Posted by: Lydia | February 25, 2011

(Almost) Midterm Update

Well dear readers it certainly has been a while since we’ve written, and as we approach one year in country I feel like an update on our recent activities is long overdue.

Our long-awaited water filters have finally arrived in site after nearly two months of struggling to find a way to transport them from the warehouse in Santiago all the way to our little corner of the frontera. This particular project has been a textbook example of Dominican patronage politics… and at this point I should remind you, readers, that everything in this blog is solely my and Matthew’s opinion, and does not represent the views of the Peace Corps, the U.S. Government, nor the Dominican Government… ya tu conoces the fine print.

Y entonces… the local ayuntamiento (major’s office) promised us the use of his office’s truck for 2,000 pesos (about $55) at the very beginning of the project, so we based our budget (i.e. the amount of money we charged people for filters) on this estimate, plus a little extra to fund later projects in the community, bringing the grand total to 300 pesos a filter ($8 for a lifetime of clean water.. not too shabby). The night before we were set to pick up our filters, however, the mayor suddenly decides that his truck can’t make the trip and that we should wait for him to find us another vehicle. Almost a month of Matthew harrassing his office in person and on the phone later (during which time the warehouse gave away our batch of filters, further delaying the process), the mayor finally (sort of) capitulates and admits that promising us the truck and then reneging was a pendejo move and gives Matt a 1,000 peso coupon for gas. Annoyingly persistent and probably kind of scary bearded gringo for the win!

So, why would a mayor promise development workers his help in a project that for FREE (since we cover the gas) helps his constituents in one of the most basic yet important ways possible? Well, turns out our town is the wrong political party. The majority of our town voted PRD (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano.. the white party), and our mayor is PLD (Partido Liberación Dominicano.. the purple party). Fun fact: both parties were founded by the same guy, Juan Bosch, the best and brightest hope for Dominican politics that was ousted by the U.S. govt. during the Cold War because he advocated something just short of Reaganomics.

Well, there you have it. Voted for the wrong party? Kiss your public services goodbye. It is interesting to note that the former mayor was PRD (I know him personally, he is in the farmer’s group we work with), and during this time our community had the mayor’s office at their beck and call… but who knows how he treated majority PLD areas. We ended up having to hire our own truck for over triple the original cost, clearing out most of the funds for future projects we would have gained from the sale of filters, but considering how we are still in the midst of a cholera outbreak the need for water filters obviously outweighs any other kind of development.

The other great pain in my culo at this time is, as any Don or Doña over the age of 35 can tell you, how lazy and generally good-for-nothing those darn kids are these days (also, get off my porch, and no I will not do your English homework for you). My once spectacularly productive Brigada Verde has lost its best members to the campo brain drain (all the best and brightest flee to the cities for work or occasionally study), and despite a hefty grant for a murals project and getting explicit promises from my youth of future participation, I just can’t get these kids to show up to meetings. I did manage to get one of the six planned murals painted just by showing up at the school in the middle of the day and taking over a (very, very grateful) art teacher’s class, but I am currently at a loss as to how I will rebuild our group to match its former glory.

Our farmer’s group is currently tasked with filling 30,000 nursery bags with dirt by March 10th (the day the new batch of cacao seeds are set to arrive… and unlike most fruit tree species the seeds have to be harvested from a pod, germinated, and IMMEDIATELY planted so there is no room for delay) and I don’t even want to start with how difficult it is to convince some people that all of the rows need to have the same number of bags in them for ease of record keeping.

Well, no one ever tried to fool us into thinking this was going to be easy, or even pleasant most of the time.. but not everything in the life of a volunteer is a complete lucha. Matt and I, as co-vice presidents of the Peace Corps Dominican Republic Marine Interest Group (hereafter MIG), are involved in a supremely, face-meltingly awesome project with Indiana University to develop a living underwater museum ON A SUNKEN PIRATE SHIP!!!!!! We spent the last week of January with MIG and Indiana University staff and graduate students in Bayahibe learning to monitor the archaeological and biological health of shipwrecks, more specifically the wreck of Captain Kidd (technically a privateer, but was hung as a pirate) and two other installed wrecks. It’s not every day that an archaeologist in the Peace Corps actually gets to practice his trade, so this is a particularly exciting opportunity for Matthew. We also worked on some coral reef restoration (attaching broken live coral to stands of dead coral so that it will regrow and survive), and si dios quiere Matt and I will be certified Reef Check divers by the end of May. Our class of PCVs is lucky to have a large group of people with intense passion for marine issues, one honest-to-god marine biologist, and a dive master, so we are well equipped to turn MIG into a very serious and very productive organization and maybe one day a sector of its own. Tourism is the biggest money maker in the DR, and the vast majority of that tourism takes place in coastal areas, so the survival of the Dominican economy really depends on the health of its coasts.

On Sunday Matt and I went up to Monte Cristi to check out this joint Dominican/Anglo/Danish marine archaeology project, and in our quest to find their particularly well-hidden artifact storage center, we ended up spending an hour waiting for the project to give us permission to enter their facility at some completely insane italian artist’s studio. The DR seems like a really fantastic place to come if you have enough money and want to be able to do whatever kind of public art project you want without having to concern yourself with things like zoning or taste, since it appears that the local Monte Cristi government just let this guy go wild:

This guy kept berating his long-suffering Dominican employees in his horrendous and nearly unintelligible half-Spanish half-Italian gibberish, and told us only half jokingly that the best way to deal with Dominican women was to threaten them with beatings, at which point his maid rolled her eyes and brought us some excellent coffee. A certain type of vaguely unsavory European is drawn to settle here in the Carribean… I think maybe the country allows them to play colonial overlord without any of the dangers (or unpleasant and more recent memories) inherent in doing it in closer stomping grounds like Africa.. plus the climate is better. Just another day in the life, folks.

Here are some more photos from the marine archaeology center in Monte Cristi:


Melted grapeshot. You can see the imprint of the cloth it was stored on.


A french cannonball (note the fleur de lis).


A pearl-handled colt .45 (we think)


Rollblock rifle

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