What I’m Thankful For

November 28, 2009

I started this on Thanksgiving, but some old friends came into town yesterday and decided I needed a Thanksgiving party, so Mexican food, tequila and mezcal, dancing all night, and the drunkest acapella Elvis cover band in the world substituted for family togetherness and turkey. Kind of. Anyway, here’s what I started yesterday and neglected to finish until this morning:

I’m sitting on the hard tile floor in a mildewed dark room next to the only working outlet in this hostel that is also within range of wifi. My family and friends are several countries away, and on this day of family togetherness and giving thanks, I’m nursing a head cold and surrounded by strangers. Nobody aside from Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, so as you might guess I’m a bit out of my element today.

Making things harder is the fact that I’ve drifted far enough away from everyone I love that they aren’t really able or willing to contact me any longer. The last time someone outside of my family called me or emailed from back home was weeks ago. It’s not them – I don’t usually have a phone, and I’m far from the most communicative person anyway. Still, it hurts a bit when your good friend sends you an email and you realize you can’t remember the last time that happened.

It’s my fault – I’m the one who left, I’m the one who isn’t close, or a part of your day to day life, and I like to think that people do still think about me from time to time. Even if they don’t, I still have things to be thankful for, and this seems like a good day to reflect on them a bit.

First, the stupid material shit – I’m thankful for my little laptop, the eee I’ve had traveling with me all over Central America. Sure, she’s been more weight in the bag, but I couldn’t write or blog at all without her. Plus, it’s always nice to have a lifeline back home. Likewise, I really appreciate every single thing I still own, and that isn’t a lot. I’ve given away everything that doesn’t fit into my backpack or messenger bag, and as I do so every thing I still have becomes all the more precious. My 4 changes of clothes, 5 pairs of underwear, 6 pairs of socks are each valuable to me, each special in a way that I never understood before they were all I had. My mementos of this life, coins, bits of wood, shells, twisted metal parts are all imbued with memories. Really, if you carry everything you own around on your back all day, each thing takes on significance – this is my machete, it keeps me warm in the woods – this is my sleeping bag, it lets me sleep anywhere I choose – this is my headlamp, it lets me see, and so on. I’m thankful for everything I have.

Even more, I’m thankful for what I don’t have – my lack of a career, steady housing, a life plan, a car have all become precious gems, points of pride, and signposts that give evidence that I’m moving toward something better then what I had before. I take ridiculous pride in how much I don’t have, don’t need, don’t want even. I’ve found joy in not having, in giving away, in doing without the unnecessary. The other week I gave away almost 50 pounds of gear – clothing mainly, but also boots, a backpack, gloves, hats, books, everything. I haven’t bought anything I didn’t need for a while now, and I’m thankful that I’ve come to this realization of how little I truly need so early in my life. It would be much more difficult to live my life if I’d gotten deeper into the consumption game before I got out.

That’s what I’m most thankful for today – I’ve gotten out, torn myself free of a life I was terribly miserable in, and found a way of living that makes me truly joyous. I smile all the time, laugh genuinely, give hugs and kisses to people I don’t even know. I make friends every day, some of them for life, and get to experience a world completely alien to most of the people I know. I’m thankful for my Spanish – I can communicate with people I would never have otherwise met, learn about their lives, beliefs, hopes, dreams. I’m so thankful that I was right, that people everywhere are the same, all wanting and needing the same things – it’s one of the bases of my whole world, and sometimes it is quite nice just to be correct for once! I’m so incredibly happy to be living here, in this strange yet welcoming land, in another language, another culture, and still share moments of deep understanding with people of all stripes. From crossing cultural barriers I never knew existed before finding them to meeting, befriending, and sometimes dating people of very different worlds then my own, I’ve done a whole lot of growing lately – a trend I’m happy to be pursuing further.

Lastly, well, no, not lastly but lastly for now, I’m thankful to everyone who has made my adventures possible – from Sjoerd, Dan, Becky, Seth, Veronique, Marc, Matt, Karina, Vish and all of my traveling companions to the countless friends I’ve made, there are so many people who have made my life the better simply by touching it. The people I’ve left at home have been so good as well, especially my mother, who lives the most hectic life yet still manages to send me touching emails, and my father, a man who has fought so long to live life on his terms and is beginning to see the returns he deserves. I owe my existence to them, and am so lucky that they raised me in a way that has allowed me to become the person I am – did an excellent job too, I should add. Then there are my brothers, K2 and 3, who I see growing up and developing into themselves. It was incredible to call my family on Skype and see a DIY halfpipe in the backyard, then to realize that my youngest brother is taller then I am! Without the support of all of them, and my good friends too, I’d be so much lonelier out here. I’m thankful too that I can call home and everyone I know seems to be doing well, or at least, putting on a good show of it. Sure, I come off as crazy to most, but just having you there makes a hell of a difference.

So that’s it I guess – it’s been a tough year, but I’m better for it, and falling into this strange and wonderful life seems to be the reward. I don’t know how long I can keep it up, or how things will go tomorrow even, but in the present moment I’m fulfilled, lacking nothing essential, happy in every way, and in love with the world I inhabit. How can I not be thankful for all of that? Happy Thanksgiving to you all stateside – a day late and probably more then a dollar short, but I wish everyone the best anyway. Ciao! -k

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Dear Barack Obama,

 

I’m touched to receive your Thanksgiving mass spam email today, a thousand miles from home and a lifetime away from all the people I know and love. I miss them all terribly, and empty, thoughtless little gestures like a 2 million person email really make the difference on hard days like today. Nonetheless, I do have a few problems with the message you sent me, which I’d like to expand up here.

My problem, if I may put it succinctly is that you are a snake – your tongue slithers in and out, you say all the right things, but you don’t act to back them up. You ask Americans to sacrifice while you rob us of our futures, steal our social security, undercut our medical and health care, and waste our precious resources on pointless warfare. You are a liar, Barack, and you betray the American people with your silver tongue.

If you really cared about average Americans and their sacrifices you would not act as you do. You would not send our young men and women to fight wars of aggression to protect the interests of large corporations. You would not give trillions of dollars from the American people to large banking consortiums who filled your campaign coffers. If you really cared about Americans you would not dedicate your presidency to the service of large banks, corporations, and rich Democratic backers, and instead work against those groups to help the average Americans being crushed beneath their bloat and waste. No Barack, you don’t care about the average American beyond whether she votes for you and the Democratic party every 2 years. You don’t give a fuck about the poor Americans shivering and hungry, and you certainly don’t care about the soldiers you send overseas to protect “American interests” that are directly at odds with the interests of real Americans. Instead you give flowery speeches, then turn around and heap shit on the poor while robbing them of the opportunities, aid, and wealth they deserve.

How can you pretend to care, spit out pretty words, and then ensure that the actual help goes to those with the deepest pockets and most influence?

If you practiced what you preach you wouldn’t act as you do, but because you do act this way – attacking American values and the livelihoods and savings of real Americans – it is quite obvious that you are just another mouth, just another pretty face to make the authoritarian state more palatable, easier to slip under the front door while America sleeps. Your job is to make the transition from free people to slaves more peaceful, less obvious, and at that job you excel. Still, you’re not getting people like me, because I’m gone – left, moved out, and I’m never coming back. I hope you still feel bad about what you’re doing to America Barack, but I imagine you’re so self-assured, so confident in your own incorruptibility and faith that you don’t even realize what a fucking tool you’ve become. Enjoy the leash, I’ll be out in the real world helping people.

With love,

K

PS – for those who would dismiss me as an angry ranting idiot, google some combination of Unocal, Afghanistan, Pipeline, or perhaps Obama, Secret Meetings, insurance companies, or even Bagram, torture, rendition.  Any one of those 3, plus dozens of other combinations, put the lie to Obama’s pretty words – he’s just another mouthpiece, like ever president for a damn long time.  The bullshit Thanksgiving mass email just put me over the edge today, but I’m sick of this two-faced shit getting passed off as truth.

A short letter to Seth

November 21, 2009

I wrote this to my friend Seth in response to an email he sent weeks and weeks ago – cleaning out the ole’ inbox, and that sort of jazz.  Anyway, what it comes down to is that there’s a bit in the middle that I think people ought read.  Sounds pretty arrogant, but hey, wouldn’t be me without it.

Hey dude!
Man oh man, it’s good to hear from you! I’ve been pretty friendless for a while now, since we all split ways.  Not completely – I spent a few weeks with Veronique, met some great people in Leon, but it’s just not the same as the amazing time I had living with you guys.  Having real, true friends is a precious thing.
I’ve had a terrific and terrible time lately – just got evicted 2 days ago at gunpoint, and things have been crazy.  I’ve gone from having my bar, house, cafe, theater to suddenly being homeless and drifting.  I think tomorrow we head north to Tikal, then to El Sal, then Nicaragua, then Panama, then Columbia to learn Paragliding.  I’ve no idea really.
Anyway, I think that politics and the system are unbeatable, but they are avoidable – you can figure out a way to have that whole world influence you as little as possible, and be perfectly happy living as such, but if you devote your life to fighting against the system instead of fighting for your own goals, then you will become an empty shell, as corrupt and poisonous as the very things you’ve been meaning to destroy.  The trick is to drop out – stop playing their games, stop selling your life, and find out how you need to live to be happy and whole on your own terms, in your own world.  We all create our own realities, and to focus your reality  around beating “them” won’t work because they don’t exist – we’re all victims of capitalism, from the guy at the top feeling empty and hopeless because his money doesn’t  buy happiness to the guy at the bottom starving in the streets.  We’re all victims, and to try to turn society against one portion of it is their means, their methods.  The ultimate act of rebellion is just to work together, to love everyone, to refuse to hate. If you can do that – and it will be difficult – then you will truly be free in this world.
I’d check out crime thinc dot com if I were you, but all together-like.  Miss you bud, and I love you, as you already know.  I’d love to do business things, but frankly, I can’t right now because I’m too transitory, too gaseous and ill-defined to be of any use – I’d be in the middle of setting up some deal and just jet off to Brazil or some shit like that.  I will of course have to work at that, have to work at something eventually, but for now I’d rather live as a drifter off what little I have, and just run – run – run as far as I can from American society.  I’m happier like this.
I really hope you and Beck are well – sounds like work and life aren’t too easy right now, but I know you guys, and you’ll make it work.  If you have to stay in the states it might be more difficult, but for now, I think you deserve to be near friends and family and loved ones.  Just remember – if you’re not happy with your life, you ought change it, because nothing is more precious then our short time here on earth, and to waste even a second of that is to insult and degrade yourself.  Burn it all up, every ounce of your life and self, so that when death and the Devil come to collect their due, there will be nothing left for them, and all your love and energy will be spread across the world, scattered to the winds.  That’s how I try to live, anyway.  Like I said, miss you, love you, and we’ll talk soon my friend.  -k

Raul

November 7, 2009

His name was Raul, and he was once an illegal immigrant to the United States.  He came into California, worked picking crops, taught himself English.  He fell in love, married, had 2 daughters.  He moved from picking crops to chasing traffic accidents and recommending ambulance-chaser attorneys to the victims – an extra-legal profession, to borrow Joe Klein’s Orwellian Newspeak.  Eventually Raul got on the wrong side of a cop, and was deported.  His wife and daughters remain to this day in the US, and Raul has not seen them since he left.  He rebuilt his life, began to work at a textile factory in Honduras, but that shut down when the owners decided it was easier to move operations abroad then to pay their workers $240/month.  He’s been unable to find work since, unsurprising in a country that suffers 30% unemployment and whose economy is driven primarily by remittances from the 1,000,000 Hondurans living in the US, and after that by textile manufacturing, banana, and coffee production.  An export economy to the West suffers deeply when the US and Europe aren’t buying, and to complicate matters, ever since the military-led Coup this summer, tourism has been flat-on-its-face dead, leaving this writer to conclude that 2009 will go down as the year Honduras got brutally beaten, shaken down, and left for the vultures on the side of the road, a not-occasional-enough event in this part of the world.

Really – when there’s no money, no work, your children are starving, and there are a very small group of incredibly rich owners in your midst, what would you do?  If you answered “turn to crime” then you’re spot on – the poor in Honduras have been driven inch by agonizing inch into the sort of activities that would get one labeled a terrorist and possibly French back in the US of A.  Everything from massive surges in gang and drug-related violence, kidnapping, smuggling, roadblocks, hijacking, bus and taxi robbery, pickpocketing, underage prostitution, child and female slavery, damn near everything you’d want to limit if your goal was societal stability is rising, and rapidly too.  Not only in Honduras, mind you – every place in Central America is seeing the same problems, the same trends, as the global economy sags like a 70-something social butterfly who fell behind on her Botox shots.  As the bigshots protect their own asses and their friends’ Wall Street investment firms, the people further down the line take the hit all the harder, and this part of the world is pretty near the bottom of the totem pole.  No one has credit, liquidity, savings to fall back on – most don’t have an extra tortilla or cup of coffee to spare, let alone money.
The rich will survive this – even if they have to sell the extra Mercedes and the lake house, they will make it through, keep sending their kids to the right schools, showing up at the right events.  The middle class (in the US sense) will live as well, though not without having to cut out the Starbucks a few times a week, perhaps put off the new TV or those cute jeans for a bit.  It won’t be easy – many people will lose their mortgages, cars, declare bankruptcy, but you’ll eat at least.  The poor, the real poor, the billion people who live on less then $1 a day – that sixth of the world is, to put it politely, fucked. Just like the last time, just like the next time, the poor take it on the chin whenever the Capitalist system over-invests in tulip bulbs.
Ok, so what does this have to do with Raul?  It seems a good enough time to reintroduce our protagonist.  When I met Raul, I was in Choluteca, Honduras, hitchhiking north to friendly faces and a roof.  He was lying in the street near the market, facedown with an arm stretched dangerously close to the choking line of buses, trucks, taxis slogging through the narrow dirty streets.  In his hand, a small bottle of Catrachito, cheap gut-rot liquor, hinted at the cause.  I didn’t intend to meet him, I just wanted to move his arm out of the road, but as I did so he sat up with a start, scaring the hell out of me and coughing booze-scented pleghm on his dirty clothes.  I convinced him to move with me, and we sat in the shade of a nearby shop and shared a cigarette.
“Why,” I asked him after he told me his awful tale, “why are you doing this to yourself?  What about your family?”
He spat in the dirt. “My wife does not receive my calls.  She told me that she is sorry, but she needs a man who can support the children.”  He put his head in his hands, wracked by sorrow but still too proud to cry openly.
“Raul, why drink?  Surely there is something better, no?”  I asked so many variations of this, brought in God when I had to, but nothing penetrated his dark clouded eyes.  There was one phrase he kept repeating that hurts me still – I’ll try to translate it as best I can.
“I have worked like a slave my entire life.  All my life.  What good is there?”
He stared at me, and I could only shake my head – I don’t know.
I don’t know anything – I came down here looking for reality and truth, and I’ve found bucketloads, but none that penetrates quite like the poverty, the hopeless, lifelong, humanity-draining poverty.  It isn’t just Raul, it’s nearly everyone – coming from the US I had studied the victims of our economic policies, but I wasn’t prepared for the sights I’d see, the people I’d meet, the guilt and helplessness I would feel confronted with it all.  The mind rages – there must be a better way!  We’re not trying to help these people – how could we when we don’t even know they exist?  The poor, starving, dying, have no value in a system that cares only for productivity, shaving costs, trimming staff – maximizing profits has replaced human decency, and we all lose.
And yet… I’m no better.  After our talk, cigarette, and a few mouthfuls of water, I bid farewell to Raul, mouthed “I’m sorry” to his pleading eyes and outstretched hand, turned and walked away.  I had a bus to catch, a friend to meet, a hot meal and a shower waiting for me on the other end.  There are a billion Rauls, a billion humans like you and me out there trying and crying and dying to live.  There’s a way to help them, the means exist, but the will – that’s where we fall flat.  There isn’t any profit in keeping the poor alive, at least not one comparable to corporate piracy and waging aggressive war, and so until we change this fucked up system we live in, the Rauls of the world have to die – the bottom line demands it.

-k

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