Tuesday, March 8, 2011


It has crossed my mind that one of the worst possible things here would be to need emergency services of some sort – police, fire department, ambulance. Sometimes as I sit in traffic bumper-to-bumper, door-to-door, three lanes easily turning into five and I hear an ambulance behind me and I think, “Good god I hope that person isn’t really in need of urgent care.” Of course, there is a fad here of buying car horns that makes a police, fire engine or ambulance sound – presumably to get people out of your way. Those people are marketing to the wrong country. Even if drivers want to move out of the way – it ain’t happenin’.

Unfortunately, I had first-hand experience with a high-speed ambulance transport about a year ago. Thank goodness for us it was 10:00 PM – the roads were practically empty.

Today, I got the first-hand introduction to the Santo Domingo bomberos (fire fighters). My boys’ school caught on fire. It was early – only a few children were there and they were quickly evacuated. Then, the teachers and parents and neighbors and rubber-neckers waited outside until the fire trucks arrived. As we were pulling up, the section of the school that was burning (a small gym on the side of the school) was down to the metal braces (I’m guessing it had been a good 20 minutes from spark to bonfire). About ten minutes later a fire truck finally inched its way through the traffic to check out the scene. Fortunately, the school maintenance man had bravely climbed up on the building with a garden hose to have a go at the flames, so it appears the bomberos* were mostly on check-out-the-scene duty. They opened some windows and sprayed some water…I think…I’m actually not sure about that part. It was a bit chaotic. Then another fire truck came.

This is where I just want to say – I love it here, but AGGGHHHH! It’s a SCHOOL! It’s on FIRE! DANGER! To top it off, I feel I am getting way too used to this type of thing. While I was deeply concerned by the delay in the fire fighters and despite my little thirteen word outburst above, I really felt very little true frustration. It was more like, “No way! This sucks! How sad. Oh well, no school today. Load up boys.” My husband is a little more freaked out. I get it. I mean, jeez, it is crazy.

Then, after I was moving on and heading to work, I (well, our car) got hit by a carro público driver (carro públicos are like tin cans pretending to be taxis that run like buses on fixed routes)! Did I freak out? Cry? Worry? No, not really, I got out, attempted to examine the damage. Watched in dismay as the carro driver jumped out of his car, hopped into traffic, ran up the block and then returned with my hubcap. He popped it back on and smiled. I said, (translated from the Spanish obviously) “Good for you it wasn’t worse than that.” He said “Yep.” I said, “Have a good one.” He said, “Same to you,” and then we were on our way. No harm. No foul.

I recognize on the one hand that this might be ideal Foreign Service adaptation behavior. When in Rome, right? Imagine if you got upset every time things like this happened in Pretoria, Dhaka, Kuala Lumpur or San Salvador? You’d be screwed. You would be one frustrated and exhausted human being.

But, I do fear that this sets me up for a life of expecting very little if/when we’re ever posted to the States. “Ms. H, your child broke his arm today. He’s waiting it out on the playground. We gave him a sucker. I’m sure he’s fine.” Or “I am sorry to inform you that you will no longer be receiving electricity. The State of Virginia has decided to ration such services. We’re at your service. Please feel free to call…Monday through Friday noon to three.” Or perhaps, “I’m so sorry, we don’t sell milk or bread anymore.” I imagine myself kind of shrugging and walking away, only to be told by my non-FS friends that this type of thing is actually not acceptable in the United States. Hmmmm, that must be what home leave is for. Re-adaptation. A chance to remember to have standards….any standards. Good. I’ll need it.

* No Dominican fire fighters are being blamed by me for the delayed response. They are paid a shameful $120 per month to attempt to respond to fires. I am sure they dream of quick and efficient rescues that elude them on a regular basis.


  1. It does change your expectations, doesn't it? And every country is crazy in its own endearing, terminally frustrating way.

    Glad the kids were all safe.

  2. Standards are overrated. They just stress you out. :)

  3. Donna - "in its own endearing, terminally frustrating way" - love it! Well said.

    Stephanie - I totally agree! So much easier and enjoyable to just color outside the lines : ). I imagine most of us, if given the chance, wouldn't really change a thing.

  4. That reminds me of the accident I witnessed on 27 Febrero/Maximo Gomez the other day... some lady (DR gov't worker, turns out) ran a red light and side-swiped a motoconcho. Both motorcycle passengers had compound fractures of their left legs. I (and about 100 Dominicans) sat and watched them potentially bleed out for 20 minutes before the ambulance showed up. I have the training for helping, but with no kit in the car and the 30-40% HIV-positive rate here, you're not going to find me assisting much here.

    It's crazy how you "get used to" this stuff without it seeming like the absolute insanity it actually is.

  5. Wow Dave - that sounds really crazy...and certainly scary. I do have to correct you on the HIV positive rate though. It's estimated to be about 1% of the population in the DR. If it were indeed 30-40% that would make the DR the most HIV-infected country in the world (by contrast the rates in Sub-Saharan Africa range from 10% to around 25% of the population).

  6. I love this: “No way! This sucks! How sad. Oh well, no school today. Load up boys.” Sounds IDENTICAL to what I would say in this situation.....funny how you and I are adapting to the DR in the same fashion...I do have the "what ifs" in the back of my head though regarding real trauma emergencies....just hoping we don't have to go thru that...especially here....thanks for the pics btw....loved them! Sandi