Thursday, June 10, 2010


In the development world, Haitians are the new black. (Pun intended, but not in a racist way.) Helping the Haitians is sexy. All the celebrities are doing it. You no doubt know this from the headlines on all the development mags in the check-out line at Shop-Rite. But if donating to Haitians is fashionable right now then donating to the Dominican Republic is kind of like wearing shiny MC Hammer pants and LA Gear shoes that light up when you walk. There are a few people who still do it. They started doing it back when it was “in” and they continue doing it because they’re too legit to quit. But everybody else knows that it’s just not cool anymore. They invest their money in whatever fashion (third world country) Vogue (Bono) tells them to. The Dominican Republic is the fat, loud sister in stretch pants and an oversized sweater from Marshalls while Haiti is Kate Moss, cocaine-chic, dressed in Calvin Klein. (Or something. I only really know what ISN’T fashionable.) So if the fat sister wants the guys (donors) to hang out with her she has to invite Kate Moss. And I think this is exactly what my boss was thinking when he decided that we would disguise the construction of our water storage tanks as a training program for Haitians. And we got the funding. So now some Haitians will come to my tank construction (dressed in Calvin Klein I’m sure) and we will teach them with the hope that they will go back to their country and build more of these tanks where they are badly needed. What, you think that’s a dirty trick? Well to that I say, “Can’t touch this.”

If you’re offended by my comments about fat people then I’m sorry. Well actually I don’t care. Here pointing out that a person is fat is like pointing out that a person is tall. One thing I like is when I’m on the Guagua and it’s full and a fat woman waves it down and everybody groans and says, “Oh c’mon! She’s way too fat to fit in here.”
And she gets to the door and a guy says:

“Lady, you’re pretty fat to fit in this Guagua.”

But she just smiles.

“You’re right, my fatness sure is inconvenient in situations like this. “

And then she squeezes in and spills over the guy next to her and he turns to his friend and laughs:

“Man she sure is fat.”

And then everybody drives away content. In the US that same situation ends with a slap to the face or a lawsuit.

Now that I’ve started working everyday it’s hard to look at the bigger picture. What am I actually doing here? (Saving the world, duh.) If I just gave you a quick rundown of my average week it would go like this. I start digging trenches with eight Dominican men at 7am and finish at 3 pm. Then I go home and shower and cook dinner. Then I read a book or watch a movie. Then I go to bed. On the weekends I usually go and hang out with Americans at the beach or in the city and we drink beer and chat about stuff. Assuming I work everyday that’s a 40 hour work week. My monthly salary is US$333.33 which means I get paid US$2.08 and hour for my manual labor job.
Now let’s consider a hypothetical situation in the United States. I work a manual labor job in New Jersey where all of my co-workers are Hispanic men who only speak Spanish. We work from 7am to 3pm. Then after work I go home and shower and cook dinner. Then I read a book or watch a movie and then I go to bed. On the weekends I go to the beach or the city with my American friends and drink beer and chat about stuff. I get paid US$10 an hour. Now obviously anybody who took economics in college knows that I have to account for more than just income to compare standard of living. Here rent on my house is US$55 per month and includes laundry service, house cleaning service, and lunch. Additional groceries and goods cost US$80 per month (ish). Total monthly expenditures: US$135 (This doesn’t take into account the weekend stuff). In the US a house of similar quality rents for US$0 because it is some guy’s tool shed. But for the sake of our comparison let’s say I find a rat-infested, two room, shanty for $200 a month. Then food and laundry are an extra US$300 a month bringing my monthly expenditures to US$500 a month. When I plug these numbers into the equation used in the internationally respected Duncan Peabody Living Standard Index, the Dominican Republic rates 0.405 and the hypothetical US situation rates 0.312. (First one to figure out how the index is calculated wins a candy bar.) I’m pretty sure lower is better in my index so the hypothetical US situation wins.

Right here is the part where I explain all the beautiful subtleties of life here in the Dominican Republic which render this study null. But I don’t feel like it. I’m pretty sure there are a million reasons why this is better, right? Or maybe at least six. Obviously I’d rather be here helping these people build a water system than in the US helping a rich guy get a beautifully landscaped yard. Plus this looks good on my resume. A guy just gave me some bananas. That never happened in New Jersey. And also….hmm…..Shit. Well it’s better, OK? Just trust me.