Monday, May 31, 2010

Just in case I've given the impression of dirt floors and roads, here's an high-tech first-world aspect of Santo Domingo

First, driving east on Avenida 27 de Febrero. There is a very long public park, with lots of public art, statues, greenery, places to sit and walk - all being rehabbed at the moment. Seems like a strange place for parks, but it is very common to have them right in the middle of the roads - like giant medians you can hang out with your friends on. Talk, sit, find some shade. And of course breath some exhaust fumes, but after awhile you stop noticing.

Next, sitting at the corner of 27 and Abraham Lincoln, it's like a miniature Hong Kong or Times Square, with giant video screens towering over the traffic. You can also see a few of the superstores. Casa Cuesta is like a home store - mostly decor, I think. It's connected to Supermercado el Nacional - one of, if not the largest one I've been to. Then inside, surrounding the store at a second level are mini stores or booths - like GNC, pastries, ice cream. (Sorry, no videos of that - all left to your imagination.)

Now continuing through the light, in very light and well-behaved traffic, you see more buildings and stores. Nacional, by the way, is the nicest and most expensive supermarket, similar to one of the high end Safeways that carries all the international fruits. You'll see on the left of the car the express lanes coming up out of a tunnel. The nice thing is that these lanes, even in horrible traffic, do move quite quickly.

Now we'll go back to the corner - only night time. It's quite pretty.

More later - of different parts of town (that was showing off). by the way, the two main thoroughfares going east / west through Santo Domingo are John F Kennedy and 27 de Febrero (named for the Dominican Republic's "Fourth of July" or Independence Day from Haiti). Along with Abraham Lincoln as a beautiful higher end thoroughfares is Winston Churchill. Are you as entertained as I am at some of the street names? Through they sound very American/European - they are also names of freedom, an important statement for any country to make these days!

Heather J. Kirk, Photographer, Author, Graphic Designer"We...a spirit seeking harmony for a world that's out of sync" - purchase an e-book at: her art at: Fine Art Americaand

Saturday, May 22, 2010

There are ways around things - first, water

Now that you have experienced vicariously some of the problems I have faced, and perhaps for about as long, I want to explain (as previously promised) there are usually ways around most issues. You just need someone to tell you how: so it is best to keep your eyes wide open to what is going on around you; ask, ask, ask; or sometimes complain alot and soon someone will share some important information. They might seem like "secrets" but to the people here they may be so obvious, they didn't think to tell you (though in some situations the resolution is financially out of reach for the general population).

Water: When looking for a place to live you want to ask if there is a cisterna and a tinaco. The cistern is at ground level and is a large tank of water that fills when the city is providing water. Therefore, if the city's water is off for awhile, there is still some available to your home or apartment during this time. The tank (tinaco) is on top of the roof, pumped up from the cistern as an extra reservoir. This also helps if the power goes off, and therfore the water pump, gravity can still provide you with some water.

For drinking water, my mother and I were constantly buying water bottles, from 12 ounce to 1 liter bottles for 20 to 30 pesos per bottle. Use the money converter tool off to the right to find out what that is in US Dollars. You will change it from Dominican Republic pesos. Because you will be hot and thristy and sweaty, you can go through loads of money very quickly just for drinking water. Until you learn that you can get huge botellons of water for about 45 pesos (the same size of the water bottles we have delivered to homes in the States). Most people have them delivered here also, so add another 20 - 25 pesos for a tip.

There is an initial investment of 100 - 300 pesos for the bottle. Then some people buy the dispenser, some buy or create a wrought iron swinging mechanism to pour it. I set it on the top of my bureau, and tipped it carefully to fill a water pitcher that I chilled in the fridge. If you happen to buy the botellon bottle from one water company, but the local colmado (corner store - that also delivers - a very nice perk by the way in living here) only sells another brand of water, they will open the new water bottle and pour it into your bottle. I was a little worried about they hygiene of doing this over and over, but as long as I kept the bottle capped all the time, I figured it was okay for the short term.

It is quite entertaining to watch them pour the entire bottle of water - there appears to be a distinct technique that makes it successful, along with strength, patience and great focus. I am including here a video of this pouring process. Sorry that it is sideways, but it kind of makes it even more entertaining because it creates the illusion that the water is constantly about to fall out of the lower bottle. At the end of the video I show that there is not a single drop of water on the floor!

The Dominican Republic is a photographer's dream for many reasons, but one of my favorites is that everyone wants to be photographed. They often ask to be photographed if they see a professional camera. And it is very easy and comfortable to ask people if I may take their picture. Find someof those photos on: Fine Art America and

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Contentment is Hard Work!

Contentment is Hard Work!

You must understand that other than my latest "Venezuela" post (that came out of a conversation with a local just a few hours before writing it), all that I write is not only very personal and subjective, but also "old news," at least to me, if not to you. I am so far behind in writing about my experiences that I feel like I am living a double life. I want you to understand the struggles and culture shock I experienced, yet through persistence and the help of others, many of the technological issues, limited "world view" and terrible loneliness have changed. I just haven't written about the changes yet, because I have not shared with you the full foundation, the first month and a half. But today, I wish to sum up my emotional state after my mother left, if not already clear. I struggled greatly with loneliness, at times depression and often questioning my decision to move. With language issues, transportation constraints, monetary limits, stories of strikes, potential dangers of being here as a single woman, lack of friends, and getting sick when I ate out at the college cafeterias within walking distance - I felt, to put it bluntly, imprisoned.

In future posts I will still share with you some of the stories of "the past," including notes on most of the above, but it is time to start telling you how I dealt with the difficulties, as well as challenging you to consider how you would respond personally.

Last night I attended a presentation by a famous local architect and professor. His son gave a moving tribute in which he said he is following in his father's footsteps to become an architect. But his father did not teach him his own style or technique. His father instead taught him how to think. I could not help but tear up along with the speaker, because if there was only one thing we all need to learn how to do - it is to learn how to think. It’s what I strove to do when I was a counselor in schools, to teach the children critical thinking skills – not just to memorize and spit back out.

So I hope when I write that here in DR there is not always hot water or electricity, perhaps an architect or builder is thinking, "What a fantastic market for solar power!"

When I told my brother about a friend's difficulty in getting windows installed in her home because of repeated delays - he was thinking, "If an installer got a reputation for being on time, he could have a huge competitive edge. But first he'd have to address the problems of having the windows delivered on time, so that he could install them on time"

Maybe you don't think in terms of building or installing. What about getting cash when you can’t open a bank account and all but one bank's ATM will work. How about trying to get cell phone service or an internet connection when you don’t know if you’ll be her longer than three months, but they want you to sign an 18-month contract? It's not just here in the Dominican Republic you may face various difficulties of this kind, but right where you are.

And yet the ability to resolve annoying problems is not the contentment I speak of in the title of this blog, though this too is hard work. It is the contentment that we need even when: the electricity goes out and it is really hot, when torrential rains fill the streets and stall cars, when the internet keeps disconnecting, when it takes five calls to the phone company to resolve a problem. Has anyone in the United States dealt with such things? Of course. Most of the problems I have with the telephone company here is that I run out of minutes while I am on the phone calling to resolve problems with my health insurance (in the US) or with false charges on my credit card (in the US) or arguing with the US-based e-bay on a three hour "chat" in which they keep passing me off to someone else. Then the phone or the internet here gets cuts off. Hmm, where exactly is the problem?

Well, whether it is here or there, I struggle with that Bible verse in which Paul brags, "For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11 – 13.

It's so easy to say, "Well that's Paul. He was an Apostle. I’m not like that." Because many of us have heard this verse over and over it becomes so rote that we miss one word - "learned.” "I have learned to be content in everything...I have learned the secrets…" It did not come easily or naturally to Paul either. But we, or should I just speak for myself and say “I”? I want to be content and not have to learn it, not have to work for it. I want contentment to fall down on me and fill me, overtake me, control me... even when I forget to pray for that contentment I want contentment. Even when I’m complaining and don't even try to be content.

Just before beginning this trip, my mother gave me the book "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, because her experiences reminded my mom of the adventure I was about to begin. I’ll say up front, the book is not Christian. She uses some Christian terminology and gives credit for her emotional healing to God. Still, the author helped me to finally understand what Paul was saying and what I (all of us) need to do when it comes to lack of contentment.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes, "But I felt a glimmer of happiness when I started studying Italian, and when you sense a faint potentiality for happiness after such dark times you must grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt--this is not selfishness, but obligation. You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight."

Therefore, the author helped me to understand what I already knew - happiness (or contentment) is hard work. And that hard work is worth it. This is where the double life comes in: Somewhere between the first six weeks that I still write about, and month four that I currently exist in, I made an important decision. I chose to be happy. Of course that decision is not a one-time decision. I have to remind myself all the time. I have to work at or learn to be content. And when I remember, somehow I am.

Heather J. Kirk, Photographer, Author, Graphic Designer "We...a spirit seeking harmony for a world that's out of sync" - purchase an e-book at:

Saturday, May 8, 2010

PhotoGraphic Artisry Slideshow

Here is a Slideshow of art found on the Fine Art America Site. I am told that since this slideshow is created without Flash it shold work properly on smart phones that cannot run flash (like some of the new Apples).

Art Prints
Heather J. Kirk, Photographer

Find her art at: Fine Art America and

Friday, May 7, 2010

Poetry Award

I just received notice that I received an Honorable Mention Award for the Spring 2010 Lucidity International Clarity Poetry Competition. No more info at this time, not even which of the three poems I submitted won the honor. Will share more when I know more.

Heather J. Kirk, Photographer, Author, Graphic Designer "We...a spirit seeking harmony for a world that's out of sync" - purchase an e-book at:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

In Between the US and Venezuela

Politics in the Dominican Republic are just as complicated as in the US, perhaps even more so as a non-superpower; an island somewhere between major drug producers and major drug consumers; with a history of corruption and bribery as a way of making a political office into a profitable business; and great efforts to change as much of this as possible (except for the "island" part).

Someone recently asked me what the economy of Arizona was based on - what were our resources. I thought about the irony then answered, "It's a dry Dominican Republic: tourism, agriculture and technology." (The DR has been growing as a Caribbean Silicon Valley, attracting techies and companies from US and Europe.) We could probably add major Call Centers to both Arizona and DR as well.

While historically Americans have only been 15% of visitors, in the past month they were 60% (maybe a good sign that our own economy is improving!) DR depends on the US for Aid as well as a good part of its economy in the form of both imports and exports. Money from Dominicans living in the States (mostly New York City and Miami, it seems) provides an infusion of cash into the island (which has decreased greatly in the last few years and dramatically affected the lives of the poor here).

The economy of the Dominican Republic has maintained positive growth, while much of the rest of the world has had losses. But like the recent growth in the US stock market, the DR's economic growth has not yet translated to income for tourist industry workers who lost jobs in the worldwide downturn. Still, the word "depends" on the United States is not correct. The economy is diversified, as well as the regions that tourists come from.
As we have already learned, traffic congestion (specifically here in Santo Domingo, not throughout the island) is comparable to Manila - so fuel consumption is just about the highest in Latin America. Since we are not even providing our own oil for our own needs, then we obviously are not providing oil to the Dominican Republic. SO, they are getting it from our Venezuelan nemesis, Hugo Chavez. It is interesting to see how carefully and successfully President Leonel Fernandez finds that balance - keeping friendships with both countries. And how different the Venezuelan President seems when he visits here - smiling, laughing, friendly, happy.

But of course he is happy. He was here in DR today to sign an agreement to take over 49% of the DR government owned oil refineries here. He then hopes to help DR provide gasoline to the rest of the Caribbean. The US should take note for many reasons.

• His persona makes him appear like a great guy.
• Venezuela is providing something the DR is highly dependent on (like us): oil.
• Venezuela is providing a way for the DR to become a major exporter in gasoline, and therefore income.
• He will one day try to put a wedge between the DR and the US. He will have great power and own 49% of a government company and resource.
• Venezuela has taken what is not theirs before.

Need I say more...