Tuesday, December 09, 2008


From today's New York Times:

As a clerk at the Dominican Republic Consulate in New York, Francisco
Estevez enjoyed a number of diplomatic perks, including something any frequent
flier would covet: an exclusive visa that amounted to an airport E-ZPass.

Mr. Estevez would travel to the Dominican Republic and interview potential
customers face to face to make sure they resembled one of his family members,
according to the authorities. Once he determined there was a match, they said,
Mr. Estevez would give that person a family member’s passport and an A-2 visa
and fly with them to the United States. He sometimes took as many as seven
people who would pose as family members.

Not good when diplomatic immunity is taken away, is it?

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I was catching up on a blog I enjoy reading and came across this post about kuduro. Kuduro is music from the musseques (slums) of Luanda. (I've written about it before.) According to the post, kuduro is taking over Europe! Of course, not kuduro as Angolans listen to it, but "improved" upon by European DJs. Follow the link and decide for yourself if you like it.

This got me nostalgic for kuduro (which means "hard ass" in Kimbundu). So here is a kuduro song that was HUGE in the months before I left. It basically is a conversation between a father and a son. The father is hassling his son, who is a real bandido- doesn't study, gets a girl pregnant, etc. I like it because there's a lot of Angolan Portuguese phrases and sounds in it. And like any good kuduro video, it's filmed in a musseque with the people who live there and little kids dancing all crazy.

And here's one of my all-time favorite, O Comboio by kurudo powerhouse Os Lamba. (Comboio = train)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Conversations I Have Had: Jamaica Edition

Riverton Community Center, Kingston, Jamaica

I rely heavily upon the map of Kingston while I am here. After a few days I get used to the place, only to forget it all again once I leave. Therefore I was disappointed to find it had gone "missing" from the car. So I set out to find a new one at the bookstore.

Me: Excuse me, do you have street maps?

Bookstore employee: Street maps?

Me: Yes, of Kingston.

...Blank look...

Me: Maps with the names of streets. So I don't get lost.

Employee: No, we don't have any street maps.

Me: Oh.

Employee: We only have road maps.

I went to visit our partner in Seaview Gardens, a rough and tumble neighborhood of Kingston. I had never really been out to visit the community before, so two of the formidable community liasons, Miss Effie and Carolyn, took me around. We stopped in at the local police station.

Me: Do you have enough police to handle to problems of the community?

Sargent: No man, we need more.

Miss Effie: They need a lot of things here. They need a new car, a new fence...

Sargent: Yeah man, we need a new kitchen.

Miss Effie: They really need a new bar.

Me: A bar? I'm sorry. What's a bar? [Thinking, this can't really be a bar, like, for drinking.]

Sargent: A bar, man, for drinking. [Pointing to 2/3 bottle of Appleton Rum on his bookshelf.]

Miss Effie: Yeah, for when they don't have anything to do.

Sargent: Yeah, we really need one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bahia de las Aguilas

Last weekend I went with a few coworkers to the provinces of Barahona and Pedernales. The purpose of the trip was to go to Bahia de las Aguilas, a beach located in the Parque Nacional (National Park) Jaragua. Although we spent way too much time in the car, it was well worth the trip.

Along the way we stopped to see some Taino cave carvings.

...And a park inhabited by iguanas. Can you spot the baby iguana?
There he is!
"Do Not Enter with Firearms."

Bahia de las Aguilas is the most beautiful beach I've seen in a long time. Recently a Spanish resort corporation tried to buy the land in order to build a resort. Environmentalists lodged a protest and, fortunately, were able to prevent the resort from being built. Hard to imagine this beautiful landscape marred by an all-inclusive!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Cocoa Tea Calls It

A friend I work with- and who has traveled to Jamaica frequently for work- came over to watch the election results on Tuesday. As they called it for Obama, she said, "I can't wait to see what the Jamaican newspapers say tomorrow."

They did say this:

Barack Obama's victory should now instil a higher level of confidence in
Jamaicans, says reggae artiste Coco Tea who, through his musical tribute, had predicted a win for Obama several months before the presidential elections.

Yes folks, Cocoa Tea called it! We should all listen to him.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reggae Superstar for Obama

Folks, let's face it. The world has Obama fever. The other day on the news here they were interviewing Domincans, asking who they would vote for if they could vote in the US election. "Obama! Porque parece a nosotros y nos entiende mejor!" (Obama! Because he looks like us and can understand us better!) It doesn't help that McCain's father led the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965. (Just read the comments on that second link to see how people feel about it.)

I haven't been to Jamaica since August, but even then everyone had Obama fever. I was cruising the Jamaican on-line papers and found this article about Cocoa Tea recording a reggae song in honor of Obama. I dare you to listen to it and not like it.

Why I've been absent

One of the more exciting reasons I haven't posted in a while- in other words, the only reason other than work- is that I've finally settled into life in Santo Domingo and have a things to do other than sit and home bored. Hooray for my fledgling social life! My friend and former coworker from Angola also came to visit from the other side of Hispanola (she was working in Haiti), giving me the motivation to finally get out of the house and start seeing this beautiful place where I live. Most importantly, after almost 6 months in the DR, I can finally say that I've been to the beach. Here are a few pictures:

From the malecón, which runs along the edge of Santo Domingo.

The beach at Juan Dolio

Dominican beauty at Juan Dolio

At the start of El Conde in the Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo

Wrong place, wrong time

As we were making our way to Dajabón, we happened upon a strange scene. About an hour outside of Santiago, we saw a military helicopter coming towards our direction. Strange, but not so odd. Five minutes later we realized why: there were about 4 completely armed, masked police surrounding several SUVs. As we approached, one of the ninja-masked men started waving his hand at me- I had no idea what he wanted me to do, so I slowed. We saw about 20 handcuffed individuals, men and women, sitting on the ground. At that point, even if the ninja wanted me to stop I wouldn't have! We got the hell out of Dodge.

About 1/2 hour later we heard on the radio that a raid had taken place and several arrests had been made in connection to the infamous Paya, Baní case. The helicopter was brought in to take the suspects into holding. I don't know enough about the case to go into detail, but it involves drugs, mass murder and corruption. Quite the brush with danger!

Saturday, October 18, 2008


About two weeks ago I went with a colleague to Dajabón, a small city that sits on the Dominican/Haitian border. When I'm not off to Jamaica, I'm stuck in Santo Domingo, so I was really pleased to get out of the city and go so close to Haiti. Our office's only driver had a job to do for another project and the colleague I went with doesn't drive standard, so I had to do all the driving. All 5 hours of it.

Dajabón is a matter of minutes away from Haiti. The border is porous, making for a great mix of cutlures in the town of 20,000. Dajabón is famous for its twice-a-week market: people make the trek from Santo Domingo to buy everything under the sun: clothes, food, electronics. On market days the border opens and Haitians can cross without papers and bring back as much as they can carry. Supposedly they can only carry what they buy, not use wheelbarrows or carts, so on the Haitian side there are hordes of men with carts, trucks and motorcycles waiting to take people home comfortably.

We arrive the day before the market (on a Thursday) and already the town was bustling. We tried to drive to the hospital for out meeting but couldn't get past all the trucks so we parked the car and walked. As we walked around, I really enjoyed hearing Creole being spoken and kompa, Haitian music that could easily be mistaken for Angolan kizomba.

Our trip was a short one and we were on our way out the next day. As we were driving, I noticed a high number of military checkpoints along the way. I assumed that it was for migration purposes, since the migration of Haitians to the DR is a hot-button issue. My colleague said that migration was likely the official cause, but that really there were so many checkpoints so the military men could get their bribes.

She said that one time when she was in Dajabón for project monitoring she stayed for the market and took the bus back with all the Santo Domingo buyers who bought things in bulk to sell back home. As the trip began all the women took up a collection and at every military checkpoint the informal group leader would pay the bribe. I asked what would happen if they banded together to protest the bribe and she just cackled and said, "Muchacha!"

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'm not making this up

I get a free newspaper delivered to my door every day. It's a little annoying because there's no newpaper recycling here, and I feel bad throwing all this junk away. I am a fan of the social pages, however, and am always interested to see what the elite of the DR are up to.

I was shocked when I saw the headline below. It doesn't really need a translation, but... yes, it says, "Babies with Sex Appeal."


The "article" is all about how Huggies is launching this fancy new diaper that is made to look like it is denim. Because all the babies are clamoring for diapers that show off their figures and make them look sexy. Again, we are talking about children so young they still need diapers.

This isn't the first time I've heard of way-too-adult vocabulary to describe young children. An American friend here took her 2 year old daughter to the dentist, who told the baby to smmile and look "sexy."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Conversations I Have Had: Landlord Excuse of the Day

Background: I've had a leaky ceiling in my closet for over a month now. The landlord knows about it. The landlord (LL) also knows that the last time the electrician was in my apartment "fixing" my dryer, he disconnected the power line to my electric oven. He has done nothing about either. He was in Puerto Rico all last week buying a 40" plama TV, so of course he couldn't do anything about it right then! He and the electrician were supposed to come yesterday afternoon to fix the stove. I ran home and was forced to skip the gym in order to meet them. They stood me up. LL ignored my phone calls.

Me: Hello LL. Why didn't you come yesterday?
LL: Oh, Leslie! You see, I'm so angry with the electrician! He stood me up! Can you believe these Dominincans?! [LL is from Costa Rica]
Me: Well, I know some Costa Ricans who did the same to me.
LL: You know other Costa Ricans?!
Me: No, you didn't call me to tell me you weren't coming. I had other things to do that I had to cancel. I wasted my time.
LL: Oh, right, I'm sorry but you see, the guy stood me up! Can you believe these Dominicans? And then I got all the way home and realized I left my cell phone in my car. And then I didn't want to go down to get it from the car. So it's not my fault.
Me: So when are you coming to fix everything? Tomorrow? [He said the ceiling would be fixed on Saturday, which is tomorrow.]
LL: Oh no, I'm going to the country. [Silence]... Oh!
ME: [Silence]
LL: But it's possible that the administrator and repairman might come tomorrow to fix it.
Me: It's "possible" or are they coming?
LL: Well, you know how these Dominicans are...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dominican Customer Service

I've been doing a lot of shopping lately, trying to get my new apartment set up. It's been hard here- I'm too cheap and the stuff here is poor quality and costs a lot. Basically, if I find a store I like I plop down a lot of cash. You think that would be enough to get a little bot of customer service, but it ain't.

I wanted nice fluffy, big towels so I went to Casa Cuesta, which is like a Dominican Bed Bath and Beyond. Fluffy towels are expensive, and in all I spent about $100 on towels and various kitchen items. Of course, when I got home the towels didn't match my bathroom, so the next day I tried to exchange them. The woman at Casa Cuesta said that they don't do excahnges, only returns, but that they would issue me a gift card. Since I bought them with my credit card, I asked her to just refund the amount to my credit card. She said it was against their policy to do that- fair enough, I would take the gift card.

I went to the towel section, and although they had the color I wanted, the only had them in hand towels. Frustrated, I remembered that they had another bigger store in the mall near whereI used to live, so I decided to try my luck there. Sure enough, they had exactly what I wanted. Since I am still exercising consumer urges that long laid dormant in Angola, I picked up a few other things as well. This time the bill came to around $150.

I handed the cashier the gift card that prominently says "CASA CUESTA" on it. She said, "We can't take that here." I asked for an explanation, because I didn't understand why I couldn't use a Casa Cuesta gift card at a Casa Cuesta location. She explained that the new store (where I was at the moment) was on a diffierent system and could not accept gift cards from the old location.

I tried to reason but quickly realized that it was futile and that, in the end, it wasn't the poor cashier's fault, so I asked to speak to a manager. The manager came and I asked for an explanation. He gave me the same story and basically told me, "tough sh*t." He was not helpful and not really concerned that he was going to lose a customer over this matter. I explained that I never wanted the gift card in the first place, but that the store policy prevented me from doing what I wanted in the first place. He said that the first store should have told me that I could only use it there. I agreed, but that obviously that didn't happen. After a few unconfortable moments of me standing there, waiting for someone to finally break and say, "Okay, we're sorry for the inconvenience and will accept our store's credit... in our store." But he just said, "Sorry!" and walked away.

In the end, I made the purchase anyway. I was kicking myself the whole time, but I couldn't resist the call of fluffy towels that I hadn't seen anywhere else. I wrote the email address on the website with a formal complaint, but haven''t heard anything. Something tells me I won't...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Reason Why I Love Texas #4562

We've got character. And characters.

From today's NYT:

Thousands fled the island earlier in the day in private cars or on government-chartered buses, but a few diehards insisted they would stay in their homes. One was Denise Scurry, a 46-year-old pool hall employee who was sitting on a milk crate Thursday afternoon in downtown Galveston near her two-story home, reading “Thugs and the Women Who Love Them” and sipping brandy. “It ain’t going to be nothing but wind and rain,” she said. “Everybody’s all excited about nothing.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Awesome pic from Economist.com. This captures Angola in so many ways: the woman "a vender qualquer coisa" (selling whatever she can), the little girl behind her with the braids and beads, the light, the housing...

Observers of Angola's parlimentary elections last Friday (Sept. 5) by now know that the ruling party, MPLA, has won. Not only did they win, they beat up on the opposition, winning 82% of the vote. (Here is the NYT's take on it all, and a good Economist article about the period leading up to the elections.)

Media reports that all in all, the elections were free, if grossly disorganized. The Angola media has the Portuguese head of the EU mission giving the government praise for the election, while this BBC article has her saying that they were transparent but hardly free and fair. (The BBC also has some mon-on-the-street interviews here.)

I wrote a former colleague of mine there to get his opinion. He is an older man who has seen Angola as a colony, during the entire war, and now in peace. He said (rough translation):
Deomcracy must be practiced by and with men who are free, and the first
condition of freedom is education. How can we practice deomcracy when half of
our population doesn't know how to read or write? And how many times do we, the
people who know how to read and write, not know our own rights and

He also told me what a friend of his, from Cubal, said (again, roughly translated):
The people were satisfied with the campaign because, finally, we learned that we
no longer have to thank the government for having built a school or health
clinic because it is the obligation and duty of the government to do that. What
if your people spent all their time thanking the government for building a
bridge- as if it were a favor- what could you expect from your people?
Wise words from that mais velho, whom I admire, respect and miss.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Faye, Gustav and Ike

Posting has been light in the last few weeks because, frankly, I don’t have much of anything interesting to report. September marks the end of out fiscal year, so I am busy trying to wrap up project finances and get a lot done in a short amount of time. Knowing that this time of year is the busiest, Mother Nature has decided that it is a perfect time to wreak havoc on the Caribbean and send several hurricanes or tropical storms our way.

The first was Faye. Faye dumped a lot of rain on Santo Domingo. Faye was particularly bad timing for me because it hit on the Friday of the weekend that I was supposed to move into my new apartment and leave for a work trip to Nicaragua. It was also the weekend I got my first Dominican stomach virus. I won’t disgust you with the details, but it was the absolute worst weekend for the water to go out.

The second to hit was Gustav. Gustav was definitely the biggest concern for us. It was a category 1 hurricane over the DR and Haiti. Now, when a hurricane threatens Jamaica, I am supposed to go before the storm hits and coordinate out relief efforts. On Tuesday, all indications were that Gustav was going to bypass Jamaica completely and head straight for Cuba. So imagine my surprise on Wednesday morning to see the strange little hook Gustav took. It was headed straight for eastern Jamaica. By that point it was too late for me to go to Jamaica, so I had to monitor efforts from Santo Domingo. Our partners in Jamaica were decidedly not concerned, which was a bit frustrating for me while I was trying to determine what the needs were and what we would do to respond to the most vulnerable’s needs. Luckily, Gustav really only caused serious damage in eastern Jamaica, in the parishes of Portland, St. Thomas, and St. Andrew. I’m still waiting on my damage assessment reports from our partners!

And now we have Hurricane Ike. We were really concerned about Ike since it was upgraded to a Category 4 storm before hitting the DR. On Friday and Saturday you would have never known that a hurricane was about to hit- we had gorgeous weather, 80 degrees and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. On Sunday evening it started to rain heavily, and is doing so right now.

Needless to say, we’ve been on alert all this time. Although many parts have not fared well, for the most part the DR and Jamaica have escaped with no serious damage. Haiti, sadly, has not done well. Our office in Haiti has had real trouble in accessing the most affected parts and continues to suffer. Unfortunately, this is only the middle of hurricane season, and Tropical Storm Josephine is close behind. Here’s hoping we don’t get hammered again later on.

Friday, August 29, 2008

DR at the Olympics

I've been quite busy the last few weeks with work trips, hurricanes, tropical storms and moving. Not much time for posting.

Yesterday the DR's Olympic medalists were welcomed home and received their cash rewards from the government for winning medals. I heard a bit of the ceremony on the radio as I was battling Santo Domingo traffic on my way home. A few weeks ago, President Leonel Fernandez was sworn-in for his second term in office.

Like any good political party, Fernandez and his ilk were sure to not be totally corwded out of by spotlight by the Olympic heroes. The emcee said something (loosely translated) along the lines of, "The other day I was talking to a child who said to me, 'It's so wonderful that everytime President Fernandez wins the Dominican Republic gets Olympic medals." (He was referring to the 400m hurdles gold medal won by Felix Sanchez in Athens in 2004.)

Oh, really? Hmm. This "child" seems awfully politically astute for... well.. a child.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lagos has competition...

Here's a NYT article on Lagos and all of its extreme wealth. If you substitute "Luanda" for "Lagos" and "Angola" for "Nigeria" you could very well be talking about Angola's capital city in the next few years. Except, of course, Angola has much fewer international soccer stars.

The article makes the claim that Lagos is the most expensive city on the African continent, although it should be noted that Luanda does not figure ANYWHERE in the list, which leads me to believe that it was not included in the survey for some reason. There's no way that a city where charges US$12,000 a month to rent an apartment is not on this list.

At least in Lobito I only had to pay $7 for a box of Cheerios.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Crocs in the Sewers

On my last full day in Kingston I went with one of our partners to visit the community resource center my organization funded a project for. It is located in Riverton Meadows, a very rough and poor neighborhood in Kingston. As we were touring the health clinic we funded, we heard a huge ruckus outside- lots of excitement and shouting. The head nurse ambles over and says, “They caught a crocodile.”

Something was going on...

There is a large open sewer that runs through the community, and the community is located right next to a trash dump. Apparently the croc came up through a river connected to the sewer. What was truly amazing is that some of the men in the community hopped right in a wrestled the croc out of the sewer. They thought it was too dangerous to have it loose in the community and the police or animal control certainly doesn’t go into Riverton, so they had to take matters into their own hands. It looks small in the pictures, but this thing was huge!! Huge and angry!

The sewer that runs through the community, from where the croc came...
I was as curious as anyone else, and ran over to take pictures. Some people were like, “Who’s the whitey mon” (even though I'm a woman I'm still a whitey mon, apparently) but most people were too excited by the croc. I asked the center manager what they were going to do with the croc. “Are they going to eat it?” Boy, did I ever get ribbed for asking that! Apparently crocodile meat is not the delicacy in Jamaica it is in Southern Africa! In my defense, the croc was being strung up right in front of Jerky’s Jerk Center! Would have been convenient...

ABC Primetime Special on China- with Angola!

Last night ABC did a special on the growing importance of China. Any conversation about China’s expansion must include Africa, and where else to start but Angola. ABC sent their man to Luanda to check out the Chinese. It was both infuriating and bittersweet for me to watch.

Infuriating because, for one, they really didn’t do more than a superficial investigation of the relationship between the Chinese and Angolan governments. They showed our dear friend Aguinaldo Jaime, the Prime Minister who got his knickers in a bunch when Bob Geldolf said Angola was ruled by thieves, speaking the praises of the Chinese government. PM Jaime cried and cried about the cruel, inflexible Western donors who wanted to put horrible restrictions on the Angolan government- like transparency and semi-responsible investing! The nerve! Luckily for them, the Chinese came along and were willing to give them multi-million dollar loans with few strings attached.

The report also pointed out that Angola is recovering at an amazing pace. This is true. During my time in Angola I saw a great deal of rebuilding going on; my Angolan coworkers can testify to even more progress seen since the end of the war. But what about the quality of the work being done? The Chinese company hired to repave the streets of Benguela in time for AfroBasket paved them in record time- one week there was a dirt and rocky road, the next week there was pretty asphalt! Pretty asphalt, I might add, that two months later had collapsed into a sinkhole bigger than any pot hole that had been there before.

What really made me angry was when they started talking about the hard work the Chinese were doing. They pointed out that on the reconstruction projects being done by the Chinese, over 70% of the employees are Chinese. Immediately after they said that Angolan firms do not have the capacity to do the work. This is true, but is doesn’t explain why the Chinese must import laborer to do the most manual of jobs. I was struck by the number of Chinese workers I saw in Angola doing manual labor- ripping up railroad tracks, laying asphalt, etc. I cannot be convinced that: a) only Chinese workers know how to do those jobs; or that b) it is cheaper to import Chinese workers than hire Angolans. In one interview on the program a Chinese project supervisor admitted that the workers work from 7 am to 5 pm for 7 days a week- something that is explicitly against Angolan labor law. Angolans are some of the hardest working people I have met. I know that there are plenty of Angolans who would be willing to do the work of those Chinese laborers- and in turn provide more for their families and contribute to the local economy. The Chinese workers tend to live in compounds and are very isolated form the local communities and economies. A Newsweek article from earlier this year explains how one Chinese company imports even its food from China.

One last thing to complain about, mostly superficial… In the introduction to the segment, they played some African music that was definitely NOT Angolan. Angola has great musical traditions, how hard could it have been to get a Bonga clip and use that? Africa is a big continent, ABC, and- shockingly- has different cultures! It was as if they went into the stock audio file marked “African Children Singing” and stopped there.

There’s a lot more I could say about the report- I was cursing and rolling my eyes at the TV as it was airing, but I would have to see it again in order to give a more informed opinion. But overall, it wasn't a bad piece.

I must admit that seeing the images of Angola actually made me miss the place. Now that I’ve had a few months of separation and time to recover from Angola, I can look at it again and see beyond the evil SME agent who extorted money from me. I guess moving from frustration to nostalgia is a good thing. There was one thing said by one of the Chinese workers that I agreed with; when asked what he thought of the Angolan people, he said that they were wonderful people.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The view from where I worked today

The view from our partner's office in Montego Bay.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The scenery around here

Not too much to report these days. The first week or so of this work trip has been full of financial matters, which is not exactly exciting. I spent about three days at the office of one of our project partners. I spent all day going over receipts and invoices, listening to Jamaican gospel music blasting out of this little store right next door to the office. The woman who owns this store probably picked one of the worst locations, but what she lacks in location she makes up for with great decorating. I love the colors!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Birth of a Surgeon"

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most dangerous place on earth to give birth. PBS's Wide Angle did an episode on an amazing group of midwives in Mozambique who are being trained in obstetric surgical techniques. Definitely worth a viewing.

It's stories like these that make me want to pack up and move back to Africa.

(In Angola, my doctor friends told me that several nurses performed surgical procedures. In fact, there was not a single anesthesiologist in Lobito, Angola's second largest city- it was all done by nurses. I always wondered what those nurses would think if they knew that anesthesiology was one of the most high-paid specialities in the US.)

Jamaican Sprinters

Here's an interesting article from the New York Times about the high quality of Jamaican sprinters. Track and field is a huge deal in Jamaica. Jamaicans talk about track and field with a level of technicality that would equal football or baseball in the US. It really is amazing that such a small place with poor facilities can produce such stellar athletes.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Translate my car

Because Jamaica drives on the lefthand side of the road, it must import cars from the other countries that do the same. The car that my organization bought for me to drive while in Jamaica is imported from Japan. It's a newer car and has a fancy GPS system and DVD player installed in the dashboard.

The problem? It's all in Japanese.

There are a few helpful English words like "On" and "FM" and "DVD." I have at least figured out how to turn on the radio; however, Japanese radios don't go above 90 on the FM dial, so I am stuck listening to gospel stations and KLAS, Jamaica's sports station. KLAS is interesting, at least. I've learned more about track and field, horse racing and cricket on my Jamaica trips than I ever could have before.

The funniest, however, is the GPS system. Since it is a Japanese car, the GPS system is set to Japan. So when I turn on a car, a map of Japan pops up!

Habits and Behavior Change

Here is an interesting article from the New York Times on the use of advertising techniques to encourage positive behavior change in developing countries, specifically Ghana.

Nowadays, behavior change modification is the key to most successful international public health campaigns. For example, Uganda has seen one of the most successful HIV prevalence declines worldwide due to policies that focuses on behavior change- faithfulness and partner reduction.

Of course, the key is to figure out what appraoch to use to bring about the change desired. My father went to a lecture where an engineer spoke about the installation of a water pump in a village somewhere in Africa (can't remember the country). In spite of having good equipment and training the community, the water pump fell into disrepair and was useless. In this situation, something was missing, a spark to make the community incorporate postivie behavior into their daily routines.

The article talks about Ghana and one campaign to get people to use soap after the using the bathroom. It turns out that most Ghanians wash their hands after using the bathroom- just not with soap. Like so many places in the developing world, diarrhea and other illness transmitted this way are seens as just a part of life. So how to convince people to use soap as part of their after-bathroom routine? Interesting, the team conducting the study found that people used soap when they felt dirty- after cooking, working with the land, etc. The answer was to transmit the idea that using the bathroom was just as dirty. The campaign was successful- subsequent studies found that 41% more people reported handwashing with soap after using the bathroom as part of their hygiene routine.

The techniques used to encourage this change came directly from the advertising world. The approach has been criticized because it uses commerical avenues to promote a common good. But if the end result is healthier people, then there's not much that I can complain about.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bag returned...

Today at 4 pm I was finally reunited with my bag. I then had to wait in the Longest Customs Line in the World. This woman was literally checking every single suitcase. I've been through my fair share of airports, and I have never seen a custams agent look through every single bag. And not just open to have a quick look- she had her latex gloves on and was searching through the enitre bag, opening shampoo bottles even! There was a family of five- with 3 young kids. The poor things had two suitcases per person totalling TEN. When they got to the front, the father begged the agent- "Please do not make us open all of them, the children and very tired and need to go home." At first the agent had no sympathy, but after 4 suitcases she gave up.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

American Airlines: The TAAG of US airlines

I like to think I'm an easy-going person. Living in the developing world has taught me a great deal of patience and appreciation for people who have to work with limited resources. However, it has not taught me patience for American Airlines.

For the second time in 3 months, American Airlines has lost my luggage. The first time was during my tranfer from Angola to the DR. Apparently it was "lost" in Miami, which is pretty strange considering the flight there had been delayed over 5 hours, so they should have had plenty of time to put it on the plane. I didn't get it until a few days later which, in their defense, was due to a ticketing error (too long explain) that was made by British Airways in Angola, but would not have affected the arrival of my bag.

This time was much more frustrating. In spite of calling ahead the day before to make sure my flight was leaving on time, I arrived at the airport at 6:20 for my 7:45 flight to discover that the flight had been delyaed until 12:45. It wouldn't have had made sense to go to the office for just one hour, so I just sat in the Santo Domingo airport. (There's not much there, but they do have decent coffee and free wi-fi, so I was happy.) We finally left and upon arrival in Miami I picked up my bag as is required, went through customs and set the bag off to Kingston. Again, apparently 4 hours is not enough time to sort baggage and my bag did not make it on the flight. Hopefully it will show up today.

Since I only had one bag and I arrived much later than was scheduled (6 hours) and everything was closed, I asked the representative about the free hygiene kits I had seen him pass out to people in the line ahead of me. (There were at least a dozen other people in my situation.) He shook his head and said that he had run out. This was frustrating because I had lost my only bag- with all of my toiletries, clothes and work papers- but the people who had received hygiene kits had lost only one of a number of bags. I don't want to deny anyone their generic toothpaste and plastic comb, but to be turned away with nothing at 10:30 at night was a little frustrating.

In theory the bag will arrive today on the first flight, which arrives in a few hours. I checked the online located and according to the site the bag has still not been located. Wonderful. Hopefully this is not the case and the computer is wrong! Otherwise I will have to shell out some money for clothes, because I really can't wear this shirt for another day!

UPDATE, 2:30 PM: After repeated calls to the airport, can't get through to anyone. However, according to on-line baggage status, the bag has arrived in Jamaica. Good news, but I'll believe it when I see it!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Help at the supermarket

A few weeks ago I was at the supermarket doing some shopping. I tend to go to nicer supermarkets because they have more American and "luxury" products like veggie burgers and tend to be close to my house.

I was in the toothpaste section when an older woman approached me. She handed me a piece of paper and asked me to help her find what was written on it. Not quite sure why I was chosen- in spite of speaking fluent Spanish a lot of people here speak English to me because they assume i don't speak their language (although I almost speak their language better than they speak mine!) and I wasn't wearing the market's uniform, but I was happy to help. I quickly gathered that she didn't know how to read and that she must have been an empleada (cleaning lady) sent to the store by her employer.

The employer wanted a specific type and size of toothpaste- they had the brand of toothpaste, but not the large size, only the smaller one. I showed the woman where it was and explained that they didn't have the large size that was written on the paper, just the small one. She got very worried and said, "Are you sure they don't have the large size? That's the one I have to get." Again, I explained that they didn't but it shouldn't be a problem to get the smaller size since it costs less. "No, if I don't get what they want then they will be unhappy and fire me." I offered to let her use my cell phone to call the person but she didn't know the number. She decided to risk it and got the smaller one.

I'm not sure if she was exaggerating or worrying for no reason, but the situation made me grateful for two things:
  1. I have been lucky enough to be born in a country where I received a good public education and don't have to rely on others for the most basic of things.
  2. Thanks to this education, I have been able to get jobs with good supervisors who respect me and don't make me afraid to lose my job.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Driving me crazy

San Macoris traffic jam. I prefer these types to the Santo Domingo ones.

Moving to the DR after Angola implied a bit of culture shock to me. Angola was so different from the US in so many ways, but the DR is not quite as extreme. I pass numerous American fast food joints every day, buy American products in the grocery store, and watch American TV at home at night. Not saying it’s better, but it does make life a little easier and less isolated.

One thing I have not gotten used to is the Dominican driving style. I developed a small case of road rage in Angola and it has only gotten worse here in the DR. In Angola, there weren’t as many cars and roads to deal with, mainly because only 5 years after the end of the war were people really starting to buy cars. Because there were so few cars during the war, a lot of the drivers on the road were first time drivers and simply didn’t know how to drive that well.

Quite the contrast to the DR. People here know how to drive perfectly well- what they don’t do is respect other drivers. It’s quite infuriating. Traffic here is awful, so people really think of themselves first and grab any opportunity they can to get ahead. Unfortunately, this is usually done to the peril of others and with little consideration of what their actions will provoke.

For example, I drive on a busy 2 lane street to get to work. It’s quite common here for people to drive in the opposing lane of traffic in order to beat a light. On this particular street, they have concrete dividers to prevent people from doing exactly this. Does that stop anyone? Of course not! Cars will enter the opposing lane from an intersection and then sit there as if this is perfectly normal. Laws of transit be damned!

What’s really frustrating is that there are transit police (AMET) posted at most major intersections where these types of infractions occur. Two or three AMET cops will be posted to an intersection to direct the flow of traffic during rush hour because so many people run red lights that if they weren’t there, all chaos would break loose. Drivers will flaunt the law in the face of the AMET and the AMET will just shrug and do nothing.

I have seen the AMET ticket cars only once, and even then it was infuriating. A car drove into the opposing lane of traffic in order to beat the long line of cars ahead of her; a taxi followed close behind her. Two AMET cops came over to both cars and started to give them a talking-to. The driver of the first car was a young, pretty woman. The AMET was a young guy, and sure enough, after batting her eyelashes a few times, he waved her on. The driver of the taxi was a middle-aged man, so of course he got a ticket. As I passed the AMET cop who waved the woman along, I tsk-tsked him. He knew exactly what the dirty look was for- he just laughed and waved me on.

And yet... there is a certain grace that Dominican drivers have. They might be crazy but I've not seen a single accident since being here. I met another American who refered to the Dominican driving style as "the magical merge"- you think it's going to cause an accident but through magic they just merge.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Important news for all Angolans

I still enjoy keeping up with news in Angola despite having left now two and a half months (feels like a lifetime!).

Here is an advertisement, maquerading as an article: "New BMW Model Presented in Angola." Ah Angola, you and your petro-dollars will never cease to amaze me. I once read that in the developing world luxury cars are like badges of corruption. For Angola, it prefer to think of them as military honors- plenty of five-star corruption generals cruising the estradas of Angola.

Santiago, Dominican Republic

Last weekend one of my colleagues got married and invited the whole office to the wedding. Six of us piled into a car and took off for Guatapanal, a small town near Santiago, the DR's 2nd largest city.

The wedding was a bit sedate- not a lot of dancing, which surprised me. Every was really there for the chivo, goat, that is traditionally served at weddings. I'm not the biggest fan of goat, but I have to admit that this chivo was excellent!

We spent the night in Santo Domingo and on our way out stopped at the Monumento a los Heroes de la Restauracion. The story of this monument is interesting. It was built by dictator Rafael Trujillo- like any good dictator, he built it in honor of himself. After he died it was rededicated to national heroes. The musuem part was closed because it was early Sunday morning but we had fun taking pictures and taking in the nice view. For me, it was nice to get out of Santo Domingo and see a bit of the DR.
At the base of the monument. There were several of these iron-wrought sculptures around the monument.
My favorites were the rooster above and this little chick.

L-R: Jose Rafael, Rafael Romero, Oneida, Marta and me. This bull was definitely everyone's favorite, I have approximately 30 pictures of them in various poses around it!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cultural Difference 101: The Gym

One thing I am quite grateful for here in the DR is a good gym. I didn't have one in Angola and I definitely felt the need for it there. I was pleased to find a gym just four blocks from my office.

This gym is by far the fanciest one I've ever belonged to. It has its own website. It has good equipment. The strangest thing for me is the culture of this gym. It's expensive, so it atracts the "upper crust" of Santo Domingo, I guess. No old t-shirts and gym shorts here- everyone wears brand name work-out gear. From what I can tell, people go to be seen at the gym- the parking lot is always crowded and sometimes there's even a wait to get into the parking lot because all the spots are taken.

The women really puzzle me. In the locker room before going to work out, I see women putting on makeup- BEFORE going to work out! And, strangely, they never seem to sweat. They look beautiful and perfect all the time. I, on the other hand, inspire people to say "Ay, que rojita!" or "How red!" I assume they are referring to my sweating face.

Yesterday was apparently marketing day at the gym. Were they marketing health food products? No, they were marketing saltine crackers and butter. I thought this was a strange thing to market to a bunch of people who are supposedly trying to lose weight or get fit. I was wrong, however, because a huge line formed and people eating salty crackers made from white processed flour like they were going out of style.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dominican MLB prodigy denied papers

Posting has been quiet recently thanks to my recent trip back to NYC. It was fun going back to NYC and telling Dominican cab drivers that I lived in Santo Domingo- I loved the look of shock. I also got to see a Yankess game- I'm not a Yankees fan at all, but in order to honor my new home I will admit a love for their Dominican players.

Right before I left I went to San Pedro Macoris, which is an extremely poor area of the DR but still manages to produce dozens of MLB stars like Sammy Sosa. San Pedro Macoris is a sugar cane area, and where there are sugar cane fields, there are migrant workers, mostly Haitian.

Earlier today I cam across this May 2008 article from the NYT about the problems children of Haitians face in the DR. Like in the US, any person born in the DR is a citizen, but many are having trouble getting citizenship rights. The article focuses on a 17 year-old baseball whiz being scouted by the SF Giants:

... To obtain a visa to the United States, Ángel went to a local government office to get a copy of his birth certificate. Little did he know that the Dominican government had recently begun a crackdown on the children of Haitian immigrants, even those like him who have lived their whole lives in the Dominican Republic.

“If your last name is weird, they won’t give you your
documents,” he said. “Same thing if your skin is dark like mine.”

Ángel’s request for his birth record was denied, prompting the Giants to withdraw the offer.

We have several projects that focus on migrant rights and peacebulding in conflicted communities where there has been violence against migrants. As an outsider, I think it's amazing how a small island can be so torn.

Monday, June 09, 2008

My first gun shots in Santo Domingo

Regular readers of this blog know that I lived on the most dangerous block in Lobito, Angola. Now I might work on the most dangerous block in Santo Domingo. I don't really think so, but the tally has begun.

Our office is not exactly in a bad part of town, but it ain’t really the best apart of town either. The corner where our office is located is more known for being a traffic accident magnet, since is it near a busy street and anxious drivers speed around the corner to avoid the horrible Santo Domingo traffic.

I left the office around 5:45 on Friday. As I came out of the office, I saw a guy running as fast as he could around the corner. Hot on his tail was a group of angry men shouting something at the guy and to observers. Now, I’m still adjusting to the Dominican accent, but I definitely heard, “¡Mátalo! Kill him!” About 15 seconds later, a guy on a motorcycle came by brandishing a shotgun and fired off a shot in the direction of the guy running- and by default at the crowd of people chasing him.

I turned around and in a panic I literally ran into my colleague who had heard the shot. I waited in the office until he said it was okay to come back out. When I emerged, I saw the crowd of people who had been chasing the guy- they managed to get him and were putting their fists of justice to use. My colleague and I asked a neighbor what happened. Apparently the guy had stolen something from one of the men in the crowd and they managed to get him. Miraculously, no one was hurt by the gunshot.

I asked if someone was going to call the police and my colleague said, “Probably not. Not such a big deal.” Just another day at the office!

Cross posting for a bit...

I always like reading blogs from countries where I have lived or visited. One I came across that I like to read a lot is La Gringa's Blogicito, written by an American woman living in La Ceiba. She's slowing down on the blogging because of a hurt hand and asked readers if they would contribute a post or two.

I wrote something about telecommunications and the crazy Post Office Ladies of La Esperanza. She posted it on Saturday.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Angola is a traffic scofflaw!

Here's an interesting blog post from the NYT's City Room. It talks about the diplomats in NYC missions who abuse their immunity and rack up huge fines parking violations.

On a top-ten list, Angola is at number 10, owing the City of New York $421,505.63! Bad, but not as bad as Egypt, which owes almost $2 million.

Monday, May 26, 2008


One thing I really like about the DR is that baseball is #1 here. The other day I went exploring in the neighborhood around my apartment and ended up in a nice park nearby. It reminded me a bit of Riverside Dr in Manhattan- lots of families nearby having picnics and people running around.

I saw a group of kids playng baseball and decided to sit and watch for a bit. It apeared to be semi-organized but it was mostly about 50 kids and one adult trying to keep calm. The kids on the team were about 7 - 10 years old, but there was a group of about 5 older teenagers who were hanging around causing trouble. The coach got really mad and chased off the teenagers, but it was too laste because all the other younger kids had all gotten worked up and were jumping around showing off.

So, what would any Little League coach do in such a situation? Why, take off his belt and start popping the kids in the behind! I'm not one for spanking, but I have to admit it was pretty funny and it sure worked like a charm. (The kids weren't hurt and they were laughing.)

Pics from Jamaica

I haven't had much time to post because I don't have internet at home yet and I am insanely busy at work, so I don't have much to report. By popular demand, here are some pictures from my trip to Jamaica a few weeks ago. (DR pics to come soon!)

These pictures are for my friend Loren, still in Angola! :)

This is from a beach in Montego Bay. I am probably one of a handful of people (non-Jamaican, of course) who go to MoBay for work, not pleasure. This is a hotel beach, right along the "Hip Strip", the tourist stretch. It was expensive- over $10 for a chair and umbrella, but with a view like this it was worth it.

Not pictured is the Official Jamaican Bobsled Team Cafe. Yes, such a thing exists. I admit that I had a veggie burger and Red Stripe there. This is the big Red Stripe sign on the way out of town.

This is a house we visited near Mandeville, in central Jamaica. It's a beautiful area. This house belongs to an elderly woman. She received boards and zinc from us but then hired someone to fix it and supplemented it with hurricane straps. (Hurricane Straps are simple bolts and metal straps that can reallt keep a roof together in a strong storm. Slowly I'm getting used to this emergency repair talk.)

The road leading up to the house.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Just one of many differences between Angola and Jamaica

Yesterday I had one of those experiences that made me realize that Angola really is a different place and that it changed me- in this case for the worse, I fear!

The Lobito ShopRite was both satisfying and frustrating at the same time. On the one hand, it was great because it was a Western style grocery store that let me kill some of my consumer urges. On he other hand, like every other establishment in Angola, it was plagued with problems. For example: I would see a new product on the shelves and there would be no price attached to it. I would ofen decide it was worth it, take it to the cashier and attempt to pay. Usually the cahsier would try to scan it 5 or 6 times and call up a supervisor when it would not scan. The supervisor would usually say it wasn't in the system so I couldn't buy it. Some version of the following conversation would usually happen:

Supervisor: It's not for sale.
Me: So, it's on the shelf but it's not for sale.
Supervisor: Right.
Me: So why is it on the shelf?
Supervisor: Because we will sell it eventually.
Me: Why not wait to put it on the shelf until it has a price?
Blank looks all around...

This happened all the time and what was most frustrating was the total indifference and unwillingness to help the customer in the situation. The first time it happened I didn't say anything, but it happened so often I began to say something, trying to express my customer dissatisfaction. Never seemed to make a difference, but then again, as the only big supermarket in town, there was no real incentive to listen to customers.

Fast forward to Jamaica. With the proximity to the US, supermarkets here stock tons of American products. I'm currently in Montego Bay- for work, believe it or not. After 2 weeks of traveling, I'm quite tired of eating in restaurants, so yesterday I went to a large supermarket to get something for dinner. I was quite excited to see some mozzarella string cheese, so I picked two packs and some crackers and veggies.

When I got to the check-out, the cashier tried to ring up the string cheese but it wouldn't go through. The bagger tried to track down the price, but he came back with a familiar reason- it wasn't in the computer so they couldn't sell it.
Me: So it's one the shelf but it's not for sale? It shouldn't be on the shelf if it's not for sale.
(Here's where things go differently...)
Cashier: Yes ma'am, I'm so sorry. That shouldn't have happened.
Bagger: We're very sorry. You're right
Cashier: Sorry for the inconvenience.

Whoa! I immediately began to feel very badly for making an impolite comment. It was just so nice to have decent customer service after almost two years of horrible customer service. I guess I can drop the defensive shield I developed in Angola. At least until it happens elsewhere!

Friday, May 09, 2008

As if being mother ain't hard enough...

Save the Children has recently released its 2008 Report on the World's Mothers. Things don't look good for the mães angolanas:
Bottom 10:
143/Sierra Leone

See the report for indicators.

Just a story to show how hard it is to give birth in Angola. I'm friends with a Cuban couple in Lobito, the husband being a doctor in the better clinics and hospitals in town. His lovely wife was pregnant and went into labor the first week of March. I was in Luanda and on the road back to Lobito when I got a frantic phone call from my friend Anne. "Where are you and what is your blood type?!"

It turns out that the wife had a fine labor but then in recovery started to bleed profusely and needed a transfusion. Unfortunately, there was no blood to be had in Angola's 2nd largest city. Luckily, with a few phone calls, they were able to track down a few donors and she got her transfusion.

Now, keep in mind that my friend was married to one of the best doctors in town and had all of Lobito's resources at her disposal (no matter how pawltry they were). Now replace my friend with a poor woman from Canata, one of Lobito's worst neighborhood, and replace the private clinic with the state hospital, and imagine what would have happened.

The importance of Houston to Africa

Here's an intereseting article in the New York Times about the growing importance of Houston to Africa.

Did you know that Houston is Luanda's sister city?

With an average 2 travel day trip to get to Houston, I'm still bitter I never got on the Houston Express.

Bob Geldof vs. Angolan Politicians Pt. 2

Here's an article in English that sums up fairly well a lot of the brouhaha surrounding Bob Geldof's comments in Portugal that Angola is a country run by criminals. One thing I do agree with the anti-Geldof people about is that he should have been more specific in his target- who exactly are the criminals? (Besides airport SME agents.)

Where to begin?!

1. The Portuguese bank that held the event, the Banco do Espírito Santo (BES) is scrambling to disassocitate itself from the comment. The Grupo Espírito Santo, owner of BES, just happens to have huge investments in Angola. Oh, and President dos Santos'daughter is apparently a major shareholder or partner in Grupo Espírito Santo! Whoops!

2. In the meantime, Luis Mira Amaral, the president of a competitor bank of BES in Angola, Banco BIC, made sure it was known that he thought Geldof's comments were "totally irresponsible"and that he "did not know the Angolan reality." Again, I'm not totally convinced that Mr. Amaral knows Angolan reality either! He throws the war around as an excuse- I'm not sure that's an admirable excuse. In fact it makes it worse- politicians were stealing while a war was going on. How does that make it better? Anyway. He also offers this pearl of wisdom:
Há dois tipos de pessoas: os gestores que sabem do que falam e os artistas de
rock que serão competentes ná sua area, mas se calhar noutros áreas nao tem
competência nem o conhecimento para falar.
There are two types of people: managers who know what they are talking about and rock stars who might be competent in theirarea but in others don't have competence or knowledge [needed] in order to speak.

Really? Those are the two types of people in this world?!

3. At one point, the Portuguese press agency, Agenica Lusa, said that the Angolan ambassador to Portugual got up and left the conference at the moment the comments were made. Apparently they were wrong- the ambassador wasn't ever at the conference- so they issued an "apology" (in the words of the Angolan press agency Angop). So Angop publishes an article about the apology, taking up 5 paragraphs to explain how Agencia Lusa made sure to apologize. No infraction upon the image of Angola- no matter how small- shall go unpunished!

4. Another Portuguese businessman, Joe Bernardo, made statements in favor of "Angolans" and against Geldof. What I love about this article is that although they admit this guy has no ties to Angola whatsoever, he somehow has the authority to say that Geldof reveals his ignorance when it comes to Angola. Pot-kettle-black.

More on the kid who robbed 50 Cent

According to MTV, 50 Cent's necklace is safe and sound with him. Hmmm.

According to Angonoticias, the police are still on the search for the missing necklace, valued at over US $1 million. The kid is in jail awaiting trial. As a suspect he had 3 options: prisao preventiva (preventive jailing) which keeps him in jail unti he goes to trial; liberdade privisória (provisional liberty) which is akin to being on bail; or plain old liberdade, freedom based on a lack of evidence. Smartly, they kept the guy.

What's interesting is that the article notes that the guy is part of a very influential family in Angola, one that has a strong presence in politics and the arts. In previous articles they have mentioned his name- Bruno Carvalho- directly, but now suddenly he's just "the suspect." Hmmm. Divaldo Martins, the head of Luanda province''s Police Department had this to say:
"Nao se trata de um delinquente habitual e este episódio pode ser enquadrado no ambito de situacoes semelhantes em que fas de artistas tentam a todo o custo obter objectos dos seus ídolos."

"This is not a case of a repeat offender or delinquent, and this episode can be classified as one of [many] similar situations in which fans of an artist will try at any cost to get an object from one of their idols."

Now, I'm a fan of Willie Nelson, but when my family and I went to Branson, MO (The New Nashville!) and saw Willie Nelson perform at the Ozark Theater, I did not jump up on stage and try to steal one of his many bandanas.

I'm sure this qualification by the police commander has nothing to do with the important connections this guy's family has. I'm sure had it been a street kid or son of a vendedora ambulante (street vendor), he would have the same response. (Sarcasm should be obvious.)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Why Jamaican Kids Are Awesome

This morning I went to visit a partner of ours in Old Harbour. We were working in the office of a school auditorium. It happened to be Teacher's Day today, so there was a little ceremony to honor them. At one point, the place went nuts- at first I thought the kids were screaming "CHOCOLATE! CHOCOLATE!" but it turns out they were screaming "DOMINIC! DOMINIC!"

I asked the accountant what they were screaming for, and she said this kid Dominic was a guitar genious. Sure enough, Dominic, who looked to be about 10 years old, grabbed a guitar and hopped up on stage. And then, in a momen of awesomeness, proceeded to play RHINESTONE COWBOY, by Glen Campbell! And then a lot of the kids started to sing along! Awesome, Dominic.

Bob Geldof vs. Angolan Politicians

I haven't been able to find the exact quote by Bob Geldof, but he apparently said that Angola was "run by criminals" at a sustainable development conference in Lisbon (Angolan article here). Angola replied with utter outrage!

Again, this is all according to secondhand sources, but Geldof cited new housing complexes in Luanda that are more expensive than houses in London. The Angolan prime minister, Aguinaldo Jaime, had this to say:

"He showed total disrespect for Angolan people and the remarks are unfortunate,"
Jaime told Angolan radio station RNA. "He does not know Angolan reality.
He does not know (for instance) that Angola's government has invested heavily in
the construction of affordable social houses."

The irony is clear. Which is a bigger insult to the Angolan people: that Geldof said aloud what most Angolans already think, or that PM Jaime is pretending that Angolan officials are not corrupt and reconstruction is right on track in Angola? I agree that Geldof may not know Angolan reality, but I'd bet that Jaime doesn't either.

Jaime argued that Geldof was referring to private investment so his evidence was faulty. That may be true- the luxury houses being constructed in Angola are definitely out of the reach of most Angolans. Outside of that, I haven't seen a lot. Granted, I haven't seen a lot, but the only new construction going up in Lobito was hotels in the nicest part of town, not in Canata or Bela Vista. But then again, it may not matter:

An official with Imogestin, the real estate company that runs government's social housing programme told AFP on condition of anonymity that some supposedly affordable houses "go for 180,000 (US Dollars), still out of reach for most Angolans."

Monday, May 05, 2008

50 Cent Robbed in Angola! UPDATE

The guy who stole 50 Cent's chain in Angola was turned in- by his family!

According to this article, his family saw him on television and turned him in on Sunday afternoon. (The concert took place on Wednesday.)

Here's where it gets suspicious:
Despois de se entregar, o jovem assumiu ter sido o autor do furto mas disse ter perdido o colar logo de seguida.
After turning himself in, the youth took responsibility for being the author of the crime, but said he lost the necklace soon after.

Oh, how convenient! The article says the necklace was worth over 600,000 Euros. Yes, I'm sure the guy "lost" it! Smart guy- he gets street cred for being the guy ballsy enough to steal a necklace off of 50 Cent in front of thousands of people- AND by probably waiting until after he sold it, he gets to profit from it!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Jamaica at the movies

For the best 4 days I've been battling a nasty head cold that has largely sidelined me from anything outside of work. This is unfortunate, considering that Kingston is only an hour away from some great beaches, but I really couldn't drive myself anywhere. I rested all day yesterday and this afternoon decided to go see a movie.

I saw "Iron Man"- pretty impressive that Jamaica gets a new movie the same weekend it is released in the States. About an hour into the movie, it comes to a grinding halt. The lights came up, and a commercial for nachos came up on the screen. Intermission! Half the audience left to get snacks. 10 minutes later the picture came back on. Weird.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

50 Cent Robbed in Angola!

Wow. This is pretty brazen. According to this article, 50 Cent was in the middle of performing a concert in Luanda when a "fan"passed through the stage security, hopped on stage and STOLE A NECKLACE OFF OF 50 CENT! And you know it wasn't just any old necklace.

50 Cent and G-Unit refused to continue with the show unless the necklace was returned. Obviously, that was the end of the show.

Here's one video of the event taking place (fast forward to around 1:40, although if you want to hear an Angolan attempting to rap in English, listen to the whole thing). The owner of the camera pretty much sums it up: Porrra! Ese maluco! (Sh*t! Dude's crazy!)

Oh, and he was appearing at the Festival Internacional da Paz- International Peace Festival. No need to point out the irony.

Jamaica so far

With my new job, majority of the projects I manage are located in Jamaica. The last week I've been going around the island getting to know the various partners and projects they run with our financial assistance. Luckily I was able to travel with the colleague who had been managing the projects temporarily. He brought his wife and it was great to have fun people to go around with.

I'm probably one of a handful of people who have traveled to Jamaica without setting foot on a beach. I'm surrounded by water but since we work in poor areas, we go far away from the water. Although I've yet to see the ocean from anywhere other than the plane, I have been able to spend a lot of time in the mountains, which are absolutely beautiful.

The largest of our projects here are reconstruction projects in response to Hurricane Dean, which hit Jamaica in August 2007. Although many houses here are made of concrete, roofs are often made of just zinc sheets and wooden boards, so when the storm hit many people were left without adequate shelter. We distributed zinc sheets, boards, tarps, construction materials, etc through our local partners.

We began the visit in Kingston, meeting with all the big-wigs. We visted one of our projects with Mustard Seed Communities, Jamaica. They work with mentally and physically disabled children who have been cast out from their families.

After two days in Kingston, we went to Mandeville. The Mandeville to Kingston trip was my first test of left-side driving. I drove to Mandeville and later around Manchester Parish. I thought I was driving well until our poor partner contact, Kevin, said to me, "Leslie you are making me very very nervous." Whoops! Apparently I was driving a little too close to the left side of the road. Eventually I got my spatial judgement back, if nothing else to put Kevin at ease.

Our next stop was Montego Bay. MoBay is better known for its resorts and tourism, but it is also Jamaica's second largest and most dangerous city. We visited a high school where our partners run an after-school education project.

This trip gave me my first taste of Patois. Although we all technically spoke English, I could barely understand pure Patois. I love the sound of it and hope to learn a bit of it. Here are some examples:

Patois: Were dat ol'daddy? Him dat live up der hill?
American English: Where's the elderly man who lives up that hill?

Patois: Da wind done come and mash up dis 'ere 'ouse.
American: The storm came and ruined this house.

Now I'm back in Kingston, this time alone, my colleague and his wife having gone back to Ecuador. I'll make the same loop next week, this time tackling the much less interesting issue of financial management. Exciting! I don't have my camera cable with me, so pictures will have to wait until I get back to Santo Domingo.

Monday, April 28, 2008

2 Continents, 3 Countries, 7 days

Only 6 days after arriving in the DR, I got on a plane to Jamaica, where the majority of my projects are based. It's been a bit exhausting traveling to all these place in such a short time. I'm sick of being on planes!

There's a line on the Jamaican immigration form that asks you how many countries you've visisted in the last 6 weeks. Normally I might fudge the truth a bit to avoid any problems, but I realized I would actually be presenting my passport with a record of where I've actually been, so I would have to tell the truth. The total number was four: Namibia (for visa renewal), Angola, the Dominician Republic and now Jamaica. (Five if you count transit time in Miami.)

The sweet immigration lady took one look at my form and said, "Oh Miss, please tell me you have an immunization record with you." I proudly produced my WHO card and she smiled and said, "Oh, you're a smart girl." Such a nice change from the previous immigration official I had encountered!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Angolan SME Agents are a Bunch of Thieving, IGNORANT Crooks!

Finally, I can say that without fear that I will be denied a visa by some Angolan bureaucrat with access to Google! I had one of the worst experience I've had in Angola upon leaving Luanda. It's a shame, because it was so unplesant that it has really left a negative impression- hopefully it will go away as times moves on.

Many of you might be familiar with my visa problems. (You can read about it here, here, here, and here.) Saturday night I was able to check in just fine and proceeded to the passport/visa control. I never had any problems in Luanda before, so I wasn't expecting anything to happen. If only I had stepped in a different line than the one I chose.

The agent took one look at my visa and immediately declared me not in compliance. I explained to him that my visa was valid for two years and that I had multiple entries of 90 days each. He said I didn't, and that I was in gross violation. I tried once again to explain, and he called over his "supervisor." When his "supervisor" came over, I tried to explain to him and both of them told me to be quiet. Then the "supervisor" left.

The agent came back to me and told me that I was going to have to pay a large fine- US$7,000- and stay in jail until it was paid- meaning I would miss my flight. At this point I lost it and started tearing up. I asked to speak to his supervisor, and in spite of the fact that the "supervisor" had just left, he told me his supervisor was not there. I tried again to tell him, as diplomatically as possible, that he was wrong. I got out my cell phone and tried to call our Human Resources director, the person responsible for these issues, the one who had intervened so many times before. He told me to put my phone away because it was a restricted area.

He said it was my company's fault and not to worry because my company would pay the fine. I explained that I worked for a humanitarian agency- hoping that he would take pity on me- and that they couldn't pay that money by that night. He shook his head and said, "well, then you'll have to go to jail."

Basically I was stuck- and crying. He said he would "help" me. He dawdled a bit then wrote something on a piece of paper and slipped it to me. It had "300" written on it and he just looked at me. I knew what it was, but I didn't want to believe it, so I asked him what it was supposed to mean. He said, "If you give me this then I'll help you go through without any problems." I said I couldn't do that because I would need a receipt. He again said that if I didn't give him that $300, then I would have to be put in jail until I could produce the $7,000.

Finally, I just paid the bribe because the thought of spending any more time in Angola than I had to was physically painful. I was so angry and upset- I really don't think I can find the words to describe what I was feeling. I had never paid a bribe before in my life, let alone paid one in Angola. I felt humilated and violated; not to mention the fact that I was making a scene by bawling my evyes out. Worst of all, I was completely innocent of whatever he was accusing me of. He clearly saw I was desperate and took advantage of that.

It took me over an hour to calm down. Even now when I think of it, I tear up. I know for a lot of people it may not be such a big deal, but to me it is. I've alwayss said that the reason corruption works is because people buy into it, but when faced with it directly, I too caved. Should I have fought it on principle?

I gave a lot to Angola- defended it when others knocked it, stayed to work long after I knew I was unhappy there. I just felt betrayed, to tell the truth. It infuriates me to think that a government employee who makes a good salary and has good benefits is the one who cheated me out of $300. Of course I'd prefer not to be cheated out of ANY money, but if I were to be cheated out any money, I would prefer it to be someone who needed it, like a street kid. (That may not make any sense to anyone but me.)

Like I said earlier, the worst part of this is that it will be my last memory of Angola. I wanted to leave on a positive note, but now that's too hard.

I've Arrived

I don't have much time to post since the work day is almost over, but I've arrived safely in Santo Domingo.

Unforatunately, I had a horrible experience leaving Luanda, a sotry that merits its own post, which I will try and write soon.

So far, the DR is great. My coworkers are extremely nice and friendly- every other word out of their mouth is a la orden, or "at your service." The biggest change, apart from the time zone, is the language. In spite of all my years of speaking Spanish, in many ways I feel Portuguese has set me back several levels! I'll catch up, hopefully.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Things I'll Miss About Angola: Miudos

Miudos = kids in Portuguese.

It's tough being a kid in Angola. According to the UN World Food Programme, out of 1,000 live births, there is a 250 infant mortality rate. Maybe why that's why I love the ones that make it. They are just too darn cute. I'll miss seeing the kids carrying their little plastic chairs to school every day because schools can't afford real desks. I'll miss the miudos that wash the cars in the parking lots of the grocery stores. I'll miss my coworkers' kids, Angolan or otherwise, who are the most adorable things I've seen.

Things I'll Miss About Angola: the Architecture

In talking with friends and family back home, I often use the analogy of Cuba to try and describe what Angola looks like. Like Cuba after the '59 revolution, Angola after independence in 1975 just sort of grinded to a halt in terms of construction. Many of the buidlings in Lobito were built in the 60s and 70s. As the war set in, obviously building maintenance and new construction became less and less of a priority.

There's a decaying elegance that the colonial-era buildings have. I really wish I could have seen Lobito in 1974- it must have been beautiful. Many of these buildings are occupied by squatters, which is starting to be a problem now that reconstruction is in full swing and owners are finally investing in their properties. For example, the house I talked about here now looks like this:
Not exactly an improvement, if you ask me. Luckily, there are people who are restoring original structures.

Things I'll Miss About Angola: the Confusão

A truck falls victim to the confusão in Luanda. This is not a fake picture.

The confusão here in Angola is an odd thing. Mostly it has made my life difficult. Your bathroom ceiling is leaking? Too bad. Your neighbors play kuduru at 3 am on a Tuesday? Too bad. You get threatened with arrest at the airport on totally baseless charges? Too bad.

It’s enough to drive a person crazy- really. Long ago I stopped trying to reason with the confusão, because the confusão will always win. Over time, I’ve just accepted the confusão of life here. Of course there are those times when I break down in the face of it, but generally I’ve come to appreciate it likely because I always knew that eventually I would be able to leave it behind. Like it or not, the confusão is what makes Angola so unique. This blog certainly would have been boring without it.