Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Occupy Minivan - Mountain Time (The Second Peak)

We had had enough of the cold so we left Durango and headed south towards Arizona. Originally this blog was supposed to be part of the Pacific Time blog because we thought Arizona was on Pacific Time. So we went to the Four Corners (New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah) and ran around in circles. We thought we were time traveling but it turns out Arizona is a wasteful state and doesn’t celebrate Daylight Savings time. Daylight doesn't grow on trees you know. I guess all the old retirees in Arizona didn’t like the idea of giving up an hour of the rest of their lives. So we just looked like weirdos running around in circles instead of awesome time travelers because we were in the Mountain Time Zone the whole time.


Four Corners

video
NOT time travel. Even though it looks a lot like it.


Running between four states was pretty awesome though, time traveling or not. In fact it was so overwhelming for Justin that he went into shock and was just sitting in the van saying “There’s no place like home.” We weren’t sure what to do with him but we were close to the Navajo Reservation so we headed in to search for a spiritual healer to fix Justin. We found our spiritual healer in the Pygmy Conifer Forest near the ancient Anasazi cliff-dwellings. His name was Pumping Horse. He told us that we had bad spirits in the van and that we needed to smoke some healing tobacco from his peace pipe. I’m pretty sure he just meant that the van smelled like farts and lighting a match would help with the smell but you know how those Native Americans like to talk. So we smoked his peace pipe. The events that occurred during the next three days are unknown. All I know is that I came to three days later to find Andrew dancing with a tree and Justin trying to scalp Cameron with an ear of corn. But Justin felt better after that. We went to look for Pumping Horse to ask him what had happened. We found him at a gas station down the road. It turns out Pumping Horse’s real name is Phil Earp and he works at the Conoco gas station and we had just been on a three day Peyote trip. So that happened.


The Journey Begins


Discovering our Spirit Animals


They call him Dances with Trees


We decided to get out of Navajo country. We drove to Flagstaff, AZ. It was snowing in Flagstaff. A lot. Did you know that it snows in Arizona? Me neither. Luckily we had Cameron driving who had never driven in snow before. In Flagstaff we stayed with a friend of Cameron’s sister, Mikaela. Mikaela is Cameron’s sister’s name and her friend’s name. She lives in a typical grimy college house with three roommates. When Andrew walked in the sight and smell of empty pizza boxes and beer cans triggered a frat flashback and he took off his shirt and jumped on the table and yelled, “Woooo!!! Colleeeege!!!!!” I asked them for some tea and scrumpets because I’m much more refined.

One of the guys in the house said he liked our Occupy movement because it didn’t prevent people from getting to work on time. Shit. He was right. Until the following morning when we found this sign on the minivan:





We’re really getting the hang of this Occupy thing.

Flagstaff was our jumping off point for a family trip to the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately it was snowing a lot. When we got there the canyon was filled with clouds and we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of ourselves. I guess the clouds were pretty grand though. And the gift shops were nice. When we were about to leave we saw a blue spot in the sky and we ran to a lookout point where we caught a glimpse of a little section of the canyon. It was just enough to make us want to see more without really letting us see anything. The Grand Canyon must have a really good marketing team.


I think it's over there.


We found it. It's really not very Grand at all.


Andrew and Duncan give up.


Kenny refuses to admit defeat.


The Park Ranger told us that there are only 1 or 2 days a year with zero visibility. So we got to see something/nothing that not many people get to see/not see. Sometimes less is more.


But not in Las Vegas…

Friday, December 16, 2011

Occupy Minivan - Mountain Time

In Denver we spent two days with my sister, Anna, and her boyfriend John. They lent us their living room for a couple nights while we explored the sights in Denver and its surroundings. Anna and John’s apartment has a pool downstairs where the old ladies do water aerobics. We tried to join them but we didn’t know the code and the ladies wouldn’t get out to let us in. It was pretty rude. We finally figured out how to get in but by then water aerobics had ended and we had to make up our own workout. For Cameron and Justin that meant doing push-ups and sit-ups in the snow and then jumping in the hot tub to “shock their systems.” Whatever that means. Andrew and I invented our own water aerobics-esque workout. Kenny took a shower.

In the afternoon we headed into Boulder, CO to do a tour of the Boulder Beer factory. In the tasting room afterwards we met three people who were on a road trip that started in Toronto and dipped all the way down to New Mexico before heading back up to Vancouver where they were moving. They were stopping and staying with people from all the different Occupy movements along the way and documenting the trip. So they’re moving to the west coast and decided to turn it into a road trip with an Occupy theme. Somebody obviously read my blog and stole all of my brilliant ideas. Leave it to the Canadians.

One of the guys on the Canadian version of our road trip was from Colombia. He had been living in Toronto painting fire hydrants for the past year. We all spoke Spanish for a while to try to distract him from asking us questions about the validity of our Occupy Minivan movement. After we had “sampled” several beers we exchanged information, vowing to meet up again but being sure not to make any specific plans that we would actually have to follow through with.

Meeting the Canadians forced us to think about what we stood for. Occupy movements are known for their unambiguous objectives. Since we’re driving through Colorado for the next few days we decided that miners’ rights would be our next cause. I went on the internet and searched for mines and found one called Copper Mountain. We set out for Copper Mountain eager to make a difference in the lives of those poor copper miners. But we were too late. The miners had already been exploited and the mines exhausted and all that remained was a ski resort. So we went skiing instead. But we made sure not to enjoy ourselves.


A sit in at Copper Mountain.


Kenny Hood shredding the gnar pow.

After skiing we headed to Carbondale, CO to regroup. Our Peace Corps friends Dan and Phoebe arranged for us to stay with their friend Kylie. We went out for some food and beer and live music and had a great time. Carbondale is a small town but it has a lot to offer. So small in fact that the lead singer of the band we were watching also turned out to be the owner of the burrito joint that we ate lunch at the next day. After the live music we went back to Kylie’s house and tried to stay up to see the lunar eclipse that was supposed to happen that night at 4am. We played board games and Kylie and Justin entertained us with their Irish Flute/Ukulele duo. Around 5 am the moon was still there so we gave up and went to bed. We had some mines to find the next day and we needed our rest. We’re still not sure if the eclipse actually happened.


Rocking out with Carbondale Kylie.



We proceeded south from Carbondale towards Durango, CO. We stopped in a small coal mining town called Somerset. We drove up into the coal mine where a conveyor belt emerged from the mountains and dropped loads of coal into train cars that went on for miles. We drove the painted minivan through the mine hoping to make our presence known. Nobody seemed to notice. Then it occurred to us that those train cars were heading south, just as we were, and that that coal would probably be used to provide the electricity that would heat the house we would be sleeping in that night. So we left and went sledding instead. This was a decision I would come to regret.


1% of stockings will be filled with coal this Christmas.

We decided to drive/occupy the Million Dollar Highway which is named so because it cost one million dollars per mile to construct. That makes it a 1%er highway. And we weren’t about to let that slide. We were admiring the beautiful mountain scenery and staring down into the 300 foot deep ravines immediately to our right when we got the urge to go sledding.


$121,342 worth of asphalt.

Luckily we had picked up some sleds at Target the day before. We found a spot that upon first sight appeared to be the perfect sledding hill. So I began to climb with the sled, noticing all of the rocks below the surface of the snow. I should have turned around there. Then I got to the top and looked down and realized that hills always look steeper from the top than from the bottom. This hill was more of a cliff. As I sat on my sled contemplating the drop, I looked at Andrew and said, “But what if I get hurt?” Andrew shrugged, “Oh well.” I nodded. “Good point.” It’s not that I was too proud to back down. I back down from all kinds of challenges. But as a “scientist” if I ask a question and don’t know the answer I am obligated to find it out by any means necessary. So I mounted the sled and dropped in. I accelerated at about 9.65 m/s2, just below the acceleration rate of gravity. About halfway down the hill I had reached terminal sledding velocity (126 mph) when my sled hit a rock that was hidden under the snow and the sled shattered. Having taken care of the sled, the rock then proceeded to bash my butt bone with approximately 16.3 tons of force leaving me writhing in the pain at the bottom of the hill. So my findings are as follows: If I get hurt Kenny will be there to laugh uncontrollably and take pictures. The other guys waiting at the top of the hill with their sleds decided that my experiment was proof enough and slowly walked back down. Needless to say the mountains seemed much less majestic during the second half of the drive. I should have known a 1% highway would do that to me.


Oh mannn, I broke my sled. And my butt.


I got attacked by a snow shark.


The only good to come of this is that I am now sitting in the ski lodge and have time to update the blog. The bad is that everybody else is skiing on a beautiful, sunny day in the Rockies while I’m waddling around the base like a penguin. Evil triumphs once again.


Sad Penguin



I bet Shaun White can't do this.

We are staying in Durango with Cameron’s Uncle Mike and Aunt Monie. They have been very gracious in feeding us and putting up with my crippled body. We went out for a night on the town in Durango. Durango was the first place where we confronted resistance to our movement. We walked out of dinner to find four drunk college kids trying to wipe the paint off the minivan. Then from behind us another drunk kid yelled, “Get out of the way douchebags!” and pushed his way through to meet up with his friends. Finally! Affirmation that we are doing something right. We met up with another of Phoebe and Dan’s friends, Cortney. She took us to a pool hall and we celebrated our first confirmed angering of the public.


Mike, Monie, Dan (dog) and the crew.




Cortney knows how to live in the present.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Occupy Minivan - Central Time


The route.

After the radiator sabotage incident the Occupy Minivan Cross-Country Movement got off to a smooth start. Until I got to my first stop in Chicago. There I found out that I can’t party like I used to in college. But I survived the weekend and caught up with some old friends. My friends were not very impressed with the Occupy Minivan idea. But we had fun anyway.

The real Occupy Minivan movement began in West Liberty, Iowa where I picked up Occupier/Public Relations Director/Party Master Andrew Hanson. Unlike the hipster kids and homeless guys in Zucotti Park we take our movement to the real people. And/or (mostly or) the places where we know people who will house us. West Liberty is the first majority minority town in Iowa (52% Latino). The turkey plant (as in processing plant, not a turkey that grows in the ground) employs most of the people of West Liberty. The story of Andrew Hanson is the typical small town Iowa farmer boy story; born to a high school principal father and Polish/British mother in Sao Paulo, Brazil and moved to Iowa at the age of 9. Put on a leotard and started wrestling kids. We didn’t actually speak to any of the “real people” but I think that our presence there really made a difference.

From West Liberty we continued west to Des Moines where we picked up Occupiers Kenny Hood and Cameron Jones. Then we headed 2 hours north to the Hood residence into the middle of nowhere Clare, Iowa. If you’ve never seen small town Iowa then go to Clare. Actually don’t. I’ll just tell you about it. In Clare’s sprawling 100-foot-long downtown metropolis there is a soon to be closed down Post Office and a bar called Antlers. Antlers prides itself on having “more dead animals on the wall than clients at the bar.” They do not disappoint. If you continue down the cornfield, gravel road that must be home to several serial killers you might arrive at the Hood residence if they happen to have their lights on. Otherwise you’ll freeze to death. But once inside the Hood residence you’ll experience the only warmth found in frozen Clare, Iowa. The Hood family fed us a hearty Midwestern dinner (actually I think pasta came here from Greenland or Tokyo or something) and took us out to Antlers where the only thing more numerous then deer antlers were cans of Bud Light provided by the ever generous Phil Hood, proprietor of Hood Excavation. If you need work done on your septic tank in Iowa this is the man to call. “A royal flush always beats a full house.” Truer words have never been spoken. We also picked up a camera in Clare, IA which will provide the photos for the rest of this trip. Nothing photogenic happened before there anyway.


Left to right: Mr. Hood, Andrew, Kenny, Katie, Mrs. Hood, Cameron, Duncan, Kelsey (absent).


Hood house.


The road to Kenny's house. Caution: Serial Killer Crossing


We left Clare, IA in the morning and headed to the steak capital of the world, Omaha. We didn’t see any steaks or steak cows but we did score a free lunch form Andrew’s Jesuit priest friends at Creighton University. Peace Corps volunteers will mooch a free lunch off of anybody who so much as hints at an offer.

Welcome to Omaha!


Andrew's old frat house. It was frat-tastic!

I can do it!


How 'bout them apples.


From Creighton we headed to the rendezvous point for the final occupier/minivan lounge singer (yet to provide us any on flight entertainment) Justin Hitchcock. With our requisite fifth occupier needed to officially occupy a minivan we were finally ready to paint the minivan in true Iowa high school girls volleyball fashion. Anybody who questioned the seriousness of the Occupy Minivan movement previously now had no choice but to recognize our fortitude and teenage girl organization tactics.


The crew is complete. And we mean biz-nass.

video
Introducing the Occupy Minivan minivan.

The final leg of the Midwest leg took us through the exhilarating I- 80 section of Nebraska. (Tumbleweed rolls across the screen). Then we arrived in Denver, a mile high. The city, not the occupiers. We were high on social justice. We never would have made it were it not for the steadfast navigation of Mrs. Tom Tom (GPS). Not once did she complain of the perversion and flatulence circulating through the minivan.


Navigator Mrs. Tom-Tom

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thirty-Six

I left sunny, warm Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving in the sunny,warm Northeast. Was it always 65 degrees and sunny in November? I know I’ve been gone for a while but I remember it differently. Freezing October snow storms were not followed by warm, sunny November days.

Spring (girlfriend) came too. I was going to make a pun about the warm weather and her name is Spring and so Pun: Spring (weather and/or girlfriend) at Thanksgiving in the Northeast. But I decided not to. It was her first visit to the New York area. And her first time meeting my family and friends. My friends kept saying, “Duncan, don’t f#@k this up.” So I think that means that they like her. And that they have no faith in me. These friends have requested that I mention them by name: Evan Conley (recently engaged), Peter DeLaFlor (the cop from the new Batman movie), Robert Shearman (you probably wanted him at some point), and David Monahan (If you stole his iPhone, give it back).

We walked through Zuccotti Park to see Occupy Wall Street but nobody was there really because they had all been kicked out and went home for Thanksgiving. Occupy LA just got kicked out of their tent city as well. So in an effort to support these Occupy movements I have decided to embark on a new Occupy movement called Occupy Minivan. But this movement will be different in that we will be moving. These other Occupy movements are not making progress because they are sitting in one place in tents. We are going to Occupy a Minivan and move our movement from New Jersey across the Northern United States and down to Los Angeles. Accompanying me on the Occupy Minivan cross-country movement is:

Kenny Hood: Occupy Minivan Director/Sporcle Master

Andrew Hanson: Public Relations Director/Party Master

Cameron Jones: Legal Counsel (Head Arguer)/Hygiene Counsel

Justin Hitchcock: Entertainment Director/Minivan Lounge Singer

Gitana Gotay: Motivation Director/Broddha

Duncan Peabody: Resident Blogger/Herbivore

We are all from Peace Corps Dominican Republic so we are experts in grassroots advocacy.

The minivan we are occupying is my mom’s (now my) silver 2003 Honda Odyssey. I want to name it Minnie Van Go(gh) but my sister, Lily, was driving it previously and she named it Old Bess. Lily used the minivan for her Dog walking job in Montreal so it smells like French-Canadian dogs; and that’s way I imagine Vincent Van Gogh smelled. Also Minnie Van Go (Old Bess) is moving to Los Angeles and she needs a hip new name if she’s going to make any friends out there. Life’s not easy for a minivan in Los Angeles. They eat way more gas than a Hybrid and they don’t have the beautiful bodywork of a Ferrari. Anyway you can call it what you like.
The Occupy Minivan Cross-Country Movement itinerary is as follows:

December 2011
2-4 – Chicago, IL
5-Iowa City, IA (
6- Des Moines, IA
7- Omaha,NE and Lincoln, NE
8-9 Denver, CO
10- Crested Butte, CO
11- Durango, CO
12- Navajo County and Flagstaff, AZ
13- Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
14- Hoover Dam, NV
15- Las Vegas, NV
16 -19 Los Angeles, CA

If you happen to live in one of these cities/towns then come say “HI!” and sign our petition to support collective bargaining rights for soccer moms.

I had intended to embark this morning but some Wall Street Fat Cats caught wind of my plan and must have poured some sort of corrosive acid on the Minivan’s radiator causing the transmission fluid lines to corrode. But if they think they can put the brakes on this movement so easily then they have seriously underestimated Occupy Minivan. This isn’t just a revolution. This is 3000 revolutions per minute.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thirty-Five

You know those programs where you can see what you would look like with a different haircut before you get one? Well the other day I stumbled across something similar that shows you what you will look like after a certain amount of time living in a particular city. So I tried it out to see what I would look like after one year living in Los Angeles. The results are frightening:


Caution: Persons in the photo are much less hipster than they appear.

I went home for my friend’s wedding last weekend. Hooray for John and Kay! Kay is a poet so that’s why I rhymed. Well the wedding was very nice. The autumn leaves were red and orange and yellow and….white. White with snow. From the snow storm. In October. And to think, Alannis Morisette thought rain on your wedding day was ironic. Well how about snow, Alannis? It was like that Guns and Roses music video for “November Rain” where all of the people at the wedding were running and knocking stuff over, except it was “October Snow” and it was all indoors and we didn’t really realize it was snowing.

The wedding wasn’t the only thing unprepared for the snow. The trees were not expecting the early snow either and they didn’t have time to take their leaves off. And wet snow on a leafy tree is heavy. So the trees fell over and knocked down every power line in the northeast. And the power went out for five days. When I first heard the power was out I just laughed. Yeah, I don’t now if you heard but I was just in the Peace Corps for two years. I don’t need electricity. Except that in the DR the lack of power is acceptable because it’s always 85 and humid. New Jersey in October after a fresh snow is slightly colder. Like 40 degrees colder. Anyway I spent the final days of my NJ visit huddled around the fireplace gaining a new respect for Peace Corps volunteers in Mongolia.

The other day I went to help build a community garden at a school in LA. It was being built by an organization started by a crazy Irishman named Thomas O’Grady. Thomas O’Grady does not agree with behavioral psychologists who believe that positive reinforcement is the superior motivation technique. Instead he yells at you and belittles you while you work. But he does it in a way that you don’t really feel like he’s being mean. For example, “You suck!” or, “What are you thinking!?” It really worked for me and I got lots of work done as part of the carpentry crew. I can’t wait to go help with the next garden build.

One difference between Los Angeles and the Dominican Republic is that instead of paying middle aged women to wash my laundry I pay machines to do it. LA is pretty futuristic. I like going to J.J.’s Laundromat near my house because everybody speaks Spanish and the two things I really miss about the Dominican Republic are Spanish and sitting around waiting for stuff.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thirty-Four

I have officially completed my first 10 days as a Los Angeleser, which is what we like to call ourselves. So far, so good.

I should clear one thing up before we get started on Phase II of the Duncan Peabloggy Project. As you know I’m from the Northeast. So are a lot of you. We northeasternists have a pretty ugly view of Los Angeles. Plastic people and Latino gangs mostly. But I come from the most stereotyped state in the country. We New Jerseyites are not all blowouts and fake tans you know. Goerge f’ing Washington left Delaware in a rowboat to come to New Jersey because he heard it was so sweet. So I’m optimistic about living in LA and seeing what it’s really like. That said I will probably continue to make fun of LA just as I make fun of New Jersey, using every stereotype I can think of. Because a lot of them are warranted. And the other ones are funny.

I live in Echo Park. It’s pretty close to downtown LA (aka DTLA). Its main attraction is Echo Park, a nice park with a man-made lake in the middle. Except the park is under construction so the lake is drained and the park is closed and it’s just a big mud-pit right now. Very unattractive. And to make matters worse they are not even making proper use of the mud pit. That pit could comfortably house 200 adult pigs tied to sticks pounded in the ground. And guess how many they have there? Zero! I’m going to bring in a mud-pit efficiency consultant from my community in the DR.

Everybody in Echo Park and the rest of Los Angeles has a hipster bike. A hipster bike is basically a road bike that has been “pimped out” with fun colors and strange looking components. I bought a hipster bike…. Don’t judge me. It was affordable and nice looking and I needed transport. LA is big. And now I’m very attached to the bike. The other day I stopped in to a convenience store after work to buy a Gatorade. The refrigerator and cashier were right next to the doorway so I left my bike in the doorway unlocked. That was dumb. So I was looking in the refrigerator realizing there was no Gatorade when I saw a guy run up to my bike and jump on it. And he wasn’t just taking it for a test spin. So I darted out of the store and chased him a half a block and tackled him into a wall. He jumped up off the ground and yelled in my face “What are you doing man?! Are you crazy!?” I’m not sure if he was yelling at himself like I do when I screw up a point in tennis, because it was pretty obvious what I was doing. Anyway I took my bike back. The handlebars were a little bent to the side but they can be fixed. He walked away from me yelling, “Ima kill you bro! You’re gonna get killed comin’ around here!” (latino gangster stereotype!) I’m not sure if he was really going to kill me or not but I thought it best not to wait around to find out. Now you might say it was stupid of me to tackle him. In fact some people have already told me it was REALLY stupid. But you’re missing the bigger point of the story. I was about to settle for a Snapple even though I wanted a Gatorade. But the Universe said “No! Go get your bike from that guy and go to 711 and get two Gatorades for $2!” And I did. And it was refreshing.

I got a part-part-time job with a company that does installation of Greywater reuse systems. Basically they reroute the water from your laundry, sink, bathtub, etc. so that it goes to irrigating your landscape rather than to the sewer. (http://greywatercorps.com/about01.html) It saves water. Lots of water in a place as dry as Los Angeles. The company is called Greywater Corps. It’s kind of like the Peace Corps. Well it’s not. But it is a Corps. And I like working for Corps’s. They sound like they have a real mission. There was an organization that was called the Greywater Guerillas that installed illegal greywater reuse systems in people’s homes, because it is prohibited by building codes in many states. I’ll admit that guerilla sounds way cooler than Corps. And I am a big proponent of illegal altruism. But they’ve since tried to legitimize themselves by changing their name to Greywater Action. Action? That was the name of a church retreat I went to in high school. Where’s the militaristic zeal? A company without a paramilitary reference in its name is just not a company that I want to work for. Plus they never offered me a job.

Well that’s all that’s happened so far I guess. Tune in next time for another exciting episode of The Real Duncan of LA.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thirty-Three

Done. Termindao. Finito. My two years of Peace Corps have come to an end. I am currently chasing the sun towards Los Angeles in a large aircraft. I have a feeling the sun will win. It’s been doing this race for billions of years and still seems to have way more energy than a Boeing 757. But there are plenty of other stars in Los Angeles. I’m sure I could beat some of them in a race. I’d beat Oprah in a foot race, hands down. But mostly I’m going to Los Angeles to see about a girl. If I happen to get “discovered” and become the next big thing in Hollywood then so be it. I don’t think any of us will be very surprised.

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this blog for the past two years. This is the first thing I’ve ever really written except for some coma-inducing college essays. I probably wouldn’t have continued it for two years if it weren't for all the nice comments and encouragement from everybody who has been reading. So thank you for helping me to discover this new hobby. I think I’ll keep going with it for a while if you don’t mind. I mean the title is just Duncan Peabloggy. Nothing about the Peace Corps. I just happened to be there when I was writing it. So now I’m going to Los Angeles and I’ll blog about what’s going on there. It isn’t the third world but it definitely is bizarre.

They’re playing Captain America on the plane, no doubt under strict orders from the United States government to re-indoctrinate me with a healthy dose of war and spandex-clad superheroes. What the government didn’t take into consideration was the fact that two years in the Peace Corps has turned me into too much of a cheapskate to buy those crappy $3 headphones.

Welp, here it goes!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thirty-Two

I wrote this for the volunteer publication so I thought I'd share it with you as well. It is kind of specific to the Peace Corps so if you don't enjoy it it's only because you're on the outside and not because of my lousy writing. I've translated all of the Spanglish in parentheses. Here it goes:


The Plight of the Aardvark in Southeastern Botswana

According to the Oxford English Dictionary an Aardvark is “A South-African quadruped ( Orycterŏpus capensisCuv.), about the size of the badger, belonging to the insectivorous division of the Edentata, where it occupies an intermediate position between the Armadillos and Ant-eaters. I’m not an Aardvark, and this article is not about Aardvarks, but you’re crazy if you think I’m going to keep reading the dictionary until I get to the part about the American. That book is all character development and no plot.

But I wanted to read about the American because they tell me I am one. I’m skeptical. I was always under the impression that I was a “Man of the World.” Don’t ask me where I got this impression. I had done some traveling before I came here. A few months here, a few months there. But the problem with having done some traveling is it gives you a false sense of worldliness. And you get all of these college students coming home from a semester of drinking with other Americans in very Americanized bars in Spain who are now “wordly.” Well I was most definitely “worldly” when I signed up for the Peace Corps. I was not an American. American was Texas. American was 9-5 office job. American was credit cards and debt. I was above all of that. Destined for greater things. Like unemployment or a manual laborer in a communist nudist colony. But I was wrong. Because when you don’t spend more than three months in a place you never get past the First Stage of Culture Shock. I don’t remember what the stages are as they explained it to us in training because I wasn’t paying attention. Seriously, they talked at us a lot. And it was hot. But I’ve now looked back on the past two years and my time here does seem to fall into four vaguely distinct stages.

Stage 1: F#@K YEAH!

When I arrived in my community they all looked at me with a bit of distrust. But I was not worried. Yeah, the guy who took a cross-cultural psychology class in college is going to get worried. Come on! I immediately switched into objective thinking mode. What if a 25-year-old Guatemalan guy had showed up at my house in New Jersey and said, “Hi, I Pablo. I come for fix your plumbing. You help me?” I’d say “No way, Jose!” But I know better. “It’s OK.” I said to them in my head. “I am wordly. I understand you people.”

At first everything is very new and exciting. “Oh boy, they play their music so loud here. What an interesting cultural observation!” and “Poor drunk, toothless, old man. American imperialism has reduced you to this. Of course I’ll give you cinco pesos (approx. 13 cents).” All these cute and interesting cultural differences! I would laugh with my friends, “Oh I had a class today and only three of 15 students came. It’s not their fault though.” Nothing could defeat my idealism. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It was built in 27 months.

Stage 2: ARE YOU F#@KING KIDDING ME!?

“AHHH! LAZY! LADRONES (theifs)! DON’T KNOW THEIR ASS FROM THEIR HEAD!”
Stage 2 is ugly. Getting stuck in Stage 2 is very dangerous. Stage 2 breeds hatred and racism and ulcers. Because eventually the “cultural quirks” that were so fascinating two months ago become “rage-inducing idiocies.” This is the part where you argue vehemently with the cobrador (guy who charges you on public transport) over those five pesos because “it’s the principle of the thing.” Nevermind the fact that you’re on the guagua (bus) to Cabarete (beach town) with a red bracelet duct taped to your wrist so you can rip off the all-inclusive. This stage is ugly but necessary. It’s tough love. Time to shake your romantic notions of the third world. Poor people are like rich people except with less money. Some of them suck. Some of them are awesome.

STAGE 3: OH WELL, F#@K IT.

Being angry all the time is very tiring. Eventually you won’t want to do it anymore. You’ll take some deep breaths and pull out your yoga mat and pop a horse tranquilizer and pass out on your floor. And when you wake up you’ll have come to the realization that the country is the way it is and you are not going to change it. Even if that does happen to be part of your job description. You do your job and put up with the absurd, no matter how You start to talk about the United States like it’s Candyland. “I can’t wait to go back to the United States and lick my chocolate ice cream roof!” If you never leave this stage then that’s OK. It’s relatively harmless for the most part. Despite what famous quote sayers might suggest, apathy is not the root of all evil. People with opinions – crazy, evil, stage 2, opinions – are. But if you can, try to push through to the much more ambiguous Stage 4.

STAGE 4: WE’RE ALL F#@KED.

While you’re in the acceptance stage your fury level will drop from a red alert to a green alert and your objective thinking device will be enabled once again. You will think about the United States and realize that we are also stupid in our own special way. Our government is plenty corrupt and equally unable to get things done effectively. We don’t rip off foreigners directly, we just buy everything from people who do. We don’t litter, because that Native American man cried a tear back in the 1970s, but the consumption of a single American results in the environmental contamination equivalent of 10,000 Dino cookie wrappers on the ground. Every country has its own flavor of bullshit. It is a bullshit not inherent in the people but learned over time. And once you’ve gotten used to the smell of your own bullshit it just becomes the normal smell and all other bullshit smells funny and makes you want to punch holes in the wall. But it’s important to remember that your bullshit is just poop too.

So then maybe that’s what it means to be an American. It’s the preference of a certain type of poop. But then where does that leave us? Should we just forget about this whole idea of helping other people and stick with our own kind? Wrong. People need help; in the USA and the DR and everywhere else. But your offer to help others does not obligate them to take on your ways. So while it might make you furious when people show up an hour late and don’t show enthusiasm when they’re digging holes in the ground, you can hardly blame them for not wanting to live in a constant state of stress and depression. Though a happy medium might be nice. So the next time you’re in a meeting and an Aardvark shows up an hour late and interrupts you to saludar (shake hands and say hi to) everybody, remember that that is just the way of the Aardvark.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tranten (Thirty-One)

We’re doing a small water system project in my friend Cameron’s community in the southwest of the country right now. It’s a Batey (Haitian sugar cane cutting community). Batey 9 to be specific. That is the beautiful name it was given by the sugar cane company.

Batey 9 is where they invented the term “When it rains, it pours.” The majority of the year it is drier than a British sense of humor lost in the desert without water. Nobody even knows I’m white because the constant sweat and dust combine to form a natural blackface which can only be removed with a Brillo pad. But then about four times a year the sky drinks a couple wine coolers and loses its inhibitions and opens up to Batey 9, gushing about all of its condensation problems. The result is a giant mud puddle.

Then the mosquitoes emerge and have massive mosquito orgies in these puddles. But don’t let the sexual promiscuity of these insects fool you. These are not hippy mosquitoes. Once all the wet n’ wild procreation is done the mosquitoes organize into highly efficient, blood-sucking warfare units. Unit six is assigned to Cameron’s house and is especially deadly. We are forced to retreat into the force field (mosquito net). The mosquitoes hover around until we emerge for more provisions or to carry out bodily functions and then they attack like little buzzing vampires trying to cash in on the Twilight/True Blood craze.

Speaking of bodily functions, the Bateys in the southwest have a very interesting design feature in which the houses have no bathrooms. I’ve come to have a very loose definition of what a bathroom is in this country. Any kind of hole in the ground with a structure that will not collapse in the next five minutes meets my requirements. But in Batey 9 they literally have nothing. So you have to go outside and poop in the fields. You might think that this sounds freeing, the open air on your bum, no tan lines. It’s not. It’s hot and dusty and there are thorny bushes that poke your butt if you’re not careful. Except at around 6:30 in the evening when there’s a nice breeze and the sun sets over the mountains. Then it’s nice.

Everybody in the Batey speaks Creole (Haitian) which I don’t understand. It’s strange to be in a place where I can’t understand the people. One benefit is that rather than seeming like an odioso for not making small talk they just assume it’s because I can’t speak Creole. I’ve started learning some important basic words such as food (“manje”), water (“dlo”), and elephant (“elefan”) so that I won’t lack food or water if I ever find myself at a Haitian elephant farm in the middle of an African savannah.

We started work last week. Everything was going uncomfortably well until Saturday when we were finishing up the connections to the houses and the pastor came over to tell us about a community ordinance which requires all water taps to be inside the house. Now I’m pretty sure all “ordinances” in this community exist only in the Batey 9 ether but we decided to comply anyway. Or Cameron and I did. All of the people working with us threw a fit and controversy ensued. This put me more at ease and I was able to start working the way one should work in the Dominican Republic, surrounded by conflict and grudges.

Cameron and I work pretty well together because we’re very different. Cameron has a mild case of OCD and would, if given the opportunity, undergo an operation to become a robot so that he could be more efficient. But then he would get stuck on a task and his mainframe would not allow him to move to the next task until he finished the first one but his wiring screws up and he overheats and needs to cool off. I am more of a squirrel, immersing myself in a task for 30 seconds, then looking up, look left, look right, look left, look right, “hey, that tree looks nice!” scurry, scurry scurry, immersed, repeat. So together we are a squirrel robot which everybody knows make the best water engineers.

UPDATE: Success! We finished. Everybody has water. Hooray.





Digging to China.



The three musketeers install the taps.



The knee bone is connected to the shoulder bone.



Yay water!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thirty

-“NICE HAT!”
-“RICE CAT?!”
-“NICE HAT!”
-“YEAH, MIKE’S FAT! SO?”
-“NO! NICE HAT!”
-“YOUR COUSIN IS A RED-HEADED POLYNESIAN STRIPPER?!”

This is a typical attempt at talking in a Dominican night club or bar or public transport or on a porch. If there’s one thing in this country that never fails to reach its full potential, it’s the volume of the music. And not just any type of music. The WORST kind of music ever (invented, obviously, by a horny, violent, tone deaf, sadistic little bastard) Reggaeton. Now Merengue and Bachata are also played here and on occasions when my iTunes stumbles upon a Merengue or Bachata song and sends it through my earphones at a reasonable volume it can actually be pleasant. But in the colmado (bar/convenience store) they turn it up until the speakers are blown and you mostly hear loud scratchy sounds. Reggaeton is bad at any volume. Even if you mute it, but it’s still playing, it is excruciatingly terrible. Not that they have a mute button here. They only have an “UP” volume button which raises the volume of the music at an ever increasing rate directly proportional to the rate of hearing loss in this country.

A friend called me “crotchety” the other day which, as he explained to me, means that I am kind of like a grumpy old man. And I’m rereading what I just wrote about the music and I see how this could be taken as the writing of the only crotchety 25 year-old in the Dominican Republic. But no. Reggaeton, and the volume it’s played at, is some sort of rhythmic masochism which I refuse to accept just to be considered the opposite of crotchety (“good natured” according to synonym.com). Rant over.

The Dominicans have another name for me here that is similar to crotchety. I haven’t told you about this name before because I was ashamed. I wanted you all to think I was a happy go lucky globetrotter. But in the eyes of a Dominican it is not so. And it’s time that you all know. For those of you who know me, you know I’m not a very talkative person. And I don’t always greet people with a great big smile and a firm handshake. And I’ve learned that my normal, everyday, walking around face that I wear here does not express enthusiasm. Well in the Dominican Republic if you aren’t smiling and emphatically greeting everybody you see and making small talk then you can only be one kind of person: an “Odioso.” (gasp!) This translates roughly to “The Hateful One.” A bit harsh, I think. It was officially coined by the members of another volunteer’s community where I spent a lot of time, apparently not saying hello or smiling. Now in my head I am neither crotchety nor odioso. I like people. And I like talking to people. I just sometimes don’t see the need for the niceties and small talk that are so important here. So in the future if I seem angry or hateful towards you, it is probably not the case. But I also probably don’t want to talk about the weather. So I am whatever that makes me. I won't worry about it until I stop laughing at fart jokes.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Twenty-Nine

As I enter my final season on this Island I have to think about the future of my projects. My stove project is a young baby, just learning to walk. But I can’t raise it anymore. So I’m giving it up for adoption. My thesis study is like the obnoxious toddler I never wanted but I can’t just abandon it because everybody tells me that’s not a good thing to do. And my second water project is like my unborn baby that Cameron and I conceived (immaculately) a while back and is about to be born. I will probably have to leave pretty early in its life but thanks to you guys I almost have enough money to support it from abroad (*cough* see blog below! *cough*). But enough with the baby analogies. They’re pretty creepy.

Let’s try Star Wars. So in this stove project I am like Yoda except that I am shorter, greener, and wrinklier than he is. I’ve gotten pretty good at using The Force (fire) for good (cooking). But I’m getting on in years and I won’t be here for much longer so I have to pass this knowledge of using The Force (fire) for good (cooking) on to some young Jedi (other Peace Corps Volunteers). Because Darth Vader (smoke) is using The Force (fire) for bad to carry out the evil plan of The Empire (respiratory diseases [the reason for Darth Vader’s breathing problems]) and so we must use the light-saber (improved cook stove) to defeat Darth Vader (smoke) and be one step closer to blowing up the Death Star (umm…). So this month I will be training the young Jedi (Peace Corps volunteers) how to use The Force (fire) and their light sabers (improved cook stoves) for good (cooking). And I am hoping that one of the young Jedi (Luke Stovemaker) will turn out to be even more powerful than I and be the hero of the Galaxy (Dominican Republic) by defeating Darth Vader (smoke) and bringing down The Empire (respiratory illnesses). I am also holding open auditions for Hans Solo, Chewbacca (no hair required), and Leia. Their analogical representation has yet to be determined.

Yeah so basically I’m trying to dump this project off on somebody so it doesn't die when I leave. It shouldn’t be a problem because it’s a pretty rad project. In my opinion. As if there were any other.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Twenty-Eight

So as I’ve mentioned I’m doing three different projects right now. They are all in different places. So I spend most of my life commuting from one job to another. The result is that I never really spend any significant amount of time in one place. So I don’t pay rent for any house anymore. Meaning I’m homeless. I just wander around like a hobo with my backpack and duffle bag. I’m like Jack Kerouac except I work for the US Government.

But being a Peace Corps hobo is not all that it’s cracked up to be. For one thing there aren’t any freight trains around here. I’m forced to travel in crowded llttle vans and Toyota Camrys that won’t move until everybody inside is sufficiently uncomfortable and oxygen levels are dangerously low. And I’m not allowed to have a car or a motorcycle here. I’m only allowed to ride on the back of motorcycles with maniacal drunks.

And carrying bags around all the time gets uncomfortable. Sometimes I have to pay for an extra seat for my bags on public transport. Which is not fair because my bags aren’t even good for conversation or giving back massages. There is a store called La Sirena in the cities that is basically a Target or Wal-Mart. When you enter you have to leave your bags at the bag-check because they’re afraid you might steal stuff. Unless the bag contains a computer because then they’re afraid they might steal it. So I just put everything I need for the day in my backpack with my computer and drop my big bag at the bag-check. Then I walk out a different entrance and go wherever I have to go, light as a compressed brick of feathers, and return at the end of the day for my bag.

Luckily I’m a hobo with nice friends so wherever I need to go I have place to stay. No park benches for me. Also I have a regular income, even if it is regularly very little. So I don’t just eat corn from a can. Well not everyday at least. Then there's also the fact that I'm sitting by the beach on a sunny day in the Carribbean as I write this. Anyway I’m looking forward to finishing up some of these projects so that I can transition to being a tramp instead of a hobo**.

** A hobo is somebody who travels around looking for work. A migrant worker pretty much. A tramp is somebody who just travels around and only works when he really has too. A bum is somebody who neither works nor travels unless the police poke him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Donate! Again...

Hey everybody! So you know how I finished that water system I was building? A lot of you mentioned that you didn't have a chance to donate to the project and you were really bummed about it. Well I felt bad so My friend/colleague (colleague is a dumb word) Cameron and I started another water project so that you guys wouldn't feel left out. You're welcome!

This water project is in a Haitian Batey in the south of the country. We will be connecting about 30 houses to an existing water system. You can see a good description of the community and the project at this website:

https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=517-455

That is also the site where you can give money!

Like the last water system I built, this one will not get built unless we do it. As Peace Corps volunteers we can fill a niche that no government or big aid agency can. And as always we guarantee that 100% or your donation goes directly to construction materials. The community members will provide all of the manual labor for free and Cameron and I will be Engineer, Contractor, Community Organizer, Accountant, and Water Boy for the huge salary we receive from the Peace Corps.

Thanks everybody! Send any questions or comments to me at dpeabody@mail.usf.edu.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Twenty-Seven

So in the city there are these guys who sit on the side of the street in chairs and scream “Compramos oro, plata!” (“We buy gold, silver!”) They sound like the guys at baseball games selling Cracker Jacks. (Do they still do that or am I thinking of 1953?) And then people bring their silver and gold to the buyers and sell it to them. And I’m like “Duh!” This whole time I’ve been wasting my time going places to buy stuff. But I’m the customer. The seller should come to me if they want to sell stuff. So now rather than going to the store I just stand in the middle of the street and yell what I want.

“We buy toilet paper, pineapple, and potato chips! No we prefer Baked Lays! We’re watching our figure!”

Most of my time recently has been spent working with clay. Clay ovens, clay stoves, clay water filters. The great thing about the Peace Corps is that you don’t have to know how to do anything in order to be considered an expert. Prior to the Peace Corps my experience in ceramics was limited to 7th grade studio-art class where I made a crappy ash tray for the zero members of my family who smoked. In the US that nearly qualifies me for a job at Wendy’s. But here that makes me Director of the R&D department of Campo Kenmore’s new state of the art wood-fueled kitchen.

So I’ve been spending my time playing with clay trying to design low-cost, efficient, wood-burning cook stoves and bread ovens. It’s actually a very fun job. We’ve developed a prototype for both so we’re going to begin testing them soon. When those are done we’re going to start branching out into wood-burning computers and wood-burning airplanes.

Now that our stove is nearing completion the ceramics artists I work with are getting very excited to release it to the world. One of the artists, Isabelle, called me the other day because she realized we hadn’t come up with a name for the new stove model. For example, past stoves have been called the “Lorena” stove and the “Rocket” stove. Now Isabelle is a nice lady but she’s kind of dumb. I’m not being mean. I’m just saying I wouldn’t get in the Cash Cab with her. It’s to say that her work wasn’t exactly instrumental in the creation of this stove. So it surprised me when she very matter of factly asked me, “Do you think we should call it Isabelle or Isabelita or something like that?” Nope. I sure didn’t. I was thinking something like “Fire by Peace Corps” or “FireGoodCookYummyStove.” But I guess we’ll have to have a vote. I have a feeling none of those will win.

May and June are very rainy here. It’s been raining pretty much every afternoon for the past few weeks. It doesn’t bother me because I’ve always liked rain. And rain has an added benefit here in that it is a perfectly good excuse not to do something. Why didn’t you go to the meeting? “It was raining.” Are you going to school today?” No it’s raining.” Hey why did you just take a bite of my sandwich? I don’t even know you. You just walked into this restaurant, right up to my table, grabbed my sandwich and took a giant bite from it. What the hell? “Um, It’s raining?”

So we usually just work in the morning and then call it a day when it starts raining. The rain will stop as we approach July. But by then it will be way too hot to work a full day. That will bring us to September so I just need an excuse to work half days from then until October when I leave.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Twenty-Six

This is an article I wrote for the volunteer magazine here:

I’ve got a lot of experience in all sorts of things. In kindergarten I had a brief stint in building log cabins and Stonehenge type structures for 4 inch tall people. I earned several awards for my work including a Gold Star and the prestigious Smiley Face. In elementary school I was an artist, specializing mainly in portraits of Ninja Turtles. My pieces were shown on refrigerators throughout the suburbs. A lot of housewives predicted big things for my future in the arts but an addiction to Rice Krispie Treats ended my career prematurely. By Middle School I was a cardboard rocket scientist. After two years and zero successful moon landings (or friends) I quit.

In high school I was an athlete playing in front of tens of people. But I buckled under the pressure and my career ended at the age of 18. (Ah, those were the glory days.) In college I got into the hard sciences. I did some really important work in looking at other scientists’ work and trying to rewrite it without looking at it, in under 50 minutes. I came out with a hangover and a lot of pieces of paper with numbers between 0 and 100 written on them. In graduate school I decided that the hard sciences didn’t have enough practical application for me so I switched to Environmental Engineering. I saved a lot of theoretical trees and water and gave some really revolutionary talks on what everybody else was doing wrong.

Finally I came to the Peace Corps. There was a community where the water was in one place but the houses were in another place. We put pipes in the ground and the water ran through them and arrived at the houses. The people were happy.

It’s not to say that I didn’t have fun or enjoy what I did before I got to the Peace Corps. But no matter what hobby or subject of study I happened to be trying out that month I could never convince myself that any of them really mattered. As soon as I got to a point where I had a relative grasp on something I got bored and moved onto the next one. As Americans we seem to have a need to “find our calling.” “I was meant to be an actor.” “I was meant to be a doctor.” “I was meant to pierce my nipples and hang heavy weights from them in front of an audience.” But that’s kind of bullshit, right? Biologically speaking you were born to eat, drink, breath, poop, and reproduce. And I’ll concede that companionship is a necessity as well. So in building this water system I was fulfilling one of the basic needs of human life and it made sense to me. I have come to the end of the project and I would still like to build more water systems. I don’t want to research the effect of water availability on peoples’ ability to solve the Rubik’s cube. I just want to bury tubes in the ground and put water in them. Or build stoves that take harmful smoke out of people’s kitchens, allowing them to breathe. Or make water filters that remove harmful bacteria from people’s water so that they poop the way biology intended. Or teaching Sex-Ed classes to allow teenage girls to choose when they want to reproduce. So then Duncan extended forever in the Peace Corps and lived a simple but fulfilling life. Well no.

I’m sure Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie will attest to the fact that it’s hard for an overprivileged white kid to live the Simple Life. No matter how much I like my work I still feel the need to leave my house each weekend and head for civilization and Americans, like a dolphin coming up for air and then doing a sweet flip and making a giant splash, soaking an obese lady wearing a visor and a fanny pack. I use technology (internet, television, Ipod, Furbies) and eat American fast food. I complain to other Americans about the lack of manners and politeness and honesty among these simple people. And no matter how much I like simple answers to simple questions I continue to complicate my mind with books and brain pushups. So I want all of these things. None of which is a basic need. None of which was born of simplicity. They were born of science and imperialism and entrepreneurism and religion and law.

So I find myself stuck between two worlds in an overpopulated place called hypocrisy. I want the comfort and familiarity of America but the work and freedom of the Peace Corps.

So I need to find a compromise. Equally rewarding and necessary work must exist in the United States. We, as Americans, have the same basic needs as anybody from the third world. We’re just disconnected from our basic needs. Our world begins when the food reaches the table and ends when we flush the toilet. I’d like to do something that expands that view to include the before and after. I want to let people know where their food and water comes from before it enters their mouth. Let them know where their poop goes after it leaves their body. And I realize what I’m describing is not a job, it’s an environmental studies textbook. Except that to understand an environmental studies textbook theoretically is one thing, but to understand it in the context of your life is another thing. And living in my campo has forced me to face the reality of how drastic the effects (human, animal, and ecological) of an “American lifestyle” are compared to that of the Third World. So I don’t want to fall right back into my previous life and forget everything I’ve learned here.

Instead I could push for a return to simplicity while living among the complexity of the United States; a simple/complex system that combines the best of the Dominican campo (local food, decentralized waste management, rainwater catchment, hanging out) with the immense amount of information and technology in the United States (urban farming, biogas digesters, conservation practices, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.). I will call it simplexity (Yes, I’m sure I’m not the first one to coin this term). So it’s not a regression to pre-industrialized USA. It’s more like packing up the really good things of the First World and taking them with us as we backtrack our steps to meet the Third World somewhere in the middle (the Second World?) to have an organic beer and shoot the shit. Oh yeah, and, ideally, I would just like to do this four days a week in a non-competitive atmosphere with decent benefits.

Moral of the Story: Please send all job offers to dpeabody@mail.usf.edu accompanied by a 500 word essay explaining why you want a semi-intelligent, sporadically motivated, beer-loving, manboy in your workplace. Or just write “Free Cookies!!”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Twenty-Five

Law of Conservation of “S”: The quantity of S’s in a closed language does not change over time. S’s cannot be created or destroyed but they can change places.

We’re all familiar with this law from our freshman year Physics of Writing class but it’s rare that we get to see it in real life. Until we come to the Dominican Republic. They tend not to use the letter “S” in everyday conversation (or writing). Words like “busco” become “buco.” “Dos mas” becomes “doe ma.” “Yos Yos Mas” becomes “Yo Yo Ma.” Etc. They are aware of the fact that the letter “S” exists and that it must be used or the laws of physics will be proved wrong and the world will implode on itself and form a black hole. They hear the “S” on the news or in their soap operas or in the lisp of a Spanish aid worker. They just don’t realize that there’s a method to their S-ness. And so when it comes time to sound intelligent or sophisticated they put the “S” back in their speech but in the wrong words and places. Just wherever they decide it sounds nice. Usually in every word that can possibly accept an “S” (This has to do with the number of valence S’s that the word has. But we won’t get into Linguistic Chemistry right now.) So “Hola” becomes “Holas.” “Acueducto” becomes “Ascuedusto.” But “Dos Mas” remains “Doe Ma.”

Now that my water system is done and I am working in other parts of the country I only spend weekends at my mountain home. And with no work to be done there it has become more like a vacation home than before when it was more like one of those trailers that they have as offices at constructions sites. Now I look forward to waking up lazily and having a cup of coffee and traveling a total of 10 meters in a day.

I’ve been using some of my time to encourage the artistic talents of my five-year old friend Manuel. We color in a Toy Story coloring book. But not in a lame kiddish way. It’s more like neo-modernist, abstract art. Do we stay in the lines? Yeah, Right! Sometimes people are all like, “Hey, shouldn’t that pig be pink?” And we're all like, “Hey shouldn’t you shut your face.”



When Manuel is having a little trouble finding his creativity, I teach him an age old artists trick called “getting plastered.” He chugs a liter of rum and the creative juices start flowing. I sometimes wonder whether it is bad for five-year-olds to have unhealthy drinking habits in the developing world but the WHO doesn’t have any statistics about it so who really knows.




Anyway none of that really matters because I just found out Judgment Day is on May 21st and the people who are worthy will go up to heaven or something. I use curse words so I probably won’t get the E-vite. Then in October of this year the world is going to end. It’s strange, and a bit disheartening, that this date coincides with my finish date in the Peace Corps. Here I thought the world would be saved when I left the Peace Corps when in reality it’s going to end.

It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow. This blog is dedicated to my Mother. Happy Mother’s Day Mom! She’s a nice lady. She’ll probably be one of the ones who gets to go up to heaven in a couple weeks.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Twenty-Four

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Remember Duncan Peabody (AKA Duncan Peabloggy) the Peace Corps volunteer who wrote that blog back in 2010 about his experience building a water system and living in the Dominican Republic? He was living large. He had the fans, the house in the mountains, the Peace Corps stipend, the public transport. He had it all. But we have heard very little from him since he finished his water system. What became of him?
We caught up with him recently and found out. It seems the completion of the water project left a pretty big hole in his life. It had consumed his Peace Corps career up until then and with no materials to buy or workers to boss around he didn’t know what to do with his life. He started spending a lot of time in his house sniffing fabric softener and ordering worker ants to carry crumbs from one place to another on his floor. The critics and his fans forgot about him and his life spiraled downwards. A month later he was busted by the police trying to break into a Laundromat in the city screaming “I need my sheets! I know you’re in there Downy Bear!” He sobered up in the slammer and decided he needed a change in his life so he headed back to the United States. He went through two different rehab treatments in Los Angeles and Colorado. They were both very successful. With his mind no longer Downy fresh he decided to return to the Dominican Republic and try for a comeback…


The rumors are true. I have just returned from the United States. And not just the regular United States. The Los Angeles United States. On the way there I had a layover in Miami and everybody was speaking Spanish so I didn’t realize I was back in the U.S. yet. Then I landed in L.A. and everybody was speaking Spanish so I didn’t realize I was back in the U.S. yet. Then I saw a hipster. Hello America!!

Hipsters have taken over the country it seems. Or at least LA and Denver. Barack Obama now wears tight, cut off jean shorts behind the podium when he gives speeches. Now I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old ex-pat but there’s some irony to point out here. The hipsters spend lots of money on trendy clothes and maybe rip them up or something to make them look poor. (Or do they come like that?) In the Dominican Republic campo the people spend a little bit of money on one nice looking outfit and take good care of it so they look wealthier than they are. I don’t really understand either idea, but who am I to judge. So I’ve come up with a great charity idea. The hipsters will buy clothes that actually look like the money they cost and they will send them to my community in the Dominican Republic. In return the people in my community will send their hand-me downs to Los Angeles. Not only will this fulfill the needs of each group but it will also help to strengthen hipster-dominican relations which have been an area of concern recently.
Other than that project I have three smaller (realer) projects that I’m working on in my remaining eight months.

The first one is the ceramic water filter study that I have described in previous blogs maybe. It’s a research project with my University that I’m doing for my Master’s thesis. We gave people ceramic water filters and now we are finding out if they work and if the people like them and stuff. It’s nice…

The second project is a new wood burning stove design we are working on. The idea is to make the chamber of the stove out of molded pieces of refractory brick. We would have an existing ceramics factory manufacture the pieces. Then Peace Corps volunteers would deal directly with the ceramics factory to order their stove sets. In the volunteer’s community they would assemble the pieces and enclose them in the cement box of their choice and throw in a chimney. Then the people would stop inhaling smoke. So in theory this seems like a good idea. We just need to do some R&D to make sure the stove works in practice. No problem right?

-Just find a ceramics factory and show them the plans and ask them to build you a prototype. Tell them you’ll give them money for their work. They like that. (In the business world we call this “paying”)
-Then show up on several occasions to check on progress. Find that the ceramics expert had to “step out” for the day. But it’s ok. This is only the third time he’s said he would be there and then not shown up. Oh and he hasn’t gotten started yet because he doesn’t have the materials.
-Call again to make sure he’s still interested in this work. Of course he is. Very much. Hey Duncan give me a call back tomorrow and we’ll discuss where to go from here. ….From where? The beginning? Didn’t we discuss that?
-Hey it’s tomorrow but your phone is off. “You’re fired.” – Donald Trump

And so I am still at ground zero. I’m looking for a new ceramics expert. But theoretically I like this project.

My final project is a Youth Engineers Club. Basically I just build things with this 15 year-old kid Martin who wants to be an engineer. He invites his friend along so that we can call it an “Engineering Club” and not “two guys building stuff”. (A minimum of three persons are required to qualify as a Club though this does not oblige all gatherings involving three people with similar interests to label themselves a Club) But his friend doesn’t really care about what we’re doing and he’s pretty obnoxious. We built a simple solar oven but before we could cook with it my host-brother decided that it looked a lot like garbage and ripped it up to construct part of a cage for his fighting cocks. We’ll have to spend more time making things look pretty if they’re going to survive. A good lesson for a future engineer. Martin, not me.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Twenty-Three

A special water system inauguration blog post!

” Mission Accomplished!” The priest who was doing the inauguration ceremony said those words (in Spanish). I couldn’t tell if he was trying to make fun of me by comparing my with George W. Bush. Either way I thought the mission was more or less complete. Assuming the mission was just to bring water from one place to several other places. But then I guess there’s more to it. W may have been right that it was the end of conventional warfare in Iraq. The part that you can plan and execute. But then that was followed by years of guerilla warfare. So I think we’ve finished the conventional construction phase. And now we enter guerilla construction. Leaks will catch us unawares. Attacks will be fast and erratic. There might be casualties. But we will move in a dispatch with them as efficiently as possible. Eventually the plumbers I have trained will be able to deal with the attacks on their own and my presence will no longer be necessary. Luckily I’ve already drilled everywhere in the community and extracted all of the self satisfaction there is to extract so I will have no problem turning control over to the local plumbers and heading back to my country. So I guess the priest WAS making a George W reference. Except that W landed on an aircraft carrier in a fighter jet. The baton twirling routine I did before my speech had the potential to be even more badass than W’s jet landing until the crotch of my sequined leotard ripped during the finishing split and suddenly nobody was looking at the baton that I was holding above my head.




Otherwise the Celebration was very nice. A priest came and moderated the event. He told me when to speak. I spoke. It was uninspiring. He made them applaud after each sentence anyway. Then my Dona/President of the Water Committee gave her speech. It was animated and passionate and I think she only breathed three times in the whole ten minute speech. I’d like to see David Blaine do that. They presented me with a framed certificate in appreciation of my role in the project. The name on the certificate was Senor Duncan. Apparently they didn’t know my last name so they just put the name of a grade school Spanish teacher. But really I like it even more than if they had used my full name. At the end of the ceremony the priest blessed the water and we threw it on the crowd. I was hesitant to throw the blessed water because I’m not very holy and I was afraid the water that came from my hands would burn peoples’ faces like acid. It didn’t though.




All my Peace Corps friends showed up to support me and make fun of my fear of public speaking. Even some white doctor people I didn’t know showed up to show their support. A creepy Dominican guy hovered over the American girls from the moment we arrived and kept asking the guys to introduce him. Girls like persistence.




After the blessing of the water there was a photo shoot. The people in my community love to be photographed but they don’t really understand how it works. So people were just walking into pictures that they weren’t supposed to be in and facing the wrong way and blocking the people in front of them. It was hilarious chaos. Their mothers obviously don’t make them get together for Christmas photos every year.



I slaughtered a turkey to cook for dinner before the ceremony. The way they do it here is by hanging it upside down by its feet and slitting its throat. I decided that if I couldn’t slaughter a turkey then I was a hypocrite to eat turkey. Also that turkey had been trying to get me to smoke pot for the past few days and saying “What are you chicken? Bok! Bok bok bok!” Luckily the Ninja Turtles taught me well when I was a kid so I said “I’m not a chicken, you’re a turkey!” (See YouTube for reference: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_GgUNF5sTA) And so I had to kill it. And what better time to do it than for a celebration. Killing the turkey gave me a simultaneous rush of adrenaline and sadness. Then we defeathered it and tore out its insides so that it would look more like the turkeys that come wrapped up in the grocery stores and we could forget that it ever lived. We rubbed some spices on it and put it in a bucket to wait for night time.

I took a nap around 3pm. I was all tuckered out. I woke up a little bit later.

Around nightfall all of the white people who still remained headed up the mountain to the camp site which was a piece of cow pasture that I picked at random. We brought the turkey and some charcoal and prepared a lopsided spit to rotisserie the chicken. Large quantities of rum and wine were consumed. Justin played the guitar and we sang and danced like savages.




But then things took a turn for the worse when Andrew, still feeling some of the adrenaline from the turkey slaughter, ran and jumped on the bull’s back in the cow pasture. The bull started bucking wildly and as Andrew went flying off his belt buckle got caught on one of the horns and Andrew was stuck hanging over the bull’s face. Cameron reacted by grabbing the guitar out of Justin’s hand and trying to smash it over the bull’s head but he hit Andrew instead and Andrew went unconscious. Jenni immediately whipped out her camera and started taking pictures. They were uploaded onto Facebook before the whole thing was over. Kerri was already asleep. She woke up and looked over at what was happening and told Cameron and Andrew to shut up. Amy and Justin continued trying to harmonize on “Total Eclipse of the Heart” but it was disturbing me more than the scene with the bull. Meanwhile Kenny was talking with one of the cows asking her to reason with her husband. She lifted up her tail and pooped. Cameron saw it and immediately applied hand sanitizer. Suddenly Omar came running out of the tent in cowboy attire and clown makeup and yelled “Don’t worry I saw this on Animal Planet!” He started running around trying to distract the bull and then hid in barrels. I think he meant he saw it on ESPN2. Finally Paul walked over to the bull and punched it in the back of the head and screamed, “I do what I want!” The bull fell to its knees. Andrew came to and looked around and said “Yeaaaah Dawg!” and snapped his fingers. Then Kelly got abducted by aliens. She giggled.

That was all bullshit. But we did have a lot of fun camping.