Friday, November 14, 2008

Facial Hair, Oh My!

I had a beard for a while and then decided to quitar that face-coat in the humid DR heat, while at the Brigada Verde camp.  Thought you all might wanna laugh at the rediculous before and after(can u see the lack of sleep in my eyes?)

¡Si se puede! ¡Brigada Verde!

Last weekend I brought two members of my youth group (now officially called JARUF-Jovenes Avanzando Rapido Un Futuro-'Youth Rapidly Improving Their Future') to a Brigada Verde camp.  Brigada Verde is 'Green Brigade' and it is an environmental youth group first started in this country by Peace Corps Volunteers about six years ago.  The goals are obvious: environmental awareness, conservation, and improvement.  The camp was three days long, organized by other volunteer buddies of mine, and I learned a lot!  We had activities on water contamination, different biological ecosystems, waste management, and the flora of the Dominican Republic.  

Of course this was not all that we did at a camp full of 40 high school age youth!  We had somewhere around 7,000 icebreakers, although I wasn't counting.  Ha, we had plenty of social time, because that social time is really where the kids get motivation to keep going.  They talk with others youth from around the country who have similar groups and have completed successful projects, and get excited to keep going.  

It was a great camp and I know now that my kids are going to get started with their first real projects!  We have talked about holding a dance-a-thon in the colmado to raise funds for public trash cans(there is no trash service at all in my village) and have also talked about a small reforestation project above the aqueduct spring to protect the water reserves.  

As with every day, the final day of the camp included a shouting session by our fearless leader volunteer Ryan.  It went like this:
-All the kids banging on plastic tables as hard as they could to the rhythm of "We will rock you"
-Ryan sreaming "Si se puede!" and the kids responding as loud as they could (translation: Yes you can!)
-Ryan screaming "Protege el Medio Ambiente" and the kids responding (translation: Protect the Environment!)
-Ryan screaming "Brigada Verde" and the kids yelling it back!

It was an amazing sight.  I learned alot about the environment and a lot more about how to really connect with youth and get them motivated.  I am not saying that I have been changed and will be that shouting volunteer any time soon, but I am saying that I was inspired.  I can only imagine how my kids felt!

Work is volando!

So work is just flying right now.  We have worked three weeks straight now with the following progress:

1 partially constructed intake works
74 PVC pipes trenched and buried 3 feet deep in the ground~1,460 ft.
2 suspended stream crossings
5 mainline cleanouts installed
8 mainline respirators installed

But we have a long way to go.  The entire project invloves around 14,940 more feet of PVC pipe(about 750 more pipes), three MUCH LARGER suspended river crossings, one of approximately 180 ft., a 4000 gallon storage tank, and 50 separate tapstands.  But things are looking very good right now.  Besides one setback with an airblock that caused us to re-dig the trench in a small area and install another respirator, things have been going to plan.  Generally I think morale is high and everyone is excited to see the water inching closer and closer to their houses every day.  

Also, as you can see on the funding sidebar, we have a couple updates!  We have recieved a check from a Dominican Savings Bank, Banco Ademi, in support of the aqueduct.  This came after a meeting with the 'Jefa' a couple months ago.  I guess the idea was just planted in her head and one day decided she needed to help!  We have also recieved a promise from a company that previously was considered a 'good possibility' to me.  Builders Beyond Borders, an organization based out of Norwalk, CT. that provides service learning trips to high school youth, has chosen my village to visit on two separate occasions in 2009.  Each trip will involve 40 high school students coming and living in my village for a week, working on my aqueduct!  That is a lot of hands!  These two weeks will cut out months of work from the aqueduct schedule and I am tremendously grateful to be recieving their help.  As you can see, they are also committed to monetarily support the project!  Check out their website with the link in the funding sidebar!  It is a very cool thing that they are doing and something that would be great to get my own high school in North Haven involved with!  

So that is the good news with work!  I feel more fulfilled now than any previous moment in my service, mostly become I come home emotionally, and now also physically tired, but in a good way.  I hope everything back home is goin well and I will keep you all updated on our progress.

One happy PCV.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

¡Ya hemos comenzado!

The day came and it has passed!  I ripped off the bandaid in one fell swoop and after being in this country for 1 year, 1 month, and two weeks, Agua Larga began construction on their aqueduct!  Por fin!  It was an extremely nerve racking Sunday night before our Monday work day.  Somehow I managed to sleep a little and I even managed to wake up at 6:30, drink some coffee, and get goin by 7:30.  the day was pretty successful.  A lack or organization was inevitable but I was happy generally with how it went.  And every day since then has been better and better.  We work Monday through Thursday from 8 to 3, and each day went smoother than the previous one.  Overall, the week produced a half-completed water intakes, about 15 PVC pipes(250 feet) buried three feet in the ground, and a very happy(albeit sore) volunteer.  My Monday work brigade is probably the toughest because they all argue and all try to impress everone else with their infinite knowledge on digging trench.  But each day gets more and more humble and by Thursday the workers were all joking with each other and myself.  

When they try to get serious and it seems like an argument might break out I butt in with my extremely high class humor.  One worker, who has enough money to possibly pay people to work for him, stated strongly that he would not pay more than 1000 pesos for a worker to work the four days in a month required of him.  This started an argument because construction work is usually valued at 300 pesos a day or 1200 a month if working once a week.  So I told him that if it were me I would need at least 1500 "besos" from him a month, but that either way I thought his lips would be extremely dry by the end of the month.  And he isn't that buenmoso (good-looking) anyway.  "Pesos" are the local form of currency.  "Besos" are kisses.  His face immediately changed from serious to strangely embarrassed and everyone died laughing at the gringo who just made a funny.  I laughed at it too, hell, it was one of the first jokes I made that everyone got right away and put them all in a better mood.  More than anything else that I did in planning the past week of work, that joke made me feel like I am doing what I am here to do.  I am helping them get the aqueduct built.  And as I have learned, the technical facets of the work are not the reason they haven't built one.  It is everything else.  Getting people organized, motivated, and 'de acuerdo' is the much bigger challenge.  I have spent a good amount of time designing and redesigning the aqueduct but I have spent much more time developing rules and regulations for the water comittee that everyone was in agreement with.  So the little joke of mine that kept people working and laughing as opposed to arguing was a big deal for me.  I guess I am finally starting to get a hang of this development thing.  Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is crack a joke so everyone just chills out.  Giving water to people is a serious thing and should be designed and constructed correctly.  But no one said work has to be serious. 

Coming up next week are one or possibly two small river crossings and a couple smaller components of the main line.  And for the first time in a while I have an optimistic outlook and don't dread the little challenges that I know will come along.  I'll just have to have a good joke ready...

My house...the 'pista de veyday'

My house...the freeway.  A look into the lack of privacy I have gotten used to.

My house has constant traffic, both inside and out.  Starting at 5 AM there are chickens waking up and turkeys clucking and roosters crowing, all having a competition to see who can make me wake up the most number of times before I just get up.  Then when I open the door they just walk right through my house, with my cat doing nothing but watching them, apparently waging another competition to see who can get furthest inside my house without me chasing them into the woods, chucking rocks like a crazy man.  There have been weeks when pigs and piglets have gotten loose from the pig pen near my house and have made their rounds on the highway that is my house.  I have had horses, donkeys, and mules just walk up and by my house as if it were perfectly normal.  Then I tell someone that the animals are loose and they usually get taken care of.  Usually.  I have dogs walking around my house all day, probably because of the smell of my cat.  There are a million lizards and spiders and little biting, stinging ants.  Some nights I get visited by tarantulas, and although they are poisonous, I prefer them because they are so much slower and easier to kill with a sandal.  The normal spiders are big and really quick.  Just annoying.  At night my solar powered lights make the inside of my house the highway for moths, bugs, and anything that eats moths and bugs.  So yea, animals live with me pretty much all the time.  And I don’t think I even really need to say the word cockroach.  I could be a millionaire selling those things.  If only a market existed.  The latrine next to my house puts them out like a well-oiled assembly plant.  Its amazing.  But luckily my cat kills most of those that are out in the open. (and eats them, mmm)

So that is the animal traffic.  Then there is the human traffic.  Starting at around 6 AM there are people going around my house to the left to bath, feed the pigs, or pick coffee, and going around my house to the right to find firewood ,pick avocados, or dump their night pans into the latrine(which they never seem to really have mastered, leaving friendly splatters here and there).  All day long is fair game for people to go around to the bathroom, and then the afternoon comes and everyone needs to bathe, so they take turns going around my house to the left to the shower area where they bucket bathe themselves less than ten feet from  my door.  When night eventually comes I flip on my lights and, just like the flies and moths, muchachos and muchachitos show up to just look at my house and be bathed in artificial light.  Sometimes they want something or want to do something with me, but the majority of the time they are just passing time in the only lighted house around, with the only white guy around.  They will watch me fold clothes, will look at my pictures on the walls, will check out the DR map I have on the wall and argue over where they are.  They just don’t see houses filled with such ‘weird’ stuff.  Only us gringos  have can openers and paper towels, not to mention all the new cool stuff given to me by a recently ET’d friend: real Heinz ketchup, hand sanitizer, French coffee press, etc.  The kids come to just hang out and then in a bit pass on further down the highway, back out of my house.  There’s a good chance they are headed to the colmado, the only other place that has light bulbs shining with artificial light. 

It doesn’t bother me anymore (well, I hate chickens more than any other living thing on this planet), but I am comfortable knowing that everyone knows pretty much everything in my house.  As I write this I have a muchacho sitting next to me on my bed staring at my computer, wondering what it is I am writing.  I guess that’s just how it is when you are living on the ‘pista’ in the middle of the mountains.  But like everything else, I’ll try to make this a little educational.  Let’s see if he can tell me what this word says: YODALI…...(pointing to my screen and asking the kid if he knows whatthe word is)  Yup, he got it!  It’s his name.  Well, good night from the ‘pista’.  Time to eat some dinner and go bucket-bathe myself into a state of semi-cleanliness.  Asi es la vida viviendo en la ‘pista’.