Thursday, August 21, 2008


My friend Ian found a bike in New York City selling for $10 and a haiku. His haiku:

bike swift yet plodding
take me to destinations
i do not yet know

brooklyn needs transport
and you provide the lifeline
of independence


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Home Again

It is hot, but not humid. I can drink the water from the tap. The roads are reasonable, and free of men on motorcycles honking at me and offering a ride. All prices are clearly marked and no one has tried to overcharge me. I must be in America.
Traveling abroad makes me appreciate our country more. For all it's faults, real and perceived, it is a great place to live.
After a rocky start, my trip ended well. It improved from bad, to palatable, to OK, to fantastic. I wouldn't have though it at the start, but I was sad to leave.
The reason was the people. In Las Terrenas, I loved working with the kids, but it the other volunteers really made it special. Meeting people is one of the best parts of travel. If you're really lucky you meet someone you connect with, who you imagine will be a friend for life. I met a few of those people, and consider myself very lucky.
People are the best part about traveling, and life too. What else really matters? You can be at the most beautiful beach on the world, but if you don't have anyone to share it with you might as well be marooned with a volleyball as your only friend.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Swimming with Sharks

I don't like to swim alone in the ocean. My logic works like this: if a shark came with the intention of eating a human and I am swimming alone, there is a nearly 100% chance I will be eaten. If I am swimming with another person, that drops to 50%. The more people the better.

The other day I was at the beach. No one else wanted to swim, and I hate sitting on a towel and frying. So in I went, snorkel gear in hand. Normally, I don't stray far from the shore. There's plenty of crabs, fish, and other things to make it interesting. I figured I would casually move myself to the fringe of another group for safety and have a look around. But this day there was another snorkler a ways off, swimming in rocky patch where I imagined there would be even cooler sights to see.

Calculating my shark-odds, I approached him and asked if there were fish to be seen. He nodded in the affirmative and waved me closer. As I got closer, a 2 foot long harpoon-gun materialized in his hand. This possibility I had not calculated. Fortunately, it was not pointed at me. Turns out he was fishing, and he already had three purple fish the size of my hand strung on a wire. Las Terrenas is full of people carrying all manner of fish, crab, or shrimp through the street looking to sell them to whoever is interested. He wanted me to help, and asked me to carry his fish.

I tagged along, trailing behind me a string of dead fish, scanning the briny deep for any predators larger than myself. My new partner swam and dove, peeking under rock outcroppings for his particular pray, and meanced all sea life in general with his harpoon. We were a good team.

But then the following train of thought ran through my mind: Sharks eat fish. People chum the water with dead fish to attract sharks. I am holding a lot of dead fish. I am chum.

With that I bid a hasty good-bye, and beat a retreat to the shallow waters. Below I've listed two of my other ocean phobia. On another note, so far my faithful blog readers have raised ZERO dollars for the very worthy cause I wrote about here. Go check it out, please, and donate something, even if it's 5$. Every little bit helps.

Other Things to be Scared of in the Ocean:
  1. Giant Squid/Octopus
    I saw a giant squid once at the Smithsonian. It was big. Its tentacles long. Death by octopus would be extremly unpleasant. A big purply arm reaching out of the deep, encircling you, drawing you towards its gaping maw. It might ink you if you struggle hard enough, but eventually you wind up in its mouth where it gums you until you are no more. Fortunately they are rare and as of today no one has died by octopus.

  2. Sting Rays
    Sting rays, I heard, have the most painful, non-fatal sting of anything on the planet. They hide under the sand until you step on one and WHAM! You're down for the count. My friend Joe once got stung by a sting ray in Ecuador and they had to call a doctor.

  3. Put Your Own Here
    What else should I fear in the ocean? Leave a comment. Let me know!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Do Something Awesome Today

I've talked about various projects on here, but this one is near and dear to my heart.

I spent most of last summer in Ecuador, setting up a business that would take college students interested in social change overseas. There they would work with social entrepreneurs, see that they too could make a difference, and come back to the States pumped up and ready to change the world.

While the business never got off the ground, the time spent there bore some fruit. In the course of out travels my partner and I met Juan Andrade, a Catholic priest who runs a foundation called Mano Amiga (Helping Hand).

What he does is nothing short of amazing. In Ecuador, if a child loses the family support network there are few other places to turn. Many live on the street begging or selling trinkets. In the worst cases they turn to prostiution, gangs, or violence just to survive. This begets more violence, crime, and poverty and so the cycle continues.

Mano Amiga intervenes and provides them with shelter, food, an education and love. The fundamental social change is this: rather than a detriment, these children will become contributors to their society as business owners, vetrenarians, teachers, etc. (Those are just a few of the things the children told me they wanted to be.)

While Mano Amiga does amazing work, it is limited financially. The government of Ecuador provides $1 per day per child to care for the children. With food, hygene, clothes, and school fees this is woefully short.

One of the biggest expenses is food. Rice and beans are the staple. Vegetables and fruit are uncommon. Meat is rare. A nutritionist recently diagnosed over half the children as mal-nourished.

Fortunately there is a solution! Some nearby farmland was donated to the foundation, and my ex-business partner has partnered with a Rotoact group from Colorado to provide the foundation with the equipment, livestock, and seed necessary to make the farm produce enough food to nourish the children properly.

The benefits of this are threefold:
1.) The kids will be nourished properly
2.) Mano Amiga will spend less on food, enabling it to reach more children.
3.) The farm may eventually generate income for the foundation, again enabling it to reach more chilren.

So if you like feeding hungry kids while eliminating poverty, take a look at the project site. They are over halfway to their fundraising goal. I'd encourage everyone who reads it to donate something, even $10 means a lot.

If you still have doubts take a look at the kids. They were so friendly, open, caring, and above all happy, despite their backgrounds, and the poverty they lived in even at the foundation.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Tropical Juxtaposition

I was looking at some tropical fish through my snorkel mask when I heard a boom. I stood up in the water. The sun was very bright. The water was very clear. The sun was very white. The coconut trees were very tall. Paradise.
And not but two miles to the west were dark black storm clouds full of thunder, lightning and rain. And yet I stood in sunshine splashing in the waves. Quite a juxtaposition. Very surreal.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Sad Tale of Sanki Panki

Throughout my time here I've seen numbers of old, white men with young Dominican women. While prostitution is common here--hardly a night goes by where I am not solicited--I couldn't believe the audacity of some of these old geezers. Invariabley moneyed and dressed nicely, they go out in broad daylight, to the beach or to dinner in the company of their "mujer".

Seeing something so incongrous and obvious makes it awkward to walk by them and hard not to stare. I keep imagining the face Jim Halpert makes when Michael Scott does something inappropriate in the Office. The face that says, "Really? You're doing that? In public?"

Turns out this is more than prostitution. It sanki-panki (not "hanky-panky" or "skanky-panky", though both are appropriate). What many foreigners will pay a woman a certain amount of money to be their companion. Sometimes for a week, sometimes a month, or sometimes years. It's like hiring a long-term escort. In the very worst cases families will "lease" their daughters out, sometimes at very young ages. There is a well-known Frenchman in town living with a girl of 12. Sadly, it's not hard to imagine that the 12-year old girl will continue to make a living in the sex industry.

It is a symptom of poverty, though that does not excuse it, especially not in the cases of parents selling their daughters. It creates more poverty, dehumanizes women, begets violence, spreads disease and ruins lives.

Most of the foreigners you meet traveling are great people who are interested in seeing the world, learning about new cultures, and/or making a difference like the volunteers here at the Fundacion Mahatma Ghandi. But there's still those few who are here only for a good time, and the Dominican Republic's image as a tropical, live-it-up paradise draws more than its fair share. It's explotation, and it's really sad to see.