September 26, 2014

Things that Probably Didn't Happen to You this Week

My life here in the D.R. is never ordinary by American standards. This week, however, has been particularly eventful in its non-ordinariness. Here is a run down of what's been going on in my community over the past seven days:

Emely at home resting her leg
My host sister, Emely, was hit by a motorcycle as she was leaving school. Don't worry she is okay, except for the broken leg. Here is the full story: A 17 year-old was popping wheelies on the dirt road in front of the primary school, and surprise he lost control and hit Emely as she started her walk home. First they took Emely home, but soon they decided she needed to go to the hospital. By the time they arrived at 7p.m. the doctor who knows how to set bones and make casts was gone for the day. Luckily, they were able  to take her to a private doctor. The boy who hit Emely has agreed to pay for the cast, which cost $700 pesos or $16 dollars,  an amount my host mom had to borrow from her church because she didn't have the funds available at the time of the accident. Emely's family will still have to cover the costs to transport her to school since she will be in the cast for a month - she will be traveling via a motorcycle. Emely doesn't seem to phased by the ordeal. She is enjoying the lack of chores, getting a ride to school, and the piggy back rides from friends as she changes classes.

Putting the finishing touches on the ceiling
My project partners took all 150 gallons from my water tank to use for library construction. The water was mixed with cement to seal the ceiling of the library. Part of me is happy that one more step is done and the other half is annoyed that my water tank is empty. Remember, I don't have running water. All the water I get comes from the sky, so taking all the water from my tank is not a small problem. My project partners' excuse is that they thought it would rain, which to their credit it did look like it was going to rain. I just wish they would have asked first. I have had water taken from my tank without my permission before, so I keep an additional 70 gallons of water inside my house. I am hoping we get a good rainstorm before I run out of water. If that happens I will have to sit out by the side of the road with an empty trashcan and hope the water truck passes by. I am lucky that I can buy water; not everyone can, but I still don't like having to waste my day waiting for water.

Nana inside the water tank
The one benefit to my project partners emptying out my water tank is that it gave me the opportunity to clean my tank. Or more correctly, it gave my 9 year old neighbor, Nana, the opportunity to clean my tank. Over the past year my water tank had collected its share of mud and leaves at the bottom. The bottom is out of reach of my hands so Nana offered to go inside the tank and clean it out for me. My biggest contribution to the cleaning was to blast bachata music by Romeo Santos over my portable speakers. I heard neighbors across the street talking about the music and declaring that I am bien dominicana (very Dominican).

Neighbors at the beach - Nana is the one covered in sand
Wednesday was a school holiday, Día de Las Mercedesso I went on a trip to the beach organized by my girls' youth group. We took a safari bus and the entire ride music was blasting (bachata, merengue, dembow, and salsa). When I returned home my ears were ringing.

Thursday I presented at a teacher's workshop in the northern area of the Samaná peninsula. In order to get to the rural school where I was presenting I got a motorcycle ride with a teacher trainer. The ride was over an hour and we primarily stayed along the coast line allowing me to enjoy some beautiful views. But I will say that riding a motorcycle isn't as glamorous as it seems. We nearly had to cancel the trip due to a rainstorm, and my hips were aching by the time we arrived at the school.

Lastly, a highlight of my week is that we installed windows and doors at the library! Whoo! It is starting to look like a real building! You can check out more pictures of the progress here.

Library Committee members showing off the new windows

September 22, 2014

Death in the D.R.

Cross cultural exchanges between myself and Dominicans almost always occur in unexpected moments. Like the time I had to explain that just because Americans send many used clothes to the Dominican Republic it doesn't mean we throw away our clothes after one use. A few weeks ago I my grandmother passed away, and I found myself explaining an aspect of American culture: death.

I was able to take an emergency vacation to the States to attend my grandmother's funeral, but before I left, I had to let all of my project partners and students know that I would be away for the week. After giving me their condolences my friends would inevitably ask if I was going to be able to attend the actual funeral. In the D.R. the tradition is to bury the dead 24 hours after their death. My neighbors were relived when I told them that in the U.S. the dead are typically embalmed to allow family members living far away to participate in the funeral services. Dominicans know of embalming but most families do not use the procedure either because they do not have the money and/or prefer to follow culture tradition of a rapid burial. 

Since the funeral is held 24 hours after death, the mourning process is sped up and intensified in most Dominican communities. Immediately following the death of a loved one the family springs into action informing everyone in the community of the death and inviting them over to the home of the deceased to mourn. I was once awoken at 6 a.m. by mourners informing neighbors of the death a community member who had died at 4 a.m. 

The home of the deceased becomes an impromptu wake. The body is typically laid on the ground in a bedroom where mourners can visit at and express all their emotions. Everyone in the community is expected to visit. Those closest to the family are expected to stay at the home until the funeral. The home often becomes a full 24 hour vigil of screaming, crying, and comforting. Unlike in the U.S. where everyone tries to keep their emotions in check, in the D.R. emotions are displayed at an almost theatrical level (I have seen people pass out in front of the body of the deceased.). There is little time for the family to be alone; which is the point. Dominicans do not like to leave friends alone during times of sadness. (One of my project partners said she would've traveled with me to the States if she could have, just so I wouldn't be alone.) 

It's easy to tell when a wake is being held at a home. There will be an overflow of people outside the house in white or black, sitting in plastic chairs and talking in groups. It is not uncommon for drinking to occur, and when an important figure in the community dies the wake can become a huge party. More of a celebration of the person's life than a mourning their death. The food and spirits are normally provided by the family of the deceased; unlike in the U.S. where friends and co-workers bring enough food to last the family for weeks.

Funeral Processional (umbrellas are for the sun)
When it is time to head to the cemetery Dominicans, like Americans, have a processional to the cemetery. However, aside from the processional itself, not much is the same. Almost everyone who attended the wake will also attend the funeral, which means a lot of vehicles are needed. Since most Dominicans do not own cars, all sorts of vehicles are used: motorcycles, busses, flatbed trucks, tourist safari trucks, livestock carriers, etc. The processional is also a slow one, allowing those who live along the route to the cemetery the opportunity to join in the processional and/or pay their respects. I was once part of a processional that took 45 minutes to travel 5km (typically a 10 minute drive).

Cemetery in Argentina 
Once at the cemetery the funeral itself is quick; often those at the end of the processional miss out on the majority of the service. As in much of Latin America, the dead are not buried below ground but instead are placed in tombs or family crypts. Following the funeral everyone gets back into the vehicles from the processional and return home - at a much faster speed. Depending on the family's religion other events will occur to memorialize the deceased such as a church service nine days after the death and/or a yearly mass in remembrance of the deceased. Most of these events are held by Catholic families. The majority of my community is evangelical (a growing sect in the D.R.), who typically refrain from such events. However, evangelicals will honor the deceased during the church service following the death of the deceased, as they did for my grandmother.

Explaining to my neighbors that I had to return to the U.S. for a funeral was a surprisingly cathartic experience. It allowed me to realize how integrated I have become  - I had so many people to inform of my departure - and I was able to see how deeply my community cares for me, which was part of the silver lining of loosing such a dear family member.

I want to thank everyone who gave me their condolences. And my apologies for those who didn't know I was back in the U.S. Let's meet up when I am home again in December.