Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A couple days late

It would have been much more timely to post this exactly seven days ago, but I´m slow on the uptake these days. In observance of the anniversary of 9/11, I recommend Pastor Heidi Neumark´s sermon from September 12, 2003. In it, she talks about the rush to war, the effect of 9/11 on workers who lost their lives in the towers, what the prophets say about religious leaders who don´t speak out against lies and injustice and abou September 11, 1973 in which Salvador Allende was deposed in Chile, with US support. Our leaders have not told the whole story about detentions and disastrous impact on vulnerable communities in the United States.

"Instead, we heard of war as a way to secure our lives against terror.
Instead of the whole truth, we heard a partial truth and we heard lies. To honor the dead and the dying, to heal our hearts, our city and our earth requires that we speak truth and live truth."

I love that girl

Charisse on a proximate visit to New York:

"The New Yorker Festival may be my last chance to convince Malcolm Gladwell that
we belong together."


I talked with Erik who said he thought I should be writing more about what is happening around me and less about the things that affect me personally. Nothing like the friend you have that makes poop jokes to shake you out of the agonized, confessional mode. He also pointed out that I don´t sound like my fabulous New York self, although I don´t remember being particularly so. I remember being anxious about a lot of mundane details and angry about ridiculous stuff too much of the time. Is there something about living in a foreign country that puts one off balance like that, or is it just me here in Cuenca?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Intercultural Exchange

One of my projects has been to work with a group of gay kids who are trying to form an organization, the only one here in Cuenca. Of course I call them kids, and find myself feeling dangerously maternal towards them, but they are all in their twenties. There have been enormous moments of highs and lows in this effort. We have developed a little core group of people who show up every week at my house on Sunday afternoons, we got a grant from a foundation in Quito and opened a bank account to put it in, some of them got asked to speak on the radio on a couple of occasions. Other days, the work seems to move at an almost glacial pace. They want to open a microbusiness, they want to find an office, we need bi-laws, legal status and all this is years away.

Last week though I got a look from the outside, at what we have accomplished together. A group of Peace Corps aspirantes came to Cuenca on a technical trip and we all squeezed into my living room. The idea was that the Peace Corps volunteer practice leading activities in Spanish. (It really is very intimidating the first few months) And then the people from our group could talk about issues they face as gay people here, homophobia, families, what volunteers could do to do education in this area. Anything they wanted to share.

I didn´t know how this was really going to go. What if no one talked? What if the games fell flat? What if two groups stayed on opposite sides of the room the entire time, like boys and girls at a middle school dance? What if no one came?

It all went wonderfully though. I should probably have remembered that Peace Corps seems to screen for introverts, and all the aspirantes who showed up at my house were exceptionally outgoing and friendly. They had cute group activities, and when we all settled down to talk about gay issues in Ecuador, they were all super interested and drew out the kids in the group.

And I got to feel good about something I have done here. Even if nothing else that I do turns out to mean anything, I’ve helped create this space where people can articulate these painful, life-shattering issues. Eventually one of the Ecuadorians said that they wanted to hear what the gringos thought of them. And somehow I had the wherewithal to chime in that I thought it was very likely that some of the volunteers had experiences with gay friends and family and perhaps they could share their perspective on these issues in the United States.

Really I was proud of the gringos. You could have heard a pin drop when they were talking. Several of them had gay family or gay best friends and had thoughtful things to say about what is was like to support them in a variety of situations. But when a young woman announced that her father is gay, I think that the Ecuadorian folks did a complete double take. No one was expecting that at all. What she said that really moved me though was how being from a big, liberal city was great and all, but if you go one hour down the road in any given direction you find more conservative communities where there is great resistance and in some cases physical threats. And several other people echoed that, they feeling that on one side you have enormous liberalism, but there is always a community or movement working in opposition to that. Which is one of the things that is crazy about living in the US right now, I think. The polarization.

Today, today

When I took time to think about the fact that its the anniversary of 9/11, I just felt sad. Sad that it happened, sad for the families who still must be devastated by grief, and sad at this wrong wretched war that we are now in, because of that day, which had nothing to do with it. Then I saw the Yahoo headline, "White House and Pentagon commemorate 9/11." And I thought: typical, they freaking got hold of this day and used it for everything it was worth.

They have no shame, man.