Monday, June 30, 2014

A short conversation about the World Cup

So I walked into the elevator the other week, and there was this guy who was obsessively checking himself out in the mirror, not like in an arrogant way, but just in way to make sure he looked presentable. He kept fixing his hair, patting down his shirt, straightening his belt - almost as if he was inadequate for whatever thing he had prepared for. Either way, the end message was clear: He had to look his best.

I said something to him along the lines of, “Hey man, don’t worry. You look good.” 

He smiled at me, then pointed back and forth between his shirt and his shorts. Red and green, respectively.

“Portugal,” he said.

“Oh they’re playing today?” I asked.

“Against the USA."

“Oh, I’m American.” 

We stood there in a moment of silence, slowly realizing that we were enemies for the day. Then we shared a hearty laugh about it as we descended down five floors. I don’t really care too much about football, so I wished him good luck as he walked out. He didn’t say anything in return.


I guess despite all the heinous shit that has happened for the World Cup, there are still moments where it redeems itself. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Notes from my 34th trip (Aniversário da Madrinha Rita)

Sometimes when I think these messages are all too much to handle, I remember the purpose, and keep going.

The mission. It is important to have a mission.

Being afraid and being a coward are two very different things. One is inevitable. The other is a choice.

When you start accepting that everything that happens is a lesson, life becomes beautiful.

I guess what annoys me most is when I encounter a teacher who has been slacking on their ability to be accurate.

The betrayal that hurts is not when there is a beast. 
The one that hurts is because they have chosen it.

Afrose. You genuinely have wings, but you are the one that is sitting on them.

The moves one makes to say no to the devil's handshake. To smack him in the face for the sacrilege.

It gets to a point where you stop being wrong, but simply wonder why you agreed to sign up for this.

Flora. Not Flora. She goes last. After my own life.

The devil hides behind many faces.

Control is such an interesting concept. You cannot grasp it around the neck, but you can't be distant from it either.

If I call you my brother or my sister, I do not mean that lightly. I have thought about the idea for a while, and decided that you deserve it. 

A well trained boxer, aside from anything else, 
is a symbol that we can be better.

To my stalker. Know this. In a duel between a ninja and a samurai, Samurai wins. Always. 

Sometimes the lesson comes by getting hit over the head w/ a stick.

I am starting to become less attached to material souvenirs, because real memories will stay w/ you.

The difference between a liar and a warrior is whether or not they know themselves. 

The answer is always in the middle.

Sons of Anarchy. The MC is a breathing entity hell-bent on survival. It will take everything - love, loyalty, honor, friendship, and sacrifice it, in order to keep living. But it does it b/c it truly believes that it is good.

When someone truly believes that they are a good person. There is a lot behind that.

Sometimes it is the test makers who are looking for answers. 

What you say about me is half what you think of me, half what you think of yourself.

I get really pissed when wannabes, assuming the role of a teacher, pass on misinformation as if it was knowledge.

Rushing things does nobody any good. Rushing is what causes sloppiness and sloppiness is when you commit errors.

Only do things if you have truly chosen them.

"How are you doing brother?"

"Never been better. Impossible to be better. I still haven't figured out the way."

When you accepted a friendship, a true friendship, everything else that arises from that, feelings of romance, are because you have left your post.

A joke is repeated because you need to hear it again.

The heart of a mother: there's always room for one more.

The purpose of life is to help others from a place of compassion.

I don't know how Adolf Hitler died, but if you can imagine him as an old, helpless decrepit man on his deathbed - how you feel about him at that moment will determine whether or not I like you.

The World Cup has brought Brazil a very real human internal conflict.

Here is a recipe for eliminating your ego: Become a blue-belt in Jiu-Jitsu, then get repeated beaten by white belts. Problem solved. 

It's a great thing to realize that you no longer need to plan. Just follow your path and the plan is taken care of.

When you look at the people you dislike, as those who have been given a heavy burden in life, the whole world changes.

Afrose is like my sister, and I dated her at first. The experience was like dating your sister.

The formation of a fighter is a powerful thing. They are the representation of leaving all other options on the street, in order to train.

Never underestimate the extent in which one will go towards in order to fool you.

Our work is to repay the sins of our past.

Oh! The lessons you learn in healing others.

If you want to learn how to be a human being, come to Brazil.

I'm going to write a piece on Adrien Broner. Haha. God. That is going to be a trip.

Jonathan Maicelo is a true reincarnation of an Incan warrior.

To my stalker: You have declared war...and I have accepted. May the best man win.

When someone disrespects your friends, it is much like settling w/ a stomach full of rotten food to let them get away w/ it.

God has many jokes. Brazil is the biggest joke he ever played on the world.

It's no longer about feeling anger. It's about whether or not you choose the path where it is present.

I am a Warrior of Light who ventures into the darkness. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Notes from my 33rd trip (São João)

Fuck. I traveled for a year and a half, ALONE, through Latin America. I don't know how the hell I was able to do that. When I think about it clearly, I actually spend a lot of time alone.

Remember your humanity.

Beneath all stories of the world, is a story about love

I am deserving of Flora's love. 

It makes a lot of sense that Flora and I are no longer boyfriend and girlfriend. It is because we are PARTNERS, deserving of a better title.

Jonathan Shaw is one of the most under-appreciated geniuses of our generation. 

A boxer is a representation of their people. They are all the emotions, all the work, all the struggle, embodied into one person, who fights. Realize, true fighters are always fighting for more than themselves.

The anger one has at the sight of the innocent being harmed. 

I am an innocent person. I know a lot of the shit that I talk about and live is intense, and you would think that it would harden me. To some extent it has, but at the core of it all, I am still very innocent. 

Flora is my path, and I am hers. I've chosen mine. But whether or not she chooses hers, that is a decision completely out of my hands.

I think so much.

Sometimes I don't know what to do with all these thoughts. I mean writing them down is like 10% of what I actually think, maybe 1% of what I feel. 

Brazil is like racist and not racist at the same time. That's fucking coo-coo for coca puffs. 

This is the last note

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Notes from my 32rd trip (São João)

Sometimes I wonder what it's like to be only an observer in life.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A discussion on "race" in Maré

So in order to be an official fighter on the Fight for Peace team, one must participate in what is called “Citizenship Classes” which from what I've been told is a way for students to learn more about their fellow community member, see them more as people and treat them as such. I’ve never actually sat in on one of the classes so last week I decided to see it for myself.

I walk up the stairs and see Mara, Michel’s girlfriend now fiancé. Mara is looking at a small collage with the title “Slavery and Its Effects Today”. She is staring at this picture of half-naked women posed in a line with their posteriors facing the camera and one woman sitting down in the middle of them with a huge smile.

“What do you think of this picture, Nick?” she asks me. I look at it for a moment. At first I’m a bit confused as to why the picture is included in a collage about racism. I tell her just as much.

“See,” she says, looking over at Michel. “It shouldn’t be here.” 

Michel is from Cameroon, and I’m guessing the issue of slavery is a bit more touchy for him than it would be for Mara, who is what you would consider a lighter-skinned white Brazilian. Michel begins going into this very emotional explanation of historical slavery, talking about how slaves were sold naked and how the degradation continues today. Some of it is lost in translation, mostly because Michel is nearly hysterical. I’ve punched this guy in the face and had him punch me in mine, yet I’ve never seen him get this out of control.

I look at the photos next to it. On the left there is a photo of a black nanny taking care of a white baby, dated back a few centuries ago. Below it is a photo of a black nanny pushing a stroller behind a white couple, dated in 2014. I look above the aforementioned photo and see a drawing of nearly naked slaves being traded to their white owners, only a few clothes covering their privates. Now I see the connection.

“I understand why this is placed here,” I say to Mara. She kind of looks at me a bit accusingly for an explanation.

“Well, first let me ask you,” I begin to clarify. “What do you think of beauty contests?” She thinks about it for a moment.

“I think they’re okay…Well, depends on how they’re run,” she says.

“I think what they’re trying to say is that slavery continues today and that beauty contests are a form of slavery.” I say. I notice that all the women included in the photo are either black or brown.

“But you’re not forced into entering beauty contests,” Mara protests. “Slaves were forced to work.”

“I guess they’re saying it’s a form of mental slavery.” I finish. 

Mara isn’t satisfied with the response. She starts arguing in the same passionate manner as Michel was earlier and is literally, right up in my face. Michel touches her arm lightly and prompts us to go into the class. I like Mara, so I try my best not to argue with her, but I also wasn’t going to let her bat down what I thought this piece was communicating. I figured I just wouldn’t talk about race with Mara, but little did I know that it was going to be a main topic of that evening’s “Citizenship Class”.

I step into the upstairs tatami room, one that I never really experienced aside from taking photos. Inside is a large group of children sitting in a circle, maybe 50 or so. And it’s not just the athletes that are here, but nearly everyone that’s part of the organization. The night’s class is about “Affirmative Action” or what they call here in Brazil as “Quotas”. The moderators take two representatives in the middle of the circle to argue the traditional viewpoints. The pros argue about the institutionalized racism that keeps minorities from entering places like the university. The cons argue that the best person should be selected for the position, that it is a form of reverse racism. After they’re finished, other students are allowed to chime in with their opinions.

An overwhelming amount of the students are against affirmative action. Many of them use anecdotes of friends and family that have managed to get through the system and say that they’ve gotten there on their own accord. Supporters of the “reverse racism” claim chime in, saying that one should be judged based on their hard work and merits, and shouldn’t be given a leg up simply based on the color of their skin. Mara is right next to me, whispering to me over and over again why quotas are wrong. 

I’m a bit surprised at the responses, since affirmative action is a mandate that would benefit many of those who are sitting in this room. Maré, after all, is one of the largest Afro-Brazilian favelas in Brazil, and it’s history is one ripe with plenty of institutionalized and actual racism affecting how the community is today. But at the same time I respect their resolve. It’s a typical fighter’s attitude. They don’t want handouts. They’re willing to work for their place in the world. I’m not necessarily in support of the way affirmative action is carried out, but I do believe in the purpose it serves. After about seven people, no one has yet spoken in favor of it, so I figure I’d put in my two cents.

“I don’t know about the situation in Brazil, but I’ll tell you how it is in the U.S.” I start. “The design of quotas is to balance the injustices of the past, because racism in the past affects the present. For instance, we have this thing in the U.S where if your mother or father went to a university, you have a preference in entering that university. But even if you don’t have a system like that, people who go to university earn more money afterward, they have a better status, more education. Life is easier for their children.”

The moderators are nodding their heads.

“These universities used to prohibit students of color from entering,” I continue. “It was law. So logically there are going to be more alumni who are white and rich as time goes on, and they got there by the benefits of racism. Affirmative action is a crude way of balancing that.”

Some of the students seem to get what I’m saying, but others look a bit confused, or just plain don’t agree with me. I try to put it to them other terms.

“Imagine you’re having a fight. But imagine that if you’re black, you have to spar three rounds before the fight, and your opponent comes in fully rested and healthy. Is that a fair fight?” 

Some of the students shake their head, but don’t seem to catch the translation of my analogy.

“Ok, now trade in the sparring session for what it takes you to get here everyday to train.”

Now I can’t say I know the individual stories of each student, but I do know they live in a favela that has recently been taken over by the Brazilian military and before that was caught in a shitstorm of public neglect, drug trafficking, and heavy stigmatization from the rest of society. I’d guess that there’d be 101 reasons for someone to be doing something else instead of showing up to train at a gym. 

My two cents doesn’t really go over that well as most of them continue on their con position, though a few of them sit around quietly, the opposite of how they began. The moderators close the session by having two girls race across the room, one of them with their legs taped together. On the first run the girls with the taped legs actually reaches the other side of the room at the same time of the other girl, though she ran straight into a post since she hopped the entire time through. There’s plenty of laughter at the whole thing once everyone realizes the girl is okay. When they tell the two to repeat the exercise walking, the untaped girl easily wins. The moderators then say that the tape represents the history of slavery, and that weight is what weighs people down from getting ahead. I’m relieved that the moderators share my view and that I didn’t speak out of turn.

The final word comes from one of the main moderators who tells her own tale of getting into college. I don’t understand it all that well, but she’s from the community, and she said it took her much longer to get into college than her well-off colleagues. She ends by taking a survey. She asks how many of the kids’ parents went to college. Nobody raises their hand. She asks how many completed high school. Seven. The majority of these kid’s parents only finished middle school, some only elementary. That’s not to support any kind of “culture of poverty” theory, but it is pretty apparent that whoever has a personal experience in going to school are more equipped to pass on their experience than one who hasn’t. 

She tells the kids to go home and ask their parents why they never finished school. Some of the kids yell out because they had to work instead to survive. 

“That’s the point,” she says. “Go home and ask them, and we’ll talk about it next week.” 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Notes from my 31st trip (Santo Antonio)

Sometimes you want to curl up next to a human body because you think the contact will somehow shield you from the inevitable storm. It's as if holding someone makes things less real, makes pain hurt less.

I am realizing that I am not wasting my time here. 
I never was.

There is a certain holiness in being grateful for everything.

Life is not easy. Sometimes we just need some goddamn help.

There are only a few moments where I truly know peace.

I feel people's suffering. That's why this whole thing is so goddamn hard.

Helping other people helps the person that is helping.

It's a son of a bitch when the opponent your facing rips apart the emblem of your beliefs so easily, as if it was nothing, and you are forced to start over.

All the problems that you were given were given to you for a reason. They are your fight. Your chance at training well.

I don't lie to Flora. That is one thing I do not do to her.

Just being alive is fucking insane.

I kind of feel like all our efforts, no matter in what expression, are just done in hopes of connecting w/ God.

I think part of Flora is just scared in being in love w/ me. And I've been kind of mean about it.

It is a sneaky thing when you understand why another person likes hanging out around you.

A master of words is like any other master. The whole thing is about "catch" and "release".

I am very afraid of losing Flora. I do my best at working on the personal defenses apart from her. But without her I know they will crumble. Without her I am lost.

Jiu-Jitsu is such a strange thing. It gives you the ability to physically separate your body in many ways.

I kind of feel that in all the real friendships I've developed throughout my life, the base foundation of all of them was respect.

Now I get why some people love telling stories, love being heard, being recognized. 

This whole fucking thing is like a war, isn't it?

Some people depend on seeing you everyday. 
When they're gone, that's hard.

If I'm to be completely honest, I haven't thrown away all my insurance cards in regards to Flora. There's a part of me that's afraid of being all-in, as well.

In telling her stories of my life, I am learning about myself.

You know I feel like when you are in love, you are in such a blinding whirlwind of emotions that I think all of them, all of the times you have been in love, are just experiments to see which one will finally give you a vision.

The beauty in which a deck of playing cards can bring.

I have enough books in my apartment to drive a man crazy.

I would say w/ honesty that my everyday disposition is of a person who is on a mission.

The reason I use simple passwords is because people don't think the answer is in the obvious.

Just because someone has done wrong things in the past does not negate them from having the other emotions in very honest ways.

I've learned kindness, forgiveness and sadness in Brazil. I also know what it is to be extremely angry.

Love is the greatest adventure of all. 
It will teach you everything.

Flora always "gets it" at some point. That is what I like about her.

Sometimes when you meet someone who is of your same tribe, you think to yourself, "Wow. There are other crazy fucking people in this world." 

You know you're a real writer when you start proclaiming the title w/ this strange mix of pride and reluctance. 

One of the hardest things about being an artist is deciding what stays and what goes.

The fear w/ love comes in its ability to hurt as much as it heals.

Sometimes I give a prayer and a sigh of relief after I've revised the day and concluded: 
"Okay. No major breakdowns today." 

I am learning how to be there for someone.

The entire fight is about not succumbing to the darkness.

There are some things to explain, some things to feel.

At times I think both me and Flora need to be more responsible.

When you are in love, you understand all languages.

I feel like the whole purpose of being hurt is to learn how to protect people from that same hurt in the future.

Sometimes in a relationship you do things that the other person will never fully appreciate. You guard them from certain doors, because you know there is nothing good behind them.

I've determined, being in love is emotional suicide. 

People confuse "ego" for "confidence", too often.

Those moments where you begin to doubt WHO YOU ARE. 
Those are terrifying.

Sometimes I feel like all writing is is a way to organize your thoughts. Because if all you had were thoughts, w/ no direction, that will drive you mad.

It is those thing things that disgust you to the core of your being, an offense to all of your beliefs. Those things call you out to fight.

If you're not willing to defend your position, you don't deserve to have it.

It's like anytime you think it's a good idea to consider everyone a victim, some snarky gay guy will write a brilliant article that goes viral and embarrasses the hell out of you beyond recovery. It's better to kill the idea from its inception.

When someone takes a seat because they are truly in need of a rest, I respect that. When someone does it because they are lazy, I want to kick them in the face.

There are many ways to do the same action. Most of the difference lies in the choice between love and fear.

Flora is the key to everything. That is why I've been so offended by anything that gets in the way of that union. But she's been teaching me how to be kinder about it. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A test of true love.

So me and Flora “broke up”. I put the term in quotation marks because we’re still together, but not “together”. It all started when I asked her to marry me, mostly under the guise of getting permanent papers, but secretly probably more about the real thing than I’m willing to admit. In any case, she got shook up by the whole thing and needed to take a step back. I mean it got to the point where she began questioning on whether or not we should be together at all, just about the polar opposite of what I was hoping to come out of a marriage proposal.

But after a week of back and forth, cold silences on both fronts of communication, we’re still together, and in some strange way, closer than ever. She basically had to take the title away. She’s kind of the type that feels confinement in titles, and when I really think about it, so am I, only over the years, I understand why they’re there, and accept them when necessary. I thought that meant she’d start seeing other people. I guess that meant I could as well. But when we talked about it, both of us felt uncomfortable at the prospect of either one of us being with another person. She put it with me like this:

“But I’m not feeling the need to be with another person,” she started, “I just need to be alone. If I feel that need, then I’ll tell you. It means that something is missing between us.” 

I thought about the scenario where I was with another person. What would be the motivation for that? To get back at her? To strike first so she feels it before I do? Would I really love her if I wanted to do it for that reason? Because the reason sure as hell isn’t because she doesn’t satisfy every single part of my being. 

It’s hard. Part of me is not wanting to sit around like a chump while she goes out and dates other guys. On the other hand, if I’m to make the assumption that she is, then do the same, that could push her in the opposite direction of what I'm hoping for. I mean this could still happen even if we were "together", because at the end of the day, people are still independent actors inside of a relationship. It’s then I realize that none of this is about competing to see who hurts the other one first, or who is into this thing more. Relationships are never about competition. They’re about staying true to how you feel and knowing the consequences of your actions to those feelings. 

These are all just titles, a label to put on things that were never meant to be labeled. I wanted her to be mine. I wanted a guarantee. But there are no guarantees in love. You don’t “own” anyone. You just have to let this thing breathe and navigate the feelings that come along the way. It was here that I realize that she was showing me what true love is and how that love is put to the test. When I'm able to put it all together in my head, I said the words aloud.

“This a test, “ I said to her. “This is a test to see how much I love you.” I sat there for a few seconds, and after finally accepting the terms of this agreement, was able to find some humor in the whole thing.

“It’s also a test to see how much I can still charm you,” I smiled. She smiled in return. We both shared a small laugh, though we knew it sat in a strange moment. A moment where neither of us knows what will happen, and both a bit afraid of that. 

“Nobody knows what will happen in the future,” she finally said.

That’s true. The future holds things that we can never anticipate. But I’m up for the challenge. I try to view it like this: I just have to make myself the most appealing option available, stay fresh on my toes, because in some ways, this is what keeps people from taking things for granted. I guess this was what I meant when I said I’d be coming back here to take a chance on love. But I tell you, I’ve never been more scared in my life. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Notes from my 30th trip (São Miguel)

Those tears felt like what vinegar tastes like.

I can now see how overconsumption can destroy the world.

You know you're a true writer the moment you realize that nothing you write is self-created. These are messages that you have been given, and have been entrusted w/the task of delivering them.

How other people view you is often completely different from what you think about yourself.

Have you ever wondered if insects land on you, not as an insult, but almost as a compliment. Like you are a fascinating enough planet for me to explore.

To be able to offer someone protection under a banner, that is a big deal, even if the other person doesn't felt it at the moment.

You know the true essence of your being when you are hurt.

It is a grand feeling when you recognize, understand, and accept the task you have been assigned in this life.

       The pigeon will outsmart the eagle in a real fight.

Violence stains the soul. That is how you hurt yourself in hurting others.

The thing about being Asian in Latin America, is that no one really has anything against your race. They just king of revere you as some Kung-Fu master, which is fine, if you are ready to assume that task. 

Being a sparring partner is a delicate role. You are responsible for calling out the fighter's animal instinct, and testing their control of theirs, just as yours of yours. It is an equal responsibility, separate, but equal.


Even close friends will try and cheat you a little every once in a while. It's nothing personal, it's okay even, as long as you call them out on it.

This relationship that I am in has stripped me raw.

Forgiveness will liberate you. I can attest to that personally.

Whenever someone has an emotional outburst that disturbs my peace, I think, "Oh. That's how I am to other people."

Right person, wrong time. That type of thinking is a lie
If you met them at the wrong time, it means they are not the right person.

The opponent, in a fight, is merely fighting for what they believe as their truth. And you prove the dedication to yours in that process.

The message I have for the world is ready to be sent.

I am starting to remember my dreams.

My messages are meant only for those who have trained themselves to hear it.

You have something very powerful beside you Afrose
It is your duty to harness it.

It is a grand task when you realize you are able to endure a lot of pain.

I understand why old people just want you to hang around for a bit.

The agony of being born a person.

The one time I got my asshole licked was by a Cuban girl. Yeah. That sounds about right.

                     The ability to follow requires a bit of insanity.

The ways to silence a writer are many. The good ones are the ones sworn to their word.

I've been a thief before. To Scott most of all. Never forget that story. You owe that man your life.

Melissa. At the end of the day, we're both jokers. That is the trick we played on the world. 

The family is the base institution of humanity. It is the family that creates the home, the place we go to heal ourselves.

The thing about marriage is that your partner can take you on all the exotic adventures your ego desires. They are a universe in themselves. If you feel that other person is capable of that ability, that is when you have encountered your soulmate. 

What a fighter represents for a nation is their grief, their anguish, their pain and sorrow. A fighter represents their humanity, and they step in the ring, to fight for it.

The mistake lies in thinking that other person owes you their dedication. It should always come as a relief that they have chosen you for another day.

The problem w/ rejection lies in the interpretation. You think one person's reaction represents the world's. 

Flora is the missing piece. She is the last bolt in connecting my love to this world.

Do not disrespect a sacred union. The repercussions are surely greater than you predicted.

It says something about your character when you can intimidate a man of age.

At the end of the day, all of this, is about her

Always has been. Always will be.