Thursday, May 27, 2010


I had a rat problem in my house so I got a cat. It was a hand-me-down from another volunteer. Now I have a cat problem. It’s not that I dislike cats, its just that I don’t LIKE cats. (There’s a subtle active vs. passive distinction between the two phrases.) Now you might say, “Fine you don’t LIKE cats, but on a relative scale of 1 to LIKE, a cat would certainly rate higher than a rat.” Cats don’t cause leptospirosis and they’re much more cuddly than rats. But recent discussions on Haitian vs. Dominican relations have gotten me thinking about the unconscious stereotypes that shape the way we think about other beings. Now I paid very little attention during these discussions so I can’t tell you very much about Haitian-Dominican relations. But I think they probably said something along the lines of “Dominicans have been given more opportunity to develop, blah, blah, blah, I’m boring.” This same school of thought can be applied to cat vs. rat relations. Ever since that little incident with the Bubonic plague rats have gotten a bad rap as being “dirty” and “diseased” whereas cats are referred to as “domesticated” and “kitty”. But we have to analyze the underlying causes of these differences, the largest of which, I would argue, is the difference in the distribution of aid. Now aid to cats has been approached in a decentralized manner where hundreds of millions of aid workers around the world care for a cat or two (I think more than 3 make you a “cat lady”). These cats are provided proper sanitation (litter boxes), clean drinking water, and a nutritious diet (Meow Mix). They grow up with love and encouragement to learn new tricks and play with balls of yarn. They receive sexual education (castration) so that their population does not get out of hand. Rats, on the other hand, have received very little aid over the years and thus have to fight to get by. They leave turds all over your clothes because nobody ever educated them about hygiene and sanitation. They steal your food because they are starving and have families to support. They are diseased because they don’t receive proper health (veterinary) care. So the vicious cycle persists. And we ignore these facts. Because we don’t like the way rats fit into “our” world we support the cats so that they can continue to commit genocide against the rat population. The same tactics that powerful governments and large corporations use to oppress populations who oppose their interests in other countries. So next time you’re deciding which animal population to support with your hard earned money, consider the rat. Is it really “bad” or is it just a victim of foreign (species) interventionism and disproportionate distribution of resources?

You will notice that my previous two blogs have contained sections in which I compare and metaphorize( when you turn off spell check every combination of letters is a real word!) animal and human life. It’s part of an animal rights campaign I have started called “Animals are people too.” My next project is a multi-species production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

On a more human note I have received a donation from a human stranger in California for the water system that we’re building for the humans that I live with. I don’t know who he was but it was awfully nice of him to do that. What he doesn’t realize is that I now have to begin work on my system. This will severely cut down on my beach time. I think I will write him a thank you note. In it I will not mention this blog because I don’t want to ruin his illusion of having just sent a large sum of money to a serious and responsible water engineer. If he (you) does happen to stumble across this blog then I’m sorry but I already spent the money and you can’t have it back. I’m actually a semi-capable human being, I promise. So May 31st is the first day of work. I just went to the tube factory and gave them lots of money in return for hundreds of long, plastic cylinders. Now we will bury them all in the ground and shoot water out of them into peoples’ homes.

The translation for the verb to borrow in the dictionary is pedir prestado which when literally translated means something like “to ask to lend.” This implies that the person borrowing a thing asks permission. But Dominicans’ idea of borrowing is pretty loose and sometimes borders on theft (which is basically just borrowing without the returning part anyway). But I don’t really care because it’s usually just pens or paper or peanut butter and it’s happened in every house I’ve lived in thus far in country so I write it off to a cultural difference. So sometimes things are “borrowed” from my house without permission but I want them back. But if I say “Hey did you ask me to lend you my scissors” then that sounds accusatory when really I just want to know if he borrowed my scissors because now I need them to make paper snowflakes. And so…huh…well I’m not sure where this is going. Basically some ants just bit me and I want to ask my host-brother whether he borrowed my ant killing powder but I don’t want to sound like I’m accusing him of stealing.

I used to eat all of my meals with a family. Then I told them that I just wanted to eat lunch with them and I would cook breakfast and dinner on my own. The idea was that way I could stop eating the starchy roots (viveres) that they served me every morning and night. But to them it’s not dinner if there aren’t any viveres. So I cook eggs or something for dinner and I’m satisfied. But they’re horrified. So around 9pm there’s a knock on my door:

Dona: “Duncan are you sleeping?”
Me: “No, I usually sleep with the lights off.”
Dona: “Oh ok, I brought you these viveres.”
Me: “Oh well I already ate. Thanks though.”
Dona: “Oh ok well I cooked these and then I brought them to you.”
Me: “Yeah but I already ate and so I’m full. With food.”
Dona: “Right well I’m just going to ignore everything you just said and put these viveres on your table and you eat them, ok?”
Me: “OK thanks Dona.”

And this happens every single night. So not only do they take without asking. They give without asking (or listening). People who are different than me are crazy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I witnessed a territorial dispute between two dogs the other day. A bigger dog came into a smaller dog’s territory and started peeing on his stuff (a tree stump and a bush). The smaller dog came over growling and started peeing on his own stuff again to cover up the pee of the first dog. It went back and forth like that with dogs lifting legs until the invading dog couldn’t pee anymore. So he lost the battle and left. So it turns out that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but rather the size of that dog’s bladder and how much water he drank that day. Which made me think that if humans settled territorial disputes this way we’d have much less blood shed and the winner of the battle would have nutrient rich soil from the all of the urine, which would lessen our environmental impact due to the extraction and processing of phosphorous. Also we would completely eradicate the weapons trade and instead develop stock holds of water and beer and the most efficient diuretics, which is really just good practice anyway. If anybody happens to be at the next World Summit on Peace (Or War) you should mention this idea. One suggestion would be to leave out the butt sniffing part because our senses of smell are really not good enough to get any substantial information from that.

I'm not a cheek kisser usually. I'm not opposed to the custom but I don't initiate the cheek kiss salutation. But one of the ladies here did initiate the cheek kiss and once you do the cheek kiss there's no going back to handshakes. And now all the other ladies see that she does the cheek kiss and so they're like “Oh, he's a cheek kisser” even though I'm not. And so they start doing it. Then I'll give one a cheek kiss and their friend is there and it's really awkward because I haven't established a cheek kiss hello with that friend yet but I just cheek kissed with the other lady so if I don't do it with them does it mean I don't like them as much? So the cheek kiss has spread like wildfire and now I have to cheek kiss all the ladies. And some of those old ladies are aprovechando (taking advantage). The kisses are getting wetter and trying to steal some lip. I just want to go back to the weird handshake where you grab each others forearm like some sort of Asian wrestling (Why Asian Duncan? I'm not really sure).

Yikes. Kissing old ladies and peeing contests. They told me living in the campo might screw with my head. Let’s see if I can find something less perverse to talk about.

Last week I participated in a hitchhiking race across part of the country. I’m going to leave out some details about some of the rules of the race so as not to disgrace myself and the Peace Corps. I’ll just say that sometimes Peace Corps volunteers need to partake in some harmless, self-destructive behavior which is in no way condoned by or affiliated with the United States Peace Corps. But basically the point is to begin in one part of the country and hitchhike in pairs to another part, preferably one located on the beach. Except you cannot tell the driver that you are a Peace Corps volunteer. Also you are encouraged to dress up in costume and invent reasons for why you are hitchhiking. So this is how I ended up on the side of the highway in biking spandex telling strangers that we needed a ride because our bikes got stolen. The first ride we got was from an ambulance. The ambulance had its sirens on and was on its way to the hospital with a patient but decided that it was worth it to stop and pick up two gringos in spandex. It’s a very relaxed culture, even in emergencies. There was only one empty seat up front so I rode in the back of the ambulance with a doctor and a mother and teenage boy delirious with dengue fever and hooked up to various IVs and apparatus. Needless to say they did not seem to think the situation was nearly as funny as I did. But my point is that an ambulance on its way to the hospital is probably the best way to win a hitchhiking race. I didn’t win though. The next ride was from two French, book publishers. They were much more entertaining than the kid with dengue but they didn’t drive as fast.

I thought it would be nice to expose the people here to some Dominican cinema (while simultaneously cheating Dominican cinema out of money) by purchasing some pirated Dominican movies for 50 pesos in the city. So I brought them back to the campo and showed them to the muchachos and they didn’t want to watch any of them. They did however want to watch a Jean Claude Van Damme movie in English without subtitles. (As I later found out they cannot read subitles anyway.) In fact they will watch anything in any language as long as it has “fighting or shooting.” I’m pretty sure that it is the dream of every male in my community to marry a rich, white girl and move the United States and become a real life Dominican Chuck Norris.

Hmmm...well that's all for now I guess.