eastwind journals

eastwind journals02 Jan 2019 07:49 pm


A True Story
Author Unknown
In Social Media, there are many touching articles and videos today which are simple but powerful, which go viral and inspire millions of readers/viewers, yet have unknown authors or producers, because they are simply forwarded, or copied-pasted without regard to by-lines and credits. This is one of them. I took the pains of transcribing the entire video narration into this article because articles sometimes have a wider audience than videos in Social Media. Also, I cannot even insert the video link here.


He lives with his wife in an ordinary rental apartment in the city of San Francisco. He never wears branded clothing, his glasses are trusted and aged, his watches are functional and unglamorous. He doesn’t have his own car. His primary means of transportation is the bus, and the bag he uses for work is an old plastic bag. But surprisingly, over the course of his life, he has donated more than $18 billion to charitable causes.


Who is this man? Well, his name is Chuck Feeney. He is frugal with himself but generous with others. He likes to make money but does not like to spend it on himself. Through his lifetime, he has contributed $588 million to Cornell University, and $125 million to the University of California and $60 million to Stanford University. Outside of the United States, he spend $1 billion renovating, and then building a further seven new universities in Ireland. Incredibly, he also founded a charity fund aimed at providing cleft-lip surgery for children in developing countries.


More incredibly still, Chuck never sought praise for his many contributions. He admirably never revealed his name in association with each donation, but asked for his donations to be made anonymously. Towards the end of his life, Chuck Feeney’s selfless and astounding deeds were revealed by the media.


When Chuck eventually did face the press and was asked the inevitable question of “Why did you choose to donate all of your wealth to charity?” Chuck Feeney simply smiled and said, “People are born naked, and then fianllly die alone.” And he continued, “No one can carry the wealth and reputation that he himself has been striving for, for a lifetime.” A reporter asked Chuck Feeney once more, “Why did you donate all of your fortunes?” Chuck Feeney smiled cheerfully and gave an unbelievable answer, beyond anyone’s imagination. “Because the corpse cover does not have a bag.”


Chuck Feeney has set an example for the rich all over the world. Two great American tycoons, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have attempted to adopt his way of thinking and strive to follow his actions.


“Think for the people while enjoying life at the same time,” Chuck Feeney said.


A Viewer’s Reflections


one must have purity of heart when giving
do not miss the opportunity to give
because life is short and there is a lot to do


You can be like the anonymous billionaire without being a billionaire. There is so much to give on the spiritual plain which can rival impact on the material plain. All we need is to give ourselves and our time to others. Some of these precious spiritual gifts we can ‘donate’ include – comforting others in pain, reversing depression into elation, despair into hope, greed into charity, hatred into forgiveness. We have so much power to change people, yet we do not know it.


There is so much we can do and give, but we often let it pass away in our daily concern for schedules and tasks. If you adopt an awareness of this type of gift giving into every minute of your busy day, you will realize how happy and peaceful you are, how you become less cranky and more forgiving, how harder it is to get ulcers or heart ailment, even cancer, which has spiritual causes.


You have to be selfless, no self-interest, no manipulation, no pretense, no deceit. You must be pure of heart. You must touch other people’s lives, inspire and uplift for their sake, not yours. Money is the last thing you can give.


The urge of Gates and Buffett to emulate Feeney, to replace profit making with fortune giving, reveals how much the spirit of giving can conquer the obsession for grabbing. Rockefeller envied Carnegie when he shifted from grabbing to giving by setting up a foundation. All of a sudden all the fortunes in the world was no longer important. Both tycoons established the largest foundations of their age. Yet, at one time, they were clawing and strangling and trying to acquire each other. There is a gray area between greed and generosity, and it takes effort to move from one towards the other, whether you are a tycoon or a commoner.


If you do this, believe me, you have one foot in heaven’s door.
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Bernie V. Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
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eastwind journals12 Dec 2018 03:40 am

LIVING IN A CAVE – A Christmas Adventure * eastwind

LIVING IN A CAVE * Lanzarote, Canary Islands
A Christmas Adventure
eastwind memoirs


By Bernie V. Lopez, eastwind@replyctr@gmail.com


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This is an excerpt from the book WINGS AND WANDERLUST on the adventures of a Filipino drifter, covering 25,000 kilometers through 18 European and North African countries for three years. The book is more than a travelogue. It goes deeper into the art of discovering one’s inner self, appropriate for those who are searching for themselves or a career or meaning in their lives.


there are guardian angels
in the nooks and crevices of our lives
when unseen danger lurks
they push us aside
from the path of grand piano
falling from the sky


After two days across the Sahara, I took a boat to Las Palmas, Canary Islands, where I mingled with Northerners fleeing the harsh European winter – Germans, Finns, Swedes. This is my Christmas Story.




The wild days in Las Palmas was a walk on razor’s edge. I had to flee the grip of this tourist town, otherwise I would burn out. So I hitched south to find the caves of Lanzarote, the next island, where I heard from drifters heading north about an undiscovered paradise.


Lanzarote had many coves full of caves, a remote pristine paradise for backpackers-turned-cavemen. I thought, what would it be like to go back to basics and live in a cave. Why was this so attractive to the counter-culturists? I was looking for ‘paradise’ and I said this was it. I took a small boat to Arrecife, capital of Lanzarote, then to Playa Blanca, the last remote village before Papagayo, the Cave City.


         “Where are the caves?” I asked the store owner at Papagayo.
         “Ah. Another backpacker. The place is full now,” the store owner said in understandable Spanish.
         “I don’t care. I’m going,” I said.
         “Bueno. You better buy food here, the last store before the open wilderness. Here, try this.” He showed me some brown powder.
         “What is it?”
         “Gofio. Nice hot chocolate for the cave.”
         “Okay, give me a pack,” I said.


He knew how many backpackers were at the Papagayo caves because they all came to him for supplies. I bought a lot of provisions, I walked six kilometers through desert-like terrain to the caves along an unclear hardly-used dirt road. There were no more vehicles in the area, and no electricity. I forgot, however, to buy candles, and I only had a 3-inch used one.


Solitude and communality are dia­metrically opposed, but are the essential ingredients of drift­ing and of self-discovery. There were about 12 backpackers at the caves at the time I arrived. They came and went and by the time I left after four weeks, the popula­tion had changed. There were about four or five caves scattered around the four or five coves. The main cove was the most beautiful, the center of the universe. From the top, I could see the corals through the clear water. A German guy with long hair was snorkelling in the nude.


It was a surprise to see the two Canadian girls who travelled with me across the Sahara. They found the place too. The caves were all occupied so the girls used a tent. I did not have a tent, so I walked around, looking for my own place to stay. There was an abandoned home with no roof. This was occupied by the snorkelling German. He improvised plastic sheets for roofing, leaving his home half exposed to the rain, which hardly came.


The largest cave was empty. It was circular, about a five-meter-diameter interior with a large gaping mouth three meters high. There was a protruding boulder at the entrance, a perfect cover so the interior is protected from the wind and gave privacy. I had to go around it through a narrow path to the left or right to get inside. I wondered why nobody took this cave. It looked better than the German’s abandoned house. It was the best cave and yet it was empty. Why? I decided to investigate.


         “Hey, how come nobody stays at the big cave. Looks like the best cave,” I asked the German. He seemed irritated that I disturbed him. He came out of the water and was now frying a big fish outside his ‘house’. He didn’t answer.
         “Okay, I go,” I said, “No use talking to a wall.”
         As I was leaving, he shouted at me, “There’s a big piece of rock on the roof that may fall anytime.”
         True enough, there was a crack on the roof. The German followed me. He said, pointing to the big boulder at the entrance, clutching his fish dish, “This boulder at the entrance fell from the roof perhaps a few years ago during an earthquake. That one is coming next.”, He pointed to the roof.
         “Doesn’t look bad,” I commented.
         “Nobody dares sleep in this cave in fear of being crushed,” he said.
         I laughed, “That piece won’t fall in the next hundred years.”
         He shrugged his shoulder, “Are you a geologist? It’s your life, not mine.”


I moved in to the best cave, the largest, the Waldorf Astoria of Lanzarote all because nobody dared to move in in fear of the boulder on the roof hanging like the sword of Damocles. I had a gut feel from my guardian anger it was safe. Boy, was I lucky. The Waldorf Cave smelled of urine. The first order of the day was to clean it, make it five-star once more. Many backpackers had stayed here in the past, the daring ones who were not afraid of the rock. I spent one whole day removing the garbage. I even saw syringes and needles. Some drug addicts must have stayed here a long time.


I got a discarded pail in the garbage area and started removing the old damp and dirty sand out of the cave. Then I hauled in new white sand from the beach, warm and dry from the sun. That was hard work, but at the end of the day, the two Canadian girls came over and were surprised to see how clean the place was. I told them I was having a ‘house warming’ tomorrow evening and was inviting everyone. I added that they were welcome to stay in my cave. They just giggled and left.


The next day, I prepared for the ‘party’. Lacking candles, which everyone seemed to have plenty of, I went to the other caves and collected melted candle drips on the rocks and floor which they no longer needed. I was able to collect about two pails of melted candle. Next I collected sardine tin cans and small bottles at the garbage dump and cleaned them with sea water. I re-melted the candle drips and poured it into the bottles and cans. I used thick string, also from the garbage, as wick. Before dusk, I had fifteen candle bottles and cans which I placed around the entire cave. Nobody ever thought of that, of recycling melted candle. It perhaps takes a freak from the poverty-stricken east to improvise. In the affluent waste-oriented west, even freaks had little inkling to improvise.


I ate dinner quickly inside the cave and prepared for the party. I lit all fifteen candles. The place had a soft glow and people outside noticed and came over. They were amazed how clean and bright the Waldorf Cave was. I cooked a lot of gofio for my guests. It was a nice quiet party, no food, only hot chocolate. The German did not come. They said he was ‘busy’. Uninvited people came every night for hot gofio. I lit all fifteen candles like it was Christmas. The Waldorf Cave became the meeting place. But I was running out of butane gas and gofio.


Everyone was scrimping on expensive candle, lighting only one at a time in their caves or tents. The only store, which was an hour-and-a-half hike, tripled the price of candle when the owner found out only backpackers were buying them. It was highway robbery, or law of supply and demand. But my candles were for free. I did not have to scrimp. The Waldorf Cave was lit at night like a cathedral. Later, it was hard to find discarded melted candles. They caught on to my style. But I had a two-month supply, which I gave away when I finally left.


At the cave, I did a lot of reading. I remember until now some of the books, like The Teachings of Buddha and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I traded the latter with a Scottish drifter for my book Razor’s Edge. I was recluse during the day, talk­ing to no one, doing yoga exercises and meditat­ing. At night, uninvited people came by and there was a lot of friendly talk. I was beginning to like monas­tic life during the day and socials at night. People poured their pains on me. I loved being a counsellor, the guru wanna-be. It was a spiritual experience for me. I was alive more than ever. I decided to stay for a month. I borrowed the snorkel of the German and spent hours every early morning snorkelling in the cove. The untouched coral garden was fantastic. The colored fish were mesmerizing. I began to systematically probe the other coves and beaches as far as two kilometers away.


The place was so quiet except for the soft cadence of waves so conducive to meditation, that when I went to town to do my weekly shopping of butane gas, sugar, gofio, rice and veg­etables, I was startled by sudden noises like the toot of a vehicle’s horn.


The cave became my chapel of prayer. Every morning, after I practised yoga and meditated, I read books and wrote my diary. At night, after my guests had left after a good round of hot gofio, I knelt on the sand and thanked the Lord for His gift or peace and wisdom. It was not just serendipity. His hand was on my shoulders all this while. He was perhaps preparing me for my pilgrimage to Fatiima, in Portugal, a 7-day 80-kilometer hike from Lisbon. (Read – pilgrimage).


there is beauty in darkness
in whose bowels you can meditate
and transport yourself into new places
it is here where one achieves anonymity
before going back into the blinding light
darkness can make you see


The silence sunk deep into my receptive soul. I began thinking of New York and my family but not in a homesick way. I wondered what they were doing now. They would be scandalized to know I was now a cave man. I laughed aloud like a mad man, as I looked at myself transformed from computer programmer to cave man.


My daring sojourn was not to look for the world but for myself. That was what eastwind, was all about – the breeze or storm, from the east moving west. It was important to look inward by looking outward. Buddha said if you got too engrossed with yourself, you would get blind and not see yourself more. Funny but Buddha made me more Christian. For I was mirrored in everything and everyone I encountered – the orange Lanzarote sunset, the sky-blue cove, Vicky in Morocco, Maria in Las Palmas, Josh, John, Jim, and Olga, poor Olga. Where could she be now? It was only in marvelling at the world and establishing links with others that I could look deep inside me.


In the caves of Lanzarote, time stood still for me. There were no schedules, no problems. The only concern was to read, write, meditate, cook, swim, hike, talk to people over gofio, and sleep. It was the longest ‘retreat’ I ever had in my life.


Andre, a scrawny French Canadian, was one of the most fascinating drifters I had met. He had his own cave about two meters wide, just enough for him to recline in. It was one meter high and one meter deep, so small that you had to stoop to get in. I wouldn’t even call it a cave. It was just a dent on the wall. He impro­vised a large plastic sheet to cover the mouth of the ‘cave’ for protection from the rain. It could be lifted if you wanted to go in and it could be closed when there is rain. Inside was his home, gear, clothes, kitchenware, etc. all cramped into this tiny hole in a complex series of ‘holes’ carved out of the wall, on top  of which he improvised shelves from discarded wooden slabs. He had two wild cats for company. They were so wild, he had scratches in his arm. They refused to be fed at times.


         I asked, “You mean you have been here for nine long months?”
         “Oui,” he replied.
         “Let me guess. You are an absolute loner.”
         “And you hate the outside world.”
         “No, no, no. I have no passport. I can’t leave this place.”
         “Why don’t you get one?”
         “You mean in the Canadian embassy in Las Palmas? Too far. I don’t have money. No way. This is my heaven. I stay here. Perhaps next year, I try.”
         “If you close your plastic door, you will suffocate.
He pooh-poohed my concern in French-Spanish, “No importa, mon ami.”


I picked up the idea from Andre of roaming through all the coves all around. I saw him do that one time and I tailed him. I knew he knew I was tailing him. He was amused. He swam in every cove he visited. He walked around with­out a shirt or towel. He swam and dried himself in the sun after. He was almost as dark as I was. My tan was built in. I never saw him wear a shirt. So you see, French Canadians and Filipinos had the same skin.


         “You don’t have a shirt?” I half-asked half-said.
         “Yes, no shirt.”
         “You want me to give you one?”
         “No importa, mon ami. I have not worn a shirt in six months. I don’t have time to wash clothes. I like being bare.”
         “Of course you have time to wash. You mean you hate to wash.”
         He smiled, “Oui.”
         “When will you go back to Canada”.
         “Pa posible. I hate Canada.”


Andre was the most recluse in the group. He did not talk to anyone. It took me awhile to pry him open. He never went to my cave. He never borrowed things from others. He just swam the whole day, that was all he did for the last nine months. I was a loner but he was one a hundred fold.


I looked up to Andre. He was tough, sensitive, a veteran drifter who could teach me many things. He was happy by himself and at peace with the world. But underneath that peace, I discerned a glimmer of the places and people he was running away from. Underneath the peace was a past pain. He touched me more than many others in Cave City. He could not even speak straight English. I knew him more than many others who talked about themselves. He did not have to talk. I could see right through his transparent soul somehow. That was my gift, to discern people.


One day, I decided to swim in the nude, taking the cue from the German. I had no ambition to be an exhibitionist. In fact, there was no one to exhibit to and nothing to exhibit. The Canadian girls did not even take a second look at my scrawny body. I had a strange feeling when I swam in the nude. It was like the ultimate defiance of society. It made me feel free. Some kind of neur­osis, you may say. I felt psychological freedom. Any­way, there was no one to ogle at me.


I must confess to some sins. In Playa Blanca, where I went to regularly when my provisions at the cave ran out, I started swiping canned goods in the store. I pocketed a can of expensive corned beef once. This was luxury food for me. I started to take other more expensive items. I was getting bolder. So that I am not suspected by the cashier, I bought other cheap items such as candles and sugar and coffee. But I was getting addicted because I got away with it so easily. I also felt good because I could do it with such a cool air. I used my broken Spanish to converse with the store owner. Petty talk distracted him.


One day, while attempting to make another swipe, I heard a commotion. An American backpacker was caught by the store owner. He held out a bottle of pickles that came out of the backpacker’s jacket. He was so angry, he was shouting to the high heavens. He held the American by the arm as he talked to the police on the phone. The American did not resist. I could see the fear in his eyes. The police took him away. As I reached the counter, I took out the corned beef to pay for it. I asked myself, “A blonde American in a Spanish jail? Wow, that’s bad. Sodomy? It happens in Spanish jails.”


         The store owner said, “These guys are terrible. They think they can get away with everything. I hope he rots in jail.”
         “That’s really bad,” I answered with utter hypocrisy and fear.
         “Why can’t he be honest like you, a regular customer.”
         “Forget it. Don’t be so upset. It’s okay,” I said.

The store owner at Papagayo.

From then on, I stopped being a petty thief. It was not worth it, not even a dozen cans of corned beef for a month in jail where your ass was on the line. The benefit was totally dwarfed by the penalty. It also left a bad taste in the mouth. Romantic adven­ture must not degenerate into human frailty. It must remain sacred and pure, like a mountain flower. I learned my lesson the easy way. Back at the cave that night, I knelt and prayed, “Thank you, Lord, that you warned me through my guardian angel.” After a month, I started getting lonely and bored. I could probably leave as soon as I finished the book on Buddha.


Three decades after my stint at Papagayo, I saw a TV documentary by ‘Lonely Planet’ about Papagayo. Papa­gayo had now become a tourist spot, no longer the lonely remote spiritual refuge for freaks. There was now a road, and at the end a five-star hotel, right where the German lived. Edens for freaks evolved into five-stars for tourists. Drifters were mere discoverers.


Finally, it was time to go. Winter of Christmas was now flowing into Spring of Fiestas. I flexed my wings again and hit the road. Before doing my Fatima pilgrimage on foot, I saw the famous Portuguese bull fiesta where they let loose a monster on the fenced streets.


Bernie V. Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com


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eastwind journals05 Dec 2018 09:19 am

THE LECHON KID – A Christmas Story of a Street Kid in Blumentritt * eastwind

A Christmas Story Inspired by a Street Kid in Blumentritt
eastwind journals
by Bernie V. Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
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in the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God
the Light glowed in the darkness
and the darkness could not overcome the Light
He was in the world
that came to be through Him
but the world did not know Him
He came to what was His own
but His own did not accept Him
and the Word became flesh and lived among us
john 1:1-14 excerpts
Wherever you are, Richard, street kid of Blumentritt, God bless you.
The Blumentritt-La Loma area is the lechon (roast pig) capital of Metro-Manila. The 50-odd stalls in an eight-block area sell an average of 300 to 400 lechons or about 1.5 million pesos on a non-Christmas day. During Christmas, this doubles to up to about 3 million pesos a day. In this strange part of the city, poverty and affluence see each other eyeball to eyeball. 
One Christmas season, a spiritual event descends on Blumentritt. Five-year-old Richard (true name withheld) is the Lord’s courier to send His Christmas tidings to all, rich and poor, just like the kings and shepherds Bethlehem 2000-odd years ago. Richard has no family, no home. He lives alone underneath a small bridge.
When there is a storm, Richard quickly gathers his things into a plastic bag before the flood would come. He would run to the priest in a nearby church to take him in. After the storm, he is back to restore his cozy home. The priest offers a tiny space in a storage room, but he refuses. He treasures his privacy more. The police comes regularly to shoo him away, as living under a bridge is dangerous. But he is back after a few days with the priest. The police finally gets tired of shooing him away. 
The priest gives him a plate of hot steaming rice for breakfast daily. At break of day, Richard roams the lechon stalls, clutching his plastic plate of steaming rice. By that time, the pigs which are being roasted since 3 to 4 a.m. are hot and ready for the first buyers. At Mang Kiko’s stall, five lechons are standing diagonally on bamboo poles, leaning against the wall, deep red-brown, glistening like sports cars.
Richard places his plate of rice underneath the biggest and lets the oil from the lechon drip to his plate. Mang Kiko sees Richard and ignores him. After 15 minutes and 20 drips, he takes his plate, puts some patis (liquid fish salt) from the table, goes out, and starts to eat with bare dirty hands on the sidewalk, standing. When he finishes, he goes to Mang Kiko, wipes his hand clean, places it on his forehead, saying, “God bless you, Mang Kiko”. Mang Kiko would shoo him away. It is Richard’s way of thanking people. 
At mid-day, he has a plan on how to get lunch. He spots a new egg vendor. So he pretends to limp exaggeratedly towards the woman vendor and just stands there in front of her, hoping to get some sympathy. The woman vendor stares at him. He does not even put his palm out. He just stands there and smiles, irresistible to any decent soul, and he knows it. Finally, the woman gives her two salted eggs. He jumps with joy and hugs her, who quickly pries herself loose from his dirty grasp.
Richard – My name’s Richard. What’s yours?
Aling Fely – Fely. Okay, go, shoo.
Richard – God bless you, Aling Fely.
Aling Fely – I know you’re not lame. Stop pretending.
Richard - I know you know. I was trying to be funny.
Aling Fely – Get out of here.
He puts his hand on her forehead, giving her a God-bless-you, and she yanks it away. Next, he goes over to a sidewalk mini-eatery. A mother and son are just standing up after eating. Richard quickly grabs the left over rice from their two plates and puts it in a plastic bag from his pocket. Nobody notices. He goes over to the eatery owner and gives her a God-bless-you before she shoos him away. After roaming around for two hours, he is outside a dirty barbershop. It’s lunch time. He sits on a bench. He peels the two salted eggs, puts them in the plastic bag together with the rice, and pounds the bag against the wall – a feast with bare unwashed hands. 
After resting a bit, he goes over to the coconut juice vendor, and drinks left over juice from two plastic cups before they are thrown into the garbage. He puts the empty cups on like slippers, and hangs on the rear railing of a passenger jeepney, and, as it moves away, he slides on the pavement, using the cups as his ‘skis’ – ingenious but noisy. He ignores people shouting at him to get off. The burly coconut juice vendor picks him up with one hand. Before he leaves, he gives the coconut vendor his God-bless-you.
In the evening, Richard stalks another lechon stall, the biggest in the area, which displays as many as a dozen lechons at any given time. Hiding within the forest of lechons, he takes a pair of mini-scissors from his pocket and cuts off two 6-inch pig tails of lechon. Aling Donna, the owner, sees him at the corner of her eye but pretends she does not. Richard goes over to her and gives her a God-bless-you hug, for which he is rewarded a plate of rice. That is one sumptuous dinner, two 6-inch pig tails on rice. The next day, after his breakfast of lechon fat on rice, Mang Kiko confronts him. 
Mang Kiko – Hey Richard. Do you know I sold ten lechons yesterday? That’s a record. As soon as you left, a lady bought all five lechons. So, I ordered five more which were all sold before noon.
Richard – That’s because I told God to bless you. You give to me, He gives to you. Haha.
Mang Kiko -I give you twenty drips of lechon fat and He gives me P12,000 income in one day? That’s a bit lopsided.
Richard – You don’t know Him. He didn’t take up Accounting. He’s poor in Math. As long as you give, He gives back more than you give. You better believe it, (proudly) God gave to you because I asked him.
Mang Kiko - Maybe so. (Richard begins to leave.) Hey, hey, bless me first.
Richard puts a hand on Mang Kiko’s forehead and blesses him. Onlookers begin to laugh. Next day, Mang Kiko sells 14 lechons. Richard’s God-bless-you image yielding big income spreads like wildfire. He is giving God-bless-you’s to vendors left and right. The mini-eatery quadruples its income. The juice vendor sells a record 44 coconuts instead of the usual 15. Aling Fely quintuples her egg sales and is now diversifying into balut (fertilized duck’s egg). Aling Donna, the lechon tycoon, sells a staggering 46 in one day. Mysteriously, buyers are coming from nowhere. Richard is getting fat, eating all the lechon he can, no longer drips or tails, but the real McCoy. 
The Lord moves in strange ways to inspire, to sanctify, to bless. Especially during Christmas, you may bump into Him in the nooks and crevices of everyday life, among poor street kids and rich street vendors. He blesses the poor to sanctify the rich. Such was the role of Richard, the gentle-hearted, the God-bless-you kid, The Lechon Kid of Blumentritt. Bernie V. Lopez eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
An excerpt from the book Ten Wisdoms of the Lord’s Prayer. Email to order.

p57B – On the occasion of the feast of Christ the King last Sunday.

eastwind journals23 Nov 2018 08:37 am

CHRISTMAS WITH MUSLIMS AND JEWS – A True Adventure Story * eastwind

A True Adventure Story
eastwind memoirs
by Bernie V. Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com
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the greatest christmas gift a father can give a son
is to spend time with him and share his wisdom
a new cellphone or a car means less
material gifts fade, spiritual gifts last

To the millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) worldwide, who cannot come home for Christmas, this true story is for you.


At the age of 26, I left New York City to embark on an adventure of a lifetime, dubbed eastwind, hitchhiking 25,000 kilometers for 3 long years, drifting through 18 countries in Europe and North Africa. The story below is an excerpt from a book I subsequently wrote –
Wings and Wanderlust – the Art of Discovering Your Inner Self.


I arrived in Athens, hitchhiking from Rome to Bari, took a ship to Dubrovnic in Yugoslavia, then to Athens, melting pot of stray North African drifters. I was the only Filipino drifter. The rest of the Pinoys were mostly chambermaids, sailors, and musicians. This was in the mid-70s.


Eastwind at 26 years old, circa late 70s, Amsterdam.

Three drifters – French, Mauritian, Filipino, circa late 70s, Pisa, Itally. Note the eastwind sweater.


Christmas was around the corner. Weeks before, I knew I would get homesick. I never spent one Christmas outside the warmth of home and family. I met a Sudanese guy, a Jewish girl and a host of Arabs and North Africans in my cheap hostel. Drifters and refugees seeking jobs stuck together like magnet, becoming instant friends.


Early Christmas eve, I was in panic where to go and what to do at midnight. I could look for Filipino sailors in Pireaus or just get drunk. I chose the latter. I collected money from the guys (about ten of us), announc­ing a midnight drinking party. Everyone screamed. I bought the terrible cheap Greek wine called retsina, which smelled like aviation gas. I also got vodka, gin and tequila, enough to trigger a nuclear blast. Arabs and Jews normally did not cel­ebrate Christ­mas but the holiday feeling was in the air in Athens, so we had this grand party at the hostel. Arabs also normally did not drink. Not this bunch.


It was a wild noisy party. At eleven o’clock in the evening, we were all goners. I tried to hide my loneliness and depression, but everyone, especially the keen Jewish girl, could see it. They were trying to comfort me. After all, I was the only Christian in a sea Islam and Judaism. At half past eleven, I stood up, wobbled a bit, and quietly sneaked out. No one would not miss me because everyone was drunk.


The cold December air and the sudden silence jarred me from my stupor. I instinctively walked towards music I could hear. My hair stood on end and my drunk state vanished momentarily. It was a midnight Mass, an oasis in the middle of a vast desert. The church was overflowing, so I stayed outside the entrance. They sang “Oh Holy Night”, and my eyes were getting wet.


I felt guilty but it was better going to Christmas mass drunk than not going at all. It was my total refuge from my total loneli­ness, the warmth of church with many people singing carols – from deafening noise to silence, from wildness to serenity, from drunkenness to solemnity. It was a wide pendulum swing. I wanted to go to communion, but changed my mind, as I might trip along the aisle. I just prayed and sang ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ with the crowd. Bethlehem was just a stone’s throw away. More, five stones perhaps.


Almost at the end of the mass, someone elbowed me. It was the Jewish girl. I turned around and saw the whole gang. They followed me to church. They wrapped the vodka and gin in paper bags. They started giggling. I was embar­rassed as church-goers started staring. But then again, I was touched. Friends who did not believe in Christmas believed in friendship. They came to Mass to share themselves with me on this precious day. I was almost in tears. That was the greatest Christmas gift on the road, given by a bunch of non-Christians. We left and were rowdy in the streets, shouting and singing, as we went back to the hostel. They sang strange Arab songs. My loneli­ness disappeared.


“Hey, guys, thanks. I really appreciate it,” I said.


“We’re all in the same boat, Bernie, remember,” the Jewish girl answered. “We’re all away from home. We have to stick together. Especially in our moments of being alone. We are family.”


I embraced her and the guys hooted, pushing us to each other. Back at the hostel, I asked for an attendance report. Everyone shouted his/her origin – Tel Aviv, Khartoum, Marrekesh, Manila, Cairo, Dakar, Tunis. I forget the others. Come to think of it, they were more Muslim North Africans rather than Arabs, descendants of Bedouins and Berbers, nomads of the Sahara converted to Islam. They were mostly escaping the physical poverty of their North African homelands, looking for jobs in Athens, or going north to Paris or London or Copenhagen. I and the Jewish girl were escaping the spiritual poverty of affluent societies. Whereas the North Africans were looking for jobs, the Jewish girl and I were looking for ourselves.


We slept at about three in the morning only because there were no more to drink and the stores were closed. Everybody filed back to their rooms. I would never forget that Christmas. Like in Las Palmas, Andorra, Algarve, Pisa, Munich, Grenoble, Marseilles, and many other places, I had this gift of serendipity, the gift of ‘accidentally’ bumping into good people and good places on the road. That is my Christmas story.


To the OFWs out there, when the opportunity comes, drop everything and take wings, while you are young or not so young. Eastwind may never blow your way again.


by Bernie V. Lopez, eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com


Order the book as a Christmas gift to friends, 450.00 pesos, all in,
Sent to anywhere in the Philippines, right at their doorsteps,
By JRS within 2-3 days (allow FOR CHRISTMAS TRAFFIC),
For outside the Philippines – US$30. Order by email eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com.



a poem for free spirits


albatrosses like eagles do not flock
you find them one at a time
they embark on long journeys in solitude
migrating from pole to pole with ease
sleeping for hours as they glide effortlessly
occasionally, high up in the stratosphere
there is a chance encounter
two albatrosses glide together
for a brief moment in time
wingtip to wingtip
viewing the earth below
then other albatrosses from nowhere join in
in a sudden thunderstorm
they dive into a tailspin
holding on to each other’s spirit
until turbulent winds taper
on occasions, they spot a green oasis
in the middle of the vast desert
they dive quickly for a precious drink
then they soar up again effortlessly in spirals
catching violent warm updrafts
attaining a thousand meters in minutes
back into the comfort of the stratosphere
then they suddenly part ways without plan
back to solitude
until the next chance encounter
sometime somehow somewhere
when wingtips touch other wingtips once more
in some forgotten cloud



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