Wednesday, November 18, 2009

$ LIFE $...

I was reluctant to share the following, as it was not exactly the highest point in my life, and it was admittedly a little embarrassing. However, I feel obliged not only because it was a significant event in my travels thus far, but also because of the many thoughts and emotions that it has stirred within me.

I took a fall about ten days ago. It was a rather hard fall, from a small concrete bridge without railings, and I landed on a rock directly on my side around where my ribs lay. How I fell off the bridge I must admit I am not quite sure; in retrospect I would say that it was a combination of things with the biggest factor simply being carelessness. It must have been quite comical while happening and I probably would have laughed if such a thing befell someone else. It happened to me however, and I am now the guy that fell off a bridge while walking. There, that is the embarrassing part.

The direct aftermath was quite bad, and I was lucky to have friends to help me out that night. I went to the doctor the next day and he told me that my ribs were fine but that there could be other complications and I should go to the nearest city for an x-ray. I am rather stubborn at times when it comes to my health and I am a firm believer in the power of the mind and body to heal itself, so as I slowly felt better I decided the x-ray was unnecessary. It took some pushing from friends and some words of wisdom from my uncle who is also a doctor back in Canada for me to go and get it done.

Everything happened quite quickly after that. I found myself in a little backroom of a clinic with an x-ray technician telling me to go to the hospital immediately; then in the emergency room with a doctor telling me that they needed to perform a procedure, but with an assurance that it was quick and easy. I thought at that point that I could still make the 5:00 ferry back to my place. It wasn’t until I was already on the operating bed and a nurse told me that I would probably be in the hospital for about a week that I really realized the magnitude of the situation. Now, the sad part of this is that the first thing that came to my mind when they told me this was not that my life was in danger but rather that I did not have the money to pay for the procedure. My travel insurance had expired sometime ago and I hadn’t really thought about it until I took the fall, but now it became my number one concern. Now I know how so many people around the world, even in the United States, feel when their health is in jeopardy. This is what capitalism has done to us: we have commodified our bodies; we have let that ubiquitous dollar sign haunt us even in our most vulnerable of times.

I panicked and tried to back out of the operation for some time to think about what I was going to do, but the doctors insisted that I had no choice, that my life was worth any price. They started cutting away at my side while I was still anxious about the whole money situation, calming me in whatever way they could. I recall at one point while they were attempting to jam a tube in between my ribs one doctor telling me “pura vida”.

A bit later as I lay in a bed numbed on drugs I broke down. All I could think about was that with every hour that I lay there my future slowly disappeared - I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life. Perhaps I felt, just for that short period lying on my bed, what so many people here in the poor world feel all the time, and it is not something that anyone should have to feel.

As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. The reason the doctors were not worried was because Costa Rica constitutionally recognizes the right to life, and that the State is obligated to care for anyone who needs it, whether they have money or not. Money in Costa Rica comes second to health, and several people told me that Costa Ricans always take care of their fellow humans – they certainly proved this true. They did give me a large bill in the end, but they said I have to pay it when I can, and I will, eventually.

Although I would rather have avoided the entire situation, the experience itself was quite interesting. I felt like being in a hospital for three days, and being the only foreigner there, really helped me gain an intimate understanding of Costa Rica and the way life is seen here. Everybody was so sympathetic and helpful, professional and reassuring. They made me feel safe, and they made me feel like they were pleased to care for me. I was staying in a hospital in an area of Costa Rica that foreigners tend to avoid, and because I was the only one there I think I was a bit of a novelty. I was the Spanish speaking Canadian who fell off a bridge, or the “Mal Caminador” as one person put it. In the room where the patients were observed directly after surgery I met a fellow named Elrey who seemed to be in severe pain. He looked at the tube in my side and then lifted his shirt and showed me his scar from the same procedure he had years before. He assured me I’d be alright and then let me use his phone to call my friends. When we were being moved up to permanent rooms he demanded that we be put together. I’ll never forget him for his kindness and the comfort he provided. I stayed in a room with five other people who were all in various conditions, and we all gained a seemingly deep connection in the short time that I was there. I’ve never really been a patient in a hospital before, but I can confidently say that since it had to happen, I’m glad it was there. When I was first wheeled up to the room an old fellow named William came bouncing over to me, he told me whatever I needed he’d take care of it. He was a patient who had been waiting for weeks for some sort of prostate surgery, he reminded me of a Latin Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, able to brighten the darkest of situations. My recovery was rapid and I was out in three days, even the nurses were surprised when I told them that the doctors had let me go.

I suppose if I were to get seriously injured it couldn’t have happened at a better time. My plans were to head away from the coast for a while anyways, so it all worked out in the end. I had a conversation with a girl from Honduras the other night, she told me that the world is wrong and that the majority of Hondurans support the coup government. I chose not to get into an argument with her, instead I just asked her what she was doing here in Costa Rica, already knowing the answer. She, a girl from one of the poorest countries in Latin America, was here in one of the most expensive countries in Latin America, on vacation. I’ll leave it at that, and simply go see for myself. I’m on my way to Honduras to take part in a human rights delegation during the upcoming controversial elections. I’m anxious to get back into the struggle, and I intend to keep constant updates on what is happening there. I have decided that this is a good opportunity to take my writing into two different directions, and so I invite you all to follow a new blog that I have begun at

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thoughts from a surf town...

Some may say I’m living the dream, hanging out in a small surf town in Costa Rica, enjoying the liberty of beach life, surfing until my arms ache everyday. I suppose for a long time this has been my dream. Now I’m here, in the midst of it, and I feel strangely uneasy with my situation. I’ve come so far throughout my travels and I feel as though I’ve developed certain views that are quite often at odds with my surroundings, even with what I’m actually doing. Here in what seems like paradise it is easy to throw away any guilty apprehensions and just forget about the rest of the world, just forget about everything except the here and now. Yet, I can’t do it. There is so much struggle happening in this part of the world that to just sit back and ignore it all while taking advantage of the waves and warm weather just seems plain wrong. I’m finding it very hard to find the life that I’m looking for here on the beach, and it will be interesting to see where the near future might take me. Of course, that is not to say that I'm not enjoying myself. I've been surfing great waves and meeting amazing people, and as always the adventures continue. These are some thoughts from surf town Costa Rica


Well, if you come here looking to find work be ready to experience what many locals do everyday – exploitation. I suppose it is a good way to learn the reality of what life is like in this part of the world where most people earn enough money to just survive. The really sad part of the exploitation here is that it occurs under foreign owners. It’s hard to criticize the practice of foreign owned business in a place like this, because arguably it creates jobs and stimulates the economy. Such is the great debate over economic globalization… Is it beneficial or detrimental to the global south? You can all guess where I stand in the argument. Just because people here have no choice but to work for these businesses, and even though these businesses are actually creating jobs, does not justify unjust wages and working hours. If a foreigner comes here to live they should accept that their ability to live in a place like this is profit enough, and they should work to create better conditions for those people they employ. But then, that wouldn’t be capitalism would it?
When I arrived here, my own struggle to save money landed me with the first job I could find at a foreign-owned hostel called Tranquilo Backpacker’s. The hostel was owned by a Swiss man and he had hired his friend, another Swiss, to manage the place. I quickly realized that my working at this place was a serious conflict of interest for me. The manager of the place not only could not speak Spanish, but he was blatantly racist against any non-westerner, and the owner was no better. I couldn't comprehend how someone could open a business in Costa Rica and be racist against Costa Ricans at the same time, it was like a throwback to the days of colonialism where Europeans would come to the New World to find a better life at the expense of the indigenous. Although they paid me very little, we learned that they paid the local workers even less, only because they knew that they could get away with it. The owner was constantly complaining about the difficulties of his job and about how hard it was to work with Ticans, and all I could do was pity the fact that he had lost his original motivation to come to a place like this, and that he deserved any trouble that came his way. His racism was the real result of his problems, as he refused to treat locals with the trust and respect that they deserve. Rather than hiring locals who need the jobs he instead hires foreigners like me and my two friends, who quickly realize that they are being exploited and that they don’t need to put up with a job like that. If he hired locals his problems would probably be solved, because sadly they would have to accept his working conditions. I started this job while my brother and my friend Paul were still here with me, and they constantly heard my misgivings. One day Paul told me that all it took was one person to make a stand and to do the right thing; his words were not taken lightly.
One night after another long day of work all of this inner turmoil brewed over and I exploded on the bosses. I’ve never been so angry in my life, and I’ve never talked to someone in the way that I did to them, it was invigorating. Although I was only letting my anger out at them, it was really much more than that to me. That little hostel was like a microcosm for all the injustices being carried out by rich foreigners in the poor world, and I was launching a proxy verbal attack on them all. Needless to say, I’m no longer working there, neither are my friends. Instead, Stu and I are trying to work with a local guy named Rolo running a cooperative surf school.

Thoughts on Honduras

As I think I've already communicated, it is not easy to stay involved with the pressing issues facing Latin Americans today while living the beach life, but I do my best to stay informed while I'm still here. Currently in Honduras there is a situation that is jeopardizing any progress that has been made for human rights and democracy in Latin America. If you don't all know, some months ago the President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a Coup D'etat carried out by the powerful military and right wing elite. Zelaya had slowly been moving towards the left, aligning himself with social movements of the people and aiming for economic and political independence for Honduras. After being forced into exile at gun point Zelaya was able to sneak back into the country and take refuge in the Brazilian embassy. For anyone who has been paying attention to the developments, you probably have heard that a potential agreement has been reached between the de-facto regime and the ousted President Manuel Zelaya. First and foremost, Zelaya is still confined to the embassy, and he has yet to be able to safely leave. He has not yet been returned to power, and repression, disappearances, and killings continue in the streets. As for the agreement itself it is still hard to say whether it will work. Many are skeptical of the agreement, but it seems to me that anything that might bring the President back to power at this point is a good thing. I’ve heard arguments from both sides, and it seems that there is a division of opinions in the country as to who is right and what should happen next. I believe that the situation can only be rectified through the reinstatement of the legally elected President, and that this is vital in order to uphold the integrity of Latin American politics, and to show the world that coup d’etats are a thing of the past in this region.
The situation, and the impending agreement, has also shed light on the dangers of foreign intervention and dependence. The apparent agreement was brokered by U.S. diplomats who for some reason took their time in pushing this resolution through while killings, beatings, and disappearances continue in the streets. Honduras is one of many countries with an economic dependence on the U.S., especially in the form of “development aid” (a very ambiguous term today). And although it was because of this dependence that the U.S. was able to push for a resolution, it is also this dependence that degrades the political independence of Honduras. Imagine what may have happened if the Republicans were still in power in the U.S.? It’s not radical to say that they would have supported the plotters. In fact there were several Republican representatives blatantly trying to undermine the diplomacy of the Obama administration and back the de facto regime during the situation. The fact of the matter is that there is something seriously wrong when the U.S. can control a political outcome by dangling "development aid" over the heads of poor nations.
This stumble in the march towards democracy and equality in Latin America has only emboldened the movements of the left and only reiterates the importance of economic and developmental independence in this part of the world. I urge you all to keep informed and spread the word about what is happening in a not so distant part of the world.