Rachel en la República: Oficina Técnica

As my vacation so far has been filled with aimless days, I was thrilled to have something to do yesterday. My new and permanent living quarters is a big old family home, once inhabited by the director of the Oficina Técnica and his family. His son now lives there, along with a military captain who works at the local prison, both in their twenties, and volunteers from the Liceo Cientifico (the school I work at) and other organizations from the Oficina Técnica stay there, too, which is how I found myself living there. Myself and another female professor will live there this year, in our own little wing of the house. It is surrounded by a beautiful patio and fruit trees, and guarded by three friendly dogs (a big Rottweiler named Wendy, a spaniel named Ruby, and a freaky Chihuahua named Bibi).  Since moving in and getting used to living in a new space, there hasn’t been too much for me to do.

Though I am waiting until I get my stipend at the end of the month to travel around the country a bit, I discovered that there is still so much to discover about Salcedo and the province, Provincia Hermanas Mirabal. Yesterday, the Oficina Técnica had a big lunch, which all the profesores at the Liceo were invited to attend. My housemates were presenting at said lunch, so I decided to tag along and get some free food.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the Oficina Técnica is. I was wondering that too, as I had kept hearing about it, sort of reffered to as a given, like “Oh that guy? He works at the Oficina Técnica.” Or today when I asked my housemate what our address was for mail, he just said “Tell people to send mail to the Oficina Técnica.” The Oficina Técnica is an umbrella non-profit organization for all of the non-profit development projects here in Provincia Hermanas Mirabal. Liceo Cientifico is one of 15 projects occurring in this 3-town region of seven-thousand people. All of the organizations were equally noteworthy: a center for the elderly, dedicated to eliminating social isolation of their clients, a center for youth with disabilities (Named “Centro de Atencion a la Diversidad y Escuela de Apoyo a la Diversidad”), a group that does legal council and support for the people of the province, a reformed prison dedicated to rehabilitation of prisoners (where my 2 housemates work–one as a psychologist, the other as a guy in charge), an arts school and group dedicated to beautifying the area (I have yet to mention the beautiful murals everywhere you go here–the largest gallery in the DR is here, spanning 3 towns of huge outdoor murals done by local artists), and various support groups for youth.

I want to talk a little bit about the Centro Jurídico para la Mujer, which does a lot of legal support work here, in reference to the recent news of deportations occurring here in the DR. There has been an official move towards deporting all “illegal” Haitians that live in the DR. From what I have read, this involves rounding up people who appear of Haitian decent (read: who are blacker than others), ask them for their papers and proof of citizenship, and when they can’t provide them, send them off to Haiti. A huge problem with this is that there are many Dominicans of Haitian decent in this country–people who’s parents came here, and who were born here (and so are legally Dominican citizens), who do not have the proper paperwork, because they live in rural areas or otherwise don’t have access to getting papers. When I got to Salcedo, I asked a friend of mine if they were seeing a lot of this in the province, and she said she hadn’t heard of anything like this occurring here, although she did confirm that there were a lot of people, students included, who were of Haitian decent. I found out yesterday, that the Centro Jurídico para la Mujer took it on as a project to get everyone in the province their proper documentation. Out of the 7,000 individuals they meant to reach, they have made sure that 6,000 have all their legal documentation. Maybe that is why nobody seems to be able to point to the new national legislation disrupting life here (Although apparently the process is not beginning until August).

I’ll finish this post with some notes on the reformed prison, which I got to see for a few minutes yesterday. El Capitan drove me from our house to the lunch, but he had to stop for a minute at the prison to talk to a few people. The fortaleza was guarded out front by a handful of military personnel, but was otherwise appeared pretty open. We drove into a courtyard, whose walls were covered in beautiful murals of butterflies and birds (as so many walls in this city are), and I could see a nice basketball court. Men walked around in green and blue t-shirts from what appeared to be the mess hall, bringing dishes to the kitchen across the yard. On the back of the t-shirts was printed the sentence “Tenemos derecho a vivir en paz (We have the right to live in peace).” These were shirts from a peaceful protest in Salcedo last year, organized by the Oficina Técnica in response to some violent strikes occurring in town. On the front of the shirts were the words “Quiero ser mejor (I want to be better).” I met the directors and a few other workers, then we left. I asked the captain if the men in the t-shirts were the prisoners. He confirmed that they were, the green shirts meant their trials were ongoing, and the blue shirts meant they were serving their sentence. The prison’s mission, which I am quoting/translating directly from a pamphlet, is to “improve the quality of life and foster the social and laboral re-insertion of the inmates of the Juana Núñez Public Prison, through the application of the Penitentiary System reform at a local level, in the framework of full social participation, within the Provincial Development Plan.” They provide classes, sports, workshops, and support for inmates so that when they finish their sentences they can come back into the community. Coming from the states, and from hearing only a little about the awful system we have, focused on punishment, built on racist policies, and now folded into the profit-making sphere, this was a revelation. It’s the only program like it in the República, and I’m so excited to learn more about it, and about all of the awesome projects going on in this tiny province, this revolutionary area.

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R en la RD: Comida

One of my very favorite things to write about/think about/make/consume/tell other people about is food. My friends and co-workers here are so proud of themselves for already showing me the most famous of the Dominican Republic’s cuisine so far: Tostones, mofongo, habichuela, and all of the amazing fresh fruits and vegetables! Since I’ve already taken some awesome pictures of some of my food here, and because I am sitting over a plate of left over mofongo, this post is about food (at least, its the first post about food).

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A roadside ‘barbacoa’ or ‘asado,’ as I learned it in Chile.

 

 

Yesterday: My co-profesora of Theater and Movies English camp, Yomalis, and I went with some friends to a “fast food” place. A little store front with a barbeque outside (pictured above). The wings were delicious, but not spicy. For the most part, Dominican food, though delicious, is rarely spicy. I ordered a sandwich, which as far as I can tell (read: every time I’ve asked for a sandwich here), I get a grilled ham and cheese with tomato, topped with ketchup and mayonnaise. I love it. It’s like the grilled cheeses/ham and cheeses/tomato and cheeses that my mom makes me. Plus some condiments. (Random tip: mustard is really good on grilled cheese, too!)

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Alitas and Casabe

With the alitas, wings came this cracker-type food, casabe.  This is crumbly and delicious, though it is flavorless and I like to eat it with a little avocado or hummus on top. Hummus is not actually much of a thing here. Mostly, my current roommate makes it from scratch and once I move into my permanent living situation, I’ll probably just have to rely on homemade guacamole to top it off.

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Mofongo

This is mofongo. It is just as dense as it looks. Though you can get it with various types of meat, the one pictured above is made with chicken, mashed plantains, and cheese. It looks especially fancy due to the presentation at the restaurant, though I have a feeling it usually doesn’t come so neat. The sauce on the side was also a special thing, garlic and cheese of some sort, not normally found with a mofongo. I apparently have to go eat mofongo in Moca (a neighboring city), because it’s world-famous there.

I have also eaten Dominican spaghetti, which I unfortunately do not have a picture of. Infamous among those of us here who have lived in the US as being overcooked and too saucy, I liked it when I tried it. The story behind eating it that night was also funny. A group of the professors went out to a river nearby to go swimming, we had an awesome time, and then went back to one of their houses out in el campo (rural), to eat spaghetti. Apparently, this professor, the Biology professor owed the Music professor a spaghetti dinner for a year and a half. Before we said grace and ate, the Music professor gave a speech about how much he cherished this reciprocation at last (it was hilarious).

Other things I still have to try, and will therefore update you with later: Mangú (like mashed potatoes with cheese, but mashed plantains (or green bananas, or yuca, or a variety of other things) instead. The kids at school apparently bring this for lunch pretty often). Salcocho is a stew. I actually have tried it before in Boston, when I was doing research last summer with the Dominican community there. I can’t wait to try it here, too.

The picture on top is of a Bon ice cream cup; it’s the best ice cream around here and I eat it pretty often due to the combination of my sweet tooth, it being less than $2 USD and that it’s always hot here. My final picture is of me and the glory that was a barbecue feast last weekend at one of the professor’s houses. It was a little get-together before camp started for some of us, and vacation for others. There’s wings and pork, potato salad, rice with corn and peas, and macaroni salad. My roommate tells me one of the most popular hobbies in the DR is eating. I think I’ll be okay here 😉

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Me and all my food

 

Rachel en la República: First Impressions

A Travel Tip: if you find yourself sitting aimlessly waiting for your plane to take off, make a friend. I spent a good part of my flight from JFK to Santiago, Dominican Republic talking to a NYC native, 19 years old, on her way to visit extended family in San Francisco (a small city near Santiago). Her last trip on an airplane was when she was 6. She shuddered when our neighbor opened the window shade as we were landing, but I was so thankful that he did. My first impression of the country where I’ll be living for the rest of this year was peering out through that window. I could see the rich green landscape, rumpled with mountains.

Once we landed (uneventfully, thankfully for my friend’s sake) I entered the terminal, where I had to wait in line for a few minutes to get my immigration papers checked out. Otherwise, getting my baggage was a quick task. While waiting, I noticed another gringo in line, then suddenly there were several, and all wearing the same blue t-shirt. Said something like “Thisthatandtheother Mission Trip.” I’ve had friends who’ve done mission trips in high school and friends of the family who go do projects with their churches. Well-meaning folks, I can say that for sure about the ones I know, and the DR is a country that is a classic mission destination (and development projects for that matter). I wonder what we all look like to the Dominicans, what they think of when they see a pack of Nortamericanos in matching t-shirts, with two adults at the helm, collecting and redistributing everyone’s passports, gabbering in English. I’m glad I can be a little more inconspicuous. Just a little though. I reek gringa in other ways.

I met the headmaster of the school, Dr. Maldonado, who took me out to pizza with his family at the “best” restaurant in Salcedo. I hear it’s one of two. (That’s two restaurants total). Driving around in the evening, Salcedo looks like Arica, with bumpy roads, painted store fronts, locally owned everything. A section of Arica was more built up, however; I remember the main drag had some good shopping and a McDonalds (the ultimate early sign of gringification). Salcedo is small, though. I just got a quick tour from another profesora with whom I’m bunking for a few days. I bought some groceries (Rice and beans. Hopefully I’ll learn to cook other things, too. I have a feeling the old staple meal will get old quick, especially since that’s what they serve for lunch at school everyday in some variation (according to one of the Princeton fellows who’s been here all year)).

Obligatory picture of one of my first real Dominican meals. Arroz con pollo (hey dad!)

Obligatory picture of one of my first real Dominican meals. Arroz con pollo (hey dad!)

My first job is going to be running a program (with another volunteer, thank god) for the day camp. The next two weeks, I’m going to be doing an English immersion camp focused on theater and movies. Dr. M envisions each student learning a monologue in English and performing it, and making their own movies. Oh, and my co-counselor is  German woman. For those of you who are less familiar with my high school self, I’ll just tell you that this is a weirdly perfect situation for 18-year-old me.

I could go on forever about my first day and a half here, but I’ll finish up for now. I’ll just let everyone know that I have wifi in my current apartment, have already made a friend, and am so so so excited to start working at the “day camp.” (You’re welcome, Gabe).

One more thing. I wanted to make a shout out to Evan, who was amazing and came with my mom to drop me off at the airport at 5am yesterday. My mom is also awesome for doing that, too, but that’s what moms do. I’m going to miss them both immensely and look forward to their inevitable visits to mi hogar nuevo.

 

The field across the road from the school's main building. Typical looking country side

The field across the road from the school’s main building. Typical looking country side