Monday, February 28, 2011

Consumerism vs. Practicality

I took a trip to the U.S. for two weeks around Thanksgiving. It was my first time going back in two years. It worked out perfectly as I got to see lots of friends and family around the holidays and my sister conveniently had her baby early so that I got to meet my first niece! I found that many things had changed and I also saw many things through a new lens after spending so much time being immersed in a very different world. Among other things, I was introduced to a Blue Ray and also learned who Justin Bieber is.

While I was home, I spent a fair amount of time in pawn shops and electronic stores such as Radio Shack and Best Buy because we are setting up some small movie theaters here in Puerto Plata to generate income for Project Esperanza’s programs here. So I took advantage of being in the U.S. by researching AV options. I actually got a great deal on some equipment, came back with it, and we are now just working on some final preparations before opening up our first movie theater.

During this searching and investigating, I felt very aware of the consumerism present in the U.S. and compared it to a more practical knowledge and lifestyle that is present here in the Dominican Republic. I found a portable DVD player at a thrift sale which I thought I could use for the movie theater but it didn’t have its charger. I took it to Best Buy and thought they would have the charger without a doubt. The first guy I talked to examined the DVD player and assured me that they didn’t make such chargers anymore. I got a second opinion who agreed that the necessary charger was out of the norm, but perhaps Radio Shack would have it. I told them both that I was surprised that a large store that specializes in electronics such as Best Buy wouldn’t be able to help in such a situation. In the Dominican Republic, someone would quickly find a phone charger with the same plug head and cut the wires if need be in order to attach the head to the proper source. If they couldn’t do this, people often just stick the bare wires right into the hole and get the job done. I have seen this done on a regular basis by kids as young as twelve years old and no one has gotten electrocuted yet! Were they now trying to tell me that this DVD player was no longer chargeable and I should get a new one? If they were, I wasn’t buying it… literally.

I went to Radio Shack. They did not have the charger but I could go to the DVD player company’s website and likely order it from there. Before heading back to the Dominican Republic, I visited a Radio Shack in another city. They had a selection of cords with different jacks and could connect them to the proper source. This was more practical and what I would expect from an electronics store. However, I left the DVD player at home so we couldn’t find the right fit. I ran out of time and headed back to the Dominican without the charger, sure that we would cut wires but wary of making a mistake and messing it up.

Upon arriving, I presented the DVD player to my husband and explained the dilemma. Within a few minutes we were at the house of one of Project Esperanza’s teachers who quickly lent us an all too practical piece of equipment. It had four jacks on one cord and a source that could be set on 3, 6, 9, or 12 volts. And it worked!

“Where did you get this?” I asked the teacher.

“At a store,” he replied.

“It’s genius!” No one else seemed that excited. A few days later I showed up at Project Esperanza’s boys’ home for Haitian immigrant boys who have come to Puerto Plata in “search of life” and face many difficulties upon arrival. I found the charger in the wet grass in front of the house, source busted, and cord torn. My husband had left it there overnight with one of the boys to allow him to charge his CD player. I immediately began arguing with him.

“It didn’t work!” he defended.

“But it wasn’t yours!” I insisted. “You can’t just break it!”

I knew that things would be worked out with the teacher later, but needed the plug to run the movie theater, so I tried searching around Puerto Plata. The first store I visited did not have it. The second store quickly sold me a source with the same settings, (3, 6, 9, and 12 volts), and six interchangeable jacks! This was just too practical!

I returned to the boys’ home the next day to find the four in one head had been salvaged, connected to the plug of a cell phone charger, and was being put to good use. I was glad to see that and was not a bit surprised.

I recently had a conversation with another La Vida Idealist blogger about raising our respective kids in our respective developing countries and the better educational opportunities that are available in the U.S. However, while our future plans are not set in stone, I conclude that I can bring better formal education to my kids here in the Dominican Republic, but the consumerism and ignorance led by the domination of large corporations in the U.S. seem to pose a serious threat to practical education which, I think, holds just as much value as formal education. So while I am ever so grateful for the opportunities I have received and continue to receive as a U.S. citizen and I tear up at the pledge of allegiance and the singing of the national anthem, at this point, I have little desire to go back to live full time in the U.S. I would rather use my blessed life to bless others where blessings are much scarcer. And I want to encourage others to do the same. Let’s share the wealth! Live in a developing country!