December 12, 2014

The Library Inauguration

"Susan, I am impressed. You are so calm right now." 

The room was already packed 30 minutes before we started
That is what a friend and fellow volunteer said to me as I walked, not ran, around completing last minute details for the community library inauguration which was to happen in under an hour. I attribute my part of my calm demeanor to my integration into Dominican culture. Nothing ever starts on time here, so me taking a few extra minutes to set things up wasn't going to ruin the event. Really though, nothing could ruin the event for me or the other member of the library committee. We had worked so hard and long (over 3 years) to make the library a reality that nothing was going to spoil the day for us.

My youth group presenting their acrostic
Only an hour after the scheduled start time, basically on time by Dominican standards, the inauguration of the Ernestina Hidalgo Community Library began. During the ceremony there were speeches given by the Governor of Samaná, the Director of the Education District of Samaná, the Peace Corps Librarian, the mayor of my community, a daughter of the library's namesake, the president of the library committee, and several other local political leaders. The most exciting speech for me to hear was that of the Director of the education district. She promised to send a teacher to work full-time at the library! Otherwise the speeches were all pretty similar: praising the community and extolling us as an example for the rest of Samaná. Not too bad of a thing to hear over and over again. Still to keep the audience entertained the speeches were  broken up by a few special performances. My girl's youth group presented an acrostic of the word biblioteca (library) and students from one of the local schools performed two dances, including a traditional merengue ripiao, a dance special to the north-east coast of the D.R. 

I spoke briefly during the ceremony, mostly using my time to make announcements about upcoming events at the library. But I also said something I would like to make clear with all of you readers. My community would have made the library a reality if I had not been present. But I could have never made the library without my community. I served as a treasurer, grant writer and book cataloger, meanwhile my project partners harassed politicians for donations, got permission from the privately owned road company to perform construction, corralled community members to help with construction, and fed all the workers at least twice a day. The library is 100% the result of my community's effort to achieve their dream of a better future for their children.

The inauguration lasted 2.5 hours, at which point refreshments were served to the 200 or so people in attendance - most craning their eyes through the windows to get a glimpse of the event. Refreshments or brindis as it is know in the D.R. is a big deal. No event is complete without it, and it can serve as a marker for how much detail and preparation went into the event. For our brindis everyone received a plate with an empanada, a quipe, a mayonnaise sandwich with cheese, and a marshmallow which is considered a Christmas sweet in the D.R. Everyone also got a cup of fruit punch filled with apples, melon, pineapples, and passion fruit.

Dancing at the after-party
Once the masses were filled with food and had dispersed back to their houses, the real party began for myself and the library committee members. The library was turned into a dance floor and rum and wine flowed. I kept my promise to the construction workers and danced with all of them who asked my hand. One of them laughed as we danced and when I asked him what was funny he responded, "You can dance!" (Since arriving in the D.R. my love of dancing has grown and I now take every opportunity I can to dance bachata and merengue.) 

Dancing ended at 9pm - most of the committee members were exhausted from the inauguration preparation. However, myself and the other five volunteers visiting me continued the party at my house. We played music, made smores, and when the power went out at 1am we proceeded to play with candles. At 4am we all headed to bed, but with only two beds and six people  it took another hour before we got the bedtime giggles out of our system and went to sleep. I felt like I was back in middle school having a sleepover with my best friends. We then all got up at 8am, ate bacon (a rare find in the D.R.), and went to the beach for the day. When I returned from the beach a few of the neighborhood kids commented on how loud we had been the night before. I took the comments with a smile on my face - I had finally managed to out noise my neighbors.

Kids learning to play Scrabble
Back to the library.  So far everything has been up and running fairly smoothly this week. Kids are learning how to use the simplified dewey decimal system (numbers 0-9), and keep the 700+ books organized. Another new experience for many visitors are the computers. For many people the first time they use a computer is when they type their name in our attendance tracker. Similarly using the printer has become a big event with wide-eyed kids crowded around the machine. Technology isn't the only enticement at the library - the kids can't get enough of Monopoly. (I have a rule that they have to read a book before they can play games.) 

This was the first time these girls saw a printer
However, we still have a door issue. The mayor of Samaná promised to donate two doors for the building. They finally arrived the day before the inauguration but the one for the library side of the building was not the right size. We finally got a door for the library side, but of course it is still too small, so before we move everything over we have to fill the gap with wood or something else. For now we are using the meeting room for the library. Since the room is smaller things have been a little cramped. I have had to place some tables in the empty library so that visitors have enough space. We have been averaging about 25 people a day at the library. My goal is to get 100 individuals to visit the library by Saturday, so far we have 55 so I think we can get there.
The temporary library location
Kids outside the now - almost - complete library

The true test for the library will be how my community manages it while I am gone on vacation in the U.S. Thankfully I don't think there will be any major problems while I am away. My community has fought too long and hard to let the library fall by the wayside after only a week. Plus considering how the kids have started lurking around my house waiting for me to open the library, I can't imagine them letting the adults in the community off the hook. 

You can see more pictures of the library here.

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