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PoW | Nature

24 Jun

Random sidenote:  uploading pictures here takes a while, so I finally caved in and alot have ended up on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.10150227173228121.324656.751968120

Nature’s a wonderful thing…

Facebook for the multitude of photos is easy, but I’m going to continue to put the best pictures up, share stories that strike me, and reflect here.

Abrazos,

Kevin

PoW | ILAC

20 Jun

Vistas (views) of ILAC

A gifted painter was doin´ his thing to liven up the cafeteria of ILAC  (the Jesuit Center we used as home base in the DR), so I got to see his work slowly progress each week when I randomly ended up back in ILAC´s sancutary like grounds.

ILAC also supports over a hundred communities around the Dominican Republic.  ¡Que loca!

Tour of Las Lajas | The Real Story

12 Jun

It takes at least 4 ropes to hold up a steriotipically steroided-up German-sized Tiki face.  Who would be qualified to make this wild assumption you ask?  Along with being roommates to an arquitect, which automatically makes me an expert  tiki and person measurer, the hostel in Cabarete had an Arnold-esque kiteboarder and the massive tiki statue pictured above as my primary resources.

For me, Las Lajas is alot like this tiki statue.   Many ropes hold up the story that encompasses the essence of Lajas; each has it´s own unique message to tell, and without one, the whole picture falls apart.  I don´t believe I´m a skilled enough wordsmith to accurately portray the whole story, but here´s my best shot.

The Scene

It just so happened that we chose a nice and beautiful place to go in the Dominican, and I´m not going to lie to you, walking outside to scenery worthy of an overpriced art gallery is one hell of a good way to wake up.  Even if the rooster perched in the window outside your bedroom decides 4:30am is prime crowing time.

The people here sustain themselves through their own fruits, the produce of their animals, and a little sharing.  I imagine it´d be hard to live off only eggs and chickens as the pollo master.  The master of the fruit section of the food pyramid suffers from a similar crisis, thus sharing is not only caring in this instance, it´s also diet diversification.  Don´t laugh, food boredom is an epedimic at dining halls across the nation.

Typical scenery of Las Lajas

But the phisical environment is just one part of a story

It´s the people.  They´re what makes this charming place tick.  It´s the non-chalant, stress free, fatalistic, day by day way they go about their lives that changes every person who is blessed with an experience here.  Instead of pursuing lofty goals, imagine your main objective of the day is to decide what should be for dinner.  Last year I would have laughed at someone writing this, but this way of life has its own charm.  It´s simple, less stressful, surprisingly rewarding, and quite possibly why the DR is ranked one of the happiest countries in the world  (Google TED talk: Happiness Index).

Case in point: While we were walking around town conducting interviews, this stud of a man and I start talking music, ritmo, and latin rhythms.  Naturally, he and his jorts bust out a bass guitar, which he valiantly tries to play.  Sadly,  the ancient amp in his house decides that his beautiful beats are too good for our ears and screams like a kid hit in the family jewels instead.

As if this wasn´t enough, 5 minutes later he showcased his bull fighting prowess and rescued our group from a wayward papa cow.  Man he worked those jorts.

I love Mr. Bass, and even though he might have wowed us with more feats if given the chance, he lived pretty far off the beaten path, and we didn´t have the chance to venture to his patch of woods again.  Luckily, Moreno, the town construction worker/handiman more than filled his shoes.  He took stud to a new level.

Of the many feats I´ve witnessed Moreno perform showcasing his inginuity, here´s a few:

Install a Toilet for his house- a big upgrade from the latrine out back -with rusty nails he pulled out of things that no longer needed nails.  Brian and I return to the Moreno pad 30 minutes after seeing him bring the unluky piped out back to find him finished arquitecting the pipe apparatus funneling poo 50 feet to his latrine.

After 5pm every day it rains, and Moreno routinely becomes the ferryman taking all women to safety across the raging, angry body of water that forms in the middle of town.  His version of Ferryman doesn´t involve a boat.

Drag 50ft of steel pipe and objects behind his WW2 motorcycle to work.  The 8th wonder of the world.

Because of these and other feats of Manliness, we affectionately nicknamed Moreno Rambo.  On top of all this, he´s also one of the most genuinely nice, caring individuals you could ever meet.  I can tell with every action he makes that family is his #1 priority.  For me, that was the most striking element of Las Lajas.

Mi Familia

Family portraits are a big deal in the DR, so my gift to the family was a nice photoshoot.  It turned quickly into Daniela showing her sass (second from left), Brandy making ridiculous faces (bottom), and the rest of the fam trying not to laugh.  My attempt at leaving them something pales in comparison to the show of unconditional love they´ve showered at me for two years in a row, and for me this is what makes Lajas so special.  By no means am I harping on anyone´s family dynamic in the US, but in the Lajas family is the most important thing in people´s lives.  It´s a different set of priorities, and precisely the reason I became family the second we all first met last year.

Our open air pad.  The front hang out zone turns into a mud playpit/moat during rain.  Epic win

Imagine a stranger dressed in ridiculous clothes shows up at your front door.  He can´t communicate because his spanish is so bad and smells a little weird.  Obviously the thing to do is to give him a bed in the house, sleep with your crazy children, refuse to let him do any chores, wash his clothes, and more or less turn your house dynamic on its head.  For 4 days.  Afterward, wash, rinse, and repeat for 2 weeks the next year.

To clarify, I did manage to help around the house, but I had to sneak around like a ninja, and if caught Gladis gave me a stern talking to while simultaniously laughing hysterically.  We had way too much fun.

I feel blessed to have had such a wonderful family take me in and only hope we can serve them half as much as they have impacted our lives.  I know for a fact everyone else who´s come on our trips can say the same. Familia is the rope that holds Lajas together.

And then there´s Domingo.

Domingo is the only disabled kid I´ve seen in Lajas.  He is the size of a 12 yr old at 18, can´t hear from his left side, can only manage a mumbled grunt to communicate, and seems to have some sort of mental disorder as well.  Despite all this, he is fed every night at someone´s house, plays well with all the kids, and does a remarkable job living life.  I´m a firm believer that this is a direct cause of how passionately the community has come together to help him out where needed.

There´s no doubt that I´m painting a rosy picture.  Don´t get me wrong.  I´ve witnessed telenovela worthy drama, seen kids caught in terrible domestic violence, people carry pistols like it´s a 60´s western, and the education kids receive would make your heart sink and inspire you at the same time.  But everyone´s family. This and an overwhelming sense of contentment seem to make all the other issues fade away.

When you ask someone ¨¿Como estas?¨ or ¨Hey, what´s up¨, the answer that rolls of the tounge of your new friend is almost without fail ¨Tranquilo¨, or ¨tranquil¨.

This is the REAL story of Lajas.

-Kevin

Tour of Las Lajas | Part 1

4 Jun

Sorry for taking so long to get back.  The hostel’s internet is busted, and every time I go out to find an internet cafe I feel like I’m reliving the Dominican version of Indiana Jones.  Moto drivers here put amercan road rage to shame.

In order to paint an accurate picture of Las Lajas, it would be helpful to know how I ended up in a small Dominican village in the first place.  Enter: Que lo Que.

It all started first semester of freshman year.  A few friends and I wanted to save the world, and thought, “Hey, some people don’t have shoes in the Dominican Republic.  Having shoes is probably important.  Let’s collect shoes.”  Ingenious, right?  Fast forward to a few smellier months later: Shoemanity (our catchy, ridiculous name) had 2000 pairs of shoes on our hands, some hidden around the dorms in inconspicuous trash bags, some in nicer homes.  We had NO idea what to do with them.  The majority ended up in Haiti, and we managed to make it on a plane bound for Santiago with duffel bags carrying the remaining 100 pairs of black kids school shoes.  You can imagine the look on airport security as our bags took the magic conveyor belt to be checked for dangerous items like tweezers and un-ziplocked toiletries.  Shoe smuggling is tough business.

9 days and a breadth of experiences later, our group had managed to paint a community center, taste an appetizer of the culture, and fall in love with Las Lajas.  We were hooked.

The community center mural we helped the community design last summer.

With a new name, mission, and vision, this year we’ve taken the traditional idea of service and turned it on it’s head.  Lajas, while living in conditions many would label unimaginable, are the most vibrant, alive, loving, genuine, family oriented people I’ve ever met.  So, instead of coming in to DO something like most service groups, we’ve put relationship building and service learning in the forefront of our sights in an attempt to share the values and culture of Las Lajas with people in the states.

So where does that leave us?  We’re different, not for the sake of being different, but because we feel like before we can properly facilitate any sort of community development, we need to dive into the culture and life of Lajas.  Who’d a thunk it.  They love the idea.

Or maybe they simply like that our name translates to “Hey, What’s up?” and that Ben got it shaved into the side of his head when he got a mohawk.  Appearantly mohawks are in in the DR.  Somehow he managed to evade my camera the whole trip :tear:.  That do deserved to be shared with the world.

Along with doing interviews of community members, we did a few projects with the kids at the new Artisan school for women that’s in development.  The kids had a brainstorm sesh to design a mural for the school, and we taught them how to use cameras so they could make a documentary themselves on the school.  Pretty cool stuff.

The women also made a macromet wall to spice up the place.   All these activities were meant as a way to connect with the women, improve the school, learn about where they want to see this project go, and facilitate the kids improving their own community. Here’s what we ended up with.

The kids painted this symphony of colors single handedly with one of their uncles, a paniter, directing the madness.  The women in front are the Women of this artisan school who made the beautiful macromet wall to the left.   The macromet provides an outlet for their time, they hope to eventually use it as supplemental income for their kids, and they’re in the process of getting the necessary equiptment to add pottery to this creative banaza.

Now for a hard question.  Imagine you’re in our place.  As an American, you know that money helps a community.  You also know that in the global world we currently live in, computers are vital to life.  Through experiences with Que Lo Que I’ve learned that it’s no bueno to push American values on a place if you want development to be sustailable; everyone has their own unique culture.  But you just know the internet is so convenient, so helpful, could we even live without it? Even more importantly, would you give computers to your hypothetical community.  Welcome to the fine line of service.

How would you toe it?

Abrazos,

Kevin

A Tour of Las Lajas

1 Jun

They say pictures are worth a thousand words.  My fingers salute whoever made this monumental discovery because to describe Las Lajas in words would require a dissertation worthy piece of work, and I honestly don’t have enough pesos to spend that much time in an internet cafe.

Over the next week I’ll highlight a few of the aspects of the beautiful people in this rural Dominican village an hour outside Santiago to hopefully give you a peek into lives in a different, yet wonderful island not far off our shore.  In essence, a visual “Tour of Las Lajas”.

PoW!

1 Jun

After some prodding from friends, I’m going to start putting up “Pictures of the Week”, or PoW because I’m cool and it reminds me of the crappy sound effects that make overdubbed Kung-Fu movies so awesome.  I’m putting them up at the random computers I can acquire, steal for a few minutes, or pay a few pesos to use.  Thus, all photos are raw and uncropped.  Feedback is MORE than appreciated.  I’d love some constructive criticism on anything and everything.

Abrazos,

Kevin

Local Art

The letter “S”

1 Jun

In Lajas I spent my morning hours corralling the little ones at “Escuela de la Mariposa”, the local pre-k/community center we helped brighten up with a mural and new paint job last year.  I don’t know if the foreigner with a magical picture capturing device (me) that caused an epic Civil war to erupt between the warring factions at the 3-4yr old table and 5-6 yr old table, or if this was just part of the daily routine.  I guess when there’s no glue in a class to eat, kids have to resort to other forms of lunacy.

While we didn’t make it past tracing out our cursive “S”s in both lessons I attended, these kids more than made up for the lack of material with excitement about about anything and everything.  Those S’s are no joke.

4 yr olds can look studious too!

Dominga and the other teachers hand draw the lessons into every kid’s book each week.  Talk about dedication.

I couldn’t help but wonder.  How would my life be different if my kindergarten years had been shaped by brilliant teachers trying to make up for the blatant lack of material and supplies to teach students.  What if I had spent years 3-6 in the same classroom learning the same letters?  What if I had never been introduced to a computer?

How would your life be different?

On the other side of that coin, how can this lacking of opportunity be a strength?  When we interviewed community members almost every single one, when asked to describe their community in few words, said “Happy”, “Tranquil”, or “Family”.  Now I ask, what do you think your community back home would say to the same question?

Food for thought