Sunday, August 19, 2012

Charlie’s Last Few Months: The Cliff's Notes Edition

I present the Peace Corps DR history map to attendees at the 50th Anniversary conference

A lot has changed since my last blog post. Here’s a brief outline of developments since Spring:
  • Problems persisted with my property managers failing to pay the power bill toward which I so faithfully furnished my share every month.
  • There was an electrical fire late at night, during which I had the good fortune to be awake and able to exit the building before it flooded with smoke.
  • My relationship with the Scouts gradually fell apart.
  • I began to foster a budding relationship with the public library in Moca’s town center.
  • In the month that followed the fire, I began canvassing for a new apartment, eventually discovering a charming family whose Mocan matriarch now rents me a room four blocks from the library.
  • I finally managed to form a group of about seven youths after visiting about six classrooms, each contain more than 30 high school students.
  • Observing my efforts with the youth group, my coworker at the library notified his regional supervisor. Together the three of us planned and promoted a six-week course for more than 30 computer lab supervisors from all around the Moca area, some of whom come from as far as an hour away every Saturday to participate in my workshops. It is presently in week 4.
  • Faced with the threat of its computer lab being reclaimed by the country’s public computer lab authority, the Scouts have renewed their commitment with me, forming a two month schedule of trainings for certain members of the scout group.
  • Nate, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer was networking with potential hosts for his med school residency when he discovered that La Clínica de Familia in La Romana could use an IT specialist to help them with their patient records system.
  • Having been introduced to me during my visit to Punta Cana last Christmas, Nate put me in touch with personnel from the clinic who have since had me out for a tour and interview and petitioned Peace Corp to solicit my service. I am tentatively scheduled to begin there in mid-September.

Me and my latest round of students, computer lab attendants from all over the Moca area.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Water On My Floor Again

As I entered my second straight hour of evacuating water from my apartment building's floors, my thoughts wandered to the last time I had used a broom to literally sweep a large amount of water out of a place where I was living in the developing world. I was alerted to the situation sometime around three in the morning when I was awakened by my neighbor to find a quarter-inch of water on my bedroom floor. It turned out the corner unit had some kind of problem with its plumbing that resulted in a steady flow of water onto the floor from a pipe that should have been filling its toilet's tank. The result was ankle-deep water in that apartment that spilled out in such volume that it filled the hallway floors and the floors of nearly every apartment on the second floor.

To try and mop up all this water or sop it up with towels would have been a waste of time. Instead, the best approach was to physically move it out the door, down the hall, and down the stairs where it could exit the building's side door. A side effect of this effort was the redepositing of an unknown amount of the water in some of the locked, unoccupied units along the way. The process also had the additional effect of dispatching a number of large spiders from hiding which had legs the length of an adult human pinky finger and which moved alarmingly quickly. Imagine my surprise to find that one such spider was deposited on my shoulder upon opening my front door that morning.

I had been sweeping in earnest for some time when Estefany and Cristina finally awoke and wandered over to gawk at my predicament and describe to each other my response in a tone that seemed to contain mild amusement and surprise. I wondered crossly what other course of action they'd imagined I'd take. No sooner had I shown them the water's source, though, than they had formed with me a broom conveyor belt to bale out the most heavily-affected apartment. By the time we had finished, my back ran with sweat and hair and beard were soaked. Another neighbor had disconnected the offending apartment's water. I was thoroughly exhausted and it was barely morning. The mopping of my floor and throwing away of ruined things could commence, but first I needed to bathe and take a long nap.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Lights Are Out Again, Part 2

The luz (pronounced "loose", it means "light" and is used to refer to electricity) has been going out selectively in certain apartments since I got here. The first time the whole building went out, mine stayed out until long after everyone else's had returned. I went so long without complaining too loudly that Pablo finally took pity on me and hired an electrician. Unfortunately, after getting it repaired in my first apartment, I moved to another where the same came to pass after the next altercation with the luz.

After again having it repaired, this time at my own expense, it was revealed that an overhaul of the entire building's wiring is badly needed. Strange little inconsistencies emerged in the process of having my ceiling fan moved. For example, when my ceiling light, which had never work since I moved in, was connected to the same line as my fan, suddenly my wall outlets no longer worked and neither did the light in the bathroom.

Each time the power is disconnected for lack of payment, our luz is connected to the school across the street (whose finances are comingled with our building's), and rationed such that we only consume electricity between 7pm and 7am. Presumably, a month of this is all it takes to pay of the debt we've incurred (including whatever penalty may be applied), because without fail, the end of the billing cycle brings back 24-hour luz. But as soon as the time runs out to pay the following month's bill, we are again returned to the 7-to-7 routine. For my own part, I would love to move, but there just doesn't seem to be anything else in my price range this close to town that has a kitchen. Pensiones (one-room apartments with shared bathrooms and no kitchens) appear to start around $4,000 pesos a month, but with my income, I simply can't afford to eat out every meal. So for now, I wait. And light candles when it gets dark.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Lights Are Out Again, Part 1

The landlady's proxy, Rosa, has announced that she will not return the security deposits of tenants who leave while still owing their share of the month's electrical bill, which this month is 14,000 pesos. So far, three tenants upstairs have moved out. Last month's solution to the electricity problem was to divide what I hope is an average of past monthly bills between all the building's remaining tenants, in shares respective to their usage, and have the resultant amount be a fixed monthly payment. Nevertheless, for the third time since I moved in, the electricity has been cut off due to lack of payment.

There remains the matter of the guy that blew up in my face over the electricity situation back in October. Pablo has assured me on several occasions, without prompting, that he has evicted the Marlboro Man who used to live next door to me when I lived in the other apartment. But I continue to spy his motorcycle, clad in orange vinyl and complete with prints of bikini models, in the shared entryway of the building. From what I gather, he has developed an American appetite for electrical amenities that include cable television, refrigeration, and air conditioning.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chateando, Not Chateando

"Estás chateando," remarks Hiralda, "You're chatting". It's not a question. The Dominican Republic is a country where acknowledging what someone is doing is a way of greeting them. Where I come from, Hiralda's abrupt entrance might be considered an intrusion; she simply walked into my apartment unannounced and sat down. It is just one of a series of interuptions while I try in vain to perform a database task related to a project that has emerged as an important part of my service.

A working, single mother in her middle years, Hiralda has little time to devote to leisure and is probably only vaguely familiar with the concept of internet chat. But I've learned from experience that it is pointless to try and explain that I almost never enable chat on any of the websites I visit as I consider it a waste of time and a potential harmer of relationships. Like most Dominican people I've met since I arrived eleven and an half months ago, she simply considers that chateo is what the internet is for. To suggest otherwise would be like trying to tell her that a TV isn't for watching movies, news, and soap operas.

This lack of mutual understanding is typical of most everyday interactions I have with people in my community. Despite my ongoing efforts in support of Peace Corps' second goal, I find that attempts to enlighten people concerning my lifestyle and views as an American are met with responses that reflect popular beliefs and opinions imported via American movies and television. However clear and contradictory my responses to statements like Hiralda's, it seems the people around me find ways to interpret what I say in ways that reinforce their respective worldviews.

A natural reaction to this phenomenon is to become frustrated and feel disgust toward people and in my weaker moments, I have been known to give in to such feelings. But when I appeal to myself with higher reasoning, I am reminded that there is no rule requiring that anyone around me should even so much as acknowledge me, let alone treat me nicely, and yet I have been met with practically nothing besides warm welcome. Surely, this sincere goodwill does not warrant my contempt.

When I ponder my reaction, I am reminded of the antics of controversial comedian Sasha Baren Cohen in the guise of his character Ali G, a member of England's so-called "chav" sub-culture who conducts interviews of high-profile figures in the idiom of a hopelessly confused, yet genuinely friendly television host. Despite the hilarity of Cohen's interview subjects as they struggle to be understood through his character's absurd lack of comprehension, there is a lesson to be learned about embracing one's fellow man in spite of his faults.

A particularly poignant example of the Ali G phenomenon can be found in comparing how he is recieved, respectively, by Andy Rooney and by Boutros Boutros-Ghali. When watching Ali G interact with Andy Rooney, it quickly becomes obvious that Rooney's self-importance and lack of worldliness will not allow him to overcome Ali's flaws. Boutros-Ghali, on the other hand, maintains a poise and friendliness that endure's his interviewer's confusion and provides for a reasonably successful interaction.

It was in this spirit of warmth and appreciation that I responded Hiralda's statement with a cheery, "Yes, well, sort of".

Monday, February 20, 2012

One Year

It's been a while since my last update. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which being a certain fatigue I felt after posting 169 times beginning eight months before my Peace Corps service and leading up to just before my first Christmas in country. Christmas and New Years were such long and unusual experiences that I simply became overwhelmed at how behind I was once they were over.

While it appears that after nearly two years my blogging stamina finally ran out, I am not even finished with my first year in Moca. And having 13,000 views on my blog tells me that I really ought to keep this thing going. So, with my 28th birthday almost here, and less than two weeks from the one-year anniversary of first stepping sweaty and bewildered onto Dominican soil I am renewing my commitment to writing it all down and sharing it with you.