Here, There and Everywhere

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One by One They Died

Life of Nane Alejandrez. Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

In photo: Nane holding photos of brother Tavo and Leo’s headstones.

naneOne by one they died . . . from drugs . . . from violence . . . from pain, hate and revenge. Nane’s oldest brother got wiped out when he was intentionally hit from behind on his motorcycle; his younger brother died from a heroin overdose; his uncle Pancheo was stabbed to death; numerous cousins succumbed to drugs or were murdered; and his father died from an accumulation of life-long exposure to pesticides, alcoholism and a blow to the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight. That Nane survived to tell his story is a miracle in and of it’s self. 

Mr. Alejandrez is now director of Barrios Unidos (Communities United), was instrumental in convening a national gang summit for peace and has received countless awards and recognition for his work in teaching and living non-violence. Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural program whose mission is to prevent and curtail violence among youth, by providing alternatives such as the Cesar E. Chavez School For Social Change; outreach to youth clubs, parent groups, juvenile hall and kids on the street; and community economic development by operating a full service, custom silk screening business called BU Productions, where youth learn production, sales, marketing, design and administration skills.

NANE:

I’ve seen so many families get torn apart and so many men, especially men, go into hate and revenge and take somebody else’s life. Not thinking about what it’s going to do to the rest of the family. All the violence and anger . . . and a lot of us being brought up to not show any pain . . . to not let people know . . . so we act out, even at times when we don’t want to.

When I acted out I didn’t really want to, but I did it to show that I was looking out for the neighborhood; for the honor of my family. It felt like I wasn’t punking out. If you didn’t do nothing then someone else would think, “Oh well, kill one of those family members and nobody will do anything about it.” So the family would look at each other and say, “Who’s going to do something about it?” – That whole system of payback; trying to keep an image that causes a lot of pain. It’s easier to do that then to deal with your pain.

One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, is I wish somebody would have talked to me about pain and how to deal with it; how to not inflict pain. I learned how to numb it by using drugs and violence, which removed me from feeling it and kept my feelings busy on something else. That worked for a while, but what began to happen was the addiction started taking over. No longer was it about feelings; it was just being well. Surviving and the excitement of breaking the law and running with the home boys . . . you know . . . rebelling, not conforming. I didn’t know anybody that was dealing with it.

People would say, “It’s OK, everything’s going to be all right.” I’d say, “How do you know everything’s going to be all right, when I’m feeling like shit?! You tell me everything’s going to be all right, but that guy over there’s laughing at what he did to my family. Why shouldn’t I go do it to his family?” And then other people would just say, “Go out and take care of it.” They think, “Why isn’t he doing anything? Why doesn’t he take one of their people out?”

There’s that whole thing of not believing in a higher power. I said, “How can this God take my loved ones away? How can He allow it to happen . . . to take my heroes?” The heroes in my life were taken away in a short period of time. The heroes to me were my father, my Uncle Frank and my oldest brother.

After losing all these relatives I was still using drugs a lot of the time. When my father had his operation I was strung out and unemployed. Here I was having graduated from the university with honors and I was really down. When I went to see him in the hospital I was loaded. I went into intensive care. My aunt was there and we went into see him. There were five individuals in intensive care and you know a lot of people that go in there don’t come out. They told me he was all bandaged up and swollen and it would be hard to recognize him. I go in there and start to talk to my father and tell him how much I love him, how much I care about him, my aunts at the end of the bed rubbing his feet. I’m saying, “You’re going to be OK. I love you Dad.” Then my other aunt comes in and says, “Alejandrez is over here.” I look and say, “Wow man!” I was talking to the wrong man. (laughs) I was talking to another man two beds down from my father. My aunt let go of his feet and yelled! I could hear the rest of my family laughing, even in a situation like that, they were laughing. They were going, “Nane’s over there talking to another man.” I swear to God I felt like disappearing. If my father could talk he would have said, “I’m over here stupid!” or “Pendejo en estoy!” So I had to move from that bed to my Dad’s bed and repeat everything. That’s how fucked up I was. That’s an example of the madness. It took me about a year after my father died to really let go of that.

After all these deaths, when I really wanted to clean myself up, I was able to see a friend of mine who was clean. He’s now one of my best friends. We had used together in the past, so when I saw him clean I saw the possibility. He was looking good. I’d gotten busted and was going to court and he would show up in the courts. Every time I had a court date he’d be there supporting me.

Finally I just couldn’t do it no more. My family . . . my children . . . I wasn’t doing anymore talks. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d gotten so deep I couldn’t maintain. And I didn’t want to be doing stuff when I was loaded. I hid my addiction a lot. When it got to the point were I couldn’t do that anymore I asked for help. When I asked him for support he was there. Once I got clean and got the drugs out of my system I started to feel a lot of the pain.

I think I was always a spiritual person but I got side tracked. I got more involved in my traditional ways . . . my indigenous background . . . knowing that it was OK to pray. I’d go around with a lot of Native American teachers and prayer was always there. So I started to pray and go to NA (narcotics anonymous) and they always ended the meeting with a prayer. I began to feel different. My work started coming out again and I was really happy. I was seeing the faces of children and I told myself, “If I’m going to do this I need to do it right.” I need to be clean and I can’t be backsliding. I got more involved in my work and my self. It took a long time to do that again.

I’ve been gifted, you know, in certain situations where things were going to happen . . . by me being there . . . and the respect they have for me. Because I have been through a lot and they could sense it, it stopped it from happening again. People know that this is what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty years. “Stop the violence! Stop the violence!” Even through my madness I’ve stuck with it. People my age always tell me that that’s what they admire about me . . . that I’ve always stuck with it. It’s been hard. There’s been a lot of pain. People ask, “Why would you want to stay in a situation where you’re dealing with so much pain?” But at the same time there’s so much hope . . . the smiles on the kids. They’ve got this place, they’ve got a job, people that look like themselves running it. They got inspiration that maybe someday they’ll be doing it.

More of Nane’s story, and others, at: Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

Nane Alejandrez

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

In photo: Nane holding photos of brother Tavo and Leo’s headstones.

Nane Alejandrez

One by one they died . . . from drugs . . . from violence . . . from pain, hate and revenge. Nane’s oldest brother got wiped out when he was intentionally hit from behind on his motorcycle; his younger brother died from a heroin overdose; his uncle Pancheo was stabbed to death; numerous cousins succumbed to drugs or were murdered; and his father died from an accumulation of life-long exposure to pesticides, alcoholism and a blow to the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight. That Nane survived to tell his story is a miracle in and of it’s self. He crashed and burned many times, but never gave up. His struggle continues, for his own life and that of the young men and women caught in the madness.

Mr. Alejandrez is now director of Barrios Unidos (Communities United), was instrumental in convening a national gang summit for peace and has received countless awards and recognition for his work in teaching and living non-violence. Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural program whose mission is to prevent and curtail violence among youth, by providing alternatives such as the Cesar E. Chavez School For Social Change; outreach to youth clubs, parent groups, juvenile hall and kids on the street; and community economic development by operating a full service, custom silk screening business called BU Productions, where youth learn production, sales, marketing, design and administration skills.

NANE:

I’ve seen so many families get torn apart and so many men, especially men, go into hate and revenge and take somebody else’s life. Not thinking about what it’s going to do to the rest of the family. All the violence and anger . . . and a lot of us being brought up to not show any pain . . . to not let people know . . . so we act out, even at times when we don’t want to.

When I acted out I didn’t really want to, but I did it to show that I was looking out for the neighborhood; for the honor of my family. It felt like I wasn’t punking out. If you didn’t do nothing then someone else would think, “Oh well, kill one of those family members and nobody will do anything about it.” So the family would look at each other and say, “Who’s going to do something about it?” – That whole system of payback; trying to keep an image that causes a lot of pain. It’s easier to do that then to deal with your pain.

One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, is I wish somebody would have talked to me about pain and how to deal with it; how to not inflict pain. I learned how to numb it by using drugs and violence, which removed me from feeling it and kept my feelings busy on something else. That worked for a while, but what began to happen was the addiction started taking over. No longer was it about feelings; it was just being well. Surviving and the excitement of breaking the law and running with the home boys . . . you know . . . rebelling, not conforming. I didn’t know anybody that was dealing with it.

People would say, “It’s OK, everything’s going to be all right.” I’d say, “How do you know everything’s going to be all right, when I’m feeling like shit?! You tell me everything’s going to be all right, but that guy over there’s laughing at what he did to my family. Why shouldn’t I go do it to his family?” And then other people would just say, “Go out and take care of it.” They think, “Why isn’t he doing anything? Why doesn’t he take one of their people out?”

There’s that whole thing of not believing in a higher power. I said, “How can this God take my loved ones away? How can He allow it to happen . . . to take my heroes?” The heroes in my life were taken away in a short period of time. The heroes to me were my father, my Uncle Frank and my oldest brother.

After losing all these relatives I was still using drugs a lot of the time. When my father had his operation I was strung out and unemployed. Here I was having graduated from the university with honors and I was really down. When I went to see him in the hospital I was loaded. I went into intensive care. My aunt was there and we went into see him. There were five individuals in intensive care and you know a lot of people that go in there don’t come out. They told me he was all bandaged up and swollen and it would be hard to recognize him. I go in there and start to talk to my father and tell him how much I love him, how much I care about him, my aunts at the end of the bed rubbing his feet. I’m saying, “You’re going to be OK. I love you Dad.” Then my other aunt comes in and says, “Alejandrez is over here.” I look and say, “Wow man!” I was talking to the wrong man. (laughs) I was talking to another man two beds down from my father. My aunt let go of his feet and yelled! I could hear the rest of my family laughing, even in a situation like that, they were laughing. They were going, “Nane’s over there talking to another man.” I swear to God I felt like disappearing. If my father could talk he would have said, “I’m over here stupid!” or “Pendejo en estoy!” So I had to move from that bed to my Dad’s bed and repeat everything. That’s how fucked up I was. That’s an example of the madness. It took me about a year after my father died to really let go of that.

After all these deaths, when I really wanted to clean myself up, I was able to see a friend of mine who was clean. He’s now one of my best friends. We had used together in the past, so when I saw him clean I saw the possibility. He was looking good. I’d gotten busted and was going to court and he would show up in the courts. Every time I had a court date he’d be there supporting me.

Finally I just couldn’t do it no more. My family . . . my children . . . I wasn’t doing anymore talks. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d gotten so deep I couldn’t maintain. And I didn’t want to be doing stuff when I was loaded. I hid my addiction a lot. When it got to the point were I couldn’t do that anymore I asked for help. When I asked him for support he was there. Once I got clean and got the drugs out of my system I started to feel a lot of the pain.

I think I was always a spiritual person but I got side tracked. I got more involved in my traditional ways . . . my indigenous background . . . knowing that it was OK to pray. I’d go around with a lot of Native American teachers and prayer was always there. So I started to pray and go to NA (narcotics anonymous) and they always ended the meeting with a prayer. I began to feel different. My work started coming out again and I was really happy. I was seeing the faces of children and I told myself, “If I’m going to do this I need to do it right.” I need to be clean and I can’t be backsliding. I got more involved in my work and my self. It took a long time to do that again.

I’ve been gifted, you know, in certain situations where things were going to happen . . . by me being there . . . and the respect they have for me. Because I have been through a lot and they could sense it, it stopped it from happening again. People know that this is what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty years. “Stop the violence! Stop the violence!” Even through my madness I’ve stuck with it. People my age always tell me that that’s what they admire about me . . . that I’ve always stuck with it. It’s been hard. There’s been a lot of pain. People ask, “Why would you want to stay in a situation where you’re dealing with so much pain?” But at the same time there’s so much hope . . . the smiles on the kids. They’ve got this place, they’ve got a job, people that look like themselves running it. They got inspiration that maybe someday they’ll be doing it.

CONTINUED

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Vacation In Rwanda?

If Africa and especially Rwanda, are not the travel destination that first come to mind when you think about relaxation, luxury and “getting away from it all”, you may want to seriously reconsider. The friendly greetings, bustling city and countryside belie the fact of the genocide which occurred in the early nineties. The majority of Rwandans now see themselves as one people and one country. There are an increasing number of tourists descending upon this beautiful lush land of national parks, mountain gorillas and terraced hillsides. Contrasting styles of traditional mud huts and dress are interspersed among paved roads, modern amenities and comfortable accommodations.

Same sex couples walk together on the streets of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda and nobody bats an eye. In fact, it is quite common to see men embracing, putting their foreheads together when greeting one another and walking hand in hand, as they stroll down the streets of the capital or along highways, dirt paths and country roads in one of the few African countries that has no laws against homosexuality. That doesn’t mean that these men are gay (most are probably non-sexual friends), but who knows who is and who isn’t?

Homosexuality is illegal for lesbian women in 20 African countries and for gay men in 29. In Zimbabwe, Uganda, Somalia and Northern Africa you can be prosecuted and imprisoned. South Africa is one of the exceptions, where homosexuality is legal and national legislation bands discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Rwanda doesn’t actively acknowledge homosexuals positively or negatively, but has no laws against it. It follows an unspoken policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. There is no kissing displayed in public, by homosexual or heterosexual couples, but other affections are accepted (hugging, touching hands).

The national parks and wildlife are not the only attractions in this lovely country known as the “land of a thousand hills”, as there are also traditional dance performances, art centers, shopping and an active social scene in Kigali and the northern city of Ruhengeri.

Kigali has a large market in the Nyabugogo district where you will be inundated with clothing, both women’s and men’s, as well as household goods and other local merchandise. Expect to bargain until you’re hoarse, as it is expected and part of the experience. One U.S. dollar equals approximately 550 Rwandan Francs. A new shopping center uptown houses a modern shopping center, complete with a Starbucks like coffee house called Bourbon Street, which has free internet access and all the caffeine you can handle. Rwandan’s don’t drink much coffee, as tea is their thing, even though Rwandan coffee has become a thriving export. There is live music at the Cadillac, Abraxis and Planete Club and numerous bars throughout town.

Some very fine hotels in the city include the Chez Lando (near the airport); Hotel Gorillas; Iris Guesthouse; The Presbyterian Guesthouse; and the famous Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda). Prices range from $50 to $160 per night.

Some area restaurants include an exquisite Indian establishment called Khazana; the Shangh Hai, a Chinese restaurant with great service and food and; Sole Luna, an upscale Italian eatery out towards the airport. You can expect to spend anywhere from $10 to $20 per person for a good meal. People also partake of local Rwandan food at diners and cafes around town, but they can get rather boring, as they consist of the same overcooked vegetables, potatoes and meat, without any spice or seasoning. It is however cheaper than the “foreign” restaurants (about $5 to $10 per meal).

Ruhengeri, the largest city in the north, is the gateway to the Virunga National Park, which borders The Congo and Uganda in Eastern Africa. The scenery from Kigali to Ruhengeri is spectacular and The Gorilla Nest Lodge just outside the park is stunning. Imagine a luxury hotel, superbly crafted from local stone, wood and bamboo, tucked into the jungle at the bottom of a blue-green volcanic range. Top that off with spacious rooms, fine dining and friendly service from people that speak English, French and Kinyarwanda (the national language) and you have a virtual Shangri-la in the middle of Africa. The Hotel Muhabura is reported to be another great place to hang your hat and much less expensive ($35 to $50) than the Mountain Gorilla’s Nest, which charges $100 and up per night.

No matter how beautiful the drive north has been or how luxurious your accommodation, nothing quite prepares you for the magnificent mountain gorillas that reside in the Virunga National Park. Even though tourists are only allowed an hour visit, to protect the gorillas, the $500 fee charged to see them is worth every penny. The funds from the fees (permits) are used to maintain the sanctuary, continue research, guard the gorilla families and support local communities and projects outside the park. These creatures, which have 97 percent of the same DNA as humans, are gentle vegetarian mammals that live in clusters of communal families and alternate between play, sleep and time to enjoy a tasty meal of bamboo, greens and fruit. If you take the time to travel to Rwanda, do not miss the adventure of visiting the mountain gorillas.

The people of Rwanda are as beautiful as their country, which has to rate a ten on the lush green scale of tropical paradises. From smiles and generosity in the cities hotels, shops and fine restaurants, to the lodges and safari’s to see the gorillas, volcanic mountains, game parks and lakeside resorts, this Central African country has moved leaps and bounds beyond their tragic civil war over sixteen years ago. It has literally risen from the ashes and become the “new Eden” of Africa. With a stable government, abundant overseas investment and a pervading sense of hope and reconstruction, Rwanda is now considered one of the safest countries to visit on the continent.

When you go:

Easy access from the U.S. via England to Kenya and from Kenya to Kigali (the capital of Rwanda), makes it an affordable, though lengthy trip. The time spent traveling is well worth the long haul. There may soon be an even quicker route from Atlanta to Kigali, via Johannesburg South Africa.

National language is Kinyarwanda, but many people also speak English or French and there is a big push for everyone to learn English.

You will need up to date vaccinations and malaria precautions.

A great resource for touring Rwanda is: Bizidanny Tours & Safaris B. P. 395 Kigali, Rwanda. Phone 250 08501461. Web Site: www.bizidanny.com

Barbara Jenkins at Rancho Del Mar Travel has been arranging trips to Africa for thirty years. 1327 La Sobrina Court, Solana Beach, CA 92075-2105. Phone: 858-755-7368.

The Rwanda Tourist Board can be contacted at: www.rwandatourism.com.

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