Oct ’18 Update
Peace Fam ✌️❤️
Following the tumultuous events covered in my last update, the past few months have been especially grounding, affirming, and healing. This update begins where the last left off, with my evacuation from Nicaragua leading to the unexpected opportunity to travel throughout Southeast Asia, and finishes recapping my last two and a half months here in Medellín.
As i briefly explained in the last update: After a month back in the U.S. we received notice that our evacuation was going to be continued for another month, likely another two. Shocked, both by the fact that i wouldn’t be returning at the end of the month and by the reality that i suddenly had two months free up on the calendar, i scraped some savings together and hurriedly planned a trip to Southeast Asia believing it would be my final opportunity until after graduating law school in 2022 to travel abroad. I planned the trip fully believing i would be headed right back to Nicaragua afterward…
Southeast Asia has long been on my radar, on my bucket list, and i was grateful and excited for the opportunity to learn and explore for the month. I met so many good people along the way, friends i have continued to stay in frequent contact with ever since. Politically/ideologically speaking, the trip strengthened my convictions on some things (the brutality of US imperialism, for example), and challenged them in other ways (regarding cultural relativity and the existence of a capital T Truth, as examples). I do my best to keep dialogue on the trip’s specifics to a minimum, but as always, it turned into a long update; if you prefer photos, you can check out my SE Asia Photo Journal, an album where i posted a favorite photo from each day of the trip.
The trip began on June 11th, and after two long days of travel i arrived in Singapore where i scheduled a stop-over (basically an extended layover); doing so helped to both drop the cost of the flight as well as provide the opportunity to explore the small but remarkable country.
As a tourist, Singapore is one of the favorite cities i have spent time in. The diversity of the city is astounding, truly an international hub. It was also the cleanest metropolis i have ever been to and one of the most technologically advanced, making it very accessible, comfortable, and welcoming. However, more than just the cleanliness i was particularly enamored with the amount of vegetation and greenery interwoven throughout the city, and the ethic of environmental awareness woven throughout. Finally, the food was AMAZING! While there were hundreds of vegan/vegetarian restaurants interspersed throughout the city, i particularly enjoyed eating at small local vegan joints in China Town and Little India.
I qualify my praise for Singapore from a tourist lens, as the lack of what USians understand as first amendment rights, particularly the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to assemble, is stifling. Moreover, the pungent culture and promulgation of materialism was nauseating, though unfortunately the characteristic is in no way unique to Singapore.
After two days in Singapore i arrived to Hanoi, and spent the next two weeks slowly (or rapidly, depending on your perspective) making my way down the length of Vietnam to end in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). Vietnam was the central draw of the trip, the motivating factor that inspired the rest of the travel. I understand the Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as the American War) as one of the most pivotal and important events of the 20th century, both globally but particularly as it relates to US empire and through to the politics within the US today. As such, i was eager to deepen and complicate my understanding of the war first hand through discussions with Vietnamese people and exposure to the way the war is framed in the country.
Moreover, much of my politics, of my political thought, is influenced by activism born within the Vietnam era; for example, this MLK quote from his 1967 Beyond Vietnam speech continues to be foundational to my thought patterns and purpose: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” So too do i find education and inspiration for anti-imperialism and decolonialism from Vietnamese revolutionaries, Ho Chi Minh in particular.
Personally, perhaps selfishly, Vietnam was one of the favorite countries i have had the opportunity to spend time in. The people were so kind-hearted, humble, and sincere; the food delicious, the history fascinating, and the landscapes absolutely breathtaking! Moreover, Vietnam has become VERY popular amongst backpackers, providing the opportunity to socialize with folk from all over the world in each city i passed through, learning from their experiences and humbly sharing my own.
While my travels through Vietnam did fill me with joy, so too did it fill me with sadness, remorse, disgust, guilt. It was hard to see the immense suffering engendered by US policy, to see the impacts and effects i read about with my own eyes. While I am always deeply critical and at times guilty of being a USian, that shame came into even clearer focus here. When asked by Vietnamese where i am from, ashamedly, i would often skirt the question (though never lie) and explain that i currently lived in Nicaragua, rather than say i’m from the US. The pain that would flash through the eyes of many when i claimed US heritage was just too hard to see. However, more important than my personal discomfort, while in the past i have wanted to identify as USian to provide a different face for the US, i found myself no longer wanting to give the US a facelift. Rather, i think it is important for the world to see and understand US empire as it is, as it always has been, and there is no better face for it than Trump’s. (To clarify, no better face for the US Government abroad, not of its people; i fervently believe that people are people, no matter the country; that we all share the same hopes/desires, and that each person does their best [that does not, however, i believe excuse or justify oppressive or hateful actions]).
On June 28th i caught a sleeper bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Unfortunately my itinerary only allowed for one week in Cambodia, which i split predominantly between sobering education around the effects of the “Vietnam War” in Cambodia and the genocide that followed, and afterwards exploring the ancient wonders of Angkor.
Unfortunately not commonly known (as it was hidden and concealed by the US government throughout the war), the US dropped a documented 2,756,941 tons worth of bombs over Cambodia; to put this number in perspective, the Allies dropped just over 2,000,000 tons during ALL of WWII, including the bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As such, Cambodia may be the most heavily bombed country in history. The impacts of this carpet bombing opened up space for the Khmer Rouge to come into power, and ultimately created the groundwork for the Cambodian genocide that followed. The genocide killed an estimated 2.4 million, a third of Cambodia’s population of 7 million. Moreover, the US Government supported Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime throughout the genocide and continued to recognize them as the legitimate government of Cambodia for a decade following the genocide, further enabling one of the 20th century’s greatest crimes to unfold. Visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek gave faces and stories to these atrocities, and imparted much the same feeling as attending concentration camps.
The second half of my time in Cambodia was spent in Siem Reap, a modern day town built nearby Angkor, the ancient capital of the Angkor Empire. During its peak from the 11th to the 13th centuries Angkor was the the largest pre-industrial urban center in the world. As such, they built some of the world’s most impressive and complex religious structures including Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. I spent a number of days here exploring the temple complexes in the day and afterwards enjoying nightlife with friendly locals and fellow travelers. The decaying monuments provided a humble reminder to both civilizational power and its ephemerality, of the reality that everything i have ever known will dissolve into nothing, will return to the void. There was a powerful energy throughout the monuments, and it was a nice way to balance the heaviness that came with so sincerely digging into Cambodia’s more recent history.
A week later i caught a flight to Bangkok, and passed the final nine days of my trip scratching the surface of what Thailand has to offer. After exploring the busy and thriving metropolis of Bangkok i headed north to Chiang Mai and the mountains that surround it. Undoubtedly the highlight of my days in Northern Thailand, and a highlight of my trip overall, was the day i spent in an Elephant Sanctuary. I passed the day with Mae Ploy and Mae Taew, two elephants in their late forties who had been rescued from oppressive work and who are now living out the rest of their lives in sanctuary. The day began with prepping their food (chopping up pumpkin and separating bananas) and feeding them, going for a long leisurely hike through the forest, and ended with us bathing ourselves side by side in the river. These ladies filled my heart, giving me a profound sense joy and clarity. And left me thinking: Would another eat their flesh? Why not? Would another eat a cow’s flesh? Why? And in thinking of this dissonance, i resonate strongly with a quote from Clifton Flynn upon which i reflect often: “Our failure to study our relationships with other animals has occurred for many reasons… Much of it can be boiled down to two rather unattractive human qualities: arrogance and ignorance.”
I finished off my trip in Thailand, in Southeast Asia, on Koh Tao, a gorgeous island nestled in the warm waters off Thailand’s western shore. The island is famous for offering some of the world’s most affordable Scuba certifications, and i spent three days getting mine. While i have had the opportunity to snorkel often, it was my first time scuba diving, and the experience blew my mind, surpassing my highest expectations. Being underwater without needing to think about oxygen dramatically changed the experience, and allowed me to feel much more connected with the life under the water, providing time to wait, watch, and patiently learn from the subtleties and complexities of the aquatic life around me.
Ten days after arriving back to the US i had an interview via Skype and was offered a job beginning four days later in Medellín, Colombia. Wow! The reality that i would be unable to return to Nicaragua had still not settled in, as i was unable to fully process it while traveling. And yet, i arrived in Medellín, the “city of eternal spring,” on August 1st, and have been happily and gratefully living here ever since.
I have fallen in love with Medellín. The city has given me everything my soul craved throughout my service in Nicaragua. The two central dimensions of my identity have become veganism and yoga philosophy/practice, identities i was forced to hide and conceal throughout my time in Nicaragua. Medellín has given me the opportunity to openly share these identities again, and more importantly, has provided me with a latinx community who share these same passions and identity. That sense of community has been incredibly nourishing, affirming, and i am feeling happier than i can remember feeling, confirming that i am in the perfect place for the time being.
Flying Tree Yoga
I was hired as an assistant manager for Flying Tree Yoga. Flying Tree is a rad bilingual studio nestled in Laureles, a hip, modern, and admittedly higher end neighborhood of Medellín. In addition to teaching yoga classes i have been helping with a Yoga Internship program, where certified teachers from around the world come in to develop and diversify their teaching abilities and learn how to teach in Spanish; in this role i provide interns with asana workshops, help in designing and developing their classes, and offer feedback for how to grow their teaching moving forward. It has been fun immersing myself within yoga again, within a yogic community, and rewarding sharing my love for this philosophy and practice within a latinx context.
Law School Apps
I remain committed to pursing a career of public interest law, and more specifically plan on focusing my degree on animal law, on leveraging a law degree in service towards shifting the Overton window in regards to the rights and status of non-human animals. I spent much of September getting my applications in order, and plan on submitting the last of them in the coming days. Hopefully in my next update i will have news to share regarding schools to which i have been accepted!
Since arriving to Medellín i have been so grateful and excited to connect with a group of passionate animal rights advocates, people who share my convictions and philosophy in regards to non-human animals, namely abolitionists (in a sentence, people who are concerned less with advocating for bigger cages, but rather for the eradication of cages altogether). Within this space i have been organizing predominantly with the local chapter of two international animal rights groups, Anonymous for the Voiceless and Direct Action Everywhere.
Every Friday evening i meet up with dozens of other members from Anonymous for the Voiceless for street activism; the events are called Cubes, Los Cubos, and consist of masked individuals standing silently for hours in a square formation in public spaces, holding screens depicting the reality of what is happening to non-human animals around the world every day; needless to say, the footage is quite graphic. The acts are meant to end the silence around animal exploitation, to keep the issue present in the minds of the community, and foment thought and hopefully change. I have found the technique super effective, and am grateful to be a part of this movement.
We also spent much of September organizing a 269 Life action, a branding or una marcación. The action, held in a public space in the botanical gardens, was much more confrontational then the Cubes, and was meant to challenge the way people think about our relationship with and (ab)use of non-human animals. In the action i was one of two people branded with a hot steel iron, receiving the mark of property, marked as an “it” rather than a “he.” The same afternoon, 22 other activists around Colombia received the same brand, alongside hundreds of others from around the world. If you are interested, you can watch the video here: 269 Life Medellín 2018; despite being in Spanish, i feel like many of the images speak for themselves. And if you take the time to watch my branding, take a moment to note the feelings that come up. Are they different than the thoughts/feelings you would have watching a cow, a horse, any non-human animal be branded? Why? Some i have spoken with though it extreme, to voluntarily brand oneself in solidarity with non-human animals (ab)used by humans. However, to me it feels moderate. In reality my branding is hardly comparable to the branding received by non-human animals; i volunteered to receive the brand, understood what was happening as it happened, and after returned to sit comfortably in my room comforted with some ointment. Under no circumstances do humans have the right to (ab)use non-human animals – period. I am more than the number 269; every sentient being is more than a number – they are someone, not something.
As i close every update, i really do appreciate and cherish receiving updates from your end; i write these updates with the purpose of staying in touch with loved ones, you, but it takes two to tango 😘. If you made it this far, i’d love to hear from you, even if it is just a sentence or two.