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.