Friday, December 30, 2011

November: Activities Galore

The month of November continued the academic pace of the previous month, full of obligations for both Stany and I, plus additional planned activities including a planned trip to California, Sworam, and the Thanksgiving Holiday. Beyond our classroom responsibilities, Stany and I both made (separate) presentations as featured events during the annual International Week at Portland Community College (PCC). My event drew a crowd of one person to hear about the ``Power of Nonviolence``, while Stany`s talk on ``Reform Movements in India`` at least filled a small room! So much for the star power of Fulbright Scholar designations! With over 100,000 students attending all campuses of PCC this Fall Term, and a record number of international students that has exceeded 700, the traditional parochialism embedded deeply in much of the culture here was again on display. An International student fashion show as well as food events providing free samples were exceedingly popular, while interest rooted beyond the pleasurable remained disappointingly weak. The picture of Stany that follows here was taken during his International week presentation:

Political realities relating to things like high unemployment, underwater home mortgages, astronomical student loans, and a healthcare industry far more concerned with profits than people continued to fuel the Occupy Movement throughout the U.S.. With over a month of encampments and other displays of protest in hundreds of cities, including here in Portland, liberal politicians are joining conservatives in growing weary of actions which exceed liberal legal restraints. Corporate owned media complaints of allegedly unsanitary conditions in the encampments as well as actions like disrupting bank operations and closing down west coast ports have provoked a more heavy handed police response. By the month`s end, encampments in most cities (including Portland) had been cleared, with hundreds of arrests nationwide including severe incidents of using excessive force. It seems as if I can hear Gandhi say ``Hold firm: repression is a sign that the existing power structure is being threatened!`` Although I expect the inclement weather of winter will reduce the size and frequency of actions in the near future, come springtime it is my hope the movement will re-emerge stronger than ever.

A needed break from teaching duties and Occupy Movement activities occurred on the weekend of November 10-13. My wife Kristine, Stany, and I drove over 700 miles (with stops, 16 hours) down to Mission San Miguel (located between San Francisco and Los Angeles off highway 101. The occasion was the 30th Anniversary Celebration of the ordination of our friend Father Larry as a Franciscan Priest. As a testament to Father Larry, over 500 people attended events that weekend representing various communities he has served over the years: Native American peoples from New Mexico, African Americans from Oakland, Latinos from California as well as a mixed grouping of about 15 Mexican Americans and gringos from Ascencion Church in Portland! A few people from India also were present, along with Stany, as a reminder of the role Larry played in providing final rites for Mother Theresa with whom he had worked in Calcutta. Well known for his gregarious personality, Larry makes everyone he meets feel like they are special in both God`s eyes and his.

Now serving as ``Guardian`` (aka person in charge) of Mission San Miguel (originally constructed in 1797), Larry`s many guests were treated to a three-hour religious service (pictured below), with another musical extravaganza in the same venue, a wine tasting reception (with wine donated from local vineyards), and two celebratory meals with entertainment and dancing at the county fairgrounds pavilion!

The last two weeks of November were largely devoted to new Indian friends and family events. A great many new acquaintances were forthcoming from Stany`s invitation to be honored guest for SWORAM, an association of Malayali speaking families (mostly from Kerala) now living in the Portland metropolitan area. Gathering three times each year, upwards of 60 families (maybe 200 people) were celebrating their autumn event on the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. As my mother-in-law, Patricia, flew in on the same day and was tired, Kristine and she stayed home as Stany and I attended the Sworam event that was held in the theatre at the PCC Rock Creek campus. Preceding the talent show (which was followed by a very tasty catered buffet!) Stany and I both spoke as part of the welcoming ceremonial. He was very well received and folks welcomed me also with a warmth reminiscent of my time in India. Out of courtesy in my presence most people conversed in English so as to not unintentionally exclude the only non-Indian at the event. Pictured here is Stany in a front row seat watching the entertainment!

The end of the month is time for Thanksgiving, a harvest celebration often linked almost mythologically with the kindness of Native Americans to early English Pilgrims settling in America. Our Thanksgiving was a traditional affair, complete with the featured Turkey (which Stany had neither seen nor tasted before), in the company of family and friends. It was the first time in several months that Margarita and her family were together with our three biological children. This alone was served to warm my heart. My favorite photo of that day was not of the feast itself, but rather of the sharing of family members involved in preparing for it. Here are all the women in our immediate family (Sonrisa, Margarita, Hanilyn, Mira, and Kristine) surrounding the Turkey (and gravy, etc.) which would soon be on the table around which we would all gather.

Kris and I became more conscious of how, only two years ago, we were frantically finishing preparations for our flight to India which began these series of Blog entries. Such memories are easily remembered as our foster daughter, Margarita had just given birth to her first child, Hanilyn. That granddaughter celebrated her second birthday on November 21st. If the reader were to compare the photo attached to the first Blog entry (taken of me holding the newborn less than a week old) – with the photo of this glorious child as pictured below, it is clear that time can be so full of activity and also seem to pass in an instant. Be thankful always, Hanilyn for having a family that loves you! May that love be shared by you with all who touch your life and who may not have such a caring network of support.

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