It all started in the middle of the Afghanistan campaign: The same group of Afghan refugees that had hunger struck in front of Oslo Domkirke last summer now arranged a 650km march from Trondheim back to Oslo. The point was to get media coverage in order to stop Norway from deporting people to their war-torn country. I had just arrived a day or two earlier from the G8 summit in Heiligendamm when they arrived in Oslo. A few hundred supporters showed up when the 45 young men who had done the walk arrived at the outskirts of Oslo and walked the last kilometer or so with together them. The final destination was the parliament building and the secret plan was to erect a tent during the speeches there, which would then stay in place, giving shelter to the camping Afghans. They would then stay until the police/government would take any concrete action.
Friday last week I finally graduated from the English teacher course I talked about last time. For four weeks I had been stuck in Barcelona, practically having no time for anything else than sitting at “input sessions” in the morning, teaching practices in the early afternoon, guided lesson preparation before and after that for a few hours, and whatever waking time was left was normally spent on preparing various bureaucratic forms that had to be handed in before every lesson — supposedly to show that one has thought about possible questions students might come up with. However, in reality it was more about not leaving spaces anywhere in the forms. Initially, I filled the forms out by computer. Of course, that meant that large parts were left blank and my tutors pointed out that I should write more. I was too naive to understand that what they actually meant was: “Make the form somehow look filled out, it really doesn’t matter what you put there.” Some of my female co-students (we were 10 girls and two boys)were more openly cynical though, and sure enough, following their advice and filling out the forms by hand meant that my tutors henceforth would accept my forms. It was only one part, the so-called “MFP-sheet” (meaning, form, pronunciation), which I continued to hand in as a computer print out for a while longer, and just as long did they complain about it. Also, we had three different tutors, one after the other for 6-7 days each, and they all had their own personal way of filling out these forms. Of course, if you’d fill any form the way one of the other two tutors did it and had taught it to us all in an input session, it would be marked as wrong. Especially for the girls though, this seemed to be perfectly natural, and none of them were great revolutionaries. Somehow also I ended up surviving four weeks of that, and in two months time my Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (Celta) should arrive at my parents by mail.
In Barcelona I had only had very little time though, so all the activism activity I attended was the 8th of March (world women’s day), an antiwar march on the 17th, and I visited an occupied house a Friday afternoon which I had bumped into while walking to the post office.
So when my time was up on Friday and I had to give up my room on Saturday, I finally got to book a flight back up north. Due to the excessive Easter celebrations all over Spain which are a great tourist attraction, I did not even try to find anything from Spain itself. Instead I found a flight from Marseille, in southern France. The only problem: It wouldn’t leave before Wednesday. From Barcelona to Marseille you can travel within just a few hours of TGV ride, so I had some extra time on my hand. Combining my memories of German national romantic tales, which usually included going to Italy to walk from village to village and become involved in the life of the locals, with my my fascinations for Eric Balir’s Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London, I decided to travel slow and by moving out of the pattern of normal ways of traveling.
This is my journal of a few days of shifting form the very structured environment I had experienced in Barcelona through a few others, some touristy, one activist, one Norwegian and everything between them very much out of the ordinary.
So finally my time ran out, and I would have to return to Douglas for about 5 days to log off from the Americas before taking the plane back to Europe. So I flew from Panama city to Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico and took a night bus up to the border.
When going Douglas, one enters a kind of time less zone. And so also this time. I first met Blue at the Gadsden. “Oh so we’re you staying at now?” he asked. He had not noticed that I had left Douglas, just that I was no longer staying at the Lerman any more. I spoke Spanish with him, and he spoke Spanish with the waitress at the Gadsden in whose cafeteria we were sitting. But to me he constantly answered back in English. The status of Spanish is not the same n Douglas. A little while later Angel entered. He only speaks Spanish and so he had to use it with me. “I’m staying at no. 7,” he remarked. He expected that I would claim no. 8 now that I was in town. However, Mr. Fernandez had been run to the hospital with a heart attack and had stopped working at the hotel, so I would now have to go and trick me in through the office of some housing office. Therefore I stayed with the head librarian instead.
Some in Douglas had actually followed what was going on in Mexico, and the political allegiances were as I have grown to expect them: The pensioned, educated, white, US American, non Spanish speaking husband of the librarian had followed the Obrador campaign and what had happened all fall through his minimal understanding of the Mexican TV news. But in Sonora he had not fund anyone who would support Obrador.
Panama is my last destination before heading back to Douglas and from there to Europe. Although I have not had time enough to really get to know a lot of Central America, I guess it is time to go and get rid of my two backpacks — at least for a while.
The experience I want to share from Panama is for the first time more travel than politics related. I have experienced the same sort of things in other places, and I talking to some not so political friends and family, I know that it is somewhat out of the ordinary.
So here we go: Almost anywhere on the planet you as an activist might go, there is always and everywhere some kind of activist “community” that not only invites you and shows you around, but also one that has a number of reference points very similar to those you have yourself. Because of that, it is quite hard for me to say something like “the Panamanians are so and so” or “I really liked the warm culture of people in country X” — simply because I know that there are people with a world view quite similar to that which I hold, which generally puts them, but also me, at the fringes of society. Obviously, there are some exceptions — such as Douglas and most other areas far away from capitals and organized left wing politics. But those are very seldom regions that I see anything of anyway.
Nicaragua. After having traveled through northern Central America, it strikes me how little independent these countries actually are. Of course, there has always been the big imperialist empires Spain, Britain and in later years the United States, that have tried to steer them into whatever direction was convenient for them. But also the protest, the rebellion against the global exploitative system, is very much dependent on the strength of similar forces in other countries. Just take Nicaragua: The big hero national Augusto Cesar Sandino, who fought against United States forces in the 1930. The black-and-red anarchist flag that he introduced was brought from Mexico, where he had been working in the Petrol industry and had been awakened politically by the revolutionary Mexican communist and anarchist movements in Tampico.
Because the western news really do not cover the situation in Mexico (city) very much, here is an update: AMLO revealed yesterday what the plans are going to be for September 15th/16th. At night on September 15th, there is the traditional Grito (a celebration of independence from Spain) in which the president has to do some flag actions and then a one point will shout “¡Viva La Mexico!” and the mass of people gathered around will be shouting back “¡Viva la Mexico!”
The part of the camp that I stay and eat at is a tent that houses the activists from the Mexican state of Nayarit. I went there after being invited by Salvador.
I met Salvador while walking around the AMLO camp at Zolaco my first day here. He was handing out newspapers for his party the PRD. He made contact by asking me whether I was from the United States. And Although I could not confirm that, I told him that right now I am from Douglas, AZ. Ah Dooglas, he recognized it, con los wetbacks, eh? Salvador is one of few here who speak a little bit of English, and he hopes to learn enough to be a translator for his party one day. He is very patient and so whenever my Spanish and his English knowledge are insufficient to make enough sense for the other person to understand, we use hands and feet and my electronic dictionary.
Update : The video below has been replaced by a better edited version in which one actually can read the subtitles. (Sep 16, 2007)
By coincidence I am visiting my parents right now, when the Danish minority has its annual meeting (in Danish: “Årsmøde”). It lasted for three days, and I was back in Oslo the last day, so I decided to take my sister and shoot a little video of one of the celebrations in a tiny little village called “Ascheffel” (just far enough away for me not to run into old teachers from kindergarten, etc.). The resulting video has many flaws, amongst which are:
– The sound is not very good + you need to know both German AND Danish to make sense of it all. But then again, it’s subtitled!
– There are quite a few references which don’t make much sense to anyone who hasn’t been there. (though look at the very bottom of this article)
Now I am putting the video up now nevertheless, because I know I will not have much time at a pc in the near future due to me travelling to Copenhagen tomorrow, then to Oslo from there and on Tuesday I’ll be in Amsterdam for a week, before going back to Oslo. (and yes, I’m staying in my tent both in Amsterdam and Oslo). Anyways, for anyone who doesn’t mind all these problems and is interested in a tiny documentary about the Danish minority in Germany from a critical perspective… enjoy the download!
Ever been bothered by your local “yellow press” – just making headlines out of nothing? Well, meet the Douglas Dispatch, where everything is a bit different. It’s the newspaper of the 12000-people village I did my field work on. It’s right in the border to Mexico, and it’s brand mark is really that it’s just filled with crime of any sort imaginable (much of it though ‘white crimes’ or within families). Now most of the people there are really nice, and they have this common project of making Douglas look really nice. That is why the top story of the Dispatch today is:
Wal-Mart has donated a Pioneer HDTV Projection Monitor television set to the Southeast Arizona Medical Center to be used as a prize at their Silent Auction to be held October 22 at Club 3000. […]
Then, under that, with small types you can find the following story (on the web page as a link)…