Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Would You Call This Dark Humor?

Sometimes when you think you have it bad, you never really know. Last week, I was complaining about a racist cop, about being oppressed in a free society. Today, I get an email about how one of my best friends had just heard that eight of his friends have been arrested, and are being beaten and starved for having gay pornography in their homes. Living in a country that won't tolerate homosexual behavior was their crime.

Oppression? I haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg.

As he described what had happened, the authorities bursting into their homes off a "suspicious activity" tip from their neighbors, it reminded me of what the Nazis did to the Jews, a scene directly out of "V for Vendetta"; only this wasn't history, this wasn't a movie, this was only days ago. Here. Now.

I kept visualizing the only images mainstream Hollywood has given me and in picturing the same things happening to a friend that I consider a brother, I couldn't hold it in any longer. I cried as he told me, cried as I asked for help from a human rights lawyer, as I explained the story to others, as I type this now.

At the end of the day, we debriefed on the progress we had tried to make and in talking about this he just kept saying, "I can't believe this is happening. This is a nightmare. There is no God."

I tried to lighten the mood by talking about some irrelevant, superficial topic. Maybe something we used to laugh about. We once had a 30 minute conversation where we would only read to each other the most obnoxious porn titles we had ever heard. I don't think I ever laughed so hard.

Now he had begun deleting his collection. "A life's work," he said. "Deleting each movie was like being forced to wear a mask, to hide who you really are." I found it strange how erasing pornography could be so symbolic of oppression, yet at the same time it made complete sense. It was almost inappropriately humorous.

I told him he should have one more go at it before he deleted the last ones. Maybe I would too and we could "masturbate in solidarity". After a quick laugh, he said that he just couldn't. He was too shook up. Maybe in a couple of days. "Only if you feel it's safe," I told him. I never thought I would be saying that about jerking off, but damn, I really meant it.

It was, as I kept repeating to him, pathetically comical. But I hope he got to laugh, if only for a moment, to forget how lost this world has become. And maybe, just maybe, squeeze out a smile from these obnoxious jokes we were being forced to make.

Monday, December 29, 2008


I sat at my window smoking a cigarette, listening to Nina Simone's "You'll Never Walk Alone", a song I used to listen to in Honduras when I got lonely, never knowing the title of the song until I got back to Seattle. I was reflecting on the day's events, on how I need to reevaluate what has happened to me this past week and hating myself for yelling at my family. It's just not right. But the human organism can only take so much at a time. At least until it learns to handle more.

I've been back for a little over a week and the world looks differently to me. I see, feel, experience every moment. I can finally say that, well, I am happy. I realized that if you're just nice to people, you receive niceness back. People here in the US are just bred to grow up mistrusting the world and just being, mean. I figure, everyone deep down is a good person. You just need to bring it out of them somehow. Like my high school principal said in our graduation speech, "It's nice to be nice."

But sometimes you get disillusioned. You get carried away and you need a reality check. Mine came in the form of spinning out and running into a tree in my sister's boyfriend's Ford Explorer. A good friend of mine flew in from Denver to see her daughter for Christmas and being that her family didn't own any four-wheeled drive vehicles, she asked if I would be willing to pick her up.

I had the choice between my two wheel drive sedan (not happening), my mother's Mercedes that was buried in our garage, or my sister's boyfriend Eric's car that was already sitting in the street, free of snow since we had just dropped him off the night before at the airport. He had given permission to drive the car, so I thought that to be the safest, most logical choice.

I picked up Paia, and like most good friendships, they pick up right where they left off. We had gotten breakfast, shopped for Christmas gifts for her daughter and my mother, sorted out my problems at the bank, and finally headed towards her home.

I figured the street between the 7-11 and Chevron was safe to drive on. It was a flat plane and cars were passing through back and forth. Still, I cautiously drove about 12 miles an hour down the street that was normally regulated at 35. I guess we must of hit a ice spot because I soon lost control, the car spun out of control and eventually ran into a tree.

We called a tow company but being they were backed up due to the numerous crashes, abandonments, and stalls, they wouldn't get to me until tomorrow, if I was lucky. Being that I just ran uncontrollably into a tree at 12 miles an hour, and a local neighbor had his parked car rammed by a driver in a similar situation, I know I didn't want to leave it on the street. We decided to call the police. The public servants. The ones that serve and protect.

As we waited a Dodge Ram approached and the driver asked we would like him to help pull us out. He was Mexican, or South East Asian, I couldn't tell. I just knew he wasn't white. As he attempted to drive around the curb, I heard a glaring megaphone roar, "Sir, if you want to damage city property, I suggest you don't." I approached the officer and tried to explain to her the situation but she just told me, "Well, he can't damage city property in the process." Finally left with no further options and a line of 15 cars waiting behind us, she allowed him through.

During the tow, she then proceeded to ask me the typical questions. Driver's license, registration, insurance card. She asked details about the accident, how fast I was going, where I was going. I told the cop I was going about 10-15 miles an hr. Under her breath she mumbled, "There's no way this was under 15 miles an hr". The white neighbor who had gotten his car hit an hour ago interrupted by saying, "Oh no, I saw about 4 accidents today and all of them were going about that speed." After witnessing more interactions between us and the police officier, he later said, "Wow, she's being really mean to you two."

She wasn't very nice, but given my new revelations, I just figured she's had a rough day since accidents like this were happening all over the city. But then I saw a smile. I saw her joking around with the other white neighbors. When I approached, the smile melted.

(Officer): "You know you're really lucky I'm backed up. If I had more time, I would write you a ticket for reckless driving in hazardous conditions."

(Me): "Ok."

(Officer): "It's a serious offense."

(Me): "Ok."

(Officer): "No seriously, it's about $550.00 and a day in court."

(Me): "Ok."

(Officer): "No. You're really lucky we're backed up. Otherwise I'd write you this ticket."

(Me): "Ok. Thank you officer."

(Officer): "Okay. You have a good day now."

My friend indirectly asked the officer if she could have a ride home by complaining that she now had to walk home in the snow. The officer replied by saying, "That's what you get for being reckless and driving in these conditions." It would have taken her two minutes to drive my friend to her house. Instead she made her walk 30 mins, in the blistering 29ºF weather. She couldn't even carry the "Heeles" she had just bought her daughter. I had to drop them off with the tow driver.

The tow driver and the mechanic were judgmental. I could sense a bit of hesitation in doing business with me. The tow driver kept making sure I had money to pay. The mechanic treated me like I was some posh rich-brat who could "wait at Starbucks" while the car was being fixed. But after just a few exchanges they warmed up to me. They all let me change their minds. The cop was racist. Maybe she had a traumatic experience with people of color. I don't know. But hate like racism, hate that runs that deep in the veins cannot be cured by just a friendly conversation.

I came home and my family was relieved I was okay, but immediately began saying how I shouldn't of picked up my friend, how I shouldn't have ran errands with a car that wasn't mine, how I shouldn't of taken it in the first place. They were right in some respect, although I don't leave a friend stranded, I stopped to pick up a present for my mother, and the owner gave me permission to use the car. Sure I fucked up, but I was hoping for some slack from my own family. I guess I kind of lost it.

I was shitted on by everyone today. By the cops, by the tow driver, by the mechanics and now even by my own family. I had to eat that shit, said it tasted like strawberries and ask for more. Sometimes you just reach a breaking point. But you have to maintain your humanity. You can't let these things kill your hope that this Godforsaken place can still be saved. It just isn't worth it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bad Day

I had a really shitty day today. To top it off, I came home greeted by the BBC headline that reads:

"Pope Benedict XVI says saving humanity from homosexual behavior is as vital as saving the rainforest."

What kind of fucking world do we live in?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welcome Home

It was funny that the last person I talked to outside of the United States was Wes from Salt Lake City. A white, middle-aged financier who was ideologically to the right. A pro-capitalist. My virtual arch-nemesis had it been a year ago. But the one thing he disliked about his work was that he never got to see in person the change he made in people's lives. He eventually wanted to be a teacher, that and a football coach. "That would be perfect." The old me would have cut off the conversation. Before, I would have never found that out.

Because I had only carry-on bags, the baggage claim was our essential parting point. Since I could just go straight to the customs check, I decided to take down his email with the extra time. As I tried to approach the customs counter, a harsh voice barked, "Get back there!" I looked up to see a stoned-faced guard with a real "fuck-off" expression on his face pointing at me. I tried to explain that I didn't have any more bags before he interrupted by asking, "Can't you read?!" I must of hesitated because he soon viciously repeated, "Get the fuck back there!" I then saw the sign that read "Please Wait Until You're Called." I guess I was a bit thrown off. I mean I was coming from being treated like a human being in all these third-world barbaric countries, to arriving at one of the world's most civilized societies and being spoken to like an animal.

Of course he quickly directed me to be searched and I was greeted by yet another customs agent. She was nice enough. Asked me if I had gone to Antigua when I told her I started in Guatemala. But for about 20 minutes she entered something from my passport into a computer. When she finished, I simply asked if I could know what it was about. After some nervous glances, she told me, "It wasn't personal, it was just Top Secret." I couldn't know. I asked if I could at least have the name or number of the policy that allowed this. I felt as a born citizen, I had at least the right to that. Like day and night, her tone suddenly changed and asked in, as almost a threat, if I'd like to wait and see the supervisor, then added again that I couldn't know. Since it would have probably led to more trouble than it was worth, I decided to just let it be, thanked her, and went my way.

I went out and smoked a cigarette harder than I ever smoked in my life. It helped hold back the tears. Not tears because I felt discriminated (even though I was the ONLY one checked during the 30 minute search), but because all those old feelings of anger, hate, and vengeance began to surface again. I thought I had learned to leave those behind.

"Your security is our top priority." This is my country. The land of the free.

But on my way home, I sat next to a man from Leavenworth, Washington. I never got his name but it's what we talked about that was important. He worked odd jobs that forced him to frequently travel and was actually one of the first people I met that hated to leave home. He just wanted to be with his wife. Maybe he'd open a pizza parlor or a barber shop one day. He said, "People look for happiness in the wrong places. Sometimes it is right in front of them, in the simplest things." I appreciated that.

I had many emotions in me the last few hours of my journey but I think that last interaction happened for a reason. It taught me that even in the darkest places, there can still exist hope. After 17,885 cumulative hours of traveling, I finally stepped back into Seattle, and as we parted ways at the boarding gate, he shook my hand, smiled, and said, "Welcome home."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


The biggest weakness of the human design is emotions, yet emotions are exactly what makes us human.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I'm going back home, well more like a short break, to recollect, to rethink, and to reflect on this past year. People say on a journey like this, you find some meaning of life. If there's anything I've learned, it's that there exists no one meaning. The only thing constant in life is change. I read and reread my blogs and I see my change. I carried a lot of hate and anger. I still do. But it is a demon that I am constantly battling and I think, I'm winning.

My friends tell me I should write a book about my travels. I tell them that if I write a book, it won't be about me. This journey, has never been about me. But about my teachers. The ones I met along the way.

It has been about the gracious hosts who proved that despite all the ugliness in this world, there is still always room for kindness. For all the boxers who generously shared their stories, opened their homes, and most importantly, entrusted me with their hopes. For every panhandler, begger, and street vendor that taught me my reflection through just being, them. For all the friends and family that gave their energy when I could no longer stand on my own. And for that special one, who showed me my capability to love unconsciously and unconditionally.

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Extra Baggage

I left my heart in Colombia but had it broken in Ecuador.

How can you break something that you left behind?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Farewell

When people ask me, "Of all the countries you've been to, which was your favorite?" Without hesitation, I say Colombia. You can't help but appreciate a country as complex as this.

There remains the tragic dichotomy where places exist to drink tropical cocktails on a beach resort, while simultaneously, villages are being destroyed and terrorized by both the ideological left and right, as this country currently remains in civil war. The drug trafficking continues to run rampant, political bombings still occur and there is probably the widest disparity of wealth of all the countries I've been to. But Colombia is special.

Through all of this, it is the most geographically beautiful terrain I've ever had the pleasure of traveling. I've had the inspiration of innovative artists instilled in me, tasted a delicious variety of cuisine, heard creative melodies tantalize my eardrums, and witnessed the most profound perseverance of the human spirit. Colombia is beautiful.

In some ways it is reflective of my own personal transformation. I don't love Colombia because I enjoyed every second. On the contrary. There were times where I felt absolutely miserable, considered giving up and going home, but by sticking through those tough times, I've been able to become a better person. I place Colombia in my heart because of the very fact that it put me through every possible human emotion. Here I've experienced happiness, depression, love, hate, anger, joy, guilt, redemption, and most importantly, forgiveness.

For all the smiles and cries, how could I not love it?