Friday, July 27, 2018

What I'm learning in France . . .

The French Alps
From the South of France, I took a train to the French Alps. I think I'm loving France. People give me free food, free coffee, free wine, and three people offered me to stay with them for free. So, why not? I did!

At the local bakers, I greet the baker by saying: "Bonjour." I buy a raspberry tart from him. The berries look like little shiny and soft rubies on the pastry. 

At the local butchers - I ask him in French, "Do you have duck confit?" He says, "No, but I can offer you a quail." I buy it. 

At the local supermarket, the lady tells me which red wine is worth buying. I tell her: "Merci. Au revoir." She smiles and says: "Bonsoir."

I eat lunch with my host once in awhile. He usually makes a stew with potatoes and fresh vegetables. Yesterday, he gave me a freshly caught trout. The eyes were still so shiny and crystalline - the sign of fresh fish indeed.

My hosts says my French is improving every day, but don't try to test me in it. It's not that good; I think I've just gotten better at pronouncing words. I can even say that hard "R" sound we don't have in English, like in the word Pierre.

Some times I go into the forest and pick some wild mushrooms. I ask the local pharmacist if I can eat them. She tells me which ones are poisonous and which ones are edible.

I was in Paris 18 years ago and didn't enjoy myself at all. People were mean and nasty, and it was raining almost all the time. This time, I have to admit, I'm in love with France. 

The most important thing I think I've learned so far is how much the French appreciate beauty and life. They take life easier here and spend time helping people out. In the city, I was lost several times, and people came up to me (without me asking) and asked if I needed help. 

I feel like in America - it's all about running the rat race, making more money, buying a new car, and doing what others expect of you. I think I can't live out the American way. You miss too much, flying through life that way.

Incidentally, I took that quail and removed the bones. I stewed the bones into a red wine gravy. I turned the flesh into a quail steak. I cooked some fresh pasta, which I tossed with salt and butter. I stir fried freshly diced squash, carrots, and red shallots. When they fried in butter - it smelled so heavenly. I seared that quail steak and added it to the fresh noodles and vegetables with my gravy. And my goodness! One of the best meals I've ever had! I love France!

I drank the ruby wine the lady at the market recommended. I saved some of that raspberry tart for dinner. And I drank some coffee to finish it.

I think I've died and gone to Heaven. Oh, do I really have to come back home? (That time is coming, realistically. And summer won't be here all year around, anyways.)

As John Keats wrote: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

My Last Days in Ibiza: Remembering the Good Samaritan

Dave Guetta in Ibiza
In my last days of Ibiza, I met a guy named Jose - who was from the Spanish countryside and could only speak Spanish. He said I was the only guest he could talk to, because the other guests only spoke English. Only the staff in our hostel could speak Spanish. (That's probably true.) He was only 20, and he never left Spain. He was a social guy and wanted to talk to everyone, and it was then he realized how disadvantaged he was because he didn't speak English.

I invited him to have coffee with me in the morning. He insisted on paying. I thought that was kind of him.

Over coffee, he told me about the foods from the Spanish countryside. I'm rather sure that Hemingway writes about his homeland in The Sun Also Rises or The Dangerous Summer. Jose told me about how they ate eel and the throats of certain fishes. He said they were delicacies. He's a hunter, and he showed me pictures of his hunting dogs.

* * *

At dinner, Jose broke a clip on the table that held the tablecloth to the table. Our waiter looked high on drugs.

The waiter told off Jose. Jose took it personally.

He was so upset, he left back to the hostel.

I was still hungry; so, I ordered a paella at a different restaurant down the street. It wasn't the best. I also bought some chocolate.

I came back to the hostel and gave Jose the rest of my paella and chocolate. That made him happy. He talked about how stupid the waiter was.

I told him why he needed to get so upset over a guy who he'll never see again. I wanted to tell him in Spanish that he didn't need to get so upset about such silly things. It was then I realized the limitations of my Spanish, because I never counseled anyone in Spanish like this before.

* * *

The next morning, Jose joined me for coffee again. He tells me he hates Ibiza.

I ask why.

He says, "I don't want to talk about it."

"What's wrong?" I ask.

After much cajoling and persisting, he tells me the truth. His grandmother passed away just a few hours ago, and he needed to leave the island.

He doesn't have a proper credit card. He's panicky and anxious and starts biting his nails and hitting himself.

I tell him: "Stop!"

He says, "No, Uncle! I can't!"

I smile to myself. Have I become that old, already? Maybe not how I look, but I guess if you tell young people to behave, you become their uncle.

I say, "You're grandmother is dead. Can you do anything to change that?"

He thinks about it and says, "No."

"Then calm yourself down and relax. Acting crazy like this isn't helping."

He thinks about it and stops some. We come up with a plan.

I buy his ticket; he pays me in cash. His credit card can't buy the ticket. So, I buy it. I'm flying out tonight. We'll go to the airport together.

I take him to the beach. He breaks down. He cries. People stare at us. But better at the beach than at the hostel. After he's done, we go back to the hostel.

The hostel refuses to refund him. I think that's wrong.

Jose gets mad at the hostel. I was mad for him too.

* * *

We go to my favorite restaurant. Jose says he's not hungry. I order a seafood paella anyways.

It comes out in a black pan. It has all kinds of prawns and squid rings and mussels in it. It smells beautiful. I pour olive oil in it. I throw in the salt. I add tobasco for spice. I order a wine.

I drink my wine. We eat the paella. It's wonderful. Jose asks if we can order another one. I say of course.

* * *

After, we go back to the pool area in the hostel. Jose doesn't want to, because he hates the hostel. I go for my last swim. I get on top of a floating device in the pool. I sleep on it. The sunshine bakes my body. It feels hot on my skin. It's bright outside too.

I need a break. I bump into a beautiful Australian girl.

She chats me up. I see the purple hickey on her neck. I make a note in my head. We chat some more.

Jose is at the table. Two Spanish girls, who are staff, chat him up. He seems happy about it.

* * *

After, we go to the airport. His flight is delayed. Jose starts acting crazy again. I tell him to stop. He says, "I can't."

I tell him, "That's a lie."

"No, it's not."

It makes me wonder about the mental health of my generation and the next one. Anyways, he does manage to board.

My flight is late an hour late too. Ibiza Airport is a mess. It's crazy busy. It's full. The French airline staff are on strike. Everything is running behind schedule.

* * *

On the plane, I think about the story of the Good Samaritan. I definitely was not the Good Samaritan, but I think I did my part in reflecting Christian duty. It says in the Scripture, that the Samaritan (a hated ethnic group by the Jews) is full of pity when he sees a an injured man that's been beaten and robbed. The Samaritan decides to rescue the man. The injured man is most likely a Jew in this parable.

Earlier in the day, the injured Jew was intentionally ignored by a Rabbi and a descendant of the royal priesthood. Not only is this their fellow countrymen; he's ignored by the very people who probably preach on the Sabbath to be good to your fellow man. Then, on the weekday, they behave exactly the opposite of what they preach. Only the Samaritan takes pity on the injured Jew.

Good Samaritan by Vincent van Gogh.
The Samaritan cleans the victim's wounds with oil. Then, he puts the Jew, on his mule, which forces the Samaritan to walk. The Samaritan tells the innkeeper that he's paying for the food and lodging of the injured man and any other costs until the stranger recovers.

The last part of the story challenged me. Should I have bought the airplane ticket of this guy I didn't know? Maybe?

I did a lot but not everything I could. I justified that I didn't do more, because Jose was in a rush and just wanted his ticket bought. But if I calmed him down, I might have found a ticket with my miles. Would God expect me to get this guy his ticket with my own money? (Sadly, for me, I think so.) In the future, I'm sure there will be a chance for me to behave better.

All these questions are called and recalled in my head. For me, it revealed a lot about the nature of my God.

In the parable, for sure, the Samaritan reflects God's nature. This is because God would do this for any of us. And in the parable, God chooses to identify with the Samaritan rather than the Rabbi or the Levite, because it is the Samaritan who does the right thing. Likewise, God must expect that this is how we behave towards the stranger, who is truly our neighbor.

The irony of this frame story is that in the outer frame of the narrative, it's a lawyer who is trying to justify himself to Jesus on why he is a good person, when he obviously despised people not like him. In other words, the lawyer wants to find a way to excuse his behavior to Jesus.

Ever done this? I know for sure I have.

The lawyer asking the question probably also had issues with greed; not that lawyers today don't have that issue today. He only needs a legal justification to pretend all is well. Ever do this?

And the lawyer actually answers Jesus' question correctly. He says that he should love his God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength and his neighbor as himself. But Jesus clearly points out in telling the story that it's not enough to know the answer intellectually. One has to live out such principles.

You have to imagine there are other listeners in the audience. I wonder if the members of the audience felt guilty when they heard the story, because they knew in their hearts that they would be more like the Rabbi and the Levite and not want to spend the money or time on an injured stranger or someone needy.

Let's not forget, the Rabbi, Levite, and Samaritan all have somewhere to be. They are all traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

But it's only the Samaritan who decides he can be inconvenienced, his later business can wait, and he can make the time to take care of someone in need. To be sure, the Samaritan doesn't expect to ever get his money or time back.

Reflecting on the story really made me review my own character and soul.

On a deeper level, I wondered: Aren't we all the injured man on the journey in life? Haven't we all made bad decisions, which injure us and others? Aren't we all in need of rescue?

And if we know God would do this for us, isn't this how we're supposed to treat others?

Given the hostile attitude towards foreigners worldwide, what should our attitude towards aliens be?

* * *

I arrive into the South of France, half passed midnight, after the fiasco in the Ibiza airport. Because it's passed midnight, there's no more public transport. The only way to the city is a taxi, which would cost $100 - something I probably can't afford.

I hitchhike, and I'm not certain about my luck. It's hard to find a ride passed midnight. Nobody picks up hitchhikers at night.

But an elderly couple who flew with me on the plane took pity on me. They were also in Ibiza. Their son was probably in his early 20's. They pick me up and give me a ride into the city for free. That was kind of them.

After they drop me off, I hail a taxi. The taxi drops me off at my hostel. I arrive passed 2AM. I asked for water. The receptionist gives me icy water. It feels good to drink it.

That night I sleep very well.

What a day - a very busy day indeed.

I've finally arrived into the South of France.

*Note: This story is written from a holy place.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Ibiza, Spain: The New Sodom and Gomorrah

Partying in Ibiza
I walk into my hostel and there are empty balloons on the floor. A guy from Manchester, in his strong accent sees me and he talks to me like he's stoned: "How you been, Paul?"

"Good, Josh. What's all these balloons doing here?"

"We've been doing Nos."

"What's Nos?"

"Nitrogen gas. It feels goooooood."

He picked up an empty vodka bottle and holds it up. It's filled with all these little silver gas tanks.

"How many are in there?" I ask.

"We did 28."


"Are you gonna party with us tonight?"

"How much is it?"

"40 Euros."

"I don't think so. That's too much for me."

"Oh - come on! You gotta party with us. It's our last night here. We can drop E together."

* * *

I texted my German friend and he asks me where I'm going to in Spain, months back. I tell him, "Ibiza."

"Why there? That's the party island? You're not a partier."

"I don't know. I'm flying on miles, and the airline agent said I only had to pay the tax to go anywhere in Spain. I picked Ibiza."

"Go somewhere else. It's really expensive there."

I thought about it, and I never changed my ticket. After looking at the extraordinary prices, I thought I should probably not go to Ibiza and go back to Madrid.

But my mentor back home convinced me to go. He said, "You were planning on going. Just go. Even if it's expensive."

So, I decided to go.

* * *

Iberia Airlines lost my luggage going to Ibiza. Not a good start to the trip. Also, a thief stole my cell phone, while I sleeping in the airplane.

But when I arrive in Ibiza, I know I'm at the right place. I love the hot air and the beautiful tropical-feeling climate.

* * *

One day, a fun Irish lad asks me to join his Irish party group. We were at a pool party. Everyone was drinking and without clothes and bathing in the sun by the pool.

Did I mention everyone is beautiful in Ibiza? I really felt like I was on a movie set.

We swim and play and chat and enjoy ourselves in the sunshine and the water.

Some of the girls are topless.

For me to swim, I actually have to swim in my black underwear, because my luggage was lost. I had no swim trunks.

It was kind of embarrassing at first, but oddly enough, I noticed the people staring at me. In fact, I think it encouraged more people to not wear clothes around the pool. (I don't know if that was a good thing.)

Such was the environment in Ibiza. People liked the heat.

Soon, two girls from Catalonia join us. One is gorgeous. She's blonde with bright blue eyes and bronze skin. When she smiles, the whole place lights up. From time to time, she teaches me Catalan. I make fun of her and tell her she's not really from Catalan. She's really German or Scandinavian.

Amongst all of us, it's just one flirt fest. I mean what can be better than everyone being nice to you, and you nice to everyone? You get attention. You give attention. (But you know, people are really on their best behavior when they're interested in taking you to their bedroom.) Everyone acts like an angel, but inside I could feel there's something more going on.

In the evening the Irish and Catalonians ask me to go out with them. I decline, telling them it's too expensive, and I prefer to sleep. To give you an idea, a coke will cost you $8. Water is the same price. A bottle of vodka, which would cost $10 at home, is $120. Ibiza is bloody expensive.

* * *

The next morning I hear about how all went wrong. I'm glad I didn't get involved in the debauchery and more, although I'm sure they would've enjoyed it if I participated in their fleshly acts to know each other better. But they didn't look as happy as they did the day before.

In fact, early in the morning the Irish guys were drinking coke and whiskey and weren't smiling. I guess that's the Irish for you.

* * *

I don't think I'll be getting much writing done here, and my time in Ibiza is ending. No doubt the famous people are here. DJ Martin Garrix and David Guetta are here every week. The people party on the yachts, not too far from shore, so they could be seen.

I also found out yesterday that Ibiza is the electronic dance music capital of Europe in the summer. Too bad I'm not that into EDM; otherwise, I'd be in paradise, but an expensive paradise.

So, it's been an interesting experience. I don't think I got the full experience, which is good. I think Paris Hilton summed it best, when she said: "Ibiza, if you've never been there before, is very overwhelming. It's like nowhere on earth. The best advice is to sleep as late as possible because nothing gets going until around 3am and it goes until like 7 or 8."

And what Hilton didn't say, is that every day is like this on Ibiza.

I don't know how I ended up here, but I think I've come to today's Sodom and Gomorrah. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

ICE Prosecutor Sentenced to Four Years in Prison

At least seven people were victims of a former ICE prosecutor that stole their identities to make payments and buy goods. Those affected faced deportation proceedings. The lawyer of a deported Mexican, who was being prosecuted by that ICE director, officer now calls for the case to be reopened.

Rafael and Joy Valdez and their daughter
in the corn fields in Mexico.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Raphael Sanchez, the highest-ranking lawyer in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Seattle, charged with reviewing deportation proceedings in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, was sentenced to four years in prison for stealing the identity of several undocumented people to obtain credit cards and loans. With that fraudulent scheme he obtained more than 190,000 dollars.

Now, the lawyer of one of the immigrants who Sanchez deported, hopes that his conviction will allow the case of his client, Rafael Valdez, who has lived in Zacatecas since 2013, to be reopened. His wife and two daughters, all Americans, had to move to Mexico to be with him.

The other attorney handling Valdez's case was also convicted. Two years ago, a federal judge sentenced Jonathan Love, Sanchez's former assistant in the ICE office in Seattle, to one month for forging a document in order to prevent the immigrant defendant from having relief from being deported. Love changed the date of the document from 2008 to 2000; so, that the defendant could not allege he had a defense to being deported, according to the federal complaint. A lawyer found the discrepancy and the client received a permanent resident card in 2014.

"Both Raphael Sánchez and Jonathan Love stole the identities of the undocumented, deported them and used those identities to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Paul Cook, legal counsel for Valdez, who asks that his client's case be reviewed again; so that Valdez can return to the USA.

"These two prosecutors deprived my Mexican client and others of a fair trial, because they had already decided in their minds that it was better to separate families through deportation than to look at each case fairly and objectively," Cook added.

According to Cook's account, Sanchez and Love wanted Valdez removed from his family in Washington and believes that Valdez was also a victim of the corrupt scheme in which both participated.

Valdez, convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, was expelled to Mexico in September 2013. Three years ago, his wife, Elizabeth, born in Washington, moved to Zacatecas with her two daughters, 5 and 10 years old, so that the family was united. She is an airline stewardess in the US and at the end of her working day she crosses the border to be with her husband and daughters.

"The U.S. Government should reopen up all of Sanchez's cases, in which Sanchez deported someone, and let each of those who have been deported to have a judge re-review each of their cases." Cook said. "Sanchez was all about deportation for cash," he added.

Meanwhile, his client hopes that the sentences against these former ICE officials will allow him to return to the country that was his home. "I deserve another chance," he said in an interview with Univision Noticias. His wife, Elizabeth, shares that wish: "I hope it's not too late for us and for others, for the cases to be fixed," she said.


Rapahel Sánchez, who had the authority to deport undocumented immigrants in three states on the United States' West Coast, took advantage of his position to obtain tens of thousands of dollars unduly. In February the former federal official pleaded guilty to using the identities of different immigrants to defraud credit card companies.

On Thursday, a federal judge in Washington state sentenced him to four years in federal prison and ordered Sanchez to return $ 190,000 in monetary damages.

"Corruption will not be tolerated," said ICE's chief legal advisor, Tracy Short. "Our employees are subject to the highest standards of professional conduct, and people who violate public trust will face consequences for their actions, as Sánchez did," the official added.

According to court documents, Sánchez, who was the head of the ICE Office of Legal Counsel in the states of Washington, Oregon and Alaska, devised a plan to defraud at least seven immigrants who were in different stages of deportation proceedings.

For this he used the personal information of his victims and thus obtained credit cards and loans. In addition, he used this data to apply for credit and to make payments on several items he bought on the internet, such as Amazon.

In all, this man made more than $ 190,000 fraudulently.

By: Univision's Isaias Alverado

Sunday, July 1, 2018

365: Traveling for a Year

Franz Huenten, Shipping on the Bosphorus
365. That's the number of days I've been gone from home. I've been gone one year, now. It went by fast; really fast, actually.

I've recently come to Western Europe and had a number of things go wrong. Not a good start to this final part of this trip. Yes, you read that right. After Europe, I've decided it's time to come back home.

So, I haven't actually had time to sit and think about what the main point of going away for a year was and is about. To be honest, I don't think I'll really know the effects of this trip for a few years. Will it be the people I met? Will it be the new worlds I've seen? Will it be the new foods I've tried? Will it be the beautiful coffees and wines I drank? Will it be the pains and problems I faced and endured? Will it be learning more about myself? Did I learn more about myself? Who knows what this year has really been about?

But for now, I can't really complain about the beautiful place and beautiful people I'm at. It almost feels like I'm on a movie set with people always happy and partying. The place has a great energy.

Anyways, that's it for now. If you're spiritual, please pray for me, though. I've had a number of things go wrong. I need to increase the peace in me.

Yesterday, a lady by the initials of SY prayed for me over the phone, because I told her about my problems. This was while she was facing her own challenges too. And after, I felt a sense of peace come over me.

The lesson made me realize how much we really need each other. That's why community is important.