Monday, February 7, 2011


Every morning I get up at about 6 or 6:30 (unless I am still up from getting water) and sweep the sidewalk in front of the Casa Misionera. If I wait much later than this, the wind picks up, and blows the dust I'm sweeping all over me and anyone else who happens to be walking down the street at the time. It is a great ritual – it gives me a bit of structure to my days, allows me to focus my energy on making a welcoming path for good things to come to the house, and allows me to participate in my neighbors' morning rituals. Men, women and children come to the pulperia next door to buy things to start their day; some head off to work on foot, bicycle, or the occasional car; sometimes someone is washing a car, or tuning one up to make it through the day – there is a 30 year-old red Datsun called “Rapidito” that seems to need daily tuning to do its job, which seems to be taking people up the hill from the bus stop a half-mile away. I get to say “Buenas dias” to everyone as they pass, and it doesn't take long for looks of surprise to turn to smiles – one small baby insists on waving to me the entire time he's passing in his grandmother's arms.

I have three practical goals as I commence sweeping my steps and sidewalk: to sweep up and return any stray rocks to the garden, to remove a layer of the fine dust (“polvo”) that settles on everything, and to pick up the trash left there over night. The trash is mostly wrappers from chips and candy, with the occasional cigarette butt or soda bottle - a friend once pointed out that most trash littering the environment comes from things that aren't so good for our bodies, either. Apparently, Gladys had tried keeping a trashcan in front of her store to help minimize the litter, but someone decided they needed the bin more than the community did, and took it.

One particular day, as I was out sweeping, I was joined by several others doing similar sweeping. It was garbage day, and people were scooping trash into their trash bags in anticipation of the day's collection. I noticed a neighbor across the street sweeping the cobbled street, as well as his sidewalk, and was reminded of a thought that had been gently nagging at me since I began my practice of sweeping errant dust, pebbles, and lollipop sticks into the gutter. At home in San Francisco, we have street cleaning day twice a month, where a big truck comes down the street with rotating brushes that sweep the gutters pretty cleanly out of the gutter and into the back of the truck. This makes the gutter a reasonable place to sweep leaves, trash, or anything else you want off of the sidewalk. As I continued this practice in Managua, I wondered “who, if anyone, would clean out the gutter?”

Flor de mi jardin
Unlike on my neighbor's side of the street, my gutter was wet with running water, making a slush of mud, pebbles, and trash. I decided to go ahead and let my outdoor broom and only dustpan get muddy, and sweep up the gutter. I filled the trash-bag with about ten pounds of the slush.

As I surveyed my thoroughly clean garden, steps, sidewalk, and street, I filled with a bit of pride, and was able to visualize the whole street clean of muck, trash and leaves. I thought of how nice it would be to live on a street like that, anywhere. More important, I thought about how my neighbor, with his own simple act of caring for the streets, which we all use, and all contribute to dirtying, inspired me to do the same. 

This is how I most like to be influenced, and how I hope to influence others, by simply doing what I feel is right in caring for myself, my friends and family, my community, and the world.


  1. Alex,

    You write beautifully. As John Trudell would put it, "we need a focus that is clear and coherent." He says it like that. Repeats this phrasing often in the numerous contexts of human consciousness; planetary mother consciousness. I love how you describe your morning labor of sweeping. It reminds me of the little actions that may open to larger ones. For instance as you describe the daily ritual opening to a community getting to know itself, who and what are there that make up the space of life that you live in, how one can impact a space and how that space with its originalities might impact you.

    The desire to learn and to grow is very evident in this particular journal. Also, to be active and alert. To act with mindful care and lucid regard. To open to moments of a child's greeting. To say hello. And to maintain the opening of hello throughout the day, and every day. A life sustaining practice.

    I wonder where and when I am able to be like this. Your writing triggers these notions that I feel strongly about deepening in my own life. Perhaps to see these notions deepen in the lives of others in their own way of living in accordance with some gentle practices. To be in company with that is a wonderful kind of realization. A softening of the hardened spirit. A clearing out of the clutter that mucks up the drainages of our lives.

    Thank you for this writing.


  2. Thank you Giancarlo! It means much to me that you have taken the time to read my post, and all the more to have your beautiful response to read. Your talent in noticing and describing have always been an inspiration for me.
    In this writing project I am trying to be sensitive to those moments when I have focus, can describe my experience and the context it is in, and hopefully say something about it that could be useful to others in their life's work.
    I am grateful to have the time and space for this right now.

    Thanks again!

    PS: I had a dream last week of walking the U.S.-Mexican border. I haven't thought too much about the logistics, but you came to mind immediately. Let me know if your life might have room for a part or all of that some time.


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