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I leave my house for work and get called over by two village women awaiting their chance to do business with the chief. The first smiles...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

La Romana, Part II

My second week in a Romana started with great excitement and the opportunity to see an amazing difference (other than toilets and the inconsistent electricity) between the Dominican Republic and the US. At lunchtime Monday, part of our team went for a walk in the neighborhood surrounding the hospital. During the walk, one of the team members had her camera stolen right out of her hand.

Once the people in the neighborhood caught on to what had happened, nearly fifty of them surrounded the members of our team as if to protect them. They called the hospital to have our group picked up and said they knew who took the camera. They also stressed that the thief was not actually from their area and were quite upset he was giving them a bad name. Later that night, Moises—the hospital administrator—came to our compound…with the camera. Because he, Kristy (the American Baptist missionary), and the hospital are so well respected by people in the area, Moises was able to get the camera back. There had been no harm to it, although it did have a picture Lisa hadn’t taken on it which we assumed to be the thief’s young daughter.

It amazes me that the camera was retrieved. If a camera was stolen in any American town, we would never see it again. In a less affluent, less “safe” country, however, the camera was recovered. I really doubt anyone would even try to recover something like a camera in the US. What does that say about our society?

We accomplished quite a bit of work during our second week, even though our construction team was only one-third as large as the first week. We poured 48,000 pounds of cement on Tuesday to create the first ten feet of the elevator shaft. My job all of that day was receiving and pouring the buckets of cement into the frame. As usual, I ended up covered in my work by the end of the day, with cement even hiding behind my ears!!!

I also got in some pretty intense crowbar action a few days later when the cement had dried. The guys that built the framing along the interior of the shaft did a great job…except that almost all the nails were on the side now covered by cement. Not a problem for me, I really like using a crowbar. After the fun of demolition, I decided I might have to buy myself one and spend my Saturday afternoons in junkyards.

I spent Wednesday of the second week with the medical team in a Batey. It took us over an hour to get to Batey 50, which was way out by the mountains. Most of the Bateys are owned by the company that owns the sugarcane. This one, however, was an exception. If possible, this one was even poorer than the majority of them. Given that most do not have electricity, running water, or toilets, it takes a lot to be a noticeably poorer Batey. Members of the medical team who have been to many Bateys in the past decade commented that this was one of the poorest they’d seen.

In a lot of the Bateys, the small shacks at least started out uniform. These were made of scrap pieces of wood and metal, clearly never built by the company. Previously, I had been told that even five years ago many Batey children had orange hair and bloated bellies, but that was something not really seen anymore thanks to the work medical teams have been doing. I saw at least four children with those telltale signs of severe malnutrition. Hopefully the work I was doing—dispensing wormer to eliminate intestinal parasites—will help ensure that those children become healthier.

My last morning in La Romana proved to be quite entertaining. I learned that I know enough French to get myself into trouble, but not quite enough to get myself out of it. In fact, almost not enough to notice I’ve gotten into it! I spent two hours talking in French with a guy who lives at the compound about whether or not I should get married. His primary argument was that I have many choices now, but by twenty-eight all the worthy men will be married. Apparently, as I realized much later when instructed to think about it, he was saying we should marry (Green card anyone?) rather than simply telling me I was on my way toward being an old maid. Admittedly, I might not have noticed because I thought he was trying to set me up with a mutual friend I had hugged seconds before the conversation started, still it provided much amusement to me as well as some incentive to study my French a bit more often! It is probably a good thing that I was leaving that day or I may have ended up married.

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