His name was Old Warrior. He was a fifty foot long blubbery beast, with a few tally marks on his back counting his lost battles with unforgiving propellors. When he erupted vertically through the water close to our port side, a wave of adrenaline hit everyone on board our vessel. Screams of surprise, then gasps of delight, and finally a few tears of awe. One… two… three seconds- frozen in the air with a palm covered mountain behind him, twisting towards us with his floppy fins orbiting him like Saturn’s rings. Then he was gone- leaving a momentary, turquoise stain of aerated water where his enormity had squashed the sea. While our hearts were still pounding, he was already deep beneath us, escorting a mother and her calf across the Samana Bay. After four hours of perfect contentedness, watching graceful crests, and feeling the salty spray from the powerful blasts of air through their spouts, Old Warrior’s three second gravity defying magic act will be all that I will remember of a perfectly splendid day.
If Old Warrior could’ve given me a 10 second warning, my photo would look like this
This spectacular annual migration of Humpback Whales to the Samana Bay was well known by the Taino people native to this island, who depicted their grandeur on the walls of their holy caves. I’m continually impressed by the hidden treasures that the Samana Peninsula has to offer, both above and below the waves. Kati and I came very close to missing these submarine mammoths, all because I felt the need to be idly present in my campo all week waiting for donors to transfer funds, and waiting for the hardware store’s phantom delivery trucks to finally arrive. The day has been seized, the moment seared in my mind, but even if my mortal memory betrays me, my understanding that the word “life” is bigger than the mere human race, and that the word “sacred” is bigger than a church altar, well, I won’t let that fade.
Last week, I read that it’s possible we may live in a multiverse, instead of a universe. That’s like a chain reaction of Big Bangs happening into infinity, outside our own tiny universe. Each time a new universe sprouts, it could have the most improbable of results- a four dimensional universe like our own, or it could more likely have an inane number of dimensions that our physical bodies and feeble minds can’t understand. Unsurprisingly, we can never have the evidence we crave to confirm this, because we are trapped in our own universe. Previously, I would have thought that such talk could be nothing more than a Cannabis inspired raving, but apparently there are some lab coat wearing scientists who talk with Russian and German accents, who think it’s possible.
Physicists have seen the smoke from the gun, a warped gravitational field which proves that the fabric of space time was violently wrenched apart in the tiniest fraction of a second after the Big Bang, expanding the universe faster than the speed of light, in a phenomenon called “inflation”. I’m a bit of a nerd, please don’t tell anyone. I latched on to this mind boggling news and downloaded a few more articles. Apparently, most computer models of inflation indicate that once inflation starts, it is eternal, and it is such a potent reaction that it would most certainly happen many more times.
I’m not a physicist, and I don’t pretend to even remotely understand half of what the articles I read spoke of. What I did grasp however was that our Old Warrior is very very tiny. We have always known that we are tiny in the cosmic scheme of things, but now we know with certainty that the universe goes on beyond the furthest flung photons in the universe. And the cool part? We can never know anything about the rest of this universe with any certainty because it’s racing away from us faster than light. I’m relieved that now matter how big our brains get, our imaginations have free reign, because we can never be certain. Simply beautiful.
When a whale leaps above the waves, we wonder what he’s thinking. When my canine family gets a priority changing scent on the breeze that sends them on the most important of missions, I think of it as frivolous. When I use all of my cell phone minutes to invite my friends to a chess tournament at the colmado, half a dozen people stand thinking that chess is a waste of time. As I try and focus on forking my opponent with my knight to steal his queen, I hear the Evangelical nomads from Cotui, speaking in tongues, launching frightening, guttural, fierce, and nonsensical sounds through the microphone, to the cheers of a wild crowd. And I wonder why.
Do we live in a multiverse? I just live in a campo. And a whale just lives in the sea. And my dogs live in their doggy scented world. And the tranquility I feel in a chess match must seem as foreign to the preacher as his gibberish seems to me. We do live in a multiverse, and each of our worlds are lightyears apart from our neighbors. We understand that we will never really understand each others’ motivations and choices in life, but we should at least be able to empathize with one another, recognizing that happiness comes to us from different, foreign roads. Just because they’re not on your road does not mean they are a broken person. Why can’t we respect each others’ paths? Must we force each other to join our caravan, to walk our road? Do we do it just because we’re lonely or uncertain?
After a perfectly pleasant lunch at the biggest Jonny Rockets in the world, my two project partners from the Mormon Church took me on a tour of the office. It was a great place, full of extremely nice people who were very grateful for the work that I was doing, but there’s always one guy. An eccentric friend of theirs invited me to join their church. I think I just barely kept my response together in a polite but firm way. When somebody you just met asks you, “Do you know anything about God (as if it’s the first time I’ve heard the word)? Would you like a Bible (go learn something I already know)? Come to our church sometime (you lost sheep)…” I just find it artificial, callous, and completely disrespectful- just assuming that I’m clearly a broken person because I’m not on his team. There was only one universe in this man’s mind, in which there was no room for uncertainty. My project partners indirectly expressed their apologies to me for being overwhelmed by the flood that was this man’s elevator speech.
We are tantalizingly close to the end of work in Dos Palmas and Tres Bocas, but even with 80 tap stands installed, all of the mainline pipe installed, and all storage tanks full of water, I have been forced to spend the past three weeks idle. I even have a tap stand out front of my house now, even if it does still have dry pipes. With our last delivery truck scheduled to arrive sometime this week, any other items we may be lacking will be able to be purchased with cash locally in Cotui. It’s required a torturous amount of patience, actually 26 months of it, but by the next blog post, you will see a photo of me with a free flowing tap stand out front of my house.
In the meantime I’ve contented myself by getting stabbed with needles by Peace Corps medical staff, giving a few vials of blood, um… you know… coughing, urine samples, and three stool samples which I needed to march proudly into a crowded clinic. Even though I had a carrying bag, I felt like the bystanders in the clinic all knew what was inside, and their judgmental eyes said one thing, “disgraceful.” I wanted to shout at them all, “Yes, it’s mine! There’s poop in the bag! I know you’re all human too, so look to the beam in your own eye!” Instead, I entertained myself with the notion that if I was robbed, I would be able to laugh about it in the evening, when the thief would quite literally get shit for his effort. Peace Corps paid for my three days in the capital to conduct the exams, and if not for the busy days and form signing, it would have been a veritable vacation. I explained it to my host family as follows- when you rent a car, the company must examine it afterwards to make sure that there is no hidden damage that you should be held accountable for. Well, Peace Corps signed off on me. No noteworthy damage to this car, but they sure did get a hell of a lot of mileage out of me.
In these past three weeks, I have seen minimal progress in my main project, but I have busied myself with my endeavors in Corozo, as well as yet another side project that Tal and I have been working on in a village called Los Guineos. Seeing how Tal has basically finished his main project, he has taken the lead on the modifications to the faulty design in the Los Guineos system- an old Peace Corps system that failed to provide water to around 40 houses in the community. I was able to help Tal on the design, and being the charmer that he is, Tal was able to win over Rotary’s financial support to implement the modifications over the course of the next three weeks.
After Tal and I finished tightening up a few new pipes at Los Guineos main tank, their valve box was too small to be useful, so we needed to hack it apart with a pick axe, and build a valve house upon the ruins. This house barely covered the massive labyrinth of old pipes, superfluous valves, and bad ideas that the community had experimented with over the past few years. After putting in a few more puzzle pieces, I am certain that anyone who looks at this new valve house will have absolutely no idea what is going on. I am not even sure I do. But I am sure the design will work.
After installing the valve house in Los Guineos, a visiting PA from the Rotary team saved my toe from advancing to gangrene by removing a nine day old cactus spine lodged into the callous of my big toe. I’m pretty sure there’s a youtube video somewhere documenting the field surgery. The thorn was half a centimeter long, and that number is not prone to literary/Dan exaggeration- I measured it 5mm.
I received the cactus spine while searching for cell phone service on a hilltop in Punta Rusia (Russian Point). I had always thought that Punta Rusia must have had a high number of Russian expats, but it turns out that they call it Russian Point because it’s so far away from everything that it might as well be in Russia. I got my invite from an Environment Sector couple living in the area. They were calling all divers to come help them on their coral nursery project. The offer was too tempting to pass over. Not only could we see the famous deserts of the Russian Point, but we could get a free dive with friends. The night ended as it should have, with a beachfront bonfire, friends, and booze.
As I count the days down till the end of my service, I’ve developed a few hobbies- home brewing for example. Kati and I made our first five gallon batch of honey mead, flavored with vanilla, cinnamon, and the juice from a bag of handpicked oranges. We have 10 more gallons on the way! The champagne yeast was a nice touch, if not for the taste, then certainly for the look on Octavio’s face when I popped open a bottle and a five foot tall geyser hit him between the eyes. I’ve found that when kept refrigerated, I can tame bubbles a bit, and the bottles themselves have less chance of exploding (I’ve lost 3). This batch has been experimental, and not without its flaws, but it’s been delicious. I would bring some back to the United States to share with everyone, but due to customs regulations… shipping constraints… and, h well, actually… I’m just going to drink them all myself.