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The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Saturday, April 21

BIENVENIDOS AJIJIC

Here I am in Ajijic. It's located in the North Central Highlands of Mexico about an hour south of Guadalajara. Coming here has been an idea brewing in my mind for nearly a year.


I've been realizing that I'm more satisfied and happy when meeting people of different cultures and living new adventures.  

Since retiring, I've been blessed with Peace Corps service in Ukraine and Macedonia, teaching English to new immigrants in Washington, DC and a recent Peace Pilgrimage to Hiroshima, Japan.

 
So for me, it seems natural to book a two week exploration of Mexico. It reminds me of earlier days when I served as a Vista Volunteer in the War on Poverty in Canutillo, a small village in EL Paso County on the Mexican border.



Ajijic sits on the largest fresh water lake of Mexico - Lake Chapala. The water had pollution problems in the past, but now pelicans and egrets fish the shores. People do too. Ajijic has its roots in a fishing village that's growing with expats.

Ever since AARP and other North American publications named it an ideal place for retirement, gringos have come.  

They've created a "Southern Caravan" into the heart of Mexico.  They come looking for ideal weather, inexpensive cost of living and a community of English speakers.  

I'm looking for opportunities to meet other artists, find inspiration in the beauty of lakes mountains and towns, engaged in some community service work and build lasting friendships.  

I walk the cobble stone streets - carefully! They take some getting use to. I feel my foot and ankle muscles stretching to accommodate the uneven surface. 


After awhile, I do find my gait. It's like getting physical therapy with each step. My counter logs 10,000 steps and on some days as much as 15,000.  I've had some issues with neuropothy, but the discomfort has lessened or so it seems.  

Maybe it's a placebo effect.  Whatever, I'm enjoying the walks.  

Do you hear the greetings?  Mexicans almost always greet one another and gringos too when passing on the street.

A friendly "Hola or Buenas Tardes" brightens my spirit and reminds me that we're all part of the same human family even when from different cultures.  











   I'm enjoying the sights. Walk with me...

Small colorful homes line the streets. Doorways open to the sidewalks. Women sweep and scrub the space in front. Men tinker with a bicycles or motor bikes.
In the evening families bring out tables and sell street-foods. Older folks sit on stoops and watch the games of youngsters. Teens focus on smart phones, of course. Men and women talk over the day or at least that's what I think they are doing given my limited Spanish.  

It's the Mexican way of life.  I love it.



Other homes hide behind gates.  Often they include several buildings - a main house and smaller places known as Casitas. 

I'm staying in such a place - a bed room with kitchen and table for preparing simple meals.  

My host and hostess stay connected to their community by welcoming neighbor kids to use their pool, giving scholarships to students and sponsoring a local football team. 

They join others in the "Needle Pushers" knitting sweaters for primary school children and layettes for new-borns. I'm impressed by the ways they've become part of the Mexican community.

Unfortunately, my host tells me that's not always the way. Too many expats cocoon themselves in luxurious homes dotting the hillsides of Ajijic. 

Notably these gringos are detached from Mexican life.  I feel sorry for them.  They've chosen to narrow their experience by not being more engaged in lending a helping hand.  Life is more than a house no mater how beautiful.  

Walking towards Lake Chapala, I see my first Great White Egrets.



Wow, what a stunning sight.  I find a shady tree and soak in the beauty.  Can you spot the Pelican?

I'm mesmerized by the color of the water.  It's a delicate blue-green with golden highlights where the sun light hits the tops of ripples.  

I get out the watercolors and try to bring to paper what my eyes see.  Maybe a painting will emerge, but not today.  

Relax and just enjoy.

Later I take to the streets again.  I happen upon an art studio.  

Ken Gosh, the artist stands in the doorway and welcomes me in.  The space is lovely - an open courtyard of trees and hanging vines and of course, pictures on every wall.

Ken has lived in Ajijic for many years with his partner.  He's an award winning water-colorist although his style is quite unique.  I show him some of my work.  He invites me back to meet some of his students. I'm delighted - my first Ajijic art connection. 

Check out his art work here.  

I tell Ken about my interest in teaching English.  Immediately, he says, "You must meet Maria." 

Ken leads the way around the corner to the Biblioteca.  I'm learning that I won't feel like an outsider for long.  Instead of being stand-offish, people here are proactive in helping.  What a wonderful part of the culture.

Soon I'm sitting with Maria. She conducts an extensive ESL program with volunteers.

"Each year we'll have about 300 students from ages 15 to 100," she says with a smile and admits that they're still waiting for that 100 year old. She gives me a quick tour and we discuss curriculum and teaching methods.
  
We feel simpatico.

I share my search for housing.  Maria offers help.  "Come by tomorrow.  I have a friend who may be renting a place."  I'm very appreciative.

It's morning and I'm off to Martins.  He's opened a new business.  It's a a small restaurant where  street-food is brought inside and around colorful tables.   

I'm greeted warmly by Martin's daughter, "How are you today, Jud."  I respond with, "Estoy bien."  We've been helping each other with language in a series of mini-lessons.  She's doing better than I am.

Martin is a warm gracious man.  We have conversations about his new business.  I try to give lots of support.  

Coming here feels so comfortable.  I hope I can find an apartment nearby so that we can build our friendship.  

As my exploration enters its final days, I can say without hesitation - "I'm so glad I found Ajijic."


I'm looking forward to returning for a longer time teaching some English, doing some art and enjoying all the adventures of the Mexican culture.


Adios Ajijic - See you again soon!

Monday, March 26

March For Our Lives



In the 60s, we boomers marched on Washington for racial equality and got laws passed that made a difference. 

We protested the Vietnam war and forced a corrupt President to finally end it. We rallied against nuclear weapons and in favor of environmental protection with some success, but not enough.

Through the decades, we promoted justice for all and welcomed more diversity and equality into our American life. Women gained rights and their voice. LGBT people came out of the closet, married and had families.



Lest we forget, progress has been made in spite of the bleakness covering us these days.   It's easy to loose perspective and hope. 

 But look - positive social change is coming forward in the "Marching" of a new generation.

Last Saturday, The March For Our Lives packed Pennsylvania Avenue from the US Capital towards the White House. 

More than 200,000 and maybe as many as 500,000 people filled the broad Avenue and spilled into the side streets. It was standing room only - shoulder to shoulder.


Voices were raised as one... 

Stop gun violence.

Protect our kids.

Enough is enough.

Ban assault weapons now.

Thoughts and prayers don't cut it. 

And my favorite ones... 

I like gum not guns. 

Arms are for hugging
Not for killing






As I scanned the crowd, I realized that the young really turned out.

Mothers and fathers pushed strollers and carried their little one. 

Elementary school groups snaked through the crowd holding hands.

High school friends were serious. When asked why they came, two said to me, "Cause we're afraid."



It's sobering, but I'm encouraged to see so many Gen-xers and Millennials. 

They greatly outnumbered us Baby Boomers. 

I think leadership for positive social change is being passed forward.  New leaders. New energy.

I see groups of Millennials in bright neon yellow vests. They're registering people to vote. These young adults are so savvy. They know how to use technology, build inclusive coalitions and engage Americans to become more active citizens.

A new mantra is entering awareness. 
R...E...V...Register, Educate and Vote. 

Beware. Those in Congress who have been bought-off by NRA money will be exposed and voted out.

As they say, the youth are WOKE (Define) . And now us older folks can stay WOKE too. We can amplify their voices with our own.

So let's be one in promoting equality and diversity...
seeking more justice and kindness...
cherishing all of life and creation. 

And let's follow the leadership of our youth by finally getting those rapid fire assault weapons out of our communities. Enough...

Sunday, December 17

No More Hiroshima, Part 2 of 3


The remaining dome tower
and river where victims soothed their burns.
Sometimes stories can take years to unfold and be heard fully.

This story from Yukoh Tamagawa happened more than seventy years ago when the Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  

I was honored to be in his presence and hear it directly.  It changed me - and for the better.  Now I’ll try to pass it on to you.

We’re gathering at the Rissho Kosei-Kai's Hiroshima Dharma Center. It’s a place where a form of Buddhism known as engaged Buddhism is promoted through study, meditation and social justice work.

All Souls, Unitarian has developed friendships here with deep roots.

It began shortly after the city was destroyed by the Atomic Bomb.  Hearing of need in a elementary school only a few blocks from ground zero, the Church’s children gather a half ton of school and art supplies and sent them as a gesture of goodwill

A child's picture from happier times.
In return, the surviving children of Honkawa Elementary School sent paintings of happier times a generous thank you.

Take time to learn more about this amazing story - Picturesfrom a Hiroshima Schoolyard. 

It’s free for Amazon Prime and only two bucks for others. Well worth viewing.

Our small group with Yukoh Tamagawa and interpreter.
Today we’re in small groups and joining with Hibakusha (被爆者). This is a unique Japanese word that literally means “explosion-affected people.” 

At the time, I didn’t know it, but for some of the Hibakusha it was the first time they had the courage to speak of those horrible days. They were only children then….

Yukoh Tamagawa was thirteen. On that Monday morning in August 1945, 319 of his 340 classmates were pulverized or died within days of the Atomic Bomb dropping. 

He survived because the streetcar that he was waiting for had been delayed by air raid sirens. So he was still in the outskirts about 2 kilometers from ground zero.

Yukoh shares his story
Suddenly I felt a bluish flash of light that was like a spark caused by a short-circuit,” he shares.

“And then I lost consciousness. When I came to, it was pitch dark because of thick clouds of dust which had been raised from the destroyed buildings and which shut out the sunlight completely.”


He tells us, “I was blown 20 – 30 meters away from where I had been standing....I became aware that I was bumped on the back of my head. The right side of my face and the back of my hands had been burned and were blistering.”

Diorama of the destruction
from mountain ridge to mountain ridge rubble 
He stumbled around as the landscape gradually became visible. Familiar homes and shops were gone. They no longer existed.

He saw a man half trapped under a collapsed house. “He was floundering around and crying for help. I was quite at a loss as to what to do.” Yukoh tells us that he just ran away.

A shadow from an A-Bomb victim
burnt into granite
But so many other people were burned beyond recognition. He could barely look at them – so horrible the appearance.

“The sight of a soldier gave me the most intense shock,” he recounts. “He was badly burned all over with his skin in tatters... crying out groans of pain.”

About 12 hours later and after witnessing many gruesome sights, the thirteen year old boy found his way home. But at first his mother did not recognize him because of his burnt flesh. And now he was developing a high fever.

For days he struggled to survive and then….

A Korean came to his aid with a folk remedy. Daily for three weeks the Korean brought a liter of cow’s blood from his workplace, a butchery. And everyday as the blood separated in the bottle, the young boy drank the thick liquid composed of plasma and white blood cells from the top. This high quality protein gave him strength and sustained his life.

This kindness is remarkable because of the harsh enmity existing between Japanese and Koreans. They were enemies. Many Japanese considered Koreans to be inferiors, less than human. Like slaves, Koreans were taken from home and forced into labor. And yet, a Korean helped Yukoh Tamagawa.

I am very ashamed of having despised Koreans whose fellow countryman showed great kindness,” recounts Yukoh. “In spite of unfair treatment of Korean people, he transcended the boundaries of nationality and gave his warmhearted help bringing the best medicine available to me day after day for three weeks.”

This story resonates in our own world of boundaries, hatreds and fears based on racial and religious prejudice. I’m thinking...what might we do to heal our own wounds and sustain human life?

Yukoh tells us about the occupation of Americans that followed the Atomic Bomb.

My ill feelings for Americans was deeply rooted due to the inhuman act of dropping the Atomic Bomb. I thought that in general the Americans were frightful and brutal. So I hated them.”

Then in 1958, he had an accident. A US Forces tank truck collided with the jeep he was driving. He suffered compound fractures of the thigh.

Feeling responsible, the Americans wanted to evacuate him to Okinawa, an occupied territory at the time.  But Japanese authorities objected vigorously because no one was allowed to go there without a passport.

Yet the Americans took emergency action and transported Yukoh to an Okinawa hospital by helicopter.

I was in the hospital for forty-five days and had operation for compound fracture as well,” tells Yukoh…. “When I was given a blood transfusion at the time of the operation, a dozen American soldiers volunteered their blood to me.

Although I used to see Americans as horrible and hateful people, I have come to look at them in a new light since they saved me transcending nations and boundaries.”

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

There’s the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. It radiates from the epicenter of the Atomic Bomb's dropping. We pilgrims wander its grounds on a beautiful Fall day. We pause in prayer at memorials and show our respect with the laying of flowers. 

The Korean Memorial now has a special meaning to me.  Their story is often unknown, but remarkable none-the-less.

Inscription at the Korean Memorial

About 70,000 - both civilians and military-succumbed that day or within a few weeks.

Mass grave 
I pause at a mass grave where 
unrecognizable bone fragments and ashes are interned. 


A chill runs through me as I ponder them and another 70,000 victims who were dead before the end of the year.

I see children playing on a nearby school yard and think of Yuhoh’s 319 school mates who perished in an instant. I think of how many stories those lives would have had and now they’ll never get told.

There’s a clear message here. No More Hiroshima.

In writing this blog I consulted notes from our meeting, an autobiographical pamphlet of Yukoh Tamagawa’s experience and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum’s web site.

As my pilgrimage continued through the research and writing, I came across a painting by Kichisuke Yoshimura, an 18 years old at the time of the Atomic Bombing. I wanted to include his eye wittiness work.

But according to Museum rules direct copying is prohibited. So instead I offer this link  Kichiske Yoshmura Painting 

And I give my own impression inspired by his work. For me making it was like etching the message into my consciousness.  

No more Hiroshima. 
Please, no more Hiroshima.