Sunday, October 18, 2009

Long overdue update

It's obviously been some time since I've updated the blog. I've lost a lot of blogging steam in the last few months- most of it due to being very far removed from the field but also due to just having nothing terribly interesting to report.

A few months ago, I got word from my now former employer that the economic crisis had hit the organization hard. My position was funded by private donations which had been reduced drastically. As such, my position was being eliminated. (This was a blow, considering they had instituted salary cuts a few weeks prior!)

This was crushing news, both professionally and personally. Professionally, I had worked very hard to get the organization's program in Jamaica off the ground. After several months of hard work, it was starting to pay off. In fact, just three weeks before my last day of work, we got word that a large proposal of US$200,000 I had submitted to a US government agency had been approved. Sadly, it was too late. My last day of work was September 30.

I attempted to find a new post within the same organization but was unsuccessful. Having left a post-conflict country before coming to the DR, I didn't feel ready to take off to a Sudan or DRC post, which severely limited my employment options. I tried finding a job with another NGO here in the DR but was unwilling to take a 60% salary cut, so I was out of luck.

Along with this, I had personal circumstances to consider. As much as I love living abroad, I've started to crave stability and would like to be closer to my family. And, as luck has it, I met a great guy here in the DR. So great that he is willing to uproot his life for me and follow me to the US. So we have applied for a fiance visa and he will join me in the US in the next few months and we will get married. (Providing the US government doesn't try to stop us!)

I'm sad to be leaving the DR and the life I've set up here. However, these are the cards I've been dealt and they aren't so bad.

I might be inspired to put up a few more posts before I officially leave the country and settle in the US. Otherwise, this is likely the end of my blogging. I'll still leave it up since I still see that my Angola posts are getting hits even 2 years later. Thanks for reading as long as you have.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hold onto your hats...

...TAAG has finally been lifted off the EU Black List and can fly into the EU once again. Only took two years! Don't expect them to adhere to any fancy departure and arrival schedules, though.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Luanda still really expensive

Life in Luanda is not getting any cheaper. According to ECA International, Luanda is the most expensive city in the world for ex-pats. The BBC points out that:
A meal in Luanda can cost over $100 and a "decent" apartment can cost as much as $15,000 a month, despite the fact that most Angolans live in poverty.
And, of course, that's for the ex-pats. Imagine what it's like for Angolans.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Earlier this week I got a phone call from my boss. "You know [your former boss in Angola] wants you to come back to Angola for a temporary assignment. What do you think?"

Good question. 

My inital response, literally, was, "Are you for real?!!!!!"

And, then, I realized that I would have taken the assignment had it not been for a significant personal comittment in May. When I left Angola the toll of living an isolated life had been severe- that, coupled with the trauma (and I don't use that term lightly) with my exit from Angola- left me with a bad feeling. With a little bit of personal healing, I've come to think of Angola in a positive way.  The opportunity to go back for a week or two was very attractive- just enough to remind me what I loved about the place and think that the confusão is quirky and manageable. 

So, fear not. I like Angola. I hope to go back someday- just for a visit. 

In case you were wondering. 

Only in Angola

Here is an article (Portuguese only, sorry) that puts a positive spin on the intense rains and horrible road conditions in Angola. 

The article's title is "Rains Create Employment".  Basically, the rains are so heavy and the roads so terrible that entrepreneurial young people, who normally would sit around and do nothing, are carrying people across the roads on their backs for a fee. 

Fat people- don't worry! They don't care how much you weigh! They charge according to the height of the water.  A ride in water up to your elbows will cost Kz. 50, which is about US$0.66. Bags cost Kz. 10, or US$0.10. 

Conversations I Have Had: 2nd Jamaican Edition

English is the dominant language both in my home country (USA) and Jamaica. Communication shouldn't be a problem right? 

Conversation #1
Setting: Restaurant in Kingston
Background info: Ting is a Jamaican grapefruit soda

Waitress: Do do you want to drink?
Me: Diet Coke, please. 
Waitress: No, sorry. No Diet Coke. You want a Ting?
Me, repeating my earlier order: Uh, yes, I want the grilled chicken sandwich. 
Waitress: No, do you want a TING?! 

(I thought she said, "Do you want anything?" and, for some reason. completely forgotten the order.)

Conversation #2:
Setting: Department store in Kingston mall, browsing in the clothing section

Staff: You t'rough?
Me: No, I'm still looking.  Is the store closing?
Staff: Huh?
Me: Is the store closing? 
Staff, who is clearly smarter than I: No! (laughs) Are you TRUE? Are you alright, need help?

(I thought she asked if I was THROUGH and was telling me I had to leave the store. At 3 pm in the afternoon on a workday.)

Clearly I have a problem with the "th" in Jamaica. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Semana santa, Holy Week, is a big holiday in the DR (and most Catholic countries). It's when Dominicans celebrate the distillation of sugar cane into rum. Ha! I'm being facetious, although the "holy" part of semana santa seems to be an afterthought. 

Dominicans take the two day holiday (Holy Thursday and Good Friday) as an opportunity to travel and, most cases, party hard. I did have the opportunity to travel, but not party.  (I wanted it that way!)

I went to Constanza, in the central part of the country, way up in the mountains. It is truly spectacular up there and reminded me a lot of my Peace Corps site in Honduras, La Esperanza. Constanza is a nice, sleepy town with cool weather, beautiful scenery, and great agriculture.  They even had a green market! Here are a few of the highlights: 


Beautiful jacaranda tree near our hotel.

Aguas Blancas

Some amiguitos selling calla lillies on the road to Aguas Blancas. 

1. Turn in firearms at the entrance building.
2. Risk of hypothermia due to low water temperature.
3. Trash should be placed in the trashcans. 
4. Cooking on the premises is prohibited.
5. No glass bottles on the premises. 
6. No diving from the rocks on the side of the falls. 
7. No swimming in underwear. 
8. No running or playing on the premises. 
9. Immoral public acts are prohibited. 
10. Play music at a low volume. 

#s 1 and 9 are my favorite.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I got on board with progress!

O sea... me subí al progreso! 

Two weekends ago I finally went on Santo Domingo's brand new Metro.  I'm pleased and surprised to say that I am a Metro convert. 

I was skeptical. I wasn't sure that the Metro made sense.  I still don't know that I can justify the millions of US$ being poured into it, but the system itself is quite nice.  

Since there is little negative to say, I'll start with the things I didn't like.  
  1. Perhaps I'm too accustomed to the other subway systems of the world, but I was totally thrown by the little green button you have to press in order to enter and exit the cars.  A. and I stood there for a second until the guard pointed out that we had to push the button to get the door open. 
  2. My main complaint about the system still stands: there are too few postings of street names, neighborhoods, whatever, along with the stations.  You still don't know where the heck you are going! There are a few street maps in the cars, with the stations marked on them, but they are very hard to read. 
For example, this is station near my house, only 2 blocks away. (Too bad there's not a station close to work, otherwise I could forget the horrible traffic in this city. )  Here you can see the flawed logic of the planners: the station is located at the Plaza de la Cultura, where the natioanl theater and some museums are located.  Therefore, they named the station after a famous Dominican actress.  Don't know who Cassandra Damiron is? Well, then you're out of luck if you are wondering where you are, because that's all the description you'll get for the station!

The best things about the Metro:
  1. It's clean! Like every other city in the developing world, Santo Domingo is dirty. Trash is everywhere and  capitaleños don't think twice about throwing trash on the street, at their feet, or wherever they please. Not the case on the Metro. 
  2. It's quiet! "Quiet" is not a word many people use to desrcibe Dominicans, so it's truly amazing that the Metro is so calm and sedate.  Most people just sat there, but those that were talking did so at a soft level, almost whispering! 
  3. It's protected!  There is a Metro guard in every car. S/he walks up and down to make sure that people are respecting the Metro.  The poor guard we saw looked bored out of his mind, amidst the serenity and lack of bachata and mambo. 

There were other Metro Tourists as well.  We got on with a group of about 3 men.  We loved eavesdropping on their conversation. They could not believe how clean and well-run the Metro was. "Bienvenidos a Europa! Welcome to Europe!" they kept saying.  

A. was on the Metro the other day. He saw a fellow rider break out a Halls mint and the Metro cop stationed in the car came over immediately.  "You can't do that. That's not allowed." Yes folks, a breath mint! I only wish the same respect and compliance with the laws were applied outside the Metro as well...

Here you can see the clash of the modern and the traditional.  Right below this Metro station, you can see a horse-drawn carriage. (Upper right, above the white care.) By the way, I was chided by the station cop for dawdling too long after getting off the Metro and shooed out of the station!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pope is in Angola

From NYT

Here is the NYT report of Pope Benedict's visit to Angola. Pope Urges Angolans to Help the Poor and Embrace Democracy.

Sitting next to nosso presidente, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Pope Benedict said the following:

In a second address, this one delivered hours later at the residence of
President José Eduardo dos Santos, he challenged Angola and other African
countries to free their people “from the scourges of greed, violence and unrest”
through “modern civic democracy.”

Oh, the irony! I'm not clear on something. Olha Senhor Papa, just who is the one that needs to be freed from this greed and bring democracy?

(Looking around, sitting next to him he sees the president who has served for 29 years but only held one presidential election and has somehow managed to acquire insane wealth at the same time...)


According to reports, Zedu handled it well and agreed with everything the Pope said. Smart tactic.

Zedu later said that "a igreja nao pode fazer muito para mudar as regras establecidas, mas tem forca moral para influenciar os coracoes e as mentalidades dos que decidem. The Church cannot do much to change the established rules but it does have moral authority to influence the hearts and minds of those who decide." In other words, don't go thinking you have more influence than you do, Catholic Church.

I must say, I really wish I had been in Angola to see this.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Papa, Amigo, Angola está contigo!"

Photo from BBC. A vender qualquer coisa!

The BBC has a good summary of the Pope's upcoming visit to Angola.

The article brings up the restrictions the government has placed on Radio Ecclesia, the Church's Luanda-based radio station that is currently only broadcast in Luanda. I'm quite interested to see what the Pope says about corruption (if he says anything at all). Actually, I'm more interested to see what the government says/does if he does...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pope to Africa

On Tuesday Pope Benedict will travel to Africa, including Angola!

In Angola, which emerged in 2002 from 25 years of civil war, Benedict is expected to meet with politicians and diplomats to speak out against corruption and assert the renewed role that the church hopes to play in fostering democracy and civil society in Africa.

He will also mark 500 years since Catholic missionaries began converting people in the former Portuguese colony and meet with groups promoting the role of women in Africa.

It'll be interesting to see what the Angolan government thinks about the Pope preaching against corruption. I wonder if they will also celebrate the 500 year anniversary since they converted slaves before shipping them off to the New World...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Whoa: China extends US$1 billion line of credit to Angola

According to AngoNoticias (link in Portuguese), José Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola, met with Chen Yuan, the governor of the Chinese Development Bank, to discuss a US$1 billion line of credit to be offered by China to Angola. . The purpose of the credit would be to fund agricultural development projects. And, I presume, a few personal interest projects of some people in the government.

If nothing else, click on the link to see the weird cartoonish font used in the accompanying graphic.


Just so you don't go thinking Jamaica is all Caribbean shoreline.... Pictures from Sligoville, in St. Catherine parish. The founder of a foundation we support lives here.
Named for Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquis of Sligo, then Governor of Jamaica. The first free village in Jamaica.

We got there around 4:30 pm. By the time dark came, the temperature dropped to 55 deg. F and a strong wind was blowing. This, of course, was my favorite part of the visit:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

For shame...

I'm currently in Jamaica and out of the Dominican baseball loop, so I am a little late to this:
Dominican Republic’s powerfully offensive team lost for the second time to the Netherlands, and is eliminated from the World Baseball Classic.

Oh man, I wish I were in the office to hear my coworkers talk about this! Bad enough for the DR to lose, but to lose to the Netherlands?!?!?! Ouch.

In good sports news, the West Indies beat England in the five-test series cricket match. I know absolutely nothing about cricket. Zip. But the only radio station I get in my Japanese car is KLAS, Jamaica's sports radio station. Test Cricket takes forever (5 days) and is very British, complete with breaks for tea. So while I've been driving around Kingston, I've listened to the series. I wish I actually undestood what was happening, because apparently it was quite a dramatic series.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It's there, I promise!

Part of the benefits I get with this job is that I am allow to take a company car home at the end of the day and on the weekends. It makes my life leaps easier. There are 3 of us in the office with this right and there are 4 cars. Work matters of course always take priority.

The last few weeks have been a little frustrating in terms of the car. A 4th car is out of comission until a part is shipped in from Japan and for a while, a 3rd car was in the shop. As the lowest person on the totem pole, I had to go without. This was okay for a while, because I just walked everywhere, getting a little bit of exercise in. The 3rd car came back after a week, so it wasn't too bad.

On Thursday the car I usually drive had to go up to the Haitian border for some project monitoring but was supposed to come back Friday afternoon. After waiting patiently until 6 pm, I finally started to ask around about the car. Sure enough, the manager who took the car was "not in good health" and "unable to drive back to Santo Domingo." The facts that the manager is from the town where the monitoring took place, has family and friends there and it was a Friday night, perfect time for knocking back a Presidente or two, are purely coincidential. Since I am going up to see Carnaval with a friend today (Saturday), he promised to have the car back by 9 am.

This morning before coming over to the office I called my coworker to make sure that he had come back and left the key on top of the secretary's desk, as we planned. He assured me that all had gone according to plan. I walked to the office (about 45 mins) and sure enough, couldn't see the key anywhere.

I called my coworker again to make sure that I wasn't going crazy. "Oh no, it's there. I put it right on the secretary's desk." I hung up and started looking again. No luck. I called him again. "Hmm, maybe I accidentally left it on my desk." So I poured through his office. Nothing. Finally, he admits, "Oh, I actually still have the key. It's in my own car."

So although he knew perfectly well that he hadn't put the key on the secretary's desk, he let me do all that work, pretending that he had. Sigh.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Direct flight USA - Angola?!

According to AngoNoticias, in September Delta Airlines is to begin a twice weekly flight to Luanda. The flight will originate in Atlanta and stop in Ilha do Sal, Cabo Verde before heading to Luanda.

In my opinion, it is a huge mistake to make Atlanta the US city of destination. I mean, it's not like Houston is a strategic city of interest to Angola, right? Yeah, I know Atlanta is the hub city for Delta and I clearly have a bias in favor of Houston. (In December I had the misfortune of Delta cancelling a flight, forcing me to stay in Atlanta.) Heck, there's not even an Angolan consulate in Atlanta to submit an application for a visa you will never get...

Antigua Guatemala

After the workshop ended I took an extra day to go up to Antigua Guatemala. Antigua is a beautful colonial town. I can't do it justice here, so I will just post pictures from the day, which happened to be beautifully sunny and about 70 degrees F.


I spent last week in Guatemala for work. We had a regional workshop on emergency shelter construction. A large part of my job involves emergency preparedness and response, and thus far I've been lucky enough to avoid any of the response aspect. Why lucky? Because I don't have a lot of on-the-ground experience in emergency anything, other than a hurricane or two and some mild earthquakes.

Our faithful supervisors

My favorite part of the workshop was constructing the shelter. So often we project managers pass the time in an office and supervise the work being done from the comfort of our desk. Now, I love being in the field and getting my hands dirty, but because my organization does not directly implent projects and instead works through local partners, I rarely get to do it.

We traveled to Chiquimulilla, near the border with El Salvador, and were tasked with building a model shelter similar to what we would do in our emergency projects all over the world. (A model that is always adapted to local customs and materials, of course.) It was a great experience, in spite of building one of the ugliest things I have ever seen!
We had planned one full day of work; it took one and a half. We planned to have the materials prepped and ready for construction; they weren't. The wood was supposed to be light and pliable; it was so heavy and dense we had to run back to the hardware store to get special nails. I could go on. My favorite part of the day was when Don Andres, the elderly Guatemalan man whose property we built the shelter on, came over and said with no hint of levity, "Hay muchos errores. There are a lot or errors."

This looks like the start of a bad joke: How many NGO workers does it take to measure some wood?

Don Andres, surveying the damage

In spite of all the snafus, it was a great experience. In fact it was a great experience because of the snafus. In our group we had architects, engineers, doctors, people with master degrees... and we could barely follow a simple manual. Now imagine you are an illiterate widow in Indonesia after the tsunami and some organization has just come and given you this manual. It was humbling and a reminder that the person we seek to serve is the beneficiary.

The final product, warts and all.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Metro is Here!

My very first morning in the DR, my organization's driver gave me an informal tour of the city on our way to the office. I commented on the crazy traffic and he said, "Oh, but it'll get better soon- we're getting a subway!" Although inaugurated in early 2008, it just opened last week.

The Metro is controversial. In a country as poor as the Dominican Republic, is a multimillion dollar rapid transit system the best use of resources? Those in favor often cite the horrible traffic found in Santo Domingo. Traffic here is truly awful- I will not get into how bad because losing my temper twice a day (driving to work and driving home) is too much. To give you an idea, I have a 20 - 25 minute commute, depending on what time I leave.

I live about a mile and a half from my office. Imagine how early my coworkers who live on the outskirts have to wake up in order to get home. In this sense, yes, the Metro might help. The bus drivers who make the route are already threatening protests and blockades, so it must work somewhat if they are mad!
Those against point out that the amount of money being spent on the Metro is disproportionate to the benefit. According to Wikipedia:

... as of February 2008, the budget allocated for the Santo Domingo Metro
was higher than the added budget of three important ministries and 5 pivotal
governmental institutions, including the ministry of superior education, science
and technology. For example, during the single month of February, the Santo
Domingo Metro received more than 231 million pesos (7 million US dollars), while
during the month of January, it received twice that amount.
Seeing how much is spent on the Metro when there is an inconsistent supply of electricity , poor health care, poor education and corruption everywhere is a bit infuriating.

I think it's too soon to judge whether or not the Metro is a good thing or not. I haven't been on it yet, although I'm lucky because there is a station less than a block from my house.

However, I do have one complaint: the station names. I looked at the map and tried to figure out which station was the one near my house. The station sits on Avenida Maximo Gomez; is across from the American consulate; and is in front of the Teatro Nacional (National Theater). So I of course look for a name implying one of those 3 things. I see a stop labeled "Maximo Gomez" and think, "Oh, that's it!" But when I look at the cross streets, it is nowhere near the stop I thought it was. Turns out they named all the stops after prominent Dominicans. Fine, but I guess they didn't stop to consider to match the Metro stops named after famous Dominicans with the streets that are ALREADY named after the same famous Dominicans. So the Maximo Gomez stop is not one of the numerous stations that is on Maximo Gomez Avenue. Sheesh.
Perhaps I'll be won over when I actually try it. Or when they open up the other planned lines. Too bad the other lines aren't happening anytime soon (2010 is the projected date).


I received an e-mail from my father the other day requesting a blog post. Here it is!

I haven't posted in a while for a number of reasons.

Angola was so different for me in so many ways and I had so much to say about what I was seeing and experiencing. Couple that with little to no social life, an at times overwhelming sense of isolation and you get prolific blogging.

Here in the DR it's a little different. There is plenty that is new and different to me, but after Angola it sort of pales in comparison (with all due respect to the DR!) and the number of things that inspire me to blog. It's not the DR's fault. Frankly, my life is a lot less exciting here- in a good way. No more worries about being pulled over and put in jail because the cop doesn't understand my visa. My life here is calm. I go to work, go to gym and then come home. That's the bulk of it.

The last two months have involved lots of traveling for me- 10 days in Jamaica for work and then over 4 weeks at home in Houston for my home leave.

But I do enjoy blogging and for those of you who are still reading, thanks. I'll try and post more.