Vote your Values

Today is Election Day in the United States. Please vote.

And when you vote, please consider your beliefs, your values. When I vote, I tend to think about the greater good. I think about the people who have not had the luck, the blessings that I have had. I consider the Catholic Church’s preferential option for the poor, the impoverished. Who would create conditions and policies that would favor them?

I also think about welcoming the stranger, the migrant, and the children. Which candidate will create conditions at home and abroad where all feel welcome and safe? No one wants to be forced to leave home, but sometimes it is necessary for reasons of health and safety. Who will be welcoming while helping to create a world where migrating is a choice, not a matter of life or death?

I think about education. When quality education is available for all, possibilities emerge, futures are possible. Education never stops; we never stop learning. Which candidate will create conditions so that life-long learners have the opportunity to think critically? I want people to think deeply and from various perspectives. I want people to see the world in shades of grey while avoiding dualistic thinking. We weave the tapestry of the world with many colored threads. That beauty is diminished with either/or thinking.

I think about the future. When we care for the world, the air, the water, we will preserve the world for future generations. No one wants to breathe dirty air nor drink contaminated water. Which candidate will promote healthy development so that the future is better for all? We know that some resources are non renewable. How are we preparing now for a future without those resources? Which candidates will help us create a better world for the future?

The world I long for, I try to help create everyday, sometimes with more success than others. In addition to the above, I think about rights and responsibilities, the dignity of work, health care, peace, and solidarity with the most vulnerable. My vote can help create that world. I will do my part.

Please do your part and vote your values, hopefully for an inclusive world built on solidarity, love, and hope for all.

Six Months in Quarantine

The COVID-19 quarantine began here in Lima, Peru six months ago, on March 15, 2020. While the restrictions are in a constant ebb and flow, one thing remains clear: The danger is real. Recent data for Peru tell us that almost 750,000 people have tested positive and more than 30,000 have died because of COVID-19. Of course the burden falls heaviest on the impoverished.

Teaching for me is still online. I still don’t like it much when I compare it to teaching in person, but I consider myself extremely lucky that I can work from home and my students can learn from home. In the process, I am learning much about online education and video creation. (I love the creative part of all of this! One of my videos has over 1,400 views!)

What will the future bring? In reality, no one knows. There will be more deaths and more people infected. Eventually a vaccine will prove safe and effective. Eventually more activities will return to nearer-to-normal with increased capacity in restaurants; international flights are scheduled to resume in mid-October.

Is normal, though, what we want? How can we take what we have learned about family time, a slower pace, and cleaner air into the future with us? I hope that we can hang onto the positive changes that this tragedy has brought.

Viktor Frankl reminds us that meaning can be found through love, work and suffering. If we cannot avoid the suffering, perhaps we can find meaning in it, if we are open to doing so. This pandemic has caused much suffering. I truly hope that we can find meaning in the suffering and make improvements in our lives and in the world. May the new normal be better than the old normal. It is up to us.

Harvest Unknown

Bowl of BlueberriesIn Peru it is National Teacher’s Day–Happy Teacher’s Day to all of the teachers out there.

For most teachers, I believe, teaching is a vocation.  (Yes, vocation, not vacation.)  I am sure there are some who teach so they can have summers off, or because they don’t know what else to do.  The majority, though, teach because it is part of who they are.  They love building the relationships with the students, building the enthusiasm in class, and building the knowledge/skills/wisdom of their students.  It is our way of making the world a better place.

Does it work?  I like to think so.  One of the challenges of teaching is that you never really finish.  An architect opens the building, a baker tastes the bread, a programmer runs the code.  A teacher is never done; this year’s students move on, and the next year comes with new students.  Occasionally we get a glimpse of our work when we see a former student on TV or in the paper (hopefully for something good).  Occasionally, we receive a letter from a former student saying hi or saying thank you.  Usually, we never know.

I was reminded of this recently when I received this picture of blueberries.  About eight years ago my wife and I planted some blueberry bushes in the backyard at our house in Minnesota.  These bushes take a while to grow and produce fruit.  About five years ago we sold our house to a friend when we moved to Lima, having not tasted the berries.  Today, that friend sent this picture and said there are more blueberries that she will soon harvest.  That is wonderful!  Who knew?

I knew when she wrote and sent the picture.  If you are looking for something nice to do, try writing a note to that former teacher.  Let him or her know that you are well, that you remember, that you are thankful.  Your former teacher would love to hear from you, especially on this National Teacher’s Day, even if you are not in Peru.

Day 100

Ver imagen en TwitterToday marks day 100 that Peru has been in quarantine.  In that time there have been more than 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 8,000 deaths.  Peru even made it to #6 in the world of confirmed cases.

This is nothing to celebrate.

Through their actions, though, Peruvian president Martin Vizcarra, and his cabinet have probably saved many lives.  For that, we can be thankful.  The decisions by the leaders haven’t been perfect, nor have the actions of many citizens as they evaded or disregarded the precautions.  In general, things could be much worse.  The struggle continues.

As we mark day 100, my school year is ending.  In 25 years of teaching, this is the first time I have been at one school for four consecutive years–actually 4 1/2 years.  (I was in the St. Paul district longer, but at many different schools.)  Ending a virtual semester brings the joy of accomplishment and the sadness of goodbye in an odd fashion: we’re not together in person.  I miss being with my students and colleagues.  Most of them I will see when we begin again, again virtually.  Stay tuned to see when the quarantine ends and we go back to the brick and mortar.

A fond farewell to those who are leaving.  I will be here.  Online.  Stay in touch.

Perhaps

Screen Shot 2020-06-05 at 1.57.22 PMAs winter approaches, and the temperature slowly declines here in Lima, Peru, the number of deaths from COVID-19 has risen to more than 4,700.  At the same time, some of the restrictions are easing for the public.  A couple of weeks ago, children were permitted to start going on walks close to their homes with an adult.  As of last Wednesday, adults are allowed to go for a walk or run.  Requirements: three kilometers maximum distance, wearing a mask, five meters from other walkers/runners, one adult leaving home at a time.  Restaurants have begun delivering food and some business are back at work.  Such is the ebb and flow of this pandemic.

When I went for a walk on Thursday (at less than two kilometers, it was the longest walk I have taken since March 15), I snapped a picture of the butterfly in a nearby garden.  Beautiful.

Of course not all is beautiful.  Not here, as I mentioned, and not in Minnesota.  In Minnesota the protests continue following the murder of George Floyd.  I completely support the protests that challenge structural racism and racist violence.  While I never condone violence, my experience and learning across countries and cultures help me understand from where the violence may come.  How many quiet protests have you heard about?  There are few example to point towards.

If the arc of the moral universe truly bends towards justice, we are headed for a better society.  There is much work, though, before we get there.  Perhaps, like the butterfly in the picture, we can go through change and emerge renewed, more loving, more just.  Perhaps.

I Will Stay Home

For the babies and the children
For the parents, and siblings, and aunts, and uncles

For the hospital workers
For the recently operated and the soon-to-be operated
For the at-risk with health concerns we cannot see

For the farmers and drivers and supermarket workers
For the families of the farmers and drivers and supermarket workers

For those who can’t work
For those who are still able to work
For those who have to work

For the grandparents who bring joy and tell stories
For the grandparents who support the children and the grandchildren
For the grandparents who carry the collective memories
And for everyone else

I will stay home

This is not about me and what I want
(I want to go out too)
My parents and grandparents and teachers taught me the dangers of being selfish

Together in community we all do better
It matters

I will stay home
You?

Still at Home

As you may have heard or read, the quarantine and curfew in Peru was extended until April 26, 2020.  Online school will continue until at least May 4, 2020.  Those are the dates as of today, and of course they can change.  My guess, as of today, is that some restrictions will be lifted beginning on April 27, but I doubt that schools will open on May 4.

Here in Lima, the presence of many birds, more than usual, and clean air continue to please.  The nights are quieter.  I have seen Orion’s Belt on the cloudless nights, a rare sighting in the past five years.  So yes, there are some positives during these distancing times.  (I am not denying the bad news–I am aware of the huge death toll that the coronavirus has brought to our world.  I, though, do not spend much time taking in the hour-by-hour updates.)

What change will we be when the worst of the danger passes?  What lasting change will we create as we realize that, truly, we are in this world together?

Their challenges are our challenges; their fate is our fate.
Are we listening?  Will we act?

Quarantine and Curfew in Peru

It could always be worse.

With the arrival of the coronavirus, Peru is in lockdown.  All schools are closed until Monday, March 30. All people in Peru are in quarantine until the same date.  No one leaves home without official permission, or a very good reason.  Police and the military are stopping people, asking questions, and detaining them if necessary.

If all goes well, schools will resume on that Monday with a flattened coronavirus curve.  Because some people are not following the directive, an overnight curfew will be implemented beginning tonight.  From 8:00 PM until 5:00 AM no one leaves home.  No one.  Starting tomorrow morning, no personal cars can be on the roads.  None.

During this crisis, I am teaching middle school from home.  Thankfully, my students have been wonderfully flexible as we figure out online learning.  Kudos to them, their parents, and the team of adults from school that make this possible!

I remember three years ago when heavy rains caused landslides that filled the rivers and closed the water processing plant for Lima (los huaicos).  At that time, the schools also closed.  If I had to choose (and I don’t want to), I think I prefer being locked down with water to living in Lima with no water.  Maybe a couple of weeks like this will change my mind.  I  will let you know.

For now, Zoom lets us keep classes going and allows for other gatherings, such as a St. Patrick’s Day Zoom with family in Minnesota.  And I am at home, unlike my fellow Minnesotans who are stranded here, waiting for flights home.  With patience and good humor, all will be well.

All will be well.

Novel Coronavirus Blues

This is the first draft of Novel Coronavirus Blues.  As a language teacher, writing from Lima, Peru, I find that a bit of creativity can focus the mind.  (Feel free to sing it out following a standard 12-bar blues progression. BTW: That link does not have a bridge.)

Verse 1
We celebrated New Year’s and everything was good
And 2020 started, well, just like it should.
We thought that we’d see clearer in the leap year of the Rat
But the health news of pandemic filled the screens and every chat
While walking in fog, your mind, you think you’ll lose
You’re singing the Novel Coronavirus blues

Chorus
My friend how are you feeling?  How’s the temperature of your head?
When you see gone-viral videos are you filled up with dread?
For the young it’s less of a problem still you worry about that cough
You cover it with your elbow sleeve and watch your friends back off
You’re glad you weren’t in the group, on the flight or a cruise
You’re singing the Novel Coronavirus blues

Bridge
So you went to get more info from the sources that you know
You rounded up statistics and that filled your mind with woe
Finally you said, “Mom and dad, I don’t wanna be misled”
They sat you down and shared their truth
And this is what they said…

Verse 2
So the president’s cancelled classes and Zoom is our new friend
No nurse or bathroom passes, all commutes are at an end
Our reality is virtual, I’ll see you in the cloud
With fits and starts we’ll lurch ‘n’ fall and end up feeling proud
Mindset may be the only thing you can choose
You’re singing the Novel Coronavirus blues

Closed by Corona

Today Martin Vizcarra, president of Peru, made the decision to close and/or not open schools until March 30, 2020.  Most private schools in Peru had already begun the school year (my school had already begun the second semester); public schools were scheduled to open in Peru on Monday, March 16, 2020.  This is to say that my middle schoolers will not be coming to school tomorrow as the teachers move classes online for the next two weeks.  If the situation warrants it, I am sure that schools could remain closed.

Is this a good idea?  Perhaps an over-reaction?  In Peru there are now 17 cases of coronavirus.  Considering population of almost 33 million, 17 cases seems pretty small.  The problem is that not all schools have the conditions necessary for students to stay virus-free.  According to one article, 10% of the schools in Lima do not have water.  If students cannot wash their hands, the virus spreads more easily.  Such a statistic begins to explain the decision.

While I would much rather have students come to school, I understand the decision.  So, I will look forward to learning more about online teaching as I practice it for the next few weeks.  I completed my M.A. in Teaching Writing from John Hopkins online; I have some experience as an online learner.  Three years ago school was closed because of the huaicos in Peru so I had the chance to get my feet wet in online teaching.  This time I will only get better.

If you have any suggestions for online learning, please let me know.