Monday, November 27, 2006

It Was Never About the Money

It´s the feeling of being violated that really eats away at you. I was frantically searching pants and jacket pockets already searched hoping for a result I knew was impossible. My next step was to process whether or not I could run down a moving bus already a couple hundred yards away. No, impossible. DAMN! About the same time I became resigned to my fate I imagine that someone on that bus was leafing through the wallet they had so smoothly robbed me of, and smiling at their discovery of a Credit Card and US $50 (a goldmine by Bolivian standards).

And yet, the money, even though it is close to a month´s salary, was not what was on my mind. Make no mistake I felt pain and anger, but if there is anything positive to take from the experience, it´s that $50 and a Bank Card were the least of my concerns. Instead my mind drifted to the photos of family and friends I had kept with me throughout the years. I thought of the Magis Man card I had treasured for years, a card I read when I struggled with my reasons for being here, going through all of this, and it angered me to know it was gone. I thought of the quotes I had scribbled down over the years on scrap paper and napkins, some for inspiration, others to never forget a funny moment with a dear friend. I even thought about my old university ID and State of New Mexico Driver´s License, momentos of a life lived in that seemingly foreign land: The United States of America. All that, momentos of my identity were gone, and with it, something else was speeding away with a bus, something I so desperately hoped to never lose.

There is the inclination immediately after being violated to lash out at the world. I try and be honest with these reflections so I must confess that it took a few minutes to remind myself that this did not happen because I was in Bolivia, it could happen anywhere, and if anything, it happened because I was foolish and not secure enough with my belongings. But still, in Bolivia or LA, there is a profound hurt inside not only about the sentimental items lost, but indeed about a sentimental consciousness that deep down wants to believe in the good of humanity.

In the end, it is not about the money or the credit card or even the photos and quotes. The financial items are easy enough to replace, perhaps a statement of how extremely lucky I am even in my most unlucky of moments thus far. The pictures too while never being the same again can be replaced by new photos of old friends, perhaps a greater gift than keeping the old ones around. And the quotes too while gone forever will eventually be replaced, full circle by other moments of inspiration, other joyous moments I won´t soon want to forget.

Buddha has a quote that says we can´t travel the path until we become the path itself. I am sure he had a different meaning in mind than what I have in mind, but in an attempt to take a lesson from every experience, every moment, I must say thankfully a part of me is able to give thanks for this robbery. She (the gut works in such a way that I am almost positive I know who it was) robbed me of a wallet and she robbed me of a my trust, but she reminded me that it is the very pain and darkness in this world we stumble through that enlivens us with the desire to do what little we can to fill it with joy and light.

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldous Huxley

In other news, I am rebuilding my collection of sentimentality, any cool photos, quotes, or good memories (quotes and memories prefered on scrap paper or napkins please!) between us can be sent to the following:

Asociados de Santa Cruz
Attn: Patrick Furlong
Casilla 238
Correo 11
Santiago, Chile


And now more than ever, please remember to shop responsibly this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My Christmas Challenge to You: Shop To Make a Difference

The poverty eats away at you. It was suppossed to motivate me to do the more, but day by day you find yourself asking what can I really do? Bring it home, take it back to your country, where people really can make the difference they always tell me. But how I ask? How? In the end, who will listen.

I am coming to you with a Thanksgiving/Christmas plea: do the smallest of things this holiday season and make a difference. At your big meals, buy Fairtrade coffee and shop with local markets (if you can find them anymore) but even do something greater: shop for Christmas gifts and for the first time ever, shop with the confidence that the gifts you give bring happiness to those who receive them, but also genuinely make a difference in the lives of those who made them.

Below is a list of comapnies you can shop with this holiday season and shop knowing your money goes to a good cause and your gifts are still nice, still cool. Ignore it and go to walmart if you want, but God if you could see what I see, you might choose to take the challenge. Look at the sites, make some purchases, and above all else, while the presents are good I have come to find in my program the best of presents are truly, yes it is a cliche, those you can´t buy. Enjoy one anothers company...

And lastly, my own personal wish... sometime between Thanksgiving and Dec 15th, give me a call. My cell phone gets free incoming minutes, I don´t pay a dime for incoming...Phone: 011.591.722.760.96

Invisible Children the Movie

By far my favorite movie AND A GREAT GIFT. Three guys graduate from college, go to Sudan, end up in Uganda and stumble across children being kidnapped and forced into a war they do not want to fight in. They made a powerful documentary to raise awareness, but they are doing more, and trying to make a difference. Buy a braclet to support a student to go to school, but first buy the movie, EVERYONE SHOULD SEE THIS MOVIE, and the website is great with some video clips and previews.

Greater Good

One of the cooler of the websites I have seen. A wide range of products and an opportunity to focus on the cause that really gets to you, from hunger to breast cancer to child literacy to animal rescues.

A Greater Gift

A website I used in the past and enjoyed greatly. They team up with artistans from Chile to India to sell products and they are good products, particularly Devine Chocolates.

GX Online

Another big site with a lot of stuff. A bit more for the super liberal shoppers, but overall the idea is the same: help poor people help themselves.

Shop at big time retailers, and have a portion of your money go to charity

Not the real thing, but a good compromise for the gifts you can't get at the other sites. This is a portal site, meaning they channel you to other companies but a portion (who knows how big) goes to a charity of your choice. Landsend, Barnes and Noble, Officemax, Ebay, etc... are a few of the over 600 companies. If you are going to buy from them anyways, why not demand a bit of your money does some good?

Born Into Brothels

A wonderful movie about one woman making a difference, one child at a time. Purchase the movie directly from the site and not only do you buy a good socially conscious movie, but you also contribute a little more directly to the nonprofit created in response to the movie.

No Sweat Apparel

Everything from sneakers to t shirts to jeans, all made sweatshop free. Look at the tag on your shirt, if it is a country you know very little about, it means it was probably made in dangerous working conditions by a kid you know very little about. Buy with confidence.

American Apparel Clothing

My favorite sweat shop free company, all the clothing is made in LA and it is of the highest quality and thus for me, my most comfortable clothing out of everything I own!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Remembering the Martys of El Salvador

17 years ago today 6 Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her 15 year old daughter were dragged into a university courtyard in the late night and murdered by soldiers with M16´s at close range.

19 of these soldiers were trained at the US sponsored School of the Americas.

This weekend there is a protest in Fort Benning, Georgia. To learn more about this horrible mark on human rights violations on our nation, go here. Also, when I invited the priest who has organized the counter movement to speak at LMU, I was tracked down by a military official from the school and encouraged not to have the event. The email from him and my response is found at the following link...

Army Goes Email Hunting

Human Rights Watch

And In Spanish, Amnesty International- Chile

CLOSE the SOA, and to everyone going this weekend, BEST OF LUCK! Please, write an email to your congressional representitive saying CLOSE the SOA

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Simple living versus Simply Living!

Only in Bolivia. I have said it a lot to myself, usually with a chuckle, sometimes with a sigh, more often than not a combination of those two. But this time the words came in between gasps for air as I slammed on the breaks in the midst of a long run (OK, I don´t really run that fast to use that expression, but still, it felt like that!) Here I was on yet another run through the city of Cochabamba, and yet again, failure was setting in.

I guess in the end, my first jog in the city was a little worse. I was cruising along, not a care in the world. Well not really, I was mad at myself for not washing my running shorts earlier, because the thick sweat pants I had on were not helping me overcome the 8,000 some feet of altitude and intense heat. But there I was, busting along in otherwise complete bliss when a loud growl and a tug on my pants shot me back into reality.

Fortunately, my lightening flash instincts (again, more than we can say about my running ability) allowed me to swiftly rotate the leg not being attacked to kick this dog (if he wasn`t neutered before, he is now) and quickly regain the power in our interaction by shouting out threats in a mixture of English and Spanish. I won the battle that day, but the street dogs of Cochabamba claimed the war to be theirs as I was reluctant to run on these streets, THEIR streets again.

And that brings me to the gasps, the breaks, the ¨only in Bolivia¨ day that happened a little over a month ago. I thought I had outsmarted the dogs by choosing to avoid the streets and instead taking advantage of Cochabamba`s one and only running path. It runs by my school and in the end, ends up in front of the giant Jesus statue in my town. Christo will take care of me, no? So there I was, pumping along, finally getting that run, that beautiful pain and dripping sweat I had missed so much when as I said, I came skidding to a halt. For you see, as I rounded the bend, the animal kingdom of Bolivia again tried to assert its authority in my life.

More than ever I wished I was back in LA, running along the beautiful beach as the sun set upon me as I gazed upon an endless ocean. But instead, I was forced to confront my reality as it was: There was no gazing, only a herd of cattle, grazing on my running path. I wish I could tell you this was some joke, some desperate ploy at a creative blog, but no friends, the honest God truth was if the dogs were not going to stop me, the cows were.

And so I joined a gym. I know I know, simple living what? And where? But in the end, I was forced to choose between what mattered most: simple living or simply living. I have ran into enough drug addicts, dogs, and now cows on the street to feel confident in my decision to invest in a gym. Now the gym is like everything else here in Bolivia: they use products that were beat to near death in some first world country and then to avoid dumping costs, sold to Bolivia at a cheap price. So when the treadmill (I remember this model from the 1990`s when I would visit hotel gyms if that helps you picture it) rotates irregularly and I almost fall off (again, sadly no joke), I do miss those runs on the beautiful coast of California. But after my experiences in the streets, falling off a treadmill because it does not function regularly is the least of my worries. So to my friends back in the beautiful state of California, take a jog somewhere on that incredible coast for me, because you never realize what its worth until a pack of cows threatens to attack you in Bolivia!


In other quick news, I have my address for the next two years. I guess I could not get enough of LA and while it is not 12 million people, there are 6, and an equal amount of smog. Entonces, Santiago here I come!

Asociados de Santa Cruz
Attn: Patrick Furlong
Casilla 238
Correo 11
Santiago Chile

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What the heck do I do now?!?

I walked into the language school with my head held high. I had plenty of reasons to chalk the day up as a bad one before it began. I was on three hours of sleep, a plethora of homework assigned to me remained where I left it the day before: unfinished in my backpack. I had a killer headache but along with that headache, the biggest smile on my face. It took coming to Bolivia to taste a flavor I had never once known in my young career: sweet oh so sweet victory.

I never in a million years would have believed it was a sentence in English I would have the most difficulty understanding, but days later, here I am, still trying to break it down and process it. ¨We won¨ I heard the Democratic correspondent announce on the television. ¨CNN predicts the Democrats will control the house.¨ It was about 1 AM Bolivian time as I pounced out of my chair. Victory, overwhelmingly obvious victory. I jumped out of my seat, the only person in the language school this late at night, screaming and howling, jumping up and down, screaming expletive after expletive, mostly along the lines of ¨no _____ way!¨ I wanted to do something but I did not know what to do. I felt like I needed to call another progressive older than me and through excited cheers ask the question I was dying to get an answer to: what the hell do I do now?

I have voted in every election I ever could since I was 18 and never once known what this victory tasted like. I grew up with a Republican Congress and have spent about 25% of my life under the rule of George Bush Jr. 65% of my life under a Republican president. I had heard stories of a once great political time. Bobby Kennedy and protests for human rights regardless of skin color that provided tangible and inspiring results. But these tales were nothing more than a history so far removed from me that they felt like nothing more than fiction. This was the life of progressives in a generation before me, my progressive life has been much more dim.

I have been declared unpatriotic by nationalists(keep in mind I had a flag on my car before 9/11) for refusing to support the war in Iraq from the start. Click this link and read the list of dead. I challenge everyone to read the ages and profiles of some of these men and women while keeping in mind this does not include the thousands of civilian deaths and Iraqi security forces, refered to by the government as CASUALTIES (what is so casual about it?) of war.

Year after year, I felt my Catholic values being undermined by the Religious Right and a few crazy bishops in my own church, and this year I finally had the courage to declare he´s my God too damn it, so give him back! Anti Death Penalty, anti war, anti poverty, pro climate change for the good of my grand kids (even if it hurts the fortune 500 company down the road), pro working wage and all, he might be on your side as you say with abortion, but how dare you deny he is not with me and those issues as well.

And so friends, the Democrats have won the house and the Senate. We have the first woman as Speaker of the House in the history of our great nation. A war hawk void of wartime service has resigned (or been forced out, however you want to break it down). Hard to admit, but I will miss some of Rummy´s greater press briefing moments (known unknowns, etc...) I read what the Democrats are planning to do, what they are calling their first 100 hours plan, and what a joy it is...

* bringing in rules to break links between lobbyists and legislators
* enacting all the 9/11 Commission recommendations on domestic security, for example on port security
* raising the minimum wage
* expanding stem cell research
* limiting spending by requiring budget offsets for any new spending
In the longer term, Democrats have ambitions to tackle big issues like health care, domestic security, climate change, and the budget deficit.¨

Who knows in the long term what will happen. I have learned to be cynical, to not get my hopes up. Even before the election, I got in a disagreement with my conservative father: he said the Dems would take the house, I said John Kerry´s stupid mouth was just one more way for us to screw ourselves. But here I am, fresh off victory and still in need of advice from any progressives who have felt victory before, what the hell do I do now!?! How do I celebrate? It is so foreign, so incredibly, deliciously, oh so damn sweet and foreign! For now, a glass of wine and tonight, dreams of Barrack Obama for President in 2008.

I like to avoid partisanship with the blog, but the experience and the emotions and everything was simply too much too ignore writing about!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Some Lines Were Meant To Be Crossed

Some lines were meant to be crossed, some norms are just waiting to be violated. At least that is what I kept telling myself as I wondered if I would have the courage to do what I have wanted to do for two months now. Taking a deep breath, I stood up and tried to pretend I did not notice the ceasing of conversation at the table of 20 some people I have come to call my Bolivian host family. I kept my eyes down, perhaps even closed, fully anticipating what would come next and wondering if for once I would find a way to take the moral stand my heart was screaming at me to take…

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? I have learned to show up to meetings late just cause everyone else does. Despite my intense craving to never see another tomato, I smile at almost every lunch and do my best to enthusiastically comment on how delicious the tomatoes are.

But this day, I could no longer follow the old adage of when in Rome. A choice was to be made and there was no grey zone: stay silent in respect of the culture, or speak up, possibly offend some people, but maintain my dignity if for no one else, myself. Bernadette Devlin said that to maintain our dignity, we might have to give up everything else. As the tension escalated in the room, I prayed she was wrong.

Anyone who is familiar with the machismo of many Latin American communities can perhaps vividly imagine what the show down looked like that day at lunch as I went around the table picking up dishes. ¨Sit down, it’s a woman’s job, you don’t have to do this,¨ etc...

I wanted to go on a diatribe that very moment about the equality of women. I had an entire speech, a soap box waiting to be stood upon. But instead I smiled, thinking of my sister, my mother, and the many strong women who have and (God willing especially after this moment) will continue to support me and said ¨I think my mother back home, a single mother, might disagree with that... And so, no disrespect, but I need to help.¨ Silence… until my host mother finally laid down the law (it might be a macho culture but make no mistake, it’s the women who will have the last word when they want it) ¨If this is how he was raised, then we respect that.¨ I walked into the kitchen to begin on the dishes, heart beating, dignity soaring.

I have learned a lot from my Bolivian host family, they are all great people who have so much to offer. But maybe, just maybe, this day the student became the teacher. I did the dishes with my host brother tonight (first time two men have done this task), I could not help but wonder if maybe soon enough there would be two male feminists living in this house.

In other news, I spent $8 to fax my absentee ballot back to the United States. I make $60 a month, so you do the math of how much of my salary just went to pay for democracy… Inherent in this statement should be the obvious: with all the hurdles I just jumped to get my one vote in (I just told you about the cash, don´t get me started on how hard it was to get a ballot), I will be disappointed in anyone who does not make it to the polls. And if my people do not win, I will cry, not only on the basis of my values, but on the fact that I also lost 1/6 of my monthly salary!