The end of one chapter

2 Dec

Nature saying goodbye today at La Universidad Nacional, my home for the past 4 months.

I`m going to appologise in advance because I`m a little rushed but want to get something written down.  The sheer amount of things I`m itching to write about is a little daunting.

There`s the insights gained from 10 weeks of teaching english to my girls at Fundaciòn RAHAB, a center that fights prostitution around the world; the week long seminar I could give about why if you haven`t traveled, you`re not really living to anyone patient, kind, and crazy enough to listen; the humbling fact that minimum wage here is $1.60/hr yet McDonalds doesn´t have a dollar menu and things more or less cost the same or more than in the US across the board; or we could begin an educated safety debate on the use of machetes as the lawn care tool of choice.  The list goes on, and I promise I`ll come back and touch on the most intriguing topics in a few weeks.  For now, I`d just like to say that Costa Rica has been one hell of a ride.

For the past 3 months I`ve been talking about listening to Malpaìs, more or less the national band, in the beach they`re named after.  This weekend, as the sun set over the Pacific sitting on a rock with surfers from around the world to my left trying their hardest at 10ft waves, a coastline that would make any postcard jealous spanning out to the horizon on my right, and tin houses behind me, I listened to the song Malpaìs by Malpaìs in Malpaìs playa (beach) then kissed the sand of Costa Rica goodbye…  Literally.  People do weird things sometimes; don`t judge.  I`ll be back in the next 5 years and vow to repeat that perfect moment.  And to all you friends who made Costa Rica the special place it is, I love you all.   As beautiful as Costa Rica is, you all have made the biggest impression on me.

Tomorrow, I`m picking my backpack back up and heading to the forbidden sands of Cuba to get to know Che, relive the 1950s, get to know the real story behind the lives of people who stand in lines that span hours for their one ice cream cone of the week but have the best healthcare in Latin America, and hopefully open my eyes to a different world 90 miles from our coast.

What does that mean? Given that the internet is slightly controlled by the Government in a China-esque way, I will be pretty unreachable.  In 2 weeks, I promise to share as much as I can about what I learn, experience, and live in Cuba along with the stories I still owe you from Costa Rica.  Until then…

¡Pura Vida!

Kevin

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Una elecciòn | A choice

21 Nov


Sentado en frente de la más bonita atardecer que he vivido, me pone contemplar la vida y sonreír incontrolablemente.  Absolutamente contento, digo al mundo, “Qué vida.  Mataría para ver este cada día…”

Mi amiga Dialan me responde como sí fuera una sabida, “Empiezo y termino cada día con este maravilla.  Puede ser si quieras.  Es una elección solamente.

Pasamos por vida con preconcepciones que nos dicen lo que debemos hacer o no hacer.  Barreras falsas que dirigen nuestras posibilidades.  Cuando las tiramos por la ventana y nuestros pensamientos y acciones son liberados, mi pregunta es así:

¿Qué mas es una elección solamente?

Sitting in front of the prettiest sunset I’ve seen in my life, I begin to go into meditation mode and smile uncontrollably.  Absolutely content, I whisper to the world, “Life’s wonderful.  I’d kill to see this every day…”

My friend Dialan turns to me with Yoda-esque wisdom and replies for the world, “I begin and end every day with this sight.  You can do it to if you want.  It’s only a choice.”

We run through life with preconceptions that tell us what we should and should not do.  Fake barriers of death that direct our possibilities.  When we throw these rules out the window and our thoughts and actions are free, my question is:

What else is just a choice?

Español

7 Nov

Estoy enamorado. 

Una vez que se caiga en un amor impensable, el amor que no tiene ningún sentido y corre contra lo que sepa, conocerá a la montaña rusa es mi vida ahora.  Me levanto unos días con mi corazón realizado, listo para conquistar el mundo y disfrutar el día entera.  Pero todos que han vivido tal situación saben que esta verdad falta algo.  Un día le pone feliz y mañana la odia cuando no se puede determinar lo que quiera.

Imagine cuando se levanta y todo el mundo no le entiende.  Nadie puede entenderte o la esfuerza que han puesto en la relación.  Después de todo, ella no te quiere.  Relaciones previas causan que el mundo te trata con opiniones formadas de los delitos de otras; de personas que han creado esqueletos en el closet hechos por hombres o mujers de muchos porque claramente todos son lo mismo, ¿Sí?

Es una frustración que no puede ser explicada adecuadamente.  De hecho, a veces me siento retardado.  Totalmente especial y sin habilidad para hacer nada que ayudaría mi causa perdida.  Pero así es la verdad de amor y mi amorcita me tiene cerrado y enamorado.  Cada día es una oportunidad para recordar lo que ama tanto.

Antes de contar nuestra historia de amor, prométame que no vayas a relatarlo a ninguna persona.  Con un actor famoso, luces brillantes, y un nombre escandaloso, podríamos tener la próxima comedia romántica exitosa que se eleva la fronteras y diferencias culturales entre todo de America.  Todo empezó cuando nos conocimos en colegio.  Al principio nos caímos bien.  Yo la miraba como todas mis otras amigas, jugamos un poco, pero todo era vacilón.  El año siguiente ella decidió volverse loca y me dio un odio apuntado en su dirección que venía del fondo de mi corazón.  La odiaba.  Siempre me quería hacer trabajo para ella que no tenía ningún razón, era necesitada y no podría contemplar la importancia y belleza que llenan mi alma hoy en día.  Si me hubiera dicho hace 4 año que la querría tanto ahora, te hubiera llamado loco.  Así es la vida.

Todo cambió cuando fui a la Republica Dominicana.  Empecé viajar y mis ojos abrieron a las posibilidades interminables de mi nuevo amor.  Me puse enamorado totalmente y jamás creo que vaya a rechazarla.  Mis ojos y orejas abrieron.  Los acentos lindos de este nuevo mundo me impresionaron, la cultura me fascinaba como un niño con su favorito juego,  y lo más importante, el amor novedoso crecía las posibilidades en mi mundo.  Vías de comunicación entre la gente inspirador que me abrieron sus casas y corazones fueron erigidos.  Mi odio para el trabajo tonto que mi amor me regalaba en la universidad transformó a ser oportunidades de mejorar nuestro comunicación y me dejó fascinado.

Cuando la relación perdió un poco del fuego que encendió nuestros corazones, fuimos a apoyo en Guatemala donde una mujer lindísima nos ayudó con los problemas que nos enfermaron.  Cada paso aumentó mi apreciación para lo que era verdaderamente un don increíble.

Le pregunté el gran cuestión que asusta parejas en todo el mundo.  Decidimos vivir juntos.  Bienvenidos a Costa Rica.

Para describir la aventura de mi amor en Costa Rica duraría bastante para crear un tesis.  Entonces, me gustaría compartir poco de lo que Costa Rica me han enseñado puesto que cada cosa podría ser un ensayo entero.

El amor.

Prepárese para el amor porque así es las maneras de idiomas.  Tengo miedo de regresar por todo lo que mis amigos me han dicho.  Una, después de un programa de intercambio en Chile, regresó y desarrolló una adición a las telenovelas que conquistó su vida sin verguenza.  Sumergida en un mundo ficticio, ella se forzó olvidar su familia, amigos, y su vida revolvió alrededor de su adición destructiva al español.  Ella rechazó los que le dijeron que tenía un problema y casi le perdimos.  Dichosamente se metió en un grupo de Españolicos Anónimos para que tuviera la ayuda del numero gigantesco de personas normales que comparten su adicción a escondidas.  Ella regresó a la realidad sin daños permanentes.

“Español es fácil aprender, ¿Verdad?” 

No sé por qué sentido común y un par de gente que los que conocí en viajes son ligado a una idea falsa de español, ¿No es nada, si?  ¡Falso!  Como todas cosas buenas en el mundo, es súper dificilísimo al principio pero nos regala a los que intentan aprender millones de dones inapreciables que balancea la deuda fácilmente.   Es un don que no se puede describir.

El Tiempo.

Aunque la gente crean que tendrán “fluidez” después de un ratito, siempre me siento que hay más vocabulario para aprender, un mejor manera de pronunciar, y el “rr” amado que me parece imposible para mi lengua.  Además, lo más importante sea la monta de tiempo que dura con la idioma.  Tiempo ha hecho que español corre por mis venas. Más que todo, es un viaje.

La Cultura.

La idioma es totalmente basado en una cultura que sea, en mi mente, absolutemente increíble.  Me encanta lo que llamamos Latinoamérica y no me parece posible que vaya a parar amando español.

Felicidad | Happiness

4 Nov

Andando alrededor de la presa de Heredia, tomando un cafecito con un amigo, fijando mi mirada a las nubes que juegan con la silueta del sol, devolviendo la sonrisa de un niñito en el bus.

Son las cositas pequeñitas que me ponen feliz.  Apenas cada otro día algo me trae una ola de buenas sentimientos y un frase viene a mente que me fuerza gritar con felicidad.

¡Estoy en Costa Rica!  Qué increíble.  ¡Estoy en Costa Rica!

De vez en cuando es difícil.

De vez en cuando me siento como si hable español peor que los gringos borrachos que tratan de pronunciar con dificultad “Dos moor cervesers . . . favor” en un bar turística.

De vez en cuando me siento frustrado con las esteriotipas que alguna gente me pone por mi pelo rubio por lo que ellos ven a veces de gringos que viven con sus ojos cerrados.

Me golpea otra vez y todo los “de veces en cuandos” parecen como sueños lejanos.

¡Estoy en Costa Rica!

Walking around bustling Heredia, grabbing a caffecito with a friend, gazing up to see the clouds play with the outline of the sun, returning the smile of a little rascal as he messes with his mom on the bus.

It’s the little things that bring me a feeling of happiness that’s one part contentment and two parts elation.  About once every other day, something causes this wave of brilliant emotion to wash over my world without reason and one phrase comes to mind that I’m forced to try to not shout at the top of my lungs.

I’m in Costa Rica!  Holy crap… I’m in Costa Rica!

Sometimes it’s hard.

Sometimes I feel like I speak spanish worse than a the damn drunk gringos that slur out a drunken “Dus moor cervesers . . . favor” at a touristy bar.

Sometimes I feel frustrated from the stereotyping and discrimination that form part of daily life because of my blonde hair, what stereotypical gringo’s historically do in Central America (drugs, drink, & women), and how we’re sometimes (justly) perceived in Costa Rica.

Then the joy hits me again and all the “sometimes” seem like a distant dream.

I’m in Costa Rica!

Amo el sentimiento de la sonrisa incontrolable que viene con contentamiento. Gracias amigos y Costa Rica. 
I love the feeling of an uncontrollable smile that comes with contentment. Thank you friends & Costa Rica.

La Isla de Ometepe

27 Oct

Setting foot on flat ground for the first time in almost 10 hours, Nicole’s eyes mirrored the rabid glare of a street dog looking for his first meal of the week.  One soggy egg sandwich in the misty crater of Volcán Maderas hadn’t sufficed the growing pain in her stomach, and although we had food waiting for us a brisk 30 min walk away, Nicole did want can only be described as a “desperate hobble-sprint” to the first house we came across in search of anything edible.

Cultural note: don’t worry, that’s not weird.  In rural places around the world, people open a restaurant by carving their creative take on the word ‘food’ into a wooden board and nailing it to the side of their house.  Restaurant open.

We were met by a nice typical Nicaraguan mom and her family enjoying the soothing sound of rain hitting their tin roof.  Nicole viewed them a little differently: this 30 year old mother of two was the sole obstacle between her and the screaming stomach that directed her current crazed state.

“Do you have any food?” begged Nicole desperately.

The women offered us a corn cob concoction that Nicole immediately rejected with a whisk of her hand.

“Anything I can eat right now?  Bread, crackers, literally anything edible!”  The woman lit up her flashlight and the first thing it brought to life would normally be defined as bread, but I doubt anyone’s ever been met bread with the level of excitement that radiated from Nicole’s exhausted body.

Pointing hysterically, “THAT! The bread.  Please, please, please. . . Pleeaassse!”  Handing over the equivalent of 50 cents, we devoured the immense bag of delicious sustenance in literally 2 minutes.

Five minutes later we were eating another loaf in what can only be described as love at first taste.  If you’ve never been in love before, I’m genuinely sorry for you, but it is all it’s hyped up to be.  You want to spend all your time together, your best memories are made together, and you’ll do anything for each other.  For the rest of our time on the amazingly beautiful Isla de Ometepe this specific type of “pan dulce” dominated conversation that fed our bread addiction.  We haven’t chosen a wedding date yet, but we’re aiming for early March.  Yes, I know this is soon, but with a love like this, you can’t really fight it.  I’ve been gone so long can someone help me out.  Will a lawyer wed me and my Nicaraguan loaf of bread?

Nicole one day later.  The hunger still lives…

The next day, we spent a chunk of the day guarding the hammocks of our hostel.  Through all this, by far the most fulfilling part of our 4 day adventure to this island of humble and charming people was the half day walk we took to a few villages of the island.  You see, people come from around the world to experience the natural beauty and biodiversity of Ometepe, but for me, the humility and kindness of the Nicaraguan fishers and farmers who call Ometepe home made my the most impressionable memory.  We talked with farmers bare-backing horses with machetes, a cute 21 yr old pregnant with her second baby, and when darkness set in and we started our trek back fate, God, smell, whatever you want to call it brought us to the Panadería (bread shop).  On an island over 25 communities, this is one hell of a coincidence.   The hobble-sprint made a special second appearance and darkness be damned, Nicole and I were determined to meet the incredible bread artists responsible for the bread that stole our hearts.

La Isla de Ometepe: two volcanoes forming an island that can only be described as something that would result if Disney had power over the Earth.

We were met by a charming old lady named Doña Maritsa who invited us in from the rain to try a traditional corn drink that I couldn’t pronounce.  As she began to chat us up about the cooperative of 8 women she led running the Panadería, I unconsciously made my way to the edge of my chair, utterly awestruck.  In a culture where Machismo still plays a huge role and the opportunities open to women sometimes are laughable, Doña Maritsa, at around 65 yrs, created a cooperative of women bringing in money for the education of their kids, capitalizing on the strengths of their women, and doing it all out of the concrete block of a house furnished with a bed & table that she called home.  Alone, these women dug the massive pit necessary to mount a bread oven that puts any oven I’ve ever seen to shame and are distributing bread to the entirety of the communities surrounding Volcán Maderas’ side of the island.  Only one of the women is computer literate.  Throughout the whole conversation, Nicole asked questions like a little kid at NASA.  Coming from someone who spent the last 3 years of her life immersed in the manifestations and parades of the women’s equality movement in Costa Rica and studying Women & Gender Equality at our university, Nicole was in heaven.  Her version of superwoman–a living, breathing example of someone fighting for the rights of women worthy to be mentioned along side any number of the women that dominated Nicole’s classes– just offered us more corn cocktail.

Luck’s a wonderful thing, right?

When we landed on la isla I looked at the two volcanoes and thought, “I bet one’s climbable”.  When on an island with volcanoes,  it’s your duty to climb at least one, right?  Dominoes fall and we’re now in a ravenous state of hunger that introduces us to Pan Dulce, our love, which leads us to an inspiring woman that Nicole might even work with for the Costa Rican equivalent of her “senior thesis”.  It’s brilliant how the stars line up.  Doña Maritsa even came to our hostel later that night to give Nicole some papers describing woman’s fight for rights in Nicaragua through a new law they’re trying to pass and talk the night away.

Personally, I’m not a believer in luck; this is one story of many.  We jumped out of our comfort zones a half dozen times in this script in order to find our way to a relationship with an incredibly inspiring woman that had an impact on me and might grow into a key part of Nicole’s next few years.

On the other side of the story, we semi-officially renamed the Costa Rica-Nicaraguan border the border from hell.  Circumstances land us in interesting situations sometimes, and this whole adventure began when we stupidly arrived at the border after 1am because of rains and a down bridge that doubled our lovely 5 hr bus ride.  Luckily (again…?), we hitched a ride with a nice family who was in the same situation, saving us from a lovely night with backpack pillows on a street corner of the border from hell.  Four days later the fun continued when the passport lady on the Costa Rican side tried to deny me entrance into Costa Rica!   We ended up talking our way through the situation and passing into our own country as if we were fugitives laughing the entire way.  Both priceless experiences.

So, I’d say it’s not luck, but the willingness of people to jump outside their comfort zones, be present to what’s around them, and say yes that makes the real difference.  This, along with an attitude that laughs at the bad and enables the good, but these opinions only come from what I’ve been fortunate enough to live the past few months. When so many people use luck as a crutch or as a means for hope the real question is:

What does luck mean to you?

Doña Maritsa

Ometepe

COWS AHEAD!

Abrazos,

Kevin

¡Costa Rica!

20 Oct

The feeling of screaming, “COSTA RICA!!!!!” at the top of your lungs from a mountain simply isn’t replicable.  The biodiversity here makes me question what rock I’ve been living under for the past 20 years, the people and culture are lovingly brilliant, my friends here are studs who enjoy deep conversation, and if I shared some of the last 2 month’s adventures–that’s really the only word I can think of that would do them justice– on video the ab workout would kick P90x’s ass.  Laughing’s deadly you know.

Did I mention that Costa Rica is blowing my mind?  Don’t have any doubts in your mind.

Where have I been?  Climbing Cerro Chirripo the highest peak in Costa Rica laid siege by constant waves of clouds that gifts successful summiters a liberating view spanning from the Pacific to the Caribbean; exploring tropical rain forests in the wee hours of the night; salsa-ing the night away; taking fulfilling classes like Entrepreneurship & Human Rights at la U; reading Foucault’s thoughts on racism en Español; courting my love the Spanish language, although right now she’s playing hard to get; and living life.

Don’t ask me what prompted this long pausa (break) … I guess I’m on Tico time now.  There are a million stories, observations, thoughts, and other awesomeness waiting to be told, and I feel like with an opportunity like this, it’s my duty to share as much of the insights I stumble across here as possible.

Note: If you ever climb a mountain with a bamboo stick you should know that upon reaching the summit odd things happen.  In a hysterical fit of joy you might try and combine the intense years of martial arts training you had from ages 6-9 with all the body contorting and gravity defining moves from badly dubbed movies a white man who can barely touch his toes should never attempt to replicate.  Complete this mental picture with the priceless confused faces European tourists make when, in their exhausted post-Chirripo state, they start to question whether the crazy screaming white man swinging around a bamboo stick is actually real or a figment of their utterly exhausted imaginations.

I’m committed to share some insights through stories each week.  If you have any thought provoking questions, please send them my way and we can start some inter-hemisphere discussion.

PS: It’s hard to write en Inglés.

Abrazos,

Kevin

Summer 2011: A crash course in self-discovery

20 Aug

Last summer literally changed my life.  QLQ’s maiden voyage to the Dominican Republic and the genuine love with which we were received changed my outlook on people, the world, & my personal life goals.   Follow that with the door-to-door salesman life of Southwestern: we called ourselves “Book people” because of the 20lb bags of educational books we lugged around from house to house for 80 hours a day.  2 months, 2000 families, countless blue light specials, and more life experience than I bargained for later, and all the friends I ran into back home had the same verdict:

“You know, you’re alot different than last year.”

“Have I lost weight?  Umm… I cut my hair, are my new found devilishly good looks throwing you off?”

“No.  Seriously.  You’re alot different… Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a good different.”

Well.  Turns out they’re right.  As comfortable as those Huggies were, I graduated into big boy undies.

This time around, I want to articulate what I think I’ve learned since I seem to have a gift for learning the same things over and over again.  And again.  And again.  At least it’s a good laugh each time.

5) Me time (even for extroverts!).  I get excited for bus rides.  Seriously.  This may be a side effect of a mental disability caused by the mind-rattling 96 hours of public buses I’ve taken in a 2 months span, but I look forward to the chance to enjoy the countryside of a country and just think.  Life in the states–now in university here too–is so fast we never have time to simply chill out and reflect on our own thoughts.  Everything’s GO! Go! GO!  And we’re too caught up in the system and pressures inherent in our lives to notice when something is genuinely wrong.  “Me time” is getting a little jealous of “go out and achieve goals and accomplish things and stuff and work alot and check things off lists time”.  Don’t get me wrong, aspects of a purposeful driven life are essential to reaching a sense of fulfillment– as long as they don’t rule my life.

Some clear their heads with mind-boggling yoga positions, some smoke illicit substances, some cook delicious goodies and choose to share the love; I take chicken-buses across borders.  To each his own.

4) Being a little kid.  They have it so great!  Everything is new.  Everything is amazing.  Every walk down the street is filled with a new adventure & their facial expressions rotate like a broken record between Surprised, Amazed, & Happy.   And, yes, I’m choosing to leave out all recollection of bratty little kids; they’re not nearly as much fun.  I can’t remember having a day this summer that wasn’t amazing when I woke up loving everything around me and thinking, “Damn, I’m lucky to be here.”  Genuine appreciation for the world goes a long way to putting a radiant smile where it belongs.  Which brings me to the next one…

3) Gratefulness.  There’s SO MUCH I’ve personally taken for granted growing up in the states.  The opportunities we’re born with and don’t ever give a second thought to are mind blowing if you sit down and think about them: freedom of speech, quality education, reliable power & water.  I could go on with the endless list of things we take for granted that are scarcely seen in this world, but I’d rather mention an under-appreciated right we never think about.  The Passport.  Did you know that if you life outside Western Europe, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan you have to apply for a Visa, wait a few months, fork over a few hundred dollars, and cross your fingers in order to travel to a foreign country.  Now imagine trying to travel to 8 countries.  That’s at least a grand and a few bottles of advil that never crosses the minds of privileged citizens of our beloved US of A.  We are born with the right to see the world.  In essence, the world is our playground while other kids have to ask mommy for a permission slips and call little Jimmy’s parents to come out and play.

I don’t know where this brings your thinking, but I wake up each day grateful for everything and trying to share this feeling of gratitude with everyone I meet.

2) Worries.  There are very few things in this world actually worth getting upset over.

For example, I gifted a gentleman in Nicaragua who’s life has taken some wrong turns one hell of a $400 shopping spree, then my bank decided to give me $550 a week later.  The “street name” for this phenomenon is Credit Card Theft; I like to call it a unintentional act of kindness.

Also I’ve learned to never complain or criticize unless there’s something you can do or offer some sort of way to better the situation.  Life is too wonderful to spend it worrying about things, circumstance, or what others do as long as personal dignity isn’t infringed upon.

Malesh.  Hakuna Matata.  No worries.  Tranquilo.  ¡Pura Vida!

1) Passion.  Regardless of hardships, circumstances, and anything I’ve experienced thus far in life, I’m unconditionally and genuinely content when I have a purpose.  Sometimes that takes the form of a simple goal, other times it’s a life consuming project for a brief period.  Without some sort of defined purpose I’m like a zombie going through the motions of normal people life, and it’s when I start doing normal things that I stray away from happiness.  While I haven’t found something that grabs me enough to dedicate my whole self to a project or cause, I’m anxiously awaiting the day when I find this passion.  Don’t be surprised if it takes the form of Social Entrepreneurship; it gets me as giddy as a gradeschooler on a field trip.

On a side note, reading for fun is AWESOME.  I’m officially a book devourer-er now and newly appointed disciple of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.  The 3rd time might even be better than the first- It’s hard to put down a book that makes you smile for days after reading each chapter.

Abrazos,

Kevin