Peace for Honduras

Three weeks after the presidential election in Honduras, a winner had yet to be announced and tensions were high as the country plunged into political crisis. In this essay, expat Jill Dobbe reports on living in a country in chaos and what it means for the strong and resilient Hondurans who pray for peace.

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We Are All Immigrants

As an American expat teaching English in high schools and universities in the Philippines, contributor BJ Stolbov's students often ask him, “What makes Americans American?” Learn why it's a question that he finds difficult to answer as America becomes increasingly socially and politically divisive and discover how his answer is still one that unites. 

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Typhoon Yolanda: “The Storm of the Century” and more to come

by B.J. Stolbov

[Author's Note: Typhoon Yolanda, also known by its international name of Typhoon Haiyan, hit the Philippines on November 7, 2013.  In honor of the dead and missing, I will use its Filipino name, Yolanda.]


The Philippines are surprisingly long. They may look like just a bunch of specks (7107 islands) at the end of the Pacific Ocean, but from the Batanes Islands beyond the end of Luzon Island in the north to the Tawi-Tawi Islands at the end of Mindanao Island in the south, the Philippines are long (1,150 mi.). They are almost as long as west coast of the U.S. from Seattle to San Diego (1,293 mi.). Because of its length, its many islands, and its moving ocean currents, the weather can change considerably from island to island, even from the exposed windward side to the more protected leeward side of any island. 

Here, in Northern Luzon, we are protected from typhoons by the mountains. For a typhoon to hit us directly, it has to come in from the southeast, low off the water, through the beaches and lowlands of Aurora, then up the Cagayan Valley, and then into the hills and mountains. This is what we call a "low" typhoon.

Typhoon Labuyo, “the storm of the year” at that time, hit us on August 12 in Quirino. It came in “low,” knocked down all the corn, just before harvest; and all the bananas, which will grow back on their own in nine months. It flooded all the rice paddies, but rice is used to water. Lots of crops and houses were destroyed, but, thankfully, no deaths. 

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Welcome to Glastonbury, England

by Elyn Aviva

Welcome to Ynys-witrin, the Island of Glass, AKA “Glasto,” thriving spiritual theme park for the New Age, neo-pagans, witches, traditional Catholics, Anglicans, Buddhists, Hindus, Methodist church ladies, sound healers, shamanic journey-ers, light therapists, Arthurian aficionados, Isle of Avalon pilgrims, holy-well-water visitors, Grail seekers, and recovering addicts. If that makes your head buzz, it should. And that ain’t the half of it.

Glastonbury Park 2013. Photo by jaswooduk.

We had decided to spend a month in Glastonbury. It had seemed like a good idea at the time—which should have been a warning signal. A month in Glastonbury? A town where every time we had visited for a few days we shook our heads and said, “NOT a place to stay for very long! Too intense, too ungrounded…” But somehow, in a moment of inspired weakness, it seemed like a good idea. Get away from our apartment in Girona (Catalonia, Spain) where we couldn’t seem to get away from work. Rest and relax in a rural Somerset town where we could go for gentle walks up to the scenic tower on top of the 500-foot high, dragon-backed Tor hill, or visit the lush and lovely Chalice Well Gardens, or stroll through the extensive grounds of the ruined but still evocative Glastonbury Abbey.

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WORLD FESTIVALS: Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi In India

A Partner Post by contributor, Anitha Aravind. 

In Chennai, where I live, there may not be a park or shop for every street in the city, but there definitely will be a temple for Lord Ganesha, the elephant-faced God. Under a tree, outside big houses, in apartment complexes or even right in the middle of the road, these temples are small but revered. Most people begin their day or any venture with a visit to their neighborhood Ganesha temple for a glimpse of their lucky mascot.

Ganesh Chathurthi in Chennai. Photo by Elizabeth Shilpa Abraham via Flickr CCL 

When it’s time to celebrate the birthday of this charming God, usually in the last week of August or the first couple of weeks in September, the entire country bursts into festivities. This festival, called Ganesh Chathurthi or Vinayaka Chathurthi, is a community affair celebrated throughout India, but nowhere is it as grand as it is in Maharashtra, specifically in Mumbai. For thousands of people in Mumbai, this festival is a main source of income.

The Story Behind Ganesh Chathurthi

There are plenty of myths associated with Ganesha, but the most interesting one is the story of his birth and how he got his elephant head. It is said that Goddess Parvathi lovingly carved out a boy out of turmeric paste that she had applied on her body. She instructed the boy to stand guard outside while she took a bath. When her husband Lord Shiva came to meet her, this boy refused to let him in. Known for his temper, Shiva ordered his force to attack the boy, but they failed in their attempt. Then Shiva himself attacked and beheaded this boy.

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INSIDE EGYPT: Can We Choose Which Blood to Grieve?

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a continuation of an ongoing series of insights and dispatches from Egyptian contributor Manal S. Kelig, a devoted mother, wife, tour operator, and peace promoter living in Cairo, Egypt. Our hearts go out to Manal and the people of Egypt during this difficult period.

by Manal S. Kelig

For the past 2 years Egyptians found themselves regularly facing heart-breaking choices!

When the revolution took place on 25 Jan 2011, I was not in a status to rejoice or condemn. Just one day earlier my late father had to undergo a serious operation as he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Celebrations in Tahrir Square after Omar Soliman's statement that concerns Mubarak's resignation. February 11, 2011 via Wikipedia CCL

For the next two weeks we were having our own stressful events where the hospital we were in was attacked by thugs. Doctors and nurses could not come to work. Medical supplies were not delivered to the hospital. As we ran out of options and danger continued, we were forced to check out of the hospital with my father in this critical condition and have him home nursed by my sister who has no medical background except her amateur medical readings. As his condition declined, taking my father to a chemo session was over 7 hours ordeal in Cairo traffic that was continuously blocked by demonstrations and sit-ins. In April 2011 my father passed away.

While our lives were made hard due to the unstable political conditions, and as I had some friends celebrate the revolution and others dam it, I realized no matter what I have gone through I will not point fingers at any of them and blame them on what we had to face.

Our family like many others was a casual victim of the events. When we were attacked in the hospital we were not defending a cause, or chose to go in a confrontation. It was just our fate.

I knew very well many other Egyptians in different ways would be in that position in the coming period.

A New Egypt with No Leader

For the past 12 years I have regularly said in my lectures, “ No one knows what will happen when Mubarak dies, but I can predict there will be no wide acceptance of his son to take over and the different opposition parties will make sure it does not happen, but hopefully without violence. “

Then came the 2011 revolution, and like the other uprisings in Arab countries, it was driven by the dissatisfaction and anger of a new generation who formed over 60 % of Egypt’s population.

But the energy of 2011's revolutionaries was squashed by the power and organization of the already established forces in Egypt, particularly the earlier Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the 80 years old Moslem Brotherhood movement and some remnants of the Mubarak regime.

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A PRIVATE LOOK INSIDE EGYPT: What you don't hear about.

EDITOR'S NOTE: executive editor, Judith Fein, received this letter from her friend Manal S. Kelig who lives in Cairo, Egypt. Manal is a devoted mother, wife, tour operator and peace promoter. We publish this with Manal's permission and with gratitude. 

An Egyptian man puts the flag of Egypt on his house with the words " Egypt for All Egyptians" written in Arabic and the sign of peace beside it.

Dear Judie,

Greetings, my apologies for the late reply. Every day I mean to reply but the escalating events are faster than me.

I have been overwhelmed by the chaotic condition that we are living in, and I am not talking about the deaths or the fires, I am taking about the polarizing status that we have been living for the past two years.

For the last 6 weeks all my efforts were directed towards initiatives that aimed to close the gap between the Egyptians. In every single event that ended in violence I knew someone who was harmed there. I had friends who participated in the sit ins and supported it with all their hearts and I had friends who lived in the neighbourhoods of these sit ins and their life became so difficult they had to move out. And yesterday other friends in Luxor had their hotel burned down and their church attacked.

It is very hard days for me as I know friends who are revolutionaries, normal civilians, journalists, MBs, cops, army officers who got shot, are dead or missing and each one of them believe they were standing for justice.

Burned houses, churches, burned police stations and police men, burned cars are all across Egypt. Families mourn the loss of loved ones, the sacredness of their holy places, their personal properties.

Each one of us is making his own sense out of this and --- it is complicated!

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EGYPT REBORN: The Thoughts and Feelings of a 12-year-old Egyptian Girl

Editor's note: July 4, 2013. We received the following letter today written by the grade-eight daughter of an Egyptian friend iiving in Cairo. We felt that she conveyed her reaction to the political events taking place there with such raw grace and passion and intelligence that we immediately asked for permission to republish it (unedited) here for you. We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Omnia celebrating in Victoria Square, Maadi

I know that the best thing to do isn’t take an opinion from a twelve year old girl, who probably is just effected by her parents judgment towards all that’s happening. But hear me out please…

Being at this young age does not make me this girl who thinks she knows everything, it makes me someone that is trying to believe in my country and trying to learn. I am fully aware that my opinion is an impact by the people around me and that I am way to young to form my own outlook to all of this. You can’t blame me for that. I am still trying to comprehend everything that is happening and my brain is not mature enough to make and set me own opinion towards Morsy. Morsy hasn’t hurt me as I child. What do I know! I am not handling the family money; I am not the one who deals with the finance problem, that’s my parent’s job. And apparently they weren’t happy about Morsy’s help with it. So we so called ‘rebelled’. However let me tell you something, an amount of people so big trying to say something is not rebelling: its taking your rights and taking what was yours. My dad told me today that for the past two years, he felt that he was just running away from everything, but today; he stopped and he took a break. He was so proud of his country that it achieved.

I have to admit it, for the past several months I was not proud of being called an Egyptian.

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Have a Happy Crappy Christmas Catalonia-Style

by Elyn Aviva


Bon Nadal and Feliç Any Nou! That’s Catalan for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

It’s the holiday season in my home town, Girona, Catalonia, and things aren’t quite what you might expect. Yes, there are the familiar ho-ho-ho Santa Claus figures dangling from buildings, and three-foot-high Christmas trees with matching pink and purple ribbon decorations are lined up outside stores on the main shopping streets.

There are brilliant-colored lights strung across the avenues, and a glittering conical abstraction of a Christmas tree pulses on and off in the Plaza de Catalunya. Christmas carols (sometimes in English) echo through the halls, the beauty salons, and the restaurants, and carolers emote as they stroll down the pedestrian Rambla, songbooks in hand. Flame-red poinsettias are for sale in the market, and school-club fundraisers hawk chocolate bars and handmade knickknacks. And there’s the cheery Firanadal (Christmas Fair) offering artisanal goods, felt slippers, jewelry, plastic toys, and boxwood spoons.

Yes, all of this is vaguely familiar, even if gigantes (giant dancing king and queen figures), a marathon Nativity play (Els Pastorets), xuixus (pronounced “choochoos”: sugar dusted, cream-filled pastry rolls), and turrón (a kind of nougat) aren’t usual Christmas fare.

But you really know you’re in a foreign land when you seen the rows of squatting miniature figures—including SpongeBob SquarePants, flamenco dancers, Obama, Barça soccer star Messi, Queen Elizabeth II, and Death—their pants pulled down, a brown plop of poop deposited behind them, for sale for inclusion in Nativity scenes. Correction: the plop of poop behind Death is white, not brown. 

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Here Comes Sandy

by Connie Hand

Living in southern Florida, on a barrier island, I thought “Here we go again” when I heard in late October that tropical depression Sandy was heading to Florida and might be a major hurricane. I was worried.  

I remembered how all of us had weathered the devastation and emotional trauma we suffered after hurricanes Frances on September 5 , 2004 and Jeanne on September 26, 2004. These events were almost unprecedented as they struck the same spot of Martin County, Florida, just weeks apart. I felt overwhelmed and fearful. My nerves were raw. I wondered if  I would have a home to return to.

When we were  allowed back on the island, we all pulled together and plowed through each day. We had no power, it was hot and humid, there were  no food supplies, except what you had stocked, and people got around in canoes for several days because of the flooding. 

Then the following year, in October, we were warned of another event called Wilma. I prayed it wouldn’t be as severe as the last two. We were evacuated and waited. Nerves were stretched thin. I remember it felt like days of waiting and holding my breath. 

Wilma came barreling our way on October 19, 2005. She caused extensive damage. There was flooding, roads were washed out, we had no power,  and homes and condos destroyed. After a period of total disbelief, I picked myself up and we all helped each other  again as best we could,  even though we felt vulnerable and fragile. We volunteered for clean-up. I felt more empowered each time I helped someone. There were many with much bigger problems than I. I knew that I was fortunate. We rebuilt and moved on.

So here it was October 22nd, 2012.  We started to hear reports of a possible hurricane. I cried as I watched the news about islands that Sandy crashed into and devastated. I readied my condo and brought in supplies. Everyone I spoke to was anxious and worn out after several days of listening to the weather channel.       


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Zombie Boot Camp

by Lauren Atkinson

Though they’re currently more popular in the United Kingdom than in the United States, so-called zombie boot camps are popping up with surprising regularity in the least likely of places. I recently had the opportunity to participate in one just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Let me tell you, as a fun loving girl who simply abhors all forms of violence and who ‘freaked’ when I found out my granddad owned a rifle, it was a surprisingly addictive way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The action was surrealistic and the staff added good doses of humour throughout.

For those who don’t yet know, zombie boot camps are basically live-action roleplaying events in which participants battle “live” zombies in a number of different scenarios. The whole experience closely mirrors the missions from first-person shooter video games. It is one of the most realistic types of life-action roleplaying. Although Zombie Camp is not for the light hearted, fans of such video games or horror movies would be thrilled with this kind of day out.

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Honoring America's Fallen Soldiers in Normandy

by Roy Stevenson


American Military Cemetery, Colleville, Normandy, FranceThe view from the top of the high, soft, sand dunes next to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville, Normandy, is great today. It’s a bright clear blue sky and I can see for miles. French fishing trawlers churn through the choppy, deep blue water, miles out to sea, leaving wide foaming wakes behind them. Gazing down across the long, deserted flat white expanse of Omaha Beach, I can see where the olive uniformed American soldiers debarked their landing craft, to shelter behind steel tetrahedrons, or sprint up the beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Descending the sand dunes, I walk the long 500 meters down the gently sloping beach to the water’s edge. It’s dead low tide. I turn around, looking back up towards the dunes. I’m amazed at how far away they are. They would seem like they were miles away, especially to a young soldier armed to the teeth and heavily weighed down with equipment.

It must have been terrifying trying to sprint up the beach into the teeth of a hailstorm of machine gun, rifle, and mortar fire. Of the soldiers in the first few D-Day landing craft, 90% didn’t even make it up the beach. In my mind’s eye I fleetingly see chaos, patches of red blood-drenched sand, and a flickering image of a young soldier in a soaked green uniform. “I must have seen “Saving Private Ryan” once too many times”, I think self-consciously.

Deep in thought, I trudge back up the steep, uneven sand dunes to the American Military Cemetery and walk along row upon row of perfectly aligned white crosses, on the vast 172-acre, smooth, emerald green-grassed plateau. The 9,387 crosses are a stupefying sight. They radiate outwards in perfectly straight lines no matter what angle they are viewed from.

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Looking For Peace In A Mosque

by Cinelle Ariola Barnes

I had been struggling with my prayer life, figuring out where and how I could have some peace and quiet in the Big Apple. I tried to petition and call on God, but the words wouldn't come. I wondered, “If a city never sleeps, how does it ever dream? How do its people ever come to a solemn state of rest?” My father, a Christian of no particular denomination, suggested I visit a mosque and learn from the Muslims. 

“Watch them pray,” he said, “Their discipline and devotion is admirable. Watching them pray at the exact same time every day was one of my favorite things about living in the Middle East.”

I say I am a well-traveled Filipina, but that only means I have made countless layovers on flights to and from New York. The most traveling that I have ever done is through reading books, therefore I have great expectations of places I have yet to see. I hear “India” and I think saris in vibrant colors, citrus rinds covering a plate of curry, or yogis in lotus position. I hear “Rio de Janeiro” and I think futbol, futbol, futbol!

When I hear the word “mosque,” a flipbook of ideas, images, sounds, and even smells pop into my head. I let my mind cruise through this Rolodex as I sit in the Pelham-bound 6 train. Here I am, a young Protestant raised in a Catholic country, managing all the thoughts sweeping through my head as I near the New York Mosque. I straighten my spine and fix my hair as I get off the train, forcing myself to be, or seem to be, more reverent than I usually am. 

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Tunisia: Beyond the Revolution


The Arab spring has sprung, and now it's the Arab summer. In country after country, people buoyed by bravery and relentless in their quest for freedom are taking to the streets. No clubs, bullets, camels, water cannons, machine guns, tanks, helicopter gunships, grenades or missiles can stop them. They want governments that are responsive to them, jobs, opportunities, unfettered speech.

I had seen images of them in the media but I wanted to rub elbows with the courageous, and listen to what they had to say. I got on a plane and flew to Tunisia, where the revolution was victorious, the ruthless dictator Ben Ali was overthrown, and the population is engaged in a remarkable experience in democracy. Come with me to north Africa, and get a glimpse into the little country that could.


Read the full story in my recent article, Revolutionary Travel, on the Huffington Post. 

photo by Paul Ross.  


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