Friday, December 4, 2009

My first month in site and a funny story

I have been in my site for over a month now. Things are starting to fall into place a little more each day, although readjusting back at my site after three fun filled pseudo debaucherous days in the capital proved more difficult than I thought it would.

So what exactly have I been up to?

I have been working on my community and organizational diagnostics, and getting to know my community. The first three months of Peace Corps service are a diagnostic phase. As a community economic volunteer you complete two diagnostics: the community diagnostic and the organizational diagnostic in order to form needs assessments for both and to design your projects. Part of the community diagnostic is a community map, where you walk around recording streets, houses, churches, identifying small business and resources for the community (example: where the water comes from; public transportation, etc.).

I started the community map about a week after being here, which I am about ¾ done with at this point. The town, which is a Municipal District already had a map of the streets from the early 90’s when they paved the majority of the roads. I got a copy from the local ayuntamiento (city hall) and it proved useful in navigating and adding houses, new streets that aren’t on the map and filling in the 100 plus micro, small and medium sized business in the town. Walking around I have been meeting a lot of people that don't live in my area but in one of the five other sections, talking to kids, business owners, sitting with residents in plastic chairs under the shade of trees in the street in the early afternoons, to compartir (share) and gain confianza (trust) with the members of the community.

Just getting my face out there and getting to be known is good, even though the crazy and bewildered looks are a bit draining sometimes (although less frequent). Sometimes it is overwhelming, with so many new people that I can hardly keep track of whom I’ve met, who is related to whom, and who is a member of which group(s). Although a town of 6000 seems small and tangible enough, it is a lot at times to be one person trying to remember so many people. I keep reminding myself that it will take time to integrate, and after a month I finally feel like things are slowly beginning to fall into place.

I am just beginning to interview households in order to conduct survey of the community with the help of the local church youth group. With this I can gather basic info on the community, identify needs and potential projects to work on with the community while I am here.

As my town is very organized, I have been going to many community group meetings.  I sit in on many, many conversations involving a lack of water in this dry region that has barely received any rainfall yet this year, affecting the crops, business and life in general.  They are working diligently to get wells working to extract water down below the dry river bed of the Rio Ocoa, but are waiting for government agencies to provide the much needed equipment and resources necessary to get all of them to function. Daily conversations consist of farming and local crops, which I expect to be an expert in by the time I leave (mainly mango, onion, papaya, plantain and banana). 

I also hear a lot of chisme (gossip) about people who I’m not yet familiar with being so new, so it’s hard to follow (so and so from such and such town who is related to Fulana who blah blah blah with Fulano).

And of course, I go to the beach with my family. I’ve been to the two busier points nearby- Palmar de Ocoa (8 km) and Punto Salinas (Not many kilometers, but more than 8):

(Salt mines at Punto Salinas)

(Boats at Palmar de Ocoa)

Now I am about ¾ done with my organizational diagnostic, which analyzes many areas of an organization in addition to a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis. In the first week of February the CED volunteers in my training group will come together at the 3-month IST (in-service-training) with our project partners to present the diagnostic and then begin project planning.

My cooperative, Fruticoop, Inc., which produces dried fruit and mango marmalade using solar technology has a wonderful product but has accrued losses in the past several years due to lack of commercialization and sales of their products under the brand FrutiSol. I hope to help promote and sell the product, assist in the internal organization and improving some of the production problems that the currently have, and the quality control of the product as well.

My project partner, also the president of the Cooperative is very motivated, and we have been meeting a lot. Tomorrow I will be going back to Santo Domingo to meet with the directors of the Foundation for Agriculture and the Environment (FAMA, a national NGO that initiated and managed many projects within Fruticoop, inc. since it’s beginnings in 2003/4) to discuss the collaboration between the two and see the organic market they have every Friday where they sell our products and also produce from local farmers. 

That is my work/personal life in a nutshell. In addition I read, a lot. I sleep and enjoy my afternoon nap.  I watch puppies and roosters and palm trees in the hot sun and ponder buying a hammock. And I talk to other volunteers and people from back home about it all, the good and bad. I motivate myself to do work and as soon as I do I realize how much there is to do and while living here there will is no shortage of opportunities for projects and willing parties to take on new projects.

And to wrap up this obnoxiously long blog entry, I have funny misunderstandings- even though I feel comfortable with Spanish and feel like I am improving all the time.  And the story goes that one morning a couple of weeks ago my Dona comes in and tells me that one of the dogs, Lila, has a garrapata. I did not know this word yet so I ask what a garrapata is. She says, oh es un pajarito que chupa la sangre (Literal translation- It is a little blood sucking bird). Having just woken up and still deep in slumber I forget that the word pajarito is also used to describe insects and bugs. So I start imagining this crazy big bird sucking on the dog Lila’s blood, and start wondering if Lila is going to die or is dead, or what this crazy bird is that I have never heard of. After this goes on for awhile (way longer than it should have) I finally realize that garrapata is the word for tick.

Dia de Pavo – Thanksgiving in Santo Domingo

Thanksgiving was last week and many volunteers convened in Santo Domingo to celebrate. I went in on Wednesday (about a two hour trip from my site). After dropping off my things at the Peace Corps office I went to lunch at the Embassy, an amazing refuge with mouthwatering hot turkey sandwiches and a refreshing pool where you’re specifically instructed NOT to throw your toilet paper in the trash, you can take hot showers, and no one is looking at you crazily for wearing a gasp*-  bikini!

From there I went to the vet with a couple of other volunteers to adopt my adorable new puppy! The cachorro (puppy) is the only little boy out of six from a batch of puppies that another volunteer had been raising at her site in Samaná, then brought them all back to Santo Domingo, where they were adopted by other volunteers. He is about seven weeks old, brown (looks kind of like a chocolate lab) and his name is Choco “Don’t call me Viralata” Late (Viralata is the word here for street dog, named for dogs knocking over trash cans). I was going to go with Hank, but that doesn’t exactly translate well into Spanish, and then it would be something like Eris (what people sometimes call me) y Ank (the H doesn’t really get pronounced), so you can see why I decided against it.

(Choco at home)

That night we had a dance party on the second floor of the hotel where most of the youth volunteers were staying after a healthy dinner of comida criollo china (Chinese and fried food joints scattered around the island). The next day was the Thanksgiving extravaganza at a country club near the Botanical Gardens in Santo Domingo. Lots of pool time, excellent brunch with your T-day dinner staples of Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin and pecan pie, mashed potatoes and a new personal favorite, sweet mashed potatoes. Followed by some more poolside fun, a talent show and then out in Santo Domingo to some places that reminded me those I used to frequent in Barcelona while studying abroad.

And by Saturday morning I was back my site with the puppy, getting back into the campo life. Now at the house we have two dogs, and four puppies.  As my Dona says my dog is still pegado a la teta (stuck to the teet) because he keeps trying to feed off of the Mom that is feeding her puppies that are about a third his size. The photo explains it all:

(Mamando con los otros cachorros)