Colombia

Optimistically Pessimistic or Just a Realist?

For many, they would see that a person is either an optimist or a pessimist but in true fashion, I even complicate these descriptions when I self diagnose.  I see myself as optimistically pessimistic!  What is my rationale?  I enter sweepstakes and buy lotto thinking I have as much a chance to win as anyone else – Optimist.  But I know deep down I my chances to win are very slim – Pessimist.  But the more choice word I guess should be – Realist.  Living with Multiple Sclerosis also feeds this concept. I know I have good days – optimist, I also know that the price of realizing the good days is experiencing the bad ones – pessimist, but I know I have to make the best of THIS day – realist.

Because of my M.S. and spending so much time fatigued and stuck in the bed, I began entering online sweepstakes.  I have won a few nice items: an Apple iPad, a $300 Best Buy Gift card, a $100 Overstock.com Gift card, several iTunes gift cards and a dozen or so smaller prizes.  But as you see, I  have not won a big cash prize, a car, TV, or trip; but I continue entering the sweeps.  I enter the sweeps just to have something to do and on bad days I sometimes do not even enter one.  I win something sometimes – optimist, I do not win enough for the amount I of time I spend entering sweeps – pessimist, I have SOMETHING to do to pass some time – realist.  

My M.S. is like this also, when I have a good day, I tend to do too much and overexert myself.  The good day, I get to have SOME fun – optimist, the bad days I may be in great pain and stuck in bed – pessimist, when I AM stuck in bed I can remember the good days – realist.  A common saying in the M.S. community is, “I have M.S. but M.S. doesn’t have me” – optimistic.  Reality, there are days that my M.S. does have me – pessimistic.  Few people know truly how my M.S. complicates my life.  I try only to let people see the optimistic side, the healthy side of my life I do get to enjoy.  Since I do tend to project the image as someone healthy, I miss out on truly helping others understand the impact M.S. has on my life.

Staying in Medellin, Colombia as much as I do not only helps with my M.S., it also helps me mentally!  Medellin is known as “The City of Eternal Spring”.  The milder climate does help in that I do have fewer relapses and often when I do have a relapse, it may not be as severe.  This is a big plus!  The biggest benefit is that I am able to live independently!  Living totally on my disability income in the U.S. is impossible for me, but here in Medellin, I can afford to have my own apartment and feed myself.  There is little money left for other things, but the advantage of feeling independent out-weighs the disadvantages.  The downside of this independent life means I also have to sacrifice seeing my family because the M.S. limits my traveling and the money for flying is also VERY limiting.

Friends usually see me as complicated and difficult.  They do not realize what I have to do in order to “feel” like meeting for a dinner or beer – it takes careful planning for me!  I once wrote how I feel like Sid the Sloth from the Ice Age movies (https://thomasajohnston.com/2011/03/05/trapped-in-an-ice-age/).  I feel most of my friends simply tolerate me, but like Sid’s herd, my friends do down deep care about me.  I use the expression “Colombian time” in Medellin because Colombians just do not seem too concerned about schedules, appointments and timing.  This complicates my being part of a herd in Colombia because even when I explain how I NEED to keep schedules because of my health issues, the relaxed attitude of Colombians is more important to them than my schedule.  I rest, I medicate based on being somewhere at a certain time and then they see me as inflexible when they say we have changed the plans or times and just think I have the ability to adapt that easily.  Like Sid… I am sometimes abandoned.

Then again, I find it easy to thin my herd or “clean out the friend closet” sometimes!  Some people make it easy!  As I am sure I make it easy for some to reclassify me as a former friend.  I have become a self imposed hermit and actually find I enjoy being alone.  Limiting my time with friends helps me keep friends!  lol  I am very happy for the few friends I do have in my herd – Optimist.  I do wish making new friends was not so difficult for me – Pessimist.  This desire drives me to improve myself and educate even friends of how M.S. keeps me Optimistically Pessimistic or just a realist?

Categories: Colombia, Life, Medellin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Weather Factor & Multiple Sclerosis

Sometimes I am even able to act like a tourist! ūüėČ

I am not able to speak for everyone with Multiple Sclerosis, but in my case, weather is a major contributor to relapses with my MS.  Not that cold is better than hot or hot better than cold or even the fluctuations of the drastic changes in temperature on Spring and Autumn days in the South.  There are days we run the air-conditioner in the day and heat is on at night.  These extremes and fluctuations where brutal to my MS symptoms.  

Now I am living in Medellin, Colombia, South America. ¬†Many ask why an American would leave the U.S. to live in Colombia? ¬†The simple answer – weather! ¬†The nickname for Medellin is The City of Eternal Spring. ¬†For someone with MS like me… the climate is ideal. ¬†With fewer days of really hot or really cold and the fluctuations of a mild Spring day back home (1.5 hours North of New Orleans), I notice fewer relapses while in Medellin. ¬†By no means does it mean they go away, but the severity of relapses is reduced as well as the frequency. ¬†Regardless¬†of climate, fatigue remains my chief adversary! ¬†Even here I fool myself into believing I am able to do more than I actually am capable of.

With a new place to live comes the obvious challenges like finding a place to live, learning a new neighborhood and making new friends.  Moving to a new country adds even more challenges like language and immigration issues.  Fortunately for me, Colombia actually has a special visa to encourage people to retire in Colombia Рa pensionado visa.  This visa is granted to anyone with a pension (Social Security is considered a pension).  Any Colombian Consulate or Embassy in the U.S. can give you the step by step process for getting this visa.  The downsides are: it is a government agency so understand going into it that foreign governments are as bureaucratic as ANY government and the visa needs to be renewed annually. This process is always subject to change especially and now more so because the Colombian Free Trade Agreement is being implemented with the United States of America (which MAY even simplify thing more Рcross my fingers).  I cannot (will not) discuss the political issues associated with the Free Trade Agreement until I learn and know more about it.

Making new friends in Colombia is EASY Рthey are a welcoming people!  But for me, there is the added obstacle to educate friends about how my MS affects me.  One main reason is because Multiple Sclerosis is much less common in South America in general versus North America.  Just as the climate seems to reduce my relapses and symptoms, it also reduces seems to reduce how the local population is affected.  The photo shows, the further south one goes, the fewer MS diagnoses.  Since there are fewer people diagnosed with MS, it is even more important to try to educate my friends how this illness affects me.  My experience has been overwhelmingly supportive!   Just like in the U.S.A., there are many misconceptions, but once I explain, most are understanding AND supportive.

Medellin may not be the best solution for ALL people with MS and I cannot even advocate

Maybe a benefit of a healthier lifestyle will be weight loss! ūüėÄ

ANY one else¬†would find it as¬†beneficial¬†as I do, but it could be an option for some. ¬†Medellin is now ranked the #1 city in Colombia (link below) “According to this year’s study, Medellin made massive improvements in several areas including environmental initiatives, where it jumped three places to rank fifth. In human capital rankings, which consider health, education and employment opportunities, Medellin came in second place, moving up one spot. “We will strengthen(…) the goal of furthering the education and training of our human talent to achieve equity and remove inequalities,” assured Medellin’s Mayor¬†Anibal Gaviria.” ¬†I always mention Colombia’s tourism¬†campaign¬†slogan Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay and my slogan for Colombia would be: Colombia: it is not what you think… it is so much MORE (maybe I should trademark that? lol)!

*I am not a medical expert of any kind and this article only reflects my personal opinions and experiences!

http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/25140-medellin-ranked-colombias-best-city.html. 

Categories: Colombia, Life, Medellin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Viva Colombia

I am often asked why I like Colombia, South America so much. ¬†My response is, “Colombia and I share something – we are both misunderstood and quite often misrepresented!” ¬†I am quite happy when people realize that in spite of my progressive politics, unique views about religion, and gay activism – I am still quite a nice guy. ¬†The same is true of Colombia – in spite of the¬†exaggerations of Colombian life portrayed in Hollywood movies,¬†Colombia is quite a nice country! ¬†Seeing beyond stereotypes opens the mind to so many new possibilities! ¬†Also please notice… the country Colombia is spelled with an “o” not an “u” (Columbia).

Like me, Colombia is much more progressive than many realize – sorry, I mean Colombia is more progressive… anyone that reads my blog already knows I am Progressive! ¬† ¬†Colombia’s government is a Republic with Democratic elections and three branches of government including Executive, Legislative and Judicial (that should sound familiar to Americans). ¬†The FARC have basically been neutered¬†and the days of drug cartels¬†controlling¬†the country are now mythology. ¬†The drug lords, guerrillas, and kidnappings are great for the movies, but not a part of the typical Colombians daily life.¬†¬†

I have lived in both of Colombia’s largest cities, Bogota and Medellin. ¬†My opinion is that Bogota is more of a

Medellin, Colombia, South America

metropolitan lifestyle similar to living in New York or San Francisco and Medellin a little more like living in Los Angeles with San Diego weather. ¬†Bogota has the larger population with just over 8 million to Medellin’s 3.75 million. ¬†Medellin’s climate is more ideal with a very pleasant 65 – 80 degrees¬†Fahrenheit¬†(18 – 27¬†Celsius)¬†¬†year round, compared to the cooler climate of Bogota ranging from 50-75 Fahrenheit (10 – 24 Celsius). ¬†I have great friends in both cities but I feel the weather in Medellin is more¬†conducive¬†for Multiple Sclerosis, so now Medellin is home!

Colombia’s tourism campaign is: “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay”. ¬†This proved to be very true for me! ¬†With an American Passport, 60 day tourist visits and there are other options for longer stays. ¬†I wanted to stay longer and found the way for me to get a resident visa called a pensionado visa ( basically a¬†retiree’s visa to encourage people to retire in Colombia)¬†. ¬†I do have to renew my visa annually, but that is ok with me. ¬†Colombia could be an¬†option¬†for many more, especially for the benefits of the climate for people with illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis. ¬†I invite people outside Colombia to come experience the reality of this beautiful country with beautiful, warm, welcoming people and forget what television and movies portray about Colombia! ¬†This is a country you should experience for yourself!

*** I will be posting weekly (maybe more) about life in Colombia – follow this blog and let’s share the experiences of this wonderful culture!

Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Life, Medellin, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Life and the Knife

Day time photo of the location of my robbery attempt.

Talking tough has become second nature to me.¬† Moving to Bogot√°, Colombia, was evidence¬†I was tough enough to challenge the¬†preconceived ideas most people have about Colombia. ¬†I have become accustomed¬†to defending my life¬†decisions and opinions regarding politics, religion, lifestyle and philosophy.¬† But 8:05pm, Wednesday night, June 9,2010, I had to defend my life as someone attempted to rob me using a buck knife with a 6 inch blade.¬† I have had self-defense training, but had never needed to use it.¬† The training was also like 20 years ago.¬† In the crisis…it came back to me.¬† I learned I am not all talk –¬†I AM tough!

Buck Knife with 6 inch blade.

I was¬†walking on Caracas Avenida¬†(a main street in Bogot√°)¬†between Calle¬†47 and Calle 45a¬†(avenida¬†is avenue and calle¬†is street¬† in Spanish).¬† I was returning a phone call to a friend.¬† I had been warned talking on my cellphone in English while walking alone¬†could be risky, but I was by the Catholic University of Colombia that had security and I was close to my apartment, so I felt no risk.¬† Afterall Colombia’s tourism motto is, “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay.”

Generally when I walk in Bogot√°¬†I am walking with a purpose.¬† I walk fast, I try to¬†avoid eye contact and I do not talk with strangers.¬† So, as a guy walking next to me said something to me, I ignored him without even looking¬†thinking he was a bum asking for money.¬† I continued my conversation and I heard¬†blah,¬†blah¬†– Gringo.¬† I kept walking and turned¬†to him and said, “I am on the phone!”¬† He was about 5′ 9″ and looked like a typical college student.¬† Again I heard blah, blah, blah – Gringo and then he grabbed my phone.

FLASHBACK –¬†A little more than a¬†week earlier, while trying to renew my visa, a guy grabbed my phone.¬† I was holding the phone in¬†my left hand.¬† instinctively I used my right hand to latch on to his arm and I stuck out my¬†leg and threw him to the ground.¬† I am not sure if this was instinct or not, but I gave him a strong kick and shouted, “¬°V√°yase!” (Spanish for “GO AWAY!”).¬† He did.¬† Actually he was running full speed before he was even¬†fully upright! haha

The Krzr phone that seems to be in BIG demand in Bogota!

Now as the guy on Caracas was holding my hand as well as my phone, I think he began to realize I was not just going to let him have the phone.¬† It is and old Motorola¬†Krzr¬†phone with¬†no real value and now for the second time within 2 weeks someone was trying to steal it.¬† My God – what would happen if I had an i-phone?¬† Anyone reading my blog regularly knows I do not have the money to buy¬†another cellphone … I do not have the money to even buy my plane ticket home.¬† So my rage of I am not letting a thief take something I do not have the money to replace.¬† This rage helped tighten my grip. This let him know for sure, if he wanted this phone –¬†he was going to have to do more to take it.

This is when he took his stand and in his left hand he raised the buck knife.  My grip on th phone grew tighter because it also my grip on his right hand.  Knowing he could not use his right hand now and my right hand free I drew back and swung my fist.  I made direct contact with the center of his chest.  I heard a solid thud.  He fell back a let go of the phone. Then  he elevated his left hand with the knife.  I had a quick flash visualizing the knife enter my chest and I was NOT going to let that happen!  I no longer was defending my property, I was defending my life!

At this point I threw my backpack to the ground freeing my arms completely.¬† I drew my right arm¬†back with a white knuckled¬†fist ready to fly.¬† Pointing¬†with my left hand with the phone still in my grip, I the announced loudly,¬†“You better be willing to kill me!”¬† If I had been Superman, red lasers would have been shooting from my eyes.¬† The look on my face, the tone of my voice, I knew he understood me even if he did not¬†understand English.¬† Our eyes locked. I must have looked cross-eyed because I was staring at the knife and looking in his eyes at the same time.¬† Again¬†I visualized him charging me and sticking the knife in my chest.¬† Then I saw he make his next move – RETREAT!¬† He ran away.

This is the moment I realized my friend had been on the phone for the entire altercation.¬† The sad thing is his English is not good and had no idea what had happened.¬† I told him, “A guy just tried to rob me with a knife!” His response was simply, “Que?”¬† (que is Spanish for what?)¬† I said I would call him back later and pick up my backpack.¬† I walked to my friend’s caf√© on the next block and began reporting my story.¬† One guy there called me a hero, but I already knew I fell short of being a hero.¬†¬†Once again in my life – ¬†I found myself a survivor!¬† Okay…. A TOUGH SURVIVOR!! lol

Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Edge

The Edge… there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. – Hunter S. Thompson

My friend Pat posted that on his Facebook¬†page.¬† I felt I was on the edge.¬† I was writing about a very difficult part of my life when I read this and felt if I looked to see if I could see over the edge, I may fall!¬† So this put things in prospective for me… maybe I am not as close to the edge as I thought.¬† Most once thought the Earth was flat and if someone expanded their boundaries, they ran the risk of falling off the Earth.¬† But isn’t life close to the edge so much more fun?¬† The view is so much better than most realize!

Life is more exciting to me when boundaries¬†are challenged.¬† I start my day usually with a cup of Colombian coffee like a lot of Americans do….but I am drinking my Colombian coffee IN Colombia.¬† I buy¬†my bread at a bakery instead of WalMart.¬† I have no need for a car so when I go anywhere, I usually walk and see things I would never notice if I were in a car.¬† I buy my vegetables at a farmer’s market not at a grocery store.¬† I have created for myself a healthier lifestyle.¬† As different as my life may be, life here is routine.¬† Going to the bakery, going to the farmer’s market, walking where I need to go is typical to me now.¬† I feel I have adapted.

My weakness living here is my lack of Spanish….that I have not adapted to.¬† I also live in an English bubble here.¬† My friends all speak English and I know just enough Spanish to get by.¬† I feel this is a weakness of most Americans.¬† We feel everyone should speak English.¬† I have friends that get upset because they have to press 1 for English and there is even an option to have services in Spanish in the U.S.¬† I feel this is a beauty of American life… LAND OF THE FREE!!¬† Everyone is free to speak their own language.¬† Many Americans do not realize that English is NOT the official language of the U.S.¬† There actually is no “official” language, just English is the most common.¬† Why do we have such an arrogant attitude that everyone should speak OUR language?¬† Why can’t American say, “it would be good for me to know another language”?

Beyond the benefit of¬†knowing another language… people could learn about other cultures.¬†¬†After my first visit, I was ashamed of how little I knew and understood about Colombia and the Latin culture.¬† Most Americans only think drugs, jungles and guerrillas.¬† Knowledge is not something to be afraid of.¬† I know with school, I learned what I needed to pass and get by.¬† Sometimes even using Cliff Notes instead of reading the books assigned.¬† Now I am older¬†and learning is more difficult, I regret that I did not make more of an effort when I was young.¬† Sarah Palin running for vice-president referred to the country of Africa…. I bet she wishes she made more effort also!!¬† I do not feel Sarah and I are alone.

If we expand our horizons – know more learn more – then our world become larger.

Categories: Colombia, Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Am A Mexican At Wal-Mart!

When I was living in McComb, Mississippi, it was more and more common to see a group of¬†Latinos at Wal-Mart…. I am not sure they were Mexican or not… but for this story we will pretend they were.¬† They would move in a pack doing their shopping.¬† Occasionally one would break from the heard.¬† I would almost see fear in his eyes until he returned to the group.¬† When together they would laugh and enjoy their time at Wal-Mart, just like us local Rednecks!¬† Wal-Mart can sometimes be social and entertaining for anyone¬†– a way to pass some time.¬† For many they may not understand the simple joy of killing some time at Wal-Mart and maybe even seeing friends to catch up with.¬† But for some, spending time in Wal-Mart is fun and entertaining. I see these Mexicans finding this simple way to enjoy some time.¬† They keep to themselves, speaking Spanish, and usually they are having a great time.

I remember at time when I would walk through Wal-Mart¬†looking for things I did not need.¬† Now in Bogot√°, I find that simple pleasure for myself again.¬† Here instead of Wal-Mart, it is called Exito. Sometimes I am alone in Exito and have a fear in my eyes expressing please do not talk to me! But I spend time looking, reading Spanish packages translating to myself, and sometimes laughing at the similarities between cultures…. I found myself thinking – I am like one of those Mexicans in Wal-Mart back in McComb. There are people who say they should go back where they came from and I see that look sometimes myself.¬† Sometimes I get a look from someone who says…. I remember exploring Exito and enjoying it.¬† I see a look of I hope this guy is enjoying Bogot√°.

But now, I hope that¬†next time I see Mexicans in Wal-Mart I will give a look of welcome with a smile and maybe even say in Spanish – hello (hola)¬†because I know how that kind of small gesture can improve my day.¬† I am in Colombia looking for a better life and I hope anyone that seeks to improve their life receives support from the new location whether it is just a new city, new state or even a new country!¬† I hope they can find a better life also!¬†¬†As Immagration Reform becomes a topic in the U.S., I hope people will think that immigration is a good thing.¬† People make changes like moving to a new country to have netter lives.¬† Like my wish with healthcare…. I hope people learn¬†how blessed some are and we can SHARE!¬† We can share healthcare and our country.¬† Try to remember a simpler time in your life and try recreating it… enjoy it again.¬† Everyone deserves to be happy – even Mexicans in an American Wal-Mart!

Categories: Bogota, Colombia, Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Day at Cerro de Monserrate

I have lived in Bogot√° for more than 3 months and visited a total of 4 months before moving here.¬† So, after more than 7 months in Bogot√°, I finally felt good enough to go visit one of the top tourist attractions in Bogot√° – Cerro de Monserrate.¬† Cerro de Monserrate translates as Monserate¬†Hill.¬† Now where I am from, Monserrate is much more than a hill (lol) it is a mountain.¬† Monserrate is part of the Eastern mountain ranges of The Andes.¬† So I would have named it Monta√Īa de Monserrate (Monserrate Mountain), but they did not ask me!

My friend Ricardo was visiting from Cali, Colombia and since I had someone who could help my old, disabled ass… I was finally able to visit!¬† There are 3 ways to get to the top: 1, Pilgrimage – walk up the mountain (not going to happen!!); 2, Funicular – Train¬†up tracks on the mountain (not running this day) and 3, Cable Railway – A¬†sky-ride on cables to the top (fastest and easiest).¬†¬†¬†¬† So off on the cable railway we go.¬† As the cable car ascends… the enormity of the city of Bogot√° starts to become obvious.¬† The top of Monserrate is at an elevation of over 10,000 feet (3152 meters), that is almost 2 miles above sea level. The city of Bogot√° is at 8,600 could be called the 1.5 mile high city!!¬† The views are AWESOME! (http://www.cerromonserrate.com/eng_files/index_eng.html)

Atop the mountain is a sanctuary, a monastery,¬†the remains of a previous sanctuary, restaurants and flea market style shopping for souvenirs.¬† There is park like landscaping with flowers that bloom constantly because of the relatively constant¬†spring like temperatures.¬† Along with the beautifully landscaped trail are viacrucis¬†(sculptures) that commemorates¬†the events of Christ’s walk to the crucifixion.¬† For me, the beauty speaks more of God than all the religious “stuff”…but it is a location with a history of people making¬†religious pilgrimages.¬† I was able to experience a clean, freeing energy here and will plan a return just to spend time relaxing and enjoying the views and positive energy.

Categories: Colombia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ignorance Is Bliss

Healthcare remains a HOT issue in the U.S.!¬† But if people actually took the time to read for themselves what is going on, maybe they would not be so frightened.¬† Ignorance is bliss, but I ask that you take the time to try to learn about what you think you are afraid of – Let’s turn on the lights and see the is no Boogie Man!!!

The highlights of the immediate change are:

  • No more caps on severe or catastrophic illnesses.
  • Help for the uninsured with pre-existing conditions.
  • Children will be able to remain on parents insurance until age 26.
  • Drug discount for seniors.

The highlights of changes for 2014 are:

  • Health insurance exchanges will be created to help insure small businesses, self-employed and the uninsured.
  • Health insurance will be required or individual will be penalized.
  • Medicaid expansion.
  • Tax breaks for families based on income.

I find none of these to be bad.  I see no reason for this to cause concern or alarm.

Here is my story – I am an uninsured American that has found refuge in Colombia, South America.¬† I have had Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for over 13 years and a few years back, my doctor determined I needed to be on disability.¬† I had worked for over 25 years and since I knew I had MS, I thought I had prepared for the possibility I would not be able to work one day.¬† In this post I will not even begin to describe the problems I have had with Cigna (my private disability insurer) but will only focus on the healthcare insurance aspect.¬† During the process of being approved for disability I was paying for my health insurance through COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).¬† I moved from private short-term disability to private long-term insurance then to Social Security Disability and this process took all the time COBRA covers and left me 4 months uninsured.¬† I thought once on Social Security Disability I would have Medicare and was STRESSED to find out that I would have to wait 2 years to qualify for Medicare which meant 2 more years with no health insurance while living with MS.¬† Bush was still President and there was NO discussion of Healthcare Reform.¬† I began looking for alternatives and even applied for Medicaid.¬† The results.. even just with disability… I made a whopping $8 a month too much to qualify!¬† So I found myself living at home with my family (who does not have the money to help me but tries all they can) with no insurance, no alternatives for insurance and a chronic illness getting worse.

My search for alternative places began with looking for climates that better suited my condition.¬† Colombia fit this need.¬† Then I found Colombia has private insurance companies that do not cover pre-existing conditions, government option health insurance (called E.P.S.) which residents pay an affordable price to participate in and does cover pre-existing conditions, and there is also a system that is similar to the U.S. Medicare/Medicaid that assists the very poor and senior citizens for free.¬† I also found that prescriptions are also covered.¬† One of my medications in the U.S. with no insurance cost $1,500 a month (more than I make each month) and the other treatments have higher or similar costs.¬† I began to investigate how I could an American participate.¬† It turns out… there is a law requiring residents to have health insurance and the Colombian Consulate was happy to give me a resident visa.¬† The U.S. cannot consider a plan that works for another country because this system does not kiss the insurance companies asses.¬† It turns out Colombia has not only addressed the issue of Healthcare, but also immigration reform (they like to let visitors come as tourist and enjoy that they want to be residents as well), gays can receive equal governmental benefits via a civil union (everyone gets civil unions here from the government gay or straight and the church issues marriage certificates), and although drugs may be made in the jungles of Colombia… there is no drug epidemic in the cities of Colombia like in the U.S.¬† I have found that Colombia is much more progressive politically, socially and environmentally on issues American can not even discuss civilly.

Recently I posted on my facebook page “Americans are upset about healthcare reform.¬† I ask you to take one second and quit complaining about how this may affect you and take time to be thankful for the millions that have not had access that will be able to have insurance without having to leave the country”.¬† This is an actual response from a relative of mine “Since you are on disability and had health care and still made the decision to move out of our country, I really don’t want to listen to you discuss what is going on here. You lost that right when you chose to leave. Key word here: CHOSE.”¬† I had to explain that I dd NOT have healthcare and asked what choice she would have made.¬† I explained my situation and here is her response, “You are right; I had no right to say anything to you. This is a very touchy situation and those of us that have worked hard for our health care had rather not have to pay for healthcare for those sitting on their butts living on welfare! Let‚Äôs all quit our jobs and let the Gov’t completely support us! Get real Tommy. Do they have welfare in Columbia? Yes, this free health care works great in countries that don’t have welfare. Our country can’t afford it, and we shouldn’t have to suffer because of it!”¬† The U.S. cannot afford this?¬† The U.S. has spent close to $1 trillion on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (http://costofwar.com/), but the U.S. government cannot afford healthcare?¬† Since when did war become more affordable and more important than citizens health?¬† Why does healthcare cost so much to begin with?

I guess I had not worked hard enough while working for 10 years with Multiple Sclerosis. lol¬† About 11% of Americans are on welfare and ALREADY have Medicaid (government-run healthcare), so what else is she thinking she will have to pay for the people sitting on their butts that she does not already pay for?¬† Healthcare reform is for the people who do not have access to insurance through work (opps working people), people with catastrophic illnesses (we understand it is expensive to treat cancer… but after X amount, you are not worth covering and that is acceptable behavior for insurance companies), people with pre-existing conditions (damn lazy people who have sat on their butts and not curing the diseases they have) and uninsured ( people who cannot pay crazy expensive health insurance premiums with honest days wages – they should have gone to college and let the illegal immigrants have their low paying job), and expanding Medicaid (OMG poor people, when they get sick… we should just put them to sleep like an old dog).¬† But an expansion of Medicaid would help cover the working poor not the freeloaders sitting on their butts. So lets not reform or change anything because “I (any American)” might have to pay something more for the less fortunate!!

Contrary to her opinion, I did work hard, I tried to be prepared for illness or disability and my CHOICES were taken from me, my preparation was useless.  Few Americans realize how close they are to being in my situation.  But I have resolved my issue of not having insurance by taking extreme but necessary changes.  I would love to know what choices I had that I did not consider before leaving the United States?  I would like to know what others would have done in my situation that I had not already tried.

This blog will continue tomorrow I have only commented on one statement I find completely confused about and do not understand as a response to healthcare reform.  I will discuss one of these comments and if time permits both:

“Nebraska Senator’s status: Obama’s healthcare plan was written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a Congress that hasn’t read it, signed by a President that smokes, funded by a Treasury Chief that didn’t pay his taxes, overseen by a Surgeon General who is obese, and financed by …a country that is nearly broke. What could possibly go wrong?”

and this comment and exchange:

“Everyone, your new Medicaid card is now in the mail! Bad day gang!”

Categories: Colombia, Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Still Have Faith In President Obama!

I left the U.S. to not only find a better climate for my Multiple Sclerosis but to find a country that accepted me as I am РSick, Poor, Gay and Misunderstood!  It is sad to me I had to search for this acceptance outside of my own country, but I have found Colombia to a refreshingly progressive country despite how the world seems to continue to misjudge this great country!  As I read this speech from President Obama, I was inspired but still ask him and the U.S. political system to keep these words in mind!  I have been constantly screwed by Cigna, my private long-term disability insurer, and I as President Obama asks, try not to demonize Cigna, but it  is very hard.  I will blog more on Cigna another time, but enjoy the hopeful words of President Obama!

“Yes, there are crimes of conscience that call us to action.¬† Yes, there are causes that move our hearts and offenses that stir our souls.¬† But progress doesn’t come when we demonize opponents.¬† It’s not born in righteous spite.¬† Progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity.¬† Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God.¬† That we might do so — that we will do so all the time, not just some of the time — is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.”

People have said he is great with words but I also feel he is sincere and I am saddened by how the Republicans will not do what is best for Americans and only look out for party interest

Here is the complete speech:

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
February 04, 2010

Remarks by the President at the National Prayer Breakfast
Washington Hilton
Washington, D.C.

9:08 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Please be seated.

Thank you so much.¬† Heads of state, Cabinet members, my outstanding Vice President, members of Congress, religious leaders, distinguished guests, Admiral Mullen — it’s good to see all of you.¬† Let me begin by acknowledging the co-chairs of this breakfast, Senators Isakson¬†and Klobuchar, who embody the sense of fellowship at the heart of this gathering.¬† They’re two of my favorite senators.¬† Let me also acknowledge the director of my faith-based office, Joshua DuBois, who is here.¬† Where’s Joshua?¬† He’s out there somewhere.¬† He’s doing great work.¬† (Applause.)

I want to commend Secretary Hillary Clinton on her outstanding remarks, and her outstanding leadership at the State Department.¬† She’s doing good every day.¬† (Applause.) I’m especially pleased to see my dear friend, Prime Minister Zapatero, and I want him to relay America’s greetings to the people of Spain.¬† And Johnny, you are right, I’m deeply blessed, and I thank God every day for being married to Michelle Obama.¬† (Applause.)

I’m privileged to join you once again, as my predecessors have for over half a century.¬† Like them, I come here to speak about the ways my faith informs who I am — as a President, and as a person.¬† But I’m also here for the same reason that all of you are, for we all share a recognition — one as old as time — that a willingness to believe, an openness to grace, a commitment to prayer can bring sustenance to our lives.

There is, of course, a need for prayer even in times of joy and peace and prosperity.¬† Perhaps especially in such times prayer is needed — to guard against pride and to guard against complacency.¬† But rightly or wrongly, most of us are inclined to seek out the divine not in the moment when the Lord makes His face shine upon us, but in moments when God’s grace can seem farthest away.

Last month, God’s grace, God’s mercy, seemed far away from our neighbors in Haiti.¬† And yet I believe that grace was not absent in the midst of tragedy.¬† It was heard in prayers and hymns that broke the silence of an earthquake’s wake.¬† It was witnessed among parishioners of churches that stood no more, a roadside congregation, holding bibles in their laps.¬† It was felt in the presence of relief workers and medics; translators; servicemen and women, bringing water and food and aid to the injured.

One such translator was an American of Haitian descent, representative of the extraordinary work that our men and women in uniform do all around the world — Navy Corpsman¬†Christian [sic] Brossard.¬† And lying on a gurney aboard the USNS¬†Comfort, a woman asked Christopher:¬† “Where do you come from?¬† What country?¬† After my operation,” she said, “I will pray for that country.”¬† And in Creole, Corpsman¬†Brossard¬†responded, “Etazini.”¬† The United States of America.

God’s grace, and the compassion and decency of the American people is expressed through the men and women like Corpsman¬†Brossard.¬† It’s expressed through the efforts of our Armed Forces, through the efforts of our entire government, through similar efforts from Spain and other countries around the world.¬† It’s also, as Secretary Clinton said, expressed through multiple faith-based efforts.¬† By evangelicals at World Relief.¬† By the American Jewish World Service.¬† By Hindu temples, and mainline Protestants, Catholic Relief Services, African American churches, the United Sikhs.¬† By Americans of every faith, and no faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

It’s inspiring.¬† This is what we do, as Americans, in times of trouble.¬† We unite, recognizing that such crises call on all of us to act, recognizing that there but for the grace of God go I, recognizing that life’s most sacred responsibility — one affirmed, as Hillary said, by all of the world’s great religions — is to sacrifice something of ourselves for a person in need.

Sadly, though, that spirit is too often absent when tackling the long-term, but no less profound issues facing our country and the world.¬† Too often, that spirit is missing without the spectacular tragedy, the 9/11 or the Katrina, the earthquake or the tsunami, that can shake us out of complacency.¬† We become numb to the day-to-day crises, the slow-moving tragedies of children without food and men without shelter and families without health care.¬† We become absorbed with our abstract arguments, our ideological disputes, our contests for power.¬† And in this Tower of Babel, we lose the sound of God’s voice.

Now, for those of us here in Washington, let’s acknowledge that democracy has always been messy.¬† Let’s not be overly nostalgic.¬† (Laughter.)¬† Divisions are hardly new in this country.¬† Arguments about the proper role of government, the relationship between liberty and equality, our obligations to our fellow citizens — these things have been with us since our founding.¬† And I’m profoundly mindful that a loyal opposition, a vigorous back and forth, a skepticism of power, all of that is what makes our democracy work.

And we’ve seen actually some improvement in some circumstances.¬† We haven’t seen any canings on the floor of the Senate any time recently.¬† (Laughter.)¬† So we shouldn’t over-romanticize the past.¬† But there is a sense that something is different now; that something is broken; that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should.¬† At times, it seems like we’re unable to listen to one another; to have at once a serious and civil debate.¬† And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens.¬† It poisons the well of public opinion.¬† It leaves each side little room to negotiate with the other.¬† It makes politics an all-or-nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong when, in reality, neither side has a monopoly on truth.¬† And then we lose sight of the children without food and the men without shelter and the families without health care.

Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility.¬† That begins with stepping out of our comfort zones in an effort to bridge divisions.¬† We see that in many conservative pastors who are helping lead the way to fix our broken immigration system.¬† It’s not what would be expected from them, and yet they recognize, in those immigrant families, the face of God.¬† We see that in the evangelical leaders who are rallying their congregations to protect our planet.¬† We see it in the increasing recognition among progressives that government can’t solve all of our problems, and that talking about values like responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage are integral to any anti-poverty agenda.¬† Stretching out of our dogmas, our prescribed roles along the political spectrum, that can help us regain a sense of civility.

Civility also requires relearning how to disagree without being disagreeable; understanding, as President [Kennedy] said, that “civility is not a sign of weakness.” Now, I am the first to confess I am not always right.¬† Michelle will testify to that.¬† (Laughter.)¬† But surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith, or, for that matter, my citizenship.¬† (Laughter and applause.)

Challenging each other’s ideas can renew our democracy.¬† But when we challenge each other’s motives, it becomes harder to see what we hold in common.¬† We forget that we share at some deep level the same dreams — even when we don’t share the same plans on how to fulfill them.

We may disagree about the best way to reform our health care system, but surely we can agree that no one ought to go broke when they get sick in the richest nation on Earth.¬† We can take different approaches to ending inequality, but surely we can agree on the need to lift our children out of ignorance; to lift our neighbors from poverty.¬† We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.

Surely we can agree to find common ground when possible, parting ways when necessary.¬† But in doing so, let us be guided by our faith, and by prayer.¬† For while prayer can buck us up when we are down, keep us calm in a storm; while prayer can stiffen our spines to surmount an obstacle — and I assure you I’m praying a lot these days — (laughter) — prayer can also do something else.¬† It can touch our hearts with humility.¬† It can fill us with a spirit of brotherhood.¬† It can remind us that each of us are children of a awesome and loving God.

Through faith, but not through faith alone, we can unite people to serve the common good.¬† And that’s why my Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has been working so hard since I announced it here last year.¬† We’ve slashed red tape and built effective partnerships on a range of uses, from promoting fatherhood here at home to spearheading interfaith cooperation abroad.¬† And through that office we’ve turned the faith-based initiative around to find common ground among people of all beliefs, allowing them to make an impact in a way that’s civil and respectful of difference and focused on what matters most.

It is this spirit of civility that we are called to take up when we leave here today.¬† That’s what I’m praying for.¬† I know in difficult times like these — when people are frustrated, when pundits start shouting and politicians start calling each other names — it can seem like a return to civility is not possible, like the very idea is a relic of some bygone era.¬† The word itself seems quaint — civility.

But let us remember those who came before; those who believed in the brotherhood of man even when such a faith was tested.¬† Remember Dr. Martin Luther King.¬† Not long after an explosion ripped through his front porch, his wife and infant daughter inside, he rose to that pulpit in Montgomery and said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

In the eyes of those who denied his humanity, he saw the face of God.

Remember Abraham Lincoln.¬† On the eve of the Civil War, with states seceding and forces gathering, with a nation divided half slave and half free, he rose to deliver his first Inaugural and said, “We are not enemies, but friends‚Ķ Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Even in the eyes of confederate soldiers, he saw the face of God.

Remember William Wilberforce, whose Christian faith led him to seek slavery’s abolition in Britain; he was vilified, derided, attacked; but he called for “lessening prejudices [and] conciliating good-will, and thereby making way for the less obstructed progress of truth.”

In the eyes of those who sought to silence a nation’s conscience, he saw the face of God.

Yes, there are crimes of conscience that call us to action.¬† Yes, there are causes that move our hearts and offenses that stir our souls.¬† But progress doesn’t come when we demonize opponents.¬† It’s not born in righteous spite.¬† Progress comes when we open our hearts, when we extend our hands, when we recognize our common humanity.¬† Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God.¬† That we might do so — that we will do so all the time, not just some of the time — is my fervent prayer for our nation and the world.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Categories: Colombia, Life | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Where I Spend My Time!!

My friend Carlos, before moving to Australia, introduced me to Zoltan¬†Bokor.¬† Zoltan owns Bokor’s Sandwich & Coffee Cafe at Calle 47 #14-23 in Bogot√°, Colombia with his partner Diana Rodriguez.¬† This is a great little¬†coffee shop because it offers something few businesses here in Bogot√° offer – customer service!¬† It is only 2 blocks from my apartment so even on days my MS is active, I can can still make it there for a coffee.¬† The original goal of the visits was to just get out of the apartment a few¬† minutes of the day, but now Zoltan¬†and I have become really good friends.¬† He is originally from Hungary but lived in England for a while.¬† He and I enjoy that we can speak in English and understand each other in the new Spanish-speaking culture we¬†find ourselves living.¬† His partner does speak English, but she is still an “insider” in Bogot√°.¬†¬†Zoltan¬†and I share the experience of adjusting to this new culture which is a unique bond.¬† So add a great new friends Zoltan and Diana with coffee (and some times beers) and sandwiches, it is a welcomed oasis for me.¬† I am kind of like Norm from the tv show “Cheers” because everyone knows my name there.¬† The regulars and I sometimes exchange quick English/Spanish¬†lessons.¬† The coffee, sandwiches and beers are much less expensive than any coffee shop in the U.S. also adds to the charm for my poor ass!¬† It is rare in my experience to find a place here in Bogot√° like Bokor’s¬†Sandwich & Coffee Cafe.¬†¬† Borkor’s does not rest on having good food, but stresses customer service and a friendly atmosphere.¬† It is typical here in Bogot√° to have one, maybe two of the experiences but to have all three and to be owned by someone who makes friends with his customers and tries to get to know them is very rare.

Zaltan Bokor & Diana Rodriguez at the Sandwich Shop

The caf√© is close to the Universidad¬†Cat√≥lica¬†de Bogot√° (the Catholic University of Bogot√°) and has a steady flow of students, professors, school administrators as well as folks living in the neighborhood.¬† But like any place that severs beers, Bokor’s¬†has become quite busy “After Class”!!¬† Some students skip the beers and just have a coffee¬†and/or sandwich visiting with other students about their¬†day.¬† Some discussion even appears deep and intellectual as if they are solving the issues of the world.¬† In the back of the caf√© are a few computers for public use that for a small fee are used to surf the internet and WiFi is also available for the “real” American coffee shop experience so that I can pretend to be writing the next bestseller!!¬† lol.

For 2,200 Pesos ($1.10) Gets Anyone the Small Sandwich Combo

 

Even With Good Food, Good Friends, Mixed With Good Times.... I Have Been Able To Lose 25 Pounds (13kgs) In 2 Months

Categories: Colombia, Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.