Archive for the ‘culture’ Tag

Sunday In Qingdao, China   3 comments

Now some people may ask why come to this part of China.  I mean other than being kind of China’s epicenter for most things that have to do with the sea, what would bring me here is the question that many people have asked.  Well, I traveled to Qingdao for two reasons.  The first, as I have admitted many times I am curious.  I am the proverbial curious cat.  I love off the beaten track places.  Once I heard the name of the city, saw the photos and read the description I wanted to go there.   Now the other reason is a little more complicated.

I had met Blessing online; on one of those international dating websites that cater to people who want to date and mate across cultures.  She was pretty, smart, a business woman, the right age and spoke English.  I remember thinking, Blessing – was that an omen or what?  Since our meeting, we trailed each other almost every day for months; emails, photos, disclosures about life and sharing our philosophies about living.  We talked on SKYPE, live chatted on msn and I found myself wanting to know – could one really fall in love with someone you only knew through your computer?  Yikes!!!!

The possibility of meeting Blessing only provided comfort to a decision that had already been made.  I had wanted to go to China for years, but never had the time.  No, never took the time to go.  My sister had gone last year.  Her visit made me want to go more.  After talking to my sister, who went last year, about the visa application process, we both used Travel Document Systems (TDS), which turned out to be an excellent service, I took to leap.  You send your passport, the China visa application form (available on the Chinese Embassy website) and the fee to TDS and they take care of the rest.

I must admit I was surprised when the Chinese embassy not only approved my visa application, but also gave me unlimited visits for a 12 month period.  Usually they only give applicants for tourist visas one or two visits during a 90 or at most 180 day window.  It made me wonder whether about Blessing’s name as someone I was going to visit had anything to do with it.  Her now deceased father had been a party official.  It also made me a little nervous.

But, as the time approached for me to depart for China, our conversations became increasingly distant.  Just the opposite of what I thought, and certainly wanted to happen.  The excitement of meeting for the first time; thoughts of spending time together; and all of the problem solving avoidance that can go with romance across cultures had drifted into a gulf that I felt was growing between us.  Our conversations were consumed by her family problems.  She was turning her business over to the people who worked for her.  Her life was being turned upside down and health problems followed.  All of which became the focal point of our conversations.

As my train arrived in Qingdao, I had no idea of whether I would see Blessing.  I came with hopes – I am optimistic that way.  But I did not let myself count on it.  I am also realistic that way.  I, along with what seemed to be a football stadium full of people escaped the train to climb a long steady incline though the station to the mass of people waiting, vending, and hanging out in the sunlight on the other side of the station’s doors.  I had arrived and nobody knew it.

English is spoken by a few people in China, mostly in the cities.  And that includes written English.  I caught a break arriving in Qingdao as the one of the guys who saw the look of “I am really confused” on my face helped me negotiate a taxi to my hotel.  We wrestled to put my oversized bag in this gasoline smelling old three wheel vehicle driven by one of the nicest people who I met on my trip to China.  She spoke no English but went out of her way to make sure that I knew I was in good hands, even if I was sure that her care was very safe.

After three days of no response from Blessing to my emails or calls, I wrote the following email to her.

“It is obvious that I will not see you this trip. I do want to thank you for introducing me to Qingdao.  I have had the most amazing day of my trip to your wonderful country.  I am just very sad that you were not here to share it with me.



I had just walked the boardwalk, as I had done several times before about 5 kilometers, perhaps hoping that this would be the day I would see Blessing there.  Qingdao possesses one of the most social beaches that I have been on in a long time.  Qingdao is a family city.  And though the city itself is about 9 million people, the beach and boardwalk on Sundays is a comfortable place to walk, eat, play, exercise and people watch.   As on this day, like all of the other days I walked the board walk, I was the only person that I saw that looked like me.  Not another man with chocolate-brown skin in sight.  Most ignored this minor oddity.  Many smiled. A few wanted to take pictures with me.  And some stopped to chat.  I had grown comfortable in Qingdao pretty quickly.  And Qingdao had grown comfortable with me.

But this day was different.  Sundays are wedding days in China.  And in Qingdao, for those that have little money to pay for the expensive rituals weddings have become in China, they come to the beach to rent wedding gowns of any and all fashion, tuxes or suites that make the man look like he could afford his new bride and many bring their wedding friends to dress according to the tradition of having many bridesmaids and groomsmen at one’s wedding.  And they bring photographers to capture their special day in poses that ranged from the traditional to romantic to, WHAT are you sure you want to do that.

There must have been thirty or forty couples on the beach that day.  As I strolled I saw women hiking their dresses, revealing the jeans they wore underneath, to get that photo that would be their memory of being together in fun and in love for years to come.  I walked past many couples that day, thinking these are memories in the making.  Their smiles, some exchanging happiness glances with me, were contagious.

My blessing was a different experience that the one I had planned n Qingdao.  Given the opportunity, I would return to Qingdao.  I got a chance to hangout in a few dance clubs, drink coffee at the Starbucks in a downtown plaza, visit a wonderful aquarium full of kids and sea life I had never seen before and eat fresh caught squid grilled on the beach.  And on that beautiful Sunday as I walked alone, I kept catching glimpses of what is possible when one takes a step of faith into possibility.  As you can see from the photos below, it was a day full of romance.  It was a day full of hope.  It was a day full of love.  It was a day full of joy.  It was a day for forgiveness.

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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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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From Slavery to Freedom in Latin America   7 comments

When I was young, in high school, I was teased for being too African looking. They used to call me Nairobi – the capital and largest city in Kenya. I was offended and hurt. This was a time that black was not beautiful. And it was very easy to make darker skinned African Americans feel less than valued because we were not light skinned, with wavy hair and European features. Dr. W.E.B. DuBois was right when he called the color line the problem of the 20th Century. And former Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice was right when she said the United States still has problems dealing with race of a national “birth defect” that denied black Americans the opportunities given to whites at the country’s very founding. “Black Americans were a founding population,” she said. “Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together — Europeans by choice and Africans in chains. That’s not a very pretty reality of our founding.”

We, African Americans, AfroColombians and Blacks in Costa Rica have as our common heritage the forced pollination of the Americas by Spain, England, Portugal and others supporting the slave trade. In the United States Africa’s strongest, brightest and beautiful youth labored in the tobacco, rice and cotton fields. They worked as servants and served as concubines for their masters. They forged a new nation from the occupation that displaced the Native Americans from their lands. In Costa Rica they worked the cacao farms in Matina. Their descendants joined Panamanian, Jamaican and other Caribbean laborers in building the Costa Rica’s railroad to the Atlantic. The country owes much, including becoming the world’s largest producer of bananas in 1911, to Africa. Spain used African slaves to replace the rapidly declining Native American population, who either died from the diseases the Spanish brought with them; died because they could not work the mines as vigorously as their conquerors demanded; or died in conflicts with their enslavers. Africans were forced to work in gold mines, on sugar plantations, cattle ranches, and their master’s houses. In eastern Colombia Africans manufactured textiles in commercial mills; they worked the emerald mines outside Bogota; and African laborers were the majority workforce behind the production of tobacco and cotton.

But the results of slavery seemingly have had a much more profound and continued impact on African Americans than the other members of the African Diaspora. Somehow we internalized the messages, the pain and the cruelty; forging the lashes used against us into weapons of words and worse that we use against ourselves. I have looked to the work of Dr. W.E. B. DuBois to help me understand why. His concept of the veil provides at least one explanation of the impact racism has on the psyche and health of African Americans. He describes the veil as the consistent, or perhaps best said persistent, shroud that separates Blacks and Whites. This theme runs throughout Souls of Black Folks and is not easy to encapsulate. Yet, this is the quote that sticks with me. “… the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world, a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Going through life living this double consciousness, as Dr. DuBois calls it, can be exacting on one’s consciousness. What happened when I was called Nairobi was that I was made to feel ashamed that my dark skin and high cheek bones and broad nose were too reminiscent of a descendancy that African Americans were trying to erase. I was an every present reminder of the Negro, an identity that was filled with reminders of a cruel physical, spiritual and psychological warfare that the African American community wanted to forget. Sometimes at all costs!

To keep from being torn asunder, and prosper while living the double consciousness, many African Americans have developed a social network of family, friends and mentors. My spiritual counselor, Patty Lattanzio, calls us “anchors” to one another. We walk with each other through our life’s journey providing strength, answers, explanations, comic relief and shoulders upon which to cry when doubts and trials come to us because of our skin color. We help each other keep our balance in whatever storm we were enduring. My sister Exa, Karen, Cherri, Joe, Belle, Jimmy, Doris, Toby, Lynette, Ms. B. Renee, George, John, Cynthia, Herman, Jack, Jeanne and many others have been my anchors. I have needed them. And they have let me use our friendship and love to get me to this point.

Dr. DuBois, believe that creating greater linkages between peoples of the African Diaspora would address the problems the color line played on the advancement and health of the Negro (African Americans). And I agree. Later in my life, when I was 27, I was traveling in Europe. In Paris I met a group of young Ghanaian men who refused to believe that I was from the United States. Their words have remained with me all of these years. They said, still with doubt in their voices, if you are telling us the truth, then come to Ghana, we could take you to the village of your ancestors. The pride in their recognition was jubilant. Though I have not visited Ghana yet, that was the day my healing began.

In many ways I feel like Santiago in the Alchemist, liberating myself, learning, unlearning, detoxing and coming out from under the veil that I lived with for so long in the United States.  Here, in Costa Rica and Colombia the sense of living a double consciousness does not exist. There is no separation in the psyches of the people of African descent, and in the views of others, as to whether they are Tico (Costa Rican) or Colombian. They are not preoccupied by the ways white people see them. There is a sense that they have won that battle. They have taken what was thrown at them and survived. Now is the time to live their lives and advance themselves, their families and their country.

Pura Vida is the expression that embodies Costa Rica, loosely meaning: Live life to the fullest. Embrace your connection to God, community, your family and yourself. Celebrate the day and whatever blessings, big or small, that God has granted you. It is estimated that Colombia’s Black minority comprises 36-40% of the national population, though it is officially recognized at 26%. This means that about 11 million of the 42 million people in Colombia are considered AfroColombian. This is the second largest population of African descent in Latin America, after Brazil. I love the discussion within the exhibits at the Colombian National Museum, Bogota. Many of the historical accounts talk about being one people forged from European conquistadores who thought the indigenous peoples were less than human and left Colombia with the rich cultural influences of the world, especially Africa.

In this part of the world I feel like I am a part of the landscape responsible for the development of the world; a part of the diaspora that helped to create these cultures and economies. Perhaps this is what Dr. Dubois wanted for the Negro (African Americans). I am liberated from the double consciousness I felt in the United States. This liberation gives my consciousness space to become healthier and live life in greater balance. Pura Vida!!!

Posted October 7, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Living in A “Machista” Culture – Things I am Learning   1 comment

Many people describe the part of this part of Latin America as a “machista” culture. I readily admit, understanding what this means, and how I fit in, is a work in progress. For example, I still have trouble with women cleaning public restrooms, while I am taking care of business. It was explained to me that cleaning toilets is women’s work. No self-respecting man would do it. My female friends say this is a “machismo” culture because men are un faithful, do not take care of them and spend too much time in the streets. The “machista” dynamic is also evidenced by the fact that men do not give up their seats to women on public buses. In fact they rush to sit down paying no attention to the women around them. One day, while riding the bus here in Barranquilla, my girlfriend hid her face while I chastised a father for encouraging his young son to sit in a seat reserved for disabled, elderly and/or women with babies while an elderly woman stood just three feet away. Ufff!!!

But one of the most glaring attacks to my consciousness is the significant number of women who are caring for children without economic or emotional support from the men responsible for their children’s birth. The father of my girlfriend’s child is a doctor. He gives her no money to care for their daughter. He never sees his daughter. He never calls his daughter. And by her account he has perhaps two other children who are suffering from the same level of abandonment. The tough thing for me to deal with is that this is more the norm than the exception.

What I am finding are lots of women looking for someone to either take care of, or do things for, them and their children. A few months ago I was introduced by a friend to a young lady who said had interest in me. Though I believed that this woman was too young for me, I thought that we could be friends. I had a lunch party, and invited them all, including her mother and son, to join me. We all had a nice time. Before leaving this young lady made it known that she wanted me to loan her the money to buy her a laptop computer. She assured me that I was special in her life and that repaying me would be a high priority for her. During my brief time here I also have been asked to: buy someone’s child shoes; pay for a mother’s medical visit; loan money; pay for someone’s hair appointment; buy medicine; buy food; and to pay tuition. I have also been robbed by a woman who, along with her son, I befriended.

One could say that these things have come to pass quite simply as a result of women trying to take advantage of a North American who has more than they do. But I think it goes way deeper than that. What complicates this simplistic view, at least for me, is that: women earn significantly less for doing the same jobs; most do not aggressively pursue economic support from the fathers of their children; they often have grown-up in households with strict rules about gender roles; because of internal conflicts, low job rates, and homosexuality, there are way less marriage eligible men available to them; and the views of the Catholic Church on relationships and contraception have a vice like gripe on the culture’s values and women’s behaviors. All of this perhaps would not be so bad if this combination of social, religious and political dynamics did not have significant numbers of women scuffling in all manners of ways to pay rent, keep the utilities on, pay for clothing, buy food and care for their children.

A number of years ago, Warren Buffet coined the phrase “the great ovarian lottery.” His belief was that his great fortune resulted from the random phenomenon of the time and place of his birth. Though I grew up poor in West Virginia, I have no memory of going without a meal, unless it was by my own choice. I am not sure how I would make it if I were born in the outskirts of Managua or in a pueblito outside of Pereria, female and poor. What would my life be like if I had grown up in a household where my father either abandoned me or paid too much attention to my well-developed body? What would my life be like if education was not a real option? What would be my chances for survival, happiness or wealth? I am blessed to have been born during the civil rights era in the United States of America – one of the wealthiest countries in the world – during a time where America’s guilt and the world’s view of our racist society collided to create opportunities for me to be educated and advance.

Because of the path I have traveled, I cannot simply say it is people, women, trying to take advantage. For me one of the vestiges of this “machista” culture, like the vestiges of a racist culture, is the day-to-day struggle that is the life of many women and children. Perhaps it would not be so bad if the dependence on men to take care of things was not being undermined by the men who only take of themselves. Certainly, this is not the story of all men here. There are great fathers. There are great husbands here also. However, they also are undermined by the men who have learned how, and are accustomed to, having their cake and eating it too.

My heart aches for those that worry about from where their next meal will come. My brain does not get how a person working ten hours a day making $6000 a year while caring for one to two children seeks to make it without any economic and emotional support from their ex-boyfriend or ex-spouse. Families are the safety net. People pitch-in to care for each other. Fortunately, in both Costa Rica and Colombia, banks and the government are making homes more available to more people. Unfortunately, neither country has a real system for educating and training the poor. And the growing economies in both countries still have not figured out ways to level the playing field for women and children. That is the sadness I feel here in this place. There are millions of children in poverty. For me one of the reasons is that the “machista” culture reinforces that it is the man’s right to not take care of his children. A right that is reinforced by women who have learned that taking care of children is their responsibility. And their responsibility alone!

Posted September 29, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Six Tips for Successfully Using International Online Dating Sites: Part 2   Leave a comment

I have been asked, what are some of the online international sites that I have found to be the best? I did not want anyone to think that I was on the take.  But my marketing guru said it was Ok.  I am a fan of the Latin American and Colombia Cupid sites.  They provide access to photos and their members profiles prior to a person paying a dime.  Therefore you get a sense of what you are paying for before paying.  With their format you can express interest in people, getting a sense of whether they are interested in you.  With a paid membership you can send email messages to people you are interested in to their site mail boxes.  There is no per message fee.  They also offer real time chat through their instant message feature.  Their search engines allow a person to narrow the people in whom you have interest.  Owned by the Cupid Media Group (Australia) these two sites are among over thirty in the company’s portfolio.  Their sites provide people who desire relationships based on ethnicity, religion, physical appearance, special interests or sexual
preferences with the opportunity to meet the people they desire.  Their press says they have over 20 million people throughout the world that use their websites.  True or not, I found lots of women on these sites from which to choose.  I also like the fact they respond to complaints and do not hesitate to pull profiles that do not meet their rules.  But even the best of sites can’t police everything that occurs, especially after the people have agreed to meet off-line or in other on-line venues.   Whatever happens, happens!  So, be careful – always. 

Know what you don’t want

Online dating sites, or should I say the internet, somehow gives people permission to do, and say, things they perhaps would not do with people they hardly know, face to face.  Pretty faces, promises, online sex shows and people soliciting money, drugs and more all are at the end of a click.  And in spite of disclaimers and warnings, like “DO NOT SEND MONEY” people do.  They hear, I really want to take English to better my life. Or my mother/daughter/son needs to go to the doctor and in a flash, money is on its way.  They are some willing to trade their beauty and youth for a better life.  And it works, at least for some.  An amiga in Cali told me of her friend in Cartagena that was very clear about her desire for someone to support her, if they wanted to be with her.  She ultimately found someone to do so and now is married to him, living in the USA with their two children.  Clearly, if the story is true, this guy knew what he wanted and was willing to do what he had to get her.  Perhaps that is the lesson for the serious seeker.   I have had 28 year olds tell me how interested they are in getting to know me.  Please, I’m 61.  Even if she was looking for a serious relationship, I cannot even begin to imagine being with someone 33 years my
junior.  A 28 year old “hottie” may be great for the ego but I am neither secure enough to always wonder what she is doing with me.  Nor do I have enough money to hold her interest, if that is where her head is at.  My advice for the person looking for a serious relationship is know what you want, take your time and be willing to do what it takes to get it.

You have to go there

Getting to know people online is like learning how to bake a cake by reading a recipe.  You have to get the experience.  That is why focusing on a specific part of the world makes sense.  If you are looking for a serious relationship then look in a place that you know you will visit within the year or in a place where you know people from there will come to visit you.  Why get to know a person in Indonesia if you are in Columbus, Ohio if you don’t have enough money to travel there or bring them to you.  When you do visit, plan to be there for at least a week, if not two.  But a month would be better.  Take time to get to know more than one person.  Have a list of questions that you are going to ask everyone.  If you have been talking to someone for a while, they probably will not want you to meet other people.  Don’t give in.  Even if you think you have found that special one, remember you met them online.  You do not really know them.  If your relationship is the “one” it will withstand your making sure by meeting other people.  And even if you think you know them, always meet in public places.  If there is an offer to come to the airport know that agreeing may be taken as a signal that this is your girl(boy)friend, particularly if they bring their family with them.  If you let this happen, pay their taxi or bus fare.  Never accept a car ride from someone you do not know.  This includes the person that you have been talking with for months.  Get a cab. If you are a man, always be prepared to pay.  But never let them bring people to a first meeting that you do not know are going to be there.  This is a known scam in some countries.  Your date will show up with their family, cousin or whoever and you get stuck with the bill, after they have ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, never to see them again.  Simply say “I am uncomfortable with this situation, I need to leave.”  And do it.

Even your first trip will not be sufficient to know if you have found the one.  Resist the temptation to make a heart or lust decision on your first trip.  Most people I know that have developed serious lifelong commitments have visited their girl(boy)friend many times before deciding they were the one.  Take your time, narrow your list, and return as many times as it takes to find the person you want.  An investment of time, and money, upfront may save thousands and heartache later.

Look for friends, if something else happens so be it

It is said that all great relationships begin with friendship.  If you are serious about finding a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse, then resist the temptation to fall in love with the first pretty face that wants you.  It may even be easy to have someone in your bed on the first date.  Rules, norms and values that govern what having sex means vary from culture to culture.  So it is really important that if this is a sexcapade for you be honest, with yourself and them.  It may also just be an adventure for them.  So, you may find yourself thinking that this is love when it is just a way for them to get into your pants or pocket.  Do not think that you are the badest cat on the block.  Everyone can be had.  If your travel must end with you having sex with somebody, perhaps it is just adventure you seek.  If that is the case, again be honest.  You will find enough people willing to play and not hurt those that are serious.  So, again, be clear.  If you are seeking a long term relationships, and your values call into question the person that gives it up on the first or second date, then move on.  There are other choices.  And it may be best to cut your losses early than to find yourself in a relationship that began with something other than friendship.

Yes, there are horror stories, where people have been taken for their hearts, their money, their bodies and worse.  There are also success stories.  People have met online, moved from one country to another and are living happily ever after.  It can work.  It worked for me.  Bueno suerte y que Dios acompane ti en tu camino siempre!

Posted September 8, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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