From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Check my Nicaragua Photos on Flickr!

I didn´t realize you needed a Snapfish account to see photos on Snapfish, so here are my new and improved and very public Nicaragua photos, on my Flickr photostream. Someone let me know if this link works, please. Enjoy, and ask plenty of questions...


Granada, Nicaragua. Colonial city, tourist haven. Site of a two-day camping trip with my commate Tobin. Also the epitome of a Nicaraguan reality, according to Heather Moline: cultural whiplash. These two words have defined my last two weeks, and are going to define my next two years. That reality has been uncomfortably settling in my soul for a while, but I became cemented into my inevitable ride on the cultural whiplash in Granada, when a passing man with a blotchy brow shoved a spa coupon into my hand. The coupon advertised "an American breakfast featuring pancakes, followed by a dip in our pristine pools, and a European massage...all for $6!" I wasn't interested for budgeting reasons (we took an entire vacation for $15), but I let the awkward contradiction set in. $6 could buy a couple meals for the toothless woman I had just passed in the street. Or two full plates of typical Nicaraguan food. And yet there was the of the many ever-present contradictions in this country. Emaciated-horse-drawn carts slowing motorcycles and Japanese SUVs. Shoeless children taking a break from cleaning windshields for cash in the streets by hanging out in front of their cable TVs. Buying a cell phone instead of two months' worth of breakfast. My presence in the country. All contradictions. I am a passenger on a shocking ride through the dichotomies of rich and poor, industrial and agricultural, American and Nicaraguan. This isn't just the expected "culture shock" of adapting to newness. I'm adapting to the whiplash of being who I am, baggage and preferences and all, in a controversial world.I've spent most of the last two weeks with my JV community. We shared life stories on retreat at a gorgeous private lakeside cabin, only to hop on a jam-packed urbano (city bus) headed for chaotic Managua. We spent Christmas cooking, feasting, and exchanging Secret Santa gifts, only to emerge from the locked gates of the Ciudad Sandino volunteers' house into a street full of whistling chavalos (young men), firecrackers and the smell of mondongo (cow intestine soup). Disclaimer: being on the Cultural Whiplash is much cooler than not riding at all. But there's something very disconcerting about the Spanish-style architecture in Granada, where Easter egg colors, Euro cafes, a wide variety of gringos and chinos (a non-PC term for Asians) give way to poverty, trash-lined streets, and the traffic-strewn, sweaty ride to Managua.No, don't stop the coaster. Because I think I'm going to get used to it, to the point that I won't know I'm riding it at all. Perhaps someday I'll feel equally at home riding an urbano as playing Scrabble with English speakers.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


As part of our in-country orientation, the new Nicaraguan JVs spent a week in homestays with families in the barrios (neighborhoods) where we will live for the next two years, and in the campo (the word for rural Nica where farming is a dying part of life).
It´s one thing to stay with a middle-class Managua family down the street from my room. Keep in mind, of course, that midde-class in Nicaragua means you have running water (sometimes) and sometimes a fridge; forget signs of US middle-class life (cable TV, washing machine, windows, rooms etc.). Though I didn´t have a mattress and was a little wary of the cleanliness of fresh veggies I ate with my Managua homestay family, I was still within my comfort zone. I had the luxury of drinking chlorinated drinking water and could leave the house to relax in my room in the JV house if I wanted. I felt extrmely comoda y relajada with them.
The campo was a step beyond. Teh poor farming families are those who suffer most from capitalism, imprisonating--whoops, I mean ¨free¨--trade agreements, global warming, and American foreign policy. I was extremely nervous to live as they do for a few days, despite my cheery commate Sean´s smiley It´ll be like camping! assurances.
Encima de todo, what I was exposed to during my homestay was my own privilege. To be rich and educated enough to participate in JVC and thus to be with that family was a privilege in itself. Here are some more I considered:
  • Water. When their simple well runs dry, they use an ancient bull to lug galloons of lagoon water from kilometers away. It broke my heart to hear Mama Candida talking about how less water means less life. Because I have a weak stomach, I drank my own water from a 2L bottle I had brought from Managua. And drinking it, however nourishing, made me feel gross inside--I can afford to protest a weak stomach. They live with the realities of parasites, bacteria, and drought. I also bathed with a bucket and realized how very superfluous showers are. (Personal challenge to readers!! Take baths instead of showers to fight water shortages and live in solidarity with the poor!!)
  • A toilet, and, shall we say, reliable digestive patterns
  • Refrigerated food and a varied diet. We´re talking rice and beans for at least two meals a day. Someone devour a salad for me and remind me of the taste.
  • A bed, a mattress, and a quiet room at night, free from wandering chickens and bugs.
  • Money. Estadounidenses talk about it all the time. Nicas, who have far less of it, never talk about it. 80% of Nicas live on less than $2 a day. As I dashed for the latrine one morning, I realized I had spent 150 cordobas (around $7) checking for healthy...digestion...a couple of days before. That´s 3X what the average Nica lives on everday. Is my stomach more important than their lives?
These are things I am privileged to have. But there´s the rub. Life isn´t about things. In the campo, I also learned about love. Campesinos share everything. They touch, hug and hold hands with acquaintances. They smile at their 18-hour work days. They love naive, bizarre visitors with impossible names like Heather. And in a way very few of us will ever understand, they live better lives. Makes me wonder...who´s really privileged in the end?

These tidbits don´t fit narratively, but I wanted to include a few verbal snapshots of the campo...
  • Three birds, four dogs, a bull, four chickens and an irresistible orange kitten trek the property
  • Mama Candida was explaining to me that the father of her children is never around and drinks a lot and abuses her, when I heard a pail of precious water getting kicked over behind me. I turned and saw a disheveled man, slobbering somewhat, with bloodshot eyes and a huge satchel over his shoulder. Speak of the devil. He comes to their home for lunch and dinner every day, saying nothing, and leaving quickly after eating. Probably to drink more. It was totally normal for Mama and her children, but I have never wanted to punch someone so hard in my life.
  • The following crops grow a short distance from the front door: coffee, two kinds of oranges, two kinds of plantains, bananas, cilantro, jamaica, espinaca, squash.
  • From their land, I saw the smoking cross-topped crater of the St. James volcano, and the angry blue ripples of the Venice lagoon. Took pictures with a disposable camera; will hopefully be able to pass them on.
  • My favorite food is now and forever will be fried, mature plantain. Until I get tired of it, which might happen quickly, so never mind what I said.
  • We went to bed at 8:30 and woke up at 4:30 to desayunar (eat breakfast) before three kids had to take their daily two-hour trips to work and school.
That´s all for now! Know that I am still happy, healthy, safe, and learning. Trying to figure out pictures in the meantime. Stay tuned. And...send emails and letters. Or just read my blog, that makes me happier than anything.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Departure and Arrival

Part I: The best is yet to come!
The night before I left home, I wrote this. ¨Crying. Deep sadness. The end of an era. THE BEGINNING OF ANOTHER. You know the best is yet to come.¨

Before dawn the next day, as I said goodbye to my old dog and Oregon paradise, and to my parents for at least a year, I was sobbing and questioning my sanity, certainly. But a thought occurred to me as I lost sight of my parents in the security line. The best is yet to come. Those of you who really know me will be wondering whether Michael Buble began to serenade subconscious. This thought went deeper. I suddenly felt my feet on a supportive ground, my breathing calmed, and my soul grinning. Goodbyes are rotten. But the Beatles always have it right. For every goodbye, there is a hello. And if you believe that your happiness is up to you, that hello will be fuller and more powerful than the goodbye, if you let it be. Pun intended.

I took a class from a Greek Orthodox priest, a pleasant, bearded, Robert DeNiro look-alike who thought himself very wise. Sometimes he was. He´d recite his beliefs with merciless certainty, but I liked the fella for his indominable spirit. The following schpiel rolled off his tongue as he dangled a leg off a sagging desk...I´ve jazzed it up a bit. ¨The lovers part wondering if they´ll ever smile again. Neither can any of us predict what sort of human beings we will become. The flower goes to bed at night not knowing whether she´ll awake the next day. Every end leads to a beginning, whether or not it can be seen.¨This makes me feel hopeful about life, and death.
I will allow tears, the cleansers of the soul. But I will rejoice in what I feel now. Here´s to the people I will meet, the love I will share, the experiences that will claim a piece of my heart. The best is yet to come...and babe, won´t it be think you´ve seen the sun, but you ain´t seen it shine...

All endings are also beginnings. We just don´t know it at the time.
-Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Part II: Verbal Snapshots of Managua
There´s no way I can blog adequately about the mountain of change that I am climbing. So instead, I´ve taken a few pictures-in-words and hope you will be able to imagine yourself climbing with me.
  • Beautiful brown eyes, most of them young, miraculously hopeful, and staring intently
  • Much like Tijuana (never actually blogged about my times there, but you can read this), only the sprawl of Managua rises out of a subdued jungle that has bloomed in the rainy season...Now is winter, which implies 80 degrees F everyday. Ha.
  • La Virgen Maria adorned in palm leaves and Christmas lights
  • Huge red and tiny black ants, skinny clingy cats and mangy dogs, cockroaches and scorpions, pet ducks and geckos that laugh
  • Images, statues and tales of el heroe Augusto C Sandino por todas partes, usually accompanied by brightly colored propaganda promoting the saviordictator (depends on who you ask) El Presidente Daniel Ortega
  • My fellow JVs ¨platicar-ing¨with chavalos (kids) on the street, jamming on guitars or making gallo pinto or pancakes for their energetic, annoying newbies (Heather, Meg=Tobin, Tony, Adrienne, Bianca)
  • TVs, computers, and DVD players in houses made with latrines, fading tin, adobe and plastic bags. Ah, the pervasiveness of American culture
  • Ditches, trash, cars, US and Chinese imports and packed multicolored urbanos (Managua buses) sharing the road
  • Sounds of firecrackers, merenge (YES), bachata, Rhianna and Eminem (NO), carols to La Virgen, self-assured, eloquent parrots, water vendors screaming, children whispering, and chavalos whistling. Oh, and lots of Spanish. AYYYIIIII!
That´ll have to do for now, friends. Safe, happy, and healthy, I am currently staying with a Nica family in the barrio where the JVs live, instead of in my room in the JV house. Monday, I´m slightly nervous to be going to the campo (rural Nica) to stay three nights with a family there. How are you and what are you up to? Know that I love receiving mail and email, no matter what you have to say.

My mailing address:
Heather Moline-Jesuit Volunteers

Stay tuned for word from my stays with families, and for PICTURES!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Gandhi Divide

"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

You can't go very far, particularly in the social justice, religious, or university realms, without seeing Mahatma Gandhi's famous quote. Similarly, as I am six days away from leaving the PacNW and ten from leaving the country, I can't go very far without hearing, "Heather, the world needs more people like you."

This elicits mixed emotions. The first thing that inevitably comes to mind, with a chuckle, is, "Oh, if you only knew," by which I mean, of course, that I'm secretly an axe murderer. Joke. But really, we've all got ways in which we are beautiful human beings and ways in which we are not. I have no shortage of the latter.

The next thing I feel is gratitude, for having such supportive, gracious friends, and for having been given so much that I am able to turn into fuel for being the kind of person who may merit such a compliment.

Ultimately, though, I feel confused. I was the girl who was proclaimed "Most Likely to Join the Peace Corps" in high school, and I thought that was nuts. I still think I'm nuts as I'm headed off for a similar (but awesomer, if I do say so myself) two-year program in a few days. I'm confused because I'm just a human being, like any other, who felt compelled to find deeper meaning, like any other.

We idolize do-gooders. But you hear the response in the news all the time when so-and-so saves a drowning child from a torrential river and the media goes crazy. "I'm not a hero," he says. "I just did what needed to be done." I think Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mother Theresa, whomever you gape at wide-eyed and think "I wish I was more like ____," would say the same thing. They were human beings who did what needed to be done, and struggled and cried and made mistakes in the meantime.

The problem begins with the "I wish I was more like ____." As soon as this is said, there is a great chasm placed between sympathy and mobilization, between the realization that there is a problem, and the motivation to address it. I'd like to call this chasm the Gandhi Divide. When we stop short of it, we reduce ourselves to bystanders who observe the problems in the world, but don't tackle them. This psychological divide prevents us from being the people the world needs. It makes us tell ourselves that we aren't good enough, so thank goodness others are.

Admittedly, this is a scary divide. It's icy and deep, full of inconvenience, apathy, fear, loneliness and hopelessness. Those people--like you and me, ordinary but resolved people--who cross it will require awareness, empathy, and courage. But they don't need to be heroes. Because a hero is created in the crossing.

This is the challenge. Be the change you wish to see in the world by making a lifetime of crossing the Gandhi Divide. The world needs more people like you. And by the way, I've been told there is hope, beauty, peace and joy, for everyone, on the other side.

"When I beheld the suffering, I was angry with God. 'The hungry family. The dying child. The warring country. Where were you?' I demanded. 'I was there,' God replied. 'Where were you?"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

FOR AUNG SAN SUU KYI: A Shooting Star Moment

I'm not the kind of person who wears rosy glasses, but despite my realism (pessimism?), beautiful things happen in this world. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of Burma's Democratic movement, was released today by the totalitarian military junta that has imprisoned her under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years. She has been freed two other times from her arrest, only to be thrown back into her home after crossing some arbitrary line, but still I say that beautiful things happen. My heart goes out to the celebrating people in Burma who have held vigil at her gates for a quarter of their lives, and to the global community that supports her. When PeaceJam was held at LMU, six Nobel laureates called for her release in my school's gymnasium. I was there to see them rallying, and I am alive to see her release. I realize, of course, as CNN so honestly tells, that no one is guaranteeing her release is permanent. But beautiful things happen, and it's nice to be reminded sometimes :).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ecological Footprint Calculator

In preparation for staffing a carbon footprint booth this weekend at the Seattle Youth Convention, I prevent you this nifty online ecological footprint calculator, which shows you "how much nature your lifestyle requires." If everyone lived like me, we would need 3.4 earths. How about you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Global Solidarity Checklist

I've heard more than a few people say, "But living a globally-conscious life is hard." I don't think so! Not necessarily! If we all made small changes, we wouldn't be so threatened by huge problems. Here are a few easy steps to being a better human being.

Do you:

  • Wake up in the morning and smile?

  • Buy fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, sugar? (The first three are available everywhere)

  • Eat organic, locally grown foods? Search for farmers' markets?

  • Buy from local vendors instead of big chains?
  • Look for an alternative if it says "made in China"?

  • Make attempts to car pool? Own and use a bike? Ride the bus every once in a while?

  • Reuse plastic bags? Even better, bring reusable bags to the grocery store?

  • Compost?
  • Take five-minute or cold showers?

  • Carry a thermos and avoid plastic bottles?

  • Unplug electronics and turn off lights when you leave your room or house?

  • Recycle? Even if that entails driving somewhere?

  • Search for/attend cultural or educational events in your area? (My favorites: Race for the Cure, casino rueda lessons, Ghanaian drumming)

  • Greet homeless people, and consider whether or not to give them money if they ask?

  • Write in a journal?

  • Read a book instead of watching TV?

  • Exercise 30 minutes a day?

  • Click the magic food button at every day?

  • Give a monthly donation to an organization or charity of your choice? (My favorites: Homeboy Industries, Catholic Relief Services, Portland VOZ)

  • Listen whole-heartedly to the people around you?

  • Send letters to your friends?

  • Do things you thought you couldn't do?

  • Read the newspaper or browse a news site? Particularly the global affairs section?

  • Contact your Congressman/woman or Senator about issues that are important to you?

  • Pray, reflect, or just take breathing time for at least 10 minutes every day?

Please, please, please add your own thoughts to this list!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Plush Temptress Called Notre Dame

What are your attachments? What do they keep you from doing? Becoming?

As part of my goodbye to the States, I spent the last two weeks in the Midwest—the farmer-ful stretch from Bloomington to Chicago where I unexpectedly grew from a 12-year-old to an LA-bound collegiate. Bridesmaiding for a high school friend merited the trip in the first place, but I turned it into a sixteen day whirlwind tour of the people and places of my past (and possibly my future).

One day trip was to South Bend, Indiana to visit Notre Dame, the university where I almost spent four years. I had made frequent trips there as an undergrad in preparation for going. Being back was lovely and unsettling. It was so…me. And not at all. The students talked of nights at the local bars, cute boys and hot chicks, chemistry homework and dorm wars. My host/friend Elizabeth took me to their Hogwarts dining hall, where you pay $10 for an all-you-can-eat meal. I stuffed my face with veggie stir fry and frozen yogurt and took a bag of granola and three applies for later. We toured the bookstore, the golden-domed administration building, and the shiny law school.

I want.

People my age with similar upbringings. A future in academia. A big name university. Manicured lawns. A comfy dorm/apartment bed in a donated building to which you’re almost too tired to return after a day cramming at the 14-story library. Chances are, if you’re reading this post, you remember those ahhhh college days. And if your experience was anything like mine, you miss them terribly.

I want again (and probably will get). But I don’t want it in the sense that I want Nicaragua.

The spirituality of St. Ignatius—the big daddy of Jesuit Volunteer Corps--differentiates between fleeting wants and deep desires. The former may make you feel good, but they don’t fill you up for long. The latter, which don’t feel good all the time, form the bridge between your God-given abilities and the needs of the world. Prevalent examples of the former in my life are lust, food, dangly earrings, and a posh grad school. The most prevalent example of the latter is JVC.

Here’s where I have to be extra careful. I don’t mean to say that going to Notre Dame (which probably won’t happen to me—I’d like to further my studies in a global city—London, perhaps??) means you are giving in to a superficial craving. That’s about as absurd as saying that God hates me for using a laptop computer or plastic water bottle (alas—I bought one. I’m at an airport, in my own defense). But for me, in the moments where I took a wide-eyed tour of the campus where I could have been, I realized that no matter how hard it was (is) to be able to let go of comfort and prestige, that is what I need right now. So that I don’t run toward those things, solely for the sake of wanting them, not for the sake of using them to the fullest.

I hope that blog title double-taked you, and that you never again picture the Virgin Mary draped in diamonds and wearing horns. I am in no way attempting to offend the university to which this post principally refers. I am, instead, calling attention to my own attachment to what has become a beckoning Hilton hotel, which I pass with a wistful smile, outside the window of the speeding Red Line to becoming myself. Destination: Nicaragua. Someday I’ll hop back on the Red Line and exit at the Hilton stop for an extended stay. I will view it, I pray, with a wiser gaze, ready to use my comfortable economic and social privileges as a stepping stone for the world, rather than for myself.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Humbled Interfaith Immigrant Delegate

Many thanks to the Oregon New Sanctuary Movement (ONSM), Matt Cato at the Office of Justice and Peace/Respect Life at the Archdiocese of Portland, Portland VOZ, Adelante Mujeres, the Virginia Garcia Clinic, and good ole Catholic Relief Services for the most intriguing Saturday I've had in a long time.

On August 28th a group of 9 interfaith delegates attended ONSM's Next Door Neighbors: Neighborhood Immigration Delegation, a day trip to three local agencies that work with immigrants, designed to mobilize faith communities through their leaders in the realm of immigration.

As Matt Cato, Head of the Justice and Peace Office, could not attend as a Roman Catholic representative, he paid my way to go. WOW.

Imagine for a moment that you're me (I'm warning you; don't do it any longer than a moment), and you're passionate about human solidarity, immigrant rights, Spanish, and interfaith dialogue, and you'll understand how very awesome the day was.

We began at Augustana Lutheran, where we met the other delegates and our hosts/guides for the day. I was especially enthused to meet Anna, a Quaker who knew about JVC, Dana from a Unitarian Universalist parish (fascinating faith), Beth, one of the ONSM coordinators who seems to be one of those select human beings capable of doing twelve things at once while being both on Mars and in Italy etc., and Marco Mejia, a friend of my Aunt Jeanine's (I'm living at her house) from Ecuador, who's on the board of both VOZ and ONSM.

We then bussed (sp?) it to VOZ (see my last post...I go there every week now!), where we had an opportunity to hear the stories of three immigrant men. From there, we went to Virginia Garcia Clinic, which helps underserved, uninsured communities in the Portland metro area in everything from depression treatment to cardiology. Afterwards, we ate lunch and de-briefed at Adelante Mujeres (Forward Women--great name for an org!), a local sustainable-farming centered organization helping to boost immigrant-run businesses. They even sponsor a Wednesday farmer's market in Forest Grove, OR, to which I will go someday!

I could tell any of you whatever you ask about each organization and what they do and how to support them. But that's a lot of words for a blog. So what I'd like to write about instead is what I experienced/learned, and what I'm going to do about it.

  • Connections. It seems wherever you go in the Portland immigrant/Spanish-speaking scene, let alone the Catholic scene or life in general, people know people that you know (yes, I meant to say that) and are willing to support you if you're working to help people. It's like the old Bob Daily joke. Which isn't that funny, but if you want to know it, I'll tell it to you.
  • There's very little more gratifying than seeing peoples' eyes and hearts opened. By putting links like the hungersite (see upper right) on my blog and by going to events like this, I hope to see the ways closed-mindedness and ignorance disappear. I had been to VOZ before and had talked to homeless and struggling immigrants before, so I felt reasonably at ease wherever we went. But some of the women on the delegation had never left Oregon, never spoken Spanish, never touched the immigrant issue whatsoever. And they left changed and questioning. That's what solidarity with the poor is about. It's the only remedy to the hopelessness of the suffering of the world. (What can you do to add to my gratification, then? Start small: visit!)
  • Dialogue destroys pointless fear barriers. Some of the questions that were asked of these immigrants--so where do you sleep at night? what can my Parish do to improve your working conditions? how long were you in prison?--really animated me, the asker, and the answerer. Barriers were broken, and suddenly people of different races and languages were neighbors.
  • Filmmakers, how do you do it? I learned just how very hard it is to take a good video clip and put it together with others to make a movie. I have a few clips of immigrants speaking that I shot with my parents' somewhat ghetto video cam. Hopefully they'll be able to inspire others...or at least serve as practice for doing just that.

So what am I going to do with all this, since "sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul"? I'm hoping to get Roman Catholic young adults in the area together for a film screening about day laborers or immigrants at a local cafe/bar or parish, and my dream is to invite some of the men at VOZ to come speak about their experiences, since my video clips just don't cut it in the end.

I also think St. Andrew's, the COOLEST parish in Portland I tell ya, would be interested in a film screening or dialogue featuring VOZ workers or Adelante farmers. More to come.

That's all for now. I am so grateful for life. I hope you are too.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Morning Quotes from Day Laborers

Flashback. It's 6:40 a.m. and my alarm sounds. Anyone who's ever woken up with an alarm knows that's the ickiest part of the day, deciding whether it's worth it to claw off those fleece blankets and dunk your face in freezing water. But this morning was especially difficult. I had resolved to catch a 7:37 bus down the street to volunteer at Portland Voz Worker Center, where day laborers participate in a work raffle, leadership training, English lessons and advocacy. I went last week to help with general office tasks, and despite constant kindness and respect from the men, felt consistently aloof. So on the bus this morning, nerves churned my stomach, as if I were doing something ridiculous like moving to Nicaragua (haha, get it, cuz that's gonna happen). But the second I stepped off the bus I was appeased.
There was Deinor, a 20-something half-Guatemalan homeless man on his bike, hanging on the street outside the center. "Uh-oh," he said. "You're going to ask me if I remember your name. I don't."

Here are some other tidbits of conversation from a great morning.

Rafa, 27-yr-old Guanajuato native: "It's just so poor and violent down there (his hometown)."
Me: "But it's hard up here too, no?"
Rafa: "Yes, here there is discrimination, and very little work, and no family. But the difference is here it is usually hard, and there it is always hard."

Carlos, 30-something from Mexico DF, who wears braces (bracketes): "You had braces too, no?"
Me: "Yes, but how did you know?"
Carlos: "Because no one has a perfect smile like you without braces."

Jose, whose name had just been called for a work ticket: "Gringa! I nida hi-fi!"
Me: "You need a what?"
Jose: "Mano arriba!" (high-five)

There were, of course, aloof moments. There was less to "do" this morning than last week, so a lot of the time I found myself having the option of standing around or starting a conversation with anyone in order to do what I came for (talking and learning).

But that doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm already committed (having pinkie-sworn a few times) to coming next week, and that the morning alarm was totally worth it.

I'll just have to be careful. I'm turning into a total sucker for jornaleros.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

One Hella Beautiful BIG-O

I am an officially commissioned Jesuit Volunteer. What what.
(First pic: me with other future Nicaragua volunteers. what what.)

It all went down Saturday, July 31 (which "happened to be" St. Ignatius' feast day! how perfect), at St. Joseph Chapel on the campus of Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA.

Down the row from me were volunteers headed to Ecuador, Belize, Peru, Tanzania, Micronesia and Chile. We had all gathered at BC for the 2010 "BIG-O": JVC-speak for Orientation, two weeks of intense bonding and training for future volunteers, which closed in a commissioning mass on St. Iggy Day and a departing for the airport the following morning. I woke up at 5 after going to bed at 2 (o yes i did) to bon-voyage the groups headed to Belize, Micronesia and Ecuador, who left immediately following Big-O. It was a heroic, hopeful send off...and they are constantly in my thoughts and prayers.

Enough about the good-byes. These were the best hellos I can remember. Granted, meeting the LMU students with whom I would spend the best four years of my life wasn't bad. Nor was meeting the crazy Erasmus (European exhange students) in San Sebastian during my semester abroad.

But what set meeting JVs at Big-O apart was our vision, our commitment, our simultaneous fear and enthusiasm, doubt and faith. For the first time I can remember, I was surrounded by forty people who knew why the heck I'd want to leave everything I knew for two years, and who understood what it meant to be ecstatic for and terrified of that. It's like I had jumped in medias res into a dream where we all knew each other small talk. All questions like, "What's your take on liberation theology," or, "Where did you study abroad?" or, "What scares you most about going to work in a village of 5,000 people?" All hugs, all tears, all LAUGHS.

We went a little loopy, sharing rooms and meals 24-7 with people we'd never met before. But oh, how lovely is loopiness. (Second pic: Jeff, Jeremy, and Jenn demonstrating a newly-acquired and disgusting talent)

And with the sort of issues we were discussing, a little loopiness was necessary. Here's a random sample of the almost 30 workshops we attended in a two-week period:

  • Teaching workshop
  • Ignatian spirituality
  • Mental health
  • Mission, values, and the JVC covenant
  • Realities of developing countries
  • Safety and security
  • Intimacy and Sexuality
  • Culture Shock
  • Catholic Social Teaching
  • HTH Health Insurance
I am happy to delve into any of these topics, if you're interested in what I learned. But here's my best shot at boiling down the two weeks of learning into a few sentences:

  • Be open and honest about how you feel, and tell someone about it.
  • Don't go out alone and avoid alcohol.
  • Exclusivity in relationships can damage community.
  • Crime, suffering, and poverty are realities in the developing world.
  • Culture is "thick" and ingrained.
  • You're going to get sick, and then you're going to get better.
  • You've got so many reasons to be grateful.
I'd say, though, that the two most important things I learned were these:
1. As much as we tell you here, about what to do when your neighbors ask you for money, or how to deal with a depressed community mate, or how intense the poverty can be, these are all just words until you reach your host country, where it will be much harder. Know that you face the unknown and accept it.
2. When you reach rock bottom--when the suffering around you is unbearable, when you're sick of being sick to your stomach, when you're missing home and friends and family and wondering why the heck you signed up for such a crazy adventure--remember your reasons for going, and remember you're never alone. No one is ever alone.

At the mass, we each received a cross necklace, hung around our necks by a beaming staff member (AJ and Dan are fantastic!). Then we attacked each other in teary, bear-hug goodbyes, ate (veggie) burgers and cookies, and went out for one last night together. We toasted to each country and danced to a juke box (Waka Waka, Camisa Negra, Starlight and Footloose were my choices)--which reminds me, I got to dance again! I know I've found happiness when that happens. And it had been a while...

Then, waltzing home together at two in the morning (no one got drunk, thank you very much), we set our alarms for 5am. It was an exhausting moment of bonding, waving goodbye to the Belize bus that Sunday morning, and and doing the same for Micronesia/Ecuador...but I've rarely ever felt so on fire. (Third pic: JVC International class of 2010. what what.)

Then came the hard part. Jess and I, my fellow LMU-grad who's going to Peru, bid goodbye to the other L-Ds (late-departures: volunteers who don't leave until Nov/Dec) and took a 30-minute walk to the Boston T, the metro which brought us to the airport. It's a weird thing, making fast friends with such incredible people, and then saying goodbye to the majority of them forever. No, not weird. Tragic. But beautiful.

And here I am, house-sitting in Portland, wondering if it actually happened, knowing it did. It will be a difficult four months (I leave in early December), living in a lovely limbo (I do love Portland), saying goodbyes while trying to remain on fire. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Dear JV and RdCs--you mean the world to me. Thank you. Que vayan con Dios.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The PacNW Honeymoon

Before sunset I traipsed down my new street in raggedy work-out clothes toward Peninsula Park. As I jogged past a wall of ivy, a ray of sunshine hit my path, exposing a swarm of gnats that my face had just begun to pass through. I gagged a bit as a couple went up my nose, but was soon pounding on my way, following the sun ray. I turned a corner and almost gasped as the ray hit the fountain in the center of the park. The light had that soft-goodbye-in-the-evening quality, and it caught the fountain’s spewing arms to scatter rainbows over the roses surrounding it. A woman in a hijab chased her barefoot daughter across the cobblestones. A bearded smoker wearing aviators chuckled, his whole body convulsing, and took another puff, which mixed with the pollen, water, and herbal aromas that made my nostrils smile.

That has been my typical moment in Portland. I’ll explain this further after I say…

Three cheers for SoCal.

It’s a vivacious anomaly. 10 million people (and that’s an outdated stat) call it home, despite its total lack of water or organization (downtown is an hour drive from the ocean, which is an hour drive from Hollywood…give or take traffic on the worst freeway in the world, the 405). Nowhere else can you find Korean tacos, thriving dude/bro culture, a greater population of movie stars and fancy cars, or better year-round weather.

That said, three HUNDRED cheers for Portland.

There are certainly things I can do without in this city. Like the fact that it’s 80% white (versus LA’s 30%). Or the swarms of gnats. I have a newfound appreciation—adoration, even—for spiders. I’ve even named the two in my basement room and bathroom (Sarah and Jack…don’t ask). Bugs are a reality because the city and living situation are much more earthy than in LA, where industry and chemicals have driven bugs (and green) away.

Portland’s rough and wriggling dirtiness, its cracked sidewalks through which beech roots burst, its lounging hippies and organic brews, all take their place in my current honeymoon life. I’m sure I’ll grow disenchanted with this place someday (anyone who’s read my San Sebastian blogs knows that even the paradises of the world grow tiresome), but right now, I’m feeling just how perfect Portland and I are for each other.

My best friend Molly was here during my first week. There wasn’t a moment where we weren’t doing something, and where we didn’t have a million opportunities to do something else which was just as cool. One Thursday night we went to Alberta Street’s Last Thursday, which gathers the artists and bohemian youth of Portland in an open-gallery, musician-strewn block party. We saw firedancers and a man balancing his pitbull on his tattooed head. We went to an organic brewers festival, where all the beer was so environmentally friendly that even the energy used to produce it was solar. We spent three or four hours wandering through Powell’s City of Books, the largest bookstore in the world, and then settled down to read (she, A Wrinkle in Time, I, Nicaragua for Beginners) in the famous café next door where’s its said sexy singles hang out (uh, other than the two of us, there was a 50-year-old fella with a long gray ponytail, and a Christian couple talking the Book of Elijah over espresso). We took the MAX (the oh-so-convenient metro system) to the Portland Saturday Market, where our favorite tent sported vintage, hand-made journals. We split bread pudding at an Irish pub. We walked twenty-five blocks to a grocery co-op. We watched Date Night at a pub-theatre called McMenamin’s while lounging on sofas.

Molly’s gone, and other than my 9-5 work days with CRS, I’m continuing to live it up. I go for jogs in Forest Park, the largest (urban park in the country, where ancient trees protect me from skin cancer (try finding shade under a palm tree). I walked a couple blocks down the street to get a library card and check out Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Tomorrow my Aunt’s family and I are headed downtown for the World Cup third place match, a human trafficking protest, and a swim in a city fountain (it’s 90 degrees up here during the day).

I’m sorry if this is a long post, but I think I’m getting my point across—I think this city and I are going to be great friends, at least for a while. It’s an excellent place to spend a few months preparing for the 2-year journey of a lifetime. Adios SoCal, and LongLive the PacNW Honeymoon.

Yep, Multnomah Falls and I are going to be tight.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Last European Musical Hurrah

“Sorry, haven’t had time to write…” Boy, if I had a penny for every time…

I giggle that I think I don’t have time now, and five months from now I’ll be in Nicaragua. The JVs (Jesuit Volunteers) down there now are lucky to blog every month. So I’d better make this good.

To be fair, I have been busy, in a way I’m not used to. I work full time for Catholic Relief Services now, and spent three and a half weeks training for them in San Diego (see last post). Then I sorta went to Italy.


Yeah so…Loyola Marymount’s three choruses, plus friends and family, toured Rome, Venice, Florence and a couple cute villages for nine days, performing concerts and singing masses. Highlight (of the trip, and of my life): singing in the Sistine Chapel.

“But Heather, you can’t even talk in there.”

Oh, if you’ve got money, you can scream your lungs off. With some generous donations from the Dean of the music dept and the Pres of LMU, the choruses paid for a private night tour of the Vatican, complete with a solo visit into the Chapel, where we sang for 15 minutes.

You enter the room and you leave reality and enter a dream. Michelangelo’s dream, where the colors and figures overwhelm you, and the air smells like the weight

of the ages. I glanced away from the walls and ceiling for a minute and saw all my peers gawking. Dr. Breden, our director, told us to line up to sing. We thought she was nuts. We get a half hour in here and you want us to spend it singing?

What I didn’t know was, the Sistine Chapel has perfect acoustics.

It’s relatively short and narrow with an arched ceiling, and the room is entirely empty. I.e. the sound doesn’t bounce or get trapped; it floats up and out. We sang Tu Es Petrus, O Tebe Raduyetsia, and my choir, the Women’s Chorus, got a solo with the most beautiful rendition of Tota Pulchra Es that I’ve ever heard (as soon as videos of our own performances are available, I'll post them...this is just to give an idea of what each piece sounds like).

When we fell silent, our sound hung in the room for a full minute. It was as if invisible angels were singing the echo back to us.

I was overwhelmed with life and emotion and bawled as we left the Vatican. Think I’m silly? Everyone else was bawling too.

Not to downplay the rest of the trip. I loved hanging out with choir friends, meeting new people, seeing the masterpieces of the art world, and singing a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a phenomenal curtain call for my classical music career. What I’ve got left, I venture, are prayer services and masses in Nicaragua J.

Stay tuned for a report from the coolest summer city in the US…Portland, OR.

Oh, and if you love me, I’m still fundraising. Please donate a buck or two that you’d otherwise toss out a window (?). Follow the directions at the following link: Send Me to Serve!!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Day in My San Diego Life...In Pictures

I write too much. Here's to remedy that. A photo-journal of a typical day in the past three weeks in San Diego.

I wake up looking something like this...

...only joking. That was after a hike in Santa Barbara.

I drive this car (without the LMU soap banner on the window) down two highways to Park Blvd. in downtown San Diego...

Where I enter this office (Catholic Relief Services West)...

It's not this messy anymore. I am helping to organize it :)

To channel as much money as possible into programs abroad, the CRS office is no more than a small apartment, complete with a single bedroom (my "office"), a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living room, which looks like this...

And has beautiful things on the wall like this...

Or this...

After work, I take a run down Park Blvd, where I encounter...


A nightly spree in this city usually includes something I don't do often, like country line dancing or a Padres game...

After which it's time to head "home" to El Cajon and the Haikers, where I usually find something like this...

Good night!

Friday, May 21, 2010

How Could You Do Such a Thing?

"The Lebanon Sentiment" returns. Before going to Beirut for SINARC (I'm in the picture, toward the left, in the first standing row, wearing black and white, if you cared to know), I met with more "why-would-you-ever-want-to-go-to-Lebanon"s than I could count, so many that I genuinely began to doubt the decision.

Now the (longtime) countdown to Nicaragua December 2010 has begun, and the phrase has been recycled. Except this time, I haven't doubted the decision for a second. How could I ever do JVC? Here are some answers for you.

A Culture That Really Counts

As an American I (we) am (are) trapped into the idea that drinkable water is just a faucet away, that I am entitled to my own oversized transportation vehicle complete with air conditioning and a sound system, that money can buy me basically anything worth having. Woops. Not the reality in the rest of the world. I am looking forward to two years in the world's poorest Spanish-speaking country because I know I will emerge with a better realization of that reality, and with a better understanding of the mantra of which I am increasingly convinced: All you need is love.


Despiertate y huelete las rosas. Esto es un pais bilingue. Y para entender la vida "Americana" completamente, hay que saber la lengua creciente: el espanol. Despues de dos anos alla en Nica, no habran dudas de mi fluidez en dos idiomas! (How did I do, Spanish speakers? Other than the falta de accentos?)

Cliche Central America

I am looking forward to what I expect from countries like Guate, Nica, El Salvador, Costa Rica...salsa/merengue dancing, fruits with impossible names, tropical forests, beautifully dark-skinned people and a relentless sun. I'm tired of convenience stores, paved roads, my addiction to my laptop, dressing up for work, etc. I'm ready to replace all that with Heather-ana Jones. Okay, slightly unrealistic image. And don't get me wrong, I am mostly looking forward to the moments I don't expect.

My future

I REALLY like working for CRS this summer. Sure, sorting through file cabinets isn't my idea fun, but the non-profit world and I are a great fit. And I've noticed, a lot of the positions I'd be interested in getting as an "adult" (I'm totally a kid still B.T.Dubs) encourage/require experience abroad working with the poor and marginalized. I get to do what I enjoy AND find job security because of it. Hoyeah.

That Heart-Pressing Raw-Happy Ruined-for-Life Feeling

There's no way to put in into words. I've only tasted this; some people have lived it and I don't know if I'm strong enough to. But I'm going to try. It's the feeling of being stripped to your core by empathy and solidarity, having your heart broken and remade from immortal must be like falling in love. Anyway, I crave that beautiful pain and think this is the way to immerse myself in it. It's so REAL.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, and not, when I had come to die, discover I had not lived.

If all that isn't enough for you, try: the brother and sister JVs I'll be living with. The opportunity to see the world. Not being tied down by anything. Getting letters and packages from close friends. Getting visitors--my parents and aunt are already committed. AND the joy of returning home. Cuz you don't know what you got til it's gone.

So I hope I've answered How-Could-You clearly enough. The answer is, how could I not?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On Human Generosity

There's a lot that sucks in this world.
I'm working for Catholic Relief Services this summer, cleaning out their filing cabinets and helping them send people to Ghana and the like (shout out to Aunt Jeanine Boucher-Colbert, one of the three most wonderful people I know, for helping me find this position). I love the people I work with, the tranquil apartment-office, and the location across the street from the world-famous Balboa Park. Today I was looking through some of their literature and came across a Catholics Confront Global Poverty (CCGP) pamphlet which said that in 2001, farmers around the world produced somewhere around 2,800 calories per person per day of food...meaning, enough food for everyone to be obese. And yet 25,000 people die every DAY from hunger. There's no way to process that except to say that there's a lot that sucks in this world.
But wait. This isn't going to be a fire and brimstone post. I've done plenty of those. This post is about the open hearts and beautiful people I've encountered in the last couple months. I cannot name them all, so please don't be disappointed if you did something awesome and you're not here. But to highlight a few:
Father Greg Boyle. If you're feeling generous and want to help keep gangsters and violence off the streets, donate to the agency he started, Homeboy Industries. Get your car virtually washed, or make a small donation. G-Dog forgoes a personal salary to help keep Homeboy open. He's given his entire life to help men that the world consider undeserving of a second thought.
Father Jim Forsen, the Boucher-Colberts, my Granny and Granda Moline, the Camarillo Colberts, and everyone else who is helping to send me to Nicaragua monetarily...I collected $1,100 (almost half the minimum amount to be a Jesuit Volunteer) on a single day of graduation. Dios mio.
the Lowers and the Haikers...these are the two families who are giving me my own room, meals, and comfort for FREE as I travel California working for CRS. I showed up at the Haikers' in San Diego at midnight, perhaps later, and it was the most natural thing in the is your room, here is our/your food, do you need anything. Thank you Suzanne, Linda, Kevin, Molly, Jenny, Chris, Michelle, Jeanine, even Trudy and those silly cats I'm allergic to
CRS...and other organizations that exist for the sole purpose of making the lives of other people better. Who knew human beings were good-hearted enough to give of their time like this?
So okay, a lot sucks in the world. But there's plenty of generosity to go around. I pray we're brave enough to exercise it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Birds Flyin' High...Sun in the Sky...Breeze Driftin' on By

So I graduated. Other blog posts for less fantastic times will be about how the next few months are the "deep breath before the [Nicaragua] plunge" or how I'm moving to Portland (yay/yikes) and won't see LMU or my SoCal friends for very much longer. But for now, I have turned in my thesis (though it's not quite "done;" I'll post it when it is), I have stuffed my keyboard/surfboard/clothes/vacuum into my Mazda and moved into my best friend's house for a week, and I am FREE.
I have time. To waste. To look through photos instead of taking them. To make lists of books I want to read. To stare into my friends' eyes and fully and genuinely listen. To BLOG!
There are a few sentiments which describe how I feel, but I think the orgasmic musical explosions of MUSE and Michael Buble do it best in the song both of these videos feature.
Enjoying it while I can...and while sinking in to the Lowers' flannel couch at their pristine Camarillo home, watching The Fellowship of the Ring at 12:22a.m. Ah, it's good being free.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A slew of words: my life until December 2010

LA graduate/Camarillo Molly hang-out/Italy choir tour/Hoboken New York internship?/Boston JVC Orientation!/Portland smile relax find a job/Indy bridesmaid Jenny&Larry hooray/Portland prepare/LA say goodbye/Managua LIVE

If you want details, just ask :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Next Two Years of My Life Encapsulated

Amazing to think that in less than six months time, I'll be filling out this blog from a new home in Managua, Nicaragua.
Here are the details. For those of you who haven't heard, I accepted a position as a Jesuit Volunteer (JV) in Nicaragua between December 2010 and December 2012. I'll be working in a library at a center called Proyecto Generando Vida (Project Generating Life) in a poor neighborhood called El Recreo. I'll be living with three other JVs for two years in the capital city. The application process was challenging and competitive (160 applications for 30 positions, I think?), but also powerful and incredible--understandably so, because being a JV is challenging: During the first year, I'm not allowed to have visitors; during both years I am expected to stay within the region of my position (in Nicaragua's case, more or less Central America).
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) is a faith-based service program with sites all over the US and in seven countries. According to their website,
"Hundreds of grassroots organizations across the country and world count on JVs to provide essential services to low-income people and those who live on the margins of our society."

My favorite part of JVC is its emphasis on four core values:
JVs live with other JVs (i.e. different from Peace Corps). Though we go out and work in the larger community in our host country, in which we are encouraged to form close bonds of solidarity (hence the two-year commitment) with a new culture, we always come home to a house of JVs (in my case, three of them). Here's the incredible part. As I was discerning (which is the Ignatian word for "going through the application/decision process") for this program, my Aunt Jeanine sent me the email and blog of a current JV--Sean Rawson--who, luck (fate?) would have it, is a JV in Managua, Nicaragua. So I'm pretty sure he'll be one of the JVs in my house next year!
Simple Living
This is much easier, though still a challenge, outside this materialistic country. JVs are called to serve with and for the poor and marginalized, which means eliminating excess and living reflectively. Practically, simple living means having none of the amenities of upper-class living in the United States. More deeply, it means becoming aware of and focusing on what we really need in life to make us happy. Which doesn't involve facebook or ice cream, two of my current favorites.
The spirituality of JVC is rooted in the teachings of (surprise) St. Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in the 16th century. JVC encourages daily prayer and reflection in line with Jesuit ideals, and each community is expected to hold one Spirituality Night every week. Non-Catholics are completely welcome in JVC, so long as they are open to participating in the local Catholic life.
Social Justice
This value resonates particularly strongly with me. The truth is, folks, the status quo of the world is not okay. Really not okay. And it is the obligation of those who have food, education, health, etc. to work to bring these things to those who don't--the disturbingly vast majority of people. JVs strive to "better understand the structures that foster and perpetuate [this] powerlessness and poverty." I hope that my two years as a JV transform me into the kind of person that will always fight against these structures. Because I don't feel complete living in a world in which they exist.

That's all for now. I'm looking forward to a new post in which I will explore my personal reasons for joining JVC and discuss (and possibly refute) some of the reasons I've heard why this is a bad idea. I look forward to your reading and thoughts! Many thanks!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's the hurry, States?

I find myself sleeping in a tight, kitchen-smelling dorm room with five other college students, four of them from the Basque Country (shame on you, if a consistent reader of my blog doesn't know where that is), at Santa Clara University during these these next two days (Jesuit Volunteers International discernment weekend).
This weekend marks the convergence of two huge thought processes: Spain vs. the USA, and reflection/simplification. I had been hectically trying to get everything done before coming to this discernment weekend, and can say that I failed miserably, at least in completing school work--I did buy a senior banquet/ball dress, I did write a pretty darn good article for the Loyolan, and I even applied for a job in Oregon, for which I'm pretty sure I'm getting an interview. Not bad! The point is, a lot was going on. Here's the problem with that. And if you're a college student, heck, if you're American, you know exactly what I'm talking about: a lot is always going on.
Funny, then, that as I struggled to uproot myself from academics and stress in exchange for reflection and interviews about possibly spending two years in the developing world, I found myself having a conversation with Nagore Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Basque exchange student at Santa Clara, about slowing down.
"Everyone in the US is always in such a hurry," she said. "I can't have close friendships with people because they're always going from one place to another, and they don't have time to talk or think."
Yikes. And I...can do nothing but agree. Because she was cooking a delicious Spanish dinner for us--salad with guacamole, eggs Benedict, fried potatoes, pork, oh yeah--I recalled grocery stores as an example. This past Wednesday I found myself stopping by Whole Foods for frozen blueberries and lettuce. I noticed no one in the store bothered to make eye contact with anyone else, and when we did, there was a clear sense of invasion--what are you doing taking up my time with your thoughts? Keep your eyes on your own business. And everyone was moving so fast. I nostalgically recalled shopping in Spain, where old men in berets spend 30 minutes staring at the chocolate bar selection, and I had no problem joining them.
But in the US, I'm swept up in the drive to DO. HURRY. FINISH. MORE. Which is a large part of the reason that I need to get out of it. At least for a while.
Because, news flash: life goes too fast on its own. You don't need to help it along.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Interwoven: Reflection on Prayer in a Mosque

King Fahad mosque stands defiantly on a particularly nonchalant stretch of Washington Blvd in Culver City, CA. Across the street is a gun store; next door is a run-down apartment complex. When we arrived, the pre-Friday-prayer buzz had barely begun. Rich and poor men and women emerged from alleys and Lexuses to greet each other in front of the arched entrance. I reluctantly began to tuck my hair into the orange scarf I had brought. Our obvious non-Muslimness was attracting stares and smiles. Soon, a well-dressed Arab with perfect black hair and what I think was a Pakistani accent stopped in front of our group and asked, with a face and tone conveying intrigue and amusement, "Are you just looking?"
"No," I said, "We're here for prayer."
"Oh!" He murmured something to the older gentleman following them, and beckoned up a creamy staircase. "Would you care to come with me? I will speak to the director, and he will show you around."
We waited outside for a few minutes, arms folded and scarves falling off, and I allowed myself to marvel at the Arabic script dotting the minarettes. In no other language that I have thus far encountered do the words literally become art. And the greatest word, to this effect? Allah--اللة--God. It is not a word; it is a presence.
A small man with huge brown eyes, thick spectacles which magnified them, an orange face covered in freckles and reddish brown hair plodded over to us. "We were supposed to meet today; weren't we? You are from Loyola Marymount?" I couldn't help but giggle as I found out who he was. This was Usman Madha, the Burmese Director of Administration and P.R. at King Fahad. A redhead Muslim. When I asked Rabbi Chaim and Dr. Amir Hussain whether we would stick out as a student group, the Rabbi chortled, "Well, Heather, you won't meet any other redheads!" Wanna bet?
Usman regretted that he had forgotten to meet us at 12:30, because there wasn't ample time to show us the mosque and the congregation (is it possible to use that word in a non-Christian context?) was already filtering in to the main prayer hall.
The next bit Usman said with some obvious discomfort. He even bowed his head slightly. "Okay, the women will have to cover their hair (which we had already done) and follow my sister upstairs to the next level. You (he said to Steven) can come with me. But my sister will take good care of the rest of you!" As the men made their way to the main floor, I realized he probably met with much hostility from non-Muslim women who refused to accept that they cannot pray in the same place men do. I disagree with biological difference signifying spiritual favoritism, but I mostly felt sorry for him, and the obvious attacking of tradition that has led him to such cautious behavior.
We removed our shoes in a bright marble walkway before making our way up a carpeted stair. I laughed again as Usman's sister met us--another Burmese redhead. We passed into what I would call an observation room. Long and carpeted with one wall consisting of windows, it stands above the main prayer floor, facing the front of the mosque, so that the women pray above and separated from the men. It initially gave me the impression that women are observers, rather than participants, in prayer. There were even TV screens so the women sitting at the back could watch the sermon.
Through the windows at the front of the room I saw the mens' floor and nooks for the reciter and the imam. Men were already lining up shoulder-to-shoulder sitting Indian-style. Some had begun their individual prayer cycles, alternating between sitting and reading the Qur'an to touching their foreheads to the floor in front of them.
All Muslims don't look like Bin Laden, people. These men were African, South Asian, Persian, and European (there was another redhead! 3 count!), and they sat so close to each other, and were so focused, that they kind of blended together into one chain of spirit that entranced me.
The women poured in to our floor. All of them looked genuinely surprised and happy to see us. They were so beautiful. I remember one, and Indian woman named Shanti, who came to us and gave us her email in case we had any questions on Islam or the mosque. Her sari and veil were Easter colors, I noticed--bright yellow, green, lavender, blue, and layered and flowing. She had a round brown face and similar eyes and I couldn't imagine she'd ever been mad at anyone.
She explained that when praying, all Muslims face the Ka'ba in Mecca, the place where Abraham built the first prayer house (a black stone box) to the one true God. She explained that they cover their hair with veils and that they never pray to Muhammad, only to Allah, the same God that "you" Christians worship. She explained that they pray five times a day and that Friday communal prayer is required within her community. The interesting thing is that I knew this already, from being in Lebanon, conversing with Muslims, and taking Dr. Hussain's Muslim/Jewish theology class (for which visiting a mosque is a requirement...hence this post). It interests me that she assumed my ignorance. After all, what are most Muslims met by? Hostility, misunderstanding, prejudice.
The reciter (I don't know what they call the man who sings the call to prayer which begins the communal service) made his way to the northwestern wall (closest to Mecca) and at his voice, all the faithful fell into line. My LMU friends and I took our place at the back wall to observe. Shanti in her Easter colors touched shoulders with an Indonesian woman in a long black hijab with flowers, who was right next to a high school student in a tight, girly white dress with her hair covered in a mod red scarf. Their differences struck me, but again, the colors fell together in a long line of prayer. I remember sitting speechless with my mouth slightly open as the song started and they began their bowing.
The imam's sermon was perfect. He said everything a priest would say and more. We must embrace everyone, regardless of religion, race, nationality. We must never cease to smile at our sisters and brothers, conveying the strength of Allah within us to the world. As he spoke, a four-year-old named Amina, holding a kid's copy of the Qur'an, curled up in my laugh. I had never met her; that didn't matter. Then he said, "I'd like to welcome the group of students from Loyola Marymount University. Ahsalam Alaykum (peace be upon you and your angels). You are always welcome in our community as we all strive for peace and understanding." Everyone turned to look at us, and every face was wide-eyed and wonderful.
As we left the womens' floor and headed back to the entrance, we received too many handshakes and thank-yous to count, and even a treat called a riyAH (or something), a khubz (bread) full of oil and sugar and wheat. Usman gave us a small tour of the mens' floor when everyone had left, and bid us return someday.
I think I will. And bring with me more people who are ready to experience the beauty of Islam.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's Been Long Enough!

I don't have anything particularly insightful to say (GASP). I just noticed that the activities my senior year at LMU (GASP) have been rightfully commanding the majority of my time, and so I hadn't updated this blog in a month. So here goes.
Jess Vega and I are going to a discernment weekend for possible international Jesuit Volunteers. That is, I'm one step closer to spending two years with the poor and marginalized in a developing country. I've also begun following the blogs of current JVIs: Beth in Tanzania, who graduated from LMU, and Sean in Nicaragua, a Portland native to whom my Aunt J connected me. Reading their blogs is definitely like taking a step into the future.
I have been to Juvenile Hall three times now, and am still feeling called to go back. There may be something to this (like there was something to Portland).
Well--ready for an anti-climax?--that's all for now! Thanks for staying updated!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Broken Heart in the Backyard

LMU sponsors eight or nine "alternative breaks" every year. These global service trips are designed to immerse students in social justice issues in order to better form them according to the Jesuit mission of forming men and women for others.
I applied to go to India over this past Christmas break. The two-week trip centered on interfaith dialogue, which is what I (perhaps) hope to study in grad school. What I learned later from the Center for Service and Action is that 50 senior women applied for this trip, i.e. I wasn't placed on it. Rather, I was placed as a co-leader to the East LA trip.
I openly shared with my group how initially disappointed I was. Rather than solidify my passion for ecumenism, I was going into gang territory. I imagined telephone poles, baggy jeans and spray paint instead of colors, chants, and prayer. I became more disappointed when I found that all but one of the participants initially placed on our trip had canceled (shout-out to Trevor! Ain't you the lucky one!). Who wants to go to East LA? A week-long service immersion 30 minutes from LMU? I didn't blame them. Instead, I psyched myself up with wishy-washy expectations--yay, I get to practice my Spanish. Yay, I will learn about conflict resolution. Yay, the pressure of leading is totally off because virtually all the participants knew more about Dolores Mission, where we spent a week, then I did. I resigned to a low-key and fun trip.

I haven't the words to express what happened to me in East LA. The closest I can get is to say that my heart is broken.
I'd never felt that before. No one and nothing has ever entered me that deeply and then crumpled me. Because I can't seem to process this feeling in blog form, I'm reverting to my journal entry after visiting Skid Row and Juvenile Hall:

My heart is broken. By the young men...the boys...of juvenile hall. I can't stop to think about it too long without crying, shivering, hurting for them.
They all wore ragged gray sweatshirts, loose navy sweats, gang tattoos, buzz cuts. Victims of a system with no escape. What I remember most--what hurts the most--is their eyes. No longer were they sexy Mexican/Chicano bad boys, nervous and smiley at the prospect of talking with a 21-year-old college gringa. That was my stereotyping, my imagination. No, they were terrified children, huddled in the sterile dark, the cold lights of the linoleum room, searching, begging for the good of the world. Is there any?, they often wonder. I desire more than anything to bring it to them.
"God will forgive me no matter what, right?"
Dear Roberto, Jos
é , and Ezekiel,
You have pierced my soul. I am in awe of you. I thank you. I pray for you at court today, Eze, though I have little faith to offer. My heart is broken for you, and I never want to forget that. I want to heal it with love. I will fight to remain afloat for your sake, to bring sunshine into fear, so that broken hearts may still rise.

I wrote that post while bawling. My amazing group huddled around me. Emmy rubbed my shoulders and said, "Okay, your heart is broken. How are you invited to rebuild it?"

This story does not end sadly. At least, mine doesn't. Deseo mas que todo que los muchachos de juvy se sientan lo mismo.