March 22, 2003
We start our day with breakfast at 8:00 a.m. We have scrambled eggs w/ham, fresh fruit, and hard rolls. This is served with a tropical blend of red fruit juice. Mercedes is in charge of the Center (and us), and is doing a fine job.
We meet at 9:00 a.m. with Dr. Dohn for a presentation on what he expects from us this week. Anita, his wife, also a medical doctor, tells us about their four daughters and the International School that they attend. They issue each person in our group a nametag, and we met an anthropologist (Mark) who teaches English at a local school.
We learn the history of the medical clinic and more about our project. We learn the importance of establishing a community health program to educate and train the families of the area in order to find out where the exact focus on health care should be.
We are assigned to groups and given maps of the area. My group is called “Dante” and we will work with three other Ohio University students and three Dominican high school seniors. Social work hours are a graduation requirement here, and then the students must take a national exam. Our map shows streets and houses, and houses behind those houses. Our job is to visit every house on our map and complete a thorough survey of our assigned neighborhood.
We are asking general questions about number of family members, questions that pertain to teenage pregnancies, diarrhea problems, and HIV. The goal is to determine if it would be beneficial to put resources into any one of these specific types of programs. The study is both qualitative and quantitative in nature and important in order to establish a base line for additional studies. We will be using a short questionnaire (11 questions), and the residents have a refusal option also.
The students are divided into two groups and we pile into a van to visit our assigned neighborhoods. We are told that some of the housing structures are brick, instead of the usual concrete or corrugated tin, because these families received federal aid (most from the United States) to rebuild after a hurricane. This does not mean they have more resources, only a nicer structure.
The streets on the map are marked with names, but in actuality, they are little more than dirt paths. We follow one and look inside the houses. They are small and dark. I notice that a chair is sitting on concrete blocks. A local woman explains that her furniture must be raised as the sewer ducts overflow during the rain and floods her house. The rain does not flood the house; it is flooded by the sewage. The sewage duct is a large concrete structure that has a half-moon shape. This runs alongside the street and is tall enough to walk on and have a good view of the neighborhood. It is easier to walk upon the sewer duct than to walk in the garbage filled streets. We head out in a single line and step around the many locals that are also using the duct as the walkway. The sewage runs inside this duct and empties into a pond, which we go to view. Anita asks if we want to see the sewer pond and we willingly go to this green, molded sewer filled area. On the way down the sewer duct I notice the power lines that are draped from every available tree or pole. The wires hang so low that they must be raised up by hand in order to walk under them!
The homes in this neighborhood are built by hand using corrugated tin, concrete, or scrap lumber. They are built in some areas by connecting one to another, and stretch for many blocks. Some are painted vivid colors, but others have rusted or are in need of repair. The doors are open and are full of half-dressed and naked children. The children are more than happy to pose for a photograph that they will probably never see. Some kids throw a plastic lizard at us. We pretend it is real and jump and yell, and they laugh and throw it again. This spontaneous drama repeats numerous times until we were out of site. We pass a small boy making a homemade kite out of a black garbage bag and bamboo sticks. A fruit truck passes with a blaring public address system. It is full of local fruits, most of it being green bananas. High concrete walls surround some of the homes and there are broken glass bottles embedded on top.
Anita informs us that the owners of the houses are mostly squatters. They have purchased the material and built the homes, but they do not own the land. There are some actual landowners with deeds in the area though. According to Anita, the government has tried to track the landowners and squatters but was overwhelmed by the effort. Electric lines are strung from house to house using cords that are near threadbare. The electric was previously furnished by the government for free, but is now privatized. The locals steal the electric by hooking directly into the lines hanging limply from the poles.
We pass a church that is crowded, and loud Caribbean music plays. The congregation is singing and the music resounds for at least a block. There are several horse drawn carriages on the dirt paths (streets) as we venture through the neighborhood.
We head back to the center and decide to venture to the local phone bank before lunch. We experience our first ride on local transportation. The “bus” is a mini van with the side door tied open with a rope. They pick us up and drop us off for $5 pesos each (about 25 cents US).
The phone bank is an air-conditioned building that is full of phone booths. The booths are carpeted and you sit and face the phone. The instructions for each country are posted on the wall. As you are speaking, there is a digital readout of the amount charged and the time of your call. When you have completed all of your calls, you go the front desk, give them your booth number and pay the cashier. There is also one computer in the back where you can get on-line and pay by the minute. Local phone cards and calling cards do not work in this country. The room is filled with a blend of languages used by the phone customers.
We also stop at a local store that is combination Wal-Mart and Krogers. We pick up a few items needed in the Center and return in the same van. We are getting better at using the pesos. The problem is that the conversion is not a set amount. Today the exchange rate is 23 pesos to one US dollar. We survive the van ride and return to the center.
We have lunch at 12:30 p.m. (our pre-set time). The group from Denver joins us. Lunch consists of rice, brown beans, small steaks (beef) w/onions. No bread is served at lunch, but we are offered Coca Cola. After eating, we introduce ourselves one by one (the other group included) so we can get to know each other.
We head back to the public transportation to visit town and learn about the local culture. The van picks us up at the end of our block and all fifteen of us get in. We have no seatbelts and the door is tied open. We race to town because apparently the faster you travel, the more money there is to be made. There are motorcycles, horses, and automobiles all using the same roads with the assumption that the other driver will yield. It is exciting! We visit the phone banks again and exchange dollars for pesos and hit the streets.
We shop in the local stores and visit the park in the center of town. There is a large concrete gazebo in the center. If you sit and rest too long, a small child will attempt to shine your shoes, even if you are wearing sandals. The children are constantly begging, but today there are also some adults participating. A local woman in a peach ruffled party dress and no shoes approaches us with her story of ten children to feed with no money. A local boy asks for my half-finished Coca Cola. I was finished and was looking for the trash, and he removes the lid and finishes my drink. A gentleman from Aruba approaches me. He is on a lunch breaks and sits with me for a chat. He shows me his nametag and explains that he is working for a mission selling ink pens. I show him my nametag and explain that we are Ohio University students. He thinks we are all teachers because of our ages. (We nontraditional students are so misunderstood!) He wants to know if I am North American, instead of American. The signs at the phone bank also had the instructions written for North Americans.
We pile into the same van we rode before as we have made arrangements to be picked up at 4:00 p.m. Another wild ride ensues, only this time we clutch our packages of purchases tightly. We head back to the Center. Some of the students head for the writing lab to exchange stories, while others go off, exploring the neighborhood. Everyone feels the sense of purpose and reason for our being here. We are Folknographers, after all!