Sunday, March 23, 2014

Refugee Theater

Today the Kennedy Center hosted a panel discussion featuring three people representing the presence and importance of theater in the context of displacement and conflict.  These individuals are brave, but I am omitting their names because I, personally, have no interest in placing them in any additional danger.

Current Military Situation
The first thing the woman from Syria said was, "It is all true."  She is accustomed to being bombarded with questions about what is really happening in Syria.  When she says "it is all true," she means that the killing, murder, torture and bombings are all real.  In the areas still controlled by the regime, they pretend that nothing is wrong.  There are interruptions to electricity and curfews, but, otherwise, life goes on.  The free territories are under the threat of the Islamists.  That is not an American translation of her words;  that is what she said.  The activists and artists have to go into hiding when the Islamists come through.  When they return, the people they worked with, or even the village itself, may be gone.  The regime uses the extremists as an excuse to bomb.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Language and Heart

"I like your laughing."
ESOL Teacher Ciara: "I like your laugh."
Ciara: "Thank you!"

I believe in the value and power of words and language, but some people remind me that there are more valuable things.  Bad grammar could conceal a good heart, but, in my experience, it does not.  I have been blessed so much by kind words in broken English.  Learning the language is good, but being kind is much more important.  If you have something to say, and you speak out of love and kindness, don't be too afraid of saying it the wrong way.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Myth of Social Inaction

It is not terribly uncommon for me to get into a conversation with someone about the wretched state of the world.  Often, this leads the other person to say something similar to the following:
"...and yet no one does anything about it."
If I feel inclined to swear, at this point, I might.  Otherwise, I end up saying something that feels more intense:
"That is a lie."
It is.  The sort of person who knows about global suffering has at least heard of the Red Cross.  Often, they go to a church that actively works against suffering.   What they really mean is one of two things:
1.) Not enough people are doing something.
2.) I do not do enough.
Dealing with the latter first, your guilty conscience does not make the rest of us guilty.  If you, person I find myself talking to, feel guilty, give a good organization some money.  In spite of the fact that it is easy, it is, in fact, better than trying to go to a foreign country to help in a field in which you have no training.  Let the pros handle it.  If you really need to get your hands dirty, volunteer somewhere locally.
There are hundred of organizations which specialize in alleviating suffering.  Here are just a few:

- Tenwek Mission Hospital in Kenya
- Invisible Children (Their "Come Home" broadcasts and defection flyers provide invitations and instructions for LRA soldiers to surrender peacefully.)
- IJM (International Justice Mission)
- LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) 
- World Health Organization (I'm not a big fan of the UN, but the WHO has basically eradicated polio)

There are people doing things.  All the time.  In fact, that is often part of the problem.  One of the things people say about Haiti is that it is overdependent on NGOs, charity organizations.  Colonialism (a mix of greedy and compassionate Europeans taking over huge chunks of foreign countries) tends to get the blame for Africa as it is today.  They came in, set up a government, and then ripped it out. Americans in particular get a lot of hate because we try to help then make it worse.  We gave weapons to the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan so they could repel the Russians.  Those same people turned into the Taliban, who are no good for anyone.  The IMF and the World Bank exist to free the world of poverty, but often their restructuring methods are catastrophic
The real sadness is that the world is such a disaster even though so many try so hard.  
Yet everything is not lost. There is still good worth fighting for.  There are still people who cannot stand idly by.  Things are, in some ways, getting better.  I leave you with these words:
Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.  - Winston Churchill

Sunday, October 6, 2013

LiNK: Liberty in North Korea

North Korea is, for most intents and purposes, a dystopia.  However, sometimes people escape, usually into China.  If China finds them, they are sent back. If they are sent back, they can be tortured, imprisoned and executed.  Nonetheless, that is a risk people take.  The documentary Danny from North Korea is one such story.  It manages to give the big picture of North Korea while telling a very personal and gut wrenching story.  I just attended a screening Friday with LiNK, and it was stunning.  We also watched Bridge to North Korea, a quick look at the economic impact of expatriates on North Korea.  To book a screening, go here.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thessaloniki: Hagios Demetrios

Hagios Demetrios is named for Demetrius of Thessaloniki, a martyr and a saint.  At the time of my visit, the church was actually host to some venerated relics.  The practice of visiting relics is foreign to me, as are icons.  Before my trip to Greece, I had next to no interaction with Greek Orthodoxy, and my knowledge of Greek history covered only ancient philosophy and theology (The Greeks taught us how to think even though their gods were completely insane). 

Saturday, September 21, 2013


No pictures or rants today, just a basic, helpful travel tip: Mango. Rosetta Stone is famous for being a really effective way to learn, but it's also pretty expensive.  Mango is not quite as good, and probably won't take you as far into a language, but it is FREE.  To get at this awesomeness, you'll need a library that has Mango (lots of them do) and, subsequently, a library card.  This is actually a tool to locate libraries with Mango. The library staff can probably explain how it works at their library. I went to my library's website and typed "mango" into the search box.  I know. I am brilliant.  Mango offers tons of languages including modern, ancient and Koine Greek, modern and Biblical Hebrew, Spanish, Arabic and Haitian Creole.  I really appreciated having the option to study Greek before I got to Greece.   I was only there for about a week, and a number of people spoke English, but everyone seemed to really appreciate that I tried to learn some before I got there. I also think it helped me get a bit of a feel for the accent.  Their language is very important to them.