27 months in the Dominican Republic

The opiniones expressed in this blog are my own and not that of the United States Peace Corps

A witch’s wedding

-An homage to the “Magic Realism,” style of fiction that I grew to love during the 27 months I spent in Latin America-

 

THE MERRIMAC VALLEY  is in Northern Massachusetts. It’s an unimposing valley, with hills that turn blue and purple in the sunset through the pine trees, in the view from our small porch. It has nothing of the foreboding size of the great valleys and heaving mountains of the West. It doesn’t even compare to the jaggedness of the granite walls that spire along the roads of New Hampshire, a mere 20 miles north. The Merrimac River has been harnessed in too many places to seem wild. It spills over dams, splashes through the gears and turbines of hydro plants, and finally washes murky and tranquil through the low-lands out to sea in the east. I once took sailing lessons, in a big open bend of the river. The boom knocked me straight in the water. My brother got a good chuckle, but even as I bobbed in my orange over-sized life vest, helpless in the loose tug of the current, the river never seemed ominous.

My Merrimac Valley never seemed like a fitting stage for a good adventure, its sulky river and round hills weren’t the stuff of mystery or danger. That was to be found in the boggy woods of Maple and Birch trees, that spread everywhere in my memories of the land that connects my cousin’s house to my own. Our imaginations loosed the bounds of reality of those woods, and the banks of the slight streams that whispered through them.

My grandparents, on my mother’s side, were both in the Navy. I remember wrestling with my grandfather when I was very young, maybe six years old, before he died. He was rougher with me than my dad was when we were playing around. There was a realness to our rough-housing that startled me. I remember going to taddle-tale to my mother, “Granpy hurt me,” I probably had a slightly sprained finger or something to that effect. “Your grandfather doesn’t know how strong he is,” was all the consolation she gave me. My grandparent’s Navy, “no bullshit,” attitude had an interesting effect. Their children turned out to be complete hippies. Their eldest daughter, Paula, the aunt who lived a brief woodland trail from my house, was the hippiest of all. Her hair fell in drifts of chestnut brown all the way to her ankles. When we were very young we would play in her hair like it was the gateway to a magic wilderness and then run ecstatic into the outdoors on an adventure of the utmost urgency. We were on the Oregon trail in a blizzard, or had to find mud to poison the evil boy who lived down the street.

That was along time ago now, before I arrived in this Carribbean mountain village. At dawn, as the sun barely begins to reach into the valley, I run into the hills. I don’t need to pretend so much anymore, these ridges are new to me, and my story in this country unknown, to me anyways.

After my morning jog, before going to work with the young men that the Peace Corps sent me to train as nature guides, I drink coffee with my neighbor. Sometimes, she’ll ask me to sit a while after I’ve finished, take my cup from my hand and gaze into the grinds left in its cracked and uneven bottom. “There,” she’ll tell me, “I can see what is waiting for you in the day and the year.”

“That would ruin the surprise wouldn’t it?” I always respond. Then she smiles, then I wink, and I am gone for the day.

 Miyaya’s kitchen is a shack made of uneven cuts of palm wood nailed together under a zinc roof that sings in the rain. When her husband goes out to tend to their cows he collects their firewood and piles it in the firewood corner. There’s also the corner where a mother hen’s skinny leg is tied to the wall by a dainty piece of yarn and seven chics peep and scurry in nonsensical circles. There’s the corner with the ferel kitten. There’s the corner with the clay stove that leans against the wall on four legs made of the wood that the husband collected.

Miyaya is gap toothed and big bodied. She makes loving jokes at her large husband for having such black skin, but she is also want Americans would refer to as black. Her hands are the hands of a constant gardener. She smiles and arcs her back to take in the breeze that crests our hill in the early morning. But this morning, as she came out of her house in her night gown and rounded the shack there was no wind, and she had something in mind.

“Issaac,” she called me, because everyone in my community calls me by my more biblical middle name, “ven, el café casi está.” I was already on my way over because I could smell the coffee the second it started to boil. I ducked my head under the low doorway and took a seat next to the clay stove on a wooden chair that could’ve easily served as a make shift outdoor toilet because the thatch-work seat had been thoroughly worn through. Just as the coffee started to steam Miyaya’s daughter slipped through the doorway at a frantic pace. I stood up to kiss her on the cheek, as per usual, but she barely noticed me. She took her seat in the plastic chair that serves as the hen’s cave and diligently started back at the work I’ve seen her labor at, almost manically, every morning since the day I arrived.

 

That first morning I introduced myself to Miyaya, her husband and her odd looking brother. I went to introduce myself to her daughter but Miyaya stopped me, “she doesn’t speak,” she told me. So we didn’t talk, but when she looked at me she looked into me. And when I reached for her hand to shake it she stood unmoving. Just as I let my hand drop back to my side, perplexed, she reached forward and grabbed it. She unfurled my fingers, gazed at them as if they were crystals refracting the light into never seen before colors, closed them again, and finally, softly, kissed them.

 

Ever since that day, more than a year and a half ago now, as Miyaya and I drink morning coffee, the daughter opens her sack of broken beer bottles, chips away at their necks with a stone, then grinds the neck away against another stone until what was once a broken beer bottle is turned into a perfect green, or brown, or black ring of glass. She must have thousands of those rings, but on this day, she took to her work with a severe urgency.

“¿Que le pasa a ella?” I asked Miyaya. I had grown accustomed to talking about Miyaya’s daughter in front of her and referring to her as the “Muda,” like everyone else did, because I had never been told her name and she was deaf, or mute, as people as people in our community tended to call those who couldn’t hear and therefore didn’t speak. Early on in my service, Miyaya informed me that she wasn’t born like that, that something had happened to her when she was very young, but she never told me what exactly. I assumed that she must have suffered some kind of traumatic head injury because her incessant glass grinding seemed to me the sign of general brain dysfunction. Miyaya gazed at her daughter then peeked her head outside of the shack and looked towards the mountains. “What’s going on with her?” I asked Miyaya again, as the poor girl actually started to sweat; the intensity of her grinding hit new levels.

She typically approached her daily activity with a dull, almost morose energy, as if it were just something to do to pacify her body so that her mind could wander in thought. If I didn’t know better there were times when I would have thought that she was listening to our conversations.

“Do you know what it means when it rains despite the sunshine?” Miyaya asked me, seeming to avoid my question. The girl stopped grinding the glass. Her and Miyaya smiled at each other. The girl held up a brown glass ring. She was breathing heavy, panting even. Miyaya poured me a cup of coffee in a small clay mug. At this point I was thoroughly bewildered. She gave me a look that said drink up, so I took a sip. “Issaac,” she said to me, “I’ve got an idea for you.” And that’s when she told me what had been on her mind since she saw that the grass was still that morning, that the wind was not coming over the hill. What I didn’t know, but she did, was that in these lost Carribean mountains, a windless morning means a special kind of evening.

Miyaya took the cup from my hand, swirled the grinds, and held the cup up to her face. She stuck her thick finger in the cup and rubbed the grinds onto the walls of the cup. “Isaac,” she said, lifting her gaze from the cup in her hands, “the Muda is going to take you into the mountains to meet my uncle.”

I was perplexed. “That’s very kind of you, but I have to work…” I started.

“Your work is to show those boys how to explain to visitors about nature. Correct?”

“Yes, of course,” I responded.

“Well, there are some things that even you don’t know, Americano. My uncle is going to show you how to ask something of mother nature and get her to listen to you. When you can do that, then you’ll really have something to teach those boys. Understood?”

I did not want to lose another day of work with the guides. Our trail building had been slowed down because of the rain in the last month. But Miyaya had never asked something of me so directly before. And it might be an interesting aspect of the local guide’s tour to be able to tell tourists about local farmer’s folklore. So I agreed.

“Okay, Miyaya. I’ll go. But how do you expect us to get there?”

“The Muda will take you.”

“Okay, but how?” I asked. Right then the roar of a motorcycle bellowed out from behind the kitchen shack. The Muda had left without my noticing and was already waiting for me to climb behind her on the motorcycle.

“Does she know how?” I asked Miyaya.

“She knows more than me,” Miyaya responded, which was only semi-reassuring. But I didn’t have any more points of argument. So I ducked out of the shack and threw my leg over the motorcycle.

“Adios! May god bless you,” Miyaya called out to us as we bumped down the slight drive-way out the main road.

On the road into town we passed one of the guides walking to join me for trail work. He threw up his hands as we approached to say, “what’s going on!” I shook my head and raised my hands to say, “I don’t know,” then spun my finger to say, “tomorrow.”

We gained speed as we passed through town and into the lower reaches of the mountain roads. There was nothing to do but hold on so I grabbed her tighter around the waist. She placed a hand on one of mine for a moment. I pointed to a small valley that is tucked away on the highest peak of the mountain-side, where I know some farmers have small plots established. She nodded. The whole range is technically within the park’s boundaries, but that often doesn’t mean much. She jerked the bike into its lowest gear and we tugged up the steepening road.

At each bend in the road I clinched tight to the driver, certain that a pick-up truck coming down the mountainside was bound to knock us into oblivion. But in the straight stretches of the trip, my mind wandered. I thought back on the year and a half of work that brought me to that moment, on the back of my neighbor’s motorcycle with the Muda at the wheel. It was difficult to imagine my time in the Carribean coming to an end. All of the project challenges, bouts with stomache illness, and time spent by myself just reflecting had forged a strange bond between me and the island. Even more prominent in my mind were the many meals shared with neighbors, days at the river with the local kids, and chasing horses through the passion fruit thickets with guides. As the air grew cooler in the wind wiping past us I found myself becoming strangely nostalgic.

An hour into the motorcycle relay up the mountainside and the bike suddenly seized up. The Muda pulled off the road. I stepped off the bike and motioned “what’s going on?” She pointed to the gas gauge. We were on empty. I checked my cell phone. We were out of range. I shrugged my shoulders to her. A year and a half ago this kind of circumstance would have really stressed me out, but by that point I’d become accustomed to the kind of behavior that I’d refer to as reckless, like taking off on a trip without sufficient fuel. I started for the other side of the road to hail a ride back down the mountain when a pebble hit me in the back. The Muda was parting some thickets on the side of the road. I raised my hands, bewildered. She pointed to beyond the thickets, which was just woods. I raised my hands again and shook my head.

I was getting a bit hungry at this point so I felt a bit short on patience. The Muda waved and waved for me to climb into the thicket, but I was simply not up for bush-wacking my way up the mountain side in hopes of happening upon her uncle’s farm. I wagged my finger “no” to her and stood with my back to the thicket, deciding to wait for a truck that might pick me up, with or without the Muda.

            I waited for two minutes when a violent tug on my shirt pulled me into the thicket. It pulled me over sprawling roots and through thorned branches. I shouted and flailed at the tugging arm, but I didn’t hit anything and just tripped on my face on account of my own momentum. I started wildly cursing at the Muda but she was no where to be seen. I picked my way through the thicket back towards the road, but after a few minutes of walking I stopped. I became worried. I should’ve arrived at the road. There should’ve been light coming from the opening, there was only shadow and a flat gray light dispersed throughout the thicket. I tried walking in another direction at a frantic pace. Again, nothing.

            I sat on a thick root, somewhat frightened, pondering the absurdity of my situation. The branches opposite me started to shake. Something in me told me to get up and run, but as I leaped to my feet I saw the Muda peering at me through the foliage. Naturally I was quite upset by the whole situation and she recognized that. However, somehow her facial expression was disalarming. She waved me to follow her, and despite my being very flustered I started to follow her without any argument. The longer we walked through the thicket, which turned into woods, the more calm I felt, which was odd because I could tell that we were not heading back towards the road.

            A sharp sound pierced the steady crunching of our steps on the leaf litter. We both stopped in our tracks. The Muda reached behind her and grabbed my hand. We both gazed up into the branches above and  I squeezed her hand harder. The sound rang again, but more melodious, with other sounds, like a violin kind of sound, and voices. Singing.

            We continued walking hand in hand as this strange but luring music drew us forward. The woods gave way to another thicket. We had to crawl on all fours to keep following the music, which grew louder. Then we came to the edge of the thicket and stepped onto the grassy knoll where the string band was playing.

            The violinist was a short bearded man, dressed in red stripped shorts held up by suspenders that draped over his bare chest. He extended a hand to the Muda and then to me to help us get up. I went to thank him but he was fully occupied hugging the Muda and kissing her cheeks.

            We’d been pulled into an oasis of sunshine. The thickets spread around in an arena of shadow. We were at a party. No, we were at a wedding. The violinist’s other band members, also dressed in red stripped shorts and suspenders, were now ladelling wine out of an enormous wooden keg directly into each other’s mouths, spilling most of it across their faces. A group of young men ran frantically around the grassy knoll after some chickens. Young women and old women dressed in white dresses sat in plastic chairs comparing each other’s cleavage. Other women defended the pies and cakes from the daring fingers of the oldest men, who stood around the long food tables grumbling over their walking sticks. There was a large willow tree in the center of it all. From it dangled long willow vines that nearly reached the tree’s curling roots. The children swung in great arcs from wooden swings that had been tied into the veins. The band merrily took the stage and started to play. All of the young men and women danced. One of the older children, a fat boy, maybe 13 years old, loomed at the edge of the dance floor and tried to take a young mother for a dance, but she just laughed. The clouds above  glowed and darkened, one after the other, as if night and day had shattered, leaving shards of light and dark strewn across the sky.

The violinist pulled the Muda and I onto the dance floor. We danced until we were sweating and drank honey wine. When we finally took a break he walked us under the willow tree vines. “ I’ve seen so many beautiful things here” I told him as he poured me another cup of honey wine. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the party guests organize the plastic seats into neat rows. Thunder cracked on the horizon.

            “Wouldn’t you like to stay with beautiful things forever?” said the uncle.

            “Maybe,” I said, smiling.

            “But wouldn’t you, really,?” asked the uncle

            “Of course,” I said. Because it’s true. I would.

            “Well then, you shall,” said the uncle. “What should we call the beautiful things?” he asked.

            I laughed and took another sip of my wine. “Life,” I said, “Just life.”

            “Well, Issaac,” said the uncle, “meet Vida.”

            Vida slipped the ring that she’d been working on for a year and half onto my finger. Then she grabbed my face with both of her hands and kissed me.

            Rain blew through the willow tree vines in playful gusts of wind. But it was warm, and the sun shone brightly.

            The party guests stood up from their seats and let out a roar of applause and shouts and whistles. The band members played loud and nonsensical sounds. The children turned their faces up and ran to catch the raindrops on their tongues.

“Wait,” I started to say, but she hushed me, placed a hand on my chest and leaned on her tip-toes to whisper into my ear, “you’re doing just fine.”

The party guests danced. One of the oldest men, a man who reminded me so much of someone, took a tambora from one of the musicians, stood on a chair, and played away.

            I turned to Vida and gaped as I recognized the fact the she’d just spoken to me. “You’re doing just fine,” she said to me again, with a giggle. Then she winked her mother’s wink and said, “it’s a special kind of day.”

The Women in Development’s Association of the Jimenoa Waterfall…. a project in progress

Warp Speed into the Last Quarter at the Environmental School

(Early December, 2012)

This morning it looked like the major project I’ve been working on for the last few months was going to fall through. I met with the rest of the committee for the co-management of the local protected area. There was the director of the Environmental School, the administrator of the park, a community representative, two technicians from the local office of the environmental ministry, me and a business mogul from town. Two decades ago the business mogul built the suspended foot-bridges that turned the Jimenoa waterfall into a viable tourist attraction. Let’s call him Mr. Monopoly. A few years ago the waterfall and the surrounding area was declared a National Monument. Right before I arrived in the Peace Corps a newly appointed and infamously righteous politician – son  of one of the heroines that ignited the popular Dominican resistance against Trujillo—

was appointed the environmental minister. He decided that Mr. Monopoly should not be allowed to benefit singularly from the tourist potential of a nation’s protected area, so he appointed ownership of the waterfall attraction to the DR’s National Environmental School, which has a campus that borders the area. It was this move that prompted the director of the Environmental School to solicit a Peace Corps volunteer to build the community capacity necessary for the school to develop sustainable and legitimate ecotourism projects based around the waterfall attraction. A year and eight months later and the Peace Corps volunteer realizes that despite the formation of multiple community groups, numerous workshops, conferences and promises, in the end the project depends on the whimsy of a handful of individuals.

Two weeks ago I participated in a 3 hour meeting with a team from the environmental ministry with actual decision making power. Together we developed the Annual Operations Plan for the protected area. The community cooperative/ nature museum project that I designed was decided as the central piece of the next year’s work. The powers at be committed to making the project a reality (provided that I can find 75 % of the $ 50,000 U.S. that it’s going to take). However, we never put dates on when the project was going to begin. This worries me a bit because I know how easily things get pushed aside when it comes to work with the Dominican government. That’s why this morning as I met with the co-management committee I wanted to put together a proposal for a work calendar. However, when I saw Mr. Monopoly delicately take off his white brim hat, exposing his bald head, and dramatically thwack a copy of a contract on the table I decided to hold me tongue.

A lot of what Mr. Monopoly said made sense to me, despite the fact that I knew his complaints where going to place a major monkey wrench in the community cooperative project. He had been cheated. He built the bridges. The state took them away. At a previous meeting a higher up in the Environmental Ministry suggested that Mr. Monopoly’s original permission was not adequate. Another said that he would already have earned back the money he invested with interest in the years that he had receiving the benefits from the waterfall attraction (it pulls in 2-3,000 U.S. a month).

I’m skeptical of everything I hear. I whole heartedly believe in the value of protected areas. In a very basic kind of way it doesn’t seem right for one person to be receiving the large majority of the money entering the park. Then again, I’ve seen first hand the damage that government corruption in the DR can cause. Right now the former Dominican president is under serious investigation for fraud. Nepotism is everywhere. There are low wage government workers at the school and within the protected area that regularly wait 3 months to receive their pitiful paychecks. Qualified workers are laid off without a second thought if they don’t show their loyalties during political transitions. If the state has complete control of the area then the bureaucracy involved in soliciting the funding necessary to maintain the area almost certainly means that the area is going to be constantly dilapidated. Mr. Monopoly made some sweeping and dramatic statements about all of the good he will do when reinstated as the principal administrator of the park, including filling in all of the pot holes in the 5 KM of windy hills that lead from the principal highway in Jarabacoa to the protected area.

I’m going to try my best and be patient until the administrator of the park receives the environmental ministry’s response to the annual work plan we developed. I assume that if the community cooperative is approved in the annual plan then we will be able to go ahead with it, even if this turmoil is not sorted out.

In the mean time I can focus in on finishing up the ecotourism course that I’m teaching at the environmental school and on the community youth group that I work with. Last week I dropped off two 20 LB bags of organic fertilizer on a 16 year old Dominican girl’s doorstep. She has been an outstanding president of our Green Brigade group, but there are still moments when I can tell that some of the projects we take on are really challenging local gender roles. Best case scenario she will have convinced the other girls in the group (it turns out that pretty much only girls are interested in community groups where I work) to skip the Sunday salon session and they’ll have started mixing the fertilizer into the soil for the raised beds where working on. Worst-case scenario, I’ll show up on Tuesday for our meeting, the fertilizer will have been sold and the group won’t show up at all. I am expecting something in between.

This afternoon I went with my students on the second field trip to fulfill the practicum portion of the ecotourism course I’m teaching. For four Fridays in a row the students are doing interviews with local companies that are some how connected with ecotourism to analyze their operation and make suggestions for future projects. We’re working with the local ecotourism office supported by USAID on a proposed route connecting Jarabacoa to Constanza- a higher eleveation mountain town-, a small group of female artesans, an outfit of informal horseback tour guides, a local coffee company that has a tour of the coffee production process, a local art school that is involved with various projects, and two tourism ranches that specialize in white-water rafting and other adventure sports.

Despite the stress of this morning’s meeting, I couldn’t help but smile as my students and I cruised out of the gates of the school, bachatta blaring through the mediocre sound system of our rented junky bus. The teenage bus driver turned around to ask me where we were heading. In that moment I felt a bit like captain Kirk, our ship wasn’t going to take us to a new world, but we were certainly on a voyage into the unknown. It has been thrilling for me to watch ideas transform into realities. It’s also a bit nerve wracking once the pieces are in place to let the project start running its own course. As our bus gained momentum and made the turn into town I watched the first group of students prepare themselves for their afternoon ahead with one of the ecotourism companies. The kind of independent work that I was asking of them was new for the students, the position of responsibility I was placed in by independently taking on a project with the students outside of the school was new for me, we had unquestionably arrived in alien terrain.    

Local Ecology

            This morning I climbed out from under the mosquito net and was happy to feel that the weather has appeased itself. The weeks of oppressive heat have dried out most of the vegetation, so nearly every one of my neighbors has been taking advantage of the circumstance to set fire to their fields and the wild grasses along side the roads. This late spring “cleaning” gives an apocalyptic finish to the other wise lovely pastoral landscape. Afternoon runs along the ridges of an open valley are hazed down with billows of smoke and some corners have to be taken wide to avoid open flames licking out from under the stick and wire fences that border the fields. Then came tempest like thunderclaps and lightning. Rain. A well needed cool down.

I opened my door to the front porch that looks down into the rolling hills of pine trees, palm trees, and graze land: the novel landscape of this Caribbean mountain community. The animal tribe was all snug down in their spots, the petite alpha dog in her corner, the burly monster-to-be in her chair, and the swollen cat right alongside. I woke up especially early this morning because the cat was making a fuss. It seemed today was to be the day. As I went into the kitchen to get the dog food that the animal tribe shares, the cat was not leaping through my legs to get to it first, another sign. As I served their food in their little bowls, the cat just mewed and curled under her tail. A little bit of my mother overcame me and I decided to set into action; I got the dog crate, filled it with paper scraps, and popped the cat into her improvised birthing center.

Since I had to head off to the environmental school, I snuck the cat and her papered crate into the outdoor kitchen of my neighbor’s house. My neighbor, Miyaya, is well adept in animal ways. She has dogs, chickens, guinea hens, canaries, and rabbits. When she saw the cat a few weeks ago, she told me the exact gestation time to expect, so I decided that she would be a great midwife if the action started before I got back from school.

This summer I am teaching the general ecology class at the national environmental school. For class today I decided to take my class outside of the fences of the school to see some science in action. Two months ago, I met a team of biologists working on a study of an endemic woodpecker species of the Dominican Republic. I helped them do a survey of the local area and in the end, they elected my community as their study site. It has been nice to have company to listen to podcasts and what not with for their time here. Intellectual conversation is not a common commodity in the Peace Corps.

I asked the head biologist if I could take my class to see one of their study sites to learn about their project and about aspects of project design. He was supportive of the idea, so we ended the English class a bit early and took off walking the 2 or 3 km from the school up hill to the field of palm trees where the biologists are currently working.

Having the students walk to the study site will hopefully prepare them for future field trips that I have planned for the course. I received a grant from Peace Corps to do a training with my students based in three different protected areas around the country. In December, I hosted a conference about HIV/ AIDS prevention in tourist destinations. The project that I am taking on this summer is a substantial extension on that concept. The idea is that since tourist destinations are known hot spots for HIV, we are going to train the students of the environmental school how to facilitate HIV prevention workshops, and then do a tour of tourist destinations based in natural areas so that the students can present the information to the local park managers, park guards, and community members. The students at the environmental school are one day going to be working in the DR’s protected areas, so the hope is that after this training they will understand the importance of taking into account the local community’s health as part of any conservation efforts. You would be hard pressed to convince community members to participate in reforestation or farmland barrier construction if they are dealing with immediate health threats.

The ecology practicum with the woodpecker biologists was a big hit. When we arrived, Josh, the PhD candidate, already had his blue climbing helmet on and was strapping himself into his harness. Hannah, Josh’s assistant, was calibrating a small remote monitor. They are studying the birds’ communal living habits and need to identify “active” nests, or nests with eggs in them that are being tended by parents. To ID active nests Josh or Hannah climb trees that have the signature woodpecker holes blotched on their sides and insert a small fiber-optics camera that sends the images to the person on the ground with the monitor. The students passed around the small monitor and where able to see the small oval blue eggs of the woodpecker, hidden away in the woodpecker cavern. They watched with awe as Josh hoisted himself up the tree. I think that for many of my students it was exciting to learn about the physicality of field ecology work. In the Dominican, you experience life with your body. It is cheek-kissing, baseball playing, dancing, and smelling each other’s sweat on a crowded bus. I was glad to be able to show them that biology can have a body component as well.

While Josh heaved himself up the palm tree, he yelled over his shoulder, accounting the history of his project and his perspective on ecology research in the Caribbean. One of the points he made struck a chord with the students. “The Caribbean has an amazing diversity of birds,” he said, “but almost all of the biologists who study them come from the U.S. or Europe.” The studies are slower and more difficult because the people doing them do not have local knowledge of the landscape and conditions. “What does that mean?” Josh asked. The students got the message. A handful of them have already contacted me about their interest in working as Josh’s field assistants when he comes back in January.

Work at the environmental school takes up most of my time these days. I am feeling good because I have more of a routine now than in previous months. It can be difficult to evaluate the progress of projects in the Peace Corps. You are essentially on your own, so there are many inevitable, “what the hell am I doing here,” moments. I have found that having a routine is helpful to combat those moments. On Mondays, I typically spend all day planning for my classes and community group meetings. For the ecology class I translate some of my old notes from college into Spanish for my lectures. I work with other professors to organize the field trips that I have planned for the class; because of the HIV/AID education component, coordination is more difficult, we have to try to wrangle together community groups to attend the events. For my ecotourism class I am currently working with a curriculum from Peace Corps on business planning and from a book on Environmental Interpretation. Peace Corps hosts an annual business contest. Competitors have the chance to win the financial resources needed to help start their proposed business. Five students from the environmental school work with me to facilitate the Peace Corps’ business class to a group of local community members who come to the school every Wednesday. At the bare minimum, the community members will be better prepared to manage a business if the ecotourism project takes off. In a best-case scenario, they could win the funding necessary to make the project a reality. The current vision that the group has for the ecotourism project is to create a small natural history museum near the local waterfall attraction. The museum would also be a center for community members to sell artwork, locally made pastries, and other touristy trinkets. The museum would also serve as a center for nature guide operations (We applied for a government endorsed nature guide-training course for the local community a month ago). Besides ecology and ecotourism, I teach English conversation classes twice a week. In class, we read articles about American culture and have discussions. I have made a point to teach them my own version of American slang.

Outside of the school, I continue my work with a local environmental youth group that I formed as part of a Peace Corps initiative called, the “Brigada Verde,” or Green Brigade. The group that I have been working with has been functioning for about a year. The group organizes street clean-ups, meets to discuss environmental issues, and puts together community fundraising events- movie nights are a favorite. We are currently working on building a community garden and compost, along with an educational mural. Many of the Bridada Verde members are also in the ecotourism class. The other environmental volunteers and I are working to help the Brigada Verde stand on its own feet. The initiative has been around for about 10 years. There are about 60 groups around the country, all focused on improving local environmental conditions in their communities, developing leadership skills, and having fun. It is a fantastic project, but for it to be sustainable then it needs to work without Peace Corps volunteers supporting it. At a recent Brigada Verde conference, we elected stand out members from the groups to serve as regional coordinators to help organize with the Brigada Verde groups in their area. That is step one. My former Spanish teacher and soccer coach, Señor Stewart, suggested another possibility to help the process along. He currently works with a service learning company and suggested that it is possible that the school where I work could host American students who would then participate in short-term service learning projects with various Brigada Verde groups. I think that the formula could be a success. The Brigada Verde groups would then have events to organize around and, for short periods of time, a work force at their disposition.

Another aspect of my project is to help the communities surrounding the waterfall manage the new money they are receiving. The management of the waterfall was recently re-worked and in the new contract, the local communities receive 20% of the money from the entrance fee to see the attraction. This news has been received graciously by the collection of communities that are included in this deal. It has been a catalyst for many people to start attending community meetings. Each month one of the seven or so local communities receives a check for about 15,000 pesos, or roughly 400 dollars, to be put towards community projects. The locals certainly have more faith in their community groups’ potential to make change now. Money talks, so to speak. But with money also comes corruption. Just last week a young local politician stormed into the community meeting of the group I work closest with and asserted his qualifications to be the president of the group.

On many occasions, I feel that I am not qualified for the work that I am asked to do. Then I think, if I am not going to do it, then who is? That is maybe the greatest gift of the Peace Corps, to be able to put your creativity and ambition to the test. My experience has been one of polar extremes. I lead projects that could have a substantial effect on people’s lives. Whenever I think about that, the water seems to rise over my head. And I also spend a good amount of time just sitting with my neighbors watching the breeze, participating in a community, reading in my hammock, watching my dogs wrestle, just being, just observing life.

I was right, by the way. I came home at night, sweating from the bike ride up the hill to my house. I took my helmet off and walked over the grassy knoll, the cool wind in my sweaty hair took me back a year to my time working in San Francisco, to those nights biking back over the Golden Gate Bridge into the headlands after teaching evening swim lessons in the Presidio. My neighbor’s wooden outdoor kitchen was swelling with light. As I ducked inside, among the smells of smoke and earth, she smiled and pointed her strong hand towards the new life stirring in the corner, three new lives to be exact.

Moments of America, Reflecting on Christmas, Taking a Step Back

And there we were, walking the easy road in the soft heat of the evening. The mellow sea breeze crested the slight distance of the beach, playing in the hair of my fellow volunteers. In our slight rum buzz we sang Bonnie Raitt, laughing, because all of our parents played us her cassettes in their broken down cars, in the slightly rusty memories of our childhood. Dory’s dad played her in an old pick-up track. My mom played her in our old stinky station wagon. All our voices broke and scattered into laughter like little stones bouncing in our walking feet, except for Sara’s, whose voice is heavenly and rang true, right up into the stars, carrying us along.  A year into these shananagans and I’m realizing that what I thought my service was going to be, is really only the tip of the ice berg. My assigned project has roots that run deep into the history of the community where I live now, and future implications that extend well beyond the community’s borders. The process of learning about Dominican culture and sharing American culture, the second and third goals of all Peace Corps Volunteers, is also proving to be vaster than I would have imagined. Now, more than any other time in my life I’ve been exploring what America means to me, as a country, as a nation, and as my home. This process has been especially rich because I’ve been accompanied by my clan of Peace Corps friends, and even though we come from many different parts of the country, we share a history and the experience of growing up in America. In a land where I am constantly reminded of my foreignness, being able to sing along to a corny love song with a handful of my peers has special value; the stinky station wagon and the plastic cassette tape have new meaning.

My primary project is to develop a community ecotourism project based around a waterfall in a protected area that borders the community where I live. The school where I teach classes administers the park, and has invested a good bit of money to develop the infrastructure for the ecotourism project. There are trails, camping platforms, barbeque areas, swimming spots, and a series of wooden suspense bridges that criss-cross a river to arrive at the waterfall. As far as ecotourism projects go, this site has got a ton of potential because it already has a substantial tourist base. The waterfall is known throughout the country, El Salto de Jimenoa. So, as it seemed to me, the job opportunities: working as nature guides and running a small cafeteria, were simply waiting for a few motivated people to take them. I started off working the project with a group of teenagers that are in my environmental youth group. However, this youth group is based in a community that is a good 6 Km from the actual waterfall. We started off great; the members of the youth group re-painted a small cafeteria at the base of the waterfall and sold snacks there for two months. But the project fell apart. Most all of the club members are still in school, so managing the ecotourism project proved too trying. They didn’t have access to transportation, there were only 2 members who consistently worked the project but the group wanted 80% of the money to be funding for the group, the club is mostly women and they didn’t feel safe working the cafeteria without a male present, etc etc. I was back at the drawing board. I decided to set a date for myself. I planned a conference about environmental interpretation, one of the key concepts for nature guides. This was back in October. I figured that in 3 months I would have a team of community members at least interested in participating in the ecotourism projects, if not fully committed. I figured that the conference would be a great event for this team to focus on, and a great start to a training regimen in the various aspects of working as a nature guide. I was wrong. I planned the conference, received the funding to make it happen, found a specialist who works with USAID to teach the major concepts, invited Peace Corps Volunteers from the four corners of the country who also focus on ecotourism to come along with their Dominican project partners, and then the day of the conference arrived. One kid from the community where I’m working came. Then, after an hour, he left, and didn’t come back. The response to the conference was great. Those who attended it were very pleased with the results; we spent a weekend evaluating trails, discussing the dynamics of working as nature guides, getting to know new people, and re-thinking our eco-routes. But, as far as serving to motivate, create cohesion, and kick off a training with my team, the conference was worthless, because, of course, my team, didn’t exist.

December was a month of reflection for me.  My older sister, Rose, came to visit. We spent a few days in Santo Domingo, taking the time to soak in the architecture and culture of the colonial zone. The capital really is a gorgeous city once you get away from the mind splitting noise and the insanity of the junked buses slamming their way through traffic. When I first arrived in this country, the capital seemed a gauntlet that I had to survive. During training we were quite literally sent on goose hunts into the thick heat of downtown. Get in public transport at location X, they told us, make your way downtown, do your best to avoid robbery, rape, and general bodily harm. Find location Y and locate hospital Z. In the future, they reassured us, this hospital is the only one in the country that is to be trusted, so learn the route well.

Ten months in, the beast’s breath wasn’t quite so sharp. Rose and I went to an artisan fair, took a tour of the colonial era buildings and lost ourselves in the labyrinth of uneven stone steps that spiral through the forts. In the evening we went to “the little corner,” a colonial era ruin that is slowly decaying into the hillside, but at night it’s beautifully lit from the ground with museum style exhibit lights. It’s reminiscent of a stage for a Shakespeare play. On Sunday evenings this melancholy atmosphere blossoms into a whirl of colorful meregue music, laughing, spinning couples, bumbling crowds, rum drinks, and dancing feet. I can only grin at the thought of the Spaniard settlers rolling over in their graves as their mixed race descendents exhibit such hedonism at the foot of their ancient forts.

The next morning, at a small breakfast nook, three men leaned over a bottle of rum in the corner, tuning their instruments. By 10:00 AM they were in full swing. I took my sister’s hand and gave her first meringue lesson. The ragged morning musicians were ecstatic about our willingness to indulge their fantasy world, where dreamscape Sunday evenings never end.

From the capital my sister and I headed for Jarabacoa, my home in the central mountain range of the country. A handful of my good friends accompanied us on the trip.  A stone’s throw from my house there’s a cabin that my neighbor’s family tends. We rented it out for a few days and indulged the calm of rural mountain life. The weather in Jarabacoa in December is not what you would expect of the Caribbean. It’s misty and cool. The pine trees bend in the wind and everything is green and gray. But we took advantage of the un-tropical weather and got reduced rates on a white-water rafting excursion. It turns out that a short pick up truck ride from my little house is the only white water rafting destination in the Caribbean. Rose got the complete package for her visit to my site, which, unfortunately, included a bout with food poisoning. Rose was down for the count just long enough for her to dread the next step on our journey. I had planned for us to spend Christmas with a handful of other volunteers in Arroyo Manteca, in the province of San Jose de Ocoa, where things start to get real rustic. Rose, told me simply enough that this was not going to happen. I have a job, she informed me, and we are staying in a hotel.

As the time came to part ways with the other volunteers staying with us in Jarabacoa, one of the volunteers mentioned a baseball game between two rival teams that he was going to attend with some of his Army friends. Rose was all a glow with the idea and, as she is the big sister, decided that was what we were going to do. The game was a riot. It was interesting to meet other Americans working on international relations in the DR, granted from a different angle, a picnic table of U.S. Army soldiers and U.S Peace Corps volunteers (one of whom is an ex-marine) sharing a pizza before a baseball game in the DR, pretty neat. Hot dogs and beer were maybe a tenth of their price at Fenway, no exaggeration, and both teams had cheerleaders. Good call Rose.

It seems that the game put my sister in good spirits because I was able to convince her to agree to the trip to visit my friends Anna and Leon in Arroyo Manteca, in the southern mountain range. The trip out there was a saga in itself. The transition of the landscape was stark and dramatic. The green thickets of coffee and coco that blanket the outskirts of the capital city give way to a desert of bluffs and plateaus. I’ve made two substantial westward journeys back in the America, once from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles, and again, after graduation through the north, from Vermont to San Francisco. The dramatic landscape transition that I saw crossing America took place over the course of 4000 + km; the change that I saw crossing the DR took place in barely 100. After the bus ride we got out at a crossing to hop on motor cycle taxis. There are a few jeeps that make the last leg of the journey up the steep muddy roads of Arroyo Manteca, but they’d all passed by the time we got to the crossing. Rose, two other volunteers and I took off in our mini convoy, gripping our luggage as best we could as the motorcycles bumped and weaved up the mountain pass. A few sections were too steep and slippery to get a motorcycle up with a passenger, so we made our way on foot. The journey was worth the struggle. 

An interesting Peace Corps policy is that if you are married you can serve with your spouse. Anna and Leon are a young married couple, both with heritage among the Pennsylvania-Dutch, who’ve taken advantage of this policy. They took a three-room wooden shack on an eroded, steep hillside and turned it into a home that, despite its size, emotes hospitality. We were greeted with warm embraces and smiles. When you live in relative isolation, there’s an electric energy when you receive guests. We followed Anna through the front door, past the kitchen/boot room, into the main room of the house. “Cozy,” was I think the word that my sister used to describe it. Despite the small size, it was very welcoming. Construction paper Christmas ornaments and gaudy nic-naks abounded. My mother, it just so happens, is fanatical about holidays. Christmas and Halloween especially. So in some ways it felt fitting that the first Christmas my sister and I would spend away from home we were participating in such a valiant attempt to re-create the American Christmas dream in a foreign land (Rose and I had about a dozen be-jeweled little kitchy ornaments to contribute to the madness). As Anna prepared a heroic dinner on a diminutive stove, Rose and I stepped outside to soak it in. Anna’s horse was grazing in the thick shrubs along their fence, jagged hills swept down the horizon, the sunset soaked the sky in lazy shades of purple, and there was nothing to do but be. I sat. Rose read.

Over the next few days we saw spectacular stars as the night settled crisp and cold, we shared beers with the local drunk outside of a small tavern on our way down the hill to the river and the swimming holes, we ate stove-top baked pies, we placed gifts under the pine tree that Leon drew on the cabin wall, but more than anything else we shared in each others company. The best American Christmas away from America, digo yo.

On Christmas morning Rose and I tried to take off for the beach. I promised her that she’d at least have a few days of the typical Caribbean vacation. None of us were really certain about what the deal was with traveling on Christmas. Leon informed us that the trucks that serve as public transport would indeed be running, so we said our goodbyes and piled in. Pretty quickly it was obvious that our fellow passengers were really feeling the holiday cheer. The Brugal bottle was making swift rounds through the seats and all of the other passengers seemed to be falling in love with each other . When we stopped so that the driver could refill his jug of booze I decided that Christmas morning was not the time to travel in the Dominican. I politely informed them that we had forgotten something, and my sister and I got out of the truck, one more night in the hills for Rose.

Rose and I eventually got to the beach, and I have to admit that sleeping in a bed was great. We stayed in a small hostel run by an Italian woman who created the hostel to fund an orphanage that she runs in India. We spent two days lounging in beach chairs, running along the beach, sampling different types of Margaritas, exploring the coastline, and just soaking it in. When it came time to part ways it was a bummer to say goodbye but I definitely felt renewed and rejuvenated. Living far distances from my family for long periods of time sometimes makes me feel like parts of me are missing, so its nice to have family members visit and leave me feeling whole again.

As soon as I got back to Jarabacoa I moved into a new house in the hills. It is admittedly “cave-ish” but I was able to get my dog back from a local lady who’d been taking care of it (the director of the school where I used to live decided that dogs were no longer allowed on campus). The view from the cave is spectacular. Also, the only common space is open to the elements, so you really feel the glory of nature as you try to enjoy a conversation with a friend and the wind-swept rain starts blowing in. Living outside the fences of the school has also placed me closer to the people who I am working with on the ecotourism project. I came to the realization that the community couldn’t be expected to work on any substantial project if it wasn’t organized. Since this realization I’ve been focusing my work on developing a union of neighbors group with this community. It’s been an amazing process to watch people illuminate as new ideas catch on. One of the initial problems with my project was that it was to defined before I arrived, and the definition didn’t come from the people who were supposed to work on and benefit from the project. After a series of interviews I learned that there was a fair degree of interest in art, so I asked another professor from the school where I work to facilitate a workshop on how to make art with local products. It was a hit. I’ve also been working with a few young guys on developing a bird watching project. One free afternoon one of the guys took me on a trail that I had never been on. The trail winded through small agricultural plots (which should certainly not be there), up to a cliff-side. As we crested the last section of the trail, we came upon a lookout spot with a view of the waterfall that was grander and more complete than the view from the lookout that the school was promoting. For the kid who brought me on the trail, the new lookout wasn’t just better because you could see the canyon that gaped above the waterfall, it was better because it was his own discovery.

January, 2012 Peace Corps celebrated 50 years in the Dominican Republic

Thoughts on a Tear

By Ekow Edzie

[“Democracy,” said Newsweek magazine, “was being saved from Communism by getting rid of democracy.”

Nineteen months later, a revolution broke out in the Dominican Republic which promised to put the exiled Bosch back in power at the hands of a military-civilian force that would be loyal to his program. But for the fifth time in the century, the American Marines landed and put an abrupt end to such hopes.

A bloody civil war had broken out in the streets of Santo Domingo.

The first 500 US Marines were brought in by helicopter from ships stationed a few miles off the coast. Two days later, American forces ashore numbered over 4,000. At the peak, some 23,000 troops, Marine and Army, were to take up positions in the beleaguered country, with thousands more standing by on a 35-ship task force offshore]

 

Excerpted from the book, “Killing Hope,” by William Blum, compiled by the website: Third World Traveler

 

In the hours of the panel, Lana only let one tear fall, and she quickly wiped it away, apologizing, but the emotion had been brimming just behind her eyes since the start of the event. The tears were thinly veiled by the severe stoicism of her posture. I saw them in the frailty of her rigidness and in her shaking hand as she reached for her water. I imagine that her expression was much the same forty-seven years ago, as her heart broke while she watched the U.S. Marines descend from the sky. She had joined her neighbors in the street as they cheered hopefully for their savior’s arrival but she remained silent, watching the war machinery shadow the streets of her barrio. In a grim moment of prescience, she knew that there was no call for joy. The military had arrived in the name of politics, not of peace. Lena, her Dominican neighbors, and the other U.S. Peace Corps volunteers stood on the wrong side of the political line.

In the following months, Lena would have to move her bed onto the floor to avoid gunfire, and, as the violence escalated, she would leave home to join other Peace Corps Volunteers in an abandoned hospital. During the rebellion, the hospital was needed more than ever, and though most of the volunteers had no previous experience in medicine, they filled crucial roles. One RCPV described the horror of sorting out the wounded, having to decide who warranted medical care and who was hopeless. Another RPCV described his experience being sent to fix the generator for the hospital. The volunteer had no previous experience as a mechanic, and he had to perform the task under gunfire. At the end of the event, Lena was asked to reflect on the general impact of the experience; she responded, matter-of-factly, “There’s a crack on my heart that I think will never heal.” Despite the countless events of violence and chaos that could have cracked Lena’s heart, the injury happened silently, as her ideals as a Peace Corps volunteer were undercut by the country that sent her.

Truly connecting with a Dominican family, seeing the spark of ambition ignite in previously idol kids from my community, and listening to the panel discussion of the RPCVs who were in Santo Domingo during the revolution of the early sixties have been the most momentous experiences of my year in this country. The panel discussion ranks among my other big, more expected, Peace Corps moments because it unveiled the big picture of what we are doing here and it was a veritable definition of beauty: breathe-taking, heartbreaking, and timeless. At a previous event during the 50th anniversary, Dominicans who had been positively affected by Peace Corps volunteers were invited to take the stage. One speaker said that 50 years ago, in the Dominican mindset, JFK was the second most important person in the world, only bested by the Pope. It was also suggested that Peace Corps Volunteers were seen as the “muchachos” of JFK. Peace Corps volunteers coming into the Dominican Republic were filling shoes of legendary proportions. After decades of groveling under a dictatorship, when a Doña received one of JFK’s muchachas in her home to work in her campo for 2 years she might well have imagined a slight glow emanating from her volunteer. The sickly yellow in her cheeks, an early sign of an evening ahead in the bathroom, might well have been interpreted as the shiny halo of American Democracy and all its romanticized glory, only two steps removed from the will of God. In reality, I doubt there was much ideological symmetry between the PCVs of the 60s and the Dominicans who received them. The events of the panel discussion showed clearly enough that the PCVs’ ideologies did not match with the ideology of the white house at the time. But whatever difference in political perspective existed between the PCVs and the Dominicans they were serving didn’t matter. It didn’t make a difference because, at core, the volunteers were there to promote peace and friendship by working hand in hand with the people they lived with. The work that the volunteers engaged in was aimed at taking the community a step forward, what’s more, the direction forward was to be decided by their community. Everything else revolved around that central idea, and was subordinate to it, a respectful relationship based on peace and friendship through shared work. I doubt that half of the people on this planet who would to this day applaud JFK’s legacy actually know anything about the specifics of his politics. Instead, they applaud his support for human rights and the American Dream, ideas that transcend the confines of government in practice. Lena did not cry because of a semantics change in politics. She did not cry when she had to face down a tank that was aimed at her house, literally. She cried thinking back on the day her government sent in troops to stand in direct opposition to the will of her neighbors, undermining the integrity of her relationship with her community and the basis of her individual pursuit of the ideals of Peace Corps.

After the panel, one of my friends suggested that he felt that he had missed out on “the real Peace Corps.” I sympathized with him. Certainly there was a sense of wildness and utter independence that accompanied Peace Corps service in the 60s that is not the same, mostly because of modern communication technologies. However, if you work in a Batey, your life might not be all that different from Peace Corps life in the 60s. I think that what my friend and I saw and idolized in the returning PCVs was their passion for what the Peace Corps means, as an idea. They were willing to weather a revolution and stand up against their own government in sake of this idea. What is most inspiring is that the same inner fire that they held 50 years ago seems to continue burning today. I am not sure how the Peace Corps volunteers of the 60s compare with the Peace Corps volunteers of 2012. The world is a dramatically different place, so I am not sure that a comparison is fair. However, I certainly had no trouble finding things to laugh about with the volunteer of the 60s who took me out to dinner. I imagine that the volunteer that I take out for dinner in 50 years will have a story or two to make me chuckle as well, maybe they’ll even have those sweet flying skateboards from “Back to the Future” by then.

My Life in Translation

En Ti La Tierra /  In You The Earth

Pequeña  / Little

rosa,  / rose

rosa pequeña,  / roselet,

a veces, / at times,

diminuta y desnuda, / tiny and naked

parece / it seems

que en una mano mía / as though you would fit

cabes,  / in one of my hands ,

que así voy a cerrarte  /  as though I’ll clasp you like this

y llevarte a mi boca, / and carry you to my mouth

pero / but

de pronto / suddenly

mis pies tocan sus pies y mi boca tus labios: / my feet touch your feet and my mouth your lips:

has crecido,  /  you have grown

suben tus hombros como dos colinas, / your shoulders rise like two hills

tus pechos se pasean por mis pecho,  / your breasts wander over my breast

mi brazo alcanza apenas a rodear la delgada / my arm scarcely manages to encircle the thin

línea de luna nueva que tiene tu cintura: / new-moon line of your waist:

en el amor como agua de mar te has desatado:  / in love you have loosened yourself like sea water:

mido apenas los ojos más extensos del cielo  / I can scarcely measure the skies most spacious eyes

y me inclino a tu boca para besar la tierra /  and I lean down to your mouth to kiss the earth

Pablo Neruda- from The Captain’s Verses / Los Versos del Capitán

 

My life is in translation. To really exist in a new language and a new culture you have to rebuild. Spanish is not English spoken with Spanish words,-just roll the Rs add add a vowel- not so much.  Its different phrases, a different structure, a different feeling. The same goes for the culture. Going through life trying to “deal” with the circumstance, bracing against it, making some kind of mental algorithm through which it some how conforms to what was more comfortable or more familiar, I don’t know, I just don’t think that’s sustainable, not for happiness. If you’re going to commit, you know, two years or whatever it may be, I’m under the impression that you really need to walk the walk. Instead of mumbling in your head, “typical… or you’ve got to be kidding…,” taking the time to really understand the why behind what’s happening around you, getting off the high horse and shaking your butt to the local merengue.

 

            So, at least when I’m out in the community where I did my interviews and recruited for my ecotourism project, Ekow in translation is Isaac. Making the transition happened fluidly enough. Right away it was apparent that most people, especially in the more rural areas where my gringo accent is all the more distancing, Ekow simply wasn’t going to fly. The whole idea is to become a somebody in the community where you’re working so that the community trusts you. During training one of our trainers asked us what the most popular sport in the Dominican is. Everyone responded: baseball. “Nope,” he informed us, “its gossip.”

 As far as I’ve seen the primary mechanism for truly integrating into small communities is just that, gossip. People see you and then they talk about you. The more they talk about you the more you become a player in their world. If they can’t remember or pronounce your name, well, things go a bit slower. My middle name is Isaac , during community based training one of my closest Dominican friends was named Isaac, pronounced E – saach so I figured it was common enough, and some how or another Isaac means laughter (as I’ve been told) and I certainly enjoy a good laugh.

Other than changing my name, I’ve realized that my style down here is completely different, and not the way I expected.  I think in general people imagine Peace Corps volunteers growing out their hair and going really hippy. At least in the DR that is simply not the case. The reality is that personal appearance has a much bigger effect on your ability to work and function within society here than it does back in the states. I imagine that countries need to gain a certain level of  “development,” before a disheveled aesthetic can be seen as fashion and not just a sign of impoverishment or bad education. As such I am without a doubt the most clean cut that I have been in my entire life. Regular trips to the barber, consistent shaving, shirt tucked in, shoes instead of sneakers, the whole nine yards.

I feel, how shall I put it, very square most of the time. But it’s easy to laugh at myself, so it’s all good. I can just imagine the comments from the kids playing baseball with soda caps and broken timber as the American – silver helmet clad, sunglasses adorned, sun block smudged on nose, digital camera in special little black carry bag strapped to belt, goofily smiling and shouting “Buenos tardes!” to people he doesn’t really know- weaves his clunker mountain bike down the puddle splotched red clay road. Hilarious is certainly an understatement. One of the times I believe one of the really young kids threw something at me, but I didn’t turn to check it out. Plus, once I pass through this section of the road into “Lo Catorce,” the community where I do most of my work, people are generally excited to see me.

The environmental youth group that I started, mostly in order to introduce the ecotourism project that Peace Corps sent me to do, has slowly whittled down to six participants. It’s not bad really. There have been many ups and downs already. We started with maybe twice that, but the six who have stuck with it are spectacular. I meet with the group every Wednesday afternoon around 1:30pm to discuss an environmental theme (reforestation, water use, energy, etc.), community work projects, and our ecotourism project. On Saturday mornings I teach this same group a course on business development. On Saturday afternoon and most all day Sunday two or three of the participants head 5 Km down the road to staff the cafeteria at the base of the waterfall, our ecotourism site.

Currently the other focus of my work with community members is the development of a nature interpretation workshop to prepare the youth group to work as nature guides on the trails near the waterfall. This process has been proving to be both tenuous and intriguing. First off, my Peace Corps environment trainer informed me that most all of the ecotourism sites affiliated with Peace Corps could benefit from a workshop on nature interpretation ( especially considering that Peace Corps generally works with projects that are still in the development stages.) So, I decided to design the interpretation workshop such that any volunteers in the Dominican who are interested could come participate along with their host country project partner. After doing some research and meeting with an ecotourism specialist from USAID to put together the base of the curriculum, the next step was to look for funding. Getting people or organizations to pay for things is not easy.  The types of projects that grants and various foundations want to support ebbs and flows to cater to the hot topics of the year. So, after meeting with a Peace Corps advisor, my course which was previously entitled “Nature Interpretation in the Dominican Republic,” is now entitled, “Nature Interpretation and Avoiding Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the Dominican Republic.” Hooray.

When I arrived in Jarabacoa a group of eight teenagers was already working as guides near the waterfall. There is a path between the main attraction waterfall and another waterfall that is all the more wild and maybe even more beautiful. The path is steep and in bad shape so when groups want to go to this second waterfall they pay one or two of these guys roughly 9 $ US to take them there. However, the guides don’t have any specific training in guiding nor do they actually have permission to be working within the protected area. So it is also my job to integrate this group of guides into the workshop and the overall guiding system that I’m putting together. It turns out that a few weeks ago one of the young guys that I brought into the waterfall ecotourism project went to the trail head with his dad to see if they could find a group to take up the path and make a few extra bucks. Seeing as no one technically has permission to work in the area yet, the kid and his dad had just as much right to be there as the other “guides,” who were there. A group approached looking for a guide. The kid’s father noticed that one of the women in the group was wearing really rinky-dink sandals and seemed out of shape so he advised her against going.  The self proclaimed leader of the “guides,” spoke up and yelled at the father for  not knowing what he was talking about and told the woman that he would guide her. A week after this event I organized the first official meeting between the two groups, the environmental/ ecotourism group that I organized and the group of guides that supposedly has 10 years working on the path (slightly suspect as they have an average age of 17).  So there I am doing the Peace Corps thing, “We are here today to discuss our goals and our vision for the project ahead yadayadayada” and I noticed some very palpable attitude vibes. I asked the guy from my group if everything was okay and  he started telling me that he is not going to allow anyone to disrespect his father. I assured him that no one was going to be allowed to disrespect anyone. As I regained my train of thought and started again the “guide leader,” sprung from his perch on the side of the cafeteria and smacked the other guy across the face. Immediately the guy from my group grabbed a fist sized rock and heaved towards his now official enemy. As I was directly in the middle of the two I grabbed his wrist before he could swing the rock. In a slight panic I told them both that this was not acceptable. As I knew the kid from my group much better than the “guide,” I directed my energy towards him. “Drop the rock!” I yelled, and he did, and then he bent down and picked up a long iron bar to launch a second attack. Fortunately when I swear I still swear in English so I probably seemed relatively composed, that or just plain crazy. Again, I grabbed his arm as he prepared to bludgeon the other kid. After a few moments of intense diplomatic negotiating the threat of immediate violence seemed to dissipate and we sat down on our respective sides of the cafeteria, the teenage guides on one side, the Peace Corps environmental group on the other. As I tried to reason with the kid in my group the benefits of keeping the peace he told me bluntly, “Papi doesn’t use a lot of words either. He resolves.”  Double hooray.

 

 

 

 

            My parents visited me a few weeks ago. It was really novel and really wonderful. First off, I convinced them that it wasn’t necessary to get a hotel so their housing situation, as it seemed to me, was an adventure for them in and of itself. They weren’t in a shack by any means. As far as Peace Corps residences go, their spot was probably in the 60th percentile as far as comfort. They had ample opportunity to play Macgyver, jerry rigging their mosquito net to cover the screen-less windows, etc.

 But I am convinced that it is this very type of activity that shaves years off of your age. It was beautiful to watch my parents surviving together.

I took them out dancing to a live merengue bar, we went to the beach, took a boat tour through a lagoon under a tunneling canopy with cacophonous big winged birds. We explored a cave. We rode public transportation. We drank rum together.

 

 

I have been forming and reforming myself. If I say that I’m adapting to my environment it feels like whatever changes happen are temporary. Quizás, mejor dicho, I am developing in my environment. 

In this process of self translation, as much as I soak things in, I find my self projecting aspects of my personal history onto my new landscape, perhaps searching for the point of harmony.

 

 

            Ercelia is maybe the most impressive woman I’ve met, one of the only women who emotes the same rusty nail wound tending, jagged splinter pulling, eternally empathizing, soft, hard, gritty, mother love that defined my childhood.  She reminds of my mother and all of her sisters, the girls engrained with iron sinew, cultivated with the callous hands of WWII military parents- not that Grammy and Grandpy were severe but they demanded a work ethic- illuminated with the precious idea of the sixties, the doors open policy to love and thought. Her dark pony tail hung nearly half way down her stout frame, not quite as long as my aunt’s, but close. Silver caps run along the edges of two or three of her teeth. Her skin is darker on the folds of her cheek bones, where the sun’s light has shimmered her smile for nearly sixty years.

            As I began the interview she pulled another wicker chair just across from my own. We sat in the front most room. The brute gray cinder-block house is built like a railway car, the rooms all extending down in a line. It made for an interesting depth of color and light as the backdrop for our interview. Our space glowed mellow with the dropping sun of the late afternoon as Ercelia massaged the small leg of the little girl draped on the couch, sucking her thumb to dreamland. Behind Ercelia the enormous blackened pots and smoke stained walls of the kitchen loomed in shadow, and out beyond the kitchen the verdant green of the banana trees’ wide palms glowed through the door-less open porthole of the furthest room.

            We began as I always do, “full name? nick name? address?  How many people live in this house?”

            Ercelica smiled at this last question. “Eleven,” she told me.

She is caring for nine, not all her own, but all hers. Three weeks ago she cared for seven, but she works at a school that provides food and care for children whose parents aren’t capable, and on a recent school vacation two of the students didn’t have parents to go home to, so she took them in. 

            We had a moment as my mind changed form, abandoning interview mode for something suppler. Peace Corps asks that within the first three months of service volunteers interview every household in their community, or at least 100 households if in a larger community. As I’ve worked towards this goal I’ve developed a sort of interview swagger, a way of conversing that allows for meaningful deviation from the interview at times while directing the general flow towards the target questions that I wrote.  But as starry eyed Ercelia explained to me that the little girl lying on the couch next to me is sick from an infected tooth the swagger went out the window. Her husband has a warm soul and tends to the mixed crop of fruiting trees in their backyard to provide baseline nutrition for the house, but he’s been out of work for years. She accounted the various side projects that she has taken on to support the day to day.  One of her projects is a stand where she sells fried cornmeal sandwiches called arepa. I lit up and explained that the waterfall-side food stand I’m working on would seem a perfect local for her to sell her cooking. The little girl started to rustle on the couch; Ercelia rubbed the girls feet and she started to suck placidly again. “This is what I’ve been looking for,” she said. “I tell God that I need something,” she said. Still with her hopeful smile, she gestured around the house with her eyes, pointing out the two boys running into their room from outside –baseball bat in hand— as their father yelled after them to put their shirts back on, the draped curtains hanging where doors should, and the charred wall that backdrops the wood burning cook stove. “What I’m trying to say is,” she began, but I stopped her. “I understand,” I told her with a smile. “I understand, you’re looking for a little bit of help.”

“Thank you,” she said.

I understand that things like a child’s infected tooth are not easy to deal with when you live in a cinder block house in a disenfranchised rustic community, especially when that child is one of nine.

            As we came to the latter part of the interview Ercelia’s husband sat down beside us. I asked about the agricultural practices they employ and they joyously grabbed me by the hand and lead me into the backyard. Beans, plantains, avocados, and mangos dangled around me in all dimensions. Ercelia grinned proudly as her husband gave me leaves to smell and taught me the names of many tropical fruits that I had never seen before.

            As we wrapped up the interview I gave Ercelia a kiss on the cheek, the customary greeting and goodbye between friends in the DR.  

Ecoturismo

La Escuela Ambiental y

la comunidad de Piedra Blanca,
Jarabacoa


  •     Perfil del proyecto
  •  Ubicación
  • Metodología
  •   Organizaciones y actores clave 
  • Recursos físicos
  • Recursos humanos
  •  Amenazas potenciales
  •  Propuesta de proyecto

Perfil del proyecto

Lo siguiente fue tomado del documento que la Escuela Ambiental mandó al Cuerpo de Paz para solicitar un voluntario, lo cual consiste en los proyectos principales subrayados en el documento:

  • Realizar trabajos comunitarios, cuyo fin principal sea el mejoramiento continuo de las condiciones de vida de los miembros de la comunidad y la conservación de los recursos naturales.

  • Alcanzar la formación de recursos humanos en el área medioambiental a nivel técnico y vocacional.

  •     Desarrollar un proyecto ecoturístico, que ofrezca cierto grado de seguridad al visitante, incluyendo actividades que puedan ser manejadas por la comunidad.

Ubicación    

 

Mapa de sitios principales donde los proyectos estarán plasmados

[Photo 1]

Metodologia

Desarrollo de un curso de ecoturismo con materias adecuadas para analizar las habilidades de los estudiantes.

Entrevistas informales con estudiantes.

Asistencia a reuniones de Juntas de Vecinos, “La Nueva Esperanza.”

Formación de grupo de Brigada Verde de ‘Los Catorce, Piedra Blanca’

77 Entrevistas formales en Los Catorce y las comunidades de alrededor con colaboración de Brigada Verde de Los Catorce y estudiantes de la Escuela Nacional de Medio Ambiente.

Historia oral.

Mapa de la comunidad.

Asistencia a reuniones de Cluster Ecoturístico de Jarabacoa.

Entrevistas informales con profesionales en desarrollo y ecoturismo.

Asistencia a un curso de senderismo

Para cumplir el diagnóstico comunitario, un aspecto obligatorio del Cuerpo de Paz, en sus primeros tres meses de servicio, los voluntarios tienen el objetivo de identificar recursos, necesidades y amenazas de las comunidades que reciben sus servicios.

Para satisfacer los aspectos diversos de mis proyectos en ecoturismo en La Escuela Ambiental y sus alrededores, yo dividí la metodología en tres partes. Diseñé el enfoque para tomar en cuenta los recursos, necesidades y amenazas de la escuela en nivel de organización, la población estudiantil, la potencial del terreno del recinto uno, dos, y el Salto de Jimenoa para el ecoturismo, la comunidad de Los Catorce, y el pueblo de Jarabacoa en cuanto un sitio ecoturístico en general.

 

En la Escuela

 

            Para identificar las habilidades y necesidades de las estudiantes de la escuela yo diseñé un currículo con los objetivos de ofrecer a los estudiantes la oportunidad de demonstrar sus capacidades en seguir direcciones, organizar información, y pensar creativamente. En particular, yo asigné un proyecto que valía un cuarenta por ciento de su nota, que fue diseñado específicamente para demonstrar estas tres habilidades. Cuando llegué a la escuela de una vez yo encontré una debilidad de la misma, lo cual significa un gran reto para los estudiantes, lo cual es la falta de acceso a información. La biblioteca tiene muy pocos recursos y el internet no es adecuado. Por consiguiente, yo organicé todo el contenido necesario para compilar el proyecto en una guía, llamado “Guía para un proyecto de ecoturismo (Anexo I).” La guía fue suministrada a todos los estudiantes para que la falta de acceso a información en la escuela no fuera un factor en la calidad de su trabajo.  La mayor parte del contenido de la guía fue hecha con información de las tres materias: Ecotourism: A Practical Guide For Rural Communities por Sue Beeton, Environmental Interpretation: A practical guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets por Sam Hamm y Using Participatory Analysis for Community Action por el Cuerpo de Paz de Los Estados Unidos.

 

En Los Catorce

 

            La Escuela Ambiental tiene interés en desarrollar el ecoturismo entre el cruce en el calle principal que se llama El Cuatro - Salto de Jimenoa. Sin embargo, esto es seis kilómetros de calle con muchas comunidades que se ramifican. Por consiguiente, en la escuela me sugirieron eligir una comunidad para enfocar y empezar capacitando gente para ser incluidas en los proyectos ecoturísticos.

            Elegí enfocar mi trabajo comunitario en Los Catorce debido a su cercanía con la escuela y el interés en los proyectos que pude percibir durante mis visitas a las reuniones de las juntas de vecinos.

            Después del primer mes asistiendo a los reuniones con la junta de vecinos La Nueva Esperanza, las mujeres en el grupo me ayudaron a encontrar jóvenes para participar en un grupo para aprender sobre la naturaleza, desarrollar liderazgo, hacer trabajos comunitarios y tener diversión: Brigada Verde.

            Yo estaba un poco preocupado de que mi ubicación en la escuela, separado de las otras comunidades por una puerta y una cerca alta, sería un reto demasiado grande superar para integrarme en las otras comunidades. Por esta razón, acepté cada invitación para brindar un café o comida. Ahora yo me siento muy cómodo en la comunidad de Los Catorce. Yo he almorzado muchas veces con la jefa de la junta de vecinas. Una vez yo oí por casualidad ella llamarme su otro hijo a un vecino.    

           

Durante las reuniones de Brigada Verde he aprendido sobre unos de las preocupaciones ambientales de la comunidad. Además, los jóvenes de este grupo hicieron la mayoría de las encuestas en la comunidad y me asistieron para hacer el mapa de su comunidad.

-Observaciones de fortalezas y debilidades de la juntas de vecinos.

-Entrevista sobre el potencial del ecoturismo, participación en actividades ambientales, condiciones ambientales, educación, economía, y salud.

-Conversaciones.

-Brigada Verde para mejorar condiciones ambientales de la comunidad y participar en ecoturismo. 

Jarabacoa, centro-ecoturístico

-Asistir a reuniones del Cluster para conocer las otras empresas de ecoturismo y las circunstancias del ecoturismo en Jarabacoa.

-Curso de senderismo por una semana para aprender métodos en diseño de senderos y conocer los otros diseños de sitios de ecoturismo en el país.

 

Ya sabía cuando llegué a la Escuela Ambiental que Jarabacoa tenía la reputación de un centro de ecoturismo. Como parte de mi diagnóstico comunitario parecía necesario investigar los aspectos del pueblo, en cuanto a la cultura y recursos físicos, por lo cual Jarabacoa adquirió este nombre.

A la puerta de Jarabacoa está ubicada la oficina del Cluster, una organización que promueve el ecoturismo del pueblo. Cuando llegué La Escuela, ya tenía una relación con Cluster, pero había potencial para desarrollar este vínculo. He estado participando en las reuniones semanal de Cluster por dos meses, contribuyendo a la planificación de eventos ecoturísticos e identificando con otra gente que trabaja en ecoturismo en Jarabacoa y sus alrededores.

            Para mejorar mi propia habilidad de evaluar el potencial de los recursos físicos del Recinto Uno, Dos y el Salto de Jimenoa, asistí a un curso intensivo de senderismo. Por una semana aprendí métodos para evaluar y modificar senderos para mejorar la experiencia de los turistas y preservar la estructura física de los senderos contra erosión. Además, visité una serie de diversas áreas protegidas para aprender sobre los métodos de senderismo ya implementados en los parques de la Republica Dominicana.

Resultados / Organizaciones y Gente Clave

Lo siguiente es un resumen de la gente y organizaciones principales con quien estoy trabajando y la información sobre sus historias, habilidades, necesidades, y amenazas que he ganado a través de la diagnostico comunitario

 

La Escuela Ambiental, como organización.

La población estudiantil.

La comunidad de El Catorce, Piedra Blanca.

Otros actores.

 

 

La Escuela Ambiental

 

La Escuela Nacional Forestal fue creada en 1968 por la Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y Agricultura, con el objetivo de desarrollar técnicos en el área forestal.  Recientemente la Escuela Forestal fue convertida en la Escuela Ambiental para satisfacer las necesidades múltiples del Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, que incluye aspectos más diversos que forestaría sola.

A parte de ser técnicamente capaz, la escuela quiere desarrollar estudiantes que sean líderes, creativos, y trabajadores. Además, la escuela estaen camino a convertirse a una institución. Para recibir el certificado de institución la escuela tiene que construir laboratorios para clases de ciencias, entre otros.

A través de mi participación en las reuniones de profesores en la escuela y conversaciones con la directora de La Escuela Ambiental, Martha Fernández, me di cuenta que puedo ofrecer mas a la escuela en cuanto organización por contribución en desarrollo de currículo y normas. También, la directora de la escuela me dijo que voy a jugar un papel clave en el desarrollo de la relación entre La Escuela Ambiental y la Universidad Paul Smith en los Adirondacks, EEUU.  La Universidad de Paul Smith tiene una carrera en forestaría y quieren que La Escuela Ambiental sirva como centro para los estudiantes de Paul Smith para estudiar ecoturismo. Con mi compañero de proyecto, Héctor González, voy a diseñar un curso en ecoturismo para los estudiantes de Paul Smith para su primer intercambio con La Escuela Ambiental en Enero de 2012.

           

 

La población estudiantil

 

Los estudiantes de la Escuela Ambiental vienen de todas de las partes del país y  unos cuanto de Haití, con un gran diversidad de habilidades. A través de mi trabajo con ellos en mi clase, he visto que la mayoría tiene interés en aprender, responden a clase mucho mejor cuando la teoría está mezclada con dinámicas y prácticas y son capaces de pensar creativamente. Parece que hay muchos estudiantes a los cuales les falta destrezas en organizar y pensar de manera críticamente.

Muchos de los estudiantes tienen el deseo de seguir estudiando después de su tiempo en La Escuela Ambiental. Algunos quieren asistir a la universidad fuera del país, mayormente en los Estados Unidos. Para ellos lograr este punto tendrán que mejorar mucho en su estudio de inglés y también en sus habilidades de manejar tiempo. La universidad de Paul Smith ya quiere ofrecer unas prácticas en Los Estados Unidos para ellos. Imagino que el vínculo con Paul Smith podría ser un buen recurso para los estudiantes que quieren asistir a la universidad en Los Estados Unidos si ellos se enfocan durante su tiempo La Escuela Ambiental.

            Me di cuenta que para ellos ejecutar a un nivel más alto, hay que ser responsables con su trabajo. Sin embargo, es muy difícil hacerle a uno responsable cuando no tienen los recursos ni apoyo necesario. Cualquier trabajo que hago con los estudiantes adentro y fuera del aula tendrá que estar acompañada con inversión en los recursos de informática de la escuela. Hace un mes USAID donó un laboratorio de computadores a la escuela. Todavía este laboratorio no está funcionando. Lograr que funcione este laboratorio debe ser uno de las  primeras prioridades de la escuela.

 

 

El Catorce, Piedra Blanca: Resultados de las Encuestas

 

            Antes del 1960 el ingreso principal de Los Catorce fue la siembra de café. En los 60s el turismo de las montanas se puso más popular. Con la subida de la demanda para terrenos en las montanas mucha gente vendió su tierra. Con el desarrollo de la industria de turismo la calidad de vida en general mejoraba porque los cambios llevaron inversión en el infraestructura, como la construcción de la calle principal entre Jarabacoa y las otras comunidades en su alrededor.  La construcción de la Escuela Forestal es un ejemplo de infraestructura que llevaba unos beneficios para la gente de Los Catorce y las otras comunidades cercanas. La escuela ofrecía trabajo para mucha gente en sus invernaderos, plantación de pinos, y mantenimiento general de los recintos. La mujer quien me contó la historia de la comunidad también hizo referencia a un beneficio que ella recibió a través de la Escuela Forestal. Cuando ella era estudiante tenía que asistir a escuela en el pueblo de Jarabacoa, a unos cinco kilómetros desde Los Catorce. Usualmente andaba estos kilómetros a pie, pero con la escuela vino un profesor, se llama José Antonio Guzmán, quien cuando fue posible llevó a los estudiantes al pueblo en su guagua.

Como parte de las entrevistas con la comunidad de Catorce, yo pregunte si los miembros de la comunidad sentían un tipo de relación de la escuela y si sentían que recibían un tipo de beneficio debido al cercanía a los centros turísticos con sus hogares.  Un 32% de gente del Catorce sienten un tipo de relación con la Escuela Forestal. Un 16% del gente sienten que reciben un beneficio de ecoturismo. 

            La Escuela Ambiental me solicitó específicamente para ampliar y mejorar las empresas ecoturísticas cercanas a la escuela; además me solicitaron para incluir las comunidades en estas empresas. Si el servicio mío es un éxito, esperaría que estos porcentajes crezcan.  Cuando la escuela nació parecía un beneficio a las comunidades. Puede ser que en este tiempo de cambio la escuela quiera re fortalecer estas mismas relaciones.

            En los 1980s había mucha inversión en cabañas y granjas. Las dos fueron fuentes de trabajo pero tenían unos efectos malos en el medio ambiente. Deforestación y contaminación de los ríos surgió. Paso que las granjas estaban echando los cuerpos muertos de las gallinas en los ríos. El ministro de Medio Ambiente tenia que intervenir y mandarles cambiar sus practicas. Parece que cosas han mejorado con los dos las cabañas y las granjas pero todavía mucha gente hicieron referencia de habían perdido tierra al mano de las cabañas y mucha gente quejaron del mal olor de la granjas.

El Cuerpo de Paz apoya un método de desarrollo que enfoca en los recursos que existe en la comunidad en vez de enfocar en las cosas que la comunidad falta. Por consiguiente yo diseñe mis encuestas subrayar las actividades que la comunidad ya estaba haciendo para mejorar las condiciones ambientales de su comunidad además de sus perspectivos de las problemas ambientales. De esta manera pienso que el proceso de las entrevistas les dio poder a los miembros de la comunidad. Por seguro la gente participo en mas actividades ambientales que habían pensado que participado al inicio de la entrevista.

En el 1994/1995 mucha gente vendió su tierra para comprar moto conchos para llevar turistas a sus destinos. Al mismo tiempo mucha gente empezó trabajar en construcción. Y en el 1999 ricos entraron al Catorce para comprar la tierra. Ellos adquirieron la tierra a precios muy bajos. Además, porque mucha de la gente vendiendo la tierra no fueron bien educado, los ricos fueron capaces de tomar mas tierra que fue del acuerdo, cambiando los contractos de maneras que los campesinos no entendían. Ahora muy poco de la tierra de El Catorce esta la propiedad de la gente del Catorce. Yo intente de mostrar esto a través del mapa de la comunidad que hice, por mostrar como fue dividido la tierra.

            En general la comunidad tiene mucho interés en mejorar las condiciones ambientales de la comunidad. Todos que fueron entrevistado dijeron con el medioambiente es sumamente importante. La comunidad está en necesidad de mas trabajos. Hay mucha pobreza. Había muchas hogares que no reportaban un mensualidad, solo comieron la comida que fue donada por familia o cosechada de un pequeño conuco de tras de la casa.

  • 45 casas
  • Construcción, moto concho, albañil
  • 1/3 de casas no tienen trabajo fijo

 

 

 

            Cluster, Jarabacoa

 

Cluster es una organización de Jarabacoa que trabaja para promover el pueblo en cuanto a ecoturismo, a través de organizar y promover las empresas ecoturísticas. Además de promocionar las empresas ecoturísticas, los eventos que el Cluster apoya tienen el objetivo de educar el público sobre la importancia de la limpieza, aguas residuales, manejo de desechos sólidos, y capacitación.

            Durante una entrevista con un representante del Cluster me explicó la importancia de mantener la limpieza de Jarabacoa para sostener el ecoturismo. Primero, ella me contó que en el pueblo hay que apoyar la reputación de un sitio a donde la gente valore el medio ambiente. La reputación de Jarabacoa es uno de sus aspectos más valiosos en cuanto a ecoturismo. Además, si los ríos se tornan tan contaminados a un punto que no sean seguros para bañarse, todo del pueblo va a sufrir, tanto en la parte de salud y la economía.

            Para los objetivos específicos de la Escuela Ambiental, el Cluster tiene mucho que ofrecer. Hay una dirección en la puerta del pueblo a donde podemos ubicar nuestros materiales de promoción. Ellos van a coordinar eventos en que podemos participar. Y a través de participación en los eventos de Cluster vamos a formar mas asociaciones con las otras empresas ecoturísticas de Jarabacoa.

 

Otros Actores

 

USAID

USAID tienen mucho interés en desarrollar ecoturismo en Jarabacoa en general. Además, tienen la esperanza grande de capacitar la escuela para que puede servir como centro de estudio de ecoturismo en todo del Caribe. Mas recientemente recibí un mensaje que gente de USAID tienen interés en ayudar desarrollar un sendero de aves en la escuela.

Paul Smith College

La Universidad de Paul Smith en los Adirondacks ha firmado una sociedad formal con la Escuela de Medio Ambiente en Jarabacoa. A través de los intercambios entre los dos escuelas los estudiantes de la Escuela Ambiental tendrán una oportunidad muy buena para experimentar educación afuera del país. Además cuando vienen los profesores y estudiantes a visitar la Escuela Ambiental sin duda van a poseer un buen recurso para la escuela en cuantos perspectivos y energías nuevas.

Estudiantes Internacionales

 Estudiantes Internacionales es una organización de estudios extranjeros que lleva estudiantes de Los Estados Unidos a participar en proyectos comunitarios en Jarabacoa y su alrededor. Muchos de sus proyectos, específicamente los que enfocan en  la juventud y la salud pueden ser un buen recurso para la comunidad de Catorce.

Cuerpo de Paz

Hay otro voluntario del Cuerpo de Paz quien esta trabajando en juntos con la Escuela Ambiental y las comunidades alrededor. Paul Kenyon es un voluntario de tecnología apropiada. Además de su experiencia trabajando como ingeniero en la industria de energía solar, él tiene mucho experiencia trabajando para que su hogar en Vermont podía funcionar sin energía central de una fábrica. Es decir que muchos de los proyectos ecoturísticos en que yo voy a trabajar podrían estar acompañados por ejemplos de energía sostenible con colaboración de Paul. Ya yo se que la Escuela Ambiental tiene interés en desarrollar un sistema de abono orgánico y biodigestores. 

 

 

Recursos Físicos

El Pueblo de Jarabacoa

Recinto numero uno de la Escuela Ambiental

Recinto numero dos de la Escuela Ambiental

El Salto de Jimenoa

 

         Jarabacoa

 

Todos de los sitios a donde el trabajo mío estará plasmado tiene sus propios elementos que califican su potencial como un sitio ecoturístico. Como ya he dicho, el pueblo de Jarabacoa tiene la reputación de un centro ecoturístico.  Un representante de Cluster me dijo que Jarabacoa es La parte del país más céntrica a donde se puede realizar ecoturismo.”  Esta reputación viene del terreno variable y el clima que ofrece la oportunidad para actividades diversas. Unos ejemplos específicos de los recursos físicos de Jarabacoa y sus alrededores son las montañas del Pico Duarte, El Valle de Tertero, El Magote; los ríos, como El Yaque del Norte cuya cuenca es la más grande del país. Aparte de los recursos físicos, las comunidades de Jarabacoa valoran las manualidades, lo cual pueden enriquecer la experiencia de ecoturismo.

                                                                                    

         Recinto Uno

El paisaje

Senderos

Presa

 

            El recinto numero uno tiene muchos aspectos que pueden contribuir a un buen experiencia ecoturística. El paisaje de la escuela esta muy bien mantenido y muy lindo. Los dos el paisaje y los senderos están manejados por los estudiantes de la Escuela Ambiental. Para el primer evento en colaboración con Cluster yo quiero que los estudiantes guían turistas por la escuela explicando los dos sobre la ecología y los métodos que ellos han utilizado para lograr la belleza del recinto. Uno de los senderos anda por una presa. Ahora mismo los estudiantes están participando en un proyecto de restoracion del cuenca alrededor del presa. Yo pienso que este proceso también puede ser incluido en un tour de la escuela.


 

[ Vea photo 2]

Recinto Dos

Sendero

 Rio Jimenoa

Alta biodiversidad

Plantación de pinos

Centro Hidroeléctrica

 

En mi propia perspectiva, el Recinto II de la Escuela Ambiental tiene el potencial de ser tan reconocida como el Salto de Jimenoa. Los senderos de Recinto Dos ya están bien desarrollados. Ellos andan por el río Jimenoa con una vista muy hermosa. En dos lugares hay miradores a donde se puede disfrutar de la vista de manera muy cómoda. Además, este recinto tiene las partes de una central hidroeléctrica que fue destruida, una plantación de pinos, y un sistema agroforestal con café. Todos estos aspectos podrían ser incluidos en una tour que sería muy interesante. Además, tenemos planificado desarrollar un sitio de camping en este recinto, lo cual será la única en esta parte de Jarabacoa. Quizás este también acompañada por una empresa de tubing en el río de Jimenoa. Este también tiene mucho que ofrecer en cuanto a flora y fauna, un nivel de biodiversidad muy alta.

 

[vea photo 3]

 

 

       Salto de Jimenoa

Sendero

Cafetería abandonada

El Salto II de Jimenoa

Alta biodiversidad

Sendero al Salto I de Jimenoa, en necesita

     de mucho trabajo

 

            El Salto de Jimenoa ya está muy bien reconocido.  El papel mío en el Salto estará incluyendo las comunidades en este proyecto. Ya hay un sendero al salto pero falta mucho en cuanto a interpretación. Ahora mismo hay casi nada. También hay un sendero al Salto de Jimeno numero I pero necesita mucho trabajo para que sea seguro para los turistas.

            El primer trabajo comunitario que he implementado en el Salto es un proyecto en la cafetería que fue abandonada. Ya yo tengo un grupo de muchachos de Brigada Verde que están tomando brindis a crédito de un colmado para vender en la cafetería. Han hecho muchos trabajos para mejorar la limpieza de la cafetería pero todavía tenemos que pintar.

            Uno de los primer obstáculos para este grupo es la transportación. Los Catorce están a casi 5 kilómetros del salto. Un miembro del grupo tiene una moto que está disponible pero la mayoría no tiene. Estamos pensando en conseguir unas bicicletas para el grupo.

 

 

 

Recursos Humanos

 

A parte de los recursos físicos disponibles de mis sitios de trabajo, hay muchos recursos humanos que son de valor muy alto. En la Escuela Ambiental tengo acceso a profesionales y técnicos ambientales. También la  población estudiantil tiene mucho ánimo de trabajar conmigo. Ya han ayudado con el trabajo comunitario. Me han acompañado en las encuestas, han participado en preparar comida para el proyecto en la cafetería del salto con el Brigada Verde de Los 14, y una estudiante hizo una charla sobre manglares para el grupo de Brigada Verde.

      La junta de vecinos “La Nueva Esperanza” tiene muchos años trabajando. Parece que falta un poco de ánimo ahora, pero yo tengo planificado trabajar con ellos en las etapas de grupos en el manual de trabajo del Cuerpo de Paz.

El grupo de Brigada Verde de Los Catorce es un grupo de jóvenes con mucho entusiasmo. Ellos me han mostrado que son capaces de trabajar independientemente para alcanzar los objetivos del grupo. Unos de ellos ya consiguió unos letreros para la cafetería los cuales fueron donados por un turista con quien habló.

            Como ya he dicho, USAID tiene mucho interés en Jarabacoa y la Escuela Ambiental. Estoy en contacto con una gente de allá y me ofrecen consultas cuando lo necesito.

 

Amenazas

 

            Las amenazas principales son la falta de agua potable, parásitos y la falta de limpieza ambiental en general. En el desarrollo de ecoturismo hay que considerar el sentido de seguridad de los turistas, en cuanto a salud e higiene. También, el falto de agua potable posee un peligro para la salud de la comunidad del Catorce.

            “Una falta de acceso a agua potable y educación sobre la importancia de tener agua limpia es uno de los problemas mas graves de la comunidad, en cuanto salud.”

-Medico de Estudiantes Internacionales

            En cuanto la infraestructura de los sitios de ecoturismo, la amenaza principal es erosión.

Otra de las amenazas principales que presenta el río Jimenoa, son las prácticas agrícolas intensivas que se practican aguas arriba, siendo visible la presencia de envases de agroquímicos dentro del agua, por lo que habría que hacer un estudio de la calidad de esa agua y sus consecuencias no solamente si se ingiere pero para el mismo baño de los turistas.

            Un peligro potencial que presenta el río, es que no se cuenta con un sistema de alerta temprana que alerte a las comunidades y a los turistas de que el río está creciendo en su parte más alta, lo cual significa un riesgo muy alto para las actividades que allí se realizan.

            Algo que debe ser tomado en cuenta como una amenaza, es el deterioro constante de las infraestructuras por el paso del agua constantemente, lo que puede provocar agrietamientos y posibles rupturas y desplomes.

            Para cualquier proyecto que se realice en la zona del Salto de Jimenoa y los recintos de la escuela, una amenaza potencial es que haya un cambio de partido político o de dirigente que cambie las prioridades de la escuela y haga que los proyectos se caigan.

                 Proyecto propuesto

Trabajar con las juntas de Vecinos en las etapas de grupos y métodos de facilitar para mejorar capacidad del grupo.

Seguir con Brigada Verde para promover interés en trabajo comunitario y pensamiento de temas ambientales.

Organizar una serie de charlas educativas con Brigada Verde y las juntas de vecinos para conscientizar la comunidad.

Organizar trabajos comunitarios para mejorar las condiciones ambientales de la comunidad.

Trabajar  con los estudiantes y miembros la comunidad para desarrollar los sitios ecoturísticos Recinto uno y dos de La Escuela Ambiental, y el Salto de Jimenoa.

Seguir trabajando con el grupo de Brigada Verde y los estudiantes para mejorar la cafetería del salto.

Organizar taller de “guía de la naturaleza” con miembros de Brigada Verde.

Organizar eventos con Cluster para promover los sitios ecoturísticos de

Recinto 1 ,2 y el salto.

 

Muchas Gracias 

La Escuela Ambiental, Hector Gonzales, Juntas de Vecinos “La Nueva Esperanza,” y Brigada Verde de El Catorce, y El Cuerpo de Paz