Friday, October 23, 2009

The people who can make me cry...

I am now a student. I am not a Peace Corps volunteer any longer. I am a student in graduate school, and a TA that has lots of homework to grade, tutorials to prepare, and organization to do just to make sure I get enough sleep every night. It is Friday at 9 PM and I have a lot to do so I am still in school and I am grading homeworks. Who interrupts my work, making me take off my headphones injecting classical music and hopefully concentration into my brain? Chulo, the owner of the colmado from Agua Larga! I recognize his number immediately and answer by saying Chulo! He responds half laughing, half trying to be serious, "Oh, you know me?!" I can picture his face smiling and making it hard for him to talk, like a little kid with a lollipop. He has this slippery-slope of a face. When he is serious, most of the time, his face is just flat and when he talks his lips barely move. He is quiet, reserved, and respected. When he smiles he gets this smile that goes from ear to ear and his lips don't know how to cope so any attempt at speaking fails miserably. So anyway, the connection is bad and i have to ask him to repeat himself many times, and then the call drops. I figure thats it because i know how much international calls cost and how expensive this is for them. But he calls back! I answer and the call drops. I try calling him and get his voicemail about 4 times. Then he calls back again-same result-drops. He calls back a fourth time! And I pick up and it stays! He asks me how I am doing and how the states are treating me. I get a warm feeling. He tells me that the school that was promised to the community and was set to be built next to my family’s home is almost done-just missing the roof! I get emotional. He tells me my host dad has almost finished his new house right next to the community center we built together. I’m holding back tears. He says that the new Peace Corps volunteer in the community two hours past theirs, that I helped to identify as lacking water, has just arrived. I start crying. He says that he came through on a motorcycle on the way up to the community. When I was there the only way up was to ride a horse or walk for about 2.5 hours back my village! He says the mayor came through, has fixed the roads enough to get cars all the way into the next village! I am just stunned, jaw on the floor. He says they are getting a new school built as well and that it is almost done! I just can't believe it. So much good news and so quickly. Then we get into my question and answer session. I ask him about things, then he puts his wife on, Pelua, and we go back and forth for a little bit. She tells me that the (writing this right now my face just flipped out and my emotions make me stop typing for a minute) little kid next door, that i watched grow up from 2 to 4, who used to always yell my name, that he always asks where I am and when I am coming back. It’s just too much. These people have given me such unconditional love and I just can't take it. I love them. The absolute unfairness of the ease with which I left them back in their mountains and now take the bus to school, swipe a card to enter my office, and spend their monthly income in one night with friends is just too much. I feel unworthy. I didn't do anything special to deserve all this besides being born in Connecticut and not the Dominican Republic. I don't deserve all this. Pelua tells me that her spanish class that she gives every day in the community center has shrunk from 10 to 5 students, but that they are the ones who want to achieve something so she is happy working with them. She then says that she can't talk forever, but that even though we are now far apart from each other that I will always be close to them. She tells me that it is just like this one popular batchata song. "Uno quiere pa' que no quiera..." It’s a song that I actually never really could translate but its message is happy, based in finding the highs in the lows of life, and about finding meaning in things that deceive us. I just laugh and tell her “yea”, sinking right back into my Peace Corps tactics of just playing along sometimes. (On a side note I was just interrupted by loud booms and went outside the engineering building to watch one of the best fireworks displays I have ever seen. Is it Chinese new years or something?) But anyway, these people have connected with me on a level I think I will understand more and more every time I talk to them, as the days and years go by. Who knows when I will go back, but I know that the second I see them, the tough Roberto they knew who led daily work brigades of mountain men will be bawling like a little girl. My life has been blessed by their presence.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The transition...

It has been a while since my last entry and for good reason. I have moved back to the USA! I closed my term of service on August 20th, after my group’s close of service (COS) conference, and flew back to the motherland. It was a pretty rough transition I have to say.

The last couple of days in my site were almost like a funeral of sorts. People kept stopping by to ‘pay their respects’, asking me if I was really going, and then telling me to have a great trip and popping off. Then there were the people that were really close to me. They just stopped by and stayed a while. The awkwardness of the whole thing is what I miss the most. They are just there to spend time with you. No TV, no radio, nothing but two plastic chairs and a messy house I was trying to clean up. One of my favorite guys, a Haitian from the other side of the river, kept telling me he didn’t think I was really going to leave. He jokingly said, “I am not going to bid you farewell, because then maybe you won’t leave.” On the Saturday before I was to leave site Sunday we had our last water committee meeting. I didn’t plan anything, didn’t expect much from it, and just showed up. I wanted to see if the collapse would start immediately, or not. They completely surprised me with a whole agenda, a plan for having new elections to fill some of the empty spots in the directive, and a detailed sheet outlining all of the expenses that had been paid out from the water committee since July 2007! I was floored. The president, treasurer, secretary, and my host-dad had gotten together and worked out all the expenses with the owner of the colmado. They had heard that people were saying they were stealing funds, and wanted to address it clearly. Everything was accounted for, down to the blocks of ice bought for juice when Builders Beyond Borders was here. When they were done they quietly passed the turn to speak off to me, knowing that it would probably be my last chance at a water committee meeting in Agua Larga. I thought for a little bit, told them how impressed I was and then tried to get a couple words out explaining how grateful I was to have been…that was it. My throat closed up, my cheeks started to spasm, and I looked down trying to compose myself. The next half hour was the best and worst time of my service. Everyone from my host-dad to the water committee president to the beneficiaries at the meeting were in tears sputtering whatever thanks they could to me before they couldn’t talk anymore. I just sat with my head down accepting all of this love for the last time, and in many ways, the first time. Seeing these tough guys that work in the hills with machetes most days balling was really hard. And it didn’t stop.
First thing the next day was my host-mom, which triggered me again, which triggered everyone else: the colmado guy, the old guy across the street, the kids. They snapped a photo of me and those who were around, and I left my community on a motorcycle, balling.

Agua Larga with their token gringo.

And just to give me one last whirl, it rained. Then it stopped, but the damage was done. The motorcycle rounded the corner and we saw a truck that had slid off to the side on the muddy incline. We got off the motorcycle, the driver and I with all my big bags and my cat in a carrier. We then tied a rope to the front of this big truck loaded up with rocks, and proceeded to straighten it out while it spun its wheels. We went from on the road to slipping off the side about five times and then it got traction and started climbing. So now, muddy, sweaty, and much later than planned, I left my site for the last time. I stopped at a high point that overlooks my valley and snapped these two photos, one of my valley and one of my moto-guy, who had come to pick me up for over a year almost without fail.

I was no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. And it felt terrible.

When I got to the capital I was lucky enough to have a bunch of my PC friends around up until the moment I got in my taxi that would take me away to the airport, but that made it tougher. I had a red-eye so I got in the taxi at midnight, gave everyone who was there a hug, then tried not to look at them much and got in. Then the driver started to ask me how long I had been there and what I had been doing. I told him, and then he said, “Oh wow you must have a real connection with the people.” That did it. I was sitting in the back seat with the window open and tears just started pouring, being blown aside by the wind(which I now realize was an amazing temperature). He asked a couple more questions but soon realized there was something wrong with me and it was just better to leave it be. That was just the beginning.

To perfectly cap off the irony that is Peace Corps service in the DR it took me seven hours to get from the hostel where the taxi picked me up to my parents car at JFK, one hour less than it took me to get from my community to the capital, Santo Domingo. That trip was very Dominicanly broken up into segments by me trying to get people to allow my cat on a bus, them kicking me off, and so forth. So when I arrived, saw my parents, tried to act like my head wasn’t spinning, and got in the car so quickly, it just added to the whirlwind that was the last 24 hours. They were asking me questions about this and that and I don’t remember much, but I remember sitting in the back seat feeling as if I wasn’t ready to be there. I was right back where I had left off and the last two years was some kind of dream. I had to concentrate really hard just to take it cool and try to absorb things in stride. Well, my schedule was not a great one. I was going to spend two days at home and then head off to Pittsburgh where I would begin grad school in a week! Those two days I left my home maybe twice. I was not balanced yet. The first thing I noticed waking up on my floor in my room that next day (I don’t know why, I wanted to sleep on the floor) was how quiet it was. It was sadly quiet, made me feel all alone. The first time I went to the bathroom I realized I could get a drink of water from the sink, did so, and lost it. I was balling. My face was not under my control and I had to just ride it out. Then I took my first shower. It was amazing, so much water and so warm. I was doing alright then for some reason a thought of the Haitian guy popped into my head and my face went crazy again. This happened probably about ten times in those two days in my home. Chatting with volunteers online, making a sandwich with food from the fridge, sitting on my couch. I had no control. I literally would not know when it was going to come and then my face would flip out and I had to just ride it out. It was sad, but on a weird level I was happy. I didn’t want to forget, I wanted to keep remembering. I wasn’t ready to let it all go.

So before I knew it I was packing clothes and things, supposedly everything I would need for a year in Pittsburgh-where there is snow! I haven’t seen snow since the winter of ’06-‘07. Needless to say I got very little sleep the night before leaving, and then I set off with my parents in a full car. I still didn’t really know what was happening until two days later, when they left. I was moved in with my Peace Corps buddy, which helped, but I was on my own. I did not feel at home, did not feel comfortable, and I just had to take it like I had taken my first night in my village, two years ago: with a deep breath. I knew I didn’t have to figure everything out right then. I just had to wake up the next day and things would be a little bit better…

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The projects are just flooowing now.

The new computer center in the local high school
Update to Builders Beyond Borders and people back at home who donated or fundraised for the "idea" i had of a computer center in the local high school. It is a reality! Over the past five months or so I have worked with an Environmental Awareness volunteer on a project to turn one classroom of the local high school into a Library/Computer Center. Over the past few weeks we have been working on construction in the classroom-reframing a division wall, building a computer bank, fixing locks, building bookshelves etc. Just two days ago I had the same company that helped with my solar projects come up and install constant electricity with a charger/inverter in the classroom. And now the room is now pretty much usable! It was amazing to me to see such a rapid change, being used to projects like my aqueduct and community center! The high school is now equipped with a library stocked with books, a couple big round tables, a couple small kids tables, some chalkboards, a world map, and a computer bank with 8 laptops that will be usable all the time thanks to the inversor! This is literally the biggest computer center around, probably within two hours travelling! The local pueblo has some internet cafes but they all have much older computers and none have as many. So my neck of the woods just got a lot cooler! Computers, internet, and all of that is popular here like it was about 10-15 years ago in the states-everyone loves it and knows it is important but very few know how to do anything with a computer. So now they have a chance. Although I am leaving, the other volunteer still has some time and is excited to try to be a librarian/tech. consultant for the next months in the library she made! Take a look at a couple pictures!
On a complete nerd level I feel really lucky to have dealt with so many diverse energy systems in this country. I put a solar panel on my house and got to live with it for the majority of my service, realizing why Renewable Energy isn't always great for everyone, especially in a rainy country with a lot of poverty. I got to design a small solar-powered community center, and then used it to drill holes in steel bars with an electric drill-previously impossibly in my community! I got to design a solar-powered water pump system and see it working, without batteries! I also got to design small solar electrification projects. I got to experiment with small 10 watt panels and tiny batteries to power one lightbulb and also got to install big 55 watt panels with a larger battery and a small inverter to send luz longer distances and power 3-5 lightbulbs. And now I got to work first-hand with the reality of most Dominican households with luz: an inversor and back-up batteries. Even though I didn't get the chance to work with Hydroelectricity in a country where so much is possible, I am really lucky to have had the opportunity to do and see so much. One thing I learned about Energy and Water in a poor country like this: it sucks, simply put. You have to go way above and beyond the effort you might spend in the US to get a service that is far from reliable. But in a country where almost nothing is reliable, it just fades into the background with all of the other development problems. At least I know that my community with have water and light, and the high school with have a very powerful attraction for students.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Misión cumplida...y entonces?

So after all of my bitching and complaining, loving my site, hating my site, leaving my site, all of that-we had the inauguration and it was great. We inaugurated the aqueduct which gives water to 47 individual tapstands, the solar powered community center which is now host to a spanish and english class multiple times a week, and the solar lightbulb project which lit up the whole road, putting lights in 40 homes. It was an amazing feeling to realize all that we have done. And we spent over a million pesos to do it! It was a great close to my service here, and the small group who really understood my struggle showed their gratitude more than I could have expected. They presented me with two plaques, sent to be engraved over 2 hours away, and after the second plaque presentation they lifted me up on their shoulders! In true Dominican style they didnt take me anywhere though, hah, they just wanted to lift me up for the pictures, then put me right back down. But it was really cool. And I definitely saw some people shedding tears. I think what hit me more than anything was when the motorcycle-taxi guy, who had helped me go back and forth between multiple hardware stores in search of materials, came up to me just balling after seeing the community center. I didn't know him very well, but he is a much more educated Dominican than the majority of my community members, who kind-of understands what Peace Corps is trying to do in poor communities. I just hugged him and he put his head into my shoulder and cried(Dominicans aren't super tall guys). That was enough for me. That made it a good day.

The rest of the day was filled with swimming in the river, frias, and bien frias. And I finally got my revenge on the chicken that has eaten my cat's food for the past year. I cut his head off with a machete and we ate it for dinner! And Llave ate its foot(the delicacy here). I sucked on the foot a little bit, and some buddies also tasted the cooked deliciousness. Then we had some late night dancing, a very late night skinny-dip in the river, and then a nude late-night return to my house. Hey, when you have just finished a nine-month long project and its pitch black outside, you gotta walk right through your village naked. I'm pretty sure it says that somewhere in the Peace Corps manual.
(Evan chomping down on the chicken foot)
And a bunch of Peace Corps buddies showed up to support me and the project. All in all it was a great day, and it feels great to be done!

So now Im tying up loose ends with other small projects, trying to take advantage of free time to go see and do some things I missed out on, and wrapping my head around the next step in my life-School!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Progress...and my unappreciative community.

We have made alot of physical progress with our projects.  

Disclaimer: At the time of writing this blog, I am in the city, after flipping out on my neighbors and leaving the community.  I awoke today to people talking badly about me and about the project rules involved with my aqueduct, right in front of my house, at around 6:45 AM.  The rules say that until you have paid everything(1 dollar a month, 15 dollars for the right to your faucet) and worked all the work days(one day per week for the duration of the construction, or 7 dollars for each missed day of work) your faucet stays locked up.  Yesterday we put up around 20 faucets and 18 had locks on them.  What can i say.  People don't pay the 1 dollar a month, people don't come to work, in general everyone wants an aqueduct given to them for free.  They think me doing this work is what they deserve.  It is not that they cannot afford these fees.  They decide to spend their money on the lottery, beer, new clothes almost every month, and many other non-essentials.  Where do these fees go?  To my pocket?  Nope, all those fees go to the water committee bank account that is there as a fund to employ a community member as plumber and any materials he may need to maintain and repair the aqueduct.  Who trained this plumber and organized this whole system?  Roberto.  How much did Roberto get paid for this?  $0  And now that the day has come to pay up, what do they do?  Talk shit about Roberto.  So what did I do-although not proud of it?  I flipped out, told them off, threw some PVC pipe pieces i had in my house outside, and walked out of town.  With that said, I am not in the most verbose of moods, so here is a quick summary of the things we have done recently, with some pictures.  If you think that this is cool or worthwhile, feel free to post a comment.  Give me strength to finish this, when everywhere I look there are reasons to stop.  No one seems to really care about the work I have done here.  They are pissed off at the fact that they owe $2 to their water committee or that all of those weeks missing work-days is coming back to bite them in the butt.  

-Finished 1000 gallon ferrocement water tank
-Finished 500 gallon concrete block tank
-Constructed 45 foot suspended cable bridge for pipeline
-Constructed 82 foot suspended cable bridge for pipeline
-Constructed 167 foot suspended cable bridge for pipeline
-Constructed 170 foot suspended cable bridge for pipeline
-Installed 4-55 Watt solar panels and solar water pump
-Pumped water up to upper community and filled 1000 gallon tank
-Installed 3-55 Watt solar panels and 4 6 Volt deep-cycle batteries in newly constructed community center

Monday, June 8, 2009

El Porvenir has water!

So even though I have very little to do with the project being actually completed-check out the link below.  My senior-design project at Bucknell to get water up a mountain to a coffee cooperative in Nicaragua ended with me installing the pump at the bottom of the hill.  A couple of steps from running water at the top huh?  But luckily Bucknell and the Center For Development In Central America has followed through and kept the project going.  And now it is done!  There is running water at the top of the mountaintop, and the pump that we bought and installed works!  Who woulda thunk?!  I can't wait to get back there soon and see and talk to everyone about it.  For now, this picture of running water from a pipe does me just fine. :)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Coming to a close...and a change of pace, location...everything

(Above: me with the pump mount I had to fabricate out of stainless steel rod, some piecess from a hardware store, and multiple trips to back-alley garages to get it all welded together.  THAT calls for a cigar.)

I've got more time than usual to post this blog, as I decided to loiter in the wireless-enabled reception area of a hotel for the afternoon.  I think they assume I have a room because I just sad right down, and because im white.  So hopefully this blog will be a little more coherent than the rest.  Maybe not.

First of all, for those that might be following my time here and haven't talked to me in a while-I won a NSF Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh and will be starting classes August 31st!  Yea.  I can't believe it either.  Its still surreal to me.  It is a fellowship for a PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Sustainability.  So after all of my negative thoughts on leaving Peace Corps service early, I will be becoming the ultimate hypocrite!  I applied to the fellowship assuming I had no chance at winning it, and was shocked when I did.  So anyway, I am really looking forward/worried about going back to the USA and getting back into classes, more frequent social life, good food, and the general fast pace of things I remember from about two years ago when I left.  I have to say that I am sincerely nervious about this change in my life.  Although it is different from when I left the US for the DR because this time around I know what to expect, the feeling is very similar.  Just like before, I don't know for sure if I have made the right decision, and know I just need to close my eyes and jump.  It'll probably be fine.

So with that said, I am still kicking my butt every day with the big projects we have going.  I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with the aqueduct getting wrapped up.  We have all the tubes in the ground!  Woo!  that feels good to say.  Actually...we are missing about 3 tubes, but those will be put in by the time most people read this blog.  We have recently been working double speed because this past week I hired a local mason from the next-door community to come help.  It doubled the amount of work we did because I could tell him how things should go and leave a group of workers with him while I went off with another group.  So this past week we finished two small tanks, both a part of the solar pump-portion of the aqueduct.  The first tank done was a 1000 gallon ferrocement tank placed about 20 feet above the highest house in the upper community. 
 The foundation and rebar work took about 4 full days but then the rest went quickly.  It looks great and everyone has told me so.  Feels good.  The second take we just finished yesterday.  It is a small ~500 gallon block tank that will house the submersible solar-pump.  Just this morning I connected the aqueduct to it and filled it with water.  It felt great to have such a key part of the project done, with water in it.  When everything is functioning, water  from the gravity-fed aqueduct will fill this smaller tank.  The tank will be maintained full by a float valve at the tank inlet.  From there the water will be pumped up an elevation of  approximately 120 feet to the ferrocement tank above.  This tank will also be maitained full by an electronic float valve at the tank inlet, which will communicate with the pump to tell it when to pump more water and when to stop pumping due to a full tank.  All that is left to be done now is connect up the solar panels, pump, and controller.  All of this will be coming up this Friday with an installation visit from a Renewable Energy company based in Santiago called RETECSA.  They will be helping us install the pump, bury the cables, install the solar panels and solar controller, install the electronic float valve, as well as set up two ground connections.  As I have spent hours and hours in their store designing the project and talking to them about the struggles, I would almost consider them friends of mine now and it will be cool to show them how my community lives and what I am working for.  They will also be (time-permitting) installing the solar panels on the community center and hooking them up to batteries and an inversor.  And as if that wasn't enough, they are bringing up 9 more solar panels and 9 deep cycle batteries for our solar-lightbulb project.  Phew!  Everybody cross your fingers for me that the road holds up another week.  If all goes to plan I could have water in the upper community by....who knows...Saturday?  We will see.

Ok, concrete and sweat talk apart, I have to admit that all of this hard work has really put a strain on my relationship with my community.  I find myself constantly asking a lot of them, the majority of them not working really hard or bickering about their neighbor working 5 minutes less than them, and it makes me lose motivation.  I get fed up, lose my cool, and finish the day exhausted physically and mentally, thinking I am a fool to work for people who want to work so little.  I recently have had to tell myself to finish the project for me, rather than them.  The reality is if I left all the decisions up to them they would postpone, half-ass, steal, and bicker the project into an incompleted standstill.  It's hard to deal with as a volunteer.  I question whether I am doing the right thing.  Is all of this worthless because when I leave all of the rules and sustainability will fall by the wayside, the infrastructure will degrade or be stolen, and the project will fail?  I hope not, but I see it as a very real possibility.  And now being so exhausted in the last leg of my service I find myself unable or unwilling to be creative to try to keep convincing them of the importance of the aqueduct rules, payment, and water committee meetings.  People have told me that once I am gone no one is going to pay their monthly fee anymore and no will enforce any rules.  I understand but am dissapointed when I hear things like that.  In a country where corruption is the norm and every worker in some postion of power abuses it, I find myself sucumming to this attitude as well.  Just the "whatever, it'll probably fail" type attitude that is the reality of the poor and marginalized.  So with every step towards completion and the satisfaction of finishing another piece of the puzzle there are the questions in the back of my head-Was this all for nothing?  Did they even want this?  Will they appreciate and maintain it?  Big questions.  And there are no answers.  Only time will tell.

But when it all comes to a head, sometimes you just have to laugh at the rediculousness of it all.  As much as the culture here tells me things will get stolen or broken, sometimes you just have to throw it right back in culture's face.  Below, see the finished roof of the small pump tank that will be locked down like a jail cell.  On it's roof I wrote in english, "There's a pump in here.  Just TRY to steal it!"  If anyone wants to learn english, climb up to my mountains, buy a lock cutter, and carry the 30 pound pump back down the mountain, probably all at night,-well, then I guess they will have earned it!  Hey if they learn english I did my job as a development volunteer, right?!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Solar Power-Oiga esso!

Yesterday I took 5 men from my site, who are in the running to be the plumbers when I leave and be in charge of taking care of the whole aqueduct, to Santiago where I purchased our solar pump.  It was really cool.  We set up some solar panels outside the shop, connected up the pump and the controller, and showed these campesinos how renewable energy works!  We pumped water from one bucket of water to another using no batteries at all!  Oiga!  It was cool, my guys seemed to be pretty comfortable with the idea of working with this pump, and I felt great to finally have the meeting of the solar pump and the people it will benefit-my community members.  Seeing, feeling, and touching such a vital part of the aqueduct was a great feeling.  And the owner of the shop was great, offering all the support my community could need as long as they are in business.  Its all coming together!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

We are still working!

So I am short on time again for the post, but we are still working!  We actually are within 2-3 days of finishing all of the aqueduct piping, we are putting the final coats of paint on the community center, we are gettin prepared to install the solar water pump, and the solar panels for the lightbulb project are purchased and on their way!  I am also getting ready to start making the 45 tapstands that will become property of each member of the water project. Things are cranking along...Check out the pictures.  The top pic is of Chelo, a local kid with some mental difficulties, just ecstatic to see all of the faucets lined up and ready to go!(actually I think he was just ecstatic to have his picture taken, but either way its priceless)  Even in the most frustrating of communities, there are always a couple really good reasons to keep on working!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Final youth group...(let out a deep breath, sleep for days)

Although it is kind-of sad to see them go, the last Builders Beyond Borders group has come and gone, and now I will be back to the Dominican pace of life.  We had a very succesful 5.5 days of work.  We put around 1400 ft. of pipe in the group, put up the walls of our solar community center, and put the roof on!  I have to say that the community center was the most fun I have had in a while.  It reminded me of my Habitat days in college, measuring wood, cutting, and nailing.  We went with a roof design that was a mezcla of Dominican and American styles.  Half of the roof beams were trusses made to American standards and the other half were just beams coming down from the main roof beam.  Thats how most Dominican houses are made(and the main beam usually bends down, but doesn't fall, and that seems fine to them!)  But when the trusses were up and the roof was on it just made me extremely proud.  I showed them a new way to do things, and they questioned and fought back against me every step of the way.  But in the end they all said it was a pretty design and I "know too much".  Also, on the last day we sent water across my new big bridge and through all of the pipes the kids put in, to the other side of the river.  Everything went to plan and we opened a faucet more than an hour walk from the water source!  It was the first water to ever come out of a faucet on that side of the river, and I was proud that my bridge didn't even seem to budge.  All in all, life is good right now.  I am an extremely lucky human being.  It makes me feel great to be here, alive, and living.  

Monday, April 6, 2009

Just like how it looks...

I just like how my newly built pipeline bridge looks.  Puts a smile on my face.  Who wants to smile...check it out!

Friday, April 3, 2009


So we are still chugging away at laying pipe in the ground and recently we put up the first of our giant river crossings.  It is about 170 ft. across and I was very happy when it did not fall down.  You can do all the engineering and design you want but when you see something that big go up, and not fall just makes you smile!  So I have another group from Builders Beyond Borders coming though in a week and they are going to start digging on the far side of the crossing.  The plan is to send water through the crossing and all of the pipe they manage to put down in 5 days and have another water inauguration, again in a place that has never had water before!  So I'm sure it'll be another sappy occasion where manly Dominicans will start bawling and lead to me being in the same boat!  It should be great.  Also, we have been working our butts off getting the foundation ready for the small solar-powered community center we will be building with the kids.  We have really been under the gun with work ever since late January because of all the planning that goes into a Builders Beyond Borders group.  And thats great!  As much as my life has become a lot less chill, there is nothing like 40 Americans to get some Dominicans in gear!  And I have had to really work on doling out responsibility in all different directions.  I am a camp counselor, a work foreman, and a design engineer in charge of an aqueduct, solar center, and now a solar electrification project!  And...yea, a Peace Corps volunteer that doesn't make any money.  

After the B3 group leaves in two weeks I hope we can finish the aqueduct in about a month or so more of work.  This all really depends on the weather.  If it rains almost no work gets done and sometimes my road disappears.  So if we can stay dry I think we have a good chance.  Lets all cross our fingers.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My "Road"

Here is what was left of my road after 10 days of rain in Jan/February.  It has recently been refilled with more dirt making it passable.  But how long will that last?

Keep on keepin' on...

So I just finished hosting the second Builders Beyond Borders group, and they did a great job! We installed about 1700 ft. of tubes in the ground, all the tubes needed for the upper portion of my community, and they painted my storage tank! We are now going immediately into construction on the footing of the community center. That all needs to be poured and ready for the group in April, who will then work on putting up the walls, roof, and windows/doors! And on top of that I am going to be used as a translator in a medical mission this week, with American doctors coming to treat patients from the mountains around me. Phew! Life is kind-of crazy now but it feels great. Oh!-a perfect example of that is the fact that I broke my pinky toe yesterday and I am sitting here with it taped to my other good toes/didn't remember to mention that until right now! (don't worry, it has been checked out by a doctor, and this tape job was the treatment) Things are really hectic but I love what I am doing. There are other projects also possibly on the horizon but I don't want to jinx them by mentioning them here. But I will let you all know if they come to fruition!

Just like the last group, we had a little faucet opening ceremony at the end of the 6 day trip. My host dad tried to say a couple words but got too choked up to continue. It was very humbling. I constantly get caught up in the frustrations of coordinating all of this work and forget the basics-we are bringing water to people that have never had it. And those people are now almost family to me. It is an amazing thing. Below are a couple pics from the March group of B3.  PS I have BIG hair, and its not coming off until the aqueduct is done.  

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Hey, so sorry I haven't been in internet world for a while. Just to let everyone know- We had a Builders Beyond Borders group in February and it was great. We put in around 1500 ft. of pipeline and at the end I filled up our tank, and sent water down through the pipes they had just layed to a tapstand. We had a little water inauguration where we turned on water from a faucet for the first time ever in my community! Everyone cried, even the macho Dominicans, and it was a thing I won't forget. The whole trip was great. Since then I have been working with the daily work brigade of Dominicans, and have been planning for the next (2) B3B groups. The group in Feb. had such a great time that the company asked to come back again in April! So we have a group of 30 coming in two days to dig and put in pipeline again, and then in April we will have another large group-of 45! This group in April will be working on two projects-1)continuing work on the pipeline and 2)building a small solar-powered community center. So I have been busy working on the design and budget of that recently. We started excavation of the center yesterday and are working on planning for delivery of all the needed materials into my site. Thankfully, the local mayor has finally done some road work and now trucks should be able to get up there. No more hauling all the materials on animals and on peoples backs!(at least until the next big rain that washes out the roads again) So thats where I am at. Im a Peace Corps volunteer and camp counselor/cultural guide for next two months. Ill try to get some pictures up of the youth groups but probably won't get much free time to think until the last group leaves on April 16th! But just as my first 9 months were characterized by slow, grueling searches for funding with little results, it seems like my last 9 months will be filled with projects being completed! I guess sometimes it all comes back to you in the end...

Friday, February 13, 2009


So apparently I am a 24 year-old 70-year-old. I have osteo-arthritis in my left ankle. This is not completely surprising because I played soccer for about 13 years and then was a constantly injured pole vaulter and decathlete in college. So all of that beating up on myself finally came back to bite me in the butt. I just spent 10 days in the capital receiving twice daily physical therapy sessions, and the ankle feels much better. I also am now equipped with custom fitted orthopedic foot pads that will correct my crooked, flat feet. I still cannot jog or run, but I am good enough to walk all over the hills of the DR, which is what a water volunteer must do on a daily basis. So I am still chugging along for now, and hopefully I will be able to last long enough to finish my aqueduct and the rest of my piece corps service.(Which only has about nine months left-unbelievable!) And now......I have about 72 hours until a group of 41 high school kids from the states come into my site to help build the aqueduct! It should be really fun and really stressful I am sure. So basically it will be another day in the Peace Corps. But I am completely refreshed and re-motivated to get back into my tiny little village and get busy. Ha, and I will be arriving into my village "a pie"(by foot) now because the recent 8-straight days of rain in the north washed out the majority of my mud-road. So now the previously too-muddy-to-drive-on road is too-washed-out-to-walk-on and I will be taking the longer cable-bridge and mountain path to get in to where I am going. But, call me a crazy PCV, I can't wait! (We will see if my ankle is as excited)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Diversity and Leadership Youth Camp

Although a country rich in history, the Dominican Republic is often poor in its grasp of the people that shape its nation. Without anything more than a shallow idea of its significance, many young Dominicans are constrained by prejudice and discrimination and therefore lack access to many aspects of life taken for granted in the United States. Gender inequality is significant, rural public schools are severely underperforming, and a university education is too expensive for most families. Even basic social services are out of reach for many. Although a substantial majority of the population is of African heritage, social constructs within Latin America and the Caribbean have historically marginalized people who have darker skin.

Over the past five years, Peace Corps volunteers have organized a major conference to bring together youth leaders in the Cibao region to discuss discrimination and the importance of cultural diversity. I participated in my first conference last year and was pushed by their enthusiasm to work much more with my youth group. For many of the young participants, the Celebrando Cibao conference is a life-changing experience. During the three-day conference, participants have a safe environment in which to examine their own culture, be introduced to other cultures, and gain the tools to combat discrimination in their communities. We look forward to planning the sixth annual Celebrando Cibao Conference, to be held August 22-24, 2009 and as a vital step in the process we are asking for your help with funding! I know that times are tough in the states, and for that reason I am not asking for anything more than $50 from any one of you, but literally anything you give will go a long way. Thanks again in advance! Follow the link below to donate to the Diversity and Leadership Youth Camp. (The volunteer name listed on the project is Hinojosa L. of CA and the project # is 517-290)

Donate to Dominican Youth!

Check out my older blog "Celebrando...El Cibao! Celebrando...Diversidad!" from September 2008 to see what last year's conference was like.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pouring the roof...

3,200 Gallon Storage Tank Finished

After 7 days of construction we finished our storage tank!