Saturday, December 5, 2009

Long Hours

The last two days have been a balancing act. I've been making connections with Pagans and Indigenous people from all around the world, trying to balance my commitment to Raul, as a translator, my promise to NAIN as technical advisor, and the constant requests from URI to help, go here or there, do this or that. At the end of this third day I have finally been able to take a bit of time to gather my thoughts and write a report.

On the first day I was so busy that all Raul could do was point out a workshop or two he wanted to see (which we did)and then follow me around as I tried to be a dozen places at once working to find taping sites and arrange equipment. As a result neither of us ate at all after an early breakfast. By the time we made the Indigenous Reception at six we were both starving and, I fear, spent much time trying to look casual as we scarfed down everything offered, while talking with as many representatives as we could corner (who were also busy scarfing down everything available).

One of those was an Ainu elder from Japan who, despite his lack of English or Spanish, insisted on explaining that the sounds in the word "Ainu" represented a variety of concepts. The first of which was that the "ai" sound meant dirt, indicating that these people were the color of dirt and therefore of no value. The second was that the "a" meant elder when pronounced in a particular manner and "youth" when pronounced in another. The rest of the word meant "to listen to." Ergo, the Ainu could mean to listen to the youth or listen to the elders. This after a rather difficult translation by a young man who had apparently been brought along specifically as a translator. Of course it became my turn when Raul explained many of the concepts of his people's beliefs. The young man and I thanked each other profusely afterward, both of us exhausted by the effort to work with a vocabulary with which we were not particularly familiar.

The next morning Raul wanted to attend a morning ritual by Francois Paulette, a Dene (North American indigenous). I got there early and found Mr. Paulette sitting in a chair. I sat beside him and asked what he needed. He said, "you know, this is not how we normally do things. This is a bit strange." I asked him if he wanted a circle or wanted the chairs removed. He asked me what the protocol was. I told him it was whatever he wanted it to be. If he wanted a circle he would have one. He said that it would be nice, so I told the boys setting up the room that we needed a circle. They looked at me like I was crazy and replied that it wasn't called for in the set up. I said that Mr. Paulette had not understood that he needed to call for a special layout and that we would need a circle because that is the way we do things and to please make it so. They simply didn't seem to understand what we needed so I just asked everyone to move the chairs out of the way. The relief on Mr. Paulette's face was good to see.

He then asked me to get a bowl for him which I did and he began to tell a story about how he lived in the bush and lived in the old ways off the grid, raising his children in the same way. While he spoke he lit the sweet grass and explained smudging.

After that we all smudged and he began the ceremony by calling the east, naming its attributes and asking its blessing upon us. And so he did with the other directions as well. He then announced that the ceremony was over and thanked us all for our presence.

During the next two days I attended many more workshops and most of them were indigenous issues. No matter what the purpose of the gathering however, or who was doing it, from the opening ceremony of the Plenary to the smallest gathering they were careful to say what began to sound to me like a very formulaic phrase. "I would like to begin by thanking the people of this land for welcoming us here. I would thank the ancestors and the people who are here now for allowing us to use this land."

One image engraved in my mind is being so tired and in so much pain that I was just waiting for the opening Plenary to finish when a keynote speaker took the podium. His name was His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. He didn't talk as though talking from a prepared speach, Rather he talked to us. He said many things that were both funny and poinient but the one thing I remember most is his saying that when religion was dominated by people who were determined that their god was the only one right and true path and that everyone else was bound to hell, then there would truely be hell on Earth. There was a lot of nervous laughter but mine was not. I was awake and listening and for just a moment my mind was removed from the pain that had plagued me all day.

From an outsider's point of view it is very hard to tell what is residual anger and what is earned indignation, but there are some clear issues at this Parliament around the indigenous presence. I saw an indigenous person lobby for inappropriate force of action in a workshop and then enter a reception and clean out about half of the food made available there, and leave, clearly daring anyone to stop him. If I had had to deal with that type of attitude on a day in and day out basis it would be very hard for me not to tar every other person like him with the same brush. On the other hand I watched an indigenous Australian elder of 70 plus years asked to leave the indigenous reception being told he did not have an invitation. They basically closed the door in his face; his land his place, but he wasn't welcome. I spoke with him later. He was a true story teller and elder of his people and there was not an insincere cell in his body. As I got to know him better I realized that he wasn't even angry. It was done and could not be undone so no reason to allow them to do more harm to him by brooding on it. We had to walk a piece to catch a cab for dinner and some with us who knew him better were concerned that it might be a bit much for him so I let him borrow my cart. He was so excited, like a kid with a new toy, so I cranked it up and let him run it out. Its a speedy little number at full throttle. Now he's always teasing me about stealing it while my back is turned.

In every indigenous meeting no matter what the topic the traits and values that were always mentioned and that were lamented as in danger of being lost to the capitalistic values of acquisition were, balance, sharing, selflessness, reciprocity, and closeness to nature. All terms of respect were family relationships. I am addressed as sister, or aunt depending upon the age of the person addressing me. It quickly became clear that those I was speaking with both for myself and on behalf of Raul felt that a person would be judged to be indigenous more by his reflection of these values than by phenotype or genotype.

After a few workshops it became clear that Raul was the only one who had shown up from all of South America. There may be one Peruvian but we have yet to find him. For all of that, when Raul wished to attend the indigenous conference we were told that there was no room at the table but they might try to squeeze him in. When we explained that he would need a translator, the response was "well that would be two then and there is definitely no room." When they thought that it might be me translating, they told me that I would not be allowed in under any circumstances as they knew me as a Pagan from the states. Raul was slightly incensed and said at that point that he preferred not to go, though in truth I think that he really did wish to attend and was saying that more for my sake.

And that is another issue completely. There are no translators...anywhere. If you did not bring your own translator you are out of luck. Not a professional translator in the house; a far cry from the last parliament in which simulcasting was the norm for large workshops and professional translators were available to anyone who asked during a workshop.

So...I think the web casting went swimmingly. No one thought to bring tapes after two of us said that we could not afford to supply them, no one thought to bring adaptors, after a long discussion on the list, and no plans for a site had been made. After a mad scramble we decided on a site and began set up only to find that we could plug nothing in. Someone ran to purchase an extension cord and returned only to find that American plugs don't fit in Aussi sockets. Another trip to the store for adaptors. With everything up and ready we discovered that no one had purchased the tapes necessary for the camera. Another trip to the store. When everything was up and ready I discovered that what I had thought was a transformer on my transmitter cord apparently was just a surge protector of sorts and was blown clean out making my wireless transmitter useless and with it went the lavelier mics I had schleped half way around the world.

I told someone to put the mics in the sound box while I frantically worked to change the sound to a wireless hand held I'd brought as a spare. The shoot done I was collecting my equipement only to find that someone had thrown the laveliers down on top of the black tripod covers instead of putting them where they belonged and then proceeded to grind one of them into oblivion. Deep learning experience accompanied by heavy sigh here.

Today I could not be present at the actual taping but went to set up and test equipment and set lighting. All was working well and the camera levels were set. At the eleventh hour a frantic call came in that the equipment was not working. I rushed back on zippy, my trusty metal steed and lo, all seemed to be working fine. It was finally determined that the equipment was bewitched and would only work in my presence so I replaced the cordless with a new wired mic, placed a gees upon it to work for me at a distance and ran to get to another meeting.

After a four o'clock reception of the United Religions Initiative, Don and Anna, Raul, Yoland and myself trooped back to Rowan's and my room to grab dinner while Don, Raul and Yoland worked on the workshop for the Lost and Endangered Religions Initiative Presentation tomorrow. Dinner finally came, two hamburgers short and we waited another half hour for those while plans for the workshop were finalized and I started this report. At ten Yoland and Raul finally left to work on reports of their own, Don and Anna stayed to finish dinner before going to their hotel to continue to work on polishing the report. Anna mentioned that Michelle had a workshop directly across from Don and I said that I would go to that for us. Don then informed me that I would, in fact not be going to Michelle's workshop because I had to translate for Raul as Yoland had been called away due to a conflict in scheduling. This they could have told me while they were working on the report so that I might have a better idea what the heck was going on tomorrow. yet another heavy sigh.

It is now one o'clock and I can no longer see the page but I still have to check the schedule to see what and where I have to be tomorrow.
So Good night and bright light be with you

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