“Good things won’t come to you; you have to go and make them happen.”- Ben, 2015
As soon as I turned 20 in 2015, I taped up three boxes of clothes and old college textbooks, and had them stored away at my then-boyfriend’s apartment in Los Angeles with a promise to come back in 6 months. Equipped with a backpack of necessities and 3,800USD, I roamed my way over Central America and Europe for 6 months. I did renege on the promise as I never came back. BUT, that was the Yanise before backpacking, before The Bladress, before living on the street, and before long distance blading.
Two months into my travel, I started working at a hostel in Dominican Republic where we all called home- our castle in the surfing town. I stepped off the mototaxi to admire the two-story vacation complex laid with classic red bricks, so hidden and peaceful. With all the enthusiasm, I waved at a caucasian young man sitting at the front desk, “hola, me llamo Yanise. Hoy es mi primer dia de trabajo aqui. Eres Mati? ” He stood up slowly and calmly, speaking with a heavy accent, “I am not Mati, I am Ben. I don’t speak Spanish. Mati will be back soon. I can show you around.” To the right of the reception desk was the lounge where some guests were playing pool while some were watching a movie and chatting on the couch with their feet propped on the coffee table as though it was their own living room. “New guest?” Amongst the curious crowd, a European boy gleefully inquired. “She works here now,” Ben responded laconically.
As blunt and nonchalant as Ben presented himself, it’s surprising he offered to take me for a beach exploration on my first day. My enthusiasm was polar opposite to his coldness. As he was leading the way towards the ocean, he swiftly skipped over a mountain of rocks like a grasshopper without once turning his head to check on the clumsy newcomer 300 meters behind. When I finally caught up, we began chatting over a glass of piña colada (Yummm).
I shared the dorm room with Ben and a dreadlocked German gardener. Almost everyone in the guesthouse was a long-term guest between 17-40. Some days quarrels arose, but in the end of the day we were always one big expat family living together. Ben and I complemented each other so perfectly as I didn’t dare to drive in the mayhem and he didn’t speak any Spanish. Spending almost 20/7 with Ben gave me sufficient time to learn that he was a 22-year-old English boy who was unbelievably rigid with rules not laws. Sometimes our guest would get annoyed at his hair-splitting personality, but gradually I came to admire what he called “matter of principles.”
His over-the-top IQ and watersports talent made up for his slight social awkwardness. He was an expert in scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing, kite surfing, and paragliding. As a teen, he was hired as a black-market engineer earning over half-a-million a year; sometimes, I’d see him jumping up and down beside himself with some successful online investment that I couldn’t decipher. Yet, the dark factory boredom and formal social structure were England to him. His aversion towards England propelled him to wander the world living one day at a time, teaching watersports, getting a couple of dollars of commissions, fixing bikes, doing illegal businesses. He, like many expats in town, escaped their real life into the fairyland of low cost, abundant nature, and free of stress. Somehow the magic land cast a spell on those who sought refuge- one month turned into two, then six, then a year and then two… some lived happily ever after while some just never seemed to belong. Ben belonged to the latter group. I felt an innate sense of ambition and a great future ahead of him, yet I was also aware of how he’d been trying really hard to numb himself into believing otherwise.
One afternoon we had Dominican Chinese food. I gingerly cracked the fortune cookie to retrieve my slip written, “Good things will come to you.” Without a word, Ben rudely snatched it from me and started scribbling. He replaced “will” with “won’t” and added, “You have to go and make them happen.” That’s the Ben I knew- the doer who wouldn’t sit around and submissively wait for fate to take over.
Time and time again, I tried to persuade him to end the ever-wandering expat life and go home, “If you’re truly happy, by all means, please stay. But you are not and you know you are way too smart to waste your talents passing your day aimlessly in this town, then leave!” It saddened me to see a great mind lounging purposelessly in a vacation town without an end in sight. It was like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut every minute every day. I knew, however, I couldn’t take the bull by the horns.
My departure day arrived. No one will be there to nag Ben anymore… I left a brief note in the middle of his notebook, just like digging for my last breath to force out my final words, “don’t know when you’ll be reading this, but please remember you have a friend who is and will be there for you, siempre. Go do something big, you big man.” 6 months later, I received a message saying, “I made enough money to buy a ticket home and I realized I could achieve more in life (with your help). You wrote me an inspirational letter ending with words go do something big.” As far as I know, he’s now a successful engineer in a happy stable relationship in England.
A real friendship goes both ways. As much as I inspired Ben to go home and take the world by the storm with his gifted intelligence, his “matter of principle” rubbed off on me. Our own set of principles defines us as a unique individual; without them, one could easily sink into the world of soul-eating lust, greed, indolence, and betrayal, which are essentially detrimental to relationships as well as our mental health and self-esteem.
5 major principles I uphold:
- Never do any vices as an escape
- Never do anything to betray my integrity and belief on account of money and fame
- Never say “I can’t” before trying
- Finish what I’ve started
- Don’t wait for good things to come, go and make them happen