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, 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.


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.