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.