Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Aqui en La Lucha

En la lucha, reading in my hammock

The title of this blog is a dicho (saying) Dominicano that I have come to love and use freely. It translates literally as “here in the struggle”. It is a common response to Como estas? (how are you). The struggle can refer to something specific: washing clothes, cleaning chicken, sweeping the patio or something more general: living in the campo, raising children, facing the day. Viewed from a first world point of view life in the campo of the Dominican Republic really is a lucha or struggle. Speaking from the standpoint of my campo in Judea, we do not have running water, the aqueduct brings us water once a week. We have electricity only at night. The roads are not paved and turn to thick mud if it rains. The mosquito swarms are as thick as an angora plush sweater. The government does not pick up our trash. There is no sewage system and many families lack a latrine or indoor bathroom. With the lack of rain and our desert climate, little grows other than bananas, plantains and rice. Cholera is a real and present threat to the health of the community. Other than work in agriculture there is no job market for young people.
However, although people tend to luchar physically more than we do in the United States, the mental lucha does not seem as present. People in my community seem more or less happy with their lucha. They struggle with daily annoyances, but at the end of the day, they are with family, with community, and have copious amounts of time to reflect and enjoy life. We talk a lot about the fact that my family and friends in the States live a more comfortable life and yet there hardly seems time to enjoy those comforts because they are working so much. To some extents, this is true. The difference in culture cannot be glossed over; rather, it accounts for a difference in priorities, in free time, and in feeling satisfied. I cannot help but hope to bring back a bit of the Caribbean mentality of taking time to enjoy life and enjoy family and friends home with me.

I am including some photos taken during the second week of Eco-Baño construction. I could not be more pleased with some of my community members. My health promoters, especially Digna, have really stepped up in ways I could not have foreseen. They show up every day of construction to make sure everything is running smoothly, that the beneficiaries have breakfast ready for the masons and workers, that the families have the materials at their house the night before, in other words they are running the show. Most importantly, the health promoters are each in charge of doing 9 different family visits to teach the family how to use and care for their Eco-Baño. I feel that this education component is missing from most NGO latrine projects and that is why I have seen so many eco-banos that are no longer being used because families did not understand what taking care of them entails.
What makes me most proud is that if I were to disappear tomorrow I am sure the project would still run smoothly. The goal of sustainability and community ownership of work is at the heart of all of Peace Corps projects. At times it seems an elusive goal and can be extremely difficult to break through years of a community conditioned to accept foreign aid and handouts without having any agency in the direction and planning of community projects. As a volunteer, I always have the question in the back of my head, but will this be sustainable?, in other words, when I leave, will the community continue the work we achieved together or will everything fall apart as they wistfully remember an Americana that once lived among them. The problem with sustainability is that you can only hope that it will continue working when you are not there, but one can never be sure.

ok, so a little tongue in cheek, my neighbors and I love to express all of our actions, even the fun easy ones, as being part of the lucha or struggle.

tiny little cucumbers in the street, I luchar to get veggies in my diet

some of my trashcans I painted, I luchar a lot with waste management

Blue, en la lucha

Morning in the Campo, even the gato is in the lucha

Putting on the finishing touches: Rafael en the Eco-Bano lucha

Rafael, one of my two masons, building the caseta of the latrine

The ladies proving to the men that they can mix cement, luchando

Josue, loving the camera

Adorable little Salvador watching the action; he is always smiling

Maximo y Altagracia, two of my good friends, looking on as we build
at their house

Salvador's Great Grandma

Maximo posing with his "sombrero" the bottom of the fiberglass toilet bowl mold, siempre en la lucha!