Sunday, September 3, 2006

South America Log - No. 1

We've sent e-mail updates on our travels about once a month. I'm going to repost them here on the blog so that folks can re-read them if they want.

Greetings from Merida, Venezuela!

We made the transition from Minneapolis to Merida via Bogota, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela in about 48 hours. We wouldn´t recommend this route but our tickets are round trip through Bogota since we expect to finish our year in Colombia. Our first few days included a lot of waiting and learning the phrase, "no hay cupo" or there isn´t any space (in the bus, in the hostel) but finally we are settled in Merida in a small guest house where we will live for one month while Michele studies Spanish. Nils lived in Merida 20 years ago as a high school exchange student. The main change in those years is that Merida has grown from 80,000 to 300,000 people. Merida is a University town in a narrow valley in the Andes Mountains so it’s quite beautiful here.

We are looking forward to learning more about politics in Venezuela under President Hugo Chavez. When we left the airport in Caracas there were billboards along the highway saying (in Spanish), "Breaking the Bloc, Respect for Venezuela". The billboards showed President Chavez with the leaders of Malaysia, Syria and 6 or 7 other countries to show their support for his efforts to stand in opposition to the bloc of countries that support the U.S. and its imperialistic foreign policy. Our taxi driver said he expects Chavez to win again in December 2006 but to lose eventually because he will not be able to keep all the promises he has made to poor Venezuelans.

Some of you may be wondering what we have been up to since we left our jobs in mid-July. We have mostly been in Chicago at training for Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT has been intervening in conflicts of lethal violence in many parts of the world since the early 90´s. They currently have peacemaking teams in Palestine, Iraq, Western Ontario and on the Arizona border, as well as in Colombia. CPT only takes on projects where they have been invited by a local organization and where our U.S. government is playing a role in perpetuating the conflict. Although many of these situations are complicated, CPT always partners with groups who refuse to use violence to make peace in their communities.

Our training covered a lot of important material including human rights reporting, non-violent intervention in potentially violent situations, and undoing racism and undoing sexism. We left feeling more prepared to respond to situations of potential violence using the nonviolent tools of compassion and communication. Of course, this type of work or this philosophy is not new. From the Underground Railroad to Gandhi and the Civil Rights movement people have been using non-violent means to protect the vulnerable and oppose government-supported violence.

We are looking forward to our month in Merida to improve our language skills. We expect to be in Colombia in the beginning of October to begin our 7 months of volunteer work with CPT.

We are still enjoying some familiar treats - we are headed out for ice cream at Heladeria Coromoto which boasts the most ice cream flavors of any place in the world with 800 flavors. They aren´t all available everyday and who would want to eat shrimp or bacon ice cream anyway?

Peace to you from Nils and Michele

P.S. We still expect to send a monthly update. If you don't want to receive these messages, let us know.

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