Five and counting

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.

Jorge Luis Borges

We went shopping today, a rare day when all of us were off from our responsibilities and could spend it together. We went to the outlets near our home, and of course, I had to take a picture in front of the only restaurant that was there, now closed. Not going to lie, it was a strange moment, to see where this journey as an immigrant finally found a cushion now shut down. But it is Thanksgiving week, so I chose gratitude.

I look back at what I wrote about the experience, and I can’t help but smile at my innocence. Maybe I can even call it naiveté. It was clearly the work of someone who trusted people way more, that was clearly terrified of what he had done, upending his world like that. But then I see where I am now, and I can feel nothing but gratitude.

It’s been five years since we moved to Orlando, Y. from New York, me from Caracas. I can safely say it has been one hell of a ride, and we have come a long way since. I am about to embark on a new job adventure that I will tell you about when the time comes, I can actually start planning on buying my first car, and we have plans we could not have conceived of when we landed here. And we have a dog!

There have been weird moments, of course. Not two weeks ago, I was turning away from a table and a lady at it yelled at me “Server person!” twice. I turned to her, hiding how flabbergasted I was, and smiled and said “My name is Juan, ma’am”. Her response? “Oh, I’m never going to remember that”. There was the lady that insisted I replace the two –TWO– burnt shrimp in her bowl. There was the guy that handed me a fistful of quarters and said “Here’s your tip, friend, thank you”. There have also been hugs from kids, ladies that said their autistic daughter had the best birthday ever, families that give a little more because it was my birthday, and all the weird and wacky folks I have worked with.

Five years ago, I landed here not knowing what to expect beyond a LOT of work. I didn’t expect to start working at Universal Studios. I didn’t expect to meet cool musicians. I didn’t expect the best dog in the world. Along the way, I have managed to find my way out of some disasters, avoid others, and even mark up some wins. I have learned, maybe times forcibly, how to be a responsible adult with money, some twenty years too late. And it all started that day, in that restaurant. (Ok, a little earlier, but the actual start was at that restaurant.

On this day, I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had in this country. The little things I have done, the not-so-little things, what I’ve seen, who I’ve met, what I’ve done. Here’s to many more adventures, especially in this new chapter of my life, which I hope I may see those who honor me with their visits here, for many years to come.

We will rise. Somehow

Photo by Rafael Rex Felisilda on Unsplash

She told me she was tired of living in and out of hotels. That she wants to work enough to find a more stable place, and to buy a car, cheap as it may be. She’s been living like this for too long, she says. I’m surprised she can be this upbeat still, but I don’t say anything.

He’s been living in a hotel for a couple of months with his girlfriend. Who has… issues. So if he’s going to drink he has to do it before he gets home. I think I now understand why he’s so dour most of the time, and yet when he’s not working he can actually be funny. To the point that I want to tell the others, who I know don’t like him, to give him a chance.

But of course, I say nothing. Because in my head, I have the right to complain about my own situation. So I let them complain about theirs. But here’s the thing: my co-workers have a right to complain. I don’t.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve discussed my worries about depression in this blog. Heck, you tell me what good is a personal blog if you can’t vent to the Internet about personal matters. But after a year in therapy, no diagnosis of depression, whole lotta tears shed, and many miles of soul searching, it would be almost disrespectful to think I have it. I’m anxious and worried. Still valid, yes, but not depressed. This means I have to reevaluate how I deal with things.

Keep reading…: We will rise. Somehow

Many times I’ve said that I lived so many years as a twentysomething trapped in a forty-year-old, I was afraid that coming out into the world would be a monumental clash. I was right; I left Caracas and landed in the States having to live as an actual adult. You know, pay rent, buy groceries, see a doctor, look out for my health and the ones that live with me. When I hit rough patches, I tend to crawl into myself, lock the door, and sometimes blow things up more than usual. My regular trigger is slow season at work; being unable to meet my debts is a constant scare. You’d think I’d prepare for these months and ride them out or something.

I still try to validate those feelings, don’t get me wrong. Many of the evils in the world are because men still struggle to show their true feelings. But I also try to see things in their fair proportions. Mostly, I remember I don’t have to deal with my stress alone. I have a wonderful, wonderful woman beside me that has given me so much, and is willing to help me no matter what. We have merged into a team to get each other out of dark places and support each other in every way you can imagine. That right there is a massive plus on my side.

Also, we have a roof over our heads. We both have jobs (hers a little more reliable, but still). I’m a US citizen, she’s a legal resident. We both speak the language. We are both considered good people.

So I go back to the complaining part. I read somewhere that I shouldn’t complain about anything I’m not willing to do take on. And it’s true. I just need to remember that this isn’t a sprint or a marathon. It’s a chess game. Because in a marathon there is only one track, one way. In a chess game, there is a vast number of moves that you can do to reach your objective. And even if you are defeated in one game, you can always learn, hone your skills, and try again. Until the final match, which we all play in the end. But death isn’t a defeat. Only the end. The real defeat is not having lived to your full potential, achieved your dreams, or reached your goals.

My coworkers are good people. I do hope their situation improves over time. And I am working to reach mine.

“We come from the same place”

My next-to-last table for the day was a big one: nine people. Two men, three women, and four ladies between twelve and I’m guessing twenty. As I approached I heard them talking not in English. My first reaction was to assume they were of the same nationality as I’d say roughly seventy per cent of my customers. Not to mention, they were of no ethnicity I could assume.

–Welcome! Brazil?

One of the men, a burly specimen in his mid-fifties but with a kind smile, flashed said smile and said in broken Spanish:

–No, Brazil no. Egipcios.

–Oh!–, I said, a little taken aback but not losing own my smile–. Then we continue in English.

They were a lively although demanding group. The girls were very easy to laugh, and the youngest one was what you could call an old soul. Near the end of the meal one of the ladies called me over.

–Are you Indian by any chance?

–No, ma’am. Venezuelan–. I smiled again, and assumed a Punjabi accent–. Though I am greatly respectful of the wonderful people of India.

I got the expected laugh out of the table, but then one of the ladies grew a bit serious.

–How long have you been here, sir?

–Since November, ma’am.

–Things are not good back home, yes?

–Not quite ma’am. I guess back yours they are better, right?

–No, no–. She pointed to the burly man. –He’s Egyptian, he’s my brother in law. We’re Syrian.

My heart sank, as you can imagine. –I am so sorry, ma’am, for everything that is happening in your country. Where are you living now?

–We’re in Canada. They live in New York.


I looked over at the girls again, this time with new eyes. Do either of them remember their country? What had they seen? What have they told them?

–You have all my sympathies. My country is also causing an immigration problem in the region.

–Why is that?

First, a reminder. Syria has been in the midst of airst civil war since March, 2011, briefly after the events of the Arab Spring toppled regimes in Tunisia and yes, Egypt. Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad refused to back down or even make decent reforms, so a full-on war exploded. This was also the beginning of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, but it also caused one of the worst refugee crisis in history. More than five million Syrians have fled their country, mostly toward Europe, by land and by sea. Many have drowned, and many others are caught in diplomatic limbo in refugee camps all over, especially in Greece, where they are not exactly welcome with open arms.

With that in mind, I explain to the lady that Venezuela itself is starting to cause an immigration crisis. Estimates of how many of us have left the country vary a bit, but most say that the number is between two and three million, mostly middle-class.But as the Council on Foreign Affairs of the United Nations noted recently, it’s starting to get worse. Colombia, which is right next door, has seen some 250,000 Venezuelans come in between August 2017 and March 2018, with some estimates of as many as 3,000 coming in a day. And the rest of Latin America is not far behind: according to The Washington Post, Chile has seen a 1,388% increase of Venezuelan immigrants since 2015; Panama, who saw an overwhelming influx of my countrypeople between 2010 and 2016, imposed new visa requirements that make it that much harder to come in the coun try; and, well, there’s this guy, who doesn’t exactly make it easy.

After I explain this, the woman looks at me with a sad smile. “So we come from the same place”, she sighs.

They were obviously a well-to-do family, perhaps even educated. They all spoke very good English, if with an accent. They still had family in the capital (Damascus), but they had survived the worst part. I was amazed to agree with her, because although my country is not at war, I too left a life that would not have let me reach my full potential. It doesn’t help that Assad and the late Hugo Chavez were quite chummy.

After they left, I moved up to Ian, one of my fellow servers, and sighed.

–That family that’s leaving is Syrian, man. I can’t even imagine.

–Oh for real?– he asked.

–They live in New York and Toronto now. Talk about a change.

–I’ve always wondered, how people just leave their countries, start trying to find a job and what not.

–Well, look at me. I was a reporter back home, now I’m a waiter.

And so many people like that. Omar, one of our bussers, is an oil engineer. My GF is a graphic designer who used to run her own cake-designing businesses and now is a hostess. And how many doctors, lawyers, dentists, economists and the such are working as cabbies, salespeople, construction workers. Not all of us truly wanted to leave the country that saw us grow, but many had no choice. Which makes what Venezuelan turd-in-command, Nicolas Maduro, said this week — “I wouldn’t go to clean toilets in Miami”– particularly irritating. And of course many answered back.

It’s a sad fact of life that to better support your family, or at least help them, the best thing many of us could do was leave, doing things we’ve never thought we’d do. And any job dignifies, no matter if it is cleaning toilets. All we want is the chance to get ahead in life, be wherever we may be. And that applies to all immigrants or refugees, be they Syrian or Venezuelan.

As I picked up their table, two of the girls lingered behind. I asked their mother permission to say one last thing. They told me they were twelkve and fifteen.

–No matter where you are, girls, always remember and care for your country. Because your country made you who you are. Learn everything about it, as much as you can, because it’s going to be up to you to fix the mess that your elders have left behind. We’re counting on you.

They listened carefully, and smiled what I operceived as honest, interested smiles. I wonder what would come later, how they would grow up. Only time can tell, of course. Meanwhile, here we are, and here we go on.

Keep reading

Your post is coming right up, sir


I’ve frequently heard the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”. There was quite a bit about it that bothered me, to be honest. It was generally said to me with this sneer of cynicism, like God is this huge bastard that looks down on poor li’l us, thinking we have a say in our lives. I refused to accept it.

Now? Not so much.

I still believe in a benevolent God that is there to protect us from evil and harm, that would never throw us a challenge we couldn’t face, because He knows what we’re made of. But now I have no problem thinking of Our Lord as this funny guy with a mischievous twinkle in His eye that lets out a kindly chuckle when we tell Him our plans, because He knows we better wrote them in pencil.

Guys… I’m a waiter!

Continue reading “Your post is coming right up, sir”