Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The American Wife Who Self-Deported For Her Husband

Elizabeth is one of more than 350,000 US citizens who is married to a person who faces problems with immigration authorities. She had to move to Zacatecas in 2015 for her daughters to grow up next to their father, who was deported almost five years ago.

Translated from Isaias Alverado's article in Univision.

Rafael Valdez, Elizabeth "Joy" Valdez and their two children
(c) Valdez Family
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Three years ago, after spending several months separated from her husband Rafael Valdez, who was deported to Mexico in January 2014, Elizabeth made a decision that her friends still question. The American left her country and moved to Zacatecas so her family would be united.

Now, she is stewardess of an airline in the United States and flies to Zacatecas as soon as she finishes her shift. She tries to spend as much time as possible with Rafael and her two daughters, Catalina, 5 years old, and Maya, 10. After three or four days, Elizabeth returns to the plane. Her absence because of work can last up to 10 days.

"I made the decision to move here because it was important to be with my family," says Elizabeth in a telephone interview with Univision Noticias from Zacatecas. "When I had the girls in the United States and Rafael was here, he did not see them so often. It was very difficult. I thought it was important that they were with their parents, being together as family as much as possible."

Rafael's case stresses two points: One, Rafael says that Americans who have had their spouses expelled from the U.S. have suffered terribly because of the biggest scandal that the Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) has faced in recent months in Seattle, Washington.

Two, Rafael was a victim of deportation by [ICE prosecutor] Raphael Sanchez, who was accused of stealing the identity of immigrants to defraud credit card companies.

Chief Counsel [the office of ICE Prosecution] admits that between October 2013 and October 2017 Sánchez improperly used the information of at least seven immigrants.

Paul Cook, attorney for Rafael Valdez, believes that his client was also a victim of fraud and that is why he is asking for his case to be reopened. "Rafael must be allowed to return to the United States, granted asylum and his case must be reviewed under due process," Cook warned, recalling that he spoke directly with Sánchez to show him why his client had to remain with his family. "

I told [Sanchez], 'You can not deport Rafael because he's a father, he's a worker. They arrested him for a small incident.' And Sanchez said: 'I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do to help you,'" the lawyer said.

Finally, Rafael, was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, and was expelled to Mexico in September 2013.

"I feel like they deported me."

Elizabeth was born in Washington State 43 years ago. She's done everything possible to keep her daughters from feeling estranged from their father. When they deported Rafael to Mexico, the girls were only 10 months and 5 years old. They lived a few weeks with him in Zacatecas, despite the fact that the youngest child stopped being breastfed.

"I feel like they deported me and my daughters too. It's traumatic," says Elizabeth, who in March 2015 found a job as a flight attendant on SkyWest. Now, she's based in Los Angeles, which brings her closer to her family in Mexico. But one time she was stationed in Illinois and Colorado.

According to Elizabeth, the Obama administration put her between a rock and a hard place. "I had no other choice but to be with my family and leave the United States," she says.

With regards to the accusations against Sanchez, who deported her husband, Elizabeth hopes that the exposure of the charges against him can help others who have been separated from their families because of deportation. "I hope it's not too late for us and for others, for the cases to be fixed," she said. For Cook, the victims of this case are the daughters of this couple who got married in 2006. "The government put these girls in the dilemma of having a father in Mexico or being left without him in the U.S. It's not fair to make them choose between having parents or living in the U.S. as American citizens," he said.

From the city to the countryside

When Elizabeth works across the Mexican border, Rafael, 42, takes care of her daughters. On his spare time, when the girls are in school, he works in his carpentry workshop, which is also their home. He makes doors and furniture for their neighbors. And in the harvest season, he also sows corn in the lands he inherited from his father.

"It's hard to be in this situation because my daughters miss their mom. It's a decision that the government took lightly," says Rafael, who immigrated to the US for the first time in 1996, although he stayed to live permanently since 2003, that was until his deportation in 2013.

He says that at one time he worked three jobs to better his family. His luck changed in 1999, when Rafael was stopped for driving drunk. Things worsened in 2009, when a police traffic stop led to ICE deporting him.

"I deserve another opportunity. We all deserve it," he reflects, adding that he has returned to a city that has changed over the past decade; now there are shootings and murders. It was not like that before.

"At random, shootings can be heard here. I do not go out. I only leave to go my daughters' school and to the house. I lock myself in here [the rest of the time]," he said.

However, he still believes that her daughters are better off in Mexico: "It's no longer about having two happy parents. The children don't care if we are here or there," he says.

His wife agrees that their united family can succeed anywhere. Yet, she still hasn't adapted to her new home. The neighbors do not talk to her, and she does not want to make new friends without knowing more about them.

"When I arrived, I was scared," recalls Elizabeth. Now she knows that violent incidents in Mexico do not always occur everywhere. "We take precautions. We are aware of what is happening around us. We do not drive at night. We do not visit places we do not know".

The children and spouses of deportation

There is not a precise figure on how many Americans have a deported spouses. But a study published by American Families United (AFU) in September 2017 concludes that at least 350,000 US citizens (a conservative estimate) are married to people who face "serious problems" with immigration authorities. This is between 8% and 15% of 4.4 million born and naturalized Americans whose partners were born abroad.

Most of these couples live in California (between 70,000 and 131,000 couples), Texas (between 40,000 and 75,000), Florida (between 30,000 and 57,000) and New York (between 27,000 and 50,000).

"American citizens should not be forced to choose between their marriage and their country," said Kim Anderson, president of AFU.

In contrast, a report of the American Immigration Council published last May indicates that more than eight million citizens live with at least one member of the family who is undocumented.

The largest class [affected by deportation] is made up of children under 18 years of age. It is estimated that 4.1 million children have at least one undocumented father and 5.9 million have an undocumented relative.

The analysis stresses that the deportations of American relatives have "serious physical, emotional, development and economic repercussions in the children who are left behind". After the arrest and deportation of a parent, these children are more likely to have mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and severe psychological distress. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

To Unify the Koreas, the U.S. Should Do Nothing


Almost a year ago, President Trump called the Third Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, "little rocket man". On June 12, 2018, Trump and Kim are meeting in Singapore. It's a historic event, because no sitting U.S. President has ever met with a North Korean head of state. So, what’s really going on here? It seems that the meeting is not only about disarmament - but trade. It's my belief, however, that the best way to deal with DPRK is to do nothing; it appears to be on the verge of collapse anyways. 

Although the official reason for the Trump-Kim Summit is to discuss demilitarization of North Korea, it appears that this meeting has more to do with economics. Immediately before meeting with Kim and calling Canada’s prime minister “dishonest” and “weak”, Trump defined his priority by tweeting on June 10th, 2018: "Why should I . . . allow countries to continue to make Massive Trade Surpluses, as they have for decades, while our Farmers, Workers & Taxpayers have such a big and unfair price to pay? Not fair to the PEOPLE of America! $800 Billion Trade Deficit”. 

In other words, Trump is saying that the priority is for American corporate profits to increase, and the reason that American businesses aren't making as much is because of unfair international agreements, which exports American wealth abroad. But what does that have to do with North Korea? 

Consistent with theme of keeping your friends close (or not so close in Trump's case), and your enemies closer, Trump has befriended Russia and extended the olive branch to the DPRK. So like Nixon, Trump knows that wooing a hostile country, which has been historically closed to the West, can exploit its resources and offer cheap labor. 

Nixon visited Communist China in 1972 and hence, ushered in Sino-trade for the West. By doing so, corporations were able to increase their profits for themselves and shareholders by shifting labor costs to the East. 

Besides cheap labor, North Korea also has resources. Its main resources are coal and iron. Apparently, they even outperform South Korea in trade here. Quartz estimates that North Korea has $6 to $10 trillion USD in mineral resource, which according to it, includes “iron, gold, magnesite, zinc, copper, limestone, molybdenum, graphite, and more[,]” some of which are needed for “smartphones and other high-tech products." 

Given these facts, now consider UN Resolution 2371, passed on September 5, 2017. 2371 bans China from importing North Korean iron or coal. And to further complicate matters, UN Resolution 2375 passed on September 11, 2017, limits trade on North Korean crude oil and refined petroleum, textiles, and natural gas condensate and liquids. 

That has to hurt. China's the largest nation the DPRK trades with. And remember; North Korea can only survive with aid or trade from the Soviet Union or China. In fact, during the Cold War, the DPRK economically outperformed the South in its early years because of Soviet subsidies. But nearly 70 years later, South Korea clearly eclipses the North with its Goliath economy. 

By removing China as a trade partner, these sanctions can only paralyze an already crippled country. Because of them, it appears that Kim's administration has reached the point, where it's finally willing to negotiate, possibly admitting that they can't carry on. 

The solution to end the North Korean conflict is obvious. It's the implementation that agitates strife. Both North and South (and its US-backed allies) agree that the only way forward is reunification. But, the question has always been: On whose terms? 

The Trump-Kim Summit rehashes that question and brings us to a historic crossroads: Will the U.S. watch as the Hermit Kingdom crumbles like East Germany or will it prop up a new class of global and foreign elites with American money - as Nixon did with China? 

Given the economic sanctions and the 300,000 refugees that are escaping, it’d be in U.S. interest to wait, rather than handing over money to authoritarian bureaucrats, especially those that have committed the worst human rights violations in today’s world. 

To be sure, the world is threatened every time North Korea launches missiles into the Japanese Sea, issues threats, or violates its nuclear proliferation agreement. For over 67 years, the DPRK has threatened to kill South Koreans. In fact, its threat climaxed in January of 1994, when it said it could torch Seoul into a "sea of fire". 

But it hasn't done so yet, and why not? Under game theory - where states act in their own rational self-interest - it's common sense that nothing is gained from blowing up the world. The DPRK knows in doing so, South Korea, backed by U.S. forces, would certainly defend itself and potentially raze North Korea and its people into ashes. 

Hence, political scientist, Robert Axelrod is foolhardy to advise that North Korean threats should be met with tit-for-tat. There's no need to prove to the Hermit Kingdom that the U.S. is the most powerful economic and military nation; there's nothing to be gained out of having this acknowledgement from a third world country. And doesn't the Kim regime already know this? Of course. 

On the contrary, provoking an already desperate nation can lead to destruction, because it can only fuel irrationality and anger in the DPRK administration. It's better to ignore and wait North Korea out with patience. Even good parents know not to succumb to the will of screaming and whining children. 

To conclude, let's recall a wise lesson that dying Queen Mary teaches newly-crowned and young Queen Elizabeth in the first season of The Crown, which Irish writer, Oscar Wilde also knew. He penned nearly two generations earlier: "To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.”

*This piece was first published in the Morning Consult.

**Thank you to Gordon Allen for his guidance and feedback in making this a better piece. Also, thank you to my trial professor Albert Moore's enduring confidence in me. Finally, I appreciate all the encouragement Rick Yamamoto has provided. (If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a community to publish an essay.)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

How to Make Over $1.8 Million in Two Years? Be a Corrupt City Director.

Gus Romo billed
the City of Adelanto $1.5M in two years,
while working as a director for
the City of Baldwin Park.
Want to know how you can make at least $1.8 million in two years, which is $68,000 every month, while being under-qualified and potentially uneducated and not doing much? To find out, ask Baldwin Park's Director, Gustavo Jeraldo Romo. He made that much in about two years and two months working both as the Baldwin Park's Community Development Director and CEO and owner of the Romo Planning Group Corp. After collecting this amount, Romo has suddenly stated he will resign as director of the City of Baldwin Park. The news comes after the FBI has been investigating city officials in the City of Adelanto, who Romo collected over $1.5 million from in a little over 2 years. The FBI has recently raided the home and business of Adelanto's Mayor, Rich Kerr's, and the U.S. Attorney is taking former Mayor pro tem, Jermaine Wright to trial for charges of bribery and attempted arson. Romo's connection with both corrupted cities, 70.1 miles (112 kms) apart, shows us a pattern of sprawling business and political relationships that are glued together solely for profits from the cash crop of Marijuana. Baldwin Park and Adelanto are proving that the state's legalization of marijuana is leading to further corruption and illegality, the restriction of a free market, and a bad deal for municipal bonds investors.

Romo had such a good deal. (That is until he got caught.) For instance, he would bill for talking on the phone about marijuana for two hours and collect $210 on it. What a dream come true for some high schoolers! The Romo Planning Group was billing Adelanto since January 2016 until March of 2018. Romo's most expensive invoice came out to $112,000. The billing can't be verified to determine if Romo indeed created false bills or whether the employees that are working the alleged hours are real humans or not.

Nonetheless, with all the work being done, there's a problem here. How did Romo, as a director of Irwindale (2016-2017), later hired by Baldwin Park (2017-current), manage to work two jobs at once? Activists in Adelanto asked the same question and grew concerned.

When he wasn't appearing for work as director of Baldwin Park, where he was also making over $140,000, where was he? Well; he was being spotted often with Adelanto's Mayor, Rich Kerr.

I personally questioned Romo about how he works at two places at once. He emailed back that his wife, Elizabeth Romo, a beautician and hair dresser, and staff are running the company while he works in Baldwin Park.

But an anonymous witness actually accused Romo of being the personal advisor to Kerr. The witness stated that Romo tells Kerr on how to violate Adelanto's City Charter, presumably to make profits at the expense of Due Process. (This allegation needs to be further investigated, but the tip appears consistent with this investigation.)

Feeling that his cashflow may dry, Romo replied what he thought about the FBI raid. Romo said, "It’s unfortunate what that small town has gone through."

When asked if the FBI has a duty to investigate corruption on behalf of the citizens, Romo refused to comment any further.

A look at Romo's past paints a picture of financial management and desperation and greed. Romo has two foreclosures, one in Upland on May, 2010 and one in Covina, June 2012. He also filed Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in August of 2012.

I asked him whether he should pay the people he owed by filing bankruptcy?

He refused to respond.

Although Romo alleges he has a degree from Sierra Vista High School, Cal Poly Pomona, and an MBA, when asked for proof of these degrees Romo refused to provide it because, he says, "I don’t want it to appear as if I’m bragging." He was also concerned about publishing a copy of his degrees.

I assured him I wouldn't publish in on my site. Three times he agreed to provide copies. Nothing has been provided so far.

Romo's greed, fleecing, and deception only prove a larger pattern of corruption that runs rampant in politics. Doesn't anyone find it unusual that the mayor, the chief of police, the former finance director, at least one council member, and the current community development director all filed for bankruptcy? What about the fact that all of them have California social security numbers, when they all have ties to Texas? After all, multiple social security numbers are required for identity theft, which is then needed to defraud people and institutions. Finally, isn't is unusual that all these public officials and administrators all have private companies, like Chief Michael Taylor and his security consulting company (or Council Member Pacheco's solar energy company, AMS Energy), which are then used to bill other cities and government agencies? Nobody finds this incredible or outrageous how rampant this has all become?

For sure, this is the tip of the iceberg. I wonder what other cities the Romo Planning Group billed. And given his sketchy past, it makes me wonder if he was a former criminal that's not been put in some witness protection program. In fact, I've posted a mugshot of a photo that matches the facial biometrics of his picture above. Anyone with more information should please let me know.

To me, the bigger picture is becoming clearer. It looks like that these poverty-stricken cities are being run by crime syndicates focused on profiting off of taxpayer money. Sadly, this is all proving that democracy doesn't function in working class cities like Bell, Baldwin Park, or Adelanto. The solution needs to focus on successful prosecution of government officials and administrators; otherwise, crime does pay. And handsomely too.

As Russian Noble Laureate, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said: "Beat a dog once and you only have to show him the whip."


Anyone with further information
on this mugshot, please contact me.
This person goes by the name of
Edward Varela

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Prayer Strengthens You and Others

Corporal Act of Mercy
Marchamchurch Church, Cornwall
(c) Alamy
I thought long and hard before I wrote this article; I even scrapped others, because I didn't know what to say. I only wanted to say something that I thought was important. I've concluded I probably should write something on prayer, because of how much it's impacted my life in South Africa. I've concluded that it not only makes the person praying strong, but, maybe more importantly, it makes the person being prayed for stronger too.

Now that I'm no longer in South Africa, I've been thinking about the most important experiences I had there. I met a young English South African, who was a Christian and struggling with his work. After counseling him for hours, I thought I should pray for him. So, he let me, and I think it helped him. He said he felt at peace.

Later, on my trip, I met a French guy around my age. After we started drinking, red wine of course, he shared what was on his heart and mind. There was so much pain, and I could see it. More importantly, I could feel it.

I sighed. What could I do about this? It's in my personality to want to fix things. (Apparently, I was like this as a kid too.) And that's why I finally studied law; I thought maybe doing so could bring justice to the brokenness of some of these cases and the lives of others. So it frustrates me when I can't fix the problem. But some times life is just rough and bad things happen and there's nothing you could to "fix" the other person's situation, except listen.

When the French guy started sharing. Not knowing really what to do, I asked, "Is it ok if I just pray for you?"

I sat next to him and prayed for him. I put my hand on his shoulder and just asked God to be with him. He said that he could feel warmth leave my hands. And later, he was smiling.

I don't know if I made all his problems go away. Actually, I'm sure I didn't. But I know that I helped ease the suffering and hurt, and maybe in doing so, made myself stronger too. I mean, isn't it strength to give of yourself?

I don't know why. But on this part of the trip, in South Africa, I probably have had more people ask for counsel and advice and prayer than during the first nine months of my sabbatical. But to be honest, I wonder if something changed about me, after I was almost killed in Colombia. There's nothing like nearly bleeding to death from a speed boat propeller slashing into your head and shoulder.

But I don't think I'll know for sure how much that changed me, until much later. After all, life is lived forward but only understood backwards.

So, back to prayer. And after praying for the French guy, I was also given an opportunity to pray for a young guy from the United States and a Dutch guy too. All of this forced me to reflect on what was going on here. Why were strangers asking me to pray for them? I'm still not one hundred percent sure.

I've, however, concluded that the younger generation is hungry for real spirituality. I believe that there's a profound brokenness in my generation and the next one. And there's a role for justice, healing, and restoration in our world. As Jesus taught, we all need to become salt and light for this to happen. The Jewish Scriptures say this too. It is written: "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8, NIV).

In South Africa, some how, people seem to have sensed that I've endured through much and maybe I have some insight to offer them. And to be honest, I'm glad I contributed to those who sought my counsel.

I mean; wouldn't the world be a better place if we all decided to give more than we take in every relationship we entered into? I'm convinced that greed and greedy people are literally destroying our physical environment, our relationships, and our lives. (Isn't that what some of us have been battling against, when we've taken on corruption in our small corner of the world, near East Los Angeles?)

So; the next time someone opens their life to you, and you have no idea what to do, you can always ask them if they need prayer. And you pray by asking the living God to meet that person wherever they're at. I'm sure it's not easy to do, but I remind myself, if someone had the courage to tell me what's going on with them, I have the courage to pray for them.

And there is a power in praying. As the Scriptures tell us: "For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control." (2 Timothy 1:7).

In writing this article, I recall one of my favorite poems by the metaphysical Welsh poet, George Herbert, who wrote Prayer (I). In it, he says that Prayer is the "soul in paraphrase", a "heart in pilgrimage", "A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;" and that it's the "Church-bells beyond the stars heard". It results in "Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss".

And in performing this act of worship, there really is "something understood."

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Seeing Rhinos, Lions, and Elephants at the Kruger

Baby rhino
Copyright Wayfair.com
One of the most amazing things I saw on my trip at the Kruger was a baby rhino. It was the size of a small pig, and it was running away from us with it's huge mother, which was the size of a tank. It was a rare sight. I've heard that there are only a little over 300 rhinos left in the Kruger. In fact, in 2016, Africageographic said that over 662 carcasses were found in the Kruger, without horns presumably. Poachers are driving rhinos into extinction for their horns, which are sold in Asia, generally to the Chinese and also the Vietnamese. Spotting that baby rhino and learning more about these poachers greatly upset me. (Perhaps after Baldwin Park is finished, I'll have to start a project that saves the rhinos. But as my OpEd pointed out, does the SA government intend to prosecute any of these criminals, including poachers?) In any event, I found the sight of the baby rhino a powerful sign and good omen of luck for South Africa. Even against the harshest environment, life is surviving.

Baby elephant - shot near Orpen Gate.
Getting to the Kruger was an enormous feat, mainly because I was by myself and without a car. If you're a solo traveler without transport, the Kruger is almost impossible to do for a reasonable price. But while we were having our South African barbecue on our last night at the Blyde River with the French-Swiss couple, Mateo and Melissa, the gardener, Edward, of the place offered to take me to the Kruger as a guide. I decided I'd pay him some and asked Oliver, the Dutch guy if he wanted to go. (I thought it was a good way to help Edward and still get a cheaper price to see the Kruger.)

I asked them to come to my place at 05:30AM. I didn't know if they would come, because that's really early. So, I didn't set my alarm. I had my stuff packed, but asked them to knock on my door when they came in the morning. If they came, I'd have my stuff ready. If they didn't, I'd sleep in. Win; win; right?

Next day, 05:30A, I heard a knock at my door. I was going to see the Kruger.

Giraffe in the Kruger,
my best shot in the Kruger.
Oliver and I bought 45 liters (11.8 gallons) of gasoline for Edward's car. I thought that was more than enough and estimated that would give us 260 miles (416 kms) in his Cadillac.

Edward asked me if his girlfriend could come. After thinking about it, I said, "I prefer not." He still brought her, which annoyed me, because we had to pay for her entrance fee and lunch and dinner. Sadly, she wasn't a very likable person at least to me, because I felt like she was taking advantage of us. Oliver liked her more. (It was a bit of a culture shock for me, the expectations they had of us. When you invite one, you invite the family - as I was told and learned later. Nonetheless, I was somewhat sympathetic that they were suffering under poverty.)

While driving to the entrance, we spotted a parade of elephants. One mother was with her calf, photoed above. She didn't like how close we got and gave us an angry and threatening look.

We entered the Kruger National Park through Orpen's Gate at around 6:30A in the morning. Entrance was more expensive for Oliver and me, because we were foreigners. It cost us over $30, but for the locals like Edward and his girlfriend it was only $8. When I paid the fee, I thought to myself - This is the South African version of their Disneyland fee. I complained about paying more as a foreigner, and the staff told me - "Come on. You guys a make a lot. You can pay." Not a nice comment.
Zebras in the Kruger

At the Orpen Gate, I bought two cappuccinos, because I was sleepy. Also, at the entrance, I talked to a lovely South African elderly couple at Orpen gate, who told us how they came every three weeks.

We were at the Kruger to find the Big Five. The Big Five is an old term referring to the big five most popular animals to hunt. Now, they're the animals to spot on safari. They include the lion, the rhino, the buffalo, the elephant, and the leopard. (Oliver, on his last safari saw four of the Big Five.) The hardest animal to spot is the leopard, and that's the one Oliver didn't see in his last safari.
A herd of impalas.

So, we drove throughout the park, spotting different animals, but none of the Big Five. We saw a lot of zebras, kudus, impalas, and the beautiful steenbok. The kudus, impalas, and steenbok were all like deer. Except, I was most fascinated by the steenbok, because they were small and not in a herd. We only saw them by themselves, and the guidebook says they generally travel by themselves. It makes you wonder, what's their defense from not getting eaten?

A steenbok
(C) Wikipedia
From morning to lunch, we saw mostly grazing animals. But, in the middle of the road, we also saw a blind snake on the street. I got out of the car (which you're not supposed to do, but I was a bad boy and couldn't help myself) and picked it up. It snapped back around and tried to bite me. (Don't worry, it's not venomous.) Well, at least I got a picture of it.

It's called a Bibron blind snake, and it eats two or three times a year. If you look closely at the photo, the tail and the head look the same - probably as a mechanism to fool predators.

At lunch, I noticed something. The Orpen Gate entrance appears to be the senior-citizen entrance. We were definitely the youngest people in the group. I think part of the reason is that there are so many birds from that entrance, and hence, so many birdwatchers. I think the big animals are closer to the Pretoriaskop Entrance, closer to Nelspruit (the Godforsaken city I still can't stand.)
Bibron's blind snake

For lunch, I ordered a pizza for us. Oliver brought sandwiches. Oliver and I had some craft beer. I liked the design of the beer company.

There was a board near the restaurant, where tourists had marked where they spotted some of the Big Five that day. earlier in the day. People spotted a pride of lions, a leopard, and several gangs of buffalos.

So, we tracked them down according to the markers on the board. By a bridge, there were lioness sleeping underneath the cool of some trees. They were probably near the water to also drink.

Buffalo under the tree. Apparently, they're very aggressive.
They were waiting for nightfall to hunt their prey. There were also tons of cars just watching them. I got out of the car again to shoot a picture and people in the other cars started yelling at me.

Well, I figured, (this the lawyer in me), they were pretty far away if they came after me. I'm sure I could've gotten back in the car right away. But after shooting some pictures of the lionesses with angry onlookers yelling at me, I went back in the car.

We drove off to find the Buffalo. While driving there, we saw several crocodiles in the mud by the bridges. I went out again to try to snap some pictures, but when the crocodiles saw me, they swam into the water.

A lioness underneath the tree
We saw several gangs of buffalos. The leader of the group gave me an angry look as I took pictures of him.

At this point it was near 2:30 in the afternoon, and I could see Edward was exhausted of driving. But Oliver and I paid, and we wanted to see more. So, we asked him to drive us up to a road called S89, which is a dirt road. So we did.

There, we saw plenty of giraffes and other herd animals. It was rumored that there was a leopard earlier there in the day, but that was nowhere to be seen. Then, towards
sunset, we spotted a rhino mother and her baby. Edward
wanted to leave, but I said we had to stay behind. And we kept following it and watching it.

It truly was an amazing sight. The rhino calf was so cute.The rhinos didn't like us though, and eventually they were stampeding away from us.

Watching the rhino run with it's huge body made me think - Man, what would it feel like by getting hit by one of those? Apparently, rhinos have poor vision too. It'd be like getting hit by a semi-truck - no doubt.

Well, sunset was coming, and we were about 100 km or 60 miles away from the gate. So Edward got panicky. He didn't think we had enough fuel, though I told him we did. I know; I calculated how much we had.
Rhino mother in the Kruger
But, Edward started zooming, and he was tired and careless. And he ran over a pheasant, which horrified me. The bird was flapping its wings, just paralyzed.
Lilac breasted starling (the most common bird we saw)
Copyright krugerpark.co.za

I was upset, and I was having such a good time. I told him, "Edward, next time, just drive around the pheasants. There's no reason to run them over."

His girlfriend wanted him to stop, so she could take the bird home to eat. I wanted to kill the bird to put it out of its misery. I just kept thinking what it'd be like if one of my mother's hens were run over the same way. And when the car made a thud sound after running it over, it reminded me of the thud sound when that boat propeller hit my shoulder and almost killed me in Colombia.

I told him, "Anyways, just keep going, Edward."

Male lion walking away from our car.
We left the bird behind, but I kept thinking - I just hope a predator kills it right away and puts it out of its misery. I don't know what was going on with Edward, but it was clear to me he was losing his focus after driving for so long. In the end, we had driven for over 11 hours and over 200 miles in the park; all in one day.

What was good is that Edward did start driving around the birds, after I told him to do so. I told you in my previous post, the Kruger a huge park. We only saw 5% of the park too.

Then, it happened. Edward was waiting to see one. A male lion, proud and dignified, was laying on the street. We hadn't seen a male lion at this point. And Edward never saw one either. And it was lying on the street to absorb the heat from the tar road before night came. It was a really incredible creature. I wanted to go out to take a picture; it was so close. They said, "No." So, I rolled down my window and climbed out and snapped some photos of the male lion walking away.

Waterbok and Zebras at watering hole in the Kruger.
After the lion left, we also saw some hippos by a watering hole, and a hyena approached our car. I noticed that all the animals started coming out right before sunset. Funny; but we probably saw 80% of all the animals in the last 40 minutes of our time at the park. But we had no time to take pictures. We had to get to the Gate before it closed, and Edward was in such a panicky state. He didn't think we'd make it, and he wondered if there was enough fuel.

In the end, we did make it. We got to the gate late, but I knew we'd be ok when we overtook another car that also had to get out. I also calculated there was enough fuel to go back into town. We were all relived to get out of the park in time.

Edward wanted us to do braai (a South African BBQ), especially since we had two at the Blyde River that he saw us enjoying. But both Oliver and I were too tired.

An eagle at the Kruger;.
We saw three of these.
(C) krugerpark.co.za.
Instead, we ordered some Kentucky Fried Chicken and went to his village to eat. All in all, it was a good day. We told Edward he had the making of being a guide, but I think he also had a long way to go, which I definitely mentioned.

But I was still lucky to have met him. If I didn't, I wouldn't have seen the Kruger, and we did well. We saw four of the Big Five that day. No leopard though. Maybe, next time.

It's clear that the Kruger has a special place in my heart, and I hope to remember it forever. I found that we were blessed and grateful and moved to see that baby rhino. It really left me with a new hope and impression of South Africa.

PS: For you bird watchers, I added more bird photos, which weren't taken by me.
Francolin (c) Wikipedia
Kori Bustard
(c) Wikipedia
The Lilac-breasted Roller
(c) Wildlife Den
Red horn bill
(c) Wikipedia
Martial Eagle
(c) Wikipedia

Long tailed glossy starling
(c) Beauty of Birds

Thursday, May 31, 2018

My First Opinion Gets Published In South Africa

Anyways, my first opinion (after trying for a couple years in Los Angeles), finally got published in Pretoria, one of the capitals of South Africa. Back home, the joke is that I had to come to one of the furthest places from home (over 10,000 miles) to do it and have some money stolen.

Anyways, the OpEd is about how some money got stolen from me in Stellenbosch, South Africa and how the government really needs to start prosecuting thefts, especially against tourist. (Property related crime is incredible in South Africa. There are more than half a million reported thefts in a year.)

Of course, I was upset about it all. But the publication of this story is a good example of how something positive can come out of a bad experience.

It shows how a petty theft can be transformed into a national discussion on justice for the State of South Africa. The victims of the story also thanked me and feel better. I'm really hoping change and justice will come out of this.

It reminds me of the Bible verse in Genesis 50:20 - "You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened. You have nothing to fear. . . ."

You can read my opinion here.

A special thank you to Pretoria News and Independent Online for giving us a voice.

If you're new to my blog and from South Africa, my most popular post on South Africa is on Cape Town. You can read it: Here.

Personally, my favorite places were the Blyde River Canyon and the Crags. Next up: Kruger National Park.

Update on June 5, 2018 - My opinion has also been republished in JoeBerg's The Star and Durban's The Mercury.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Road Trip to Blyde River Canyon

Top: Me, Melissa
Bottom: Mateo & Oliver
(From L to R).
We drove out of the darkness and came into the light, as we drove out of Nelspruit and headed North on our way to the Blyde River Canyon. I was in the worst mood, because I had an argument with the owner and a pathetic American guy the night before. I also slept badly. My mood brought down everyone else. And, because it was raining, the group was also gloomy. But as we started driving North, the weather and my spirits lifted. The grumpiness vanished with the sunlight.

About 30 minutes into the ride, that road-trip-feeling came over. Do you know what I'm talking about?

There was that sense of freedom and adventure and that sense of not caring about anything else in the world, except having a good time.

During the road trip, I told them my stories about taking a road trip with Volker in Germany from Goettingen to Hamburg to Berlin. The stories aren't appropriate to publish here, but we all had a good laugh in the car. (That was a crazy and fun trip, before my days of going to law school.)

When we arrived at our hostel, I wasn't going to start off on the wrong foot again with the owner.

She was French, so I went out and greeted her and said, "Bonjour Madame. Como ce va? Ce va bien?" (Good day, Madame. How are you? Are you good?)

She said, "Bien et toi."

"Bien. Mercie."

Us at the hostel, enjoying ourselves.
And that was the limit of my French. But she was very friendly and told us she upgraded our rooms from a dormitory to a private cabin.

When I walked into it, man, it was amazing. There was even a kitchen and our own restroom.

I told the group, "We have to have a braai. It's a South African barbecue."

We drove about 20 minutes away and stopped at a pub for lunch and drinks. It was so hot, I took off my shirt and the guys followed. It was just so nice to do nothing and be in the sun and to eat and drink.

Then we had to drive further to the supermarket. There, we got food for our BBQ, which included salad, avocados, sausages, pita bread, and Greek cream sauce.

But there was a big problem. In Hoedspruit, where we were, there alcohol wasn't sold on Sundays. And they wanted beer. I wanted red wine. And, so, we drove up and down for hours all over the towns looking to buy alcohol.

At one point, we even stopped to ask some local ladies if they knew. They didn't, and we laughed, because I said, "They must think we're crazy."

I finally pointed them to a local hotel next door to our place. And inside was a collection of classic cars. I fell in love with two, a 1920's Mercedes Benz and an old Porsche. There was also a beautiful Russian blue cat, which reminded me of my blue Siamese, Jeh Pan, except this cat had green eyes instead of his icy blue ones.

At the gift store, there was wine! And we bought two bottles, even though it was bit marked up. We were so happy and commented about how we searched everywhere, and in the end, the wine was just next door to us.

After, we drove away, I showed the bottles of wine to people and cars passing us. They must have thought we were crazy.

Melissa said we didn't do anything, except drive, eat and go to the supermarket. So, we drove out into the street and parked on the side of the highway. Oliver pumped up the music. And we just watched the sun set behind the mountains. The sky turned a bright red color. Again, the cars passing us thought we were crazy. One truck thought we were trying to hijack him, and he sped passed us at what seemed to be 160km an hour (100 mph).

After, we found some dry wood and started our fire for the braai. We grilled the food in the fire, ate crackers while waiting, and drank red wine.

The roasted Afrikaner sausage was magnificent. It tasted smokey and salty and yummy. We cut it up, put it in the pita bread with the salad and sauce. And it was so yummy. It went well with the wine. The only problem was we needed one more bottle of wine, which was already all gone.

After eating, we looked up at the sky and saw all the scattered stars. There were so many bluish-white lights up there; it was extraordinary. Being alone in the African wilderness, underneath the heavens - which went beyond anyone's imagination - really made you feel small and tiny in comparison to the universe.

I also made jokes about people, and we all started laughing. We told stories. I told them the story about how I met the wiseman of the mountains. And around 11:00P, we went to bed. That was our first day in the Blyde River area.