I feel the earth move….and God is good

Ugly school shoes

Ugly school shoes

I was an awkward kid at age five. Each week at St Anthony’s primary school, we had the horrible activity of “health hustle”, a half hour aerobics session led by one of the teachers for everyone in kindergarten.

Unable to tie my shoelaces, I awkwardly changed from my pooh-brown Clarks (I so desperately wanted pointy shoes like the other girls) into my sneakers for the inevitable moment where we would dance to songs I wasn’t cool enough to know the words to.

Our Smurfs album...ahhh the simple days when three kids could be made happy by one cassette tape!!

Our Smurfs album…ahhh the simple days when three kids could be made happy by one cassette tape!!

The younger, cooler teachers used to favour Kylie Minogue’s “locomotion” and Carole King’s “I feel the earth move”. Mum wasn’t the biggest fan of Kylie Minogue so after months of begging, she bought us a different version: the Smurfs’ cassette tape, and we learnt the locomotion that way.

Carole King came later, in my teen years when I realised she was responsible for some of the music I liked the best – you know, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey (Don’t judge me).

But I digress.

This week, literally, we have felt the “earth move, under our feet”…. Continue reading

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Altas y Bajas | Highs and Lows

Beautiful little girl "Arleth", the daughter of a health promotor

Beautiful little girl “Arleth”, the daughter of a health promotor

This week has been a strange week, filled with ups and downs, altas y bajas is what we say in Spanish. The heat has increased to a level where water on the ground almost vaporises. The walls of my room are thick concrete and as I ran my hands over them last night, it was like touching a warm cup of coffee. The fan in my room sounds like a WW2 fighter jet about to take off, and basically, it just blows hot air around the room. Before leaving the house today, the back of my neck and the bottom of my hair were already wet from sweat.

The closest I’ve come to airconditioning here consists of sitting in “ropa interior” after a shower for a minute or two in front of the fan.

We have five kitties living on our roof

We have five kitties living on our roof

I’m badly sunburned after an hour and a half walk in the barrio yesterday. I should learn my lesson, but I’m a little slow. I wore a hat, but it didn’t protect my neck or arms, so last night, I was feverish, hot and grumpy.

I’ve never had a cucumber facial or anything like it, but that was what the sisters recommended to me…cucumber and crushed tomato to refresh the skin.

Postulant Mass

Postulant Mass

But, my mood was lifted immeasurably by a beautiful two hour mass we had around the table in our house. The mass was celebrated by Basque Jesuit Zubi, who has been 30 years in Nicaragua. We were joined by the Rector of the UCA (University of Central America) Padre Chepe and a Jesuit scholastic. The mass was to celebrate the entering into postulancy of two Nicaraguan girls Wendy and Raquel.

Table ready for Mass

Table ready for Mass

This is their second “etapa” (phase) of the journey to enter the Company of Mary Our Lady, and both girls spoke movingly of the very present work of God in their lives.

Between tears of joy and sadness between Raquel and her mother, and the palpable sense of agape in the room, the atmosphere made me forget the headache and sting of the sunburn and enter into a sacred moment.

Afterwards, we shared a feast of fried tortillas with beans, chicken, cheese, cabbage and lettuce.

Life is different here.

I find myself all at once missing some of the comforts of home, my family, the cat, the Canberra weather; but so deeply happy here that there is no longer any anxiety.

Misa Campesina

Misa Campesina

It’ll sound strange, but since arriving in Nicaragua, I have found that paradoxically I’ve had no trouble sleeping and no moments of panic. It’s ironic that packed amongst my luggage are sleeping tablets and valium and the packets are basically full.

Yet, leading up to my trip in comfortable Canberra, I was profoundly anxious and irritable and short with everyone around me.

Life here is more difficult and intense, and is lived very much out loud. Music plays until late in the night and roosters start crowing at 4:30am.  The noise can be a bit over the top, but I’m filled with a strange sense of calm.

Water

Water

My daily work keeps me more than busy, I’m finishing off four promotional videos for Redes de Solidaridad and teaching workshops in the afternoon at Colegio San Francisco Xavier (Fe y Alegria school).

The bajas are very real though.

I was moved to tears watching the funeral of Bishop Michael Putney, and the beautiful testimonies to his life from Archbishop Coleridge and others. I could only connect for bits and pieces on YouTube and have yet to watch the whole thing.

On Sunday, rather than going to the parish, we went for the first time to Batahola, which is the site of a weekly “Misa Campesina”, which is basically a “Mass of the People.”

In the end, they didn’t sing the famous “Vos Sos el Dios de Los Pobres” (You are the God of the Poor) Mass setting, (which is incidentally banned in Nicaragua, but still sung with gusto by the Italian volunteers I work with) but the wall-to-wall colourful mural was enough to keep me entranced for the duration of the mass.

Rigoberta Menchu

Occasionally, the more bizarre occurrences keep me entertained.

The other day was a one-hour workshop on parasitosis and diarrhoea.

The practise of getting up at 5:30am and eating dinner at 8:30 at night is taking some getting used to; and remind me if I ever decide to go to the “Mercado Oriental” again that it is a bad idea.

 

 

Touching Hearts through Photography

Photo taken in the Barrio

Photo taken in the Barrio

(*This article is translated from Spanish and originally appeared on the Redes de Solidaridad blog on 5 April)

In Barrio Nueva Vida, the poverty is extreme. There is no doubt about that. In addition to this, the barrio is known as a place with various social issues.

As a result of this, different NGOs are present in the community, accompanying the people, walking with them and helping them to build a better future.

There are many ways in which one can help in this important work.

In Redes de Solidaridad (Solidarity Network), for example, volunteers come from lots of different countries. At the moment, the volunteers are Spanish, Italian and Australian.

I’m one of those volunteers, and my mission is in the area of communication. Through photography and videography, I am working with the people of the barrio to project and show a little of the reality of Nueva Vida, and also raise the consciousness of the problems, and the joys of this place. Continue reading

Peeling onions, shedding layers

Hearts made from toilet paper rolls....Workshop with kids

Hearts made from toilet paper rolls….Workshop with kids

There’s lots to be said for a simpler life. It can bring moments of gratitude for simple things.

Like, in place of air conditioning, sitting in shorts and a tank top with a bit of soapy water on your face; or the joy of slowly letting go of things.

St Ignatius in the spiritual exercises talks of disordered attachments. The nuns here say that my cat is my disordered attachment (affecto desordenada, or is it my affecta desordenado???)

Una flor

Una flor

Ignatius was referring to the things that keep us weighed down.

Like the story of the rich young man who, when confronted with the challenge to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor, went away sad.

Most of us do go away a little sad.

I went away from Australia a little sad that I hadn’t fulfilled my promise of packing light, taking three bags instead of two (which quickly became four….).

But little by little, shedding layers has been a lesson here for me.

Spanish onion...to which I am ironically allergic

Spanish onion…to which I am ironically allergic

I’m a bit like an onion at the moment. Peeling off layers, revealing hopefully, a purified version of myself.

Last week, with no notice, I taught a two hour journalism class to fifteen highschoolers.

I had, fortuitously brought along an iPad, a camera and my phone, though, I’m fairly convinced now that we could have managed with a piece of paper to share.

Such was the richness of the conversation that the lack of technology didn’t hinder us.

A few pieces of paper, some toilet paper rolls and a whiteboard marker is all we needed for a workshop with about 30 kids today.

Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga, photo by Mev Puleo

Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga, photo by Mev Puleo

Brazilian bishop Pedro Casaldaliga when interviewed by journalist Mev Puleo  said the following:

“We need a civilisation of love and sharing, a certain sobriety that will be a model for our children. Nature teaches us this. You see the children of rich people who have lots of expensive, new toys in their house, and yet they get a stick, some twine and a tin can and make a horse! and all the toys that daddy bought just sit there.”

We become creative when we have little.

So, through this learning,  I’ve been slowly letting go of trivial things. My favourite jumper, superfluous camera lenses.

Landfill Harmonic, website image

Landfill Harmonic, website image

But it is an important challenge which is posed for us in the short clip Landfill harmonic which looks at the group of young people in Cateura, Paraguay who have made an orchestra out of rubbish.

They have literally used recycled oil cans, coke cans, recyclable materials that had been thrown in the trash to create a symphony orchestra and, are currently touring with Metallica.

We might be able to let go, but to what extent do we remain attached? What do we count as rubbish? What do we know isn’t rubbish, but that we can live without?

And what ends up on our shoulders when we remove that weight we were carrying? Shedding the layers is important, but the how and why is important too.

From assistencialism to development

Opcion para headerThis is a translated version of my first Spanish blog published today @ redesdesolidaridad.wordpress.com.

To see the original and the photos, click here

“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

IMG_0461These are the words of Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara, who participated in Vatican Two and was one of the most revolutionary bishops of Brazil during the 20th century.

This phrase has quite an impact on me, and moves me internally, because it has a lot to do with the situations and issues facing NGOs in many poor countries. The values of charity, justice and a preferential option for the poor are generally what guides NGOs in places like Nicaragua.

However, let me give a bit of context to what I’m saying.

Just a few days ago, I arrived in Nicaragua for the first time. I am Australian. I grew up in Canberra, and I have worked as a journalist and a teacher in various cities throughout Australia.

For the last four years, I have worked for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, and let me say that the life of the Church in Nicaragua and Australia is, well, a little different. The priorities are quite distinct.

I will be here for a month doing volunteer work in Ciudad Sandino.

The truth is, I can’t do much in a month, so, I will instead be volunteering in something which I already have experience, and that is the area of communication.

In particular, I will spend most of the month travelling around the barrios of Ciudad Sandino, meeting people and documenting their lives. Here in this blog are some images of my first days in Nicaragua, that perhaps can communicate a little of the reality of life here in this “Pinolera” land.

Continue reading

Asistencialismo y capacitación

My first blog in Spanish! Now to translate it back. Mi primer blog en espanol. Ahora, a traducir!

El Blog de Redes de Solidaridad

IMG_0461

Beth Doherty es una periodista australiana que va a ayudarnos durante una temporada con su trabajo en Redes. Lleva muy poquitos días en Nicaragua pero ya quiere compartir aquí, en nuestro espacio del blog, unas primeras impresiones.

¡¡Bienvenida a Redes de Solidaridad, Beth!!
“Cuando doy comida a los pobres, me llaman “santo”, pero cuando pregunto por qué no tienen que comer, me llaman comunista”.
Son las palabras del Arzobispo Brasileño Helder Cámara, quien participó en el Concilio Vaticano II, y que fue uno de los sacerdotes más conocidos y revolucionarios de Brasil durante el siglo XX.
Esta frase me impacta y mueve interiormente, porque tiene mucho que ver con las situaciones y cuestiones de muchas ONGs en países pobres.
Los valores de la caridad, justicia, y la opción preferencial por los pobres es, en general, algo que guía a los ONGs en lugares como Nicaragua.

IMG_0397
Entonces, déjenme dar un poco…

View original post 484 more words

Colourful language and #firstworldproblems

Casas de Carton

Casas de Carton

*Note: This blog contains some colourful language. My apologies to all the nuns, priests, bishops and polite people who read it.

Spanish is one of those languages that can get you into trouble, especially when you travel to different Spanish-speaking lands. The word for t-shirt in Paraguay can be easily confused with the word for prostitute in Nicaragua. The word “to take” means something….um…. a little different in almost all of Latin America than it does in Spain. It’s always a funny moment when religious try to explain to me the different nuances and I enjoy it immensely, just as they enjoying laughing at me.

Wearing my t-shirt (Thanks Cathedral Youth Group :)

Wearing my t-shirt (Thanks Cathedral Youth Group 🙂

As I went around the barrio today with one of the health promotors Marcel, I had the honour  of someone thinking I was Spanish (from Spain!!!) Good sign.

It means that my Spanish is improving to a level that people don’t realise I am a native English speaker….or it could have just been that I stayed reasonably quiet while the guys spoke?? Probably the latter I imagine!

Que rica la tortilla!!! what a delicious tortilla!!

Que rica la tortilla!!! what a delicious tortilla!!

The cold showers continue, but the water comes out of a tiny metal tube with about a two centimetre radius, so it felt quite luxurious today after a “caminata” in the barrio.

I wrote my first blog in Spanish yesterday, which needed a bit of correction obviously by one of my new friends Josue who works as a community development promotor in Nueva Vida.

The blog was about the transition that “Redes de Solidaridad” is making from assistencialism to a model of development. It talks of charity versus development and the strengths and challenges of this. I was imbibing a bit of the spirit of Dom Helder Camara to come up with what to say about this. It will be published this coming week and I’ll try and translate it here.

Footwear in the barrio

Footwear in the barrio

Had the opportunity to Skype with my cat today (well, also Mum and Dad, but hey! Priorities!). She was a little grumpy because it was 11am and, like her mum, she isn’t one to get up early 😉

The funniest thing I’m finding is what translates over here and what doesn’t. The kids are quite surprised and excited to receive koalas and kangaroos, although they have no idea what they are.

My feet after day one....day two was much worse. Covered shoes may be a little more practical ;)

My feet after day one….day two was much worse. Covered shoes may be a little more practical 😉

Indeed, a lot of people look at me blankly when I say I’m from Australia, but one thing they do have here from Australia is Hillsong music! There is a plaza right next to the sisters’ house, and last night, they were having a loud worship session with Spanish versions of the songs. The music is quite good actually and I will admit to having downloaded a lot of the songs myself, so I recognise them.

My favourite photo so far from the Fe y Alegria school. Looks like a blessing to me

My favourite photo so far from the Fe y Alegria school. Looks like a blessing to me

It did however make for a kind of funny prayer session with the sisters as we listened to a more contemplative, simple guitar song with loud drums and praise and worship in the background, but it is all part of the experience.

I admire the energy and enthusiasm for evangelisation. They’ve been singing for hours. Haven’t been to mass yet in Nicaragua (Fair go! It’s Friday and I arrived Tuesday).

Something tells me that the Catholic mass will be a little different to the praise and worship in the barrio.

Water, the most precious resource

Water, the most precious resource

All of that said, evangelicalism is something of a controversy in the barrios of Latin America. The growth is unprecedented and they say it’s political. I’m interested to learn more about this debate, but for the moment, I hope to just be open to it all.

Perhaps Bishop Michael Putney’s new book on his Ecumenical journey could be translated into Spanish and used here for reflection?

It makes me laugh at myself to realise the things I thought I would need here and either brought with me to clutter up my luggage or forgot and left at home. In many ways, life here “exige” (forces) a shedding of layers.

I love frothy milk and left my milk frother at the ACBC secretariat. #firstworldproblems. Hope the gang there enjoy it (Aoife!! Make yourself a latte and bring back fair trade to the office por favor!!)

Comidas tipicas. National food: Beans and rice, fried banana, and a little cheese on the side.

Comidas tipicas. National food: Beans and rice, fried banana, and a little cheese on the side.Here, the milk is powdered, so not much point frothing it, I think that would just be weird, and a cup of whatever type of coffee at 5:30am feels like a blessing.

My favourite jumper hasn’t been worn since getting off the plane in LA, so it’s going home to lighten my load.

Exercise and going for runs (okay, walks) is a bit of a challenge. First of all, the humidity is so intense that I’d return looking like a drowned rat…..and secondly, it’s too dangerous.

So, I will probably arrive in Paraguay as a “gordita” or “enorme” as the women like to remind me. “Ay Beth!! Estas muy gorda ahora.” (Beth, you are very fat now.). Not sure if that translates favourably in any language, but hey, it is what it is.

School project

School project

My exercise in these days has consisted of walking around the barrio in thongs and returning covered in mud and dust.

I’m advised that in Ciudad Sandino and especially in Nueva Vida to walk anywhere alone brings a certain suspicion and increases the possibility of being robbed, especially when you are a “blanquita” like me. (oh to be tanned!!!)

So, we always go in pairs like Vincentians or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I’ve turned a peculiar shade of pink, which as most of you know is my favourite colour, but I kinda resemble Bridget Jones in the part of the movie where she puts on her makeup without a mirror.

This is redesdesolidaridad.wordpress.com. Check out the site if you can! This is where I am working for the next month.

This is redesdesolidaridad.wordpress.com. Check out the site if you can! This is where I am working for the next month.

Another #firstworldproblem is the recording of podcasts here. Noise starts at 5am and continues well into the night. Earplugs were an excellent investment. The fan needs to be turned off so that there is no background noise, and even three minutes without it leaves me sweltering.

So the podcasts will be done in the silence of the evening and if there is a rooster in the background, I think it just adds to the authenticity, right?

 

The Joy of Bucket Showers

A typical Nicaraguan painting displayed in the sisters house

A typical Nicaraguan painting displayed in the sisters house

It’s been about four years since I had a bucket shower, but I haven’t forgotten how it works.

After an hour’s walk around Ciudad Sandino, one of Managua’s poorest areas, I was ready to rid myself of grime and sweat.

A few litres was all that was needed, and the cold water was refreshing and welcome. The temperature here is a cool 37 degrees with what feels like 100 percent humidity. Don’t think I’ll be needing a jumper for about the next six months.

Shower time!!

Shower time!!

Not too much to report yet, just some pictures of the beautiful community where I am living for the next month. So grateful to the sisters who came an hour out of the way to pick me up from the airport.

I start work tomorrow or the next day; giving english classes, working one day in the Fe y Alegria School, teaching video editing and photography, and finally, my great passion, some music teaching.

A woman of prayer in the chapel

A woman of prayer in the chapel

Haven’t visited the Church yet, but we passed the parish pastoral centre, and walked through the community where the people live.

Something tells me that the people of this country (which is basically 100 percent Catholic) are not too worried about gold vestments and ornate chapels, but rather about the humility of Christ. I think Pope Francis would like it here, but then, I haven’t met any of the clergy yet.

This country bears some similarities to Paraguay. Hunger, poverty and inequality are part of the lifestyle here.

Yet, to get a little personal, as I showered, I reflected on just how hungry I was for some of this simplicity. I enjoyed my cold bucket shower because it reminded me that really, that’s all I need: To get rid of my #firstworldproblems and really understand what are the important things of life. For that, I am grateful.

I’m also grateful for this new song I have discovered by Sarah Hart who I interview the other day. http://www.spiritandsong.com/podcasts/heart-of-my-god.

I must have had it on repeat throughout most of my plane journey the other day, and it helped me to pray. (Incidentally, it also gently rocked me to sleep and I would prefer that any day to turbulence.)

Hope you enjoy some of these pics from my journey! 🙂

 

 

No time for Mickey Mouse

 

Painted Virgin at Dolores Mission Catholic Church, Boyle Heights

Painted Virgin at Dolores Mission Catholic Church, Boyle Heights

When you tell people that you will be stopping over in Los Angeles as you travel south, the assumption is that you will go to Disneyland.

Well, I didn’t go even though I was just metres away from it for four days.

Instead, my dream was to visit the Jesuit parish of Dolores Mission in East LA, the foundation place for Fr Greg Boyle’s ministry “Homeboy Industries”.

Homeboy is the largest gang intervention program in the United States, and by extension the world, and works with gang members who have decided they want to get out of their situation and find a better life.

Candle at Dolores Mission

Candle at Dolores Mission

My colleagues were less than keen to drive into the most dangerous area of town, so it took some convincing that they needed to see a “Jesuit Ministry” and that it counted very much as work. But, after some tasty tacos at Homegirl Café, one of the many arms of Fr Boyle’s ministry, I convinced them that the Church was just around the corner, and we should check it out.

Fr Greg Boyle has been doing this work with gang members for over thirty years. A gifted storyteller, his book “Tattoos on the Heart” has you laughing and crying throughout.

Cross at the entrance to Dolores Mission

As part of the LA Religious Education Congress, I attended a session where Fr Boyle shared stories of his work with the marginalised. Then, he said the youth mass. His opening line after the sign of the cross was a quip in his unique humour: “So, welcome to this youth mass. I see that there is a fair bit of grey hair out there, so I’m guessing they weren’t checking IDs at the door….hey, I got in!!”

The homily was a chance to preach on the Gospel of love and acceptance. His stories are moving, and there were plenty of tears spilling over in that room. Accompanied by the powerful music of Jesse Manibusan, it was a glimpse of the holy.

Tomorrow, I head to Nicaragua.

The LA Congress has been a beautiful preparation, a good transitional time.

I had the chance to speak Spanish and attend bilingual sessions.

One of many cute things available at the Congress

One of many cute things available at the Congress

I wandered around collecting resources to use with the children in the barrios of Managua and Asuncion.

I met one of my favourite Christian music artists Sarah Hart and interviewed her.

I met my favourite Jesuit writer Fr Jim Martin SJ and had lovely dinners with good friends from Australia and new friends in the States.

Ili and the Company of Mary Sisters, Santa Ana

Ili and the Company of Mary Sisters, Santa Ana

And, as only the Holy Spirit can facilitate, I ended up in Santa Ana at dinner with the Company of Mary Our Lady Sisters where I met my dear friend Iliana Cohan, one of the Paraguayan sisters I’ve known for three years. It’s these sisters I will work with for the next year, and I am so touched by their generosity.

A few shout outs to some amazing people that I met just in these days: Fr Jim McDermott SJ having known me for 24 hours gifted me with a beautiful book by Kerry Weber called “Mercy on the Streets: How to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned while keeping your day job”. I was so grateful to Fr Jim who thought of me, and for this beautiful detail of gifting me the book. I visited the America Magazine stall the next day and interviewed her also. I found Kerry to be an amazing woman in the heart of Dorothy Day, and incidentally, the same age as me!

Destino_webThe final session of the Congress I attended was Sr Xiskya (www.xiskya.com)  who gave a Spanish presentation on photography for evangelisation. I learned so much in that hour and a half and will go to Nicaragua armed with ideas and inspiration.

I’m missing my cat Ezekiel terribly, and the family too.

There have been some teary moments and the loneliness will no doubt set in today.

My friends from JesCom left last night on parallel flights back to Melbourne, so I am on my own now.

Rest is on the agenda today. Maybe a little shopping….

And after all that? I’m a bit star struck. Having met and chatted with people I have admired for years, the absence of Mickey Mouse doesn’t even feature in my reflective dialogue 🙂

 

 

 

City of the Angels

IMG_9980I had hoped to hold it together at the airport, and I very nearly did. But as I went to board the plane from Sydney to Los Angeles, the anxiety began to set in.

 

A few beautiful companions came to farewell me, and I’d love to give a special shout out to Duc Mac, Aoife Connors, Susanah Bishop, Juana Crespi FMVD, Kylie Cullen FMVD, and Sr Marg Beirne RSC who came with me to the airport, sat and drank coffee and speculated on the future Archbishop of Sydney. At that point, the person who was looking most nervous was my dear friend Aoife who has replaced me at work for the year, and will be in charge of media for that episcopal announcement.

However, as 1pm ticked over, it became evident that it was time to go. For a long time.

“You look a bit pale”, observed Juana as I finished filling in my customs declaration.

St Ignatius in the TapestryThe colour had obviously drained from my face and gave away that I was starting to panic. In just a few moments, I needed to go to the gate where I would be, on my own.

After all of the beautiful farewells and the intensity that this brings, I had almost been seeking some solitude, but when it arrived, I was a bit of a mess.

Yet, our beautiful God works in mysterious ways….(or maybe it was the white wine….or maybe it was God working through the fruit of the vine?)… because the plane ride was a bit of a dream for me. With almost no turbulence and a spare seat beside me, it was about as good as it gets.

IMG_9952I was warmly welcomed in LA by my buddy and co-worker Mick, and I keep discovering all of these blasts from the past who are here in LA for this RE Congress. So, Mum, it’s going well. Tell Grandma not to worry:)

In my typical nerdy Catholicism, and let’s be honest, my friend Mick’s equally nerdy Catholicism (he’s the one who suggested it) our first “tourist” visit was to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

There is something so beautifully prayerful about that place, that I think people of all faiths would feel a sense of peace there.