Wednesday, July 30, 2008

man to man

I was really encouraged by an interview in today's Guardian with Vernon Coaker, MP with responsibility for police and community safety.

During his time in office, he has focused on getting men to take responsibility for their actions, and those of their friends, work colleagues and other men, as the recent campaign against use of brothels highlights.
His legacy is likely to be that he helped to make men accountable for rape and domestic violence, and to change minds and attitudes, as well as crime statistics and conviction rates. "This is about the sort of society and communities we want to live in," Coaker says. "It is about men challenging other men's behaviour."

The key issue for Coaker is public education. "You make the absolute assertion that rape is a criminal act, one of the most heinous we know, and there will be consequences. It is about teaching respect, and educating men to bring about attitudinal change.

Read the full interview here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

on not being everything

A monotheism that idolizes one god sustains and is sustained by the exclusion of gender and ethnicity. Perhaps because of this, the theologies that are being woven by feminists and by ethnic groups inside and outside Christianity are able to be put forward as participants in an ecumenical conversation and coexistence on the frontier of multiculturalism in Latin America.

Why do they not fear to not be One, to not be Everything?…because they know that they are [only a] part…[and are] letting go of the crumbs of power that Christianity still receives from the powerful of the continent as part of an exchange of favours at both symbolic and material level. (Cardoso Pereira 1996: 458)
Cardoso Pereira, Nancy (1996) “Damned, Pleasure-Loving and Devout: Women and Religion” in International Review of Mission Vol. LXXXV No338 July 1996 Geneva: WCC, pp. 447-59.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

the price of bread

Via MEDH, the ecumenical human rights organization here in Argentina, I received yesterday a letter from the Bishop and staff of Humahuaca. Bishop Pedro Olmedo has pastoral care for one of the poorest regions of Argentina, in the far far north of the country. The region, encompassing parts of Salta and Jujuy, is stunningly beautiful, but living is difficult in a harsh climate with high unemployment and isolated communities. The mining industry, while providing employment, is contaminating the landscape.

The letter is in response to the ongoing crisis between the Kirchner government and the campo (countryside, but more specifically here the farmers - especially the soya farmers who export the majority of their crop), arguing that forgotten heart of the matter is the impoverishment of an increasing number of Argentines.

It calls attention to the people who are dying for lack of medicines and medical attention, noting also:
Malnutrition, that appeared to be under control, is adding to the harsh reality of hunger and poverty, but... [the government] continue to give the same level of support as in years past. It is impossible for children and young people to be fed today on 60 centavos (10 pence) per day.
The bishop goes on to criticize the government for its massaging of statistics concerning the level of inflation and cost of living. Insted of relying on such figures, people need to look at the cost of basic goods: a few months ago bread cost 3 pesos per kilo (50 pence), today it costs 5 pesos or more (~85 pence); a litre of oil has risen from 3 pesos to 8 pesos.

According to the bishop, 60% of the region's inhabitants struggle to survive below the poverty line. Regional and national migration has increased, causing further problems in urban centres.

There is sense of being isolated, far from the centre of power in Buenos Aires. The government seems unconcerned about the growing poverty and has failed to initiate programmes of support.

Inflation is having an impact on my daily routine too as I look at the price of a cup of coffee or get the bill from the photocopiers and think 'ooch.' But it's nothing compared to the experience of those who were already only just clinging on.

The bishop's letter, accompanied by photos can be read here. I read it and remembered our trip to Salta and Jujuy this time last year. This is a area out of sight and out of mind for many porteños, except as a winter holiday destination. But many of the people who live there are struggling to get by. Like in so many other countries, such day to day poverty fails to get the attention of the wealthy and powerful. But it's time it did.

photos July 2007 (2nd by Caz)

Friday, July 25, 2008

no ser dios y cuidarlos

No ser Dios y cuidarlos had a limited release in Argentine cinemas last month. I missed it but found first the trailer and then the whole film on youtube. The film is a documentary about a degree programme run by the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) within the high security prison, Cárcel de Devoto (the setting for Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman). The Centro Universitario Devoto (CUD) began in 1985 and the film blurb suggests it was pioneering work, enabling university professors to work with the prisoners directly.

The reoffending rate for ex-prisoners in Argentina is 70% but the film offers evidence that it is as low as 3% for those who have participated in CUD since the prisoners are enabled through their degree qualification to find work on returning home.

Here is the trailer:

I haven't yet watched the film but when I do, I'll make some further comments.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Carlos Páez Vilaró - fragmentos

Inspired by this article from La Nacion, read over coffee and medialunas one morning, I gathered up a few friends and took the train to Tigre to visit the new exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Carlos Páez Vilaró. Páez Vilaró has been painting for a long time, hanging out with the likes of Picasso and, alternatively, Albert Schweitzer at his leprosy hospital in the Gabon. (*painting to the right entitled, "Suddenly, another sun was born.") I had wanted to visit his Casapueblo near Punto del Este in Uruguay but it was this paragraph that made the exhibition a must see for me:
Su amor por las orillas de Uruguay y de la Argentina, su interés por la cultura afrouruguaya, su pasión por los viajes y por la pintura que, en sus propias palabras, "le dio todo", se imbrican de forma tal que es difícil separar al artista del hombre.
His love for the river banks of Uruguay and Argentina, his interest in African-Uruguayan culture, his passion for travel and painting, in his own words, 'say it all,' are interwoven in such a way that it is difficult to separate the artist from the man.

I spent a long time with his most recent paintings imagining the resistance of Africans to slavery and colonialism.

"I was present when the African revolution shot its first arrow" (part)

"I stayed magnetized on arriving at the shores of the island of Fernando Pó"

At his home in Tigre, a quiet walk down the river bank, the late afternoon light flooded the enclosed garden, and lush green prevented all but glances of the casapueblo-style house constructed there.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

it's oh so quiet...

"Where is everyone?" I wondered, peering out of my window at the empty streets below. It's cold this morning. Cold, quiet and foggy. Foggy weather equals smelly weather, as the city's refuse decomposes and the damp air holds everything down.

Feeling like everyone else was in the know, I reached for my guide to Buenos Aires and, with a sinking feeling, confirmed that today, 9 July, is a national holiday.

Now once upon a time I loved holidays. But these past three years have put me right off them. Holidays in another country are often lonely and frustrating days. Holidays in Argentina mean for me:
  • No heating - I only get heating when the offices downstairs are in use.
  • No-one to sort out my hot water heater - it worked Monday but has now packed in.
  • No library! - no-where warm and comfortable to work.
  • No friends to meet up with - everyone is busy with family.
  • Shops open only part of the day - thankfully I endured Disco supermarket yesterday ( maybe that was why the checkout queue was over 30 minutes long - then again, that's normal in Disco).
Actually, I'm feeling fine today - off to a more lively part of town and taking my books with me for a lovely afternoon in my favourite cafe. Then a festive trip to the cinema.

But my dislike of holidays has given me an insight into the loneliness of Christmas, Easter and other occasions for those far from home. And that's no bad thing.

Welcoming the stranger who lives amongst us is one of the duties of Christians, Jews and other people of faith. Indeed, the experience of being a stranger in a strange land is fundamental to the Jewish people and it is by reminding them of this that God calls on them to offer hospitality and care to the stranger amongst them:
You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)
Befriending the lonely, reaching out across national and religious divides, enlarging our circle a little more. All these are good things to celebrate today and everyday.

¡Feliz día de la Independencía!