Food Not Bombs

A rare breed indeed. From pants stitched entirely out of patches, to backgrounds bearing expansive travel, the random assortment of folks who volunteer at Food Not Bombs are one of a kind. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Food Not Bombs, it is a coalition of people who have formed chapters all over the world to provide food to the homeless and needy. Depending on the chapter, the food is sourced from either farmer’s markets, local grocery stores, farms, or local community gardens. We have volunteered at one of the eight Los Angeles Foot Not Bombs for nearly 2 months.

The specific chapter, to which we traveled weekly, has thrived for over 13 years. Faces became familiar while the food remained fantastic. We arrived between 3:30 and 4:30 every Sunday to help chop the vegetables for the stew. Having cooked veggie-stew in the past (because of my father’s healthy obsession), I was privy to the fact that potatoes, and other hard vegetables, needed to be thrown in first, in order for them to soften.

Once the potatoes, squash, turnips, and beets were minced and dumped into the stew, it was on to the crying party! Onions galore. We cut these as quickly and as safely as possible. Then on to the red, yellow, green, and purple bell peppers; cucumber, zucchini, and green beens. Next we cut lettuce, tomatoes, plums, peaches, and strawberries for the salad. Each week was always a surprise of vegetables and fruits, which made cutting a continuous learning process. FNB Cuttin Strawberries

Meditation can be seen by some as a specific way to put your mind at ease, but it encompasses much more. As our muscles focused on dicing and chopping, our minds were carried away in the discussion of life, passions, personal pet peeves, and questions that would challenge each other’s beliefs. Mind you, there were new people each week, but it seemed as though the atmosphere was a constant.

Once everything was cooked, we loaded up and would drive to Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles. By the time we reached the square, there was already a line of at least 70 people while more would trickle in as we continued to set up. We each found a job that needed to be done whether it was handing out forks and napkins, serving rice, beans, stew, or salad, or just mingling with the regulars. There was always something to be done.

Passing Out Food

It was different at Food Not Bombs. We also ate the food that we served. We are all equal. I dig. Oh and the food was delicious.

Yea, there were the occasional crazy people. They need to eat too. There were also the intellectuals who you may never have guessed lived on the streets. I would sit and listen to them and their stories. About wars once fought, jobs once conquered, families once loved. Every time I sat and opened my ears, they would soon be filled with ideas that made me recognize my own privilege and respect for life. I have a constant question that I ask people, because it’s what I do: What was the best part of your day?

More frequent than not, the response I received from those at Pershing Square was, “When I woke up this morning.”

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Find out how you can get involved with Food Not Bombs at www.foodnotbombs.net

 


Jumpstart

Thud thud.

Thud thud.

Thud thud.

There is a set of winding bridges in Norway that island-hop from town to town on the Norwegian Sea. Luscious green mounds of ocean toppers that protrude from the healthy blue sea. The sky forms itself in the waves that caress the edges of the islands making itself known to those who stare into it.

Your friend pulls the car over at the next restaurant. The gravel under the tires crunch as the car glides into a spot. You hold the restaurant’s door open as your friends thank you and walk in to the lively atmosphere. As you sit, a waitress brings menus and silverware to the table. She hands everything to you, smiles, then returns back to the bar. There’s a sound. It’s a scratching sound. Everyone is doing it. You are all scratching your heads looking disheveledly at the letters that seem to make up words on the menus. Norwegian words look similar to english, but don’t make complete sense.

You wake up and realize that your dreams have been feeling more and more real recently. You sit up and your stomach churns. It’s been a little while since you had some food. 6:00 AM is early enough for a visit to the diner down the street. Your parents are still asleep, but if they were up, it’s not like they would go with you anyways. The sun is barely surfacing over the mountains in the distance as you tilt your hat lower. School started last week, but there hasn’t been much joy there yet.

Thud thud.

Thud thud.

Thud thud.

Your skateboard clicks over the sidewalk toward the diner. The sun blinks at you through the tree branches in time to the whistles of the morning larks. You smile and slow to a stop outside the diner. An older gentleman approaches leaning on a cane with a tennis ball on the bottom. You hold the door for him as you pop your skateboard up on your shoe. He nods and creases his cheeks as the smile from behind his weathered lips appear.

“Thank you.”

You file in after him and sit at a table by yourself in the corner – skateboard sliding back and forth underneath your feet. The waitress is new this morning and she brings you a menu asking if you would like orange juice. You smile and nod at her as you unfold the menu. The letters that are so neatly arranged behind the plastic vale looking back at you tell a story of your potential full stomach. However, you do not understand what any of them mean.

De ja vu. It’s an instant translation back to your dream. Instead of Norway, it is your local diner. Instead of Norwegian, it is English. Shouldn’t you know how to read a language so prevalent in your society? You are almost in fifth grade. What happened?

The waitress returns and you tell her to surprise you with something under five dollars. It is delicious.

School comes and lingers like the clouds outside that are ready to unleash their loads of water on the gardens below. The bell rings and you sling your bag over your shoulder. Your skateboard resides in your other arm, steering you through the sea of students. The few remaining rays of sunshine beckon you toward the double door exit and a bright red shirt confronts you as you breach the grass outside. It squats down to your level and then a face becomes visible. She smiles and tells you her name is Leah.

She notices you staring at the stitched logo of the company that she represents and tells you it reads Jumpstart.

“We are here to work toward the day every child in America enters school prepared to succeed.” And then points at your chest as she winks. 

“I would love to help you learn how to read.”

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If this piece helps you feel grateful for your ability to read or if you’re grateful for the services that Jumpstart provides, share this post with someone who you believe is already helping or is willing to help with this initiative.

To find out more about Jumpstart and how you can help, visit: www.jstart.org.

To view the bridges in Norway click here.


Apparently Harvey thought we weren’t finished in L.A.

Today, we left LA. Driving north on Fair Oaks Blvd from South Pasadena to Pasadena. We were in search of a fair gas station. The 76 gas station was behind us, so we turned around at the next available street. Harvey sounded so good. All we needed was gas and we would be on our way to Santa Barbara.
That pump on the end, next to the exit, was ours. The ticker started climbing as Harvey devoured a plethora of plus fuel. “Well, you sure are hungry”, I told him.

“Must be fun.” The woman on the other side of the pump said as admired Harvey.
“Excuse me?”
“All that freedom in an RV, it must be fun.”
“No strings attached, but it has its drawbacks.” I smiled and nodded my head.
“The gas?”
“Absolutely. We love him though.”

She was a teacher. High School Special Education. I thanked her for her service and hopped back in Harvey, turned the key, and heard the solenoid clink. The gas gauge rose with fervour. What a beautiful sight. I passed the $94 receipt back to Brad to log with the others and my eyes returned to the dash. The gas gauge had stopped at halfway. “What? This cannot be true…”

I remembered a similar problem in Phoenix and a mechanic told me how to fix it. Hopping down from the driver’s seat, I squatted behind Harvey’s rear tires. I scooted on my stomach to the back gas tank, passing under the shattered remains of what used to be our black water tank. For those of you who know very little about RVs (which was us only months ago), the black water tank retains all the shit. Quite literally.

I made it under the rear gas tank unscathed, but found that it would be much easier on my back to reach the electrical switch that I had been told about.
My father has always told me that my uncle and I got our broad shoulders from their father. So as I tried to turn over, you can imagine the discomfort that I soon found myself in. Stuck between a warm rear axle, a gas tank, and the hot cement with a sleeveless shirt, I pondered my predicament for about 10 seconds. I gave into my pestering thoughts of retreating to the side of the RV, past the black water tank. Quickly, I scooted and flipped over. I then returned to the gas tank and fiddled with the electrical connection. Scooting out, once again, I shuffled to the driver’s door. Clink. The solenoid. Now the gas gauge was at 0. I repeated this process four more times until I was satisfied with it reading only half. Let’s go to Santa Barbara.

Only a few turns and we were breaching Highway 134. This would soon turn into the 101, which we would take all the way to Santa Barbara. The onramp changed forms, becoming an upramp, which has always been a struggle for Harvey. I relived the terrifying moments that Brad and I had spent travelling 45 mph on I-10 West to reach Tucson and Phoenix. I recounted the chant that I recited to myself: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” We reached 40 mph. The top of the hill was close, sun beaming at us from the west. 43 mph. Two cars skirted around us and changed back into our lane. 45 mph. “I think I can, I think I can.” The gas pedal began to give out. Harvey sputtered as he approached his apparent max of 49 mph. Brad turned to me as I smiled and said, “That wasn’t me.”

“Is it doing it again?” Brad asked.
“I think.”

The gas gauge dropped to a quarter tank and our once galloping speed of 49 mph dwindled as we took the nearest exit.
“Can we take backroads to Santa Barbara?” Brad asked. I laughed because I knew he was being facetious to lighten the mood.

“We are only 5 miles from our last mechanic. We have to stay here.” I gently gripped the steering wheel as we turned across an overpass and through a light.
The road meandered through the neighborhood that lies directly east of the Rose Bowl. Large hills, green lawns, an abundance of bright red stop signs. Arroyo Seco came into view and I remembered exploring the street on my bike a week prior. We wandered the curves for a couple streets until a moderately inclined hill appeared to our right.

There was an incline. A stop sign. Then another incline. Then the top of the hill. I think I can.

25 mph to the stop sign. A lady in a purple SUV pulled up behind us. She would also have to go 25 mph. 5 mph across the intersection. 10 mph as we reached the second incline…and stop goes Harvey’s engine. I immediately pulled the hazard lights tab and slammed on the breaks. Harvey wouldn’t stop moving backward. I stood up on the brake pedal, rising out of the driver’s seat to apply more pressure. Slowly, the whining breaks brought him to a halt and my left foot locked in the emergency brake.

The purple SUV began to creep up the second incline, but slowed to mirror our position on the street. The woman rolled down her passenger window with an expression of concern. After all, what would you think if you witnessed a 28’ RV suddenly turn on its emergency lights while attempting to climb a moderately sized hill?

She began to say, “Would you like some h–.” Before the word “help” could flow from her lips, a very impatient mercedes honked its horn. I told the woman “Thank you, but we’ll be fine.” She smiled and continued on, and as the mercedes drove by, I peered into the eyes of the driver. She was wearing all white in her white Mercedes with black headphones in and a stern look of entitlement across her brow. I imagined her scoffing at us for blocking ‘her’ lane. It was not evident that she was in a rush either. She wanted life to remain convenient for her. Both Brad and I sat in awe.

After some thinking, deliberation, and a call to the mechanic, we decided it was best to back down the hill into the intersection and then continue backing up on the driver’s side of the perpendicular street. Brad suited up with our Passion Impact vest (conveniently a neon yellow reflective worker’s vest). We waited until there were no cars and we hopped on the opportunity. 3 mph, 5 mph, 7 mph, 3 mph, stop. We were now in the middle of the intersection. I applied the brakes too soon and our back left tires rolled into a divot in the road.
Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 4.32.35 PM
For the next 20 minutes, over 100 cars drove through the intersection as we pushed, pulled, turned, inspected and danced with Harvey. To our amazement, only one other car asked if we needed help. Even a runner who jogged by readjusted his headphones to make certain that we were not to disturb him. We weren’t soliciting help, but could have definitely used it. I thought about those 20 minutes all day. What about the flipped version of that scenario where I drive up next to a car or an RV that is obviously struggling?

While still in Austin, Brad, Mel, and I helped fix a man’s tire after seeing him and his friends in need on a side street. But now we were in the middle of an intersection, in need of the same assistance. Yet, barely anyone took action to help. I ask my next question merely to focus on the behavior and motivation of the passing individuals and not to bring about a self-pity party (Brad and I still had fun, after all):

Why didn’t anyone help strangers clearly in need?


Phoenix Renews

When we finally made it into Phoenix, we knew we needed to find some places to volunteer. So we started asking around. The answer came sooner than we thought. When we asked the guy we were staying with, Zac told us about a group he had worked with in the past: a community garden called Phoenix Renews.

We got in contact with one of the lead organizers and found out there was an event that Saturday! So we called as many people as we knew in Phoenix and invited them all to come out with us and volunteer.

When Stefan, Zac, and I got out there, we must have been a bit early because there was no one around from the group. So we decided to explore a bit on our own and walked around the magnificent area. There were countless hand-built plots. Most of them were full of all kinds of vegetables and flowers. There were benches and small covered areas and even a temporary house (the rule was no permanent structures). Many of the plots were painted and decorated. There was just life and creativity everywhere. It was an amazing place to walk around, and I felt myself getting excited to be a part of it.

After nearly 20 minutes of exploring this magical place, we saw some new people arrive. And low and behold, they were the ones we had been waiting for. We were approached by two volunteers, Krystal and Katie, and two volunteer leaders, Cindy and Katie (yes, two Katies). We greeted everyone and after a short conversation marveling at the garden around us, leader-Katie explained what she would have us doing that day.

Dust is a big problem in Phoenix, and cars stir up a lot of it, causing the dust to settle everywhere and sap much needed water from the crops. So we were tasked with drawing out and lining a parking area to consolidate the dust clouds to one area. We began by moving large pieces of crushed asphalt out to the site in wheelbarrows.

Just a few chunks of asphalt could get heavy quick, and more than once, gravity won out over balance, tipping the wheelbarrows over and dumping their contents. We got used to the weight however, and in less than half an hour, the lot was created.

After we finished the work so quickly, Katie had us start driving signposts around the area. It was hard work and the sun was definitely getting to us at this point. She insisted that we take breaks every fifteen minutes or so. Probably a smart idea. After the main areas were all designated, we took some time to walk around some areas we hadn’t seen before.

Toward the back, there was a stone garden with spirals and structures made of river ricks. There was also a cool social area under a large tree. There were cut stumps for chairs in a circle in the shade. After our final exploration, we invited everyone back to Zac’s place for lunch and swimming.

All in all, a pretty excellent day.

Bradley


Zac and Smart Roots Global

I met a guy by the name of Zac Ziebarth on Semester at Sea. His low commentator voice makes you feel automatically at ease and in awe, especially when his stories draw maps in your mind creating a vision of his experiences.

The day prior to leaving Austin, I had called Zac to surprise him with the news that we would be passing through Phoenix. Ironically enough, he was on his way to Austin to surprise me. It even turned out that the day we left, he rolled into town for a day. Gah! I was frustrated! So close to seeing such a great friend, but yet so far.

Then we broke down and spent some time in El Paso, which gave Zac time to return to Phoenix. Another surprise call to him was all we needed – he offered his place and a shower. Seriously, more than we could have asked. Aside from enjoying his air conditioning and clean water, we were compelled by the synergy that was created in his home. Zac is in the process of ramping up his organization, Smart Roots Global, which provided grounds for countless questions about both of our organizations and what possibilities lie ahead.

Smart Roots believes educated students possess the solutions to create a sustainable world. They will empower students with sustainability education by providing teachers with the resources, curriculum, and training resulting in a more sustainable world. He has a lot of obstacles in front of him with many people doubting his idea, but from our visit, his passion was evident. Zac is on his way to bettering the world. 

His goal is to implement his kits in classrooms in Kenya and Ghana by January in hopes of gathering feedback to refine the program. I know he is Africa-bound and will surpass his dreams – keep an eye out for this guy! Reach out to help  him if you believe in what he is doing: zz@smartrootsglobal.org

 

Stefan


From El Paso to Phoenix

From where we parked on the University of Texas El Paso campus, we were right across I-10 from Mexico. We woke up from a nap ready to hit the road at 23:00 – it was time to move on to Phoenix.

Brad was driving the first stretch with the goal to switch every couple of hours. In a car, Phoenix would take about 6 hours, but in Harvey we had to give him time to love the road. As usual, semis continued to pass us. This time we jokingly noted their intense gasoline smells. Soon thereafter, we started to become quite drowsy – something wasn’t feeling right. The gasoline smell persisted and we thought it would be best to pull over in Las Cruces, NM.

We got out and rounded Harvey to find his rear gas tank to be overflowing with the cap still on! This was worrying. I think that I may have overfilled it earlier that day, but we still haven’t found a reasonable explanation as to why the pressure built up at night. I ventured into the gas station to grab some coffee and watched the cashier walk to the door to yell at a lady near the pump.

As Brad stood next to the pool of gasoline, a woman smoking a cigarillo approached him. He looked at her as if she were missing a few brain cells and pointed to the exposed gas laying feet from her. “Could you do that somewhere else?”

“Excuse me! Please smoke that away from the gas station!” yelled the cashier.

I hurried out and we left as soon as possible. We found a place to relax for a couple hours as we thought the problem would subside. Sure enough, after some midnight frisbee, we were back on the road.

We kept Harvey at about 55 mph passing through Arizona and missing a couple of opossums chilling in the fast lane – really? You can’t find a better place to spawn out?

I was driving when the clicking started again. We were extremely privy to this click, so we knew it had to be the exhaust manifold again. Thankfully we weren’t in the middle of a desert…

The hills that stood between us and the next city of Benson challenged Harvey to the point of 20 mph exhaustion. Brad directed us to the nearest Napa Auto Parts in Benson by about 5 in the morning. The heat had begun to creep through the windows as we napped for a few hours, but we were soon interrupted by the sweat that overtook us once again.

I went to open the shop door only to find that it was Sunday and that all Napa stores in Benson were closed. Brad and I deliberated for an hour. Was it worth it to attempt to drive to Tucson and maybe Phoenix? What was our opportunity cost?

Since we were already within 100 miles of Tucson, AAA could tow us there, but our real goal was to reach Phoenix since my friend Zac was willing to let us crash at his place. We didn’t want to quit being productive, but we also didn’t want to destroy Harvey.

We decided it would be best to take the risk.

There is a certain feeling that comes just before the drop on a roller coaster. You know what lies ahead – the impending drop. The unconscious moving of your stomach upward. The clenching of your butt-cheeks. The whitening of your knuckles on the bar that protects you from plummeting to your unfortunate death.

My hands gripped the steering wheel. My butt-cheeks pinched together making me rise in the driver’s seat. My stomach wound itself around my heart so that it would be reminded the blood was still pumping.

Left blinker clicked as we moved back onto the two-lane I-10 W going 40 mph. Here goes everything.

Continue reading…


La Mujer Obrera Community Farm

When we arrived at Mujer Obrera for the first time, the gates were locked. We were told to arrive around 10am, but our friend Julian had to be at work soon after, so he dropped us off a bit early at a park down the street. We said our goodbyes and surveyed the beautiful park we were in. We took the extra time to reflect on our time with him, and we read a few passages out of the book he had given us: You Are The World. Good stuff. When it was time, we walked back to the locked gate, only to find it still locked. We called our contact Carolina and found out that the man in charge wouldn’t be there until 1pm that day. A bit of a problem considering our lack of transportation and lack of sunscreen.

Nonetheless, we walked the four and a half miles back to the NASA Service Center where Harvey was getting another hip replacement. Despite the intense heat, it was a fun walk. We were exploring a new city and, while exhausting, had an excitement to it. We made it back uneventfully and got to work on what we could do with our limited means. So after another day spent working on our laptops in the mechanic’s waiting area, we were more than eager to get our hands dirty the next day.

We had Harvey back from the shop with tentative assurances that he was road ready. So we drove him over to the garden around 10:30am the next day, and sure enough, the gates were open. As we walked in, we were greeted by a small group of would-be gardeners, all about our own age, working at re-potting Aloe Vera plants to be sold at a farmers market. We greeted Carolina and introduced ourselves to the rest of the group. They were friendly and welcoming, though it seemed clear they were not used to seeing new faces.

We asked Carolina to put us to work, and at first she seemed stumped. The head honcho was the one to ask about jobs for newbies, and he was otherwise engaged for the moment. So she showed us around the repurposed residential lot. It was much bigger than we would have guessed from the street, and they had a wide variety of crops already growing tall. The sunflowers stand out most in my mind, some of them almost as big as my head, and covered in a healthy drift of bees. Towards the back were also a huge stack of adobe bricks and more that were still drying in the sun. They would soon be used in the construction of an oven. We walked in a large circle and eventually made it back to the shaded bench with the now re-potted aloe plants.

Carolina put us to work temporarily clearing small clover and morning glory from an irrigation ditch that ran nearly half the length of the lot. The plants may have been small, but they were sprouting up all down the bottom and sides of the ditch, clogging and stealing the water; water that was already dangerously scarce. While Stefan carried out this task, I followed behind him, removing the loosened dirt that was left behind his carnage. But before too long, our host, Guillermo, emerged.

He wore a bandana on his forehead and a wide straw hat, and looked perfectly in place in this garden of toil and growth. He came out with tools and a sense of purpose I envied. Carolina introduced us, and I asked how I could be of use. After some pondering, he set me digging a hole to plant some citronella plants. They would help keep mosquitoes and other pests away from the garden. Most of the dirt I moved was dry and dead, although near the bottom there remained some life. We placed the plant and then filled the hole with a mixture of healthy soil and chicken poop.

With the plants in the ground, the next task was a relaxing one. The Dia de los Muertos festival would begin in November and for the flowers to be ready, they would have to be planted on the first of July. We all sat in chairs in a circle and began to break open dried flower pods. These were leftover from the previous year’s celebration and most were rich with seeds.

Sitting in the shade breaking open the seed pods, we had cooled considerably. The work could have been monotonous, but instead it was peaceful and satisfying. During this time, Guillermo had disappeared into his trailer and in a moment, he returned to us with a bounty of honeydew, strawberries, and papaya, most of which had been grown right here in La Mujer Obrera. He explained to us that papaya is very important in developing countries and is often considered holy. They are incredibly nutritious and fruit year-round. Even the leaves have healing properties and can be used to treat wounds. Eating the sacred fruit we were dirty and we were clean. We felt full and we felt happy.

After we ate and finished the flower seeds, Guillermo informed us that it was time for a blessing to Tlaloc, the Aztec God of Rain and fertility. We could participate if we wanted. The group followed Guillermo over to a small shrine tucked away in some trees. He lit some incense and individually he had us sweep some over our head and into our heart. We each gave a small blessing to the health and growth of the plants and food around us. Then we walked around the farm blessing each plot and the life that was growing there. We once again circled back to the benches and the shrine.

At this point there was little else planned for the day. We decided to go ahead and finish the remaining flower buds and talk. The hottest part of the day was approaching and the party was coming to an end. We thanked Guillermo for everything and promised him we would send love his way as well as more volunteers.

I can’t wait to return to El Paso and see my fellow farmers again.

Bradley


Next stop: El Paso… I mean Sierra Blanco

As we were leaving Van Horn with an inexplicable crippled engine, we resigned ourselves to the idea of inching along the access road until we could find a mechanic who could help us. While the fellas in Van Horn had tried earnestly to help us, they had neither the facilities, nor the willingness to bite off more than they could chew delving into Harvey’s ancient inner workings. The general consensus was: get to El Paso. They have everything there.

So we trundled off down I-10, wary of the unknown rumbles coming from under the hood, and dreading the 30 mile stretch of desert between us and the next town. We couldn’t go very fast and there was no consistent side road, so we were relegated to the far right lane of the 75mph highway. Every semi that hurtled past rocked Harvey out and then back as he was sucked in by the vacuum. It was a very peaceful time for all of us.

BAM!

Another tire? Jesus, could anything else go wrong? I pulled the rig over and at this point we all just started laughing. We had been awake for odd hours for almost a day and laughing was about all we could do. It started small and grew, but soon we were all three just leaning in silent laughter at the absurdity of it all.

After we wound down, I walked around the side and, sure enough, the back left tire had blown a tread. Stefan and I stood outside for a minute considering our options. There was no sense returning to Van Horn. We were 20 miles away and we knew already how limited their resources were. We had a spare tire, but our jack wasn’t heavy duty enough for Harvey’s girth. So the only thing that made sense was to try to make the 10 miles into the next town, Sierra Blanco.

We were about to get back in the car when I noticed a vague smell of piss. I had a suspicion where it was coming from so I walked to the back of the rig and looked underneath. Sure enough there was a gaping hole in our blackwater tank, the tank that holds our used toilet water. When the tread had blown off it flipped up with such a force that it had smashed a hole in the plastic tank. I wasn’t even shocked at this point. This was just one more addition to our comedy of obstacles.

So we limp down the highway on our bald tire and finally make it into the outskirts of town. There were a couple of shops that sell tires and parts and such and another that had a garage. We pull up alongside one of them, and Stefan walks in to ask to borrow a jack. Apparently the man inside wouldn’t let us borrow a jack, but he was willing to charge us $45 to use it. Needless to say Stefan walked across the street to the other shop and the man there offered a jack for $35… just to borrow it. Over the next ten minutes or so, Stefan walked back and forth across the street letting the sand sharks indirectly bid for use of their jack. After several trips, he settled with one of them for $20.

I backed in to the garage and climbed in the back, psyching myself up for the inevitable ordeal changing this tire would be. I grabbed some tools, hopped out, and walked in to the garage. It was there I met Payo.

In the middle of the garage was a giant tractor tire on its side, and on top of the tire was a large chair ripped out of a car. Payo sat atop his throne with a .22 rifle propped on his shoulder, sipping a giant fast food soda. His two granddaughters sat on either side of him in similar seats. He stared at us silently while we struggled to remove and replace the tires. It was disturbingly regal and creepy as hell.

After watching us try in vain for 15 minutes to remove the busted tire, I guess he figured we weren’t any threat to him and actually offered to help. He put the gun away somewhere and got out his air powered impact drill to remove the bolts. Compared to the tire iron, the drill made short work of the lug nuts.

Next came the jack, the one we’d bartered for. The back left tire was an awkward one to get to, and the range of the jack was limited. Stefan and I took turns pumping the lever and helping Payo replace the tire. Not only was it exhausting, but to get to the lever we had to lean right up against our busted septic tank. Joy.

We eventually got the spare on and put the bald tire where the spare had been. We thanked Payo and paid him; a little extra since he’d gotten down on the ground and sweat with us. And then we turned our backs on Sierra Blanco and continued the slow crawl into El Paso. We still had exhaust problems, but at least we had six tires on the ground. It would be a long process, but there was nowhere to go but west.

Bradley


Van Horn, the Outer Limits

If there were ever a place to have your RV start sputtering, shuddering, and slowing to a crawl, that place is Van Horn, Texas. As soon as we pulled in off of the highway, it was clear to see that we would be well taken care of here. From the abandoned buildings to the packs of stray dogs we felt warm, welcome, and most of all, safe. After pulling in to the second seemingly open, but ultimately deserted auto shop, Stefan decided to venture down the street to what appeared to be a Post Office. Mel and I wished him well and assured him that, if he were to meet his gruesome and/or supernatural demise there, he would surely be missed.

After five tense minutes during which we recounted each episode of the Twilight Zone that had begun similarly to this, Stefan emerged unharmed with news of a local mechanic who might be able to help us.

As soon as we pulled up to the locked gate, another car pulled in along side us. It was Bill, and he was there to open the gates. While Bill would ultimately not be able to fix our problem, or even diagnose it, he sure did try. He had us rev the gas while he poked around the engine. He even took it for a gripping test drive up the access road and back where, I shit you not, he checked his text messages while flooring it. Now luckily, due to our unknown problem, “flooring it” only brought us up to 45 mph. Nonetheless it was comforting that he was so open with his driving habits in front of us. I felt like we were old friends. Once it became clear that neither he nor his “associate” could explain the cause of our loss of power, he sent us to another mechanic a few blocks down Main St.

After waiting for 45 minutes in heat and uncertainty, Juan arrived and we went over the description of our troubles again. After just over 400 miles of driving, our RV started slowing up hills, dropping our top speed from 65, to 55, then 45 mph. After a certain point the gas pedal just became unresponsive. Juan also decided to take Harvey for a spin around the town. Somehow though, after sitting still for a while, Harvey was running smoothly again. There are few things more frustrating than taking a car to a mechanic, and having the problem disappear as soon as he touches it. Nevertheless he made some suggestions given what we could tell him about the trouble. And after more tinkering, said we would probably be fine to drive the remaining 120 miles to El Paso. So we thanked him, gave him a slice of delicious crumb cake our dear friend Saleh had baked for us, and went on our way.

Little did we know, we would be halted agaiun less than a mile outside of the city, this time of a totally different nature. But Sierra Blanco is another story, to be typed in another coffee shop. Now is the time for tacos and sleep.

It is my solemn hope, that of the few citizens of the glorious township of Van Horn that use the internet, that even fewer of them understand sarcasm. And if by some cruel twist of fate I am wrong, I apologize to both of you.

Bradley


Where the motivation started – Part II

Continued…

The grey clouds hovered atop the monstrous natural figure. Its flat form and staggered frame towered over the nearly 4 million who live in Cape Town. We made it to our last destination on the African continent, but far from our last eye-opening experience. A friend and I headed straight for the airport to travel to Johannesburg and it turned out that a couple of other students were on the same flight and staying at a local backpacker (hostel). The owner was picking them up, so we took the opportunity to tag along. On the way, the owner directed our attention to multiple townships off the side of the highway. Once we parked, he pointed a couple streets closer to the city to show how integrated the townships are with mainstream housing.

I ate cow tongue and spätzle for the first time and found it delicious. This taste, however, went somewhat sour when I spoke with the waitresses about their experience growing up in South Africa after Apartheid. Despite the desire to integrate, they felt that the government was making it easier to discriminate against white people. Specifically in the workplace. They brought up The Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2003 and the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2007, which were established to create more equality within the working class and bring a rejuvenation to all those who had been repressed by the Apartheid movement. The implications that resulted were an increase in uneducated and under-qualified employees and a brain-drain of educated and qualified individuals. The women mentioned that the government has not focused on building education and has more so focused on “legally” tipping the scales to favor blacks over whites.

Need for focus on education

Need for coming together as equals

As we drifted away from Cape Town, Table Mountain, and the entire continent of Africa, it was apparent that we wouldn’t see land for 12 days. 12 full days. Only ocean. But it was more than that. For those next 12 days, we grew closer as a community, embracing the relationships that were already sprouting. Some of us engaged in our very own, Atlantic film festival where we created an original video within the constraint of the crossing to Argentina. As we filmed, studied, and let our eyes drift across the constant horizon, it was apparent that we were a nation floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Need for companionship

Find wifi – not a constant goal of mine, but I hadn’t been online since Ireland. I touched base with my cousin who sent me the contact information for a friend of his who lived in Argentina. Within 5 minutes of emailing his friend, I received a response.

“I want to let you know that I live in Mar del Plata, city located 400 km from the capital, I have to travel to Buenos Aires the next week, but I could try to move that to the current week to be able to meet with you.”

Rather than meet him in Buenos Aires, I journeyed to the south to Mar del Plata. For the day and a half that I spent there, he took off of work and showed me his city, describing it as “the Miami of Argentina”. I was visiting a few weeks before beach season, so as we walked above the beach, he pointed and spoke about the busiest spots. He spoke in English, broken English, but in English. His goal is to learn how to communicate in English fluently so that he is desirable to U.S. companies.

Why?

“Because, the Argentinian Peso is not stable and when I work with U.S. company…eh…companies, I receive a stable U.S. dollar.”

Need for stable currency

Need for communication bridges

We crept into Rio de Janero’s Guanabara Bay as the sun grew from its blended reflection to the east. A plane flew over us and touched down on the landing pad that abutted the bay. Beyond the bridge, to the starboard side, we noticed a brigade of large ships. It was later found out that their purpose is to clean the pollution in the bay before the 2016 Olympics. (http://bigstory.ap.org/article/rios-olympic-waterways-full-trash-sewage-0)

Need for proper disposal of trash

Need for clean waterways

With Brazil to the south, we began our 11 day passage to Cuba, and at that point, we were accustomed to long-distance travel. Along the stretch, the films from the Atlantic Film Festival were presented in front of the entire shipboard community. The effort exerted to create each film was noticeable …except for a couple. For the following few days, “your film was great” could be heard as the video artists walked about the ship – they created a connection on the ship.

Need for creativity

Need for collective support

This was it. The point that seemed so far away when we were first accepted into Semester at Sea. The time that seemed as if it should never come.

Our last port.

It hit me as I walked down the gangway with news cameras recording each disembarking step. I immediately reverted to the first steps I had taken when arriving in St. Petersburg. How much had I grown? Was I more confident? Had it already been 3 months? Reporters swarmed us as we headed toward charter buses. As a requirement of our educational visit, we were to be taken to the University of Havana, to engage in a ceremony with the administration, and to sit through a lecture about Cuba.

As much as I enjoyed the interactions and frank conversations about Cuba, I soon developed a suspicion that made me question everything they were saying. We later found out that in order to meet with Semester at Sea students, teachers and students of the University of Havana went through training that would teach them how to act around us. Precautionary measures, right?

I went out to a bar the second night and saw a couple men looking at girls in my group. I decided it was best to distract them with my presence, so I approached them and introduced myself. I sat with them for over 2 hours (we were kicked out because of closing time) discussing the real life of Cuban citizens. A paycheck of 30 CUC – equivalent to $30 – per month denoted a high paying position, and they were in no position to receive that. The only reason they were enjoying one beer and smoking one cigar each was because it was one of the friend’s birthdays. They spoke of the lack of food they received from the government, the restriction to location on the island, and the limit to advancement within employment. They yearned to be free and to experience different walks of life.

Our last post-port on the ship brought out stories that helped confirm my suspicion. A couple of Semester at Sea students asked a store owner about a shop they were interested in visiting. The owner told them that he would show them the way, but to follow at a distance as to not tip off undercover officers that he was helping Americans. The undercover officers wore striped shirts and would detain citizens if they believed they were jeopardizing the state’s intentions. I remembered seeing these men in striped shirts periodically.

Furthermore, a group of students from the ship went to a gathering hosted by a man just outside the city. This man desired to enlighten his fellow citizens about humanitarian laws that were not being followed in Cuba. Subsequently, the students arrived in time to walk past the police barricades and witness this man being beaten and detained for his remarks.

Need for the adoption of many humanitarian rights

Need for freedom of speech

Needless to say, I have seen a great amount of need in the world. What if I choose not to act on what I have seen? What if I sit here letting my legs go numb? Would it be right to continue living my life like all my friends who accepted jobs in the megaplex of the D.C. area (no offense)? My future “vacations” will not consist of the typical tourist traps, but of action with the intent to build better communities. Is there a way to rid this world of the need that I believe should be changed? I don’t know. I choose to believe there is, so let’s see what we can do.
I am still traveling on this road have a deep desire to make all the difference. When stepping back onto American soil for the first time in nearly 4 months, I realized I had a need to act on my experiences. I will continue to chronicle the need that I see where I travel and offer suggestions and actions to solve the problems.

 

Stefan