Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Escribi el siguiente poema despues del un encuentro con la realidad aca en Colombia.  (por favor, disculpen los errores del espanol)


Yo:  Todos los dias, salgo de la casa y
volteo a la izquierda.
En el suelo, las huellas antepasadas
marcan el camino.

Me sigo, dia tras dia, asi que
no me pierdo bajo el cielo nublado y entre
las gotas de agua que caen.
Mi chaqueta roja es impermeable a lagrimas, aun
lagrimas celestiales.

Me destaco entre las masas.
Tengo un tatuaje que mira
desde debajo de mi manga
cuando agarro el pasamanos
en el bus.  Soy mona
y jamas me pinto el cabello.

Tengo un accento,
y demasiadoes documentos officiales.
Mi nombre es inolvidable,
unico, e intencional.

Ando sola.  Codicio mi independencia.
No miro sobre el hombro-
los que me siguen son
bendiciones, son suertes,
son canciones y oraciones.

Me quedo en la ventana
para ver la vista, y cuando el atardecer
llena mi espiritu, bailo en la calle,
porque se que tengo zapatos en la casa.

Mira atras  (te persiguen)
No me hables por telefono (lo interceptan)
Pinta el cabello (conocen tu rostro)
Jamas grita, chilla, baila (te escuchan)
Mira por la ventana (pasa un desconocido)
No llores (sabran)
No denuncies (no haran nada)
Callate  Escondete
No tengas esperanza
(no existe)
No alcanzaras el mar.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lead Change

Wow- it's been quite a few packed weeks since I last added to the blog, and I have a list of ideas for entries, but I'll start with the most recent idea and work backwards from there.

I was surprised today to be listening to our morning lecture (we call them charlas, or chats, which is actually a better name as we usually semi-casually discuss something, as opposed to having a formal lecture) and to suddenly think of a horseback riding metaphor to explain what we were talking about.  I suppose horseback riding is probably the skill I've most practiced in my life, so it's inevitably part of my subconscious, but usually it doesn't occur to me to explain modern armed conflict through horses.  Bear with me.

When you are cantering a horse, it will lead each step of the stride with one of the front legs- it will make contact first with one leg, then throw the other out in front.  The second that lands, or the one in front, is called the lead leg.  When a horse is cantering in a circle, to maintain balance, it has to lead with the inside leg.  Thus, if you switch directions, you have to change leads.  Often, you start out changing leads by bringing the horse down to a trot, then asking it to pick up the other lead.  When you and your horse know each other, you can move on to a flying lead change, which is effectively switching the leading leg in the air, as the horse continues to canter.  To ask, you have to gather the horse up- pull on the reins while keeping leg pressure on so it doesn't break stride, therefore helping the horse tighten and shorten the stride, until the key moment when you lift the outside rein and ask them to change.  Most horses, when they feel the leg and rein pressure together, tilt their ears back and listen hard, bend their necks, slow down, gather their legs closer and closer- until, bam, you ask and they tilt their whole body up and flip the leading leg.  Then the stride lengthens and you are back in the original stride, speeding around the corner.

It's quite beautiful, however, unfortunately I'm going to use it to describe a not-so-beautiful chain of events in Colombian modern armed conflict.  This morning's charla effectively described a kind of lead-change in Colombian policy and conflict- not any profound or fundamental change, but rather a gathering up, a careful reorganization of the factors, a deluding vision of slowing down, peaceful processing- and then, most dangerously, a potential acceleration in the same conflict, but perhaps in a slightly different direction.  A few themes that reinforce this assessment of the process:

1.  From 2002 to 2006, Colombia's President Uribe effectively mirrored our President Bush's security vs. democracy strategy- that is to say, the ideology that sometimes, democratic principles must be sacrificed for the greater security of the state.  Any organized, armed opposition to state was considered a terrorist group, and in Colombia, this definition was expanded to narco-terrorists, a category that included all the guerrilla groups.  These groups were considered the ultimate enemies of the state, and security against insurgents/defeat of drug production was the most important role of the government.  Both the governments of the US and Colombia have changed, in a strangely similar way.  Presidents Juan Manuel Santos and Obama are more subtle, and less overtly pro-force.  Both have at least advanced political dialogue that acknowledges difference without condemning it, and appear to be trying to advance policies that at least discuss complexities beyond good/bad guys.  However, they are still speaking the military-industrial complex language of a hammer as the answer to deeply, deeply rooted problems that include global inequality, drug demand meeting supply, and lack of economic options.

2.  During Uribe's presidency, with heavy fumigation and intense military attacks on guerrilla groups, government statistics show a decrease in hectares of coca cultivation and in numbers of guerrilla members.  However, alternate statistics point to advances in coca production per hectares (same quantity, more efficiency), and to little to no decrease in traffiking and processing.  Also, guerrilla groups may have lost numbers, according the government statistics (which, due to the horrific 'false positives' scandal of Uribe's government- passing off probable assassinations of young people as guerrilla casualties-should be taken with a fistful of salt), but they have also gained territorial access.  In a classic tactical response, they have run to the hills and dispersed both their numbers and tactics.  They are certainly not giving up.

3. Paramilitaries- Uribe also mounted a demobilization campaign against the paramilitary groups (non-governmental, privatized armed groups, originally formed as security groups for large land owners and narcotraffikers).  Supposedly, all but three pockets of paramilitaries demobilized.  Regretfully, a new classification has emerged in the last few years- bandas criminales or criminal bands- considered isolated armed groups without a political agenda.  A territorial map shows these groups acting in the exact same areas of Colombia as the 'demobilized' paramilitary groups.  Also, over half of the elected Congress is currently under investigation for suspected links to the paramilitary money in the election process.  The paramilitaries are also far from over.

4.  Briefly- multinational involvement- especially with the supposed decrease/ change in the nature of the conflict, Colombia has been recently opening its doors to foreign investment.  Mining, agribusiness, palm oil, and hosts of other multinationals have been courted by the government to come and invest in the industrial growth of the country.  Unfortunately, this is also a continuation (or reconfiguration) of the historical pattern of land consolidation and holding by a very isolated and powerful elite, just the changing of names of the elites from Colombian family names to multinational business brands.

Remember that I am still in the exposure/understanding stage of this conflict, and these are some of my first thoughts.  I am obviously ignorant of most of Colombian history and politics, but these are my first impressions with a little study.  To me, this doesn't look like the root problems are anywhere near being resolved (or even examined).  Instead, it looks like a momentary pause and re-assessment or re-strengthening of the various parties- to finish the metaphor, the gathering together before a big change in form.  This armed conflict is morphing, evolving, growing or intensifying or becoming more subtle- but in any case it is far from coming to a halt.  I'll keep reflecting on this theme as the months go on, so we'll see how my thoughts change.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Reflections on the Fourth of July, from the outside

Today, we decided to have a celebration of the things we love about the U.S., in protest of the conventional patriotism represented by the mass-celebration of the Fourth. The idea was to gather and reflect on aspects of the US that we hoped were different, and also give some concrete examples of the good about our home nation.

I didn't know that this process would be as powerful for me as it ended up being. Let me give some background on what I've been thinking about in these last few weeks regarding the US. When I make a significant change in my life- geographically, relationally, educationally... I have the tendency to reject where I've come from. As I try to adapt to the new situation I find myself in, I compare it to where I'm coming from, and it usually comes out as much more positive. This is incredibly easy to do when I'm leaving the US. All the sudden, as I watch people playing futbol in the park, gather for large family celebrations, eat traditional foods, listen to folkloric music, travel to beautiful natural wonders, and learn about cultural heritage, I find myself selectively remembering and criticizing the US. We are nothing more than fast food, the war on terror, commercial rap music, SUVs, and suburbia. We have no cultural heritage. We are the privileged, the guilty ones, the consumers, the exploiters. I enter this mood of repentance, emptiness and guilt. I feel like I have nothing to contribute because my background is nothing compared to the rich context I find myself in.

Today was a fascinating switch on the whole paradigm I've described above. Simply changing my thought process to think about both the terrible and inspiring things about the US, at the same time, was quite revelatory. There are awful things about the US. Our foreign policy is a disaster, designed to use the rhetoric of terror to justify a world-wide imperial search for resources. The institutionalized racism of the prison system, the education system, and the cultural narrative of success; the unchallenged myth of endless economic growth; the exportation of democracy through the military; the incredible destruction of the land we live on by the industrial food system... these are the aspects I keep at the front of my mind. They are true, and they are powerful. There is a system designed to preserve power as it is, to protect the status quo, in place in the US. This is obvious to me.
What is harder for me to talk about, at first, is the humanizing current that runs beside this complex and destructive structure. There is an expressive, beautiful, protesting, living river of people that is always pushing against the framework of power... and this is where I've grown, loved, and found inspiration. This is what I discovered today: that I love the poetry of the US, from modern spoken word artists Andrea Gibson and Anis Mojgani to Wendell Berry and Walt Whitman. I love the political fiction, from John Steinbeck to George Orwell. I listen to Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and the beautiful folk that follows in their footsteps, seeking inspiration outside of the American dream. In the US, I have found movements for immigrant rights, protests against the School of Americas, people who bike as their primary transportation, school-garden teachers, backyard gardens, pacifist theology, multicultural communities and families, gatherings of Muslims, Jews and Christians concerned about the violence in Israel/Palestine, rainbow stickers, the Shenandoah Valley, bluegrass music.... There is so much more.

What I am gathering from this process of celebrating the good in the US is a powerful sense of pride and love, but not in the US exclusively or as a superior state. It is in, rather, the beautiful, expressive, loving, and human current that runs in contrast to the terrible, destructive, power-hungry system. This is everywhere. This is in the US, in Colombia, in Sudan and Pittsburgh and in every family and community and, indeed, in you and I. There is an attempt at balance, an equilibrium. This by no means forgives or erases the responsibility for the terrible things we have done and are capable of. However, it is impossible to throw out anything as wholly evil, because as we try, we discover that we have gathered goodness from the same thing we are criticizing. I have grown up in the US. It is my nation, but what I am learning from it is not to praise it over any other, but to recognize the lesson it is teaching me. 

Life is both beauty and ugliness, all wrapped up together. It is both lament and celebration, and I, at least, have grown by experiencing both. For this, I have to thank my home country.