Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hospitality, resistance, the Catholic Worker

On Monday and Tuesday, we visited the Guiseppe Conlon Catholic Worker House in Harringay, North London, and the Catholic Worker Farm in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of London.  Both the House and the Farm take in guests - the House offers shelter, food and community to about 17 men who are refused asylum seekers - men from all over the world.

Guiseppe Conlon House is at the back of an old church in a Turkish neighborhood, almost invisible from the street.  Father Martin Newell welcomed us, told us a bit of the Catholic Worker history, talked about the grounding of their work in Catholic Social Teaching, and led us in a Eucharistic celebration.  As a community, they are "ecumenical, pacifist, communitarian and anarchist in the spirit of gentle personalism."  They fed us with the same generosity and community spirit that they offer to their guests - and at least we did help with the cleaning up: Father Terry Moran, CSJP-A on the left and Katrina Alton, CSJP Candidate and soon-to-be novice on the right, with one of the core community members.  Katrina has been part of the Catholic Worker community and has participated in some of their acts of resistance, including a protest at the Ministry of Defense headquarters for which she was arrested (see the posting of September 5, 2012)

At the farm, we met with Scott Albrecht, who shared with us some of the ways his history has led him and his family to choose life as Catholic Workers.  The farmhouse and a couple of acres are leased from the farmer who raises cattle on the farm; the Catholic Worker community has a grand vegetable garden, with plenty of kale, zucchini, chard, beans, tomatoes and potatoes for the community dinners.  Their guests are women and children, again women who are not easily able to get asylum. We were wonderfully fed on lamb stew, tomato soup, and green salad, and we returned home - in sunshine at last - full of admiration for the work of these Catholic Workers, work without salary and with many worries about having money to pay the rent and the light bill, work shared joyfully with friends and guests.

In the top photo above, Scott in front of the fireplace in the 14th century farmhouse; below, the vegetable garden.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

London rain

There's a theme emerging - I last wrote about getting caught out in the rain in Suchitoto, and today all 35 of us were caught out in the rain in the London Wetland Centre, an event totally appropriate to being in the wetlands.

The glorious swans and colorful ducks found it all delightful, but for me it was a rude reminder of just how cold and wet rain can be in a cold climate.  Getting back to St. Katharine's in Limehouse meant riding across almost the entire breadth of London on various Tube lines, but then we were warm and at home, inside, which is the only perfect place to be in a rainstorm.

I am loving the double experience of being in this great city of London, with all its delightful and bewildering variety of peoples and languages and being with my Sisters and Associates of St. Joseph of Peace community, whom I miss greatly when I'm in El Salvador.  Our times of prayer and deep reflection are powerful - and so are the times of laughing over card games and counting noses on the Tube.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Suchitoto to London

Tomorrow morning I get up very, very early to fly to London.  And I have to say that it sounds so unlikely as I sit here, stewing in the wet heat of September - to be going from this quiet village to one of the world's great cities, from this tropical heat to classic British weather (chilly and gray, I believe).  I'm going to be part of a Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace Program - we will be learning about responses to climate change, to poverty, to trafficking, hearing from inspiring people, and inspiring each other with our prayers and reflections. 

Today I would have been happy with sunny, hot and humid, the normal mix.  But about an hour after I hung some laundry out to dry, rain started, and I had to rush to take it in, half wet.  I had one errand outside the house, mailing some letters and paying a bill and yes, I got caught in a downpour without an umbrella.  Saved the letters from getting wet, but not myself.  We need the rain here, I'm not complaining... well, not complaining a lot.  I hope Suchitoto will get plenty of daily rain while I'm gone, and I hope I'll come back from London longing for the heat and the warm rain. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

El Rey de las Burbujas

A couple of days ago I picked up Richard Stanley and his mother, Mari, at their home in San Rafael Cedros and drove them in for Richard's appointment with a pediatric cardiologist in Hospital Bloom.  Mari and I were both on edge because the cardiologist had said that Richard might need a pacemaker, and we didn't want this little guy to have surgery again, just a year after he got his new heart valve.  Richard, on the other hand, seemed to be having a great time, observing every car, motorcycle, pickup, dumpster, truck with the passionate attention of a four-year-old male. 

At the Bloom, Richard had an X-ray and an EKG, and he got a prize for being a prize patient: a little bottle and wand to blow bubbles with.  And as only a four-year-old can be, he was completely absorbed by blowing bubbles and trying to catch bubbles and dunking his wand into the bottle for more bubble soap.  Somewhere along the way, he forgot to be afraid of me (I think the fact that I can drive a car and drove a car that he rode in did much to make me an acceptable person) and passed me the bubble wand.  So we blew bubbles at each other happily for about an hour and a half.
Richard even forgot that he's camera-shy and enjoyed seeing this photo of a bubble that he successfully caught on the wand.  Clearly, he's the Rey de las Burbujas, the King of the Bubbles.  And, as you can see, he's also Spiderman, El Hombre AraƱa. 

I had to leave before Richard had his time with visiting pediatric cardiologists, but it was a joy to hear later from Mari that the visitors checked all the tests, looked at Richard, and concluded that he doesn't need any interventions, either surgical or medical.  I can blow a bubble or two to celebrate that news!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Una Vida Libre de Violencia

There's a motto that you see all over Suchitoto - it's stenciled on many, many houses, the outline of the national bird, the torogoz, sitting on a flower (Suchitoto means bird-flower in Nahuat) and underneath these words: En esta casa queremos una vida libre de violencia hacia las mujeres.  In this house, we want a life free of violence against women.  (It's not on my house, alas, but only because the outside got repainted in December and I haven't been able to find anyone who could stencil it again for me).

This motto - it also appears on a big billboard at the entrance to the town - is up on our walls for the sad and necessary reason that there's far too much violence against women in El Salvador, and in our beautiful, apparently tranquil town of Suchitoto. For the wider perspective, there's an excellent recent article on Femicide in Tim's El Salvador Blog, and every day the terrible stories show up in the newspaper and the news shows.

Recently, over the long August holiday weekend, brutal violence almost took the life of a woman I know, a woman who's part of the fabric of Suchitoto, living and working here with her family and among friends.  I don't know the details, except that the assailant was not a stranger, but Luz was stabbed many, many times and only survived thanks to heroic immediate work in the Suchitoto hospital and long weeks of intensive care in the capital.  She's been in a coma through the past month, and has just begun to emerge, facing terrible pain and months of slow work to return to life.

I am praying for Luz, and for all the women, for my friends and neighbors, that here in El Salvador we may begin to find a path out of the brutal violence that haunts every woman's life and every woman's nightmares.  Una vida libre de violencia: this should be the birthright of every woman, man and child.  Until that day, the work continues.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's about time

I'm in New Jersey for 5 days this week, for a meeting of the editorial board of Living Peace, our Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace magazine, and I can't help noticing that everyone here is on the same time.  Check the clock in my room: 1:50.  And my cell phone: 1:50.  And the computer: 1:50.  And so on and on...we are always clear about what time it is in the United States.  You might say we're as obsessed by it.

It's not that way in El Salvador.  I don't quite understand it, because I always assumed that all the electronics set themselves automatically to some electronic beam of perfect timing sent out from Greenwich, but there if my cell phone shows 1:50, the computer is likely to say it's 1:58, while the clock on the wall says 1:49, the iPad claims 1:53, and the clock in the car pushes ahead to 2:03.  Every once in a while, I try to reset everything so it's all pointing to the same time (blindly choosing one of those possibilities as the correct, true, Greenwich, gringo time).  Works for a few days, and then they drift apart again. 

Time is just a more flexible concept in El Salvador.  The electronics know it.  After about a year in El Salvador, I stopped apologizing if I was 5 or 10 minutes late for a meeting, because I slowly realized that the meetings usually started about half an hour after the stated time.  Here, as in so much, for Salvadorans relationships matter more than efficiency.  It's hard for a gringa to accept, but I've come to like it that way.  Whatever time it may be in El Salvador, it's always time for a greeting, a conversation, a connection.  In the U.S., it's too often time to run off to the next urgent event.