This is what I learned through travel

Striking up a conversation with a Tibetan man in Tibet

This year I have been to country nr. 110 so far.

I can recall them each so clearly.

Like the drunken soldiers with their Kalashnikovs nonchalantly hanging on one shoulder staring confused at my diplomatic passport because they couldn’t read, at one of the many roadblocks in N’Djaména, Chad;

The kind Hmong family in Northern Laos who invited me into their home to share sticky rice and homemade whiskey;

The village doctor in Barra Kunda, Gambia who cursed me out because I asked him to use the syringe I had brought along from the US (as instructed by the NGO I worked for) instead of one he had lying around, to treat mine badly injured toe;

The border official who entered the train at the crossing of the Republic of Georgia and Armenia and made me swear I would not go afterward to Azerbaijan. Armenia and Azerbaijan are arch-enemies;

A conversation with a cowboy and horse whisperer in an all-white NRA-friendly bar (the stickers were there) in Cody Wyoming to complain about Washington being unwilling to respect their way of life;

Seeing some hundred people picking up a stilted wooden house and moving it because of a fight among neighbors in Tabapounie, a tiny hamlet inhabited by Miskito Indians on the south Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.

Listening to a long lecture by Chinese authorities that I’m forbidden to talk about the Dalai Lama 14, but I’m free to mention the first 13 Lamas, before getting special permission to go to Tibet;

The look on my face and that of my black American colleagues when we entered a restaurant in Dakar, Senegal that was decorated on the inside with tons of confederate flags;

Being told by my Japanese friend to wait a couple of minutes for the green pedestrian light before crossing the street at 11 pm in a quiet Nagoya (Japan) neighborhood with absolutely no traffic;

And, eating rotten shark flesh (Iceland), drinking horse’s milk (Kyrgyzstan), snacking on roasted locusts (Chad) and reindeer sausage (Alaska), struggling to eat a still-moving octopus on my plate (Korea) and how can I forget not being able to swallow the slimiest food ever, the Nigerian ogbono soup.

Over the course of my travels, I have pursued a deeper understanding of people and why they behave or think the way they do. We’re too busy scrolling aimlessly on our electronic devices without time to reflect on what it all means. Without travel, we are sentenced to consume information that has been “handpicked” for us by algorithms catering to our predisposed feelings of paranoia and predispositions. We’ve boxed ourselves into ways of thinking that are intolerant of dissent.

I have always believed, that the more we know about each other, the better we become. The potential of becoming desensitized to real human experience in a virtual world could be very real. This is especially true for living on an island with an island mentality. We need to be proactive and exit our bubbles.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Black Petes -the black-faced servants- is a despicable racist tradition that persists

Yearly Sinterklaas (a Dutch version of Santa donned in Christian attire and symbolism) arrives in mid-November in towns all over The Netherlands and the Dutch Caribbean, including Curaçao where I live, to hand out gifts to children. He’s accompanied by scores of black-faced servants called Black Petes who wear gold jewelry and bright-red lipstick to exaggerate the size of their lips. During parades, they dance wildly with a cane whilst threatening to put children who “have behaved badly” in burlap sacks and take them against their will to Spain. From time to time the white, old and wise Sinterklaas asks the Petes who obviously cannot control themselves to “tone down”. It’s very common to see children weep at this spectacle. I did as a child.

The Dutch, the inventors of this tradition, tend to argue that Black Pete is a Dutch thing and that outsiders don’t understand Dutch culture.

Wrong.

Black Pete is an expression of numerous classic Western prejudices against black people that depict inferiority in addition to the servant to the master attitude.

Why are these Petes black? According to the defenders of this racist tradition, they come down the chimney to bring presents for the children on 6 December. Let’s go along with this explanation, for now. Chimneys are full of soot, especially in December and the servants get dirty. But how come coming down the chimney makes their lips bright red and full? And, since we don’t have chimneys in Curacao shouldn’t the servants here be free of any soot?

When people say, (as they often do) “but it’s our tradition,” tell them: “racism is also a tradition.” What mostly baffles me however is why a large group in Curaçao -given our painful colonial and slavery past- would want to hold on to this disturbing tradition. Shouldn’t we know better than to hang on to something overtly racist? What’s wrong with us? It’s not a question of whether this tradition (or elements of it) is racist but rather why we are denying the truth that it is. As a society, we need to take a hard look at ourselves.

Willemstad, Curaçao

#zwartepiet #blackface

Overconfident idiots, a threat to society

True story. On a fine morning in 1995, McArthur Wheeler and an accomplice robbed two Pittsburgh (USA) banks in broad daylight. Neither man wore a mask or any sort of disguise and often smiled at surveillance cameras while robbing the banks. It didn’t take long before police arrested Wheeler. During interrogation, the police showed him the banks’ surveillance tapes. Wheeler couldn’t believe his eyes and muttered: “But we wore the juice.” Apparently, the robbers were convinced by an expert that rubbing lemon juice on their skin would render them invisible to videotape cameras. After all, lemon juice is used as invisible ink. Wheeler was not crazy or on drugs—just incredibly mistaken and was jailed for many years. How could this have happened?

Almost everyone holds favorable views of their abilities and often mistakenly assesses their abilities as being much higher than they actually are. Pay attention and you’ll notice that 90% of them consider themselves above-average car drivers. About the same percentage of people will tell you that they always show up earlier at their job and leave later than the average co-worker. In case you haven’t noticed, those claims are statistically impossible.

If this bragging was only a macho “snèk-talk”, I guess it wouldn’t be such a problem. Yet, too many people take their favorable views of their abilities a step further. Social media has empowered these idiots to showcase their ignorance to the world and even convince others to believe their nonsense. Someone may watch CNN’s Christiane Amanpour once, but enough to consider himself a geopolitical commentator. Others, without any kind of preparation, have become experts on COVID even going so far as to tell people not to take the life-saving vaccine. They are also convinced the earth is flat, aliens are living amongst us, and reptile people dominate the world. In many cases, these people claim to be experts on multiple fronts, a sort of modern da Vinci or Michelangelo.

What Mr. Wheeler and so many demonstrate is what’s called the “illusion of confidence”. This is different than fake news, but it is equally harmful to society. This dangerous trend leads people to elect those who are good at faking expertise and understanding. It’s for this reason we have put our country in hands of con artists, for which we are still paying a stiff price.

It seems we’ve completely abandoned science and the commitment to reason and facts. Unfortunately, we live in an era where ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge does.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Overconfident idiots, a threat to society

True story. On a fine morning in 1995, McArthur Wheeler and an accomplice robbed two Pittsburgh (USA) banks in broad daylight. Neither man wore a mask or any sort of disguise and often smiled at surveillance cameras while robbing the banks. It didn’t take long before police arrested Wheeler. During interrogation, the police showed him the banks’ surveillance tapes. Wheeler couldn’t believe his eyes and muttered: “But we wore the juice.” Apparently, the robbers were convinced by an expert that rubbing lemon juice on their skin would render them invisible to videotape cameras. After all, lemon juice is used as invisible ink. Wheeler was not crazy or on drugs—just incredibly mistaken and was jailed for many years. How could this have happened?

Almost everyone holds favorable views of their abilities and often mistakenly assesses their abilities as being much higher than they actually are. Pay attention and you’ll notice that 90% of them consider themselves above-average car drivers. About the same percentage of people will tell you that they always show up earlier at their job and leave later than the average co-worker. In case you haven’t noticed, those claims are statistically impossible.

If this bragging was only a macho “snèk-talk”, I guess it wouldn’t be such a problem. Yet, too many people take their favorable views of their abilities a step further. Social media has empowered these idiots to showcase their ignorance to the world and even convince others to believe their nonsense. Someone may watch CNN’s Christiane Amanpour once, but enough to consider himself a geopolitical commentator. Others, without any kind of preparation, have become experts on COVID even going so far as to tell people not to take the life-saving vaccine. They are also convinced the earth is flat, aliens are living amongst us, and reptile people dominate the world. In many cases, these people claim to be experts on multiple fronts, a sort of modern da Vinci or Michelangelo.

What Mr. Wheeler and so many demonstrate is what’s called the “illusion of confidence”. This is different than fake news, but it is equally harmful to society. This dangerous trend leads people to elect those who are good at faking expertise and understanding. It’s for this reason we have put our country in hands of con artists, for which we are still paying a stiff price.

It seems we’ve completely abandoned science and the commitment to reason and facts. Unfortunately, we live in an era where ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge does.

Willemstad, Curaçao

Obispado ta brongosá Dòktor ora e a muri riba 22 novèmber 1966: tempu pa ofresé un diskulpa na pueblo

Riba 22 di novèmber, ta kumpli 56 aña ku e gran estadista mr. dr. Moises Frumencio da Costa Gomez (Dòktor) a muri na edat di 59 aña. Poko konosí ta ku Obispado a nenga retundamente pa dera Dòktor -un katóliko-  den un santana katóliko. A dera Dòktor den santana protestant na Otrobanda.

Segun Obispado a nenga Dòktor pasombra e defuntu a kasa, parti i bolbe kasa. Konosedónan sa sinembargo ku e aktuashon aki tabata unu netamente polítiko i no religioso. Dòktor huntu ku Monseñor Verriet a lanta e poderoso Curaçaosche Rooms Katholieke Partij, CRKP na 1935 (ku no ta KVP manera hopi ta bisa) ku a gana e promé dos elekshonnan pa Staten na 1937 i 1941. Na 1944 Partido Demokraat ta lanta i den e siguiente elekshon ta gana di CRKP. Esaki a pone ku Dòktor kier a modernisá CRKP dor di e.o. redusí e influensia di iglesia katóliko den CRKP. Esaki no a kai den bon tera serka Obispado i a pone ku eventualmente Dòktor a bai ku su asiento i lanta Nationale Volkspartij (NVP). CRKP a desaparesé i e iglesia nunka a pordoná Dòktor, ni despues di su morto.

Un dia promé ku konmemorashon di 100 aña natalisio di Dòktor riba 26 di òktober 2007, Pader Amado Römer den su predikashi den katedral di Santa Ana a pidi pordon pa e manera ku su amigu a keda tratá. Tabata un pordon pidí komo amigu di Dòktor i no na nòmber di Obispado.

Obispado manera kustumber, no a duna ningun señal di ta lamentá e akto di humilyashon i vengansa polítiko aki ku segun Lucina da Costa Gomez (dfm) a bisami a kousa hopi doló. Ta kurioso ku tin hopi ku no ta duda pa èksihí diskulpa di Hulanda pa aktonan kontra Kòrsou ku no por mira lus di dia, pero ta muda pa loke ta trata Obispado den su papel di sklabitut, diskriminashon, rasismo i no papia mes di aktonan kriminal seksual kontra di menornan di edat. Ta tempu pa Obispado duna kara i ofresé su diskulpa, sigur en bista ku tur aña e ta haña un monton di plaka na supsidio di nos, e pagadònan di belasting.

Na 1997 a saka e restonan di Dòktor for di e santana protestant na Otrobanda i a hiba esakinan pa Morada Santa na Bottelier. Morada Santa ta un santana katòliko den mannan privá i no ta kai bou di Obispado.

Pas eterno na e mas ilustre emansipadó polítiko.

Willemstad, Kòrsou

Why the law is not enough when it comes to doing the right thing

People often claim that our biggest problem is the lack of laws and enforcement. But is it? I was recently on a metro train in Singapore, a country known for all kinds of strict rules, including stiff fines for not clearing your table after eating in a fast food restaurant. An older but seemingly fit man wearing jogging gear was sitting in the designated area (by law) for the elderly and expecting mothers. At the following stop, a young guy got onto the train stumbling and making a grimace. He had his skateboard under his arm and had obviously hurt himself badly. He asked the older guy if he could sit, but was denied as the older guy pointed to the section of the law above his seat. The older guy was of course right. He had the right to sit there. But did he do the right thing? Must we just comply with rules and regulations in order to be good citizens? Can’t a young person be needing a special seat on the train? It seems we’re creating a society that only relies on rules or laws to do the things we ought to do out of graciousness and civility. It’s clear that we’ve lost our moral compass. In the past, we relied on the church for direction, but these are so deeply engulfed in their own scandals and how to cover them up, to be taken seriously. So next time we blame the lack of law and enforcement for the filth all over our island as well as the dire state of our street animals, we ought to be teaching norms, values, civility, kindness, and cordiality at home instead of waiting for someone to legislate what cannot be legislated.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Dia un avioneta a kai den Santa Rosa

Komo mucha mi a lanta tende ku un avion a kai den Santa Rosa, no muchu leu for di kas di mi mayornan ku ta keda na La Campana. Te resientemente mi no por a haña detaye di e aksidente manera ki dia e a tuma lugá i kiko a pasa ku esnan na bordo. Porfin mi a logra pone man riba un relato di e aksidente aki danki na Archivo Nashonal.

Riba 10 di sèptèmber 1950, algu promé ku 11 am, un avion ta kai den bisendario di Santa Rosa, Kwartje pa ta mas eksakto. Ta trata di un avion Merikano, aparentemente un Fairchild PR-19 ku tabata trahá di palu. Na bordo tabatin un pilot entrenadó di buelo i un studiante ku netamente tabata siña pa hasi aterisahe di emergensia. Na un dado momento e avion mester a pèrdè altura i e pilot no por a kontrolá e avion, i esaki a kai den un área di mondi. E impakto tabata fuerte i un kantidat grandi di hende den bario ku a skucha esaki a sali pa wak kiko a pasa. E avion a keda totalmente destruí. Milagrosamente e tankinan yen di kombustibel no a èksplotá ni pega kandela. Esaki a pone ku tantu e pilot komo e studiante a sali kasi ileso for di e aksidente.

Kuala Lumpur, Malasia

Selebrando Dòktor: 27/10/1907-27/10/2022

Riba 27 òktober nos ta konmemorá e echo ku 115 aña pasá Moises Frumencio da Costa Gomez (Dòktor) a nase na Ser’i Klip, Otrobanda. Dòktor ta konosí komo kofundadó di e promé partido polítiko di nos pais pa despues lanta su propio partido. Prinsipalmente e ta keda rekordá komo un estadista eksepshonal ku a konstruí riba e fundeshi ku otronan (Généreux Richard de Lima, Abraham Mendes Chumaceiro, i William Charles de la Try Ellis) a pone p’asina logra derechi di voto universal, outonomia interno i desentralisashon. P’ami sinembargo, e legado di Dòktor ta mas ku e logronan konstitushonal menshoná. Dòktor su grandesa ta e echo ku e a hasi nos orguyoso di ta ken nos ta. Ademas, Dòktor mas ku ningun hende den nos historia a inspirá nos pa ta optimista, pa tin speransa den nos mes i nos kapasidat pa bira loke nos ke bira, òf loke nos por bira. 

Komo yu di e tera aki i prinsipalmente komo Gomista (manera mi ta konsiderá mi mes) mi ta mira ku awa na wowo kon e konfiansa den nos mes poko poko a larga den e laman di fatalismo, mediokresidat, kompleho di inferioridat i hungamentu di víktima. Si ántes e trio musikal Julio Perrenal (konsistiendo di Pierre Lauffer, Jules de Palm i René de Rooy) durante di e temporada mas skur di Dos Guera Mundial a kanta: “Si gasolin kaba (pasombra tin guera), no ta nada pasombra nos ta sigui na pia”, awe nos ta preferá e kultura di Nanzi, e pensamentu di ‘kon ku para keda’, skòp Den Haag i tur kos Hulandes, evangelisá odio kontra minoria, adorá teoria di konspirashon, vota pa esnan mas inepto, mata talentonan lokal, kulpa estranheronan, djis pa menshoná algun.  I si tin un solo estadístika ku ta indiká kuantu hende a pèrdè speransa, ta e kantidat masal di hende, inkluso esnan kapasitá, ku úlimo 5 aña a bandoná nos isla. 

Nos fasinashon ku (falta di) ‘lidernan ku ta dal man riba mesa’ ta fo’i lugá. Liderazgo efisiente mas bien ta dependé di kapasidat pa imaginá un futuro den kua e hende ta keda balorá i su talento i fortalesa ta keda rekonosé. Tambe liderazgo ta enserá kapasidat pa komvensé e hende pa ta e mihó hende ku e por ta. Nos mester di e tipo di liderazgo di Dòktor den tur sektor i den tur hogar.

Ipoh, Malasia

He inspired us to be as hopeful as ever before: 115 years Dòktor

Moises Frumencio da Costa Gomez (Dòktor) is the father of our modern nation, not because he was an intellectual, the most popular politician ever, or even the architect of our autonomy. Dòktor made us proud to be who we were. He was able to inspire us to be as hopeful as ever before about what we were going to be or could be as individuals or collectivity. Dòktor both influenced and was influenced by great Caribbean emancipation leaders. Unfortunately, he’s rarely mentioned in the emancipatory history of the Caribbean. This is because we don’t document and write enough in English and frankly because we barely pay attention to or make an effort to join the Caribbean. Seems we prefer to remain myopic and stare across the pond (The Hague). This must change. The ambition is to have our political emancipator among the other Caribbean founding fathers. I’ve already established with some regional scholars to have this realized. We shouldn’t keep our stories to ourselves.

Malacca, Malaysia

What happened to us?

It’s eerie to see how the ugly trends that we thought we had put behind us, have come back. I’m talking about effectively reversing decades of progress in disease prevention by anti-vaxxers based on unfounded fears that go back at least to the 18th century. The Christian churches are back in politics with their big money completely ignoring a hard-fought separation of state and church. These unelected church bosses are advancing their extreme visions which deny equal rights for LGBTQ+ whilst at the same time hiding and denying the responsibility for committing sexual crimes against children, as they have always done. The reproductive health rights of women are under pressure and the human rights of immigrants and refugees are not being respected despite pleas from international human rights organizations. The hard-fought battle for autonomy is being depleted, not by The Hague, but because of our inability to correctly manage our own affairs. We have become immune, we accept and do not question our set of beliefs as citizens and keep voting for inept and corrupt politicians, even those who have been sentenced by independent courts.

What happened to us? Progress, social justice, and equality for all used to mean something. Leaders used to fight for equal rights and not discriminate against minority groups. We used to talk about inclusion, but now we separate groups into “us-and-them” and use it as a campaign promise. Curaçao used to be a shiny star in the Caribbean that few surpassed. We had leaders like Dr. da Costa Gomez who thought us to lean on the strength of our belief in progress. Now, too many politicians and influencers prefer to teach us to rely on fear, conspiracy theories, bigotry, and hate. Do we stay the course and perish slow?

Singapore