Tag Archives: Justin

Lesson Learned from Friends on the Road

  • You should always bring some of the clothes you love and rely on (Nellie) but should also buy/bring some basic stuff you don’t mind giving away (Rhiannon)
  • Of course, don’t be “that guy” who just gives away all their broken/dirty junk: give away the things you love, and it’ll come back to you (Deirdre)
  • Just do it, magn/There’s nothing you can do about it now, so have fun/shoes are lame (unless someone steals yours)/spend your nights under the stars (Kristina)
  • There is no right way to experience a country, so just do what makes you happy in the moment, and if you enjoyed the time while you spent it you can’t look back with regret (Abby)
  • Bring a book or two, and trade them away for others when you’re done.  After all, on the road, a new story is worth more than one you already know, and can easily find again (Emma)
  • If you really are the “whatever” person (like Avi The Army Guy or Julie The Yoga Girl) trust that everyone knows that already, and let them come to you if they want to know more (Julie and Avi. Duh.)
  • Bring all-purpose items, and travel speakers (Laurel, aka Leslie)
  • Don’t lend people your Coach/Ignore all negativity (Aliesha)
  • Be unapologetically ridiculous and enthusiastic, and you’re bound to make friends.  Even if you don’t, you’re probably already having a ton of fun (Brit and Kristina)
  • Sometimes the cost of something “lent” is worth the friendship or the conversation you get in exchange (Britito)
  • Really listen, and remember people (Nellie, Laurel, Julie)
  • Sometimes being the butt of the joke is the best way to put everyone at ease, and the quickest way to gain friends (Gumby)
  • Lack of language doesn’t mean lack of communication (Mike)
  • You can sweet-talk your way into (and out of) anything (Pasha Daoud)
  • You’re always surrounded by a million memorable moments waiting to happen (Allyson)
  • Trust strangers (Dylan and Taylor)
  • Always ask the parents before you give kids something, especially candy–and make sure you have enough to go around (Lori)
  • Don’t let anyone (or anything) hold you back from what you want to see or accomplish (Falconer)
  • Just eat it (Brit, Rhiannon and Falconer)
  • Be humble; laugh at yourself; always be learning (Janine)
  • Keep an open mind and try to put things into context.  Also, always have a notebook and pen (Ilham)
  • Even if you don’t have the words, you can always make friends with your talent (Justino y Míles)
  • Laugh and smile and you will make friends (Diana)
  • Ask questions (Julie–like you don’t know which!)
  • Always have a scarf and a sweater (Marisa and Cynthia)
  • Always bring at least one or two things that make you look hot–you never know (Sarah)
  • Packing is for overachievers (Erin)
  • Relax.  When the bus breaks down, have a photoshoot! play cards! work on your tan! (Profe)
  • When you don’t have something, whether it’s an object or a skill: outsource (Kate)
  • A good friend is always there for you, no matter the distance or time difference (Alex)

What are your best lessons, from travel or otherwise?  What have the people around you showed you?

Shell Reading

The altar from the Cajon, with a musician. All photos credited to Hector Delgado

So I may be dying in Cuba.  But don’t worry, it’ll be a swift death.

Padrino is in the middle, while Justin (left) receives counsel from a clairvoyant santero, who would later go into trance

I went to have my shells read at the padrino’s house a month or so ago.  It’s in a barrio humilde in Habana Vieja, the same place where the Cajon was.  A padrino (or a madrina) is a godfather, literally translated, and a spiritual leader.  They play friend, confidant, psychologist, marital counselor and interpreter.

I was told that the people I’m surrounded by aren’t good people; they want to do me harm.  For whatever reason, be it my personality, mannerisms, looks or whatever, they cannot stomach me.  Just because someone hugs you, he said, doesn’t mean they care about you; they’re ust trying to decieve you.  Someone will try to take something from me, and oh yeah, that family I have?  Where I’m the youngest?  Yeah they’re not as healthy as I think.  But I shouldn’t react too strongly to news, good or bad.

The doubled over man in white is entranced, during the Cajon al Muerte, while we look on in confusion and curiosity.

Thanks padrino, I’ll try to remain calm.

Gabby told me I got one of the worst signs in all of Santeria, and padrino said I got the worst reading out of anyone in our group.  At one point, Gabby stopped translating because he felt too bad.  I appreciate that, and him interjecting with his opinion that the shells weren’t right, but I still know enough Spanish to know what padrino said.

The only highlights?  The reason people want to deceive me and hurt me is my natural intelligence, of which I have a lot.  Oh and that death?  It’ll be swift, no worries.

When I first came out of the reading I was stoic to the max, and really rather melancholic.  Basically padrino took everything I’m afraid of and told me it’s true.  And I don’t even care about the death bit.

We all dance at the Cajon, in Padrino's house. We (at least 30 people) all fit in this small living room on a hot day.

Once I went back in to have my head cleansed and got my Changó necklace, I truly did feel better.  I suddenly felt wildly silly for having been even a little sad before.  Changó was protecting me, I was just supposed to avoid Santeria and trust in god.  Since then, we’ve joked about my need for a body guard, the meaningless nature of the hugs I get, and we wonder aloud in what ways they could possibly be deceiving me at any given time.

I wasn’t going to write about this, or a bunch of other topics, because I don’t want to be henpecked.  But ya know what?  Santeria is what’s going on down here, and my particular shell reading has become part of the fabric of the group.  So either you can learn to not worry, or I can learn to ignore the concern.


Everyone is so frank with their nicknames here, which are more like blunt descriptors.  Every guy with Asian heritage is Chino, which is kind of confusing.  We often hear people called Gordo, or fatty, and men call out to women to call them Gordita, which they think is a compliment.

At this point, I should explain that a lot of terms that sound un-pc and racially not okay to American ears are not at all negative here.  Negro is an adjective, not an insult, and mulatto is the same way.  Chino is the correct term for a Chinese person, they just use those terms with a greater familiarity and frequency than we do.

Beyond that, all of our names have changed a bit.  Brittan is Bree-ton, Justin is who-steen, Abby is usually Awee, Dan became Danielle, Diana is Dee-ahna, and Aliesha becomes Alicia or Alish.  Brittan is also Músico, and Aliesha is called la mulatta, much to her chagrin.  She’s not actually mulatta, but there are basically no people here who are just black, so if you’re anything other than white or Chino, you must be a mulatto.

No one has any problems pronouncing Kristina Escalona.

I’ve become Dell-ee-uh, which I expected.  Entertainingly, the Americans have all taken to calling me this as well.  Some of them I think are just used to hearing me called that, the way I pronounce Diana the Cuban way out of habit and affection.  Many of the Michigan kids, though, honestly think that’s the correct way to pronounce my name.