England’s first gift

When I was small, there was one book in my collection that I loved best of all: “The Little White Horse,” by Elizabeth Goudge. It tells the story of a girl who loses her London family and moves to the English countryside, where she restores balance to her community and heals a longstanding rift between relatives, in addition to, of course, defeating evil. Suffice it to say, I found her most inspirational. And against the backdrop of all her victories, adventures and thrilling close shaves, a little white horse who is sometimes there and sometimes not stands watch over human upheaval from the silvery shadows of the wood.

I am in England now, as an adult, in one of real life’s beautiful adventures. This morning, as I rose from sleep to wander the lofty spaces of the country manor that has become my temporary home, I found myself in a drawing room with floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out on the morning mist.

If you have never seen the English countryside, trust me when I say that there is something about adding your eyes to the countless many who have gazed on England’s trees and fields and valleys, land that has been lived on and loved for thousands of years. As the sun began to rise and burn off the mist, I watched gently rolling pastures and split-rail fences come into view. And there, away off at the edge of the fields and the wood, stood a single little white horse.

In that moment, it was as if the magic of my childhood superimposed itself quite viscerally on the reality of my present. In a foreign country, in a period of post-graduate doubt and ambiguity, even amidst the general fog of jet lag and early morning, I felt completely at home.

I have no words of wisdom or groundbreaking insights. I only know that today I was reminded of something I had forgotten for a very long time: that the dreams we have as children, the books that shine like sunlight on the seeds of our infant imaginations—these are still lovely and still important.

Many dreams do not come to be. Other dreams, once realized, shape themselves around the fact of our collective mess, our imperfect reality. But there are perfect moments, and memories of perfect dreams. They run out of light and fade back into evening, hoof beats pounding the Earth, just out of reach, a fleet of little white horses.

“…The raised hoof, the proud poised head, the flowing mane,
The supreme moment of stillness before the flight,
The moment of farewell, of wordless pleading
For remembrance of things lost to earthly sight…
Then the half-turn under the trees, a motion
Fluid as the movement of light on water . . .
Stay, oh stay in the forest, little white horse! . . .
He is lost and gone and now I do not know
If it was a little white horse that I saw,
Or only a moonbeam astray in the silver night.”

20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words From Around the World

Read Me: 20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world | Matador Network.

life and language

It’s been awhile, but CLASH is back in action for the spring semester. I thought we’d kick things off with an exploration of language, which is, in its purest manifestation, an expression of what it means to be human and to desire connection with one another.

I remember my first experience with new words in Spanish. As native English speakers, we’re used to one word meaning one thing, and to words that (usually) maintain quite literal meanings in context. In Spanish, language doesn’t work this way. My favorite of all Spanish words is “desahogarse.” In reality, it means to tell a friend about all your problems, to share your struggles and your triumphs with somebody else…an unburdening, if you will.

But literally? “Desahogarse” means ‘to undrown oneself.’ Because that’s really what language does. It allows us to invite other people into our existence, into the poignancy of pain and beauty that lets us know we are truly alive. When we share our stories, we start swimming toward the surface of our silent, solitary sea.

These words have been classified as untranslatable. Some are funny, some are sad. But all of them rang true for me in their emotional and situational sincerity. My guess is that they’ll ring true for you, too, regardless of where you’re from or what language you speak.

To me, that is the ultimate translation.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

LEARN a new language

TRAVEL around the world

TALK to people from other countries

RESEARCH current events and crises

READ translations from other languages

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Citizen Sanctuary

The Sanctuary Movement was a religious and political campaign that began in the early 1980s to provide safe-haven for Central American refugees fleeing civil conflict. It responded to restrictive federal immigration policies that made obtaining asylum difficult for Central Americans.

Between 1980 and 1991, nearly 1 million Central Americans fled to the U.S. In El Salvador, the military killed over 10,000 people. In Guatemala, government-backed paramilitary groups killed 50,000, disappeared 100,000 and perpetrated 626 village massacres.

Congress forbid foreign aid to countries committing human rights abuses, and it is well documented that the U.S. provided funds, training and arms to the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

 Because admitting these governments’ abuses would bar the U.S. from providing further aid, the Reagan administration instead argued that Central Americans were “economic migrants” fleeing poverty, not governmental repression.

Sanctuary formed as a reaction to these policies. In 1980, Jim Corbett, Jim Dudley, John Fife and a handful of other residents of Tucson, Arizona began providing legal, financial and material aid to Central American refugees.

Their decision to do so—and therefore openly oppose federal law—was inspired by a mixture of shocking refugee stories, personal encounter, political sympathies and religious conviction.

Movement members likened Sanctuary to the “Underground Railroad” of the 19th century: Refugees coming through Tucson would make it to Nogales (the nearest border town in Mexico) and find refuge at El Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora Guadalupe (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe) Catholic Church. With help from the head priest at Our Lady, they would travel across the border to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, whose steeple was visible from Mexico. There they could find shelter, food, legal advice and perhaps a little money. The two churches kept in constant contact, and priests and lay people traveled frequently between parishes.

36% of Sanctuary congregations were Catholic, 22% were Presbyterian, 36% were Quakers, 28% were Unitarian, 2% Jewish, 10% came from university campuses and 1% from seminaries.

Secular groups also embraced the Sanctuary Movement, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, legal aid groups, liberal members of Congress and student organizations. Sanctuary supports wrote articles for The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine. The entire city of Berkeley, California declared itself a sanctuary.

Writer Barbara Kingsolver popularized the movement in her 1998 novel The Bean Trees, in which she provides a fictional account of a Sanctuary member housing refugees in her Tucson home.

Many of the Sanctuary supports were prosecuted or thrown in jail.  Our government, in maintaining economic ties with oppressive regimes, oppressed its own people.

This is a story that needs to be told.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

QUESTION authority figures

KNOW your country’s history

EXPLORE news from unbiased sources

WITHHOLD judgment

Remembering Rwanda

In 1994, you and I were around two or three years old.  We liked Barney and bubble baths.  We’d hang out, play all day, and then hit the sack.  If we woke up in the middle of the night, it was simply because nature was calling very loudly, or because we had bad dreams.  For you and I, they were only dreams.  The terror, the cold sweat, the fear that twisted like a knife in our stomachs—we could banish all that by opening our eyes, and making for the safety of mom or dad.   

Now imagine, for a second, that mom and dad aren’t there when you go looking.  You run back out of their room and stumble over something on the floor—the bodies of your parents.  This is not a bad dream.  This is real.

You look up, and meet the most hateful eyes you have ever seen.  You are two years old.  There’s not a lot you understand about hate.  The man lifts his machete, and the world goes black.  In 1994, in a tiny central-African country called Rwanda, the world went black for hundreds of thousands of innocent people.  Today, we’re going to look at the causes of the conflict, as well as the devastation that resulted due to the world’s lack of interest.

The Rwandan government, comprised of the majority Hutu tribe, began sanctioning the systematic slaughter of Tutsi citizens-basically murdering everyone who wasn’t Hutu.  In response, Tutsi rebels amassed a civilian army in northern Rwanda to resist the extremist Hutu government. Not weeks before this genocide began, the two tribes had adopted a peace agreement.  In a severely inadequate attempt at enforcing the agreement, the United Nations, or U.N., sent a small, unarmed force of Western soldiers to keep tabs on the country.  But then, over a period of 100 days, between 500,000 and 1 million Tutsi men, women, and children were brutally and systematically murdered at the hands of their Hutu countrymen.

After Hitler’s Holocaust, the world swore that nothing like this would ever happen again.  But fifty short years later, when Rwanda’s extremist government sanctioned slaughter in the name of ethnic cleansing, the leaders of the Western world stood by and did nothing.  The United Nations, or U.N., of which the United States of America is an active member, has a responsibility to intervene in genocidal situations.  This stipulation is in their official charter.  So how did the United Nations manage to avoid getting involved?  According to Kofi Annan, head of Peacekeeping Operations in 1994, the U.N. lacked “a culture of speaking out.”  Nobody put forth an argument for “humanitarian intervention” based on the simple fact that we all belong to the human race.  Rather, responsibility got lost as the U.N. attempted to redraw the definition of “genocide” to exclude the massacre going on in Rwanda.

So while thousands of innocent lives were decimated every day, we dealt only with silence, and an up-in-the-air controversy surrounding definition of terms.   The predominant reason, however, that the United States of America chose to overlook Rwanda, is even simpler.  Strictly speaking, Rwanda had nothing to offer us.  As then-President Clinton said to the United Nations head, “Rwanda is a marginal problem. We are not interested in this problem.”   It had no oil, no money, and no influence.   How many barrels of oil does it take to make a human life worth saving?

Not everyone turned tail and ran, however.  Led by Paul Kagame, the Tutsi rebel force, known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front, took down the Hutu government and stopped the slaughter.  Paul Kagame is now the President of the country.  Additionally, upward of 65000 lives were saved by the Red Cross, which stood its ground and bargained out safe passage of Red Cross patients throughout Rwanda.  Philippe Gaillard, the Frenchman in charge of the Rwandan Red Cross, asked a simple question: “What do you do in the face of evil?”  In the wake of the Rwandan genocide, people answered that question very differently.  Some, like Gaillard and Kagame, faced the evil right back down.  Others, in weighing the personal advantages of interference, deemed it justifiable to avoid the confrontation.  As a result, around 800,000 Rwandans lost their lives.

The United Nations and the United States have since issued formal apologies.  Many world politicians even trekked to Rwanda after the disaster to view the consequences of their inaction.  Their remorse was a step in the right direction.  But it was only a single step, and it came too late.

In the famous words of Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  Evil triumphed in Rwanda for 100 days in 1994.  Hopefully, next time, evil will actually meet with some resistance.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

RESEARCH what the government is doing today

TALK to your friends and family about what you find

ORGANIZE around the causes most important to you

TAKE ACTION to make tomorrow better.