Sunday, September 13, 2009

Community Based Training and Campo Life

We have arrived in the campo to our campo site for community based training. Our training group for Community Economic Development has been placed in four small communities off of Altamira, a small pueblo off of the main highway. Of the four communities me and six other volunteers are placed in the most remote of the communities, called Los Claveles, which is a community comprised of about a couple of hundred people. Our Spanish teachers are placed in the community with us, so we can have intensive language courses daily, mostly applied Spanish and pretty relaxed. The other half of the day is spent in technical training, which was initially going to be in the community furthest from us at 8 km away, called La Fundacion, but since it seems to be cooler in our site we will now have the technical courses in the cooler mornings of Los Claveles, a bit higher up.

I live quite high up on a mountain, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. There are lush green sub tropical mountains rolling for miles, as far as the eye can see. It is quite a hike to get up to my house, so I am expecting to be in great shape! And about a twenty minute hike up the road you reach another town called La Loma, where there is a magnificent view. Below: view from my house.

Leaving Santo Domingo was like a weight being lifted off my shoulders. This last week was fun, but also intense and filled with ups and downs. Three people left so far, and I hope that we will not be losing many more during CBT training. We all went out to the car wash (car washes that are also make shift dance clubs at night, with merengue, bachata, reggaeton and el presidente, a popular beer to your hearts content) on Wednesday night to have a big send off and let off some steam before we all went our respective ways for the next five weeks. Good times.

We took the ride all the way up north and I was a bit nervous about how the site was going to be. Our technical trainer used an effective strategy that painted a picture of the worst scenario possible, so our expectations were very low. I think that it worked well because my house was described to me as the humblest and I was to share a room with my host sister who was living there, and if I was lucky I might have a sheet dividing our room. But, upon arrival I was pleasantly surprised to find a large space enclosed by sheets as my room. And a home nestled on the top of a hill with a view, and a very welcoming family!! I live with my host mom, Ramona, her husband Seney (in their forties), their daughter, Fanny (20), grandpa who is visiting from Santiago, grandson Carlos (5) and cousin Juan (16). The walls of the house are made of old soy oil tin(or zinc) of a faded blue and green painting a colorful picture of a soy field, reminiscent of warhol in that it is one label on top of another, and some wood with a zinc roof. It is very communal living, in that you can pretty much hear everything, especially since most of the rooms are divided by sheets. But families here are very close and spend a lot of time together, so they are all very close anyway and have nothing to hide! I shower outside under an avocado tree, right next to the outdoor kitchen with a precarious curtain clinging to the tin. I listen to mom and dad and the family chatting while I pour refreshingly chilly water down my body and cross my fingers that I don´t see an eyeball peering through a little peep hole (my own paranoia creeping, I hope).

Blackouts are rampant, and often you here apago la luz, or se fue la luz (the lights went out). A while later this is followed by vino la luz,inidcating its welcoming return. So often I fish through my stuff in the dark or sift by flashlight. Mostly I eat by lantern, too. Or outside on the patio, which is nice and refreshing. But my best icebreaker now is the joke told to me by a fellow trainee, which has been working out pretty well to lighten the mood upon meeting new people. Q.What kind of wine do all Dominicans, I mean ALL Dominicans love (Que tipo de vino les gusta a todos los Dominicanos). A. The lights came on (Vino la luz!). Of course this does not translate well, but for those of you who speak Spanish it works. And vino la luz can also be substituted with Vino el agua, because the water often goes out as well.  

Some photos of the campo (below: my sweet ride up the Loma)

As an ending note, there is lots of dancing. Merengue, bachata, less reggaeton than I thought so far. I am thrilled to report that my Merengue is coming along quite nicely, so I expect to be up to speed by the end of CBT. We have been out dancing a couple of nights with people in the hood, and everyone knows each other so each of us volunteers are always going out with our little brothers, cousins, sisters, the works. Chisme also travels fast here. One volunteer wasn't allowed to go out one night and the next morning three people stopped by my house to talk about how so and so didnt let her volunteer go to the dance. No puede ser. She was definitely allowed to come out the next night after all that chisme.

And last but not least the motoconcho rides, the crazy motoconcho rides. I love riding around on the back of these tranport motorcycle taxis, and enjoying the lush green sub tropics around me and warm breeze through my helmut while I ponder in wonderment that this is my job, but I can´t help but imagine flying through the air and crashing and burning on one sometime. Hopefully I will never see that day, or it will be minimal damage! They arent so bad and these choferes (drivers) know what they are doing, so I think we are in pretty good hands. And pictures will come up next week to make things more intersting, si Dios quiere (common Dominican phrase used to say something may or may not happen!).

                                                 CBT host dad's parents a few houses down

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Volunteer site visit and last week or so

A lot has happened in the past week and a half.

Where to begin, well as a recap we had a visit from Aaron Williams, the newly appointed director of the Peace Corps last Tuesday. He began his career as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic and served with another returned Peace Corps volunteer, Senator Dodd. He spoke to our training group and then had lunch at the Entrena center. He is a charismatic and very friendly guy--it was inspiring to think that he had come full circle all of this way, beginning in the DR and ending up as the director of PC- afterall, that could be one of us some day.

Moving on, we had our volunteer site visit this weekend. Thursday morning I got up early and headed to the bus stop to go to Hato Mayor, a province (and small city) about two hours north east of Santo Domingo. From there I took another small gua gua (gua gua is literally a word for baby, but also a local term used for bus- generally over crowded and packed to the brim in Santo Domingo, but not so bad in the outer city buses SO far) to Vincentillo in the El Seibo neighboring province. Thirty minutes later, after passing across a couple of small rivers and through small towns I arrive at the volunteer´s site who I am supposed to visit, who has been in her site for a year in a campo (small rural town).

We have lunch and begin chatting. The point of the visit is to gain perspective on what life will actually be like as a volunteer serving in the DR. We go next door to a local cafteria-auto part store and have a tamarind juice replete with sugar. We are chatting with some local communiy members and I know I am getting in good with them when I spill juice on my shirt, and one of the locals feels comfortable enough to laugh and say oh, just like a baby!! I think he was laughing with me not at me.

As far as project sites there are four different settings you can get placed in: Batey (poorest communities, majority population comprised of Haitians or of Haitian descent, usually nearby sugar cane fields as the communities would generally harvest sugar cane), Campo (small rural towns, can be very remote or nearby small town or city), Pueblo (small town or city, larger than campo), or city (bigger city, regional urban center, etc). She has project partners in the campo and in the pueblo, as she works with a cacao block based out of Hato Mayor, and also has a project partner at the women´s association in her town where she lives (rough population of 1500 people). Half of the time she is working in town and the other half she is hanging out in the campo.

She works with the cacao block that is made up of 27 small producers or so in the region. I learned all about the process of growing, harvesting, fermenting and drying cacao, the different grades, fair trade processes, etc. She is also working on a local chocolate tour where tourists leave from Hato Mayor to visit different fincas (small farms) nearby and then stop at the women´s association in her town for lunch, where they also produce sub products such as cacao marmelade and wine. I definately wouldn´t mind working with a similar project with cacao producers, eco tourism, coffee producers, etc. She also has a bunch of side projects working with local youth and artisans, developing a business plan through one of the CED initiatives Construir tus suenos (build your dreams).

We got along really well and it was great to see how she lived, worked and to finally get out of Pantoja! Plus, I was able to get a better idea of what I want out of my service, and what kind of setting I want to be in. At the moment I am thinking I want to be in a pueblo, not a campo. Of course, right near the beach boyeee.

The campo was an experience. It is exactly what you would think, smaller town, fewer people but a tight knit community, a bit slower lifestyle with a lot of hanging out. And beautiful. We went to a river by her house settled in green lush mountains with a climate that is slightly less suffocating than Santo Domingos heat and pollution sticking to your skin. There was a full moon one of the nights right when we were hit by frequent blackouts, so we played dominos and this awesome card game called casino by candle light with some of her friends from the neighborhood. It is peaceful especially once you get used to the occasional dog and cat fight noises in the distance, crowing roosters, etc. And lots of lightening bugs flashing a light green color in the distance (called cucuyos).

Of course I now have important info regarding campo life- including latrine use, latrine use at night (flash light to scare the roaches back down into the latrine or keep your eye on them at least- I gained the courage for this after a couple of nights), bucket baths and dishwashing, amongst other things. Also, dealing with tarantulas that supposedly get prettty big (but we are lucky to have no venomous snakes or spiders in the DR).

Overall I walk away encouraged because I feel that with motivation, a good project parter or two, a lot of perserverance, and hard skin (not taking things too personally), I can be succesful working and living here on a project for two years. And there seem to be a lot of opportunities for good projects for CED. It took her awhile to become integrated into the community, and I think the first three months will be the most difficult, trying to become integrated into the community, respected and trusted, and make strong comnnections and friends within.

To wrap it up Ill say a few random things. One, I think I have heard the several extremely popular DR songs about 100 times since this past weekend. One is called Pepe, and literally just repeats Pepe over and over again. In fact, I´ve heard it three times already since being in this internet cafe!! Not so annoying yet but I suspect it may be in the future. Two, I´m getting better at bachata, a popular partner dance. I got plenty of practice Saturday night. Merengue, a little slower but coming along. And three, I finally went to the beach on Sunday with a group of volunteers. It was awesome, warm crystal blue/green water in the Caribbean, hot, white sands and palm trees. I am ecstatic to be here in this gorgeous country. Thursday we seperate into our sector groups and head up north the Alta Mira to do five weeks of Community Based Training. Will add pictures soon!