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.