On The Politics of Small Business

I was traveling in Honduras, Guatemala, and Chiapas, Mexico, finding individuals who were making a living in entreprenuering ways. Much of this was done outside of the official economy, and it was everywhere, yet this was a “business culture” not unlike the one we have in the United States. What set the two places apart is that the business culture in the United States is supported by a financial system and government policy that supports the risk taker.

I grew up with this idea that [North] America is built on the hard work of small business. Its this romanticized notion that to be a small business is as [North] American as it gets. Yet the irony of this is that small businesses are derided for their inefficiency, lack of customer service, and a general lack of business sophistication. As [North] Americans we hate the idea of the small business itself in our economy, but we love the idea of what it means to be a small business owner. From this aspiration grows the millions of small businesses across the nation.

The US has a long history of this. The French traveller Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote in his book way back in 1835, how astonished he was during his trip to the United States not by “the marvelous grandeur of undertakings” in the newly founded nation, as much “as the innumerable multitude of small ones” he found everywhere. Everyone was in business for themselves- industrious, capable, and invested were the [North] American qualities. But what a small business was in 1835, to what we may consider a small business now is quite a different reality, as is the politics of business.

First consider one of the more astonishing claims I ran across in my business accounting class that suggested that 99.7% of the employees in the United States of America were employed by some 22.9 million small businesses spread across virtually every neighborhood across the country. That means that small business employs close to 56 million people in the Untied States. The Small Business Adminstration (SBA), where this information came from, also said that these same small businesses create more new jobs than larger firms.

When we frame our understanding of the economy through this lens of small business, its possible grasp how astonishing this statistic is. It took me a bit of time to process that places like Ambala Cash & Carry in Cerritos, a suburb of Los Angeles, and thousands of these sorts of business employs the vast majority of employable adults in the US. Yet my mind considers retail giant Walmart as the largest employer in the country, 2.2 million employees, pales in comparison to the collective employment of small businesses.

So I am not surprised that the 2016 Presidential candidates are all talking about small businesses right now.

Like Ted Cruz, within minutes of becoming a candidate for the Republican Party, was talking about how his wife created a bakery while in high school. He told us that this was a ‘small business’, I see that as a small business.

Then there is Nish Acharya, a contributor at Forbes, who wrote in a July article that Hilary Clinton, the leading Democratic Presidential nominee, gave “the most substantive economic address of the 2016 campaign to date.” Again, Clinton in her speech, brought small business owners to the center of the presidential politics. Promising to streamline government, make it easier to start businesses, procure from government, comply with regulation, and stressing the importance of access to capital for small business owners, the implication was that the economy of the nation was small business.

This ‘small business’ talk started with President Reagan framing the American Revolution being led by the interests of small business owners according to Mansel Blackford in A History of Small Business in America. That was a time when economists saw these sorts of enterprises as sources of economic rejuvenation, after large firms had failed to produce the steam necessary to get economic growth going in the United States. “We came to Washington confident that this small business spirit” extolled Reagan in his address to the nation, “could make America well and get our economy moving again. Well, it’s working.”

Remember Japan was knocking our big businesses around- from Toyota to Sony- we faced a “Samurai invasion” from the West. In the East, West Germany had risen from the ashes of World War II, all the while in France there was still talk about American colonialism in Continental Europe. For Reagan, and the Economists of the 1980’s, small business was a source of pride. In fact, it was these small manufacturing firms that were leading the US Space program to new heights.

We currently live in a similar reality, post 2008 economic collapse, big business has not been able to produce the jobs or the economic benefit across our economy. This is partly why I believe its become fashionable again to center policy in the 2016 Presidential race around small business. The cynical me thinks about how politicians are pandering to their constituency by placing small business at the center of the North American economy, after years of lauding the multinationals in a globalizing economy.

Small business is back as the poster child for what built the United States, and how it will keep building the nation. Clinton refers to “small businesses” receiving government contracts, which sounds a like a lot larger business model then my perception of “small.” A lot of my millennial friends are self- employed, entrepreneurs who are building their own form of a “small business” because of the economic turbulence left them on the curbside of the flailing economy. Yet, their business seems more of a “micro-entriprise” then a “small business” politicians are talking about.

So what precisely are we talking about? I think thats important to understand given all the stuff being tossed out in the political discourse. For me also, I seem to be thinking about development work and the role of small business in places like Honduras, Guatemala, and Chiapas, versus US multinationals plopping down maquiladoras in the hopes of creating a pathway to the middle class.

The Grand Organizing State for Hate

A few months ago, Phoenix became the center of international attention, under the leadership of the racist nativist activist Jon Ritzheimer. He organized a protest outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. With handguns and rifles in tow, Ritzheimer and his biker rally gathered to denounce Islam and bring light to the religion’s “violent” nature. I had a chance to visit Phoenix this past Labor Day weekend while heading over to camp at the Grand Canyon National Park. Since then I have been contemplating for some time now on this whole shenanigan.

When I found out about the upcoming new set of rallies organized across the United States by Ritzheimer, I felt I needed to share. Its not just that he’s organizing these events, free speech to everyone, but that he seems to be digging deeper in his role as a racist nativist scoundrel. The question is where are Arizona’s leaders?

On Being Leaderless in Arizona

I generally have avoided Arizona because its not a welcoming environment for folks like me. Its actually the only place in the territorial United States where I was asked for my papers while on a road trip. Luckily I carry my US passport with me everywhere, but as an American citizen we shouldn’t have to produce papers while traveling between states, thats the beauty of the Constitutional system. The fact is if I were white I would not be asked for papers, but because I look like I could be undocumented, i.e. brown, I got asked to prove my citizenship.

Arizona was a state I boycotted, I made it a point not to fill up gas within its boundaries, to not stay in hotels or to buy food or eat at any of the restaurants. Even though I have gone through Arizona many times in the past six years, I probably didn’t dent the economy, but I felt good with my personal boycott.

Now, like the demographic shifts taking place around the country, my family is caught up in the internal migration to Phoenix. So in the context that Arizona is seeing an influx of non-white migration, people like Ritzheimer are afraid of the changes that may be coming to their bastions of whiteness. Ritzheimer has tapped into that sentiment of nativist xenophobia. He has single handedly made Arizona groundzero for Anti-Muslim organizing in the United States.

Ritzheimer is currently planning the upcoming global rally against Islam. You would think the politicians in Arizona would see the demographic shift taking place, that they would be aware about the national stage Ritzheimer is taking. That politicians like Senator John McCain, the venerable elder statesmen that made a stand against bigotry during his failed Presidential campaign against President Obama, would know about these developments.

Yet, when Senator John McCain was confronted with a line of questioning by journalists regarding the anti-Muslim environment in Arizona on August 31 at the Southwest Airlines Phoenix headquarters town hall, he responded with that “the world has never been in more turmoil” and that:

“I’m not familiar with that movement,” the Senator said before going off on a tangent about how “unequivocally, without a doubt, the religion of Islam is an honorable and reasonable religion, [and that] ISIS has nothing to do with the reality of Islam.”

In a follow-up question, he was asked how, as the senator of a state simmering with anti-Islam fervor, he would deal with what looks to many like a powder keg ready to explode.

Looking slightly annoyed, McCain said, “Frankly, I think most citizens in this country and in Arizona know that Islam is a peaceful religion. I’ve never heard of this movement, and I like to think I keep up with everything going on.”

You can read the full article here at the Phoenix Times.

The fact that Senator McCain came up completely blank to probably one of the biggest pieces of news that has come out of Arizona this year is a sad reflection of the disconnect with the state he represents. To him this threat to religious freedom and the values of inclusive pluralism that has defined America simply did not exist in Arizona.

Politicians are part of the problem when it comes to the rising xenophobia and hatred that is sweeping United States. Leaders have a part to play in all of this, to constructively bridge the distance between paranoia and hatred toward a reality where we can work on challenges from places of mutual agreement. We don’t have to think alike, or let our guard down. But we do need to work together.

Love is Stronger Then Hate

jason leger

While Ritzheimer and his narrow-minded minions were speweing their hate at their rally, on the same day, interfaith protestors also gathered for a “rally of love and inclusion” to show support for the Muslims who were gathering for prayer. Standing in the middle was the Phoenix Police Department, keeping everything safe and preventing emotions from escalating into tragedy.

That day is a clear reminder of a divide that still exists in America, where we yell and shout over and past one another. After all these years, have we not built up our dialogue skills, our listening skills and our conversation skills? Instead of a thin blue line separating hostile parties, why not be able to get beyond Google searches and hate filled websites? Why not invite those who can lead and moderate dialogues?

I was honored to experience what dialogue looks and feels like through my fellowship with NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, an innovative LA-based organization that focuses on shifting the paradigm around the commonly tumultuous relationship between Muslims and Jews. That same relationship was then turned into support and mutual engagement through numerous challenges that both communities faced, including Rizheimer’s rally.

For me it was touching to see that the following week the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix was visited by hundreds of people from various Phoenix religious institutions to celebrate mutual shared principles and values, including the the First Amendment Right to worship and believe in whatever one wants without the threat or intimidation to one’s religious practice. This event was rightfully called “Love is Stronger Then Hate” and these are the leaders we need to see more of.

What If…

As the bikers and interfaith ralliers took their “sides,” my NewGround training kept running through my mind. With a new rally planned to take place across 20 different locations in the United States, I once again am reflecting on how we are missing an opportunity.

Its so easy to end up dehumanizing each other; Ritzheimer kept falling into that trap interview after interview, soundbite after soundbite. So instead of being able to articulate his legitimate concerns, he fell into demonizing all Muslims by throwing a shadow on the entire religion, on a billion followers. He spoke past the people he was trying to engage in his line of questioning, and the conversation devolved into a constant need for Ritzheimer to defend himself against charges of racism, bigotry, and scare tactics by the media.

NewGround’s program builds bridges between communities by providing opportunities for us to look at our behaviors and triggers and to grow from our interactions. In order to create new relationships and humanize each other, it is essential to take a pause and use the skills, such as intentional listening, to look and hear one another on a deeper level then what the conflict presents. There is this great video put together by NewGround Alum Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon which puts intentional listening to use in a very practical everyday scenario:

When you look beyond the surface, you will oftentimes find the root of the issue has nothing to do with one another, but rather the relationship we have with ourselves and our ability to cope with life. Human beings have the habit of projecting our inner pain and trauma onto one another in the form of hate and bigotry, which then ends up triggering the cycle. We build bonds over our dislike of “the other,” when in reality there is no “other.”

…Becomes a Possibility

Another image from the Phoenix protest came when Jason Leger, standing next to Ritzheimer also wearing a profanity-laced T-shirt, started to engage with congregants of the mosque and found himself invited to watch the evening prayers and continue to discuss his concerns. Leger told local media “[k]nowing what I know now, because I have talked to them and spoke to them, no I would not do that [wear the shirt] again, just because I don’t want to offend or hurt those people.” [link]

Leger’s protest was not about Islam, but rather about his deep conviction around freedom of speech. His hostile approach was keeping him from being seen and heard, and vice versa.

Leger took a difficult step that is needed across the country – one of introspection and a willingness to hear the other. He took a step to understand himself better and therefore be able to cross the rally line. He demonstrated for us, in this intense situation, the power of intentional listening.

Intentional listening is not a hard concept to master, and as Leger demonstrated the skill is innate when we tune into it and allow our fears and triggers to stop distracting us from engaging in meaningful dialogue and conversation. In NewGround we don’t agree on everything, in fact, we retain the right to respectfully disagree, however we don’t loose sight of the common humanity that we share, nor the mutual values and principles we agree upon.

These steps are not easy to take, and it’s only through organizations such as NewGround can we hope for others to learn the deep lessons of identifying the true heart of the conflict.

A Prayer from Central America

I carried a prayer with me during my travels throughout Central America this summer. One of the teachings of the Prophet is that the prayers of a traveller are accepted, if their trip is with good intentions, so I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. I prayed the prayer for the soul in worry, in anxiety, in need of bravery. At the time I thought thats the prayer that would cover all aspects of the trip. I realize now that the prayer has taken on a new dimension after my travels. Reflecting on how my understanding has developed, I wanted to share the prayer.

Origins of the Prayer

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ الْهَمِّ وَالْحُزْنِ وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ وَالْبُخْلِ وَالْجُبْنِ وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ

But first, prayer, or supplication, in Arabic is referred to as Dua’ (pronounced Doo ah). The actual prayer Muslims perform are the five separate prayers, which involves physical movement. So this prayer is more of a supplication

The prayer is memorialized advice by the Prophet in Saheeh Bukhari, a collection of sayings and teachings gathered by Imam Bukhari. Muslims learn that the prayer was consistently read by the Prophet and that he encouraged his companions to keep it on the tips of their tongues at all times. It goes- By Your Mercy, Allah, I seek refuge in You from worry and grief; from helplessness and laziness; from cowardice and stinginess; and from overpowering of debt and the oppression of other humans. There are other variations to this prayer as well, but this is the one I memorized.

Anyway, I learned this particular prayer during college when I was plagued with worry over debt. Later, it was the prayer I recited repeatedly while faced with doubt over life decisions. I’ve carried it with me over time in relation to the events happening in my life. If I am overly worried about something, or the idea of taking out loans for education, I keep reciting this prayer. Its a mantra of sorts.

Because it was so simple and relatable to my lived experiences, I always viewed the prayer from that personal perspective, compartmentalized to specific problems. But in Central America this individual perspective of the prayer changed to something substantive about the nature of and relation of worldly problems to spiritual wellbeing.

Evolution of Understanding

According to the Prophet worry, grief, helplessness, laziness, cowardice, stinginess, debt and oppression were things to seek refuge from, and that Allah was the best place to get refuge. Each one is paired, conjoined together- like worry AND grief. I always saw this pairing as a poetic style of Arabic, the words rhymed when paired together.

On the trip to Central America, I began to see how there was a much deeper sense of meaning in the pairings. For example, all of these things affect a persons psychological well being but also are directly tied to their spiritual well being too. When I look at the pairings in the duah, I notice that the pairings are similar- one is a rational existence item, the other is one that deals with the spiritual aspect of a person. To me this pairing then can be understood as the rational and spiritual realms of ones self, and these two things together can wear down a person psychologically and spiritually.

In Honduras I heard stories of people worrying about their next meal, having gone three days without eating a tortilla (with salt and lime not even beans!). This is a sort of situation that leads to grief about one’s circumstances and existence. The same is true about cowardice and stinginess. The people in Honduras fighting against mining interests were some of the bravest people I heard from, willing to put down their lives to keep their land and customs. They also the most generous in providing us with what little they had. These people were driven by a deep rooted faith, or what in Arabic is referred to as imaan. I was mesmerized by that.

The Prophet warned Muslims that “Iman wears out in one’s heart”. There are things, internal and external, that act or eat away at faith, over time or at the point of contact, that drastically reduce the potency of our faith. Or as the hadith continues the simile “just as the dress wears out (becomes thin)” so does the imaan in our heart. When we look at corrosive factors, there are things that are more abrasive, and wear down on our iman, meaning that not all iman abrasives are equal in their affect.

The understanding really drove home the point how faith is an action. Our faith is acted upon by external factors. When we are faced with temporal problems, we also face spiritual existential crises. These attacks come in pairs. I always thought that the prayer was good for just particular problems I faced in my daily life- grief, worry, debt. But these things roll out in pairs, when we have fears of debt, there is always the coupling of oppression from other humans (or human institutions). That reality is incredibly true of Central America.

When Rev. Blackmon said go looking for the Divine in Central America, I didn’t really know what exactly that entailed. But it has manifested itself in this new understanding of the prayer, and I see where people draw from the deep reservoirs of hope and faith. I am eternally grateful for this.

Devil’s Punchbowl and Frozen Chaos

A hike, a year in the making (and a blog post nine months later, yikes)! This adventure was originally accomplished back in 2009 by Ameechi and me. We originally were going to mountain bike the crap out of the trail. Naive were we, because neither one of us had mountain biked (like ever); and, worse, we had not hiked in like five three years. To top all of that, we got out to Devil’s Punchbowl around 11AM, under the watchful August sun, with flat tires on our bikes.

We decided nonetheless to hike the trail. But we were ill prepared for the heat, our mantra was “Green Water Tunkie!” and every time we laid eyes on that beautiful green water tank we knew we were a mile closer to going home. When we finished that hike, we had it in our minds that it was a 14 mile round trip hike. Boy were we wrong, its a 7 mile round trip hike.

shaikhs_devils_chair_selfie

For 2014, Ameechi and I had planned to hike it again. This time we were both in better shape, and we were committed to this hike, until it came time to wake up at four in the morning to get there by sunrise. We failed. On four separate occasions, throughout 2014, we slept in rather then haul out of bed. After numerous failures, we got ourselves to hike out to Devil’s Chair as our 2015 kickoff hike, with the added bonus of bringing along Middle Shaikh.

If you have 101 Hikes in Southern California: Exploring Mountains, Seashore, and Desert, then this is listed as Hike 27 (2008 printing).

This is our first time, documented and presented here as evidence of our complete lack of planning. Circa 2007
This is our first time, documented and presented here as evidence of our complete lack of planning. Circa 2007

Devil’s Punchbowl, A Primer

I have a thing for places named after the devil, and usually its because there is some sort of diabolical aspect to the natural forces that create the space, not because I have an affinity for the devil. In a way they are stunning, but also at the same time impossible to believe as being real. They lie at the space where chaos and order coexist. For Devil’s Punchbowl that reality is manifested by two faultiness tearing apart the crust of the Earth, and turning it inside out.

Nestled in the northern San Gabriel mountains, on the eastern face, Devils Punchbowl lies at an altitude of 5000 feet, and is a mix of pine forest (it lies on the border with Angeles National Forest) and desert brush. On this particular hiking day we got to see the peaks of the Gabriels in the near distance packed with snow.

shaikh_landscape_pines

As we hiked through the pine shaded portions of the trail we got blasts of cool icy pine smelling wind channeling its way down the mountain ravines. In the sunny portions of the trail, updrafts brought up wet earthy Manzanita wood smelling warm breezes. Hard to think of this being part of the Mojave Desert, yet this too is still part of the high desert climate as it is part of the Antelope Valley. It was the perfect time to hike the trail, because the sun was not a major factor.

shaikh_landscape_scrubbrush

This particular hike was tens of millions of years in the making. Unlike the more spectacular painted canyons or hills you can find elsewhere, Devils Punchbowl is a conservative simple affair, with lots of monochromatic sandstone slabs, interspersed with dark green vegetation. But it is one of the more spectacular geological masterpieces located near Los Angeles, besides LA County Vasquez Rock (read about adventure here) park some fifty miles north of Devils Punchbowl.

sunrise_over_devilspunchbowl_shaikh

Two faultlines have gone to work on the 300 foot chasm, which to me seems to be more like a open wound in the earth. The San Andreas and the Punchbowl fault lines have pretty much pushed upward, crumpled down, and transported horizontally large swaths of sandstones, making the highlight of the geological area the Devils Chair. It is here that you can stand near the center of this geological masterpiece in what looks like an amphitheater of various slabs of rocks. From here you can gaze at a spectacular geological forces that call into question the very ground we stand on, is it really all that stable?

Frozen Chaos

devilschair_shaikh_landscape

There is a shorter 1 mile loop that takes you into the bowels of the canyon that forms the main Punchbowl formation. We however like to hike the longer 7 mile hike that takes you out to Devils’ Chair where you can gaze upon the frozen chaos.

devilschair_enclosure_shaikh

Getting out to the Chair you sit in an enclosed, fenced off precipice in the middle of a view point that perches on the upper rim of the canyon complex. Here you see the sandstone chunks and slabs tipped at odd angels, bent, pulled apart, squigglied up like a child’s painting. The reason for all this chaos is that Devil’s chair sits practically astride the “crush zone” of the fault lines, and thats why I refer to the area as the Earths wound because this is where things are being done by the plates.

shaikhs_gaze_devilspunchbowl

What I have a hard time about is that back in 2007 I thought I could mountain bike this trail. Holy tasbeeh I was so wrong in my assessment of the trail. Its one harrowing path with all sorts of dangerous things to trip you up with. I give props to the folks who bike this trail, but I would never consider it. The pictures of the trail deserve a whole separate post, which I will try to get to in the next nine months, hopefully sooner!

Time for an Obligatory Blog Post

The 9/11 Memorial is a deep chasm with falling water. Walking towards where the towers stood I didn’t get the impression of it being significant. In fact around the Memorial was a festive park like atmosphere, much like the rest of New York City, filled with tourists from all around the world. I snaked my way through these crowds. I wanted to stake out my place, remember and reflect, burn a little incense because thats the cultural thing to do.

But there is no place of solitude, which is my overall New York City realization. So I made do, moving with the flow of tourists around the the black stone boundary marking a break in the concrete pavement, identifying where the Twin Towers rose. Except this stone boundary rose to my waist and seemed to run on like any other raised bed for vegetation, except here the sun shone down and mist rose up out of the black bed. This was my first stop in New York City, and I had yet to grasp how you manage large crowds of humans.

I tried really hard to read all the names inscribed on the walls. I tried really hard to take it all in. This place, thousands of miles away from me, impacted my life fourteen years ago in a way that no other event had. Yet, writing a reflection about my visit, which was made possible by Union Theological Seminary’s summer Millennial Leadership Program for faith activists, all I can think of is time.

Has it really been fourteen years?

shaikhwhiterose_memorial

I recently began reading Robert Prisig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. It was one of the two books I had taken with me to Central America this summer. I, for some reason I can’t fathom now, thought it would be a easy read. But Prisig is deep in ways that just astound my mind. I bring this up here because Prisig delves into time when discussing Hume and Kant.

Prisig relates that Kant was trying to save scientific empiricism from the consequences of its own self-devouring logic. A conundrum that Hume had set up when he argued that all knowledge is derived from senses, and that these experiences and evidence create thoughts, so that reasoning alone was not the source of understanding of the world. Hume was an empiricist in this sense, yet following his logic meant that the nature of substance itself did not exist because you can’t feel, touch, smell, see it. What is “it”? This is where time comes in to this post on 9/11, it is an example- does time exist if we believe that human experience dictates what we know?

We can’t give the substance of time a description based on our sensory experience with it, therefore, we just know from our data that its been fourteen years since the events of 9/11. But if we were to apply Humes absurd experiencial genesis of thought, time  couldn’t exist, just like gravity wouldn’t exist or space for that matter. These particular examples come to us based on the collection of data and facts, formed and manipulated into human understanding as concepts with “natural laws.” This is what Kant was trying to save, these data constructs he referred to as a priori.

Kant states, “although all our cognition begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from experience.” He was trying to combine the rational with the empirical, so that through this construct- time, gravity, and space- exist outside of our heads without the requirement of sensory experience They are a constant that don’t require our senses to experience substantively.

For this purpose, time is an intuition that the mind puts together through data- in this instance the passage, changes we see in ourselves and nature of, the fact that its been fourteen years since 9/11 are all things that occurred whether or not we can comprehend it through our experience. Has it really been fourteen years? Yes, yes it has.

Time is an altitude of thought miles above my head

I am not the sort of person who likes to dwell at this altitude of thinking. But being at the 9/11 Memorial, time became a thing that I couldn’t comprehend. I kept asking myself, how had fourteen years gone by? What were the things that mattered on September 10, 2001, that were discarded in the hours after that morning on September 11, 2001?

Time is one of those things that really trips me up. We were at Grand Canyon, where there is a part of the South Rim trail that is called the Trail of Time. It was something I found myself completely befuddled by. I couldn’t imagine what I was seeing and the time associated with it. I kept reciting to myself the Quranic chapter on time- By time; verily, man is in loss. Except those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and recommend one another to the truth and recommend one another to patience.”

Shaikh_TrailOfTime_GrandCanyon

God is the creator of time, Muslims are warned by the Prophet Muhammad, so don’t swear or curse time. In fact, God suggests to humans that time is one of the primary favors that is bestowed on humanity, that we forget to take account of. When we stand in front of God on the Day of Judgement our time on Earth, all of it, will seem like it was less than a day (Quran 18:19). Imagine the time warp, it truly is something I have difficultly comprehending.

Just take a gander at Einsteins Theory of Relativity, time is not as absolute as we have perceived it to be Einstein posits, influenced by Hume (SEE ABOVE). In order to remove physicists out of the rut on where gravity came from and the silly notion of luminiferous aether, a substance of some source that made up space, Einstein approached time from he perspective that it is relative. In fact, Einstein argues that time does not pass at the same rate for everyone. This particular phenomenon is referred to as time dilation, where an observer on a fast-moving object would measure time passing more slowly than a relatively stationary observer would.

Its time to feed the hunger

Time isn’t above human comprehension, but within that comprehension Islam reminds me that it is something I am held accountable for and also something that belongs to God. I can allow myself to get profoundly lost. But I realize that I am not lost by time as a concept, its the accountability of time that concerns me at this moment. What have I, what have we done with this time?

Over the years I think what I most crave around this time of the year is how American Muslims need to have a longer discussion on the meaning and impact of September 11th on the Muslim identity, and more crucially our view of the world and our place in it, especially here in the United States. It never manifested itself as a full thought, but there it is, an actually articulable thought.

I am hungry for a longer discussion, not the lobby discussion we have between convention events; not the conversations we hear our Imams and leaders having; and, for sure, not the causal living room debates. What we need are sit down sessions, intentional and probing. We need discussion that brings in diversity of experiences. We need this to be pooled together across the country into something that helps present the American Muslim experience at the crossroads of a generation that grew up under the immediate trauma of 9/11 and a community that is vigorously defining what it means to be an American Muslim.

I think this is a unique opportunity. And I hope that we are able to take it and make something out of it. We haven’t quite enough time digesting this aspect of our experience. Partly because we live in the post-9/11 trauma, and partly because we probably are still trying to make sense of all that has happened. But fourteen years, that seems like a good period of time to allow for experiences to settle and for ideas and thoughts to construct themselves.

I am no expert of Philosophy, and certainly not physics. But I am a willing and able student, so please direct me in any misunderstanding I may of based on what I wrote here. Appreciate it in advance!

My Killer Wedge Photo Making the Surfer Rounds

I just recently let my photography go into the world under Copyleft. I believe in creative use and the need to free up the world of Copyright so that non-commercial use can allow further creative abilities. I anticipated that this would allow people to use my photographs as stock photography. However, I was never under any delusion that I would be making “waves” with any of my posted photography.

Yet, it seems as though I have made some people reminisce about the perfect wave and I am pleasantly obliging, and sharing, as well as pointing out some awesome fair use attribution, and not so awesome.

  1. Over at Riptide Tim Leeson, former editor, was asked to contribute a guest post on his  5 most important waves. Leeson identified his fifth wave as being his first time riding the Wedge at Newport Beach, CA which also happened to be the wave that he made his name on bodyboarding. For the Wedge, Leeson, or the folks at Riptide, used my photograph from 2013, you can check it out here.
  2. That same picture was used over at Scoopnest by Surfdom with the caption “This is the best hump we’ve ever seen.” Which is something I can only nod my head in agreement with, but then people will accuse me of bias.
  3.  Umm Ibrahim over at the Youth Club Blog uses a Shaikh family Iftar table picture under “Reason #6”. Sadly, unlike Riptide and Scoopnest, Umm Ibrahim did not bother to credit the picture to me or bother to link it. Worse she didn’t even change the name of the image file. I don’t mind the use of the picture, however, it does require attribution and lack thereof is breaking the Fair Use designation. The easy remedy is to do something as simple as stating “Photo Credit [name of person]” or taking it a step further by liking to where the image is taken from.

We are not all perfect, and make mistakes, and I know I am trying really hard to rectify my mistakes where and when I can. If I used an image or quoted without proper attribution, please take a moment and let me know. I will take the necessary steps to fix it. Also, if you are using any images, please let me know by shooting me an email OR commenting on the page the image is derived from with a link to your use.

Two Books- Zen and Ocean- While in Central America

Ambitious was I, on my adventure in Central America, to finish two books, I did decide. If past performance could predict future results then my NYC and New England trips would indicate that I would fail at finishing either of the two books I chose to take to Central america. In my defense, I was on track to finish the book I took with me to the East Coast, however, I ended up getting a cold while camping and that threw everything off.

Therefore, my NYC trip was not a good bell weather for Central America, well…maybe. I didn’t take into account the fact that I would be traveling with some pretty awesome delegates from around the United States, or that I would be meeting some awesome folks who had amazing thought provoking and engaging conversations. I hardly had time to reflect on the traveling and learning let alone pick up The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert Pirsig.

I chose both of these books off of my 2015 Reading List. I also chose them because i felt both of the books were wildly different then the experience I would be having in Central America. Pirsig, well I hadn’t really figured out what his book was about except that it was lauded as a life changing must read book. My inkling was that a motorcycle is a pretty straightforward piece of machinery, therefore a book discussing the value of life through the maintenance of a motorcycle was not going to be all that heavy. However, that is not the case. Pirsig was what I initially started reading, with his discussion on classical and romantic philosophy along with this bombshell of a revelation that he was on this motorcycle trip with his son after the doctors had suggested his son had a psychological problem, i had to step away. As the book turned  dark and heavy and philosophical, traveling in Central America also began to take its own toll. I switched over to Ocean in the hopes of a reprieve.

Gaimans’ novel was a short fiction and it is by far way better then American Gods, though the two really can’t be compared. Ocean is a piece of work that fits into the coming of age genre of reading, in fact, I was surprised it was an Adult fiction and not a young adult fiction genre given that it deals with this transition from childhood to adulthood, from the magical to the rational, from reverence to disgust. American Gods is a critique on social constructs, in particular, our beliefs and faith and religion as much as it about a man finding his inner soul and redeeming himself.

“Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet,” Neil Gaiman writes in his fantastical, if not whimsical novel about a child’s struggle to accept whether there is truly an ocean at the end of the lane, or just a mere pond. With that I began a journey to my own childhood memories while I was journeying through Central America.

There were similarities between me and the narrator recollecting his childhood- the boy was a reader and took consolation in book, he lived his life through those books but with a degree of comfort; the boy had a relationship with his parents that drastically changed; and, like the narrator as a man, his childhood memories seem murky. While traveling I experienced a set of challenges that required me to step away, yet Ocean was stepping into a set of other challenges that I was not fully prepared to deal with.

Childhood memories to me are a difficult thing, like High School, childhood memories are things I am happy not to recollect. To that end I am able to relate to the adult narrator too because he admits to not being able to recollect things from his childhood; to be confused by what he saw and experienced. That makes it easy to accept his recollections of his childhood and not question the illogical or irrational world that Gaiman weaves, but at the same time it brings to question the idea of what makes our memories reliable.

Reading Gaiman is not an exercise in logic or rational thinking, that is better left to Pirsig; however, I do have to question some of his plot structure that leaves holes, like the reason why the Hempstocks, who witnessed the big bang, men go off and never seem to find their way back. There has to be some sort of tying up the plot line on things like this that are brought up by Gaiman, or else its just a bare thread left to let a curious cat unravel a well woven tapestry.

Regardless the shortcomings, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a wonderful short fiction that I found challenging to read on a personal level, but filled with brilliance on a literary level. I said it before, I liked Ocean far more then American Gods, Gaimans more popular and critically acclaimed book. As for the Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance, by Prisig, I am still working on finishing it up and will let you know how it goes.

A New Family Member

 

Well not really, she’s a kitten. I don’t think of cats (pets) as “family members” in that way, however, it has won over a piece of my heart with its fuzzy-wuzzy-ness. Though I need to put it on the record, kittens (cats) and I have had a formal agreement to keep to our own spaces and commit to not wandering inadvertently into each others paths. That is being tested.

It all started with Akasha, my cousins Persian cat, and continued with my one of post-college roommates’ kitten. He had gotten married and had some visa issues for his Canadian spouse, but while we were still living together waiting to get that visa thing resolved and he was preparing to start his life with his wife, he got a kitten. That kitten peed all over my stuff, it marked up my shoes, and deflated some air furniture I was overly attached too. It was not the kittens fault, it wasn’t my room mates fault. I thought the kitten was cute, but I also decided in that brief period of time we were together that kittens, cats, were just not my thing. The smell of their litter, the idea of cleaning up their poop, the whole ordeal of having a living thing with its own unique set of personality and character traits living with me…. So maybe my attitude towards it affected how it behaved towards me? Cats have that sense, right?

Oh crap, yes, I realized what you realized right now. I realized that if I had such a hard time compromising my lifestyle to accommodate a cat, how in the world would/could I accommodate my life to a significant other (and children)? And cats, they don’t require a fraction as much accommodation as a human relationships would require!

Meet Khaleesi Moochi aka My Existential Crisis Incarnated

Could it be that pets are in a way an indicator of whether or not I am ready for marriage? I hope not. Because I see pets as a preference of sorts. I also think marriage, and childrearing, is completely different then having pets. Lots of people today would have you believe that their pets are their children, and thats a luxury we have in the United States because of our affluence. But go to any developing country, people there will think you are one of the crazies.

I won’t pass judgement on people though. You like to treat your pets like human children go right ahead, there is a huge market that is waiting for your hard earned dollars, and well its capitalism. But I do have to say this recent realization I had with the presence of Khaleesi Moochi, aka Furry Baby, my sisters kitten, threw me for spin. I am not certain what to make of it.

Khaleesi is only two months old. She is a very cute little fur ball. I like to feel her paws on my hands, the padding and her light footedness amaze me. She also runs into my room to hide under the bed when she’s interacting with Middle Shaikh. Khaleesi is peculiar in her habits, but in that way all cats have unique personalities that are apparent, but none the less her peculiarities have fascinated me.

I found myself not to fond of her jumping around on the sofas, or the smell of her litter box, or hearing her meowing at night, and slowly I began to realize that all the reservations I had for getting a kitten were deeply rooted in my earlier experiences from ten years ago.

The Trinity of a Relationship, With Furry Baby?

Compromise, accommodation, and mutual respect are the things that come up as being important in any relationship. There are other important things as well, like you have to have some mutual hinge factor; like you need to keep some mystery in the game; like you need to change things up. But the important things are compromise, accommodation and mutual respect.

If I can’t compromise over the kitten, accommodate the kitten in my life, and respect that the kitten is an animal with built in behaviors and instincts like mine, how can I have a successful life with someone else? Khaleesi is my sisters kitten, however, she’s part of the environment we share at home. Therefore the ideas of compromise, accommodation, and mutual respect come into play first with my sister and then with Khaleesi.

Its crazy that a kitten would lead to an existential crisis, its no fault of Khaleesi, but if anything she might have led me to a very deep point of self evaluation because I was already raw from my experiences over the summer (here and here).

Its a funny thing too because I was out of the country on my Central America adventure (link coming soon) when my sister brought Khaleesi home. When I got back we left for Zion National Park, and I was dealing with a lot of processing from Central America, from my time at Union Theological Seminary, and my own life concerns. So I am in a vulnerable place and am not surprised at all that my interaction with a the fur ball would lead me to be asking this big question about relationships, evaluating my own readiness (desire) for commitment, and investment in wanting to be in one.

On the Art of Reflection: Or, After Guatemala

“My action item when I get back home from Central America is to force myself to reflect,” I had triumphantly shared to the Delegation group in our last wrap up reflection session right before my early morning departure from Guatemala City. But in my mind, as I sit on the flight back to LAX, I have self doubt.

I had explained to the group that my goal was limited to reflection because I hardly had that reflective time during the trip. Maybe by digging deeper into my own experiences I can produce meaningful understanding, thereby having impactful sharing. Plus, I elected to take up the role of (un)official photographer and videographer.

My action item seemed so inconsequential in comparison to what I had internalized as the actions required of me. How do I reconcile those two places I feel I am caught between? The place where I know that I need to do more then reflect, but at the same time, I feel paralyzed by my inability to have reflected. How do I get from the act of reflection, to intentional action? I hope to do reflect on that thought process here in this blog post.

But before you go on check out some background on the Root Causes Delegation here as well as my preparation for the trip here.

Deflecting the Task of Reflection

DebAvery_ShaikhDoingStuff

While I was happy to volunteer for those duties, it followed a tried and successful deflection. Keeping busy doing something is easier for me then the harder job of making sense of what I experienced. I came face to face with this possibility that volunteering might be a form of deflection on this trip, when visiting the Casa di Migrante in Gautemala City, I heard an incredibly gruesome story of a fourteen year old migrants harrowing story. The story was so disturbing that I stopped doing what I was doing and began to pack and unpack stuff just to not allow myself to let the story sink in to my psyche.

This was an intense story where I got to experience first hand my knee-jerk reaction. It got me thinking to the more subtle behaviors I may employ without being conscious of my behavior. I wanted to see the world, I wanted to get my questions answered, and while I asked questions, and I wanted to learn from outside of my experiences in the United States. Traveling to Central America, getting my questions answered, and experiencing people and culture first had been an incredible blessing, even if and when I felt challenged by it. The thing was taking pictures allowed me to become part of the background, when I felt most challenged. Thats what photography is about, a photographer stands in the background, not completely part of the scene but not completely removed. In a sort of borderland, which appears to be a constant narrative to my life.

GoProShaikh_SanPedroSula_Honduras

Its not to say that I am a bad photographer, nor is it to say that there aren’t skills and benefits to this task, or that I didn’t offer something to the group, and definitely not to suggest that I was removed from the delegation and folks we met with. In fact, at times I felt like I was in the center of things because of what I was doing and had a responsibility for doing things right. I just feel that I need to call myself out, and challenge my comfortability mechanism in this post because I believe that we need to be critical with ourselves, especially since I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.

I did this act of deflection once before, on my trip to Pakistan in 2008. I learned and experienced a lot, yet when I got back, I got back into the forward flow of my life and work. Even if I desired to process my experience, I let go of it because the forward moment was easier to flow with. The reality then was that I was grieving; I didn’t want to remember everything, I didn’t want to look at the bittersweet memories from my trip to Pakistan.

They are still painful. I lost an Aunt to cancer (here), something that could have been treated had it not been misdiagnosed. I had hung out with family members, cousins, after years of only hearing their names and stories. Those were good memories. All of it, however, was tinged with death. It was easier to busy myself then to remember. And I fear that this is the pattern that has developed since then, its easier to get back into the forward movement of life then to reflect and remember deeply on the past. I am not the only one that does this, but I acknowledge it here because I intend to change.

A Divine Mandate to Reflect

In Central America I ran into lots of heartache, loss, pain, and enough suffering to rise up to the heavens an escalator for people on the receiving end of that suffering. Those are all things I would rather forget because I can’t do anything to alleviate the suffering. I want to focus on the friends I made, I want to focus on the laughs I had, I want to focus on the strength I came into contact with. But all of this is tied to the suffering, grief, and structural issues.

I am incompetent to the structural causes. Yet, I had made a promise to not only remember but to share, which involves understanding and identifying the structural causes of the migration out of the United States. Yet the road from learning to action requires reflection, and I turn to my faith to help me through this, to help make reflection a part of my worship.

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The Quran is unequivocal when it calls upon humans to reflect on the signs of Allah- “signs” here signifying Divine creation- in order to straighten their faith. In fact, I would argue that the Quran doesn’t want Muslims to have blind faith, that it requires Muslims to test their faith through reflective and introspective processes, as well as sacrifices and acts of self disciplining.

In fact, the Quran resorts to name calling for people that do not think, use reason, reflect on creation- referring to them as cattle, or as being ‘deaf’, ‘dumb’, ‘blind’ and ‘dead-hearted’ but worse, Allah goes on to say that “they are even farther astray from the Path” (25:44) because they hold on to beliefs like livestock. The lesson here is that livestock has no sense of where the herder is herding them, to the fields or the slaughterhouse, it matters not because they are driven by their immediate needs.

What differentiates humans from animals then, according to the Quran, is that Allah has endowed us with intellect, the ability to reason. The question becomes where and how to use this intellect. For this God very emphatically tells us that it is to be used in the service of faith (and society), in sifting through wrong by upholding right, chasing after the secrets of creation in the universe because it is through this process that we become closer to creation and therefore the Creator. These are some of the things that the Quran lists. But how does reflection work with intellect?

Where does reflection fit into our rational world?

SarahLee_reflecting_Honduras

We live in a rational world, one in which we are required to be analytical and logical. That might not leave room for reflection, something that deals with emotions and feelings, right? We have a systemized methodology for thinking through things on a basis of trial and error, that is supposed to deliver the cold rational, removing the feelings and emotions.

Kant is considered one of the founders of Western philosophy and in particular his ‘Critique of Reason’ stands as the cornerstone for this rational process. In it Kant supported ideas for a scientific logical and rational thinking approach, enabling reasoned thinking. But the process of giving reason a structure requires reflection. I feel that the reflective process then is something that deserves more structure, at least for me, to help in approaching without getting lost in the jumbled tangled thoughts.

For starters when I leave reflection as a passive assignment, I tend never to get around to doing it. Mostly, I spend a lot of time thinking things through in my head but eventually I may only remember the final conclusion I arrived at, more often then not, I always find myself muddled by the process that got me to the conclusion.

Other times, I find myself following thoughts I had on my experiences, from one tangent to the next, and then asking myself “wait, what as I thinking about?” This is one reason why I write things down in a journal, or create To Do lists, and another reason why I believe in keeping planners. I just can’t keep things straight in my head. And when I leave my reflection process in my head, I often get incredibly lost.

A Theory of Reflection

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For this post, I decided that I wanted to offer something more then just my reflection on “reflection”. I did some Google searching, and I found Jeff Mitchells’ blogpost on the Coach Tool website, Reflection as a Coach Development Tool, as a fairly comprehensive theory based presentation on reflection. I took the liberty to excerpt a portion that summarized clearly the process I had in mind:

“Reflection has been described as a process that helps turn experience into knowledge (Gilbert & Trudel, 2001) and involves thought and exploration of a concept or event (Gray, 2007)… The work of Schon is often used as a base for discussing reflective practice. Schon discussed the different ways in which practitioners […] could reflect on their professional practice, in a practical environment (as opposed to purely theoretical). He identified ‘knowing-in-action’ which is the professional knowledge [used in daily practice] (Ghaye & Ghaye, 1998). This form of knowledge is based on a reflection of what [a person does], and is often difficult to explain, however it can be seen in how [someone] acts. It involves craft knowledge, and [life] experiences, values and prejudices (Anderson, et al., 2004).”

Mitchell goes on to outline a structure, which reflection can be approached from. He names two time frames for reflection- ‘Reflection-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action’; one takes place while you’re in the midst of things, the other after the fact. I find that I did a good job of reflection-in-action, writing thoughts down in my Field Notes notebook, and also writing follow up questions for myself to figure out. But now I need to do the reflection-on-action, this is where I need the most help!

Mitchell offers that in theory. He goes on to the more important aspect of how you go from your experience toward a critical decision or action stage by using reflective techniques during the reflect-on-action stage:

“There are three levels of reflection that are explained in the literature, these being technical reflection, practical reflection and critical reflection (Manen, 1977). Technical reflection looks at achieving objectives, and focuses on the effective and efficient use of knowledge (Cassidy, Jones, & Potrac, 2004). At this level the objectives and use of these methods are not questioned. At the practical level [you] will examine the objectives and goals, and analysis [the players] as people, looking at the assumptions that they bring to the […] environment. At the critical level of reflection, the [you] will focus on the moral, ethical and political meaning of the knowledge they use and the authority involved.”

Mitchell is talking about a coaching tool specifically, however, I find that the discussion isn’t limited to the profession of coaching. Reflection is very much a key component for every profession, here, I am applying reflection to my experiences in Central America, and more broadly to how I approach faith. The framework for all of this, however, diverging is still foundation-ally similar. We can agree on the framework, and then diverge on the appropriate tools utilized for reflection based on our needs.

It’s Time to Reflect: Tools for Reflecting

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I hope that through my reflection, I could help others with their approach towards reflection. Its a reminder for me first, but I feel I could do more. So here are some of the techniques I am utilizing to reflect. I found that these were techniques that I came to after trial and error and am still in the process of figuring out what could work better, your suggestions are greatly welcomed!

1. Experience Inventory Lists– I couldn’t get myself to really dig deep into reflection on my trip, because of other obligations that had to be jumped on immediately upon arrival at LAX. So I gave myself single pages with list prompts on top in my dedicated Field Notes notebook. Examples of these prompts include the following: “On this trip I wish…”; “Things I took for granted before this trip…”; and “Things i didn’t expect to learn…”. This becomes memory holders for me, because when I look back and read these lists I trigger memories and thoughts that I might not have had. In fact, I feel like the listing could also spur internal conversations where I have to ask myself questions like “What the heck was I thinking about when I listed this item here…”. This processing can trigger thoughts that help me make sense of what I learned, heard, and experienced connecting it to news and experiences I am living through at the moment.

2. ∆+ (delta plus analysis) – Sometimes its hard to even start with the lists. Sometimes you might just feel more comfortable to think back on your experience in terms of how you felt things went, how you could have done something differently, or maybe how wonderfully one experience was and identifying what made it so wonderful. This has helped to trigger stories and recollect certain things that I had not written down or thought of as being important during my trip to Central America. In fact, this was the first thing I did while flying back to LAX.

3. Dedicated Reflective time– The idea of reflection is either romanticized or its thought to be so straightforward as to happen inside your head at any given time. When we romanticize the idea of reflection we build up these ideals about how and where reflection takes place. Usually for me it happens in two places- out in nature where I am sitting alone or in some coffee shop with the right music, the perfect cup of coffee and absolutely all the free time in the world one could possibly have. In terms of being alone in nature, I think of the Prophet Muhammad in the cave of Hira or Prophet Moses herding the flock of sheep without a soul other then their own around. Given these conditions its no wonder I hardly gain any constructive reflective time. When I am adventuring in nature its with friends and family and most National Parks it requires backcountry backpacking to get away from the maddening crowds. And I don’t go to coffee shops to sit down and reflect, if I am lucky I get a few hours to study and then off to the next task. I realized, if I don’t build in dedicated time to sit and reflect, I just won’t get around to doing it. So each day I give my self thirty minutes to do #1, #2, and #5 from this list.

4. Gibbs Reflection Cycle– I was introduced to Gibbs Reflection Cycle while at UCSD. Graham Gibbs, Learning By Doing, is actually available for free here.  I didn’t put much effort toward practicing what I learned. However, I feel upon further trial and error on things that help the reflective process, I found myself going back to the Gibbs Cycle because of the structure it provides. I will leave the details for you to read in his book, but the gist of the cycle is that you begin by giving a description of your experience, then move into providing some associated feelings, then you evaluate where those feelings arise from out of the description of the experience you gave. From this evaluation you draw conclusions and then, finally, you draw action items. The idea being that the best way to learn is from experience, and reflecting on your experience will provide you with a definite action plan. Since I have been doing some of the other suggestions from this list, I am beginning to get to the point where I can start working through this cycle based on topics, meetings I had in Central America. However, this requires way more then the half hour time I am dedicating to reflection.

5. The Opposite Approach– I also seem to function well when I make lists of questions I still have. This helps me identify what was the muddiest part of what I heard, saw, discussed, during my experience. It identifies the holes I have in my understanding. I actually ended up doing this a lot in Honduras because the experience there seemed to me to be very much convoluted. But the idea was by identifying what I didn’t understand, I began to get a good idea of what I did understand.

Books to Read Before Your Guatemala Vacation

 

Reading lists and I are like the Supreme Court and the Constitution (here), so any organization that takes me around meeting amazing folks and sharing wonderful things and analysis about Guatemala, AND puts together a reading list on the country, gets lots of brownie points from me. Said organization is CEDEPCA- Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America, based out of Guatemala City.

Guatemala City

CEDEPCA strives to connect individuals and faith communities in the United States to the mission of CEDEPCA in Central America, through education, networking, fundraising and accompaniment. What is there mission? Well check out there website here and below is a pretty lengthy reading list, a Guatemala Primer of sorts for you to check out before your visit to Guatemala!

There are some books on the CEDEPCA list that can be found on the Root Causes of Migration People of Faith (picture above at the Guatemala City CEDEPCA office) reading list I put together earlier in my trip, check it out here.

  1. The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics (The Latin America Readers) by Greg Grandin, Deborah T. Levenson and Elizabeth Oglesby. Duke University Press, 2011.
  2. Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, 1944-1954. Piero Gleijeses. Princeton University Press, 1991.
  3. Bitter Fruit: The Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala. Stephen Kinzer & Stephen Schlesinger, Doubleday, 1982, 255 pp. Details the 1954 coup which involved the CIA and the United Fruit Company; very helpful for understanding the current reality.
  4. I, Rigoberta Menchu (An Indian Woman in Guatemala).
    Rigoberta Menchú, Ed. Burgos-Debray, Thetford Press Ltd., 1984, 247 pp. Autobiography of the 1992 Nobel Peace Laureate.
  5. Stubborn Hope: Religion, Politics, and Revolution in Central America. Phillip Berryman, Orbis Books, 1994, 244 pp. — A comprehensive analysis of the dynamic interplay between religion and politics in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
  6. Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala. Daniel Wilkinson. Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
  7. Re-Enchanting the World: Maya Protestantism in the Guatemalan Highlands. C. Mathews Samson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007.
  8. The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? by Francisco Goldman.  Bishop Juan Gerardi, Guatemala’s leading human rights activist, was bludgeoned to death in his garage on a Sunday night in 1998, two days after the presentation of a groundbreaking church-sponsored report implicating the military in the murders and disappearances of some two hundred thousand civilians. Realizing that it could not rely on police investigators or the legal system to solve the murder, the church formed its own investigative team, a group of secular young men in their twenties who called themselves Los Intocables (the Untouchables). Known in Guatemala as “The Crime of the Century,” the Bishop Gerardi murder case, with its unexpectedly outlandish scenarios and sensational developments, confounded observers and generated extraordinary controversy. In his first nonfiction book, acclaimed novelist Francisco Goldman has spoken to witnesses no other reporter has reached, and observed firsthand some of the most crucial developments in the case. Now he has produced The Art of Political Murder, a tense and astonishing true detective story that opens a window on the new Latin American reality of mara youth gangs and organized crime, and tells the story of a remarkable group of engaging, courageous young people, and of their remarkable fight for justice. 2008.
  9. Gift of the Devil: A History of Guatemala. Jim Handy, South End Press, 1984, 319 pp. Very readable.
  10. What Prize Awaits Us: Letters From Guatemala Berniece Kita, Orbis, 1988, 213 pp. Through her letters, a North American nun shares what it was like to live in an isolated Mayan village from 1977-1983 through some of Guatemala’s worst years.
  11. Threatened with Resurrection: Prayers & Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan. Julia Esquivel, Brethren Press, Elgin, IL, 1982.
  12. The Certainty of Spring: Poems by a Guatemalan in Exile. Julia Esquivel, EPICA, Wash, DC, 1983.
  13. Guatemala: Politics of Land. Margarita and Thomas Melville. Penguin. (Also under the name Whose Heaven and Whose Earth by Orbis Press, 1971)
  14. Robbed of Humanity, Lives of Guatemalan Street Children. Nancy Leigh Tierney, Pangaea Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1997.
  15. Love in a Fearful Land, A Guatemalan Story. Henri Nouwen. 1985. True story of two priests in Santiago Atitlán. 
  16. The Grandaughters of Ixmucané; Guatemalan Women Speak. Emilie Smith-Ayala, Women’s Press, Toronto, 1991. Interviews with Guatemalan women, many of whom are still visible in public life in 2000.
  17. America’s Watch for Human Rights Annual Report on Guatemala.
    Phone: 212-972-8400. (I need to clarify this item but for now I will leave it here)
  18. A Beauty that Hurts: Life and Death in Guatemala. Lovell, W. George. Between the Lines, Toronto, Canada, 1995.
  19. Conquest and Survival in Colonial Guatemala: A Historical Geography of the Cuchumatan Highlands. Lovel, George. McGill-Queen’s University Press; Kingston, ON Canada, 1992.
  20. The Wounds of Manuel Saquic: Biblical Reflections from Guatemala. Manley, Jim. United Church Publishing House; Ontario, Canada. 1997.
  21. Bridge of Courage- Life Stories of the Guatemalan Compañeros & Compañeras Harbury, Jennifer. Common Courage Press; Monroe, Maine. 1995.
  22. Guatemalan Women Speak. Hooks, Margaret. EPICA; Washington, DC. 1993.
  23. The Long Night of the White Chickens. Goldman, Francisco. Grove Press, New York. 1992.
  24. The Risk of Returning. Rudy and Shirley Nelson 2014.
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