Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Grasshopper Culture

A retiring Peace Corps doctor (that reminded me a lot of Doctor Ruth) told me yesterday that the Dominican Republic was "grasshopperland". She was referring to Asop's Fable about the ant and the grasshopper.
This is the land of "manana manana". The people here live for the day and don't do a lot of thinking about tomorrow.

This thinking extends to the government, which likes to build things but never bothers to maintain it. A good example of this is the brand-spanking new subway in Santo Domingo that puts most subway systems in the United States to shame. Meanwhile the roads are falling apart to such a degree that many are practically impassible without an SUV. In fact, some roads in my Pantoja neighborhood are even a danger to pedestrians.

It doesn't stop there. Running water is spotty at best in almost the entire country, but walk down almost any road and you'll eventually run across water from a broken water-main leaking to the surface.
I've been told there is a lot of machismo involved in building something and putting your name on it, but none in fixing it when it breaks. This is why most of the money-making businesses in the D.R. are owned by foreigners.

You can see this thinking manifested, tragically, in the educational system.

The Dominican Republic constitution requires the government to spend 4% of GDP on the educational system. The government currently spends about 2%, and even that is mostly directed at the small university system, leaving the primary school system impoverished. The D.R. educational system ranks nearly last in every category in the world.
This means that the teachers have to purchase classroom supplies...when they get paid, which isn't often. The morale of public school teachers is abysmal.

One thing there isn't a lack of is computer labs. You can find them in the most remote campos where electricity is infrequent. Often NGO's will dump thousands of dollars in expensive equipment on the community with no training or instructions. The computers will find their way to some dusty office and sit there.
I was at one of these sites last week. A veteran PCV and myself went to set up the lab. We discovered that it had been running for two years. Huge framed pictures of the graduating classes graced the walls.
While rebuilding the computers and installing programs the local professor of this computer lab sat down to talk to us. After trying to convince us to attend his church and failing, he made a comment that I found very revealing. He said, "I would like to learn how to install a program."

It makes a person wonder what exactly he had been teaching all these kids for the last two years.

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