My oh my how infants grow fast. My blog has changed so much I wouldn’t believe it was the same one if I haven’t been the one modifying it for the past hour in between researching stray dogs. Besides the obvious style changes, here are a couple points. All pictures on this site are going to be my pictures, and there are a couple new pages to the site.
Anyways, today I was sent to mentor with a loan officer (asesora) in our Santo Domingo Norte office. I woke up at 6, ate my ‘corn flakes’ (all cereal is referred to as corn flakes here, even though I was eating Raisin Bran), and jumped on the T…Metro to the other side of the river (think of it as the American “tracks”). Bleary-eyed but pumped both with adrenaline from being in a true barrio and a leftover 5-Hour Energy, I exited the brand-spanking new train station and entered into an alien world from a time far long ago. Stray dogs were everywhere, expertly dodging traffic on the eternal quest for potable water and non-maggoted food; cars looked and sounded about 10 years older than in the main part of the city, with twice as many people on and in them; motoconchos (cycles) were weaving in and out of food-carrying buses; smog was pouring out of every orifice; I was taking in two new sensations per sense, just dumbstruck. It would take me two years to explain what I saw in the first 2 minutes of waiting if I had Total Recall*. It’s amazing that among the apparent lawlessness I still saw children walking to school in their uniforms smiling and waving to the police officer on patrol at the entrance to the Metro. Humans really do adjust to their circumstances better than anything else….maybe except a cockroach.
I was picked up by the leader of a borrower group and taken to my first reunión. These are bi-weekly meetings that consist of first prayer songs, then a reading of the bible, then repayment. This was my first foray into a zone where I was the sole English speaker. With the side-tracks of stress, the church being a smallish cement room with an open garage door serving as the useless divide to the chaos outside, and Dominican Spanish speed and informality, I guess I caught about 10% of what was going on. Afterwards, I met my mentor/guide and we started moving to the next meeting, deeper into the barrio. I really wish I took video of what happened next.
We jumped in a guagua (ruta 28) and I sat in to the middle bench on the open doorside, with a fruit crate serving as the seat even closer to the edge. Bracing myself against the doorframe, the driver pulled out into traffic and started aggressively driving. If you’re reading this from Boston, I’m now calling you a panzy driver. If you’re from the West coast or South, you probably already were. This guy was insane, he did things to this old van that would haunt your dreams. I had a first hand view of it through the center of the windshield (which I expected fully to go through at many points on this ride) and I can only say it handles like a boat. It handles like a speedboat, but still braking on it is like slowing down in water, not even a screeching of the tires which had Indy treads at this point in their lifetimes. Same goes with steering, yet he would try to go 40mph through a closing lane of a corolla and chicken bus before braking and turning into a motorconcho, to turn away from that at the last second and accelerate somewhere else. At the same time, he would yell at said near-death motoconcho drivers – to see if they could make change for a 100 peso bill for one of the other passengers. One actually pulled over and obliged. I don’t get it either. At the end of the day, it was so much more fun than any roller coaster I’ve been on. Anyways, onto the highlights of the rest of the day:
– The next meeting was much of the same, but a smaller group of about 10 and at this lady’s place, a one room apartment with a small patio and what you’d expect being off a dirt road. They had a couple turtles, and I tried to scare one before hearing “CUIDADO!”…They were snapping turtles and I was about to poke one in the snout. The ladies had a good laugh at that.
– Through the day my mentor and I got to understanding our lack of understanding and actually had some fun. During lunch, I tried to use one of my Dominicanismos to explain that I’d like to be assimilated by the end of six months, but apparently ‘Aplatanado’ means ‘like a banana’ to them. I still want to be empapado, though. By the end of the day, I think her and I were at 70% understanding.
– Saw a lady dual-wielding a baby and an umbrella against two security guards. The umbrella was not hers. Not sure about the baby either.
– Went to an introduction meeting where they see if a group of ladies have the desire and ability to join in the microfinance effort, which is really difficult to maintain. I learned a boatload in this experience: (1) It’s a really alien concept to the poorest of the poor that someone wants to give them money and expect it back in anticipation that they become productive with it and take control of their lives; (2) Dominican women are strong, social, passionate human beings. That goes double my guide for the day, who in making the closing remarks at the meeting really changed my perspective; (3) They are welcoming people. I was the only guy and gringo in a group of 12 señoras and not only did I not get any weird looks but when I introduced myself I was treated as if I was expected to be there.
– About a block and a half from my apartment there is a coconut man who has a rolling stand daily. He has a machete and for 30 pesos (~$.70) he expertly chops a coconut to get a small hole at the top, then pours the juice into a cup with ice and/or sugar for you. I would pay just to watch that. In fact, tomorrow I might just try and get a video of that too. This is going to be an adventure blog, people. I won’t stop until I make you fly down and tie me up in a straight jacket.
Alright, tomorrow and Friday I’m going back, so I’ll try to take a video of a guagua experience if I can. I have to be there at 7am so I’m going to go relax, read, and get reacquainted with my long-ignored guitar. I’ve done today on 3 hours of sleep. I know it’s only four nights, but I’m alternating between being too uncomfortable to sleep or too tired to be uncomfortable. Hopefully pictures will be up tomorrow.
*Not a reference to the Arnie movie, but the book I’m reading –Stranger in a Strange Land- where some people learn perfect photographic memory to be hired as Witnesses of important events, where their description of such can be used as concrete evidence and perfectly impartial observers.
Reading: Stranger in a Strange Land
Listening: London Sessions, LCD Soundsystem
Dominicanismo: A po’ ta’ bien – “Ah, it’s okay”, “Oh, okay”