Friday, September 4, 2009

Bringing ideas to the developing world

Hola todos –

I hope you’re all doing fine. I am finally back in Seattle and it’s so nice to be home! I’ve only been home for a little bit, but I had a few more thoughts to put up as I begin decompressing from my summer abroad. The photos you see above are some beautiful shots from the last weekend trip I took in Samana. That waterfall was absolutely gorgeous - it's called the Salto de Limon.

This post is about a subject which nearly all of my development classes at UW have touched. To what extent should “the West” – white people – approach development as bringing solutions to the poor, and to what extent should it be us listening to the poor about what they need and letting them determine what we bring them? I’ve had some UW classes emphasize that we need to err (or even depend solely) on the poor to determine what they need and what solutions to bring. After my summer in the Dominican, I’m starting to think that sometimes, there truly are ideas and thoughts (and technology) which haven’t reached the backcountry of the developing world which will provide solutions the poor haven’t come across – and may be a better solution than what the poor themselves would come up with.

Let me clarify first of all, that this will be different in each country, and even each region of a country. These critical specifics will affect what solutions may be introduced, and what options are already known by those living there. It is vitally important that this be done or aided by people who are extremely experienced/grew up in the country or region. I cannot say how important experience is. How do you expect to know what to do if you haven’t been somewhere very long?

Given this, I’m going to apply what I have learned in the Dominican (over only a short period of two months) to this principle and show why we shouldn’t necessarily be scared to bring in and share some of these ideas, thoughts and technology. I know this directly contradicts what I put above – but we were starting to see trends emerging which would (or maybe will) lead to changes in how Esperanza works in the Dominican. At the least it provides evidence that if you live somewhere long enough, you can start to think of solutions which are applicable to the people there.

So, what exactly do I mean by “solutions”? That’s quite a general word, but let me try to give some examples so you know what I might be thinking about.

Remember that post I had a few weeks ago about microfinance? That’s the first type of help that can come. It can be:

Helping someone to think of new business opportunities

Technical training to get new skills

Advertising training

Customer relations training

Help with goal setting

On a slightly different line of thinking, one of the other interns in the Dominican had a fantastic thought she brought up with us. What if we were able to do a trade show for various successful small business owners in an area who could come together, share various ideas on how to achieve such a success? The solution wouldn’t stop here – these leaders would then be charged with going into their communities and teaching others of how to make their businesses more successful.

A similar twist on this would be for workers who have contact with many associates to pool together “stories of success” and make them into a format shareable to other borrowers in the field. For instance, the branch office I worked at in Samaná could put together a couple sheets of paper which could be read aloud to the illiterate borrowers about different business strategies which have created success where usually there is stagnancy. This would be much easier to put together than a trade show – but it highlights what I think is one of the most critical elements necessary for those in the Dominican to create better businesses: information and ideas sharing/communication. I feel like if people were given more ideas of how they could run their business in a way which would help them feed their family and improve their living situation, they wouldn’t take the advice lightly for the most part (though of course, some would).

Another type of help which could come to those in the Dominican would be help with is money management. This is most obviously present when at the meeting directly previous to a new loan dispersal. The loan officers will typically ask an associate “how much money do you earn monthly as a household?” This question is usually met by blank stares, and then a guess which is usually taken out of thin air. They then are asked to guess their expenditures, which is again guessed. The thing is - many times they guess expenditures which are several times over their income. This doesn’t suggest anything other than the fact that many have very little idea what their money flow is.

This has several obvious and major implications, such as unknowingly running out of money or food, having no savings, not being able to support the business, not paying back their loans and more. The simple fact is that there could be many benefits to giving some money management training to associates. These include stability, future planning, better business growth, and more money available for the family.

These examples are just a few thoughts that support that there are some thoughts and ideas which would benefit those in the developing world. They need to be introduced in a humble, sensitive manner and by people who have lived in the country or have worked there for a long time. It must be done intelligently, compassionately and lovingly. It cannot be done with pride or a sense of superiority, but rather with a servant’s heart. I think this passage in Philippians 2:5-8 sums up what I’m trying to say the best:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

That’s the description of what mindset a development worker should have.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A little peek into my possible future

Hey everyone –

I want to first give a notice that this post is mostly me processing through and putting on paper some of the thoughts that have been developing in my head the past few months. You may or may not find it interesting, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to post this.

Everything here in the Dominican is wrapping up for me. I’m just starting my final full work week right now, and that’s a little weird to think about. These past two and a half months have certainly flown by – and I’ve had a blast. To say I’ve grown or changed while being here would be an understatement. I’m quite certain that I’ll find out what I learned as time goes on – I tend to leave a long trip with this sense that things are different, except I never have the ability to say how.

At the very least, this summer has been very eye-opening and valuable to me because I believe it will go a long way in determining where I am next year after graduating. I have obviously been thinking about more than this, but future planning has been the most concrete idea to come thus far. The rest will follow with time as I said above.

I am quite certain after this summer that I want to live abroad after graduating, working in a similar capacity to how I am now. While I am not going to limit myself to only searching for an international job, that will be my first choice. I absolutely love speaking Spanish and I’ve found in my travels that I am independent and flexible enough to enjoy an extended stay in a foreign country. I feel confident that an extended stay (one or two years) working for a non-profit and bringing in a fairly low income would be a job I could handle – and would probably love. I have a growing passion for applying these personal interests and skills, my studies and my faith into a career in international development.

The next step for me is to figure out what I want to do in international development. This may take another year or two (or perhaps much longer). My journey to even getting to this conclusion has taken a long time – starting with my first international trip to Spain in 2004. Each international trip I have taken, no matter the length, has given me some very valuable lesson guiding my next step. I can sum up the way my future plans have changed after each trip as follows:

Chapter 1: Spain 2004 - Missions trip with high school youth group. This is where my passion for Spanish began. I became enrapt with the language. This is also where I decided that I wanted to do something internationally. I didn’t know what – just that my future would involve international work.

Chapter 2: Dominican Republic 2007 - This 10 day missions trip was with my college youth group came to the very poor southwest of the Dominican. Here was my first run in with extreme poverty – and here is where my desire for doing international development began.

Chapter 3: Argentina Summer 2008 - In the 6 weeks I spent here, I had my first semi-extended international stay. I realized that living abroad was a blast, especially in a situation where I used Spanish more than English. I also learned that I love Latin America. Especially the Argentine people.

Chapter 4: Spain Fall 2008 - For four months I lived in southern Spain, and I learned a couple things: First, four months is a very short amount of time. It was over before I knew it. Secondly, I learned I really don’t care much for Europe, at least in terms of wanting to live or work there. I didn’t feel the same passion and excitement I had visiting the Dominican and Argentina. I see Europe, especially Western Europe, as a place I can visit later in life. It is much more accessible and easy to travel for those older than their 20s than is Latin America. Europe will have its place and time for me. Right now, it isn’t where my heart is.

Chapter 5: Dominican Summer 2009 - As I said, this trip has given me a direction for how I want to work – internationally and with development. It has also helped me develop a short term plan for my next step.

I am going to graduate from UW this June with a double degree, and then hopefully have a place in the world to go work for the next year or two to gain experience. I am then planning on using that international experience to write the next chapter of my life, which will be grad school. It has become increasingly obvious to me this summer that I need to get an advanced degree. What degree am I going to get? Well, I am hoping that if I get a year or two of work experience, that will help direct the direction my studies will take.

Basically, the degree is going to need to be something specific. Undergrad studies are designed to be general so you can figure out what you’re interested in – which is exactly what they did for me. Grad school, for what I’m trying to do, is where you find a specialty niche and focus, focus, focus. The more specific my degree, it seems the better that will help me find valuable work in something I love to do. Call it my Chapter 6.

So, there you have it. My three-four(ish) year idea of what my life might look like. I am completely open to this changing if circumstances come out differently. If I end up living in Seattle for the next 3 years and never go abroad and somehow grad school doesn’t come so rapidly, I’m not going to throw a fit because my life didn’t turn out how I envisioned it. I want to “go with the flow” and see where the flow takes me – though it seems to me the flow is taking me in the direction I have visualized.

I’ll be back in Seattle in about a week – I'm looking forward to seeing you then!


Monday, August 24, 2009

Are expensive short-term mission trips worth the cost?

Hey everyone –

I want to give a post about something a bit off topic from what I’ve been posting lately, but I feel it warrants some thoughts – especially for those of you who have gone on short term mission trips. I had some talks with other fellows early on in the summer regarding the value of spending a fairly large amount of money to go somewhere for just ten days. This may be a little repetitive for any of them reading this, but I felt this needed a blog post.

The question is: why spend $1600-2000 on a international trip where you are working for a week and then just coming back to the US? Are you really making any sort of long-lasting difference? Are you doing enough to justify spending that $1600 – 2000 on a trip and plane tickets, rather than just sending it in full to a development organization that could immediately put the money to work?

All are difficult questions – and ones I’ve had to wrestle with after going on two such trips. In fact, the last night I had in Santo Domingo in 2007 with my spring break missions trip team was partly spent exploring that question. Quite frankly – I didn’t have an answer back then to these questions. Not having sufficient answers made me begin to question if the cons didn’t actually outweigh the pros of an international mission trip.

Two years later, I finally feel that I have a couple answers which to me make the pros of short term mission trips (or other service projects) outweigh the cons.

First: Any time people want to bring the ultimate message of Love and Hope to others, I think this is great. While this alone isn’t enough to answer the questions I posed above, especially since there are PLENTY of people in the US who need this message, it certainly is a plus which occurs with a mission trip.

Second:I feel like there is some amount of long lasting impact with some projects. The most obvious ones are buildings or other physical projects which some trips undertake. In the case of my trip to the Dominican, most of us didn’t have such a project. We were with children the entire day, playing sports, doing Bible lessons (sort of), and mostly just being with them when no one else was around. As you might guess, it was very hard to point to something and say “look, we made a difference”. Instead, it felt like we were just another group of white gringos to come through, give a few hugs and piggyback rides, only to get back on our bus and fly back to our comfortable beds in the States.

I argue that we are not “just another group”. These kids remember the people who come through. This was proven to me when a couple people who had visited the villages a couple years before came back. The kids remembered their names and even still had the nametags and drawings given to them two or three years before. This was absolutely surprising to me. The kids specifically remember the guys and girls who played with them for just a few days a couple years ago. This proved to me that there is at least some sort of long lasting effect on lives which may not be apparent upon leaving back home.

As you can guess, these two reasons alone are not enough to convince me of the value of short term mission and service trips. Which brings me to the strongest point:

Third: Mission and service trips change the lives of the people who go – and sometimes direct them to dedicating their life to service. I now consider these sorts of trips as an investment. The $2000 spent is well worth it when you consider how life changing this experience is for some. True, some people go home after a trip, say “well, that was a nice experience. I have some good memories and friends now” and don’t really give international service another thought.

On the other hand, many people find their first experience with international poverty to be striking, and can have a spectrum of reactions. This may be from being more aware of spending and finding ways to give to charities or serving the poor in their own community more, all the way to people who decide that serving internationally may be the career for them.

As you may have guessed, I fit into this latter category. My 10 day trips to Spain and the Dominican Republic were fundamental in my career development. I’m gong to explore this more in a future blog post, but suffice it to say that the roughly $3200 I spent (or rather, my parents spent…) was an investment in who I am today, thinking about living internationally.

I have seen plenty of friends impacted on various levels along this spectrum by a short term service or mission trip. This alone is what answered those questions I posed at the beginning. If this was all just about a 10 day spree costing $1600 with relatively minimal impact in the community and no impact on the people involved, well then I’d say that money could be spent in a better manner. For the reasons above, I see this as money well spent.

Think about it.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Microfinance thoughts

Hello everyone –

I wanted to share some thoughts about microfinance in the Dominican which haven’t been apparent to me until recently through observation and conversations with other interns. I see two major issues which are preventing microfinance measures from being as effective as they otherwise would be. First of all, I see a distinct lack of specific, well-thought out goal setting by associates. Quite simply: many cannot tell me why they got a loan, beyond saying “I want to grow my business”. The answer to the follow-up question “And why do you want to grow your business?” draws empty stares more often than not. Secondly, I see an oversaturation of certain businesses. Many borrowers settle for selling new and used clothing, making a colmado (small corner store which has various small food items, drinks and other goods). Let me develop these thoughts a little bit more.

First of all, I am extremely troubled by the lack of goal setting that many associates demonstrate. All of us working and who read about microfinance hear about its ability to assault poverty by allowing people to work their way into a healthier income, better housing situation, more food and education for their children. I have my qualms with some of these claims, especially with how great the affect is, but we’ll leave that to the side for now for the sake of argument. It just worries me that these borrowers don’t have a clear idea of why they are taking out a loan. I have to give very leading questions, referring to their children or capital improvements to their homes, in order to get any sort of long-term picture. Even then, the answer is somewhat forced and it seems the women and men are asking in their heads “why is this question being asked to me? I don’t understand why this is so important.”

Given, some of this may be due to a language barrier, and I may perhaps be asking the questions incorrectly, but I don’t feel that’s the case. I think its more likely that people either a) haven’t thought about the question or (more likely) b) have future goals, they just haven’t fully articulated them. I see this as a problem. There is a need for people to have a well-articulated idea of how exactly they want to apply this loan to their life and family.

Why is this important? I am still attempting to articulate this fully, but I feel there is an inherent value in having a specific goal in mind when undertaking a project as serious as starting a business. A goal will allow the women and men here to seek encouragement when looking at their business. It gives them a concrete example of how a growing business is helping their family. They can point to the extra food on the table, their child taking university classes, or their brand new concrete floor and use this as motivation to continue seeking to grow their business. This is my only concrete idea to answer this question – in reality, I’m struggling to articulate why I find this so important. I may have more ideas about this in the future. For now, I wanted to at least put this thought out there, and let you know that more will be settling with time.

Feel free to comment something about this! I’d love to hear any of your thoughts. I’d love to know, also, if you think this isn’t something important. Thanks!

Secondly, I want to address the oversaturation of business choices of the associates here in the Dominican. I have a much more concrete idea of this issue, and this one is quite concerning. Microfinance allows the borrowers to choose their own business – and much of the theory is built upon the idea that borrowers inherently know their community, and know what sorts of businesses would be most successful. After all, nearly all have lived in one area their entire life, they know their neighbors, and therefore know what items are in demand, what sells well, etc.

Unfortunately, in the Dominican we aren’t seeing this put unto practice with any real regularity. Many women settle for just two types of businesses: colmados and new and used clothing. This has caused what seems to be an oversaturation of these businesses. In a single bank of 20 women living in a small neighborhood already full of such stores, quite easily 10 or more of them will start such a business. This simply cannot be good for sales.

Again, I may be totally off-base and ignorant in this observation. I allow for the thought that these women truly do know what they are doing, and that another 10 colmados in a neighborhood is one of the most profitable businesses they can get into. However, I am certainly not convinced of this. I would be surprised if someone were to show me that the colmados formed are equally or more profitable than rarer businesses.

The thought myself and some other interns have is that the women, instead of choosing the most profitable business for their family, are going the route of least resistance. It is far more comfortable to start up a business such as a colmado or clothes sales when those are stores they see everywhere, and they see their friends in that market. They might know less about other businesses, and therefore instead of looking into that other type, follow their friends.

Regardless of the reasons for starting colmados or clothing businesses, it seems fairly clear that there is an oversaturation of these businesses. I would love to someday see someone go and collect data regarding these businesses and their profitability. If it turns out these businesses are not receiving the type of profit that other businesses are, I’d argue that Esperanza should considering helping associates think of alternative businesses. I have met some women who recognized this oversaturation and chose less-common businesses, such as working as town veterinarians and selling cleaning supplies, and are currently very successful.

I am not arguing that Esperanza somehow force people to choose other businesses; I don’t agree with that at all. Instead, I think it would be valuable for the associates to see that their family may perhaps benefit more from a different type of business, and then choose between all the options. In some cases, surely a colmado is the best choice; and in some it may not be. I see no harm and potentially a lot of good (and profits!) if the associates begin to choose from a greater selection of businesses.

That’s really all I have to write for now. Sorry if it seems somewhat scattered – I have a lot of thoughts bouncing in my head and I just wanted to get them on paper to help me process them.

Please do let me know if you have any thoughts about any of this – I’d love to hear from any of you.

Mil gracias!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Waterfalls and success stories

Hey everyone!

I wanted to give you a quick update about what’s been going on in the Dominican – I have been having QUITE the adventure as of late. I won’t share all the intimate details of each day, but I had the most amazing outdoors weekend here in the Dominican. I went to a city called Jarabacoa with six others. This is basically the outdoors center of the Dominican, as it is up in the mountains, has a slightly different climate, and has all sorts of outdoor activities to partake in.

Sunday was spent doing what is called “canyoning”. What exactly is that? Basically, there is a little canyon carved by a river and what I got to do was go down a certain section of it – which included repelling down waterfalls. It was AMAZING. There were 3 separate waterfalls which we repelled down with the first two being around 6 meters high and 10 meters high. The last one? 35 meters high. That’s over 110 feet. It was absolutely incredible! And also the craziest thing I’ve ever done. If I didn’t know what an adrenaline rush was before, this definitely confirmed that my body can produce it. I’ve never been one for going down completely horizontal to the ground from such heights, but I can say that this was a great experience for me. It helped me get out of my “I don’t like taking risks” shell a bit, in a safe environment. I wish I had pictures of the trip, but sadly we didn’t have a camera. Here’s a photo of the tall waterfall we repelled down so you can see it though:

Along with this repelling, we got to swim down the river, slide down various rapids on our (now bruised) behinds, and we even got to zip line (!!) down one. Basically, the experience was awesome.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights were all spent at an American boarding school which is in Jarabacoa. One of the interns spent two years there, and they were nice enough to rent out to us their guest house. We were able to make s’mores, cook our own chicken and curry dinners, and more. It was very relaxing and a great place to go back to.

On Monday, we went to what is called the 27 Waterfalls (27 charcos), which was described to us as one of the coolest things you can do in the entire country. Basically, there is this river up in the mountains where a river has cut out 27 waterfalls in close succession, ranging from 2 meters high to up to 8-10 meters. Some waterfalls are better to slide down, as they have carved paths where you can go down, and most are better for jumping. It was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. I have a couple photos here of our trip, and you can see how beautiful the scenery was. We just spent 3 hours in this beautiful setting, enjoying the feeling of jumping from rocks and good friends. I can’t think of a better afternoon to have. Enjoy the following photos! I highly recommend that you do this if you are ever in the Dominican. It only costs $14 and is an unforgettable experience.

I wanted to end off by showing you a copy of a ”Journal” which I did for Kiva recently. Basically, when a loan which is funded through Kiva ends, there is a follow up which needs to happen so that those who loaned are able to hear how the busineses are going, how the borrower’s situation has improved/worsened, etc. I was able to talk to one amazing woman named Inocencia. Her story is fantastic. I just copy and pasted the Kiva journal I wrote so you can see it here, followed with her picture.

Dear lender,

My name is Nate Sooter, and I am working with Esperanza International this summer here in the Dominican Republic. One of my opportunities is to catch up with borrowers who have taken out a loan with Kiva and Esperanza, in order to tell you, the lenders, how they are doing after the loan. I had the immense pleasure to speak with Inocencia Ortiz just yesterday, one of the La Amistad group members you lent to. I wanted to pass along an update to you about how her business is doing today, how your loan had a direct impact in her life and a few other updates.

Inocencia is happy to let you know she successfully finished paying her loan back a couple months ago. Her business is to hand-make, from her home, curtains, sheets and blankets for beds, tablecloths and more. She buys the thread and materials directly, and then uses machines in a room of her house to customize the orders she receives from those in her neighborhood. She also rides on a motorcycle with her son to other towns here on the Samaná peninsula to increase her sales possibilities. Though – she added with a laugh – she sometimes finds herself caught in an unpredictable tropical rainstorm. She is able to shrug this off with a good sense of humor and try to travel on only sunny days.

In fact, in these other towns, Inocencia is so well known and she is such a good businesswoman, she is able to sell on credit, and collects payments form those who cannot pay for their purchase immediately. This allows her to not only sell more, but allows her to help those who might not otherwise be able to save up for new bed sheets or a tablecloth.
After finishing the loan you gave her, she has currently been able to take out another loan with Esperanza – her eighth cycle. Inocencia is proud to state how she has never been behind on a payment in her nearly four years with Esperanza – including your loan through Kiva. With each loan, she tells me that her business has been growing. She is able to buy more varied materials and fabric. She is excited for the future of her business, and is very thankful for your support.

Inocencia also related to me how concrete of a difference your loan has made in her life. Through the microfinance process, Inocencia obtained enough profits to purchase the motorcycle I mentioned. This investment has allowed her to continue to expand her sales beyond just where she can reach on foot. The photo I included with this journal is of her on this motorcycle.

More importantly, while she was repaying back the loan you offered her, Inocencia was able to come to the aid of her son, who had a construction work-related accident. At 25, José was using a hammer and had an accident which seriously injured his eye. However, due to the extra profits Inocencia has received through investing in her business with the loan of you and others, she was able to get hospital care immediately for her son, medical tests, and eventually a surgery which saved the sight in José’s left eye. Many entrepreneurs I have spoken to in the Dominican have had a similar situation to Inocencia – the money goes to cover emergency medical expenses which otherwise would go untreated or would cause some to resort to receiving loans from moneylenders who demand upwards of 100-120% interest. This story alone can help you rest assured that your loan had a direct impact on lives here in the Dominican – José today can see out of his left eye in part due to your investment in Inocencia’s business.

In the future, Inocencia is hoping to save up money to continue upgrading her home. She hopes to fix the roof – which is currently just made of tin and can rust when the rainy season arrives – and hopes to construct some walls out of concrete blocks, rather than just wood.

Again, thank you very much for your loan to Inocencia and the others in La Amistad. Though I am only able to relate this story from one of the 15 members you lent to, you can be certain that your loan had an impact on each and every individual life of the borrowers. These loans through Kiva have a concrete and direct effect on the lives of women and men living here in the Dominican Republic, and I encourage you to continue lending on Kiva.

Now that this loan has been successfully paid back, consider giving to another Esperanza loan. For a list of all the Esperanza International loans currently seeking funding through Kiva here in the Dominican Republic, please click here: Currently Fundraising Esperanza Loans

Muchas gracias de todos aquí en la República Dominicana por tu préstamo a Inocencia!

Until next time,


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The luxury of being on-time

Good morning all –

While in this post I am not going to speak much about what’s happening here in the Dominican, you can rest assured that all is going well. I spent the most recent weekend away in an apartment near Cabarete on the north coast. Here are a couple photos I took there. It’s quite beautiful:

Now, on to the topic. If you have ever travelled to a developing country, or talked to someone who has travelled to one, you may have heard a reference to a “slower pace” of life, or how things don’t revolve around time. That is, many will hear of how hectic the US lifestyle is, and how it seems people in the US are so clock-oriented that they stress themselves out.

This much is true: America, Europe and other developed areas of the world do tend to live a life where more things happen during the day (appointments, activities, etc). The pace of life in developing countries such as here in the Dominican Republic is slower. I want to share with you a thought I had about this difference between these two lifestyles.

Quite simply, I see the ability of being “on time”, or planning one’s day around a schedule, to be a luxury available only in developed countries. I finally came to that realization just recently. Let me describe.

Here in the Dominican, an easy example of this is transportation. When one doesn’t have a vehicle of their own – which would be a majority of people here – they must depend on public or semiprivate transportation. In the Dominican, that comes in the form of gua guas which I mentioned in a previous blog. They are overly packed contracted vehicles which run on set routes and pick up and drop off people at random. They do not leave until the driver feels he has a sufficient amount of people on board, and they will constantly be stopping along the road to pick up new people and drop others off as they arrive at their destinations. Needless to say, they go SLOW. The driver has no incentive to really go fast – his incentive is to go slow enough to get as many people on board as he can.

This past Sunday, I had to get from Cabarete back here to Samaná. That’s roughly 180km, which isn’t necessarily a long way. It would be a trip of less than two hours if I had my own vehicle. How long did it take me? 5 1/2 hours and 4 separate gua guas. I averaged a speed of around 32 km/h on this road. My whole Sunday disappeared. This sort of event prevents me from planning anything beyond “I’ll be back Sunday evening sometime”.

Another example is that entering into a bank, post office or other service will also not be timely. I spent nearly an hour in a bank in Haiti (which was air conditioned, organized and seemingly well-run), and that is just to be expected. Cars also break down more commonly as they are poorly maintained, causing delays. There are no efficient trains or public busses which run on a set schedule here or in many other developing countries.

In short, people here cannot afford to tightly pack their schedules with activities, errands and other plans. It isn’t possible for someone to say when they will arrive somewhere unless it is an incredibly close location. You cannot go to a meeting and return on a set schedule – life just doesn’t work like that, especially in more rural areas. Santo Domingo is an exception in the Dominican, as many times you can access nearby amenities with some certainty of when you will get there and return – then again, this city is more developed than the rest of the country.

So, I return to my main point: being on time is a luxury of developed countries (and more developed areas of countries like the Dominican). We can create such a tightly packed schedule in the United States, Europe and other places because we have the luxury of knowing how long it will take to get there, how long the scheduled event will last, and how long it will take to get back. Many people can afford to have their own vehicles, and when they don’t, the bus, train and other public transportation systems are fairly reliable and on-time. This makes the day much more predictable, and this allows us the luxury of planning an intricately busy day if we so desire.

Next time you find yourself commenting on how people in the US are so busy and don’t seem to stop, just realize this – schedules are a luxury. It helps you be more productive than you otherwise might be. Most people around the world don’t have the ability to make that schedule.

Just some food for thought.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Adventure that was: Haiti

(Thank you Jon Oleson for the photos!)

Hi everyone!

I wanted to write you an update on my recent trip to Haiti! While I didn’t have a camera on me, I stole these pictures from a couple other interns as examples of what we saw. Ready for some stories?

Haiti is quite an interesting country, and you can’t expect to go there and not have plans go somewhat awry. You just learn to be flexible and allow the trip to determine what happens at some points.

So, after a little bit of a payment debacle in Santo Domingo to get a ticket to Haiti – you need $45 USD cash to pay at the borders, which none of us have since, well, we have PESOS – we got onto a 9am bus to Cap Haiten. After many hours of bus riding and waiting at the Haitian border, we finally arrived in town around 5pm local time.

We were met by another Esperanza staff member Obed, who is a Haitian-American, and speaks both Creole and English perfectly. He lived in the south part of Haiti for several years when he was younger, and then has lived in the United States since, including going to college in Rhode Island. He was gracious enough to be our guide for Haiti, set up our hotel, transportation, and other activities.

This will be a thread throughout this story, but the hotel we wanted to stay at – the Roi Cristophe – told us they were “full”. And then sent us to another hotel which they said was connected, just in a different area of town. This hotel was under construction to say the least, had no main desk, very bare rooms, and many other amenities missing from the main hotel (such as well-functioning AC, towel and linen service, drinkable water, swimming pool, the list can go on). Why did I put “full” into quotations? You’ll hear the rest of this story later in my blog. Trust me, it’s interesting.

Anyway, Friday we had hashed out to spend the day at the Esperanza office in Trou-du-Nord, which is about 30 minutes away from Cap Haiten. Unfortunately, we were not able to spend any time in the field going to any repayment meetings – the main boss at the branch was at a meeting in the Dominican, so we had no transportation. However, we DID have a wonderful lunch at a home nearby, which you can see in this photo:

It was VERY tasty. In the afternoon, a couple of the fellows were able to go interview a couple associates to hear of the successes of their businesses. In Haiti, Esperanza and microfinance is certainly making an impact on lives.

After a fun night hanging in the hotel while talking and listening to music, we had a sight-seeing day on Saturday. We went to this place named The Citadel (Citadelle Laferrière), which is a huge palace and fort built back in the early 1800s by Henri Cristophe, a Haitian leader during their slave uprising. They built this fortress and 365 cannons to ward off any attempts by the French to take the island over again – and never had to use them, since there are lots and lots of cannons still left on top of the fortress. The following photos are from that trip, including a view of the grand palace (which is different than the citadel) and the cannon balls in the actual citadel

Saturday night, the whole hotel situation hits the fan. What happened is this: Some random employee had said that it’s $120/night between the 5 of us at the hotel. He wasn’t the boss there, just some kid who quoted a number, and said the sorts of facilities they had. As I listed above, the facilities were terrible. Being experienced travelers, we figured the price should have been closer to $50 per night. When we approached the employee who had been around all week about this (via Obed translating), he said, “Ok, fine – I’ll just charge you $350 instead of the $360.” Our response: ARE YOU JOKING?, that’s $3/night off. Ridiculous. After allowing Obed to translate this, the kid called his boss to tell him to come.

This is when it gets real interesting. The boss enters, and doesn’t act anything like a reasonable owner of a hotel at all. Instead of acting as he should have (weighing our complaints about the hotel to figure out a fair price for us to pay), he was extremely aggressive. He entered and immediately began accusing us of being unjust customers, stating angrily “Who do you think you are, coming into MY hotel and telling ME what to charge you?”, and otherwise changing the subject from the faults of his hotel to show why we deserved to pay the $120/night. David, one of the other fellows, did a good job of attempting to keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand – we cannot and would not pay that much, for the very understandable reasons we laid out. We were misled into believing this hotel was of higher quality than it really is. Perhaps someday it’d be that valuable, for now, it was on the same level (if not lower) than a Motel 6.

At some point in the night, several of us started to pick up that we may have started to bring ourselves (or Obed), into physical danger by agitating this man. He certainly was very wealthy, and we assumed he had friends in high places who he could call to deal with the issue of five pesky Americans. We were finally offered $260 for the three nights, and accepted it. Though this price was too high, it seemed to us that we needed to get away from this man.

We went to withdraw extra money from the main Roi Cristophe hotel to give to this man. At the Roi Cristophe, we learn an amazing fact: we had been part of an employee who was committing fraud. The man at the desk on Thursday who said that it was “full” was a friend of our not-so-friendly manager, and would send potentially wealthy people (i.e. anyone white) to the other hotel, which was no where near the same quality. In fact – the other hotel wasn’t even related! It was all a ploy to make us think we were somehow going to a legit place, which wasn’t legit at all.

In the end, the Roi Cristophe offered us rooms to stay the night at their hotel that night as a recompense for dealing with the fraud. We gladly accepted and quickly packed up from the other hotel and moved into a (MUCH) nicer and safer hotel for the last night.

And so ended the adventures in Haiti, as we left the next morning back to the Dominican. The Dominican now seems so much more developed than Haiti. It almost felt like I was going back home, to a 1st world country. The stark difference between the two is extreme. I am still processing through the adventure, but I was glad to see some of the 2nd biggest city in Haiti.

There are many more stories, but this post is already far too long. If you want to know more, just contact me and I’d be happy to talk about this – and even more I would love to hear about how YOU are doing too!

Survive that heat Seattle! You can do it.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A culture of infidelity

Hello everyone –

This blog is less an update on what is happening with me, and more about some observations about the Dominican culture of infidelity which many of us here have observed and discussed.

(As a slight sidenote, I’m writing this on my balcony overlooking the Bay of Samaná as a thunderstorm rolls in to my right...what a nice blog writing ambiance).

Before I get started, I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be spending this Thursday-Sunday in Haiti with 4 other fellows in Cap Haiten and Trou-du-Nord. We’re going to visit the Esperanza office in Haiti and perhaps hear some stories from Haitians who have been able to benefit from the microfinance loans they have received. I’m quite excited to go – it’ll be a somewhat expensive trip, but well worth it.

Most anyone who has been to the Dominican (outside of just being in a resort in Punta Cana…) quickly becomes aware of how infidelity is completely engrained in the culture. Nearly everyone in the Dominican is aware that their significant other probably has a different significant other. The infidelity goes both ways. Wives know their husbands are cheating and vice versa – and the amazing thing is that people would rather not talk about it than confront the issue. There was a Dominican staff member here at Esperanza named Analin who is just a couple years older than I, and she allowed us interns to pick her brain about the practice of infidelity. She ventured to guess that 90% of Dominicans in a relationship are cheating with someone else. And yet, even though everyone knows this is happening, they would rather ignore it (and have their affair), rather than challenge their partner. To challenge their partner would mean having to admit their own guilt of infidelity. Hence, the cycle just continues, with both parties guilty.

Beyond this, when the spouse knows the name of the other person in the affair, they will not seek a divorce. Analin told us a story about a woman who she knew that was recently given a new car by her husband. She then said she wanted to go drive by this one particular store, in order to show off to the mistress the new car she had been bought! This blew me away – she not only was living with an adulterous husband, but she wanted to show off her husband’s gift to the mistress in order to create a sense of jealousy!

I combine these new stories with my previous experience here in the Dominican in 2007. I came on a missions trip to the local bateyes, which are essentially Haitian refugee camps which the Dominicans created to get cheap labor for sugar cane harvesting. In Barahona, located in the southwest near the Haitian border, these bateyes are extremely poor, as they are throughout much of the country. When I arrived there I was completely taken aback – there were almost zero males in the entire village between the ages of 17 and 70. It was completely full of women with 8, 12, 14 children. It broke my heart. These children were almost all from different fathers, and the boys had no concept of a father figure in their lives. They were all aware that their brothers and sisters were not from the same father. When myself and other guys arrived into the town, the boys immediately clung to us. They just wanted a guy to throw them around, to give them piggy back rides, to give them a hug, to throw a baseball. Anything. It tore me up to see that these boys were “growing up” without a father to help them see how to be a man. And the cycle will continue when they become 20 years old and move out and father children from place to place. The one thing these boys need to set an example is a man – a father – and that’s exactly who is not present.

With no use of contraception and a lack of the males seeing any need to stick around, the women were left, in absolutely destitution, to try and feed a dozen hungry mouths. The culture of infidelity – of men not staying with the women and vice versa – is prevalent in every corner of this country. In fact, in most major towns and along major highways, there are cabañas, which really means “commit adultery here!” These are essentially motel rooms, but are not necessarily designed for stays overnight. Each room has its own garage so that your car is not visible from the street (and, hence, someone can’t know you’re in there due to recognizing your car). You pay for 4-hour blocks of time. The payment method is completely anonymous – there is a spot in the wall where a hand will appear, you give the correct amount of money, and the hand goes away.

In the end, one feels quite powerless to do anything here. Something needs to fundamentally change here, so that young boys and girls have fathers, mothers, mentors and leaders who can show them how to grow into men and women who are faithful to each other in a relationship and respect the other enough to not have affairs on the side. It’s something for you to pray for. I wanted to write this blog to make you aware of an extremely strong cultural subcurrent here – and with the hope that someday it may change.

I’m planning on writing a blog about microfinance soon – of some of the pros which I came in expecting to see, and then what the reality of it is like here in the Dominican. I have some thoughts which have developed through observation and conversations with others here in the Dominican, and I want to share them with you at some point. If I don’t get them up before I leave to Haiti, please pray for us there – and for those living here on the island of Hispanola. A lot of people need Jesus.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

El Cumpleaños fuera del país

The photos you see above are from the recent weekend trip I made to Playa Rincón and an island named Cayo Levantado this past weekend. It was pretty awesome! And yes, that is a Piña Colada we are all drinking, and, yes, they were amazing.

I hope all of you have had a great past week! I recently spent my second consecutive birthday out of the US. I’ll be honest though – it was quite possibly my most uneventful birthday ever. It happened on a Thursday, and the only thing different about the day was I got a happy birthday phone call from my parents. It was great to talk to them – but after that, the day was quite “blah”. I did my normal work, went home, read a book, and fell asleep.

Exciting fiesta for one’s birthday, eh? Thankfully, this past weekend, some other interns came up here to Samaná, and we had a fantastic weekend hanging out at local beaches and towns on the peninsula. We actually were lucky enough to find a driver who took us place to place all weekend (for a price of course), but in the end it really didn’t cost us much. The beach we went to (Playa Rincón) is so secluded that you really either need to take a boat there from where we stayed the night, or you need to hire a taxi driver who stays with you all day and then drives you home when you’re ready to go. We opted for the latter option – and it really only cost about $8 a person. Gotta love the prices here!

The weekend was a great time to just unwind. I work quite a bit here (in the office from 8am to 6pm daily), and the weekends are a chance to “cargar las pilas” (recharge the batteries). It’s quite convenient that there are some of the most beautiful beaches within an hour drive of my house here!

Changing subjects, my friend Triller offered me his ukulele to borrow while I’m here in the DR, and I’ve taken full advantage of it. I love playing it at my house, and it provides entertainment while we are taking weekend trips. I’m learning a few songs on it, and I hope to have a larger repertoire by the time I head out of the Dominican. In fact, it’s one of the best ice-breakers that I have when going into the field. I bring it with me into the field to the loan repayment meetings, and it usually sparks some conversation with people there. I don’t even have to play it – people just have never seen a ukulele before. They call it “la guitarrita”, which is just “the little guitar”. Several people have offered to buy it from me – and I always ask them for a million dollars. No one’s taken me up on the offer yet.

Oh another point: please, please please know exactly what your shirt says when wearing it around, especially if it’s in another language. I absolutely died of laughing when I saw a shirt that a 60-ish year old Dominican man was wearing. In big print it said “Pornstar. Get some”. I was unfortunately not around any other Americans who could appreciate how funny this was – and I struggled mightily to try and translate “get some” into Spanish so that everyone else could know why I was laughing so hard. At the very least, I let them know that they should be aware of what their shirt says before wearing it outside, lest you be the source of some hearty laughter from someone who understands the language.

I am also planning on perhaps going to Haiti in 2 weekends. There are a few people going there, and I think that the opportunity is so unique – and the group so small – that I need to take advantage of it and just go. I really want to visit Haiti, and we wouldn’t be staying in a nice hotel somewhere far away from the poverty. I’d possibly be staying with one of the Esperanza workers who lives in a “small apartment with an outdoor bathroom”. We’ll just say that I won’t be in a touristy area of town. We’d be staying in Cap Haiten from Thursday-Sunday, and hopefully we’ll have the chance to attend a repayment meeting on Friday with some of the loan officers in Haiti. I’d love to have an opportunity to see how microfinance is working in Haiti. Unfortunately, the language barrier will prevent me from having conversations with individuals there like I do here in the Dominican, but it would still be a valuable experience. I feel a strong need to go to see Haiti, especially when I am on the same island for a period of 2 ½ months.

I’ll add another post this week with some thoughts I have regarding microfinance, the Dominican culture, and about my office here in Samaná. We’ll just say that where I am is in turmoil – largely the result of mismanagement. There are some fairly major legal issues here, and I’ll forward some information to you, though I want to first see what I can and can’t post on this public forum. Regardless, the next post should have some interesting thoughts! Keep posted.

Again, I hope you all have a wonderful week – it looks to me like at least Seattle will have some wonderful weather!! Check back in for a blog in a few days.


Ps – YES I am allowed to wear shorts in the office now. The heat has become infinitely more bearable now that I can wear shorts. :)

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Dominican 4th of July


I hope that all of you had a wonderful 4th of July, and all the wonderfulness that encompasses that holiday (save for potential burns, house fires and the occasional hospital visit…). I wanted to give a little update for how all is going down here in the Dominican.

I spent the most recent weekend and holiday in Santo Domingo, the country’s capital. Quite a few of us interns made the journey to the city, to unwind and generally enjoy the fact that there is no work on the weekend. Since the main office is in Santo Domingo, we were able to hang out with some of the others who did our training and are part of the staff. There is an apartment-ish place (which is more likened to a zoo based on the number of dogs, cats, birds and children) where a few of the interns live, and we hung out there a couple times over the weekend. Mostly, we just had a blast going out at night with everyone. On Friday night, we found an awesome colmado (translation: convenience store mostly filled with alcohol and sodas) next to a university and hung out there, and met random people from all over the place – including a crazy guy from Finland (he was a little…different…), and a really nice guy from Cuba. Sidenote: have you seen the movie Bedazzled? If so, remember when Brendan Fraser becomes the basketball player with bleached hair that sweats a ridiculous amount? That’s basically the same look this Finnish guy had.

Friday night, we all went out to this amazing outdoor terrace bar, which also had a dance floor. There was music all night to dance salsa, merengue and bachata, and it was such a blast. I hadn’t been able to dance since getting here, and that was easily my favorite night of the trip thus far. It was so much fun. Though I did feel quite a few eyes on me when the tall white guy with a backward hat was up dancing salsa amidst the Dominicanos…

Saturday night (during the day nothing happened at all: great success!), we all had a goodbye party for a couple of the Esperanza staff who are leaving to go study. Funny enough, both are going to UW, so it wasn’t really a goodbye for me, since I’ll be seeing them around Seattle come September! We just hung out on a balcony that is at the apartment building where the other staff lives, and then went dancing again at night. Not too bad of a way to spend the 4th of July! Nothing necessarily “American” happened (save the fact that we ate Pizza Hut ordered to the apartment…), but that was fine.

We actually tried to call the embassy to see if they had any sort of party for the local Americans…but it turns out their party/fireworks were on FRIDAY night, not Saturday. Leave it up to the American Embassy to celebrate the “3rd of July”. Due to this, we clearly missed the party, since we missed the memo of Independence Day occurring a day early this year.

I’m now at the office, about to finish up my first day in the (quite stormy) city of Samaná – I woke up several times last night due to the incredible lighting/thunder/rain/wind storm that blew all night. I got rained on while sleeping quite a bit, and generally sleep wasn’t easy because the wind would howl through the shutters that I have. I don’t have any windows, just these blinds, which don’t necessarily do a 100% job at keeping water and wind out.

Anyway, that’s all for now – I’ll write another update sometime soon!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Beaches, microloans, and gua-guas, oh my!

(the above photos are from my recent trip to Las Terrenas, which you can read about below!)


It’s been a week since my last post, and I wanted to update all of you with some more photos and stories from the life in the upper 80’s with 90% humidity Dominican Republic. (As you can see, the sticky heat and I have a very close friendship). Basically, as I work in this office, I am “required” to wear jeans and a collared shirt. I put quotations around required, because I haven’t yet built up the courage to ask if I can wear a nice pair of shorts to work with the collared shirt. I made sure I brought some (what I consider), nice looking shorts which would go a long way to cooling me down AND keeping me looking somewhat professional. At least, I don’t know if that last part is true with my office manager Audilin yet – but we’ll find that out soon enough. Hopefully my slowly improving Spanish skills can woo my employer into allowing the pobre Americano to have some respite from the heat. Audilin I think would at least be somewhat sympathetic – he constantly looks in when its around 3pm and I’m sweating and laughs while he says “Ahhh Americano- tienes brillo!” The rough translation of this would be ”Hey American, you’re shiny! Sucks to be you hahaha”.

This last weekend, I was able to get a little mini-vacation in a beach town about 30 minutes to the northwest of me. Myself and 8 others who are interns or work for Esperanza went to Las Terrenas, which was a wonderful time to charge the batteries, relax, and go to the beach at least three times a day. We stayed at a wonderful little house-style hotel/hostel, and enjoyed the area. The water was absolutely clear, and blue, although the photos I took didn’t necessarily capture the colors involved. The clouds in the sky didn’t help it, but don’t worry, it was pretty beautiful.

With that trip comes a note about travelling city to city here on the Peninsula of Samaná. Basically, there are informal “gua guas” (9 seater vans), and the backs of pickup trucks. Everyone knows of the local spot where the rides originate from based on the town you stop in, and you just hop into a van or the bed of a truck after agreeing on a price to take the half hour ride to a city. One note about the vans: I may have said 9 seater van. That’s being somewhat generous. They are more similar to a VW bus in size and shape, and the one I was in held 24 people. It wasn’t comfy – 4 across in 3 different rows, with me sitting 3 across in a row facing the back, 2 behind me squeezed between the driver and myself, 4 in the front row, the driver, and then 2 “cobradores”, or kids who stand outside the van on the sliding door, collecting money as people get off. Let’s just say it was somewhat crowded.

I am also learning to enjoy my time in the field – though a few of the frustrations are starting to poke their heads up, too. Basically, for me to be able to do what I need to do to put a profile on Kiva, I need the full 5 woman group present at a bank meeting. At a bank meeting (a Bank of Hope), the meeting can range from 2 groups of 5 women, all the way to 8 groups of 5 women, with the cap at 40. Usually the meetings have between 3-5 groups. For me to get a profile up, I need a photo of the complete 5 member group. The frustration is that this happens only somewhat sporadically. Some bank loan officers are better at getting their associates to attend meetings than others, and unfortunately this week I’ve been going out with an asesora (loan officer), who has less than stellar attendance of her associates. Hopefully with time this changes – Audilin is trying to put some pressure on them to change the discipline of the borrowers, and I try to hint that full attendance will help not only me, but the borrowers. They have to attend meetings in order to get loans in the future! If that isn’t an incentive, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, I am absolutely enjoying most of the times when I am able to talk with the women out in the field. I met with an absolutely wonderful woman named Altagracia. She has such a heart for others, and as the leader of her bank, I could tell she is loved by everyone. She had the warmest eyes, and talking with her about her business (selling gasoline, parts for motorcycle repair, and baked goodies and sweets) was an absolute pleasure. She’s on her 7th loan cycle, and has been improving her business since day one. She’s a great success story, and to me, is the exact type of person microfinance is designed to reach. She deserves every single penny that her business brings in, and I’m thankful to be part of the process which has helped her along her way to escaping poverty. These sorts of stories and conversations are absolutely wonderful to hear as part of my day at “work”.

I’ll put another update up soon, perhaps after this weekend – I’m headed to Santo Domingo to celebrate the 4th of July with some of the other Americans here in the DR. It should be fun!

Have a safe and wonderful rest of your week, and a great 4th of July everyone!


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Microlending in the Dominican (What I'm doing!)

Hey everyone!

As you see above, I’m living in quite the beautiful location – I took all these pictures from my house here in the DR. It’s on this beautiful near the ocean and its gorgeous. Although the house lacks some amenities – such as a faucet upstairs, air conditioning, and power in the afternoon (the power turns off between 8am and 5pm) – it makes up for it in location. It’s a beautiful place to wake up to.

I wanted to give a little bit of an update regarding what type of work I’m doing here. I’m working with a Microfinance institituion, or an MFI. Microfinance, for those who might not know exactly what that is, is essentially the giving of credit to very poor people who don’t have access to the standard credit markets in their area. This is usually due to a lack of collateral, which banks demand in case of default. Muhammad Yunus came up with the concept in Bangladesh a couple decades ago, starting the Grameen Bank, and recently was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. If you want more information regarding microfinance, and its history, his book Banker for the Poor is his explanation and history of the concept. It’s interesting to note that the fear of default is something which MFIs don’t deal with – at the Grameen Bank, between 93-97% of loans are repaid. That’s a pretty incredible statistic, especially to those who might not be as familiar with microcredit!

I am working with a group named Esperanza International, which is a partner of Hope International, here in the Dominican Republic. Esperanza was founded by Dave Valle, a former Mariner’s catcher, here in the Dominican in the late 1990s. They are now in various cities around the DR, and have recently opened some offices in Haiti.

Within Esperanza, my internship calls me to help the organization with its relationship with Kiva is essentially a peer-to-peer lending service, which connects borrowers in countries all over the world, to people who want to help support their entrepreneurial activities. That is, you can go to, find a borrower whom you want to support, and then give anything from $25 on up to the full amount of the loan. Usually, many people end up giving to the same borrower until the full loan is paid. It’s a fantastic idea, and those who give money receive it back as the loan is paid off by the borrowers. That is, you are giving a loan, and you’ll receive the full amount back (the interest from the loan doesn’t go to you – you don’t earn any profit from being on Kiva).

So, with Esperanza, my job is to set up these profiles on Kiva for groups of borrowers, so that they are connected with those who want to help support the little businesses they run. I am going to, and have already begun, to interview groups of five women (every loan comes for a group of 5), about what they are doing with their loan, why they chose that specific type of business, what they hope for the future from the profits from their new business, etc. I just get to sit and hear stories from the most interesting people, attempting to escape from the poverty around them. It really is very inspiring. One woman I talked to yesterday got the biggest smile on her face when she was talking about how eventually she can have a home of her own for herself and her 8 month old child if her business continues to succeed.

That’s much of what I’ll be doing this summer – going with bank loan officers from the office her to go and interview those who will be receiving loans. It’s all in Spanish, and my study abroad trips of a year ago are really paying off now. It’s very rewarding to be a part of this process, and I’ll forward some of my favorite stories to all of you as I hear them!

I’ll try to get a link up on the blog sometime soon so you can see the profiles of the people that I interview, as I put them up. I also encourage you to go check out, and see if you want to be a part of that community too! It really is an integral way in which people, mostly women, are finding a way to have a consistent income to support their family.


Monday, June 22, 2009

The first fin de semana in Samana (weekend in Samana)

Hey everyone!

I’ve just finished staying my first weekend here in Samaná, and its been a blast. My host family is wonderful. I’m living with a woman named Sara, her 4 children (3 boys and a girl), and granddaughter. This part of the country is absolutely BEAUTIFUL, and the photos you see above are actually from the porch right outside my room, and from the back porch. We live on a little dirt road off the main road, on a hill a few kilometers out of town. It’s very, very beautiful just sitting in the home reading a book or looking at a storm come in from the bay.

The neighborhood here is like one big family, and everyone gathers under a tree in the shade on a hot day to talk or play dominoes. Playing dominoes is something everyone here does every day – it’s a very Dominican thing to do, as I saw many people playing dominoes when I was here a couple years ago.

I’m still getting used to the pace of life here – let’s just say that its sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. You don’t really go anywhere in the day. Or do anything. This leaves lots of time to rest or read or whatever else. Books certainly help a lot, especially since there is no internet in the house. I’m getting to know the neighborhood a bit more, and soon I may perhaps feel comfortable enough to take a place under the tree outside…for now, it’s somewhat daunting to join that sort of group who have known each other all their lives.

There is a beach about 15 minutes walking away from here, but really, it isn’t very nice. Henry and I walked down there and it was a little underwhelming. We are hoping in the future to go to other beaches perhaps a little father away and nicer on other weekends.

One last thing to note, which I find very interesting around here, is that there are no taxis in Samaná. Rather, you take what is called a “motoconcho”. Essentially, everyone here has a motorcycle with two seats on it (essentially, an extended back seat). For about a dollar, you can wave down anyone on the road, and you hop on the back of their motocycle and they’ll take you into town, or to the beach, or wherever else. I usually ask them to go a little slower than they usually do, just for safety reasons, but it’s really a very convenient way to get around town.

Today, I start my first day of work, and I’m excited to begin working in the villages. I’ll write a post in a couple days describing to you exactly what I’m doing – I’m writing up profiles for groups of women who want loans to post on This is a peer-to-peer sharing website where people can loan money to anyone around the world who is seeking a microloan to start a business. It’s a very novel idea, and it’s exciting for me to be part of this.

I’ll describe it more in detail, and perhaps a couple of stories, when I finish my first few days of work!

Friday, June 19, 2009

In the DR!

Hey all!

I have now been in the Dominican since Tuesday, and I wanted to give a quick update of what’s been going on. I’m currently in my last night here in Santo Domingo (the capital of the DR), and the last couple days have been filled with training for us new interns. We’ve been going over some of what our jobs are here in the DR, and it’s finally becoming a bit more clear on what exactly I’ll be doing. I’ll be in the city of Samaná, which is in the northern part of the country, on a peninsula. Look it up – it’s gorgeous! I’ll have an update after the weekend talking about the city. For now, it’s time to move cross-country (for the DR that means a 3 hour bus) and get myself established in a new place of the world!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Off to the DR in a few hours!

Hey everyone -

This will be the place to look at my blog while I have an internship down here in the Dominican. I have committed myself to having a better blog, with more updates. I am extremely excited for what is going to happen in the DR this summer, and I'll let you all know what's happening.

For those who might not know, I am interning for Esperanza International, a microfinance NGO. I'll be in the city of Samana (in the north coast - you can look it up on Google Earth). It should be BEAUTIFUL. They haven't given me specific tasks yet, and I'll let you know how I'll be aiding in the distribution of credit to the impoverished when I find out more!

Talk to you upon arrival!