Day 2


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Published: March 30th 2014
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A pretty warm and noisy night, with roosters, goats, and periodic shouting. At about midnight, the power came on, and therefore the fans, but also the bright-enough-to-read-by bathroom fixture. The walls don't reach the ceiling, so the bulb shone directly in my eyes. There doesn't appear to be a switch for this one. One corner of my mosquito net fell down, but I have two corners tied to window louvers and was able to get it taut enough by tucking the edge firmly under the foam mat I'm sleeping on. No mosquitoes in my net; didn't have to step around/on/over sleeping people to use the bathroom. This probably means I'm dehydrated.

I moved some supplies into my netting, making it easier to get to them during the day. I couldn't find my watch, so I couldn't decide whether to get up and go for a birdwatching walk. I think the sun is rising a little before 6:30. There's stuff everywhere and not a lot of room for it. The group could use more time to settle in. We've already laid down the law about open food and dirty wrappers.

I saw a pig and a dog fighting in the street.

A breakfast of mashed plantain with onion (mangú), hard boiled eggs, and black coffee. Wikipedia calls mangú the same as fufu, but the texture is very different (though I see the relationship between the dishes).

We begin by carrying 94-pound bags of cement, then shoveling sand and gravel. Some helped carry the uprights for the hoops out to the court. Then we continue shoveling and leveling the court, filling the core holes in the cinder block perimeter with small stones. Children help with this.

The cement mixer is broken. Someone heads to another batey to borrow one. Meanwhile, a group of local men mixes concrete by hand so that the uprights can be erected. Students taking a break play counting/clapping/singing games with the increasing number of children on the site. Our group begins hand-mixing concrete as well in order not to lose the time or be idle. It's really fun. We carry it to the court in wheelbarrows and 2-gallon buckets. Keeping the kids occupied is a necessary and valuable task.

Lunch is rice with pigeon peas, a ham or spam-ish or bologna-like meat, squash or eggplant, and salad. I had about 1/2 cup of rice and some meat.

A woman at a nearby house pounds something in a tall mortar. When I ask, she mimes that it's for the hair. A tiny boy, rolling on the porch with his feet in a plastic bucket, says something I don't catch. She repeats it: "Dame cinco dólares." I laugh, say "Lo siento, Señor." Culture of dependency indeed. I admire his initiative, though. Usually they only ask for cinco pesos.

Someone reached in through the louvers and tore off and took my mosquito net while we worked this morning. This really brings home our status as "haves" and that of the community's "have-nots." I know how inexpensive a mosquito net is from reading about malaria prevention in Africa. For me it's nothing. For someone else, maybe a kid without malaria. Still, I need a mosquito net here and don't want to lose another one. Note for the next net: Use slipknots and drop it to the mat in the morning. Also, move everything away from the windows during the day.

There are curbs, but no pavement or sidewalks. All of the relatively more affluent-looking houses have barred windows and caged porches, plus barred security doors. A group of men plays pool inside such a caged porch across the street from the Colmadito, as "our" colmado next to the construction site is called.

I can tell that many of our participants haven't gardened or landscaped much. The initial dirt, scrapes, and muscle aches are hard on them. I'm thinking the amount of cement grit in my hair and clothing is acceptable. The uppers on my former gardening sneakers may actually be scoured cleaner by the sand and gravel than they were when we arrived. I do hate closed-toed shoes, though. I'm envious of the Dominican men working barefoot, though I wouldn't, here, because I don't know the terrain, the tasks, or the pathogens. I miss digging barefoot into the dirt, though, which is how I garden in my own yard.

Dinner was, perhaps, a rice porridge with sugar and cinnamon. It tasted like rice to me, anyway, though the students referred to it as "oatmeal" (though it didn't seem to me to be made with oats). It was good, and I had about half a cup and later, a little beef jerky on my own. I gave away one of my cans of tuna salad to a student who's having a hard time with the food.

We completed pouring about 20%!o(MISSING)f the court today, not the 30%!a(MISSING)nticipated. The leveler hadn't set the frame, then the mixer was broken. However, this gave us a chance to learn how to mix concrete ("cementa") and be a much more integral part of making it, not just hauling it.

I got a slightly longer bucket shower, though it's tedious. A bucket over the head and a toothpaste spit in the morning will do. I'd like to unpack and reorganize a little better, but there's no room. I'll get it sorted out eventually.

After dinner, a presentation for the community by Movimiento por un Registro Civil Libre de Discriminación. They talked about the recent legislation and its effects on the rights of Dominicans of Haitian origin. Their website's Preguntas Frecuentes section is helpful for understanding what's going on.

The audience was tremendously noisy, which was actually good to see in that it helped me understand that the noise that follows us everywhere is part of how the community is, not something specific to our interactions with them. A good conversation after the presentation about our group being given a snack before everyone else, with some participants upset and feeling that this was a display of our privilege; we learn that guests are served first as a show of respect. For egalitarian Americans, this can be hard to take in.

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