Tag Archives: mangoes

manGo with God

16 Jun

And just like that, it was over. I was on my way home to Vermont; my 40 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer were complete.

Overcome with a confusing combination of exhaustion, relief, sadness, and disbelief and surrounded once again by swooning valleys, rolling hills, and luscious greenery, I gazed at the outstretched highway and struggled to process the reality.

How many mangoes might I have eaten throughout my service? Will I remember how to dance bachata like a campesina? Might La Cabrita eventually turn a profit? What kind of person will Omailin be when he grows up? How many of my Chicas Brillantes will avoid an adolescent pregnancy and instead graduate university to become young professionals? When will I be back to visit?

Memories from the last 3 years overwhelmed me – receiving our site placements, relearning how to be myself in a foreign country, inaugurating the court, hosting visitors, my Chicas Brillantes, the sounds of my neighborhood, how wounded I was when things weren’t working out with La Cabrita, watching Omailin grow up, all of the road trips I took with Alejandra and Michael, my two students winning Construye Tus Sueños, this last year in the capital, passing through the metal detector in airport security with my cat Mio in my arms and trying to be brave for him. I couldn’t help but smile, and prayed that these moments and the love I that have for the Dominican Republic would never escape me.

My last visit to Pescadería was comforting and bittersweet. Three years ago, the people there became my family, adopting me into their lives without blinking an eye. Since first arriving, babies have become toddlers, teenagers are now moms, and La Cabrita has slowly developed into a functioning enterprise. I had a teary conversation with Mari, one of my Chicas Brillantes and the first friend I’d made in site. She thanked me for helping her to realize that she didn’t want to grow up to be like her mother (an illiterate single mother of 5), but that she instead wanted to study, work, find a loving companion, and then consider having kids. I melted. Two busloads of us took a trip to one of my favorite places in country, Las Marias de Neiba, to celebrate all of the hard work we’d accomplished as a community. We splashed, laughed, and recounted each detail of the court-building process. Later that night, we jammed into a cozy, campo house to watch the NBA Finals.  I had a long conversation with Rosi, the president of La Cabrita, to discuss their setbacks, growth, and plans for the future. We plucked mangoes off the ground, the trees overburden with fruit from recent rains, and passed the days in front of Pepelo’s colmado as the nectar navigated around our grins.

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One of my favorite views in country – the entrance to Pescadería

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Southern plantains

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Visiting the mural my mom, aunt, and I painted at the local high school!

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Girls at Las Marías

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Mari and I

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Reni and I

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Carlos, Pepelo, and friends

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Taking Omailin for his first swim!

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NBA Finals

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Neighborhood happenings

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Reina and I collecting mangoes

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Omailin and his papayas

 

I did my best to savor these last moments – each view, smell, taste, conversation, and hug – as much as possible.  I departed from Pescadería in peace, and though I was unsure when I’d be back, I ensured myself that I would be.  Si Dios quiere…

 

 

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Southern coast, Los Patos beach

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Showing Carlos what the southern coast is all about!

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Los Patos

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Amanda (current PVC in Pescadería) and I on the way back to the capital after my last visit, stopping to get coconuts along the way!

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Another pit stop – mango festival in Baní

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Farewell party with one of my favorite ladies, Natalie – the Yin to my Yang

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Carlos’s brother and I out for one last time in the Colonial Zone

 

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Late-night eats at Barra Payan, a renown Dominican establishment that’s open 24/7 and known for its traditional sandwiches and delicious, fresh juices

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Couldn’t leave the island without one last trip to the colmado for empanadas and Presidente beer

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Julie and my last day at the office!  We first met on the plane 40 months ago, and were the last ones to leave from our group.

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Last dinner at my favorite restaurant – lion fish ceviche, grilled octopus, and a goat cheeseburger!

In terms of immediate future plans, I’m most looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and basking in the joys of Vermont summertime; to rejuvenating parts of me that were quieted during my service, especially while living within the sprawl of Santo Domingo. But nevertheless, another adventure is not far off, as I will join my mom in Africa for one month of travel around Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Namibia. She also finishes her Peace Corps service this month, and we are rewarding ourselves with a once-in-a-lifetime mother-daughter Close of Service endeavor.

“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence.  I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love.  I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.” – Leo Tolstoy; a quote from one of my very first blog posts.

In conclusion, this has been an incredible experience, one that will take time to truly register and recognize its impact on my soul, beliefs, expectations, and future plans. These last three years have filled me with an indescribable amount of memories, gratitude, curiosity, and faith.  Time has flown and my heart is full.  People near and far have been both supportive and welcoming, encouraging me to seize the opportunities at hand to create friendships, affect change, and continue learning – I hope you’re able to do the same for yourselves. Thank you for being a part of this adventure.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

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Peace, love, thanks, and mangoes. 

Mango, floss, repeat

22 May

It’s been one week since Swear-In.  Still working on a decent Internet situation, as I’m currently using my host mom’s banda ancha device, but it’s better than nothing!  These first few days as a real, live PCV have been interesting to say the least – all sorts of awkwardness, entertainment, and excitement; calming but overwhelming; lots of walking, eating, and compartiring.  Campo life is simple and slow.  People start stirring around 5 or 6 (I’ve been going out walking or running around then because the sun is up by 6:30!), and the town seems to be in full swing by 8 or 9.  At least three herds of cattle walk by my porch every morning; it’s a pleasant sight to witness while enjoying my homemade and sinfully rich hot chocolate.  There’s a noticeable lull from 12-2 while everyone’s eating lunch (biggest meal of the day) and taking their pabita.  When the second tanda of school gets out around 5, all of Pescadería seems to be in the street, listening to music, eating mangoes, playing marbles or dominoes, revving motorcycles, or gossiping on their stoops.  Dinner’s normally around 7, and I hit the hay around 9.  Sounds grandma-ish, but it’s tiring to think in another language all day long!

For the first three months of our service, we’re in the “Diagnostic Phase”.  We’re supposed to walk around our communities, introduce ourselves, let people know what we’re doing here, understand how life works, what businesses exist, what could be improved in the community, etc.  It gives people the opportunity to adjust to have a foreigner living amongst them, and for us to become familiar with our new home of two years.  Peace Corps compares our diagnostic with a visit to the doctor – if you were sick, you wouldn’t expect your doctor to just give you medicine without knowing what you had.  It’s an aspect of Peace Corps that I really admire; they expect their volunteers to both integrate into and collaborate with their community.  Without either, a volunteer’s work will be both unsuccessful and unsustainable.  Eventually, I’ll have to conduct interviews, draw maps, and use other tools to create a formal presentation regarding my diagnostic, but for now I’m expected to just walk around, chat, and drink coffee.  It gets awkward at times, but hey, I’ll take it.

I’ve been meeting at least 3 people a day, which is very encouraging, but also challenging to remember so many names and faces!  Most of my new friends are either over the age of 40 or under the age of 15.  Whatever, friends are friends.  I get lots of stares, and even more questions.  Some of my favorites include: “What year is it where you live?”, “Are you friends with Barack Obama?”, “How many kids do you have?”, “Do you wash your hair?”, “What part of the Capital (aka New York) do you live?” and “What do the elephants do when it’s wintertime?”.

Overall, I like my community.  It’s tough being the town spectacle, but it sure is good character building.  I’m practicing my cat-like reflexes on the mosquitoes – it’s just about rainy season so they’re EVERYWHERE (if Dominicans are being bit, you know they’re bad).  I’m gifted at least three mangoes day and though it’ll never be a graceful sight, my mango-eating process is getting a little less sloppy every day.  I’m practicing phenomenal personal hygiene a) because flossing is necessary after eating mangoes and b) because I’m expected to bañarme at least twice a day.  Like I mentioned, time is NOT of the essence here, so patience comes in handy, as does positive energy.  Dominicans saludar to everyone walking by, so I’m working on saying hola as many times as possible – it’s gotta be over 100 times daily.  I like it though, and I wish we recognized the importance of greeting people you walk by more in the States.  I’m gaining confianza with my goat group by starting to help them with daily chores and activities.  I’ll eventually have to do an organizational diagnostic for La Cabrita in addition to the one for the community, but for now I’m just taking it slow and easy – cogiendo lo suave.    Today I’m going with the ladies to sell cheese and yogurt, which I kind of helped make the other day!   Hoping to have a meeting with the president of the Foundation soon so I can understand what specifically they want me to work on with La Cabrita.  From what I can see, finding a niche market to sell their products too should be a top priority.

That’s about it for now, hoping to start an English class soon!  One for niños and one for adults, might have to offer one for jovenes too.  Just bought lots of paper and crayons to make signs, and to color with my new friends 🙂  Will fill you once those get started…

Off to sell queso y yogurt!

…and we’re live!

12 May

Once again, from my cozy-little-WiFi-equiped-Santo-Domingo room, greetings!  Back from my site visit, and already anticipating Wednesday, our Swearing-In Ceremony where we’ll become real, live Peace Corps Volunteers 🙂

on the way to Pescadería

On the way to Pescadería

As I said in my last post, I’ve been assigned to serve in a town called Pescadería.  My two community contacts, Ronny and Nibia, came to meet me at the Pantoja training center on Tuesday to show me how to get to my site (and to help with all my bags!)  Pescadería is about 3 hours from the capital, a pretty seamless trip.  My new host mom, Eufemia, met us at the bus stop.  Driving into ‘town’ was both nerve-wracking and exhilarating.  “…This is my new home!  But, what if I don’t like it here?  So this is where I’m going to spend the next two years of my life…What if they don’t like me?  Oooh, cute house!  What if I can’t accomplish our goals?…”

The students also gave me this Guayabana fruit when I arrived!

A welcome present from the students – Guayabana fruit!

My nerves were calmed however when I looked ahead.  At the end of the street, at least a hundred students had gathered with a sign saying bienvenida a nuestra comunidad.  Eufemia, being the principal of the town’s school, had clearly pulled some strings and organized a very heart-warming welcome just for me!

My new house is nicer than I had expected, I even have running water!  Despite it being cold, it’s a luxury.  First real shower in two months!  However, I now feel guilty if I leave the water running for too long while I’m washing my hair.  A toilet that actually flushes is never a bad thing though.  Anyway,  Eufemia and her husband Reyes are very nice, are great cooks, and are super religions.  In fact, as Seventh Day Adventists, they are not allowed to drink alcohol or coffee, eat shellfish or pork, use fingernail polish, or even dance (which, for living in such a loud and lively country, seems almost tortuous).

new digs

new digs

In terms of my project, I still have lots to learn and see, but La Cabrita seems really cool!  It was started, and is still heavily supported financially by, La Fundación Central Barahona.  The Fundación is a branch of the Consorcio Azucarero Central, a Guatemalan company that owns a large portion of the sugar plantations and processing facilities in the Dominican Republic.  Given its wealth and power, the government required that the Consorcio help the zona cañera to develop economically.  Thus, the Fundación was created – to start and aid various projects in communities around Barahona.

On the air :)

On the air 🙂

La Cabrita has about 60 French Alpine goats, 15 or so of which are producing milk.  They started making cheese and yogurt just weeks before I got here, but regardless, it’s tasty.  There’s 11 members that work on the project, and though I haven’t met all of them quite yet, I can tell that it’s a very dedicated and motivated group of people.

Another project that the Fundación supports is a radio station, and guess who was invited on air for an interview!?  This girl right here.  I was joined by my friend Kaley, who lives 15 minutes from me and is working on a Tilapia project also supported by the Fundación.  We spoke about why we chose to join the Peace Corps, our backgrounds, what projects we’re going to work on, and so on.  Like most of what’s going on in my life right now, it was nerve-wracking, but it was pretty darn cool.

Traffic outside my house...

Traffic outside my house…

I spent most of the weekend walking around town with various ladies that have taken me under their wing.  I consider myself an outgoing and friendly person, but putting yourself out there can be tough!  Especially if you’re not 100% on the language or cultural norms (nothing too embarrassing yet, but I’m sure I’ll have a story or two to share one day).  My community seems to have received a fair amount of both national and international aid, so seeing a volunteer isn’t out of the ordinary.  But, explaining to them why I’m there for two years by myself, when people of my age in Dominican culture are normally married with at least two kids, is a bit more difficult.  Pasitos.  Overall, everyone has been welcoming, understanding, and interested.  Now if I could just remember everyone’s names…

This is what happens when you win a bet with a Dominican...

This is what happens when you win a bet with a Dominican…