Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Protest Parade.

Last week, I was sitting at my desk when I heard what I quickly assumed to be a parade outside. I looked out my sixth floor window to see if I could tell where the singing and whistles and drums were coming from. From two different sides of a park, protest groups were marching towards my building with banners and voices raised. After recovering from my "where's the parade?" embarrassment, I settled in to watch.

The protest parade stopped at the building next to mine. For the next two hours, they pounded and sang and chanted in unison. They waved flags and banners. They posted hundreds of flyers. They spoke. They cheered. And they sang some more.

At the beginning of August, 23 people were detained and arrested for protesting a raise in their rent. The group I watched from my office window was gathered next door to bravely protest the arrest of these other protesters.

Gatherings like this one seem to be common in Buenos Aires. Almost every week, I stumble across a group standing together, feet to the pavement, voices raised together. The groups are large and small, old and young - assembled in front of government offices, travel agencies, banks, hospitals, and schools.

Just today, I passed a group - fifty or so elderly men with one big banner - assembling in a park. I wonder where they were headed and what they were going to say.

In Minnesota this past month, hundreds of protesters were arrested at the Republican National Convention. Many more were detained, sprayed with tear gas, photographed, searched, injured. Despite the conditions, thousands of people continued to gather, march and raise their voices together.

While I was in Haiti last spring, there were food riots in Port au Prince. Countless Haitians pounded the streets, raising their voices together about the cost of food - telling their government, their media, their world that they were hungry. At least four Haitians died during these demonstrations.

My statement here is not about the sides of these issues. At least not this time.
My statement is more of an observation:
Despite past experience and better-judgement and odds, people bravely stand together in streets all over the world to share their stories, to demand change, to cast light on injustice, to ask for a life with dignity - and to ask people with power to listen, to care.

I am not saying that protesters, just by being protesters, are right.
I am saying that if people are brave enough to stand up and march and sing in the streets, that someone should listen, that we should listen.

I am saying that we should do all we can to ensure that it is safe to stand peacefully with our neighbors and speak our truths.

And I am saying that I hope I will have the bravery to stand, put my feet to the pavement and lift my voice whenever I find myself face to face with injustice.

Serious *Besos* Business

I know I've already mentioned besos ("kisses"), but they are worth a second nod. Besos are, by far, my favorite Argentine custom that I've been introduced to as of yet. Every Argentine greeting and goodbye is communicated with besos, a slight lean to the left and kiss on the right cheek of your friend. The first few times, the newness of the besos interaction left me feeling uncertain and awkward, but my hesitance quickly turned into love.

Everyone besos.
Including me.
And, don't be fooled by their soft exterior, besos are serious business.
A few fun examples:

- Every morning, Idealistas staff members make their rounds through all three of the rooms in our office, greeting every employee and volunteer with besos.

- At Idealistas meetings or gatherings, staff greet everyone in the meeting - as well as everyone sitting in the nearby offices with besos before things get underway.

- Business people and teenagers and friends and families can be spotted giving "besos" on streetcorners and on doorsteps all around the city.

- I was recently walking down a hallway at work when I had to pass through a small group of conversing people to get into the next room. I excused myself to pass through and one of the girls stopped me - and with an eyebrown raised asked "besos?". I happily obliged and besos-ed before continuing on my way.

- And my favorite: When a friend arrived at our Spanish school last week, one of the teachers approached her immediately and apologized for not giving her "besos" the last time she had been there.

Besos. I like it. Watch out Minnesota... I plan to initiate some serious cheek-kissing when I get home!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Remembering Haiti.

Eric and I have been anxiously watching and reading news reports as storm after storm has hit Haiti - and as we have waited for word from our friends there. They sent out a letter today with an update on the situation. As we feared, the situation is devastating - thousands of people are without food, water or homes, in a place where so many were already fighting for survival.

If you'd like to learn more, there is an update on AMURT - Haiti's homepage (www.amurthaiti.org). Scroll down or click on "donate" in the home page article for a link to the full letter or the link to their PayPal account. There are also a variety of news updates available online. Here's one that the Associated Press posted just yesterday:

Over and over throughout their history, the people of Haiti seem to have been forgotten by the world when disaster has struck on their shores, and in their lives. But, that does not need to be true this time. I hope you will join me in remembering them and responding as you are able. I invite you pause, to educate your friends and family about this disaster, to donate in support of AMURT's relief efforts ... I invite you to remember them.

In the midst of this tragedy, my friend Dharma wrote from Haiti:
"As these last lines come out on the screen, the downpour outside is hitting the ground in an increasing crescendo. I think of the short-term memory of civilization, and of the merciless nature which indiscriminately affects all, and the deeply innate connection we can feel to the suffering and happiness of others. It is at times of huge suffering that we realize how profound this web of life is, and how irresistible the call for action is."

May we remember them this time.