Saturday, October 31, 2009

Project Partner Day and First Site Visit

I finally got my site and have already gone for a visit. I am living in a small pueblo of about 6000 people southwest of Santo Domingo, about 30 minutes southwest of Bani. I am right near the sand dunes that are famous in the Caribbean, a few nice beaches within a short motoconcho or guagua rides reach. It is semi arid desert weather, with lower humidity than Santo Domingo (gracias a Dios) and temperatures usually in the 90s right about now. It is pretty much summer all year round and doesn't rain much. Since it is fall I am coming into their cool season, which is still hot.

Before you permanently move into your project site, trainees go for a five day site visit. It begins with the madness that is project partner day, where we meet our project partners who we will be working with the next two years. After working with them in the morning and having lunch, everyone departs to their respective sites and brings as much of their belongings as possible to make for an easier trip on the permanent move on Friday the 30th. We lugged all of our stuff to Entrena, hopped on buses over to San Pablo where the day happens (this was the same convent we had all spent our first night in the DR two and a half months earlier). I met my two project partners, a man and a women who were both very nice, good first impression. The woman is a member of the cooperative that produces dried fruit (my actual project partner is the president of the cooperative, but she couldn't make it), and the man is a member of the local development association.

Shortly following lunch we set out to my site. First we made a quick stop at FAMA in Santo Domingo, a local NGO that supports sustainable development projects in my site and around the DR. We met with the staff and then headed southwest on the highway.

We finally get there (ok, it is close only a little over two hours) and I am pretty surprised at how nice the town is. Little tree lines streets with sidewalks and paved roads throughout most of the town- notably clean.  Some areas are more marginalized and poorer than others, not all roads are paved but nearly all and there are about six parts of town. There is also a Haitian community here so I look forward to Creole training in the spring to integrate with the entire community.

My host parents are in their early seventies, and their granddaughter in her twenties lives there as well. My host dad is the president of the development association and the granddaughter is the secretary. Also there is a parrot that whips out phrases in Spanish asking the important philisophical questions like hay platano? I get a special gold medal if I can teach the parrot my name, since Erin usually becomes Eris here (parrot in the photo, chilling in its tree in our backyard). There are also a couple of shaggy dogs, a couple of roosters, a cat and her kitten (standoffish but it will come around) and some other birds. The little shaggy white dog is pregnant so I may be getting a puppy very soon.

                                                               Back yard at my new house.

My house is nice, there is a normal bathroom and shower, fan in room, nicest place Ive lived out so far. So its comfy. And there are three cooperatives: two mango cooperatives that sell mangoes domestically and export, and a cooperative that produces dried fruit using a solar powered drier. The dried fruit cooperative is my main project and is mainly comprised of women, with some male members. My other project partner works in the local development association (the president is also my host dad) which is down the street from my house. There seem to be a lot of motivated people that I met at the various community group meetings I went to throughout the week, and a lot of opportunities to work with the community.

                                                                                            Below: View of the Caribbean from a church                                                                                                                 down the street from my house.

The town has the local hospital for the region, highschool, primary school, two baseball fields, a central square, and lots of small businesses (little clothing stores, colmados, colmadons, ferreterias, auto repairs shops, paint shops, cafeterias, etc). There have been a lot of development projects over the years due to some very active a forward thinking community associations and residents, and remittance money being reinvested from the large Diaspora living mainly in the Bronx (also Boston and Florida). Every household seems to have half of their family in the little DR, aka the Bronx. 

The town also has trash collection and organic trash collection that they have a large organic compost, where they make fertilizer and sell it. Basically Ill be learning a lot and working with some sustainable development projects. (See photo at left, the Planta Abono Organico or Compost and my host dad).

So my first impression is good and I am excited to go back next weekend and get started. We swear in as volunteers on Wednesday, and will offically start our two years then. Made it through training and now the real work begins!!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Living in the Campo and shortly returning to Pantoja

We have been in the campo for almost three weeks now, and have about a week and a half left here before we head back to Santo Domingo for the Business Plan competition (something that Community Economic Development Sector works with' volunteers work with youth to form business plans, and the winners of the competition are given seed money to start their business).

Campo life is definitely very relaxing, and I enjoy my outdoor shower under the stars, or in the plain daylight dumping refreshing cool buckets of water on my head while looking up at my avocado and cherry trees.  (Photo at left: in my favorite avocado tree next to my house). It is nice to get to know the community more because it is that much more tangible because it is smaller. The volunteers are spread out between four different communities, so we all come together for technical training and the occasional get together.

Two of the more recent eco tour sights included a trip to 27 charchos, beautiful waterfalls near our sites that boast 27 pools of water beneath a canopy of trees. We hiked only half of them in the interest
of saving some time and cash since we had to get back before the afternoon to go to community meetings. We went equipped with helmuts and life jackets and fun guides with interesting animal calling talents that jumped out at us from randomn spots in the bushes. My ego definately came down a few notches after being tricked way more than once. But the water was beautiful, we for the most part all made it off of even the larget charcos, and enjoyed swimming in the cool blue-green waters underneath the trees in stone water ways, sliding in some parts through rocks that were crafted into natural water slides falling into pools.
                                                                                                  Below: The jeep we roll 20 deep in...
The second of our ecotourism trips was, well, interesting. What was supposed to be a three hour round trip hike turned into a bushwacking extravaganza up the face of a mountain and back around the other side to the much anticipated water falls, the source of the 27 charcos and was supposedly well worth it. After hiking up the front of the mountain to a dry pool at the top (where I think the guides thought the pools were, but they were actually way on the other side), we scaled back down and went right up the face of the mountain to the top in order to hike down the other side to find the what seemed to be imaginary pools. We made it up eventually but were at times quite frustrated beacuse we ran out of water and didnt anticipate such a trek nor were we prepared for it at all. We hiked down the other side to a trickling pool and filled up our water bottles with fresh spring water. Good thing because on my way back up a few of us ended up having to drink the water (I had to have water) but took anti-parasitic medication after we got back. But in the end it was worth it with a beautiful view from the top and a wealth of experience, plus we had a good group experience to tell the others. I definitely will be asking more questions beforehand next time around.

This past weekend members of the Junta de Vecinos and all of us living in Los Claveles went to the beach in Puerto Plata to take in the sun. It was beautiful and right on the beach, one of the days that truly reminds me that I live in the Caribbean, except for the fact that I am sweating in October. And since it took us four hours to go in a big group to get there, when it was only 45 minutes away, I was also reminded I live in the DR. The beach itself was amazing, with crystal blue waters stretching out for miles, palm trees and white sands stretching on either side as far as you can see. And the water was relatively shallow and calm. I am getting used to the fact that I have to wear my tank top and shorts in the water, since I was around the community (although I prefer the bikini, what can I say). But it was also a tourist beach, so it wasn´t a huge deal if you were in a bikini, but it is definitely weird for Dominicans, who like to cover up while swimming.

The way to and from the beach was crazy and wild. We were piled eleven in a minivan while the rest of the people were piled in an old school bus. The entire way there the two drivers enjoyed a fun game of chicken, darting in front of oncoming traffic to cut in front of each other. My life flashed before my eyes several times but I wasn´t about to get around in walk soooo, I hung on for the ride. Most of the drivers here are pretty crazy and questionable two lane roads are often three lane roads with the middle (and the other lanes) used for passing no matter if you are in a blind turn, hill, or whatever. I guess I am not that disappointed that we don´t get to drive here!

Besides all that, lots of technical training and I have become surprisingly accustomed to certain aspects of campo life. For example large spiders in my bed, effective latrine use and flicking off ´pajaritos¨, which literally means little birds but it is the word used for insects. I often get laughed at for dodging the pajaritos and ¨mariposas¨(Literally a butterfly, but no this also means big moths), but all in good fun.  

So far it has been fun, ups downs, we are all getting closer and I am especially excited to see all the other groups of volunteers when we reunite in Pantoja in the coming weeks!!
                                                                                          Photo above: Ladies of Los Claveles