Life Lessons From Abroad

 
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I love to travel, I always have. For me the attraction has rarely been the tourist sites, but in the people and how they live their lives. There’s always something to be learned from another culture, and immersing yourself in an unfamiliar environment is a fascinating way to temporarily step away from your own life. It gives you the opportunity to observe the world from outside your usual bubble and to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and in so-doing to reflect on both your own life and the society you live in. Speaking personally, travel plays a major role in honing my sense of empathy, a skill I consider essential to the practice of design.

The small Caribbean island of Vieques forms part of the American commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and lies about 8 miles to the southeast of the main island. We've been regularly travelling there for winter vacations for the past 23 years. Vieques was hit very hard by Hurricane Maria in late 2017, and in fact had lost its electricity even a couple of weeks earlier while weathering Maria's predecessor storm Irma. Power was not fully re-established for over 6 months and to this day reliability is tenuous. Needless to say the island's residents had a very rough winter.

If you're reading this it's a safe bet that you're living a life that the average Viequense would envy. We live in a prosperous country with a reliable infrastructure and have established resilient institutions to help us in times of need. But as we are well aware, the downside includes living with the stresses that our culture places on us in order to maintain the safety nets we’ve built. Many of us are just too busy to pause and enjoy a moment or two of happiness.

Rancho Choli is a little food bar on a residential street in Esperanza, one of two towns on Vieques. They specialize in "comida criolla", Puerto Rico's traditional fare, with dishes such as roast pig and rice and beans. The place is essentially a shack, colourfully painted with a street-facing walk up window where you give your order when the lady slides the screen open. Her greeting is always jovial, full of laughter, teasing and flirting. Choli is a master griller and a man of quiet dignity and good nature. The portions are hearty and the flavours addictive and there's always a cold cerveza nearby, all of which make it a mandatory stop for us. One small addition we noticed this year is that the Styrofoam clamshells that the food is served in now bear hand-scrawled words of positivity such as those in the picture above.

These would probably come off as a cloying gimmick if they were handed to you from your local trendy urban food truck, but the fact that they've been personally written (mostly as a message to his neighbour patrons) by someone who has seen their town suffer major damage, has scrabbled their life back together while receiving next to no help from government safety nets, and who has managed to return to doing what they love with immense good humour, makes them sincere and heartfelt in my eyes.

And once again, travel has shown me the best in people and reminded me to appreciate all that I am blessed with!

Aprende a Perdonar : Learn to forgive / Choli dice: Olvida tus Penas y Baila!! : Choli says: Forget your troubles and dance!!


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BRUCE FREEMAN, ARIDO, ICD, LEED

Bruce contributes over 25 years of experience in Interior Design and Project Coordination.  He is an expert in programming and planning and has earned a reputation for meticulously overseeing technically complex projects. In conjunction with his extensive Facility Programming work Bruce has become extremely knowledgeable in the area of Workplace Standards and Change Management. 
 

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