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!

Summer's End

The crew with the base of our Eco-Bano

What a week!

Last Sunday was full of laughs as I went to spend Sunday at the beach in Montecristi: about 20 minutes by bus from my house. Normally fairly deserted, Sunday afternoon makes El Morro beach feel super crowded as close to 30 Dominicans descend on the playa to bathe at the beautiful beach. The women, normally minimally dressed en la calle, don full outfits to swim in the ocean. It could have something to do with the fear of the sun and becoming any darker than God intended. The funniest/most disturbing thing happened when an elderly gentlemen went behind a scraggly bush to change into swimming trunks. Unfortunately I think he thought he was hiding, even though he was standing next to a some scrub bush as his cover. We never could figure out if the man was severely intoxicated (likely), mentally disabled or both. He struggled for (I kid you not) close to three minutes with the trunks halfway up his butt, but try as he might, he couldn’t seem to get them up the last, very important, foot, perhaps he was borrowing from a friend or perhaps he had gained some weight. Therefore, he logically proceeded to put on an extra large pair of men’s briefs on over top. This long endeavor was accompanied by an audience of very amused hooting and hollering Dominicans in the ocean. He then, sin verguenza, turned around and got in the ocean, underwear over the top of his half on swim shorts…that definitely made my Sunday.

About two months ago, I had written a card to the governor of Montecristi asking for 20 trash cans (aka old metal barrels that used to hold pesticide) to be donated to our community as there are no trash receptacles in the community. Everyone throws their trash on the ground and then the donas sweep every morning and burn little piles of trash all up and down the street. This is something I will not miss waking up to, the smell of smoldering plastic at 6 am. That being said, the governor was able to gift me 12 of said receptacles. This of course has the added cost of finding someone in my community to come with a large truck and get the trash cans and pay him for his diesel fuel. Luckily, I have some leftover Kids to Kids grant money for just such an endeavor. Upon arriving back in the community people started yelling at me from the street they would pay me $100 pesos each for the trash cans. I said that they aren’t for sale, I will be painting them with the muchachos and they will be put in public places. This elicited a lot of disappointment. People really like to acquire as many barrels at their house as possible to store water when the aqueduct gets turned on a few times a week. So now my backyard is filled with said barrels awaiting paint and a fun art project. The only thing missing is the commitment and cooperation of the local ayuntamiento to come and collect trash from our community, something that has never been done even though it is part of the provincial budget. However, unless the truck gets sent with regularity, my soon to be painted trash cans will be black with smoke from burnt trash…Let’s hope for the best.

I have been aware of my rodent problem for quite some time now. Little things have popped up with holes in them, I noticed lots of turds on my kitchen counter every morning, and about a month ago, there was an actual spotting!! Being a bit of a procrastinator, I did not do anything to confront my rent-free roommate, that is, until I read up on the dangers of lectospirosis. I went to the vet in order to see my options for mouse traps. What I ended up getting was the safest thing that Blue would not eat and poison himself. It is a sticky pad about half the size of piece of paper that the mouse or rat gets stuck to, you then kill the mouse and reuse the sticky pad for up to two more times! I had heard some pretty funny horror stories of other volunteers using this contraption. One being that only the foot of the mouse got caught so the mouse was running all around the house dragging the cardboard behind him. I was terrified of hearing the whimpering cries for help in the night when I captured my furry friend so I decided to lay the trap the night I would be spending in the pueblo. When I got home, the plan was to send in a neighbor to finish the deed. The culprit ended up being a baby, squealing away when I got home the next afternoon. My neighbor, instead of immediately dealing with the task, contemplated the trap and asked me if he could keep the pad to use at his mother’s house. I said fine, but first could he please kill the mouse and get it out of my house. He dragged the trap about five feet from my house and stepped on it, and left it in the middle of the path out to my latrine. He looked at me and said, “Eso me da asco!” That grosses me out! Then he picked up the sticky pad and happily went home to give his mother the trap.

It is so nice having lovely neighbors always willing to help. I could not have been happier, I was finally free of my pest. I sat down at the table to read a book and if a little mouse didn’t scurry right by! I had already given the trap away so I figured I will have to try the natural remedy I have heard also works. You grate the seed of an avocado which contains cyanide and mix it with some peanut butter or cheese. My only worry is the mouse will eat this and then climb under my roof and die thereby smelling up my house. I will keep you all posted on this. My unhealthy and irrational fear of furry rodents (not irrational I suppose because they are dangerous and can pass on lectospirosis) is extremely strong but I am glad this fear does not apply to tarantulas and large spiders which appear all over my house at all times. But don’t worry Brooke, I will kill them all before you come to visit! I really wish Blue got along with cats because having a kitty would be the solution to all my problems. At least Blue will eat the cockroaches sometimes. Good girl!

On Wednesday I went to Santiago with a mason from my community. My mason was going with me to attend a 4 day eco-bano latrine training: he along with five other masons was going to learn how to build the Peace Corps model latrine with ferro-cement technology. I was a little apprehensive because my mason, Rafael, who I have very little previous experience with other than he fixed up my house and put in electricity for me, rarely leaves the community. I would be paying his transport on the bus and covering all expenses until we got to the training center. Rafael participated in a pilot project with World Vision a few years back where he helped build a composting latrine in my community out of cement bloc. Their model of latrine is very expensive, is much larger, and is impressive compared to the size I will be building. The training was being led by my friend Andrea who has had the first large-scale success building this model of latrine. Her mason has built 52 of these latrines and was going to be teaching the masons in attendance all about the measurements and tactics of building this awesome bathroom.
The training was very successful. We built the latrine at a public swimming hole where many Dominicans go to jump off a waterfall. The need for the bathroom was obvious as when we were collecting sand by the river we ran into a few piles of human feces. The training was very successful and very amusing to me as the masons all struggled to work together. Much like any craft, they all seemed to be critiquing each other and holding nothing back about their preferred styles or so and so’s lack of skill at mixing cement or cutting rebar, etc. The most difficult thing for me will be ensuring that Rafael uses the dry cement mixture instead of the more common wet mixture he is used to working with.

The volunteers and I kept lamenting that we should do a fun activity at night because we were staying at a dorm-style retreat house and other than watch tv at night, there was nothing to do. Dancing and drinking were out of the question as my mason is Evangelico and therefore does not partake in either vicio (vice). We decided that going to see a movie at the mall would be perfect, as long as the volunteers paid for the taxi and the movie tickets. Even though the movies only cost about 3 dollars, that is still more than they would be able to spend most likely. Because of Rafael’s’ opposition to anything violent, sexual, etc, we picked the Smurfs in 3D. It was so fun! Rafael watched the whole movie without his glasses because he thought the glasses made him dizzy. A few of the masons in attendance were from very rural areas and because the only movie theaters in the country are in the big cities I bet a lot of the masons had never been to see a movie. Watching Colleen’s mason who lives on a small island with no electricity and only 200 people, confront the escalator was certainly amusing. All in all, it was a priceless experience and Rafael definitely loved the Smurfs as much as I did, although his experience was not as animated as my own without the glasses.

I returned back to my site Saturday night. Today I received some sad news. My project partner Digna, in charge of helping me collect the quota for my second round of filters, had all of the money stolen from her house. We were planning on collecting the filters on Tuesday so almost all 60 recipients had paid their 9 dollars. A man from the capital had been staying at her house while he recovered from an operation. Digna, one of my project partners, is the evangelical pastora and everyone assured me that no one would mess with her because the community has great respect and reverence for her. However, the man absconded with a little over 400 dollars. That money was meant for future community projects as well as is necessary to pay for the gas to go get the filters which are several hours away in a factory. I was really impressed when she told me that she would be selling a cow tomorrow in order to make up for the stolen money. We will not be able to recover all of the money, but it will be enough to at least go get the filters. I feel so blessed that she is taking responsibility for this unfortunate incident and all will not be for naught.

In other news, our electricity has been all over the map recently. The electric company decided to cut all power last week (when they cut power here they literally cut the power lines and take them away).

Within two days my neighbors had rigged the electricity back up. Why would we pay they ask me, we never have electricity for more than half the day, that’s not worth paying for. Definitely a cyclical problem as people will never pay for something that doesn’t work and until people pay it will not improve. However, the voltage was extremely strong and my fan blew up as well as all the light bulbs in the house. Luckily I have my mini fridge plugged into a power strip so that is still chugging away.

Thanks so much again to all the friends and family who have donated to my latrine project. Within the week I will have an additional grant online in hopes of raising money to build another 15 latrines. If anyone still wants to donate, that would be great! I wish I could thank everyone personally but I am unaware, unless you tell me, who has donated to my project. Stay tuned as I will need to raise an additional 2500 US dollars. I am so excited to start this project because the latrines are super cool!
There’s never a dull moment here in Judea: el Silvestre Oeste! *the wild west

My Club de Madres at sewing class,
learning to make pants!

At latrine training, coloring to teach illiterate families the different modes of contamination. This educational component will be 90% of my latrine project

Even he was having a great time!

building the compost latrine

Putting in the poop door: where you can take out the compost in a year