Friday, December 11, 2015

I honestly appreciate everyone who read and responded to last year’s blog entry, either through email, or through a comment on the blog, or just talking.  Since then, though, I’ve had a hard time writing more -- I started this blog update about 10 months ago – I think in February – and since then have added to it periodically, but only now am finishing the update.  It has, obviously, been hard to finish.  I’m disappointed in myself for not following up more on the update from last year (more below on that).  I fear that I’m becoming kind of lazy, complacent, out-of-touch, unmotivated.  I like living in Rome, and the work is interesting at some level, and has some challenges.  But, if I reflect on what I (and others I’ve known) have been involved with over the years, I know that’s the stuff that really matters to me - the hands-on stuff and the lives that we touch in some way. That’s what moves me and what makes me feel alive.  When we work in the field, our bodies, minds, souls and spirits are taken up with the life we are living, what we are doing and the people we are with.  The role I have here is necessary – someone needs to do these things – and for someone else this role would probably be very life-giving and exciting.  This is good for me to do for now, but I know in the future I’ll be looking to get back into the field (so, thanks also to some of you who mentioned some options for when that time comes). 

Several months ago, one of our priests got appointed to become a Bishop.  I’m told that it’s a big deal – and I guess it is.  But . . . the excitement it generated (some people were literally bouncing up and down in their seats when it was discussed) only made me think of Joe (I mention him and have a few pictures of him and the kids he works with at the end of the blog entry from February 2014) and some other people in the field, and wonder why hearing about what they’re doing and about their dedication doesn’t produce the same excitement, the same thrill, the same honor, respect, awe.  Joe has a simple and whole-hearted love for and devotion to the kids with whom he is working...why aren’t we bouncing up and down for him, especially when we hear a story about a girl he’s worked with for 3 years finally being able to take a couple of steps on her own?  Why does everyone get so excited about the new bishop and not about Joe when he adds two more kids to his feeding program and therapy stuff this week?  Everyone is so excited that "one of ours" has been called to be a bishop, yet all of the attention given to that makes me feel a mixture of sad, angry, embarrassed and depressed.

So, an update on my previous blog entry:

I eventually got some feedback from my boss in the States.  He doubted that Archbishop Zeigler knew what he was signing and said he had emailed the Archbishop about it, asking for some clarification from his side.  I think that in his position, the Archbishop should know what he is signing before he signs it, and besides, it wasn’t just a signature since he had apparently made similar statements in public speeches.  I was advised to pass future blog updates through my boss here – “for a good relationship.”  I told my US boss that I would not do that, and that doing such a thing would not be a good relationship from my point of view.  He then advised me to bring the information about Archbishop Zeigler blaming ebola on homosexuals and corruption to the attention of the SMA priest here in Rome who is in charge of Justice and Peace for SMA.  He’s also our representative in the International Justice and Peace (JPIC) group.  When I did that, our rep’s response was that I should take it to the head of the International JPIC myself.  My thoughts:  isn’t that your role??  And now our JPIC guy, the one who wouldn’t take this “touchy” issue, related to health, education and bigotry, is the one who was recently appointed bishop.  Once he was appointed, my natural tendency towards cynicism cleared the clouds about his reasons for being reticent in broaching something controversial regarding an archbishop, which would also be something supporting homosexuals.  Maybe for him this wasn’t an issue of justice and peace, public health, education, bigotry, hatred and fear mongering – maybe it was a different kind of fear that any involvement in this stuff could be damaging to personal hopes and dreams.  So, keeping quiet was the safest way to a future filled with advancement (so much boils down to politics and ambition, as my growing cynical tendency has me believe more and more).

If this had been about people with disabilities, about women and/or children, about any group that has had prejudices against them in the past or present, I wonder – would the reactions have been different?  My point in writing about it was the injustice, no matter what the group.  It was also about the spread of ignorance and bigotry by respected leaders, rather than using their positions to educate the public on health and safety.  Aren’t they supposed to be spreading a message of love?  But instead we get:  “People who are different from you, those with whom you don’t agree – they bring down God’s curses.”  What century/millennia do we live in?

And I am working for an organization that says they stand for the most abandoned of Africa and African descent – yet it supports people who say these things and it doesn’t follow-through on challenging people who make these statements.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t follow up any further, either.   Why didn’t I at least follow-up with the following-up that my boss said he would do?  Why didn’t I go to the head of the international JPIC group myself?  I don’t know why…. 

And, that’s the end of the story for now.  For me, it’s a disappointing end – it just sort of disappeared.  I just let it sort of disappear.  Nothing came of it.  Ebola isn’t in the news so much anymore, and is more and more under control.  At the same time, recently three new cases came up in Monrovia, Liberia, but now people know the response to make, so things were quickly under control and there shouldn’t be a big outbreak again. 

With that, along with  a little shame and disappointment in myself and others, I move on....

A few people have asked me to update more with photos/stories from Rome, so...here are a few photos:

A friend gave me this great, electric espresso maker that he doesn't need in his home, since he has a kitchen and stove.  Now, I can take coffee breaks in the sun on my balcony, in peace.

I'm lucky to have a balcony, only one other person in the house has one - and we are 23 in the house.  After I was given the coffee maker, I found these perfect espresso cups -- pictures of garlic and corn on them and their handles!!  

Just yesterday I decorated my Christmas tree, which is also on the balcony.  It's also my spring, summer and fall tree....

The beach isn't too far from where I live, and this fall there have been an incredible number of sunny days, and my time is a bit flexible -- as long as I get my work done, it doesn't matter when I do it.  So, when I've had a friend or two who have had off in the afternoon, we've sometimes escaped just for a walk on the beach, and the sunset (and occasionally a beer.....)

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.