Tag Archives: dominoes

somber social hour

10 Aug

It’s now August, meaning that I’ve been living out on my own for almost exactly one year. People are now more than accustomed and comfortable to approach me in my home, which also doubles as a meeting room for my various courses, internet center, arts and crafts hub, experimental kitchen, and lounge for local youth in search of English practice, hammock time, advice and/or casual conversation. Having created such a pleasurable environment also has its downsides however. In the Dominican Republic, it being August also means that there’s unbearable heat, avocados, and that it’s the front end of peak hurricane season. If it’s not raining (which is still rare for the south, despite the heavy rain and thunderstorms we got during Tropical Storm Bertha), it’s too hot to go outside without feeling like you’re melting. Yesterday it was 91 degrees at 10am. If I can stay inside my cozy home, making friendship bracelets and popcorn with my chicas, why would I go outside?

august avos

august avos

The answer lately? Funerals. In the past couple of months there have been over 14 funerals, compared to the mere two I attended last year; old age, long-term illnesses, and/or weakened immune system after having chinkungunya were the most common causes of death. Albeit sad, they are actually a great way to socialize, to become even more familiar with Dominican culture, and to help me realize how everyone in my town is related. Funerals are an inherent part of any society – everyone lives, everyone dies – but considering that family, religion, and solidarity are three major values of Dominican culture, funerals here are a pretty big occasion. Additionally, Pescadería has an impressively successful and inclusive association that offers RD$25,000 to the family, provides the deceased with a coffin, and loans chairs for all of the attending guests to sit in. Colloquially known as the “Association of the Dead”, it has been around for more than 20 years and collects at least RD$25 from each member, depending on age, position in the household, and how many children he/she has.  Having this local association puts less of a burden on the family to be able to entertain so many anticipated guests.  

The time of a funeral depends on what time of day a person dies. If he/she dies at dawn, the funeral begins that morning and lasts until taken to the cemetery for burial around 6pm; dying in the evening means guests are in for the long haul – arriving that night to amanecer (literally, “to dawn” or wake up) with the family for the burial the next morning. Funerals work on predictable but still very loose schedules; due to the ‘flexible’ timeliness of Dominican culture, the time of a burial can change from when originally anticipated due to delays in a family member’s arrival, need for an autopsy, or the sun being too strong (yes, this has happened).

When a Dominican dies, it is expected that at least one family member from each household of the community pays his/her respects by attending the funeral. The deceased is usually featured in the living room of the family’s house, enclosed in a coffin with a glass pane to be able see the face; though I at first found it disrespectful, it is not uncommon for people to take pictures of the body. Immediate family members and intimate friends surround the walls of the room, and it is assumed that you greet and/or hug each person. This part for me is always awkward and somber but also selfishly enlightening because sometimes I didn’t know it was so-and-so’s brother or aunt that died until I get into that room and realize the connection. Despite whether or not I knew the deceased, I most likely have gotten to know one of his/her family members. Therefore, attending the funeral of either a friend or a stranger is a way to show the family that I am here to offer condolences and to accompany them during a difficult time.

Outside of the house is where it gets real Dominican. Depending on who died and his/her impact in the community, there can be up to hundreds of guests. Get a whole bunch of Dominicans together and what do you get? Gossip, brindis, professional storytellers, swarms of kids, people watching, bedazzled (black and/or white) clothes, and dominoes. Dominoes at a funeral? Yup, and don’t be surprised if the table is surrounded by a group of men drinking rum or beer either. The juxtaposition of the concept is almost unsettling – while groups of people tell boisterous stories or complain that the coffee they’ve been served arrived too late or is too sweet, the family of the deceased is doing their best to entertain guests while mourning a loved one. Personal views aside however, the spirit of a Dominican funeral is, like most occasions here, not intended to be morose or lackluster but rather social and commemorative.  

Once the deceased has been prayed over and is taken to the cemetery on the outskirts of town, the masses disperse, leaving trash and puffy-eyed relatives in its wake (pun intended?).  At first I was quite uncomfortable by the idea of funerals but interestingly enough, I’ve now seen more dead people in the past 6 months than any other time of my life combined.  I don’t even think that I could write such a detailed description of American funerals because 1) I’m lucky to still have most of my immediate family alive and 2) I found them depressing and intimidating. Now that I’ve been to so many here, the majority of those of people who I didn’t even know, I’m gauging the significance of attending events to simply show support and interest. Families are appreciative when they see that I’ve come to pay my respects, and in exchange I’ve enjoyed practicing small talk, comparing cross-cultural traditions, and understanding the intricate interconnectedness of the families here.

A friend recently mentioned to me that the less he kept trying to help his community, the more he actually felt like he was starting to help. Attending funerals by no means pertains to my service or duties as a Community Economic Advisor in Pescadería. However, despite the extreme awkwardness I feel at times, this sort of integration affects how people view me within the community. Rather than seeing me as simply a Peace Corps Volunteer that gives various classes or that built a basketball court, I’m regarded as one of their very own (people don’t even me offer their own chair to sit down in now, which I resentfully appreciate). Instead of an American volunteer, I am a friend, neighbor, hair braider, mango fiend, and lefty. Bridging this gap has allowed me better understand local needs, Dominican culture, and interpersonal skills. Going beyond one’s comfort zone can be difficult, but I’m finding that more often than not there are wildly memorable and surprisingly beneficial outcomes – you’ve sometimes just got to brave concepts as foreboding and daunting as death to experience and appreciate them.  

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

Dad in the DR

10 Jul

I must admit, since inaugurating our court it’s been difficult to get back into any sort of ‘productive’ schedule.  Between hosting the Courts for Kids group, coordinating the construction process, constantly adjusting both sets of budgets, and dealing with the ingeniously inevitable snafus that present themselves at the most inconvenient of moments, I was left with very little ánimo.  Add in the summer heat and the recent Chinkungunya epidemic, and I found plenty of excuses to stay put in my hammock. 

Something that did motivate me to venture off my porch was that I had some international visitors – Dad and Mary!  We drove from the capital to Pescadería, and from my community all the way down the southern coast to the border town of Pedernales.  Known as one of the most beautiful drives in the Caribbean, we stopped along the way at various beaches for photo-ops.  Despite not having a map, we took only a few wrong turns and arrived at quite a few off-the-beaten-path, but worth it nonetheless, destinations; we made up lost time over rich conversation, and were accompanied only by the soft whir of the AC and the surprisingly hefty cattle that scattered the seemingly abandoned highway.  

sharing one of my favorite places in my community with my favorite guy

sharing one of my favorite places in my community with my favorite guy

San Rafael beach

San Rafael beach

San Rafael

San Rafael

Bahía de las Águilas

Bahía de las Águilas

our after-lunch transport to the beach!

our after-lunch transport to the beach!

Bahía de las Águilas

Bahía de las Águilas

Bahía de las Aguilas

Bahía de las Aguilas

deserted land behind the beach - we were in the middle of no where!!

deserted land behind the beach – we were in the middle of no where!!

Bahía de las Águilas

Bahía de las Águilas

starfish!

starfish!

our own private beach :)

our own private beach 🙂

Similarly to when my mom and sister came to spend Christmas in Pescadería, it was both reassuring and gratifying to share my community with my dad and Mary.  They were not only able to see where I’ve been living, but also who has been taking care of me and what we’ve been accomplishing together – the court in particular!  They sampled La Cabrita’s goat cheese and yogurt, dunked a basket at the court, learned how to play dominoes, and most entertainingly, danced at Patronales (once-a-year celebration in town – really just an excuse to drink lots of beer and/or rum and blast loud, bass-heavy music).  My community was just as happy to meet them, proudly introducing them to their culture, warmly inviting them into their homes, and humbly accepting Dad’s gratitude for looking out for me. 

dad and i out on our court!

dad and i out on our court!

dominoes lesson

dominoes lesson

out celebrating Patronales :)

out celebrating Patronales 🙂

Now that Tom and Mary are back on US soil (happy belated Independence day!), I’m focusing on projects that I had put on the back burner to get the court finished – English class, Construye Tus Sueños, and my Chicas – while hoping to start some others.  More importantly, I’m intent on avoiding the current talk of the town (or country more like it – the Chinkungunya), by making sure that I continue to take care of myself physically, mentally, and emotionally, as the past few weeks have been rewarding but tiring nevertheless.  For now, that means resting, reading, and running at dusk when the sun glows rather than scorches. 

I attribute most of my success here in Pescadería to the fact that I’ve discovered how to be myself here – corny jokes, alone time, singing, inventive culinary concoctions, exercising, staying in touch with other volunteers, etc.  Experiencing this process and then being able to share it with my parents is both humbling and heartwarming; I look forward to continue getting to know myself through connecting with others, and to most effectively helping others by staying true to myself. 

 “You cannot get sick enough to help sick people get better. You cannot get poor enough to help poor people thrive. It is only in your thriving that you have anything to offer anyone. If you’re wanting to be of an advantage to others, be as tapped in, turned in, turned on as you can possibly be.” Esther Abraham-Hicks

Pepelo and I - finally my Dominican dad and American dad got to meet!

Pepelo and I – finally my Dominican dad and American dad got to meet!

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.

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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

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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

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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.