Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sharing Stories

Every so often - I have a look at the 'stats' page of my happy little ramblings - and I am so curious about who's out there, reading my notes. The stats are so vague - just a country to guess from. Who are the individuals in Brazil? in Kuwait? in Turkey? in Denmark? and then who are those larger numbers in Canada, in the US, in Costa Rica? Who is reading this and why? I am so curious. :) It still feels like a strange experience, writing to send things out into the world, without a real idea of who it is going to. When I was living in Guatemala - I would send my monthly(ish) emails to a list - and then there would be responses which often turned into a different kind of conversation - but this way - I just send things out. There are a couple people who write me back, like Cecily (which I really, really appreciate) but for the most part, it seems more solitary than my email group storytelling. So - here's my shameless plea - who are you? What do you think? What are you up to? Drop me a line! If 'commenting' or email doesn't appeal to you - send me a letter (I love post! I really, really love post!) I get mail here at:

Diana Coumantarakis
c/o DAA
University for Peace
PO Box 138-6100
San Jose, Costa Rica
Central America

I will write you back. It could be fun! Anyway - back to storytelling. I don't want you to feel to 'on the spot'.

Last week, we had our second performance of the Vagina Monologues. I was amazed at how different the same text can be - based on small differences. Different day, different audience, different reaction, different nerves. One of the profs here, feels that we should preform it more - so has said she is going to try to arrange something in San Jose, we shall see. I wonder how many times I would need to do that - before I stopped feeling like I could implode with fear. I have discovered I like acting though, totally scary, but fun. It is really a different way of telling stories - which I love. I am really thankful for the experience. Who knows - perhaps I will find the courage to try again. I have had the most encouraging feedback from my classmates here... we'll see. I know that it was recorded - but I still don't know who has it. Maybe one of these days some of that will make it to blog-land.

The Vagina Workshop - mid some sentence...
photo care of the sweet Nate Tanes

For the last two weeks, I have been taking Human Rights Education, with Loreta Castro (a visit professor from the Philippines). It is interesting to be thinking and studying about Human Rights Education - and Peace Education in general, in the midst of discussions about the possibilities present in environments where dramatic change are taking place - like Libya and Egypt and other revolutions. We talk about the power of non-violent revolution and the importance of supporting education to ensure that the same structures aren't just replicated by new people. This week, we heard more about the Philippines (as they are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the People Power Revolution). We heard about the incredible feats of solidarity and peace, that supported the removal of Marcos. What happens afterwards though? What can happen to maintain the optimism and collective work to build peace - after the initial shift in system?

I am struggling a bit, trying to figure out the role of civil society and how we create that change - when things aren't as extreme. How do we work to create a non-violent revolution of policy and action in a place like Canada, or Alberta, for example? How do you even really convince people to participate in the discussion, when so many folks seem to feel that things are going well? That there isn't a reason for change - because their lives are comfortable?

Perhaps the mid-point of an MA is the point where it all seems daunting, that idealistic panic that what we are learning will be very very very hard to implement... especially leaving the bubble of community that is at least willing to debate the idea. Who knows. I guess it is one of those journeys that continues, one step at a time.

Peace to you!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shouldn't have worn it swimming...

It feels that life has been moving SO, SO quickly lately. I used to think that was just part of the craziness of working for NGO's, specifically ACGC because of the mix of teachers' conventions, international development week, and then whatever other thing we were trying to finish before the fiscal year end... but nope! - craziness is apparently directly linked to February. Who knew?

My classmates in the Peace Education program, along with the Gender and Peace program went on a field trip, up to Monte Verde, last week. We visited the Friend's School there (there is a Quaker community in Monte Verde) along with two different women's cooperatives.

At the school we had an opportunity to 'teach' (which was kind of also play) with different grades in teams. This is Gobina with some of the students from grade 3/4 class. Can you tell he is a tree? or that the other teacher is a squirrel?

We visited 2 co-ops, one of which was "eco-bambu" which makes recycled paper and cardboard into bags, books, cards and more. They were pretty cool and the stuff is beautiful. The entire process is in a fairly small location, but they create a huge amount of stuff.

Being in Monte Verde also gave us a small pocket of time for some walking. I will be consistent and share some of my love of green and things that grow... Moss, leaves and mushrooms: they've won my heart!

Returning from Monte Verde, UPEACE got to celebrate Africa Week, and coordinated by the African students. It was AWESOME. Africa night had a fashion show, incredible food, great music and dancing!
Gobina and Emina representing Cameroon in the fashion show

Celine and crew dancing

Beleteze and crew dancing up a storm!

All of Africa week was incredible. Congratulations to all the friends who made it so much fun.

The beginning of this week marked a Valentine's benefit concert, put on by Maeve and Ben, similar to the one I participated in December. This time, rather than singing, I was painting (with facepaint) tattoos. The event was great - and facepainting alone made over $50US which still impresses me (a tattoo went for about a buck each...). I have knicked the photos from Maeve - cause I didn't bring my camera. :)

Maeve looking fierce in her love of music, tattoos, and rice and beans!

Bianca started a trend with the 'something different, shapes and colours' approach.
There were a LOT of hearts with arrows out there...

Thus began the week of adventures and activities (while supposedly still focusing on my studies). UPeace is putting on the 6th Annual V-Day activities. The group this year decided we would do a V-Day+ so we also created a zine, which turned out great, celebrating unexpected heroes. The zine got finished late on Tuesday, got printed on Wedesday and then.... I made my acting debut this evening!

I have worked (at times quite stubbornly) to avoid acting before. One of my goals for my upeace year though, was to push my boundaries and do things that make me uncomfortable or scared... acting fit. :) The cast - and our incredible leader/teacher/friend/mentor/coach/pep squad Sara have been wonderful. I think, although I don't know that I would say it too loudly yet, that I like acting. Tonight was really fun (and terrifying). My monologue is called, The Vagina Workshop . I think that someone was recording it - so if I get the link - I will share it... in case you're curious. Tomorrow night will close out the show, so if you know anyone near to UPEACE - encourage them to come!

Peace to you!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hope in Actions

The last few weeks have been, emotionally, very heavy. Coming back to school, after the winter/summer/semester (we didn't really ever figure out what to call it) break, was kind of like not having the break at all. Diving right back in and finding myself still over my head. Holidays are great, but they mean you have to rebuild all your routines afterwards, which can be challenging.

I took two classes in the last three weeks, as part of the January institute, the only point in the year where I choose my courses - like electives. The first course I took was called BePeace - which is a methodology for non-violent communication. My second course was Film and related arts in Peace Education. Both courses raised a mountain of questions for me, most of which tied to strong feelings. Less in my head than most of the classes of last term. :)

The film course, not surprisingly, was filled with films. We watched at least one a day, for the two weeks of the course. I think film is such a powerful medium for telling stories: you hear them - but aren't left simply with your imagination, there are sounds and sights, music and other effects that all grab at your emotions and thoughts in different ways. I am not the best movie watcher, or I am a director's dream - depending on how you look at it. I have a very hard time creating distance between what I am seeing and my life, they become so real. I jump when something startles me, I laugh out loud, I hide when I am scared, and I cry. The difference this time, was I was in class...

One of the films we watched was called Sin Nombre (Without Name), which had strong ties to one of the books we were reading for the class, Enrique's Journey. Both the film and the book are looking at the flow of migrants from Central America to the United States, especially the danger of travelling through Mexico. In both reading the book and watching the film, I was thinking about friends and acquaintances throughout Central America who have headed North. Thinking of my friends and their families, who have had loved ones just disappear - they don't know if something happened to them, or if they arrived and stop communicating, they're just gone. There is a lot of heart-ache in these stories, and questions about what motivates the migration. Some people argue that is for the money, which to an extent I think is true, but I think there is a dream or a myth in the idea of America that also calls people - that mixed with the pride of not wanting to let the people at home know that things are anything but wonderful. The journey between home and the US/Mexican border is filled with challenges, fears and danger. Those travelling are hunted at all stops, by border police and by self appointed border patrols. Many Central Americans travelling through Mexico do so on the tops of trains, which is dangerous even without all the other risks.

One of my constant struggles, is trying to figure out how to be the person I believe I should be, the person I want to be. How do I consistently make the choices that remember the impacts on others, living - as much as possible, in justice and solidarity. Some days it feels so overwhelming, that it would be so much easier if I just let it go. To just play blind to some of the issues in the world and let the rest be addressed by someone else. Then, out of the blue, something will remind me about the importance of little acts, the reminders of why each persons actions are important and worth it. Of remembering the basis for my belief in hope. A friend send this link of a short spanish film ( about Las Patronas. It's a short from Mexico about a group of 14 women the community of La Patrona, Veracruz who each day prepare food for the people travelling aboard the trains. The films cites the estimate that over 400, 000 Central Americans make the journey North each year, largely on the trains, travelling distances of over 8000 kms. Each day, Las Patronas make and deliver approximately 200 rations of food and water to the unknown people travelling on the trains. One of the women in the film, when asked why she does it, talks about how they are humans with rights, even if they don't have papers, how just because they are travelling doesn't mean they shouldn't be treated with kindness. "How if someone says they need help, what I know is that I am here to serve."

There is so much I am still thinking about, in relation to all these films, but that's perhaps enough for today. I send you my gratitude - for the pockets of hope you unknowing send, for the small actions you take - which may often seem unnoticed, and for your kindness in questions.

Peace to you,

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Spark to a flame!

While there are moments that drive me a little nutty, it is a pretty amazing thing: to be studying with so many people from all over the world. Perhaps it is slightly exaggerated, but it seems that there is someone with a personal connection to every major event happening around the world. It is amazing to be studying with people who are not only attentive to global happenings, but are passionate about them. Campus has been buzzing lately with discussions and debates about what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond. Cafeteria discussions about how to circumvent blocked websites (like what was happening with Facebook and Twitter - before the internet in Egypt was just shut down) or all the ways that internet communication is practically magic in its opportunities, discussions on the bus or in the hallways, the way that current issues weave into the discussions in class. It's pretty amazing - I am quite lucky to be here.

The Vice Rector, here at UPeace, is actually from Egypt, and there right now, visiting family and working. Flights aren't leaving for now, so he is still there. Some of his thoughts were shared in an article he wrote for the Peace and Conflict Monitor if you want to check it out. I am taking a class right now, that feels - in some ways - focused on the stories that are heartbreaking. It is a wonderful reminder that there are nonviolent movements - that are shaping the world!

peace to you,