I left for this trip tense, coming off a two week flu, very concerned about how my preparation for the Cleveland Marathon was going. I arrived home relaxed, refreshed, almost Healthy, and remembered if indeed I am called to run for the victims of sexual slavery in Cambodia God will find a way for me. I left the beaches of Punta Cana Dominican Republic with daily temperatures of 31C to Toronto`s weather of -28C.
I arrived home to 44 emails and 24 phone calls. I cannot write on demand, when asked to I really struggle for the right words. This writing came naturally, very easily. I have been told by a few people my writings are too long, sorry but I must go with the flow.
This was my first trip to a Tropical resort in four years and I was a little apprehensive of how I would enjoy this trip. As I get older I find my eyes being opened more and more. Things I would not have noticed when younger I see clearly now. Going to a resort in a less developed Country was going to be a challenge.
Besides the obvious prayers of protection for my Family I asked God to open our eyes to see what He wanted us to see, I also asked if there was to be an opportunity for me to explain about Ratanak`s work in Cambodia to not let me miss it.
I remember a story I read in a book from Mark Buchanan. The story went something like this; a Banquet was held in a Church. There was one table set up in the middle where the people were fed every kind of food imaginable with waiters coming around often to pamper the people of this table. The other tables had dirty water to drink placed in a pitcher in the middle of the table, very sporadically a waiter would come around and throw some old food on the table. After a while the waiter stopped coming around. The people at the table in the middle were having a great time and did not notice the people at the other tables. The people at the other tables were upset at their lack of service, and were envious of the people from the middle table. I do not remember the exact name of the theme, but it was a way for the host of this party to show the people who attended an accurate picture of the world we live in.
I live a life that puts me in the middle table as I suspect most of you, my readers do as well.
I read a book once where the author stated the saddest verse in the Bible is the one where Jesus tells Judas "the poor you will always have with you." I have no answers just observations from my trip and a certainty that I should be doing more than I currently am to help the people of this World who need it most.
The rest of this writing is about what I saw when I was away.
I can take a Vacation from most things but sexual exploitation seems to follow me I guess.
One day while running on the Beach a 40 something year old lady who was not very attractive was gesturing at me with her hands and yelling a price at me. I thought she wanted to rent me some water sports equipment and declined. The next day I ran past her again and realized she was saying "$20 for a massage" I again declined but thought to myself I wonder if her massage includes a sexual service I have heard about in the illegal Massage parlours in Toronto. A little ways up the Beach my question I believe was answered as a young, attractive girl who looked about 16 was wearing a very low halter top, and very high cut off shorts. Her asking price for a "massage" was $30.
In the little pamphlet I was given by a tour guide from my travel company I found these words
"We work jointly with humanitarian and environmental organizations, particularly in the protection of children`s rights and the fight against sexual tourism involving minors, to ensure tourism benefits all and protects precious resources."
One day while swimming in the Ocean with my Daughter Isabella she discovered a fun way of playing with the waves. She would sit on her back in shallow water and allow the waves and the strong undertow to move her rapidly through the water. Seeing how much fun she was having I soon joined her. An interesting thing happened to me that did not happen to Isabella; later on we figured out my longer legs allowed the waves more access to me and moved me around more than Isabella.
I would start with my back to the waves, as the undertow went out it would turn my legs in a counter clock wise position until I was facing the waves. Next I would be knocked flat on my back until I was lying down all the while being slowly dragged out into the Ocean. I was helpless to do anything as the strength of the undertow held my arms by my side. I could see the big waves coming rapidly towards me. One, two, three, each wave bigger than the previous would wash over me and left me a mess of salt water and sand. Isabella could not stop laughing at the sight of this happening to her Father. For me it was humbling as I realized how inconsequential my strength was compared to this force of nature, let alone the One who created this nature.
Later on a very sobering truth hit me. I realized when laying flat on my back in the water I was in the same position as the young girls in Cambodia are being forced into when they are raped. As much as I was powerless to break free from these waves these girls are powerless against the abusers as they enter into their rooms. As with me they will be held down and forced to do things against their will. As I was able to see the waves bearing down on me these girls will hear the footsteps coming down the hallway, they will see the doorknob turning and know that they are in for a terrible time. Unlike me who endured three waves for about fives seconds these girls will endure hours upon hours, month upon months, years upon years of repeated abuse. Many times I prayed the words quietly to myself "Thank you Lord" as I enjoyed my Vacation. That day I said my most meaningful "Thank you Lord" of the week as I realized the fire that has been put in me for the victims of sexual abuse in Cambodia cannot be extinguished even as I lived like a Prince in the lap of luxury.
1 When you sit to dine with a ruler,
note well what is before you
2 and put a knife to your throat
if you are given to gluttony,
3 Do not crave his delicacies,
for that food is deceptive.
I always looked at these verses as a warning for me when looking at the really wealthy people of this World against desiring what they have. After my week away I see where these verses can apply to the people of a poorer Country such as the people I met in Punta Cana as they look at the lives we live.
The next few paragraphs are about four people I met while away and one I observed.
"Cheappy Willy" was a guy who Gloria met when she was taking Isabella to get beads put into her hair. He was a middle man who sold goods for a store owner. We found his prices cheaper than our Hotels gift shop. The thing that stuck out to me was in spite of his tough life was his sense of humour. We told him about seeing a stray dog at the beach and he went on to say "Dominicans do not eat Dogs." With his booming laugh he had Gloria in stitches as he went onto tell us of the various Countries around the World who do eat dog meat. To me I thought of how well this man`s skills were and how he could benefit with one of those (KIVA) no interest loans given to people. Willy would be able to purchase his own store. In Canada he would be a top salesman for a Company.
"Mahony Baloney" the saddest story of the week. He was Cheappy Willys sidekick and I believe the muscle of the two. When he found out we lived near Toronto he lit up as he was a huge Baseball fan and the Blue Jays now have six Dominican players on the team.
Later on we found out he was a minor league Baseball player with the Pittsburgh Pirates only to have his chance at the major leagues end because of an injury. He showed me a long scar where his Achilles tendon was. I thought to myself how close, yet how far. One year in Baseball could provide enough for this man to live for the rest of his life, and now he had to scratch out a living selling goods to Tourists like ourselves. One thing this man still had was his pride and his integrity. As soon as he found out we wanted Cheappy Willy he went to get him, instead of trying to undercut him, also later on he chased away other people who wanted to bother us for deals as we were with his friend.
While talking Mahony was angry only at the Dominican Baseball players who made huge sums of money only to ignore the poor back home, he spoke very highly of the ones who did come back to help out their fellow Country men. I marvelled at his lack of bitterness, as playing Baseball at a professional level in the Dominican is the equivalent of a North American person winning the lottery. This man had came so close yet had no regrets or feelings of empathy, he went on scratching out a living as best as he could.
Eddy Murphy an entertainer at our Hotel. Eddy works 11 straight 15 hour days than gets three days off to spend with his family. My family felt a bond with him. Isssabella was how he pronounced Isabella's name. Eddy took an interest in Katarinas Kobo, a machine which allows you to read books through a monitor. Eddy started off asking us questions about our lives, but I think what impressed him most was we took an interest in his family. Eddy has a five year old daughter, and a son on the way. Eddy told us in the Dominican a Father gives his son a bat, a ball, and a glove for his first birthday.
Eddy told me he had a tough start to his life and wanted to give his family chances he never had to succeed. Eddy somehow had learned to speak English, and French to go along with his native Spanish. Eddy also taught Dance lessons and asked me if I wanted to learn. In a lighter moment I told him "there was not enough vacation time in either of our lives to achieve this." Eddy never complained although sometimes at night I saw him yawning from his long day. One day when talking about the rain Eddy said "I can do nothing about the Big Man in the sky." If Eddy was born in Canada with the opportunities we have I am sure he would be a CEO of a major corporation. My highlight of Eddy was one night when no one wanted to learn to dance Eddy just danced by himself to the words of I`m yours by Jason Mraz. The look of utter peace and contentment on this young man`s face had me envious. The last day we discreetly presented Eddy with a gift of money that we hoped would help him with the purchase of his sons gift. I prayed in the Hotel room that Eddy`s son would grow up to be tall and strong and indeed become a Major league Baseball player and give Eddy and his family a break from their very tough life.
I do not know the next man`s name. The last day I went to the shopping mall to say goodbye to Willy and Mahony. A man saw me looking around and asked what I wanted. I told him who I was looking for, he said "they are inside with Customers, perhaps I can help you?" I declined his offer and started walking away, only to have him walk beside me. Not wanting to create any false hope I told him I was going home today and had shopped yesterday. The man said "it was okay he just wanted to walk."
I asked him if he played Baseball? He told me "no I am not from this Country." He went on to tell me had come to Punta Cana from Haiti 10 years ago to make a better life for himself. We talked about the Earthquake and how this man may have died if he had stayed in Haiti. As we arrived at my Hotel I told him goodbye, how much I admired the resiliency of the people I had met, and how if given opportunities that I had I am sure they would more than succeed, I wished him well in the upcoming year. To me, he took my hand, looked me in the eye and said "May God keep and protect you and your family." Shocked, and humbled still, I look forward to seeing this man again, only it will be in Heaven with him given the highest honours.
I wish I could stop writing now but I can`t. I could write a novel about how many acts of arrogance, and ignorance I saw my fellow Tourists committing. One stands out for all the wrong reasons. While waiting for my family at the pool one day I watched an encounter of two people. A young man waved over a salesman who sold outings to various destinations. The young man enquired about the prices. The salesman told him the price. Angrily the young man countered with an insulting price, the salesman told him this was too low and he would not only not receive any commission he would actually lose money if he accepted this offer. Arrogantly the young man held up his Bubba Keg filled with alcohol and said "take your commission from my drink" With a pleading look the salesman again tried to bargain, with a look of arrogance, and disgust the young man shooed away the salesman as one would a fly.
The most disturbing thing about this incident was what I had noticed earlier in the day and was looking at right now.
In the shape of a cross the words from Matthew 16 vs 26 were tattooed on the young mans back.
26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?
Thinking back on this encounter I cannot help but think of the day when the exact words that are on this man`s body may be used against him. For the same God who created the young man, also created the salesman. And if I saw your actions and was shocked and repulsed by how you treated this man. How many other times in your life have you acted in such a way only to be seen by your Creator?
Family without putting any effort into it I noticed your actions of the week.
You read three books after getting a sunburn the first day, you are deep like me and have the gift of writing, you also drew an amazing picture of Gloria on the plane ride back to Toronto, a talent I can take no credit for. I remember how calm, and cool you were under pressure while the rest of us were getting excited about every little detail. You could be a surgeon when you grow up. You remarked to Gloria "I feel like a princess at how people are treating me." May you always be treated with the Dignity and respect you deserve.
As you would float in the Ocean I saw such a look of peace and contentment on your face. May God Bless you with this same feeling as you find your calling in life.
How you challenge me! Without even being aware that you are doing this. You made me realize I still have a long way to go. Towards the end of week I had this whole writing in my head and thought I had things figured out. A salesman around our hotel looked a lot like Uganda`s former Dictator Idi Amin, he had to wear a yellow shirt and long khaki pants as part of his uniform. He was not a good salesman as he was pushy to the point of being obnoxious and he was also greedy as he would ask for far too much money.
On the hottest day of our week Isabella asked me "why did this man not stop for a break to rest and to drink some water?" I told her because he may be afraid that when he stops he may lose a potential sale. Isabella told me "this is not fair I would stop for a drink." Conviction flooded over me as I realized my dislike of this man had me overlook the simple fact that he was a Human being and he was entitled to basic needs like drinking water on a hot day, also I had never thought to offer him one of our endless supply of bottled waters.
Isabella later on also pointed out the fact that she did not like that Gloria and I had bargained a little bit with Cheappy Willy on three items for a total savings of 6 dollars. Isabella pointed out that he needed this money more than us. I realized she was right. If I was to take the 6 dollars and give it to a reputable Charity than my conscience is clear, but I am sure I will waste this money on something frivolous.
One day when talking to Eddy Murphy you asked him his name, something I am sure that does not happen very often. Yes Eddy has a name and it is not the name the Hotel gave him because his name was to hard to pronounce. I forgot his name, Juan (something), but I know you remember.
Our poor maid! For some reason this poor lady would keeping coming up to us and asking if the room was okay. One day she gave the throat slashing symbol and said if people complain this would happen to her. Another day she brought her Manager over to us to again have us tell that her cleaning was up to par. Gloria reached out and embraced with a very nice hug this poor uptight lady. Later on I thought to myself I am sure that this was the first time a tourist had ever done such a thing. It reminded me of Jesus not just healing but reaching out and touching people physically as well.
To close this is a picture of my family minus Gloria walking on the beach one evening, our footprints are noticeable.
This sums up to me our trip to Punta Cana but also our lives as well. How are we going to walk over this Earth? Are we going to trample down people and things in pursuit of the World`s happiness? I hope not, I pray not.
Mumford and Sons has a song called Lover`s eyes. As I think about my time on Earth I hope I live my life like the Chorus.
The words are I walk slow (which I changed to soft) I believe God is offering His hand to show us how we should live if only we are willing to take it.
The first verse no background music just the lead singers voice singing very softly
I walk soft
I walk soft
Take my hand help me on my way
The next verse his voice is louder and a Guitar joins in
I walk soft
I walk soft
Take my hand help me on my way
The next verse his voice is louder and a Piano joins the Guitar
I walk soft
I walk soft
Take my hand help me on my way
The last verse the singers voice is his loudest a Drum joins the Piano and the Guitar the words are now more than a statement they are a proclamation
I walk soft!
I walk soft!
Take my hand help me on my way