Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Message to an Old Friend

Do not be afraid of your solitude. Do not be ashamed of your differences. To be surrounded by laughter, yet still feel something deeply problematic, is a perception so few of us hold. So few of us have the courage and desire to break the confines of normalcy and strive for something more.

You are young and the young are allowed, or more rightfully, are obligated to make mistakes. For it is in the mistakes we learn. It is in the mistakes that cast us into the depths of doubt and despair, which create the opportunities to pull ourselves out. It is the mistakes that teach us how to appreciate.

Because happiness is not about consistency. It is not about sustained contentment or continual bliss, but it is contrast, that makes finding peace, that much more meaningful.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I Wish I Could Be Timeless

I want to be so many things. Learn so many skills. Accomplish so many goals. But everything I start ends up being a discovery of the absurd amount of time and effort put into each trade. It ends up being the harsh reminder of how and why people dedicate an entire career to one thing. A reminder that perhaps some things, are in fact, out of your reach. There just isn't enough hours in a day, months in a year, time in a lifetime, to do it all.

Ignorance is Bliss?

Mike Tyson's childhood hero was the Panamanian boxer Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran, but he said he never wanted to meet Duran. He said he didn't want to find out anything bad about the man to ruin the image he had of him. I guess you could say I feel the same way about certain things. Sometimes it's better to leave them as the comforting pockets you create in your mind rather than finding out the truth. Right?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Just Another Crazy Night

(Motupe, Peru)

I used to joke about it when I lived in Honduras with the Yueng family. When their friends from Canada would visit and ask in awing wonder, "How much does it cost to live in the hills and who lives there?" Monica, the mother, would chuckle in reminiscence of how in places like Canada or the United States, the rich would pay fortunes for the scenic view, but in Tegucigalpa, like it is here in Lima, it is the opposite. It is the marginalized poor that live on elevated land, in places where one would call, shantytowns, slums, or just places asking for more inhabitable conditions.

He approached me one day while I was sitting in the boxing gym. Ricardo Espinoza, a social worker whose dream was to see the betterment of his neighborhood. He invited me and a Cuban boxing coach to see where he planned to establish a boxing program to dissuade youth from the growing influence of drugs and alcohol. It was about an hour and a half bus ride from the familiarity of the national stadium. Dust clouded into the air as the paved road disappeared into a bumpy dirt path. The closer we approached, the more it appeared that the area was currently under construction, only that "currently" didn't really apply. It was just the way it was. And sure enough, we were going upwards.

Ricardo brought us to what appeared to be his home and I immediately noticed about a dozen children obediently sitting in chairs, all wearing a football (soccer) uniform stamped with the phrase "Acad. de Futbol de Menores Si. De Drogas No" (Academy of Football of Minors Yes. Of Drugs No) written on it. Each child came up, introduced their name and age, then shook our hands. One boy then came up and handed me a plate. Chicken and potatoes covered in a savory sauce. As the rest of the boys began receiving their plates, I noticed that theirs only included potatoes. They ate like they hadn't eaten all day, but earlier Ricardo had asked them how many had eaten breakfast, and judging by the absence of raised hands, it probably was their first meal.

Afterward the coach began giving a speech about boxing, intermixing mood raising questions of who wanted to learn how to defend themselves, who wanted to be a future champion and interestingly enough, noting the importance of knowing your family background. But the core of the speech laid in one topic: about what it takes to succeed in the sport. Of course he discussed the characteristics of determination, sacrifice, perseverance, and so on, but the main reason was to advocate the abandonment and avoidance of drugs and alcohol. He kept saying how one needed to stay away from them to find success, how in becoming consumed by them, you would disappoint your family and yourself.

We later walked around to possible sites to where a boxing gym could be built. In my honest opinion, the scarce bareness of the land didn't offer much hope. But the kids didn't seem concerned. They seemed more interested in my ability to speak English and Chinese, began asking me to translate words in both languages, asking me what the United States was like, if there were neighborhoods like this one. I wanted to say yes, because there is poverty in the US, but to these levels? I don't really know anymore.

I hate to say that this story is beginning to sound like a broken record, that I've already been to so many places suffering from the same ills of poverty that I can no longer, nor have ever been able to, discern whose story deserves more attention. But what I have never been able to get my head around is the state of inequality this world suffers from; how in one moment I am in a place where drugs and alcohol will drag a life into the cold depths of destitution, and in the next, I am working in a place where drugs and alcohol appear to be a common daily occurrence, yet these users' lives are not affected by the same adverse consequences. Nobody seemed to be disappointed in them. Their privilege manages to allow their habits and experiences to be packed away as "just another crazy night".

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lovely Present

I walked into the Lima boxing gym expecting to spar with Mauricio, the pro fighter with an upcoming bout next Saturday. Normally I wouldn't opt to just hop in with a fighter of his caliber, but I scoped him out the day before and noticed his lackluster one-punch-at-a-time combinations, his apathetic effort in finishing his workout, and just his overall skill. I figured I could survive three rounds with him.

But when I stepped through those doors meandering around the gym, searching for his familiar face, I was later stopped and asked if I would spar with another fighter to prepare him for an upcoming bout next Friday. A smaller fighter named "Maicelo". I watched him shadowbox for a couple rounds. He was definitely faster than me, in better shape, and fought with a will and determination that I have so unsuccessfully tried to recapture, but "What the hell," I thought, "You only live once."

After the first three punches crashed into my face and the headgear flew off my head, I knew I was in trouble. For the next 10 mins of my life, I knew what it felt like to be a punching bag. And he didn't punch as if it was sparring match, but as if I had stolen his childhood pet or offended a close relative. Even my Polish friend Anita told me she at one point she could see a pure and absolute anger in him pummeling me.

I managed to get through the three rounds I promised, battered and beaten, feeling like I had all the meager accolades stripped from the little boxing rank I had. I felt like I wasn't in a place I was supposed to be in, like I failed at what I was set out to do. On top of that, last night I messed up the bar count at my new job at the hostel. I usually fare well with numbers. I don't know how it was so off. Maybe I'm just losing a step, or more probably, overestimating my abilities.

But for some reason, I also feel like something got beat into me, almost like a new energy to go on. The coaches said I did well, most likely to make me feel better, but the one place I can give myself credit is that I never quit. I never gave up. I suppose you can always look at the glass two ways. Either the beginnings of self-doubt and abuse, or the opportunity to start over and try again.

What a lovely gift.