Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Remembering Machu Picchu

Recently my mother came from Waco for a little Hoosier visitation. She had just returned from a cruise with my aunt down the Danube River and through Eastern Europe. My mom is a bit of a world traveler. She has been to Europe on these cruises at least twice and to England, Scotland and Ireland. She has even visited my niece who lives in Palau.

When I was taking her to the airport to return to Waco I commented on all of her “worldliness”. She marveled at how wonderful all of the places were especially Scotland and Ireland. However, she noted that the trip to Machu Picchu was the best. I found this to be very interesting.

She went to Machu Picchu in 1979 when I was living in Bolivia. I had planned quite a trip for her. We flew to Santiago, Chile took a train to Temuco in the south then a bus ride to Arrica, Chile and then flew to Arequipa, Peru and then to Cuzco. In fact the stop at Arequipa was unexpected. We had plane trouble and were forced to land.

Upon arrival in Cuzco we encountered a teachers’ strike. As we walked the streets seeing the highlights in town we were forced to take refuge in a hotel because the police were shooting water cannons at the striking teachers.

Our schedule included a train ride out to Machu Picchu and back to Cuzco. Following Machu Picchu we planned to take a train to Puno, Peru on the banks of Lake Titicaca. There we border a fifty year old steam boat and cross the lake to La Paz, staying overnight on the steam boat.

Machu Picchu was remarkable. The stone work was incredible. Large heavy perfectly shaped stones were stacked upon each other sin mortar. It was definitely one of the wonders of the world. I could understand why she thought it was one of the highlights of her travels. But it also amused me because the rest of the trip did not turn out as wonderfully.

Two days before we were scheduled to take the train to Puno to catch the steamboat that sailed only on Tuesdays there was a transportation strike in Peru. No trains were running. If we did not get to Puno we would be delayed a week in Peru which was not possible since she was to return to the States the next week. So we worried.

Eventually I decided that I would visit a travel agent to see what our options were. The official answer was –no options! I had learned that in South America in the seventies that “no options” was only an official answer. So I asked what if I really, really needed to get there and was willing to pay.

The agent explained the only way would be to find a taxi driver who was willing to break the strike. Taxi drivers at that time were real mavericks. They had to have the money to buy their own automobile and the fares they earned were all theirs, not to mention what they charged. It usually took hailing three or four taxis before you found out what a reasonable price really was. Of course this was the case for Yankees; everyone else knew what the real rate was and would not pay more.

Understanding the Maverick Cab driver as I did, I asked the agent, “Just where would I find a taxi driver who might be interested in breaking the strike?” The agent replied that the cab drivers congregated just off the plaza.

I waited until dusk and left my traveling companions in the hotel. I walked to the plaza and hit the side streets until I found a long row of taxis. I walked up to some drivers and made my inquiry with no success. I surmised that my mistake was that I was asking drivers to break the strike in front of other drivers. So I found a driver who was standing alone by his cab. I explained my situation in Spanish. He seemed agreeable after explaining that we would need to leave very early in the morning and that he could not guarantee safe passage. Oh what the hell! We were up a creek without a paddle so we started talking fare. We agreed on a price. I told him what hotel we were in and he said he would see me at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. We shook hands in the dark and bid each other “hasta luego”.

We were up and ready and waiting. He arrived and we loaded our luggage in the trunk. We were leaving Cuzco in the dark. Transportation strike my ass! I thought. Then a short distance out of town we encountered somewhat of a barricade. Lumber, garbage and glass was strewn in the street. The maverick driver weaved through the obstacle sin problema. Of course he had to repeat that maneuver a number of times until we were away from civilization and out in the campo (country).

The rest of the trip was less eventful. We did stop on the altiplano at a research site where they were cross breeding alpaca and sheep. Boy, were they funny looking beasts! White curly furred llama looking animals.

We arrived in Puno very early and wondered what we would do until time to board. The taxi driver said he had relatives in Puno and he would take us there. They were very hospitable offering us cool lemonade and tea before leaving for the steamboat.

So I wonder just what my “worldly” mother meant when she said the best of her travels was the trip to Machu Picchu.


No Americana music, theology or political blither; just a South American adventure for MJD.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Jesus Christ for President

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.
-Pretty Boy Floyd by Woody Guthrie

Mornings begin with coffee and the newspaper around our house. Usually it includes my wife reading an article from her paper to me and vice a versa. Today I found myself thinking about Woody Guthrie’s line “Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.”

On Monday my paper ran an article about the Indiana state candidates laying out their priorities for the new session of the legislature. It stated that the state’s Republican leadership had come under fire for refusing to abolish a deeply discounted health care plan for retired lawmakers.

This was quite interesting since last week’s edition of my wife’s paper ran an article about Indiana Senator Vi Simpson, a member of the Indiana Health Finance Commission. Apparently the legislative council had requested that the commission examine what other states are doing in order to make recommendations for a health care system that can work.

Senator Simpson wrote that such provisions should include: Cover all citizens, focus on disease prevention and health promotion, provide prescription drug benefits, and vision and dental care options, improve affordability and access to health care, and finally, ensure privacy and choice of medical providers. I would definitely support Senator Simpson in this endeavor.

Less than a week later it appears to me that those in power in the past made certain that they would have access to affordable health care on the backs of those who may not be able to afford the same. -“Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.”

Today, July 12th, my wife reads me an editorial column about the minimum wage. This issue is dear to her like the health care issue is to me. No shortage of liberal politics in this household!

The column noted that the last raise in the minimum wage occurred in 1997 and that today it buys less than it did then. It also stated that while the minimum wage has been losing ground to inflation, the members of congress have been raising their own salaries which the columnist stated was $165,200 per year. -“Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen.”

I am sure that many of these politicos, state and federal, are Christians. Why even some are probably card caring members of the religious right. Of course it is hard to see the grace and compassion in their decision making. Woody Guthrie drawing from the Bible sang it like this:

Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land
A hard-working man and brave
He said to the rich, "Give your money to the poor,"
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave

Perhaps the system that was intended to benefit all Americans is beginning to look like the old domination system that Jesus opposed in the first century.

When Jesus come to town,
all the working folks around
Believed what he did say
But the bankers and the preachers,
they nailed Him on the cross,
And they laid Jesus Christ in his grave.
-Jesus Christ by Woody Guthrie

Sure would be nice if being a Christian politician meant demonstrating grace and compassion. Perhaps if it did we would already have universal access to health care and a minimum wage that kept up with inflation. I suggest that these politicos who think of themselves as Christian remember the words of Woody Guthrie when he wrote Christ for President.

God above our king
With a job and a pension for young and old
We will make hallelujah ring

Every year we waste enough
To feed the ones who starve
We build our civilization up
And we shoot it down with wars

But with the Carpenter on the seat
Way up in the Capital town
The USA would be on the way
Prosperity Bound!

Not a bad idea, Woody. Jesus for President!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

John Wayne and Jesus

I met John Wayne and Jesus when I was just a kid
They both had on their cowboy hats just like I pictured them
I stood up at the front of the class waving my American flag
Saying the pledge sang amber waves of grain.
-Pat Green

It is an interesting picture –Jesus in a cowboy hat standing next to John Wayne with all the school kids waving their flags and saying the pledge. That would be the “one nation under God” pledge. Yet on this upcoming Fourth of July (or is it Independence Day?) the picture of John Wayne and Jesus will be acted out all across the country.

We Americans love the idea of a hero that sweeps in and saves us all from ruin. Like John Wayne often did. In the Searchers he looked for his abducted niece for years and prevailed in the end. What a man!

John Wayne was adopted by the establishment of our country and willingly painted an optimistic picture. Consider the Green Berets, released during the Vietnam War. This movie was released to illustrate support for a war that seemed to tear the country apart. It was the last chance to unite the people in the war effort led by the most respected man ever to wear a cowboy hat.

Jesus on the other hand was not adopted by the Jewish establishment. The messiah was supposed to free the first century Jewish population from the domination of the Roman Empire. He was expected to sweep down and lead the masses in an over throw of the evil empire like John Wayne in a cowboy hat. Instead he stirred up trouble for the temple and ultimately the empire.

His message was about loving God and your neighbor. He even said all those other temple rules were okay, but the only rule that mattered was to love God and your neighbor. Why, at one point he even said give Rome what is Rome’s!

He did create a lot of trouble for the Romans. Of course he had Jewish leaders who were in cahoots with the Romans riled up too. His way became the Christian church of today, although sometimes the two do not look the same.

The U.S. government has even adopted Jesus, God and the Bible, in spite of all our claims about freedom of religion. Our government takes Jesus and the Bible and stands them beside John Wayne and proclaims it the American Way. If we fight a war in Iraq we know that John Wayne is on our side along with God. Oh just forget about that love your neighbor stuff. After all John Wayne did not say that and the Old Testament has enough blood and gore to justify about anything we want to try.

The Republican Party was John Wayne’s political affiliation. The Republican Party has coupled the Bible and Jesus with John Wayne and labeled it patriotism. Anyone who does not agree with their platform is considered unpatriotic. In this manner the church has become a part of the denomination system rather than an alternative system of wisdom and together the two can weave a myth that lasts forever.

Consider Universal Health Care. In the seventies there was some discussion of a single pay system similar to Canada and Sweden. This was labeled socialized medicine, a very demonistic term that anyone who considered themselves a patriot must oppose. It was said that the quality of health care would degenerate because doctors would not be able to make money –like doctors are making money at the hands of the insurance companies in these modern times. Then in the eighties Health Care became a concern again and we lived through similar accusations. Now in the 21st Century the Steel Workers Union says that the United States is at a competitive disadvantage because other countries have Universal Health Care. States are even giving up on our federal government and looking for ways to provide universal access to health care (Vermont, Tennessee, etc.) But, good ole George and the GOP hold fast to their position and once again they will parade John Wayne and Jesus to support they claim of what is patriotic.

John Wayne might agree with them, but Jesus with or without a cowboy hat would not go along with it. There is nothing about grace and love for your neighbor in preventing universal access to health care.

Instead of making the Fourth of July a celebration of patriotism with John Wayne and Jesus waiving the flag to support the well established domination system of the 21st Century perhaps we should remember the origin of the holiday. It IS Independence Day. It is the day our country declared independence from England, the domination system of the 1700’s.

Perhaps those states that are growing impatient with the slow progress of the federal government in regards to Universal Access to Health Care are adopting some patriotism of their own. Perhaps the rest of us should look more at the message of Jesus rather than the patriotism of John Wayne. Maybe we should adopt New Hampshire’s state slogan, “Live free or die.” We could declare an end to the war, create Universal Access to Health Care, slap a cowboy hat on Jesus and listen to his song of grace.