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.


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.