Arts and Crafts in Sierra Leone


In addition to meeting new people and mentoring, style, fashion, and exploring local markets have been some of my great joys during many trips to Africa. The recent TechWomen Delegation to Sierra Leone was no exception. This is an update on my 2017 blog post Fabric Arts and Crafts in Sierra Leone. Having shopped in Sierra Leone before, my daughter Jessica and I arrived with clear ideas on what we wanted to bring home this time.

An unexpected delight was that TechWomen Fellow, Engineer, and fashion entrepreneur Michelle Sesay (of House of Cordelia in Freetown) generously offered to have clothes made to order for the TechWomen mentors. She brought fabric and some made-up samples, took our measures and design ideas, and delivered wonders. Her tailor is amazing! Jessica and I and most of the TechWomen wore our new outfits to the final dinner.

In addition, Jessica and I brought home bolts of fabric, batik, and wood carvings as presents and to decorate our homes. After experiencing the design and color flair in West Africa, the San Francisco Bay Area is visually boring.





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Images Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson –  with thanks to TechWomen for the group photo!

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TechWomen Delegation to Sierra Leone

I recently returned from the TechWomen Delegation to Sierra Leone and am still catching up with all of my work and homework. I was happy to be able to travel with my daughter, Jessica Dickinson Goodman, who was also a Delegation Member and who posted excellent daily blogs during the trip. We met with hundreds of girls and boys, entrepreneurs and leaders, schools and organizations, and came home inspired by the energetic and welcoming people of Sierra Leone.

Jessica and I had a long layover in London, so we were able to see an excellent all-female cast of Richard II at the Globe Theater. Once our flight arrived in Sierra Leone, we took the boat between Lungi and Freetown. The next day, we started visiting initiatives around Freetown developed by the creative and dedicated TechWomen Fellows of Sierra Leone, and participating in other events, including

  • The Services Secondary School, Juba
  • Reception by US Ambassador Maria E. Brewer
  • STEM Career Day with secondary students at British Council, Tower Hill
  • Fourah Bay College STEM students
  • Women’s Leadership Forum at Radisson Blu Hotel
  • Connecting the Future networking event and reception at Sierra Lighthouse
  • Women in #Techpreneurship at Family Kingdom Resort
  • Pitch Night and Startup Exhibition at Toma Boutique Hotel
  • Reduce-Reuse-Recycle at Saint Edward’s Primary School
  • Hands-on STEM Experience with Students at Buxton Memorial Methodist Church

I gave a keynote on Networking, and Jessica gave a talk on Finding Funding, and we joined all of the Delegation members to help present workshops and activities. Of course, Jessica and I passed out our Notable Women in Computing cards and posters. After the delegation ended, many of us took a bus to visit Families Without Borders in Makeni. Even after a 42 hour trip home, it was a remarkable and fulfilling experience.





















Updated 23 March 2019

Photos Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson – Thanks to TechWomen for the Pitch Night photo!
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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (6)

This is the sixth and last in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire.

Indigenous people: Presentations at the Cilac Freire school spoke about a a variety of social justice issues, with regular focus on the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The afternoon charla topics during the second week included “Mujeres y Religión,” “Situación Política de México,” and “Las CEB’s desde la Experiencia Laica.” There was also a talk on “Historia del Movimiento LGTBQ y Feminismo” but I felt ill that day and regretfully missed it. Several of the talks also discussed the indigenous Zapatistas of the southern state of Chiapas who since 1994 have fought against the Mexican state. There were a number of images of ski-masked figures in the school – a trademark of the Zapatistas who cover their faces to hide their identities. When I first saw the images, I wrongly thought they were wearing a kind of Muslim niqāb, covering their faces for religious reasons.


Zapatista posters – wearing masks

 
Indigenous political posters 2018

In one of the talks, I asked the speaker (who self-identified as Mestizo) what it meant to be indigenous. That is, was it a matter of biology or of customs and traditions (or something else)? She replied that it was biological and that even if an indigenous person moved off traditional lands into the city and married someone who was not indigenous, their children would still be indigenous. It felt like each person who spoke was proud of the indigenous people of Mexico and the fight to retain their traditions and land. In the recent election for the Mexican President, the independent indigenous candidate Marichuy (María de Jesús Patricio Martínez) from the National Indigenous Congress was widely respected even though she did not have enough signatures to be on the official ballot.

Before our excellent Spanish lessons and interesting talks or tours each day, our group from Berkeley, California, started the morning with reflection and prayer.  We also had some free afternoons to go shopping and walk around the city of Cuernavaca. All in all, it was an inspiring experience and I would like to return to CILAC Freire to continue improving my Spanish and learning more about social justice in Mexico.

Communities of Liberation Blog Series: The posts in this series are-

  1. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (1): About Blogging, Course Description, Celebrating 3 Kings, local homes, Cuernavaca, Museo de Arte Sacro, Tonantzin
  2. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (2): Immigration, Base Communities, Mexico and Morocco
  3. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (3): Customs and traditions, Virgin of Guadalupe, San Charbel Makhlouf of Lebanon, Iglesia del Río de la Plata and the LGBTQ community
  4. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (4): Don Sergio Méndez Arceo, Museo Morelense de Arte Contemporaneo Juan Soriano, Coco, the Day of the Dead
  5. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (5): Museo de Arte Prehispánico Colección Carlos Pellicer, Yolcatl: La representación animal en el Morelos Prehispánico, Museum of Memory and Tolerance (Museo Memoria y Tolerancia), Hate Speech, Rwandan genocide, Diego Rivera murals
  6. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (6): Indigenous people, Zapatistas, Marichuy and 2018 elections

 
Cilac Freire classroom talks and Spanish lessons

 

Shopping in Cuernavaca and Tepotzotlán

 
Cilac Freire closing party with cake biting and music

 
Cilac Freire graduation!


Heading home to California

Blog post updated 5 Feb 2019

Photos Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (5)

This is the fifth in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire.

Our group visited a variety of museums in Cuernavaca, Tepotzotlán, and Mexico City (Ciudad de México). Although I have been to Mexico many times for both business and leisure, I never before visited any of these remarkable cities. There are a number of excellent collections of prehispanic artifacts, two of which we visited: the Museo de Arte Prehispánico Colección Carlos Pellicer in Tepoztlán, and the Yolcatl: La representación animal en el Morelos Prehispánico in Cuernavaca. We did not have time to see the large and famous National Museum of Anthropology (although I have seen some of its collection in other museums), so I plan to return to Mexico City to see that. (Another treasure of Ciudad de México I missed seeing is the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.) However, I was very happy at last to see the world famous Diego Rivera murals on the history of Mexico at the Palacio Nacional.

Museum of Memory and Tolerance: The most disturbing museum we visited was the Museum of Memory and Tolerance (Museo Memoria y Tolerancia), Mexico City. It presents a wide variety of information about genocide, racism, LGBT bigotry, and other forms of intolerance, including extensive galleries about the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide and other crimes against humanity. I grew up in a Jewish community in San Francisco that lost most of its senior members to the Holocaust, and I later worked with Holocaust survivors on a kibbutz in Israel, so touring these exhibits was painful.  In 2014, I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial with the TechWomen Delegation, which I wrote about in “Touring Kigali,” “Swords to Ploughshares, Rwanda” and other blog posts. The Kigali Genocide Memorial also offers exhibits on the topic of genocide around the world.

One of the most upsetting exhibits in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance was on Hate Speech (Discursos de Odio), featuring a wall-size display on President Trump speaking vitriol about Mexico. I felt nauseous and embarrassed at how America is seen now, and I wished that there were some way to say how deeply many Americans disagree with our President. The museum’s ending exhibits about more positive topics like Tolerance and Diversity seemed weaker and less effective than the horrors presented in the upper floors. The final room honors four great leaders with heroic statues and video biographies: Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, ending on a message of hope. There are busts of these four outside the museum as well.

 
Nursing mother and dog vessel, ceramic artifacts in Museo de Arte Prehispánico Colección Carlos PellicerTepotzotlán, 2019

 
Iguana and starfish, ceramic artifacts in the Yolcatl: La representación animal en el Morelos Prehispánico, Cuernavaca, 2019

 
Artifacts from the Holocaust: measurement tools to determine race, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Artifacts from the Holocaust: boxcar used to transport prisoners to concentration camps in Poland, and Walther P38 German pistol used by the Wehrmacht, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Exhibits on the Rwandan Genocide, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Never Again: flowers for a mass grave – honoring the dead on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, Kigali, Rwanda, 2014

 
Machete, mass gravesite from the Rwandan Genocide, Rwanda, 2014


Lost Potential – In Memory of the Children Lost in the Genocides (El Potencial Perdido – En memoria de los niños perdidos en los genocidios), in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Racism and LGBT Bigotry, and Tolerance, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Hate Speech (Discursos de Odio) with a film of President Trump, big statues of Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019


Busts of Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, in front of the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Diego Rivera murals, Cilac Freire group at the Palacio Nacional, Ciudad de Mexico, 2019

 
Diego Rivera murals, Palacio Nacional, Ciudad de Mexico, 2019

Blog post updated 5 Feb 2019

Photos Copyright 2014-2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (4)

This is the fourth in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire.

Fundación Don Sergio Méndez Arceo: One of our visits in Cuernavaca was to the organization set up in 1995 to honor and remember Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo, locally called Don Sergio, the beloved but controversial Roman Catholic Bishop of Cuernavaca from 1953 to 1983. We learned of his life and work in the context of liberation theology to help the poor, indigenous people, and the environment. Don Sergio is known as the “patriarch of liberating solidarity.” The Fundación Don Sergio Méndez Arceo has given a major human rights award annually since 1993 to Mexican individuals and organizations meeting four criteria:

  1. Many years of work
  2. Help others to see needs
  3. Relevance to important problems in Mexico
  4. Vulnerability of the person and their work

The foundation’s prize has been awarded 26 times so far with the intention that the honorees become better known and also to give some protection by publicizing their work. We learned that Don Sergio’s work to promote the “preferential option for the poor” was as part of the Grupo de Obispos Amigos (GOA), in collaboration with Saint Oscar Romero of El Salvador. A digital archive of Don Sergio’s papers is being made available by the University of Mexico City in the next year.


In addition to improving our Spanish, hearing lectures, and visiting social justice institutions, our group also toured a variety of museums, including the impressive modern Museo Morelense de Arte Contemporaneo Juan Soriano. Unfortunately, the collection was closed but we were able to see an exhibit on art and technology and to walk through the extensive sculpture gardens featuring monumental bronzes by Juan Soriano.

The 2017 computer-animated Disney movie Coco was referenced in a variety of ways during this trip. We actually got to watch the film in Spanish during on our bus ride to Mexico City and while there, we saw performers in Coco costumes on the street. In the mountain town Tepotzotlán, there was a large wall mural featuring the black dog from Coco and saying “Nuestras raíces van más allá de Disney” (or “our roots go beyond Disney”).

 

The Day of the Dead context of Coco was reflected in many crafts and designs. However, the skulls at the base of 19th century crosses outside the cathedrals in both Cuernavaca and Mexico City probably represent more a reflection on mortality or  memento mori (Latin: “remember you will die”) than a reference to the Day of the Dead.




 

Photos Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (3)

This is the third in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire.

Costumbres y Tradiciones (customs and traditions) – One of our talks included the charming concept of Mexico’s own “Vitamin T” – tacos, tostadas, tamales, tortas, tlacoyos and, of course, tequila. In Dora’s kitchen, we happily ate a great deal of Vitamin T. One Dora’s oldest kitchen tools was her mother’s molcajete (mortar) and temolote (pestle) for grinding spices. We saw more modern molcajetes in the market, painted with dog and pig faces. Even when our group got up early for day trips to visit Tepotzotlán and Mexico City, Dora was always there to be sure we were well fed and cared for. On our last day, she took us on a special trip to the municipal market to buy flameware pots after we admired those she used so well.

 

   

Another part of the Costumbres y Tradiciones talk was about the Virgin of Guadalupe whose 1531 image was ubiquitous during our travels in Mexico. We learned that Guadalupe has a connection to Tonantzin, the Aztec mother goddess, and that many believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe who do not believe in Jesus Christ, or even God. I did not know until hearing this talk that there is an Arabic connection to Guadalupe: the name (probably) derives from that of a Spanish river, the name for which has Arabic roots. Since my house in San Jose, California, is on the Guadalupe River, I was very interested!

 

 

One of the lovely old churches we walked by every time we went to downtown Cuernavaca was Parroquia San José El Calvario which not only has a variety of images of the Virgin of Guadalupe inside but a special building for her statue on the street outside. In addition to the prominent outside image of Mary, inside San José El Calvario I found a saint I never heard of before, San Charbel Makhlouf – a Maronite monk of Lebanon. I found another statue of San Charbel in the Parroquia de la Asuncion, Sagrario Metropolitano, in Mexico City. In both churches, his image stood above collections of many colored satin ribbons. A Catholic friend from Michoacán told me that San Charbel is very popular and powerful and that each ribbon represents thanks for a healing. In 2013, during our visit to Lebanon, TechWomen Fellow Adla Chatila took my daughter Jessica and me to see the Cedars of Lebanon, Khalil Gibran‘s home, and the Mar Bishay Hermitage, Qozhaya. The Monastery of Qozhaya is close to where San Charbel is from. I was not expecting to see so many connections to the Middle East while in Mexico.

 
Parroquia San José El Calvario, Cuernavaca 2019

 
San Charbel Makhlouf in Parroquia San José El Calvario, Cuernavaca, and in Mexico City, 2019

  

 
Monastery of Qozhaya, 2013

Iglesia del Río de la Plata y La Colectiva Diversa – In addition to the Spanish lessons and talks, our class went on a variety of field trips, including spending an evening with an inspiring community church in Cuernavaca called Iglesia del Río de la Plata y La Colectiva Diversa, lead for over thirty years by Rev. Alfonso Leija. Rev. Alfonso generously shared his remarkable story of developing the church and small hospice to support the LGBTQ community during the early AIDs epidemic. We heard from some of the church members and briefly shared something about ourselves. I only wish the air pollution had been less intense that night so that we could have learned more.

Photos Copyright 2013-2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (2)

This is the second in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire (Paulo Freire International Center for Languages, Art and Culture). In addition to Spanish grammar and conversation each morning, our group benefitted from a variety of talks (“charlas”) on social justice topics.

Migración: Testimonios de una familia guatemalteca: Our first speaker shared his difficult experience as an immigrant many years ago from Guatemala to Mexico, and his continued work for political change, particularly to benefit indigenous people like the Maya, at the same time as making a living and raising a family in his new country. Two of our questions after his presentation:

  • “What can the US do to help?” – Make sure that donations actually get to the people in need and are not taken by someone else along the way.
  • “What was most difficult after moving to Mexico?” -The family had to repress their home culture until they could get their legal status sorted out in Mexico. It was difficult not being able to speak Mayan with his wife during those first years. His kids understand but speak very little Mayan.

El Método de las CEBs: Our next talk was the first of several about base communities (Comunidades Eclesiales de Base, or CEBs), which were also the subject of one of the papers we read before we came to Mexico: “Back to Basics Mexican Style: Radical Catholicism and Survival on the Margins” by Elsa Guzmán and Christopher Martin, Bulletin of Latin American Research Vol. 16, No. 3 (1997), pp. 351-366.  The CEBs are small groups that meet monthly long term, using liberation theology, prayer, and radical community action to live out their Christian faith. Their method (método) is:

  1. Ver – see and identify community issues
  2. Pensar – think and prioritize with eyes and heart
  3. Actuar – act as a group to work on the community issue
  4. Evaluar – evaluate the action and progress
  5. Celebrar – celebrate, give thanks with hospitality

Each group’s scope of action is small but may include civil disobedience to resolve a community issue, such as trash not being picked up. We were able to join a CEBs group in their regular meeting, including a prayerful reflection about a collection of objects related to the ongoing celebration of the three kings. We ended the reunion (meeting) with the Prayer for Peace, below, followed by cookies and hot juice. CEBs were started in Cuernavaca by the beloved Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo, who is locally called Don Sergio.




¡¡Viva Cristo Rey Y Juez!!
ORACIÓN POR LA PAZ
Señor Jesús, tu eres nuestra paz, mira nuestra Patria dañada por la violencia y dispersa por el miedo y la inseguridad. Consuela el dolor de quienes sufren. Da acierto a las decisiones de quienes nos gobiernan. Toca el corazón de quienes olvidan que somos hermanos y provocan sufrimiento y muerte. Dales el don de la conversión. Protege a las familias, a nuestros niños, adolescentes y jóvenes, a nuestros pueblos y comunidades. Que como discípulos misioneros tuyos, ciudadanos responsables, sepamos ser promotores de justicia y de paz, para que en ti, nuestro pueblo tenga vida digna.
Amén.
Viva Christ the King and Judge!!
PRAYER FOR PEACE
Lord Jesus, you are our peace, Look at our Homeland damaged by violence and scattered by fear and insecurity. Comfort the pain of those who suffer. Give success to the decisions of those who govern us. Touch the hearts of those who forget that we are brothers and cause suffering and death. Give them the gift of conversion. Protect families, our children, adolescents and young people, our peoples and communities. That, as missionary disciples of yours, as responsible citizens, we can be promoters of justice and peace, so that in you our people may have a decent life.
Amen.

 

Mexico and Morocco: Something I did not expect while in Mexico was a number of similarities I noticed with Morocco. I was a member of TechWomen Delegations to Morocco in 2011 and 2014, and in 2018 was a TechWomen Impact Coach for Morocco. I find much to admire in both Mexico and Morocco – not the least is the grace with which those nations manage their centuries-old and complex relationships with the USA. While the countries are different in many ways, some of the similarities I saw were architectural: the homes I visited were focused inward and designed to keep things cool, often using traditional building materials with thick walls, ceramic or stone floor tiles, and decorative ironwork that stand up well in a hot climate. Other similarities were cultural, including remarkable hospitality to strangers and generosity toward those in need. There were also simpler commonalities like terra cotta cooking pots (“flameware“) and embroidered linens in regular use, plus a long history of excellent artisan work in silver, leather, and weaving.


Household pottery markets: in Cuernavaca, Mexico (2019), and Fez, Morocco (2014)


Dogs on roof: in Cuernavaca, Mexico (2019), and Fez, Morocco (2014)


Embroidered linens: from Oaxaca, Mexico (2019), and Marrakesh, Morocco (2011)

Photos Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson

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