...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


So on the third day of the program, we did this poverty simulation, a 24-hours-in-the-life-of-a-migrant kind of a thing. After sleeping in cars, since a lot of migrant workers are homeless, we drove in to the orchards at 6:45 for a full day of work. We each were paired up with a worker who taught us that day's trabajo. My pareja's name was Pedro, and after awhile I got over my nervousness of speaking Spanish with an actual hispanohablante and tried to get to know him. Pedro: twenty-seven years old, been in the US for eight or nine years, living and working with his brothers. His mother stayed in Mexico, but she died. Married and expecting his first child, a girl whom he and his wife are going to name Melissa. Not a member of United Farm Workers of Washington because it makes it more difficult to get work, but he supports them. He sang as he worked and joked with the other men, talking about which countries had won the latest fútbol games, arguing good-naturedly about a bet someone had lost, and swearing like a drunken sailor.

Pedro was from a rural village in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca, one of the most impoverished areas of the country. In addition to Spanish, he spoke an indigenous language--Mixteca, I think. Listening to Pedro talk about the indigenous people of Oaxaca, I was overcome with how much he looked Joary, a little indigenous southern Mexican toddler I met at Migrant Headstart a couple of years ago. The same round faces and burnt umber skin--the same wide-set, almond shaped eyes and easy smiles. I listened to Pedro distractedly, thinking of Joary and wondering where he was, hoping that he was safe and healthy, growing in right paths, hoping that he wouldn't have to spend his whole life in the fields.

On that day, the crew was working with the young apple trees, tying them to bamboo posts so that they'd grow straight, then stapling the post to metal wires running parallel to the ground so that the pole wouldn't fall over. It wasn't hard work, exactly, just very repetitive--we were at it for about eight hours, with no more breaks than the workers themselves took. There was a lot of bending over, so my back hurt after awhile, and my fingers started to hurt where the plastic green tape we used to tie the trees cut across my skin as I ripped strips from the roll.

After a few hours, I had used up a complete roll of tape. "Necesito más cinta," I told Pedro, my partner. "I need more tape." Rather than give me the spare roll of tape that was sticking out of his work apron, Pedro started tearing long strips of tape off the roll for me. I cringed--did he think I was being wasteful with the tape?

"¿Estoy usando demasiado?" I asked. "Am I using too much?"

"No, no, estás haciéndolo bien,"He assured me. "No, no, you're doing it fine." "Corto la cinta para que no te duelas tanto las manos." "I'm cutting the tape so that you don't hurt your hands so much."

Thank you, Pedro.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Marinero que se fue a la mar-i-mar-i-mar

Today the girls have been teaching me hand-clap rhythms in Spanish, the Mexican equivalents of our Miss Mary Mack-Mack-Macks and Miss Suzys. I asked them to write some of them in my journal, so that I could memorize them. The first one I learned was "Marinero:"

Marinero que se fue a la mar-i-mar-i-mar
Para ver lo que podia ver-i-ver-i-ver
Pero lo unico que pudo ver-i-ver-i-ver
Fue el fondo de la mar-i-mar-mar!

Get it? It's almost the exact same as one that we have in English:

Miss Suzy went to sea-sea-sea
To see what she could see-see-see
But all that she could see-see-see
Was the bottom of the deep blue see-see-see!

There's also one about a girl who goes to a dance and kisses a boy and then her sister has a baby that's killed by a witch and then cooked into a picadillo, and you have to close your mouth quickly after you finish singing it, because "el que abre la boca, lo comio!" (Who ever opens her mouth, ate it!" I asked the girls to write the rhythms down in my journal, so I could remember them and maybe use them at the Migrant School later this summer.

The kids in my class are making my thank-you cards right now, which I know about because they're so adorably un-suble about it. Or, rather, they try to be so secretive that it immediately becomes clear that something's up. Melissa came up to me, all smiling and coy, "What's your favorite color?" "Blue." "Okay! I just wanted to...tell the principal." It's very sweet of them. They're sweet kids, all of them, and the school is so small (about 40 kids) that I know most of them and they know me. I'll miss them.

Today is my last day volunteering at Vista Hermosa, which means that it'll be my last day with internet access. We leave Washington on Saturday, my mom and I are spending one day in Portland, then heading up to Seattle for a couple days before going on up to Victoria or Vancouver, BC. I might be able to update at my uncle's house in Seattle, but I'll for sure write more when we get back to Eugene in late May or early June.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Jesus is not your fairy godmother.

Studying scripture yesterday morning, we got into a disagreement about the nature of prayer. The text was Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the persistant widow who continues bringing her claim before the unjust judge. Sick of her constant petitions, the judge finally grants her justice just to shut her up. If even the unjust judge can be swayed, Jesus seems to be saying, how much more happy and swift will the just and loving God be to grant his people justice?

I've always felt uncomfortable with the praying for specific things. I've done it, obviously, but even as I prayed while studying for my Game Theory final, I knew that God didn't really care what grade I got, nor do I think it's realistic to expect God to make the test easier for me. I don't think God cares who wins a reality TV show, and even my prayers for Kerry to win the election were selfish. I've heard people sincerely pray for a parking space, and I find that so shallow that it verges on ridiculous. What, the rest of the people are circling the block because God doesn't really love them? Please. God is in the tub. Y'all know what I'm talking about.

I object to what I see as the overfunctionalization of prayer: praying for specific things, as though Jesus or God were some sort of cosmic Santa Claus jumping down chimneys with a giant bag o' blessings. I think prayer should be based on substantive faith, not functional faith: faith in who God is, not what God does for us. As a result, I think prayer should be focused on entering in to the Divine Mystery. When I pray, my goal is to come closer to unity with God and to approach the Divine Mind, not to ask for specific things, although I do that too sometimes. If God is omnipotent, than he would already know what we need and want; I don't think we need to point things out to God, as though he's in the dark or something. When I prayed for a decent grade in Game Theory, I didn't honestly think that God would give me an A: I prayed because it made me feel better.

In Exodus, Moses went up to the mountain to wait and meet God; so too do I think that we, in prayer, should prepare ourselves to come face to face with the Divine Mystery. In other words, prayer, to me, is more about preparing my own heart for God and carving out a place for the Spirit in my own life than it is about trying to convince God to do something for me.

How does this relate to Luke 18:1-8? My objections were kind of shot down, as the leaders of our group argued that the widow is petitioning the judge for something specific: justice. Still, though, it feels different to pray for an intangible fruit of the Spirit, like justice, wisdom, strength, patience (all things that I pray for often, both for myself and others), than to ask God to do something specific like find a parking space or help someone throw the javelin farther or make a carrot grow bigger.

The author of Luke says that Jesus told the disciples the parable to encourage them to "pray always and not lose heart." I don't think that "pray always" means to keep up a running commentary on every single thing that goes on--I think it means to be, as much as we can, in a spirit of prayer: a spirit of compassion, openness to God and to humanity, and the peace that passes all understanding.

This trip is raising a lot of interesting theological questions. It would be a lot esier if I were an evangelical Christian instead of a liberal mainline Protestant, but then, as Rilke wrote, the things most worth doing are the difficult ones.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Blogging on the sly

Here I am at Vista Hermosa Elementary School, nestled among the apple trees of beautiful Broetje Orchards near Prescott, Washington. I'm volunteering in Mr. K's 3rd/4th grade classroom for the next week and a half, serving the children of migant farmworkers during the day and studying scripture and doing faith formation stuff with the other members of my group in the evenings. Too much to say here, especially since I need to help the kids with their language arts stuff, but I'll write more later, although I'm not sure when "later" will be. As soon as this afternoon, but possibly not until early June.

Friday, May 06, 2005

It always goes quickly at the end

Semester's over, papers have been written, good-byes have been (mostly) said, room has been (almost) all packed up, and I'm off.

Last night was an odyssey of masochism, hallucination (only a little bit), and self-denial. Dear J: Please never wait to start a 10-15 page paper until the afternoon of the day it's due, no matter how much you "have it all in your head." Kisses, J.

That said, I did manage to write 12 pages and I think it turned out well.

The plan:

Starting this Sunday, I'm volunteering for two weeks at a migrant labor camp in Pasco, Washington. That means I'll be without internet access, so no blog updates, unfortunately. I'm also not going to know who wins Amazing Race! Please let it be Uchenna and Joyce.

The service program ends the 22nd. My mom is meeting back in Portland and we're heading to Seattle to see family and then Victoria, BC for a few days, possibly with my grandma.

Then, home, to sleep in and ride bikes and sit drinking endless cups of tea and reading at my Friendly Neighborhood Coffeeshop.

Then....on July 13.....CHILE!

Thanks for a great semester, darlings. I'll miss you all over the summer and next fall and I look forward to seeing everyone again in January!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I wanted to be Marcy's "Empanada"

You are Inspiration Soup!! You live to Inspire
those around you with your green beany, white
chunky, red soupy goodness. Many have come and
lit candles in your honor. You've inspired
them to become better people. Thank you,
Inspiration Soup... thank you.

What Weight Watchers recipe card from 1974 are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

In which I get pounded

Tonight DeAnn and Jenny and I went to hear Wendy McClure read from her book I'm Not the New Me at Powells. Oh, it was funny. I bought the book when I was downtown...yesterday? and have really been enjoying it, in the same way that I enjoyed her longer journal entries: you laugh and laugh, then get to the last sentence that throws the whole entry onto some sort of existential level, and you're like "Ha ha!....Oh. Oh." Some of her writing is just flat-out hilarious, though, like her recap of the Fox News segment on blogging, that one time when she and a friend fugged up a knock-off American Girl doll and went to tea at American Girl Place, and of course the infamous 1974 Weight Watchers recipe cards. Plus, she was one of the founding writers for Television Without Pity.

Before the reading, I got up from our front-row seats to go to the bathroom. Wendy and maybe her assistant were just heading in and she saw me. I was wearing a TWoP shirt, so she must have known that I was there for her reading. We all ended up washing our hands at the same time, and I thougth about saying something or introducing myself but didn't, because I am a dork. Awkward!

After the reading I went up to get my copy of her book signed and I mentioned that I loved one of the new Weight Watchers recipe cards, for Crab Newberg served on pink velvet right next to a huge shell. Her commentary was something like, "Wow, Crab Newberg on pink velvet and it's only your first date with the Miami drug lord?" When I looked at my book as I walked away, I saw that she had written, "Jessica! May you never date a drug lord."


Other stuff that's going on: I'm slowly but surely working my way to the end of the semester. I wrote thirteen solid pages this afternoon and evening. That takes care of my Women in American Religion final paper; I have the exam tomorrow at 1pm. My final paper for Seminar in Early American Religion is technically due tomorrow, but I have an extension day that I can use to turn it in Friday. The only problem is, I'm baby-sitting tomorrow evening and then maybe I might want to say good-bye to some people or something? I also haven't packed a single thing yet, and my mom's coming up to help me move out Friday around 11. The seminar paper's 10-15 pages, which is very doable in a day. I know it's my own damn fault, and I'm not complaining about having work. I can probably get something done tomorrow night after the kids fall asleep, and if need be, I can pull an all-nighter packing and papering Thursday night. Crunch! But you know, I can only think of a few things I would change about the way I've managed my time this semester. Well, okay, more than a few. But I think this particular crunch was inevitable with five courses, two final exams, and four final papers in the 10-20 page range, so I'm not beating myself up over it. Really!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Here comes the sun

Today was one of the best days I've had in a long time.

Amy pointed out yesterday while we were on our way to the Saturday Market downtown, that this is my last weekend at Lewis & Clark for about eight or nine months, since the semester ends Thursday and I'm leaving for Chile in mid-July. It's strange to think of it that way, but it's true: I feel as though I have to say good-bye to all my favorite places in Portland, to go to the art museum and the Chinese Gardens one last time. One more day walking around Portland in the rain, one more TriMet trip down to Hawthorne, one more afternoon spent at the Portland Coffee House studying, drinking espresso, and listening to Yo La Tengo on my iPod like I just don't care, except that I do care, and that's what makes it so hard to say good-bye. When I think about not seeing everyone for nine months, I feel like crying and clinging to people. But I hit the wall in terms of clinginess somewhere around early April, and I've been trying to detach a little since then--to try to put a little space between myself and others, to prepare myself to be away for nearly a year. I do tend to get too attached to people, and then I expect too much of them--I know this.

Something about today, though. It was the perfect capstone to a pretty great semester, overall. The bell choir I direct performed during the church service this morning, and it went wonderfully, possibly the best we've ever played that particular piece. The minister asked for prayers for my safe travels in Chile, and after the service several people came up to congratulate the bell choir, or to tell me they would miss me and would be "cuddling me with prayers," and it was just a lot of human warmth and closeness and make me feel loved and watched over.

After church I walked down to 3rd and Ash for our book club meeting, and I felt truly content. It was something about the sun, and the trees, and my new purple bag that I bought yesterday, and listening to Bob Dylan, and thinking about Etty Hillesum, and looking people in the eyes as I passed by and loving them--but it wasn't that intense, painful, ecstatic feeling that goes like a stab to the heart. It was more like a deep-rooted wash of warmth and happiness, and I felt good. Etty writes: "And this grasping attitude, which is the best way I have of describing it, suddenly fell away from me. A thousand tyrannical chains were broken, and I breathed freely again and felt strong and looked about with shining eyes. And now that I don't want to own anything any more and am free, now I suddenly own everything, now my inner riches are immeasurable."

Etty's another topic. I'm going to be writing more about her later. I'm sure this feeling of contentedness won't last forever, and by tomorrow I may, already, feel stressed out and abandoned and nervous. Etty's transcendental moments weren't long-lasting, either, at the beginning of her journey, but I can take comfort in the fact that she started even lower than me, that her relationship with S. was even more disfunctional than my relationships with some people, that she was even more "spiritually constipated" than I am--and look where she ended up.

To borrow her words again, now I feel that "Somewhere there is something inside me that will never desert me again."