Archive | July, 2015

love thy neighbor

26 Jul

As a little girl, I fondly remember my mom baking banana bread for the new families that would move into the neighborhood. To this day, I consider this a classy, warm, and pragmatic gesture.  When we moved to Vermont in 1998, this tradition continued; interacting with our neighbors was both common and crucial, especially because of the infamous ice storm that hit the northeast that winter – coordinating snowplow schedules, sharing batteries or candles when a trip to the store was impossible, letting us park our car in their driveway when we couldn’t make it up ours, etc.

Needless to say, my childhood would have been much less entertaining if it hadn’t been for that small cluster of houses at the end of a remote dirt road. We were an adventurous but sane assortment of kids who bonded over outdoor activities and who cherished our tight-knit families – The Grassy Lane Gang. I know our parents appreciated it too – carpools, after school play dates, medical support (the neighborhood dubbed my mom “Nurse Ratchet” for her interest and ability in healing any sort of ailment), and an unspoken accord regarding healthy snacks and limited TV time.

Grassy Lang Gang, crankin' apple cider at the house down the road

Grassy Lang Gang, crankin’ apple cider at the house down the road

Grassy Lane Gang

Grassy Lane Gang

members of the Grassy Lane Gang, circa 2013

members of the Grassy Lane Gang, circa 2013

I’ve lately been reflecting on how much neighbors mean to me. While I appreciate my alone time (of which I get quite a bit of here in Santo Domingo compared to in the campo), I’m recognizing how much I strongly value and enjoy human connection. This seems like a basic realization, but accepting a certain vulnerability that befriending the unknown requires has ultimately led me to experience tremendous humility, laughter, confusion, gratitude, frustration, and friendships.  Enjoying this sort of enlightenment in the company of people who share spaces makes the experience that much richer.

Happiness is only real when shared.

Here in Santo Domingo, I live in an apartment building comprised of about 20 or so separate apartments. Though I wish I could say I know all of my neighbors like I did in Pescadería (where it was common for me lend my clothespins or toilet plunger to one of them), I know the occupants of only 3 apartments here. But nonetheless, these bonds have been helpful and genuine, and reliable sources of human connection for which I am appreciative.

Today for example, I was headed out to do a few errands when I locked the door to my apartment then realized that I had left my phone inside. Frustration (read: slight panic) struck when I went to unlock the door and part of the lock fell off into my hand, leaving another part stuck in the door. Without hesitation I knocked on my neighbor’s apartment next door, Angela, who lent me a hammer, wrench, and knife to try and fiddle my way back inside. To no avail, she volunteered her youngest child to see if he could squeeze through the bars of the iron gate. We decided instead that it was better to go downstairs and look for Leo, another neighbor who, in addition to being the fiancé of a fellow PCV, happens to be quite the handyman. Less than 5 minutes later, Leo was at my doorway, equipped with safety glasses and sawing his way through the stubborn lock. Meanwhile, Angela had provided me with a chair to sit in, assuring me not to worry and that tomorrow she would call her friend who happened to be an ironworker. In a short period of time, Leo gave one last yank on the weakened metal and I was granted access into my apartment once again (no worries – got plenty of other methods to keep my apartment secure in the mean time!). As neighbors united in a time of need, we briefly celebrated then soon went our separate ways, almost indifferent to the naturalness of the exchange.

Pescadería, where my house wouldn't have been home without a hammock and around-the-clock watchmen. and by watchmen i mean tight-knit neighbors fond of rum, story telling, old bachata, their grandchildren, and power sitting.

Pescadería, where my house wouldn’t have been home without a hammock and around-the-clock watchmen. and by watchmen i mean tight-knit neighbors fond of rum, story telling, old bachata, their grandchildren, and power sitting.

I end this post with a tribute to my favorite neighbor of all time, Pepelo. He adopted me into his home with grace, in yet another unspoken accord between neighbors. From the moment I moved across the street from his house and built-in colmado, Pepelo cared for me as a daughter. He used the land behind my house to cultivate and provide us with the south’s infamous plantains, took care of my cat when I traveled, and never forgot to save me my share of the day’s meal. In light of it being Father’s Day here in the Dominican Republic (yet another reason why a neighbor rather than locksmith solved today’s dilemma), I encourage you to befriend your neighbors – friendly waves might one day make you family.

Pepelo and plantains

Pepelo and plantains

Reina, Pepelo's wife and undeniably reliable neighbor

Reina, Pepelo’s wife and undeniably reliable neighbor

So thankful for both of these stand-up guys; blessed that they've been able to meet, bond, and recognize each other's indispensable role in my well-being

Happy Father’s Day!  So thankful for both of these stand-up guys; blessed that they’ve been able to meet, bond, and recognize each other’s indispensable role in my well-being

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the third fourth

6 Jul

This week marks the THIRD Independence Day that I’ve spent outside of the United States.  How did I celebrate the land of the free, home of the brave in the land of bachata, colmados, and doñas you might ask?  Why, at a German market of course!

Santo Domingo and the campo are two different worlds – it’s exciting to have so many options yet again at my fingertips (big box stores and supermarkets, international restaurants, cultural events, live music, mass Zumba classes in parks, etc.), but also nerve-wracking to think how much more ‘world’ awaits me once June 2016 comes around.  It’s almost more unsettling (but also gratifying) to recognize that us PCVs have a very unique perspective of the Dominican Republic; we in fact know much more about campo culture and hardships than many people who live here in the capital do.  My neighbor here was shocked that I had even stepped foot inside of a latrine, and yesterday, my guagua driver refused to admit that I had lived in Barahona for two years because “donde hay prieto, no hay progreso” (literally, “there is no progress where there are blacks”).  In the campo, most of my time was spent compartiring with neighbors outside of my house (oh how I miss my hammock!) or wandering the streets, peeking in colorfully friendly homes and not thinking twice about denying hugs, juice, or a plastic chair to, as us PCVs like to refer to it, join in on the ‘power sitting’.  Time moved slower, and little interaction or awareness of ‘the outside world’ was always a confusing blend of comforting isolation.  Santo Domingo can be isolating too in the sense that people keep much more to themselves than in the campo, but in reality there are plenty of opportunities to explore and share in an authentic Dominican style (read: loud).

Having spent a good chunk of June visiting volunteers in their sites (or attending a seafood festival, as shown in the pictures below), I turned down the option to spend the 4th on a world-renown beach and opted instead for Kati-time…mainly to do a month’s worth of laundry, but also to continue exploring my new world here in Santo Domingo, where I still got plenty of sun and had the opportunity to enjoy authentic German brews and brat.

Danielle (CED PCV), me, and Michael (Associate Peace Corps Director for CED)

Danielle (CED PCV), me, and Michael (Associate Peace Corps Director for CED) at the Festival Marisco Ripiao in Sanchez

Festival Marisco Ripiao, Sanchez

Festival Marisco Ripiao, Sanchez

They put us in charge of face painting...

They put us in charge of face painting…

Artisan booth - Faceless Dolls

Artisan booth – Faceless Dolls

Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil

Eco-Tourism Lodge

Eco-Tourism Lodge

cooking show !!

cooking show !!

Cooking show - ways to use local seafood

Cooking show – ways to use local seafood

Took a break from face painting to judge a food competition !

Took a break from face painting to judge a food competition !

In this new city and new role, rather than being partnered with a community group or organization, my new primary project is essentially supporting the volunteers of the Community Economic Development sector.  While it’s not as hands-on as my first two years of service, Sector Leader is still grass-roots in the sense that we help prepare the community to receive a volunteer before he/she even gets there, and then continue to give follow-up support/visits throughout the PCV’s service.  Though these visits allow me to gain context – understand who the volunteer is working with, current activities, site conditions, etc. – and to better connect with my peers, I STILL have to be proactive about not comparing my service to theirs.  I am striving to use this retrospect in facilitating the service of my fellow PCVs and not to deplore or regret aspects of my own.

Learning about vermiculture (fertilizer from earthworms) in San Jose de Ocoa

Learning about vermiculture (fertilizer from earthworms) in San Jose de Ocoa

PCV visit to Montecristi

PCV visit to Montecristi

"The Shoe" at El Morro Beach

“The Shoe” at El Morro Beach

View of El Morro from the Salt Mines

View of El Morro from the Salt Mines

Loading salt into the truck

Loading salt into the truck

Salt!  Extracted from salt water, filtered through mangroves, and passed through a series of pools until...

Salt! Extracted from salt water, filtered through mangroves, and passed through a series of pools until…

it's salt!

it’s salt!

One way I’m choosing to be proactive about this – learning from my peers and applying it to my own work – is by continuing to visit Pescaderia and interacting on the ground level.  As you might recall, two of my Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams) students each won $RD50,000 to start/strengthen their own businesses.  Chamila took advantage of the local week-long patronales party to sell clothes to interested party-goers and plans to save the profit to eventually build a locale; Jonathan is using this investment to widen his product line, encouraging customers to buy all of their agri-veterinary needs at his business rather than making the trip to Barahona.  To learn more about the Construye Tus Sueños initiative and the national conference where these two young entrepreneurs showed their stuff, watch the video below.

Lastly, I’d like to make a special shout out to someone who has helped me to create and seize opportunities – my MOM!  In under one week she’ll be headed to Washington D.C. to participate in her very own staging for Peace Corps service in Malawi!  To learn more about the adventure this incredible woman will experience, follow her blog here.  Suerte, amor! 

Alejandra and I on top of Montaña Redonda near Miches

Alejandra and I on top of Montaña Redonda near Miches

Mangoes on mountaintops

Mangoes on mountaintops

see we can sit in a distant haze and watch rain clouds pour thoughts of greatness to help our troubles sail real far away

see we can sit in a distant haze and watch rain clouds
pour thoughts of greatness to help our troubles sail real far away