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...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Will I simply turn away and have a nice cup of tea?

He stands 5' 10." He is reserved and kind. Behind his reserve, is a quick mind and considerable skills that require intellectual acuity as used in games like chess, difficult suduko... He is an athlete. He is a refugee from an intensely repressive African nation. His family is gone; he is 30. His hopes for a life are severely limited with not much hope in the near future. He is my friend.

Imagine being forced to flee your home and country. You travel at night trying to avoid being caught, returned to torture, beaten up. You make it to another continent, but the first nation has no interest in helping people like you. The people speak a Semitic language in a script that is a complete mystery to you.

On the street, hungry and cold with no soup kitchens or temporary housing, you make your way again to a country that though strict about immigration has people who have the decency to treat those in need with kindness and respect.

You've arrived, but the government does not want you. They insist that you go back to the first country. Go back, to what? Imprisonment, life on the streets probably far worse than that in London or New York?

So you remain, hoping that some day things might change.

Five years later nothing has changed. You may not work or go to school. Others move on; you cannot.

Imagine for a moment this was you. What would you do? Would you give up? How would you face each day?

This is the situation for my friend who accompanied me to the airport. Back home in a motel my connecting flight delayed due to storms, I stand waiting for the elevator in the Sleep Inn. A tall young lady tells me about her frustration: waiting, cabs, "I am not used to this. I miss my BMW." I try not to throttle her. I smile and say: "Hey, you could be homeless." Undeterred, she returns to protestations of existential angst. But wait, that could be me, complaining about a temporary discomfort, oblivious to all the pain that is right before me.

But more to the point. a crucal question: What am I myself going to do today to make a difference? Or as one friend said to me, "Will I simply turn away and have a nice cup of tea?"

With affection and respect, I ask you, my dear friend, to join me in considering this same question.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

5 amazing days

Coming to the end of my 18 day visit here in England, blessings abound.

Tuesday: A big day as I get to meet the lawyer who is working on behalf of my dear North African friend seeking asylum. A complicated and not easy case given the law & strong attempts by government to say 'no,' it was difficult to sit and listen to possibilities.

When it was time for me to explain my association and knowledge of my friend, it was hard to fight back tears. Such a fine young man who would be a great credit to any nation. Waiting, hoping, and not knowing for so many years - it is hard to fathom. Due to a need for anonymity, I say no more, only to ask for your daily prayers for him and all the many in need - while those feasting on the fatted calf, feast unrelentlingly.

In the evening it is my joy to take him out to eat - Turkish!

Wednesday: I visited with my good friend, Danny. In addition to running a company, he manages to weekly volunteer with those in need: soup kitchen and spending a night in the LCW homeless over night. His commitment to those in need as well as his spiritual journey & shared reflections are a gift to be sure. What a treat for me! He finally, rioters canceling one outing, was able to take me for 'proper' fish 'n chips! Always a treat to sit & talk with Danny - great insights & an inspiration.

Then it was off by bus to Angel, Islington to meet with Steve. Steve gave up his career in finance to work directly with those in need. Steve is a bright, quiet, engaging young man. We sat for hours discussing politics, conditions that might explain rioting, group dynamics, and social justice. Might sound dry in print, but not at all!

Both men excellent men and great friends. Again, how fortunate I am.

At 7:30 p.m. I was able to join 3 volunteers at the Simon Community for the Wedneday night soup run into central London. Loaded down with sandwiches, soup, coffee and tea, we made seveal stops. At one 150 lined up. What it must be like to have to live like this: individuals out of work, suffering from mental illness, alcoholics...

We cannot afford or allow ourselves to comfortablly wrap ourselves in a closed, protective blanket while so many have so little.

Thursday: A day of rest, not typical of me. My daughter has been known to comment that when we travel toegether, they simply cannot keep up the pace!

I've been fortunate to spend the two weeks with Zelda in her flat in Basildon. A remarkable lady, she has been fun to be with & talk about current issues. In the evening, we joined her sister and friend, Peggy, for dinner and almsot non-stop laughs. Wonderful!

Friday: Each day though unique to itself is a gift. Venturing into London, I met Angela in Kings Cross to view the photography exhibit 'Frontlines,' by Sean Smith. (check out photos on my facebook page.) Angela another interesting & wonderful Brit committed to those in need was great company. The exhibit is extensive and at times difficult to view. Yet, we agreed important so as not to forget or look the other way. Now if only leaders would take note. A Paul VI said at the UN, no more war.

After a capuchino and great conversation, I was off to meet with my three African friends.

We met at the Catholic Worker House: my previously mentioned friend, Kinkella from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tedoros from Ethiopia. The latter two have been granted ''leave to stay.'

I wanted to take them out for dinner or a snack. As Tedoros said, you've been gone a long time. Let's sit and talk.

Eventually we went our for a walk: 3 good looking African men and this grey haired old dude! What a sight. More, what fine men. How is it we are so fortunate to know so many good people!

Today, Saturday: My last full day, after packing & exercise, I will venture back into London to meet my dear African friend. Afterwards, I'll travel to North London to enjoy home cooked Algerian cuisine. We'll dine late as my friend, fasting for Ramadan, cannot eat until 9:00 p.m. Imagine fasting from 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. - to recall and be aware of & one with the many who are hungry every day.

I've tried to edit this so as to focus on these fine people. People have paid me compliments etc. That is nice& we each want to be liekd and accepted, but what is important, what matters, what counts is: Any good we do is a reflection of the divine within all of creation, to be relished, celebrated and shared.

I ask only that we pause often to give thanks and praise, and to keep in our hearts and daily action the too many people in real need. The acknowledgment that counts is the experience of love so palpable in so many good people. Namaste!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rioting in London

It started about a 40 minute bus ride north of the Catholic Worker House where I've lived, worked, and have good refugee friends now living there. Seems there's a massive undercurrent of rage against the police & the system - esp against 'the haves' who keep getting more & those who experience cuts whenever there's a financial crisis.

Today I venture into London to Tottenham the original site of rioting to go to a lawyer's office to get help for my dear young refugee friend seeking asylum. We have to do by a slightly circuitous route as the main road near the lawyer's office is closed due to debris & burned out cars & buses.

My good friend Danny & his wife have had to cancel our dinner tonight in central London as their route home is through the area - Croydon - which had very bad rioting last night.

It is somewhat surreal being here during this as I've been to many of the affected areas- mostly outside central London. All areas where tourists basically do not go.

I'm to help out on a soup run for the homeless in the streets of central London tomorrow night. Do not know at this point if it'll run.

Violence of any sort to me is wrong. That said it raises serious questions about justice, use of authority, just how rich any one person has a right to be - (for me not very!) All questions that humanity has struggled with over many centuries. Sadly all too often those who have so much remain rather clueless.

Working for, praying for justice & well being for all remain our most import task.

Cheers all from Basildon, Essex - a 39 minute train ride from London.

Monday, August 8, 2011

This coming week and my refugee friends...

A main reason for coming to Britain twice a year costly as it is, is to renew my friendship with refugees I met and lived with in previous visits while volunteerign at Catholic worker Houses.

Tomorrow we go to a lawyer that I've found to try to help a particularly wonderful friend get help with an asylum request. Imagine: Your father was in the wrong political party; you made the mistake of walking in as peaceful demonstration; you belong to the wrong ehtnic group in the former Soviet Union; you were of the wrong Christian faith in your homeland - for eahc of these, you have been beaten, imprisoned, lost all or most of your family.

Again terrible odds, you made oyur way throuygh various African or Middle Eastern countries eventually to the United Kingdom. Here like at home immigration is a hot issue. They should go home, where they belong.' God help us if we actually had to share the abundance that most of us have. I so easily lament a rise in prices when I so easily spend money almost without thinking. Money spent in one evening that would feed an entire family for a month.

Our visit to the lawyer will nto be easy as it is both promising and possibly hearthbreaking. Please pray for my friend and so many others.

Today, I travel into London to visit with and take out to eat a friend from Senegal, also seeking asssitance.

Tuesday, after the lawyer appointment, it is time to visit with my Ethiopian and Congolese friends who have been granted 'leave to stay.'

Afterwards, my dear British friend, Danny, and his wife are taking me out to dinner. Dany busy as head of company spends much of his 'free time' working directly with those in need. He always opens windows for me to see what is out there and how to frame it within a social justice and spiritual context. He often gives me wondeful books on which I can learn much.

Wednesday, I joiny my British friend who gave a promising career ib finance to work daily for the needy here in Britain. Steve is wonderful company and allows me to not lose sight of the bigger picture. an inspiring young man.

In the evening, I was accompany the soup run with the 'Simon community.' They always ask me if I can drive a van. Happy to, I demure, given it's night, central London and a van. AND as we say the wrong side of the street! I've driven in England twice, but a large van at night in London - I think not! The van will make about 5 stops around London where those ' sleeping rough' will come for soup and sandwiches plus coffee. Seeing a Yank is alway a curiosity and for some actually a 'treat.'

Thursday is a local day of rest in Basildon with my good friend Zelda. for dinner we will meet her friend Peggy who is always good company. Zelda keeps quite busy with many social jsutice activities: Trident Ploughshares, Dale Famr to name just two.

Friday and saturday will eb more visits and good-byes as my flight leave Heathrow Sunday.

Please pray daily for my dear friends and those so many we do not know, but who suffer so much - here, in the Americas, the middle East and the rest of the world.

In all this, I've managed to do my 45 minute exercise walk each day - a wonderul tonic!
Why did I avoid it for so long!

Thanks & Cheers!

Along the Embankment on a leisurely Saturday afternoon

After attending the Hiroshima Day Memorial, I made my way toward the Embankment, across the Thames to South Bank. People were in a festive spirit as they mingled & walked through exhibits & events: sand castle building, skateboard & biking in a special area, listening to live music, watching jugglers(curiously for me - taking bites out of apples as they juggled - quite a mess on the stage after many repeat performances!).

Festival Hall is quite interesting with many exhibits to remember the1951 Festival of Britain - a festival to invite British to renew positive feelings after a long and costly war and post-war period and to encourage tourists to celebrate Britain.

There was a used book display where I surprisingly found two most interesting books and was able to bargain a lower price. Ah capitalism!

After a brisk walk I was able to enjoy the Tate Modern Art Museum. Modern Art often leaves me feeling little and puzzled. Still there are pieces that were most interesting. I've placed several on my facebook album: copies of newspaper illustrations illustrating nonsense of Nazi era, several other works including an interesting thematically work from a dissident Chinese artist.

Another brisk 45 minute walk took me to Fenchruch Street Station for my return trip to Basildon, Essex - a very ncie day in a beautiful capitol city.

Hiroshima Day Memorial Service - Tavistock Square, London 8/6/11

Made my way to Tavistock Square in Camden London to attend the Hiroshima Day. A lovely square with a statue of Ghandi in the middle, a tree planted & a plaque at one end years ago to commemorate Hiroshima bomb dropping & conscientious objectors.

The ceremony features several speakers & quiet w/ Buddhist bell & silence. Now if world leaders as well as those seeking to instill terror & the powerful would look beyond self-interest, ego & blinding power to truly work for peace.

A group of us went for tea/coffee afterwards and discussed world events vis a vis war and weapons.

For me it was again a treat to sit & talk with people who truly care and are knowledgeable. They devote themselves to informing themselves & to speaking out against injustice. All very accepting. There is another ceremony at the Peace Pagoda and a silent procession Tuesday evening to commemorate the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki.

You may see pics on my facebook page.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Greetings from Basildon, Essex, U.K.

Arrived a week ago & it has been non-stop! My friend met me at Victoria & after lunch took me to his friends from Ethiopia. Enjoyed wonderful hospitality and a nice Ethiopia meal.

Saturday, I went w/ Zelda & my friend Steve to Dale Farm - travellers site which they own but local govt. wants to evict them.

Sunday I took him to the movies. He wanted to see 'Horrible Bosses.' It was horrible, but he enjoyed it! :-)

Yesterday I had a nice lunch w/ my friend, Danny. After, I stopped in St. Martins-in-the-Fields and got to hear a chamber group practicing. Brandenberg Concerto and others by Handel. Heavenly!

Then on to the National Portrait Gallery at Trafalgar Sq. and a simple sandwich meal in Kensington Gardens.

Monday and Tuesday I stayed in Cambridge- 1st time. Loved it. A young lady I met at Dale farm lives in Cambridge. She arranged for me to have a private tour of several college YARDS. Amazingly beautiful. Saw Kings, Queens, Clare, Trinity and St. Johns Colleges. After we 3 enjoyed tea!!

Today, I'm crashing! Take care all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Wedding in Trinidad California - a Reflection

This blog's purpose is to share people I meet & experiences I'm fortunate to have. It's not mean to be about me, per se.

So, with that in mind. simple actually, a wedding invitation. But not quite. This invitation is from a young man whom I met & taught at Loyola College 3 years ago. So you say?

The so is the kind of person he is. I knew he was impressive, grounded, kind and sensitive. For now I'll leave out handsome, athletic, smart though they too are true! He is also someone I came to call 'friend.' So off to Arcata/Eureka Airport - not on the beaten path! (For now I'll skip the little curious travel details including our being asked to move luggage from the hold up with us into the cabin to make more room for needed fuel. Fuel is liquid; luggage ain't. Hmm.I'll leave it at that.)

Not just a fun, enjoyable wedding - much more.

Ian and Anna designed a simple wedding; they composed their own vows including:
  • a mutual invitation to allow each other to be who they are
  • a shared commitment to both passion and compassion
Hold it, did you say compassion? How 'un-me!'

What do they say? You know a person for whom he/she hangs out with? - or something like that!

I was treated to 3 days of incredible friends of the couple. More, I saw just how much love they shared: in the banter, in the guys dancing & miming key lyrics - just for fun, in the ready acceptance of a stranger - even one close to 40 years older, in the unbridled joy in the persons getting married, in their complete comfort with diversity, in their respect for family.

Those young people did not just have a party. They celebrated life and relationship.

The setting

The northern California region is magnificently beautiful. The Pacific at our feet below rocks, trees, and green of resplendent beauty.

I cannot but say that Anna and Ian, their friends, and the magnificence of nature - all reminded me of my belief that there surely is a God & he/she demands that we love one another, treating all his creation with reverence and joy.

Thank you Ian and Anna and all present: friends and family. "Let all creation praise the Lord."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Puerto Vallarta with Laura & Jay

We are completing 6 days at the beach in Mexico. For me it has been a much different trip but most enjoyable.

Last year while studying Spanish in Tlaquepague, Jalisco. Mexico. I came here for 3 nights. My good fortune was to find a hostel that is now ranked by Lonely Planet # 1 in Vallarta. Part of the complex is a hotel with rooms & another building with suites.

Ricardo, Vallarta Sun, decided to upgrade us to two suites with no increase in rate. It has been great as we each have our own room with private, bath, kitchen and a balcony. The pool is below and the beach is 1 block away.

Puerto Vallarta is quite safe. Similar to my other Latin Americn trips, it is sunny every day & here temperatures ranging from 76 to 85 during the day.

Jay is quite skilled at finding great beach locations. Three chairs, table & umbrella right up front at the water for the day. You get your drinks & food from them & they treat you like kings. We stayed almost five hours today for $ 10 +- a piece.

Zip Lines aka Canopy Tour.

The high point (literally, well except the beach did beat all.) was our 10 zip line Canopy Tour (canopy because you glide above tropical vegetation, canyons & streams. It was an adventure as we hiked up lots of stairs & trails, well atop a nearby mountain.

You are harnessed with two safety leads. You step up & the Mexican guide hooks you up tells you to lie back with legs straights or knees bent depending on speed needed to complete the trip. Listo (ready?) and off you to. For me it was at first a bit daunting as you ate suspended by wire high above & you are going, going. Once acclimated some choose to go upside down backward or spinning. Not Laura & me!

The three Mexican guides were great providing water stops when needed. It was not just me who had to stop several times to catch his breath!

(pictures to follow on Fcebook.)


We found the restaurants nearby offered great food at reasonable prices, given a beach resort. Several were right on the beach. Tonight, our last, will be a great Mexican restaurant two blocks away.

Spanish school & Semana Santa

Two afternoons I left Laura & Jay at the beach to trudge 35 minutes to Solexico for two hours of Spanish class. It was great & I highly recommend the school to language students.

This week is Semana Santa (Holy Week) & a big holiday week in Mexico. The religious outdoor activities are bland at best here in comparison to Queretero last year.

Getting here! The only pain for Jay's sinus infection & our flight here. Due to storm in the U.S. Saturday, April 16th, our flight out of Baltimore was 80 minutes delayed - leaving us literally 7 minutes to race out the plane, down the ramp, into the terminal & down/around to the loading plane connection. Phew! Jay's infection along with flying interaction made for a rough 1st day & several days adjusting. But all in al we had a greatweek.

I highly recommend Puerto Vallarta & Vallarta Sun hotel & hostel to anyone looking f a wonderful foreign beach vacation. No sadly, its back to work full time! For me, 6 1/2 more weeks!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Presente! - A weekend with Witness for Peace

Taking a break from lesson planning & grades, I made my way to the YMCA South Mountain Camp just outside Wernersville, PA. this past weekend. The weekend revolved around Fr. Roy Bourgeois who started the SOA Watch: Close the School of the Americas which is a part of Ft. Benning, Georgia. Below is a summary of comments Fr. Roy made. I was truly touched by who he is & what he shared. I hope you will read on as I feel we all have a responsiblity to be informed. Of course do check out the SOA Watch site as well as other points of view. Fr. Roy from Louisana began his college work working in the field of geology. This was the time of the Vietnam War so being a patriotic American he signed up. In Vietnam, he earned a Purple Heart. Vietnam service was a turning point - While in Vietnam, he helped out at a local orphanage where the priest in charge lived what he taught. This experience and that of killing ("Killing a person changes you.") led him to re-evaluate his stance. Returning home, he decided to enter the Maryknoll order & study for the priesthood. Upon ordination, he was posted to Bolivia. As he said, the poor became his teachers. (Though I can in no way compare my experience to his, I can validate from persoanl experience that those who do not have & are suffering much teach us much about life. This is especially true when we have it so good.) These poor had no running water, no electricity, no health care, living life'on the edge.' Bolivia at the time was ruled by a brutal dictator. Standing up for one's rights was a fearsome propostion. Six years into his assignment, Fr. Roy & others were eventually arrested; he was deported. In Bolivia he learned that for the system to keep on going, it needs guns and we, the U.S. supply them. Systematically labor leaders were assasinated. People are forced to stop demanding any change. Imprisonment, torture, death are the order of the day. El Salvador - Around the time of his return to the states, Archbishop Oscar Romero (a real saint) was assasinated for demanding that the soldiers stop killing innocent men, women and children. Speak up & expect to die. Later 4 American nuns were rapped & killed by soldiers trained at SOA. Jesuits teaching at a University in El Salvador were warned to shut up or else. Soldiers came & took them outside - including their cook & their 15 year old daughter - all were shot dead. Their bodies desecrated. Many Congressmen at the time knew these Jesuits & were horrified at their fate. Traveling to El Salvador, they found what a later UN Report stated: 18 of the 29 soldiers responsible for the killlings were trained at SOA. Sadly this has turned out time & again not to be an exception. At home Fr. Roy learned that 500 Salvadoran soldiers had arrive at SOA for training. He had to act. He & several others went to Goergia, climbed the fence & a tree & outside the barracks. They played the famous Romero speech: "Stop the killing. Stop the repression. Lay down your weapons. Stop killing your fellow Salvadorans" To Fr. Roy this was truly a 'sacred moment.' The soldiers saw it differently! They poured out of their barracks M16s a ready & demanded they climb down or be shot - such terrorists! This was 20 years ago! Maximum Bob as he came to be called was the local judge. Having no patience with their reasons, he sentences them to 6 months in jail. As Fr. Roy pointed out this has never worked. Gandi, Dr. King, Dorothy Day among others would not be silenced. (I think it's accurate that soeaking out to authority is what got Christ crucified.) What began as a protest by a handful has grown - in some years - to 20,000 people. (I myself have been there. It is stunning. Power determined to dimiss any protest - PEACEFUL PROTEST! ) What would Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Henry, Franklin say? There is much more to the SOA Watch. Do check it out. It is not an issue about liberal vs. conservative, right vs. left. It is simply democracy & the question: Do we act as we say we are? And if no, then what is to be done? Fr. Roy is clearly a good man, humble yet determined. The phrase 'an inconvenient truth' came to mind as I listened. Dare we look, ask quesitons? Will we speak up? An email or letter to your Congressman can make quite a difference. Thanks for listening. Check them out: AND - I did not mean to slight Witness for Peace.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Antigua, Guatemala - last 9 days

Language purists look down their noses at Antigua. It´s full of tourists & English is easy to come by. True, but if you want to speak Spanish, it´s all about you!

The homestay, Consuelo de Solares, is like a Hilton. I feel a tad uneasy given what many here do not have. Still after Xela, I have to admit this is quite nice. ( see ´Homestay in Antigua´ for pics.)

Antigua was the 2nd capitol of Guatemala. It has a thriving historical preservation program, many language schools which had a major impact on reviving its economy, beautiful ruins, churches, markets and is only 1 hour from Guatemala City & the airport.

It´s reasonably safe. Best not to walk alone at night much after 9 or 10. BUT with my homestay after a sumptuous night meal at 7, why go out? BBC News, CNN, TNT, Chanel from Los Angelos available, lovely outdoor gardens within the homestay.

Mornings are taken with walks throughout the city which stretches 1 mile in each direction. Look up & you see a volcano! Afternoon is Spanish class. Evening, possibly a trip to the bookstore, local slide talk or Rainbow Cafe for a drink.

Weather is sunny each day with about 70 to 78F. Tough!

Hang in all!


Sunday, February 20, 2011

How nice and 6 hours in San Pedro

How nice!

Arriving in San Pedro la Laguna via mini van and lancha, I met a delightful couple from England /New Zealand. We plan to meet later this week for lunch.

Ah, the sun, so warm - all 3 layers off!

After checking in with the school, I was off to the Tuch family. Like coming home, such a warm welcome. After sharing small gifts I brought from Andalucia, I headed out for lunch and a nice walk.

6 Hours in San Pedro vs. 48 hours in Xela!

Ah, que bueno! There´s nothing like returning to a place you like without the need to figure everything out.

My homestay is in a Mayan neighborhood. As I made my way toward the lake, I entered what the locals call ¨Gringo alleyIt´s actually not that bad. Lots of little restaurants, wifi places, Spanish schools, tiendas. What makes it quite pleasant is that the road is wide enough, barely for a smaller car, and it makes sharp 90 degree turns several times.

Along the way, I went into Tony´s, an ex-pat from Holland. He sells used paperback books - great found a Jack Higgins book whichwill require no sustained thinking!

After a very delightful lunch, I went to Zooland, which in Hebrew means a place to rest. As I sat, reading ´Prensa Libre,´ a good Guatemalan newspaper with an insert of NY Times Sunday news, I could not help observing a Hasidic young man talking in a very animated fashion to 6 young Israelis.

When I was leaving, unsure but fianlly decided yes, I asked them if they minded me asking what he was talking about. Apparently there is a worldwide Jewish mystical religous group. He was trying to get them to come visit it.

I´m glad I got over my hesitation to approach them because we began an interesting conversation about religion in Israel, Israeli military service, events in Cairo etc.

As I prepared to leave them, Itay, a young Israeli asked me if I would ask my Mayan homestay if they would be willing to sit and have tea. I said I´d ask and get back to him.

How wonderful, an interest in meeting with local people. It just occured to me though, that their Spanish is basicaly non existant and my local family´s English is worse - hmm I´d best get back pronot to my studying!

I completed my walk along gringo alley making my way toward the Pana dock. All of a sudden, the magnificent lake comes into view. Along the way I met a young man from Switzerland who promptly asked me ¨Do you not speak spanish?¨ So we did. An interesting feeling of being with a person who demanded full out effort!!

So a quite different start to a week! Mrs. Tuch made a point of saying my room this time was their best. Indeed!

So it´s back to my homestay and then to Mass at 6 p.m. Mrs. Tuchs did make a point of telling me to get there early as it will be packed. Otherwise I will have to stand. Nice, but I am so happy to be here that standing is just fine.

Oh and BTW, a hard to take 77F 25 C here at 4 p.m.

Have a good week all. I´ll post pics on Facebk of gringo alley later. Cheers!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Xela - 1 Week Later!

This is a bit of a hodge podge post as I'm trying to include info for family/friends as well as details for possible travelers to Xela. (I've learned that with google etc. a simple travel blog for family & friends becomes a source for those researching travel. Bien, bien!

Well, to be sure, the 1st 5 days were hell. Homestay, only 1 in my 6 experiences, was dirty, erratic food & oh so cold. 4 nights later I gave up & moved to Siete Orejas - a jewel. Teacher in the school which is also somewhat dirty was moody & thus not easy to be with. My allergies were in overdrive, due to help from the incessant cold inside buildings.

BUT now, a sunny day, class over, warmer weather & I can give a fair account of this city for possible fellow travelers & interested persons or those experiencng insomnia!

Xela (Quetzaltenango) is Guatemala´s 2nd largest city. As it is near active volcanoes, there´s dust everywhere. Hard to know where dust leaves off & dirt starts. Nor receommended for those with breathing problems.

I include much of the following esp. for fellow travelers interesting in Xela.

If your goal is to learn Spanish then this is good place. For to be sure, you will encounter almost NO locals who speak English. You´re forced to make your way in Spanish, occasionally slipping into Spanglish!

There are local sites, but for me, it´s not that particularly interesting. Several small pueblos are nearby with individual attractions.

  • North & South is a great Engllish language bookstore/cafe
  • Adrelina Tours offers great tours & info.
  • owned by an Am ex-pat is a good resource.
  • Great volunteering opportunities.
  • Siete Orejas hotel/hostel.

Spanish Schools: CAREFULLY research out schools. I got burned & I'm told some are great including, hopefully, ICA Spanish School, Ulewtinimit (try pronouncing that!), Proyecto Linguistico, Pop Wuj, and one I'm likely to go to if I'm back Celas Mayas.

Odds & ends

  • Internet cafe use for 1 hour ranges from 50 to 75 cents (American)
  • Hyper Paiz - a small mall has lots of shops, eatery area & a movie theater - $ 3.
  • La Democracia - outdoor large market with food, clothing etc. Quidado pickpockets!
  • Walking on your own seems ok so long as not after about 9 p.m. Ladies, esp. blond, quidado especially.
  • The large Cemetary - stay away unless with others & then, ten quidado.
  • an intelligent street numbering system whuich makes geeting around very easy - Cadiz would benefit for it!

Walking - If you're young, not much of a problem. For those not so...

  • Sidewalk to street home is easy. Here it can be 4-6 times as steep a drop AND often you're stepping onto cobblestone (mas or menos).
  • Buses, mini-coches(esp.) are a mystery. No route map yet, but a gringo working on one! Ask if it goes to... Mini-vans(coches) crowded. Both buses(chicken) cost 1.5 Q = about 19 cents!
  • Taxis - try to use one's with the # on side door. In & about Zone 1 is about 20 Q = $2.50.
  • Sidewalks can be quite narrow. There you are, a gringo - not tiny - about to merge with a local lady carrying a large basket on her head.
  • As you stroll along the sidewalk (lol), you come upon a electric poll which is impossible to walk behind it you're not tiny!
  • Crossing the street - quidado.
  • Holes in the street - many - deep - carry a mini flashlight at night if you're not on a very well lit street.

Safety - This really varies depending on whom you talk to. At night, keep to well traveled streets where possible. Alone at night, avoid walking after 9 or 10. Though my cabbie friend told me today, after 7:30, he's done, ladrones - robbers.

Coming back ?
I might well come back, but only possibly in the month of March when I´m told it´s not sooooo cold at night & in the a.m. without any source of heat. (It´s not the cold per se, but the effect it has on making my allergies so bad - thus 24/7 exhausted.

Why come back, maybe? Other good schools here, great Siete Orejas hotel for $105 a week with breakfast and many opportunities to do volunteer work. One organizatiom has a full time person to hel yopu find the right volunteer opportunity - tons of choices. Now that's a way to meet people, learn Spanish &give back.

Manana off to San Pedro la Laguna & return to the school Corazon Maya.


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.