Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lesson Learned

A lady peers out her window in a pro-Chavez Caracas neighborhood.  She was curious about the gringos outside of her house, but decidedly cold about it.

Back in Atlanta but not after a bit of drama leaving Caracas this morning.

I was notified last night by TripIt and Delta Airlines that this morning's early flight back to Atlanta was delayed by two hours.  Perfect, now it wasn't such an early flight and I could grab a good breakfast before the team and I left for the airport.

Arriving at the airport still three hours before the newly scheduled take-off I found the Delta ticket counter all but deserted.  This was odd because one would normally expect mayhem on a flight coming out of Latin America to the States.  No one was around except a lone agent.

My first thought was that the flight was canceled all together, but the agent said, "No, it takes off in three hours".  As I threw my bags on the scale he told me that I can't check in because the flight is already "closed".  Huh?!!

Apparently even though the flight is delayed and the airline goes to great effort to tell you this so that you will not be inconvenienced, in Caracas you still must check in at the scheduled time regardless of when the flight is going to depart.  I lost my mind as I stood there with bags in-hand not being able to check in on a flight that departs in three hours.  Luckily one of the members of the team that I was with is rather noteworthy and was able to convince the Delta Airlines Station Chief to contact the Venezuelan security to re-open the flight for us.

The learning point for me is not to get too cocky with information and familiarity when traveling.  Every airport is different, and they're changing all the time.  What you might think is reality in Atlanta doesn't count at all in Islamabad or Quito, regardless if it's a major carrier or not. Lesson learned.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Election Day

What do you do in Venezuela during Election Day?  Your options are pretty limited as everything is closed while the country votes its legislature.  Don't even think about drinking alcohol as the entire country has been "on the wagon" for the last three days,  I suppose someone doesn't want a bunch of intoxicated people participating in democracy, as if somehow the results would be different :)

A Word On Women

This is actually a little girl who was attending a street political rally, but I admired her attempt at being fashionable.

In the 90's I spent a lot of time in Venezuela and the one thing that was always a constant was The Question.  When you climbed into a taxi and the driver realized that you were not Venezuelan, the very next thing out of his mouth was the trivia question: How many Miss Universe have come from Venezuela? I forget the answer, but it was some outrageous number and clearly a point of national pride. 

Yes, the Venezuelan women, a mix of Latin and Caribbean cultures, were put together well.  Having said that, all of this "put together-ness" takes time and effort, an immense amount  I imagine.  The English phrase that gets bandied about for this effort is "high maintenance", and for years I've searched the Spanish lexicon for a similar phrase.  There isn't one.  The fact that there is no easy way to describe a woman (or man) who is fastidious about their appearance and spends inordinate amounts of time keeping it so speaks volumes about this culture. In other words, the attribute of being "high-maintenance" is so inculcated into the lives of so many Venezuelans that it's accepted as normal and does not need to be described, it just "is".

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Shots From Today

Hanging out on the street looking cool

The Look

This little guy lives in what can only be described as a gated Socialist community.

A lone tree stands in the fog

Brothers I think

Uncle Simón

She wouldn't stop smiling.  Awesome.

This little guy was really shy, but we turned it into a game.

Caracas Emergency Department

A final word on moto-taxis.  No, this is not me on the back.  There are so many of these things whizzing around that an inspiring photographer could make a collection of shots like this.

Last night I toured a Caracas Emergency Department and I've come to the conclusion that most third-word hospitals are the same: short on supplies and long on sick people.  The entrance to the building had all the charm of an East German jail, complete with bars, a sleepy guard, stained tiled floors, and blinking florescent lights. Continuing through the waiting room there was the normal cast of the sick and sleeping laid out on cold metal benches oblivious to one another.

When I walked into the ER all I could see was rows of beds behind a single, long curtain.  Every patient had an IV drip, which I took to be a good sign, but my optimism ended there.  No gloves or masks for the staff, shockingly limited medications, blood-stained floors and sheets, and some of the worse X-rays I've ever seen. 

I spoke with some of my colleagues, pointing some things out and cautioning them not to judge too harshly.  The hospital staff was clearly doing the best that it could with what meager supplies the State had given them. I spoke with the attending physician, he quietly detailed of the nightly struggles to make due with what he was given.  The nurses sang the same tune, each day the staff had to make decisions about which patients got what was left of the dwindling supplies.  This was not a place to be sick, and I couldn't help but hearken back to my death-defying moto-taxi ride that morning.  If we had had an accident, this is where I would have ended up, possibly for good.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Not A Good Idea

All the rage in Caracas.  I like this shot, it reminds me of someone sneaking a glance at something that they shouldn't.

Today I did something that I swore years ago that I would never do.  I took a moto-taxi through the streets of Caracas trying to beat the traffic in order to get someplace quickly and meet a deadline.  For those that are unfamiliar with this mode of travel; one sits on the back of a small motorcycle, sometimes even wearing a cheap helmet, and the driver weaves his way at breakneck speed between the slower cars and trucks.  If you think this sounds stupidly dangerous, you're getting the idea. 

The moto-taxi "lane splits", or in other words rides between the lanes in order to by-pass traffic.  For those that are familiar with Latin America you know that there really are no lanes per se. I sat on the back as the teenage driver decided to show me his latest Moto-GP skills, ripping past cars, diving in front of trucks, and running red lights.  (If my mother is reading this…. it was someone else, not me).  I came out of the adventure unscathed, but a bit disappointed that I would allow myself to take such stupid chances.  One of the people on the trip remarked that it was a lot of fun to ride like that.  I couldn't help but think of the crass joke that compares motorcycles to prostitutes; both fun to ride, but neither necessarily a good idea.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ensuing Crisis in Venezuela

A little girl helps her father campaign on the streets of Caracas. The upcoming elections will guide this country through the ensuing economic crisis. The pamphlet reads, "You Have The Power".

Venezuela; this is my third or fourth time here in the as many years.  There are things that I tend to forget and must re-learn upon each visit.  This morning's lesson came during breakfast: this country is devoid of all concept of personal service.  You can sit in a restaurant, and a very nice one at that, and wait an eternity for a refill on a cup of coffee.  Most places that I've stayed at the staff is standing by with an IV if you require a constant stream of coffee in the morning.  Venezuela, not so much. 

People have jobs here, and with tight, socialist labor laws they've been very secure in their employment. Secure to the point that there is no need to fill up your cup of coffee, no one is going to loose their job over incompetence.  Now enter 30% inflation.  Consumer prices are rising and businesses cannot keep pace, they are either going to have to cut costs (labor) or be forced out of the market.  This is the polemic that Venezuela is facing today, and the reason for my week-long visit.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Buddhist Paramedic- Deepening Compassion

A mountain-top antenna extends skyward through the clouds and mist.

I was approached on Facebook by a Zen Buddhist priest who asked me about becoming involved in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) as a future vocation.  The conversation is still ongoing but its one that I'm very excited to have.  I can think of no other job that will deepen a Buddhist practice more so than EMS; I say that with a bit of a sarcastic undertone.

If you stay in EMS long enough you encounter terms like, "burnt-out" or "jaded", and I asked myself what exactly do those mean.  After some brief consideration the answer that I arrived at is a paramedic or EMT that has dealt with the world's sick and pseudo-sick for so long that they no longer can dredge up any empathy or compassion for their patients.  To be accurate, as a good friend pointed out, this is not only limited to EMS but also extends to nurses and physicians as well. 

Enter the Buddhist.  If you want to become physically stronger you have to stress your muscles so that they grow and develop.  Likewise, if you desire (ouch!) to become more compassionate you have to place yourself in situations where this emotion is stressed and tested: EMS.  The practicing Buddhist paramedic is tested everyday with the hoards of drug-seekers, EMS abusers, the pseudo-sick, people craving attention, uncaring medical staff, and of course uncaring family members.  Its a world that over time whittles away at one's compassion, and ability or desire to emotionally connect with patients. What better place for a Buddhist to find greater empathy and compassion?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Begging To Be Said

 A woman begs on the street of Istanbul.

Driving down the street this morning through a busy intersection in south Atlanta I noticed several high school-aged football players walking in between the cars collecting money.  Ostensibly they're trying to raise money for equipment, which I know is very expensive, or maybe a trip someplace.  Whatever the reason the players were walking past the waiting cars collecting money in their helmets.

What happened to car washes, bake sales or some other "productive" activity designed to raise money?  Since when did coaches start teaching their players to beg?  Let's face it, that's what these guys were doing. What sort of life-lesson is this imparting on the players? 

I grew up as an athlete so I'm intimately familiar with the valuable lessons learned from being a member of a sports team.  Never in my experience did any of those lessons include begging for money, regardless of how effective the technique may be.  Do the ends justify the means in this case?  Does the ability to purchase needed equipment outweigh the lesson that it's alright to stand on the street corner, next to the homeless, "will work for food" guy and beg for money? I would strongly argue that it does not.