Sunday, March 18, 2012

My new Masons

Last week I weathered another near shipwreck in my service. Despite all my efforts to prevent my masons quitting mid-project: signing a contract, explaining in full the requirements of the work ahead-of-time, investing in a training workshop with them, they did just that, they up and quit. After completing nine of the thirty Eco-Banos, they confirmed my suspicions that something was souring by informing me that our work relationship was over. I was crushed to say the least. Their reasoning was “too much work and too little pay.” Insert tears and whining here. When they found out what a local volunteer was paying his masons they were never the same. They worked, but always making side comments: eso trabajo no es facil, me duele mucho la espalda, este proyecto esta matandome…etc. I must have asked 5 different Dominican masons in my community to see if they would take over the project; all chuckled and said the Project looked too hard. It looked like despite all my efforts to the contrary, my project was going to flop. Enter my savior. Rafael, one of two said quitters brought to my attention a wiry, toothless Haitian mason that was interested in the project. He called me out of my slumber at 6:30 one morning, asking if he could start the project. He told me with enthusiasm that he would start work with me the following Friday, bien temprano, a las 7, I liked this guy already! At 7:05 he was in front of my casita, eager to begin the workday. Unlike my Dominican masons who always rode their motorcycles to the job site even if it was a block away, my new Haitian mason Bobby and his partner Papi impressed me with their lightening quick footpace. They worked through the weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and told me that they would work every day until we finish all 30 latrines. Rafael would never work on weekends.
The difference in the Haitian vs. Dominican work ethic, at least in this case, is phenomenal. Speaking from my personal experience in my community, the Haitians are willing to do the most undesirable work, they work extremely hard in the hopes of saving as much money as possible to send home and to eventually go back home themselves. It is rare to find a Haitian in my community that would want to stay on this side of the isla. On the other hand, the Dominicans in my community complain constantly about lack of work, about being impoverished, but are not willing to work hard, or at all, to change their reality. That is not to say that there are not hardworking Dominicans. I just think, in general, the average Haitian, like most uneducated immigrants, are willing to take any work in order to improve their lot in life.

Here are some pics of my new masons working on the project. Also on Saturday I took 20 youth to the local beach. Exhausting but fun

Big spider on my wall

Bobby and Papi working hard

Smoothing the second layer of cement


Sifting Sand


my new masons

Girls excited about their new latrine

at the Playa with Miguelina y Angelica

Darcia and I

Friday, March 2, 2012


Chilling in mi casita..Happy because I just got gifted a box of grapefruit from my old host family

The great thing about Peace Corps is you never quite get the hang of it. In my case, I have learned that I have honed the skills of not being so overwhelmed by strange and uncomfortable situations, but that is not to say that awkward and strange situations stop happening the longer one lives in a community. I remember during training one of the training staff using the metaphor of a rollercoaster to describe the ups and downs of our Peace Corps service. Even at the end of my service I am still dealing with new challenges and skirting my way around unique obstacles. I bet I still have a few more big drops in my future. Twenty-three months in country and I still haven’t gotten the hang of it all. Just when I feel that I truly belong in the community (as much as a foreigner can belong in a small Dominican community) one of my neighbors forgets my name and calls me the Americana. Oh well.

As my time ticks down I am filled with nostalgia, sadness, and a bit of excitement about returning to the comforts of America. Recently I have been taking every opportunity to try new things and hang out with my neighbors as much as possible, cherishing all the unexpected things that we do to fight the boredom.

By way of being adventurous the other day I agreed to try the national delicacy: mondongo: or intestines. I don’t think of myself as a very adventurous eater when it comes to animals but for some reason I felt, hey I guess I should say I’ve tried everything once. I accepted the lunch invitation at my friend Rossi’s house. After talking with several neighbors about my lunchtime challenge in order to assuage my nerves, my host mom tsked, shook her head, and said, I hope you trust the family to clean the intestines well, if not you can get sick. Not exactly the boost of confidence I was looking for. I arrived at Rossi’s around 11. I refused to look in the pot because I thought if I was scared of the finished product, half cooked intestines were not going to lift my spirits. I announced to Rossi and her mother that I was nervous about lunch, they both laughed and said its ok, lots of Dominicans are grossed out by mondongo too! Perfect I thought. I sat in their dirt patio under an increasingly hot tin roof porch with Rossi. Rossi half-heartedly reprimanded her two sons to stop playing with rusted motorcycle parts littered about the yard. We took turns holding the rotund newborn Brian. We made small talk and the conversation, as always, returned to the fact that I would be leaving in May. Rossi said she wasn’t going to let me leave, she would find me a nice Dominican boy to marry. She then said if I had to leave I had to send her things from America and call at least once a week, also, she wanted my mini-fridge.

Rossi’s mother, aged from years toiling over an open flame, raising children, and putting food on the table with little to no resources, brought out a heaping bowl of rice covered with the infamous mondongo. It was white, translucent almost, and cooked with red onion. By this time several men who eat at Rossi’s house had come back from the rice fields for their midday meal. Everyone was excited to watch and see if I liked the mondongo. I took a bite with lots of rice and struggled to get it down my gullet. It was swelteringly hot, the baby was crying, and I was eating intestines. It was truly a Peace Corps moment. I announced I didn’t like it much to Rossi’s delight as she scooped the intestines into her bowl and let me eat the plain white rice. We all had a good laugh at my expense and Rossi’s mother Carmencita retreated into the house to fetch some boiled sweet potatoes she had cooked in case I couldn’t eat the mondongo. I walked back to my house that afternoon proud that I had tried something I feared so much.

The month of February is marked by Carnaval in the DR. Every Sunday is a reason to celebrate, even more so than usual. Montecristi’s carnaval is renowned for being the most violent as pairs of matadors take turns whipping one another with all their strength. It is nicknamed the torros or bulls so I guess the original intent was to reenact a fight scene between a matador and a bull. The costumes leave something to be desired and it seems the focus is now less on the spectacle and more on the beating. The carnaval celebrations in Santiago, are known for its parades, costumes, and finery; in La Vega, which is the most famous site for carnaval on the island, it is a mixture of fine costumes, lavish parades, and brutality with a behiga. The behiga is used mercilessly on anyone in the crowd that dares show their backside. Originally it was a cows bladder on a string, now a hard plastic balloon on a stretchy rope is sold to all who attend the party. I went to La Vega last year and was struck several times on the rump with said bladder and swore that was enough for a lifetime. It left some serious bruises.

The spectacle I witnessed in Montecristi, although the costumes were ragged, the fighters mere children and drunkenly blind men, the parade no more than two city blocks, made sure to maintain its claim to fame as the most violent carnaval on the island. It seems people in Montecristi just have more to be upset about and more angst and steam to blow off than their fellow countrymen in other villages. It is hot, it is dry, and we have a reputation to uphold!

Anna, Super pumped to be doing a trash pickup in the community

Camilia, proud of all the trash she found

Trash pickup with my girls group

Birthday Party for my neighbor

Rosi, my best friend, Posing with the cake

Carnaval in Montecristi! lots of whipping

Carnaval duel

Street scene, note the old man dressed as a witch

Scary Clown