Monday, December 28, 2009

Disturbing conversation on the bus

" you're an f---in jailbird."
" I only got locked up once that don't make me a jailbird. Not like my boy. That's a jailbird. He be out for like 5 days and he's back in. Then out for 2 days and he's back in."
"He's gonna get a life sentence some day."
"Nah he's not gonna kill nobody or nothin' like that."
"You don't have to kill nobody to get locked up, you just have to like hit a cop back or something like that."

What more can I say. This is a sad state of affairs.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Holding My Own in Line

I always try to be careful before jumping to conclusions; however, after more than 7 weeks in Brazil and after being back in the USA for a little bit of time I feel safe in making this assertion – Brazilians don’t seem to have line rules. I am not talking about the line rules for soccer. They have a deep knowledge of all regras futebol (soccor rules) but there are other much more subtle line rules that I, and most of the people I know, seem to operate by everyday that just don’t seem to exist in Brazil.

Confused – Well let me explain. Don’t you remember that first year of school when the first week of school your teacher focused on how the class should line up. Everyone was to find a spot behind someone else. If you teacher was a particular type of person, you would line up by alphabetical order, other teachers lined the class up by height and some teachers were satisfied with any line where the children were aligned relatively straight. So the first rule of lines were that one person had to be behind the other in a relatively straight formation.

Once you learned how to get into line you learned how to walk in a line with each person making sure that they didn’t step on the back of the person in front of them. You had to pay attention to how the line was moving and adjust to the speed and direction of the person in front of you so the order that the line was maintained.

Then there was that child who was closer to the back of the line either because his last name was Williams or because he had a growth spurt over the summer that put him 3rd from the end of the line. For this child recess was the best part of the day and he was not inclined towards orderly quiet processes. For this very reason the teacher had already forced him to walk around with his finger to his lips to remind him to be quiet. This child, lets call him John was trying hard not to get in trouble since it was just the beginning of school and he had been promised a new truck if he could have a good first week.

John was trying hard to follow the rules when the line stopped. As number 22 in the line John could not really hear what was going on up there but he was very interested. He strained to hear what the teacher was saying and he really didn’t even notice that he had stepped out of the line and slowly moved up to the spot where the 5th student was standing in line. The teacher was talking to another teacher about lunch – an extremely important topic for John to know about. But as the conversation ended he realized that he was out of line and that the teacher would turn around and find him out of line. He tried to squeeze into a space close by at which point the bossy girl who was number 7th in line said – “NO CUTTING. JOHN YOU CAN’T CUT.” In that instant John, and everyone else learned the most important, sacred rule of the line – NO CUTTING.

Our society is founded on this important rule. In fact I think it should be right up there under the golden rule. I don’t know if I was scarred by my grade school or if I am just a stickler for rules, but I take the rules of the line very seriously. So you can imagine my slight dismay when I found myself in a country that did not seem to believe in the line rules. When I first got to Brazil I was trying to be polite. I was a visitor and I tried to operate with the graciousness of a good visitor. The first time that someone cut me I assumed it was an accident. Maybe this person didn’t learn about the line rules. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. On my second week in Brazil, I was cut by two nuns in the airport in Belo Horizonte. I remember it so distinctly but I drew the conclusion that maybe there were different line rules that said women of the cloth can always go first. I chaulked it up to a cultural tradition that I didn’t know about.

As the weeks went on I started to realize that if I didn’t take matters into my own hands I was going to get cut all the time. So I started to learn the art of defending one’s place in line from those who don’t believe in the “no cutting rule.” By my 5th week when I was passing through customs in Sao Paulo, I lost my position to three carts but I cut off two people who were trying to gain on me. Over the next couple of weeks I kept perfecting the art of protecting my space in line. By the time I was leaving I had this art down to a science. In my final line entering the airplane in Rio I got right into the line and didn’t allow these two women to cut me off.

As I got in line to go into the plane I noticed a guy trying to take me from the left. The line had gotten a little crooked making it unclear exactly where one should stand and he was trying to take advantage of the situation. I shifted my purse to the side where he was approaching and spread my feet apart so that he would have to step over my left foot in order to cut me. The universe began to work with me as the line began to straighten and it became clear that there was only one spot that was the right place to stand – and I planted myself firmly in that space. He relented and accepted his place – BEHIND ME!

I am not sure whether I am proud of the person I have become. I have to admit that as much as I miss Brazil I am glad to be back in the US where it doesn’t take so much work to defend one’s place in line. I am not sure why this is the case in Brazil. Maybe instead of learning the No cutting rule they are taught the Carpe Diem (Seize the day) rule. Maybe the fact that the Brazilian school day is generally 1-2 hours shorter than the American school day means that there is not enough time for teaching the rules of standing in line. Or maybe Brazilians figure that if they have to stand in line that it is more fun to make a game of it. Who knows why it is what it is, but all I know is that I have learned to defend my place in line.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Tribute to Those Who Do Not Shrink Back

After landing in Boston at 10:30am, it is 1:30pm and I just returned home after attempting to view Senator Kennedy at the JFK Library. The viewing ends at 3pm but the lines are so long that they are not allowing anyone else to enter. I was planning to publish something I wrote in Brazil but Senator Kennedy’s death has been weighing on me since I found out of his death on Wednesday.

Being a 30-year-old Boston girl, I don’t remember a time before Teddie Kennedy. For my entire life he has been a fixture of Massachusetts and national politics. I have to admit that I was deeply disappointed and conflicted when I saw the PBS special on the Kennedys and learned about Senator Kennedy’s darkest moment. I remember that as a young person I couldn’t understand how a man that had done something like that could be forgiven and allowed to come into such great power. My opinion was clearly shaped by how little life I had lived and the influence of my fairly conservative evangelical school where we were taught that liberals were generally God-hating people.

But then I kept on living and through my own life and the experiences of my friends I came up against the tough reality that life is not so black and white and that good people can make really bad decisions. To this day I find myself making stupid decisions and wondering if I am worthy of the esteem that I am given by friends and colleagues or the grace that I am given by God. In these periods of self-doubt I tend to shrink back from my calling – I tell myself that I am not worthy of doing more or being more. I ignore the voices of people who tell me that I am called to greater ministry and greater public service, believing that they don’t really understand who I am or overestimate my skills.

I am sure that Ted Kennedy struggled with the same kind of doubt when he was going through deep public humiliation. I can imagine there were times that he wanted to shrink back and just live a private life – yet he chose to step into an even more public role. Why? He had enough money that he didn’t need the job. He had enough of a family name that he could have ridden that to ongoing fame.

Teddy Kennedy continued to pursue his calling because his belief in God’s grace, his love of people and his dedication to justice were greater than his self-doubt or his desire for privacy. In the end I think he could keep on going because it was not really about him. For the past few days thousands of people have been in mourning not because he was some royal figure, but because he touched their lives personally. To mothers with a child struggling with ADD to unemployed workers in need of jobs to military families mourning the loss of a loved one – Ted Kennedy showed his love for people in a really real way.

I am nearing the end of my three month sabbatical and so many people have been telling me that it is time for me to take my life and my work to the next level. I have spent the past 14 years of my life and particularly the past two years of my life in conflict about my calling – despite being born into a relatively well known family and being the kind of person who has never been known for being shy, at times I have fantasized about being a behind-the-scenes person who will never be known by many. But the reality is that deep in my soul I yearn for a better world. Like Senator Kennedy I have a deep love for people and I hope that my work makes it easier for people to find their own potential for greatness.

Senator Kennedy, today as I mourn your death I commit to fully embracing two lessons that I have learned from you. First I will learn to forgive myself and to stop allowing my own self doubt to stand in the way of God’s calling to work tirelessly in the pursuit of justice. Second, I will continue to learn always how to work more and more from a place of love and deep respect for all people. It is that love and respect for people that allowed you to reach across the aisle to people who had different opinions than yours and it was because they realized that you operated from love that they could respect your relentless passion for justice.

Senator Kennedy you were not a perfect man – you didn’t claim to be. But I believe that from your own place of brokenness had a deeper compassion for others. From a place of great privilege you developed a deep sense of responsibility. At the end of the day it was not about it you but about the people you were called to serve.

And so in honor of your life, I offer these words from the poetry of Hebrews 10:22 – 11:1

22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of father, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we process, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us enourage one another – 32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood our ground in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

38 But my righteous one will live by faith, And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.

1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Thank you Senator Kennedy for allowing me to see what it means to live these words. While I do not know where my path will take me, I am inspired by your willing to embrace your calling in the service of God’s will.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Violence – An Unacceptable Component of Culture

I hope that by this point I have shared enough of the positives of Brazil that I can offer some critique in an effort to tell the whole truth. My time in Brazil has made me feel connected to this country in a way that I have never felt before and I am already trying to figure out how I can come back here; however, last night I was reminded that there is a struggle going on here and it cannot be ignored.

Last night I was observing the 7pm DJ class at CUFA (Central Única das Favelas). This organization which I will blog about in detail later has transformed the space under a highway overpass into a youth center and they offer classes in everything from basketball to arts & crafts. On Monday I participated in the graffiti class so Tuesday was the DJ class. The day’s lesson was on mixing and the students were using old US disco tunes and learning how to match up the beats so that one song could be played at the same time as the other.

Somewhere in the middle of an Angelina disco tune I heard what sounded like gunshots but neither I nor anyone else reacted and we just kept spinning. About 30 min later I left the class to connect with the CUFA staff person who has been taking me around. She told me that there were indeed shots fired and she asked me to walk to the train quickly and to be careful. I told her not to worry and that I was used to this in my own neighborhood.

On my walk to the train I passed two people sleeping underneath the overpass trying to find shelter from the rain. In one case I would barely have known that the person was there was it not for one small dirty foot protruding from a misshapen cardboard box. I walked past the box and headed to the train platform.

As I waited on the train platform I was careful to herd with other people. When my train came I got on a car that was supposedly designated for women. I wasn’t quite sure why that was necessary, but as I got on I saw that I was one of three women on a care that had 11 or so men. As I looked down the corridor to the train car on the left and on the right I realized that there were very few women riding the train at this hour. I focused on reading my book making sure that no one would notice that it was in English and I was constantly looking out for the movements of the other women. It was one of those moments where I remembered that no matter how liberated I feel I am still a woman living in a man’s world and the threat of physical and sexual violence becomes real when you are by yourself after the sun goes down.

As I thought about this for myself I was also questioning the sexuality of one of the other women on the train. As I saw her more closely I became pretty sure that she was a woman, but I wondered what challenges she might have looking a little androgynous. It reminded me of an earlier conversation I had with another staff person at CUFA who is doing work around GLBT issues in Rio. In previous conversations with Americans he had been very impressed by the progress we have made in terms of civil rights for gay people. He said that while we are struggling over issues like gay marriage, folks in Brazil are working to get support for young people whose parents kick them out of the house for being gay. While I assured him that we are a long way from being a tolerant society, from his description it seemed like the US had made significant progress in comparison to Brazil. I told him that I felt like Matthew Shepard’s death had had a profound impact on our country in a way that got some people to think differently. On the other hand the young man who was killed this June after the Gay Pride parade in Sao Paulo did not seem to have the same effect on Brazilians.

While we talked in depth about this problem we came to a point where he offered a simple and astute assessment of the problem – Brazilians have come to think that violence is normal and we can’t make change until people realize that violence is not okay.

Until gunshots at 7:30pm are considered a cause for concern and not an every day rush hour occurrence…………………..

Until sunglasses and concealing makeup are not considered essential accessories for a woman in love…………………….

Until cardboard boxes are only acceptable containers for shipping things and not for housing people…………………….

Until a woman can walk at night not concerned that her cries of rape will be ignored by people who “don’t want to get involved”…………………..

Until young gay people are not muzzled into silence because coming out is a death sentence……………………..

Until every child knows what it is to be smothered with hugs and not lashed with belts or clinched fists………………..

Beyond government slogans and campaigns we saw a deep need for more voices to be raised against violence – and I think it is essential that we begin to create space for people to imagine and practice what it means to live with each other in peace. People need to not only hear that violence is wrong but they need spaces where the central paradigm comes from a place of love. Spaces where people hold you accountable not because they are angry but because they want to see you rise to the fullness of your capacity. Places where hugs and affirmations are more common then critiques and slaps.

On Monday night I watched the film Quilombo. It tells the history of Africans who ran away from slavery and created their own communities in the mountains of Brazil. They were willing to fight and die to preserve these places because they were places where they did not have to be subject to the violence of slavery. In our organizations and churches, we must have the same mentality. Our spaces must be refuges from the culture of violence where people learn a new way and are free to live peacefully. Churches need to champion marriage without turning a blind eye to domestic violence. Hip hop needs to create a place for Black men to feel important without being violent towards women. Community associations need to work to clean up their neighborhoods without sanctioning police violence against people who live on the streets. In each realm of life we have a responsibility to work against violence.

While I have seen this struggle in a more pronounced way in Brazil this is truly a global struggle for all around the globe there are women and children who are walking on egg shells in hopes “not to upset daddy” – there are young people using weapons to take each other’s lives – there are people suffering under the violent weight of hunger. This has been part of human culture for thousands of but it is not okay and we must live our lives everyday in a quest for peace.

Please feel free to share your own reflections. This blog is meant to be a dialogue.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Be Slow to Judge - The trickiness of race and class

Last night I went out for my last walk through Pelourinho before my early flight for this morning. On my way to say goodbye to a friend I ran into a couple that was struggling with very limited Portuguese to find a 24-hour ATM. I stopped to do a little translation and then gave them some recommendations for how they could stay safe late at night.

After running some of my last errands I ran into them again and they invited me to have a drink. I was in a hurry to get to a 2nd birthday party for a friends son so I could not really join them but the man mentioned that Salvador was not what they had expected. He commented that the worlds seemed so “separate”. While I have known that Brazil can be a very segregated place, I had gotten pretty comfortable and had stopped noticing the fact that Pelourinho is the downtown center of African descendants while other popular hang outs like Rio Vermelho and Barra are much lighter. You see white people around Pelourinho, but they are mostly tourists – not elite Bahians. In contrast, my one experience at a bar in Barra had me feeling pretty dark.

The couple was from New York and LA and they were more used to living in a diverse world. I think they had heard the official Brazilian line that there was not racism and maybe they though there was no classism either? Or maybe they thought that Pelourinho would be gentrified at this point – I mean if it is a major tourist attraction that must mean good property values and plenty of yuppies to flood in and buy up the great historical houses. Isn’t that how it gets down in Harlem or the South End? Or maybe they thought it was like LA where the parties have people of all colors and it feels like you are living in the world as it should be, while not thinking about the folks living under highway overpasses or children dying on the streets of Compton.

The reality is that we live in a world where racism and classism still exist and in many ways they are deeply connected. A conversation with another Brazilian reminded me of the importance of remembering that we must confront both of these oppressions not privileging one over the other.

So instead of having this deep conversation with the guy, I told him that he would probably have a better time in Barra. I couldn’t really name any good places (since Barra is not really my cup of tea) but he said he would consult his Lonely Planet for suggestions. As we said goodbye I wished that I had a minute to talk because I could tell that this issue had made him pause to think and we could probably had an ample discussion about the very things I reflected on. However, I had a party to get to and friends to say goodbye. So I left feeling like I didn’t have time to get deep with him.

I could close the blog here with me being the omniscient expert on race and class, but this morning I was riding on the bus to the airport. I felt proud of myself for not needing to take a $35 taxi and for knowing the city well enough to get on the $2 bus. I felt very baiana (the term for a woman from the Bahian region) and I looked forward to my last glimpse of Salvador being along the beach route of the bus rather than the highway route that the taxis take.

As I looked out the window at the beach and the waves crashing I saw so many people out walking and running along the beach. I felt a pang of guilt that I had not done any running while in Salvador and I realized that I would have to train that much harder to get ready for my half marathon in October. I remembered that part of the reason that I didn’t run is that the area where I stayed was not close to the beach. Things could get a little sketchy at night and I didn’t think it that safe to run at night or even maybe in the morning and definitely not with my Ipod.

I have been thinking about the possibility of living in Salvador in the future and for a moment I thought about how great it would be to be able to live close to the beach, have a great view and be able to run along the beach every morning. My husband has been mentioning that he is tired of living in a city so I know he would much prefer to be close to the ocean in a relatively quiet area where it was not too loud at night. It would be great.

But then I had a quick panick moment when I realized that there were not too many Black folks living in the areas and that if we were to move to Barra or Ondina everytime I was in the hood and people asked me where I lived there would come that moment spoken or unspoken when we would realize the major class difference between us. As a activist who works with folks who are sometimes struggling to get by this moment of class distinction is awkward for me. It is that moment when a child who might be impressed by my confidence or the way that I talk or my ideas suddenly feels that those things are unattainable because they won’t have access to the middle class family I grew up in or to the private high school or elite university where I was educated. It is in the quick moments that I feel my own privilege and sometimes I see folks sink back into their own “disadvantage.”

So before I am judgemental of this guy I had to reflect on myself. On my own desire to live in a safe neighborhood where I can run outside, get healthy food and appreciate nature. While my life mission is to build a world where everyone has access to those things, the reality is that world will probably not come in my life time. So until then – what do I do about the fact that sometimes I want to have a nice space and not live on top of 50 people and worry about my kids – and on the other hand I want to live in solidarity with the same people I am fighting with. I have seen how the flight of Black middle class has been part of the deterioration of so many Black communities around the United States. I have at times been angry with those folks when I was living in my neighborhood and we were the only kids outside whose parents were professionals and I felt like one example was not enough to balance the parents who had to work 3 jobs to make ends meet or had given up trying and were just living on welfare.

I don’t pretend to have answers I just realize how complex the situation is. In the Black community in the United States I think we get used to holding up the banner of racial solidarity so we don’t have to deal with issues of class, but I guess Brazil has made me see in an even more concrete way how much the two are connected. So I am glad that I don’t have the answer right now, but I guess I do wonder – am I committed enough to liberation of my people that I would be willing to live in a favela? Would people living in the favela think that was just being foolish? Would it make more sense for me to use my privilege to deal with and challenge those folks who are removed from the reality of poverty? If you have any answers, or even more questions – feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We are finally in Salvador

This is the view from our window in Salvador. After a struggle to get a visa for Rahn and him missing his connection for Rio and me having to pay an arm and a leg to change my flight to finish up a grant for one of our sister organizations in Brazil - WE ARE FINALLY HERE. Last night we went out to Moqueca (a traditional Bahian seafood dish) and Caiparinhas (the Brazilian national cocktail made from Cachaca, the official Brazilian liquor made from sugar).

Walking through the streets of Pelourinho I actually felt at home. We ran into friends of mine sitting out having a discussion on the street. So far we are just taking it easy and enjoying not having to be in the rat race in Boston. For a more reflective blog check out what I have been doing the past couple of days!

A moment to celebrate progress!

I landed in Salvador about 30 mins ago and as I accustomed to doing I pulled my phone out right away and tried to sync my email. I was in Salvador about 6 weeks ago and was able to get a phone signal but my phone couldn’t access a data network the entire time I was here. So you can imagine my surprise when my phone download one email from a friend who is watering our plants and another from my husband telling me that he had rebooked his flight in Rio and would be getting in two hours after his original date. In the 6 weeks since I was last her the signal has gotten better in Sao Paulo and they now have a data network Just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming I just synced my phone again to be sure – and it still works, which means that I will be able to post this with little problem as an email from my phone if I so desire.

Yesterday I was talking with two young adults about the fact that the iPhone is supposed to be released in Brazil this month because the network has been upgraded to sustain it. The cell phone is a fairly standard item here. On my last visit I stayed with a 80-year-old+ couple who didn’t have regular phone service in their village but who had a cell phone attached to the wall as their house phone. After payday you see lines of people waiting to add money to their pre-paid phones.

Nonetheless cell phone minutes are still relatively expensive and people have the kind of etiquette here that you don’t see in the US. I rarely see people driving while talking, I am sitting in the airport surrounded by 40 or so people and while folks are holding cell phones, there is no one talking incessantly. In other words – Brazilians have a measure of cell phone etiquette that is not present in the United States.

I wonder what the growth of the smartphone will mean for Brazil. Will it turn everyone into incessant picture takers, bloggers, texters, tweeters, and Facebook addicts? Will it mean that people here begin to live more and more virtually and slowly neglect the great communal traditions that have led me to go hours without thinking about my phone as opposed to the minutes I go in the United States. Will people stop going by each others houses for a cup of coffee and instead just send messages through Orkut (the Google version of Facebook which is much more popular in Brazil.)

Well we will have to see. So far all of my Brazilian friends are on Orkut and many are on Hotmail Messanger but we still spent hours hanging out. The truth is that while I have my concerns I also have some faith that Brazilians will exercise more constraint then we will. In a country where people still great each other with kisses on the cheek, where it is not strange to hug someone you just met, where being a good host is considered a matter of character, I have hope that people will take advantage of the positives of this technology while not letting the visual senses replace all of the other senses. This is still a country that believes in the importance of smell of fragrant flowers, the touch of embracing a new friend, the taste of dende in a stew and the sound of drums in the street. In the rush to become an economically strong country, Brazil cannot afford to give away these treasures!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I am Heading Back to Brazil

I am on the plane full of anticipation for new lessons that I will learn, for the deepening of relationships that I formed in June and for the forming of new relationships.

For those who believe in prayer of any kind - join me in hoping that my husband is able to get a visa to join me. There have been some bureaucratic challenges in getting him through the visa process.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Some Visuals of the Festa São Joao

I know that I have done quite a bit of writing so since today is a holiday I am going to give you a break from my writing and just share some pictures from life in the Pelourinho as everyone is celebrating one of the biggest holidays of the year!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Importance of Taking Time to Party - Together

So today´s post will not be one of my most substantive because I only have a little bit of time and no photos. The area that I am in is pretty safe, but I have avoided taking pictures because at most of the things I have been at I have not seen anyone else taking photos.

Last night there was a big party for the Festa São Joao (Festival of Saint John). I am right downtown so I could hear music coming for 4 different directions and people were dancing in the plazas. As I watched everyone singing along I remembered how important it is for there to be collective experiences that all citizens can share. No matter the color or the class this entire country is celebrating this festival and making a week of it. In fact, pretty much all of June is just one big festival because there are three saints holidays this month.

I realize that in Boston we don´t have anything that brings the entire city together in celebration. We unite when one of our sports teams wins, but that is not a guaranteed festival. There are different ethnic festivals like the Carribbean Festival that I grew up going to, but not everyone is there and there are many people, even like my husband, who have barely heard about the Puerto Rican festival, etc.

I am thankful to many people who are creating different events that bring people together, but I really long for something that brings us all together. Maybe we should do more with the 4th of July, maybe we can take Memorial Day or Labor Day to a new level. However we think about it, I do think we need something cathartic like a huge street festival to bring us together. There is nothing like dancing in the streets to make people feel connected.

Tonight I will try to take some photos so that you can see where I am and what I am doing. I have been really hesitant to take photos because most people are mistaking me for Brazilian (as long as I don´t talk too much) and I have been enjoying being in a place where I blend in.

On another note I want to say that Brazilians are a beautiful people. Last night I was at a concert where there were a bunch of folks dancing nearby who looked like the most beautiful collection of Black people some of whom looked like they had just stepped out of a 70s movie with beautifully coiffed Afros, braids, and I had a moment where I felt really proud to be part of such a beautiful and resiliant group of people.

Later this week I will be moving into a residential neighborhood and visiting with people who are working in the parts of Salvador where tourists don´t visit. I am sure that I will have a different vision when I get there. However, as a person that is used to seeing my people struggle and feeling the frustration of not being able to "fix" everything. I am going to take a moment to appreciate the beauty and leave the deeper reflection for tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A few people have expressed concern about my accomodations so I am writing to say that I have let go of my cheap skate ways and I am upgrading tomorrow! It is still only $50/ night but it looks much better than where I am now.

In case you are wondering - here it is

Sometimes you get what you pay for

I got into the city and checked into my pousada. Even for my standards the place is a little bit on the sketchy side. The description said that it was basic, but I should have known that it was a bad sign when there were no room pictures on the website. You can´t beat $28/ night, but I think I am going to have to upgrade.

I have landed in Salvador!

The official Barr trip is over but my travels continue. I am launching out on my own in the city of Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia and the former capital of Brazil. Salvador is the capital of Afro-Brazilian culture so I am very much looking forward to connecting with the people and the spirit of this place. I have studied Salvador and wanted to come here for the past 10 years so I am looking forward to my time here.

For those of you who were only following for the Barr Learning Journey, I thank you for reading and welcome you to continue reading as I continue to share stories from that time and from this next portion of my journey. While I am hoping that this next leg will be a little more calm than the last two weeks I also think there is much to learn and discover here.

For those that will continue with me for the next two weeks I invite you to continue reading and to feel free to send me comments. Please write your name at the end of your comments so that I can know who is writing.

The Journey Continues,


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Learning to play and playing to learn

(I wrote this about our experiences on Monday, June 16th but this is the first time that I was able to upload it.)

Today we started our time with the organization CPCD. I don’t remember what the acronym means right now but I promise to add it in a future blog so that you can all know and visit the website.

The story of CPCD definitely bears repeating, so I will share it - A university professor named Sebastian was frustrated with the way that young people were being taught. He felt frustrated with the fact that the education system was teaching them to take in information but not really to learn. He felt that there must be a better way. So he put up an ad that more or less said – “If you believe there is a better way for our children to learn – Meet me under the mango tree.” When the day arrived he went to the mango tree to find a few other people and they started talking. As they began to dream about a better way for their children to learn they started finding that they too were learning from each other. In the process of trying to find a better way they were exchanging ideas and hunches that were helping each person and the group to come to a better idea of what they wanted and how they might move forward this dream of a better education for their children.

All of this started during the military dictatorship and was somewhat underground for years. Most of their work happened under mango trees, in different houses, in whatever space they could find. They were much more focused on how they could really educate children than they were on getting a building or building an institution. Over time they created an education methodology very much based on the ideas of Paulo Friere, but put into action in a concrete way that I have never seen before. Twenty-five years later was started as a proposition and an experiment has now become a full blown organization recognized around the world for its amazing work.

To understand the project we visited with their project Ser Crianca (which literally translates – To Be a Child) which was the project that started it all. This project is for school-aged children and there are two groups that come for 4 hours each day. Since Brazil’s school day is only 4 hours and children either go to school in the morning or the afternoon. The children who go to school in the afternoon come to Ser Crianza in the morning and then walk to school and the morning school children come to Ser Crianca in the afternoon.

Every day begins with a large circle where everyone is able to do a quick check-in, find out what the schedule is for the day and both adults and children can raise questions or concerns that the group needs to deal with. After circle time the children break into their different groups. Each group has one adult educator and between 10-16 children depending on the needs of the children. In their groups they may do something that we would consider more “educational” or more likely they will spend time doing what we often consider “alternative learning” like gardening, cooking, making basic medicinal remedies from herbs, or what we loved the most – they build their own toys.

The group meets in a space that would seem pretty lackluster except that they have decorated it in such a way that it has been transformed into a magical space full of toys mostly made from materials that you could easily find in your trash or recycle bin. When we were talking with the directors of the program, some of the children brought us a gift basket of toys they had made using he most simple items and I have to tell you some of their toys would put Toys R Us to shame. I have never seen plastic bottles look more appealing. The fact that the children are able to create these toys themselves and bring them home is so incredible. In one activity they learn to re-use the items that we usually throw away, they have a great kinesthetic learning experience, they produce something that they can be proud of, and they are able to bring toys to homes where many parents don’t have the means to spend money on expensive toys.

As I watched children explain to me what they were growing in their gardens and while standing alongside a young man as we both cut lettuce, I saw how by doing things that they found enjoyable these children were doing high level thinking. I had such a great time there that I started getting into the spirit of play and was out there doing stretching with some of the kids. I even was able to participate by teaching a short hip hop dance class (I will have to post some photos of that at another time.)

As I think of my own community where parents are often afraid to let their children go outside and where so much of the education system is focused on standardized testing, I realized how much of a gift it was to see children playing in a safe environment with adults who are invested in helping them to become an amazing group of citizens. I know that I will be digesting this experience for a long time but I was thankful that in such a crazy world I was able to see children being happy, engaged, and loved. Even as I write this I am a little sad that this experience felt so rare – maybe of all the problems in the world perhaps the greatest tragedy is that quality play time is in short supply.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Seeing beauty in the most “unlikely” of places

(I wrote this reflection about Saturday, June 14th, but it has taken me a few days to get to internet so that I could upload it.)

After leaving Kaka’s we headed to the city of Santos. This is the winter season so there are not many people around. We got here on the Brazilian Valentine’s Day (which is in June because commercial sales tend to dip during that month instead of dipping in February like in the US) so as we walked along the beach there were many couples cuddling along the boardwalk.

In the morning we were met by our guides for the day, Natasha and Val. They are both part of a group called Elos which is the Portugues word for links. While we were still in Sao Paulo we had seen a video about the work of Elos and particularly their project “Guerreiros Sem Armas” which means “Warriors without Weapons.” The organization was started by a group of architecture students who felt that there was more to community development than just constructing buildings. A group of them began by meeting around the city in “unlikely” locations like some of the economically poor neighborhoods where people were in need of housing and other community structures like cultural centers, daycares, etc.

As they continued to meet more people from various communities it began to change their concept of what they needed to do as architects. They began to see their role as helping communities that most of us would see as “in need of help” to realize that they had the power not only to decide what they needed but to actual create powerful places using the material and human resources that they already have. They also recognized that they needed to help others, those of us who would call ourselves activists, change agents, social workers, etc. to realize that it is our job not to do things “for” the community but to work with the community and to do so in such a way that it transforms our beliefs and actions and ignites a spark in the community that we are working with.

We saw the power of this work directly and I will continue to unpack that throughout the rest of my blog, but I want to focus on one major lesson that I took away from my visit. The Warriors Without Weapons project was started for other architecture students and now is open to young people around the world who are committed to changing their communities. In Brazil they are often called social entrepreneurs. (At some other time I want to really unpack that phrase because there is a real need to reflect on the way that is used in the United States – but I digress.) The youth from the program spend one month going through a 4 step process which I think translates best as - Seeing, Relationship, Dream, Action. I could unpack each of those and may down the line, but I will say that these emphases were developed with Kaka as one of the spiritual guides for this project.

The first challenge for the Warriors is to go out into the communities and find something that they find truly beautiful. The Warriors are sent into favelas where people are living above sewage water where houses may not have running water and where all the buildings have been constructed with whatever people could find. Places where some people go to bed hungry and drug dealing becomes an only source of income for some and an only source of escape for others. These are places that if I showed you a photo of even what I saw I know that it would bring sadness to your mind that might lead you to turn down your plate or collect some clothes to give a way. It is in this place such as that that the Warriors must find something truly beautiful. And like many of us they struggle to find the beauty. Val shared one particular story that shed light on the power of this practice.

One young warrior was sent to a favela community and he came back saying that he could not find anything beautiful. He was told that he should go back and continue to search. After hours of seeing all of the challenges and all of the needs he happened upon a clothesline that caught his eye. All of the clothes were hung up starting with white and then going down the spectrum of the rainbow – yellow clothes flowing into orange clothes into red clothes into purple. Not only was it visually stunning, but he knew that someone was taking the time to do this and it was a sign that their soul still was creating beauty even in a place that would not be considered “worth the effort” by many of us.

After finding this place, the young man was told he needed to figure out what human hands are involved in creating, maintaining or protecting this beauty. They must find the person and come to know them and understand their motivation for creating beauty. In the case of this young man he had to knock on the door of the house which the clothesline belonged to. A woman answered the door and at first she told him that there was no reason that she hung the clothes out there. When it became clear that he really wanted to know she invited him into her house and shared her story. The woman had grown up in the Northeast region of Brazil in a part of the country that is really dry. Everyone waited for the rain and her mother always told her that when the rain came that when it was done that she would see a rainbow, so as a child she would always look for the rainbow. This was a story that she had never shared because no one had ever taken the time to ask her. Once the two of them shared this story they also had a relationship with depth.

Val shared that when people arrive to their program there are always people that say – Why are we doing these exercises and spending only one week building. If we dropped some of these tasks we could build for four weeks and get more done. However, she said that after doing the “Seeing” exercises, the Warriors have a totally different view of the neighborhood and more true relationships with residents.

How often do I miss the rainbow because I am so focused on the “negative impacts” of the rain?

When have I missed an opportunity to search for the person behind the rainbow and get to know who (s)he really is?

Am I willing to create, maintain or protect beauty in the most “unlikely” of places?

This picture was done by the residents of one of the communities in which Elos works and it sums it up. It says "Live your life with a way for you to be happy!"

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why you have not heard from me

I have gotten a few emails asking why my blog has not been as active as of late. In the past few days it has gotten increasingly difficult to connect to the internet. In fact for the past two days I have been in places with really spotty cell phone reception. I am in an internet cafe and don´t have much time to write but I wanted to share some photos from my horseback ride today. Unfortunately they will not upload so I am having to accept that all I can tell you is that we are all safe even if we can´t be easily reached by phone or email.

I will find a way to write tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Power of the Dream

Leaving the traffic and congestion of Sao Paulo, we are on a journey to meet with a local shaman. The bus stops to pick up our spiritual guide who we simply call Kaka. I am not sure what we expect from a spiritual leader but as he gets on the bus he seems really grounded and really normal. Not someone whose spirituality distances them from everyday people. Kaka connects with the bus driver and we are on our way. At this point I ahve to admit that my biggest concern was whether the rain would make it cold in the forest. As I sent as many emails to my family while I had phone service, I was not sure exactly we what to expect.

As we continue to drive, we hit a point where it suddenly feels like we have passed from a city into a rural place and within minutes we are driving in a full-blown rainforest. The bus continues to drive into the rainforest up some pretty steep hills until it stops at a a point where it can go no further. We get out to walk the rest of the way up a dirt road and see the sign for Instituto Arapoty. From there we walk another 7 min up a hill that overlooks an amazing valley and we can see that we are in the midst of an amazing place.

After getting a little settled, Kaka leads us to a large domed hut with a grass-thatched roof and just being in there makes you feel as though you have stepped back into a time when even your house came totally from the land without need for manufactured shingles and Benjamin Moore paints. We each took our seats on upright logs and Kaka began to tell the story of hte place. He share that the land we were on was part of the Matatlantico Forest which had once been part of a large forest range that covered the entire coast of Brazil. Now only 8% of that land remains and he is part of a network of people working to protect what remains of the rain forests - not only for environmental reasons, but because of our human need to reconnect with the land.

There is no way for me to share everything that Kaka shared with us or all of the thoughts that have come to me since, but the most powerful thing that he talked about was the importance of having "the dream." He explained that there are three kinds of dreams. First, the dreams that come to us in the night. They are the dreams that speak often of what has happened and they are placed in our minds by the spirits. We don't really control those dreams even thought they might have something to tell us. Second, there are the dreams that we have while we are awake. The dream of one person to be a doctor or to win a basketball game. Then there are the dreams we have together - the dreams that communities dare to dream.

He said that before we come up with any plans for how to move we must figure out how to unite our individual dream into a collective dream. When we have done that we are able to be united in our purpose and only after we have done that can we begin to create a plan.

So often we start our plan by figuring out what we need and the focus turns to all of the things that we do not have. Communities that consider themselves "poor" come to this part of the process and often believe that they cannot realize there dreams - yet Kaka said that when it comes to actualizing our dreams we need 80% relationships and only 20% financial resources. It is in our relationships that we often discover that we have far more resources then we think we do. When we unite our collective resources we find that if we connect our different resources we have everything that we need.

It led me to one simple question - What if I did my work believing that we have 80% of what we need?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Power of a Living God

During my teen years I had a deep crisis of faith and from time to time something happens in the church that makes me question me question my commitment to organized religion. However, today on the holiday of Corpus Christi I remember why I continue to believe and why I cannot stop working for transformation in the church and healing and justice in the world.

Last night we went to a serau. It is like an open mic in a circle where everyone gives whatever artistic expression they have to offer. It came at the end of a really long and powerful (see the blog on Instituto Alana) day that ended with a 20 kilometer (about 13 mi) three hour drive in record breaking traffic. It was literally record breaking with traffic backed up for 265 kilometers.

Anyway, the serau included folks from around Sao Paulo who are doing projects to build up their communities. As we went around sharing I felt led to sing the song "His Eye is On The Sparrow" which is a song I sang in my grandmother's church. I have been hesitant in the past to sing Christian songs as to not offend people. But last night I explained that the song has deep importance to me because when my grandmother, who has Alzheimer's, doesn't know where she is or who I am singing hymns always helps her to calm down. This song has also been what has been sustaining me when m
young people have been shot in the streets. Even though some folks didn't understand the words I think we all felt the power of the song. While singing it I could feel the strength of my anscestors who were able to have faith and keep working in the face of things more difficult than what I face.

For the past month or so I have been meditating on the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. One of the main lines of the prayer says - " Lord Make Us Instruments of Your Peace" and in the midst of everything happening on the streets of Boston I have been trying to really make that prayer my own.

We arrived at our destination this morning and as I walked to the front of the church and I looked up to see that across the the wall it read in Portugues "Lord Make Us Instruments of Your Peace" and I felt how small the world truly is.

After taking a moment to thank God I went downstairs for our meeting with Father Ticao and the members of Nossa Sao Paulo (Our Sao Paulo.) We heard about an amazing community organizing project where they pushed the mayor and city council to agree to be accountable for developing and implementing a series of community improvements based on a list of incides of progress that was developed by a coalition of organizations and individuals. There is also a law which they got passed which requires the municipal government to publish their progress on a list of concrete items like building a hospital in one region, a park in another community and the restoration of a library in another neighborhood. I am not doing them justice so I definately suggest that you check out their website

From that meeting we went to visit a multinao (got to check the spelling on that). It is a place where they are building houses for families. What was incredible about this housing development is that the people who will live in the houses come for 8 hours on weekends and holidays to build the houses. To see men and women who would probably have no chance to own a home doing the hard work to build their home and the home of their neighbors. This kind of collective work was a reminder of how my ancestors did things when we believed that we could do anything if we pooled our resources. The project we went to visit was being led by a woman who had already built her house in another project and she was helping these folks to build their houses. After seeing the project that is just starting we got to see a development that was done and you could see that it was a beacon of hope in that neighborhood. In the first picture you see two women standing with Father Ticao who are working to build homes and who will be living in that housing development. The second picture is of the housing development which has already been built. We were not really able to enter because we were running late and because they were in the middle of a collective clean up when we arrived.

After seeing these projects we went to lunch and I got the opportunity to talk to Father Ticao. He the kind of person who walks with a strong aura around him. He has a great sense of humor and a commitment to speaking truth that pushes oppressed people to stand for themselves and that exposes the hypocrisy of those in power.

At lunch with him I saw a vision of the kind of minister I want to be. You could tell there was not an issue he had not touched. He embodied the mission of Jesus to serve people. He was not just talking about Jesus but living it in such a way that he didn't need to talk about God because he was such a grounded person that his life says it all.

Over the past year we have watched the economic system fail in such a big way that people are questioning - "Isn't there something better than this?" Today I had renewed hope that despite what I see from televangelism, maybe the church could be an instution that plays an important role in building a new world.

The Power of Organizing

I only have a few minutes to describe this organization which we saw in São Paulo. The picture that you see is from a band of young people who are called Grupo Alana and they are part of the musical program of Instituto Alana.

These youth all live in the favela of Jardin Platenal which is in the city of São Paulo. The land that the favela is built on was owned by a wealthy Brazilian couple who passed the land on to their grandchildren. When the grandchildren finally went to visit the piece of land they had inherited they found that there were a lot of people living there. The two grandchildren were overwhelmed by the economic poverty that people were living in and decided that they would fund a center to provide programs tha would help the families who live in the Jardin Platenal. They are the primary funders of Instituto Alana which has many social programs like this music group that we got the opportunity to see. While they played everything from swing to rock I eventually had to stand up and dance right there because they were so great and I wanted them to know that they were moving my spirit.

After hearing from the group and having a quick lunch at the Alana cafeteria, we went out to visit the neighborhood. Our tour was led by one of the community leaders Ronaldo. He was clearly a leader as everyone in the neighborhood waived at him as we went by. I also got the opportunity to talk to his son Vagner. They led us through the neighborhood even as people were building up their homes. All of the homes had been constructed by people with their own hands and they had established a community despite practically no support from the government. He showed us where they were putting in their own water pipes to bring water to people's homes and he showed us how in some places the neighbors are working together to raise the levels of their houses because there are standing sewage pits that are flooding their first floors.

I have to be honest that what we saw was a neighborhood with far more infrastructure challenges than anything I have seen in the US, but I also saw a level of organizing that is far beyond what I have seen in any neighborhood in the US. They have a fairly low level of crime because people are so tight that they don't steal from each other and in general don't have to worry about violence between their youth. The one crime that is a problem is domestic violence as many people face the kind of dehumanizing stress that creates deep conflict within the family. This is the unspoken crime that we often accept and I wanted to ask more about what they are doing to deal with family abuse.

While their was clearly so much that need to be done in terms of economic development I was so impressed by how much they were able to accomplish by working together. This was the first place where I really understood that Brazilians have a deeper sense of the need to work together to survive. I don't want to romanticize the economic poverty but I do want you to understand the spiritual richness to be something far beyond anything I have experienced.

I didn't really get to see much of the hip hop community in the favela, but I did see amazing graffiti that was beautifying the community. I don't have more time to write, but I look forward to inviting you all to my larger reflection session.

P.S. When you post comments, please write your names. Sometimes I don't know who is writing the comments

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Are Crocs a Crock?

So I want to make sure that I share this because I know that there are a lot of people in my network who wear Crocs. Last night while at dinner (which I will describe later) I met a woman who is working on a community business to reuse unrecyclable materials.

She told me that the company that makes Crocs used to have a factory in Brazil. Because she had been working with the same materials that Crocs are made of she was contacted by the company to see if they could give her their leftover waste. Because thet created so much waste her project was too small to take it all so she pulled people together to come up with a viable project and then she presented it to Croc but they only wanted to donate the waste.

In all of Crocs advertising they claim to work with EcoFriendly materials and they have drop of places where you can "recycle" their shoes.

If that is the case why did they need her to take the waste. Why couldn't they just recycle it? If it can't be recycled where does all that waste go? If this woman who is doing a whole business around this material has never heard of a way to recycle this material, what is the chance that Croc has found some method that no one else has heard of?

So if someone from Croc can give me a credible answer on how exactly they recycle their material then maybe I will believe that their eco image is more than load of CROCK!

Getting our Dance On!

Bom Dia,

It is a new day in Sao Paulo and I am preparing for the day. Thanks to my friend Gibran I have a computer today that can upload my photos so I will be able to share some images of my time.

Yesterday we spent the afternoon experiencing Brazil through our five senses. We walked the streets in silence listening to the sounds and observing our environment. I described some of Sao Paulo in my last blog, but this time I took the time to really look at some of the graffiti in the city. I had heard that Sao Paulo has a big hip hop movement, but I took a close look at some of the graffiti during our walk yesterday.

Then we arrived at this amazing dance school called Instituto Brincante which I more or less translate as the Institute of Playing. We arrived while a group of school teachers were there. They come once a week for a year to learn about Brazilian culture, but instead of learning through books and lectures they learn through play. They were in the middle of their weekly dance class and afterwards they went across the hall to make paper mache festival costumes. The celebration of saints' days are big in Brazil and June is the biggest month after Carnavale in February. They were making stars, horses, houses, etc. out of recycled materials that would be easy for them to get in their community without spending a lot of money.

When we got there the first thing that she asked was where all of us were from. Our group is really diverse with people representing all of the major racial groups in the world. Each of us talked about our background and at the end of the class the teacher told us that seeing us being from so many different parts of the globe and all considering ourselves Americans actually changed her idea of what the United States is. I know that we have a long way to go in terms of being a country where we value all people and where we can share across culture but when she said that I had a moment where I thought - this is what God would really want for us. If only this was the way things were on a regular basis at home.

After the introductions we got right into dance. Most of the dances she taught us were relatively simple choral dances that were from different regions of Brazil but mostly with indigenous and African roots. I had a great time and it was a lot of fun. I was dancing with folks that I am used to mostly seeing in meetings and the amount of joy we had was amazing. Everyone was getting into it and we were dancing in a circle and in pairs. Towards the end we came to a dance that I think was called Maracatum and it required more drums so a few of us volunteered to be drummers. From what I have learned it is very rare for women to be drummers in Brazilian culture (or in most cultures for that matter) so I volunteered. I had a great time and think that I found my new calling as you can see from the picture. I made sure that someone took a picture so that Ella could see her titi drumming. My sister might not be so pleased with it, but I think I going to go to the marketplace today in search of a small drum for Ella - and maybe a big drum for me.

Our class was nearly over and I was drumming, singing, and dancing at the same time while I looked out on some of the leaders of our city and I thought of the quote - If I can't dance then it's not my revolution. I send a particular shout out to Barr Fellow Jose Masso because I think he would have been so happy to see this scene. He just finished doing an event called Dance for World Community in Boston. And I am going to volunteer to add something to next years event. A big Brazilian dance class for everyone to learn how to dance and drum the Brazilian way!

So I have more to share but can't get it all in this one blog so I will write again later!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Estou in Sâo Paulo!

So I am officially writing from Brazil today. Yesterday we arrived at 8am and spent most of the day trying to get situated. I was planning to blog from my phone but my phone data access is a little sketchy. I only have about 20 minutes before we are heading out so I will try to describe as much as I can in the time that I have.

We are spending the beginning of our journey in Sao Paulo. The city is huge - population 20 million, so if you think New York is big at only 14 million, then you can imagine how things are in Sao Paulo. The area we are staying in, Vila Madelena was once a suburb of the city but the city has gotten so big that this once suburb is now a full blown urban area. Our host told me that they open a new high rise building what seems like a least once a week. The evidence of the gentrification of this part of the city is clear as small almost row houses can sit across the street from 30 floor apartment complexes. From what I hear the rapid population growth has outpaced any attempts at city planning.

I got to take a run this morning and could really see the relative lack of planning as commercial districts abruptly became upscale residential neighborhoods which suddenly became commercial and then low-income residential. While there are some aspects of this that are disturbing, on the other hand it feels like the city is really alive and really trying to figure out who it really is. What is not clear to me is whether people have the opportunity or space to talk about what their collective identity is going to be. Much of the residential landscape is dominated by gated and fenced in homes. Thomás explained that there were many years where crime was a major problem in the São Paulo and that the gating is a reminent of that time. Yet it is on all of the new developments too.

I have to admit that anywhere in the world I am concerned about the prevelance of gates; nonetheless I don´t want to be too hasty in making judgements. One day does not an expert make. So today I will get out in the city again and learn and observe more.

We had our first group circle this morning and I feel deeply blessed to be among such an amazing group of people. I already feel the work that is happening in me as I work to figure out who I am and what direction God is leading me into. I saw that there are 7 people following the blog at this point so I am thankful to know that it is not just the people here who are following this journey. Again I welcome you to join the blog as a follower so you will get updates and I encourage you to comment back. My life does not exist in isolation, but even as you read this you are part of my community. Thank you for taking the time to read my musings, and I promise to include pictures with my next blog. I just have to find the right cord for my camera so that I can upload photos.

Boa Tarde (Good Afternoon)


Sunday, June 7, 2009

The First Flight is Over

Subj: The First Flight is Over
We have just landed in Atlanta and are preparing for our next flight from ATL to GRU (the international airport in Sao Paulo).

This picture is of us at the airport in Boston. A bunch of workaholics ready to take this journey of rest and reflection. There is not much to report so far. We got off fine at the airport. My whole immediate family was there to see me off. Complete in Hammond style with a "just before I had to go through security" arrival by my dad.

I have to admit that it was really hard to leave my husband. We have been apart quite a bit because he used to travel a lot for work. However, saying goodbye this timw was different. I am not just going on a work trip, but on a journey - an adventure that will probably change me. It is wierd not to come home to share that with him.

In addition, we have only gone two days without talking on the phone since we started dating more than 7 years ago. I am not sure that I will be able to call every night, so that will be strange.

Then there was saying goodbye to my neice Ella. She gave me a kiss but didn't seem to understand why everyone was making such a big deal. At 3 years old you don't understand the concept of how long a month is. She definitely doesn't understand that some phone calls are too expensive to make on a whim. I will miss her a lot.

My sister has agreed to read my blog to her every night, so Ella Bella Boo titi loves you. So go to bed and try to be potty trained by the time I get home.

Signing off for now!


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Letting Go for A Little While

Last night I walked out of Project HIP-HOP with a bouquet of amazing flowers, a great card and a plate of cake. My sabbatical time has officially arrived and I am realizing how hard it is to let go of something that has become such an important part of your identity. This summer marks 15 years that I have been with the organization in some way. I joined when I was 15 and I am weeks away from my 30th birthday.

In this last year I have seen the organization get much stronger financially and in terms of our staff and at the same time I have mourned the loss of two youth who participated in our work and paced at the hospital twice hoping that young people who I care about would be spared - praying that the bullet didn't hit anything fatal.

As I said my goodbyes during our Open Mic I started to cry - something I try hard to avoid. Some of the tears were a release of the pain I have been carrying as I have put my all into supporting young people and I haven't been able to stop the streets from claiming their lives. Some of the tears were because I looked out and saw one of the young women that I trained, Janine Quarles, handing out papers for the organizing she is doing around education reform.

In that moment I realized that you win sometimes and you lose sometimes, but you always got to keep going. So as a person whose battery has gotten a little worn down I am embracing this time of rest and reflection. I am so excited to be going to Brazil. I have studied many cities and countries but there are only a few that stand out to me as places that have always stuck out to me for their deep sense of spirit.

South Africa is one and I got to visit in 1996. New Orleans is another and I continue to maintain my relationship with that city since I first went in 2004 on the Project HIP-HOP Civil Rights Tour. Brazil is at the top of my list of cultural meccas that I need to get to. So I am going. I have no idea what I will find or who I will meet. I am far from organized about my journey, but I am actually okay with the fact that I don't have an air-tight plan. I will make the road by walking (and flying, and riding the bus :) )

I hope that you will join me on this journey as I discover Brazil and re-discover myself and who God is calling me to be. I hope you will pray for me, send me comments and use my reflections to spark something in yourself. I thank you for being part of the community that supports me and I hope this blog will be a source of discovery, laughter, reflection and inspiration.

Please feel free to comment back to me. I will definitely appreciate that!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Stay Tuned

In a few days I will be heading out of the country and stepping away from my work life. I am grateful for the Barr Fellowship which has enabled me to take this time away, but I have to say that just trying to go for 3 months without working would be an adventure for me. Thankfully I have the entire country of Brazil to explore so I will not have too much downtime as I try new things, meet new people and attempt to speak Portuguese after only 6 weeks of Rosetta Stone.

If you commit to reading this, then I will commit to writing every couple of days. Hopefully I will have great stories to share!

P.S. Thank you to my husband for coming up with the name for this blog!