¡Se fue la luz… y el agua!

30 May

Here in the Dominican Republic, the same 60 Hz 110-120V electrical sockets (outlets) are used as they are in the United States. However, voltage irregularities are common and apagones (power outages) are very common, as electricity is not always reliable! This could be in part because it is estimated that about one third of Dominicans are stealing electricity from the power company Corporación Dominicana de Empresas Eléctricas Estatales (CDEEE). This could also be in part due to many electrical plant closings and limited resources, but these are just my thoughts!

 

It is likely that the power here will go out at least once a day, as it already has within the short amount of time that I have been in this country. The power outage may last minutes, and sometimes hours. Likewise, it is possible that it will go out for days at a time. After all, ANYTHING is possible here in the DR!

 

Tonight, our power went out. This is nothing new. However, what is new to me is the way that the power outages are handled.

 

Here is a unique experience that I want to share with you!

 

We live above a bakery, which is never affected by the power outages because they have a planta (a small generator). However, we do not!

 

So we call the electrician and he comes right over. He begins to fiddle with the fuse box and  voila!, we have power again.

 

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I figured that he would stop here, but he didn’t. He then proceeded to bother it again and wound up starting a small electrical fire.

 

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The neighbors and I ran to see where it was. It was on some shoddy wires lining the side of the building and the bakery.

 

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“Get some water,” a woman shouted.

 

“Are you crazy?” a man asked. “Just blow it out.”

 

So we blew the fire out and the electrician shrugged his shoulders, ran upstairs, and got back to work. Now the man I mentioned before had good reason to ask the woman was she crazy. Water + electrical fire on shoddy wires= a really bad idea that would likely lead to someone’s electrocution!

 

By this time, I am stalking the electrician with my camera and watching his every move. Meanwhile, I am finding this entire situation hilarious until I realize that it is 11 pm, I have to work in the morning, and I have not eaten since lunch. I can’t use the microwave or the gas stove, which is powered by both electricity and gas because you have to turn on the electricity to turn on the gas.

 

Hungry and less amused than before, the electrician has finally restored the power and we can all move on with what’s left of our evening! 

 

 

Also, today, as I was washing my hands in a public restroom, the water pressure suddenly began to drop until there was suddenly no more water. As a budding public health professional, I value hand washing as a very important and preventive public health action.

 

With lathered soap in hand, I run around the building asking if anyone has a little bottled water that they could spare. I was so desperate that I asked a man pouring coffee if he had any left over. He does not and neither does anyone else, so I dried my hands and used my hand sanitizer until I was able to run across the street to a restaurant and freakishly wash my hands for nearly fifteen minutes.

 

I have taught hand washing in Guatemala to small children in the past and they loved it. I also left them with a lesson about its importance. However, although we know it is important to wash your hands with soap and warm water for an allotted amount of time, what can you do if you do not have any water?

 

These events have made me reflect on the importance of electricity and potable water as viable resources required in everyday life. The utilization and consumption of these resources is necessary for the activities of daily living, to include eating, bathing, and hydrating. Likewise, both are required for the maintenance of health.

 

Then again, if you do not have these resources, or they are in limited supply, what can you do?

 

Saludos!

 

-Sneaka

Roadside/Curbside Service and Colmado Culture

23 May

The United States is packed with grocery stores no matter where you go, whether it be to your local Costco, Wal-Mart, Food Lion, Whole Foods, Ralph’s, Wegmans, Piggly Wiggly, Fresh Market, IGA, or Kroger, along with your local farmer’s markets, African, Asian and Latino specialty grocery stores, and your nearly non-existent “Mom and Pop” groceries, that is, unless you are in rural American, New York or (Washington) DC.

Here in the DR, you have your large chain grocery stores like La Sirena, Bravo, and Plaza Lama which offer both national and international food options. Here, you will find an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood, as well as canned and boxed options like conveniently found in large chain grocery stores. As seen in the pictures above, at La Sirena, everything is conveniently organized and labeled, and available for patrons.  

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While these large-chain options are available to all, the DR also offers roadside and curbside service.

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The man pictured above is who I call “The Pineapple Man!” He is conveniently stationed outside of my house a few times a week on the sidewalk/ in the street to sell his pineapples. With machete in hand, he will even peel and slice the pineapples for you and bag them. The price is two for 50 pesos, roughly about $1.20 USD. When I asked him how much (¿Cuánto cuesta?) he told me 50 (cincuenta) pesos! I gave him 200 pesos because I was not paying attention. I also neglected to brush up on my numbers , as I always do, so I figured out the amount after he gave me my change back. Thankfully this man was honest was not trying to make me over pay. Now I cannot promise that everyone is honest like this man, so I suggest you study your numbers in whatever language of the country that you will travel to. If you are ever confused at any time, it is fine to ask for the price again and to clarify that you understand. Often times in open markets and street stalls, vendors have calculators to demystify any language barriers that may exist. This works especially well in bargaining.

Now, back to the main point, pineapples are my favorite fruit and it is so hard not to over-indulge. I mean look at this stash! He and his partner stand outside of my house all day selling pineapples. I bought mine early in the morning after my morning run in the park. I could not resist. He was standing there yelling “La piña,” “La piña!” I felt like he was calling out to me. Also, I like to put money back into economies by purchasing from local businesses, especially abroad, as tourism is a very important source of income for those abroad, especially here. Trust me, there is ALWAYS someone selling fresh fruits and vegetables in the streets here.

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Also, it is important to note that while you are sitting in traffic, whether you need bread, hats, sunglasses, a car charger for your mobile phone, windshield wiper blades, or a pet, there are vendors walking through the lanes selling whatever you may need. If you are going to buy from these vendors, make sure that you exercise caution and only take out the amount of money that you will need. You may or may not get your change back. After all, you are the one sticking your hand out of a car window waving money around for all in traffic to see.

Last but not least, I cannot forget that the DR also has the ever-so convenient colmados! Now colmados are absolutely EVERYWHERE here in the DR. There is an abundance of them in Santo Domingo. If you tell me that you come here and cannot find one, I will have to suggest that you get your eyes checked, as they are clearly labeled and conveniently stationed at multiple points on every street. In New York and DC, they are called bodegas.

There are two different types of colmados: colmados and colmadones. Colmados are more expensive than supermarkets and they sell detalles (“details” in English) and sell whatever you may need in whatever measurement or quantity. They are usually on every block and are close to your house. Also, they conveniently deliver to your house if you need it. Dominican use it to buy things that they run out of without having to catch a public car and go to the store. The prices are higher because delivery charges are included. Colmadones are types of colmados that only sell drinks. They do not deliver, but you are free to go to these locations and drink as much as you’d like, assuming that you have the funds to pay for whatever you are going to consume.

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With just one phone call, one of the store employees will even hop on his little motorbike or scooter with a basket and hand-deliver your order to you. You can call them to milk, bring eggs, two squirts of shampoo and conditioner, cheese, chips, cookies, cake, drinks, to include alcohol, and basically whatever is in stock. It is equivalent to calling the front desk at a hotel for toiletries because you left yours at home, just with food and other products. You can even look them up in the Dominican yellow pages! When they are downstairs, they’ll yell “Colmado!” and you’ll yell “Va!” They bring your items up to your doorstep, but you have to unlock all the locks and gates on your door first so they can get to your door. If you don’t feel like unlocking all the locks, they will slide the items through the cracks in the iron gate leading up to your apartment floor and you just slide the cash through.

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Now, “Colmado culture” is very important here in the DR. It is a source of revenue for families and is a place where the locals go to congregate and have a good time. As I stated before, you can buy anything that you need in whatever quantity. If you say you want one cigarette, that’s what you’ll get. If you say you want three eggs, a scoop of washing powder, two slices of cheese, a bottle of soda, one lime, one aspirin tablet, or a spoon of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, that’s what you will get! You do not leave to need the house while you are cooking, as they will bring you whatever you may need if you run out.

Just know that many of the locals pay on store credit. This is because the locals have likely frequented the colmados their entire lives and everyone needs food in between payday. This is understood. However, as a gringo, always pay with cash on delivery!

-Salu2

Bienvenido a la República Dominicana

21 May

Today I embarked on a journey of four hours by air and 1745 miles from where I live in the United States to sunny semi-sunny Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (DR).

Needless to say that before I left, I was incredibly excited about what my summer would entail. In the past, I have only studied abroad for short periods of time because the programs I participated in were short and with groups of students at various levels of their university careers. I am not a huge fan of group travel, actually, I do not like it at all, but I like to do things on my own and honestly, being with a group hinders me in that I cannot explore the various aspects of a culture when the itinerary of a study abroad trip is so regulated. Therefore, this year, I designed my own program and made my own connections and arrangements. As a future public health professional, I decided to partake in a clinical internship while incorporating international relations and public health into my program. I decided that three months, more or less, should be enough time to accomplish everything I desire to.

By this point, I know what you’re wondering, “Sneaka, how can you survive without working for three months?” Well, I’m glad you asked! Based on my strong work performance, my mentors offered to become my faculty sponsors and I earned research grants. (For those of you who do not know, FUNDING is a graduate student’s favorite “F word!”) My mentors are funding the research for my thesis, which is the main reason for me wanting to study here. However, I will still be “working” and doing assigned tasks and the typical work of a graduate assistant, i.e. data input, data collection, updating spreadsheets, designing a research study and protocol, and all things related to research. This is not a problem for me, as I will be doing these things for the entire duration of my public health career.

Having mentioned this, I am also currently enrolled in summer school. “Sneaka, how can you study abroad AND take summer classes?” I’m glad you asked! My university is one of the leaders, if not the leading institution for distance education in the state. The beauty of distance education is that you can complete your work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Isn’t modern technology great? By this point, you’re probably wondering why I am taking summer courses, AND doing an internship, AND doing thesis research, AND taking Spanish courses in the DR. The answer is simple, I am a great multitasker and know how to use rules and regulations to work for my advantage. By staying in the DR for a specified length of time, and taking Spanish courses, and doing an internship, and doing my thesis research, I can complete a semester’s worth of credits through my home institution. To do this takes a lot of reading, but I have done things like this before, which help me complete my degrees and certificates in a timely manner.

Now, back to the main points. This time, I would live with a friend’s girlfriend, a Dominican young lady a year older than myself, and intimately get to know Dominican culture and actually do an in-depth, ethnographic exploration of things that I would not be able to investigate on a traditional study abroad trip. Because I have never been “Black in Latin America,” I wondered what Dominican culture truly was, as the only Dominican I knew was my mentor in the Spanish Interpreting department in the hospital that I volunteered in. She had given me some details about Dominican culture, but not nearly enough.

To this end, everything I had learned about the DR came from the internet. I know what you’re thinking, “You can’t believe everything that you read on the internet.” This is absolutely true, which is why I wanted to find some things out for myself. However, I was surprised at what I had found.

In my various internet searches for all things in and related to the DR, I came across some interesting finds, first, that Dominicans, like native Africans, do NOT particularly care for African Americans. It is possible that the rationale behind this is that we are clamorous and at times, ostentatious when we should be low key, and display our “ethnic” sides when we perceive a threat or must be in defense of something, but that is because we are proud of who we are, how far we have come, what we have earned and achieved, and sometimes must demand the respect that we are owed. I will admit that I can be clamorous, but only in applicable situations, such as discussions with family and friends, defending my rights or opinions, or that of others, or when there is an injustice. I am vocative in these situations because they warrant attention and seriousness, minus the familial and friendly discussions because I’m easily excitable and when I am with my family, we are all rather loud and excitable, but can do this in the home that we own. Similarly, the “ethnic” in me can come out for the aforementioned reasons and yes, this “ethnic” encompasses an eyeball rolling, neck jerking, finger popping young lady who is rather feisty, but will easily come to the defense of herself, her culture, and her people as well as those who do not have a voice. Now, please understand, I know when and when not to act this way. I can act this way with other members of my culture because we have an understanding of what these actions mean and when they are used. I do not do this abroad because I have to act as an ambassador for all Black Americans, especially because in the places that I have been, we (Black Americans) are few and far in between. More or less, I have to be on what you would call “My best behavior.” However, because I have a bachelor’s degree and two certificates, and am currently pursuing two master’s degrees and various certificates, I have enough education to understand that not everyone is culturally competent, many people are ignorant and do not know anything outside of their own environment, and sometimes, people are just not going to like you. I can live with these facts.

I was in disbelief as to what I read. Again, it is possible that Dominicans do not like Blacks (Black Americans) because of the eyeball rolling, neck jerking, and finger popping and because of our loud voices, but then again, I figured that Dominicans are Black and do the same thing as they are Latina, and Latinas, just like Black women, have been cited as feisty, “ethnic” at times, and history has made us a certain way. True, we can change our behaviors, but if we are proud of our cultures, as we both are, why would we change it? I agree that we can “tone this down” and “act like we have some sense,” but again, contrary to common beliefs, we DO know how to act in public. However, in regards to Dominicans not liking Black people, it could be because “Black” is associated with being Haitian, which is something perceived as bad here, but this is a topic that I will further explore more closely about a month into this trip.

I also read that a woman named Kara had a bad experience in the DR with racism and struggled with her black identity. In her blog entry entitled Black Travel: Prieta: Dark, Black, and American in the Dominican Republic, Kara talks about her trip to the DR and how she was harassed in the streets and how the entire experience became a test of her psychological and spiritual strength. She felt that she was disrespected and discriminated against on a daily basis. I feel saddened by this, as I would love for everyone to have a pleasant experience abroad. I would hate for anyone to let ignorance get in the way of enjoying an experience or making them feel insecure. Some say that “No one can make you feel insecure or inferior without your consent.” However, many people have not experienced racism and discrimination to the extent that it interferes with their daily lives. For now, I can only pray that I do not have a similar experience.

Another thing that I found interesting was that Dominicans, like Black women, are more or less obsessed with beauty and cannot come out of the house a certain way. I am sure the media has done an excellent job of portraying Black and Latina women with rollers in their hair and scarves and bandanas on their heads and wearing nighttime attire when they are out in public. This does happen, but usually in older populations of women who are on their porches or walking around in their neighborhoods. You rarely see this in public, unless, of course, you are going to your local Wal-Mart, which proves, as some may say, that God has a sense of humor!

We (Blacks and Latinas) both wear hair that did not grow from our scalps, but was made in China and imported from Brazil, India and Malaysia. These are “extensions” as they are called outside of minority communities, although non-minorities wear them too, so do not be fooled. Similarly, we chemically process our hair to make it straight and easier to manage. Some may call this “a learned rejection of all things black,” but I have to disagree. My hair is relaxed and I like it this way because I can spend less time styling it because I work and go to school full time. It is not because I think natural hair is bad, or those who have natural hair have “bad or nappy hair,” but I do not know how to maintain natural hair and have not had natural hair since I was a child. Don’t get me wrong, natural hair is beautiful and there is a lot you can do with it, but truth be told, I considered going natural but did not want to do “the big chop,” however, I am interested in thicker hair, so this is something that I may consider but for now, this is unimportant. An article in the Miami Herald entitled A Rising Voice: Afro-Latin Americans Part 2: The Dominican Republic’s Black Denial has noted that Dominicans have the opinion that “Black things are always associated with being undesirable and unattractive,” and “Straight hair looks more elegant and professional,” and “One drop of white blood through my veins means that I am white, black.” Though everyone is entitled to their own opinions, I think it is sad that they feel this way, although the Trujillo regime and the Haitian domination of the Dominican side of the island are to blame for these ancestral wounds that are hard to heal. All I can say is that “My Black is beautiful!”

I am interested in Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as human behavior in the aspects of public health and health disparities. Therefore, when I came across a documentary about prostitution in the DR a few years ago, I was shocked that “Pay for Play” was common as a means to feed families, support children, and basically make a living. This is not something that I had considered as an option for a career, so  to speak, for others. I knew that it was common everywhere, but I figured that it was not spoken about in public and was kept in secret. Although this is not necessarily the case in the DR, I do commend these women for making the effort to provide for their (mainly fatherless) families, but due to the socioeconomic status of many Dominicans, as many  live below the poverty line, women are often forced to resort to this type of work to survive. I sympathize with these women, I really do, as there are not as many opportunities for them to work, attend schools, whether secondary or post-secondary, or to obtain a non-life threatening way to survive. Commonly known as “the world’s oldest profession,” prostitution is common here because it is not illegal. As HIV/AIDS is prevalent among prostitutes, the “public health” in me seeks a culturally competent way to provide non-coercive education and preventive birth control and safety mechanisms to these women. This could be my next intervention project for my Ethnic Health and Health Disparities component of my MPH (Master’s in Public Health) degree. If I have the opportunity, I will definitely do it, upon IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval, of course.

Lastly, everyone who has seriously studied Spanish knows that the Spanish that you learn is Castilian Spanish, which is derived from Spain. This is the Spanish that you speak when in Spain. However, in the event that you travel to a Spanish speaking country other than Spain and begin to speak Spanish, everyone will know that you’re a “gringo,” or outsider. You have to “get hip to the lingo,” so to speak. Therefore, in preparation, I looked to one of my favorite websites, Youtube, to learn about Dominican Spanish and the Dominican language. I am very thankful to Sir Nube Negra for teaching me Dominican greetings and a very useful, yet universal Dominican word, coño. True, I can speak Spanish, but what I learned in the textbook was different from what I learned in Guatemala and Mexico. I am anxious to embark on a journey of learning a new type of Spanish and a new culture.

When I arrived in the DR, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I did not know what to expect, aside from crowding and lots of brown-skinned Caribbean people. Before arriving here, I did not know the city would be as modern as it is. There were lots of American restaurants and wi-fi connections and mobile phones, and Asian and European automobiles. For a second, I had forgotten that I was staying in the capital city and not in the countryside. I had also forgotten that this is a “tourist hotspot” and that there is a mixture of foreigners, gringos, and natives here. I look forward to what tomorrow holds.

Salu2 (Saludos)!

-Sneaka

Ni hao, China!

10 May

I awoke at 0555 this morning. I am an early morning person, so this was not an issue. The issue is that China is 12 hours ahead of the United States in regards to the time zone. The sleep that I got was the equivalent to nap time at a daycare. Mind you that last night I was so giddy with excitement that I could hardly sleep. I explored the hotel on my own and was up all night blogging, sending text messages and contacting my friends and family back home.

Since I had starved the night before, I was eager for breakfast. The language barrier was an apparent one, as I could not communicate effectively. I handed my cashier my breakfast ticket and she smiled. She then preceded to hand me one of everything on the menu. I was confused as to what I was eating, so I declined most of it. However, she handed it to me anyway and I took it, not wanting to be rude. It is the same in the American South. When someone prepares food for you, you smile, take the plate to your seat and eat the food that was prepared for you. I smiled politely and accepted the plates. It appeared that this restaurant was a community one, as there were more consumers than the restaurant could accommodate. I saw professionals, elders and children alike, all paying their yuan and filling up on the early morning delectables. I soon came to understand why we were told to arrive early. The food often ran out and a hungry mob accumulated around the empty buffet line.

     

On my plate, I tried what appeared to be a meat pie, an egg McMuffin, broth with rice, an omelet, and fried mystery strips of something bathed in soy sauce. I then discovered that what I thought was an omelet wasn’t, although it tasted fantastic with the meat pie. The egg McMuffin look-a-like was not bad, just bland. The dry mysterious strips bathed in soy sauce were incredibly salty, hard and cold. I knew China wasn’t the spice capital of the world, but table salt, pepper, and garlic would have been nice. I also sampled a spoonful of the pumpkin and rice soup with one of soybean and tofu soup. The latter actually had flavor. I know you’re probably thinking that this sounds disgusting. Don’t knock it until you try it!

The hour had come when we were to leave and travel to Hénán. We digressed back to the airport to catch the bus where we had to queue. Although late, I was relieved when the bus had arrived. It was generously packed with people anxiously waiting to get to their destination. This was your normal bus ride. However, I was impressed by the flat screen television enlisted for our viewing pleasure. From what I could deduce, it was a rundown of the weekly music news, with segments on Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift, and Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez. There also appeared to be some sort of countdown, with the E-girls, “One-two-three” at number two and SHINee, “Sherlock,” at number one. To my surprise, there was even a short segment on the late Whitney Houston, God rest her soul.

The bus ride was mostly a smooth one, as the driver drove us through Beijing. There was a lot of construction and a lot of city beautification projects occurring. It was interesting to see adults and elders with shovels in hand planting flowers, grass and trees. Seeing the amount of smog was interesting as well. The longer we rode the bus, the more interesting things seemed to be. There was a lot more industrialization and high rises with much variety and variability. Some were newer than others, but all constructed differently. Upon leaving the bus, we were met with a pack of rickshaw drivers who were mostly aggressive women who did not want to take “no” for an answer.

      

We wandered through the city in search of something which was later discovered to be The Angel Restaurant. The alimentary selection was again, different from what I am used to.  We were given fresh watermelon juice and tea to begin. There was a spicy celery dish and spicy chicken dish that I thoroughly enjoyed. Likewise, there was tofu and a variety of fungi. There was an abundance of food to begin with and more courses coming every so often. The food was enjoyable and we left immediately following the meal to travel to the next destination.

  

So far, in China, I have walked, flown, ridden the bus, and traveled by car. Soon to come would be the train. The walk to the train station was an experience in itself, as I quickly learned that pedestrians do not have the right-of-way as in America and many other countries. We were advised to keep our belongings close, as there were many people in the railway station. Traveling up and down many ramps and floors, the crowded station accommodated many. There were stores and restaurants of various types. I even saw a KFC and McDonald’s. As with Grand Central Station, there was much crowding, pushing and shoving. It would have been easy to get lost in the see of travelers. The train was just as crowded as the bus. Not a single seat was left empty. Once settled, I embarked on the slow, nearly seven hour journey to Hunan. It was the slowest train I have ever traveled by, as it moved 152 km/hr as we were transported from Beijingxi to Zhengzhou. There was a vendor service with an assortment of snacks. I did not have yuan, so I could not purchase any of the snacks. I was only able to salivate over what I could not have.

Seven or so hours later, we arrived at our destination. Hénán was an overcrowded city with the neon lights of Las Vegas and almost as crowded as New York City. We eventually found our newest temporary dwelling.We settled in our hotel, a local Academic Exchange Center nestled directly inside the city’s security gate in close proximity to shops, vendors and the institute in which we were to study.

 

This hotel was like the one for the night before, a stiff bed with clean sheets. Likewise, it had a Western toilet and a scenic view.

After hours of traveling today, I am tired and can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds.

-         Sneaka

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The Great Firewall of China!

9 May

It is that time of year again when I embark on a journey to a foreign land. This year’s designated summer study abroad trip is to Beijing, China. I have been to Asia before, but I traveled to Korea and that was nearly ten years before today. Any who, regarding my travels, I am a step ahead of where I was last year in that I have actually done my homework. By this I mean that I have frequented the BBC’s website to keep abreast of the current happenings in the land that is China. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against CNN, ABC or NBC. I was born overseas and just prefer the BBC. Although I am an American, this is just my preference. I think of things globally, not just locally.

One goal of this blog is to educate both myself and others. Therefore, I feel compelled to offer a bit of education. In mentioning this, I will give a brief synopsis of the current events relevant to the geographical location in which I will be traveling:

In case Locked Up Abroad isn’t your Wednesday night break from the infectious disease that is reality television, I encourage you to watch an episode or two. Having mentioned this, as of 23 March 2012, China will end its current practice of extracting viable organs from executed prisoners. I cannot help but wonder what will happen to said viable organs now. I am pro-donation. After all, if you are not using your organs, why not give someone else a second, third, or fourth chance to live? After all, by this point in life you wouldn’t need your organs because you’d be dead. Why let them go to waste?

On a different note in a different tone, Chinese dissident and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng has been at the center of diplomatic relation issues. It all began when he escaped from house arrest and sought refuge in Beijing at the American embassy. What has surprised most people is how this 40-year-old self-taught blind lawyer not only escape house arrest, but has continued to campaign against forced pregnancy terminations and the sterilization of women under Chinese law. (In case you did not know, the policy in China is one child per family.) In applying to study abroad, there were hopes that tensions amid the United States and China would resolve and end a tense diplomatic stand-off. I do, however, find it interesting that Mr. Chen was offered a fellowship at NYU and his family will accompany him. Many are concerned that his actions have overshadowed those of the high-level international relations talks between China and the United States in Beijing. Say what you want, but at least someone is standing up for women’s’ rights.

As a Southerner, I feel that food is meant to be enjoyed and not analyzed. However, in this case, I am willing to make an exception. It has recently been discovered that Chinese vegetable sellers have sprayed cabbages with a formaldehyde solution. Formaldehyde is an excellent preservative, if you could call it that, and does its job of keeping the food fresh in transit. I understand that many farmers do not have the resources to refrigerate and properly store their produce. I cannot fault them for this. However, I am concerned that because cabbage is a staple in China, food safety and security are at stake.

There are many other occurrences and current events going on in China as well. I chose the three aforementioned topics because they were the most relevant to my personality, concerns and interests.

There were three flights to get to China. Raleigh/ Durham to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Seattle and then Seattle to Beijing. They were two hours, three hours, and eleven hours in length, respectively. With Spark Charts in hand, I began my quick crash course in simplified Mandarin. I have a knack for the foreign languages. Unlike mathematics, I can actually grasp and comprehend foreign languages, as they make sense to me. The human brain works in mysterious ways, or so they tell me. From the first page of my fold-out, I have gathered the following:

        

         Hello             Thank you      You’re Welcome     Good Morning    Goodbye

We arrived in Beijing at 2200 on 10 May. We had left the United States at 1130 on 9 May. We lost an entire day. The airport was a rather large one. After disembarking the plane, I acted in true tourist fashion and snapped pictures of absolutely everything that I saw. We then arrived at the immigration station and the pictures had to end, as I saw a sign that said no photography. I then saw cameras everywhere and knew that if I had, I could have possibly been locked up abroad. Also, I’d gotten in cahoots last year with the Department of Homeland security in Mexico for taking pictures at the immigration station after I walked across the border. I knew that this time, the consequences would have been more serious. Passport in hand, I gave the agent my documents and was then free to go.

     

After collecting my bags, I was free to leave the airport. By this time it was nearly 2245 and I stepped outside and inhaled what I knew wouldn’t be fresh air. At 2300 it was incredibly smoggy, and a thick layer at that. I’d learned about the Chinese environment before in my Environmental Health and Safety course, but what I was taught could not have prepared me for what was to come. There were balls of something cotton-like floating in and falling from the sky. I had no idea what it was. However, all I knew is that I was taking it all in, literally. I figured that with all the smoking, smog and mysterious things falling from the sky, I would need to see a pulmonary specialist upon my arrival in the United States at the conclusion of the trip. I think my insurance carriers will cover that.

It was a short bus ride down to the hotel in which we would rest for the night, the Beijing Lihao Hotel. From the outside, it appeared to be a nice place convenient to the airport and close to the highway. It is the kind of place that you would stay if you had just come in from a long flight and just needed a place to stay, sort of like an EconoLodge. If you can’t stand to sleep on the floor, stay somewhere else. The beds are as hard and stiff as the floor, but nonetheless, something to sleep on.

      

Eager to get in contact with my friends and family, I discovered how to get on the internet, with what I deemed “the Great Firewall of China.” I had read that Facebook and other websites were blocked, but I thought the ban had been lifted. Silly me! I could not access my blog or my Facebook profile, but I was able to get access to my university’s e-mail system and an online text messaging system. At least I could communicate with everyone back home. I wonder what other interesting experiences I’ll have here.

-         Sneaka

Dictionaries at Dinner!

22 May

Today was the day that I left the United States to embark on my journey to Guatemala. I was more than excited about the things to come, as I had not been out of the country in five or so years.

I made sure that my bags were packed and that I still had enough room left in them to put the things that I intended to buy. As I am a female, I do not fully know the meaning of the expression, “Pack lightly.” Though my suitcase was overflowing with things that I both needed and things that I did not, I contemplated what my next move should have been. Peering on the floor, I noticed that I had four bags of medical supplies to take with me. In a small amount of distress, I bargained with my peers for space in their suitcases. Believe you me, had someone told me that I could have brought an extra suitcase with me on this trip, I would have done so!

After a hug and a kiss, Joseph, mi novio gave me a hug and a kiss as he escorted me to the security check point. After all, he was illegally parked, and was on the verge of having his car towed.

As I walked up to the security check point, I noticed that everyone was instructed to strip down to their shirts and pants while all jewelry and other metal items were removed. Once I looked on the floor, I noticed that everyone was taking off their shoes. I thought it was some sort of bad joke being played on me! I was confused as to why I had to take off my shoes. In an attempt to bargain with the security guard, he quickly alerted me that if I did not, that I would have to leave their air port and not fly to Guatemala. Needless to say, I had to “suck it up” and place my bare feet on the floor. Did this security guard not know that there are germs on the bottoms of people’s shoes? I am assuming that he was also unaware that many people do not keep their feet clean, and I would have to walk on the floor after them. I was disgusted, none the less, but ran through the check point and cleansed my feet before putting my shoes on. The worst was over, or so I had thought.

I walked over to the one of the restaurants and was at the counter purchasing food when I heard my name being called on the loudspeaker with a request to answer the airport’s courtesy phone. After answering, I realized that I had Joseph’s phone in my pocket, and he had no other way to retrieve it from me other than for me to go outside the airport and hand it to him. Being the fantastic person that I am, I agreed to walk outside an give him his phone. After doing so and turning around, I realized that I would have to go back through the security check point and take off my shoes again. All I could think was “Why me?”

To make a long story short, I had to go through the entire process again and the security people laughed because apparently there was a look of discomfort all over my face. Needless to say, I was NOT happy! My microbiology courses had scarred me. I knew the sorts of things that we on the underside of shoes.

By this time, I only had a few minutes to catch my flight, so I had to settle for 2 ounces of crackers and a bottle of water to satisfy my hunger. I was starving!

The plane ride to Atlanta was short. The plane ride to Guatemala City, however, was not! It was three and a half long hours, most of which I slept through. Sleep felt awesome because I had only had 1 hour of sleep within the days prior to this one. I will admit this: I was surprised at how many Latinos were on the plane. Then again, I had to consider exactly where I was going…

Our arrival in Guatemala was peaceful. The immigration office stamped my passport and I was on my way to retrieve my bags. All of the signs were in Spanish which was fantastic for me. However, not so much for my peers, as most of them did not speak any Spanish at all. A few students asked me to translate things, which I was more than happy to do. I’m pretty sure that they were 90% correct.

As we walked outside, we met our host organization for our stay in Guatemala. The staff was incredibly welcoming and made us feel right at home. It was an hour drive from Guatemala City to where we were going, so we conversed with the staff and they helped everyone with their Spanish, or lack of it, on the ride over. On a side note, I was excited to see that there was a Wal-Mart in Guatemala City. From that point on, I knew I would like it here! I also saw an abundance of McDonald’s restaurants and Domino’s Pizza restaurants. These were good signs. If all else fails and I can’t find a job in the United States after graduation, I do have experience as a delivery driver for Domino’s, and would be more than happy to transfer my skills here!

After an hour of transit, we arrived at our destination. What a beautiful city it was! There was so much history and rich culture. It was evident that there was a lot to learn here. We went on a walking tour of the city and marveled at it’s beauty. Everything was amazing, that is, until I LOST MY CAMERA!!! In a panicked frenzy, I frantically searched everywhere. Distressed at how careless I had been, I was more than happy once a friend found it on the bus. I would have given her a hug, but the bus was crammed and I am sure she did not want one. It was hotter outside than you could imagine.

The tour of the city ended, and it was time to meet our familias de acogida (host families). As we approached the door to the house, I did not know what to expect. From the outside, the house was gorgeous, but I was not sure who was going to answer the door. When it opened, a small lady with brown eyes peered out at me and was very warm and welcoming. She escorted us around her two-story, six bedroom house. It was better than something you would see on MTV’s Cribs. This was an actual home that people lived in versus one that people filled with rented things to be ostentatious.

She summoned us for dinner after we became settled in. My roommates and I all had our dictionaries in hand at the dinner table as we were at a loss for words. Our host mother laughed because she had never seen such a thing before. Now that I come to think about it, my family was a host family for exchange students, but our exchange students never carried a dictionary to the dinner table.

The conversation went well and I am proud to report that our host mother can actually understand my Spanish. She also said that she found it amusing that I would rather write her a note than actually let her suffer through my mispronunciations. Her husband also thought it was funny. They encouraged me to talk. They told me that I speak very well, but they would like for me to talk more. On another side not: in primary school, my teachers always told me parents that I talked to much. My parents agreed. Now in Guatemala, my host family thinks that I don’t eat or talk enough. (I find this hilarious because I talk and eat all the time when I am at home).

Exhausted and excited for the things to come, my roommates and I called it a night. We ended up going to bed about 8:30 pm and were satisfied with the events of the day!

- Sneaka

18 May

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Respectfully,

Sneaka

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