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

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August 10

Keeping in touch with people is tough. The urgency lasts for a few weeks or months, you want to make sure everyone’s abreast of your activities and stay involved in theirs. Eventually, normal life starts taking over. People continue to go on trips, interact with others on a daily basis, get busy, get tired, get off the computer – and you do the same. Social networking and instant communication have alleviated the disconnect to a point, if you’re available at the same time as an acquaintance, it’s easy to converse. However, there’s only a certain amount of answers to “what’s new?” before you start blending your own days together and losing the novelty of sharing with someone who will never know.

I knew this day would come – when writing in the blog seems like more work than interesting insight I can bring. I have made excuses – I’m too tired, someone’s leaving tomorrow, have to work out, have to practice, have to read, traveling. Just like my excuses for not going to the gym – I’m eating well enough, I feel fine, Aaron’s not here so nobody will know, have to write in the blog – I am ending them tonight. This really is my last string to stateside, and I don’t manually keep in touch well, because that forces me to be tethered to the computer. Also, it’s enjoyable and allows me to reflect on what’s going on. Continue reading

Waterfall Adventure – Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Quicker turnaround than usual for the second part, as we resume our story in the seat right behind the pilot on a vinyl-wrapped seat in Santiago, about to head to the 27 Charcos. Nos vamos.

Usually when you’re on a local guagua at a main stop, men with boxes or bags come on to sell their food products or sunglasses; generally fruit, coconut or sesame candy bars, chips, etc. This time there was a guy at the window selling rolls. They looked like wheat rolls and only cost 10 pesos, so I bought 5. Great purchase, as they were pretty filling (breakfast), tasted a bit like coffee cake, and held well as a post-game snack. ‘No’ isn’t always the answer for street vendors. On our way to the charcos, absolutely nothing notable that I can remember happened, which brought my “consecutive bus rides without an issue” streak to a record-shattering three.

Our guide intern directed us to get off at a rocky path off the side of the road, then laughed at us and drove off. Really cool, Caitlin. 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

Montaña Adventure – Parte II

To grandmother's house we go

Parte I

“Day Two”, I say to myself with conviction before realizing I was convinced of nothing. Where am I? What have they done with my horse? Is Denzel still alive? I have to alert the others – Huh? Back to the story.

I woke up at seven well rested on account of the silence and despite the mattress springs prodding me through the night in very uncomfortable places. They were so prominent I could probably tell you the diameter, metal composition, and layout pattern of the coils. Breakfast was served at 8:30 so I had some time to read and get myself prepared for the day. All I planned on bringing to the ‘Killer Hike’ was a bottle of water, bag of almonds/pistachios, my D60 – a.k.a. ‘Beast’ –, rain jacket, Five Finger shoes, and a bandana. It did look like it was going to rain a bit, but I felt prepared.

Continue reading