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,