Archive | March, 2014

gas fuels guaguas, fried chicken fuels adventures

19 Mar

So Monday was one of those you-know-when-you-live-in-the-Dominican-Republic days.  It started how most mornings do here – roosters crowing, kids in uniforms vocear-ing my name while they pass by my window on their way to school, the water truck blaring its horn, neighbors impatiently tapping their pesos on the counter of the colmado to get Pepelo’s attention to sell them a sobre of coffee which they will brew with spoonfuls of sugar and serve in tiny cups, my cat jumping down on top of my mosquito net after having finished his night shift of patrolling the tops of the blocks wall for mice, music blasting too loudly and too early considering the sun is still peaking out from behind sugar cane and plantain trees back-dropped by the thirsty, southern mountains – busy, but still somewhat peaceful.  I’m normally a night owl, but I’ve been waking up earlier here for a number of reasons lately, primarily because it’s simply too hot or loud to sleep any later than 8.  For those of you that read A Day in the Life post, no I’m not still waking up to walk at 5:15.

I made coffee, fed my cat Mio (who P.S. rode in a backpack on the back of a motorcycle with me to go get vaccinated), filled up some buckets to wash dishes that I should have done the night before but had no water to do so, ate a banana, swept my kitchen and living room, and packed a bag to head to the capital.  La Cabrita is promoting their products at an agricultural fair there, so I decided to make the trip to support them and also visit the Peace Corps office.

I gave the keys to my neighbors so they could feed Mio in the morning, and started walking towards the bus stop.  My landlord passed and offered me a bola to the cruce, saving me from having to pay a concho 25 pesos.  I waited at the cruce, chatting with the motoconchos, until a bus heading to Santo Domingo passed by about 20 minutes later.  I got on, saludar-ing a good morning to everyone (it’d be rude not to), and found my way back to the cocina (literally, the kitchen, because it gets so hot).

Not too long into our trip, the bus slowed.  I noticed that a large tree branch was in the middle of the road and thought that maybe it had fallen from the nearby tree.  Then I remembered that palm trees don’t really have branches.  The burning tire it was next to was also a red flag.  A strike was brewing.  Cool.

None of the passengers, myself included, really knew what to make of the situation.  There were only about 4 young-looking guys that were holding up traffic on the main road connecting Barahona to the capital.  But it was no big deal.  People were talking quietly amongst themselves, some closing their eyes and waiting patiently, others shaking their heads at the fact that it had been over a half hour since the strike started and the police still hadn’t shown up.  After almost an hour of waiting, the guagua charged ahead, turning past the angry youth armed with rocks and detoured through a sleepy town whose citizens either didn’t know but most likely didn’t care that a strike with an unknown cause was taking place.

Normal.  A strike, albeit small, sets up camp in front of our guagua, and no one blinks an eye.  But, there we were, on our merry way to the capital, so it was no use dwelling on the matter.  I looked around at my fellow passengers and was both amused and comforted by their nonchalantness.

Public transportation here is an experience.  It’s often crowded, hot, and too long of a trip, but it can get you to any corner of the country and you normally have one or two new best friends by time you get to your destination.  Plus, if you’re on a guagua ride that last longer than a couple hours, you’ll most likely stop for Pica Pollo.  Pica-what?  Pica pollo.  Fried chicken, people; normally served with tostones (twice-fried green plantain goodness).  And let me tell you, Dominicans are serious about their fried chicken.  I’ve been at a rest area as early as 7am, and people were feasting on Pica Pollo for breakfast.

comfy Capital transport

comfy Capital transport

Number 1 guagua rule of the DR: there's always room for one more...

Number 1 guagua rule of the DR: there’s always room for one more…

What are two of a Dominican's favorite words?  Pica Pollo.

What are two of a Dominican’s favorite words? Pica Pollo.

Anyway, after watching the passengers on the guagua react so casually to the strike, I reflected on some of the typical characters that normally accompany you on a guagua:

  • The doña: sweet as sugar but still tough as nails.  This lady is your new best friend; she will expose her life story, help you with directions, and share her pica pollo with you.
  • The tiguere/creeper: stares at you for most of the ride, blowing kisses at you when you look in his direction.  Often carrying a pillowcase with a rooster inside.
  • Young mother with child: if you sit too close, you might be in charge of rocking her baby to sleep.
  • The militar: in uniform, and on his way to guard a building while holding a gun that is way too big for him considering his education level.
  • The singer: can be male or female.  Sings along with the songs out loud (regardless of being tone deaf) for the entire duration of the trip
  • The diva: also can be male or female.  Applies make-up and/or perfume, cuts nails, or shaves beard while en route.
  • The Haitian: might have legal Dominican citizenship, but at a military checkpoint, they are most likely asked for their documents or to get off the bus if they don’t have them because of their darker complexion.  Is sometimes able to offer the policia a bribe to let them continue, otherwise they are left on the side of the highway.
  • The discussers: Often Dominican men over the age of 40, but can be anyone interested in having a heated discussion about any topic (regardless of how much they actually know about the subject or not).  Sometimes interesting to eavesdrop on, but most times I find myself just rolling my eyes.
  • The cobrador: not a passenger, but rather the chauffer’s assistant.  He charges people for the bus fare, and alerts the driver to make stops.  If you give him pesos he will stop the guagua to buy you what you ask him to (a pain in the butt when other people do it, but awfully convenient when you need a bottle of water).

So long story short, these characters and I arrived safely to the capital.  I got off, wishing them a good rest of their trip, and headed to the office where I got a birthday package from my mom (thanks Mindles!!) and found out the Internet wasn’t working.  I had planned on working on the Courts for Kids budget, so I headed over to the coordinator’s apartment to get his help and use his WiFi.  His roommates (former PCVs but now enjoying getting paid in dollars) treated me to an awesome meal, offered for me to crash on their couch, and invited me out for ice cream.  Needless to say, I obliged, enjoyed the conversation, and fell asleep satisfied with the day’s adventures.

I wouldn’t consider myself an uptight person, but this country has certainly helped me to become more spontaneous; I’ve learned to coger lo suave, as the Dominicans say – to take it easy, put it in “God’s hands”, relax, fly by the seat of my pants, play it by ear, and roll with the punches.  I think if you didn’t stick to this philosophy, especially while working and trying to measure progress in the DR, you might drive yourself crazy.  On the other hand, if one doesn’t learn to just “wait it out”, there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on some adventurous and/or rewarding opportunities that you weren’t expecting to have experienced by the end of the day.

Yesterday I ventured over to the Feria Agropecuario, an agricultural fair where La Cabrita was showcasing their product.  It was huge!  Much bigger and more professionally organized than I had expected. The atmosphere was not unlike your typical Vermont fall fair, except replace the country music with bachata, fried dough with empanadas or pica pollo, candied apples with homemade dulces (I bought one made with squash and coconut), foliaged maple trees with coconut-laden palms, and Budweiser with Presidente (the factory is conveniently located right down the road).  Both the president and treasurer of La Cabrita were there representing the association, sharing a booth with three other organizations that had also received a loan from FEDA (Fondo Especial para el Desarrollo Agropecuario – Special Fund for Agricultural Development).  Since being there on Saturday, they had sold a good majority of their product; Rosiris, the president, will stay in the capital until Sunday when the fair ends.  The socios and I have finally talked things through and we’ve reached an understanding, so I’m looking forward to begin attending meetings again, continue helping them with their label (they’re still in the process of achieving sanitary registration), and collaborating with them on the commercialization of their tasty (and after witnessing their recognition at the fair, popular!) products.

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Mahi-mahi

Mahi-mahi

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Who would've thought that there were so many types of plantains?

Who would’ve thought that there were so many types of plantains?

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The presidenta of La Cabrita, Rosiris

The presidenta of La Cabrita, Rosiris

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Beta fish for sale

Beta fish for sale

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Rosi and I

Rosi and I

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cause(s) to celebrate

9 Mar

On March 6, 2013 I boarded a plan headed to the Dominican Republic with 32 strangers.  A year later, those people are now some of my closest friends; they are the best people to call when I have to rant about a crazy doña or lonely meeting because they most likely encountered a similar situation last week; their company makes home feel not so far away, a beach more idyllic, a guagua ride less painful, and a Presidente beer better-tasting.  Can’t believe a whole year has gone by; I look forward to spending the next 15 months surviving and exploring this beautifully crazy country alongside great friends and fellow volunteers.

Peralvillo

Morning run during CBT in Peralvillo

4th of July Celebration in Samaná

4th of July Celebration in Samaná

New Years in Cabarete

New Years in Cabarete

Laura and I in Alta Mira translating for Builders Beyond Borders in February

Laura and I in Alta Mira translating for Builders Beyond Borders in February

Celebrating Dominican Independence Day, February 27th

Celebrating Dominican Independence Day, February 27th

And let me tell you folks, this first week of my second year in country is off to a busy start.  Most noticeably, we started breaking ground in the pley!  Despite being voted the most corrupt mayor of the region, our síndico has been surprisingly active and helpful.  He’s hired an engineer to measure the area of the court in the pley and to mark off a road he plans to build around it.  He found a greda to clear and level the land, then brought in 11 dump trucks full of rocks to begin filling the area.  We’ll need plenty more to get the land to an adequate level where it’s safe from flooding, but we’re off to a great start.  It gave me butterflies seeing so many community members coming out to help, talking excitedly and envisioning amongst themselves what the pley will look like in just a couple months.  We still have a good amount of money to raise, especially because they’ll eventually want bleachers, lights, and fencing put up around the court, but we’ve got a plan, gumption, and community support to finish what we’ve started.

The pley!  Leveled and ready for rock filling

The pley! Leveled and ready for rock filling

On-lookers

On-lookers

Street full of dump trucks

Street full of dump trucks

Stuck truck

Stuck truck

High school student- athletes

High school student- athletes

Remember to visit our fundraising website to contribute to our project: http://www.razoo.com/story/Help-Build-A-Basketball-Volleyball-Court-In-Pescader-A-Dr

Rocky - community basketball/volleyball coach, and one of my go-to guys

Rocky – community basketball/volleyball coach, and one of my go-to guys

Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  It was also one of the most rewardingly chaotic days I’ve had in site.  Why?  Because I invited all of my Chicas to celebrate the occasion at my house.  Over 40 girls showed up in some of their best clothes, some of who’d been waiting outside my house since 7:30 that morning.  Some had organized to make spaghetti to share, while others contributed soda, ice, candy, cheese and crackers, cake, napkins, balloons, and disposable plates.  I reminded them that they didn’t have to bring anything, that I’d be providing materials and such, but I was touched that they all wanted to offer something to help make the day special.

camped out and waiting for the celebration to start

camped out and waiting for the celebration to start

And special it was.  There were four activities the girls got to do – they were split into groups and had about 25 minutes to be at each station.

–       Write a letter to an important woman in your life

–       Paint a rock with a word or phrase that is important to you i.e. family, love, faith, etc.

–       Make paper butterflies

–       Play games

Over all, the whole event went pretty smoothly, with more giggles and cheers than spills and tears.  Good friend and fellow volunteer Laura even came to visit my site and help out!  What really made the afternoon special though was watching one of the girls that I had brought to the Chicas Brillantes conference leading dinámicas, getting the girls’ attention, and being my right-hand girl – all self-initiated.  It was awesome to see her exercising ideas and knowledge that she had picked up at the conference.

Side note: another one of the girls that had come with me to the Chicas Brillantes conference expressed interest in facilitating some of the future charlas we’d be discussing.  I was ecstatic, and immediately agreed.  Not only is this what Peace Corps is striving for – capacitating local leaders that will be able to sustain the information in the community once the volunteer leaves – but it’s also very effective; the girls retain much more information when they are receiving it from their peers.  So, in addition to the weekly Chicas meetings, we are meeting each Sunday with just the older girls so they can impart information, practice giving presentations, discuss and understand topics in more detail, and learn from one another.  Today’s first meeting went very successfully 🙂

Anyway, after everyone got to visit each of the four stations, we feasted on espaghetti, deviled eggs, and ants on a log (it was pretty funny to watch some of their reactions to eating the latter two, which they had never seen or heard of before).  The girls left full, giggly, and empowered, and are already looking forward to planning an activity for next year.

40+ girls ready to celebrate International Women's Day

40+ girls ready to celebrate International Women’s Day

Crafting

Crafting

Rock painting

Rock painting

Letter writing

Letter writing

Finished stones

Finished stones

kati gettin' crafty

kati gettin’ crafty

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A Court Story

2 Mar

Now that we have the whole land thing figured out (for today anyway), we’re working on finalizing our budget, planning a timeline for construction, organizing accommodations for when the group comes, and FUNDRAISING.  As I’ve mentioned, Courts for Kids provides each project with US$5000 towards construction materials specifically for the court.  Though the court itself is the most important, these athletes are envisioning a bigger picture – bleachers, lights, and the whole sha-bang.  Though it seems grandiose, it makes sense to think this way because our hope is that the court be used year-round, day or night, and not for just sporting activities, but also for community, religious, or educational events that would require seating and lighting for a large audience.

To share all the goings-on related to this project, I’ve created two websites:

  • A Facebook Page – This will be the official page of this project.  In addition to this blog, I’ll use this page to share where we’re at in the process of construction, fundraising, and so on, along with photos of the project and the people involved
  • A Fundraising Page – here you’ll be able to learn about our fundraising goals and personally contribute to this cause

Thanks in advance for your support and motivation.  We are excited to turn this initiative into a reality, to get you involved, and to make a positive, lasting impact in Pescadería.