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Archive for November, 2009

November 23rd, 2009 - Where there’s a will, there’s a way

I am on the road again heading for Los Angeles after a rather long period of inactivity (riding wise). I came to Bakersfield, CA to fix some motorcycle problems and had no intention of staying more than a night or two but ended up staying for 29 days, aside from my time in Barstow.

Andy Pogany once jokingly mentioned that Cynthia was keeping me like the Sirens from Homer’s Odyssey. Legend has it that the Sirens sing from the sharp rocks by their island to lure sailors. As the sailors hear the singing, they cannot resist so they draw closer to the rocks until they shipwreck. Legend also holds that if a sailor hears the singing but is able to escape, the Sirens perish.

Now, I am no sailor, and Cynthia doesn’t sing, and as far as I know, she is very much alive! What did keep me here was my nightmarish logistical planning for crossing the border into Mexico and getting everything done before I leave the country for the next 5 years. I also wanted to get a jump-start on my Spanish which Cynthia offered to help with.

Cynthia has been very enthusiastic and supportive about the cause ever since I set foot in Bakersfield. She came up with different ideas literally every day on how to help, from donating her payment for a photo-shoot to Dispensario Bethania (the malnourishment recovery institution in Guatemala), to coming up with ideas on how to raise more money and awareness about starvation. November 11th was Cynthia’s birthday. At her party, every guest who attended was asked not to bring a present, but rather to donate to the cause in lieu of gifts. As a photographer and social worker, being involved is not new to Cynthia, but I am glad to have her on my side.

Aside from working on my meager Spanish skills, I’ve been diligently spreading the word about my expedition and in particular, the issue of Hunger. I’m excited to see that more people are coming on board with ideas on how to get involved with the cause from all parts of the globe: from Paraguay to the Netherlands to Iran to Australia. It’s been rewarding to establish connections via different mediums such as forums, emails, and my blog, and to know that my work is paying off.

During this time, I also managed to bring my website up to the shape that it is today with a lot of help from Andy Pogany. My stay in Monterey, CA brought upon a great friendship with Andy and ever since then, he has taken on the role of proof-reader/editor for the website. I stayed up many nights editing CSS, HTML and PHP codes, refining the layout and functionality of the website. I can say that it is finally what I envisioned a year ago when I was planning to launch it.

On one of those long editing nights, I received a $20 donation from a guy named Matthew Hanscom. Moments later, I received another email notifying me that Matt sent a friend request via Facebook. I was already on-line so I added him and we started chatting. As it turned out, Matt is another GSR member (GSR is short for GS Resources, a motorcycle forum community that focuses on the old GS line of Suzuki motorcycles) who rides the same motorcycle as I do and wanted to help.

While I was thanking him, I mentioned how I do not ask people to alter their lifestyle or to give away half of what they have, but that any little thing that someone can spare goes a long way. I was blown away when Matt responded that his donation of $20.00 was exactly half of what he had in his bank account at that moment. If that is not selflessness, I don’t know what is. Oh, and by the way, that is not all Matt did. He read one of my posts that my windshield was broken and offered to send me his. Although I didn’t end up taking him up on his offer as my windshield is still functional, it is heart-warming to see such generous acts of kindness.

I fully understand that times are tough for many of us. With all the lay-offs, rising cost of everything and our own to care for, it is hard to part with our disposable income. Yet, some are figuring out ways to still contribute regardless of their financial circumstances.

Jared Williams is one such person. Yet another GSR member, he is a man with a heart for helping people. Jared reflects, “We should all be doing the best we can to keep things together and help out those that we can. Some of that is people you are in direct contact with on a daily basis, and part of that is through monetary support for people in need further away.”

With 3 kids at home to provide for, Jared and his wife strive to live a life in which they make good use of their resources. They eschew excessive consumption and waste in favor of reducing what they use as a family, and ultimately giving some of what is not used to help others in need.

When Jared first contacted me he wrote: “Things are tight now as with others but I will set something aside and send it along.” Soon after, he wrote again to report that he had finished building a bar and gave his customer a bare bottom price for his work and told the customer that if he liked the work, to consider paying a little extra so that Jared could donate to the cause. Jared’s customer ended up paying an extra $100 that Jared donated on my website which will go to the World Food Programme.

Jared used his skills to come up with a solution, Cynthia made her birthday party into a fundraiser, Matt gave half of the cash he had, and Andy made it easier for you to read my blog by polishing my writing.

Where there is a will, there is always a way. This story was their way. This ride is my way. Make this month a month for giving – find your way.

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November 15th, 2009 - He had high hopes

First, I would like to thank Steven Lovestrand and Irina Loftus for their generous donations.

After spending three days on the phone talking to UNICEF directors in three countries and four different banks to get the phone number of Dispensario Bethania, the malnourishment recovery center in Guatemala, I finally got a hold of its director, Dr. Carlos Arriola. I was trying to confirm the account information to ensure that the money didn’t end up in the wrong person’s pocket. International wire-transferring is a complicated business as the funds have to go through several channels in order to reach the final beneficiary. I’m glad it’s all done and the funds are going to where they were intended to be.

As part of my outreach, I am interested in establishing contact with activists and bloggers who are also concerned with malnutrition. In my research, I ran across “Hunger and Poverty”, a blog by Scott Hughes. Scott is a passionate individual who runs a few websites including www.millionsofmouths.com which is a forum-type website focusing on malnutrition and poverty. The discussion area on his site is a great tool to bring like-minded people together and discuss ideas and solutions for different issues.

“We base our philosophy on the belief that every sane person [in the world] would rather get quality education and sufficient employment than suffer from poverty, hunger, or homelessness,” Scott explains. I admire his dedication and agree with his ideology.

Today is the 90th day since I started my journey and I am overwhelmed by the support and generosity of so many. I am also touched by the numerous comments and emails that I have received throughout this time. It is your comments and notes that encourage me to go on and help me not to feel alone.

Of course, it is natural that not everyone will agree with what I do or how I do it. There have been times when I was criticized for my views and even the cause. Some wrote to suggest that our planet is too over-populated and that famine works as one of nature’s regulators for population control. Although it is true that famines and wars do regulate population, they failed to mention why some have the right to live and others don’t. What makes it ok for Maria in Honduras to perish from the devastating effects of famine while Jack in Connecticut can enjoy golfing on his private course?

Some even consider me nothing more than a “hippie dreamer” with unrealistic expectations. They claim that reaching out to other cultures is futile and label whoever runs their countries differently than ours as dictators.

In response, one commentator countered with: “…most dictators in the areas where these practices are happening are in fact puppets of western states. You won’t hear about them on CNN, however, when a country gets away from this and elects a leader focused on bettering their own people, they are vilified in the popular media, targeted by western death squads, and the country is usually devastated by economic sanctions, or by the use of free flow capital and the trade of prospect, driving down the local currency making it harder and harder for the country to stand on its own.”

Whether I receive criticism or praise, I embrace both wholeheartedly as they bring about attention to this issue and function as catalysts for change. That’s what I like about Scott’s website as it enables people to speak out and through dialogue, to achieve a level of understanding and compassion for each others’ viewpoints, and thus brings them all to the realization that together we can be constructive regardless of our differences.

Hippie, Yuppie, Republican, Democrat, Bible-thumper, Atheist, Star-Trek fan, or whoever you are, keep in mind that at the end of the day, we are all human beings with the right to breath, to dream, to have the chance to become better than what we are.

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November 8th, 2009 - Windmills of my mind

First, I would like to thank Cynthia Qusipe, Matthew Hanscom and Debbie Medina for their generous donations.

Bakersfield to Barstow on Hwy 58 is only 130 miles, but it was the worst 130 miles of my journey so far. Wind blew at a vicious velocity bringing clouds of dust that made the highway invisible at times. My mouth filled up with sand, and my goggles didn’t seem to be effective in protecting my eyes. I stopped after every dust storm and cried a river to get the sand out of my eyes.

Stretching from the Colorado River on the Nevada border to the highly populated Riverside, San Bernardino County is a barren piece of land at best. Boasting to be the largest county in the lower 48, the northern part is also one of the poorest I have visited so far.

My presentation was scheduled to be on the 9th of November at the Barstow library, but to my surprise, the newspaper article claimed it to be on the 6th. Nevertheless, the library staff were super and helped with everything I asked for and I enjoyed chatting with them for hours. They provided services with what little they have in a town of about 30,000 and did a great job of it. To accentuate how poor this town was, I had found Wi-Fi in Chicken, AK with a population of only 27, but Wi-Fi was non- existent in Barstow library.

In Barstow I stayed with Eva Cox, the daughter of Tom Cox of Poet Motorcycles (one of my sponsors), and had a great time. We celebrated her roommate’s birthday that evening, and I awoke the next day with a head the size of a basketball. I guess I’ve lost my edge on the whole drinking thing – dang, I used to be good at it!

I was praying for low winds on the way back to Bakersfield, and for most of the way it was fine; but as I approached the windmills outside of Mojave, the winds got stronger by the second. An electronic sign read “High winds – Campers and RVs not advised”. I have been through some strong winds in my lifetime, but none compared to what I went through in that 20 mile stretch. The wind pushed and shoved my 1000lb bike to the other lane with no effort, and all I could do was either a) hang on for dear life or b) pull over to set my balls back into place.

Well, I’m back in Bakersfield for Spanish lessons now. My plan was to attend a language school once I entered Mexico, but I decided instead to get a jump start here in States. I will get back on the road shortly and will head for Arizona. Stay tuned…

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