Thursday, October 30, 2008

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Thank God for the coconut guys on the streets; this place is HOT!  The coconut guys work the streets with their carts and cut open coconuts with machetes for refreshing beverages.  Aaahhh, the fresh juices... I guess I had forgotten what a ripe pineapple tastes like.  

In Santo Domingo, merengue dancing is popular too. Friends will be happy to know I resisted the urge on nearly all occasions to dance; good thing it was dark when I did. Last night, I took a stroll out for some entertainment. A dark cobblestone street took me past a magnificent cigar shop to a cafe that spilled out dancers and diners. I cannot remember a more joyous recent event. It seemed that they had no other relevant care in the world. One particularly well-dressed elderly man rose from his chair and walked over with some intent to a beautiful young woman. I thought for sure she would decline his advance, but she rose with a shining smile and took his hand. To my astonishment, they danced the merengue, and the unlikely duo stole the show. I would say that it was that moment when I decided to learn to dance. Well, if I do learn to dance, that may be the reason.

I took the opportunity to take some photos on Monday.  Here are some of what I found:

Other than the fresh juices, the food here was not overwhelmingly great. After disappointment with an overpriced goat osso bucco, and a few other dishes, I did have a delicious ceviche at a Peruvian place (couldn't resist) and a barbeque bacon cheeseburger at Hard Rock Cafe while I watched the World Series. Presidente seems to be the beer of choice, and you can get one at Hard Rock for $4 or at the park with a small plastic cup for $1. Rum and Cigars are big here too (NO, I DIDN'T BUY ANY CUBANS). Watch out in the streets and markets because people are very pushy!  "No, thank you, I don't need you to polish my rubber sandals." Taxi drivers, shoe shiners, tour guides, jewelers... all follow you around like puppies. My inner Obama told me I was being selfish and should spread the wealth, but I realized that's government's job and not mine.  

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chew Softly and Carry a Wicked Flashlight

 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Country number 19! Yesterday, I arrived safely in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. It was a very long bus trip, but luckily we had air conditioning and J-Lo in concert on video. You know, I think I like her better as an actress, but whatever. From just before the border, I noticed a couple of yellow butterflies that followed me for miles, kind of like the way that bird followed Eddie Murphy in Tibet. Therefore, I am certain I will be challenged to find another Golden Child somewhere in the Caribbean. I want the kniiiiife... pleeeeease. On the Haiti/DR border there is a rope, men with machine guns, aggressive children selling stuff you do not want, and a vicious mutant backhoe that nearly demolished an unwitting motorcyclist and company. Pretty effective, I must say. Homeland Security Sec. Chertoff and I are going to have a sit-down soon to mull this over. That is all I have to say about that.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Finally a city that makes Napoli look sanitary. Port-au-Prince is very dirty, not very charming, and smells of urine. It is a place where dogs and pigs live in perfect harmony rummaging through burning garbage on the street for food. People make strange noises at you and call you "blanc," ("whitey") as they look at you very peculiarly. Public transportation is a transformed pickup truck that seats twelve. At least you can sleep well at night, because the UN is the police.
Now that I have got you ready to hit up Priceline for your ticket to come for a visit, you should also know that there are some bright lights in this country (although not outside at nighttime). I was privileged to meet some great people, mostly Americans, who are in Haiti trying to make it a better place. I met a doctor who works to get people medicine and help in rural areas. There is a man who works to expose injustice, not to the corrupt authorities, but to the rest of the world. At St. Joseph's, where I stayed, Michael runs a home for boys. My group Hands On Disaster Response performs back-breaking work (ha-ha, yeah) moving mud to get people back into their homes and schools. Food-wise, I really enjoyed the fresh fruit, and I had a great Creole conch dish yesterday. So, if you want to be a do-gooder, Haiti may be for you. How is that for change you can believe in! I may have more thoughts on that later.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Change in Plans

Even though I have no idea how the World Series is going or anything else for that matter about the events of the world post- my October 20th edition of the Washington Post, I will use a baseball reference to say something I could have said very simply - I am on the DL. Yes, perhaps "down low" would be accurate as well, but more to the point would be "disabled list." Evidently bad backs and heavy-duty mud hauling do not work well together. Today I am back in Port-au-Prince recuperating. Due to the long distance between here and Gonaives, coupled with the fact that the shuttle "HODR Express" runs just two days a week, I have decided to alter the course of my trip. Isn't travel exciting!?! I do not even know where I will be tomorrow, but there is a good chance it will be to the east where I can utilize my Spanish skills - The Dominican Republic. Stay tuned. I'm off to get some creole food before dark. (I don't go out in Haiti after dark.) Luckily, here at St. Joseph's Home for Boys, an American doctor lady is also a guest. She offered to give me something for the pain. Since I am a long-time devotee of ER, I tried out my lingo,"I need a CT, an EKG, 20 of Demerol, and a full work up." I didn't say "stat" because they haven't said that on ER since the '90s, and I thought it would be rude.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What's a Bucket Shower?... Ohhh!

Volunteer Life in Haiti

Who knew you could take a shower with about two gallons of water from a bucket? Inconceivable! I'm learning all sorts of new things here! Like, you can find a neighborhood without Obama signs and stickers, and okra can taste good... no, really; we had a stew of it yesterday for lunch... and dinner. No wine yet, but there is a good beer called "Prestige" that I got from one of the street vendors after work. Pretty good. It was 50 gourdes. I had know idea how much that is, so I made that the end of my shopping for the day.
Yesterday's job was a school that had been flooded with about three feet of mud. I mostly hauled wheel barrels of "smudge." Since I am culinarily inclined, I liken smudge to chocolate cake batter, or perhaps a nice ganache. Smudge is fairly easy to dump, but it spatters so I kept my distance while the shovelers did their part. It is quite hot in Haiti. Who knew? Well, we all did. The best part of the day is when we get back to base and watch the sunset from our balcony. We cannot see the water, but at that point it is fairly cool, and breezy, and just plain perfect.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gonaives - Arriving in Haiti

It turns out there is food in Haiti, and I have yet to eat mud. It does turn out that the volunteers on site here have determined at least four classifications for mud, like the various words for "snow" an Eskimo might have. I arrived in Port-au-Prince yesterday and was met, as arranged by "a fat man named 'Big'" at the airport. I was escorted to another man who escorted me to a driver. I flashed a few of my minuscule French repertoire so that he knew everything better be on the up-and-up. Sure enough, he navigated me safely to where I was supposed to go. Driving is more like an X-game here, and I think they have taken the idea of carpooling to a new level in oddly-rigged vehicles that aggressively zip through crowded unkempt streets. Kind of makes those politicians sound a little silly about how our American roads are "falling apart." You want to see falling apart!?!? I'll show ya. We stopped briefly en route to my hotel, and two boys started tapping on my window, asking for some sort of donation. I just said, "No hablo ingles," and they just looked at me kind of funny. Finally, the one boy said, eerily, "I am sorry for you." All sorts of thoughts, mostly Ridley Scott Hollywood type thoughts, but we'll stay positive.
Today was not only a four-hour journey north to the dusty coastal town of Gonaives, but also my first day of work. My afternoon consisted of working with local Haitian teens to assembly line shovel and bucket out a three-room home from two feet of mud. Some of the standing water had little creatures living in it. Well, I'm tired and hot, so going to call it a night and think of something interesting to write for later.

Friday, October 17, 2008

How Do You Say "Trick or Treat" in Creole? - Off to Haiti

Well, I have not set foot in new country in two years. Other friends and family members have been to fun and exciting places like Iraq, Bahrain, Italy, etc... but I'm not marking any new territory! 
Monday, I fly to Haiti - Country #18!
I will be meeting up with Hands On Disaster Response in the town of Gonaives to work for two weeks where hurricane season has not been kind. I volunteered with Hands On, or HODR, last year in Pisco, Peru and highly recommend them as a charity or volunteer opportunity. Who knows what I will be doing, but when my boss asked me what I will be for Halloween, I told him "a mud-shoveler." He didn't get it.
One more night of work (here), and I'm getting everything together. I will be back, God willing, to the chagrin of most of my friends, on Election Day. If not, I will need one liberal Virginian to volunteer to stay home. Any takers?
In honor of Cristobal Colon, who sailed the ocean blue in 1492... and got lost nowhere near his destination... and "discovered" a new world already strangely inhabited by my ancestors, I head south to Hispaniola. If I, too, get lost along the way, keep an eye out for postcards with scents of Cuban tobacco. Or wouldn't it be funny if I ended up in the spice islands? If so, I plan to name the people I find "Haitians" anyway.
Au revoir!