Life Away from the US

I don’t know why it’s taken 3 weeks for me to finish this post but, regardless, here it is — FINALLY. As you might or might not know, I was in the Caribbean from November 9th-27th — Puerto Rico for 6 days and then the Dominican Republic for 12. Taking an extended break from work and everyday life connected to everything and everyone online was definitely long overdue. So, what are my thoughts after my trip? Several things…

First, my 1st exposure to life in a 3rd world country was definitely a great life experience, and one I will not ever forget. Culture in the Dominican Republic is unreal and I guarantee I’ll visit the country again.

One of my close friends and I often talk about “how long can the world sustain the environmental damage we are inflicting on it?” — after seeing what it’s like in a 3rd world country, I’m not optimistic AT ALL. Don’t get me wrong, the Dominican Republic is an absolutely beautiful country, but that can’t hide the fact that trash is everywhere. In the DR, taking out the garbage means piling it on the nearest street corner to be picked up by a truck at a later date (no real set schedule). I can only imagine how bad the environment is in places such as India and China that have seen massive, massive industrial growth over the past decade with little environmental regulation. I don’t know how much more environmental damage the world can accomodate.
“Que lo que?” — who knew such a simply saying could bring so many smiles to kids faces. I’ve honestly never seen kids so happy with so little. I’ve said it before — the materialism in the US is pathetic. If kids in the Dominican Republic are happy while having very limited material possessions, why is it that kids in the US need an iPod or a new xbox 360 to “be happy”?

People in the Dominican are amazingly friendly. Very seldom does a visit to a colmado (small supermarket) go by without chatting with someone. It certainly makes me realize that not enough people here in the US spend time just talking and enjoying each other’s company.

Transportation — wow, what a different experience than transportation in the US. There are just about zero laws to obey when driving (I would have said zero except for the fact that someone told me they got pulled over before). I don’t know how a passive tourist from the states would ever navigate the roads of Santo Domingo. It’s not uncommon for cars pull out in front of a line of oncoming cars to cross a street. Streetlights are, well, not very common. “Public cars” (usually Corollas or Accords from the 1980′s) that barely run, often have no door panels and sometimes are without side windows, with rusted out floors (when I stepped out of one, I felt my foot sink halfway through the floor), and transport 6 full grown adults + the driver — cost 12 peses per person for a 10 block ride along a main route. Cross-country bus trips (roughly 5 hours) are often freezing — the AC for one trip I took was set to 16 degrees celsius. Motorcycles are the norm. And, horses are still a somewhat common means of transportation in rural environments.

Microfinance really does make a difference. By now. most of you know I’m passionate about the subject — and this trip definitely only increased that passion. I saw groups of entrepreneurs who received their 1st loans. I visited women running small businesses out of their homes in order to build better lives for their children. I got a 1st-hand glimpse of the significance of giving hard working men and women the means to bring themselves out of poverty.

I think my friend said it best — “In the DR [and the 3rd world in general], people work to live. In the US, we live to work.” That’s a pretty big difference. When you have to worry about food on the table, paying the bus fare to/from work, and finding quality shoes to put on your feet, you don’t really have time to worry about whether you have the latest and greatest mp3 player.

If you’re sitting at your computer reading this, I really do hope you understand how truly privileged you are.

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