The halfway point
Trip Start Oct 11, 2008
9Trip End Dec 06, 2008
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On Thursday I finished my work in the three communities weighing and measuring kids and interviewing the mothers (or occasionally a grandmother). The degree of malnutrition is not as bad as I had expected, but it's still not good. Between 132 children in three communities, 5% are overweight, 69% are normal, 23% are lightly malnourished, 2% are moderately malnourished and .06% are severely malnourished. The problem seems to be that there isn't a lack of food, but rather a lack of access to food. There is only one market that sells vegetables on Wednesdays and Saturdays and it's located in Neyba. It costs 100 Dominican pesos (a bit less than USD$3) to travel the 14km from Las Clavellinas to Neyba and back, which for some of the poorer families is half or a third of their food budget for the week. Not surprisingly, the levels of malnutrition get higher and higher the farther you get from Neyba. All of the communities have colmados, which are like little general stores but they don't usually sell fresh food. You can get the Dominican staples of rice and beans, a few canned goods and occasionally some bread there, but colmados rarely stock vegetables. If they do have vegetables, they're usually vegetables used for seasoning (cilantro, onions or little hot peppers) and not the kind of vegetables that contain the necessary vitamins and nutrients. A few families have small gardens with banana trees, the local version of pumpkins or corn, but poor soil conditions and lack of easy access to the necessary amounts water limits any bigger-scale subsistence farming. My recommendations to World Vision will second the previous intern's recommendations: develop community gardens so multiple people can work together to prepare the soil, haul water and maintain the crops. Not many people have day jobs here, so free time is definitely not a limiting factor.
Life at home continues to go well and we've all settled into a routine with me here. Edwin and I run in the mornings and lately my host dad Mario has joined us for the post-run ab workout. After that, there's just enough time to shower and eat breakfast before hopping on Luzlanda's motorbike to head for the office. Someone else from World Vision usually drives me to my worksite for the day, so I don't see her again until after she comes home from work around 5:00 or 5:30. I come right home after I'm done in the communities, which means I end my day around 4:00. In the evenings, I see more of my host sister Ana than any other member of the family. Luzlanda and Mario spend most of their time watching television in their room and Edwin isn't around much in the evenings when I'm home. Even at mealtime I don't see much of them. Meals in this house aren't really a big social affair, so I usually eat at the dining room table by myself or with Ana if she's around for dinner. Mario usually eats in his room and Luzlanda will join him or sit in front of the television in the kitchen. I grew up in a family that took great pride in eating meals together, so that's definitely been something I've needed to adjust to here. Luzlanda and Ana split dinner-cooking duties, and if Ana doesn't like what Luzlanda has planned for dinner she'll take over and make what she wants. I certainly wasn't able to prepare a full meal at the age of 13!
The critters here continue to keep my life interesting. I saw a mouse in the kitchen last week, and couldn't remember the word for mouse so I called it a Mickey. My family thought that was pretty funny so now all the mice in the house are now referred to as Mickeys. (And yes. There is more than one. I've watched two meet their death so far - once by broom and once by killer flip-flop). The ants and mosquitoes here seem to have paranormal powers that even I, as a human with a developed brain and a Bachelor's degree, cannot seem to outsmart. Multiple full body applications of Deep Woods Off, several layers of clothing, and a mosquito net at night still doesn't deter the mosquitoes. They must be able to bite through clothing because I have bites in places that even underwear covers. The ants, however, are the craftiest creatures of all. I think they could probably take on the CIA and win. I had a box of individually wrapped Ritz peanut butter crackers that I had zipped into a compartment of my suitcase. I figured the airtight cellophane wrapper around each pack of crackers plus the zipper on my suitcase would be enough to keep any ants away, but sure enough one day I found ants crawling all over the outside of the package. They hadn't been able to get to the crackers themselves, but I knew they were probably just a few ant nibbles away from chewing through the plastic. I put the crackers in a sealed Ziploc bag (the real Ziploc brand - not even a knockoff!) and zipped them back into my suitcase, and the next day they were back again crawling on the cracker package. The third day, I put the cellophane-protected crackers into the Ziplock bag, put the Ziploc bag in a black plastic trash bag, twisted it close once and wrapped it again with the extra plastic, sealed the whole thing back into my suitcase and sprayed the seams with bug killer. And I'm sure you can guess what happened on the fourth day. I opened the bag(s) and the ants had found their way through the layers of bug killer, suitcase zipper, two sheets of plastic, a Ziploc bag, and finally through the cellophane and into my crackers. The ants won and got to eat the rest of the pack they had broken into (in the garbage though, not in my suitcase) and I locked the remaining crackers in the refrigerator. So far the fridge has proved impenetrable, but I sincerely believe at this very moment the ants are holding covert meetings to plot their break-in.
Monday was a public holiday here (el día de la constitución) so I was able to enjoy a three-day weekend. Ana and I watched Finding Nemo on my computer on Friday night with Spanish subtitles. It's great Spanish practice for me to read in Spanish something I already know well in English. On Saturday, I spent the night in Las Clavellinas with my friend and fellow World Vision employee, Patricia. I took the public bus to Las Clavellinas, which is called a guagua. Guaguas range from nicely maintained, air-conditioned minibuses with appropriate signage indicating their destination to beat up minivans with no distinguishing marks whatsoever to tell you that it is in fact a guagua and not someone's personal vehicle. I took the latter to Patricia's. This particular guagua was already packed with people returning from the Saturday market and I had to ask if there was enough room for me. The answer to that question here is always yes. If there isn't room in a vehicle, you make room. In my case, that entailed the driver removing a small chair that had been mounted on the front of the van, wedging it between the middle row of seats and the half-closed sliding door and telling the women in the middle seats to move over. And so I traveled to Las Clavellinas safely smushed between a fat lady and the first six inches of the sliding door, watching the road whiz by at my feet. You know you're getting used to a place when something totally absurd in your home country doesn't even begin to faze you. I made it to Patricia's house without incident. I can't say I had a blast at her house, but it was a nice change of pace and change of scenery. I felt kind of like a doll that Patricia and her two friends were sharing, and I think they really enjoyed feeding me, giving me a pedicure, and hauling me around with them. Before we went to bed on Saturday night the girls told me to sleep as long as I wanted on Sunday morning, but my phone started mysteriously ringing around 8:30 with no one on the other line. Strangely enough when I got up after the third call, all three girls had congregated and were waiting to feed me breakfast. We went out on Saturday night and it was pretty fun. There aren't any discotecas in Las Clavellinas, so we settled for the colmadon which is a bigger version of the previously described colmado. These colmadons serve really cold beer (chilled to maximum point before freezing - I've had beer here with ice slush in it), usually have a patio area with lots of plastic chairs and the requisite loud Dominican music. The Dominicans absolutely love music here, and they firmly believe that music must be played at the highest possible volume in order to enjoy it. I would have a hard time hearing and understanding people in English with loud music blaring, but here it removes any possible chance of me understanding what someone is saying to me in Spanish. Despite my inability to understand anything, I still enjoyed myself and learned a little meringue.
Sunday and Monday were low-key days and I had time to finish up preparations for the first real workshop. The first workshop in each community is just for introductions and Tuesday I presented the second charla with actual information. 26 women between the ages of 18 and 62 attended and I think everyone learned a thing or two. It seemed weird to be talking to a group of women about breastfeeding and infant nutrition when I was the absolute only person in the group without a child. I'm in a very small minority here to be 22, unmarried and without at least one or two children.
While my Spanish is definitely improving, communication in the communities is twice as difficult because the population is very uneducated. I pass around an attendance sheet that only requires the women to write their full name, age and the number of children they have. The majority of the women (usually the older women) struggle to accomplish even that simple task. They also have trouble understanding my accent and I think some of the words I use, even though I try to speak as simply as possible. Even Luzlanda, a native Spanish speaker who is used to working within the communities, says that people don't understand her at times. The lesson I learned from Tuesday's charla was to rely heavily on pictures. I have a series of posters that I made with simple pictures that get my points across without words. I also designed a brochure for the women to take home with the same simple, heavily illustrated information. It took me more than a week to put together with Third World resourcefulness. Without the internet to get illustrations, I ended up making a little lighting studio with my fluorescent lantern and taking pictures of other publications and my own drawings that I then edited with Photoshop. With InDesign (and the fact that copyright law doesn't exist here) I was able to put together a brochure good enough that World Vision wants to distribute it nationally.
That's all for now from the Dominican Republic! There are now photos in the previous post of my work weighing and measuring kids, my family and of a weekend trip to the river with a co-worker. I'll try to post some pictures in this post if the internet will hold out long enough.