What to Bring Home?

So we’re heading home soon, after spending the last 8 months here in México and the last 9 months away from home. It has been an amazing experience. Really. My family and I have been blessed by the opportunity to travel, to live abroad, to spend time in other cultures. We have learned so much. A question I have for myself and for my wife and daughter is, “what do we want to bring back home with us?”

Appreciation! Gratitude! Thanks! Blessings!IMG 7142

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Gratefulness for…

•our connection with each other.

We have spent so much time together, been through a lot together. We’ve schlepped our backpacks through cold days in Warsaw without knowing where we were going. Slept in a room in Paris with 10(!) strangers and barely enough room on the floor to step to the bathroom. Forced ourselves to eat when we weren’t hungry at a doting and loving relative’s apartment. Lived through a horrid infestation of head lice—one that didn’t seem to ever stop. And spent the last 8 months in a foreign culture, surrounded by a different language, customs and practices. We’ve come a long way together and I feel it has made us stronger as a family, having to depend on each other day-in and day-out—yes, even when we weren’t getting along or all of us felt grumpy about whatever. And there were a few days like that!

• for different customs.

Every day has been chock-full of lessons for us. So many that we can’t begin to even recount them all. And along the way, we caught ourselves being judgmental or critical of the way things are done in another place. Until we got to the point where it became background noise and we found ourselves trying on what we took to be the local perspective. Can’t tell you how many times the shoe repair guy told Kimberly that her shoes would be ready “mañana.” Eventually, we understood that mañana did not mean tomorrow—it meant some indefinite time in the future. In the end, the only way Kimberly actually got her shoes repaired was by coming back three times in the same day, the last time after he finally said, come back in an hour.

• for a shift in priorities.

It’s not about efficiency here. It’s not about “gettin it done.” It’s more about being easy-going and dealing with the vagaries of the system and people. Both doing what they can do and no more. There is less exhortation and more easy-come-easy-go. What you don’t get to today, you’ll get to tomorrow. Or maybe not, but does it really matter that much in the end? School is closed today because of a death of a teacher’s family member. The paint job wasn’t finished because the delivery guy from the paint store never showed up. The baker made less bread because there was no electricity for the dough mixer so what he did knead, he kneaded by hand. A young man you were expecting at co-counseling class couldn’t come because the errands he had to do in Mexico City took waaay more time than was expected. The plan you made with your shopkeeper friend to go to Yautepec isn’t going to happen today (or any day) because he had to leave earlier than he told you the day before. The swim class is cancelled for today because the pool is dirty. Is drinking water “falling” at the faucet in the street now, today? If not, try earlier. Or try later. Or better to walk to the other faucet where it may be falling. And no one is to blame for anything. “Así es,” is a common refrain, which means more-or-less “that’s the way it is” or “so it goes.”

• for those who live in new places with different customs and language.

This has not been easy. And that’s even after having come here for the past four years! And having spoken some Spanish. I can’t help but think about families who, for economic reasons or due to war or drought or who-knows-what, have had to pick up and move themselves across borders and oceans. Arrive in a new place where everything is different. The food, the drink, the small-talk (which you can’t understand anyhow–how often I am in the dark about the conversation!), even something as simple as the day-to-day customs of saying hello or goodbye. (For instance, I still don’t know when it’s appropriate to kiss someone on the cheeck or simply say goodbye with a wave and an “adiós.”)  Imagine the experiences of families forced to relocate permanently in a new location! My gosh, next to them, this has been a cake-walk.

• for the hospitality, warmth and welcome shown to us.

In this town, we are greeted non-stop as we walk up and down the cobblestone streets. And in some cases, it’s a stop-and-chat greeting. So that no matter how late you are running, you stop to exchange a few words (the usual: how are you? how about this weather? what’s new). Folks are happy to see us, excited to learn where we are from and what we think about the village. And we tell them! Yes, this is a magical village and the people, the scenery, the weather, the customs are wonderful and precious.

What is something you have “brought home” from your travels? What lessons did you learn? Could you bring those lessons home? What was/is hard about carrying it with you into your life at home?

Although it may be easier to “bring things home” when one travels, there are many ways to find things worth bringing home. What have you brought home? What would you like to bring home?  Chime in below, if you are so moved.

Talking About Oppression

First, a nod to Tracy Chapman for her powerful and moving song “Talkin Bout a Revolution,” which came immediately to mind as I thought about writing this post.

I have been so very fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know and talk with a small group of young activists in this community in Central Mexico. We’ve been talking about oppression–about how oppression has developed over the course of human history, how it hit us when we were born into this society, how it continues to affect us today, and how to work to end oppression.

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The young people in this village—like young people everywhere—are hit heavily by oppressive forces in the society. Messages that tell them who they should be, what they should do, how they should behave, and what their rewards will be if they conform.

We talked (in English and in Spanish) about how as babies we arrive here expecting to land in the world of our dreams.

 

Babies arrive fully human, and fully formed. Sure, we don’t have much experience with the world, but we know our own minds and we know what we want and what we need. It’s confusing when those around us don’t realize that and treat us as if we don’t have our own mind and free will.

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We expect to be welcomed, treated with respect, loved and held close. We expect our parents and the other adults (and young people) around us to be free of distress and to delight in our presence. We don’t realize that they already carry the scars of growing up and living in a oppressive society, filled with adultism, sexism, classism, racism and so on. If they hadn’t already been slammed by those isms, they would be much better able to “be there” for us, and to treat us as we deserve to be treated.

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It was so fulfilling to me to get to speak to these young activists because I do respect the work they do and their success at conserving this community. There is a very committed group of activists in this community who continue a long legacy of maintaining community customs & traditions, as well as working to protect the villagers’ autonomy and right to self-determination.

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Most recently, the local youth group, Frente Juvenile en Defensa de Tepoztlán helped organize brigades of volunteers to put out the forest fires in the mountains surrounding the town. Members of the group fought fires, built firebreaks, and solicited support for their activities by collecting food, water and tools for the volunteer firefighters.

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I told these young adults that one of the first steps in fighting oppression is becoming aware of it and talking about it. Doing so is talking bout a revolution and it sounds like a whisper–but en voz alta. Out loud.

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Photo credits: Jewish Federations of North America, Fonte Silvia Meo via Compfight

NOW OVER TO YOU:

When have you stood up for a young person against oppressive pressures from school, society, or other adults? Do you remember an adult standing up for you when you were young? If you could return to your younger self today as an adult ally, what conversation would you have with her? How do you model human liberation for the people around you—especially but not only the younger generation?

If you are a young adult, when have you stood up for yourself? And what support would you like from your adult allies?

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