The island of Hispaniola has a special place in my mind. Dan and I had been sailing for seven days since we last stepped on land. We weaved through coral. We beat against the wind, only to have to turn around and do it again. We rose and fell with the 8-13foot swell. Then one morning, after the longest, most intimidating night of sailing I’ve ever experienced-the wind died, the sun rose and on the horizon were the mountains of Hispaniola. One of the happiest moments of my life.
We were soaked to the core. My passport to this day tells the story. Despite its resting in a plastic bag, on a shelf, in the hull of the boat, it was so wet the Dominican immigration asked me to come back a week later once my passport was dry enough to stamp. We dropped anchor in the sailing hub of Luperon, less than 50 miles from the Haitian border. Although we came close, I never actually crossed the border into Haiti. I did however catch glimpses of the impoverished neighbor of the Dominican Republic.
I met Haitian immigrants, who though disrespected and underpaid, still found a better life on the Dominican side of their island. I played with Haitian children at the school and orphanage that tried to provide at least a minimal education to the shockingly underprivileged children. And I heard stories of how mistreated these shared inhabitants were.
Just across the border, on the western third of the same island, sits one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. It is one of the most densely populated and least developed countries with 80% of its population living in poverty… and this was before January 12, 2010. At 4:53 pm, the devastating earthquake of 7.0 magnitude left up to 230,000 dead (according to the Haitian government), an estimated 300,000 injured and 1.5 million homeless or displaced (almost 20% of the countries population).
From the moment I heard and saw the first images, my heart went out. I wanted to go, to help. I talked to people about possibilities, but without medical training, most responded that the best I could do is send money. Sometimes it’s not possible to go somewhere first hand, to personally get your hands dirty, but that doesn’t we can’t do something. So, instead I’m joining forces with a number of talented artists to do our part. Introducing the “Artists for Haiti” Project:
The more I spoke with others, the more I found there was an entire community of artists moved by the devastating images, ready to do something. The artists differ in style, in training, in background, but all the artists involved are anxious to use their talent and creativity to make a difference. They have each agreed to donate art at little more than cost, with proceeds going to help our distressed neighbors.
It’s always good to give. But it’s nice to give… and receive! Here’s your chance. Now you can direct your donations towards the “Artist for Haiti” project. Simply click on either the “Pictures for People” or “Paintings for People” thumbnail on the right-hand side of the screen. Scroll through the wonderful selection of art, or select photos from my World By Sea adventures. Find the piece of art that best suits your mantel, select and purchase.
We’ll do the rest. The selected artist will package and ship your new prize possession right to your door. Meanwhile the proceeds from your purchase will be making a real difference in the lives those who truly need it.
Also to ensure any monies raised are used to their fullest potential, The World By Sea has formed a relationship with a specific hospital located just outside the capital of Port-au-Prince, who, like so many others, have seen an influx of need. All proceeds raised will be donated to the Hospital Albert Schweitzer-Haiti, and directed specifically toward providing healthcare to those displaced from by the devastating earthquake. This medical facility has been committed to saving and changing lives for more than 50 years in Haiti. (http://www.hashaiti.org/)
Thank you for your contributions… and enjoy the art!
*For more information on the hospital, art or artists, don’t hesitate to ask: Derek@theworldbysea.com
February 25, 2010 3 Comments
Several years ago now, my company pushed to relocate me from my comfortable hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona to the struggling (and now depressed) economy of Detroit, Michigan. It was an increase in responsibility and pay, but forced me to reflect on what I really wanted in life. In the end, it was the straw that broke the back. I asked myself the age-old question, “What would you do if you could do anything?” There was one clear answer-travel.
I googled around the world tickets and within a few months I had purchased a ticket committing me to my first solo-travel adventure. The world was much bigger then. I knew no other language; I didn’t really know that much about travel. It was intimidating, scary, overwhelming. It was the best decision of my life.
Since then I’ve traveled over six continents-missing still the ever-elusive Antarctica- yet in all these travels there are a couple of life-lessons that stand taller than the others. They were there from the very beginning. They were there at my first stop in Yangshuo, China, when I sat down at a small restaurant and talked to the young Chinese server, who dreamed of education but reality had her working 7 days a week just help provide rice for her parents and self. They were there in Thailand, when on a ferryboat to one of the islands I spoke with a young attractive girl who tried to explain why she was inclined compromise her body to live. Or in India, when I walked with a man outside the dusty desert walls of Jaisalmer and he reflected first on a dream to go to America, then explained that dreams are different when you have a wife and family to take care of and understand those greater dreams are unreachable.
These lessons are everywhere. They are in the widows of Africa who trade sex for fish to feed their family. They are in the prisoners of Malawi who were imprisoned because they were unable to bribe as much as the “other guy”. They are in the orphans of the Dominican Republic, trying to go to school. They are in the faces of small-town Argentineans who rise with the frozen morning, wrapped in wool to work in a mine.
I was born into fortunate circumstances. Sure we had problems. A single mother struggled at times to make ends meet, cleaning hotel rooms, looking for a way to support her two children. Food stamps, powdered milk and blocks of processed government cheese were normal. We were privileged to have our elementary school covered the costs of our 70-cent meal tickets, so my sister and I could have lunch on a daily basis. But we had education, we never actually went hungry, and it brings tears to my eyes to type about the amount of love and sacrifice my mother offered my sister and I.
Above all, perhaps next to love, we had opportunity. Both my sister and I graduated top of our class. We paid our way through college. My sister is now married, with a beautiful daughter, another on the way, and she is reinvesting her life into our education system. My mother, it brings me joy to say, is going back to school to finally pursue her own dreams. And you know if you’ve ready any of the past two years of my life, I am living a dream. Which brings me back to that lesson.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our day-to-day routine. We forget, or maybe have never realized just how comfortable that routine is. To get up in a heated house, take a hot shower, eat a full breakfast, then climb into our individual cars and stop by our favorite coffee shops on our way to and from work to buy a coffee that is worth 3 times the daily wage of billions of people in the world. We come home, watch our favorite shows on our favorite TVs before climbing back into our warm beds.
I’m not knocking these things, they are warm and comfortable and good. But sometimes they mask a deeper truth, that is our ability to dream. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. There is a world of people that work so hard to survive, their dreams are buried in reality. They are thankful if their plates are full at night. But we have an opportunity, not just to work, to have house and a car, we have an opportunity to live. And in that I can’t help but think that this “American Dream” is more than just a privilege, it is a responsibility. At least to me it is.
December 16, 2009 8 Comments
I hit the ground instantly. The force of impact nearly knocked me out. Stunned, I tried to gather and prepare myself for more. I didn’t know how or why, the only thing I was sure of was that I was under attack. It’s amazing how quickly your instinct kicks in. Without knowing what kind of damage had already been done, I scurried to my feet to face my aggressors. I would fight. I would run. I wasn’t sure what I do, but I was ready to do it…
Israel is a place known for turmoil. When I first announced my plans to visit, the reaction was often a slight cocking of the head, a raising of the eyebrows and a general “be careful”. Even my Israeli friends, who assured me Israel was very safe, seemed proud and slightly surprised to learn I was actually visiting. Frankly I wasn’t too concerned.
As usual, I knew very little when I arrived. I knew it was a small country, that top to bottom it might take 5 or 6 hours to drive, 2 or 3 side to side. I’d heard that on Saturdays the country sort of shuts down (Sabat). And of course I knew it was the epicenter for a lot of Middle East angst. That said, I was anxious to see and explore what this place was all about.
My (new) couch-surfing buddy, pointed out a few places in Tel Aviv I should check out. She was working, so with little more than a mental map I took to the streets. I walked through the market, alive with a million different colors and smells. I ate local dishes, exercising the “I’ll have what he’s having” technique of ordering. I strolled next to the warm waters of the mellow Mediterranean.
Tel Aviv is an interesting city. It’s full of life but the streets, the buildings-they feel tired. Like a young man who hasn’t aged well. He walks slow. He takes long deliberate breaths and every exhale seems to imply something profound without ever saying a word. Then when you take moment and look into his young wrinkled eyes you know they’ve seen more than most will in a lifetime. This is the Tel Aviv I was witnessing: young, vibrant, weathered.
Eventually, I made my way to what is held as one of the oldest port cities in the world: Jaffa. The fluid script of Arabic became more prevalent than the Hebrew just steps away. Head coverings became common. “Jaffa” means beautiful and I imagine in its prime the old walled settlement would have been spectacular, perched next to the sea with a strong view of the Mediterranean coast. But once you wander past the touristically restored areas the walls start to crumble
I strolled side streets where pedestrians were scarce. The sidewalk turned to stairs which I raced myself to the top of… That’s when it happened. Out of nowhere, a rock, a brick, a blunt force impacted the top of my head dropping me to the ground. My first thought: “Oh no… I’m getting attacked…” I was dazed and wasn’t sure where the attack came from. “Focus, Derek.” I stood, reached my dusty fingers to the top of my head checking for blood as I looked to face my assailant.
I looked around…nothing. I searched the ground surrounding for the rock that struck me, evidenced by the trace of blood now on my fingertips…nothing. I looked up, and locked eyes on my enemy. Only it wasn’t the enemy I thought it would be. There was no machete-toting terrorist, no American hating activist, none of these. No my antagonist was little more than a poor building code which didn’t plan for the passing of a 6’ 2” tourist.
What I saw was simply a large concrete overhang, supporting a balcony that stretched lowly over the sidewalk stairs I ran up. Once the adrenaline passed, the nausea set in to distract me from my 5 day headache and a neck that refused to turn more than 30 degrees. My physician assistant friend says I had all the signs of a head bleed. Whatever it was, it kicked my butt.
But enough about me, I’d like to return to that original question that concerned so many of us: Is Israel a dangerous place to visit? Heck YES! Especially, if you’re over 6 foot.
October 15, 2009 4 Comments
Just wanted to give a quick update. I’ve been pretty under the weather recently so I apologize there haven’t been any recent posts. I seem to be finally recovering though so I should get some of these Middle Eastern updates running in the next day or two. Also so you know what I’ve been going through here is list of a few things I have experienced in the past week or so:
-Concussion and neck injury.
-Flu. Swine or otherwise.
-Uncontrolable and unending sweating.
-7 day headache.
To name a few.
*Note. Not all of the aforementioned have been officially confirmed, as I have not actually seen and medical attention as of yet. Based however on what I know and how I feel, my diagnosis is pretty close.
August 22, 2009 5 Comments
I found myself in a hammock, swinging back and forth between exhaustion and the inability to sleep. My eyes are heavy, testament to the jet lag that comes from 16 hours of flying. But even a day of restless travel and few hours of sleep is no contest for the hot Israeli sun that beats relentlessly on the outside of my cotton cocoon. The sun has just come up but it’s already hot. Even the flies look for relief in the beads of sweat forming across my body.
The city of Tel Aviv also stirs with the sun’s intensity. They are all the normal sounds of a city: a jack-hammer in the distance, the high pitched squeal of a crane moving cement blocks atop new construction, the mechanical purr of motorcycles and scooters. The hum is familiar, but I know I have a lot to learn about this place.
That was clear from the moment I stepped off the plane. Even before actually, when in our own Newark airport terminal special security measures were taken to hand check every bag and wand every body. Then there was the moment when in the middle of the night I woke to find a man standing just off my shoulder bobbing religiously. As usual, I flew standby, with no set schedule or plan save my first night in Tel Aviv. That’s normal for me, but in Israel it’s cause for suspicion.
“Why do you visit?” Asked the customs officer.
“Just tourism,” I answered.
“How long will you be here?”
“I think about 2 weeks.”
“Do you have a return ticket?”
“No, I’m flying standby.”
“Where are you staying?”
“All over.” He looked up at me from my passport. I picked up the hint and continued, “…with friends and the rest of the time in hostels.”
“Hold on.” He reached for his phone and made a call.
I was escorted to a back room then handed off to another person. Over the next 15 minutes I went through a similar line of questioning, but this time I was keen enough to explain my travel patterns and intentions with a bit more detail. Eventually, my passport was returned.
I know a couple Israelis in Tel Aviv who I met while traveling in Argentina. And thanks to the magical world of Facebook, an Argentine reunion was already in the works. However, my first nights accommodations would be with a person I’d only exchanged emails with over “Couch Surfing” (a web based social network where people offer their “couches” to like minded travelers.
I called my new friend who I’ve never met and we spoke for the first time. “I may not be home when you get here, so I’ll leave the door unlocked.” She gave me directions to her apartment. “You’ll know it’s my apartment from the picture of my brain on the door.” Nice.
I followed her directions until I stood in front the door of a 7th floor apartment…looking at a photocopied side-view of a brain. I knocked. Nothing. I knocked again. Nothing. I entered. Assuming this had to be the right place, I put down my bags and walked onto the balcony. A tie die hammock swayed in a minor Mediterranean breeze. 2 blocks away, a soft sandy beached was lined with people and palm trees.
Anna walked in. “Oh, you startled me!”
“Hi, I’m Derek,” I replied.
“You wanna go for a swim?”
She grabbed two bottles from the fridge. I changed into my swim trunks. Within 10 minutes I was bobbing in the warm Mediterranean water as the salmon sun sunk below the turquoise horizon. We drip dried and drank our beer.
Welcome to Israel.
August 15, 2009 2 Comments
These kids are different. They don’t look different. They don’t act different. They don’t even feel different…but they are. They know they are, which might be the greatest challenge these children ever face. They’re all HIV positive.
Amor Y Vida is an orphanage for children with HIV, just outside of San Pedro Sula. In many cases, the kids are orphaned by circumstance, wherein their family simply can’t afford to take care of them. In other cases, the parents are no longer alive to care for them, having been taken by the curse that now shadows their children. 39 HIV positive children, ranging from toddler to teenager, live on the property. And they are some of the most enjoyable kids you’ll ever meet.
When I first arrived it was late in the afternoon to meet one of the women that helped run Amor Y Vida. Monica, my friend was with me to translate. We pulled up to the red metal gate and as I got out of Monica’s truck one little boy pressed his face to the iron bars. He stared and within moments several other’s joined in. After the guard let Monica and I in, we were headed straight for the office, giving me just enough time to kick a soccer ball back and forth approximately 3 times before entering the office.
Our meeting was short. I asked a few questions about the property, and the children. Then we made plans for me to return the next day to help out with the kids. When we stepped out of the office, several of the same kids were there. One took my hand and walked me back to the truck. We were friends.
The next morning I returned. I jumped out of the truck, and in broken (very broken) Spanish tried to explain to the guard why I was there. Eventually, something worked and I walked to the office. The same lady welcomed me, then escorted me to a classroom where the children were studying. We walked in. The children all stood and applauded, then sat, or most of them anyway. A couple of my friends from yesterday walked over to me from their desks. They looked up and without a moment’s pause gave me a large hug before returning to their seats.
That afternoon, I did some yard work around the property, but mostly-I played soccer. By the end of the day, there is one thing that stands out. It’s not their sickness, or how different they act. What stands out is that they are children. They laugh when they’re having fun. They cry when they fall down. They get excited about cake and ice cream. They even argue-like normal kids- and sometimes have to be coaxed to share their soccer ball with the other children. They are no different than any child, except for that one invisible secret.
The older ones are especially aware of their demon and the stigma it bears. They’re still very friendly and engaging, as long as I don’t have my camera. They don’t want people to know. Because when people know, they’re treated differently. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but in this case it’s hell. It’s sad at this stage in life, when things are already awkward, that you can’t have something as simple as a high school crush without a storm of dark questions.
The younger ones are a little different. Their biggest concerns are winning a game of marbles, or scoring the next goal. Instead of shying from the camera, they want a picture on every swing, or standing in front of the flowers. They don’t understand what’s going on. Some of them don’t even think it’s real, according to the nurse who overhears them talking. I suppose the older ones felt that once too.
When I met with the soft-spoken director, I asked about their greatest needs. This time it wasn’t school supplies, or socks and shoes. This time it was a need that went much deeper. The kids need a psychiatrist. They need a counselor, someone to be there on a regular basis… someone to listen. They need the same thing we all need, to feel human.
July 30, 2009 3 Comments
The roads are made of stone. Honduran men stroll casually through the streets. Shielded from the searing sun, their machetes swing step by step, in and out of the circle of shade offered by their cowboy hats. In the center of this charming city there is a gathering point. A small water fountain sits like one of the nearby Mayan ruins- dry but not abandoned. It is surrounded with life: a mother resting while her children race through the square, a young man leaning on his tuk-tuk taxi while potential customers wander by, an occasional passing bell jingling from carts that carry cold ice cream treats for anyone interested.
The air is warm and humid. The sky hints of rain. In this section of town, my eyes are constantly drawn to the strong white Catholic church that watches over the square, while the streets on either side offer their own intrigue. One is lined with restaurants, from street carts to sit down. The other, where the tuk-tuks linger, is less noticeable, but with a bit of waiting a small entrance takes attention. A crowd swells and shrinks, one by one they enter empty handed and exit with small black bags. There are no tickets to go in, no secret code. The only secret is pausing long enough to notice it. I approach, step around and over young girls selling corn tortillas. Then like passing though a C.S. Lewis wardrobe, I enter a world much more vibrant than its door. Bright bananas, ripe red tomatoes, prickly pineapples-everything local and priced to sell.
Copan is enchanting. However, it’s not the reason most people visit. The main reason most people come to this area is tucked twelve walking minutes from town. The reason is the ruins.
Guarded by an army of tall trees and thick brush, you wouldn’t know you were on the grounds of an ancient Mayan town, were it not for the cropping of roadside souvenirs at the entrance. The enchantment continues. Shrieking fills the air, as though the spirit of the temple is either welcoming or warning its visitors. Moments later the source is revealed as bright feathered macaws perch atop ruined rock.
Much of the grounds are well kept, making it easy to imagine life in this system of ancient architecture. There is the temple, a large pyramid, an ancient Mayan stadium complete with changing rooms (or sections) and designated seating for the elite and less than elite. There are intricate carvings, housing, an open steam bath. Then there is the more primitive side, such as the rock used to sacrifice life with an obvious place for the honored victim to lay his head, carved with small canals so the blood can flow freely.
I spent almost 5 hours wandering the grounds, climbing old stone steps, resting in crumbled courtyards, crouching through a system of tunnels. In the end I was satisfied. The ruins are fascinating, intriguing, fun to visit and imagine people of the past. But I am moved most by the present, the simple souls and existence just outside these ancient walls. It is the living that inspire life.
July 27, 2009 No Comments
I lased up my tenni’s and brushed my teeth. I had no idea what was in store for the day. The rumors were that the ex-president was planning an entry into Honduras, which according to my friend meant protests and manifestations from “Mel” supporters. I should interject here, I don’t really know what is going on-I’m not sure anyone does. But to her credit, my friend has done an impressive amount of research, not to mention her boyfriend who works for one of the major newspapers here. They understand there is corruption in the government. They even give credit to their president’s early years, but they say something changed along the way. And with the recent attempts to apparently change the constitution (allowing him to remain as President) their main fear, and not without cause, is the Chavez influence from Venezuela.
Being inconspicuous is not easy when you are the only gringo in sight, armed solely with a camera, which swung across my back like a monkey with every step I took. I walked with my friend from her business to the “hot” area (where the manifestations generally began or ended). The ousted president was threatening a return. The current government was threatening armed action-if necessary to prevent it. And in the city, it all seemed so normal. Granted I had nothing to compare this day in downtown San Pedro Sula to, but as far as I could tell, there was no tension was mounting. People sat, strolled, sold goods in the square. Men asked me if I needed to change money, most paid no attention. Nothing like the nation in turmoil I had imagined.
Eventually we learned the rumored return was a false alarm, and with that conversation turned from politics to people. I probed for needs known anywhere in the city or country. “Ah, let me make a call…” my college friend’s boyfriend picked up his phone and spoke quickly in Spanish. “Would you like to work with HIV children in a couple days?” “Of course!” And just like that I had my next project: an orphanage with almost 30 children, all HIV positive.
My excitement swelled with every detail I learned. However, the orphanage was not expecting me for at least another day, and with no real political action to report on, I was left with no other choice than to go find myself some ancient Mayan ruins.
Next stop: Copan, Honduras.
July 24, 2009 No Comments
There are times when you’d think Realist Derek might speak up. For example, when Idealist Derek was getting ramped up to “make a difference,” chatting with his friend from Honduras. They talked about the people needing support, about the truth being exposed, about protests and manifestations. See now, that might have been a decent time to remind Idealist Derek that he didn’t actually speak Spanish. Or to ask him just what he thought he would do to support the people, or for that matter, which people he would support—all decent questions. But instead he just sat there, quietly observing as he loves to do as Idealist Derek rambled on and on about fluffy sunshine and rainbows, and made plans to change the world.
Then there are times when Realist Derek just won’t shut up… like when he’s sitting on the plane headed for San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Just when all the other Dereks are putting their seats back trying to relax, Realist Derek perks up and starts asking questions.
“Wait… so when did you last see your friend from Honduras? Over 10 years ago?!”
“And how well did you know her, I mean like are you even going to be able to recognize her? What happens when you get there, can’t speak Spanish, and can’t get a hold of your friend?”
“Oh yeah and remember that curfew you read about that you just brushed off-how does that work when your plane doesn’t even arrive until after 9 pm? By the way, why did the President get taken out of the country by the military anyway? And just curious, why is this plane so empty…”
You get the picture. Needless to say, none of the Dereks were able to rest much on the flight. We arrived as scheduled shortly after 9pm. I pulled my packs from the strangely vacant overhead compartments and followed the signs of Salida (exit). The air was thick, humid, with the smell of distant burning. I walked casually, and confidently past the airport security all heavily armed, like I knew what I was doing. Outside there was a large gathering of people, some were holding signs, all watched as I walked by.
But the people weren’t holding torches, or guns. They weren’t yelling or chanting. They were smiling and waiting. Much like any airport, they were there to greet their loved ones. I found a taxi driver who spoke English, and asked where I could find a phone. He pulled out his cell phone, asked the number and called… No answer. Just as he was explaining that if my friend didn’t show up he could drive me to a safe hotel for the night, my friend did show up. And yes, I recognized her right away.
The ride to her home was filled with political updates. As her boyfriend drove the relatively quiet streets, she shared background on the political parties, protests, and a slightly misrepresented situation. It seems things weren’t quite as bad as we had heard. Yes, there were protests, but the many of them were peaceful. The major ones were in the capital. Still San Pedro Sula had seen unrest.
We drove through downtown so I could see one of the “hot” areas. Bank windows were busted and boarded. There was graffiti scattered across the walls of downtown. Then she pointed out her family owned business, totally unmarked, and explained why only certain businesses were targeted based on their connection to certain parties.
The discussion continued into the living room and into the night. Both my friend and her boyfriend were passionate (though not overly), explaining how the ousting of the President was not really a “coup”, but actually legal and even beneficial based on the President’s desire to change the constitution against the will of the government (and for the most part-the people). They also shared their disappointment with CNN in displaying a situation that seemed much more out of control than it really was.
Eventually the night wound down. Tomorrow, I would go with my friend downtown to her work, where was rumored to be a manifestation.
“Just make sure you wear your tennis shoes, in case you need to run…” We said good night and went to bed. Except of course for Realist Derek… he still had a few questions.
(For one of the more clear explanations of what’s happening down see the following link.)
July 18, 2009 1 Comment
First things first. You know that moment you found out Santa wasn’t real, when your heart sank as your mind panned over every Christmas past in this new dark light? Remember the feeling when your classmates said mean hateful things like, “How can a senior in high school still believe in Santa?”-how dirty and taken advantage of you felt? Ok, I’m not trying to stir up old emotions, I just want to put this next confession in perspective:
I’m not actually in Australia. I know… slow down. I didn’t actually lie to you (like your parents did with Santa). I was in Australia and did have some sweet adventures. I even did some volunteer work (which I still intend to tell you about). But I wanted to catch you up to real time so as not to loose the power and potential time sensitive stories of my newest adventure: Honduras.
It’s hard to explain why Honduras-a country in political transition-whose congress and military recently exported their own president under armed escort to Costa Rica. I guess it started a week or two ago when I bumped into an old friend on Facebook chat. She’s Honduran and had invited me to visit previously, but that was before the sort of recent coup. When I talked to her she was in Chile but she was anxious to get back to support her country, her people.
Her passion was challenging. Her fire, inspiring. The more we talked, the more I was challenged, the more I wanted to be stretched. I asked her if could still visit to see first hand what was going on. She agreed and days later I was planning my trip to Honduras.
July 15, 2009 No Comments