Sunday, June 29, 2014

TEAM ECUADOR: From the Black Ghettos to World Cup Competition

I have social, sentimental, and Afro-centric reasons for loving Team Ecuador

When I off-boarded my plane in Quito, Ecuador, the security staff detected a large can of insect repellant in one of my bags. They were impressed when I told them that I'm going to Valle de Chota (Chota Valley), a hot, sticky region consisting of Ecuador's black ghettos that produces big time soccer stars in national and international competition. Although, Ecuador was eliminated in the most recent World Cup competition (2014) with one win, one loss, and one tie against France, one of the world's toughest teams, Team Ecuador remains my sentimental favorite.

In my Spanish-speaking Facebook account, I posted the following message and repeated it in English on my English account:

“No soy Ecuatoriano; sino hincha del Equipo Ecuador, sobretodo los Choteños.”
“I'm not Ecuadorian; but a fan of Team Ecuador, especially of those from Chota Valley

I'm sure those who read those messages were wondering about my true nationality. Even my supervisor at work alluded to the fact that the Team USA is also playing, aren't I a fan of them?. Well, I am an American and also a US Navy veteran having served my country overseas under oath to defend this country against all enemies foreign and domestic, so it's not a question of patriotism. I have social, sentimental, and Afro-centric reasons for loving Team Ecuador. 

El Juncal in Ecuador's Chota Valley

It was Saturday, December 5, 2009 when I stepped off the bus in the town of El Juncal, in the Valle de Chota (Chota Valley) region of Ecuador. I immediately felt very much at home in a community where everyone looks like me, even though it was evident from my Spanish, my attire, and my overall demeanor that I am not from around those parts, let alone Ecuador. At first, people were suspicious of me, then that changed once we started communicating. Even the police officers who questioned me about my presence were pleased.

Agustín Delgado

Chota Valley is Ecuador's second largest black community behind Esmeraldas. This is the hometown of 30 or more of Ecuador's top soccer stars such as the retired Agustin Delgado, the all-time leading scorer for the Ecuadorian national team. He was named by Ecuador's president as head of the Afro-Ecuadorian Development Council as Delgado, and other Afro-Ecuadorian soccer stars hope to use their influence to improve the overall quality of life in their country's black communities. Nationally, 70% of Afro-Ecuadorians live in poverty, and in towns like El Juncal, where they only have two paved roads, no high school, or permanent medical clinic, the number is as high as 99%El Juncal has struggled against an endemic of racism which has left it perhaps the poorest community in Ecuador. 

The soccer field where boys practice

Augustín Delgado established La Escuela de Fútbol (the Soccer School) in El Juncal where more than 300 boys and young men arrive every afternoon to hone their skills. There is always a game going on as they practice endlessly. In some ways, poverty has proven to be a successful training method because soccer balls roll faster down the dirt lot in El Juncal than they would on a grass field in a big high-end stadium. Therefore, players must learn speed and control. The school, however, is not only interested in providing young black men with a way out of the ghetto to the bright lights of soccer stadiums. There is an emphasis on building self-reliance, self-esteem, and literacy. 

Like most Latin Americans, Ecuadorians ardently love soccer. In 2002, Ecuador's national team qualified for the first time for the World Cup finals – a fact attributed to the slow integration of Afro-Ecuadorians. For many towns in Chota Valley, success on the soccer field remains the best hope for receiving government attention. And that attention has just begun to happen.

Friday, June 27, 2014

How Travel Insurance Saved My Life

Thank You, Access America!

If you love to travel, don't test your luck; you never know when it's going to run out----Get Travel Insurance!

I was only a week into my 30-day Latin-American vacation through Mexico, Panamá, Colombia, Ecuador, and Perú. Most of my time was spent in Perú where I already had close ties with people developed from prior trips. However, after one-week, I went into the SANDWICH.COM Restaurant in the ritzy Miraflores section of Lima, Perú. I thought because of the location and the international clientele it served, the restaurant staff knew better than to mix local tap-water in its beverages.

I started feeling sick after I got half-way through my drink. The next two days, I suffered from diarrhea. At first, I tried to tough it out thinking after the diarrhea runs its course, I'd be OK. All I needed to do was get some rest—Wrong! Continuing to rough it out believing I will recover naturally, I took a two and one-half our bus ride to Chincha, Perú where I was staying and flopped down on my bed. I woke up the next morning in even worse condition. My kidneys were aching and I was extremely nauseous. The hotel manager heard my moans and groans and called an ambulance.

Fortunately, I had a lot of close ties in this town who arranged for me to be transported by ambulance back to Lima to be treated at a very good hospital, La Clínica Ricardo Palma, which in my opinion, is a hospital that will rival any hospital in the U.S. at a much cheaper cost. The medical staff was absolutely superb, although sometimes I think they gave me a little too much attention. It was also a good thing I had Access America Travel Insurance because I learned that my intestines were infected and I was to be hospitalized for five or six days. It could have been much longer had I not insisted on an early discharge. Contrary to doctor's orders. I spent the rest of my vacation at 75% of my full strength,.

Were it not for travel insurance, I would have had to pay over $4,000 out of pocket or I could have died from lack of proper treatment. Access America Travel Insurance was able to work out a billing arrangement where all expenses were paid. Access America gave me even further comfort by assigning me a case manager who followed up more than once with phone calls to my hospital room to check on my progress.

Go figure, I was so tempted to use the insurance money for something else and am glad I didn't. If you love to travel, don't test your luck; you never know when it's going to run out----Get Travel Insurance!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

For Blacks Traveling or Living in Latin America

I've been thinking of starting a support organization for black expats, tourists, students, and those working in a Latin American country to address issues specific to black people. I would even like to see a network with Afro-Latin Americans who are involved in their own civil rights struggle in their respective countries. For example, in Ecuador, there were times I had trouble catching cabs until the drivers realized that I was NOT Afro-Ecuadorian. Hmmmmm, this is s-o-o-o-familiar because, here in the US, blacks from other countries are perceived in a more positive and less threatening light than the home-grown black Americans.

One member of our Facebook forum, Brothers and Sisters in Latin America where I'm one of the co-moderators, states that the information that she receives regarding retiring abroad hardly ever has black issues involved, and stresses that her experience is likely to be different from a Caucasian person's experience.  Another member adds that her treatment in Brazil has been interesting to say the least. A lot of Brazilians find comfort in the racial democracy myth, but it is just that, a myth.

The Facebook forum, Brothers and Sisters in Latin America is a start. I think it's great that black travelers, students, company employees, and expats throughout Latin America network and share ideas and resources in addition to having a networking group within each respective country

If you have an interest in Latin America, 
be it travel, study, work, or retirement,
 Join our Facebook Forum

Friday, June 6, 2014

Don't Get “Taken” While Traveling in Latin America

Avenida Italia (Italy Avenue)
The shopping district in Chincha Alta, Perú

Recently, I was annoyed by one of my blog readers who informed me at the last minute that he is flying to Perú and asked for advice. Because he did not give me enough time to explain all that he needed to know, he ended up spending much more money than he should have. Perhaps, he could afford it and didn't matter to him, but if you want to get the most out of any trip, it is imperative you do some homework before hopping into an airplane! 

Doing the homework is an awful lot of fun as you vicariously enjoy the activities of your trip while being enlightened on what to do and not to do to stay safe and solvent as you will learn where to go and where not to go; how much to spend and how much not to spend.

In Havana, Cuba, I stayed in a community where everything was cheaper than the tourist area, which was a 45-minute walk from my location.

In my last trip, I was in a large supermarket in the business district of Chincha, Perú—population 150,000. I stopped at the poultry section to get some chicken for the family I was staying with in nearby El Carmen. The sales clerk, clearly noticing my foreign accent, instinctively blurted out a price that I knew was rather high. Determined not to be taken advantage of, I called her on her dishonesty, and insisted on paying the proper price or take my business elsewhere. Wisely, she quoted a more agreeable price. 

While on layover in Mexico city, I took the metro train to the Pino Suarez section of town where there are no tourist traps.

This sales clerk attempted to charge me what is known among seasoned Latin American travelers as the “Gringo Tax,” that is being overcharged for items and services because one is a gringo (foreigner), and in most instances, are totally unaware that they are being overcharged. This generally happens in tourist areas.

It took a little persistence to get accepted by Ecuador's black community up in the Andes Mountains. Maybe they thought I was "Five-0!"

Generally before traveling to any country, I spend months doing research, consulting with others who've traveled there, and particularly with those who happened to live in that particular country. Making friends with residents of such countries on Facebook and has been especially helpful. In the event of Chincha, my home away from home; a place to which I travel regularly, I know what to pay for whatever item or service, and if I don't know, I ask a friend who lives there.

In Cartagena, Colombia, even with a large black population, merchants and street hustlers saw me as a gringo a mile away.

When I do pay extra, it's from the goodness of my heart; not out of manipulation. For example, in my first trip to Perú, I saw an elderly black woman selling homemade cookies at a bus station. As I passed her table, I plopped four Peruvian dollars (nueva soles) on her table and kept walking. I didn't even want the cookies. I just wanted to donate to the cause of a struggling black person whose job opportunities are limited because of the color of her skin.

For $60, I spent three hours hanging out with a cab driver at the beach and around town during a layover in El Salvador

During my travels, especially to a Spanish-speaking country, I steer very clear of tourist areas and fancy hotels, and spend little time as possible with those who speak English. This is how I improve my own Spanish, get a better understanding of the local culture, and save hundreds of dollars by being among local people who naturally know first-hand the real cost of items and services, and due to economic conditions, are much more frugal.