Rachel en la República: Educación Sexual

I am up late creating a presentation for the Sex Ed workshops at school. I am doing a talk tomorrow with the 9th graders on teen pregnancy and contraception. I hate doing things last minute, but the volunteer from Profamilia (Planned Parenthood affiliate in the DR) couldn’t make it, so I figured I’d just do it myself.

I get lost in the mire of the internet. I am learning, trying to read answers to questions I am premeditating that the kids will ask. I am reading feminist blogs. I want to relate to them how the female experience relates to the high rates of teen pregnancy in this country. Twenty-five percent of teens have been, or currently are pregnant here. Highest rate of the Caribbean by a lot.

I will go out tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, and get catcalled. I can’t walk 5 feet past where my street outlets to the main highway without getting attention. Some days, when I don’t have work, I do not leave my house. Some days I don’t have the patience.

These girls get it too. Their elderly grandmothers get it. Mothers tell their five year old sons to tell a woman she is beautiful, if they see her on the street. Any woman.

Girls get married here to escape poverty, abusive families, everything. My friend and neighbor got married at 15 to do just that. Her husband was 30 years old at the time. “That’s normal here,” claimed my Dominican male housemate.

I will try to explain how power and gender relations manifest in the bedroom. Remind them that everyone has a right to decide which kind of birth control they want to use. Try to emphasize that, although partners may be older and male, we should not compromise on our decision to delay sexual intercourse or use contraception. That unequal power balance in a machismo society makes us feel like we have to give in.

I get angry about these things. But tonight, I try to channel it into creating a good workshop for the morning. Students today were asking excellent questions. As we watched the seventh graders’ lesson on sexual diversity and orientation, a fellow teacher and friend said, “If we can make just one of them an activist out of this, we did something good.”

What I do is small. What I do will not change a generation. What I do may open up one person’s world a bit. It’s complicated. It’s all complicated. But we cannot shy away from the layers of these problems, we must peel them back and examine them carefully. I just hope they don’t think the presentation is boring.

Rachel en la República: Reflections on Elections

“What do Dominicans think of Donald Trump?” asked my mom, or aunt, or friend, when I was back home in Boston for winter break. Honestly, I hadn’t asked anyone here about it, and nobody came up to me, representative voice of the right-wing USA, as I am, and told me their two cents on him. Since coming back, I have asked some people–all whom have told me more or less the same thing: that he is crazy, racist against Latinos and brown people, and only has power because he has money. They don’t like him, as much as they care about US politics (which some people here really do–considering they have family in the US or have lived there themselves). Despite this, they have their own elections to worry about, coming up in May of this year.

I’ll start with my impression of the election season here, and mind you, I don’t think it’s very different from the US cycle, at its core. First, are the faces. Every street post, road-side tree, and cement wall is taken up by some candidate’s face. Usually, presidential races and house races fall on separate years, but 2016 is an overlapping year, so you have Alcades, Senedores, Presidentes all up there. You don’t realize how much you’ve come to recognize a candidate until she is sitting right next to you at an independence day event, and you can’t for the life of you figure out where you’ve seen her before…(yeah, that happened yesterday to me. Candidate for Alcadesa, which is the mayor position).

Then begin the publicity events. They’ll build a stage or two in the middle of one of the main roads of town and come through, give a speech, get Mozart La Para to perform a song or two. These are fun, and I’ve gotten a free hat out of attending one.

Then the caravans. These are like parades of trucks and cars plastered with candidate signs, party flags, and supporters hanging out of car windows. People stand on the side of the road, cheering them on as they roll slowly through town. This weekend, I found myself on a public guagua (a small bus) waiting in traffic for an hour, while the caravan passed slowly through the single main highway in San Francisco de Macoris (the closest big city to me, where I was going to meet my friends). Despite the minor annoyance (my friends would wait for me) it was really interesting. The bus driver would stop to shake hands with fellow party-supporters on the street, as a woman sitting behind me leaned out the window to yell “Se van los comesolos” (Literally: They’re leaving, the ones who eat alone/feeds themselves”) referring to the incumbent and opposing party.

After some discussions with friends and bus drivers, it is apparent to everyone, that politics is a money game. Politicians are infamously corrupt, or it’s the government in general. The incumbent party buys off poor voters by paying them to wear their party’s hats in caravans and giving them free bottles of Brugal rum. This afternoon, my friend was joking that he could win a local election by leaving 2 bottles of beer on the doorstep of every voter. In the past, candidates have bought everything from chickens to sacks of potatoes for their constituency.

This is just meant to be a short post about what is going on around me here, and two conversations I had in the past 48 hours. I find it fun that at the same time as they are participating in the island politics, my friends can make fun of it. They will bash the corruption that they say occurs all the time in this government, yet can appreciate what a social system based on favors and social capital can do in situations where survival depends on sharing and helping others out.

Meanwhile, I try to think about the underlying similarities between elections here and there. Appearances are important, money is a player, and a change of individuals in office does not really mean any revolutionary change is happening. One huge difference, however, is the scale of impact of the elections outcomes.  Whoever wins in the DR will absolutely impact life here and in neighboring Caribbean countries, but the outcome of the US elections will absolutely affect life in the entire world. It’s a fact steeped in historical imperial power, and I don’t like it, but it is true. People here, in the DR, don’t want Donald Trump to win there in the US, because they know what it means for them and their families.

Nobody wants a comesolo in the white house.

Rachel en la República: Sex Ed

Some pictures from the first sex ed workshops of the year! One of my main projects here is to organize these two-day long workshops for each grade level. Above, you’ll see the 11th graders cutting out magazines as a part of the Body Image Workshop (taught by Prof. Ana Valiente de España), the 11th grade girls sitting in the Anatomy and Reproduction Workshop (taught by Dr. Gabriel Maldonado), and finally, in the bottom right, that’s a picture of me covering the Contraception Workshop (which was taught primarily by Starlyn De Jesus Hernandez de PROFAMILIA)

The banner picture features Prof. Alejandra Carreno teaching her workshop on Love and Romantic Relationships.

Other workshops included this time around were:

  • Abuso, Acoso, Ataques, y Violencia Sexual (Abuse, assault, attacks, and sexual violence)
  • ITS y VIH (Sexually transmitted infections and HIV)
  • Respuesta Sexual Humana y Masturbación (Human sexual response and masturbation)
  • Orientación Sexual (Sexual Orientation, given by an invited speaker from Diversidad Dominicana)
  • Sexualidad y Religión (Sexuality and Religion)

Rachel en la República: Ice Buckets

I don’t know why, but as I was bracing myself for the cold water, I thought back to a previous summer. A summer spent watching friends dump buckets of ice and water over their heads, recorded on video, posted on social media for all to see. The thought seemed antiquated, almost out of time and place, like I was returning to a conversation held a hundred times before two and a half years ago. I braced myself and I let it go over my head.

The water was painfully cold, but the summer heat quickly reached me again. My whole extended family and then some watched from the second story balcony above me and my cousin and father–they laughed. When I burst out that I was then challenging my older brother to also dump a bucket of ice water over his head and donate to the ALS foundation collecting the charity, an errant sandal came whipped straight for my head.

Millions, they raised during that one summer. It was incredible, as a member of a team at my college, that did fundraising and did advocacy for global health efforts, one only drooled over numbers like that, numbers that belonged on the annual reports of the biggest names only–NGOs like the Gates Foundation and Doctors Without Borders. Those numbers, they meant money, and money meant relief. Money, for our group, meant buying medical infrastructure for people far away. Money meant supporting global health equity, and all the pride that goes with knowing exactly what that means. When you get money, and you donate it, it means you are doing good, it means you are making an impact, it means you are making change.

I begin to shampoo my hair, after three more buckets worth of cold, stagnant water. The water came from my toilet’s leaking chamber, caught in a cut up plastic gallon bottle of what was once clorox. I use this water to shower first, so I do not waste any water. We aren’t in a drought anymore, as far as I can tell, but I got into the habit of saving water. I do this every other night, bucket after bucket, and I once thought a single dump was too much to bear. If I had a dollar for every time I dumped a bucket of cold water on my head to shower…

During that summer, I had various conversations with a good friend about what the Ice Bucket Challenge was telling us about society, yada yada. It was the exact types of conversations I love to have, where I pull out my best amateur anthropological reading of a situation, use big words. It was about Slacktavism. You know, re-post a profile picture to show you support a cause but without actually making any other changes to your life. Dump a bucket of water over your head, take a video, donate $10 on a website and call it a day. The type of gesture that shows you do care, and when it is convenient to you, you will do what you can. And someone who dabbled in the NGO sphere, the world of raising funds and bending over backwards for rich people to care for causes far away or not relevant to them–this was brilliant. Something fun, something viral, something to take the money and give it to the right people to do the right thing.

But he still took issue with it, though he couldn’t quite articulate why.

Besides, I would tell my friend, it is okay. People like to think they’re doing good. It’s raising money and people feel good doing it. It’s fun.

He sent me articles that talked about how the challenge stole away funds that would possibly be donated to other causes, ones that affected more people daily, ones that were more cost-effective in their effectiveness–buying mosquito nets to prevent malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example. Cheap cheap cheap (as I lay under my “fancy” mosquito net here, costing me all of $5, for a year without worry of being bitten while I sleep). Mosquito nets prevent malaria. They will save lives. They do. A cure for ALS is expensive to invent. When it is invented, it will be patented. It will be expensive to buy. Drug companies will profit. The uninsured will not be able to afford it. Children the world over will continue to scratch at their mosquito bites, if they are lucky.

Sometimes I scream when I take my bucket showers here. Nothing too brutal or shriek-like, just a yelp, just to let out some of that shock. This is no sacrifice. I do not know sacrifice. I help when it is convenient. When it is summertime, and I am at the beach house with my whole extended family to laugh at me, I can do the ice bucket challenge. When I have graduated college with no debt, I can move to the Dominican Republic for a year to work at a high school, sans hot water showers. I still admire my co-workers for raising money for their projects. I still gawk at the ten-thousand dollar grants this little school can obtain. Those once-in-a-while cash injections. The charity our family and friends are willing to give us when we are trying to implement some good.

Charity is a flawed concept. If we want to change the world by giving other people our money, we will never accomplish it. Long term, you are only creating dependence when all you give is money, medical supplies, school books. This is definitely not new: give a man a fish/teach a man to fish idea.

Charity, however, is stuck in the “give a man a fish” part of the adage. We are stuck there because our economic system (and cultural concepts of exchange) are tied to capitalism. They are tied to ideas of the never-ending potentiality of infinitely creating wealth, and thus, the infinite creation of waste. It’s a system meant to always keep furthering the gap between the factory owners and the factory workers. Charity, as we know it now, perpetuates this gap by continuing to create dependency of the flow of capital into the hands of the lower majority of the world on the economic success of the upper minority. The poor cannot survive without the success of the rich. The success of the rich depends on the exploitation of the poor. Here’s the loop. (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, helped me grasp this one).

Slacktivism is just charity, dressed in new clothes. Giving and acting at you convenience, when it is easy, on the behalf of others, is not really doing much to empower others, on teaching them to fish. Only when we empower each other can we change the way things are, only then can we really spark the new forms of thinking and problem solving that we’ll need in any sort of future.

“True” charity and activism should not be about sacrifice–it should not be me sacrificing some of my hard earned pay, or humility in front of my cousins, or warm comfort. It has to be about reciprocation, about two people coming together, not to exchange, but to share. A moment of this charity places two people as equals, as one being dependent not on the exploitation of the other, but on their mutual success.

I get dressed and washed the dishes, like I promised my housemate. He took out the trash, so I said I would wash them. When he comes in to say goodnight, he also asks me some questions about English vocabulary. I am happy to give him a new word or two to study. I enjoy his company.


Dedicated to my friend, Dan




R en la RD: Día de acción de dar gracias

Big holidays away from home are tough. This was not my first Thanksgiving outside of the US, so I already knew how lonely it could feel, on social media seeing family and friends posing for their Christmas card photos, and being so far on the other side of the world that holiday season comes with sunny skies and 80 degree beach days. However unable I am to escape the tropics, I am fortunate enough this year to be living around and working with a group of expats, too. We planned a dinner at my house for the Sunday following Thanksgiving. I was so excited, I created a Google spreadsheet we could all use to plan the dishes we would bring, color-coded by dish type, charting out a mouth-watering anticipation.

Thank you to my wonderful co-workers and friends who humored my love of hosting parties. Everybody came with a different and delicious dish. Gennifer made her famous guacamole, Taylor made a cheesy chicken enchilada bake, and to my chagrin both Zoe and Morris brought green bean casserole—one of my very favorite dishes that only reminds me of my mommy and her delightful Campells-can cuisine. Then, among the cornucopia of desserts: apple pie, carrot cake, chocolate chip bundt—Jude brought 2 dozen Krispy Kreme donuts from the capital and 25 paper hats, which we all wore proudly throughout the whole dinner.

Thanks to my housemates and my housemates visiting parents, who had the patience to watch me tear apart and rearrange the dining room, help me cook the chicken, and teach me how to peel potatoes. Turkey is expensive to come by here, and lugging even a small frozen bird from the supermarket would have proved challenging. Adding a turkey to the mix of a 40 minute bus ride in a mini-van packed with twenty hot bodies—at the very least I was avoiding the judgmental looks from strangers. The chickens turned out absolutely delicious, though. Amazing what a little rosemary and sage can accomplish.

Thank you to my big brother, who introduced the cornbread stuffing to our family’s holiday table so many years ago. I made it vegetarian style, substituting veggie broth for chicken, and it was a big hit. My friend’s niece said my stuffing tasted like cake (a real complement coming from a five-year old!)

Thank you to my dad, who insists we go around the table each year and announce what we are thankful for. I suggested we do the same last night, and everyone had such beautiful words of gratitude. It struck me, that many spoke of the community (second family, one profe said) that they have at the Liceo. It’s nice, more than nice, because how often in your life do you get to work at a job where a group of 20 or so co-workers express that they feel such support and love from one another?

I sincerely hope that my family and friends back in the states had a holiday as warming and relaxing as this one, and that I wasn’t the only one who was painfully full afterwards.


R en la RD: Operativo

Really, I am living the community health major’s dream: designing and implementing a health intervention! Albeit in the face of an arguably minor health problem (I’ll argue otherwise!), in the comfort of my regular place of work, within the walls, daily structure, and resources of the Liceo Cientifico, I am still managing a community health initiative.

My boss, Dr. M, asked me to help with the visual operative. Two years before, the school invited a local optician’s office/glasses provider to come check everyone’s eyes. He assured me this would barely chip into my time, that all I had to do was talk to the secretary, that she’d make the calls to the right places and people, and I just had to figure out dates. I quickly discovered that, unlike 2 years ago, the planning process would not be so simple. The high school has grown (doubled in size just last year—we now have over 300 students, 2 new grade levels, and 4 additional classrooms, around 30 new teachers and staff members). The optician’s office could only come for 2 days to do the operative. My boss suggested I do a pre-screen for everyone, something I could probably easily find online, and send only the students who we were unsure about to the opticians when they came. So, I met with the office assistant, and we began planning.

First, there was researching sources from which I could pull the pre-screening tests. I went with a do-it-yourself webpage from Essilor.com. It is one of those sites where it instructs you how to do the simple tests, but if you think you’ve failed a test, it suggests a visit to the doctor. We had professionals coming anyway, so I went to work creating a power point with the images from the online test, planning and coordinating with the other teachers as to when I would pull out students to actually do the test.

Last Wednesday, the opticians came to the Liceo, and we planned the dates. That day, three other profesores and I got to work with the pre-screening. We took 6 students at a time: three at three computers in the lab we reserved, three taking a written hearing loss survey. I had various help over the three days of the prescreen, and for one class of 10th graders I was on my own, running 3 visual tests at once, making sure everyone had their survey, roster of students and red pen in hand, repeating over and over again in Spanish, “Please stand on the pink line. All right, cover one eye with your hand, do not push on your eyelid, okay let’s begin, look at the circles on the screen. Which one appears more sharply, the red, the green, or do they look the same?”

The pre-screen in action.

The pre-screen in action.

By the beginning of this week, after some data entry and some help from a German volunteer here (thank you, Max) I had a list of all the students who needed to see the opticians. Wednesday they arrived, we set them up in the library with their fancy equipment (made my pre-screen look boring). I spent that day and the next, running back and fourth from there to classrooms, collecting a few students at a time, lining them up to get their visual exams done. The two opticians and the third woman showing the students glasses and payment options, we got through 236 students and a few profesores. Those ladies are champions, because they barely got a break. I at least could wait between groups of students, grab some water, and check my student roster for the 30th time.

I have yet to punch the numbers into the spreadsheets, but I would say about half of those students need glasses, either permanently or reading. Astigmatism was definitely the most common diagnosis as well.

But the project doesn’t stop there! I would be a bad community health major if I thought that getting everyone a simple eye exam was enough to help everyone’s eye health here. We have to do some community engagement as well, specifically with the parents. If you can’t convince the parents that it is important for their children to wear glasses, you haven’t made any difference at all.

Their were parent meetings this past week, and the optician office personnel and I went around to each classroom where parents of each grade level were meeting to hand out bulletins and tell them about the operativo. The 9th grade parents were the most in number, probably about 50 of them. I began timidly introducing myself, I mentioned we were having an operativo in the upcoming weeks to de-parasite the students and staff here (Desparacitación is the most difficult word to say in Spanish, trust me), and gave the floor to the optician to talk more about the visual exams.

We are not going to stop there, however. Two years ago, the optician visit had some success, but most of the kids didn‘t come away with the new frames they needed. My boss explained that there were a few reasons for this. Though the eye exam is free, the glasses are not. The optician office has all sorts of payment plans, agreements with a local cooperative, and even very discounted frames that they all pitch to the students and their parents. Some, still, cannot pay. Others do not consider getting glasses to be a medical or educational necessity, either because they see it as a simple fashion choice, and/or they do not spend much time squinting and trying to read in their day to day, or because they themselves never learned to read. You can’t expect anyone to just appreciate the importance of reading glasses just because some white college educated girl says so. We have to spend time creating materials for the parents when they come for the parent-teacher conferences at the end of the month—movies, infographics, just being there to answer their questions—so we can clarify to them why we think having 20/20 vision is essential for academic success. Thankfully, we have a lot of info and support from the optician’s office here.

These young adults are in the Liceo Cientifico because they excelled in their previous schools, and they have a drive to better themselves and find opportunities through a rigorous education. Getting bad grades at this stage because you can’t read the chalkboard should not be a limit.

Thank you to all the profes who let me interrupt your classes these past two weeks to give the kids eye exams!

Sorry, Grandma, that I have not kept up writing my blog very regularly!

Also please check out how you can support our kids at Liceo Cientifico!

R en la RD: Training

As school is beginning on August 24, we profesores began our training this past Friday. The first day was exclusively for the brand new profesores and the volunteers, and we went over the basics of living in Salcedo (most of which I either had to learn on my own, since I’ve been here a month and a half already): Don’t electrocute yourself, always wear a helmet when riding a moto taxi, etc. One important note was regarding our water usage, though, was basically not to use that much. The DR is experiencing a nation-wide drought. It’s not hard to see the effects. Simply turning on the radio will give you an idea; there’s a PSA that highlights how seriousness of the drought. “Gota a gota…” goes the husky voice. We use well water in my house, and our cistern has been almost empty for the past week or so, requiring us to keep the valves of the indoor plumbing shut off, and consider our buckets our best friends. My housemate, Abbey, who has taught in Mexico and India, has dealt with sub-optimal plumbing before, and showed me how to use a bucket to flush a toilet. Now, to just add that skill to my resume…

The workshops have been filled so far with presentations on how to grade with a rubric, the mission and vision of the Liceo Cientifico, and an introduction to other organizations in Provincia Hermanas Mirabal that work to improve the community here (See: Oficina Tecnica Post). It’s been great meeting the other profesores and fellows on my program. There are 6 of us from the PiLA program, 5 mujeres y 1 hombre. Everyone seems really nice and excited to get to work! I can’t wait for the school year to begin!

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.

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).


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!)


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.



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