Posted by: Lydia | October 21, 2011

Mack the Knife and Pirate Jenny go East

I know, I know.. it’s been over 3 months since I last wrote… that is just under 1/8th of my entire Peace Corps experience combined. Shameful.

Yesterday, Matt and I loaded all of our worldly belongings (which fits into 2 hiking backpacks and 4 old brugal rum boxes) and our long-suffering cat Queequeg into the Peace Corps landrover and were driven 6 ½ hours to the lovely fishing village of Bayahibe. Queequeg is a notoriously horrendous traveler. The last time she went on a bus (to go get spayed) she sprayed diarrhea all over her cage… so the fact that she only pooped a little this time was lucky in comparison. Our diver was totally unfazed (as were the passengers on the cat-poop filled guagua), which adds credence to my belief that Dominicans are unusually tolerant about being around animal feces.

Anyways, close friends and family already know the gory details behind the reasons for our site change, but due to the highly politicized nature of the reasons for our move, I will leave it at this: The U.S. economy is in the toilet right now, our project funding got cut, so now all of our work is here on the Living Museums in the east. The sudden and unexpected meltdown of the project we busted trasero for the past 6+ months to make happen has been a humbling lesson in dealing with failure and disappointment that I hope I don’t have to repeat for a while. But hey.. that’s one of the reasons I joined Peace Corps… so I can learn to gracefully and sanely persevere without having to pay a shrink to teach me how when I am 45 and my life is in shambles.

Also, we were “promoted” (in the Peace Corps, that means more work with the same amount of pay…. I kid, I kid, I love this job) to national coordinators of the Living Museums of the Sea in the Dominican Republic, so our boss and project partners think it makes more sense for us to be living in the site where our project actually is. I complain a lot about how government bureaucracy (both Dominican and American) is always gettin’ me down, man! fight the power and whatever! but Matt and I are incredibly lucky to have a boss who is a government employee and nevertheless supportive and open-minded. ¡Imaginate!

Obviously I have complicated feelings about the move. I have come to terms with the fact that Living Museums are not going to be happening in Montecristi during my service, and am relieved that at least I get to keep working with the project, even if it is in another site. However, I can’t help feeling that I let my community down even though the funding cut was not our fault. No one there blamed us, and were happy for us that we still had work with the project even if it wasn’t in their city, however I feel terrible that we couldn’t follow through on our plans. Assuming that we continue working with Indiana University after our Peace Corps service, we will keep trying to find funding to bring Living Museums to Montecristi, but it just can’t happen this year.

That being said, life in Bayahibe is going to be pretty fantastic. It is a lovely fishing/tourist village of a more manageable size than Montecristi. Even with all the tourists, there doesn’t seem to be the kind of “gringo fatigue” that you get out on the border, probably because every white person they see here isn’t either an aid worker or a missionary, so not everyone is expecting handouts or bibles from you based on the color of your skin. The town is clean and quiet due to the demands of the tourist industry, and although the central colmado is full of prostitutes (as in any seaside tourist town), it feels very safe. Also, the food, though much more expensive, is fantastic thanks to the large expat community of continentals. I feel like I died and went to Peace Corps Italy… even the Dominicans here say “ciao” and kiss their fingertips when wishing you a “buen provecho.”

Nevertheless, I will always be a liniera, no matter where I find myself. I lived for a year and a half on the border, and the people and culture of Dajabon and Montecristi will always hold a special place in my heart. Life is tough on la frontera, and people have to stick together and rely on each other’s kindness to make it through. Our Dominican family will always be our neighbors in Hipólito Billini and Fondo Grande, and nothing will ever replicate the love and trust you feel in a campo of less than 400 people in the middle of the mountains, walking distance from Haiti. Our Dominican neighbors here seem really sweet, but I know it can never be the same as it was in the campo. Also, we are now on the complete opposite side of the country from our closest friend in Peace Corps. She has never lived more than 20 minutes from us during our time in the DR, and her being over 7 hours away now is the worst part about the move.

So uh… what were we doing for the past 3 months, besides just sweating and sitting in meetings too boring for public consumption? Here are the scintillating highlights:

– In August we got “consolidated” because of hurricane Irene. An ENTIRE SHRUB in our front yard was destroyed.

– LIONFISH PARTY:

Then the ayuntamiento didn’t pick up the trash for a week. If I had known I had all that time to age fish carcasses in the subtropical summer sun, I would have made us some garum (ancient roman fermented fish sauce).

– In September we spent most of the month here in Bayahibe helping Indiana University and East Carolina University run their marine archaeology field school. We had a generally fabulous if not occasionally stressful time re-excavating the Captain Kidd shipwreck. On international beach clean up day we dug a tractor tire out of the beach on Isla Catalina with the help of a team from the U.S. embassy, and the Dominican navy hauled it away on their ship. Matt and I had one of the worst head colds we have ever experienced that day, which made it one of the more miserable trash pick-ups of my service. At least we didn’t find any dirty diapers like we usually do. We also got to visit the Faro de Colon, Balaguer’s monstrous and wasteful homage to the Great Admiral. It looks like somewhere Laibach would film a music video:


That’s the popemobile to the right


Closeup of the Popemobile


Reminds me of the Humanities building at UW Madison.

– Remember how we begged you all for money to build a worm farm, and then the money wallowed for six months in the bowels of Peace Corps bureaucracy? We FINALLY built it. And by we, I mean the extreme badasses of Fondo Grande who whipped up a gazebo and a giant concrete box in 4 ½ days despite not having a whit of formal construction training among them. Warning, the following pictures contain images of child labor, violation of OSHA standards, and consumption of cheap rum on a zinc roof during a lightning storm:


Nothing tastes better than chicken and rice cooked in the field under a banana leaf


Dominican instant roofing service, powered by Brugal!


Matt got stung by a bee and his hand turned into a catcher’s mitt


Digging a trench to level the base. We did it by making a concrete “step.”


“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”


Throwing down extra cement to polish the floor. Anyone for a little silicosis?


All that remains is to finish the central dividing wall.. then ya!! Thanks again for all your financial support, friends and family.

Last but not in any way least, we hosted the Brigada Verde Cibao 2011 conference in Montecristi. It was an awesome conference in every way. We had a particularly solid group of volunteers and youth this year and managed to make it through 3 days of sun, fun and EXTREME ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION without anyone drowning or sneaking off to hook up. The kids got to hike a coastal desert mesa, spend the day on an island learning about coral reefs, mangroves, erosion, and plastic trash, participate in an environmental career fair, learn to make vegetarian snacks, have a sustainable science night (egg drop! Did anyone else do that in middle school?), make carneval masks out of recycled materials, and THROW DOWN on the dancefloor. We had the event at the beachfront hotel of the Madre Theresa Foundation, so all of the proceeds went to pay for free medical care in Montecristi. Everyone involved in the conference, particularly on the Dominican side, was so helpful and patient with the kids. It is so rare in Peace Corps that everything comes together and works out perfectly, so this conference was a great yet bittersweet ending to our time in Montecristi.

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