the alley this time was not the best as it was almost impossible to find a ball that fit one's finger size. Consequently both Zelda & I did terribly this time.

That's my story & I'm sticking to it !

I'm back in London for my last four days. I will cook a typical hamburger dinner for the guys & friends Tuesday night. Wednesday, it's back home. In the mean time I'll get to help a little, see two wonderful friends and visit a museuam or two briefly.

AND man is it cold here!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Biking in snow, Rijksmuseum, English lessons con Español, emergency room !

Emergency Room

No it was not me. My friend, Arian, sliced his finger to the bone. It was unclear as to whether to go, so we went to the hospital ER. Natural stitches & an excuse not to wash pots & pans for a week!

He was most anxious about stitches & pain from alcohol. He endured being deserted on the streets of Holland, survived nights living on the street, and a few stitches were scaring him. We laughed!

Biking in the Snow

Woke to about 2 inches of snow. Would I walk & take the metro to church OR bike. After looking carefully at the map and a quick consult (!), I decided why not. It was like a winter wonderland. Bike paths in the outskirts of Amsterdam go through woods and p[at areas to walking path in communities back home.

I am determined now to learn how to download pictures etc. so I can send/post them.

After church and a ride back, it was off to the Rijksmuseum. Do look at the page, images of one of my favorite artist are displayed in running fashion. Breathtaking museum as was the Van Gogh the day before. Fortunately I have been to both so could leisurely enjoy them this visit.


Maria from Cuba and I concluded our English lessons. She is a very bright and avid learner. We will continue working on our languages. I will email in Spanish and she will reply in English - both with some suggestions. She earned a degree in architecture in Cuba. Regrettably politics infects all there.

Off to London today!


Friday, January 22, 2010

Alkmaar To Visit Jim and Nancy Forest

I had the opportunity Thursday to visit Jim and Nancy, always most gracious, for lunch. Nancy's mother died recently and they have been busy with grieving and arrangements.

After catching up, they shared a letter they had found from Sharon McKenna, a real life hero in Tracy Kidder's new book Strength in What Remains.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder returns with the extraordinary true story of Deo, a young man who arrives in America from Burundi in search of a new life. After surviving a civil war and genocide, he ekes out a precarious existence delivering groceries, living in Central Park, and learning English by reading dictionaries in bookstores until he begins to meet the strangers who will change his life, pointing him eventually in the direction of Columbia University, medical school, and a life devoted to healing.

My book club recently read Kidder's first book
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (Random House Reader's Circle)

Jim and Nancy have known and worked with Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dorothy Day and many others.

After a delicious lunch, Jim accompanied me to the local grocery store so I could successfully make my last purchases for the community meal at Noel Huis later that day. There is nothing like a visit with Jim and Nancy, gracious beyond measure, interesting, spiritual and truly educated people.

Some sites:


Preparing dinner for 18, tutoring in English, hanging out! and The Jordaan

Dinner for 18 !

Yesterday was my turn to cook dinner for the house. Off in the a.m. to the market with 25 ($ 35.3375) to spend, you pedal about 19 minutes to the mall - many stores but not under one roof. Shopping for items only labeled in Dutch is not that difficult as most people speak English and are most gracious. You must bring your own carrying bags though.

Two bags one on each handlebar, off you pedal to the house. The guys wanted American hamburgers so we had 30 hamburgers, brocoli that took 35 minutes to steam - 3 heads is a lot! Baked potatoes complete the dinner. You must buy the correct potatoes as there are many types for sale in Holland. Don't forget to set the table!

After a noisy dinner, everyone liked the burgers-even me as I never both to mix the meat with much at home! Everyone claps enthusiastically for your work and then everyone gets up to clean up. The place is spotless in about 12 minutes, including the myriad of pots, pans, and bowls used to mix and cook in.

Tutoring English

Arian from Afghanistan asked me to work with him after dinner on English exercises. Seems the teacher forgot to register him into the system and he had until midnight to complete 11 exercises online. Easy, right? Not so fast! The problem is for at least 40% of the questions, no one talks like this in reality. There were many moments when I had to say choices over & over and figure out what they wanted. Arian is an amazingly gifted young man. He is literally fluent in English, Dutch and Pashtun, of course. We started at 7:30 and finished the last set at 11:30 with only 1 five minute break. Phew. We went into town to relax! To get from the metro stop to Waterlooplein we traversed the Red Light District, waved hello to the ladies & continued on!

Yesterday morning, a young lady from Cuba asked me to review her English study from Pre-intermediate, an curious term is it not! Like me in my Spanish study, she wanted to work on her conversation skills. We talked about her study in Cuba, first job and why she had to leave.
She's a quick learner and before you know it, it is 90 minutes later.

Hanging out

Each person has his or her own room. So it is not unusual for visiting. I've been invited to sample Turkish sweets, incredibly good, to watching a movie or just talking. You must take the best seat and it's all about you & your comfort.

The rest...

Only two days left. I will visit one or two museums I have yet to see and walk a lot especially in the Jordaan,

The Amsterdam Jordaan is undoubtedly the most sung about,

described and romanticized town district of the Netherlands. Started as a district for the poor, today it is a favorite place for students, artists and young professionals.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quite a Ride

It's been quite a while since I've ridden a bike much. Tuesday, I was encouraged to ride from Diemen (outskirts of Amsterdam) to town,
aka Amsterdam. That called for bundling up as if I was going skiing! Here in Holland, it's in the high 20's to low 30's now. Often foggy and cloudy; very occasional sun. Riding is interesting especially along a long canal out in the open approaching downtown Amsterdam. By 3 p.m. it can get pretty chilly and bleak out.

Wednesday I rode 5 miles from Venserpolder, the Metro stop by the Catholic Worker House to the Concertgebouw. with Fritz for a noon time concert. A young Cuban whom I'm tutoring English to passed us and we never caught sight of her!

After the concert, I was on my own to explore Amsterdam by bike. I have to admit it's fun and almost hard to believe that at almost 65, I'm riding amidst the trams, cars, and people. There are many, many cyclists. Roads have separate sections for bikes. There are even traffic lights for cycles. -Sitting on your bike, they stand about head tall. You often cannot proceed when people can. On major roads, there are separate divided lanes for bikes. Pedestrians watch out. You'll get run over. Bikes have the right of way in those lanes.

If you know Amsterdam at all, you'll now how picturesque it is to be able to ride along from the major museums through the
Spui and onto and on to Central Station.

Locking your bike to go into a store is often a challenge as you must find a spare spot at a rack, pole or a skinny tree!

Some other fun images:

Forget where you parked your bike?

Need a lift?

That's a GO !

Our own private roadway (lanes)

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Motorbikes can use the bike path - mostly pedal bikes though.

Motorbike on path by wind turbine aka windmill

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jeanette Noel Huis - Catholic Worker - Amsterdam

I arrived here late in the day. After night prayer, I sat and talked for 90 minutes with my friend from Afghanistan, Hadir. 10 years + ago Hadir's father kept receiving pressure for his sons to join the local army to fight the Northern Alliance (considered too close to Russia). Eventually his two older bothers disappeared. Fearing that Hadir would be taken, his father paid a large sum of money to get him out of Afghanistan. Cross Asia into Europe, the travel agent left him stranded at 15 in Schipol, Amsterdam's airport.

Now 26, he lost most of his youth trying to find help and eventually himself. He just received his asylum papers after 10 years and is in the University studying International Business Management. in addition to his native language, he is fluent in both Dutch and English. He has no idea where his family is; He hopes they may be in one of the camps in Pakistan.

Habib has exam all week. We will go to lunch together on Friday. He is a friend with whom you can enjoy talking about many subjects.

As he has experience, many humans can be cruel and greedy. Fortunately many others are compassionate.

Imagine losing 10-15 years of your life: while waiting for asylum decision, you may not work, go to school, even a Community College. As he relayed to me, you sleep get up, sit, eat and go to bed. Many become lost in the 10 years to mental instability or drugs. Mercifully he kept himself together. often cold & hungry on the streets avoided by passersbys.

War rarely settles anything; mostly it causes immesureable harm.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grace and Magic - fotbol, pool, ten pins, and a treat at the Gaucho in Picadilly

No time for jet lag! After warm greetings & hugs, we were off to the Jamaican Pub where the guys could watch the African Cup (soccer - Ivory Coast beat Ghana to move to the quarter finals). There is no TV at the Catholic Worker House in London so they were glued to it.

Michael, new to the house from Kenya, enjoyed ginger ale, first time in several years. After the game, Amanuel spied the empty pool table & asked me to play. His skill at deftly letting me win, but in a way that looked like it was my skill (I did have a number of good shots!) put me in a position of playing a regular player. I insisted Amanuel continue in my place; he won the game. Everyone of the guys stood around and enjoyed themselves.

Saturday, Zelda & I took six of the guys to Finsbury to bowl. One reads about community. This was the real thing. Everyone is rooting & enjoying each other. Cheers, high fives or mutual groans accompanied every ball. Some of the guys had never picked up a bowling ball. It was good to see that the ball did not drag them down the alley with it! No surprise, Amanuel won accompanied by a cheering group of friends.

Afterward, we headed out for, you got it a KFC type of place! Again, much enjoyment. The guys rarely get to eat out.

I wish I an effective writer so that I could effectively capture the magic of these moments: men, all destitute and thousands of miles from home. Most have been tortured and lost family, in some cases all their family.

Nations represented in our outings: Kenya, Eritrea, Senegal, Iran, The Congo, U.K. and USA.

GAUCHO PICADILLY - A sumptuous dinner treat from Danny.

Danny, a good friend I met at the Urban Table last visit and a Jesuit Volunteer, treated me to a sumptuous steak dinner after Mass on Sunday. Great conversation and wonderful food were the order of the evening. Do check the restaurant online. Not quite comparable to my hostel!

Thanks Danny!


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.