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 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.