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CPMX6 – Las internetas: Nuestras historias conectadas

“Los representantes ‘dream team’ de las InterNetas hablarán sobre proyectos TICS dirigidas por mujeres que están teniendo un impacto social y proyectos que ayudan a crear espacios más inclusivos y participativos para las mujeres en línea. Temas que se abordarán incluyen acceso digital, fortaleciendo las redes de mujeres en línea, la creación de espacios de respeto, y el intercambio de relatos e historias que reflejen mejor las perspectivas y las vidas de las mujeres.”

Para campuserxs, talleristxs, expositorxs, patrocinadorxs, personal de CPMX, voluntarixs y público en general:

Lxs campuserxs no usamos expresiones y modales insultantes, humillantes o intimidatorios.
Lxs campuserxs no presentamos comportamientos que impiden expresiones, ignoran la presencia de otrxs o lxs aislan.
Lxs campuserxs no promovemos conductas físicas y actitudes dirigidas al descrédito personal de cualquier persona.
Lxs campuserxs recordamos que los chistes de exclusión sexistas, racistas pueden ser ofensivos para quienes te rodean y no serán tolerados.
Lxs campuserxs evitamos la realización de invitaciones o regalos no deseados o que pudieran provocar incomodidad en su destinatario.
Lxs campuserxs no aceptamos actitudes de hostigamiento, de bullying en línea o fuera de ella.
Lxs campuserxs rechazamos el acoso: este se entiende como cualquier tipo de comentario verbal que refuerce discriminación por género, identidad y expresión de género, orientación sexual, discapacidad, apariencia física, tamaño corporal, raza, edad o religión.
Lxs campuserxs evitamos difundir imágenes sexuales en el espacio público; intimidación deliberada; acecho; seguimiento; acoso con fotografía o grabación; interrupción sostenida de charlas y otros eventos incómodos;
Lxs campuserxs no promovemos el contacto físico y/o la atención sexual no deseada.
Lxs campuserxs garantizamos la igualdad de oportunidades de formación y promoción antes, durante y después de la Campus Party.

Se pedirá a los participantes detener cualquier conducta de acoso inmediatamente e informar al personal de #CPMX6

Postea, documenta, difunde y vive libre de acoso.
Para más informes contacta a #LasInternetas.

Moderadora: Luisa Ortiz -CEO Nova

Ana Karen Ramírez- Fundadora & Directora General @EpicQueen
Daniela Gónzalez- Co-fundadora & Co-Directora @EpicQueen
Ophelia Pastrana- Ex-guru, Media Girl y Periodista. Me topan en @ViceMexico @FayerWayer @Platzi y @CocaColaFM
Claudia Calvin- Fundadora @MConstruyendo
Kara Andrade- Journalist @newmaya
Mariel García- Experta en Internet y juventud, ciberbullying y redes sociales @socialtic
Indira Cornelio- Comunicación digital y vinculación @socialtic
Marcela Sena-Tech Women Community Guadalajara

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Al Jazeera America



It’s hard to separate Denis from the loud throng of high school teenagers in line for their after-school Frappuccinos at a Starbucks in the upscale neighborhood of Tenleytown in Washington. Except he sits alone at a corner table checking his cellphone, looking over his shoulder from time to time with a glance of uncertainty and a need for invisibility. When he stands, he is tall and thin, wearing skinny jeans and purple and gray Puma sneakers.

He is one of the estimated 45,000 unaccompanied immigrants living in the United States who arrived as minors. Four years ago, when he was 16, he set out alone on a 3,200-mile trek from his home in San Miguel, El Salvador, to reach his uncles in Washington, D.C. He arrived after many weeks on the road.

In November President Barack Obama unveiled an executive order that would extend temporary deportation relief for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country before 2010. Still, that will exclude the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who crossed U.S. borders earlier this summer.

To

Lighting Round at PeaceTech Summit: Engineering Durable Peace

On September 19, 2014 I presented a lighting talk at the PeaceTech Summit that took place in Washington, D.C.  While I was only able to stay for the lighting rounds (alas school called!), the “upbeat” tone of the conference made it worthwhile. I am sharing the recording of the conference as posted on the USIP website. Source: USIP “The summit brought together corporate and government officials, engineers, technologists and NGO leaders to look at how tech is being used in conflict zones and ask, “Why aren’t we doing more in conflict prevention?” The event also launched the PeaceTech Lab, a new organization dedicated to developing and deploying technologies, media and data for conflict management and peace-building. Speakers included: Opening Remarks Stephen J. Hadley, Chairman of the Board, U.S. Institute of Peace Dan Mote, President, National Academy of Engineering Technologist Meets Peacebuilder Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google Jane Holl Lute, Former U.N. Peacekeeping and U.S. Government Official Keynote Remarks with Q&A Alan Shaffer, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Enabling Entrepreneurs and Corporate Investment in Stressed States A Conversation with Entrepreneurs and Christopher Schroeder (Author of Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East) An Introduction to the PeaceTech Lab Sheldon Himelfarb, Director, PeaceTech Initiative, U.S. Institute of Peace Also Featuring Tech for Peacebuilding: Lightning Rounds”

Welcome to Iraq

October 3, 2013



We reach Erbil in time for a suicide bomb attack near the headquarters of Iraqi Kurdish security services, not far from here we land. By the time we deplane at three in the afternoon, the airport has been put on lock down, dozens of police and army vehicles swarm the entrance, no cars are entering or exiting the area, except the shuttles which carry passengers to and from the meet and greet area – about a mile from the airport.


I’m traveling with Sean McDonald from Frontline SMS and we’re both here as technology trainers for the United States Institute of Peace’s PeaceTech Camp training event. Our focus is transparency in a post-conflict area. It’s Sean and my first time in Iraq and we don’t know quite what to expect when we step out of the plane. While Sean waits at baggage claim, I make my way over to a counter at one end of the airport to buy a pre-paid mobile phone card. I end up chatting with a British man named Rob who stands in line behind me. He’s been here before, he tells me, it’s a good place to do business and it’s the safest part of the country. I ask for his business card, I give him mine, we shake hands and part ways.

Sean and I step out into the arrivals platform and I immediately notice two things: there’s no cars picking up passengers – not even taxis – and large shuttle buses arrive one at a time and release crowds of luggage-toting people to the platform. People move quickly. Most of the people on our plane get on the first shuttle and leave, scurry away. We stand in the shaded part of the platform and feel the waves of hot dry heat just like Texas, where I began my journey, fifteen hours earlier. The terrain is flat and bare, thousands of years have passed here and the dust that blows in our faces is ancient. We are both looking for the driver that has been sent to pick us up. We are looking for a sign with “Tangram Hotel” on it. We don’t see the sign or the driver, so I go inside to get money from the ATM and ask some questions at the information desk about taxi and potentially paging the driver. The woman at the counter is nervous. “I don’t know ma’am, an incident has happened.” She moves on to talk to the other person. What incident, I ask. But she is ignoring, except for a man in a dark suit with a CB radio in his hand who is watching me as I try to get her attention. I give up and look around for clues of what could be happening.

I come back and ask Sean if he’s seen the driver, nothing, he says. I tell him to text and call Luke, the event coordinator, while I put in my SIM card and re-start my mobile phone. Another shuttle brimming with passengers arrives, empties, leaves, the platform is empty again, except for Rob. Rob is also texting on his phone in the far off corner near where the bus unloads its passengers. I start to get that feeling I often get in Central America when public places empty out: something is either about to happen or something has already happened. Either way it’s time to move. I reach down for my backpack to get the number of the hotel. As I’m reaching over, the man with the suit and CB radio comes over to us and says: “There are not cars coming in and out of the airport, there has been an incident.” An incident, Sean and I repeat and look at each other. “Yes an incident. It will be better for you to get on the bus.”IMG_20130929_153456

He leaves and we’re both silent. Sean looks at his mobile and Luke has texted back and is telling us to stay where we are until they can send a car. By now I have walked over to Rob and asked him what he makes of this “incident” business and where is his driver? Could we get a lift with him? We’d be happy to pay him. As I’m speaking to him, the next bus arrives, empties its passengers and both Rob and I go up to the driver and ask him if the shuttle can drop us off outside the airport. He nods. It’s hard to tell if he’s understood. Rob looks at me and I say, “let’s do it.” I run over to get my bags and Sean who is now intently on his cellphone alternating between typing and taking calls.

“Let’s go,” I tell him.

“They don’t want us to leave the airport,” Sean says. “They want us to stay right here.” I tell him I’m not staying here, it’s time to go. I roll my suitcase quickly to the bus where Rob and the bus driver are waiting. Sean is reluctant, but then throws his backpack on and runs over to catch the bus with us. The bus is now just us and we look out the window at the slow moving terrain, past the sculpture that looks like a steel wired gun pointed in the direction of the airport. We arrive into a large parking lot with empty cabs sitting outside and a large sign in Arabic and English that reads “Meet & Greet”. We are dropped off and as we attempt to linger inside we are quickly asked to stand outside by the security guard. The same thing happens as in the previous platform outside the airport, so we take the next shuttle.

We get on the shuttle and I notice an cellphone on the seat next in front of us. I debate how safe it is to pick it up and after a few seconds, I pick it up, take the cover off, look inside, take the battery out and put it in my backpack. My logic: Since it didn’t set off a bomb on the bus, the owner must be looking for it. So I’ll take it with us and then I can leave it in the lobby of our hotel for pickup. I forget about the phone as we get on the shuttle which takes us all the way out of the airport. We pass the main entrance with its checkpoint, that’s when we see them: the dozens of police cars, army vehicles, security guards, police and the blocking off of the entire area. Traffic is backed up as far as the eye can see. The bus turns left and drops us off in the corner, makes a U-turn and returns to the airport. We can’t stop staring at all the action in front of us. I come to and ask Rob: “Where is your driver?”

“Oh right!” He says searching nervously in his pants pocket for his mobile and sees he has a missed call. It’s his driver. He calls him goodfellasand I can hear him giving instructions. “Follow me!” As we walk parallel to the long line of cars headed north his driver is walking quickly towards us, like a worried mother. He is waving his arms at us and talking to us in Arabic. I get the feeling we’re being lectured.

“I have been waiting for more than an hour!” He tells our friend. “We must leave this area, something has happened.” The entire time Sean is receiving various calls both from our own driver and the coordinators about our whereabouts and instructions on what to do (which is exactly the opposite of what we’re doing). He is getting frustrated. On top of this he has also received a message that his dog is in surgery because a bone went down the wrong way and now it has to be removed back in Washington, D.C.. “Could things be any more irrational?” He says out loud.

We continue to walk the unpaved area and I look into all the cars with the drivers looking both mad and helpless at the pile up. We get in the car and the driver’s son is behind the wheel. There is an ensuing discussion in animated Arabic as to where we should go next and finally I say to Rob. “Let’s go to our hotel and then you can wait with us there until all this clears up.” Maybe I should go to work in stead, he says out loud. Work now? I say to him. He nods, tells the driver, and then we’re off and headed in the opposite direction,

As we begin to make our way across town, Sean’s phone rings. “Should I answer it?” He says, more as a statement. “Yes,, but tell them we’re good.” On the other line, I can hear Luke’s panic and frustration.

“Luke, we’ve got it covered, Kara met someone at the airport who is giving us a ride to the airport.” Silence on the other line and I know that just didn’t sound right to Luke. Should I tell him we both have insurance that will airlift us out of here? “Don’t worry, we’ll see you at the hotel!” Sean says and hangs up as we hit another line of cars. The driver and his father start another animated conversation and then we got offroad into unpaved road and through the back area of parts of town with crumbling walls, children playing in the dirt and trash in large open areas. Erbil is definitely under construction.traffic

There are sirens, honking, and stalled cars and we’re just weaving. I ask out loud what has happened and the older man says: “Bomb, near Center.” And I tap the British guys shoulder. “Did he say bomb?” I think so, he tells me.

It catches Iraqis in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous province of Kurdistan, by surprise because Sunday’s blasts, Aljazeera states, were the first to hit Erbil since May 2007, when a truck bomb exploded near the same asayesh headquarters, killing 14 people and wounding more than 80. Now four car bombs were detonated near the headquarters, followed by gunfire, and wounding 36 people.

It is normally very quiet here, everyone tell us, almost apologetically.

As we continue to make our way to the hotel the silence is broken in the car by the sound of Arabic music. It’s not the car radio, but I think it is until Sean says: “Can you answer your phone?” I remember the small pocket radio I usually travel with and search my backpack to turn it off. That’s when my hand touches the cellphone I picked up.

“It’s actually not my cellphone ringing,” I say out loud. “It’s a cellphone I picked up on the shuttle.” Simultaneously both Sean and our Rob turn to me and yell: “What? You picked up a cellphone that’ s not yours!” I nod and say it’s the only way the person would get their cellphone back. They are both aghast as the phone continues to ring.

“Don’t worry,” I tell them. “If it had been a cellphone-detonated bomb we would have been dead by the time we got off the shuttle.” They are both speechless. It’s true, we’d had a string of those types of bombs in Guatemala a couple of years ago and I had thought about that before picking it up, I had even thought to throw it off the bus. I counted and watched the phone intently. I figured removing the battery would turn off the phone, but the phone had restarted once I had put the battery in again while we were rushing around.

The phone keeps ringing and I tell the older man to answer it and tell the person calling that the phone will be at the hotel. He answers it and explains everything to the man on the other line who is the owner, now in Dubai. The older man says, “Tangram Hotel, Tangram Hotel,” and hangs up. Sean shakes his head and looks out the window.

We arrive the hotel and are greeted by the local organizers who look very pale and worried. We’re the first ones to make it back from town, the others were near the Center not too far from where the attack happened and are still stuck in traffic.

“What happened?” I ask Afrah, one of the local organizers who is now pale from worry.

“Suicide bombers,” she said. “I’m sorry for all this trouble. This never happens here.” I smile and give her a warm pat on the back.

“Don’t worry,” I tell her. “We made it.”

She smiles weakly and when I turn around Sean has already disappeared. I hand over the lost cellphone to the receptionist and tell her someone will be picking it up. She nods. “Welcome to Iraq,” she says. “I hope you have a pleasant stay here.”


Dead Sea Bound

August 27, 2013

In the desert there is space, there is expanse and infinity that stretches beyond the present into whatever past we connect ourselves to or future we push towards. It is a feeling of expanding and contracting at the same time that I release a deep sigh of relief while staring out the passenger car window. We are heading south through occupied territory with some stretches where you see the “walls” that separate West Bank from Israel. “There isn’t one wall,” Aviva reminds me. “There are many walls.” And I’m not allowed to take pictures.

We are driving down via Dimona, southeast of Tel Aviv, still a bit of distance from the Dead Sea but we’re in the desert without a doubt. Aviva is driving and she tells me there are two deserts, the Negev and the Arava. We drive through the Negev and the toll road, the 6, starts almost immediately where we get on as cars and trailers whirl by us. The Kibbutz we are staying at is on the northern tip of the Judaean Desert, in the hills which we leave behind quicker than I imagined. It’s not Texas, it’s not California, it’s not like anything I’ve experienced in my life.

It’s getting hotter and dryer and the the hills get flatter and more barren. When there are road signs they are in Hebrew and English. I recognize some names, but not much, so I am grateful for my tour guide who shows me the hidden layer as she expertly navigates using Waze. She tells me of horrible accidents along the road and slows down when a voice from Waze comes out of nowhere in Hebrew from her Iphone. “There is something up ahead,” she tells me some 100 feet before we reach these incidents. It’s accurate, surprisingly so. For most of the drive it is desolate and the light from the sun keeps getting more direct as we go into a valley. I nod off, the jetlag knocking me out around one in the afternoon (5 AM back home) just as we make a pit stop for espresso. It’s necessary, I tell Aviva, it’s human fuel on these treks. She smiles as she talks on the phone the entire time and I negotiate paying for a cappuccino. I clean the windshields of dead insects. Back in the car, we keep pushing south.

Out her window, Aviva points to the makeshift villages the Bedouins, indigenous inhabitants of the Negev desert in the south of the country, have set up. There are anywhere between 180,000-190,000 of the Bedouins living in some of the poorest parts in the country, with the National Insurance Institute (NII) citing rates as high as 79 percent of the population in some of the unrecognized villages, and 61 percent in recognized villages. Water, I think, how do they get their water out here? The Sea of Galilee, Aviva tells me, “We all get it from there, that’s why the Dead Sea is dying.” It’s receding and, ultimately, it too will die an untimely death. It doesn’t register until I’m on top of Masada, later on in the journey, overlooking the sea from King Herod’s once lavish temple.

We pass through small towns with trash piled up outside buildings and dilapidated houses. At times there are mounds of trash right next to empty trash cans. As we make our way through these small town’s traffic circles, Aviva suddenly stops in front of a white and green building with the most immaculately maintained entrance. I look at her, interrupted once again from my jet-lagged car siesta. I don’t want to get out, but the waves of heat have already entered the car now that she’s turned off the AC. I think of the door closing on an oven.

“We’re making a pit stop,” she tell me. “At this Bedouin women’s cooperative.”

I drag myself out and snap a picture of the storefront sign, Lakiya Negev Weaving. Lakiya ia a nonprofit organization established in 1998 to improve the socio-economic conditions of Bedouin women in Negev through education, jobs and media awareness. Inside, it is quiet and clean, with colorful textiles and rugs carefully placed throughout the front open rooms. In the back the women weave quietly at various stages of the process, while one woman crunches numbers in front of a computer. There is only the most peaceful silence of familiarity. A young woman approaches us with a warm and welcoming smile to offer us a tour of the cooperative. She shows us the various woven textiles, the colorful balls of wool in their drawers, the dangling thick threads of wool where bits of hay still cling, the vats for the dying process, the open sitting area where the looms rest on the ground, the room where the media classes are taught. I am speechless. The only thing I can think of is my grandmother and how she’s always asking me to bring back wool and beads. For once I can be a good granddaughter. I buy three balls of pink and turquoise-colored wool. I thank the young woman and ask her if she minds me taking pictures of her while she tells the story of the organization. No, she tells me, it’s fine, she tells me sweetly. “This is why we do these tours, so you tell others.”

Back in the car, we continue the descent, into a deep valley. “We’re going below sea level,” Aviva tells me. She sees me desperately trying to take pictures as we descend, so she pulls over to a lookout. In front of us the Dead Sea stretches before us, unmoving, with an penetrable blue. Surrounding it is a thick crust of white.

Snow, I whisper to myself, but it’s hardened salt, centuries old.

Please Vote for our SXSW 2014 Panel: Storytelling for Social Change


We have begun to take control of own narratives, telling our stories using whatever tool and digital means is available to us. We have not only begun to tell our stories, but we’ve connected them to others’ stories being told simultaneously around the world. That act of storytelling interconnects us – creating an imaginary and real social fabric. The storyteller becomes a diplomat, a trickster, an opportunity creator, an entrepreneur, a node for change.

How do we tell our stories? How do we help others tell their stories? How do we create opportunities by telling these stories both for ourselves and others? When does our personal story shift from “me” to “us”? How do we make these shifts? How do we inspire action and empower others to tell their story? How does information and technology help us do that? What are the emerging trends in storytelling that can help us become changemakers both online and offline?

Additional Supporting Materials



Questions Answered

  • What does it take to not merely convey a message, but to change actions & attitudes after a story is told?
  • What goes into the making of a modern-day movement— not just buzz, but sustained change?
  • How do you catalyze behavior change among people whose names we’ll never know and whose lives we’ll never directly touch?
  • How can we tell if we’re successful through our storytelling?
  • How do we teach people to become authors and agents of change in their lives?

Peter Rohloff Wuqu’ Kawoq
Pamela Yates Skylight
Alisa Del Tufo Threshold Collaborative
Kara Andrade HablaCentro NFP and LLC

Kara Andrade Hablacentro LLC and NFP

The Days My Voice Disappeared

August 28, 2013


In Ramallah, I lose my voice. It is the second time in my life this had happened. The first time I was getting our stolen laptops back in Guatemala, but I’ll leave that story for later. Suffice it to say this time around, it wasn’t a surprise. When I first arrived at the Cesar Hotel in Central Ramallah the evening before our TechCamp training would be held from August 28 – 29, the manager of the hotel was smoking as he showed us all the rooms we would be using. I tried to stay on the opposite end of the smoke or would duck to avoid it, at times stumbling on chairs or tables like a klutz. I looked up apologetically and he looked at me confused. But by the end of the evening, the cough started – the annoying cough that serves as a warning of the eventual closing of passages. Not a cough I like to get. I took out what little I had in my inhaler and did what I could to buy myself some time. I sat in one end of the empty room hoping my body would adapt by tomorrow’s event which would fill the room with some one-hundred people. I asked the hotel manager if smoking was allowed in the building. He looked at me as if I’d just asked him if goats flew in his country.

“Everyone smokes inside here,” one of the Techcamp organizers whispered in my ear. “It’s terrible.” It hadn’t been a problem for me the first Techcamp because it was an all-women attended training and the fact was, I noticed during breaks and meal times, that very few women smoked. So I took my breaks after everyone had finished and tried to find spots in the hotel where no one would be liesurely having their smoke. I ducked to the bathroom as often as possible. Fate, I knew, was inevitable.

We’d had a great event launch with the U.S. Consul General and the representative of Jawwal telecom, the company helping to organize the event, making opening remarks at the slick Jawwal headquarters that could easily have been a building in Palo Alto. Nate Smith from Mapbox and I kept the corners of the formidable table warm, front and center to a large audience of men and women – some of whom I recognized from the year before. I designated myself the Techcamp elder since this would technically be my seventh Techcamp, including the one I organized in Guatemala. I could easily channel Noel Dickover, long-time MC and resident master pumpkin carver at Techcamps, at any given point in the training agenda.KaraNatePanel

The first day was hectic, full of excitement and beautifully marched on like the first day of school. During coffee breaks the huge plumes of smoke would follow and torment me.

By the beginning of the second day of trainings I was, however, croaking out sentences, and couldn’t help to MC the event. I was depending on my translator to mind read since she couldn’t understand me and neither could anyone else for that matter. On the third day my voice was gone completely and I was writing all my sentences out on my reporter’s notebooks. My handwriting was sloppy and the fact that anyone could read what I wrote was a miracle. But I didn’t care, I was inspired. Ramallah inspired me. It inspired me the first time and it was inspiring me again. There was a hunger by participants to learn and an ability to grasp complex concepts that challenged me to connect things with the participants that I normally wouldn’t be able to do.

During my session on authorship and storytelling, I asked the group what they wanted to learn, that I was here for them and so I would teach them whatever they needed to do their work. But one after the other said: Teach me to tell a good story, how to make people watch, read and tell stories. You don’t want to learn Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo? No, they said, we want to tell our stories. We want to tell people how difficult it is for us here. And that’s when I started to understand. Israelis didn’t know how Palestinians lived their day to day lives anymore than Palestinians knew Israeli lives. smile

During the break I sat next to a working reporter in Palestine and I asked him about his life here. I wanted to know more, to understand.

“Life here is very difficult,” he said in a very slow, sad voice. “We work hard for another country in a country that is not ours. We pay our taxes to the people who repress us, we are the only people who do this in the world.” We continued to talk and he told me about the religious conflicts between the countries, about the U.S. and how they supplied funds to the Israelis, how they were at fault for suppying the guns, the funding and growing the rift. It was a difficult conversation and the entire time I just listened, asked more questions. When I thought I had asked all my questions, there would be more. How can anyone truly know how someone else lives their lives? Did Israelis really care any more than your typical Palestinian how the other half lived? Where could you even begin to create empathy?

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of activity, with groups dedicating their entire days to matching technology solutions to particular problems that they had brainstormed the day before. I gave up on trying to speak and simply wrote out all my sentences. Our group was creating an online crowdfunded campaign to buy 15,000 backpacks (with school materials) for Palestinian children going back to school on August 2014. It was a good, concrete goal and so we set about developing both an online and offline strategy for fundraising $50,000. By the of the day all the different groups presented their action steps and various stages of project development, including a game using online an mapping platform, video tutorials on how to use video in your work and ways to move from “Clicktavism to Activism”. By 5:30 in the evening even the group picture was done and everyone headed out quickly to beat the weekend rush hour (Fridays were a holiday that people used to go home).

In the evening the international trainers ventured out to the handful of bars and cafes that foreigners made the rounds at. At La Vie Café there was talk among the foreigners that Ramallah was an artificial economy created from all the nonprofits that were based out of the city. It was like Oz with the looming threat of chaos – now there was Syria. No one wanted to talk about, too much was happening too quickly.

Just one week ago Israeli soldiers shot and killed three young Palestinians in the Ramallah district of the central West Bank. “The Israeli army claimed the Palestinians were about to throw Molotov cocktails at soldiers and settlers in the Bet El settlement.” This resulted in the suspension of the fourth round of direct peace talks with Israel in protest of these three killings. The plot thickened.

Later at Lawain a few locals mentioned that much of the night life had been cancelled in Ramallah due to these deaths. The mood was somber before the DJ started spinning tracks from Spotify, which he complained required too much bandwidth. At midnight the music began to play for a handful of people on the modest dance floor which included Americans, other foreigners from Jordan and South Africa, gay folks, locals, you name it, it was diverse bunch. By two in the morning, the bar was packed.

In the smokey bar, I stood at the end of the counter waving my notepad at the bartender. I scribbled to him: “Whiskey, please, no ice, just whiskey.” He nodded and disappeared behind the bar.


The Return from Tel Aviv

September 1, 2013


I do not like to watch Tel Aviv disappear from above – the Mediterranean Sea coastline a small strip of white that barely holds us from the immensity of blue that continues as we head west on the plane. I raise the window to watch it disappear until my eyes cannot take the sunlight anymore. Still this is better than closing my eyes and not being able to witness every moment of this vanishing, of the physical separation. Not knowing if it will be for the rest of my life that I have left her, this region, which each time pulls me closer and closer. I lose myself staring down until there is no white speck of Tel Aviv left. I feel sadness.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we remind you to please close your windows, so that other passengers can sleep during the flight.”

I lower my window shade, but it’s too late, the image is burned on the back of my eyelids and like other images that arise as I hear the loud thuds of my heart pounding against my ears: the fields of olive trees stretching into the Kibbutz, the receding Dead Sea, the remnants of Harod’s centuries crumbled, once lavish temple rising high above the valley of the desert, the winding outer wall of the Old City in Jerusalem, the cool evening waters of the Mediterranean, and the countless hours of storytelling by friends over large spreads of food like nothing I’d ever taste in my own Guatemala. It is a different, more ancient world here where history has become habit, breath, embodiment and intertwining with the present.

journeyMany worlds exist in a physical area that if it were in the U.S. could be driven in a day. What you see is not what you get here, and so to know the layers beneath which meaning can be understood is to also experience the pain that goes with it.

“What is Ramallah like now? Tell me what it looks like,” my eighty-three-year-old host Rivka asks me one morning while we’re sitting at her breakfast table. “I only saw it once many years ago when we could go cross.” I tell her it’s beautiful, that when you drive the hills, you feel you are in labyrinth and when the sun sets a golden reddish light falls on all the buildlings, on Arafat’s tomb, on the trash even that lies next to empty trashcans. It is modern, it has bars and five-star-hotels, art spaces, cafes for the foreigners who live there. In the evening, the cool fresh mountain wind that blows will catch in the women’s hijabs and the trees will sway with it.

The Israelis cannot legally experience the curving hills of Ramallah and the Palestinians cannot see the sea. No one mentions it until a foreigner stumbles upon it and then these facts of their lives are shared with the same resentment and underlying hurt of neighbors having wronged one another. There cannot be forgiveness nor forgetting.

The moments of stillness can sometimes be felt as peace, but the peace has an unease about it in Tel Aviv, I notice it while sitting with my friend Eitan on Saturday evening around midnight when people are still drinking, eating, talking on the night before a workday. I ask him why people are not home getting ready for work tomorrow. He laughs. Here again the foreigners has no idea of the hidden minefield.

“In Tel Aviv, people party like there will be no tomorrow, precisely because we don’t know if there will be a tomorrow,” Eitan tells me. Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” and then Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” play again for the second time over the speakers. We are sitting outsides among a cluser of tables where half-eaten pizza, salads and empty mugs of beer sit on young people’s tables. I notice the tension in people’s movements more readily now.

The last few days have been more unsettling than usual in this region because we are all waiting on the world to do something about Syria, the nearly 100,000 that have been killed there in the past two years, and most recently the biological warheads launched against civilians and children which violates every human rights treaty and agreement on how to behave during wartime. Specifically the world is waiting on the United States.

“Your President refuses to drop the bombs on Syria,” Eitan says, half in jest when referring to President Obama’s decision to wait on the reconvening of Congress the second week of September to get a decisive vote on whether or not to act against Assad. “You are the only ones that have enough of a moral backbone right now to drop a bomb on Syria and punish them for doing this unethical thing.”

As if killing thousands wasn’t unethical enough for the world, including the U.S., to respond a year and a half ago. I tell him, a bomb on Assad will not stop him. He will not stop until there is nothing left. So a war will need to be waged against Assad and it cannot be the U.S. alone in this because the whole region will become an abyss we won’t be able to extricate ourselves from. We all feel this restlessness and unease about the next couple of weeks in Syria.

The world is paralyzed, the way people I have seen people in Guatemala freeze like shadows, observing as lynchings, mass murders, violence against protestors, accidents, acts of violence happen in front of them. In Guatemala it is a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder where after thirty-six years of war, the violence has been normalized and at the same time there is fear to act and a sense of helplessness in action. Even if I help, what could I do? What difference would it make? There is too much risk for me to help. Someone else must help.

But Syria is different, it is something none of us could ever be prepared for or could recognize from the outside as part of a larger pattern of how war is waged in the most horrific of ways. It is a challenge for us to create a global ethical brain that can respond faster and in more skillful manner to the new bully or murderer in this case. The new evil will inevitably come from humanity, until the whole thing explodes.

Back to the Holy Land for TechCamp Ramallah

August 26, 2013
Last night I slept sitting up and today I floated in the Dead Sea. Knowing what I’m up against, I sleep the entire trip from Newark to Tel Aviv, no movies, no studying, just food and sleep. The crying babies are mere whispers in my Ambien-induced stupor.

It is my second time back in the Holy Land and this time I want to be prepared to dig deeper, to go one layer below the surface. I step out of the plane less daunted by the fifteen-hour trek and the eight-hour time difference. As I step out of the plane, I feel more prepared for the light out here, more direct and golden than anything I had seen before in my life a year and a half ago. This time when the sign “Welcome” in Hebrew stands before me between two ancient stellas painted on the wall, I lift my camera to meet it.

I feel less disoriented knowing on the other side of customs is my secret weapon, Aviva, one of the friends I made from my first trip here to present at two Techcamps, one in Tel Aviv and the other in Ramallah, back to back. TechCamp is a program under the U.S. State Department’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative to bring together the technology community to assist civil society organizations across the globe by harnessing the latest information and communications technology to find solutions.

It was my crash course into Techcamps and how they were organized and put on, but I had no idea what it would take to understand the model and then take it back to Guatemala City with me to coordinate our own do-it-yourself version. Six TechCamps later I find myself at the beginning, knowing now what I didn’t know then.

Outside, Aviva is waiting for me. She has lived on a Kibbutz for forty years and she’s promised to swoop me up and take me there from the airport. I have only to make it through customs. I show my passport and letter from the U.S. Consulate stating my purpose in Israel, my time here for ten days and my work as a TechTrainer in Ramallah. I get a small identification card which is stamped with my date and time of entry and then I move towards the baggage claim.

I present my documents to two women customs officials. One of them pores through my passport.

“You are from Guatemala?” She asks. Yes, I tell her, that is where I was born. She nods.

“I have been to your country, to Tikal, Antigua and Semuc Champey,” she continues. “It is very beautiful.”

“Yes, it is,” I tell her. “As is yours.” I expected to get my passport back, but instead she calls over another customs woman. They both look over my passport and call on a cellphone. Then I am told to pick up my bag and follow them. They keep my passport in hand so I rush back with my bag and follow them to a small room at the back of the airport where a few other passengers are having their bags and documents thoroughly screened. I get in line and await my turn patiently.

“Come over here,” one of the custom folks tells me, motioning me with his hand. He points to the zipper on my bag. “Open it.” I nod. I am told to unwrap a few gifts I brought, maple syrup, Texas barbeque sauce, buckwheat pancake mix.

“What is this?” He asks me. Gifts, I tell him. He removes his latex gloves and instructs me to zip the suitcase up again. Then the questions.

Why Ramallah they ask? I tell them it is for a conference and that I’m teaching storytelling, tools and other skills. Who brought you here? The U.S. Consulate. Why? Because I am a TechTrainer. A what? I teach workshops on storytelling and journalism. In Ramallah? Yes. What kind of stories? The stories that impact them in their lives. Anything? Preferably true, I tell them, otherwise that is gossip. I smile. There is an uncomfortable silence. Each of them looks straight at me. I smile back. They bend in to whisper to one another in Hebrew. I wait and keep an eye on my documents. My passport is passed on to the woman who escorted me here. She waves me over with a faint smile and leads me through different security checks. Stamp, unzip, screen, walk through body screen, zip up, stamp, staple, walk away.

“You are good now,” she tells me and hands me back my passport. “Have a good visit in Israel.”

I walk out into now a small group of people awaiting the stragglers from this flight. Aviva waves to me from the right side of the room and I walk towards her, my legs suddenly weary and my eyes blinded by the afternoon sunlight behind her. I thought I was ready.

At the Kibbutz tucked between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, there is only the sound of crickets and the olive trees blowing in the breeze pushing across the cut dry meadows. Families stroll lazily across playgrounds and perfectly planned communal spaces. In Aviva’s house friends gather, there is talk that I work with the C.I.A. I tell them I am too old to work for the them. It’s true! The cut-off year is 35 and I am 36 now. There is laughter, we eat rice cakes, cheese, grapes, we laugh, the fourteen-year old dogs snore in the corner of the room. The windows are open and the fan blows a small breeze above us. Later in the evening we walk to a neighbor’s house, have soup, tell stories, crack hazelnuts and share pictures from different trips. Neighbors ask me why I teach people storytelling and journalism. I teach authorship, I tell them, and the tools for people to narrate their own lives and get the information they need to impact their everyday reality. Around the table I get pensive nods. I hope for approval of this sleep talking conversation I’ve realized I’m having as my eyelids get heavier.

More presents from travels are exchanged, me with my pancake mix and Stubb’s Texas barbeque sauce, and others with rich cheese cake and smoked cheese from Georgia. The neighbors’ thirteen-year old dog limps across the porch and looks off into the twilight silhouette of trees surrounding us.

I can see how forty years of one’s life could easily slip away quietly here.

Aviva looks in my direction across the table. Tomorrow, she reminds me, we drive to The Dead Sea.

Freelance Video Producer, Univision and France 24 (2011)

I helped to report and produce two videos for Univision and France 24 about the exhumations in Guatemala City during which forensic anthropologists were digging up unmarked remains and using DNA technology to identify war victims from Guatemala’s civil war. The families of the disappeared and the scientists together lead an ongoing struggle to dignify their loved ones and bring the perpetrators of these murders to justice. Feliciana Macario is one of many individuals looking for disappeared family members.



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