Archive for February 2012

“Fairy Tales” – Bagan, Myanmar – Amnon Eichlberg – Featured Photographer   Leave a comment

“Fairy Tales” – Bagan, Myanmar – Amnon Eichlberg – Featured Photographer.

Posted February 22, 2012 by Wayne in Other People's Travels

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Wandering About The Great Ovarian Lottery In Costa Rica   3 comments

Walking in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica after breakfast is one of my favorite things to do.  Besides exercise, walking gives me the opportunity to get into the vibe of Costa Rica city life.  San Jose is a bustling place with about three million people living in the central valley which surrounds the city.  One of the nice things that San Jose has done is to close a couple of main arteries to car and truck traffic; Avenida Central and Paseo Union Europa.  “People watching” in San Jose is like visiting a living museum of Latin America culture.  On any given day, walking the streets of San Jose, you can see people from Nicaragua, Colombia, Europe, Canada, the Caribbean and many Native Americans.  People indigenous to the region here are called Native American also.  Which make a lot of sense as the boundaries we are used to that divide countries, and states, had no currency to the natives of the Americas.  One of the things that strikes me as I walk are the number of people hustling their living.  I often wonder who they are, and how did they come to selling everything from fruit to something resembling onion rings in long tubular bags to cigars and fake Rolexes.  These people are living lives without safety nets.  A reality that is way far from anything I know.

Costa Rica is a hot tourist destination but there is not a lot of pretense.  It is more rustic, a naturalist’s paradise.  Sunday’s are family days for people in Costa Rica.  As the picture to the right shows there are many festivals and free concerts in the parks in downtown San jose.  There are many places to dance, drink and socialize in Costa Rica. You are just not going to find many New York, Miami or LA style clubs, restaurants, museums, galleries, theater or concerts.  I have found that the really great places to go dancing are like hole in the walls or in strip malls.  At Mas T’kila, Plaza Itsazu, an unlikely place for dancing – because they have no dance floor per se – a dance until the place closed party broke out around our table.  There are lots of places to eat but the vast majority of the places are in the neighborhoods where the locals eat, with prices ranging from $5 to $7 a plate or less.  Recently, four of us celebrated a friend’s birthday at a place called Matices, San Raphael de Heredia.  The bill came to less than $50, for six small plates, a huge salad (that three of us shared), an entrée, two glasses of wine, two sodas, gratuity and tax.

Like many cities and places that cater to tourists, the real story lies in the close to 30% of the population that struggle to keep pace with the high cost of housing bolstered by foreign investors and gringo property owners.  A fact not unnoticed by the Costa Rican government when they unanimously approved a luxury home owner’s tax in 2010.  The tax, levied on homes valued at more than $180,000 is the government’s attempt to generate resources supporting sub-standard housing.  Remember New Orleans, Lower Ninth Ward?  In fact, unless you seclude yourself in one of the country’s idealistic resorts, Costa Rica can be a bit in your face with the life struggles many face in Latin America.

As I walked the streets of San Jose, I was reminded of the fact that I went to college not because my parents were rich but because they were poor.  Taking advantage of the intricate system of federal, state and private financial assistance gave me the kind of choices that having an education gives people.  After college I got a job.  It was easy.  I applied to maybe three of four places and one hired me.  When I found that the job was crazier than I imagined it would be, I took my brother up on his offer to help me get started in Pittsburgh.  And within two months of moving there I had another job.  In my consciousness, in my life’s history, when I wanted an education I got one.  When I wanted a job I got one.  When I found that the $6700 a year that I was being paid was too little for the lifestyle I wanted to live, I went to graduate school.  There was scholarship help that enabled me to accomplish that goal also.

We have put higher education within reach of all citizens in the United States.  To be qualified for the work available should be a no brainer.  To remain competitive in today’s job market is within reach of all who want to better their lives.  This is a part of the fabric of the United States.  This is the privilege that goes with being a United States citizen.  This is the consciousness of entitlement that me and most of my friends grew-up with.  We are the land of opportunity.  And many of us think that opportunity is our God given right.  To take advantage of if we want, or not!

I have no frame of reference for what it is like to get up every morning and not know what I am going to eat that day.  I do not know what it is like to have to hustle my rent money, sleep on a mattress on the floor or have my children wonder why they are not watching cable television.  Walking the streets of San Jose, seeing the shanties in the hillsides, watching street vendors clean their stalls, listening to hustlers call out to potential customers to come buy their stuff, seeing the women go into the Hotel Del Ray or one of San Jose’s other less well known houses of prostitution, gives me a view of how we regard our privilege that makes me both mad and sad.

I get angry when I hear people, who have never faced a day of making the decisions that many people in this world make every day to survive.  They judge the choices others make by the opportunities they have or the choices that many of us have convinced ourselves are our God given right.  Somewhere along the line they either forgot how the west was really won or simply drank the Kool-Aid, becoming content in the unconscious rapture of privilege.

I get sad when I think of the imbalance and inequity that has become standard in the world.  My generation, baby-boomers, grew-up with the misguided notion that the world contained limitless resources.   We now know that this is not true.  For every McMansion there are hundreds of people across the globe living in horrible conditions, which perhaps would not be so bad if it were truly their choice to do so or if access to wealth and power did not covet access to more wealth and power.   The hypocrisy is that we live every day knowing, consciously or unconsciously, that the game is rigged in our favor; acting like everyone has the same opportunities as us.  We give little away.  We take way more than our share.  And we say God bless America.  I cannot imagine that God is not sad about this also.

This is the thought that I am left with as I conclude my walk.  In perhaps the most important day of our lives, the day we were born, our journey was cast.  I wonder what my journey would have been if I was born to a woman in Latin America, that had no formal education and a husband that left her soon after I was born.  I hope that my life would be in balance, healthy and full of family and friends like most of the people I know in Costa Rica.

Posted February 12, 2012 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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