Sunday, October 12, 2008


Life looks like...

children in school uniforms; beat up and ripped soccer balls; brightly painted canchas (paved soccer fields) and schools; acres of cane houses strewn among swampy standing water and dirt roads; cattle, chickens, and mangled stray dogs; smoke rising from piles of burning trash; dark skinned, dark eyed Ecuadorian faces; kids running toward you with open arms about to hug you; sunsets that set the world on fire; Manos kids walking down the dirt roads back to their cane homes at 5pm with the glow of the pre-setting sun sanctifying them; broken crayons and eraser-less pencils; cursive handwriting; unsuccessful attempts at copying letters by kids who unjustly have been given up on by Ecua-education; students in blue polo shirts at Santiago; pregnant girls and women; very small babies being help by their mothers; people of all ages selling things on buses and on the streets; constant dust in the house blown in from the streets; torn, misfitted clothing; cheap jewelry and tacky tight shirts; tiny black sandals with rainbow straps worn nearly every kid; blue cane church in 28 de Agosto; graph paper; multiplication table on the back of notebooks

Life feels like...

small hands holding mine; tiny underweight children hanging onto you wanting to be carried and held; bumpy bus rides and metal seats; cold showers; never really feeling clean; the unique stomachache and intestinal problems that can only be caused by parasites and worms dying inside of you; scorching heat and sweating all over; sitting in tiny kid chairs at Manos; getting hit in the face with a soccer ball; people leaning against you on the morning busride to work; dirty hands and dirty ankles; breeze from a ceiling fan; hugs from community mates; kiss on the cheek to greet people; plastic chairs; the lack of softness of clothes that are hung to dry

Life smells like...

burning trash; amazing cooking; unbathed children; bleach and dish soap; banana bread in the oven; laundry detergent; gasoline and exhaust; lunch preparations at Santiago; port-a-potty smell on the street corner of Santiago

Life sounds like...

kids laughter; 30 seconds of silence at Manos; rolled r´s and Spanish everything; constant latin music flowing through the streets; ¡mano! during soccer games; buses and cars passing; ¡hola niña!¿cómo estás?; my own stumbling through Spanish; in dept conversations about the pillars and mission of RdC; awkward silences when visiting neighbors; ¡elisa!; señoriiiiita, ayudameeeee; a constant whiny tone of voice that is a cultural norm yet still vaguely annoying; young adults singing and playing guitar at mass; the horrendous Barney song in Spanish played by ice cream trucks passing by

Life tastes like...

room temperature water; rice & beans; fried plantains; juicy, fresh pineapple; lentils; green peppers, tomatos, and onions; lime; hot, sweet, fresh bread; lemon lime popsicles for 5 cents in 28 de Agosto; listerine; bananas; instant coffee; honey tea; cinnamon and brown sugar in oatmeal

Because I´m a visual learner

So since i may not have an opportunity to photograph 28 de Agosto for a while, yet i´d still like to share what it looks like, i´m uploading these images. the first two are an ecuadorian artist´s renditions of an invasion community in rainy season (paintings purchased by a former volunteer); the third is my own sketch of 28 that i did on a busride to Manos. Hope i´m not violating any copyrights here. Wish these could portray the entire sensual experience of 28.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ecua-Church, Ecua-Politics

So i´m living in Ecuador, right. And part of life in Ecuador inevitably involves politics. And in Ecuador, politics inevitably involves the Church. And on what issue do politics and the Church inevitably, and perpetually, argue? Why, abortion, of course! What interests me is the Church part, not the politics part, so with a dictionary in hand, i put the Religious Studies major part of my brain to work recently to try to untangle whats going on down here. [Side note #1: keep in mind that my attempts at understanding all of this is through a foreign language, in a foreign culture, within a corrupt government, and with the help of other Rostro volunteers and staff.]

Here´s the deal: This past Sunday, Ecuador voted on a new Constitution that was written by President Correa. You either vote SI or NO, to the entire thing, and all literate citizens of Ecuador are required to vote. The Consitution passed, SI won. Except in Guayaquil, where NO had a majority. But lets back up a bit and get to the churchy stuff. [side note #2: as a framework for my church-related thoughts, i´ve been referring to my religious studies professor´s blog, where she´s analyzed the chatter surrounding abortion and the church in the political happenings in the States.]

The Catholic Church, at least in the Archdiocese of Guayaquil, has been pushing the NO vote very, very strongly, with their reasons being primarily the issue of abortion, but also including marriage and family, and education. The Church has been quite vocal about the whole thing.

Lets keep in mind that abortion is currently illegal in Ecuador. And the new Constitution does not directly legalize it.

In the Archdiocese of Guayaquil, the cover of every Sunday church bulletin has a short letter written by the Archbishop to the churchgoers. Since i arrived here in Ecualand, the topic of every one of these letters was about the Consititution. Back in August, the Archbishop wrote three paragraphs entitled ¨The Judgement of the Church¨, where he first stated that Church doctrine declares that it is not in the authority of the Church to define civil and temporal matters, which belong to political authorities, nor is it the Church´s responsibility to ensure the well-being and prosperity of the nation. Sort of lays out a separation of church and state thing. He goes on to say that in reality, bishops in Ecuador have no ambition to attain political power or exercise it (we´ll chuckle at this later). They simply make an effort to announce the Gospel, and bring the faith respectfully to society, independent from politics and economics. Yet it is in their pastoral mission, according to the Second Vatican Council, to give judgement regarding the reality of public life when they find that human rights and the salvation of souls are at stake. Thats all fine and dandy i suppose, but here´s what gets me. He concludes by saying ¨in judging the christian quality of the Consitution on which we will vote, the Bishops Conference is not doing politics, nor is tying up freedom. It is illuminating the conscience of Catholics and men of good will, to the light of faith and intelligence.¨ Ouch. That just seems a little insulting.

Anyway, the following Sunday bulletin continued by discussing the science behind the ¨life begins at conception¨ thing (would i be biased if i called that a fact?). [side note #3: i´m not sure if Augustine or Aquinas was quoted here, since i lost this bulletin, but i´ll search for it and see what i can find.] Then, all through September we were given, to illuminate our consciences, a series of bulletins with the heading ¨Pastoral Guidance Regarding the New 2008 Constitution¨. They are set up in two columns, with ¨What the Constitution says¨ on the left, and ¨What the Church says¨, on the right, with a highlighted box at the end titled ¨So that you might think and decide¨ (which really means, ´the church´s judgement calls on all of this, and why you should agree.´) Hmm.

Issue I: Life.

Article 45 of Constitution 2008 recognizes and guarantees life, including the care and protection of life since conception. So whyyyyy is the Church up in arms about the abortion issue??

Oh wait, here´s why. Article 66 guarantees the right to make free, informed, voluntary, and responsible decisions regarding your sexuality, your life, and your sexual orientation. The state will promote access to necessary means to make these decisions in safe conditions. Also, it guarantees the right to make free, informed, voluntary, and responsible decisions about your health and reproductive life, and to decide when and how many children to have. The same article guarantees people the inviolable right to life; it will not allow the death penalty. Article 43 guarantees priority protection to pregnant women during their pregnancy. The Church sees this as opening several little doors for abortion to be legal. Yea, i see that too. Will abortion be an option since women have the right to decide when and how many children to have? Or in an effort to give highest protection to the woman during the pregnancy? Or in the name of making free and voluntary decisions about your reproductive life?

Its a very ambiguous Constitution, and the Church has been very critical of the gray areas. And the Catholic response has been to plaster bumper stickers saying ¨NO AL ABORTO¨ everywhere you look, host a march for peace and life (thinly disguised political protest?) in Duran and Guayaquil, and have priests give out prayer cards and ´informational handouts´ (for lack of a better word) that include bloody, graphic images of abortion (including a sketch of a knife being held above a newborn). Hmm.

Issue II: Marriage and Family. Here, the Constitution says that marriage is between a man and a woman, and it also recognizes the family in its diverse forms. The state will protect it as the fundamental nucleus of society. Also, the stable and monogamous union between two free, unmarried people that form a home will have the same rights and obligations as married families. Adoption only corresponds to hetersexual couples. In the ¨So that you might think and decide¨ box on the bulletin, the Archbishop writes ¨a homosexual couple is neither a family nor a home.¨ Ouch. That one seems a little insulting too.

Issue III: Education. This one wasn´t nearly as exciting to read, and it was much trickier to understand, so forgive me for just skipping over this topic for now.

Here´s whats more interesting after all of this. In talking with Aidé, a 19-yr-old Ecuadorian university student that works for Rostro de Cristo, and works with us at Manos Abiertas, it seems that the Archbishop of Guayaquil has been in cahoots with the mayor of Guayaquil. Dun dun dun... [side note #4: Aidé was in favor of the SI vote.] Apparently, this Constitution would reduce the autonomy and power of cities, and this Guayaquileño mayor happens to have quite a bit of power, money, and autonomy. Said mayor also happens to be buddies with señor Archbishop, and according to Aidé, señor mayor asked señor Archbishop to encourage a NO vote for him, in order that he can retain his power and autonomy. ¨NO AL ABORTO¨ is an effective tool to use here.

Ain´t that interesting. A corrupt government, and a corrupt bishop too? This is kind of discouraging. I wonder what the abortion-Constitution conversation would have been like without that piece. Not that i can even know for sure that this is what happened, but hey this is Ecuador, the government is corrupt and inefficient, everyone knows that.

So thats what i´ve gathered about all of this. In reflecting on all of this, i´ve centered on one statement coming from my professor´s blog: ¨...while people have a variety of responses to the issue of abortion, the issue itself is not a question of religious truth; the question about the legal status of abortion is a public question about an issue of justice. The Catholic Church´s position on this is not based on faith, to oppose the legalization of abortion is not a question of the improper imposition of religion.¨ Now i´ve been mulling over this for a week now and i just can´t figure out if that same statement would hold true in this Ecua-context. Would the Archbishop of Guayaquil say the same thing? Well, one would expect him to, right? Seeing as we are one universal Church? Hmm. Is the language of justice, rather than articles of faith, used in these bulletins? I see ¨life is an inviolable right, primary and fundamental to all human rights...´God is the only Lord of life´ (quote from Exodus 20:23)...abortion used as means or an end is a crime...human life should be respected and protected in every manner from the moment of conception until natural death...It is the obligation of the State to protect life, but it [Constitution] does not express clearly that it prohibits all forms of violations of the right to life.¨

So i just can´t really come to an answer about this. I feel like i´m trying to write a final paper for RS something-or-other and just can´t figure out what my thesis is (that happened a lot). My gut feeling is that most Catholics here take the issue of abortion to be a question of religious truth, but i dont know why i have that gut feeling. I also have a gut feeling that i don´t really love the way the Catholic Church went about being against the Constitution. Again, this is Ecuador, not the U S of A. Here, abortion is illegal. Back home, its legal. This is a big difference in the way the issue would be approached. Also, I believe 85% of the country is Catholic. I´m not sure what the separation of church and state is like here. I don´t speak the language very well, i don´t understand the nuances of the culture, i don´t know how things are run here. I´m positive i´m missing a lot of information i´d need to really answer my own questions. I have no conclusions. But at least i put in a good deal of effort to try to think critically and intellectually about these things, right?. Cheers for Jesuit-inspired lifelong learning.