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!