Saturday, January 24, 2009

La Navidad, Año Nuevo, y toda la vaina (Christmas, New Years, and everything else)

X-mas and my family came and went, New Years came and went, Bryan came and went, and now we are back into construction! But obviously I can’t skip all that good stuff!
So my parents came in on December 20th to a rainy Dominican Republic, and got to see a lot more of that while they were here! But before the muddy part of the story, we had a couple good days checking out beaches and nice restaurants (an unknown world to me). It was a nice couple of relaxing days. My sister and new brother-in-law Bill got in on New Years Eve and had a much harsher introduction to the country. We came immediately in to my campo using our newly exchanged 4X4, only(due to A/C problems and some other confusions with the first car) it was quickly realized that the car was not in fact a 4X4. We somehow crossed two fairly full rivers and got in to the previously agreed-upon meeting point where my host dad and a couple muchachos had the horses ready, engines running. We all got out of the car and stepped into my world-rainy, muddy, slippy dirt path. One by one everyone got on their horse (except me, because I’m one of them now, not special enough to require a horse) and took off down the dirt path, crossing the third and last river crossing “montado” on their horse. From that point on it was a dark, wet journey into my site. My Dad fell off his horse into the mud two times before giving up and joining me to walk through the fierce mud. The mud was literally up to your knee at some points and it ripped off my Chaco sandals! Finally at around 7 PM we pulled into my village with the heavens beating down on our heads. All of a sudden it was us five white people soaked, muddy, and cramped into my small house. But we had made it! No one was hurt!
We got changed and headed down to my host-families house for X-mas Eve dinner. Delicious! I can’t complain about Dominican cooking when they really try! We didn’t waste much time though before heading to the packed colmado and picking a nice seat where we proceeded to enjoy X-mas Eve Dominican Campesino-style. We drank rum and beer and I convinced my mother to dance a little batchata with me!
The next day it rained almost the whole time but that didn’t stop us from heading up the mountain to see the work I have already finished. We checked out my spring intake, my stream-crossings, and the pipeline I have already laid. It was raining the whole time but I think everyone still enjoyed seeing what work has been done. When night came back around we headed over to the colmado-owner’s house and had a gourmet prepared Christmas dinner. Turns out the local carpenter, mason, and colmado-owner’s wife had prepared us a full course dinner. So after stuffing ourselves we again headed to the colmado and got our groove on-all of us! I was persuasive enough to get my sister, brother-in-law, both parents, and even the colmado-owner out there on the dance floor. Everyone danced and I think it is fair to say everyone had a great X-mas, although it may have a little different than they were used to!
The next day we headed back out on horses (with the volunteer walking again! Man!)to the car headed back towards paved roads and civilization. But like I said, it had rained a lot while in my village and the roads were super muddy! We almost didn’t get up a steep muddy hill in the rented SUV but with the help of the locals we were pushed up the slippery slope and made our way back to the paved road. Crisis averted, and vacation salvaged!

We were headed to the beach! Over the next three days we got our full of beach and beautiful coastline. We stopped at around 7 or 8 beaches including one that was reached by a short ride on a fishing boat. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I will keep it short: I remembered that I was serving for two years on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. This place really is gorgeous.
We headed back towards the airport and I bid farewell to my family just as quickly as they had come in. I was sad to see them go but at the same time excited and re-invigorated to get going with my projects! But first-New Years!  I headed back to the beach to spend two days on the beach with my fellow volunteers eating all the hamburgers and buffalo wings my heart desired.

Those two days just flew by and before I knew it I was living in 2009 and headed to the airport to wait for my buddy Bryan to step off the plane. Bry told me before many times he was thinking about Peace Corps and by the time he told me he was coming to visit he was pretty sure he wanted to do it. So he didn’t want a typical vacation on the beach. He wanted to see what Peace Corps life can be like-in the campo. He stepped off the plane and into this sunny island world, and just as when Russ visited, it was as if I had seen him yesterday. That’s just how it is with my friends from childhood. I don’t see them for a year at a time but when I do we just fall back into the rhythm. It was great seeing him and we were immediately immersed in the Peace Corps world-walking out to the highway from the airport, fending off motorcycle taxis left and right. I took him back to the beach for a couple hours, knowing that this was probably his only chance to see the beach. We had a week full of aqueduct construction planned!
We spent that first night in the city with other volunteers and then headed into my village. Over the next couple days we did a little aqueduct construction, a little improvisational cooking, and a whole lot of playing with kids! Man was Bryan a little-kid magnet, even though he couldn’t speak much to them. He knew how to handle kids, language or not, and we had a lot of time with them over the next 4 days. We had one night where we gave out donated toothbrushes and toothpaste from my Uncle Bernie the Dentist (thanks Bernie!!), we had one movie night in my house with my computer, and every free moment seemed to be filled with little kids. In terms of work, we poured the two bases of an 80 ft. suspended cable river crossing, and laid the pipeline before and after the crossing. It was really interesting seeing the capable engineer student (Bryan) just overwhelmed at the crossing we were building. The thing with engineering is that it is based on so many ideal assumptions that when faced with a very un-ideal situation, a lot of times Bry’s response was just, “You really shouldn’t be building this here.” But not building wasn’t an option. The difficulty of creating a lasting aqueduct in my rolling hills was the exact reason why my community has not had anything built before, why the government has no interest in helping, and why I was here. There are too few people living there, it is much too time-intensive to design, and it is not ideal situations at all. But by the end of the week it was built and we were both confident that nothing short of a landslide would take it down any time soon. I hope Bryan got what he asked for out of his trip. We lived the real life of a Peace Corps volunteer building an aqueduct-long tiring days, mornings that begin at sunrise, and an un-educated community that fights the volunteer every step of the way. He definitely saw me extremely frustrated at the sometimes thoughtless behavior of my villagers as they showed up late to work, and generally tried to dodge work any way possible. But the work was successfully completed and we then left my village for the city again, this time so I could buy materials for more construction to come. We had one last night in the city with volunteers before heading back to the airport. We almost missed his flight due to the typical Dominican lack of timetable on bus transportation, but all worked out. In a flurry I pushed him past customs by telling the guard that he was going to miss his flight, and then gave him a hug and we both just laughed at the ridiculousness of my life before he was off.
Then before I knew it I was immediately a volunteer once again. No more car rides. No more beaches. No more English. No more white people accompanying me wherever I went. I was alone again. I had lived 20 days with Americans and then was suddenly left alone. It hit me hard like every other time, but this time it was not a surprise. I was refreshed and ready to get back to it.

So that brings us to construction. New work done since Bryan left:
-Two posts on either side of a big 170 ft. suspended river crossing
-Half of a 3200 gallon water storage tank
-Youth trip with Builders Beyond Borders planned for February and March
We are going to be finishing our storage tank in the coming week and then it is on to getting all accommodations and activities arranged for the 42 high school kids that will be here in about three weeks!

Also-I am currently fundraising for a latrine project that will replace all of the dilapidated and un-healthy latrines in my site with ventilated pit latrines. I will soon be putting a link on this blog asking for donations from any and all of you. If I can get funds together, the latrines will follow immediately after the aqueduct.  I'll keep you posted!

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