Thursday, July 30, 2009

Video Fusion

Hitler Reacts to the latest new about the cement factory near the National Park Los Haitises

Friday, April 3, 2009

Women’s Project Seeks Community Transformation

The Women’s Center for Holistic Health in Las Terrenas (Dominican Republic) seeks to provide programs and services that address vital needs in the female population from puberty to menopause. Women are 50% of the population in Las Terrenas, estimated at 20,000, in which two-thirds are under 40 years of age and 47% is under 19 years of age. Two-thirds of the population did not continue with schooling after the 6th grade and though 75% of the people say that they know how to read and write, in reality more than 50% ended school by the 4th grade. Almost one-fifth of the female population reports being subjected to some kind of physical abuse and at least one in ten reports having received some type of physical threat.
In addition to the social, economic and educational limitations in the female population, there’s an extreme lack of basic services in the areas of physical and mental health, in addition to an absence of legal and physical protection for cases of domestic violence. There’s wide evidence of need in the areas of sexual, family and parenting education while the community virtually offers nothing in the areas of children services, particularly in regards to education, health and protection.
With those factors in mind, the Women’s Center for Holistic Health in Las Terrenas seeks to offer programs and services of a preventive, training and educational nature, in order to help eliminate the causes, reduce the consequences and to promote better practices that will increase the quality of life among children, girls and women in the community.
During 2007 Fundación Mahatma Gandhi facilitated a cardiovascular research Project that benefited 1071 persons, mostly women (see and conducted two medical operatives, including one focused on women’s health (see
During 2008 the Foundation carried out social research through which 140 adolescents ages 12-18 completed a questionnaire, 120 women were interviewed in their homes, and focus groups were conducted with women’s groups and specialized audiences in the community. At the end of 2008 steps were taken to start a micro-credit program as a pilot, which now benefits 15 women in the barrios Come Pan and Caño Seco. The first loans were disbursed March 2009. These projects depended on the collaborative support of ACES North America ( and Esperanza International (
The project will depend on external sources for funding in order to fulfill its goal and objectives, including the purchase or building of a place, the hiring of qualified and well-trained professionals and the execution of a calendar of services that are appealing and effective.
If you wish to help or want additional information write to or visit

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Gringos" in Las Terrenas

“Gringo” is a term used in many parts of the Dominican Republic to identify any foreign-born person. Traditionally the term is deemed to be derogatory towards people from the U.S. (USians), but in the local usage it´s not meant to be. Conversely, it is not used in the case of Haitians who are, instead, identified by their national origin.

Who are the Gringos in Las Terrenas? It’s commonly held that the French are the majority, but the French themselves are not a monolithic group. People make mistakes when placing all French people under the same category as they may hold the same nationality, passport and language, but there are many distinguishing factors among the French including geography, migration patterns, cultural identity, class and economic status, educational levels and even professional experience. Clearly, the same could be said about any group of expatriates anywhere but in Las Terrenas it’s particularly useful because of the large number of people of French descent.

Other groups, possibly in order of group size, are: Haitians, Italians, German-speaking (German, Swiss, Austrian), Spanish, Canadians, Dutch, a growing number of USians, Russians, Cubans and a handful of other nationalities. Though there’s no official count, it’s quite possible that there exist at least 20 nationalities in this little town that include other Europeans, Africans, Asians and Latin Americans.

There’s a lot of good resulting from the presence of so many foreign nationals in our midst. Many people speak several languages, people are exposed to a variety of outlooks and there’s a rich gastronomic offer in town as well. A small number of foreigners have married locals and/or have procreated children with them, creating a rainbow of people in every shade and appearance of skin colors. A good number of expats are investors or business people, some simply live here depending on their particular craft, skill or savings. A significant number of people are engaged with the locals, either in social, romantic or business liaisons, while a few are engaged in service to the community in one fashion or another. Certainly the community is better off as a result of the interest among some expats in helping the local community address some of its social problems.

Similarly there are vast references, some stereotypical, some prejudicial, about foreigners. An overall concern and comment that I’ve heard expressed by expats about expats is that many are here either a) because drugs are readily available, b) because they’re after the sexual excitement and opportunities that the place offers (including sexual exploitation of minors of either sex), and c) because some are running away from the law. In reality, it would be fair to say that some in each or most of the foreign groups, are here because of those three reasons but, of course, not everyone is.

It’s hard to pinpoint what Dominicans say overall about foreigners but, sadly, it tends to be negative (not all, but most) because of the difficulties involved in doing business across cultures, because of different traditions in regards to work standards, social standards and expectations about the handling of money. It is commonly held that Dominicans are very hospitable people, and we are, but one must remember that Las Terrenas is not the whole of the Dominican Republic and that some of its particular characteristics makes it, well, quite different from the rest of the country. In fact, there are strong differences between people in urban Las Terrenas and people in the country side. In addition, there’s a wide geographic presence of Dominicans in Las Terrenas, there’s hardly no province or region of the country that’s not represented here.

Something worth mentioning too, in regards to foreigners, is that places like Las Terrenas tend to attract a particular group of people. Around the world, foreign nationals who have chosen to live in another place tend to be what’s scientifically known as “outliers,” in other words, those who are outside the average of their population. They may be those who are open-minded, cultured and welcoming of cultural diversity to the extent of extreme individualism and even profound immersion in the host culture. They may also be in the other extreme, those who are very racist, class-driven and who do not mingle or mix with the locals. These appear to live under a pseudo-colonial mindset and benefit from lower costs of living or outstanding natural environments that make Las Terrenas what is.

It remains to be said whether the majority of foreigners in town fall under the negative range of outliers, or under the good range of outliers. The local experience is very mixed and I would tend the say that people from within each individual cultural group are in a better position to identify the constituents among their individual cultural groups than people from outside their culture. This would mean that Italians would do much better identifying who the Italians are in town than, say, the French or the Dominicans. Similarly, many foreigners tend to lump Dominicans under broad and detrimental labels, without regards to cultural, social, educational, economic, class and geographic distinctions from within the culture. No French citizen would want me to generalize about France and the French based on my experience with a thug from Marseilles who assaulted me in the Quartier Latin in Paris, and no Italian citizen would want me to generalize about Italy or Italians based on the drug-addict that put a knife next to my stomach under the arch in Milan. No English would want me to generalize about England or the English based on the waitress who refused to serve me tea at a small café in the Trafalgar Square area in London. And the USian paying parents token money so that he could live with their prepubescent daughter is hardly a representative of all USians here and elsewhere.

One should put a limit to the extent to which one could use personal experiences as the basis to judge a particular culture different from one’s own and withholding judgment is always a good practice until there’s more experience and knowledge about the host culture.

Regardless of conditions and circumstances, the truth is that the issue of cultural diversity, of a multicultural identity, of cross-cultural relations, is worth exploring further either informally or formally. People make assumptions, form impressions and even make decisions based on appearances, individual (and often erroneous) observations, or based on previous experiences. These processes go back and forth, from the Dominicans who feel that all gringos are abusive and exploitative to the foreigners who identify Dominicans as “hanging from trees.” Prejudice, stereotypical assumptions and even discrimination are common in most cross-cultural encounters. Human beings are not necessarily programmed for immediate understanding and acceptance of people who are different from each other, the opposite is rather, and sadly, the truth.

At the present time there’s nothing in Las Terrenas, formal and informal, that helps foster greater contact, communication, relationships and understanding among nationalities. Language barriers is possibly a reason, but also the pursuit of cross-cultural enrichment is hard work and it takes time, effort and resources.

The challenges of cross-cultural relations in town remains challenging, ever-present and difficult. It still poses opportunities that cannot be found anywhere else in the D.R. and, possibly, not in many other places around the world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kevin Carter

Photographer Haunted by Horror of His Work
Obituary: Kevin Carter 1960 - 1994
Johannesburg - Kevin Carter, the South African photographer whose image of a starving Sudanese toddler stalked by a vulture won him a Pulitzer Prize this year, was found dead on Wednesday night, apparently a suicide, police said yesterday. He was 33. The police said Mr Carter's body and several letters to friends and family were discovered in his pick-up truck, parked in a Johannesburg suburb. An inquest showed that he had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Mr Carter started as a sports photographer in 1983 but soon moved to the front lines of South African political strife, recording images of repression, anti-apartheid protest and fratricidal violence. A few davs after winning his Pulitzer Prize in April, Mr Carter was nearby when one of his closest friends and professional companions, Ken Oosterbroek, was shot dead photographing a gun battle in Tokoza township.
Friends said Mr Carter was a man of tumultuous emotions which brought passion to his work but also drove him to extremes of elation and depression. Last year, saying he needed a break from South Africa's turmoil, he paid his own way to the southern Sudan to photograph a civil war and famine that he felt the world was overlooking.
His picture of an emaciated girl collapsing on the way to a feeding centre, as a plump vulture lurked in the background, was published first in The New York Times and The Mail & Guardian, a Johannesburg weekly. The reaction to the picture was so strong that The New York Times published an unusual editor's note on the fate of the girl. Mr Carter said she resumed her trek to the feeding centre. He chased away the vulture.
Afterwards, he told an interviewer, he sat under a tree for a long time, "smoking cigarettes and crying". His father, Mr Jimmy Carter laid last night: "Kevin always carried around the horror of the work he did." - The New York Times
Source: Sydney Morning Herald Saturday 30 July 1994

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Sunglass Analogy--What do you see in the D.R.

What do you see in the D.R.?
What do you see in Las Terrenas?
The following analogy may enrich our understanding of cross-cultural transitions.

Here is a simple fable to explore. It clearly helps us to understand what culture is, how our culture is like an invisible prison, and how we can free ourselves from that prison so we can learn and understand about other cultures.

Imagine, if you will, that in your own country, from the time of the first people, today, and far into the future, everyone that was ever born or will be born, was born with two legs, two arms, two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a pair of sunglasses. The color of the lens in the sunglasses is yellow. No one has ever thought it strange that the sunglasses are there because they've always been there and they are part of the human body. Everyone has them.

Take the yellow sunglasses off and look at them. What makes them yellow are the values, attitudes, ideas, beliefs and assumptions that American people have in common. Everything that Americans have seen, learned, or experienced (past, present and future) has entered into the brain through the yellow lens. Everything has been filtered and interpreted through all these values and ideas that have made the lenses yellow. The yellow lens thus represents our attitudes, beliefs, values, and represents our "Americanness."

Thousands of miles away in another country (Japan, for example) from the time of the first people, today, and far into the future, everyone that was ever born or will be born, was born with two legs, two arms, two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a pair of sunglasses. The color of the sunglasses is blue. No one has ever thought it strange that the sunglasses are there because they've always been there and they are part of the human body. Everyone has them. Everything that the Japanese see, learn, and experience is filtered through their blue lenses.

An American traveler who wants to go to Japan may have enough sense to realize that to learn about Japan more thoroughly he will have to acquire some Japanese sunglasses so that he can "see" Japan. When the traveler arrives in Japan, he wears the Japanese sunglasses, stays for two months and feels he really is learning about the values, attitudes, and beliefs of the people of Japan. He actually "sees" Japan wearing their sunglasses. He comes to his own country and declares that he is now an "expert" on Japan and that the culture of Japan is green!

What happened? He didn't remove his own American filters of yellow. The moral of this fable is: Before we are open and free to learn about another culture (and put on their sunglasses) we have to remove our own, so that our interpretation of the new culture will not be " colored" or filtered by our own values, attitudes and beliefs. We are not there to judge another culture, but to learn about it. We need to develop "double vision" or the ability to see more than one side of an idea.

How do you remove the yellow sunglasses? It's simple. By being able to understand and describe the values, attitudes, beliefs, ideas and assumptions of American culture, the lighter the yellow color becomes and the more blue the other culture becomes. The more we can verbalize and really understand what it is that makes us American, the easier it becomes to lighten the yellow filters, and put on the blue lens, and see a truer shade of blue.
From "How to learn about a new culture" by Michael C. Mercil in Planning and Conducting Re- entry/Transition Workshops, a publication of Youth for Understanding. Adapted by José R. Bourget Tactuk.

Concerns About the Sanitary Sewage System in Las Terrenas

The Secretary of State for Tourism, Lic. Francisco Javier García, received a request to conduct a technical review of the work done on the new sanitary sewage system in Las Terrenas. The request was made because there's evidence of potential technical problems of the system. The fear is that if the perceived problems turn out to be true it may result in raw sewage on the streets, and ending on our beaches.

During recent floods caused by heavy rains one could observed how muddy water was coming through the newly installed metal caps placed in the streets. The water was coming in through somewhere, which may occur once the system is put to work. Flood waters would push raw sewage throught he same vents. That's highly undesirable.

A technical review would end speculation of alleged technical failures in the system. In addition, the request ask for financial disclosure as the system was financed by CEIZTUR. 230 million pesos, or more than 6 million dollars, were invested in the project (not yet finished). CEIZTUR funds originate in taxes paid by travellers arriving or departing.

More details (in Spanish) at

Complaint Filed Against Balcones del Atlantico

Roseate Spoonbills (top, in the Dominican Republic) and Whistling Ducks (bottom, in Grand Cayman) may be some of the birds affected.

On January 12, 2009, I filed a complaint against Balcones del Atlantico through their P.R. person in town. The complaint was based on information (which has been documented), that hundreds of tons of "caliche" were thrown on a wetland that allegedly is part of the routing of migratory birds. If proven the action would be against current Dominican laws.

The complaint in Spanish appears at Basically it demands the following:
1) to make public the environmental impact permits that they may have, provided by the Secretary of the Environment;
2) to stop any further filling of the wetland, preventing further damage if any is found;
3) to request from the Secretary of the Environment a certification (environmental impact) that alleged damaged have not occurred, but if damages have occurred that they implement corrective and preventive measures to prevent further damages.

Furthermore, the complaint indicates regrets that the company did not incorporate characteristics of the environment (such as the Wetlands) into its original design using a conservation approach. It is different to use conservation and preservation instead of exploitation and remedial actions after the fact.

The complaint was sent to Balcones del Atlántico through its local PR person, as well as to the Secretary of the Environment via two different offices. The complaint was also sent to national and international organizations that address environmental issues. It is understood that SEMARENA (the Secretariat of the Environment) has studied and is considering due action of some sort.

The Story of Stuff

Four million people have seen "The Story of Stuff". If you haven't yet take a moment to view it. You may learn a thing or two. The most important thing for us, here, in Las Terrenas, would be, how to apply any learnings from this production into our life's experiences.

Find it at

Or watch it at However, the previous link may work better for viewing.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ideas and Concerns

What do you think could be done to better conditions in Las Terrenas?
Simply write your comments in response to this post. Thank you!

The Best Three Kings Present for Las Terrenas

Three Kings is a traditional Catholic celebration the night of January 5th. That's the night when presents are left under the Christmas tree for children.
The gift of protecting our beaches.

Putting an end to the destruction of wetlands.

Ending the depradation of Coson.

Stopping the contamination in creeks and rivers.

Better management of solid waste.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Down by the Riverside

©2008 by José Bourget

I live in the multicultural community of Las Terrenas, in the northeastern side of the Dominican Republic. Estimated at 20,000 people, the town's population comprises a variety of ethnicities and a rich display of national origins. In addition to Dominicans, large groups include Haitians, French, Italians, Germans, Swiss, Spanish and Canadians. In addition, there are Austrians, Russians, Cubans, Mexicans, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Yugoslavians, Japanese, Vietnamese, Belgians, Dutch, USians and at least 10 other nationalities.

One of the many comments and questions I hear frequently has to do with understanding "the way of Dominicans." "Why do they do that?" "Why can't they do it this way or another?" "I can't understand these people", along with other affirming and not so affirming comments.

I believe that the road to understanding starts with listening, and not always with our ears.
Years ago I heard the story from a friend about a visiting foreign woman who came to their village to help them at school. The village had invited this volunteer through one of the volunteer/intern programs available and after a long flight all the way from Wisconsin, or Ohio, can't remember where, how she settled in the village and was helping school kids and women with various academic things.

Over time she settled well and was doing a lot of good, but there was something that bugged her constantly. She could not understand why, when the women went down to the river to wash their clothes, they would spend sooooo much time "doing nothing." What she meant, I was told, was that she would not understand why they would spend the entire morning washing 10-15 pieces of clothing, when, in fact, it could have been done in an hour or less. "Why waste so much time?", she had asked.

This situation--frustration--on her part continued for long, until weeks down her service she lost her cool at a women's meeting and she blasted them away, accusing them of not doing enough for themselves, and wasting so much time twice a week down by the river taking all morning to wash a load that could be taken care of in an hour. She pointed out how those extra hours could be spent, how much more they could do in their schooling and in other village chores, and she told them too that if they wanted to live healthier, better lives it would come as the result of hard work, not wasting away their hours by the river. Boy, did she tell them!!!

As you might have guessed, this situation made a lot of people uncomfortable. It was days before an older woman came to visit the volunteer in her house, and over tea and much beating about the bushes, the woman started to say something about her laundry chores by the river this morning. She shared how one of the women took time to explain about her son away in the military and the many things he was learning, living and working at another place with people who spoke another language and ate different things. She said something about another woman, working on a daughter's hair, because she was getting ready to get married, and how she was telling her about household chores, how to deal with a husband, about preparing for child-bearing and the like. There was a significant amount of time spent talking about the village chief, on taking a younger wife 20 yrs. younger, and how the other three wives felt. They were talking about their crops and how they needed to get ready to send it to the larger village down the road where they could get more and sell it all.

And she mentioned a few other things. Then the woman left.

The volunteer could not understand everything right away, but there was a not so certain feeling growing from within, like an accelerated pregnancy of reason and emotion, twins in battle, until some time later he felt like giving birth to a whole new set of understandings, emotions and feelings.

She came to realize that the women did not go to the river just to wash clothes. Yes, they could have done the washing in an hour, but that time at the river was a time for mothers to be with daughters, guiding them into new areas of their lives and being a somewhat public conversation it was a way of empowering all of the other women to also take responsibility for the welfare of the growing young women in their midst.

It was also time for important information to be shared about village affairs, meetings, businesses, relationships, problems, health concerns and even major decisions that even their husbands would not even realize were taking place.

There were lots of decisions taking place, lots of underground action, lots of caring, listening, and sharing. In fact, the whole life of the village depended on those morning-long laundry sessions. Doing laundry was, in fact, an overt activity that protected a lot of covert activity going on--lives were changed, decisions were made, transactions took place, compromises were reached, and the constant, constant sharing of information, ideas, concerns, advice and wisdom.

This new understanding made her into a better person. As a result, she started going down to the river to do her laundry with the women. The rest is history you yourself can make up.
Things tend to make more sense in their own context. Imposing a different context unto a local situation will run counter to the reality of the behavior observed.

For us in Las Terrenas it would be important to reflect in the story above. Some reflection questions might well be:
a) What’s my place by the riverside of Las Terrenas?
b) Is your world big enough to incorporate other ways of meaning and understanding reality, or is your cultural center so strong that the only thing you can see is how poorly other people go about their way of making sense of the world?
c) Is it possible to partially or totally abandon one’s secure place away from the “river” in order to incorporate other ways of being?
d) What’s needed to take the jump and come down to talk to, listen to, and view the local people of Las Terrenas, the Dominicans, as they truly are?