Peace Corps: Dominican Republic

Nombre: Jenn
Ubicación: Las Matas de Farfan, Dominican Republic

In May 2005, I graduated from Carroll College with a B.A. in History and a minor in Anthropology. As useful as my majors are, I'm working in Agriculture with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic!

23 diciembre 2006

Merry Christmas from the Tropics

Merry Christmas from the Tropics!

Happy Holidays!

Everything is going fine here. I have two days until Christmas, but here, the big day is actually Christmas Eve. Tomorrow night we will have a big dinner, drinking, listening to music, and just hanging out with the family. The Doña who owns my house is in town to make dinner at my house, and on the 27th, we are going to host a Noche Bela, which is a big party to honor the saint of the house. We are going to kill a pig, goat, and lots of chickens to cook food all day long. Later, the fun starts. They pull out the drums and start dancing palos. People drink A LOT, and in the end, through the music and everything, some women become possessed by the saints. There are some that begin rolling around on the ground like snakes, others all they want is water. I guess one year, one woman put her head in the canal to quench her thirst! It sounds pretty intense. I’ll get some pictures after the day to show you all. I’m looking forward to having the party, and you never know, maybe I’ll be ¨montado con un santo.¨

Thanksgiving went relatively well. There was a big party in the capital with all the volunteers. We ate a lot of good food, danced, played football and swam in the pool. It was a great day to share with the other volunteers. The new kids swore in so we got to know the new people a little bit. The only thing missing was the Macy’s Day Parade, and whipped cream for the pumpkin pie.

On the work side of things, I finally got my youth group started. They seem really motivated to have fun, but I want them to do more. I want them to do service projects for the environment, but they don’t seem interested. I think I can get them interested in an initiative called Escojo Mi Vida, which is a sex education program that covers everything from teen pregnancy, STDs, HIV-AIDS, and just basic health stuff. I hope, hope, hope I can get them to do more than party all the time.

Our vivero is on hold, kind of. We are selling tickets for a raffle. They can win a sack of rice, a gallon of cooking oil, or a water thermos. The tickets are selling well. We’ll get enough money to clean our parcel. The problem is that the group wants me to write grants, write you guys for money, and just give them all the money. What I want to do is have almost all the funds come from within the community. They need to be owners of their project, to be invested in what they are doing. I’m afraid that if I get all my money from outside, they won’t maintain their project.

Lately I’ve really been struggling with being an American in another culture. I was at the store the other day and someone asked me if I was Columbian or Venezuelan and I was ESTATIC! When I’m in the street and I hear Gringa or Americana, I just get frustrated because of all the connotations that I hear in my head- Hey rich girl! Give me some of what you have! I feel like I can’t leave my house without some kid asking me for money, a mint, my dog. I am over charged where ever I go. I pay double for taxis. Triple for food. And the vendors get away with it, because I’m white, and I don’t know any better. What makes it worse is that Peace Corps pays us the minimum we need to live. I’m not a tourist on vacation. I don’t have the extra money to get screwed over on prices. And it won’t change. Not until I change my language, clothes, and skin color.

Anyway, I hope all is going well in the United States of America, or wherever you are. I still am waiting on some visitors. Get your Spring Break, Summer Time, or just plain old vacation time planned. I want all of you to see this country. It’s beautiful here. And it’s warm. Get yourselves out of the freezing cold and get to the tropics!!

Stay safe in the holiday season. Let me know how you are.

P.S. I have a new puppy. Her name is Shakira. And she’s beautiful.
P.P.S. I saw Shakira, the singer, in concert. And she’s beautiful.

27 octubre 2006

Development in the DR

Hey Everybody!

So, I know, it's been almost 2 months. I feel like I've been too busy to write, but at the same time, I have nothing to write about! Mom was here for three weeks. We spent a lot of time sitting in the campo staring at each other, but it was fun. It was nice to have someone to share my house with besides Rubio. Who, by the way, is HUGE, and no longer has balls. He lightens my life in ways that no Dominican ever will when I'm having an awful day and want to have someone cheer me up.

I'm finding out that sustainable development work is actually much harder then I've ever thought. Now, I'm one to just go with the flow. I delagate reponsabilities, and hope that everything falls into place. My project here is to develop a community tree nursery to help reforest the area and create an income generation project for the community as well. So, I formed committee from the men's association, we decided what we wanted and needed in the vivero, and we set a date to clean the parcel where we wanted to put the vivero. We decided to use money from the association to buy the wire and posts for the parcel, so we could plant in November. The day before the clean up day, more than half the men decided that they didn't want to use the money from the association to pay for this, because they thought that I had all the money waiting to make this vivero. First off, Peace Corps doesn't have the money, and secondly, neither do I personally! So our day was cancelled, and there is a tiny rift in the association for the maldito vivero.

What did I learn from this: Dominicans are cheap. Now I don't want to sound negative, because there is not a lot of money in the country to begin with. But with the money that the vivero will hopefully produce, the men will have more than enough money to replace what we are going to spend now. And, in many developing countries, the people are accustomed to having projects given to them. Many large companies DO have the money for projects for communities, but Peace Corps doesn't and I thought that I had made it clear in the community, but apparently I didn't.

When I have bad days, or weeks, like the one above, I remember that I have Rubio sitting at home waiting for me. And, I have an announcement to make: I am the pround parent of a beautiful rubia Puppy. Her name is Mariposa (butterfly). I love her. Her and Rubio are good friends. We spend a lot of time hanging out and playing together. They are very good models for the camera. Be expecting a calendar soon.

I want to hear about you guys back home! Or wherever you are. I also want to know who's next on the visit list. Christmas break is coming up and I hear December in the DR is a riot. Also, Spring Break plans need to be made. I know you all have vacation days staring you in the face!! Come to the DR!!

18 agosto 2006

My Dominican House

I am in my house!! It's wonderful to finally have my own space to pass my free time (which is a lot right now) and when I want to close out the Dominican world, I can always find a way to do it. Now, living alone in the Dominican culture is very rare. Often times, if a woman is widowed, and her children are grown, the neighbors or kids will send their own kids to live with the woman. When I told them that I wanted to live alone (although an american has lived in my community), most say "aren't you afraid?" I just have to tell them no, and explain that most Americans are very comfortable and actually prefer to stay alone. I've had kids say they are going to stay with me, and a steady number of men trying to say that they will be more than happy to stay in my house to take care of me. But I just tell them that I have my cat, and I am completely safe and happy to be alone.

My first night I was in my house, I was having troubles closing my door, it just wouldn't lock, so I went over to my neighbor's house, who is also my Honey-To-Do, so ask for some help. He came over, locked me in my house, but before he shut the door, handed me his machete and told me to sleep with it under my little head. So rather than cuddling up with a teddy bear, blanket, or boyfriend, I now sleep every night with a very sharp machete. I'm also in the process of getting a puppy, one that barks. Here in the DR, dogs are possibly more effective security measures than locks on the doors. I'm going to name her Pixie, in memory of my old self :).

I also attempted my first Dominican meal. Last week I successfully made Moro de Guandules y Berenjena Guisada, which is rice and beans with roasted eggplant. Since I've gotten here, I've been very adamant that I'm not going to cook Dominican food for myself, and I haven't actively been learning how to cook. So, everyone has been bugging me about when I am going to learn how to cook, because "Ana did." Well, finally I decided, I have my own house, I'm going to cook a Dominican dinner. Almost all by myself, I was able to cook, to the liking of several Dominicans. One even said that I can now get married. Not ready to do that, but at least everyone is off my back about learning how to cook.

I hope all is well. I would love to hear from you. Here is my address, again. I know that postage is getting ridiculous, so I won't rag you for packages, but if you are feeling generous:

Cuerpo de Paz
Jennifer Bingham, PCV
Av Bolivar 451, Gazcue
Apartado Postal 1412
Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic

I would like pictures, of your kids, your dogs, you, scenery, so if you have any great doubles, I know that a normal size letter is only 84 cents. Grandma is doing a great job of writing letters, and I have enjoyed every last story about pinochle parties and the weather. It's not taking much to entertain me, so you guys could even write to tell me that you ate a great dinner at Toi's or walked to the river and I'd be happy.

Let me know how life is in the US, or if you aren't in the US, elsewhere. Thanks for all you support. I know I couldn't be here without it.

31 julio 2006

Six Months Down

I realized it had been a long time since I had written when I recieved a post card from Germany with my new address on it. I think it's about time I get on to keeping in touch a little better.

Things have been going pretty well. I have spent the last week out of my site and trying to recuperate from something that has been unidentified by the medical office. I left my site on Monday to make the trip to La Vega for our 3 month In Service Training. At this training, we take our project partners to present our Community Diagnostics and to begin our first year plans. Well, after the grueling trip of 3 Americans shuffling along 5 Dominicans in the glorious public transportation of the DR, we finally made it to the Conference Center on Tuesday morning. Several presentations, a couple bowls of Jello, a little bit of rum and a lot of dancing, I woke up Wednesday morning with a bit of a hangover. You know, the upset stomach, diaherra, the usual after one too many drinks. Well, Thursday, it still hadn't gone away. Now I'm thinking to myself, "That's one hell of a hangover." So, we finish up our presentations, send our project partners home, and I head up with a few other volunteers to visit our host families in Jarabacoa. Lo and behold, the hangover from hell hits me about 100 yards from our destination. Here I am, hanging out the window of a mini van, vomiting all over the road and my arm. Not a pretty sight.

So, I spent that night and the next day spent between the bathroom and my bed at my host family's place. They were very upset that I was "flaca" and sick. I made my way back to the capital, and my host brother and sisters from the campo have been taking care of me. Chicken soup, rice, the usual. It's nice to have someone take care of you when you are sick. I finally made it to the medic today, got a "kill all harming agents" pill and hopefully within the week I'll be healthy again.

Enough about me being sick. I do have some good news. I finally get to move out on my own!! Tommorrow is the first of August, the first day I can live all by myself. I moving into a house across the dirt road from my host family. It's green and orange, 4 bedroom, kitchen, porch, latrine, you name it for a campo house, I got it. It even comes with it's very own black and white cat (a best friend for Rubio). Everyone is concerned about me living alone, but with that concern comes even more people watching out for me. But finally it will be nice to have my own space. A bookshelf to put my books, a living room to clean, and my own kitchen to cook, it's all calling my name. So if you want to send a house warming gift, I'm always open to books, recipes, and chocolate. :) Gifts could also include a visit. I have 3 extra rooms!!! I have space for company!!!! Book your ticket now!!!!

With 6 months down, I also begin my work as a real volunteer. Training is over, the diagnostic period is over, and now projects begin. I don't know exactly how I'm going to go about making my projects, but this is when it starts. My community is geared up and ready to go with a tree nursery, so now I need to get going on looking for our funding for that. I found out this last week, however, that the community has all the infrastructure to make the vivero, it's just a matter of man power and finding the seeds and seedlings. Yeah for me! A project waiting to happen. Our plan is to have it started by December, but you know how plans are. And in the PC, apparently they are a lot harder.

05 julio 2006

Beaches, Kittens, and Meat Markets

So, I've had a very adventurous couple of days. It was the 4th of July yesterday, so a bunch of volunteers decided to get together to go to Bahia de Las Aguilas in the deep south of the country. This beach is an undeveloped beach without hotels, restaurants, nothing. It's part of a national park and for now, no development has happened, but that could be rapidly changing. A company wants to start building on it with a golf course and hotels, so I'm incredibly lucky to have seen this paradise before it happened. But getting there was much more of an adventure then I thought.

I had been out walking visiting people on Sunday when I got a phone call from my neighbor, Jenny, telling me that we would be leaving at 3 am for the beach, and that I needed to get into the pueblo before dark since getting there at night would be very difficult. So, I went home, got my stuff together, shaved my legs, and hopped onto a motor to get into town. We decided it was useless to sleep since we had to be on the bus at 2:30, so we spent the evening hanging out in the park, we danced a little bit, at some street food for dinner, and finally, at 2:30, we made our way to the bus. Now once we were on the bus, we had a 2 hour trip to the Azua Junction, where we got out hoping to find a way West to Barahona, where we would find our bus to the Pedernales. It was dark when we got to the junction, it was in the middle of nowhere. we were exhausted, and we found out we were going to have to hitchhike west. After about 45 minutes, we found ourselves a truck that let 5 Americans pile in the back of their truck. Another 45 minutes later we were dropped off at our bus stop for Pedernales. This time, we squeezed into a van with about 12 other people, 3 of them the smelliest you've ever smelled, and rode another couple hours to Pedernales where we met up with about 40 other volunteers. From here, we put 45ish people, their luggage, and food into the back of 2 large trucks, and rode to the entrance of our beach. Once we were there, we put 12ish people into little boats for another 45 minute ride across the ocean to one of the most beautiful places on the island. It was amazing. Blue water, white sand, and, wow, a little piece of heaven. The water was refreshing, the company was great, the food, well, that was a couple of cans of tuna and pringles. Despite the lack of food, it was nice to relax for the 3rd of July. We built a huge bonfire, and just hung out, chatting, catching up with friends we haven't seen in a while. Beautiful. We camped out under the stars, got eaten by mosquitoes, and woke up to rain. Luckily it was just a sprinkling. We got back into the capital late last night, after a 10 hour boat/bus ride. About 30 minutes from the capital, we blew a tire on the bus, so we spent more than an hour stranded on the side of the highway while they changed our tire. And now dry, clean, sunburnt, happy, I'm waiting to go eat Chinese food before I make it back to my campo.

We had kittens in my house a couple weeks ago. These ones lived. There are four beautiful, rat-faced fluff balls. When we found out that the cat was pregnant, I hoped and prayed for a little yellow one. I was lucky. I now am the proud mom of a 3 week old yellow kitten named Rubio (Blonde). I spend some quality time with the cats every day. My Host dad told me he thinks that Rubio is going to be my husband. I'm regularly told that I'm going to get parasites from holding the cats, but my new defense is that humans have parasites, too, and I can get the parasites just as easy from holding them. I'll get pictures attached soon of Rubio.

I went to the Livestock sale the other day. One of the men in my community is a negocio (buyer and seller). The Sale is in a large dusty arena sort of thing with over hundreds of bulls, cows, goats, sheep, and pigs. It's chaos, hot and dusty, and full of men. I was one of about 3 women and hundreds of men. It was crazy. The owners of the animals have these beasts on ropes and the buyers walk around looking at which ones they like. The buyers then find a negocio who starts the bidding. The owners say that they want, say, 10,000 pesos for their bull, and the negocio wants to sell for more so the difference is his commission. Its fun to watch the animals and the negocios at work. At one point, I was up on a hill watching the action, and I saw bull. It was a yearling, black and white pinto, and it's brand across it's side said "PIXIE." I was incredibly close to buying myself a bull. But then I realized, what would I do with a bull. They don't cuddle, and they are not cute. And it wouldn't be very useful in getting milk into my diet. Then I realized the ultimate reason: I'm a volunteer who can't go around spending 10,000 pesos on a bull.

I would love to take some more time to write you all, but I really need to go find the Chinese food I've been craving since about March. So, write me back, tell me how you are and what you ate for dinner. I am on a steady diet of rice, beans, and plantains (an e-mail about food is on it's way).

30 abril 2006

My Site.

It's absolutely beautiful in my site. I have dirt roads, a couple small rivers, rolling hills of pastureland, and lots of rice, corn, and platano fields. My community is about 200 people, but the pueblo that's about a 20 minute motoconcho ride away has about 12,000 people. My house has electricity (lucky me), the water comes out of a faucet in the yard, and a poop in a latrine. I did finally figure out how to use the chamberpot during the night, instead of for my showers.

Everyone has been incredibly friendly. There is a group of young girls in my site that were good friends with the past volunteer, so I have an automatic shoo-in for friends. We got to my site on Tuesday night, so the last few days have been a whirlwind of meeting new people and trying to learn about my site. Friday I went to the Men's Association meeting where I gave a little introduction about myself to about 15 of the community. After I was done, one of the men stood up and told me that they are now my new family and that everyone of the men are my new brothers. Everyone is really excited for me to be there, and excited to get some things done. On one of my visits to some houses, one of the women talked to me about how they are all poor in the community, but that they are all good people. They just have such big hearts, I think I'll like it.

We also have a Mennonite community in my area. There is an American that lives in La Meseta. Apparently, he came here 25 years ago at 18 years old, married a Dominican, and now has a bunch of gringo kids running around. One of them looks almost exactly like Woodrow, it was kind of creepy. I also met a Jehovah's Witness, and there are 4 mormons in the pueblo. I was bombarded with all of this in my first day. And I thought I'd be the only American.

My project will be working with the men's association to create a tree nursery. It will be of fruit trees and some wood trees. I'm looking foward to it, but they tried before and something happened where it didn't work out. The last volunteer started a library that I'll finish up, it's just sitting there with a lock on the door. Also, I'm hoping for a stove project, all the women cook on an open fire, so I think there's potential there. But, we'll see, my projects will come as they can. There are 3 other volunteers in my area, so we're hoping to work together on youth clubs. There is one called Brigada Verde that is an environmental club for youth that we're hoping to get started in our area.

Anyway, I'll be off to my site on Sunday. I'm back in the capital for a week to finish off training and our swearing-in ceremony. My cell phone isn't working yet, but I'll get that number out soon. Also, I will be keeping the same address for the next two years:

Jennifer Bingham, PCV
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 1412
Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic

Please, please, please write me, even if it's just a short e-mail. I would love to hear from you guys back home. I hope all is going well. Keep me posted, even if it's just Brad and Angelina gossip (by the way, they were recently in the DR. Angelina is/was filming a movie here).

Jenn (Pixie)

06 abril 2006

Things I've done

Here's a journal entry from March 26th. I know it's long overdue, but I still did them:

Learned to use a machete
Built compost
Built a huerto
Planted berenjena, aji, y pepino
Built biosand water filters
Came to El Salto de Jimenoa with the family
Learned to plow with oxen
Planted yuca, batata, yautia, maiz, platano, and name, by hand.
Built a fance with bamboo sticks
Began and analysis of trees
Caught my first bola
Used a chamberpot to bathe
Played Spades
Spent a third of my allowance on wine
Learned to dance merengue, reggaeton, and bachata
Laughed, felt lonely, and realized that I love the people I'm working with
Made brownies and savored them
Learned to tease in Spanish
Learned my host mom speaks English
Did Stations of the Cross in Spanish
Ate an apple
Played Dominoes
Froze at 70 degrees Farenheit
Regularly got up at 6:15 am, or earlier
Made friends with a dog named Paloma
Ate Pizza
Came to terms with the fact that my underwear will not dry discreetly in my room, but will hang in the front yard for all the world to see.