Posted by: Lydia | April 7, 2011

Frontier Madness… or how Lydia and Matthew changed from hardened mountain men into desert-dwelling pirates

As most of our close friends and family already know, Matthew and I are getting a site change as of May 1st to work full-time in the city of Monte Cristi with the Living Museums of the Sea project. It is difficult if not impossible to sum up in the written word all of feelings about this change that we have worked so hard to make happen. They range from sadness and even guilt over leaving our old campo to the incredible excitement about working with such a large, far-reaching project that has such possibilities of true change for the better. In this entry I will try to give an overview about what exactly this new project entails, as well as a brief discourse on our experience with getting a site change in PCDR.

So… what exactly is a Living Museum of the Sea in the Dominican Republic? According to USAID, who is helping to fund the pilot program in DR in Bayahibe:

A Living Museum is a “no-take, no-anchor zone where cultural discoveries will protect precious corals and other threatened biology in the surrounding reef systems under the supervision and support of the Dominican Republic’s Oficina Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural Subacuático.”

In plainer speech, this means shipwrecks and other submerged cultural resources (for example, Taino artifacts) and the biology growing on top of them will be protected from harm by treasure hunters, boat anchors, coral harvesting for souvenirs, and fishing through designating them protected areas. We all know that just calling something a “protected area” doesn’t make it so, therefore one of the goals of this project and a major part of Matt’s and my work in the community will be developing economic alternatives to destructive practices through the museums in conjunction with educational outreach. As with all Peace Corps projects, the actual nature of our work differs day to day (there is no such thing as a predictable 9 to 5 for volunteers), so I will keep updating ya’ll at home about the details of our project as they develop. Personally, I feel that the most important part of our new position will be acting as a liaison between the large institutions involved in the project (Indiana University, USAID, La Oficina Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural Subacuático, the Ministry of Culture, and the Dominican Tourism Cluster) and the community of Monte Cristi itself to help ensure that the big ideas actually happen in the field (and with the consent of the community).

We have been working alongside the Cluster Túristico y Cultural de Monte Cristi for the past few months to publicize this project in the community. To get the word out about an event in the campo, you go house to house or tell the local colmado or the presidents of the various mother’s clubs… but in the city, you go on TV! Matt and I were (gently forced, then offered scotch which we foolishly declined) to appear with no notice on Monte Cristeñan public access TV at 11pm two nights ago to promote the project, and despite our imperfect spanish the host suggested afterwards that we get our own show. Well, it apparently worked, since the next evening we had over 90 people turn out to sign the official document to solicit the Living Museums project for Monte Cristi:

We had so many people the crowd spilled out onto the veranda.. and given the Dominican lack of concern about personal space, that’s saying a lot.

Signing the nomination form

Despite the indisputable awesomeness of our new project, this transition hasn’t been without it’s share of heartbreak. Matt and I love our campo.. sure, the water may be irregular and undrinkable and the electricity only works half the time, but it is an incredibly beautiful mountain community that produces every imaginable kind of fruit and boasts a culture of neighborliness and hospitality rivaling even that of Turkey. The most difficult thing we’ve had to do thus far in Peace Corps, harder even than facing down cockroach-infested latrines or eating the third plate of boiled green bananas in a day, was tell our beloved landlady Chila that we were leaving in a month. She said that she needed to paint “the good never last” on her doorframe, and at that moment I really felt terrible about leaving early.

So, why are we leaving our Eden on the border? Succinctly, a combination of luck, elbow grease, and inevitability. Our site has hosted Peace Corps Environment volunteers for the past 30 years, we completed our projects earlier than scheduled, and an opportunity appeared to work on a project that better uses our specific skill sets that we would be crazy not to pursue. Future, present and aspiring PCVs: If you want a more detailed explanation of all the factors that went into our and the administration’s decision, I’d be happy to provide more insight in a private forum.

Wait.. wait… what about that worm farm we are raising money for? Never fear, dear generous donors. Our new site is a mere 2 hours from our old one, and we will be commuting to complete the worm farm and support the transition of the water filter project to a local counterpart. This is one of the great advantages of doing Peace Corps in a small country with an excellent inter-regional transportation system; you can undertake a wide array of projects over a relatively (for Peace Corps) large geographical area.

Our official move date isn’t until May 1st, so at that time we will start posting more pictures and details about life in beautiful, historical Monte Cristi.



  1. I am so proud of the two of you! Not only have you both accomplished so much, you are making this happen due to much of your own hard work! I can’t wait to see what this year brings for you. Love you tons!

  2. Wow! Sounds both challenging and very interesting. Hope for only the best experiences for the two of you.

  3. I am so excited for the 2 of you. Can’t wait for more info. and pictures!

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