Tag Archives: Dominican Republic

3-Month Mark

12 Aug

The first stage of my Peace Corps service is complete!  Tuesday through Friday we had our 3-month In-Service Training (IST), where all of the Community Economic Development volunteers presented their community and organizational diagnostics alongside their project partners.  It was awesome to see where my friends are living, and to learn about some of the projects they plan to execute during their service.  All of our assignments are very different, but in many ways similar; I’m excited to learn from and collaborate with my fellow PCVs – an awesome support system of some pretty creative, adventurous, and intellectual people!

As promised, here’s a very brief synopsis of how and what I’ve learned about Pescadería since my arrival in May  (the essay I handed in to Peace Corps was over 20 pages written in Spanish!):

  • To get involved in my community and to obtain information, I completed written and oral interviews, did lots of observing, and participated in various community activities: visited four out of the five churches, went to the beach with a church group, celebrated Mother’s Day and Patronales, went to baseball and softball games, learned how to play cards, Dominican bingo, and dominoes, bought used clothing at weekly ‘market’, cooked espaghettis with various groups of friends, helped in the alphabetization class, started my own English class, got my nails and hair did, and joined a group of doñas that walk every morning.
  • In Pescadería there are over 4600 inhabitants and 530 houses.   The majority of people live in houses made of cement blocks, or otherwise wood or a plaster-like material; floors are generally concrete.  Many people have bathrooms inside the house, but few actually have running water; others use either individual or collective latrines.  People cook using gas stoves or charcoal pits/stands; trash is normally picked up by a garbage truck, but also burned and/or thrown in the river.
  • Main sources of income are agriculture, dairy farming, fishing, and motoconcho (motorcycle “taxis”).  Incomes range from below RD$5000 to RD$60000 monthly ($125-$1500).  Main crops are plantains, yucca, bananas, peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro.
  • Pescadería has paved streets and electricity for about 8 hours/day.  There’s a school up to 8th grade and a high school (currently held in the elementary school while a new one is being built), primary care clinic, national police station, and a gym.  There’s also 15 colmados, three butchers, an informal eatery, three furniture makers, three carpenters, one auto and four motorcycle repair shops, three beauty salons, four barbershops, five seamstresses, a place to make copies, three bars, one discoteca, a place that sells electric appliances, and a pigeon in a palm tree.  All other services/errands that one can’t do in Pescadería can be done in Barahona about 20 minutes away – hospital, post office, telephone services, Internet center, library, university, supermarket, pharmacy, hardware store, etc.

Primary projects – how I plan to help my community, CED style:

  • Start a women’s group or association – there isn’t one in Pescadería, and the doñas need to be heard!  Once started, they’d have a place to discuss community needs and development, plan social activities and services, start a savings group, and simply have fun.  As a business volunteer, I’ll also be able to offer the Somos Mujeres initiative to the women that are interested in learning how to generate income, start a business, and/or manage their finances.
  • Teach Construye Tus Sueños – entrepreneurial skills for youth.  Seeing as there are various types of businesses that Pescadería is lacking (bakery, clothing store, pharmacy, deli, fruit/veggie market, cheap eatery, hardware store, etc.) and lots of educated and motivated but jobless youth, there are plenty of opportunities to create a successful business.
  • Support FUNDEPE – local development association that is essentially the umbrella organization for La Cabrita.  They have brought numerous NGOs including UNDP, AMCHAM, AECID and Oxfam International to Pescadería, and currently operate a rotating fund to provide loans to community members.

Secondary projects – out of Community Economic Development framework, but just as important:

  • Help build a basketball/volleyball court – lots of sports teams and kids but no place to play!  Applying to the program Courts for Kids that sends a group from the US to help build and offers $5000 towards construction materials.
  • Chicas Brillantes – literally “brilliant girls” this Youth initiative strives to promote and enhance self-esteem, teamwork, inner beauty, and respect among groups of adolescent girls.
  • Find space to build/create community center – this is gonna be a tough one…
  • Strengthen the school library – unfortunately the mayor is no longer paying the two people that were helping supervise the library, so it’s currently not in use.  There are plenty of educational resources that could be used to transform the space into a functional library and learning center.
  • Paint a World Map Mural!
  • Plan a Field Day for kids
  • Plan activities for Earth Day and International Women’s Day
  • Better the trash service, or at least find activities to do with recycled material – there are women here that make flowers and art from trash, plant fiber, and recycled goods.  I’d also love to start a garden behind my future house, and line the perimeter with glass bottles.

…and that’s just with the community!  Here’s how I hope to help La Cabrita:

  • Complete a priority matrix – we did a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), but because the project has so many different areas, we need to prioritize activities.  Divide and conquer.
  • Go over project plan – although La Cabrita is over two years old, they just started making cheese and yogurt three months ago, and they seemed to have rushed into the process without a formal plan.  It’s important that where their project is headed is in line with their original mission, vision, and objectives.  Seeing as they eventually want to build more structures to be able to accommodate more goats, it’ll be useful to draw a map of the whole project too.
  • Capacity building – they’ve received various courses, but a few more couldn’t hurt.  I hope to give charlas regarding organizational structure, publicity and marketing, accounting, customer service, and planning skills, but there are plenty of other options too – product, inventory, market/demand, quality control, credit, fixed and variable costs, control systems, sales, resource management, price and profit margin, and competition.  The more business skills the better, and their profitability and business know-how will increase.
  • Improve control systems – currently all of the records that La Cabrita keeps are done by hand.  In the hopes of buying a computer, I’ll teach them computer skills and help the members develop a more effective way to keep track of milking, cheese and yogurt production, inventory, bloodlines, medical records, sales, expenditures, and so on.  A computerized system will also allow La Cabrita to more easily monitor and evaluate their progress.
  • Complete cost analysis – this people work their butts off.  We want to make sure they’re making money!
  • Develop marketing and publicity – consuming goat cheese and yogurt is not part of Dominican culture, or not yet anyway.  First, I hope to help La Cabrita find a stable market where they can sell their tasty products – hotels, fairs, supermarkets, etc; and second, to enhance their delivery, publicity, customer service, and product value.  We plan to open a professional email account, improve their current brochures, and create a web page.
  • Plan a community activity to visit the project – improve and increase community support, sales, knowledge, and nutrition.

Plenty of opportunities to keep me busy, but nothing will be possible or sustainable without the support of my community.  Through the diagnostic, I’ve made lots of friends and have learned priceless information about my community, La Cabrita, and myself.  Can’t wait to get started!

517-13-01

16 May

WE DID IT!  33 individuals of group 517-13-01 are officially Peace Corps Volunteers 🙂

Group 517-13-01; official PCVs!

Group 517-13-01; official PCVs!

We’ve all been waiting a long time for Swear-In (application, interviews, nomination, medical stuff, invitation, LOTS more medical stuff, travel arrangements, get in country – for someone in my group, this process took them two years!).  Training was not easy, but having 32 awesome new friends did make it more enjoyable.  Thinking about it, yesterday was probably the most important day of my life thus far.

Lauren, Andy, me, John, and Kaley

Lauren, Andy, me, John, and Kaley

As one of my friends put it, “receiving my invitation to the Peace Corps was like getting a key to my future.”  Already, in just the few months we’ve been here, we’ve met so many incredible, knowledgeable, experienced, different, and fun individuals, all of whom I look forward to working with in the future; we’ve been introduced to various NGOs, business ideas and practices, and personal and professional resources; we’re learning how to live and work in a culture very different than what we’re used to; we’re growing…and today’s just the first day of our service!  There will be plenty of ups and downs along the way, but in reality, I’m looking forward to it all.  Can’t even imagine where (or who!) I’ll be two years from now.

DSCN3138

Lauren, Ivette, Kaley, Maegan, me, and Caitlin

The ceremony was short but sweet.  We took lots of pictures before and after, and gorged ourselves on cake.  I’m proud of myself for this huge accomplishment, but a whole two years of work still awaits.  More importantly, I want to thank all of my friends and family, in all parts of the world, for your support.  When taking the oath, I couldn’t help but think of all of the love, advice, and well-wishes I’ve received; I dedicate my oath to you!  I would most certainly not be here if it weren’t for my family and friends.

non-edible, beautiful, and patriotic display cake

non-edible, beautiful, and patriotic display cake

Tonight, we’re celebrating our accomplishments 🙂  Tomorrow, we all head off to our individual sites to begin on the 3-month diagnostic phase of service.  Wish us luck!  Hope you keep reading my blog to learn more about the adventures that await…

Neighbors!  Kaley and I will be living 15 minutes away from each other.

Neighbors! Kaley and I will be living 15 minutes away from each other.

P.S. They’ve given us a mailbox key at the Peace Corps Office located in the Capital.  If you’re interested, feel free to send me a letter!  They recommend NOT sending items through FedEx or DHL, as those packages are more likely to get searched/charged when going through customs, so just use regular mail.  If you’re going to send a package, use a padded envelope as opposed to a box.  It might take weeks to get here, but it’ll be that more fun to open 🙂

Katherine Weschler, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
APDO 1412
Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic

so official!

Link

¿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?

Visit to Dajabón!

25 Mar

I’ve come to the conclusion that few things feel better than a cool bucket shower after a long day of travel, especially if you’re badly sunburned and your host mom served you hot chocolate for dinner…

But anyway, this weekend was a great success.  Each trainee was assigned to visit a current volunteer in our sector Thursday through Sunday.  I got to visit Kaitlyn in El Pino, Dajabón!

Dominican Republic; Dajabón is the region in red, top left.

Dominican Republic; Dajabón is the region in red, top left.

I packed light, and took a guagua early Thursday morning towards the capital to catch a Caribe Tour bus.  The ride lasted about five hours and was really pretty seamless – decently clean, plenty of room, except it was freezing cold!!!!  After meeting Kaitlyn at the station in Villa de los Almácigos, we took a short guagua ride to her house.

Charlie

Charlie

She lives with her newly adopted puppy Charlie in a cute, open, two-bedroom house in the pueblo next to El Pino, where her office and various community groups are based.  She introduced me to her friend Vidal, who lives nearby and is the regional leader of Escojo Mi Vida, a Peace Corps initiative about sexual health education for youth.  The three of us took it easy the rest of the day – getting to know each other, playing cards, listening to music, sitting out on the porch, and so on – it felt great to get out of the city, away from the dust and noise, and to take a break from training.  Towards the end of the night, Kaitlyn mentioned that despite living in the campo, she really hadn’t seen too many creepy crawlies.

look who came to welcome me!

look who came to welcome me!

So of course, when I walk towards the kitchen a couple minutes later what do I see?  A tarantula.  I’m an animal lover, but these things are gross.  And hairy.  And huge.  Kaitlyn and I immediately took to screeching, as any other right-minded person would do, but thankfully Vidal came to the rescue and killed it with a broom.  I will die a happy lady if I never have to do that by myself, because that explosive, popping sound gave me the heeeeeeeeeebie jeebies.

The next day Kaitlyn, Vidal, and I headed to the city of Dajabón to check out its well-known weekly market.  On our way we bumped into another PCV who happened to be from Vermont – small world!

Sidebar: Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispanola.  Given that it was the first place Christopher Columbus landed in the New World, the two countries share more history than any others in the hemisphere.  The Dominican Republic, about 2/3 of the island, was settled by Spain; Haiti, though settled by the French, was populated mostly by African slaves.    In 1822, Haiti invaded the Dominican Republic, occupying the territory until the DR proclaimed its independence in 1844.

“First landmass colonized by Spain, one of the last to receive it’s independence, and not from Spain, but from a former colony – Haiti.”

In 1861, the DR reverted back to colonial status, primarily to avoid further Haitian annexation; Dominican independence from Spain was restored in 1865.  Now, in present day, there is still controversy between the two countries, especially regarding immigration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.  In general, Haitians are blatantly discriminated against and are treated as second-class citizens.  For example, many are pulled off busses and asked to prove their citizenship, which often is not accepted until the military personnel receive an adequate sum of money.  Even if a Haitian is born in the Dominican Republic, he/she is still not necessarily guaranteed a birth certificate, or citizenship.  Ultimately, what it boils down to is skin color, but what boggles my mind is that many Dominicans in fact are of African decent.  Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the DR for over 30 years who killed thousands of Haitians to “whiten” the country, was part Haitian.

Anyway, what inspired this history lesson is that the city of Dajabón lies right on the border of Haiti.  With the river as a natural boundary, Haitians cross over every Monday and Friday to sell their goods in a large warehouse-like building.  The market was a must-see experience, and though it’s impossible to put into words exactly what it was like, I can tell you that I’ve never in my life felt so overwhelmed, or white.  There were thousands of people, hustling through mazes of aisles and stalls, selling everything under the sun.  I unfortunately didn’t bring my camera, but even so, a picture couldn’t do this market justice.  There was lots of shoving, bumping, and shouting (in Creole).  We squeezed through spaces when we could, trying to avoid aggressively-driven wheelbarrows, pick-pocketing children, and overly-persistent salespeople.  So much heat from overly-crowded bodies combined with the unforgiveably-blaring sun, plus the widest range of smells: body odor, various spices, chickens, dust, fruits and veggies (both ripe and past their prime), wood smoke, any and all cuts of meat, trash, fried food, smoked fish, stagnant water, and motorcycle gas.  Two words: sensory overload.  We bought some veggies for dinner from various vendors on the outside of the warehouse, then wandered inside where there was a bit more breathing room.  It was incredible.  You could find anything in that place from Hollister clothes to bed sheets to blenders to Matryoshka dolls.  A lot of the goods turned out to be donated items, sent to Haiti through various international relief programs.  I was secretly keeping my eye out for someone with a Woodstock Lacrosse shirt on, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.  The whole thing was kind of a Wal-Mart meets pawn shop/Salvation Army meets farmers market meets border patrol.  Finding our way out was definitely the most stressful part.  We didn’t pick a very good route because, as it turned out, we were heading in the same direction of the border crossing.  We finally made it out safely, but it took us a good 20 minutes of navigating, standing our ground, and contorting.  And then we were almost the victims of a dog fight.  We laughed about all the chaos over corny jokes and a jumbo Presidente.

The rest of the weekend was far less stressful.  Playing guitar, sipping coffee on her porch, playing with Charlie, cooking, reading, chatting (and drinking cherry juice!) with Kaitlyn’s awesome neighbors, and swimming!  Vidal took us to a great swimming hole on Saturday morning.  After walking 40 minutes or so, we got to a river with rocks to jump off from.  It reminded me of summers in Vermont, and was most definitely worth the sunburn.

burritos, Peace Corps style

burritos, Peace Corps style

I bid adios to Kaitlyn around 10 this morning, promising her neighbors that I’d come back someday to visit.  Can’t wait to see the progress she’ll have made, and hopefully she comes to visit me at my future site 🙂  On the bus back to Santo Domingo, I sat next to a man with an innocent-looking white sack at his feet.  Turns out there was a chicken inside.  He went on to tell me that she was a very high-quality chicken who had ‘given birth’ to some prestigious cock-fighting roosters.  He was going to the capital to breed her so she could lay some more champions.

On that note, I’m off to bed.  Pardon the long post, but it was quite a weekend.  We have one week left of training here, then it’s off to CBT in Monte Plata!  Hasta pronto amigos!!

 

 

qué le dijo el pez al hombre que se estaba ahogando?  nada…  

 

mangú con huevos

19 Mar

… is most definitely my favorite food here, for now anyway.  Mashed plantains with eggs, who woulda thought?  But it’s delicious, and filling!  I get it maybe twice a week for dinner.  Sometimes it’s an egg torta with onions and peppers, other times a fried egg, tonight they made scrambled eggs with tomatoes.  But it gets better.  I top it off with the Cholula hot sauce I brought from the States.  And THEN, mi familia gives me a cold glass of juice (tonight I got mango con cherry) to wash it all down with.  Heavenly.

But on to more important stuff.  On Sunday, we met up in the Zona Colonial of Santo Domingo – traditional plazas (great people watching, could do without the pigeons though), old buildings, expensive restaurants, cobblestone streets, tourists, and over-priced trinkets.  We gathered at Plaza Colon, which spreads in front of the oldest church in the Americas (construction started in 1512), to meet Lynne Guitar for a tour.

Plaza Colón and the Catedral de Santa María la Menor (construction started in 1512)

Plaza Colón and the Catedral de Santa María la Menor

Lynne has lived in the Dominican Republic for 17 years, and is currently the Resident Director of the Study Center for CIEE (www.ciee.org) in the city of Santiago.  Additionally, she has been studying the indigenous Taíno Indians since she first came to the country, and is now preparing an exhibit about their history and culture for the Smithsonian Museum!  She also told us that she now only gives tours to Peace Corps Volunteers, which made us feel pretty special 🙂  She led us down various streets to impressively historic sites, sharing her wealth of knowledge and story-telling skills, all while carrying her dog Coby over her shoulder.  Pretty neat lady.

What else has happened…Got two more vaccines…Played Scrabble in Spanish class today…Had a whole hour and half lecture on malaria, dengue, and diarrhea…Oh!  We got phones!  Each PCV/T gets a phone with a basic network plan.  We get something like 150 minutes and 75 texts per month, free of charge.  There is service throughout the majority of the country, and it will be a great way to keep in touch with fellow volunteers, especially if we don’t have reliable access to the Internet.

hangin' out with some gargoyles

hangin’ out with some gargoyles

Today we took guaguas to the Caribe Tours bus station, which is where we’ll leave from to get to the sites of our volunteer visit.  As I mentioned in another post, each trainee goes to visit a volunteer currently working in his/her sector, Thursday-Sunday.  I’ll be going to visit a PCV in the northwest region of Dajabón.  Aside from the fact that it should be about a five hour bus ride, I don’t really know what to expect – I’ll make sure to fill you in when I get back.  She did tell me to bring a bathing suit though, so hopefully we go swimming!

Si dios quiere…

 

new page!

15 Mar

I’ve created a new page (“Dominicanismos” – located at the top right of my blog) to share various aspects of the Dominican culture with you.  I plan to update this as I go…hope you like learning about my new home!

feliz cumpleaños a mi!

13 Mar

So today I turned 23. Sure, I’m still one of the youngest people in our group, but it’s no ‘milestone’ age. It’s not the first birthday that I’ve celebrated without my family, not even my first birthday out of the country (I turned 20 in Argentina), but nevertheless it’s been quite a special day. Here are some highlights…

  • My host mom greeted me this morning with a huge hug and a felicidades, then served me the biggest bowl of fresh papaya, mango, and pineapple yet
  • As soon as I walked into the training center, all of the other trainees that had already arrived sung me happy birthday! Literally, as soon as I walked in the door – so surprised that people I’m still just getting to know remembered!
  • I got my second Rabies vaccine, and took my chalky, makes-you-have-the-most-vivid-dreams-ever Malaria medicine (happy malaria miércoles!)…not the best part of the day, but figured I’d add it to the highlights considering this is my first birthday to have done either
  • For the first time, we split into our sector groups – community economic development (CED, my sector) and eduction. The 13 of us were officially introduced to our training staff; we talked about the basic logistics and objectives of our community based training (CBT) that takes place in a couple weeks. During CBT we’ll be living in the region of Monte Plata, known for its agriculture, primarily cacao; it’s also where fair trade and organic products really took off in the DR. One of the staff brought us cacao rolled in sugar and a cacao marmalade (YUMMM), both made by a women’s cooperative we’ll have the opportunity to work with. We also received the details regarding our visits to a community of a current Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). I’ve been assigned to visit a girl currently in CED who’s living in the northwest region of Dabajon – more on this to come.
  • We spent our Spanish class cooking! For those of you who don’t know, cooking is one of my biggest hobbies and I find food culture fascinating. Eating isn’t bad either. Today we made arepas and empanadas de jamón, queso, cebolla, ají de morron, maíz, y tomate
  • During the last hour and a half of training, we learned how to play dominoes, a huge Dominican pastime – still figuring out the strategies, but what a relaxing, fun, new, and cultural activity to end a long day
  • After training, a group of at least 20 of us met up at a colmado, which is more or less a corner store where they sell everything from cooking oil to rum (both of which are Dominican staples I might add). We played cards and dominoes (we’re professionals now after all), drank Presidente, enjoyed the afternoon sun, and chatted like old friends – the people that own the colmado even brought me two little muffins stacked together with a birthday candle stuck on top!
  • Even in the midst of a power outage, my host sisters and mother hovered around the stove to make pasta Alfredo and garlic bread for dinner
  • I got to open the envelope my mom had given me the day I left. She told me not to open it until my birthday so that I’d have something to look forward to, even if she wasn’t with me in person – thanks mama 🙂
  • And last, but certainly not least, my sister just brought me a glass of fresh mango juice
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          20130313-213333.jpg

    en realidad, no podía haber pedido un día mejor…

    happy domingo!

    10 Mar

    It’s been a pretty successful weekend I’d say…lots of reading, eating, card games, conversation, good coffee, and even better fruit juices. Pretty sure I’m addicted to guava. And mango…

    We ended this week’s training with a transportation class. There’s six of us staying in the furthest barrio from the training center. Thank goodness for the two teachers that helped us navigate the public transportation because here it’s a nightmare, or very intimidating anyway. There are various forms to get from one place to another, taxis being the safest but also the most expensive. Since we live a bit too far to walk, not to mention the Autopista Duarte that lies in between our neighborhood and our destination, carros públicos and guaguas will be our primary methods of transit. Carros públicos are run-down sedans (read: would most definitely not pass inspection) that cost 20 pesos per ‘seat’. Accordingly, two people sit up front with the driver, and up to four people sit in the back. Add the heat of the DR and some sticky, leather seats, and you’ve got yourself quite an adventure! Guaguas on the other hand cost 25 pesos and are minivan-like busses. They’re a bit more comfortable and secure, but still have the potential of becoming just as crowded. Though having the opportunity to walk to training would help me save money and get more exercise, I’ll be happy to have a solid foundation in navigating from “A” to “B” via la transportación pública

    I went to church today! Can’t remember the last time I went, but my family appreciated it – it’s a good way to compartir and to develop confianza. I have a hard time following a church service in English, not to mention one in a different language, but I understood what was going on for the most part. It seems much more relaxed and informal here – most people wore jeans, and there was a good amount of singing and laughing. The Dominican Republic is predominately a Catholic country, and since it’s Cuaresma, my family is not eating meat on Fridays. This last Friday they made me Ramen. When they asked me if I’d had it before, I thought about saying “yes, when I was a broke, college student”, but I didn’t want to give them the wrong impression. And really, is there anyone who’s too good for a bowl of Ramen every once and a while? Aside from the soup though, I’ve already had a fair sampling of tasty traditional food. Here’s to trying many more, and to becoming a master of public transportation…

  • mangú: mashed plantains with butter and salt
  • sancocho: a bean stew with yucca, plantains, yams, and other starches, often made with chicken or pork
  • moro: rice and beans mixed together, as opposed to being served separate – my host mom made me this today for lunch and added coconut, delicioso
  • concón: crunchy, almost burned rice that’s left at the bottom of the pot – odd concept, kinda hurts your teeth, but is actually pretty yummy