As many of you know, we have landed in the community of our two-year Peace Corps assignment. We are outside of Dajabon, on the border with Haiti. It is a lovely agricultural community with lots of cows, goats, horses and even herds of little piglets running around on the streets. You often have to wait for the herd of cows to pass before you can cross the street. The area is green and lush, with rice paddies everywhere.
Our community is kind of a mixture, a few streets are mostly middle class and other streets have a lot of poverty. The poorest people live in homes with no running water, dirt floors and no electricity. Most have cement floors, use latrines and have no water pipes to the house. They get their water from a pipe near the street or in their yard.
Possible projects include new latrines (eco-banos that don’t contaminate the soil), water filters, improved cook stoves, solar cookers, vegetable gardens, a children’s park, an outdoor basketball court, an improved baseball field, nutrition classes, English classes, pre-school and environmental education. We will be working with the community to prioritize according to their needs, our abilities and available funding.
Did we say it was hot? It is extremely hot and unfortunately we hear it is going to get a lot hotter. In Peace Corps training they told us that Dominicans take two to three showers a day. We thought it was because they were super clean, but now see that it is about cooling off. We take at least three cold showers a day. Thank goodness there is plenty of water here.
We should be moving into our own house soon. It is a little stick house with plenty of gaps in the walls. That is helpful because the breeze can pass through. We live on the end of a short dirt road and have a number of very nice neighbors.
We ride bicycles everywhere. I love riding down the little alley streets and hearing the kids call, “Cynthia! Ricardo!” There is very little for kids to do here, so having two gringos riding around in your community is entertainment.
As we ride down the street in Los Callejones we see groups of adults playing dominoes outside in the shade and naked little kids wading in plastic pools or playing in the dirt. Often whole families will be hanging out together on their small front porch, inviting us in for a cup of coffee or fresh juice. When we are really pooped out after a morning of interviewing families we get a nice orange soda and packets of crackers free from Miguel, the colmado owner.
Colmados are kind of like general stores but very small. They sell everything you need to survive daily and in very small quantities. You can buy a tablespoon of salt, a half cup of oil, a cup of rice, and vegetables are sold separately. You can buy just part of a squash, for instance. I bought a small bag of cornflakes the other day. We also bought a hammer and some flip-flops at the colmado. No ice cream, unfortunately. I am craving ice cream, but the electricity here goes out six hours a day so ice cream is difficult.
The food thing is pretty hard. We have been three months now on beans, rice and chicken (sometimes pork, goat or beef). All of the food is seasoned with the same “sasson” which is a salty bouillon cube substance. Our present family gives us cabbage and iceberg lettuce every day too. We are thankful for that, sort of.
Friday we were passing through Los Callejones and stopped to talk to a small group of people sitting together in plastic chairs. An adorable little girl was the center of attention; she looked like she was about three. Everyone was fussing over her, being very kind.
Turns out one of the neighbors, Alfredo, had just gotten her from a Haitian man, who got her from another Haitian man who had too many children and couldn’t feed them all. Alfredo, who was about 50, was very pleased with his new “hija de crianza” (foster child) and looked like he was going to be a very caring parent.
I asked the little girl’s age but Alfredo said he forgot to ask. He did say that they told him he could change her name. He thought he might call her Loretta. I could tell someone had cleaned the little girl up, fixed her hair in multiple braids with ribbons and put her in new clothes. She looked kind of like a new doll. She also looked shell-shocked. Our host family said this was a very common practice in this culture.
There is really too much to tell, I can’t describe it all. Remember you can check our flickr link at flickr.com/photos/cowgill-rc/ for pictures.
Dick and Cynthia Cowgill, of Mokelumne Hill, left in February for the Peace Corps. They were assigned to the Dominican Republic and recently sent this letter back to family and friends in Calaveras County.