Archive | May, 2014

blocks, crocs, and doñas

31 May

I want to thank all of those who responded to my desperate pleas for donations towards our basketball/volleyball court because we’ve raised $400 dollars over our fundraising goal! In addition to what the town mayor is offering towards the project, we have about US$6000 to work with. Our Courts for Kids group is scheduled to arrive in Pescadería June 8th. They will sleep in the local school, and will have their daily meals prepared by two gung-ho doñas. We plan to work June 9th through June 12th, mixing and pouring cement alongside the multitudes of jovenes that will very soon benefit from the court’s completion – who are also in charge of planning various cultural activities for our visitors. If all goes as plans and we finish the court, we’ll head Friday to celebrate at San Rafael beach and then inaugurate the court the morning of the 14th. The group will then go to the capital on the 15th, stay the night at another local beach, and head home to the States on the 16th.

the team on one of our first days of hard labor

the local team on one of our first days of hard labor

materials arrive and cement is mixed

materials arrive and cement is mixed

DSCN6157

the court with the base dug and rebar set

the court with the base dug and rebar set

DSCN6178

DSCN6162

DSCN6167

Genesis, Lopez, Mayimbe, and Geudy

Genesis, Lopez, Mayimbe, and Geudy

DSCN6171

DSCN6194

DSCN6195

DSCN6191

Regino

Regino

Genesis

Genesis

taking five

taking five

blocks being laid!

blocks being laid!

The excitement and energy of the local athletes is motivating– I can’t tell if they are more anxious to meet our visitors or to play on the court. Before the group comes we need to have the base finished, columns built, and ground leveled. This way, we’ll have four days to pour the cement, put on the backboards, and hopefully get the court painted. I’m relieved to say that we’re making good progress.  From the pictures above you can see that we’ve got the base built – just have to pour the cement for the columns and then level, compact, add, and re-compact the sub-grade.

La unión hace la fuerza

Unity makes strength

the team after a long day of work

the team after a long day of work

During my shrinking amount of free time, I joined up with a group of PCVs and went to Lago Enriquillo – a confident check off my growing bucket list to complete while on the island.  Lago Enriquillo is salt-water lake located close to the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti.  As the largest body of water on the island, it is also known as the lowest point in the Caribbean.  Due to its unique habitat, the lake is home to a number of species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world, drawing both national and international tourists to experience birding and boat tours.

We strategically planned our regional PCV meeting close to the lake :)

We strategically planned our regional PCV meeting close to the lake 🙂

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Baby crocs!

Baby crocs!

DSCN5938

Mama croc keepin' a look out

Mama croc keepin’ a look out

Interestingly, Enriquillo’s water level is growing (there are multiple theories why, but it has still yet to be solved), meaning that overtime the lake’s salt concentration is decreasing.  This occurrence is both good and bad.  Because the water is not as concentrated, more species are able to survive in the lake.  However, the rising level of the water is encroaching on locals’ farm lands, and the last of three islands located within the lake (nesting grounds for flamingoes and home to a unique species of iguana) is in danger of being submerged.

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Fishermen avoiding the crocodiles

Local fishermen avoiding the crocodiles

DSCN5887

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Lago Enriquillo

Iguanas next to our 13-passenger van

Iguanas next to our 13-passenger van

Me with the 'guanas

Me with the ‘guanas

PCVs and Staff at Lago Enriquillo

PCVs and Staff at Lago Enriquillo

Another recent accomplishment was our Somos Mujeres Regional Conference. Spearheaded by a fellow business PCV, about 10 other volunteers and I planned and organized a conference dedicated to women’s empowerment. The two-day event emphasized two Peace Corps sectors – health and business. Over 20 women from the southern region of the country attended the conference, where we covered topics including the importance of savings, how to set goals, what it means to be an entrepreneur, healthy home and business practices, and how to discuss sensitive topics like condom use and HIV/AIDS with your children.

Getting to know one another :)

Getting to know one another 🙂

 

Savings activity

Savings activity

My colmado dinamica about the importance of savings

My colmado dinamica about the importance of savings

Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

Banco Representative Denny sharing the importance of savings

Banco Representative Denny sharing the importance of savings

Somos Mujeres with Banco Ademi representative

Somos Mujeres with Banco Ademi representative

Health Promoter on how to talk to your kids about sex

Health Promoter on how to talk to your kids about sex

Goal setting and dream catcher workshop

Goal setting and dream catcher workshop

One of my favorite parts of the conference was when two health volunteers explained how germs are spread, then taught the group how to make hand sanitizer. The women not only understood the importance of safe hygiene practices within a home and business, but also left the conference with a potential income generation activity.

Health PCVs Liz and Yvette

Health PCVs Liz and Yvette

 

Germ cycle

Germ cycle

Making hand sanitizer with one of our Health PCVs

Making hand sanitizer with one of our Health PCVs

Though I had intended for my project partner and two women from La Cabrita to join me as well, my friend Silvana and I represented Pescadería appropriately.  Plus, no matter if you have participants from your own community or not, attending conferences are always motivating and reinvigorating.  Dominicans are selfless, energetic, and resilient people.  They are masters of conversation; on the other hand they find it not the least awkward to sit in prolonged silence.  They are not embarrassed by silly ice-breakers, and know how make the most out of something small or simple.  Silvana and I plan to share our motivation and knowledge gained from the conference with a group of local women who are attending a weekly course in which they are learning skills they can potentially use to generate income (i.e. how to make a wide assortment of household cleaning products).

Silvana and I :)

Silvana and I 🙂

Somos Mujeres graduates

Somos Mujeres graduates

And lastly, a belated mother’s day to all my doñas out there! Here mothers are honored on the third Sunday of May, and to celebrate the women of my neighborhood threw a party. Just about all the attendees received a letter and at least one beer from their husbands – they even gave one to me!  They had a gift exchange, and as per usual, a tasty Dominican brindis.  Oh there was a doña booty-shaking competition too, but that should go without saying.

Neighborhood Mothers' Day Celebration

Neighborhood Mothers’ Day Celebration

 

Reina, my most reliable Dominican mom :)

Reina, one of my many Dominican moms 🙂

My project partner, Nibia, who helped organize the event

My project partner, Nibia, who helped organize the event

table of gifts for the ladies!

table of gifts for the ladies!

My neighbor Delly receiving her husband's card

My neighbor Delly receiving her card (and beers!) from her husband

DSCN6118

DSCN6119

party crashers

party crashers

DSCN6111

DSCN6108

what's a Dominican party without a booty shaking contest?

what’s a Dominican party without a booty shaking contest?

Without a fuss or question, the women (and men too! – those that don’t hit on me anyway) of Pescadería have taken me in as one of their own daughters.  This whole Peace Corps thing wouldn’t be the same glorious adventure or experience without the doñas’ cushy hugs, brutal honesty, or dirty humor.  And while striving to remain humble, I continue to be thankful for it all, down to the last grain of their customarily bountiful rice offerings.

I was even honored at the Mothers' Day Celebration!

Advertisements

beans and brilliance

5 May

The following post is picture-heavy, depicting two very different but equally significant events.  But before I describe them, here’s your last chance to donate to the construction of our basketball/volleyball court project – gracias!

Donate Here

This first series was taken on April 18th, the Friday of Easter weekend.  Here during Semana Santa or Holy Week, people don’t go to work (or church really for that matter) but rather spend most of their time bathing in plastic pools and eating habichuelas con dulce (literally, sweet beans).  Maybe I’ve been living on this island too long, but I’m actually a big fan of this culinary curiosity.  Doñas cook beans (typically kidney beans but my favorite version is made with black beans) until soft, then they blend them up, adding cinnamon, malagueta, chunks of sweet potato or squash, raisins, and loads of sugar and evaporated milk.  Served hot or cold and typically topped with wafer-like cookies, habichuelas con dulce are the symbol of Semana Santa in the Domincan Republic, sin duda.

Pool set-up and filling started at the crack of dawn.

Pool set-up and filling started at the crack of dawn.

DSCN5651

DSCN5664

DSCN5665

DSCN5715

DSCN5707

Dominoes

Dominoes

Pepelo holding down the fort until his friends joined him

Pepelo holding down the fort until his friends joined him

...which they did

…which they did

DSCN5673

DSCN5689

DSCN5696

DSCN5692

DSCN5693

DSCN5672

Liliana with her habichuelas con dulce

Liliana with her habichuelas con dulce

The second event is something that over 40 other people and I have been looking forward to since October – the Chicas Brillantes graduation!  All of my Chicas dressed in their best clothes to celebrate their obtained knowledge and completion of the course.  The girls had decorated the church festively, and given that all the participants were able to invite their mothers, there were nearly 100 people in attendance.  I explained to the moms some of the topics we’d covered throughout the course – beauty, self-esteem, nutrition, anatomy, goal-setting, education, gender roles, etc. – and thanked them for motivating/allowing their girls to attend.  We had a guest speaker lead an empowering dinámica about confronting an all-too-common problem here in the DR – violence against women.  The girls performed various skits that stressed the importance of education and respectful behavior, and like most of our reuniones, there was plenty of singing, dancing, and giggling.  43 chicas, ranging from 5 to 17 years old, received a diploma and goody bag for demonstrating an acceptable attendance record, regular participation in meetings, and enhanced skills and knowledge.  We closed the ceremony in the way that any event in this country is expected to finish  – with a bountiful brindis.  Every participant brought food to share, giving way to a spread that even the doñas were impressed with – espaghettis (we made over 15 pounds of it!), empanadas, ham and cheese, bread, coleslaw, soda, and cake.

Rehearsing for their skits

Rehearsing for their skits the day before

Chicas and their mothers at the graduation

Chicas and their mothers at the graduation

A cheery Yisseilis, preparing to lead the group in a special applause

A cheery Yisseilis, preparing to lead the group in a special applause

"Repect" skit

“Repect” skit

DSCN5759

Education skit

Education skit

No Violence Against Women demonstration

No Violence Against Women demonstration

My incredible project partner, Nibia, taking a stand against domestic violence

My incredible project partner, Nibia, taking a stand against domestic violence

Yokairi explaining the importance of balancing uniqueness and solidarity

Yokairi explaining the importance of balancing uniqueness and solidarity

My brilliant graduates

My brilliant graduates

Bustle at the brindis

Bustle at the brindis

Macanita and I after the ceremony

Macanita and I after the ceremony

Some of my Chicas and I after the graduation

Some of my Chicas and I after the graduation

One of my most dedicated students, Cesarina, and me

One of my most dedicated students, Cesarina, and me

All in all, it was an enjoyably interactive graduation.  The mothers left full, enlightened, and giggly, and the chicas were proud to have put on such a successful and educational event for their moms to experience.  I look forward to continue meeting with the girls, mentoring them on whichever topics contribute to their knowledge, promise, and undeniable brilliance.

cups of conversation

3 May

Papaye is 68 years old, and has lived his entire life in Pescadería. As the oldest socio of La Cabrita, he is my favorite person to share a cup of coffee with. We are both addicted to the stuff – he takes his with too much sugar for my taste or his health, and he nearly cringes when I sip my cup of spiced bitterness. But regardless of the sugar content, for us coffee opens the door to an endless array of conversation topics.

Papaye

Papaye

We’ve developed a good amount of confianza – I can ask him questions without him thinking that I’m crazy and vice versa, and we’ll give each other honest answers; he shares wise advice and life stories with me, and I enlighten him with cultural differences between the US and the Dominican Republic. It’s a good trade, and the coffee buzz makes it that much better.

One evening he saw me walking and invited me to join him. Without question I hoped into the back of his son’s truck – they were going to visit his cows, and I hadn’t been to that part of town before. The trail was dusty and rugged; the farmers who had their land located along that road had their work cut out for them. We reached where he kept his herd, and I was happily surprised to see that his cows didn’t look as famished and thirsty as the landscape; they weren’t fat, but they looked satisfied gnawing away on fermenting sugar cane. He cleaned and filled their water tubs, and shut the barbed-wire fence that led to the larger, grassier part of their turnout, settling them in for the night. He explained to me which ones were related, who was pregnant, and which gave the most milk, and then we got in the truck and started back towards town. I thanked him for bringing me along, but he retorted with a response that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

“Kati, do you want to know why I think we’re so friendly? It’s because we’re poor. Sure, it’s a part of our nature out of tradition, but it’s also because we have to be. A millionaire doesn’t have to be friendly because he can buy just about anything he’d ever need. But us poor people, we have to live in solidarity to be able to survive.”

His youthful eyes glistened wisely, recognizing that what he just described to me had really hit home. Though what he said portrays a deeper implication than a simple visit to his cows, Papaye’s words concisely summed up much of what I’m witnessing and learning here about the relationship between culture, development, sustainability, and human existence. Living and working alongside people like Papaye has made me realize that while American culture conditions selfishness, Dominican culture emphasizes solidarity and selflessness. How much of what we’ve come to know as ‘culture’ is developed out of the necessity versus the gratification of a tradition? Does the level of a country’s development shape the morals of its citizens, or do those very morals determine the amount of progress a country makes?

DSCN5743

There are Papayes all over the world – spirited people who work tirelessly to provide for their family; who crave and seek new knowledge, and embody perseverance, humility, and ingenuity. They go to great lengths to gather the fruits of their labor, and whether it is information, food, or money, they’ll share it others so that those people also have the opportunity to grow and sustain the cycle.

Watching Papaye work, especially considering his age and work ethic, motivates me to be a more selfless person. He has helped me to realize that while I might not have too many pesos in my bank account, that I am rich in many other ways – my education, health, spirit for adventure, and upbringing to name a few. I am fortunate, and it is only fair to share what I can with others who may not have had the same opportunities as me.  For people like Papaye, I will always be inclined to bring something to the table, be it as simple as a cup of coffee.