Monday, December 12, 2011

Glitter and Cakes

What have I been up to of late you might be asking yourself.. Glancing through my most recent photos it seems I havent been doing much more than doing art projects and making lots and lots of cakes! I guess its true. Realizing that getting my latrine project started before Christmas holidays begin would be a crazy idea, I have taken time to enjoy small projects with my girls group and enjoy the slow pace of life before the craziness sets in once latrines are being built. We have scheduled to begin the first week of January. I really hope that happens.

So I have been super pleased with the three girls I brought to the Chicas Brillantes conference last month. They show up rain or shine and when I had to cancel class on Saturday due to excessive vomiting, they even came back to make sure I was alive later in the day.

So these first few pictures were taken at my house yesterday. I decided we should make a cake because nothing makes any Dominican happier than learning how to make bizcocho and eating bizcocho! We also read some books and planned our Christmas party that we are having next weekend, which I am positive will entail more cake
This first pic is of my girls striking typical "sexy" poses with the bizcocho in my house

Next we have the bizcocho: The girls used a strawberry juice packet and lots of sugar to make their version of strawberry frosting: it was as sweet as it looks :)

Pamela, one of my favorite chicas, with her hair in rollers, making her twice as tall as she normally is!

Enjoying the new books in Spanish that got donated from Scholastic

Carla making christmas cards last week for her family with the required GLITTER!

The chicas and I at the Chicas Brillantes conference in Santiago.

Ok, so I promised photos of the wedding cake I made for my friends several weeks ago. Unfortunately I dont have any of the finished product because the wedding was the next day and the neighbors were going to assemble it as I had to leave town early in the day. This was the top chocolate layer. Just so everyone knows, this cake was just for the bride and groom. They had a store bought cake for the guests.

Bright blue homemade frosting, to match the....

bride and groom figurine! as I said, when I was at the store purchasing the figurine I got ahead of myself and thought normal size wedding cake and bought the biggest one they had...too big! I also yelled at the owner for only having gringo figurines. Where are the morenos? indios? where are the dark skinned bride and groom?

The homemade campo cake before the icing...

A photo of the bateye near my house, Jaramillo, where my friends Kimberly and Andreas have been doing ethnographic field work, studying the Haitian banana workers lives.

The sole Dominican who has remained in town since the Haitians moved in. She and her husband run the colmado or corner store.

A peacock!

The photo wall in my house. Pics of home, family and friends that keeps me sane.

Blue, sharing my lethargic sentiments: hot and sweaty day in the campo

A dona and her prize fighting rooster!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November in Judea

I am deep in thought over my third cup of morning café. My door is open, but even if it were closed, life invades my small wooden home: the raggaeton thumps in through the windows, the pig stench envelopes my room and the fruit vendor’s staccato microphone punctuates my every heartbeat: Platano! Batata! Lechosa! Platano! Batata! Lechosa! Smells, sounds, and emotions of my campo. The vine ripened guava mixed with the fumes of smoldering trash as I walk the path to my wooden latrine. My afternoon nap is punctuated by street dogs fighting over a chicken bone while children laugh and evade their parents calls to take a bath. (CONO! Banate!) This is home.
My campo, Judea Nueva, is not an idyllic, cozy place. It is gritty, dusty, unapologetically noisy, hot, and redolent of trash and survival. I call it home. It is filled with people: open, inclusive, warm, generous people. The Dominican Republic is many things to me. I will never again see it is a beautiful resort destination. In many ways, I wish I still could. It has tremendously beautiful beaches and equally impressive mountains, but for me, the Dominican Republic will always be the people, their struggles, their joy, and their pride, not to mention fried cheese, salami, and bachata. The Dominican Republic is a difficult island. The people’s smiles mask an underlying acceptance of the inequities of life here. They are not ignorant. But I see the people choosing joy in life rather than lamenting things that for all intents and purposes they cannot change.
The other day while I was using internet on the second floor of a popular restaurant in Dajabon I witnessed an electric-company worker get electrocuted and eventually die while fixing the powerlines. It was market day and therefore Dajabon was more crowded than normal. People jostled to get the best photo on their camera phones of the large man hanging lifelessly two stories up, strapped into the power line until a cherry picker was able to cut him down ten minutes later. I was in shock but surprisingly most Dominicans witnessing the scene were not. They said this happens all the time, people die fixing the electricity, something that is constantly broken, because they do not take proper safety precautions like wearing gloves or shutting down power before touching the lines. These are things I cannot change.
I was recently asked to make a friend of mine (he is the mason that will be in charge of building all of my latrines for my latrine project) his wedding cake, I was asked the day before the wedding. Quite a tall order. I made a small chocolate cake for a friend’s birthday several months ago and ever since my community has decided to change my official project title to pastry-maker. Despite not having an oven or a cake pan, I was somehow put in charge. I decided to make a double-decker cake using my neighbors stove top dutch-oven and my own. Pretty much a donut shaped circle with a hole in the middle. Although the family asked me the day before all of a sudden they started dropping hints like, we want a strawberry cake, with blue icing, and a miniature plastic bride and groom for the top too. Oh and we hear you can buy decorative sugar flowers for the top at such and such store in Montecristi, you know if you are going to be over there, and make sure they match the flowers on the brides dress….hrmmm pretty picky for someone that just asked me to do this. I accepted the challenge and unable to find the flower store, bought the largest plastic bride and groom I could buy, which was a tad out of my Peace Corps budget but I figured, it’s a wedding! Having no way to make a strawberry cake, I stuck with a classic vanilla base and chocolate top. I made home-made icing, died it robin’s-egg blue and sadly realized that my plastic figurine was dwarfing the wedding cake, I had dreamt too big. I left the two cakes and the icing for my friends to assemble the next day because I was leaving early the next morning for a conference and the wedding was not until the following evening. Unfortunately, although we were scheduled to have electricity that evening, it never came, the fridge never turned on, the icing never hardened, but the cake soldiered on. I am told the cake was beautiful but a little wobbly. All in all everyone was impressed and I have started to get requests for holiday parties, quinceneras, and graduation parties. I might have to start charging for my services.
Chicas Brillantes. The Saturday of the wedding, I left town early with three of my young girls in tow. They were members of my chicas brillantes group (roughly translated: shining girls) and I had chosen them for the coveted position of attending a conference with me several hours away in Santiago as a reward for their participation and attendance in our group. Both mothers of the three girls were distraught at the idea of their kids being away from home. One mother pleaded with me to protect her baby as tears streamed down her face. I should have been worried when I saw that all three girls had plastic bags in their hands as we mounted the bus, or when they all took Dramamine for motion sickness. Thirty minutes into the ride, the chofer taking each hairpin turn at Nascar speed, all three girls began vomiting on cue, as if none wanted to be left out of the fun. I watched in horror as my kids threw up all of the platano and fried cheese and fried salami their mothers had given them for breakfast, a breakfast so hearty just in case the kids don’t eat again until you come back tomorrow the mother confided in me. Luckily, if I could pick any place in the world to have a problem, I would pick a high-speed guagua in the Dominican Republic. Instead of being repulsed by vomit, Dominican women flock to help as though free cookies are being handed out. Suddenly breath mints appeared, words of advice such as I shouldn’t let my kids eat before getting on the guagua, etc..Such a wonderful country when you are in need. I could only imagine the situation in the states, people arching their backs, squealing, and looking at the children as if they were venomous snakes.
Once arriving at the conference my girls had a great time. It was a two day conference filled with making clay female reproductive system models, learning salsa dancing, nutrition and avocado making session, and so much more! This Saturday I have my first class with the girls since returning from the conference and I will not be surprised if my numbers exponentially increase due to all the neighborhood chicas wanting the opportunity to attend the next regional conference.
Last but not least, I want to thank everyone who donated to my Latrine project, or even thought about donating, for helping to make this possible. I will be beginning construction on several latrines before Christmas, si Dios quiere (If God wills it.) So thank you all so so so much for being so generous with your money. I cannot wait to build some toilets!

Here are some photos: a few of me installing water filters. and the rest are hiking Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Caribbean!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fitting In

The struggles I envisioned for my Peace Corps service I got over within weeks. The challenges I could not have dreamed of remain. Unlike more traditional international aid organizations, Peace Corps puts forming relationships, trust, and friendship head and shoulders above meeting quantifiable goals of tangible project output (we definitely complete awesome projects but only because we earn the trust and love of community partners first). In many ways, our number one goal is fitting in and learning to not just survive but to enjoy life in wherever we are placed. This aspect of aid resonates deeply with me and I believe firmly in its efficacy. The first year is spent making friends more or less and the second in responding with these friends to local needs. However, living up to this goal brings back all of the insecurities and anxieties of ninth grade. In this case it is not whether or not people are talking about you, it is what they are saying. Of course people are talking about me, in their eyes, in their culture, I am insane. I am pathetic and they must take care of me. Why on earth would I leave my country to come to a forgotten dusty town on the border, alone, to make their acquaintance and learn what it means to live in a Dominican community. What’s more, I must have some serious problems because at the geriatric age of 25 I am still unmarried with no children. I am certainly giving the locals some choice conversation fodder for their morning coffee, their midmorning dominos game and their leisurely two hour lunch.
I don’t blame them for constantly talking about my every movement, most days I think I am insane as well for attempting to be accepted into this society. Living under constant scrutiny has done interesting things to me. I rather enjoy the freedom I have to represent an entire nation. Besides having cousins uncles and aunts pa ‘lla living in Nueva Yol, I am, to many Dominicans, their only real-life specimen of the other, the blancita, the rubia, the Americana. Whatever I do, the way I dress, the things I like to eat, etc, are being mentally recorded as representing the habits and preferences of an entire people: Americans. With much power comes much responsibility. I therefore take every opportunity to shock and alarm my Dominican friends with my antics and behavior. Clara you aren’t really going to go on a run are you? Clara you aren’t really going to eat papaya and mango and banana at the same time are you? Clara you aren’t really going to go days at a time without eating (read without eating rice). Clara, you aren’t really going to walk around town with wet hair. Clara you aren’t really going to play soccer with the Haitians are you? Si, Senor! I reply.
I think a lot about the fact that my presence is confirming for my Dominicans neighbors what a “typical” American looks like: blondish hair, pale skin. It disappoints me a bit. However, being an African American or Asian American volunteer must be a tall order in this country because Dominicans are loathe to accept anything other than that all true Americans must be blanco y rubio. I guess I have to pick my battles in the shock Dominicans to death game.
So what have I been up to other than thinking a lot about my place in Dominican society while sweating in my seafoam green plastic chair…November was filled with lots of travel and lots of work and I cannot believe that the Christmas season has already arrived. Technically it arrived before Halloween when my neighbors started putting up their artificial Christmas trees and colorful blinking lights. I hope to get into the spirit of things this year by decorating a banana tree in my backyard with popcorn snowflakes and lights. It is interesting to think back to a year ago at this time. I had only spent about 2 weeks in my new community and found everything uncomfortable, loud, and slightly off-putting. Now, a year later, the people the noise and the community has not changed but I certainly have. I now enjoy and even participate in the silliness that is daily life in Judea Nueva. A shared struggle to enjoy all that life has to offer on this beautiful island. A year ago the idea of not escaping town for Christmas was not considered, not to mention that I sorely missed family and American comforts. This year, I am excited to be staying in town for the Christmas holidays to share the merriment of the season with another culture.
In other news, I participated in a medical mission at the beginning of the month in the nearby border town of Dajabon. This was the third mission I have participated in and as always it was an exhausting, edifying, and humbling experience. Working with plastic surgeons, dermatologists, cardiologists, family practitioners, and internal medicine physicians the team of close to 50 medical professionals that comprise Waves of Health was able to offer treatment to a wide variety of sick Haitians and Dominicans. For me, I felt a certain sense of, let’s call it cultural integration, at the fact that I felt much more comfortable with rural locals than with the American doctors. The American physicians seemed inflexible, impatient, flustered, very sweaty, and disbelieving how a people survives in the way that they do. Ok, obviously not all the physicians acted in that way, but their discomfort at certain aspects of life here definitely made me realize how much I have acclimatized and learned to take it easy under hot and sweaty conditions. I even put an IV in successfully which was a big personal success for me after repeatedly sticking someone last time with no results but a bloody hand. Hooray!
I also hiked the highest peak in the Caribbean last week, Pico Duarte. It was an incredible four days spent relaxing, listening to nothing but my friends banter, laughter, and mule farts. I will post pictures shortly and have more stories about the epic hike when I get a chance to write again. Until then, I will be elbow deep in pecans making pecan pie for over 200 volunteers and staff for the big Thanksgiving Peace Corps celebration. I hope everyone has a lovely Turkey Day and if anyone would still like to donate to my bathroom project, there is still about $1300 left to go…I will include the link.

Friday, November 4, 2011


I was invited to a party this past weekend in my old community of Tres Palmas. My closest friend Lucia and I have stayed in touch despite our separation and she called me a month ahead of time to tell me that she really wanted me to come to the fiesta. I was super excited to go back and see everyone as I have always felt extremely close and comfortable around the campesinos in this small mountain community, not to mention loved. Although I have visited three times in the last year, I am given flack for not visiting enough and am constantly told I have forgotten my Dominican family. However, I feel blessed that I did not move far away and am able to visit whenever I like. In private transport, it is only about an hour trip; however, due to the slow guaguas, it usually takes me about three hours, I have to take two different small buses and then a motorcycle taxi the final half hour. Although close in kilometers, it is a world apart from my current community. The homes in Tres Palmas are organized like a typical campo in the Dominican Republic: they proudly stand or jauntily lean in their garishly bright paint along a winding dirt road. They are spaced apart so that yelling between families is possible but not so close that one cannot plant a sizeable garden around their home. Where I live now in Judea Nueva, there are around 500 homes, in comparison to the much smaller 40 that comprised the campo of Tres Palmas. Judea Nueva was set up like a housing complex for the workers of the rice fields. It is ten feet from a large two-lane highway and sees lots of traffic. The homes are huddled together as if for warmth and one has the privilege of hearing domestic disputes, dinner conversation, and the neighbors television without leaving home.
Riding up the winding dirt road with an old motoconcha driver that remembered my name despite a year of not seeing him, I felt extremely relaxed in my old familiar surroundings. The pace of life is extremely simple and I get the feeling that if I come back to visit in ten years much will be the same, new chickens, new grandkids, but same crops being planted, some complaints about the heat, same sharing of fruit bounty with all. There is a comforting peace that pervades people’s struggle to cultivate the land and to feed their families. There is a small river in town, the area receives high amounts of rainfall, and the soil is extremely fertile. However, if you look around the farmers are not young. They are in their fifties and sixties, working alongside hired Haitian help. The twenty something’s move to Santiago or Dajabon or the capital in search of a job less physically intensive and more lucrative. This campo is filled with the very old and the very young grandkids. Life there has a definite structure and tempo. What brought tears of boredom and frustration to my eyes a year ago now brings reassurance when I go home to visit my neighbors and friends. I know exactly what they will say before they say it: I have gained weight, the mosquitoes are eating me alive, I have forgotten my roots, etc.
Rolling into town on the back of the motoconcho I stopped off at Lucia’s house overjoyed to see my closest friend in the DR. Her mother stopped struggling with the woodstove and came to greet me looking more stoic than usual. She informed me that we wouldn’t be having the fiesta because a close neighbor had passed away two days before and we would be going to the wake. I was invited to the velorio or wake and it was assumed I was going because every person in town was going. I found myself feeling at peace with the fact that I would be able to see everyone in one place whereas my normal visits are usually spent running around the dirt roads trying to say hi to all forty families which then leaves everyone thinking I’m insane because I’m walking around in the sun and as soon as I come to their house, I am leaving again. Not to mention my tolerance for fresh-fruit juice is usually about a three cup per two hour limit making it uncomfortable for me to visit and not partake of the offered gift.
The woman who had passed away was middle aged, no more than forty and had left a strong impression on me. She had down’s syndrome and our weekly interaction was at Catholic Mass when she would collect money from the parishioners. She always made me laugh because despite being mute, she would make guttural noises shaming everyone into giving a donation despite some people’s obvious embarrassment that they had nothing that week to give. Her innocence and persistence combined beautifully to wheedle money out of the poorest hands. I couldn’t help but laugh my first day at Catholic Mass, I had walked from home with my host family and didn’t think to bring any money. When the collection time came I put my head down and closed my eyes in prayer. I underestimated the wonderful Beatra. She stood in front of me tapping me and putting her hand out and groaning at me for coins she knew I had if only because I was a rubia, blanca, Americana. After what seemed like an eternity, my host father finally politely shoved her down the aisle much to the amusement of the entire congregation, all 20 of my neighbors. From that Sunday forward, I made sure to have several coins with me at mass to avoid the embarrassment of another public flogging from Beatra. I like to think of her as the Lord’s vanguard, taking money from people even if they did not want to give.
The body was lain out in the family’s house in an open casket, about 200 people were sitting under trees in the dirt yard or crowded into the small house or out back cooking mountains of chicken and yucca to serve to everyone present. Most people were crying and wailing when I walked in, but they would all pause give me a big hug and smile, tell me I was mas gorda, ask how my family was, and then continue crying. I could not help but imagine how this scene would have played out in the US. If there was an unknown foreigner I doubt everyone would be ecstatic that said person had shown up at the wake, because in my limited experience, death is something fairly closed and personal for American families. But, like most things Dominican, even a death was an event that was loud, fun, crowded, chaotic, and ended with eating chicken, gossiping about the neighbors, laughing, and drinking soda in plastic chairs. Nothing was cheapened or less genuine because people were crying sincerely and at the next moment, laughing with just as much emotion and earnestness. I continue to learn so many things about different cultures by living here on the island and feel so lucky to be serving in a country that is willing to share everything with me: their lives, their funerals, their time, and their root vegetables.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


This morning I was inspired to write a few poems about my life in the Dominican Republic. I am no poet but it seemed easier to express myself in this way. I am trying to come to terms with my conflicting feelings and emotions. Lately I have focused on embracing the difficulties and enjoying the uniqueness of all my experiences, good and bad. Enjoy.

Ode to my Dona,
To My Dominican Mother

I came to share with you,
to help.

But I eat your rice,
I drink your coffee,
I reap the best fruit from your soursop tree
I am taking, not giving.

I am floundering,
I am sinking.
I am giving up.
Your smile helps me stay afloat.
You take time to show me how to swim
In the waters of your island.

You laugh at me,
At my simple mistakes.
You teach me to dance
like your mother taught you.

You say I must learn things.
You say I know nothing
You say I am very intelligent.

You call me hija, you yell
If I do not call you,
to say I am fine.

You insist I eat large amounts.
You say I am getting fat
you say it with pride.

We share recipes, bandannas,gossip
and hot afternoons.

Is it enough to sit with you?
To sweat alongside you?
To pick guavas with you…

This is not what I thought it would be.
Am I doing enough?

You share your world with me and ask
Me to tell you things

You see our differences while
I see our similarities

Staying put,
staying positive.
Not running away
but sharing my day.
This is harder than change
than facing the unknown.

Thank you for teaching me
For feeding me
For holding my hand
For showing me how to navigate
Your world.

Early Morning in Judea Nueva
Along the dirt roads of the town,
Joy and sadness are exchanged as currency.
Beauty and destruction rub elbows.
The full range of human emotion is palpable.
Nothing is hidden away.

I stretch, I walk, I leave my clapboard house.
My senses are assaulted
by the lives of others.
The sweet morning air is tempered by
Fumes of acrid smoldering waste.
Good morning to my neighbors as they sweep
the dust from the dirt.
Burn the decay and destroy it.

A woman planting flowers alongside
A boy throwing rocks at a street dog.
The sun sheds its rays on the verdant
Rice fields.
A Haitian child pets my dog
and asks for 5 pesos.

I walk towards the growing fireball.
While the moon dissolves overhead.
Refuse, trash, and discarded cans
Sully the tranquil path.
Remnants of a people struggling to keep
their bellies full.

Some have no more than their machete and a cookpot.
The ground they squat on is not their own.
I smile and I wave
They ask why I am not like the others
Why do I look and acknowledge
their lives in the mud.
Their naked children chasing chickens and eating off the ground.
I do not have an answer.

They ask me for things.
Why have I not built a church
or given them clothes
like the other gringos.
I say I will give less handouts,
but stay longer
I say they must help me.
they like this.

Your time is better
than a tshirt
my neighbor says.
When you leave
can I have your bed?

I continue down the road:
looking, pausing, chatting.
I know I want to see
so that I never forget.
The joy, the sadness, the patience,
I am glad they do not hide anything away.

Vecinos: Neighbors
They say our town is forgotten,
Their country is lost and hunkering down
The path of ruination.
In the next breath,
They smile and
Say I should never leave their island
I should marry a Dominican because
This is the best place to be.

I am greeted with open arms, with kisses, and
With sugary-sweet espresso shots
It is too early to leave, sit with me, get out of the sun.

We share our stresses, our burdens, our complaints
I have stopped seeing it as them and me,
separate but different.

Now, I feel I am being transformed
and am embracing the

Be who you are and be that well.
Be the change you wish to see in the world
Be true to yourself.
I don’t know if I am sure who I am so
How do I be true to
what I do not yet know?

We talk,
we share,
we live together.
For now that is enough.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Great Week!

Things went very well this week! After suffering through several frustrating weeks and realizing my increasingly bitter attitude towards all things Dominican, I cannot stop smiling that things went great this week. I cannot tell if I am finally learning how to work with and motivate my fellow Dominican counterparts or if people have just decided to make my life easier all of a sudden. I certainly owe my successes this week to the help of my wonderful youth: Edward, Joanna, and Yenni, my superstars! I have finally stopped trying to do everything myself, which never works out anyway and just makes me look sweatier, and more sun burnt than I normally am, and have learned the beautiful art of delegating responsibility to others. I think allowing other people to contribute and take part in all stages of a project is an important part of being a good leader, something that for me has been hard to learn, and I still have a long ways to go. I normally find it easier to try and micromanage every detail, which may or may not work in the US but it certainly doesn’t work in the Dominican Republic because the locals always know what things will or will not work out and micromanaging youth groups is an exercise in futility and frustration. The infamous Bio-Sand water filters… I could not be more proud of my community with this project. I took the weekend off after turning in a grant in the capital in order to partake in some much-needed R and R in anticipation for the stormy weather ahead. After my first disastrous round of water filters (had women screaming, throwing money at me, stealing bags of sand, and claiming that they could out buy their neighbors even though the filters were not for sale) it is hard to believe that I decided to continue with another round of the project. As is typical in my experience on the island, I often see something as going horribly wrong, i.e. people screaming at me (normal tone of voice in the DR), people not saying thank you, grown women pushing children out of the way, people acting as if they did not receive one of these somethings they had just heard about a week before, they would not be able to go on living…and Dominicans see the project as being a wild success, smoothly run, and ask me when I will be doing the next round so their mother and their sister can take part. It seems I just do not understand their way of viewing the world, but then again, I have never been poor, and I try to understand what it must be like when you have the opportunity to make your life a little easier or more sanitary or more healthy for your children, and in doing so, perhaps you will leave your manners at the door; also, my version of manners and a Dominicans version are quite different, neither is lacking, we just choose to convey certain niceties at different times. For example, I am more than willing and happy to serve voluntarily helping my neighbors, but unlike my Dominican friends, people are not welcome in my house 24 hours a day. And there are certain times when I do not want to be bothered, ie I am sleeping and you sternly demand my presence to show me a picture of your granddaughter. Cultural differences. Ok, so back to the BIO-Sand water filters. Unlike the first round where we went to pick up 40 filters, this time, we would be attempting the successful pickup of 81 and I could see nothing but storm clouds, broken sand bags and strikes with burning tires in my future. I had agreed to expanding the project under the condition that I send four people from the community and the neighboring village to a three day training event to become certified and able to install the filters, i.e. making the project sustainable when these filters eventually deteriorate in the foreseeable future. I hand-picked four reliable community members, arranged their transport, confirmed they had money and directions and left town for a meeting in the capital. I called the next day and found out in less than 24 hours, they had decided to pull a fast one and send three different people and one original Claire-picked person. Edward, my pick, has been the only one to have helped me, two of the muchachos came back to town and informed me unless they were paid, they would not help with the project, I laughed at this request because I obviously do not have money to pay for their community work. The third adolescent moved to Santiago to attend University. My plan of having a project on auto-pilot was not really materializing. Despite the obstacles, we ended up expanding the project to two neighboring villages and I helped with, but did not do all of the preliminary work. After three months spent giving health talks and lectures, and collecting money for the filters, we were ready to go get the filters. I put Edward in charge of finding us two large Dihatsu trucks, two drivers, and about 8 people willing to help us lift heavy bags of sand and gravel and all the other clumsy components of the filters from a factory 2 and a half hours away. Edward miraculously arranged all of these things. I arrived back in town from the capital Monday afternoon and by Tuesday at 6 am our caravan was off. The best part was I was starting to think that I was completely extraneous to the smooth workings of the project. I felt a familiar twinge of déjà vu from our first trip when a strike filled with burning truck tires and teenagers throwing rocks had held up our progress home for 3 hours, as we road past an early morning flaming tire on the side of the road. Half an hour outside of the factory, we did hit a strike. Workers for the town government were protesting the fact that are owed thousands of dollars of back pay by the municipal government. They decided to clog the street with garbage trucks and dump trucks and all lean on their horns simultaneously. Somehow we meandered through this LOUD traffic jam and arrived at the factory. Although having told the owner we would be coming bright and early the day before, he had disappeared to attend to things in town. After waiting at his mother’s house for half an hour he showed up and we got down to the heavy-duty business of loading the trucks. Each water filter is composed of a plastic shell about 3 feet high, pvc pipe, and a lid. We also hauled bags of sand and gravel, 81 times, everything 81 times, for 81 filters, but luckily we had brought 9 strapping Dominican men. Everyone was very excited about roadside breakfast on the way home(it was 11 am, so not really breakfast in my book). Most Dominicans, and I’m told, most human beings, love chicharonnes, or fried pork skin. After partaking in this delicacy with fried sweet potato several months ago, I realized my stomach was not cut out to settle such fried foods. While the workers merrily ate piles of fried pork and yucca dripping in pork fat, I bought a fresh cherry juice and assured everyone I had eaten before leaving home. We arrived back in Judea and unloaded all the materials into the preschool/multipurpose room. At four o’clock we invited everyone in the community to come get their filters. I could not stop smiling in disbelief and joy as everyone lined up outside and waited for Digna to read their names off the list. It was orderly, civilized, and pleasant, nothing like last March when I was being strong armed and bullied by Donas yielding 100 peso banknotes and demanding a water filter. I could not be more proud of my project partners and community members who helped make this part of the project such a smooth success. National beach cleanup day Dominican Republic was Saturday, September 17th. I decided it would be really fun to take my two youth groups on an outing to pick up trash at the local beach. Because I have funding left over from a grant I wrote over a year ago to fund environmental youth group activities, I was able to pay for transport and snacks for 23 kids. I casually told my two friends Joanna y Yeni that they could help me plan the event on Monday. Word spread like wildfire and I had children showing up at my door who I had never seen before with carefully plotted stories of why they absolutely needed to be on this trip with me. One crazed 12 year old who I had specifically told could not come because she had refused to participate in educational events with the group, wrote me letters and bought me chocolate bars and pestered me throughout the evening. No one likes to be the mean person denying children a fun day at the beach, but the fact is, there are hundreds of children in my town, and I had space for about 20 and would only be rewarding the kids who have chosen to be in my youth groups. The kids planned everything with dangerous levels of excitement and decided that everyone needed to dress in uniform, white tshirts, jeans, and hats. I really enjoy the Dominican love of formal dress when going on outings to show they are a team. Everyone scoffed at my ignorance about the necessity to dress as a unit. One of the girls has an older brother who owns and drives a guagua (small bus or van) and so he would be our chofer for the day. I decided we would go to a beach a little further away because the beach in Montecristi I normally go to has its own paid maintenance team and is usually devoid of refuse. We set off, many kids sitting on laps and our guaugua at maximum carrying capacity. 23 children and teenagers, and one mother and her 6 year old who I was grateful wanted to come. I was a little apprehensive about bringing a load of kids to the beach where despite their ability to swim, most would want to get in the water. I felt unprepared for the day ahead, none of the kids brought water, sun protection, or a towel, but we had lots of soda and their favorite snacks: cheese, crackers, and processed salami. I am also quite used to parents trusting their children’s lives with me, no permission slips and no worries. Off we went. We arrived, bumping down an unpaved road for 45 minutes, to a rather depressing site. There was a crew of about 20 adults with rakes, camera crew, trash bags and military uniforms already picking up trash! They had brought out the defensa civil, and coast guard to take part and publicize their green activities. The local mayor and government environmental minister were also present. The kids and I were asked to take part in a small ceremony of talking about the significance and importance of keeping the coast clean. I was videotaped and asked to speak about my work as a volunteer. Because of Dominicans penchant for making formal little speeches, I have learned the art of speaking formally, as well as bullshitting, in Spanish, something that would have been much more difficult for me in English. We split into groups and set off to pick up trash. After about an hour, the other cleanup crew decided to relocate to a nearby beach and invited my group. When I informed them we would be staying behind so we could do some educational activities I had planned the local governor made it clear I needed to come with him because the news would be there and it would look great to have all my kids get on tape. After a back and forth where I kept insisting that our group was not political and we would be staying behind, he left in a huff, a missed opportunity to have his beach cleanup look like a family affair. We ended up playing in the surf (luckily super calm shallow waters so no kids would be drowned) for several hours and drinking lots of soda that I had purchased to keep the children happy for the morning and afternoon. On our way home I asked a little girl if she had had fun and she replied, “It was the best! The only thing I didn’t like was when I stepped on a sea urchin…” Some of the kids, threw their candy wrappers out of the window as we left the newly cleaned-up beach and I couldn’t help but feel all my efforts had been for naught. I guess change comes slow. So yes, I had an excellent week in Judea Nueva, the more I lean on my neighbors and find friends willing to help me plan and organize events, the easier my life becomes. Perhaps I am learning to cojalo mas suave (take it easy), or maybe it is so hot I have stopped trying so hard to plan every detail myself, but whatever it is, I hope I can keep this momentum as I enter into my Ecological Bathroom project.
waiting for filters is hardwork...
kids take early morning pic of me in my house pre beach trip
everyone in the guagua!
the lovely playa of Manzanillo, the town was built up by Americans as a port for the export of organic bananas, the Americans have left and now it feels like a sleepy abandoned town out of Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude
My girls group: Chicas Brillantes, striking a pose post trash pick-up
Most of the crew
Migualina and I
The Muchachos and I
Snack Time!

Monday, September 5, 2011

some pics from the med mission

I wish I could take credit for these great photos but they were taken by photographer and renowned male nurse, John Jacobs.
They are all from the med mission I participated in back in late July in the mountains around Santiago. Most are of patients waiting to be seen or of people in the surrounding communities. Enjoy!