Saturday, November 29, 2008


I've been telling you all about one of the more fantastic chain of events and the themes that run through it so that you might imagine how rare of a country Cuba is. It is very different, and doesn't always make sense in many more different ways. The ways things happen here don't necessarily fit the context of a latin country, or a western one, they don't fit with a developing one or a developed one, a country that has resources or doesn't, is managing them from a socialist mandate or with capitalist aspirations. Yet all of these seem to be true in Cuba.
But let's leave the socio-economic and political descriptions behind.
First, I'm going to second Jess' motion to recognize Ranil as a far-out walking encyclopedia who radiates a passionate and yet serene energy. I had a hell of a lot of fun learning from him. After my encounter with him, my objective is analog forestry, so much so that I have it in a tattoo (the design was originally conceived after my grandfather, an extension forester in NS, died).
I hope take on the Analog Forestry portfolio at Falls Brook Centre, and make it an example of what AF can do. I've already been thinking of three other sities that I have access to where AF might be spread.
Second, I'm going to tell you about the house where I am staying. Jean described it very succinctly as “...a rarified existence.” The family are artists. The father has sculptures around Guantanamo, in the largest Baracoa Hotel, and some of the most stirring paintings I've ever seen.
One of his sons is preparing an exhibition even now, and took time from that to do my tattoo. As artists in Cuba they are hardly of the starving sort and as hosts of foreigners they are down right rich. The house is large and green. I feel like I'm in the fifties every time I look around it. It has a patio on the front and a patio/courtyard out back. The roof is barren and accessible for sunning, or watching the street below. Because of the quality of their home, to say nothing of their hospitality, I'm sure they get more than their fair share of guests.
So, to fill out the house, let's count the family entire. The Mother and Father. From the mother's first marriage are two sons (they live elsewhere but frequent the house enough) who work in security. The two sones from this marriage, the 24 year old's wife is pregnant, the 22 year old is dating a 15 year old. Until recently there was a second pregnant lady, the wife of the one of the security guards at the house. On weekends the two daughters (8 and 9) of the other guard might visit. Next there is the Negron, Duque, the huge Dobermann who inhabits the back patio. He is a beast but really a push over. On my first day here I saw him hit by a car. He just rolled with it, missing two steps in his chase for another dog. Princesa is the little white dog a third of his size, and if ever I've seen a couple in love, these two are.
This big green box of madness is my home. Conveniently situated a three minute walk from El Puente Negro, a rail way track crossing the river that recently had a ped-way welded on the side. It's not uncommon to be crossing, especially at night and meet the train. Every time it happens I think of Stand By Me. Claudia, Jean, Ranil and Mamerto (from D.R.) had that experience one rainy night. Another eight minutes walking and you arrive at the bustling downtown Gtmo, with its Plaza, two pizzarias, and two restaurants(one is all veggie).
Eight minutes in the other direction from the house is the Formadora, the round-about with the Guantanamo sign you may have seen in Micheal Moore's film “Sicko” when he tries to bring Americans to Gtmo Naval base for free health care, and ends up taking them to the La Habana hospital. Beyond this sign, is a very agreeable fifteen minute bicycle ride (I've left behind the horrible traffic and crammed buses of La Habana where my Ipod and camera were stolen) down some gentle hills to the dry, saltly, god-forsaken savannah—a vista you could easily confuse with Africa; so easily that Claudia has left to go to Uganda on vacation, but it is here—where the farms are. This is where Analog Forestry can prove that it can turn a desert into the forest that once was.

Cuban Mechanics and BMW's

Having heard that Cubans are industriously inventive and entirely adept at improvisation with mechanical matters, or with any matter whatsoever, one might be inclined to portion out a ration of faith and hope, which Cubans would receive not altogether ungratefully with a small mark in their state issued libreta (ration record book). Seeing that the Cubans have managed to keep the old máquinas (the classic American cars), the mechanical beasts on the streets next to the organic beasts of burden, for fifty y pico years, one can rest assured that his or her hope and faith in the ingenuity of the Cuban is well founded.
My question is where does this go wrong? A BMW was rented to carry wheelbarrows across the country. A fifteen hour odyssey that cost over 500 dollars to move five wheelbarrows, an assortment of over materials and one Claudia María Menendez, Compañera, Facilitator and project coordinator. At a certain point in the night (they drove the red-eye highway to avoid the heat of the day) they got a flat tire. Out comes the spare, and on they continue undaunted. At another certain point in the night, closer to their Guantanamo destination their spare tire ponchó. Flat. They are in the middle of nowwhere, but after some diligent and dogged pursuit they discovered a ponchero. The tire is fixed and they make it the rest of the way to Guantanamo.
There is an answer to my question. We will get to it. The clues to the answer lead back to La Habana so we must follow. The car leaves Gtmo and begins the return trip, and receives its third flat tire on the trip. I know not if they had both tires repaired and so a spare was employed or if they had to forage for another ponchero, I do however know that they did finally arrive in La Habana. There must have been a diagnosis that included other problems because word we received here in Gtmo was that he BMW was toast. At least part of that diagnosis encompassed the exhaust system, which had newly been replaced and positioned too close to the wheel, and so the heat wore down three subsequent tires in a matter of 30 hours of road time.
The Mechanics went wrong is their knowledge of the portion of the anatomy of the car. The anatomy of my question has grown then: In a country were resources are so scarce and it serves everyones best interests to avoid the waste of resources like this and other exemplary examples that mechanical improvisational aptitude exists and is successful, how could these mechanics go so wrong? I know that this knowledge could not be so complete in its coverage, that it is dangerous to generalize and assume. I merely pose the questions to provoke some thought.
In truth, flat tires wantonly ravage this country. People's lives are governed more by the whim of a flat tire than by the libreta or the lack of electoral options. Out of the three bicycles I have personally used here, all three have suffered flat tires, two were chronic slow leaks, one of which became terminal. Also our chauffeur Ol'Faithful (Don Fiel) suffered a flat tire while he was conducting us back from our seed collecting picnic at the beach. In the changing of the tires, the heavy old 1957 Chevy fell off the pneumatic jack, nearly crushing Ol'Faithful. But of course, in the end his spare tired carried us safely the rest of the way home.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I feel a little sheepish submitting this post as I haven’t exactly been ‘on the ball’ when it comes to the blog, however I will say my absence has not been because of lack of experiences. Reflecting on my time spent here in the Dominican Republic thus far I realize that I have definitely had my highs and lows.
Life in Santo Domingo has been interesting to say the least. We have scored a pretty decent apartment in a safe area of the city, about a 10 minute taxi ride from the zona colonial, the old part of the city where there is actually character. Our guagua rides home from work sound familiar to what Terry and Melissa experience everyday as well. Painfully slow traffic, deafening noise, and a myriad of flashing lights. Of my travels thus far, Santo Domingo has to be the most Americanized city in Latin America. Generally, people really seem obsessed with status of which they attach to things like Burger King, brand names and expensive cars (SD has the highest BMW ratio per capital in the world). Not much different than back home. We know a woman who is pretty much paying a mortgage on a couch that she couldn’t afford but yet still complains in the same breath about not having enough money. Sometimes I like to romanticize developing countries in that they haven’t bought into capitalism like more developed countries… Santo Domingo has shown me another reality, especially in contrast to the campos we work with.
Work wise we spent the first month or so preparing for the IAFN conference that we hosted here in the Dominican Republic. The weeklong conference itself was incredibly inspiring, spent with some really interesting people. A definite highlight was learning from Ranil Senanayake. Incredible doesn’t quite describe him. For the Cuba cats they will know what I’m talking about when I say that I’ve never met someone who is so passionate, knows so much, who at the same time is just a really cool person. Good times.
Now that we are all fired up from the conference we’ve developed a new work plan. I’m on board to instigate an Analog Forestry demonstration parcela in the city’s Jardin Botanico. We’re really excited about the potential this project has to spread the good word about AF.
On a personal note, I’m proud to say that Jenny and I received our PADI open water diving certification about a month ago. Now we are pretty much mermaids!
Well, that’s about all I have to report at the moment. Miss you all back at Falls Brook and of course my fellow interns!

Pura Vida,


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

BMWs and Wheelbarrows

Once upon a time (you may even remember this though it seems like forever ago), seven interns were working away at Fallsbrook Centre, getting ready to depart for their respective placments.
I was in Jean's kitchen, and she began telling me about her idea to import a truck
into Cuba for the project's use. She says she has a contact with a shipping company and could pack a 40 foot Container with the truck, and whatever other equipment they had purchased for the project. Now, Jean knows I have a weakness for high-adventure, and I think she also enjoys the idea that I might go traipsing off on some wild adventure.
So she says to me, in a tone I will later come to know is not at all for sure, "You could take the container down on the boat!" My eyes light up; I can tell because I see them reflected in hers. And it happened: my hopes were up. I would find excuses to stop by the main house and every time I spoke to Jean I asked about the truck, the container, the boat. I can't remember at what point I realized I wouldn't be on the boat, and it wasn't a real shocking realization it was like waking up and going about your routine when you quietly remember a good dream or a great idea that has slipped away.
Here I am. Arrived. In Cuba. my spanish came back in a flood, the smell of
that low grade petroleo floods my nose, and I remember the bureaucratized mentality of mañana that has taken root in Cubans. You are all aware of the lack of resources? I've told you, right? The Bloqueo, Even though Cuba continues to trade with no fewer than 150 countries around the world. In neither the carpentry shop at the institute or the two hardware store that I went to could I find nails. Resources are scarce: The farms in Guantanamo don't have wheelbarrows, shovels, files for their machetes. They don't even have water on some of the farms. There is a storage room at the institute in which we are storing all those things for the farms, except the water of course. We just have to get them all the way across the country.
Since some when back in August there has been a rumor of a truck leaving La Habana for Guantanamo. Orlidia has been adamant that may be this Saturday the truck will take the gear and tools out for us. And Claudia would go with him to get back.
Jean and Claudia were, shall we say, lacking in faith that this truck would ever leave.
So Jean comes up with the, in my opinion, great idea for me to rent a car and drive
across Cuba and back to deliver Claudia and the equipment. Can you imagine my reaction? Like Pavlov's dog at the sound of the bell, I was drooling over this idea. I had even gone to various rental agencies for prices. I was so looking forward to this when I got the news of Claudia's option. Which, as effective as it may be, seems like also the most outrageous solution.
Claudia has a friend with a car who is willing to drive her and all the stuff out of Playa, out of La Habana, past the Bay of Pigs, past Che's memorial and tomb in Santa Clara, eastward, toward the mountains where the would be revolutionaries were still only rebels, toward the barracks that those rebels first attacked on July 26, toward the little piece of foreign soil where the world's largest military power has a naval base in the lands of it's smallest but most stubborn opposition. She will drive all the way across the country to
Guantanamo on what I will call the Great Bavarian Road Trip; in the car of her friend. Said car is a BMW.
What kind of world are we living in, indeed, where BMW's are used to transport wheelbarrows?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ramblings from La Ceiba...

La Ceiba has a section of town much like every city in Ontario has its big box stores, designed for all the foreign businesses, their mall, their pizza hut, their burger king, their dunkin' donuts, all the signs in english, all the food expensive and i am sure just as crappy, and of course everyone here heralds it as mecca, the cultural renaissance of our generation, flocked to for birthdays and christenings and wedding anniversaries, packed bumper to bumper with SUVs and taxi cabs and old US schoolbuses that serve as the public transportation, all leaning on their horns at all hours of the day, all belching a visible smog of vicious air with that burnt-tire smell of lowgrade diesel that we have come to know all to well. Unfortunately, on the one hand, our daily commute passes through this section of town twice; fortunately, on the other hand, is that we are leaving the city in the mornings and returning at night, thereby generally moving in the opposite direction of traffic, allowing us to pass with our sanity. however on the rare occassion we are headed in the direction of everybody else, the scene is almost too much to visualize: standing in the aisle of a schoolbus packed to the gills with people trying to return to the colonias after a day of work, all sweating like pigs in a factory farm in the 100 degree heat, every window open only to let in the exhaust of the sea of vechiles that surround us, motorbikes screaming their horns as they fly along the side of the road, everybody trying to go in the same direction by going in different ones, more horns, and then it starts to rain like it can only rain in the tropics, drops that could knock you off a bicycle if you weren't careful, so heavy you can hardly see two cars ahead of you, and the streets immediately begin to flood, people pass trying desperately to pedal bicycles through the knee-deep water, and i am overcome with the simultaneous sensations of distress at the suffocating feeling that sits in my chest and an almost serene relief that maybe this time the heavens have really opened up to swallow this mess we have created, and that somewhere there is an ark with two of every animal and i hope that you are on it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

el instituto y trabajo

here's an example: we went outside para sembrar unas arboles. well the thing
was that it was to hot, habia tanto sol to plant the trees. so we went
to dig the holes. cuatro huecas; four people. do you think we each dug a hole and
had done with it in a ten minute Moment? No. we watched Lourdes as she
showed us how to mark the holes. not even dig them entirely just mark there spots.
remember that these hole are maybe a foot wide and probably not even 10 inches
deep. after she marked the first hole, i grab el pico and started to
dig the second one. i was doing my best to just dig the hole straight out,
but no. "just mark it." they said. "come back later and dig the whole hoya"
so that's what happened. three stood around while one person marked the ground
for where the holes would go: finishing that we went to the garden, where there
was some turning of the ground to to not much a thin line, perhaps eleven feet
on each side of a planting bed. This was explain and the task demonstrated. then
we began to learn about the plants in the garden. as interest in as this was, "Los
huecos a mi me gritaban from their shallow bottoms "abranos y el suelo del jardin
me gratada "turname" finally i was allowed to work; el pico a mano fui a abrir
los huecos. on the third one (after perhaps, perhaps fifteen minutes - i stopped in the
shade after the second, the pick broke on a rock: maldito pico! maldita roca!
i went inside to report the development (all my IDS expectations come rushing back,
like my life flashing before my eye in that epiphanal moment before death. the irony
not lost) not seeming to shook about it, they send me to the carpentry shop. There
i met a fellow sitting in a chair looking out the door, at nothing in particular. his
compañero sits at the back of the shop: They both gather round and marvel at how much
force i must have been using, in other words, how hard i had been working, in order to break the pick.
they tell me they can fix it, but not today! they don't have the right wood.
and finally they say that famous word "mañana" stunned,
but 'not surprised, i won't push the matter. "para hoy que descansa." Even though
i'm told it's impossible i take the shovel and finish the last of the holes and
move on to the garden. which i finish despite the audience of coffee drinking, smoking
Cubans. who just want me to take a break.


llegamos en la lucha de siempre

ayer la lucha para siempre nos recibio dos mas guerillas. salieron bien los vuelos

desde Canada; pero la llegada a Cuba tomo tanto tiempo en la aduana. trajimos

dos laptops cada uno de Katie y Yo, pero solo esta permitado a sacar uno del aeropuerto.

entonces despues de una vida en la fila de aduana, y intentos sin limitas las deja mos

dos laptops allí Ias que podemos consiguir otro día con documentos del instituto de investigaciones

forestales, y unos papules legales de la aduana.

al fin Salimos del aeropuerto y fuimos directemante de nuestra hogar en la Habana,

la Contacté a Orlidia y nos arreglamos de conocernos el proximo dia. todavia la esperamos

It is hard to breath in Cuba. You can see the strangled economy in the

delapatated buildings and the frown lines, grimaces on the peoples faces. Sometimes

it takes nothing short of a miracle to find eggs. but...

i still find dapart of me longing for the life i see of people leaning on their fences

like they don't have (though i know they have many) a care in the world, and nothing is

happening (which it isn't).

y como es la lucha de siempre

Friday, September 12, 2008

Welcome interns!

Hello hello,

Hoping that our wonderful 7 international interns will find time and reason to post regularly on this blog and keep us up to date on the great projects and exciting possibilities they come across while settling in to their respective host countries!