Friday, September 4, 2009

Blame and Perpetuation

I was on shift one night and the doorbell rang as it does every 5-10 minutes. Habitually, I stood up from my chair, walked out of the office, and through the sala towards to the door. As I looked up towards the door, I saw her slap her two year old in the face. My energy and emotions froze, but I continued to take steps toward the door. He balled intensely, his cheeks were wet with tears. She pulled her hand back and slapped his face again. The image of his quivering lips stuck in my mind. I opened the door, but couldn’t tell you who walked in. I turned around back towards the office, and saw her strike his face once more. After this slap blood from his lip emerged and joined his tears to cover his cheek. As I continued to the office, stunned, I could hear his wailing prevail behind me.

I was shocked, stunned, scared, overwhelmed, and not in control of my actions or thoughts. As I stood there, back in the office, I could not believe that I didn’t grab the child and scream at the mother. I didn’t know if I should be ashamed that I kept walking, and allowed her to slap him twice more after the first time…should I be appalled that the other guests in the Sala looked on quietly too?

The Guest Sala

When it occurred to me that I was legally obligated to call Child Protective Services (CPS) and report the incident, more dread, despair, and fear amassed within me. The mother who had hit her kid is a guest that I respect greatly and interact with frequently. She has four kids in the house, all of which are tremendous, and whose company in the house is thoroughly enjoyed. What would it mean if I called CPS I wondered. Would they come take the kids and separate the family? Would they not have time for the report and never follow up? I wondered what the implications would be in this house. Would this family forgive me? Would they think I had disrespected them by calling the authorities on them instead of dealing with it myself? I didn’t even know what I thought would be the better scenario, if CPS ignored it or acted on it. I guess none of these thoughts mattered because I had to call CPS.

I called and they took down all the names, birthdates, and specifics of the situation. They thanked me for the report and said goodbye. At that time, I had heard from people that these days CPS is very short on money and resources, and generally don’t follow up on reports unless they were extremely urgent or dangerous. I expected nothing more to come of it.

An hour later I received a follow up call from CPS asking for more details of the situation. That call ended and it was still unclear what would become the situation.

Thirty minutes later, the doorbell rang as it does every 5-10 minutes. Habitually, I stood up from my chair, walked out of the office, and through the sala towards to the door. I opened the door and she said, “Hi I am from CPS, I need to speak with one of the guests.” My heart sunk and I stepped outside and shut the door behind me. I went into this desperate prattle about how she is a good mother, how she is only doing what she knows, and how her kids should stay with her. The CPS social worker sensed my uneasiness and assured me that I didn’t need to worry.

I stepped inside, found the mother and said, “Hay una mujer a la puerta por usted, There is a women at the door for you,” with a quiver in my voice. Surprised because it was 9:30 at night, she curiously proceeded to the door.

Next, the whole family— four kids, mother and father—were waiting in the office to speak with the women from CPS. I tried to stay busy with dishes and such, but couldn’t get past the idea that they all knew I had caused this. The fear and uncomfortable ness in the room was eminent. They all sat fifteen feet away from me and I was sure they were wondering why I would have done this to them. One by one they walked out of the office, none with any words or positive emotions on their faces. I was anxious know what had happened.

I finally got a chance to talk to the woman from CPS. She had decided to give the family a warning, discuss the nature and patterns of violence and discipline, and sign the mother up for free parenting classes. Hearing this I became incredibly relieved and grateful for the prompt action and sound judgment of CPS. I felt lucky that I am in a country that has structures for organizations such as CPS.

A few kids playing out side the house

But as good as it all sounded, I realized that the mother’s reaction is really what is important when determining if any progress will be made. What message was sent to her by all of this? Was it simply that now she knew she had to ‘discipline’ her kids in private? When the mother walked out of the office and into the crowded sala, she went up to people, and explained what had happened. They all gasped in shock. While they gasped at the fact that CPS had been called, these very same people had not gasped at the site of a two year old getting hit in the face until he bled. In this same nature, the father of the child who got hit complained to another volunteer a few days later, “Now my wife can’t discipline her kids right.” There is a high level of disturbance in all of this, but is there any blame in it?

People do what they know. We live how we have watched other people live. Growing up, the mother and father of that two-year-old boy may well have been disciplined with violence too. But back then, in a different place in a different time, CPS was never called, and the cycle perpetuated to the next generation. Do we blame the loving mother who is disciplining her kids the way she was taught to do so?

On a larger scale, can we blame the perpetuators of harmful tradition, because it is all they know? Do we blame those who are racist, even though they were raised racist? Do we blame those who oppress, even though they were in raised to oppress? Do we blame those who disregard the health of our planet, even though they have never known the implications of their actions? If we do project blame, what will come from it? If we do not project blame, but instead take action against something that we see as unjust, what will be gained from that?

I do not blame or judge that mother for hitting her child. She did what she thought was right.

But neither do I accept a mother hitting her child in the face as anywhere near OK. I consider it very wrong.

I think that if in our reaction to the things that we see as wrong, we can step away from blame, or judgment, and focus on action and non-complacence, perhaps the perpetuating, pernicious traditions of our world will slowly dissipate.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Chile Rellenos con Velia

A guest named Velia left the house yesterday to stay with a friend; we will miss her for many reasons, one of which being her exquisite cooking. Before she left, she taught me how to make one of her favorite things…Chile Rellenos. Below is the recipe from my memory, in vague quantities as if you were making them for the 50 people Annunciation House. ENJOY!

Chile Rellenos (stuffed peppers):

One dozen eggs
Half a big block of cheese
A few onions
A handful of salt
50 Poblano peppers, or green anaheims
A lot of oil
A big bowl of flour

First take the peppers and cook them directly over the flame on the stove until they become softer and have a burnt outside look. I couldn’t do this properly without burning my fingers, but I wish you luck.

Take each pepper once it is cooked over the stove, and scrape off all of the black burnt parts that you would not want to eat. This step is messy and time consuming. I suggest music and a trash can nearby.

Once the peppers are cleaned of the burnt parts, dig your finger into any part of the pepper and make a small (1/2-3/4 of the pepper) vertical incision. Then clear out the seeds from each pepper.

Now the peppers are ready to be stuffed.

Shred the cheese and chop the onions finely. Mix the cheese and onions together in a bowl.

Now the stuff is ready for the pepper. Make the following assembly line…

From left to right: Peppers, cheese/onion mix, bowl of flour, empty platter or plate.

Take the pepper, fill it with the cheese/onion mix, fold one side of the slice over the other to hold in the cheese, roll it in the flour trying to cover it all, and place it on the platter.

Now, the stuffed peppers are ready to be dipped in batter and fried.

To make the batter, separate twelve egg whites and mix them in a bowl until you can hold the bowl upside down and they won’t fall out. Of course this is much easier if you have some sort of electric mixer. Then, add the yokes to the mixture, a small handful of salt, and mix well.

Heat up a good amount of oil in a pan, take each pepper by the stem, dip it into the batter trying to get as much on as you can, and place it in the oil filled pan. Quickly splash the oil onto the stuffed pepper in order to cook all sides. Flip as necessary. Once each pepper is golden brown, it is complete!

When Velia and I made these I made a small error. I had put leftover peppers, completely unprepared, next to the prepared peppers ready to be fried. In the excitement of the frying process, I by accidentally grabbed an unprepared pepper, dipped it in the batter, and tossed it in the pan. It was until a guest spit it out on his plate, and loudly proclaimed, “there’s nothing in here but seeds,” that I discovered the error. C’est la vie!

Raul is waiting for his Chile Relleno!