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I’ve only had two heroes during my adult life. While Captain Jean-Luc Picard will never die and can always live on through replays of Star Trek: The Next Generation, my other hero, Christopher Hitchens, has died of esophageal cancer at the age of 62. However, he too can live on forever through his words. He so eloquently illustrated this when asked why he would not want to believe in a God and heaven which would allow him to one day meet William Shakespeare. His response was, “The only reason I might even want to meet Shakespeare is because I can meet him anytime because he is immortal in the works left behind. If you’ve read those, meeting the author [in heaven] might certainly be a disappointment.”
"Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it."
That’s just one of the many examples of the inspiring and thought provoking statements from Hitchens. Luckily I live in a time where access to debates, speeches and documentaries is possible on Youtube at any hour of the day. (Hopefully it stays this way… who knows given the new internet censorship legislation that has recently passed under the Obama administration) Around the middle of last year I was turned on to Hitchens through debates on religion and anti-theism scattered throughout the internet. I never looked back. I was drawn into his speaking style. He is direct and often harsh but he never speaks just for the sake of a reaction. His provocative attacks against beloved public figures such as Dalai Lama and Pope Benedict XVI are always grounded in truth. I don’t agree with everything he has said and that’s just the thing that made him such a good writer and speaker. He urged people to always question, always doubt and always challenge what is accepted as “right,” even if it meant disagreeing with him. This is all done without the need for baseless conspiracy theories or ad-hominem attacks (although he occasionally straddled this line.)
I’ve strayed a long way from the Church since my adolescence and there had always been a discomfort within me, but Christopher Hitchens, through his books and debates, has helped open my eyes. I might not go as far as he would in saying that there is nothing good that can come of religion but he has argued over and over that any good acts that might come in the name of religion are not born of the religion itself but rather the innate goodness in humans to work together to survive as a species. When faced with the argument from theists of where our morality comes from, if not from God, he asks how would Moses have made it to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments without roughly 100,000 years of modern humans working together and having a strong moral code built within. Did we really learn the right way to live that late in our development as modern humans?
Like him or dislike him, Christopher Hitchens made you think. I never really understood why he would agree to go on shows debating hacks on cable news networks such as CNN and Fox News. I guess everyone has to sell a book sometimes. His lowest points for me were when he was engaged in debate with people who were clearly intellectually inferior. It’s similar to Richard Dawkins having a debate about religion with Bill O’Reilly. It just ends up making the more intellectual of the two look like a bully and in the end no side has really said anything meaningful.
What was also very inspiring about Christopher Hitchens was his ability to blur political party lines. People on both sides, republicans and democrats, would always try to claim him for themselves but being along any party line is impossible if you truly think for yourself. Being a free thinker doesn’t mean identifying with the republican party, going down the check-list and forming your system of beliefs based off of what is expected of you as a republican. He has liberal beliefs in some aspects and conservative beliefs in others.
For now though, I’ll pour a glass of Johnny Walker Black Label scotch on the rocks while I finish up this entry and then watch a few Hitchens videos. According to him Black Label is the best valued scotch the world has to offer and he often would tell people this who asked. This day was coming. The man hit the booze and cigarettes hard his whole life. I’m glad I found out about him when I did because he’s opened up my eyes. He has always been a champion of realism, honest debate and intellectualism. For that I thank him and the world has lost a great mind today.
Anderson Cooper: “You said you burned the candle at both ends”
Christopher Hitchens: “And it gave a lovely light…”
Since I’m about to settle down in Indonesia I figured it was time to confront a question I always have trouble answering. Whether it’s to a curious local or while editing my Facebook profile, I can never quite figure out what to say and often change my answer depending on my mood.
Where am I from? Well, I was born in Westbury, New York. An average sized town in Nassau County on Long Island. In 1991 my family and I moved to Tampa, Florida. This is a moment that will forever define who I am as a person. The struggles I went through adapting to the move effected my family and social life as well as my education. To say it was a difficult move for me would be a gross understatement. I don’t feel like all the effects of the move, which was in the middle of my final year of elementary school, went away until well after I had graduated high school. I never felt comfortable with who I was during my middle, junior and high school years.
It wasn’t until, ironically, my darkest years that I really started to see light at the end of the tunnel. Now, of course I can’t blame every set back I’ve ever had on a traumatic mid-school year move. That wouldn’t be fair to my parents whom I’m sure if they had it to do over again might have made a better effort to make sure I didn’t get pulled out of my comfort zone and thrust into the “new kid” role.
This is me pondering the question. Deep thought. Deeeeep thought.
I speak of this transition in depth because I feel that I’m going through a similar period of my life right now where this is relevant. I guess I’d also like to take the next few lines to express my complete forgiveness to my mom and dad for the move. It wasn’t easy and at times I outright hated them for it but now I feel like saying thank you, because while I can’t possibly predict where I would be had we not moved, I can look at where I am today and be thankful for the strength I gained from being thrust into a new culture at such a young age. And, if you don’t think there was a large culture gap between Nassau County schools in the late 80′s & early 90′s and Tampa, Florida then look no further than the demographics of the area of Westbury I lived and the integration of schools in Hillsborough County.
How I didn’t come out of this with extreme prejudice can only be credited to a strong interest in culture and geography that was instilled in me at a young age. My favorite parts of junior high were always culture days where I got to share my Italian heritage or excel in naming world capitals in class. Even though “cracker day,” where people of other race groups would gang up on whites and punch, kick or rob them on their way to the buses after school could have given me ample excuse for bigotry, it didn’t.
I think it had the opposite effect and made me crave knowledge of other people and to learn first hand through experience how people of different races and cultures truly are rather than looking at a small sample size. If I’m bigoted in any way it’s against people who succom to mob mentality or act belligerent towards others just because someone else says it’s what they should do. Or worse, a two thousand year old book that carries similar instructions. Good thing that doesn’t happen in the grown up world, right? I’ve always wanted to say this next phrase; but I digress.
I felt it was necessary to give a strong background of where I was born and the event that moved me to where I spent the greater portion of my life thus far, Tampa, Florida. After getting past the fact that I’m either assumed to be American or they’ve asked and I’ve answered, the instinctive reply to the question, “Where are you from?” is almost always, “Florida.” And depending on how off the beaten path I may be, I’ll either go further in saying, “about an hour from Disney World.” or “about 5 hours from Miami.” People all over the world know Mickey Mouse and Miami Vice, they haven’t quite heard of the Cuban sandwich or Gasparilla yet.
The problem is, that to most of the world (and Facebook apparently) you come from where you are born. Your birthplace is a representation of who you are. This just doesn’t feel right for me as I no longer feel “New York” represents who I am. This goes a step further where many cultures define where you are from by where your parents were born. That would make me a mix between a New Yorker and Pennsylvanian. I’ll admit it would be cool to raise some eyebrows here in Indonesia by telling them I’m from “Bethlehem.” (Pennsylvania, not the Palestinian city) None of this even considers the idea that you’re from where your blood is and in that case, as with most Americans, I’m a mix of European flavors. I have been pegged as Italian by people from Italy that I meet in other countries.
I guess what it all really comes down to is updating my Facebook profile. It asks me where I’m from and I don’t want to answer it in the literal sense. If I say I’m from Westbury, New York and my current city is Medan, Indonesia, then nearly 2/3′s of my life goes unrepresented and my Florida years are forgotten. I’ll be damned if Facebook strips me of Ybor City, tailgating at Raymond James Stadium and crossing the Courtney Campbell Causeway en route to Clearwater Beach. I demand they add a “Where did you spend most of your life?” question in the profile.
All joking aside. I’m American, I was born in Westbury, Long Island New York. I lived most of my life in Tampa Florida and raised by parents who are a mix of German, Hungarian and Italian heritage from New York and Pennsylvania and now I currently will be residing in Indonesia for the foreseeable future.
So, where am I from? I don’t know. I just can’t wait until we develop warp drive and I can answer that with a simple, “Planet Earth.”
A mandi is a traditional Indonesian way of washing oneself where you take a small scoop dipped into a large tub or container of cold water and pour the water over yourself. It’s accompanied by an eastern style squat toilet in which the mandi is also used as a means of washing after going to the toilet.
And I need you today, Oh Mandi.
In Indonesia, especially in rural areas, these baths are commonly found. Western oriented hotels are an exception as well as some apartments and homes in bigger cities. What I typically do is leave a small amount of water in there for the occasional hand wash or refresh during the hot afternoon hours. There is no hot water but that doesn’t matter too much as the cool water is more refreshing. Sometimes the water comes out warm anyway which doesn’t do the trick like the cooler water. When I’m ready to take a full shower, which is typically in the morning and evening before bed, I will fill it up to about 1/4.
No, you don't jump in it.
After the desired amount of water is in the mandi, it’s time to start scooping water out and onto yourself. A few direct hits to the face and back are usually enough to wake me up. I typically stand away from the mandi when I’m using the soap as to not let dirty water go back in. When I’m finished scrubbing I clean off my hands first and then rinse the rest off by pouring the small scoop over myself until I’m good to go.
Get over here!!!!
When I first encountered the mandi I was a bit concerned but after a few uses it really is no less refreshing than an actual shower. I have no choice really, seeing as though I’m living in a small village.
Happy Mother's Day!
Hey Mom! This is a blog card for you on Mother’s Day! I figure this will do since Skype kept hanging up on you when I tried calling. Indonesians don’t celebrate their mother’s day until December 22nd but the staff here at Bukit Lawang Trust Clinic were kind enough to help me out!
He ruins everything
It’s the first question people usually ask when I tell them I’m heading overseas again. “Did you get all your shots?” It’s as if they think I’m just jumping into this carefree and irresponsibly. How dare people question my planning and research? How dare people ask me such a silly inane question? The nerve of family and friends to even consider for a moment that maybe I won’t take full precaution before I leave the country! As an experienced traveler you can never be too careful and you must make sure that you do not make mistakes when it comes to vaccinations and immunizations… apparently though, I am not an experienced traveler. Oops!
The sarcasm is off now. I messed up. In all my infinite travel wisdom I decided it would be fun to wait till the very last minute to update my typhoid fever vaccination. Luckily this is my 2nd shot and it only takes a week to become effective. Also, looking up for me is the fact that I plan to stay in Addis Ababa for a week where the water is generally pretty safe compared to rural towns and villages in the countryside. The good thing about typhoid is it is pretty easily avoidable if I stick to bottled water, even for brushing my teeth, as well as making sure I keep my mouth shut in the shower.
So, if you were to ask me yesterday if I got all my shots… I would have said no. Also, I got what I deserved. A nice heavy feverish reaction a few hours after the shot. I took some Advil and laid down for a nap and it went away.
2 more days…
The last time I left the country for a long period of time proved that no matter how tough I try to convince myself that I am, I truly miss family and friends when I travel. So, putting the obvious aside for just a moment, these are some things I’m going to miss when I’m gone.
1. My car: I haven’t always loved driving a lot but I sure do enjoy blasting my music while on the highway. I’m going to miss that part of it. I’ve loved my Jetta since I bought it in 2002 and when I return to the United States I don’t see myself investing that much in a new vehicle again. Now I will have to rely on headphones and public transportation.
2. Quality Hispanic food: This is tough to come by outside of the United States and Latin America. I have had the chance to occasionally find tasty Mexican joints in Asia but nothing compared to what I get here at home. I can probably kiss the Cuban Sandwich goodbye as I don’t see getting a good one for awhile.
3. Cheese: Somewhat related to #2, I don’t know what it is about being outside of the country but I rarely come across good cheese of any kind. I know I probably just need to hit up a grocery store but as a whole, in restaurants it is never available. And I can forget shredded or melted cheese. It is nearly non-existent at Mexican or Italian restaurants. I love cheese. I love it a lot!
4. High fives: Seriously, this has been one of the most exciting NFL seasons I’ve experienced in a long time. I’m going to miss hanging out with my friends during Bucs games and giving high fives. Do people do that in other countries? Even if they do, will they be as meaningful with out having a true team to root for? What’s my favorite football club going to be? Should I root for Manchester United since the Bucs owner’s also own them? A high five is nothing with out some real excitement behind it. You don’t fake high fives.
5. Jeopardy!: I must confess my geeky side. I’ve enjoyed weekly Jeopardy! competitions with my roommates for quite sometime. Such a simple pleasure but it will be strongly missed. I may never answer the most questions but it sure is a good time trying.
Things have sort of come to a standstill for me. I have a lot I still need to do before I leave but it seems that with the amount of time I have left, I’m doing a healthy dose of procrastinating now. This after getting so much done the first week.
I took a few hours yesterday to go see the new movie, 127 Hours. I figured as an adventure traveler (not so much a mountain climber) I should probably learn a little bit more about the story of Aron Ralston. I remember reading about him in the news in 2003 when the events occurred that the movie is based on. I watched the movie and then did a little reading about him when I got home to separate the story from Hollywood. I found out it was pretty well close to the real story with only a few changes.
The movie itself was OK. It got a bit trippy at times but that would be expected of a Danny Boyle movie. Especially one that delves into the psychological effects of dehydration, desperation and a man trapped in a situation where he faces almost certain death.
The movie and story itself reminded me of why it is important to make sure close family and friends always know where I am going. It doesn’t make sense to venture off unannounced just for the sake of having that feeling of know one else knowing your whereabouts. As enticing as that can be, it is a selfish act. There is definitely a certain rush attached to it in a sense that you know if something happens you’re on your own. I remember when I was younger and just got my driver’s license I would take off and drive north out of Tampa and just stop at random exits as far out of town as I felt necessary and then start making random turns until I got myself a bit lost. I never succeeded in getting completely lost but it would give me a small sense of adventure.
Mom and dad were fully aware I was in the Sahara
I’ve taken that same desire to get lost and experience new places and put it into a more practical hobby. I try not to blog too much about specific travel routes before I leave for a few reasons. One being, plans always change and pre-planned routes can end up being useless. More importantly though, as my dad suggested after I blogged for Morocco, It is not a good idea to publish exact arrival dates and locations of accommodation online before you arrive at a destination. Chances are slim that someone would read my blog and act on it, but why give anyone with motives to kidnap, the blueprint to locating me?
What I usually do is give a tentative itinerary to my parents and brother and maybe a couple of close friends so that they know the route I intend to take. I do my best to warn of days where I may be out of communication due to the remoteness of my location. I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than 3-4 days with out some sort of contact. If I hit a new town I like to, at the very least, check in with an email. With Facebook being as convenient as it is I’ll probably just do status updates with new locations.
There is a lot of change in the air right now. The drop in humidity in Florida over the last week has been absolutely fantastic. The NFL and college football seasons are getting into full swing. Add to that all the Halloween decorations starting to be put up, it is undoubtedly “that time of year,” again. Pretty soon we’ll be able to open the windows in our houses and not have to adjust the AC settings in our cars. This time of year is the reason why people live in the state of Florida.
Change for me however, isn’t just in the temperature and the vibe. I found out this week that there will be some adjustments at my work that are going to effect my schedule. I’ve decide instead of being part of the change at work I’ll just leave a little bit sooner than I had originally planned. My resignation date was November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving. The changes at work take effect in the middle of the month so I am going to resign on November 12th. This means more time unemployed before heading overseas which also means I have to be creative with my money. This slight adjustment by about 12 days from my original plan isn’t that big of a difference but it has certainly brought me into the reality that life is about to change for me and the whirlwind is merely weeks away. Anticipation is winding down and experience is getting ready to kick in.
This also frees up some more time to do some pre-travel traveling. I’m currently working out a plan to spend a few weeks, maybe even an entire month in Central America. I’ll probably work that plan out this coming week.
I’m shifting gears a bit in my current situation and taking the dive back into full time employment a little earlier than expected. I only have 8 more credits left before graduation so that means I can take two, four credit online courses over the summer. I originally planned to go full time after graduation in August but instead I decided on May 1st to get the savings going even faster. My full time schedule was approved and I’ll be back to 40 hours per week right away.
I’m a bit nervous, as I haven’t worked full time since 2006, but it will be a much needed change of savings pace. I’ve done pretty well working part time and now I’ll be able to push my plans up a little closer than I originally anticipated. At this rate, I could see myself taking my TEFL certification as early as next March. I’ve already got some exciting travel plans in the works. I already know I will be returning to Colombia with my brother in August after graduation. A few other things are in the works for early 2011 before heading to Thailand for my TEFL certification. I’m leaning towards a trip to Central America as well as a return trip to the horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan and Somaliland (the northern self-proclaimed independent state in Somalia which enjoys a stable autonomous government)
With the full time pay I can afford to move out and my really good friend Brooke from Brooke Reviews and her boyfriend just got approved for a house they really wanted and are waiting on the closing date. They offered to let me move in with them for the remainder of 2010 until I’m ready to head overseas. I’m really excited about this because their house is going to be awesome and everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that the closing date comes and goes without a hitch, and that they’re able to move in with relative ease beginning in early May. I’m looking forward to BBQ pool parties during football season!
First, my thoughts go out to all of those effected by the earthquake in Haiti on 1/12/10. I know so many people have been effected by the tragedy, in Haiti and the in Haitian diaspora around the world (especially the United States). It seems entirely unfair that just as the country was beginning to show signs of improvement a disaster of this proportion would strike. Word had just been coming out on the backpacker radar about the political situation improving and the future looking positive. This earthquake will surely only send Haiti back into chaos for the foreseeable future.
The last big tragedy outside of the country of similar proportions was the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. At that time I hadn’t done a whole lot of travel yet and never really knew the scope of the events. Other countries were still sort of just news headlines to me. Now, after spending time in other parts of the world and especially the developing world, I have found a greater connection when events like this occur. I don’t just see Haiti as a headline but instead as a destination that will forever be changed and people’s lives who will never be the same. I see friendly vendors in the street and hotel employees. I see students and children. I see homeless and I see the middle class driving decent cars. I see the poor and I see the rich. I see taxi drivers. I see ex-pats and English teachers and backpackers just like myself. I see all of the people effected not just the blank faces on the news. It is disturbing but at the same time, this is what I asked for when I ventured out of the country for the first time, a better understanding of life in other parts of the world.
Just a couple of weeks ago me and a good friend of mine (Daisy) were in the beginning stages of planning a May trip to Haiti to spend a night or two in Port-Au-Prince and then a few days on the southwestern coast in the town of Port Salut on the beach. Obviously, the events of Tuesday will change things. Tourism will surely be set back as Haiti recovers. I can’t remember a disaster in my life time where a city was so thoroughly damaged. Even in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, the epicenter of tourism was spared. As if Port-Au-Prince didn’t have a bad enough reputation as it is, this certainly isn’t going to help. In fact, it seems almost pointless to think about tourism right now, but as a travler I can’t help but find myself in a struggle between my own personal desires to see the world, even at its worst, and the reality of what so many around the world suffer through. Who am I to care about whether or not Haiti is safe to travel to?
That being said, I’m going to monitor the situation closely and keep in touch with the owners of Port Salut Beach House to find out what the situation is in their area. If airports are reopened and safe transport can be made from Port-Au-Prince to Port Salut, Daisy and I might just do our part in helping out by spending our money and sticking to our previous plans of visiting the country.
I urge anyone reading this to do what they can do help out. I use Mercy Corps.Org to donate but there are a number of good organizations out there.
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