Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Popular Education Bookshelf - 3 - Public Health

Popular Education and Public Health

This post is partly a sharing of some resources and partly a request. I've learned over the years that participatory research has made quite an impact on the health field. I'd like to learn more, especially where people are using popular education for public health work. I'm told that Nina Wallerstein at University of New Mexico is a leader in this field. And there's Denise Gastaldo who's edited a book of poems by immigrant women in Toronto (there's a PDF here). Then there's Women's Health in Women's Hands who have some good resources on-line such as Building Inclusive Communities Tips Tool (a PDF); Healthy Options for Women (a PDF and also available in French, Somali and Swahili) and others (see the resources page).

The Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition has some great resources as well. Check out Healthy Food, Healthy Community (a PDF) as well as others on their publications page.

i recall meeting Ron Labonté many years ago and have heard his name for years associated with a storytelling process and health education - they call it story/dialogue and you can find out more about it here.

There's an Australian site that has some interesting pieces on it here. And, specifically, they use a storyboard process that uses graphic images for health promotion - there's a PDF (12.8M) here.

And here's an interesting article from Asian Labour Update: Popular Education and the wWorker's Health and Safety Movement. It looks like they're doing something similar to the mapping work that Dorothy Wigmore has developed.

If you know of good popular health education resources, please let me know about them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Work, Dignity and Social Change" Interactive Video Workshop

Check out this excellent video on the Unemployed Workers’ Movements of Argentina:

Work, Dignity and Social Change

I've been meaning to blog this for some time, but thought i would wait til i'd had a chance to watch it all again and share some choice quotes. Alas: tempus fugit. One of the participants of the popular education class that i teach at the Faculty of Environmental Studies (thanks, Gaby) shared some of this video as her class presentation and then used it as the basis for her contribution to our collective class project in which you'll find an activity description for using this video. I highly recommend this video as it has remarkably articulate interviews with people about their struggles that include using popular education. One of the things that i like about these interviews is that they address both the complexities and contradictions of community organizing (e.g. whether to take state money or not) and popular education (e.g. what happens when you try and do popular education to people?). It's worth the watch! The website also includes facilitators' guides and other handouts.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Popular Education Bookshelf - 2 - Participatory Evaluation

Popular Education and Participatory Evaluation

"Participatory" is a tricky keyword. And, though many people tend to think of popular education and participatory education as synonymous, this is a mistake. I would say that popular education always includes using so-called participatory methods and has, what you could call a participatory ethic. But participatory approaches are not necessarily popular education. The big difference, i would say, has to do with the radical critique of power that is a central feature of popular education. And, while there are certainly naive interpretations of popular education that ignore its radical elements, i think this is an unavoidable tendency and a necessary struggle. But "participatory" is a trickier matter. It is the sort of term that can mean all things to all people. But, when it comes to participatory research, participatory action research, participatory rural appraisal and participatory evaluation i think it important both to critique and to affirm the interconnections with popular education. But more on this will have to wait for a future post. Meanwhile, having recently been asked for resources on participatory evaluation i dug up some research i'd done some time ago. There are a handful of manuals on participatory evaluation that are well-worth working with. Though you can't depend on the manuals themselves to advocate for a popular education ethic and politic, there is a strong affinity. The approaches in these manuals are very adaptable to popular education contexts. Here they are:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Popular Education Bookshelf - 1 - Human Rights

Popular Education Human Rights Training Manuals

I know of three excellent sources of human rights education material: Equitas, the Human Rights Resource Center of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center and The Council of Europe. Each if these organizations has numerous manuals and education resources and in each case you've gotta dig down into their websites to find things. And the Council of Europe website is a baffling maze. Within these manuals you'll find hundreds of education activities on human rights, of course, but they also include numerous group activities, energizers, games and more. All of this is easily adaptable to other educational contexts. So, here are links directly to a variety of manuals.

  1. The International Human Rights Training Program 2006 - This is the manual of the annual training program Equitas has done for many years. It's a three-week course and this manual has been designed strongly based on a Freirian education model and with a very good participatory ethic. I've been a facilitator at this event and can vouch for the effectiveness of Equitas' pedagogy. On this page you'll find PDFs of both the facilitator and participant manuals in english and french. This page will no doubt be updated with the 2007 manual once this year's event (in June) has happened.
  2. Training for Human Rights Trainers Book 1 (pdf) and Book 2 (pdf): both of these are excellent train-the-trainer resources and are also available in Russian on this page. In December in Nairobi, i facilitated a version of this program.
  3. Equitas Manuals: Equitas has a good practice of developing and publishing manuals for the many types of trainings and consultations they do. This page has a wide variety of manuals.
HUMAN RIGHTS RESOURCE CENTER: There are numerous manuals on this site though they could do with some reorganization. You'll find nine of them (as html pages) here and there's an overview page here which will lead you to yet more resources. Most of these have been developed with primary and secondary school students in mind but all of them are adaptable to adult education situations as well. The Human Rights Education Handbook (#5 below) in particular is an excellent training manual for facilitating both human rights and many other educational processes. Here are direct links to nine of their education manuals:
  1. Human Rights Here and Now
  2. Economic & Social Justice and as pdf (446K)
  3. Raising Children withg Roots, Rights & Responsibilities and as pdf (669K)
  4. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights
  5. The Human Rights Education Handbook and as pdf (852K)
  6. Lifting the Spirits: Human Rights & Freedom of Religion or Belief and as pdf (1,874K)
  7. The Beyond September 11 Project and as pdf (221K)
  8. The Activist Handbook on Indigenous Peoples Human Rights (working draft)
  9. Sustainable Economics Curriculum
THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE: I learned of these materials from a Catalyst Centre intern who came to work with us from the Czech Republic. Once again, these manuals contain numerous activities that, though developed for human rights work, are very adaptable to other education contexts. From a quick glance at their website i can see that there are an awful lot of resources here in multiple languages (it looks like the Council of Europe has a lot of money). But their website is byzantine - i found my way to these resources three different ways from Sunday. Here is an index page for something called Learning and Living Democracy - but the links to some of the youth manuals don't seem to be working anymore. And Compass has a number of links to manuals in multiple languages. Here's a link to a couple of their manuals:
  1. COMPASS: A Manual on Human Rights Education with Young People and as pdf
  2. Education Pack: ideas, resources, methods and activities for informal intercultural education with young people and adults and as pdf

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Popular Education Bookshelf - 0

For some time now I've been trying to figure out a way both to frame and to share the many resources available (electronically and otherwise) for practicing, studying and otherwise using popular education. This blog is, in fact, one solution to this challenge. And, while i've shared some links to good resources i've wanted to be more systematic about it for some time. This is a tricky task, as popular education is something of a moving target. Which is part of its pedagogical/political appeal as a strategy of resisting unjust uses of power or, in a word, oppression. As such a strategy popular education is a dynamic interweaving of theory and practice or, in a word, praxis. Unfortunately there is a tendency to reduce popular education to a mere bag of tricks for better facilitating meetings and doing education work that is more fun and easy. This is a naive interpretation that, though useful at times, is often dangerously misleading.

The english word "popular" is, no doubt, partly to blame for this. In english the word "popular", in the first instance, means well and widely liked or appreciated. But in spanish, from which we adopt the phrase popular education, the word is more closely associated with its root meaning going back to the Latin populis meaning "the people." I, as well as many educators, have chosen to stick with the term popular education, despite its contradiction in english, as an act of solidarity with the context that created the term, i.e. latin american resistance to colonial, elitist and authoritarian education that had as one of its central objectives the maintenance of the massive inequality between rich and poor. (Paulo Freire, one of the most significant practitioner/philosophers of popular education, is one of the most notable personalities in this history of radical resistance to oppression.)

It has been a challenge to sustain a critical awareness of the radical (and even revolutionary) disposition of popular education as we have applied and developed it in Canada and the US during the past 30 years. And, while there are numerous reasons for this that are worth exploring, i want to call attention to one for the moment. And that is the tendency to interpret (and reduce) popular education to better group process. "Better", of course, means many things to many people but here i'm referring to things such as friendlier, more cooperative (even non-conflictual), democratic, anti-authoritarian, fun, engaging, participatory and more. And, while i believe that popular education does support such better group process, this is merely the tip of a very large and subversive iceberg. Popular education has no monopoly on better group process and a search of the literature will quickly find many very useful resources from the fields of sociology, cognitive psychology, conflict resolution studies, corporate (i.e. private sector) human resources training, leadership studies, community development and more. And i'm a firm believer in 'stealing' what's useful. I recommend excluding nothing from popular education practice without examining it first for potential adaptation and application. After all, all these fields that i mention have long-since been 'stealing' and adapting to suit their own purposes.

But, as i've said, popular education is more than mere techniques and bags of tricks, as desirable and necessary as these things are for educators, activists, trainers and others. Popular education is about changing the political, social, economic, cultural, personal, familial (and so on) worlds such that they are more just, more equitable, more peaceful (though peace does not mean eliminating conflict), more compassionate, more kind and even more competitive (if by competitive we eschew war in favour of that competition that is perhaps better termed contest and which is a necessary and vital form of engagement for play and growth and even intimacy).

Popular education is a praxis, a tricky and contested term. Its meaning starts with its greek root meaning, simply, practice. But the word comes to us across time and space having passed through the hands of numerous philosophers from Aristotle to Hegel to Marx and, finally, for our purposes, Freire. Popular education claims (as well as advocates) to unite theory and practice in a dynamic relationship: theory informing practice and practice informing theory. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (chapter 3) Freire argues that theory (he refers to "the word") without action is mere "verbalism" which is "idle chatter" and "alienated and alienating 'blah.'" He adds that action without reflection is "activism", "action for action's sake" and which "negates true praxis and makes dialogue impossible." (While i agree wholeheartedly with Freire's critique here, i prefer the term activistism to name what Freire means by activism.)

So, praxis, in Freire-speak can be summed up as action-reflection-action which is a cycle that goes on and on. I quite like the following definition from the Pakistan-based Sindh Education Foundation:
Praxis is a complex activity by which individuals create culture and society, and become critically conscious human beings. Praxis comprises a cycle of action-reflection-action which is central to liberatory education. Characteristics of praxis include self-determination (as opposed to coercion), intentionality (as opposed to reaction), creativity (as opposed to homogeneity), and rationality (as opposed to chance).
I have two critiques of this definition and one thing to add. My first critique is to bring Marx's take on praxis to bear on the notion of "individual": Marx's point about praxis is that it is social classes that are the actors in praxis and not individuals. My second critique has to do with the supremacy we grant rationality as a value and ethic but i'll save this for another day. More importantly for now, i think it is important to add something to what we mean by praxis. And this, perhaps, leads to a compromise between Marx's notion of social classes and the above definition's use of "individual." Along with action-reflection-action that changes the world i would add the process of critical self-reflection or, more accurately, a process of ethical self-transformation. While this might be implicit in some uses of the term praxis, i believe it central enough to require being made explicit. And my use of the term "self" does not refer to the individual (that supposed stand-alone, fragmented, separated-from-all idea) but rather the individual-in-relation (as in Martin Buber's notion of the I/Thou) or, to go back to the pre-17th Century definition of individual (see Raymond Williams' Keywords) which meant "indivisible."

Thus, popular education praxis is the activity of critically conscious, social actors (individuals, groups, social classes in relation with and amongst each other) that seeks to resist injustice, oppression, violence and tyranny and bring into existence a world with more love, more justice, more compassion or, as Grace Paley says in her poem The Responsibility of the Poet:

It is the poet's responsibility to speak truth to power as the
Quakers say
It is the poet's responsibility to learn the truth from the
It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no
freedom without justice and this means economic
justice and love justice

So, all this to say, that when i am sharing resources, some of those so-called techniques that we can fill our bags of tricks with or toolkits as some call it or skill-sets to use some contemporary jargon, there is an indispensable context of history, politics, theory and praxis the ignoring of and exclusion of which will lead at best to a contradictory practice of popular education and, at worst, hypocrisy and co-optation - popular education, with all its revolutionary potential would become its opposite and cease to be a force for liberation.

This blog post is the first of many "Bookshelf" entries, each of which will feature links (and perhaps annotations or even reviews though i make no promises) of resources that i think good for popular education praxis.

And because i love Grace Paley so much i'll give her the last word with the continuation of The Responsibility of the Poet:

It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the
and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems
It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it
on in the way story tellers decant the story of life
There is no freedom without fear and bravery. There is no
freedom unless
earth and air and water continue and children
also continue
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on
this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be
listened to this time.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Georgia in Toronto: Darbazi

Over ten years ago a Georgian choir got started in Toronto. Called Darbazi, i had a few friends in the choir and saw a few of their first performances. It's been a while and i've heard occasional word of their performances and travels. I'm reminded of them now, not surprisingly, due to my recent travels. The Darbazi History page has a nice account of their origins as well as a couple of their trips to Georgia - lotsa nice photos as well. They also have a recordings page that has six mp3's on it - worth listening to:

From the CD:

  • GURULI MAQRULI - This wedding song from the province of Guria features the intricate Gurian yodeling technique krimanchuli: "We are the bridal party! We are bright, and we are beautiful! Open the door to the wine cellar!"
  • KEBADI - An example of Georgian Orthodox lithurgy from Guria. "From the rising of the sun..."
  • AZAMAT - A dance song from the province of Abkhaseti. On this recording you will hear chonguri, two panduri and bani panduri.

From an recording for the CBC Amateur Choir Competition:

  • TSMINDAO GHMERTO - Georgian Orthodox hymn from the province of Kartli. "Holy God, Holy Almighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us."
  • ADILOI - A horse riding song from the province of Imereti. "I am sitting on my black horse, well-seated in the saddle. I kicked the dust off my boots and rode to Tbilisi."

From an amateur minidisc recording of a 2003 Darbazi concert:

  • IMERULI SATRPIALO - A love song from Imereti. "... woman, love of my heart, why don't you return my love? You set me on fire, my murderer, my close neighbour. Woman, I'll come to you, embrace you. The country's eyes are on you, Kristina with the beautiful eyes. Hear my prayer for you."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Istanbul i didn't get to see

As i flew back to Canada from Georgia, my co-worker from Kazakhstan (and very skilled facilitator named Tanya) flew home to Almaty through Istanbul - a circuitous route, but she got to spend the day in that most ancient of cities. Ahhh... perhaps someday i'll get to see Istanbul firsthand. Meanwhile Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul is on my reading list. This photo is one of the images Tanya sent me from her day there - the beach along the Sea of Marmara. (Thanks, Tanya!)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

So, just what the heck was i doing in Georgia?

Now that i'm home i actually have time to think about the week i've just spent in Georgia. I came home to a week of catching up which has slowed down my blogging. So it goes.

The meeting, Combating Violence Against Women in the South Caucasus, was organized and facilitated by Equitas-International Centre for Human Rights Education, a human rights education organization based in Montreal who do an annual human rights training program (IHRTP) and who have excellent human rights educational materials. My role was primarily to support the lead facilitator, a highly skilled woman (Tanya) from Almaty, Kazakhstan (and alumnus of the IHRTP) and the Equitas programme officer. It was a rare opportunity for me simply to observe facilitation in action. And Tanya was great.

Now, for the most part, i remain quite ignorant about the region i was just visiting - the southern Caucasus, in this case referring to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The meeting in Tbilisi involved representatives from a number of women's and human rights organizations who convened to share stories, explore common ground (for possible collaboration/coalition), and meet with and learn from the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (so they could take better advantage of the support that the UN provides).

The groups included: from Georgia: Georgia Young Lawyers Association (GYLA, the local host of the meetings, their english site here), Anti-Violence Network of Georgia, Sakhli, Women's club "Peoni", Women's Center, Union of Azerbaijani Women of Georgia, Women Information Centre, People's Harmonious Development Society, Saphari. From Armenia: NGO Center - Civil Society Development Organization, Women's Rights Center, Hope and Help, Ajakits, Armenian Charitas, Society Without Violence. And from Azerbaijan: Yuva Center, Baku Association of Azerbaijan Women, Clear World HR GO.

Given how little i know of the region it was hard for me to imagine what these womens groups had to contend with on a daily basis. One of the common issues frequently referred to was trafficking - not something we hear a lot about in Canada (though there was an interesting TV drama about it last year - i can't remember if it was CBC or CTV, but i found it compelling). Working in multiple languages (with Russian-English translation) and dealing with the post-Soviet realities of these relatively new states. One fascinating consequence of this post-Soviet time is that the commonality of russian language is lessening. Anyone over 30 speaks russian, but this is not the case for the under-30, many of whom are learning english. And the presence of english is everywhere in Tbilisi.

I was very impressed to meet Professor Yakin Ertürk, a Turkish sociologist at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. Professor Ertürk told me of her recent report on the standard of due diligence in which she articulates a notion of "cultural negotiation" that i found quite compelling. In her report she writes:

At the community and family level, the human rights discourse needs to be complemented by an approach based on “cultural negotiation”. Such an approach complements the empowerment approach discussed above, in that it allows the root causes of violence to be confronted and raises awareness of the oppressive nature of certain practices pursued in the name of culture. This requires, (a) drawing on positive elements within culture to demystify the oppressive elements of culture-based discourses; (b) demonstrating that culture is not an immutable and homogenous entity; and (c) identifying and contesting the legitimacy of those who monopolize the right to speak on behalf of culture and religion. In this context, hegemonic interpretations of culture must be challenged by uncovering the power dynamics that underlie these. The process of cultural negotiation through campaigns, information and media can become an important counter-discourse for the transformation of discriminatory values, institutions and power structures.

We only had the briefest of conversations about this over dinner - but i am anxious to learn more about this notion which seems to hold much promise for our so so complicated post-colonial world where we seem to swing back and forth from western hegemony (as the new global common sense) to the cultural relativism of live-and-let-live which all too easily leads to fatal inaction.

The entire week spent in Tbilisi has left a strong impression on me and it has also left me with many thoughts to ponder.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Another Tbilisi Chruch

I thought Quebec had a lot of churches. Quebec's got nothing on Tbilisi. This is the church on the mountain overlooking the city centre. A nice walk in the early morning.

Early Morning in Tbilisi

Just went out for an early morning walk about Tbilisi - quiet streets, kids walking to school and everyone seems to stop and cross themselves when they pass a church, even if the church is a kilometre away. The image above is a synagogue. beyond it you can see the mountain with a walled-in church which is hidden by the buildings on the left. See the next post for the mountain church.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ahhh, the secret is in the grape

This little fellow is titled, according to the plaque, "Tamada" which is a type of host who is responsible for, amongst other things, making a series of toasts when revellers are about to imbibe . Georgia, i have learned is extremely proud of its wines (which, sadly, i still haven't tried). Apparently, wine has been made in this region going back several thousand years (7000 according to some). And this statue is a copy of a 7th Century BC find in western Georgia. He is holding a ram's horn which i'm sure many of you will recognize as a most ancient wine cup. According to one city guide booklet i have, many historians believe the word "wine" originated in Georgia. I'm for believing it.

This reminds me of a chapter from Eduardo Galeano's Book of Embraces:
On his deathbed, a man of the vineyards spoke into Marcela's ear. Before dying, he revealed his secret:

'The grape,' he whispered, 'is made of wine.'

Marcela Pérez-Silva told me this, and I thought: If the grape is made of wine, then perhaps we are the words that tell who we are.

I found this text on the New Internationalist site where you can read more excerpts from Galeano.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"If I can't dance....

... then i don't want to be part of your revolution," said Emma Goldman. Now why do you think i think of something like that in this former Soviet republic? Hmmmm... Just got in from the local Irish pub - there was a "tap" for Guiness but they only had bottles, alas. Had a great day of meetings with the human rights advocates from Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Most of the meeting is in russian with english translation for the sake of the UN Special Rapporteur and those of us from Canada. Amazing to hear all these languages spoken - how i crave being able to speak them as well.

Not sure what this statue is about though the sentiment is obvious.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

St. George and the Dragon - eternally at odds

This is a statue of St. George and the Dragon in Freedom Square, not far from where i'm staying. Not surprisingly, St George is the patron saint of Georgia (as he is of Canada, Moscow and a fair number of other places). Last September i was asked by a friend at the local Waldorf school to assist with an annual celebration that centres around the story of St. George and thus had to re-familiarize myself with this ancient legend. I'm rather fond of dragons and, especially, of dragon stories. I'll have to look more deeply still into this old tale. Ad i'm closer to where this tale originated than ever before seeing as George was from what is present-day Turkey.

I found this wee Georgian tale on Wikipedia:

An example of folk tale about St. George: Once Jesus Christ, prophet Elijah and St. George were going through Georgia. When they became tired and hungry they stopped to dine. They saw a Georgian shepherd man and decided to ask him to feed them. First, Elijah went up to the shepherd and asked him for a sheep. After the shepherd asked his identity Elijah said that, he was the one who sent him rain to get him a good profit from farming. The shepherd became angry at him and told him that he was the one who also sent thunderstorms, which destroyed the farms of poor widows.

After Elijah, Jesus Christ himself went up to the shepherd and asked him for a sheep and told him that he was the god, the creator of everything. The shepherd became angry at Jesus and told him that he is the one who takes the souls away of young men and grants long lives to many dishonest people.

After Elijah and Christ's unsuccessful attempts, St. George went up to the shepherd, asked him for a sheep and told him that he is Saint George who the shepherd calls upon every time when he has troubles and St. George protect him from all the evil and saves him from troubles. After hearing St. George, the shepherd fell down on his knees and adored him and gave him everything. This folk tale shows the veneration of St. George in the Middle Ages provinces of Georgia and similar tales are told in the northern mountainous parts of the country.

Scenes, Sounds & Smells of Georgia

As i type this i can hear beautiful singing coming from the neighbourhood below my hotel balcony. A handful of voices (mostly male) singing what sounds like a folk melody. At first i wasn't sure if it was Georgian but then i could hear some of the characteristic polyphonic dissonances that are so captivating in the music of this part of the world. The evening is cool and as lovely as spring gets. I've just come in from a walk up to Freedom Square and along Rustaveli Avenue with my human rights colleagues. We crossed one street through an underpass in which a young woman was singing something truly angelic - her soprano voice was true and the melody was something plaintive and bittersweet. She was arm-in-arm with a much older woman who wore dark glasses and who was holding out a cup for change. I could not pass this without giving some money. It is a strange city of contrasts. Much of the russian signage has given way to english and a startling number of young people speak english. I'm told that the commonality of russian can no longer be depended on. This seems a bittersweet thing. We passed the national museum which is advertising a show called "The Russian Occupation 1921-1999" and is illustrated with the faces of sad-looking children. I don't know enough to know how reactionary this might be, but for all the soviet union's imperial rule, i can't believe it was all bad. Nor is any place such as Georgia all innocent (as implied by the images on the museum). After all, Stalin was Georgian. The bells have just rung midnight and it's time for me to rest. A couple of other images before i go: cab drivers smoking while driving their fares; being given sticks of gum as change; driving in from the airport along George Bush Street (oy).

Yet another way to eat bread and cheese

We went out for dinner last night and found a restaurant Ria (my Equitas colleague) had eaten at on a previous trip. The restaurant was on the cliffs over the river (the Mtkvari - get your tongue around that) looking up the mountain at an old church surrounded by yet older battlement walls. I was introduced to kachapuri - yet another way to eat bread and cheese - it's a kind of fried dough in which is sandwiched a sharp feta-like cheese. As addictive as pizza. And eating that left little room to add some of the seasonal stewed lamb dish (something quite georgian, i was given to understand). The lamb came in a soup of tarragon which is more tarragon than i've eaten in the last couple of years. We had a lovely walk back to our hotel, having been joined by the facilitator from Kazakhstan. We stumbled across a section of town called Shardeni made up of about four or five narrow streets, filled with cafes and bistros and art galleries. Very hip. Tables and comfy soft chairs crowded the street and many people were wrapped in blankets that we included with the chairs. On one street a baby grand piano sat unattended. The people were almost exclusively youngish (20s to early 30s) and clearly the urban hipster crowd. There is a lot of development going on to expand this section that runs adjacent to the river. It made this ancient country feel kind of young which, in a way, it is. The image above is of a charming cafe behind our hotel.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Almost hidden delights

One of the things i like about walking slowly is the opportunity to notice detail - the sound of a bird i've never heard before, a strange mechanical sound that, i swear, is the same one the TARDIS makes (okay you Dr. W. fans - you know who you are); and these tiles pictured here. I almost walked by them, despite my sauntering pace. I've seen wee tiles or lines of tiles in the oddest places - they almost always look as if they've been placed as an afterthought. But someone has cared enough to place them and that is lovely. They are an interesting mix of whimsy and reverence and care. Notice all the bunches of grapes in these tiles (as well as on the gate in the previous image if you pay close attention) - by all accounts georgian wine is excellent (i'll let you know how my research goes). All over the old town that i was walking around today you could see little touches of beauty and care that people add to their homes, many of which seem more collaged together than planned and built.

Walking about Tbilisi

Beside the hotel i'm staying in is a church originally built in the sixth century. What remains of the original after 12th, 17th and 20th century restorations i could not tell. My colleague that i'm working with this week can read the russian on the plaque but it lacks details. Inside it is very dark and simply loaded with icons and candle stands. There was one person inside lighting candles and praying, another visiting, as we were, and reading the inscriptions on what looked like grave stones set into the floor. It certainly felt like it could be the sixth century once inside. It seems that the georgian population is quite religiously observant. In the few minutes i stood outside of the church virtually everyone that i saw walk by would stop in front the arch that you see pictured here. They would pause for a good 30 seconds to a minute (perhaps reciting a prayer) and then they would cross themselves and carry on where they were headed. Walking around the old town we passed by at least five churches and in the courtyards of all but one i could see priests sitting on benches actively engaged in conversation with each other and lay folk. The iconography (paintings, statues, symbols carved into stone and more) is abundant and beautiful.

Tbilisi in the springtime

I arrived in Tiblisi in the middle of the night (3:00 am) and had a magical drive in from the very, very new airport (opened in February). I had tantalizing glimpses of medieval buildings, distant lights on the mountains surrounding the city. The hotel i'm staying in is on the edge of the old town which i'm about to go walking in. Above is a view from my balcony (it seems like balconies and spiral staircases are de rigueur here). The telecommunications tower you see in the image is lit up like a christmas tree at night, with different parts spinning like crazy tops. The hotel is right on the river whose name i've yet to learn. And it seems like many of the people here, not surprisingly, speak russian (which means that i can at least say please, thank-you and yes and no). My goal this week will be to learn a few complete sentences in russian, georgian, armenian and azerbaijani. Hmmm, too ambitious? It is a perfectly beautiful spring day here - spring seems about a week further along than in Toronto. Gotta go exploring now.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ethics for Activists - 15

What Heaven & Hell Look Like
A man died and found himself before the gates of heaven. He was relieved. But curious. So he asked the gatekeeper, “Would it be possible to see Hell before entering Heaven?” “Sure,” said the gatekeeper and in a flash they stood before the gates of Hell. The gates opened and there before their eyes was an endless table. On it was piled the most amazing and abundant array of food, drink, dessert. Every imaginable delicacy was to be seen. As soon as the man thought of a food he noticed it somewhere on the table. And along both sides of the table were seated people as far as the eye could see. He turned to the gatekeeper asking, “This is Hell?” “Look again,” he was told. He did so and saw that each person had four-foot wooden spoons attached to their wrists and elbows. So no matter how hard they tried they could not bring the food to their mouths. “Ah, yes,” said the man. “This is Hell. I am ready to enter heaven.” In a flash he was once again before the gates of heaven. They opened and he was surprised to see an endless table heaped with the same abundance of wonderful food and drink. On each side of the table for as far as the eye could see were seated people with four-foot wooden spoons attached to their wrists and elbows. “This is Heaven?” asked the man of the gatekeeper. “Look again,” said the gatekeeper. And he did. Now he saw that all the people seated at one side of the table were using their four-foot spoons to feed everyone on the other side of the table. “Ah, now I see,” said the man. “This is heaven.”

I've just podcast this story as well, if you'd like to listen.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pete Seeger for Nobel Peace Prize

I'm just sitting here in Terminal 1 at Pearson airport about to fly to the other side of the planet to work on a consultation between armenian, azerbaijani and georgian human rights workers and the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and a friend just e-mailed me the information about a campaign for Pete Seeger to be given the Nobel Peace prize. I've known Pete Seeger's music since i was a teen and i wonder about the choices i've made in my life and all the many and varied influences that have lead me to this place now where i work on human rights and social justice and peace and more. It's hard to credit any one influence as being definitive, of course. But i think that it is fair to say that the quality of my commitment to a more just and peaceful world is, in part, a consequence of Pete Seeger's influence. If the quality of my commitment (which is just a narrow and rationale way of talking about my soul) is a tapestry of colours then some of those colours are because of Pete. If the quality of my commitment were a musical score, then many of the fugues within it are those i learned from that merry minstrel.

If you're interested in signing the petition you can find it here.

(Thanks to Lorne for passing this on to me)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Another Freire Tale

Inspired by yesterday's reminiscences of Freire, i've asked my friend Clara if i could blog this story she sent me some years ago for one of my occasional 'zines. Clara and i were neighbours on the Plateau in Montreal for a number of years and together explored some of the shape and depth of popular education and Freirian praxis. I also had a wonderful room-mate, Heather, who was the CUSO education officer in Quebec and whom i assisted in organizing a number of popular education workshops over a few years. But the 80s turned into the 90s, Clara moved to back Spain, Heather moved back to Nova Scotia and i made that long trip down the 401 to Toronto.

Clara's father, José Maria Valverde, was one of Spain's great 20th Century poets. And when Paulo visited Spain he asked to meet with José Maria. Clara sent me the following:

Paulo Freire meets my Father (José Maria Valverde)

They are both dead now.

But before they left, the two frail-looking men met. “Teacher,” “philosopher,”
“liberation theology intellectual,” “communist,” “theoretician,” “writer” and
“wise man.” They both carried the same labels without letting them get to their
white-haired heads.

Paulo requested a meeting while visiting Barcelona and his entourage arranged for it. It was to be a breakfast meeting. The living room was packed with expectation: family members and admirers wishing to witness the meeting of the two Old Masters.

Freire walked in, wearing his sailor’s hat, quiet, timid. They smiled, shook hands and exchanged brief words in Spanish and “Portunhol.” They sat, each sinking their bony bodies into their armchairs and they grinned at each other like children, recognizing each other, not needing to utter any of the many sentences written in their long list of published books.

They were pleased, comfortable, sharing a few observations about the world, exchanging a couple of jokes, silences, complicity.

The entourage watched, some still expecting the “The Truth” would be uttered, some knowing that it already had.

Paulo left. He left me two things: his sailor hat and his words in a book: “To Clara, with so much clarity...”

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Remembering Freire, Reinventing Freire

Just spent the afternoon at OISE at the Freire conference and it was quite good. I have a learned skepticism about conferences and thus set the bar rather low for what i expect. But i didn't need to deploy the lowered expectations. It was a lovely event. Not least because of the remarkable diversity of people from the various generations of activists who have encountered and/or worked with Freire and/or his ideas, to young people, folks from afar (across Canada and from beyond Canadian shores), women and men, literacy workers, trade unionists, health workers, artists, poets, students and more. And it was a roomful of stories - more than could be told. So here's one of my wee Freire stories:
It was sometime around 1999 or 2000 and i had just finished being interviewed by George Stoney for a film he was working on about Paulo Freire. Nita Freire was in town and she stopped by George's apartment. It was a briefcase or a shoebox, i can't recall, that Nita put on the table. Out poured dozens of photos of Paulo's life. The table was inches deep in images from across decades. Nita handled them gently as we sorted through them, making choices about what might work best in the film. She showed George and i and photo when she was a girl in school and a so-very-young Paulo was a new teacher. She told us so lovingly of their life together. As i sorted through the treasures i found a few copies of a bookmark shaped profile topped with a photo of a very young Paulo. In the photo he is very thin and his eyes have an intensity that made me wonder if he had some sense of the future that lay before him. And then there were his ears... Nita let me keep one of the bookmarks.