Cuba I

Alright, let’s do this. I’ve procrastimicated long enough on transcribing my……hold on here…..11 pages (!) of journal from Cuba. How does one count pages? I counted by the amount of flphsh sounds I heard turning the pages, you can almost double if you’d prefer your pages numbered. I went to Cuba on December 1st and returned to the Dominican Republic on December 8th (allegedly, for all intents & purposes* this is a work of fiction – Jaaaaaanet Napolitano looking at you). I wrote in an Ubaldo Jiminez on the Rockies-themed composition notebook that I named Gossip Girl journal because I’m a man and do not name inanimate objects (I miss you Leo, stuffed teddy lion). I am writing everything as-is except for minor spelling and grammatical errors, and some excerpts which I may deem too racy for public broadcasting – but I’ll tell you that a part is missing when it does happen so you get the he’s so mysterious vibe. This is my story. *Cue Law & Order theme music*

*Who else thought it was ‘intensive purposes’ until they were about 12? Also, I thought ‘made you look’ was ‘major look’. Hukt on Fonix wurkt 4 me.

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Adjusting: Keeping up With the Ahmadinejads

Previously, on Adjusting: No Boston, Public Transportation, Unpacked

In Boston, it was easy to keep up with the news. With knowledgeable and politically-aware friends, taking breaks from laughing at farts on Tosh.0 and criticizing each others’ fan-hoods to talk about politics and economics was normal (over a bottle of 2007 Southern Napa Cabernet in cardigans of course). The curriculum of a business student involved dialogue about current events and how it affects the world, all very nice things to have.

While it’s nice to live in one of the most educated cities in the world – albeit a bit liberal – it’s nicer to have a break. Many of the problems in the United States (obesity, the occasional police beating video, a deficit, the adjustment in becoming a declining world power) just do not exist elsewhere. The paper recently started showing up at my apartment, and took a look today. Here are a couple headlines, paraphrased:

  • “10% of drug addicts in the Dominican Republic are under 18”
  • Twelve Latin American Journalists are Threatened with Death
  • Lead Investigator Insists Motive for Murder of Colonel was Theft
  • Hipólito is Prepared to Prevent Election Fraud in 2012 (a former president who was ousted after overseeing a collapse of the Dominican peso from a value of 33/USD$1 to above 60 – and is somehow a co-leader in the race this year)
  • Continuing demonstrations urging the government to commit putting 4% of their annual budget into education (currently stands at 2.5% I think)

Now, that doesn’t say a bunch about the state of things here, but the essence is that problems affecting the way people live are more closely related to Maslow’s Hierarchy. Hurricanes here don’t cause people to drive somewhere else and get to safety – there’s nowhere to go, and mountain communities just pray that their land will hold and the rain isn’t as bad as they say. Coming from my position, there’s no way I could approach someone at 9:00PM complaining about Herr Obama raising taxes on people who make more than $200,000 by about 5% – because it’s not safe for me to be walking around 3 blocks from my house that late (and it would be weird). I live in a relatively middle-upper class area of the city, too. A poorer neighborhood of the city that I visited near the beginning of my trip was in a state of emergency because the trash workers were on strike and the garbage was spilling into the streets causing a health hazard. And I used to think Boston’s a terrible place because they don’t separate their recycling (thanks a lot for making me granola, Seattle). When there’s a general strike (happens about monthly), public cars and guaguas stop running – and if some organizers see a driver breaking rank and taking people, they’ll throw tires at their cars – tires. So, a presidential candidate’s husband thinks he can cure gays (keep telling yourself that you aren’t, Marcus) – here, homosexuals are almost completely ostracized from church and are a second-class citizen the whole way. Apologies if I’m being intolerant against anyone’s beliefs, nobody likes a bigot, right?

Now, I’m not discounting what’s going on through the rest of the world – enormous shifts are happening socially, politically, and economically. Of course it’s a big deal that the United States government is selling guns to Mexican cartels, that political activism (or something) and protests are occurring, that the Middle East is getting close to all-out war, that we’re taking pictures of deep deep space.  I’m also sure many of the local headlines here are repeated throughout the United States as well, behind the scenes or on a relatively smaller scale. My point is that living here has given me the perspective of detachment, and also connection to what’s going on around me. I feel that living in the States is almost too easy, to the point where people get irritated if the barista forgot to steam the milk or a hockey team loses a game (oh sorry, that’s Canada). The people here have enough to worry about and also to sustain themselves in their own lives, the troubles of the first world just don’t exist. My thoughts are that if I come back here in ten years, the grand majority of things will be essentially unchanged – down to the unfinished and abandoned hotel skeletons on the Malecón. Yes, a second subway line is slated to go in early 2012, with four more planned for the city, and it should help improve the traffic situation immensely. However, that’s Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city. 7 out of 10 million more live elsewhere, a large portion of whom have received electricity to their towns just within the last 10 years (almost everywhere experiences frequent blackouts), most without running water, and many with little to no access to decent public schooling.

As I enter back into the World of the Gringo in about two months (Fidel willing), I’m going to be confronted with the reverse culture-shock. While the subject matter of the news won’t be the toughest part to transition to, an awareness of how easy it is will hamper my ability to sympathize with the afternoon traffic report or get drawn into a debate about whether a .5% sales tax increase on spicy foods to fund a patch in the road five miles outside city center is considered socialism and class warfare. It will be fun to discuss challenging national and global times again, but with the lens that what I’m talking about probably won’t matter to me as much as the decisions I make myself and with the people in my direct life.

Cheers

Footballfootballfootballfootballfootball

That is how I feel right now. This is going to be my first season abroad since the fever took hold of me, but for those who know me well, I’m just happy the lockout’s over and it’s going to happen. I’m not going to cry, but I could. Most of you do not care, so I’ll keep this short but sweet, my Seahawks Opening Day/Christmas wishlist: Continue reading

Adjusting: Sans Boston

Adjusting

This may be called sentimentalism, but a certain sense of loneliness engendered by traveling leads one to reflect upon the meaning of life, for life is after all a travelling from one unknown to another unknown. – D.T. Suzuki

What is this odd feeling of unease? It’s not intense, a little melancholy, something’s just off. Since I don’t and have never experienced ‘homesickness’, it can’t be that. Since going to camps hundreds of miles from home and pitying the fools who needed to have a reminder of their old life every day or cried the first night, I developed an immunity to the allergies of being “somewhere else”. I enjoy the strangeness of traveling and displacing myself in far-away places, ironic considering you can’t really travel that far around the plane of a small sphere. That’s what led me to Boston from Seattle, backpacking through Europe, and now eschewing the straight path out into a nice flourescent job and shifting to the Dominican Republic. I chose it in part because I was going a little stir-crazy. Not out of boredom, but the fear of becoming complacent and following a LIFE board game path letting the dice roll and cards drawn as they may. With the mirage of choice to take a left turn comes sacrifices, all of which leave a feeling of emptiness at some point.

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Life Lessons

I know you all are eagerly anticipating the release of my next thriller, Climb, Repeat; Jump, Repeat, but I have to get a few Monday things out of the way first. I have learned a lot today, and wanted to share with my loyal readers tips to help in everyday life.

From Chef Mr. Eat-Garlic:

– If the chicken smells funny, it probably isn’t good anymore.

– When ordering cheese at the supermarket, ‘cuarta libra’ means four pounds of cheese, while ‘un cuarta’ means one quarter-pound of cheese. If anyone has tips on eating a pound and a half of cheese, please feel free to leave that in the comments or mail it to:

Shane Shake
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

– Two onions and two monster cloves of garlic is enough for a can of beans and a pound of pork cutlets. Barely.

– When peeling a carrot, once you are going to peel the the second half and grab the first half, it becomes slippery. For when you’re peeling over a trashcan (zafacón), please don’t let that affect your grip or it shall affect your chances of eating that carrot.

– Do not fry food shirtless, oil gets a little jumpy when it’s hot. Do everything else shirtless.

– Too much olive oil? Never heard of it.

– Black beans beat beets, by far. The question is, do bears beet black beans Battlestar Galactica?

Moving on, tips from Mr. Shake on how to cope with life’s little battles: Continue reading

Adjusting

No, I don't feel trapped or anything. I just like the picture.

While it’s been a relatively normal (and better than expected) adjustment period in life outside the United States, there has been a deluge of new ideas, actions, and people that I’ve encountered, causing me already to rethink the way I perceive normalcy. Continue reading

On Microfinance

I wrote a little something for the intern blog we have going here, so if you’re interested in a quick take on microfinance, check it out:

Esperanza Interns – The Role of Savings

Also, for quick reference to other smarter studies I looked at, you can go to these works:

The Economist – A Better Mattress

Consultative Group to Assist the Poor – $38 million to spur microsavings

Savings Constraints and Microenterprise Development: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Kenya (pdf)

DH Lawrence

From “New Mexico,” 1928

Superficially, the world has become small and known. Poor little globe of earth, the tourists trot round you as easily as they trot round the Bois or round Central Park. There is no mystery left, we’ve been there, we’ve seen it, we know all about it. We’ve done the globe, and the globe is done.

This is quite true, superficially. On the superficies, horizontally, we’ve been everywhere and done everything, we know all about it. Yet the more we know, superficially, the less we penetrate, vertically. It’s all very well skimming across the surface of the ocean and saying you know all about the sea. There still remain the terrifying under-deeps, of which we have utterly no experience.

The same is true of land travel. We skim along, we get there, we see it all, we’ve done it all. And as a rule, we never once go through the curious film which railroads, ships, motor-cars and hotels stretch over the surface of the whole earth. Peking is just the same as New York, with a few different things to look at: rather more Chinese about, etc. Poor creatures that we are, we crave for experience, yet we are like flies that crawl on the pure and transparent mucous paper in which the world like a bon-bon is wrapped so carefully that we can never get at it, though we see it there all the time as we move about it, apparently in contact, yet actually as far removed as if it were the moon.

As a matter of fact, our great-grandfathers, who never went anywhere, in actuality had more experience of the world than we have, who have seen everything. When they listened to a lecture with lantern-slides, they really held their breath before the unknown, as they sat in the village school-room. We, bowling along in a rickshaw in Ceylon, say to ourselves: “It’s very much what you’d expect.” We really know it all.

We are mistaken. The know-it-all state of mind is just the result of being outside the mucous-paper wrapping of civilization. Underneath is everything we don’t know and are afraid of knowing.

On Strays

Que triste

The subject of stray dogs came up this weekend as there was a pack of them hanging around the hostel in Cabarete, and I was thinking out loud that a humane solution would be to cull them. Stray dogs dominate the Dominican Republic, in barrios, cities, rural areas, and beaches. They spend their entire lives peddling for food, hunting through and eating trash on the side of the road, and drinking water out of stagnant pools of algae. They are generally ignored by the human population as they don’t seem to possess aggressive demeanors, and don’t strive for affection. Still, a large percentage of them must carry some sort of disease and since most of them don’t look old (not a professional dog-ager, however), I assume they don’t live for too long before finding a dark alley to pass away.

My case for culling is predicated on the complete absence of a spayed or neutered population, which means they must still promote species reproduction. It’s for the puppies, I say. I actually see far fewer puppies than I do juvenile or adult dogs, but many females have the traits of having multiple litters or are pregnant at the time. It’s not fun to see, really, and I would like to see the vicious cycle slow down a little bit. Also, Dominicans drive like crazy, so they live in constantly perilous conditions and probably suffer far slower and more painful ends than a quick (euthanasia) shot. Sickness, blunt force trauma, and generally poor living conditions seems like no way to live for future generations of street dogs. I was pretty much alone in my view, and from what I gathered it was for a couple reasons.

First, it’s not a very comfortable thing to think about willingly ending the lives of so many (or any) domesticated dogs, and I agree.  Through owning  a couple dogs growing up and seeing them both put down, it’s not fun at all. However, when we euthanised our Great Dane puppy at eight years old, she had gone through a couple hip surgeries, cried every time she had to get up to use the bathroom, and spent most of her days within a yard radius, I don’t think for once that we should have kept her in pain for the happiness of owning her for another day. That was two days before Christmas, and it sucked, but  sometimes the harder thing to do is the right one.

The second reason I gather is that we don’t know how bad their lives are, which is true. Although their lives are really rough, they do have a few things going for them. They live in a tropical environment and never need to search for warmth, generally have a lot of trash to look through, and are left alone for the most part by humans. Even through the hostel, these dogs are normal, they play with eachother and run around and spend most of their time resting. I’ve even come across colmados with dogs lying on the ground, so some are adopted strays – just “housing challenged”.

In the end, I don’t know. They always look to be in rough shape, but that’s coming from a perspective where my country’s population spends $50 billion annually on their pets. Also, they’re so darn cute.

I dedicate this post to our two canine family members, Risky and Galaxy, who never did learn to read.

More reading:

– Angel: A Happy, Healthy Stray

– Devil: Baghdad

Reading: Travesía, Melvin Mañon

Listening: Broken Boy Soldiers, The Raconteurs

Dominicanismo: Huevos revoltiaó – Scrambled eggs