Archive for the ‘Latin America’ Tag

Looking For Love In Latin America: Introduction/Marriage Agencies   Leave a comment

On New Year’s Eve I ran into a woman that runs a local matrimonial agency.  I had just come from the home of fiends.  She had just come from a party at the Hotel de Prado.  I have to put that on my list of possibilities for New Year’s next year.  From the looks of people leaving the hotel they had fun.   We exchanged numbers, vowing to go to get-together.  So when on one of my walk/jogs, Barranquilla sidewalks are great exercise because they are uneven, I found myself close to her office and dropped by.

Yami runs the Barranquilla office for A Foreign Affair (AFA), a well-established player in the business of bringing American men to foreign countries to find wives, or whatever.  After about two minutes of pleasantries, the question came.  Do you have a girlfriend?  I was not put off by the question.  I kind of expected it.  Truthfully, I had no knowledge of introduction agencies until I started coming to Colombia about three years ago.  I mean, I had heard of mail order brides.  In fact, when working in Philly I met a faculty member that had ordered himself one from China.  But that was more than twenty years ago.  It was during a visit to Manizales that the then owner of Manizales Cupido tried to get me interested in becoming a client of his agency.  Though I did not join, he did make me curious.  Who uses these services?  And why?   Are these guys desperate?  Are the women?

Last year, while looking for the answers to these questions, I saw Lisa Ling’s report, “Online Brides” on Our America.  An AFA tour to Barranquilla was the subject of her story.  Her story focused on one particular young woman.  Her interviews gave depth to the hopes and dreams of men and women looking for love and stability on foreign shores.  So, I decided to see for myself.  And if I met someone great fine!  After calling their corporate office, AFA is based in Phoenix, Arizona, I arranged for a rate reduction because I did not need the hotel.  I was living in Barranquilla during the time of their next tour.  That is how I met Yami, who was now very curious about my relationship status.

What I have come to learn is that these agencies are largely unregulated.  The screening of participants can be as stringent as interviews and reference checks or as lax as anyone who walks in the door can participate.  Because of two cases involving foreign women brought to the United States as potential brides, but eventually murdered, some agencies advertise their compliance with the International Marriage Broker Act of 2005 (IMBR).  They conduct background checks on men who seek to use their services to meet women.   AFA is one of them, even though they seem to regard the Act as something which will “…make it somewhat more cumbersome for you to make initial contact with foreign women.”  This statement comes from their website.

There are at least five Introduction/Marriage agencies operating in coastal Colombia: Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena.  Their fees can range from $595 to $1795, airfare excluded.  AFA is a worldwide introduction/marriage agency.  To travel to other parts of the world, including Costa Rica, Philippines, China and the Ukraine their costs can get close to $3000, again airfare not included.  Some agencies will also arrange for individual introductions for those men willing to pay the fee for the added attention. 

AFA does not lie though when they say that they will have lots of women at their events.  Principally consisting of two socials, and three side trips, the first evening there were over seventy women there.  The next evening there were almost ninety.  I learned later, though, that the ways they get women there can be a bit scheming.  Kellie, a 30 year old Barranquilla woman, with no children, shared with me her felling about the whole affair.  She had attended three AFA tour events.  The first time, she says, was to know what was possible.  The second time they called saying that there was a guy that had traveled to Colombia wanting to meet her.  Later, she said, she found that was not true.  The third time they had friends convinced her to come.  And that was when we met.

Throw out the image of desperate losers looking for beautiful poor women to do their bidding.  On the AFA tour I attended there were businessmen, a postal worker, an attorney, a doctor, an IT expert and other professions represented.  They came to Colombia from as far away as Seattle.  In my mind these guys had choices.  Yet, there was an air of disappointment in the group.  No one said it aloud.  But it was there.  We found, after asking about certain women, that the AFA website is padded with women who are no longer participating in their events.  Their online tour orientation, which was terrible both technologically and content wise, had a “come and get it” tone to it, as if one was being affirmed for joining the Latina nookie club.  Confirmed by the sexual overtone that exists on their website.    Regardless of what they say ahead of time, one should know that there is no guarantee that anyone in the room will be interesting to you, or interested in you.  You pay your money and take your chances that someone in the sea of faces will be the one.  Or if you are just there hoping that you will get laid by some hot Latina the tours have that potential also.  According to Kellie and others, it happens.

Introductions are big business, and AFA has their formula down to a science.  Though to most of us their events were a bit like organized chaos. Their format, for which neither I nor the guys I talked with felt prepared, was a combination of speed dating, interviewing and the getting third degree. We were assigned an interpreter to help us overcome the language barrier; introduced to the throng of women in the room; and then given about 15 minutes to meet between eight and ten woman seated at a round table.  Some of whom say no potential in any of us.  Some of whom were seriously looking for a life partner.  Some of whom, it was obvious, were just there for the dinner.  I can only imagine how the two hour round robin, tell a stranger about yourself in an attempt to make a life-long love connection before dinner is served made them feel.  Kellie confided that she felt like she was selling herself.   There is a lot of competition between women she said.  “Many women are hoping for one man.  No one has time to know the other person sincerely. There is no time to know what we had in common.  It is like you need to be perfect.  The man looking for a perfect woman and women feeling like they have to show that they are perfect, in fifteen minutes.”

My belief is that AFA, and others, do indeed play on the potential that a relationship with a foreign man will improve these women’s lives.  But for the most part the image of women seeking visas and sugar daddies is not true.  Latin America is a machista culture.  In general, women depend on men for economic and emotional stability.  That is just the way they roll here.  Economics, family and religion can drive relationship decisions.  Practical decisions about what type of life that can be lived can take a back seat to the fairy tales of falling in love and living happily ever after that we are bottle fed in the United States.

To answer Yami’s question.  No I do not have a girlfriend.  I did make a great friend though.  Melissa (see her and I on left, hanging out), my tour interpreter, a great young lady working her way through college, has been my Spanish tutor and friend since the tour.  It was actually from Melissa’s family’s home I was coming when I ran into Yami on New Year’s Eve.  For many reasons, I am resistant to the see one, choose one and marry one format that one seemingly needs to have to make the most of an Introduction/Marriage agency.  Some of my Latina friends have accused me of playing or taking too much time to make a simplistic decision.  Maybe there is some truth to both.  In my own defense, I have always made decisions from my brain, always trying to do the right thing.  For perhaps the first time in my life I am going to follow my heart’s desire -wherever that may lead.

Posted January 17, 2012 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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My New Year’s Resolution: To Not Look For Love In Latin America, Part I   5 comments

Each New Year thoughts and resolutions turn to making this year better than the last.  I’m gonna exercise more.  I am going to stick to my diet.  Find a new job.  Take a vacation.  There are thousands of different ways people swear they are going to change their lives for the better.

Well, I have decided on what not to do this year.  After a tough divorce from a great woman, I have decided to relax.  To not try so hard to have the family in my life that seems to have eluded me.   And from a guy that has spent decades fooling himself into believing that he was in control, this will be no small feat.

To understand my decision in its essence, I need to go back to high school.  I was the ugly duckling.  I was dark brown in a culture that valued light and white.  My glasses were not made for young men with fragile egos.  Coke bottles, I think they called them.  I am from the nerd stock.  A wanna be intellectual with boyish ways and a decent smile.  But after three years in and out of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Colombia I have come to know that one’s ego can write checks that ultimately will beg the question, what do you really want for your life.

For reasons, at least in my mind way too complicated to tackle in this article, there are way too many women (like my friend in the photo) in these countries seeking boyfriends, marriage or just someone to share their journeys.  Some are breathtakingly gorgeous.  Many are just plain pretty.  Most would make any man happy.  And some are either desperate or damaged, or both, enough that they would go with whoever can pay the bills.  This is the ego driven temptation that belies the fact that there is basicness, a simplicity, about life and living in Latin America which underscores the true value, and perhaps even intent, of relationships.

Being in Latin America can be like being Odysseus on his journey home.  Even if one avoids crashing on the Island of Sirens you still have to deal with Calypso wiling you to a fantasy filled life on the Isle of Ogygia.  Not a bad life if one is ready for the responsibilities that come with the willingness to have someone in your life who will try their best to give you what you think you need, when you think you need it.  What I have come to know is that the hopes and dreams of many here is not only about falling in love.  They are also about not having to live in crowded houses, sleeping with other people in your bed no matter how old you are, eating healthier and doing more than working without end.

I once met a guy in a bar in Costa Rica.  He had an apartment in San Jose.  He was maybe early to mid-sixties.  Tall and handsome.  Kind of like I imagine Colin Firth will look in his later years.  He was waiting, he said, for his new woman friend.  As we talked, sharing from where we both came, he admitted both to me, and I think himself, that her motives may not be just for love.  It was easy to tell that he was taken.  And as she walked in the door I could see why.  She was absolutely movie star status.  Five nine, maybe 130 lbs., maybe 25 or 26, long auburn hair with golden highlights, a killer body and a “come and do whatever you think you can handle” smile.  As they left, we said our “wish you wells.”  Poignantly, he added, “I think she could probably teach me something about life.”

According to Homer, Odysseus bade his men to tie him to the mast of his ship to avoid the temptations of the sirens.  He knew that the songs of sirens will change your life without those changes being a conscious, and if it is ones value, a planned decision.  In Latin America, the stakes are different.  Perhaps even higher!  In my journey, I have learned the difference between ego driven decisions and decisions that come from living a life that is fulfilling.  Hard as it may be to imagine, though poverty and disparity may cause people to come from a place of economic need they can also come from a place of spiritual wholeness, even in their desperation and damage.  This is a profound shift in being, as well as the way the world has worked around me.

The inescapable reality in Latin American is that meeting one’s needs can come before love.  And love can come from meeting someone’s needs.  A love that is stronger, more binding, fiercely loyal and passionate in service to the wants of the provider than I have ever known.  For all I know my handsome bar friend could be living in San Jose in perfect bliss.  Knowing what he has, or not knowing, but being content each day with what is making him happy.  There is a part of me which would envy him that life.  Perhaps that is my ego talking.  Or the “Leave It To Beaver” life goal that I was programmed to believe would bring me happiness.

But I am not yet ready for Ogygia.  Like Odysseus I am on a journey, as are we all.  And as most of us know, sometimes getting home can be a challenge full of trials and triumphs.  I am grateful to have the ability to learn, to grow, to enjoy connections that affirm the conscious enlightenment to which I aspire.  My goals remain: to be a positive light in the lives of others; to be physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy; to grow and prosper in my writing; to find a home that will benefit from my art and design background; and to create more opportunities for my continued teaching and learning.

2012 will be a great year, I know.  I am already blessed the teachings of my journey.

Happy New Year

Posted January 9, 2012 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 TicoTimes.net (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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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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Retiring to Colombia   1 comment

After reading the weather reports for Barranquilla, Colombia, I am not sure why I am moving there. I really dislike the heat. A few days over the past couple of weeks it was hotter than a Pittsburgh blast furnace. The saving grace is that the weather is no better in the northeast U.S. It must be the kindness of people, their value for family, the beaches, the dancing, the food, the culture, a healthier life balance, a belief that life must be enjoyed, and yes those gorgeous Colombianas.

I once tweeted that “Moving requires vision, a to-do-list & a great sense of balance. Moving out of the country also requires courage & supportive family/friends.” Nothing could be truer of my impending move to Barranquilla on July 30, my birthday. Belle who is giving me a place to stay and keeping my stuff; Bill and Cora who are receiving my mail and providing loads of unconditional love; Renee gives unconditional and unbelievable moral support; Moss, Banks, Karen, Lynette and other great friends are wonderful cheerleaders and counselors; Lilo is making looking for an apartment from the States easier; Nidia is checking on import taxes; Melissa has promised to continue my Spanish grammar lessons; my Facebook page (the one in Spanish) has messages from my Colombian friends that are planning a birthday celebration; Elizabeth, my sistah in Cali, Jorge, Mayra and her family in Costa Rica are sources of great encouragement; my family sisters, Exa and Jean, perhaps not sure what to make of me, give me their love just the same. All, and more, are making this move, at age 60, easier.

Now as the days grow shorter, and my move closer, I realize that even though I have been living in Barranquilla for the past three months, moving my stuff there is not just something to do. There are emotions at play also. I returned to the U.S. June 8 to organize my things for this move. Though I landed in Atlanta, I immediately left (at 2:00 a.m.) headed for Charlotte. A friend of 37 years let me sleep on her couch and took me to breakfast. I left at 7 a.m. or so and drove to Charleston, West Virginia in time to surprise my sister on her job and have lunch with her. Leaving Charleston by 2 p.m. gave me enough time to get to Pittsburgh in time to change clothes and see Shade with my friends. What a show!! I hung out in the ‘burgh for a week seeing many of the friends with whom I grew into adulthood. Philly, another of my old stomping grounds for a whirlwind two days, to see a mentor, friends and my spiritual counselor was my next stop. Washington D.C. to see my new doctor for my physical; visited the Colombian Consulate; hung out at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival (Colombia was a featured country this year) and had plenty of laughs with friends was the last stop on what I began to call my farewell tour.

Two-thousand miles! My farewell tour! And the growing acknowledgement that I am leaving behind the life I have known for the past thirty-five or so years. I spent a career trying to make institutions more responsive to people’s needs, particularly those people who rely on education and training to improve their lives, the lives of their families and their communities. I wanted to change the world; then I tried to change the inequities of our society; then I tried to change the communities in which people lived and struggled by changing the institutions in which they trusted their dreams and aspirations.

I am a different person than I was before I started visiting Latin America four years ago. Being in Latin America has affected me in ways that I have not fully comprehended. I feel like I will return to the U.S., as a visitor. My home will be Barranquilla, Colombia. I feel like my heart will be there also. I am way less tolerant of the racism I feel here in the United States. I am ready to live life more simply; less focused on what I can accumulate; less accepting of the racism I feel here in the United States; less tolerant of the negativity; and frustrated by our inability to improve the infrastructures supporting our society. I am at a place where I believe the politics of privilege is driving a chasm between our society’s soul and our connection to the universe.

I am ready to consume myself with family and projects that secure my future. I am ready to be more giving to myself, to be less stressed, in better balance and in better health. I have always been a little different. Perhaps that is because I have always seen the world as a place that should be more giving. So it was not surprising to hear some of my friends say “… you never cease to amaze me.” Well I have to say that there are parts of me that are amazed that I am moving. It is an exciting amazement. There are both melancholy and joyful farewells. There is a new chapter ready to take place in my life. I am learning to fully believe that after a career of making the dreams of others come true, now is time for me to make my own a reality.

Posted July 18, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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We Were Better Off When We were Slaves? Uhhh!! Time To Go   2 comments

On June 8, I returned to the United States to get my things organized for my move back to Colombia. As I have said before moving to Latin America is a healing contribution to my soul. But I have to admit my elation with seeing friends and family has been troubled by the reminder of why my soul needs healing. The latest salvo comes from The Family Leader, whose mission, as appears on their website, is to be “a consistent, courageous voice in the churches, in the legislature, in the media, in the courtroom, in the public square…always standing for God’s truth.” Described as an Iowa based conservative group with both money and political power, The Family Leader released on July 7, 2011 a presidential candidate pledge document stating “Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President,” As a requirement for The Family Leader’s presidential endorsement, both Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Sen. Rick Santorum signed the original document containing those sentiments.

Though, because of public outcry, the statement has been deleted from the declaration one has to wonder what level of thinking; what social, political, economic or spiritual agenda lead to such an oration in the first place. And what are potential presidents of the United States thinking, believing and valuing leading them to affirm such a perspective. To say that the lives of slaves in North America provided African Americans with a more intact family structure than they have today is both ludicrous and insane. The fact is that families were torn apart by slavery. Women were raped by their masters. Children were sold from their families. Husbands and wives were treated as chattle to be sold either separately or together depending on the will of their masters. People were murdered because of the color of their skin.

When I say that I am moving to Colombia some people are quick to point out the fact that Colombia has its own racist history. This is true! Yet, somehow, it seems, the slave trade and the millions of lives affected by it must have taken a more insidious turn when it reached North America. To quote Kjartan Sveinsson, Senior Research & Policy Analyst, The Runnymede Trust, “Some historians have argued that, because of this combination of economic, cultural and legal factors, Colombian authorities and slave owners were more ready to accept slaves as human beings with – albeit not equal – at least some basic rights. This is not to say that a slave’s life in Colombia was a good one, but slaves appear to have enjoyed more freedom than their counterparts up north. Liberty, for example, was a legitimate goal for a slave who could gain his or her freedom through a variety of means. Furthermore, and to a great extent through the influence of the Catholic Church, family bonds amongst slaves were fostered and encouraged. Up to two-thirds of all adult slaves in Colombia lived in family units, and parents had rights over the fate of their children – when sale occurred, it was more often than not the sale of families.”

Let me also point out that slavery did not exist in Latin America for the length of time it existed in North America. Most accounts hold that slavery began in the United States in the early 1600’s and did not end until 1865 or so; the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all slaves. Afro Colombians proudly celebrate that in 1757 the first emancipation of slaves in the Americas came in eastern Antioquia in the town of El Retiro where 127 slaves were emancipated by their slaveholders. Though the process of full emancipation did not get started until 1821 and was only achieved in 1852, the overcoming of this horrible practice, by whatever means necessary is seemingly a source of pride for many Colombians.

In my last post, July 5, 2011, I talked about the connections between Latin American culture and African Americans. Connections that go back, at minimum, to the slave trade and the common struggles experienced by generations afterwards are just a part the journey we share on a spiritual level. When I am in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Colombia’s Atlantic coast I no longer feel like I am being treated differently; being judged differently; having different rules apply to me; having different penalties for breaking those same rules; and more, because of the color of my skin.

Statements, like the one made by The Family Leader seemingly lament the good old days. These beliefs and sentiments are really the tip of the iceberg. The ongoing assault that “minorities” face in the United States of America is wearisome. I have chosen not to spend the rest of my life waiting for the next racist salvo to be launched. Or worse looking in the mirror and wondering why I am allowing my soul to be contaminated by these kinds of thoughts and beliefs. So, again, don’t call me gringo. I may be from North America but there is no way in God’s universe that I can even begin to embrace values such as these nor the ideals from which they spawn.

Posted July 12, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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