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David Gusta isn’t just a Washington State defensive lineman. He’s a world traveler

PULLMAN – A young David Gusta couldn’t believe his ears. He had just picked up the phone to dial his mom, Melanie, who was on her honeymoon.

Gusta, around 6 years old at the time and more than a decade before he blossomed into a staple on Washington State’s defensive line, was already developing a desire to travel, a sense of wonder of what he was missing out on at home in the Los Angeles area. So when he heard that his mom’s trip was to Belize, a picturesque country on the eastern coast of Central America, he was floored.

“You left me,” Gusta told his mom.

“I was mad,” Gusta said. “I told her, ‘I’m gonna travel more places than you.’ ”

If it comes as a surprise that a child had a fascination with travel, you don’t know David Gusta. At the ripe age of 6, he took his mom’s trip as a challenge, a dare to experience more of the world than she had.

Ask him now and he’ll tell you he’s succeeded. At 20 years old and a redshirt sophomore at WSU, Gusta has been to Indonesia, Singapore, Japan and Malaysia. He’s a food junkie and a religion enthusiast. He’s felt like a fish out of water in Bali and he’s put on 20 pounds in a month eating food he can’t get in Pullman.

It’s all part of the persona of Gusta, whose love for travel started with his mom, who has been to Indonesia, Germany and Scotland. Since then, Gusta has cashed in on every opportunity to travel. His girlfriend, Angie Sandell, is from Indonesia, so their first trip came when she was going home.

This was in May, a couple of weeks after WSU played its spring game, freeing up players for a month. One day, Sandell asked Gusta if he’d like to come with her to Indonesia.

“I was like, well, I travel everywhere else,” Gusta said. “I was like, yeah, this is perfect.”

So off they went, stopping first in Japan, where they stayed for two days. Then it was off to Singapore, where the couple stayed for five days. Then they went to Bali – “which was fantastic,” Gusta said.

Their first stop in Indonesia was Pekanbaru, the capital city of the province of Riau, on the island of Sumatra. That all sounds nice, but somewhere along the line, Gusta forgot to get a full grasp of the currency exchange. Food in Indonesia, it turns out, costs nowhere near as much as it does in America.

So during the month Gusta and Sandell stayed in Pekanbaru, he realized he could get a chicken recipe he loved, sauteed ayam (think stir-fried chicken) for the equivalent of $3.

“I would eat this every single morning. Ordered three plates of it,” Gusta said. “Basically, I couldn’t resist.”

In places like these, locals haven’t always seen someone who looks like Gusta, a Black man who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs nearly 300 pounds.

“That’s not normal to see there,” Gusta said.

In Indonesia, a group of children startled Gusta by calling him “African man.”

“At first, I was like, ‘What’d you call me?’ ” Gusta said, before realizing they just wanted to practice their English.

If it sounds like Gusta felt like an alien, “That’s an understatement,” he said.

When David and Angie would go to the malls in Pekanbaru, he would notice something a tad alarming: People were staring and pointing at him. He turned to Sandell.

“Do they want to fight me or something?” Gusta asked her. “Am I about to get jumped?”

That part Gusta said with a hearty laugh, in hindsight realizing how ridiculous he sounded then. But he also found it funny because of how much he was teaching natives. He would try to make conversation, even with strangers in the mall, but all they seemed interested in doing was finding out who this person was.

They wanted to touch Gusta’s hair, which had a different texture than anything they had experienced before. When they saw Gusta’s do-rag, they looked confused. They wanted to try it on.

“At first, I was a little thrown off,” Gusta said, “but after I was like, ‘OK, they’re just curious.’ ”

Everywhere he’s gone, Gusta has gained knowledge . He’s learned to appreciate something he hadn’t before, like air conditioning: “I know it sounds weird, but at night I would wake up in cold sweats. It was bad.”

Gusta grew up in poverty in San Bernardino, California, but now he considers that decent living compared to what he witnessed in places like Malaysia.

He’s also learned to love America’s health care system.

“I know everybody complains about how expensive it is,” Gusta said, “but like, there’s not a lot out there.”

So much of what Gusta once took for granted in California – even in Pullman – he now realizes is a gift. In Pullman, he can cross the street by hitting a button and letting the walk sign come on a screen. In Indonesia, he was on his own, left to dodge cars like in the video game Frogger.

“I got shocked by how traffic is. They use horns as a language,” Gusta said. “I’m so glad that we are organized.”

Still, he’s traveled enough to know that not every country in southeast Asia is like that. For example, he said, Singapore is one of the cleanest places in the world.

“I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to drive into the main city if your car is dirty,” Gusta said.

That one, it seems, Gusta got mixed up with Russia. But here’s one thing he remembered well about Singapore: It’s illegal to import and sell chewing gum in Singapore, which prides itself on cleanliness.

“I was like, what? Gum is illegal?” Gusta said. “They’re like, yeah. People stick it everywhere.”

Not everything Gusta has learned overseas has changed who he is , but he isn’t done traveling either.

In May, he and Sandell have another trip planned to Indonesia, where he wants to study more of the Hindu religion. He learned how ubiquitous temples are in Indonesia, which piqued his interest.

Wherever he goes, though, Gusta wants to bring his friends along. A couple of years ago, when he was a freshman, he asked a couple of teammates if they traveled or wanted to go anywhere.

No, they answered, we don’t have time.

“And I’m like, ‘We have a month break,’ ” Gusta said. “ We have a month break in May. ”

He hasn’t recruited any teammates on his trips, but not everyone has a mom like his – a parent who challenges them to see the world.