Not one less

Femicide (and now I’m finding it interesting that femicide apparently isn’t recognised by the Microsoft Office spell checker as being a valid word…) has become a topic of national debate over the last year or so, following a few high profile examples, including a particularly horrific one a few yards from our door which caused the national press to camp outside for a couple of days.

The education system caught on, and a national date was set for every school to run a workshop for pupils and parents on equality and gender violence.  So I went to school with Joni for the morning.  It was an illuminating experience.  We heard that “as a result of economic necessity, unfortunately women have had to go out to work…”.  Then we were told that “since women have had to go to work, then men should help in the house…” (the house remaining the domain of the female while the male helps her out a bit if he is a good boy).   And finally we discovered that “men can do women’s jobs, and women can do men’s jobs” (without wondering if it is, or ever was, Ok to think of them in terms of “men’s” and “women’s” jobs.).  So all in all, we experienced a session whose purpose was apparently to tackle inequality, without actually identifying, much less questioning, any of the stereotypes underlying that inequality.  I guess it was a start.

This is an poem that drew my attention on social media a few weeks ago as part of the anti-femicide campaign.  “Ni una menos” means “Not one less” and I’m putting it up in full so I can find it again when I need it.  Unfortunately it didn’t make it as far as the school workshop, but it is an interesting reflection on culture, and does challenge some of the stereotypes which make us wince – e.g. the one about how the female children in the family are often made to clear up after the males, or how the female workers in an office get to make the coffee and sweep up after males on the same grade.  Poems work better in their original language and this one uses national dialect to add to the difficulties, but you can get an idea if you run it through a translator.




Itatí Schvartzman

La amiga que sueña un marido que la mantenga
el pibe que escribe el reggaetton de moda
la madre que educa machitos y princesas
el jefe que escupe: es que está en día femenino
la compañera que te dice: así no vas a conseguir novio
la boluda que aclara: soy femenina, no feminista
la mamá que la viste sólo de rosa, porque es nena
el papá que compra muñecas y cocinitas
y lavarropas a la nena
y pelotas y aviones y juegos de química al varón
el novio que te revisa el teléfono y el facebook
la mina que dice de otra mina que parece una puta con esa ropa
la mamá que sueña un príncipe azul para yerno
el papá que paga por sexo con nenas de la edad de su hija
el novio que no coge con la novia por respeto
y sale de putas después de acompañarla a casa
los compañeros profesionales que en vez de escucharte
lo que tenés para decir en la reunión,
te piden que sirvas el café o hagas el mate
la marca de detergente que sólo te habla a vos, mujer
el médico que te hace cesárea sin necesidad
o el que te hace la episiotomía de rutina
la enfermera que te grita: bancátela, bien que te gustó hacerlo
o la que te ata a la camilla para parir
el marido que te prohíbe trabajar
o el que te esconde los documentos y la plata
o el que te controla los ingresos y egresos
la caricatura política diaria
el chiste de mierda, las propagandas,
Tinelli, la novela turca, los concursos de belleza
el que te obliga a hacer algo en la cama
que no deseás, el que se fija sólo en su placer
el que te dice: ahora no me podés dejar así
el que te humilla, el que te adjetiva, el que te menosprecia
el que te caga a trompadas
el que te aisla, te controla, te cela, te sigue
el que me dijo el primer piropo grosero
a los doce años, el que me tocó contra mi voluntad
en el boliche de moda, en todos los boliches de moda
el compañero que te manda a barrer el piso del local del partido
el compañero que no cuestiona sus privilegios
el que recibe un cheque más gordo sólo por tener pene
y se calla y se lo guarda en el bolsillo
el pelotudo que pregunta y el día del varón, eh?
la mamá que obliga a la nena a levantar
los platos sucios de sus hermanos varones
la pelotuda que rápido vuelve a aclarar
pero mirá que yo soy femenina, no feminista
la que se burla de que no me pinto
la que se burla de que vos no te depilás
la que se burla de que no calzás tacones
la que se ríe de que compro libros y no carteras
el compañero que me mira las tetas

Todos unidos frente al televisor
preguntándose cómo puede ser
que asesinaron a otra mina

Ita, 25 de noviembre 2015



Thinking a jigsaw

At the moment I am thinking a jigsaw out of a few things that seem to have been put across my path.

One piece is Jeremiah 29, and in particular what it means to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile”:

Thus says the Lord of hosts
to all the exiles
whom I have sent into exile:

Build houses and live in them.
Plant gardens
and eat their produce…
Seek the welfare of the city
where I have sent you
into exile,
and pray to the Lord
on its behalf,
for in its welfare,
you will find your welfare

For I know the plans
I have for you,
says the Lord,
plans for welfare
and not for evil,
to give you a future
and a hope.

Then you will call upon me
and come and pray to me,
and I will hear you.
You will seek me and find me;
when you seek me
with all your heart,
I will be found by you,
says the Lord.

(Jeremiah 29:4-7, 11-12)


Pieces two and three are accept, and hospitality.  Two words which modern usage has tamed into inconsequential fluff compared to the weight of their original meanings:

Accept: late Middle English: from Latin acceptare, frequentative of accipere ‘take something to oneself’, from ad- ‘to’ + capere ‘take’.

Hospitality: from Latin, hostis, which means stranger, enemy. From that, we get hospitem, Latin for guest or host. From these roots, English gets hospital, host, hostel, hotel, hospitality. Hospitals were originally inns for the reception of travellers.   To be hospitable means to offer shelter to a stranger.


And one more, because all good jigsaws have a few odd shaped pieces: the Benedictine vow of stability.

Benedictine vow of stability: (from

We vow to remain all our life with our local community. We live together, pray together, work together, relax together. We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion. And when interpersonal conflicts arise, we have a great incentive to work things out and restore peace. This means learning the practices of love: acknowledging one’s own offensive behaviour, giving up one’s preferences, forgiving.

Comment from blog at “Benedict’s rule requires a “vow of stability” — the uniquely Benedictine commitment to live in a particular monastic community for life. At first, this may seem to apply least of all amid other ways of life. Yet precisely because it contrasts so sharply with the fragility of most commitments in our hypermodern society, the Benedictine vow of stability may speak more directly to our age and churches than anything else in the Rule… It is no use rediscovering any of our church’s roots, nor discerning innovative ways to be faithful to our church’s calling, if we won’t slow down, stay longer even if we can’t stay put indefinitely, and take something like a vow of stability. Slow down — because postmodernism may really be hypermodernism. Stay longer — because there is no way to discern God’s will together without commitment to sit long together in the first place.”


Now make a jigsaw… this is my currently-being-worked-on version..  I am thinking about God’s calling; being called to go, and being called to stay.  It seems to me that the Biblical principle is that in general we are called to go, unless we are being specifically called to stay.  At this moment I think we are being specifically called to stay.  Not because we have a great or prestigious ministry; we don’t.  But the evidence seems to indicate that God wants us here in commitment and stability.  Which gives us a long-term challenge to seek the welfare of the city where we have been called, and I think one way we do that is through modelling acceptance and hospitality.  Not acceptance and hospitality in the gooey 21st century sense of “I put up with my neighbours, and invite my friends to dinner”, but in a real sense of stepping aside to make room to include the stranger, in this city where we sometimes find ourselves excluded as foreign aliens.  And this, I think is the parable that we are being called to act at the moment, on one hand to point to a God who accepts and transforms each of us from stranger to brother, and on the other hand as a challenge to the Christian community to rediscover the virtues of acceptance and hospitality in our relationships with each other and the neighbourhoods we belong to.

What if God was one of us?…  Just a stranger on the bus. Tryin’ to make his way home?                     Joan Osbourne.

Lazy Sunday


We are in lazy Sunday mode!  Danny is watching Mike the Knight re-runs for the zillionth time.  Joni is getting annoyed with his mecano on the kitchen table.  Teen and Baby are away for the weekend.  Martin preached this morning and awarded himself the rest of the day off.  I have organised Sunday school for this evening and some Scout stuff for the week ahead and am working my way down a pot of coffee.

I’m currently reading Radical Hospitality by a couple of United Statesian Benedictines.  It threatened to be brilliant.  Then when I started it, it wasn’t what I was expecting.  Then I realised that actually it is brilliant, just not what I was expecting!  It’s short, and it doesn’t have any technical language, but you can’t read it quickly, so I’m using it as a kind of devotional.  Try these for a couple of examples of quotable quotes…

“Hospitality has become safe and cosy, even productive, rather than revolutionary, risky, and world-rattling… The missing virtue of our era has been turned into a social grace that neither disturbs nor transforms”

“What is dangerous to the child is not dangerous to an adult.  You drive a car now.  You live away from home.  You use knives to chop vegetables.  You drink a Scotch and water.  Why do we remain locked up in our fear of strangers?”

“The stranger helps us locate our favourite lies.  The stranger helps us see the absurd in our culture and ourselves.  The stranger opens our eyes”

“Gratitude is the leading edge of joy.  It happens when the big reality hits you.  You have no more right to be loved than anyone else.  Your children have no more right to health and security than the children in Bosnia.  It is all a gift.  Every single molecule, every smile, every taste of sunshine is a gift.”


And now it’s time to get ready for church.  There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.

Less is more

I’m not a natural minimalist as anyone who has ever seen my desk would testify.  Actually not many people have ever seen my desk, it’s not currently possible to see my desk, that’s the point.

But Martin did a miraculous job on the garage a few weeks ago, and now I’m motivated to do something similar with the toy cupboard.  I’m sure my kids probably have far less stuff than their average European counterpart, but I am fast coming to the conclusion that it would be better to have a few toys that are loved and played with, than a whole heap of stuff crammed in that rarely gets touched.

So, I tipped it all out into the garage, then we called in the carpenter to add some shelves and now I am gradually sifting everything into keep, donate to Scout jumble sale, donate to baby’s nursery, and chuck.

Then we probably need to do something with the books.  And the office…

Suitcase and guitar in hand

“I’m sitting in railway station got a ticket for my destination mm-mm…”

(Simon and Garfunkel; Homeward Bound)

Actually it’s a bus station (for the literary and musical pedants) to be strictly accurate.  In Rio Cuarto, six hours by bus from home.  We go in for imaginative names in Cordoba Province.  The most important river in Cordoba is Rio Primero (First River) and the city that strings along its southern bank is also named Rio Primero.  The second most important river is Rio Segundo, and the city that strings along its bank is also named Rio Segundo.   So Rio Cuarto…. took me by surprise.  I was idly staring out of the window when we crossed the bridge and found myself thinking “oh that’s nice, they have a river…” Doh.   In my defence I did have to crawl out of my bed at four in the morning in order to catch the bus.

The secretary at the entrance to the surprisingly-large-for-a-small-city university campus (think Warwick) might have been short of a few hours’ sleep too.  She started trying to explain where I should go, realised that she had lost both of us, dug out a map, realised she couldn’t pinpoint her own office on the map, handed me the map and said “good luck” as she pointed me out of the door.  I thought this inauspicious introduction might not bode so well for an establishment purporting to work with intelligent people.  However, once I had tracked down the Academic Secretary, courtesy of the map, some signposts and a helpful passer-by, I found him more than helpful.  He now has photocopies of the whole heap of every document that might be relevant to making any progress with my academic qualifications in Argentina.  And I have been collecting papers for a few years now; that was one heavy rucksack.  They will be considered by a committee, and he thinks I should get a basic general response on a possibly/not level within a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile I am still waiting for a decision from Buenos Aires on whether they might be willing to give me a secondary school certificate.  That was a whole other story last week.  I was about to write that the secretary at the gate this morning would maybe find herself at home there, but I’m wrong; they would have her for breakfast.  Having been made to wait for four hours, then put through a grinder and spat out the other end, including one staff member complaining that it was so long after my appointment time(!), I was told I should hear in three days.  That was a week last Friday.  Fortunately I have kept in good contact with the friend I made in the education ministry in Cordoba, and he says he will intervene if too many more days go by.

The municipal nursery where Baby goes in the mornings have been on strike (along with most other municipal services) for the last two weeks, so getting anything done at home has been a challenge, but I have just had a message saying that they are back to normal as of tomorrow morning.  Hooray.  And starting yesterday we have put up a new colourful family job rota with everyone on it (apart from Baby) which we are hoping will increase the level of participation and decrease the level of whining at being asked to participate.  It got off to a fine start yesterday with both Joni and Teen tidying and cleaning their rooms –the first time in months that we have seen all her floor at once.   So I am waiting with hopeful anticipation to see whether there are more good surprises when I get home today…

Home where my thought’s escaping,
Home where my music’s playing,
Home where my loves are waiting (probably not very) silently for me…

The week after the camp before

I left Danny’s coat on the bathroom shelf and had got as far as trying to hang the toilet roll in his wardrobe before realising that I have finally lost the plot.  Something to do with two consecutive weekend Scout camps sandwiching a busy week in the middle.

The first camp was for the patrol leaders from the three groups in our district, which was very good for my kids whose lack of self esteem means that they struggle to integrate outside their own neighbourhood.  And the following weekend we took seven of our own group by bike to Monte Redondo about fifteen kilometres away from here.

monte redondo

Following global trends, all our kids are overweight – where the rich do sports and have access to a decent diet, poor kids have neither, and it would be pushing a limit to describe some of their bent and brake-less contraptions as “bicycles”.  All seven have significant issues in their own lives, disability, economic disadvantage, family situations, and several are subjected to judicial orders as victims of abuse.  It was a fairly relaxed programme, they explored the woods, and cooked on fires, including demonstrating that it is possible to boil water in the plastic coke bottle without it melting, but be careful when you take the lid off!  Maybe should have written a risk assessment for that bit.  Or not mention it at all.  Ho hum…

Luckily this week isn’t proving to be too heavy so far, although I am going to Buenos Aires on the night bus on Thursday because I have an appointment in the Ministry of silly walks Education on Friday now I have finally (hopefully) managed to collect enough pieces of paper to prove that I did complete secondary school a million years ago in my country of origin.  At the moment I am thinking about the whole bureaucratic paper chasing thing in terms of an acted parable.  So far I think we have been called to act three parables, the first when the ex-prisoner and wife stayed with us for a year, the second in fostering Teen and then her Baby, and now this would be another.  Except that I think I kind of understand the first two, but I haven’t yet figured out what this one would be about.

Missing witty title

Too many things happening, and yet at the same time hard to quantify whether any of the tail chasing is achieving anything at all.  Hopefully this resonates with somebody.  Otherwise can someone tell me what I´m doing wrong.

I went to an intesting workshop last weekend on autism, hyperactivity and the over-pathologisation of children.  Which was interesting both from a professional perspective and also from a new point of view as parent of a child who certain professionals are desperate to pin labels to.

We walked away from the “psicopedagoga” (ed psych type – one of the fore-mentioned professionals), for a range of reasons related to effectiveness and ethics.  But we have found and fallen in love with the town´s music therapist who is completely bonkers in all the right ways and Danny adores him.  He thinks that the child doesn´t need any labels.  I said, good, now help me tell that to the school.

Teen and baby took themselves off on the bus to Cordoba for the day on Saturday, meeting up with boyfriend on route.  Various professionals thought that the whole thing was most irresponsible and told her so, although no-one has said anything to me yet.  I thought it was brilliant that she had the confidence to organise an adventure and see it through.  Between this and a few things happening at Scouts (health and safety with the accompanying culture of litigation have recently docked in Argentina and everyone´s getting a bit hysterical) I have been thinking about the vital contribution that learning to take risks makes to children´s growth and education.  What happens to a society after a whole generation of children have had their sense of adventure reduced to multi-choice bean-bag races?  Well, the UK is probably about to find out, and sadly it looks like Argentina may not be too far behind.

And now it´s Monday again.  I have achieved cleaning the house.  Now I need to get my head around what the rest of the week holds.  But before that, it appears to be time to collect the kids from school already.  How did that happen?



Herding Buffalos

In Water buffalo Theology, theologian and missionary Koyama writes about a traditionally rural view of the world as being essentially cyclical, following patterns of seasons, weather, and farming.  He suggests therefore that a major challenge to this worldview therefore is to introduce the notion of God acting in linear time – that history is in fact going somewhere and one day will reach a conclusion.   I might not be herding water buffalos, (although between my kids and the scouts…) but at the moment I find I have quite a lot of sympathy with a cyclical view of the world where the sun keeps rising and the rain keeps raining and it is easy to lose sight of the idea of any sort of linear progress.  Work, family, school, bureaucracy, Scouts, paperwork, meetings, church, preaching…  I think there is a discipline in learning to notice the blessings in an ordinary life, and in remembering that we aren’t called to be excited but to be faithful. 

Yesterday I took Danny to an appointment with the psicopedagoga (educational professional) who is trying to assess him for the school.   From the other side of the door, I could hear her asking him to tell her the colours of the play dough, and him answering her all in English, even though I know he knows the colours in Spanish.  So she asked him to say it “so I can understand”, and he went straight into an absolutely wonderful rendition of “speaking English to a foreigner” – loudly, slowly and with a comedy music hall Argentinean accent!  I was crying with laughter on the wrong side of the door, and it also caused me to conclude that this kid probably has all the personal resources he needs to do whatever he wants with his life; the real challenge is going to be how to get him through formal education for the next twelve years. 

Another month went by

So many blogs were nearly written that now it is impossible to remember what I thought I was going to say.  Which may be a blessing for the readership.  

We learned some things about hospitality from a homeless guy from the northern corner of the country, who speaks Guarani, and is also Deaf, with some sort of additional learning disability, the combination of which made communication tricky to say the least.  There was a question mark over whether he might have been in prison, possibly ex-sex offender, which we never managed to verify in either direction, but we put some ground rules in place for everyone’s benefit.  We shared meals, clothes, footwear, and hot water for a month or so, and then he moved on again.  I’m not quite sure why we were called to walk this kilometre of our lives together, but some people have entertained angels without knowing. 

Other things chug along.  Life with a Teen in the house goes up and down like an electrocardiogram.  Sometimes I have to step back and see the bigger picture in order not to get totally lost in the jungle of today’s series of small dramas.  She is making progress, and Baby is thriving.  This afternoon we were looking at a world map together, and she was asking questions (what’s the capital of Argentina? What country is France in? Could a tsunami reach us here?) which caused me to realise that probably no-one has ever invested that half an hour to do something so simple with her. 

Danny is causing consternation at school.  The teacher wondered if he is autistic.  Everyone else who knows him confirms that is the most ridiculous idea ever, but we were posted off to a “psicopedagoga” (something like a cross between a special ed teacher and an educational psychologist) in order to prove it.  The psicopedagoga agreed that it is a ridiculous idea, and then came up with her own equally ridiculous alternative… he doesn’t speak Spanish because you speak English to him and children learn language from their mother.  Which is of course why there aren’t any other bilingual children in the world, and in fact no child ever learns to speak more languages than its mother… She didn’t say that bit, but it would be the logical conclusion of what she did say.  So now we are in the position of having a teacher who thinks she can’t do anything with this child, and a so-called specialist confirming that it is the fault of the parent.  The child in question is quite happy, takes life as he finds it, and enjoyed his fifth birthday yesterday for which I produced the rocket cake in accordance with request.  I have to make a expanded version of same for his party which happens on Friday. 

Joni participated in his first bike race last weekend.  It was freezing cold and blowing a hoolie, but he thoroughly enjoyed himself.  The course reminded me a lot of when I used to do first aid duty at motocross tracks with the St John Ambulance.  Lots of mud and lumpy bits to go over.  The funkiest feature was an old bus with ramps made out of pallets so the riders had to literally ride on and off the bus, with two tricky 90 degree turns in the process: