Wednesday, September 26, 2007

imago Dei

God steps back
to give us room;
room to breathe,
fail and flourish.

We are toes, wrinkles,
passion and hurt.
We are in and out of ourselves.

Friday, September 21, 2007

feliz primavera

Doña Primavera
de manos gloriosas,
haz que por la vida
derramemos rosas:
Rosas de alegría,
rosas de perdón,
rosas de cariño,
y de exultación.

Lady Spring
from glorious hands
brings life
scattering roses:
roses of joy
roses of pardon
roses of kindness
and of exultation.

Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) Chile.
photo by Caz

p.s. any improvement on translation welcome!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

the way home (2002)

The Way Home (Jibeuro), is a simple portrayal of the relationship between a young boy and his grandmother.

Seven year old Sang-woo is left in the care of Grandmother while his mother looks for work in Seoul. Transplanted from his modern city life to a tiny rural village, Sang-woo spends most of the film in a strop. Screaming and crying, he steals his grandmother's treasured hair-pin to buy batteries for his video-game player, and berates her and her way of life on every occasion. He shows no awareness of her struggle to care for him, the harshness of her daily life, nor of her love for him.

Grandmother - old as the lush green hills, bent double, her face wrinkled and dry - is mute. She communicates with the slightest of signs, the gentlest touch on the shoulder. Her neighbours have learned her signs but her grandson lacks the care or patience to try. Yet her patient, unobtrusive care is enough, and eventually the boy sees her, and loves her.

She reminded, once again, me of Margaret Moers Wenig's sermon, God is a Woman and She is Growing Older.
God is a woman and she is growing older. She moves more slowly now. She cannot stand erect. Her face is lined. Her voice is scratchy. Sometimes she has to strain to hear. God is a woman and she is growing older; yet, she remembers everything.

On Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of the day on which she gave us birth, God sits down at her kitchen table, opens the Book of Memories, and begins turning the pages; and God remembers.

"There, there is the world when it was new and my children when they were young." As she turns each page she smiles, seeing before her, like so many dolls in a department store window, all the beautiful colors of our skin, all the varied shapes and sizes of our bodies. She marvels at our accomplishments: the music we have written, the gardens we have planted, the stories we have told, the ideas we have spun.

"They now can fly faster than the winds I send," she says to herself, "and they sail across the waters which I gathered into seas. They even visit the moon which I set in the sky. But they rarely visit me."There pasted into the pages of her book are all the cards we have ever sent to her when we did not bother to visit. She notices our signatures3 scrawled beneath the printed words someone else has composed.

In the film, it is the boy who leaves cards for his illiterate grandmother to send to him on his return to Seoul. The night before he leaves, he draws pictures on the back of card after card: "I miss you" say some; and others, "I am ill." Then he will know when she needs him to take care of her.

Click below for the trailer of The Way Home, which highlights the comical aspects of the film:

More on The Way Home here and here.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

el fulgor argentino

Last night, a bunch of us from ISEDET went to La Boca to see El Fulgor Argentino. The play was at the community theatre venue El Galpon de Catalinas - an old warehouse bought by the theatre group and transformed into a massive piece of street art.

The play traced the history of Argentina from 1930 to an imagined 2030. With a cast of one hundred, costumes, dancing and music spanning the decades, and a good number of jokes and cultural references the play offered one version of Argentina's political story.

At times the small venue was a swirl of bodies and colours. Other moments were stark and painful.

Without words, an actor tied a white headscarf over her hair, identifying herself as a mother whose child had been kidnapped or killed by the military dictatorship.

The end of military was greeted by cheers from the stage, and a rush of emotional clapping and shouting from many of the audience.

Around the performance, which began with the proud claim, 'We are a nation of immigrants!' I had a few conversations about Argentina's identity as an immigrant community.

I'm making a generalization here, but it seems the popular story of Argentina is a truncated one. It begins and ends with the Italian, German and Spanish immigrants of the 19th and 20th century. Again and again I wait for acknowledgment of the people before (and still here - in the far south and north), and recognition of the blood soaked pages of Argentina's history. Why is it that, in popular thinking, Argentina is a white European country? This transition happened in a particular way. There were others here before and their removal from the land can be called many things, including genocide.

It makes even less sense that many (not all but many) European Argentines see no contradiction in complaining about the 'immigrants' pushing the 'original' communities out of various barrios. By immigrants they usually mean Bolivians and Paraguayans, and sometimes Koreans too.

This truncated identity is certainly not just an Argentine problem. British people also tell ourselves similarly limited stories about who are. It takes courage to confess the whole story, to acknowledge the parts in which we play the villain not the hero. But we have to keep trying.

Friday, September 07, 2007

in a shock development...

..recycling bins appear on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Now don't get too excited - a quick inspection this morning suggests that the good citizens of Bs As have not yet caught onto the concept of separating rubbish.
Bin 1 - orange lid and (somewhat faded) instructions to place glass, plastic, cardboard etc. = any kind of rubbish.
Bin 2 - black lid and no instructions = any kind of rubbish.

Still, it's a step. Now we just need a major cultural shift in peoples' attitudes - which is going to take time and effort. Will Bs As government and residents be up to it?

And will the new bins make things easier for the cartoneros? Or is this the latest attempt to cut them out of the equation?

A little searching on the Bs As government website later, and via this report in Clarin, it would seem that the bins are linked to the opening of six new recycling centres across the city. This is part of a series of laws working towards 'zero rubbish.' There's some education in schools, but little with the adult population.

Interestingly, a further aim of the new recycling centres according to Clarin, is to help the 6000 cartoneros stop working on the streets and move to a more secure and hygienic mode of operating. Only 1000 of the cartoneros are members of cooperatives; the majority work independently and are at the mercy of the large recycling firms.

The article ends by commenting:
The majority of residents are not, and do not wish to, separate their rubbish.

So how are they going to be persuaded?

Monday, September 03, 2007

barrio coreano

Eunhye, my friend from la UBA Spanish classes when I first arrived, is back in Buenos Aires for six months and to celebrate we went for lunch in Barrio Coreano. I discovered the Korean area of the city is a mere ten blocks from my house, so I'll be able to pop back easily when I need more supplys of noodles, chocolate covered sunflower seeds, and garlic chives.

Korean Argentines call the neighbourhood, Baek–Ku from the Korean for 109. Koreans arriving in Buenos Aires in the 1960s, without any Spanish, would be told to take the number 109 bus to the area. Ironically, today the 109 doesn't go through the barrio!

In comparison to Barrio Chino, the area is quiet and it's only the Korean language signs that suggest a Korean presence. But on ringing a few bells we found traditional restaurants, and hidden stores secured behind gates and doors. And there we feasted on rice, kimchi and tofu vegetable soup.

update from Peru - responses to the earthquake

From Christian Aid:
Like a bomb had dropped on the town
September 03 2007

Edith Montero is the Christian Aid Programme Officer for Peru. In the wake of the earthquake she shares her experience of visiting the city if Ica to see how our partners are responding.

I went with our partners to deliver food and blankets to communities affected by the earthquake in Ica. I arrived at nightfall and, although I know Ica very well, I couldn’t work out where I was. The roads didn’t exist anymore and there were the remains of walls but you couldn’t see where one street finished and another began. I was struck by the sheer magnitude of the destruction - from Lima I hadn’t even been able to imagine it. It was as if a bomb had dropped on the town.

The roads didn’t exist anymore and there were the remains of walls but you couldn’t see where one street finished and another began. People had been forced out of collapsed buildings onto the pavement. I couldn’t get through the roads because they were so jammed with rubble and families

Yesterday I went with our partner Health Houses to an area outside the city where the mud brick houses had been destroyed by the earthquake.

There I saw a man sitting on the roadside with one of his children. His wife was in their house with their two children when the earthquake struck. She had grabbed her young son and daughter and covered them with her body. She died and her children survived unharmed.

With help from Health Houses, the community had already set up communal kitchens and drawn up comprehensive lists naming the people affected by the earthquake and what they needed. We brought tents, cooking kits and blankets and Health Houses immediately began distributing these vital items to those in need.

Health Houses was also providing emergency medical help, treating people with throat and eye complaints caused by the sand and those whose cuts and injuries had become infected.

It was hard to see how isolated these people were. State aid hadn’t arrived to some of the worst affected on the outskirts of town and rural areas.

The organisational capacity of the people in the face of such tragedy has been the most positive thing I’ve seen. They hadn’t just sat down crying, though I’m sure they cried at first, instead they became organised. Their ability to work together in the midst of tragedy is amazing and their willingness to share the few resources they had was wonderful to see.

It is important for us, Christian Aid, to support these partners because in places like Peru, the state is not strong enough to respond quickly. But Christian Aid can respond quickly through its local partners. These partners have worked with the community for 15 years and at the end of the day they knew the people affected by the earthquake and the best way of working with them.

An update from Oxfam here and Peru Support Group


A few photos from my week with Julie and family in Temuco, Chile.

and the way home over the Andes..