Monday, November 10, 2014

ignorance

After having written about Africa, my life there, the people I know there and my reactions to it all for so many years, I found it hard to write about my time in DC when I was helping with the training of new lay missionaries, or about my time here in Rome, as the English secretary to the Top Dogs.  It seems so . . .  uh . . . mundane or something.  So . . . I just haven’t written much in the past couple of years.

Yet, I’ve heard that’s how life often feels – afterwards - for people who have lived an intense cross-cultural experience.  That period of time is often an influential, powerful, growing and developmental time for us.  We’re in a totally different environment from what we know, having left behind what we’re familiar with, our support systems (at times without even realizing we had support systems . . .  until they are no longer there . . . ) and find ourselves totally outside of what has always just been there, what we’ve taken for granted and never reflected upon.  We’re confronted with our values – with ourselves – and with needing to actually think about these things and to come to recognize and hopefully accept what is really, honestly important to us.

Then, to return to our countries and move into other areas of life can end up feeling all, uh, ho-hummish.  I’ve heard, and experienced, that life can often feel less fulfilling, and maybe that’s also part of why I haven’t been sure what to write about.  Just day-to-day things while I was in Africa could play on my emotions, inspire me and stay on my mind.    Life was so different from what I’d known that it was often just naturally thought-provoking, and writing in the blog was a way to work out my thoughts.  (It was also a way to share parts of my life so that, hopefully, I wouldn’t be a complete stranger to friends and family whenever I would next see them.)  I’m working on finding that inspiration again, and it’s there, of course, waiting for me to acknowledge it.  There is so much around me wherever I am, whether in DC, in Rome, in Wisconsin, Chicago, Nebraska, Warmond, Ghana or Minneapolis - wherever – there’s always atmosphere, people I love, food, wine, beer, etc.  I just need to let it in . . .  and let it touch me somehow.

In the meantime, a few things come up that affect me more than other things.  Often, these things are still connected to Africa.  After all, so many of my friends are there, so much of my adult life was there, so much of my growing up took place there and most of my work is still related to African issues.  For example, talking to my friends in Liberia about how ebola is affecting everyone’s lives has moved me; I felt it inside, in my heart, and wanted to write about it.  (So there you go . . .  my previous blog entry.)

And now, there’s another ebola-related issue which someone in SMA told me he had read about, so I looked up the article(s).  Phew – it really pisses me off!!!  The organization I have been involved with for so many years sends support to this person who is fomenting bigotry and hatred through his promulgation of ignorance.  Here are links to a couple of the articles, but there are more stories that can be found related to this.  The first link is more about what was said and so on, the second is how these statements by an influential leader in Liberia has affected a group of people that he has slandered:



Here’s something said by the same SMA priest who told me about this:

His thinking is inflammatory and could lead to persecution and death of others if  the people think they have caused ebola. This is more than culture and besides if it is it should be challenged. His theology and culture should be transcended. What kind of God does he have? I wonder if people like this still think the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around the earth? It won't be challenged because we are too patronizing....

The US province of SMA has a priest who once said that he didn’t believe that we ever landed on the moon – it was all something put together in Hollywood.  Was he joking? Was he serious?  I honestly don’t know because I wasn’t there.  I wonder why the person who heard him say this ignorance did not challenge him in some way.  And right now, with the Archbishop making these kinds of totally ignorant and inflammatory comments, why aren't we challenging him?

I have already felt like a hypocrite at times.  I struggle with some of the Catholic Church’s stances on certain issues, and yet here I am, going on 16 or 17 years with a Catholic organization which supports a man that spouts this kind of stuff.  He’s supposed to be a leader, a unifier.  He’s supposedly educated.  In my mind he’s supposed to be spreading a message of love and non-judgment, of caring for those who are among the most abandoned – isn’t that a message in the Bible? – isn’t that what Jesus did in the Bible?  Who did Jesus hang with, after all? (And what are some of the statements coming out of the recent Vatican Synod on the family??!! -- the entire document is an interesting read, actually, and point 110 specifically contradicts what has been said by religious leaders in Liberia.)  One of SMA’s priorities, no . . . THE  priority (supposedly) is to the most abandoned of Africa and African descent.  Yet, we are supporting this guy.  To be honest, at this time in history in Africa, homosexuals are clearly among "the most abandoned".

I used to think, “well, a lot of people don’t agree with everything from their ‘employers’ ” – and, as I said, I have gone on with the same organization for so many years now, so clearly I decided to just see this not agreeing with everything as acceptable and "normal".  But, I go on feeling a little more like a hypocrite each time, and it becomes harder and harder each time.

                

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A blog update has been long overdue.  Since the time I left Africa, I haven’t updated it as often.  Mostly, I’m not sure what to write about.  I often want to write the same kind of theme as what I wrote about while living in Africa – a story of someone who I’m hoping to help with education or to set up a business, or something along those lines.  I’m not sure if I should write more of these stories, so I hesitate (even though there are two or three remaining people who immediately come to mind who I’d love to help with their education and who only need about $600 – more or less - per semester and for whom I already have stories written ---- just a small reminder/plug that there are still a few people out there… who I know… who would do well if they could complete their education… etc. etc.). 

Another big, obvious thing to write about is the ebola crisis.  Some of the people I’ve written about in the past are now back in Liberia, along with other good friends and former colleagues.  Everyone is affected by the disease.  Schools are closed, businesses are shut down, prices are over-the-top, pharmacies are closed, and hospitals are seen as frightening places of possible contagion and are often closed.  People are afraid to go for healthcare if they have regular medical emergencies (malaria, for example) because they’re understandably, and possibly justifiably, terrified of contracting ebola at a hospital or someplace where someone infected has been. 

I heard some statistics (but don’t have them available to quote specifically or refer to) that more people have died of malaria in the same time period as the current ebola crisis, and more women have died in childbirth in the same time period.  Ebola is terrifying because there’s no effective treatments, etc., but these statistics are shame-inducing since malaria deaths and childbirth deaths are mostly treatable and/or preventable.  (Probably most people who might read this are more up-to-date on the news about all this than I am. I haven’t been on top of the news lately, and just have personal communications.) 

I just talked with Samuel the other day (I have talked with a couple of others, too, but I’ve known Samuel for over 20 years, so I use him as an example. Then there are some others I haven't yet been able to reach. This is a link to one of the more recent things I wrote about Samuel back in May, 2013, about halfway down the page.).  Happily, he and his family are all fine.  But, the kids can’t go to school (since the schools are closed), even though his son has just started 3rd grade.  With some money Samuel recently earned through writing a project proposal for an organization that had hired him for that purpose, he has been able to pay to download some math, English and other lessons to give his son at home so that his education won’t be interrupted in the same way the previous generation had happen to it over the past 20 years due to the civil war.  Samuel’s wife, Alfreda, works with Social Services, helping families that have been affected by the virus.  Fortunately, Samuel and his wife have a minimum income to help them at this time. 

Everyone is afraid to let their kids play with friends and neighbors – it’s not possible to control what enters the house when other people come inside.  So . . . at home . . . inside . . . no friends to play with . . .  sorry for the kids . . . and sorry for the parents.  People say that the crisis is worse than the civil war that went on for over a decade.  At least with the war you could see/hear when your village was being attacked and you could run.  But, you can’t see ebola and you can’t run and hide from this enemy.

Samuel and others I talked with say that what is most needed is money to help people get by.  Samuel is managing in the meantime, but mutual friends/colleagues of ours are facing bigger struggles with food, water and other basic necessities.  Most people can’t work, yet they still need to pay for so many things in order to live.  I don’t enjoy helping in this way – just sending money, reacting in crises rather than preventing the crises.  For me, the way in which I tried to help in the past (thanks to so many donations from people who read this blog) – education, especially – is a much a better way.  “When people know better, they do better,” as a good friend used to say to me when I was working on the refugee camp.  In the long run, many crises could, maybe, be averted prior to becoming a crisis if people are educated and have their awareness levels increased.

But, ebola wasn’t avoided (and education may not have precluded its arrival, but could have hindered the epidemic).  Sending money directly to people at this time helps them to survive, but is basically a bandaid for the problem.  Yet, it seems to be a necessary bandaid for now.  Phew.  So, I find myself doing what I’ve tried not to do in the past – just sending money to help people buy food, just providing the bandaid until something better comes along that makes it possible for people to do more than just survive.


Friday, May 02, 2014


                           
In November, December and also in February, the above pictures were my view on a daily basis.  Five days/week, I’d do a brisk 20 minute walk at around 8:20 in the morning so I could catch a bus to take me down via Gregorio VII (it’s always just referred to as “Gregorio Settimo”) towards the Vatican.  Shortly before the bus reached my school, the road curved and the above view of the Vatican loomed ahead.  I’d get down from the bus before it reached the Vatican, which was just another few minutes, or a 10 minute walk from the school. 

I just received an email from a long-time friend who had supervised me almost 30 years ago when I was getting my Bachelor’s degree in Social Work.  I volunteered in a program that did some small group counseling/therapy sessions (the Deferred Prosecution Program), and she was the Director.  (Actually, on a side-note, I apologize to many of you who probably received a request from me about LinkedIn – ooops.  I signed up for LinkedIn so I could stay a little in-tune with things in Occupational Therapy, and maybe international work, etc., and didn’t realize that an email would be sent to anyone I had ever emailed.  The plus side is that a few people have been back in touch with me since then.)  She received that LinkedIn invite and wrote back, mentioning that it must be humbling to be surrounded by the huge monuments reflecting so much history here.  And mostly it’s true - - but, actually I fluctuate between feeling humbled, and not even noticing.  Like the above view of the Vatican – some days I thought how incredible it was that this was my daily view.  Other days I walked along whistling, “ho hum ho hum, it’s off to class I go”, excited about going to class, and forgetting to pay attention to the rest of the experience. 

It’s kind of like when I was in Africa -- there were moments where I’d be in awe of where I was and grateful and amazed to be in Africa, doing work that I cared about and felt fulfilled to be doing, and other days when I’d think, “ho hum ho hum, it’s just another day.

Actually, I think I like that.  I don’t know if I want to be amazed in that way every day.  I don’t know that I want to feel humbled in that way every day.  I also don’t want every day to be ho hum ho hum.  I like the mix.  I remember in the past when I visited Rome that within a day or two I’d be thinking, “OK, enough of the archaeological sites; enough of the broken down buildings; enough of these huge monuments. Let me get some ice-cream.”  Maybe it was too much – I don’t know.  This time around, though, while living here, I haven’t had that feeling of “enough” --  but I have had the feeling of “let me get some ice-cream.

Anyway….in January I was fortunate to go back to Ghana to make a site/support visit to Joe, who I wrote about in my last entry.  And, of course, I took some vacation time while there to also see some of my former colleagues and my friends.  I also mentioned in my last blog entry that I would again write about some of the people I know since, no surprise, there are still some who hope for school or small business assistance, etc.  And, hmmm, again no surprise, there are a few people I would love to help.  At the same time, several months ago I still made the decision to stay in SMA, which resulted in me still, frustratingly, not being able to actually help too much on my own.  When small emergencies here and there come up, it’s manageable, but school fees? small business development? – not so manageable. 

I’ll start with the lightest one and a familiar person who I’ve written about in the past.  I first wrote about Thomas back in October, 2010, when I was writing about some of the people I was working with on the refugee camp, but I wrote more specifically about just him and shared his story in January, 2011.  In response to that blog post, someone helped him to be able to pay for the exams he needed to take so as to complete his degree in shipping.  He’s still on the camp now, still helping Elizabeth at the Harmony Center, and I think it was finally last year that he was able to complete all the exams needed.  Now, though, there’s a class he hopes to take which will give him one more important and useful skill for when he returns to Liberia.  The class costs a little under $250 - - and I think it’s about 1 ½ - 2 months long.  He is hoping to return to Liberia before the end of the year.  If anyone wants to help him out, let me know.

Meanwhile, for the past few weeks, Rome has been filling up.  A couple of weeks ago was Easter – many many people were here for that. 


Easter at St. Peter's Square

More Easter at the Vatican

Easter



Last week Sunday was the biggest shindig that has taken place here in many years.  I heard 3 million visitors were expected.  Popes John Paul II and John XXIII were canonized on Sunday, 27 April.  The city was packed.  The house we live in was full, too – and it was nice to see some familiar faces and to have some variety tossed into the standard group that’s usually around.  At the same time that it was nice to see a few familiar faces from the years in Africa and to have the variety, I ran from the house and the city and have escaped all for a few days.  May and June are promising to be busy and it's nice to have a quick break before the intensity starts up.  However, even if I hadn't run from Rome on the morning of the canonization, I still wouldn't have any pictures to put here - I had planned to stay home and watch it on TV - which is the same I ended up doing anyway.  Imagine the above pictures having been taken from further away, with even more people --- and with rain and umbrellas -- and then you'll have an idea of how my experience at the canonization would have been for me if I'd gone.  Anyway... it was a special day for the Catholic Church, and, as with many things, mixed with a little controversy.  However, all that aside, Pope Francis continues to inspire me and give me hope - he's simple, unencumbered by, even just puts aside, a lot of the usual protocols, and gets close to people.  Even on the long day of the canonization, which followed a couple of long weeks with Lenten and Easter celebrations, in spite of probably being tired out, he still lived what he spoke, got down, and mixed with people who were in the crowds.  He got close to people,touching them, being touched, looking them in their eyes, and letting them know he cared and felt for them.  The highest guy in the Catholic Church is doing what he can to live what everyone is always preaching.  It's a little sad to think that this is revolutionary.