Showing posts from 2010

New adventures

Since last writing, I've (in chronological order): gotten engaged, finished my M.P.H., and agreed to teach an undergraduate women's studies course in Spring semester.

I'd be lying if I said I weren't a little terrified right now.

There will be more of substance later.


In the past week, due to class conversations and recent events, I've been hovering around the two memories that most defined my time in college.

The first was a few weeks after the start of my freshman year. Just after Bishop Gene Robinson had been ordained as the bishop of New Hampshire (Side note: what does it say about the Church that Bishop Robinson is retiring early because he's tired of death threats?). The speaker was someone working with a ministry to distribute Bibles throughout sub Saharan Africa. In his presentation, this man displayed a photo of some leaders of the Anglican Church in Rwanda accepting copies of the Bible. He turned away from the photo and said "See, the Anglican church in the rest of the world isn't like this lily-white fagot Episcopal church in the US." As my mouth dropped open in shock, applause resonated through the auditorium for several minutes.
A few weeks later, an ECUSA bumper sticker turned up on my truck.

The second? My junio…

On educational institutions of different sorts.

I had to start this post with a reminder to myself that it's wisest not to name names and point fingers here. If you're reading, odds are you know where I did my BS degree,and that it wasn't a good fit, for numerous reasons. There's no need for me to plaster that information on the internet to be found by search engines- While my experience at said Small Christian Liberal Arts College wasn't exceptional, it was hardly typical either, and I won't depict it as such.

Their quarterly update came in the mail this week, complete with a piece welcoming the class of 2014. It included statements from faculty and convocation speakers such as "I'm interested in giving students a vision of how to live well, not just for the next four years but for the next 60." and "You are being prepared to live in these times and shape these times...a [name of institution] education does equip you for future careers. But its major purpose is a development of t…

jigsaw puzzle

It takes a while for me to piece things together. Or things that I see and read fit together in odd ways.

Today I was handed another piece of a puzzle, and I don't particularly like how it fits. A priest-friend was telling me about his "bring an atheist to church" day planned for next week. There's an atheist gentleman in town attempting to raise money for the local free clinic. He does so by agreeing to attend a religious service/event for a $20 donation. I'm a little floored at this, because it sounds to me that this gentleman is trying to "trick" Christians into doing something I think they should be doing already. *Long sigh*

A couple weeks ago, I was in church, and one of the readings was the parable of the Good Samaritan. I mused that the Good Samaritan was an interesting metaphor for social workers and public health professionals - condemned by the vocal, prideful, self-righteous religious people. Likewise, the social workers and public health p…

a transcript from my journal

Maybe the biggest thing I've learned from this time is how thankful I am not to be a Belizean woman.

The stories of the women in my focus group were of emotional abandonment and bullying husbands (and other relatives).
Ms. Else's story- that she's finally leaving the man she's been with for the past 19 years (who's been married to someone else that entire time.) "I swear to God, when I got pregnant and found out he was married, I was going to have an abortion. But he wanted this baby...he wanted a son, so I stayed. He never disrespected me, and he cared for my kids, so I stayed, because he already had use of my body." 19 years...of watching your partner have a family with someone else and trying not to interfere with that family...of settling for scraps of attention and money in order to raise 8 children. "he came to me twice , back to back with no money, and I told him 'we can make love on an empty belly but your son can't live with an empty…

Tikal and Flores

Last weekend I opted to play a bit- which meant joining my housemates for a random jaunt down to Guatemala to visit Flores and Tikal.Somehow, I managed to be the person with both the best Spanish language skills and best sense of direction, which made for a slightly less restful trip than I would have liked.

While crossing the Guatemala border, I received a nasty bite on my right toe from a giant red leafcutter ant (not the scientific term). Yet another reason Chacos are wonderful....when my toe swelled up to nearly twice its original size, I simply could adjust my shoe.

We planned to take the 5AM shuttle to Tikal, in hopes of catching the animals out and about. A brilliant idea, except that as of 4AM there was an intense thunderstorm happening. One of my housemates wakes up, and we question the wisdom of heading off to see a (rather tall) Mayan ruin in the middle of a storm. Stumble to the hostel desk and try to explain to the clerk that we'd like to cancel our shuttle reservati…

When it all comes together

T. and J. were doing HIV outreach at the market on Saturday. Afterwards, J. was telling me about a young man, obviously gay, who approached them. She mentioned his false guilt- "I heard it started in the gay community" family stigma- "if my family found out I was gay, they'd run me out of town" and the vague "I don't really know you, but I had some rough stuff happen as a kid."

I growled about the fact that this community doesn't have many resources available for people like this man, and said "I'm sure he's seen some horrible stuff. Think about the numbers for domestic violence in this country (close to 50% of homes. Keep in mind that domestic violence is underreported, because it's a socially undesirable behavior). J. mentions the violent drawings produced by kids in summer camp, and I snarl for the women in my focus group who were bullied by their husbands and in-laws and for Friday's experience in the park and the fact…

Things that make you think twice.

I can't not talk about Friday morning...
Having spent a couple mornings at the park by the police station, I decided to try my luck at the park across from the market. I got there, and found a parkbench, and started scoping the place out. Pulled out my journal, jotted a few notes. Random guy on a bike comes by, says "I don't mean no disrespect, but I think you're incredibly gorgeous. Just wanted to make your day." Okay...whatever, I can deal with that. He comes by a second time, and says something else...I decide if I have random people approaching me, I need to ask them to do a survey (seems reasonable, I've had decent success with this tactic dealing with tour guides downtown) Well...I start my survey, and I get to the question on marital status, and he asks if I want to marry him. I....remain as professional as possible, smile, and inform him that my boyfriend would have some issues with that. I keep going, and get to the question about "do you intend…

Another day, another scramble for data

Lately it seems I have more stories than time for blogging.
So...yesterday, I went back to stalking the OB-GYN.
It seems we had a miscommunication. I assumed that because I called him on his office phone to set an appointment, we were meeting between 8-9 at his office. He assumed that I knew he'd be at the hospital, and was meeting him there.
Regardless, I caught him yesterday morning, on his way to the hospital. He asked me if I wanted to come along with him, and I agreed. Hopped in the car, and started the interview....we arrived at the hospital, and I stopped the recorder, as he gave me a tour...emergency room, labor and recovery, and then the maternal and child health hall, where his office is. People lined up literally up and down the hallway. He shows me into his office, where we're suddenly joined by a medical student from the UK who's shadowing/assisting for the day.
I continue my interview, he's rather unhurried, despite the throngs of patients sitting j…

The focus group that almost wasn't.

So....I pitched my project to the women's group last week. In two languages, with a cutesy handout. N. made reminder phone calls today, telling women that group starts at 4:15. We wandered down about 4:30 (this is Belize). I'm braced to lead a bilingual focus group, if need be.The women's computer class is finishing up, and suddenly, a woman we'll call Miss Faith (not her real name) wanders in. And her intentions are mutinous. She informs N. that she's not coming, not this week, and not next week, because she's not interested in the group topics. She doesn't care about poetry or abortion (?! N and I are still confused as to why she thought group was about abortion). And family planning is good for young women to talk about, but she's already done with that, and they need to learn about cooking and how to make money. Miss Faith continues with hardly a breath - the group needs to decide what to talk about, Nora shouldn't be calling people about meetin…


You'll be happy to know that the plumbing is working.
And that today I was able to turn two solicitations from tour guides into surveys (without booking a tour).
It's funny....I was concerned about the fact that I wasn't offering incentives for this project, and how that would affect participation. (Being a young woman traveling alone, it just struck me as rather unwise to offer incentives. Kind of like an invitation for a mugging, y'know?) But for the most part, all I have to say is "hi, I'm a student from the US trying to learn about your community, do you have a couple minutes to answer a few questions?" People often volunteer more information than I ask, and expect me to sit around and listen to stories...about their son in Chicago, their brother's custody hearing, plans for a spouse's education...and they're full of advice.

Some serious excitement over the world cup here. Neighbors blasted music into the early hours of the morning for tw…

Tales of Belizean plumbing

You knew it couldn't be that easy, right?
The plumber came, about noon on Friday. He left us a bathroom covered in raw sewage. T. cleaned the bathroom....and a couple hours later we discovered the toilet is still not working. Then SA went to take a shower in the bathroom with the working toilet. And the shower wont't catch- it insists on coming out as bath water. We don't even have a bathtub stopper here. J. attempts to resurrect the shower, no luck. It is 8pm on friday night, and we are down to one working toilet (in a bathroom with a broken shower and half-draining sink) and one working sink (in a bathroom with a half-draining shower and a broken toilet). For eight people. Attempted to go to the store to put credit on the volunteer cellphone, and Cost Less Mart was closed. This morning....well, Cost Less insisted that they don't sell phone credit. Phone credit was purchased elsewhere, the director was phoned, and she very casually said that she'd let the landlor…


I was supposed to do my first interview yesterday, which didn't quite turn out to be a complete bust. The interview subject had no real experience with my topic,but gave me a referral that might pan out. Also, I took a wrong turn and in wandering around spotted a women's health doc who may be worth talking to.

That was about 3PM- while I was out T(the one male volunteer presently in the house) managed to stop up one of the toilets. He ran up the hill to the store to get a plunger, which quickly inverted, proving useless. Supposedly Cornerstone called a plumber who was supposed to come yesterday evening....but this is Belize. So it's 9AM and we're still down to one toilet for 8 people in the volunteer house. Still have two showers though, thankfully. The one fully functional bathroom requires a treck through my current bedroom- which has four girls sharing bunkbeds and little space (I should post pictures). We've spread out, because getting dressed, showering, teeth…


Right now I'm sitting at Flayva's (which used to be Eva's, if you happen to be checking a Belize tour guide). Just polished off an awesome lime juice, and am making my way through a plate of nachos. Ah well...I'll burn those calories in the hike up the hill.

I was supposed to run a focus group today. It's M's (the program coordinator here) birthday. And she was supposed to be leading women's group. So N (the main volunteer working with the women's group) and I thought we'd give her the evening off. Women's group was supposed to meet at 4:30, and, this being Latin America, no one showed up until 5. And in comes M, with a folder. She does a lesson on self esteem, self confidence, public speaking and poetry reading (involving US pop songs, of all things) and doesn't finish up until 6:30. I laugh, and introduce myself and my project to the four women there. One of whom only speaks Spanish. And- even though M is a native Belizean, who grew up in…


And have arrived.
Cornerstone's relocated, to a much nicer facility. I'm almost in shock at how nice it is. No AC and no hot water, but otherwise, pretty much comparable to my apartment. Well, minus the sharing it with 7 other people part.

Right now I'm running through previous women's program projects, trying to get familiar with what other Cornerstone volunteers have done.Orientations to the town, staff, culture to come.

I've established a pretty good rapport with the office staff here. Showing up with craft supplies and condoms helped with generating goodwill. Thankfully, their schedule for me looks about like what I had envisioned- a week of getting my feet on the ground+prep work, and then roughly 3 weeks to do everything I want to.

And so it begins.

And we're off....

Blogging from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, with the help of wi-fi (that's a little pricier than my Scotch genes like) and the tech support of my significant other. Flight to Belize leaves at 12:30 Central time, so I've got a couple minutes.

And so far, so good.
Granted, any day that starts with kissing your best friend and the partner in the majority of your life's adventures goodbye is less than great.

Made it to the Columbia Airport in time to check in for my 6AM flight. This was also well before the security checkpoint opened (someone explain that to me....) so I had some quiet, slow moments. If you've ever been around me in the early morning, you'll be as grateful for this as I was.

Once in security, they confiscated my jar of peanut butter. Seriously- airport personnel were not sympathetic to my complaints about how expensive it is in Belize. They offered me the option of checking my bag, which I was not about to do on an international flight. (And yes, I …


I'm....leaving in the morning. In the insanely early hours of the morning. To Belize, for 30 days of doing research...interviews, surveys, a focus group....trying to find out a little more about what it's like to be human, to have a family in Belize.
I hesitate to write more than this for confidentiality purposes.
But I am hoping to be able to jot down some stories and general impressions here.
For now, though, I'm going to enjoy my last few hours with someone incredibly dear to me, who I can't wait to see on the other side of this month.

Abstinence-only Sex Education, Part 3

Continuing on....trying to write up a fair history of the high points of the religious abstinence-only movement. As seems to be typical (just a general observation, no stats to back this up) the Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics have been the big players in this movement.
Much of this is taken from the website of Lifeway, the Southern Baptist publishing company (

In 1987, the Christian sex education project began, led by Jimmy Hester. He and Richard Ross successfully pitched the True Love Waits project to the Southern Baptists in 1992. From a 1994 article in First Things it seems that the motivation behind True Love Waits was to increase teens' perceptions of peer support for abstinence. True Love Waits launched in 1993 in Nashville, TN. By 1993, 100,000 virginity pledge cards had been signed as part of True Love Waits. Personally, I tend to remember True Love Waits more for huge symbolic demonstrations ("Let's stack virginity pl…

Abstinence-only Sex Ed, part 2

Okay. Now that we all know what I think about abstinence-only sex ed, it's time to backtrack and talk about the history of the sex-ed movement, and some of the things that have happened there. This post seems to have gotten bewilderingly long somehow, so I think I'll keep this limited to a brief overview/explanation of history. Part 3 will deal with the evaluation and effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention programs and part 4 will be centered on my personal response (or, alternatively, part 4 will describe what I believe to be the more typical evangelical response, and part 5 will elaborate on my own views). I reserve the right to change the outline of proposed posts as content gets overwhelming.

Health educators became concerned about teen pregnancy in the 1970s (Kirby,Barth, Leland,Fetro 1991). Additionally, the HIV epidemic of the 1980s heightened awareness of the importance of using sex education as a tool for reducing risky sexual behavior (Kirby,et al., 1991). In 199…


Stepping away for a moment from orderly thoughts on health, education, life and faith. I need to talk for a few minutes without carefully choosing my words- because this is one case where caution and logic may completely obscure what I have to say.

In January of 2009, I began an MPH program with eight women who were strangers to me. Just over a week ago, we turned in comprehensive exams, and in a matter of days we're going to arrive at a new place in life- one in which we don't run into each other in hallways in between classes, without group homework and exam sessions,and no place for panicked phone calls because some professor's directions weren't clear. I'm shocked at how differently I feel now, compared to finishing my B.S. So many of my emmotions are a blur of confusion, fear, loss- as compared to the sense of freedom and relief I felt at the end of my time at my undergrad institution. Those eight women are the reason for my current vague emmotional disarray.

Abstinence-only Sex Ed, part 1

The post that follows is a piece written as an Op-Ed sort of assignment for my Community Health Development class. There are some (many?) health issues on which my position is rather different than that of the Religious Right/Evangelical crowd in which I grew up. It's intriguing that my own deeply held Christian faith drives me in radically different directions than what is typically considered "orthodox" by the loudest Christian voices out there. This is something I'll be exploring in this space for a while.

It is nearly universally agreed that some sort of sex education is necessary for teens. According to a poll by the Guttmacher Institute, 90% of parents of middle and high school students believe that sex education should be taught in school. The ongoing conversation revolves around what sort of education is appropriate, what topics should be included, and how it should be carried out. Not all sex education programs are equally effective.

Ideally, sex education…

a word from Thomas (Aquinas)

While I haven't read terribly much written by the good church father, he has influenced a huge chunk of what I've read both on natural law + ethics and the sacrament of Communion. I'm not entirely sure about this natural law thing and all the stuff about reason....but I do wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments about Communion. And several of my favorite hymns are translations of his work- including one we sang in church yesterday.

Now, my tongue, the mystery telling
of the glorious Body sing,
and the Blood, all price excelling,
which the gentiles' Lord and King,
in a Virgin's womb once dwelling,
shed for this world's ransoming.

Given for us, and condescending,
to be born for us below,
he, with men in converse blending,
dwelt the seed of truth to sow,
till he closed with wondrous ending
his most patient life of woe.

That last night, at supper lying,
'mid the twelve, his chosen band,
Jesus, with the law complying,
keeps the feast its rites demand;
then, mo…


Really the only word for the juxtaposition of a couple recent pieces in the NYT....

First off, Nick Kristof's awesome column today, calling out liberals for our snootiness towards evangelicals and pointing out the incredible humanitarian work carried out by religious institutions (yes, in spite of my theology/religious beliefs/practices, in this case it probably is more honest to identify myself as a liberal. Though I'm really part of the tiny demographic caught in the middle.).

Follow that up with a news piece from yesterday about how the anti-abortion movement has been targeting African-Americans with conspiracy theories and emotional manipulation. Rather than addressing the reality of higher teen pregnancy rates among African-American teens, and trying to prevent teen pregnancy, the response is "shut down the abortion clinics." I don't care if your manipulative, scheming tactic works to accomplish what you want ("saving lives" in this case), the ends…

Of Cults and Evangelicals

A little gem I caught on the radio on Ash Wednesday, of all things.

Initial thoughts are that there seem to be some serious human rights issues with the original Unification folks. Personally, I'm rather fond of my right to not be coerced into sex and my right to choose my partner. I understand that these people were acting out of faith and voluntarily surrendering those rights, but in my mind, it's still not okay (I also note NPR's commentary on the younger generation having more control over who their spouses are, which may mean the leadership has understood/acknowledged this concern). Also, from the brief news story, it seems that they don't believe one can be single and not go to hell. Yikes. Singles are ostracized enough without the religious overtones.

So many of the quotes in this piece- about family, about relationships- could have been lifted straight out of the Southeastern US Protestant Evangelical Subculture I grew up in.Even Schanker's quote:
You know you're doing what you're supposed to be when on a holiday you find yourself perfectly content in your pajamas at your laptop with a nasty cold, pecking away at a funding proposal.
So much to do. So much that deserves reflection and words.
Looking forward to Lent.

Anamnesis and Alzheimer's

Anamnesis is a big, churchy, scary word. It's an important word though,referring to making something present through memory. In particular, it is used to refer to the Mass, as a means of remembering and uniting with the sacrifice made by Christ. (per 1928 BCP "Wherefore O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before thy Divine Majesty, with these, thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee, the memorial which thy Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same." Verbose, but lovely)

The orderly procession of the church year is an extension of this thought- Advent, giving way to Christmas and Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity. Feasts,fasts, colors, images,…