Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day Seven: Goodbye DR

Our last day in the Dominican Republic was bitter sweet.  I woke up and finished packing up all my stuff.  Getting everything crammed back into my bags was difficult, especially since I had acquired so many things (chocolate, dominoes, Yolanda’s rug, my new blouse from Marilu, etc.).  Luckily, Marilu was able to give me a nice shopping bag for the rug and whatever else didn’t fit.  

I disliked saying “goodbye” to Marilu and her kids and Yuleidy.  

Sheila was still asleep so we didn’t get to say “goodbye” to her.  That made me very sad.  Marilu had also sent Grismaldy out on the motorbike to get us some breakfast sandwiches; she almost didn’t make it back in time.  She arrived just as our van was arriving.  Unfortunately, the sandwiches had bacon on them (and cheese!), and Erin’s a vegetarian, so I got custody of her delicious sandwich.  To be fair, I could only eat one of them because they were heavy on mayo and ketchup, which did not sit well on my tummy.  

We had one last appointment in the DR that morning on our way to the airport: a visit to the Colonial District of the capitol, Santo Domingo.  This is the part of the nation where Columbus landed in 1492.  We saw the Presidential Palace, which is quite impressive!  It contains the president’s living quarters as well as many governmental offices.  The saddest government building, in my opinion, was the Palace of Justice, which looked like something out of East Berlin.

One of the first things we saw in the Colonial District was the Puerto del Conde (Conde Gate), which is a symbol of Dominican independence from Haiti.  It is the location at which Juan Pablo Duarte entered the city to conquer it during a bloodless coup on February 27, 1844.  (Unfortunately, this independencia only lasted until 1861 when the Dominicans again submitted to Spanish rule to protect themselves from the Haitians.)

Near the water, we saw the Catedral de Santa Maria la Menor.  You see it in the background here.  Some say that Columbus’s remains are buried here near this statue of the explorer.  

As expected, we knew this couldn’t be a totally pristine trip:

We did pause for a minute to get a drink and go to the bathroom.  We went into the Columbus Commercial Center (Centro Comercial “Colon”).  The inside of this small three story building was quite lovely!

We walked past El Museo de las Casas Reales (Museum of Royal Homes) as well.  It was built in 1511 and served as the main government buildings for the Spanish conquerors.  It was called the Royal Houses because it served as the Royal Court.  

We also got to see the Alcazár de Colón, which was built by Christopher Columbus’ son and his wife from 1500-1512.  (Sir Francis Drake sacked the joint when he showed up in 1586.  Nice job, fellas.)  

Finally, it was time to say goodbye to the DR.  We intend to continue working on the content of this blog--adding details and anecdotes--over time to develop our experiences into a series of articles and campus presentations. 

Much love and appreciation,
--kerry cantwell

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day Six: Back to Tenares

Domenga's family

Our last morning in Tenares, I woke up to the sounds of Saturday morning mass getting started across the road before 7 am.  As I started packing up my things, Domenga heard me rustling around and asked me if we could take pictures now before her son went off to work in the cacao fields.  I changed my clothes faster than I ever have and pushed a washcloth across my face so I didn’t look like such a mess.  

Erin's room at Dorita's

After the photo session, I took my bucket shower in el baño and packed up the rest of my belongings.  Domenga and Rosairis disappeared into mass.  Before going to see what everyone else was up to, I made a quick video of Domenga’s house (the video posted two posts ago).  I headed over to Erin’s and loaned her my camera so she could get some quick snaps of her room at Dorita’s house. 

I then walked back to my house to get a nice picture of Domenga under her cacao tree.  

She is such a sweet lady!  I miss her.  I asked her to take a picture of me.  It quickly became clear that she had never done that before.  As a result, the picture of me under the cacao tree in the front yard does not include my entire head.  It’s so funny that I love the photo anyway!
Most of Kerry
After everyone got out of mass, we said some very tearful goodbyes to our hosts and hostesses.  OK, Rosa and I were the only ones crying.  Chide offered to drive us back to the head of the trail to meet Yolcy again, so we all piled into Chide’s truck for the trip down the road and across the river.  We stopped on the way out of Sonador to see Yolanda.  We girls all bought some of Yolanda’s rag rugs.  (My rug is now on the floor in my family room where it lives as a new cat bed.)

We also stopped off to meet with another friend of Ileana’s, a woman named Angelica.  In order to get to her house, we had to climb high up a mountain path through the woods.  When we arrived, Ileana’s friend was so happy to see us.  She had heard that we were in Sonador and would have been very upset if we had left without seeing her.  She had been waiting for us for two days.  Her mother was with her, but she couldn’t see very well.  Her kids came in a sat with us for a few minutes as we visited.  The kids had brought in a huge sack of fruits that they gave us to taste.  They were quite delicious and sweet.  Ileana says that they were some type of "buen pan" fruit, a little slimy, but very sweet.  She also said that "most people don't like it. It's really hard to get because it grows on really, really tall trees and is at the very top of the tree. It has a very short season."   Thus, when the kids returned with a big bag of them, they had either bought them at a market or been climbing some trees.  Heehee.

After taking a few pictures with the family, we headed back down the mountain to Chide’s truck.  Chide took us back to the top of the path where we met up with Yolcy again and her ex-husband who drove the van for us in Tenares.  After we drove back toward Tenares for a while, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have my camera and that it wasn’t anywhere in my stuff.  I am such a loser.  I was perfectly ready to just let go of it and consider it a loss, but Yolcy made Pedro stop the van so Ileana could rent a motoconcho (motorcycle for hire) to ride all the way back to Sonador and look for it.  This was extremely upsetting to me, so I had a tiny breakdown, but everyone else was EXTREMELY kind and understanding about it.  This is just another testament to the awesomeness of my traveling companions.  I felt awful for holding everyone up, but no one cared.  Thank God. 

As we drove, we discussed a little bit about what the rest of the day would look like.  We were going to meet back up with Hector Blanco, our muralist from earlier in the week.  He would take us shopping, and then we’d go to a place called Rancho Típico Tenares to go dancing.  Hooray!  The Típico was kind of like an open air covered dancing pavilion with tables all around the dancefloor.  Ileana told us that it used to be surrounded by palm trees, but now it has columns surrounding it, like this:

This was going to be very exciting!  Erin and I were looking forward to it!
When we finally got back to Tenares, Marilu and the kids were waiting for us.  It was so great to see them!  We didn’t realize how luxurious Marilu’s house was with its toilets and solid walls.  The kids wanted to hear all about Sonador and how different it was.  We had a little bit of lunch at Marilu’s and then prepared to go out again.  Erin and I were under the impression that when we left in the afternoon, we wouldn’t be returning until after the night of dancing at the Típico.  We were wrong, so we did our best to dress down a smidgen.

After we picked everyone up, we headed to Hector’s studio to see his work and look at his paintings.  Marianne and Peter were going to be able to pick up the work they had commissioned from the muralists a few days before at Hector’s brother’s house.  In order to reach Hector’s studio, we had to go into the backyard of his one story apartment and climb up a tall ladder to his second-story studio.  I have no idea what he has against stairs, but that’ not my business.  However, I was wearing a dress, so I made sure to be the last one up.  We couldn’t get Yolcy to come up, though.  I think she was afraid of climbing up the ladder.

Hector’s art was stunning!  He had been commissioned to do a lot of religious paintings, though his real love was painting much more abstract figures.  He had one gigantic commissioned piece (about  8’x12’) of Jesus Christ in some intense chiaroscuro contrasts.  Peter said that it made him want to cry when he saw it, and I would have to second that.  It was phenomenal!  None of us was able to afford one of Hector’s paintings, though.  He is becoming quite a hot commodity in the DR and in New York.   Ileana is hoping to bring him to Durham for a few weeks, so we’ll see if we can get his brilliant hands painting some murals in Durham.

Peter picked up a painting that he had commissioned that day at Hector’s brother’s place.  He saw a young man painting the manzanas de agua that day and asked him to paint one of the roosters walking around the yard.  The painting of the rooster turned out to be wonderful!  The colors are really intense and the details are just overwhelming.  I loved it and wanted to grab it right out of his hands.  It was amazing!  I can’t wait to see what Peter does with his new rooster painting.  Marianne purchased a riverside sunset image that was quite lovely.  Her idea was to share it with some friends of hers: each would be able to hang it in her house for a few months at a time.  What a lovely idea! 

We spent a little more time looking at Hector’s paintings.  He pulled out about 20 of them for us to look at as well as a few pieces by his students.  Then, it was time to climb back down the ladder where Yolcy awaited us patiently.   From there, we all went shopping.  Hector took us to some little stores he knew of that might be able to sell us some dominos.  After everyone bought their dominos, DR flag stickers, and weird little knick knacks, Hector showed up with Dominican hologram dog-tags for each of us.  HILARIOUS!  That was really sweet.  Mine are now hanging from the bulletin board over my desk at work so I can see them every day. 

From there, we headed to a nice market where we all bought things we definitely declared at customs, yes, we did.  Everything.  DECLARED!  I was so happy to get my hands on the forty or so small bars of chocolate for drinking and the coconut candy and dried platanos for my sweet, sweet husband.  Dominican rum was also a must for me to give as gifts.  Everything was so inexpensive that I could have gotten very carried away.  The only thing that stopped me was that I knew I’d have to get this stuff home.  UGH!

After our shopping escapades, we headed back to Marilu’s for dinner and a little rest before going out dancing.  Marilu ordered out for us for dinner.  We had delicious mashed yucca con queso and something else, I’m sure, but my focus was wholly on the mashed yucca.  So delish!  We spent a long time playing dominoes with Jeferson and Yuleidy.  By the time, we were done, it was very clear that the one word Jeferson knew was “loser.”  I think he thinks that’s my name now.  He’s pretty close to right.  Nice kid.  Actually, he was a very sweet kid. Sheila, the five-year-old, also taught us to dance merengue.  The kid has MOVES!  Impressive! We were definitely prepared.

When Ileana returned, it was time to go dancing.  When we arrived at the típico, we were among the first people there.  Hector met us there with one of his artist friends, as well as Danny, the head of El Liceo Regino Camilo (the high school in Tenares).   He taught me to dance the Bachata.  Whew, that was hard.  I had to constantly be thinking, which I was much too exhausted to do.  Then, we learned to Merengue.  WHAT FUN!  What ridiculous fun.  I loved it.  A promise—unfulfilled—was then made by the group that we would find a place in Durham to go dancing together.  I, however, intend to hold them all to it.  By the time we finally got home—around 1 or so, Marilu was waiting for us to make sure we had everything we needed.  Ahhhhh, time for bed!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day Five: Learning and Acclimating

When I woke up Friday morning, the family had already awoken and gone about their business.  The kids were at school and the parents were working.  I took my time getting myself together.  When I left my room and entered la sala, my breakfast was already sitting out on the table: a few dry buns that were shaped like hot dog rolls, un cafecito (demitasse cup of Dominican coffee with a LOT of sugar), and a tall mug of Dominican chocolate (a watery chocolate/sugar/cinnamon concoction that I LOOOOOVE).  You dip the bread into the chocolate for a delicious treat.  When I finished, I headed over to pick up Erin and we headed over to our first appointment of the day: a 9:00 meeting with some of the women of Sonador.

We met with five women: Domenga, Rosa, Rubia, Isabel, and Dorita.  Dorita claimed that her job was cooking, and everyone agreed that she was a great cook.  Her husband was a great house painter, but he had recently been in the ICU for high blood pressure, so he doesn’t work and she takes care of him.  There was a little joke among the women that Dorita is a widow.  Rubia was, with her husband Chide, one of the leaders of the village as well as the singer in the church.  Rosa was willing to do manual labor, working in the cacao fields and whatnot, but that just wasn’t really available, and Domenga also claimed to be a cook and a housekeeper for her own home.  Isabel was a young woman who had been a college student studying to be a teacher, but now she was not in school anymore.  The cost of traveling to the college had become so expensive that she had to quit school.  She had been part time for three years and had about 5 years left to complete her degree.  She started out by traveling to Tenares for college but then went to school in San Francisco de Macorís.  All she wants for herself is to get money to go to school on the weekends.  She said that it costs 100 pesos to go to Tenares and 20 or 30 pesos to then go to San Francisco one way.  The classes at the college are only 6 pesos per credit at the public university, so the major cost is the transportation.   As a frame of reference, the current exchange is 37 pesos per US dollar.  Isabel also told us that the people who left Sonador to go to school do not generally come back. 

Rubia said that she enjoys life in Sonador because it’s very pretty, and generally, people don’t want to leave.  She went on to say that the village is very welcoming; they accept everyone.  Their biggest problem is the river: during the rainy season the children who are in grades 3 through 8 can’t get to school because the river’s too high to cross on foot or on mule.    They are geographically trapped because the road to La Penda is simply a callejón right now (unpaved alley way).  There is also no work for the women or much for the men either. 

Rosa said that she thinks life in Sonador is nice.  They have water and light.  When there is work, they make up to 300 pesos per day.  She really likes working, but she can’t because it’s just not available.  The men are day laborers, and her kids want new clothes as they grow out of the old ones, but there just isn’t any money for that.  All of their money goes into paying for food, soap, etc.  In one week, they might spend 1500 pesos just covering normal day-to-day costs.  There are also problems regarding money lost to illness.  People stay home sick for a while before going to the doctor because transportation is so difficult. 

Domenga talked a bit about enjoying life in Sonador.  Her husband makes 300 pesos per day working in the fields; however, in order for the kids to get to school in Blanco Arriba, it costs 250 pesos per month.  There is no free lunches in the schools, so it costs between 25 and 50 pesos per day for each child to buy food at school.  She is dedicated to keeping her kids in school and wants them to attend the university somehow.  Her hopes for her children are that they can study at the university and progress through their studies.  Education is their way out of their current conditions. 

Rosa said that none of her kids was in school and none finished programs at school.  She now wants to find a way for her grandchildren graduate.  She also pointed out that she only has a second grade education. 

Rubia went on to say that she has three children with Chide, ages 5, 6, and 8.  The education in the area is not very good.  Because of teacher strikes, the children only go to school for 2 or 3 days each week.  The teachers go on strike because they don’t get paid and have no benefits.  They work for months without getting paid.  At the end of the school year, the kids finish and take exams, but they get very low scores. 

Rosa said that life there is not secure.  She believed that the teachers are asking for more money than is necessary.  They currently earn 1,800 pesos per week, but they want health insurance and more money than the people they’re teaching.  One of the problems is that the teachers are coming in from surrounding areas.  They come from Tenares, Blanco Abajo, and Blanco Almedio.

Isabel pointed out that she had been called in as a substitute to work with the adult literacy program that runs at night.

Peter asked about pressure on teachers to join the teachers’ union, and Isabel said that the teaching certification is entirely political.  When teachers are interested in getting certified, they need to be of the same political party to get it.  When the party in power changes, good people get pushed out in favor of politically sympathetic folks, not necessarily qualified folks.  Ileana explained that there is a teachers’ union cooperative that teachers pay into so that teachers can take money out to survive when they go on strike. 

Isabel said she has a nine year old son for whom she wants better things than what she has now.  She really just wants the opportunity to work, but there is no work.  She doesn’t want her son to live here and deal with the same troubles that she grew up with.

Dorita also spoke about her seven children and her inability to give them the support that they need.  Her children barely know their letters, and she hasn’t been able to give them the base that they need in order to do what they need to do.  Some of her kids have learned to milk cows, so they make a little money doing that, and a couple more are day laborers.  She and her husband have not been able to educate the kids as she wishes she could have.

Peter asked what type of work is available.  Rosa mentioned that all of the men are out in the fields cutting cacao.  When that’s not in season, they clean the land with their machetes (“Collins”) to keep the weeds out.  The cacao is, luckily, a year-round option for work. 

Rubia ad Rosa said that, twice a year, the men go to work for a few weeks at a large farm owned by a man in the US.  The man hires 60 to 100 men for several weeks at a stretch, but this work is not permanent at all. 

Rosa said that she wanted to know what we thought of what they had all just told us.  Marianne responded that she hoped that they would all be able to stay in this beautiful place and still be able to fulfill their dreams for their children.  Peter said that it was clear that transportation is an ongoing problem.  Also, there is a great need for a teacher to live in the community.  These two things would change the community drastically.  I pointed out that if transportation changed, this place would change.  Erin asked what would happen if there were more money; what would change about the community?  

Rosa responded that they wouldn’t have to walk everywhere if the road to La Penda were completed.  People would have a better chance to study as well.  People would be able to get to the hospitals as well.  The village has changed drastically because people are leaving; they can’t get to the hospitals or the schools easily. 

Peter asked if they ever have a chance to talk to the mayor of Tenares or Salcedo about their problems.  Rosa, Domenga, and Rubia all said that they are promised many things when they candidates come through for elections.  Politicians promise money and services and help with roads and education, but as soon as they are elected, they raise their car windows when they see the people they’ve made promises to.  The politicians are getting rich from the poverty of the villagers.

Dorita spoke at length about the transportation problems.  The children can’t cross the Río Sonador during the rainy season to get to school or to get to see the doctor.  In May during the election season, the politicians are friendly and say they’ll help, but in December they don’t know you.  Sometimes, they even bring food to the people.  The most promised promise is the construction of the road to La Penda which is the way to the hospital. 

Erin asked about the local involvement in elections.  They were very vocal that EVERYONE about eighteen years of age votes.  There are three political parties here, and everyone participates even though they are not all from the same parties.  In the end, they are all asking for the same things in trying to get the help to build a road out.  They don’t see it as a lot of money needed to build the road. 

Peter asked about what they thought were the reasons why Sonador doesn’t get the help it needs.  Dorita agreed that it’s not much money.  “We’re not asking for much money here.”  Rosa said that it’s just not on their radar as being important.   Those who work for the representatives and senators just aren’t interested in their issues.  No one is representing them to the government.  Rosa said that If she could go to New York, she would go and ask for money.  Rubia said she’d be just like a politician then.  Rosa said that if she could get to the US, she’d get Ileana to help her get the money.  Dorita said that folks who leave for Nueva York, they say they aren’t coming back.  But some people buy fancy clothes in the US and when they return, they pretend like they don’t know the villagers because they’re so poor.  Some folks who return don’t forget their people, but Dorita feels that most do.

Rosa said that she would love to leave Sonador, but Rubia and Dorita said that they would never leave but they want things to get better. Rosa said she wants to leave immediately so that she can work.  She can’t stand that there is no work for her.  Rubia said they need to stay and be united so that they can work together and get things done.  Rosa agreed that she would stay if there was work, but she needs to do what’s best for her family.  Rubia said that if they all leave, Sonador (Sounder) will no longer ring. 

Rubia closed by telling us that we would be meeting with the young people around 3.   At this point, Erin, Lance, and I decided we would go on a tour with one of the young men to visit a cattle farm while Ileana, Kasey, and Marianne would go visit a health worker.  I’m not sure what Peter was doing at this point.  I think he wasn’t feeling well, so he might have just stayed home, but he’ll have to tell you about that.

Erin, Lance, and I started our journey with a very nice young man whose name I still don’t know.  He was very tolerant in hiking us up and down the country side.   We started out by hiking up to the cattle farm where we saw how they keep their cows and how they have things set up for milking.  Of course, it’s al manually done.  They bring the cow into a special enclosure away from the “general population” and then they get her to put her head in a wide space that they then lock off so that she can’t back out.  Thus commences the milking.  Of course, while Bossie was being milked, she also decided this was the time to pee.  There was no concern taken about this by the milker.  I will NOT be drinking that milk.  The villagers certainly don’t pasteurize their milk either, so I don’t know how brave I could really be.  The milk was sold by the barrel for some miserably low price.  It was slightly depressing. 

Cacao pod
As we continued to walk, our young guide showed us a ripe cacao pod that he smashed with a rock to open it.  Inside were the cacao beans covered with this sweet white mucus.  It is this white mucus that, when dried, smells like the world’s smelliest feet as it dries. After seeing the young man do it, Brave Erin ate one of the beans, and then I think we all tried it out.  It wasn’t delicious or anything.  The goo was sweet, the beans were bitter, and now I can say I’ve eaten raw cacao right out of the pod.  What have you done? 

A few minutes later, we came across a coconut tree.  One of the coconuts had fallen on the ground.  Our guide, again, smashed it open with a rock.  It became clear that what we think of as a coconut is actually the inside of the whole coconut pod.  When you get the whole pod open, the coconut we are familiar with is inside, and it’s filled with coconut…milk??? and raw coconut meat.  Erin went right for it and drank the coconut milk right out of it.  I followed suit and then we both ate some of the coconut meat inside, though it was pretty bland. 

La Escuela Primeria
As we kept walking, we came across a one-room elementary schoolhouse, La Escuela Primeria.   We asked the young man to show us around.  He had to dismantle this very strange “gate” in order to get us in.  It was just a few sticks stuck together with barbed wire and poked into the ground.  When we got in, the schoolhouse was very barren.  There were chairs for about ten kids.  A handwritten poster on the wall listed out their classroom rules.  It read, “To be educated, you ought to: participate, respect of others, be disciplined, have good personal habits, be honest, be responsible, have good qualities.”  We also saw a poster that came from the Department of Education about the need for parents to get involved in their kids’ education because education doesn’t just happen in the classroom.  There were chalkboards on two of the walls.  One still had lessons up about fractions and the phonics of combining “m” with vowels.

Each corner of the room was labeled with a hand-written sign indicating what subjects were studied there:  Natural Science Corner, Social Science Corner, Math Corner, etc.  There was a small area separated out with a movable wall.  That are seemed to just be a storage area, but it was strangely run-down.  The walls were dingy and poorly repaired.  The window covers, like wood doors or shutters, had been busted through.  Lots of old building materials were stacked up against the wall on top of old school desks as though they’d been there for years.  Propped against the wall was an old first aid cabinet as well.  Erin came across a few textbooks that seemed to be in very good condition, though.  The school yard was just a dirt yard indicating that there was not a lot of playing going on there.   We learned that the little kids only go to school for a about a half day, so there’s not likely a lot of time for play anyhow.

New York money and the public sat phone
After our young guide closed the “gate” for us, we kept walking and came to another small village.  It was one of the Blancos, though I don’t know which one.  Were we headed for Blanco Almedia?  Blanco Abajo?  No sé.   Right alongside the run down wooden homes and colmados was a huge, gorgeous property with a lovely cement and iron fence painted pink and off-white with lamp posts appropriately spaced atop the pillars like we were suddenly in Miami or Orlando.  The trees and yard inside were perfectly manicured.  Our young guide indicated that this family was kept with New York money, meaning that they had a relative living in New York who would send back remittances to the family.  At the corner of the property was a public satellite phone as well, which people could use if they had a phone card.  It was very odd: you see this strange public phone as you’re walking along and it has a satellite dish on top of it. 

The next site our guide took us to was a rooster farm for raising fighting cocks.  I took a short video of the roosters in their cages in a small shed, unlike in Sonador where the roosters just roam around free.  In the shed, I spotted a table that had a used syringe on top, which I assume is for injecting the roosters with hormones and steroids.   The owner showed up, which made me super uncomfortable.  I thought he was trying to get us out of there, so we kept walking.

We stopped at a colmado for a soda, and Erin got a bag of Dominican Cheetos.  Seriously.  They were Cheetos made in the DR, and they were AWESOME.  It didn’t seem right that we were able to eat those there.  We talked for a moment with our guide, who was wearing a Durham Bulls cap that Ileana had sent him some time back, about how he feels about the New York money coming into the community.  He said it didn’t really matter to him.  It was generally good.  Erin asked Lance to tell him that when folks come to the US, the work they end up doing is very hard.  I don’t think he was ready to have a heavy conversation with us, so we decided to get a move on.

We kept walking and came across a pig farm.  This would not have been very significant except for the fact that the farm had no lagoon.  The pig pens ran off down a hill into a ravine that I assume dumped into some public water source or other.  The fences penning the animals in were made with narrow trees nailed together to form fences.  It was perfect and lovely!

We stopped for a while under a tree to lean on a nice wooden fence and watch a man working in the fields clearing the land with a pick ax.  He pulls out the weeds and what not so that the grass can grow up through it. 

This is pretty much where our crazy tour ended.  We’d been walking for almost two hours at this point, so we just headed back to our homes for lunch before the 3 pm meeting with the kids.    By the time, we got back, it was 1:30, and I was hot and exhausted.  Domenga had a lovely lunch waiting for me: rice and beans with some kind of delicious Dominican carrots, a small salad of lettuce, cucumbers, and vinegar, and an egg salad.  I was so tired that I could barely even photograph my food, but I did!  I ate a few bites and thought I might die if I kept eating.  Several times, I found myself staring at the wall because I was so tired.  Domenga came by once and asked if I liked the egg salad, which I barely had the stomach to try.  I told her it was delicious before I even tried it.  Once I did try it—begrudgingly—I discovered that it really was delicious, but I could barely eat another bite because I was so tired.  I excused myself from the table and told Domenga that I needed to lie down for a while before I went to get Erin at 3.  At 3:15, Erin showed up and woke me up.  I couldn’t get up; I felt terrible and I was totally overheated.  My travel alarm clock indicated that it was about 91 degrees in my room and I was drenched in sweat.  I told Erin I didn’t feel well, and that I would be up a little later.  When she left, I laid there for another 5 or 10 minutes trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me.  After I had gotten one shoe on, Erin returned with the brigade in tow.  She had wanted to get Kasey to come down and check on me, but everyone else just came along, too.  Kasey said I had all the symptoms of being extremely dehydrated.  Thank God that was al it was.  I pumped some fluids down my gullet and felt better in no time.  I’d never felt that bad before, so it was very weird to me.  I just wanted to lie in that bed forever, but Kasey wanted me out of that sweatbox.  I pulled it together, and headed back up to meet with the kids.  It took a long time to wrangle them all.  As Ileana said, they all function on “Dominican Time” which means they could be there up to an hour after the scheduled meeting time. 

The kids ranged in age from about 9 to about 17.  We asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Some said they didn’t know, but Rosairis wants to be a lawyer.  In order to do that, she knows that she would have to leave Sonador for the university.  There was some discussion about them wanting to go to the US.   It was pretty difficult to get them to speak up about what they wanted to do.  They were quite shy.  We tried to explain what we were doing there and why we were asking these questions, but they were still a little tough to pull out of their shells.  One little boy said he wants to be an engineer like his father.  Another young teen-aged girl said she wanted to be a teacher like us.  Another young man wanted to go into business and finance.   One young teen-aged girl wanted to go to the US to learn English and become a secretary.  The last young man said he wanted to be an architect so that he could build houses. 

Isabel sat in on this discussion and told us that kids in Sonador think that the US has better education and is more developed; there are more resources for the people.  The concerns she voiced about Americans involved the way we treat each other socially.  For example, in Sonador, they treat everyone the same, but when Dominicans go to the US and then return, they no longer treat the people the same.  Isabel also pointed out that she thought we treated our elderly well by providing them with nursing homes and that she thought we treat our children well by not abandoning them.  I thought this was a very telling statement, both about us and the Dominicans. 

The last thing the students really told us was that they need books.  They like to read, but the only books they have access to are textbooks—there was nothing for leisure reading.  The number of books available to them is terribly low, so they dream of getting more books.

After our discussion with the kids, we met the newest member of the Sonador community: a 16-day-old baby!  So sweet! 

Since we had all the kids gathered in one place, Erin pulled out the rest of her balloons.  The kids LOVED them.  That game went on for about an hour!  We had a great time all playing with the kids.

After that, we headed to Rosa’s colmado to play some afternoon dominoes.  While we were there, Tonya—Rosa’s daughter—showed up with all of her nail painting gear, so all of the girls except Ileana got their nails done.   Rosa said that she hopes to get Tonya to New York so that she can open her own salon, which would be wonderful!  She did a very good job on our nails.

Rosa put an Antony Santo CD in the CD player, and it would play for a while until the power went out.  Then, it would come back on a little later.  Once it was dark, we headed back to our houses for dinner.  When I got to Domenga’s, my dinner was waiting for me, so I ate dinner while she and Rosairis watched their favorite telenovela: Teresa.  Domenga explained to me what was going on: Teresa is an evil girl who is trying to hurt her godmother.  I later found out that everyone in the village had been watching Teresa.  After that, there was another telenovela on that involved a lot of girl-argues-with-hired-help/girl-kisses-hired-help/girl-fights-with-hired-help-again.   When I went to get Erin, Dorita and her family were all watching the same program.  Hilarious!

We spent the rest of the evening at the colmado playing dominoes with the neighbors.  It was a LOT of fun.  Ileana showed them what was what again.  The girl is GOOD!  When the lights went out, Erin took out her handy-dandy camper’s headlamp and wrapped it on the beam over the domino table to that we could see what we were doing.  She did us all a great service by bringing that thing with her. 

When we al finally decided to go home to bed, we came across the tiniest snake in the world.  It was quite adorable, but just the idea of it was enough to send…someone among us running like a little girl in the night.  Awesome!  What a great day this was.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day Four: Into the Country

This is going to be a long one; go get yourself a little snack first.

On Thursday, we had a big day ahead of us.  We started out early packing up two days’ worth of belongings into one backpack to take to the village of Sonador..  This was particularly difficult for me.  I could barely fit my stuff into one bag.  In fact, I had to ask Marianne to carry my crayons that I had brought as a gift for my Sonador host family.  Erin and I had more delicious fruit for breakfast as well as boiled potatoes and delicious fried yellow cheese.  I could get a little too used to the fried cheese.

We were almost ready when Ileana arrived to pick us up.  We were going to begin our day with a visit to the mayor of Tenares, Ermes Rodríguez.  We arrived to the municipal building around 9 or so in the morning for our quick visit.  Lots of business was taking place in the municipal building when we arrived; it was bustling with activity.  The mayor’s office was also quite nice.  I doubt, however, that this was where he actually conducted business because there was not a single sheet of paper on the desk, and there was lots of seating available; I think this was just where he received guests for meetings.

At this point, I had begun to notice that all of the lights in the DR were compact fluorescents of relatively low wattage.  I’m sure that this is an energy saving measure, but I began to notice it everywhere.  When there was not the opportunity for natural light, folks used the low-wattage fluorescents.

The mayor also had a quite swanky glass desk, like you might expect in an executive office in New York.  We explained to him what we were doing in Tenares and why we were pleased to meet with him.  He gave us some input about the needs of his city and how the funding of public services works.  It was a very brief meeting.  We took a few pictures with him and then walked around the building a little bit.  We were introduced to a few young women on his staff, though I didn’t catch what their roles were.

This little girl came for her inoculations.
From there, we begin the trip to Sonador, a tiny village in the center of the Dominican Republic.  Along the way, we stopped at a small public clinic in the village of Los Cacaos where Ileana had made arrangements for us to meet with the community doctor.  Unfortunately, the doctor was not available to meet with us due to a personal emergency, but we spent a few minutes speaking with the nurse on staff.  She told us that the biggest health concerns  that she sees these days are the flu, which often leads to (I found out after trying hard to translate the video of the discussion) tonsillitis (amigdalitis), vaginitis (and Pap smears—“Papanicolaous”), and a lot of immunizations for children.  They need more health professionals, but they usually just have traveling nurses who come for a few days and then move on.  They used to keep a lot of medicines in the clinic, but when it comes into the village, it gets used up quickly.   The medicines that they feel they still need are for flu and parasites, and just basic antibiotics.  When patients come in, the doctor usually makes a list of what medicines are needed to order from Tenares, and sometimes the medicine comes in and sometimes it doesn’t.  The nurse believes that they have a lot of great programs right now for hygiene, first aid, and immunizations, but they do send the patients they aren’t able to treat into the cities of Tenares and Salcedo for more comprehensive treatment at the hospitals there.  Ileana explained to us near the end of the visit to the clinic that when she had lived here previously, Doctors without Borders would come through and perform corrective surgeries on people who had crossed eyes (a result of living for so many generations in such a small community).  It was a fascinating look at health care in rural areas. 

From there, we kept moving on the Sonador.  The village used to have 75 families, but now is down to only 40 families.  In order to get there, the van dropped us off at the head of a small dirt and rock road that we had to hike a few miles to get to the village.  A man named Chide (Chee-day) met us there to lead us up to the village.  He seems to be in his late 30s or early 40s and is clearly one of the leaders of the village.  He leads the masses in the village church, and he and his wife are the music directors for the masses.  Chide led us down a long path, about 2 miles, to get to the part of Sonador where we would be staying.  We had to cross the Río Sonador several times, wading through the knee-high, COLD water on foot.  At first, the water was startlingly cold, but by the end of the hike, I welcomed opportunities to get in it.  The water seemed very clear and clean.  I predicted that I’d be the first one to go face-first into the water, but it never happened; none of us fell in the water!

As we approached the village, it became clear that what we had been living in Tenares had been the high life.  This was as rustic a culture as I’d ever seen.  Interspersed amongst the cacao fields were small, brightly colored wooden homes painted in very beautiful tropical colors with chickens and roosters scattered about.  This is the REAL meaning of “free-range.”  We also saw many dogs in the village, but it became clear that few, if any, of them actually conformed to our idea of a pet.  These animals did not sleep on anybody’s bed and they did not get petted or bathed regularly.  Many of the females  had clearly just given birth recently, and we saw many small pups around.  One dog in particular alarmed many of us because it was quite emaciated yet still trying to feed its puppies, which were also a bit too scrawny. 

Yolanda and Ileana
The first person we met in the village of Sonador was Yolanda.  Yolanda has an amazing story.  Her husband left her several years ago with several children and no income.  Instead of becoming a prostitute (did I imagine that conversation?), some villagers gave her a plot of land on which she immediately began to farm every inch!  She grew vegetables and cacao and anything she could get to grow there.  She then would sell the food she didn’t feed to her family to make some extra money.  When we got there, Yolanda was selling these rag rugs that she would make from scraps of old clothes.  As time went by, we realized that everyone in the village had these rag rugs in their houses and they also would purchase them to use on their horses and mules as saddles or under saddles for comfort. 

When we arrived to the village, we were immediately dispersed to our families, where we stayed one to each household.  I was the first one dropped off with my Sonador family.  My host mother was named Domenga, and she had a husband, whose name I never caught.  I only saw him twice in the dark anyhow.  She also had a son who was about 18; he worked in the cacao fields with the other men from the village.  Her daughter, Rosairis, was 14.  She was a lovely girl who was just about ready to graduate early from high school.  She was very quiet, and I think La Americana scared her a little bit because I kept trying to talk to her, but my Spanish was so bad that she rarely knew what I was asking about.  She and Domenga were very patient hostesses.  My first stop was a meal, but I can’t really get started discussing my visit to Sonador until I explain Domenga’s house.  I made a video of the house two days later, but I think it needs to be seen now in order to understand where I was living.  This shaky video takes you for a tour through Domenga’s home and her property and gives a glimpse into the life I led for that very brief time that I was a guest in their home.

When I first arrived and met Domenga, I sat down to eat a little bit, but I was so hot and sweaty from the hike to the village that food really wasn’t what I was looking for.  It was only about 85 degrees, but I had a LOT of gear in my backpack that I was hauling.  The mea was very simple: rice, beans, boiled bananas.  It was very tasty.

After my quick meal, Rosairis took me across the little road to the church so that I could snoop a bit.  It is a very charming church with a lovely altar and a gigantic sound system so that the whole village knows when mass is.  I then went to see Erin, who was staying next door with Dorita and her family.  When I got there, Erin had already busted out her bag of balloons for the kids.  They  LOVED the balloons (los globos).  After watching the kids have fun with those for a while, it was time to head to the swimming hole and waterfall that Ileana had promised us.  I invited Rosairis to join us, so we went and put on our bathing suits, collected our other traveling companions, and ventured into the woods following Rosairis.  After climbing down hills and slipping in cacao leaves for 15 minutes, we finally reached the water, but it wasn’t the right water.  It became clear that Rosairis had made a wrong turn.  I thought this was hilarious!  We backtracked a bit and then finally reached the waterfall, which Los Dominicanos call “un chorro.”  Do not confuse this with “un churro” as I did.  You will be sadly disappointed...or simply confused.

The water was fairly low and very cold, but we quickly got used to it.  I could have stayed in there all day.  We made lots of funny videos of ourselves bursting through the waterfall like we were on some kind of crazy jungle game show.  It was a fantastic setting, and my waterproof video camera really came through for me.  However, in the interest of discretion, I have decided not to share the bathing suit pictures.  :P

Sweet Rosairis before I soaked her.
Rosairis did her best to stay out of the water, but I finally was able to pull her in.  That water was COLD. 

After our swim, we went back to our respective homes and “showered.”  Domenga’s shower is really just a hose, a bucket, and a shower stall, but I was clean when it was all over!  I am definitely learning how to use VERY little water to perform my daily chores.   After that, we all met up again and hung out for a little while waiting for Marianne.  Where could she be?  When she finally arrived, she showed us that Tonya, Rosa’s daughter had painted her nails.  This is hilarious because Marianne is/was NOT the fancy nail decoration kind.  Tonya wants to go to the US to be a manicurist, and I guess Marianne was a walking advertisement.  We were all very impressed!

The four gals huddled together to get reception on Cell Phone Hill
Once we were all together, Ileana took us on a little hike up what we now refer to as “cell phone hill,” a small mountain that has a beautiful view of the area.  When we finally reached the top of it, there were three or four women already up there all standing close together, facing the same direction, talking on their cell phones.  It turns out that they climb this hill at pre-arranged times to make calls to their relatives in the US because this hill gets the best reception.  Really funny!

We sat up there and looked  at the gorgeous countryside for a while (el campo).  It was spectacular.  From there, we headed on further to meet with a gentleman named Ramón Cacao.  Ramón owns a cacao farm in Sonador where many of the men work.  He used to be the mayor of Sonador for many years before Chide.  In order to get to his home, we had to climb up more hills and over some fences.  Unfortunately, I got caught on one of the fences, tore the side of my pants and ended up with a four-inch gash in my leg from a nail that had been sticking.  (Many thanks to my GP for making sure my tetanus shot was up-to-date before I left.)  Luckily, Erin saved the day with her first aid kit, and Nurse Kasey was there to clean me up and get me all bandaged.  The gash bled for about the next 12 hours, but it’s totally fine now, save for a hellacious bruise.   

When we reached Ramón’s house, we discovered that he was quite hard of hearing, as was the woman who had walked with us up to his home.  It turns out that, due to poor healthcare availability in the village, it is not uncommon for people to let ear infections go untreated, resulting in significant hearing loss.  We met a few people in that same situation.  Ileana quickly decided that talking to Ramón was going to be too difficult, so we decided to just head back down the hill.  Unfortunately, as we went down a different dirt path than we took up the hill, Erin fell and scraped herself up pretty well.  Again, first aid kit and Nurse Kasey to the rescue!  We got Erin all cleaned up and bandaged and headed back on down the mountain to the village.

As we walked down, Ileana pointed out to us the aqueduct system used by the village.  The water enters a giant holding tank about midway down the mountain.  It enters the tank from three pipes that drain the water from above.  Then, it flows down the mountain to the homes in the village.  Ileana said that every once in a while, they shut off the pipes entering into the tank and people use up or store all of the water held in the cistern.  Once the tank is empty, they get in there with Clorox and scrub the tank clean.  She said that the village smells like Clorox for a while after that.  Then they turn the intake pipes back on to flush it all out. 

Strangely, as we went down the hill, we also saw that there was a little cotton plant growing by the side of the path.  That was a bit unexpected; it was the only one we saw.

Dominos is a hugely popular game in the DR.  Luckily, before we left, Ileana taught many of us to play dominos in the Dominican style.  It is incredibly fun!  As we walked back to our houses, we saw this little house with its own little domino set-up.  It only had two benches instead of four, but it was clearly for dominos. 

Ileana and Kasey
Ileana and Erin
I went home from this bloody adventure and ate dinner at Domenga’s there was no power, so I ate by candle light alone in la sala, the family room of the house.   There were some cooked veggies and a little salad.  I have come to understand that meat is rare in this community.  They eat a LOT of potatoes, platanos, and beans and rice as well as a delicious little salad of cucumbers, lettuce, and vinegar.  Very yummy.  After dinner, we headed back to Ileana’s house to play dominos on the porch with some of the people from the village.  I dared not get involved at this point because I wasn’t yet comfortable enough with my skeels, but Erin, Ileana, and Kasey got right in there.  Ileana is quite good at it.  Erin and Kasey also held their own pretty well!  It was impressive. 

After several hours of dominos, we headed back to our respective homes.  Erin and I walked back to our end of the road.  I used her latrine because I didn’t want to go by myself at my house since the latrine was in the dark in the back.  When I arrived home, it was about 11:30 or so, and the power had just come one, as evidenced by the dim bulb that went on over our heads when I walked in.  I heard poor Rosairis get up to turn it off.  That night, I slept in Domenga’s bed which was outfitted with a mosquito net while I was out.  It was quite charming, really.  I felt quite protected by the mosquito net.  (When we returned to Tenares, I tried to explain to Marilu’s girls that little girls in the US would call that a “princess bed.”) 

Unfortunately, my sleep that night was not at all sound.  At 3:15 a.m., a truck rumbled by the house pausing just long enough to honk briefly and then move on.  At 3:30, the truck came by again but much more slowly.  I found out the next day that this was Chide going through town picking up people to take them to the city of Santiago where they were to meet with an eye doctor and get free eye care.  Chide took six or seven people, as I understand it, and when they returned, one had a procedure to uncross his eyes and the rest had new glasses; $30,000 worth of eye care for free is what we were told!  Amazing. 

So once the truck went by, I couldn’t get back to slept, mostly because I had to…wet, as my sister would say.  Ileana had warned us about this.  It is unwise to get up in the middle of the night to use the toilet because it wakes everyone up and it’s a pain to go out of the house to the latrine, so a bedpan is provided under each bed.  Check.  Yet another aversion conquered.  Yep, everyone can hear you and that’s just how it’s gonna be.  When in Sonador…

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day Three: Education in the Classroom and out of It

Kerry, again.  We’re home now, but I still need to record what happened while we were in the DR.  Every single day was so huge.  The third day was Wednesday.  After our big night with Marilu, Erin and I began the day with another delicious breakfast.  Mangú is a delicious concoction of mashed plantains (platanos) with sautéed onions topped with a couple of slices of yellow cheese.  It was terrific.  There were boiled eggs as well, but I passed those over to Erin.  I wasn't the biggest boiled egg fan.  We also had fresh pineapple (piña), honeydew (melón), and some orangey-red sweet melon that I don’t recognize.  It was delicious.  Finally, Marilu gave us this deliciously sticky-sweet fruit juice that combined apricots, peaches, pears, and apples.  It was tasty but room temperature.  There was not a lot of cold beverages being consumed there because we couldn't eat the ice.  Oh, well.

UCNE Director of Student Exchange and Rector
After our yummy breakfast, we went to La Universidad Católica Nordestana for a meeting with the rector of the college and a guy who was in charge of student exchange.  He was very kind to us, but seemed a lot more Italian than Dominican.  We had a fantastic discussion with them.  They asked us what kinds of projects/exchanges we were interested in, and then they revealed to us that they were building their own community college based on the American model, but it was clear that they did not have a strong partner helping them with the project.  There were some folks there from the University of Florida (someone will correct me if I’m wrong) at the same time, but it felt almost like we fell into each other’s laps.  We’d love to be able to help them out, but we’ll see how that goes.  That’s Peter’s venue!

UCNE Library
After our meeting, the rector and the exchange director gave us a tour of their gorgeous campus as well as the construction site of the community college.  The campus was fascinating.

UCNE Classroom Building
The buildings seemed very airy and open in order to increase air movement within the rooms.  Beautiful flowering trees grew along walkways and hung down from above.  It was so lovely.  It became clear to me while we were touring that people really don’t smoke in the DR.

There were a few cute little thatched huts far away from the buildings that provided smokers with shelter from the sun and rain.

We saw a building or two that were dedicated to health technologies, including a funny mural sponsored by Colgate (col-GAH-tay) that told kids about the importance of good dental hygiene. 

The construction site was interesting insofar as it seemed slightly abandoned to me.  The buildings are all cement painted in bright colors.  We even found this little courtyard that had individually painted cement blocks on the ground.  Very cool.

After our brief tour, the exchange director treated us to a round of cafecitos, which are a delightful tiny concoction of sugar and coffee that I have fallen in love with.  If only it came in Starbucks-sized cups.

When we left the college, we headed to a giant grocery store to change money.  We found this crazy place that was like a Wal-Mart on steroids.  It had about 35 checkout lanes and even had its own dry cleaners inside.  There were also MANY cash machines there—one for each of the local banks.  Peter, unfortunately, had his card consumed by the machine because he had used it too many times in that one machine.  Whoops!  That became a bit of humor for the rest of the trip.  If we couldn’t find something, it must have been eaten by the machine.

From there, we traveled to the Museo Hermanas Mirabal in Salcedo.  There, we saw the home in which Las Hermanas Mirabal lived for the months leading up to their murders.   Las Hermanas Mirabal are the three Mirabal sisters murdered by Trujillo’s thugs during his regime in 1960.  The story is recounted in the book In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.  The sisters were referred to in the Dominican brand of rebel code as “Las Mariposas”—the butterflies.  As a result, a lot of Dominican art contains images of butterflies.

Mirabal cacao racks
Crooked pic of the Mirabal home

After a short wait, we were actually able to meet with the surviving sister, Dede Mirabal.  She graciously spoke with us for over a half hour explaining the importance of social justice and speaking up as well as the significance of what happened in her family in 1960.  She was so beautiful and kind to us.  I felt so comfortable sitting there listening to the wisdom she shared with us.  Even at 85 years old, she was still very spunky and firey about her purpose in life and the importance of education.  It was a fascinating experience.  I’m so thrilled that I actually have the interview on video.   As we spoke, school children would walk behind us on their field trips to the museum.  Dedé kept yelling at them to run along because we were all having a private conversation.  They often just looked at her blankly, wondering why this old lady was scolding them.

After our meeting with Dedé, we were escorted through the house where she and her family lived, which is now a fabulous museum displaying the sisters’ favorite belongings and some of the things we had read about in the book, like the black towel that the sisters would hang out the windows of their jail cells to indicate to their family outside that they were still alive.  We also saw the handbag that Mate bought the day she was killed.  It was stunning and just made my stomach hurt so terribly to think that these girls were younger than me when they made the choices to stand up against the dictatorial regime that ended up destroying them.  However, it was their sacrifice that helped change the DR forever.  It might be in a very different place now had they not been murdered.  I don’t know.

Even though they were middle class, the Mirabals did their cooking in a separate building from the house.  This is common historically since homes were generally made of wood and it was a lot cheaper the rebuild a kitchen if it caught fire than to rebuild an entire house, so lots of homes have a separate building for the cooking.  In this kitchen, there is a clay “stove” on which small wood fires were set and pots were set above for cooking.

We also saw the giant mortar and pestle style tools used for grinding the cacao in order to make chocolate. 

After the house, we toured the impeccably manicured grounds.

I suspect they were equally beautiful 50 years ago, but now they also house monuments to the three sisters (Patria, Minerva, and Mate) as well as Minerva’s husband, Manolo.  The remains of the four are also buried on the grounds.  They had been buried in a cemetery elsewhere, but after 40 years, the government allows people to move buried remains to their own property.  I assume that at that point there has been enough decomposition that the remains no longer pose a public health risk.  So they are buried there on the grounds of the family home/museum.

When Erin and I returned home to Marilu’s house, the kids were sitting around the TV watching it avidly.  We realized that ONCE AGAIN Marilu was on television.  It all started to come together for us.  She was on a program presenting awards to local women for their civic service in the community on behalf of ASOJUVET (Asociación de Juntas de Vecinos en Tenares--the neighborhood association of Tenares). She is a BIG DEAL in Tenares. She is the president of all kinds of associations and organizations. What a powerful lady to know, and there we were!  Erin and I went into the kitchen for dinner when the show was starting to wrap up, and Marilu came walking in the door.  She looked so lovely!  I guess they taped the show earlier.  I told Marilu that I loved her pink blouse, and she told me she was going to give it to me.  How generous!  This picture is from that evening.   Marilu is in the hot pink blouse third from the right. (Marilu gave me this blouse the next day as a gift.)
After Erin and I finished our delicious dinner of beans and rice, salad (lechuga y cucumber), roasted chicken, and the fruit from earlier, Marilu invited us out to the front porch to talk.  We had a great conversation.  Erin and I, at Ileana’s recommendation, had brought small scrapbooks of our own lives to share with our host families, so we each showed Marilu and the kids (Grismaldy, Juleidy, Jeferson, and Sheila) our scrapbooks out there on the porch so they could see where we are from and what our lives are like.  It helped us practice our Spanish as well.  Right in the middle of going through Erin’s book, Marilu saw the picture of a Tarheel basketball game, and she jumped up from her chair and invited us all for a walk through the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, neither of us took a camera with us.  I wish we had because we had a fantastic time walking the streets of Tenares.  Marilu took us to the local gymnasium to see a community basketball game.  I know there’s a word for that, but I can’t think of it right now.  It wasn’t a pick-up game because it was too organized.  Her brother was on one of the teams, and they had their own jerseys and everything.  The score was sad: 92-60 or something like that.  Inside the gym was one of the murals done by Caraballo, whom I think we had met with Hector Blanco the day before.  This one was of a baseball with a hypodermic needle stuck into, representing the problem in the DR with steroids in baseball. 

We went back to walking the neighborhood and found a little parquet that had a big cement stage where Jeferson and Sheila did little dances and routines for us.  I wish I had videotaped it.  It was fabulous.  Erin and I quickly found ourselves playing games with the kids, scaring them, chasing them, tickling them, and generally goofing off.  We really connected with them even though our languages were so different.  I struggled to communicate with them, but Juleidy, the neighbor who is Grismaldy's best friend, helped out because she knows just enough English to be dangerous.  It was a hoot. 

When we got back to the house, we continued to talk with Marilu about what it means to live in the DR and in Tenares in 2011. Marilu, being the amazing woman she is, talked with us, as Dedé had about the importance of speaking up even in your own neighborhood.  She said that even though she’s middle class, she still can’t get all of the services from the government that she should.  She can’t get the city to come repair the road, but she keeps trying because no one else will.  When there are problems with the municipal water service, she speaks up on behalf of her own family and her neighbors because no one else will.  I asked how much the kids learn about Trujillo, and Grismaldy said they do learn about Trujillo and how important the history of the nation is to today’s kids.  However, they also live in the Province named after the Mirabal sisters (Provincia Hermanas Mirabal), so I guess it might mean more to them than elsewhere in the nation.

I also asked Grismaldy and Jeferson about their goals.  Grismaldy wants to be a lawyer and I think Jeferson said he wanted to be in business or something like that.  He said that he wants to go to the US because that's where you can get a lot of stuff.  Marilu and I rolled our eyes at each other and explained to the kid that things aren't everything.  At 11 years old, he wasn't hearing any of it.  The kids seemed to have high goals, though.  They thought that they'd be able to get out into the world and succeed.  It was a truly fantastic discussion from which we learned a lot.

After that, we had our baths again, and headed to bed with our heads swimming from all that had happened in just one single day.  ONE DAY!  We packed up some of our stuff before going to bed since on Thursday morning, we’d be heading to Sonador for two days.  And so ended Day Three.