Posted by: MC | April 13, 2012

Listening International – A Brief Report from the UK on Friday the 13th

Yesterday I came into the Oxford University offices for public health.  I was there to meet up with a friend and colleague.  A slight woman greeted me.  In contrast to the reserved decorum I have come to expect, this Oxford official nearly skipped up to meet me, smiling young and radiant above a cascade of pearls.  Josephina was curious about my accent, about Oregon.  She brought me water.

I asked how long she had been in Oxford.  These are some of the things she said, speaking with her entire body as we stood together in the office suite’s foyer.

I have been here in the UK for 10 years.  That started in London where I first came from Venezuela.  Caracas. I had to leave there.  When it becomes a common – even passé experience – to step over dead bodies on the street, it is time for a change. But London was too big, so I came here about 8 years ago. 

I have a 6 year old son.  He has a very different life from mine.  I am happy for that.

Still today when someone approaches me on the street and asks the time, I back up.

 In quick succession, Josephina took a quick breath in, wrinkled her forehead, backed toward the wall and covered the watch on her wrist with her other hand.  She drew her shoulders toward each other and lowered her face with her eyes wide and looking up at me.

On the streets of Caracas, that was too often a sign of ambush.

I did not ask if she had been victimized in such a circumstance and with her words, she didn’t say.

It is taking a long time to get over all the fear I brought with me from Venezuela.  Sometimes when my son and I are leaving the cinema after dark I’ll instinctively say, “ok, I’ll count to 5 and we’ll run as fast as we can to the car, jump in and lock the doors.”  Before I can start counting he pulls on my arm and pleads with me.  “Mom,” he says, “we’re in England.  We’re not in Venezuela.  We don’t need to be afraid.” 

It is good he knows that, but I can’t yet remember it all the time.

I showed Josephina the book, 100 Voices – Americans Talk about Change.  She read from it a bit.  “In a time of manic politics and the acute distortion of democracy, this book points back at us.”

Chavez has taken that word – democracy.  He has all power and control and he calls it democracy.  In Venezuela the people are broken under that hypocrisy.  Broken or as desensitized as the woman I heard complaining about having to disrupt her plans in order to attend the funeral of another of her brothers. 

Josephina looked sad and confused.  We were sitting together on a small couch by now.  “I want to read this.”  She said.  “I have university training in sociology and psychology from Venezuela.  I’ve always been completely fascinated by the way people behave.  I’m here because I want to be more free to live – more free to change.  It will be good to know what Americans say about this thing that, one way or another, we all must do.”

Yesterday I heard the story of Josephina in Oxford.  The day before, an older Lebanese man navigated with his cane around the corner where I stood considering fruit and nut mixes in a Morrison’s Supermarket in Leeds.  Stern and with no change in expression, the man warned me against buying from this display.  “The Lebanese stores have half the price and twice the quality.  There are many good reasons to take money to family businesses. You must think of this.”

I thanked him.  I thanked Josephina.  There are many good reasons.

And as ever, there is change.  Throughout the change human relationship persists.  It is most often benign and seemingly disinterested.  When we engage one another our relating is more likely to be allied, mutual, of kindness, and even of love than to be cruel and of estrangement.  Both ways most certainly exist.  But noticing and tending of our kinship seems vital – or at least quite wise – to ensure we can continue enduring, even correcting, and even perhaps preventing the  fits of destruction that more easily demand our attention.

This change and our relatedness are everywhere.  They are not theory.  They are directly evident every day with every person we encounter.  As I say, don’t believe me about any of this.  Check it out for yourself.  It may be the investigation of a lifetime.

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