The words to earn and to win are the same in Spanish, the verb ganar. Often, people ask me how much I earn/win each month and I have to be a careful about what I tell them. The reality is that I earn/win about 3.5 times as much as most of the people living around me and so by their point of view I am making the equivalent of a six figure income (really it’s only a five but most people are only earning a four figure income of about 3000 pesos per month, 90 dollars). A six-figure income in the barrio officially constitutes me as hood rich and now I am, more often, squandering my Peace Corps allowance on 2 dollar chicken sandwiches and 1.50 milkshakes instead of 36 cent spaghetti and water that I buy for 90 cents per 5 gallons. Life is good but somewhat strange because in one country (The DR) I am spending money like a Rap artist and the other (The United States) I am a broke volunteer living off peanuts (not really, Peanuts are expensive and salty).
I owe my buddy Blake 80 bucks and had been thinking of a good way to get the money back to him while I am still in this country. I could have used my money from savings in the states but that money is precious to the Peace Corps volunteer because we all know that once money leaves your US account it never goes back… never. I remember the first couple hundred dollars I took out, thinking that I could pay it back when I was reimbursed for whatever activity I was spending it on. After about six weeks I received my reimbursement and instead of treating the money like something I had at one point ganado (earned) I treated it more like money I had recently ganado (won) and before the end of the month I had found various expenses down here to put my savings money into (A new bucket, some chairs, a trip to the capital, beer, parmesan cheese, Peanut butter, etc.). As I didn’t want to lose another 80 dollars from the US savings account I came up with a plan. I would use my Dominican Hood Richness to pay off Blake and simply live my life as a person who is only twice as rich as his neighbors, I took out 2900 pesos from the bank and bought two stamps 26 pesos and sent it off to the states. I labeled the envelope (in Spanish) as:
Church of the Peace Corps
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Father Blake Wehling, Bryant Royal and Sister Ashley Bloom
My plan was essentially fool proof. I label the envelope as if they are priests and nuns and that I work for a church. That way the Dominican Postal service is less likely to take the money out (who is going to steal from a church?), also don’t judge me, I am still waiting on my mail from the states from 6 months back, sometimes you have to take extra precautions. I was still a little worried that the money wouldn’t make it but last night when I was camping on a hill outside my site I received 3 voicemails from Blake (which I got the next morning).
Message 1: God Damn it Chris, how am I supposed to change this play money into U.S. dollars? Now I have to find a bank to change it…
Message 2: God Damn it Chris, I just talked to the ONLY branch in town that will change it and they said that after fees the 80 dollars you sent me will only be worth 51 dollars…
Message 3: God Damn it Chris, answer your phone…
I couldn’t help laugh a little bit because Blake was cursing a lot for a guy who I labeled as a priest. I guess it turns out that you can’t just change over money in the US like you can down here. I suppose American money is more or less accepted all around the world so it easier to convert to Pesos in the Dominican Republic. Oops. I called Blake later and tried to explain to him the novelty of 80 US Dollars worth of Domincan Pesos. I told him that he could carry them around in his wallet and look cool, or he could play monopoly with them. He still wasn’t thrilled.
Also, I still have been living the life of a millionaire because last week a group of doctors came down and need some translators. I ended up staying at their hotel just outside of Constanza, which had hot water, the Internet and we got 2 and a half meals a day (and not the usual rice and beans, we were getting fried eggplant, fried cheese, fried chicken and all sorts of other delicious things that you can fit into a frying pan). They also left me fancy Gillette shaving cream, some antiperspirant and an industrial size bottle of hand sanitizer. I was without water for a couple days this weekend and instead of going day 3 without showering I seriously considered Hand-Sanitizing my whole body. Luckily with a little patience the water came back and I was able to bathe, and flush the toilet.
On a work related note, I am still waiting on a grant for building latrines in the community, I started another HIV/AIDS education youth group in a small village outside of town and we are organizing a conference for Brigada Verde for the northern region in 3 weeks. I am also supposed to be going to the school this week to give some lectures on the environment, but high schools are scary places and Dominican teachers have a bad habit of abandoning gringos in classrooms of 50 kids.