Archive | April, 2013

Los Hermanos Guillén

27 Apr

So yesterday was awesome.  Not only did I teach you how to take a bucket shower, but I also took a field trip with my fellow trainees to Yamasá, the pueblo next to Peralvillo.  As business volunteers, there´s a good chance that some of our projects will include working with artisan groups.  So, we visited the Guillén brothers to understand some of their business practices and to learn about the history of the Taíno Indians.

For over 3 generations, the Guillén family has been collecting and reproducing native Taíno ceramic art.  The majority of the original pieces they showed us were made of clay, and were at least 500 years old!  The scultpures were of both male and female gods that the Taínos worshiped – Mother Earth, Yuca, Thought, Moon, Shaman, etc. – and were used in various rituals throughout their culture.  For example, a bowl they showed us was used to store holy vomit.  Yes, vomit.  If someone became sick or was thought to have a bad spirit within them, they would not eat or drink for at least three days.  After a period of time, what they were able to throw up was kept in a sacred bowl, and then used as a cream to rub on ailing body parts.  Another fun cultural fact has to do with their funeral traditions.  When a Taíno cacique died, he was buried with his chosen, favorite ´mistress´, who was normally still living.  Fun stuff, huh?  Anyway, when Christopher Columbus landed on the island and discovered the Taíno, he stole many sculptures from them and sent them back to Spain, as they were often decorated in gold.

…Es mejor morir de pie que vivir en las rodillas…

Despite the fact that the native population is now non-existent, people like the Guillén brothers have managed to keep aspects of the Taíno culture alive.  Every year they hold a large gathering to celebrate and advocate Taíno culture.  They have dance, food, and art exhibits, and they told us that around 5000 people attended last year!

Over all, it was a very impressive visit.  They are a very grass-roots organization, and you could tell that it´s important to them to involve the community in the work they´re doing.  For example, instead of having to hire someone to cook us a snack during our recess, one of the brothers, Jesús, had a local coquero (guy selling coconuts) come over and crack one open for each of us!  Jesús also showed us around their workshop.  They still use pottery methods the Taíno used to make their own line of products – sculptures, plates, amulets, etc.  He gave us a pottery lesson, and explained that a local school had just visited to understand Taíno culture and to make their own ceramic creations.  The Guillén family wants their business to support other local entities, and in doing so, makes people aware of what a culturally rich country they (we!) live in.  I bought an amulet necklace depicting their shaman god as a souvenir 🙂

Once I get WiFi back in the capital, I have lots of pictures to share!  But for now, check out their website here.

On another note, I´m off to go food shopping!  Samantha, Lauren, and I are making brunch tomorrow for my host family – scrambled eggs, hash browns, pancakes with VT maple syrup (what´s a pancake without it?!), fruit salad, and chicken salad sandwiches.  Wish us luck and buen provecho!


¿cómo me baño?

26 Apr

I mentioned a while back that running water here is a rarity.  Check out my friend Kaley´s blog below to learn how to master a bucket shower!

¿cómo me baño?

loca for locrio

21 Apr

Hello world!  Sickness-free, though I´m now suffering from a massive food coma.  My host sister and I just finished cooking a traditional dish called locrio – tasty, easy, and very filling.  It´s rice cooked and mixed with your choice of meat and veggies, we made ours with pork chop.  Here´s a basic recipe:

  1. Mash garlic and salt together in mortar with pestle
  2. Saute in a good-sized pot with your choice of meat and a bit of oil
  3. Throw in diced tomato, cilantro (leaves and stems), tomatoes, onion, two boullion cubes, water, tomato paste, and corn (any veggies you want really) – make sure to taste the sauce before you add the rice so it doesn´t come out too bland, you´ll probably need to add more salt
  4. Add 2 cups water for every 1 cup of rice you want to cook
  5. Cover, stirring every once and a while, until rice is cooked through

And that´s it!  Like most of the food we eat here, the slower and longer it cooks, the tastier it gets 🙂  You can also make it more of a soup simply by adding more water when you start cooking the rice.

This past week we finished conducting our business interviews.  I chose to interview my host dad, who has an agricultural business, as well as a neighbor who sells homemade popsicles out of her house (a difficult task given that the luz comes and goes as she pleases).  My dad grows cacao, plátano, grapefruit, cherries, herbs, and coconut, and also raises pigs, chickens, and bees.  However, he only sells cacao, plantains, honey, and pork.  The rest is used for family consumption.  Both were very interesting to talk to; I was able to work on my interviewing skills, which I´ll have to put to use during my diagnostic phase of service, while learning about business practices in the Dominican Republic.  Our trainers provided us with a lengthy list of questions regarding various topics including organizational structure, accounting, technology, and income.  Some were definitely easier to ask than others, especially because very few people here keep any records what so ever.  Unfortunately, many people consider income to be the same as profit, which led me to believe that my neighbor´s ice cream may in fact be more of an expensive hobby than a money-making business.

On Wednesday, we were reunited with our beloved friends from the Education sector.  Unfortunately, it was for the purpose of listening to lengthy and semi-depressing medical lectures.  BUT they did leave us about 2 hours of free time at the end of the day to swim at the location´s pond-like pool.  Many of them already know a good amount of information regarding their individual site-placements, where as we have yet to be told anything.  Regardless, our visit with them seemed too brief, but we´ll see them again in just over two weeks for the last bit of training before our site-reveal and swearing-in ceremony.

Thursday, we held another charla from the second module of the Somos Mujeres initiative.  This week, we made Suavitel, a detergent.  The ladies were very happy to be able to take something home, especially since it smelled so lovely.  Four of us helped Sasha lead two dinámicas (icebreakers – more on these later), Telephone and Peso Caliente.

Friday we took our second CBT evaluation.  Also, a current volunteer came to visit our Spanish class.  Because we´re the advanced class, she wants us to help out with a few activities at the Construye Tus Sueños conference in two weeks!  All of us trainees will participate in the conference with kids that graduated from the course, then our class will help current volunteers lead various sessions.  I´ll write more on this after I´ve attended the conference, but essentially, Construye Tus Sueños is an entrepreneurial course for kids.  Can´t wait to learn more about it, and to see the kids (and us!) in action.

Later that night, we all went down to the river to build a bonfire.  Given my Girl Scout background, I was in charge of building the fire!  High-pressure job, but with a rewarding outcome.  We stayed there for a few hours – drinking Brugal, munching on caña, watching fireflies, avoiding mosquitos, and enjoying spending time together outside of our official training classes.  Only thing missing was s´mores…

And last but not least, click here for a taste of bachata, served with a side of Usher.  I´m off to the Bomba!

happy birthday mindles!

14 Apr

We´ve been in the DR for almost a month and a half now, and this weekend is the first time I´ve been sick.  I´m not dying, but having a fever on a 90 degree day is just as fun as it sounds.  Though I hadn´t tried it in the States, the Mio I brought with me sure has made the rehydrations salts taste a bit more bearable.  Here,  Vicks Vapor Rub is a cure-all.  Have a bug bite?  Headache?  Stomachache?  Sore throat?  Just rub some ´mentol´ on where you happen to be hurting and you´ll feel better.  My host mom has been very helpful in trying to make me comfortable, but nothing´s the same as being cared for by your own mommy 🙂  HAPPY BIRTHDAY – love and miss you tons.

The past week we presented our group community diagnostic project in Spanish.  It went really smoothly, and it was a great way to get to familiarize ourselves with various aspects of Peralvillo, and also tools that we´ll need once in-site.  On Thursday, we invited our doñas and other ladies from the neighborhood to the training center for a charla on Somos Mujeres.  The Somos Mujeres (We Are Women) is an iniciative specific to the CED sector, started by PCVs, that focuses on financial management, income generation, and entrepreneurship for women.  Two volunteers conducted a very well-received presentation on how to manage a libro diario (record of incoming and outgoing money), and how to make Mistolin (a household cleaning product that the women will be able to make at home then sell to generate income).  On Friday, another trainee and I gave a presentation on customer service and quality control, and how they differ between the US and the DR.  All trainees have to give one of these presentations, primarily to inform other trainees, but also to practice a 4MAT lesson plan (motivation, information, practice, application), which we´ll use when we´re in-site and giving charlas by ourselves to members of our future community.

We´ve been going pretty non-stop since we´ve been here, but we´ve still found time for fun stuff.  To start, I had my first dance lesson!  Two other girls that live close by, Lauren and Samantha, came over to my house last Tuesday.  We drank vino de cacao while various neighbors and family members taught us basic steps of la bachata and el merengue.  There´s also another dance called la chapa, or more literally, the butt shake, maybe?  For this dance, my oldest teacher was a 14-year-old.  I did my best, but my body is just not able to move in this particular way.  Youtube it.  Anyway, it was quite the neighborhood spectacle, but we got a lot of ´cred for putting ourselves out there and demonstrating that we were interested in the local culture.

We´ve been playing lots of estop, known in the US as Scattegories.  Sometimes we play in Spanish class, lately I´ve been playing with some of the neighborhood kids.  We played quite a bit while we were living in the city, along with Scrabble, Bananagrams, and Taboo.  A previous training group had designed cards for the Taboo game in Spanish, so we thought it´d be a cool idea to leave something for future trainees.  We´re making Apples to Apples!  But in Spanish, and DR specific, so we´ve dubbed it Mangos a Mangos.  We´re in the process of making ´noun´cards and ´adjective´ cards, and hopefully we finish soon so we can test run it.

Been painting my nails a lot lately, it´s a good way to bond with my sister and pass the evenings.  It´s pretty convenient too because, as it turns out, I have a cotton tree in my backyard!  What doesn´t grow here?

That´s pretty much it as of now.  Hoping to find WiFi soon to be able to post photos, or maybe even a video of my new, stellar dance moves, but might have to wait till I get back to the city.  Certainly enjoying life here more than the capital, but there are parts of living in a small town that are inevitable, like chisme.  Rumors here spread like wildfire.  Everyone knows that the americanos are here, so any bit of information is taken and run away with.  I tried to explain to my family the quote ´take everything with a grain of salt´, but it didn´t translate very smoothly.  We walk to and from the community center at least twice a day, and we´re always a spectacle.  They can´t quite figure out what to do with us – Sam describes it as if they can´t figure out if we´re famous people or wild animals, maybe both.  Oh well, life in the campo…

welcome to the campo

7 Apr

hello HELLO!  Currently writing to you from a sticky PC keyboard belonging to a centro de Internet in the town of Peralvillo, our new home for the next month!  Life in the campo has been more than great – people are friendly, the streets are cleaner and safer, and the way of life is simply more relaxing…think of  summertime in Vermont (star gazing, chickens on your lawn, ice cream, etc., but minus Silver Lake), then add the shade of cacao trees, endless natural and homemade fruit juices, and loud bachata music.

There´s 14 of us here for training regarding Community Economic Development; our schedule is still fairly rigourous, but it´s much better than carrying it out amidst the chaos of the capital.  We´re each still living with host families, but for me anyway, it´s been much better than my first homestay.  It´s the first time that this town of 25,000 has ever hosted volunteers, so all of the families are very excited by the new experience and the opportunity to exchange.  My family consists of a don, a doña, a 24-year-old hermana, and her 7-year-old hijo.  Since I first arrived, they´ve been more than eager to get to know me, ask questions regarding what I´m accustomed to, share knowledge, feed me tasty food, introduce me to neighbors, and sit, talk, and compartir.  Last night I even brought out my guitar and held a little concierto for the families that live by me.  We´re all able to walk to the training center, which is a nice change from the city where I had to rely on the public transportation.  I live right across the street from another trainee, so we usually start our day off with a walk and/or run around the neighborhood, then head to training, come back for lunch with our families, go back to the centro for Spanish class, and then spend the evenings getting our hair braided, sitting in the hammock under the gazebo, and playing cards and dominoes with the kids.  Life is gooooooooooooooood, and I´m happy to be spending a couple more weeks here.  Unfortunately I can´t post photos because I haven´t found a place with WiFi yet, but here´s some more campo highlights:

  • For training, we´ve broken up into groups according to Spanish classes, and are completing diagnostics of the community – practicing techniques and tools for when we all get to our individual work sites.  Among other things, each group has to draw a map of the community, complete a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), conduct various interviews, and create a seasonal calendar.  Andy, Kaley, John, Julianna, and I decided to work yesterday, so today is my first real day of rest here.  All the groups present their projects in Spanish on Tuesday.  
  • I ate a chicken foot!  There´s really not much meat to it at all, you just kind of suck the flavoring off the toes.  Tasty, until you´re sucking on a toenail.  
  • Kids fly homemade chichiguas (kites) everywhere here – until May anyway when rainy season starts.  It´s cool to watch, and there´s definitely an art to flying one properly.  Seeing as there´s kites stuck in trees, around telephone wires, and on top of houses, some are better at it than others.
  • Much like the rest of Latin America, the Dominican Republic is considered a collectivistic society.  Family is treasured, decisions are made on behalf of a group, and people genuinely look out for one another.  This being said, it´s expected to pay a visit to a sick or dying neighbor to show your support.  The other day, my mom and sister said that we were going to visit a friend.  I wasn´t sure what to expect.  Turned out to be an older man with a serious case of the chicken pox.  I told him I had had it when I was little, and recalled my that oatmeal baths relieve the itching.  We left after about 20 minutes, and now I have a new friend.
  • There is cacao everywhere here, and it´s definitely the biggest form of income for the community.  We got to visit a cacao bloque,  where the seed of the fruit is fermented, dried, and bagged before getting sold to buyers for various bi-products – wine, manteca, marmelade, and of course, chocolate.  It was the first place to start processing organic cacao, and the bloque contributes to the fact that the Dominican Republic is the top producer of organic cacao worldwide.  Various agricultural groups here sell to well-known international companies like Black and Green Chocolate and Lush Cosmetics.  Pretty cool stuff, and it grows right in my backyard.
  • I´m pretty sure that I´ve got pure juice running through my veins.  I have now tried, por lo menos: pineapple, tamarind, starfruit, passion fruit, cherry, mango, guava, lime, and zapote.

I have plenty more things to share, but I think I´m getting free Internet so I don´t want to aprovechar to much.  Hope all is well up there in Nueva Yol – when you say you´re from the US, they automatically assume you live in the Big Apple…

Much love, and hasta pronto!