We have been living here in the DR for more than 8 months now, and I feel as if I can finally fill you all in on some differences. Most of them are not better or worse, but they took some adjusting. I’ll try to put them into an order so things make a little bit of sense as I go on. Enjoy!
DR: Electricity in this country differs from place to place. We are lucky to have luz for just about 24 hours a day. Usually it goes out 1-2 days a week for part of the day, and when it is storming, besides that it’s rare (once a month) that it goes out more than that. In other parts of the country, there are volunteers that get electricity 12 hours a day, some with three hours in the morning and night, and some with electricity for a few hours every few days.
Why? It’s complicated. Some parts of the country it’s hard to run electricity lines to. Other places it’s expensive to have electricity and people don’t pay their bills, thus resulting in fewer hours with electricity, others, who knows?
NE: Electricity all the time. Unless a line went out in a big storm, maybe once or twice a year for a few minutes.
DR: The town where we live gets water three times a week (which is mucho). Our water goes into a large tank under the ground and sits there until we need it. We then have to plug in our water pump for the water to rise into our apartment and through our pipes. At our host family’s house, we had a tank on top of the roof that filled up, which meant we did not need to plug in a pump to use the water. What do you need to use a water pump? Electricity. Which means no electricity = no water. To use the pump, it’s expensive, so we only use it when we’re out of water or we’re doing a lot of cleaning/washing clothes.
In other parts of the country, volunteers get water from rivers, or have to buy water off of a truck. There may be a handful of volunteers in the whole country that do not have a large barrel or bucket that they keep water in.
I almost forgot to mention that our water is never warm, unless we boil it first. I don’t think water heaters really exist in this country except in hotels.
NE: Hot water or cold water? I can get either in seconds, from any faucet I want.
DR: We are not allowed to drive any type of motor vehicle while in country. Plus, I don’t know who could afford one anyway on our salary.
If I am going anywhere within my site, I walk. Nowhere I can’t get within 20 minutes. If I am leaving sites to go somewhere nearby I usually take a carro publico or a guagua. For further trips I take buses. In the capitol, I try to use the metro whenever I can. Oh yeah, taxi’s exist, too, but they’re too expensive to use.
A carro publico is a shared taxi with a fixed route. It drives back and forth picking up and dropping off people as it goes. The fun part? The normal size car holds 7: four in the back, three in the front (including the driver).
Guaguas are over-sized vans that hold 11 or so people in the states. Here? They squeeze in as many as they can, many times getting 20+ during the busy times of day.
The other buses we take are anywhere from a school bus style, to a greyhound bus with a bathroom and air conditioning. Luckily, if I go to the capitol, my 5 hour bus ride is with a reclined seat and AC.
Other forms: Motoconchos are motorcycle taxis. I avoid them. Taxis are common, but on my salary I only use them when absolutely necessary. Some volunteers have bikes or horses to get around. Our site is not feasible for either.
NE: I had a car, Keeg had a car… I could go anywhere I wanted. Oh yeah, or bike anywhere.
4. Electronic Communication
DR: Remember those little Nokia phones from about ten years ago? That’s what we have, but a tiny step up. Ours have colored screens. We have to pay to put minutes on our phone ahead of time-no contracts with these.
Our internet is through a cell phone company. It is a modem that is plugged into the wall that comes through a cell phone company. Luckily, we have wifi, but with two salaries it is easier to afford. We have a 10G plan, and after that it slows down.
Other volunteers without electricity or cell phones have no such luck and have to travel pretty far for internet. Others buy little USB sticks that they can buy a day’s worth of internet through a phone company and use that.
NE: Wifi in the house. Internet on our cell phones.
DR: Hot. Humid. The sun is always out. At least up here on the north coast. I still feel like it’s August… and it’s mid-November. I had a friend that lives in the mountains a couple hours away tell me that she slept in pants the other night! I couldn’t believe it… we can’t get away with that yet. Other parts of the country have had some major rain, but we’ve only had a few storms over the past few months. So far I have not thought once that I am now in the fall when we arrived in the winter. It’s all been the same: hot.
NE: Summers are unbearably hot, winters are unbearably cold and sometimes snowy. Spring is rainy and fall is cool.
DR: When the pump is plugged in, we can take a shower with water pressure. When it’s not (it’s pretty expensive) we bucket bathe. Let me remind you that we do not have hot water. I consider ourselves lucky, though, because we are in the minority of volunteers that have the option to take a real shower. Bucket bathing is the norm here, and most of the time it literally is in a bucket in the middle of the kitchen or another empty space. Some have rivers for bathing.
NE: Hot shower? Bubble bath?
7. Washing Clothes
DR: We have a washing machine! No, it’s not what you are thinking. Our washing machine has two compartments, a large compartment with moving bottom, and a smaller compartment with a spinner. The large compartment is used for filling with water and soap and clothing. You then set the timer (usually 15 minutes) and the clothing gets rotated around. The small compartment is used for rinsing and drying. You put the clothes (usually half a load) into the spinner (same concept as a salad spinner), and add some fresh water. I then turn the timer to about 3.5 minutes and let it spin, rinsing then eventually almost drying it. After that, I hang it on our clothes line outside. Before we had a washing machine? Everything was washed by hand…. which we lasted about a month then we caved.
Here is a photo:
The black bucket is what holds our water. The large compartment is on the left. We put it into the shower each time we wash clothes, otherwise in order to dump the water after each load we’d have to use buckets.
NE: Washing machine – I put the clothes in dry and dirty and a while later they come out wet and clean. Dryer – I put the clothes in wet and a while later they come out dry.
DR: Gas stove. First turn on the gas, next light a match and turn on a burner, cook your food.
Here is a photo of our setup:
NE: Oven, Stove, Microwave, Toaster, Coffee Maker, etc.
9. Washing Dishes
DR: Hand wash! If the water is off, I take my tupperware of water and fill it up. I wash my dishes then put them in the other side of the sink. After I wash, I rinse with the bucket water, then put them in our handy plastic drying rack. We’re lucky and actually have a sink. Some volunteers have buckets.
Here is a photo:
10. Drinking Water
DR: Water from the faucets here is not safe to drink. PC supplied us with a handy dandy water filter that we normally use in order to have drinking water. When we’re low on water or lazy, we buy a botellon.
NE: I drank faucet water.
DR: The school day is 3-4 hours a day, with a 15 minute recess. Each day usually has two tandas or sessions. Depending on the schools, some teachers teach in both tandas, sometimes 1st grade in the morning, and 8th grade math in the afternoon. High schools are only in larger areas, thus meaning it is difficult or expensive to get to. Our community with about 15,000 people doesn’t have one. Class sizes normally range from 30-50, sometimes being smaller because so many of the children do not come, which makes for a class size that is acceptable to teach, but means many are not getting any education.
Luckily, the country is changing currently. While I am here, I am slowly going to see schools around me switch to a full day. This means almost every location needs to build a new school, or double the size in order to have enough classrooms for each grade level.
NE: School day is 8 hours, mandatory until age 16-18, and class size is less than 25.
12. Lunch Break
DR: 2 hours
NE: 30 minutes
13. Wine and Cheese
DR: Wine that is less than US$5 in plastic cups, with shredded cheese (we’re lucky enough to live close to an international grocery store), or weird colmado cheese that isn’t any specific type.
NE: Good wine. Wine glasses. Multiple varieties of cheese. Ugghh…
DR: Presidente, Bohemia, or Brahma. Always a 40 (jumbo). Hopefully with a vestido de novia or wedding dress (you know, that white frost).
NE: Any brand or flavor I want. Even tap!
NE: Anything the mind can think of… Even cake flavored vodka!
DR: Rice, Beans, Chicken. Fried salami or cheese. Viveres: Potatoes, Yuca, plantains, etc.
NE: Literally anything I could want. Except maybe extremely fresh seafood.
I think this is a good list to start. When I think of more, I’ll make another.