April 14, 2014

La Luz

Dominican Political Cartoon
Woman, "Everyone on earth gets excited to see the emblematic (symbolic) buildings shut-off during Earth Hour."
Man, "Whatever is here doesn't get anyone excited because we are accustomed to seeing everything shut-off!"

The Dominican Republic has a huge energy problem, black-outs are a regular occurrence. Most people are used to daily black-outs, even in the capital. I was once in an IKEA store (in a ritzy area of the capital), and when the power went out no one screamed or even complained. We all just waited around for a few minutes until the generator turned on. That's when people shouted, "¡La luz llegó!" Literally, the power has arrived. It is the standard reaction when the power comes back on. The fact that there is a catch-phrase for the end of a power-outage shows just how routine blackouts are here.

Access to electricity varies in every community. Cities tend to have more electricity, but if you live in a poor neighborhood you could have no power schedule at all, and be at the will of the power company. But that is probably because you aren't paying for your electricity. 30% of all the electricity used in the D.R. is stolen. That is the highest rate in the world.

In my community we have power from 6am to noon, and again from 6pm to midnight. I think it is a pretty sweet schedule. Other volunteers have to deal with rotating schedules: one day on followed by one day off, or one week power in the morning and the next week at night. One volunteer's power depends on how much power the local sugar cane factory is using. The factory controls the power so she gets more power during harvest season. I like the consistency of my schedule. However, I still have to deal with down cables, exploding transformers, etc. that can lead to out of schedule outages sometimes lasting over 24 hours. The current infrastructure can't handle the current usage demands which causes things to break often and be poorly repaired, thus continuing the cycle.

Some of my neighbors are happy with our power schedule. They say that if we had power 24 hours a day they wouldn't be able to pay their electricity bill. Power is very expensive in the D.R. because all the oil has to be imported, at a high cost, which is passed along to consumers. Which is why many people steal their power, which causes the price to be even higher for everyone else. Politics and corruption also play their role in the cost of electricity, but are too complicated to go into here.

The World Bank estimates that if the power issue was resolved the GDP would grow an additional 2% a year, and it's already growing at 5% (which means the economy is growing at a steady pace). Which is why everyone from the World Bank to Richard Branson are trying to help the D.R. and other Caribbean countries solve their energy problems. This will take time, so when you visit me remember to bring your flashlight!

Other things of interest:
  • Library construction has begun! We finally got permission and built the bridge, and work on support columns for the new roof has begun. 
  • We also are holding a raffle to raise funds to purchase new chairs for the community center. First prize is a washing machine, 2nd is a 50lb sack of rice, and 3rd is a gallon of vegetable oil. Tickets are $100 pesos each or $2.50 dollars. You know you wanna buy at least four for $10.
  • The water here is purified. The problem is that the tubes that bring the water to homes have too many contamination points to make the water safe to drink when it reaches the faucet.
  • On Friday Pato (my cat) showed off his hunting prowess by bringing a dead rat into the house! I shrieked when I saw it, and my neighbor did the same thing when she saw it. Then we looked at each other and laughed, but when we looked at the rat we began shrieking again. I tossed the rat outside, but that was enough excitement for my neighbor who promptly left. That night I noticed that Pato had a blood stain on his front paw, definitely earning his keep.
  • During church on Palm Sunday, palms were handed out. But these palms were fresh, someone brought in a big branch from a tree in their yard. They were nothing like the dry palms I got at my church in the States. Yet another win for life in the D.R., although the U.S. does have electricity all the time.

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