(plant nursery). The competition was better than last year, but I really thought that my kids had it in the bag. The judges were very impressed with their idea since it is so unique from what usually enters the competition. They split up the business into two categories: Production and Commerce. Out of 30 business plans, my kids advanced to the next round (top 10) to present again as finalists. Their second presentation wasn't as good as the first but the thing about it was that the coordinators of the conference all of a sudden changed the agenda so that they had to present right after lunch instead of allowing us to work on the presentations for another hour as originally planned
. Moreover, my kids had to present first, which gave them absotutely no time to prepare and the judges hounding them with questions, whereas the last group to go (the one that won) had no questions from the judges. Still, I am very very proud of them and they ended up winning a prize for the 'Most Green/Sustainable Business," which made me really happy because they deserved to win something. It was really cool this year having a group as opposed to last year as a trainee. I felt like a proud father watching his kids hit the game winning homerun or in a music recidal. Now, I'm working with them to search for more funds to actually start the business (less than USD$2000). They're driven, motivated, and passionate and there is nothing more I can ask for.
CLASS INTERUPTION: I had been giving my Escojo Mi Vida
(I Choose My Life) sex-education class and it was going well; 15-17 kids showing up on time, ready to learn, do educational activities, and most important expand their knowledge on something that affects many Dominican adolescents. One day I was giving a talk about abstinesce (of all things) as a method of birth control and this man from my community disrupts my class to tell me that these kids are too young to learn about subjects like this and how it was bad of me to be teaching it to them. I asked him while pointing to the girls in the class he if wishes that they get pregnant, which he didn't like considering some are 12 years old
. He just walked away and I didn't think much about it. Well, I had to cancel class the following week for the Business Plan Conference and when I came back the following week for class, only 2 kids showed up. 2 KIDS!! It is really unfortunate but this man went around to talk to all the parents that had children in the class to tell them that I was telling their children to have sex behind their backs. Obviously, I'm a liberal, especially about matters such as sex education. I also understand that I am in a rural campo in a developing country. But it is just so disheartening that there are now 13 kids that will not finish the course to learn about other themes like HIV/AIDS and STDs that they might never get formal education on. Especially in a country where there are so many myths about how to not get pregnant (ie. you can't get pregnant if the girl isn't ovulating) or an STD/HIV/AIDS. It is hard when you go outside your job description, set up a really engaging, important course, and have it destroyed in a matter of a minute. I think the worst part of it all is that not one of the parents nor the man who interrupted the class have come to talk to me about it, rather, just believed their misguided sentiments.
MUCHACHO & ME: This is a piece I wrote for the Peace Corps DR Volunteer magazine, Gringo Grita (I appologize for the extreme use of Spanglish):Never would I imagine that when I was 23 years old my best friend would be 8. Growing up, I have always had friends my age. I once dated a girl two years younger and thought it was a little strange in the beginning because she was my brother's age. However, here in the campo age doesn't really matter. I have jovenes that are older than I am. I hang out with doñas viejas, my 30-40 year old artisans, pre-teens from my Escojo group, mothers with babies, and so on. I guess that's the Peace Corps for you, building relationships with ayone that can tolerate your terribly slow Spanish (but also want to hang out with a terribly good looking gringo? Maybe? Okay, or not?). But my muchacho, Carlos Antonio, or Coyoyo, is just that, tolerant. He is patient, kind, biencreado, and even says, "por favor" y "gracias" (Que raro!). He doesn't have the "dame algo" attitude even though he is one of the poorest kids in the community. Rather, he tells me all the wrong things that I'm doing when I'm cooking, "Pero, Yustin, no puedes hacerlo, mi mai no lo hace asi." Then he probars the end product and gives me the patented elbow out, fist pump, "TAN BUENA!"
In the beginning I thought it was odd hanging out with muchachos that were a third my age. Doesn't the rest of the community think it's weird that there are little boys in my house all the time, I know I would! At first I had no idea what to do with them either. "Bueno, uds. querien mirarme leyendo? That's fun, right?" Then I had some friends visit who came bearing activities; puzzles, art supplies, Lego cars with solar panels, etc. I (and I suppose the muchachos) were in heaven! I stopped feeling like I was a boring gringo and all of a sudden was the talk amongst the muchachos in town. Kids constructing amazing things out of Legos, putting together rompecabezas that had never seen one before in their lives, learning about solar energy; so many things going on at one time. It was like a little sweat shop of fun! I felt like I was really doing something to not only educate these kids but also inspire the creativity that they didn't even know they had.
Now the novelty has worn off and even though some kids still come and go playing with the different activities, Coyoyo is the one that still comes over every day without fail. He's lo mas sabia about everything in my house, like the rules for example. One muchacho/a must: 1) Knock to enter and wait for permission 2) Say "por favor" y/o "gracias" when asking for or receiving any object 3) No fighting in the casa 4) No swinging in the hammock. They are simple rules I feel but as we know, kids easily forget. Not Coyoyo. He is the enforcer, the protector if you will. "Fulana, tu no tocaste la puerta pa' entrar!"
I think the thing I love the most about having muchachos like Coyoyo around is that they always provide some form of entertainment even if it can be annoying at times. But for the most part it's nice to find things to do that are innovative or just plain fun. We dance to Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat" along with other popular hip-hop songs from the US, have contests of who can pick up the most trash on the beach, and play a variety of sports like football and baseball. They tell me, "el piso está sucio" and make me clean it (sometimes they even do it). It's a blunt exchange of words porque nadie tiene vergüenza.
Even though I'm not these kids' father, sometimes I feel like it; Wondering if they have eaten that day, did they bañarse or go to school? That part is difficult but I hope for the best and feed them occasionally (just in case). I try to instill some form of learning with the activities we do, be it academic, environmental, creative, or just common sense. Muchachos here don't have the same opportunities as others in developed countries so by just hanging out and playing with them we are giving them the tools to think in a different way and hopefully succeed. We all have muchachos in our sites; maybe we all have a Coyoyo, but even so we should make an effort to teach and inspire outside of a course or camp. If anything, it's just cool to have a little sidekick that calls me, "Daddy Yustin*."
*Daddy Jooze-tin is in reference to Daddy Yankee, the Puerto Rican rapper, not in the sense that I'm a father haha.
HOMECOMING: I can't believe it, but in less than 2 months I'll be back in the United States of America
. On December 16, I'll be in Washington DC to spend 5 days with my girlfriend in her neck of the woods in addition to visiting friends and family that I have around the area. Then, on December 20 through January 7, I will be spending 2.5 weeks in CALIFORNIA!! I really am exciting to take a little break from the developing world with all of it's frustrations and non-changing realities. Don't get me wrong, I love it here, but after not being home for 16 months, I've been looking forward to something different, comfortable, and recognizable -- my culture, my background, my language, my people, my music, my family, my friends, my dog, my car, my food. I'll get a quick taste and then back I go to the developing nation, continuing to work towards a goal that is everchanging and increasingly difficult the more time that I spend here.
AND THE WINNER IS...unfortunately, not my group of jovenes that I brought to the national Construye Tus Suenos: Business Plan Competition. From October 12-14, my "kids" (they're all older than I am; Pepe-23, Mayki-25, & Chicho-28) and I went to Santo Domingo after writing and preparing a legitimate business plan and presentation for a