Sunday, September 27, 2009

Half-Empty or Half Full?

Gov. Luis Fortuño made an unprecedented move this past Friday by laying off 16,970 government workers. Never in the history of Puerto Rico has something of this magnitude ever occurred. Almost 43% of the job losses came from the Department of Education. This is actually the second round of layoffs, the first took place back in May of this year. A massive protest is scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 15th, most likely in the Old San Juan area. Needless to say, Puerto Rico's economy is in really bad shape. In the past, people would emmigrate to the mainland U.S in search for better opportunities. However, as most of us know, finding a job in the U.S nowadays is no piece of cake either.

The government has offered laid-off government workers credits to get the necessary educational or vocational training to help get them back on their feet. Ironically, they've also set-up a Website called "Puerto Rico Trabaja," (Puerto Rico Works) to help those who recently lost their job. Just like any American who becomes unemployed, Puerto Ricans do also get benefits here. Every Monday, El Nuevo Día features a section called "Puerto Rico se reinventa" (PR reinvents itself) which encourages people to start their own businesses. The point is to show how these entrepreneurs were able to overcome major set-backs (like a job loss) and succeed at being their own boss.

Times are tough, but we can each choose to either see the glass half-empty or half-full. There are always opportunities out there, we just have to go out and seek them. My parents were both immigrants and I know how hard work and perseverance can make a huge difference. Like many others, I have friends and relatives that have lost their jobs. Choose to think positively and see this as an opportunity to re-tool your skills and recharge your batteries! P'alante!

Friday, September 18, 2009

English, please...

Earlier this year, the mayor of Guaynabo decided to start putting up traffic signs in English. According to the mayor, this is to help people familiarize themselves with the English, which also happens to be the island's other official language (in addition to Spanish, of course). Such a move caused quite a stir, as practically all the island's traffic signs are in Spanish. There are also political and socio-cultural aspects to this debate though. The mayor of Guaynabo is from the blue party (PNP) which is pro-statehood. By the same token, we've also seen other mayors from this party implement this measure. For example, Guayama has also decided to switch to English traffic signs.

Ironically, the Websites of both the municipality of Guaynabo and the Puerto Rican government are available in Spanish only. The local tax department (el departamento de hacienda), does have an English option though. Although English is also the official language of the island, Spanish is what people speak in Puerto Rico. Most schools on the island, especially not those in the public education system, do not introduce English into its curriculums until much later. However, those who attend some of the elite private schools on the island have a much higher chance of being introduced to the English language at a younger age. There are several of them which teach in English only.

Traveling throughout the island, the majority of traffic signs will not be in English. Oddly enough, in areas like Condado and Isla Verde, where tourists abound, I believe most traffic signs are still in Spanish. This makes no sense at all, consistent with so many other things on this island. In the meantime, for English-only speakers, here's a list which you might want to be learn:

"No entre"=do not enter
"Velocidad Maxima=Max. Speed
"Proxima Salida"=next exit
"Carril"=traffic lane
"Zona Escolar"=school zone
"Parada"=bus stop
"Cambio"=change (you'll usually you'll see a "C" above certain pay tolls on the highways, this is the lane for those who do not have exact change)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Eating Local & Organic Food

With all the talk about the healthcare system, and the urgent need to reform it, the New York Times published a very interesting Op-Ed article, "Big Food vs. Big Insurance." Several weeks ago, Time Magazine also talked about the "The Real Cost of Cheap Food." During tough economic times, cheap food seems to be a more attractive choice for most people, despite the unhealthy consequences. Healthcare reform is important, but so are the choices we make as consumers when we head to the supermarket. Americans are seeing their waistlines gradually expand, which increases the likelihood of a growing number of diabetics, and other health problems. The fact in which a bag of potato chips is a lot cheaper than a pound of apples, doesn't help motivate people to eat healthier though. Let's not even go into the price of conventional vs. organic foods, especially here on the island.

In Puerto Rico, the healthcare system (which I will talk about in another blog entry) is also in tatters, and the obesity rate is higher than that on the mainland U.S. Eating healthy is often pushed to the backburner, especially since vegetables and fruits are so expensive on the island, which imports over 80% of its food, the majority coming from the U.S. In the supermarkets, I've seen more "del país" stickers (meaning it's from the island) on meat than on fruit and vegetables. Personally, I find Costco to be the best and most economical place to buy organic products here in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, Whole Foods doesn't exist here yet (and I don't know if it ever will). However, in San Juan, Fresh Mart is the closest alternative. There are perhaps a handful of smaller health food stores.

The best place to buy locally grown food in Puerto Rico would be your local plaza del mercado, like the one in Rio Piedras. Being that it's a tropical island, many would assume Puerto Rico produces most of the fruit and vegetables it consumes. Sadly, that's just not the case. I'm looking through a couple of flyers from some of the local supermarkets here and I see iceberg lettuce (from California), cassava (from Costa Rica), grapes (also from California) and watermelon (from either the U.S or Puerto Rico, finally!). Out of all the produce which we eat at home, I'd say bananas and papayas are the only fruit which are locally grown. Although I've bought lettuce "del país," I have to admit it didn't look too appetizing and it didn't taste great either. Needless to say, I haven't repeated my purchase but I haven't seen it in the supermarkets again either.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dengue Fever on the Island

It is now pouring outside, and it's cloudy and overcast. There is no sign of sun, which is something rare when you live in Puerto Rico. Fortunately, tropical storm Erika passed without wreaking havoc. We are currently in the peak of the hurricane season though, and this is also a period in which more cases of dengue fever are reported. However, now with all the attention on the swine flu, it seems as though the dangers of dengue fever have been pushed to the backburner. When visiting Puerto Rico's Department of Health Website, the first thing you'll see are the statistics on the swine flu, which (as of now) has claimed the lives of 34 people.

Every year though, thousands of people on the island become infected with dengue fever and hundreds have died from it throughout the world. As one of the local newspapers interestingly pointed out, dengue fever is more likely to be a greater threat in Puerto Rico than the swine flu. The chances of getting dengue fever becomes higher when there's rain, as it is spread through infected aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Some of the symptoms include fever, rash, dizziness, and vomiting, amongst others. Unfortunately, there are no vaccines which can prevent dengue fever, and it is contagious. One of the best ways to prevent dengue fever is to use insect repellent, and of course, to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes! For more information on dengue fever, please visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC)'s Website.

Note: as of Sept. 4th, 2009, there have been 137 cases of dengue fever in Puerto Rico.