Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pavo Bravo

Stuff I'm thankful for in the DR:
Dembow and bachata
The beach
Mosquito nets (saving my life one centipede/dengue/tarantula bite at a time)

Stuff I'm thankful for in the US:
Ehm, that's a joke right? We'd be here all night. But just for starters-
Running water
Air conditioning
Reliable transportation 
Overall life conveiences 
My family. 

This is stuff maybe I wouldn't have said before, but there it is. In all reality I didn't actually think about any of this until I got back to site yesterday and had to take a cold bucket bath after staying in a 5 bedroom 6 bathroom ocean view apartment in Santo Domingo for the week...but it's the thought that counts right?

I hope all of you in the US of A (see you in 2 weeks) had a fabulous thanksgiving. Here a little peak at mine in case you didn't see the pics I posted on Facebook while sucking down rum punch from my lounge chair:

Tyler and Yvette going hard in our embassy family's kitchen to make 200 brownies for our fellow volunteers. 

Booze n brownies. 
Living room view...
Sam making stuffin'. 
Then we got to the party spot. 

Getting downnnn. 

A good time was had by all. 

Annnnnnd Merry Christmas from Lauren and I :)

Paz, kaley 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

This one's for all my fellow volunteers who are more than ready to go home for Christmas, who want to kill their project partners, who are frustrated with this culture, who want to go quit, who don't know if they're making a difference, who are sick of speaking Spanish 24/7, who miss their families... 

I have met so many people here who have made an incredible difference in my life, who have inspired me to be a better volunteer and above all, to not give up.

Yeah, yeah I know it's cliche and stupid but it's true. You guys are the

In other news, I'm currently in an FSO officer's apartment cooking' brownies for Thanksgiving. Pics to come from our rooftop pool party!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

New again

Wanna know the truth? I can't believe I'm still here. 

But that's what all this development work/Peace Corps stuff is about right? Testing your limits and learning how much bullshit one person can handle? It sure seems like it lately. 

After almost two months without a site or job (see previous posts on being a PC gypsy) I'm 2 weeks into my new site. 

Yep. Starting over. Living with a family again (ayy yi yi) and eating lots of food that I don't want. But do not worry, I have a firm list of all of the food that I will be eating when I return to the US in a month. Ask my family. They have already received my emails. 

ANYWAY. So you're probably wondering what I'm doing up here. And the project is actually really cool, if I can get the business up and running again...

I am working with a very well known Cacao (chocolate plant) Cooperative called Cooperative La Red Guaconejo. Why are they well known? Well, here in the DR (and in most places in the world) cacao farmers have been poor since anyone can remember. However it make no sense because in developed countries, chocolate is an extremely lucrative business (people here don't eat chocolate. I rest my case about Dominican food habits). Why are they poor? Because intermediaries buy their crop for basically nothing (they are country folk with very little education and are taken advantage of) and then turn around and export it for a sky high price. My organization strives to be a direct trade operation; meaning that the farmers are selling directly to the customer without an intermediary. It's still a business and they still turn profit but the object is for the farmers to see some of the money made for their organic chocolate plants. You see, organic cacao sells for up to $400 per ton more than the market price for non organic. 

This is what ripe cacao looks like. 

Here you can see cacao beans on a sun dryer. That's a rice field in the background. 

On the tree!

Who buys their product? The main customer is Taza Chocolate, located in Massachusetts. Check out their site! 

There's also a short documentary about my project and you can see a preview here

The problem? They're damn near broke and they have quite a few delinquent accounts receivable. As a cooperative, they offer credit to their members to invest into their farms in order to produce better cacao.  There debts can usually be paid in cacao but in the last two years they have had some collection issues. Part of the problem was that the members who borrows money were not properly investigated for their eligibility to borrow. The other problem is that the administration was/is a complete disaster. One member took it upon herself to make all of the decisions for the coop, most of which were terrible for the business. 

So now I'm working the development organization that helped them get started to prepare for an assembly on November 30th.In this assembly a financial summary will be presented to the members and we will hold elections. From there I can only hope we can move forward with making the business profitable again. Unlike many operations, La Red already has their niche market and customers who are waiting to snatch up their product as soon as its available. The problem is on their end, specifically in administration. The bottom line? If they can get their shit together they could be an extremely profitable and sustainable business. Vamos a ver. 

The cooperative also has a women's group who makes organic cocoa powder and sells it. It's absolutely phenomenal in chocolate sauce and for baking. I will be working with them on the accounting and market development of their product. We need to get them registered and able to export because this is how almost all small chocolatiers make chocolate when they're first starting out, with cocoa. 

Next Sunday I will be headed to Santo Domingo to stay with an embassy family for the week and bake my ass off with my backing team (brownies4lyfe) for our Thanksgiving celebration. Volunteers will come from far and wide to hang out on a rooftop pool, sip some cocktails, run in the turkey trot (not this turkey) and stuff their faces with the traditional Thanksgiving food we all cherish so much. I cannot wait. 

Then just 2 1/2 short weeks after tday I AM RETURNING TO THE US OF A TO SPEND CHRISTMAS WITH MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Again, super excited. Oh, and I turn 26 somewhere in there too. 

Oh also, today my friend Jackson and I went to the beach. It was rough but I really needed it. We both did. 

Besos, Kaley

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Religion in the DR

Que lo queeeee mi gente. 

Well, I've moved to my new community. I now live in a pueblo called El Factor, just south of the city of Nagua on the north coast of the DR between Sosua and Samana. Extremely far from my old home in Barahona. Today is day 3 living with my new host family in my new site, so there will be a post to come on my new project(s) and life as I basically start over in Peace Corps ("Carajo, diablo pero quien es esa Americana?!? Yep, that's me. Round two.).

As I approach my 8 month mark here (dios, when and how did that happen?!) I am going to touch a subject that has caused me much confusion and frustration in this country. Religion. I have just returned from church with my new host family.
Most of you could have probably guessed that the Dominican Republic is a Christian nation. There is no separation of church and state here, in fact, mixing of the two is normal and encouraged. Many typical sayings here used by everyone include god, such as Vaya con dios (may you go with god), Dios te bendiga (God bless you), Si dios quire (Godwilling), and of course Gracias a dios (Thank God) among others.

When we arrived here one of the first things we talked about in training was cultural integration, and that religion and church were going to be things we'd need to get used to. We were encouraged to go to church with our host families and participate in church activities as a way to get to know people and integrate. I was raised Catholic, so I thought, no problem. Most Peace Corps volunteers are anti-religion...and I mean, strongly against it. So I thought, meh, I can def handle it. I'm not a super religious person but being that I was raised in the Catholic church, I believe there's something up there. Or at least I did before I got here...
I learned quickly that when people ask if you are Christian and you say yes, they assume you are Evangelical. I'm catholic, I said. Well then you're not Christian then, you're Catholic, I was corrected. Why the difference?

My first church experience was with my doña in Santo Domingo. She brought me to her Evangelical church, which was held in our neighborhood in someone's house. I don't know if it was the pastor writhing on the floor screaming in tongues or him calling me out as a visitor and trying to convert me, but I was NOT sold on this whole church thing.
Experience number two was at the Evangelical church (located RIGHT next door) to my house in community based training. I was forced to go to a bible study where I was to read various verses and answer comprehensive reading questions. Awesome.

When I finally moved to Bombita, I made an effort to attend each church in the community to show my support and integration efforts to everyone (resilience, I tell ya without it no one would ever survive Peace Corps). They have Evangelical, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Jehova's Witness, Baptist (I think..) and a witch doctor (I skipped this one, the hut looked scary). All of those a community of 1600 people? You have got to be kidding me.
As most of you know, my first community is among the poorest in the DR. Very few people have jobs, there are naked babies running around everywhere and (all jokes aside) lots of starving people. I mean skinny, starving people. In the Dominican Republic, when you go into someones house for a visit it's customary to be offered something. Be it juice, food or a meal. This basically never happens in Bombita because there just isn't enough food.
Wanna know what's even worse? When you're invited to stay for dinner at a house where you know there isn't enough food to feed their own children. Where you know people are starving because you have seen family members disappear to skin and bones in the few months I had lived there because someone lost their income. Clearly I have no business eating their food when I'm just fine and have my own income and food...but the family is insulted when I decline their invitation. Embarrassment for them because they know why I didn't stay. It's a lose lose situation! Ugh.
Kids used to come to my house and eat the papery coating from my onions because there was no lunch for them that day, their bellies full of parasites from eating whatever they can get their hands on. They'd pick through my garbage and take the most disgusting parts of the chicken that I would never eat and cook it themselves because they were hungry. People literally starving to death or dying from completely preventable illnesses.
On top of all of that, there's almost no water to cook or bathe and electricity is a joke.
Anyway, the point I'm getting at is this: Church is the only thing these people have to keep them going, to give them reason to keep living and to not focus so much on living in severe poverty, and I understand that. But given the situation that I wrote about above, I'm going to ask some extremely trying questions that I can't help but pose...

Where is God in all of this? When kids are born in to families who can't feed them, clothe them or send them to school? Can't pay for them to be legally documented in this country? People dying from illnesses and hunger, which are completely avoidable?
Here is hands down the worst part of all of this. The Evangelical church, for example, (which I especially have a problem with, in a second you'll read why) is the way it is because of US missionaries who have taught them to basically devote everything these people have to the church because apparently they will never amount to anything else. Rules that were brought here by them and ARE STILL IN PRACTICE TODAY include the following (from I don't know how many decades ago):

Women must cover their heads in church, women must wear skirts or dresses, women may not wear earrings or necklaces, women may not paint their nails or straighten their hair, women must sit on the other side of the church, members of the church may not dance or drink alcohol.

Notice a trend there? Almost all of those rules are for women. I'd like to know where in the bible does it say all of that? Sorry, but I'm not going to let some MAN tell me what I can and can't do.
All of these rules in combination with a male dominated culture (machista, ya heard of it?) makes for an extremely unpleasant situation for women and they were brought here by AMERICANS! Women are lacking self esteem, motivation, self worth and education. The church essentially teaches women that their purpose on this earth is to procreate. But back to Education. If these people put half of the time they put into church into education, this country would advance tremendously. Exponentially.
But instead as an American working here in the DR I am often mistaken for a missionary. You can imagine the frustration that this causes me as I often find myself combating the work of fellow American missionaries (and their stupid dated practices) when it comes to women's self empowement and motivation. Oh and by the way, it's often the teenage Evangelical girls who get pregnant. As you all know, contraception is a whole other animal with the church.

Sigh. On the other hand, many of my closest friends here in country are Evangelical and recognize that I am not going to convert and for many of them, poverty and church are all they know. It's a vicious cycle my friends, but I have a lot of hope for the future of this country.
My new host family is Catholic, by the way. I almost feel at home at church with them...almost. And it's not that this country has made me believe less of anything. I'm just throwing my thoughts out there for whoever feels like reading them.

Dios les bendiga, Kaley