Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Smells Like Cacao

I wish I could make the aroma hit your nose as you're reading this. It's an intoxicatingly rich smell that I can't get enough of. The smell of raw cacao drying in the blistering Dominican sun. For 4 months when I walked into my project there was nothing. The smell of grass or exhaust but not cacao. The smell of cacao coming from the competition as I passed by on a motorcycle made me more determined.

Today, when you set foot on the grounds of the cooperative Red Guaconejo, you will smell cacao.

Baby steps.
That's what it takes to get an organization that is completely tirado al suelo (thrown on the floor) up and running. And we're still pretty far from the end of the tunnel.

When I got here in November, the Cooperative Red Guaconejo was totally closed. Gates shut. A couple days a week there were people working in the tree nursery, but not much movement. For many of it's members it pained them to even enter the premises after the crisis that happened there. The gates were overgrown with weeds, cacao dryers empty and fermentation boxes dirty and full of trash. It pained me to see it too after seeing all of the publicity that they had gotten. They were the poster child for direct trade organic cacao of extremely high quality.

We knew the old administration had to go. At the end of November we had the coop's first ever assembly which should normally happen once a year. The members were informed and the gate were opened. A new board of directors was elected. First step to getting the place open.

After naming positions on the board and starting to have weekly meetings, we slowly began to piece things together. We sent in the request to have the signatures on the bank account changed (horrific process that's still not over) and cleaned up the grounds. Getting the office turned over to the new board was a chore. No one knew where anything was and it was a total mess.

Meanwhile the development organization from Nagua that was supposed to be supporting the coop (SODIN) blew apart at the seams, causing issues with administration at the coop. The administrator was accused of stealing money from projects and then resigned. My project partner (employee of SODIN) who is the accountant and sales manager for the coop was left unpaid. In January the administrator of the coop disappeared to the US for a month and then came back to announce that he would be leaving the project too.
At the end of December our "security guard" was attacked and left for dead on the side of the road, gun stolen from him while on duty. Naturally he came at us for money right away. Money that we did not have.
With his demands came forward the old employees who had been screwing the coop over for months charging monthly for work they were not doing, demanding the money we owed them. The place was closed! There was no one working there!We needed a secretary really badly in order to keep the doors open. When we asked the old one to come back she laughed and demanded the money she was supposedly owed.
Needless to say, at the end of December I was feeling pretty hopeless. Things were not looking good. I sent an email to the owner of Taza Chocolate explaining what was going on and felt like crying after.

January 14 IMOCARIBE, the organization that does our organic certifications informed us that we were months behind on turning in the inspections of the cacao fields. We had to get them turned in by the end of January or there would be no certified organic cacao to export from La Red. Somehow we got an extension and completed them. Now we're just waiting for the inspector to come out and approve it. The was the first glimpse of hope that we had seen in a very, very long time.
Mid January we turned some profit from the nursery as the trees were finally mature enough to sell.

Then in February we had one of the trucks for the project converted from gasoline to propane. This was one of the best ideas we've had so far because our biggest expense was gas for the trucks. In the middle of the month I met Ariana, a 21 year old accounting student who was willing to work as a secretary for free until we could pay her. It was the break we needed. Although we had very little money to buy cacao with, if we had the doors open the people could at least see that we're there.
That same week my project partner and I sat down with the guys who go into the fields to buy cacao to make a plan for purchasing. We went community by community estimating how much cacao they could buy each month of the harvest. With this in mind, we could then budget how much profit we need to make right away to be able to have enough to keep buying.

We took out 75,000 pesos and sent the guys into the communities to buy. It's not much, but we are buying and selling conventional (not organic) cacao locally and very carefully calculating the cost-price ratio to make sure we make some money to keep buying and handle our expenses.

I know it's not much, but it's progress. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014


That's right. One year ago today I boarded a plane with 32 strangers to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Or some super cliche shit like that.

No but seriously I can't believe it's been a year, maybe the fastest year of my life thus far?
I could have NEVER predicted what it would be like but it's definitely been one hell of a ride. So glad my Peace Corps family has my back, without them I wouldn't still be here. 517-13-01 we out here!!!

Well, in celebration of the anniversary I'll give you a photo memorial. But not before telling you the 25 things that make it official that I'm a year deep (sorry people at home, this is mainly for PCVs, pictures below):

1. My pinta...neon and obnoxious prints. flow.so.hard.
2. My nails are always painted and matching my toes (duh, gotta be bien combinada)
3. I walk around with an umbrella not for rain but for shade because I HATE THE SUN
4. I crave beans and rice (I wish this were false)
5. I scrunch my nose (non verbal communication for "what?")
6. My spanglish is at an all time high
7. My English is at an all time low ("I have hunger.." english is hard)
8. I don't do anything when it rains or between the hours of noon and 2.
9. I scream WEYYYYY out car windows and from the back of motorcycles to get people's attention
10. There is always music blasting from my phone or apartment
11. Other people standing near me when I'm sitting down makes me nervous (sietate, por dios)
12. I show up to meetings 30 minutes late just to suffer a bit less (since most will show up an hour late)
13. I answer my phone basically no matter what I'm doing because I don't have minutes to call that person back
14. I tirar back when I get piropo-ed
15. Lines? those are for Americans. That Doña will run you over!
16. I can't go more than 2 weeks without going to the beach (torture, I'm telling you)
17. Presidente beer still doesn't taste good
18. I forgot what it's like to go out like a normal person...can't we just dance Bachata?
19. Brug and Jug (Brugal rum and jugo) emborrachars me de una vez
21. I talk to the stranger next to me on the guagua
22. I speak in PC acronyms
23. I refer to diarrhea as "the princess"
24. I plan my day around the electricity schedule
25. I live to plan the next beach party. Holler!

 Day 1
First night in country..how do I put this thing up?
 Volunteer visit to Pedernales
 Training in Yamasa

Swear in Ceremony!
4th of July in Samana
Ridin' dirty in Barahona
 Calle 8 Montecristi
 Med Mission at ILAC in Santiago
Construye tus Sueños National Conference 2013
 "Eso es cacaaaooooo"
 Thanksgiving rooftop bash in Santo Domingo
 Presidente brindando in SD
 NYE in Cabarete

 Patronales in Nagua
Mini Vac at Playa Grande, Rio San Juan
Trip #2 to Montecristi to see this gem

T-minus 14 months to go! 

xoxo Kaley