Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Workshop of Babel

You may not know this, but this year PBI (Peace Brigades International) - not to be confused, Mom, with IBP (Iowa Beef Packers) - is celebrating its 30th Anniversary.

30 years of accompaniment. 30 years of protection. 30 years of making space for peace.

In honor of the occasion, several of PBI's national branches hosted conferences to bring together the European politicians and public with some of the human rights defenders we accompany.

Check out what one Guardian journalist had to say after attending the London conference here.

The conference we held in Berlin was also regarded as a success. After morning panel discussions featuring German politicians and human rights defenders from six different countries, the afternoon was split into workshops.

PBI is an international organization based on adaptation and flexibility, and the workshop I attended testified to this. The room quickly proved to be too small, providing no more space for the overcrowded circle to expand.  But no matter -  the floor's as good a place to sit as any.

And who needs fancy headsets and simultaneous translations to overcome a language barrier?

The moderator will conduct the workshop in German.

The guest from Chad will speak through a French-language interpreter.

The Indonesian guest will speak through a Bahasa-Indonesia interpreter.

The guest from Colombia will speak through a Spanish-language interpreter.

And I will desperately try to keep up in a parallel, whispered interpretation of German to English for our Australian guest.

I firmly believe that such a potential chaos and cacophony of languages was worth it.

Because I'm convinced that when one human rights defender told of his situation and struggles, there was something that resonated with the others, despite it having gone through two lingual translations. There were stories with which they could identify, even though they took place on a continent worlds away.  There was, before their very eyes and (indirectly) in their own ears, the affirmation that they are not alone in this struggle for peace and justice.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

You're not as brave as you were at the start

Last night as I was heading into the grocery store, I passed by a Hinz & Kunzt (the local 'street magazine' that covers homelessness and other social issues and which is sold by those without a permanent residence) salesman. I didn't yet have the December edition, so I made a mental note to  save the correct change to buy one on the way out.

 As I passed by the store's bakery, the Brötchen looked too good to pass by, and so I decided that I would, for once, offer the salesman some food instead of just buying the magazine.

By the time I left the store, however, the salesman had left his post to smoke and chat with a friend/acquaintance.

And that was all it took to lose my nerve.

After buying my magazine, I lost the courage to offer him a snack. Simply because there were now two potentially homeless men instead of one.

And the question is why?

Why is it for me even a question of courage or boldness to offer someone something that he did not ask for but might appreciate?  Why is it a question of shyness rather than cost that prevents me from making this offering to others I pass on the street?

It's not the fear that something would happen to me but rather the fear that if I were to get a glimpse of her worries or burdens, I might walk away leaving us both the worse because I can't do anything go help. The fear that, because it's not within the setting of a soup kitchen or something similar but rather on 'their turf', the offering to share a bite to eat or a bit of conversation would be unwelcome, would be seen as intrusive. The fear that I'll be rejected.

Do good intentions need an invitation?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And lead us not into temptation

A few weeks back, I started helping out at the local fair trade store. Perhaps not the most logical decision, seeing as how my time here is coming to an end. But it sounded like fun, it's a very important initiative, and, unlike the other efforts I attempted to establish contact with over the past year and a half, it was simple to arrange.

Plus, I know these cashier skills will come in handy once my student loan debts have reached such epic proportions that I have to ditch these volunteer gigs and get a job at McDonald's.

The problem, however, is that I spend multiple three-hour shifts a week stocking, selling, and otherwise staring in the face of temptation.

Do you know how hard frugality is in the face of fair trade and a good cause? Do you???

And oh the abundance! There's no corner in which I can direct my eyes that isn't filled with some item of seduction - be it the scarf whose prettiness outweighs the rational fact that I already have several or the handbag who preys on my particular weakness or the multitude of other items who whisper to me what great Christmas gifts they would make....anyone want some free trade underwear?

Yet, wonder of wonders, I have so far managed to avoid falling into the hands of these tempters. The food department, however, is another story.

There are the very sensible items like rice and tea. And there are the solidarity purchases like the couscous from Palestine. And then there are the wild and crazy things like manioc chips and mango-coconut balls that I buy just because they are fun and exotic. And I'll tell you this: you haven't had salad until you've had it with a Philippinian mango vinaigrette.

Consequently, I think I have yet to leave a shift at the store without having purchased some overly fairly priced good.

Who would have thought that volunteering could be so expensive?