Tag Archives: goat cheese

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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home sweet home

26 Aug

I’ve moved!  It’s been just over a week since I packed up my belongings from my host family’s house and settled in to my own.  I’m paying RD$2500/month for a 3 bedroom house with a kitchen, living room, and indoor bathroom.  There’s a great patio out back that needs some grooming, but I look forward to having a garden and putting up a hammock 🙂

my house!

my house!

I live right across the street from a small colmado where I can buy almost all the essentials – eggs, toilet paper, coffee, garlic, etc. – and I live less than a five minute walk from La Cabrita.  My new neighbors are phenomenal and have already helped me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined.  There’s always people sitting outside nearby, willing to chat, help, and share or try food.  In particular, my community partner Nibia has provided me with a variety of items (most of which were free of charge) to make my house more homey -the dining room table/chairs, two plastic chairs, the table in my kitchen, curtains, bathroom decorations, a fan, sheets, and a chalkboard.  I’m also sure that I’ll never go hungry, as so many people have stopped by to give me bananas, plátanos, lunch, dulces, coffee, melon, yuca, and so on.

living room

living room

I feel very safe, and since living on my own, my quality of life has definitely increased.  My host family that I was staying with was wonderful – they cooked excellent food, did my laundry, and helped me transition into the community – but they were older and also quite religious, which was a bit limiting.  Living on my own allows me to come and go as I please; I can eat what and when I want.

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kitchen

While my independence has been reinstalled, being a doña is not the easiest.  In addition to preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the women here are expected to sweep and mop their house daily, and to always have juice or snacks on hand for visitors.  It’s also common to bring a plate of the food you’ve made for lunch over to your neighbor’s house – I receive a variety of facial expressions when I share my couscous, omelets, or peanut butter/banana sandwiches.  Overall, it’s a fair amount of work to ensure that my house is always spick and span for visitors, but having my own space makes it all worth it.

bathroom - no running water, but still fully functional!

bathroom – no running water, but still fully functional!

In other news, I’ve had two successful women’s group meetings.  In the next meeting, we hope to establish a name and a directiva.  So far, their first priority is to get a community center built where we can hold meetings and workshops (the women have had opportunities to receive courses and workshops from various organizations, but since there’s no physical location in which to hold them, they don’t come).  I’ve also helped to get a group of jóvenes motivated to form a formal youth/sports group.  We’ve also had two meetings, and are in the process of applying to the program Courts for Kids to get a basketball court built in Pescadería.  Now that classes have started again, the participation in my English class is deteriorating.  However, the few students that do come get to enjoy more individual attention and also coffee, as we’re now holding class in my new house.

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bedroom

In terms of La Cabrita, we’re focusing our efforts on obtaining the sanitary registration to be able to start selling in supermarkets and marketing.  Thanks to my friend Jenn Winkowski from Clemson, we have a brand new logo that, in addition to the label, we plan to use on future marketing materials like brochures, signs throughout the community, and T-shirts.

new logo - thanks Jenn!

new logo – thanks Jenn!

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Last but not least, I’ve got a flight booked to come home (11/23-12/02 so mark your calendars!)  I couldn’t be happier with my site placement, work that I’m doing, and new living situation, but it will be great to come home, visit with family and friends, stuff myself with turkey, and take a break from this darn heat!

you'll get to see this face in November

wearing a “tubie” after a got rollers put in my hair – if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see this face in November!

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!