27 July 2009

Full Steam Ahead

The video editor is back up and running. I hope to have another video up soon. Most of this week is going to be spent preparing reflections for the kids that will be given during a daily "service of the word" in the absence of Father Ron. I'm no whiz when it comes to coming up with ideas to preach to kids in my OWN language, let alone Spanish.

Here it goes...

26 July 2009

Your Government At Work

The Lid has the latest on the current presidential administration's "non-interventionist" policy towards Central America in general, and Honduras in particular:
Based on the Actions of the Obama Administration, they believe that the Honduras Constitution doesn't matter. Maybe that's why Honduras is who Obama bullied today.
Read the rest here.

In other news, I've just returned from a weekend visit to the family of one of the Archidiocese's seminarians. It was outstanding, and I hope to put together an entry on it, but Corel has stonewalled my efforts to purchase their video editor and my trial version has expired. Customer service isn't exactly hopping on my problem, so until I get this fixed, there will be no new video entries. Sorry!

Check back soon for an update...

20 July 2009

Street View, El Salvador

I’m in a tough spot down here. I’m absolutely safe and sound within the confines of the walls of NPH, but it does start to get to a fellah when he’s in a foreign country and can’t ever get more than a hundred yards away from his door. The Foundation is almost 2 miles from a paved road, and it’s been known to shelter muggers around blind corners. I’m not to walk that path alone, nor am I to venture into the city without being in a group of some size. Taking the bus alone is out of the question. Yet in the midst of this, I would very much like to get out and see the region. If anything were to happen, I’ve been forewarned enough by a variety of friends and acquaintances here that it’s just plain dangerous here that if something were to happen, it would simply be the result of my own negligence or stubbornness.

I’ve been tempted once or twice to just risk it—what’s wrong with a little adventure when it might even result in a story to tell? Of course, that’s the selfish man’s perspective, because as a foreigner, it would put a lot of pressure on those in whose care I’ve been put to extricate me from whatever situation I’d gotten myself into.

To help put some perspective on things, my Spanish teacher told me a few stories today about some of the “current events” in his part of Santa Ana (which I understand to be fairly well off, as far as Salvadoran cities go). I have no doubt that we was trying to scare me (for my own good).

  • A man was shot yesterday just blocks from his house in the business district. We walked by the site just days ago when I stayed with him and his family. Cause unknown.
  • Two street vendors were killed a short distance away a few days ago. They sold coffee. Cause unknown, but probably was the result of their refusal to pay “rent,” which how “protection” rackets refer to what they force from the pockets of businesses in their “territory.”
  • A schoolteacher was told it was his day to die by two thugs on the street. When they demanded his cell phone and wallet, he informed them that he’d been robbed only 3 days before and didn’t have anything.
  • A schoolteacher received a phone call late one evening that went something like this: “Is this Don __? Listen, and don’t talk. I am going to speak, and you will not interrupt me until I am done. I am a bad man. I have bad friends. One of them killed too many people and the police are after him now. We need money to get him across the border. You will give me three hundred dollars by 10 a.m. tomorrow. We know where you live and where your children go to school. –But I don’t have 300 dollars. –We know you are a teacher with a salary and own two cars. You will get the $300. –I cannot get $300. –You will bring $50, then. –I could probably scrounge up $25 from the things I have in the house.

    At this point, the connection broke, and the schoolteacher loaded his revolver and sat in the kitchen all night, terrified for his family (two of whom are studying at the university in town). It's tough to know if these people are just leveraging fear or whether they really have the means to carry through on their threats. He called the police that night, and told them what happened. They assured him they could take his deposition in the morning. As to dealing with the threat, they advised him to “be careful.” At the police station the next day, they checked the phone number, and found that it was from Guatemala. This was outside their jurisdiction, and it meant they could do nothing. A colleague at work informed the man that the criminals had probably bought a phone chip in Guatemala and put it in the cell phone they were using to call him from across the street.
  • A schoolteacher was approached by a man on the street who had a cell phone in his hand. He said, —It’s for you. –For me? Who is it? —Just talk. TALK NOW. –Hello? —Are you the man with dark pants and a baseball cap? —Yes… —With your right hand in your pocket? —Yes… —We are watching you. We know where you live, know your family, and where your children are right now. If you do not give the man that handed you the phone all your money, and your cell phone, someone you love will die.
  • The owner of a corner market (a cross between a grocery and a convenience store) was approached by a lady (who was evangelical, he mentioned—not sure what that had to do with the story) who asked for the number to the store. She had tried to shop there a number of times but had found it closed, and she would prefer not to make the walk if she didn’t have to—to be able to call would be nice. The owner, of course, agreed. Within a few days, another lady came with a cell phone and told the owner that the call was for her. The caller claimed to be calling from prison. He said that the owner must give the woman who brought the phone (his mother) $50 every week or else he would put her in touch with his thug friends on the outside (clearly claiming to belong to a gang). The woman who brought the phone said that half the money was for her and half was for the gang, and if she didn’t comply, they would come after her, too.
  • The most common perpetrators of such threats are neighbors, co-workers, or even family members. However, there have been a few spectacular cases of corruption as well. A police captain was caught threatening members of his family. A bank owner had been selling loan information to people who would call the night someone had received a large loan for a significant purchase (a car, business renovation, whatever) and demand thousands. However, gangs are very active here, as well. Most of them have spent some time in the US and learned some of our own techniques to bring back with them after jobs fail and there’s no reason to stay.
  • The current regime is contemplating negotiating payments to gangs as a form of welfare—if the members had jobs, they wouldn’t be in gangs, so we can cut them a deal to stop committing crimes in exchange for a check. This seems pretty bad until you know about how the previous governing party handled crime. Thieves and burglars would get a slap on the wrist for 5 or 6 offenses, but periodically the police would send out death squads in the middle of the night to execute repeat offenders in their homes.
Given that millions of dollars are sent here from the US each year by immigrant workers, our present economic crisis is hitting El Salvador especially hard, in more ways than one—not only by cutting off the money flow, but as was just mentioned, sending malefactors back to make a living some other way (the chances being quite high that there would be no job waiting for them when they arrived).

Compound this with the political situation. The newly elected president, Mauricio Funes, is a candidate of the FMLN, the party of the “left” that won its first presidential election in decades. Upon news of his election, businesses from other countries began closing and selling their assets as fast as they could, convinced that soon the government would be nationalizing numerous industries (though Funes does not appear to march in step with the rest of his party). This cut many, many jobs, and people found themselves without income and no way to support themselves. All of this has conspired to create a violent cauldron of extortion and vengeance that would send me packing if I wasn’t as safe as I am in NPH.

And they’re saying that Central America is only beginning to experience the severity of the effects of the US’s economic woes. For most of the people I know in the US, their troubles come nowhere near to the situation your average Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Honduran, or Nicaraguan has to face each day as the result of this global downturn.

16 July 2009

Back To You, Niños

The next entry in the video log is up on YouTube! Take a close look at how a community keeps its whiteys so tidy when there's nary a washing machine in sight. Learn about the culture of apprenticeship that exists here and how it is much more than just vo-tech training to earn oneself a living--it's initiation into a tradition of humane labor that is "liberal" in the most ennobling sense of the word.

For higher quality viewing, make sure you click "HQ" in the lower right-hand corner of the player. Thoughts and comments welcome!

14 July 2009

Denver Archbishop Concerned About Public Discourse

Fans of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death (mentioned in a previous post) will enjoy a recent article by Archbishop Chaput on the Archdiocesan website (via First Things):
America was born as a nation of readers; a nation of the printed word. The foundational defenses of our constitutional order, The Federalist Papers, first appeared as newspaper articles. The 85 essays are remarkable exercises in political philosophy. They’re done with an intellectual skill unmatched anywhere in the modern news media. Unfortunately, if they appeared today, few of us might read them. The reason is simple. Reading requires discipline and mental effort. But for the past 50 years our culture has been shifting away from the printed word to visual communications, which are much more inclined to sensation and passive consumption. This has consequences. When a print culture dies, the ideas, institutions and even habits of public behavior built on that culture begin to weaken.

Read the rest here: Catholics and the 'Fourth Estate'

13 July 2009

Honduras Abandoned?

A stirring trio of short videos released by PJTV provide an interview with Honduran legislative minority leader Antonio Riveras. You should check them out here for a good bird's-eye view of the question at hand.

PJ TV on Honduras

We are witnessing a startling series of events in the arrest and expulsion of ex-president Manuel Zelaya, and I can honestly say I am startled by the direction our foreign policy is taking.

In other news, the next video blog entry will be up soon, soon, soon!

11 July 2009

On My Mind

Not to get all hot and bothered over politics, but it's ridiculous. The press is getting this whole "Honduran struggle for democracy" all wrong. In a recent editorial by a Venezuelan journalist, the situation was clarified: we are witnessing the enormous courage of the Honduran people in the face of a den of miscreants that are putting all sorts of pressure on this country to collapse under the weight of Chavez' machinations. Well, Chavez and his OEA stooges weren't expecting the response they got--one that is uncharacteristically forthright and upstanding for a central American military (from my limited and stereotypical knowledge of history), which has sought to preserve the operations of democracy rather than rout them.

Those who are interested in following the situation more closely (believe me, socialism / communism is alive and well in this neck of the woods), you can follow it at "Honduras Abandoned," a blog run by an amateur journalist on the ground in Tegucigalpa whose reports have been more in accordance with the news reports here than on CNN and the NYT.


Also of interest is a recent article by a gal who is studying the effects of language on the processes of thought. This question delves deeply into how we understand ourselves and our relationship to truth, and being in the midst of rewiring my brain for another language myself, it does cast an interesting light on the process.

Believers in cross-linguistic differences counter that everyone does not pay attention to the same things: if everyone did, one might think it would be easy to learn to speak other languages. Unfortunately, learning a new language (especially one not closely related to those you know) is never easy; it seems to require paying attention to a new set of distinctions. Whether it's distinguishing modes of being in Spanish, evidentiality in Turkish, or aspect in Russian, learning to speak these languages requires something more than just learning vocabulary: it requires paying attention to the right things in the world so that you have the correct information to include in what you say.

Read the article in full here (it's pretty short):

"How Does our Language Shape the Way We Think?" by Lera Boroditsky

05 July 2009

A Day In The Life

The next video journal entry is up on YouTube.

A friend commented upon watching it, "I stayed for the whole ten minutes and I don't know why." That's kind about how I feel about this entry--I put all the work into making it but I'm not sure why. I look forward to making more episodes about the life of the kids here.

03 July 2009

A Question I Want Answered

So, Lord, that time I was living in El Salvador for the summer as a seminarian? Yeah, nice work getting me there, that was a TRIP. So, two things: when I left that coral snake in a soda bottle for 5 hours in my room without the cap on, can you set me up with some instant replay of 1) how he got out of the bottle without tipping it over, and 2) where in Creation did he GO? Because so far as I can tell, that thing straight up DISAPPEARED. So, thanks for protecting me from the wiles of the serpent and the shadow of death and all, but to tell you the truth (what else would You want?) I'd almost rather have been bitten just to have the security of knowing WHAT IN YOUR NAME HAPPENED. Weeks on end of shaking my clothes out and keeping an eye on the drain while I shower just isn't worth it.