Blog Archive

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Girls' Day Out

Dawn and I had an afternoon out yesterday. We went to McCormick Place to check out the climbing wall at Mayor Daley's Holiday Sports Fest, or whatever they call the two exhibit halls' worth of athletic extravaganza. The only problem was we left so late that by the time we arrived, they had closed the line for the climbing wall. We got there after 3 and it was closing at 4, so they stopped taking in people an hour early to let the line finish. Too bad.

At least Dawn got to see it. They had pulleys at the top so you didn't have to have another person belay you, which was different from how I learned it when I went in San Francisco with my sister. I'm not sure if this is the exact place we went, but it has cool pictures:

She thought the rope helped pull you up, so it was a revelation to her that no, you get yourself up. The rope just breaks your fall if you lose your footing.

After watching the climbers on the wall, we went over to watch gymnastics. Dawn was fascinated at the girls doing the vault. Later we watched them do the uneven parallel bars, something I love to watch and wish I could do.
One older blonde girl was chalking her hands. She got on and had a lot of power, flipping between the upper and lower bar.

"Go, Britney!" her teammates called. "Brit, come on, Brit!" She did a flip coming off and only staggered slightly as she landed.

Later, we saw another girl, fully stretched out mid-air, miss grabbing the bar. She fell flat on her chest--thank God her head was still lifted up so she didn't hit her head on the ground. My heart was in my mouth watching her. You don't see stuff like that happen very often when you watch the Olympics.

Once we'd had enough, we walked over to Chinatown and had dinner at Joy Yee's. They have the best smoothies. I had mango with tapioca balls. Dawn had passion fruit with jelly--hers was more like a drink than a smoothie. She tried mine and it took a minute to get used to the tapioca.

The line out the door was much shorter than usual, maybe due to the holiday, and we got a table in record time. We split the appetizer platter: spring rolls, egg rolls, shrimp, chicken, and some slices of an unrecognizable white substance that tasted like mortadella. Dawn discovered she likes hoisin sauce. She wants to take her dad over there some time.

Afterwards we went window shopping in old Chinatown. We poked through Giftland, where I can get all the house slippers I want if I can just remember to bring money next time. Dawn liked checking out the anime posters and the lucky bamboo. We stopped to look in windows full of shiny jewelry and tiny knickknacks. "It's so small!" she marveled.

At the very end I stopped at the grocery store and the dry cleaners. "Sorry to make you wait through that," I said.

"It's OK," she said. "It's always an adventure to go out with you." I'm glad she thinks so.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bad News for Big Picture

Last week the Chicago Tribune wrote a small, unsigned and rather scary story about the high school where Dawn and her brother go. I'm pasting it here because the link will expire soon. For now, just read this and reflect on the head of high schools saying central office needs to "make sure our kids are receiving the support they need." (At a price society is willing to pay is the subtext, I'm afraid. And their per pupil costs would likely be slightly lower now if CPS had permitted them a freshman class--they would have had to pay for two more teachers, but the rest of those costs were fixed, I suspect.)

Costly, small high school becomes a closing target

Published December 21, 2006

BACK OF THE YARDS -- Chicago Public Schools is considering phasing out an expensive high school that stresses small classes and internships, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Big Picture-Back of the Yards High School, 4946 S. Paulina St., was not allowed to accept any freshmen this year because district officials had concerns about the academic program at the tiny school, said Donald Pittman, district director of high school programs. Pittman said a decision about the school's future is expected by next month.

The school currently serves about 75 students and has a budget of $1.6 million, which works out to more than $21,000 per student. There are about 25 students each in grades 10 to 12, and class sizes are around 12, compared with 28 in a regular high school class.

"We need to take a closer look at the school ... and make sure our kids are receiving the support they need," Pittman said. "The money is not what's driving it, but it's definitely a factor."

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Friday, December 22, 2006

more on Oaxaca

Today was a national day of solidarity with Oaxaca. In its honor, I'm going to post some links to check out more information from a journalist we met with, John Gibler. I'm having trouble getting the hypertext to work, so you may have to cut and paste these in your browsers, people. So sorry.

And here are some links to what delegation folks are getting out to the world:

Finally, here are some great photos from the trip:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Un Milagro en las Posadas

....or a Miracle in las Posadas. Las Posadas are a Mexican tradition for the nine nights before Christmas Eve, when everybody goes and walks from house to house re-enacting the efforts of Joseph and Mary to get a room the night Jesus was born. They sing songs and we end up back at the church hall for pozole (stew), pan dulce (baked goods) and a pinata. Some nights they even have tamales.

Anyway, Joey decided to go with me last night. We had hot punch at the house on the next block up for starters, then walked up Marshfield to 46th and over to Ashland, where we made a big parade crossing the street with our tiki torches, stopped at the bakery next to IHM, then went to the hall for marimbas with our pozole. Fr. Bruce plays! I didn't know that. He got up and played with some of the young guys for a while. Jose seemed pretty interested in watching the marimba players, who are all teenage boys. There were three girls there who were watching and giggling. At the end of their first number one called out, "Your number one fan!!" and they all started laughing. Who knew you could be a rock star playing the marimba?

But believe it or not, that's not the miracle. The miracle came when Joey turned to me out of nowhere and said, "I'm thinking about transferring." This was a reference to my yearlong campaign to get him and his parents to think about putting him in San Miguel. Here's a link to see what the school is like:

Frankly, I had pretty much given up on it since Joey has been saying he wants to stay with his friends and his mom seems to be looking at the idea more as a threat to get him to work than as an opportunity he should take advantage of. (His parents may be worried about the cost, too, even though it's much cheaper than regular Catholic school.)

So I don't know what hit him, but he said he was interested. "I'm glad to hear you say that. I think it would be very good for your future," I said. "They work really hard with all their kids to make sure they go to good high schools."

"At Chavez they only do that with the good kids," he said. (Much as I love Joey, I know he's not considered a "good kid" at school. He's not a bad kid, but C's are his top grade and I know he's fooling around in class a lot.)

"I know. At San Miguel they do that with all the kids."

On the way home we started talking about how to count time from B.C. to A.D. He was telling me about some timeline he found with a friend on the Internet, so he came over to my house and we found it on Google. We started looking through it and got all caught up in photos of the Great Wall of China. Here's a fun one that was part of the Wikipedia article:

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Amnesty International Alert on Oaxaca

Here is the link to the December 6 AI alert on Oaxaca. It mentions EDUCA and the Red Oaxaquena (Oaxaca Human Rights Network). Although I think you have to print and fax the letters, they do give you sample text to work with and make it relatively easy to get the letters done.;jsessionid=B830A5B3AB705B0A6F0373C18AA800EE

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors!

And beautiful wrought-iron ones, built by father and son in the garage, make outstanding neighbors. Dawn's dad and older brother brought out the gates for the front and the side entrances to the fence today. Julian told me he helped make the main fence, too. "I put all the swirls in. Twenty-six of them," he announced proudly. "All in one day. At the end, my arms were hurting."

Julian and I had a very nice conversation this afternoon while his dad was welding the frame for the side gate. He was telling me they have been studying global warming in school and so at home the whole family has switched to longer-lasting, energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs. Julian swears that when he's in the basement watching TV he's turning off all the other lights. (I don't know if that's good for his eyes, but I didn't say anything.)

He was also telling me how his little brother is making a lot of progress toward walking and talking. He likes to be held upright and to kick his legs as if he's walking. And he's making those "ma,ma" noises that prep for the real "Mama" to come. Julian says he talks to his brother in English and so does Aurora at least some of the time. I brought back some baby books in Spanish from Cuernavaca--I need to go out and get a couple of English ones, too.

Then Dad called for Julian to come and put the gate in the frame. I took some shots of them working together. Later, they borrowed my flashlight so he could weld a couple more specific points. I'll have to get a shot of them together in front of their finished product tomorrow or later in the week, when they get the side fence up between my house and theirs.

I just locked the gate a few minutes ago. Tony came by in search of a few bucks but I had to tell him I'd been cleaned out already (by the less desirable element, I thought to myself). When he left, I locked the gate behind him. Somebody rang my bell at 8 o'clock this morning. Now that the new, much taller fence is up next door, people won't be able to jump the fence and bother me. Hurray.

Also, it appears someone is pouring a foundation on the corner lot across the street to build another house there. "Maybe it's somebody rich from another part of town," Julian guessed. It's certainly cheaper to build here than in other parts of the city, I'd imagine. I hope whoever is building it already has a buyer in mind (or is building it for themselves), and that they plan to live here, but we'll see...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Oaxaca comes to Cuernavaca

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of seeing former Chicagoan Kathy Long, OP (Dominican, for those not in the know), who is now running an awesome social justice program, the Cuernavaca Center for Intercultural Dialogue on Development, or CCIDD. Here's their web site:

If you look at the staff photos, you can get a little sense of the beauty of the center's buildings and grounds, but not as much as I wish you could. It's a former mansion that can sleep more than 30 people. I arrived just after a group had left, and it was incredibly quiet and peaceful, a welcome change from the nonstop delegation pace and the sprawl and mystery (to me) of Mexico City.

While at the center, I had the privilege of meeting three indigenous activists from northern Oaxaca state who had taken refuge outside the state after other members of their group were detained as their bus was going to the march in Oaxaca City on November 25. They made the important point that much of the focus has been on the capital, but human rights violations are taking place across the state. Last Friday an activist of the Trici nation was killed by snipers, I believe also in Northern Oaxaca.

Here is the action alert, from Christian Peacemaker Teams:

Thursday, December 14, 2006


I got home a few minutes ago and there were three messages on my voice mail: two from Oscar and one from his big brother Fernando. "Could we come get our presents????" was the major thrust of all three--at least in the last one, Fernando's, he said, "I'm sorry we didn't come last night. We had to go somewhere."

I waited for them for an hour last night. Today I have a sore throat I didn't have yesterday, and I still have a house that needs someone to come through with a backhoe to clear the crap out of every room on the first floor. But it was kind of fun to hear the excitement in their voices through the messages, so I held off dinner and called them to come over. This time they were here right away.

While I was in Cuernavaca last weekend, I went shopping with my friend Kathy at the main artisan's market. She introduced me to a young man named Federico. Federico, who looks to be in his late teens or early 20s, used to live on the streets of Cuernavaca. He found his way to a local group that helps street youth develop their talents and make a legitimate living as artists. Federico carves and paints wood into various decorative pieces. I bought two sets of coasters, two crosses and two Christmas-tree ornaments, which were the gifts for the boys.

When the doorbell rang, I picked up the ornaments--one a fish, one a bird, both with many and varied colors--put one in each hand and put my hands behind my back after opening the door. "OK, guys, you have to pick who gets which hand," I told them. Fernando chose my left hand and won the bird; Oscar got the fish in my right hand. Federico had delicately printed his name in white paint in unobtrusive places on each object. I pointed that out, and Fernando and I showed Oscar where Federico had drilled a hole to put a string through his fish and hang it on the tree.

"Wow, that's cool!" said Oscar. "Thank you," they chorused, with big smiles. I'm glad to know some kids for whom this kind of present is a big deal. And iI'm glad to know Federico's Christmas will be a little nicer, too.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Action Alert

Hi, friends-- I'm well and in Cuernavaca, but folks in Oaxaca are still under threat. This is an alert about the executive director of EDUCA, the main local partner our delegation worked with. Global Exchange put this word out and I heard the same story firsthand from EDUCA staff last week.

2.) On Monday November 27, the pro-government station, "Radio Ciudadana"falsely identified the offices of Services for an Alternative Education(EDUCA, A.C.) as a site where, "Molotov bombs are being fabricated andseveral [tactical] movements of the APPO are taking place". The broadcasturged listeners to burn down the office. Marcos Leyva, the director ofEDUCA was named and likewise threatened. In the same broadcast two otherChurch affiliated) NGOs -- Pastoral Centre and the Parish of SietePrinicipes were also named.Marcos Leyva is a friend of Global Exchange. He is a man of greatintegrity who has been involved in social justice work for many years.***

Action Request: ***Please act to safeguard both Marcos Leyva's safety and that of the otherstaff members of EDUCA and other non-governmental organizations.We ask you to please write the following officials to urge an immediatede-escalation of the conflict that includes withdrawal of Federal forcesfrom Oaxaca, the repatriation and release of all political prisoners, aswell as full investigation and prosecution of those using the radio tocall for violence against non-governmental organizations and their staff.Please write to:
Felipe Calderòn Hinojosa--see ealier post for contact info.



Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What to Say

Sorry, guys, I was having tech trouble and had to post quickly. Here are some key points to make in an email:

1. An immediate end of acts of intimidation and repression by the federal and state police and government authorities

2. A guarantee by the Mexican government for the respect of the human rights of all Oaxaqueños most especially those who have been arrested.

3. An immediate end to the arbitrary detention in the streets of citizens.

4. An immediate end to the illegal entry of homes.

5. Cease the torture and abuse of prisoners.

6. Safe return of those who have been "disappeared".

7. Access of detainees to legal representation, family members and medical attention to those who are injured in order to ensure their well being and protection of their human rights.

8. Immediate withdrawal of the arrest warrants for those who are social activists, including members of the teachers union (SNTE in Spanish).

9. Immediate withdrawal of Mexican military from the state of Oaxaca.

Emails to the president and governor are most important, the ones further down are to state and federal human rights organizations. We heard the state org has no teeth and the feds are so far not very willing to intervene, so I'd try the federal one first.

If you send an email, please post a comment and let us know. Thanks!

Send Emails on Oaxaca!

Finally, I have some email addresses for Mexican government officials. If you have time to send a short email requesting respect for human rights in Oaxaca, I'll list officials and their email addresses below. Underneath that I'll put a list of demands put forth on an action alert from a church-based human rights group in Mexico City. Here are the emails:

Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa
President of Mexico

Ulises Ruiz Ortiz
Governor of Oaxaca State

Dr. Jose Luis Soberanes

Presidente de la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos

Fax +55 5681 7199

Lic. Lizbeth Caña Cableza

Procuradora General de Justicia del Estado de Oaxaca

Fax +951 5115 519

Lic. Jaime Mario Pérez Jiménez
Presidente de la Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos Oaxaca

Fax +915 513 5185

Monday, December 04, 2006

"There is no government today in Oaxaca"

That quote was spoken by Raul Ruiz, president of the local association of electrical suppliers here in Oaxaca City. We spoke with him and with the owner of one of the finest restaurants in Oaxaca, Luis Ugartechea, who have helped a local NGO here, EDUCA, with a citizenship initiative.

The message they asked us to send to the US government today was as followsÑ

Human rights are being severely violated here in Oaxaca.
There is no government functioning here. "The government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is nothing."

They encouraged us to remind the US government to encourage Mexico to live up to human rights standards. Other folks have told us that Mexico is currently chair of human rights at the UN, a very ironic position to be in given the detentions in Nayarit, raids on schools and roundups of civil leadership happening here.

Luis: "I feel sad. I feel very angry. I don't want to live in this situation. We didn't have to live in this situatin. If we had smart people in power, this would not be necessary."

Tomorrow we go to the town of Zaachila, outside Oaxaca City, where federal police raided schools last week and arrested teachers in front of their students. We understand some people we would have stayed with have left town due to outstanding warrants for their arrest. We have been told there is hope our presence there tomorrow may defuse tensions between police and the citizenry.

I may not be able to write again until Wednesday, but I'll try to get on tomorrow to talk about one of our other meetings today if at all possible.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

No Justice in Oaxaca

Today we met with two surviving relatives of people who were killed in the struggle here. One was the sister of someone who died during a peaceful march, the other was connected to a shooting at a barricade, Amnesty International sent out an alert on this case which I will post later. I'll let their quotes speak for themselves:

From the relative of the person who died during a march: " We didn't ask for justice (in regard to her brother's death) because we know it doesn't exist. We know first hand that the person who determines justice is Ulises Ruiz. What does he do? He pays money in abundance to snipers, to assassins that have salaries."

"Teachers have been attacked in schools. They've been captured in front of students.It's happened in little towns outside Oaxaca (City). Imagine what's happening in towns further out who have no way to communicate."

(Crying) "I want someone to know what's happening in Oaxaca. So many people are disappeared. So many people are prisoners."

From the person with knowledge of the Amnesty International case: "This was part of a fear campaign to show people they could get killed for being at a barricade."

"All this for bringing coffee in the streets. Is there justice? I don't know. And how to resolve this situation, I don't know."

And this from a human rights defender working with them and with others imprisoned in Nayarit state: "A lot of human rights defenders are leaving Oaxaca state because they are afraid."

Her organization, the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights, is committed to staying, though they are already facing intimidation from police. "Maybe there will come a time when the danger is so great we have to step back, but not yet."

Please consider calling or writing the Mexican consulate in Chicago to ask that those imprisoned in Nayarit be treated legally. So far they have not been charged, seen lawyers or been able to contact family members. I'll try to get contact info for the consulate up here tomorrow.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dancing among the Tanks

After our meetings today, Sam and I headed out to the Zòcalo to check out the scene. Despite the huge federal police encampment and the slight drizzle, Saturday night still goes on. There was a mariachi band playing alongside one of the churches. We had to walk through police trucks to get to the steps, and the crowd was not large, but they were there. The band played a tune from the 50s and 60s dance halls, and a few older couples got up to dance. I took some photos. One silver-haired tall guy with a bald spot was amazing--fancy footwork and lots of combinations with spins for his partner. Who knows if they were PRIistas celebrating or APPistas refusing to be cowed by the troops? Hey, it was all fun. And the bandleader said they did a song in Zapotec to honor his mother tongue.

On the more serious side, we met with reps from the Oaxacan Human Rights Network today. They had a lot to say about the weakness of the state human rights commissioner, who is a political appointee, thus a flunky of the governor. They also had a lot to say about police treatment of detainees, including torture tactics straight out of the Jon Burge playbook in Chicago, like electroshock to the groin. They are putting together a fund to support those imprisoned in Nayarit. For more information, check out their web site (in Spanish):

¡Hasta mañana!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Oaxaca Tattler

Well, Marshfield Tattler makes it to Mexico this year after all. If you are reading this, please pass the word that I will be trying to give updates daily on the tense situation in Oaxaca City.

This morning I arrived in the Mexico City airport just in time to watch Mexican congressional reps throw chairs and come to (very stagey-looking) blows over the inauguration of Felipe Calderón. The Televisa people loved showing that footage over and over again. I hear there were large street demonstrations in Mexico City, but I didn t leave the airport. Here in Oaxaca I was told there was a very small march, much less than feared by state officials, who reduced bus service to avoid the chance that demonstrators might commandeer them to reconstruct barricades.

The state made a concerted effort this week to remove as much trace as possible of the popular demonstrations against Gov. Ulises Ruiz. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of troops are patrolling the Zocalo and environs, the last barricade was removed a couple of days ago, and there has been some effort to remove anti-Ruiz and pro-APPO graffiti. However, there is plenty of graffiti left in areas outside the Zócalo.

Also this week, Citizen Radio (a station reported to be run by PRI supporters) encouraged people to come and burn down the offices of EDUCA, a local NGO that provides popular education, citizenship and economic development to Oaxacans. They are a partner organization of Witness for Peace. Death threats were issued against their executive director. He is now in hiding and the office was closed this week.

I will try to get links and action steps up here tomorrow. In the mean time, Anice, if you want to post the key links from the email you received about letters to Mexican government officials protesting the detention and out-of-state transfers of people here, I would appreciate it.

We have been told that we are the largest international group in the city right now. I will write more as soon as I can.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

La Chofera

I drove the red minivan for the second time today. Dawn, her mom, her little brothers and I all went up north so she could go meet my counselor. (She's ready for some counseling; long story for another time.) It was raining and miserable and traffic was slow. We were late and the gas tank was almost empty. Aurora's mom was beginning to worry we wouldn't make it to the office before we ran out of gas. Fortunately the BP and the counseling office are within steps of each other.

I let Dawn out and waited, double-parked, until she got in the building. Then we went around the block and ended up back at the gas station. I put in about half a tank of gas and left Dawn's mom with Joey and the new baby parked in front of the convenience store while I went over to the office to wait for Dawn to finish. I read the paper. My counselor keeps the music up pretty high so you can't hear, which is good, but I heard them laughing a couple of times. That seemed like a good sign to me. She came out and we went down. She liked him. She got homework--he gives me homework, too. I didn't ask what it was. I just hope she didn't lose it or leave it in the car.

Driving back was a trip and a half. The weather was miserable and it was smack in the middle of rush hour. The car radio was on, in Spanish, and the announcer said something about Oaxaca and then about Veracruz. I was pretty sure the gist of it was don't go to Oaxaca for vacation this year, try Veracruz instead. So I said, "Yeah, this is Veracruz's year. Only fools like me are going to Oaxaca now."

Dawn's mom laughed. She was trying to say something about only people who like problems would go there. I said, "People who like a dangerous life?" She laughed and said yes.

I leave for Oaxaca tomorrow night. Who knows what I'll find when I get there, if I can get out of the airport in Mexico City--protests are expected there Friday as Vicente Fox steps down and Calderon is supposed to take power. Meanwhile, narrow loser (some say victim of fraud winner) Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is setting up a parallel government and a massive protest at the Zocalo.

I've never been to Mexico before--at least it'll be an interesting visit. Even if it's interesting in the sense of the Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times"....

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Workings of the Spirit...or was that spirits?

Late this morning I heard the bumping noises out front that mean somebody, probably Joey, is playing soccer in my front yard. Around noon the bumping stopped and I heard a lot of talking. Eventually I looked out and found five kids, four boys and a girl, sitting on my steps. There were two young blonde coeds at the bottom of the steps, and two well-scrubbed young guys in coats and ties standing on the sidewalk outside my front gate.

Great. The missionaries, I thought. Probably Indiana church.

The First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana sends buses into poor neighborhoods on Sundays and takes kids off to their massive campground for kid stuff and indoctrination. I knew about them from the North Side, where a Mennonite friend of mine who runs a youth center warned me about them. The mission was very heavy-handed and often the food and games promised didn't live up to expectations, she told me.

So I came outside. The two guys cleared off immediately, but the girls, especially the curly blonde with way too much eyeshadow, were more persistent.

"You're coming tomorrow, right, Eric?" Eric, who is new to me, stayed quiet. "But you came before," Curly pressed. "If you don't come, I'm gonna cry."

To a littler one she said, "You like it, right?" giving him what she thought was a friendly poke in the shoulder. The kids were very polite. Too polite. Frozen, like deer in the headlights.

I just stood and listened for a bit, taking in the situation. The only kid on the steps I knew was Joey. A couple of these kids apparently were veterans. While Curly was definitely giving an emotionally manipulative hard sell, I didn't really want to just go in guns blazing.

Eventually I asked Curly, "What church are you with?"

"First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana," Curly said proudly.

She went on in the same vein a bit longer, promising candy on the bus ride to Hammond: "not just a Tootsie Roll, but a whole candy bar or a bag of chips or a pop, something like that."

Then she said something to Joey. That was the last straw.

"Excuse me," I said. "I'm Catholic, and he's Catholic. We already have a church we belong to. I appreciate what you're trying to do with young people, but I'd prefer you not proselytize in my yard."

"I'm sorry," Candy said. She and her sidekick split immediately.

All the kids looked at me with relief. Jose put his hands in the namaste position, like a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance.

"You're like our teacher," one of the other kids, maybe Eric, said admiringly.

"If they come back and bother you again, ring the bell and I'll come out and tell them to leave," I said, and went back inside to get the garbage and throw it out.

After a few trips in-and-out and a long stretch of indoor cleaning, I came back outside. The kids were still on the step, and one of the regular stray cats who hang out here was on the front walk below them.

"That cat's going to die in four years," Joey said.

"How do you know?"

"We're talking to the spirits," he said. The girl in the group had a notebook with various numbers written on the open pad.

"Oh, like with a Ouija board?" I asked. I don't know if they knew what that was. "Well, I don't believe in those things, but have fun."

Maybe we should have stuck with the missionaries!

Death to the Disciples!

Yesterday afternoon was full of vignettes. I'll start with the most disturbing one.

Friday dismissals in high schools are always the craziest time. The nasty fight I saw in my brief stint as a high school teacher this fall happened on Friday afternoon. Everyone remarked on how Fridays are often days when teens act out violently.

Yesterday at 2:45 I was home, for once, hanging out on my neighbors' front porch while Joey and some of his buddies were playing football in my front yard. In fact, they were playing American football with a soccer ball because they didn't have a football.

"That's pretty smart," observed one of the older boys hanging on the porch with me. He goes to Big Picture with Julian. Dawn, Julian, Julian's buddy and the buddy's girlfriend were all hanging out watching the pee-wee football, petting the stray cat, etc. Big Picture lets out at 2 p.m. every other Friday, I think for teacher meetings.

Meanwhile, Richards High on the east side of Ashland lets out at 2:30 or so, I believe. It was about 2:45 when a young man ran down 50th with four other young men hot at his heels. One of the pursuers was carrying a baseball bat. I whipped out my cell phone immediately and called 911.

One young boy, so fair I thought he might be white, stood in the intersection and hollered, "Death to the Disciples! Death to the Disciples!" before heading west to rejoin the chase.

All my neighbor kids were staring down the street.

A girl they knew went by. "What happened?" called Julian.

"Gang on gang stuff," she said. Well, we knew that already. Within a few more seconds, the pee-wees were back to football and the big kids were petting the cat again.

As far as I know, the police never came. I'm pretty sure Mr. Worrisome saw me make the phone call. Later on he was coming down the street with a guy who might have been in the fray, but I wasn't sure. He certainly looked too old to be in high school.

As they parted ways, Mr. Worrisome told his companion, "Stay out of trouble."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mr. Married Sighting

I saw my old friend Mr. Married on the street this afternoon, but not on Marshfield north of here, his last known address. Now he's south of 51st, a Mexican pioneer in African-American territory. He was washing his car on Wood somewhere beyond the pale. He looks terrible--he's aged even more than when I last saw him, and it looks like he's lost some teeth.

I rode down to Garfield Boulevard and was reminded that Chicago International has a charter campus right on that corner. About a year ago I was talking to the director of that network of schools and asked if she had any Latino kids yet. She said no. I said, "Get ready. They're coming." Mr. Married has a nephew who may be school age by now. I wonder where he's going to school.

Report Card Pickup I

Yesterday we went to get Joey's report card. It was literally take a number. Chairs were lined along both sides of the hallway and some young blonde was handing out slips of paper with numbers, like a homemade version of the deli counter. She estimated we'd be waiting 20 minutes. I took the number while Joey played soccer out in front of the building and his mom waited in their van with his new little brother. I saw School Lady with her daughters. She tells me she's not spending as much time at Chavez these days because Richards is eating up all her time. Her oldest daughter is sporting a little henna in her hair, I think.

Junior and Oscar and their mom were all there, too. We met them in the stairwell. Mom says Oscar's writing is terrible. I assume she means his handwriting, but if a teacher actually told her he needs to improve how he's communicating on paper, I'll be delighted someone was paying attention.

When Joey and his mom and I went in, all three of his teachers were there. They kicked off in English until I told them I wasn't a strong translator. One of them was, so she took over and repeated what had been said already. The basic message was Joey needs to do his homework, but his homeroom teacher has spent a good bit of time with him so far this fall and that is sparking Joey's interest in school. A good sign. I gave them my phone number and asked them to call me and explain the assignments to me when he has major projects or reports to do so I can help him more effectively. They seemed delighted by that.

Later that evening I stopped by Joey's house and he was on the sofa doing his math homework while his big brother had the baby on his chest, watching TV with Mom. Very cute.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween in the Hood

Well, the Tattler returns after a long hiatus. (I'll write another post another time to fill you in on life since August.)

Today I got home later than I had hoped. I was on the Ashland bus around 6 p.m. and rode past the Haunted Horde of children, from tots to teens, invading the stores along Ashland and 47th. The Walgreens parking lot on the corner had the fewest cars I've ever seen, as a score of children and some adults pressed in to get goodies. "Are you buying something?" a security guard asked a boy. "Candy?"

"No. My mom sent me to get..." I kept going. In the decimated candy aisle, Papa was trying to pacify little gorilla-costumed Cesar, who was wailing and squirming in his stroller. "Ay, Cesar, calmate..." I squeezed past them and past Mama, who was picking over the remnants. Fortunately they had a big bag of trial size Hershey's bars, some old-school Reese's peanut butter cups, Twix and 100 Grands. (I'm old enough to remember when they were $100,000 Bars, but don't tell Cesarito, OK?)

So I get home and it's too late for the crowd. One mom and her spiderwomanish clad toddler are coming down the street as I'm checking the mail. "Do you have any candy?" Mom asks politely.

"I'm just getting set up. Can you come back in five minutes?"


It was more like 50, but she and her little one return. I did get to see Junior and his family--they were going somewhere and not in costume, but I gave the boys some candy anyway. Joey came by in camo--he hid alongside the door and said "boo!" when I came out. It was way cuter than scary.

My favorite girls from down the block stopped by with their mom and big sister. "You missed!" the younger one told me, when I dropped a Hershey's in her bag. She had a paper bag inside the plastic one. I dropped in three more before I got it right. We were laughing. She's gonna be a gordita (little fatty, an endearment among Mexicans) if she keeps up that trick to get more candy!

Then all was quiet, but the two guys I've seen sitting out front of the house next door strolled by. One had his cell phone to his ear. They have the distinction of being the first dealers I've ever actually seen drugs on. They appeared to be eyeing their favorite perch. My neighbor is turning the fence out front into a wall, but the job is less than a quarter done, so the "wall" makes a nice seat for passers-by.

I saw them eyeing the wall, and I looked at them very carefully. They saw me. We all said 'hey, how you doing?'

At first, nobody said anything else. Then, the guy without the phone said, "Trick or treat?" kind of jokingly, kind of in a "why not?" spirit.

I caught the spirit of why not, and said, "Sure."

"Do you have Reese's?" he asked, walking over.
"Why, yes I do!"

He brightened up and put some extra spring in his step. His buddy liked Reese's, too.
I gave each of them a Reese's peanut butter cup. They thanked me.

"Happy Halloween," they said, and kept going down the block.

A bit later the cry of Yup-yup could be heard on the corner. I am so tired of that guy I just called 911 right away. "He's a nuisance," I told them. He left before the squad car arrived.

When the cop car drove the wrong way down the street, flashing that annoying small spotlight, I was standing in my doorway, looking for trick-or-treaters, wearing my bike helmet and orange vest (I guess I thought I would dress up as a bike messenger while handing out the goodies.)

"Thanks for coming by," I said to the cop. (Since all the criminal element was long gone I figured I might as well out myself."

"Did you call?" the cop inquired, on the same principle.

"Yeah. The guy left a few minutes ago. But thanks for coming anyway."

Thursday, August 31, 2006


That's what I'm feeling like today. Am I the only person here who is trying to think about how to develop a scope and sequence that isn't just topics and what to do for a semester? I don't have time to do what I was trained to do (and barely remember, let's be honest)--develop a scope and sequence of conceptual units that spiral skills upward over time. I don't see that in what I'm getting for this American Lit course at all. And I don't know how I'm going to teach this if I'm not doing what I'm trained to do. Yikes.

Now it's on to learn how to beg for stuff on Donors Choose. I'd like to beg for a few dozen reams of paper right now. Two schools are allotted six reams of paper a week. That's handouts for 800 kids. Those reams will disappear quickly.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My Whole Life Changed

...and so did this blog. I just started my first day at my new job, teaching English at the School of Social Justice on the Little Village/Lawndale campus.

School/campus web site:

click on the tab for Social Justice.

Yesterday I spent half a day at the Chicago Public Schools New Hire Center trying to get on staff. There was a snafu about my position between the board and the school, but it got fixed somehow.

My first question to my principal, Rito Martinez, this morning was, "So, am I hired yet?"

"You're staffed," he told me.

Some folks at CPS central office know. Best comments were:

Arne Duncan, CEO: "That's a gutsy move."
Peter Cunningham, communications director (excuse me, director of external affairs):
"Wow, my life just got a whole lot easier."

Mine just got a whole lot harder, I suspect. There's a lot of work to do here. I have a relatively light load--four classes of 25 students, two preps. Sounds like the suburbs, right? But I haven't taught in 10 years, I have a more-or-less weekly elective I'm cooking up from relative scratch, and while one of my English classes seems to have curriculum in place, the other is much less fleshed out and I don't feel really supported by my partner.

So I have work to do.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Aldermanic Challenger???

I found a flyer in my mailbox last night for a lady who plans to challenge Shirley Coleman in February. Alas, I've forgotten her name at the moment. All I can think of is Joan Crawford but I bet that's wrong. (No, she's not Mommie Dearest, at least one hopes not.)

Anyway, we'll see if she has any substance.

Cool Link

I found this blog today, written by a woman from the Dominican Republic. She's a teacher and a novelist, and she's a lot better at posting photos than I am.

If you'd like to see what Marshfield Avenue might feel like in the DR, check her out.

Apparently she has to pay off the garbage guys to take her trash. We've yet to sink that low on Marshfield, but who knows??

Pandillera (Gang) Marketing

...or...When the Souls Come Marching In: The Latin Souls, that is. Apparently somebody got out of jail while I was in Colombia and the Soula are back in action. They have taken to graffiti marketing--there's a lot of new Souls graffiti along Marshfield Avenue, most notably across the railroad bridge above Marshfield at 48th. The rusty railroad bridge has panels that exactly match the number of spaces needed to write "LATIN SOULS" in white spray paint. Look out Madison Avenue, here come the homeboys...

Of course at least three of us have been calling 311 and the alderman's office to get Graffiti Blasters out there, but nothing has happened yet. Alderman Coleman has her meeting tomorrow at her church west on 50th. Guess I'll have to get up and go.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


I never wrote about what happened the night I got home to Chicago. Dawn and I had a long catch-up session out on the back steps. I got the impression she hadn't had too many people to talk to while I was gone, and lots of things had happened that piled up in her mind. So she put them out there.

Boy troubles, friend troubles, family pressures, just feeling lonesome. Eventually she was crying and hugged me and said, "You are my mom."

I hugged back, but I said, "I'm not your mom, honey. Maybe your aunt."

Everybody needs a grownup friend who's not their mom or their dad, right? But I sure wish I spoke better Spanish, because I'd like to be a better friend to Dawn's mom, too.

Dawn's really wishing her mom could be more of her friend. She'd like to talk to her more about boys and problems and being a teenager. But from what Dawn told me, I think her mom is afraid if she acts like a buddy she won't be a strict enough parent to keep her daughter out of trouble. But if her daughter doesn't have a buddy, she'll act up and get in trouble.

I understand that dilemma very well. It's actually a lot easier to talk to teenagers about their problems when you aren't their parent. Even being their teacher is harder than just being their friend. There's less pressure to have all the answers or do exactly the right thing. And there's less worry that if something goes really wrong you'll be held responsible. It's bad enough being held responsible by your own conscience, at least if your conscience is anything like mine.

It's been hard to decide whether to encourage conversation about teen problems. I don't want to say things that would counter whatever her parents are telling her, but I know my experience of teen life is a little closer to hers than theirs, in some ways. I know what kids are up to and I know how kids who aren't up to it get through that time. But I've been deliberately holding off on letting the conversation get anywhere near sex until she's 15 and officially come of age in some way.

Despite my resolve, we got there, at least a little, on the back steps two Sundays ago. As I suspected, she hasn't done anything I would disapprove of. My standards are probably less strict than her parents (she's not allowed to date until she turns 15 and my sister was dating at 14--I wasn't!), but they are stricter than the U.S. average (we're all Catholic here). But I'm a big believer in forewarned is forearmed and I know that sex education in CPS is not very good, generally speaking. I also think there are things a grownup friend can say that don't get said enough in classrooms, about love and respect and having your own bottom line that nobody can push you into crossing.

She'll be 15 in two weeks or so.

Meeting Ricardo

I'd like you all to meet the man who got me to go to Colombia. (Or at least one of them.) Ricardo Esquivia is a lawyer-turned-organizer who has created some very impressive church networks and NGOs. He is currently working in the Montes de Maria region of Colombia, which is a flashpoint on the touchy subject of paramilitary demobilization. Part of the reason I went on this trip was to get to meet him. I've heard a bit about him and his work over the last few years.

A few years ago, one of a number of times when Ricardo's life was in danger due to his work, I received a request to write letters to the Colombian government on his behalf. It was a big moment on this trip when he talked to us about his experiences surviving night raids and arrest. Afterwards I was able to thank him for the opportunity to make his acquaintance. Over the last 15 years I've written a lot of letters to a lot of different countries hoping they might help save an activist's life, but Ricardo is the only person on whose behalf I've written whom I've ever met afterwards.

Here's a photo and article about a peacemaking award he received last year:

This link, to an interview in which he talks a lot about water, has a photo of him with Barbara Gerlach, a UCC minister in Washington who helped lead our delegation:

Friday, July 28, 2006

Ajiaco Photo

If you read my earlier post on ajiaco and want to see what it looks like, check out this link:

Colombia Fried

Wow, there was a lot of great fried starch to be had in Colombia. There was a whole snack shop near the Palm Tree Hostal featuring Chilean empanadas. I don't know why Chilean empanadas in particular were a big deal, but they were yummy. I'll pretty much eat anything that involved fried dough. You could have your fried dough with ground beef inside, with chicken and cheese (that was especially tasty--ate a lot of those), or as a long bread stick with a length of cheese inside. I even had those for breakfast at home in Envigado when the food situation improved!

Maybe the best thing ever were the bunuelos. They are basically fried cheese balls and came in various sizes, from tiny to grand. I of course ate the super-sized ones. Forget Wisconsin cheese curds, people!

The really amazing thing was I ate all this heavy food and didn't gain weight. I may even have lost a couple of pounds. Not sure how that worked, whether it was a lot of walking or two bouts of diarrhea or both, but I wasn't arguing.

I found a recipe for Colombian bunuelos. They're different from Mexican ones. Check this out:

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Block Party Post Mortem

Back to local news, at least for this post. Last Saturday night was the block party. Though I was in Raleigh, last night I got plenty of gossip about it from three or four different houses.

Mr. Worrisome's sister and her friends in the house down the block told me they have had it with our block captain. (I think I told you all way back when that I didn't get a good vibe from her.) She drove by us last night and called out that she wanted to talk to me. I told her to come by the house when she was free. I thought she would stop by last night, but the doorbell rang twice and both times it was Dee, the hooker who took Priscilla's place on the corner back last winter. (For once I didn't give her some cash--I was on the phone and told her to come back another day.)

The only thing that holds true in everybody's story is that the police were called Saturday night. The detailed version from Sister W and Co. was that Block Capt. wanted to open the fire hydrant, but Co. objected, saying the water would flood her basement. So they didn't open that hydrant but words were exchanged, and Co's niece and lots of her friends showed up to back up her auntie. This made Block Capt. nervous and she called the 5-0, who took them to the station for mob action. Seems highly unnecessary to me that it got to that point.

By the way, apparently it was Co's kids who came over and got some cake and got in the water fight at my birthday party. I didn't know who she was, but apparently she moved on the block about the same time I did.

Anyway, now Sister W and friends want a new block captain, maybe me, but I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole right now. Apparently our current block captain is buds with the alderman, and until 2010 and the remap comes around, I have no intention of crossing wires with the alderman. They want to know where all the money Block Capt. collected for the party went, since she charged like 10 or 15 bucks a household and told people if they didn't pay they couldn't eat. They say she said the DJ cost $250, but they asked the DJ and he said he only got paid $60. I don't know if what they said is true, but it's certainly pretty funny to hear from a lady who refused to come to my housewarming party because it was potluck. "You ain't spending nothin!" she chided me.

I'm willing to see if they'll go to the alderman's monthly meeting in force to complain, however. I'll be very curious to see if they still have juice about this two weeks from now.

I still have plenty to say about Colombia, but it will be interesting to see whether I find time to post it here.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Back in the US...

But still not back in Chicago. Am in Raleigh,North Carolina for a cousin's wedding.

During the trip, one of my fellow delegation members said she would be having her partner do the grocery shopping for the first week after she got home because she couldn't bear the sight of a US grocery store after hanging out with very poor people for two weeks straight. Although I know what she means, I don't personally have the same feeling about a grocery store, not least because I went to the big superstores in Cartagena and Medellin, Vivero and the French chain, Carrefour, so it's not like they don't exist there.

What I think about after any international trip is water. Even coming back from Europe. Even after Medellin, which has astoundingly great water supplies by Latin American, and really, everywhere but US and maybe Japanese standards--I had great showers in Medellin. And I never got sick from Medellin tap water, unlike tap water in rural Ireland. (There was a water alert upstream from my great aunt's house and we didn't get word on the radio until it was too late for me. I had a raging case of turista on the bus to Dublin as a result. I bet you didn't expect to hear that about a trip to Ireland, did you?)

However, even the nice suburbs of Medellin run out of hot water pretty fast, which the shower at my godfather's house in an upscale suburb of North Carolina doesn't do.

The other thing I noticed this weekend was electricity. The power went out twice in less than three days in Sincelejo, and went out almost all night once in Cartagena when a transformer blew out, which is unusual. I went around turning off lights in empty rooms at my cousins' house with particular fervor this weekend.

And I thought a lot about the oddity of driving an air-conditioned rental car with fake-leather seats and power everything two days after watching the occasional horse-drawn cart along side the Renaults and diesel trucks filling Medellin's autopistas.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Goin' to the zoo, zoo, zoo

Leidi and I went to the zoo today. I figured even if it was a cheesy zoo, it would probably have animals not common in U.S. zoos, and really just a spot of green and some local wildlife seemed like a nice change of pace from city and museums. Leidi was really fired up to go--she told me she loves the zoo but not many Spanish students want to go, so she doesn't get there very often.

Getting there was a bit of a challenge. Originally we were going right after lunch, but then the teenage man of the house had something for Leidi to do, so she couldn´t leave until 4 p.m. So we had to find the zoo in the phone book to see how late it would stay open. Dear Leidi is not too strong on spelling, although she likes to read, so she was looking for the zoo under the letter S. Oops. And then it took me a few tries to get her in the Zs because I forgot the word in Spanish for Z is zeta and kept saying zed. LOL. We were a hell of a great pair, I'll tell ya.

Well, Leidi got through to the zoo and it appeared to stay open late enough to make it worth going. I suggested a taxi but she said no, we can take the bus. I said, OK, I'm afraid of taking the bus by myself because I don't know my way around but if you're coming we can take the bus. So we took the bus and we got lost. I think we ended up in San Antonio but I'm still not too sure. Someplace downtownish with lots of stores and concrete and loud music playing that I almost mistook for a live concert or something.

I said, 'Leidi, how bout a taxi?'

She started freaking out. 'It's more expensive from here and I don't have the money.'

'I have money,' I said. 'Come on!'

So we got a taxi--that one had a very friendly driver who tried out his miniscule English for fun--but I'll tell you going through Medellín afternoon rush hour in something lower to the ground than a bus was the second-worst driving experience here, or maybe the third. (I forgot to mention our drunk taxi driver on Friday night, but he didn't actually worry me as much as the guy tonight did, probably because even drunk off his ass he still got us there with a minimum of fuss.)

The owner asked me to get off the Internet, so that's it for now. Zoo part two.

¡Felíz Cumpleanos!

The live vallenato band is thumping and grinding (organ-grinding, that is) at a cheerful and volumious level two flights down here in the backpacker hostel I'm crashing in for two nights. I couldn't take it in the suburbs any more, so I booked a room at the Palm Tree Hostel in Medellín proper. Here it is:

Somebody´s niece is having her 18th birthday tonight, so there´s a band and an incredible amount of grilled meat piled up. Hostal guests are invited to join the party for 10,000 pesos, but I'm not hungry right now and not entirely sure I'm ready to party in español with total strangers. I did meet one of the other guests earlier when I was checking out the festivities--she's from Seattle and working on her master's in public health. For those who are curious, we spoke quite a bit in Spanish, and then one of the aunts of the birthday girl joined us for a little bailar (dancing) up here on the top floor by the computer.

Getting here verged on my worst nightmare about traveling solo in Colombia, but gracias a Dios, everything turned out fine. Taxis are muy interesante here, to say the least. First of all it's worth your life to drive in the traffic, and the back seats of taxis mostly don't have seatbelts. I would say my Spanish is good enough to chat up taxi drivers a bit, but not good enough to get out of trouble if they don't know where they're going. Let's just say that has put a bit of a damper on my ability to take in Medellín nightlife.

So tonight I took my very first solo taxi ride at night. Leidi, the maid out in Envigado, called the taxi. I tried to give the driver the Palm Tree's street address but he didn´t pay attention to the A in Calle 52A and just made like he knew where he was going. He didn't. I spent 10,000 pesos and my blood pressure went through the roof during our tour of some shady-looking neighborhoods, during which I was beginning to wonder if he was lost, running up the meter, or planning to mug me or worse, especially when we appeared to be hitting a dead end in one of the shady backstreets. In the end, I think he was just lost, but it was enough to make me quite nervous. Finally we passed a Metro station and I said '¡dejame por favor!' which I hoped meant Let me out! Whatever it meant, it worked. The guy told me the station was Estadio but when I got inside I discovered it was Poblado, which isn´t even on the same line. I was just grateful to be out of the cab, even if it meant hauling my now rather heavy suitcase a few blocks.

So then I got here and walked into a fiesta muy grande. And I have a room on the first floor right in the middle of the action. And I'm supposed to be back at that same Poblado station at 7:45 a.m. to go to a colegio (school). Whee!

Saturday, July 15, 2006


To see a bit of Medellín, check out this link:

I´m writing this from the Internet café at the Hotel Nutibara in downtown Medellín. Once the fanciest hotel in town, I'm told, its elegance may be a little faded, but it is a great spot to take a load off after lots of walking and window-shopping downtown. Here it is:

I keep getting lost here in downtown. Somehow I'm not following the Lonely Planet map's orientation. I keep having to ask directions which is always an adventure since I'm never too clear how well I understood whatever was said. A very nice older gentleman walked me here to the hotel when it was all of about two and a half blocks away. I'm sure he could tell I was pretty disoriented and that just telling me directions wasn't going to penetrate my language barrier.

Things I´m loving about Medellín: climate (perfect!), scenery (spectacular!), potable water (in plenty, and even a hot shower in my suburban apartment), the Metro (newer, nicer and cleaner than any US public transit system I've ever been on), the vast majority of people I've encountered (friendly and helpful), the play I went to last night, which starred one of my Spanish teachers.

Things I´m not loving about the experience, none of which are Medellín's fault, most of which have to do with my lodgings, which were arranged by the Nueva Lengua language school. NB: I have two teachers at the school, both of whom are female--my first female Spanish teachers, gracias a Dios--both of whom are good, and both of whom are interesting people who extend themselves beyond the classroom. For that, I'm very grateful to Nueva Lengua.

But I wouldn't recommend the school unless you're someone who wants to stay in the suburbs. They put their students up in Envigado, which is a middle to upper-middle class suburb of the city. It is close to the Zona Rosa, aka party central, and to lots of great shopping, but our lodging is not that close to the Metro and taxis don't know where it is. So if you came with the idea of exploring the city, it's not so fun. And the so-called homestay is very unhomey. There is no dad, the mom is on vacation, the son is 20-something and working (selling cookies, he tells me), and we get to hang out with the maid. No disrespect intended to her, she's great and I like her a lot, but if I wanted a family homestay I could have stayed home and hung out at Dawn's house and saved a pile of cash!

It's also been more than a little weird to go from visiting country folk without mucho dinero to probably the most bustling commercial center in Colombia, and hanging out in some of its posher areas. My homestay here only confirms my observation that worldwide, it's generally the poorest people who are the most generous with their hospitality. And frankly that was so heartbreaking to be the object of for ten days straight, followed by the coldness and stinginess present in my current homestay--my fellow classmate says before I got there they weren´t feeding her enough!--it was all enough to make me cry in front of one of my teachers during class yesterday.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Viva Italia!

Saludos desde Cartagena--Greetings from Cartagena! I just finished watching the World Cup final in a little bar not far from Plaza San Pedro Claver, where I was the only female in the joint. The two guys on either side of me were Italy fans--I was quietly rooting for France until some French guy slammed an Italian. (They were playing really dirty today, IMHO, so I changed allegiance pretty fast. But the hyperactive French coach in his fancy suit was cracking me up. The Italian coach seemed much more relaxed in both dress and manner.)

This bar was great--they had a nice big but not overwhelming TV, and they turned off the sound, so we just listened to salsa while they ran up and down the field. Everybody could argue and talk and cheer. I didnt understand everything and frankly it took most of the last period for me to figure out which was France and which was Italy, but by overtime I knew what was going on. As the overtime penalty shootout was coming to a close, three other women walked in to catch the last of the action. One lady Italy fan squeezed my hand on the way out. The lone French fan got a lot of ribbing.

I had been looking forward to going to Mass at the Jesuit church today, but it didnt quite live up to my expectations. I had been told by some locals to come check out the noon Mass, where they include Afro-Caribbean drumming. Yes, they had the drum, and they had a guitar and some singers, but it was a lot less intense than I expected. And it was a lot more tourists than parishioners, was my general sense. But Padre Pacho, whom I met earlier this week, was presiding, and he recognized me when I went up for Communion. The biggest pleasant surprise was that not everyone knelt during the Eucharistic prayer. I dont mind kneeling but I used to stand up all the time and I havent for years. And I certainly didnt expect to find anyone standing up in a Latin American church. That was the biggest indicator to me that these guys are pretty darn progressive. Anyway, I heard the drum, I stood up, and Padre Pacho remembered my name. So not too bad for a city Id never seen a week ago.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

ajiaco (chicken soup)

Bogota is famous for its chicken soup, served with a variety of starches in the broth plus rice and avocado on the side. At church yesterday Hernando served it with capers and sour cream. Today´s lunch in the dusty Cauzca neighborhood left off those frills, but the soup was hot and may have been even tastier on its merits than Hernando´s. But don´t tell him I said that. I told him yesterday I had tried that kind of soup last Sunday in Chicago for the first time, and of course he wanted to know afterwards which was better, Chicago or here.

"Here, of course!" I told him. I think it was even true. But I´d have to tell him he only managed to tie with the ladies from Cauzca, even though they lacked the capers. (I skipped the cream yesterday, so I can´t tell you what difference it might make.)

One of my travel companions, Myra, was teasing me about my appreciation for all the starches:
three kinds of potatoes, yucca and plantain. Plus rice on the side, which I was cleaning up at a rapid clip. "You´re gonna crash this afternoon," she warned me, thinking I´d be sleeping off my starchfest by now. But no, instead I´m telling you about it.

mucho polvo en Colombia

...or, lots of dust in Colombia. So a little boy told me today as we were walking along a dusty unpaved road in his neighborhood outside Bogota. It´s a neighborhood way up in the hills, where water arrives through rubber tubes and you have to pay off someone to get access to it twice a week, if you´re lucky. (Other neighborhoods even worse off may only get water for an hour a week.)

Yet business appears to be booming. There certainly are plenty of houses and lots for sale. Only trouble is, it´s virtually impossible to get real title to the land, so you can pay someone for it, receive a piece of paper for your trouble, and then be told a week later by someone else, probably armed, that it´s their house, not yours, so adios.

I´ve drunk a bottle of water and still can´t get the dust out of my throat.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Change of Topic Ahead

Warning to all readers: I'm leaving for Colombia this Thursday and will be out of the neighborhood for much of July. So Marshfield Tattler may take a brief spell as a travel blog, but I won't be getting out of my hammock in Cartagena just to write a post!

So expect fewer posts and all of them on faraway topics for the next three weeks.

Mr. Worrisome Butts In

Next door, that is. Dawn's dad was out with her brothers putting in a new walk from the front steps to the sidewalk on Sunday night. Her mom was watching and so was she.

Mr. Worrisome had to butt in and be annoying. He kept asking me to translate questions and comments to Dawn's dad, like "wow, it's getting beautifuller and beautifuller." He wanted to know why they were putting sand under the bricks. He wanted to know how much the bricks cost. He wanted a drink of the juice they gave me. He thought it was mine. I wouldn't give him a drink out of my glass if he were dying of thirst--I don't know what I would catch.

He only stopped bothering me long enough to ask the time of a nice-looking younger African-American lady who had the misfortune to walk down the sidewalk in his view. She wisely said, "I don't know," and kept on going despite his next effort to engage in conversation.

He also had to bring his dad out of the house to tell them to turn their music down. The family informed me that they don't do that when Joey is playing rap--only when they are playing Mexican music. I grant it was up pretty loud next to the senior Worrisome's room, and I'm not getting into anybody's racial/ethnic music wars. I told Dawn's mom I bought earplugs last summer because it was that or call the police at 2 a.m.

But meanwhile, Dawn's family's front yard is looking nice. They took out the mulberry tree because Dawn's mom didn't like all the squashed berries lying around, and they put in a little pine tree instead. It'll get big. They planted grass seed, which is coming up fast, and they are putting in a brick walkway in the front and eventually to the side. Dawn's dad has ideas about a higher wrought-iron fence on the Worrisome side. I should have said let's go in together on a wooden privacy fence over there. I like Mr. Worrisome's sister and her daughter, and his mom and dad seem fine, but he's annoying and some other guy over there is downright creepy (that's the one I think is actually the sex offender in that house--see earlier post. Mr. Worrisome himself just wishes he were a sex offender, I suspect.)

Anyway, Mr. Worrisome became so annoying that I went in the house and got Joey to do his writing homework. So he was a force for good despite himself.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sacred Music of All Stripes

Saturday afternoon two of the workers at Su Casa got married at the little Baptist church just south of the house, on 51st St. The Lutheran wedding featured a Baptist gospel choir, a Church of the Brethren violinist (Yeah, Becky!), and plenty of Catholics in the audience. (At least one of us took Communion--don't tell the pope! Yours truly may have been the only one, but maybe not.)

Afterwards there was a reception in the Su Casa garden. The day was perfect--clear, not too hot and not too cold. Liz looked fabulous in her dress and Mark got in a beige suit for the occasion. I'm sure there's a more high-fashion word for the color of that suit but it escapes me at the moment.

Meanwhile, over on Paulina at the church next to Big Picture, they had a live, sanctified salsa band switching off with some singers from Bishop Arthur Brazier's Apostolic Church of God in Woodlawn. I saw one of the Chavez ladies sitting in the sunshine. It was pretty much their block party--tables of food, a moonwalk, street blocked off and live music. I could not get over the sanctified salsa--I couldn't make out all the words but when they got into the hallelujahs with the tick-tick-tick, tick-tick-tick clave beat going, I was cracking up.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Playtime, First Aid & Errands

Busy night last night--I got off my bike and the kids next door wanted me to run races with them. First, we had ice cream.

Eddie asked me what flavor I like. Coffee, I said. "That's cool!" he said with great enthusiasm. "I like vanilla and strawberry!" We played rock/paper/scissors with our free hands while eating ice cream cones. They use a different order, though. They call "Paper! Scissors! Rock!"

Then we ran races down the sidewalk and played hide and seek. We were joined by a litte girl from across the street--that's a nice family I haven't met yet, but her dad and I smiled at each other from across the street. Her brother couldn't come because he's too small to cross the street by himself.

The oldest girl on the first floor south of me had a nasty bruise on her hand--her little brother hit her (he must have hit her with a stick or something, and I think by accident). I was worried she sprained her finger. We need a first-aid class in Spanish for the moms. Her hand was bound up in a ribbon (I think that's bad)--the second floor neighbor put a hot cream on it (something from Mexico--I don't know if it was like Ben-Gay or worse), and then she was massaging the kid's hand. The poor girl was crying in pain.

I suggested ice and her mother went in and came back out with some ice cubes in a bowl, and put her daughter's hand right in it. She started crying again, no surprise.

"No, no," I said. "Voy a volver." (I'm coming back.) I went in my house and got a clean dish towel, wet it a little and put the ice in that. Then I went back and told the girl to just rest her hand on the cloth and when it got too cold, take it away, and when her hand got too hot or too painful, put it back.

I tried to convince the other neighbor not to massage her hand but I don't know if the message got through. Fortunately I heard later they were going to take her to the doctor. I don't know if that meant they were going to go sit in the emergency room somewhere. A lot of people here can't afford doctors.

I had to excuse myself to go see if Isabel was home and make a haircut appointment. The bad news was she wasn't there, but the good news was her husband gave mer her cell number and we made an appointment for Saturday. So I'll have nice hair in time for the big Su Casa wedding on Saturday.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Last Day of School

Guess I should put up the words to "School's Out" or something like that, but in case I didn't mention sooner, Julian pulled his social studies grade from an F to a B. Whoo-hoo!

I need to find out if he's in summer school. That's for next week.

Later I'll tell y'all about watching Don Fernando (Univision talk show host) on female sexuality with Dawn and her mom. Wow.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Neighbors in the News

Dawn got the Most Improved Student award at Big Picture yesterday! Whoo-hoo! Of course, then she promptly lost the certificate. I think her mom told me she found it balled up on the floor and put it in a book to iron it out. She was annoyed--she was all set to hang it up on the wall and be proud of her daughter, but it needs a bit of repair first.

Meanwhile, Dawn's dad's company made headlines again yesterday and not for good reason. There was a fire at the factory that injured six people, including two firefighters. At least one of the six was in critical condition last night. It is possible that hazardous chemicals were involved, so I'm worried about how long it will take them to clean up and get the place working again. I don't suppose Julian, Sr. will be getting paid in the meantime.

Fr. Bruce from Holy Cross was on Channel 2 today talking about plans for the new high school in our neighborhood. The mayor has announced he's pulling money out of city TIF funds (I'll explain them another day) to build 15 new schools, including our long-awaited high school. The papers said the site will be at 35th and California, which isn't even in Back of the Yards, but apparently Fr. Bruce says the site is still not set.

Last I heard, they were talking about putting the building on the vacant lots by 51st and Ashland. Stay tuned--we may get our high school yet.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Two Storms in One House

Friends of mine called last night to inquire about the weather, since Hurricane Alberto was on its way. Of course, the latest from Reuters downgraded to a mere tropical storm:

Just like my living arrangements.

The big weather news last night was that Alberto and Camille were in my house at the same time, and so was I. I don't think all three of us have been in the house at the same time in a while, maybe not since Memorial Day weekend.

Camille made dinner last night--shrimp in garlic sauce over rice, plus a salad of greens, tomato, avocado and mozzarella. "What restaurant are you working at?" I asked. "I'll be there for dinner very soon!" She "auditioned" for a restaurant gig at a new place on North Avenue. If she gets it for sure I will send all of you there.

While we were inside, Julian and a buddy of his were playing soccer out in the yard. Camille started at the thumps and bumps. "It's just the kids," I said. "No worries." They watched my bike for me and stayed out there long enough to remember I'd forgotten to put it in the basement. That's how the last one got stolen. Glad they were there this time.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dawn's final exhibition this year

Dawn did her final exhibition for the year on Thursday morning. I came out the door and found her dad and her uncle talking to Camille, my houseguest--they had a job tip for her. I asked Dawn's dad if he was going to the exhibition and he said yes, but he was waiting for his wife. I went over without them.

Good thing--I had lost track of time and Dawn had already started. I got there and she was already getting into her report on the light bulb. She really got into that project, without much help from me. We got together on Memorial Day when she and Gladys were revising their research papers, but that was it. Dawn did a research paper, put together a booklet of drawings she did of various stages of the light bulb's development, and did a quantitative project analyzing her family's electric bill and what the charges were for.

Her presentation had fewer bells and whistles this time--she didn't have Power Point, for example--but she really did the work on her own. Her advisor said she had noticed Dawn buckling down in class and independent work time to get projects done on time, which was a change from previous quarters. I can vouch for the fact I did not come in on a white horse this quarter to pull her grade out of the fire.

Julian's presentation is Tuesday. I wonder if I can go. I'd like to but work is kicking my butt.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Long time no post

Sorry it's been so long! And there's so much to say....

Weather Report: Tropical Storm Alberto, a/k/a my roommate, delivered a surprise last month. A friend of his is relocating here from Washington, DC. She's been staying in the house since May 19 or so. For lack of a better naming scheme, let's call her Camille, more because I think the name is pretty than because of the destruction that particular hurricane wreaked, as shown here:

In case you're wondering, Alberto and Camille are just friends, people. She's staying in the guest room. And her arrival forced Alberto to bring his girlfriend over for dinner a couple of nights. Now we know where he's been all that time!

Birthday party: Alberto and Camille were instrumental in helping me throw a birthday bash over Memorial Day weekend. Others deserving of major shout-outs for their help include Dawn's mom, dad and brother, and the LSC lady from Chavez who is also big in CAPS. She and Dawn's dad took over the grill. Dawn's mom made rice. Her big brother cut the lawn. And a big thanks to Su Casa for the loan of chairs, a table and the lawnmower!

We broke out the good tequila friends brought back for me from Guadalajara. On my weak stomach, it takes a village to drink a bottle of the stuff, so I'm glad real aficionados got to enjoy most of it. I just had a small taste.

The kids had a big water fight out front. My front lawn is still recovering.

Recent travels: I went to New Orleans for a conference last weekend. New Orleans is still in post-Katrina gridlock. It was shocking to see how little rebuilding has happened yet. The t-shirts said it all: "FEMA: Fix Everything My Ass;" "FEMA Evacuation Plan: Run M-F, Run"
"Meet the Fockers:" with pictures of Ray Nagin, Kathleen Blanco, Michael Brown (the FEMA guy). From what we heard at the conference, it sounds like they could have done that shirt with reps from the state and the New Orleans school board on them, too.

I did get Alberto a graduation present that wasn't any of those t-shirts. I went to a fun jazz benefit party last Saturday night at Donna's in the 7th Ward, and found a great t-shirt put out by a very Catholic Workerish group called Common Ground. They got their start last fall when a former Black Panther and New Orleans resident starting working to get doctors back in the city. Now they're doing all kinds of stuff, and they have really cool t-shirts, too:

Back to neighborhood news in the next post!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Big Picture Meeting

About 75 people attended a meeting at Big Picture last night to discuss the board's plan for the school. I think a number of the most vocal people there were parents of current 8th-graders who planned to attend Big Picture. Principal Alfredo Nambo says district officials have decided the school will not be allowed to take in 9th-graders next fall, but all the current students in grades 9,10, and 11 will be allowed to stay. I think that means through graduation, but I'm not sure. At first I thought only the 11th graders would be able to stay, but last night Alfredo assured everyone that all the current students will be staying on and not have to transfer. That's a big relief.

Alfredo says the school has decided not to fight the board's decision about stopping the flow of incoming freshmen, and instead staff will concentrate their efforts on making sure all the current students are succeeding. I can't argue with that, given what I'm seeing from Julian and Dawn. Julian is not succeeding, though he told me last night he's a lot more on top of his work this quarter than he has been in the past, and I'm glad to hear that. With about a 2.5 GPA, Dawn is doing OK but not great, and she needs to do great to have a shot at real success in college. I'm also disappointed that neither of them will be participating in an organized summer program. I know how hard it is to get kids to do that, but there are students going to Colorado, Montana, and other places and I was really hoping Dawn and/or Julian would be among them. Many factors are responsible for that, including their own lack of initative and my lack of being on top of them about getting it done, but I do wish the school was also more on top of them about applications. I was really hoping Dawn would do the Lincoln Park Zoo internship but we missed the application deadline and neither her advisor nor the LTI coordinator were on top of it. (I grant the LTI person was very new in the job at that point.)

The other Big Picture is in exactly the same boat. I think CPS is having a really hard time accepting how this model of education works when its own internal thrust is largely about test scores. While I can see that the execution of the model here needs work, if CPS had its eye on the most important indicators--dropout/graduation rate and college readiness--I think it would be a lot easier to find a meeting of minds. I also can't argue that it's not expensive. It is.

I also wish I could do more directly to be of help.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

More Bad News

I got home from my trip Tuesday night. As usual, something always happens right when I get home that smacks me in the face to say. "Welcome back to the hood, b---h."

On Tuesday it was the cops stopping Julian and Chava four times in five minutes. Apparently someone was spotted with a gun on the south end of the block, and the boys had the misfortune of taking 51st to walk to the store. There were cop cars all over our block around 8:30.

I was at Dawn's house watching TV with her and her mom. Dawn saw the cars and went outside. "Ama! Donde esta Julian?" she called. Her mom flipped, not surprisingly. We all went out and she took the cell phone.

We could see them coming up the block, grinning sheepishly. Fortunately, they survived three pickups and pat-downs with no confrontations. The fourth one came while we were all standing in front of the house. A police car drove down the block the wrong way, flashing that outside searchlight thing into the yard.

"I hate that light," Chava muttered. (He's seen it all too often, I'm sure.)

The cops started driving away, slowly, then backed up and told the guys to come to the car. They patted them down and another car pulled up. I remember that one had two blonde female officers.

The boys were very polite. Everything was very low-key. The cops were not confrontational; they were very professional. But I have to say I was more than a little annoyed.

However, I was very polite. "These boys live here, officers," I said. "He lives here. This is his friend."

"Oh," said a cop. They wrapped up the pat-down quickly and left. White privilege at its finest--if you've got it, share it, I always say. :-)

Chava earned points for manners later on, it must be noted. "Thanks for trying to help us with the 5-0," he said.

Last night Julian and his mom got in a shouting match. He wanted to go out; his mom wanted him to stay in and do homework and not put himself at risk of getting picked up by cops. THey fought mostly in Spanish. Julian tried to enlist my aid by repeating himself in English, "It's five weeks til the end of the semester, right?"

"Yes," I said evenly, "but you need to be doing the work now." He stopped talking to me.

Teenage boys are just hard. I wish I knew how to help, but I really don't.

Really Bad News

The Big Picture High School in Back of the Yards is being threatened with closure. The Board of Education has told the school not to accept new freshmen for next fall. I'm told the current juniors will be able to stay and graduate in June of 07, but there's no word yet about what happens to the sophomores and freshmen, including Dawn and Julian.

My friend Mike Klonsky went ballistic over this on his blog, sparing me from having to do it here. Here's the link:

There's a meeting tonight at 6 at the school for parents and community to strategize.

I will tell you all that at the Neighborhood Housing Services board meeting last night I did not hear resounding support for saving Big Picture. The Peace and Education Coalition is focused on getting a new high school building in the neighborhood with enough space to serve a lot of kids, and frankly Big Picture has not been involved in the Coalition, so it hasn't won their backing. They've never been to a meeting, I've been told.

What I heard was a lot of griping--they don't serve many kids, how many of them are from the neighborhood anyway? (the first class had a lot from Little Village, which I think left a bad taste in some people's mouths) all the schools here need help, we need a real high school in here, etc. etc.

I tried to be sympathetic (and we do need a real high school, that will serve more kids--but it needs to be done right or it won't serve them well), but finally I told everyone in that room straight out: "My concern here is for the 80 kids in that building right now, especially for the two of them who live next door to me. If the school closes, what happens to them?"

One person said: "They'll transfer." Yes, probably to Richards, one of the worst high schools in the city. Great.

Another person said, more thoughtfully, "Probably if they have to transfer, a lot of them will drop out." Bingo.

I think I'm gearing up to pay tuition for Dawn to go to Our Lady of Tepeyac in Little Village. I don't know what to do about Julian. Frankly, I'm tempted to tell him to just goof around at Richards until he can drop out and go to Second Chance, where he might get some education. Ouch.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

DC Dispatch

This morning at the Senate's Dirksen building, the 8th-grade class from San Miguel School had coffee with Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama. I know because I was there.

I'm in DC for my sister's wedding, but had time this morning to go to the Illinois senators' weekly constituent coffee. When I walked in the door, I spotted one of the San Miguel teachers immediately. So funny! Last week a friend of mine told me there is a phrase for "small world" in Spanish which literally translates, "the world is a handkerchief."

There were at least five different school groups there, and one student from each group got to ask a question. One of the girls from San Miguel asked: "What will the final version of the immigration bill that comes out of the Senate look like?"

Dick Durbin took the question and said that it will have provisions for border enforcement, a path to citizenship (but a long and an arduous one, that not everybody will be able to complete), and that the version right now includes the DREAM Act, which would open opportunites for legal status for young people who finish high school, pass a criminal background check, and go to college or serve in the military.

Durbin also took a moment to talk up San Miguel. "I know that school. It's an excellent school in Back of the Yards. You are all lucky to be there." No foolin'. San Miguel in the house!! (Excuse me, make that San Miguel in the Senate!)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Lawn Care Follies

Who knew lawn care had racial politics? (Well, anyone who watched the movie "A Day without a Mexican," but these racial politics didn't make it into that movie.)

Here's the politics of lawn care in my 'hood, racial or otherwise: I hired Junior's dad to do my lawn. As I suspected, I didn't understand the full implications of what I had done because I don't speak Spanish well enough to understand what I got into. So I found out tonight that I hired him for the season to take care of getting my yard and garden together.

But I didn't know I had done this on Sunday, when Mr. Worrisome and his brother showed up with a bunch of rolls of sod and tried to sell me some. They actually succeeded in selling me a few rolls.

"How much?" I asked Mr. W.
"A dollar seventy-five," he said.
"So, three for seven?" I said. (I was just ballparking and I knew it was a low-ball estimate.)
Mr. W's math isn't that great, or he just wanted to unload them. "Sure."

Later, Julian told me I could have gotten them for a dollar apiece from his uncle or cousin or something.

"I'm gonna marry you in two years," Mr. Worrisome informed me, once I had agreed to buy his sod. "We're going to Paris. You speak French?"

"Jai oubliee tout le francais," I told him. "That means, 'I forgot all the French.'"

"Guess I won't marry you, then," he said.

(Whew! I thought. That was easy.)

Mr Worrisome was all pissy about the fact he had tried to sell his crappy-ass, dried-out, yellow-grassed sod to Dawn's family, but they said no. "They have a relative who's in the business," I told him. It sort of shut him up.

Anyway, I spent seven bucks and they gave me four or five rolls, I think (more than I was expecting). We laid them on the bare spot in the front yard. "I'd rather just put down seed," I thought to myself.

"Some water and fertilizer, and they'll be green in no time," said Mr. W. Fat chance, I thought to myself.

So last night around midnight I was out in the yard and Julian and his mom were out. Julian wanted to know why I bought that crappy sod, so I explained as best I could, in Spanish for his and his mom's benefit. They informed me that they heard Mr. W is the child molester in that house. (Remember I said there was a sex offender in that house? I think it's not him, though--I think it's his even creepier brother or cousin or something.) Anyway, they got it that I was basically buying my way out of hassle from Mr. W.

However, tonight I had to explain the whole thing over again to Junior's parents. Rosa came over with Junior and Fernando to tell me that her husband had put out seed in the front yard and the sod on top of it would ruin it. So that's how I found out I have full-service lawn care for the entire season.

I had been hoping for a reason to get rid of that sod, so once Rosa gave it to me, I was ready to go. "Well, I'll throw it out then," I said, gesturing to show taking the sod to the garbage. I started rolling it up and spotted some earthworms on the backside, so I stopped and pulled one off and threw it back in my own grass. Rosa was so grossed out she had to turn her back and walk out of the yard! We were all laughing, even Daya's grandmother, a very serious-looking Mexican lady.

Marisol saved the sod from certain death. She was out with Daya and with her in-laws, who are here for the first time ever from a little town outside Guanajuato. Fernando, Danny and Oscar wanted to help move the sod. So between all of us (mostly me and Marisol) we got it over to her yard and rolled it out. Then her father-in-law got out the hose and started soaking it down. He looked like he was happy to have a project.

So now the sod has a home, my seed will sprout, and Mr. Worrisome got paid. A happy ending all around. Who says we can't all just get along?

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