June 2, 2013

  • The End

    Oh sad day. The ending of Xanga. Or perhaps not or who knows--but it is time for me to connect with my BlogSpot blogs through Living Stones anyways. It was a good run: January 2005- June 2013, but this will be my last entry on Xanga--now I am officially at www.rachelsnewday.blogspot.com

    Hope to see you there.


May 31, 2013

  • Thirty Hours of Silence

    He who doesn’t understand your silence will probably never understand your words.” Elbert Hubbard

    Two hours of silence.  As the time inched closer to begin my experiment, my ears felt they had to consume as much music as possible. Every song sounded sweeter, as I passed the restaurant, the live music made me pause. It is like a hunger, before I’ve even started.

    My roommate asked me why I didn’t leave for my experiment. Because I wanted to eat, I told her, and that would require talking, communicating. And people just don’t get my…ideas when I explained them. No music, no movies, no interactions, no texting. Why are you doing this again? My boyfriend asks. Because it was on my bucket list. Because every once in a while, I still envy those nuns and monks away in their towers who have mastered silence. Because I want to know I can.

    Thirty hours of silence, one of my goals to do when I am 30. Two hours into it and I laugh (silently) because I don’t feel like I’ve stopped talking—I sure haven’t stopped in my head. Song after song is being sung up there. I wonder how many hours until I am really silent? Is it even possible? I talk to myself a lot. And sing to myself even more. Now I am whispering/mouthing words as I write. Does that count? Silence is for listening. I am not listening yet.

    Wikipedia says “Silence is the lack of audiblesound, the word silence can also refer to any absence of communication. Silence is also used as total communication, in reference to non-verbal communication and spiritual connection.”

    I make noise when I wake up, rolling over and stretching. Noise is startling. I am hungry for noise. In three separate dreams, I spoke and felt the failure: in one was I was sleeping in the trash dump with the children and watching the worms climb back into my matrices, another was getting ready to return to Brazil and needing to say goodbye, and lastly, shopping and having lost my wallet.

    I am beginning to wonder if the voices in my head will ever quit. I’m creative enough, full enough to keep feeding them for years, without new material. How long until they wind down? Silence and accomplishment don’t go together. I lay in my bed doing nothing, hoping my thoughts will dry out and leave me alone. I want silence within. How long has it been?

    Silence is emptying of sound, thought, activity. Going through your brain and sorting everything into its place until you stop and say—good, it is time to rest. Silence is a part of simplicity, a cleansing return to basics, child-likeness. And I yearn for it. I know my great need for silence, as does God. He made all these rules for the Sabbath. He led by example by resting on the 7th day—one day of not creating.

    I make lists so I can make peace with the nagging voices in my head that say I am going to forget something, I am going to let someone down, I am going to screw something up. I work hard to be organized to give myself space for the silence of simplicity. But often I get stopped on my way. I forget the end result and get tied up in the project. I get overwhelmed without space for silence.

    I think a true silent retreat requires leaving, someplace alone and simple. And includes fasting: empty of people, food, things. I once put myself into solitary confinement. It was a point where I was broken, physically, mentally, emotionally. I just didn’t want to go on until I’d heard from God. It was a small room with a bed, chair, and bathroom. I brought paper, pencil, Bible, and change of clothes. I was left completely alone.

    First I just slept until I could sleep no more. Time crept by, only noted by the big window that I sat next to and watched because it was the only thing to see. I fell into a routine of sitting, reading, writing, sleeping, praying, and showering. Whenever I got tired of one thing, I’d do another. It was healing. And I was starving. After a little less than 3 full days, I went out for food and returned to life. Sometimes you just need to know when you are broken and need to stop.

    Sixteen hours of silence (including a good nights’ sleep) and I am starting to feel it. My mind slowing down. Enjoying the silence. Feeling less anxious and forgetting all the things I should be doing and just being. Silence and simplicity kiss and the whole world is right again.

    “Silence is full of noise…but we have become deaf to this thundering silence. But still more difficult than getting rid of that surrounding din is the achievement of inner silence, a silence of the heart which goes beyond every man. It makes you wonder if the diversion we look for in the many things outside us might not be an attempt to avoid a confrontation with what is inside.”

    “But whenever you do come upon this silence, it seems as though you have received a gift. The promise of this silence is that new life can be born. Then you realize you can do many things, but it isn’t necessary. It is the silence of the “poor in spirit” where you learn to see your life in its proper perspectives.”

    “Deep silence leads us to suspect that, in the first place, prayer is acceptance. A man who prays is a man standing with his hands open to the world. He trusts that the world holds God’s secret within it, and he expects that secret to be shown to him. Praying means being constantly ready to let go of your certainty and to move on further than where you now are. This is why praying demands poverty, that is, the readiness to live a life in which you have nothing to lose so that you always begin afresh.” Henri Nouwen

    I am going to sleep after 27 hours of silence. When I wake up, I will get dressed and begin my day as if silence never ruled. The awkward hanging up because I can’t answer my phone. The time I thought something funny and stopped mid-laugh. But I learned what I wanted to know: I can do silence. I can be comfortable in my own skin. And it takes a while to detox, but then things seem clearer and more focused, and I appreciate that. And somehow, silence always seems a little closer to God.

    “He who does not know to be silent will not know how to speak.” Ausonius


May 26, 2013

  • "Half the Sky"

    By Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn

    Filled with personal stories and facts, this book makes the world situation of women very clear. My mother always wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer when I was little. I think if I had read this book then, I would have become a woman’s doctor in Niger: “Niger has only ten ob-gyns in the entire country, and rural areas are lucky to have a physician of any kind in the vicinity.”

    “Let us be clear (the book states in the introduction,) about this upfront: we hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate woman and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts.” After wondering exactly what “incipient” means, I get excited. Makes me want to write a book that says this:

    “Let me be clear about this upfront: I hope to recruit you to join in an incipient (which means to first get angry/emotionally involved and then develop a role in it) movement to effectively reach out and share God’s love, education, nutrition, and direction to impoverished children by unlocking the power of community and lasting change through the local church.”

    This is a dangerous book that everyone should read. Because you are responsible for the knowledge you know. And I want to make everyone as responsible as possible for making a difference in the world, instead of just living a nominal life. It shocks me to read that some countries still had slavery until a year before I was born. What does it take for us to open our eyes to the world around us? To realize that what we live isn’t “normal”?

    The book focused on prostitution/human trafficking, sexual violence, maternal mortality, and daily discrimination of the female gender. I was struck by the thought that if we spent more time and money helping save women’s lives in childbirth, women around the world would be much more open to hearing about the benefits of being pro-life. Maternal mortality claims the life of a woman every minute.

    It opened my eyes to historical documentation like that of Sweden and the Netherlands, who, when faced with legalizing prostitution, one cracked down on it, but didn’t punish the female and the other legalized it. Years later, it is clear Sweden’s take is more beneficial for the women and the country. In third world countries, where government laws often make no difference, putting international pressure often does: “Simply asking questions put the issue on the agenda. Countries began passing laws, staging crackdowns, and compiling fact sheets. Pimps found that the cost of bribing police went up, eroding their profit margins.” And making the sex-trade non-profitable is the most effective way to stop forced prostitution.

    “One third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged 15-34 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.”

    They shared stories that I wish I could forget, and facts about how in some war-torn areas of Africa, 90 of the women have been raped. “In short, rape becomes a tool of war in conservative societies precisely because female sexuality is so sacred.” Rebels will rape the women and the men are shamed—the tribe conquered in ways that if they had killed someone, the government would have gotten involved. “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”

    In these cultures, most raped women commit suicide because they have no more value or worth. It is what the culture says she is to do. They told another story from rural India, where when a boy wants to marry a girl but can’t pay the bride-price, he kidnaps her, rapes her, and returns her. The parents then let him have her since she is worth nothing. What kind of world is this? In the story they shared, the girl escaped, but the town returned her to the rapist, saying, “Are you crazy? He just wants to marry you.” If these girls go to the police, they often just rape her again in response.

    “When anesthesia was developed, it was for many decades withheld from women giving birth, since women were “supposed” to suffer. One of the few societies to take a contrary view was the Huichoi tribe in Mexico. The Huichoi believed that the pain of childbirth should be shared, so the mother would hold on to a string tied to her husband’s testicles. With each painful contraction, she would give the string a yank so that the man could share the burden.”

    A friend of theirs in a Muslim country: “You think we’re victims, because we cover our hair and wear modest clothing. But we think that it’s Western women who are repressed, because they have to show their bodies—even go through surgery to change their bodies—to please men.”

    All through the book they highlighted successful grassroots organizations and people who are making a difference, focusing on girl’s education, family planning, micro-finance, and empowerment in general.  “You educate a boy, and you’re educating an individual. You educate a girl, and you’re educating an entire village” –Greg Mortenson

    They pointed out that while American’s see Chinese sweatshops as horrible, it was the ticket to freedom for many women, being allowed to have a job and thus provide for themselves/their families. On a very practical note, most third world countries need to invest in women because they need the brain power, the peacefulness, and the “man” power they provide: “One way to soothe some conflict-ridden societies is to bring women and girls into schools, the workplace, government, and business, partly to boost the economy and partly to ease the testosterone-laden (violent) values of these countries.”

     “We must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “Because men not typically control the purse strings, it appears that the poorest families in the world typically spend approximately ten times as much (20% of their income on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitutes, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children…perhaps it seems culturally insensitive to scold the poor for indulging in festivals, alcohol, or sweets that make life more fun. Yet when resources are scares, priorities are essential…and the simplest solution is to reallocate spending.” Which is why most social and government services are now going through the women, because the money is more likely to get to the children.

    We can’t blame the men for everything though, if the women would band together to protect and speak out, differences could be made. It is often the mother-in-law who enforces the beating of her son’s wife. It is often the mother who has her daughter’s genitals removed. It is the general culture and passivity of other women who perpetuate the inequality.

    They told stories of women who had gotten microfinance loans and started gaining income: their husbands not only stopped beating them, but they began to have a good relationship for the first time as he gained respect for her and saw she could be so much more than a slave. Television is also a tool: as rural areas receive the outside influences, and watch shows that show “popular culture” where the women are respected, they are beginning to change.

    At the end of “Half the Sky,” they call for three pragmatic steps: $10 billion for educating girls, $19 million to give iodized salt to pregnant women (which would raise IQ at least ten points in impoverished children born), and a $1.6 billion plan to eradicate obstetric fistula (which normally happens from harsh rape or when a baby gets stuck during birth and permanently cripples if not treated—but is treatable).

    If you care about poverty you must understand it, not just oppose it. And understanding poverty comes from spending time observing it directly.” They shared about how England was the forerunner in ending slavery, and how it cost them dearly to do it. But the workers (William Wilberforce and many others) gathered correct/documented information, and were able to clearly present to the general public what it was LIKE to be a slave/on a slave boat. That is what we need to do: figure out a way to present to the general public what it is like to be impoverished, and all that goes along with that. Like have a day of not wearing shoes. A week of eating only rice and beans. A month of only using public transportation…

  • Rain


    It just started raining. I love the sudden, harsh sound against the building, like a million fans blowing. I love the smell of fresh, of clean, of new. And I pause just to enjoy. I hope the rain made its way to the Sertao, where they are still having drought, and I saw and smelled dead cows that feel over in the fields because there just wasn’t any food or water for them. Then I think of my friends who live in mud and dirt houses, and how their bright smiles might be tense, wondering if their house will stand or leak, as they watch the water seep in different areas. Or my friends who live in the dump, wondering if they will be able to go to school because of the huge mud-puddle road.


May 24, 2013

  • No School

    This week, Living Stones has been overfull of children. I am not complaining because of that, but because of the causes. The children in Guadalajara, Cajueiro Claro, and Mussurepe have no school. The teachers in Paudalho are on strike. No one knows when the strike will end. Apparently, some mess between the teachers and the local government and getting paid. http://www.sinpro-pe.org.br/base/2013/05/20/professores-de-paudalho-deflagram-greve/ (if you want to read Portuguese).

    It just blows my brain that Brazil has enough money to build stadiums and duplicate the road, and yet can't pay teachers regularly. It is absurd that these children should suddenly have this gap in their education. Education, what education? The realities I see are rural areas with no school, or a school until 3rd grade. If the school bus comes, because during rainy season the road washes out, it is not very regular. When they go to school, the classrooms are overcrowded (40-60 in a classroom is not unusual), and the materials? Chalkboard, bring your own chalk. One or two fans, if working.

    If you want better quality? Pay for a private (probably Catholic) school. No money? Sorry about you. And consider the ramifications of this teacher strike: let's say it ends next week (being hopeful here): two weeks out of school will require at least two weeks of makeup work to get back to where they were before. That is a month of learning, gone. Most of the children miss about a month from transportation problems. If there is anything else going on in their life or family, make it another month. After holidays, that leaves about 6 or 7 months of the year where they are actually in school: and you wonder why most of the children are behind their grade--they can't study enough to pass the year with all those gaps.

    I watched a show set in the medieval times, and it was depressing. All that was needed to ruin everything was one person in authority who was evil or manipulative, and then everyone suffered. Because the common people had no rights. And I am reading "Half the Sky" which has a bunch of facts and stories that blow my mind about women and how they are still suffering today without a voice in so many places in the world. All it takes is a society where the culture says that all a woman is good for is reproduction, and then everyone is screwed. So many problems in this world, and I don't know where to start in trying to fix them. Overwhelming.

May 19, 2013

May 12, 2013

  • I remember the day when I saw it. I looked into his eyes: he didn't want to live anymore. He had some kind of medical condition where his intestines were coming out and he could barely see because of cataracts. And he was just plain tired. And it was sad. My dad was raised in a time where you don't spend money on animals. You take them out back and shoot them when they are suffering like that. But times are changing and my dad didn't have a shotgun, so Max our dog was humanly put to sleep with many tears.

    I saw it again the other day, waiting for the bus. A dog that should just be dead. He was wandering aimlessly along the road, limping. All his fur was gone and his wrinkled skin was covered with scars and open wounds. I winced every time he got close to an oncoming car. He didn't even notice, he knew it was his time. I just didn't want to see it. I just wanted him to go away.

    I have an unproved theory about society and animals: about how society views and treats animals correlates to how they view and treat children. How many people's pets have even become their child? Our culture of excess extends even to fat, waddling dogs wearing pet clothes. Watch this correlation with street children: how do we treat our stray animals? Quietly get them out of the way. Put them somewhere where I don't have to see them or deal with them.

    In Brazil, I've seen more people walking their goats than their dogs. Because goats give something back. They are productive members of society. Stray dogs are everywhere, and they act like cats. I've been chased by more cows than dogs--dogs here simply don't care. They have been treated as invisible and left on their own for long enough that they believe it. Brazil is infamous for their favelas, their headlines of street children being shot and mistreated. Brazilians have simply learned how to not see.

    Is one culture better than the other? One hiding the issue so they don't have to see it, the other learning how not to see the issue in front of them?


  • But it Didn't Hurt

    Glee brought up an interesting subject in one of their episodes. One of the boys opened up about when his babysitter took advantage of him when he was younger. The girls were silent, the other boys began teasing him "What, that is every guys dream!" He was quiet a moment and then replied "Yeah, what was I thinking."

    Current statistics tell us that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are abused before they turn 18 (http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx). Most of the time the experience is more painful for women, but some people surmise that it is just as marking (if not more) psychologically for men (http://www.prevent-abuse-now.com/stats.htm). Just because it didn't hurt, does that mean it didn't count?

    I was talking to a friend who told me he was proud of my stand for waiting until marriage. Knowing his very colorful past, I bluntly asked "Well, why didn't you?" He had a blank look on his face when he told me "It just sorta happened." An older woman had taken him to a love hotel, and he had enjoyed the experience. He continued with a sexually active lifestyle until meeting Christ many years later. He had been 12 years old that first time.

    I was silent after that. I realized that he didn't have the words for it, maybe didn't realize it at the time (or even now), but he was taken advantage of. The woman opened him up to experiences and choices that he didn't choose for himself, that he wasn't mature enough to understand. You can't pretend to know what might have been, but he was a child that should have been protected, not an object to give pleasure.

    Just because it felt good, does that mean it doesn't count? What if you are just now realizing the price you paid without being asked?

May 11, 2013

  • Running Commentary

    It isn't that I take fantastic pictures. It is that eventually you are bound to get some good pictures. And I have amazing subjects to photograph.

    Point proved.

    This is where I was today:

    And you can't go somewhere like the dump and not be touched. Even if it is just by the horrible smell, stink, and flies.

    Since it has been raining, the road was almost impassable. For part of the week, the garbage truck couldn't make it all the way to the dump. So what did they do? Fix the roads. No, of course not. They dumped all the trash on the side of the road toward the entrance of the dump. Into the sugar cane fields that line the area around the dump.

    The smell was overwhelming. And I've been going for over a year, so should be used to it.

    It is the time of year where flies are everywhere anyway, but this was ridiculous. Also because of the rain, the people couldn't work in the dump as much, sorting the trash. So extra piles lay everywhere. They normally sort out what they can and then burn the rest, but that was out of the question as well. More and more trash. More and more flies. More and more stink.

    And those birds. Those gorgeous, dainty, white birds. I find a smirk on my face as I remember the last time I saw one: Disney World. Disney World to the dump. Where rich kids were feeding the white birds $5 pretzels.

    The black vultures are the birds that belong here, not the Ibis.

    This. it just won't go away. It won't let me go to sleep.

    Nor will this. These beautiful children. One was remarking to me how she'd made her mother a card. And how for mother's day, she would read that card to her mother. Because she was the first in her family to learn how to read. Oh dear God!

    And the mothers. Looking at the blurb book I made of their children, and grinning such proud grins. I paid $7 for that book. Their faces were priceless.

    She picked up a piece of plywood out of the pile of trash and began to make a fort. She giggled at my camera and then scooted under into her house.

    I've finally figured it out, what it means to be a mother. It means to give your child the cupcake.

    And that is what it means to be a child: to be given the cupcake.

    It all makes so much more sense now.

    Except for the flies. With smiles and laughter like this, you can forget almost every pain and unfairness. Except the flies. The flies that land on her mouth as I go to snap the picture. The flies that carry disease and filth. The flies that hover just over everything and never quite go away.

    What is it to be a mother in Brazil? At the dump? What is her story? I wish I could sit and listen.

    Too many stories to ever truly know. Except in heaven. Perhaps in heaven.

    Happy Mother's Day. Life is hard on these women. Perhaps that is why I never found a Brazilian boyfriend. Part of me saw how hard it is to be a woman, a wife, a mother in Brazil. I don't know if I could do it. Honestly, I don't think I really want to. Not most days.

    A random picture. Where there is so much more going on than you see. Passing out drinks and cupcakes. Kids waiting for mother's first. The little boy who climbed up and you can just see his feet. You can't see the donkey just behind them, braying. You can't smell the trash, just a field over. You can't feel the flies landing on you, or Jasmim kicking my foot because she wants my attention.