Archive for the ‘Life’ Tag

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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Finding Christmas In Colombia   3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted December 26, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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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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