Recently I had the chance to listen to John Quiñones, the host of the television show “What Would You Do?” give a commencement speech where he recalled a time when he was a correspondent for ABC News. He was working on an exclusive interview with the President of Colombia at the time, and an hour before the segment was to air, Quiñones had to call his boss, Peter Jennings back in New York to tell him that the interview was not happening. Quiñones was bracing himself for a scolding from Jennings, but instead he was reassured by these insightful words: “Don’t worry about talking to the movers and shakers; talk to the moved and shaken.”
While on a road trip in Vietnam, I was able to meet a very courageous and resilient young lady in the city of Ca Mau.
Check it out!
My mom once told me about how I almost died as a baby because I had become very ill with a virus, and my parents couldn’t afford the antibiotics that the doctor said I needed. We were living with my dad’s family at the time because we were so poor, and when my mom came home with the news that I was in dire need of medicine that she couldn’t afford, no one in his family offered to help. The next day my mom took the only thing she had that was of value - her ring - and pawned it to buy the antibiotics that saved my life.
On November 4, 2013, I entered North Korea on a tourist visa granted by the government of the DPRK. For five days and four nights, my two guides led me on a propaganda parade, touting the power and greatness of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Most of my time was spent visiting boring museums and viewing countless monuments in the likeness of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. There are an estimated 34,000 statues of the two leaders throughout the country.
I met Justin Barnes, a prominent local radio personality on Movin’ 92.5 FM at a baseball game where he was a guest DJ. When I looked him up on Facebook, the first picture I noticed was one of him riding a scooter while wearing a bunny helmet, and I immediately knew he would have an interesting story to share. I was too impatient to wait for him to respond to my friend request, so I reached out to a mutual friend who only agreed to give me Justin’s cell phone number if I promised not to stalk him or call him at two in the morning. A couple of phone calls, a string of texts and a restraining order later, Justin agreed to have lunch with me (just kidding about the restraining order).
In between bites of our salads and fries, Justin revealed to me that he belonged to a scooter club call The Soldiers of Destiny. Each of its 23 members sport a different animal on their helmet including a hippo, lion, eagle, elephant, monkey and even a shark. “But no cow?” I asked him. “Not yet.” He answered.
When I was a child, I collected soda and beer cans that I found around my neighborhood for extra spending money. Whenever there was a party or event, I would show up with my little bag and scoop up all of the empty cans, then added them to the two giant trash bags in my back yard where I stored my commodities. Every few months when the bags were full, I loaded them into the back of our van, and my mom would drive me to the local recycling center where she waited in the car while I eagerly stood in line at the enormous scale. After weighing my cans, I would then rush to hand the cashier the piece of paper with the weight of that day’s haul. My head barely cleared the counter, so I had to stand on my tippy-toes to slip my receipt through the window. The best part of my recycling adventure was watching the lady count out the money. Afterwards, I’d race back to my mom, waving my handful of cash in the air as if I had won the lottery. I would use the money to buy copies of Mad Magazine and Debbie Gibson albums.
Nhu and Nhi are sisters born to a poor farmer. When I first met the family, I had dinner with them in a shack deep in a rural village where electricity was still a luxury not every household could afford. When I returned this year, I discovered what was once a hut held together by nails and palm leaves is now a beautiful brick and mortar home.
A few years before she went to Heaven, my mom and I visited Vietnam together. During our trip, we learned about a school that was in dire need of books and supplies. We pooled our money together, collectively were able to buy composition books, pens and pencils for every student. I saw the pride and joy on my mother’s face that day as she handed out the books and supplies; my mom loved school when she was a child, but only made it to the fifth grade before her grandfather decided that girls didn’t need to be educated past elementary school. She was forced to drop out to stay home to help care for her brother and sisters.
Her childhood is filled with violence and despair: her father is in prison for gang related crimes, and her mother abandoned the family after years of receiving brutal beatings by her father. She’s been in the first grade for the last three years, and spends her days wandering the street, as she doesn’t have anything or anyone to play with at home.