A matter of perspective

Disclaimer: I would like everyone to know that I am extremely grateful to the United States, my adoptive country, for giving me the opportunity to adequately provide for my children and to succeed professionally by pure hard work. This doesn’t mean I negate my home country, Dominican Republic. It only means that I appreciate having been accepted and having my work rewarded.

Having said that, Americans (in general, I’m sure YOU are not like that) tend to be a bit, how shall I put it, self-centered. Not individually (though there are some of those as there are everywhere), but collectively, as a nation. I have a suspicion that World Geography is either not taught, or is an elective (doomed to never be “elected” by any hot-blooded child, not that they’re to blame). Consequently, the average American young person (older people excluded here due to their having lived world wars and thus learned about other countries) KNOWS there are other countries besides the US; however, this average young person is not sure what the names of these countries are, or where they reside in the global planet scheme of things. It would seem to me that a world map, in many of these persons’ minds, looks like this:

Please note the vague gray areas which resemble countries, but one cannot ever be sure.

Now, a map of the United States, per these young people, might look like this:

I am sure it is not their fault, but the sum of many misguided hints. Please indulge me as I give you some examples:

1. The World Series – There is nothing worldly about the World Series, played in the US by US teams (and, if lucky, a Canadian team). Wait, I take that back, there IS a worldly thing – the players. There are numerous foreign-born pro-baseball players. In fact, one cannot throw a stick at any of these teams without hitting a Hispanic player, who will most likely be Dominican, and more often than not from San Pedro de Macoris (which happens to be my hometown but that’s not here nor there).

A few years ago, my office mates (a Chilean translator, and an American who had served in the Navy and lived in several countries during his service) and I had the idea to do a little survey. We would ask whoever came in our shared office the following question: “How many countries are there in North America?” Some of the answers:

“This is a trick question, right?”
“One”
“Ha! You thought I’d forget Canada – two”
“Everyone knows that – One, the United States.

NOT ONE PERSON KNEW. Of approximately 15 people surveyed in a global industry environment. It is sad, but I’d like to mention here that, contrary to popular belief, “America” is NOT a country, it is a WHOLE CONTINENT. The US is only one of the countries in America, and not the one with the most original name either. Actually, it is a very vague name, when one considers that the legal name of our neighbors to the South (hint: they are still part of North America) is Mexican United States (DBA Mexico). So technically, Mexico is also a United States of America, but let’s not dwell. So, people from Canada (gasp!), Brazil or Argentina, are in fact Americans. This brings me to the second example:

2. Other Countries – This is where our children get confused. Just the other day (as if the example above were not enough), I witnessed an exchange on a popular social network. The conversation goes so:

  • Person Who Is Travelling For Work: I’m going to Budapest at the end of the month! Does anyone have any suggestions as to what to do, places to see?
  • Person Who Might Have Been There But Maybe Not: Awesome! It’s a beautiful city, you’ll love it!
  • Person Who Actually Knows Budapest (I believe it may have been a Budapest resident): This is great! You should go to [insert place] and eat at [insert restaurant].
  • Clueless Person: Huh? Budapest? Where is that? I don’t know where Budapest is?
  • CluelessER Person: I think it’s a borough in NY. Or maybe a foreign community in Des Moines (OK, I made that one up).

Now, SERIOUSLY?? Clueless Person?? So in these days when knowledge and information are at the tip of your fingers – literally (and believe you me, I use that word with caution), instead of GOOGLING “Budapest” you chose to broadcast to the entire population of the Earth (including baffled and offended Budapest denizens), plus the occasional alien monitoring social media from far out galaxies (for entertainment purposes), your absolute geographical ignorance??? It would have taken less than what it took to write that unhelpful comment. It is not like you had to go fetch a heavy encyclopedia tome, provided you do know where in the alphabet the word Budapest would be. Sigh.

Interactive blog activity: Do YOU know where Budapest is? Suggestions and ideas welcome. Please comment on this blog with your thoughts and I promise I’ll feature the best comment (and its author) in a future blog.

3. The media – OK. I hear your collective groan. Bear with me. Let me preface this section by saying that I am in no way making light of the terrible devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of our country. What I am going to refer to is the media behavior PRIOR to a storm, any storm, any day, any year.

So here goes what you would see/hear at these situations:

–          Anchorperson 1: Let’s go to our weather expert, Justin Windfall, who is on location in South Miami, Florida, to get the latest on Tropical Storm Horace!

–          Weather Person Justin Windfall: [prolonged pause, like Weather Person is actually in Greenland, instead of Florida (though come to think of it, Florida is not technically the US… but that’s another blog)]. Yes, Melanie, this is terrifying! I am here joined by Jesus Hernandez, long-time resident of Miami. We are here at the local Home Depot, where Jesus is buying some boards. Jesus, what are you doing to prepare for the storm?

–          Jesus Hernandez: Well, like you said, I am buying some boards.

Now, I ask you – What did Jesus do with the boards he bought LAST YEAR, for last year’s hurricane? Did he chop them up for firewood? Do you need firewood in South Miami? Really.

So the screen gets back to the studio.

–          Anchorperson 2: As folks prepare for the hurricane-force winds in the next few days, 2 Americans have been evacuated from Haiti by Coast Guard teams volunteering for this dangerous mission.

There is nothing wrong with this, of course. US citizens should be taken care of by the government wherever they are. However, this is being said as the storm is swallowing entire islands whole, while digesting the previous 97 islands she previously ate. But then again.

–          Anchorperson 2: Let’s go to our correspondent Frank Winterberger, in South Dakota. He is there now with Ernie and Mildred Winthrop, who were just rescued from Haiti, where they were researching the history of Voodoo [shot of Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop, wearing Hawaiian shirts – though to my knowledge to this day never has Haiti been confused with Oahu]. “It was a harrowing experience!” – says Mildred. “We didn’t know if we could get out alive!” – says Ernie.

Meanwhile, the entire third of island that Haiti occupies in Santo Domingo is entirely wiped out, not that there was anything there to wipe out anyway. So the fact is Yes! We evacuated 2 Americans! And Crap! 20,000 Haitians died! It’s sort of ironic.

In any case, my point is (I have a point!!) that there are HORRIBLE things happening in other countries, caused by the same threat looming over the US, and there is a certain lack of awareness that there exist other countries, other peoples, and that they are WAY WORSE than Americans are. Do reflect.

Two different worlds + Possible Storm of Century: A look into hurricane preparedness

“We’re not trying to hype it,” National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Kocin tells Bloomberg News. “What we’re seeing in some of our models is a storm at an intensity that we have not seen in this part of the country in the past century.”

Hmm. Time to stock up. This, I was surprised to see when I first moved from the Caribbean to the US, is done in an extremely logical and organized way here. Supplies look like this:

Figure 1.
           

On the other hand (would be fair to say, in another world), my fellow islanders (more specifically, Dominicans) would gather essentials such as these:

Figure 2.

         

Irresponsible, you say? Shaking your collective heads, New Englanders? I can explain.

In your average Caribbean island dwelling, the following supplies are ALWAYS available (not only for natural disasters, but as daily life staples):

–          Water – There is not a faucet in the entire country one would trust to drink from. Thus, innumerable containers with water “for drinking and cooking” are handy in every room. As for water for cleaning, bathing, washing – well, that is where Ms. Sandy comes in handy: Every caldero and bucket is sitting outside catching rain water.

–          Batteries, flashlights, gas lamps – Power outages are a fact of life. Not a day goes by that there isn’t one.

–          Food – Non perishable items, such as the plantain tree in the backyard or the freely-roaming chickens are available year-round. Also, there is no money to buy what people don’t already have.

Radios are always around, not to listen to the National Weather Service or Emergency Management authorities (who, come to think of it, may have gathered the exact same supplies shown in Figure 2), but to listen to music or radio soap operas.

Hurricanes are thought of as excuses for being off work and school. The whole vecindario gets together (please refer to dominoes and cards) and alcohol replaces milk. As the storm brings tons of water and strong winds, people (having consumed by the 3rd hour approximately 7 bottles of rum) are grateful for a respite from the heat. A communal sancocho (thick Dominican soup) is underway. The comadres gossip, the compadres drink even more and gamble, and the occasional fight is stopped by the neighborhood abuela (who is usually a small old lady  — don’t be fooled, everyone is scared to death of her, and with reason — who everyone calls “Mama” or just “La Doña”, and who achieves this by separating the fighting parties and smacking each one in the head).

Having grown up in this environment, I find it difficult to get alarmed when there is a hurricane alert. Why, I have survived approximately 37 major storms by now, with a lot less resources and inadequate emergency supplies (please refer again to Figure 2). My husband, on the other hand, looks at me with alarm and barely refrains from shaking me to drive some sort of reason into my carefree island head. Me? I say bring it on, Sandy. I’m ready.