Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dominican Food

This post too has had quite a bit of thought put into it. My father is notorious for asking what I’ve eaten lately, so this one’s for him. Hi Dad J

Here you have the major food groups of the Dominican Republic:

Rice, rice and more rice. White rice is the most common and is usually consumed at lunch and is served with beans (habichuelas) or meat. Meat can be chicken (all parts bone-in) or beef.

Beans. They are usually red beans served in their sauce. A substitute for beans can also be lentils of all kinds. Which you may assume that beans are always a savory item, this is not the case. Habichuelas con dulce or sweet beans is an absolute favorite here. It’s especially popular around Easter. It’s almost like hot chocolate with red beans in it. There are also pieces of potato, coconut milk, vanilla, and LOTS of sugar. It’s served with little crackers that taste like animal crackers. I know it sounds gross but it’s really not that bad. I spent last Saturday night with my extended host family talking and making habichuelas con dulce in a huge cauldron over a fire. I think we made almost 5 gallons to be shared. I’m sure after two years I’ll like it.

Viveres are starchy vegetables. They are mostly root veggies but include Yucca, Potato, Plantains, and green bananas (we eat ripe ones too). They are usually served boiled to accompany salami (more on that in a second), scrambled eggs, or just about anything else. Mangu is a staple here also. Mangu is boiled plantains smashed into the consistency of mashed potatoes and mixed with margarine. My favorite is mangu served with sautéed onions and a fried egg on top! I also looove me some tostones, which are twice fried plantain fritters.

Yep, lots of them. Oatmeal is acceptable for lunch or dinner. Mini grilled cheese sandwiches as well. Another common food? Spaghetti. In Santo Domingo I was served a spaghetti sandwich. Gross you say? Well, imagine eating spaghetti in between two pieces of garlic bread. Not so bad, huh? A few nights ago I had Venezuelan arepas filled with ham and cheese and egg with veggies.

Salami. That’s right. I don’t know what it is, but everyone here eats it with just about everything. I would say chicken is the next most common meat and it’s delicious cooked rotisserie, in a crockpot or obviously fried. It’s also really cheap- its 45 pesos for a pound- which is a dollar a pound. After chicken come pork and beef, which are scarcer and a bit more expensive. The greatest mixture of all meats and viveres is a good quality sancocho. Sancocho is like a stew with just about any kind of vivere you can find and chicken, pork and beef.

Most veggies are available here. Eggplant is a common substitute for meat. Broccoli is not available where I live but can easily be purchased in the capital. Onions, peppers cabbage, carrots and cilantro are also common. Green salads are hard to come by and I am not able to eat them because most greens have been washed in unsafe water. I’m also not allowed to eat raw veggies or the skin of anything for the same reason. Boooooo.

Fruit, juice and batidas
I die for the fruit here. Mango season is coming and I could not be more excited. They will basically fall from the sky into my hands for free! There are fruit trees everywhere and almost all of it is edible. Also among my favorites are cherries, pineapple, papaya and bananas (especially when they come from a tree in my back yard). Tamarind is also really common for juice. If you walk into any Dominican house there is a good chance you are going to find fresh juice in the refrigerator. Batidas are fruit milkshakes made with fresh fruit, ice and milk. My favorite is a zapote batida, which is apparently a fruit that we don’t have in the US because when I Google it says “sapote” and I have no idea what that is. Either way, I’ve yet to find a fruit here that I don’t like.

Sugarcane is a common snack- people sell it by the piece to just chew on. You bite, chew, suck out the sugar and spit it out. It’s not my favorite.

I have to attribute the food here to the Dominican Republic’s geographic location… it has its Caribbean influences but also has many typical Latin American foods. I also think that the close proximity to the US has a lot of influence on the food and culture here. The Dominicans claim to make a mean hamburger, which I have yet to try but it’s definitely on my list. Here’s hoping I don’t get sick.
One thing I do know: As soon as I’m back in Santo Domingo I will be marching my American butt to the mall and eating either Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell or Ihop. And that’s final. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Eco Tourism and Cacao

Tourism is the main source of income in the DR. Coming in at a close second is remittances- money that is being sent here from outside of the country (mainly the US) to family members here. You should see the line at the Western Union on Saturday morning. It’s inside the big chain supermarket near the front, much like the banks at the front of a Meijer store. Anyway, no one is in that line to wire or exchange money- only to receive.


There are a few different kinds of tourism. I’m sure when you think of tourism here you think of white sandy beaches, pools and all-inclusive hotels. While all of that definitely does exist here and it is very beautiful, I have come to learn very quickly that this country has a lot more to offer.


Recently, a new and semi disturbing type of tourism has surfaced. It’s called “slum tourism” and is very popular in Brazil, Latin America and India. These trips consist of bussing tourist to the poorest areas in these regions. The tourists get of the bus, look at the poor people and their underdeveloped housing as if they were in a museum, and get back on the bus. Do any of you follow Skrillex on Instagram? Right around the time when I arrived to the DR he posted a few pictures of the absolute poorest area of Santo Domingo, complete with images of children begging for money.


Eco tourism is also a relatively new kind of tourism and is developing very quickly in the Dominican Republic. Peace Corps is currently merging the environment sector with business and the result ends up being Eco tourism- sustainable projects that use the natural richness of the area to generate interest and attract tourists to see a little bit more of what the DR has to offer. Many Peace Corps Volunteers have Eco tourism projects. One of the most famous ones is called 27 Charcos (27 Waterfalls). It’s a tour that guides you up a river with 27 waterfalls and then allows you to jump, swim and slide down them.  There is also a river kayaking project in the east. In the region where I live now there is a volunteer living nearby whose project is with the cacao co ops. She works with a tour guide organization to bring groups of tourists to see how cacao grows, how it’s processed and how it is turned into recognizable final products. To be honest, before taking this tour I had no idea what a cacao plant looked like or that raw cacao was a slimy, white ball inside of the fruit (see picture below of me eating it). Learning new things every day!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bucket Bathing 101

Well, after 7 weeks in country, I can now say I am a master bucket bather. The majority of this country does not have consistent running water. Or any, for that matter. When I was living in Santo Domingo, I think water came out of the faucet three times in 3 weeks. In this case, people buy water and store it in a large tank, using a pump to make it reach the faucets. In my current situation, our bathroom is not attached to the house. It’s not a latrine, just an outdoor toilet and shower space.  My family can collect water from the water source twice a week: on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Large oil drums or plastic bins are used for water storage, as well as every other available container.


My steps and strategies to bathing:


  1. Remove empty bucket from bathroom and take to water bin to fill. I use one full bucket. Fill bucket with water using the smaller jar.
  2. Carefully carry full bucket into bathroom and do my very best not to spill any.
  3.  Prepare. The bucket and I usually have a ten-second stare down before I begin. I must test the water temperature so I have an idea as to what I can expect. In the morning it’s always cold because it’s been sitting outside all night. If it’s mid morning or afternoon it’s a little warmer because the bins are in the sun. I’m in training all day during the week so I can either shower in the morning, which means cold or at night when there’s no power. Showering in the dark is not easy and I’d rather see any creepy crawlies that are trying to shower with me J
  4. Hold breath and begin. I usually hyperventilate for a few seconds after my first douse. Use smaller jar to splash water and wash body. I must use as little water as possible for this step because the bulk of it is for my hair.
  5. Wet hair, lather, and rinse. I actually put a little conditioner in with my shampoo lather in order to have to only rinse one time.
  6. Finish was soon as possible because its coollddddddddddd.


Future PCVS- Bring shower flip-flops. They are 100% necessary.


I know when I first learned this is what I would be doing I was convinced that I would not get clean, nor would I be able to look nice. So, if that’s what you’re thinking to yourself…totally not the case. I’m def clean AND I feel extremely efficient for doing it with one bucket.


BONUS: Bucket flushing. That’s right. We have a toilet…but without running water you can’t flush. Before doing your business, you make sure you have some water to flush. Usually about 1/3 of a bucket will do. When you’re ready to flush you start slow and then aim the stream at the hole and stand back. I know it sounds like this would never work, but trust me it does!


Some of you reading this are horrified, I’m sure. The thing is, the inconsistent electricity and cold showers are two of the easiest things to get used to. Why? Because they are two things you know will always be there. They are consistent. Funny how that works, huh?!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Life is a Vola


I live mas o menos on a mountain. The city of Peralvillo is kind of in a mountain basin of sorts (quite a beautiful one too, I might add), and since I live on the outskirts of the city I have to walk relatively straight uphill in order to get home. I’m going to have buns of steel, right? HA.


Instead, I have become very aware of how to carefully place myself in situations in order to find myself a bola. A vola, my friends, is a freeeeeeeee ride. You can get one from anyone- strangers, friends of friends, people’s sisters, parents etc. And I don’t mean in a car. These are motorcycle/scooter bolas. Consequently, I must carry my helmet with me everywhere BUT I am confident this skill of finding free rides home is going to come in handy in my next two years of service.


Sometimes, I just don’t have a vola and I walk. Last Tuesday it began to pour as I was walking. Luckily my brother found me and scooped me up for the last ten minutes of my walk!


As promised, I’m leaving you with some pics of life here in Peralvillo. Teaching the girls how to make friendship bracelets (in hopes that maybe one day they can make bracelets themselves and sell them to their friends…this is a tough concept with eight year olds).


A house that I see every day in training or Spanish class with great colors.

CHICKENS because for some bizarre reason I just can’t escape from these crazy animals in my life (shout out to the poultry industry!)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Semana Santa in Santo Domingo

That’s a lot of holy in one blog post title.

For my non-Spanish speaking readers, Santo/Santa means holy. Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter Sunday. A very traditional celebration in Latin American culture, it takes on many different meanings depending on the denomination of Christianity.


The workweek ends Thursday at noon, but many take the full week off. The official religion of the Dominican Republic is Catholic, so there are many religious processions and reenactments. Unfortunately I don’t have any great pictures because I was not able to get close enough.


For most people, the week is to celebrate and go to the beach or to a family country house in the interior of the island. The news is plagued with tales of horrific quantities of traffic deaths and drowning from the masses who leave the city to flock to the beach. As Peace Corps Trainees, we were not allowed to leave Santo Domingo.


The food specialty for Semana Santa? Habichuelas con Dulce, or literally, sweet beans. I personally am not a huge fan, mainly because of the texture. This is probably the only food that I have had here that I don’t care for. It’s blended red beans with milk, coconut, sugar, cloves and chunks of potato. When fresh, it’s served warm and after that they are eaten cold.

Another common Good Friday food is Bacalao, or codfish. Normally pan cooked and shredded into a tomato sauce with onion and olives. Served with rice, duh.


Either way, I was not going to allow the holiday to pass without doing a little bit of exploring. A group of us packed a picnic lunch and headed over to the Botanical Gardens to check them out and walk around the grounds. The Japanese gardens were especially impressive.

After the gardens we made our way to the Malecon, which is the boardwalk close to the water in Santo Domingo. The Malecon is famous for the public pools they put out for people to swim in during Easter Weekend. Public pools, you say? Yep, it’s quite the celebration. Habichuelas con dulce are sold by the 10 peso plastic cup to kids running around in their soaking wet swimsuits while their parents look on from the shade.


Another common pastime on the Malecon: Kite flying. Dominican kids are experts and will make a kite out of any and everything and are able to fly them just as high as the expensive ones. John and Ivette insisted on buying one…which promptly plummeted to its demise on the rocky coast.


We stopped for a novia (cold beer) at an oceanside restaurant and surfed some free wifi before heading back.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Saludos! First apologees in advance because this will be a photoless entry...I am too scared to connect my iphone to this computer to upload pics and I have really no access to wifi. That's right, NO WIFI.

We have been here in Peravillo for almost a week already! I live with another host family up away from the city, basically moutainside. It´s beautiful but quite a hike to get home from the city center. I have 3 host sisters and a host brother who is learning English, so we´re practicing daily. Training continues all day during the week in the morning with Spanish classes in the afternoon. On Tuesday we will present a diagnostic of the community to the entire group and after that we will begin smaller projects here in the community working with children and young people.

The main industry here is cacao...and if you have heard of or used Lush cosmetics or Black and Green chocolate, the cacao probably came from right here in Peralvillo as they are the number one exporter of 100% organic cacao. On Friday we visited the Bloque, which is a coop of 66 orgranic cacao growers in the area. For the 5 weeks that we are here we are focusing on the indusry here and Ecotourism as business projects for PCVs.

Also super crazy that part of my fam is here on the island right now in Punta Cana but I unfortunately will not be able to see them as I´m not allowed to travel or have visitors during this time! gahhh well I hope you guys loved it because you have to come back to visitttttt!

Well I apologize for such a short post but I just wanted to confirm my existence and if you want to call me and get some juicier deets you can get my Dominican cell phone number from my sister or parents and call me super cheap from Skype!

Pics coming as soon as possible...
Besitosss!! Kaley