Finding Christmas In Colombia   3 comments

Christmas is a tough time of the year.  Especially for people who are far away from family, friends and their own country.  On the surface, or maybe better said in the media, it’s deck the halls, joy to the world and presents under the tree.   Below the surface, for a lot of people, there is a lot of pain, stress, melancholy and disconnectedness.  I got a call from my sister a couple of weeks ago telling me that her step son had committed suicide.  Last year, about the same time, a very prominent Universal Studios executive, with whom I was working, took her life.  What is it about this time of year that causes people to feel such sadness, such despair, such detachment?  After all, this is the season when people gather to recognize one of the greatest gifts humanity has every received.  Christian, Jew, Muslim – it really should not matter.  A gift is a gift.  And this one, Jesus, the universal symbol of peace, joy and sacrifice, should be a cause for celebration.

In my feeble attempt to focus on that lesson, a number of years ago, I tried to get away from the gift giving thing.  Colombia gave me some much needed distance on the billions of dollars and the politics of patriotism that fuel the overly conspicuous consumerism that is expected of us this time of year.  What I noticed this year is that the further I get away from the materialism the better I am able to integrate into my consciousness what I feel Christmas is really about.  Christmas is about giving and receiving love.  Not symbols of love.  Not bicycles, Wii’s, rings, purses and the thousands of other things people give each other this year.

From the middle of it, it is difficult to see the conflict the materialization of Christmas causes.  One does not have to go far to understand how our attitudes, behaviors and messages can be toxic and alienating this time of the year.  It is not bad children that receive lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings.  Unless we do something about it, it is poor children that receive the lump.  They are the ones that will go to bed hungry.  But the United States blaming the victim is a sport that keeps the “haves” comfortable in the privilege of having more.  The truth is that most of the people who are poor in the world are children.  Whether they are good or bad has nothing to do with it.

This Christmas Eve, my friend Carmen invited me to her Foundation’s program for the children of La Manga, a poor neighborhood in a part of Barranquilla with a reputation of being a little wild. When we arrived eighty or so children were seated outside of the library/community center she runs.  It is about the size of some of my friends’, in the United States, living room.  Some children, mostly between 5 and 12, came in the only best clothes they had.  Others came in the only clean clothes they had.  Their chairs were arranged in neat rows that had been brought outside from the library, as cars, buses and the occasional ambulance whizzed by.  There were not many parents with their children, maybe four or five.  The street is busy with people walking by and street vendors selling their goods.  The houses are built close together, mostly shanties, with bars on the windows.  It is too hot to sit indoors.  Homes in this part of time do not have air-conditioning.  So, walking the streets and sitting outside are ways to pass the time. You can tell, for many this will be an all-nighter.

I was along to give out the gifts that I had helped to buy.  They are simple gifts.  Each child will get a toy, a ball, and some books.  Some know me.  I have been here before.  The North Americano who speaks Spanish with a foreigner’s accent.  We spent almost two hours with the children on Christmas Eve.  Teenagers volunteered to help run the activities.  They had stuffed the bags ahead of time.  Stories are read, songs are sung and there is even an X Factor style singing contest.  Despite all that is going on around them, these children are attentive and so well-mannered I wonder about the competition kids in the USA will face if these children are given half a chance.  Some smile at me.  Some shyly come over to stand by my side.  Though many study English in school here, it is only for a few hours a week.  Kind of like me taking Spanish in high school.  Without the need to use the language you forget most of what you are taught. With each passing moment they strengthen my soul’s knowledge of the difference between waking up and receiving presents and spending time sharing the gift we were all given.

Seeing the connectedness of all things is a monumental task.  There are so many forces at work that see more profit in making use believe that it is all about us.  A misnomer our egos are only too glad to believe.  But long ago we were told otherwise.  The gift we are celebrating, Jesus, told us that it was not about us.  It is not about what we have.  It is not about who we have.  Jesus told us that it is about what we have in our hearts; the connections that we have to a greater good.  We are but tiny threads in a universal fabric.  Instead of focusing on expamding the tininess of our being, our celebrations should be about our connectedness.  Our suffering, our sadness, our despair are all connected to our joy, our peace and our contentment.  The place from which our sorrow flows also holds our joy.

Coming to the realization that we are not the center of the universe can bring about a fundamental sadness anytime.  Coming to the hollowness of lives lived without true connectedness at Christmas time can be too much to bear.  The children of La Manga reinforced that life is not about me. That any sorrow I felt had no place.  Their joy in the meager gifts we shared was the joy they gave to me.  But more than that they were simply happy to be there.  The love that Christmas is and the gift that giving love gives was the gift they gave to my growth journey.  Love is really the only gift that it makes sense to give this time of year.  The children know it.  And so did the child whose birth Christmas is meant to celebrate.  When we get there.  When the media blitz is focused on giving the gift of love, there would be a lot less poor children in the world.  And a lot fewer people in despair!

Posted December 26, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Colombia’s New Hot Market: Barranquilla   2 comments

They call it creating a shared vision. From my experience organizational culture, personal biases, individual and organizational preparation and political motivations affect leadership’s ability to bring about change. The pace at which the world is moving these days has many businesses, organizations and governments dealing with how to manage and lead change. The attention given to strengthening leader’s abilities to motivate followers, guide organizations and systems is well deserved. Yet, in my experience too little is dedicated to connecting the people responsible for implementing changes to the success of making change happen. From Kotter to Drucker to Greenleaf and many more, much of the research on, and theories of, leading change focuses on leaders. I have wondered if the reason change theories and conversations are focused more on leadership is our culture’s inherent belief in, and value for, paternalism. Something the United States has in common with Latin America.

Colombia’s leadership has a vision for a country that will be the gateway to South America in commerce culture. Hundreds of billions of pesos (Colombian currency) and hundreds of millions of dollars (yes the United States is an active participant) are being spent to make this vision a reality. Airport renovations (Bogota); regional airports replacing smaller ones (Manizales/Pereira and Cartagena/Barranquilla/Santa Marta); new hotels (parts of Cartagena is starting to resemble Miami’s South Beach and the region’s most prominent hotel chain, Estellar, has built or will build seven new properties in the country); and scores of new roadways, bridges and homes are all making Colombia an investor’s paradise.

Barranquilla seems to be one of the cities at the forefront of this face lift. This coastal city, lying between Cartagena and Santa Marta, with seeming unlimited property for development, is undergoing one of the most massive make-overs that I have seen. Ocean view lots can be had for $20,000 to $40,000 with all services available. Nice apartments, condos and houses can be purchased for as little as $40,000, depending on where a person wants to live and the amount of space they require. Certainly, if a person wants to pay $200,000 or more for a top floor ocean or river view apartment/condo they can. And $250,000 or more can get a person a 3000 square foot house, with a pool.

Just in the northern part of the city more than thirty construction projects are happening. Large apartment buildings; housing tracks; new office buildings and a new hotel; and smaller apartment projects all can be counted within a three kilometer area. The growth, and amount of money being spent, is astounding to me. One can only imagine the services that will be/are needed. There are too few public laundries. Restaurants (folks here love to eat out) arealways in demand. As the population becomes more international (and it will) there will be more of a need for different types of cuisine. Clothes, electronics and other goods can be expensive here (especially if you buy them in the malls). But with the October (2011) signing of the U.S. – Colombia Free Trade Agreement the doors will open wide for cheaper US goods and products to appear on the shelves of Colombian stores. With thousands of new housing opportunities coming available one can only imagine the opportunities.

Now, here is the rub. At least to me! With all of the private investment the public dollars seem to follow slowly. And what seems to follow even more slowly are the cultural habits. I was thinking about buying property in Barranquilla. In my conversation with an attorney her rate quote surprised me. I needed someone to do a property valuation, contract review and be present at contract signing. I was told the fee for these services would be 2,500,000 pesos (about $1300). I laughed, and said I do not want to pay gringo prices, meaning they jack up the cost of things because they think you got money. So the fee was reduced to 2,000,000 pesos (a little over $1000). I later got quotes of 1,000,000 pesos (a little over $500) for the same work. The local drug store quoted me a price 50% higher than what I knew the prescription cost. After telling the guy what my doctor told me the price was, he lowered it. In the United States, we are used to prices for most services and goods being fairly the same. You may pay for a firm’s prestige but the work being done will also likely be different. We are used to being lured into buying things by promises of getting the lowest price available. Here, one has to get used to being charged for services according to what people think they can get. You negotiate taxi fares here before they take you someplace. To ask the price afterwards can lead to getting raked over the coals.

In this growing modern metropolitan area, take a walk down sidewalks and you will find uncovered holes. Some with four to six feet drops to what look like sewers or utilities. Homeowners are responsible for their property to the street. They can do what they want. Meaning sidewalks are uneven. Most Barranquilla streets have no way for managing the sometimes heavy rains. Arroyos, as they are called, means the water runs in the streets like a West Virginia river rapid; stopping traffic, causing accidents and making getting around horrible. Beautifully developed parks can be ill kept. And despite a city ordinance against them, horse carts on busy streets are a common sight.

But what is perhaps most to the contrary of the vision for Barranquilla are the habits of some of the people. Leaving the new PriceSmart, on a gorgeously designed newly constructed tree-lined thoroughfare, I walked past a family who had no concern for anything other than throwing their food containers out of their fashionable SUV to the ground. The next day, walking to the mall, I was surprised to see a young guy peeing against a wire fence on a busy street at about 5:30 p.m. It is no stretch to say that there are bad habits here. In fact, there can be little connection between the beauty of this coastal city and people’s sense of their responsibility to care for it. It is also a city where people remain concerned about their personal safety. While shooting some of the photos for this post I was warned by some youths that I was being watched by a couple of guys on motor cycles with intentions to rob me. Fearing being followed, their insistence caused me to take a taxi home. This was at 5:00 p.m. next to a very busy mall.

There is little that will stop Barranquilla from continuing to become a thriving international city in a gorgeous part of a gorgeous country. To live in Barranquilla now means coping with the growing pains of a culture whose habits are slow to change. The person who moves here now will simply have to suffer through a work in progress. Having the heart to do that will require faith, follow-ship and the ability to take a journey that neither the literature nor the systems available are prepared to help one figure out easily. My belief though is that the person who moves to Barranquilla now will be riding a wave of development that will ultimately yield lifestyle and financial rewards.

Posted December 21, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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A Visit To DiverCity is Well Worth The Time   Leave a comment

There are amusement parks, theme parks and park parks but I do not think I have ever been in a place where the theme of the park is “what do you want to be when you grow-up?”

No kidding. DiverCity, located on the fourth floor of the Centro Comercial Buenavista 2 (Buena Vista Mall), Cr53 # 98-99 in Barranquilla, Colombia, is a place where children, mostly age 6 to 14 go to have fun by learning about future jobs and careers. Sound boring? Maybe to those of us that think education is to be tolerated and career development does not begin until high school or after. For children and parents in Colombia DiverCity is fun.

What struck me first as we, I went with a friend and her daughter, entered DiverCity was the sign that asked what careers the children were considering. On the list was a nice mix of what I would call working class jobs and professional careers. From driver to nurse to accountant, it seemed that whoever created the list made a conscious decision to be inclusive. Being a guy who wants everyone to have opportunities, I really appreciated this part.

Inside DiverCity is a little city, maybe the size of football field (North American). There are banks, a television studio, a wharf, beauty shop, driving area, ATMs, university, bakery, restaurants, a farm, and much, much more. Each is sponsored, perhaps better said branded, by one of Colombia’s or Barranquilla’s well known businesses or organizations. The plane where children become pilots and flight attendants is Avianca Airline’s. El Herado is the newspaper for DiverCity. AMI, Barranquilla’s service for immediate medical assistance, has an ambulance. The Universidad Autonoma del Caribe gives a diploma to children, and dresses them in graduation robes for a photo, that complete a computer based program. One could say that each company is placing its brand in the minds of the children that come to DiverCity. And from the YouTube video here there is no attempt to deny that DiverCity is good marketing. That fact notwithstanding, children enter each place having the opportunity to learn about, by doing, future jobs or careers.

It is also a place where children learn about life and living. The television studio works, with children reading news copy, against sports, weather and other backdrops. In the beauty shop, children learn about make-up and get made-up. There is a place for children to get their cedula, the identification card that all Colombian citizens must have. There are places for children to earn DiverCity money, like doing work on the DiverCity farm. They can then withdraw their money from ATMs using the money to buy things at DiverCity’s stores. They learn to manage money, get a driver’s license and use services.

A street flows in the middle of the city in a grand circle where the ambulance, a fire truck and a train circle the interior. I learned the hard way that traffic lights and crosswalks are to be obeyed, drawing stares from parents and children as I walked across the street without waiting for the light to change. Adults are not allowed to stand in line. I watched the line entering the talent show – think of the X Factor. The children managed themselves very well being conscious of who was in what place. Only once did an adult have to intervene. And that was only because another adult was trying to get his whole family of children in ahead of another child. As the wait to get into most of the places can be close to a half hour, of course children can get fidgety but I didn’t see any type of disturbance or bad behavior.

DiverCity is a place that children are eager to enter. The place does not open until 4:00 p.m. and they start lining up to get in an hour before. Because of a national skating competition that was happening in Barranquilla, on the day I went there were children there from as far away as Bogota. It seems to be fun with a great purpose. Children have fun exploring careers and jobs. They learn to be responsible citizens.

It probably has struck you that DiverCity sounds close to diversity. That theme, diversity, runs deep through the experiences this park gives children. This is a place where the playing field is leveled. Children simply stand in line to live out their dreams. At DiverCity all children of age are encouraged to dream, and do what they can to make their dreams come true. What a great lesson.

Posted December 12, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Why are so many baby boomers retiring to Central America?   3 comments

The following article, written by Tim Rogers, is republished from the (February 25,2011).  Though Colombia and other South American countries are mentioned in passing, they too offer great opportunities for retirees.   Actually the distance from the United States to Colombia’s coast, as well as cities like Medellin, are about the same as to Costa Rica and Panama.  I found the article a bit fluffy in places, informative and interesting.  Let me know what you think.  (The photo on the right shows the Cartagena skyline.)

PANAMA CITY – Bill Dorgan, a former management consultant with a bit of a wandering soul, gave up on his first attempt at retirement in Fort Lauderdale to move to Panama to seek new adventure.  And adventure he found.  “I drove out to Lake Gatun to visit the Embera Indians,” Dorgan recalls with a flicker in his eye. “They picked me up in a dugout canoe and took me across the lake to spend the day in their community, where I danced with bare-chested women. That was an adventure!”

Back in the capital city, Dorgan lives a more urbane lifestyle with his partner Raymond in a spacious and elegantly remodeled 12th-floor apartment overlooking the shimmering glass towers of Panama City’s oceanfront banking district.  Here he has found more modest adventure in daily tasks such as learning to speak Spanish, opening a bank account in a foreign country, making new friends and buying and remodeling an apartment.  Dorgan, like thousands of other North American retirees from his generation, has taken moving south for retirement to new latitudes.

A 2007 survey by New Global Initiatives, in conjunction with the Zogby International, found that more than 3 million U.S. citizens have decided to relocate outside of the United States, and another 17 million were considering making the move. The survey showed that Central America ranked second behind Europe among 55 to 69 year-olds who plan to retire abroad.

That was before the financial crisis hit like a tsunami at the end of the decade, wiping out millions of retirement funds and stock portfolios. Now Central America’s relatively low costs, adjusted property prices and promising economic recovery makes it an even more attractive destination for folks who need to make their retirement dollars stretch further than previously planned.  And within Central America, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama have positioned themselves as the top three picks for retirement – each with its own unique set of pros and cons.

With 73 million U.S. baby boomers set to retire over the next 10 years, this region’s broad offering has something for almost everyone.  Ryan Piercy, head of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR), says Central America is sitting pretty when it comes to attracting the baby boomers, whose retirement wave officially started in 2011.  “Central America and Latin America are going to receive at least 250,000 American retirees over the next 15 years. And of all the options in the region, the majority, in my opinion, will go to Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua,” Piercy told The Nica Times in an interview in his office in downtown San José, Costa Rica.

Piercy says that Mexico, once considered the preferred Latin American retirement destination for North Americans, has become too dangerous with all the drug violence – a similar plague afflicting Guatemala and, more recently, Honduras.  And while several South American options such as Peru, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile have become attractive, they are half a world away from the U.S. Cuba remains a Caribbean wildcard, but the baby boomer generation might have already come and gone by the time the communist island opens fully.

In other parts of the world, Europe has become too expensive for many bargain hunters, and places such as the Philippines and Thailand, with their different time zones and cultural differences, might be “too foreign” for many U.S. retirees.

While (thankfully) not all baby boomers seeking warming weather will settle on Central America, if even a small percentage come it will have an enormous impact on small countries such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.  “If we get 100,000 new retirees in a small country like this, it would be huge,” Piercy said, noting that Costa Rica, despite its advanced “gringoification,” only has somewhere between 25,000 to 50,000 North American residents at the moment.

Positive Press

In a recent U.S. News and World Report article on the “World’s Top Retirement Havens for 2011,” Nicaragua is now ranked the No. 1 foreign destination in the world in the “super affordable category,” while Panama is ranked No. 1 in the “moderately priced” category.  “Nicaragua is more attractive than ever for one important reason: It’s a super cheap place to live,” writes magazine author Kathleen Peddicord, who notes that Nicaragua’s post-bubble property prices have reached “more realistic and negotiable” levels while cost of living has remained “seriously low.”

Javier Chamorro, executive director of investment promotion agency ProNicaragua, notes that Nicaragua’s recent reforms to its Retirement and Pensioners’ Law gives the country some of the most competitive incentives in the region. However, he stressed, more import than the government incentives are “the conditions that the country offers in terms of quality of life and cost of life.”  Nicaragua’s cost of living, culture, citizen security and affordable private health care in Managua give the country a competitive edge, Chamorro said.

Further to the south, Panama is also on the rise. Literally.  “Panama City,” Peddicord writes, “has the best infrastructure in all of Central America, but it no longer qualifies as super-cheap.”  First-world glimmer, however, can also be deceiving.  Relocation expert Sandra Snyder, author of the retirement guide “Living in Panama,” describes her adoptive country as a “third-world country with a first-world façade.”  It’s a city with all the modern conveniences of a U.S. city, but without proper infrastructure, no urban planning and no zoning, she says.

From her balcony overlooking Panama Bay, Snyder surveys the skyline of metallic skeletons of new buildings under construction across the city, reaching upwards towards the sky like giant metallic plants competing for sun.  “If you look out the back window of my apartment, there are just as many buildings under construction there,” she said remorsefully. “Someday they are going to wall off the entire city.”

That’s the way it feels to Brandon Clogston, of Omaha, Nebraska.  After renting an apartment for two years while carefully scouting the real estate market in search for the perfect ocean-view pad, Clogston finally took the plunge and bought a beautiful 17th floor apartment unit overlooking the bay. But no sooner had he moved in when he discovered that the vacant lot next to his building was slated for a new high-rise that would soon block his newly acquired ocean view.

For those who have a tropical fix but less patience for a third-world adventure in their golden years, Costa Rica continues to be a perennial favorite. With a resilient reputation as a safe, secure and democratic country, Costa Rica (with views like the one to the left common) has been luring foreign expats for decades longer than Nicaragua and Panama, and now has a foreign community with deep roots and a palpable presence.  While Costa Rica’s real estate prices and cost of living are now higher than many places in the U.S., the country continues to attract a certain segment that is willing to pay more for brand-name recognition and premium offering – especially in health care.

Retiring Abroad is Common

What was once considered a gypsy lifestyle of uprooting and moving from one country to another has become increasingly common among baby boomers seeking an “active retirement.”  Not everyone who moves to Central America is hiding from the law or trying to escape personal demons. Lots of otherwise normal and socially adjusted people are also making the move these days, removing some of the negative stigma that was once attached to relocating to a “banana republic.”

The U.S., with its expensive health care, slumping real-estate market, nine-to-five blur and constant terror-alertness, has become a less-fun place to live for many people. And with the advances of broadband Internet, many expats have come to realize that the rest of world is not as big and mysterious a place as they once thought.

With the click of a mouse, people in Maine can instantly read about retirement benefits in Panama, or compare real estate prices in Costa Rica. And even blogs, online communities and e-mail groups, as recklessly misinformed as they often are, can also offer an overwhelming variety of first-person narrative information from folks who have already made the move.  As the World Wide Web expands to parts of the world without roads and running water, it has also become less important where people are in the world, as long as they have a Skype and e-mail account. As it becomes more commonplace to stay in touch and communicate with family over the Internet, it’s become less important if you live 30 miles apart or 3,000 miles apart.  This is especially true now that grandparents are more computer literate, even if they still peck at the keyboard like it’s their first time seeing one.

Central America’s airline connectivity with the U.S. also makes it relatively easy for folks to head up north for the holidays, especially for people living in Costa Rica and Panama, both of which are regional airline hubs. Nicaragua offers fewer daily flights, but Managua’s Augusto Sandino International Airport is so remarkably efficient and easy that it makes up for it.

The airline connectivity also makes it easy for families to visit their grandparents in Central America. And for a 10-year-old kid, getting on an airplane to visit grandma and grandpa in their new and exotic jungle playground in Costa Rica is much cooler than getting in the car to go visit grandma and grandpa in their overly sterilized retirement community in Pittsburgh, where you’re not allowed to walk on the grass.

While Central America has its share of problems (anyone who uses the words “paradise” and “Central America” in the same sentence should be regarded with the same respect as e-mail spam), the entire world – if you haven’t noticed – has become a pretty dysfunctional place. With the future equally uncertain at virtually all latitudes, you may as well be somewhere that’s beautiful, tropical and friendly.  Then again, if you want to spend your retirement shoveling snow off your driveway, New England is lovely this time of year.  (The following photo of fishermen bringing in dinner, Cartagena, speaks for itself:-)

Posted November 16, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Three Questions That Will Determine: Will You Outlive Your Money?   Leave a comment

My friend Belle gave me a book entitled Younger Next Year, Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – until you are 80 and Beyond, by Crowley and Lodge. Resisting any suggestion by the gift that I am falling apart I accepted it and actually jumped right in to the read. As the title suggests, the book gives a glimpse of what it would take for a person to stave off what we typically refer to as aging. Actually they call it decaying – yuk! What I like is that they talk about the messages that we are conditioned to receive as humans on this planet. They propose that, because for the first time in our existence, we do not have to worry about dying prematurely (talking about the United States of America specifically).  Our sedentary lifestyles, overabundance and consumerism are leading to the rampant and rapid decay of our bodies. This means that the messages our muscles and brain are receiving are signaling that are actually communicating that there is no reason for them to be alert and active. These messages are advancing the aging process and our own mortality. They propose that we need to reprogram our bodies and mind to greater activity, which is a bit weird because this is exactly how I have felt for a while. Over the past five or six years I have felt that I was growing to be less alive, which is also weird because that is when I started coming to Latin America. Go figure! Perhaps the double-edged sword of privilege is on one hand unless we do something stupid – like run around with a loaded gun talking about how gansta we are; sleep with the neighbor’s wife, and get caught, or grow up in an impoverished neighborhood without the will/drive to leave, we pretty much have it made until we are in our 80’s or 90’s. The other side of privilege is that we may be killing ourselves with kindness, literally.

They say that everyone should plan for retirement. And they are probably right. It is just that my life has never occurred in a straight line. I have smelled the roses along the way. Lots of roses! For many reasons, including getting a master’s and doctorate degree, I did not get serious about a career or making retirement contributions until I was in my mid-thirties. I mean, I have always monitored my portfolio, making moves when I thought the market was either favorable or tanking. But I had no idea of what the results of my novice adventures would yield. Talking with my retirement advisor the other day was like opening a surprise package. We figured out that if I play my cards right then I can live the rest of my life with no worry about food, shelter and clothing. I could go out to dinner every now and then. And best of all I could take trips. WOW!!! You mean it. I mean, by no stretch of the imagination am I talking a six figure lifestyle. But any work I decide to take will add to my quality of life, not sustain it. A huge difference! And if I am not stupid, like driving 125 mph on a North Carolina highway, I could live well into my 80’s, 90’s or beyond. So, I have been asking myself lots of questions. Again, I probably should have done this long ago. But like I said, I ain’t that kind of guy.

First question, how do you want to live? Meaning what do you want your days, and nights, to be like? I have always wanted to cause organizations to be more responsive to human needs. This has not changed about me. In truth because I have spent too many years in places where group think and ego needs perpetuate disingenuous systems, I want even more to be a positive force in the lives of others. As it turns out Crowley and Lodge agree with me. They say having a purpose, an investment of one’s life force – my words, not theirs – is life-sustaining because a healthy purpose gives one more drive to live. I never saw myself playing golf or dominoes to pass the time away. That version of retirement was never my dream. It’s funny; I was looking forward to getting up late. I have always likes sleep. But now, when I get up past 7:30 a.m., I feel guilty. Bringing my book, High School Is Not Enough: Helping Students Take The Next Step In Their Lives, to publication is a priority. Afterwards I want to focus on a project that connects my passion for health and wellness to serving people. I also want my priorities to be aligned closer to family and increasing another’s opportunity for success. The biggest hurdle to this realization is that I am single. I freely admit that the absence of family, especially children or grandchildren, in my life is a big hole which my quest to fill has caused me a lot of pain. Unfortunately, baby’s mamma drama, put my relationship with my son in a place where he does not wish to talk with me.  I have also wanted to live outside of the United States.  When I said this to my friends, about five years ago, they laughed.  My decision to live in Latin America has been time coming since then.  These are  cultures that value family above most everything else.   And both Costa Rica and Colombia are countries where health and wellness a valued.  For me, being in these places is no accident.  But I have always been a person, for better and worse, to pursue my dreams.

Second question, what is important to you? Meaning, who are you and what values do you have that must be sustained. Living tranquilly is of utmost importance to me. My goal is to stop taking the blood pressure medication that my doctor said I needed. I have started taking a class that combines yoga and Chi Kung. The work life balance in these countries emphasizes health and wellness. Values I have had for a long time but could not achieve. Even though I like my space, my friendships are essential to my soul. When I started thinking about living outside of the country being close to the continental United States was important to me. Both Costa Rica and Colombia puts me less than three hours from Miami; five from Atlanta; about six to D.C. and just a little more to NYC.. Getting to my friends in Pittsburgh and my sisters in West Virginia is more of a hassle. Many of my friends are either in retirement mode or have the ability to travel which makes it easier to see them. I have too long denied myself opportunities to be fully creative and passionate about what I am doing with me time. Writing has given me an outlet for that part of me. Though it is not complete in its giving to me, it does allow me to wrestle with things, emotions and challenges. Being in a Latin culture allows me great opportunities to be passionate. I find the cultures vibrant and soul touching. Age has not the same consideration nor serves as the line of demarcation it does in the United States. There are few “old folks” homes, if any. You live with your family or close by them.  You hang out with family and friends.  Three generations were at the party (photo) my friend Mayra and her family had in their home.    That they invite me, and my friends, to join them is a blessing to me.  You are  as old as you feel in Latin America.  You dance until you cannot dance anymore.  I love that!  It is not just about life-sustaining, it is about living your life. I think both Crowley and Lodge would go along with that philosophy.

Third question, what life can you afford? I never really learned personal finance management. I grew-up poor. As my sister says, our idea of budgeting was when you had money you spent it. Since I came late to retirement planning being in a place that enables me to add income to my lifestyle, without working 12 to 14 hours a day, as I have, is really important to me. Costa Rica is saturated by North Americans and other foreigners who have put the level of living way past what many native Costa Ricans can afford. A two bedroom apartment in a nice upscale area in Costa Rica’s central valley, where the capital city of San Jose is located, comparable to a $600/month apartment in Barranquilla, can go from $1200 and up a month. You can buy a decent two to three bedroom house or apartment in Barranquilla for about $80,000 to $150,000 in a middle class neighborhood. In San Jose, Costa Rica that same house of apartment would cost $200,000 to $400,000 depending on the neighborhood. In Barranquilla you can hire a taxi for about $7 an hour to drive you around. In Costa Rica the price is more like $20/hr. Food costs are comparable in both places. I can get away with spending about $300/month for one. Because Barranquilla is markedly hotter than Costa Rica’s central valley, and I use the A/C a lot, my household costs can be about $300/month, including basic cable. In San Jose the cost would be about half that or $150/month, including basic cable. It is my entertainment expenses that are high. Excluding travel I can spend about $500/month just hanging out. An income of between $20,000 and $25,000/yr. would do me well in Barranquilla. In San Jose, I think I would need more like $30,000 to $35,000. In addition to a lower cost of living, many people describe Colombia as an emerging market. My analysis indicates that they are right, especially Barranquilla and the surrounding area where there are significant opportunities for business development and property investment.

Yes, I am getting older. Thankfully, I have never felt like I am decaying. A friend told me the other day that I looked like I was getting younger. I think it was my new glasses. But perhaps Crowley and Lodge are right. I had just returned from Costa Rica having had a ball hanging out with people I love; dancing with people I had just met; and sharing moments of caring with people who I hardly knew. I have never really let my age define who I am. The messages that I am sending to my body is that say there is more to come: get ready; stay in shape; we are making life happen in places where life happens every day. I just hope I have enough money to last until I run out of energy. Something tells me, and hopefully, my bank account needs to be in it for the long haul

Posted November 9, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Coming Back To America (the United States of America)   1 comment

I returned to the United States last Thursday, October, 20th.  I needed to be in Washington, D.C. so my two and a half weeks in the States started there. My great friend, Paula, asked me, how it felt to be back? I really did not have an answer. It was something I had never considered. I wondered how expats feel when they go back to the country of their birth. My response was inane. Maybe I said something like it is great to see friends again, which is absolutely true. I enjoy my friends. No, more! My friends are essential to my life. I had breakfast with Cora and Bill; dinner and almost dancing with Nasly; lunch with Gene; dinner at Karen’s; and breakfast with Beatrice and Maria. I missed Brian, Karenthia and Cynthia, Ufff!!! There is never enough time.

But what I did was avoid the crux of the question. It begged for introspection. Damn! Just like Paula to make me think – and feel! The true answer is I remain very much at odds with how I feel here. And I think that is in large part the fault of the United States. In this pre-election season the rhetoric of “smaller government” and “our government’s infringement on individual liberty” is being amplified. Playing to a very real base in this country, for me, such rhetoric serves as a continual rallying cry for “States Rights.” Intricately tied to racial categorization, which we still put above a collective national consciousness, such ideological anchors consistently undermine our ability to foster an emotional connection between our country and ALL of its citizens.

Dating back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the concept of “States Rights” serves as a racist manifesto, guaranteeing that: if a state wants to enslave its people (historically); if a state wants to give its police the authority to stop any that looks like they are in this country illegally; if a state wants to under-educate its poor African American, Spanish speaking or Native American children – they can. The philosophy means that the parts, the States, are greater than the sum of the whole, the United States of America. A philosophy that has retarded our nation’s growth! I remember when President Obama proclaimed being a citizen of the world. The outcry from representatives of the majority culture was both archaic and retarded. And that is what “States Rights” has done. It has steeped within our nation a stew of racial and political discourse that undermines the deep emotional connection I wish I felt.

My friend Cheri, came down from Pittsburgh to hang out with me for the day. We have been friends almost all of my adult life. We like to find interesting places to visit and new things to do. My life is full of great memories of places we have seen and things we have done. This time we visited the National Memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our first time there! Tears came to my eyes. Not from pride, which I did feel, but more because of the pain that continues to ooze from my soul because in my lifetime we, the United States, needed such a drum major for social justice. As I listened to the national park service officer – a 20’s year old tall lanky white guy in uniform and shades – talk about Dr. King, I was struck by how alive he made Dr. King. He would say, Dr. King is in the Birmingham jail having been imprisoned for leading the civil rights march on Birmingham when he writes “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We do not relate to that concept in the United States. We continue to believe that we can live separate from the world; each state separate from each other; and each individual separate from one another.  In this the 21st century, this sense of rugged individualism is juvenile, at best.  At worst, it sets us apart, above for many, preventing us from solving some of our most pressing and fundamental problems.

Our next stop was the Corcoran Art Gallery. The lobby was full of life. Corcoran students were exhibiting, and selling, their work. They were chatting, eagerly greeting all of us who stopped at their tables, telling us stories of how they got there and asking who we were. I love D.C. it is so full of life, culture, art and food; all of the things that make Saturdays with friends unforgettable. We walk up the steps and were hit by an exhibit in the rotunda entitled, Duck, Duck, Noose by Gary Simmons. Nine white hoods, resembling those worn by the Ku Klux Klan, were sitting on stools in a circle about 15 feet across from each other. The center piece for this art installation was a rope hanging from the ceiling like a noose hanging from a very large tree. It was a vivid and emotional reminder of why there was a need for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was a depressing memory of all those that died in the struggle for social justice. I was hurt. More so, I was angry. Because I cried! Again!

The question of how do I feel being back in the United States is intricately bound by how do I feel being re-immersed in a culture that is racist and has treated me and others with injustice because of our race or ethnicity. I feel the struggle. I feel the pain. I feel my friends who have made it. I feel my friends who have not. I feel the judgments. I feel the fights. I feel the losses. I feel the triumphs. I feel my soul not being in peace but on guard. Being back in the United States means putting me back in touch with that which both ties me to and separates me from this culture – the complicated and painful issue of race. My times with my friends are glorious. I so, much want them to visit me. I want to share the relief that I have found and the peace that I enjoy. For all of its problems, with regards to race and indigenous people, Colombians are Colombians. Costa Ricans are Costa Ricans. Panamanians are Panamanian. Nicaraguans are Nicaraguan. First and foremost! I am in awe of their relationship to their country. I am saddened that the same was not born and nourished in me. In the United States of America, I am African American.

Posted October 26, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Almost Heaven: Manizales, Colombia   6 comments

Once I had an interview where the chancellor of a college asked me, if I could be anywhere in the world where would I be. I remember thinking what a stupid question. But since I was looking for a job, I submitted to the idiocy of the question. I replied, Manizales, Colombia.

Manizales has always been a place where I feel at peace. I like to call it “cloud city.” The views are always stunning. The mountains that surround the city, the people and the culture are all slices of heaven, as far as I am concerned. The city lies on one of the ridges of the Andean Cordillera mountain range. Manizales is the capital of Caldas, one of the smaller departments in Colombia. The city sits more than 7,000 feet above sea level, in the Cafetero, the coffee growers region, near the Nevado del Ruiz volcano. Getting there can be a little of an adventure. Though there are daily flights from both Bogota and Medellin, the weather can play havoc with the small airport there. When that happens, the airlines take you to nearby Pereria. From there they will bus you to Manizales. One can also get there by bus or car from both Medellin and Bogota. The winding curves on the drive into the city provide vistas that can take one’s breadth away. Whatever the journey, for me, it is well worth it.

Having just returned from there, it is tough to say what I like most about Manizales. It is not a big city, with just a little more than half a million people in the region. The city never gets too hot or too cold. The winter rains only serve to keep the land green and the air clean. I consider the people who live there some of the most beautiful in Colombia. There is healthiness about them. Their Spanish descendancy is evident. With neighboring pueblitos and more than ten universities, indigenous and other ethnic groups are also woven throughout the mostly homogeneous human tapestry. The people there seem to have a real value for themselves and their surroundings.

Manizales is a town that values health, wellness and relationships. It is tough to know why there are gyms in the city. Walking the streets, the faldas, inclines, gives one plenty of opportunity to get some exercise. Perhaps that is why I love Sundays in Manizales. They close the main street for about five kilometers, from the outskirts into downtown. Friends, families, couples and singles were all a part of the landscape with city buildings joining the mountains as a backdrop. People walk, bike ride, skateboard, run and play in the streets. This past Sunday there was a bike race. It is a great day for strolling, laughing, talking and just hanging out. Health care professionals were taking blood pressures and doing health care screening. Restaurants line the streets and there are food vendors selling watermelon, mango, pineapples and other fresh fruits and vegetables. Farm land is rich in this part of Colombia. I tried chontaduro for the first time. The flavor is sort of a cross between a bland pumpkin and yucca. I tried it with honey and with salt and thought not ever again. Then I read, chontaduros are almost as high in protein as an egg. That’s good, right? They also contain beta-carotene, phosphorus, Vitamin A, some B and C, calcium and iron. That’s great, right? They are also an aphrodisiac. I may have to give them one more chance.

Manizales has a very rich social life, perhaps because of the many universities. I tend to stay in, or near, Cable Plaza. It is a vibrant area full of restaurants, cafes, shopping and night life. For me it is great that Estelar Hotels recently opened a hotel in the area. One of their smaller hotels, 46 rooms, they are always reasonably priced, offering a full breakfast and an evening sandwich and salad bar. This area also has a very active live music scene, including places to hear jazz, theater and art. And you do not have to wait until the weekends to find a place open. I love to sit outside at the Café Juan Valdez, Cable Plaza, listening to students, faculty and others chat away. I have met many smiles, kind faces and had conversations with people there. Perhaps that typifies Manizales also. It is a warm and friendly place; a peaceful place for me to be, and write. Since my last visit there, in 2009, they have opened a new tram system, a new four story mall, several new apartment and office buildings, and many new restaurants.   About five minutes by cab from Cable Plaza I found, on one of the side streets, a place called Patacones and Pescado, which has the largest patacones, fried platano, which I have seen. Thin and crispy, like a giant tortilla, it was tasty in either of the two dipping sauces we were given. The fish was great, the portions large and the bill only came to about $16 for two of us, including drinks. It is easy to see why the place was popular.

Manizales, and the surrounding area, is a place where people go for healing, or just opportunities to leave the day’s stress and the world’s problems behind. The city is unbelievably clean and is surrounded by parks, nature preserves and, of course, mountains. The Barrio de Chipre, maybe a thirty minute walk from downtown Manizales, offers a mountain top view of the city and the surrounding area. The park is home to the Founders Statue and a really extreme super swing. Though not exact it is about sixty foot high by my estimate. Either way it is high. Chipre is the place where people go, especially on the weekends, to enjoy life, music and each other’s company. Manizales is also close to many thermal baths, including the Hot Springs at Thermals el Otono, Santa Rosa de Cabal, the Ruiz Hot Springs and the Otun Hot Springs. Great places to soak your cares, aches and pains away. Also close to Manizales is the Los Yarumos Ecological Park, great for hiking, cycling, climbing and watching wildlife.

One day, some friends and I were driving to Risaralda, about three hours from Manizales. We came around a bend on this mountainous two lane road. All of a sudden the view was so dramatic, I remember saying “God has made this place.” I was very happy to have not been driving that morning. We would have certainly ended up over the side of that mountain. I think though that trip sums up my feeling for Manizales. It is a place where I feel reminded that there is a God. In all of its simplicity and splendor this little town in the mountains touches my soul. No matter where my journey takes me, Manizales will always be the place where I find peace and harmony with all that God has created.

Posted October 14, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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