Jesuuuuuu. Cuanto tiempo, eh?
Quite a bit has happened over the last few weeks. The first big thing was the massive Santiago-Dajabon youth exchange. Long ago, a youth PCV, Jackie, and I came up with this idea to facilitate an intercambio between our youth groups. Jackie and I have been lucky in that we’ve found an amazing friendship that provides some amazing support both in our personal lives and in our work lives, so the planning of this exchange happened quite organically.
After weeks of planning, budgeting, coordinating and all that jazz, it finally happened. To kick things off, myself and three of my Escojo Mi Vida participants from a couple of groups traveled to Santiago. We met up with Jackie and her youth at one of the offices of her institution, Accion Callejera, a group that works with street youth and high risk teens (a large portion of which work as shoe-shiners and often don’t have stable homes). We had lunch, introduced ourselves to the administration and then traveled back to Jackie’s community to participate in some activities. Jackie has some of the most amazingly trained youth I’ve met in this country. They led 3 hours of activities stressing the importance of HIV/AIDS awareness, choosing age-appropriate partners and taking the steps together to get tested and have healthy relations.
After the afternoon of charlas and activities, we headed down to Jackie’s house for a tour of her barrio and a spaghetti dinner. We had a great time, and my kids quickly learned that life in a pretty “caliente” barrio is nothing like life in La Culata. The president of the neighborhood association advised us, on our tour, to get home quick because it was starting to get dark and no one should be walking around late. You know it’s serious when the president of the neighborhood group tells you that. So we went home to Jackie’s. That night, around 3am we heard shotgun shots on the street right in front of Jackie’s home. Definitely a new experience for my girls!
The next day, we got up early, and headed into downtown Santiago. There, we dropped our belongings off at a hostel frequented by PCVs (The Hub II, check it out if you’re ever in Santiago! The best place to stay with some awesome people who run it!). We immediately got motivated and headed to an NGO called Profamilia. Imagine Planned Parenthood, but with 10x the services. They offer all levels of medical attention to people with limited resources, and focus on youth education and prevention. Our kids all got a chance to learn what they can really do as youth health promoters.
After a delicious chicken lunch, we went on an official campus tour of PUCMM, the best university in the country. It was a truly amazing experience to coach these high-schoolers on how to visit a campus, how to ask admissions questions and how to present themselves in a professional manner. It was even more amazing to watch the transition from, “This is a rich kids’ university,” to, “I don’t know if I want to go here, but it’s good to know that it’s a possibility.” I was quite proud of how our group presented themselves, and also thankful to PUCMM for treating us so wonderfully.
The next day, we packed up and began the trip back to La Culata. After a quick lunch, my youth presented charlas from the Escojo Mi Vida manual about Discrimination and about the reproductive organs. We got a chance to play some dominos and relax for the afternoon before heading to another community where we had planned a large dinner for our guests. We ate SO much, and had a pretty long photo shoot of just about every combination of people and every pose imaginable. Then, we got a chance to show our visitors the flipside, where it’s actually okay to walk down the road for 20 minutes in the dark, with no streetlamps, by the light of the stars and to not be worried about gangs nor corrupt police.
The next day, after a walking tour of the pueblo, we had one final group meal, reflected upon the experience and upon our feelings about where we each come from. Our despedida was quick, but definitely a sad one. After 5 days with this group, we really had a great time and Jackie and I were witness to some amazing developments for our kids with whom we’ve worked so much. It is definitely one of my fondest memories so far of my service!
The very next weekend, after a week full of meetings, I traveled to the capital for Committee Weekend. It was funny, I remember my first committee weekend being so excited to have an excuse to travel to the capital, to party with other volunteers the whole weekend and to be carefree in the capital. This time around though, after my fair share of committee weekends, things have changed…down to the name! What used to be committee weekend is now CORPS Forum, I actually had enough work to keep me busy the whole three days I was in the capital, I had things going on in my site that I needed to travel back for right away, rather than sitting through meetings I was actually leading them now…and rather than crazy nights out with all of the volunteers, I cooked a nice steak/spinach dinner with my Peace Corps Wife Amanda, we split a bottle of red wine and fell asleep at 9pm (that romantic dinner was heaven!).
Finally, I got back to my site, cleaned my house, made my calendar for the next two months and got back to work. This week begins stove construction! Super exciting, and going surprisingly smoothly. I measured a few more of the tables that families have made to support their soon to be built clean cook stoves, collected payments from other families and communicated with various hardware stores and truck drivers about material delivery. I was all ready to start on Tuesday, when someone visited my house and informed me of a problem.
“Jaime, queremos, de verdad, comenzar con la construccion manana, pero no sera posible. La luna esta nueva, y ya tu sabes que no se puede sacar tierra con la luna nueva!”
That’s right, we can’t harvest clay on a new moon because, “It will break”. That’s just one of the many things you can’t do on a new moon…for example: harvest coconuts, harvest pineapple or visit a cemetery.
So we had to wait a few more days, and finally will be starting with construction this weekend. I have officially gotten 39 signed contracts and a fair handful of fully paid households. We received enough money through the grant that we applied for to build 80 stoves, so after we finish here in La Culata, we’ll be moving onward and upward to other surrounding communities. It’s pretty exciting.
In other exciting news, they FINALLY opened the hospital in Partido Arriba. This is amazing because it’s been sitting empty for my entire service, waiting to be opened. Now, rather than a 10 minute motorcycle ride followed by a 40 minute guagua ride, there is actually a hospital within walking distance or a quick 2 minute motorcycle ride. This really will change a lot of peoples’ lives.
As for me? Well, training for the half-marathon continues, although a few days ago I twisted my ankle on my stupid dirt roads. So I’ve been taking it a little easy the last few days. We’ll see how things go. Cross your fingers! I have a few big things coming up between chicos camp, chicas camp, Hogares and Escojo Conferences, a Medical Mission and then a visit from my sister, Meghan! She’s the only other member of my family who speaks Spanish, so it should be a SUPER cool experience. She’ll really be able to communicate with my Dominican Family.
Everyone down here is already talking about how my time in the DR is coming to an end. I suppose it sort of is, as I’m already well into my second year of service. My groups are all graduating, the stove project will be over before we know it. I’ve begun thinking seriously about my future, which is mighty overwhelming. So I’ve decided to just try not to stress about it too much (which is MUCH easier said than done). In the mean time, Mantula and I are scheming together to potentially split the cost of a goat to kill for a big dinner when my birthday comes around! Much more fun to think about.